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The Representatives

Players in the Game of the Shadow...

0 · 1,403 views · located in Skyrim

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

Description

The Game of the Shadow

Final Placement
16. The Master (Molag Bal), disqualification.
15. The Light (Meridia), killed by The Bloody Curse (Malacath).
14. The Bloody Curse (Malacath), killed by The Blackfeather (Hircine).
13. The Spymaster (Boethiah), killed by The Stonehammer (Peryite).
12. The Inquisitor (Mehrunes Dagon), killed by The Shade (Nocturnal).
11. The Omen (Vaermina), killed by an agent of The Blackfeather (Hircine).
10. The Webspinner (Mephala), killed by The Pact (Clavicus Vile).
9. The Pact (Clavicus Vile), killed by The Blackfeather (Hircine).
8. The Horizon (Azura), killed by The Drunk (Sanguine).
7. The Feral (Namira), killed by an agent of The Stonehammer (Peryite).
6. The Drunk (Sanguine), killed by The Blackfeather (Hircine).
5. The Bard (Sheogorath), killed by The Blackfeather (Hircine).
4. The Librarian (Hermaeus Mora), disqualification.
3. The Stonehammer (Peryite), killed by an agent of The Blackfeather (Hircine).
2. The Shade (Nocturnal), disqualification.
1. The Blackfeather (Hircine), winner of the Game of the Shadow.



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The Spymaster

Name: Rylin Moroth (possibly an alias)
Race: Dunmer
Representative of: Boethiah
Skills: Speech, Archery, Sneak, Alchemy, Light Armor
Killed By: The Stonehammer, 13th place finish


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The Blackfeather

Name: Maya
Race: Breton
Representative of: Hircine
Skills: Conjuration (necromancy, bound weapons, soul traps), Destruction (lightning), Enchanting, Alchemy, Archery, Speech
Kills: The Bloody Curse, The Omen, The Pact, The Drunk, The Bard, The Stonehammer


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The Shade

Name: Tarquin Aurelius
Race: Imperial
Representative of: Nocturnal
Skills: Sneak, Speech, Illusion
Killed By: None, disqualification, 2nd place finish.
Kills: The Inquisitor


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The Stonehammer

Name: Vodrin Stonehammer
Race: Nord
Representative of: Peryite
Skills: One-Handed, Block, Heavy Armor, Blacksmithing
Killed By: The Blackfeather (via Lynly), 3rd place finish
Kills: The Spymaster, The Feral


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The Bloody Curse

Name: Rikka gra-Tagrin
Race: Orc
Representative of: Malacath
Skills: Two-Handed (Battleaxes), Light Armor, Blacksmithing
Killed By: The Blackfeather, 14th place finish
Killed: The Light


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The Horizon

Name: Invorin Hastati
Race: Dunmer
Representative of: Azura
Skills: Two-Handed (Staves), Foresight
Killed By: The Drunk, 8th place finish


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The Light

Name: Aeneas Aurelius
Race: Imperial
Representative of: Meridia
Skills: One-Handed (Swords)
Killed By: The Bloody Curse, 15th place finish


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The Omen

Name: Silas Rialta
Race: Redguard
Representative of: Vaermina
Skills: Illusion, Alchemy, Two-Handed (Spears), Light Armor, Seafaring
Killed By: The Blackfeather (via Adrienne), 11th place finish


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The Inquisitor

Name: Talmoro Vasuderon
Race: Altmer
Representative of: Mehrunes Dagon
Skills: Destruction, Alteration
Killed By: The Shade, 12th place finish


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The Bard

Name: Beric Merillion
Race: Breton
Representative of: Sheogorath
Skills: One-Handed (Swords), Block, Unarmored, Shouting
Killed By: The Blackfeather, 5th place finish


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The Feral

Name: Ja'karo
Race: Khajiit
Representative of: Namira
Skills: Sneak, Unarmed, Tracking
Killed By: The Stonehammer (via Golztunah), 7th place finish


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The Drunk

Name: Ferra Malric
Race: Nord
Representative of: Sanguine
Skills: Shapeshifting, Two-Handed (Greatswords), Heavy Armor
Killed: The Horizon
Killed By: The Blackfeather, 6th place finish


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The Pact

Name: Ilanna Falodin
Race: Bosmer
Representative of: Clavicus Vile
Skills: Archery, Sneak, Guerilla Warfare
Killed By: The Blackfeather, 9th place finish
Killed: The Webspinner


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The Webspinner

Name: Phaedra Aurelius
Race: Formerly Imperial
Representative of: Mephala
Skills: Form of Mephala
Killed By: The Pact, 10th place finish


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The Librarian

Name: Unknown
Race: Argonian
Representative of: Hermaeus Mora
Skills: Magic of the Library
Killed By: None, disqualification, 4th place finish

So begins...

The Representatives'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: The Representatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They needed the woman. Alive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


'Died' was perhaps a gentle word for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The sun had fallen before the group stopped, and it hadn't been at Maya's request. One didn't move from place to place across the country constantly, hunting consistently new and challenging targets, without becoming an extremely good traveler. It was as though the wilderness itself renewed her energy like one of the stamina draughts she had tucked away in her bag. Perhaps it was just the knowledge that she was finally moving towards an extremely important goal, with a group of capable individuals at her back. Capable enough to almost bring down a dragon, it seemed.

Oh yes, they would do just fine. And they would help her, even if they didn't exactly know why at first.

That was the kind of devotion their Mentor created, wasn't it? His seeming omnipotence, his ways of solving any and all of one's problems, no matter how minute or how gargantuan. They would do anything to get him back, would they not? For without him, did they not see themselves as nothing? One could go so far as to call the relationship somewhat dominating on the part of the Mentor. But she was getting ahead of herself. Stonehammer had believed the man had changed, considering that he'd supposedly tried to get them to kill one of the Imperials, and failed. If Vodrin believed it, perhaps she could, too.

When camp had been struck, and the fire started, surprisingly not by the fire mage, Maya had offered to take the first watch, to allow the undoubtedly weary Sellswords their rest. She refused the rations the other Breton girl in the group had offered them, having her own food contained within her bag. She was nothing if not self sufficient. It was also not lost upon her that the reception she'd received upon joining the group had been significantly poorer than that of the Nord warrior woman, she who looked vaguely familiar to Maya. Perhaps she would remember what significance the woman had at a later date. Or perhaps all Nord mercenary women looked the same.

In any case, Maya had chosen to remove herself from the immediate area of the group, but she stayed within sight, choosing to scale a nearby tree about halfway up, settling in a nicely V-shaped branch formation that afforded her the opportunity to put her feet up, while also granting an advantageous overview of both the camp and the surrounding area. The tongueless Dunmer was in conversation, if one could call it that, with Adrienne, as the fire mage had called her back at the bloody site of the dragon attack. The fire mage himself lay some distance from the fire, apparently turning in for the night, but not before he experimented with flicking sparks into the air from the tips of his fingers. An interesting bunch, to be sure.

Settling into her watch, Maya lifted her hood up over her head, plopped her bag into her lap, and began to nibble on some of the bread she'd brought along for the journey. There wasn't all that much, as she hadn't thought to be gone long from the coven. The thought crossed her mind that they could perhaps stop by on their way to the Rift, but she doubted very much the Altmer would enjoy that. A werewolf among the Mentor's handpicked misfits. What better a companion to join in her hunt?

If the beast in his blood could be said to have any positive qualities whatsoever, Sinderion supposed he would count unnatural endurance immediately after his extraordinary sense-capabilities. He rarely tired much if at all, but the downside was, he never slept particularly well either. He was perpetually ready to move, to act, quite probably to hunt, the last of which he strove with great effort to avoid. It also made him restless, and he had a hard time settling. It didn't help that right now, he was also feeling guilty. He was not in the habit of allowing irrational emotions to rule him, because it was that kind of impulsiveness that got people killed. It was never him, either.

It had occurred to him that he'd done wrong by the witch, and the proper thing to do was apologize. That it was necessary did not make it any easier, and after he took his share of the cold rations, he spent a few hours ranging away from the camp, mostly just trying to bleed away his excess anxiety by running. It sometimes worked, and the Mentor had always encouraged physical activity as a way of bringing his temper back under his control. For a while, he raced between the trees, ducking and dodging around such obstacles as the terrain saw fit to present him, and pointedly thinking of nothing. He simply took in sense-data and reacted, for once in harmony with the totality of his being rather than working against it. The temptation to shift was always there, but as long as he restrained himself to some degree and did not push beyond what his humanoid body was capable of enduring, it was avoidable.

Circling back in a large loop, Sinder slowed his pace and jogged back towards the encampment, satisfied both that he was in a better frame of mind and also that there were no hostile persons nearby. Each of these hings was a comfort to him, and if he as ever going to be able to manage what needed to be done, it would be now. Taking a deep breath, he sorted though the various odors and aromas of camp and picked out the one he was looking for, following it to a tree. Glancing up, he took note of Maya's presence and then glanced backwards. It looked like the others were getting ready to sleep or already there, and he had no desire to raise his voice, so with a jump, he caught hold of a low-hanging branch and pulled himself into the tree, repeating the process until he was roughly at the same height as the Breton woman, but occupying a decidedly-separate limb.

Settling himself into a crouch, Sinder took a moment to find his words. It was not always an easy thing. He didn't speak much now, and he'd had no need for speech at all for a significant portion of his life. "I apologize," he said at last, forcing himself with some difficulty to actually look at her, make eye contact as he should. "My temper speaks poorly of my character. You did nothing to deserve my ire. Thank you for helping my friends." He was quite ready to be done there, but he wasn't ignorant of the fact that it would be polite to wait for some form of response, so he did.

She let the silence linger for a moment, if only to study the man a bit more. He seemed very quiet, and very troubled, and speaking to her in this manner was bringing that out. He was not comfortable with her in the slightest. His demeanor, as well as his previous reaction to her, had made that clear. Most did not approve of witches, and she supposed it only made sense that one forcibly turned to lycanthropy against their will by them would feel more strongly about this. Maya would have called such a thing a gift, to take on such a glorious and powerful form, one in which the drawbacks, in her opinion, were few. Why sleep when one could hunt? A blissful existence, if she had ever heard one. Still, it showed more of her devotion to Hircine that she overcame her shortcomings due to her desire to hunt, rather than simply being forced to as a matter of necessity. In all, it left her with a hungering desire to learn more about him.

"Apology accepted," Maya said lightly, pushing her hood back and running a hand through black hair. "As are your thanks. I normally charge for my alchemy." She leaned back against the tree, allowing one of her legs to fall lazily and dangle to the side. "Now, if we're going to be traveling together, and very likely fighting together, perhaps we should learn to deal with each other like civilized beings, no?" She broke off a piece of her bread and chewed momentarily, swallowing before speaking again. "You may call me witch if it pleases you, in which case I will refer to you as werewolf, or perhaps simply as beast. Or we could put hate and prejudices behind us. For the sake of our common cause, if nothing else. You may call me by my name, which is Maya, and I may call you..." She trailed off, hoping to get the elf's name from him. She was quite serious about the whole beast thing.

The Altmer blinked slowly. His life had shaped him into a deeply-suspicious, wary sort of person, and he did not part with pesonal information easily. Still... there was little information to be had in his name alone, and she'd hear one of the others use it, eventually, if indeed they were to be spending any duration in one another's proximity. There was likely no harm in it, and he had no desire to be called "beast," however accurate the appellation may be. He shifted in his crouch, vaguely uneasy all the same. "...Sinderion. My name is Sinderion, but they-" he lifted one hand from the branch he was holding and gestured vaguely to the Sellsword camp- "are given to calling me Sinder. I... will not object if you prefer it as well."

In a way, her easy identification and untroubled acceptance of what he was perplexed him. He put great effort into appearing as nothing more than his current state showed him to be: a relatively ordinary Altmer, with the typical sharp bone structure and appearance, if a bit tall and with a somewhat-odd eye color. There was supposed to be nothing whatsoever extraordinary about him. Granted, his control had slipped that afternoon, and he'd felt a few physiological changes, but it wasn't as if he'd sprouted fur and descended to all fours. Perhaps it was simply her background that made it an easy guess; it was ironic, but he rather hoped so. Worse than that though was the fact that it didn't seem to bother her. He viewed that part of himself with a heady mixture of contempt, caution, disgust, and- he could admit to himself if nobody else- a fair amount of abject fear. He was no coward, but he managed to scare himself rather profoundly.

Either she didn't know what he was capable of, or she didn't fear it. Both would trouble him, for distinctly different reasons.

Perhaps he was more a coward than he'd believed, because he avoided that question in favor of one perhaps equally-important, but less about him. "If I may, how is it that you came to be connected with the Shadow? I... my knowledge of your people is limited and heavily-shaded by... unfortunate circumstances, but I had thought you rather insular as a rule." He was genuinely curious, but it also seemed important for their purposes. She was considerably chattier than he was, and more open than Stonehammer had seemed, so there was always a chance she'd tell him. If not, well... he supposed he could hardly blame her when he was reticent enough to almost refuse her his name. Perhaps this was something Adrienne should have been doing, or Drayk.

Sinderion. Beautiful. Or Sinder, even. Maya almost thought the Altmer wasn't going to part with his name, and that she would have to weasel it out of one of the Sellswords with a softer exterior. His cooperation was appreciated, and slightly unexpected given his violent reaction to her earlier. His change of subject to her past was slightly less appreciated, but the fact that he was talking to her was a massive improvement over what she'd expected. She had no intention of denying him an answer, but of course, the Shadow was not fond of being exposed. She was confident she could get their help even with a minimum of information presented. They needed to find the Mentor, after all.

"Easier than you might think, though of course I cannot say how much you know already. Or what exactly you've been told. If you spoke to the Spymaster, most of what she told you was probably lies, or at least half-truths. She's very fond of them." Even in the short time Maya had been exposed to the Dunmer woman, she'd learned that. Few enjoyed their plots so much as that one. Maya found herself hoping Stonehammer was indeed successful in paying her a visit as he had intended. Vodrin was far more bearable to be around, in her opinion.

She took another bite of bread. "As for myself, I was sought out specifically a little over seven years ago. I was still a girl in many ways, but I was exemplary in certain qualities that were being sought. I was contacted, I was prepared, and now I hunt. I'm afraid I shouldn't say more. If you haven't already learned, they don't look kindly on being spoken of." She thought for a moment. "I'm sure you'll learn what you need to know when the time comes. You're wrapped up in things now, whether you want to be or not." Maya hoped the words wouldn't worry Sinder unnecessarily, but they were true. If no one else, the Mentor and the Shade seemed driven on bringing them into this, for reasons she could not know.

The mer's reaction was scarcely earthshattering; his grip tightened minutely on the branch he held, his nostrils flaring slightly as he exerted conscious effort to regulate his breaths. His disliked being manipulated, and quite frankly, someone was doing quite a masterful job at it, if he had his guess. It was perhaps only the fact that it probably wasn't Maya that kept him level. How many times had he been told something similar? That his ignorance was for his own benefit? He'd asked the witches what they planned to do with him, and his answer had been nearly the same. The Mentor had used the sentiment as well, though he'd thought he'd managed to forgive that. His father had used it, refusing to tell him the finer details of his mother's untimely demise. His sister had held it over his head when he was small and she was so much wiser. He was not a fool and he was not made of glass. When he'd shattered, it had been the breaking of something far harder, but just as brittle, it seemed.

And then, as though she had caught Sinder on a bad move in a board game, Maya slid her proposal his way, failing to hide a mischievous glint in her eye. "Do you trade often, Sinder? I've answered your question the best I am able... might you do the same? How did you come to be connected to the Mentor and these Sellswords?" It was undoubtedly pushing her luck, considering that it was far more information than a simple name to call him by, but she saw no reason not to try. If he was going to attack her out of his hate alone, surely he would have done so by now.

"You attempt to draw me into a bargain after the fact," he pointed out flatly. Nevertheless, his sense of fairness niggled at him, reminding him that he was trying to be civil, and that it was truly little more than a return of his initial query. Any discomfort he felt with it could only be considered his own fault for asking it in the first place. He would, then, answer to the degree to which she had, which was to say, quite vaguely. "With more difficulty than you might think, though the extent of your knowledge is unknown to me as well," he echoed her speech pattern intentionally. If this was to be a trade, it would be a fair one. "I was the first of the Sellswords. I too, was sought, and for my qualities, though certainly not the same ones, I am sure. I was saved, I was trained, and now... I, too, hunt, it seems."

His mouth twitched, though whether it was a ghost of a smile or a grimace was unclear. Perhaps it was both. "What was the rest? 'I'm sure you'll learn what you need to know when the time comes'?" He tilted his head to one side, fixing Maya with something that wasn't quite a glare. It was less hostile than that, though still not exactly friendly. It was hard to say if the hard glint to his stare was intentional or just habit. "I suppose so, yes. If something as irrelevant as my history ever becomes important, I shall not withhold it." And that was the best he could do.

Nodding tersely, Sinder abruptly jumped backwards, propelling himself free of the tree's foliage and landing solidly, but not without grace, on his feet beneath the boughs. He still wasn't sure how he felt about this whole ordeal, and there was no mistaking that Maya's presence was going to make things more difficult for him (she could scarcely help how familiar she smelled, after all), but his mind was set somewhat at ease. Trust was no easy thing for him to give, and he hadn't, but at least when he checked behind him for the knife at his back, he wouldn't be automatically expecting to find it.

Maya pulled her hood up over her head once more as she watched him go, smiling slightly to herself. She could already tell she was going to like that one.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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There was a certain chill in the air that only ever seemed to accompany the dead of night, and it prickled over his skin in the most familiar of ways. What, exactly, he was doing out here, acting in a way he'd explicitly been told not to, was an interesting question that Sinderion had no desire to contemplate. He'd been unable to sleep, as usual, and it had seemed wrong to lie there, listening to Drayk and Van breathe in their more restful slumber, and right to be out here, on the hunt. That was all there was to it, for the moment, and he wasn't sure he wanted it to be anything else, so he just left the matter alone and focused on the task at hand. The scent was faint by now, the trail hours old, but he'd been a hunter even before he was a beast-- this was in his nature.

His senses had led him into the forest again, a ways outside the city, and this made things easier. However well Maya could blend into the woods, however good she was at hiding the evidence of her presence, she still smelled like a human being, and there were far fewer of those out here than in Markarth. He went with haste, but quietly, slipping in and out of the shadows of trees, his steps placed so as to make nary a sound, even to his own ears. It was such a simple thing, to become invisible here, almost as though he didn't exist at all. He wondered if that had been her motive, too, for seeking out this area, but he very much doubted it.

Maya had grown up in these woods. She knew the trees almost individually, knew the smells enough to place her exact location in complete darkness, the feel of the ground beneath her feet changing as she moved, seeing what lay ahead as well as her eyes could. She had killed in these woods. Beasts... and men. But for all her knowledge of the land, for all her life experience, for all her skill as a huntress, she felt blind, deaf, and dumb at the moment.

She was... angry, aggravated, confused, upset, a lightning storm of emotions that she had forbidden herself from feeling. She couldn't think, she couldn't focus, and without that, she couldn't see. Her sense of touch alone had guided her through the dark to the most familiar ground, considering that her eyes had more often than not been clouded with a watery substance that was quite foreign to her. In the end, she'd settled upon stopping near the comforting rush of water that had helped her fall asleep many nights in the past, a gentle stream flowing over a rock bed, soft ground flanking it on either side, trees shrouding the area in shadow.

Shadow... Maya settled upon a rock, running her hands through raven hair. Tonight had proven that she wasn't ready for what she'd been tasked with. But perhaps she had known it all along. Perhaps the Shade had known it, too. After all, here she was enlisting a group of adventurers, leading them along towards a mutual objective. Perhaps she could make up for inadequacy in one area with superiority in another.

The clean scent of freshwater soon mixed with the one he was following, and the muted sound of a moving stream indicated that he was drawing close to a river or stream of some sort. Far from unusual here in Skyrim, where the snowmelt from the mountains combined into rivulets of ever-increasing size to trickle down into the forests below. That combined with the pine of the coniferous trees nearby was... pleasant. He'd always found it so, and part of him dimly registered that it wuld be a nice sort of place to linger, if he'd had any time to spend idling. Picking his way carefully to the edge of the trees, he spotted Maya some distance away, seated on a boulder. Something was wrong, though; because now he was smelling some saline water as well.

This was... not good. Sinder was tempted to simply leave and pretend he'd never seen anything. It would probably preserve much more of their combined dignity, and save him from considerable discomfort, besides. He... wasn't good with people on the best of days, and upset people were another thing all together. He needed only think back to his conversation with Adrienne that evening to be reminded of that. And yet... she'd seemed a bit better off afterwards, though that could have been anything, including deception. Still, his considerations now seemed more like cowardice than anything else. But surely the polite thing to do would be to leave; this was clearly something he wasn't meant to bear witness to.

The polite thing would have been to not follow her here in the first place, he reminded himself, shaking his head. Well, if the situation was a wash anyway... it might as well be a complete wash. Soft treads carried him to her side, and he stared out over the water as she did, not really sure what else to do. "...I don't suppose it's the kind of problem we can solve just by sneaking into a ruin or killing something, is it?" He wasn't exactly useful for solving the other kinds of problems.

"I told you not to follow me," she said unenthusiastically. Any other voice, and she would have conjured a bow on the spot and aimed directly for the sound. As it was, she was still tempted, considering that Sinderion had just snuck up on her in the middle of her woods. "For your sake more than mine. My coven's not ten minutes from where we are. Didn't want to risk you losing control of yourself and assuming the form of a true hunter." She wondered if he truly resented the form he'd been given. Bloodlust, yes, a nearly unresistable urge to hunt, yes, but such power, such grace, such beauty.

