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Soren Ivarsson

"What do you do with a life you never expected to have? Whatever the hell you want, that's what."

0 · 1,236 views · located in Skyrim

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

Description

Soren Ivarsson

Image

Basic Info

Name: Soren Ivarsson, very very occasionally known as “Deadeye”
Race: Nord, but… there’s Bosmer in there somewhere, and you can tell if you have an eye for that sort of thing.
Age: 29
Gender: Male

Personality

Vagabond, drifter, charlatan, thief, swindler, vagrant… these words and similar ones have all been used to characterize Soren at one point or another and he’s far too lazy to waste time disagreeing. He seems to be primarily concerned with how long it is until he can sleep next, and would profess if asked that it’s his third-favorite activity, and the only one of his top three that’s really all that legal. (The first two are stealing things and fighting things, in that order). Womanizing comes a close fourth, and drinking rounds out the top five.

You can imagine where this is going. When he’s awake, Soren strikes one as the sort of cocky, devil-may-care bastard that’s about three steps shy of sociopath. That said, he can be damn fun to be around. He’s got a tongue like a sharpened knife, and a keen nose or trouble. Diving into it, fighting his way out of it- he’s become rather apt at both sides of that coin, and he’s got the scars to show for it. He also has stories. Lots of stories, and he’ll swear by every last one of them. Of course, he’s been called a liar before, too.

He knows his life is shallow and largely meaningless, but he frankly doesn’t care all that much. It’s entertaining, and that’s all that matters. He can be a complete douche sometimes, and tends to put himself and his own interests above everyone else’s, but he’s completely up-front about the fact that this is the way of things, and so at least nobody’s surprised when he sticks an arrow in their eye- or if they were, they were too stupid to live anyhow. There is literally nothing that’s sacred as far as he’s concerned, but he’s not going to go out of his way to cause damage- he’s arguably a dick, but he’s not vindictive. Unless you pull steel on him first, you’ve nothing to fear from him but the acidity of his words. That said… he might try to goad you into drawing for the fun of it.

There’s a heart in there somewhere, it just… doesn’t see much use. He has a bit of a soft spot for kids and lost causes, because, as he puts it, he was both of those things, once. As with anyone, there’s much more to him than meets the eye, but you might have to get him good and sloshed before he tells you his sob story (because who doesn’t have one these days?)

Equipment

Soren travels lightly, as any good vagrant should. His armor is quite light, consisting mostly of linens and leather. Slung across his back is an elvish bow and a quiver of steel arrows, the shafts painted black and fletched with crow feathers. It’s something of a trademark, though of what, it’s hard to say. Other than that, he has exactly one longsword, looted off the corpse of an Imperial soldier who attacked him first (exactly how much provocation the man endured before he snapped is questionable), so it’s of their make.

He has quite the impressive collection of specialized lockpicks at his belt, as well as a length of twine and the sorts of tools one can make basic snares and traps with. An ordinary-looking pouch contains a smallish amount of moon sugar. His coinpurse is suspiciously heavy for a man who claims to be a homeless wanderer.

Abilities

The name Deadeye was earned not only for the fact that his vision is rather good (about 20/10 in each eye, so nothing supernatural), but mostly for his shot with the bow. It’s his specialization, but Soren’s no slouch with a blade, either. Magically, the only thing he’s really bothered to take up is Illusion, but he’s damn sneaky even without it. Toss in some lockpicking and pickpocketing and a speechcraft skill that usually leans towards the intimidation side of things (except with women or marks), and you have essentially the consummate thief.

History

Soren doesn’t know much about his family; he was at some point adopted by a man named Ivar, who may or may not have been his actual father. Of his mother he knows nothing- name, appearance, profession, even race, though he suspects the slight point to some of his features and the bright apple-red of his hair are attributable to her, possibly also the forest-colored eyes. Whatever the case, Ivar raised him, in a loose sense of the word. The old man was a swindler, a fencer, and a drunk in equal measure, with about the consequences one would expect. Soren’s was a childhood of blossoming purple bruises and lessons in cruelty and manipulation. Fortunately, perhaps, someone took offense to Ivar’s stealing his money and bedding his wife, and killed him for it, leaving the then eleven-year-old Soren to do what he pleased.

So he did what he knew, taking his father-figure’s “wares” and hawking them to people who didn’t know better. His childish charm and unusual looks got him by when he was young, but it wasn’t long before he wouldn’t have needed them to weasel the septims from nearly anyone- and it gave him a rather low estimation of people in general.

He wandered here and there, doing whatever odd tasks came his way after that, bored with his gambits and his life, and eventually wound up taking mercenary work for a while. The freedom was nice, and he partnered with a small team of people like him, untethered and looking for something more meaningful to do. Around that time, he also finally settled somewhere, buying a home outside of Dawnstar, where his little band chose to headquarter itself. Around this time, what he’d probably (secretly) consider the most significant event of his life occurred.

Some time after his twenty-third birthday, he was tracked down by a woman from Whiterun, a barmaid with whom he’d had a one-time casual liason. She told him that her family was about to disown her, and shoved a bundle into his arms, telling him to take responsibility, and fled. When it turned out that the bundle was a two-year-old child, well… Soren was completely flabbergasted. Understanding well enough that he was no candidate for effective fatherhood, he considered giving the kid to a Temple and being done with the whole thing, but in the end, he was convinced by his friends to give the parenting endeavor a shot. So he straightened up his disordered life, dropping all criminal undertakings and focusing strictly on being the kind of father he hadn’t had.

His son, Rolf, was a rambunctious child, and had by the age of five won the hearts of all of Soren’s friends. To an extent, he was raised by all of them, as when Soren was away on a job, one of the others would look after the boy in his stead. It was quite the shock to Soren when he began to realize he was living his life for someone other than himself, and with that realization came the one that he loved his son with a fierce protectiveness he’d never thought himself capable of. He was still blunt and crass and rough and violent, but he could also be tender and warm and (gruffly) affectionate.

But, as he’ll remind you constantly if you give him the chance, good fortune is just that, and it never lasts. His group was fairly well-known in the northern parts of Skyrim, and as such, they naturally ran afoul of a few people, some of them with money. That’s part of the deal, and usually it isn’t a major problem, but in this case, someone got mad enough to hire the Dark Brotherhood to take care of the problem. In an event which Soren has yet to speak of to anyone, one of his band members betrayed the rest, and while the two of them were off on a small job one day, the assassins killed everyone else, including Rolf, who he’d later find out refused to hide and tried to help the others with his small bow. A boy of six was no match for any kind of opponent, and he died with the rest circled around him, trying to defend him.

Soren snapped, and spent the next year looking for the assassins who’d killed his son. He found out pretty quickly that you can’t get information without leverage, and when the business end of his sword proved inadequate, he joined up with the Thieves’ Guild for their information network. One by one, the assassins died as he found them, but the traitor still eluded him, as did the one who’d hired the Brotherhood in the first place. He fell quickly back into his less-honorable ways, taking up the drink (occasionally even skooma), womanizing, and barfighting to ease his hurt. All traces of warmth and happiness disappeared from him, and though his tongue was still silvered as ever, he used it much more often to threaten than to charm. He’s gone just about as low as he can go, with nothing to show for it but more pain and the occasional artificial high.

All this was put on hold when, on an ordinary Guild job, he witnessed something that he shouldn’t have; he’s subsequently left Riften and gone into hiding.

So begins...

Soren Ivarsson's Story

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

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Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson
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Adrienne was moving with all the speed she could muster, but even that left her feeling sluggish and chilled. The group was just now setting up camp near a ridge somewhere between the Shrine of Malacath and Riften, though exactly where was something she left to people with better senses of direction than she. As much as she just wanted to fall into her bedroll and sleep for days, there were still a number of tasks that required her attention. There were things to be sewn, and mended, and before any of that, her stock of alchemic ingredients was in dire need of resupply, and for that, she would need to walk in the forest.

In the past, she had sometimes gently cajoled Sinderion into accompanying her on sojourns lke this one, for it seemed that no sooner had she said she needed something in particular than he was leading them on the right track to find some, something that she had put down to an extraordinary knowledge of forest-lore. Presently, however, he was nowhere to be seen, though she suspected that he was around, somewhere. Even on those occasions when he sought only his own company, he never seemed to be far away. So she sorted through the things on her horse's back, pulling a small, flat wicker basket from an assortment of cooking utensils and the like. This, she set comfortably onto her hip, glancing around the camp.

Most everyone seemed to be occupied, not to mention exhausted, and she didn't really want to ask any of them to come with her. She could go alone, she supposed, but she wasn't sure she really wanted the opportunity to stew in her own thoughts right now, assuming she could stay on her feet long enough to complete her tasks at all. A sweep of the area showed that really only one person seemed to be both unoccupied and also largely hale, and she supposed it might not be such a bad idea to speak to him, all things considered. There were a few questions she had for him, not least of all being the obvious: why is he even still here?

She approached the man, currently leaning back against a tree, and stopped a few feet in front of him, flashing a small smile. "Fancy a walk? I'm headed into the trees for some herbs, if you'd like to come." Though the words themselves were neutral enough, it was clearly a request. She wondered if he'd charge her for acquiescence. Gold seemed to be the language he spoke most fluently, after all.

As soon as this lot had reached some kind of consensus as to where and when it would be appropriate to stop, the sniper had planted himself at the base of a tree and let them go about their business. Though he was well capable, he had no desire to help anyone set camp. He had his things, including a horse and all the necessary sleeping accoutrements, so really, what anyone else did wasn't his business, unless they wanted to pay him until it was. Settled comfortably crosslegged, he looked almost like he belonged in places like this, so obvious and easy was his confidence. Watching the others go about their tasks with an unwaveringly-sharp viridian stare, he brought a hand to his mouth, licking the pad of his thumb and dipping it into a pouch on his belt. It came away coated in a fine white dust, which he scraped off onto his tongue with obvious familiarity.

Pressing the muscle to the roof of his mouth, he let his eyes fall half-closed and savored the slow tingle that started up in his mouth and throat, spreading languidly into his limbs and trunk, loosening the muscles there. Moon sugar in the raw wasn't quite the same thing as Skooma, and honestly, he preferred things this way. There was enough of a numbing sensation that the could easily steer himself clear of anything he didn't want to ponder, but he wasn't about to go mad from it and start cavorting about like a half-crazed Khajit, muttering and scraping his nails against tree bark until the beds of them bled and he turned them on his eyes. He'd seen that once; it hadn't been particularly pleasant. And right now, forgetting was good. He'd actually been able to discern several similarities between this mysterious 'Mentor' and himself, which sat ill with him. Sure, the fanatical devotion might be nice, but his story didn't come with any of that.

The sound of approaching footsteps was distinct, and his eyes, blown-pupiled as they may have been, snapped unerringly to fix on the figure of the little blonde one-- Adrienne, he recalled. Not that it was easy to forget, when she looked like that. He wasn't much in the business of pretending, so he didn't hide the lacivious smirk his face acquired, nor try and stop himself from trailing his glance up and down a few times. A small incredulous snort escaped him at her request, though, and he lifted a red eyebrow. "And what makes you think I'd have any interest in such a thing, gorgeous?"

"Something tells me you could come up with a reason," Adrienne replied lightly, though there was a tightness about her eyes that most wouldn't notice. She tactfully alluded to his wandering eyes without actually mentoning them, though frankly, she wasn't sure why she'd bothered. Really, she did need to discern his motives for being here, and maybe that was enough. She didn't much fancy the idea of dealing with someone like him for long, but unfortunately, that really had more to do with the foxlike grin tilting her lips than any particular amount of disgust. A person could get used to just about anything, and she'd certainly been ogled worse than this before. What bothered her was the fact that the old sense of challenge was striking her now, of all times.

But this kind of man, she knew, was not one receptive to pleas and bargaining. She'd made the offer, and she had a greater chance of success the less she seemed to care about the outcome. This one was a hunter of a different kind from Sinderion, and as long as the chase was sufficiently interesting, his sort was easily-enough hooked, so to speak. It was cat-and-mouse, simple as that, only nobody would ever be sure which was which. Knowing this, she simply shrugged and turned from him, making an obvious path for the treeline, basket still in hand.

An old friend of his, much less skilled with words than Soren himself, had once used an apt, if slightly crude, phrase to encapsulate precisely this sort of situation. Sad to see you go, love to watch you leave. Or something like that. And indeed, for a few seconds, he left the girl in suspense and simply tracked her movement without himself stirring, but eventually he decided it was likely to be much more interesting than simply watching the others make camp and wallow. She at least seemed to have some spark left, and he'd be lying if he said it wasn't intriguing, after a fashion. So, picking up his bow, quiver, and sword, he buckled the last onto his belt and trailed after her, more than willing to trail along on this leash and see where it got him.

He wondered if that Imperial lad had taken note. Soren found himself rather hoping so. Stirring things up was ever a favorite pasttime of his. Nevertheless, he didn't look back, slipping into the forest and jogging for a few long strides until he caught up with the much smaller person in front of him. "So, what are we looking for? Or was this just an excuse to corner me in a forest, hm?" It was a jest, but his tone was heavy with suggestion anyway. He certainly wouldn't mind if she decided the answer to that question was yes. Not one bit, actually.

"Hm. Easy, boy. You'd have to work much harder than this for that." Adrienne rolled her eyes and adjusted the basket on her hip. "As it is, we're here for several varieties of herb and some answers. Since I'm rather good with herbs, I guess it falls to you to provide the answers, doesn't it?" She crouched to pull a few leaves from a shrub, dropping them into her basket and moving on, apparently quite content to wait for some form of reply, as though the suggestion had been one merely offhand. They both knew it wasn't.

That had been... rather more direct than he was expecting. Usually, when a woman wanted something from him (besides the obvious, and even sometimes then) there was a lot of coy dancing about the subject, some flattery and a little useless posturing, but she just came right out and said she desired information. Interesting; she was clearly capable of being subtle, so perhaps this, too, was a calculated tactic. If so, it might be a mistake on her part. Not that the rest would have worked, either. "Come now, gorgeous, surely it's obvious to you by now that I don't just give things away for free," he chided with mock severity, though he was obviously still interested in the conversation, as he paused when she stopped to pick something, and resumed walking only once she had. "Of course, there are many ways to repay someone as flexible as I am. I'd be willing to negotiate."

Adrienne hummed a small note, apparently only paying half-attention to his words. Not true, but she would have only needed to, considering how many times she'd heard similar things. "I always found it interesting that my parents gave me the second name they did. 'Belladonna' is a term for nightshade, you see." She stooped again, plucking a peculiar-looking flower from the frosty earth, twirling it around between her thumb and first two fingers. "Do you know the symptoms of nightshade poisoning, Soren? It doesn't start too differently from your Moon Sugar, actually. The mouth goes dry, the body relaxes, but it only gets worse from there. One starts to sweat, in an attempt to purge the toxin, but of course, that doesn't work. The fever sets in, accompanied by headaches and paralysis. Then, when the person is entirely helpless to do anything about it, they begin to see things that aren't there. If they die, they do so attempting to thrash and scream, but entirely unable to do either." She dropped the flower into the basket and finally looked over at him, still smiling.

"I am sure you'd be a fair negotiator, but when it comes to the people I love, I do not bargain. I have known many men like you, Soren. In fact, I've played a game very much like this one since I was old enough to appeal. I do not lose. My terms are this: tell me why you're still here. If your answer is unsatisfactory or you refuse to give it even still, I'm going to ask you to leave. If you refuse that... well, I suppose you'll find out just why I always win." She did not have any intention to follow through on that, but... maybe that was something he didn't have to know. She had no other way to protect them, and she wasn't just going to let a snake sit amidst them without knowing what toxin dripped from his fangs.

Almost despite himself, Soren threw back his head and laughed. It was not derisive, which was most unusual as far as he went; on the contrary, the woman had just earned a considerable dose of his respect, and there wasn't much of that to go around. "And now you speak my language. If it means that much to you, you shall have my answer, though I promise no satisfaction from it." He scratched the bridge of his slightly hawkish nose-- perhaps the one facial feature that really looked fully Nord on his visage-- and shrugged. "It looks like fun, this Game, and I'm not above being used for someone else's end. I'm a mercenary and an assassin on occasion, it's basically how I make my living."

He paused, hesitating for just a brief moment. Whatever she might believe, she wasn't entitled to anything more than that, but he didn't see the harm in telling her. It wasn't as if the information was actually worth anything to anyone, really. "And, well, this journey all over Skyrim has a good chance of putting me in the proximity of some people who need to die-- for reasons I'm not going to go into. If I happen to run into one of them, I'll be a little closer to dying myself, and that's not a bad thing, for yours truly." How long had he been seeking death? Actively, perhaps not that long. But he'd been languishing for years now, just waiting for it to appear in front of him, as though it would. He wasn't exactly suicidal, but he couldn't deny that he wanted his death all the same. It was a matter of what was deserved, not what was desired.

He wondered if she could understand just how impotent that threat of hers was to a man like him. Nearly anyone had something to live for. He, on the other hand, just had a reason to delay his end if possible, more a diversion than a necessity.

The Breton was forced to amend her impression of this man on a few counts. Perhaps he was not so clearly the sort he seemed to be. Perhaps he, like her, played at being other than he was. No doubt, many of his traits really were there, but she wondered where the bluntness ended and the deception began. It would be difficult to know exactly where the lines were in that sand without further observation, something she was unsure she wanted to be involved in. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that while she had won this exchange in the sense of obtaining what she wanted, he had proven much more unanticipated an opponent than she would have expected. How would things wind up if they were playing for stakes he coveted as much as she did? An intriguing question, to say the least.

Placing the last handful of plants in her basket, Adrienne turned back towards the encampment. "Not above being used, is it? I suppose I'm not either. Very well; use us to achieve that, and we'll use you as well. It seems a fairer bargain than most." The false smile had disappeared for the moment, her face smoothed out into neutrality again, as it was much easier to conceal her thoughts this way. Not that she quite knew what to think.

Folding his hands behind his head, the assassin grinned, cheshire and bright. "Gorgeous, you're free to use me however you like." He let the comment hang there, not expecting a response, and the rest of the walk passed in more or less silence, which wasn't any skin off his teeth, really. As soon as they hit the boundaries of camp, he slipped past the girl and settled himself back under his tree, not at all trying to prevent the fact that his hand brushed over her elbow in the process. It was far from improper, but that didn't mean it wouldn't piss some people off.

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.

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Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson
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After breakfast (which she had to admit tasted much better than anything she'd have been able to manage for all its plainness), Anirne found herself with a little bit of downtime, and decided to spend it exploring the manor. She had to admit, she was curious about the place this Mentor lived, in which he housed his mentees and apparently spent his days teaching them to overcome the darker parts of themselves. She might have a few words to say to him about methodology, once this was all said and done, but the sentiment was certainly one she could appreciate.

The majority of the band seemed to have something to do with the rest of the morning, and she wasn't going to intrude, but she did note that the sardonic archer was not among those that left with any celerity. "Soren?" she inquired politely. "I think I'm going to wander the house for a bit. If you lack anything else to do, perhaps you might join me?" She was under the impression that he neither liked nor trusted her much, which was well enough and certainly his business, but if they were all to survive this, it seemed most prudent to at least offer an opportunity for them to get to know each other somewhat. Perhaps a little bit of knowledge about her would be enough to set his mind at ease; he would not be the first person she'd met who disbelieved anything involving the word 'Psijic,' and he seemed quite inclined to knowing things, besides.

Soren, currently half-tipped back in his chair with both feet on the table, had spent the majority of the meal dwelling. He hated dwelling; it was unproductive and tended to introduce doubt, something he could very much do without, thank you very much. Nevertheless, he heard the woman's words, and sharp green eyes snapped to focus on the Altmer woman, a brow deftly ascending his forehead, as though he'd been his usual sarcastc self the whole time and hadn't once paused to mope like the other Altmer seemed inclined to do with any spare moment.

The front legs of his chair hit the stone floor with a solid thump, and he took his feet down from the table in an easy motion. "Snooping, sweet? I wouldn't have figured you for the type." Nevertheless, he stood up, recognizing an opportunity when he saw one. Chances were good that she had something to say, or at least something that she was willing to say, and he rarely passed up the opportunity for a free advantage over someone else, especially if that possibly entailed rare information, as anything about the Psijics (if indeed she was one) would be. A few errant words on her part could make him a very rich man, indeed.

"Not that it's a bad thing, of course. I can hardly judge." His tone was flippant, diffident, and back to it's usual oily level of smarm in no time at all, and he followed the woman out into the hall. He wondered if she was going to stick to the common areas, or actually go snooping, and was somewhat intrigued when he admitted to himself that he wasn't able to guess the answer immediately.

"Mm... perhaps," Anirne admitted easily, smiling just a little. "I prefer to think of it as exercising my natural curiosity for the world around me." She took a random hallway she'd never entered before, one that she knew for a fact contained none of the personal residences of the Sellswords. It looked like there might once have been more of them, though, or perhaps the Mentor had been expecting to continue his work, because the first three doors she opened were sparsely-furnished, utilitarian living chambers, much like the ones she (and presumably Lynly and Soren) currently occupied. There was nothing really extraordinary about any of them; they were moderately-sized, with stone floors, a fireplace, a bed, and a cabinet for clothing.

Presumably, personal touches were saved for such times as the spaces were actually occupied. "You know, I must admit I had the Mentor pegged for someone who would indulge in more luxury. The Shade certainly gives that impression. While the house itself is clearly the home of a wealthy man, the accoutrements are... sparing. Almost as much so as my own quarters were, and I'm a monk, after all." Since they both knew this sort of information was the reason he was accompanying her at all, she let the obvious conversational thread dangle there, an open invitation for him to ask her anything he wished. She, like anyone else, had things to hide, but most of that was arcane lore that likely wouldn't interest him anyway. Her personal life, or lack thereof, was as much an open book as anyone's could be.

