23 Recent Deviations
Featured: Skyrim: The Fool of Hearts
TES: Lost In A Lost World Ch. 6Chapter 6: 2 A.M. “Mmm, I’ll have to cut the price to accept these, sweety." Ladia, the Imperial lowlife that Ivali spotted at the Halfway Tavern, casts greedy glances at the emerald and ruby snatched from Andrano's tomb. “Come on, shoot it. How much?” “One hundred. Not a septim more.” Ladia deadpans at her. “You’re stealing me!” Ivali sneers at the Imperial’s offer. Two gems priced the same as a shitty butterknife sold by a bag of fleas. A shitty butterknife that saved her life, but a shitty butterknife nonetheless. “I need to, miss Outlander," Ladia says in a mocking tone. "Call it a fee for the unaffiliated. I don’t know the source of your wares, and they might as well be bloodied. More difficult to get rid of.” “Do I look like a bandit to you?” Ladia chuckles at Ivali’s outrage. “With a bloodied shirt and a stoned savage following you? Do I really have to answer you?” Ivali throws an angry glance at Ash. She told him to go to sleep already, but he insisted on staying in the hall with her. She can understand without any mental endeavour why Ladia might think he's under Skooma's influence. It's now a good ten minutes that he's been chattering with some goon he found at the inn, who apparently comes from the same outback place as him. He too sports tattoos and piercings in the same style as Ash's. They're gesticulating wildly and talking in a strange, unintelligible dialect that only vaguely reminds her of Dunmeri. Faced with this Imperial wench's scornful and contemptuous scowl, Ivali would like nothing more than to take back her jewels and leave. And tell her to fuck off. But she doesn't have the energy to do it. She's tired, her head aches and her arm treated with a slop made by Master Tyermaillin throbs furiously. She wishes for nothing more but to end this second shitty day. Or third shitty day. Or maybe hundredth shitty day? She can't remember when was the last time she didn't have a shitty day. She fakes a smile and accepts. “Okay, we’re set, then.” Ivali lets go of the precious gems she shared company with for so little time and grabs the oxidised coins the woman passes her. She hastily puts them in her pouch and goes right to Ash. The boy has given up on bothering the strange mer and is wandering around the room like he wasn't in a place full of third-rate delinquents, bag wide open for any swift hand to rummage into it. A bag with a stolen skull inside, if it wasn't enough. A skull over which they risked their lives and over which her life still depends. "Come on, Ash. It's bedtime." She grabs him by the shoulder and pushes him out of the hall. The stairway is a narrow set of steep wooden steps that creaks every time they put down their feet. Ivali feels tipsy and every step is an enormous effort, and the bottle of low-quality Dunmeri alcohol she emptied just half an hour ago didn't certainly help. Watching Ash moving in front of her, Ivali is impressed at how the kid seems to have almost unlimited stamina. He walked for miles all day, under the summer sun. He got a vigorous beating by a pissed undead monster. Then walked for some more miles. And here he is. Relatively fresh and still ready to bother people with his unending chat. Ah, the miracle of youth! Not that I'm old, Ivali clarifies to herself, far from it. The upper floor of the inn is a long but narrow corridor, run by a double row of five doors. Its walls are dabbed with old musty paintings depicting ugly, miserable-looking humans. The Imperial symbol is everywhere in the pictures, either etched on their clothing or engraved on extravagant jewels and crowns they don. This alone suggests these might be knockoff portraits of Emperors, a maladjusted attempt at wooing the Imperial customers. As if reading her mind, Ash points at one, a blonde and sickly man with deep eye bags. "I think this one is Pelagius Septim the mad." His hand waves to the right, this time toward a scowling woman, a dark diadem adorning her head. "While this one might be Potema. I don't think in Cyrodiil or Skyrim they'd put a portrait of her on display give what she engaged on, but I'm sure she's Potema because in a book about Conjuration—" "You know, I conjured some money with my prayer before." Ivali interrupts him with the first thing her mind can call off before he departs for yet another tangent. She shows him a few of those coins Ladia just gave her and shakes them in her palm. The tingling sound cheerfully rings in her ears. "Do you want your share?" If she has to pay him to make him shut up, well, that would be a good investment. Ash's eyes widen in surprise before he lowers his gaze and a hand runs to his ringed lip. "No, thank you." He mutters sheepishly. "I can't accept it." "Well, suit yourself." The money disappears again into Ivali's pocket, her final good deed of the day fulfilled. She swings open the door of the room the publican rented her for the night, while Ash stays in front of his, expectant as a mangy dog. "I'm in this room if you need me. Which you won't." Darkness embraces Ivali like a shroud. The innkeeper didn't even bother to light a lamp for her. Only the moonlight - and her Bosmeri acute sight - prevent her from seeing nothing. The room is tiny and bare, with only a bed, a dusty nightstand and a couple of shelves filled to the brim with cheap knick-knacks that not even she would feel like pocketing. She trudges to the bed and lets herself fall over the cheap sheets. She searches tentatively for her armour's clasps, making great attention to not brush against the wound on her arm. After a few blind attempts, her armour is yanked free and thrown to the floor.She should attend to the scratch and change the bandages after she moved and sweated on them for a few hours. Even if there's no light, no water and she might topple over from either alcohol or exhaustion, she wouldn't want her arm to fall off because of such a stupid wound. Who knows what bloody diseases a fucking ghost might carry.*** Pressure grips at Ivali's head like a vice, the skull split apart by a pulsing ache. It starts from the top of her scalp, then descends upon the forehead, passes on the sinus to finally reach the mouth. Her teeth are on the verge of parting. They send jolts of pain to the gums.On instinct, her hands go to the head, to placate the pain, but that's it; only the will is there, and no action manages to follow. Ivali's arms rest around the hips like they're made of lead. She feels like a puppet, tied by invisible strings. An interminable dark corridor opens up in front of her. Neverending walls made of squared, reddened stones run parallel into the darkness. A faint mist runs up to her knees. Etched into the wall, countless alcoves are disseminated at regular intervals, like in a catacomb. A pair of round scarabs, facing each other, decorates the capstone at their apexes. The ones near her are empty. Cold air blows in the corridor. Colder than a roofless night in Bruma; Ivali has slept many of them. The only thing she can do seems to go forward. She takes a step, then another one. There's gelid water running between her feet but she can't hear any splash, only her breathing, and even it is a low, imperceptible sound. Nothing can break the silence. It is after the sixth step that Ivalis stumbles upon something that shatters the monotony. A corpse. She stops in front of it. Greyed out, withered, hairless. It sits, legs crossed, slumped against the alcove's concave wall. Its skeletal arms clutch the shoulders in a tentative hug. A cascade of gold encrusts its face, mingles with its flesh, sinking into it. It is as if they poured molten metal over its head and let it dry. Its features are unrecognisable, except for a gaping toothless mouth and thin pointed ears. It's a mer. Ivali stays there, shaking and looking in silent immobility. The corpse's arms lose their grasp on the shoulders and fall, the legs disentangle and the knees go up the chest. Its hands press against the stone floor, tending the bones and withered ligament above. It eases up, its hunched back now straight. It's not naked, Ivali notices, but it carries a blood-red cloth wrapped around its waist and between its legs, as an undergarment. The ribs and the leathery skin above them expand and shrink; it's breathing, or at least mimicking this function. The dead doesn't seem interested in her presence; its head tilts toward the end of the corridor. It can see something despite the thick shell of gold that covers its face.Ivali turns her head and notices the others. Behind her, there's another one, right in front of the first, and there are many more as well in the following rows of alcoves. Tens of dead are standing up admiring the end of the corridor. Crimson on the loin, gold on every head. The sight mesmerises Ivali. She doesn't know if she's shaking for fear or excitement or both. The mist rises and with it a chorus of faint whispers. Slowly the sound grows clearer, and permutes into a gritted murmuring, a rasp wheezing from a hundred throats. The words are indiscernible. Voices of men, women, and children. They come from the dead, but their mouths stand immobile. One by one the voices merge, until there's only one left. The elegant, suave male tone utters a single phrase. "Welcome back, old friend." A hint of familiarity resides in the voice. It's not a simple deja-vu, but it's a tone she utterly recognises as familiar, known, and most of all, welcome. It's only now that Ivali realises that her right hand holds something, something that wasn't here before. A sword, brass and flames make its blade. Blood stains the sword in deep, fresh crimson, as well as her hand. It’s then that she catches a glimpse of her arms. Now the skin above them is a tanned gold, and they bear the large, strong muscles of a man. She screams, but unlike the dead, she has no voice.