"My... problem, is a hunt. My quarry is the Orc we pursue, Rikka gra-Tagrin, known as the Bloody Curse, the one your Mentor and the Shade apparently seek as well. At the Shade's suggestion, I offered to lead you to her, that he and I might use you to our advantage. I have asked a greater hunter than I to do my work for me. Though I could very well have been a dead woman back in that tavern, had that Dunmer sought it."

She sniffed, shaking her head. Why was she telling him this? He did not need to know, he only needed to hunt for her. Regardless, she continued to speak. She hadn't known saying the words would do her any good, but even as she did, it felt as though weights were being removed from her chest. "It's a hunt far beyond the simple beauty of stalking prey in a forest. So easily I could become the hunted instead. But my life and love is to the Lord of the Hunt. For him I would answer any call."

She looked Sinder in the eye, trying to study him for a moment. "Would it hurt to simply hunt for a night? Would you be willing to give yourself to your instincts? It need not be a matter of rage."

He might be rubbish at talking, but he could at least listen. Though he was perhaps more tempted than he'd ever been to offer counterpoints to what he was hearing, he waited. The words seemed to be coming more freely as Maya continued, and he was loath to interrupt that process, lest it cease entirely. The last point, however, bore some answering, and that answer was tied up with the rest of them, he supposed. His jaw tightened reflexively, but Sinder forced himself to relax, sitting down beside the large stone and folding his legs, more to buy himself time to think than anything else. Still, he wasn't the kind to force words where there were none to be had, and so it was still some time-- quite possibly whole minutes-- before he properly replied.

"That might have been true, if I were someone else," he admitted at last. "But unfortunately for everyone involved, I am not. That thing is not a hunter. A hunter knows when to stop. It's an instinctual activity, yes, but also a mental one. Logic, judgement, restraint-- each of these things has its proper place. The beast knows them not. It understands hunger, and violence, and that is all." The Altmer swallowed thickly, closing his eyes against his next words. "Perhaps that is not true in every case. Perhaps it has something to do with the circumstances of my change. But regardless, it is true, and if it never sees light of day or dark of night again, that will be too soon." His tone was so steady that it was obviously forced to be that way, deadened to a monotone against who knew what else.

"Can you know that?" she asked, her voice stronger than it had been before. "Can you be certain that the beast cannot show restraint?" The discussion had clearly helped her move her mind from her own troubles, so intrigued by Sinderion was she. He was clearly not at peace with himself, he struggled internally. She wished to help him. If that meant helping herself as well, all the better. "Rage can easily cause the beast to emerge, and yes, that state would be violent, powerful, and nearly impossible to control. But there are other ways to turn. Other ways to see what is inside of you."

She turned away from the stream and towards him, resting her elbows on her knees. "Must you fear the possibilities? If you could learn to master it, to harness it, would you not do so? Take what you see as a curse and turn it into a gift, and do with it what you will, rather than what it demands of you." She ran a hand through her hair. "I will hunt until my last breath, serve Hircine until the day I die, and not be nearly so skilled a hunter as you are now, through what fate has bestowed upon you. It seems a terrible thing to waste."

"I know what it is because I lived as it for two years of my life," he replied quietly. "What you say sounds nice enough, but if it had that capability, I would have found it then. And the risk of even trying... I do not care to repeat the things I did, no matter what the reward might be." The gruesome details, he would spare. What he had done to the witches who changed him was scarcely the worst of it all, and he to this day remembered the taste of human flesh on his tongue. Most disturbing of all was that he could not say which tongue it had been, so addled was he by the strength of a power not made for mere children to know. Perhaps it was simply that-- perhaps he had failed to gain control because he was a child. But now, when what was at stake could be the lives of people he held dear, he could not take the chance that being an adult might be different.

Well and truly uncomfortable, he chose to try and turn the conversation around again, back in a direction that wasn't so close to laying his deepest fears bare. "Why Hircine?" he asked at length, genuinely curious. He certainly had no overabundance of goodwill for that particular Daedra, but at the same time he was sure there was a reason to worship him. He just had no idea what it might be. "Hunting is surely not the only worthwhile occupation that someone of your talents might take up, so why choose it at all?"

"And what should I have been instead, a shopkeeper?" she asked, almost seeming amused by the question. "Sell my potions for coin, sell my poisons to the Dark Brotherhood, and live a quiet life?" she looked to imagine the idea for a moment before casting it aside. "In reality, the Lord of the Hunt and I were something of an arranged marriage. I was born to the wild. Whether I was abandoned, forgotten, or simply fell off the back of a horse-drawn carriage, the fact remained that Glenmoril witches found me and took me in. It's fair to say that fate gave me to Hircine as much as I chose him. Perhaps if things had turned out differently, and I'd been raised elsewhere, I'd be a shopkeeper, or a mage in Winterhold, or a noble lady, sitting on a pillow in a court in High Rock. But no, I was born a witch. As is possible with any arranged marriage, I began with anger, discomfort, frustration, but eventually discovered trust, joy, and later... lust, and love."

Well, there was an uncomfortable metaphor if he'd ever heard one. Assuming it was even a metaphor. Still, he felt like he understood where she was coming from, at least somewhat. But where she was apparently able to readily accept the circumstances life had thrust upon her, he was not quite so willing. It was something for consideration, anyway.

It was unlikely she would so openly give her life's history to any of the others in the party, but that was because they weren't nearly so interesting to her as Sinderion was. "I will respect your wishes. I understand that it presents a danger to those you care about. But if you do decide you would like to master this power, you need only come to me. I will not endanger your companions, nor will I force you into anything against your will. Perhaps when the hunt is your choice you will see the wild differently, as I do."

A sharp exhalation was only a hint of what might have been a snicker, were circumstances different. "I think it would be rather difficult to force, but thank you all the same." He paused for a moment, putting his next words together carefully as he knew how. "I... am aware that I was initially more hostile than you deserved, but I hope you do not think so little of me-- of us-- that you fear your life would be taken from you with no argument from our quarter." It had bothered him, that she seemed to think so, though perhaps the delay in his reaction had been interpreted as a lack of concern. The Altmer shook his head minutely, a syllable catching and dying in the back of his throat. There was something else he wanted to say, but as usual, the proper expression eluded him, so he fell silent instead. Perhaps he'd said everything he needed to.

That was... quite the compliment. They would object to her murder? She supposed that was a good thing. She probably hadn't made the best impression on the group, but they were a difficult group to make a good impression on, so different were they all. "That's... kind of you to say," she said, holding back a smile somewhat and touching Sinderion on the shoulder. "Now, I will be staying here for the night. You had best away from here so you might get some rest. That is, unless you wish to sleep here tonight? I would certainly not object." It wasn't entirely clear if she was trying to be funny or not. In all likelihood, she was completely serious.

Physical contact was awkward enough, but he quite nearly sputtered his response. "Ahem. Er. I'll just... be on my way, then." He stepped out from under the hand, quite thankful for the dark, as he was quite sure his usual uniform golden complexion was turnng quite crimson. He nodded politely and turned from the clearing, walking perhaps more quickly than was necessary back towards the town.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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





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

It had been utterly destroyed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clasping the Dunmer on the shoulder, he shot the Shade an unmistakably dirty look, but said nothing, his upper lip half-lifting in what might have been a snarl, had he been just a little further pushed. But this was more important, and he was still wise enough to know that. It didn't mean he could manage the careful phrasing and delicacy necessary to accomplish this, but he trusted Adrienne and Drayk to manage more than either himelf or a mute, angry Van would have been able, and steered the other man some distance off. If that bastard had been lying, and he saw no indication of his friend's mind returning within good time, however... well, he might not care how confident the Shade was anymore.

Adrienne added a few new bruises and yet one more humiliating fall to her abnormally-high tally for the day and sighed softly. This situation was far from ideal, but at least she might be able to carry on a conversation with the Shade now, unpleasant as she found the idea. A concerned gaze followed Van and Sinder away from the rest, but the Altmer seemed to have things more or less in-hand. Biting her lower lip, she pushed herself back to her feet and attempted to brush the snow from her robes, however little it mattered, considering all the tears in the garments. She really would need to fix those, or the next few rips would probably verge on immodest... but enough of that.

Something in the Shade's words struck her oddly, though, and she slanted a curious gaze at the man. "You do not fear us, perhaps, but there must be something you do, else you'd have spoken differently." She blinked, then shrugged, apparently quite willing not to pursue that, at least for now. Tilting her head to one side, she fixed him with a dark-eyed stare. "If we are to be tools, to what use shall we be put? There are many kinds of game one could play with a setup and pieces such as these." The smile she wore was a little askew, something about the asymmetry suggesting that it was not a sign of good cheer at all. It was... brittle, perhaps, and not at all warm, as though the ice that she called so frequently to her hands had bled a little into her demeanor.

Icy as she was, the Shade seemed to warm from the words, appearing visibly pleased. "And here I was beginning to think the Mentor was collecting nothing but half-wits. You bring us to the heart of the matter. Though, considering you had the first true kill of the game, Maya, perhaps you would like to explain?" Maya did not seem to enjoy the suggestion, and in fact there was something akin to a guilt crawling on her face. "The Game of the Shadow is a competition among the Daedric lords, sixteen in all. Each elected a representative of their own choosing," she recited, eyes falling somewhere towards the carnage, "Every representative is given a target, meaning that we hunt even as we are hunted. We know not who seeks to kill us, only who we seek to kill. Skyrim is the arena to which we are confined. To break any of the rules is to invite a punishment worse than death, as we are told. I am... surprised this was allowed to stand, actually. The Bloody Curse was my target, not yours, Shade, and yet you interfered by provoking the giants upon them. Who is your target?"

"The Inquisitor," the Shade answered without hesitation, "which is our next destination, but we'll get to that later. The giants were provoked when Rikka was not present, and she made the decision to lead her warriors in retaliation. You arrived here, you slayed her, and I have taken my revenge, even if it was not direct. Now thirteen remain. Perhaps we might work together for a time longer, Blackfeather? Who do you hunt next?"

"The Omen," Maya responded, though it was not clear when or how she had learned that information. The Shade pondered for a moment. "Hm... I'd be willing to help with him if you grace me with your presence back to the west. I did just deliver you this victory, after all." Maya nodded, though she didn't seem that interested in repaying any debt she owed him. "You may want to explain why the Sellswords should help, with this..."

"Quite simply, once the game is through, you may have your Mentor back. Assuming I'm quite alive at the end of it, of course."

What in Talos' name did she just step in to? Lynly had rose to her feet at the Dunmer's outburst and her curiosity of this Shade had drawn her closer to the group. A Game of Shadows. It sounded like a tournament of sorts, and she would be lying if she said that the whole thing didn't intrigue her. That also raised a couple of choice questions, and solved a couple of riddles. The reason that Stonehammer must had been a part of this game too, considering how bent he was on killing the Imperial Captain. She found herself wondering if the Captain was in on the Game as well, but she brushed it off. The cowardly fool probably didn't have the stomach to deal with Daedric Princes. Still... She found the entire ordeal a lot more interesting than a normal person should. This certainly would make for a grand story.

At the tail end of the Shade's words, Lynly had found herself between both Adrienne and Maya, listening intently to sate her curiosity. Though, there were still riddles hidden within the revelations. She'd been drawn in too far to let these slide. "If you expect us to hunt these representives for you, then perhaps it would best serve to speak their name instead of their titles. Perhaps even the Daedra they serve," she implied. The Inquistor and the Omen were awfully vague terms after all. She allowed the unasked question to sit in the air, up to either representives to answer.

"Very well," the Shade acquiesced, "we seek Talmoro Vasuderon, a high ranking inquisitor and war mage of the Thalmor. He keeps himself in the west, in an estate of his own near Solitude, one of the few places he can be reasonably sure the locals won't try to drag him out and tear him limb from limb. Not that they could, as he's the most powerful Destruction mage I have encountered in my time, and the representative of Mehrunes Dagon. He is not to be treated lightly, and thus I do not believe it wise to approach him on my own." He turned to Maya. "Of course you have just been hunting another, but do share what you know of the Omen, if you will."

"He's a Redguard," she said, "Silas Rialta, representative of Vaermina. I know he was formerly a pirate lord, and may still be, and probably is captaining a ship somewhere in the icy waters off the north coast."

Sinder, several yards away, was still perfectly capable of hearing what was being said, and was not nearly so simple as the Shade seemed to think he was. Not that he much cared what the other man thought of him; it might actually be better this way. He almost asked the obvious question: namely, why Maya would agree to travel in their proximity when the plan was obviously going to necessitate them killing her eventually. Even if it was convenient now, any time she spent with them was an opportunity for them to learn of her, and any hunter knew that was a marked disadvantage. Perhaps she, too, planned to manipulate them into something, but she at least he would allow to give an accounting of herself before he simply asumed this. Shaking his head slightly, he turned back to his watch over the stilled Vanryth and chose to keep his mouth shut for now.

Soren was of no such inclination. He had to admit, the whole thing sounded rather fun, and suitably life-theatening. "You know, I really am going to have to have a chat with Sanguine about this. I've been living in a constant state of organized debauchery for years. You'd think that'd entitle a person to some consideration for this sort of thing." The Shade raised an eyebrow. "Interesting that you say so. Sanguine's Drunk is the only one that none of us have any knowledge of." Without any stake whatsoever in the game, the assassin's tone was light. "Oh, but about that fellow she murdered... don't suppose he was playing, too? Or did she just go around chopping into people for fun? It'd be nice to know I was inconvenienced for something at least mildly worthwhile rather than a random act of violence." Not that he had anything against random acts of violence per se, but he was a selfish bastard and would prefer it if the whole affair was at least backgrounded by something interesting. This was actually kind of like a game he played with the Dark Brotherhood, only he was the one with a specific order and they were all on the same side.

At Soren's second question, he darkened somewhat. "It was my brother she murdered. He was the representative for Meridia, called the Light, and he never belonged in this game, but that is a story I'll not go into now. Perhaps once we collect a few heads together. The important part is that his death is avenged, and that the game has begun in earnest now."

Well, that explained the 'brother of the Light' part, but not a few other things. "The title you gave yourself," she said quietly, dropping her gaze to the snow for a moment, "you also said 'son of the Master.' Who is that? Would this game have you play against your father as well?" That part was a little harder to swallow than the rest. All the games she'd ever played had been for them; playing against them seemed so impossible, even now, when the constitution of her 'family' had changed so much. "And..." she hesitated slightly, trying to decide exactly what she wanted to ask with the next question. "From what we could tell, the Mentor left with you voluntarily. I know you can't tell us where he is, but... just how deeply is he involved with this Game you're playing? May we know that, at least?"

"Ah, but you are going to be a useful one, aren't you?" the Shade said, lips curling into something of a smirk. "You ask the right questions. But if the Mentor was indeed a player in this game, my plan to win it and then return him to you would not work very well, would it?"

"True, but I asked after his involvement. Games do not have only players." There was something a little evasive about that answer, but this was a question she wasn't quite willing to let go.

"There was never any Mentor involved in the Game. There was a man who called himself the Master, and he served the Lord of Domination faithfully for more years than you want to imagine. He prepared us for this game, one and all, and we agreed... father, wife, and sons, that we would see it through. There are only so many years a life can be carried out in preparation. But when the time came, even after all we said, he turned his back on us, fled from his Lord. Molag Bal showed him how truly little he meant by stripping him of his gift, and ordering that the Game carry on without him, starting with the butchering of one he meant to protect. Now all he has to show for it is a hopeless bunch of broken souls he thought to repair rather than dominate. But his Lord is not forgotten so easily. Just look at where your lives would be without him. Through him, I dominate you, and if you want my father back for the precious few years that he has left, you will do as I say. Does that answer your question?"

Adrienne was quite certain she'd never relied so heavily upon her ability to remain impassive in the face of anything. Well, save once, but this was nearly as bad. "A little heavy-handed for Nocturnal, isn't it? But yes, that does indeed answer them. I'd disagree in only one place: we are not hopeless. You hold our leashes, and I'll not deny I have one. But this is not all we are, and the wise would remember it." It was no threat, simply an observation. Truthfully, she was reeling, dizzy in a way too similar to the one the sheer blood loss had produced, but even that was not enough to deny her her wits. It wasn't too hard to guess that the Mentor's son, the Light, had been the one butchered, and this man doubtless blamed the Mentor for his brother's death. That was fair enough. His accusations of their being under his control were fair, too. But denying them even the chance to be otherwise, she would not sanction, either with words or silence.

"Give him a chance. I believe in him, and I believe in you." she murmured, shaking her head ruefully. At least that made sense now.

"For all of our sakes, perhaps it is best if we do not travel together. The next target is near Solitude, as I said. Return to the manor. I will meet you there. The Inquisitor has nowhere to run, that much I know. It's merely a matter of slipping in without his detection. Believe me when I say we will not be heavy-handed then." He said no more, instead making his way past them, and away from the shrine of Malacath.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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For whatever reason, upon entering Riften, the sulky Altmer and the mute Dunmer decided to split off from the group, but the rest of them indicated an interest in resupply, so Soren decided to lead them to what little marketplace Riften boasted. Considering most of the business really happened underground, that wasn't much, but they at least had the basics: a forge, an item shop, a jeweler, and a few people he was pretty sure just sold whatever sundries they could get their hands on. Usually for inflated prices, but his presence would likely be sufficient to ensure his companions recieved the fairer Guild rates. He walked somewhere, merchants lowered the cost of everything. It was a pretty nice system, really; he was going to miss it someday.

"Dunno what you need, but this is what they've got," he announced in a deadpan, a sweeping gesture indicating the small circle of merchants. Turning to face those that still remained, he gave a shrug, then paused upon apparently noticing Lynly. "You look like you'd make use of the forge, lovely. That's this way." He casually waved for her to follow and set off around the circle, leaving the rest to sort themselves out. He had a bit of business with the Forgemaster himself; the man had promised to pay quite nicely for some fire salts, which were apparently what kept that pit burning hot enough to make decent equipment. Why anyone would stake the success of their business on something that hard to procure, he didn't know, but then, that was where people like him stepped in. Good, honest, greedy bastards who were good at killing things.

"Balimund! You dirty fool, I've got what you asked for." Balimund looked up sharply, apparently ready to be offended, but settled for rolling his eyes upon recognizing present company. Soren untied something from his belt and gave it a toss, which the smith caught deftly, opening the satchel and nodding to himself.

"Fair coin for fair work, Ivarsson," he replied in the near-typical gravelly Skyrim accent. A coinpurse changed hands, which Soren surpisingly did not bother counting, though he did grin and dip his head only half-seriously.

"Pleasure doing business. Now, I believe the lovely lady here might have some actual work for you, so you might want to see to that."

One of Lynly's eyelids had slid halfway over her eye as Soren paraded about the market and the eventual forgemaster, though she kept her tognue and her thoughts her own. He was so graciously leading her around after all, what kind of tourist would she be if she said something? So she kept quiet and let Soren do his business before he finally deposited her with the forgemaster. Like she didn't know how to smith her own armor. What kind of Nord would she be if she didn't know how to mend gaps in her arms and armor? Though, the idea of having someone else tend to her equipment was an appealing one. It'd get her out of the armor for a bit and let her breath. Why not? If Soren had these connections, why not utilize them?

"My armor and shield recieved some kinks. Would you repair them for me?" she asked, pointing at the singed plates and a gap in the midsection, as well as taking the shield off of her back. "... I need to change first," she admitted. She didn't quite think that one through. How was she expecting to repair her armor if she was still wearing it? Luckily, she carried around some extra clothes (a dark green dress specifically) for just such an occasion. "May I borrow your house for a moment?" she asked, pointing at the door behind him. At his ok, she slipped in, and changed.

She handed him the armor, along with with shield and sword and left him to his devices... A smith worked best when a pair of eyes weren't hovering over his shoulders.

At the warrior's reemergence, the assassin raised a speculative eyebrow, then grinned, obviously quite laciviously. "I knew there was a woman underneath the metal somewhere," he opined sagely, smile only stretching wider. "Bet all that training comes in handy when you have to beat them off with blunt objects, hmm?" He chuckled, but though he might have liked staying to bother her further about this, he unfortunately did need to see a man about a job. Dropping a two-fingered salute, Soren strode off in the opposite direction, only calling out once behind himself. "Try not to be the subject of any fights. There are parties here who look poorly upon such disorganization." Lynly snorted at this. If she was a subject of a fight, it'd be her finishing it.

Now, to find Brynjolf.

Adrienne, who'd spent the last few minutes procuring of all things a few pieces of worked metal (for later enchantment, truthfully), found herself mostly browsing, at least until she spotted Soren and Lynly by the forge. She rolled her eyes somewhat, wondering if the man was harassing her, then deciding that the answer to that was obvious. He was walking harassment. Shaking her head, she made her way over, having a legitimate question for the lady-warrior anyway, and passed the grinning fellow as she went. Well, if nothing else, her life wasn't lacking for excitement, and hadn't she once complained of exactly that? Hindsight was so much better than any other kind, unfortunately.

"Hello, Lynly," Adrienne greeted, assuming the manner she usually did with most Skyrim natives, which was considerably more direct than she would have been otherwise. "May I ask you something?" Assuming there was some kind of assent (or at least not a refusal), she continued. "I'm planning on working some enchantments, you see, and I was wondering what kind of defensive augment would be most useful to you. I can do the standard sort of thing for people with armor like yours, but if you'd prefer an elemental resistance, that's possible too." She paused delicately, inviting input on the matter.