Huh. Well, that was odd. He'd never really known anyone to fish for an inquiry before, though he knew plenty of people who went angling for answers. Still, who was he to say no to free knowledge? Not the boring scholarly kind, either-- it sounded like she was rather willing to give him actual dirt. He trailed after her for a while (the rooms were of moderate interest, but they weren't why he enjoyed the view, so to speak), giving the implicit offer some consideration. He wondered if there was a time limit on this generosity. There always was when it was him giving things away, if he ever did, but then if there was one impression he could steadfastly maintain about Anirne, it was that she was nothing like him whatsoever.

Good for her, he supposed. "Sounds rather dull," he observed dryly, frowning when the door he opened appeared to belong to nothing more interesting than a small closet space for cleaning supplies. Honestly, you'd think a former vampire lord who had the stones to stand up to Molag Bol would have a more interesting house. Not that he was expecting shrivelled heads or weird looking talismans or whatever (if anyone had those, it had to be Maya), but you'd think he'd have left something interesting laying around. Apparently, the man was as bland as he found the majority of the protegees. "No sex, no drugs, no murder, no wild parties or drunken shenanigans... however did you stand it?" Admittedly, he'd gotten along surprisingly well without any of those things for a few years... well, okay, without the drugs and wild parties. The shenanigans, murder, and sex were kept out of his house, though. That had to count for something.

Still, it wasn't like she needed to know that. He wasn't the one giving out free information, after all.

"Admittedly, there aren't many drugs," Anirne agreed, though certainly not completely. "Unless of course it's one's turn for the Trance, but I suppose that doesn't really count." She smiled back over her shoulder, indicating quite clearly that her silence on the remainder of his assertions meant exactly what he thought it meant.

Well, that was certainly unexpected. A slow grin spread over Soren's face. There was more to this woman than the austere vestments and annoyingly-patient manner would suggest, it seemed.

"I suppose if I had my choice, my life would be considerably more boring than yours," she admitted freely. "I've always been fond of things like nice afternoons in the library, research, and the occasional risky field test. Once, I loved the intrigue and the danger as much as anyone, but after a certain number of your friends disappear on intelligence-gathering stints or accidentally incinerate themselves trying to summon fire from Oblivion, I suppose you develop a taste for the quiet life." She turned down the end of the hallway and ascended a flight of stone stairs, bringing them back up onto the main level, but then kept going up the rest. She had no idea what was up here, but it might be interesting.

Apparently, one did not lose her curiosity quite so easily.

The funny thing was, he couldn't help but understand perfectly. Of course, his version of the "quiet life" was a little more vigorous than most, but that didn't mean he hadn't given it an honest try. Working with a bunch of honest mercs, steering clear of theft or assassination, sharing a homestead with his closest friends and family... life had been good. Who knew, maybe someone like her could even make it work in the long term. He, it seemed, was abound for other things, whether he liked it or not. In the end, he might not have been suited for the kind of livelihood he was trying to make for himself, and attempting to be what he was not had come back to bite him. He knew he could very well not comment, and she'd never know the difference, but all the same he couldn't, or didn't resist. "Yeah, good luck with that," he drawled, sincerity hidden somewhere in the dripping and bitter sarcasm.

He wasn't so small a person that he couldn't wish someone else success where he'd failed, after all, and the fact surprised him a little.

And he'd be damned, but she'd achieved what he was pretty sure she'd set out to do. Though he rarely trusted anyone as far as he could throw them, he was no longer so suspicious of her as he had been. Whether she was actually a Psijic or not was beside the point, really. He'd acquired a modicum of respect for her, and that was enough. She could be the Queen of all Summerset for all he cared, or a pathological liar or a madwoman. He'd been friends with crazy people and liars before; there was nothing wrong with them if you knew what to expect. Whatever she was, it was fine by him, though he chose to make no outward indication of his judgement shift, following her up the stairs at a lackadaisical pace.

"Why thank you," Anirne replied simply, and this was for both the well-wishes, sarcastic as they may have been, and also what seemed to be a tacit acceptance, or at least a temporary truce. It was always worthwhile to know that the people at your side weren't going to be the ones stabbing you in the back, so to speak.

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: 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: 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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When the Sellswords were at last ready to depart their temporary sanctuary, there was one thing that yet remained: the map that Adrienne had recovered from the Omen's chambers aboard his ship. Drayk had nearly forgotten it amidst all the other events that had occurred in the meantime. When he had remembered it, however, he had been significantly more excited to look at it than he had expected, his higher spirits today no doubt a result of what had happened by the river that morning. The Sellswords gathered atop the tower most had slept upon, packed and ready to set out, where Drayk pulled out the map and spread it open across the smooth floor.

Adirenne, seated comfortably close enough to Drayk that their shoulders and knees were in frequent contact, took a closer look than she’d had time to before. The red ‘Xs’ seemed like the obvious place to start. “Nothing too new with these, I think,” she said, pointing at the one nearest her, which happened to belong to the Inquisitor. From what she could see underneath the large crosses, nothing he’d known about the deceased players was of any relevance now, either, though some of the things connected to the Spymaster’s death led into what must be Stonehammer’s route, and… “The dragon,” she said, pointing to all the places on the map where Vodrin and it had both been sighted. “He must be able to command it directly.” It had shown up to wreak havoc in Markarth, after all, but with all the seemingly-random dragon attacks recently, she hadn’t seen any reason to think it might be the same one. The sightings indicated differently.

Anirne’s eyebrows ascended her forehead. She currently sat on the opposite end of the map, examining it with curiosity evident in her features. She was tracing the Horizon’s route, noting all the coincidences with the Bard. Perhaps the latter was trying to off his hunter first? Perhaps he simply enjoyed being chased. One note, however, immediately intrigued her. “What is this Staff of Souls?” she asked, unsure if it was a nordic cultural reference she did not know, or something to do with the Game, or something else altogether.

"An ancient relic," Lynly answered, coming to a crouch to better examine the map. Vodrin's path didn't escape her notice, neither did the path of the dragon. If the man and the dragon were truly together, then it explained why Vodrin showed no haste when it attack the Imperial caravan. Her respect of the nord diminished somewhat with that realization, as she him using the dragon as a tool instead of grabbing what he wanted by hand. The idea that Maya was doing to same thing with the Sellswords and her necromantic constructs was lost on her, but the man was a nord, and she was not.

She tilted her head in thought, trying to remember where she heard the story of the Staff of Souls before she nodded and continued. "My father told me about it once. He was in some treasure seeking band and they searched for it, but never found it. Supposedly it's dwemer in nature. Very old, very powerful. He spent the better part of a year scouring these ruins to find it," she then tapped the Horizon's name on the map and added, "Looks like he beat my father to it. We'll find out what it does eventually, then." Lynly's voice dropped into something of irratition, as the thought of the weapon being used on them was anything but a pleasant one.

Vanryth grunted in agreement, but at this point in the Game, he expected no less. Instead of brooding over it, he instead tapped at the throat of the world, specifically at the words "Spider's Lair." It seemed to be the perfect name for the Webspinner's hide out, and explained why the Shade wanted to meet them at Ivarstead.

The idea of discovering firsthand what something called the “Staff of Souls” did was not at all appealing to Sinderion, but he brushed aside the displeasure. There wasn’t anything they could do about it now, and they had so many problems that contemplating any of the non-immediate ones for any significant length of time was stupid. Van called attention to the Webspinner’s lair, or what might have been it, and Soren replied by tracing the path of the Pact’s scout, followed, doubtlessly, by one of the Omen’s thralls. “Lost around Ivarstead. I’m guessing the Pact has an idea where she’s headed. She’ll probably beat us there, though maybe we’ll get lucky and she’ll die in the attempt.” ‘Lucky’ being, of course, a relative term. Here it just meant they wouldn’t have to deal with a three- or four-way disaster like the one at the Embassy.

“Nothing on the Mentor, the Drunk or the Feral anywhere.” he noted, which made the pending search for any of them more difficult. “But I’m guessing Tarquin was honest about where he was keeping the Mentor,” he continued, indicating the spot with the most frequent comings and goings of the Shade, which matched what he’d told them of his father’s hiding place. He noted the scribbles regarding Maya—it would seem they’d been watched. He didn’t think they’d been followed after the manner of the Stonehammer, though; the notes were too intermittent for that.

Good. If he’d failed to detect a constant shadow, he would have been incredibly displeased with himself and inclined to start running larger circles around their encampments every night. He might do it anyway, seeing how good some of this information was. For all that the Omen knew, he bet someone like the Bard knew more. It wasn’t explicitly attached to Maya, but there was another spot on the map that caught his attention. “Friends of yours?” he asked her, placing an index digit on the aptly-labeled ‘Witch Coven’. Whomever they were, they might be in danger, if someone thought they were sheltering the Blackfeather.

"Home," Maya replied with a tinge of sadness. It frustrated her that someone like the Omen knew where they were. The Glenmoril had never been most traditionally warm of families to grow up in, but to say they hadn't protected her, and helped become as strong as she was now, would be an outright lie. She'd certainly kill anyone who threatened them merely because they might be harboring her.

"I think they'll be fine. Tarquin's the one hunting me, and he knows right where I am. That, and if he's true to his word about putting this aside for a while, they should have nothing to fear. They're tough women, besides." Tough, but certainly not invincible. Lynly knew that well enough. Maya had to keep reminding herself not to hold it over the woman's head. They'd brought it on themselves then, grown too bold, too reckless. Her true family, that Falkreath coven that was circled on the Omen's map, they knew how to take care of themselves. They'd move if they thought they were in any real danger, which Maya had already warned them of before she left.

Maya was more interested about the spot in the northeast corner of the map. She pointed at the spot labeled as "The Library" from where she stood beside Sinder. "That must be the Argonian's hideout," she speculated. "I was always curious where he went. Probably the least talkative of them all, that one, save the Drunk of course, but I figured that just meant he knew what he was doing." More than that, he'd had that look in his eye, like he'd known so much more than anyone else there. She wouldn't doubt it, between the man's name and the Lord he represented.

If that name was anything to go by, there had to be something on that island that would of use to her...




Packed and armed and equipped with all the knowledge they felt they could get from the Omen's map, the Sellswords departed from what was possibly the only sanctuary they'd see for some time, taking the bridge opposite the one they'd come in on, Drayk pushing his way through the great double doors that were their path onward. He then immediately fell back more towards the middle of the group, letting the more sharp eyed take the lead as before. They hadn't run into any traps for a while, but there was no sense risking it.

The corridor the far doors led into were much like the last: long, straight, and not going up. These ones at least weren't going down though. Pipes steamed and hissed along the lengths of the walls, the occasional dwarven spider worker scurried along without paying them any mind, and no traps barred their way. Maya scratched her head in frustration as they neared a corner.

"You think these damn people would make it a little easier just to get--oh, well that's great." She had turned the corner, and thrown up her hands at what she'd seen, which was a spiraling staircase, twisting tightly around in a narrow radius... and only going down from here. "Do you think maybe we should turn around? See if the way back isn't blocked anymore?"

"Doubt it," Drayk said. "Unless someone came along and unblocked it, which I doubt would happen. No one but the Horizon and probably the Pact knows we're here." Maya sighed in return. "So it's further into the depths, then? Lovely."

And down they went. The width of the stairs forced them to go in single file, the lack of light in the staircase forcing a mage to keep a light conjured at all times just so they could see their own feet. About five minutes in Drayk started to get a little dizzy, spinning around and around in the same direction all the time, and nowhere, not once, was there someplace to get out. The ruins just seemed to be going down, and down, with seemingly no end point, until...

"There we go! No more blasted stairs," the witch said, gratefully passing under a doorway that led into a much larger space. It was no natural cavern; the dwemer had walled this place in entirely, with pipes and whirring gadgets covering almost every square foot of surface area. The staircase had kicked them out into a massive, square room, but opposite them, on the far wall, or rather built into the far wall, was a massive, perhaps thirty foot tall set of doors, completely blank in design, but strangely white compared to the darkened shades of the construction around it.

In front of this door was also something that was thirty feet tall. Dwemer centurions could reach impressive heights, but none of them came close to this one. It was a small colossus of gears and dwemer plating, with a big enough body to carry a small army of smaller dwemer automatons, especially in their condensed form. Its arms were almost entirely hidden under gear-connected plating, some of which looked quite sharp. If Drayk had to guess, he would've speculated this thing had multiple weapons at its disposal. At its top was a head that seemed disproportionately small for its body, styled in the fashion of a common Dwarven helmet, staring blankly ahead.

But for all that it looked imposing, it didn't seem active. It was just standing there in front of the door, completely motionless. A spider worker or two was crawling in and out of pipes on the walls, but apart from that, the Sellswords were the only ones moving in the room. And perhaps more promisingly, there was a second, smaller door to the colossus' left, in the corner. It too was closed, but looked significantly more moveable than the great doors behind it.

"Right, so... we should probably talk about this before we try anything," Maya suggested. "I... completely agree," Lynly quickly added, taking a conspicous step backward. At least it wasn't moving... Yet.

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance it will just behave like the rest of the things around here and let us not-aggressively walk past it, is there?” Adrienne asked, tilting her head to look up at the top of the gigantic construct with a faint smile. Granted, the expression wasn’t one of happiness or amusement, more like the kind of thing that came from a no-other-choice appreciation of gallows humor. “Otherwise… if it attacks, I can ice the floor under it. Bigger they are, the harder they fall, or something like that?” Of course, where and how something like that fell would likely be important, lest they find themselves crushed under tons of dwemer metal. Lynly grumbled behind the girl, and added her two bits, "Yes, let's joke about this. It's hilarious. Maybe it'll die from laughter." She said coldy.

“Well, if you can’t joke about your impending death, there’s not a lot left to laugh about around here,” Soren pointed out pragmatically, though he did assume a serious expression afterwards. “You know, that might be the first good option we have, though. Nothing else around here has bothered us. It would be unfortunate to provoke it if we don’t have to… or very fortunate, depending on how you look at it.” Truthfully, though… that thing was made of armor. He didn’t have a lot he could throw at that.

“The joints would be the weakest points,” Sinderion added, sweeping a glance down the construct. "I don’t know how well any equipment we tried to use on it would survive, though, and I believe such things are quite resistant to magic as well.” The archer snorted.

“Oh good, it’s made of armor and resistant to magic. What are we supposed to do, talk it down for tea and biscuits?” He rolled his eyes to the ceiling, but it wasn’t really anyone’s fault in particular. “It’s probably slow. If that door opens, we could outrun it if we must.”

Lynly had been rubbing her brow, flying back and forth between anxious and outright anger. Why did the damn thing have to be here of all places? Why in Oblivion's name was it so big? She wished the Dwemer were still alive, just so she could hurt them. Damn them and their machines. Picking herself up enough to actually contribute to the conversation instead of just snipping at the other's suggestions, she began. "Look it's legs. It's gait would be massive. Damn things are faster than you'd think," Lynly pointed out from first hand experience. "Maybe a couple of us would get through that door if we ran, though certainly not all of us." A rather pessimistic tone had seeped into her voice, and her tone was just a couple of decibels above a growl.

"Sinder's right," She continued, "The joints are the weakest points, though that's not saying much. That's like saying a cave is the weakest point in a mountain," she said frowning. "If we are to fight it-- which I don't intend unless absolutely forced then the sure kill would be the core inside of it. Good luck getting to it without getting powdered though," She replied, pointing at the tiny gaps in it's armor. If the Omen's dream taught her anything, it's how to kill one. The armor she now wore meant nothing at all against the sight of the mechanical behemoth, and what comfort she had derived from it had all but melted away. "Talos save us all, why in Oblivion's name can we not get a breath!" She snarled, perhaps the first time the Sellswords ever seen her Nordic Temper in full display.

"Well..." Drayk said, his eyes still a little wide when he was looking at the colossus, "I don't think we can go back. That door's gotta be our best shot, right? Maybe we can just... get there quietly? Slip on out without pissing it off?" Lynly laughed out loud and followed up with a stern statement, "Because that always works."

“Be wary even passing it at a distance,” Anirne advised. ”The advanced models like this are usually equipped with at least a steam cannon, though they prefer to engage up close.” She paused. ”You should know that I’ve never heard of any this big, except… there are stories about Centurions with flame cannons. Please, whatever you do, be very careful…”

"Lynly," Maya said evenly, "Not helping. Come on... just think about the glory if you brought something like this down. This guy's nothing. And that's only if he decides to mess with you. If he doesn't, we can just sneak on out of here. Easy, right? Just... don't panic. Panic will get us killed." Lynly grunted in reply, "I'm not panicking, I'm just being a realist." When had anything ever gone right for them?

"We really can't afford to be realists right now," Drayk said rather gently. "It's a little too depressing." He huffed a breath out, adjusting his grip on his shield. "Let's get this over with, before we lose the nerve." Ever the vanguard, Drayk went out first, the others falling in behind, giving the colossus as wide a birth as possible while still inching closer and closer to that door in the back corner.

But no one really ever thought that would work. It was as though they passed over an invisible line that spread across the length of the room, and suddenly every valve on the colossus hissed with releasing steam, and gears started grinding against one another. The legs kicked into action one at a time, each rising and then pounding the ground beneath them, shaking the entire room when they did. The body twisted at the waist to face the group, the right arm sliding outwards in the form of a massive blade, the other rearranging itself into a large cannon, both of which leveled themselves at the group. The little head on top of the massive body angled down to look at them, and it spoke. Its voice was deep, a very guttural, grinding sound, and it was loud, only amplified by the fact that it echoed around the entire chamber.

"PERFORMING ANALYSIS. REMAIN STILL. MOTION WILL RESULT IN TERMINATION."

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 of course Lynly who was the first to stop dead in her tracks. Not only was the giant machine deadly-- it spoke too! It told them to stop, else face termination, but something told Lynly that it was going to terminate them either way. Her mind was a flurry of reactions. Half of her wanted to bolt for the stairs, the other half wanted to stand her ground. Both halves were cursing their luck, the dwemer, the Gods, Daedra Lords, the Horizon, the Pact and whomever else she could think to blame. However, the only words that found their way to her lips were, "Shit, shit, shit!"

So much for the quiet approach. They had seconds before the thing turned on them and they were terminated.

“I think I had a warmer reception at the Brotherhood hideout,” Soren agreed, and despite the gravity of the situation, there was mirth in the words. To be fair, it should probably be expected of him by now. He had snuck into said fortress, and he was here entirely of his own free will. Clearly his relationship with immanent death was much more cordial than that of the average man. They were practically friends, even. Though… “And lovely? As much as I greatly enjoy and take partial credit for the extraordinary amount of snark-and-panic whiplash just oozing from you right now, I would like you to remember that you are not here by yourself, and you are not going to die today, all right? I just decided to start a new chapter in my life, and I hate premature endings.”

If this thing wanted him to remain still, Drayk could do that. He could certainly do that. In fact, he wasn't sure he was capable of running at the moment. The only movement he made was to first check to see that Adrienne was somewhere in the vicinity of behind him, and then crouch down behind his shield, and brace himself. Not that his shield would be any use against that sword, but it felt a tiny bit reassuring all the same.

Maya had her bow conjured, trying to pick out a weak point, any weak point, but it really seemed entirely pointless. Arrows weren't going to do anything to this behemoth. Probably very little that they had would. She doubted they'd even be able to make it slip on anything like they'd brought up. Those legs looked incredibly sturdy, how they'd pounded into the ground. It just... held still, though, looking at them with its puny little head, weapons bared and mere seconds away from obliterating them. And she could have sworn it was looking at her specifically.

"ANALYSIS COMPLETE. REPRESENTATIVE DETECTED."

The torso rotated and re-arranged itself to look straight ahead once more, the sword retracting back up its arm, the cannon covering itself back up with metal plating.

"I don't..." Maya began, not yet ready to banish her bow.

"... What?"

"Does that mean..." Drayk ventured, wanting someone else to finish the sentence. He felt like he'd jinx it or something.

Even Vanryth provided a sound, which could only be interpretted as pure confusion.

“Now, I’m not an expert or anything,” Adrienne started slowly, watching the construct rearrange itself, “But I’m pretty sure it just decided to spare us because Maya’s a representative. Do you think it would answer if you asked it something?” The question was directed at the representative in question. “Like… maybe why it’s here, or how it knows who you are?” "... Or we can leave," Lynly suggested.

"Gonna have to go with Lynly's suggestion," Maya said, before finally banishing the bow. She took no more than two careful steps towards it, as though each one had the potential to destroy them all, which for all she knew, probably did. "May... we pass?" she ventured carefully.

"NO," it bellowed, causing Maya to wince. There was a terrible silence for a moment, and then it continued. "THE CONDITIONS HAVE NOT BEEN MET. RETURN TO THE SURFACE THROUGH THE SIDE PASSAGE." It held out its left arm then, and a single Dwemer spider worker crawled along its length, having crawled out of the construct's body. It clambered all the way to the end of the thing's finger, and then dropped lightly to the floor, before scurrying across the floor to the smaller door in the back corner of the chamber.

A vent on the wall opened, and the spider worker disappeared inside. Moments later, the door swung open. It took a second for Maya to connect the dots, but when she did, she gasped and covered her mouth. "Oh! You thought I meant the big doors behind you! I definitely meant the surface, that's where we want to go. Thank you, we'll... go now." She turned to the others and shrugged, shaking a little. "What conditions?" Lynly asked, though she looked like she wasn't going to stick around for answers. As soon the doors opened, long strides pushed her past Maya and toward the doors, hopefully into somewhere with less dwemer and more open air. The resulting booming voice caused a stagger in her step, and then quickened it.

"THIS SENTINEL DETECTS ADDITIONAL REPRESENTATIVES. THE CONDITIONS HAVE NOT BEEN MET."

Through the side door Lynly would be able to see down at the end of a short corridor, a large circular platform with a single lever situated at its center. While curiosity may have compelled some of them to stick around and ask the colossus additional questions, the desire not to be crushed into paste was too overpowering to ignore, and the Sellswords found themselves filing through the side door and down the corridor.