*** The dark walls of the inn room greet Ivali with their immovable indifference. She clutches the sheet, trying to fight away the gelid sweat that runs down her body. She inspires and lets a mouthful of air enter her lungs, keeping it inside until she almost becomes dizzy. She turns a few times. The straw of the mattress tugs at her skin and makes it tickle. She thrashes the legs and the sheets flutter, letting the cool air inside. Ivali leaves the bed and paces back and forth in the narrow room. The cold stones under her feet send her mind straight to the corridor and its watery floors. She shivers. She sits back on the bed, this time facing the nightstand. As she rummages inside it, she finds a book. The title is written in elegant golden letters over the yellow leather cover; Mystery of Talara. It's written in Common, another way to appeal to human customers. She places it on her lap, thinking how desperate she must be to be wanting to read such a thing in the middle of the night. The pages are thick as sandpaper. She winches at the writings, as she tries to make something out of them under the light of the moon, cursing at the innkeeper who didn't replenish the lamp's oil. The words run in front of her eyes but they don't stick. The ink symbols slip one after the other as she wraps her brain in useless circles. She puts it down. Grabbing at her discouragement as a crutch, Ivali gets up again. She brushes the surface of the bed. The room narrows around her. The night in itself is quiet, but the hums in her ears and even her heartbeat and breathing feel unbearably loud. Ivali cups her hands around the ears. She doesn't want to hear anything. She fears that among those sounds the voices might make their way again. Like a lost puppy, Ivali returns to the bed. She sits on it, curled around her knees. She closes her eyes, and she can expect the dream to end and to see it at any moment: the cell in the Imperial prison. It waits for her, immovable and humid, like every night. The bed carved out of a chipped wooden plank, the sheet made out of an unkempt woollen rag. The hole in the floor plaguing the air with its acre stench. When she opens her eyes, though, Ivali sees nothing of that, but only the haggard but comfortable room she rented the evening before. This thing alone should be enough to cheer her up, but for some reason, it can't. It's unbelievable. She spent hellish months sleeping on that wooden plank. No moment of rest. Fleas and bugs bit her. Humidity and cold air menaced to kill bearing insidious illness. Asshole guards prodded at the bars, screamed and mimicked obscenities at her just to revive their night watches. Now that she has a normal bed and isn't surrounded by lecherous bastards, she gets nightmares that take away her rest. It's so stupid. Why does she feel so scared about a nocturnal hallucination to forsake sleep? Or maybe it isn't fear at all. Morbid and ill curiosity would be a better way to describe how she feels. There seems to be a deeper meaning to the dream. It's unnatural, far different from what Ivali would usually dream, so distant from her way of thought that it almost seems like someone dreamt it for her. She isn't doing enough to understand it, she's sure, and she must be overlooking something of utmost importance. No. There's no way I can sleep again tonight as I am. She needs to get out of this room. She'd love to get a breath of fresh air but not enough to justify fighting her aching muscles and blistered feet. A distraction is what she needs right now, and she knows just about a handy - and chatty - distraction.*** Ivali doesn't even have to time knock a third time that a quick fumbling at the doorknob preannounces Ash's appearance. The awkward robe is off, and a simple white shirt and trousers make him seem almost like a normal mer. “Do you have trouble sleeping?” Ash beams at her, his face always a grey smiling moon. A dark bruise runs all over his neck, on which Ivali's gaze must have lingered a second too much because Ash hastily covers it with the collar of his nightshirt. No words get out of Ivali's mouth, and the two keep staring at each other for some, interminable seconds. “No. I was… simply checking out on you. Yes," Ivali says at last. "That's it." She waves her hand in the air, trying to feign the most natural gesture she'd do if she were to sincerely say such a thing. "See, some people seem fine and all after getting a beating, and then... Bam!" She claps her hands, and Ash winces. "They turn out dead the next morning." The out-of-place, unsolicited, macabre prospect stuns Ash a bit, but something in his head makes him think it must be some sort of joke, because he smiles again and chirps her a happy, “Don’t worry, I don’t think I’ll do." Ivali nods and hurriedly leaves the room. Her back sags against the now-closed door, and a tinge of embarrassment makes her knees tremble. What was I thinking? He was the one who risked dying today. I can’t tell him I'm the one having nightmares after this experience. She’ll go downstairs and see if she can gobble down another drink, just to be sure she can fall asleep for the remainder of the night. She sighs as she descends the stairs, a hint of worry gnawing at her. On any other occasion, she’d be indifferent - or maybe even glad? - at the thought of such an annoying person could have kicked the bucket, but not this time. She'd have felt guilty. But only a little bit.
TES: Lost In A Lost World Ch. 5Chapter 5: No Prayer For The Dead Ashtarnat quite likes Ivali. She’s exotic, confident and nonchalant. He'd love to get better acquainted with her. Become friends even. She's so different from anyone else he has ever known, aside from some people he saw wandering Balmora in the few months he’s been there. But those are outlanders with no true references and shady backgrounds. Ivali, though, has been personally chosen by Sharn to fulfil her precious request: she must be a reliable and experienced adventurer or the mage would have never agreed to it. She's just so jealous of her research. "Are you sure we're not circling around?" Ivali's question interrupts his train of thought. "Don't worry, as I said, I know every nook and cranny of these places." Ashtarnat attempts a reassuring smile and shoves his free hand into the right pocket. His fingers catch the worn fabric and squeeze it. They walked a good way out of Balmora, further than Ashatarnat's ever been in the last few months. He's set foot on this road only once when he came here. He'll better keep his lips sealed about this. He and Ivali are working together, he can't let her think he's useless. Leaving the West Gash has been a boon to the landscape around them; the warmer greens of the Bitter Coast show a welcome hint of late summer, replacing the sombre grey of the desolated North. Sun-burned patches of grass spring from the ground, and they are dense enough to hide the black earth underneath. Plump of hackle-los, bright green bushes of slough ferns and the yellow bouquet of heathers dot the landscape. The withered and skeletal branches of bittergreen and chokeweed are only a vague memory. Coda flowers and luminous russulas will soon illuminate their path, scattered along the waterways and salty ponds of southern Vvardenfell. The chirping of the cicadas is the only sound that dominates the countryside, apart from the patter of their boots on the dry grass. In the direction of the coast, the placid, floating silhouettes of a netch herd stand against the blue sky like low-lying white clouds. Millennia ago Vvardenfell was a lush, green prairie, even up to the West Gash and beyond. This notion always fills Ashtarnat with a bitter sense of longing he can't exactly explain. He’d fit better in that place, not the current one. Harsh, dry, decaying. Maybe, out there, in Tamriel, he'll get to see such sights.