Surprisingly, Lynly was thrown off-guard by the breton girl's directness. At the first word, she locked up and her mind went blank as shades of her social dysfunction returned in all of its awkward glory. She knew of the girl, Lynly didn't peg her for cutting to the point like a Kinsman would. She though Adrienne's words were a fluffy affair, dancing to the subject, not straight to the point as these were. She was surprised, and at the inquiry Lynly could only manage to nod her assent.

Eventually, her social dysfunction wore down enough so that she could become a functioning member of this conversation, albeit with her shoulders drawn. Unconsciously, she had began to put distance between the breton and herself. She mulled on the question for a moment, a couple of questions of her own coming to mind. Why, for instance. Why would this girl offer to enchant something of hers? Perhaps so that she would be more of use to them. Or something. Her mental processes had been thrown for a loop, so it may have been just an inkling of paranoia sneaking. Decided that no harm was meant, she debated on the question in earnest. What would she like enchanted?

Her sword and shield were out of the question. Pride refused her that. She would not resort to magical weapons if her own arms failed her. Stubborn pride, but she was a Nord so it was to be expected. Though, an elemental aid weaved in the plates of her armor... That was a better thought. But what element? Certainly not the cold, her blood and upbringing had already granted her a resistance to that. The irony of a Snowsong being afraid of the cold was too much. Lightning was a choice, though she didn't in recent memory remember be struck by it. Fire. That was the best choice. Her gaze drifted around them, trying to find the boy who nearly roasted her in her armor before going back to the girl.

"Fire resistance. On the armor. In case your friend becomes overzealous again." She stated flatly. Feminine or not, she hated having to trim the singes from her hair because of an errant fireball.

Adrienne nodded, though there was a tiny frown on her face. "That... yes, I understand. I can do that for you." She'd originally simply been planning on enchanting the new necklaces and rings she'd procured, but she was quite capable of working similar magicks on armor plating. "If you'd like, I can do so as soon as the smith is finished with the repairs. There's a worktable nearby which would make the process a great deal easier." At this, she smiled instead, shifting her items from one arm to another, then ducked her head almost bashfully.

"I... I'd like to apologize, too. I realize that you're here of your own free will, and I haven't thanked you for that. Whatever your reasons may be, you are helping my friends and I, and I have not been mindful enough of that to bring it up before now." She didn't bother making excuses; it was obvious what the reasons were, but whether they granted her pardon was something for the Nord woman to decide. She also pretended not to notice the fact that the woman was putting distance between them, instead mentally adjusting her estimation of the bounds of Lynly's personal space for future reference. It occurred to her that she might say something similar to Maya, though the other Breton's stake in the happenings was considerably more obvious, their use of each other much more mutual.

Attempting to break some of the ice she still sensed lingering, Adrienne tilted her head to one side. "Have you any other errands to run? Perhaps you would care to tell me something as we walk? I'm curious as to where you learned to fight as you do, if you don't mind parting with the tale." Truthfully, it was probably from a member of her family or through a Guild; most such stories ran that way. But it wasn't the potential novelty of the situation that she cared about; it was the simple fact that she enjoyed hearing other people talk, when it was up to her. Especially when she didn't have to take mental notes for later exploitation, and could simply listen.

A hand raised as if to brush the apologies and thanks off. "No need," Lynly explained. It was her choice after all. There was no coercion, no strong arming, she didn't even remember an offer to join them. Not that it mattered, she joined them to watch their own adventure, to see them write their tales before her eyes, as the world turned around them. She supposed that if there had to be any thanks, it was hers. Thanks for allowing her to be a part of their story. She wouldn't of course, Nordic pride and stubbornness runs deep after all, and pulling a thanks like that from the woman would be the same as trying to draw water from a stone.

"No other errands, unless you count breaking the archer's arm as one," She said. Though the statement was a joke, the stone-faced delievery might have said otherwise. A small wisp of a smile proved the statement to be what it was. Adrienne chuckled; she could sympathize. It was the first time she had brought up the archer's constant flirts, all of which she had taken with her normal impassive face. Without any other words, Lynly settled into a stride next to Adrienne as they went about her tasks. She was quiet after the breton asked her question, not because the subject matter was some secret, just so that she may gather her words without floundering like a slaughterfish. She was not wordsmith like the woman she walked beside after all.

"My father. And necessity," she answered. Figuring that was a sour answer for a genuine question, she explained, "Father taught me to handle a sword and a shield. The basics. He was in a profession much like mine once upon a time, though he did not want me to model after him. "Forge my own way" he had said. Other than that, I picked up what I know along the way, and through many fights and scuffles. As you noticed, I'm more defensive than your average Nord," She said, crossing her arm and tilting her head. "The tale itself isn't much, but the scars on the shield can tell you more than I can," She finished.

Adrienne nodded sagaciously; that made sense. She had been taught, too, but all these fights were teaching her even more still. "I'd never even had cause to hold a sword until the Mentor taught me how," she offered mildly. "My family were all healers, back in High Rock. I... can't. I've never been able to. I mostly relied on my alchemy and enchanting before I wound up in Skyrim." She lifted one shoulder in an approximation of a shrug, smiling gently. Relied may have been too weak a word for it, but it was the one she used in polite company, anyway. She stopped for a lull at another clothier, picking up a few bolts of fabric and a new bone-needle as well as some strong thread. Her robes were still in serious need of repairs, and at this point, it might be wiser to just make some new ones. It was a poor court lady who didn't know how to sew, after all.

"I suppose the fact that they're on your shield instead of elsewhere says quite a bit already, doesn't it?" she mused, amusement crinkling her eyes at the corners. She thought on the three new slash-scars over her abdomen and avoided cringing only through practiced control. In one way, she'd known such things were inevitable with her new lifestyle, but they and the reddish burn-mark that now covered her left shoulder were not exactly pretty things, and perhaps she was a little more vain than she'd estimated herself to be, or maybe she was just looking out for one of her few advantages.

It wasn't something to think about now. "Do you... ever miss your family? Or are they still close enough that you don't? I suppose you could visit, couldn't you?" There was an edge of wistfulness to the tone of the question, but she made no attempt to hide it. She'd readily admit that she missed Daggerfall sometimes, but it was home for her no longer, and the people that resided in the Jastal holdings were not her family. They had ensured that, and it was her burden to bear. She had a new family now, and a new home, and perhaps losing that scared her even more than anything she'd yet had to contend with.

"Windhelm. They still live in Windhelm. Father runs a forge and mother trades with the local produce," Lynly offered plainly. They lived a plain life now, while she took up her father's adventuring torch. Every time she went home though, she could still she the fire in Sven's eyes. The only reason he wasn't out fighting in the war was because he was more afraid of her mother than anything else. The thought brought a smile to her face. Remembering seeing her mother crack the whip on the adventurous man never failed to do that. "I... Worry about them sometimes," She admitted. "They are still loyal to the Empire, despite them living in Ulfric's Windhelm. They keep their allegiances secret. Still, it's hard not to worry about them,"

The irony of her worrying about them was not lost on Lynly. She was the one facing the elements, fighting in some dank dungeon or getting caught in some skirmish, not her parents. For all intents and purposes, she had no right to worry about them after what she puts them through day after day. Well. Her mother. Her father was proud as he could be of her, but her mother... Disapproved, to say the least. "That color," she said, pointing out a violet blue bolt of cloth. "It matches your hair. My mother disapproved of my profession. Unsurprisingly. Don't blame her for it. She settled my father down, if only she could have done it with me," she said, the wisp of a smile returning.

Adrienne would admit she was surprised at the unsolicitied color advice, but she took it in stride, ordering that color instead of the dark green she'd been eyeing. It probably would have washed out her complexion anyway.

"Yes. I can still visit. Though tearing myself away from all of this is a bit harder than that." There was a deadpan tone somewhere in her voice. It wasn't Riften, but rather Skyrim as a whole. She was a grand vista, with awe inspiring sights if you found yourself at the right place at the right time. She never got tired of standing on a rise and watching an aurora at dusk. "Though every time that I do, it gets harder to leave them..." she added, her own wistful edge finding it's way into her words.

Adrienne could sympathize, and nodded her understanding. "Family's a funny thing that way, I think. Sometimes, just knowing you're under the same sky is enough. Other times, you wonder how you could ever think that at all..." She shook her head, folding the new fabric gently over her arm. "Forgive me that sentimentality, I suppose. It's rather silly." Still, it had propelled her through more than one hard-fought night, curled into herself and unable to sleep for fear of what her dreams would bring her: agonized faces in the throes of deadly poisonings, and her mother's fearsome expression when she'd at last been able to confess her sins. It had needed to be enough that they were still out there somewhere, still safe.

Done with her errands, she turned to the Nord. "Well, perhaps it's time to head back. If you need to retrieve your armor, we can do that, too."

"Let us go then. And pray we don't run into the archer on the way," she said, uttering her first genuine chuckle.




"You know," Maya muttered under her breath, "I don't think you could look any more guilty if you tried. Loosen up for a little, you'll be fine." Drayk scowled at her. "Says the witch. Don't these people want your head for something, too?" They walked together, and much closer than Drayk preferred, through the market area. Somehow and somewhere Maya had managed to change her clothes, and she was now wearing a slightly fraying, long sleeved woolen dress of a dark grey tone. Drayk hadn't seen when, nor did he particularly care, but apparently Riften was a big enough place that the witch thought extra caution necessary.

"I'm sure they'd like to kill me for existing," Maya said, seemingly unconcerned, "but this is not my first time in a city, or Riften for that matter. There are more of us here than you might think. We simply prefer to avoid shouting our presence from the rooftops. It tends to result in the peasants crying for people to be put to the torch. Now, do at least try to cheer up. You're much more handsome when you smile, and fear not, your hair will grow back eventually. Your ladyfriend's damage will not be permanent."

He seemed mildly affronted. "What? I never said anything about--" but Maya was grinning deviously at him, and Drayk rolled his eyes. "Can't you bother someone else?" She screwed up her face in thought for a moment. "Let's see... I think I've bothered Sinder enough for now, and he seemed to want to be alone besides. The Dunmer's no fun to bother, he can't even talk back, and he looks just as likely to try and hit me as he is to walk with me, you saw what he tried to do to Tarquin--"

"The Shade," Drayk interrupted, "he tried to hit the Shade. I don't really care what his name is, to be honest." Maya just shrugged, and continued. "Have it your way. As I was saying, Vanryth would be no fun, the real Breton girl's off getting to know the warrior-woman, and while I will admit that Soren is devilishly attractive and at least as mysterious to me as the Shade is, he smells like danger, and I'd prefer to observe a while longer before getting involved."

"So that leaves me," Drayk concluded, and she nodded cheerily. "Yes, indeed. Truth be told, I think I'll bother you more often. It's as if you wear a sign around your neck that lists all the things that bother you. You're mildly unstable, yes, but I was never the type to avoid dancing by the fire, even if I got burned once or twice. That, and you're as cute as a button, and warm, too." She said the last word as her arm slithered under his, and she got a little too close for Drayk. He wormed his way out of it, putting the former distance between them.

"Don't do that again," he commanded, but she smiled mischievously as they resumed their walk. "No promises."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Despite their fears, the group managed to leave the city of Riften without causing any incident, apart from the scuffle at the Bee and Barb, during which the bard never actually stopped his singing. They took the road north from Riften, passing through Shor's Stone on the first day and turning west shortly thereafter, entering the southern reaches of Eastmarch, though they would not pass particularly close to the Stormcloak capital of Windhelm. They held their westerly course towards Whiterun, and it was there, in the forest along the shores of the White River, that they camped during the second night of their return voyage to Solitude.



Chapter IV
A Nest of Vipers




The second night of the journey, Sinderion had once again left the rest to spend time in the forest, mostly to figure something out. He had a thought (several, actually) that he wished to express, and while such things had never come easily to him, they only grew more difficult with time, it seemed, and this was important enough that he needed to think about it beforehand. Being in the calmest frame of mind he could manage when he actually said it would help as well, perhaps. Presently, he'd ceased his running, having drawn once more close to the edge of the camp, and sat against the trunk of a large tree, half-rotted and gnarled with age. He could smell the disease inside of it, wearing away at its center. The arbor had not long for the world, and perhaps that was why he'd chosen it. Knees drawn up, he'd draped his arms over them, head tipped back so that his crown rested on the deadened bark, giving him an interrupted view of the evening sky.

If he'd ever doubted his own cowardice, such reservations were laid to rest here. He had something to say, he knew more or less how he wanted to say it, and still he could not. He suspected that this was because doing so would necessitate an admission that he was loath to make. His weakness was something that he could usually let linger in the periphery, to be understood but not acknowledged. Not so, if he wished to demonstrate his point, and it seemed important that he do so. Unfortunately, need was not the harbinger of desire, and simplicity did not follow from something being essential. Sighing, he rubbed his face with both hands, pulling the loose hairs from his face and letting his fingers tangle in the rest. He should retie the tail, he thought absently, but banished it. Delay would serve nothing, nor would trying to change the subject, even to himself. Still, he loosed and removed the leather cord that tied the mass in place, making his lean that much more comfortable.

"Damn it to Obilvion."

Where Sinder ran, Maya instead chose to hunt, and to that end, a pair of hares hung from her belt as she made her way back towards the camp, her footsteps naturally light and carefully placed, but not with the effort of being currently in the act of stalking prey. Her hood was drawn up over her head, her back to the moonlight making her face currently a nonexistant visage of darkness. The hares had arrow wounds clean through them, but the arrows themselves were gone, and the witch did not carry any. One of the benefits of using weapons only temporarily called into the world. Of course, the glowing purple nature of the projectiles meant she had to summon the bow itself just before the kill, but she'd done this enough times to know how to succeed.

In truth she had left camp that night to think rather than hunt, but found that once she was out there, she really didn't want to. She needed to know more, but the very nature of the Game made each step one that had to be taken into an abyss. She was continuing to remind herself that she needed to be on her guard more. There was a distinct possibility that her own hunter would come for her long before these Sellswords were asked to kill her. She only knew a little: it was not Stonehammer, for her had been in search of the Spymaster; it was not the Horizon, for he would have taken his chance in Falkreath otherwise; it was not the Omen, for she hunted him, and it was not the Shade, for he hunted the Inquisitor. That left far too many names for her to be comfortable with.

She stumbled upon one of her Altmer companions as she nearly reached camp, and she was glad to see that it was Sinderion, not the new arrival. She still felt she had little idea what to expect from the Psijic. She wouldn't have put it past the Inquisitor to send a spy, if he somehow knew what was now in motion. Still, familial bonds had to count for something. Bah, as if she would know.

"Poor thing," she said quietly, stopping next to the tree and putting her palm gently against it. Apparently not too moved, however, she soon turned and leaned back against it, tilting her head back to look up towards the night sky. "Beautiful night, for once." It was rather still for a Skyrim night, no howling wind or cascading snowfall.

Sinder's nostrils flared, the scent of blood and raw meat obvious and none-too-comforting at present. Still, he supposed it was preferable to some things, and might actually make things easier-- he still had a visceral negative reaction to hers. It was too close to something else. Universally bad with small talk in any situation whatsoever, he found he didn't have much of a response for the musing, though for what good it was, he did try. "I... yes, I suppose. Thunderstorms in spring are preferable, though." Those tended to dampen his perception, at least a little bit. Hard to hear anything else when the lashing of rain was so loud, and rain was one of the most pleasant odors he knew. They were also wild, in a way that bid him out-of-doors, even when everyone else was inclined to be bundled tightly somewhere warm. When he'd still lived at the manor, he'd often simply leave when they arrived, and the Mentor had always seemed to understand...

He shook himself. That was not the kind of track he needed to be taking right now. Between going there and delivering his warning, he actually had good reason to prefer the latter, cowardice or no. "What do you get for this?" he asked, tone perhaps describable as miserable, though not ostentatiously so. It was the slow, pulsing misery that lay underneath the languid heartbeats before death or slumber. His, anyway. "Say for a moment that you do win. What does Hircine recieve, and what do you, aside from keeping your life?" He was curious despite himself. What, apart from devotion so fanatical he couldn't pretend to understand it (or could he? was it not the reason for everything?) could possibly motivate anyone to do this?

He shifted slightly, folding his legs and lowering his knees until he was more or less crosslegged, palms resting on the dead leaves beneath him, as if he were trying to anchor himself to the spot. Maybe not so far from the right of it.

She was silent for a moment, her arms folding together across her chest as she thought of how best to reply. "I certainly do not claim to know what my Lord would receive should I be victorious. Our struggles are petty things to the Daedra, and things that have value to us may not have value to them. It is not my place to know the terms of their agreement in this Game." She shifted herself, moving her weight onto the other foot.

"As for my own reward... have you ever been forced to take something on faith? Not asked, but forced? The Representatives did not volunteer, they were chosen. They were faithful to the last, and I don't doubt that I am among the most loyal to my Lord in this land, but when Hircine informed me that I would be participating under his name, there was no offer, there were no questions asked. I was informed of my selection, I was told where to go and when to be there. I was trained, I met the majority of my competitors, and you know the rest."

She turned her head to ensure that no one else was overhearing the conversation. Not that she planned on saying anything particularly important, she simply liked to know when she was alone. "I still believe that this is the greatest honor I will receive in my life, and I am grateful that I was chosen, but the choice was Hircine's, and not mine. I do not doubt that the reward he would bestow upon me would be worth the time and the effort I have devoted in preparation, at the very least. I take that on faith because I have to."

Sinder snorted, shaking his head. He supposed she probably did. Then again, she didn't much seem to mind, which he hardly understood. Still... "If you want to find out, you should leave," he pointed out flatly. "I'm sure you could convince the archer and the warrior to go with you. Not as many, but more survivable." He paused, hands clenching in the dampened leaves. "You might be right, about us. We might not listen to the Shade if he told us to slay you. Now. But we're unravelling at the seams, and we will not maintain even this much of our stability for long. You can joke about the 'fire' in Drayk's eyes all you want, it's still dangerous. Vanryth just started a fight he would have easily ignored two weeks ago, and you saw him with the Shade. Adrienne might last longer, but if she broke, we wouldn't know until it was far too late. I'm..." He stared hard at some point in the middle distance.

"I'm coming apart. Sometimes, I almost forget how to speak. I had to practice this. Every day, it's closer. I will succumb, it's only a question of when. And when we've lost everything else, the only thing we'll remember is how much we need him. The Shade knows it. I know it. In their secret hearts, I'm sure the others know it as well. You don't have to take us on faith, and I'm asking you not to." More hesitation. "I don't... I don't want to kill you, but if I'm that far gone and the Shade tells me to hunt you, I just might. I'd hope you could kill me first, but that won't happen if you're not far enough away to see us coming."

There, that was it. He was crumbling, and he knew it. He needed to warn her, them really, as much as it made his imminent failure all that much more real to him. Anirne... he'd talk to her later, when he could figure out how to tell his only living relative just what kind of monster he was.

She let him speak, not trying to stop him at any point. She'd learned that there was a danger he would simply stop speaking, forget as he said, if she got in the way. She did, however, sink down towards the ground, tucking her knees to her and folding her arms neatly around them, pulling her hood away from her head. She knew his words to be true. The Master... no, Mentor, the Master she had known never would have stooped to bother with them, had truly collected a broken group. That they would simply unravel without him was painful to watch, and it could be watched, day by day.

"So then what's the point of waiting?" she asked, growing suddenly more animated. "You don't want to kill me, I don't want to die. You say you're unraveling... the Game will not be done in a few days, or a few weeks. You will have to travel across this land a dozen times over to find and kill all in your way. If you don't think you can last that long, why bother trying?" She suddenly rolled over onto her knees in front of him, leaning towards him slightly. A small flash of purple light accompanied the conjuration of a dagger in her hand, which she flipped over backwards and held towards his throat, slow enough to not seem like an attack.

"Perhaps you should let me just kill you now, while you still have the choice. Avoid the pain. I can do it for the others too, if they think their future as bleak as yours. Would it not be easier than tracking me across the land and hoping against hope I can bring down a werewolf before he is upon me?" Though she almost had the knife up against his throat, her posture still wasn't threatening, but something else entirely. "If that is truly what you want, just say the word. Me, I know what I want, and it doesn't involve any of us dying."

For the first few seconds, Sinderion was entirely dumbstruck, unable to do much more than level a wide-eyed stare at the witch, swallowing tightly as the dagger drew closer. Not, unfortunately, for the reason he should have been wary of its presence, and indeed, once he had adequately processed the situation, he cracked a crooked, bitter smile, something that suited his face oddly-well for someone who usually expressed next to nothing. Silently, he moved both hands, leveling the first near his head and bracing his index finger against his thumb, leaving the other three digits upright. The other actually moved the dagger closer, so that the point of it rested at the hollow of his throat, touching but not breaking the skin there. "Thrice," he said softly, eyes flickering to his hand just for an instant before returning to hers. "I know what it's like to be a desparate man, Maya, and thrice have I attempted exactly what you suggest. And every single time, it has stopped me, because it refuses to allow me to die. If only the solution were so simple as that."