"I'd just like to say that I knew no more about that than you all did," Maya said as they all piled onto the circular platform at the end. The witch pushed the lever, and was pleased to discover that it was indeed a lift. Grinding gears accompanied the rising of the platform, and slowly but steadily the group was returned to the surface level. After a ride long enough for Drayk to grow tired of standing and take a seat, the lift lurched to a stop to let them out into a tiny passageway in the rock, too dark to see in without magical lighting. They followed it to a rock wall, and a lever on the side of the passage. Pulling it down moved the rock wall down in front of them, spitting the group out right on the outside of where the Horizon had trapped them in.

"So there wasn't a front door," Maya said when she pushed open the thin door that they'd all squeezed in on their way inside, stepping back out onto the snow. The group had barely made it outside, however, when Maya sighed, and gestured to the top of a small hill near.

"Oh look, more visitors." A red headed Breton man stood on top of the hill, lightly clothed for how sharp and cold the wind was. He stood there as if waiting for them, which was likely, considering that he'd gone and taken the liberty of rounding up all their horses and letting them follow him around. Perhaps they enjoyed the sounds of the music he was playing on his lute. When he spotted the Sellswords, the Bard gave an exaggerated wave and a jovial looking smile, before quite simply skipping down the hill to meet them, the group's horses meandering along in his wake.

"Hellooooo!" he greeted with a low bow. "Would you be interested in a story? It's called 'The Handsomest of Bards and his..." he visibly counted them with a waggling finger, "... Eight Deadly Friends!' It's a marvelous work, and only just beginning!"

Sinderion raised a brow. Evidently, this was the Bard. Of course, now that the man was in front of him again, it was not hard to recognize him as the one that had been inside the bar in Riften, where they’d found Anirne and gotten themselves into a fight. Unless he was remembering improperly, he’d never stopped performing, though admittedly, Sinder hadn’t been paying much attention to what he was actually singing about. Probably a mistake, considering. In the end, however, it was Soren who took the obvious bait first, figuring that there was no reason he shouldn’t. “Sure. Does it end with the grisly double murder of the Pact and the Horizon? Because that sounds like a story we’d be really interested in hearing.”

"End?" he asked, seemingly affronted. "With a murder? What kind of terrible story would that be? A terribly terrible one, I say. No! This story has the grisly murders put somewhere in the beginning to middle areas. And while I can't speak for the currently-dead and future-dead lady, I can say that this spoon-eared dark elf you speak of will be the first to go, yes."

He strummed a non-sensical chord on his lute. "This is chapter one, this part with me standing here and you all standing there. The epilogue saw our handsome bard following the poor elf across half o' Skyrim. For all his sight, the man's really quite blind. ANYWAY! The backstory to the frontstory is that this man, the handsome one before you, was given a task, and given rules by which to go about it."

The next chord he played was quite terrible, but it fit well enough, honestly. "RULES! You'd think they were mad, trying to give a man like me rules. So I decided the hell with it. I'm going to play their game backwards. A bit of asking around, and our mohawked friend is first up. Quite convenient that he just tried to screw the hell out of you people, I'd say. You can help me be rid of him!"

The altmer’s brow furrowed, and he stared blankly at the Bard for a second. Most of that made sense, but… “Currently-dead? Future-dead? Who is currently dead?” He looked at Maya, as though she might have some answer that eluded him. Who knew—maybe a week had given her some kind of mastery over Bard-speak. If anything could give one a mastery over Bard-speak. His patron deity was the god of madness, after all. The only thing one could reasonably expect of him was that he’d defy your expectations… and that threw one for a logical loop no matter how it was looked at. For all Sinder knew, he was using a completely different syntax now than he had last time the two had seen each other.

Maya shrugged. "Must be the Pact, but I don't know why." The words gave her a few suspicions, ones she figured she was foolish not to have earlier, but perhaps she'd air them later.

He also certainly wasn’t in any position to take any kind of deal. While yes, the Horizon had betrayed them and left them to rot, it wasn’t any worse than they’d endured from some of the other Representatives, and counted as downright mild compared to parts of it. If he hated with the same vicious abandon every last one of those players who meant him some form of harm, he’d have no room left for anything else, simple as that. He knew they needed to meet up with Tarquin in Ivarstead, but there was no point in doing so if the Pact was still alive, and Maya would know if the Webspinner had killed her. As nothing of the kind had been announced, he chose to assume that she was alive. But if she was… she may well be in proximity of Invorin, so there was a chance that they’d encounter both at once… in which case, they’d need all the help they could get.

Even if that help was wholly unpredictable enough to want to play the damn game backwards.

Adrienne was fairly sure she was delighted. Maybe it was just the fact that, despite the part where they’d been betrayed by the Horizon and locked in a ruin where they were almost killed by a giant Centurion, she was still in a pretty good mood. Maybe it was because she liked riddles and word games. Maybe it was just because the Bard’s sense of humor was clearly, while more than a little daft, much more lighthearted than the Omen’s. Sure, they’d have to kill him eventually, maybe, unless someone else did so first, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be courteous to him now. Smiling, she tried to think of how best to put her question in his terms. “And where is the tale of the Handsomest Bard and his Eight Deadly Friends to be set?” she asked, assuming he had more current information on the Horizon’s location than they did.

"And now we get to the kidney of the matter," he said, growing suddenly dramatic and trilling a pair of low notes. "Our villain follows the Pact he has made, and he goes south, towards the very lungs of the world. If he should make the entire trip, I cannot know, but this is not the important itty bit. What is important is that he go to Windhelm. I know not how he should get there, but I am thinking that he will not be leaving."

He stopped playing suddenly and smiled broadly at them. "I have a contact in the old city, a most beautiful fair maiden. She is most cold, and has cruelly spurned my advances thus far, but she will still help us, for she has a most beautifully pure heart, and knows a noble cause when she sees one. Bring the Horizon to Windhelm, and seek her out. She will know what to do. Or perhaps she won't. I've spoken for her heart and her fair face, but I can't yet speak for her brains. Lass won't even talk to me! But she's got the important bits at least, so for this story... she is the beautiful fair maiden."

"May the Eight Deadly Friends know the fair maiden's name? Or should we expect her to find us?" There were probably too many good-looking women in Windhelm for that to be of any use as a criterion, though... was he trying to imply that she was also mute? If divining the plan took this much effort, she didn't really want to know how troublesome executing it would be. It sounded like he wanted them to (without him) go after the Horizon, probably kill the Pact on the way if they could, then bring the unconscious or at least subdued Invorin all the way to Windhelm. That was going to be a pain.

"I played all my songs for her, even the good ones, and she wouldn't give it to me," the Bard said sadly. "As cold as she is beautiful, that one." But at this point, Maya was willing to make her way to the fore, as she was beginning to suspect something.

"Wait a minute..." she said, putting her hands on her hips and giving the Bard a half-smile. "Are you talking about that servant girl at the Gathering?"

He nodded pleasantly. "Aye, that'd be the one. Works in Windhelm, she does, under that nasty drunkard of a father she's got. Someday I'll rescue her from that place. It'd make a fine prologue to this story, I should think."

"This is quite a way off our trajectory," Anirne pointed out. It was hard to say how long the Shade was willing to wait, but she was going to suppose that he didn't have infinite patience. "Unless we can use on Invorin what you used on me, Maya, we should not risk holding him captive for too long." It all seemed awfully convoluted, truth be told. Then again... what about this whole thing wasn't incredibly complicated? Trying at least for some useful information, she ventured a question. "If everyone was playing the game backwards," she tried, "who would be after you?" Whoever they were, they were probably safer than most at present.

"Lady, if everyone were playing the game backwards, I'd be playing the game forwards, and the Horizon would be after me. Come now... you look like a smart lady. What school did you go to? Certainly not the Bard's College, I should think. You should try sometime! Really, they let just about anyone in these days." With that, he turned ninety degrees and began walking, idly playing his lute. The horses remained behind. Anirne was pretty sure that answer wasn't correct, but maybe to him, it was. At any rate, she chose to let it drop, a small shake of her head the only sign she gave by way of reaction to what was surely a veiled insult.

"Until we meet again! Say hello to the fair maiden for me!"

"It's not like we have to do what he asks," Maya reminded, "though the idea of giving the Horizon what he deserves is awfully tempting. In any case, he said Invorin went south with the Pact, so we might be able to find him easier than we think. If we can get a hold on him, we might as well go to Windhelm. It doesn't really matter what order the other Representatives die in, I suppose."

Confident that would be the last of the day's unexpected events, the Sellswords mounted their Bard-brought horses and started off again, finding the road quickly and heading off for Ivarstead, hoping to make up some lost ground.

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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In slightly higher spirits than was perhaps normal, the Sellswords took off for the south, making good time through the Pale. It was late afternoon by the time they had gotten moving, however, so for the first night the group was forced to make camp just past the crossroads between Whiterun and Windhelm. The road to Ivarstead was long, and the possibility of catching the Pact low. She had already gained a day's advantage and more, and was presumably unburdened by the lingering fatigue that plagued some of the Sellswords.

They continued south the next morning, arriving under the shadow of the hill upon which the city of Whiterun stood by midday, and turning east at the crossing over the White River. After a brief rest at the Ritual standing stone, at the request of Maya, they continued on, following the course of the river east, bending south as it did, passing into the southern reaches of Eastmarch until the road split again, and the group followed the Darkwater River south instead.

The day ended with the Sellswords camping under the mountains separating them from Shor's Stone and Riften, just after crossing the Darkwater. They pushed through to the final part of the journey the following morning, turning southwest and climbing until they reached the crossing over the Treva River and Lake Geir. Ivarstead was just a short ways further along, a small town sitting under the shadow of the massive mountain peak known as the Throat of the World.





There was no sign of the Pact, the Horizon, or any of the train of warriors that were following them, along the entire route to Ivarstead, but that was not unexpected. They could have even taken another route, as there were several methods of reaching the Throat of the World from that far away. Maya had thought to take the group through Riverwood and down through Falkreath Hold before bending around, but decided the temptation to visit home again would have been too great, and they couldn't afford the delay. They'd lost a great deal of time already. The Pact had surely already reached this place, though she was not yet dead, that much Maya knew. If she had already attacked the Webspinner, and succeeded, she could not know.

"Suppose we should try the inn first," Maya suggested, and the eight of them pulled their horses to a stop before the rest stop, the Vilemyr Inn, as the sign pointed out.

The Shade was found sitting at the bar when they entered, but upon seeing the Sellswords arrive, he immediately rose and headed towards them. "Took you long enough," he muttered, though he seemed to be at least trying to contain his disdain for their tardiness. "The Pact and the Horizon passed through yesterday, and will have found the entrance to my mother's lair by now. No more waiting. We'll plan on the way." He made his way through them before all of them had even entered the bar, and led the way back out into the street.

He scowled at the sunlight, but ignored it, raising his hood and carrying on. "The Pact arrived, and yet you seem unhurt. How did she slip past you?"

Soren personally could really have used a drink, but when it became readily apparent that they were not going to be stopping for one at the inn, he shrugged and unhooked the flask from his belt, taking a nip of the strong liquid inside before offering it to Lynly with a raised brow, largely expecting her to decline. She didn't, taking a quick draught before handing it back to him. Tucking it away again, he kept walking, for all intents and purposes undisturbed by the hurried nature of their departure. “How else? Deception. The Horizon had led this lot to believe that he wanted the Pact just as dead as they did. Sadly, he locked us in a ruin instead. As if we were just going to sit there and wait until it was convenient for them to kill us.” Realistically, it was probably just a delay tactic, but even that was only just effective, and it was about to come back to bite them—hard, if the more vengeance-inclined in the group had their way.

“I’m guessing the matriarch is not up the mountain,” he hazarded, “Which means we’re going in?” More caves, probably, though he supposed the entrance to a lair could also indicate a building somewhere on the mountain. It seemed unlikely, however, given who they were dealing with…

"Yes," the Shade responded. "The entrance is around the base of the mountain, perhaps an hour from here if we move quickly. From there we'll enter the caves, and follow them down." He made no comment about the deception. It was possible that he had already guessed as much, considering the Horizon's arrival alongside the Bosmer. It was also possible that it didn't matter anymore, and they had more pressing issues to worry about, like how to move ahead.

The Shade led them to the edge of Ivarstead, taking the dirt road down the hill rather than the bridge that would lead them to the seven thousand steps up to High Hrothgar. It was a steep decent, but he moved quickly. "The Pact will have reached her by now. She still lives, Maya?" The witch answered in the affirmative. "Then we do not know what to expect. She could have been captured. A captive hunter is better than a dead one in this game, my mother would know as much. She could also be waiting for a better moment to strike. Assaulting the Webspinner in her own lair, surrounded by her servants, is not wise."

"It sounds like there's a particular reason for that," Anirne ventured mildly, following the steep slope with a little more caution than the Shade took, though she was no old woman yet, and kept her balance quite well. "Perhaps there is something we should know?" She recalled that the Pact had been reluctant to speak overmuch of the Webspinner, and she was guessing there was more to that than a simple desire to keep potential foes from information. In fact, nobody had said much of her, save that she was mad. Perhaps Maya had said more to someone else, but she knew the group at large was not well-informed about what they were dealing with. Stealthy guerillas were one thing-- if the altmer had her guess, this Representative and her servants were quite another.

"Are you familiar with Spider Daedra?" the Shade asked. "Priestesses of Mephala warped into her image. In this cave they will be at their deadliest. The spiders can move quickly through their holes, dropping down behind you for an attack before retreating just as quickly. They aren't physically overpowering, but in their own environment they will outmaneuver us. They'll fight from range with debilitating poisons and lightning, only risking close quarters after their opponent has been weakened. My mother has hundreds of them at her disposal in her caverns."

He glanced back towards the Psijic woman and the rest of the party. "Aside from that, it will be extremely dark, almost impossible to see without magical means. They will try to separate us if we fight them in there. Anyone who becomes cut off from the others will not last long. As for my mother herself..." He turned back to the path in front of them, taking the group into a rocky region, vaulting over low boulders and using the trees to steady himself. "She is faster than all of her brethren, and significantly more powerful. To engage her on her own ground would be to seek death. She must be drawn out."

"And how do we do that?" Drayk asked. The Shade glanced back at him, giving him a knowing look.

"Burning her out would be one way."

Drayk frowned, and shook his head. "I couldn't burn out an entire network of tunnels, not without... no, I'm not doing that." A few days ago he would have willingly offered to let himself go and scorch the spider from her hole, but now, with what he had to protect, and the risks to the happiness he had only so recently found... he wouldn't do it. There would be another way.

"And besides," Maya offered, "We can't kill the Webspinner until we kill the Pact, and we can't kill her until we find her." The Shade nodded.

"That's true. And I have a feeling that we'll find her once we draw my mother out. In the meantime, the priority must be the Mentor. This is where I took him, so this is where we'll have the best chance of finding him. We don't need to go in there with the intention of killing everything we see."

“Seems a fair notion,” Adrienne replied neutrally. She was in fact immensely relieved—something had constricted uncomfortably in her insides as soon as burning was mentioned, and had not relented until Dom’s firm denial. Good, that was good. There were bound to be alternative ways of getting what they wanted, and though she did not know what a spider Daedra looked like, the troubled frown that creased Anirne’s face was more than enough reassurance that she really didn’t want to encounter one, much less all hundreds of them. She had the distinct feeling that this was going to be just as much a nightmare as what Rialta had put them through… only this time, there would be no waking up when it was over.

She noted the part about staying together with some unease. She didn’t doubt the truth of what Tarquin said, not even a bit, but that was the worrisome part. It sounded like they were dealing with a warren of tunnels entirely unknown to them—the chance of someone getting cut off by accident or canny foe was great, especially if they were ambushed. They would need light, but… “Unfortunate, that being able to see will also make us that much more easily seen.” It was an advantage she did not think they could forgo, however. The creatures within would have adapted to the dark, and with the exception of Tarquin and Sinder, the rest of them would probably be twice as vulnerable without their eyes.

It was clear that only one who knew of this place would be able to find its location, as the Shade led the Sellswords seemingly at random around the side of the mountain, sometimes down, over streams running down its side, over boulder-strewn hillsides and along sheer cliffs. After around an hour of trekking through the wilderness, they came upon it.

It didn't look hardly any different from any other cave, seemingly just a hole in the side of the mountain face, slapped onto a steep hillside dotted with large rocks, thick trees and dense foliage. Behind them some ways was a cliff of some thirty feet, a small stream running over it and falling into a small pool that had gathered at the bottom. This ran eventually to join with the Darkwater some ways to the northeast. They weren't quite high enough to be standing in snow, but the sky had become overcast at this point, darkening their surroundings somewhat, and threatening snow.

The scenery was utterly still, the mouth of the cave seeming to beckon them in. "This is the place," the Shade said, pointing out the obvious.

Sinderion sniffed at the air, and his eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “The Pact’s warriors are definitely around,” he said quietly. “But the smell is faint.” It could be a day or two old, by now, and there was nothing precise in the odor to tell him the locations of any of them, so as a warning it was likely just telling everyone what they already expected.

Soren, absently tracing his new scar, raised a red eyebrow. “Four, possibly five representatives. And that’s assuming your wild wolf-cat doesn’t show up. Sounds fun. Is there a plan for this death-revel, or are we just going to improvise?” He sounded rather like he’d be completely fine with improvising, but then that was probably expected by this point. He doubted there would be much to plan—they simply didn’t know much about what they were in for, or in what order. They had to kill the Pact before they killed the Webspinner, but minions were fair game for anyone, including the Shade, who was probably the only person guaranteed not to die in this mess. Assuming Ja’karo hadn’t tracked him here, of course. It was all so deliciously possible.

“What could we possibly plan for?” Adrienne asked, half-rhetorically. “We know nothing about how the tunnels and caves are laid out, nor where inside anyone might be.” It was a bit hopeless as far as plans went, and maybe that was for the best. If they weren’t committed to any course of action, they would be more adaptable to the situation as it changed. “We’ll need your ears and nose, Sinder.” She managed a half-smile for her altmer friend, but then she suspected he already knew that. Anirne remained silent, staring into the entrance as though contemplating something. She offered no verbal contributions, though.

In the end, they had no choice but to blindly march forth, with the intention of first, finding the Mentor, and second, driving the Webspinner from her hole somehow, so that the Pact might be driven from hers, and both of them might be slain. The Shade led the way up the hill and into the mouth of the cave, the Sellswords at his back.

The immediate interior did not open up, as some of Skyrim's caves did, but instead remained narrow and low, as though they were indeed passing through some kind of throat, being swallowed by the world itself, and immediately it became very dark, such that magical light was required to see much of anything. The walls were still stone and rock, but as they progressed their boots began to stick ever so slightly on each step.

"It will branch off in several directions soon," the Shade warned. "Follow my lead. Do not attack what you see unless attacked first." Drayk shifted his shield slightly higher up his arm, face locked in a constant frown as his eyes darted about, convinced they were about to be set upon from all sides. But they were still together, and together they were a powerful force.

Several paths opened up to them, as the Shade predicted, but Tarquin ignored them, staying to the center. Some of them were wide enough to fit all of the Sellswords, others little more than holes in the wall that they'd need to crawl to pass through. The webbings covering the walls and floor were becoming thicker here, their steps sticking more effectively. The light occasionally caught a spider as large as a hand along the sides of the walls, but they darted along the webs and into a hole as soon as the light touched them.

Holes began appearing overhead as well, large enough for bodies to pass easily through. The Shade seemed to have an idea of where he was going, but even he had slowed, either due to trying to remember the way, or from the stickiness of the walls and the floors and everything around them. Drayk's scowl deepened. This would make movement difficult. Yet another disadvantage. As if a lack of sight wasn't enough.

At last Tarquin held up his hand, indicating for the Sellswords to halt. "Something comes." They could hear it now, clearly, the scuttling, a tapping on the wall, clicks against the hard rock of the wall in between the increasingly frequent webs. "She wants to be heard," the Shade informed them, indicating that the Webspinner's priestesses were quite capable of approaching without sound if they chose to.

She drew into the light slowly, uncomfortable with it at first. Two spined, hairy legs pushed themselves forward, testing it. Six others followed, and a creature that was an even split between woman and spider came into the eerie glow of the magelight. She was no greater in height than Tarquin was. The human part of her ended at the waist, and shifted to spider, spindly, muscled legs carrying the light body. She did not look physically imposing in a powerful sense, but there was a strength in the legs, at least, that implied a great amount of agility, especially in these warrens they called home.

Her body from the waist up was entirely naked, her hair disgustingly greasy and falling in ragged clumps about her skin, which was pale as a corpse. Her fingernails were several inches long on both hands, and looked as deadly as knives. Her face was largely hidden by her mess of hair, only cracked lips and brown teeth visible. Her hands clutched, of all things, a shortbow, made of some kind of black, gnarled wood, the string unsurprisingly wound of spider's silk. A small quiver of arrows was belted around her waist. She looked at none of the Sellswords, not that they could see her eyes, but her head was angled downwards all the same.

"The mother sends me to welcome the children," she rasped. "She knows why you come, and she will speak, if you will hear."

Not a particularly inviting welcome, is it? Soren thought, just stifling the snicker that threatened. It was probably wisest to keep his mouth shut, and though honestly he rarely gave thought to what was wisest, he wasn’t exactly here for himself, so he wouldn’t snipe at the creature and ruin the Sellswords’ chances at finding the man they so desperately needed to see. He could see through the cast of the light that Blue was actually looking a little green about the gills, and it wasn’t that hard to guess why. The air was stale, and that creature looked filthy. He didn’t really want to think about how it smelled to someone with a wolf’s nose.

Unfortunately, Sinder didn’t get that luxury, and the stench was almost enough to put him on his back, as though it had slammed into him like a wall. Not that the sight of her was nay better. He’d not encountered a spider Daedra before, and he was now absolutely certain that if this was the last one he saw, he’d still have seen one too many. He also had the distinct feeling that he wasn’t going to like the Webspinner much, if her servants looked like this one did. He attempted to take a breath through his mouth, but abruptly clicked his jaw shut again when he discovered that the stench was thick enough to taste. This was worse than the entire village full of dead orcs—at least that had been outside, not in a cramped warren of caves with scarcely any circulation. He wasn’t so sure at all that the others would be able to rely on him to sniff out the Pact and her minions; not if everything down here was this bad.