*** A lonely stream gushes between the cracked rocks of a hill. This is the first river, after the Odai, that Ashtarnat and Ivali have encountered on their way to Andrano's tomb. The grass around it has a vivid green colour, and tufts of marshmerrow sprout from the crystalline surface. Almost like a glimpse of Azura's Coast. Ashtarnat seats onto a fallen trunk right under an emperor parasol. He stopped to let Ivali catch up with him. He waves at her with his baton as he takes a sip from his canteen. The water tastes more than warm, hot almost, but it quenches his thirst nonetheless.Ivali sprints the last few steps, getting ahead of him, right in front of the stream. She's panting. Her cheeks are flustered and her gaze a bit unfocused. I shouldn't have left her so distant. Ashtarnat fiddles with the ring that pierces his lip. The cold and stiffness of brass between his fingers always manage to calm him down. He watches in silence as Ivali removes the makeshift hat she made with a scarf he lent her. She unfolds the cloth and drenches it in the water. "That's clever, it will sap away the heat." He gets up too and does the same with his scarf. "No drinking this water though, or you'll find yourself losing more liquid than what you gained." Ashtarnat lets out a nervous chuckle. Ivali might already know this, given that despite her boldness she hasn't rushed facefirst into the water, but it's better to be safe than sorry. And better than to assist someone who has contracted the traveller's affliction. "The water I brought is safe, though. Have you been drinking it? We can slow down if you need to catch your breath. We are almost there." Ivali removes the piece of cloth from the water with a swift motion, splashing Ashatarnat. "Who are you? My motherfucking mom?" She puts it back on her head, her brown hair disappearing under the bandana. "Well, I can be compared at maximum to your father, I can't be a mo—" "Give me a breather," Ivali says with a hint of irritation in her voice. "It was a joke. You know. A joke. I say some bullshit and you laugh. Or get offended. Choose which one you prefer, but you don't start nitpicking like I seriously believe you could be my mother." "Oh, sorry. I didn't realise. Your tone seemed so serious." Ashtarnat bites his lips in consternation. It's always so difficult to keep up with other people. Ivali springs up and stretches her body. She leaves the cone of shadow under the giant mushroom and stops in front of Ashtarnat. "Get your ass up, Ash. Let's rush these last few steps and let's get done with this shitty job. No need to slow it down even more." "Are you sure? You seemed pretty distressed before we stopped." Ash appreciates her renewed energy, but he's worried she might be overworking her body. "Shush, papa." Ivali gives him a playful poke to the shoulder. "I'm not a wuss. I simply need to get the hang of it again. You lose a bit of steam when you stay sitting ducks for months in a— oh, crap, never mind." She interrupts the phrase mid-sentence and rushes for the road, leaving him alone. What was she about to say? To be honest, Ashtarnat doesn't have any idea of what she did before coming to Vvardenfell. And she looks pretty pale for someone used to working all day under the sun as an adventurer would. He shrugs. She'll tell him when she'll feel it. And only Seth knows what exciting anecdotes she'll share.***The sun has now started its descending parable, and the shadows cast by it are getting longer and longer. To reach Andrano's tomb they had to walk halfway to Seyda Neen and then turn West, in a lone dry valley in between the West Gash and the Bitter Coast. A faint breeze is blowing. It smells of ash and a vague hint of malady that Ashtarnat knows far too well. It doesn't bode good news; they're too South to be feeling it. He doesn't say anything to Ivali, though, or she'd mistake him for a madmer. "Even for a place in the middle of nowhere, it's too quiet." Ivali's observation is met by a mute nod by Ashtarnat. He'd love to have something to say, a way to explain all of this dying away, but the only thing he'd be able to do would be to scream out loud the world is ending. They walk around a steep slope and come in front of a polished stone arch, carved out from the bare rock wall of the valley. Ivali gasps in surprise at the unexpected construction, so out of place in the untamed environment. Ashtarnat suppresses the urge to run and takes the last steps towards it. Symbols are etched on its surface, while a crude wooden plate serves as the door. He squints his eyes to focus his vision until he manages to get a sense out of those scribbles. It reads, ANDRANO, MAY THE GLORY OF ALMSIVI ALMIGHTY LIGHT YOUR REST. They finally found it. Andrano’s ancestral tomb. "Wait a moment, do you really want to do this?" Ashtarnat stops in his tracks, his heart pounds, and a lump of doubt persists in his throat. He gulps down a glob of saliva. Although he hopes for a refusal, he already knows what her response will be. "Listen, kid. We don't have much choice." “We might return the mission, I’ll take all the blame. Sharn won’t get so angry with you, and you won’t have to fear for your compensation. I-I’ll pay you out of my pocket: I have something aside, the little money I make for recharging spent enchantments.” “You don’t understand shit, idiot.” Ivali snarls at him. “I’m dead if I don't finish this mission.” What does she mean? Sharn might have little respect for the dead, but she isn’t the one to kill people who don’t bring her stuff. Ashtarnat clutches at his baton. He grits his teeth. Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous, Father would laugh at me if he were to see me now. Hesitating, moping around like an infant. "You're right." He finally says. "Better to pry out the tooth." Ivali takes furtive glances left and right, and slides her hand over the door, ready to pry it open. She pushes against it. The door resists at first, humidity and rust cement its hinges, but creaks open after a few tries. A smell of decay and incense and rotten flowers flares his nostrils. “You first. You’re the mage here.” Ivali shoves him forward, and Ashtarnat stumbles for a few steps. His feet send dull echoes in the stillness of the tomb. The entrance is cramped and low. A long corridor opens up in front of them, it has no passages and continues straight until a sharp right turn at the opposite end. A row of alcoves runs on each side. They are for offerings and keepsakes, but they stand empty if one excludes lumps of dust and cobwebs. Nobody has been there for a long time. Either the remaining Andranos live on the mainland or Llevule was the last one, and the Tribunal Temple provided for his funeral. The air is ripe with humidity and the shadows are thick and dark. It seems to Ashtarnat to move into the black waters of a swamp. He does not like cramped spaces, he feels like drowning. Sweat begins to trickle down his back; his hands tremble in a fit of acute, unreasonable panic. He's never been into a tomb, let alone dealt with the undead. If there are any. He proceeds through the chalked corridor, ears tense in hearing, but as soon as he turns, relief washes over him; a brief walkway leads to a big studded door. His grip over the staff diminishes, and he lets out the air trapped in his lungs. “What did you find?” Ivali asks from behind the corner. “There’s a door here. Nothing else.” He should be relieved, but he isn't. Not at all. A door here means that they have to further defile the place. "What are you doing here? The door won't open just by looking at it." Ivali unceremoniously pushes him aside and concentrates on the door. She fiddles with the knob; it's locked. "Typical." She murmurs before getting back to examining the keyhole. Her left hand goes to her tight, but it grabs only air. Ivali curses under her breath and attempts to bust it with sheer force. The heavy stone slab doesn't budge an inch. She tumps against it with both hands "Nocturnal's tits, why do you Dunmer have to complicate everything, even entering into a tomb is a fucking nightmare." "Let me try, would you?" The words come out of his mouth before he can even articulate their meaning. He's doing it, sharing the blame. He places his hands against the door. He doesn't know how to pick a lock. Back at home there weren't many; there was no need. Lucky for them, he knows just about the right spell. He conjures a heap of magicka on his palms, and it makes his skin tingle and pulse to the rhythm of magic. An old scholar once said that the Aurbis is a long, continuous streak of songs that in their entwined symphony shape reality. Every time he hears the hum of magic he's sure this mer was right. He chants the familiar litany and casts the Ondusi's Open Door spell. He's not sure who Ondusi is. Master Marayn, who taught him the