In fact, they were presently close enough that she couldn't fail to notice that even the proximity of something so close to his throat was beginning to work changes on him-- Sinder's pupils were blown until they nearly eclipsed his irises, leaving only the faintest rim of blue, and the hand that rested behind hers on the conjured blade's pommel had acquired steely claws. "Do you really want to meet it? You're welcome to try, I suppose. After all, what's the point in waiting?" Somewhere, in the far recesses of his mind, that part of himself that he hated was quite nearly delirious with anitcipation, but Sinderion himself was rather hoping that what he was doing here was calling her bluff, not risking an appearance of the beast this close to the others. He supposed the next few moments would tell him something he needed to know, anyway, and he could not deny that the portion of his personality that had always resented his iron-clad self-control was quite happy reveling in the danger of the possibilities.

Which was probably where the challenging smirk was coming from, in retrospect, because on an ordinary day, he would not have dared any of it. Too bad none of his days were ordinary anymore.

There really was no point in waiting, was there? What had been a rather intense look on her face fell away to a raised eyebrow and a glint in her eye. "I think I do want to meet it." Her next actions were lightning quick; she lunged forward, slamming the knife into the tree behind them with one hand, the other hand sliding around the back of Sinder's neck and pulling him to her, kissing him and pressing herself up against him.

Well, that appeared to have done it for rational-Sinderion and beast-Sinderion, perhaps simply shocking all of his usual faculties into cognitive silence. That left somewhat bitter, reckless Sinderion, and he at least wasn't complaining. Honestly, he'd been half-expecting to wake up in another four years and find everyone around him dead, so this was... quite nice, actually. Not that he was thinking about it much; his hands, which had been torn from the dagger and dropped uselessly to his side, respectively, threaded into Maya's dark hair, and for the moment at least, he was quite content with where he was.

At least until he properly came to realize what he was doing, and why he should absolutely not be doing it. The Altmer's eyes, which had fallen shut, snapped open, bright with his (flawed, but better than the alternative) humanity, and he stiffened, pulling back as far as his positioning would allow. For someone of such a tawny color, he was doing quite the impression of a beet at present, particularly across his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose. He had a feeling the point had been lost in here somewhere, but he honestly wasn't in any state to go trying to find it. His mouth worked ineffectually for a few moments, until it clicked shut and he took a deep breath, shaking his head as if to rid himself of some phantom thought. Obilvion take it all, truly.

Of course, now that he'd gone and done that, he had nothing to say for himself. "I... you... why would you do that? I can't.." In retrospect, even Sinder would realize that this was not the question he should have asked, but he certainly didn't know what was.

She'd expected the response, but to be honest, not the initial one. The one that had been there for just a moment, before he'd locked up and pushed her away. Which meant that had actually gone better than she thought it would. She leaned back away from him to give him some room, sitting back on her heels. "If my time's as short as we both seem to think it is, then for once in my life I'm going to use it to make my own choices. And... well, that got rid of your dreaded beast right quick, didn't it?"

Maya stood, pleased with herself, adjusting her robe slightly. "I'll see you tomorrow, Sinder. Sleep well." And she sauntered off back towards the camp, leaving the elf to bury his face in his hands and try to figure out just how a warning had turned into that.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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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: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Perhaps an hour or two after Anirne had departed, Adrienne was about ready to do the same, cinching her new robes in place with an embroidered strip of fabric, so fanciful if only because shed had hours of free time on the way to Solitude and little to fill them with, aside from the intermittent lessons in signing courtesy of the resident Psijic. Having forgone the option of journeying into town the previous night, she was actually more well-rested than she could remember being in quite a long while, and though that brought with it a little bit of soreness as her body's accumulated damage caught up with her, it had also started to repair itself, helped along by a healing draught. In short, the breton girl was feeling pretty fantastic, if she conveniently forgot that the lives of everyone in the world she cared about were still hanging in the balance of a game she had not wanted to play in.

That bit was actually surprisingly simple, if she focused only on what was immediately before her. Picking up a small satchel, the mage tied this to her new sash, laying her alchemist's bandoleers loosely enough about her waist that everything was within easy reach. She'd made a few more than she could comfortably carry, even considering the ones she was planning on giving to the others, and those, she would sell in town today, to hopefully build a bit more of a stockpile of septims in case they were needed.

Double-checking her room to ensure that everything was in its proper place, she nodded to herself and left it, closing but not locking the door behind her. It would take more than a simple lock to stop anyone who really wanted in from entering, and she didn't bother, though she did place a blond hair in the doorjamb, which would doubtless not remain there if someone did use the portal to enter. It was an old trick, one she'd never really been able to shake. Still, she couldn't fault herself for it: it was one of the reasons she trusted the other Sellswords so much: to her knowledge, none of them had ever been inside without an invitation, which was a nice thing to know when you were inherently suspicious but also really, desperately needed to learn how to trust.

The front entranceway was currently unoccupied, and this was where she waited, assuming that Maya would be out soon enough.

She assumed correctly, as the witch presented herself not two minutes later, looking very unwitchlike. Maya's raven hair was done up in a slightly messy bun, for once not falling about her shoulders in wild droves. She'd removed her witch's robes in favor of a simple dress of a pale green color over a tunic that must have once been white, but was now a yellow-brown color, particularly towards the ends of the sleeves and the hem of the skirt. Her boots were no longer the thigh-high moccassin like contraptions she wore regularly, but instead rather drab looking things that looked better for working a field rather than navigating a forest. In all, she looked very much like a commoner this morning, hefting a medium sized pack onto a shoulder.

"I found these old things lying about," she said, giving a half-hearted shrug, "They make me look sufficiently boring, I think. Shall we?" She could have worn the same garb she'd used in Riften, but chose not to, as it was rather wrinkled in her pack at this point, and these were probably better than what she had anyway. She'd found them amongst a bunch of other women's clothes in a large bedroom she would have guessed belonged to the Mentor himself. Curious, but probably not worth mentioning to the others.

Maya led the way from the manor, armed with some coin she appropriated from the stores the Shade had informed her of. Only enough to buy what she would need, of course. She assumed her companion had also brought along coin. At this point, Maya's cheer seemed to only be growing, and now even she wasn't so certain it wasn't an act. The day would be long, and bloody before its end. If all went well, there would only be Thalmor blood spilled. If not... well, she'd gone over that line of thought already. It wasn't worth her time right now.

Like every other city in Skyrim, Maya had been to Solitude before. It was actually one of the cities she was more familiar with, and she had often traveled the road up past Whiterun and Rorikstead, over the Dragon Bridge and into Haafingar. She liked it here, it was very... picturesque, both the city and the surrounding countryside. She could hide her appearance, but the witch was not so adept at hiding her mood. It was a beautiful morning, and by the time they reached Radiant Raiment, she was strutting inside like she owned the place.

The Altmer proprietor didn't seem to think much of that, giving Maya a glare when she walked in, which she promptly ignored as she began browsing their wares. "What do you think, matching robes? We could look like some kind of crazy cult... the Legendary Dusk or something." At the storeowner's raised eyebrow to her initial question, Maya just waived a hand in dismissal. "Oh, we're just going to a costume party, I'm sure it's nothing you would be invited to." If she was interested in making friends with her, Maya certainly wasn't showing it.

"Hm... maybe simply matching color palettes. Drayk could conceiveably wear the robes, but I think you and I need to dress to impress. That's usually the point of such functions, after all, and crazy cult or not, people with power want everyone else to know they have it. Especially women with power." Adrienne noted. That said, the colors themselves would have to be well-chosen. The match would need to be strong and obvious, enough to make an impression. Probably in garments rich enough to appear like they'd cost quite a bit.

She didn't really want to admit it, but this bit had always been a favorite of hers: planning, and then executing a fleece of sorts, coming away with exactly what she'd gone in wanting, having given nothing away that she wasn't entirey willing to part with in the first place. The fact that this would be a Thalmor engagement was hardly much of a concern as far as such things went. It was true that the Thalmor were dangerous, but so was Daggerfall. This was the kind of danger she knew how to deal with, anyway. "So Maya... how do you feel about dresses? And the color red, perhaps? Red and gold might work." It would certainly make a statment, especially for the difference from Thalmor blue and its brightness on the eyes. She also thought it would look rather fetching on the other woman and Drayk both, given their dark hair. As for her, well, she'd make it work just fine.

"So long as I won't have to tear my way out of it in order to run somewhere, I wouldn't mind a dress. I've always fancied a chance at being the ravishing Breton noblewoman, take a break from being a witch of the wilds, you know? Mm, you probably don't. Anyway, it seems prudent to account for the outcome where we're forced into more drastic measures. Maybe we'd have time to enchant these? I have spare soul gems, and I noticed you're an enchanter yourself. I'm sure it wouldn't take us long." She spoke the truth about liking the idea of the dresses. The issue of being able to move at a moment's notice was perhaps more pressing, though. The skirts of her own robes were more akin to coattails, not restricting the motion of her legs in any manner. Considering the fact that they were bringing Drayk and Sinderion along with them on a mission like this, Maya was willing to bet the chances of things getting hectic were pretty high.

"Mm, perhaps," Adrienne demurred, tapping an index finger on her lips thoughtfully. "And well, just because one is wearing a dress does not mean they cannot hide other things under their skirts, anyway. I knew a few women who swore by deerskin leggings, actually." The young woman shrugged, as if to say it could all be arranged if necessary. Of course, if they did their jobs right, they'd be walking out exactly the same way they came in, with none the wiser for the death of the Inquisitor. Things didn't often seem to go according to plan anymore, though, so she could see the wisdom in not counting on it. That in mind, she examined a few of the lighter fabrics on offer, aware that weighing down their skirts too much would be counterproductive, but too much gauzy billowing would be just as bad, and more likely to trip them up.

Still, her desires were overcoming her caution of late, and the idea was too tempting to pass up. "Red and gold should look nice, a good change of pace. We can glow like the flames our little firebrand likes to wrap himself in." She smiled at the thought. It occurred to her that this was really the first time the two Breton girls had been alone together. She pondered why that was for a moment. Had she been avoiding Adrienne? Had Adrienne been avoiding her? No, that wasn't it, she had no reason to dislike the woman, and as far as she could tell, she hadn't gotten on Adrienne's bad side. One would think they would have a decent amount in common, both being of the same Breton blood, but anyone could look at them and see they came from different worlds.

"You were raised in High Rock, weren't you?" she asked, her line of thought turning into words. "Would it be unheard of for something so precious as a child to be abandoned due to some scandal or intrigue?" Perhaps it was a strange question to ask without a lead-in, but perhaps this was at the root of why she hadn't made much effort at speaking with Adrienne. It wasn't... jealousy, or resentment or anything like that, just... curiosity, from one who was doomed to never truly know the circumstances of her origin.

Adrienne, who had been scrutinzing several different shades of red-- scarlet was brighter and thus more noticeable, but crimson carried an air of gravity, being the obvious analogue to blood as well as flame-- paused, lifting her eyes to Maya's face. Whatever she saw there prompted her to answer, or perhaps it was just the polite thing to do. "An interesting question," she mused thoughtfully, angling her head just a bit to the left. "But I doubt you'll be surprised when I tell you that it wouldn't. The bastard child is a frequent and very unappreciated happening in a society where sex is an oft-exercised form of power, as one might expect." The woman at the counter looked positively scandalized by this point, not to mention more than a touch confused, but Adrienne paid it no mind.

"There are, however, infrastructures in place to handle that sort of thing; I know of no reason why such a child would end up in Skyrim, if that's what you mean to ask, unless the family was in exile. That's... not uncommon either, especially in cases of forcible disenfranchisement." Disowning a proper-blood child was far less common, but as she knew quite well, it did happen in dire enough circumstances. One learned to cut the dead weight when one was intent on rising, after all, and once she was discovered, she'd been little but. Funny that it turned out to be her own fault.

Turning back to the clothing, she pursed her lips, then nodded after a moment. "I think these are the best bet; the crimson is more properly ominous, and I like the edging. It says that we're well accustomed to opulence and hence getting our way. We'll need to have them taken in, though." She turned to the counter and smiled winningly, which did little to move the owner. "Can you take my friend's measurements, please? I have my own for you as well." She loosened her coinpurse from her belt and placed it on the counter, having filled it from the stockpile in the basement. "This should cover the alterations and a matching set of robes, I should think."

It certainly changed the woman's tune, regardless.

"Well, if I fell off the back of a carriage as a baby, I'm quite glad I did, and thankful that I avoided any kind of brain damage in the process," Maya said with a degree of certainty, cooperating as the Altmer woman took her measurements. It was rather exciting, actually. She'd never had anything made for her like this, apart from her own robes, which she'd crafted for herself through a good deal of trial and error until she found the correct fit.

"Maybe it's a case of not being able to regret the only life I've ever known, but I really can't imagine myself anywhere else. Brief forays into worlds of elegance and intrigue are fascinating, but ultimately empty to me. I think my heart will always rest with the forests, and the moon, and the hunt." She was aware that her words were likely very strange to the woman currently measuring the size of her hips, but Maya seemed content to act as though she simply wasn't there.

"And what of you?" she asked Adrienne, curious again. "If you could go back to your homeland and resume your life there, would you? I have only ever led one life, so I cannot know what it must be like to have led two, and decide which one meant more to me."

"A choice between the people that cast me out like I wasn't their daughter and the people who took me in as though I was family?" Adrienne sounded slightly incredulous. "It's not a choice at all. I know we're the furthest thing from perfect or even functional, most days, but, well, I guess I can't imagine myself anywhere else anymore either." She shrugged lightly. "If there's anything I've learned, coming from that life into this one, it's that the family that wants you is vastly prefrable to the one that doesn't. I won't tell you to consider yourself lucky, because you probably weren't, but if the other witches gave you even a bit of that... well, doesn't your life now make you happy?"

She honestly wasn't sure, but she'd never gotten the impression that Maya resented being where she was, nor even what she'd been told to do, and that was more than Adrienne could say for her life in High Rock. "In the end, I'd die for them and I'd kill for them, and I'd do it without regret. That's something I've never known before. Right or wrong, it's certainly not empty any longer." The blonde woman pointed quickly to a succession of fabrics, and the seamstress took down the notes with just as much efficiency. It was funny, though; she'd never have expected the skills from her old life to help at all with her new one. Being able to use them again felt... surprisingly natural.

"My apologies," Maya said, "I was unaware of your reasons for leaving High Rock. The others don't exactly gossip a lot. Perhaps Skyrim is the better place for both of us. I do consider myself lucky, actually. Many search their entire lives for something to devote themselves to. Perhaps it hasn't been easy at times, but it's given me a great deal to be thankful for."

She'd never really thought about how bad a life could be among nobles. Family was... different for her than it was for most. Blood family didn't exist, and so her family was whoever was most interested in taking care of her. There was no group she was required to assist, to do the bidding of. She was raised as a witch, but she was never forced to be a witch. She could have left if she'd wanted, but she found that the life suited her. She imagined she would have had different thoughts about the Glenmoril if the relationship had been one of... captivity? Rather than freedom. "I hope I haven't offended. I was merely curious about your past, and mine. I'm thankful for the help you've given me so far. It's... regrettable that I felt I had to deceive you."

"No, not in the slightest. I could hardly expect you to know. The question was merely surprising. With the Sellswords... I think there's an unspoken understanding that none of us ever wish to go back, though moving forward is often difficult. It has been some time since I spoke of it, is all." She flashed a smile, though the expression faded into thoughtfulness shortly thereafter. "Deception... is something with which I am familiar. It would be incredibly unfair of me to condemn you for it, being of a rather dishonest sort, myself." There was a short pause, then a soft snort. "Of course, if we could keep it to a minimum in the future, that'd be lovely. I don't think any of us want the Shade to win this Game, not after what he's done. But we can't help much if we don't know the rules, so to speak."

That said, Adrienne wrote a series of numbers representing her own dimensions on the seamstress's parchment, and cast her eye appraisingly over the items that had been assembled. On seond thought, she added a few approximate notes regarding Drayk's height and such as well, so that the robes would fit as well as could be expected. There was a little more room for leeway with such things than with bodices, after all. "That should do it," she told the woman. "We'll be back this evening. There's extra in there for the short notice. Thank you." She gestured to the small satchel of coins, and then turned to Maya.

"Well, I suppose that's it. Now we just need to find a way to pass the afternoon, I think."

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: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Mostly for solidarity with his fellow Sellswords, Sinderion had slept in his old room the previous night, though even he had been weary enough to sleep the whole night through, something that would have been too dangerous in the wilds outside. He woke no more rested than he usually was, but he was also without any lingering fatigue. The Beast lived close to the surface these days, and he was treating that with as much equanimity as he could. Letting go, as Anirne had put it, wasn't really what he wanted to do quite yet, but for now there was an uneasy truce between himself and his darker nature.

Up with the sun, Sinder occupied himself padding about the kitchen, doing what he could to produce something edible. He wasn't much of a cook and mostly ate meat himself, but he was familiar with the basic principles, largely from watching Adrienne. So there was porridge going in a cast-iron pot over a fire, and he was standing against the near wall of the kitchen, leaning back onto it with his arms crossed and his eyes closed, which was about as relaxed as he ever got.

He was still concerned of course-- the sheer number of things that could go wrong was staggering, but at least he knew who he needed to watch for, and the Shade's particular odors (both of them) were by now firmly fixed in his mind. For the most part, he was as satisfied as he could be with that much. Even if other things failed him, his nose wouldn't.

Maya hadn't been surprised when she was hardly able to get to sleep the previous night. There was a certain point between exhaustion and unconsciousness in which her mind refused to cooperate, but that was not the only reason. She couldn't help but take the Shade's warning to heart. The thoughts had raced through her mind. Maybe it was a trick, he only meant for them to think he was leaving for a time, when really he simply was waiting for them to separate. He would return and murder her in the night, the nights that he owned. They would need to be extra careful during the dark hours now, when he was at his most dangerous.

The witch had also felt... was unworthy the right word? Maybe it wasn't, but it was damn close. She felt wrongly about staying with them, even if it was obviously necessary to her survival. Maya had always been independent, strong enough to not need anyone to look out for her... but this Game was another matter. She was outmatched, and she knew it. She needed their help, at the very least. And the very least she could do in return was try to help them find what they sought, the goal that they had just denied in the act of saving her life.

Maya managed to get some sleep on a couch near the main hall, though the lack of sounds from the wild didn't help any. It was too quiet in here. It was good to at least be back in her own robes, if nothing else. She eventually found herself quietly wandering the manor, eventually hearing sounds from the kitchen, and going to investigate. She was unsurprised to find Sinderion up and about, as his sleep had no doubt been restless as always. She leaned in the doorway, watching him for a brief moment.

"Good morning," she began, wondering how best to go about this. Certainly not straight to the point. "Need any help?"

He wasn't surprised by her entrance, obviously. He'd once thought he couldn't be surprised by anything anymore, but then this very woman had proven him quite wrong. Sinder cracked an eyelid, just a bit, then blinked both open and shrugged. "Is it? I suppose it must be, if we're all still alive." He raised a brow, glancing over at the pot bubbling merrily on the cook-fire.

"Unless you're an expert on porridge, I think it's under control for the time being," he mused, somewhat dryly, but his tone was not unpleasant. "I'm afraid I don't know how to do much but this and roasting whatever I find outside, so..." he trailed off, finding that finishing the sentence was unnecessary.

He cocked his head to the side, though, turning his body so that only one shoulder still rested against the wall, though his arms remained across his chest. He still wasn't sure how to take... whatever it was that existed between himself and Maya, and the posture was an unconsciously-defensive one. He didn't know if he was very much off-base or not, but she seemed troubled by something, though he certainly knew not what. There were a large number of things to choose from, after all.

"...Something wrong?" he asked her, pitching his voice low to avoid it inadvertantly carrying out the open door and into the yard, where four of their number currently resided.

Maya moved into the kitchen, closer to him, though not close enough to make him uncomfortable (at least she thought). She lowered her voice as well. "Well, I currently possess the same amount of blood I had before going into the embassy last night, so I can hardly say something's wrong, but I did want to talk to you." She leaned up against the wall connected to the Altmer's, crossing a leg over the other and idly hooking her thumbs under her belt.

"There's... two things. First... I know that things haven't exactly been clear between us, and that's entirely my fault. What I did last night didn't help things any, but in my defense, I thought there was a very good chance I was going to be dead in a matter of minutes. It's occurred to me that I have given far less consideration than is prudent to what you want, and what you are comfortable with." That was probably an understatement, and in fact the first time she'd kissed him she'd had every intention of making him uncomfortable.

"I apologize for being so forward, it's... just my way. I know that what happened last night was as much for you and the other Sellswords as it was for me. I just thought we should clear the air. If you would prefer that I keep my distance, then I will do so. I do not mean to try and force anything upon you."

Well, she'd somehow managed it again. He should probably get used to that. Blinking several times in rapid successon, Sinder let his arms drop, one automatically reaching up and behind for the nape of his neck. What was he supposed to say to that? She was right, of course; he'd been more than a little uncomfortable more than a few times in the short time since he'd made her acquaintance, but that was, to his lights, as much his fault as hers. It certainly wasn't her doing that he'd been stuck living as a near-recluse for nearly half his life, and still didn't really understand how to deal with people who weren't Sellswords. Much as he'd been willing to blame her for it initially, it also wasn't her fault that he was as he was, and that was a major barrier to, well... everything.