Adrienne was torn between shock and disgust, but thankfully, she was able to not look like it. A quick glance at Sinderion revealed that he might be ill, but he seemed to be keeping himself in check all right. Soren didn’t appear to have changed much, but he wasn’t talking, which was admittedly a bit abnormal for him. Anirne was placid as ever, as though she’d been expecting something of this nature. Maybe she’d seen a spider Daedra before, who knew? Adrienne glanced at the Shade, almost as though for confirmation, but this is what they’d come for, after all: to talk to the Webspinner and find out where the Mentor was, what had happened to him.

If they were lucky, they would trip over the Pact and Horizon’s bodies on the way. If not… well, that was a problem they’d deal with when it showed itself. “We will,” she said, inclining her head politely, though she was unsure if the creature could even see it. The magelight bobbing about above her head cast the room into an odd relief, and distorted the shadows in the room a bit. If anything, it gave the Priestess an even more menacing aspect, one that the Breton tried gamely to ignore. “But where are we to go?”

Neither Vanryth nor Lynly made any move toward their weapons, both just crossing their arms and waiting to be led around like puppies. Though quite different, both had come to expect the worst out of every situation. And though one welcomed the worst with open arms and a naked blade, the other wondered how it would try to tear his little family apart that day. Neither were the optmistic sort. Lynly added nothing but a sigh, the thought of heading deeper into the spider's nest not a pleasing one. She believed that the allegory of a fly trapped in a web was an apt one, but one that they couldn't avoid. So she resigned herself.

"Down," she answered definitively, as if it provided adequate directions in this place, "into the hollow, where the mother awaits. She has but two conditions..." from down the tunnel, and from behind the Sellswords, other spider sisters made their approaches known, until there were a dozen at least, on each side, the majority of them remaining out of reach of the light.

"First," the envoy rasped, "the blood of the mother is to remove himself from this place." At that, the Shade quite literally growled his displeasure. "Why? Why won't she let me see her?" But the spider sister recoiled and shook her head. "We are to inform you only of the mother's intentions and her conditions. She will speak to those she wishes, and no more. The blood of the mother is to leave now."

Tarquin ran a hand through his hair, looking like he might try pulling it out. He turned to the others. "I guess I don't have a choice. You'll have to go in without me. I will await your return outside." With that, he made his way through to the back of the group and vanished into the darkness behind them, the spider sisters stepping out of his way as he went. Drayk took a deep breath to steady himself. There went their guide out if this went south.

"And the other condition?" he asked. At that, the spider sister raised herself up high enough on her legs so that she could angle her abdomen towards the group, the end of which presented the mucus-like substance that would form webbing. "The mother will not have you walk to her. You shall be delivered, or you shall not see her at all. That is the condition." At that, Maya groaned rather loudly.

"You want to wrap us like some meal to be taken to your lady?" The spider sister's silence answered in the affirmative.

“Oh, Oblivion no,” Soren deadpanned, staring at the priestess with a look that rather demanded to know if she thought she was serious. Making themselves vulnerable like that was insane. “Bad idea, people. I for one do not want to get eaten, thank you.” He also didn’t want to be useless in a cave full of representatives and their flunkies, and he definitely didn’t want to have to rely on Sparky to potentially burn them out, considering the wary looks he’d occasionally seen the others throwing his fire. This was a shitty idea, and he was going to make sure they knew he thought so.

Sinderion was quieter about it, but he couldn’t help agreeing. “Surely she must understand our position.” he said. If the Pact got killed while they were being transported, well, that meant Maya was about to be delivered, largely helpless, incapacitated, to the very heart of her next target’s lair, where the Webspinner would be completely free to kill her. Even that estimation of the situation somehow assumed that the woman’s intent was honest, and that she wouldn’t kill the Sellswords just for being there. Still… “There may be no other choice.” The words tasted like ash and dust on his tongue.

“If she does understand our position, then she knows we’re not in one where we get to make demands,” Anirne replied to her brother. She eyed the sticky substance with obvious trepidation. There was absolutely nothing about this situation that she liked. She’d been attempting to keep track of exactly which passages Tarquin used on the way in, and she may have a decent guess as to how to get back out again, she really didn’t want to count on it, but with the Shade forced to leave them, they hardly had a choice. Though honestly her visceral reaction was not so different from Soren’s, she didn’t express it as such.

Adrienne nodded her agreement. She wanted to ask why this was necessary, but the way they’d responded to Tarquin, she knew she had precious little chance of trying to fish the information out of them. “What do the rest of you think?” she asked. It was not lost on her that Maya was probably in more danger than the rest of them, but she also knew that the woman would refuse to leave with the Shade… which honestly may be just as safe as being alone with him, really.

"I think this sucks," Drayk said honestly. As far as the Sellswords went, they were effectively placing their lives in the hands of someone whose own son claimed to be insane. The witch was the only one who had any measure of protection, and the witch was the one Drayk was probably least concerned about in this group. He'd be able to burn his way out of a web wrapped around him quickly enough, but he wouldn't do that for the others. He wouldn't risk that. They'd be counting on the mercy of a woman who led a sisterhood of spiders, of all things. And if the Pact somehow died, they would hardly even be able to count on that much. But the Mentor could possibly be in here.

The speaker had called them the children. Surely the Webspinner took an interest in them because the Mentor had found them and trained them. The Shade had taken an interest in them for the same reason. They wanted to see something from them, was that it? It wasn't much of a hope, but wasn't it worth going on? For the chance of finding what they'd been seeking all this time? "If this is what it takes to reach the Mentor, though, we have to do it."

"Do not resist," the spider sister warned, moving closer to them. "We will deliver you to the mother unharmed, as is her wish."

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 moved onto the Sellswords with alarming speed, hands and legs grabbing for them. It took every ounce of Drayk's self control not to struggle against such a disgusting creature taking hold of him. His arms were forcefully moved to his sides, two of the spider's legs putting pressure behind his knees, and before he knew it the priestess had tilted him over sideways, the legs possessing a surprising amount of strength and dexterity. She hovered over him, raising herself up with the rear legs while the front ones began to turn him about.

It was warm, and for once Drayk didn't really like that. He quickly began to grow dizzy as the spider spread her webbing from the abdomen and around his torso, immediately binding his arms into place at his sides. The substance was thick and gooey when it came into contact with him, but almost immediately began to condense and solidify. Around and around and around he was spun, the spider priestess shifting him from side to side so that the webbing might cover a larger area of him, until the webbing had nearly reached his shoulders, and went all the way down below his knees.

At last she stopped, and Drayk felt quite sick. The interior of the tunnels were spinning around him, but he was vaguely aware that all of his companions were as he was: wrapped in webbing, and in the clutches of a servant of the Webspinner. Without warning, they began to move, vanishing into the darkness. Some went forward, others ducked into side passageways. Drayk had the pleasure of being pulled straight up first, the spider servant pulling herself up through a hole in the ceiling. Everything was plunged into darkness, and Drayk felt a powerful urge to light up his flame cloak, burn his way out of the web, and kill this horrific thing carrying him along. He resisted, but only barely.

Without any kind of sight available to him, it was impossible to know where he was going, and the spider sisters had made a point of separating them, carrying them to their destination along different routes. Drayk could not even hear any of the others, only the shuffling sound of spider legs running over webbed walls and floors. The priestess carried him through tight tunnels at varying angles, once even carrying him along the ceiling of something, if the force of gravity was to be believed. She dropped down through holes in the floor to land lightly below, and indeed, much of their time was spent going down, deeper into the earth. The trip itself, however, only took a few minutes. The spider sisters were very efficient in their movements.

One of the spider sisters had mercifully cast a magelight spell to rest against the ceiling in this larger chamber they now entered, so Drayk was actually able to see most of his surroundings, albeit quite dimly. The floor was a wide and open area, absolutely covered in spiderwebs save for circular holes in the ground, some larger than others, all of them seemingly tunnels that led elsewhere in the caverns. Several other tunnels presented themselves behind where Drayk had entered, and he saw some of the others being hauled in through these currently. A single, massive spider hole was situated against the far wall. Drayk swallowed.

The spider that had been carrying him roughly dropped him on the ground on his face, though Drayk was aware of a trailing thread of webbing extending from his upper back. Craning his neck around, he was able to watch his spider sister crawling up the side of the wall, the trailing webbing behind her eventually becoming taut, and pulling Drayk into the air. The spider came to rest above one of the holes, on the ceiling directly above Drayk, dangling him from a thread extending from her abdomen. The others followed suit, until all eight of the group hung over holes into deeper tunnels, arranged in a sort of half-circle across from the largest spider's hole in the wall.

Her legs emerged first, as her servant's had, but these were much greater. First two, and then two more, and then four more. And then about twelve more. The spider that emerged, if it could still be called that, was massive, filling up the entirely of the gaping hole in the wall, thick black hair covering the majority of the body as well as a kind of hardened dark carapace. But where the spider sisters had been the upper body of a woman and the legs and rear parts of a spider, the Webspinner was more of the upper half of a woman perched on top of an entire spider. With the location she was situated on top of it, she almost could have been riding it, but if one looked closer, the woman had no legs. Her body melted into the spider's, and they were entirely one being.

And the spider was the most horrific thing Drayk had ever laid eyes upon. It had eyes, so many eyes, there must have been a hundred of them, dark red in color, peering every which way, a dozen of them locked onto each of the eight unwilling guests in her hall. And below them all were razor sharp teeth, dripping saliva into her webs, clicking together at random intervals. The abdomen itself remained somewhat hidden in the blackness of the hole behind her, but it was easy to guess at its size. This creature would not have been able to fit in the main hall at the Mentor's manor.

The woman herself, if one was able to ignore the monstrosity beneath her, possessed a kind of ghostly beauty, one that her servants entirely lacked. She too had her body uncovered, her skin a pearly white, her hair silky and seemingly clean where the others had been matted and tangled. It sank down below shoulder level, and did not cover her face as the others had. Her eyes were closed and unseeing, but her features were undeniably noble, and strikingly beautiful. But Drayk couldn't manage to see any of this as beautiful, no matter how he looked at it. This was a nightmare, plain and simple, but it was one they could not wake from.

"You have arrived," the Webspinner said, in a voice that sounded like a whisper, and yet one that echoed throughout the chamber, "at the center of the web. I am what once was Phaedra Aurelius. I am now simply a Webspinner, and I see the threads that bind you. You have come far, and suffered much, to reach this place. But it is not I you seek..." her voice trailed off, to allow one of them to address her, if they were bold enough.

Sinderion was not in much condition to answer the sort-of inquiry at present, as he was rather pointedly concentrating on steadying the breaths coming and leaving him through his nose. There was a faint tremulousness to them that signaled either a great amount of fear, or something quite a bit worse. If only he was merely afraid. Alas, fear wasn’t even on his mental map at the moment, as the red blotches of rage were beginning to obscure everything else. He was confined, trapped, and the strength in his altmer limbs was not going to be enough to free him. He would know—he’d spent much of the trip to this place attempting to thrash in his bindings, an instinctual struggle more than a rational one. The beast did not approve of allowing himself to be bound so. It would much rather have killed its way through these tunnels, until it found what it wanted or died.

Actually, the fact that the smell was still retch-worthy was helping him at this moment, as the feeling of illness was at least fighting for dominance with the feeling that he must get out. Outwardly, it would be difficult to tell, but a tremor had picked up in his body, echoed in the sound of his breathing. He swallowed several times in quick succession, and tried to focus on anything but the feeling of being trapped. The Webspinner was a mighty distraction, perhaps, though it was a cold comfort at best.

Soren, on the other hand, had sighed heavily when the Sellswords acquiesced to being so transported, and muttered something about having nobody to blame but themselves when they died here. Presently, he was testing the tensile strength of this spider silk a bit, having slipped a small knife from his belt as he was being wrapped up. Thus far, he was having absolutely no success freeing himself from the silk prison, if one could call it that. Seeing as he had come here for the Webspinner, more or less, he wasn’t really interested in answering the implied question. He’d leave that to one of the talkative Sellwords, or better yet, the mute one. That would be interesting to watch. He wondered idly if the massive horrific spider-woman could read lips.

Lynly never thought herself the clausterphobic type, but now encased in layers of webbing and strung up from the ceiling, she was beginning to second guess herself. She fidgetted against the sticky silk, unconsciously hoping it'd give way, but of course it did not. She was not in a good mood, and it was because of that she plunged herself in silence. She would not speak unless spoken to, and even then tersely. To her, they had played right into the Webspinner's trap, and had no one to blame for it but themselves. The Webspinner herself was horror of what was maybe once a person, and Lynly couldn't help but wonder at the kind of insanity would make someone turn into a spider.

She was agitated at their certain turn of fate. Something held in common with the dunmer of the party. Vanryth on the other hand was not defiant, but rather resigned. He was doing this for the rest of the Sellswords, and for the Mentor, so whether or not he wanted to do it was moot. The fact remained that he had to, there was no other choice. When the Webspinner was revealed to him, his eyes widened from the shock and then returned to their normal size, perhaps with a bit of reluctance as well. If they ended up fighting the creature, how would they fare? They had survived the Stonehammer's dragon assault, the attack on the Embassy, and even the Omen's trail, but all times just barely.

He wondered if now was when their luck ran out.

Anirne was perhaps less bothered than she should have been by the fact that she was currently cocooned in a mass of gooey spider silk. In fact, her worst thought about the whole endeavor was that it was somewhat disgusting, and would be rather hard to force out of hair that was, with time on the road, looking to descend past her hips quite shortly. Hygiene had never been a particularly speedy process for her, but it had seldom been unpleasant, either. She supposed she should simply be glad that magically extricating herself from this mess would not be much of a problem.

That… the Webspinner only somewhat resembled the spider Daedra she’d seen before, and frankly, the Psijic did not much relish the thought of attempting to slay her. Granted, she rarely relished in slaying anything, but she did not often prior to her return to Skyrim believe she would have quite this much difficulty even making an attempt. With that many eyes, and that many legs…

Adrienne was internally quite a bit more sickened and horrified than the stoic monk, but as usual, she clamped down on the feeling, trying to arrange her features into something pleasant. Perhaps fortunately, she had the kind of face predisposed to that kind of thing, whereas she would have had to expend great effort to seem intimidating at all. The Webspinner seemed to be… prompting them, to say something, ask after the Mentor, but Adrienne sensed that this was a conversation that was only minimally in need of participation from anyone else. It was also probably going to be like trying to walk on thin ice: one misstep (and it was going to be hard to tell what qualified) was going to plunge them all into something quite horrific. Perhaps the hole beneath her was that something.

Licking her lips to try and make speaking a bit more natural, even if her diaphragm did feel corset-crushed by this webbing, she tried to pay as little mind as possible to the obvious struggle Sinderion was undergoing on her left and do what she did best: talk. Her friend would not benefit from anything she could do for him at the moment, after all. “We seek Lucius Aurelius, known to us as the Mentor,” she offered. The name tasted strange on her tongue, as she’d never even known it in her time with him, but it would probably be how the Webspinner knew him. Using familiar terminology seemed a small courtesy that might mean nothing. But it also might mean a lot—it was hard to say.

The Webspinner's sudden wail of agony was couple with a ear splitting shriek from the great spider, its maw opened and teeth displayed in each and every direction. The legs stompted about her immediate area, and the entire cavernous room shook slightly. She breathed heavily when the wail had passed.

"MENTOR!" she cried, burying her face in her hands. "He who took my Lucius, my dear Lucius, away from me. Years ago he left, despite my cries, despite me falling on my knees and begging him not to go. My dutiful son brought me a man that looked like him, felt like him, but it was... not... him." She fell silent for a moment, before she took slow steps towards the immobile Sellswords hanging before her, her voice returning to a whisper.

"I do not know if he even knew me, this man who looked like my Lucius. The grief, it has done so much to me. I sought to end it. Spoke to my Lady." And then she screamed again. "TAKE MY MIND, I said... Let me feel not the pain of this world any longer! Make me into an instrument of your power, but please, PLEASE! Remove the thoughts from my head." She was clearly weeping, tears streaking down her pale face.

"I was made into this... the one who would listen to the whispers, and see the threads that bind mortals to one another, all of us connected in the greatest web of all... but she did not take my mind. She did not take my grief. Only when I remove the others, when I bring her the glory she seeks, will she release me. And I must do this, I must be the last. I will be born anew..."

She turned around entirely, moving back towards her hole. She gestured mournfully to the side wall, and one of her spider sisters fired off a magelight spell to hit it, revealing a large web separate from the rest, the center of it broken and hanging limp, the web useless and destroyed.

"But you came not for me. You came for him," she whispered, turning to face them. "I cannot deliver him to you, for he is mine no longer. He was taken from me again, taken by those he has always answered to, even if he thought to ignore the call. They have taken him to a place where few mortals are capable of following, and fewer still are brave enough to do so." She sighed, her voice heavy with her grief.

"They have taken him to Coldharbor."

Apparently, Mentor had been the wrong word to choose. Anirne found herself wondering just how sudden this change had been on the part of their teacher, and what exactly had made it come about. It certainly hadn’t been at his wife’s behest, nor that of his oldest son. Perhaps the younger one had something to do with it? Perhaps he believed he was protecting them all from their fates as pawns in the Game of Shadow? Well, that had clearly backfired, whatever the case. This woman, whatever she might have been before, was nearly mad with grief and loss, the younger of the children was dead, and the Shade, well… she wouldn’t call him unmoved, but he was hardly forgiving. Perhaps what he’d done for the Sellswords was the only good thing to emerge from the entire mess, and they… they might not last. It was a grim reality to confront, and she desired deeply to believe in them, but this kind of news was bound to strike them with devastation.

Coldharbor… Adrienne had learned her lore well enough growing up that she knew what that meant, and she stared at the broken web, not bothering to disguise the mounting sense of horror she was feeling. It welled, thick and hot, in the back of her throat, almost choking off her ability to speak. Sweet, merciful Mara… the Mentor had been taken to the domain of Molag Bol, the Daedra lord he’d defied to become the man who’d saved them all. She swallowed past that rising bile, forcing her eyes to move from the broken web to the spiderlike lady, and though she didn’t really want to, she pitied the woman. She’d lost a husband, and a son, and her other one wanted to kill her. It was a mercy, probably, but that didn’t really take the sting out of it. She’d lost most of what she was, transformed into this creature, and the one thing she’d wanted to lose, she still seemed to keep, at least a little.

It was… she found herself struggling to imagine misery on that scale. But she was trying to envision it anyway, because even that was better than thinking about what the Mentor must be enduring right now, at the hands of the Lord of Domination. A shudder ran down her spine, largely absorbed by whatever she was coated in. “Who took him from you?” she asked softly, though her mind screamed us. “Daedra, or something else? When were they here?” Why didn’t you save him? Why couldn’t we save him? Ugly thoughts, and thoughts she knew well enough to reject, lest they gain insidious purchase in her mind.

"Had I stopped them, child, I would have suffered the same fate as he," the Webspinner said, more answering the woman's thoughts than her words. "Daedra have no more power here than elsewhere in this plane. But while this Mentor of yours was given to me, he was never mine to keep. He was not my Lucius. He suffers justly now, for his betrayal."

"So how do we get there?" Drayk asked, not caring for the woman's opinion on what was just or not. "To Coldharbor. How do we reach the Mentor?" He didn't quite know what this Coldharbor place was, but from the way she had described it, it was no earthly realm, no place mortals could walk unhindered. So there would undoubtedly be difficulties in reaching it at all. But they would not let it stop them. He couldn't let the man he owed everything to suffer at Molag Bal's hands. Any happiness he now had, any chance at a future, was because of him, and regardless of what he'd done before he turned away from sin, he deserved better than what he was getting. He had to believe that.

"You would lay down your lives for him, search for him to the ends of the world and beyond. You are truly the false children, if that is true. The way to Coldharbor is not known to me, if there is one for those who dwell in this world."

Drayk exhaled in disappointment, but the Webspinner carried on. "If such a way exists in this plane, and in this land, it would be found at the Library. It is a place of forbidden and forgotten knowledge, far to the north. There you may find the way. The means, however, I suspect will only be available behind the great doors, and past the Sentinel. You know of the place I speak of."

So there was a way. Now they just had to have the will, right?

Lynly sighed, her answer about what would drive a woman to do their to herself rather forthwith. Insanity caused by grief. But it was still insanity, and they had their lives in the hands of someone who was no longer in touch with this world. And the Sellsword's Mentor had left as well. Things were becoming better the longer they stayed strung up. Vanryth's head drooped at the news. The Mentor was no longer here, taken to Coldharbor of all places. The despair was tangible on his face, though hidden by the shadows. If he knew his friends, then they would certainly wish to travel there. A thought confirmed by Drayk. And why not? They were so close now, following right behind him. They had always been right behind him. Would they still be behind him even in death? The thought was a grim one, but one he couldn't help but have.

“Oh, good,” Soren drawled. “So they only get the prize after they’ve killed everyone standing in the way. No worries, then.” He was quite sure that ‘Sentinel’ was not going to let them through while other Representatives were still detected, so to speak. It also meant they’d need either Maya or Tarquin in order to access the thing in the first place. At least, if he had his guess. He usually did, but not always. At least he was making some progress on the webs now, sawing through the first few layers of the stuff and giving his arm more room to move. Getting out would be easier, with that small favor.

It figured that nobody did him favors besides himself. Then again, wasn’t that exactly the way he wanted it to be?

Sinderion, still much less than pleased to be in this place, was at least distracted enough by the news to think about something other than how much he wanted out of his confinement. “The Library,” he murmured, glancing at Maya. That had been marked on the Omen’s map, and she’d told him of a representative called the Librarian. Hermaeus Mora, if he remembered properly. That was where they needed to go, then. But… before they could go there, they needed to get out of here, and it was not immediately clear how they were going to do that. What were the chances they would just be allowed to walk out? And what of the Pact, and the Horizon? The Shade had brought them here to kill this woman, his mother, and it was unlikely he’d much appreciate them walking out again having failed to do that. But how he was supposed to handle this half-addled himself was not immediately coming to him.

"Of course," the Webspinner continued, "there is no guarantee you will reach any of these things at all. There is no guarantee you will ever leave my halls, in fact. If you are to do so, it would be together, but I see that the web that binds you has weaknessess..."

She strode forward on dozens of legs, two of which reached out, one snaking around Drayk's midsection, the other around Adrienne. "These two share a bond as vital as their own heartbeats, these false children. Their joy is the greatest thing they have known, and yet their fear is just as powerful. If one falls, the other will follow. He wonders what he would become if he lost her. He would be nothing but the insidious nature within him. He would give in to it, and become as I am, a ruined vessel, of grief and power in equal measure. He fears this."

Drayk glared as well as he could at the Webspinner, but she spoke truly. It wasn't so hard to fathom. Any of the Sellswords would be racked by despair if one of them fell, but he knew he could not bear to lose Adrienne specifically. He would give up if that happened, allow himself to be lost to his power, forget all of this that had happened to him. That was the reason why he couldn't let it happen.

Adrienne swallowed thickly. She wasn’t sure she had anything to say to that. If Dom died, well… it was a possibility she didn’t care to contemplate. She would die, too. That was simply the end of it, and the rest was tormenting herself with hypotheticals, with might-bes and wherefores. It wasn’t going to achieve anything. Even knowing that didn’t help the lurching feeling of an irregular heartbeat and a choking uncertainty. Was she strong enough, to survive all of this, when her loss would be his as well? It placed a value on her life that she’d never expected there to be. She’d always just been… a tool. For her own ambitions, or someone else’s, channeled through her, taught her from the cradle. Tools were disposable. Valuable, sometimes, but disposable. They all broke with time, and she’d known that, always. She’d known it when she’d chosen to be one. But she couldn’t break him. She wouldn’t.

The Webspinner released the pair of Sellswords, moving then to Anirne, dozens of eyes looking up at where she hung before the spider. "You are among those that are not the false children. You... you would seek to mother them. You need these threads, you feel. To replace the bonds that were cut, that were split upon your ruin. And you wonder how you will have to leave, not if you will have to leave. Can you watch the children fall? Perhaps it would be best never to have them at all..."

Anirne, for once bereft of her stoic silence, gave the Webspinner a stricken look, as though she’d suddenly grown an extra head, perhaps one that resembled somebody dear. How could she possibly know…? But that was the wrong question, wasn’t it? The real question was why she still couldn’t get over it, the fact that she could not have something she’d never really even wanted. Why did it seem like such a keen loss, still? Was she ruined? Perhaps by this woman’s standard, she was, and considering what the Webspinner was, that was a rather grim pronouncement on her condition indeed. Her arm sought reflexively to move to shield herself, or that vital part of herself that would never work again, but the webbing prevented it, and the altmer woman made a small, almost unconscious noise of frustration.

It was true. What in her life hadn’t she left? What hadn’t she ruined, somehow? When and how would she leave this, too? Would it be to naught but smoking embers, as she’d left everything else? She could say nothing to defend herself, only shake her head, as if trying to clear it of the traitorous thoughts.

She moved back and away, sliding sideways over spider holes to stop before Sinderion, sighing as if weary upon reaching him. "The doubt in you is almost overwhelming, child. You find certainty in defending those you love, but at what cost to yourself, you wonder? And this false child wonders about his parent. Where the younger one sees only the life that was saved, that happiness that was brought as a result of action, you see the inaction, the omissions that spanned years of your life, and you wonder, if ever so slightly, that the one you go so far to save is not worth saving at all." A dozen eyes narrowed at Sinder, as if drinking more of it in.

"And there is yet more. The webs between you and the witch have changed greatly over a short period of time, and you begin to wonder about this. Suspicion where you wish there was trust, a fear that you are being pushed into something that is not truly of your will, that she desires the beast, and not the man who fights against it. You wish to know, this I can see, but do you wish me to tell you?"

The accuracy of the words might have been painful enough on its own, but Sinderion was an intensely private person, and to have all the little tendrils of doubt that he harbored somewhere close to his heart so exposed absolutely lanced him, as though impaled with one of Adrienne’s ice spikes. He swallowed several times, trying to force down the bile that rose in the back of his throat. He hadn’t wanted the others to know that he doubted the Mentor, even a little, and certainly did not wish Maya to discover in this way that he doubted her. Even if he did. He’d only just accepted it himself, growing weary with the constant efforts of keeping his doubts at bay. In this, they were even stronger than his violence, his all-consuming need to hunt, and for all that less useful.

He stared straight ahead, unwilling or unable to meet anyone’s eyes. “You may know it,” he replied, “but it is not for you to say. Truth or lies, I don’t want to hear it from you.” Part of him desperately, frantically wanted to know, and would have taken her up on the offer, just to put his reservations to rest once and for all, either way, but that part was thankfully comparatively silent in him. Must he always be in parts and pieces? Would he never just be free to feel something wholly? Without reserve? He couldn’t remember the last time he had.

"If she has not given it truly by now, will she ever give it truly at all?" the Webspinner wondered. "If the truth was not harmful, there would be no reason for it to hide." She lowered her head and moved away. Sinderion scowled, but did not reply.

"And you," she said, shifting over to stand before Soren, "you confound some of the others as to why you remain. You have come to a place few mortals dare to tread, and you have done so with little thought of personal reward. The false children care nothing for gold and glory, and you will find none of this traveling with them, but you find this acceptable. You find yourself returning simply because... you have been through something with them now. You have stepped into something so far beyond you, and you find your skills to be a great asset to them."

She leaned in slightly closer, as if to examine his face better, but her human eyes remained closed all the same. "But you cut apart the threads even as you attempt to spin them. It is the severing you fear, and so you seek to never allow yourself to be bound to them in the first place. Perhaps you do not realize that this has already occurred, whether you wish it or not..."

A brief scowl flickered over Soren’s face, but it morphed into a too-wide grin, flashing a straight row of teeth. “Never was too big a fan of spoiling the tale, lady, but go ahead if you want to. Maybe they’ll believe it coming from you. Maybe I will, even. But don’t count on it.” The severing, was it? Oh yes, he hated the severing. Hated it with black arrows and years of his life dedicated to vengeance, because that was better, easier, cleaner than growing attached to something else. If there was one thing his fuck-up of a father had ever taught him, it was that love and regard were weaknesses, to be avoided at all costs. He was right, but everyone slipped up sometimes, Soren more often than he might have liked. It was… nice, feeling useful and part of something more than just himself. But he could only give himself a facsimile of that, because the severing was too much for a second effort. To say nothing of what came after.

"Your very body is a monument to your disregard for your own life," the Webspinner said once she'd moved in front of Vanryth. "You have already thrown it away in defense of this family you have earned, but you feel such pain now. You lose parts of yourself with every battle, every wound taken on behalf of an ally. What happens when your body is not enough? When one of them falls solely because you are too weak, too slow, to spare them the pain, that you might take it unto yourself? Will you still carry on when one of them is dead and you, by some cruel miracle, are still alive?"

Vanryth merely stared at her with tired eyes. Who was she to tell him something he already knew. The battles, the game, they were taking their toll not only on him, but all of them. He had taken in their pain for himself, to save them from, as he would do time and time again until he was nothing. That was it wasn't it? He'd wear his own body out so that theirs may be in one piece. They were still young, they still had a chance at a facsimile of happiness. It was simple. He wouldn't have to carry on, because he would die before any of the others. It wasn't even a question in his mind, he would trade his life away for one of theirs if it ever came to that, without hesitation, without regrets.

The Webspinner came before Lynly next. "You came to join this group with greed in your heart, and this you regret, but you no longer feel you carry it. You sought personal glory, a great story you might write about yourself someday, but you've seen their plight, and become a part of it. There are so few threads that bind you to them, and yet you remain, to test the waters they insist on wading into. They are a family you can never be a part of, so tight are their bonds. You ask yourself what it is truly that you seek now, if not your own glory?"

Lynly stuck her jaw out in defiance, but said nothing for a time. While whatever drivel dripped out of her mouth may have been true, that did not mean the words were fit for her tongue. She was talking about what Lynly felt inside, and she had no right to put them to words. True, she began this journey for glory. It was also true that nothing kept her tied to them, not like they were tied to each other. She was just there like a leech, claiming their travels for her own. Questions of her own would bubble to the surface in time, but now, she would not give this spider the satisfaction of her own self-doubt. "I stay because I must," She said steadily, evenly.

Last of all she stopped before Maya, who glared unblinkingly at her. "To respect the wishes of your greatest bond here, I will refrain from speaking of all of your thoughts, that you might deliver them yourself. There are others I might choose from."

"Like the other, you fear the ties being formed, even though you know you need them to stay among the living. You doubt them, each and every one, and the uncertainty that comes with the end of this Game. You fear that something will turn them against you, and so you inevitably prepare for that day, the day in which it will be clear what their eventual choice will be. You seek power with a ravenous hunger, that you might become strong enough to survive on your own, that you need not fear the pain of betrayal or the sting and grief of loss."

She reached out and touched Maya's cheek with the palm of her hand, looking away with her eyes still closed. "You know where to look for what you seek, child. Now you simply wonder if you have the will to use what you will learn, and the doubt that any of it will truly be worth it. But I will keep you from the pain of these futures if I can. In death, you will know no suffering."

She moved back, turning to the group at large. "The bonds among you are strong, but between individuals they are but threads, or not yet built entirely. What happens when you are faced with building these webs, or perishing? When tested, will you bond, or break?" The spiders holding them from the ceiling shifted at the Webspinner's gesture, holding the group in pairs over separate holes below them.

"Into the tunnels you will go. If you falter, you will die. Subdue the witch only." And their threads were cut. Drayk and Anirne fell into one, Soren and Adrienne into a second, Sinderion and Lynly into another, and Vanryth and Maya into the last.

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Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson
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When Soren was dropped, he did not waste time rolling around inside a web. Though the incline carried him down with a certain inexorability, he focused on the knife in his hand, mostly on cutting, but also partially on not injuring himself when he rolled over that side. He was about halfway down before he managed to roll right out of the stuff, though he was glad the girl had preceded him down, else the time it took him to regain his balance might well have resulted in a collision. The rest of the way forward, he was forced to duck his head and run at a controlled pace down the incline.

He heard the youngest Sellsword come at last to a halt in front of him, and he did as well, casting magelight over his own head with a muttered word. Soren had never much cared for magic that wasn’t of the illusive variety, but he was not the kind of man who failed to learn something both simple and useful when the opportunity was presented. The dim glow lit the cavern, illuminating his fellow unfortunate and not much else. He swore he could see… things, scuttling about on the very edges of the spell, where light met darkness. Spiders, no doubt, though the real thing was yet to come.

Adjusting his grip on the knife, he ignored how eerily silent it was and crouched beside Adrienne. “Well now, gorgeous, here we are at the end of the line, so to speak. Take care not to twitch, please, I would hate to slice that pretty face of yours by accident.” He doubted she’d be stupid enough to jeopardize her own safety like that, but fear did strange things to people, and it wasn’t like he knew what she was afraid of. Maybe spiders and dank caves were just the ticket to uncomfortable levels of panic. If so, she’d been hiding it well thus far.

With some work, he cut open a slit in her cocoon and peeled the top part away, sheathing the sticky knife after wiping it on his trousers and drawing his bow instead. “Now… let’s see. If you were a giant, incredibly-disgusting Daedric spider priestess, where would you be hiding right now?”

The fall was not easy on her person, but admittedly, it was worse on her psyche. At first, there was the weightless sensation of falling, and it was only after the fear of landing poorly set in that she did, in fact, land poorly, taking most of her weight on her shoulder. Her roll downwards was uneven and unpleasant, especially each new time she had to bear the pressure of gravity and her body weight pressing into what would doubtless be a pretty bad bruise tomorrow.

…if she made it to tomorrow.

But those were not thoughts to be having here and now, as they would simply make an untimely end more likely, and that was not something she wanted or needed at the moment. She was pretty sure she heard a wet slicing sound, but it was hard to tell over the sounds of her own passage. She arrived at the end a little worse for the wear but whole, and was trying to figure out just how she was going to remove herself from this predicament when at least part of the problem appeared to be solved. A magelight appeared overhead, and with it, the sharp, narrow features of Soren. At this point, she could have done without the quips, but she wasn’t going to hold something that minor against someone who was helping her, and besides, it was something a little more normal than dank, dark caves and too-perfect silence.

So she decided to go with it. “Can’t say I’d like it much, either,” she confessed mildly, but she held still, clambering to her feet when he freed her from the sticky webbing. His second question may even have produced a half-smile, but it disappeared when the light caught something strange. Adrienne was opening her mouth to point this out when, what seemed impossibly quickly, a spider sister darted within the range of their magelight, a slender sword in one hand and a short knife in the other. This, she threw, aiming squarely for the larger target’s chest, then readied her blade and lunged for the weaker one.

Adrienne could not raise her own to parry in time, and it was half-drawn only when the blade raked across her arm, tearing easily through the fabric of her sleeve and finding flesh. It hurt, but of more concern was the numbness she could immediately feel spreading through her dominant arm. “Poison,” she called to Soren. “If you want to be able to draw that, don’t get hit!”

He was rather surprised the spider sister hadn’t thrown the knife from the darkness. Small favors, perhaps, and the sniper threw himself to the side, tucking himself into a tight roll and springing back onto the balls of his feet even as his companion shouted a warning. “Well, nothing goes with darkness and doom quite like total-body paralysis,” he muttered, more to himself than Adrienne. Of course, the fool spider had made the mistake of simply assuming that her attack was going to hit, and now that it hadn’t and she was occupied with the girl, he was free to retaliate.

Drawing back his bowstring, Soren sighted down the shaft of an arrow in the dim light, aiming for the sword-arm that threatened to slash again at the slight woman struggling to defend herself. He released, and the projectile struck, burying its steel point in the priestess’s bicep. Unfortunately, she had a lot more limbs to strike with than most things, and with a cry, she abandoned her assault on the girl for the moment and scuttled forward, switching her grip on her sword to the other hand and lashing out at him with two of her frontmost legs.

The mercenary avoided one, but the other caught him on the backswing, finding a gap in the hardened leather that protected his torso and digging into his side with a clawed end. Hissing like a cornered cat, he was forced to fight closer than he would have preferred, drawing the length of Imperial steel at his side in just enough time to parry the next leg that came at him. “I do believe this is the part where you think of some way to take advantage of my brilliant distraction tactics,” he informed Adrienne in a tone half-sardonic, half-waspish. Apparently, their claws were poisoned as well, and he didn’t particularly enjoy the feeling of his left side numbing over. Hacking at a leg, he grinned when the blade bit through the carapace with the strength of the blow, half-severing the appendage at its first joint. Minus that poison, these things really weren’t all that good up-close.

Her dominant arm hanging uselessly at her side, Adrienne faced a choice: let the nonlethal poison run its course, fight without the arm, and use the advantage Soren was presenting her with, or down an antivenin and hope that the wound itself wouldn’t be distractingly painful. She’d also have to count on Soren being able to fend off the creature’s many legs for an extended period of time while she did that. Both were viable, though he’d made his own opinion on the matter quite known. She had the sense, though, that he griped more from the fact that he enjoyed complaining more than any inability to handle whatever she would choose.

When the second spider appeared behind him, however, her choice was made. Letting her arm hang there, the young woman summoned the ice to her hands with a speed usually more associated with lightning, and launched the spike over the tall man’s shoulder, catching the new priestess in center mass, throwing off the incoming blow so it went wide, missing the mercenary’s back. “Looks like you’re not the only one making themselves a distraction,” she replied, smiling despite herself.

It gave her no pause, however, and that frosty projectile was followed by another and another, the first coating the sister’s weapon-arm and the other exploding near her legs, slowing her considerably. Adrienne circled to flank, then thought better of it when she remembered that there were more than two such limbs, and she could probably attack with any of them. Getting closer wasn’t really an option, and she didn’t want to wear all her magicka out just yet. “Trade you one for the other,” she offered. He would be better able to take advantage of the brittle limbs and sluggish movements of her current opponent, and his was weakened already, she could see, which meant that she could probably finish it in one good shot, at less risk of bodily harm than he had, so close to it.

Soren had laid a slash across the bare torso of his foe when the ice spike went by over his shoulder. Another man might have disliked being so close to being impaled by a flying magic bolt, but he was only amused. It crashed into a second priestess behind him, and he was perhaps even a little bit grateful. She was, in a way, just as he’d expected: fully capable of playing the game of words while playing the game of life and death. There was nothing quite so heady and enjoyable as their combination, not even the feel of moon sugar in his blood. That had always and only been a poor substitute for this. He’d learned early on his life that he craved constant challenge, unceasing activity, something to do with his mind and his body, and no other occupation met his demands as this one did. He was not one for the monk’s stillness or quietude, and nothing set him to rights the same way as blood on his sword or the satisfaction of a shot perfectly-placed.

To some, that made him irredeemable, wicked. For whom was the world’s true joy to be found in another’s death? Naught but evil men and beings in the hell-planes of Oblivion, surely. If so, then he would gladly count himself among this unsavory number, for there was no denying what he was.

He actually chuckled when she proposed her little plan, a sardonic smile tugging insistently at his lips. “Have it your way, gorgeous.” Strafing smoothly, he ducked out of range of the first, bleeding sister, and swung for the frozen one, her front legs far too slow and frosty to present much of a threat. The first one went flying, and he briefly entertained the thought of cleaving the rest off in quick succession, but torturous death was for traitors and child-killers, and nobody else. Even a man like him had some standards. So instead, his backswing removed the spider-woman’s head, and it fell to the ground with a dull thud, her body slackening and following after.

“One,” he said nonchalantly. “And I’ll count that one for you, once you’re done with it. But we’re wasting time, and sadly, I doubt we have much to spend.”

Adrienne, a far less experienced fighter than Soren, did not make it look nearly so easy. Even crippled, her opponent was a formidable one, and she ducked under the first swing of the woman’s sword and backed up, trying to avoid tripping over anything in the dark. The creature seemed intent on pressing her into close quarters, where she was at her weakest. It probably wasn’t too hard to guess, but she still tired of how everyone she met seemed to just know that of her. Gritting her teeth, she went for her belt, withdrawing a vial of acid and hurling it at the face of the woman-half, unprotected as she was. It broke on contact as it was meant to, and a wretched shrieking filled the air.

More importantly, though, it bought Adrienne the time she needed to charge the next spell, and the ice formed into a full spear this time, mercifully guided by her mind and magic rather then her hands. It entered through the very middle of the slash Soren had laid across the woman, erupting from the other side of her with quite a bit of force. It had done the job, certainly, and the creature fell still, sagging against the wall nearest, shuddering once, and then fading utterly. She was dead.

Adrienne’s hand immediately went to her arm, her fingers coming back slick with her own blood. Still, it wasn’t a lot, and that was encouraging. She’d hold off on the potions for now, since the limb was still numb enough that there was no pain, and the blood loss was not going to be fatal. There may be graver wounds to heal before they managed to find Anirne or Dom, after all. “You’re probably right,” she said, adding another pair of magelights to his. “We need to go up, but beyond that, I suppose we can only hope we’re lucky.” she grimaced—it was hardly a reassuring thought, but there was nothing else to be done. Setting her jaw, she started forward. Neither of them carried a shield, and she could no more conjure wards than she could heal wounds, so she called on her blood instead, summoning a pair of flaming familiars, each of them the shape of a large bird, and bid these fly ahead. They helped light the way, and would warn her of any incoming attacks… by taking them.

Soren snorted. "I've been called a lot of things, gorgeous, but lucky isn't one of them."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives
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The undead spider sister leading the way, Maya and Vanryth made their way up through the tunnels largely unimpeded for a while, the enemies seemingly having receded for some reason. She wondered if the others were getting hit harder by them instead, though why they'd lighten up on a few of them, but not others, was beyond her. Nothing these things did made any sense, after all. But if they wanted to give her an easy way out, she'd certainly be willing to take it.

They were just coming around a three way intersection when the twang of a bowstring briefly preceded an arrow cracking through the skull of Maya's minion, dropping it in a heartbeat and causing it to fall into ash. Maya quickly reconjured her bow into her hands and drew back the ethereal string, aiming down the hall where the arrow had come from, only to see Soren and Adrienne lit by a magelight. She released her breath, lowering the bow, before looking sadly at the pile of ash near her.

"I was starting to like that one..." she said slightly jokingly, before she realized the joke really wasn't all that funny, considering what the Webspinner had said to her. That put a sour note on the whole thing, didn't it? "You two fare alright?"

Soren and Adrienne had needed to fight their way through about a half-dozen more of the spiders, though those kills had been relatively clean in comparison, with the magelight considerably narrowing their stealth capabilities and his eyes able to pick out the real from the erratically-moving shadows. Still, there was no mistaking that both of them were somewhat worse for the wear. He treaded in front, figuring that they were more likely to encounter something in that direction than from behind, leaving the Sellsword to make sure nothing dropped in on them from behind or above.

When he caught sight of one of the spider sisters rounding a corner, therefore, he didn’t bother to stop and ask questions first—he just fired, the shot landing dead-center of her forehead. He was prepared for more of the same, but what followed her around the corner was not more of her sisters, but the witch and the mute. Funny, he never thought he’d be pleased to see the tongueless wonder, but there it was. He didn’t replace his bow on his shoulder, but he did amble over to remove his arrow from the pile of ash. Undead servitor, it seemed. Shrugging, he twirled the arrow back into his quiver. “Sorry, beautiful, didn’t mean to kill your pet. Well, actually I did, so I guess you’ll just have to find it in your heart to forgive me.” He glanced back at Adrienne for a moment, then shrugged again.

“We’re alive, aren’t we? Seems all right enough to me.” Given the way this path intersected, it looked like there was only one route that none of them had yet tread, and it might be the closest thing they had to a way out.