spell, never bothered to share this information. He had to be a naughty fellow, though, or he wouldn't have come up with such a spell, to open what ought to be closed. The faint light leaves his hand and becomes a brittle chord that insinuates itself like a worm into the hole. He can hear it pressing against the internal springs, spinning the rotor and forcing back the deadbolt into the faceplate, all in a matter of seconds. The door slips open. Ashtarnat rubs his still-tingling palms over his vest, but the coarse cloth only manages to make them number. Ivali gapes at the scene. A mixture of surprise and excitement paints her face. "Where did you learn this trick? I. Need. It." Too tense to respond, Ashtarnat cocks his head into the burial chamber. It is a rather small circular space, with no corridors or doors to other rooms. A pool of ashes and burned bones stands in the centre. Red bowls of ground bones, wilted flowers, sticks of incense burned out long ago, and the departed's favourite clothes are neatly folded and displayed around the ash pit. Ivali has joined him at the doorway, and retches at the intense smell of the burial chamber. "Look at all this ash and bones, out in the air. It's disgusting." "To you might appear so, but it's still a Dunmeri tradition. As old as our people. At least this is true for the Great Houses. Ashlanders, on the other hand, prefer the natural mummification that only the Ashlands provide." There isn't anything that can suggest the presence of hostile creatures in the cramped chamber, and neither there are the gargantuan piles of bones of bonewalkers. Ashtarnat refers to this as Ivali. "But you see," he hastily adds, "I can't tell if there are any sigils that might recall ancestor ghosts. Those can't be seen with the naked eye. If you give me the time to check for enchantments we can be sure—" Emboldened by the first assurance, Ivali steps in and starts rummaging among the remains. Ashtarnat takes a step back, knots forming in his stomach. He starts regretting not paying credit to Marayn's advice. He should've waited, and skipped on this foolishness. The promotion would've arrived anyway, even if with a bit of delay. Tomb pilfering is a horrible thing to do, the worst type of blasphemy. Death is the usual punishment the Tribunal administers to this kind of thief. If the family of the deceased doesn't kill them first, that is. He feels uneasy; even if right now he's not the perpetrator, he's still an accomplice.Ivali seems oblivious to all of this. But how can he blame her? She's an outlander and hasn't grown up with the same customs upon which Dunmeri society is constructed. Moreover, she's doing it as part of a mission, there's no malice in itself at play here. The only thing one could accuse her of is attempting to make a living in a less than orthodox way. Tossing whittled bones around, Ivali finds what they are looking for: a skull. Hopefully, poor Llevule Andrano's. The intricate pattern etched over its frontal and parietal bones seem to suggest so. "Look at this fucker's head. They reduced it to the Imperial map." Ivali tosses the skull between one hand and the other before she passes it to him. A wave of relief washes over Asharnat as he grabs the skull. Everything went smoothly and without any fuss. They have the skull, now they can leave the old tomb and call it a day. He's just about to say all of this to Ivali when a loud hum fills the air. The vibrating sound makes his ears hurt and his body jerk inward. Ashtarnat lets go of the skull, and it falls to the ground with a low thud. A couple of teeth fall off. Contrary to any law of motion, it rolls back into the ash pit. The room spins around Ashtarnat as he clutches his head in pain. A trap. Trapped, the skull is trapped, probably the whole ash pit is. He's been a fool to let her go without scrying it first. He should have insisted. Slivers of light rise from the ground, long and thin like spiderwebs. Their luminescence is so strong that Ashtarnat has to squeeze his eyes and shelter them with his arm as if he were staring right at the sun. Ivali, somewhere in front of him, sends off a contrite sequence of colourful curses. The light is now concentrated in the middle of the room. It assumes a silhouette of a person. The skull leaves the soft ash surface to float six feet off the ground, just where the head should be. Other bones soon follow suit, they take the positions they kept in life, even if there are not enough to form a full-fledged skeleton. The ectoplasm - now Ashtarnat is finally able to recognise the luminous substance for what it is - becomes a transparent foil over the remains, drawing a nose and a pair of pointed ears. Two luminous eyes stand in stark contrast with the empty sockets. The mortal likeness of Avule Andrano manifests in all of its ghastly glory. Its form stabilises and the spirit starts screaming. A screeching, brain-scrambling sound pounds at Ashtarnat’s eardrums. The spirit lunges at him, the last person to have touched the skull. Whoever suggested that ghosts are incorporeal is a fool and a liar. The impact is overwhelmingly strong, and Ashtarnat finds himself knocked off the ground, stunned and hurting. The impact made him lose both his baton and his travel bag. If an alit were to charge at him it would've dealt less damage. In a matter of a second ten, dead fingers are locked around his throat. The ghost's grip is so strong that he can feel his veins and arteries squirm and pulse around them, and his airways locked like in a shalk trap. Two fingers still have bones inside of them; the point of their phalanxes scratches his flesh, menacing to slash his throat. Its touch is a gelid grip over Ashtarnat's skin, and feverish spasms go through his body. If this was a normal attacker, he might have been able to fight them off, but he's weak, even weaker than he ought to be when garroted to death. Magicka and energy are leaving his body with that same rate of a fatal blood loss. Raising his arms costs an enormous effort, and the only thing he manages to do with them is to pound at the evanescent, but thoroughly corporeal, hands. Suddenly, his body lifts from the ground, and the pain in his neck doubles. His cervical vertebrae tense under deadly pressure. His sight wanes and reddens, and his legs dangle uselessly in the air. He can see nothing but an expressionless, and yet furious, skeletal face. The last thing I'll see. A blur at the fringe of his field of view makes him gape in a dumb stupor. Even if he can hardly think, he knows it's Ivali moving. A spark of warm light departs from where her hands should be and hits the upper torso of the ghost. The ectoplasm retreats and withers to the heat of a fireball. Stray sparks reach his face too, and Ashtarnat welcomes their burning caress over his skin. He falls, smashing his back against the stone pavement. A hit never felt so good. He takes a mouthful of air through his freed throat, and even if it hurts and still feels occluded, the little returning oxygen flares up his brain. He trembles as he jostles himself up, only to see Ivali struggling against the ghost. If only he could find his bag, where he keeps a few emergency potions, but a bout of vertigo forces him down again. His head spins and he's on the verge of puking. He grits his teeth and curses his uselessness. Useless. Like sister always says and Father thinks but doesn’t even bother to put into words anymore. He can't even muster enough focus to cast a spell in support of Ivali. The Bosmer is engaged in an uneven confrontation against the ghost. Too near and pressed by its blows, she can't cast any magic. The only thing keeping her alive is Ashtarnat's baton, which she must have picked up after she cast the fireball. Andrano flays its arms, in the attempt to catch a limb or her neck and sap away her life essence. Or to outright kill her by sheer force like it tried to do with him. Ivali deflects its right arm, plunging at her from above, with a sweep of the baton before she's forced to backstep and avoid a side-swept scratch. She recovers her momentum just in time to raise the baton and gain a free strike to its face. This time, unlike with the fire, the ectoplasm trembles like gelatin but doesn't yield to the blow. Common wood is not enough to damage it. Ivali screams the hundredth fuck, and retreats, ending with her shoulders against the wall. With a weapon only good for defence, this is a battle of attrition she won't win. Not against a ghost that can't think of anything but to kill the intruders. Unless... Ashatarnat, trembling, worms his way toward the ash pit. Even in his weak and confused state, he still manages to clamp his hand around a bowl. He turns over his body so that he can keep standing down, facing the ghost. His grip is feeble and his arms ache, but he puts in his launch enough force to hurl it at Andrano. The ceramic bounces off against the ghastly back and crashes on the ground, shattering. The ghost turns with a hissing scream, its patched spinal cord bends and tenses to prepare for another lunge. This time, though, Ashtarnat is aware and ready; with a clumsy roll, he gets out of its reach and sends it tumbling on the other side of the room. Ashtarnat ends up with his legs in the ash pit. Next time he won't be able to avoid Andrano. The remains of generations of deceased seep into his shoes and go up to his legs. "Fire!" he cries at Ivali. His voice sounds weaker than he hoped to, but no matter if Ivali heard him or not. Her hands glow already with hot magicka. She jumps over the ash pit, using the gained thrust to launch the fireball, just as if it were a real ball. The flame eats once again at the ghost's skin. A few bones fall to the ground, to never be picked up again. The burned-up ectoplasm is unable to maintain the mer's shape and whirls and withers around the skull like a netch's tendrils. Encouraged by this success, Ivali takes a step forward and sheathes the dagger she's been keeping on her waist. With a tinge of panic, Ashtarnat notes that it's made of steel. Ivali clamps both her hands around the hilt, and with Ashtarnat's stupor, a veil of blue light covers it and its profile sharpens. He must be really out of his mind if he didn't perceive the enchantment. Andrano and Ivali leap one at another. The ghost with its appendices extended, ready to tear at her body, and Ivali with the dagger up. Ghostly tentacles rush at her armour, but the leather stands sturdy and cohesive against the slices. A few tendrils manage to reach her left arm, dying her shirt red. The summoned dagger collides against the skull, right into the nasal cavity, and Ivali jerks it into the hole and hauls up her arms. The sharp daedric blade cuts through bones like they were made of butter, and the tip seeps deeper into the orbit. Another vigorous jerk launches the skull away, hurling it with an elliptical trajectory. What remains of the ghost freezes in place, trembling. The skull clatters its teeth in a dying frenzy before shutting up forever. The ectoplasm collapses, a lifeless, dulled gelatin once again. Ivali falls to her knees, holding the slightly wounded arm. Ashtarnat recovers his bag and crawls near her. Silence dominates the room now. What they roused, it was put to rest. Apparently. "Shit. That was kinda anti-climatic." Ivali tries to keep a proud and unfazed face, but she's visibly trembling. A persistent lightheadedness forces Ashtarnat to lay down. He'd close his eyes, and be done with it, but he knows that in the long run, it's better if he attends to his injuries first. He rummages into his bag and comes out with a red tiny bottle. A healing potion, one of those made by Master Tyermaillin. He uncorks it with trembling fingers and churns down the content. His throat aches even more at the fluid's passage. Ashtarnat relaxes his body, waiting for the reprieve that the potion will bring. A warm, delightful sensation forms in his belly and then spreads to the rest of his body. The aching of his bones and muscles goes away, together with the throbbing of his throat. While he hasn't fully recovered, the painkilling effect is enough to make him functional again. He will need just a few hours for the potion to exercise its full effects. He stands up and takes a few tentative steps to check if he can move all right. No vertigo this time, and he stays firm on his feet. He goes toward the skull, but doesn't pick it up. A tone of fear still beckons to him, a natural instinct that wants him to forget about all of this and just simply give up. The hollow eye socket looks back at him, this time with no hint of malice. He hesitates. What if the ghost were to rise again? He should know better though. Once a spirit has been vanquished, it won't come back unless it's recalled with another rite. Mustering all his courage, Ashtarnat picks up the skull; a deep gash runs from its nose to the right eye socket up to the forehead. Hopefully, Sharn won't mind. He cradles it between his arms like a baby. He still feels bad about the whole thing, even if Llevule Andrano was a few seconds away from killing him. At the same time, though, he can't get rid of the pang of triumph and relief of having accomplished the mission. He'll get Sharn's recommendation and they will finally promote him to the rank of Journeyman. Another cut to his umbilical cord, another step to sever it for good. "You saved my life." Ashtarnat grabs Ivali's shirt and tries to hug her but she steps away from him. "Don't sweat it, Ash. That ghost was in the way between me and the skull." Ivali fixes her ruffled hair, acting nonchalant and distant to downplay what she just did. "It was impressive how you fended off the ancestral spirit. And you know Destruction magic!" He knows he's embarrassing her, but he can't help it. He has to put a voice to his gratitude. Ivali puts a finger over his lips. "Shut up. Rest your throat, after that fucker crumpled it. And go to the door, that I need to say a little prayer." Ashtarnat walks out of the room, but a rustling sound makes him turn.Ivali's once again head-deep rummaging in the ash pool. She coughs a few times before she comes up with a couple of gems. Under the thick veil of ash, they glisten with bright red and green. "What are you doing?" Ashtarnat whispers. Panic and sweat pour down his body. Has she gone mad? "Collecting a little compensation." Ivali smirks and blows over the gems. "For the hassle." She adds as she puts both of them into her breast pocket. She stands up with a swift jump and claps her hands to get rid of the ash. She kicks a displaced tibia back into the pit before she joins Ashtarnat. "See? That's how we pray in Cyrodiil."*** "Don't tell me we made all this walk to stay in this poor man's Brindle." Ivali clicks her tongue and huffs. Ashtarnat looks at her, resignation planted in his eyes. It took them all the remaining part of the afternoon to reach Pelagiad, the nearest town to Andrano's tomb. Risking it by walking all the way to Balmora during the night didn't seem wise to him, and Ivali, despite her current complaining, shared this thought too. Pelagiad is a little farming town built near a Legion Fort, just another reminder of the Imperial presence in Vvardenfell. It's so strange how different these Imperial settlements can be from the traditional Dunmeri towns. It's like setting foot in a whole other world. The town didn't give Ashtarnat a good impression the first time he set foot there, and again today the uneasiness is hard to shake off. The young Dunmer, who already feels out of place between his kin, can't but endure the sting of otherness he exudes in this Imperial place. Despite all of this, though, he's more than glad to be once again near the comfort of civilisation, away from hostile deads and unpredictable wildlife. He stretches his sore body, muscles stiffened from all the physical exertion he went through today. The healing potion still protects his brain from registering the pain from his assaulted neck and from all the other bruises that will soon dot his body. Next morning he will pay the price for these hours of reprieve, but for now, he can take it easy and savour the strange euphoria coming from the adventure he just went through. Despite all the fear, the panic and the obvious chagrin in his clumsy actions, he never felt so excited. He jerks his head up to take a good look at the night sky. Just a quarter of Secunda shines up there, a puny-looking sickle of light that tries to break through the dark curtain of cumulonimbuses. Ash hoppers are quiet and shy, and only a couple of them dare to win the summer stillness over with their sombre chirping. The evening air is dense with humidity and death. Even here, thinks with a shudder Ashtarnat. He sometimes hopes this sensation is only a misplaced sense of homesickness; an unconscious way of his brain to recreate a familiar environment even so far from home. But the more time passes, the less he is sure of this. There aren't many people about in the early evening, and all of them are humans and betmers. Farmers from the look of it, probably coming home after a long day's work in the easter plantations, the few that aren't attended by House Hlaalu's slaves. The people don't seem fazed at all by their arrival, aside from a few funny looks. That's a stark contrast to the Dunmeri diffidence, considered the strange couple they make - a tall and lanky Bosmer, and a Dunmer with a wild hairdo. Ivali eye-rolls at her companion's unusual silence. "You're a mage. Can't you, I dunno, teleport us to the Guild?" She waves her hand around, mimicking a magical gesture. "You're famous for this in Morrowind, aren't you?" She adds in a mocking tone, shattering in an instant Ashtarnat's renewed confidence. "I'm sorry, but I'm not proficient enough for Recalling us back to Balmora," Ash says, and he feels useless once again. He shudders at the thought of what might happen to them should he fail the spell. Gruesome images flash one after the other in his mind. Their bodies mangled together by an inaccurate choice of returning position, arms that end in feet that continue in sacks of misplaced bones, organs sprayed around after losing their natural placement. The planes of Oblivion he might accidentally get them stranded in, home of monstrous fiends ready to feast on their flesh. I'm just not good enough to attempt such a feat. Like with so many other things. "No. Not good. Not good at all." He realises he has just said this out loud and an embarrassed flush warms his cheeks and the tip of his ears. "Come on, kid. Let's book a room at the inn before you collapse on the street." Ivali gives him a brisk pat on the shoulders, and her expression softens for a second. She starts for the main street, a cobbled road, narrow and dismal. To Ashtarnat's surprise, this time she waits for him. "We'll get a good night's sleep and then catch the first Strider to Balmora tomorrow morning." She adds with a faint smile that should inspire a caring concern but makes her look like a mischievous Khajiit instead. Ashtarnat returns the smile but doesn't say anything. He doesn't have the courage to tell her that no Silt Strider ever stops in Pelagiad.
Dark Brotherhood: Ancient Blood 029 (Remastered)Chapter 29:"Doggie Style"Part 2 "You there! Companion!" a guard shouted out of breath from the top of the steps of Dragonsreach. Vilkas pointed to himself to confirm that he was the one being addressed. Jade, who was climbing the stairs behind him pulled her cowl over her head and quickly turned away, backing down a few steps to avoid being recognized. She pulled the loose fabric up over her nose. "Are you speaking to me?" Vilkas asked and continued toward the guard. "You're the twin, right?" "I suppose," he replied already knowing that his brother had gotten himself into trouble within the few minutes it took to catch up. But to what degree? "Your other half just ran in here and punched a guard in the throat. He shouted something about a distraction as we arrested him," the guard sheathed his blade, "Do you know anything about this?" Jade tried not to laugh. As simple-minded as Farkas was, his spontaneous 'plan' to bust into Dragonsreach and get himself arrested was actually pretty clever and could be their ticket to getting into the jail with less suspicion. "Aye," Vilkas shook his head, "Too much mead and a few clunks on the head. I'll go talk to him." "Very well. It has been a bit quiet around here, crime-wise," the guard explained as he turned to lead Vilkas into the keep, "Haven't had too much action since that nutty Dragonborn flew through here a few months back." "You don't say?" Vilkas glanced back down the steps at Jade. She had her hand on her forehead in a regretful manner. The guard heaved a sigh, "Shouting, picking locks, and pickpocketing. I mean, don't get me wrong. She's very nice on the eyes. If she wasn't such a psycho, I'd have made a move on 'er." Jade glared daggers into the back of the guard's head from a safe distance. He wished. She would have shouted him into Oblivion at that very moment if it wouldn't ruin her chances at getting her mission done cleanly. "Well, she is the Dragonborn," Vilkas continued to force conversation as they made their way through the longhouse to keep attention off of the hooded female following him, "She could probably land any man she wanted. You think you'd have a chance with her?" "Ha!" the guard pulled his keys from his belt, "I may not be much to look at under this helmet, but I did come in third place in the aged mutton eating competition in Windhelm two years in a row." "...Wow," Vilkas tried his best to fake enthusiasm, "That's quite a thing..." Jade wanted so badly to make a joke but refrained with much effort. The guard led them down a flight of steps and unlocked a wooden door leading into the underground jail. He turned and glanced back at Jade. She shrugged up, holding the wrap over her mouth and nose. "Wait up... Is she with you?" he asked blocking the doorway. "Ah, yes," Vilkas reached back and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close, "This is my fiance'. She's a bit shy. Just came in from... uh..." "Stormhaven," Jade mumbled in a soft voice. "High Rock, eh?" the guard bought it, "Never been, myself. I hear it rains a lot." Once inside the jail, the guard took a seat at a long wooden table and put his feet up. He seemed very lax about his job. "Through there and to the left," he yawned and gestured, "Two hundred and fifty gold for release. But I recommend just letting him sleep it off." "Thank you, sir," Vilkas nodded to the guard and hooked his arm under Jade's. They rounded the corner cautiously. Two other guards came down the corridor from the line of cells, looked them over briefly, and then left the area. "That seemed too easy," Jade whispered as she began searching the cell block. All of the cells appeared empty. Vilkas made his way to the end as if he could smell his brother's presence. Jade followed but stopped when she finally spotted the Argonian. He was sitting on a bench in the back corner of his cell with his head down. She glanced around one last time to make sure the guards had all left before moving up to the bars. Even as her shadow cast over him, the target didn't lift his gaze to her., "Meegs, I presume?" she asked in a low tone. The Argonian didn't react. Was he deaf? Or just rude? Jade was pretty sure this was the guy she was looking for. He wasn't dressed as a typical commoner. He clearly had combat training of some sort. Perhaps some scare tactics would loosen his tongue. "I've been looking for you. I am the Dragonborn. Slayer of Alduin. Savior of Skyrim." Finally, the lizard lifted his yellow eyes to look in her direction. He was quite hard to read. Was he so intimidated that he couldn't move? Probably not. If anything, he didn't appear to give a shit. Jade cleared her throat and looked down the corridor toward Vilkas who was talking to his brother through the bars of his cell. She wanted to ask for help but also didn't want to appear weak in front of the target. She turned back to the Argonian. "I'm here to break you out." Meegs tilted his head slightly as if not convinced. But at least she knew he wasn't deaf. "I... I need your assistance in a matter; something of dire importance," Jade tried to make herself sound big and tough as she realized that she should have thought up some story to feed him before waltzing in there. "Is that so?" Meegs finally spoke in a deep raspy tone. He stood slowly and moved over to the bars, crossing his arms, "Why me?" Jade stepped back, noticing that he had mages robes on under his armor. He may have been unarmed, but he could very easily conjure something if he so wished. He was also rather tall for an Argonian lending him a 'dragon-esque' vibe. "I was informed that you are one of the best sellswords in the hold- nay- the region," Jade removed her cowl to attempt to convey a more personal impression. Meegs squinted, looking her over. His towering and confident stature seemed to be shifting the air of authority toward him. Jade had to remind herself that he was the one in the cage. Several seconds of silence passed between them. The twins' incoherent chatter was all that remained. "You claim to be Dovahkiin?" Meegs grunted, "Prove it." "I-" Jade realized that usually when she would be flaunting her status for praise that there was always a dragon or jarl around to 'vouch' for her. Heck, she didn't know it herself until the Grey Beards told her. "Demonstrate the thu'um," he glowered down his nose at her. "Shout?" Jade looked around, "Here? I don't think that's wise...." Meegs scoffed and returned to the bench to sit. What a stubborn-... She hated stubborn people. Even though Jade was probably the most stubborn person you'd ever meet, she couldn't stand the thought of someone else refusing to do something just out of spite. She was the queen of that so she knew it when she saw it. "You're telling me that you don't want me to break you out of jail unless I can prove to you that I'm the Dragonborn? Am I reading this correctly?" her agitation was beginning to show. Meegs leaned his back on the wall and stared into the shadows ignoring her. This jerk was just asking to be sacrificed! Jade would pick the lock to the cell just to strangle him with her bare hands but she didn't want to take the chance of him escaping before she could poison him. "Fine," she huffed, "But just one word. This could really screw up this jailbreak, you know..." The jerk STILL didn't look at her. He seriously didn't trust her claim. Jade began running through all of the words of power she knew in her head trying to think of the least destructive when suddenly she felt violently ill. A wave of nausea overcame her ability to be intimidating and she found herself turning away just to involuntarily vomit on the wall. Meegs looked. "Jade?" Vilkas sounded rightfully confused as he stepped over to see, "What is wrong? Are you ill?" "Ah... I'm... I'm alright," she replied feeling flush with embarrassment as she wiped her mouth with her arm, "Just some food poisoning..." "It's called morning sickness," Meegs chuckled as he stood once more, "Food poisoning doesn't suddenly hit and leave." Jade snapped her head around to look in his direction with a stern and harsh glare. "What would you know?" she hissed. "Well, your quick and defensive reply just now for one," he explained casually, "The fact that your custom armor is clearly too tight around your chest suggesting a change in mass since you had it made... and for a woman your age and build, that sort of change isn't typical. Your face is bright red with embarrassment that no warrior who vomited from common food poisoning would have-" "This is none of your business!" she barked, "I should set your cell on fire and leave you to burn! I don't have to stand here and be insulted by the likes of you! These are such wild allegations that I-" Jade noticed Vilkas not so subtly examining the fit of her leather armor with his eyes. "Mood swings," Meegs continued. "What am I missing?" Farkas called from the other cell. "A brain," Vilkas replied flatly. Jade crossed her arms over her chest and frowned. It was clear that this lizard was trying to humiliate her and knock her down from her status of power. If trying to appear tough wasn't going to work, then she needed to adapt and work this new angle. "Alright..." she sighed, "You got me. I'm pregnant. That is actually part of why I'm here." "You are...?" Vilkas took a step back looking rather uncomfortable. "I am what?" Farkas called again. He couldn't see or hear any of the conversation and was feeling left out. "An oaf," Vilkas replied. "Well, I'm not going to infect you with fatherhood," Jade glared at Vilkas's strange and almost disrespectful retreat. Meegs leaned on the bars seeming quite interested in this new development. "You want me to kill the father, is that it?" he asked in an upbeat tone. "Uh-... yeah!" Jade decided to just run with it, "Sure! It would be too high-profile for me to do it myself so I figured you were my best bet for getting the job done cleanly." "Why not hire the Dark Brotherhood?" Jade's mind went blank. The nausea was gone, but she was still feeling a bit lightheaded. "I'll do it," Vilkas chimed in, no longer horrified by the news. "Do what?" Farkas called. Jade held her head as it throbbed. She didn't have the patience for this shit. All she could think about was going back to the inn and going to bed. Or eating something and going to bed. Just eating in bed. "Mr. Meegs, I'll give you five hundred gold to kill my boyfriend," she sighed. "Boyfriend? That's news to me," Vilkas was not going to let it go. "Who's her boyfriend?" Farkas really wanted to be a part of the drama. "Do we have a deal?" Jade was trying her best to tune out the brothers. Meegs stepped back from the bars and looked her over again. He was obviously still a bit skeptical but was at least considering it. "Alright, deal," he said finally, "How high-profile are we talking? Is he some jarl because that will cost extra. I'm not an assassin, specifically." "We can talk about the details once we get you out of here," Jade said and moved back up to the bars. She removed a vial from her coin pouch and held it out to him, "Take this potion of invisibility. It will make it easier for us to sneak you through the guardhouse." Meegs stared at the suspicious potion in her palm. His distrusting nature was getting on Jade's nerves. She twitched her hand to express urgency. "It only lasts for about twenty seconds," she explained, "It's not very potent, so don't worry." Meegs picked up the vial and removed the cork with his clawed fingers. He sniffed it while watching her. The potion had no scent. His eyes drifted to Vilkas and then back to Jade before he slowly sipped the strange liquid. Jade did her best not to flinch as she watched. A few seconds later, the target collapsed onto the cell floor. "Finally," Jade exhaled. "I think he's dead..." Vilkas said staring down at the unconscious Argonian. "He'll be fine," she replied as she began to pick the lock, "Well, maybe not in the long run." "I feel that there is a lot you have not told me." "You're on a need-to-know basis," Jade popped the lock open and turned to him, "...and you don't need to know." "Are you actually with child and actually looking to kill some jarl? Because I can help with the last part. I won't charge you five hundred gold, either." His voice sounded rather awkward. "All I need you to do is: first, keep your mouth shut about everything that has been said and done here today... and second, help me carry this jerk to my horse outside the gates." "How are we going to get past the guards again carrying the body of a prisoner?" Vilkas began to pick Meegs up off the stone floor. Jade stepped out of his way and walked over to Farkas's cell. He was leaning with his face pressed between the bars. "Farkas, love," she smiled and flicked his nose playfully with her fingertip, "Wanna play fetch with some guards?"
Dark Brotherhood: Ancient Blood 028 (Remastered)Chapter 28:"Doggie Style"Part 1 It had been a long while since Jade had spent any time in Whiterun. She would visit occasionally to barter goods and fence some items, but she tried to limit her stay now that she was part of the Dark Brotherhood. After multiple run-ins with the law, she thought it best to avoid being noticed at all. Unfortunately, she couldn't exactly explain that to the Night Mother and expect to get out of her assignment. The fact that Jade owned property within the city probably made it seem like she would be more suited for the job... hopefully, she wouldn't be noticed. The target she was assigned to was known to lodge in Whiterun that time of year. Besides a residence, a transient's only option for lodging would be the Bannered Mare in the Plains District. Though, as it was mid-afternoon, the inn/tavern was near empty. Jade didn't want to draw too much attention to herself by asking around openly so she decided that the next best option would be to simply keep her eyes peeled for an Argonian dressed as a sell-sword. Whiterun was a Nord city after all; any member of a beast race would stick out like a sore thumb. Jade made her way up to the Winds District following the comforting scent of a hot burning forge. Comforting to a girl who had a blacksmith for a father. He bent steal for the Thieves Guild while working as a fence for stolen weapons. Jade had spent much of her early childhood watching him craft and deal his shady business in Riften. It was one of the reasons she had picked up the hobby of collecting rare and unique weapons; weapons which she merely stow in her house, viewing them as treasure over protection. Jade's eyes shifted up to the enormous upturned longboat that was re-purposed as a mead hall and home of the Companions. Jorrvaskr. She had visited the hall many times over the years to partake in parties and training. The Companions had grown fond of her drunken loud entertainment and eventually accepted her as a fellow warrior after she assisted them with some personal matters. The clanking of the metal from the Skyforge high above the mead hall suddenly reminded Jade of something Cicero always chattered about whenever they'd stop in Whiterun. He would go on and on about wanting to get his hands on some Skyforge steel for a dagger. She would always ignore him and sometimes even avoid the area around the forge just to spite him. Sure, they hadn't been seeing eye-to-eye lately... Well, maybe they'd never seen eye-to-eye, but Jade was starting to feel as if she should at least make an effort at this point considering the... circumstances. Being someone who stockpiled weapons and secretly enjoyed hoarding shiny trinkets, she had become quite aware that Cicero owned next to nothing. He came to Skyrim with merely a dagger, the lint in his pockets, and a couple of septims. Septims which he rewarded her with for assisting him when the wheel broke on his wagon while transporting the Night Mother from Dawnstar to Falkreath. It was the first time they'd met and frankly, Jade wanted nothing to do with him even then. If it wasn't for that stubborn farmer being such a negative jerk about helping the stranded fool, she'd have left Cicero high and dry herself. But the frustrated little jester was the lesser of two evils at that moment, and Jade never turned down an opportunity to make someone eat their own shit, so to speak. As she made her way up the wide staircase toward the entrance of Jorrvaskr, the sounds of men cheering could be heard within. The Companions were probably having another brawl. The barbaric nature of her people brought her such pride. She so wanted to join in but decided to use her better judgment and focus on keeping a low profile. On her way up to the forge, Jade decided to inquire about getting a dagger made for Cicero. Luckily, she knew the Skyforge blacksmith well and had long since earned his respect. Eorlund Gray-Mane, a formidable-looking older Nord, stood over the forge. His brow was covered in soot and sweat and he appeared to be working on a large sword with unique markings on it. "Eorlund, dear friend," Jade called over the roar of the fire, "It's been a while!" The blacksmith lifted his gaze to her, squinting to allow his eyes to adjust after staring at the bright embers. It took a long moment for him to recognize her. "Ah!" he finally exclaimed and put his tools down, wiping his hands on his apron, "If it isn't the lovely Dragonborn, herself! All of Skyrim- nay- all of Tamriel owes you praise, my lady!" Jade blushed a little feeling like she was being honored by her own father. Eorlund lumbered over and wrapped his big muscular arms around her. He'd never shown any kind of affection toward her before. His gruff exterior had melted away at that moment to show his gratitude. "They sing of your journey to Sovngarde to defeat the World-Eater in all of the taverns! The children play as you in the streets with wooden swords and shouts of joy!" he cheered. Jade was speechless. Mostly because she couldn't breathe in his bear-hug of an embrace. Eorlund released her and quickly composed himself. "Alduin was just a big guar with wings and a bad attitude," Jade chuckled. "Now, if I could only convince you to do something about those dung-sniffing Battle-Borns..." his tone of voice had returned to being gruff. "Listen, I was wondering if you could-" "Smith you something from Skyforge steel?" "...Yeah, actually." "It's the least I can do," Eorlund stepped back over to the forge and began rearranging his tools, "What are you interested in? Jewelry perhaps?" Jade hesitated. That sounded nice. She'd never owned anything made of Skyforge steel before. She wasn't one to typically wear jewelry, but the idea of a nice shiny necklace in commemoration of saving the world sounded delightful. Eorlund watched her mull it over. As much as she wanted to be selfish and reward herself with more treasure... Jade knew that a dagger for Cicero would mean more to him than a silly shiny trinket would mean to her. Heck, a necklace would probably get shoved in a trunk with the rest of her random loot anyway. "Actually, I'd like a dagger." "A puny dagger?" a thick Nordic voice arose from behind her. Jade turned to see a filthy young man climbing the steps to join them. It was Vilkas, a veteran member of the Companions she had met long before. He was part of what they called, 'the Circle'; A secret clan within the Companions joined together by the blood of the werewolf. Jade was once invited to join the Circle but opted out. Something about waking up naked, confused, and covered in blood in a field after a transformation didn't appeal to her. Been there, done that. "I think she meant a great sword. Daggers are for milk-drinkers and little old ladies," Vilkas laughed. He was clearly a connoisseur of large blades. "It's not for me. It's for-" It was at that moment that Jade realized that she didn't know what Cicero was to her anymore. He wasn't really her servant since he'd started retaliating against her. He didn't feel like her friend with how much they fought. He sure as Oblivion wasn't her lover even after what happened in Riften... what could she refer to him as? Her baby-daddy? ARGH! No. "For your nana?" Vilkas answered for her. "...my friend, I guess," she finally said, "He prefers daggers." "Sounds like your 'friend' needs to man-up. How can a man protect his woman with a tiny knife?" Jade smiled a little. Cicero had saved her ass many more times than she'd like to admit with his 'tiny knife'.... but she did love watching men wielding those huge blades; their biceps taut and glistening with sweat with every slash and heaving thrust. Her eyes drifted over Vilkas's brawny body poured perfectly into his heavy custom armor. "I can take care of myself, kiddo," Jade bit her lip. "Ah, see? I do like a woman who can bust a few chops." "Take it to the inn," Eorlund grunted, "I don't need to hear this young hormonal banter. I'll have your blade ready in a few days, my dear." Jade bowed graciously to the blacksmith, feeling flattered to be called 'young'. She turned and descended the steps with Vilkas. "So," Vilkas cleared his throat, "Is this friend of yours... more than a friend?" "Gods, no," Jade laughed, "I just figured that if he were to accompany me on any expeditions that I'd want him to be well armed." "Can I fight him?" Jade paused at the bottom of the steps and glanced at him. The offer was super tempting. If she were to pit Cicero against Vilkas... who would win? Sure, Cicero had experience and agility on his side... but Vilkas had more youth and pure strength in his corner. Not to mention that he was a werewolf. Though, he had sworn against transforming. Jade shook her head. She needed to stop thinking of Cicero as a pawn to play with. He had shown a lot of potential and clear devotion to her recently. He deserved a little more respect than to just quite literally throw him to the dogs. "Nah," she replied, "He's just some little faithless Imperial. Not worth bloodying your blade for." "She's hanging around with Imperials?" a gravelly voice called from the Jorrvaskr entrance. Farkas, Vilkas's twin brother was leaning on the door frame with his arms crossed. He had a fresh cut on his chin most likely from a friendly brawl with another Companion. They enjoyed roughhousing not unlike puppies. "That's what I'm saying," Vilkas replied to his brother, "She needs to scrap the fancy boy and hire a real sword-" "That reminds me," Jade interrupted as they reached Farkas, "I'm looking for a sell-sword." "Look no further, Madam Dragonborn," Farkas pushed himself off of the wall and swaggered over; a bit wobbly likely due to a recent blow to the head. "Now, hold it," Vilkas stepped between his brother and Jade, "I believe she was talking to me first." "She's looking for muscle," Farkas grunted, "Not stupid brains." "Do you know how dumb you sound right now?" Vilkas crossed his arms. "Not as dumb as you look." "You know damn well that I'm the sexy one." "Then why do women faun over me more?" Farkas squinted. "Because you're like a dumb puppy and they want to fix you!" "Why would they want to remove my testicles...?" Jade started getting uncomfortable as the twins' voices rose. She glanced around hoping that they were not drawing attention from any of the guards. "Boys, boys," she stepped in between them, placing a hand on both of their chests, "I could definitely use help from BOTH of you dashing gentlemen. I'm looking for an Argonian named Meegs. It's probably short for something," she explained, "I need to gently 'convince' him to accompany me back to Dawnstar." "A lizard?" Farkas finally released his glare toward his brother and glanced down at her. "Yeah, ice-brain," Vilkas answered in a semi-aggressive tone, "Argonians are lizards." "Be nice," Jade sighed then looked up at Farkas, loving the attention, "Have you seen any 'lizards' in Whiterun lately, love?" Farkas blushed a little under the layer of soot covering his cheeks, "Uh-..." Vilkas and Jade stared at him for a long moment as he thought. Clearly, the pressure was getting to him. Jade reached up and tweaked his chin. "Yeah, yeah," he finally responded, "I saw one. A battlemage sell-sword type. Some guards were taking him to the jail a few days ago." "Jail...?" she groaned sounding defeated, "Ugh... yeah, that sounds like the one I'm looking for." "Do you need us to break him out?" Vilkas asked with an eager smile on his face. It sort of reminded her of Cicero whenever the prospect of killing arose. The Companions were not known for crime. They were a highly respected guild in Whiterun and most parts of Skyrim. But just because these boys were Companions didn't mean that they weren't still young men with a taste for excitement and mischief. That was something that Jade knew she could manipulate. "Oh," she smiled, turning back to Vilkas and gazing seductively at his lips, "Would you?" Suddenly, Farkas grunted and unsheathed his blade before making a beeline for the Cloud District. Vilkas and Jade silently watched him go. "...We might have to break him out, too," Vilkas said flatly.,
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