His feelings left him... confused, was probably the right word for it. Or maybe simply perplexed. His eyes found the ceiling as he tried to put this to words that made some knd of sense. "I shouldn't," he said at last, eyes still lifted. "By all rights, I'm too... twisted to be able to foist everything on anyone." And that was maybe an insight-- his insides felt twisted, tangled, like he was having difficulty extricating himself from everything around him. It wasn't just the Beast anymore, it was the knowledge that he could die on any day, in any place, that his friends might, and that if any of them fell to their darker natures, he would have no choice but to stay, perhaps even follow. They meant that much to him. He wasn't the Mentor, he couldn't be, and he wasn't sure he'd want to be, either. Because the Mentor had left them, and he wouldn't leave. Not unless he was taken by Oblivion itself.

His gaze lowered, fixed on hers, and his arm dropped with a sigh, a not-quite-smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "But I guess I do anyway." He shook his head. "Gods have mercy, but I don't really want you to keep your distance, witch." He echoed the first time he'd spoken to her with a trace of humor. "I don't know what it means, and I can't promise it won't go catastrophically wrong. But you know that as well as I do by now, don't you?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Of course. It really wouldn't be half as exciting if imminent doom didn't hang over us at every turn, I think. And watch the name-calling, it gets me all riled up, and I tend to make rash decisions when the blood's pumping." Really, it was as if she'd just said call me a witch all you want. Her eyes certainly said it. Any remnants of her serious and respectful demeanor had faded into dust when he'd encouraged her. She pushed away from the wall and moved to stand in front of him, thumbs still hooked under her belt.

"Much better, I think. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, the second point I wanted to bring up." If it was possible, which it was, this was surely a more difficult issue than the last, which said something, certainly. "I think it's about time you stopped saying things like 'I'm too twisted,' because I think, somewhere in that heart of hearts of yours, you don't really believe that. The past is the past. You have every right to be ashamed of what you have done, and only you can decide how to feel about your past, but never be ashamed of what you are." She hoped his reaction to this would not be too negative, as she was certainly aware that this could turn ugly if she pushed too hard. She had just claimed to not mean to force anything upon him. Now she had to prove that.

"I do not think you will ever find any peace if you continue to loathe what will always be a part of you, but it has to be you that decides that. Know that I will help in any way that I can. I want you to be at peace with yourself. To be whole again." She thought that might have been too far, but the words were said now, and she had meant them.

"You're not going to let that go, are you?" he asked, though it was mostly rhetorical. They both knew the answer, and with a little more time, he was beginning to understand the reasons. Before, he'd been upset at even the mention of it, because he'd been taught that the best way to prevent the return of the incidents of his youth was to use his aversion to that part of himself like a restraint, forge it into some kind of metaphorical cage and keep the part of himself he didn't like locked inside of it. He'd made himself a will of iron, and kept himself away from temptation as much as possible, even something as ordinary as contact with other people. That was no longer an option, and as his venture with Ani had shown to him, it might not have been the best idea in the first place. In the Mentor's presence, living as he had had seemed not such an impossible task as it did now, but... circumstances were changing, and every bit of strength they could grasp was needed.

He'd been prepared, yesterday. To let it go. He would have had no choice in the matter, and he'd accepted that. In hindsight, that was disturbing, but perhaps not as much as it would have been just weeks before. "It's not so simple as saying it," he replied at last. "I understand why you think as you do, but... I can't think that way. Not yet, maybe never. I can't just undo years of effort because it's easier." He looked like he might say something else, though he was still undecided as to exactly what, when he caught the first whiff of something burning. Frowning, he gave Maya an apologetic look and went to take the food off the fire.

"It's something to think about, though," he murmured, almost as if to himself, though he didn't doubt that she could hear even so. "And the choice may not be mine for much longer anyway. At this point, I just plan to see what happens." If he did transform, he'd have to kill something. That was the nature of lycanthropy, and it was one of the reasons he was inclined to do so in the heat of battle rather than in the lone company of someone he cared about. He didn't know how easy or difficult it would be to differentiate between those he would have slain anyway and those he desired to preserve as well as he could.

A large portion of her respectfulness had returned, as she believed she had slightly overstepped her bounds as far as his lycanthropy was concerned. There were points she would have pressed, but she was able to see that now was not the time. Recent events had been overwhelming already, and this would not help matters any. "Of course," she said, bowing her head slightly. "so long as you know that I'm here if you need me." she couldn't maintain the straight face despite herself. "Or if you want me. I'm there for that, too." She gave him her typically mischievous smile as she left the kitchen, feathery robes and raven hair swaying behind her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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In the absence of much else to do after breakfast, Sinderion had wandered back outside, though he'd resolved not to stray too far from the grounds. At present, he suspected the others would be either taking what little time they could to relax, or else making ready for what was certain to be a long journey... or perhaps a very short one. Either way, they would not be returning to the mansion in some time, and it was perhaps best that they prepared accordingly. From the day he'd been born to an impoverished family and likely until the day he died, Sinder had never had much in the way of property. He'd simply never been able to, and by the time he might have acquired any, he was quite used to living largely by the work of his hands. Anything besides his bow and his two blades was superfluous, unneeded, and he was generally quite content to do without it.

Even those might not be entirely required. Treading lightly out into the courtyard, he passed the flattened spot where Anirne and Vanryth had been practicing that morning, and though he noted that their scents yet lingered, he knew not the exact reason for their presence there, nor did he question it. Vanryth usually had good reasons for the things he did, and he was quickly relearning that Ani always did. Reaching the tree he was looking for, Sinder hopped, catching a lower branch with both hands and pulling himself up. He contented himself with being about halfway up, and pulled his legs in underneath him. Might as well give himself a moment to get some equilibrium.

Drayk did not have the sense of smell that his Altmer friend had, and as such it took him a moment to find Sinderion perched up in the tree as he was. His skin did not agree with the decision to go outdoors into the light breeze, which even still carried a chill. A wind in Skyrim always carried a chill. He meandered slowly over towards the base of the tree, running a hand through the hair that Adrienne had shortened, trying to think of how to go about this and not produce the reaction he'd gotten out of Vanryth. It probably wasn't possible, but Drayk felt some things had to be said anyway. He was concerned for his friend, and he hoped Sinder would be able to see that this was the motive behind his words.

"Bad things seem to happen when I try to climb trees," he said awkwardly, peering up at the elf from the base of the tree. "Think we could talk? Van filled me in on what happened. I... wanted to speak to you about it."

Sinder had marked the younger Sellsword's approach, though he had to admit, he'd had no idea why it was occurring until Drayk spoke. Well, that sounded promising, now didn't it? Still, it wasn't like Drayk had no right to questions; he'd been unconscious the whole time anyway, and as such he'd certainly not been in a position to agree or disagree with the course of action that Sinderion (and the others, by their own movements) had deemed necessary at the time. It was with this in mind that the Altmer nodded simply, pushing himself out of the tree and landing in a crouch a few yards from Drayk. Pulling himself to his feet, he fixed the younger man with his customary patient stare. It was as close as he usually bothered to get to something like confirmation or assent, though in this case he added a slight tilt to his head, indicating that he would hear whatever the other had come to say.

It occurred to Drayk that he should feel a little better knowing that whatever difficulty he had speaking to Sinder, the Altmer would probably have more in replying. It didn't really make him feel better, though, as that stare wasn't particularly inviting, and he hadn't even started talking about the previous night yet. "Van told me you were the first to defend the witch," he began, doing his best to try and hold his gaze up. "I know that I wasn't really there, but... are you sure this is wise? We can't trust any of them. Maybe she doesn't show it as much as the Shade does, but she's dangerous, and unlike the Shade, she hasn't the slightest idea where the old man is. I know he's done nothing to deserve our cooperation, but the Shade is our only link to the Mentor right now. Surely we can't afford to turn him against us."

Ah. He'd wondered if one of them might come to such a conclusion. It wasn't like the line of the logic was at all unfamiliar-- Sinderion had not been immune to similar considerations, either, though in the end he'd had to decide against them. Shifting his weight slightly, the Altmer leaned back until his shoulderblades hit the trunk of the tree behind him, resisting the urge to cross his arms for fear it would be interpreted as hostile, which he was not. "No," he replied at last, "I am not sure it is wise. You speak logically, and I did consider these things before I acted." Not right then, exactly, but before the battle. He'd known something like that was due to arrive eventually, but even he had not expected it so soon.

Something in the harsh lines of his face, natural to his heritage, softened slightly, and his shoulders relaxed a bit. "Everyone we run into for the next while is going to be dangerous, Drayk. The warrior-woman is dangerous, the archer is dangerous... my sister is perhaps moreso than either of them. I'm dangerous, and so are you. Likewise... it is difficult to decide how much to trust anyone. We've all got considerations for and against us. I happen to trust Maya far more than I trust the Shade." Probably unwise, but there was a point at which it wasn't really up to him anymore. At this point, he was rather stuck with the feeling... among others.

But it was the last point that was the most problematic, and they both knew it. Sinder paused, trying to find the words he sought. The ones they'd given the Shade might be the right ones, they might not. But he didn't seek to defeat his friend in argument, he sought to put him at ease. "Perhaps we have not lost that link yet. There was something strange about the way the Shade reacted to us. Mayhap Adrienne would understand what it meant better than I do." He shook his head. "But I do not think the time to give up or despair of finding him is yet upon us."

Indeed, Drayk hadn't seen how the Shade had reacted to them, but he hadn't killed them, and for that Drayk was honestly a little surprised. He was surely capable of doing so, especially when they were as wounded and broken as they had been. So that meant he had some reason for wanting to keep them alive, beyond them being useful tools to him. For if he did not really care for their lives one way or the other, he would have just killed them to get through to the witch. So why in the world would they test that? Why would they tempt him towards shifting his stance, and changing his view of them from valuable tools to mere obstacles.

"Why do you trust her?" Drayk asked. "What has she done to earn it? From what I've seen, she's lied to us, dragged us across Skyrim to fight orcs for her, nearly gotten us killed, and is now continuing to use us as shields against the Shade. All of the Representatives are evil, Sinder. Some of them are just better at hiding that than others. All any of them want is for the rest to die, so they can win their sick game."

He paced slightly, not really knowing what to do with himself. "I'm not saying the Shade deserves to win any more than the witch does. Gods, the world would probably be better off without any of them. But the witch... I see the way she looks at you. She wants you to go back to the way you were, to make you forget who you are until all you know is... hunting, or whatever it is she does." The look on his face was a mix of pain and concern. Mostly because he knew however much he disagreed with the course they'd taken, he was not willing to go over them to go his own way.

"Look... you've become like an older brother to me since the old man brought me here. I don't want to see her do anything to you that would make us somehow lose you. So... is there something I'm not seeing here?"

"...I do not know," Sinderion replied, spreading his hands, palms up, as though in a gesture of defeat. "Perhaps. I think I would prefer it so, but I do not know. The what eludes me, so it is hardly surprising that the why does as well." In a way, the answer encompassed all of the questions, and some of the statements, but all the same, he knew it was unsatisfactory at best. And yet... it was all he had. Sinder had spent much of the past decade attempting to shut down anything resembling impulse or instinct inside himself, because those things were tied irrevocably to the bestial portion of his nature. It was no simple matter to explain his intuition now, nor what could be described in someone else as feelings. He just had them, and that was it.

He was certainly aware of the deficiency now, in an acute way he had not been when all that sort of thing had been unncessary. "I hold you in no less regard, Drayk, but we are not working with all the information here. You are correct-- we have been lied to, indirectly decieved, and manipulated. This from all quarters, not simply hers. Even now, every word that any of them speaks may be a lie." He stopped, lifting his shoulders and shaking his head. "I cannot read people well, not in the way some can. The facts are inadequate to provide me with an answer. All I have left is my instinct, and whatever the Mentor has managed to leave behind in me, whatever my family has nurtured. And.." He trailed off. He trusted Maya. He'd stood against the Shade. He would do both again, given the choice.

"All I can do now is believe. In you, in the others, in her. Maybe in myself, at some point. But I do not wish to be taken further from the Mentor in order to return to him." Metaphorically, that was; not so much geographically. Peace of mind was the same anywhere, and he wanted dearly to find it.

Drayk was forced to acknowledge the possibility that he wasn't aware of everything that was going in within the group. The witch had not made an impression on him, but if Sinder saw something different in her, he would have been an ill sort to not trust the man he'd just proclaimed his brother. "All right," he said, relenting visibly, relaxing. "Just... try to make sure it's what you want, and not just what she wants." What exactly it was, Drayk wasn't exactly sure, but the words seemed to make sense to him anyway.

His thought was cut off by a foreign call from the road leading up to the manner. "Hail, Sellswords!" Drayk turned to look down the hill, seeing the familiar face of a painted Dunmer, wrapped in his cloak as ever, though he was unhooded today. The Horizon approached rather slowly, obviously trying not to appear threatening. "Word spread of quite a commotion in the house of the Inquisitor. Perhaps we might speak of it?"

Drayk looked to Sinder, shrugging. "Round up the others? I'll walk him in." Sinder nodded, taking off to do just that.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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The Blackfeather and the Horizon had a much more civil greeting now that they both knew not to immediately fear each other. Drayk had led the painted Dunmer into the main hall, where Sinderion had quickly rounded up the group around the long table for a discussion. Invorin had allowed Drayk to seat him near the center of the table, where he was more or less surrounded now by the Sellswords and their allies, with Drayk leaning up against the wall almost directly behind him, and Maya seated across from him, leaning back in her chair with one leg draped over the other.

"I'm leaving the city today," the Horizon began, his tone soft and calm as ever, "but word of the havoc at the embassy prompted me to stop here. I understand Talmoro is slain? I had thought to find the Shade here, but it seems he too is gone." He did not seem at all surprised by that, though, and he had not asked of Tarquin's whereabouts before this point.

Adrienne, seated next to Maya, had folded her hands primly in her lap, understanding that the positioning of people in this room was quite indicative and not particularly feeling the need to add to the atmosphere. Indeed, when she spoke, it was cautiously, but politely. "Your information is good," she replied. "Tarquin slew Talmoro, and Ja'Karo made an appearance as well, which accounts for the pandemonium," this last was inflected with traces of displeasure; though in the end they'd all survived, the Feral had very nearly ruined that. Without his interference, she was almost positive they would have succeeded in their aim without needing to destroy an entire Embassy full of people who were just doing their jobs. Then again, who knew what would have occurred between Tarquin and Maya then? She felt... conflicted about the entire situation, and it was not a feeling she enjoyed.

"Is there new word of any of the others?" Anirne inquired from the other side of the table. Admittedly, she wasn't sure how much would matter-- the Shade was the greatest danger to them right now, and Rialta after that, but he was supposedly off the coast to the north.

"Ja'karo hunts the Shade, then?" Invorin asked rhetorically, seeming somewhat satisfied with the news. "That should keep him busy for a year or two. As for the others... if the Stonehammer continues north as I believe he will, he should be close by the end of the day. You are hunting the Omen, are you not, Maya?" The witch nodded across the table from him. "Well, the actual hunting hasn't really started yet, but he is my next target."

"Perhaps we might assist each other, then. Indirectly, of course." Maya sat up a little. "Oh? Do tell." The Horizon ran a hand over his shaved head before continuing. "I can tell you for a fact that Silas' ship is docked in Dawnstar as we speak. He has been off the coast near Morthal for some time, sending raiding parties to try and root out the Pact and her warriors in the swamp, but she is elusive. He fears stopping too long in Morthal, and he is not welcome in Solitude, so he rests in Dawnstar. He will not stay long, however. Only long enough to replenish his numbers."

Maya considered this for a moment. "It's probably our best shot, unless any of you own a warship and haven't told me about it." Drayk didn't seem quite as pleased, however. "Why would you help us?" Invorin did not turn around, only twisting his head slightly. "Kill the Omen, and I will help you find and kill the Pact. The Shade isn't the only one capable of skirting the boundaries of the rules."

"You have some reason to want her dead?" The Dunmer snorted slightly in displeasure. "I will not go into it, but we have history, and it would please me if that Bosmer made it no further in the game than she already has."

Soren, who was presently tipped back onto the hind legs of his chair, feet propped on the table with ankles crossed, hummed a pensive note. Dawnstar. It was almost too good, the timing. He'd been needing to head up that way for a while now, and if he made it before the next month turned, he'd be in good shape. There was someone he needed to see, and a few other people he needed to kill, and the last information he'd managed to obtain before leaving the Guild had put them up there. Old news, by now, but still worth looking into. "You know, we're still missing a few," he said offhandedly, glancing back and forth between Maya and Invorin. "If you expect us to kill someone for your vendetta and you expect us to keep you alive, it might be a good idea if we knew who to be watching for, at any given time." They knew not who hunted the Horizon, after all, and if they were to find themselves in his company for any length of time, it was best to at least have names and defining characteristics on anyone it could be. Ideas on skill and relative danger would be nice, too, but he didn't want to overtax their generous natures.

"Let's see," Invorin began, going over the information they knew. "You already know of the Blackfeather and the Omen, the Stonehammer, the Feral and the Shade, the Pact and myself. Have you heard of the Drunk?"

Maya nodded. "Tarquin told them when they first met." The Horizon nodded back. "Then you know as much as we do. The Bloody Curse, the Light, the Spymaster, and the Inquisitor are all dead, and the Master is gone, which leaves... just the Librarian and the Webspinner. Representatives of Hermaeus Mora and Mephala, repsectively. I cannot say what their locations are. I know nothing of the Librarian's target or his hunter, nor were the Argonian's strengths made readily apparent. As for the Webspinner... the Pact hunts her, but she has been far too busy evading Rialta's attacks to make any progress. I will say no more about her."

He seemed uncomfortable at the subject, and indeed, Maya as well seemed rather closed off to the idea of discussing that particular representative. No doubt there was a reason for it, but neither seemed particularly willing to dive into it.

"I should warn you," Horizon said, changing the subject, "The Omen possesses powerful Illusion magic, and is rather uniquely gifted in the art. Killing him will not be easy. No doubt he will make every effort to confront you in dreams, where he has power and control, rather than in the flesh. I would advise caution; dreams often seem very real until the dreamer passes through them. Do not allow him to turn your own minds against you."

"You speak as if everything we've done to this point has been easy," Lynly leveled tonelessly. Perhaps, a bit colder than usual, but then again, she didn't like the way the knife-ear insinuated their journey so far had been a cakewalk. Half of the sellswords about died during the last night, the only way it could be harder was if they did die. She locked her jaw and turned away from the conversation at hand, instead taking in the view she had from her window view. Vanryth was much of the same mind, though he wasn't confrontational about it. He appreciated the fact that the Horizon had come and told them the score, though he didn't approve of the Game. He'd follow along, he'd take the bait, but only because the others were so adamant about continuing. That being said, he had to keep a mind not to get to know this Horizon too well, as he may as well be at the end of his sword before the Game was over.

There was something going on with the Webspinner. It didn't make sense that they would both be reluctant to talk about her unless there was good reason. But did the reason have to do with Invorin and Maya, or with their audience? He recalled that Tarquin had told the others that the Mentor's family, his whole family, had been participants in the Game, or at least trained for it. He supposed that even a man like Tarquin had to have a mother, and wondered if perhaps this was she. It was nothing certain, but the inkiling of the idea refused to leave him, at least for now. If true, it was at least more confirming evidence that they'd done the right thing, choosing to alter the nature of their participation in this Game. He doubted that what the Mentor intended for them would have anything to do with killing the woman he'd once called his wife.

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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




Chapter V
Waking Nightmares




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

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

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

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

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

Ilyessa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Drayk felt himself hit a wooden floor, and groaned slightly. He felt dizzy as he pushed himself to hands and knees, but couldn't figure out why. He hadn't hit his head that hard, had he? He felt a wetness under his hands, and turned them over to see them slick with blood. As far as he could tell, he wasn't bleeding. What the hell was this?

"Did you think my crew just trotted those chairs out there for your amusement or something?" came the Omen's voice from across the room. Drayk tried to push himself up on a knee, but the world felt like it was shifting beneath his feet, and he had to use his hands for balance. A few moments later left him feeling rather sick, and then he understood. He listened, and picked up on the sound of waves crashing against the hull outside. He was still on the ship, now on one of the lower decks, and it was moving. Quickly, if he had to make a guess. It wasn't a very educated one, as he wasn't exactly familiar with sea travel.

"Ah, don't sweat it, a lot of them don't sit down. You're not alone in your foolishness," the Omen continued. He was lounged in a throne-like chair at the far end of the room, which appeared to be some sort of dueling chamber. The floor was cleared completely, a deceptively smooth surface that would no doubt be slightly slick, now that it was dotted with a mixture of blood and water, misting in through the open windows along the sides. It was nighttime outside, a full moon shining in through the shutters, and the interior of the chamber was lit largely by torchlight along the walls, though a good number of candles were lit as well.

Drayk tried to wipe his hands clean of the blood, and Rialta smirked down at him. "Confused? You're not the first in that regard, either. Turn around." Drayk turned his head in spite of his innate desire to ignore any command this man gave him, and the sight his eyes fell upon did nothing to calm his stomach.

The blacksmith's boy swayed back and forth with the rise and fall of the waves. What appeared to be a throwing spear of some kind had impaled him through the throat and stuck into the wall behind him, the positioning such that his chin rested on the shaft, the gaping hole in his neck still occasionally spitting sprays of blood down onto the floor below him. He hung at least a foot off the ground, tilting side to side like some kind of horrid grandfather clock. As if that wasn't enough, his belly had been sliced open to the point where his innards were hanging down to the floor.

"You killed him?" Drayk asked, horrified by the brutality, but really not surprised. He was as twisted as he expected. Rialta waved him off in dismissal. "Bah! Hardly! I mean, in this particular dream, yes, I sliced the boy open, let his insides get a little fresh air, speared him through the throat and stuck him on the wall, but no, I haven't killed him. You saw him, didn't you? Before you so boldly followed him here? Awake and healthy as ever."