Adrienne had tensed like Soren’s bowstring when he fired the arrow, a spell halfway to her hand before she recognized that they stood not in the presence of enemies, but allies. Thank the gods for that—she’d had no idea what had become of them. Smiling wanly at Maya, the youngest Sellsword made her way over to the oldest while Soren and the witch exchanged quips. She managed to grow her smile a bit as she reached Van’s side, wrapping her arms around him for just a second, then stepping back to sign. It’s good to see you. They didn’t have time to dawdle, however, and she knew that, so she faced the other two, then, expecting that one of them would probably be more suited to lead the quartet forward than she was.

Vanryth had actually managed to chuckle at the turn of events. Sure, the loss of the spider thrall was unfortunate, but finding some more of their allies-- especially Adrienne-- in one piece elevated his mood a bit. It was a fair trade off in his mind, a spider thrall for the archer and Adrienne. He returned the hug, and replied to her with his own sign, And you. Now with a little bit more heart, that only left them to find the others and get out in one piece-- as if anything was that easy for them. Thus far, things seemed to be going rather okay, considering, but that wasn't bound to last. They were never that fortunate.

Considering that they weren't allowed to kill her, it seemed wisest for Maya to go first, and she felt comfortable enough doing so, now that they had Adrienne's regular magelights to illuminate the way. They moved largely unimpeded throughout the tunnels, though quite a few times unidentified noises caused them to search in vain for a source, and honestly, Maya was glad they weren't finding any. She couldn't help but feel that there was a bad reason that everything was going so well. They would soon find out.

The way up opened into a large, cavernous chamber, wide with a tall ceiling, and deep as well. The first thing to be noticed was that the ground in here was significantly more mushy than elsewhere, and Maya felt her moccasins sink a few inches into some unidentifiable muck beneath her. Ignoring that, however, what was more alarming was what Adrienne's magelight revealed, and that was the eggs. The cavern was filled with them, hundreds of them, all the way to the back of the chamber, where their only exit appeared. No other routes out of the room presented themselves. They would have to go through in order to go up, and out. The eggs themselves were large, just above knee-height, and quite round, not the usual oval shape of an egg, but slightly more spherical. Worse, most of them were quivering slightly, the brood inside them clearly close to matured, and ready to hatch. Maya turned slowly to face the others.

"Best move carefully. We don't want to awaken their... oh. Ah." Her eyes had drifted upwards after turning around, to the wall above the entrance where they had come in. On the wall was likely the largest frostbite spider in Skyrim, and clearly the mother of all these children. Her eyes narrowed on the intruders in her den, before she took slow steps down, her venom dripping from her fangs. "Move," Maya hissed urgently as the spider leapt entirely from the wall, all eight legs landing deftly among the eggs without breaking a one of them. The witch had been forced to dive entirely out of the way, knocking over and heavily denting one. At that, the frostbite queen shrieked in anger, and all of the eggs started quivering much more violently.

Many began to hatch, with gooey spiders the size of large dogs crawling out of them. Even right out of the egg, they were of the same mind as their mother: kill the intruders. Maya wondered if the rules of the Game would protect her from these things. Most likely not.

“Remind me when we get out of here that no amount of arrows is too many,” Soren said to nobody in particular. He’d been a few steps behind Maya, bow drawn and arrow nocked, but this situation was looking like one in which he would be of numerically-limited use. He figured his efforts were better spent on the big one than the little buggers, as frankly, a good dose of fire would be able to kill them en masse. Their mother, on the other hand… well. He’d have to see how that turned out.

Straightening, he fired the first arrow, puncturing one of the outside eyes of the frostbite spider, though naturally, it would take a fair bit more to kill something that size. Actually… “Anyone want to bet that I can’t hit all the eyes?” he asked, a half-cocked grin taking up residence on his face as though it belonged there. Really, though, if you couldn’t see the fun in this sort of thing, you were in for a hell of a lot of misery, and he didn’t really want that for himself. The Sellswords were miserable enough on their own without him being mopey, too.

As soon as his second shot was off, so was he, Soren peeling off to one side and away from the majority of the hatching monsters. Maybe the dunmer would be able to set fire to a broad swath of the things, as he doubted Adrienne’s ice would be much use here. They weren’t called frostbite spiders for nothing, after all.

“No bet,” Adrienne replied, though honestly she was more busy trying to figure out just what she was supposed to do than really paying attention. It was enough that she’d seen him shoot before—the man didn’t seem to know how to miss. If he wanted to blind an eight-eyed spider, well… she supposed a blind spider would be easier to deal with than one that could see. Maybe.

Her most instinctual magic was not going to help here here, so she summoned her familiars instead, the twin birds taking wing and diving in and out amongst the smaller spiders, the flames that lit their bodies occasionally catching here and there. More than anything, though, they were additional targets, and that was going to be important when they were so overwhelmed. She had only the most basic of fire spells in her repertoire, but it was going to be more effective at the moment than all the advanced ice magic she could muster. Even if it did feel contrary to her nature and uncomfortable by this point.

Hesitantly, she called the magic to her fingertips, tightening her grip on her sword in her other hand. She didn’t have anything that would really do much to the big one, so she decided to focus on a wing of the spawn, releasing the steady stream of flame from her palm and swinging the slender blade down to stab into anything that looked like it still had fight after catching on fire.

Ah, now this was more along the lines of what he was expecting, a mother frostbite spider and her brood. Because the day was threatening to relent on them. Still there was no time to curse his luck, for all the good that's ever done him. He ignited both hands into flames spells, opting to aid Adrienne in her pest control. He let loose a steady gout of flame and moved his hands the full 180 degrees in front of him, burning a large swarth of the spiderlings. Vanryth figured that if he kept burning at her children, then mother would turn on him sooner or later, but decided to cross (or burn) that bridge when he came to it. Until then, he was going to make sure he immolated as many of the tiny bastards as he could. It wouldn't do to have them nipping at their heels the entire fight.

As soon as Maya got to her feet there was a slimy spiderling flying towards her face, having performed a rather remarkable leap off of the ground. She tossed a mean lightning bolt its direction, and it quite completely exploded, goo and slime and guts going every which way, spattering her as well. She was tempted to groan her displeasure, but there really wasn't time for that right now. She conjured her bow back up, which conveniently was not capable of running out of arrows, considering that she could just conjure more.

"Do you want any help with that?" she tossed Soren's way, quite seriously, as she put a pair of arrows into the big spider's abdomen. Blinding the spider was probably the best idea they had as far as getting around her fangs and legs went, but bleeding her from a couple dozen arrows couldn't hurt, either. The spiderlings natural inclination seemed to be to wisely run from the fire, thus attempting to swarm Maya and Soren rather than burn at the hands of Adrienne and Vanryth, and while the mother spider was currently barreling down on the one who had put out one of her eyes, if the others killed more of the little ones, she'd likely change her mind.

One of the small ones jumped onto Maya's back as she was turned towards the queen, and while these ones didn't have any venom quite yet, they still had teeth, and this bit down where her shoulder met her neck on the right. She grimaced, dropping the bow and using both hands to pull the spider free and throw it to the floor, blasting it with another bolt of lightning and blowing little spider chunks everywhere. Discarding the idea of the bow, unless Soren wanted help with the eyes, she charged a spell in each hand, and moved deeper into the cavern, her feet straining for purchase in the muck. Staying in one place would only get them overwhelmed.

“Not if you can keep the small ones off me,” he replied, and though there was obvious levity to his tones, he was just as serious about it as she was. The fire seemed to be chasing the dog-sized insects away from those who wielded it, leaving them to attack Maya and himself in their haste to get away. He had bigger problems, however, and let off two arrows at once, watching them thunk into adjacent eyes, which was not enough to stop the big one’s forward progress, towards him. So it was with a smirk and a mocking salute that the archer rendered himself invisible, pulling a triplicate of arrows from his quiver and padding softly over the squishy ground to the dunmer.

“Got a light?” he asked, winking back into visibility at Van’s side and holding the arrowheads out in fan-formation. “I think burning punctured eye sockets are a little more fun than ordinary punctured eye sockets; how about you?” Almost casually, he drew back one of his legs and kicked—hard—at a smaller spider that was trying to duck under the older man’s magic to get at his feet.

Adrienne was having some moderate success catching spiders on fire, but it was nothing extraordinary, and frankly had they been trying to swarm her instead of Maya and Soren, she would have had a problem. Which of course meant she did have a problem when he demonstrated a trick she hadn’t seen since they fought the Bloody Curse and rendered himself invisible. With its target gone, the large spider turned to those who had been killing its young, or in this case, herself.

It moved entirely too fast for a creature of its size, Adrienne thought, though after that she was doing more reacting than thinking, throwing herself to the side and out of the spider’s trajectory. She landed with an uncomfortable ‘oomph’ on a pile of eggs, cracking several, and these were not nearly so ready to hatch as their brethren. Her hands, arms, and midsection came away covered in something slimy, though at least it didn’t seem to smell like anything… to her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what Sinderion would be able to tell her of it.

But the thought of her friends reminded her why she was here at all, And Adrienne steeled herself, throwing a small ball of fire at the spider more in hopes of irritating it enough to keep it from turning on the other three than anything else. She wasn’t much of a fighter at close range, but she was quick enough, she hoped. If she could just keep it busy until Soren could do whatever he was planning, they’d be… well, she wanted to say okay, but honestly was unsure of the truth of it.

Vanryth bit off the groan induced by the pun, but otherwise heeded the words of the Archer. Flaming arrows should do much more damage than regular arrows, or at the very least piss it off a little bit more. Because that's exactly what they needed to do right now, was to make it angrier. Either way, chances were the thing was going to be mad at the end of the day. With his stint as the archer's light concluded, Vanryth strode forward, flames still barreling out of his hands. He moved in Adrienne's direction, hoping to add his strength to hers so that she wouldn't have to garner the attention of the spiders all by her lonesome. To further drive home the point, he kicked unbroken eggs on his way, covering the offending foot in fluid he didn't care much to think about. It wouldn't be long before his magicka reserves were rendered empty.

“Excellent,” Soren murmured, quite pleased with his trio of flaming projectiles. Turning his bow so that it was mostly parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular, he nocked all three simultaneously and focused on the massive spider, currently distracted by Adrienne’s fire. Drawing back, he released with a musical twang and a slap as the string smacked into his wrist guard. His satisfaction with the shot manifested as a tight little smirk on his lips, and Soren disappeared again even as the three arrows thudded, one after another, into three adjacent eye sockets. It was entirely left-side blind now, and it wouldn’t be too many more eyes before the right side followed.

By this point, he could light more arrows on fire just by using one of the many burning patches now scattered around the area, the handiwork of the mages among them. He’d never considered himself as such—a mage was someone who burned or froze or healed or what-have-you. But he was an illusionist of some talent, and there were times when it didn’t matter if something was real or not. Reaching deeper into the wellspring of his magicka than he usually bothered, he formed it into a Call to Arms spell—something between cruel and kind, perhaps like hope itself. It would make them stronger, faster and more skilled than they really were, by convincing them of its own truth. The coming down from that was always hard, but he was more concerned with surviving the next few minutes.

Aiming the spell for Maya, Van, and Adrienne, he released it with a whisper of sound and grabbed another arrow from his quiver, holding it to a burning heap of eggs near him and waiting for it to ignite. He still had an eye or two to put out, after all.

The spell had such an effect on Maya as to make the spiderlings seem utterly inferior in every single way, and honestly a waste of Maya's valuable time. It was starting to make her quite angry, actually, and so she uttered harsh words with every lightning bolt from her palms that spattered spider-bits all over the place. "You--little--shits--aren't--even--worth--resur--recting!" An eyeball from the closest one had the bad fortune of flying up and hitting her near the mouth, and the witch tried to ignore how utterly covered in absolutely disgusting filth she had become.

Eventually the spiderlings seemed to actually take the hint, and they scurried off elsewhere, leaving Maya with an opportunity to make an attack on the mother. She banished the lightning from her hands and called forth a single dagger instead, propelling herself towards the spider's abdomen. The mother had just about arrived on Adrienne when Maya struck it from behind, leaping full-on onto the abdomen, plunging the dagger as high as she could get it and letting her weight carry her down, slicing a large rend in its side that spewed all manner of entrails on the already mucky floors of the cave. Maya fell on her rear with a wet thud when the attack ran its course, and the spider staggered sideways in pain, halting its attack on Adrienne long enough for her and the others to land blows of their own, and hopefully finish this thing off. Maya couldn't be rid of this place soon enough.

In tandem with the brutal hit Maya delivered, Soren made good on a tacit promise, and two final arrows, both alight with fire, found homes in the frostbite spider’s eyes, rending it entirely blind in addition to crippled by what amounted to a disembowelment of gargantuan proportions. He had to admit, the woman had style. “I do believe this thing could use a funeral pyre…” he said offhandedly, glancing at Van. “Since the sparky one isn’t here, perhaps you’d do the honors?” That was directed at Van. Technically, the creature wasn’t quite dead yet, but another shot of something flaming and dangerous would probably do the trick.

A grunt was his only answer, as it was the only answer Vanryth could give. He then walked forward, igniting a fireball and charging en route. His step quicked until he felt there was enough distance closed between the elf and the spider. He certainly didn't want to risk getting his by one of her flailing legs if he could help. He stopped, sliding a distance in the muck before loosing the fireball. He followed it with another from the other hand, though that one was just an extra measure. Better to have two and not need one than to have one and need two. Both fireballs slammed into the things face, further igniting it and sealing it's fate in a fiery explosion. It reared back, its legs flailing wildly before pulling into themselves and stiffening, where it fell onto its back-- dead. With the deed done, he nodded and exhaled, happy that the ordeal was over with.

Maya scrambled away from the flaming corpse of the frostbite spider queen. Thankfully, the last of the little ones scurried away when the mother was slaugthered. Now that she thought about it, she was certain the spider priestesses used this room, and these spiders, for something, but now that she thought about, she really didn't want to know what that was. She pushed herself to her feet, making a hopeless effort to rid herself of the filth she was covered in. A bath was definitely in order for all of them, very soon. "The way through is in the back. Let's get the hell out of here."

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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Drayk had thought to feel relieved upon seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, but all they found at the end was the Shade.

He was immediately put on guard by the fact that Tarquin had shifted into the true form of a vampire lord since the time they last saw him, and they found him sitting upon a rock just inside the mouth of the cave, eyes watchfully scanning their surroundings. He turned his head to take note of the approaching foursome, before looking back out into the wild. "Just the four of you?" he asked, masking any emotions. Drayk frowned worriedly. "You haven't seen the others?" Tarquin shook his head, at which point Drayk immediately turned back towards the tunnel and began making his way in. He certainly wasn't leaving them inside, not any of them. He couldn't do what he had to if he had doubts, and not knowing the whereabouts of those he felt closest to was the best way to put doubt in him now.

He'd no sooner gone ten steps, however, than a rather foul stench, and not one that pervaded the rest of the tunnels, filled his nostrils, and he looked up to see Adrienne, Vanryth, Soren and the witch coming up to greet them, all of them spattered or covered in a mix of unidentifiable fluids, entrails, and muck. Disgusted as he probably should have been, all he could feel was relief, that all of them had made it. He quickened to a jog until he reached them, stopping to give Adrienne a brief hug before he quickly checked her over for injuries, doing the same for the others afterwards. He himself was dusted at this point by ash, the remains of what charred webbings had remained on him, but they were all so filthy at this point it didn't really matter. What mattered was their health, but they all seemed to still have it, so Drayk breathed slightly easier. He clapped Vanryth briefly on the shoulder before accompanying them back to the mouth of the cave.

Maya did not hide her relief at seeing Sinder and the others in one piece, but words for them would have to wait. As much as she wanted to leave, their job here was not yet done. They'd learned the Mentor's location for the Sellswords, but they'd also learned that finding him was now tied up in ending this Game, which meant they had just as much reason to want all but one of the Representatives dead as she did. At least two of them could die here and now, if things worked out for them. She approached Tarquin, still making a conscious effort to ignore her filthy state, as well as trying to stay calm despite the man's current vampiric state. "Anything happened out here?"

"Nothing moves within sight," Tarquin replied softly, "but our enemies are still here. She's patient, this one. She will not strike until she knows she has the upper hand, and she's attempting to force us to give it to her. You all spoke with the Webspinner, I'm assuming? Did you learn my father's location?"

“You could say that,” Soren replied, shaking his head. His hair was plastered uncomfortably to the back of his neck with an unknown quantity of that viscous gunk, and he peeled the tail away from his person with a vaguely-disgusted look. It was all somewhat rank, but nowhere was worse than where it touched bare skin. Still, it could be worse. At least he wasn’t sticky with his own blood. “Though honestly I’m not sure if Coldharbor’s more a place or a state of mind, if you take my meaning.” For this Mentor of theirs, it was probably both, honestly.

His eyes certainly took their time adjusting to the light, even though it was dimmer out than it had been when they went in. Had it been so many hours? Time was a slippery thing, definitely moreso in caverns where one could not see the sun. He glanced around, noting that everyone seemed to be present and accounted for, if a little worse for the wear. “Would you look at that? We’re not even dead yet…” Contrary to his usual sarcasm and dripping disregard, he actually sounded faintly surprised, and there might have even been a note of genuine pleasure in it, if only a very small one. He’d rather expected some casualties from an endeavor like that. Then again… they weren’t done yet.

Upon emerging from the cave, Sinder took stock of everyone else, noting with relief that the other four had made it through, despite lacking a healer between them. He’d been worried about that, when he and Lynly found Anirne and Drayk together. Not that having them both had done him a whole lot of good; it was obvious in the lighting that his boots were badly scorched, and his trousers had evident smoke-stains on them, though of course, this was but a hint of the now-blistering burns on his legs. Satisfied that nobody else needed help any more than he did, he shot a silent look at his sister, and nodded subtly down at his feet. She’d get the hint—at least, he hoped she would. He did not desire to spell it out in the hearing of everyone. He had made his own choice, and he’d make the same one again. Nobody else needed to worry about that.

He inhaled deeply, and his brows abruptly drew together. He glanced over at Maya, but found himself unable to look at her for long, and his eyes slid to Tarquin. He could maintain his silence if he wished, and that might be for the better, in the long run, but… he found it was not in him to do it. The man had saved his friends, and that deserved something in return. “The Feral is near,” he said quietly, scanning the area outside of the cave opening.

"Wouldn't seem right to exclude him from the day's events," Lynly deadpanned, running a hand through her sweatstained hair. What little remained of her braids framing her face were broken with the hand, giving her a more battleworn visage. Though if she was tired, she didn't show it. Adrenaline was still pumping through her veins, and she'd need every last drop before the day was done. The Pact, the Horizon, the Shade, the Feral, and the Webspinner, and certainly not least of all-- the Sellswords-- all in one place. It was a powderkeg, waiting to explode. She'd be lying to herself if she didn't admit she was curious to how it would all play out. Bloodily, if she had her guess.

The Shade frowned upon hearing of Coldharbor, though if he was surprised, he did very well to hide it. Nodding, he stood. "I suspected he might come to this place. Another vulture, it seems. We've only one way to flush them out." His eyes flickered towards Drayk, who didn't seem surprised the attention was turned on him.

Adrienne had leaned heavily against Drayk for a moment, more from relief than any need to support her balance, but drew back when she realized she was still covered in muck and had no desire to plaster him with it. He smelled like ash, which wasn’t really surprising, considering. That might be somewhere on her, too, considering the recent bout with the giant spider. She was pretty sure she’d never appreciated fresh air quite this much before, and there was no mistake that she dreaded going down there again, but she would have to.

“What advantage is she waiting for that she could possibly hold over her target?” she asked of Tarquin. “Those tunnels are… unmistakably the Webspinner's, and she doesn’t lack for servants. She has plenty of advantages over us...” The girl spread her arms out to either side, indicating their collective state. It didn’t get much more haggard-looking than the Sellswords were at the moment. In fact, away from the source of the Webspinner’s strength, if Adrienne were the Pact, she would have attacked now, save for the presence of the fully-transformed Shade. Killing Maya now would put her in his direct line of fire. But did she know that?

But in the end she sighed. They really didn’t have much choice but to deal with the problems as they arose—planning in a situation this volatile just wasn’t going to work. It made her feel worse than useless; her mind really was her best quality, and she couldn’t put it to that much good use with so many variables floating around in the situation. She almost wanted to laugh when Sinder told them that the Feral was also around, except that there was nothing even remotely funny about it. It was just so fitting, that they’d never find even the smallest of mercies, and have to fight for every inch they took. And now it seemed they would be relying on Dom to burn everyone out of the tunnel network. She did not make an effort to hide her apprehension at that.

Anirne almost managed a smile at the reappearance of the rest of the group, but the Webspinner’s words were still bothering her. She’d been right, of course—the Psijic had always felt that she would have to leave them eventually, but it had been something she could dismiss, a thought she could lock away and allow to fester beneath her notice for as long as possible. Now it was free, and wreaking havoc on the organized neatness and tranquility of her thoughts. She noted Sinder’s glance, and though she raised a brow in slight confusion, she complied with the unspoken request and lit a healing spell, directing it at his legs and feet. “Your mother is… astute, even in her madness,” she pointed out. “It is possible that the Pact is just as harangued by her forces as we were, if they’re underground already.” Done, she cut off the spell and straightened from her crouch beside her brother. It was perhaps too optimistic a thought for the situation, but still, it wasn’t at all without warrant.

"I don't expect that they are," the Shade speculated, glancing around at the trees, the ridgelines, the foliage, the likely hiding places. "I expect that they're out here somewhere, waiting for us to bring their prey out where she is more vulnerable." Drayk grimaced at the thought. They'd only had to face them in small numbers in the tunnel, but if he flushed them out they'd be up against the full strength of whatever remained, plus the Webspinner herself. They would have the Pact's guerillas to contend with, and to top it all off, the Horizon and the Feral seemed to be in attendance as well. Quite the battle.

"I intend to see my father again regardless of where he is, but that can't be our concern right now," the Shade said, before nodding slightly to Drayk. He hesitated for a moment. Back in the tunnels all he'd wanted to do was kill every spider inside, but now he was free of them and surrounded by friends again. The prospect of going back in wasn't the simplest one to face.

"I'm going back in," he said, as if that weren't clear by now. "I'll come back out with the Webspinner." The look in his eyes was pained when he glanced at Adrienne, knowing what they'd discussed, how he couldn't let himself do this anymore, but if there was a better option, it wasn't apparent. "No one should follow me in, no matter how long I'm gone for."

Adrienne swallowed tightly. She didn’t like this, not in the slightest, and she allowed that to play clearly over her features, refusing to hide it like she hid everything else. There was anguish of a special kind in the look she shared with Dom, but she wasn’t able to just let him go like that. Instead, she caught his arm as he moved, placing herself in front of him and standing on her toes to touch her lips to his, just briefly. “Ten minutes,” she countered, voice solemn and eyes serious. Her words were meant only for him, but she had a feeling Sinder at least would be able to hear. “We promised we’d do this together, and I meant it. If you don’t come back to me in ten minutes, then I’m going to you.” She half smiled, touching his cheek and then backing away and to the side to let him go forward again.

No, she didn’t like it at all, but she believed in him, and she wasn’t going to leave him behind.

"Pull me up again when I stumble," he said softly to her before letting her go. She only made this more difficult for him, but that was good. He didn't want this to be easy, to be painless. The pain meant that he still knew this was wrong. Leaving her behind to shamble back down in the darkness was one of the more difficult things he would do in his life, but he would still do it. He trusted them to not let him hurt anyone, to somehow bring him back to his senses when he allowed himself to lose control utterly. Only when he had first reconnected with fire had he let control go this far, that day they fought against a dragon. And he was planning to go much further, as far as he could possibly go, as it would be necessary to drive the spiders out of this hole.

Vanryth approved even less, and he didn't even try to keep it out of his face. His crossed his arms and painted a disappointed look on his face. He tolerated the fact that Drayk used fire based magic on a daily basis, for the sole reason that they needed all the help they could get. It was a necessary evil in his eyes, though what Drayk was suggesting was like prodding a sleeping giant. He had faith in the boy, more than he had in himself. He believed that one day he could gain complete control over himself. But it had to be a process, easing slowly into it. Not throwing himself headfirst in a cave ignited in a wreath of flame. Van was worried that he might lose himself in the heart of the flames. He wanted to believe that he wouldn't, that he'd come out on the other side no worse for wear. But he was a realist, the cards they were dealt was never that good.

Turning away from his friends and facing the cave, he lit a fire in his heart and a blaze in his hand, and walked in. The Shade quietly observed the entire exchange with what appeared to be an air of solemnity, but once Drayk was out of sight, he began to move slowly down the hill.

"I expect we'll want to stand back from the entrance."

After perhaps a minute, Maya conjured her bow as quietly as she could, so as not to startle anyone. It was uncomfortably quiet, the sensation of not being alone out here quite palpable. She wondered where they were hiding. They could only kill her in an act of self defense, but the rules the Princes had put forth for the Game did little to calm her nerves. A stray arrow would kill her just as dead, and she doubted how great a consolation prize someone's eternal damnation for breaking a code of conduct would be.

And the Feral was here as well. The witch noted that the sun still hung in the sky, and would for several hours yet. She wondered if the Khajiit would fare better against Tarquin this second time around, in the light of day. It certainly couldn't hurt his odds. That she found herself conflicted on desiring his death seemed strange to her. If the Feral killed him, would it not remove all doubt as to who to support from the minds of the Sellswords? Would it not ease her path to the end of this? The witch wondered why her feelings seemed to be getting the better of her lately. Recent events had made her more emotional than she thought she was capable of. She wondered how Tarquin hid it so well. Practice, no doubt. He'd certainly had enough time in his life.

The minutes passed. Five, then six, then seven. Tarquin avoided standing under the shade of any of the trees, but the sun was clearly bothering him. He'd removed the clothes from his upper body so as not to ruin them upon the transformation to this form, and the sun's rays glowed upon his mottled grey skin, and there was even the faintest hints of a black smoke rising from him, as if he were very slowly burning. She'd begun to wonder what it would feel like when the ground began to shake ever so slightly beneath their feet, barely noticeable at first, but enough to make Tarquin and Maya's eyes shoot to the mouth of the cave. "Ready yourselves," Tarquin advised, as though they hadn't had time already.

Soren backed off with the rest, shaking his head faintly at Adrienne and Drayk, though not with derision. They were pretty good kids, really… wait. Where the fuck had that come from? He must be getting sentimental this close to thirty. He wasn’t sure he was ready to be such an old man yet. Somehow, even with that utterly horrifying thought in mind, he couldn’t quite bring himself to reject the initial one. He knew his Rolf was the only reason he was even capable of having such inclinations, and he’d never blame his son for any of what he left behind. Muttering something vaguely irritable under his breath, he drew his bow again, running a hand absently along the curve of the elfin construction. Funny, that he’d actually received it from a bunch of orcs. He shrugged one shoulder to adjust his quiver over it, filled with some arrows he’d managed to scavenge, but there weren’t a lot.

He was somewhat surprised then to feel the quiver get heavier, and he glanced over his shoulder, noting with interest that the moody one had added what arrows remained to him to Soren’s stock. At the mercenary’s arched eyebrow, Sinderion shook his head. “You’re a better shot,” he said simply. Well, there was no disagreeing with him on that, but he didn’t quite have a thanks in him either, So Soren just nodded. It seemed to be enough for the elf, who drew his shortsword, now armed only with it and a bow he couldn’t use without ammunition. If it bothered him, he made no sign of it, however, settling into something of a ready stance beside the witch, who had a conjured bow of her own in one hand. It was only a matter of waiting, now.

Beside Van and Adrienne, Anirne flicked a concerned glance at Tarquin, given the smoke that was exuding subtly from him, but he seemed less concerned about it than she was, which meant that she probably shouldn’t worry about it either. Indeed, there was plenty of worrying to do without that matter on her mind as well, and she reached into her pockets, pulling free a couple vials of magicka restorative. She suspected most of them must be low on such things at the moment, but she found that she actually rarely needed them. A happy coincidence of heritage, talent, and enchanting skills saw to it that her regeneration speed was enough to see her through most anything without running dry. Vanryth was not so fortunate, and downed the potion eagerly in thanks.

Pressing one into Adrienne’s hand, she gave the other to Van, closing his fingers over it wordlessly. They were the only ones she had left, else she would perhaps have checked if Maya needed one as well. As it was, she had nothing more to give than that, and transmuted her skin to ebonyflesh, lighting a spell on one hand. In the light, it was evident that her version of the alteration spell was more literal than the average, and indeed the majority of her honey-colored skin turned a shiny black, as though ink had been spread over it. Had this situation been less… dire, there might have been a dunmer joke for Van in there somewhere, but she pushed the thought aside, trying to calm herself and attain the meditative state she preferred to enter battle in. It was not proving easy.

Next to her, Adrienne, who’d pocketed the potion, was faintly atremble, and it was not difficult for Anirne to guess that she was counting the minutes with a focus usually reserved for alchemical reactions or enchantment. It was actually vaguely disconcerting to watch, but she certainly could not blame the girl for her anxiety. It was a situation that was almost impossible for an outsider to grasp, but… she knew something of anguish. Adrienne’s sword was drawn, a white spell letting off a cold steam in her right hand. It was Vanryth who placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, and squeezed, giving her an encouraging smile. Drayk would do fine, they all would. Despite their circumstances, they were all still alive, and together. That counted for something, considering what they had seen.

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 few moments later, the Webspinner herself burst from the mouth of the cave just as the flames did. She was slightly too large to fit cleanly through the doorway, but she hit it hard enough such that chunks of rock were sent flying through the air a hundred feet away. She was airborn for a brief moment as her momentum carried her down the hill, but she soon hit the ground heavy on all her legs, shaking the ground with the force. The carapace covering her body had now extended up to envelop the womanly portion of her, hiding her from sight and from weapons, but her wail, and the screams of her spider lower half could be heard clearly.

A massive, swirling tornado of fire whipped through the air around her, with the Webspinner directly at its center. It reached out with a radius of perhaps twenty five feet, and climbed upwards into the sky above any of the trees in the area. It would be difficult to see among all the sudden chaos, but the Webspinner was the source of the flame because Drayk had somehow managed to grab onto her. He currently held a death grip where one of her rear legs met her abdomen. The Webspinner hurtled towards the stream directly ahead of her out of the cave, but in her current blindness from fire she smashed her right half into a tree. The force was enough to nearly pull the trunk out of the ground, and it was enough to dislocate Drayk from the Webspinner. They split from each other and rolled the rest of the way down the hill to the stream and the small waterfall at its end. The fire and the spider were due to blow through the line, or at least some of it, of the Sellswords waiting below.

Both Drayk and the great spider fell over the edge of the short cliff. The Webspinner splashed down into the pool at the bottom, dousing most of the immediate flames that afflicted her, but Drayk landed on the nearby shore, where he immediately rose to his feet and hurled a massive fireball into the center mass of the Webspinner, keeping the tornado twisting around him all the while. Even his eyes themselves were on fire, bright orange glowing masses replacing his former gaze. Back at the mouth of the cave a veritable horde of spider priestesses had followed the Webspinner out, some trying desperately to roll about and smother flames, others luckily unafflicted, and charging down into the light to support their lady.

Maya was forced to sprint and dive to the side to avoid the massive, flaming, rolling form of the Webspinner, else she be smothered under her weight. She scrambled quickly back to her feet and watched with no small amount of awe at both the incredible size of the creature, and the incredible power that the fire mage was displaying. The horde of spider sisters charged out behind her, and she put her first arrow through the chest of one, but there were probably a hundred of them, maybe more. And then... nothing met them. Maya snarled, shifting her position to the sides of what would soon become the battlefield, conjuring back another arrow. First, she shouted out, trying to get her voice to reach over the din. "We brought you your present, bitch! Now come out and take it!"

But nothing yet made its presence known, and so the burden of fighting the small army of spider sisters fell to the Sellswords for the moment. That would be complicated, considering that the Webspinner had just performed a impressive and intimidating leap back up to the top of the small cliff, so as to avoid any more of Drayk's fire. She moved with startling speed for something of her size and strength, stabbing out with four, five spear-tipped legs at a time, the hundred eyed spider attempting to feast on anyone who came within range. Tarquin went to work on the sisters rather than the Webspinner, cleaving through the first few of them with brutal efficiency. Maya resurrected one in his wake. They'd sorely need the help, after all.

Anirne, seeing Tarquin and Maya heading for the sisters as they both must, bit down on her lower lip and made a decision. Someone had to engage the Webspinner, and the options were somewhat limited with the Pact still out of the game, likely waiting for the Sellswords to tire so she could swoop in and clean up the remainders. It was solid strategy, which of course meant they had no way of turning it to their advantage. They would simply have to outlast… everyone else. Glancing around, she tried to pick out her most likely allies against the massive spider-woman. Maya and Tarquin could not risk killing her on accident, Soren was armed for range, and Adrienne… seemed to have temporarily disappeared.

There was no time to ascertain what had happened, and she called to the rest. “Sinder, Van, Lynly!” She jerked her head at the Webspinner. Hopefully, that was all that needed to be said on the subject, otherwise this plan would be short-lived indeed. Loping towards her, Anirne, launched the bolt of lightning in her hand, taking her staff from her back and swinging for one of the load-bearing legs at the woman’s side. Her stance was primarily defensive, though—there was simply no way this was going to be easy or quick, and she needed to keep herself and the other three in working order while they fought.

Anirne only told Lynly what she already knew. She was going after her. The Webspinner was the largest challenge presently available, and her pride wouldn't allow her to take the easy route by culling the priestesses. Besides that point, the Webspinner was the Pact's target, and since the coward bitch refused to show her face, Lynly was going to do the next best thing. She would steal her target, and when she'd managed to find enough backbone to show herself, she'd steal Maya's. The Pact would pay for locking them up with a Centurion. Sword clanged upon shield in response, stating that Lynly understood. When Anirne went for one leg, Lynly mirrored the action on the other side, swinging her shield at one of the Webspinner's many jointed legs. Meanwhile, Vanryth went between the two women, firing off a gout of flame aimed for her center. He'd see to it that he finished the job Drayk started.

Sinderion was with his sister and the others at once, and took a beeline behind Vanryth, using the cover of the fireball, and the Webspinner’s subsequent effort to, well… probably eat his friend, honestly, as an opportunity to get underneath her, ramming his shortsword into the softer underside of her abdomen and allowing the force of his dive and the extra torque from rotating his body to slice a line into her more vulnerable areas.

Her reaction was immediate, and no sooner had he landed hard on his back then a pair of her extra limbs were flying towards him, no doubt attempting to skewer him to the ground. Sinder tucked into a backwards roll, flipping his lower half up and over his head and shoulders and landing on the balls of his feet. It was enough to avoid the worst of the damage, but not all of it, and one of the legs caught him in the shoulder, puncturing cleanly through his leathers and stabbing at least a few inches deep into the flesh of his bicep. His breath hissed out from between his teeth, but there was no time to stop—more limbs were already incoming at the failure of the first pair. Thankfully, she was blind down here and he could see, and he tried a few more stabs, aware of the risk involved.

He was sadly correct, and on about the third gash, she managed to spear him right between his collarbone and the muscle that ran from his neck to his arm, pinning him to the ground. He was in serious need of a distraction, or she could take her time finding something more vital.

Anirne, seeing the Webspinner attempting to shuttle Vanryth into her jaws, dodged the spearing foot aimed for her, deciding that the limbs were not a likely avenue of attack—they were simply too well-armored. She needed to draw the woman’s ire, at least long enough for her friend to fight himself free of her grip. Pulling another attack spell from her arsenal, she flung the ice spike hard for the spider-half’s head, dancing in closer than strictly necessary to make herself a more appealing target.

It worked, and though Van was still uncomfortably close to her jaws, her attention was now riveted on the Psijic, and two legs shot straight forward for where Anirne was standing. One, she batted away with her staff, and the other skittered over her modified skin without puncturing anything.

The thought of getting eaten by an oversized and quite frankly insane spider woman was not a pleasant one by any means. Vanryth's fireball only seemed to piss her off and direct that anger directly at him. Something shiny caught the sun at one moment and then slammed into the woman's head the next, wrenching her gaping maw away from him, and instead turning its ire toward Anirne instead. Vanryth stepped backward quitely and quickly to get out of the heat and looped around toward Sinder, careful with any stray legs that might attempt to pin him down in much of the same way.

He just managed to reach his friend when a leg darted toward him out of the corner of his eye. Instead of impaling him as well though, the nordic warrior intervened, throwing her shield up and having the sharpened leg bury into the shield. Lynly then ripped upward with her sword, but instead of cutting the leg like she planned, she only swatted it out of thr iron. She grunted her displeasure and demaned that the elf, "Get him and go," swatting away another leg with her sword. She hoped that Anirne could deal with the head full of razors while she swatted at legs-- at least until Vanryth got Sinder up.

Vanryth nodded his understanding and gripped the Webspinner's leg with both hands, wrenching as hard as he possibly could, hoping to free Sinder before they all ended up dead underneath her.

Adrienne had to stumble back and out of the way also, almost knocking into Van as she did, but thankfully, the flaming Webspinner avoided contact with any of her friends, though she nearly choked on her breath when Dom went over the cliff with her. Unthinking, she ran to the edge, looking over with dismay and noting that he’d landed on the hard surface of the shore. The Webspinner looked to have displaced most of the water in the pool, but before she could reflect any further on that, the spider was making an enormous leap, and Adrienne had to roll out of the way so as not to be landed on.

Unfortunately, she was closest to the woman, and when the first of too many chitinous limbs came at her, she made a very fast, very foolish decision, and rolled herself off the cliff to escape.

The fall was perhaps fifteen or twenty feet, something that she might have been able to simply conclude in a roll if she’d accurately gauged it first. She’d had no time to do any such thing, and had simply pushed herself off on guts and against most well-meaning rationality. There were just times when you had to be brave and couldn’t think too hard about what you were doing, lest you snap out of it and convince yourself, rightly, that your actions were absurd and should not be undertaken. Now was one of those times, and she wasn’t going to let things happen that way. She couldn’t.

The water broke her fall, but it was shallow enough that her back still hit stone pretty hard. It was actually mostly a blessing that she’d fallen horizontally, else she might have broken her legs. Submerged for several seconds, Adrienne fought her way to the surface of the water and then her feet, sputtering a little, flinging her hair out of her face. There was no time to catch her breath, though: she had a fire mage to catch. Stepping out of the water and onto solid ground, Adrienne went with the most slapdash plan she’d ever come up with, and hoped it would be enough. Pulling from deep in her magicka reserves, she called the ice to her, forming it around her in a shroud. Given the water currently soaking her clothes, hair and skin, she was soon covered in sheets of it, the frost crawling up and down her clothing and skin alike, until she was pale as death and her lips were turning faintly blue.

She wasn’t as powerful as him, but hopefully, she wouldn’t have to be. She did not need to defeat him or smother the flames herself, she only needed to reach him, make him see that he needed to do it. Don’t think about it too hard, just do it. Pull him up, like you promised. Adrienne took a deep breath, then ran, heading for Drayk, who by now was trying to climb a nearby path to get up and presumably in range of the Webspinner.

“Dom!” she shouted, but her voice was lost over the roar of the fire and the din of the battle. There was just too much going on, and standing here at the fringe of his tempest was only starting to melt her cloak at the edges. That settled it: there was just no more time to think about it. Sucking as much air as she could into her lungs, Adrienne held her breath and plunged headlong into the fire, running as fast as her legs would take her.

When Drayk reached the top again his blazing eyes found the rear of the Webspinner facing him, and he unloaded another brutally powerful fireball, closing the gap such that the tornado began to hit the edges of the great spider again. He was clearly not thinking about, or even seeing, the people already engaged with the creature, and was seemingly intent only on ensuring the Webspinner's death. He didn't have the slightest idea that Adrienne was desperately trying to close the distance behind him.

Tarquin was already covered in the blood of the spider priestesses, and he was doing excellent work keeping the majority of them off the others who were trying to combat their leader. The near constant stream of arrows coming in from Maya and Soren were no doubt helping, and they hardly had to aim, so many were their targets. He rended most of them apart with his bare hands, lifting off with powerful wings to drop down where they were not so concentrated, before shredding a few more of them. The effort was clearly taxing him in the sunlight, but it was not wasted effort, as the bodies of their enemies were already strewn across the side of the mountain.

At first opportunity, Soren had deftly swung himself into one of the nearby trees, perching himself on a low branch so as to have a view of everything going on around him and a better pick of targets. Those four had their hands full with the Webspinner, but there wasn’t much he could do unless they presented him with a particularly-devastating shot, so instead, he focused on taking down the spider sisters that sought either to interfere with the battle raging there, or the ones attempting to blindside either Maya or Tarquin. He could put a sister down with a single shot, but he only had a finite amount of ammunition. Hopefully at some point he’d be able to jump down and pirate a quiver or two from the dead ones. Until then, he was content to do what he did best: snipe.

Fire was too gentle a word for what she’d stepped into. It was honestly more like something someone would call an inferno, and had it not been for the fact that her ice was magical rather than mundane, it would have all melted immediately. Maybe it did anyway—it was kind of hard to tell, as numb as it had made her. She counted this a blessing even if it made her feel awkward and clumsy, though, because it meant the pain of her endeavors registered on a lower level than it would have otherwise. She was dimly aware of the ends of her hair catching fire, but there was simply no time to think about that.

So Adrienne kept moving, even as the last of her frost cloak sizzled away into nothing, leaving her with what natural water had frozen to her body and her willpower. And her will to get out of this whirling torrent of flames was quite high indeed; the only trick was getting it to drive her forwards rather than back. She couldn’t see where they were, but she was gaining ground on him, numbed limbs or no. One of her sleeves was being eaten by flames, so she yanked tearing it off and tossing it away just as she thudded blindly into something—someone.

“Dom!” she shouted again over the roar of the firestorm, but it was impossible to tell if she was heard or not, so she lunged instead, wrapping her arms tightly around his middle and inadvertently bringing them both to the ground when her legs failed to support her efforts anymore. “Dom, stop! Stop, you promised. Come back.” She couldn’t even tell if she was frozen or burning anymore. It wouldn’t matter, if she couldn’t reach him. Struggling with her positioning a bit, she took hold of his face with both hands and made him look at her. Merciful Mara, his eyes were… this was bad. She didn’t have a name for the fear that seized her then, but she didn’t really have the time for it either, the tiniest of blessings in a situation that would have otherwise overwhelmed her.

“Gods above, please don’t do this. Come back. I’m here, but we have to meet in the middle, remember? Please…” It was as true as it had been on the days she’d said it: if he fell, she’d have no choice but to fall with him—and she’d burn for it. But she really did love him just the same.

As much pain as everyone else was in, Drayk felt nothing but bliss. The fall out of the cave and down the cliff felt like nothing to him, and he relentlessly pursued the target he had locked himself on, unaware that anything else even existed, unaware that anything else even mattered to him. The Webspinner hastened to move away from his tornado, allowing Vanryth to remove the leg from Sinder easily enough. She surged forward, halted by the tree that Soren was perched in with enough force to pull up some of the roots, shaking it violently enough to knock the archer out of it if he wasn't prepared. That would, of course, cause him to fall down on the Webspinner.

Drayk was about to give pursuit when something thudded into him from behind. It was a minor inconvenience at first, but then the arms wrapped around his middle. He knew that touch, he knew the way she felt against him, but his mind smothered the thought, because it brought as much pain as it did joy, and the flames gave him only pleasure now. But she wouldn't let go, and together they fell to the ground. Her voice was a muffled banging through a thick wall inside his mind, but it was enough to make the tornado lurch and sway wildly, momentarily struggling to remain together. He needed to get away from this, he needed to be alone with the fire, and destroy this foul creature...

But she turned him to look at her, and he couldn't look away, though he wanted to, so badly. She couldn't see these eyes, these eyes that were full of nothing but a consuming fire, eating him, and now eating her as well. Her voice was pleading, and it was like daggers into his belly, but somehow he remembered that the pain felt good. The tornado spun out wildly, no longer being pulled towards the center of his body, and then burnt out altogether, leaving the ground around them charred and blackened. His eyes returned to their normal light brown hue, and he ended up on his knees, facing her with a drooping head and sagging eyelids. Thick, black smoke wafted heavily from his chest, shoulders, and back, and his faces and robes were spotted with ash. He'd returned to himself, but the effort had cost him just about everything he had left.

"You pulled..." he said, his words trailing off, but he tried again. "Meet you in the..." There was no succeeding this time. His eyes closed softly shut, and he tilted over to the side, thudding heavily into the dirt and beginning to roll and slide back down the hill he'd just come up from.

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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Thank the gods. Granted, the amount of pain she was slowly realizing she was in, coupled with Dom’s lack of consciousness and slow tumble down the hill, seemed like scant things to be thankful for, but at the moment, she could not help but be grateful all the same. She was far too weak to stop his descent. In fact, she was realizing, she was far too weak to do much of anything at the moment. A quick inventory of her condition yielded almost no good news. The arm she’d had to tear the sleeve away from was a uniform angry red, blisters already starting to form along its length. The rest of her wasn’t much better, though her wet clothes and ice magic had provided some protection, enough that perhaps the burns hadn’t breached more than first layer or two of her skin.

Unfortunately, that meant they had not burned away her nerve endings or destroyed her ability to feel pain, and now that the adrenaline of her idiocy was ebbing, she was acutely aware that, while this meant she would survive, and probably with only minimal scarring, she was in more pain than she had been since the Embassy. The flames had abated, but her body was still on fire, and not the good kind. She could feel a dull throb underneath the more expected burning, in tandem with her heartbeat. It was too much, and she was no Van or Sinder or Lynly, made and trained to endure pain like it didn’t matter. She screamed, harsh and ragged and only when she realized that the inside of her throat must also be burned did she trail off into a pained whimper instead. Everything hurt, and she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t anything for the agony of it.

The sound had one good consequence, perhaps; it caught the attention of Anirne, currently in the process of firing off a healing spell at the newly-freed Sinder. The disorientation of the Webspinner would not last forever, though, and the altmer woman was forced to make a choice: go tend Adrienne, or continue to provide support for that confrontation. Hoping that the others would manage a few minutes without her, she broke into a sprint, covering the intervening ground in long strides and ducking past a few spider sisters in the process.

Sinderion grunted when the limb came out of his muscle, and the relief of a healing spell was almost immediate. The shadow over his head receded as the Webspinner did, but not before he raised his good arm and planted a rune on her underside, to the left. His sister’s magic was as good as ever, and he rose more or less intact, just as a hoarse scream ripped through the air. Adrienne! It rebounded around in his skull, and he almost flinched, more from the thought of her in that much pain than the actual volume. But Anirne was moving faster than he reacted, for once, and she would actually be able to do something about it.

Grinding his teeth and trying not to think too much about what had happened, he noted the absence of heat as Drayk’s spell had guttered out, and suspected that this meant they might be one or two members down for now. They had to keep at the Webspinner—there was no other choice. He did not enjoy the thought of both her and the Pact on the field at the same time, to say nothing of the Horizon and the Feral as well. Grasping Van briefly on the shoulder in thanks, Sinder turned and bounded off after the spider, shortsword reversed in his hand.

Soren, on the other hand, was becoming intimately acquainted with the giant spider. She was inadvertently taking down his tree, and the situation was less than pleasant as a result. When he guessed her trajectory, he slung his bow over his shoulder and braced himself, taking the impact to the tree without falling out. He could feel it creaking underneath him, though, and knew it would likely fall regardless. Gauging his jump, the mercenary sprang from the branches, landing in a more or less steady crouch on the creature’s abdomen and drawing his sword.

“Great,” he muttered to himself, “Now what am I supposed to do?” There didn’t seem to be any immediate vulnerable spots for him to attack, and he was willing to bet staying on wasn’t going to be the easiest task in the world either. He needed to think fast.

Vanryth stood motionlessly beside Sinder for the moment the scream echoed through the hills. Every muscle in his body willed him to turn and run to help her, but the rational part of his mind was still in control. It told him that there was nothing he could do, he did not possess Anirne's healing magic. He'd just take a pair of hands away that were better suited to deal with the Webspinner than mending any injuries. The best way he could help both Adrienne and Drayk was to focus on the monster in front of them. He could help by making sure she wouldn't reach them.

So it was in Sinder's shadow that Vanryth raced off to meet the spider, his own sword flashing in his hands and a flame spell in his hands. Not to be outdone by a bunch of elves, Lynly was already ahead of them both, crouching behind her shield. Presently she was considering what would be the best course of action to assist Soren, who in his infinite luck had managed to land on top of the Webspinner. "Look for some place soft!" she called, getting a spiderleg in return for her aid. As the only part of her body that was visible behind her shield was her forehead, that's exactly where the leg went, opening a thin line from one end to the other. She cursed as she took a step backward, swatting another attempt as she did.

"And for Talos' sake, find it quick!" She demanded.

Higher on the hill, the spider priestesses were beginning to try running from the Shade, realizing the futility of their fight against him, but he was far swifter than they were out of their tunnels, and he pounced on as many as he could, snapping necks and opening throats, doing his best to remain efficient in his kills, as he was clearly heaving for breath at the moment, slick with blood, not all of which was the spider sisters'. Maya had found herself no longer shooting at all, but instead crouched down and scanning the trees and the rocklines like a hawk, wanting just a simple glimpse of her true enemy here, anything to go on, but the Bosmer bitch still refused to show her face. It seemed they would have to wear down the Webspinner even more.

Anirne reached Adrienne not long after, forcing herself for the moment to ignore what was going on behind her in favor of setting to work on the girl immediately. She was badly burned, what seemed like just about everywhere, and it wasn’t too hard to guess what she’d done to earn them. The healer would have had a lot of sympathy for that, had she the time, as it was, she didn’t and set to work immediately. The worst burns were on her bare right arm and one side of her neck and face, and so she started there, willing the pain to subside and new skin to replace that which had been reddened and blistered. She noted in passing that more than half the length of Adrienne’s hair had been burned away entirely, and the ends were ragged and singed despite still being damp from her fall into the water.

That and the ice might have been the only things that saved her, really. Once the worst burns were treated as well as she could in the moment, the skin was still angry and red in their wake, but it wouldn’t scar much if at all, which was the most important of Anirne’s secondary concerns, the primary one being getting her up and moving again. The rest of the burns didn’t need immediate attention, so she dulled the pain they produced only, knowing that time was short.

“Adrienne,” she said, voice insistent, “Can you stand?”

The young woman groaned, but she wasn’t in nearly so much pain anymore, and she thanked Mara for Anirne’s presence. Her skin felt funny, like it was stretched too tightly over her body, but it was bearable, and she managed to get her feet underneath her and leverage herself upwards. Immediately, she looked down the hill. “Dom, he… we can’t leave him exposed like that.” It was possible that someone would kill him as they passed, just to make sure he didn’t interfere, and that was too horrible to contemplate.

Anirne chewed her lip, thinking it over. “All right,” she said after a couple of seconds. “You go help Tarquin; he could use the support. I’ll take care of Drayk.” She wasn’t sure how much she’d be able to do, but at the very least, she could drag him off the path and out of the way of the crossfire.

“You don’t say, lovely. Really, I thought the idea was to strike at the strong bits and hope it did something that way. I don’t suppose I’m also to ‘not get hit,’ perchance?” Soren would have rolled his eyes if he wasn’t presently using them to attempt what she’d suggested, less because she’d suggested it and more because it was obvious. His best bet was probably the juncture between front and abdomen, actually, and so it was for that he went, springing up the back of the spider and plunging his sword into the joint in the carapace there.

The Webspinner’s reaction was immediate, and she once again moved hastily, this time in an obvious effort to dislodge him, which, considering how erratic she was being, had a very good chance of succeeding. Soren held onto his sword for dear life, but he could feel it loosening in the stab wound, and knew it wouldn’t hold forever. It was time to jump off this runaway carriage under his own steam, before his trajectory was decided for him. Quickly assessing his surroundings, he threw himself left, dragging his sword down her side for as long as his momentum would allow, then pulling the blade free before he could get stuck dangling halfway down.

He hit the ground with a grunt, his knees absorbing most of the impact, but did not count on being knocked forward into a sprawl by a leg. It wasn’t long before a strong pair of arms was dragging him to his feet, though, and he straightened in time for Sinderion to speak to him. “Rune on the abdomen. Shoot it.” And then he was off again, to engage that spider with nothing more than an overblown dagger. If Soren wasn’t just as crazy, he might have judged him a little for that.

As it was, though, he sheathed his sword, drew his bow, and aimed for the rune, glowing in a tell-tale fashion. “Get clear” he shouted to the other two, and then he let fly. The explosion was pretty impressive, but there was no time to watch. The next arrow thudded into the forehead of an incoming spider sister, and he rolled his shoulders. This was almost getting manageable again, which with their luck meant that something horrendous was going to happen soon.

Soren had inflicted a decent wound upon her, and a steady stream of dark blood was falling from her side, but judging from the size of her, she had a lot of blood. The rune's explosion caused her to stagger sideways for a moment, and some of the carapace in the area looking somewhat weaker now. It also had the effect of renewing the Webspinner's rage, and she returned to the offensive, leaping forward on top of anyone she could, stabbing down with her legs and attempting to drag anyone she caught into the maw of her lower spider half, which chomped hungrily for something to consume. To make matters worse, spider sisters were coming down the hill to hit them from the other side, though they had mercifully stopped emerging from the tunnel. Tarquin was unable to hold the tide entirely now, though he continued on, shredding to bits those he could get his hands on.

While not exactly bright to begin with, things certainly dimmed even moreso. There was still a lot of fight to go on, and Vanryth felt that their limits were steadily approaching. Not only had they to contend with an even angrier Webspinner, but some of the priestesses were getting through, one of which Van pelted in the face with a fireball. They might have been quick in the caves, but outside he could see, and they weren't nearly so dodgey. Not counting that, but the Pact was out there somewhere, and so was the Feral. The odds were stacked against them, and it wouldn't be long before it would all topple with them most likely underneath it all. Dammit, he hated their luck.

Meanwhile, Lynly was hating her own. The "anyone she could" just so happened to be Lynly through a fault of her own. She had strayed too close to the Webspinner trying to find an angle to attack. That of course left her to being staggered by the explosion triggered by Soren. By the time the ringing left her ears, the Webspinner was baring down on her. The sheer weight of the monster forced her back to the ground, and it was only due to her shield she was saved from being digested. Instead of flesh, the Webspinner's jaws enclosed around the the rim of her shield, while smaller legs was desprately trying to shovel Lynly into her mouth.

She could feel the tips of the sharp legs pierce into the dwemer armor and poke at her shoulders and thighs. It was all she could do to push back against her shield, much less swing her sword or do anything useful besides not getting eaten. "Dammit!" She cried, wishing that she could at least try to fight back.

A vial of acid cracked into the face of the spider sister making an attempt to get past Tarquin, and Adrienne didn’t waste the opportunity, ducking in under the woman’s guard and drawing her sword across her throat, deliberately not thinking about how it kind of reminded her of what she’d done to the Omen. That was a place she did not need to go right now. Unfortunately, her desire to not get caught under the spurting of blood from the vital artery she’d severed carried her back out without enough attentiveness, and right into the axe of the next sister, who caught her on the ribcage of her already more burned side. Adrienne choked on her breath, but whirled in an arc, her momentum parting the sister’s head from her shoulders.

Her shoulders burned with the effort, but she didn’t stop trying, even bleeding from her side as she was. She was almost as low on poison and acid as she was on potions, and she decided to save what else was left. Her wound pulled wider as she took off after a runner, swinging astride the sister as one would a horse of comparable size and plunging the slender blade into the back of the human half, causing it to erupt, coated in red, from her chest. The priestess went down, and Adrienne with her, and she was longer in getting to her feet than she would have liked, having to work her way out from underneath the corpse. The numbing agent meant she wasn’t sure if she was breathing deeply enough, so she’d have to be careful until it wore off. Her body could process most nonlethal poisons faster than other people, as Madame Madec had been adamant that she sample the goods, so to speak. She certainly owed the woman her thanks now, perhaps.

Turning to face back up the hill, she conjured a dagger for her off-hand, deciding to take a leaf out of Sinder's book for the moment and save what of her magic she could. It was not far from her mind that things were going to get worse before they got better—if she survived that long. But for now, she simply had to fight her way back towards Tarquin, and do what little she could to stem the tide of sisters trying to get past him and at her friends.

Meanwhile, Anirne had jogged down the hill to Drayk’s unconscious form, and frowned upon realizing what she already suspected: he was unconscious from exhaustion and severe magicka drain, not any injury she could fix. Looking around, she decided the best she could do was get him well away from the body of the confrontation. Huffing with the exertion, she managed to get him over her shoulders in a rescue carry, but she wouldn’t be able to take him far. Spotting a small cluster of trees with some undergrowth, she decided that it would have to do and shuffled towards it, laying him amidst the brush. She rearranged the branches as well as she could to cover him and sent a quick prayer to the ancestors, for all the good it would do, then hurried back out onto the field.

It was looking considerably worse than when she left it. Anirne sent a lightning bolt cracking into the weakened part of the Webspinner’s carapace, but it was evident that if Tarquin and Adrienne didn’t get more help, they’d have more than one oversized spider to deal with, and they couldn’t handle that right now. The Psijic drew her staff from her back and braced it against the ground, attempting to pike a charging sister. It worked after a fashion, and the woman was impaled through the chest, but the staff snapped under the pressure, and the electricity stored within discharged into the nearest target—Anirne, knocking her prone on the ground, body convulsing with the voltage of it. Even when it came to a stop, she didn’t move, and it was hard to tell whether or not she was even conscious—or alive.

Soren wasn’t doing too badly at culling the sisters that managed to pass the front line consisting of Tarquin and now Adrienne as well, putting them down with arrows to the head, mostly, but when Anirne collapsed, he tsked low in his throat and had to reposition, taking up a spot in front of the downed woman. “You owe me for this, sweetheart,” he muttered, more to himself than her, since he honestly had no idea if she could hear him or not. Unfortunately, the spill Adrienne had taken and the time it took him to move meant that there were now more bearing down on them than he could properly kill.

So he once again shouldered his bow and drew his sword, clotheslining the first sister that tried to dart past him with it and almost dislocating his own shoulder in the process. The next ones came in a trio, though, and despite the fact that he managed to avoid the first swipe, the two afterwards scissored him, biting into his waist on the left side and the elbow-joint of his leather armor on his right. The arm went numb immediately, and he switched his grip to his off-hand, glad that it was almost as dexterous as the dominant one. His injuries, however, were both slowing and weakening him, and had it not been for the massive distraction that was a body flying overhead, he might not have survived it.

As things went, however, he downed two of the three in their distraction with efficient swipes in the throat region, and the third almost matched the style, had he not moved a few inches to the side. Instead, she severed the muscle connecting his right arm to his shoulder, almost all the way through. The arm would be entirely useless until healed, and the two people capable of that were not currently in a position to do it.

Sinderion, upon ascertaining Lynly’s condition, essentially went in after her, winding both strong arms around her waist in an attempt to pull her out of its jaws. He could feel himself gaining some ground, feet planted firmly in the dirt and body bowed with the effort of the tugging, but he did not account for the fact that the Webspinner could reach her front with more legs than she was presently using. His grip slackened considerably when one of the others impaled him in the middle of his back, emerging on the other side by a good few inches.

The man’s breath left him in a painful gust, and the arm pulled, taking him with it until he lost his grip on his ally altogether and found himself lifted off the ground and hurled through the air, his new wound trailing blood after him like a macabre crimson ribbon in the wind. He landed hard and gasping for breath, and he was further hampered by the fact that his state was making it much easier for the beast to fight him. It could save his life, and if he was pushed much closer to the edge of death, it would, just as it had three times before.

Lynly yelled in pain as the elf yanked from behind. It felt like he'd rip her skeleton out before the Webspinner decided to relent. The spidery legs had dug in deep into the four points, two in her shoulder and two into her thighs. She could swear that she could feel the appendage tickling her to the bones, and there was naught she could do about it until someone else had a bright idea. She prayed that it would be better thought out than simply pulling at her. That meant Van would have to come up with something with a little more finesse. Dammit.

On the other side of the coin, Vanryth did stop himself from repeating Sinder's mistake, if only just barely. He had been in midstride when the Webspinner ripped the man from the warrior and threw him. It'd been enough to stop him and reevaulate his tactics. He came up with another, though it was perhaps even less favorable than the initial one, if that was possible. Instead of rushing forward, Van branched off to the side and began to pelt the weakened side of the Webspinner with whatever Fire magic he had left in reserve. The result was the desired, if not the optimum one. At the licking tongues of flame, the Webspinner dropped Lynly into a heap and turned, narrowing all eyes at the offending Dunmer.

It was about as subtle a tactic he was capable of, and his just reward was a number of legs attempting to skewering him. Thanks to Anirne's constant hounding of him to train, he managed to get a couple of good dodges in before the Webspinner caught up to him. A leg swept backward toward an unsuspecting Van, smashing him across the side of the face and sending him into a downward pirotte, face first in the ground. Then she decided to further the assault, and impaled him through the shoulder blade, picking him up, and throwing him in the same direction she did Sinder. After that, everything became a blur, and the sounds were becoming a garbled mess.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives
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Lynly had slowly worked her way back onto her feet, but all it would take was a stiff breeze to knock her back down again. She leaned heavily on her sword as her shield hung limp from her arm. She had been pierced in all four limbs, not to mention the blood dripping from her forehead and into her eyes and making her way back to her feet was a difficult task. Finally, her shield fell from her arm and a ball of shining light replaced it. She disliked healing in the middle of a battle like this, but the alternative was wading into battle heavily wounded and perhaps even dying. She'd rather risk it and win instead. The spell igniting and energy was sucked out of the air and into her hand, flowing throughout her body and healing some of the damage.

A psijic mage she was not, and she didn't have the massive reservoir of magicka Anirne had-- only enough to deal with minor or moderate wounds at best. She'd still be bleeding, but maybe it wouldn't hurt so much. Right after she ignited the spell, she felt Soren shore up beside her, against the spider monster in front of them. For that's all it was now, with the Webspinner dead. That was one less problem to deal with, but added another to the mix. She'd now have to clean up the Pact's mess, and that pissed her off. Not only did she steal their kill, but she didn't even have the good graciousness to finish it and left it to them. If the woman wasn't dead by the time Lynly finished here, she would be soon.

With more energy than she had moments ago, she released the sword that was stuck into the ground, and gripped Soren's shoulder rather harshly. Whatever pain he may have felt was gone in less than a moment, replaced by the warmth of a healing spell. It wasn't to last long however, as two combined spells sapped her magicka reserves quickly, leaving the both in less than optimal shape, but it would do. It'd have to. She didn't think she'd have another chance for a healing session. She picked up her weapons and once more leveled the shield in front of her, noting the ragged and torn edges of the disk-- teeth marks. She'd make both the spider and the Pact pay yet.

"Ready?" Lynly asked, the Spider turning its many eyes and all of its rage on them.

With Anirne on her feet and headed off in Tarquin’s direction, Soren noted that he’d have to head there too, eventually, but for now, only Lynly was left with the Webspinner, and, stalwart Nordic defender or no, that wasn’t something she should be allowed to attempt on her own, not in the state they were all in. Drawing his sword again, Soren shored up a position beside her, refusing to wince when she gripped his inured shoulder too tightly. Her magic finished what Anirne’s had started, and the muscle was back in working order, the other two wounds he’d sustained closing up enough that he could safely ignore them for the moment.

The mercenary cracked his neck to both sides, rolling his shoulders to regain some of the feeling in them lost to the spider sisters’ poison, and nodded. “Lovely, I’m always ready.” As he said it, he flickered and disappeared from sight, but when next she heard his voice, it was from the same spot. “I’ll be right beside you.” It would help, however, to do some damage to the spider without it being able to pinpoint his location. He had no shield, and wore only light armor, after all.

She raised a solitary eyebrow and deadpanned only a couple of words, "Well then. Charge," before dashing forward to meet the beast. While Lynly had been slowed considerably by her own injuries, it was much of the same story for the spider. It was far more sluggish than it had been when the Webspinner still lived. Good to know that everything they had done had not been in vain, and they had bled along with the monster. All they had to do now was to drain the last bit without losing the rest of theirs. It sounded simple in her head, but would prove to be difficult in practice.

The warrioress began her assault not in full, but instead opting to angle around the creature, but stopping abruptly as a leg pierced the ground in front of her. She jerked and and adjusted her angle just as another fell to where she had been. Once again her angle shifted and she found herself running straight ahead toward the face of the spider. Wary of what happened last time, Lynly raised up her shield and blocked two legs in quick succession before loosening the shield around her arm. She stopped on a dime and spun as another leg sailed past her, and at the zenith of her spin, she let go. The shield twisted end over end until it slammed into the spider's mouth, occupying that hazard for the moment.

Whatever Soren was doing, she hoped he was making good use of her distraction to position himself.

A chuckle escaped into the air at Lynly’s left, and indeed, Soren charged, not bothering to quiet his footsteps, since hers were loud enough to cover the sound of his own passage naturally. Lynly was pulled up short by a leg, and he had to duck another, this one sailing over his head in an attempt to get at her from the side. He trusted her to handle it, and he was going to do his best to make it easier.

Veering sharply, he wove between another pair of legs, daring to pass the head close enough to generate a breeze the spider would feel once her shield stopped its mouth for the moment. Ducking under the creature, he plunged his sword up and into the softer underside, drawing a line parallel to the one Sinderion had left earlier, this one longer, and with a great tearing sound, some of the carapace gave way, spilling arachnoid guts and ichor onto the snow behind him. The spider, clearly in a great amount of pain, flinched noticeably, stabling weakly at him with a pair of legs that he managed to avoid.

“Now, Lynly! Finish it!” Whether he’d used her proper name on purpose or not was unclear, but it was certainly evident that this was the best chance they had to finish this ordeal.

He didn't even need to finish the senten