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Lynly Snowsong

"My story is waiting to be written."

0 · 1,318 views · located in Skyrim

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

Description

Lynly Snowsong

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Basic Info

Name: Lynly Snowsong, Lyn
Race: Nord
Age: 29
Gender: Female

Personality

Lyn is actually rather shy, and is readily apparent in her body language. Her shoulders are drawn in around others and in large crowds she is withdrawn. She can speak to others, sure, but she doesn't enjoy extended conversations with strangers. Her manner of speech is quiet and just above a whisper to strangers. Despite her shy nature, she is not easily frightened and never afraid. Her shyness stems from social awkwardness and not being able to find the words to speak than from any fear of people or such. She is a lone sort, being out and about the expanses from Skyrim tends to dull one's social senses.

She has Skyrim's blood running through her veins, and as such is brave and her nerves (when not in social interactions) are solid as a rock. She won't back away from a challenge, she won't give up, and a little fight won't discourage her. She is immovable and borderline stubborn when she has her mind set on something and she won't yield an inch. However, Lynly is also the peaceful sort, and unlike many Nords, finds no pleasure in senseless violence and death. She views fighting as a chore rather than a game and will often only opt to fight if she or another is in danger or there is no other option.

Despite all of this, she has her negative traits as well. She has a Nordic temper when pushed hard enough and she has a certain disdain for other races. Stemming from her upbringing, she has a bias against the "Knife-ears" as her father called them, especially the Dunmer and Altmer ("Ashen knife-ears" and "Pompous knife-ears" respectively) as well as the beast races. It's not unknown for her to tolerate an elf or a Kahjiit if they manage to prove themselves to her, but they have been few and far between.

Equipment

Lyn's cuirass and gauntlets are of iron make with fur lining, as is her boots. Her leggings are made with normal tanned leather with bits of steel plates for reinforcement. Not only does her armor do a good job of trapping heat in the cold of Skyrim, but is also light enough to allow her freedom of movement and speed. Her shield is just engraved iron. For Weaponry, Lyn wields a normal iron longsword along with her shield. She uses both in tandem, using her shield to block blows and crush bones, and her sword to slash and impale. Neither have failed her yet, seeing how she is still alive. She also keeps a healthy supply of potions and another iron dagger on her.

Abilities

Lynly best identifies with the title "Defender" as if the shield she carries on her back didn't make that clear. Her first weapon of choice is her shield, even over the sword. That being, her style of fighting is more defensive over offensive, prefering to deflect and block attacks and then delivering a single blow to finish her opponents. She is a front line fighter-- through-and-through. When pushed, Lynly sets her heels into the dirt and refuses to budge. A stalwart defender of the Nordic way if you will. She also has a decent grasp of restoration magic in order to heal her own wounds.

History

Lynly Snowsong was born to a pair of Nords, Sven and Rikke Snowsong. Sven was an adventurer when he was young, traveling all across the northern provinces. He told stories of visiting Blacklight, a Morrowind border city (Home of those "blasted ashen knife-ears" as she was told) and Bruma in the Northern reaches of Cyrodiil. Other stories included Hammerfell and High Rock as well, not to mention the numerous places in Skyrim. Because of his traveling lifestyle, he became a great warrior and fighter in his own right ("The meanest damn scrapper you'd ever meet" according to him) able to protect himself on his adventures or lend aid to a besieged town when needed. It was in one of these town Sven met his love Rikke. Nordic courtship commenced and soon they became the Snowsongs. Rikke managed to settle Sven down in Windhelm where they run a shop. Sven manages repairs on weapons, armor, and whatever else needs it, while Rikke sells the local produce.

Before long, the pitter patter of young Lynly's feet graced the Snowsong house. She was raised on her father's stories of his past adventures, which may have had impacted her choice of her current profession. She helped around the house, watching her father repair the odd guardsman sword or helped her mother gather the local plants. She began to take after her father, and asked him to teach her the blade once she was old enough. Her father was proud to pass on his legacy to his daughter and began to teach her the ways of the sword and shield- something all Nords should learn. She grew up strong and- much to her mother's dismay- restless. She had too much of her father in her.

One day when she was old enough, she set out from Windhelm and began her own adventures, something to tell her own children one day. She had since traveled vast expanses of Skyrim and visited many townships and city's- helping the people with their troubles for a spattering of gold, some food, and a warm place to sleep. The civil war began without her notice, though she always heard rumors and the rumblings of change. It wasn't until the last time she visited home that her parents told her the war was on.

She remains neutral, as she isn't a soldier, but an adventurer, she sympathizes with both sides and realizes both side's flaws. However if she had to pick a side, it would be that of the Empire. It is, after all, Talos's Empire, and no change in leadership is going to change that. She wishes the conflict a swift end. Now that there's rumors of dragon sightings, the adventuring business became a lot more dangerous.

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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?: I am very familiar with the Elder Scrolls universe. I've put in a lot of time in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim and a passing knowledge of Arena and Daggerfall.
How often do you get online?: Everyday perhaps
How often can we expect you to be able to post?: Every other day
Password: Fus Roh Dah!

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So begins...

Lynly Snowsong's Story

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: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The witch led Sinder and Lynly into the Dead Man's Drink, a delightful name for a tavern, in her opinion. Her more outlandish garb drew a few looks from the patrons, but she paid them no mind. Maya had other things to think about, the armored Nord behind her, for one. Just as she led the party into Falkreath did Maya recall why the woman seemed so significant to her, though she hid it well from her face. Wouldn't do to have the surprise spoiled. Not that she thought Lynly would care much, but she planned to confront her all the same.

Perhaps investigate was a better word. She had no intentions of taking revenge, or demanding a sincere apology. It took a lot to get Maya to hold a grudge against someone, and perhaps surprisingly, what Lynly had done didn't cut it. Maybe the situation would change once they'd had a chance to chat. To that end, Maya inspected the interior of the tavern.

It was busy enough, but there looked to be few outsiders, judging by the lack of heavier clothes and weapons on most of the patrons. Mostly locals, then, come to have a drink after a hard day's work. There was one hooded and robed fellow by the bar, but Maya paid him no mind. The barkeep was unoccupied, washing out a line of mugs, and there was an open table near the corner they'd come in. It would do. "Sinder, if you'd be so kind, I'd like you to inquire as to the availability of any rooms for us. There's something I want to talk to Lynly about, girl to girl, I'm sure you understand." He probably didn't, but she probably didn't care. He was nothing if not polite, from her experience, but he also seemed to want nothing to do with her. For once, their interests were aligned, and so she assumed he would be willing to follow her order, at least for a little while.

Sinder blinked once, slowly, and flicked his eyes from Maya to Lynly and back again. The end result was a simple nod and an equally-simple statement. "If you wish." He couldn't say that he thought the mercenary woman was one for speaking any more than he was, but then the Glenmoril was likely quite capable of carrying on an entire conversation by herself if she so desired. Turning, he left them with a quiet tread, approaching the bar with obvious intent but free of noise. The hooded man, he did not look at; if there was anything important to be learned there, he trusted his ears and nose to inform him of it for the moment.

"Your pardon," he spoke softly to the barkeep, currently tending to several tankards. He was unfamiliar with this particular region of Skyrim, and understood well that the sort of reception he could expect varied widely. It was best to affect an air of deference with regards to just about anyone, as a servile-seeming elf ruffled far fewer feathers than a proud, brash one. "If I may, I would inquire as to the availability of rooms for this evening? I and my fellow travellers have been long on the road recently." He waited patiently for the reply, the only sign of his social discomfort the small flare of his nostrils as he took in the varying odors of stale ale, washed and unwashed bodues, and damp furs, among other things. It was more or less typical tavernroom fare, and this put him minutely more at ease.

He did his best to avoid listening closely enough to the conversation of the two women behind him to actually hear anything. He probably wouldn't be able to help it anyway, but he felt obligated to at least make the effort.

The barkeep looked over Sinderion for a moment, appearing none too pleased. Even among Imperial-held territories, racism towards the Altmer was a common thing for Nords to have. Fortunately for the Sellswords, this one didn't have too bad a case of it, at least not enough to turn down an opportunity at making some coin. "There's two rooms available, ten gold pieces each for the night. If you can squeeze however many you have into them, you're welcome to."

The hooded man at the bar next to Sinder turned his head slightly, revealing pale, light blue-gray skin of his nose that identified him as a Dunmer. His voice was quiet, but strong and even. "You arrive with interesting company," he noted. "If it is not too much to ask, what is your destination?"

Sinder counted the required coins out onto the table, then added in a couple of coppers for a drink. He didn't have any intention of imbibing much of it, but what he was really paying for was the barkeep's continued limited tolerance of his presence. Sighing nearly inaudibly to himself, he sat one over from the hooded man. "'Interesting' may be the mildest word for it, but true nonetheless," he replied simply, accepting the tankard of ale and trying very hard not to wrinkle his nose at the offensive odor.

It was not perhaps his habit to engage in conversation with strangers, but a comment like that was too pertinent to ignore, and he resolved himself to a delicate exchange of words, in which he'd be searching for he knew not what all while trying to reveal nothing important. He would not have thought to put it past Maya to arrange this sort of thing intentionally, if this man was another of her mysterious associates. The comment almost certainly referred to her, at any rate. "We make for the Rift." It had been some time since he'd last travelled that far; the Sellswords did not often recieve jobs thereabouts, perhaps due to the iron control of some parties over the region.

He glanced backwards only once, wondering what was taking his companions, but they appeared to be in conversation still, seated in a far corner.

"You travel east, I travel west," the Dunmer stated, taking a swig of his own drink, "I ride for Markarth tomorrow. I'm... touring the taverns, it would seem." His last sentence was tinged with no small amount of frustration, but he did not elaborate. "The Rift was most eventful when I left. Murders, talk of giants attacking in groups, the ever present thieves... I even came across a woman of the Psijic Order during my time in the city. I was glad to be gone."

He turned to look at Sinder, revealing himself to be somewhat young of age, perhaps no more than thirty, with red face tattoos trailing from around his eyes down his cheeks to below his jawline. He chortled to himself. "Though from what I hear, these lands are no quieter. Tales of dragon attacks destroying Helgen and raiding the Reach. A poor time to be a traveler."

He's searching for something, was Sinderion's immediate instinctual conclusion. He disregarded it, for the most part, as it really wasn't any of his business, and besides that, something else he'd said was much more interesting. "A Psijic?" he echoed quietly. "That's an unusual claim. Most people believe the Psijics don't exist any longer, disappeared with their island ages ago." Sinder, of course, knew differently, and it appeared that this Dunmer knew even more than he, if he could identify one on sight. Unconsciously, the elf's hand tightened on the handle of his tankard, but he was still quite in control of himself, so the motion produced no distortion in the shape of the thing.

Could it be? It seemed like the unlikeliest chance, and he wasn't even certain how he'd feel about it if it was her. They knew nothing of each other any longer; he could offer not even a distinguishing characteristic to the man for possible confirmation. His memories of her were hazy at best. So was everything before the Change, as if the beast had sought to conquer his entire being. He clung to only a few small things: a low, masculine voice, strands of golden hair, his mother's eyes. That was all. He drew himself from the intruding thoughts and decided that he could do something to make the exchange fair, at least. "There is at least one dragon in the Reach. Or at least, it was there. Take care on the road."

"Now we've both made unusual claims. Dragons were supposed to have vanished as well. I suspect all of this is too outlandish to be false, though." He tossed the barkeep a few more coins and acquired another ale. "I wish you luck in your own travels, stranger. Perhaps we'll meet again on the road sometime."

"Perhaps." When so many more absurd things had happened to him already, it seemed unwise to discount such a mundane possibility.




Lynly watched the back of the elf as he parted ways to glean his information. She really didn't favor the elf. She didn't favor either of them honestly. Knife-ears as her father would have called them. Perhaps it was his doing that she didn't like them. Inherited the trait from him. Either way, the elf was gone, and she was left with the witch, Maya, whose robe looked like it could up and take off at any moment. Though no elf, she was still offputting, though for an entirely different reason. She was chatty. Far too chatty for the normally quiet Lynly. The breton spoke perhaps as many words on the trip to Falkreath as Lynly did in her entire life. The nord woman was a silent creature, unlike her some of her boisterious kin, singing of war song and telling of battle tales. She'd much let her blade do the singing, and experience the tales rather than tell them.

Lynly was quiet to begin with, expecting the girl to hop straight into whatever it was she wanted to speak about. Though the expected stream of words weren't forthcoming, and Lynly gave them a little bit more before it was her own mouth that opened. As come to expect, the words that came were short and to the point, the only reason of them being spoken was the strong sense of curiousity ingrained deep within her being. Talos knows it being a majority of the reason she even accompanyed these people. "What about this talk?" she asked simply. Perhaps the little prodding would get the ball rolling.

It was one of the rare times that Maya struggled for words. The subject matter was going to be... awkward, to say the least, she knew that, and as such, it seemed an awful idea to be talking about it standing up, and completely sober. "Shall we sit?" she offered, though she certainly wasn't looking for an answer. She found the nearest table, towards the back corner opposite the door, and slid down onto one of the benches, waiting until Lynly had taken a seat on the other. The witch waved over a serving girl, procured two ales for them with coin of her own, and took a good, long drink of hers before looking the mercenary woman in the eye.

How to go about this? It was perhaps best to first determine what she herself wanted from this. Maya knew she wanted something, but that something eluded her like a particularly quick rabbit darting through the forest around her coven. She needed to catch it and smite it with a bolt of lightning until it was cooked through, that was what. The image helped to calm her, in any case.

"Have you taken many jobs in this hold?" she asked, preferring to simply wing it, and see where this led. "Any memorable ones?"

It was a while before Lynly answered. Never too much into social contact as she was, she tended to take her time and pick her words very carefully in an effort to try her best to not sound like a complete fool. Sometimes, it worked. Others not so much. She placed herself in the corner of the corner table, far away from the prying eyes of others. She wasn't the distrustful sort who liked her back against the wall so that no one could stab it for her... Rather she intended to put distance between herself and others. Hiding, in a sense. She never did get the interaction part of social interaction. The dungeons and barrows she usually found herself in didn't offer much in the way of conversation, but then again that was all fine for her. No one to look like a fumbling girl in front of in those cold, dark places. At Maya's question Lynly chewed her lip as she thought of all the adventures she had had in Falkreath and how best to put them into words, what scant few she used.

"Jobs? Not so much. Adventures, a lot. Most of them were of my own volition, some were jobs though. A little gold to line my pockets. Cleaned out a nest of skeevers, slayed some awakened draugr, put downs some Falmers, some witches-- Oh.. I.. M-my.. Apologies." And the reason that she didn't talk became blaringly clear. In battle, she could hardly make a fool of herself swinging her blade and hefting her shield, but when she opens her mouth, her tongue tends to cause unnecessary trouble. A coven of witches, she remembered it now. That was a job, not of her own accord not that it mattered in the end. Lynly blushed and looked away from Maya and down into her tankard. She wondered how hard she would have to try to drown herself in it.

Maya had been starting to think that she'd had the wrong woman, considering that Lynly didn't immediately pick up on what she was going for. But her suspicions were confirmed, and then she apologized. What was the witch to do with that? Was she to say no, that's quite alright, my sisters and I are hunted all the time, or perhaps throw the apologies back in her face, and ascertain how she had truly felt as she'd run them through? Or maybe she was just sorry she'd let the word "witches" slip, and made things uncomfortable between them.

"I'd have thought you'd remember," Maya admitted, shifting her weight to lean her elbows on the table, "we put up a good fight. Thought we nearly had you a few times, but you're tougher than you look, I'll give you that. But this was some years ago, perhaps mercenaries simply have short or selective memories. You probably don't remember bashing a girl into unconsciousness who was trying to protect one of her homes."

She let that sit for a moment, for herself as well as Lynly. It wouldn't do for her to become overly angry at her, or to make a scene. For whatever reason, the silver-haired Nord had decided to come along, and as she'd shown Maya in person, she was useful. The witch was nothing if not practical, and she recognized that a warrior woman of her calibur would be most useful in the days to come. That didn't mean she wasn't still feeling inquisitive.

"Your apology has no use to me, so you can keep it. I don't think of myself as the vengeful sort, so feel free to sleep soundly at night. I'm just curious why, is all. Is gold really so great a calling that you're willing to murder us for it alone? Do you fight for nothing greater?" She refrained from even raising her voice, fully aware that her garb alone drew enough attention to her. She reminded herself that she had to be wary, even here. Especially here.

During this, Lynly did not raise her head to meet the woman's eyes. Did she really think an apology would work? Sorry that I killed all of your kin. She wasn't surprised when she rejected her apology, Lynly would have done much the same. The words that Maya spoke struck a cord within her. Back then, she had viewed it as another job, another quest to do so that her pockets would be a bit heavier. Just another infestation to clean out. How Maya had put it, it made it sound like she was just some roving bandit jumping at the chance of gold. That's what it boiled down to, wasn't it. Adventurer or bandit, depending on the point of view they could both be one in the same.

She opened her mouth to speak, but quickly closed it. What was her excuse going to be? That the man who conscripted her for the job believed the witches to be evil. That because they were witches they had to be up to no good. No, excuses wouldn't do either. What did she fight for? A story? Grand tales of adventure? Slaying a witches coven sounded like a far cry from that. So instead of speaking, Lynly kept her silence. Anymore talking would only further harm matters. Better to be thought of as insensitive rather than foolish. She continued to stare into her tankard, quiet as a mouse, counting the seconds until this would all be over.

Maya wasn't sure if she was glad to be proven right. If Lynly's silence could even be interpreted in that way. She obviously enjoyed wagging a sword more than her tongue, so perhaps she simply was keeping something to herself. In another setting, the witch might have tried to extract it from her. She might have tried to kill her had she not more pressing matters to deal with and more sensible risks to take. The stupid and the misguided she could understand. Those who followed the other gods she could understand. The greedy and the selfish, however, eluded her comprehension. Maya wasn't sure if Lynly could be classified as either. Perhaps Maya had just helped to open her eyes to something. It hadn't been her intention, but it would certainly be a satisfactory result.

"It's something to think about, at any rate. I'll leave you to your ale. Feel free to finish mine as well, if you like."

She stood gracefully, sliding away from the bench and Lynly and heading towards the bar to check on Sinderion's progress. He seemed to have just finished speaking with the hooded man next to him. Maya reached out to tap the Altmer on the shoulder.

Her finger never made it there, however, as the stranger turned in a flash, one hand grabbing hold of her arm, the other sending an elbow into her throat. Maya's eyes caught a glimpse of a tattooed Dunmer face before she was forcefully turned and pushed to the side, her back slammed up against the wooden wall and pinned there by the man's force pushing on her throat. His gray eyes studied her closely, his face set as stone. The glint of an axehead shone just beneath the folds of his outer robe.

"For a girl who calls herself a huntress," he said into her ear, "your approach lacks subtlety. Are you here for me?" The witch shook her head as best she could with a forearm nearly choking her. But that was all it took to gain her release, and the Dunmer pulled away, letting Maya fall to her knees below him, coughing and struggling to regain her wind. "And I'm not here for you," the Dunmer continued, adjusting his hood and robe. "I'll be on my way. Safe travels, Blackfeather." He said no more, his cloak sweeping behind him as he removed himself from the tavern.

Maya look flustered and angry as she rose, but she was quick to compose herself as she stood. She waited several moments for the tavern's patrons to return their attention to their drinks, before she turned to Sinderion. "I'll... return in the morning, before first light. Don't follow me." With that, she too left the Dead Man's Drink, pulling her hood up over her head as she left.

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: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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There was something about the woods that let Maya stay alert more than any human being should have been able to. Perhaps it was the experience of having done this before. Well, not this ordeal specifically, but Maya had gone more than two days without sleeping on a few occasions. She hadn't reached that mark just yet, but she figured she wouldn't be lasting quite so long this time, considering the pummeling she had taken from the Bloody Curse.

The witch had a somewhat sullen mood about her, and it wasn't hard to figure why. The group she had just essentially deceived into assisting her in murder was now being forced to help another, and that meant that eventually she would come up on their hit list, and they would be directed to off her as though she were merely another roadblock on their path to the Mentor. Considering the lengths they were willing to go for the man, she didn't feel like she would have much of a chance when that time came. It was her or him, wasn't it? And to them, she was probably little more than a deceitful witch trying to subvert them to her own uses. Not much to stand up against the almighty Mentor, guide and leader of the lost and broken.

He hadn't seemed so noble, the Master, at least not when she had met him. There was no time to speak, only time to learn, to prepare. Her powers must have increased threefold under his watch, but she felt no other reason to value him. Others could have done that. The wild could have done that. In more time, yes, but experience was the greatest teacher, so long as it didn't kill. Was she... jealous? No, that couldn't be. The man had lived for hundreds of years. More, probably. She was still little more than a girl, the unlikely chosen of Hircine, and perhaps the least expected to walk away from the Game alive. No one had expected her to kill the Bloody Curse, and yet she had done that, hadn't she?

With help, of course. Maya finished gathering what resources she could from the immediate area, intent on replenishing her stock of potions while they had a moment, before returning towards the camp, eyes scanning the area for the Nord warrior woman. Lynly wasn't too hard to find, considering that the only other woman was speaking with the fire mage, and cutting his hair. Wasn't that adorable? She rolled her eyes, striding towards Lynly, who was doing something or other with her armor.

"Are you here for the glory?" she asked her, rather out of nowhere. "Unless I'm mistaken, you don't know their Mentor. Wait... Hircine strike me if this is true. You aren't a daedra worshipper, are you? You can tell me, you know, I can keep a secret if you like. Even if it's someone other than Hircine."

Instead of playing makeover with the rest of the children, Lynly was too busy polishing and buffing her shield. Blood had a habit of filling the space between the ridges and bumps in her shield and if left unattended for too long would weaken the structure. It wouldn't do to have the shield shatter under too heavy a blow just because she forgot a little maintenance here and there. She'd also made note to repair her armor and the things that an oilrag wouldn't buff out the next time she came upon a forge.

Though she didn't seem like it, she was actually in a kind of cheerful mood. Not that it was readily apparent on her face. Her face was still as impassive as ever, as if it was her default look. It may very well had been, wear the look long enough then the muscles relax in that state. Cheerful as she was though, there was no hiding the damage done in the last battle. Her wrist was bandaged, tufts of her hair were missing from where she had to cut the charred remains off. Even the side of her face had a reddened complexion thanks to the boy's fire. She was still sore from his wanton display of disregard and had chosen to ignore him on most of the journey... Of course, that only left the mouthy Soren, the breton girl, and the witch. Not the best assortment of conversation partners...

Not that Maya wouldn't do her best to try. Daedra worshipper? Her? How ridiculous. Almost ridiculous enough to make her laugh. Almost. Instead of laughing though, Lynly leveled a blank stare on the woman before reaching into the neck of her armor and pulling out a talisman. Talos' talisman to be exact. She held it up for Maya to see before she spoke, "Good guess," she deadpanned as she tucked the amulet back into her armor. She figured she had nothing to fear from these people, if they were so ready to help a couple of daedra worshippers, then an adherent of Talos was the least of their worries.

Lynly then sat the rag on a rock beside her and laid the shield down on her other side as she answered the first question, "Glory? No, no glory here for me. This is your game. I'm only a spectator. The glory is all yours."

"Your shield smacking into the head of a certain orc says that you are very much a player, I'm afraid," Maya said, sliding down to a seat and criss-crossing her legs, placing her alchemy bag in her lap and beginning to sort the contents. "And hey, you never know about the Daedra thing. I can tell you for a fact that at least half a dozen people in Markarth eat human flesh whenever possible, for their lady Namira. Bet you'll never walk through those gates the same way again."

Her demeanor was slightly joking, but it was unclear whether it was simply a wall thrown up over her feelings or not. It was hard to imagine her being pleased about all of this, however. "Sadly, I fear there will be no glory for me. Besides hunting by my Lord's side for eternity, which isn't so bad at all, but no glory of the living variety. Perhaps the best thing I could say for myself is that no one expects me to win. I certainly don't, not unless there's some way to convince these fine people to help me rather than the son of their great and lost leader."

She seemed to remember herself, and shook her head. "Not sure why I'm telling you this..." She pulled the petals from a useless flower, tossing naught but the seeds back into the bag.

"Because your only other options are a flirt, a couple of kids playing house, and moody elves," she stated plainly. "Though why me specifically, I do not know," she admitted. Truth be told, Lynly didn't expect the witch to even speak to her for the rest of their time together considering their... past. Though she was not the same milk-drinker she was back at the bar, battle had bled the weakness from her and reminded her that she was a warrior. "Underestimation is good," Lynly suddenly said. "It leaves your enemies unprepared," she remarked. "As for this lot and their Master, well, it does not concern me." she shrugged. These people, their Mentor, the Shade, this Hunter, none of it really concerned her, though the Game... The Game interested her. A morbid type of interest, but interest still.

Maya was none too pleased about what she had decided to do next, but in all honesty... it wasn't too different to what she'd been trying to do all along. "I've had some time to think since the Dead Man's Drink," she began, her tone losing whatever humor it had possessed before. "You did what you had to. We would have killed you otherwise. I would have killed you if I could have. You could have killed me if you'd wanted to, but you used restraint, and spared me. It's not like I have any grounds to hold myself above you, having just taken advantage of a woman's entire home and family being destroyed. I should be thanking you, not cursing you."

A small glint returned to her eye. "But not for the battle with the Orsimer, I had that completely under control."

"Her hands around your throat told a different story," Lynly said with an arched eyebrow. Her tone was soft though, and was as close to a jest as she had come to on the entire trip. She had time to think as well. To mull, and to digest. How her actions had slain this woman's family, and for what reason she had done it. She wouldn't try to side-step the issue no longer, nor would she hide within herself. (though that didn't stop the cloistering of her shoulders-- old habits die hard) She believed she had done what was right, and she didn't regret it. She was sorry for what had happened, yes, but she did not regret it. Lynly leaned forward on the stump she was sitting on and put her elbows on her knees.

She was quiet for a bit, trying to put the words in the right order so that she didn't sound completely daft. "You asked me why once, and I didn't have an answer for you. You asked if I fight for something greater," Lynly said, her words degrees surer than they were last time. "I have an answer now-- though if you'll like it I can not know." A pause. "I fight for myself. I fight so that I might write my story. I'm no bard or skald, so I can't write my story with ink and quills. I'm a warrior, an adventurer, so I write my story with my sword and my boots. Stories of battles, tales of grand adventures, of sights unseen and sounds unheard. My story is written on the horizon. Why do I fight? So that I can say that I fought. I am truly sorry for what I put you through, I am, but I do not regret it, as callous as that sounds." She had done what she thought was best at the time. With the information she had, the promise of gold, and the promise of another tale, she had accepted the job. She believed the Witches to be harrassing the village-- though she wouldn't try to excuse her actions, not to Maya.

Lynly may have been digging a hole with the witch, but she did not regret her words. They were true, after all, and there is honor in the truth. She shrugged, her shoulders steadily closing in around her. This may have been the longest she had ever talked. Though the words were easy, the experience was different. She never had to explain her ideals before. Dead men in dusty crypts have no use for her ideals after all. Though, speaking about it reaffirmed them in her eyes. She knew why she fought, why she traveled. So that when she grew old and withered, she could say that she had.

She propped her chin up on her wrist, careful about the weight she put on it. The bones might have been mended, but it was still tender. "I sound like an idealistic fool, adventuring just for the sake of it. Though it's the truth and I do not regret a single moment of it," she said. Another pause and another shrug. "This Game of yours... It sounds like a fine tale, does it not?" She said with a smirk. She wasn't here for the glory, she was here for the tale.

"It does," Maya agreed, eyes cast away towards where the light was poking up over the tops of the trees. "I think the ending where the lowly witch triumphed over all her betters would be particularly riveting. They all expect one of the others, perhaps the Inquisitor, the Stonehammer, Shade, Horizon, Feral or Omen. Perhaps the wily witch will get a few more kills yet."

She then shrugged, looking back down to her bag. "Of course, that would require convincing this lot not to burn me when the Shade gives the order. Thankfully, I think I can at least say they'd hesitate before doing it, and maybe I'll be able to get away in the meantime. Sadly, I doubt I'll be killing the Omen all by my lonesome, which makes my choices either remain with the group and eventually die, or go off alone and die sooner. I think I'll stay, in that case."

She didn't really feel a need to comment on Lynly's answer to her question of why, perhaps because she found herself more or less agreeable to it. Her path was strikingly similar to Maya's, in a way. What was a hunt if not an adventure? And why did Maya hunt? For the glory of her Lord Hircine, yes, but mostly because the entire process was pleasurable to her. The tracking, the stalking, the execution, the thrill of a kill, the exhilaration of a chase, and the stories to be told. Hircine allowed her to devote herself to a life she wanted to lead. They had slightly different ways of desiring to experience the world, but it was a goal they shared.

"It'd be quite a twist to the tale indeed if you and I ended up friends, wouldn't it? Maybe it's only fitting. We are the two most sane people here, after all. Well, assuming you don't have a terribly low opinion of me." She gave the Nord woman a once-over with her eyes. "I happen to think you'd make a much better friend than a thrall. And I wouldn't say that about many people, believe me. And you're rather pretty, too. Surely the stories wouldn't want the hero to be a half-blind, tongueless, battered old Dunmer, but two deadly beauties instead!"

She shrugged again, with a bit of a smile this time. "I could be wrong, though. I'm not much of a storyteller, I'm afraid."

"Don't count on me becoming your thrall, I don't plan to die any time soon. I'm no storyteller either, but that doesn't sound like a fitting end to an adventurer's tale," she replied.

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: 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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Soren's home lay a little ways outside Riften proper, the grounds behind it opening up into the forest. The house itself was of solid construction, two stories mostly of grey stone and some wood where that alone would not do. The grounds were a bit on the overgrown side, perhaps an indication of the amount of time the resident actually spent on the property, but the interior was quite nearly immaculate. Upon arriving, the Nord seemed to abandon his usual incredibly lazy demeanor and did most of the work himself, though whether this was from benevolence or the desire that the others not touch his things was unclear. Before long, a fire was crackling in the hearth, and a huge cast-iron pot hung on a hook above it, simmering something that smelled delicious. Why a singular person owned such a large implement was another small mystery, for it was obvious just from looking at him that he didn't eat nearly that much on his own.

The wood floors were covered with furs, useful items gleaned from hunts, on the occasion that he turned to that occupation to make his living, which wasn't often. Still, the pelts were well-maintained, and the decorations in surprisingly good taste. Several rooms occupied the lower floor, and among these lay equipment necessary for both enchantment and more advanced alchemy, in addition to a few extra bedrooms. A couple more of these were upstairs, as well as a separate chamber apparently designated only for bathing. All in all, it was a house built for at least five people, if not more.