He remembered the boy hadn't seemed quite the same. Significantly less nervous, for sure. "So... what? He's your slave now, is that it?" The Omen appeared somewhat impatient with him.

"Again, hardly. He's joined my crew, as he requested. Really, it's not important that you understand. Think of this as an accounting of your skills. I like to know what my new crew members can do. And since my dreams are a safe environment for us to play in, there's no reason to hold back, is there? So let's get on it with, then. Show me what you've got!" He stood in a smooth motion from his throne, taking his spear into hand and bouncing lightly on his feet, as though warming up.

Drayk was more than willing to indulge him, taking the offensive and hurling a powerful fireball directly for him. But his ward came up impossibly fast and impossibly strong, the fireball exploding violently against it and doing nothing to the Omen. "A mage who understands the value of destruction, I like where this is going. Let's see your shield work." And then there was a short bow in his hands, and arrows were coming at him in rapid succession. He ducked down, shrinking the size of his silhouette, feeling three, four, five arrows thud into the wood.

"Come on, you can't just play defense, this isn't a siege!" the Omen taunted, firing arrows in rapid succession. Drayk pushed himself forward against the projectiles, enveloping himself in fire and charging, intent on getting the redguard in close quarters. The arrows kept pounding him until he knew he was there, and he lunged outwards with the shield, to hit... nothing. The Omen was gone, and then a moment later an arrow tore into the left side of his back, below the shoulder. He lurched forward and spun around to find the Omen on the far side of the room, now below the body of the blacksmith's boy, firing more arrows. The ship was lurched by a powerful wave, and a second arrow thrummed into his abdomen before he could get the shield back up.

"This is what happens," Rialta said in disappointment. "The enemy chips away at the defensive opponent, weakening him bit by bit, letting him drip blood all over the place until he's ready to be carved into pieces. Until he's good and weak." Drayk grimaced, and launched another fireball back at him, taking another arrow in the ribs for his trouble. It forced the Omen on the defensive, however, so he followed up with another, and another, and another, pounding away on the man's wards, closing the distance and refusing to relent.

But then when he was in range the Omen's wards exploded outward in an icy wall, extinguishing any flame left in the room and knocking away on his back to slide a good few feet along the blood slicked floor. Shards had cut through his robes and sliced his flesh, one of them getting so lucky as to cut across his eye. The blood that leaked out was enough to blind him on his left side. He shivered uncontrollably despite being only hit by the single frost spell, and found that his magicka reserves had been wasted on his offensive efforts. It was madness, he could have conjured more any day, but here he felt himself run dry.

And then the Omen was upon him, striking down with a massive warhammer that Drayk barely managed to get his shield under. The wood shattered entirely, splintered shards of shield flying in all directions, and his left arm, too, cracked under the strain. He cried out and rolled away, now trying to get some distance away from the redguard's brutal weapon, at which point the Omen was all too willing to resume with the arrows, pelting three more in rapid succession into his back.

His own blood joined the shifting pool of the blacksmith apprentice's, and after a few more feet he couldn't seem to make himself crawl any more. "Not bad. Really, I don't normally toy with opponents that much, but you've certainly got some spirit. Well, what do you think? How shall you be displayed?"

With his foot he shoved Drayk over onto his back, the shafts of the arrows twisting sideways painfully. Drayk honestly there would be more going through his head before he died. He should have thought about the Mentor, about his friends, about Adrienne... but instead the only word that came to mind was no.

No. No. No. Not yet.

A rope fell from the ceiling. Where had that come from? There hadn't been a rope there before. The loop on the end wrapped itself around Drayk's ankles, and then the slack was being pulled tight, and then his legs were lifted off the ground, the rest of his body following until he hung upside down, his head about three feet off the ground. Arrows stuck out of all sides of him, making him look not unlike an upside down straw target, used merely for practice. The Omen knelt down, upside down in Drayk's vision, smug enough to make him feel one last bit of rage.

"We've got quite a lineup to go," he said, sounding excited. "This room will be decorated quite nicely when I'm finished, I think. Welcome to the crew, mage." And then the knife flashed under Drayk's chin, a sheet of blood painting his vision red until he was released...




On the deck of the Dreamwalker, Drayk opened his eyes, and methodically pushed himself up to settle into the chair behind him, with slightly better posture than was perhaps normal for him. The Omen remained motionless in his own chair, surrounded by his men and sound asleep. Drayk made no move to even look at his friends, simply staring ahead as the blacksmith's boy did.

"Next volunteer," the crewman called, offering the cup.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Vanryth was the next to raise his hand. He had intended to be first, but the impatient lad that he was, Drayk beat him to it. Van worried about him as he took his first drink, and it only increased exponentially when he fell to the deck. He could feel the seconds tick off as Drayk laid there motionless. When he finally had awoken, Vanryth felt the relief. But relief quickly morphed into something else. A pit in the bottom of his stomach opened its gaping maw. What awoken wasn't Drayk. It was the posture, the mechanical movements, the cold hard look straight ahead. That wasn't the sellsword he remembered, but was something else, something empty. That wasn't Drayk.

Van would find out what happened, and when he did, he'd make the Omen pay. He couldn't worry about if he could bring him back-- he had to believe that he could. And the only way he could do that was to play the Omen's sick game. He took the goblet offered by the crew, and drank from it. The effect was instant, his eyelids closed as he fell into sleep, his rigid body becoming lax in the chair. Just like that, Vanryth took Drayk's place in the Omen's dreamscape. What he saw took the breath from his lungs. In front of him hung Drayk, strung up by his ankles and crimson dripping from his neck. The sight threw Vanryth up and out of his chair, racing over to the boy. Not Drayk. His nightmare with Sinder had almost come true last night, and now here Drayk was. Thoughts were racing through his head, a hand clutched his mouth as he stared.

There was nothing else he could do, what could he? Flashes of his nightmare assaulted him and the pit in his stomach widened, throwing him into despair.

"I must apologize," the Omen said from his throne opposite the wall where the blacksmith's boy still hung from the spear in his throat. Rialta's voice carried only mocking tones, however. "You two appear to have been close. If it's any consolation, he put up a very good fight. I'm certain he would have killed any of my crew members in one-on-one combat quite easily, what with the raging inferno and all."

He stood and took a few steps forward, twirling his short spear like it was a baton. "We could say a few words for him, if you like. I'll let you start, since you knew him best." He stopped twirling the spear and stood looking at Van and Drayk's body, looking expectant. He was going to kill him. First Drayk, now he was mocking him. It didn't matter what words he made with his hands, the Omen wouldn't understand them. The only one who could was strung up in front of him. So instead, Van made a gesture that the Omen was sure to understand.

The Omen feigned shock. "Ah, by the Nine, or Eight, or however many are left, I completely forgot. You don't have a tongue! You must think me a horribly cruel person, and I assure you that I am not." He took up his position on the already blood soaked floor, keeping a decent distance between himself and Vanryth. "I'm about to give you exactly what I believe you seek. I say believe because I don't actually know, because you don't have a tongue and you can't tell me, so bear with me, please. This is the part of the dream where you fight me, and try to kill me, and in so doing I can take a proper accounting of the skills of my newest crew member. Sound good? Good. Come!" He bounched on the balls of his feet, awaiting Van's first move.

He could oblige with that. He took a couple of steps back from Drayk until he had reached the chair he had entered the dream in. Then he took a sword from his back, and ignited a lightning spell in his hand. If it was a fight he wanted, then it was a fight he was going to get. Van struck, though it was neither with the blade nor the spell, but rather the chair. He had slipped his foot under a leg, and in one smooth motion flung it toward the bloody pirate. Right behind the chair, Vanryth followed up with a lightning bolt and brought his sword to bare.

His reflexes were almost inhuman as he performed a neat little roll right out of the way of the chair, called up his ward to block the lightning spell, and then brought up his spear shaft to parry the sword blow, deflecting it to the side rather than fully absorbing the force of it. He backed up quickly, almost skipping backwards away from the dunmer. "Very inventive, I like it. The environment is the best of weapons. Not much to use in here, and yet you manage all the same. Good, good." From his free hand shot a spread of ice shards spreading in a cone in front of him, to test his magical defenses, and barring that, his reflexes and agility.

His reflexes and agility were still not good enough for acrobatics, despite Anirne's best intentions, so he wasn't going to side step or flip out of the way of the shards. Still, he wasn't defenseless. He drew upon the knowledge of his ancestors and called forth their wrath, draping himself in a cloak of intense flames. The flames managed to melt some of the shards before they hit him, pelting him with nothing more than frost. He didn't account for the larger ones. Two made through his cloak and pierced the leather covering his belly. The pain was sharp and cool, even within the wall of flame he had errected. However, that only ignited another flame. A grunt and a growl escaped the dunmer as he rushed the pirate, switching spells to chain lightning. He ignited the spell while swiping with his blade in the other hand. Rage had overtaken his mind, and pain at the level was just an afterthought.

Unfortunately for him, the Omen currently had access to possibilities that effectively no one was capable of in reality. His body exploded into a thick, billowing cloud of smoke that the lightning passed harmlessly through, appearing behind the dunmer with a scimitar in hand, which he slashed low and hard at the back of the left knee, aiming to remove the lower part of the limb altogether.

Vanryth was bewildered by what he witnessed. One moment, the Omen stood in front of him, then he simple wasn't disappeared literally into a puff of smoke. He was unprepared for the man to materialize behind him, it was only a split-second reaction that kept the limb attached. Just barely though, as the blade still passed through a majority of the flesh and bone, handily severing his hamstring. He tumbled forward onto his knee as pain shot up from his leg and caused him to yell behind clenched teeth. He may have kept the leg, but in name only. It wouldn't move any more. Rage melted into self-preservation, as futile as it was. He swung his sword wildly before rolling away.

He came to a stop and pushed himself to his knees, laying a level glare unto the pirate. He wouldn't give the s'wit the satisfaction of fear. He emptied his other sheath and brought both blades to bear, beckoning the Omen to advance. He wasn't about to make this easy for the bastard. If he wanted to kill him, then he'd have to work for it.

The Omen paused, looking quizzically at his kneeling opponent. And then he chuckled, quite tickled by something. "I'm sorry, truly I am, it's just... do you really expect me to come over there and fight you? It's very valiant of you to struggle so, but I'm a pirate, my friend. I don't fight by the rules." He dropped the scimitar to clang against the floor and pulled a crossbow seemingly from his pocket, placing the end against the floor and pulling the string back until it was taut. He looked up in time to see a sword flipping end over end at him, and threw up the crossbow before him, deflecting it enough to redirect it off to the side, but it did cut his pointer finger slightly.

"Bah, look what you've done!" he exclaimed, feigning agony, before quickly loading a bolt and firing, aimed for his chest but deliberately avoiding the heart. After that, though, he tossed the weapon aside. "Really, don't know what I was thinking. Bows are much quicker. I'll save the crossbow for the one who actually wears armor." He pulled the string back, but instead of firing he pulled the smoke trick again, appearing behind Vanryth with the scimitar again, snatching the wrist that still held a sword and chopping down, hard.

His vision ran red with pain, and he doubled over the missing appendage, sucking his breath through clenched teeth. Vanryth remembered the pain of losing a part of himself. Like before, the physical pain measured nothing compared to what it meant. The loss of his tongue, while painful, meant that he'd no longer be able to speak. Forever more, he'd be a mute. He'd resigned himself to that fate. But now, with the loss of his hand, it meant that the fight was over. There was no hope of winning it, not anymore. Somewhere, he already knew that when the pirate took his leg from him.

The pain was searing, and it lowered Van until his forehead touched the wet planks. He couldn't help but feel he failed Drayk, Sinder, Adrienne. He had resigned himself to death long ago, but being this close, it made hims realize something... He didn't want to die. Not like this. As shock slowly overtook pain, he sighed and straightened his posture, leveling his eyes on Drayk's body. I'm sorry, he thought, tearing his eyes from the body and to the Omen.

Seeing that Van seemed to have resigned himself, Rialta sighed, and moved to kneel before him, although still out of distance for a strike should the dunmer decide to try and continue the fight. "Really, sometimes I get tired of all the death. The suffering I inflict on others. It really takes a toll on the soul after a while, wouldn't you agree. But... let it never be said that the Omen cannot restore all that he takes away." He lowered his head as if in prayer for a moment, his tone actually somewhat reverential for once.

"Come, my scarred friend. I won't lie to you. There won't be any return from this for you. I will use your body for hunting my enemies, and it will probably perish quickly enough. But I have returned something that was taken from you a long time ago. Give me your last words, and I will relay them to whichever of your friends comes next in line."

He felt the tongue back in his mouth, but it didn't matter now. The only people he wanted to speak to were still awake, or was hanging in front of him. It was... Odd. Feeling his tongue on the back of his teeth, feeling the muscle dance around in his skull. He hated it. He wanted nothing to do with the pirate, not even if it was his tongue. As if the pirate could be trusted to pass along his words to his comrades. Still. It was a chance he was willing to take. He smiled, and chuckled, and finally spoke, for the first time since he lost it, and for the last time. His voice was raw, gritty like ground stones. But his tone held belief, he knew every one of his words to be true. "Tell my friends that I believe in them, that I stand beside them. We are a family."

"As for you? I'll see you in Oblivion,"
With that, Vanryth reached into the pool of his own blood and retook the sword. In a single motion, he turned the sword on himself and plunged it into his own belly-- taking his own life into his hands.

"Huh," the Omen said, gently pushing Vanryth's body over until he lay on his back. "Wiser than he looks, that one." He left the body to bleed where it fell, and returned to his throne, to await the next.




On the deck of the Dreamwalker, Vanryth straightened in his chair as Drayk had done.

"Next volunteer," the crewman called, offering the cup.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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There was no doubt left in his mind: something was wrong. His friends had emerged from whatever strange unconsciousness had taken them and stood again as though they were mechanical beings, not once glancing in the direction of the rest, not flinching, not shaking themselves, not fidgeting, nothing. Like Adrienne had said bothered her about the first man. That was one thing; he trusted her, but he’d thought it might just be something unusual about that one person. But this crew, they were uncanny, and his family was definitely not supposed to be that way. Only three of them remained yet, and he would not let either of the other two face this before trying himself. Even if he couldn’t save Drayk or Van, perhaps there was some way he might give Adrienne some kind of clue. She was smart, far smarter than most people, and could read irregularities in demeanor more easily than the rest read print.

If he could help her, even just a bit, he would.

The pirate called for another volunteer, and Sinderion jerked his chin, indicating his compliance. Taking the chalice in one hand, he sat on the edge of his chair, staring into the contents for a moment, then glancing over first at the silent Drayk and Van, then more surreptitiously at Adrienne. There was no point in delaying further. Whatever awaited them inside that place, he was going to discover it soon.

He appeared, on his feet, in a chamber that must have been in the bowels of the ship. The dark floor was slick with blood, he noted immediately, testing his feet upon the surface. Slick. Part of him prodded his memory with a reminder that claws would make for much better traction than mere deerhide. He ignored it, flicking his eyes along the floor. The marks on this section made a trail… Sinderion swallowed thickly when his own tracking led him to the first of the corpses.

Van.

For a long moment, the altmer was frozen, staring wide-eyed at his friend as though unable to truly process what was laid out in such meticulous, macabre detail before him. But his senses were ever-sharp, the part of him that was as much animal as man did not cease to exist simply because he willed it. The details were obvious: the pooling of blood, thick and blackening as it congealed indicated that he’d lain prone a while. The pallor to his normally dusk-colored skin—not a chance remained that he lived. The sword thrust unceremoniously into his innards, standing now as a mark of defiance, indicated that he’d not waited for the Omen to take his life. Knowing Van, he must have understood the conclusion to be absolutely inevitable.

The bile rose in the back of his throat, but Sinder swallowed past it, breathing through his mouth, and raised his eyes, filled with trepidation, upwards. Quickly, they passed over the youth pinned to the wall, falling instead upon the arrow-riddled form of Drayk, strung up like some sick version of a marionette, upside down for added perversity. The faint dripping sound of blood occasionally still hit the floor below, in time with a tiny ripple in the pool that had gushed from his throat.

The smell of so much death was—wait. Sinder sniffed discreetly at the air, as though afraid to disturb the silence. This was wrong, all wrong. The room smelled like blood, sure enough, but this much of it in such a closed proximity should have nearly keeled him over, not mildly irritated him. And worse… neither Drayk nor Van smelled like themselves. It leant the setting something surreal, as though it wasn’t quite… all there. But what could it mean?

"That one there," the Omen called, pointing at the corpse of Vanryth, "said something or other about believing and family and such, and then he cursed me, the bugger! Wonderful way to repay someone for returning their tongue to them, if you ask me. Then he took the coward's way out, and here we stand! There! Let none say the pirate Silas Rialta did not keep his promises!"

He stood slowly, twirling the spear again. "Perhaps surpisingly," he continued, "the fireball over there said less than the guy without a tongue. Though I imagine it's pretty difficult to--"

Sinderion wasn't about to let him finish that sentence. Granted, he honestly wasn't processing what was going on very well, but perhaps that was excusable, given the hot bubble of rage that was about to explode somewhere between his lungs. For some things, there were no words, and he wasn't going to waste any on this man. In fact, the Omen recieved nothing at all, no narrowing of the eyes, no building tension in his frame. The lunge was sudden, and entirely unplanned, if the fact that he didn't even bother to go for one of his weapons was anything to go by. Instead, he simply reached forward with his hands, as if to strangle the life right out of the man.

Rather than dodge the attack, which he could have done of course, given that this was his dream to play with, the Omen took his spear firmly in both hands and decided to use the reach advantage he had over the Altmer's arms, thrusting for the midsection swiftly. Barbs on the blade would likely cause it to catch on the insides of flesh rather than simply pass through, which was perhaps good for him, all things considered, as this one didn't look like one who'd stop fighting just because he got stabbed.

It was simple instinct that saved him from skewering himself, and Sinderion threw himself to the side, rolling smoothly to his feet. Something was wrong. The Omen didn't smell like anything either. He should. They all should, so why didn't they? Gritting his teeth, he remembered his steel, and drew the longer sword, transitioning into a low sweep with it even as he rose from the crouch he'd rolled into. So the captain wasn't an idiot. But just how fast was he? The elf's other hand went to his waist, where his shorter blade lay still sheathed.

Very, as it turned out. Rather than jump over or around the low sweep, he quick-stepped backwards, light on his feet his offhand darting to his own belt to hurl a pair of throwing knives at Sinderion's center mass. "Really, for a bunch of people who want to be pirates, you get awful offended when I kill your friends." Honestly, he was getting a little curious what their whole deal was, even if it truly didn't matter. They'd be his slaves in the end, so their motives were really quite meaningless.

The knives, he batted from the air with more force than was perhaps truly necessary, earning himself a shallow slice to a few of the fingers on his sword-arm in the process. Foolish. His off-hand, undeterred from its course, now had the second blade in-hand, but he didn't intend to keep it. Feinting first with the long one, a simple horizontal slash aimed for the midsection and to engage the spear, he drove the other directly for the throat, still apparently unwilling to be drawn into conversation. In truth, he was having enough difficulty just keeping a particular part of his being at bay, and simply couldn't spare the concentration required to do more than loosely gloss whatever drivel was running from the man's mouth like blood from the bodies of his friends.

The Omen parried with the spear, but when the second blade slashed up towards the throat, he employed his favorite trick, exploding into a cloud of smoke and ash, reappearing perhaps twenty feet behind where he had stood. His hand then flashed with a spell of some kind, and he disappeared entirely, seemingly gone from the room, but his voice certainly indicated he was still in the area.

"Come now, answer a question or two and we can get on with this," came his voice, still a good ways away from Sinder. "Otherwise..." an arrow was fired behind the altmer, aimed for his hamstring. "We can always just play it this way. Or a hundred other ways... but we'll go with this one for now."

Invisible... Sinderion suppressed a snarl, letting his eyes fall shut. They were useless right now anyway, and visual information just more clutter for his mind to process. He didn't need to keep looking at them. He'd expected the usual, a small respite as he focused more intently on what he could hear, feel, smell, even taste on the air, but... nothing. Nothing sharpened, nothing changed, and he still couldn't scent anything but the general impression of death. It was like he could only sense what an ordinary person would be able to... or what the Omen would be able to.

The twang of a bowstring punctuated another sentence he wasn't paying attention to, and with everything so dull, it thudded into his leg before he could even pinpoint the direction it had come from. This wasn't right. There were more minute sounds: the rustle of clothing, the deep inhale before a shot, anything. There were odors to be sifted through, and of all the things the Beast had taken from him, this knowledge was what it had given him. He would not be denied those things. It was impossible-- there was simply no going back. Forcing his body to relax, at least for the moment, Sinderion took a deep breath, and this time, it was like the smell of the room assaulted him, surely as any enemy. What had been absent before was now overwhelming, and that was more like he'd expected.

He'd also found the Omen's general direction. His smell was quite detectable, even among the others. The best advantage he had right now was that the pirate didn't know that, however. Shifting, Sinder rapidly sheathed his blades and drew his bow, taking the opportunity to yank the arrow from his leg with a pronounced clenching of his jaw. Fitting it to the bow, he glanced around warily, as though still unaware of his foe's location. Now that his sensory apparatuses were back in order, he just needed the man to move, and he'd know exactly where to put this thing.

The Omen's voice was distorted by magic, echoing around the chamber on all sides, filling the entire space, and for the moment, he wasn't moving. "I'm going to use an old favorite of mine if you don't mind. Apologies if you do, I'm going to use it anyway. We'll see how long it goes, the current record is somewhere around two minutes, but I think you've a good chance to beat it." A spell was cast, and the room seemed to temporarily darken. In one corner, a being seemingly made of shadow rose from the ground, two hazy glowing eyes the only indication of a head. From its hands seemingly floated a longsword in one, a hand axe in the other. It made a rustling sound as it moved to attack, almost like leaves being blown over hard ground. On the other side of the chamber, the Omen shifted slightly, moving sideways to line up a shot, assuming Sinderion would turn to face the shadowy attacker.

That echo was annoying, and it seemed the Omen was quite content to stand where he was. The trajectory of the arrow was a clue, but not enough of one, since it gave him only a general direction. Of course, the point was soon enough moot, because there was now a foe present who wasn’t going to hide, and he immediately homed in on that one. It seemed to be made of shadow, or else inky pitch, but this was magic, and he was willing to bet that blade would cut sure as any skysteel.

Aware that he was now flanked by two foes, Sinder decided that leaving either of them free to act with impunity was a bad idea. Whip-quick, he fired the arrow at the glowing part of the shadow-being, throwing aside the bow and sprinting in the general direction he had for the Omen, figuring that the closer he got, the more likely he was to sniff the guy out. There wasn’t quite enough room in the confined quarters for much evasive maneuvering, but he kept his path sweeping and unsteady anyway, veering about as erratically as possible while still trying to home in on the right spot. Hopefully, it would just look random, and maybe make him harder to shoot.

The arrow passed right through the head of the shade approaching Sinderion, and it jerked back violently, before falling down beneath the floor, taking its weapons with it. While the altmer was evading in the other direction, however, two more of them rose from the ground where the first fell, each with their own sword and hand axe, and they continued forward, splitting away from each other to flank Sinderion. The Omen, however, fired his arrow low again, hoping a second arrow in the legs might actually slow him down somewhat. Once the shot was away, he sidestepped along the edge of the chamber quickly, moving himself away from the corner, allowing one of the shade warriors to cut off Sinderion if he followed.

The second arrow landed dangerously close to Sinderion’s foot, and the split-second movement required to avoid being pinned to the ground with it placed far too much pressure on the injured leg, and it gave out from underneath him, sending Sinderion sprawling sideways. This motion, abrupt as it was, sent him into one of the two shadows now occupying the room, which hacked at him, surprised, catching him on the shoulder with the axe. The heavy blade of it sliced through his leathers, leaving a broad but not deep gash there. His passage through it dissolved it, and it wasn’t long before two more reformed in its place. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what was going on.

Scrambling to his feet, the altmer ignored the needling pain in the injured leg and went for his sword, bringing it up just in time to block a downward stroke from one of the phantoms. Seemed the weapon was solid enough, but he couldn’t waste time here, or he’d be torn to pieces before he could lay a hand on the Omen. Speaking of which… the man had moved. It made most sense to pursue and try to get a lucky hit, only taking out what shadows he had to on the way. Disengaging from the one he was locked with, he hastened in the direction of the smell, though he’d have to save the breakneck sprinting for true need, as his leg likely wouldn’t handle much more of it. A ghost of a plan forming in his mind, the elf slid his short sword once again from the sheath at his waist, gripping it at the base of the blade rather than the hilt.

It was perhaps more difficult than it would usually be, however, because that thing inside him was rattling at the bars of its cage, demanding release. It did not much like these tactics, leaving enemies to trail him from behind. It would much rather tear through them all until none remained, for he supposed it did not understand the concept of foes without end. Without end… the thought struck him oddly, but now was not the time. He did not intend to surrender so easily.

The arrow he was waiting for appeared, headed directly for his chest. Sinder made no attempt, successful or otherwise, to bat it down or dodge it, instead using those precious seconds to aim the best he could along the general trajectory of the thing, releasing his shortsword in an end-over-end throw just as the steel barb punctured his chestguard, stealing the breath from his lungs and stopping his forward momentum quite effectively, a fact which allowed all three of the shadow-things to catch up with him.

The sword flew end over end until it sank deep into the wooden wall of the chamber, quivering with the sudden halt. The Omen reappeared fully right in front of it, directly in its trajectory, but completely unharmed by it. He raised his eyebrows at the blade in the wall, before looking back to Sinder. "Nice throw." The compliment actually seemed genuine. The redguard then put a hand on the hilt and yanked it free, hurling it end over end back at him, but missing wide and hitting one of the shades instead, splitting it in two. He shrugged.

"I'm afraid I'm not as accurate." He then exploded into his plume of smoke, reappearing seated on his throne, to watch the spectacle that was sure to form before him, now that the altmer was practically forced into either fighting the shades, or allowing himself to be cut down.

Well, that was it, wasn’t it? The attack should have hit, would have hit, if this strange room worked the way it was supposed to. He put it down to magic, and the sheer power of it meant he was beaten before he even began. It meant there was only one thing left for him to do, and that was die.

He wondered if the Omen understood just how much of a gift he’d given him.

He couldn’t lay down and take it, though, oh no. That was not in his nature. Not in either part of it, anymore. But it hadn’t stopped him from desiring that end, with a painful clarity he had quite forgotten, out there, in the world, with things to live for. Complications, entanglements. He never knew how to deal with them properly. He was always struggling to find the words, or know the right thing to do. But this, this situation was the simplest thing in the world: he was going to die, and he had his choice about how.

So Sinderion did what he was fairly certain everyone in his life had urged him to do at one point or another, without really understanding what they were asking of him. He simply let go, by degrees. With the sword in his hand, he slashed brutally into the nearest shadow, sidestepping and twisting on his good foot to plunge the blade up under what should have been the chin of another. His free hand caught the incoming wrist of another, though the second weapon scored him a swipe across the abdomen, an arc of his blood spattering to join the rest on the floor. It was only fitting that he should join his family in their demise, after all.

"And what's the point in waiting, right?" he murmured to himself, nearly inaudibly.

That shrugged off another of his chains, and he could feel the thing simmering beneath him, waiting with slavering jaws for its release, eerily quiet but unmistakably present. Its heart thundered in his ears, its breaths synchronized with his until, so suddenly he didn’t have the time to think about it, his sword was pitched heedlessly for the Omen’s chair, because he didn’t need it anymore. His claws and teeth were more than enough. Because its heart was his heart, its lungs were his lungs. These teeth and claws belonged to him, though he no longer knew what that was, exactly. It wasn't Sinderion, he was sure of that. It wasn't quite the beast either, though-- though to look at him, it was certainly closer than he'd been yet.

It was just a dream, after all, and he was going to die. He might as well die violently.

Almost casually, the Omen leaned sideways to rest on the right side of his chair, the sword thudding into where his head had just been. He didn't seem concerned with it, instead stroking his chin as he paid rapt attention to the struggle going on before him. "Have you been keeping something from me, elf?" he asked, drinking in the sight with a kind of ravenous greed only a pirate could possess. He'd stumbled upon a treasure here, it seemed.

Seven feet tall, looming, wrapped in sinuous muscle and covered with a half-coat of tawny-gold fur, Sinder no longer knew how to answer. Ivory claws tore through a pair of shadows, heedless of the consequences. Two more could spawn, or thirty-- he cared not. He would meet his end, however swift or slow, with all the mind-numbing ferocity he could muster, and even on a plane of unreality, he had quite a bit to work with. Axes and swords cut into his flesh, and with nothing to feed on, recovering the damage was impossible. He didn't care. All that mattered was sinking his teeth into the next piece of skin and blood and bone, an implacable desire left only frustrated as, repeatedly, his jaws clicked shut over nothing.

But there was flesh in this room, he could smell it. Dead flesh, which he had little interest in at the moment, and living flesh, which was much more appealing. Shoving bodily through a line of no-meat things, he zeroed in on the one other living entity in the room. Too far gone to be even slightly rational, he didn’t think or plan or calculate, he just leapt, bullrushing the Omen with a ragged gait but a singleminded focus, trailng blood, his own, naturally, from his heavy limbs onto the floor.

Rialta's hand shot up, and a bright green spell burst forth, enveloping the half-shifted werewolf before him and paralyzing him in mid run. The small army of shades now behind Sinderion vanished at a thought, and it was just the two of them again, with the corpses of the others still largely undisturbed. The Omen rose from the chair and moved closer, to examine his catch. Of course, the werewolf would be entirely aware of what was happening, still able to hear and see, unless he was too far gone for even that.

"Do you even know the magnitude of the gift you've just given me?" he asked, hardly able to contain his excitement. "That tree elf bitch will hardly be able to hide from me once a werewolf is tearing apart her little warriors. You and I will go far together. Or rather, I will go far through you, at so little risk to myself." He knelt, studying Sinderion's changed form with intense interest. A thought occurred to him.

"Sadly not quite as big as that freak of a Khajiit, but a werewolf is a werewolf, no doubt about that." He actually seemed to be having trouble getting on with the deed. The paralysis spell he allowed to slowly wear off. In its place he put another spell over the wolf, instilling such weakness that even moving his limbs at all would require extraordinary effort. "You'll forgive me if I make you linger here a while longer, I'm sure..." He had clearly accepted death, considering the way he'd abandoned his efforts to avoid killing the shades. The Omen wasn't keen on letting him get away as quickly as the dunmer had.

Forgive him? If Sinder had had the energy or presence of mind left, he would have laughed, and it would not have been pleasant. Under the paralysis spell, his mind was the only thing free to move, and it had. It was actually... easier, when he wasn't spending so much of his energy trying to keep himself under wraps, and so he'd scraped the bottom of his cognitive barrel and remembered his original intent. Leave a clue for Adrienne. Something that would communicate to her that this dream wasn't responsive only to the weaver's demands. It had produced scent for him where none existed before, and he knew that somehow, she would be able to do something with that, even if he couldn't. Even if not... it was the least he could do to try.

The weakness spell buckled his knees, sending him sprawling to the floor. He had neither the strength nor the inclination to fight it. Instead, he focused everything he had left into moving just one of his arms, touching it to a particularly nasty abdominal wound he'd recieved at one time or another. The hand came away coated thickly in his own blood, and he inched it towards his head so he could see what he was doing. In the end, he couldn't make it that far; his breathing grew more ragged and harsh as the weakness seemed inclined to crush him under his own weight, much more ponderous now than it had been. Blindly, then, he drew a figure on the floor beside him, though perhaps to his benefit, it didn't appear much like something he was doing on purpose, as his fine motor control was practically nonexistant. It probably just seemed futile struggling of some kind. What resulted from the effort was a wobbly figure 8, and his arm fell still, the stamina it took to keep pulling in air all he had left to spend.

Even that would go eventually, he supposed, but in truth, he really didn't care how long that took. He was done, and the rest was up to someone else. All he had left to do was wait.

"A distraction will be necessary," the Omen was saying, pacing back and forth, "and I think the upside down fellow here will do nicely for that. A large amount of fire and a full frontal attack, followed up with a flanking maneuver executed by a werewolf! Yes, I think that will do. We'll deal with the last two, and then depart immediately. You and I will be quite the team, I think. In meantime, I think the throne needs an extra bit of decoration."

And then there was a battleaxe in his hands, the edge resting on the back of the werewolf's neck. One swift cleave downward, and it was done. He poked the end of his spear into the base, picking up the wolf head and carrying it back to the throne, dropping the axe along the way. After propping the spear against it such that the wolf head was staring at whoever would come next, he seated himself and awaited his next guest, unable to stop thinking of the future.




Sinderion followed the suit of Drayk and Vanryth, although at this point something different happened. The elf tilted his head back slightly, opened his mouth, and released a quiet ahoooo. After a brief moment of silence, the entire crew began to chuckle darkly, including Drayk and Vanryth, and Sinderion himself. When it died down a few seconds later, the silence returned in full.

"Next volunteer," the crewman called, offering the cup.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: The Representatives

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One by one, she’d watched them. They would, without fail, fall into a slumber, then wake again, all the life and vivacity she had known in them entirely vanished. What Sinderion had done afterwards was so unlike him it could be nothing but puppetry. A joke, about the part of himself that he despised so fiercely she could scarcely understand? No, that was not him at all, but it did seem right up the Omen’s alley. With each new dashed hope, defeated belief that one of her friends would pull through with the secret to defeating him, she slipped a little further into herself, leaving only the impassive mask visible.

She knew, with a certainty that frightened her, that she would not like what she saw when she took that chalice. But she could not react too much, lest she give herself and her intent away. When Lynly sat up, Adrienne knew that she was the last, and the cold fingers of doubt wrapped around her lungs, squeezing until she was sure that no air remained to her. And yet, she kept breathing. She had to—she was the only one left, and the burden of defeating the Omen was become wholly hers. It was not simply a matter of wanting to be strong anymore: her strength was a bare necessity. She was dangled out over a cliff, her only handholds her wit and whatever measure of martial talent she had managed to acquire, and there would be nobody to catch her if she fell, nobody to lean on if she stumbled.

She was suddenly, irrevocably, entirely alone.

”Well,” she said, keeping her tone bored. The act, as she had told Drayk, was a shield as well as a knife. If she was deep enough in it, she could forget what she used it for. That would be her only boon in this. Her character was selected carefully, with just enough of her own personality infused in it that she wouldn’t lose it entirely were the worst to happen. The best lies were the ones based on some small part of the truth. “At least you have enough style to save the best for last, hm?” None of the people here would react to her. They were all blank walls, but at the moment, she wasn’t acting for them. No, she was acting for her own sake.

Taking the chalice, she took a careless sip, slumping back in her chair almost immediately. It was a moment before she allowed her eyelids to flutter open. Apparently, her chair had transferred with her, which was fortunate since her knees were feeling a little weak. The urge to vomit was instantaneous, but she quieted her stomach by sheer force of will. She was staring at the severed head of a lupine creature, but unlike Lynly, she had no need to think to identify it. The eyes were unmistakably Sinderion’s.

Oh, my friend, she thought despairingly. There were still traces of his actual lineage in his face, and these she could pick out without difficulty once she knew. It wasn’t… quite the same as illustrations of werewolves she’d seen, but there wasn’t time to linger over the thought. His body lay not far from the throne, and she could make out something on the floor, by his hand. It looked to have been smeared there by his own blood, but almost… purposively. It was certainly not a random stain. The figure resembled a numeral, eight. The eight divines? Sinderion wasn’t religious. What did it mean, then?

She moved her eyes with apparent disinterest, shifting slightly to look behind her. The child was speared to the wall, Vanryth—oh, dear Vanryth! He lay in a pool of his own vital fluids, his sword buried in his belly. Adrienne did not allow herself to analyze the situation too much, for fear of what she would conclude. Lynly was in pieces, scattered to each end of the space. Drayk—no. She couldn’t look, wouldn’t look. Heart-wrenching was a pale word for what the scene was, but they were not dead. She had seen them all sit up, and whatever they were, whatever kind of thralls they had become, there was life yet in their bodies.

For now, she needed to remain focused. She could not become as they were, else all hope was lost, and she did not hold any illusions about her skill with a sword. If they had lost this fight, than it was hers to lose as well.

But only if she fought it the same way.

“Well it doesn’t lack for a certain macabre mood, does it?” she mused, turning towards the Omen at the other end of the room, seated in his own chair. “And I can see the appeal. Thralls are much easier to deal with than people with thoughts of their own, but I daresay you must grow dreadfully bored with only the mindless for company.” It was probably why he went to such lengths to have his fun with them here, when they could still respond to him… in ways more or less human.

"You, my dear, have already found the only reason you yet live," the Omen, propping one blood-slicked boot up on his left knee. "It is rather dull, but then, the life that I lead is not. I find enjoyment enough in creating nightmares for the meager people, the ones too small to be of any relevance in this world." He paused for a moment, studying her.

"The one before you said the truth: it doesn't matter what you are, what you were, why you're here, what possible motive you all could have had for coming aboard my ship, but I find myself curious all the same. The two elves were practically destroyed by the sight of this room alone. They clearly knew each other, were fond of each other, I care not what else. Are you all connected somehow? Do at least try to entertain me, your life rather depends on it."

Beneath her placid face, her mind was ticking forward as quickly as she could calculate. She had forgotten to account for what the others might have said, might have done to give this man a clue to who they were. Knowing them, they weren't particularly focused on deception, and likely had reacted honestly to what they had seen. She would have been envious of that, if the opposite wasn't precisely what she needed right now. "Yes, well, they always were a bit... unstable that way," she replied, forcing herself to slide uninterested eyes over the corpses. She allowed a flicker of irritation, though, as if she were... displeased at their condition. "Those two came as a set, actually. It's almost cliche, really, the altmer and the dunmer overcoming their differences as brothers or some such." she waved a hand dismissively.

"They both grew fond of the boy, I suppose. It's something that happens to ordinary people if they spend long enough in each others' company... well, that or at least one of them ends up dead." Using the hand to gesture back towards Drayk, she still refused to look at him, but that was easily enough played off as a complete lack of concern rather than its reversal. "If you really wish to know, it's simple enough: I collected them. I needed a job done and some suitably unhinged people to do it. They got a bit attached, I suppose, and so when I wanted to shift enterprises, they followed." She sighed, but her eyes only glittered coldly. The eyes give the lie, if you don't remember to hide that first.

"I can see how that would happen," he said, eyeing her somewhat. "I wonder if they knew they were being led to their deaths in the bowels of a nightmare..." He threw his hands up. "Not that it matters now. They're little more than decorations in my nightmare at this point, as far as their minds go. The werewolf's body will prove most useful in the waking world, I should think."

Rather abruptly, he stood, and conjured a blade into his hands. It was light, long and thin, but unmistakably sturdy, and very sharp. "Shall we dance and speak? I'd quite like to see what a little of this, a little of that entails." He raised the blade and began to take light steps towards her. "Will you show me, or must I pry it from you?"

Adrienne threw back her head and laughed. Shaking her head, she rose to her feet, drawing her own sword in the process, the familiar heft the only comfort she had in this moment. Despite her show of confidence, it was hard to ignore the fact that her dearest friends were dead around her, however metaphorical she knew that to be. "Wouldn't you just?" she questioned, almost rhetorically, apparently entirely unconcerned with her impending "death." Truthfully, she was still trying to decipher the message Sinderion had felt important enough to spend his last moments writing. But she could ill-afford much distraction. Rolling her shoulders, she stretched her neck first one way, then the other, leveling the blade in her hand at a slight upward angle, recognizable as a fencer's stance, mostly.

"This is not something you shall need to pry, no," she mused almost thoughtfully. "But whatever shall we discuss? We've already covered my motives, your taste in interiors, and the rather unfortunate natures of my companions, after all. Shall we speak now of poetry, or magic? Politics, perhaps? Thievery?" She was content to wait for the first strike, and react to it, rather than making it herself. It would also give her more time to think.

The Omen chose to strike first and speak second, darting side to side suddenly as if trying to flank her, and then striking dead ahead, the first blow a sideways slash purely aimed at the blade, meant to swipe away the guard, followed by a straight jab towards the abdomen, aiming to bleed rather than outright kill. Once done, he backstepped quickly. "What are you to me? How could you best serve me? I have tools and weapons of war. My stock today has been the most promising catch I've ever had, thanks to you. But how can you help me? Why should I not call centurions to tear you in half for my amusement, like it did the last woman?"

The first blow caught, his superior strength wrenching her blade aside, but she twisted too quickly to be caught by the next one. It was hardly the first time she'd been overpowered, after all. Things like this tended to have patterns. Perhaps, had Lynly drilled her any less fiercely, her reaction would not have been so automatic, but it was, and the second strike met the air inches from her torso instead. As he stepped back, Adrienne moved forward, bringing her sword up and over to grip in both hands, aiming diagonally for his left shoulder.

"You, my dear Captain Rialta, think in the short term. I suppose my ritual dismemberment might be of some temporary amusement, but do you not find it to fade awfully quickly? Besides, I assure you that, in charge of my own faculties, I would be both much more useful and more amusing than without them. Call it arrogance if you like, but I daresay there's already a hint in what you know: I found them. I am a strategist far more than a combatant, captain, and what use is a strategist without her mind?" Eight? Eight what? Eight times? Eight people? No, no, none of that makes any sense.

"I'd like to see you prove it," he said as he parried the blow to the side and shifted sideways, nimbly hopping over the headless form of the werewolf. His smirk was something different than he'd shown before. An actual interest, to see if she was up to the challenge. "Know me for a little while, and you'll learn that I greatly enjoy a good game. A thinker's game. That's all this is. The others you brought me were no thinkers, but fighters. This is a game that can't be won with strength of arms. The harder they struggled, the tighter the noose became. None of them stopped to think."

And then he split into two people, a clone of himself moving left while he moved right. One of them lunged forward with the off hand, a lightning spell lighting in the hand, but it was extinguished as quick as it came up, a low slash coming instead. The other slashed high towards the throat darting back with a spin, sheathing the sword and drawing a bow in a smooth motion, releasing a single shot aimed for center mass.

Perhaps one of them had stopped to think, but from the looks of things, she might not have the time to descipher the thought. The copies were visually indistinguishable, and both appeared equally tangible. Adrienne chose to jump, just avoiding the lower swing and raising her sword to block the upper one. It connected with more force than she was prepared for, disarming her and sending the slender blade spinning off towards the opposite wall. Defenseless, she was about to be shot, and did the only thing she could think of: let herself fall, buckling at the knees and collapsing on the floor quite near the desecrated corpse of Sinderion. She was scrambling to her feet when she noticed: from this angle, what he'd written wasn't a numeral at all. In the moment it took her to process, she cracked a genuine smile. Mara bless you eternally, Sinderion Direnni-- I think you just saved my life.