Presently, its owner was crouched in front of the stew-pot, stirring occasionally but mostly staring off listlessly into space, with the occasional yawn serving to remind everyone present that he was in fact alive and not some eerie statue or something. He appeared not to have much care for what the rest did with themselves for the moment.

Though the idea of a bath was almost irresistably tempting, Adrienne had a few things she needed to accomplish first. Surprised to discover that the house had a full range of enchanting equipment, she collected Lynly's armor as well as the pieces she'd bought earlier in the day and her collection of soul gems and vanished into the workroom, intent on completing the enhancements before the night was out and she could sleep. Then maybe she could start working on that new set of robes, or at least finish the mends in her old ones. Presently, she was stooped over the table, palms set gently into the marked places on either side of the stone slab, murmuring low words to aid in the fixing of the magic to the steel of Lynly's armor. The soul gem in the carved bowl at the noon position on the disc pulsed gently, and some distance away, a substance bubbled merrily in the alchemic glassware Soren owned, all of which she'd cleaned thoroughly, helped a long by a little flame in the center.

The soul gem flared, and this was the most delicate part of the process. Adrienne's chanting grew almost feverish as she guided the wisp of light- the souls of vanquished foes, in this particular case mostly draugr from an old job- to the plate and sank it slowly into the smooth surface, made so by the smith's skilled work earlier in the afternoon. What she did had to go deeper than that, though- it would be no good if the enchantment could be ruptured with a simple blow. She felt a twinge in the back of her mind when the spell caught, like a sharp bramble on fabric, and from there it was a simpler process of something like unravelling and weaving again. When it was done, she pushed off her hands and sighed, running both hands through her hair, but her smile gave away her satisfaction. It was a good enchantment, really, and she was glad of that. Armor could not be replaced so easily as a trinket, which was why she'd chosen to do it first, while she was fresh and able to focus as much as possible.

Setting the chestplate, gauntlets, and greaves aside carefully, she moved on to the next item, setting the materials down on the table before she moved to check on the potions. They were moving along quite nicely, but that was a process she could complete while asleep, so accustomed to it was she. That would probably be a useful skill, tonight- she had no intention of letting any of them walk a step further without options, ways of healing if Drayk was occupied, and she didn't trust her own hands to administer that kind of care anymore, not after what she'd almost done to him. It occurred to her that she might have been trying to replace herself with the things she was doing now, but... surely, that couldn't be a bad thing? She wasn't exactly indispensible, and she'd proven to herself if not any of the others that she was entirely fallible when it counted the most. Yes, even if that was in fact what this was, it was for the best.

Anirne sat crosslegged on a rug draped over the floor, close to the fire. Her staff rested over her knees, and she appeared almost to be asleep sitting up, except nobody slept with such straight posture. She'd already taken the opportunity to cleanse herself, and presently her hair was darkened by water, curling slightly at the ends, which were long enough to pool behind her on the rug. The band it was usually braided with rested about her wrist, and she was without her cloak, but otherwise she was arrayed in the same manner as she had been that afternoon. Normally, this would be an opportunity that she would utilize for proper meditation and rest, but at present she chose to filter slowly through her thoughts instead.

And indeed, they were many. This was not so unusual; she thought often about a variety of things, after all, but today they were mostly centered around her brother and his friends. They'd accepted her presence with a minimum of fanfare, and essentially no questions whatsoever. It was actually curious, and she wasn't sure she liked it. The gesture smacked of desperation, and a concern with matters too far into the future for the present to matter much. Perhaps she would eventually be questioned (she was actually rather hoping for it), but that would not alleviate the underlying problem.

She had gathered that only four of them were actually Sellswords-- Sinderion, the striking young man the others called Drayk, Vanryth, and the gentler-looking of the Breton women, Adrienne. The other three-- the personable Maya, apparently closed-off Lynly, and their present host, Soren, were in fact all outsiders who had attached to the group for one reason or another. Sinderion's recounting of the events had necessarily mentioned at least part of Maya's role in the whole thing, but the presence of the other two was a mystery. Were they, like her, strangers who had been brought on with little thought to the consequences? It was certainly possible, but she didn't know enough to determine whether that should worry her or not. Well, the whole situation was problematic, but there were things she could control and things she couldn't. Anirne had long ago learned to tell the difference, and concern herself only with the former.

A small sigh escaped her, and she cracked open both eyes, looking around the room with passive interest.

Maya had just entered the room with Sinderion's sister, having just finished cleaning off herself. It was actually a rather remarkable transformation she'd undergone, to those that had accompanied her so far. Her hair tumbled about her shoulders and back in a practically dripping mess of black, but at this point, it was really the only thing that appeared wild about her. Her skin was cleared entirely of any dust of the road or dirt of the forest, and she wore a second dress, a clean and simple garment of light grey, with not a feather on her person. It seemed to make her eyes brighter, dark blue orbs now a lighter color, reflecting that her mood was no longer remotely sour.

She slid to one side of the fire, dropping slowly to the floor on the same rug as Anirne, laying upon her side and propping her head up upon a hand, the elbow perched against the floor, allowing her hair to fall off her back and towards the rug. She kept her eyes on Anirne for a few long moments, as though studying her, or searching for something, all the while a little half-smile made its way onto her face. She'd only introduced herself by name, and while she suspected Sinder may have already revealed what she was, she made no effort to do so during their official introduction. It was always interesting to see how differently people treated her once they knew.

"The poor fire mage," she began wistfully, "he stumbled upon me just after I'd finished with my bath. Face turned as scarlet as blood, and he tried to run. I told him there was plenty of room for him to join me, but alas, he feigns disinterest. In any case, he's washing up now, and I do believe he barred the door. As if that would stop me." Soren snickered from his place beside the fire, shaking his head slightly, but otherwise did not comment, though the content of his thoughts was anyone's guess. She sighed at the thought, imagining something that probably no one wanted to hear about. After another long moment she returned her eyes to Anirne.

"So, Anirne. I do hope you know what you're getting into. How much did Sinderion tell you? Surely not everything." She had heard about the little scuffle that had broken out at the Bee and Barb, finding herself amused and slightly disappointed that she'd missed it. Not that she would have taken part. She wasn't one to enjoy swinging her fists when so many more elegant weapons were at her disposal.

There were a lot worse places to be than the mercenary's den. The inn for example. Vanryth was glad that his actions didn't keep them from sleeping outside the city walls on the cold ground. Although, the generousity of this total stranger did strike him as odd. Not that he wasn't grateful, far from it actually. That didn't keep him from being his wary, paranoid self though, and he'd sleep with one eye open in any case. That being said, Vanryth did notice the size of the house-- or rather mansion. The house was equipped with more facilities than should be necessary for one man. He found himself wondering just who exactly this Soren was. Everyone had something to hide, and this man looked no different than any other.

Still, Vanryth had better things to do than ponder the mysterious of the man. He sat draped over a high backed armchair near both Soren and Anirne. He had washed earlier and had managed to trim his beard into something respectable. His legs dangled off to the side of one arm, while the corner of it provided the support for his back. An inkwell lay on the floor nearby and with a quill and book in his hand, writing. He had learned (or rather the Mentor taught) that writing helped with his anger issues. Every moment spent writing in his journal was a moment not spent within the prison of his own mind, stewing with all of his thoughts. All of his mistakes, his regrets, his sins. Writing was a valve to release the steam. At it were, the quill was busily scratching away. He needed something to take his mind off of... everything.

Lynly on the other hand found herself at a loss as to what to do. Normally, she'd spend her time buffing and polishing her armor, but since the pieces were otherwise occupied, she found herself a bored. Reserved or not, the woman lived for excitement and adventure. She had to admit though, that a break from the road was a nice thing. The idea of exploring the Soren estate did linger in her mind for a bit, but a memory of a certain daedra lord and the life of organized debauchery managed to snuff that idea. She'd rather not wander into something she'd rather not, and then have the archer explain it. In fact, she'd rather keep the acts of debauchery firmly in his past and not in her present.

"Daedra lords and their games. What's not to get?" Lynly spoke up, her boredom drawing her words out. She too had heard about the scuffle the elves had managed to get themselves into. Otherwise though, she had no opinion on the matter. It wasn't her in the fight after all, and she was nobody's nanny. She may have thought that the idea of them getting into a fight mere minutes after arriving was something queer, and then there was the fact of them bringing another elf along the way. The other knife-ear's sister from what she had gather. She was wary of the girl, as she was the scholarly type. Unlike her brother, who had something more feral about him. She'd made note to hide the symbol of Talos when around the girl. For all she knew, she was a Thalmor spy, and she'd rather not find that out the hard way.

Anirne's glance flicked to the Nord for a moment before she brought them back to rest on Maya, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. "Perhaps it was not everything. I cannot say. It was enough. I know of the game you play, and how the Sellswords came to be involved. He did not say it directly, but I think he is troubled. Partially for you, it seems, though I know not why. You seem the sort who can take care of herself quite well." Anirne clasped her arms together in a simple gesture, resting her wrists on the staff crossing her knees. "Still, I can see the reason for his puzzlement. You travel with a group whose success depends on your eventual death." The small smile on the woman's face betrayed that it was perhaps not the strangest thing she'd ever heard, and also her confidence that there was more to the situation than Sinderion knew. He might not understand, but she thought she might be able to guess at the underlying thought, if pressed.

"I will admit, I have little concern for the Daedra. For gods in general, really. What others do is their business, but my kind follow the old ways, and if I could be said to venerate anything, it would be the spirit of my ancestors-- the enterprise to move ever forward, the tenderness to remain attached to others, the strength to withstand what those gods seek to thwart us with, that sort of thing. But if I have to play this game to help him, I will. I owe him that much, at least." She spread her arms, a gesture of resignation and also placidity. She seemed unconcerned with the situation, to say the least, or perhaps just filled with an easy equanimity that made accepting it a simple matter.

Sinderion, on the other hand, found himself with very little desire to be in the large, elegant house, as even Nordically-styled as it was, it still managed to make him feel like a bear in a room full of fine ceramicware. Instead, he prowled the grounds, as had become his wont. He'd always had more affinity for the outdoors than was perhaps to be expected, even as a child. Back then, it had simply been a fascination with the wild, sprawling landscapes of Skyrim, but now it was more a need than anything else. He needed to be out-of-doors, else the restlessness in his blood would fill his limbs to tingling, and he'd begin to feel as though he would burst.

Presently, he carried nothing more cumbersome than a single knife, expecting that he'd have no need for anything else. He wasn't out here for confrontation. Quite the opposite actually-- for the same reasons Vanryth wrote, Sinder ran, hopping over obstacles as though they weren't even present, siling through the air for exhilarating seconds before his feet alighted again on the ground, making next to no sound on the dead leaves that carpeted the forest. As always, information found its way to him through his nose and ears before he had any reason to see much at all, and he was acutely aware of the position of his limbs and the way they moved in tandem. It was easy; the easiest thing there was. He did not need to speak, nor even to think in the conventional sense. All he had to do was be as he was, and if the lines between himself and the other blurred here, well, there was nobody around to suffer for it.

The smell of fresh water ahead alterted him to the presence of a stream, and he slowed before reaching the banks, coming to stop in a crouch beside the water. Peering into the depths, he was able to spot several shadows flitting about below the surface-- fish. Sinderion spent a moment longer in consideration and shrugged, standing and unbuckling his leather armor, shrugging out of the rest of his clothing and wading in. The water was cold-- perhaps nearly frozen, but he had never worried about it. Among the alterations the beast made even to this body was a tolerance of such things, and it concerned him not. When the water was waist-deep, he stopped and grew still, entirely unmoving, rooted in the smooth stones of the streambed like an impossible tree at the edge of a cliff. Patience was key here, and he didn't move for minutes, until such time as the fish forgot that he'd ever moved at all. That was the fatal mistake, and with a few quick lashes of movement, he'd plucked three from the stream and opened their bellies with his knife, spilling the entrails out onto the bank.

Returning to the water, he scrubbed himself with coarse sand from the bank until he was free of dirt and no longer smelled of much in particular, then caught a few more fish and returned to the shore. Shaking himself more or less dry, he gave his linens much the same abrasive cleaning, then built a small fire, roasting the fish and drying everything out simultaneously. By the time all was said and done, the sun was low in the sky, and he figured it would be best to return to the house. He might have preferred to remain here, but he was not unaware that some people might have concern for his presence. Donning his dry (and quite warm) garments, he gathered up his armor and the fish he hadn't consumed and ran back to the residence, entering the main room in just enough time to hear the end of Anirne's last sentence. He looked between all the people in the room, eyes half-masted with something approaching unease, but then shook his head, depositing his armor in an unoccupied corner for later maintenance.

"Nobody owes me anything, least of all you," he replied simply, handing the fish off to Soren, who looked surprised for all of two seconds before shrugging and adding them to the bubbling pot. No skin off his teeth, anyway.

"I disagree," Anirne returned, but she did not press the point. Sinder said nothing, settling himself in a corner of the room and studiously avoiding sending so much as a glance in the direction of the others, though why it was so was not precisely clear. Sighing, his sister returned her attention to the younger women.

"Why do you ask? Is there something else you would have me know?" She inquired politely.

Maya wanted to know if Sinderion had informed her of his lycanthropy. Considering her current demeanor, she was either very good at hiding her emotions, she simply wasn't troubled by the knowledge, or most likely, she didn't know. The witch found herself momentarily frowning at that, but that was all the subject would receive in her mind. It certainly wouldn't be her to tell Anirne, as family matters were not hers to intrude upon, no matter how much enjoyment she would have gotten out of delivering the news. Come to think of it, it probably wouldn't have been much. And maybe she was being a bit hypocritical. After all, she was still concealing her own status as a Glenmoril witch, though that was more for her own amusement than forced by shame or fear. Perhaps she would have a talk with Sinderion about it later.

"The Shade isn't the only one capable of making plans," Maya said to Anirne, "for now, let's just say I'm growing more confident that my new friends wouldn't simply kill me because he demanded it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it would defeat the purpose of finding their Mentor if they were willing to stoop to any lows to do so." She left the point at that. Truly, she did not think the Sellswords would butcher her without hesitation, especially at the Shade's command. He had not made friends with them, and while Maya was not exactly bonded with them yet, the fact that none of them had struck her in any way yet was promising to say the least. Anirne simply smiled. It had seemed likely that the reasoning was something like that. Sinder, on the other hand, frowned and shook his head, apparently dissatisfied, though he said nothing.

"I'm wondering how much you know of our current goal," she continued, "Talmoro Vasuderon, the Inquisitor of the Thalmor here in Skyrim, is to die next. Are you familiar in any way with the man?" To be honest, Maya knew less about the Psijic Order than she liked. She'd actually thought they didn't exist, and was still quite skeptical that this Anirne was really what she said. However, if she was a member of an order such as theirs, and being an Altmer as she was, it seemed a decent chance she would know something of the most skilled torturer and interrogator in Skyrim.

The monk's smile dropped into something resembling a grimace, and something in her glance hardened. "I know of him, yes, but we are not personally acquainted. Whether he knows my face, I cannot say. Among the Thalmor, I am often known and never liked." That turned her lips back up at one corner, and she shook her head. "He is a singularly despicable sort, or at least my information leads me to that conclusion, but he is also not one to be trifled with. Killing him will be a challenge, and likely require subtlety and force in equal measure." She looked thoughtful at this, raising her clasped hands to her chin and spending a few moments in thought. This answer managed to win some respect from Lynly, though she said nothing. At least she didn't have to worry about her Talos worship around her-- not that she still wasn't going to be careful.

"Is your method of closing in on him yet set, or would you care for some advice?" Anirne raised a delicately-arched brow, but truthfully, nothing of consequence to her hinged on the answer. She would work with what she was given; it was, as ever, a matter of distinguishing the changeable from the steadfast, and striving only at one of them.

"What's to set?" Soren asked from beside the fire, shooting a look over his shoulder at the others assembled. "Sneak past the guards, or kill them and hide the bodies if you have to, then pick the lock on one of the side doors and slip in. I doubt killing the guy will be easy, but that's the same no matter how you go about the rest. Unless you plan on just waltzing right up to the door and hoping he doesn't recognize you, of course." He'd done that a few times, too, actually, and while it could be just as fun as skulking about, weren't all these people supposed to know each other or something? It seemed like Maya, Tarquin, and possibly Anirne would be easily-recognizeable, so unless they planned to send in a bunch of people who had no idea what the hell they were doing (plus him, of course), they were going to have to be a bit cloak-and-dagger about it.

"I could get in, though I do not like how," Lynly said, digging out her hidden Talos amulet and flashing it. Obviously that would mean she would enter the estate as a prisoner, and not an idea she was too overly fond of. It was a suggestion all the same though, a morsel of information for the group to do what they will with it. Though she did find herself hoping one of the others would come up with a better plan. Even Soren's quiet solution sounded better, despite the bad taste it left in her mouth. Vanryth looked up from his book and shrugged. He wasn't much of a planning man and allowed those of more stable minds to work out their plan of attack.

"To be honest, I think a well crafted disguise on me would fool him easily enough. He would recognize a Glenmoril witch, not an elegant lady from High Rock. And while stealth would probably be necessary on the part of Tarquin and yourself," she said to Anirne, "I doubt he would know any of the Sellswords by face alone. So while the idea of sending in some bait is awfully tempting," she flashed a smile at Lynly, "it shouldn't be necessary. Of course, the final plan will no doubt be whatever Tarquin wants, as this is his kill after all, not mine. That said, I very much like the idea of dressing up and finding a way into one of his horrid social functions. A lovely change of pace, even if the majority of you would be an absolute disaster." She thought of Vanryth, Sinderion, and Drayk. It would no doubt be funny, though, at least for a while.

The fact that Anirne was imgining this very scenario was immediately obvious from the fact that her facial expression shifted from thoughtfulness to vague horror to unadulterated amusement quite quickly, and she actually laughed. It wasn't an ostentatious sound, nor particularly loud, but it did seem genuine. "Well, 'disaster' might be stretching it, but if you could all stand it, I see no reason some of you can't go as guards or attendants. If the former aren't permitted, surely footmen would be? I imagine any guests of sufficient importance would protest were they not, after all." The thought of her brother dressed as some noble lady's footman managed to produce another chuckle, but this one passed quickly. "They also wouldn't likely be expected to say or do much, which could be a benefit. A guest goes missing, that's one thing, but nobody pays much mind to the help." An unfortunate truth that they might well be able to play to their advantage here.

"But if as you say this Tarquin gets to choose, speculation is perhaps without merit." She might have spoken further, but at that point, a slightly haggard-looking Adrienne emerged from the workroom, arms full of newly-enchanted items. She handed Lynly her armor first, smiling softly and giving the Nord woman a nod. It was well-protected against fire, now. When she'd realized they had another permanent addition, she'd had to adjust a few things, and as a result, what she handed Vanryth was in fact not a piece of metal, but a tightly-knit red scarf.

"Health restoration," she promised, aware that his joints and muscles tended to trouble him easily and having decided to try and mitigate that as much as possible. From the others, she'd taken suggestions, and worked the magicks into simple but reasonably-nice pieces of jewelry, which she handed to their recipients, at least the ones that were in the room. Anirne's provided a bit of a boost to her strength, to make wielding her two-handed staff easier over long periods of time, for instance. Drayk hadn't been around when she'd inquired, so she'd worked a magicka-restoring property into his, on faith that he'd use it well. She had to believe it, anyway.

"Is anyone in the baths? I could really use one..."

Maya jumped right on that, running a hand through still damp hair. "Drayk should still be in there. He was when I left, anyway. I'm sure he'd love it if you joined him." Her tone was mostly playful, the mischievous glint back in her eye. Adrienne met the other woman's eyes for a moment, then smiled, equally foxlike. "Perhaps, perhaps not. He'd have to work a little harder, though, maybe even ask." She shrugged lightly, making it rather hard to tell if she was serious, then picked herself a spot on a chair, gathering up her new needle and some of the fabric. She could still use new robes, at any rate.

The witch shrugged back. "Suit yourself." It didn't much matter one way or the other, she just thought they needed to have a little fun now and then to avoid going insane, and perhaps sadly this was one of the first things that came to mind.

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: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson

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Outside, Soren was busy shooting arrows at targets which seemed to have been set up for the more archery-inclined Sellswords at one time or another. It wasn't like he really needed the practice with all the killing he was doing lately, but he'd never allow the skill to go dull, not when there was still so much work to be done. He wasn't overly concerned with the final result of the game, though he had a surface-level liking for the witch. You couldn't care too much about people, because they all died. That was just a fact, one that he'd learned the hard way some time ago.

He glanced to the side for a second, watching a rabbit disappear into the foliage. He considered shooting it for breakfast, but decided against it. Something smelled faintly like food from inside already. Instead, the shot hit square in the middle of the target he'd been aiming for but not looking at, and he sighed. Well, that was the last regular arrow for now, which meant he should go retrieve them.

The door of the mansion leading to the training grounds opened it, and Lynly stepped outside into the brisk weather of Skyrim. She wasn't dressed in the plate and leather of a warrior, instead opting for a normal set of clothes. It was the same dress that she had wore in Riften, as it was the only dress that she carried with her. Normally she'd be content to wear her armor on the road, but in this minute of down time her armor felt too heavy. That was not to say she wasn't armed. Thrown over her shoulder she carried her sword by it's strap. Conspiciously missing was her shield though.

It wasn't like she had much to fear in this place after all. The Shade surely wouldn't return so soon. But when he did, she'd be ready. She strode toward the training grounds, noting the telltale sounds of someone practicing their archery. If she had her guess, it'd be Soren. He had that look of a dog who couldn't sit still for extended periods. As she approached, her guess was right as the man shot at a couple of targets. While she wasn't there to practice her own bowskills, the straw mannequins she had seen earlier called to her.

It was never a bad time to polish her sword skills. She approached the mannequins, tossing a nod in Soren's direction. She stood in front of one of them, and drew her sword, sitting the sheath down on the ground nearby. From there, she began to go through the motions of basic forms and attacks utilizing both hands. A simple strike to the chest, a step back and spin, landing the blade in the crook of the neck. Another spin, placing the edge of the blade at the crook of it's knee. Simple, fluid, and effective motions. After a time, she even forgot that the Archer was still about.

Pulling the last arrow from its target, Soren twirled it between his fingers and over his shoulder, sliding it back into the quiver with the other ones. He'd noted Lynly's arrival, but for once chose not to comment on it, instead making his way to a nearby tree and leaning against it, a silent watcher as the woman practiced. He wondered if it was really only making an interesting story that drove her to this.

It wasn't so outlandish, no, that wasn't it at all. He'd met people who murdered for more ignoble reasons, sillier ones, and no reason at all. It was just interesting was all. He thought that maybe he might have been after something like that, once. He certainly had a whole lot of vignettes to go along with the idea, though how anyone would ever be able to weave them together coherently was entirely beyond him. He was, in a sense, the same man who'd stormed an orc camp naked, swindled a Jarl, won and lost more coin than he could count gambling, goaded Imperial soldiers into attacking him for fun, led a small but effective mercenary company, slept with more women than whose names he could properly remember, been addicted to moon sugar, spent a couple months in Cidhna Mine...

But he'd also studied illusion magic with an old woman he genuinely liked, enrolled in the bard's college, learned to play the lute and lyre, had some of the best friends a man could ask for, and raised a son, at least for a while. It was hard to imagine reconcling all those things, and he was the one who'd lived them all. He wondered, distantly, if she ever felt like that, story-minded as she must be.

He waited until she appeared finished, then spoke loudly enough to be heard. "Can't stay inside too long, eh lovely?" he asked blithely. "I'll be sure the storytellers know of your dedication. It suits well."

"It's not the storytellers I do this for," Lynly stated, bringing her sword over her head and swinging it forward in a perfect arc. She stopped the blade before it broke the mannequin's crown and finished her thought. "I do it for myself. To say that I've done it," she said. It was something she had told Maya not too long ago. She explored the story for the story's sake. She would not be the one to sit idle by while the world passed by. She would be the one to adventure into that would and experience all that it would have to offer. She had survived ill planned dives into Dwemer ruins, accidently cleared out caves of bandits, tripped over a daedric shrine or two, and had discovered an underground cavern lit with mushrooms called Blackreach.

She had seen some of the world, and it was only cutting her teeth. There were many more places she had yet to be, and many more sights she had yet to see. If Talos favored her, she'd yet see more of them. Though first, she'd have to survive this story. Though she knew her own reasons for her adventures, she did not know those of the Archer and truthfully she was still curious about the man. They were the outsiders here, they neither played the game, nor were they with the Sellswords.

"What about you? What will you tell the storytellers about yourself?" She asked, resetting her position, sword at a right angle in her hand standing against the mannequin. "Surely it wouldn't be that you spent your time flirting with the women?" she ribbed.

Soren laughed, a short bark of it that managed to sound a little sardonic. "And why not?" he asked. "Not every hero is a knight in shining armor. I'd rather have a little character." He grinned, eyes lit with humor, but his expression became more solemn thereafter. "No, lovely, I'm not the kind of man anyone will tell stories about, unless maybe I make it into to some cautionary tale to scare the children." He shrugged diffidently, casually, as though his next words had no weight whatsoever.

"There aren't any happy endings where I'm headed, and no heroic deeds, either."

"Didn't figure you for the sentimental sort," Lynly said, taking her turn to be blithe. "Happy endings and heroic deeds... They sound nice, but they make you sound like a child," She said, spinning her sword and straightening up. She had enough of practice for that moment. She bent down and fetched her sheath, sliding the blade back into it's home. "These stories are real, not myths or legends or bedtime tales. Something I learned not too long ago," she said, alluding to the incident between her and Maya. What may be a happy ending for one, could be a bad one for another.

"The stories we tell aren't the happy ones. The bards could spin a yarn, fabricate it, make it turn out happier than it did. But the real stories are never usually so happy. A warrior who slayed an entire family for a spattering of gold can always be painted as a knight cleansing a coven of witches in order to save a nearby village."

Lynly backed up and began to lean against the mannequin, regarding the Archer. Something was off about the man today. He didn't feel like his normal silly self, it was... Strange. He seemed too aloof, and in control "But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, am I?"

Soren snorted. "No," he agreed darkly, "You aren't. But don't tell those buffoons at the Bard's College that; they don't appreciate their glittery tales getting trampled on." He refrained from mentioning the specificity of her example, as he figured it was a personal anecdote. And well, considering the last person he'd ever bothered telling stories to was a child, he figured he could be forgiven for his transgression, though instead of making some snarky comeback, he just shrugged. "Maybe I'm being unfair; I'm sure I'll make an excellent villain in some 'real-life' story someday. As long as they include my dashing good looks and silver-tongued charm, I suppose I don't care what anyone says."

He grinned, though perhaps it was a bit more false even than usual. If so, he didn't seem inclined to acknowledge it.

Lynly did not return the smile, she only looked at him through tired eyelids. "Don't give me that fake smile. Nobody wants to be the villian, even if that's how it's ends up," she said. Perhaps it was her who was being too harsh. Then again, she was much in the same boat as him, she didn't care what anyone said about her. It was her story to tell, and no one else's. Perhaps it was some of that respect she had for Soren. Two parties didn't fight together without earning a measure of respect from one another. She even found herself looking favorably at the rest of the Sellswords. She supposed this was her natural personality, it'd been rare since she even seen it herself, as alone she usually was. Still, something had happened to the Archer. Curiousity demanded she find out, whether it was for the good or the bad. Stubborn as she was.

"What paints you as a villian in your own story? What did you do lose your happy ending?" she asked evenly.

"You'd find your answer more swiftly asking what I haven't done to lose it," he pointed out flatly, honestly not sure why he wasn't just deflecting as he usually did. It probably had something to do with the time of the year-- he was always morose as autumn began. "I'm the villain because I want to be, lovely. You don't get to do what I'm doing and stay the hero, childish or no." Vaguely irritated for reasons she couldn't name, exactly, he reverted to his favorite nervous habit and withdrew a black arrow, whirling it this way and that between his fingers, mostly to give him something to focus on besides, well... anything else.

He wondered if this little band of adventurers would be passing Dawnstar anytime soon. If not, he might have to be parted from them sooner than he'd intended. Some things were too important to miss, and there was somewhere he needed to go. Same place he'd gone every Hearthfire for years by this point. He never enjoyed it, but the part of his life that was all about his enjoyment was past.

Lynly shook her head, knocking loose a few strands of platinum. As the hairs hovered in front of her face, her head shaking turned to a shrug. "Fair enough. It's up to you to decide how to label yourself in your own story, not me." Of course it's a poor story if it never gets told. Though she figured it'd be better to keep that bit of wisdom to herself, Soren wasn't the same as he had been. The flirts were still there, of course, but the lightness of tone wasn't. That only underscored the riddle that was the man. She let a moment go by uncontested. A bit of time for the dust to settle and to allow the story metaphor fade away. Life never was so simple as a story, and now wasn't the time to equate one's life to a book. She took the sword that was in her head and pulled it from it's sheath a couple of inches, inspecting the blade above the hilt.

She peered up for a moment, noting how he played with a black arrow. It hadn't been the first time either, she remembered when they first happened upon the Archer, he did the same thing that day. She tilted her head, puzzled. From where she stood, she could see the glint of... something on the arrow. Curious. The night before, when he was looking for more arrows, he had those arrows on him as well. Why didn't he use those instead of scavenging for some more? Were they important? They were certainly different from the ones he normally used. She slipped her blade back into her sheath and spoke up, "Those arrows. They're different from the ones you normally use. Why is that? Are they... Important?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied simply, and there was nothing but raw honesty in it. No deflection, no flirting, no dramatics. Just the truth. He rolled his eyes at himself; he must be losing his touch. Still, it seemed she wasn't going to leave him alone until she got more out of him than he'd given, and he supposed it couldn't hurt to stop dropping hints and get to the damn point. "These ones aren't for peons." Stopping the whirling rotation, he tossed the arrow in a fluid motion, assured that she'd catch it. "See the name there? Turn it to the side." Were she to do so, she would find that there were two words painted onto the shaft of the arrow with an unusual metallic hue, the letters thin and surprisingly elegant in script. Ilyessa Thyodorsdottir.

"That bitch took something from me. Something I loved and can never have back. I'm the villain because even if I can't regain what she stole, I'm going to put that arrow through her fucking eye, and enjoy it," he hissed, eyes flashing, though it was clear enough that his anger was not directed at Lynly. "It's still a better death than she deserves. I've killed four already, and there are six to go, including her. Each one of them had a hand in it, and large or small I don't care. If I knew how to keep them alive for long enough, I'd tear out their entrails and feed them to them." A muscle in his jaw jumped, and he seemed to force himself to relax, his tone flattening out again. Shrugging, he continued much more levelly.

"The arrows are much more appropriate anyway, all things considered. Most of them are Dark Brotherhood. I rather like the idea of being a better assassin than the assassins. Serves them right, really."

Lynly caught the arrow and turned it over in her hand. She noted the name on the arrow with a passing interest as she examined it. Fine make, the arrow. Personally, she was never into archery, though she knew how to use a bow. It was hard to gather food with only a sword after all. She looked up from the arrow and watched Soren as he talked, nodding along with his reasoning. She listened intently until he finished to weigh her opinion in on the matter. Though, that all it was, her opinion. She knew the archer wouldn't care about it one way or another, but still. Words never hurt anyone.

"Doesn't sound all that villianous to me," she said, tossing the arrow back. Carving the name of the intended into an arrow was certainly theatric, but then again, all good tales have some flair to them. "Revenge is a simple concept after all. Eye for an eye, and all that." She said. Lynly wasn't so bold as to ask what this Ilyessa had stolen from him. If he wanted her to know then he would have told her. She'd leave that alone for now, as it was apparent she was either lucky or stubborn enough to draw that much from him. She shrugged, disregarding the colorful imagery he painted her.

"Assassinating the assassins, a man's struggle against the Brotherhood. Don't sell yourself short Soren, there's a good story in there somewhere, probably even a moral." She nodded, a light grin laying on her lips. "Even if that moral is 'Don't fuck with Soren.' Still wouldn't tell it to children though." She said, throwing her sword and sheath over her shoulder. He had sated her curiosity, and the conversation would probably trail off afterward. She rose from the mannequin and began her walk back toward the house before pausing and throwing back her head at the Archer. "Let's see if these Sellswords have something in mind for breakfast?"

"Mm... I rather like that moral," he agreed lightly, his former solemnity slowly disappearing beneath the veil of his usual asinine persona. Still, he was thinking on what she'd said. Revenge... yes, he was certainly after that, but some part of him was incapable of thinking of it as anything but justice. He was not an idealist; he knew that in order to exact it, he would have to become worthy of retribution himself, but he'd been that way most of his life, and for once, it felt like he was using that part of himself to do something worthwhile. Purehearted idealists didn't get to wantonly murder people, whatever the reasons. That was something only stain-handed cynics could manage, perhaps. It was certainly the only thing he felt he could do.

He couldn't live a better life for Rolf; Rolf had been his better life, the best thing that could ever have happened to a drinking, whoring, conning son of a bitch like him. His son had made him better, in every sense of the word. There was no being better, no getting redeemed after that. He'd been redeemed, and that had killed an innocent child. So he'd decided to stop pretending that he deserved happiness or redemption, and deal with what had happened in a way he was uniquely capable: by sinking himself into any cesspool of crime and sin that would get him even an inch closer to the only thing he lived for anymore. The complete and utter destruction of everyone who'd conspired to rob his life of the brightest light he'd ever known. That was it. Simple, indeed.

"Well, lovely, you might be right. Who's to say, hm? Perhaps we ought see how it ends, first." He knew the answer to that one already, but he hadn't yet said it aloud, not even to himself, as though to do so would cause it to vanish from where he held it close to his rotted heart.

For now, though, breakfast sounded like quite the idea, and he trailed after Lynly, heading into the house.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong

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As breakfast wrapped up and the members of the group left their seats, Adrienne was still mulling over an idea. It only made sense, really, and in light of her discussion with Drayk this morning, she was all that much more resolved to do it. If she was to be of help to him or anyone else, she had to be able to help herself a little more, too, and not just when talking was involved. Since the Mentor wasn't around right now, she'd have to ask someone else for the teaching necessary to improve her combat skills. She honestly wasn't too worried about her magic; she was good with ice, and alteration and conjuration where they were required, and though she'd consider asking Soren for some pointers on illusion, it was far from her biggest worry at present. What she needed, truly, was the ability to defend herself at close quarters.

Her first choice probably would have been Anirne, since the psijic woman mixed arms and magic in a way similar to what Adrienne wished to achieve, but she didn't think she had the time to pick up the skills she'd need to be even passable using a staff that way. Van was also an option, but he'd seemed especially fatigued at breakfast, and she didn't want to tire him further if she could help it. Drayk and Maya didn't carry (conventional) weapons, and that left her with the more martially-inclined members of the party. Sinderion, she'd considered, but like the other Sellswords, she knew he was under a lot of strain, and besides that he tended to fight with a weapon in each hand. This left her with a choice between Soren and Lynly. While the former was better with a sword than she was, she wasn't certain she wanted to subject herself to whatever teaching methods he'd prefer, and he was built very differently from her, besides.

Lynly was, too, but not as much. Surely, she'd been small once, and might still remember how to deal with that. The fact was, Adrienne just wasn't physically constituted in such a way that carrying a shield would be a good idea, to say nothing of how it would hinder her magic, so she needed to learn to be defensive with her sword. Or at least how to take advantage of whatever strengths she could claim with it. Nodding slightly to herself, the Breton girl picked herself up from her spot and followed the Nord woman out into the foyer. "Lynly? Do you have a moment? There's something I'd like to ask you."

Lynly had kept to her seat, more than willing to allow the others to filter out before she took her own leave. While she was more comfortable with some of the Sellswords and their friends, crowds still managed to strike a nerve. During breakfast, she had her arms tucked in close to her body as she ate. It was by no means a conscious thing, as years of habits died hard. The breakfast was decent after all, it was warm which was better than the cold rations she was used to on her journey. She had to admit to herself, that taking a small break like this between her adventures were nice. She had better enjoy it while she could, before they threw themselves into whatever trouble lay on the horizon-- whatever that may be. She wasn't complaining.

Once comfortable enough to remove herself from her seat, she exited, unsure of where exactly she should go. Her options weren't terrribly varied as she saw them. Polish and clean her armor and weaponry. Practice even more. Sleep. As she entered the foyer of the mansion, she had decided to see what collection of books these Sellsword's Mentor kept in his study. Hopefully nothing too dry or research oriented. She didn't get the chance to read many stories on the road, only what little books she could scavenge from the bodies of bandits.

Her progress was halted by Adrienne's voice. Figuring she had the time to spare, she shrugged and asked, "Yes?" waiting for the rest of her request.

Well, all right. She had the woman's ear. Apparently, that did not make asking what she had to ask any easier. Of course, this was Adrienne, and she was hardly for wont of words, just... it was what they would mean that stayed her tongue for a few seconds. When she found it again, it was with a bracing breath that she began. "I have need of a tutor... in the sword arts. I'm aware that I lag far behind everyone in this group in terms of martial skill, and I would like to rectify that. I can't afford to be holding anyone back." A short pause; it occurred to her that it might be pertinent to explain why she was asking Lynly and not, say, Van or Sinder.

"I thought that you might be able to teach me a bit more I can use than the others would. You're not short like I am, but I'm hoping you have experience fighting people that are bigger and stronger than you are all the same." She gestured with a hand to encompass all her sparing self. "It's experience I could certainly benefit from." She fell silent then. It was true that if the woman felt she was without time or inclination, Adrienne would not put up a fight about it, but she didn't feel the need to say anything or qualify the request. That was halfway to giving up on the chance already, and she certainly didn't want to do that.

Lynly regarded the small woman, her sky blue eyes running up and down the length of the girl, measuring her up and gauging her. She certainly didn't have the look of a warrior about her that the others did. In all honesty, if she had to, Lynly would compare her to a delicate flower. However, flowers sometimes had thorns. She knew better than to underestimate Adrienne, if her skills weren't in swordplay, then they were elsewhere. Probably that tongue of hers. Chances had it that it was sharper than even her blade.

Still, the even the sharpest of tongues could get cut out by a blade. It was a while before Lynly answered, "I'm not a teacher, but I can make sure you don't hurt youself. Find yourself a blade and meet me in the practice field... I suggest wearing something you can move in... And don't mind getting dirty." She said, leaving. As her back faced the woman, a hidden grin played at her face. It wasn't a proud one but rather... A mischievous one. This would end up being more fun that sitting in and reading a book, she already knew. She picked her way back to the room she had claimed her own, and followed her own advice.

That surely didn't bode very well for Adrienne, at least not for her immediate comfort. But that was the point. She knew she'd be subjecting herself to a great deal of strain and probably a fair dose of humiliation to go with it, but she was a practical woman, and pride meant little to her in the first place. Nothing next to what she'd achieve if all was successful. Better humbled now than dead later, especially since she now knew it would never necessarily be her own death. Turning on her heel, the girl darted back into her room, picking up the slender sword from where it stood, sheathed, propped against her door.

The blade had been a gift from the Mentor, on the first day he'd set about teaching her to use it. She'd been even frailer then than she was now, and the lightweight metal, while not as resilient as something of a thicker construction, was right from the Skyforge itself, and better suited to her needs. Loosening it in the sheath, Adrienne pulled, exposing the first few inches of the shined and sharpened steel. Turning it a bit, she stopped when the mirrored surface reflected her eyes back at her and stared for a long moment, as if looking for something in herself to be different. But she looked just the same as she always did, and she almost breathed a sigh of relief. The indefatigable mask was clasped back on, firmly affixd to her face, and the rawness she'd felt before, at the Embassy and then later in her own chambers, had for the moment been whitewashed as she sought.

It was as much protection as disguise. The doe-black oculars disappeared as she slid the sword back, not having failed to read the word inscribed. He might have promised it to her, but she was beginning to understand that what he'd meant all along was that he'd give her the start, the foundation to stand on when all else had turned to sand beneath her feet. It was her job to do the rest. Donning some old practice clothing in drab tans and olive-green, she pulled on her boots and hurried outside, free of a cloak though her breath still left her in visible puffs on the characteristically cold air of Skyrim. She was sure she'd be plenty warm soon enough. Fiddling with the clasps at her utilitarian leather belt, she managed to suspend the sheath from it and draw the blade, gripping it in a relaxed fashion in her right hand.

Something struck the blade hard, but not hard enough to wretch it from the woman's hand. Lynly walked by spinning her own sword in her right hand, holding her sheath and shield over her shoulder. At some point, she had managed to scavenge a pair of trousers and a shirt from one of the other Sellswords-- she didn't want to ruin her dress after all. As Lynly walked by she threw the first bit advice back to her aspiring student, "Use both hands in a stance, and square your feet with your shoulders. A hard enough blow can rip the hilt out of your hand and throw you off balance," unless she wanted to use a spell of course, but Adrienne asked for sword training, not battlemage training.

Once she had put a couple of paces between herself and the breton, Lynly stopped, and set down her burden. She grabbed her own sword with both hands and squared up with Adrienne across from her, and then she spoke. "I told you I learned how to fight from my father. That he gave me the basis and let me grow from there. That's what I'm going to do with you. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy, just enough for you to even the odds. That means I'm not going to be able to work a miracle and teach you how to kill the Shade singlehandedly," a grin broke the certain serious air that had perculated.

"But first, I need to see where you stand. Come after me with all you got," She said, straightening her own stance.

Adrienne swallowed, but did as Lynly instructed, gripping her sword in both hands as she'd watched the Nord do a moment before. "I don't need to be the best," she said, and though it once would have lanced her pride to admit that, now it was only a faint twinge, and that only for the fact that it had taken her so long to get to this point. "Good enough will do just fine." So saying, she focused her attention wholly on the situation before her, trying to use what the Mentor had taught her about sizing up weaknesses in an opponent's guard and stance here. There was nothing immediately obvious, so she'd be best off acting cautiously. Unfortunately, she'd actually never been all that cautious, not until she'd been looking out or other people. Now, it was just about herself and what she could learn here. Speed would be important, as would flexibility; they were the only areas in which she could even hope to match her foe.

Well, she might be able to put her skills in analysis and the reading of body language to good use, but that was something she always seemed to lose her grip on when things blurred in the heat of a fight. She'd have to work on that. Nodding resolutely, she decided that right now, the doing was going to be the biggest help, and she darted in for Lynly's off-hand side.

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 was not a man without intelligence, but neither did he consider himself particularly adroit in such matters as these. In the end, it probably wouldn't matter anyway. "Thank you," he told Invorin quietly. The knowledge that the Omen may attempt to interfere with their dreams was valuable. "But if we linger much longer, Tarquin will not need to struggle to find us." Even so, he did not immediately make a move to leave, instead offering the opinion and relinquishing it, for them to do with as they liked. He was no more a leader than he was a scholar; indeed, that role was one he didn't think any of them would be too comfortable occupying.

The Horizon appeared to either not hear or not care for Lynly's words. The Altmer had spoken much more amicably, and as was natural it was to him the Dunmer replied. "I will not be lingering either. Once the deed is done, return west to Morthal. I will stay in the tavern there." He pushed his chair back, slowly taking his feet. "Good hunting, Maya." The witch smiled warmly in response, though it could certainly have been false warmness. "You as well. The deadliest prey brings the greatest reward."

He nodded assent, then turned and quietly made his way from the room. When he was gone, Maya smiled at Sinder. "Not sure Tarquin will have much trouble, regardless. We don't exactly have a history of keeping a low profile." Drayk pushed away from the wall, uncrossing his arms. "Never too late to start. We shouldn't have any insane Khajiit ruining our plans this time... with any luck."

The fire mage took a few cautious steps forward, placing both hands palms down on the tabletop. No one seemed eager to give out orders, and he certainly wasn't eager himself, but he did feel a kind of drive inside him. Perhaps it was just a powerful desire for this to be over with, the sooner the better. If making stronger suggestions to the group did that, then he was fine with it. "Let's get this over with, then. One step at a time, and the next step is in Dawnstar."

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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A single day of rest was woefully inadequate considering what the Sellswords had recently endured, but they had little choice in the matter. The Shade did not seem one to waste time, and the threat of his return loomed over the group as they slept that night. The frequently appearing Horizon departed immediately, heading east towards the swamps of Hjaalmarch hold. The Sellswords grudgingly followed the next morning, their supplies restocked as best they could be, their physical wounds healing whilst other wounds continued to open.

The witch took the lead as the mounted caravan of eight set out once more. They wouldn't get very far, however, as another organization had plans for one of their newer members...




Chapter V
Waking Nightmares




The group had been riding into the wind for the past half day, something that slowed their progress somewhat and also provided more than a little discomfort, the icy-- as if there was any other kind in Skyrim-- breeze tearing at their clothes and hair and lashing at any bare skin it had the fortune to find. The change of seasons may be nearing, but as they drew closer to the north, each was reminded that these hinterlands rarely knew anything but winter regardless. Frost coated everything not yet touched by snow, and the entire atmosphere seemed brittle, ready to crack.

For the most part, they stuck to cover, as Tarquin could fly, and it would behoove them not to be spotted from above too soon before they had chance of detecting him. In the end, it might not matter, but it was something Sinder insisted upon anyway. Foliage was not so dense here that doing so further impeded them, and in fact, the trunks of trees helped break up the brutal wind that would have slammed into them unimpeded otherwise. Late that morning, snow had begun to fall, the flakes dense and fat, driven towards them by the moving air. The lycanthrope was handling his better than most, as his body temperature was naturally quite high, and he relied less on his vision than most of the others, since his nose and ears were better anyway, but even he had to admit that it was far from comfortable. Snow clung to just about everywhere, even getting stuck in his eyelashes, which only got worse when his body heat melted them and the wind sent frigid water into his eyes.

He was reaching up to wipe ineffectually at them when the wind shifted slightly, bringing a fresh set of smells to his olfactory receptors. With a sharp motion, his head snapped to the left. It wasn't the Shade, but-- "Ambush!" he shouted, loud enough to be heard over the driving gale. Reaching beneath his cloak, the altmer withdrew his sword, which he'd kept from the pieces of Thalmor equipment he'd been given, and swung his leg over the back of his horse, dropping to the snow beneath in just enough time to block a downward blow aimed at the creature's flank.

The assassins, for indeed they all wore the dark red and black armor of the Brotherhood beneath their ebon cloaks, all leapt out of cover immediately, their element of surprise ruined. Their best option now was to overwhelm the party before those in it had a chance to react properly.

As soon as Soren spotted the armor, his bow was drawn, though he scanned the faces of those present carefully. Tarquin wouldn't use such low-class fools to do his dirty work, and he suspected that the Brotherhood was here for him. Scoffing low in his throat, he thought to himself that their informational networks needed a bit of work. No competent force of less than thirty would attack him while he was with this lot, and these numbered around thirteen at best. Still, there might be some use to be found from-- ah. Perfect.

Ilyessa.

She was there, in the back, lightning lit in each hand, creeping low to the ground and using the cover of her comrades' attacks to fire off the powerful bolts of destruction magic at the group. The wind and driven snow was making it hard to aim, though, so they should be mostly safe until she got in closer. For now, there were peons to deal with.

Drayk was throwing himself off his horse the moment Sinder's call of an ambush cut through the wind and reached his ears. If he'd had more time to think, the fire mage probably would have been quite annoyed at the fact that they were being attacked by people who didn't have anything to do with the twisted game they were caught up in, but there was no time. He was focused on making sure they made it through in one piece.

The biting wind and thick snow clouds would make any kind of ranged attack difficult to pull off. Drayk had been sure to ride next to Adrienne, and knew she was beside him now, even if he didn't turn to see her through the snow. "I'll draw their attention," he said, taking his shield into his left hand. "I'll make sure they don't see you coming." He'd learned the hard way that he hadn't been capable of withstanding the Inquisitor's attacks, but these assassins were not the Inquisitor, and this time, he had his shield. He could do this. The Mentor had taught him how to do this, how to function as part of a team, without the use of fire. Not so long ago that was the way he'd fought.

The snow was sticking to the ground, but not thick enough to slow his movement overmuch, and with the knowledge that ranged attacks would be unreliable, Drayk pushed forward quickly, the fireball he threw only hastily aimed, and meant more to draw attention than kill. The first of the assassins came to meet him with dual short swords, and Drayk planted his feet, letting the first of the strikes clang harmlessly off his shield. He would not wrap himself in fire, not if Adrienne would be working closely beside him. If there was anything that could force him to control himself, it was her.

Adrienne was cold now, had been cold all day, and was about to get a whole lot colder. It was probably fortunate that she'd been working with ice so long that she probably wouldn't run too much risk of hypothermia. Tugging at the clasp that held it together she shed her sable cloak, too easily visible against the vibrant white of the snow, and drew the blade at her hip. Given that her newly-tailored robes were cream and light blue in color, she'd have much more luck staying hidden this way.

Stepping in behind Drayk, she kept herself low so as to avoid easy detection. She couldn't sneak worth much, but she was a small person and the wind in their ears was making it hard to hear anything anyway, so it probably didn't matter at the moment. The first assassin strode forward to meet them, and the ringing sound of blade on shield was her cue. While the dark-armored fellow was recovering from the rebound, she slipped in between the combatants, scoring a deep cut to his relatively unprotected inner thigh. Lynly, it turned out, was a pragmatist about where to hit people and had impressed upon her that in this as well as in other matters, the other person's dignity wasn't worth much.

His natural reflex was to counter, and it was a good one. Whipping both blades around, he slashed vertically. With a quick jump sideways, she avoided all but a nick on the shoulder from the first. The second, she blocked with her sword, though the force of it threatened to drive her to her knees. She went willingly, as this left significant space over her head for Drayk to utilize and only one weapon-hand to contend with.

The hit that Adrienne had scored gave Drayk the time and space to draw back a step and prepare a physical strike of his own. When she dropped to a knee, he pushed himself forward with the force in his legs, his shield leveled sideways such that when he punched, the steel rim collided with the hooded assailant's jaw. The assassin had managed to get his blade up, but it wasn't a match for the weight behind his blow, and with a solid crack he was thrown from his feet, landing with a softened thud in the shallow snow, both of his weapons landing in the ground beside him.

In the time that took, Adrienne had charged an ice spear in her free hand, and with the weight of the assassin removed from her, she rose to her feet and lowered the sword, sending the chilly projectile flying for the one on the ground. It was heavy enough not to be knocked off course by the wind, and impaled the fallen man through the chest, halting his efforts to reach for one or both of his weapons.

Two more followed closely behind the first, though not quick enough to save him. They split to try and attack Drayk and Adrienne from both sides, one of them a rather hefty Nord wielding a two handed sword. Drayk supposed not all assassins had to fight with daggers. The other was wielding a spell of some kind in one hand, though Drayk didn't get a good look, as his attention was mainly on the Nord fellow, who was half a head taller than he, and more muscled, too. Drayk found himself back to back with Adrienne as the assassin moved in, cutting down at him with his great steel sword.

He'd been taught not to take blows like that full on, as he risked shattering his shield, or his arm, and so Drayk sidestepped slightly, angling his shield as well such that the blade was deflected rather than stopped fully, the steel point carrying on to stick into the snowy ground. He took advantage by closing the distance entirely, ramming him in the upper body with his shield, trying to keep the distance so small that his sword would become useless. Reacting to this, the Nord decided to ditch the sword entirely, wrapping an arm around Drayk's upper body and wrestling him down, the pair of them going to the ground in a cloud of snow.

That was bad. Drayk's arm was still stuck in his shield, which wasn't ideal for a lethal wrestling match, and apart from that, this guy was bigger and stronger, too. He struggled against him, doing what he could to keep the assassin's hands away from his throat and face, shifting his weight around, trying to roll the man over, anything to keep himself from being pinned beneath him.

The mage that came at Adrienne was a dunmer woman cowled in black, the deep purple of a conjuration spell lit in one hand, a dull green orcish mace in the other. Adrienne was two steps into a bull rush when she was forced to pull up short as the spell released, triggering the appearance of a massive ice atronach. Not the sort of thing she was really equipped to deal with. Treading backwards, she shored up her position behind Drayk and reached into one of her pouches, fishing out a bright, carnelian-colored potion. Well, when you weren't enough by yourself, that was what friends were for, wasn't it?

An ice atronach would already have trouble against fire, but with this brew, it would light up like dried brush in summer, assuming she could give her friend a good shot at it. That said, it was huge, and even in this weather, missing it would be kind of like missing the broad side of a barn. Smiling, she gave the thing a toss, the glass cracking open against the hardened front side of the atronach, staining the crystalline blue of its chilly carapace a brilliant red, as though something neither blood nor fire but in between had spattered all over it. The creature was cold enough that the liquid froze where it landed, for the most part, which was a good sign.

Not so good was the fact that she felt a chill at her back where Drayk was, apparenty, no longer standing. Turning to glance out of the corner of her eye, she spotted him grappling with a very large man, and he looked to be at about the disadvantage one would expect. Well, she wouldn't be any help there, but the young woman knew something that might. She'd have to be careful with the shot, though... maybe closer was a good idea. Spell in hand, Adrienne kept half her attention on the advancing atronach and dashed forward, skittering over the top of the snow and vaulting the person-stack that had her friend on the bottom. Her hand left behind the circle characteristic of a frost rune across the Nord's broad back, and she ducked on the landing just in time to miss whatever the dunmer sorceress had been aiming at her head.

Now, to detonate. Anything should do, but... ha! Snatching up the fallen stick, she doubled back towards the wrestling foes. "Brace yourself!" she warned Drayk, then with a deft tap, hit the runed combatant on the back with the former branch. The result was instantaneous and somewhat explosive, though naturally Drayk was shielded from the effects by the body of his foe, who collapsed. That left the mage and her summon, and Adrienne offered her arm as leverage for her ally to get himself out from under the nord and back onto his feet. "The snowman there's really, really weak to flames right now," she pointed out.

Drayk got to his feet with Adrienne's help, shoving the limp form of the Nord assassin off of him. His robes were heavily dusted with snow, but there was no time to shake it off, as Adrienne was calling out an opportunity to make himself useful. "Can do. Stand back," he said, giving his own warning. He didn't expect to explode in flames, but it wouldn't hurt to be safe. His method of firecasting tended to be a little more violent than most. Adrienne nodded and took a few steps back, prepping another spell in her empty left hand. Even once the atronach was down, there was still going to be a mage to deal with, after all, and her dunmer blood would probably be sufficient to survive the heat.

When she was clear, Drayk took a step forward, to close the distance slightly between the target and himself. The wind wouldn't affect his throw very much, given the speeds he could hurl fireballs, but the visibility was a problem, and he wanted to be able to see the target clearly. Once satisfied, he lit a flame in his right palm, and quickly intensified it, the fire spreading up his arm past his elbow, ending around his bicep. With one swift hurling motion the flame left his arm and took flight, licking at the air as it flew headlong into the atronach's body. Ice and fire exploded alongside each other as the atronach crumbled, leaving only the Dunmer mage in its wake. She was preparing destruction spells for them now that her cover was gone. Drayk banished the flames in his hand, ignoring their protests, and replaced them with a ward spell. "Let's get closer," he suggested to Adrienne, lifting his shield and preparing a ward to block any incoming spells. "I'll be your cover."

"Sounds like a plan," she replied, and the two advanced, Drayk's wards surviving a few shots of ice and one lightning spell that sizzled at it departed from existence. As they drew in close enough, Adrienne ducked out sideways from the cover provided by Drayk's ward and shield, sighting down her own arm and letting fly the ice spike, which veered slightly off-course in the wind and hit the sorceress in the shoulder rather than the center of the chest, which was where it had been aimed. Still, it should serve the intended purpose.

"Would you like to introduce the nail to a hammer?" she asked with some mirth, making a motion similar to one she'd seen Lynly use when she was readying a shield bash. Driving the spike further in would likely distract the mage for long enough that Adrienne herself could maneuver behind her with a sword and finish the match.

For a moment Drayk tried to think of some clever way to respond, but the nail and hammer imagery was clogging his thoughts, and now he was just wishing he'd come up with that himself, and in the end he decided to just smile and nod, letting Adrienne be the one that was good with words. He charged forward, and the mage had just finished reeling from receving the icy projectile when the face of a shield slammed into her, causing a yelp from the further trauma and interrupting whatever spell she had in the works.

Which was, naturally, when Adrienne flashed out from behind cover, drawing the sharpened blade of her sword over the woman's ribcage on her way to the space behind, whereupon she wasted little movement planting the tip of the weapon in the space between her shoulderblades and thrusting, sheathing the slender ribbon of steel in the dunmer's torso. Planting a foot beside it, the breton pulled the blade free and plunged it into the snow to clear it of as much blood as she could for the moment. The battle was winding down around them, from the sounds of things, and it had been a much fairer fight than they got nowadays. It was nice to know they were actually getting better at this, not worse.

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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Ilyessa was a hellion; certainly, his information gathering had prepared him for that. The Nord woman was garbed nearly entirely in white, perhaps the only one of her troop who had remembered that black did not blend with everything, and the fact that her hair also was very close to snow-colored and her skin as pale as any nord’s meant that she was not the easiest to keep track of. They called her the Ice Wraith—clearly, it was a name she’d earned for cosmetic as well as more substantive reasons.

But she was a member of the Dark Brotherhood nonetheless, and as Soren hacked at the ice spell keeping his left leg in place with his newly-drawn sword, he supposed there might have been a time when this fact made him wary. Now was no longer that time, and he had little care for who or what she thought herself. She was a target, and he’d always thrived on hitting the ‘impossible’ mark.

Doubtless, she knew who he was by now as well. The Brotherhood boasted an extensive network of contacts and information, and he in the early days of his pursuit had not been the most subtle, the angry red of his vengeance clouding his eyes. Now, he was much more collected about it, and more vicious for that. The first two he’d killed had died quickly, too quickly, leaving him dissatisfied. His friends had suffered, his son had suffered, and every one of them deserved to suffer, too. So suffer they had. He no longer cared what he had to become to see that end achieved.

The others were doing an admirable job of dealing with the small fry, and he advanced, sword drawn, on the white-cloaked lady, sharp eyes narrowed to dangerous green slivers. He could pick out the minute details of the brush of hair against her cheek, even in this driving shroud of frost. Her pale lips were drawn back from her teeth, her own vision clearly faltering; her next shot went wide, the frost barely grazing his leg. He paid it no mind, advancing through the snow with a single-minded focus. She staggered backwards, trying to maintain distance to use her magic properly, and the next one did not go quite so awry, coating his sword-arm in a thick layer of ice. Heedless, he swapped hands, and she at last abandoned the effort and drew forth an elvish dagger, the burnished copper-gold of the blade a splash of color against the nearly all-white backdrop.

Steadying her stance, Ilyessa snarled, darting forth with the quickness one would expect of a person in her profession. Soren was quick, too, though, and the strike meant for his heart found his sword instead. He batted it away with his superior strength and slammed his frosted gauntlet into her jaw, which she clearly wasn’t expecting from him. All the information they had spoke of his preferences for stealth and subtlety, after all, but maybe a certain lovely friend of his was exerting an influence, of sorts.

Backpedaling quickly, Ilyessa only just managed to keep her footing on the slick ground, and her next strike hit, scoring a thin line into his side. His was not the first blood to coat the snow, though, as he’d willingly stepped into it so as to leave a deep gash from her right shoulder down across her collarbones. He’d avoided the throbbing, vital artery in her neck on purpose, and they both knew it. This was not going to be quick.

Some undetermined number of minutes later, Ilyessa was at last put out of her misery by an arrow between her eyes, the sable shaft with its pearlescent etching the only grave marker she’d be receiving, unless her foul order decided to retrieve her corpse before the carrion birds did. Ribbons of crimson stained the snow in wide arcs, evidence of the sheer ruthlessness of the mercenary’s quiet rage. He hadn’t yet uttered a syllable.

Plunging his sword into the snow, he cleaned it of most of the blood before sheathing it and returning to the group as quietly as he’d left. The last man fell just as he drew within audible range, and he glanced around at the other bodies, satisfied that none of them yet lived. Still without saying anything, he advanced to his horse, a dark blood bay, and pulled her out of the line of them. “You’ve got enough problems without shouldering mine,” he said simply. “Try not to die. And lovely, if they aren’t singing about you in taverns soon, I’ll be sorely disappointed.” Of course, he probably wasn’t going to be around to know in the first place, but… well, nobody had to know that. He was actually being genuine about the ‘shouldering his burdens’ bit.

The last man to fall, did so courtesy of Lynly. She pulled her sword free and whipped the blood from the iron in a wide arc. A quick survey of the battlefield affirmed what Soren already knew, the battle over and victory was theirs. "You say that as if your problems aren't worth shouldering in the first place," Considering her hands were full of steel and iron, she couldn't put her hands on her hips to show her disapproval. A simple tilt of the head would have to do instead, as a flicker of disapproval danced across her face. Still, she couldn't dissuade him from anything he wanted to do or felt he needed to do.

She slipped her sword back into it's sheath and put her shield on her back. "Ilyessa?" She asked, mostly rhetorically. Lynly already knew the answer. Instead, she merely smiled and shook her head. "I need to do something worthy of song first," she answered. "But if you return and we meet again, I expect to hear the story," She said, crossing her arms and wearing a wisp of a smile.

"I'd tell nobody else first," the mercenary replied with a wink. Of Ilyessa, he said nothing. Nothing needed to be said, and she didn't deserve the breath. Not from him, and certainly not from anyone else.

Anirne, bleeding from a small cut above her eyebrow but otherwise quite undamaged, cocked her head at the man, giving him a long, considering look before saying anything. "Go with swiftness and silence, then, and keep your wits about you." She didn't really know what the context was behind this attack, but he seemed to be willing to remove himself from them to spare them the additional danger, something she found noble, though she was almost certain he would vehemently deny posessing any such quality. That was part of having, it, though. Either way, her benediction was a good one, as in truth just about anything she could imagine him getting himself into that involved assassins would probably benefit from that kind of thing. She was unsure if he would return, or indeed if he intended to do anything in particular, but there was a certain reslouteness and finality to the mood here that she suspected that he at least saw something terminal in it.

Adrienne added nothing but a nod, uncharacteristically without anything much to say. Drayk didn't even give the man that much, standing silently at Adrienne's side. His gut was telling him to be glad for the man's leaving, given that he'd just brought a Dark Brotherhood ambush upon them, but another part of him was arguing that he was being noble by refusing to allow them to suffer for him, and that they needed people like that on their side, even if he was a little troublesome to be around.

Maya banished the dagger she'd used to finish the last of her opponents. "You're welcome to come back to our merry band, if you like," she ventured pleasantly, "after you take care of whatever personal problems, of course. We shouldn't be too hard to find. Just follow the news of dragon and giant attacks and blown up embassies."

"Embassies? I'd hope you'd at least manage a small town next time. Don't want everyone to think you've lost your touch, after all." There was a pause, and his face grew solemn, as though he were seriously considering it, but he shook his head. No promises, not when he was as good as dead already. Besides, if he somehow did manage to survive the scrap of a plan that was already forming in the back of his mind, he wasn't sure he'd want to go back to certain death so soon afterwards. This was not his war, not his game, and as much as he enjoyed the sensation of a near brush with death, what they were in for wasn't just long odds-- it was almost certain failure. Shame; he hadn't actually found any among them that he particularly desired dead. Coming from him, that was something of a compliment.

"Good hunting, Sellswords." With a salute that might have been mocking but wasn't, he swung astride his horse and wheeled her, pointing her nose due north, peeling off a bit from their former trajectory. It was time to end his search, no matter what that meant.




The Sellswords carried on, now without one of their archers, pushing through the driving snowstorm as quickly as they could. As the Dark Brotherhood had just proven, it was fine weather for an ambush, and had they come more prepared, or encounter a group less deadly, they no doubt would have been successful. Maya found herself somewhat regretful of Soren's departure. She had not really gotten to know him very well, nor had he allowed himself to be known very well, but he was very skilled, and carried a head that stayed somewhat cooler than most of her other companions. He was a valuable asset, but simply not worth the risk of confronting yet more assassins in order to earn his services. They had enough deadly obstacles in their path already.

Speaking of obstacles, the group came upon another in the afternoon, shortly after passing a crossroads, a southern road leading down towards Whiterun, the group continuing east. It was a rather large tree tipped over the side of a small ridgeline on the group's right, the trunk thick enough to block their path entirely. The numerous branches sticking up and down along its length would make getting the horses over or under it quite impossible, and thus they would have to go around. It was no great inconvenience, as it would take all of fifteen seconds for the group to be on the other side, but it was the mere placement that put Maya on edge. The tree had clearly been felled by an axe rather than age, judging by the relatively clean slice at the base.

Just as they arrived before it a figure along the side of the road made their presence known, appearing from behind a large rock and moving to stand in front of the mounted Sellswords. She was a relatively small figure, not tall enough to match Maya but perhaps larger than Adrienne, her body hidden under layers of worn leather armor and cloth for warmth, all of which were heavily dusted with snow to the point where she nearly blended in with the tree behind if she stood still. A hood was drawn up over her head, but Maya was able to judge her as Bosmer from the skin tone visible upon her face. She was armed with a drawn bow, an arrow nocked, although the weapon was not raised at them, the arrow not drawn back.

"You're rather well armed for travelers," the elf noted, uneasy. "You with the Companions?"

Maya had to laugh at that, her voice cutting lightly through the slight wind. She drew her hood back. "Oh, but our lives would be so much simpler if we were. No, we are just what we appear to be: well armed travelers." She leaned to Sinderion beside her, speaking low enough for only him and perhaps those riding behind her to hear. "There must be others nearby. Any idea how many?"

The driving snow was making it difficult to sense things properly, but Sinder inhaled deeply anyway, eyes flickering once to the right and once to the left of the visible woman. A hand shifted to rest behind his back, subtly so as not to draw attention, and with it, he held up two fingers, indicating to those riding behind that there were an additional couple of people here at minimum. It was information he repeated verbally, though in tones just as quiet. "At least a pair, one to each side." His eyes remained fixed on nothing in particular, so as to better percieve any movement as it was occurring.

"Seems a little weak for highwaymen," Maya muttered, not pleased with Sinder's estimation. If there were only three of them, they could have simply let a group as dangerous-looking as the Sellswords be on their way, but they'd chosen to stop them instead. It put her on edge. Some of the others, too, she could tell, as Drayk fidgeted in his saddle behind her, trying to work his shield such that it would be easier to grab.

"Let's say I'm curious," the elf continued. "Care to give us a name?" Maya frowned at that, though she didn't really see the harm in it. Few people knew her by name, and those that did would be interested to know... in fact, they would need to know, so as to know not to attack her. "Why not? Some people call me Blackfeather, but I like Maya better." It had the desired effect; the elf before them relaxed visibly, and a second female Bosmer appeared along the ridge to the group's right, seemingly coming out of the rocks themselves, dropping the three feet or so to the ground, her boots kicking up a small puff of snow.

This one was taller than the other, but only slightly; she was still average height for a Bosmer woman. Her armor was leather and some scale, but the craftsmanship looked elven rather than Nordic. Her bow was nearly as tall as she was, also of elven make. Under the hood she wore her skin was pale rather than the typical bronze of Bosmer, but her eyes were alight. "Almost didn't recognize the witch under all that snow," she said, her tone carrying equal parts pleasantry and condescension. "Chasing a rabbit up in the north, are we?"

"You could say that," Maya responded, slightly less pleasantly. She turned to her companions. "This is Ilanna Falodin, the Pact, representative of Clavicus Vile. You're out a little early, aren't you?" The Pact shrugged in response. "Perhaps, but it's been quiet lately, and I never walk alone. You can come out now. The witch and I are no threat to each other... just yet."

From all around the Sellswords, perhaps twenty armed figures stirred, some rising from where they had been almost entirely submerged in the snow, others moving into plainer view from positions in the tree branches, and more still along the tops of the ridgeline. Drayk went ahead and grabbed his shield, sliding it into place on his left. The warriors were a wide variety of races, though a great number of them were either elves of beast races; few of them were Imperial, Breton or Nord. They were filthy, garbed in armor covered with the earth they'd passed over, many of them hiding their faces under masks.

"Two huh? You may have miscalcuated there, elf," Lynly deadpanned as ten times that number rose up from around them. What was once a prospectively easy battle, turned sourly against their favor in an instant. The nord was not amused, to say the least. Vanryth offered nothing in return, only a violent snort from his nostrils. Two, twenty, it didn't matter. If they wanted a fight, then they had better strike first and fast-- else the sellswords would put up a fight. Though considering the witch's and the bosmer's words, that fight didn't seem to be in their immediate future. Just as well, it was too damn cold for a fight anyway. He tightened Adrienne's scarf around his neck, allowing the warm magic to seep into his bones. Sinder did not answer Lynly, but his eyes narrowed as reply enough. There must have been concealment magic at work, though there was no mistaking the fact that his senses were hindered in such conditions as this. It displeased him immensely, but he was never an expressive man, and did not become one now.

"Now you've met my friends," the Pact said. "Might I know who yours are?"

Adrienne, aware of her role as the spokesperson of the Sellswords (minus the others, who spoke for themselves often as not), straightened in her saddle, as much a subtle bid for attention as anything else. Being such a small person, and as well-cloaked as any of the rest at present, she likely would have not garnered much otherwise. "We are the Sellswords," she said simply. She wasn't sure why this woman would have any interest in them; was it not clear that they were Maya's acquired help? Unless there was some whisper of a rumor circulating about them, in which case, they would have to be much more careful. In a way, her abbreviated answer was almost probing for a reaction, some sign that this short introduction might have meant something to the Bosmeri woman. If it didn't... all the better, really.

The Pact seated herself lightly on the snow dusted tree, seemingly quite relaxed. The introduction seemed to pique her interest, and also to come as a bit of a surprise. "The Mentor's little proteges, then? How interesting. I won't ask how they came to work with you, Maya. If it's as long a story as mine, then I don't really want to hear it. I'll bet you wouldn't want to tell it, either, standing here in the cold as we are. Be on your way. Good hunting."

The way she spoke the final two words implied that she knew, or suspected, whom Maya was currently targeting, which she supposed wasn't that great of a stretch, if the Pact knew where the Omen had fled to recover. He was east, and they were headed east. All of the other Representatives she knew of were south or southeast of their position, though there were other possibilities. There was little point worrying about it now, however. They had a mark to bring down, and she was not currently it. Still, as the witch watched the warband slip away into the marsh once more, she couldn't help but feel that bringing her down would be much more difficult if she knew they were coming.

Lynly raised her eyebrows and relaxed in her seat, sitting fairly at ease now that the Bosmer was on her way with her band. "That was... Uneventful," she stated, actually surprised. It seemed for once that they managed to bypass a fight. Vanryth grunted in agreement. Lately they seemed like a magnet for such wanton acts of violence.

"Oh, I'm sure we'll have to kill them all eventually," Maya mused darkly, gently nudging her horse forward and around the roadblock. "... Fair enough," Lynly amended.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The storm did not let up for the remainder of the day, which undoubtedly slowed the Sellswords' progress towards Dawnstar. Whereas they might have reached it before darkness fell had the skies been clear, the driving wind and relentless snowfall forced them to stop for rest when the last of the light faded from where it had been hiding behind the clouds. The witch located a decent place for them to stop for the night, a very small cave carved into the side of a rock wall mercifully facing away from the wind, granting them protection from the air's icy knives, though the temperatue itself was still brutally low. After determining that there were no hostile creatures living within the cave's depths, the Sellswords set camp and posted a watch, hoping to get some sleep in order to prepare for the potential trials of the following day. The rock would not be the most comfortable surface to sleep upon, but their bedrolls would do enough to combat that for them to at least find some respite.

Their dreams, however, would be about as peaceful as the storm raging around their bodies...





Where was she now? It seemed like a good idea to follow the bronze pipe at the time. Lynly figured she couldn't get lost if she always kept it to her right. Yet, here she was, in the ass end of the dwemer ruins, lost like a poor little lamb. The torch in her hand was her only blessing, without that she'd be plunged into the oppressive darkness inside the bowels of this ancient place. Her blonde head swiveled on it's bearing, trying her best to guess where she entered this place from, and where to go next. Her cheeks puffed up in frustration, and no small amount of curses swam in her head. Sure, she followed the pipe, that wasn't the issue. It was when there stopped being pipes to follow that the issue arose. Her damn pride told her to forge ahead, that it'd be fine, she'd be able to find her way out again. Now here she stood, standing in the heart of a cavern in which the ruin opened up into. All around her she could see dozens of golden doors, each one promising an escape. She knew that most of them were lying, but to guess which one wasn't? That seemed impossible.

"Dammit." She cursed, spinning on her heel. Lynly was still conflicted on which way she should go now. Blindly walking forward got her into this mess, surely keeping pace would only make it worse. But what other options did she have? Sit down and hope some other adventurer or thrill-seeker would come along to this exact ruin? Pah, she was the only one brave enough or more likely foolish enough to delve into dwemer ruins. For what? A pack of old dwarven metal artifacts? Hah, little good they'd do her if she couldn't find her way out. Her eyes lifted skyward, at the stone roof above her head. Talos have mercy on her prideful soul. Alas, fortune favors the bold, and pushing ahead would take her mind off of her predicament. With that resolution, she settled on the direction directly in front of her and she marched.

A chill crept up her spine and the color drained from her face. The cavern was alive. She could hear the echoes of soft footfalls in the distance. She could feel the predatory eyes on her. Brutal implements clanked mutely against the sides of their wields. The rattle of ramshackle arrows in their quivers and the whisper of bows were present as well. Lynly knew these subterranian warriors, this was not their first encounter. Falmer. She thought she'd lost them back when she lost the pipe. Apparently she thought wrong. Why would she just lose them? Everything else had certainly gone swimmingly up to this point. She sighed and drew her blade out of its sheath on her back. She needed to get out of the open and into one of the corridors. They might not need to see in this darkness to attack, but she had no such advantage in their home. It'd be a sad story indeed if she was ended by an unseen arrow. Iron boots quickened their pace and the salvage on her back jingled against each other, no longer worried about the racket-- if the Falmer knew where she was now, then it hardly mattered.

They struck first. The force of the arrow knocked her shoulder forward causing her steps to stutter. She righted herself before she spilled, and now there was an added weight to her shoulder blade. It just hasn't been her day... Night? Hell if she knew, she couldn't even remember entering this forsaken ruin. Another arrow skittered past her ankles, causing her steps to shudder before resuming pace. Needed to get to the corridor at the end of this walkway. Talos, she hoped there was a corridor. He granted her that one grace as her torchlight caught the shimmering of the golden door. Finally just in time too, as an arrow whizzed past her ear. They were getting closer. She dropped her shoulder and pushed right through the door rather easily. The lack of resistance surprised her, causing her to scrabble on the ground for a step or two. She dropped her torch upon impact and she turned to retrieve when the sightless bastard fell in line behind her. Damn, she didn't know they were that close. They we already swarming over the torch by the time she readied her shield. It seemed like she was going to have to go dark.

She swung her shield just in time to intercept a roughly hewn sword. She hoped this wouldn't be her last fight.

Lynly fought valiantly, but she could not hope to match the ferocity or the numbers of the Falmer. More than once she had to abandon her stand to make a run for it deeper into the ruins. She became painfully aware that her chosen path didn't rise, but fell. She was being pushed deeper into the ground and further away from the open air. The air became thick and hard to swallow. She was exhausted by the time she came to the last door. It slammed behind her, jamming a skeleton's arm into the latches to buy herself some time. A skeleton? She hoped that wasn't a portent of her own fate. She scanned quickly, immediately noting the lack of any golden portals. It seemed she was to fight her way out from her.

A long exhale came from her lungs as she settled toward the door, slowly backing up. Her shield had a number of nicks and arrow heads protruding from it's face. Her sword was coated in a thick layer of blood. Sweat and her blood mixed on her face, obscuring her vision in one eye. Her chest heaved in response to the fighting. On her back, a number of arrows hung from her armor, a couple managing to push through to the soft skin underneath. How she hated dwemer ruins.

The door thumped, jarring the bone, splintering it. Then again, causing the spiderweb fractures to grow. She was going to have to fight. Could she possibly make it? She was in a pit, and her one exit blocked by what seemed like a hundred falmer. She never admitted being frightened to anyone before. But her, in the belly of Skyrim, alone, she could not lie to herself. She was terrified. Was this where her song ended? Another bash against the door brought her mind to the present. If she was to die here, then she would not go quietly or quickly. She'd write her own ending to her song by the sword.

The last thump broke the skeleton and threw the doors open wide. Where she stood, she could see an endless wave of the sightless creatures and her soul sunk. How could she possibly win? She shouldered her shield and slowly stepped backward until the arrows brushed against a wall. And now she was cornered. At least she didn't have to worry about her back, she thought dryly. There she awaited what she believed to be the final battle of her story. But...

The Falmer didn't enter the room. They just stood there, still as the skeletons around her. They seemed... Terrified. They trembled, some took steps backward, others hit their knees. What... Was going on?

Then something moved. It sent a tremor through the whole room, and throwing Lynly off-balance. Her eyes danced from wall to wall to find the culprit, but she couldn't find anything. They settled back on the Falmer when she realized something. Their attention wasn't on her... But behind her. She slowly turned and bore wittness to a mechanical demon. Three times her height, twice across, a lumbering steampowered warrior stood over her. And it watched her. The shock forced her back and away from it, but a loose stone caught her boot, sending her to the floor. There, she sat under the judgement of the Centurion, awaiting his sentence.

As he raised his iron hammer, Lynly realized her sentence was death.

And she screamed. But she was no longer under the dead eyes of the Centurion. Instead she was back inside the cave, the winds whipping wildly outside. "It... Was a nightmare," she told herself, though her voice still trembled. She was sitting up in her bedroll, drenched in a cold sweat and breathing heavily. It was just a dream afterall... "I hate Dwemer ruins..." She reminded herself as she laid back down, though she knew sleep would be hard found now.

"You and me both," a low voice said from the cave wall. Maya wasn't exactly curled into a ball, but her knees were tucked somewhat close to her chest, arms draped around them, her bedroll an unorganized mess around her, evidence of her own restless night. "I didn't expect the nightmares to start so soon," she said, "otherwise I'd have warned you. We must be closer to Dawnstar than I thought. Huh. Damn town must be pretty miserable by now."

They would all be feeling the effects, but to those who didn't know any better, bad dreams were normal, and unless they gathered as a town and shared their experiences, it would no doubt seem like an awful coincidence. Those who knew better, like Maya, knew this to be the work of the Omen, Silas Rialta. He would not be targeting them specifically, but the man practically oozed his power when he slept, pulling others under his sway. She wondered what his crew thought of him. Probably not much.

"The Dwemer seem like they were awful folks," Maya commented, shifting the subject back to ruins. "I can't imagine living underground, surrounded by cold stone all the time. No sense living on this earth if you don't get out and see it occassionally."

"I still wish you would have told us anyway," Lynly said. It had been too much to hope that no one had heard her yell. At least the Archer wasn't around to hear it, else she'd never hear the end of it. She sighed, running a hand over her sweat stained brow. So that was the Omen's powers. Nightmares, even at a distance. A fitting attribute to one named the Omen. She didn't see a restful night's sleep in her immediate future, at least not until this Omen was dealt with.

Lynly grunted in agreement, "Not a place to live if you're afraid of the dark," or Falmer and Machines. She wasn't planning on seeing anymore of either if she could help it. "What's really awful is the war machines they kept. Cowards, afraid to fight their own battles so they create something to fight for them-- Er.. No offense," He added for the Necromancer's benefit. She didn't lump Maya in with them, since she's seen Maya fight enough. The Witch fought along side her creations, and not behind them.

Maya huffed a single laugh, not loud enough to bother the nearby sleepers. "None taken. We who lack the pure strength to fight as you do must find other ways to defeat enemies. We're not cowards, we're simply not stupid enough to think we could beat the likes of you in a fist fight. Corpses are far better suited for taking axe blows than I am, I believe."

She was quiet for a moment, wondering if it was wise to divulge her own dreams to the Nord woman. Eventually she decided there was little harm in it. They were all friends here, after all, striving for a similar enough goal. "If it makes you feel better, I've fared about the same in my own sleep. I was back in Falkreath Hold, the place where I was born, with the others..." These ones were still very much alive, and Maya had in fact seen them just recently, before she'd departed for the Reach to intercept the Sellswords at Tarquin's behest.

Maya held her hands out, palms down, in front of her, envisioning it once more. "We had a spriggan restrained upon a slab of rock, ready for sacrifice, and the hagraven allowed me to perform the deed. My sisters pried open her chest while the hagraven countered any magic she came up with. When I could see the heart pounding in front of me, I drove the nettlebane down into it, only instead of the spriggan dying, black twisting roots burst from the heart, snaking up my arm."

That was where the dream had altered from reality. As she remembered, she had simply slaughtered the creature, the hagraven had made use of the magical characteristics of its being, and life had gone on as usual. "The others just watched as I struggled, but the roots had thorns, and dug into my flesh harder the more I tried to pull them out. The last thing I remember is being on my back with a root constricting around my throat, choking the life out of me while I was stuck staring at the sky..."

She sighed, sinking a little lower on the wall. "But there's little point in fretting over magic induced nightmares. You'll find me worshipping your dreadfully dull Divines before you find me crying over dreams. Which is to say... never." If she believed that herself, however, she couldn't say. While she was very certain she wouldn't be wearing a Talos amulet any time soon, the dream had been... disconcerting, to say the least. She was no master of metaphor, but the possible meaning had not been lost upon her.

"And me your Daedra Lords," Lynly agreed. It was their fault they were having these Nightmares, after all. Of course, considering the adventure she found herself a part of, she'd have it no other way. She tilted her head toward the witch and looked at her for a bit. "You got choked by a Spriggan?" She asked rhetorically. "I got crushed by a Dwemer Centurion," she stated matter of factly. Of course, reality didn't match the nightmare, obviously. All of her bones weren't powdered, but it wasn't too much different from how she remembered it. There had a pack of dwemer scrap on her back, there were Falmer, and there had been a Centurion. Instead of crushing her, it merely broke her arm and scattered her prizes. It had been the only battle she had ran from, and she survived because she ran.

Though, it did little to lessen the sting of defeat. She could almost still feel the ice burning her face as she dragged her broken body across the snow and to the nearest village. She hadn't been in a Dwemer ruin since. It cut her stint as a scavenger prematurely. "... One day I'll find the blasted thing and kill it this time," she revealed. If she could go back and avenge her pride, regain some of her lost honor, then she could delve back into Dwemer ruins without fear again. It'd make for a good story, and until that time, she would avoid anything Dwemer.

Maya shrugged. "Grudges never did anyone any good. Probably just get you killed. But still, if we come across any hulking Dwarven war machines, we can certainly turn them into scrap metal for you." Not that they would have a choice, given their hostile nature. "Not that we'll be trying to find them, mind you," she added. She wasn't afraid of the places or anything, but there was no denying how unpleasant such a trip would be.

"Not much chance for sleep, I know," she said, sliding back into her bedroll, "but it should help. Big day tomorrow and all."

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: The Representatives

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Whatever else she may have been, Anirne was a woman of her word, and she did manage to snatch a few more hours of fitful rest from the jaws of a certain precarious insomnia, though she knew not if either of her friends had achieved the same. The morning dawned cold, but clear, and she was as usual awake before first light. Slightly more irregular was the fact that the rest of the group was the same, though given their troubled slumbers of late, it was probably something of a relief to drag oneself out of a bedroll and in doing so, reclaim one's mind. They moved with a shuffling, weary efficiency, and by the time the sun saw fit to present himself to Skyrim, they were mounted and once again upon the road to Dawnstar.

Today, rather than riding beside her brother or Van, Anirne steered herself alongside Maya. She'd decided that the witch was most likely to know the information she sought, though truly, she didn't hold out much hope that any of them would. When she inquired, her words were direct-- there was little sense in dancing around the issue, especially as time-sensitive as it was. Each day, they drew deeper into the Omen's circle of influence, a sure sign that things would go south very quickly if she did not divine a solution. "Maya?" she asked, though she doubted her presence had gone unnoticed by the younger woman anyway. "In your training and your travels, have you ever come upon a way to induce dreamless sleep?"

"Hm," Maya said, giving the question some thought. If there had been an easy way to do it, she most certainly would have performed it for herself and the party the previous night, but... come to think of it, there was one way she could help, though the Psijic woman would probably not like it. Neither would Sinderion, for that matter.

"There might be a way, although for this exact purpose, it's a little... untested. Glenmoril often perform sacrifices, and sometimes it is preferable to have the offering completely immobilized, without damaging any of the internal organs." Perhaps it was something of a morbid subject for an outsider to her culture, but Anirne had asked, and this was how Maya thought she could help. "I can prepare a potion that will render you largely inert. Cease all forms of thought, all impulses. I believe it would prevent you from having dreams, and thus prevent the Omen from invading your mind. The issue lies in the dosage. I've never been required to wake someone put under by it, considering that they've all been sacrifices, but with some time I could prepare a suitable counteragent. Yes, I think that could be done." She gave the Psijic a slightly quizzical look.

"Worried about confidentiality, are we? I understand. The idea of any man rooting around in my mind is quite unsettling."

Anirne snorted. "Were it simply my secrets, I could tolerate the intrusion. As it is, I would rather not invalidate your efforts to keep yourselves and each other alive by handing a man like that more tools he could use to kill you." Chewing her lip, the altmer woman thought it over. There were so many risks it was almost absurd. Maya wouldn't know the long-term effects of ingesting such a substance, since nobody that would have taken it would have lived much longer anyway. Dosage was an issue, and the counteragent carried all those risks and the trouble of being as yet uninvented. The benefit was that she could be exactly where she needed to when they were done and ready to flee the scene. But...

"What about stimulants? If I needed to remain awake for an extended period? As long as I am conscious, I am not concerned by the possibility of my mind being invaded." She wasn't sure how long this whole thing was going to take, but surely the plan would keep it within a day or two. She'd done her share of stimulants and hallucinogens (for research, of course), but she didn't fancy the idea of being delusional on a skooma trip when it was time to vacate Dawnstar.

"Stimulants would present their own set of risks and benefits," Maya speculated. "On the one hand, you would be awake. The downsides would be the state you would be in, especially after a day or two. I don't know how willing the Omen will be to let people on his ship, or if there will be relatively simple ways to get aboard. We may need to spend a day alone planning. You'll be a wreck physically and mentally at some point." And really, getting to use that catatonic potion again would be much more interesting, but the witch would leave that bit out.

"The potion would do nothing to hurt you, I'm sure of that. You'd feel as rested as ever upon awakening, it's simply a matter of providing the right jolt to get you back up again." She shrugged. "The choice is yours. Whatever you feel more comfortable with."

Anirne was silent for a while, considering. She'd endured worse than a few sleepless nights, but being well-rested at the end of it all, when perhaps the others would not be, was a tactical advantage she was having trouble passing up. It might be exactly then that they needed her to be at her best, because if this encounter with a Representative ended anything like the last one had, they would be in shambles. "...May I watch you make it?" she asked quietly. "The depressant? It is not that I believe you would do other than you say in this, but I suppose that I am ever the sort most reassured by knowledge. If I knew what it was I was introducing to my system, I would feel considerably more comfortable about it."

Maya actually laughed rather pleasantly at that. "Of course. It's quite unwise to allow others to mix drinks for you, of course. And then you may take your knowledge of we wicked witches back to your esteemed colleagues."

"An additional benefit, yes," Anirne agreed without shame. "But as I'm the test subject here, perhaps not an undeserved one." She smiled easily and nodded serenely. "My thanks, Maya."




The town of Dawnstar was about three hours further down the road, so the Sellswords first saw smoke rising from the chimneys at about noon. The group came to a halt at the top of a hill overlooking the town, and the unusual visitor was immediately visible in the harbor. The Omen's flagship was absolutely enormous, a three-tiered warship that was so wide it wouldn't even fit into the little bay that Dawnstar had built its docks on. The sails were drawn up where the ship had dropped anchor, perhaps a hundred feet off shore. Notably, there were several identical rowboats tied to the docks beside each other.

"His crew are throughout the town," Maya assumed, "though I doubt any of them would know me by sight; they know not to look for me specifically." That, and she didn't quite look as she had when the Representatives had met. She had been less... weathered, then. Before any more words could be said, one of the town guard came riding to meet them on horseback. No doubt the arrival of an armed group on horseback had caught his attention.

"You'll be moving on from Dawnstar if you're wise," he warned, reining his horse in and coming to a halt before them, "town's been plagued by unnatural nightmares for weeks now." He gestured up towards a tower on a nearby hill. "A priest of Mara identified Nightcaller Temple up there as the source, though he's not been able to do anything to stop it."

"The tower's the source of the nightmares?" Drayk asked, skeptical. The guard nodded. "That's what the priest says, anyway. Our resident pirate king off shore showed up and started offering sanctuary from the nightmares, says he knows how to prevent them. A load of crap if you ask me, but that doesn't stop people from rowing out there and seeing for themselves. Some of the guard, too. A few have gone off and joined the bastard's crew! Anyway, like I said, Dawnstar won't be the most welcoming place at the moment. Fair warning."

"Disguising the poison as the antidote, it seems," Adrienne murmured beneath the hearing of the guard. It was clever, if not precisely subtle. Still, something to be wary of-- the Omen was not without the ability to decieve. Turning her eyes up to the guard, she posed a question. "Those that leave... do any of them return? With or without their nightmares?" She wondered what kind of game he was playing. It didn't seem necessary to do this, which meant there was surely some benefit he gained from it. Tribute? Enjoyment? The occasional new crew member? And that was an idea, now wasn't it? There was no way someone playing the Daedric Game would let random strangers so close to himself unless he was sure they wouldn't be able to hurt him. And if his main power was manipulating dreams, something done from afar, it seemed a curious kind of confidence to have.

"Aye," the guard responded, "some of the townsfolk have returned and claim to be free of the nightmares entirely, but others don't return at all. None of my guardsmen that have left have returned. He's a bloody pirate, but I don't think he's killed any of them. They seem to have actually joined his crew. Never knew the life of a criminal was so attractive to so many. But... the town's falling apart the longer this goes on, and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when desperate people turn to something they don't understand."

He turned his horse back around. "I should be getting back to my duties. I'd advise taking care of your business here and then leaving." Maya huffed a short laugh. "That's an idea I can agree with."

"If the Omen's offering sanctuary," Drayk pointed out, "that sounds like it could be an easy way aboard, though we'd have no idea what to expect." Maya nodded.

"Not yet. But if he's been communicating with the town, perhaps we can find and speak with a representative of the representative? In the meantime, I can head to the inn with Anirne and begin preparations on this potion." It would be best for her to lay low as well, if they were going to be trying a stealthy approach. The crew wouldn't recognize her, but the Omen most certainly would. Especially if he were able to reach in her mind.

"Coward," Lynly inserted as the guard left. "A known pirate sits in his bay, and he just watches as the Omen conscripts his guards." she said beneath half-lidded eyes. The contempt on her face was palpable. "Looks like we're doing his bloody job for him," she complained. "What are happening to these Nords? Where are their pride and honor? Is this all that the Jarl could truly muster?" She continued as they went into town.

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: The Representatives

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The group split, with Maya and Anirne departing for the inn to begin work on the ritual potion, while the Sellswords and Lynly made their way slowly into the town itself, in search of one of the Omen's crew. Dawnstar was a small town, but even for a small town it felt unnaturally quiet. Two separate things so obviously hung over it: Nightcaller Temple upon the nearby hill stood seemingly abandoned, lording over the people below and almost challenging them to approach, and the great pirate ship offshore. Rialta's vessel looked much less harmful to the untrained eye, and indeed, it was meant to appear as a potential salvation, but to the mind of someone who needed to board it and kill its captain, it was no doubt a slightly daunting prospect.

Still, this was the group that had vanquished an embassy of Thalmor warriors and lived to tell the tale, so perhaps it was not unthinkable that they could survive this, too.

Finding a pirate among the townsfolk wasn't all that hard, as some of them stood out quite plainly as outsiders. Apart from a few miserably tired looking guards, they were the only other people outside. The local blacksmith hammered away on her anvil a few houses down, but other than that, the people of Dawnstar were either hiding in their homes, or gone altogether. The pirate they came in contact with was a Redguard like his captain, a powerfully built man with a great deal of hair on his face, and none whatsoever on his head. His weapons were displayed quite plainly, a Hammerfell scimitar at his hip, along with a hatchet that looked quite capable of cutting more than wood, and several smaller knives. He stood leaned up against the wall of a nondescript villager's house, but noticed the group of armed individuals approaching him, and moved slowly to greet them, speaking in almost overly level tones, to the point where he almost sounded bored.

"Outsiders," he pointed out, "interesting. What brings you to Dawnstar?"

Adrienne, walking somewhere in the midst of the group, subtly shifted herself so as to be at the fore of the cluster when they stopped. At the inevitable question, she glanced around, as though surveying the settlement (it scarcely deserved to be called a city) for the first time. Her hands went to her hips, face cracking in a wide grin. "Well, I'd say we're here for the weather and charming scenery, but I'd be lying." She let her eyes focus over his shoulder, where the topsail of the massive ship was visible over the nearby buildings, then slid them smoothly back to his face. "We, m' good sir, are here on business. Rumors's far away as the capital say there's a beauty of a ship hereabouts, and well, that the gentleman in charge don't mind much if his crew come with... less-than-legal inclinations."

In a town this small, there was no point pretending they were actually local, and why on earth anyone would come here save for something to do with the new pirates was a mystery, especially considering all the nasty warnings about dreams and suchlike that one could hear further inland. At this point, she was making it up on the spot, but if this crew was really taking new volunteers, it probably wasn't much of a stretch, and at least it might be a way on.

The redguard's face was as hard as stone in response to Adrienne's grin and introduction, indicating that he either wasn't aware of the concept of humor, or he was in an extremely poor mood. "You are interested in piracy," he said evenly, translating Adrienne's words into as blunt a manner as possible. "Captain Rialta will wish to speak with you. You will meet us on the edge of the docks at high noon tomorrow, and board the Dreamwalker with the other recruits. Bring your weapons and whatever personal provisions you need. Is that understood?"

Seriously? Nothing? Now that was quite unnatural. Adrienne wasn't one to fluff up her talents to be more substantial than they were, but she never got nothing from a person she was talking to. Suspicious didn't even begin to cover it. Still, she didn't let herself falter, and quirked a brow, snapping off a mock salute. "Aye, aye, sir. You've got yourself a deal." Turning over her shoulder to glance at the others, she shrugged, as if to say they might as well find someplace else to be. It was highly unlikely they'd be getting anything else out of Stonewall here. Aye, aye sir? Vanryth couldn't help but hide eyes with a calloused hand.

Drayk was glad that had finished as quickly as it did. He didn't really look the pirate type, and would have miserably failed if asked a question, no doubt. Well, maybe not with this guy. His standards didn't seem all that high if he just let them through without even the slightest background check. Maybe it just didn't matter for pirates? Drayk didn't know, so he just shook his head in confusion, and lead the way back up the hill towards the inn.

Back at the inn, the group arrived to find that Maya had already procured a room for herself and Anirne. It was quickly agreed that the others would sleep outside again, so as to hopefully not be associated with the two outsiders who weren't taking up piracy. The details of their meeting were summarized to the witch and the Psijic while they continued to work over the potion. In all, it wasn't a difficult summary.

"Just like that?" Maya asked, skeptical. "You'd think he'd at least be a little suspicious who he lets on board his ship, if he knows there's someone out to kill him. I don't like it."

"They're cocky," Lynly stated plainly. She shrugged and then explained, "We're boarding their ship where they think they're untouchable. If someone causes trouble, then they have an entire crew to deal with it. Why should they be suspicious? We're entering their domain." she finished. It'd be like the witch hunting someone down in her own forest. Her tone, and general attitude about the pirates shown that she held no love for the band of cutthroats. She'd be doing Skyrim a favor by offing these pirates. "That's their mistake."

"Mm... I think it's more than that," Adrienne replied, looking somewhat troubled. "Normally, I can look at a person and at least get something, but that man... it was like staring at a blank wall." Something about it was downright eerie, actually, carried beyond what she would have considered stoic and straight into uncanny. Even so, it wasn't like they had much of a choice. She shook her head, but said nothing further on the subject.

"Then we'll be careful. That was the plan anyway, was it not?" He couldn't say that they'd gone into any of these endeavors with all the information they would have wanted, and so in a sense, this was to be expected. At least this plan seemed straightforward enough: infiltrate the ship, kill the Omen when they got the chance. Don't fall asleep. Compared to the last plan, it was simple, really.

"I guess we'll just... wait here, then," Maya said, sounding a little frustrated. "But if anything goes wrong, I'm running down there to shoot all of them myself."

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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Maya administered her potion to Anirne after the sun went down, and it functioned as she expected it to. Anirne appeared to go into a very deep sleep, but beneath her eyelids there was no sign of rapid eye movement, or any movement at all, indicating that if any dreams were happening, which she doubted, they weren't of the intense and potentially dangerous variety that she feared. She was able to stay up most of the night herself largely out of fear of being discovered somehow should she fall asleep, and also out of a desire to simply avoid more of the Omen's mental torture techniques.

In the morning, she gradually administered the counter-agent, and while Anirne did not immediately wake, Maya was confident that it would work. She didn't doubt that it was a process that required time, restarting the body and mind like that. The risk would lie in bringing her back too quickly, and damaging something that way. Hopefully it wouldn't be necessary. When midday had nearly come around, she made her way outside to meet up with the others, who had slept in a clearing a short way outside of town.

She looked a little awkward, not really knowing what to say. It felt wrong to not even take part in what was supposed to be her own kill. In the end, she just let them go, her status as not one of the Sellswords feeling painfully apparent. She did, however, catch Sinderion's arm as the others headed towards the docks.

"You look terrible," she pointed, with some forced measure of humor. "Did something happen?"

Sinder stilled his steps forward, glancing down from the corner of his eye. "Yes," he replied bluntly, but then he shook his head. "Now is scarcely the time, however." If this was going to be another version of the same conversation, he wasn't sure he'd be remaining to hear it. Going in there with full knowledge that the Omen could induce at least some transformation in him was costing him enough as it was. It was a risk, but one he had to take, because he couldn't let his friends, his family, go in there without him.

It seemed she wouldn't be able to help here, either. Her eyes fell downward for a moment, and she let him go. "Good luck," was all she could think to say. Even be careful felt selfish, implying that she wanted him to put his own life above those of the others. Turning back towards the inn, Maya felt like hitting something. If only there was a rabbit nearby...




"Two to a row," the redguard pirate from yesterday ordered, as the "recruits" began piling into the large rowboat that had been brought to the docks for them. In addition to the Sellswords, there were four others; three who appeared to be a family, a mother and father and their young daughter who could have been no older than nine. They were no doubt desperately seeking a release from the nightmares, and were encouraged by others returning and claiming to be free. One other joined as well, a blacksmith's apprentice, a strong looking boy in his mid-teens.

There were no more questions asked here, and really no words spoken at all. Three other crew members joined the first pirate to assist with the rowing. One was a dunmer, one a nord, and the last another redguard. About halfway through the short voyage, however, the one they'd talked to yesterday called back to where the Sellswords sat.

"You should know that heavy armor like that will drown you on the seas," he warned in a dull monotone, the comment clearly directed at Lynly. She scoffed and shook her head, "Only if you're weak enough to let it," in matching monotone. She was not impressed.

"The captain will find you something more suitable to wear," he said, as though he really hadn't heard her response at all. "I hope it matches my eyes," She replied sarcastically. Now she was clearly channeling Soren...

That got no further response from the crew members. They rowed up alongside the Dreamwalker, which was as notably silent as the Sellswords' sampling of its crew. A wide rope ladder was thrown down the side, and the passengers were instructed to exit two by two. The father assisted his daughter as best he could up the climb, following alongside, and slowly, group by group, the recruits were instructed to stand in line atop the deck, facing the back cabin.

The crew turned out in what must have been full strength, for there were no less than fifty of them along the edges of the deck. Every race was represented at least once, and a good number of them were female as well, though not half. They were lightly armored at most, none wearing more than leather, and armed with a wide variety of weapons. There were a great deal of short bows among them, a few of which already had arrows casually nocked. The close quarters weapons were almost all of the one handed variety, precise blades and hand axes over greatswords and halberds.

The hatch to the lower deck was opened by one of the crew, nine of them disappearing below the surface and returning shortly, each with a wooden chair in hand. These they quickly maneuvered behind their guests, apparently to allow them to sit if they so wished. The mother and the daughter took the opportunity.

With the stage finally set, there came a pounding of boots up the stairs from the first lower deck, and a well-built redguard man appeared before them, walking with significantly more meandering steps than his crew, all of which looked either to him, or to their guests. The Omen's choice of weapon, peculiarly enough, was a short spear, the handle seemingly made of a lightweight metal, the spearhead gleaming steel. A pair of daggers in the Hammerfell style were sheathed at his waist. He was very lightly armored, less so than most of his crew even, wearing only a single leather pauldrown over his largely unbuttoned shirt. Only one of his eyes was visible beneath the headwrap he wore, making it unclear if he possessed the other or not. He seemed mostly unbothered by the cold, but it was a rather sunny day, a stark departure from the storms that had passed through recently.

"An interesting crop we have today!" he began, the volume of his voice almost startling when it cut through the utter silence. He carried none of the monotone or level sounds of his crew, quite the opposite in fact. "A lovely family from Dawnstar, a strapping young lad with his hammer, and these five... mercenaries? Travelers? Aspiring pirates? Who cares?! Welcome, welcome! Welcome to the Dreamwalker, my home. Tell me... what is it you seek? Everyone seeks something different. Tell me, and I will see if I cannot grant your wish."

He centered on Sinderion seemingly randomly, though he still kept his distance, perhaps three or four running strides away. "You there, my pointy-eared friend. What is it you seek?"

Not much of an actor, it was still the case that Sinderion could tell a lie if he had to, and honestly? Piracy and mercenary work weren't all that different. The right kind of answer wasn't particularly elusive. The altmer shrugged, turning his mouth down slightly at the comment about his ears. Normal enough. "The usual," he replied, his own volume considerably more normal. His job wasn't to catch attention, after all. "My fortune." He shifted slightly, unwilling to take a seat. It was a more vulnerable position, and until he had more of a feel for this situation, he was going to avoid predicaments so obviously laid out for him.

"And fortune you will have, if you stick around a little while," he said happily, before moving on to Vanryth. "And my, you look like a grim one. Do you like killing people? I always have a need for people who like doing that."

People were always in need of killing. He didn't particularly enjoy it, but someone was always needed to make messes... Go away. Still, it wasn't like he was going to be able to tell the Omen that. Vanryth had accepted the offered chair and looked the part of a tired mercenary-- even if it was true. He merely shrugged, and opened his mouth revealing his lack of tongue. At least it saved him the trouble of attempting to lie. However, that did not mean he had nothing to say. He can go fuck himself with that act, he signed, mostly for his companions. Unlikely that any of these vagrants knew the language. It'd taken a long time for him to extract that particular word from Anirne, and extra work in return for it, but he always knew he'd be able to find a use for it.

"You know," the Omen said, taking note of Van's lack of tongue, "you've probably noticed that I enjoy having a little peace and quiet on my ship. Yes, I think you're going to fit in just fine around here." He shifted over suddenly to the far right, standing in front of the blacksmith apprentice. "And you? You any good with that, or is it just for show?"

"Yes, sir. I mean, no sir. It's not for show, I'm a blacksmith." The Omen nodded his approval. "That's a very useful profession to have, you know. And you're to join the crew, are you? Why is that?" He struggled a moment for a response, but then came out with what was clearly the simple truth. "Lived in Dawnstar my whole life, sir, and it's brought me nothing but boredom and madness. I need to get away from that place."

The Omen gave him a few claps. "And you've already found a better one. Good choice, lad." He then swooped back towards the center, to stop in front of Adrienne. "I don't know if you've heard, but a good number of pirates claim it's horrid luck to bring a woman on board. As you can see, I've been testing the theory, and it doesn't seem to be holding up. Now, to the matter at hand. What skills do you bring to the table, m'lady?"

Adrienne, who had chosen to forego any small advantage keeping herself upright would have granted, had instead taken to her chair like a queen to a throne, draping one leg over the other. One hand lay easily on the armrest, and the other toyed absently with the pommel of her sword, clearly an idle rather than a threatening gesture. At the obvious address, she tilted her chin up to look the Omen in the eye, the smile spreading over her face quite nearly unctuous in its sweetness. "Oh, me? A little of this, a little of that." she sensed the question was hardly serious; this was more pageantry than audition, if he'd taken the bored blacksmith's boy without more than that. "Of course, a few of the things I can do are best suited for less... public appraisal." She lofted a brow, but then shrugged indifferently.

The Omen's laugh was just a single, delighted HA! He clapped his hands once to accompany it. While he did so, Drayk shifted irritably, awaiting his own turn to respond. The Omen gave no further comments to Adrienne, however, instead sliding over to Lynly. "And you, woman in the tin can. Can you beat that? That was pretty good, you've gotta say."

Lynly tilted her head, and then shrugged. She had not expected that much out of Adrienne, she admitted. The girl was quite an actor. Lynly on the other hand was not so subtle. A platinum brow rose at the question. "I can do one thing, and that much should be plain to see," she said. Her blade and shield was readily apparent on her person, and they were as much her as were her own arms or legs. "I'm looking for my glory, and a story to write. Think I can find one on your ship?" She asked. Lynly knew the answer, her story would not be written on some boat, this was but a mere chapter in it. One she couldn't help but hope would be written soon.

The Omen shrugged. "Maybe? I don't know. Suppose it depends how hard you're willing to work for it. You clearly work hard, but you don't strike me as the type that works smart. Ah, well. Maybe you'll surprise me." The last stop before the family of three was before Drayk, and the Omen gave him a rather quizzical look. "Almost at the end, now. What do you think about all this, my good man?"

"I think you're an insane, twisted fuck, that's what," Drayk said evenly, refusing to take a seat. There was a moment of extremely tense silence and stillness that followed, in which the Omen raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth as if to say and...

"Which means I've found just the kind of place I've been looking for for a long time," he followed up with, in an almost relenting fashion. "There it is! I know the jesters when I see them, my friend, and I had you picked out from the start. Now! You people. What do you want from me? The nightmares, yes?" The family of three looked absolutely terrified, but they nodded. "We just want some peace at night, and you've helped some of the others," the father said cautiously. The Omen nodded impatiently.

"So I have. Well, let's get on with this, then. The little girl first!" A few members of the crew jumped into action, disappearing back down to the lower level. One of them brought back a somewhat larger wooden chair and placed in the center of the deck behind the Omen, who promptly plopped down in it. Six of his most deadly looking servants moved to take up positions around him. Another pair of crew members returned with two golden goblets. One handed his to the Omen, the other swiftly delivering his to the little girl.

"Right, and now we drink up! On my ship, we walk in dreams, and bend them to my will." He drank deeply of his cup, draining the entire thing, and then promptly dropped it to clank against the deck. He slumped back into his chair, sound asleep. The girl hesitated at first, but then took a sip of the drink, and collapsed back against her mother's arms. A tense moment passed in silence in which the crew watched the little girl with seeming disinterest. Mere seconds later, however, she gasped awake, her parents frantically checking to see if she was alright. It seemed she was.

The Omen remained fast asleep. His guards ordered the parents to follow suit, and they did, and the same thing happened. Immediate passing out, a brief moment to wait, and then they returned with a gasp, completely fine. When all three were done, they requested to leave, and the crew granted them permission, one of them heading back down to the rowboat to escort them back to shore.

"A volunteer is requested," a deep voice claimed, bringing forth more of the dark liquid. Surprisingly, the blacksmith's boy spoke up first. "What is this for?" he asked nervously. "Initiation," the guard responded simply. "The captain will formally enter you into the crew in dreams, as is our tradition. You will drink." And he didn't really have a choice. The rowboat was gone. The crew didn't really look like they were planning on letting anyone leave who had stated their intention to join the crew. Reluctantly, the blacksmith took up the cup and drank slightly, barely able to hand it back to the crew member before he slumped back in his chair. This time he was under for about twenty seconds before he came back, not with a gasp, but with a slowly inhaled breath. But even after his eyes opened, all he did was shudder slightly, before becoming largely still in the seat, staring blankly forward.

"Next volunteer," the crewman called, offering the cup, and this time it was Drayk who beckoned for it. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he'd had enough of the charade. He wanted to get on with this. They had to play the man's game, clearly, given the sheer amount of weaponry poised on them, so he might as well get it over with. He took the cup roughly and drank perhaps a little deeper than was necessary. It was then that the idea of the chair behind seemed wise. His legs gave out from under him as his vision darkened, and Drayk collapsed forward onto the deck, thrust violently into dreams.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Lynly watched one after the other as three Sellswords volunteered for the goblet, and watched as they awoke seemingly different somehow. She watched until only Adrienne and herself were left. Considering the way the goblet was still being passed around around, it seemed to her that the knife-ears weren't able to get the job done. Now with only her and the tongue of the party left, Lynly glanced at Adrienne and shrugged, flicking her wrist to indicate that she was next. "My turn," she muttered, taking a seat. She'd seen the way the boy had fallen on his face when he drank-- she was not going to embarrass herself in the same way. She took the goblet and downed it, and like those before her, fell asleep in an instant.




And into her dreams she awoke. She was still in her chair, but that was the only thing familar. They were in a different place, but still obviously on the boat. But the change of scenery wasn't the most jarring aspect of the dream. Rather, it was the bodies of those who had come before. The blacksmith's boy pinned by his throat to the wall nearby. Drayk's hung upside down by the ankles, and his throat slit. Vanryth's missing hand and his own blade thrust inside his gut. Beside the throne, a mutilated wolf's head stood mounted on a pike, and stared at her through glossy eyes. And sitting in the throne itself? Before all the bodies and blood, the Omen. He looked pretty proud of his trophies. Her first instinct was to sit straight and stare at the destruction around her, but she reminded herself that this was all a dream. A moment ago she had been awake, and now she was not. She'd been taken in by enough of those lately, and in this one at least she had retained her sense of self.

She'd seen them on the deck. They were still alive, though not quite themselves. It brought enough peace of mind back for her to sit back into the chair, if not entirely comfortable. Lynly proceeded to prop an elbow on arm of the chair to sustain her cheeks. "Grim," she said entirely nonplussed. "So we die here and become thralls on the outside? Clever." It made sense. What better way to collect a number of loyal crewmates without having to earn all of that loyalty. Though considering the rather large number of the loyal crew. Fate did not seem to look kindly down upon her. Not that it ever did.

"I must confess two things," the Omen began, adjusting the wolf head slightly on the spear. The waves were shifting things slightly, so they soon stopped all together, and it was as though the Dreamwalker was now floating on top of a pond that had been undisturbed for years. "First," he said, "I must confess I didn't expect you to speak to me at all, after the way the last two went. You all seem to be friends, and I understand that seeing their fates can be upsetting. I do enjoy a good civil conversation before my bloodletting, so for that you have my thanks. And please, remain seated. We can speak like civil people."

He then sighed. "Secondly, I must warn you that once the fight begins, I am brutally unfair to anyone who wears such heavy armor. I can understand the draw, but really, so ugly. Not to mention it'll kill any pirate if he falls overboard on the high seas." He shook his head. "Now, with that out of the way, welcome! I have a question, if you don't mind. Who are you people? It's normally the outcasts that seek a life on the seas, hiding from the law, but you all seem to have come together. Did you murder the Emperor together while I wasn't looking?"

"Friends?" She asked, a platinum eyebrow arched. She'd never thought of it before, were they friends? This was their mission, their goal to save their Mentor. She was just tagging along for the adventure, for her story. Lynly was not so callous as to believe them to be some means to an end, but neither did she think herself friends with them. Not on the level they were in between themselves. It was likely she'd never find friends like that. The thought almost stung, but she shrugged it off. Now was not the time to be getting misty-eyed over opportunities lost. She had to get off the boat with her life first, then she could see about making friends. "Just some mercenaries, out on a task. Outcasts, as you say," she dismissed handily.

It wasn't a lie, but neither was it a whole truth. She was not so foolish as to implicate Maya in their plans so early. It seemed though the man had found a common thread between them all-- so much for subtlety. She wasn't good with it anyway. "Last I heard, the Emperor still lived, Talos bless the Empire," she said thoroughly uncaring on the man's thought of the abandoned Divine. Likely the only thing he believed in was coin and his Daedric Lord. Once again, she could do little else but shrug. "It looks like you're brutally unfair, regardless," She said, nodding toward the corpses strewn around the room. To defeat the Sellswords, and without so much as a scratch was no mean feat. Even she couldn't boast of doing near as well. "Are you trying to hurt my feelings?" Lynly snipped. She thought her armor was alright-- it kept the chill and blades out. Though it was least of her worries.

"I wasn't aware you had feelings until just now," he said. "I suppose I might start trying. But it's good to hear that there's still nine of those divine bastards still kicking. I'd heard it was down to eight now, and that worried me that people would start flocking to more interesting gods, like mine. It's a pretty exclusive club, I'll have you know. We don't typically just let anyone in."

He shifted in his throne, the sword through the top of it noticeably gone now, though when it had disappeared wasn't clear. "You're mercenaries, you say? As far as I knew, mercenaries get paid. Why become a pirate if you already have good employment, I wonder? It makes me think your intentions were somehow dishonest. Which makes you sound more like pirates, so hell if I know what you are. Come now, give me something useful and we might keep talking a while longer. Who knows, I might let you keep your mind, as I've already got quite the selection of bodies, one of which is a werewolf! Can you believe that?"

"The golden knife-ear? I had my suspicions," Though no one had told her outright that Sinder was a werewolf, it wasn't a terribly well-kept secret. Something always felt like it was crawling under his skin. He hadn't changed in her presence, and he seemed to have kept it under control well enough, so it never bothered her, nor did she have the gall to ask about it. Their secrets were their own, unguarded as they were. Finally, she removed her hand from her cheek and held both out at her side, sighing. "Does it really matter? You have no need of our stories once we become a part of your crew," Forcefully or otherwise. Out of everyone on the deck of his ship, not one did she see had a mind of his own. She wasn't inclined to trust a word out of the pirate's mouth. He was a pirate after all.

"While you're entirely right, I was being serious about letting you go. I was going to kick you off the boat and see if you could swim to shore in that armor. But, you all seem intent on dying, and who am I to deny you that? Let's begin, shall we?" "Like I have a choice?" She added, loosing her sword in it's sheath.

From the corner of the chamber behind Lynly to her right came the sound of multiple shifting legs. Up from the floor in front of the Omen shot golden spears that looked of Dwemer make, bars to separate the armored woman from her true opponent. For the moment, she was sealed in with an impossibly large spider, fanged and thick with dark, matted hair. It crawled forward, reaching more than three quarters of the way to the ceiling, but rather than immediately engage Lynly, its abdomen opened up behind it, and a swarm of smaller spiders burst from it, dozens of them, certainly more than would have logically been able to fit in the abdomen, each as large as dogs, fangs dripping with some unknown substance. Together with their mother they attacked.

Lynly turned her head in the direction of the spider and twisted her face in a simile of disgust. "The boy was right, you are twisted." she said, before reluctantly rising out of her chair. She knew eventually the result would be her demise. Though she was proud, and confident of her skills to near arrogance, the vast number of his mindless crew, and now the Sellswords in front of her couldn't be wrong. Still, her upbringing demanded she fight until the last breath. Honor and glory dictated that she not just sit in the chair and let come what may, even if it would have been easier.

Besides, just sitting the fight out was terribly dull for the story she was writing. With a loud, exaggerated sigh, she took her blade and shield from her back and turned to the spiders, just in time to bring her shield down and bisect one of the arachnids. With another fluid movement she turned her shield sideways and batted away the fangs of another spider. Far from hold her ground out in the open, she began to backpedal away from all of nasty creatures. "Spiders are nothing new! Give me something unique!" She bellowed, inserting her sword into the gaping maw of another. For all of her brave words, she really had to mind the mother spider, she didn't want to deal with it while her children could still assault her.

As if in response, the spiders mutated before her eyes, their bodies becoming covered in a hard-carapace like substance, each one sprouting an upward arching stinger from their abdomens, each capable of firing globs of an acidic substance powerful enough to burn through steel. "Thank you," She monotoned. Spiders or these monstrosities, she was playing his game with his rules. He wasn't going to let her win anyway, and the only hope she had was to last long enough to sate her own hunger. Her own part of this game was to see how far she could go before falling, to see how much punishment she could take before she fell. In way, this was as much Lynly's game as it was the Omen's. She'd find out if she was Nord enough to carry the Snowsong name.

The acid came as a surprise, catching the edge of her shield as she sidestepped. She didn't know what it was, only that she didn't want it to touch her. When it began to melt a jagged gap in her shield, she decided that she really didn't want it to touch her. It's buy her two or three direct shots if she was lucky, but she'd rather not chance it. So she kept on the move. Dodging and ducking so as not to be melted by the acid. But defense could only do so much. She managed to get close enough to one of the vile creatures in order to pierce its shell with her sword. And when she pulled her sword free from the shell, the internal acid has eaten away at the tip, taking a few inches on the blade.

Lynly beheld the melted sword and sighed again. Of course that would happen. Still, she'd use the weapon until it was nothing but a hilt, and then she'd use her shield. She stabbed another of the creatures, this time some of its acid splashing on her legs, the leather providing no resistance to the eating liquid. She hissed as she sucked in her breath through her teeth. The pain was certainly real-- though she hardly expected the Omen to spare her that. She backstepped away and shook her head. Her sword had about had it, her shield was quickly losing surface area, and there were still too many of the beasts to compensate for. Not to mention their bloody mother still lurked behind them.

"Oh, enough with the spiders, I think," the Omen said, waving his hand. Where each of the remaining ten spiders had been now stood ten seven foot tall automatons, of a make similar to Dwemer, but not of the likes seen in any of Skyrim's ruins. They were massive warriors, each carrying what would have been for any other warrior a greatsword in one hand alone, the other hand hefting golden tower shields five feet tall and wider than the width of their bodies, which were constructed out of nearly impenetrable looking bronze-colored metal. The only weak points seemed to be the joints, if she could find any way around their shields.

This was the sight that caused Lynly to freeze. Not just one of the bloody things, but ten centurions. One had nearly done her in, and now she faced down ten. Whatever sarcastic or snide responses she had left quickly froze in her throat, where then then swallowed them hard. "You bastard," she said, anger finally rising in her voice. She already had this nightmare once before, and now it was ten times worse. She looked at the massive hulking machines and then at her own sword which had been chewed down to a half of it's original length. Eyelids closing in irritation, she threw the useless blade to the ground and elected to have a healing spell to appear in it's space. They weren't as large as she remembered, but the memory was enough. If she ever found her way out of this dream realm alive, she would crush him.

Still, as the centurions began to advance, and the healing spell was working it's magic on the wounds she had sustained, she couldn't help but think of the poetic justice brought by being defeated by centurions. She wasn't going to go down without taking a few of them with her though. With her magicka well dry, she killed the healing spell and glanced beside her. Hanging beside her was the body of the blacksmith and the spear lodged in his throat. That would have to do. She turned and ripped the polearm free, noting the sickening splash of the body hitting it's own blood. "I'm sorry," she muttered, but turned to the advancing centurions. Lynly raised her shield, and slipped the spear into the melted notch and began to advance as well.

"Bah, look what you've done! Now I have to spear him to the wall again!"

Her gait began slow, but quickly increased in pace until she was in a sprint. The first Centurion brought his greatsword down, which Lynly dodged by rolling to the side. Turning as she landed on her feet, she found herself in the middle of the group. She was surrounded by centurions-- so it made her targets easier to find. She struck out at the first, spear darting past her shield and glancing off the centurion's own. She dodged out of the way of the counter attack, though the greatsword caught the edge of her shield, jarring it hard and twisting the bones in her wrist. She grunted, but paid it no mind. She was going to bring one of these things down-- then she could fall. But not a second before.

She kept on the move, the greatswords getting closer and closer to cutting her open, the edge of one actually rending through the center of her shield. Had she been an inch closer, the shield would have split in half. Sweat was pouring off of her face, but the attack left the underside of the centurion open. She thrust with her spear, aiming under the thing's arm and hoped to hit something important internally. And something important she did, as a small explosion echoed from within it's frame. It gave one last puff of steam before it fell, forever still. She must have hit the core, she thought. Still that left nine more-- which were all advancing on her. She turned just in time to raise her shield. Little good it did, as the sound of her wrist and shoulder powdering under the force knocked her shield down and buried the greatsword an inch under her collarbone. The spear clattered to the floor as she lost all feeling in the arm. Funny though, it didn't hurt...

When one of the centurions landed the necessary blow to remove her from the fight, another cast aside its weapon and shield, to seize her arms from behind, and hold her in place. The centurion roughly removed the greatsword from her shoulder, and cleared a path. The spears blocking the Omen from the fighting ground retracted, and he meandered slowly forward. "Only one other person was able to kill one of those. You should be proud. You'll make a good addition to the crew. A nice frontline fighter, I should think. I did the last words thing for the dunmer, by the way. He gargled something unintelligible at me, but I kept my word, and relayed it to the werewolf. I would've asked the wolf for some words, but I don't think he was capable of moving his tongue any more. Anyway! Your turn. Anything? I'll tell the last one."

"No words... I've written my chapter," she said with a bloody grin. Lynly had accomplished what she set out to do, she'd played his game and in turn won her own. Centurions were nothing to fear, neither were spiders, nor nightmares. She'd done her heritage proud, brought honor to the Snowsong name, and she couldn't hope for any more than that. However, she had a word for him. "I'll see you on the other side."

"Doubt it," the Omen said, before nodding to the centurions. "Gentlemen," he said, turning and walking back towards his throne. Behind him, a centurion walked in front of Lynly, taking an iron grip on both of her ankles, the other maintaining the grip on her arms. She was tilted over sideways, and the centurions each pulled. Hard. A sickening tearing sound later, and each centurion tossed a half of the body to each side of the room, before they sank into the floor, and the Omen sank into his throne.




On the deck of the Dreamwalker, only Adrienne remained in control of her own mind, and so the crewman did not call for volunteers, instead simply offering her the cup.

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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Drayk woke, only to find that hell was a dark place. That, or this was just the waiting room.

He was sitting, his hands wrapped tightly around something wooden, with only the slightest bits of light entering the room from the walls on his left and right. As he oriented himself, he realized that there were bodies all around him. Almost entirely men, all powerfully built, sitting four to a row, two on each side of a narrow walkway, all facing the same direction. Yes, it was certainly a line of some sort, waiting to enter the oblivion that they'd all earned in their lives.

He remembered dying. Being hung upside, his throat opened up by an enemy he knew hardly anything about, but hated all the same. His blood had been so warm when it had rushed down over his face, turning his vision red even as it faded to black. He felt... regret. He wanted to do more. He wasn't ready to die yet. There was so much that was still wrong with him, so many things he wanted to set right. Never getting the chance just made him feel... sad.

A shout of alarm came from a few rows ahead of him, and one of the men suddenly stood, looking absolutely terrified. The sight of an emotional display stirred something in him, but it felt mostly just like stress. Just sit down, fool, it's too late now, he thought. But then the man sitting next to him bumped him on the elbow, and Drayk turned to look.

"What is this?" he asked. And then a sword erupted from his chest.

It was withdrawn as quickly as it had entered, and suddenly there was a massive orc swinging his arms. A fist took Drayk in the side of the head, tipping him over into the aisle, and the orc ran through another in a mad quest to get forward. A second shout of alarm went up, and then a third, a fourth, and weapons were drawn, as people looked to each other first in panic, trying to discern in a blink of an eye what the motives of the others were. And too many assumed the worst.

As Drayk looked into the eyes of the dead man beside him, upright in his vision now that they were both sideways, it dawned on him. He was either still alive, or death was possible even in oblivion. His instinct in life had always been to ensure his own survival, and so powerful it had always been. He knew self-preservation to be the most base of human urges, and he knew he possessed that urge to such a degree as to make him irredeemable. But if he was in hell already, then it was too late.

He wrapped himself in flames to repel the chaos around him, lighting several others on fire within a second, their screams reminded him of a darker time of life, and a simpler one. One in which the only thing he ever sought was a way out. He couldn't see one here, as he rose to his feet, although the swirling flames in his vision helped matters none. But the walls of his prison seemed to be made out of wood, and he had destroyed countless structures forged of wood before. He drew his right arm back, and hurled a powerful fireball into the nearest wall, towards the ground, blowing a hole in it at least half his height.

The sea rushed in to greet him. He could see daylight, but he could also see feet of water rolling into the room, icy cold, taking him and everyone nearby off their feet and into the wall behind them in a mess of writhing flesh. His flame coak hissed angrily as it was put out, and almost immediately after an axe bit into his shoulder. He turned to face the attacker and blasted them at point blank range, not stopping to watch the obliterated body fall to the water. Instead, he turned to look for others, to see which direction they followed. They looked to be traveling up, on a staircase at the far end of this level. There were a good deal of crazed survivors between him and it, but he'd cut through them or he'd die. It was like old times again.

Vanryth woke from his nightmare under a dim light with a mop in his hand, in the middle of scrubbing the level he was on. All movement paused as he realized where he was, and exactly what he was doing. It was a slow realization, many briny breaths passed through his lungs before he returned fully to his senses. The first emotion he felt was relief, relief that he was still alive. He had always thought he was ready to die, and though the task would be hard, he would accept it when it came. His nightmare had shown him otherwise, that he was not ready, not until the Sellswords didn't need him. He wanted to live for them. Nothing else in the world mattered for them. He'd take a hundred Omens just to still be with them in the end.

The second emotion was rage. In his hands was neither blade nor magick, but a mop. His knuckles turned white as he grasped the handle, and a snarl passed over his lips. The Omen sought to use his body as a vessel for menial labor. To mop his bloody ship with. What was left of his pride would not stand for it. He lifted the mop and viciously broke it over his knee, the images of the Omen taking its place. He tossed what was left of the splinters down the deck and turned, drawing both blades as he walked. His first instinct was not to hunt the Omen down, but to find the Sellswords and ensure their safety. The next instinct, however, was rooting out the pirate's corpse. He wanted to see the body, if he couldn't possess the honor of offing him himself.

Vanryth hoped the Omen paid dearly for what he did to his family. As he strode down the length of the deck, many of the former crew simply stood out of the path of his blades. A singular large nord, bare-chested and armed only with a cutlass, took the implied challenge of the greyskin upon himself and stood between Van and his goal. A flash of the cutlass, and a grey blur, and the nord fell, leaving Van flicking the blood from his orcish blade. No challengers dared approach afterward.

When Sinder awakened, it was to find himself suspended nearly four stories off the deck of the ship, near the top of the interconnected ropes that served as rigging. Fortunately, his first instinct was to grip those ropes tightly, though he lost the easy grace his thralled self had handled them with and wound up hanging upside down rather than climbing. Considering the last thing he remembered was the touch of cold steel at his neck, it was perhaps not as badly-off as he could have been. Gradually, it occurred to him that if he yet lived when he remembered what must have been dying, then someone, either Lynly or Adrienne, had succeeded where he had failed, and the Omen was either dead or disabled.

Hauling himself upright and looking below him, Sinder discerned that there was massive confusion on the deck below. People, looking either bewildered or angry, ran about the deck, or stood dumbly, eventually getting shoved into by someone with more urgency. He studied the environment as well as he could, and spotted at last an ally. Not knowing if the Omen was alive or dead or if his friends were still about, he only had one idea: get back to shore.

“Lynly!” he shouted to the nord woman at the helm, “Can you turn us back?” They needed to… to return. To get back. However many of them remained, they needed to regroup and go. To Anirne, and to Maya. This thought firmly entrenched, Sinderion set his jaw and began to descend the rigging, only to be intercepted halfway down by a man looking more angry than rational. The fellow was clinging to the netting with one hand and both feet, but his free arm held a wicked cutlass, and Sinder’s eyes went wide, his reflexes kicking in and rolling him sideways, keeping his mass pressed into the ropes so he wouldn’t fall. The cutlass tore through a few of them where he’d just been, and Sinder swore beneath his breath.

There wasn’t any reason to be had here, though, not with the madness below, and there was no time to try and talk anyone down. Clinging to the lines, Sinder lashed out with a powerful kick, catching the other fellow in the temple, robbing him of consciousness and sending him plummeting to the deck below. He followed much more cautiously, utilizing the network of cables until it was safe enough to jump the rest of the way. Drawing his sword, he set a destination for the helm, where he knew at least one of his allies was present. Two to find the rest was better than trying to do so by himself, and he trusted that they would find each other.

If there was anything to find.

Consciousness hit Lynly like a warhammer. She jumped when she regained control all of her facilities, turning whatever she had in her hand. In response, the ground she stood upon turned as well. It did little to ease the transition, but she had the wherewithal to stop moving her hands. Keeping them steady as she could, she took the time to figure what was happening and where exactly in Talos' name she was. The shifting tides and the smell of salt in the air told her more than enough, that she was still on the Omen's boat, and as she slowly came to realize, she was steering the bloody thing. Only moments ago she was being torn apart by a team of centurions, and now she stood at the helm of the blasted boat. This was no dream, for if it was, she'd expected it to be far more grim than her just merrily sailing a boat along. It looked like Adrienne had managed to succeed in their goal.

A commotion and the call of her name brought her gaze into the riggings of the ship, at a certain werewolf in a knife-ear's skin. Looks like he had woken up too. Good, the thought of facing down whatever came next was a terrible one, and one she didn't desire to act out unless her hands were forced. "I can turn us toward the shore!" she called back. Land was still in sight to her left, it wasn't any stretch to think she could guide the boat in that direction. What was conspiciously lacking was confirmation she could return. "Hold on to something steady," she added. Lynly was no sailor, with all that entailed. Their landing wasn't going to be the smoothest, not that she cared. After what the Omen put them through, she was gonna cause as much damage to the boat as she possibly could-- if only she knew how to make it go faster.

She grasped a hold of the top rung of the wheel and tilted it a bit to one side, gauging which way it would shift, and once she got which way went which, put a mighty spin in the wheel, slamming the boat hard to left. The immediate responsiveness almost threw her to the deck, as well as a number of the newly awakened crew. Those that weren't awake, surely were now. Once she picked herself up, and once the ship had a steady course plotted, she corrected the wheel and watched with grim delight as land drew near.

He wasn't stupid enough to ignore advice like that, and Sinderion latched onto the mainmast, gripping by the ropes wound 'round it. The ship wrenched portside, but thankfully, he was near center mass, and it wasn't enough to dislodge the deathgrip he had on the wood and hemp in his hands. The hard bank sent more than a few people overboard, but those were probably the lucky ones, and he would have been too happy to follow if he didn't have more important things to think about than his own safety. Righting himself and regaining his balance with the ease of natural talent, he adjusted his grip on his elven blade and made for the helm. Judging from the reactions of those still aboard, it wasn't going to be a simple matter of crossing the intervening distance.

The door to the cabin opened into pure chaos. The Omen’s brother was slumped against the wall, quite dead, though whomever had undertaken the deed was long gone. Peering down the hall, she could see the movement of several bodies, mostly men pounding away at each other with fist or weapon. It seemed there weren’t many mages, indeed. Fortunate, considering the conditions they presently labored under.

Taking a deep, bolstering breath, the blood-soaked Sellsword stepped into the hallway, making for the stairs. She was almost immediately blocked by the downward swing of a sword, which she was able to avoid only by scrambling backwards, an action which resulted in her unceremoniously tripping over a discarded sheath and landing gracelessly in a sitting position (partially the result of a sudden shift in the boat's directionality). This allowed her a peripheral view of several people plastering themselves to the side of the hallway, and she groaned inwardly. More bad news, then—

Adrienne rolled to the side to avoid the follow-up attack, blasting the assailant’s face with ice at the same moment as the one approaching from the side became visible. Her posture slumped with palpable relief, but she couldn’t spend too long celebrating: she was still in danger, as two more men had joined the first. “Vanryth!” she shouted, scooting her knees up to her chest to avoid a downward axe blow at her legs. That one received a spike of her preferred element to his chest for his trouble and fell, leaving two. They wouldn’t allow her enough time to get to her feet, however, and she was at a distinct disadvantage. “Over here!”

On the bottom deck, Drayk pushed himself to his feet for what must have been the fifth time. The water was coming in too quickly, and he couldn't see anything on the floor. He kept tripping over weapons, bodies, and who knew what else on the floor. Several of the benches for the rowers had come up from the floor, and one of these was carried by the current into Drayk's legs, sending him down into the shallow water yet again. It was freezing, and he shuddered violently as he pushed himself up once more, sputtering.

It was too far. His legs weren't working well enough anymore, and any fire he could summon around himself was smothered in an instant by the chill. And there were still others down here with him, either the truly crazed or those struggling just as much as he was. One of them came up behind him, and Drayk barely managed to get his shield up in front of the warhammer the nord brought down on him. The maul bashed against his shield and slide off to the side, catching the right side of his forehead on the way. It must have opened up a cut, because he soon felt warm liquid run down the right side of his face and over his eye, giving him brutal flashbacks of his only too recent death.

He struck back with the shield, knocking the man backwards a pace, and then Drayk lunged into him, placing his palm over the man's face and lighting his hand on fire. His shriek accompanied the smell of roasting flesh, and the pain took him entirely, causing him to black out and splash into the water, where he'd surely drown. Drayk stumbled and fell when the Nord's weight went out from under him, and by the time he got back to his feet, he could hardly feel his hands and feet.

He needed to go up instead of forward. The staircase led somewhere, and the roof was low. If he could blow a hole in it, maybe he could climb out. He blasted a fireball into the ceiling directly above him, splintering the wood and sending shards flying every which way, which forced Drayk to cover his head. It prevented him from seeing the large ballista that fell through the floor, and on top of him. For a moment he was smashed entirely under the water, but after a brief moment of being stunned he managed to pull his head out of the water. The great wooden and metal contraption had him straddled, and his initial effort to push it off him did nothing. Throwing one arm over the top of it, he was able to keep his head and shoulders above the water, but that would change soon enough.

Back in the middle deck, Van's stride hiccupped when he heard a familiar voice. At the end of the hallway sat Adrienne, in the midst of two men who weren't in the mood to talk. The hiccup lasted a bare second before his pace quickened. He reared back with the elven sword he had picked up from the Embassy raid, and let it fly through the air at one of the men. End over end the sword cut through the air, only stopping when it impaled itself through the breast of the first man. Not content to leave Adrienne's life to any amount of chance, he followed the sword with a lightning bolt, using the blade to send the shock through the man. He fell with a thud to the floorboards, and and Van was in a full sprint.

The other made the mistake of watching him crumple and took his eyes off of the charging elf for only a moment. When they returned, Van had closed the distance, and drove a shoulder hard into his chest, slamming him against the wall beside the stairs. The dunmer felt bones crack and break under the force, leaving the man in an unconscious pile at his feet. Finding that finishing the job unnecessary, Vanryth turned toward Adrienne and reached out a hand for her to take, a proud smile etched in his scarred features. Behind them both, a racket of crashing fire and screams echoed through the halls.

Van’s thrown sword plunged into the chest of one of the sailors, his shoulder slamming mercilessly into the other. It was hardly the time, but relief washed over her. She wasn’t alone anymore. It was one thing to know intellectually that they’d all been released from Rialta’s hold, it was another thing altogether to see one of her friends in the flesh. She took his hand gratefully and leveraged herself upright, returning the smile with a grin of her own.

But where were the others? They could be anywhere, and trying to track them down in this chaos would be like finding a needle in a—

An explosion sounded from somewhere down the hall, accompanied by the aural sensation of a crash, and something dropped in the pit of her stomach. It was an outside chance, but… the Omen had told her there weren’t that many mages aboard, and she knew one very explosive one herself… whatever the chances, she had to be sure. “That way,” she said urgently, pointing towards the shower of splinters still descending. “It could be Drayk.” It went without saying that even the possibility was enough, really. Still grasping her friend’s hand, she pulled him along behind her as she backtracked his progress to the hole in the floor. It was a jagged thing, and judging from the ballistae in this area, creating it had not been the safest thing one could have attempted. But here, in this roiling chaos, she could hardly blame anyone for doing so. Kneeling, she looked over the edge of the hole, hissing faintly when her sliced palm came into contact with jagged splinters. It didn’t matter, though.

What was down there was hard to make out from her spot: she could see a lot of water, a partially-damaged ballista she could only assume had fallen down the hole, a few bodies floating about, and… “Drayk? Gods, Drayk! Hold on!” Wide-eyed, she turned to Vanryth beside her. “We have to get that thing off him!”

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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It quickly became apparent that many weren't simply going to let her steer the ship aground. The first who reached for the wheel was the blacksmith. Lynly could see that fear drew his actions, not confusion or plain rage. Her longsword flashed in her hand and held it across the boy's neck. "Don't," Lynly commanded. The boy froze in place and held his hands out, begging her with his eyes not to go through with it. She fixed her own overcast eyes upon him hard and let him wither for a moment before she drew the sword away. "Are you still bored?" Lynly deadpanned. "I suggest you take cover and grab something heavy. I'm not turning," she stated evenly. At the command, the boy backed off and scampered away, probably deciding to heed Lynly's advice.

However, it wouldn't be long before her blade found another use. Many were the same mind of the boy, the idea of running the ship aground not so pleasant in their minds as it were heres. The crew that was on the deck, the ones that had the mind to stop her turned toward the helm in an effort to do something about her. She didn't waver nor hesitate, spinning her blade and calling an unspoken challenge. If they wanted the rudder, they could pry it from her cold, dead hands.

"I won't stand for mutinies," she explained cooly, looking every bit the part of the weathered sea captain. This was sure to make for one grand story once they got ashore.

The last of the men between Sinder and the helm went down without his head, the altmer’s bronzed sword slicing cleanly through his neck. The head itself rolled some distance away, but he wasn’t going to bother keeping track of it. He was within easy hearing of Lynly’s proclamation, and his brow puckered in slight confusion. “Doesn’t one have to be the captain to be mutinied against? I think it more likely that we are the mutineers.” Despite saying that, he shored up a position against her back, watching with eminent neutrality as a large pocket of those sailors remaining on the deck grouped up, clearly growing smarter as they reclaimed their own minds.

Hopefully, it wasn’t much smarter.

The first lunged, and Sinderion darted forward, sliding the point of his sword between two of the woman’s ribs. He was forced to duck and withdraw at the same time as another man came in high, and overextended himself after missing the elf’s head, leaving him a prime target for the armored woman next to him.

"We're awake," she explained, "That either means the Omen is dead, or he decided to let us all go. Which one seems more likely?" She posed hypothetically. "Someone needs to be the captain," She finished. Considering she was already at the helm, she saw no one else qualified to be captain. She certainly wasn't going to allow anyone else's hand, save one of the Sellswords', touch the wheel. It was enough chatting with the knife-ear for the moment, as her first opponent waited on the other side of the helm, and he didn't seem inclined to navigate around it to fight.

She leaned back out of the range of his cutlass, catching it in between the rungs of the wheel. She then turned sharply, jarring the sword out of his hand, and thrusting her own forward to end the nuisance. The body draped itself over the wheel, to which Lynly shoved off with a gauntlet. She then continued to correct her course, entirely nonplussed about the incident.

Unfortunately, Lynly was occupied with enough foes of her own, and Sinder rose from his duck to plunge the shorter of his swords into the fellow’s exposed clavicle. It may be the case that less armor was better for ships, but a large number of these pirates weren’t wearing any at all, which he found quite foolish. Even a few leathers would have been better than nothing, and waterproof besides. Well, their loss, anyway.

The numbers were a bit too large for two people to handle on their own, and even as he cut down an attempted flank on the ‘captain’ from behind, he decided they needed a way to take out a lot of them in one go. None of the other Sellswords were on the deck at present, which meant that even of every single other person that was went overboard, it would be only good news for the two of them. Without siege weaponry, they seemed to have one good option available to them: the boat itself. “Hard starboard!” he called to Lynly, preparing himself for the inevitable swing. There wasn’t much to grip here but the tiller itself, and that was counterproductive, so he dropped low, decreasing his center of gravity, and braced himself against the back side of the post holding the wheel in place."Starboard?!" Lynly called, ducking under another cutlass. She never said she was a good captain.

Was she serious? "Right!" he corrected. Captain, indeed. Now with directions she understood, she grabbed the wheel with both hands, and turned it viciously right. The ship was still just as responsive, despite it's size and the chaos. The boat pitched hard to the right, throwing the man attached to the offending cutlass to the deck and flinging him to the other side of the boat. Meanwhile, a number of the crew still on the deck were also thrown around like ragdoll, some even being tossed overboard-- which she assumed was the knife-ears' intention. She then went a step further and turned the wheel back, straightening their course and throwing whoever was still standing to the deck.

Sinderion, by dent mostly of preparedness, was able to keep himself more or less in place throughout the somewhat nausea-inducing lurching of the boat, and stood a few seconds after he was certain it was over. A large portion of those aboard had fallen into the ocean, and those left looked a bit battered, to say the least. He was about to suggest that they reorganize their defence when there was a great rumbling from beneath them, followed by an abrupt halt in their movement, and even the surefooted altmer was thrown from his spot, landing in a heap some distance away from the tiller. Meanwhile, Lynly rammed hard into the helm, taking her feet off of the floorplanks and throwing her ontop of the wheel. It then callously twisted and dumped her unceremoniously to the side.

They seemed to have run aground at last, some distance from shore proper. To get any futher, they'd have to swim.




Vanryth followed Adrienne, leaving his elvish sword behind and matching the girl pace for pace. He no longer felt the pressure in his joints, the haze of old age, nor even the entropy gained by years of hard living. He felt alive and he'd see to it that they would all leave the same. At the lip of the hole blown into the deck, he peered down into it to find out what had caused it, though he had his guess. He wasn't disappointed, though he did become worried. Drayk was indeed down there, but he was trapped under the weight of a ballista. Immediately, Vanryth pushed his remaining sword into Adrienne's hands and jumped below deck.

He landed with a splash in the frigid water, but immediately set about grabbing the ballista. He put what was left of his back and knees into the heft, putting all of his adrenaline augmented strength into the heft in an attempt to get the thing off of him before Drayk drowned.

For a moment Drayk hadn't even recognized them, and the moment scared him more than the ballista pinning him to what would soon become a watery grave. There was no time to worry about what had happened and how they were all still alive; he wouldn't be alive much longer if they didn't do something. "It's stuck on something!" Drayk managed, trying to push it off of himself, but at this point he could hardly feel his arms, and he wasn't even sure he was grabbing the right thing. The water was still rising, and in a pointless endeavor he tried to reignite his flame cloak, only to create a copious amount of steam that rose up into the hole he'd made above him. "Damn it, it's so cold..." he said, craning his neck around, trying to find what the ballista was stuck on, but most of it was underwater anyway, and with it rushing onto the ship as it was, it was difficult to see anything beneath the surface.

The moment she had Van’s sword in her hand, Adrienne was rising. She wouldn’t be much help with the pushing, and all three of them being down there at once seemed like a bad idea. They needed to think this through. Gulping in a couple deep breaths, she shoved aside any thoughts that were not immediately relevant and tried to figure out how to deal with this. Sheathing her own blade, she cast around the hallway for any help. There was none immediately present, but she did alight on an idea. Cannons and ballistae were sometimes secured in place with ropes, weren’t they? She knew she’d learned that somewhere. It minimized recoil, or something. Skirting the edges of the hole, Van’s sword in hand, she dashed off to where the other ballistae were sitting, looking for something to tie one up with.

It took her a little bit, but about a half minute-later, she found a clean coil of rope beside one of the unsecured weapons. Perfect. Reaching down, the breton had just closed her bad hand over the stuff when the ship suddenly lurched violently to the right, taking her off her feet with little difficulty and slamming her into the far wall. Stars danced in front of her vision, and she heard a wet cracking sound. The pain was blinding, and she was not so able to push through it as some of her friends were. Collapsing to her knees, she pressed a fist against the spot the pain radiated from, her other hand fumbling frantically for a potion.

Most of them had broken in the impact, but she did find one. Pulling the stopper out with her teeth, she drank as quickly as she could, sighing when her vision cleared and pushing herself with great difficulty to her feet. At least her hand wasn’t bleeding anymore.

Making her way back to the hole, she dropped one end of the rope down the hole. “Tie it around the ballista,” she said hurriedly, “then climb up and help me pull it off him! Drayk, as soon as you can get out from under it, let us know!” she wasn’t sure how long she could help hold the thing with a bruised ribcage impeding her in addition to her obvious lack of strength. There was no mistaking that most of the work would be Vanryth’s. She’d cast something to help them all, but… hopefully it would be enough. Tying her end of the rope around the crossguard of Van's sword, she backed up a little and plunged it with all her might into the wood of the hallway's floor, taking up a part of the line herself. It would hopefully be enough to support him on his way up.

The ballista refused to budge even for him, he stopped, sensing that all he was doing was wasting energy best put elsewhere. He let go of the ballista, began to search for whatever it was stuck on at the behest of Drayk. He moved in order to search for it, but was stopped with a flash of steam assaulted his face. The sudden heat, and unexplained lurch in the ship caused him to stumble backward clutching his face, tripping over something and sending him back first into the chilly water. The shock was immediate, running the length of his bones back. He sat straight up in the water and gasped. They needed to get Drayk out of it, now. He pulled himself to his feet, dripping seawater as he made his way to the front of the ballista.

At the bow end, he reached under the water and grabbed the edge of the bow and pulled. It still wouldn't budge, but he found one of the causes. It was caught under one of the rowers' benches. He snarled and cursed inside his head, and plunged his hand into the water, grabbing the bench. There, he ignited the strongest frost spell he had and began to freeze the water around the bench, and the bench itself. Once there was a hard rime-layer formed around it, he pulled his hand out and punched it. The single punch did nothing, nor did the second or third. The forth formed fractures, and the fifth widened them. He lost count of the blows, and didn't stop until the bench was fractured enough to break. He then stood straight and forced a boot into it, finally snapping it.

Paying no mind to the blood pouring from his knuckles, he looked up at Adrienne's beckons, catching the rope as it fell toward him. He set about to tying it around the bow end he just freed, and then moved back toward the lip of the hole, jumping and pulling himself through. Ignoring the soreness forming in his body, he took his place in front of Adrienne and wrapped the rope twice around his hand, and began to pull. He then felt something seep into his bones, a spell of some sort, no doubt from Adrienne. It made him feel as if he could rip the ballista off of Drayk. Van then began to pull with all of his might, ignoring the screaming pain in his hands.

He might have been able to get out from under it if he'd been able to feel his limbs, feel if he was grabbing anything at all. As it was, he scooted out from under perhaps an inch or two, and that was it. It bought him a bit of time, as he was able to pull himself up higher, but that was about all. "I can't feel anything, Van... I can't... move right." His face had turned a pale color, and his words were growing fainter.

To top it all off, the ship suddenly lurched to a brutal halt as the front end was crushed on the side of a rock, more cracks opening in the hull to let even more water in. It was rising at a clearly visible rate now, one which left Drayk only a few moments. "Shit... no, no, no. You have to go, you have to get out of here. I'll be fine, just go, get out of here." The water had risen halfway up his neck, and he was forced to crane his head back to keep his mouth out of the water. He couldn't even see Van or Adrienne at this point, but he knew they would still be trying to save him.

”No, no, no, you can’t die, you can’t…” the frenetic phrases, repeated as a kind of mantra to keep her grip on the rope steady, came to an abrupt halt when the ship ran aground, and Adrienne once more lost her footing, this time to even more disastrous effect. Unable to stop herself, she could only yelp a warning before she slammed bodily into Van’s back, the momentum carrying them both over the lip of the hole in the floor and down below. At some point during the fall, they came untangled, which might have been good for him but probably didn’t help her any, as she landed sideways on the ballista itself, screaming when her arm took the full weight of the impact, splintering against the metal and wood of the siege weapon. Bouncing with an unsavory sound off it, she was plunged into icy water thereafter, and perhaps the only boon of the situation was that the agony of that particular sensation was enough to prevent her from really feeling the pain in her mangled arm anymore.

Her head broke the surface of the water, and she gasped sharply, inhaling air and liquid in equal parts, reducing her to a coughing, sputtering, bleeding mess. ”Ungh…” It seemed she had also lost her last weapon, her tongue, as she’d bitten down quite hard on it when she hit the ballista, and her mouth was filled with blood and seawater alike. Her vision swam darkly, and waves of nausea prevented her from really being able to tell where she was relative to either of the others. And somehow, that was all that seemed to matter. Where were they? She wanted to be near them. A very strange thought for a time like this, but the only one that occupied her all the same.

It really was too bad she was in no state to do anything about it.

While Adrienne's arm broke her fall, Vanryth wasn't so lucky. The tumble ripped the rope from his hand, flaying most of the skin from it. He didn't even had time to yell as they plunged back into the hole. It was his back that broke his own fall, as fell onto one of the hidden submerged benches. The edges of his vision flickered and sounds became muffled and dull-- at least until he slipped under the water. He breathed mouthfuls of saltwater before he worked his way back on top of the bench. It wasn't clear how he was able to do it, something about his survival instincts kicking in and forcing him somewhere he could breath. But it was all he could do to keep his head afloat, partially submerged by the water as it was.

Adrienne's groan was blocked by the seawater in his ears, fortunately enough. He wasn't sure how he would have reacted to it-- if he even could. As he laid there, propped up by the bench, he drifted between unconciousness and wakefulness.

Drayk could do little more than groan himself when he felt something land directly on top of the ballista. There was a lot of splashing, and all he could assume was that they'd come through the hole and joined him when the ship hit the rock. "No, damn it, you can't die too, get out of here," he said, panting for breath. There wasn't time for much else... the hull of the ship cracked wider, and the water rose faster still. "Adrienne! Adrienne, you have to go, you have to li--" but he was cut off as the water passed over him entirely, leaving on his icy hand above the water, reaching for something he wouldn't be able to feel anyway.

A few moments passed, the others unable to respond in any way due to their own injuries, and the scene grew still, almost quiet. The water came in more calmly now, but still just as fast. The sound of flapping wings signaled birds outside the ship passing over. At least, until the beats of the wings became heavier, pounding on the wind.

A loud splash outside the original hole Drayk had blown in the side of the ship signaled a new arrival to the scene. He ducked his head under the splintered wound in the Dreamwalker's side. His skin was gray and cold, his eyes alight, and utterly familiar. His wings were coiled tightly to his back at the moment for lack of space, but at their full length they spanned far more than his height. He took a brief moment to survey the situation, and then green light erupted from both his hands, a spell bursting out to grant Adrienne and Vanryth the strength and stamina they would need to swim ashore themselves.

"Save yourselves, if you wish," the Shade commanded. "I'll save the boy."

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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Maya had informed Anirne the moment she knew that the Omen was dead, the moment she knew that there was hope. Still they spurred their horses along the coastline, trying to keep the Redguard's ship in sight. It turned abruptly, and from the sounds, the witch knew that the situation on board had turned to chaos. It swerved several times on a doomed path to a large rock jutting out of the water a ways offshore, where it smashed to a violent halt.

She dismounted, conjuring her bow into her hands, and running as far into the icy water as she dared. She was almost in range, and if there was anyone she could kill to protect them, she'd do it in a heartbeat. She thought she saw Sinderion on the deck, but refused to allow her hopes to rise until she knew for sure. There were sounds of the living, but no one as of yet had departed from the soon to be doomed vessel.

The news that the Omen was dead was in a sense a relief, but it did little to settle matters, as the boat was still getting further away from them. At least… until it turned. The movement was erratic, but the overall direction suggested that either the chaos aboard was too great for them to keep steering, or someone was intentionally running it aground. If their friends yet lived as well, the latter seemed more likely. She couldn’t say for sure, though, and dismounted even as Maya splashed forth into the water. Anirne remained ashore, the familiar thrum of healing magic called to just beneath the surface. Chances were poor that all of them would have escaped unscathed.

”I’d worry less about them and more about yourself,” a voice put in from behind. Soren had drawn his horse to a stop and leaned casually against its neck, glancing at the wreckage with the faintest glimmer of amusement. “Tarquin’s gone in after them, and we all know what that means. He did send me to tell you, though, that he doesn't plan on attacking you. Whatever stock you want to put in that is entirely up to you, of course, so if you'd rather head for the hills, I won't stop you.” He was looking a little worse for the wear, a new scar etching itself in a jagged white line from the bridge of his nose across his left cheekbone, ending an inch or so before his ear. Despite that, and despite the fact that there were dark circles under his eyes signifying a lack of sleep, he appeared rather well, all things considered, a certain vitality to his tone and his limbs that had not been present before.

His eyes, sharp naturally, scanned the deck, and the tight smirk on his face broke into a wide grin. “I can see moody blue and lovely, at least. Looks like at least one of the others is below, because that’s where your Shade is.” He shrugged. Something told him they’d be fine.

"He's here now?" Maya asked, horrified but not at all surprised. If he'd been following them or stalking them, of course he would choose now to strike, when they were at their weakest, when he'd be able to slice through them all without any effort and tear her to pieces. She scanned the area around the ship for him, not believing Soren for a second. Why choose now to return? Why did he come back at all? Was he somehow connected with the Shade? Had he been all along? The questions frantically darted through her mind like rabbits through her forest, and they were each too fast to strike with a lightning bolt.

With that in mind, she backed out of the water cautiously, not wanting to be anywhere where her feet would be bogged down like that. There were no bodies nearby, save for those under the sea, and those she couldn't reach. No, there was nothing to protect her here, nothing but her bow and Anirne. They were going to die, certainly.

"Sinder, Lynly, hurry!" she called, hoping they'd hear. She needed them on the shore immediately. The others would need to work themselves out, too. Haste was the key here. They needed to run, to hide.

And there he was, swooping low across the water, heading for the ship. The ship? He pounded his wings down hard, floating up and over the wreck, sinking down until he was out of sight. And something hit Maya. The sun was high in the sky over their heads. It was daytime still, which meant Tarquin was at a far greater disadvantage than he would be in the night, under cover of darkness. A sound of lurching wood and groaning metal emanated from the bowels of the ship, and moments later he returned to the sky, a robed male's body in his arms. Drayk, if she was correct. The Shade came in fast towards the shoreline, landing some twenty feet away from Maya, amidst the tracks of the horses she and Anirne had left behind.

Her bow was up and an arrow drawn back, aimed for his head, but the Shade ignored her utterly, instead laying the fire mage upon his back on the icy shoreline, listening for a moment for breathing, or a heartbeat. He then began to push hard on Drayk's chest several times over, before placing his mouth over the mage's. Maya frowned at the sight, but did not lower her weapon.

He’d no sooner picked himself up off the ground, it seemed, than he heard a distressed yell, barely carried to him on the wind. It was a voice he knew, though, and the urgency in it moved him to haste. “Quickly,” he told Lynly, ”we must swim to the shore.” The statement was punctuated with a much larger sound, powerful wingbeats, and Sinderion caught a glimpse of the Shade as he descended. That couldn’t be good news.

With no need for further thought on the matter, he launched himself into a run, leaping at the last available second into a swanlike dive off the boat. It minimized the impact of his entry into the water, as he was still a good three stories above the surface, but there was no way to minimize the cold. Powerful strokes carried him to the shoreline, and he regained his feet, soaked to the bone and saved from clumsy shivering perhaps only by the greater adaptation and natural body heat of the beast, which was unusually quiet otherwise at the moment. It wasn’t something he devoted any time to thinking about, though, sparing no time to shake himself off before he appeared at Maya’s side, glancing at she, Anirne, and the oddly-reappeared Soren before he beheld the Shade and Drayk’s limp form.

He knew what was going on, he just didn’t understand it.

Lynly picked herself off of the deck with the help of the stuck wheel and leaned on it as the knife-ear ran to the edge of the railing and dove in. Of course they'd have to swim, nothing could be handed to them. She sighed and made her way to the railing herself, and watched as the elven form swam toward the shore before cursing. "Bloody pirates were right,"' she muttered, fiddling with the straps that kept her armor in check. Had anyone else been on board with her, she'd never admit that statement out loud. Not only that, but the Shade had made an appearance as well, because why wouldn't he? She mouthed a steady stream of curses as her iron and fur plate came off and thudded onto the wood beside her.

She then sheathed her sword, and tightened the straps that held both it and her shield to her back. If the Shade was here, she'd need them both very soon. Satisfied (as far as she could be, the situation was far from great) she hoisted herself onto the railing and dove in behind the elf. Shock of the ice water struck first, and when she reached the surface she couldn't keep her voice to herself. She yelped, but then gritted her teeth, pulling herself along the surface of the water with wide breast-strokes. Nord heritage saw to it she wouldn't freeze to death immediately, but it was still damn cold.

She pulled herself out of the water with heavy strides, sopping wet. Lynly looked worse for wear, but she was intact. The tan tunic she wore under her armor was darkened with moisture, the braids in her hair frayed to no end, and a bruise was beginning to form on her cheek where she smashed into the wheel. But she was alive... For now. The Shade was still there-- but then again so was Soren. She glanced at the man and then shrugged, "Welcome back." The tone was completely deadpan, like she didn't just run a ship into a rock.

"Why thank you, lovely. It's actually quite nice to be back. You lot make raiding the Brotherhood headquarters look like a lark, what with all the dripping and the panicking and such. I would have made my entrance more dramatic, but I'm afraid there's little competing with him on that front," the assassin replied, tilting his head in Tarquin's direction and smiling. "I actually think he rather plans it that way." If he was at all concerned with being overheard by the vampire in question, he made no indication of it.

At least she didn’t have to endure the pain of it for long. Adrienne felt herself enveloped in some kind of restorative magic, knitting together the bones and restoring the vitality to her flesh, and when her eyes cleared, they centered almost at once on Tarquin. He was, after all, rather hard to ignore. The words he spoke, she heard, but didn’t process as quickly as she might have liked. In the end, though, she did understand, and nodded. They had no other choice, and something… something seemed different about him. She sorely hoped she was not imagining that.

”Thank you,” she said, unable or unwilling to hide the sheer relief and gratitude in it. Whatever his motives, they had little option but to trust him, and so she would, at least for now. This marked one more of many occasions on which he could have killed them if he wished, but the newly-whole state of her arm spoke to different intent. She may not have him figured out yet, but she felt that she wasn’t going to die today, and neither were her friends.

She waited until she knew Van was conscious and ready to swim before she struck out of the hole in the hull. Magic or no magic, she was exhausted, and swimming, though familiar to someone who’d grown up near the ocean, was not exactly what she’d most like to be doing right now. Vanryth managed to roll himself off of the bench thanks to what spell the Shade weaved-- though he despised that fact. It was little consolation that this spell wasn't a rage spell. He slowly waded through the flooded deck toward's Adrienne and placed an arm over her neck, jerking his head toward the hole. He'd rather not stay longer then necessary. Choppy as the waves were, they made it, pulling themselves ashore sometime after Sinder and Lynly had done so. Adrienne was shaking with the cold, and probably incapable of moving much, but she was there all the same, and took a few lurching steps towards Tarquin and Drayk before she forced herself to stop. There was nothing additional she could do, anyway, and she settled for wrapping herself in her own arms, trying to stay warm in the impossibly chill air.

Once on the shore, Vanryth didn't move much. He waded out until the land was dry enough and then collapsed to his back. He was still alive, though just barely. He was more exhausted than anything, and his back was still in pain. He tried not to think of the Shade just feet away.

Drayk returned to them with a fit of coughing and a small tide of seawater coming out of him. As soon as he was revived the Shade turned him over such that he would not choke on the water again. When Drayk was capable of turning his head enough to see his savior, he shouted in alarm. He had not yet seen the Shade in this state, and it was obviously quite alarming. He tried to push himself up, but his body was still so cold he could hardly move. To assist, the Shade backed up a few paces from him. "Use your flame cloak," he commanded.

"What?" Drayk practically croaked, and the Shade nodded. "Just do it. You'll see." He paused for a second, before slowly igniting the spell in his right hand, and casting it over himself. The flames swirled around him for the briefest of moments before he howled in agony, writhing on the ground for a few seconds before putting the spell out. Still, once it was done he was able to roll over onto his front and start crawling towards Adrienne and the others.

"He'll live," the Shade announced, as if he were an authority on these matters. He was breathing heavily himself, his chest rising and falling in motions that seemed almost exaggerated, but it could clearly be seen in his eyes just how tired he was. He sighed, seemingly glad to finally stop moving, and took a knee, shifting back into his human form, where he immediately lifted the hood of his dark cloak over his head. He exhaled with what could only have been relief.

"Put the bow down, Maya," he said gently. She looked at him as though he were insane. "Not a chance, Tarquin. You can't possibly think a show of mercy will get us to lower our guards. We're no fools."

"I'm aware," he said tiredly. "I mean to to take these ones back to their Mentor. The situation has changed. Now... can we speak in peace? There's been enough death here, I think."

Adrienne was back in motion the second Drayk coughed, dropping to his side as the Shade backed off, though she kept her distance until the flame cloak had extinguished. ”Oh, thank…” she trailed off. There was no thanking the nine for this, nor Mara, nor any of the Daedra certainly. This was something that Tarquin had done of his own free will, and her gratitude was his. She glanced up at him, then over at Maya, who still had her conjured bow pointed at him. ”Come on, Drayk… let’s get you off the ice…” she murmured quietly, helping him up with what little strength remained to her. She almost felt bad that it was her, since she was utterly frozen, but as usual, his comparative warmth was welcome.

The revelation about the Mentor put a hitch in her step, and her eyes went wide. What about the situation had changed so much in such a short time? ”Please, Maya, let’s hear him out. He didn’t have to come here, in the middle of the day, and drag us out of there, but he did. We owe him this much, at least.” He’d appeared when he was weakest, and though most of them were more battered than he was, he would not have known it would be so when he set out for this place. It was exposing as much vulnerability as someone like Tarquin could have.

Anirne, meanwhile, had crouched near Vanryth, the most worn-looking of those who remained. The light rustling chime and soft light of healing magic encased her hands as she tried to ease the aches. The surface injuries themselves were gone, and what he mostly needed was rest, but she was trying to stave off any long-term effects of the wounds he’d sustained. She said nothing, though she did mark the change in the Shade’s demeanor with calm interest.

Maya knew that she didn't want to. He was so weak now, and although they were heavily battered themselves, they would be able to beat him, and she knew it. He'd made a mistake, he'd allowed himself to present a weakness, and they needed to take advantage of it while they could. If they didn't, he'd only come back later, in the night, at the height of his power, and then they wouldn't be able to stop him even at their best.

"I don't owe him anything," she murmured, but she lowered the bow all the same, snapping her hand shut and banishing it with a hiss. "Say what you will, Tarquin."

"Thank you," he said, taking a few slow steps towards them so as to not have to shout. "I went to seek out my father after leaving you at the embassy. I... wanted to speak with him. To understand why he abandoned us, for a start. And perhaps to understand why he valued you all so highly."

"When I originally took him from you, I delivered him to my mother, the one called the Webspinner in this game. She was... more agreeable then. She took him, held him, questioned him, I assume. I don't know. But something changed from that time to the time I returned. She was... inconsolable. She turned me away entirely. I was unable to reach your Mentor."

He lowered his gaze somewhat, speaking more softly now. "Either he is dead, or something has happened that my mother strongly disagrees with, I know not. She has lived... a very long time. Her mind is not what it once was, and being forced into this game has done nothing to help that. It is time she know peace. You will help me end her life, and we will find my father together."

"No," Maya said at once. "I'm not going anywhere with you. I don't care if you're as docile as a rabbit. We'll get to your mother when we do, but we'll do it without you." To that, the Shade nodded, understanding. "I would not attempt to force myself upon your group again. I will respect that. Who is your target?"

"The Pact. She's nearby. We saw her on our way here." It piqued the Shade's interest. "My mother captured one of her warriors. She should be next in line. Deal with her. I will travel to Ivarstead in the Rift, and you will meet me there when you are done. Is that agreeable?" Maya looked uncertain at best, clearly not eager to enter into any kind of arrangement with a man who was capable of, and supposed to, kill her on sight.

It was quite a lot of news to process, and frankly, Adrienne wasn’t sure how to feel about most of it. What they were being asked to do wasn’t really outside the parameters of the Game at all, but the nature of the request was puzzling all the same. Still with Drayk leaning somewhat heavily on her person, she met the Shade’s eyes over the intervening distance and tilted her head to one side. ”Are you sure?” she asked softly. ”When first we spoke, it seemed that much of the disdain you carried for your father was gained because he left you and your family behind. Are you certain that the only solution to this is to assist us in slaying your mother?”

She wished to find the Mentor, oh how she did. And she knew also that the death of the Webspinner would eventually be demanded of them, in one form or another. They couldn’t have all prepared for this game expecting otherwise. But as she had learned, there was a vast difference between knowing that harm would come to someone you loved by your actions, and actually seeing it. Perhaps Tarquin had intellectually accepted that his mother, however far gone she was, was going to die. But… that was different indeed from causing it, or witnessing it. She was unable to prevent her curiosity at the change in his demeanor, and however foolish it might be, she was feeling sympathy for him, something she would have expected him to disdain. But now… things seemed different. And despite what he’d explained, they didn’t quite know why.

"I am sure," the Shade responded. It seemed for a moment that he might leave it at that, but he decided to clarify somewhat. "She has held only fragments of her mind for many years now. I believe even these are gone now. It... would be a mercy. And it is where I took your Mentor, so it is there that any of us will find answers."

He paused for a moment. "You... have not seen what she has become."

Sinderion was pretty accustomed to being confused. He didn’t always understand people very well, having missed out on a number of very important developmental years and spending them as an animal instead. So naturally, he wasn’t all that surprised when he didn’t understand what in the name of Oblivion the Shade was getting at. Adrienne’s question seemed misdirected to him, but then she knew much more about people than he did, so it was probably his error rather than hers. The answer was just another layer of the situation that he didn’t quite get, but he supposed it was easy enough to imagine what someone with so little sanity was like. Actually, it was painfully simple, given personal experience. Yes, he at least could see the decision to end her as a good one, if even those closest to her believed her beyond saving.

He felt… torn. Part of him wanted to rush there right away, recover the Mentor (or his corpse, which he wasn’t sure any of them would be able to deal with), and get out of this twisted game. The other… the other was siding with Maya even against his better judgement, urging him to see it (and her) through to the end. More exposure to the Shade was making that less likely, but it didn’t seem that there was much of a choice. He’d found them so easily, he could do it again. Probably better not to cross him without need.

He sighed, the sound heavy. ”Then we should begin hunting the Pact as soon as we can,” he said, glancing at his prone best friend and Drayk and Adrienne, the younger siblings of his patchwork family, leaning on one another to remain upright. It was a grim thought, that they would once again be forced to fight so soon, but it was becoming the reality of their lives. “I doubt it will be long before she realizes she has new hunters, and we are the logical conclusion.” Especially considering their meeting days ago.

There was no working around it for Maya. They needed to hunt the Pact, and soon, either way. It... could actually prove beneficial. If the Shade was telling the truth (which she so strongly wanted to believe he wasn't), then she would know the exact location of her hunter, be able to hit her next target freely, without looking over her shoulder for pursuit. If he was lying, than she was only lowering her defenses. But if he still truly wanted her dead, and the Sellswords with her, surely he would have done it by now...

"Fine," Maya said, relenting. "We'll handle the Pact, and then meet you in the Rift to deal with the Webspinner. Maybe some of the others will deal with each other while we're at it."

"We can hope," the Shade said, nodding. "Good hunting, Maya."

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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Chapter VI
The Darkest Places




They split up as soon as they reached Dawnstar, the Shade leaving in a typically hasty fashion. The Sellswords were understandably slower to move themselves, still exhausted from their escape of the Dreamwalker, most of them also still plagued by wounds of varying degrees. There was little time to wait around, however, and so their healer had to do her work while in motion. In all, it was not the ideal setting to depart in search of a target who, as far as they knew, could be just as dangerous as the last one.

Drayk was in a sort of stupor when they reached Dawnstar and began to gather what little they had unpacked, preparing their horses for another departure. He had wreathed himself in flames several more times over the course of the walk back to town, and only on the first attempt did he fall to his knees in pain. After that, the feeling truly began to come back to his limbs, and what followed of course was the overwhelming sensation that his entire body was being stabbed in every conceivable place from the inside out. He'd had to stop for a few minutes, until he was capable of controlling his legs without falling down. After that, only slight assistance from Adrienne had been necessary. Even that was really just because he wanted to stay close to her.

He didn't know what had happened aboard the Omen's ship, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know. He remembered dying in a nightmare and having it feel like reality, like the time the Inquisitor had ran him through, or the frost atronach had smashed him against a wall. In all, he was tired of dying. What he knew was that someone had broken through, someone had killed the Omen, and freed him again. After that, he'd lived the shortest of all his lives, dying under freezing water and crushing weight, weight that was far greater than a simple ballista.

His friends had saved him from the Omen, but it had been the Shade that saved him from the water. It was perhaps the strangest conclusion there could have been to the situation. He'd been able to listen to the conversation afterwards, but it left him feeling only more confused. They were now working with two different representatives, one of which was supposed to be trying to kill the other. The Shade's change in demeanor only muddied the waters further. His feelings that they should abandon the witch and go with the side of strength were only reinforced, but he knew it still wouldn't go over well. But wasn't it the only way this could end? When there were two? Why would they take the losing side, after surviving so much together. They could make nice all they wanted, claim to be in an alliance, a truce, but it had to end eventually. There were no pacts between representatives. None that would last, anyway.

With the horses ready, the Sellswords heaved themselves up, and rode out of Dawnstar. The day had gone well into the afternoon by this point, but time was of the essence, if they were to catch the Pact unawares. It would likely be vital to their survival, considering how effectively she'd been able to sneak up on them earlier. Maya took the lead, one of the few among them not so physically and emotionally drained, though she was certainly not without issues plaguing her. Now wasn't the time for it, though. The others weren't ready to listen, and she wasn't ready to speak. First she would need to decide how she actually felt, and that was far easier said than done.

But it seemed they wouldn't even have time to think about their troubles, as pounding hooves ahead of them signaled a rider approaching. They were not yet fifteen minutes outside of Dawnstar, but the man riding towards them was clearly a cloaked Dunmer. The Horizon pulled his horse to a halt at the head of their column, taking in their battered appearance.

"We've caught a break, Sellswords," he announced. "The Pact moved to reposition as soon as her scouts relayed news of the Omen's ship departing. I followed them. They've taken up a position in a Dwemer ruin not far from here, expecting a full frontal assault from the Omen's improved forces. I know this ruin. There is a rear entrance we can use to slip around behind them, and avoid the traps they've planted. But we must hurry. She may move again when she learns of what happened to Rialta."

"Of course it's a Dwemer ruin," Lynly sighed as she pulled her own horse alongside Maya's. She of all people would understand her reluctance. The nord then spared the woman a tired look, but shrugged. Diving headfirst into a dwemer ruin after leaving her armor behind, and after the whole ordeal on the boat, left a bad taste in her mouth. Caught a break, the ashskin said, they'd caught nothing. The Sellswords never catch a break. Still, she relented and dropped her eyes before looking back, "I'm behind you," she told the witch. She could only hope that they could take out a lone scout first so she could don what pittance armor he had.

Sinderion made the distinct choice not to occupy himself thinking overmuch about anything that had happened recently. If there was one skill that constantly fighting off an internal monster had given him, it was the ability to compartmentalize. His mind, on good days, worked rather like a large house, with rooms and labeled doors into which he could shove those thoughts he didn't really want to deal with at the moment. Everything was properly sorted, arranged, and kept together. What he'd faced in that room with Rialta was hurriedly placed on the 'later' room, for unsorted material that could not be dealt with in the present moment.

Of course, few days were good days for him recently, and so for now he was simply glad that the doors weren't being thrown open, their contents spilling out into his consciousness like a flood of water. That a few stray ones occasionally had to be ignored was something he could deal with easily enough.

He was in much better physical condition than most of his comrades, again, and it was beginning to wear on him psychologically. Seeing them in such a state while he still had full, fine control of all his movements was taxing in an entirely different way than dealing with such fatigue would have been, and it was hard to know which was worse. He was, after all, accustomed to pain. In his observations, he had not missed the massive bloodstain on Adrienne, nor had he failed to identify the smell, even diluted by water as it was. He knew which of them had killed the Omen, which of them had saved them all. He just wasn't sure how to feel about it, and that question, too, was banished to the uncertain relam of 'later.'

Of more present concern, and more immediate remedy, was the lack of equipment some of them were dealing with. Lynly was the most noticeable, without any kind of armor, and he couldn't do anything about that. Van appeared to be weaponless, and Sinder could only presume he'd lost both his blades somewhere on the ship. This led the altmer to an easy conclusion. Sure fingers untied the leather cord that held his scabbard at his belt, and he withdrew the long elvish blade, sheath and all, from its place at his side, holding it out to his dunmer friend wordlessly. The situation hardly required words, after all. He'd be fine with the shorter of his blades, and his bow.

Well, well, this just got more interesting as things moved along, didn't it? Their little melodrama was endlessly amusing, at least to him, though he was somewhat disappointed that this would be the second time in less than a week that he was pulling the 'infiltrate fortifications from a hidden entrance' schtick. Well, it had worked pretty well the first time, leaving him with only a few grievous injuries, a new scar on his face, and an empty quiver. So hell, why not? He was a little curious about lovely's reaction to discovering that their target was in a Dwemer ruin, but for now, he refrained from asking about it. It was really too bad they couldn't avoid ruining the ship: keeping it going in the right direction would have given their deception a much longer shelf-life.

"Ambushes are so much more fun than sieges, anyway."

”You would think that, wouldn’t you?” Anirne replied neutrally, drawing an arm across her brow. Healing on the move was not the simplest of maneuvers, but she’d managed to acquit herself well. The Sellswords were entirely free of broken bones, open wounds, and potential infections, though she could do nothing for their fatigue. That was something that had to recover on its own. In an emergency, she could transfer vitality directly, but the fact was, she had not enough to go around, especially not after all the work she’d just done. Rolling her shoulders, she adjusted her seat on her horse and glanced around.

She was worried about all of them, but for some reason, something drew her eye about Adrienne. The girl had been quiet, very quiet, having said nothing at all since asking her question of the Shade. From the amount of blood on her, she’d clearly been very up-close to some measure of death, and though the Psijic had no idea what had occurred on that ship, it must have been bad, from the mood hanging over them all. Adrienne, though, observed her surroundings with dull eyes, and moved little, classic signs of shock. It seemed that now that they had been given even a few moments in which their lives were not in the balance, whatever had been keeping her sharp was gone.

If Anirne had her guess, Drayk’s proximity was helping, but not much. There wasn’t anything she could do for that, though, and she’d just have to keep an eye on things, and hope that the youngest of them could snap herself out of her daze when the time came once more to fight. If she couldn’t, they would all suffer for it.

"We'll get this over with quickly, then," Maya said, half to Lynly and half to Invorin. She wasn't happy trusting the plan of another representative, but the Horizon was either a very good liar, or he was actually intent on seeing the Pact dead before her time, even if it meant he wouldn't be the one to kill her. But she did have one question for him, before she threw herself back into the fire at his suggestion. "How did you know what happened to the Omen and follow the Pact and her warriors?"

He smiled, eyes gleaming. "Azura grants sight that isn't possible with mere eyes, my lady. Now, we should be off. There's little time to lose." Maya shook her head as she put her heels into her horse. That wasn't something she was called often.

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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It was a very little door.

That was Maya's tactical analysis of the situation thus far. Even so far as doors went, this one was small. Not so much short as it was thin, a dull bronze wall with a golden handle, only wide enough for one person to stand in at a time. Even then, someone wider than Maya might have had to turn sideways. For a back door, it had a very fitting appearance.

They were currently crouched down behind a low, foliage covered hill, the largely barren bushes obscuring them somewhat from view in the event that the Pact had sentries over here. If she did, it meant this way was covered as well, so Maya strongly hoped there were none about. She doubted her ability to see them if they were, given that even Sinder hadn't been able to sense them when last they crossed paths with the Bosmer who was now her target. The huntress in her told her it was a very good thing there were no tracks here, as it was an obvious sign that no one had been here recently, but the suspicious side of her expected the Pact's followers to know how to cover their trails very well.

"So where's the front door?" Maya asked the Horizon, who lay in the snow next to her. He pointed to their left. "About a mile that way. It's a large network of tunnels under there, some that go very deep. This entrance should be beyond the reach of twenty some warriors, but caution never hurts." Maya seconded that. She felt no better about entering a Dwemer ruin than the majority of the party did, no doubt. It wasn't only the living beings inside that had the potential to ambush them, after all. The constructs defended themselves, with deadly traps and automatons. It was all metal on stone, and worst of all, it was loud. Sneaking up on her wouldn't be easy.

"Well, there's no point in waiting," Maya said, pushing up off the snow and making her way towards the door first. The rest of the group followed one by one, with the Horizon taking up the rear. Maya was tempted to conjure a weapon, but her daedric creations gave off more light than she was willing to create in a dark interior, so she held off. Weapons were situational as well. She'd be just as likely to need a dagger as a bow when inside these ruins.

The handle was actually warm to the touch, and Maya pulled it down, the latch releasing with a heavy snap. She grimaced. Sounds like that would get them killed. Damn Dwemer and their love of metal and stone. The door itself was quite heavy for being so thin, and it swung open gracefully, allowing Maya to pass inside. The others would need to enter one by one behind her. When Invorin passed through the door, he slowly pulled it shut behind them, and they moved into darkness entirely.

It took her eyes a moment to adjust, but even before they did, she noticed something different. Dwemer ruins were supposed to be loud, weren't they? Their steamworks were famous for still being functional, for continuing to run long after their makers had disappeared from the world, but this place was utterly silent, save for the breathing of her companions, the creaking of armor, boots on the hard stone. Visually, it looked much like other Dwemer ruins at first, bronze pipes extending along the stone walls, vents traveling through spaces the Sellswords couldn't see. But none of it was moving.

"I hate it here already," Maya murmured darkly, starting forward. "Let's find this bitch and get the hell out of here."

"It took you this long?" Lynly muttered. Distaste was readily apparent in everything about the woman. Her speech, the hitch in her shoulders, her plodding footsteps, the naked sword and bare shield in her hands. She had pulled both off of her back as soon as the door was in sight, and would not put them back until it was far behind them. In a stark contrast on how she was on the Omen's boat, she looked unsure, almost skittish once again. Fortunately, there were no ambient sounds of the ruins-- else she would be fidgetting even harder at every odd whistle or strange whine.

Thanks to the sword and shield she was loath to replace, Lynly had to traverse the passage sideways, though a little price to pay for what small peace of mind it brought her. Not only was she back in a Dwemer ruin, something she hasn't returned to in some odd years, but she was missing a vital piece of herself-- her armor. She was walking these wretched halls naked, not armored to the teeth as she envisioned. Her teeth were clenched, and her knuckles were white as she kept her eyes pointed toward the darkness and on the back of Maya's head.

"I agree," Nothing would please her more than doing their job and getting out.

Sinderion followed immediately after Lynly, his larger frame requiring him to angle his body a bit to fit inside the door, but he was able to right himself again thereafter, sliding his single remaining sword from its scabbard noiselessly. As the other was in Vanryth’s possession, he had only this one remaining to him. It would do. He inhaled deeply, but the only things of note that had been in this passage for a long time would seem to be his friends and the Horizon. Everything else smelled like stale air, rust, and metal, as though the passage had been disused for a very long time.

It was also utterly silent, and that seemed wrong somehow. Given how easily his nose had been fooled before, he half-expected the Pact and her guerrillas to appear at any moment, and his every line was pulled taut or coiled as he moved, ready to snap this way or that at a moment’s notice. He was also utterly silent.

Soren snorted quietly, unslinging his bow as he followed the moody one into the passage. Someone the size of a Nord wasn’t going to fit through there without a bit of adjustment, but he’d crammed into smaller spaces before, for lesser reasons, actually. He wasn’t sure what the big deal was—mostly you ran into giant clanking machines in ruins like these, and those at least you’d be able to hear coming. As for the Pact’s soldiers, well, he did like ambushes.

Anirne was next to file in, figuring that keeping herself centrally-located would be useful, as everyone was currently in range of her magic. Not that she was sure anything was going to happen, of course, but the possibility was enough.

These were not, perhaps, the oldest ruins she'd been in recently, but they did seem quite ancient. She had a deep respect for Dwemer ingenuity, but some of the measures they'd taken to produce it... well, the Falmer immediately came to mind, those poor, twisted beings that were all that remained of a once-noble snow elf people. A shame indeed, for the height of their civilization had been a glorious one in its own right, steeped in magic and ascetic tradition. There were theories among her compatriots that it might even have been similar to the way of life the Psijics practiced now, though she knew not nearly enough of the relevant information to have an opinion on the matter.

She stepped as quietly as she could, but neither she nor the still dead-eyed Adrienne behind her were trained for stealth, and the minute scuffs of their feet on the stone ground seemed far too loud in this blanketing silence.

Vanryth was posted not far behind Anirne, and though he was whole once again, he certainly didn't feel like it. His limbs were leadened and his mind clouded with fatigue. Not to mention the mental affects on what had just transpired on the Omen's ship. Then, he didn't have time to let it get to him, and it all happened so fast that it didn't start to register. How close they had come to losing everything again. Drayk once again almost met his end. Adrienne was a ghost of what she once was, and he was as mechanical as any one of these dwemer's constructs. He was so very tired of this game they played, and it was beginning to cost them more than their lives.

Drayk knew the heavy silence and ancient corridors should have made him tense, especially with the possiblity of ambush lurking around every corner, but it really just made him feel more tired. Element of surprise or no, this felt like a very bad idea, wandering into a fight with a fresh opponent while they were so drained. But did they really have a choice? If they waited until the Pact was prepared, it may not matter how well rested they were.

He'd noticed the bloodstains on Adrienne by this point, but there had been death everywhere on that ship, and they'd killed men before, so it had not yet occurred to him that the look in her eyes was something more than simple exhaustion. He stayed as close to her as he was able, not knowing if there was anything more he could do to help right now. They couldn't afford to keep speaking as they got further in, for risk of being detected before they were ready. Not that he would have known what to say, anyway.

They passed a small side room, the first branching of paths they'd seen since entering the ruin, but it appeared to be a dead end, a mess of more Dwemer technology that had stopped functioning. As for the environment itself, Drayk had little opinion. The lack of sound and functioning equipment meant all the defense systems would be non-functioning as well, right? That meant they didn't have to worry about enemies, or--

A loud click rang around the hall as Drayk felt the floor under him give slightly. He looked down to see a square plate at his feet, depressed by his weight. A pressure plate. He looked around for what it was supposed to trigger, soon locating the three holes on the wall that were connected to the trap. Nothing came out of them, confirming his theory that they had little to fear from the ruins themselves. He exhaled to release the tension in him, his adrenaline temporarily pulling him out of his stupor.

"Good thing this place isn't active, I suppose," he murmured ahead of him. The witch nodded her agreement from the head of the group. "Still, try to avoid those if you can, for the noise more than anything. Why do you think this place is like this, Inv-- wait, where'd he go?" She took a few angry paces back, eyes urgently searching for the Dunmer that had been bringing up the rear. No sooner had she done that then a very loud snap echoed down the corridor, followed by several smaller ones. The pipes on the walls began to hiss and vibrate as the ruin came back to life.

Drayk had yet to move, and a trio of bronze spears shot out of the wall at him. He cried out in surprise and barely got his shield up in time, the weapons smashing into the wood hard enough to push him backwards into Adrienne, his lack of balance taking him to the other wall. They retracted as quickly as they'd come, the pressure plate on the floor raising once more. Behind them about twenty feet, thick metal bars sprang up from the floor and barred their way back, the action following one last snap, this one coming from the room they'd just passed.

"No," Maya hissed in frustration, running back until she reached the bars, to find the Horizon standing on the other side. Maya conjured her bow and drew an arrow back, aimed right at his forehead. Despite their different positions in the order, the Horizon took up a more ready stance, lighting a ward spell in his left hand, his right hand now wielding... a bladed staff, something he certainly hadn't been carrying around with him prior to this point.

"You can't kill me, Maya," he reminded her calmly. She spat back at him. "No more than you're trying to kill us?" He shook his head. "I certainly don't intend for you to die, not yet. The rules are the rules. Still, that doesn't mean you and your companions can't enjoy an extended stay down here, while stronger alliances cleave through the field without fear of their hunters."

"Stronger alliances... oh, you can't be serious!" she called. He was already backing away into the darkness, headed back towards the entrance. "What do you get out of this? Are you just wrapped around her little finger, is that it?" He laughed genuinely at that. "That sounds like something you'd try, Maya. But no. I have played my part, now Ilanna will play hers." He passed beyond their sight entirely, turning a corner and disappearing.

"Damn it!" Maya said, smacking the metal bars with her bow in frustration. They responded by sending a powerful electrical shock up her arm, causing her to yelp in pain and jump back. She then banished the weapon, turning to the others and shaking out her arm. "Looks like we might be down here for a while..."

Adrienne seemed to bring herself around a little as she was bodily hit, the domino-impact with Drayk sending her skittering off to one side. She stumbled, regaining her feet, and alarm registered dimly on her facial features, but she didn’t react nearly quickly enough to do anything, and in the end, her face visibly blanked again somewhere in the middle of the argument between Maya and the Horizon. She should have seen this coming. Were not plots and scheming precisely her forte? She was hardly in the state of mind to really think much about any of this, though, and in the end she found it difficult to care.

So they were being locked down here with no immediately visible means of escape? Well, at least he couldn’t kill them. It was no worse than anything that had happened to them over the past weeks, and it was quite a lot better than some of it. They could get some rest, at least…

Anirne frowned at the new set of bars. That was… inconvenient. Glancing over at the others, she took in their exhausted faces, and figured about the same thing: perhaps being down here would give them a chance to sleep. And she doubted very much either Invorin or his ally would be expecting them to make it out of here anytime soon, which meant that when they did—and they would, these places always had exits—they would be able to surprise them. The Psijic was not one for vengeful thoughts or hatred, but she did not take well to being attacked from behind, and something violent flashed behind her eyes for a second before disappearing.

“Well…” Anirne replied to Maya, “Maybe. But maybe not. No dwemer was fool enough to build himself a home with one exit and a set of bars on with a trigger on the outside. There’s another way out; it’s just a matter of finding it. At least this way, you can get some rest. And depending on where this place goes, there may be some equipment in it for those of us missing certain crucial pieces.” she smiled at Lynly and Van. They could look at this as a horrible mistake, or as an opportunity. Both were equally true, but Anirne chose to look on the bright side.

There wasn’t much choice, after all.

Treachery from a Representative? Who would have guessed? Soren watched the metal bars erupt from the floor with detached interest, humming a note to himself as Maya approached them to yell at their dear Horizon, who was now spouting off some nonsense about stronger alliances. Stronger alliances? Just who did this man think he was? To the mercenary’s knowledge, neither the Horizon nor the Pact had yet managed a single kill, and the Sellswords and their darling Blackfeather had been well on their way to three before this minor hiccup. And that was if you didn’t count the Inquisitor, which was perhaps being a little unfair to them, considering.

“Have I mentioned that you all have the best luck with people?” he asked sardonically, though he could quite easily perceive that none of them were in the mood. It wasn’t like he cared what mood they were in, and he at least was perfectly at ease for the moment. This Game, it provided him with no sense of urgency, no grim specter of doom. It never had, but now he was free of such things entirely. He was, after all, a dead man. Any living he did after this point was entirely extra, a bonus, if one would.

“So it seems.” Sinder replied in a monotone, choosing not to react overmuch to what had occurred. Anirne was right—there had to be a way out of here. It was just a matter of finding it. And, well… it meant he wouldn’t have to watch them go into a fight with yet another Representative so soon after the last. That was a bit of a relief, even he had to admit. What had occurred on that ship… well, he might be able to compartmentalize, but it would have to be dealt with eventually, and he doubted he had endured the worst of it. Drayk had almost died, and Adrienne… he wasn’t really sure what had happened to her, but he didn’t like that glassy look to her eyes.

That sounds like something you would try, Maya. Sinder shifted uncomfortably, not pleased with the direction of the thought, and flicked a brief glance at the woman in question. Was it really such an outlandish possibility, that she was playing them, playing him like a harp? His brows furrowed. She certainly had been, at the beginning, telling them nothing of who the Bloody Curse was and what they were about to step into. She was fully capable of continuing the ruse, of changing it as she needed to, but... he didn't want to think she would. He should, though. He was naturally suspicious, and it had served him well before. Clenching his jaw, she shook his head slightly and banished that thought, too, to the mounting stack of things he would have to ponder later. First and before all else, they had to get out of this ruin.

While Maya went back toward the bastard fetcher behind them, Vanryth traded places with the witch and surged forward, Sinder's elven blade flashing in his hand. There were plenty of bodies to handle the Horizon, and what else come from behind, but only the warrior between them and anything that decided to assualt their front. Lynly's shield came up and pointed toward the open end of the tunnel, blade lightly resting on the edge. Vanryth took up a position beside and behind her, a lightning spell crackling in his hand and the sword raised. If anything chose that moment to attack, then they would have to get through both of them. Van couldn't help but not be surprised at their sudden change in sitiuations.

Soren was right, though he believed it was more luck in general, but this certainly wasn't a new thought. They'd have no luck if not for bad luck, and this certain reversal of roles only managed to further prove it. Moments passed, and nothing attacked, letting both the warrior and the dunmer ease up on their weapons, though not entirely lowered. Both had been in enough of like situations to understand that it was that single moment where you lowered your defenses that everything went to Oblivion. "Hah! Rest. You say that like I'll be able to sleep in this blasted ruin," Lynly bit harder than was entirely intended.

The comment about finding equipment though did raise an interesting thought. If they could find an old dwemer armory, maybe she could find an intact set of armor. While dwemer metal was heavier than what she normally liked, she wouldn't complain if they had found any. Lynly wasn't the one to look a gift horse in the mouth after all. It'd do for temporary armor. Vanryth agreed with a grunt, he didn't like the idea of sitting in a cage resting while another Representive could come finish them off at their leisure. He was nobody's rat. "Let's at least get out of this tunnel first," Lynly spoke. She was quickly becoming claustrophobic.

"Right with you," Maya said, taking the lead again. She feared the Sellswords were all so drained they'd simply sit down and fall into comas if she let them rest. And they couldn't rest yet.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson

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Well away from the Sellswords (even he was not so heartless as to be able to listen to that with impunity, much as he might have said otherwise), Soren had taken his turn downriver, occupying his time— mostly for the sake of not having to occupy it closer— by shaving with a straightrazor and pulling out a fletching kit, to make more arrows. Having completed the first, he figured he might as well find somewhere to start on the second, glancing once back in the direction of the main camp and shaking his head. No, he really didn’t enjoy their abject misery. Shame, that. It would have made his life much easier, and more fun.

He hadn’t trekked far before he ran across the resident warrior, herself seated atop a rock, still minus the armor, and looking rather uncomfortable. “And what’s got you all twisted up then, lovely?” He asked offhandedly, dropping his stuff and leveraging up beside her. The kit, he unrolled, several redwood shafts already cut and shaped, awaiting the steel arrowheads and mottled fletching he’d gathered. Sliding one from the case, he unrolled a length of twine with one hand, then tested the point of the barbed arrowhead, satisfied with its sharpness. It was clear he was willing to wait for the answer, however long it took her.

"I don't like dwemer ruins," Lynly responded curtly. Even while resting, she still had her shield and sword unsheathed. Nearby her sword was stuck edgewise into ground, it's hilt supporting her shield. Just in case she needed to get to it quickly. She had told herself that she would not put them away until they left this place, and she was intent on keeping it that way. She had been attacked in a cave much like these, and even now she could feel the blind eyes of the falmer upon her, imagined or not. She would not be caught unawares again.

Looks like she was going to have a conversation partner, whether she wanted to talk or not. Instead of trying to fight she simply sighed and relented. Soren would somehow get his way, and it'd be easier to just let him. "Would you be comfortable if you were still sitting in the Brotherhood's hideout?" she asked, trying to draw an allusion. She patiently awaited the inevitable sarcastic answer.

“Right now? Sure; there’s nobody left.” Soren grinned, and for once, it seemed to be more an expression of actual happiness than sardonic amusement. As a matter of fact, it was almost, almost, joyful. It was hard to feel joy in the middle of all this, of course, but he was about as close as a man could get without feeling like a complete and utter bastard. Which was maybe why he didn’t rub it in, choosing instead to begin the process of wrapping twine around the base of the arrowhead and binding it to the shaft. His quiver, laying nearby, was entirely absent of black arrows.

“You were right, you know,” he said, though it was low enough so as to almost be under his breath. A short chuckle followed, and he shook his head. “The moral of the story was definitely ‘don’t fuck with Soren.’ There was a definite side of ‘vampire lords like to meddle,’ though.”

That managed to draw a laugh from the tense warrior. She had nearly forgotten that little exchange, it felt like it had been ages since that talk. Then she shook her head and rephrased her reply, "Yes, Vampire Lords as well. That seems to be a moral of many of our stories nowadays," she agreed. Though she had to admit, if Aurelius hadn't shown up when he did, the Sellswords would have been down to one member-- and considering their recent fragility, even he wouldn't have lasted long. It was a grim thought, but a true one all the same. They were bonded to each other, and as unhealthy as it was, she couldn't help but be a smidgen envious. She didn't have any friends, after all, and her sole family were all the way in Windhelm.

She then shifted on her rock and rephrased her answer, "When it was crawling with assassins then." She then raised a hand and pointed at the earthen walls around them. "Who can say that Falmer don't hide away in these walls, listening to us speak, just waiting for their chance to drive one of their wretched arrows into our throats. Who's to say that a lumbering machine doesn't sleep behind one of these doors, waiting for one of us to awaken it?" She posed "hypothetically". "I've had enough of the damn things in my nightmares, I'd rather not have them in my reality too."

Soren snorted. “Lovely, it’d take a Centurion to put you down. A lucky Centurion. Don’t know why you’re so worried about Falmer.” He shrugged, then sent her a glance out of the corner of his eye. Maybe the fact that she didn’t have anything in the way of armor at the moment had something to do with that. Either way, he didn’t see the need for all the fuss. He had the sharpest eyes in Skyrim (well, the sharpest human eyes, anyway, no accounting for the supernatural), and the moody one could hear a pin drop in an avalanche, so it didn’t seem like ambush was a huge deal. Then again… bad previous experience, like the kind she was hinting she had, could make you wary to the point of paranoia, always looking over your shoulder and expecting someone—something to be there… he knew that feeling well enough.

So, as usual, he pretended he didn’t and smoothed things over with bluster instead. “And please, give me a little credit. I think I can outshoot a Falmer aiming at you.” Soren nudged her in the bicep with an elbow, something of a playful admonishment, though his tone was more suggestive of overwrought offense. He left it unsaid that he would shoot what aimed for her. Because, whether he much liked it or not, he would.

Soren wasn’t a man accustomed to making friends. In fact, the number of friends he’d had in his entire life could be counted on his fingers with some to spare. And all of them were dead, so it wasn’t like being his friend was particularly profitable either. But exchange, looking out for people, he still understood that.

"Luck is wearing thin in our little group, I think," she said, accepting the nudge with little in the way of comment-- though that enough spoke volumes. Lynly was not the one to enjoy interpersonal contact, much less without her shoulders clamming up around her like a mudcrab. "Let's hope we won't find out, and let's hope we get out of here soon. I'd feel much better when we don't have a ceiling of rock over our heads," she said, throwing eyes upward. Caves, she could handle, but dwemer filled caves were an entirely different matter. "And something heavier than this blasted cloth around my shoulders," she added sourly. It infuriated her to no end that her armor still sat on the deck of the Omen's ship. She'd have to apologize to Adrienne later (much later) for losing it.

However, she felt better, though still just as cautious. She would have liked to thanked him, really, but Lynly knew he would only hold it over her head and gloat about it. Besides, neither of them were the thanking type, so she just let an unspoken nod do it for her. Now that he had pryed her own head open and let her thoughts fall out, Lynly figured she might as well return the favor. "So are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to ask? I told you I expected the story when you returned.

And if I remember right, your exact words were... 'I'd tell nobody else first'."
She said, suddenly developing a tone lower in pitch, and closer to Soren's.

He snickered at her impression of him, but nodded. “Well, I don’t do things for free; I’d have preferred to be asked, but since it’s you, I’ll make an exception, just once.” It was actually oddly hard to tell how serious that statement was, as the tone he used to deliver it walked a fine line between sardonic and plain. Setting aside the arrow he was working on, he picked up another blank shaft. “And today, I’ll even tell the truth—just the truth—because it’s rather interesting on its own, I think.”

He looked up, staring off further into the cave at nothing in particular. “I rode for a couple of days. My destination actually wasn’t far from yours, but I avoided Dawnstar on purpose, at least initially. The fortress is outside the city a ways, behind a magicked door. It asked some banal question or another, but the Brotherhood looks for the vicious and the conscience-free, not the intelligent, so it wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out.” He shrugged, sharp gaze losing some of its focus as he recalled a very different vista in front of him. “I spent most of my time invisible, sneaking amongst them. It’s rather surprising how much vigilance even the most despicable lack when they think they’re safe. Utter ruthlessness and the sick mind needed to kill an innocent child plays cards, it drinks and lounges and doesn’t seem all that different than anyone else, though apparently it really enjoys the macabre décor.”

“I watched them come and go, for a time, biding my own. I knew that as soon as I started killing, I had to finish rather quickly, because slacking or not, they’d find me eventually. So I waited until I knew where each of them slept, and where they ate, and, one by one, as they’d separate to go do this or that, I’d follow them, reveal myself, and stick an arrow in an eye. The body would go somewhere it was unlikely to be found for a while, and then I’d hit the next.”

It had been immensely satisfying, that all of them had known his face. Not, of course, because they’d ever seen him before, but because his pursuit of them had been so dogged that they’d been forced to take notice. Hit time with the Thieves’ Guild had not been for nothing, and he’d known every target down to their ugliest details. “Third to last one was smarter than the rest. She raised the alarm. After that, it was a fight for my goddamn life.” Perhaps contrary to what he should have sounded like, he was clearly pleased by this. “I was in the back of the fortress by then, and had to fight my way forward. It was about as annoying as you’d expect.” Which was to say he’d accumulated quite a number of injuries.

“By the time I reached Steig, fucking traitor that he was, I could barely see straight, and I think I’d spilled more blood on their floors than I ever knew I had in my body.” He shook his head at that, remembering the strangely-surreal sensation of almost slipping on his own bodily fluids as she’d shored up his position to take on another wave of attackers. He pointed to the new scar on his face. “Gave me this, the bastard. But my shot was good, and that’s about when I made it outside, trailing a dozen or so of the leftovers. Might have died then, might not have, but luckily I didn’t have to find out if I had twelve more deaths in me. Tarquin showed up, and I think you can imagine how well a dozen fools stood up to him.” Annihilation was probably too mild a word for it.

“And that, lovely, is how the Dark Brotherhood of Skyrim came to be no more.” Somewhere in there, he’d produced a stick of jerky from his belongings, and he snapped it in half, offering Lynly the slightly-bigger end. “Of course, I’d dress it up a lot more than that before I went to the taverns with it, but I think the raw material’s pretty good. Might leave out the bit where I went to the boy’s grave afterwards, though. Don’t think the part where I staked Steig’s head in front of it and burned the lot would go over very well. Hard to put to lute-verse, anyway.” He said it casually, but the slight drop in the pitch of his voice was a slight indication that what he said was in fact deeply personal. He wasn’t even sure why he was telling her something so gruesome. Maybe he just felt he had to tell someone, or perhaps he wanted to keep a promise, even a lighthearted one. Maybe he thought he could be the kind of person that kept his promises, now that he’d managed to fulfill the biggest one of his lifetime.

Maybe he simply wanted her to know. He wasn’t going to think about it too hard, really.

She was silent for a while after that, taking in all the words he had spoken, replaying the scenes he painted back in her mind. Lynly didn't expect a bloodless affair, and indeed matched the amount of blood she was expecting. Still, for all of his bravado, she understood the gravity of the situation. She understood what the story meant for him. She felt... glad? Honored? that he chose to reveal it to her after all. He had no obligation to tell her. He could have denied her request, and she would have accepted it. He could have even lied and left out or changed anything about it. But she felt that it was the truth, and once the tale had come to pass, she nodded acceptance.

"Macabre," She said. A grim bloody fable if she ever heard one, but she didn't judge. Not until she had one that could match his. "Some enjoy a tale as dark and bloody as that. Fortunately, I count myself as one of them," it was her way of telling him she accepted it for what it was. She was quiet for a bit longer now, before she spoke again. "In an effort to keep our conversation light," she before, some of that sarcasm displayed on the Omen's boat filtering back. "How about what happened to me on the Omen's boat?" Only her. That was the only one for her to tell. The rest of it belonged to the Sellswords. However, she felt the need to share a story for a story-- even if hers paled in comparison.

"Never liked pirates-- nevermind the ones that can walk into your dreams," she began rather abruptly. "We begun to get nightmares once we entered the Omen's influence. Mine was an incident from my past. A... lucky Centurion, as you put it," she said, rubbing her arm unconsciously. "We hardly got any sleep, and the closer we got to Dawnstar, the worse they became. At least, until we got on his boat. That's when the real nightmare began." She then began to recount the waking nightmares. "The Omen's crew were empty husks, their minds taken from them in their dreams. Easier to control. One after another, the blacksmith, the boy, the elves, they fell. Then it was my turn." She then revealed her own nightmare. She spared no details. She told him about the game they both played. The spiders, the creatures, even the Centurions. The she recounted her death.

"When I woke up, I was at the helm of the boat. No one else was up to the task, so I assumed the mantle of Captain. And as the new Captain, I drove my boat right into a rock... I've always hated boats." She finished. Soren knew the story from there. "It's not as good as yours, nor am I as good a storyteller, but as you said. Dress it up, and it can be sung in a tavern or two," she said with a chuckle. Once she swallowed the chuckle she turned and asked him, "Now that you've gotten your revenge, what is it your plan to do next?" geniunely curious.

“Well, the story’s not over yet,” he pointed out, shooting her a sidelong glance. “Neither one.” Soren paused for a moment, taking in the details she’d relayed, considering, perhaps, how he would have reacted in a like situation. Not for the sake of saying that one would be right or better than the other, but just an honest attempt to understand what they’d dealt with. He ended up leaning back, pressing his palms to the stone behind him, and tipping his head back to look at the cave roof above them. The waterfall roared somewhere in the distance, but they couldn’t hear any of the other camp activities from here, probably fortunate for them.

“I expected it to end there,” he said frankly. “I never made plans for what would happen after I killed them. Sorta figured there wouldn’t be an after, so plans were pointless.” He’d had his own death planned, more or less. He’d take out Steig, and the others would have at him like wolves at a corpse. But somehow, he’d kept fighting long beyond what he’d expected, and then, when things really did look tenuous, Tarquin had shown up. “S’pose I should be happy with a nice epilogue—country house, loads of booze, and getting laid every night, but…” He shrugged, raising a brow in her direction.

“I’m kinda thinking I might be up for another chapter instead. What do you think, lovely? You could use a dashing counterpart, no? Or maybe we’re just both hanging on for whatever’s happening here—the games between gods and lords and who knows what else. Seems like we might find some glory in it. Glory and a story—sounds about right.” It might also be nice to be on a relatively non-shady side of things for once, though given certain naming conventions, that was actually rather a nice piece of irony. "When you put it like that, I can hardly say no. Let's just hope someone's around to tell the story,", Lynly replied, driving a fist gently into his shoulder.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong

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As everyone else made ready to move again, Sinderion—having long packed what few possessions he owned and already taken the opportunity to bathe—was occupying his time exploring the cavern more thoroughly, mostly just to occupy his time. Well, and to dry a little from the unexpected dunking.

Beneath one of the towers, he scented something distinctly metallic, but in a different way from the occasional worker or piece of infrastructure. Thus far, the ruins had been strangely devoid of the typical artifacts, so perhaps this was some hint of something different. The base of the construction was quite dark, but it wasn’t much of a bother for someone who navigated primarily with his other senses. It was actually a bit strange—for all he disdained this part of himself, he could not longer remember what it was like to be without it, to be nose-blind and half deaf.

His foot brushed up against something solid, but also loose, and Sinder stooped, lifting the object and feeling along the edges of it. Pursing his lips, he reversed directions and trotted back the way he’d come. The light confirmed what he’d suspected: he was looking at a dwemer chestplate. It was still relatively unhindered by wear and tear, if a little dull, and appeared to be built for a person of moderate size, which was a stroke of luck considering the size of the average dwemer. That actually produced an irritated huff. He was many things, but lucky was not one of them. If the pattern of things so far was to be believed, he would be trading this small fortune for a few near-death experiences before all was said and done.

It almost went unthought that it might be worth it, if this could stop a death experience.

Not for him, of course—he was not at his best wearing large metal plates, though he supposed he could bear the weight without much trouble. It was the movement restriction that was the larger problem. There was someone, however, who could probably make good use of this. Angling his head, he took a short breath inward and nodded, following the scent to the top of one of the towers. “Lynly.” He spoke more to announce his presence than anything, as he doubted someone currently experiencing what was clearly some level of anxiety would appreciate him approaching in the usual way, which was to say soundlessly. “I found this. It might be of use to you.” He proffered the object with both hands, not really sure what else to say, or if he should say anything at all.

Lynly had her hands placed on her knees, her palms facing upward. She was in deep concentration working and practicing the single school of magic she understood. Restoration. It was a necessity for her line of work. It was unlikely she'd happen upon a healer in the dungeons she roamed, and health potions were limited in quanity. If she intended to survive for any amount of time doing what she did, then she needed an understanding of healing. Surprisingly, this knowledge was passed down from her mother, instead of her father. He never was one for magic...

The approach behind her caused her shoulders to tense, as her hand shifted from her knee to the sword at her side. Still naked, still prepared. It was voice that came next that halted the hand. Smart move, on the knife-ear's part. If he hadn't, she might have thrown the spell at his face. She shifted focus of the spell to her other hand and turned to examine what he had found. The dull bronze metal managed to catch her attention right off, and with that realization she collapsed the spell into her hand, returning its reserves of magicka.

She took the offered armor and put it under scrutiny. Metallurgy was also one of her skills, and it had become habit to examine any bit of armor she intended to wear. The fact that she might not have a choice hadn't dawned on her yet. She tapped the metal with a finger, pressed into nicks, tested the joints, and generally went over it like a fine-toothed comb. "It's old," Lynly noted, turning it over. "Though not fragile. It's seen a few fights, but not for years," she noted, pointing out the aged nicks. "And it's heavier than what I'm used to, Dwemer metal is more dense than either iron or steel..." She said, pausing at the realization that she didn't have a choice.

Also, she was making herself out to be far more ungrateful than she actually was. Armor was armor when it came down to it, and it didn't matter the make-- they all stopped blades the same. Besides, the elf found it for after all. Unfortunately, Lynly was neither the apologizing type, nor the thanking type. "It'll do, I mean. It'll make me feel more comfortable, naked as I am now," She said, standing up and immediately set about putting it on. However, therein lay a problem. She'd need help. There were latches and straps in the back that she couldn't reach. "Uh... Would you..?" she muttered, pointing to an open latch on her back.

Sinderion seemed entirely unperturbed by the lack of gratitude. It wasn’t hard to tell that the woman was almost as bad at talking to people as he was, and that was certainly saying something. He paid respectful attention when she spoke, though he had little need for information on metal armors, as he never wore any. Still, he possessed a moderate amount of curiosity about the world around him, and free knowledge, while not the most relevant consideration in his life by a long shot, wouldn’t be turned down when there wasn’t anything else to do.

The request threw him for a second, and he stared rather blankly for at least five good seconds before clearing his throat. “Ah. Um, of course. Hold still.” It wasn’t that he found the task itself uncalled-for or wanted to refuse, it was just that he didn’t do well in proximity to other people, especially people he didn’t know well. By now, Adrienne and Van and Drayk knew enough of him to give him warning before the touched him, or at least to telegraph their movements well so he would see them coming. But Sinder in a crowd was like water among stones: he’d bend and twist to truly ridiculous lengths before so much as inadvertently brushing someone’s arm. It was one of many reasons he tended to stay away from populated areas.

His parents had not been spare with affection for him, so it wasn’t that. But… past the age of fifteen or so, he’d just never touched people. Or rather, if he had, he’d been killing and eating them. It was, he thought, rather understandable that he did not desire to repeat the process. With a slight frown, he stepped in the necessary three feet and tried gamely to act as though it wasn’t any kind of bother, and though the exact way all the buckles and straps worked was unfamiliar to him, he managed to figure it out all right, and then stepped away hastily. “There. It seems to fit well enough to be serviceable. I do not know when we will next see a settlement big enough for a smithy, so… try not to leave it on any boats.” That was a rather awkward attempt at dealing with the situation as Drayk would, with humor.

"I don't plan to get back on a boat anytime soon," Lynly said, shuddering with the memory. Like Sinderion, Lynly took a quick step forward to help facilitate the distance between them. Also like Sinderion, Lynly did not flourish in social situations. Though she had traveled with the Sellswords through three Representatives and an upcoming forth, she still didn't know them. It made her feel somewhat guilty, traveling so long with these people, fighting with them, bleeding with them for so long. "If only we could get home. I have another set there..." She said, taking a seat.

She felt far more comfortable in the armor than out of it. The weight and heft were unfamiliar, and her movement somewhat restricted, but she'd take it over simple cloth any day. She felt thankful, though she'd never put in words, and once again she was struck by a pang of guilt. They were doing all they could to cling together. The sobbing of the poor girl from yesterday, the disheveled Sellswords, this Game was taking a toll on them-- but for them there was no other choice, unlike her. It had been entirely her choice she had joined them, and it was her choice she still remained. She was in it for selfish reasons, for her own petty glory and some nonsense about a story she needed to write.

This wasn't some story to them, this was real. "I really do hope you find your Mentor, you know," she said, placing her chin in her hands. She wasn't heartless, It was just hard to speak of these matters.

He nodded. “Thank you. I… your assistance is welcome. I do not think any of us have yet told you as much. But we are grateful, even if it is difficult for us to say.” It seemed like there wasn’t much to be grateful about, considering how trying the whole ordeal really was. He recalled hearing somewhere along the way that her home was in Windhelm. Perhaps it was something Adrienne had said? He couldn’t properly remember. “If we should pass Windhelm, I hope we can make a stop for it.”

He didn’t really have much else to say, and the silence permeated for a moment. He considered leaving, but it seemed rude to do so without a real reason. He was trying not to be, though his efforts were amateur at best. “That magic… it was the restoration school?” he was guessing mostly based on color, honestly. “My sister—Anirne is quite inclined to it. Since we were children. I’m sure… she would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with someone else.”

Well, he’d just about exhausted his conversational resources. At least he was self-aware enough to know exactly how incredibly pathetic that was.

"It's Restoration of a type," she replied, painfully aware of the pitiful attempt at conversation. At least she wasn't the only one who found it difficult to command her tongue. The change of topic was relieving, as she didn't have to start apologizing for intruding on their personal affairs and such. She'd rather jump off the tower than do that. "The spell won't heal anyone," Lynly revealed, calling the spell back to her hands. There she let it float for a while before she spoke again. "See?" she said, sending to spell toward Sinderion.

While perhaps the most ill-conceived action of that day, and maybe her life, her words rang true as the spell simply hit him and dissolved into nothing, leaving him neither hurt nor refreshed. She was silent for a bit after that, wallowing in the foolishness of the choice before she spoke again. "It's... for vampires and the undead," Well, at least he proved to be neither. That would have been awkward. "We seem to run into them with regularity," she stated matter-of-factually.

It was long practice and steel nerve that kept him in place, though she’d just thrown a not-healing spell at him, and his instinctive reaction nearly overpowered him, only the thought of the consequences keeping him rooted to the spot. Thankfully, the spell simply dissipated when it made contact. If it had harmed him… he didn’t want to contemplate it. “So we do,” he said, enunciating slowly and carefully. He repeated to himself that she’d meant no harm, and eventually his (semi-)metaphorical hackles went down, and he exhaled deeply. He considered telling her not to do anything like that ever again, but from the look on her face, she knew it already anyway. No harm done.

“I hope we have no more use for it, but it seems good to know.”

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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