Infinity. It was a concept that begged her to consider repetition, yes, but also possibility. The Omen said this game was about thinking. Putting those two things together, she had a rough, if workable, hypothesis from which to start. If Sinder had figured it out but couldn't act, it was probably magic of some kind, so she reached for that, willing herself back to the other end of the room.

There was no cloud of smoke, just a waver in her image, and then she flickered out of sight altogether, to appear, standing, right beside Vanryth. Looking down to him, she reached out with one hand, enclosing it around the hilt of his sword and pulling it from his body. It was too heavy for her... or at least it would have been. But with nothing more than a simple thought, it was balanced just like her own, with no change to its shape. She was still grinning, and glanced up to the Omen, winking. "Oh, now this... is going to be fun." She wreathed herself in a frost cloak, and because she could, the ice spread outwards from her feet, to coat the floor of the room in frosty white, or at certain patches, gleaming red where it froze coats of blood in place like some kind of morbid lake in winter.

The Omen watched the ice spread, looking as though he just taken a bite out of something extremely delicious. He licked his lips and grinned in pure delight. And then the ship turned upside down. He banished his clone counterpart as he neatly flipped over to land on his feet on the ceiling. Everything came crashing down, or up. The throne smashed to pieces, the spear with Sinder's head tipping over to the side, all of the mangled bodies splashing down. "The waking world is utterly dull compared to what we can do here," he said in anticipation. The arrows in Drayk's body suddenly pulled themselves out and flew in Adrienne's direction, a centurion wielding a greatsword and tower shield exploded up from below them and charged, and the Omen's bow fired an arrow that would explode in a ball of flame as soon as it hit anything.

Adrienne, unprepared for the shift, did not land quite so softly, but bounced to her feet uninjured all the same. The arrows, she noticed first, and summoned up Lynly's battered shield, deflecting them with a telekinetic sweep before launching it at the last one, the exploding arrow meeting it right around the middle, knocking the Centurion off its feet, though it still hurtled towards her. Looking around, she eventually alighted on the sword in her hand and shrugged, standing sideways and waiting. When the metal construct was close enough, she swung, batting it away with enough force for it to go sailing back the other way, a heap of metal aimed for the wall against which the Omen stood. Ice spikes drove up from the ground, attempting to entrap or impale him (she was frankly fine with either), and miniaturized dragons materialized from thin air, forming themselves into a flock and dive-bombing the captain.

What else... the possibilities really were endless, and that itself was staggering. "I understand why you are so enamoured of this dream," she said slyly, then opened up a hole in the ground beneath him, one which would spit him out again in range of her sword, which she swept in an arc, the wide motion producing five additional after-images, which resolved themselves into solidity just before they were intended to hit. And then she set them on fire. Because she felt like it.

And because he felt like it, it was all obliterated, everything reset. The Dreamwalker sailed gently along the open sea, the chamber that had been the room everyone else had died in now clean as it had started, no sign of the carnage remaining. The Omen sat comfortably in his throne, his head tilted slightly at Adrienne.

"As I said, a thinker's game. Even the weakest child can crush dragons in their dreams. And now, since the idea of us battling eternally in a dream is utterly preposterous, the only question that remains is what, exactly, should I do with you? We will leave this place shortly and return to the waking world, where we most certainly cannot perform these feats. Perhaps you could join the crew, and retain your mind. Tell me... do you know who I am? Truly? Why did you seek me out, specifically?"

"Oh, come now captain. Surely, people with minds such as yours and mine are more than capable of exercising the requisite creativity even when the possibilities are a bit more... limited." She raised a brow, reclining slightly in the chair as though she were not at all surprised to find herself in it, and truly, after that particular mind-bending experience, being surprised was rather pointless. She crossed one leg over the other and propped an elbow on an armrest, catching her chin delicately in her hand. "As for why I'm here, I should think that obvious enough. I like power, dear captain, and keeping the company of those with it besides. You imply that there is something you truly are, and if so, I know not what, beyond what I have seen. But rumors do whisper, and what sort of fool should I be to pass up the chance to meet a spinner of dreams?" She shrugged. "Consider my coming here... the testing of a hypothesis."

"My dear," he said, smiling fully, "you might actually be as cold as I am. It's very compelling, I must admit. So many allow themselves to be tied down by their attachments, made weak by them, and never realize their potential because of them. I can see that you are not one of these people. Perhaps you were sent to me by my Lady. What an interesting thought."

He rubbed his hands together. "I'd stand, but I'm afraid it's rather pointless for where we're going. And before we head back... I don't believe I ever got your name. It's not something I usually care to ask, for obvious reasons."

She recalled that the Lady he spoke of was probably his Daedric sponsor. Vaermina. That made quite a lot of sense, considering. "My name is Elyn," she replied simply, flashing a smile, "And I assure you that no, I am not one of those people." Assuming that the work to bring them back to the waking realm was well in-hand, she simply sat back and waited.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Maya's heart sank when the Dreamwalker's sails unfurled, and the anchor was pulled up from the water. She would have known if they'd been able to kill Omen, she would have known the instant it happened, and known to hunt the Pact instead. But it never happened. She was able to watch the ship from the entrance of the inn, and that was exactly what she'd done. She trusted Anirne to be able to get up on her own if needed. She wanted to watch it for any sign of change. And now that the great warship was beginning to leave altogether, she was done waiting. Maybe it was suicide, but it was suicide to just let them leave as well.

She shoved the door open and walked with urgency to the room she'd rented out for Anirne and herself, to find the altmer woman still sound asleep. She'd underestimated the strength of the sedative. Hastily she drew out more of her counteragent, worried for a moment that it was somehow dysfunctional. But whether it was or wasn't, it didn't matter now. She was going to use more of it. All of it, in fact. It would be a bit of a rude awakening for her, no doubt, like being drawn up from the bottom of a lake, but she was a strong woman, and there wasn't any time to be gentle.

"Get up, damn it," the witch hissed.

A dreamless sleep it had been, but the witch’s brew was doing its job, snatching Anirne from the jaws of the most restful slumber she’d had in years and yanking her with little ceremony to the world of wakefulness once more. The altmer woman’s golden eyes snapped open, and she inhaled deeply, rising to sit up with the motion. She focused quickly on the other female’s expression, reading something there that had her moving immediately, ignoring the protests of her still-sluggish limbs, though she reached the edge of the bed with far less grace than she was accustomed to.

“What happened?” she asked simply, if not without urgency.

"The ship's leaving," Maya said, standing and opening the door to their room quickly, expecting Anirne to follow. "The Omen still lives. We... have to get to the ship somehow, we have to do something." When she made her way back outside, the ship was already halfway across the bay; a few more minutes and it would be it would out of sight entirely. She exhaled in frustration. There was no way to catch it and board it, but maybe they would be able to follow it from the shoreline.

"The horses. We need to at least follow it." They couldn't afford to speculate about what had happened to the others, not now.

The news hit Anirne a lot harder than she would have expected it to, perhaps because she had not been expecting it at all. The mortality of her brother and his friends had seemed all too obvious to her, but at the same time, the fact that they yet lived, despite crossing so many paths belonging to beings that should have been able to destroy them utterly, had perhaps somehow caused her to forget that fact. She felt terrible, a surging of guilt rising from the pit of her stomach to her throat. She had sat this one out, rested in the repose of supernatural slumber, for what? To protect some old secrets? They could have used her, perhaps even used one or two of those very secrets, to—

No. She couldn’t think that way. There was a good reason the forbidden was forbidden, and she had been trained to set her personal feelings aside and think always of the greater good. Even if the casualties included the person she loved most in this world, as she expected they very well might.

Either way, it was something to stew in later, not now. Not before anything was certain. “Of course,” she confirmed, taking up her staff and slinging her pack of few worldly possessions over her back. They’d have to string the animals together, and then make haste.




The Omen's eyes snapped open as he ended his dream. Adrienne's return would not be so gentle considering that she still had her mind, but such was the nature of the magic, and the Omen did not care enough for the well-being of others to bother tampering with it. He had more important things to do now, like utilizing the new tools he'd been granted to slaughter his way through this Game.

The crew was getting the warship in motion before the captain had even risen from his chair, the mindless members of the Sellswords included, all of them heading off without a word, moving more like a swarm of bees than a crew of men and mer. They controlled the ship with one mind, and operated with unmatched efficiency and timing. The Omen himself rose from his chair and beckoned for Adrienne to follow him, all former playfulness gone from his demeanor. Apparently, he was capable of being as serious and business-minded as he was of being demented and twisted.

The Omen followed a large number of his crew below deck. There were three levels to the warship, the second of which was loaded with as many large weapons as the first. Ballistas lined each side of the hull, all of them loaded and prepared to fire massive spears at deadly velocities. The upper most level of the ship contained three catapults, two smaller ones angled off the sides of the ship, and one massive one located on the bow. A single wide, twisting staircase led from the top to the bottom, it was down this that much of the crew went. Drayk continued on past the second level and down to the bottom, passing out of sight. The Omen broke off from his thralls and proceeded directly below the helm of the ship, passing through a windowed door into what appeared to be his private quarters. The redguard that had greeted the Sellswords at the docks took up a guard position at the door, though if this was always his job was unclear. Either the Omen liked to maintain some sense of normalcy on his ship, or he hadn't let his guard down just yet.

The interior of the captain's chamber was spacious, certainly more than was necessary for one man, but it was understandable why the Omen would take more for himself, and leave so much less for his thralls. Everything was somewhat mismatched, but all of it elegant and refined, as though he'd pilfered each piece of furniture from places he'd raided, all over the world. A wide window decorated the rear wall, currently looking out over the town of Dawnstar, but the view was already shifting as the warship turned west. A massive, velvety bed was propped up on the right side of the room, and several cabinets lined the left. A writing desk was covered in various papers below the window, and a trophy case filled with various wordly treasures decorated the near wall. The center piece of the room was a large table currently occupied by a detailed map of Skyrim, with heavy notes taken all over it. If Adrienne cared to look, she'd be able to see that the Omen's notes pertained to the locations, movements, and strengths of many of the representatives, though a large amount of them were focused on Hjaalmarch. It was on the window side of this map that the Omen stopped, leaning over it and studying what he'd learned once more.

Adrienne, a bit disoriented from her reemergence into the world of the waking, shook it off and followed in the Omen’s wake, taking an independent trajectory only once they were in the cabin area. Here, she perused the various trophies and evidence of raids with some interest, parts of it genuine. It was clear he’d sailed much of the world, and she expected there was a story behind every piece of furniture, every artifact in this room. In another time, another life, really, she would have been content to listen to any and all of them with rapt attention.

But that life was gone, and in this one, she was here to kill the man, to wipe him from this plane of existence like a stain on the fabric of the world. Perhaps he’d be meeting his Lady soon enough; she didn’t care to know. Some things should remain mysteries, after all.

Tearing herself away from the cabinet of curiosities, she trailed one languid hand along the wooden back of an intricately carved chair, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl in fantastical patterns, peering down at the map with what seemed careless interest. In reality, she was already decided that she was going to steal it when he was dead. It looked to contain a great deal of information, and that, as she well knew, made it quite valuable, indeed. Outwardly, she simply crossed to the opposite side of the table, pulling herself a chair and sinking into it gracefully. “Well, well. What have we here? Seems you’ve been busy of late…” her eyes flickered over the map, and the morphed her expression into a thoughtful one, as though she were trying to figure out just what connected all of these notes and locations.

"Targets," the Omen answered simply, "men and women and monsters that are to die, one by one. Some already have. I will explain in full later. For now, I hunt a bosmer bitch who has, up to this point, eluded me in the swamps of Hjaalmarch." He gestured to the markings on the hold. Red markings indicated ambush points, places his thralls had been hit by the Pact's warriors, and they were numerous, each of the Omen's four apparent strikes into the region turned aside by the hit and run tactics of his enemy.

"Her forces have all fallen back around this area," he said, drawing a dagger and touching the point to a circled area near the center of the swamp. "There must be a cave, or a network of them, that she operates from, in this area. But with the new additions, we should be able to push through. A strong front to draw them out, with the fire mage to draw their eyes, and the warriors to hold their attention, while the wolf slips through under cover. I have always had the advantage in numbers, but now I have the advantage in weapons as well." He looked up at Adrienne, a dark smile spreading. "Any advice, strategist?"

It was a solid plan, considering the circumstances, since he had the numbers for it. There wasn’t really much to be had in the way of additions, though she did give it some thought all the same. “How many mages do you have?” she asked, eyes fixed on the map before her. “If the resources are there, I’d dispatch your healers behind the front line to make sure it stays upright, and the more… destructive ones can flank, and use the environment. I’m guessing if she’s lasted any amount of time already, she knows it well, but it’s a swamp. It begs to be used to trap and entangle, its water to freeze, or entire pools of it to conduct.” She shrugged—the advice wasn’t terribly specific because she simply didn’t know the resources at his disposal, and doubtless he would understand that.

"Sadly, the healers are few," he admitted, "but I should think it is offset by the fact that my thralls are capable of ignoring physical pain in ways normal men could never hope to. These guerillas fight like Argonian shadowscales in their bloody swamp. Perhaps it would be wise to freeze what can be frozen, and burn the rest..."

She glanced back down at the map, allowing an amused smile to grace her features. “Blackfeather? Webspinner? Horizon? It sounds as if you are out to kill crows and spiders and the sun itself, dear captain. I think perhaps there is a story I need to hear in this somewhere. After all, a strategist without knowledge is a bow without arrows. You could hit things with it, I suppose, but it would be rather… crude.”

"They are monikers, all, representations of the Daedric Lord they serve. I was chosen to serve in a game in which offense and defense must be managed in equal measure. We must kill an assigned one while defending against an unknown other. And what better place to strike, than from this fortress on the sea?" He pushed back from the map, turning to the window. "It seems a strange thing for a pirate to do, but I've already plundered the world over. This is an opportunity to do something even gods would be impressed by."

He pointed back to the map with his dagger. "The Pact is simply next on the list, but I believe I know what follows. She's been busy defending against me, but she has not remained entirely idle. I've had her scouts followed southeast, past Whiterun, and down... deep into the earth. The spider you speak of is next. I expect that will be a similar challenge."

Adrienne looked suitably impressed when he revealed his part in the game, sliding a layer of keen ambition over it, as though the idea enticed her immeasurably. “My, my, but I have stumbled upon quite the endeavor.” She stood as well, pacing the room in a counterclockwise circle, hands clasped loosely behind her back, for all the world relaxed as a satiated cat, eyes half-lidded and darkly-glimmering. She lingered over a few more of his possessions, trying to find something she could use. The vial of poison currently secreted into a small pocket she’d sewn into the sleeve of this robe when she’d made it would work well in food or drink, tasteless and odorless as it was, but that would require something to put it in, and she had yet to see anything of that nature. The sword at her waist of the dagger in her boot would be more expedient, but she’d need to be close to guarantee a hit, and that would take a bit more work of an entirely different kind.

She wasn’t above seducing him, not by any stretch. To save her friends, she’d sink quite a bit lower than that, too. Sinder’s point to the Shade had been accurate enough for what it was, but she wasn’t so noble as he. It might have taken a situation like this to remind her of it, but it was true all the same. That stark realization, that she cared for them more than her own anything, was at once frightening, for Adrienne had ever been looking out for herself, but also reassuring in its solidity.

“And so, when the world holds nothing else for you, you seek it from another plane. How very… poetic, for one who walks also in dream.” She picked up a ceremonial dagger, the gems encrusted on its hilt marking it to her to be of the make of her own homeland, and tested the point with the end of her index digit, as if idly. It was still sharp, and a single bead of her blood welled to the surface. Setting the weapon back down carefully, she raised the finger to her mouth and swiped her tongue across it briefly, rubbing her thumb over the spot thereafter. The blood disappeared, and no more broke to the surface. She shot the Omen a sideways glance.

“What do they call you? The Scourge? The Weaver? The Nightmare, perhaps?”

"The Omen," he answered. "It is within Vaermina's sphere of influence to bring omens of demise to those she chooses, and as her representative, I share in these duties, though my power is not quite so absolute."

After dropping the dagger upon the map, he slowly removed his black headwrap, unwinding it until it fell away from his bald head to reveal a wicked scar running through his right eye from the center of his forehead to his cheekbone. The iris had turned a milky white color, clearly no longer capable of sight. "And what are dreams but extensions of our realities? In my dreams I can see with both eyes only because I remember what it was like. I can create magnificent warriors of Dwemer make only because I have witnessed their like before. A dream is simply a canvas, and without wordly experiences, there is no paint. Even the imagination is anchored in reality."

Dawnstar was nearly gone from view at this point, although the Dreamwalker was sailing somewhat close to the shoreline. It was not a very long voyage they were undertaking. "It's strange," he mused, "how so few individuals mean anything to me now. It's so utterly freeing to be rid of attachments. They all turn against you in the end, one way or another." He gestured slightly towards the similar-looking redguard that stood outside his door, standing guard. "Even family. Greed makes even brothers into enemies. His poor luck for being my brother, however. I have learned that only when alone is man allowed to explore the pleasures of the world in peace."

“Mm,” Adrienne hummed pleasantly, tracing gently the lines in thread of what must have been an Imperial tapestry. “Sentiment is for artists and bards, it’s true. But I have not found every attachment to be without merit, as long as it remains free of such things as those. Perhaps that is only because I cannot rob a man of his mind. Well, not forever, at any rate.” She grinned, Cheshire and bright, the simple expression wrought with implication.

Clasping her hands behind her back once more, she allowed her circuitry of the room to carry her behind him, and she glanced out his window at the ocean for just a moment, but evidently dismissed it as less interesting than what was inside the chamber. “I would perhaps agree wholeheartedly, save one thing,” she held up a single digit, tilting her head slightly to one side and appearing to study his expression carefully as she tightened the circle, positioning herself between he and the table. It was a little too close to be strictly polite, but then that was the intent of it. “Not every pleasure in the world can be explored alone.” She took a single step back, removing herself from his personal space, but not so much that it would be perceived as a retreat. The heels of her hands hit the desk, and she leaned back against it with utmost ease.

She was quite conscious of the weights of the sword at her hip—bad idea, too obvious and not quick enough—and the dagger in her boot, which was still probably not ideal. What was an excellent choice was the knife he’d used to point out locations on the map, no more than a foot from her right arm, at present, but she resisted the temptation to look at it. She knew where it was, and that would have to be enough. It would be a very unfortunate thing indeed to draw his attention to it.

"How right you are," he said, his smile growing wicked at her implication. "And so rarely are the treasures brought to my feet. The others never parted with it freely, and they were sadly not such prizes as you are." He didn't seem to be in the mood for waiting, probably due to the battle that would arrive for him by nightfall at the latest. He maneuvered himself in front of her, pausing for the briefest of moments to make sure she did not plan on resisting, before he took her throat in one hand, not tightly enough to choke, and pushed her back onto the table, using his other hand to roughly shove the headwrap aside as he descended on her, his fingers brushing the hilt of his knife and spinning it such that the blade faced them. The table itself was sturdy enough for both of their weights.

It was only a natural reaction for her arms to spread as if to stabilize her spot on the table, but at this stage in the game, Adrienne could not afford to succumb to natural reaction unless it also served some purpose, which in this case, it did. Her right hand brushed the dagger, unfortunately not the hilt she’d been expecting, and it sliced into her palm, something which she refused to react to, instead inching the hand up and closing it around the handle of the weapon even as the prey fell wholeheartedly into the trap she’d set. That part of it had actually been simpler than she was accustomed to… usually there was a bit more coyness to get through first. But Rialta was direct in this, and his end would be, too. His descent was met with the brutal upward thrust of his own knife, and she buried it under his chin, shoving up to the guard at an angle for his brain. “Sweet dreams, captain,” she ground out, unable or unwilling to stop the incensed hiss at the end of the phrase.

Her face lost all hint of expression as she wrenched the blade to the side, tearing it out and gritting her teeth as a hot torrent of blood spilled onto her, soaking her from jaw to chest and seeping insidiously into her clothing. It was a singularly-horrifying sensation, and she had to swallow repeatedly to avoid losing whatever she’d eaten last.

Unfortunately, she had failed to account for the fact that one’s muscles ceased to function when one died, and worming her way out from under his corpse proved to be a grim but unavoidable task, one that incited a certain degree of panic from her as the assumed character fell away and the stark reality of what had taken place here set in, setting her atremble and sputtering, wiping the blood away from her mouth with a sleeve. She’d never actually had to kill someone like this before—she’d not taken her first life until she was in the Mentor’s service, actually. None of those had been this close, this personal. The people who came after mercenaries were armed and dangerous in their own right, and while Rialta was certainly no defenseless lamb, she had rendered him as close as he could get, and slain him then. It sit ill with her, but there was no time for regret.

At last able to regain her feet, Adrienne looked down at the table. With her acting as sponge, the map was mostly safe, and she slid it from the table, folding it with as much care as her shaking hands could muster. She rummaged though his cabinets for a few seconds, long enough to find an oilskin satchel, which she shoved the paper into in hopes that getting wet wouldn’t hurt it that way, then attached it to her belt and drew her sword.

It was time to find her friends, and 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: The Representatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If there was anything to find.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully, it wasn’t much smarter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Chapter VI
The Darkest Places




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal