Asylum Rescue, Book Two

Discussion in 'Asylumverse' started by Telki, Dec 31, 2018.

  1. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Rommy steals a house and Telki lets him get away with it
    Rommy and Sam in Windhelm.jpg

    Chapter Text
    Steel grey clouds clustered in the sky above the ancient city of Windhelm, their heavy bottoms weeping fluffy bits of themselves to coat the sooty dark stone framed in centuries’ worth of black dirt ground into their mortar. The new puffs of white helped add some contrast, covering the dingy, crusted snow already heaped in corners, against walls, and over the carefully stacked stone blocks piled here and there throughout the city. More grey stone rose up on either side of the street, creating a warren of unrelentingly dismal corridors beneath the black slate roofs.

    Romulus Amulius, Hero of Kvatch and Daedric Prince of Madness, gazed up at the bottom of the clouds, the monochrome world around him making him long for the bright colors of Mania. Bored and depressed, he started a colony of bright yellow mold on the wall across from him, concentrating on the tiny world of fungi rather than the larger world of rot around him. It distracted him for a while, until a pair of guards crossed his vision.

    “Damned Imperial,” the man muttered, giving him a dirty look beneath his helmet.

    Rommy’s eyes flickered upwards briefly before he flicked his hand at the Stormcloak, making the man erupt into shrieking giggles as half a dozen small, puffy Oblivion critters appeared inside his armor, crawling desperately to find a way out. His partner stopped and stared at him, wondering what was wrong, but the man was soon convulsed on the ground, unable to stop laughing and trying vainly to remove his gambeson.

    “I don’t think your fiancé would like that too much,” Sam commented idly, leaning against the wall next to his Daedric “brother.” He smelt of spilled mead and the barmaid at the Candlehearth Hall.

    “You’re probably right,” Rommy sighed, banishing the critters and releasing the man, who coughed and wheezed for the breath he’d been unable to take.

    “Don’t let them get to you,” Sam advised, taking a swig of his bottle of ale.

    “This whole place gets to me,” the Imperial grumbled, returning his attention to his mold garden, adding some reds and oranges for variety. They were just a speck yet, but by the time morning came they would cover most of the brick they were on. If no one scrubbed them away, it would probably become an infestation within a month. An improvement, in the Mad God’s mind. He added some allergens to them out of sheer pique.

    “So, when will Muffin get here? And Telki, of course Telki,” Sanguine asked as Rommy pushed off the wall and started striding toward the Grey Quarter.

    “Sometime tomorrow morning, if nothing holds them up,” Romulus replied, sorting through a keyring that held more keys than there were buildings in this city, as well as various trinkets of odd design. He untangled braided unicorn hair from the crystal finger of a Knight of Order, flipping both back from a small fetish made of Hag’s feathers and a small carved eyeball. After three more keys and a tiny stuffed bear, he found the one he was looking for, just in time to stop in front of the door it opened.

    Squinting at the small painted sign beside the door, Sam read, “‘Calixto's House of Curiosities. Wonderments large and small.’ Huh. What are we doing here?”

    “I own the house,” Romulus replied, opening the door. He had to shove a bit--the hinges stuck. Fixing them with a wave of his hand, he lit the room with a burst of magelight to each corner, revealing a dusty interior liberally filled with oddiments, though where the promised “large” items were he didn’t care to speculate.

    “You bought a house?” Sam asked, sounding surprised.

    Smirking a little, he banished the dust with a thought. “Of course not. Calixto was one of mine. Rejected the Isles completely, of course, even when I offered him Relmyna’s help with his little sister problem. She was most put out at his refusal; it’s been a long time since she sensed another flesh mage with his potential. At any rate, His Royal Rebelliousness’s steward put out a search for the man’s next of kin in Cyrodiil.”


    “I’ve been forging Imperial documents since I was twelve. Not hard to convince Jorlief I was a long-lost nephew,” he said absent-mindedly, looking around the house. “Well, at least he didn’t do his experiments here. I don’t have to banish anything.”

    Sam tossed himself into a chair, the fire lighting by itself on the empty hearth next to him. “Why bother?” he enquired, his form rippling and changing to his more normal, seven foot Dremora appearance. The chair creaked a little under the strain.

    “Honestly? I don’t like when they stare. Also, I might as well save Erandur or Gideon the effort of an exorcism. Now, hush a moment.” Closing his eyes while Sanguine watched, he spread his awareness out to the house, moving, destroying, or summoning furniture, rugs, kitchenware, the odd trinket or two to make the place more homey.

    “Not that I don’t like it, but why is there a statue of Dibella carved from a giant’s femur?” Sanguine asked, going over to admire the “quality and detail” of the piece.

    “Collectibles,” Rommy replied cheerfully, walking around and adding a few more “curiosities” to improve the selection. A dragon skull sat on a low table in the center of the room, and a line of jars with enchanted insects materialized along one shelf as he passed. “There’s something carved from a giant’s bone in every room of this house. Gerguun made them; matching set.”

    “Who?” Sanguine asked, running his fingers over the statue.

    “Nord woman that caught her giant husband cheating with the mammoths,” he explained, going over to a shelf filled entirely with the Yellow Book of Riddles. “She made a carving from every large bone in his body. I left the goblet back in New Sheoth, though. It’s too recognizable as a skull.” He adjusted the lighting a little atop a carved mammoth tusk so that the waves in the ocean scene it depicted seemed to move as one passed. Akaviri, that, and stolen right from the house of one of his mother’s contemporaries when he was just joining the Thieves’ Guild. Where it had rested for the last three centuries, he neither knew nor cared, especially given the dusty state it had just arrived in.

    Pausing a moment, Sanguine cast him a look, “What are you going to do when she realizes just how mad you really are?”

    Shrugging uncomfortably, Romulus examined the floor, noting the mice living beneath the boards and deciding to leave them. “Some part of her already knows. She’s seen the inside of my head, after all, even if she hasn’t consciously sorted through it all yet.”

    “But it’s one thing to hear that your new fiance is the embodiment of every kind of madness, and another to know it,” Sanguine pointed out with that keen intellect he rarely showed anyone, and even more rarely put to more use than creating his next entertainment.

    “How sober are you?” Rommy lifted an eyebrow testily.

    “Far too,” the Prince of Debauchery replied, melting back into his human guise and throwing an arm around the Imperial. “Let’s go get some mead!”

    Smiling slightly, the other Prince extinguished the lights and followed his friend out into the snow-laden streets. It looked as if Sanguine were up to mischief, and he was itching for some distraction himself. Nothing too Nirn-shattering, unfortunately. After all, the Dragonborn would be in town by morning.


    Telki rode into town with Her Boys bright and early in the morning. The heavy clouds of yesterday had finally blown through in the night, leaving crystal clear blue skies with that brisk bite in the air that always put Telki in mind of new beginnings and fresh starts. A few lamb-white high clouds wisped across the sky, backlit by morning sun. It was the perfect morning sky every master painter strived for, and just missed. The morning sun lit up the carefully stacked timbers and fresh stone that could be easily seen in each quarter.

    The projects first assigned to Rolf in the Grey Quarter had started an improvement frenzy in all of them. No Quarter wanted to be the reason for Ulfric’s harsh words, nor did they want to look shabby in comparison to where those ‘filthy greyskins’ lived. Slow changes, but they were changes, and Telki thought it was past high time they had started.

    “Did you hear? The museum’s opening up again. Jorlief found a nephew,” Telki’s sensitive ears couldn’t help but overhear. Off to her side, a Nord woman with heavy baskets stopped to talk to an elderly woman practically vibrating with her news.

    “Have you seen him? He’s pretty as an Aedra, I heard tell.”

    “And related to Calixto? I don’t buy it.”

    “What, that he’s related, or that pretty?”

    “Take your pick.” The practical Nord woman waved off her chatty neighbor with both hands, picked up her piled baskets, and left, leaving Telki the perfect opportunity to talk to the apparent town gossip.

    “Pardon me, but did you say Calixto’s was opening up again?”

    “Oh yes! Young Shattershield saw him come in last night. I’ve not seen the girl so lively since, well, you know. Apparently, the young man quite caught her eye.” Telki was amused. Leave it to Rommy to try to come in quietly, and still cause a stir.

    “You don’t think?” Mercutio was the first to speak after the wide and motherly older woman finally toddled off, her budget of news spent and a kindly gift against the cold from Telki snug in her arms on her way back to her own home.

    “Oh, let me count the ways, shall we?” Telki’s voice was as dry as the cold wind blowing across their cloaks. Sheer mischief lit her eyes. “Anybody wanna go surprise a Daedra?”

    They found, sure enough, that the old curiosity museum was due to open, but the building itself shut up tight.

    “Nuts,” Telki groused. “I wanted to surprise him.”

    “You’re forgetting, Love, who’s probably traveling with him.” Gideon smirked as all eyes drifted to him. “Sanguine.”

    “Okay, which is more likely? Candlehearth or New Gnisis?”

    “Oh that’s easy,” Erandur grinned. “Which one has the bigger wine cellar?”

    They found Candlehearth drunk dry, and the owner having to order a new shipment of everything. Telki was impressed the owner was in such jovial spirits.

    “And why not? I and my staff will have fewer customers tonight, and we made enough last night we won’t feel the pinch!” Telki had to admit it made sense.

    “So, must have been a big party last night?” She leaned against the counter, as if eager for a good tale. She hoped the man’s high spirits would oblige. She wasn’t disappointed.

    “Well,” the innkeeper said, leaning in conspiratorially as he wiped a mug dry, “Apparently, that Calixto had a nephew in Cyrodiil. None of us believed it at first, but apparently his sainted sister wasn’t as pure as driven snow like he used to say, and left a man down there with their kid! Not that he said this, mind, that was all his talkative friend of his. He was very circumspect about it. Nice, respectful young man, that one.”

    “Are they still here? Can I meet them? They sound like an interesting pair.” Telki put on her best curiously innocent air. It worked, sometimes.

    He laughed, putting the mug aside. “I’d say so! They only got in yesterday, and the lad said he wanted to see the house. I think he might be considering staying for a while. I’m sure if you went to the carpenter’s or up to Jorlief, you’d find him buying furniture or something.”

    She left the owner still chuckling behind her, and stood thinking on the doorstep.

    “New Gnisis?” Mercutio was rubbing his hands. Apparently, heat enchants that could keep up with the cold waters in Dawnstar’s bay weren’t quite enough for the cold winds whipping Windhelm.

    “There’s a chance Sam passed out there, but did Rommy decide to stay, or did he haul him back to Calixto’s? There’s the question,” Erandur was rubbing his chin in thought.

    “I have a better idea.” All three men shuddered. They knew that particular tone.

    “Don’t. Whatever it is, don’t.” Gideon knew they’d fall on deaf ears, but the paladin in him had to try.

    “Where, oh where, oh where’s my Rommy?” Telki sang out impishly. “And if he knows what’s good for him, it’ll work, too.”


    Mercutio was bowled over sideways as an enthusiastic Sam fairly materialized, clinging to his current favorite mortal. “Nice to see you, Sam.” There was only a faint tremor in the mage’s voice.

    “Are you cold? I’ll help keep you warm!” he cried, quite causing a scene as he rubbed up and down the mage’s arm.

    “Sam, shug, nice to see you, where’s my Rommy?” Telki thought it was past time to distract the enthusiastic Daedra. Poor Merc’s cheeks were fit to burst into flames.

    “He had to go yell at someone. He’ll be back soon. Well, back at the house, anyway,” he brightened. “Did you know he has a wheel of cheese from the Merithic Era? It was stuck in a peat bog! I bet it would go great with some wine!”

    “After being stuck in a bog?” Telki had to admit she couldn’t imagine any food being fit to eat after that. She subtly pulled Sam off Merc, taking his arm and getting him walking towards Calixto’s house.

    “It was in a thing of wax. Apparently people--hic!--do that with cheese. Which explains why I sometimes wake up feeling like I was chewing on a candle,” he shrugged. “So there’s a rather big bed upstairs. Why don’t you four...relax? I’ll keep watch.”

    “Eh, we need to settle from the road, first. Why don’t you tell us what all you’ve been up to?” Telki bobbed her head at Sam when he ushered her into the door. Thank heavens he actually used a key like a mortal.

    “Well…” Sam hesitated, fiddling with the key by poking it in and out of the keyhole a few times before finally turning it. “I’m not entirely sure what Rommy did--I went to a moonsugar festival in Elswyre--but he’s been pretty broody, and had to go throw some crystal idiots off his Fringes, so I’d say he got in an argument with Jyggalag again.”

    “Poor Rommy. Maybe he needs to let me come along next run-in with that quartz slagmonkey.”

    “Ummmmm...” It really bothered her when all three of her guys did that together. Their lack of faith was sometimes disturbing.

    “I wouldn’t,” Sam advised, sounding entirely too sober. He pushed the door open and went right to the kitchen, grabbing an ale.

    “Sam, what’s troubling you?” Erandur, always the most perceptive, asked.

    “My best friend is yelling at a Daedra so obnoxious the rest of us cursed him to get him out of our hair, and my last forty-five drinks wore off,” Sam grumbled, shutting the door with a wave and slipping into his more comfortable guise, winking at Merc, who flushed.

    “Y’know, I tried something just for you when I got home.” Telki pulled out a bottle, and waved it in Sam’s general direction. “Since I could make Sober Mead, thought I’d try my hand at its opposite.”

    Sanguine stared at the bottle for a moment in complete disbelief, then at Telki, then at the bottle, then suspiciously at the other men to see if they were hiding smirks. “Alright,” he said slowly, taking the bottle, uncorking it, and sniffing it.

    "There was no way to test it, you’ll be the first. Pretty sure it’d kill my guys with one sip; you’ve been warned.” Telki shrugged.

    Convinced it wouldn’t make him more sober than the thought of the Daedra of Order already did, Sanguine took an experimental swallow, and promptly fell to the floor on his butt, staring at the bottle in his hand. “‘Hish ish--hic!--yummy!” Leaning over against her leg, he wrapped his arms around it like a child wanting to be pulled across the floor and stared up at her adoringly. “Marr’ me.”

    “How about I just keep you supplied with Super Mead, eh?” Telki grinned feeling accomplished.

    Nuzzling his face around her knee as if he were the kitty person, he mumbled happily. “Besh--hic!--sis ev’r.”

    “Aww, thanks sweetie.” Telki gingerly patted his head, trying her best not to spike her hand on the horns. “This would be so much easier were you a little less horny.” The snigger that elicited could probably be heard in the Cloud District of Whiterun.

    “Why are you snuggling Telki’s leg?”

    Sanguine grinned, looking up as a blue blur crossed his vision, whirling in the center of the floor before solidifying into what he could only assume was the Daedric Prince of Madness, but it was hard to tell at the moment.

    “I made him a present, the opposite of Sober Mead. I can’t even taste test it,” Telki supplied. “Now hug me, I missed you.”

    Rommy grinned, pulling her into a tight hug that predictably ended in a searing kiss that had Telki purring appreciatively. Flushing happily, he stepped back slightly, turning towards the others. “So,” he said, gesturing, “do you all like what I’ve done with the place?”

    “Looks interesting, what I’ve been able to see.” Telki wrapped herself around Rommy’s arm. “Want to give us the five septim tour?”

    “I’ll give you a free tour, but it’s not really free. I need some more junk that people here will find interesting, and since you’re the Dragonborn, they will probably find your stuff interesting. Anything you’d like to donate?” he asked, giving her an arch look.

    Telki gave her other guys a look, especially when Mercutio started snickering. “Well, I suppose I can return that flute I took from here…”

    That startled a laugh out of him. “You stole from the museum? Naughty Telki.”

    “Well, it’s not like the old owner needed it anymore, so was it really stealing? Besides, total fraud, it did absolutely nothing extra when I played it.” Telki sniffed defensively.

    “Let me see,” he instructed, curious. Telki readily pulled the old flute out of her pack and handed it to him. “Oh, this,” he said, taking it with an air of surprise. “Haskill’s been looking for this for years.”

    Haskill? Why would he?”

    “Haskill’s in charge of the Palace’s entertainments. Honestly, I don’t know how Old Sheo found the time, but he used to have entertainers come perform at Court at least once a week, supposedly,” Rommy shrugged and handed Telki the flute. “Were you planning to return this, then, or keep it for yourself?”

    “You’re more than welcome to it.” Telki wrinkled her nose at him. “Really, I only took it the first time because it’s a beautifully crafted instrument that didn’t deserve to sit dusty and forgotten in a dead man’s abandoned house.”

    “Interesting you should say that,” he chuckled, putting it on a shelf. “It was made by a Bosmer. In Valenwood,” he added, in case she was missing the significance.

    “And that’s neither ivory nor antler, is it? I feel I need to scrub my lips now.” She self consciously rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand.

    “If it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t anything sentient,” he said, patting her on the shoulder.

    “Not helping, since I know your opinion on Stormcloaks,” she cracked back.

    “Anyway, I’m going to assume you all know the Book of Fate?” he asked, gesturing to the book on a pedestal. “Once part of the Arcane University, now here, for some reason I don’t know but appreciate.”

    “Wait, wait wait, you mean it’s all real? Really?” Telki asked, even as Mercutio, her ever curious and skeptical Mercutio, opened the book.

    “Er...Sam was at it earlier,” Rommy chuckled at Mercutio’s expression as he took in whatever Sam had drawn in there earlier. The Daedra of Debauchery was a surprisingly talented and thorough artist.

    “By the Nines!” Telki flinched when his voice hit that register. She was pretty sure she saw a bat fall out of the sky through the half open window.

    “Speaking of which,” Romulus added hastily, leading them to an armor stand with a faded white gambeson on it, a piece clearly meant for someone nearly Telki’s size, with a red diamond on it, “This is a copy of the Cuirass of the Crusader. Gideon, I think you’ve already seen a piece of that gear, though I doubt this will fit you.”

    Gideon shrugged, “The shield fits me fine, and does the job.”

    “I think she’d approve of you having it,” Rommy said cryptically, then moved on before they could ask for clarification, despite Telki’s tug on his arm. “This is an Akaviri carving on a mammoth tusk of crossing the seas between Akavir and Tamriel. I stole this from my mother’s friend when I was sixteen as my introduction into the Thieve’s Guild.”

    “You were in the Thieve’s Guild? Why am I not surprised?” Telki admired the artistry of the piece. “Have you had it all this time? It’s well preserved, all considered.”

    “I sold it to help buy the pottery,” he said, far-away look on his face. Telki gave him his moment. He was obviously remembering a happier time with another love of his life. Shaking off the memories after a moment, he pointed to the bee statue below it. “Got that from a man named Delvin. Nice man. Good at finding things.”

    “This Delvin, wouldn’t have been in a place called the ‘Ragged Flagon,’ would he?” Telki snickered.

    “I met him caught in a pass between Skyrim and Morrowind,” Rommy shrugged. “Apparently angry husbands run fast. Or perhaps it was an angry woman. Hard to tell, he just kept chanting ‘vex’ or ‘vexing’ or something over and over.”

    Telki laughed. “Etienne mentioned a friend of his, beautiful woman named Vex. One of his favorite stories was how she was going to turn someone named Delvin inside out if she caught him watching her bathe. Guess what I think happened?”

    “Judging from the black eye he was sporting, I’d probably guess the same,” he replied, eyes shining. “That replica of the Emperor’s ship is from him, too.”

    “It’s beautiful. Very detailed. I’d almost expect the sails to billow in the wind, were it not solid gold.” Telki let go of his arm long enough to trace the delicate rigging. “What’s next on the tour?”

    “These,” he showed them a pair of ancient, falling apart boots, “are the Boots of Springheel Jak!”

    “He was real, then?” Apparently, Telki was incapable of looking at items without touching, as she thoroughly examined the old boots.

    “Real enough to leave a ‘descendant’ who was a colossal pain in the backside,” Romulus replied, rolling his eyes.

    “Oh, you have to give me details now, boyo. Spill it!” Telki was back and tugging on his arm, bouncing in front of him.

    “Once upon a time there was a thief named Springheel Jak. He was a huge pain in the rear, and did not get less so after some vampire bit him. I set him on fire. The end.”

    “But you mentioned a descendant? How’d he have a descendant, if a vampire bit him?”

    “He was his own descendant,” Romulus revealed, leaning against the shelf and crossing his arms. “Had a whole coven of vampires to boot. That was...not a fun day.”

    “Well then, I’m glad you set him on fire.”

    “Me, too,” he said earnestly. “These are samples of every butterfly in Tamriel,” he said, gesturing to jars with enchanted insects in them, their delicate wings fluttering in flashes of bright color.

    “How pretty! Are they Illusions?” Telki asked, trying to puzzle out the enchantments on the jars.

    “No, they’re real. Don’t worry, though, they aren’t unhappy in there. I figured this was better than tacking them up. Well, Murril did, really. She was pretty upset when she found the original collection.”

    “She’s a smart one. I bet she was. It probably reminded her of something unpleasant from home.” Telki murmured, almost to herself, trying to figure out the spells on the jars.

    Shadows flickered across his face momentarily before he gave her a wan grin. “She’s letting me borrow them until I find more things to fill the shelves. Well, things that won’t horrify people. I wanted to put Pelagius’s Hipbone up here, but someone still has it.”

    Telki turned from the jars, a teasing smile on her face. “Oh? But it’s a memento of our first meeting. What’ll you give me in return?”

    “I fixed your Wabbajack,” he said with a grin, wondering if she’d had occasion to notice yet.

    “Well, the problem with the Wabbajack as a memento is that I have to keep it put up out of reach of curious hands.”

    Shaking his head, he lightly lifted his hands to brush just the tips of his fingers against her temples. “Not that one. The one you use to fight the dragons in your head.”

    Telki’s eyes widened. “Woah... You never mentioned... The fight was that close? I nearly? Yikes.” Telki found a handy crate to sit on. Her knees felt all kinds of wobbly. “Some Dragonborn I am, I have to have my bacon saved from a dead dragon.” Telki soon found her crate surrounded by concerned men, and a concert of “Telki, no.” Her guys were so awesome. Wrong, but awesome.

    “Telki, name another person at any time in history that personally scared off the Daedric Prince of Nightmares, not once, but twice,” Erandur reminded her.

    “Or anyone that can defeat a Dwarven Centurion without a scratch,” Gideon put in. “You also have a penchant for ending bandits before I get to them.”

    “You learn spells faster than I can teach you,” Mercutio added. “Not to mention you have the strongest True Sight I’ve ever encountered.”

    Rommy nodded, reinforcing their words. “You’re the sixth Dragonborn I’ve met, and the only one I’ve seen battle dragons. I don’t think you have anything to be worried about.”

    “You make me--hic!--happy!” Sanguine shouted from under the kitchen table.

    Telki gave them a watery smile. “Yeah, but how hard is it to make you happy, Sam?” Curiosity visibly crept across her face, until it overshadowed her self pity party. “Waitaminute, Rommy! I know it’s a distraction attempt, consider it successful, but you personally knew six Dragonborn? Details.”

    Taking in the curious, incredulous looks of his soon-to-be family (were other husbands considered in-laws? He didn’t know), Rommy anxiously rubbed the back of his neck, glancing around. “Oh! And here we have a mirror of True Sight. Funny you should mention that, Mercutio. And you might want to get off that crate, Telki; it’s one of the exhibits.”

    “Rommy!” Telki huffed at him. “Shall we converse privately? Cause apparently, we need to converse privately.”

    He slanted her a look. “Seriously, get off the box.”

    She raised her arms up for him to help her up. “We can discuss there whatever it is you’re not wanting to discuss. Cause really, we need to deal with it.”

    “Why?” he asked her baldly, sighing.

    “If it wasn’t important, would it bother you so much?” Telki gave him a ‘duh’ look. “If it weren’t important, you could talk about it like you talk about cheese or Ulfric’s good sense.”

    “Cheese is very important,” he protested, offended. “And…” he ran his hand through his hair again, brushing it off his face. “It’s not that it bothers me, it’s that I think it will bother you.”

    “Is this like thinking the Shivering Isles were going to scare me off? Oh look, it didn’t. Come on, I thought you wanted me off this crate.” Telki made grabby hands at him. “My knees are still refusing to cooperate. Something about nearly losing what little mind I have really scares them.”

    The box started screaming. Rommy hastily lifted her off it, and it stopped, sitting there innocently. Telki huffed. “Really? I’m not that heavy.”

    That’s your reaction?” Rommy laughed, incredulous.

    “I’ll ask why it’s screaming after you tell me how you knew, personally, six Dragonborn. You’re not distracting me from your previous distraction.” Telki booped his nose.

    He sighed. “It’s not all that complicated. I just saw the last of the Septim line die one by one right in front of me.”

    “Oh honey,” Telki hugged him close. “And this was going to scare me off, why?”

    “Didn’t say ‘scare.’ I said ‘upset,’” he reminded her. “And...I only thought one of them died.” She’d get it out of him sooner or later, anyway. Might as well let them know now exactly who they were all searching for when they helped him find the remnants of his family. Whether Tyr was Dragonborn as well…he’d not been able to tell. Telki might well be able to tell him.

    “Your son?” Telki gave him a quizzical look. “Is that why you said I was close when I called you part of a lost Septim line? ” Telki’s eyes widened, remembering a certain set of books. “Waitaminute, Felicia was Dunmer, and purple eyes...Dragonborn. Holy mothering wrong side of the blankets!”

    “What?” Erandur looked at Telki as if she’d taken that last step to becoming one of Sheo’s.

    “Remember that series I have at home? The ones you really really don’t like? Apparently, we’re hunting confirmation they’re true, at least about Barenziah’s lost baby.”

    “It wasn’t lost, it was aborted,” he said flatly. Erandur never forgave Tiber Septim for that alone.

    “The baby was apparently close enough to term to survive the attempt, and had a baby of his or her own.” Telki displayed Rommy as if proof. “When we find Tyr, you can see for yourself.”

    Rommy only sighed, holding her a little tighter. Felicia had made him promise not to tell, and he hadn’t. Her forced birth nearly too early had been quite the sore spot for her, and that neither of her parents could know she survived it had made her bitter towards either part of her heritage. He hoped, wherever she was, she didn’t mind.

    “So your grandson might be Dragonborn?” Gideon decided to try to steer the subject.

    “Dragon blooded, at least,” Rommy capitulated. “Orien...he was able to wear the Amulet of Kings.” He swallowed, looking away. He wasn’t able to remember the last time he’d even been able to think his son’s name, let alone say it.

    “Awwww, Rommy.” Telki wondered if that was what got Felicia to admit her ancestry to Romulus. Dunmer, in her experience, were a closed mouth lot about the things that mattered. She cuddled closer to Rommy, gently running her fingers soothingly down the back of his head.

    “I imagine that’s when you found out exactly who Felicia was.” Erandur sat down heavily--not on the crate, but in a nearby chair. Only Telki could find the one flat surface that would scream at her for sitting on it.

    “Uh...that’s Darius Shano’s cursed chair,” Rommy told him, giving him an apologetic look when he leapt back up. “I meant to put a plant pot on it or something.”

    “Darius Shano…I have a book about him,” Telki’s brows drew down. “Was he before or after you took over?”

    “Slightly before,” Rommy told her. “All of them were before. Erm...except the one with Hircine. He’s fun to poke, really. Far too serious.”

    “Remind me to tell you about poor Sindig. Hircine is a jerk, and I told him so. “ Telki nodded her head. “Think you could help me twist his arm to de-wolf the poor man?”

    “I’m due to blackmail someone, so sure.” Telki squealed happily and kissed him, hard. After a moment of surprise, he returned the kiss, forgetting for a moment they had an audience.

    Mercutio hmpfted and looked around for a distraction. “What’s this?” Mercutio asked, lifting a strange white ball from the shelf.

    The front of the ball opened like an eye, staring at him. “Spaaaaaaace!” it yelled joyfully.

    Mercutio startled, almost dropping the thing. “What the? How’d they ever get it to talk? Is it a sound Illusion? Where’s the soul gem? Those Dwemer were brilliant. Can I dismantle it to see how it works?”

    Telki giggled. She loved when Mercutio’s inner schoolboy enthusiasm broke through the arrogant ass persona he put on so often. She felt it was much more the ‘real Mercutio’ than anything else.

    “It’s not Dwemer,” Rommy revealed, sounding a bit too happy about that. “It fell out of the sky. There’s another one bouncing around Aurbis, but I can’t catch him.”

    “Him?” Telki asked. “They have genders?” She turned towards Rommy, trying to see more of his face than just chin. “And it’s bouncing around Aurbis? How?”

    “No idea,” he answered, gleeful. “I can’t touch his mind very well. Something about some mute woman and the color white. And a moon.”

    “A moon, not Masser or Secunda?” Telki was really intrigued now.

    “I think it’s from one of the sideways worlds on the Hub,” he replied. “Anyway, I saved him from some Nord that wanted to put horns on him and make him into a helmet.”

    “Of course, because we don’t have enough horned helmets.” Telki thumped her head against his neck. It was back up in a trice. “Waitaminute, hub? Sideways world? What?”

    While Romulus continued to confuse Telki, Gideon had been walking around, looking at things. He wondered why a set of two forks and a spoon were set out, as if important. He was almost afraid to ask. Firstly, they probably belonged to some famous cannibal or something. Secondly, Telki had been missing Rommy. They deserved a few moments to enjoy each other’s company. It’s not like he hadn’t enjoyed his own special moments alone with her whenever he’d been away for any length of time.

    “So, did you stop in to see Ulfric first, or did you come right after me?” Rommy asked.

    “Pfft, you first, of course. Duh.” Telki wrinkled her nose at him. “What’s the point of seeing Ulfie without you?”

    Laughing so hard he almost dropped her and needed to sit down on thin air, Rommy echoed, “Ulfie? You call him Ulfie? Please tell me you do this to his face.”

    “He makes the funniest face when I do, too. It’s half the reason I keep doing it.”

    Sanguine squinted at her. “It’s like she was made for you,” he muttered, letting his horned head fall back to the floor. “Weird.”

    “It might be different in Skyrim, but in Cyrodiil generally the nobility has to be asked for an audience. Also...he might remember me. Unfondly.”

    “Well, there are perks to being Stormblade and Dragonborn, and the woman who got him his High Throne, blah blah blah. Thank god I’m Khajiit, or someone might have tried to marry me off to him. I like him, but um, no.” Telki narrowed her eyes at him. “Wait, you met him? When?”

    “Right about the time he and Tyr raced off to join the Imperial Legion,” Rommy shrugged. “Tyr...doesn’t know who I am. He thinks we’re cousins, and since I looked the right age, they...well, it doesn’t matter. We were friends for a while. Tyr and I, I mean. Ulfric didn’t like me from the start.”

    “Sweetheart, I swear, I think you collect guilt like I collect old ballads.”

    “And husbands,” Sam chortled.

    “I don’t know what you mean,” he admitted, letting himself sink to the floor to sit cross-legged with her in his lap.

    Telki nuzzled his chin. “Pfft, don’t know what I mean indeed. Do you really want me to spell it out for you?”

    “I am a mage and enjoy spells immensely.”

    “Careful, I’m just a hedgewitch. Self taught. I could turn you purple.”

    “Really?” he asked, sounding as if he’d quite enjoy that.

    “Doesn’t mean I’d know how to turn you back. But yes, you guys and that Breton I met on the road have been my only teachers. The rest I’ve puzzled out for myself.”

    Glancing up at Mercutio and Erandur, he stated firmly, “We must fix this.”

    “Fix what?” She stared from one husband to the next, wondering what in tarnation needed fixing. “Rommy, fix what?”

    “If nothing else, you need to know the foundations and theories of magic. That will enable you to experiment and grow on your own, as well as ensure you don’t accidently rip a hole in the fabric of the universe.”

    “Really? I thought that was Alduin’s job, not mine.” Telki tilted her head at Rommy. “Wait, people actually write theories about magic? How boring.”

    “It’s actually rather fascinating,” he told her, eyes bright with the same enthusiasm that had shown briefly when showing her the “plum” ward, as she termed it. “Understanding the structures of magic is key to understanding magic itself.”

    “Huh, you’d think they could just look at the way the spell’s put together to see the structure?”

    Laughing, he gave her a gentle squeeze. “That is magic theory.”

    “I’m missing something, here.” Telki fixed him with her “rhythm solving” gaze. “Okay, to teach me that ward, you showed me the spell structure. I studied it, then copied it. You’re telling me there’s more to magic theory than that, right?”

    He nodded, “The reasons the structure works, its strengths and weaknesses, all of those are part of theory. I think you’ve gotten magic theory and magic philosophy confused at some point.”

    “Um, but isn’t all that obvious from the spell itself? I mean, you showed it to me, it was all right there...?” Telki felt she was missing something, again. She hated that feeling.

    Eyebrows rising toward his hairline, he looked up at the other two mages in the room. “This is actually why they made her Archmage, isn’t it?”

    “Pretty much. I got quite the surprise the first time I taught her a healing spell,” Erandur shivered at the memory. “It was more of a shock than finding out she experienced my past in the Dreamstride.”

    Even the mention of Vaermina couldn’t knock Rommy from the glee he felt at that moment. “So you’re telling me she naturally intuited the structure and theory of every spell you’ve ever taught her?”

    “No, I see it, it’s right there. Can’t you guys? I mean, can’t you?”

    Pausing, he glanced down at her. “See? You can see the structure of magic?”

    “Yes? It’s kinda like, a woven basket or a knitted sweater, depending on what you’re building out of it.” Telki scrunched her face as she tried to put what she saw into words. “Let me guess, not everyone can see the glow around you guys, either?”

    “True Sight,” Mercutio muttered from where he was still studying the curious eyeball thing.

    “Spaaaaaaccccceeeee!” it yelled, rolling madly.

    Delighted, Rommy simply kissed her soundly, wrapping his fingers in her hair and mussing it thoroughly. The purring was probably audible from the street, despite the wind.

    Sam propped himself up on one elbow to watch, smirking. “Hey! Weren’t you two going to go start the search for the last Septim?”

    Telki eventually had to come up for air. “Sooner we go talk to Ulfie, sooner we find your grandson.”

    “Just remember, he can’t know what I am,” Rommy urged. “I...really don’t want to put that burden on anyone else.”

    “What? You’re a mage with one motherlode of a talent. What else does he need to know?”

    Relaxing slightly, Rommy floated to his feet, placing her lightly on hers. “Let’s go talk to His Royal Rebelliousness, then.”

    “Oooh! I like that even better than Ulfie! I’m using it!” Behind them, money changed hands.

    “As long as I get to see his face the first time you use it,” he chuckled. “So, am I dressed right for this?” He had made an effort to look normal, anyway, though most mage robes weren’t that bright a green.

    “I’m wearing this, so I suppose?” Telki gestured down at her usual traveling leathers. “Like I’d ever wear a bearhead. Only Galmar can pull that look off.” Telki wrinkled her nose.

    “You’re right. I’ll wear the purple,” he said decisively, and his robes went through an eye-watering morph to a more subdued shade, but definitely in purple.

    “You just did that because you know purple’s my favorite.” Telki kissed his ear, reaching up on tiptoe to do it.

    “I will admit to no such thing. Here’s a mountain flower. Let’s go.” Telki giggled at him, tucking the purple flower in her hair. Offering her his arm, he glanced at the others. “Are you coming?”

    “Do you want us there? I thought you might not prefer an audience.” Gideon shrugged, then gave a proper predatory grin. “But if you think you’ll need backup, we’ll be happy to provide.”

    “Well….your Aedra-infused auras may help keep me from disemboweling him and using his small intestine as a skipping rope,” Rommy said frankly.

    “Then we’ll be happy to leave you...I mean, of course, we’ll be happy to help.” Erandur received a telling nudge from Gideon. A lifetime of belief was not going to be overturned so easily.

    “Glad I’m not the only one,” Rommy grumbled, opening the door for them.

    “Time to go make the gossips happy,” Sam muttered, levering himself up and stumbling over to Mercutio, shrinking into his Breton guise. He fluttered his eyelashes at the Imperial, offering his arm.

    “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Mercutio muttered, taking the arm. “Keep the groping to a minimum, please?”

    “I’m in public!” he protested. “That is a great excuse to grope! You can’t yelp without drawing attention to yourself.”

    “Sam, I’m not above using the Sober Mead spell for other reasons.” Telki warned. “He’s willingly holding your arm, count your wins.”

    “What if I were a girl? Would you feel better with a girl? I haven’t been a girl in...I don’t remember...but I could pull it off,” Sam said, then scowled. “Though the Dunmer’s not a girl....What if I were Dunmer? Do you just like Dunmer boys? What’s your kink?”

    “People that don’t grope me.” Mercutio muttered.

    “Everyone on this street is not groping you, myself included,” Sam grumbled.

    “They’re not interested or interesting, either.” Mercutio paused and hurriedly amended what he said. “That’s not including you.”

    “If I didn’t find your obstinance so adorable, my feelings might be hurt,” Sam replied.

    “What? Can’t stop groping?” Mercutio teased twisting away from a grab someplace sensitive. “Sam! We’re not even three yards from the door!”

    Sam reached around and slapped a skinny wrist, “Mine,” he censured, but the pickpocket had already vanished into the crowd. “Might want to check to see if ghostly fingers absconded with anything,” he advised, patting Merc’s chest.

    “Oh, we’d know if anything did. I put a minirune on my coinpurse.”

    “I do love intelligent men. And dumb ones too, if I’m honest,” Sam replied, watching the people around them. “Oh, look. Shattershield’s heart just broke. I think I’ll go...comfort her. Catch you later, Muffin,” he said, slipping off into the crowd. Mercutio waited until he was there by the girl before giving a relieved sigh. He was, after all, intelligent.

    Telki hung back to get Mercutio’s attention. “Mercutio! Come! We’re seeing the king!” Just as suddenly, she put her bardic flair up to run back to hang on Rommy’s arm. The imposing doors of Palace of Kings were just there.

    “Maybe I should have gone to see the Greybeards first. They do that thing where you sit and breathe, right?” he asked, staring at the doors. The guards on either side regarded them curiously.

    “Yes, but sitting and breathing is boring. Come oooon, they’re just a pair of doors, and if you hit ‘em right with your hip,” Telki bumped them, “They both swing open just so!”

    “Your irreverence is adorable,” he told her, chuckling.

    “Admit it, it’s half the reason you love me.”

    “I didn’t make a pie chart or anything,” he protested. “If I had, it would just be one color, and it would probably be purple, and labeled, ‘Telki.’”

    “If you did, and you probably did, it was a real pie of jazzberry cheesecake.” Telki razzed back.

    “I confess. The Seducers ate it, though. They really like purple, too.”

    “I love you so much, you silly, silly man.” Telki giggled. “Oh look, Galmar.” Cupping her hands to her mouth, she bellowed across the room. “How’s my favorite bugbear?”

    “One of these days, little cat, your nine lives will run out.” He grumbled, even as he accepted a hug after crossing the room quickly at her first hollered word.

    “Oh hush, you love me. How’s that liniment I left with you holding out?”

    “I won’t complain if you leave more.”

    Telki laughed outright. “Galmar, I’d like to introduce you to Rommy. Rommy, this old bugbear is Galmar.”

    Feeling decidedly awkward, Rommy said, “How do you do?” Politely. With no political overtones or undertones, and definitely not entertaining images of suggesting to Hircine that the man would make a wonderful werebear.

    “And you already know Gideon, Erandur, and Mercutio.” Telki gestured to the rest of them. “We really need to see Ulfie. I want to make sure I don’t promise more than he’s willing to give to Brighthand.”

    Galmar snorted. “He’s in the warroom. Thrice-pierced brought in the latest intel on Thalmor movements.”

    “Binty crows.” Telki mumbled, pulling her men along towards the room Ulfric barely ever left. “Thanks Galmar.”

    “And no turning him into a Dunmer this time!” Galmar boomed after her.

    “I makes no promises!” she bellowed back.

    “She turned him into a Dunmer?” he muttered lowly to Gideon, not sure he’d heard that right.

    “Rather than tell him about the problem in the Grey Quarter, she decided to show him. One night, she put an illusion of Erandur on him. It ended with him laying Rolf out in the street, and making Freewinter his new Captain of the Guard.” Gideon whispered back.

    After a few steps, Rommy just shook his head, “You know, I really love this woman more all the time.” Gideon shared a knowing smile with Rommy in response.

    “Hey Your Royal Rebelliousness, how goes the Thalmor hunt?” Telki bounded into the room, knowing Rommy was right behind her.

    Yrsarald Thrice-Pierced did his best to hold back a snicker, while Ulfric bowed his head low to the table. “Ah, Stormblade, to what do we owe the honor of your…presence?” Telki got the impression it took him a while to find a nice word rather than a more accurate word.

    “Well, two things, if we can borrow you from Thrice-Pierced?” Telki gave Yrsarald her patented wide eyed kitty look, and he bowed himself out.

    “I’ve finished my business, if my king permits?”

    “Yes, I prefer any further humiliations did not have an audience.” Ulfric eyed the rest of the men that came in with Telki. Three he knew to belong to the Stormblade, but the last one. He knew that last one!

    “Well, Ulfric, um, …” Telki felt the temperature in the room drop ten degrees, and it had been cold in the first place.

    “What is he doing here?
  2. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Rommy punches a King and Telki still lets him get away with it.

    Rumbles, reveals, and plotting. What more could you ask for?

    Thanks to a good friend at Deviantart, Sir-Douglas-of-Fir. This screenie simply was not happening until his helpful hints. Thank you angel!


    Chapter Text

    “What is he doing here?” Ulfric’s hard gaze had settled on Rommy, and it was not a happy one. Still standing in the door to the war room, Rommy looked none too happy himself, matching the Nord glare for glare.

    “Oh boy,” Telki talked fast. “He’s looking for information on Tyr. He’s the other reason I’m here.” Ulfric was closing in on Rommy, and she was pretty sure it wasn’t for a hug. Rommy being Rommy, he wasn’t backing away, either.

    “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s half the reason Tyr isn’t here!” Ulfric swung; Rommy leaned back just enough that it didn’t connect. It didn’t faze Ulfric, who just adjusted his attack. He quickly jabbed a leg behind Rommy’s to overbalance him and attempted to catch him across his windpipe with his return swing. The Imperial grabbed his arm instead, using the larger man’s own momentum to bring them both crashing to the floor. Ulfric’s weight sent him tumbling far enough away to allow Rommy to roll back to his feet. Ulfric was already standing, waiting for him. “Tyrlief would be alive, if you had just joined us as we asked, as he’d asked.”

    Startlement crossed Rommy’s face. “Is that what you think?” he blurted, staring. “You’re even more stupid than I thought the first time.”

    “Rommy! Not how you talk to someone you need a favor from!” Telki reminded him.

    Ulfric’s laugh made Telki shiver: The bitterness in it was enough to turn her hair. “And why, why would I help a man unwilling to help his own cousin?” Those frigid eyes burned into Rommy. “You have skill, is it the will you lack?”

    Rolling his eyes at the man, Rommy replied, “I refused to join the Legion, it’s not like I left him dangling off a cliff. I do have other things to attend to, and you all were just in training.” Considering the Nord, he added, “Of course, I wasn’t counting on some glory-hungry moron running himself--and his company--right into a Thalmor trap. Must be how the Imperials caught you the second time. Never do learn, do you?”

    Ulfric became still as stone, considering Rommy where he stood.

    FUS...RO DAH! The shout rolled heavy and strong across the room, rattling Telki and knocking Mercutio and Erandur to the ground, sending Gideon to his knees, and cracking the stone of the wall. “I learned that.”

    Rommy slid back a few paces across the stone floor, a ward flicking momentarily before shattering. Lowering arms he’d thrown across his face, his amber eyes glared at Ulfric, who shook off his surprise. Up to now, the only people he’d seen withstand the thu’um were his teachers, Tyr, and Telki. However, it did make Rommy stumble, and that’s all the opening he needed. He laid into Rommy with his strongest right hook.

    The Daedra slapped his hand against Ulfric’s forearm, changing the trajectory of the blow to miss his face, his other hand coming under Ulfric’s arm to deliver a quick jab to his solar plexus, right below the sternum. The blow winded Ulfric, but between years of conditioning and his thick armor, it wasn’t incapacitating. He was fairly miffed he hadn’t landed a blow yet. Ulfric changed his grip, shifted his center, and threw his opponent, putting his height and weight to good use.

    Walls were, as a rule, not soft. Rommy was sharply reminded of that when Ulfric threw him into one. Sliding down a bit to make it look as if the blow had winded him more than it had--and if he were still human, he’d be in deep trouble--Rommy gasped, pulling in the air the impact had forced out of him. “Nords,” he spat, literally, “Always bludgeoning their way through things without stopping to think.”

    “For a man without the will to join the Legion, you fight like a daedra.” Ulfric sank down the opposite wall. Apparently that jab, or jab plus hefting a man nearly his own weight, was more than the abused rib could take.

    “I used to fight for a living, moron, to put food on the table. Someone at least had to give over the idea of glory,” Rommy snapped.

    “I’m not….I don’ was never about glory.” Ulfric hissed through gritted teeth. His rib was on fire. He’d probably have to have it healed. And really? The man made his living fighting, but couldn’t fight to save his country? Ulfric couldn’t wrap his mind around it.

    “Now if you two are done?” Telki was tapping her foot again. She was also digging out one of her potions. If she didn’t make Ulfric chug it, the idiot would probably wait to have it seen only after it punctured a lung.

    “I wouldn’t mind hitting him a bit more,” the Imperial confessed, crouching against the wall and watching Ulfric warily.

    “What was it you said about Nords just now?” Telki asked, “I think it applies to you, too. Pot, meet kettle!” Ulfric’s look of surprise as he got his first taste of Sober Mead was all Telki could have hoped. Maybe he’d keep quiet long enough now to get some sense in him.

    “I don’t bludgeon, thank you very much. Usually, I don’t even need to hit, I just enjoy it.” That he had just proved her point crossed his mind, but he shrugged it off. At least when he hit there was generally thought behind it.

    “Tell that to his rib,” she replied tartly.

    Ulfric was already breathing easier, examining Rommy anew. “Explain to me why you could risk your life daily to make ends meet, but couldn’t risk it to fight the Thalmor. I do not understand.” So much for the mead keeping him quiet.

    “I can’t just go haring off for long stretches of time; I have things that need attending,” Romulus muttered sullenly, looking away. Saints and Seducers, he had no idea what state the Isles would be in if he even left for a full month.

    “He can’t leave his lands unattended. There’s no one else to leave them with if something happened to him,” Telki added helpfully.

    “You were granted lands from your fighting? You were that good? Damned impressive.” Ulfric hitched up against the wall. “Now I don’t feel so bad about you putting me on my ass.”

    “Any time,” Rommy offered with complete sincerity, causing Ulfric to outright laugh. The Mad God lifted an eyebrow.

    “By the Nine, now there’s two of you? I may never find my dignity again.” Ulfric hefted the mead bottle again. It was good stuff.

    “Isn’t that the Sober Mead Sam hates so much?” Rommy asked, wondering what the man was on about, since he apparently wasn’t getting drunk. He hadn’t hit his head at some point, had he?

    “Yes,” Telki looked between the two.

    “It’s delicious, I was thirsty, and I’ve never felt better.” He hadn’t, in fact, felt this well since before the Thalmor caught him.

    “Oh, good. Maybe you’ll answer some questions with your brain instead of your fist or your army for a bit,” he muttered. “What in Oblivion did you mean, that Tyr might be alive if I had gone with you?”

    Ulfric closed his eyes in remembered pain, and laid his head back against the wall. “Because it was easier to bear than thinking he’d still be alive if I had let him follow you instead.”

    Completely floored, Rommy could only stare at him for a long moment. “Well, this was obviously a waste of time,” he finally managed, rising to his feet and dusting his hands off on his trousers. “You don’t know a thing.”

    Telki looked between them. Obviously, both men were missing the point. “Rommy did a kin spell. Tyr’s alive, but he can’t pinpoint where. We can get him back, but we need to know where he is.”

    Ulfric was on his feet in a trice. “He’s alive? You’re sure of it?”

    “There is a distinct reason I don't look any older than the last time you saw me, and that’s mostly because I’m damned good at what I do,” Rommy reminded him. “I’ll prove it if you like.”

    “Down boy. If you were all that and a wheel of cheese, we wouldn’t be here asking for his resources. Diplomacy, learn it.” Telki swatted his shoulder.

    “If the Thalmor weren’t also damned good at magic, and mucking about with forces they really, really shouldn’t be touching, I’d know to an elle where he is,” Rommy grumbled. “Whatever they do to their prisoners, it warps their soul ties to Aetherius and the life energies. Probably because those same energies are being siphoned off for something.”

    Ulfric felt cold. “Did they do this warping to me? Could you tell if they did?” Rommy and Telki exchanged a look, and he added, “If comparing me to my cousin Yrsarald will allow you to account for it, I’ll allow you to study us. If not…” Ulfric allowed a vicious grin to spread across his face. “There are ways around their magic, and I have them.”

    “Oh?” Rommy asked, interest caught. He’d save telling him about the effects later. Or perhaps he’d tell Telki. She was probably able to sense it on some level anyway, if she had True Sight clear enough to see spell weavings.

    The jarl chuckled. “When one becomes too reliant on magic for everything, they tend to overlook the simple, ordinary things.” His eyes narrowed. “And everyone always overlooks the low peoples: servants, carters,…slaves.”

    “What was it you were saying about pots and kettles, Love?” Rommy asked. “Didn’t this man ignore an entire subset of his population for three decades?”

    “Another one, Telki?” Ulfric chuckled.

    “You know me, can’t resist a smart aleck to save my soul.” Telki shoved Rommy, “And yes, you two are more alike than you’re comfortable admitting, so shush.”

    “You mean he’s secretly dashing and insane?” Rommy enquired.

    “Dang, that’s two more,” Telki snickered.

    “As to studying you…” Looking the jarl over carefully, Rommy tilted his head. “It might actually help. You’ll need to bleed though,” he added, with just a hint of relish.

    Ulfric chuckled again. “I expected no less.” He side eyed Romulus. “Though I think you mistook me. I know the name and tale of every soul in my castle. I do not think even Balgruuf can claim the same, and he is the closest the Imperials could ever claim to a Nord. I spoke as one who had been under the Thalmor thumb.” Shadowed memories crossed Ulfric’s face, but he did not elaborate. Instead, he pulled out his knife. “Can you do this here, or will you need equipment?”

    “I need a small, clean cup for your blood, preferably silver or glass, and I need you to sit first,” Rommy answered. Glancing at Telki, he added, “You too.”

    Telki raised an eyebrow. “Okay?” She fumbled in her bag. “I, not that, maybe this? Will this do?” She pulled out a small silver dagger and matching cup. “Some stuff I have to collect is...persnickety.”

    “This is your influence, isn't it?” he asked Mercutio, pointing to the pieces of silver.

    “No, actually, Wuunferth gave that to her, after clearing his name.” Mercutio grinned. “I thought his face would crack when he smiled at her.”

    Snickering, he pulled out a chair and ironically gestured for Ulfric to sit before pulling a second out for Telki, this time handing her into it like a proper lady. “Ulfric, I need you to do something you probably haven’t bothered to do since puberty: I need you to do that thing the Greybeards showed you. The one with all the breathing. Please do not Shout again if you can help it.”

    “Meditate?” Ulfric nodded. “As you will.”

    Romulus watched him critically for a moment, biting back a retort when the man was actually able to slip back into that restful state with relative ease. Now was not the time to goad him. Unfortunately. “Telki, I need you to relax. Breathe deep and concentrate on that. You’re not quite going to meditate, but I need you not far off. Close your eyes, and focus like you’re about to work out a difficult spell.”

    “Mmmkay,” Telki folded herself comfortably in the chair, her feet tucked in their usual manner, and quietly asked. “What do you want me to use as a focus?”

    He thought a moment. What would this look like to someone that had never seen the world differently? “The auras you normally see around people? I’m going to need you to examine Ulfric’s. I need to you look for anything out of the ordinary, anything that doesn’t fit with him as you know him. This is something that was put on him from outside himself, against his will. It won’t ‘feel’ like him.” Glancing at the other men, he added, “I’m going to want anything you three sense, as well.”

    Telki slowly opened her eyes, and looked at Ulfric, trying to make sense of his aura. The magic around him slowly resolved itself into magical flows, but trying to follow the threads quickly lost her. No, not threads, music. She allowed her vision to adjust again, and saw the melodies, harmonies, and countermelodies wrapped around Ulfric. There was a definite dischord, and she meant to track it down. Where was the sour note hiding?

    Placing his hands gently on her shoulders, Rommy leaned down, “borrowing” her senses. “Surprised this isn’t all marching tunes, honestly,” he murmured in her ear.

    “I told you he was a complex man. Did you know he studied with the Bards for a bit? He thought I didn’t know.” she whispered back.

    “There!” he caught a hint of dissonance. “That tritone…” he hummed the three notes for her.

    She shivered. If pure evil had a form in music, that would be it. “Ugh, how can the Thalmor stand themselves?”

    “One man’s noise…” he started, then instinctively “switched” her senses back to Sight; Seeing, as well as Hearing, the various parts. Finding the part she focused on, he reached out and put a mental tag on it. “Alright, Ulfie, you can open your eyes now.” Rising, he regarded the peanut gallery. “What were you three able to get out of that?”

    “Something nasty is attached to him, like a leech, only it’s feeding back to something else. It’s not Daedric, but it’s definitely an affront to the Aedra,” offered Erandur. He shuddered, not wanting to think what had to be done to put it there.

    Telki’s brow furrowed; she followed a trail, a forgotten counterpoint that trailed off into the aether...and got smacked back. She flinched in her chair. “There’s more. Ulfric, it’s still viable. If the Thalmor got their hands on you, hell, if an operative got close enough. Ulf, I think they could, I think, um…”

    “They could play you like she does her lute,” Rommy interjected bluntly.

    Ulfric sat there. He had to, he remembered well enough what he’d done when she first showed him that dossier, and he did not want a repeat. Strangely enough, the meditation gave him the calm to think it through, and bleed the roiling anger away before he did something he regretted. He cleared the last of the fog with a deep breath before speaking. “Can it be removed?”

    “Well, since Telki just accidentally alerted whoever the other end is attached to, it’s probably best that it is,” Romulus replied, leaning against the table. “I can take it off, but can you put up with it for a few more minutes? And let us use one of your maps?”

    “If it brings Tyrlief home, of course.” Ulfric closed his eyes, guilt gnawing at him.

    “Tyrlief, his name is actually Tyrlief?” Gideon’s eyebrows drew up.

    “Don’t look at me, I had nothing to do with naming him,” Rommy assured him quickly.

    “That’s especial why?” Telki wanted to know. She was already gathering counters for the map spread on the war table. Rubbery knees would just have to manage it. All the men seem preoccupied with talking instead of doing.

    “It translates to Divine Successor,” Gideon said, and Erandur nodded sharply.

    “Oh cool: Bring on the Ebonheart Revival.” Telki was weighing down the corners of the maps. So far she had a dagger at one corner, a cup at another, and someone’s wristguards holding down the last two.

    “What?” Ulfric turned to her, eyebrows high and eyes wide. She remembered seeing that face once before, when Galmar got him in the back of the head with a blunt practice blade.

    “Ummmm.” Telki grinned sheepishly at him. “Surprise?”

    Groaning, Rommy hid his face in his hands. “Sweetheart, if you could not air the family laundry in front of everyone, that would be lovely.”

    “Pfft, everyone being Ulfric? Now who’s giving him a big head?”

    “Nords are born with big heads. Murril uses their helmets for flowerpots,” he said, quickly developing a headache. Giving Ulfric a measuring look that should, really, make the man nervous, he added, “Well, you were wondering where the true leaders of your Empire were.”

    Ulfric shook his head. “Obviously not leading. Why was he, no, I know why he was hidden. The damned jackals would have tried to kill him. Would he take the throne?”

    “What does it matter? I thought you wanted out of the Empire?” he jeered, leaning over the map and shaking his head. “We need a bigger one. Not just Skyrim, all of Tamirel. Kind of like the thought processes that should be happening.”

    Telki reached under the table, and pulled out one labeled “Tamriel” and boinked Rommy’s head with it. “Tone down the snark. He’s honestly trying to help.”

    Laying the map on the table, he weighed down the corners, then glanced up at Ulfric. “I need your blood for this part.”

    “You have it.” Ulfric held out his arm, unflinching.

    Meeting the challenge in the man’s gaze, Rommy flicked his own to Telki. “May I have that silver set, please?”

    “Rommy, you know I’ll be very disappointed if he’s permanently damaged, right?” She handed the set over. “Behave yourself, at least mostly. Please.”

    “Mostly it is,” he replied with a smirk, guiding Ulfric’s arm down so that his hand balanced on the edge of the cup. “Open your fist please, I don’t need to slice your arm up. That really might kill you.” Ulfric’s fist opened, presenting his palm, which the mage wasted no time drawing a shallow cut across, tipping the small knife to ooze blood out a moment. “Do you want a scar or should I heal that for you?” he asked the Nord absently, he attention already elsewhere.

    “Either is fine. If I have not proven my mettle by now, it cannot be done.”

    “I could transmute you into pewter, if you want,” Rommy offered, but only healed the man’s palm, lifting the silver cup and swirling the contents as if he were examining a wine he wasn’t sure had gone rancid or not.

    Ulfric only answered with a chuckle. “You are truly a match for Telki, puns and all.”

    “Merc, I heard you like lightning; come over here,” Rommy called, still in that absent-minded state as he examined the blood.

    “What am I lighting up?” Mercutio asked. He’d been enjoying the floor show, and worried that now he’d been called into things, further entertainment might be over. Erandur and he had been placing bets between them, mostly for bragging rights.

    “Hold this, and send some weak sparks through it. Do not, whatever you do, let up. If I take too long and you start to run out of magicka, call Erandur over, but it must be constantly charged,” he stressed. “Can you do that?”

    “Have magicka potions, can charge it.” Mercutio held up the emergency magicka rations Telki insisted he keep on hand and took the cup of blood with the other. “But yes, I’ll call Erandur for backup if necessary. Uh, where are you going?”

    “I’m not going anywhere, I just need to focus on something else and it’s far easier to do that and not regulate electric current,” Romulus replied, sounding just a bit testy. “If that line goes where I think it might, I don’t want to draw more attention than we already have.”

    “Gotcha” Mercutio nodded. “Just tell me when to start.”

    “What can I do to help?” Gideon was certainly starting to feel out of place.

    Momentarily distracted, Rommy glanced up. “Hmm? Oh. Well, if anything eldritch and skeletal pops into the room, do kill it please. That would be very helpful.”

    A wide grin of pure delight spread across Gideon’s face. “My absolute pleasure.” He whirled his hammer and reholstered it.

    “Romulus,” Ulfric called softly. “Good luck.”

    “If I relied on luck I’d be dead, Jarl,” Rommy said grimly, lifting his hands and making a small series of gestures over the cup. He closed his eyes to hide their glowing. He was pulling entirely on his Daedric side for this--no mortal, even an accomplished flesh mage or necromancer, could do what he was about to do. Oh, they could find their kin, or kin of whoever’s blood they had used, but an entire, unrelated garrison? That was a bit more complex, and took more power.

    Telki chewed a claw, watching his hair go white while casting. She hadn’t a hope in Oblivion of Ulfric not noticing, so she would have to find a way to not-lie out of it. Vaguely mention mages often change their apparent age on a whim?

    Thinking through all the various little parts of what he was doing, some part in the back of his mind relaxed. This was what he loved to do, really. This kind of spell-weaving, piecing bits and pieces together to create something new...of course, most couldn’t add life elements to it, and most didn’t have to work around some other Power noticing their meddling, and there were a lot of elements in many men had Ulfric had under him anyway? Each one was a variable, a piece of the spell. Focusing on the “feel” of the marker in Ulfric’s aura, he made that the finishing piece, the one that tied it all together, and released the spell.

    Opening his eyes, he placed a hand over Merc’s, shutting off the shock spell. Ulfric’s blood rose out of the glass, a floating ball of crimson with an oil-like sheen hovering in the air like a soap bubble. Guiding it with a hand, he ushered it over to the map, where it fell and puddled on the small marker of Windhelm.

    “Unbelievable.” Erandur sounded awed. Gideon’s face had a look of unease, as if he wasn’t sure what to think, and Mercutio looked like he’d just found the master of his dreams. Rommy was probably in for a lot of pestering. Ulfric...Ulfric was watching the map, waiting to see what his blood would reveal about Tyrlief’s fate. Telki hoped for his sake it would be good news.

    The puddle shivered when Rommy nudged it. It peaked upward, then formed into a tiny, perfect golem. The miniature man walked out of the remains of the puddle, which formed a small, coin-sized relief of a face. Ulfric’s face. Before their eyes, it shifted to another’s, then another’s. “Some of your original garrison join the Stormcloaks?” Rommy asked, glancing up at him through the white strands of his hair.

    “Of course,” Ulfric answered. “You think I would have started any of this, if my own men wouldn’t follow me?”

    Raising an eyebrow, Rommy simply said, “You really don’t want me to answer that.”

    “Then you really do not understand me or my motives. Just as I clearly do not understand yours, yet.” Ulfric nodded to the map. “But I hope to learn.”

    The tiny, man-shaped bit of blood wandered the map, crossing Skyrim to place a bit of himself here, a bit there, each time growing smaller and leaving a changeling face behind. When it got to the northern coast, it paused, then walked South and West, into High Rock, leaving a few more markers, and a single drop in Hammerfell. Two more were left in Cyrodiil, a larger one in the Imperial City. Half the size it had been when it started, it crossed to the Summerset Isles, where it fell, the rest of it puddling into a circle the size of Telki’s palm over the southern part of the main island and several smaller landmasses off the coast.

    “No. Gods no.” Not even Rommy could mistake the naked pain in Ulfric’s voice.

    The bit of blood began to change into face after face, every one of them open in a silent scream.

    “I’ll call Odahviing, and Parthurnaax can probably get me in touch with a couple others…” Telki was already making a plan. No way in Aetherius would she leave them there a moment longer.

    Rommy was examining all the faces, “Tyr must be in the Isles,” he said flatly. “I don’t recognize him from any of the others.” His glowing eyes regarded the still-changing bit of blood. “Good gods, how many people have they done this to?”

    “It looks like every prisoner they could get their hands on.”

    “That is still a large area to search.” Gideon gauging distance by the map legend. “We need a more precise way to find them.”

    Rommy tapped the map where the multitude of screaming faces lay. The paper shivered, and he frowned. “Do you have some candles you wouldn’t mind sacrificing?”

    “Help yourself.” Ulfric was still not recovered. So many faces he recognized. So many of them he’d been led to believe were dead. Damned Thalmor.

    Four fat tallow candles soon became a topographical map of the Summerset Isles, the faces speared through by a tower surrounded by what looked to be overgrown orchards, just off the Southern coast. “Telki?”

    “Hmm?” Telki turned to Rommy and the odd look on his face.

    “Remember when you asked me about Elswyre?”

    “The moonsugared pirate bakery raids?”

    “Yeah, those. We have one way in. Honestly, though…” he waved his hand at the map, bringing a series of nearly blinding colored lights in some places. “Damned, but those elves can shield. Oh, hey. I found the Psijics. Whoops.”

    “Ooh, I want to leave a thank-you basket with them. One was very helpful with the Ancano problem.”

    “Let me find a way to...uh...knock first. Those shields would incinerate you,” he grimaced at the thought. Glancing down at the faces he flinched, hand reaching out like a viper to tap the image, freezing it on one particular face, frowning slightly.

    “Rommy, what is it?”

    “Tyrlief! He lives!” There was Ulfric. “I know that expression well. It was the face he made before we charged enemy lines.”

    “As long as he doesn't charge before we get there...crap. We need to know more,” Rommy complained, running his hand through his hair. It was slowly turning brown again.

    “Seriously, Rommy. I know a guy. Lemme knock on the Psijics and we’ll get information. Maybe not much else, but that’s what the dragons are for. Please?” Telki felt like she had most of the big pieces in place already. She’d let the guys fine tune the rest. After a moment’s more of study, she queried, “Rommy, are those the actual shields, I mean, how they’re actually constructed?”

    “Yes, why...oh. Oh!” Whirling her around, he kissed her soundly, then grinned down into her face, “You brilliant woman! Please, go ahead. I can shield you from right here if they take it amiss.”

    Ulfric’s eyebrows rose: That far along already ? He wondered precisely how he would manage to have that ‘talk’ with Rommy. He wasn’t used to having to intimidate someone that could knock him on his butt. At least Gideon pretended for tradition’s sake. Telki said there may have also been a touch of hero worship on the younger man’s part.

    Telki let herself fall into that place that turned the flows of magic into music. She allowed herself to be awed by the complex harmonies, melodies, and countermelodies apparent in the Psijics shield. Finally, she found an appropriate string. It was ridiculously close to begin with, a touch here, and tweak there, and her favorite knock was now part of the shield, playing in tune with the rest. She gave it five minutes before they got a visitor.

    “All done. Shave and a haircut, two bits!” She sank down into the convenient chair. She was tired. Apparently, getting into and out of those shields took more energy than she thought. Ulfric silently passed her the mead. She took a swig.

    Feeling as if he were about to burst from conflicting emotions, Rommy shared a look with Telki’s other Boys, wondering if they knew the significance of what she had just managed. Mercutio snickered. Erandur gave him a supportive smile, and Gideon reminded him. “I told you, we’ve rather gotten used to the impossible on a fairly daily basis. Welcome to the club.”

    “As if I wasn’t crazy before,” Rommy muttered, sinking down to wait next to Telki. There were too many thoughts going through his head. He wasn’t sure he could deal with them all here. Reaching up silently, he grasped Telki’s hand, the roots of his hair showing white again.

    Following her hand, she leaned into his comfortable shoulder. “I love you, you know.” There he went smelling all sconey again.

    “Telki, is there some news you need to share?” Ulfric harrumphed at her.

    “Oh um, yes? There’s some ‘I’m adding Rommy to my husbands’ sort of news?” Telki looked up at him sheepishly.

    “And you were going to tell me when?” Ulfric kept his poker face, but just barely. It wasn’t often he could make the Dragonborn fidget. He tamped down harder, but he could still feel the corner of his mouth lift slightly.

    “Am I getting a rebel father-figure-in-law or something, because no one told me that,” Rommy glanced from one to the other suspiciously.

    “Kinda? Should I mention the bugbearish uncle?”

    After a very long pause, Rommy shrugged. “I’m bunking him with the Duke.”

    Telki turned to stare at Rommy. “Something tells me I’m glad I didn’t quite catch that.” The questioning looks on the others clearly indicated they missed a step, too. Ulfric was raising a brow at him.

    Giving the jarl an ironic look, the Daedra changed the subject entirely. “Well, Pa, want me to get that tag off you?”

    “I would be in your debt.”

    “For future reference, that is terrible phrasing,” Rommy cautioned, hopping up and circling Ulfric, not quite like a shark but not like one of his butterflies either. Examining the link minutely, he reached out with his magic and pinched it, like a stint, then with a quick, precise jab of magic, severed it, watching the long end snap back into the ether, while the part still attached to Ulfric seemed to grope for its missing piece a moment, then withered as he watched, the dead pieces falling into the rest of the man’s aura. He wrinkled his nose a bit, disgusted.

    Ulfric slumped in his chair, limbs loose and his face a decidedly greenish hue. He recovered himself somewhat, and sat up as if with a revelation. “That hurt, but no….it is as if a constant pressure behind my eyes is gone. I thank you, Romulus.”

    Startled, Rommy flushed a moment, eyes wide, before glancing around bashfully, “Oh, look, an illusion of a pinched faced Psijic.” The face hovered briefly over the map, turning this way and that until its eyes fell on Telki. There was a slight motion, as if the Altmer had sighed, and the illusion vanished.

    Money silently changed hands between Mercutio and Erandur, the latter grinning while the former sighed. The breath had barely left his mouth when the room seemed to spin and stretch, the lighting changing to a strange, eerie tone. A mote of light split to become several that coalesced into a wary, hawk-faced Altmer with flat yellow eyes and heavily embroidered robes. “What can I do for you, Arch-Mage?” he asked, then looked up and jumped when he saw Rommy. “What are--uh…” At the man’s lifted eyebrow, the Altmer swallowed, “How can we help you, Champion?”

    “Quaranir! How are you, shug?” The Psijic’s face turned a very bright shade of orange as Telki enveloped him in a bearhug. “It’s good to see you, think you could help us again?”

    “This is not the College, Arch-Mage,” Quaranir said, glancing around. “I can’t imagine what assistance I could ren--” he paused, eyes falling on the map.

    “Nope, this is where we needed to be to track some people down. We need information about this area.” Telki gestured at the place with the grove and tower.

    “That’s…” he hesitated, glancing at Rommy again. “A very old Altmer family resides there. It is said their matron helped defend Tamriel from Daedric invasion, long ago. Their current occupations are not so virtuous.”

    “No kiddin’, if they’re doing blood magic. What can you tell us to help us get in there and kick their Thalmor loving butt?” Telki raised hopeful eyes. “In fact, we’d love to get the Thalmor off your doorstep. That’d be a good thing, right?”

    Quaranir sighed, scratching his cheek nervously. “That is not my decision to make, Arch-Mage, but if you plan to attack this place…” he turned to her, his gaze sober. “I beg of you, do not.”

    “Do not? Do not what? They’re doing blood magic, hurting people, and the Thalmor want to return us all to primordial goo. Why ‘do not’? Explain it to me, please.” Telki’s agitation was growing. She liked Quaranir, but having to pull information out of him always felt so bloody arduous. Why the people with information were always so reluctant to share, she’d never understand.

    “Lord Faloniril is...the family has always produced capable mages, but he has found ways to extend his own magic far beyond what it should be.”

    “Oh my god, the blood magic. He’s augmenting his magic from the prisoners. Hey, he thumped me!” Telki’s mind was whirling.

    “There--there’re worse rumors,” Quaranir admitted with a sigh.

    “Tell me, please.” Telki braced herself.

    “There are a group of Thalmor around with bloodlines. They kidnap Altmer children born outside the Isles and turn them into spies, even...even arrange pairings between…” the poor man looked like he was going to faint, going pale yellow before blushing orange again.

    “Quaranir, perhaps I’m missing something, but everything you’ve told me is more reason to stop these bastards, rather than let them keep doing what they’re doing. Either give me enough information to make a plan with a chance in Oblivion of working, or tell me what they’ve got that can stop a flight of dragons and a very determined Dragonborn and present company.”

    The elf’s shoulders slumped. “They have a very particular kind of army, Arch-Mage, and though I think yours would decimate them, I do not think you are the kind of person who would slaughter her way through a guard of brain-washed children.”

    “Then tell me how to get passed the brainwashed children: schematics, sewer tunnels, passwords, something. Or tell me the name of a person that can tell me.”

    “If I knew them I would assuredly tell you,” he said, sounding and looking quite distressed. “These are only rumors, of course. Nothing that could smear the good Lord Faloniril’s name. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that he has one of the best Weapons Masters in Alinor, a man named Talon who coordinates his defences, and who you should most definitely avoid at all costs.”

    “Quaranir, I’m sitting with two Nords and two Imps with chips on their shoulders the size of Tiber Septim’s Empire. You may have just signed that poor Mer’s death warrant.” Telki was rubbing her forehead. “You’ve actually given us a bit to think about, and I think I have enough circumstantial evidence to confirm the blood magic, the augmented magic, and…” Telki’s eyes got wide. “Charge into battle, oh Mother of mercy.” Telki turned to Rommy. “What would make a man determined to walk through fire backwards no matter the cost?” she asked urgently.

    “Depends on the man. For Tyr, I’d said someone he cared about,” he narrowed his eyes, wondering what feather of thought she was chasing.

    “And we know there’s a rumor they...plan pairs for the sole sake of making the perfect spy.” Telki gulped, “How do you feel about an Altmer in the family, Dearling?”

    “Selective breeding is no strange occurrence for the Altmer,” Quaranir confirmed, nodding and looking curiously from her to Rommy before belatedly recalling who the latter was.

    For his part, Rommy was staring at Telki like his world had just dropped open again. “He...he’d never be part of that. Not willingly. Not unless they tricked him,” he glanced at Ulfric for confirmation.

    “Tricks are their forte. They made me believe half my unit was dead because of me, that I was why the Tower fell. With this much time, they could have convinced him Daedra were Aedra and the sky was green.” Ulfric’s hands were tightly fisted on the table in front of him, his eyes never leaving the screaming visages of the men he unwittingly left behind. He would get them out. He had to get them out.

    “Ulfric, were there women locked in with you? Were there convincing ways to move people in and out of the cells often enough that they could mix in the spies without suspicion?” Romulus asked numbly.

    “The prisoners were all mixed together, and we were moved fairly often, never told why. Sometimes it was to clean the cells, sometimes for experiments, trials, the list is endless. Eventually, one quit asking why and just moved as you were told. Even with trying to stay together, some of us were separated.” His voice was the flat monotone of one stuck in a time past that had taught him that even his strength wasn’t enough.

    “Telki...what if they knew who he was?” Romulus breathed, horrified. He leaned against the wall, gulping air as he stared at nothing.

    “Honey, he’s your family. His own stubbornness and ability would have pointed him out as desirable.” Telki rubbed his arms, trying to catch his eye, and get him to breath with her. “And we’re going to get him out. I promise you. Hook, crook or sideways, we’re getting them all out. The Thalmor just signed their own execution papers.” Telki turned her own brand of stubborn on the Psijic. “If I have to call in every favor owed me in this life and the next, they’re going down. Now, tell me, who do I need to find to get in there sneaky like?”

    Yellow eyes darted nervously between her and Rommy. “Well...I can think of two ways…”

    “Gimme, please and thank you.” Telki made grabby hands again.

    “Well...their matron...she’s not been seen in public much since before the War. Since around the Oblivion Crisis, or just after, actually. Rumor has it she’s finally letting time get to her mind.”

    “That’s, startlingly suspicious. How have they gotten away with it?” Telki slid her eyes to Rommy. “If the latter is true, that might be more help than we thought.”

    “Ah, yes...I, ah, thought it would be,” he said. “The other way…” glancing around at the others, he shrugged, face bright orange once more. “Give them something they’ll find interesting enough to bring in.” His eyes lit on Gideon, “Or someone. If you can convince the prisoners that help is coming, you’ll have an army of your own.”

    “Quaranir, I swear, you did that on purpose. You know paladins have all the sense of lemmings.” Telki huffed. It was no use. The seed had been planted and found fertile soil in Gideon’s mind. Hang it all.

    “Forgive me, Arch-Mage, but the Aedra-Blessed man is a perfect example of what an Altmer thinks a Nord should be. Physically, anyway. For your sake and his I hope he is not a textbook example of what they think one should be mentally.”

    “Would I be married to a Khajiit, an Imperial, and a Dunmer if I were?” Gideon smirked at the Altmer. “Would I be able to wield Shor’s blessed hammer?”

    “Frankly, sir, you wouldn't be able to cobble together a full sentence, so I’d say you’re far ahead of the curve,” the Psijic said, folding his hands in his sleeves.

    Wincing, Rommy reached up and rubbed his head. It ached from strain, and his eyes kept being drawn back to the screaming forms flickering across the golem. There were so many, Tyr hadn’t even shown up again yet. Had the man really fallen for a Thalmor spy? What would he do when he discovered what she was? Would that be the thing that broke him after nearly thirty long years in a prison camp? Oh, gods, what if there was a child? As much as Rommy loved children, as much as he wanted to stay grounded to Nirn, he didn’t know what he would do if he had new descendants from this. Given the information they had already, the children would probably already be indoctrinated into the Thalmor, perhaps even adults in the Thalmor. He might be forced to kill his own descendants, or risk them killing others.

    “Hey, you still with me?” Worried purple eyes were giving him the once over, noticing the furrowed brow and the pinched eyes. “We’ll get there, and we’ll deal with what we find the best way we can.”

    He shrugged, his mind obviously only half on what she was saying. “Telki, what if there are children? What if Tyr has children?”

    “Then we rescue them, and undo whatever damage those binty crows did to them.”

    Shaking his head violently, Rommy gave her an anguished look. “How can we expect a bunch of prisoners to fight their way out through their own children? They might all have them by now. Even if they’re not spies, they’re almost assuredly hostages against their good behavior.”

    “Hmm, is brainwashing a sort of madness? Or what is it?”

    “It’s not madness, it’s a learned behavior. Some fanatics are mad, but not even they all count.”

    “Could we find a place to let them heal slowly? Reteach them?” Telki wondered aloud, thinking through the possibilities. “How many do you think there are? I know elves don’t procreate as quickly as humans do, but I’ve no way to guess if we’re talking mixed heritage? I mean, I have places like Sky Haven if we need something like a halfway house.”

    “I think we need a bit more dependable information. Afterall, he gave us two ways in, did he not?” Erandur’s eyes were solidly on Rommy, willing him to catch his meaning.

    Without a word, Rommy reached over and creaked open a window, vanishing in a swarm of butterflies and out the crack before Ulfric could raise his face from the map.

    Ulfric looked up, puzzled. “Where did Romulus go?”

    “He needed a bit of fresh air. He’ll be back soon,” Telki managed. “I hope.”
  3. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    (Evil is putting the picture in and she has no idea what she's doing,)
    yes she does, ~Wynni~

    Chapter Text

    “Well, all things considered, that went well? Yes? No?” Telki tried for a smile, but found her facial muscles too tired. She slumped against the wall in Hjerim, tired but triumphant. Once she explained the exact power a jarl had, and that they’d have a hand in picking the next High King, Llewellyn Brighthand was all for the idea. It meant suffering through a few decades with Ulfric, but Brighthand was young, and would most definitely be there to pick the next High King, and how often would he actually have to see Ulfric in that time? It was worth the trade off to have The Reach back in native hands. He was even willing to send a delegation of their warriors and mages to assess the Thalmor threat. Telki was pretty sure once that was done, they’d have all the magical assistance against the Thalmor they could ever want. Some of the stuff she’d seen in Thalmor prisons made the Hagravens look downright compassionate. However, all this was conditional: Nords had to be given the same freedoms and responsibilities natives had, no exceptions. The moment they reneged on that, the Reach would revert to Nord rule, and they’d be right back at square one. Telki prayed Brighthand could control the revenge happy Reachmen.

    “How did you get the Silverbloods to go along with this?” Mercutio asked.

    “I may have had Gideon standing behind my shoulder when I explained just how disappointed King Ulfric would be if he learned that there was any plotting done against the first real peace in the Reach in forever to Thongvor, and the possible repercussions said malcontent would face if such things happened. I also may have gone into details, some of them including punishments I saw Thalmor using. Silverblood was using the planter to hold his breakfast by the time I left. I don’t think we need worry on that score. Both sides have too much to lose, if this thing fails.” Telki prayed to all Nine Divines that that was so.

    She was silently surprised to see Erandur giving Gideon a positively evil look, as well as fifty septims. Gideon was practically glowing with smug cheer. “Do I even want to know?”

    “Erandur had to admit I was right.”

    “He’s still a fetcher,” Erandur grumbled. Telki shook her head. Apparently, something had happened to improve Erandur’s opinion enough to swing the ongoing bet Gideon’s way, but it’d be a year and a day before Erandur would admit what and why, and it really didn’t help the current situation.

    “Alright my darling lemming-in-a-can; I know what you want to do. How are we going to do it and keep you relatively safe?” Telki folded her arms in front of her, and presented her sternest face. Gideon, Mercutio, and Erandur sobered immediately. “I cannot imagine any way we can send you in there without backup that ends well.” Telki would not let the fear show, her lip would not quiver, it wouldn’t. Dast it!

    “I can pull him out,” a familiar voice declared behind them. Telki turned around quickly, pouncing Rommy.

    “Hey you! Missed you!”

    Catching her in a spin, he gave her a sound kiss before putting her back on her feet. “I missed you too. There is a very, very elderly Altmer lady wanting to meet you.”

    “Ooooh? Me? Why?” Telki’s curiosity was piqued, and no mistake.

    “Well, it turns out that Lady Lirianni is about as old as sin, and if she hasn’t joined her ancestors yet it’s only because she’s having too much fun driving the youngsters up a wall. She knew exactly who and what I was when she laid eyes on me, demanded to know who the female energy was, and wanted to hear all about banishing Dagon because she’d helped do that to Molag Bal, and I’m a Daedra now, isn’t that precious?”

    “I think I just found my role model. Can I grow up to be her?”

    “Well, she invented that green whip spell I used on that dragon back in Dawnstar, so I hope so,” he replied, smoothing her hair back from her face as he smiled down into her eyes. “Only problem is, she’s not all in the here and now. She spends a lot of time lost in her memories, and isn’t really aware of what’s going on. She thinks Faloniril is an idiot, keeps looking for her other son, who I saw no sign of, and dotes on her granddaughters, who I also have yet to meet. She promises to help if she can, but her ability to help will be limited.”

    “You can’t augment that help, can you?” Telki looked up at him. “Like you did for me.”

    “A little. Time rends a different sort of damage on the mind. It’s amazing she’s still around, magic aside. When she was a girl, the original Aldmeri Dominion was just forming. The first out of three.”

    “Wow, she’s living history. You’d think she’d be more revered.”

    “She is, sort of. Her son hates her, though. He’d be rid of her if he could. Anyway,” he looked back up at Gideon. “If you can get in, I can get you out, provided you have no problem with my putting a similar hook on you as they put on Ulfric. I’ll take it off when you’re out and won’t leech, of course. Oh, and you might have to work harder to repress some of your...less sane urges.”

    “If it’s our best chance, I’ll manage it somehow.” Gideon favored Rommy with a daredevil’s grin, “After all, Shor always did favor the clever and crafty way.”

    “Well, let’s hope he still favors the clever, crafty, and slightly mad. We’ll wait until we figure out exactly how to get you in, then give you a day or two to get used to it.” He tilted his head inquiringly, “And you’re absolutely sure you want to do this?”

    “Have you thought of a better way in?” asked Gideon. “It must be done. If this is our best chance, I’ll do it, gladly.”

    “And welcome to Lemming Philosophy, guaranteed to give me gray hair to match yours.” Telki ruffled Rommy’s hair. “When you let it show.”

    “Oh, good, gang’s all— hic!— here,” Sam said before the Mad God could retort, striding up—well, staggering up—behind them. How he’d gotten in through a locked door was anyone’s guess. “I’m too tired to go looking for everyone.” He flopped down next to Mercutio’s chair, resting his head tiredly on the man’s thigh.

    “Do we dare ask what has you so worn out?” Mercutio was rather worried how comfortable he was becoming around Sam. It didn’t bode well.

    Grabbing the mage’s hand and putting it on his hair, Sam ordered, “Pet me. Anyway,” he said in an entirely different tone, relaxing as Merc’s hand started gently moving through his hair, a bit hesitantly at first, but more sure when it became apparent Sam wasn’t going to grope to go along with that, “I’ve been in Valenwood. Do you know how hard it is being me in— hic!— Valenwood? Or, not being me? Some of those Bosmer wear next to nothing this time of year. Very distracting.”

    “Sam, honey, what were you doing in Valenwood, if you weren’t being you? Details, please.” Telki maneuvered Rommy to an empty chair and sat on him to listen to Sam’s story.

    Rolling his eyes up to wink at Mercutio, Sam muttered, “Be impressed with my diligence and restraint. It was very difficult. I only...well, anyway. I got a bunch of Thalmor drunk—not all that hard—and listened to their prattle, which was very, very hard. And boring. Seems they cart in the survivors of skirmishes every once in awhile to ship over to Alinor. Get Giddy on one of those carts, he’ll be taken right to Falonififi.”

    “If I ever lay eyes on him, I’m calling him that, right before I let Odahviing step on him,” Telki solemnly promised Sam.

    “Alright, so we have a way to get Gideon in,” Rommy brought them back to topic, “I’m impressed, Sam.”

    Sam fluttered his eyelashes playfully. “You should— hic!— be. There were some damned attractive elves around that night.”

    Raising his gaze to Gideon, Rommy asked, “When will you be ready?”

    Gideon raised both hands as if to present himself. “Precisely how much is a prisoner allowed to take with him? I’m ready now, if you are.”

    Useless to ask Telki if she were ready—it was pretty clear she’d never be ready to let her loved ones walk into danger without her. “I’ll put the tag on you now, that will give us about two days to work out details with Ulfric and any other contacts you have while it sets. You might want to close your eyes, the world might seem a bit...weird for a minute or two.”

    For a moment, Gideon was sure he’d been transported to the center of the Shivering Isles. There was a chorus of screams, laughter, and gibbering nonsense. Light had a taste, sound had color, and as quickly as it washed over him, it was gone again. His breath heaved as if he’d been running for miles. He could feel pressure behind his eyes now, and he could almost see the dam Rommy had built for him holding back the madness. He turned wiser eyes to Romulus. “Thank you.” It was all he could manage at the moment.

    Eyebrows shooting upwards, Rommy glanced at Telki. “Well, I guess you’re all going to do that, huh?” Telki poked him. With a little long-suffering sigh, he turned back to Gideon, eyes serious, “If you need out, think that at me as clearly as you can. Imagine it like a shout, if it helps. Otherwise, you can think at me like...say if you wanted my attention. I don’t know how much you want me in your head—I’m not even sure how much I should be in your head—but if there’s something important you think we should know, I’ll be able to look through your senses to see and hear what you do.”

    “Just, think at you as if I were talking to you?” Gideon scrunched his face up, as if solving a difficult riddle. : :Rommy, like this?::

    The Mad God blinked. “That’s creepy. I don’t think I’ll be doing this again once all this is over.”

    Mischief danced in Gideon’s eyes, and he let Telki’s ‘summon Rommy song’ play in his head. He wouldn’t abuse the privilege, but they weren’t out in the field yet, either. Rommy lifted a single eyebrow and sent a small, repetitive ditty into the other man’s mind, playing cheerfully over and over.

    “Well, at least we know that works, now?” Gideon signaled his surrender with a laugh. He startled in his chair and pulled a singing worm out of his ear. The music in his head stopped.

    “At least as far as earworms go,” he shrugged and relented. “So, who wants me to bake something? I feel like baking.”

    “Honey nut treats!”

    He should have known that’d be the first request. Giving her a little bow, he took himself to the kitchen.

    Sam reached over and tugged on Gideon’s sleeve. “Giddy, something occurred to me.”

    “Yes , Sam?”

    “It’s a prison. Not a whole lot of —hic!— privacy. And apparently, they’re making babies,” he said, looking up solemnly into the other man’s face. “Can I ride in your head, too?”

    “Sam!” Telki found a pillow and threw it at the Daedra. “No Sam, bad Sam, he does not need an enhanced libido loose in his head, too!”

    “He might! They’re breeding! He’s a stud!” Sam protested.

    “Do you want me to never make you Super Mead again? It’d be a crying shame, since I had some ideas for different flavors.”

    “Give me a break, Sis!” he cried, throwing himself dramatically to the floor. “It’s been four whole days since I...well, slept with more than one person at a time, anyway.”

    “I adore how you’re honest, even when it disproves your point. I tried a moonsugar mead recipe for you while trying to distract myself from this mess. Care to try it? It killed a fly that flew over the open jug.” Telki walked over to her alchemy alcove, and showed Sam a jug with a big ‘Sam’s, DO NOT DRINK’ in big letters across the bowl.

    “I’m so happy you’ll be around forever,” he said, sitting up and making grabby hands. She handed it over.

    “Eh, I made it for you for when you do something right. Getting that information was most definitely right. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome,” he sighed, happily taking a drink as an expression of bliss crossed his face. He snuggled back up to Mercutio’s leg, caressing the calf.

    Rommy popped back in then, having gotten everything in the oven already. “What did I miss?” he enquired.

    “Sam wanted to hitch a ride in Gideon’s head to see the baby making, and Telki distracted, uh, rewarded him with his own moonsugared mead.” It was astounding how quickly Erandur could distill a situation to barest bones.

    Telki shrugged. “He did good getting that information about prison transport. If the mead keeps him out of further trouble, that’s another win all its own?”

    “What a world we live in that you gave the Daedric Prince of Revelry moonsugar to keep him out of trouble,” Rommy marveled, shaking his head.

    “If it works, you gonna complain?”

    “Good point,” he pause, a far away look in his eyes. “I have to go. I’ll catch up with you in the morning.”

    “Rommy? Please be careful.” Telki pouted. “I really expected to spend more time with you. This is not what I had in mind.”

    He gave her a soft, regretful smile, “Sorry, Love. There’s someone I have to...tell off. Again. Give the treats another ten minutes before you take them out.” With that, he vanished with an audible pop.

    “Honestly, first thing you know, I’m gonna drop that frickin quartz slagmonkey down the caldera of Red Mountain. He’s stepping on my Rommy Time.”

    “Jyggy just doesn’t— hic!— want us to go yet. He says we have to— hic!— wait a few more years for things to be optimal,” Sam gurgled.

    “Precisely what in Aetherius could be worth even a minute more of the torture those people are experiencing? If he isn’t willing to take it on himself, he can take his optimal timetable and shove it right up his ice spike!”

    “That’s pretty— hic!— much what Rommy told— hic!” Sam rolled his head a little so that he was snuggling into Merc’s lap. “‘M sweepy.”

    “Sam?” Telki was thinking very very hard. Apparently, somebody had to set Jyggy straight, and since he wasn’t listening to Romulus. “Can you get me an interview with Mr Stick-in-the-Mud?”

    “Telki, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Erandur was sweating.

    “No, you really want to send Rommy off the deep end?” Mercutio looked spooked, but scared to move, since Sam was sleeping on him.

    “I can’t believe you just...” Gideon ran his hands through his hair. He couldn’t even finish the sentence.

    Honestly, you would think she just offered to throw herself into Red Mountain. Telki huffed. “Rom’s too scared, but Jyggy is going to keep interfering until his ‘optimal timetable’ is met, unless we get him off Rom’s back somehow. You got any great ideas?”

    “Muck up ‘is timetable?” Sam muttered against Merc’s waist, wrapping his arms around him and snuggling in closer, which put his nose scarily close to the man’s belt buckle.

    “Yes, yes I would love to muck up his timetable, but how?”

    “Easy,” Sam smirked, one hand lowering down Merc’s back, “do ‘xactly what you’re doin’ and rescue the heir to the throne. That’s pro’ly what’s got his panties in a twist anyway.”

    Merc couldn't stand it any longer, and literally jumped from the chair to almost the alchemy alcove. “And that’s more than enough of that.” His voice was just this side of a shriek.

    “Whoopsie,” Sam said innocently, “Was I sleep groping again?”

    “You were awake groping, and what do you mean the heir to the throne has his panties in a twist?” Telki’s attention was all on Sam.

    “There’s probably some pressing reason for Reason and Order that the big guy feels Tyr needs to stay in the Isles a bit longer. Or die there, I wouldn’t put that passed him, though he needs Rommy to keep his ties to Nirn as much as Rommy needs them. Huh.” That argued for there being children, but only if Jyggalag intended Tyr to die. Sam still wouldn’t put it passed him.

    “Reason and Order can kiss my hind foot.” Telki was practically vibrating in place. “There is always a better way to do things than by sacrificing somebody else’s life!”

    “This is Jyggalag we’re talking— hic!— about. The end justifies the means,” Sam rolled his eyes and lay flat on the floor. He missed his pillow.

    “Well, I don’t want to be talking about him, I want to be yelling at him. Or maybe poisoning him with your moonsugar mead. I wonder if it’s strong enough.” Telki was livid, which made her guys all kinds of nervous. This was usually when her craziest plans were hatched, and usually to devastating effect, sometimes on the intended party.

    “Rommy’s about the only one he talks to. He’s more boring than old Mora. At least then I can sit and fantasize about tentacles. Doesn’t drink, either.”

    “Sam, how do I get to Jyggalag?”

    “Go to the Fringes of the Shivering Isles and turn left.”

    “I can get myself to the Isles now?” Telki raised her eyebrows at him, thinking. If that were so, she could probably get herself lost and find it that way. It was the usual way her sense of direction worked. Last time, it got her a Dunmer husband. She didn’t get as lost as often after that.

    “You’ve been able to get to the Isles since he gave you the Wabbajack. You just need to figure out how to use it...Did I say that out loud?”

    Telki gave him a wide grin, hefted a suspicious jug she had capped and waxed, and kissed his cheek. “Thank you Sam, you’ve been most helpful, but I probably need to think some more on this, before I go off on Jyggy.” She handed him the jug.

    “I think he prefers...well, math, so your charms won’t be all that useful,” he warned.

    “Honey, going off on someone is not the same as going down on someone. Entirely wrong connotations.” Telki pouted. “And where in tarnation did I even hint I might want to try to charm that old stick-in-the-mud?”

    “I am aware,” he said ruefully, looking up at Merc. “But you have a lot of interesting husbands. I thought maybe you wanted a boring one. Round out your collection.”

    “Honey, I think my collection is quite complete, thank you. No more husbands.” Unfortunately, Sam was already passed out on the floor.


    Gideon was restless. Getting him into one of the prisoner caravans hadn’t been difficult at all—he’d simply attacked one, killed a few Thalmor before a Justiciar paralyzed him with a spell, and that was that. After that, it had been a long, boring trip crowded in tight holds with little room to move, and severe reprisals if one talked. The carriages were not better. Being shoved into the pens was as close as he’d had to stretching his legs and using some of that restless energy as he’d had in days. There was more than the usual pent up energy now making him fidget. He took a moment to look around him.

    The prisoner “pits” were massive. Originally an old quarry, they were essentially holes in the ground with shallow caves off the perimeter, most of which sported bars. There were a few deeper tunnels, but they were closed off for the moment. Around the rim above them, bored Thalmor patrolled, making sure no one got up to too much mischief. “Mischief” was relative, of course, as there were at least two fights going on and the Altmer peacekeepers seemed to be taking bets on them. From the sheer amount of noise, this was only one such hole, and a gate into another area beyond seemed to confirm that. By the smell of the place, they’d find out soon enough if they were ever washed out. Gideon winced against the combination of noise, heat, and stink. It felt like a Thalmor’s attempt to make a Nord’s hell on earth.

    “Mara preserve me,” one of the other prisoners with him swore softly, eyes wide. They’d separated them by race, oddly enough. This depression held Nords almost exclusively, even though that hadn’t been the impression Ulfric had left. Gideon allowed though, it’d been thirty years since Ulfric had been here, leaving plenty of time to change things.

    Before they could really get their bearings, the gate slammed shut behind them, and a gong sounded from the other end. Prisoners put down whatever they were doing—even the ones fighting left off—and headed toward the other side.

    “What is this?” Gideon asked lowly as he followed one sunburned fellow.

    The tired-eyed man glanced at him, then did a double take. “Stendaar’s balls! Which parent was the giant?”

    Gideon chuckled. “Poppa always swore Mum fed me giant’s milk with her own.”

    The other Nord did not return the mirth. “You’ll be cursing her for that, if she did. Doesn’t do to stick out too much, here.”

    “Shor preserve me, what will I be facing?”

    “That’s just it,” the man replied glumly, “You never know one day to the next.” With that, the thin man put on a little burst of speed, joining the group of men huddled under a sneering Altmer dangling a large sack over the edge.

    It was pretty obvious what the Altmer was after. It wasn’t the first time Gideon had seen scum rile up a pit fight. He looked around for something to throw at the Altmer. There would be consequences, but it’d make him feel better. Before he could grab so much as a stone, the guard dropped the bag into the pit. Rather than rushing it, as the guard had hoped, a single figure took hold of it and glanced up. “Alright, everyone line up!” he yelled. There was some shuffling as the mob became a ragged line.

    “You keep taking the fun out of everything, you’re going to get pulled out,” the Thalmor called.

    “You say that every day,” the man yelled back, almost conversationally.

    As the crush of men parted enough for him to see through them, Gideon caught sight of the man.

    The first impression was red. The man had hair redder than any he’d seen, including Telki’s; bright as Odahviing’s scales, cut short and flying in the light wind like he was a torch. However, the purple eyes were very like Telki’s. Gideon was pretty sure he’d just found Tyrlief. He inspected him; like Telki had surmised, Rommy’s own qualities would point out his grandson. He vaguely wondered if there were any that would point to Dragonborn. Now how to get him to believe he wasn’t a Thalmor plant? That part would probably be the hardest.

    “Here you go!” a light voice said cheerfully from his side. Gideon looked down in surprise, cheer being the last thing he expected in this pit. Bright violet eyes looked up at him from a small, diamond-shaped face topped with that same shocking red hair, the little boy smiling from ear to ear as he handed him a small loaf of coarse bread.

    “I thank you, little one. May I know your name? I’m Gideon.” He could guess from the eyes alone who the friendly tyke belonged to. Telki would be having six kittens to get the child out yesterday.

    “You’re really tall,” the boy said, shading his eyes with his hand as he looked up at Gideon. “Are you new?”

    “I came in today, in fact. I’ll need someone to show me the ropes here. I don’t like looking stupid.”

    “I’m not supposed to go out of sight of trusted people,” he informed the man, shrugging. “You’ll have to ask Da.”

    “Could you introduce me?” Gideon looked over to where he last saw ‘Da.’ “As much trouble as I find by myself, I really don’t need any extra.”

    “Orien!” the putative leader of the prisoners called, walking over quickly. “Who’s this?” he asked, looking Gideon over with a guardedly friendly gaze, arm going around the child’s shoulders.

    “That’s Gideon, he’s new, he’s tall, and he’s trouble. Or in trouble. Or about to be in trouble. Am I in trouble?” he finished worriedly.

    “Hardly. Welcome, Gideon, such as it is. I’m Tyr,” he said, offering a hand.

    Gideon studied him, and looked to see what ears were close by, thinking very very hard. He’d only get one chance to earn his trust. “I think your name is a bit longer than that, but it can wait for nightfall to talk someplace less crowded and noisy, yes?”

    Suspicion and curiosity burned in the other man’s gaze, but he said only, “Alright.”

    A clamor at the entrance got their attention, and a mass paralysis spell swept through the place, making them all freeze. A group of Thalmor walked in, led by a man in Justicier robes. He gazed around, pointed to a few of the men, then left as the guards accompanying him lifted the men like so much statuary, carrying them out of the pit. The door closed with a resounding clang, and the paralysis broke.

    Tyr cursed, running a hand through his hair just like Rommy did.

    “Where were they taking them?” Gideon was not ashamed of the real fear in his voice.

    “Experiments,” Tyr replied shortly, glaring at the door. Orien cuddled a little further under his arm. “Sometimes they take us all out. The men taken don’t always come back, and if they do, they don’t always come back right.”

    “I can heal you, Da,” Orien said softly.

    “A bit,” Tyr acknowledged, giving him a small smile. “And where you get that magical ability so young, I’ll never know. Must be your mother’s fault.”

    Orien grinned.

    “Well, Orien, just so you know, there’s nothing wrong with being able to heal or magic. The best woman I know can take down a dragon and heal everyone that fought after.”

    The boy glanced up, then down again bashfully. “Thank you,” he murmured, embarrassed.

    Tyr gave him an appraising look. “Not too many of us that don’t have a problem with mages,” he said, probing. “Not surprising, given our ‘hosts.’”

    Gideon shrugged. “I follow Shor, married a mage, a priest, and a bard. I don’t like to be stereotyped.”

    Looking just a bit confused, Tyr said politely, “She sounds very accomplished.”

    Gideon laughed “Not all the same person.”

    Orien had seized on a different detail. “Dragons are real? You’ve seen one? Are they big? Can they really breath fire? Can they eat you in one bite? Have you ever ridden one?”

    “I even know one, and he let that special woman ride him.” Gideon looked over to Tyr, and winked. Let him think what he liked for now. A wingspread dragon shadow tended to make believers out of skeptics when words could not.

    “Well, it’s about nightfall—I know it doesn’t look it but the shadows fall quickly down in the pits,” Tyr informed him. “Best eat up and find yourself a cave without too many people in it. It gets surprisingly cold at night.” He paused. “Do you use magic yourself?”

    “A little. I could probably set a fire rune to warm a cave.” Gideon’s lip twisted. “If the one I spoke to coming in is to be believed, I fear finding an unoccupied side cave will be the least of my worries. He could not distance himself from me fast enough.”

    “Unsurprising,” Tyr shrugged. “You won’t be able to cast any runes. The food has magicka poison in it. I need to get Orien to bed before someone tries to steal our spot. Good luck, Gideon,” he said, hefting the boy and heading away. Orien grinned and waved over his shoulder.

    Gideon waved back, and felt his heart crack. He had to win Tyr’s trust. They had to get them out. He’d never be able to face Telki again if they didn’t.


    The morning sun hit him right in the eyes. Dew clung to everything, reflecting and refracting those rays until a pair of golden boots blocked out all the light. “Well, this one’s certainly big, isn’t he?”

    “Wow, I’ve never heard that before. Is the next comment about how black my hair is as well? If we’re stating the obvious, that’s usually next.” Gideon pulled himself up against the wall. He’d never been much of a morning person, and this time, he didn’t even have bacon to help him wake up.

    The two guard elves exchanged glances as first one huffed. “New one, eh? Well, Nord, this is your lucky day. We’re gathering volunteers. A little...discipline is needed and we need a few of you to issue it. A little test of your skills with your fists, if you will.” He paused, a cruel gleam in his eyes. “There is a reward for the one that finishes first, of course.”

    “If you want someone beaten up, do it your damned selves. You’re keeping us here in this hellhole, and expect us to do your dirty work for you? Shove it up your pointy ears and choke on it.”

    The elf scowled, but one of the other prisoners called out before he could retort. “What’s the reward?”

    “An extra day’s rations for the entire pit the winner is in,” the elf called, smirking, good humor restored. Slicing a glare at Gideon, he added, “Provided the pit in question reminds its inhabitants of their manners,” the elf sniffed, walking off.

    “Are you mad?” the talkative prisoner hissed. “They never ask for volunteers unless the reward is worth it, and we’ve been on short rations for a week!”

    “They shortened your rations to make you more likely to comply, so they can puff up their sense of superiority over the ‘weak’ Nords.” Gideon let himself slide back down the wall. Tyrlief hadn’t come talk to him last night. He was also slightly worried it was Tyr they wanted beaten. Well, he couldn’t sit around while that thought was rumbling in his mind. Time to find him, and get him to talk.

    “They’re coming back,” someone muttered.

    “Now you’ve done it,” the talkative man moaned. “Now they won’t take anyone but you, and they’ll probably up the stakes for you as well.”

    “Shor preserve me,” muttered Gideon, watching them make their way back. Why did he have to be born so tall? It’s not even like height was directly related to fighting ability. Best fighter he ever met was maybe five foot five wearing tall boots.

    “Nord!” the Thalmor called, staring right at Gideon. “Volunteer, and we’ll restore full rations to this pit. Refuse, and we’ll half what rations you are on already.”

    Gideon chuckled without humor. “We’ll be on half rations anyway. You’ll find a way to welch out of it.”

    Face turning an unfortunate shade of orange, the elf hissed, “You dare—!” Apparently he was too incensed to finish.

    “What? Have more brain than you expected? Or honest enough to tell the entire pit what devious lying sacks of mammoth dung you are? Here’s a hint: they knew that one already.”

    “I’ll go,” the talkative Nord said hastily, before Gideon’s mouth could get them all in deeper trouble.

    “No,” the Thalmor threw a green spell at Gideon. “I think I’ll just take you anyway,” he said as the paralysis struck. “With no reward.” Turning on his heel, he left the resigned guards to lug the very heavy Nord out the door.

    Across the pit, Tyr watched, leaning on the wall, and shook his head. He’d given the big Nord perhaps two days before he got himself into trouble. Apparently he’d been giving him too much credit. If he came back, he might have to get over his suspicions long enough to ensure this “Gideon” didn’t say something that would get them all incinerated.

    “What’s going to happen to him, Da?” Orien asked, eyes wide.

    “Let me find out what they said first, then I’ll tell you. Judging from what I saw last night, you probably just lost your new friend,” he sighed, wishing he was raising his child in a place that sentence would never leave his mouth. Giving a signal to one of the men he knew was trustworthy to watch Orien, he strode across the pit to see what kind of situation the new one had gotten himself into.

    Meanwhile, Gideon was half-dragged into a white spire too large to really encompass at such a close range. Half a dozen other men of various races waited nervously in a small room with a beat-up door, guarded by a group of mer that looked extremely nervous as well. Dropping him, his guards went to join them. Another Justicier stepped forward, wide grin on his face.

    “Volunteers, thank you for coming,” he said with great irony. “Last night, an ungrateful servant of Lord Faloniril tried to run off with his prize mare. The Lord is very upset by this, and wishes the culprit to be taught a lesson. The thief has holed up in this storage wing, and we’ve managed to seal the entire thing with magic. Go in, bring me the thief, and you’ll get your reward.” There was a pause before he added, “And do try to get the little wretch before the assassin does. That would be unfortunate. Oh, and try not to let the assassin kill you, either.”

    “A-assassin?” a Breton man stammered. “You never mentioned an assassin!”

    “As I said, my Lord was very upset. He wishes the thief taught a very...permanent lesson,” the Thalmor purred. “Now, there are some old weapons here you can make use of. Try not to get killed!” With that cheerful goodbye, the Justicier turned and swept out, followed by the guards, who looked relieved to be leaving. The lock ticked shut when they closed the door, a shimmering barrier forming across it momentarily before fading.

    “Wonderful. Now we’re all locked in here,” muttered the Redguard as he slumped against the wall. “Should have known there’d be a catch. Always is.”

    Gideon felt the paralysis wearing off. “Well, if you feel safer here, I’ll go check things out for myself.” The fewer under his feet if he had to summon the hammer or call Rommy, the better.

    The Breton looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “There is an assassin in there. I’m not going in there for all the food in Tamriel.”

    “You actually trust those binty crows?” Gideon gave him an incredulous look, then shook his head. “This won’t be the first assassin I’ve dealt with, and quite probably won’t be the last. Stay here, and if you can, distract anyone that comes in. Think you can handle that?”

    The Redguard snorted, hefting a weighted club. “I’m going in. You all do what you want.” With that, he headed inside.

    Shaking his head scornfully, the Breton turned to Gideon. “This isn’t the first time they’ve traded this kind of thing for food. Volunteering usually means you get back out alive, and benefit everyone. Of course, then there are times like this, so it’s always a gamble. My pit hasn’t had full rations in a week.”

    “They make you desperate, make you trade your scruples for food, and then double cross you for not sticking to your scruples. Fantastic.” Gideon snorted derisively. He wondered if there was any way to get to the servant, get him out, and give the Thalmor something that looked like the dead servant well enough to fool them. All while somehow avoiding the assassin without his gear. He’d had longer odds, but not by much. He took his time looking through the pitiful excuse the Thalmor called ‘equipment’ for something approaching what he was used to using. If only they’d left a blacksmith’s hammer, or maybe a quarry sledge.

    Some of the other men picked over what he discarded, keeping a wary distance from him and each other. One by one, they went into the door, without even attempting to coordinate or make further conversation. Gideon shook his head sadly. They were playing right into the Thalmors’ hands. How could he save them from themselves?

    “You haven’t been here long, have you?” the Breton, the only one left, asked, watching him. “Too well-fed.”

    “I’ve been here one night, exactly. You wouldn’t believe what put me here.” Gideon kept sorting, determined to find something he could use.

    “After some of the stories I’ve heard, I doubt it,” the Breton snorted. “That wasn’t an invitation,” he added hastily. “I don’t want to know your story any more than theirs. You’ll all be dead soon, anyway. But,” he hesitated, “if you do make it out, I can give you some healing. Not much—they put something in the food that saps your magic—but maybe enough to get you back to your pit.”

    Gideon hefted the old buckler he found, and the rusted mattock. It looked older than he was, but still felt solid. If the Thalmor had any clue it was still usable, it probably wouldn’t have been left in here. “Stay here, let me feel that I managed to get at least one of you out, please?” Gideon watched the Breton closely for his reaction, and smiled wryly. “I can pretty well promise I’ll be back.”

    A sad smile crossed the man’s face. “I almost believe it.” Gideon gave him a proper Shor’s salute, and made his way cautiously inside, worried about what he’d find.

    The hall was dark, with just enough light seeping through the doorways lining the hall to illuminate several pieces of furniture covered with sheets. To either side, a cross hallway stretched out into the darkness. There were several sets of footprints in all the dust, too many and too scuffled to make out where anyone had gone. The largest was almost the size of Gideon’s, but the smallest was perhaps the size of Telki’s, and barefoot, without even the footwraps most of the prisoners sported. Gideon thought it might be time to call Rommy and closed his eyes a moment.

    ::Rommy, you might want to ride along for this. Something’s off.:: He hoped the Mad Daedra could shed some light on the situation. Could the small bare feet be the servant’s, or something more sinister? At this point, he’d put absolutely nothing past them.

    ::I’m right here...sort of...there’s a lot going on today , :: Rommy’s voice sighed in his mind. :: Would you be horribly offended if I passed you off to Erandur? He can yank you back with Haskill’s help if need be.::

    ::Are you alright?:: Now Gideon worried. :: I was actually hoping for your devious insight, but yes, I have no problems with being passed off to Erandur if you’ve other troubles.::

    ::Well, Stanley decided he needed to build a wall around Passwall made entirely of cabbages, and stole them from the woman that believes babies come from cabbages, so I have a miniature war going on at the moment .::

    ::Let Merc sort them out. He can summon cabbages if necessary.::

    ::Merc can’t speak Grapefruit.::

    ::I guarantee that woman speaks Mercutio, though.:: Gideon snarked.

    There was a moment of hesitation. ::I am so glad I drew up permission slips before all this started. I hope Mercutio doesn’t mind the idea of having a child. Of...cabbage.::

    Gideon hesitated, but the impulse as just too insistent. :: I met Tyr, he’s quite impressive.::

    ::You did? Is he alright?:: Rommy asked anxiously.

    ::Red headed, purple eyed, and still capable of telling the Thalmor where to stuff themselves.::

    There was the sensation of a smile in Gideon’s head. ::Well, sounds like he’s holding up well,:: was the rather dry response.

    ::So, can you fake a person’s dead body? We may have a chance at more information than I can get in the pits. Which are exactly as horrible as we thought.::

    ::As long as you don’t need it for longer than a day. At the moment, it’ll have to be made out of’s what I have on hand. Or it might smell like grapefruit, if Stanley doesn’t SHUT HIS GAPING PIE HOLE!:: There was the definite sensation of all hell about to break loose from Rommy’s mind.

    ::Well, it all depends on me finding this runaway servant first and alive.:: Gideon had been stalking quietly down the corridor all the while, scanning the surroundings for any sign of anyone. He thought he might have at least run into one of the other prisoners by now. As if the thought had been prescient, his foot hit something soft. He didn’t want to look down. He was pretty sure of what he’d see. He looked anyway.

    The Imperial lay on the floor, a neat, clean wound through his back into his liver. There weren’t any signs of a struggle, and the man’s face clearly showed he had no idea what had happened. Gideon sighed through his nose. This assassin appeared competent. He had to stand there a moment, whispering a silent prayer to both Shor and Arkay for the Imperial’s soul. Here was another life debt he was going to make sure the Thalmor paid in full. Gideon continued down the corridor, making sure to keep his own back to the wall.

    A few minutes passed in eerie quiet before a loud bang echoed through the hallways, followed by a short, pained cry. Gideon raised his eyebrows. Someone was fairly strong, then. The sound faded as quickly as it had come, though it left the hall feeling even more ominously silent in its wake. Using the buckler for what cover it could give, he cautiously peered around the corner to see a partially open door. Gideon allowed the other eyebrow to join its mate in his hairline. Apparently, the assassin was feeling playful. Great.

    ::Why is it I always get the smart alecks?:: Gideon winced.

    ::You’re a magnet for smart alecks ,:: came the prompt, though somewhat distracted, retort. :: Are you going to react at all when something comes out, or should I eavesdrop constantly? I feel like I’m invading your privacy and if that always itches like that you might want Telki to make a salve.::

    :: Please don’t, I’m using you as a second pair of eyes.:: Gideon winced. ::These prison pants chafe.::

    ::Gideon, when this is all over, we may need to put some distance between us,:: Rommy quipped, putting a mental twist on the word “distance.”

    ::Aww, and I thought we had grown so close. I’m hurt.:: Gideon was smirking. If anyone was watching him, they were probably either getting very concerned, or very cocky. Either one would give Gideon an advantage.

    ::Behind you!:: Rommy’s mental cry rang through his head like a shout. Before Rommy could finish, Gideon had spun around and rolled, shoving the buckler into whomever had been creeping up on him, putting all his weight behind the shove.

    A small figure went hurtling the other way to crash into the wall, dropping a table leg that had been swinging for Gideon’s back. “Ow. Ow. Ow,” came a slight, wheezing moan.

    “The usual greeting is ‘hello,’ not ‘let me sneak up on you with a table leg’.” Gideon kept his back to the wall, and looked over the figure. “Are you the servant, then?”

    “Servants get paid,” she rasped, holding her ribs. A weak healing spell arched around her hands, and she looked up, bright green eyes glaring at him. “So, what, they sent you lot in too? It was just a stupid horse! Do you know how many horses that asshole has?”

    “Little One, I’m surprised you can still expect fairness at all from these binty crows. Now, say thank you, because you are one very lucky youngling I found you first.”

    ::Rommy, got your cabbages ready?:: Gideon allowed himself a very satisfied smile. :: One wee servant girl to poof and replace.::

    “Lucky?” she raised an eyebrow, flipping her long, utilitarian braid over her shoulder and revealing the shaved sides of her head and the piercings in her small, pointy ear. “No, no, no. Look, you may be big and you may have found me first, but I am not sleeping with you to get out of here. I doubt you could handle me anyhow,” she added, looking him up and down.

    “Not bedding you. I’m happily married, thank you. I’m getting you out of here.” ::Rommy, while she is absolutely stunned speechless would be good.::

    Staring at him in disbelief for a moment, she scoffed. “Fine. You think you’re all that, get me out, and I’ll show you how to get off the island.”

    ::Get her out into the light where I can see her, and I can make you a copy ,:: Rommy sighed. :: Shaved heads are so difficult to texture…::

    Gideon motioned towards a window. “He needs some light to make your double. Can I ask you to stand there? Humor me, it’ll all make sense in just a moment.”

    The servant shook her head, then walked over to the window. “I’m good as dead anyway,” she muttered sullenly. The light revealed her to be Bosmer, distractingly pretty, and around twenty. Her eyes were large and bright green, her hair the sort of orange usually found in trees in fall, and her expression the kind normally found on rebellious teenagers.

    “Not if this works.” ::That do?::

    ::That’s perfect. Stand back, I don’t know where this thing is going to drop.:: Gideon moved away, making plenty of room for whatever was about to happen.

    “Shit!” the girl jumped back as another her practically landed on her. “What is…” she stopped, looking up at Gideon in complete dumbfoundment. “How did you do that?”

    “Friends. You are about to meet them. Tell them your way off the island, and if you can think of a way to get more than a few at a time off the island, that would be wonderful. We’re taking these Thalmor pigs down.” ::Ready to poof her away?::

    ::I’d love to, but something’s...wrong.::

    ::What? Crap. How? What can I do?::

    ::There’s some sort of magic on her to keep her escaping. Blood magic, I think. You’d have to find the focus and destroy it. I’m sorry, but I can’t magic her out. Best I can do is blow open the wall for you.::

    ::Hang on . :: Gideon looked at the girl, crouched by her double, poking its cheek and wrinkling her nose. “Something is keeping my friend from getting you out of here. You’re carrying a focus that is trapping you here.”

    Rising and taking a deep breath, the Bosmer exhaled and opened her eyes, smiling with falsely patient sweetness. “Look, you’re obviously...something, but I’m done. I’ll find my own way out, thank you. Have a lovely day, and please do not fondle, um, other me.” Turning, she sashayed down the hall, glancing up at the beams as if she expected them to rain assassins down on her.

    She wasn’t far wrong.

    “Yaaarg!” someone yelled, tackling her from the side. Shrieking, the girl fell and rolled, scrambling away from the Dunmer trying to grapple her.

    “Hey! Over here!” Gideon yelled. The Dunmer looked up, red eyes wild.

    ::Wait! Gideon, look at his clothes! They’re in the same livery!:: Rommy’s voice in his head was sharp. Gideon took in the Dunmer’s clothing as the mer rushed him, yelling and diving at the hand he held his mattock, trying to wrest it away from him.

    :: Damn it to Sithis . :: Gideon groaned. ::Is this one blocked from transport?::

    ::No,:: Rommy replied grimly. ::And he’s nearly one of mine anyway.::

    The Dunmer vanished, taking the mattock with him. Gideon barely had time to register the loss of his weapon before he felt something sharp press against his back. “Don’t move.”
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2018
  4. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Chapter 4: Surprising Discoveries

    In which Gideon is almost stabbed and Merc learns things about himself.


    Chapter Text

    “Don’t move.”

    “You really, really, don’t want to do that,” Gideon warned her calmly, freezing where he stood as the sharp prick of the dagger lay cold against his back, right over his kidney. A mental picture of the dead Imperial flashed across his mind, which was certainly not what he needed.

    “What, stab you?” the Bosmer asked, voice full of mirth. “Of course not! You’re far too interesting. I will though, if I have to,” her voice darkened.

    “I won’t attack you, if that’s what you’re thinking. I would still get you out of here, if I could find whatever’s tying you here. They can’t be that good to you, if you’re worried they’d...they’d...prostitute you like that. Precisely what loyalty do you owe these jackals?”

    There was a long moment of silence before the giggles started. “Oh, you’re cute,” she said, pressing with the weapon just slightly before removing it. “Turn around, let me get a look at you.”

    “Still married.” Gideon really wished he had better impulse control, but turned around, hands out where she could see them. She didn’t need to know he could still FUS RO DAH her down the hall.

    “Didn’t ask,” she replied, tossing her hair as she looked him over with naked appreciation, hovering a moment to take in every way that his pants were too small before raising her gaze back to his eyes. “So, what did you do with my mark?”

    “Sent him to those friends I mentioned.” Gideon grinned, “We already knew about the breeding program. Figured if we could get the kids out safely, the parents would be easier to rescue. I’m betting you’re one of the kids.”

    The girl’s face closed, eyes darkening. “You don’t know anything,” she informed him, then her smile returned, twice as wicked. “But that’s going to be half your fun, I think.”

    “Then explain it to me. These men have been here suffering long enough, and like I said, you shouldn’t be anyone’s broodmare.”

    “I’m not,” she shrugged one shoulder, not taking her eyes off him. “If I sleep with someone, it’s because I want to.” Her grin widened slightly, emerald flecks twinkling in her eyes. “Want to?”

    :: Well, she’s certainly forward, isn’t she? :: Rommy asked, sounding torn between amused and disturbed.

    “Does the concept ‘happily married’ not exist in your world?” Gideon gave her a rather sad look.

    “Um, no,” she pursed her lips. “Anyway...I suppose we’re at an impasse here. You have my mark. I could just kill you, but you’d still have my mark, and you don’t get your rations if you don’t emerge...also with my mark.”

    :: You could completely ruin her day by dropping a cabbage Dunmer on her :: Gideon suggested to Rommy.

    :: Gideon, why hasn’t she tried to kill you?:: Rommy asked, sounding puzzled. ::A horse thief isn’t nearly as important as someone out to start a coup. You’ve admitted you’re part of a force to take down the Thalmor, but she hasn’t reacted to that. She hasn’t asked anything more of it, or your offer to get her out. So what is she still doing here? ::

    :: Very good question, but how do I get an honest answer out of her? ::

    :: She might just be perverse enough to give you one if you ask, :: he noted.

    “What do you want, really?” Gideon tried.

    “I want to be on my assigned mission and not hunting down a horse thief that got poofed to Sithis’ backside or where-ever,” she replied, putting her hands on her hips. “And since I am apparently not going to get to climb the Nord Tree, I want to go get some lunch.”

    “What’s your assignment?” Gideon shrugged. “Depending on what it is, and how long until you’re willing to give up your anchor focus, I might help.”

    “Ha!” she crowed. “You really are cute. Dumb, but cute. Alright, I’ll tell you. Not like anyone’s around to listen anymore, anyway.” Tilting her head slightly, she told him, “I’m supposed to be in the Legion right now. Climbing through the ranks with my superior whatever it is they’re looking for. I’m adaptable and they’re disorganized. Unfortunately,” she glanced down and flicked at one rather large breast, “these developed. So I don’t look quite as ‘Bosmer’ as intended, and suddenly there’s talk of courtesan training and I really, really hate politics. Give me straightforward soldiers to manipulate any day,” she finished, rolling her eyes.

    Gideon rolled his own eyes. “Do you want the Thalmor for masters, or would you like a chance to be your own master?”

    “Hey, whatever you think of the Thalmor, at least they give me interesting things to do. I have a purpose, and it’s usually an entertaining purpose,” she shrugged again, leaning against the wall.

    “You do realize their overall purpose is to undo creation, right? Precisely where in there is a happily ever after for you? I also can’t believe you just admitted the Thalmor are smarter than you.”

    “There are a lot of people smarter than me. I’m hardly the be-all, end-all of the universe. As for happy endings, there aren’t any,” she replied promptly. “There never was and there never will be. I’m a Young One. We don’t get ‘happy endings.’ I don’t even have a Name. You think the gods are going to take someone that doesn’t even qualify for a Name?”

    “And you call me dumb?” Gideon gave her a look. “Firstly, you can give yourself a name if you want one, and no binty crow can take it from you. If it means more to you if it comes from someone else, I’ll give you a name. Secondly—and this I know for a solid fact—the gods care about who you are, not what you’re named.” Gideon smiled. “And that’s from someone who’s talked to a few, and had them talk back.”

    Her lips twitched. “‘Binty crow?’” she echoed, laughing. “Look, sweetheart, I know you’re insane, and you’ve got a chivalrous streak—and shoulders—about as wide as the Imperial Highway, but please.”

    :: Rommy? Help me out here? :: Gideon considered her.

    :: What do you want me to do? Impersonate Auriel? ::

    :: You do remember you count in the godly department, right? ::

    :: Dae-dra . I could turn her inside out if you wanted. My powers aren’t nice, remember?::

    ::They can be when you want them to be. Are butterflies suddenly beyond you?::

    :: I’m not in the butterfly mood right now. What you’re most likely to end up with is blood-sucking moths. Either way, there are mages who can do the exact same thing, :: Rommy told him . :: Besides, I’m not sure you want to push this one any more off-balance than you already have.::

    The assassin was looking at him quizzically. “Did I accidently break you when I revealed you’re mad? Ooh, hey; did you forget you’re married yet?”

    “Oh, I already knew that. Kinda have to be to join Shor’s Orders.” He gently tapped her nose, which she allowed with a vaguely puzzled air. “And you haven’t answered me: what would convince you?” He let himself slide down the wall, taking a seat on the floor, gesturing to the wall across from him. “Have a sit, it’s not like there’s a time limit, is there?”

    The look she gave him most women would reserve for new puppies. “Oh! You’re so trusting!” she gushed. “Please, if you ever divorce, look me up. You’re too cute.”

    “You remind me of someone, if a little more, er, cutthroat. Maybe there is a bit of Bosmer in her family tree afterall.” Gideon smiled at her. “And you’re dodging the question as well as she ever does. Have a sit, talk to me. Tell me all the stuff that makes me stupid in this situation.”

    Laughing, she moved to the other wall, “Okay, sugar, I’ll play.” Crouching on the balls of her feet, she regarded him for a long moment. “First off, you didn’t kill me the moment you saw me. As you can see, appearances are deceiving. Secondly, you have this kind of down-honest farmboy thing going on? Either get rid of that or use it, because people are going to underestimate you. I’d recommend using it. Also, you show your cards way too early, and maybe all of them. And you might be a little crazy. That part can be an asset, especially since it got me not to kill you. Well, that and getting a good look at your butt in those lovely, snug pants.”

    :: Sure she’s not Sanguine’s?::

    :: She might just be,:: Rommy’s reply was a little stunned. :: It’s like listening to Evil Telki.::

    :: Noticed that too, did you? I’m hoping it’s environmental, and can be remedied with time. Also, she’s cocky as hell.::

    :: I’m in your head, Gideon. You can’t tell me you don’t like that part.::

    ::When did I say I didn’t like it? I’m smug, is all. I’m allowed this once. But those two cannot meet. Ever.::

    :: Do you want me to write you up a permission slip?:: he laughed.

    “Now,” she said, eyes hardening slightly until they were the color of crushed moss, “Who are you working with that is so eager to get the mangy prisoners off Alinor?”

    Gideon looked at her. “They have families left behind that didn’t know they were still alive. What else?”

    “Oh. Families. That just clears up everything,” she rolled her eyes. “Well, this just got boring.”

    “I’m pretty sure you’re still curious how I poofed the Dunmer out of here.” Gideon reminded her. “I’m not dead yet.” He gave her a twinkling half smile. “While I haven’t lied, do you think by a long shot I’ve told you everything?”

    A slight flush might have crossed her cheeks, but it could also have been the wind in the trees outside shifting their shadows. “Well, I suppose…” she drawled, fiddling with a dagger that hadn’t been in her hand the second before, and had also not been evident on her person. “Better than you putting me to sleep with how much somebody’s family misses them.”

    “Do you even know what ‘family’ means, and I don’t mean Falofifi’s poor excuse for the word,” Gideon asked. “Because family is the furthest thing from boring I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve fought both daedra and dragons.”

    Before he could blink, Gideon abruptly had a lap full of angry Bosmer, with that dagger pressed against his throat and her hand in his hair, wrenching his head back. Her eyes glared into his from inches away. “Do not talk about my grandfather like that,” she said with eerie calm.

    “Your grandfather? Really? Things just got more interesting.” :: And I’ll ride the dragon that stomps a mudhole in him myself for what he’s made of you . :: “Especially since you are the one that called family ‘boring’. I assumed you hadn’t had the pleasure.”

    “Oh, I’ve had lots of pleasures,” she informed him, back to her earlier cheerful demeanor. Her eyes still burned. “It’s only lately things have gotten a little complicated, but I’ll still be off to the Legion within a year. I’ll be a bit sad to leave you, sugar, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

    Gideon rolled his eyes. ::She means to use me to bargain her way back into the Legion plan.::

    :: I don’t know, Gideon. I think...I think she hates Faloniril. She’s fishing for something else . :: Rommy sounded hesitant, like he wasn’t completely sure of this. Looking through Gideon’s eyes made it much more difficult to read her motivations, and that, frankly, was making him nervous.

    “I can’t help you until you tell me exactly what it is you want. You know I can transport people not held down by a blood focus. So if it’s that, we should be discussing what you have that’s the focus. If it’s someone else here you need out, well, join the club, because that’s pretty much what we’re after: Getting the hostages and prisoners out.” Gideon had an idea spark. ::The Grandmother? Could she be what he’s holding over her head? And how do I reassure her without getting my throat cut?::

    :: That’s easy,:: Rommy actually chuckled. :: Promise her leaving you alive would be more interesting. Probably wouldn’t hurt to flirt a little, either.::

    ::How does flirting work again? No, I mean, how do I assure this one her Grandmother will be safe, without her hearing a threat?::

    :: Um...maybe don’t mention specific people? If we don’t know who they are until she chooses to trust us, then she’ll know we’re not targeting them. As for flirting...she’s high maintenance. You’re on your own there.:: There was the sensation of a shiver. ::It’d be like flirting with the Duchess.::

    ::The more I hear, the less I want to know.:: Gideon gave the Bitsy Bosmer his best smile. “It’s your turn. What are you willing to share?”

    “Doesn’t matter, you don’t want to play that game,” she grumbled, though she did lean into him a little, those “problematic” developments of hers brushing his chest

    He sighed. “Nothing says I can’t give you a hug, but the knife has got to go.” Almost of its own mind, his hand rubbed soothing circles in her back, like he’d done a thousand times for Telki.

    Shoving herself off him like he’d burned her, she leapt to her feet, staring down at him expressionlessly. “I suppose neither of us will be getting what we wanted today,” she finally managed.

    ::That was weird , :: Rommy commented.

    ::No kidding.:: Gideon kept sitting there. “What bothered you? I don’t want to upset you.”

    “Well, aren’t you just a prince charming?” she smiled tightly.

    “I’ve been called worse, usually lemming-in-a-can.”

    “Unsurprising,” she quipped, the dagger disappearing as quickly as it had appeared, and just as without a trace. “Anyway, your keepers are raring to get back in here, and Talon’s waiting to hear how this went— that’ll be fun—so, ta.” Turning, she started walking down the hall away from him.

    “Oh, Bitsy?” Gideon called after her.

    She hesitated, glancing partially over one shoulder. “What?”

    “You wanted a name. You’re a Bitsy little thing.” Gideon twisted his lip. “It’s more of a nickname, though. You deserve something prettier, stronger.”

    She turned away, merely standing there for a second, as if debating something. “I’m called Shell,” she said, then seemed to vanish as if she’d never been.

    “I’m Gideon Rainier. Pleased to meet you, Shell.” Silence was his only reply. ::So, can you modify cabbage body?:: Gideon winced. ::They are not going to ask nicely what happened in here.::

    ::Incoming.:: Gideon stood up against the wall, looking to see if someone were coming, or if another body was dropping in on him. A cabbage copy of the Dunmer fell where his feet had been, apparently dead with a nasty knock on the skull.

    :: Don’t tell Erandur or Merc, but right now, you’re my favorite.::

    :: Don’t tell anyone, ever, but I’m not sure who I feel worse for right now, Merc or you.::

    ::What’s happened to Merc?::

    ::Same thing that just happened to you; you gained a dangerous admirer. Of course, he wouldn’t have that problem if he wasn’t playing so hard to get.::

    ::Sanguine? Or Cabbage Lady?::

    ::Sam, of course. Cabbage Lady will just stuff him full of soup, and he’s being perfectly polite to her.::

    ::I kinda figure what Sam would try to stuff him, no details, please.::

    ::You went there, not me.:: There was the sensation of a sigh. ::Though I get the feeling this “Shell” could be just as tenacious. I’m not sure what to tell Telki.::

    ::Tell her that her future adopted daughter has a crush on the first person to treat her like a person ever.:: Gideon wasn’t particularly troubled; it would work itself out once the girl had more decent company.

    ::Whatever you say, Treenord.::

    ::Really, you too?::

    ::What? I don’t want to climb you and sit on your branch.:: There was a decidedly more relaxed feel to Rommy’s thoughts. Things must have gone well at Passwall.

    ::Just once, it’d be interesting if someone noticed something besides the height.::

    ::This one noticed your brains. Though not that you use honesty for manipulation just as well as she does. I don’t think she’s used to anyone using that tactic but herself, and she was genuinely disgruntled about not being in the Legion by now.:: There was a thoughtful pause. ::Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Ulfric hated me because I didn’t join the Legion, and he’d hate her for doing so.::

    ::Considering that she’d be doing it to take it apart for the Thalmor? Yah, that’s kind of a dealkiller there, and proves his point all over again,:: Gideon frowned. ::He’s using his own family like less than pawns. Did Falofifi turn his own soul over to the Ideal Masters?:: Gideon picked up the cabbage Dunmer and trotted back towards the meeting room. ::I want to ride the dragon that turns him in blood pudding,:: he said.

    ::That dragon better have room for two,:: Rommy said grimly. ::Nevermind, I’ll make sure it has room for all of us.::

    ::Hey, can you make me the dragon?::

    ::Great idea. Yes, yes I can . ::

    Gideon smiled widely, passing a pile of cabbages where the Shell double used to lay. ::Good.::

    The Breton was taking the opportunity to nap in peace and quiet. He startled when Gideon came out. “Oh, you caught him. You killed him. Didn’t think you wanted to do that,” he observed, sounding a bit surprised.

    “I didn’t get a whole lot of choice in the matter. The Thalmor had about tortured him to madness.”

    “Yeah, they do that,” the Breton replied, standing and dusting himself off. The thinning brown hair on one side of his head was standing on end where it had been rubbed against the wall. “Need healing? You have a scratch on your neck.”

    “Usually, I’d say it’d be fine, but given the sanitation of the pits...please do,” Gideon said gratefully.

    The Breton lifted his hand and fixed the cut, giving him an odd look as he did. “Met the assassin, did you? Can’t think of anyone else that had access to a poisoned blade.”

    “The little she-devil.” Gideon shook his head. :: Did you know I was poisoned?::

    ::I’d have known if it was fatal, but I suppose it wasn’t bad enough to set off any alarm bells.:: There was a faint undertone of “Telki’s going to kill me” to that thought. Gideon sympathized, and sent a mental hug to Rommy. He still winced to remember some of the ‘talks’ after Mercutio’s training bouts that got too carried away.

    “She?” the man actually laughed. “Getting to you early, aren’t they?”

    “I think we were a training exercise.” Gideon shook his head. “Or entertainment, or both.”

    “Probably both. Well, if they’re trying that on you already, I suppose they intend to keep you around a while. I’m Tim,” he said. “Yes, I know, but I didn't name me, alright?”

    “Try growing up as a Nord named Gideon.” Gideon laughed. “Gideon Rainier at that.” Gideon offered his free hand to shake, the cabbage body still riding one wide shoulder.

    Tim shook it, then turned to face the door. “Imperial name, huh? Couldn’t have been fun. Back to the pits.” He paused, then glanced sideways at Gideon, curious, “Hey, which one was it, anyway? Was it the cute redhead?”

    “She was cute; looked Bosmer. Green eyed, and hair sort of autumn colored. How many are there?” Gideon followed the Breton.

    “Nobody knows, really. Not too many, though, or half of us that have made it more than a decade would be less lonely.” There was a sort of half-jesting tone behind that. “Of course, the charms of a woman that could cut your throat...Eh, no worse than some of the women back in High Rock, I suppose.”

    “There is a reason Nords have decent manners towards women. Ours would kill us if we didn’t.” Gideon replied in the same tone, praying nobody was listening, and would run tattle to Telki.

    ::I’m listening, but not tattling,:: Rommy assured him. ::Are you fine on your own then?::

    :: Probably? As much as I can be in the pits? I’ll holler extra loud if I’m not . ::

    ::Good enough.:: The presence of the Mad God left his mind, as well as the phantom sounds he’d been hearing, and an overwhelming sense of pressure that had been growing so stealthily he’d not be aware of it until it was gone.


    Rommy watched Merc extract himself from Cabbage Lady, whose overwhelming gratitude could be seen in the various leaves sticking from the other Imperial’s pockets. Perhaps Sanguine had done the poor man a favor after all: He didn’t think Mercutio could have removed the clinging woman so adroitly without all that practice.

    “Well, the wall is down, Stanley has apologized, and you’ve made a new friend,” the Mad God said, tossing his white hair out of his face. “A good day, all in all.”

    “So, how’s Gideon?” The less said, the better. He’d thought Sam had roaming hands. He was afraid of just where he’d find cabbage leaves when he bathed tonight.

    “I am not going to lie, he’s in trouble,” Rommy replied.

    “Is it trouble he can handle himself, or does he need us?” Mercutio waited until the woman left, and then started carefully vanishing all the cabbage. He didn’t want to think what repercussions there’d be if the Lady found them just laying on the ground. Rommy didn’t need the extra hassle, and neither did he.

    “Uh...That depends,” Rommy scratched at his cheek. “How is he with women?”

    “Oh sweet Sanguine on a bender.”

    “He’ll hear you,” Rommy cautioned. “And from you that’s like an invitation to an after-dinner party.”

    “But it describes just how screwed poor Gideon is.” Mercutio winced, “Look, I’m just now coming to terms with being Sam’s favorite cuddle pillow. I’m not ready for that, not even the idea thereof.”

    “Should we tell Telki, or wait until he’s dealt with it and let him tell her?” Rommy asked, filing the second part away for further thought, “I honestly have no idea which way is considered correct.”

    “If he asks for help, that’s one thing. If he gets in over his head, as in, wandering body parts, that’s another. Otherwise?” Mercutio shrugged. “We do the best we can. Do you think Telki needs to know right now?”

    “Considering the woman in question is a Thalmor assassin, I am completely unsure.”

    “How does Gideon do this to himself? It’s like a demipower.” Mercutio ran a hand through his hair, mussing it to perfection. He was torn between worry and hilarity over Gideon’s new admirer.

    “I...choose not to answer that,” the Daedra replied, turning and leading the way back to New Sheoth. Nothing dared attack him in his own realm, and it was a nice enough day. It had only rained frogs once, and that was when he’d seen the dead man and thought he’d have to pull Giddy out. Or perhaps it had been indigestion. It wasn’t always easy to tell.

    They walked for some distance in companionable silence, dodging the moss that hung from the fungal trees and being careful not to step on anyone that had managed to get themselves turned into anything—or in one case, was hallucinating that they had. “Do you think Gideon would mind sharing his mind with you two? Or Telki...well, maybe not Telki after that...anyway, I can match the link with a crystal or something and you guys could help me keep watch so we don’t have another incident like that one. I thought you were about to have some vegetable children while I was off in the head of a Treenord.” Keeping his hands in his pockets, he kept his voice casual.

    No need for the them know how much he was worrying about being so present in Gideon’s mind. Telki was one thing—she fought off dragons with her mind, she was instinctively able to ward away the madness such touches brought. He wasn’t so sure about Gideon anymore—he’d felt some hints in the Nord’s memory that suggested he was being guided toward rash behavior, which he certainly didn’t need. Besides which, he’d had no idea the man was so compassionate. Each stab of anguish lancing the Nord’s heart had made him feel like an interloper, eavesdropping on something he was never meant to see. He felt badly for the girl, he really did, but he was almost afraid at this point that Gideon saw only that she had been forced into becoming a weapon, and not that she wasn’t averse to killing him. She hadn’t needed to kill those other men—letting Gideon and the Breton out had proven that—but she had anyway, and he had the impression it was because she had been bored and frustrated.

    “Were you watching back there? I’m not exactly Domanio with his three wives. I was afraid I was about to get cabbage where the sun don’t shine.” Mercutio shuddered, “I’m not positive I didn’t.” He watched Rommy’s face. “Is it something else? Something bothering you?”

    “Are you in my head now? Bad choice,” he mock winced at the other mage.

    “You have a very expressive face, and I live with people that like to hide their feelings on a good day.” Mercutio shrugged. Dunmer were notoriously stoic.

    “Thank the...myself...I’m not in that one’s head,” he rolled his eyes emphatically, and one dropped out. He caught it and glared at it a moment: He had not needed to be that emphatic. It shattered into gold dust and flew back into its socket.

    “Who? Erandur? I’m betting it’s a lot less calm than he lets on, honestly.” It took all Mercutio’s willpower not to quip about keeping an eye on things. The pun-ishment probably wasn’t worth it.

    “The man’s four worries away from being one of mine at any given moment,” the new Sheogorath snorted. “You don’t have to tell me about the state of his head.”

    “Then who? Me?” Mercutio shook his head. ‘Wait, Erandur’s...what? That’s...not good. What can I do to help him, then?”

    “Ask him.”

    “I do! That’s the thing, even when you ask, it’s like pulling a live saber cat’s tooth to get anywhere, and then you wonder if he was just telling you something to make you quit worrying over him. It’s frustrating to no end.”

    “Then do what I do: warn him that being one of mine involves fighting duels with live swordfish.”

    Mercutio heaved a heavy sigh. “All I can do is try.”

    Hesitating, Rommy stopped, regarding him. “I’ve been avoiding poking my nose in too much...but should I be telling Telki some of this? Honesty, she has the most chance of getting through to him. His anxiety, your confidence issues that sometimes border on self-loathing...Gideon having me in his head...probably all wifey-fixy stuff.”

    “Yeah, tell her. At least about Erandur. The rest, if you think you should, you probably should. Though I’m fairly certain she already knows I have ‘confidence issues’.”

    “Space Core likes you,” Rommy reminded him.

    “I don’t know how to explain it. On the one hand, I know Telki’s not going to drop me for someone else. On the other, there’s that little voice warning me I’ll be left alone and it won’t shut up.”

    “Little voice? Come here; I’ll check you,” he joked.

    “Check away.” Mercutio stopped in front of Rommy, and spread his arms, inviting him inside. Never in a million years would he feel safe enough to do that with Sanguine, though to be fair the other Deadra would probably willingly help him find all the cabbage.

    Tilting his head a bit, Rommy reached out and placed a hand on either temple, searching through the man’s mind. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, you’re completely healthy in that regard...and...damn.” He blinked, surprised.

    “What?” Mercutio wondered what he saw to make him curse like that.

    “Did you know most mages have upper limits to the amount of power they can wield? I mean, many deals with Daedra or the Ideal Masters are about blowing open those upper limits so that they can keep improving and gaining power.” The Daedra hummed thoughtfully, eyes unfocused, “I can’t seem to find yours, though. Your limit appears to be how much magic your body can withstand.”

    “I’ve what?” Mercutio was floored. “You’re not having me on?”

    “Why would I bother; I could just find something nice and true to say,” he muttered, fascinated. “Even I had an upper limit before I became Sheogorath.”

    “Wow. I had no idea.” Mercutio was dazed. “How does that even happen?”

    “Luck?” Rommy guessed, releasing him and simply regarding him for a moment. “Should I even ask about the pretty girl that represents Evil with a capital E in your head?”

    “She’s the reason I have that little voice convinced I’m going to be left on my lonesome.”

    “Want me to pass the image to Sanguine? He’s gotten a little protective of you,” Rommy offered, turning to continue down the path. A giant rat stopped and watched them, stood up and bowed gallantly before scurrying on its way.

    “Tempting, very tempting. Though I figure her own character will deliver its own comeuppance, and I won’t have to worry about anyone I ca—know sullying their hands. Or catching something even a Daedric Prince doesn’t want.”

    “Oh, Sanguine automatically heals whoever he’s with of Dibellan diseases,” Rommy informed him cheerfully, having completely caught the near-slip. “Actually, Dibella is still sore about that. She had nothing to do with those diseases. That was all Sanguine’s fault.”

    “I thought for sure they were either Peryite or Namira. Why would Sam want to ruin his own fun?”

    “They were both,” he said gleefully. The pebbles on the path they were on shivered through a quick array of colors. “Sam got to a priestess of Nammy’s that had leprosy. He instilled in her this...fascination for dragons, then introduced her to Peri, who is, as you might have noticed, a small dragon. So Peri thinks he’s found the love of his life, and Nammy figures out she’s about to lose a priestess, and cures her of the fleshrot as a sign of her disapproval. Sam realizes that when her face isn't falling off, she’s not bad looking neither of them is very happy with Sam.”

    “I can’t even. Why would someone want a flesh eating disease?”

    “Same reason they want to eat people; it’s a sign of Namira’s favor. She was rotting alive. What better way to serve the Daedra of Decay?” Personally, Rommy had nothing against Namira—cannibals especially were prone to madness, thanks to the same sorts of of tiny organisms that created Mad Cow. Try telling that to a cannibal, though. Last time he had, he’d been inundated with recipes that worked for both beef and people.

    He hoped it was at least a couple of decades before Telki found out about that. She probably wouldn’t be too thrilled with the flesh golems, either.

    “I begin to think most Daedric worshippers are nominally yours as well.” Mercutio shuddered. If flesh eating diseases were a favor, it was one he could do without. “So they ganged up on Sanguine to ruin his preferred pastime?”

    “Worked really well, as you can see,” Romulus snickered, walking up the white stone steps to the Palace. Saints and Seducers bowed from either side. One or two waved to Merc as well. He blushed, smiled at them, and stuck close to Romulus. He had enough Daedric interest to last him several lifetimes.

    “So, now that I know for sure you can keep up with me,” he teased, giving the mortal Imperial a sideways look, “Want to help me enchant some old Order crystal to hold a Paladin link?” An Order crystal ought to filter some of the madness from the touch of his mind.

    “Romulus, I would be delighted, and feel free to teach me any old spell you wish. I’d be thrilled.”

    “Remind me to drive you crazy for a day and take you to Apocrypha sometime. Hermy can’t keep you if you’re mine, but I think you’d enjoy the stacks.”

    “Books are wonderful. Fishy tentacles are less so.” Telki had shared some of Rommy’s more colorful descriptions of Hermaeus Mora, and Sanguine’s descriptions of the Seekers gave him nightmares. Of course, Sanguine’s descriptions also included some wistfulness he really didn’t want to examine too closely.

    “Also, the shadows burn, and there’s more to Hermy’s crabbiness than just pincers.” Not to mention the other Dragonborn the man kept as a pet. Really didn’t want Telki finding out about that. That would be more disastrous than her stumbling over the cannibals.

    “Why do you want to take me there, again?” It really sounded like the cons were outnumbering the pros at this point.

    “I suppose we could at least get you a library card. Or you could tell me what sorts of spells you’re interested in and I could bring some home for you. Don’t keep them over the due date though; Hermy’s fines are harsh.”

    “That sounds perfect. Thank you.” Mercutio vowed to be the quickest returner Hermaeus Mora ever saw.

    “Do you think Telki wants a ring?” he asked suddenly. “I mean, she already has a ring, technically.”

    “Honestly? If it came from you, as a memento you mean it when you say ‘I love you,’ she’ll wear it with pride.” He wouldn’t mention he was just as sappy. There was a loop of her hair carefully tucked away in his inner pocket.

    “But...well, I’m afraid of her running out of fingers if she keeps this up,” he was only half joking, especially if their eventual marriage rendered her immortal. Not that that didn’t have a good chance of happening even without his interference. “Should I just ask to have my name engraved on her current one with you three’s, or is that only meant for you?”

    Mercutio gave him a sly grin. “Only if we get your name, too.”

    “Lord Sheogorath, you’re blushing,” the Seducer in front of them said helpfully.

    “Thank you, Plumwickle,” he sighed. Mercutio wisely said nothing. He even tried to stifle the snickers. He was mostly successful. Mostly. “Stop that,” Rommy said without rancor, “or I’ll send you back to the Cabbage Patch.”

    Mercutio swallowed whatever humor he still had with a healthy dollop of fear.


    The very large, very muscular Nord was...very interesting, if she were completely honest with herself. Shell sat on the roof, watching him present the cabbage-smelling double to the Justicier with a smirk on her face. The warm roof tile pressed into her back where his hand had been, and she frowned, shifting uncomfortably away from the memory. Why had he done that? That was not a...a sexual grab, that was...that really didn’t make sense. Of course, half the things he said didn’t make sense, either, and she was half convinced he was completely bonkers, but…

    But what if he wasn’t? What if he had a way to bring dear old grandfather down? What if there was another life out there for them?

    Shaking her head to banish the traitorous thought, she followed as they led the two remaining men to the pits, admiring the way the man’s muscles moved under his skin—not just for show those, she’d bet her favorite dagger on it—and the way light seemed to get sucked into his dark hair. It was the seventh day, so there was a way in...maybe she’d visit. Her lip twisted a bit. Maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she’d keep her head down and do as she was told like a good little girl.

    That thought decided her. When had she ever been a good little girl?
  5. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Chapter 5: Power of Friendship
    In which Tyr and Gideon start to trust each other and Gideon resolves to save them all with the Power of Friendship.


    Chapter Text

    Tyr was watching as they let Gideon back into the pit, leaning with his arms crossed over his chest and a slightly surprised expression on his face. “You made it out,” he said without preamble as the large man spotted him and immediately walked over, long legs eating the distance in moments.

    “I’m on a mission from Shor, of course I made it out.” Gideon smiled widely at Tyr. “Can I expect your company in my humble cave tonight? I really think we need to talk.”

    He shifted uncomfortably. “You just wanted to talk, right?”

    “Someone has been looking for you for a long time. It would do them worlds of good to know you are well.”

    Giving him a quizzical look, Tyr waved for him to follow him into one of the deeper depressions, one that actually might count as a cave, since it had a small curve that blocked the back of it from being seen by the walls outside, affording them a modicum of privacy. “Now,” he said, crossing his arms again and not looking entirely suspicious, only slightly. “Who did you say you were working for? And don’t say Shor. Shor would have no interest in me. I’m not even sure I believe in the Divines at this point.”

    “How about a mage named Romulus, or an old Legion buddy named Ulfric?” Gideon leaned comfortably against the wall, ignoring his rumbling stomach. He watched Tyr’s face carefully, hoping the impulse wasn’t the step too far.

    Surprise flickered across Tyr’s face at the mention of Romulus, but he looked openly shocked at the mention of his former friend. “Ulfric? They killed him years ago! They told us he broke and told them how to get into the Imperial City. Some believe it, but most don’t.”

    “They lied. They have been lying for years. He broke, but not until they told him you were all dead, and only after they had taken the Imperial City.”

    “So they did take the city,” Tyr looked somber. “Who has the Tower now?”

    “The Legion took it back, killing every crow there doing it, but the Empire’s not as it was. Skyrim won free after the Thalmor basically invaded through a peace treaty. Ulfric is now High King of Skyrim.”

    There were a few moments of silence as Tyr digested this. “Well, how about that?” he said softly, a bit of a grin starting at the corners of his mouth. “Glad one of us is doing well, anyway, though I can’t say nothing good has come of our time here,” he glanced toward the darkest part of the cave, where Orien was taking a nap in a pile of blankets, looking like an exhausted kitten.

    “Orien, I think, is something very good, and I’m here to get you all out, prisoners and hostages all, but I will need information and your help.” Gideon winced. “What they’re doing must be stopped, and if I cannot find an easier way, my friends will come in with a frontal assault. I don’t like the odds if it comes to that.”

    Fear woke in Tyr’s eyes, and he glanced at his son again, obviously thinking hard. “I don’t know you, Gideon,” he said after a moment, his face hidden in shadow but his voice taking on a hard quality it hadn’t before. “I’m not sure I can trust you. If you’re honest, then what you say is too good to be true. If you’re not…” Violet eyes stared back at him. “If you’re not honest, I’ll know soon, and I’ll kill you myself. I’m not having that kind of rumor going around.”

    “Do I look a fool?” Gideon snorted. “If that rumor goes round, all our hopes of getting out safely are so much snow on the wind. They would riot—”

    “They would be killed en mass,” Tyr interjected with a sharp shake of his head.

    “And that is why I am here to get your help. I don’t give up three solid home cooked meals for just anyone, but I thought the last of the Septim line was well worth it.”

    All the color drained from Tyr’s face. “How did you...never, ever say that out loud again,” he hissed, eyes darting around as if he could spot any spies that might be about. “Orien doesn’t….we don’t need that kind of attention. Besides,” he added, sagging a little, “As far as everyone is concerned, that line is long, long dead, and the Empire’s moved on.”

    “Not for the better, and it’s not that side of the family tree that has me helping.” Gideon grinned at the skeptical look that earned him. “There’ll be time enough for all that once we get you free, but I can promise on my soul’s hope for Shor’s Halls that Orien will be safe whatever comes.” Gideon looked over to the napping child. “Of that you can rest easy.”

    Tyr stared at him, quiet, thoughts whirling behind his eyes. “How’d you survive their test, anyway?” he asked, apparently changing the subject.

    Gideon studied him intently, but really, if he couldn’t trust Tyr, what hope did they have of getting any of them out? “I’m not as alone as I look.”

    “That was a training mission,” the shorter man said curtly. “It definitely had the feel of one. Why would they need help to discipline a servant? You met one of them, and they let you live. What happened?”

    “I mistook her for the servant, and offered to get her out. My seeming madness, and my stupid height intrigued her.” Gideon slid down the wall. “Sorry about the rations. I’ll be even sorrier tomorrow.” Gideon chuckled weakly in self depreciation.

    Unbending enough to chuckle, Tyr glanced down to Gideon’s midsection as it made its displeasure known, “Well, I definitely believe you about those homecooked meals you’re missing.”

    “She said something that truly bothered me, that they don’t have names.” Gideon shook his head. “If nothing else told me these binty crows had no souls left of their own, that would.”

    “Names...what does a tool do with a name?” Tyr shook his head, but his expression was one of quiet sorrow.

    “So, how many hostages are we talking? Is there any way to find out?” Gideon drew himself back from that particular trail. It was self defeating. They needed to win them free first before they could start undoing a lifetime’s damage.

    “I honestly have no idea,” Tyr replied, going and sitting next to his son’s sleeping form, reaching out and brushing his hair back from his face. It kept falling on the boy’s nose and he would huff it off, but if it kept happening he would wake up. “You can ask every man here if he even slept with a female prisoner, and count one for every one of those, and still not know.” His expression was haunted. “They...don’t have a high survival rate, I don’t think.”

    “So, it looks like my only chance at that information lies with the Bitsy Bosmer,” Gideon sighed, “if even she knows.” She gave her name in trust, and he would hold to that trust.

    “Bitsy Bosmer?” Tyr echoed, looking confused, then recognition hit. “Wait, green eyes, orange hair, bad attitude?”

    “Aye, she was something else.” Gideon nodded.

    “And she let you live?” Tyr asked, as if he couldn’t believe the evidence of his own eyes.

    “I had very compelling proof I was telling her the truth, and she was interested, at least then, about...about climbing a tree.” Gideon was glad for the darkness, it might hide some of the furious flush creeping up his neck.

    Tyr reached down and lifted his tunic to his ribs, showing a shiny scar just under them, “She gave me that,” he said, grimacing. “Wait, tree?”

    “My um, my height.” The flush grew brighter. “Even my wife teases I’m tall as one.”

    Tyr looked a lot like Rommy when he laughed like that. Orien woke up and gave him a look of inquiry, but his father only shook his head. “Oh! Oh, Gideon. I’m not sure what to tell you. Other than I’m sorry, and it’s been nice knowing you.”

    “There’s a few folks would have something to say if anything happened to me.” Gideon shook his head. “In fact, they might drag me back again just to yell at me.”

    “You and me both,” he chortled, then sobered, hugging Orien against his side. “If you don’t mind, I need to think on this. Feel free to stay if you want; no one will bother us in here.”

    Settling himself a bit more comfortably and focusing his eyes on the rock across from him, Gideon “called” with his mind’s voice again, :: Knock Knock. Who’s there? :: Rommy had mentioned letting someone else monitor. He was really hoping it wasn’t Romulus. A full blown Mad God fit was the last thing they needed, and there’d be one, for sure, over Orien.

    :: Easy Gideon, it’s me. :: Erandur’s mental voice was a balm to Gideon’s nerves, Though the tiredness conveyed in those four words piqued his curiosity. What had they been doing?

    :: How? ::

    :: Rommy enchanted a crystal hat. I don’t know all the specifics. He was worried he’d been...unduly influencing you. I tried to tell him if he was, it wasn’t by much, but he’ll learn. Eventually. :: Gideon smiled. There’s the dry wit he’d come to appreciate.

    :: Take a gander at the munchkin. :: Gideon turned so he could see the little boy.

    :: Well, hello there. :: Erandur’s surprise was easy to hear, and there was a mental hum as he took in the boy with his True Sight.

    :: Can he be transported? ::

    :: Not yet, he has one of those hooks in him. ::

    :: Can you get it off him? ::

    :: It’s different somehow. :: Erandur sounded puzzled as he sorted it out. :: Gideon, they’re keeping kids in the pits? :: There was no mistaking the simmering anger in the Dunmer’s mental voice.

    :: He’s the only one I’ve seen, and it’s just a guess, but he’s what they’re holding over Tyrlief’s head to keep him from taking this place over from them. Then the Thalmor turn around, and hold Tyr over the rest of the men. It’s diabolical, but effective. ::

    :: What? ::

    :: You’ve seen Rommy. Tyr is no different. Within a week, he’d be running this place given half a chance. ::

    ::...I can believe that. ::

    Gideon turned his attention back to Tyr. “Did you know there is some sort of magical...tether on Orien?” ::How long would you need to study it before you can do anything with it?::

    “Yes,” Tyr replied, looking startled. “How did you?”

    “I did tell you I was not alone.” Gideon smiled as reassuringly as he could at the man. “It’s how I’m getting information out so we can get you and the hostages out. This is no joke; this is no hoax. You have family that wants you and your children free.”

    Looking thoughtful, he asked, “Family or…’family?’” he made a little circling motion around his head as if he were wearing a crown.

    “Romulus. He is not from that side of the family. That connection, well, you know which side that traces through.”

    “Of course,” he shrugged. “Father told me the story. Once. He...I think he was very bitter about it all. If my grandmother was so important, if my grandfather was some sort of legendary hero, they should have been taken better care of.”

    Gideon wanted to hug the poor man, and resisted the best he could. “A lot of those questions can be answered once we get you out, if you really want them.”

    “Unfortunately, I heard the Blades got disbanded,” he grimaced, “Wouldn’t they be about the only ones that still could?”

    “Nope.” Gideon grinned. “Do I have your interest yet? Though I do have a funny tale for you about the current incarnation of Blades. They’ve really come down in the world, sadly.”

    “The ones in here will be sad to hear it,” Tyr said, then peered at the light beyond Gideon. “It’s about time for dinner. Might as well see if you got us all punished with what Clif calls your ‘bloody big mouth.’ They’re really not happy with you, by the way. Probably best you sleep in here, otherwise they might get up to mischief.”

    “Would tales of a real live Dragonborn be a morale booster, or a riot inciter? They’re mostly funny.”

    “Are they mostly true?” Tyr asked without missing a beat, sounding quite as if he expected Gideon to say “not at all.”

    “Mostly, of course I won’t be giving any names, and they’re unbelievable enough no embellishments are necessary.”

    One eyebrow rose (he really did look like Rommy when he did things like that), “The Dragonborn? Well, might as well start a riot anyway; Alduin’s come to kill us all. Hope he eats the elves first.”

    “Oh, she’s already taken care of Alduin. Now she’s mopping up Thalmor. She landed a dragon on Elenwen. Squish.”

    Tyr visibly flinched at Elenwen’s name, hugging Orien closer to his side. “She’s dead?” he asked, throat tight.

    “Three years dead, Tyrlief. That nightmare is done.” Gideon’s voice was gentle, hoping it would reassure him.

    The man hid his face in his hands, breathing deep. Dead. She’d never return to torment and torture him or his men again. She’d never be able to threaten Orien. She’d never get the chance to hurt him. Orien watched him worriedly, eyes wide. He’d heard stories of Elenwen all his life, despite his father trying to shelter him from them. If he’d ever had a proper bed, she would have been the monster under it.

    Gideon dropped down on his knees in front of the little boy. “Orien. I promise you, to the best of my ability and my friends watching us, you will never have to fear again.”
    The boy blinked at him, then grinned slightly and reached out to pat Gideon’s knee. “It’s alright, Mr. Gideon. You really shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep.”

    “Oh, this one definitely needs to be kept, or all Oblivion would break loose on this place, probably literally.” Gideon winced at the thought. Really, they needed to get Orien out yesterday. :: How’s that study coming? ::

    :: It goes to the same place, but there’’s not the same, it’s put together differently. :: There was a mental gasp. :: I can’t remove it. If I do, he dies. We have to find and break the focus. ::

    :: Rommy said the same thing about the hook on the assassin I met. ::

    :: Damned clever way to control them. I doubt there’s more than one, then. Probably ties them all to same the one, and it’ll be someplace he thinks impregnable. ::

    :: Damnit! :: Gideon huffed in aggravation, and ran his fingers through his hair as he thought. He winced as a finger caught on the braid. It probably needed replaiting. “There’s a hook, it’ll kill Orien if we try to remove it, it’s tied into a focus object and he thinks Fifi’s keeping it someplace we can’t reach.”

    “Fifi?” Tyr echoed, face completely blank in utter surprise.

    “Falo-long-name-I-don’t-care-enough-to-remember.” Gideon smirked. “And it sounded like a girl’s name anyways.”

    “Gideon, I surely hope you’re on the level, because I think you might just be mad, and the mad are very difficult to fight,” Tyr said ruefully, then rose, giving Orien a hand up. “Let’s go stop the dinner riot, shall we?”

    “Will stopping the riot be easier with me there, or with me here?” Gideon asked, rising back to his feet. “Since I’m fairly sure I’m half the reason there’ll be one.” Gideon shrugged. “I only say half because I’m pretty sure the Thalmor were planning to double cross you all anyway. Orangeboy’s furious blush this morning was proof.”

    “You might assume otherwise, but Altmer are as touchy about their honor as Nords are. You should stay here, though. If they don’t realize you’re back yet, they might give us full...well, what they were already giving us anyway. They like starting fights, and that’s much easier if there’s someone to point at to start it. I’ll bring you your share, don’t worry.”

    “You, I trust.” Gideon slid back down the wall. “But call me if you need me, hey? Might as well let my size be good for something.”

    “Besides intriguing women?” Tyr teased. “I used to use my eyes for that. Of course, that’s what...anyway.”

    “Shor save me!” Gideon eyed Tyr with amused interest. “You Domanio, you, winking your way out of trouble.”

    The man actually fluttered his eyelashes before walking out, demonstrating exactly what had drawn so many women in. Gideon fell over laughing, gales of laughter following father and son out of the cave.


    It was the smell that woke him. Food. Actual food, not just old, coarse bread. Something meaty too, like sausage or perhaps hashed beef. “Someone is well on their way to becoming my new best friend.”

    “Well, that’s a start,” a familiar voice laughed. Light fingers reached out and tickled their way down his side.

    “Bitsy! To what do I owe the pleasure?” He was happy to see her until she reached his ticklish ribs. “Hey now! Mercy!” He rolled away, laughing.

    “Aww, you’re ticklish?” she asked, kneeling over him and reaching out to tickle the same spot. “That’s so cute!” She relented after a moment, leaning back and crumbling off a corner of the sausage roll she’d brought. “I figured big boys get hungry,” she purred, holding up the piece. “Open wide!"

    “Do I need to worry about strings? Or is this a buttering up attempt?” Gideon smiled at her.

    “No strings, but definitely butter,” she dimpled. Both cheeks had them. “Of course, if you want to show your gratitude, I won’t say no.”

    “You are a beautiful woman, you probably knew that already, but I am married, and my vows mean something to me.” He brushed her hair free from her face, so their eyes could make contact.

    “Really?” she tilted her head, the wavy orange hair let loose from its braid shining in the dim light. “Because from what I hear, you’re married to multiples.”

    Gideon chuckled, and showed her his band. “Just because the vows are to more than one, doesn’t make them any less true.”

    “Eh,” she shrugged, pulling away from him slightly. “Eat,” she ordered, holding up the piece.

    “I may have discovered another piece of the puzzle keeping you here.” Gideon offered, watching her for interest.

    “Very romantic,” she said, nodding as if she were encouraging him.

    Gideon grinned. He wondered how long it would take her to show her angle. There was more going on here than just wanting in his pants. “Are you truly interested, or still angling to use me to get back in the Legion?” He gave her a toothy, open grin. She was cute, and she was trying, but he really didn’t want to give her any false signals. There were bruised feelings he and Lydia were still mending from crossed signals. “Or maybe, you’re keeping your options open? See which one is more likely to pan out?”

    “Honey, I always keep my options open,” she gave him an amused smirk.

    Gideon glanced at the improvised plate of a massive leaf. :: Can you tell if it’s drugged? Though really, little reason to here in the pits. Real food offered every so often? Would probably work as if charmed without any additives. ::

    :: I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it was. Do you want me to call Rommy? :: There was slight concern there, and a lot of tired.

    :: What happened to you? ::

    :: Scamps happened. Actual daedric scamps. Rommy asked me to babysit them: I thought he meant mischievous children. Don’t worry, they only singed my eyebrows a little. ::

    “Are you going to eat this, or leave me holding it all night?”

    Gideon raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m a little torn. If I let you feed me, you might get a false impression. If I take it from your fingers, you might get offended. How do I get out of this intact?”

    She laughed merrily. “For a dumb one, you sure do think too much!”

    “Can…” a little voice behind them piped up from the pile of blankets. “Can I have some?”

    Shell glanced over her shoulder at the child, considering him for a long moment before she burst out laughing again at his anxious look. “Sure!”

    Orien’s face broke into a wide smile, and he pulled a blanket around himself to rush over and get his share. The assassin lifted a small pack, obviously meant to be separate from Gideon’s, and handed it to him. He took it shyly and settled next to Gideon, shivering.

    Gideon moved him into his lap. “I’m told I’m the next best thing to an oven. You’ll be warmer there.”

    “You’re making my task harder, little one,” she told him, more amused than annoyed. “What if I wanted to try out the oven?”

    “He has another side,” Orien pointed out logically. Gideon sighed, and raised an arm, inviting her under. Shell squealed like he’d offered her a kitten and snuggled up, running her fingers over his bicep as she went passed.

    “It won’t be the first time I’m loved for my body heat.” Gideon looked over to the blankets, his eyebrow up. “When did your father leave?”

    Orien shrugged, stuffing his face. “I don’t know,” he said around a mouthful of breading, cheese, and sausage. Shell was ominously quiet, and Gideon noticed.

    “Do you know if he’s done this before?” Gideon asked gently, floored for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the trust Tyr placed in him to watch Orien. Though that didn’t make sense, but Shell’s continued silence gave him a clue there, along with the food packet she had ready for the little one.

    :: Are they related? ::

    :: Hard to tell in the low light, but they could be. :: He heard that thinking hum in the back of his head, and Gideon dutifully tried to watch both Orien and Shell without staring as he continued to eat. :: Yes, I think so. :: So it wasn’t him he trusted, but the other family member.

    “There’s a hook on Orien, similar to yours, but slightly different. Best guess is that it’s tied to the same focus as yours.” Gideon sighed heavily. “If something happens to either of you, you’ll wind up in a nasty place called the Soul Cairn. Been there, don’t recommend it.”

    “Oh, come on, Treeman, can’t you just let me enjoy feeling your manly muscles all along my side for a bit?” Shell threw up her hands, then huffed, snuggling back into him. Just for a little bit of payback, she squeezed his butt. Now Gideon knew how Mercutio felt. He may owe him an apology or three.

    “What’s a soul cairn?” Orien asked.

    “An absolutely shitty plane of Oblivion that we’re all going to eventually,” Shell snapped. The boy paled.

    “If it’s any consolation, we’re trying to keep that from happening, and I believe the Dragonborn has been conspiring to find a way to free what souls are there.”

    “Whoop-ee,” the woman groused. Gideon hugged her close and she stiffened.

    “I’m not lying. I haven’t lied to you yet and I won’t.”

    “Gideon, what are you doing?” Tyr asked, staring at them all from the curve of the cave.

    “Playing fireplace to two cold natured younglings. Orien woke up when Bitsy brought in the food.” He helped Orien up so he could run to his father.

    The boy raced off, half-tackling hug full of affection but also a touch of the fear that one day his father wouldn’t come back when he vanished. He burrowed his face against the man, then glanced up, and his somewhat distressed expression vanished. “Momma!”

    “Oh, great. Here comes more snuggling,” Shell muttered, sounding disgusted.

    Tyr looked somewhat awkward. “Well, I suppose I have to trust you now, Gideon,” he said.

    “I figured it wasn’t me you trusted with Orien already, especially with the extra rations she packed just for him.”

    “Mother packed them,” Shell shrugged. “I just put in extra for you. I figured Tyr would want to keep you close.”

    “Rightly so,” a light voice put in. What appeared to be a short Altmer woman walked in, holding Orien. She was only short for an Altmer: she and Tyr were the same height. She had long, straight rose-golden hair and topaz eyes nearly the match for Rommy’s, and would probably drop jaws wherever she went, from Summerset to Argonia.

    “I’m beginning to see the picture.” Gideon looked back amongst the three.

    :: Sweet Mothering Mara, they’re half siblings. :: He didn’t really need Erandur’s confirmation, but it was nice to know he guessed rightly.

    “Should I stab him now, or can I sleep with him first?” Shell asked, sounding bored.

    Tyr rubbed his eyes as if he were getting a headache, but the woman only smiled. “Do reign it in, bellani. This man is trying to be helpful.”

    “I know; it’s adorable,” she purred, leaning up to lick the shell of his ear. He flinched slightly.

    “Sorry, ticklish.”

    “I know,” she replied, eyes shining with relish. “I can’t wait to find out all where.”

    “I’m not sure who I’m supposed to be fighting for their honor; Gideon or Shell,” Tyr joked.

    “Oh, please, fight me for his,” she gave him an evil grin, draping an arm around Gideon’s shoulder. “You’re not my father anyway.”

    “I think he’d care for you like one if you let him,” Gideon pointed out. There was evil laughter in his head. Erandur was having entirely too much fun at his expense. :: Are priests of Mara even allowed to take such glee in other’s misfortunes? ::

    :: She’s like an Evil Telki. No wonder you can’t make up your mind. ::

    :: Your support overwhelms me. :: He turned his attention back to the lovely Altmer lady. “My lady, I am honored to meet you. Orien is a delight, and Bitsy here is a holy terror.”

    Everyone but a confused Orien had a good laugh about that. “Unholy, perhaps,” the woman said, not without affection. “She’s calmed down in recent years, thankfully.”

    “Oh, well, can’t slaughter people without discipline. Well, you can, but it’s harder to get away, and definitely harder to clean up,” Shell sassed.

    Gideon squeezed her lightly. “Have you told them what you saw in the tower yet?”

    “Something about you being able to summon cabbage people?” the woman said, sinking to the ground so gracefully you’d think she was falling through water. Tyr settled next to her, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, fitting together so smoothly you’d never know they weren’t on a sunny porch somewhere, in more peaceful circumstances. Orien shifted so that he was touching both of them, looking happier than Gideon had ever seen him.

    :: A match made by Mara herself. :: Erandur whispered. Gideon had to agree. He silently renewed his vow to get them out of there, hook, crook, or sideways.

    “Gideon, this is Fey. Fey, this is Gideon. Fey is—as you’ve probably guessed—Orien’s mother. And...and a Thalmor.” Tyr glanced up into Gideon’s eyes in raw challenge as he said that last, daring him to complain.

    “Somehow, I don’t think she’s Thalmor by choice.” He tilted his head towards the lovely lady. “Are you?”

    Fey lifted a hand in a slight, almost shrug-like gesture of helplessness. “I was born here. Shell, myself… we were raised to this. I’m not sure what I’d do if I could escape,” she confessed.

    “For a smart woman, you say the dumbest things sometimes,” Tyr interjected lightly, pulling her hand up to kiss the knuckles. “You’d come with me.” Fey smiled, eyes shining up at him.

    “Euch,” Shell grumbled.

    “There is a fly in the ointment, and I’ve told Shell about it in the tower, else she’d be safe with my friends right now. There is a hook, that links her and Orien, and, if I don’t miss my guess, Fey, to the Ideal Masters and the Soul Cairn. If we can find the damned focus and break it, Falo-what’s-his-name would no longer have the hostages to hold you here. We could get them to safety. Shell has seen me do it.”

    “I saw a Dunmer wink out of existence,” she rolled her eyes. “I have no idea if he’s safe or not. I kinda hope not. That wanker hit me a good one.”

    “He managed to hit you?” Fey asked, raising her eyebrows. “Sloppy, Shell. Thank your stars Talon didn’t realize.”

    “I was,” she glanced Gideon, who was laughing hard enough she could feel herself vibrating from it, up and down, “distracted.” Him laughing was pretty distracting too, she had to admit. Not only did it make her want to join him laughing, it kinda made her want to climb into his lap. “It’s not fair; I’d never seen a Treenord before,” she mock-pouted, giving up the admittedly short inner battle and scooching into his lap.

    Gideon sighed, then wrapped both arms around her. “That cold, really?”

    “Freezing,” she giggled, snuggling into him in a way that was highly inappropriate and had Tyr sighing again, wondering why the man was putting up with it, then deciding he really didn’t want to know. Somehow, he doubted that whatever happened, Shell was aiming to make Gideon his step-son-in-law, but there was little he could do about it.

    Gideon gave a very undignified squawk. “Do that again, and whatever evil schemes you had planned will be for naught.”

    Her eyes brightened with curiosity, but a severe look from Fey quelled her. “Now, Gideon, Tyr said you requested some help? I promise nothing, but I will hear you out.”

    Gideon sighed, trying to decide where to begin. “We knew about the breeding program. We figure many are hostages to the prisoners’ behavior. Now, we know many of you are being held by the Ideal Masters’ hook to keep from escaping. We need to find that focus. We need to know how many are willing to leave the Thalmor if we break it, and get them out of here so the Dragonborn can come in with her troops.”

    “I’ve heard of the Dragonborn,” Fey said serenely, giving Tyr a small smile when he started. “She is a Khajiit, Dagi-raht, approximately thirty years of age, a trusted advisor to the High King of Skyrim, and instrumental in bringing down the Thalmor interest in that country. She also,” Fey continued, giving him a piercing look, “has three husbands.”

    Gideon nodded. “She does.”

    “Oooh! Challenging,” Shell giggled, wiggling a little. Gideon shook his head at her antics, while Erandur continued to laugh at his predicament. Fortunately, things were still whimpering in pain, and wouldn’t be rising to the occasion anytime soon.

    “Shell, please get off him before his head explodes and his wife has a real reason to kill you,” Tyr sighed tiredly.

    “Honestly, these pants are quite a bit coarser than what I’m used to wearing. She could dope me, and I probably hurt too much to do her any good.” Gideon winced, “Where’s talcum powder when you need it?”

    “I could kiss it better,” she winked.

    “Actually, she mentioned that you might be having problems with that,” Fey said, heading that off before it could get anywhere. “When she described your unusual size, we figured they hadn’t anything to fit you properly. We brought you some larger pieces. They’re just smaller pairs cobbled together, so the guards shouldn’t notice. You’ll find them in with the extra food.”

    “Are you sure you’re Thalmor? Because right now I could mistake you for an Aedra of Mercy.” Gideon bowed his head to her.

    “Hey! It was my idea,” the woman in his lap protested.

    “And I thank you.” He dropped a smacking kiss on the top of her head.

    Shell glowered at the childlike treatment. “I will punch you if you do that again,” she warned. “And don’t think I don’t know where it hurts.”

    “Shell, go wait outside,” Fey said firmly.


    “Now,” the steel in that command wasn’t to be disobeyed. Even Orien’s eyes were wide. The women locked eyes for a long, tense moment, then Shell merely sighed and hopped up, giving the big man a sassy wink before sauntering out. Fey waited a moment after she left to turn back to Gideon. “I apologize. She is young yet, and I fear she spent far too much time undisciplined.” Fey inclined her head, as if asking for forgiveness. “There will be no further interruptions for her antics.”

    “Lady Fey, that she has any manners at all is amazing, given the situation in which you were both raised. No, I know where the fault lays, and I can assure you, the guilty parties will have the rest of their afterlives to rue their evil ways.” The heavy surety in Gideon’s words left no room for disbelief. This was a Divine Pronouncement on Faloniril’s fate.

    The couple exchanged a glance. “Told you,” Tyr said quietly, a hint of mischief in his eyes.

    Turning back to Gideon, Fey opened her hand as if to present him with something. “Ask your questions.”

    “Where would Falo-what’s-it put something he wanted absolutely nobody to touch other than himself? That is where the focus is.”

    She thought for a long moment, her hand coming up to rest lightly against her lips. “I’m not entirely sure. There are a few places, but they are all inaccessible to most others. Even within the Spire, there are passages we know nothing about.”

    “I’m thinking this would be something he’d need access to fairly frequently. A hidden place in his quarters or something, maybe.” Gideon thought for a moment. “How many of you will be willing to escape, and how many are going to want to fight for the Thalmor? I will warn you, there will be dragons.”

    “I want to see a dragon!” Orien cried, looking excitedly up at his parents. “Can I? Can I see a dragon?”

    “If they happen to be attacking, I hope not,” Fey muttered, giving him a small kiss on the head.

    “When this is over, I promise you can ride one.” Gideon loved Orien’s sheer exuberance, it shone like a sunbeam.

    :: Making promises for Odahviing? :: Erandur asked. :: This I have to see. ::

    :: I’ll have you know, Rommy’s promised he can turn me into a dragon, if all else fails. I want to personally squish Falofifi. ::

    :: Not if I land on him first. ::

    :: You too? ::

    :: Yes. ::

    “If Gideon rides the dragon first, you can ride. With a rope. And your father,” Fey told him.

    “What if I don’t want to ride a dragon?” Tyr asked, tilting his head to look at her.

    Grinning a little, she leaned in and kissed him. “Of course you do.” Tyr leaned forward into the kiss, capturing her head with his hand, and Orien blushed and giggled, hiding his eyes behind his hands. They broke apart after a moment, their eyes locking for another second before they recalled the business at hand. “As to looking for you...I am afraid I cannot. There are places I cannot go. Places I dare not go. However…” she hesitated, glancing at Tyr again. “How many are you? Are there Altmer?”

    “With what you know of the Dragonborn, what would you trust?” Gideon asked her. “Right now, there’s only a few of us that even know I’m here, but I know she can rouse quite a force to do her bidding. Trust me, your and your children’s predicament is enough she’s seriously considering calling in some Daedric favors she’s owed.”

    The woman shivered. “I’d prefer no Daedric interference, please. What I had in mind is a good deal more subtle. You wish to investigate the place for yourself, yes? Faloniril has been searching for new recruits. Low level guards and such, to begin with, anyway. If you have any Altmer, they could enlist.”

    “Does the Altmer have to be...home grown?” Gideon had a smile that would cause all three of his spouses to shudder.

    “Not if their abilities or potential are high enough,” she answered, intrigued. “I have seen many come from Valenwood, or even colonies in Hammerfell.”

    “How about the countryside of Cyrodiil?”

    :: Gideon, what are you thinking? I don’t think I like where this is going. ::

    “There are those as well,” Fey confirmed. “Some formerly Imperial Altmer are starting to feel that the Empire is a losing proposition.”

    “I think things will turn around soon.” Gideon smiled, eyes flicking quickly to meet Tyr’s. The redhead frowned and gave a slight shake of his head.

    “Will that suffice?” Fey asked, glancing behind her.

    “You have to go?” Tyr asked, sounding wistful.

    “Ilmiyon has returned. He wishes to spar with me in the morning, and look over the...the new Young Ones. It has been some years since he saw them, and he’s curious how many are still around. There...might be some cullings upcoming.”

    “Cullings?” Gideon did not care for the sound of that. “Is that what it sounds like? How long do we have?” He could feel Erandur’s ire rise with his own.

    “It’s exactly what it sounds like,” Tyr rumbled, holding Fey close. “How long is Ilmiyon going to be around?”

    “I’ve no idea. With any luck, he will leave before too long. Faloniril wishes for him to examine them, I think.”

    Tyr cursed, fear in his eyes. “Talon is bad enough, now Ilmiyon?”

    “Who is Ilmiyon, and what would you like done with him?” Gideon asked, Erandur a silent bulwark in his thoughts.

    “Ilmiyon is...he is a Named Young One, like myself, like Talon, only he will never be a Trainer. He...enjoys his work too much. Not many of those he was set to train survived the training. Those that did were...warped.” The hunted look on Fey’s face was telling, in an assassin.

    “I have one question for you. Do you want him to die quickly or slowly?” Gideon asked in all seriousness.

    “Do not stoop to his level,” she censured him. “He will enjoy you drawing out his death as much as he would enjoy drawing out yours. There is no compassion in that man, and he feels only the satisfaction of his work.”

    :: If I didn’t think he’d get along with the Duke, I’d say give Ilmiyon to him to play with. ::

    :: Erandur, what? ::

    :: The Duke of Mania, and we simply must keep Telki away from him at all times. The little man is a homicidal menace. ::

    :: Right. You’ve been listening? I think Rommy can make Telki and Mercutio both Altmer, and they could slip in as guards. They’d have each other’s backs, and could probably cover each other to do a little snooping. If Telki’s True Sight is as good as you all claim, she should be able to get pretty much anywhere, and take anything down. We apparently are now on a deadline. :: Gideon felt Erandur’s shudder.

    :: I don’t like it, but I don’t see any other answer, either. I’ll share this news. ::

    “I must go,” she stood, regretfully placing Orien on his feet and giving Tyr a last kiss that turned very quickly into a passionate embrace. Orien turned away again, hiding his eyes behind his fingers.

    “Come back soon?” Tyr asked, staring into her eyes searchingly.

    “If I can,” she breathed, stepping back. She turned and all but vanished into the shadows. Gideon couldn’t wait for the day they didn’t have to say those sorts of goodbyes. Poor little Orien looked as if he wanted to cry. Gideon couldn’t stand it.

    “So, Orien, would you like to hear about the day a funny little cat girl saved me from a bunch of bandits?”
  6. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Chapter 6
    In which Telki resigns herself to always being short, and it's board game night in the pits.


    Chapter Text
    Chapter 6

    Rommy cuddled his new fiance to him as they caught their breaths. He really was thankful he’d had a bed put in. Very, very thankful. Colored lights were still flickering around the room, fading gradually. He wondered briefly what Felicia would have made of that. She probably would have laughed herself sick.

    “Mmmm, missed you.” Telki nuzzled under his chin. “Hate how long you’ve had to be gone. Seriously. If he doesn’t start leaving your Fringes alone, I’m taking a mallet to his quartz butt.”

    Laughing, he pulled her tighter against his side. “He just...he’s very into his timetable. Apparently there is something that is supposed to happen—by his reckoning—and we might screw it up with our antics. That’s what he calls them, by the way. Antics. Like we’re a bunch of kittens with string.”

    “Sweetheart, every time someone opens their mouth about him, I like him less and less, and I weren’t too sure about him when he was Sheo. Please. Introduce me. He needs his brains fritzed again.” Telki batted her lashes at him. “You have to admit, my track record against Daedric Princes is stellar.”

    “You never met him as...wait...the books?” he guessed, glancing down at her. His hair was white at the moment. He found himself looking more “Sheo” whenever he was in the Isles lately. He hoped it wasn’t preceding another period where Sheogorath was completely in the forefront.

    “I met you that time, remember? And yeah, me no care for books. Taking the orc’s head, or turning the girl’s guts and bones into a harp. I took umbrage at those.”

    “I still have that,” he informed her. “It actually plays quite nicely. Murril likes it because it sounds like she’s singing.”

    “Can you turn her back, the girl’s soul still in it?” Telki gave him a disbelieving look, rising up on his chest to stare into his golden eyes. Man had devastatingly gorgeous eyes. It was unfair.

    “She doesn’t mind so much,” Rommy assured her. “She’s had a lot of time to get used to it. And she likes Murril.”

    “I’ll have to trust you, since I don’t speak harp, or would I, since I’m a musician? Wow, congratulations, it took the Shivering Isles to finally confuse me.” Telki fluffed his hair since she was there already. Softer than tundra cotton and smoother than silk, his hair was one of her favorite things. Really. Very unfair.

    “Oh, finally!” he laughed, moving quickly and rolling her over so he stared down at her. “What? Don’t like my hairstyle?” he teased.

    “Not that. I love playing in your hair, I love looking in your eyes. I love the way you cuddle me close. Quite simply, I love you. Everything about you, so there.” She reached up and quickly kissed him.

    Smiling into the kiss, Rommy’s hands started soothing down her sides, bits of spark magic just starting when there was a knock on the door.

    “Rommy, Telki, I have news.”

    The Mad God sighed, sagging just a little before he realized that was a good way to crush the woman under him, and rolled off her. “Give him a day pass to the Shivering Isles, you said. It will be helpful, you said,” he half-whined, half teased.

    “Noooo, my warm Rommy blanket!” Telki huffed. “Yeah, but who set him to watching the crystal hat, hmm?”

    “That is much better than having Gideon suddenly in my head when we’” he flushed. “Still not ready for group activities.”

    “I dunno, having Gideon giving you ideas might help get you ready for it.” Telki comically wiggled her eyebrows at him.

    “I have plenty of ideas of my own, thank you very much,” he replied with wounded dignity. “Granted, some of them are anatomically impossible and I am so glad Old Sheo basically didn’t have a sex drive or I would be having some terrifying flashbacks right now.”

    “Wow, no wonder he went crazy,” Telki tsked.

    “There are plenty of people with no sex drive who are perfectly sane,” he admonished. “Actually, as a group, they tend to be a bit saner than average. Wonder why that is?”

    Giggling, she replied, “Well, I’m so very glad you seem to have plenty of sex drive...shall we take it for another spin after we get this news?”

    “I can hear you in there, you know.” Telki swore she could nearly see the blush through the door.

    “Sorry Love,” Telki sang to the door, “but by the blush he was wearing this morning, I think he heard you last night.” A very strangled squawk sounded through the door.

    “I really should soundproof that thing,” Rommy muttered with a sigh, glowing so pink steam actually came out of his ears. “Otherwise I’m going to have Sam hovering around even more than he already does.”

    “I thought that’s what the Saints and Seducers’ barracks were for?” Telki bumped him and then wrapped both arms around him, clinging like climbing ivy.

    “Since he has a prurient interest in both you and Mercutio—and me, still—I wouldn’t be surprised if he swung by here, first.

    Telki groaned, then nudged Rommy. “You promised to poof my clothes back, unless you just want poor Erandur to combust.”

    Rommy scoffed. “If he can’t handle you naked by now, he never will. Besides,” he grinned boyishly, “it’s the latest fashion.”

    “Alright, so when he grabs, dips, and kisses all hell outta me, you’ll not combust?” Telki raised a quizzical eyebrow.

    He thought for a moment. “Honestly, I think I’d be too shocked to see him unbend.”

    Telki’s laugh rang sweet and pure. “Oh honey, you’ve no idea!”

    “And I won’t wind up a fish or something?” Erandur was on point, his dry wit in full bloom.

    “Does this mean something amusing has happened?” Rommy called, allowing the bed to grow flowers that hid them from the waist down, then recalled he was covered with scars and summoning his clothing anyway. The petals changed their shades to harmonize with his outfit. He handed Telki hers. If she wanted them, she could put them on. If not…the Dutchess would be jealous.

    “I think I’ll be happier testing neither your jealousy or his control, hmm?” Telki compromised, and pulled the lovely loose tunic over her head, fluffing her curls out of the collar. The ends disappeared into the flowers around her, some of them echoing the shade. “Come on in, the flowers are fine!”

    “Telki, how do you feel about pretending to be an Altmer for a while?” Erandur came on in the door, after cracking it and seeing them both clothed. He smiled at the literal flowerbed. Of the nonsense he’d seen in the Isles, this was probably among the safest and most clever.

    “An Altmer?” Rommy echoed, tilting his head in thought.

    “Apparently, Falofifi needs more guards and is actively recruiting. We could slip in Telki and Mercutio, if someone can make them convincing Altmer.” Erandur checked the nearest wall, and leaned against it once it didn’t look to either grab him or absorb him. Since seeing one of the madmen sucked from one room into another, he hadn’t trusted any of them. He gave Romulus a speaking look. “Someone’s already let slip you could turn him into a dragon for Fifi squishing purposes.”

    “Damn, I was hoping that would be a surprise,” Rommy muttered, then glanced at Telki. Part of him rebelled at letting her go off into so much danger. The other part of him hit that part repeatedly with a rusted spoon, because she could take care of herself, and he knew this. “What do you think?”

    “How would this all work, and what would we be looking for if we go?” Telki was tapping her teeth. “And shouldn’t someone invite Mercutio to the discussion?”

    “He’s keeping watch on Gideon. He said he’s all for it, and he’d love the opportunity to ‘mess with the Thalmor’. He’s rehearsing Dragonborn stories now with Gideon.”

    “Oh for love of!” Telki huffed.

    “If it buys us even a little advantage in the fight, because they underestimate what you can do, isn’t it worth it?” Erandur softly asked her.

    “Definitely,” Rommy put his two septims in, swinging his feet around. “So,” he asked, resting his chin on his hands, “Want to see what you’d look like as an Altmer?”

    “Oh yes please and thank you!” Telki fairly bounced out of the bed, and vibrated in front of him. The faces of the flowers turned towards her as if she were the sun. “Show me whatcha got, Rommy. Make me a pretty pretty Altmer,” she giggled. She wondered if she’d finally see what it’s like being tall as a tree.

    Giving her a soft smile, he leaned up and kissed her. “You’d be a pretty anything,” he told her, then lifted his hand and cast.

    The world whirled, feeling unpleasantly tingly and a bit crampy, like when she was a child and her bones were growing. She couldn’t feel her tail, and the air felt far too chill on her skin, though she’d been fine a moment ago. Her skin felt sensitive and almost prickly as her fur vanished. Colors shifted slightly, and the tips of her fingers ached where her claws had been.

    Telki looked down at herself, comparing. She had golden unmarked skin, instead of her usual stripes. No tail, she even looked back there to check, and looked over to Erandur.

    Wonder of wonders, she could look him in the eye. She was taller. Her ears twitched. They felt…odd. “Wow.” She winced; not the voice she was used to. It was slightly off. Different. She practiced a scale. Still had it, but it was not her voice. “Didn’t expect that to change, too. Wow. Do I sound okay?”

    Rommy was smiling at her. “You sound wonderful. They’re not going to let you in for your voice, but you do sound wonderful.” Sliding off the bed and accidentally leaving flowers wherever his bare feet touched the floor, he walked around her, making small tweaks here and there. “Sorry, but I don’t think the eyes should stay. What color would you like?” he asked.

    “Yours are pretty. They’re an Altmer color, aren’t they?”

    “I suppose they are,” he said, brushing his fingertips over her eyelids lightly, then smoothing a hand down her hair, stealing some of its curl and length. Pure Altmer didn’t tend to have curly hair, though soft waves weren’t uncommon. “Thankfully, the Altmer have redheads aplenty. What do you think, Erandur?”

    “She’s still Telki, but an Altmer. I think it’d do.” Erandur said after careful study, Telki posing playfully. “Enjoying life as a goldenrod so far?”

    “I thought I’d be taller, honestly. I guess I was meant to be a shorty no matter my race.” Telki sighed, shaking her head in mock sadness. “No really, this is interesting, I can’t wait to see Mercutio’s face.”

    Rommy abruptly started chuckling. “Please, put on some Saint armor and go flirt with him.”

    “Oh my gracious, that is Brilliant! Love you,” Telki smooched Rommy, startled to find she didn’t have to tiptoe to do it. “Love you,” again with her world being slightly off, not having to reach as she laid a kiss on Erandur. “Hey, Rommy, you can’t just summon me some?” She stopped at the door, “I’m not exactly sure where to get Saints’ armor, and I’m not going in the barracks for love or money.” Not that she hadn’t been invited, several times in fact.

    “I don’t think you’re into women anyway…are you?” he paused, because it had never actually occurred to him to ask.

    “Um, no. Not even remotely, though Serana tried her best.”

    “Serana…why does that sound…Oh! The one with the horribly insane father that I wouldn’t let in,” he snapped his fingers in recognition. The sound of a gong echoed through the room when he did.

    “Yep, that one. He’s toast now, you’re welcome.”

    “Thank you. I was contemplating going down there and giving the man a lesson on food chains,” Rommy turned and gestured at the bed, a full kit of Saint’s armor appearing. “Don’t tell Sam I know how to do that. He’ll want a set.”

    “Honey, preaching to the choir.” Telki slipped into the set. “Oh bugger, is Sam in the Isles? Do not want to run into him like this, nope nope nope.”

    “No,” Rommy replied. “There’s a…what do you call it when a Breton girl turns sixteen? One of those parties?”

    “Coming of age?”

    “I think what I was looking for was ‘really bad idea,’ but let’s just skip that and move on to the armor.”

    “Apparently, Saint arms bend both ways, Can you get that buckle back there?” Telki was turning herself around and around, trying to lace and buckle everything, some of which she simply couldn’t reach on her own. Erandur was enjoying the show. Rommy took pity on her and helped her fasten the straps with an ease that suggested he’d done this before.

    “There you go. I’ll change Merc, then summon a mirror for you both,” he said, stepping back as she tucked her hair up and under a helmet.

    “Wait wait wait, I want to see the look on his face when I flirt with him first.” Telki was bouncing in place, the armor really doing something for attributes she didn’t usually show off so much. Erandur’s eyes were glued. The heads of the flowers also bounced with her, but they didn’t have eyeballs to boggle.

    “What are you waiting for?” Rommy teased.

    “Bye!” Telki flitted out the door, headed for the crystal hat. Merc should be there.

    Rommy held out his arm to Erandur. “Invisibility cloak?” he offered.

    “Why thank you, kind Serjo.” Erandur took his arm, and they both vanished from sight.

    “My Lord Mercutio?” Telki giggled as he flinched. How many times had she heard that phrase in honeyed voices, trying to entice her poor Mercutio into a night of romping?

    “Uh, yes? Does Romulus need me for something?” His eyes popped as she walked her fingers along his shoulder to flick a soft lock of hair behind his ear. The poor man was practically vibrating in place. Telki’s internal giggles took on an evil tinge.

    “No, the others and I were talking.” She continued to crowd his space, her breath on his neck, also a new novelty. Being taller certainly had its advantages.

    “Oh? Oh really?” Mercutio was trying his best not to react, but Telki knew exactly what blowing on his neck was doing for him.

    “Yes, and we decided we needed to change things up a bit.” She idly twirled that lock of hair around her fingers, then sidled around so she could for once be face to face with him.

    “Aren’t you a little short for a Saint?” Mercutio was reduced to babble from the constant close contact, and somehow, the Saint in front of him had zeroed in on the very things that got him hot and bothered in no time. None of them had blatantly come into his space before; their invitations were usually verbal. Fortunately, whatever it was he’d said was enough to stop her cold and allow him a little brain function again. He took a deep gulping breath, and looked up at his tormentor. She looked a lot like…“Telki?”

    “Dang it! I wanted to see if I could get you to do that yelpy thing that’s so cute first.” Telki pouted for half a second, before twirling around for Mercutio to get a good look. “So, what do you think? Will it fool the binty crows, or what?”

    Mercutio studied her, carefully hiding his smile behind his hand. “Hmm, I dunno, turn around one more time.”

    “Merc!” As he thought, that one good twirl more was enough to overbalance her. He caught her up and squeezed before she could hit the floor.

    “You’re off balance without your tail, aren’t you?” Merc laughed.

    “I admit nothing,” Telki huffed, snuggling in. “‘Sides, I’ll figure it out soonish.”

    “Oh, I didn’t think about that,” Rommy’s disembodied voice floated from the vicinity of Merc’s elbow, making him jump. “That could be trouble if you need to fight.”

    “Well, I’m open to suggestions. Though I really think I’ll figure it out fairly quickly.”

    “Yes, time is rather a factor, apparently.” Erandur’s voice floated out of the empty air next to Rommy’s. “It seems the Thalmor are not above…weeding out the young ‘recruits’ that don’t measure up.”

    “I can put a tie on you guys as well, but I can’t be in everyone’s heads at once. Well, I can, but you’ll all be in each other’s heads, too, and…I can think of other uses for this but you’ll all still be crazy so it won’t matter.”

    “Rommy, Love, I think you’re tangenting again,” Telki teased. “And get visible already so I can hug you.”

    “Only hug?” he teased, fading back into view. There was a moment’s paused before he added, “Oh, sorry Erandur,” and the Dunmer faded back in as well.

    “Group hug!” Telki grabbed her guys to her, squeeing internally that she could actually grab them all. This being bigger thing had its uses, such as longer arms for more hugging.

    “We have ribs, Dearest,” Rommy reminded her painfully.

    “Oops, sorry,” Telki slackened her grip, a little. “So, really, how are we going to do this? Being able to holler for help would be nice, but I don’t want to spread you too thin.” Telki bumped her shoulder into Merc’s, “And we’ll actually have each other for backup.”

    Thinking a moment, he said, “Actually, I could link you two; lightly, of course, but you’d be able to call for help. I could also set it up that all of us could tap into the hat, so we can conference, as it were. I’ll see if I can tweak this a bit to keep my mind from seeping in so much.” He glanced at the hat, already working out the intricacies of such an undertaking.

    Telki diverted him by bouncing again, “Sounds good. So, Altmer him up, and let’s get linked.”

    The Mad God barely glanced at Merc before he started growing taller, getting yellower, and ruining his clothing as it got both too short and too loose. “Oh, sorry,” Rommy said sheepishly. “I was distracted.” Telki looked very good in Saint armor, he had to admit. He made a mental note not to let Sam in the Isles at all while this was going on.

    “Oh really?” Telki gave him a knowing look.

    “Well, let’s face it, I have six or seven things going on in my head at any given time. Minimum,” he shrugged, then glanced up at Merc and chuckled. “Sorry, Telki. You won’t be a matched pair. Merc’s apparently always meant to be average height, even as an Altmer.” Of course, this put her husband towering over her almost as much as Gideon usually did.

    “Well, it’s not like I’m unused to having people to look up to in my life.” she sighed.

    Giving her an apologetic smile, he asked, “Ready to see how you look?”

    “Yes, please, and thank you,” Telki bounced on her toes. Really, she’d been very patient, all things considered.

    The air next to them shimmered a moment, then wavered and hardened, forming a long, tall reflective surface. Telki shoved Merc in front of it, so he could see himself. “Look, still the prettiest fella I know even when an elf.”

    “You’re not so bad lookin’ yourself as an elf.” Mercutio wrapped an arm around her, “But the armor might be a bit much.”

    “Oh, that was just to mess with you.” Telki scrunched her face up, “How would prospective binty crows dress anyhow?”

    “Let me go ask the Dutchess,” Rommy said, then vanished in a swirl of butterflies. None of them had actually met the Dutchess yet, and he would much rather it stayed that way. Not only was she frightening on her own, she’d once managed to take a bite out of him and he wasn’t sure what eating Daedric Prince flesh did to a mortal.

    “I can’t believe he’s asking the Dutchess.” Telki dropped her head into her hands. “There’s no telling what answer she’ll give.” Telki looked up at both Erandur and Mercutio, noting their puzzled exchange. “This is the woman who was ranting about a dress that I wasn’t even wearing, you know.”

    “Well, if that’s her recommendation, they might not mind the invasion,” Erandur was smirking at them.


    There was a little tug on Merc’s arm. He looked down to see Murril, gaping up at him.

    Telki giggled, “You approve of Mercutio’s new look, Murril?”

    The little Altmer girl nodded vigorously, then held out her hands to be picked up. She’d never done that before. Had, in fact, shied away from everyone but Rommy and Telki so far, and the Golden Saints, who looked so much like Altmer already. Whether it was her upbringing on Alinor or something else, she was most comfortable with tall, yellow people.

    Bemused by the whole situation, Mercutio picked her up, wondering what she was after. The girl wrapped her arms around his neck and simply hugged him, looking around at the others with wide green eyes.

    “He is pretty snuggly, isn’t he?” Telki asked. “And if I weren’t worried he might drop you, I’d show you a good place to tickle him.”

    She smiled shyly but shook her head, her still overlarge ears brushing against his cheek. She seemed perfectly content to remain where she was, for the time being.

    “You’re so cute.” Murril blushed. “How are you going to feel about having other little Altmer kids to play with soon? Will that be fun?”

    Rather than respond happily, Murril paled and hid her face in Merc’s neck, shivers running through her thin frame.

    “Oh sweetie, I’m sorry. If you don’t want to meet them, you don’t have to, I promise.” Now Telki felt horrible. The girl only shook her head slightly and continued to cut off her perch’s air supply.

    “Murril, sweetie, I need to breathe a little. You know Telki would keep you safe, don’t you? She didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” Mercutio patted the back of her head, after winning himself some breathing room.

    Rommy chose that moment to rematerialize, looking a little miffed. “Alright, who upset the youngest member of the Mad Court?”

    “That would be me. I mentioned she’d have some Altmer playmates if she wanted, and this happened. I feel horrible, and don’t know how to fix it.”

    He winced. “Oh. Not much you can do, I’m afraid,” he told her helplessly, walking over and lightly brushing the back of the child’s head. She relaxed and suddenly fell asleep against Merc, her arms going limp and falling from his neck. “Once she starts reliving it, nothing outside her mind can break her out of it.”

    “What happened to her?” Telki was near tears herself.

    “Not so much to her as everyone she knew,” he said, voice heavy with regret. “She was on a ship with a bunch of other Altmer families that were political dissidents of the Thalmor, seeking refuge elsewhere. Their ship was caught by Sload.”

    “Oh no. Oh no no no.” The Sload were horrific, slug-like Beastfolk that raided the western coast of Tamriel and the Summerset Isles. They were best known for their necromancy and creating terrible diseases and sea monsters, and were just about the only thing not out of Akavir or Oblivion that had gotten the Ten Races to work together.

    Relieving Merc of his unconscious burden, he gazed down at her with a grim expression. “The Seducer that brought her in was…fairly shocked, and I thought my Girls had seen everything.” The girl had been dirty and severely dehydrated when she’d arrived at the Isles, where she’d curled in a ball and stared into space for days. Rommy had needed to cast cohersion spells on her just to get her to eat, then later to break her mind out of the circle of memory it had become tangled in. As a page, she was only useful in the Palace; whenever she left without him, her mind returned to that place. He hoped, one day, he could free her of it.

    “A shocked Seducer. Sweet Mother Mara,” Erandur had heard tales of the Sload, and this only seemed to confirm the worst of them.

    “Rommy, would something like what I did in Pelagius’ head help her any?”

    “Not quite yet,” he said regretfully. “That only worked because Pelagius was a grown man, with a set personality and problems. Murril’s a baby, she doesn’t have the sense of self an adult has. She’s happy enough here, but in order to heal she’s going to have to return to Tamriel again, someday.”

    “Well, you know I’d take her in a heartbeat, but she’d have to be comfortable with me and mine in our own skin. Will she ever get to that point?” Telki rubbed the sleeping child’s back.

    “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to conduct this search from here,” Rommy confessed. “I was hoping she’d start to get used to you all. After all, she can’t stay my page forever.”

    “You’ve kept your Adoring Fan all these years, so why not? The rules seem a little hinky. Not complaining, I’d rather see her live a long healthy life myself, but if there’s actual rules, I’m not getting them.”

    “There are plenty of rules,” he told her with wounded pride. “They just happen to change whenever I’m hungry, or happy, or if I randomly turn purple.”

    “I get it; they’re whatever you need them to be as you want them to be. You’re adorable.” Telki kissed his cheek and grinned. “Oh look, I didn't have to go on tiptoe to do that.”

    “I like watching you go on tiptoe,” he told her, giving her a quick kiss. “I think it’s adorable how short you are. It’s like whoever created Dragonborn tapped into my head for a moment, or is just a fan of irony. I love it.”

    “Yes, darling, I was made just for you, and Merc, and Erandur, and Gideon. There was a committee, and your brains were scanned,” Telki depanned.

    “You’re not too far off,” he said, turning to take Murril back to her room.

    “Wait, what?” Telki thought she was just being a smart aleck. That was certainly a kick in the pants. “What do you know that I desperately want to know and now need to know or spontaneously combust?”

    Her only reply was a bucket of water hovering over her head, waiting to put out the flames if she spontaneously combusted. “Rommy, can I get some kind of an answer before I wind up soaked? And is Saint armor the kind that might shrink? That could be bad. I can barely breathe in it as it is.”

    “Ask Shor next time you see him,” Rommy advised, turning the corner and walking through a wall. It wasn’t the same one that Erandur had witnessed eat the madman, and he shuddered.

    “Oh well, if that’s all, sure. I’ll just thu’um my way back into the Afterlife and bug him for an answer. Thanks for all the practice, by the by. I hardly notice anymore when I Shout!” Telki teased.

    His head popped back through the wall and blew her a kiss before vanishing again. The wall made the sort of glugging sound normally reserved for the sloshing of viscous ooze.

    “Not because I particularly want to be a wet blanket to the flirting, but we do have a deadline? What else needs doing to get you and Merc down there? That focus needs to go, ” Erandur told them. “Fey and Tyrlief said there is a culling coming up, and I really don’t want your first duty that of mass grave digging.”

    That effectively brought Telki’s mood down. “Wait, culling? That’s what you meant about ‘weeding out?’”

    Erandur sighed, and pinched his nose in frustration. “Yes. They apparently only keep the most promising from the breeding program to become their perfect little ‘infiltraitors.’ Fey—that is the woman Tyr is in love with, by the way—did not say how young they culled down. The one responsible this time around is a graduate of the program, and apparently enjoys his work, so to speak.” Erandur chewed on his next words, and looked to see if Rommy were headed back in the room. “There’s more. Telki, you are going to have to control your natural impulses, it’s worse than you know.”

    “Erandur, what?”

    “Tyr has a child with Fey. His name is Orien, and he’s living in the pit with his father.”

    “Those, those those. Those .” Telki’s infamous insults abandoned her. She couldn’t think of words bad enough. She saw red, actual honest to goodness red until her sight was nothing but red, and she wanted to break something. Preferably Falofifi.

    The shocking cold water as the bucket hovering over her assumed she was about to combust pulled her back to her senses. She yelped. “Okay, I’ll...I’ll keep my cool. But once those kids are out of there, that entire motherless pit of slugbuggering vipers gets razed down to the bedrock.” Telki looked down at her armor. “I need dry clothes, I think this is shrinking.”


    The soft pattering of rain drowned out just about everything under its calm, steady thrum. Gideon listened to it from the cave he’d managed to find when Tyr asked him politely if he wouldn’t mind spending the night somewhere else. A Breton man small enough to fit through the gates between pits was holed up with him, having some kind of meeting they didn’t want Gideon privy to just yet. Orien was allowed, especially since the entire prison seemed to view the child as some kind of good-luck charm.

    Tyr had been spending more and more time communicating with the other pits, mostly through seemingly casual conversations at the gates and now through a network of slender, short individuals that could actually fit between the narrow bars. The Breton was the first that had let him see him, but he knew an Argonian had been through after catching a flash of tail, and a Redguard woman had set half the pit talking. Most of them hadn’t seen much of women since the pits were segregated almost two years prior, and her presence had made the men both wistful and restless.

    Gideon watched the flurry of furtive activity with pride. They were motivated again, they were hopeful again, and that meant he was doing his part to get them free. He didn’t mind being left out of the ‘planning.’ That only meant they were going about it smartly. He never assumed earning their trust would be easy; if it had been, he’d have worried about their chances. No, their caution gave him even more hope for success, though it did leave him with large swaths of time and nothing to fill it with but his thoughts.

    He’d also had time to note he wasn’t the only one left out of the inner circle. More often than not, they scheduled these meetings for when they knew Shell would not be about. Fey wasn’t present for the meetings, but Tyr would share with her, and she would advise or commiserate, occasionally warn him off some aspect they hadn’t thought of or didn't know enough about. That sharing did not happen with Shell. She still came with her mother nearly half the time, bringing extra food for Gideon, and more often than not trying to feed it to him, but there was a wary air to the other adults when she was there. Often, Shell left because her mother ordered her to, with the same weighty pause as the first time. It was almost as if Fey half expected the younger woman to attack them if displeased.

    What kind of hell had Fifi fashioned, that would put such distrust between mother and child? It was one more reason to send him to the blackest pit for eternity.


    Gideon whirled to find Shell dripping in the doorway with the customary waterproof sack, and one addition. He felt his eyebrows rise. “Is that a Talf board I see?”

    “Well, I figured a Treenord could play it,” she said, regarding it with pursed lips, as if she’d forgotten exactly what it was. “It’s certainly not getting any use in the Spire.”

    “I’m shocked there’s one in the Spire at all, given the usual opinion on Nord intelligence. Yes, I play, do you?” Gideon’s overwrought restraint breathed a heavy sigh of relief; Shell was not dressed to tease as she usually was. Her tunic was of a heavier weight, and covered her shoulders and even her neck, long-sleeved and falling to her knees almost like a gambeson. She even had a blue shawl on over that, which she shivered into slightly, giving the reason for her strange apparel.

    “Actually…” she shrugged, looking surprised he’d asked. “Yeah, I play. Been a while, though.”

    “Well, if we’re going to play, we’ll need to play it proper, but you’ll have to put the fire runes on the walls.”

    “I was planning on it. This rain is freezing,” she said, giving him an odd look.

    “Is it? Perfect bathing temperature for me,” he winked. “But you can’t possibly give me your best game if you’re half distracted with shivering, and you certainly can’t play from under my arm.”

    She gaped at him for a moment, ruminating that Skyrim must be colder than Aldmeri hell if anyone actually bathed in water that cold. “I’m half distracted by something,” she muttered, moving past him and placing large runes on each wall, then one on the ceiling for good measure. “I thought for sure you’d want to play with Tyr or show Orien or something,” she admitted.

    “You’re here, they’re not. Plus, you were kind enough to bring it.”

    “Here,” she tossed him the waterproof bag before sinking into a cross-legged position, setting up the board with an ease that gave the lie to her being a casual player. “Do you want attacking or defending?”

    “Since the Lady brought the board, the Lady has the choice. I’m well versed with both.” Gideon opened the bag and inhaled happily, his poor deprived stomach fairly dancing in joy. Even the simple workman’s meals the women smuggled in tasted divine after so long in the pits, eating nothing but the coarse, poisoned bread and lukewarm water. While he ate, he studied Shell as she set the board and configured seats to her liking, giving herself the spot closest to a fire rune.

    This was a different version of her than he was used to seeing. There was no flighty play or outrageous flirting. She moved with purpose, and was thoughtful. He’d never say it out loud, not until he knew more about how Shell felt about her mother, but she’d never resembled that worthy lady more. He found himself liking this version of Shell.

    “My defense is poor,” she admitted. “I prefer to attack.”

    “Then I shall happily defend my honor from your fierce attack. However, I’d like to play against you defending the next game, so I can see what you mean.”

    “Your honor’s safe from me tonight,” she sighed, “Too cold.” Pausing a moment, she gave him a quizzical look. “You’d want to play more than one game with me?”

    “Of course.” Gideon looked surprised at the question. “You’re good company.”

    Unfiltered astonishment flickered across her face before she shook her head, a slight flush to her cheeks, “Well, I knew you were weird when I met you,” she said, making her first move.

    Gideon studied her placement, it wasn’t a standard move, and he approved. Standard moves led to boring games. “Nice to meet a fresh perspective.” Gideon nudged his piece into place, wondering how long it would take her to realize his gamut.

    “I’ve moved once,” she said with some amusement, moving another piece seemingly at random. Gideon was not fooled in the least. “I could just be very bad at this.”

    Gideon snorted while he adjusted the next piece to his ploy. “I watched you set up. That was not a beginner or a rusty player setting the board. Your move.”

    “I’ll have you know I am very rusty,” she insisted, moving again. Strangely, she didn’t lift her eyes from the board for this entire conversation, though she did rest her chin on her steepled fingers, considering.

    “Your concentration hasn’t left the board. Don’t try to sell yourself short to me; you’re skilled. This game was one used regularly to teach tactics in Shor’s temple. I know a seasoned player when I see one, and I’ll not let you gull me into complacency.” Gideon studied her positions, and nudged his piece into place accordingly. He had only half a hope of it working. He knew a con when he heard one.

    She captured a piece on the opposite side of the board and shrugged. “I didn’t consider playing against myself to count.”

    “It does, when you give your best on both sides.” Gideon moved into place, boxing two of hers neatly.

    “Whatever, Treenord,” she said, moving one of the pieces out of his box and across the board. Gideon handily claimed the sacrifice piece, noting the escape of the other. Nevertheless, her pieces would have to run the gamut to reach the king, it was the only way the attackers could win. It also demonstrated what a skilled player Shell was: not afraid to sacrifice pieces, highly intelligent (as he’d feared, she’d seen the kill box from miles away) and played it all off beautifully. If he hadn’t been suspicious to begin with, he might have believed her ‘casual player’ ploy. Their next few exchanges of moves only confirmed it.

    “I have one overweening question, given where we are: who taught you to play?”

    Shell faltered, actually dropping the piece she had been moving, then simply leaving it there as if she’d intended to put it there all along. “It’s a strategy game. Is it really a surprise I learned?” Her next few moves were clumsy, allowing Gideon to collect two more of her horde.

    Gideon snorted. “I am quite sure Altmer have strategy games the Thalmor feel are far superior to anything the barbaric and uncouth Nords could invent. Is it someone you need to protect? That’s fine.”

    A surprised laugh actually burst out of her at that. “Protect? No. Not in the least. I…it was during my apprenticeship. I was…” she hesitated, “injured, for a while. It happened to be on hand,” she kept her eyes on the small game piece she held as she said that, running it over her palm and up to her fingertips and down again.

    Gideon considered her words for a while, studying the board intently, trying to fit the pieces she shared into some sort of frame so he’d know what to say. A full minute later, and he still had no idea, and said as much. “I honestly do not know what to say, Shell. I am sorry for what you have endured, but I cannot say I’m not glad you’re still here with us.”

    “Well, the alternative is the Soul Cairn, so I’m inclined to agree,” she replied with false cheer.

    “I’d come for you, if it came to that.”

    She froze, glancing up at him with a frown. “Do you have any idea how insane that sounds?”

    Gideon smiled widely. “You have no idea how crazy my life has been, and will probably continue to be. I am dedicated to Shor, who some call the first mad god. Besides, I know where the door to the Cairn is. I’ve been there, it is a miserable place, and I’ll not leave anyone stranded there if can I help it.”

    “You’re likely to get yourself stranded there, trying,” she said, feeling entirely unsettled with the turn the conversation had taken.

    Gideon shrugged and shook a finger at her. “A chance I am willing to take, doubly so for a friend. I like you, that makes you a friend. I’ve been there before, and got out well enough.”

    “But apparently not with you wits intact,” she said archly, sitting back and folding her hands in her lap, looking strangely demure.

    Gideon looked at his poor surrounded king. It had been a brave effort, but her greater numbers (and his stubborn refusal to run) eventually cornered his poor king on all four sides. He did grin, though, that he’d whittled her pieces down to where there were only two more of hers to his defenders.

    “So, still insist on me embarrassing myself trying to defend?” Shell asked.

    “How else will you learn to kick my ass from both sides of the board?”

    “I could simply settle for kicking your ass outside the game,” she gave him a small, one-sided grin, arching her eyebrow.

    Gideon groaned comically. “Please, leave me some delusions of adequacy, will you? If I become humble, that’s grounds for expulsion from the Order.” He blinked unfairly long sooty lashes at her, his big brown eyes entirely too soulful. “You wouldn’t want that to happen?”

    She scrunched up her nose at him playfully, “I’d let you come out on top in other ways. You could be on top the whole time, if you’re good.”

    Gideon could feel his blush run from the tips of his ears clear down to his chest. Another kind of heat took over below the belt. His groan became a little more earnest. “Now that’s just playing dirty.”

    “Best way to play, really,” she giggled softly.

    “Set the board, woman, you need to learn defense, before you kill me.”

    “Best defense is a good offense! You can’t beat me if I embarrass you to death,” she pointed out.

    “And cost you a Treenord to tease and torture?” Gideon tisked at her. “Sounds wasteful.”

    “I suppose you’re right,” she sighed, setting the board again with a hair less enthusiasm than before. “Attack away.”

    “I don’t know why you’re whining. I’m pretty sure you’re going to trounce me again.” Gideon moved his first piece into play.

    She sighed, studied the board, then countermoved. Defense really wasn’t her strong suit, and she loathed it. Nibbling her lip slightly in thought, she took her time with each move, evaluating each of his to try to understand his mercurial strategies. It was a closer game than she’d thought it would be, but as Shell expected, Gideon won.

    “That was a good game, but why did you move your pieces here, when mine were here?” Gideon set the board with the pieces, giving her a concrete visual of the scenario.

    “I thought you were doing this,” she said, indicating with her fingers where she thought his pieces had been headed. “It’s what I would have done, so I moved to counter that.”

    “Damn, that’s clever.” Gideon studied the move. “So, if you see this attack pattern, what would you do?” He moved the pieces to demonstrate as she propped her chin on her hand and watched thoughtfully, going through several attack patterns and even a few more half-games. They were still discussing strategy when the first dawn greeters started chirping.

    “What?” Gideon looked towards the mouth of the cave. “Shor’s beard, it’s nearly dawn!”

    A string of inventive multilingual invective made the runes flare a moment. Shell hopped up so fast she almost tumbled over, her limbs less supple than normal after a night sitting on cold stone. Gideon was quick to steady her, though.

    “Treenord, it is entirely unfair how warm you are,” she grumbled, face flushing slightly but her worried eyes on the increasing light from the entrance. His arms around her felt entirely too good, and she hadn’t quite realized how tired she was. Nothing for it now; she still had the day’s training to get to.

    “I blame all the blushing you make me do.” He lifted her vertical. “You’re not going to get caught out now, are you?”

    “Oh, please. I can cast an invisibility spell asleep and half bled out,” she scoffed. “And the guards haven’t changed yet; we would have heard it.”

    “Alright then, I suppose I’ll see you when I see you, then. Tonight was fun.”

    There was a moment’s hesitation before she glanced up at him. “Would you want to play again, sometime?”

    “Of course.” Gideon looked at her as if she were silly for even asking the question. “I thought I made it clear I value your time?”

    “Yes, and it’s odd,” she reiterated, hastily stepping away from him as her stomach started reacting to his presence oddly.

    “I get that a lot.” Big shoulders shrug sheepishly. “I’d like to blame it on being one of Shor’s, but I have it on good authority I was damned odd well before I followed a fox out of the woods.”

    Shell stared at him confusedly for a moment before shaking her head. “I’m going to assume that’s some weird Nord expression and skedaddle before the light gets any brighter.”

    “Be safe.”

    “Awww, miss me when I’m gone?” she winked and blew him a kiss even as she faded from sight, not giving him a chance to answer.
  7. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Chapter 7: First Day on the Job
    In which Telki adopts some folks and finds an elf-shaped puzzle box. Also, we meet an Ill Minion and Shell indulges in self-harm.


    Chapter Text
    Alinor was surprisingly beautiful for a country full of xenophobic, genocidal maniacs. The palm trees towered over the orange orchards, waving in the wind as if to greet them. The sand was as golden as the inhabitants, and the Spire that grew from the surrounding groves like a spike of Order crystal shown with every color there was, as delicate as a piece of coral and sporting ornate bridges to smaller, equally beautiful spires, each winking a different color in the sunlight. Telki wondered what sort of madness gripped these elves, that they could be given a paradise like this, and be so desperate to turn it into a hell on Nirn.

    “We’ll be docking soon,” the captain called, sweating a little as he looked at the place. “Those of you that enlisted for duty, I recommend you be ready to depart the moment we dock. Be armored up and have all your stuff in hand.”

    Telki grabbed her knapsack and bumped Mercutio, waking him. “Grab your bag, it’s time.” Honestly, that man could sleep anywhere. She once found him asleep standing against a tree.

    “You ready for this, princess?” asked one of the other recruits, giving Telki a sideways smile. He’d been doing that a lot.

    Her eyebrows nearly hit her hairline. “Princess? Oh my stars, aren’t you a surprise? I never in a million thought I’d rank Princess. Hellion? Yes. Princess? No.”

    He grinned and offered his hand. “I’m Hyaril.”

    “Telkaryion. Apparently, mother thought more syllables the better. I usually shorten it to Telki.” She shook his hand politely, wondering if the poor sod knew what precisely was going on here. He seemed too nice for this mess.

    “‘Telki,’” he tried it out for himself. “Sounds Khajiit,” he commented with a shrug.

    “Does it? I never noticed.”

    “It does,” he confirmed, leaning in a little. The ship rocked and he nearly fell over. He flushed sunset orange. “I’m glad we’ll be on solid land sooner rather than later.”

    “Same. Though there’s something about the water that’s appealing, at least the ground doesn’t usually try to pitch me over.”

    “Well, if it does, I’ll be happy to give you a hand,” Hyaril offered.

    “Awww, so gallant!” Telki gave him a slightly puzzled smile. “Though you may have to duel Merkelwyn for that honor. Merkelwyn, this is my new friend, Hyaril; Hyaril, this is my beau, Merkelwyn.”

    Behind her, Merc was watching the Altmer with a husband’s eye. He was hitting on her, and Telki, being Telki, was utterly oblivious. He shook his head in wonder.

    Hyaril looked around her and caught Merc’s displeased expression. “Oh, uh, nice to meet you,” he said, suddenly looking just as nervous as the captain. Sailors saved him from having to make any further conversation as they rushed around them, looping ropes around the dock posts and pulling the ship in. The Thalmor that were returning started lining up on the dock in two rows.

    “Alright, so, where do the raw recruits line up, then?” Telki looked about. Was it too much to hope there’d be a ‘newbies, line up here’ sign posted?

    “Well, you could do what you normally do, and just start your own,” teased Merc. Telki raised an eyebrow at him. “No, no you don’t have to, you really don’t.” She simply smiled back as she stepped off the boat, and started a third line right next to the dour faced Thalmor. Several others watched this with various expressions of confusion, obviously as lost as they were.

    “Hyaril, you have a front row seat to the mess you just narrowly avoided getting caught up in.” Merc hefted his knapsack on his back, and followed Telki, as always.

    The Altmer blinked at him, then followed with the rest of the recruits, who obviously assumed Telki knew something they didn’t. The Thalmor in the other two lines glanced at them with various expressions, but most of them had to stop their lips from twitching, either up or down.

    They stood there while the rest of the ship was unloaded, the new recruits fidgeting and fanning themselves occasionally from the morning sun, the older members obviously resisting doing the same. The ship pushed off and sailed away before anything new happened. A breeze sprang up, cooling their faces but doing nothing for what baked beneath the moonstone armor.

    Everyone jumped at the same time. One moment the dock was empty, the next he was there, standing there like he’d been doing it all morning, simply looking them over. Telki didn’t jump, exactly, but she did give him a double take. With Rommy and Sam popping in on her whenever they felt like it, her first response was ‘oh hi.’ The second response was ‘who’s learned their trick and why don’t I know it yet?’ So she openly inspected him as he was inspecting them, and then she Looked at him.

    He appeared Altmer, with slightly curling white-blond hair tightly bound at the base of his neck, and impassive golden eyes that took in every detail before him. Hands clasped behind his back in a parade-rest position, he simply faced them for a long moment as they tried not to fidget. His aura was as calm and unruffled as he appeared to be, and he was tagged in the same way the others were. So he was another hostage, but was he a willing hostage?

    “Welcome,” he said, not sounding welcoming at all, not sounding anything, really. His speech was not monotone, nor disinterested, but there was a quality to it that didn’t ring either true or false. The word simply was. Telki’s ears perked as much as their cropped Altmer appearance would let them. Presactly what was going on with this guy? He was interestingly different, and she just had to know how he ticked. Behind her, she could hear a soft fervent “Oh gods, please no.” Apparently, her piqued curiosity had been noted.

    The elf had good hearing, for his eyes flickered over to them briefly. “Those of you returning, you know where you’re supposed to be. Get yourselves there. I will see you again after lunch. The rest of you, turn. Let me get a look at you.”

    Telki gave a big sigh, and dutifully turned around, barely suppressing an urge to turn it into a proper pirouette. She’d gotten better without her tail, but she wasn’t quite ready to try anything complicated or tricksy, yet.

    Walking up and down the line once, his feet making no sound on the dock, he looked them over, his face giving absolutely no clue as to what he made of them. Finally, he stopped near the middle of the line. “Face me,” he ordered the line softly, his voice somehow managing to carry over the waves and clamor of the servants taking the cargo inside. The wide berth he was given wasn’t missed on most of the recruits. Telki wondered what he’d have them do next.

    “I am Talon,” he told them, noting many of them flinch, Merc included. “I am Weapons Master on this estate, and it is I that shall be in charge of evaluating your uses.” Those hooded eyes looked up and down the line again, lingering just a moment on Telki. Catching his eye on her, she gave him a quick, mischievous nose scrunching wink, just because. There was no way she was going to fly under the radar, so the best she could hope for was the typical dismissal.

    The Weapons Master didn’t so much as bat an eyelash. “Starting at the right end of the line, tell me your given names and speciality. Begin.”

    Telki sighed. “Telkaryion: archery, alchemy, and enchanting.”

    “Merkelwyn: Conjuration, Destruction, Alteration and Illusion.”

    “Hyaril: Destruction and Restoration.”

    It continued down the line, every recruit yammering off their name and what they specialized in. Through it all Talon’s expression never changed, his weight didn’t shift, and he barely seemed to notice the sun or wind. Telki really needed to understand how the devil he existed in the first place. She’d never met someone like him.

    Mercutio just hoped and prayed his own prayer hadn’t put him on the mer’s radar. Telki, there was no hope. She’d get noticed, but she was generally good at becoming so obvious she quit being noticed. He, however, would have to go about it the old fashioned way. So he spoke only when directed, tried not to fidget, and desperately hoped those placid eyes kept right on roving over him as if he were simply another immaterial part of the line.

    Talon nodded when the line was through, though he hadn’t written any of their names down or even shown he was particularly listening very hard. “Raise your hand if you know how to use one-handed weapons,” he demanded softly.

    Mercutio winced; Gideon had insisted he learned to use more than just a dagger. He raised his hand with the others, just a little slower than Telki’s.

    “Line up behind me,” Talon instructed. “The rest of you, run. Run on the beach up to the Spire and back to that training ground there,” he pointed. “There is more to being a Thalmor than knowing magic. Your magicka will run out; don’t let it be the death of you. Practice running while you can.”

    Telki, knowing the others probably were too scared to be the first to move, obediently lined up behind Talon. She liked his advice. She’d heard something similar more than once from Gideon. That she was finding positive similarities there gave her hope Talon wasn’t a willing Thalmor, and she had a feeling the Weapons Master would be very handy to have on their side.

    Finally moving from his spot, Talon watched the ragged remains of the line trundle out to the beach, grumbling the entire time. Turning, he regarded those left. “Follow me,” he said simply, then started up the dock, leading them to the practice ground. They passed under several orange trees getting there, so old their branches were tangled together in a canopy over the path. Emerging on the other side, he simply waved toward a line of benches, indicating they should sit. “Pair off.”

    Telki walked to the furthest bench, and waited for Mercutio to join her, which he did. “You know there’s a good chance we’re about to spar,” Telki warned lowly.

    “It won’t be the last time you kick my can.”

    “You might kick mine. I’m still getting my balance, and I was never that good.”

    “Who rolled right under my feet, knocking me over, and then sat on my chest?”

    “Just the once, sheesh.”

    “Erandur’s still laughing about it.”

    “He shouldn't: When I did that to him, he wound up in a horse trough.” She quieted when a shadow fell over them.

    The Weapons Master looked them over for a long moment. “Pick a different pairing,” he told them. “Lovers go easy on each other, and I want a proper evaluation of your skills.” He moved on without waiting for them to argue or comply.

    “Well foo.” Telki resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at his back, barely. She huffed, and collected herself. “So, shall I make Hy’s day? The gal he’s sitting with was eyeing you on the boat.”

    “He knew, Telki.” Merc’s voice trembled just a bit. Honestly, more people should attend Bard’s College. It was apparently the only place that taught common sense.

    “Why do you think I said ‘no’ so emphatically to posing as family? There's no way our body language says anything else than ‘we’re comfortable in each other’s pants.’ A competent Weapons Master would pick that up right away. Every scrap we know about this guy says he’s more than competent.” Telki got up and walked to Hyaril.

    “Apparently, kicking my beau’s rear in sparring is a nono. May I kick yours?” Telki gave him her best impish smile.

    “Of course! Wait,” Hyaril paused, realizing what he had just said as the girl snickered, then gave Telki an inquiring look as to where she should be heading.

    “My guy is right over there. Don’t bruise him too badly, I have plans for him later.” Telki pointed to Merc, and he obligingly waved to the girl.

    “Oh, he’s yours? Darn,” the girl said good-naturedly. “Guess I’ll just have to take my frustration out on him now.”

    “Honestly, bruise him too badly, and I’ll be miffed. I’m very good with herbs and potions,” Telki warned, only half joking.

    “I haven’t done this in a few years—I’ll probably be the one taking a few bruises,” the girl assured her with a wince. “Still,” she paused, glancing back to where Talon was bossing someone else around, “there seem to be a lot of attractive men around.”

    “Yeah, if I didn’t have Merc, I’d probably be all over Hyaril like a bad rash.” Telki flitted her eyelashes at him. “Really, you’re adorable.”

    Hyaril clearly did not know how to take that, but the girl laughed aloud before making her way over to Merc, reaching out a hand. “I’m Minoena. I’m bad at this. You’ve been warned.”

    “Pardon me if I don’t take you at your word,” Merc smiled at her, “but the last pretty girl that told me that proceeded to thump me into the ground. The name’s Merkelwyn, pleasure to meet you.” He offered her his hand and she shook it.

    “Find places and begin. I’ll be around to evaluate you,” Talon called from across the grounds.

    “I, uh, I’ve never...why don’t you try to hit me first?” Hyaril asked.

    “Oh Hy, you are too sweet to be believed. What are you even doing here?” Telki wondered at him. “Okay, pretend I just said something really mean, like. ‘Talos is real’ or something.”

    Looking a little shocked, he brought his sword around. It wasn’t a terrible strike, but it was pretty obvious he wasn’t the best swordsman. Telki shook her head, caught it on her first axe, and hooked him behind the knees with her second axe, putting him on his duff.

    “Okay, now, can I get a real effort, cutie?” Telki teased, giving him a hand up. “I’m not kidding about the alchemy. I probably have enough with me to heal your bruises, mine, Merc’s, and the cute girl.”

    “Er, alright,” he managed, blushing. This time his strike was a little better, and he didn’t seem quite so nervous. “I’ve never...I never fought a girl before,” he confessed. “My sisters...they don’t like swords all that much.”

    “Well, from what I’ve heard, most girls in Skyrim’s first love was an edged weapon. Cyrodiil has women in the Legion. You’re going to have to learn to see an opponent, not your little sisters, or we’ll lose you. I don’t want to see that happen.” Telki parried the stroke, while going again for the knees, humming appreciatively when he dodged it this time, but missed the disarm she did with the axe that caught his blow.

    The poor Altmer’s eyes were wide as he watched her. “You...those are Lesser Races,” he said uncertainly.

    “I’m from Cyrodiil, I grew up amongst the ‘Lesser Races.’ And if you think that being born Altmer is enough to save you from a Lesser Race that’s had training his or her whole life, I’ll wind up crying like crazy over your grave first thing you know.”

    He grinned, “So you’d miss me already?”

    “Of course, you’re adorable.” Telki scrunched her nose at him, “And you’ve not given me a reason yet to not like you. You’re on probation. Don’t muck it up. Ready to go again?”

    “That’s enough,” Talon said from behind her. Hyaril actually shrieked a little when he jumped. Telki looked askance at him, though obediently lowered her axes.

    “Telkaryion, Minoena, Merkelwyn, Yannalmo, Gladyntar: step aside. The rest of you, go run.” He walked to the middle of the ground without examining her further, retrieving a light blade from a bench. After the rest left, he looked them all over. The last two called were both young Altmer men, and one looked confident while the other looked like he wanted to sink into the ground. “Gladyntar,” he said, making the morose one jump, “Come at me.”

    Closing his eyes, the recruit gave a hoarse battle-cry and dove in. Talon almost made an expression for a moment before simply side-stepping, knocking the sword out of his hand, and letting him fall to the dirt. “Spent some time in Skyrim, Gladyntar? Yelling and rushing into battle is a Nord tactic, and you have years of conditioning to go before I’d let you face one of those.”

    Telki put another checkmark in the ‘maybe’ column for keeping Talon. He complimented her adopted homeland and didn’t dismiss it or the Nords. She was also impressed: There was literally no wasted movement on Talon’s part, every move precise and deadly. She was not looking forward to her turn. She was more of a reactive fighter than a proactive fighter, unless she had her trusty longbow. Then, she was a deadly sniper. She wondered when he’d allow her to demonstrate. She was fairly sure she could put their best archer to shame.

    “Yannalmo,” he called, and the recruit rushed him without any further ado. This time it took a bit longer, as the young elf swung furiously at the Weapons Master, who simply continued to step out of the way, never moving far from his original spot. When he did raise his sword, it sent the other elf’s spinning into the underbrush. “Your ancestors are probably drinking right now,” he lightly mocked the young recruit, “trying to ignore this.”

    The recruit gaped at his empty hands, then glared at the Weapons Master, a Conjuration spell starting in his right hand, and a sword beginning to form. Talon slapped the back of the hand with the flat of his blade, not seeming bothered at all, then stepped inside the other man’s grasp and hit him behind the ear with his pommel. Yannalmo went down like a stunned horse. “Merkelwyn, drag him out of our way then grab your sword.”

    “Aye sir.” He wasn’t especially careful doing it. Yannalmo’s face probably caught a few more rocks and things than it might should have, dragging him out to the side. He then sighed and doffed his blade at the Weapons Master. “We who are about to be humiliated, salute you.” Well, he had been running with Telki. It was bound to rub off sooner or later. Strangely enough, this time Talon came to him, and Mercutio found himself hard pressed to use every trick Gideon taught him to keep his sword and to keep himself unbruised.

    Minoena giggled. “Where did you find him and does he have any brothers?” she whispered to Telki.

    “Would you believe me if I said he’s been incredibly unforthcoming about his family? I sometimes wonder if he’s a disinherited son or something.” Telki shook her head. “Their loss, he’s amazing.”

    The humor left her face and the ash-blond elf looked down. “Family can sometimes be unpleasant,” she concurred. Telki decided it was time to change the subject.

    “Sweet mothering Mara, is my man handsome or what?” Telki eyed Talon critically. “And if I’m honest, Weapons Master Talon is a delight to the eye as well. It’s like watching music take form.”

    Minoena gave a small, almost ladylike snort, “I especially like it when he smiles,” she quipped ironically, chin in her hand.

    “You’ve seen him before?” Telki asked as the girls drifted back to sit on a bench together. So far, she’d seen some almost expressions, but no smiles yet. Perhaps that could be her Opus Magnum, making Talon smile. Surely it would be a divine work in itself.

    “Heard of him. Doesn’t seem as sadistic as the tales imply, but then, it’s only our first day,” the woman shrugged, braiding her hair back up and off her neck.

    “Now that I hadn’t heard. I wonder if it’s like some other rumors I’ve run afoul, suppositions and assumptions rather than fact.”

    “No idea, but I’m not looking forward to fighting him. I’d say this is like watching a cat with a mouse if I thought for a second he felt something other than...I don’t know what he’s feeling.”

    Telki gave her an admonishing look. “Honey, did you catch the difference? He had to show the first two they were big headed idiots. Merc straight off told him he was no match, so now he’s seeing how much he knows, and what he’s going to have to teach him. It’s like, a placement test.”

    Minoena wrinkled her nose. “Maybe I’ll close my eyes and run at him, too.”

    “No, be honest. That will keep you safer than anything else. Please.” Telki winked at her. “If you do, I’ll share my bruise liniment with you after.”

    The young woman gave her a look of astonishment. “Alright,” she finally said. “I mean, I’m not looking to climb through the ranks, or anything. I’m just supposed to be here to make connections and make Father look good, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try.”

    “Honey, it sounds like your father doesn’t know what a jewel he has. You come to me if you need help, okay?” Telki nodded as if everything was already settled her way. “Sometimes, the family we choose for ourselves is the family we shoulda had all along, and I wouldn’t mind adding you for a sister.”

    “You just met me,” Minoena said flatly, blinking.

    “Yeah, but I like what I know so far. You’re on probation. Don’t muck it up,” Telki bumped shoulders with her.

    Minoena blushed orange. “Well, they did say I’d meet interesting people in the Thalmor,” she muttered to herself.

    “Did they?” Telki murmured as she watched them fight. “I wonder what their definition of interesting is, then.” Holy cow, Telki didn’t know Mercutio had even learned that spin, and the counter-swing Talon made? How did he get his arm that far around his back? It was pure music in motion, point and counterpoint, melody and harmony. She didn’t even realize she was slipping into full True Sight watching them. That link was still there, and Telki inspected it as much as she dared. She did not want to alert the Ideal Masters, or whomever set the thing, and she certainly didn’t want to kill Talon. What she did want, though, was some clue as to what the focus was, or maybe a hint of where it was. Maybe something in the construction of the link could give her those clues, so she studied it carefully.

    Growing frustrated, she glanced around...and noticed a few more links hidden in the trees. Curiouser and curiouser, they were apparently shy of the new recruits.

    Meanwhile, Talon was testing Mercutio with light blows. Merc used every block and evasive maneuver Gideon taught him, but even so, he couldn’t last forever. It took a quarter-hour, but Talon finally disarmed Mercutio, his blade sent spinning into the brush, and Mercutio looked like a hard run horse, complete with lather and dust.

    “There is a pump over there,” was all Talon said, nodding to the metal spigot half hidden in shadow.

    “Thank you,” Mercutio wheezed, and rather inelegantly stuck his head under the running water.

    “That’s my man,” Telki sighed comically.

    “Minoena,” Talon called, making the girl sigh as she rose, looking like she was trudging to her death. Their fight did not last nearly as long as the previous one, though it did showcase that Minoena had more skill than she’d given herself credit for. He stopped her without disarming her or laying her out. “You were classically trained?” he asked, and at her wary nod, began to verbally test her on her instructors and particular levels. By the time he was done she rather looked as if she’d prefered he have laid her out or disarmed her.

    Telki clapped for her, completely unironically. “Your turn,” was all the Altmer said, all but collapsing on the bench. “And for the record, I take it back. He’s not attractive. He’s a daedra.”

    “No, I can vouch for his not daedraness. I know too many Conjurors without sense.” Telki sat there watching Talon. Should she wait? Get up? She was the last one. Did he want a breather? She didn’t see any sweat.

    “Telkaryion,” Talon called, watching her. She sighed, and got up from her place.

    “I trained with Merkelwyn, if that helps. I would never come at you with axes. A hundred yards and a bow? Maybe.” Telki examined him, “If I had a strong enough invisibility potion I was sure you couldn’t see me.”

    “I shall see tomorrow what you can do with a bow,” was all he said, raising his sword to guard position. “Come at me with axes today. I wish to see your skill.”

    “I’d rather you just pummel me around the yard like you did Merc.” Telki eyed him, watching his guard, and finding it flawless. “Can we do that instead?”

    There was a long moment’s pause. “If you do not defend yourself, I will hurt you,” he warned, then came at her.

    “Defend myself, against you? Possibly. Definitely more likely than me getting a lick on you.” Telki dodged, rolled, and got her axes up just in time. Talon’s sword rang off them, then changed angle, coming around to slice the air right where Telki would have been, had she not rolled away. Talon turned with her, one hand still behind his back as it had been all morning. Again, crossed axes caught the blow, quick flick of the wrists battling to disarm each other. Telki barely kept her grip, and she found herself leaping back from a clever backswing. “Sweet mothering Mara are you fast!”

    Talon’s eyebrows twitched upwards, and his sword swung around again, feinting left then abruptly angling down and right. Telki squawked and yelped, but she kept up, barely keeping her skin intact, her commentary never ceasing the entire battle. Abruptly, Talon moved something besides his arm, his leg darting out to hook behind her ankle as she dodged, yanking her legs out from under her. If she’d had a tail still, that would have really made her a tail kinker.

    “Timberrrr!” She ducked and rolled with the fall, popping back up to her feet to find his sword at her neck. “Hi?”

    The Weapons Master’s golden eyes examined her minutely. “You talk too much,” he finally said.

    “Well, in my limited experience, it's a help, not a hinder. I don’t usually come up against exceptionally well balanced people like you,” Telki shrugged. “But, if you want me to try to curb it, I will.”

    “You use too much breath on it,” he informed her, removing the sword from her throat.

    “Bard training.” She ducked her head, “They um, they teach you to improve your breathing by singing or something while exercising. So, for me, it was during weapons practice.”

    “Stick to humming for a while,” Talon ordered, turning away. “You three are the best at sword’s work,” he added. “When practice comes, you’ll be partnered with older recruits. Telkaryion, whatever is throwing your balance off, see to it.”

    “Aye sir.”

    “All of you, run up to the Spire and ask for the mess hall,” he said, apparently done with them for the time being.

    “Aye sir!” Telki gathered the still knackered Mercutio and allowed him to lean on her as she held an elbow out for Min. “Shall we?”

    “Will there be shots?” Min muttered, “It’s a little early in the day, but by night we won’t even care!”

    “Poor darlin. Tell you what, if there isn’t, I’ll brew something just for you. How’s that?” Telk shifted Merc. “And you, when did you get so heavy of a sudden?”

    “Careful, Telki,” Min nudged her side, “I might think you’re trying to adopt me or something.”

    “Oh, I am. You and Hyaril. You’re too sweet for this place, honestly, the pair of you,” Telki shook her head. “I want to take you both home and keep you.”

    “And you’re not?” Min asked with a laugh, pewter blue eyes taking on a bit more cheer.

    “I made his eyebrow twitch. Did you see?” Telki snickered. “I’m too much mischief to be sweet.”

    “Uh-huh,” Min nodded and rolled her eyes, reaching up and patting Telki’s cheek. “Keep telling yourself that.”

    The Dragonborn glanced over her shoulder to see the practice area was empty, “As Aetherius as my witness, I will make that mer smile before this is all over.”

    Min snorted again. “Careful. Making impossible vows is how ghosts are made.”

    “Eh, I know how to settle a ghost, had to do that a time or three already.” Telki winked at Min, “And keeping impossible promises is kinda my thing.”


    Shell sat with her back against the trunk of a massive old tree, fiddling with her dagger and looking out over the waves. She was bored. Never good; her thoughts tended to wander when she was bored, and she didn’t particularly care for the direction they were headed lately. She’d been spending an awful amount of time in the pits, joining her mother visiting Tyr and Orien, listening to Gideon tell impossible, witty stories about his wife and life outside in general. Occasionally, Tyr matched him with a tale from before his imprisonment. It all sounded very strange to her, and the idea that she might join that world was so ephemeral it was really no more than momentary weakness. Still, it was one she was indulging with increasing frequency.

    Idly, she stabbed the little blade into her palm, feeling the shock of the wound course up her nerve endings for a moment, sharpening her mind. Blood started to well and she Healed it, doing it a few more times before that novelty wore off, and sighed, staring back over the water again. Her mother loved doing that, just looking at the waves, lost in thought. It was unreal, really. Shell felt about ready to scream.

    “Well, if it isn’t my favorite pupil.”

    The amused drawl from below hit her like a paralysis spell. She didn’t move, she couldn’t. Her muscles locked in exactly the same position they were in, rather than tensing in fear. Her heart hammered in her chest so hard it made her ears throb. Taking a breath, she flipped her hair over her shoulder and cast a wry look down at the elf that had found her hiding place. Green eyes a few shades paler than hers. Rose-gold hair like her mother’s, cut short and shining with health. A near-perfect face marred only by a knife scar cutting through the right side of his mouth and down across his chin. She would give a lot to know who had managed to do that. “I’m your only pupil, Uncle,” she reminded him, baring her teeth in a smile, “the others didn’t live up to your standards.” The others didn’t live at all.

    Ilmiyon laughed—whether at her words or because he saw right through her reaction, she wasn’t sure—and climbed the tree as nimbly as a cat. “The others were boring,” he retorted, settling himself on the branch beside hers, which was thankfully far enough away that he wasn’t touching her. “Not unexpected, given what a stick-in-the-mud Talon is. But you have something approaching a personality, and I like that.”

    “You like toying with me, you mean,” she said bluntly, making him laugh again. Surprise him, she reminded herself. Keep him entertained. Ilmiyon was even more dangerous bored than she would ever be, and panic got old quickly.

    “If it makes you feel better,” he teased, reaching over and ruffling her hair in a mockery of affection, “you are getting better at it. It only took you fifteen years, but I don’t always know what you’re thinking anymore.”

    “Lucky me,” she drawled, making him laugh again.

    “I heard they rescinded your mission to the Legion,” he revealed, leaning forward and dangling his hands between his knees, looking out over the water. “I wondered what you did. Of course,” he glance at her, eyes flicking up and down, “No one told me you suddenly developed dear Feyliin’s figure.”

    “I’d make a terrible courtesan,” Shell said with complete honestly, “I’m not subtle.”

    “You and me both,” he shrugged, giving her a little grin that was probably supposed to join them some way, to make her feel included in his little club of psychopathy. “But then, not all men want a subtle woman. Sister manipulated her first contract for half a dozen years before he outlived his usefulness, and she did it all through subtlety, being sweet and gentle and introspective and all those things.” Ilmiyon’s tone of voice clearly said he didn’t know how she bore it. “That’s what she’s good at; maneuvering people so gently they don’t even realize they’re being steered.”

    “I’d rather just order them to go where I want or stab them,” Shell interjected, feeling uncomfortable with his analysis.

    His delighted laughter rang through the sunny afternoon. “Oh, Niece, this is why you are my favorite.”

    Shell was very nearly sick. Favorite? “Forgive me for not leaping for joy,” she drawled with heavy irony, swallowing back bile, “Mother told me what you did to some of your past favorites. Your favorite dog, your favorite Dremora, your favorite horse—”

    “Speaking of horses,” he interrupted, “I heard you let a dumb Nord steal your mark out right from under you.” His eyes had gone hard, the brightness in them holding not mirth, but anticipation for how she would try to defend herself. Failed missions were nothing to laugh about, and it could be he had decided she needed more punishment than what the Weapons Master had already given her.

    Running her tongue over the roof of her mouth, trying to get some moisture, she decided not to even try to offer a defense. Sighing and slumping against the tree, she gazed at her dagger as if she were a lovesick girl in a silly play, contemplating the fickle nature of the heart, “What can I say?” she breathed, not missing how his eyebrows shot up in the reflection along the blade. Ilmiyon rarely bothered to school his expressions anymore; he found it much more effective for those he tormented to know he was enjoying it. “He has a really cute butt.”

    Ilmiyon nearly fell out of the tree laughing. Shell wished she had climbed higher, so she might just have had a chance to be rid of him. Then again, there were a lot of branches in this tree. There was too good a chance he would catch himself, then climb back up to return the favor.

    “You too, huh?” he asked, wiping crocodile tears from his eye. “What Fey saw in that bloody-haired Nord long enough to breed him, I’ll never know. Of course,” he paused, “it is easier for women. All you have to do is lay there and take it.”

    “Is that why you strangled the woman you were supposed to breed? You didn’t want the hassle?” Shell blurted, then wished she hadn’t. It didn’t do to ask her uncle too many questions, and it definitely didn’t do to insult him, even obliquely.

    A slow smile slithered across his face, “She was much prettier begging for her life,” he purred softly, making her shiver. “If she couldn’t survive that, then I don’t want her blood polluting my offspring anyway.” The glance he gave her made goosebumps erupt on the back of her neck, “It’s a shame you’re my niece,” he said regretfully, “Given another fifty years or so, you might be at my level.”

    “Thanks for that evaluation,” she said dryly. Even if they had been unrelated, the only thing she wanted between herself and Ilmiyon was a continent. And preferably an ocean for good measure.

    “On that subject,” he leaned over and snatched her dagger from her hands before she knew what he was about, “I’ll be looking over the new batch of Young Ones soon.”

    Cold dread knotted her stomach. “Oh? Is that really wise?” she raised an eyebrow at him, “Some of them are less than a year from their parent’s loving arms. One or two are crying about it yet.” The memory of Fey and Tyr holding Orien popped into her head out of nowhere, and her already clenched stomach lurched.

    He wrinkled his nose, “Oh. That young, huh? Ew. I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t have the main say in which ones are culled, or there’d be no point bringing them in from the mainland.” Examining the blood still on her dagger from when she had stabbed her palm, he added, “Crying children bug the shit out of me. I’d rather deal with Talon. Or worse, Grandmother.” Popping the tip of the blade into his mouth, he licked the blood clean and slid it out, examining the newly cleaned blade. “I’d like to push that old bat off the Spire.”

    Since she’d been wishing she could do something similar to him, she kept her mouth shut. In many ways, she was the most like her uncle. In others, he was a law unto himself. Faloniril had once lamented that if only his son had been born to an Altmer woman, he would have made him legitimate—the only time in her knowledge that a Young One would have been brought into the Family on this estate, rather than simply the Household, as Talon and the other Trainers had been. Ilmiyon had grinned and told the old man right to his face that he preferred it; being his heir would have been too much work, and he would have had to order someone else to do the killing for him. Somehow, Faloniril had been amused rather than offended by this. Shell still didn’t know how he’d done that.

    “I hope the new recruits are more interesting. I did like watching Talon put most of them on their ass yesterday,” he said, flipping the dagger in the air and catching it. “There are a couple of cute ones, some stupid ones, one that he already sent home in disgrace, and the usual batch that are only here for politics.” The last was said with rolled eyes. Ilmiyon was a firm believer in not sending someone unsuited to do the job unless the point of it was for them to fail or die, or both.

    Shell tilted her head thoughtfully, brushing her fingers idly through her hair as the wind caught the strands. Fey had mentioned the recruits to Gideon—could some of these be his contemporaries? She found it hard to believe an Altmer would work with a Nord, but there were plenty of dissidents to the Thalmor, as well she should know, since she’d been killing at least two a year since she was twelve. People really should pay more attention to children, honestly. Just because they were short and had big eyes didn’t mean they didn’t know where to stab, and in most cases were in an easier position to do so than adults, who had more of an obstacle in the form of arms.

    She doubted Gideon would be so willing to hug her if he knew how often she’d used that as an opening for murder.

    Ilmiyon made a sound of disgust, “I know that face. Fey makes that face whenever she’s thinking,” he rolled his eyes. “Look me up if you want your ass kicked,” he offered, leaving as abruptly as he came. Shell watched him go, the wind shifting and bringing the sounds and smell of the surf to her, the rhythmic susurration soothing over her overwrought nerves. Her mind went over the conversation, picking it apart for the little mind-games she knew he liked to play, despite his contempt of Fey doing the same.

    Slipping out of the tree, she walked along the beach toward the second practice ground, the one the recruits didn’t use, because it was reserved for the house guard and another type of recruit altogether. Talon was there, and he gave her a brief nod of acknowledgement before returning his attention to his youngest pupils. Shell didn’t mind Talon so much. Yes, he was a hard ass, but he stuck to the rules with unbending exactitude, and that made his actions predictable, if not his motives. She wasn’t sure if he enjoyed his job, and didn’t really care, but he carried it out decade after decade with the same finesse and attention to detail he did any other mission, and she knew he still went on missions. He’d be useless as a Trainer if he didn’t.

    Letting her eyes rove over the dozen or so Young Ones still left in this age group, she picked out her next youngest sibling with ease. Pearl, as their mother had dubbed her (not a Name in any sense, she told herself. None of them had actual Names), was sparring with another Young One, a boy with so much Dunmer in him it was almost impossible to tell the difference unless the one looking was a half-breed themselves, and knew what to look for. Pearl herself was like that: Her father had been a full-blooded Altmer, a Thalmor officer Faloniril had a bit of a grudge against. He’d sent his daughter in to break the man’s heart in the hopes of making him lose face. The order to get pregnant if she could was mostly an afterthought.

    Hair the color of wheat and so fine it wafted on the breeze, Pearl must have favored her father in looks, because it was occasionally hard for even Shell to pick out their mother’s features in her, save for the triangle shape of her face, and the proportions of her features. Had her father not been an elf, they would know already if she would become beautiful enough to be a courtesan, but her growth was more elfin than human, and at twenty-three looked barely twelve. Being a courtesan took a particular ability to compartmentalize, however, that so far Pearl had not demonstrated, though she had inherited their mother’s serene manner.

    Face carefully blank, she forced herself to evaluate her sister the way she would a mark she was sizing up.

    Pearl’s strikes were weak. The boy clearly didn’t think so, but it was obvious she was holding back, probably in response to the fear and pain in his eyes. He was one of those that still hoped he would be sent home, ransomed or by someone discovering the “mistake” of him being brought here. He’d had a name once, and a family, and he longed for them. It wasn’t doing him any favors, Pearl going easy on him, but once again, as in all things, it seemed the girl was too kind. She probably would have been culled for it already if her magic hadn’t developed early. Now it was a waiting game, and every adult Young One knew it. Pearl would either become a great mage, or she would be killed for not being ruthless enough.

    Tearing her eyes away, Shell let them fall on her youngest sister. Blossom was doing much better—grudgingly she admitted that she was better than Shell herself had been at that age—and was facing off against an opponent nearly twice her size. At least she and Shell had being tiny in common, though Blossom wasn’t part Bosmer, so Shell couldn’t imagine where she got it. Blossom had a bit of the same kindness problem Pearl did, but she was young enough to grow out of it yet. Shell made a mental note to give them both a lecture on being too nice the next time Fey managed to smuggle both girls out for some illicit play time. Their mother still felt uncomfortable with Shell spending time with her younger siblings, but she wouldn’t naysay her.

    The mental picture of Orien sitting on Fey and Tyr’s laps intruded again. The happy, adoring expression on her brother’s face made her physically flinch before she turned away, heading toward the surf. She was supposed to be training, so she might as well go for a swim, though she doubted even the ocean could drown out the ugly, green emotion seizing her heart whenever she saw those three together.
  8. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Chapter 8: Kittens, Kids, and Cullings
    In which Telki meets most of the rest of the family and adamantly doesn't like one of them.

    Illustration by the incomparable Evil-is-Relative.

    (See the end of the chapter for notes.)

    Chapter Text
    Chapter 8

    The next few days were a whirlwind. Talon kept them all on their toes, going through days of evaluations, then lessons that turned out to actually be evaluations on how fast they learned, then actual lessons that had half the group wondering why they had left their mothers. There were two other groups of new recruits, and after Talon knew what they were capable of, they were all lumped together. A few bright lights among their number quickly emerged—it seemed Min was extremely organized and able to keep people in line, Merc was pulled aside in a heart-stopping moment to see just how much magicka he actually had , and Talon took one look at what Telki could do with a bow and set her to teaching the rest of them.

    Besides a brief rest in the morning for the extremely early risers, there was hardly any time to breathe. The men and women were separated into dormitories, so they had very little contact with each other outside training. Were it not for the link between them, Telki and Merc would have barely exchanged words some days. Through it all, they kept searching for something, anything, that might tell them where the focus was, or at least some hint as to what it might be.

    It wasn’t until more than a week had passed that the pattern changed at all. They were up against actual soldiers, just going through the basic patterns of swordwork, when someone skipped—literally skipped—up to the Weapons Master and had a word with him. The woman was a small autumn colored Bosmer who looked like she’d never even heard the word “intimidated.”

    “Blades down,” Talon called absently. “Those of you who have duties to attend to, you may go,” he added, and the more experienced Thalmor high tailed it out of there, a few giving the pair not-quite-furtive-enough glances as they left.

    The Bosmer woman walked over to face them, bounce in her step, smirking at some of the reactions she was getting. “Hell-o everyone!” she said cheerfully.

    “Hiyas!” Telki offered, infinitely intrigued by the first real personality she’d met on Alinor.

    The elf dimpled at her a moment before continuing. “Today is the day you all get to see what is so different about this particular Spire!” she informed them. “How many of you were aware we’re right beside a giant prison?” The puzzled, startled glances they shared was all the answer she needed. “Part of why we need so many guards here is because of this prison. I have been asked to show you a few things that make the people here unique, and I’m going to be honest, I’d rather be having lunch. So, you, you, and you, you lovely big fellows, please do your best to try to kill me. I don’t care if you use magic.”

    “Go easy on ‘em, I’m running low on liniment!” Telki called, receiving a wink in response. Standing back to watch, she muttered, “So, this should be scary. We’re about to see what Master Talon can teach.”

    “I think I’m with her,” Hyaril said nervously, sensing something was off but still blushing a bit as he looked the Bosmer over. Her tunic was rather tight. “I’d rather be having lunch.”

    The three Thalmor she’d picked out exchanged glances, then looked at Talon, who was so still it was almost as if he’d been a golem all this time and someone had decided he didn’t need to be mobile at the moment. Shrugging, two of them hefted their weapons and the third eschewed his entirely to summon lightning magic. Talon turned and walked to the line, a large ward erupting from the ground where he stood, separating the girl and her chosen attackers from the rest of the recruits—the first active magic he had demonstrated.

    Mercutio’s hum of respect was not lost on Telki. It was sometimes nice to be reminded that the incredible is not an everyday occurrence for everyone. She’d just seen a ‘mere’ mortal toss a shield without moving anything but his feet, and it was a ward she had to learn from a relic of the Last Age.

    Lightning arched through the air at the Bosmer, who abruptly wasn’t there. Taking on the mage first, she simply twirled right around his spell and into his arm as if they were dancing, only dancers usually didn’t intend to elbow their partner in the throat. As he fell, she kicked his head, bowing him over sideways and knocking him out. His helmet fell off as he went over, and she grabbed it out of the air and threw it at the next one coming for her, making him duck. Darting in, she twisted his wrist, breaking his grip on the sword, and thrust the heel of her palm up into his nose, shattering it. He howled and fell.

    The last recruit obviously was rethinking his original plan, but the Bosmer didn’t give him time to come up with a new one. Grabbing the sword from the last opponent, she slapped the blade out of his grip in moments, then held the sword to his throat. He lifted his hands in surrender and she smirked, eyes flickering downward. He knelt, looking humiliated.

    “Thank Aetherius she pulled punches, or half those moves would have killed them,” Telki commented. “I’m scared to imagine what she’d ramp up to if she was fighting people that could move as a team, because sheesh-amighty,” she whistled and shook her hand as if it were burned. She was a little miffed at the humiliation bit, but figured the boys needed to learn being Altmer was not going to save them on the battlefield.

    The other recruits were muttering amongst themselves, sounding nervous as the ward came down, less than a minute since being erected. Something shining and fast whistled through the air as it shimmered out of existence. The Bosmer’s hand shot up, catching the dagger before it could hit her. She glanced at Talon in mock-surprise. “Talon, sweetie, that was rude.”

    “You were supposed to give a proper show of your skills,” he said, unperturbed.

    “You’d need recruits that could work together for that, and probably someone with a Resurrection spell handy.” Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut?

    Rather than being insulted, the woman laughed, flipping the dagger over and ignoring the trickle of blood that painted her hand and arm from a small cut on her fingers. “You must be the talkative one.”

    “I rather point myself out, yeah.” Telki gave a small, embarrassed handwave. “Bard training. Took them years to teach me to talk properly, and now I can’t shut up.”

    That merry laugh rang out again, and the dagger flipped and made it’s way, point-first, back to the Weapons Master, who only caught it, cleaned it, and sheathed it. “You’ll eventually have that beaten out of you, but for now, it’s good to know,” she said easily.

    Telki raised an eyebrow, but for once, wisely kept her thought to herself. Wiser and worse had tried to beat it out of her. She was still here, they weren’t.

    “Young One,” Talon called the Bosmer aside, speaking with her privately.

    “She called him ‘sweetie,’” Hyaril said quietly, sweating.

    “And that reaction right there is why she did it,” Telki nodded to Hyaril’s near-hyperventilating. “And apparently, the talking distraction is not as unknown as Talon would have me believe,” she huffed.

    “Bitsy Bosmer,” Merc muttered, watching the pair. He would bet Septims to sweetrolls they had just met the one Gideon was talking about earlier. Frankly, he was thankful for Gideon’s height and gallantry, else they’d be out a Treenord.

    “What is she?” Min asked, eyeing the girl speculatively, “Those were not the moves of a normal recruit. She moves like a viper.”

    “I’m not sure.” Telki studied her as she talked to Talon, aura and body language. She was adept at hiding her tells, which told Telki more than she wanted to know about her training. She wondered if Rommy could make them all dragons to go about squishing binty crows. One thing she did catch though, she wasn’t as nearly nonchalant about Talon as she let them believe. She was still wary. It was probably a defense mechanism.

    Talon walked out to face them. “Something has occurred that requires my immediate attention. It seems you all have an unexpected half-holliday. Get your comrades to the healers, then consider yourselves dismissed.”

    “C’mon Merc, help me with the unconscious, please?” Telki was already off her bench and inspecting the damage on the fallen. Maybe if she concentrated on healing these turkeys, she wouldn’t be eaten alive wondering what Talon had to go do.

    It wasn’t pretty. Telki didn’t want to think about their chances if she wasn’t in the habit of keeping heal potions on her. The one elbowed in the throat was wheezing for air. She wound up having to massage some Sober Mead into his throat before pouring it down his gullet. It took a while, but she soon had all three of them at least sitting on their own. The other recruits helped them hobble off with hoarse thanks.

    “Hey, where’d they go?” Min asked, looking around. She shivered, “I hate it when he vanishes like that, and now she can too?”

    “Who can what?” Telki asked.

    “Talon,” Min elucidated, making little “poof” motions with her hands.

    “It’s either a teleport, or an invisibility spell.” Telki shrugged. “I once hid in plain sight, and that was without magic.” Telki winked at Min. “It’s amazing what the right dress can do for a gal.”

    “I want this story,” Min asserted, rising. Turning, she led the way out of the practice ring, “Unless you two…” she blushed. “I mean you did say you were a couple, and we haven’t had all that much free time.”

    “Honey, we get up to that after everyone has gone to bed. The orchards are magic at midnight,” Telki teased. “Too many wandering around to get up to that during the day. I am not an exhibitionist.”

    Both Min and Hyaril turned fascinating shades of orange. “That’s more than I wanted to know about you—eee!” The sentence ended abruptly as he nearly bowled over the small person that had run around the corner.

    “Hey hey, cutie, where’s the fire?” Telki nabbed the running figure, keeping the child from rolling under anyone’s feet by simply swinging her up onto her hip. “Are you okay?”

    Big purple eyes looked up into hers for a moment as the girl brushed some bright red hair back from her face, tucking the short strands behind delicately pointed ears she hadn’t quite grown into yet. She nodded, keeping whatever she was holding close to her chest. Telki was very glad Rommy wasn’t riding in her head. He would quite probably have a Daedric sized tantrum all over Alinor.

    “Sorry,” the girl whispered. Whatever she was holding was leaking a little.

    “Hey sweetie, it’s alright, do you need some help with that? I’m a great helper.” Telki looked curiously at the whatever it was. She hoped it wasn’t anything alive, else she prayed it’d respond to Sober Mead.

    Shaking her head slowly back and forth, the girl fidgeted a little, looking down.

    “Well, it was very nice to meet you, and I hope we can hang out together sometime. ‘Cause I think you’re the most darling little lady I ever met.” Telki set her on her feet. “I’m also a whizbang at fixing things, so, there’s that.”

    She seemed to consider that a moment as the others watched her, adjusting her hold on the little thing she carried. Their regard made her shift a bit, but her little face remained outwardly polite.

    “Hey, are you half human?” Hyaril asked abruptly.

    Freezing, the girl blanched like he had slapped her, turned, and ran away.

    “What did I say?” he asked instantly, sounding somewhat distressed.

    “Honey, you’re in the middle of ‘Superiorly Bred’ central, and you just asked if she’s half human.” Telki couldn’t facepalm hard enough.

    “Where do you think she’s off to?” Min asked, sounding a bit worried. Her eyes had gone round and watery when she saw the girl, the way some women did when they saw small animals.

    “I’m about to find out.” Merc said, and cast Clairvoyance on the little girl. Telki was off like a shot. Min “eeped” and took off after her.

    The magic trail on the girl led through bushes and orchards, the leaves still shivering from her passage in some places. After a quick tour through a mango grove, it doubled back toward the Spire, in the flung-out wing with the kitchens that arched around a set of carefully tended produce gardens, sheltering them from storms off the coast.

    “Wow, little chick can move!”

    “Why is she running away?” Hyaril puffed, putting his hands on his thighs to rest. “I mean, we’re not going to hurt her.”

    “Well, honey, you just called her half-human in a place where that’s almost as bad as calling her a dog.” Telki thought a moment, “Scratch that, they actually value dogs around here.”

    “I didn’t mean it like that!” he yelped. “I just meant I’d never seen a half breed before. I mean—I don’t know what I mean!” he ended, throwing up his hands hopelessly and looking like he wanted the ground fairies to return long enough to swallow him whole.

    “Yep, keeping you. You’re adopted, congratulations.” Telki stopped long enough to pat his shoulder. “We’re having a nice long talk after awhile, you and I.”

    He evidently took that wrong, because he turned bright orange. Min snickered and patted him on the head. “It’s alright, Pookie,” she lightly mocked him, “I thought she was adorable, too.”

    “Hey, hey, be nice. Hyaril just realized something and he needs a moment to process. You need to do some serious thinking yourself, chickpea,” Telki nodded at her.

    “About what? I admit she’s cute,” Min shrugged. “I don’t think she’s...well, I suppose I should think she’s less, shouldn’t I? At least she’s half.”

    “Like I said, there’s what you think you should think, what you think, and what you really should think,” Telki replied, guiding them through, her feet making no sound. It had taken her days longer than she would have liked, but she thought she might finally have her balance back. She grimaced. It also meant she’d have to readjust again when she got herself back. Such were the sacrifices she made to save people. “That’s a lot of thinking, and you’re going to have to decide which thunk is right for you.”

    The pretty Altmer obviously did not know what to make of that. Mercutio chuckled at her baffled expression, giving her an innocent look when her pewter gaze shot to him sharply.

    The trail led around the wing, into one of the fallow gardens. There, behind some screening trees near the back, it ended. The girl wasn’t there when they came in, but the bundle she’d had was dropped in a corner, next to a covered basket. Telki gently opened the woven top, smiling at the little bundles of fur in the basket. It seemed the girl had smuggled some milk out in an old waterskin that had an imperfect seal.

    “Well, since our little Momma kitten isn’t here, wanna help me nurse some babies?” Telki shushed Mercutio when he nearly doubled over, laughing at the irony.

    “Yes!” Min gushed, looking like she just might explode from happiness. She knelt right down next to Telki and reached for the kittens, then stopped, unsure. “Is it alright to touch them?” she asked, looking lost.

    “The ‘abandoned because of scent’ thing is total hogwash. Would you abandon your baby because it got muddy?” Telki asked. She nudged Mercutio. “I think they’re old enough to try drinking. Shallow bowls, if you please?” Merc rolled his eyes, but soon there was a set of earthenware bowls before them, one for each tubby little rolypoly. She raised her eyebrows. “Those better be sent back, or Lucia will have a fit,” she murmured lowly in Merc’s ear. Min was making enough happy, cooing noises to cover it even if she had spoken normally. Meanwhile, poor Hyaril looked completely lost when the woman shoved a kitten into his hand.

    “Hy, are you okay?” Telki asked him gently. She really, really needed to get him alone for a long talk.

    “’s wiggling,” he said awkwardly, gazing down at the kitten like he was afraid he would inadvertently damage it.

    “Young things are violently opposed to being still, unless they’re sleeping. Sometimes not even then.”

    “What if it pees on me?” he asked, eyes widening in horror.

    “Water works wonders, or use a cleansing spell,” Telki supplied. She paused as a small figure disentangled herself from the brush behind him, walked over and gently but firmly took the kitten from his grasp. This wasn’t the same girl as before. She looked about eleven or twelve, Altmer, with flyaway hair and a sweet face.

    “Hello there. Do you perhaps know a sweet little girl with purple eyes? My friend here wanted to apologize to her.” Telki nodded to Hyaril. “He’s very sorry he scared her.”

    “I am? Oh! Oh, yes, I am,” he said, flushing.

    The little girl regarded him for a moment, the kitten trying to nurse on her finger. “You all are new here?” she asked, her voice a soft, calm sound like the wind through leaves.

    “Just off the boat.” Telki, handed a bowl of milk to her.

    “I do not think you will be here long,” the girl said, sitting and tucking her skirt under her legs gracefully. Holding the bowl in one hand on her lap, she lowered the kitten, which began to lap it up eagerly. “The nice ones never are.”

    “Hmmm, how about we make it a bet?” Telki studied her. “That way, I’m sure to get what I want.” She liked the girl’s graceful manners and that self assuredness. It was rare in one her age, and Telki was pretty sure she’d never get there herself.

    “I have nothing to wager,” the girl said, lifting her hand rather than shrugging. Transferring her gaze up to Hyaril, she asked, “Do you truly wish to apologize, or are you just trying to make your friend happy?”

    “Uh...I suppose I should, since I was a bit of a bore,” he said, blinking.

    Turning to look at the other end of the garden, the girl simply stared at a brush that looked empty, then just as suddenly was full of a bright-eyed child moving away from it. The little redhead looked askance at Hyaril, who flushed again.

    “Oh my gracious, aren’t you the clever one!” Telki clasped her hands together in sheer glee. “Can we play?”

    “We have things we’re supposed to be doing,” the older girl said, putting an arm around the little girl. With their faces side-by-side, there proved to be some resemblance between them, but it had to be searched for. “And we are not really supposed to be talking to any of you.”

    “Hmmm,” Telki was tapping her teeth again. She wrinkled her nose. “Were you forbidden to have help doing those things? And since you can’t talk to me, I suppose you could just listen. I certainly wasn’t forbidden from telling stories.” She winked. “And I know a great one about a little fox girl and her mushroom spriggan friend. I’m Telkaryion, by the way, but I prefers to be called Telki.”

    “Aren’t Spriggans bad?” the small girl whispered to her sister.

    “Apparently not to little fox girls,” the elder smiled back before returning her attention to Telki, “I suppose we might have time for a story, after this one apologizes.” Two sets of big eyes, narrowed in suspicion, turned up to Hyaril.

    He remained flustered. “I...I’m sorry, little one,” he stammered.

    “Young One,” the little girl corrected.

    Telki brushed her hair back. “So that’s what they call you.” Her mind had been buzzing furiously, noting the purple eyes and red hair right off the bat. The more she used it, the easier it was getting, and she allowed herself to slip into True Sight to confirm her suspicions. Yep, this was Orien’s sister, and it finally snapped the piece into place that had thrown her off with Orien’s hook when she’d had a brief chance to examine it. They had a twin connection. There was also enough similarity she’d bet the other girl was a sibling, too.

    The older girl’s eyes flickered, but she only stroked a hand down the kitten’s back. “Your story, please,” she prompted.

    “Okay, so, once upon a time deep in the forest lived a little fox girl named Oriole, because her hair was as red as their bright plumage, and she lived with a mushroom Spriggan named Amanita. One day while they were out foraging, they found a big iron bound chest…”

    Merc sat where he could play lookout without looking as if he were on guard, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. ::Knock Knock. Who’s got the hat?::

    ::I do.:: Erandur sounded relieved. It had to be hard staying behind, when the rest of them were in the middle of Thalmor country. Mercutio sent him a mental hug. ::Thanks, Love. So, what’s the news?::

    ::Get Gideon in on this. I think he has part of the puzzle pieces.:: His head went quiet for a moment, then he felt the reassuring presence of both Gideon and Erandur.

    ::What have you found?:: Gideon sounded tired. Merc could only imagine what it was like in the pits, but so far, they’d not been taken anywhere near them, so would have no way to explain himself if caught there.

    ::We met your Bitsy Bosmer, and let’s just go with we’re thankful you’re alive. Have you heard her refer to herself or others as a “Young One?”:: Mercutio could feel Gideon’s wince and momentary pause at the mention of Bitsy.

    ::Yes.:: Apparently, he was still sore about nearly getting knifed.

    ::Orien has what looks like a twin sister,:: shock from both of them swamped him, ::and possibly a half sister who looks about eleven. They’re Young Ones.:: It was something of a reassurance when he could feel the anger rolling off the both of them.

    ::Shor’s Bones, and they’re talking about culling them?::

    ::We don’t know if there’s an older set, or if they’re talking about these children yet.:: Erandur tried to calm the tempest of feelings. He wasn’t feeling too good himself, but someone had to keep them all from a useless, possibly harmful, meltdown.

    :: Does it matter, in the long run?:: Mercutio watched their faces as Telki continued the silly story. When she first shared that story with Lucia and Sofie, they had laughed out loud, Sofie actually catching hiccups from laughing so hard. Here, the little one would giggle softly, and older one only smiled. It was plain wrong. ::Innocents are going to die if we can’t figure out how to get to the focus before this culling happens, and a low level guard isn’t given very many privileges to go poking around. Thoughts? Ideas? We’re running out of time.:: Unfortunately, none of them could think of anything. Mercutio sat there much glummer than a man with two beautiful women and two smiling children with clambering kittens warranted.

    Someone clearing their throat at the edge of the garden eclipsed the happily ever after. A statuesque Altmer woman stood there, hands clasped patiently before her, rose-gold hair wafting lightly around her loose-cut tunic. “Girls, what are you doing?”

    Hyaril gaped at her while Min chuckled at him, and the children quickly put the kittens back in their basket and made their way over to the woman. The littlest one said something in Aldmeris as the woman bent to hear her better. She regarded them carefully afterwards, straightening. “I apologize if they disturbed you.”

    “You kiddin? This is the most fun I’ve had since I’ve gotten here. They’re wonderful!” Telki gathered escaping kittens, and put them back in their basket. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am. I’m Telkaryion, I prefer Telki, the gaping young man trying to find his tongue is Hyaril, this lovely lady is Minoena, and the silent fellow behind me is Merkelwyn.” Telki gave her a full bardic bow.

    The woman inclined her head. “My Name is Fayliin. These are my daughters. Thank you for not taking their antics amiss, they are very undisciplined sometimes, and I was away at other matters.”

    “Well, if it’s allowed—and I ever wind up with an afternoon free—I would adore spending time with them. I don’t get to spread my bardic wings much, and children are always an appreciative audience. Unlike much of the barracks.” Telki winced at the last attempt at entertaining in the barracks. A few more were being added to the ‘stomp into pudding’ list.

    “You must be the talkative one,” Fey said with a bit of a smile.

    “How’d you guess?” Telki quipped. She shrugged. “I am me, and that is all I can be.”

    “It is a good philosophy,” Fey said, her eyes twinkling slightly, though her face remained serene.

    “Hey! That rhymed!” Hyaril blurted.


    “Telki the Bard, hm?” Fey said thoughtfully, looking her over. “In amongst the new recruits, enjoys children, and speaking with a Cyrodiilic accent.”

    “Guilty as charged,” she winked.

    “I believe we have an acquaintance in common,” Fey’s eyes met hers, held them. “A very tall, polite man?”

    “I certainly have one among my acquaintances,” Telki affirmed. “I’m just looking for focus, to get through this the best I can.”

    “When your focus is scattered, it’s best to turn your attention inward,” Fey suggested, giving her a little bow. “I must get my girls back where they belong. It is good to have you amongst us, Telki.”

    “Well, that was cryptic,” Telki turned back to the others. “Hey, I’m running low on a few things, care to help me gather some ingredients? You’ll be thankful for them after the next practice session.”

    “As long as you make sure I don’t pick anything poisonous by accident,” Min shrugged.

    “Is this going to get us in trouble?” Hyaril asked at the same time.

    “I have no idea,” Telki shrugged, “but nobody said gathering ingredients was forbidden, so?”

    “Let’s do it,” Min urged, rubbing her hands together with glee.

    Mercutio just shook his head, and followed along, wondering how Telki managed to do this every single place she went.


    There was someone standing with Talon the next morning when they all trudged out to the practice field. A tall elf with rose-gold hair, green eyes, and an uncanny resemblance to Fey. His face was full of lively expression, and he looked excited to face the day.

    “I hate him already,” Min, never a morning elf, grumbled as he smiled at them.

    He set Telki’s teeth on edge, just standing there. Every nerve in her body was screaming ‘wrong!’ . She didn’t knock, she bloody pounded on the mental door between her and whoever was minding the crystal.

    ::What’s wrong, Love?:: Rommy asked anxiously.

    :: Him! If I had fur, it’d be standing on end. Something bad’s coming.::

    ::Well, that was certainly emphatic enough,:: came Rommy’s reply, with a bit of a mental wince. There was a long pause, as if he were examining what she was seeing. ::Oh. Shit. Telki, if you can manage it, do not draw his attention. He’s not mad, per se, but there is something physically wrong with his brain, something that makes him incapable of empathy. He barely feels himself.::

    ::Hi, have you met me?:: Telki winced. ::The only way I pass notice is by being so obvious people ignore me anyways.::

    ::I’ll be ready to pull you out at a moment’s notice,:: came the grim reply.

    “Line up!” Talon called, stepping forward. For once, there was a hint of expression on his face, hovering around the edges. It was as if his calm were a little more forced than usual. No one else really seemed to notice.

    ::Crap on crackers, whatever it is, is going to be really really bad. Even Talon’s affected.::

    A flood of mental reassurance washed through the link between them even as the Weapons Master waved an arm at the newcomer. The man grinned and hopped up, lazily walking over. “Hello, troops! I’m Ilmiyon, and I’m here to test your general willingness to listen to basic instructions. Sounds painless, right? Good, you’ll be in for an easy morning.”

    ::Hogwash.:: Telki quivered in place. ::What’s he hiding ? ::

    ::Considering the fact that he’s in the selective breeding capital of Tamriel, he’s hiding that he’s a severely flawed, damaged individual,:: Rommy said, sounding troubled. :: Dementia used to be full of them. Most of them...well, that was before Vaermina decided to fill everyone’s heads. They’re gone now.::

    ::No, he’s planning something...horrific. Look at Talon, he’s practically twitching. Talon never twitches.:: Telki studied him. ::Wow, I never thought I’d feel sorry for Talon. I really wished I knew what Ill Minion was up to.::

    “To the docks, please! Don’t worry,” he added with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I won’t be asking any of you to do any swimming.”

    “What is this elf up to?” Min muttered from behind her, narrowing her eyes. “Why are all the handsome ones taken or completely off-putting in this place, honestly?”

    “You could settle for someone less likely to make a Dibellan swoon,” Hyaril snarked.

    “Why on Nirn would I do that?”

    “Quiet,” Talon chided them, his voice, for once, holding an edge. Min and Hyaril snapped their mouths shut, exchanging surprised glances.

    Telki shook her head. Her eyes scanning rapidly for the final piece of the puzzle. What are they doing out here? What are they going to have to ‘stand still’ for? Nothing stood out even as they went and stood on the wide dock, lined up along one side under the morning sun.

    “Darling Niece!” Ilmiyon yelled, cupping his hand over his mouth, “Bring out the brats!”

    ::Oh no. Oh no no no no no no.::

    ::Telki, what’s happening?:: Rommy’s mental voice was full of concern at the surge of panic he felt from her.

    ::The culling. It’s happening now, and they’re going to cull children. Not volunteers, not adults, children.::

    ::WHAT?:: His voice boomed in her mind like a sudden clap of thunder, full of incredulous fury.

    ::Honey, why do you think I’ve been hunting night and day for that bloody focus? I wanted them gone before they could pull this this...mammoth slag. Now, there are children to rescue, they are tied to that focus, stay with me and help me solve this. :: Telki rubbed her temples. ::Love, owies.::

    There was a faint sense of apology along with the fury in her mind, but behind them, a maelstrom was brewing, and she was not completely out of it’s path. ::Honey, stay with me. Try to remember I love you, I’m not going to leave you, and we will win this.::

    While Telki tried to talk Rommy down from basically turning this entire part of the island into glass—which would have been really counterproductive, to say the least—Ilmiyon walked up and down the line of a dozen children of mixed mer and human heritage, sometimes poking or pinching them to see if he could get a reaction. They were clearly all terrified of him, and he eventually sighed and had “Niece-y” take the younger ones away, because as far as he was concerned they were hopeless.

    Min and Hyaril looked shocked, as did the other recruits. Once or twice they started to say something, but a sharp glance from the Weapons Master quelled them. Finally, Ilmiyon got to the far end of the line and called cheerfully, “Who wants to quit?” It was probably startling to everyone, but Telki did not take the opportunity to pipe up. She stood there, rubbing her temples, and mouthing words it’d take a speed lip reader to catch, still contending with a Mad God Tantrum of epic proportions, and doing her best to keep the image of the redheaded girl out of her thoughts.

    A little human boy stepped forward from the line, and glanced nervously between Ilmiyon and Talon. “Speak,” Talon said, his voice holding something approaching gentleness.

    “I...I do not think I should go on, Weapons Master,” the boy said, shaking his head. “I am not particularly skilled in any one thing, and I...I wish to assist those that are better suited than me,” his lip trembled a little, but he stood firm.

    Ilmiyon shrugged. “Fine with me.”

    “No,” Talon said, giving the startled boy a direct look. “You are utterly average in everything but your intelligence. Your looks are so unremarkable no one ever seems to notice you’re in a room. That is highly useful. Get back into line.”

    “Yes, sir,” the boy said, stepping back and looking somewhat thoughtful.

    “What is this?” one of the recruits muttered, sounding appalled.

    “This is a culling!” Ilmiyon answered him, making the man jump. “Where we cut off all the deadweight and move on with our lives.” He smirked at the various reactions of the recruits. “Come now, you’re going to be Thalmor . You think you can just waltz into a town full of Talos worshipers and leave the children alone? Hell, sometimes they attack you too!”

    Hyaril looked positively green. Min had her hand over her mouth, eyes wide with shock. They weren’t the only ones. This scenario had plainly never occurred to many of them. Altmer had children rarely, given their long lives and low birthrates. They were not used to seeing them, or dealing with them, but this very scarcity made the idea of harming them anathema. Even Altmer children from opposing sides of battles were usually reeducated, rather than put to the sword. It hadn’t dawned on most of them that this didn’t necessarily apply to “Lesser Races,” if they’d even thought of it at all.

    “Don’t worry,” Ilmiyon soothed them, his voice oozing oily sweetness, “No one is asking you to kill anyone today. We may not even kill anyone today. All you have to do, is stand there, like the good little soldiers you are.”

    ::Telki...:: Rommy’s voice in her mind was strained. :: Please remind me that invading Nirn is a bad idea and would make me a hypocrite.::

    ::Our purpose is to save these babies. If you invade Nirn, that doesn’t happen, and you wouldn’t be the man I fell so very deeply in love with. However, I will be more than happy to play kickball with you using Ill Minion’s head. Is that a deal?::

    ::I want you at least a hundred yards away when this man loses control of himself. He’s a mage too, Telki, and we don’t know how old he is.:: Rommy was obviously struggling to think clearly, and by now even Telki could hear the crowd-like voices in his mind echoing down the link. Telki used her best mommy tone to try to shush the babble. It seemed a few voices may have died down, but not many. Her head was still splitting, but she wasn’t going to leave Rommy to deal with it alone.

    ::I love you,:: she reminded him again, sending him every warm and fuzzy feeling, every best memory they’d shared. ::And I’m not leaving the babies, so you have to help me help them. Please, Love?::

    ::I’ll try,:: he replied, the strain in his tone obvious.

    Ilmiyon was going down the line, reciting to each child why he, personally, thought they should die that day. Talon refuted him a little more than half the time, other times argued with him on how to improve it, and once or twice had the child prove him wrong right there on the docks. Those children looked as if they were about to faint after he moved on.

    Telki’s heart was physically hurting for Romulus. The strain was bad enough she could feel tears leaking. She just wanted to wrap him up in all her love and help, somehow. Suddenly she was in her own head, the way she usually was after absorbing a dragon soul. In front of her was her own darling Daedra of Madness, hands clutching his head as he flickered violently between Romulus and Sheogorath. Telki rushed forward and wrapped him in her arms, kissing his flickering cheeks. “I’m here, Love, and I’ve got you. I love you. Always.”

    Mercutio stood directly behind the softly muttering Telki. She was weaving on her feet slightly, and he was worried. Between Telki’s own temper if something happened to one of the kids, and Romulus, whom he was pretty sure she was talking out of blowing the whole Island sky high, he wasn’t sure what to do. ::Guys, we have a Daedra sized problem on our hands. The culling is happening now, and Rommy’s here in Telki’s head.::

    ::Shor preserve us, what can we do?:: Gideon’s worry was enough to punch the air right out of Merc’s chest. He stood there a moment to catch his breath.

    ::I can’t reach either of them, and I have the headache to prove I tried.:: Erandur’s lip twisted. ::I don’t like this.::

    Finally, Ilmiyon reached the older girl they had met the day before. She stared straight ahead, not even glancing up at him. Ilmiyon actually smirked at that.

    ::Oh gods, he’s to Orien’s sister. Now, I’m truly worried. Telki’s still in her head muttering to Rommy.::

    ::If you have to act, I can pull you out. No matter how preoccupied Rommy is, he’ll keep her safe.::

    “Well, Niece, I guess we’re down to you,” he said equably. “Jump.”

    The girl jumped. She still didn’t look at him, her expression just as cool as her mother’s normally was.

    “Good!” he crowed, like she had executed some great feat. “Hit me.” Turning, she punched his stomach. He grunted a bit. “Alright. Hit him,” he pointed to the Dunmer boy beside her. The child was terrified. The girl turned to him and hit him. He gasped and doubled over, backing away. Ilmiyon reached out and held him up by the scruff of the neck, making a tisking sound at his niece. “If you’d hit him like you hit me, he’d be off the dock by now. Hit him again, like you mean it.”

    Her eyes visibly hardened with dislike, but she hit the boy, who retched. Ilmiyon dropped him with open contempt. “So,” his gaze returned to her, “why didn’t you hit him like that the first time?”

    “He’s not conditioned to it yet,” she replied after a moment.

    “You’re worried about hurting him? How cute,” he waved to one of the Thalmor, who walked up, holding a bag that wiggled, small mewing sounds of distress coming from it. “I found these little guys in the kitchen gardens,” Ilmiyon said, taking the bag and shaking it lightly. “Poor little squirts lost their mother. Probably can’t survive without her. They should probably be put out of their misery, don’t you think?” The girl’s eyes widened in absolute horror, and he caught it. Smiling, he thrust the bag into her hands. “Drown them.”

    Mercutio started to step forward, two voices in his head cautioning him. ::Is Telki aware yet?:: That would be Erandur. Mara help them if Telki got wind of what Ill Minion was doing. Gideon did not bear thinking about. Rage rolled through the link like a tidal wave. It was probably a good thing Gideon was in the pit where he couldn't actually see what was happening, or Ill would have an ebony hammer embedded in his gut. Distance meant nothing to an Aedric artifact when Gideon summoned it to his hand.

    The Young One looked at the bundle in her hands, face quiet. There was a very long moment as everyone held their breath. Min looked pale, staring, obviously remembering holding the small creatures in delight, and watching the children smile and giggle at Telki’s story. Hyaril was moments away from being sick over the side of the dock, and was seriously considering telling his uncle to go sit on a spike, he wasn’t joining the Thalmor.

    Golden eyes rose to meet green ones as the girl looked up, her face hard. “No,” she said quietly.

    Ilmiyon shrugged. “No one can say I didn’t give you a fair shot,” he mused, before moving like a viper, grabbing her hair and tossing her off the dock. The bundle went flying the other way, and Hyaril managed to catch it, but that thankfully went unnoticed as everyone gaped at Ilmiyon before rushing to the other side of the dock, staring down into the water as the girl surfaced, sputtering.

    “Who told you all to get out of line?” he asked darkly. They jumped back from the look, shocked and shaken. Turning back to the floundering girl, he shot flames at the water, forcing her to submerge or catch them in the face. The moment she was under, he switched to frost magic, creating a cap of ice that spread for a few horse-lengths from the spot. A small form could be seen under it, beating at it.

    A storm blew in overhead as Telki finally looked up, the Mad God under control for the moment, until they both realized what had just happened, and he froze, unable to think. That left Telki open to react with the instinct of a dov.

    “FUS...RO DAH!”

    I wanted to name the chapter "Uncle is a Jerk" but I got outvoted ~Wynni

  9. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Chapter 9: Extended Family and Tempest Tantrums
    Chapter by Wynni
    In which Telki resolves to kill a man, and Rommy has a Tempest Tantrum. Alternately, "Surprise! It's a Boy! Surprise! It's a Girl!"

    Screencap of Strun, care of Evil-is-Relative. Posted on Deviantart.

    Chapter Text
    “FUS...RO DAH!”

    Ilmiyon barely had time to process she’d moved before he went flying off the dock and over the water, green eyes wide and blank with shock. He hit the edge of his own ice barrier and skid across it for a few yards before tumbling into the water. Around Telki, everyone jumped back, staring at her in various degrees of shock. She had no time for them, going off the dock after the girl. Molag Bal could have the lot of them for all of her.

    Talon regarded her passively, then returned his gaze to the water as a light boiled out from beneath the ice, racing right passed the Dragonborn. The black soul gem he held was surrounded by it, then lit from within. He examined it momentarily before placing it in his belt pouch. Telki’s shriek of grief and anger made the whole pier shake, whipping the water into real surf. Bows were drawn and pointed at her, spells were readied, and Min and Hyaril stared like she’d grown a second head.


    Everyone paused, some jumping as Ilmiyon clambered onto the edge of the ice, hauling himself out of the water. He eyed Telki speculatively before chuckling a little. “What was that? Do you have any idea how long it’s been since someone surprised me like that?”

    “Frankly I couldn’t care less you scumsucking babykilling horker puke. Go sit and spin on Molag’s lap.”

    The elf laughed delightedly. “Oh, this is too good. You know what? I’m not even going to kill you. You’re much too interesting. Talon, can we put this down as non-expulsion? I want to keep an eye on this one,” he looked to the other man with delight.

    Ignoring him, Telki summoned fire to her hands, making all the Thalmor twitch, and began melting the ice under her. It should work faster than her axes’ enchantments, and if Ill Minion got stuck under the ice, all the better.

    “This kind of insubordination is not to be encouraged, Ilmiyon,” Talon said firmly.

    “Oh, give her latrine duty or something, I don’t care. I just want her around to play with.” He rubbed his hands together, “Finally, something entertaining.”

    Telki’s hole was finally big enough she could slip through, and she disappeared without a sound, searching for some sign of the child. ::Can I Clairvoyance for her? Would that work now?:: She wanted to cry.

    In her head, Rommy was a mass of self-loathing and regret. The physical storm overhead was getting worse, whipping the waves around them, making rapid inroads on the ice covering nearly the entire harbor. ::I’m sorry, Telki , :: he said morosely. ::If I could just...I’m so sorry.::

    Telki summoned every speck of memory she could about how Mercutio cast it yesterday, and tried it for herself. ::Just help me try, please? We won’t know ‘til we try?::

    ::Give me a moment. I have to try to keep you all from being electrocuted by a lightning storm, first,:: was the quiet reply.

    Meanwhile, Talon watched impassively as Ilmiyon pulled himself onto the dock. “You might have helped, you know,” the elf said irritably. Talon didn’t reply, and he sighed. “Just as forthcoming as ever, I see.” Turning to the still stunned troops and nearly panicking children, he called. “Well, now that you’ve all had your lesson in obedience, it’s almost time for lunch! Go, eat, puke, drink a little if you feel you want to anger Mr. Stoic here, and we’ll see you this afternoon!” With that, he pivoted and headed inside, glancing once more at the Thalmor with a look that made them pale, “Oh, and no one kills that recruit but me.”

    Talon watched him go for a long moment before issuing his own orders. “Go through your exercises this afternoon. I’ll be around to oversee you. Hyaril; the barracks are no place for kittens.”

    The elf looked down at the wiggling bunch, then at the Weapons Master. “I’ll...I’ll put them back where he found them,” he said dully.

    Talon shook his head, “You are not supposed to be by the gardens; as you were told first day.” Numbly, Hyaril put the bag in his hand, and watched the man stride away, wondering dully what was going to happen to the poor little things. Then he promptly sat on the dock as his knees gave out.

    Min glanced up at Mercutio. “Did you know she could do that?” she asked. The other recruits were making their way off the docks, some of them looking as if they really were going for that drink.

    “I quit being surprised by what she could and couldn’t do ages ago,” Mercutio shrugged. “She’s traveled, her barding taking her everywhere. This was one of the last places she hadn’t been.” He sat down next to her, praying an update would come through the link. He couldn’t see anything in the water.

    “That poor girl,” Hyaril murmured, gazing out over the waves. Min sat next to him, slipping her hand into his and putting an arm around him.

    The clouds dissipated, allowing more light into the water around the docks. Fish and other sea creatures flitted around her, but Telki ignored them, hoping to at least be able to recover the girl’s body. The first Clairvoyance attempt had fizzled out with all the interference of the chaos in her mind.

    There was the sensation of Rommy taking a deep breath. ::I’m ready to try again, if you are,:: he said diffidently. ::You must hate me, he added, so quietly it was as whispered as the third or fourth train of thought.

    ::What? Never, Love. Never in ever could I ever hate you.::

    ::If I hadn’t lost control...well, I suppose we couldn’t have pulled her out with that link on her, but she wouldn’t be dead.::

    :: Sweetheart, did you see how many people were standing on the dock? It’s not your fault, and I don’t see anyone else down here trying to help me, either.:: Telki scanned the waters again, looking for something, anything, to point where the poor girl was. ::There’s a trail! Rommy, there’s a trail, see it?::

    :: She must have gotten stuck on that piece of rock.::

    :: Oh sweet baby, you deserved so much better than this. I am going to burn this place down to bedrock.:: Telki swam strongly towards the trail, following it out to its end, finding the small figure huddled against the rock. She reached out, and the body jerked, wide gold eyes staring up at her in astonishment.

    :: She’s alive? She’s alive she’s alive she’s alive ! We have to tell Giddy and Merc so they can tell Fey. Is she still hooked? I want her out of here.:: Telki held her arms out to her.

    The child reacted like she was trying to grab her, shooting out from the rock and swimming away toward the surface, eyes wide and with none of the calm she’d demonstrated earlier.

    ::Rommy? Will they spot her?::

    ::I think they’ve pretty much run away from there,:: he said. ::Let me check with Merc.::

    ::That poor love.:: Telki followed at a slower rate, trying to make it clear she wasn’t chasing. Honestly, it was much harder to swim the rough waters with the adrenaline wearing off and relief making her giddy. :: Y’know what I’m wondering? How the heck she shifted that hook off her; I saw a soul fly by.::

    The girl surfaced under the dock, still trying to hide from those above even as she glanced around frantically for somewhere else to go. Her little face scrunched in dismay when she realized the dock was still occupied, watching Min and Hyaril walk off toward the dormitories, then focusing on Mercutio’s form. Glancing at the shore, she considered the wide swath of sand, wondering if it would be better to try to climb out there.

    Telki finally surfaced a few feet away, hoping not to spook the poor child, to convince her she meant no harm. “Shhh, angel, I’m here to help you. Can I give you a hug, you scared me so much just now.” There was a quiet sense of thoughtfulness in her mind as Rommy watched, musing over the child.

    The Young One clearly didn’t know how to react, or whether to trust her or not. She glanced up at the dock again, then back down to Telki. “Why?” she asked bluntly. “Why would you want to help me?”

    “Well, let’s see: I hate binty crows, you deserve to have a childhood, and oh yes, you were strong enough to tell that twaddlepated mammoth pile ‘no’, and that’s just for starters.”

    “Crows?” she echoed, more confused than ever. Not all of the salt water on her face was from the ocean.

    “When the Thalmor put on those black robes, they remind me of crows. They kinda act like them, too.” She figured trying to tell her she borrowed the expression from a Breton thief wouldn’t make any sense, either.

    “You’re a Thalmor!” the girl reminded her, splashing her a little in frustration.

    “Pffft, have I ever at all talked or acted like a Thalmor?” Telki winked, “Use your magic, what do you see?”

    “A madwoman,” the girl replied promptly, her voice a bit shaky. “Ilmiyon is going to kill you.”

    “Yes to the mad, no to the killing. Ill Minion is in for all kinds of surprises when he eventually tries. Right now, apparently, I’m interesting for telling him to go play with Molag Bal.”

    Rather than laugh, the girl actually groaned, “I should be getting as far from you as possible then, but I have no idea where to go,” she confessed.

    “I might can help with that, if you can trust me just an ickle bit.”

    ::Telki, look at her!:: Rommy said urgently. ::Look at her with True Sight!:: She shifted to watch her aura.

    She gasped. ::The link’s gone, we can transport her! How’d she do that?::

    :: Do tell her that’s about to happen, would you? Actually, I’m pulling both of you. I don’t want you there with that...Merc can still spy. You bring the girl back.::

    “Okay honey, I could really use that hug now, and you’re about to see exactly who I am, and how I’m going to save your family. Okies?” Telki extended her arm again, hoping she’d either intrigued or confused the girl enough she’d give her the chance.

    After a moment’s deliberation, the girl swam forward, allowing Telki to hug her. After all, she still had the Waterbreathing spell in effect, and nowhere to really go. Rommy seized them instantly, the water around them floating in reverse raindrops for a moment, dancing with color and moving lights that abruptly vanished, dropping them both in the Palace at New Sheoth. Haskill handed her a towel. The girl started screaming, shoving her away.

    “Thank you Haskill, you’re a wonder.” Telki patted the little girl dry, expertly dodging flailing limbs. She was an old hand at reluctant bathtime. “Shh, Sweetie, it’s okay, you’ll be back with Mom, sisters, and brother soon enough.”

    “How did you do that?” she shrieked, scrambling away from them and staring around her.

    “Well, I was never alone, for one thing. For another, Rommy is one heckuva mage.” Gesturing to herself, she added, “I don’t normally look like this, either.” Telki looked around. “Alright Handsome, where ya hidin’?”

    “Not hiding, just late,” he said, jogging in from the back where the hat was. The white hair was out, and his eyes were brighter than normal. He looked the girl over. “So who’s this?”

    “Well, hmmm, how settled are you feeling?” Telki gave him a once-over, “Cause we have some delicate work coming up, and there’s some news you are going to have to hear, and you’re not going to like it one little bit.”

    “I’m...not good, I’ll be honest, but I’m ready to get to work,” he confessed, knowing lying to her would be very counter-productive, as well as futile. Going over to the Young One, he offered her a hand up. “I’m Romulus. Friends and guests call me Rommy.”

    “I don’t have a name,” she told him, scrambling up on her own and staring at her sleeve as it dried as if my magic—which it, in fact, was.

    “Sure you do. You have ‘Pearl’ written all over you,” he argued.

    She froze, staring at him. “How did you—I mean—I don’t, I’m not…”

    “You’re not there anymore,” he said gently. “You can call yourself whatever you want.”

    “Pearl, what a beautiful name.” Telki settled herself down next to the little girl. “Do you mind if I get a little more comfortable?”

    “Do whatever you want,” Pearl said tiredly. “It’s not like I can stop you.”

    “Okay, Rommy? Poof me back to myself.”

    Smiling a little, he leaned over and kissed her, wrapping his arms around her. Telki’s contented humming became a purr as her form slowly changed back to her natural shape. “Missed you,” he said, smiling down into her eyes as he broke off the kiss.

    “Oh, missed you, too. Hello tail! Now I’m me again. Ta Da?” Telki spread her hands as if showing off a charlatan’s trick.

    There was a thud to their side as Pearl sat abruptly. “Did I actually die?” she asked, unwilling to believe her eyes.

    “No honey, you did not, otherwise Alinor would be a slag pit,” Telki patted her hand, “And you can help me free your family, so we can finally put a stop to all that nonsense!”

    “It might still wind up a slag pit,” Rommy muttered darkly, folding his arms and looking away. Guilt still shadowed his eyes for his lack of control. He hopped up and started to pace.

    “Honey, I can feel you moping from here. She’s safe, I’m safe, and we finally have a hint of getting them out, but I can’t figure how she did it without your help. Please?” Telki tugged on his pant leg to get him back down there with her. “Expend some of that energy on figuring out what she did to get out of the soul trap.”

    “Oh, you know about that?” the girl asked, starting to adjust to her odd circumstance. Honestly, it was no weirder than some of the things Grandma Lili had gotten her into. She started to shiver slightly, and the Imperial man frowned worriedly, pulling a blanket out of nowhere and handing it to the racially confused woman.

    “I may or may not have wrecked the dock with a Shout when I saw the soul flying by,” the woman said, tucking the warm blanket around the child. “I certainly tried to wreck Ill Minion with one.”

    Clearly having no idea what she meant, Pearl nevertheless explained, “I knew they weren’t going to let up until they had a soul for the soul gem I was paired with. They can’t just keep casting Soul Trap on us every day, so they partner us with a specific gem as babies. That way, however, whenever, or wherever we die, our soul is brought back. That lets them know if we died out on a mission, too. If they don’t need to retrieve the body, the Trainer removes the link from it, or they call it back. I...I didn’t want to die,” she said, a quaver entering her voice. “I didn’t want to drown.”

    “Oh lovie, nobody wants to die, and you are very brave, very smart, and one very talented mage. They are going to regret throwing you away like that. I’ll make sure of it.”

    Pearl shook her head. “I don’t know how I got away with it. I killed a fish for the spell, and just...linked my own soul trap with it? I’m not even entirely sure how I did it, I just knew I didn’t want Ilmiyon to realize that I knew the Waterbreathing spell, or he’d make my death last a lot longer. I panicked, and somehow, it worked. But a fish has a small soul,” she looked puzzled and troubled. “It should have been obvious that it wasn’t my soul that went into the gem.”

    “Talon!” Telki popped up to her feet. “Oh sweet mercy, Talon covered for you.”

    “Why?” Pearl seemed honestly baffled. “Why would he do that?”

    “Possibly because he knew what a great mage you’re capable of being,” Rommy hummed thoughtfully, gazing down at her. “It could be he just hates waste. It could be something else. We won’t know for sure until we investigate him a little more. You said he can break the link?”

    “The bodily one, yes, but only after death,” she replied. “That’s to keep him from showing favoritism or starting a mutiny.”

    “Interesting, because you didn’t die, the fish did.” Telki folded herself back into place for a deep think. “You transferred the link to the fish, does that mean you transferred the bodily link too?” Telki speculated.

    “I...I don’t know,” Pearl was shaking like a leaf, the day’s events catching up with her.

    “Can I hug you? Would it help?” Telki opened her arms to the little girl, offering what comfort she could. Hesitantly, Pearl moved into her embrace, gradually relaxing as the woman held her, rocking slightly and soothing her hand over the girl’s flyaway hair.

    “Well, I think it’s obvious that we need someone inside the Spire itself,” Rommy said, watching them thoughtfully. “I have an idea about that, if you don’t mind me changing you a bit more than just making you an elf.”

    “Sweet mother of mercy, what are you thinking this time?”

    “Well, it’s a little mad but…” he grinned at her.

    “Darlin’, is there any other kind with you? Lay it on me.”

    “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an Alfiq?” he inquired, Cheshire smile creeping across his face.

    “Let me guess, posing as a housecat? You devious devil. Will you still love me when I’m four-footed?” She batted her lashes at him.

    “I’ll love you when you’re a crazy ghost floating around chasing children with blankets,” he told her. Honestly, she would make the most interesting Wispmother in history.

    “Who doesn’t need a good blanket cuddle now and again?” Telki teased him back, the cheerful moment overshadowed as she looked down at the little girl half asleep in her arms as the trauma of the day sapped her energy. “I wish we could see her memory, but I’m afraid if we tried to look, it might cause more harm than good right now.”

    He sobered instantly. “I definitely would. Would you mind letting the others know what’s going on? I...don’t think I should be talking to anyone that way right now. As it is, Fifi’s estate is being hailed on.”

    “Oh sure. They may have heard the broadcast earlier. I was rather shouty about it.” Closing her eyes and shifting her focus to the ties inside her mind, she called, ::Hey Loves, are you all okay? I found Pearl, Fey’s daughter, she’s alive and safe. She’s also one talented little mage.::

    ::Mara’s mercy, Telki, you scared us!:: She could feel the weight of both Mercutio and Gideon’s agreement behind Erandur’s words. The wash of relief with it left her own knees weak. She was so glad she was sitting.

    ::I know, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t just stand there!::

    ::We know love, but you went rather....incoherent there for a while. And then unreachable. We all feared the worst.:: Mercutio’s voice was very troubled. ::I should have done more.::

    :: Oh honey, no! We still need you there. Your job is to watch my back, and you did that. Besides, someone has to keep an eye on my adoptees. How are Hyaril and Min doing?::

    ::Very disenchanted with the Thalmor. Oh, Hyaril saved the kittens.::

    ::Aww. Gideon, are you okay?:: Gideon wasn’t the most talkative of men on a good day, but when he got silent like this, it always worried Telki.

    ::Just trying to absorb it all . :: His mental voice sounded very thoughtful now that the first blush of relief was over. ::I will tell Tyr, and he can tell Fey as soon as he sees her. Her name is Pearl?::

    ::Yep. She somehow transferred the soultrap to a fish. Seriously talented little mage. Merc, you’re going to have your hands full.:: Telki gloated. Her tone sobering, she added, ::I have to tell Rommy. He nearly lost it out there on the docks. I don’t think we should wait to tell him any longer. He’ll need the time and space to deal with it.::

    ::Are you sure, Telki?:: There was soft concern in Erandur’s voice, and Telki took a moment to watch her restless Daedra. He was trying to coax Murril over to meet Pearl. She seemed troubled by the Altmer girl, but was listening as Rommy gently explained that the other child had nearly died too, and she knew what that felt like, right?

    ::Not really, but as close as I can be?:: Telki’s face softened as she watched him with the girls. He was going to be an awesome dad.

    Pearl perked up a bit as Murril walked over, the girls examining each other with interest. “Pearl, this is Murril. She’s my page, and the youngest member of the Court here. She doesn’t talk much, but has agreed to let you stay with her in the page’s room. There...might also be potatoes. Just put them on the other bed. The one with the blue quilt.”

    “Uh,” Pearl blinked at him, considering, then moved her gaze down to the girl. “Thank you,” she said politely. Murril ducked her head shyly.

    “Pearl, what can we tell your mom to let her know you’re safe?” Telki asked. She could imagine the time Gideon was going to have of it. She’d want proof if she were in that situation, ironclad proof.

    The girl thought a long moment, then rattled off a sentence in Aldmeris. “Say it one more time, slow enough a Nord can learn it. Okay?”

    ::Hey!:: Oh, she loved her men. She sent him a mental hug then hugged Merc and Erandur for good measure.

    “I shine with pale light, grown in the darkness,” she said in Common.

    ::Teasing you. Love you. Did you catch it that time?::

    ::Yes. I will tell her tonight, if she comes.::

    ::She’ll come. She’ll need Tyrlief.:: Telki looked Pearl over. “And if you need anything at all, ask Haskill. He is frighteningly competent.”

    “My thanks for your recognition, Mistress, but I am only doing my job,” Haskill protested placidly, bowing, the light shining off his bald pate.

    “Haskill lives to serve!” Rommy assured them cheerfully. “He’d rather do nothing else.”

    “Indeed, my lord. How astute of you.”

    Telki narrowed her eyes at Pearl. “Did you have a decent breakfast?” She looked about the audience chamber, but there was no real way to tell time there. “What time is it now? Should we be having lunch? I’m too nervous to eat, so can’t judge for myself.”

    “It’s about lunch, but I don’t think I could really eat anything,” Pearl confessed.

    “Why don’t we get you a bath or just some warm water to wash all that salt off you, then let you rest?” Rommy suggested. “You look as if you could use it.” Thunder rumbled outside, and he glanced upward. “I’d love to be able to offer you a walk, but…”

    “And I still have to tell you something you’re really not going to like,” Telki sighed. “So I’d just as soon Pearl was all snug as a bug in a comfy bed while we have that talk.” Telki nodded at Murril. “You too, Sweetpea.”

    “I shall escort the young ladies to their room,” Haskill offered. “Please do not destroy the Palace again, my lord. My hammer is still in the bottom of the Sea of Ghosts, where you left it, attached to a narwhal.”

    “I don’t recall that,” Rommy frowned.

    “You wished for it to repair the ship you’d found. You tied it to it’s horn. He is very industrious and wishes to remind you that his salary has not been paid.”

    “Oops,” he grinned and shrugged. “Take care of that, would you? Or ask Fanny to.”

    “No, Haskill, please see to it. Fanny will forget in a heartbeat.” Telki bumped Rommy’s shoulder. “Poor whale does not deserve that, and you know it.”

    “Fanny is perfectly capable of giving him the fish from the last great battle,” Rommy replied stiffly.

    “He was going to take me to Passwall, and instead nearly collided me with that wall.” Telki pointed down the two toned carpet to where the water ran into grates.

    “But he had the wall part right,” Rommy pointed out.

    “Are you two completely crazy?” Pearl asked uncertainly. Murril nodded so hard her ears flapped.

    “He keeps telling me I’m not, but eh, I confuse him on a regular basis, so who knows?” Telki wrapped both arms around Rommy and squeezed. “Now scoot, and there’ll be hot chocolate and cookies for you in the room. Can we do that for them, Haskill?”

    “Of course, Mistress. I shall add it to the top of my list of tasks,” Haskill replied tiredly.

    “Thank you. You are a treasure.” Telki stayed wrapped around Rommy as they watched them walk down the hall together. “Now, where can we have a talk that is going to get you really really angry, and probably annoyed at me to boot?”

    He gave her a suspicious look. “Is this about whatever you all have been trying desperately not to think about whenever I’m in your heads? Because I assumed that was bedroom activities.”

    “Yup, and it wasn’t bedroom activities.” Telki looked down the hallway, her fingers nervously twining about each other.. “So, is there someplace in Shivering Isles you were looking to redecorate anyways? That’s probably where we need to talk.”

    Rommy gave her a long look, then materialized a cloak out of thin air, swirling it about her shoulders. She was instantly far too warm, but that didn’t last long as they were abruptly fluttering through the air as a swarm of butterflies. Most of them were red this time. One was a torchbug. A couple had little people’s bodies. One was a horsefly, or a small flying horse; it was difficult to tell through all the wings. They landed on an ice field with nothing but the sky above them and drifts of snow as far as the eye could see.

    “Atmora probably needs redecorating. What’s wrong?” he asked, crossing his arms. Telki wrapped around him, squeezing him tight, taking a deep breath.

    “Alrighty, you’re a great grandpa. Tyr and Fey have twins together. Orien’s in the pit with Tyr, and his sister was in that lineup today. Pearl’s their half sister.” Telki squeezed him as he went stiff as a board. “I love you, I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you, but I didn’t know how and you know why.”

    The snow around them started swirling chaotically. Rommy reached up and gripped her arm, his touch surprisingly light for some who was in the midst of such whirling thoughts that the storm came out of his head to affect the world around them. The wind started moaning, then chattering and shrieking. The ice at their feet groaned and crackled. The clouds began to boil and run with lightning.

    “I’m staying with you through this, Love. I promised you, never alone, never again.”

    He stared off into space, hair as white as the snow, eyes going completely gold, without pupils or whites. Around them, the world bucked and spun as if they were the center of a cyclone of chaos, the ice field rupturing and shooting spikes into the air, the pillars of ice reaching toward the sky only to come crashing right back down. Colors danced in the clouds, angry reds and sickly greens, and the clouds themselves reared up into huge thunderheads, dropping copious amounts of snow and hail that didn’t even reach the ground before the wind swept them right back up into the clouds. Faces formed and wailed through the storm, nightmare images of real and imagined monsters forming and fading in the drifts, tearing at each other.

    Telki held on for dear life. It seemed the entire world was naught but a maelstrom at that moment, so she ignored it for the senseless roar it was in favor of trying to find any sign of Rommy in the pillar of madness she was holding. She inched her way up so she could cradle his face in her hands, legs wrapped around him to anchor her. “Love?”

    Hands reached out to grab at her from the wind, and the hissing of ice serpents dancing in the storm was growing louder over the thunder. His fingers clutched at her arm, leaving bruises as he failed to anchor himself. “Rommy?” Just as she’d never remotely thought of leaving Rommy to deal with the madness by himself, it never occurred to her she might be left behind. That thought got her crying, and she hid her face in the crook of his neck. “Please don’t leave me here alone.”

    An unexpected sound echoed out of the storm around them; the familiar cry of a dragon. Telki briefly wondered amongst her own misery how it was fairing in this tempest. :: Can you hear me? Rommy? Honey, I can’t even feel you, and I’m clinging to what could be a mannequin for all that you’re here. Where are you? How can I help you if you leave me here?::

    His eyes flickered a moment as the sound of the dragon grew closer. The storm started to settle a bit, the lightning flickering less, then the ground shook as a massive body settled near them, ancient eyes looking them over. The dragon was huge, bigger than the one they’d fought in Dawnstar, almost as big as Paarthurnax, with bone-white scales with red veins and ridges, like rivulets of blood or lava through snow. ::Rommy, I really really need you, and we apparently have company.::

    “Drem yol lok.” Telki offered politely, returning her feet to the ground. “I sure hope you know Common, and don’t feel like arguing, because I have enough on my hands right now.” :: Bring back, bring back, bring back my Rommy to me, to me,:: she sang softly into his mind.

    “I am wondering what two seeming joore are doing in this land, where none have been seen for pogaan bokke, for many ages,” the dragon replied in creaky and antiquated Common, looking her over. “I am also wondering what these beings are, that look joore, but are not.”

    “Well, we came here because we honestly thought it was the safest place for a Daedric sized meltdown. We certainly didn’t mean to inconvenience anyone.” Telki cradled Rommy’s face again, looking for signs of life. “I don’t know how to pull him back.” :: Please Love, come back to me. Don’t leave me.::

    The dovah considered them for a moment, then abruptly swung at them with his tail, knocking into a ward that snapped into place around them. Rommy’s arms came up to encircle her, his eyes returned to normal as he glared at the dragon. “ Pruzah , I thought you had the look of a mated pair. He would be a poor mate indeed to let his silliin come to harm,” the dragon sounded very satisfied with itself, blinking large orange eyes.

    “Oh thank you! My name is Telki Tailkinker. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

    “Where did the dragon come from?” Rommy asked, looking very confused and holding her tightly.

    “I think your Tempest Tantrum knocked him off his flight path.” Telki dug an elbow lightly into his ribs. “And you scared me! I couldn’t reach you. It was like you vacated the premises and left me with a Rommy statue.”

    He gazed at her for a moment, stricken, then pulled her to him, holding her tightly enough to make her ribs creak with his eyes pressed closed. “I’m so sorry, Telki,” he murmured.

    “Then don’t ever go where I can’t follow.”

    “I wish I could promise that, but I don’t always mean to go at all,” he confessed, throat tight.

    “Then leave me a breadcrumb trail or something so I can follow.”

    “You want to follow me into madness?” he asked, shaking his head. “I don’t want that for you!”

    “We’re ignoring our company. We can argue about what’s best for me later.” Telki nodded towards the very large, very ancient dragon. “And we interrupted his introduction. So sorry, Zin Dovah .”

    The massive white beast was examining Rommy, curiosity shining in his eyes. “Deyra. Youngster, you have great suleyk . You should learn to use it, I think, before it uses you.”

    “Ummmm, could you teach him? It’s not like they offer classes for Champions that take over a Daedric realm.”

    The dragon threw back his head and bellowed ice into the air, his eyes shining with mirth when his head came back down. “He is not dragon spirited, little joor dovah. I would give much to know how you got into that form. Nii mal: It seems too small for you.”

    “Aww! Thank you! I think that’s the nicest thing a dragon’s said to me yet.” Telki tilted her head to consider him. “I don’t want your name, unless you want to trust me with it, but I’d like to call you something, just because nameless doesn’t suit you.”

    “You share acquaintance with many dov , then? I confess, it has been long since I have seen another dovah than my mate. Evgir unslaad krah. Many did not wish to remain here once the ice began to creep. Fewer still wished to return when the human invaders began to vanquish us.” He flipped his wings back. “ Zu’u Strunodven. I make my home here.”

    “I know two still among the living, one that ran afoul of the Ideal Masters, and several that wanted to test themselves against a prophesy. Those ones didn’t leave me much choice.”

    “Ah, hi kron niin? You consumed them then?” he didn’t appear troubled by this.

    “Had to whack them into submission first, and it’s not like I wanted to. It just seems to happen whether I like it or not, and to get any peace in my head, I had to beat them all over again,” Telki huffed.

    “The sil of the dov do not settle easily, and do not submit their power gracefully,” he paused to consider a bit. “It has been some few years, but know you what happened to Thuri? Know you what happened to the Eldest?”

    “That was part of the Prophecy. I had to keep Alduin from ending the kalpa too soon. I followed him into Sovngarde and defeated him there. He was eating human souls.”

    “Ha! You ate him, then!” the dragon seemed to find that particularly amusing.

    “Actually, I think I just knocked sense into him? Maybe he’s now at the end where he’s supposed to be? I certainly don’t remember having to whack him again in my head after that.” Telki shuddered, “I do not want to think what that battle would have been like.”

    “What of his lieutenants?” the dragon inquired, apparently fishing for something. “Is one of them now Thuri? Paarthurnax, perhaps?”

    “Odahviing calls me Thuri. Paarthurnax has taken up a more, I guess you could call it laidback, lifestyle. He’s at the Throat of the World, and he’s one of the ones I visit often. Odahviing is the other. He’s feisty, but a good friend.”

    “I’ve never seen a dragon wheeze before,” Rommy said dryly, utterly distracted by the sight of the dragon puffing out balls of ice.

    “Oda—Odahviing calls— he! Odahviing calls you Thuri?” If dragons were prone to rolling on their backs, this one probably would have been.

    “Well, I did drop a yoke on him first.” Telki shrugged, impish delight shining in her eyes. “Durneviir calls me Qahnaarin?”

    “I know not this Cursed One, but if you defeated him, he should honor you. Odahviing pruzah? He is well, then? We offered him a place here when Alduin was first banished and the humans began to kill us, but kuli dreh ni. He refused.”

    “They got him, ages ago, but Alduin brought him and several others back when he reappeared. He’s fit as a fiddle now, and one of the finest babysitters I’ve ever had.”

    Bursts of ice coated the ground in front of the dragon, who fanned his wings and swished his tail in mirth, then took off, circling around them several times before landing again, apparently unable to stay still. “Oh, pogaas; this is the most amusing news I’ve had in ages. Yolriiklok will be so pleased.”

    “I don’t think I’ve ever met a dragon so personable,” Rommy commented, cuddling her against him. Telki snuggled in, glad he was back to himself.

    “Well, I’ve met Paarthurnax and Odahviing, he’s a sweetie when you give him a chance. If more of ‘em would let me talk first, I’d probably have to whup less of ‘em.”

    Strunodven snickered, it couldn’t be anything else. “Does the headstrong one have a mate and kiirre yet?”

    “Not yet, but he’s thinking along those lines, if the number of times he comes around to play with Blaise and Alesan is anything to go by,” Telki grinned. “And Paarthurnax loves playing Grandpa.”

    “Geh. I would love to play grandpa, if His Stubbornness would get on with it,” Strunodven grumbled. Telki shared a look with Rommy. Did they really just stumble on Odahviing’s father? What were the chances?

    “Don’t look at me, I had nothing to do with it,” he said, as if he were reading her thoughts. Telki shook her head. Fate was certainly having a field day with her life.

    “How do you feel about being annexed into families? You could get a headstart.” Telki grinned. “I’ve already co-opted Stubbornhead.”

    “Human kiirre? Hmm, I had not considered it,” the dragon said. “Yolriiklok and I had hoped he’d have a silliin by the time we returned, but it seems that was too much to hope for. Peh.”

    “I haven’t run into many girl dragons. I just figured they were smarter than the boys about attacking the towns and showing off.” Telki’s eyes were troubled, “It didn’t occur to me they simply might not be there. I hope they’re just not making nuisances of themselves.”

    “Females tend to be calmer,” he confirmed, then winced. “Ni pah. Tend to be. Odahviing does not take after me.”

    “Odahviing’s a sweetheart. You did fine raising him,” Telki protested, turning the dragon’s words over in her mind.

    “Kogaan, but I must request that your mate returns my realm to its former state. This will be difficult to explain to my own silliin,” his tail twitched.

    “Rommy? Can you fix it? He’s been a sweetie.” Telki tilted her head, “Hmmm. In a while, we’re going to need some serious help with some very Mean Elves. How do you feel about stomping sense into senseless joorre?”

    The rumbling laugh reminded her of Odahviing. “I would be delighted, little dovah joor. It will take time to fly over the Spirit Sea, but we have been here long, and it grows boring.”

    “Well, there’s several choice mountains and such that recently became vacant. Really, pick a topography, I’ll be happy to help you settle anywhere in Skyrim you’d like.”

    “My thanks, Telki Tailkinker. Now, if the not-a-mortal will just return my realm, mmm?” He stretched his wings, pushing off with his strong legs into the air.

    Telki elbowed Rommy lightly again. “Now would be a very good time for a show of faith redecorating the redecorations.”

    He winced, “Yeah,” he concurred, wrapping his arms more firmly around her, gathering in her cloak this time and burrowing his face in her shoulder as the world around them shifted back to its former state. The ice was a bit more bare, and shone like a mirror, but otherwise it was relatively the same. At least, if one ignored the various snow sculptures lined around it.

    “Close enough to keep the peace with the Missus?” Telki winked. “You could always tell her you either fought off a daedric invasion, or magicked it for fun?” Telki look around. “Both are actually true.”

    Strunodven was examining the sculptures. “I believe I shall tell her that I made it smooth and clear to enable me to see two of her lovely face at once. She likes things like that, and might ignore the...snow shapes.”

    “Thank you Strunodven. I really appreciate your help bringing Rommy back to himself. You do not know what that means to me.”

    “Goraan Dyrah. He’s young in his power,” the dragon said easily. “Odahviing had similar problems.” With that, he curved in the air, heading toward a peak some distance away, visible now only because the snow had vanished with the clouds above.

    Rommy sighed. “Can you ever forgive me, Telki?” he asked.

    “Forgive what?”

    “I could have gotten you and Pearl killed. I lost control and I frightened you. Worse, I prevented you from helping someone else because you were too busy with me and my problems.”

    “Didn’t we already have this talk?” Telki leaned against his arms so she could see his face clearly. “Darlin’, I have no clue what you’re going through, trying to hold all that madness all the time. All I know is I see it hurting you, and I want to help.

    “What happened on the dock was not your fault, it was Ill Minion’s. Totally, completely, utterly be it on his head, nobody else’s. I was not the only person on that dock that could have dived after that baby. And once we were in the water, it was you—nobody else—that helped me find her. So no, I don’t understand what exactly you think I should be forgiving.”

    He leaned down and kissed her lightly, then rested his forehead against hers, eyes closed. “Telki...I...I think that, no matter how many descendants I have now, if something happened to you…”

    “Guess it’s a good thing most of the Aedra and Daedra in charge of afterlives owe me, huh?” He laughed at her quip, tilting her chin up to kiss her fully.

    “He named him Orien?” he asked after a moment, a slight smile lighting his eyes. “What’s the girl’s name?”

    “I don’t know, but she’s got the loveliest red hair and purple eyes I’ve seen yet.” Telki smiled at him, “She was filching milk for a litter of kittens.”

    “That’s adorable,” he stated. “Are you ready to go back? you want to go back to Alinor right away? I really wouldn’t mind your company tonight.”

    “Let’s make it two nights, one for you, and one for a Dunmer who’s probably worried sick right now?”

    “Oh, oops. Sometimes I forget I’m supposed to be sharing you,” he flushed a little, but his eyes twinkled mischievously.

    “You’re secretly hoping to make me forget you’re supposed to be sharing.” Telki booped his nose, “I’m on to your wicked wiles, mister, but I wouldn’t have you any other way. I love you.”

    “I love you too,” he said seriously, running his thumb over her cheek. “Even if I do have to share you. Though, given the men you’ve chosen, I find I don’t mind so much.”

    “My inner dragon wouldn’t let me hoard less than the best, you know.” Telki snuggled back in, kissing his neck and up his chin to those lovely lips of his. Rommy deepened the kiss even as they dissolved into his normal iridescent butterflies, flying back to the Isles.
  10. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which we learn that Gideon makes rash, insane decisions even without Rommy in his head.

    Artwork by the Incomparable Evil-Is-Relative. Seriously folks, you should check her deviantart.
    Chapter text by the both of us.


    Chapter Text

    Chapter 10

    The far end of the pit was all that was lit, the rest in the long shadow of the western edge. Orien was bouncing a ball off the back wall—Shell had brought it for him one night, but she’d told him to never tell anyone that she was that soft—and Tyr was sitting against the wall watching the sky, lost in thought. He’d been doing that often lately. The more often Fey and Shell visited them, the more Gideon spoke on the escape, the more he began to feel that they actually might be able to do this. Careful probes through the bars to the other pits proved that conditions were deteriorating everywhere—less food, fewer sets of replacement rags carelessly tossed in, more prisoners being randomly taken for study. Their captors were preparing for something, and it didn’t bode well for them. If they were going to try this, it needed to be before they were all too weak to fight.

    Everyone was more tired than normal. The Thalmor had made them all run that day in circles around the pit, hitting anyone that lagged or tried to stop with Sparks. They said they wanted to “test their endurance.” Gideon and Tyr and a few of the other men had taken turns carrying Orien when the little boy got too tired to go on.

    Gideon was exhausted, both mentally and physically. Even with the extras, the privation was telling on even his body. It became that much worse when he had to keep going, even though he was worried sick about Telki. When the storm roared up out of nowhere, he knew it was worse than he thought.

    Tyr sighed gustily, leaning his head back against the wall. “Well, Gideon, you’ve been in Skyrim more recently than I have; was that much-worse-than-normal hail or should I stay out of our frosty homeland now?” He let his head loll to give the man a tired look, but he was still up to joking, so he couldn’t be too badly off.

    “It was not a normal storm, by any means. There’s news, and Fey will be coming to you for comfort.”

    All humor fled from his form as he sat up. “What do you mean?” he asked, his irises looking black in the gathering dark. Orien’s seemed to glow purple, like an elf’s did in low light.

    “Pearl is fine, that is the most important thing you need to know, and she gave a sentence to Telki for me to give Fey, or would it come better from you?”

    “Pearl?” Tyr frowned. “Gideon, maybe you best start from the beginning. What happened to Pearl?”

    “Ill Minion, as Telki calls him, tried to cull Pearl this morning. He tossed her into the bay, that was when the storm started—”

    “WHAT?” Tyr cried, his face stormy. The ground shook slightly with his exclamation, raining pebbles from the ceiling. Orien gasped and ran to his father in fright, breaking him out of his rage.

    Gideon raised an eyebrow; the dragon bloodline still ran true. Well, that answered that question. “Remember, Pearl is fine and safe. That is the most important thing. Ill Minion is living on borrowed time at this point.

    “Telki went in after her once she Shouted Ill out of the way, but Pearl had already saved herself. She shifted the hook to a fish; Talon covered for her. She’s safely off Alinor and being cared for by the rest of my family and yours.”

    “Rommy has her then?” Tyr asked, soothing his son with cuddles, “That’s good. I mean, I’m not too sure how he is with children, but he is one of the most powerful—and bizarre—mages I’ve encountered.” He stopped, head snapping up. “Wait, what do you mean, Talon ‘covered for her?’”

    Gideon tilted his head at him. “Surely he would know a fish’s soul from a person’s? Yet he put the gem in the bag and acted as if all were as it should be.” Gideon smiled, “And I have seen Rommy with children. He is very good with them.”

    “Fey’s known that man since the Great War, and she’s yet to see him look more than vaguely irritated or slightly puzzled. I can’t believe he would let her go like that,” he said, soothing back Orien’s hair.

    “He’s been looking that way after every training with Telki, hasn’t he?” Gideon dropped his attempt at humor and hummed. “I do not know Talon, so I cannot guess his motives. Rommy wonders if it were the waste of a talented mage, or a dislike of Ill Minion, or perhaps something else we’ve not guessed.”

    Tyr abruptly held up a hand, staring at the not-entirely-dark entrance. One moment there was no one there, the next a form dropped into view, stood, and walked back, a darker shadow against the charcoal grey of outside. “Fey,” he said, rising and going to her. Her face was absolutely still and expressionless, but the moment he put his arms around her she broke down, clinging to him for all she was worth while shaking with entirely silent sobs. Tyr simply held her for a moment, giving her a chance to express what she’d been forced to hold in all day before he even attempted to say anything. “She’s alright,” he assured her the moment she paused for breath.

    Fey pulled away slightly, staring at him. “What?” she gasped.

    He nodded, “Pearl’s fine. Gideon’s friends got her away. She wasn’t culled.”

    Since the poor woman hadn’t even been able to explain her tears yet, she could only gape up at him, for once her expression completely readable and open. “She’s...but the soul gem! And Ilmiyon!”

    Tyr shrugged. “Gideon was just telling me about it, so I’m not entirely sure myself.” He turned to look at the other man, “Care to weigh in?”

    “She gave Telki a phrase, to prove to you she’s fine. Are you ready to hear it?”

    Eyes riveted to him, Fey nodded, tense and slightly mistrustfull. Tyr kept his arms around her, either to give her comfort or to stop her from running over and demanding what he knew by force was up for debate. Gideon figured both was the most probable reason.

    “‘I shine with pale light, grown in the darkness,’” Gideon recited faithfully, watching her reaction the entire time.

    For a few seconds she stood frozen, her face blank as she warred with herself. Abruptly, she sobbed, hand coming up to cover her mouth. “Sh—she made it,” she gasped, whirling and hiding her face in Tyr’s shoulder. He held her tightly, stroking up and down her back. Orien hesitantly walked over and cuddled up to her, and she put an arm around him.

    “She is a truly talented mage; she shifted her hook to a fish. Talon covered for her, pretending all was as it should be with the black stone. With the hook gone, Telki and Rommy teleported her to safety. Faloniril and Ilmiyon cannot hope to reach her now.”

    Fey’s knees gave out, and Tyr lifted her and brought her to the back of the cavelet, settling a small distance away from Gideon with her cradled to him. “Why don’t you tell us what you know, Gideon?”

    “Were they—your contemporaries—actually there?” Fey asked, frowning slightly. “I...I am having a difficult time believing Talon would cover for her. He only came to tell me she had been...that was earlier today. He showed no sign that she had lived. Even if he had for some reason let her go, why would he not tell me?”

    “I would guess he was being watched. If he had acted any differently than he always had, would it not raise suspicions? Were I in that position, I would act as I must long enough to make sure she had gotten to safety, before giving the good news.”

    The elfen woman shook her head in disbelief. “I would never have thought it of him. I don’t know what could possibly prompt such an action.”

    “In a moment of desperation, she did what not even Rommy could do—shift that hook you all carry. It could be that, or something else,” Gideon shrugged. “I’ve not met him, so I cannot say. I doubt even asking him would give us his reasons.”

    “How did she remove it?” Fey asked earnestly, leaning forward. This wasn’t a grieving or relieved woman any longer; this was a plotter, a planner, and the gaze she pierced Gideon with had much in common with the way a hawk looked at a rabbit.

    “She cannot remember, and Rommy cannot yet look in her memories. Trust me, Telki’s first thought was using this trick to get you all free of it. “ Gideon sighed heavily as he slid down to a seated position. It had been a long day. “Once the little one has recovered enough, we maybe can ask to look at those memories. Telki and Rommy are already planning an alternative. We will get you all free, and every Thalmor that stands with Faloniril will feel the full fury of an avenging Dragonborn.”

    “I do not understand,” Fey confessed, sharing a look with Tyr. “Tyr has told me that his cousin is a mage of unknown ability, but he has learned to look into people’s memories?”

    “He is truly a mage like none other I’ve met. Mercutio is probably the next closest, and he’s just his apprentice.”

    “So they’re both Imperials?” she said, sounding faintly skeptical.

    Gideon smiled softly. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

    “I take it they did the incredible Illusion work on the Dragonborn? Or is there actually an Altmer in your group that would dare go by ‘Telki?’” she asked, leaning her head on Tyr’s shoulder as she relaxed.

    “Transformation, not Illusion,” Gideon corrected: In for a septim, in for a sapphire, he decided. “Merkelwyn’s Mercutio.”

    There was a long pause. “Gideon,” she said, as if unsure how he’d react to what she was about to tell him, “I know most Nords shun magic, but even you should know transforming a person from one race to another is impossible. The best that could be managed is switching souls with necromancy, and that is only theoretical.”

    “And yet, Romulus found a way,” Gideon shrugged. “I was given Shor’s hammer by someone with a powerful enough aura to bring me to my knees. I learned very early that much of what we think can’t be, can, given enough time, learning, or power.”

    Fey’s look was a politely skeptical mask, and Tyr chuckled. “So will my cousin be able to pick apart what Pearl managed, do you think?” he asked Gideon, obviously enjoying being able to hold Fey close like that. It wasn’t often they got to cuddle, and she wasn’t all that used to close contact to begin with.

    Gideon sighed. “I don’t know. I only know what they’ve told me so far, and that I’ve already shared with you. If it can be done, Rommy will find a way, but Pearl’s safety is more important to him than digging out how she did it.”

    “Of course!” Tyr responded, surprised. “Even if Rommy can’t figure out how Pearl did it, she at least proved that it can be done.” He looked to the woman in his arms, “Any luck figuring out what the focus itself is?”

    “In a way,” she said, eyes shuttered in a way he had learned meant she was thinking very deeply about something that had her emotions high, “our soul gems themselves act as minor foci, but they are anchored to something else, a main focus, and that I have yet to find. However, I do think you can weaken the main focus by destroying the smaller ones. Or kill us all, it’s a bit of a gamble.”

    “They’re useless once you give them souls, right?” Tyr, never a mage, asked, brow creased in puzzlement. “So why can’t you just put souls in them all and figure out how the Trainers remove the tag on the body? It sounds like that’s what Pearl did.”

    “That’s apparently exactly what she did,” Fey said absently. “But how did she do it? It’s not as easy as simply casting soul trap on a placeholder, or we would have done it by now!”

    “Shell says we all go to a bad place called the Soul Cairn when we die,” Orien said, eyes wide. “Doesn’t being soul trapped take you to the bad place?”

    “Shell told you what?” Fey cried.

    Gideon perched down in front of the little boy, face grave. “Even if you wind up in the Soul Cairn, I know a number of people that would come get you out, myself included.” He smiled, “It’s fairly easy when you know where the door is.”

    “You know how to get into the Soul Cairn?” this time Tyr was the skeptical one. Fey’s wide eyes in an utterly still expression was about as close to horrified as she could manage.

    “The vampire story I told you? All true.”

    “Even the part about armored trolls?” Orien was practically bouncing in excitement. “Da, can we escape and get an armored troll?”

    “I will take you to the Fort myself, if your father and mother permit.” Gideon gave him a stern look, “But there is a solid ‘no riding the trolls’ policy after the last fiasco.”

    “You can ride them?” he squealed.

    “Gideon, I think you made it worse,” Tyr laughed, then sobered at the look in Fey’s eyes, so subtle no one else had even noticed. “What’s the matter, Fey?”

    “There’s actually a chance this time, isn’t there?” she asked in a small voice. “We might actually be able to get out.”

    “That’s the plan,” he said, sliding around to get a better look at her. “What’s the look?”

    Guilt. The look was guilt. “I need to tell you something,” she said. “Gideon, would you...give us a minute? And take Orien?”

    “Of course. Orien, would you like to help me find another cavelet? I think we need somewhere I can teach you a thing or three, if your father permits?”

    “Don’t tire him out too much,” he called, not taking his eyes from Fey. Orien apparently decided he was talking to him, because he promised he wouldn’t before taking Gideon’s hand and all but dragging him from the cavelet. “Do I want to know why you look like you forgot you already told me you’re a Thalmor spy?” he asked, trying to sound light. “I never thought I’d see that expression again after you let that drop.”

    Fey sighed, unable to look him in the eye. She unconsciously had moved into the pose she’d been taught to take to appear nonthreatening, to make men think less of what she was or represented. She’d taken that pose a lot over her career. “You never cared for what I was—the type of Young One I am,” she began.

    “But I’ve never held it against you,” he rebutted, puzzled.

    “But you do not think it is honorable, and you are right. And when I told you of my did not speak for days in your rage,” she said.

    “What they forced you to do for your so-called ‘training,’” he began hotly, only to be silenced when she placed a finger over his lips.

    “You were relieved, when they gave you Orien,” she said starkly, finally meeting his gaze. “You knew they wanted a girl with your hair and your eyes, that she would be striking. You were relieved I had a boy they thought to throw away by trying to break you, by giving him to you where they thought he could not live.”

    “But you made sure he had everything he needed,” Tyr reminded her, completely confused by this point. He soothed his hands down her arms. “You always have.”

    “I had already burdened you once,” she told him her eyes clearly showing her anguish. There were some things she’d never been able to hide from Tyr. He read her so well it was amazing that he’d never been trained to do so. “I could not burden you again, not when it was so likely the child would die before anything...before…”

    “He didn’t die!” Tyr said, frustrated.

    “She didn’t either.”

    He froze, staring at her. There were several long moments of silence, punctuated only by the coughing of one of the prisoners somewhere out in the pit. She swallowed as his face hardened. “She?”

    “Girls bred to be a courtesan usually don’t make it passed adolescence,” she told him. “I didn’t want to burden you with that, not when you could be happy with Orien.”

    “I’ve had a daughter—I have a daughter?” he was stunned. “Wait, adolescence? What happens at adolescence?”

    “They decide if they are going to be stunning, or if they are worthless,” Fey revealed. “If they are talented in other areas, they become ordinary Young Ones, and at that point I would have brought her to you. Before that, I did not want you to know.”

    “Why?” was all he could manage, feeling like the bottom had dropped out of what little world he had left.

    “Because I did not want you to look at her the way you looked at me the day I told you,” Fey said flatly. “And because they are ruthless when disappointed. Unless she was perfect in every other way, they still might have simply killed her for appearing so unique, for being so memorable.”

    “Fey…” Tyr couldn’t speak, didn’t know what to say. Part of him wanted to be angry, but the rest of him was simply too stunned to act on that emotion. There was an interminable moment of silence as she examined every nuance of his expression.

    “I...I call her Blossom,” Fey finally said. “So far she...she is very skilled. She has Orien’s looks, but her chin is a little more delicate. She likes to draw. Pearl was—Pearl is her best friend. She’s heartbroken right now.”

    “Does...does she know about us?” he asked finally. “About Orien and me?”

    “No. She is too young yet to know something so perilous. Talon would have it out of her in under a minute. Ilmiyon would have it out in ten minutes, but that’s only because he’d want to play with her first.” The disgust and fear in her voice let him know exactly what kind of “playing” she was referring too. He shivered. “I…” Fey broke their gazes, looking down at her hands, gracefully folded in her lap, clearly showing no weapons and positioned in a way that invited confidences. She very consciously changed that position. “I understand if you do not want to speak with me for a while. I will send Shell with whatever Orien needs, for as long as you require.”

    “Get over here, woman. I feel like I just kicked a puppy,” he muttered gruffly, pulling the surprised spy in and wrapping his arms around her. Fey stiffened just long enough to process what he’d done, then cautiously arranged herself alongside him. He waited until he felt her start to relax before he spoke again. “Since we’re all in a confessing mood tonight…” he paused as she looked up at him quizzically. “I’m the grandson of the Champion of Cyrodiil. And possibly heir to the Ruby Throne.”

    She gazed up at him for a long moment, eyes narrowing. “This is not the time for jokes.”

    “Which is why I’m not joking. If we ever get out of here, I hope you don’t care if I make you Empress, because if they put a crown on my head I will be way out of my element.” He glanced down at her entirely shuttered expression and grinned, correctly deducing that she was mulling this over and still didn’t believe him. “If we’re very lucky, nothing will come of it, and I can drag you all back to Riften, blackmail Auntie Maven into giving me some property, and we can all retire in blessed obscurity.”

    “You are a very strange man,” she told him after a few more seconds, finally relaxing enough to put an arm around him.

    “Well, I’ve been in a pit for nearly thirty years. Puts thing in perspective, I suppose. I can’t really be angry at you when I’ve been keeping something just as big from you, and I suppose I just gained a little girl on the same day I discover my stepdaughter did not, in fact, die, but somehow managed to get out of this hellhole, and...Gods, but it’s been a long day.” Fey actually laughed a bit in agreement, and he enjoyed the rare sensation of her being completely relaxed in his arms. “You know…” he gazed down into the slightly glowing golden eyes, “Gideon has Orien for a bit…”

    She smiled. “How very kind of him.”


    “So, there’s a very old tradition in Skyrim, and I think, since we will be going there, you might want to learn some of it, but it takes a lot of patience, and hmmm.” Gideon rubbed his chin as he pretended to study Orien, who was bouncing in place. “I just don’t know. I don’t know if you have enough to learn it just yet.”

    “Enough what? I have enough! I can do it!” the child assured him, bouncing on his toes.

    “Oh really? You can sit still long enough to listen to the wind whistle into words?” Gideon gave him his best eyebrow.

    Orien stopped bouncing long enough to stare at him in complete confusion. “Huh?”

    “I think the first thing I will have to teach you is patience, and that, you know you have when you can sit and listen all afternoon to all the secrets carried on Kyne’s breath,” Gideon nodded. “Shall I show you?”

    “Yes, yes I can listen to Kyne!” Orien enthused, clapping his hands a bit. “Show me!”

    Gideon folded his massive frame down into a comfortable position on the floor of the unoccupied cavelet they had eventually found, hands resting on his knees, ankles crossed in front of him. “First, you sit like this. Calm your own breath, so you can hear Kyne’s. Close your eyes so you don’t get distracted by what you see and listen to the wind.”

    Looking over the position for a moment, Orien dropped down in front of him, carefully folding his legs to look just like Gideon’s—only much smaller and thinner—and putting his back as straight as he could, placing his hands on his knees. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Two breaths later his right knee began to bounce.

    “Will you be able to hear Kyne over your bouncing knee, Orien?”

    The knee ceased its bouncing. For a long while, it only bounced once every few minutes, but stopped as he recalled it wasn’t supposed to do that. Then the shifting started as one buttcheek went numb, then the other. They’d gotten through an impressive fifteen minutes when the boy giggled.

    “Did Kyne tell you a joke?” Gideon raised one eyelid to take in the kid’s glee. He was actually rather impressed the perpetual motion machine was able to accomplish this much so far.

    “She’s tickling my neck,” he replied, opening his eyes and raising his hand to rub his neck where the wind had made the tips of his hair brush the skin.

    “She’s devious like that. She wants to keep her secrets.” Gideon rose and rolled his shoulders a bit. “Let me show you a series of stretches that can sometimes help the jitters. This is the first one.” Orien did much better with the exercises in motion than the mental ones, even if he did try to modify them every few minutes because handstands were more fun and can he please try to handstand on Gideon’s head because that would be really high? Nevertheless, Gideon was able to move him through the first series, before he felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. Perhaps Kynewas trying to get their attention: Someone was coming.

    “Whoever is there, you’re in for a nasty surprise if you so much as look at this child wrong.” Gideon shifted the boy behind him, ready to do whatever was necessary.

    There was silence under the pattering rain. Even the guards on the rim were quiet. So quiet it was like… “Where are the guards?” Orien asked quietly, subdued.

    “I’m sure some of them are still in the barracks because of the weather, but the rest? I don’t know.” Gideon made sure to herd Orien to the corner, so that nothing could slip behind him to the boy. ::Who’s with me right now?::

    ::I am, and I shall probably sleep all of tomorrow because of it. You’ve been warned.:: Erandur’s calm but tired voice flowed into Gideon’s mind.

    ::Guards are gone, it’s quiet, and pretty sure we’re not in this cave alone,:: Gideon apprised him.

    ::Should I get Rommy, then?:: Gideon could feel Erandur wince. ::He won’t like being interrupted, but he’d like it less if something happened to Orien.::

    ::If I holler, send a Saint or something.:: Gideon paused a moment. ::He knows about Orien? How’d that go?::

    ::About like you would expect. Atmora got a facelift, and then another one on top of that, since the current residents didn’t like it. Oh, and Telki recruited Odahviing’s father to her flight.:: Erandur was chuckling. ::Only Telki.::

    “Mister Gideon?” Orien said quietly. “One of the guards on the other wall just went poof.”

    “Poof?” Gideon scanned the far ridge for figures. “You could see guards over there? You must have eyes like an eagle.”

    “Elf,” the boy muttered uncomfortably. “I have elf eyes.”

    “Absolutely nothing wrong with that.” Gideon again tried to look through the weather to the far ridge. “So what do your elf eyes see?”

    “There aren’t any guards out,” he said, voice small and shaking. “There’s never not been guards.”

    “Has the weather ever been this bad before?”

    “Once the pits flooded,” the boy said, “But I was too little to really remember it. Da carried me the whole time.”

    “Your da is a remarkable man.” Gideon stared out into the night, wishing momentarily he had elf eyes himself, considering what the little boy had told him. “So this is the first really bad weather you’ve experienced. They may be trusting the gale to keep us in our pit, instead of the guards. Though I still don’t like that guard just disappearing. You are sure he poofed, and didn’t just fall over?”

    “I don’t know. He was there, then he wasn’t there.” He glanced up at Gideon. “Should I do that hiding thing Momma taught me?”

    “As long as you can do it with me between you and whatever is out there.”

    Orien pointed to a little shadowed nook in the back of the cavelet. “I’ll be right there,” he said, then ran over, curled up, and vanished in a little burst of black light.

    “Telki is going to be so jealous.”

    A small clang off to his right rang across the pit, the sound hollow and muffled by the rain. An elven helmet spun to a stop against the wall there, shining dully in the small amount of magelight that flickered down from the walkways.

    “Haven’t I already done this?” Gideon muttered to himself, the events tonight scarily reminiscent of playing cat and mouse with Bitsy in the tower, but what Young One would be out in this weather, and why? The prisoners were already the Thalmors’ to play with at their convenience.

    The blow came out of nowhere. A stinging pain atop his shoulder, as if he’d scratched it on a bramble. For a brief moment it merely stung, then it burned, poison spreading through his veins, leaching his strength.

    ::Dammit, I’m poisoned. I can’t protect the boy.::

    ::I’ll see what I can do. Won’t be as effective as if you were here with me, but it might be enough to surprise whoever that is.:: Almost immediately, a faint golden glow filtered all along the bramble scratch, diffusing into the cut to chase the poison out of his system, as much as it could.

    As the pain faded, Gideon felt something like a thorn caught in the edge of the scratch. Pulling it out proved it to be a small dagger, almost a needle, it’s intricately decorated handle one piece with the blade, with no handguard to speak of. This was apparently the poison’s delivery system. “How do you even throw something this tiny?”

    “I’d be happy to demonstrate,” a familiar voice called darkly, just as two more tiny pricks of pain blossomed, one on the other shoulder, the other just above his knee, spreading fire up and down his nerve endings. Every movement felt as if he were being stabbed with a thousand red-hot needles. He slowly sank to the cavern floor, propped against the uneven walls.

    ::Erandur?:: “Please, not in front of the boy.” It was hard to think through the pain, but something kept niggling at him. There was a reason Shell... Shell, Pearl! She didn’t know yet!

    ::I’ll do what I can.:: Erandur’s voice sounded dead on his feet at this point. ::You should know, Goldie is more than ready to teach the little guttersnipe a lesson, her words.::

    ::She thinks her sister’s dead, after I promised to get them out. I can handle this…maybe.:: Gideon sighed a little in relief as yet more healing chased down the weakening toxin. It was fainter, but dulled the pain enough he finally remembered the words that might just save his life tonight. “‘I shine with a pale light, though grown in darkness.’ Shell, Pearl is alive, and she is safe.”

    The hard-eyed assassin was in front of him in an instant, four more of the tiny daggers in her hand, ready to go to work. There was a rather larger one held at his throat, it’s silvery blade rippling like liquid. “What was that?” she asked, voice a threatening clip. There was no hint of her usual playfulness or flirtatiousness, her face was as utterly still and serene as a statue of St. Alessia.

    “Pearl gave Telki the words, ‘I shine with a pale light, grown in the darkness,’ so Fey would know she lived. Pearl shifted the hook to a fish. Talon covered for her. She’s safe with Tyr’s family.”

    Varied emotions rippled over her face before it closed up again. “That’s impossible,” she said harshly, the dagger pressing just the tiniest bit. “You’re lying.”

    “What would convince you? I could ask Erandur to wake her up, if you’d like her to give you some other verbal proof. I can’t take you there, and I don’t think anyone wants to bring her back here, do you?” Gideon studied her, he could feel the icy kiss of the dagger at his throat, though he thought the cold in her eyes more chilling. “Your mother is with Tyr if you can’t believe me. Though if you’re going to finish me off, don’t do it in front of Orien. Not to mention there’ll be literal hell to pay if you do. I don’t recommend it.”

    ::Say the word, Goldie’s ready to knock sense into her. She’s highly perturbed by your treatment.::

    ::Give her a moment . I’m not dead yet.::

    ::We’d prefer to keep it that way.::

    After a moment of deliberation, Shell’s voice rang out, slightly louder than the soft, threatening tone she’d been using, “Orien?”

    “What?” a little voice called hesitantly after a moment.

    “Is he telling the truth?”

    “Momma believed him. And he knew the riddle. And a bunch of magic stuff he didn’t seem to totally get,” the boy said, still in hiding. His sister was scary when she was mad, and he was just a tad afraid of her. His father and even his mother had always been slightly scared of Shell. Now he thought he understood.

    Green eyes examined his, like she would pull out his soul and examine every flaw of his personality if she could. “Tell your ‘Erandur’ to ask for my riddle. You know hers, but you don’t know mine, do you?” she read the answer off his face and made a sound of disgust. “You must be terrible at card games, Gideon.”


    ::On it. Goldie’s gone to collect her now. Awww, she’s a cute little sleepy moppet. Pearl, your sister Shell is very upset, and asking for her riddle. Can you help my friend Gideon?::

    Gideon said the words as he heard them. “Your hands are the key, to secrets untold, and your mind will unlock the door.” Gideon waited, barely breathing.

    Rain pattering on the ground was the only sound as Shell stood there, unmoving. Abruptly, she dropped the dagger, and Gideon found himself being kissed, and then not being kissed, as the kisser started sobbing into the front of his shirt. He held her, rocked her, and assured her it would be alright as he’d done many a young one just woken from a nightmare.

    ::Goldie insists if that little snip gets a kiss, she’s owed one, too. Especially since she’s not tried to stick daggers in you. I think she might be a tad jealous, and moppet is falling back asleep here. Might want to ask Shell if she wants to know anything, or tell her anything, before I send her back to bed.::

    “ Is there anything you’d like us to tell Pearl, or ask her, before Erandur sends her back to bed?” Gideon asked softly into her hair. He thought his shirt got wet out in the rain, but it was fairly sopping now.

    She started to shake her head, then paused, glancing up at him with red nose and eyes. “Can she hear me?” she croaked.


    Shell straightened up and wiped at her eyes, reaching out to put an arm around a hesitant Orien even before his Doom Stone’s ability wore off and he became visible. Gazing into his eyes, she said something slowly and clearly in Aldmeris. Orien frowned up at her and clung a little tighter.

    Gideon listened to Erandur’s solemn translation and considered his response carefully. “Pearl saved herself, you know. She’s an impressive little mage. Even our best mage hasn’t figured out how she’s done it. Our best bet is still to go after the main focus, and that means everyone gets free of the Ideal Masters. You are not expendable, you are not being left behind. You have family now that loves you very much, and some of them are much stronger and scarier than even your grandfather or Ill Minion. I can make fun of that one, right?”

    A hint of fear shown in her eyes. “I’d prefer if you didn’t even mention him, actually.”

    “So I shouldn’t tell you my wife called him a scumsucking horker spooge and told him to go play with Molag Bal? She was called the ‘talkative recruit’, I believe.”

    Shell’s mouth dropped open. “Her?” she asked after a moment, “That was your wife? I were married to an Altmer all along? And how did she get so old talking that much? How has nobody tried to throw her off a bridge or something?”

    “She’s actually Khajiit. Our mage? Transformation magic. I told you he was good, and your little sister outmagicked him. Many people have tried to dam that ever babbling brook. She’s still here, still Telki. They’re…not.”

    “Huh,” was all Shell could manage as she digested this, then her eyes focused again as she gazed at him, his shirt still wet with tears and rain. Relief was making her giddy, her mind pulled in so many direction it made her stomach cramp, but the sight of him brought her back to more familiar, safer thoughts. She shifted a bit and propped one hand on her hip. “Does she share?”

    Gideon paused, “You’ll have to get a permission slip from the rest of ‘em.”

    ::And oh the hoops you’ll have to jump to get that signed.:: There was a slight thread of grim satisfaction in Erandur’s voice.

    A slow grin crossed her face, making her look much more like her normal self. “So you’re not opposed to the idea, then?”

    “Pretty sure stop poking me full of holes and poison will be a condition of getting it signed.”

    ::Among other things,:: Erandur added.

    “Get me out of here, and I’ll only stab people for fun and profit,” she teased, fluttering her eyelashes.

    “We’ll get you a list of evildoers you can stab to your heart’s content. Anyone else you’ll have to get cleared,” Gideon teased right back. He shifted his shoulder, “Erandur can only do so much through the link, did you by chance bring the antidote? Those little briars are starting to smart.”

    She giggled, “I could kiss it better.”

    ::Oh. Really? Prove it.:: Erandur tried to hide it, but there was definite curiosity to his tone. Gideon wisely did not comment on it.

    “You can heal with a kiss? Telki and Erandur both will be jealous, and demand lessons.” Gideon looked over his shoulder. “Remember we still have little ears present.”

    Behind them, Orien shook his head, deciding his sister was crazy and sitting at the far end, cross-legged and facing out into the rain and wind. Whatever Kyne had to say had to be more interesting than his crazy sister and whatever it was she wanted to do with Gideon’s mouth. Grown-ups were bizarre, and just a little gross.

    Shell looked thoughtful. “I’ve never kissed a Khajiit before. She into women?”

    “No, much to Serana’s disgruntlement. She’s Dagi-Raht; she looks rather like a furry elf, with ears out to here,” Gideon pointed out on his own head, the points well out of his thick hair. “They almost always give her mood away, even when her very active mouth or very purple eyes do not.”

    “Sounds adorable. Don’t know how I’m supposed to teach her if she won’t kiss me though,” Shell replied with a shrug.

    “Teach Erandur, and he can teach her.” Gideon gave her a sideways look. “Not put off by Dunmer, are you?”

    “Not for being Dunmer, anyway. But I like my partners a bit more…” she danced her fingers over the muscles of his arm and shoulder and lifted an eyebrow.

    “He’s not a Treedunmer, though he is fit.”

    “You want those scratches healed, or not?” she huffed at him, sensing he was poking fun at her. “Now shush so I can demonstrate my awesome powers.”

    ::We’ll see now, won’t we?:: Erandur put in skeptically, expecting it to be a simple ploy to get her mouth on Gideon again. ::Ten septims say it’s just her kissing technique she wants to show off.::

    ::Ten says it heals as well as one of your regular spells.::


    Shell paused a moment, her hand making a small gesture, then stepped forward without any hesitation and pressed her lips lightly to his, a soft touch completely at odds with her earlier behavior. Her arm went about his neck, holding him close against her. The brush of her lips wasn’t pushy, or overt, but the slight, sensuous touch one would expect from a much subtler personality.

    ::Well, damn.:: Erandur’s mental voice sounded like Gideon felt at that moment, stunned enough he might have fallen were he not already seated. That was not the sort of kiss he was expecting! Almost of their own volition, his arms had come up and around to cradle and steady her, familiar soothing patterns rubbed into the small of her back, where Telki swore all her tension gathered will she, nil she.

    A small sound escaped her, and briefly she pressed herself fully against him, then broke away gently, stepping back, an odd expression on her face before her normal cheerful mask dropped into place. She grinned cheekily, “Feel better?”

    “Once I get those little briars of yours out, I’ll feel right as rain.” Gideon gave her his gentlest smile.

    One side of her mouth quirked up as she held up two wicked little knives, both with his blood on the blades. “What kind of healer do you think I am?”

    “A mischievous one.” He gave her a long considering look as he stood, soft smile still dancing on his lips. “Do you know, I think the day you decide you don’t need that mask with me, that permission slip will get signed.”

    ::Maybe. We’ll see . :: Erandur, apparently, was going to be a hard sell, but that may just be sleep deprivation, or that he lost the bet.

    Startlement crossed her face, then she laughed. “I best get on the long way, then,” she declared.

    “Hmmm, we’ll see.”

    ::Are you really contemplating what I think you’re contemplating? Don't you think that’ll make things a little...awkward?::

    ::I don’t exactly do ‘casual’. Neither do you, come to think of it.::

    ::None of us, honestly, though I swear Telki makes up her mind on sight.::

    ::You mean Sight.::

    ::Funny, but probably true.:: Erandur contemplated the girl through Gideon’s eyes. ::I begin to think Telki’s impossible relationship is easier than the one you’re considering.::

    “Should I even ask what you all have been up to?” Tyr enquired, leaning against the entrance with his arms folded. He glanced down and nudged the helmet with a toe, giving them an arch look.

    “Just let Shell know her sister is safe. It took some convincing.” Gideon raised an eyebrow at Shell. “Do I have scars to prove it?”

    “Do you want them?” Shell threatened.

    “Telki thinks scars are proof of a piss poor healer,” Gideon smirked. “Even her weakest potion doesn’t leave them. I will probably have to kick Tsun’s ass twice to get in Sovngarde.”

    “I will assume that’s a bad thing,” the girl replied, confused. Tyr was chuckling, apparently in a very good mood. Given the way the ground had been rumbling, Gideon could guess why.

    “Tsun can use me as a leaning prop. If I am a tree, he’s a mountain.”

    “I want to meet him!” Shell enthused, hopping up and down and weirdly enough, resembling Orien.

    “Dead people meet him, Sis,” Orien explained in a loud whisper.

    “Not...always.” Gideon winced. He really should keep his trap shut sometimes.

    “Gideon, you already have my lover talking about going into the Soul Cairn, can you not encourage my stepdaughter to find a way to Sovngarde to seduce the old Nordic pantheon?” Tyr requested.

    ::I have to admit, watching him run from her would be hilarious.:: The glee in Erandur’s voice was infectious.

    “It would certainly liven the place up, though.” Gideon gave Shell a teasing look, “But I’m not sure we could convince her to come back with that many ‘Treenords’ to climb.”

    She wrinkled her nose, “Well, I am half Bosmer. We do like our trees.”

    Gideon laughed. Tyr just glanced at him and shook his head as Shell took Orien’s hand and led him back to the other cave, quite as if she hadn’t come there tonight to kill someone. “Gideon, I hope you know what you’re doing,” he muttered.
  11. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Telki gains a new loathing for the stench of feet, and we learn that Talon is a cat person.

    Another gorgeous illustration by the incomparable Evil-Is-Relative. You're doing yourself a disservice if you've not visited her Deviantart.

    Chapter Text
    Chapter 11

    The house was quiet. The hallways echoed with a thousand tiny noises she never would have noticed before, even with her sensitive ears. The cold stone of the Spire felt hard and lifeless beneath her paws, but Telki didn’t mind as much as she might. She was a huntress, she was stalking, and walking on all fours wasn’t nearly as hard as it had first felt.

    Dawn had been an hour ago, but most of the activity this time of day was in the lower levels. Up here, where the illustrious lords and ladies slept, the higher-ranked Thalmor and guests and upper servants, all was still quiet. It was the perfect time of day to go through, looking for the focus. If only there weren’t so many interesting things to chase, pounce on, or rub her face on. She briefly wondered if the impulses came from being Alfiq, or from who set the transformation.

    Bands of sunlight were filtering through the windows now. There was a mountain range to the east that prevented the first rays from reaching the estate right away. It gave the entire Spire a sort of disconnected feeling, that dawn reached it before the ground, and sunset left it last. It had a grandeur, a hauteur, that wasn’t lost on its inhabitants. The various walkways and smaller towers that surrounded the main needle glimmered in the orange light like seafoam frozen on the cusp of a wave, frozen just at the breaking point. She wasn’t sure what was in those other towers yet, but she had the feeling what she needed was here anyway. This is where Faloniril spent most of his time, like a fat spider.

    Following on the heels of that thought, a real, fuzzy spider skittered across her path, making her whiskers twitch. She longed to pounce on it.

    ::That will have to wait, Dearest,:: Rommy said into her mind, voice so amused it was obvious he had been laughing at her rather “catty” thoughts.

    ::pretty sure the few Alfiqs I met weren’t this beset with ‘temptations,’:: she teased. ::I’m blamin’ you.::

    ::I’m hurt,:: he sent back, not sounding hurt in the least.

    ::So, precisely what is what I’m looking for going to look like to my True Sight? I’ve no clue what I’m looking for, anyhow.:: She sneezed as she got a nose full of pine scented cleanser and feet. She was really tired of feet smell. ::If I never smell another foot, it’ll still be too soon.::

    ::You’ll probably know it when you see it. I can’t imagine they have many things sitting around with that much power going in or out. Whatever it is will have a massive aura,:: he informed her. ::There; according to Pearl, that room should be His Lordship’s office.::

    ::So, look for massive honking auras. That should be easy enough.:: She was having no luck on the floor, and leapt up on a nearby desk and buried her nose happily in a bouquet of orange blossoms. Thank heavens orange blossoms had a heavy fragrance; it finally killed the scent of unwashed feet. She stayed there a moment longer, letting her mind wander and her tail swish lazily in the ocean breeze coming in through the window. ::If I were an important focus a madman wanted nearby, where would I be hidden?::

    There was a box of papers on the desk. ::If I fits, I sits, and since it’s Falofifi’s, I might even leave him a present. There’s plenty of paper to cover it.:: The box was actually fairly comfortable, and she settled in it for a thought. She’d leave her present before she left. She didn’t want to add to the feet funk while she would have to smell it.

    Rommy was completely incoherent in her mind, he was laughing so hard. This was probably as close to full Sheo he had ever been without violence or worry being involved. Eventually, he quieted down, and the sea breeze coming through the window was pleasant, along with the lulling sound of the surf.

    Apparently, catnaps are extremely easy to fall into, especially when you’re a cat. The door opening interrupted her doze, and a tall elf in Justicier robes walked in, then stopped short at the sight of her, lip curling. “Where did you…? Damn maids, I told them not to leave this door open,” he muttered.

    Telki could only sit and blink large purple eyes at him, momentarily blinded by the shifting aura of clashing colors that seemed shine off him with the strength of a young sun. She blinked stupidly, trying to make sense how he could have that many personalities. There was something funny about them, as if they weren’t exactly coming from him…she tried to look through, to see what it was, she could vaguely make out a line from him to somewhere else.

    The Thalmor grumbled and made shooing motions at her, then shouted for someone else. A guard came and lifted her from the box while she was still stunned, putting her back on her feet in the hallway. Telki recovered herself a little bit once she wasn’t gazing directly into his whirlpool of an aura, and slipped back inside before the guard could close the door completely. ::Can you see a line leaving him?::

    ::Hmm?:: The reply was distinctly distracted. ::Oh, you’re awake again. Sorry, Stanley sent me a four page letter written in ancient Grapefruit. What did you need?::

    ::Look! Before he tosses me out the door again. Be warned, he’s bright . :: Telki wove her sinuous way around his desk, so she had an unobstructed view of his clashing colored aura.

    ::Carp on toast,:: he swore. ::Give me another second to follow this line. If that goes where I think it does, we may have more problems than we thought. Can you stay out of trouble for a minute or so, or should I call Erandur to keep an eye on you while I do this?::

    ::I makes no promises. He’s cranky and doesn’t want me here to boot.::

    ::You’re a cat; stay out of sight,:: Rommy’s mental reply was laced with something that could have been a very physical scritch behind the ears.

    ::I love you immensely, and I will try. Though I think we both know that’s the one thing I don’t cat very well.::

    ::Just stay still a moment. Sooner I go, sooner I’m back,:: he said, his mental presence growing faint as he followed the line from the sun-brilliant Thalmor in front of her off into the Aether. Telki huddled down on her haunches and continued to try to puzzle it out for herself. Surely she could make sense of it. It was all right there, even it it was enough to make her see spots.

    “My lord,” a servant said from the doorway, “your breakfast is here.”

    “Bring it in,” he said irritably, not even looking at the lower ranked Altmer as he brought in his lordship’s food, set it on a sidebar, bowed, and left. There were a few minutes of quiet as the Justicier leafed through papers, then paused and looked up, as if puzzled. “Useless idiot,” he grumbled when he saw his breakfast halfway across the room. Rising, he got out of his chair, went to take a step forward, and nearly tumbled on the floor, catching himself at the last moment on the edge of his desk.

    “Yoooooooowl!” Telki could no more hold back the yowl of pain than Sam could help hitting on Mercutio. Telki scrabbled out of the way and regarded the clumsy elf with hateful eyes from under the sideboard.

    “Wha…?” the elf scowled, and without bothering to call for a servant again, tossed a paralysis spell on her, freezing her where she crouched. Reaching under and hauling her out by the scruff of her neck, he looked her over a moment. “Filthy animal,” he muttered, grumbling as he walked over to the open window.

    ::Oh, that tears it. I get to be the dragon that squishes you. I also want a res spell so I can squish you twice. I might res you again and again so everyone else can have a turn at it,:: Telki ranted all the way to the window. When she finally saw what he meant to do, she screamed. :: HELP MEEEEEEE ! :: Even as the call echoed from her mind, he simply tossed her over the sill like yesterday’s trash.

    Wind whipped through her fur for a few seconds before her fall came to an abrupt stop on one of the walkways several stories above the beach. A very startled elf caught her when she nearly landed right on him. ::Well, there went one life. I wonder which number I’m at now?::

    ::Telki!:: Rommy’s voice in her mind was frantic. ::What happened?::

    ::Stupid Fifi stumbled on me. He paralyzed me and tossed me out the window.:: Telki gazed up at her unintentional savior. What she felt was a world tilting double take. The Weapons Master blinked down at her, eyes almost as wide as a normal person’s might be, lips just slightly parted in surprise. He looked up, trying to figured out where she’d come from. ::You’ll never guess what just happened. Talon saved my life. I’m still paralyzed. I’ve never seen him surprised before. I didn’t think he could make expressions. You gotta see this, it’s great. I may be a little shock drunk.::

    The wordless wash of relief echoing down their link made it very clear that Rommy perhaps needed to get actual drunk before he was ready to deal with this. ::Sam might share his stuff; it might work on you . ::

    ::I am not doing that again,:: he said firmly.

    Talon looked back down at her, then shifted her slightly, hefting her in one arm so that he could brush his hand lightly down her fur, muttering something in Aldmeris. ::What’d he say?:: After a moment’s deliberation, he started walking, still with her cradled lightly against his chest. ::Holy hep cats, he’s cuddling me!::

    ::Relax, Telki,:: Rommy was laughing again. ::He’s just noted that you’ve been magically paralyzed and is carrying you off somewhere. He doesn’t seem hostile. Still, at least now we know for certain that was Falofifi; he just identified the feel of his magic.::

    ::And you saw that magic trail...tell me, did it go to a very nasty place, and was actually sendin g those auras? Oh, and we’re totally keeping Talon now. He has fantastic taste.::

    ::In what, cats? It went where I was hoping it wouldn’t go. Faloniril’s connected directly to the Soul Cairn. He’s made a deal with the Ideal Masters.::

    ::Rommy, wait! Remember what else the Soul Cairn is useful for! Valerica hid herself and a Scroll there. What if the focus is there? What if that’s what’s feeding him all those auras? It fits what I think I saw, anyways.::

    He hummed thoughtfully in her mind. ::It could be. I’ll have to ask around a bit, see if that’s possible. Maybe Hermy would know, though I’m loath to go over there again. He tried to keep Merc without even meeting him officially.::

    ::Don’t you dare go alone. You better take someone with you...waaait. Hermy tried what? Does he know I learned how to cook squid yet?::

    ::I think out of all of us, I’m the one with the least to worry about when it comes to old Hermy,:: Rommy drawled. ::And he’s always looking for mortals with inquisitive natures. I made it clear Merc wasn’t interested in his charms. He said I’ve been spending too much time with Sanguine.::

    ::I love you, but we both know this is going to end with a galavant to the Soul Cairn. Don’t you dare step foot in there alone. Take someone as backup, even if it’s Sam.::

    ::We can talk about this later,:: he said, gazing through her eyes, ::Where are you two?::

    Telki could move her eyes, but little else. ::An uninhabited looking part of the tower, it seems. I think we’re about halfway up.::

    ::Altmer must have much sturdier legs than I had previously assumed. It’s insane how high up they live. And this is coming from me.::

    ::It’s hard to give that its due when I confuse you on a daily basis.:: Telki gave an internal grimace. ::But they certainly exercise enough for the legs thing.::

    Talon turned when he reached a door at the end of the hall, a plain window the only source of light. Holding his hand over where a knob should normally be, he moved his fingers slightly, faint green light dancing around them. Rommy made a very interested sound in her head, accompanied by the sensation of leaning in. ::Is that a yes to keeping him, then?:: The door popped open, and he slipped inside, casting magelight immediately.

    The room was very plain, with a neatly made bed along one wall, and a dresser across from it with absolutely nothing on it. A small door beyond led to a bathing chamber with its own flushing toilet. There was a small table with a single chair in front of a wardrobe. The most interesting thing about the room was the mosaic that ran in a strip around the level of the top of the dresser, and that had been continued in from the hallway.

    ::The Impassive Talon is secretly a kitty savior and is going to hide me in his rooms. This is too funny.::

    ::Does he actually live here?:: Rommy’s voice was incredulous. ::It’s so clean it’s practically a guest room.::

    ::Don’t keep much, there’s less for them to take away from you, nothing to hold over you.:: Telki sobered at the thought. ::I think I will need to be very careful now. Apparently, someone just took a very big risk to save me.::

    ::I wonder what for?:: Rommy mused.

    Carefully, Telki was set onto the bed, and Talon disappeared into the back room, returning after a moment to sit on the bed next to her, gently angling her face. He wiped at her eyes and nose with a cloth that was damp with something other than water, his other hand coming over to sooth down her fur as he murmured lightly in Aldmeris.

    Rommy chuckled. ::Well, he thinks you’re a pretty kitty, at least.::

    ::What? Oh wait ‘til he meets the real deal, he’s totally getting hugged to pieces. Oh egads, this stuff, I think it’s worse than the feet funk in Fifi’s office.:: Telki’s ear itched, so she twitched it. ::Oh, Okay, I can probably stand it if this speeds up things. Maybe.::

    ::He is also requesting you stay calm and do not scratch him , :: Rommy was full-on laughing now. ::You should see Pearl’s face. If I couldn't check, I think she’d be crossing over into my Court right about now.::

    ::Will he accept cuddles and kitty kisses?:: Telki teased. ::Ahahahahaa, someone else surprised by Mr. Impassive’s sweeter side? Y’know, I think I might stick with this gig just to see what other hidden depths our Talon is hiding.::

    ::Careful, Telki, I’m starting to get jealous,:: he teased, though honestly, he was wondering if this faint stirring of alarm had rushed through her husbands when she met him.

    ::Not that sort of keeping him, more like, I dunno, a cousin, or something? Oh look! I can move toes!:: A surprised “Mrrrup?” was called from her as she was lifted and held, one hand scratching carefully along her chin. His other hand felt over her back carefully, a small Restoration spell going as he checked her for injury. Apparently he’d taken her relative calm while talking to Rommy as acceptance of his presence. ::Awwww! Are you sure Talon’s not related? ‘Cause dang, he got all the itchy spots in one go.::

    ::pearl just had to sit down. Is he actually smiling?::

    ::Sweet mothering Mara! Min is never going to believe I won that bet already. All I had to do was go fourfooted. Who knew?:: Telki allowed herself a purr of accomplishment. She startled herself with how loud it was now.

    ::Seems he’s more comfortable showing his true self with an animal than another person,:: Rommy observed.

    ::Kinda figures doesn’t it? An animal is less lightly to stab you in the back.::

    ::And my grandchildren have been growing in this place?:: He sounded appalled.

    ::Tyr and Fey have done what they can to shelter them as much as possible. If Orien were any less than he were, he’d be a spoiled beyond belief little tyrant. I was going to claim that sort of integrity came from your side of the family, but then I met Fey, it’s probably both,:: Telki mentally soothed, and then started fidgeting in Talon’s hands. She didn’t sign on for that!

    ::Why is he checking your stomach? Does he think you have kittens somewhere?:: Rommy sounded completely confused.

    ::Ack! The kittens! He…he thinks I had the kittens! The ones Pearl nearly got drowned over, or checking to see if I could nurse them, maybe.:: Telki gently shook herself of Talon’s searching fingers. That was enough of that. She may be four footed, but she still had her dignity. Well, she would pretend she did. Cats and Khajiit were masters of that. She did bump her head under his chin. He had been nice, and she can’t say it wasn’t a logical assumption, but well, still a solid no.

    ::Well, I’m having a little trouble translating without him actually talking to you anymore, so I couldn’t tell you.::

    Talon stilled abruptly, mask once more in place as he looked toward the door, seconds before the knock echoed through the room. Telki disappeared under his bed before the it finished. Let him make of that what he would. It only took her a moment to notice two things: There was no feet funk, and there was no residual smell at all, not on the sheets, not on the bed itself. There was no smell of anyone in the room. ::Rommy, is there some sort of scent masking spell?::

    ::Yes, but why would he bother casting it in his room?::

    ::To keep people out of his business? One less thing they can use? Or he meets someone here he doesn’t want associated? Take your pick.:: Telki settled herself comfortably in the darkest corner, content for her flicking ears to keep her abreast of the goings on above her.

    “Talon? Talon?” a quavering female voice called.

    The bed creaked slightly as he rose and went to answer the door, opening it with a slightly bow. “Lady Lirianni, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

    “You have my cat. I want my cat,” she said, reaching up and patting his cheek affectionately. She was surprisingly straight for such an old woman, her shoulders unhunched, but her face was a mask of wrinkles unseen on most Altmer. Her hair was bone white and braided to her knees. He lifted an eyebrow at her, mask dropped once again.

    ::I’ll go with her, but only if I get to watch her chew Falofifi a new one. Figuring Talon out was going to be fun . Oh! Do you think she’d call him Falofifi? At least once?:: Telki listened in sheer delight to the elder.

    ::Telki...I didn’t tell her you were there yet.::


    “If you would be so kind as to wait in your rooms, milady,” Talon began, but she cut him off, shifting around the room like a busibody searching for secrets. She peered under the bed and spotted Telki. “Aw, how sweet. He brought his girlfriend.”

    Her tail lashed. ::Rommy, if I have to dodge tomcats, I’m going to put a whole nest of baliwogs somewhere you won’t like.::

    Lili reached under and gently pulled Telki out. “Why, aren’t you pretty?” she cooed, stroking her fur.

    ::Just so’s you know, I’m purring against my will. She’s got nice hands, though . ::

    While she was preoccupied with that, Talon went to the dresser, pressing on the mosaic. A panel came down, revealing a hidden shelf about as long as he was, and twice as deep. It had a bed in it, as neatly made as anything in the room. Apparently even the lack of a doorknob couldn’t coax the Weapons Master into sleeping in the open. At the foot of the bed was a basket he pulled out, shutting the entire thing before the old woman could turn around. He placed it next to her as she cooed excitedly over Telki. Little mewing sounds issued from it.

    ::I’m not the momma!:: Telki tilted her head to take in the little scamps. ::They're cute as buttons, though.:: Telki gave Talon a kitty grin. ::You’re so busted,:: she thought at him as one of the kittens pounced on his arm. He gently put it back in the basket. Telki’s attention shifted back to Rommy.::How’s Pearl holding up?::

    ::I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be against my job description to actually keep people from going insane.::

    “Oh!” Lili exclaimed, cooing over the kittens as she took them out one by one.

    “I do not think she will take them,” Talon said as she looked them over, kittens promptly tumbling all over her lap. “She is young and has had no litter of her own.”

    ::Durned tootin!::

    “Talon, you can’t ask Her Majesty to adopt a litter of ordinary cats!” Lili scolded him.

    ::It’s funny, but sad. She’s the voice of reason in the room.:: Telki gave her an affectionate rub. ::You’re right, Rommy. I like her a lot.::

    “I wasn’t aware she was named,” he drawled, sitting on the bed and watching them. “In any case, they cannot stay here.”

    “Oh, I’ll be happy to take them, boy, don’t you worry. I’ve raised more rambunctious youngsters than these. Although I still can’t…I can’t find my other son…” she trailed off, sounding troubled.

    “I am afraid I cannot help you there, milady,” he said after a moment.

    Lili’s eyes were distant as her entire body went still, gazing off through the wall to some far-off place that might have only existed in her mind. The kittens still tumbled over her, and one hand rested on Telki, but she didn’t move for several long moments. ::Rommy, can you read anything in her mind about this other son? Something is telling me he’s going to wind up being important, but I’ve no idea why or whatfors.::

    ::He already was important,:: Rommy replied. ::Don’t worry about it. He won’t be turning up.::

    ::Oh no, Falofifi happened to him?::

    ::Something else. Something...well. Destiny doesn’t just play with the two of us, I suppose. Other people have them as well.::

    ::No, but sometimes, I think it uses us for comedy relief.:: Telki mentally flinched at her poor word choice. ::Well, me, anyhow.::

    ::It’s alright, Love. I do wish they’d stop talking in Aldmeris. My language skill isn’t up to how fast they’re rattling it off.::

    ::You have a natural right there next to you. How is she now?::

    ::Crying, because she realized something she’s not sharing. If I had to make a guess, she’s thinking back and noticing things Talon never wanted her to see.::


    ::No idea. There is simply an awful lot of guilt in this child right now. I think she just realized that he’s as miserable as she ever was.::

    ::He’s been sheltering and covering for her all this time!:: All four feet suddenly felt wobbly. ::He hid the black soul gem, and I guarantee you it probably wasn’t the first nor will it be the last. He’s saving as many of them as he can, as much as he can. Wanna bet on it?::

    ::I won’t bet against that, though I think she’s the first to pull that with the soul gem.::

    ::Honey, have you figured out how she did it? You thought it beyond what you could do, and you’re off the charts incredible.::

    ::Actually, I was hoping you might ask Lili. Oh, she’s off in her head again.::

    ::Hang on, one kitty trancebreaking, coming up.:: Telki reared up on the bed, so she could reach Lili, and braced her paws against the elder’s chest. She meowed at Lady Lirianni as she nuzzled her.

    A soft smile twitched up the corners of Talon’s mouth. “I think she likes you, Lady Lirianni.” Not to play favorites, Telki rubbed up against Talon’s hand closest to the bed. It lifted idly to stroke down her back. ::Honey, when this is over, can we find Talon a Nice Girl to settle down with?::

    ::I’m a Mad God, not a matchmaker.::

    ::I thought it a crazy enough idea we could make it work.::

    ::Oh, sure. Challenge me, why don’t you?:: he huffed.

    ::Can’t blame me for knowing my man.::

    “You can call me Lili, boy,” the old woman responded gruffly, reaching up to lift Telki into her arms, cuddling her.

    “It’s best if I don’t,” he responded, standing. “I have a class shortly.”

    “I’ll get these little ones somewhere safe,” she said, rising and putting kittens back in the basket while she did so. Holding Telki with one arm, she held her out to Talon. “Best you take this one with you. Her Majesty can help.” Telki resisted her natural urge to wink with every fiber of her being.

    “I cannot be seen with a cat, Lady Lirianni,” he frowned.

    “Then let her follow you,” the elderly Altmer said with irritation. “She has things to discover. You have things you’ve been hiding. I have to find my son. I know I left him somewhere...Talon, where is my granddaughter?”

    “Out,” he said immediately. “They’re all out and about.”

    ::Don’t let her worry one moment about Pearl, mister. Is there nothing we can do about the one Destiny happened to? At least give her closure on him?::

    Rommy heaved a huge sigh. ::I’ll put it on my list of things to do.::

    ::I’m sorry. Now I feel bossy and mean...Did you just imitate Haskill? On purpose?::

    ::I most certainly did not!:: Rommy replied with umbrage as they watched Lili hustle out of the room, still cooing at her basket. Talon looked down at her for a long moment before heading out himself, waiting a moment to see if she wanted to remain in the room or not.

    Telki quickly trotted after him. ::And now, to figure out how stealth as a fourfoot works. This should be fun.::

    ::You’ll manage,:: he asserted. ::You always do.::

    ::You and that boundless faith. It’s amazing I don’t have more ego than Fifi . :: Telki trotted after the swift moving Talon. ::Where’re we headed anyhow?::

    ::My guess? Class.::

    ::Oh dear. You realize, I’m going to want to engage in very unkitty or ladylike hijinks, especially if Ill Minion is there. Really, I’m going to mess up his footwork on purpose at least once, maybe ten times.::

    ::No, you’ll be too busy getting away from the lightning I call down,:: he grumbled, half meaning it.

    ::No love. Hyaril and Min may still be stuck there, and remember Merc? We love Merc. No lightning, yet.:: There was a heavy vindictive promise in that yet.

    ::Speaking of Merc, Sanguine sent a love note on the back of an Argonian merchant. Usually, it’s a concubine, but I guess he’s saving that one for me.::

    ::I really shouldn’t be that amused by Sam, but I am. What is wrong with me?:: Telki dodged a distracted trainee. ::How did that pan out?::

    ::Tell Merc that Sam said, “Redwort is red, mountain flowers are blue, I heard you’re now Altmer, and wanna do naughty things to you. Love, Sam.”::

    ::Oh Sam. What shall we do with you? Why don’t you give him that message? It’s easier for you to telepath at him than it is for me.::

    After a pause, he said, ::I maybe should have waited until he wasn’t practicing against Min. She gets surprisingly angry when she thinks you let her score a point on purpose.::

    ::poor Merc.:: Telki sat primly to the side of the practice ground, taking in who was where and doing what. For all the world, she looked like a queen surveying her realm...basically, a typical cat twitching the tip of her tail in the sun.

    “Oh, kitty!” Min cried, looking over from where she was fixing her greaves and starting toward Telki.

    “Minoena!” Talon called, halting her in her tracks. “You have other things to be attending to.” Surveying the rest of them, he ordered them back out to the beach to run—they would practice until they needed it, he insisted—and began tidying up the practice field for the next class.

    From the other side of the ring, Fey nodded to him stiffly from where she had been overseeing the recruit’s swordwork. Her eyes were slightly speculative in a way they hadn’t been before, now that she knew Pearl was alive. She refrained from showing her knowledge in any other way. Turning, she went to follow the recruits.

    Telki sat watching her leave, trying to decide between following her, and watching Talon. ::Suggestions?::

    ::Watch Talon. Anything Fey discovers she’ll tell Tyr, who will, hopefully, tell Gideon. We have no way of knowing what Talon knows, besides how to break the body link, which I would love to know.:: By the end of the sentence there was some definite grumbling.

    ::And you’re not going to get too jealous?:: She was teasing, but there was a hint of concern. She wanted him secure in his affections to her, and vice versa. She was a demonstrative person, and she didn’t want that to hurt him, ever.

    ::I...don’t think I’d have to worry even if you were interested,:: he said, his voice holding that distinctive quality unique to people who just had an epiphany.

    ::Ooooh? Do tell. Besides, I’ve officially declared my particular dance card full.:: Telki abruptly sat up straight. ::What did you figure out that I wished I’d spotted first?::

    ::Look at him.:: Telki obediently watched Talon as he went about preparing the practice ring, testing practice blades and padding for fitness. ::Okay, other than the elegant efficiency of movement and grace to make a Dagi jealous, what am I missing?::

    There was a long pause, then a sense of teasing glee. ::Well, if you didn’t notice, I’m not going to mention! Besides, I could be wrong. I’m mad; it happens.::

    ::please? Pretty please? Tell me? Besides, the mad often see things for what they are better than the sane do.::

    ::This one is more of a personal experience thing than a Mad God thing, but you have a point. Alright, I’ll tell you when you come back. I don’t want it possibly shading your observations until...Telki, are those the children coming in?:: Talon had stepped aside for a neat line of eleven children to walk in, showing much more discipline than the recruits that had just left.

    ::Yep, and...there’s someone you need to see with them, too.:: Telki stretched nonchalantly, but she was studying the little troupe intently the entire time. Rommy went entirely still when the little redheaded girl came in. Her violet eyes were red-rimmed with unshed tears, but her face was as calm as her mother’s. The tips of slightly pointed ears stuck out of the shining strands, a shade or two lighter than her father’s.

    Telki held still, as the stunned feeling from Rommy was rather overwhelming. Talon had them stagger the line and begin a series of drills before he was able to speak again, showing that—either through natural inclination or having been there since birth—the girl was quite a bit better than most of her age group.

    ::Is that my granddaughter?:: He finally managed to speak, hesitantly, so filled with emotion Telki thought she could drown in its depths.

    ::Yes, my love, and she is a marvel.::

    ::She’s beautiful,:: he whispered, a faint echo of holding a newborn half-Dunmer, full of pride and love and terror, ringing into her mind.

    ::Oh, my sweet love. Yes, she is, and she’s ours.:: Telki didn’t bother to temper the protective growl in her thoughts even a tidbit. Rommy smiled and they watched the children practice together for a while, just observing. It seemed they were expertly trained, and could honestly probably bring down a grown warrior already, provided they could team up.

    Telki watched Talon as much as she watched the kids. Something had occurred to Pearl, and she wondered if she could pick up on it, now that she was looking for it. Nevermind the mer had successfully hidden it from Ill Minion and suspicious Thalmor all this time. The elf watched his students critically, calling out when something was off, showing them how to correct it, and making them go over it until they had it. Just as often as he called out a correction, he gave instances their current move could be used, in what situations, vague enough to cover a wide range of scenarios. Praise wasn’t offered, but neither was overwhelming criticism. When nearly half the students began to flag with fatigue, he switched them to a different type of move altogether, using an opposing skillset and muscle group.

    ::He is a marvelous teacher.::

    ::My teachers would have beaten me black and blue by now,:: Rommy observed. ::They were very much of the opinion that if I didn’t want to get hit, I’d better learn to either dodge or block. I became very good at both. Talon seems to have started with teaching them to strike.::

    ::There was a philosophy amongst the guards of the caravans. If you understood the strike, you were better able to block. You’d see it coming sooner or something.::

    Rommy shrugged, ::My teachers once pointed out that if you stabbed someone, you didn’t need to dodge the next strike of a dead man. I wonder if Talon has a similar philosophy, since they are supposed to be assassins. I don't imagine dodging is that high on their priority list.::

    ::Honey, something tells me it is a very very good thing your teachers are long dead, else I might have to kill them.::

    ::Well,:: there was quite a bit of humor in Rommy’s tone, ::they were hired to teach a couple of boys how to fence politely, and wound up with my brother, who didn’t like to fence, and me, who wanted to know why the blade was so flimsy and can’t I just punch them?::

    ::That is no reason to pummel kids, or even angsty teens, black and blue,:: Telki huffed. ::Missing a block you’ve been taught is one thing, beating up kids is quite another.::

    ::Well, they had me right after my sister, so I can’t really blame them for being frustrated. She could beat both me and my brother before she was eight. She was also five years younger than me.::

    ::That you can excuse and feel compassion for them is astounding,:: Telki shook her head.

    ::You never met my sister.::

    ::Neither here nor there. Do you see anything like ‘special treatment’ going on?::

    ::Not at all, and I have been looking for it. The closest I can come is that he helps out the ones that are...not as good, more than the ones that are moving like they’ve been doing this for decades, rather than their few years. That’s obviously because they need the help, though.::

    Telki sat up ramrod straight. :: That’s it ! We’re looking at it like, gods forbid, normal people, not Thalmor.::

    ::please elucidate.::

    ::Which ones would the perfectionist Thalmor be interested in? He’s saving lives by bringing the ones who aren’t perfect to begin with up to idiotic Thalmor standards, rather than just concentrating on the already perfect ones. Thalmor reasoning would say that would be time better spent on the best of the bunch.::

    ::That makes sick sense,:: Rommy said. ::Oh, here’s Erandur. Erandur, look! I have a granddaughter! She looks like Felicia, except she’s, well, less Dunmer. But look at her! She has the little ready-to-kill face and everything!::

    ::She is adorable.:: Erandur was sincere in his praise, though there was a teasing hint of humoring the enthusiastic grandparent in the tone.

    ::Isn’t she?:: Rommy’s voice was practically bubbling over with glee.

    ::So, what brings my darling Dunmer to the hat?:: Telki, like a master strategist, had found the perfect spot that would allow her to watch everything in the comfort of all day shade.

    ::Weren’t you and Goldie going to deliver that Argonian back to Sam?:: Rommy interjected curiously.

    ::Lemme guess, Rommy has to go fish Sam and the Argonian out of whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into?::

    ::please tell me they aren’t in the viewing pond again. The Hist was not pleased. It thinks it’s a palm tree, but it’s still a Hist and it uses very hurtful words.::

    ::A Hist? You have a Hist? Can I meet him/her...what do they prefer, do they have genders?:: Telki pretty much vibrated with curiosity. She’d read about them, but never managed to meet one.

    ::No, I have a Hist-shaped palm tree with a bad attitude. Honestly, thing’s worse than Stanley.::

    ::Bwahahahaa, oh Love, you’ll just have to show me all the sights. So, what has our favorite headache gotten himself into this time?::

    ::He is apparently chasing a unicorn,:: Erandur’s voice was as dry as Haskill’s. ::I was told you’d need to handle it, so I took the opportunity to check in on Telki and Gideon. How are you handling life as an Alfiq?::

    ::Whaaaaat?:: Rommy wailed. ::Not again! I just stole that thing from Hircine!::

    ::What in tarnation is Hircine doing with a unicorn?::

    ::He created them for specific kinds of Hunts. As for Sam, he uses them to catch virgins.::

    ::I’m glad you took it. Now go rescue it from Sam, and come straight back. Erandur will keep me company till you do.::

    ::I’m sure he will,:: Rommy teased, with a little hint of overheard sound accompanying it. He really should soundproof those doors.

    ::Rommy! Oh my word!:: The words were awash with embarrassment. ::Go save your unicorn and quit making me blush already.::

    ::Saints and Seducers only know what he’s planning to do with it this time,:: the Mad God muttered as he walked off.

    ::Something fit to make Dibella blush, probably . :: Erandur’s voice was as dry as the Alik'r Desert.

    Meanwhile, Talon had continued to call out moves for the children. Now he signaled a break, and several of them sat down right where they were. Tyr’s daughter glanced around, then her big eyes got even bigger, and she ran to the side of the practice ground. “Hello kitty,” she said softly.

    ::Hello my little Angel,:: Telki happily twined herself around her, bumping her head under that little chin. ::If only I could tell you your sister was alive. I could thump Talon all over again, and yes, I know why he hasn’t yet, so hush Erandur. I don’t have to like it.::

    ::Yes, Dear.:: She ignored the chuckle that accompanied it.

    The girl looked like she would burst when Telki responded so positively. Running her hands over the “kitty’s” soft fur, she beamed. “You’re so pretty, kitty. And you have eyes just like me! You’re like a me-kitty. You’re a Blossom cat.”

    ::Blossom, her name is Blossom.:: Telki purred happily. ::I wish Rommy could have stuck around long enough to hear that.::

    For the next few minutes, Blossom petted and cooed her new friend, scratching Telki’s chin and seeming very excited every time she purred. “Pearl would like...would have…” she sniffed, blinking back tears.

    Telki couldn’t hardly stand it, propping her front feet on Blossom’s shoulders and rubbing noses with her. ::How can we let her know, without endangering her and everyone else?::

    ::I don’t think we can, not yet. Even if she didn’t say anything, her body language would change. Ill Minion would be on her in a second.:: Erandur helpfully reminded her all the sensible reasons.

    ::I know, but it hurts!::

    ::It does, and Talon has been shouldering that pain since he hid Pearl’s soul gem.::

    ::Dunmer say what?::

    ::Look at him, Telki. He doesn’t have to take the time he does with his students, but he does. He is methodical and thorough. You don’t go out of your way like that unless you care. I think he cares deeply for his students, and does everything in his power to make sure they survive.::

    ::Mara’s mercy.:: Telki wiggled around in Blossom’s arms until she could eyeball Talon, armed with this new knowledge, trying to catch some of what Erandur spotted so easily. He was currently occupied with getting the half-Dunmer boy to stretch. The boy looked like he resented it horribly, but had been worse off when he’d been laying flat on the sand.

    ::I wonder…::

    ::Telki, what are you planning?::


    The Weapons Master looked up, seeing Shell standing at the edge of the group. “Can we speak?” she requested, face still and businesslike.

    He nodded, rising and following her out of the training ground, Telki hot on his heels. Blossom was very conspicuous in her sudden absence.

    Shell halted partway to the beach, watching the recruits run for a moment. “I’m so glad the Legion wears leather armor. That stuff looks like it would roast you alive.”

    “Moonstone does not have the same conductive properties as metal,” Talon replied urbanely, a slight rebuke in his tone that suggested she should already have known this.

    “Did you have something to do with this?” she asked, handing him a slip of paper.

    He glanced at it. “I informed his Lordship that you were poorly suited to such a position, yes.”

    ::Curiouser and curiouser. He saved Pearl, fixed Shell’s assignment...I wonder. Does Talon have a soft spot for Fey’s kids? HOLY FRICKIN’ MARA.:: Telki stretched out on the sand, hanging on tightly to Nirn to wait for the whirling to stop.

    ::Telki, what?::

    ::Talon’s sweet on Fey!::

    ::Telki, what?:: Erandur repeated.

    ::It was something Rommy said, something about personal experience, add in how protective he’s been of Fey’s kids...yeah. He’s sweet on Fey.::Telki dug her claws into the sand. ::Oh sweet Mara, what is this going to mean for Fey and Tyr?::

    “So when do I leave?” Shell asked, tilting her head curiously.

    ::Hey, if she’s leaving, does that mean we can transport her?:: Telki’s eyes narrowed as she considered the flows of energy around Shell. ::I have to admit, I have no clue how it all really works.::

    “It hasn’t been decided,” Talon informed her. “There was some opposition to you leaving just yet.”

    “Opposition?” Shell huffed. “Opposition from whom?” She paused, staring at him as he simply regarded her. “Oh. Oh, no.”

    ::Who?:: Telki could feel Erandur’s curiosity echoing her own. ::And why?::

    Talon looked out over the beach, examining the running recruits. “As to why, that is something you’d have to ask your uncle.”

    “Shit,” Shell swore, running a hand through her hair.

    “You’re being very demonstrative, Young One,” Talon said, sounding vaguely disapproving.

    ::pffft, and who was calling me a good kitty, sweet kitty just this morning?::

    “Talon, sweetie, we both know I am the worst example of a finished Young One you can show those raggamuffins. I’m made specifically to be a soldier, and they don’t typically do stoic, stick-up-the-butt Young One bullshit.” Her gaze flickered up and down his perfectly balanced form, “No offense.”

    ::Oh no, soldiers are usually everything but stoic, but let’s hope you use better hygiene.:: Telki sneezed again at her final sally. ::Sweet mercy, I like her. So long as she doesn’t poke any more holes in Gideon. We are going to have to have a heart to heart about that.::

    “None taken,” he replied. “But before you leave, you might show your sister a few of the finer points of seeking,” his eyes glanced back to the bushes. Blossom gulped and fled, caught.

    ::Blossom! I think she could teach me a thing or three. Sheesh.::

    Shell only groaned. “Is it lunch yet?”

    “You are fortunate that neither Altmer nor Bosmer run to fat. You should be less vocal of your escapism in food, Young One,” Talon was absolutely disapproving now.

    “Well, Mother says it’s crass to be that openly excited about sex, so food it is,” Shell declared brightly.

    ::Are you sure you two aren’t blood related?:: Erandur wheezed in her head. He didn’t laugh enough, it was a good feeling.

    ::I begin to wonder.:: Telki wondered how hard a kin seeker spell was to do.

    “So, I suppose...I should go work on that sword and shield thing?” she added, looking him over. There was a bit of awkwardness to her at the moment, as if she just remembered that he had helped Pearl as well, and was starting to wonder why.

    “Feel free to beat it into the new recruits,” Talon advised. “Anu knows they need it.”

    “Talon?” Shell hesitated, staring at him. “Do you…” she tilted her head. “Do you secretly have a personality hiding under there?”

    For a long moment he simply regarded her. “You ask the wrong questions, sometimes, Young One.”

    Shell grinned, wrinkling her nose. “You do, don’t you? You secretly have feelings and everything.”

    “I’ll see what I can do about hastening your departure to the Legion,” was his only response, turning to return to his students.

    Grinning cheekily, the Bosmer turned and nearly skipped down the beach to decide which unfortunate recruit she wanted to beat on. Blossom snuck out of a shadow and settled next to Telki, reaching out to stroke her fur, watching her older sister. Her eyes were narrowed in thought, making her look far too mature for her age.

    Telki wrapped herself around the child, letting her rumbling purr distract and soothe the little girl. ::You are far too young for such heavy thoughts, little one. Though I’m sure they’re the only reason you’re still among us.::

    The girl put her arms around the cat, lifting her to carry back to the ring just in time for Talon to dismiss them all for the afternoon. Some of them went toward the beach, others toward the Spire. Blossom watched both groups, then headed off on her own into the orange groves.

    ::Hmmm, Talon or Blossom, Talon or Blossom?::

    ::Why are you considering following Blossom? I was sure the idea was to see what Talon knows. Is it just because she’s Rommy’s family?::

    ::Not gonna lie, that’s part of it, but this little girl is resourceful as anything I’ve ever seen. There’s more than half a chance I could learn just as much useful stuff following her.::

    ::Are you sure?::

    ::Not really, but it’s worked for me so far.:: His laugh stayed with her even as she patiently hung in the little girl’s arms, waiting to see where she took her. They moved through the overgrown grove with so little sound the squirrels and birds didn’t even pause. Blossom carried her the whole time, stroking her occasionally, before coming to a clearing in the grove. It was so surrounded by trees it was difficult to see out of, but there were carefully concealed signs of occupancy. There she set Telki down, going to what looked like a tangle of roots and pulling out an old blanket, which she laid out, picked up Telki again, and sat on, the Dragonborn in her lap as she simply hugged her.

    ::I think my purr just got stuck running. Look at this, she’s a little marvel.::

    ::Yes, but I don’t see how this is going to help us get her free.::

    Blossom was still looking straight ahead, hands gently holding Telki, but she abruptly folded in, burrowing her face in soft fur as she started to cry, silently, her thin shoulders shaking.

    ::Tell me this isn’t important.:: Telki chirruped at the little girl, butting against her and trying to wash her little tears. ::I want to stomp a mudhole, wade it dry, res them, and then do it all over again for each little sob this child makes.::

    ::I know, Love. I rather feel the same way about it all.::

    The girl cried herself out, until all she could do was cling to the strangely calm kitty with dry red eyes, hiccuping softly. The shadows were starting to get a bit long, and when she finally looked up she muttered something in Aldmeris, looking around.


    ::She said she missed dinner.::

    ::We can’t have that! Hmmm. I wonder.:: Telki looked about wondering her best chances for feeding the munchkin. She knew she could catch something, but then there’d be cleaning it and cooking it. Which meant stealing something, and she mentally started clicking through her best options: barracks, Talon’s chambers…

    Blossom abruptly jerked upright like she’d been stuck with a pin, looking around. Telki looked and listened, too. What had startled her? Then she felt an all too familiar tugging.

    ::Erandur? There’s a dragon nearby!::
  12. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Telki is left in sole responsibility for thousands of people whose crazy eclipses even hers

    Illustration by the Incomparable Evil-is-Relative

    (See the end of the chapter for notes.)

    Chapter Text

    Chapter 12

    :: Erandur? There’s a dragon nearby! :: Telki cried, ears swiveling as she looked about, straining to catch the telltale roar of a dovah.

    The girl rose to her feet, short hair swinging as she looked left and right, Telki still half dangling. Finally, she turned almost completely around and to her left, following a path through the overgrowth that by all rights shouldn’t exist in such a tangle. With every step the tug of the dragon got stronger.

    The faint sound of voices echoed through the trees, the words eventually becoming clearer, though it was mostly instructions on moving something heavy. Blossom crouched down, still cuddling Telki to her chest as she moved through the brush like a cat herself. Finally, she reached the edge, reached out one hand, and parted the plants.

    Even a Young One had a difficult time holding in a gasp at their first sight of a dragon.

    The dovah was chained to a massive cart, wings staked and tied to the heavy wood, thick as treetrunks and bound with reinforced steel rivets. It’s head was shackled at the base of the skull and around the muzzle, the tail bound in similar fashion. The poor thing could barely move, and it’s scales were dull and flaking, obviously in poor health. Various Thalmor mages were swarming between it and the building behind them, clearly conducting magical research.

    :: Sweet Mothering Mara, are they doing with a dragon? ::

    :: For study? Their magic is unlike any other, and it would give them an unmatchable advantage, :: Erandur mused. :: I’ll let Gideon know we may have to watch out for a rampaging dragon. ::

    :: Y’know, even if they cannot harness the magic, they are past masters at breaking wills. :: Telki’s face hardened, :: Is it ironic that they’d make dragons their slaves? ::

    :: Failing that, :: came her Dunmer’s worried voice, :: imagine the enchantments and potions that could be gleaned from such a creature. :: Telki felt her stomach turn.

    Blossom glanced at the Thalmor, then at the dragon. Her head tilted to the side in thought, then she backed up a bit, settling herself in the sandy soil, apparently deciding to wait. Her stomach growled, but she just tucked her knees up under her chin, quiet and patient as a cat at a mouse hole. One hand reached out to gently scratch Telki’s ears. “Best stay here, kitty,” she said, so softly even Telki had a difficult time hearing her. “They’ll take shots at you if you go out there.”

    :: Awww, do you hear this little sweetie? I could melt! :: Telki nuzzled her ‘granddaughter’.

    :: Careful, there Telki. :: There was unexpected humor in his mental voice.

    :: Why? ::

    :: You’re an actual cat right now; I hear they’re classified as a liquid. ::
    Telki huffed and sneezed, since she couldn’t laugh. :: You are terrible. ::

    Blossom gave her an odd look, then uncurled her legs to make a spot for Telki to sit. The girl was so small she barely took up the little space anyway. Gently, she pulled Telki onto her lap and stroked her fur, waiting for the Thalmor to head out for dinner. Out in the clearing, the Altmer chatted and argued, but the dragon barely moved save to breathe, even as the shadows grew longer and, finally, the elves started heading out in ones and twos.

    :: I’ve told Gideon, and he has added another disturbing guess to our list. :: Erandur’s voice sounded strangely conflicted, as if anger and humor were vying for dominance.

    :: Sweet mercy, what is it? ::

    :: They’re trying to flush out the captured Dragonborn. :: The anger was heavier in his mental voice.

    :: What? Why? Why would they even suspect they had one? ::

    :: Apparently, Tyr is as quiet as you when it comes to certain, uh, activities. :: This time, the barely suppressed laughter nearly smothered the anger.

    Telki had to sit there a moment, stunned. They were looking for the Dragonborn, and what outed him was…she put her head down between her paws.

    “Time to go, kitty,” Blossom whispered, leaning forward as the last Thalmor left. She eeled out of the vines with hardly the shiver of leaves, almost seeming to vanish and reappear between shadows as she made her way to the dragon. Telki trotted silently after her.

    :: Who’ve you got on call in case this all goes south? ::

    :: Goldie has volunteered. Apparently, Gideon owes her a kiss, or more. ::

    :: Oh really? ::

    :: Funny story, actually. ::

    :: Honey, child in motion. Must keep up. ::

    :: Yes Dear. :: She was starting to think he did that to annoy her, which annoyed her.

    The Young One hid in the shadow of the cart for a moment, gazing around, then peeked over the top, violet eyes going wide as she took in the beast that could probably inhale her and not notice when his mouth wasn’t bound shut. Fascinated, she scooted closer to it’s head, taking in the muzzle clamping its jaws mostly shut. “Look, kitty,” she whispered in awe, “A dragon.”

    At the sound of her voice, the eye closest to them opened. It wept fluid, and flies buzzed about it. The dragon jerked in his restraints when he caught sight of them. It rather hurt Telki’s heart to see him like that. “Dreh ni bo, mal dovah!” he rasped angrily. “Zu'u piraak nid fah hi.”

    “It talks,” she whispered, staring at it. The shaking of the ground around her didn’t appear to faze her all that much. Blossom looked about, then clambered onto the cart while the dragon hissed at her, the massive creature trying to inch away from her tiny form. She walked up to his head and shooed the flies away. “It’s alright; I’m not a scholar or anything.”

    “Bo, kiir!”

    Telki moved up next to her, studying the poor dragon’s state. Several of his teeth were missing, looking as if they’d been pried out with something. Scales were missing up and down his body, as were several talons and rectangular sections of his wing membranes. Above the eye, one of his horns had been sawed off recently, the wound swarming with flies.

    “Hold still, Mister Dragon,” Blossom said fearlessly, leaning against the side of his face where she could just reach his eyes if she stretched up her arms and stood on tip-toe. Golden light arched from her palms and into the skin around his eye socket, seeping into him and clearing out the infection. The dragon froze, small eye widening involuntarily in surprise. The girl stayed where she was until her magicka ran out, which at her age was fairly soon, but the effect was clearly visible. Without missing a beat, she clambered over the confused dragon’s nose to his other side, investigating that eye, which was missing, but the socket was thankfully free of infection. Blossom’s little face creased with sadness, and she put a hand out to stroke down the dragon’s cheek. He flinched away from her touch, and she returned to the side he could see, trailing her fingers against his scales the whole way so he would know where she was.

    While Blossom had been busy with the dragon’s face, Telki had done the same for the rest of the dragon. They had not been careful removing scales or clipping the wings, and she quietly and surreptitiously healed the worst of his bleeding wounds, glad that Alfiq could work magic. They couldn’t free him, but at least they could make him a bit less miserable.

    For a long moment, child and dragon simply regarded each other. Then Blossom patted his nose once more, turned, and hopped off the cart.

    “Saraan, kiir,” the dragon said, and the child halted, staring back at him, the bloody sunset blending with her hair. Telki trotted around to stand by the child, ready to shield her if necessary. She was pretty sure she could plum ward even in this form.

    The massive head shifted slightly, watching them. “Dovahkiin?” he muttered. Telki moved into the dragon’s field of vision, and nodded. “Dovahkriid,” he sighed, eye flickering between Telki and the child even as the lid seemed to grow heavy.

    :: Dast it! I wanna be able to talk again. ::

    :: I wonder if Rommy chose Alfiq because you tend to talk a bit much? ::

    :: Low blow, Erandur. And I just got called ‘dragon killer;’ it’s not like they gave me much choice in the matter, and wouldn’t have thought twice about snapping me up in a bite. ::
    Blossom moved slowly back to the dragon, staring up into his face as if she saw something there she recognized. Lifting one hand, she lightly touched his muzzle below the binding, stroking gently. The dragon tensed, then relaxed after a moment. The girl said something in Aldmeris, her little face dead serious, before scooping up Telki and heading back into the groves.

    A wave of sorrow nearly bowled Telki over from Erandur. :: Honey, what? ::

    :: No child should know that or think that yet. :: Real anger colored his words.

    :: What? What’d she say? :: Telki kept herself limp while Blossom carried her through the brush, confused by Erandur’s feelings.

    :: She said, ‘The pain of life is brief.” ::

    :: Okay? :: Apparently, Telki’s many forays into cultural phrases and philosophies missed one. This meant absolutely nothing to her.

    :: The whole phrase is ‘The pain of life is brief when compared to death.’ :: It was Erandur’s turn to wince from the shared tidal wave of anger from one ticked off Bard.


    “Where did you get the cat?”

    Blossom jumped and made a surprised squeak when Shell appeared in front of her, hands on hips as she looked down at her curiously. “I…” Blossom trailed off, hugging Telki closer and gazing up at her eldest sister hopelessly.

    Shell’s face softened almost imperceptibly, “What’s wrong, Sugar?”

    “You’re going away,” Blossom sniffed.

    “And in eleven years, you’ll be old enough to join me,” Shell reminded her, “Mother’s almost ninety; it’s not as long to wait as you think.”

    “You’re going to the Legion. I’m doing the thing Momma won’t talk about.”

    “Only if you’re that pretty. I’ve seen your father; I doubt it.”

    :: SHE WON’T BE DOING THAT ANYWAYS. :: Telki felt her fur ruffling up, and deliberately counted backwards to calm herself.

    “You’re pretty,” the younger girl pointed out inarguably, shifting her arms around the cat as she inexplicably got several sizes larger in sheer fluff.

    “Not pretty enough for that.” Shell actually flushed a bit, then examined Telki. “You might want to put her down. She looks pissed.”

    Telki sneezed at Shell, then settled herself back in Blossom’s arms, grumbling to herself. Shell laughed and knelt in the dirt, holding out her arms. “Can I hold her?” she asked Blossom, who shrugged and handed Telki over.

    :: Isn’t this the one that couldn’t make up her mind whether she wanted to bed or dead poor Giddy? :: Telki thought a moment, :: I might just have to scratch her a little on general principle. ::

    :: Yep. :: There was the feeling of a snicker to the thoughts. :: Please don’t. She’s more than a little volatile, but Gideon thinks she’s worth salvaging. ::

    :: What aren’t you telling me about her? :: Telki made herself comfortable on Shell’s ample ‘shelf’. It was almost as good as a featherbed.

    “Aw, you’re so soft!” Shell cooed, cuddling the transformed Dragonborn to her rather substantial chest, scratching under her chin.

    :: So that’s the secret. Is this why you guys always fall asleep on my chest? :: Telki had to remind herself that kneading the soft sleeping place would be bad.

    “Oh, she’s purring!” Shell seemed genuinely excited about that.

    :: Dang it, I can’t stay mad at her. :: Telki noticed someone’s continued silence. :: Spill, or I’ll start singing that song at you again. ::

    :: Which part, that she reminds everyone of you if you had an evil streak, or that she poisoned and stabbed Gideon, and then healed it all with a kiss? ::

    :: What? What the what? :: Telki felt her anger rising again. :: Tell me again why I shouldn’t thump a hole in her head right now? ::

    :: She was grieving Pearl. Gideon letting her know Pearl was alive has given us another ally against Fifi, and a damned useful one at that. You know she’s had no real chance at life, so is it any wonder she has no clue what fairness or scruples are? Despite that, Gideon believes there’s a person worth saving in there. :: Erandur’s soothing tone and words were all that one would expect from a priest of Mara.

    :: Hmm. :: Telki had some thinking to do, and she’d have to wait for the emotional rollercoaster to settle to manage it. But for now, she wouldn’t scratch or maul her...yet.

    Shell reached out suddenly and snagged her little sister, pulling her in to cuddle on the side Telki wasn’t occupying, blowing raspberries on her cheeks while Blossom laughed aloud. They subsided quickly, glancing around, then Shell grinned, lifting Blossom onto her hip and eeling her way through the brush with both of them, making even less noise than Blossom had.

    :: Okay, okay, point made. Sheesh. :: If a person could drown in smug, Telki would have been in danger of her life. Erandur was entirely too pleased with himself.

    “Recruits,” Blossom whispered suddenly.

    “I hear them,” Shell transferred Telki to Blossom’s grasp, then ran at a tree, hitting speed and actually running vertically up it before bouncing to another tree and snagging a limb, swinging up to perch on it where they were out of sight from below. Telki was impressed, though she was sure hers would have been as impressive, if not maybe a little moreso.

    Blossom pouted, “I want to do that.” Shell only grinned.

    :: Sweetie, once this is over, I’ll teach you myself. :: Telki watched Shell navigate flawlessly through the trees. :: Maybe there is a bit of Bosmer in our family tree. ::

    Finally coming to a stop, Shell crouched where they could watch and listen to the recruits coming in. Several young Altmer passed beneath them, all of them familiar to Telki by sight if nothing else. Merc, Min, and Hyaril made up the tag end, exchanging nervous glances.

    “Huh,” Shell muttered to her sister. “Looks like they’re finally being shown the prison. I hope they get put on guard duty soon.”

    “Why?” Blossom asked quizzically.

    “I’m hoping...It’ll be easier to sneak in with inexperienced guards.”

    “Why would you want to go in there?” the little girl asked, appalled.

    “I sort of owe someone a dozen sausage rolls. Also, nights are getting colder. Mother wanted me to run some stuff in while Ilmiyon’s distracted with her.” A shudder went through the child at the name, her eyes wide with terror and grief. Shell noticed. “Don’t,” she admonished. “That will excite him. You’re good enough to match him one day. Don’t get yourself killed before that.”

    :: Noooo, I’m gonna squash him like a bug well before that ever happens. :: Telki enjoyed the ‘not if I get him first’ vibe from Erandur’s link. Oh, how she adored the men in her life.

    “Can I go to prison?” Blossom asked curiously. Telki perked up at the question. She couldn’t wait for Tyr and Gideon to meet Blossom, though she agreed the prison setting probably wasn’t the most ideal.

    “When you’re older,” Shell replied with a smirk. “You’d give yourself away in a second as you are now.”

    “No I wouldn’t!”

    “Maybe not to those idiots,” she nodded to the recruits, “but to Talon? To Uncle? To Mother?”

    “I’ll be the best, you’ll see,” Blossom grumbled.

    “I will personally beat that big ego back down if you start acting like Uncle,” Shell warned.

    “Who’s going to beat your ego?” the little girl asked with apparent innocence.

    “Brat,” the Bosmer laughed. “Hang on to your cat,” she warned, running from branch to branch after the recruits. She actually moved quite a bit faster than they did on the ground, navigating the branches the way Bosmer and Khajiit did, her little sister clinging to her for dear life and loving every moment of it. They reached the end of the trees just as the recruits did, and Telki and Blossom got their first sighting of the pits.

    The grey bowls of dingy stone cratered the ground for miles, like pockmarks with raised edges for the golden-clad Thalmor to patrol. The noise was overwhelming; yelling and the general din of many people forced into the same space, some crying and screaming, laughter and shouts of anger. The appalled mutterings of the recruits below was almost lost in the general noise of the place.

    “Be glad we’re not downwind,” Shell told her shocked sister. Telki could feel her eyes leaking a little. Gideon was down in that mess. Tyr had been stuck there for years, and poor little Orien knew nothing else of the world.

    :: How many time can you resurrect a person before it quits working? ::

    :: If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, we might find out. ::

    “It looks like a disease,” Blossom commented, staring.

    “Depending on who you ask, it is. For one reason or another.” The Young One seemed to be thinking very hard about something. “Uncle should be leaving in a few days.”

    “Good,” the little girl said vehemently.

    :: Yep, he will be leaving, permanently, probably ground into a dragon’s foot. ::

    “When he’s gone, I want you to meet somebody,” she added. “Not down there,” she hastened to assure the girl when she tensed. “Someone up here.”

    “I’ve met Lili…” the tiny redhead seemed very confused.

    “I know. We’ve all met Lili. Even Ilmiyon’s met Lili. I think Ilmiyon’s actually afraid of Lili.” She grinned, showing very white, even teeth. “Of course, that might have something to do with her stomping him into the dirt with some kind of green magic whip, but that’s something you’d have to ask her about.”

    :: Oh, when I grow up, can I be her? Pretty Please? :: Erandur’s warm laughter was all the answer Telki needed. :: Though that leaves me wondering who she wants Blossom to meet. ::


    The weather in the Isles was sunny, for the moment. Since it depended on Rommy’s mood, that boded well. Fanny was arranging a vase full of thorns and a tied-up goblin in one corner, singing “The Dragonborn Comes” off-key. Murril was sitting a bit further away with bits of tundra cotton in her ears, looking through a book like she could read. Pearl sat next to her, mending some of Fanny’s pants. Haskill was nowhere to be seen, but every once in awhile a Saint or Seducer would walk by, asking casually where one or more of her men were, and not always their boss, who was out in Passwall dealing with Stanley. Again.

    Telki was trying uprightness for the third time since she got back. The other two attempts hadn’t even had time to bruise, but she meant to go look after her guys for herself. That first hour back on her own feet had been an eyeopener. Apparently, she should have coughed a hairball before changing back. Never doing that again.

    “Telki, I was coming. Was it too much to ask you to wait for some help?”

    “My stubbornness says ‘of course it was’...but I think my bruised butt would disagree.” Telki allowed herself to fall into Erandur’s arms. She actually squealed a little cuddling into him. “Missed you.” She grinned as his arms tightened around her. She wasn’t the only one, it seemed.

    “Missed you too.” Telki felt herself being hefted up into strong arms. She wasn’t going to complain, but nuzzled into his neck. “Now, I believe M’lady was wanting to check in on someone.”

    “Yes, please, and thank you?” Telki huffed, “I can’t hug ‘em, but I can at least check up on them.” His knowing chuckle was all the affirmation she needed, and happily lolled in his warm arms all the way to the hat. She still wasn’t sure why a hat, but this was Rommy under discussion. It glowed as they approached, and as she turned her mind toward Merc a faint picture of what he was seeing began to form inside the crystal.

    “Heya Toots, how’s life in the barracks?”

    :: Ah, so you’re back there now? :: Merc’s voice rang from the crystal, along with the phantom sensations of elven armor and the smell of ocean air.

    “You know Rommy. He decided real quick we’d learned all we were going to learn that way.” Telki snorted to herself: Rommy tried, but every so often, despite his best efforts, she thought he joined the overprotective conspiracy. “Personally, I think he missed me stealing the covers. Now, how’re my adoptees holding up?”

    :: Hyaril wants to run as far and as fast as he can, as soon as he can. Min’s pretty sure this isn’t the life for her, either. ::

    “Think you can get them out of the crossfire when it all goes to pot?”

    :: Pretty sure. :: There was a sense of repressed humor in his thoughts. She wondered what caused it, what was he waiting on?

    “So, how’s Ill Minion taking my sudden disappearance?” That sense of humor doubled. So he was waiting on her to ask.

    :: The recruits are certain sure Ill Minion’s already happened to you; they’re scaring each other at bedtime with all the ways he’s tortured you to death. As for the crazed mer in question, we’ve not seen or heard a lot out of him. He’s been very sulky and stompy. :: The voice turned very wry, :: Not at all what you’d expect from a mer up all night visiting horror upon horror on his chosen target. Speaking of targets, can we get Gideon in on this? ::

    “Sure, please hold while I connect the call.” Telki shook her head, wondering where that phrase came from, but concentrated on adding Gideon to their conversation.

    :: Aye my Love? :: Oh, it’d only been a day, but she missed that voice, along with the towering presence that came with it. Must everything about that Nord be bigger than normal?

    “So, about Shell,” she began, grinning.

    :: ...I can explain. ::

    “You don’t have to, I watched her with Blossom.” She’d missed him too much to enjoy teasing him right now about the complicated thing growing between her Nord and Shell. “Apparently, even scary trained assassins regress to five year olds in the presence of a purring cat.”

    There was a long silence from both Mercutio and Gideon. Even Erandur had tilted his head, apparently trying to envision that scene. If the slowly upward creeping brows were any indication, it was an amusing mental visual.

    “So, last night I saw those pits. I want you, Tyr, and Orien out yesterday.” Telki pouted, “But first, Rommy’s raiding the Soul Cairn, so it may be a while yet.”

    “I sense incredulity and mirth,” Rommy said, appearing suddenly with an audible “pop.” “What’d I miss?”

    “Shell snuggling with a cute kitty, and blowing raspberries on Blossom’s cheeks. Her name is Blossom, your youngest granddaughter.”

    Rommy smiled softly, ducking his head so that his white hair hid his face for a moment. “They all have names, then? I’m glad.”

    “Well, Fifi probably doesn't recognize them, but Fey sure as shootin’ named ‘em.”

    “I think I’m going to like this woman. After I, you know, make sure she’s good enough for Tyr.” He winked as he said that last, puffing himself up in a mockery of a protective relative.

    “Honey, I think that boat sailed,” Telki stuck her tongue out at him. “Especially if what gave away his Dragonborn status is what Gideon thinks did it.”

    :: She’s been visiting Tyr regularly in the pits for seven years now. Let’s say he has the same...reaction as Telki does. :: Dry humor laced every word from the hat as the faint mental tagalongs that came with the thought added to the innuendo in his words. Gideon was highly amused.

    Rommy paused and stared at the hat, blinking. “Well,” he finally said pensively, “It’s better than lights, I suppose.”

    “Well, what’s the plan, then? I suppose we’re off to the Cairn and then storming the tower?” Telki was trying her balance again. With two leaning props in place, she was fairly sure she’d garner no more bruises, and might even attain verticalness again.

    “Well, about that…” Rommy shifted awkwardly, looking anywhere but at her.

    “Rommy, I know that look. Out with it.” If he was pulling some overprotective nonsense, she was going to be skipping rope with…something of his he wasn’t going to like.

    Sighing, he turned to look at her fully. “I can’t shield anyone in the Cairn from the Ideal Masters and control the Isles at the same time. Maybe in a hundred years I’ll know how to juggle that, but right now I don’t. Either I stay here, or...someone with authority here keeps the peace for me.”

    “...Dammit. That makes sense. How dare you use logic against me like that?” Telki narrowed her eyes at him. “Though if I find out you’re fibbing, I’m giving your cheese collection to Stanley for his next wall project.”

    Paling and looking wounded at the same time (for a Mad God, the man could certainly pout), Rommy held up his hands in a warding gesture. “Stanley’s half the reason I need someone here. Besides, do you really think I want to go to the Soul Cairn without you? Everything I know about the place is academic.”

    “If you thought it’d keep me safe?”

    He rolled his eyes. “You’ve been there before, haven’t you? You can handle yourself. I mean, I’d worry you’d try to drag half a million souls back through whatever portal I made you, but if it was down to a fight between you or the Ideal Masters, I don’t care to dwell on the fallout.”

    “That was the other project I wanted your input on!” Telki leaned back on his chest, titled her head up, and batted her lashes. “You have to admit, I have an awesome track record where Daedra are concerned.” Telki pulled Erandur to her, effectively sandwiching herself between them. “Besides, Erandur was there, he knows what I know about the place. For that matter, Serana does, too.”

    “Let me look around the place, first. Between the Ideal Masters, Sithis, and Jyggy, I’m really not sure who I want to talk to less.” He sighed, rubbing his head. A small owl climbed out of his hair to perch on the top of his head, preening the strands. “And I’d really rather avoid anyone associated with Bal. He...doesn’t like me much.”

    “Oh, she’s human again.”

    “And apparently hit on you, when I’m about to marry you. Also, I’m a Daedra. How do you think she’d react, because half the people I’ve met that have associated with Daedra could tell right away.”

    “Yeah, but you’re a good Daedra, and I vouch for you. And really, that was over and done before she humaned up. Besides, she likes Erandur’s ears.” Telki looked up at Rommy, all playfulness put aside. “Really, Honey, I don’t want you going alone. Take someone, anyone, we trust with you.”

    He thought for a minute, then glanced up at Erandur. “Do you remember your way around? Your, um, Aedra-ness might help offset my Daedra-ness anyway.”

    :: You’ll remember to let Ulfric know his men are about to be released, yes? ::

    “Y’know, that’d make me feel better, having another strong fighter at your back in there,” Telki gave Rommy her best big kitty eyed blink. Make her stay home and mind the house, huh?

    Looking seriously alarmed now, he yelped, “You want me to take Ulfric into the Soul Cairn?”

    “You did catch the massive guilt complex, right? I’m surprised he’s not one of yours from it.” Telki wiggled into a more comfortable niche against his body. “Letting him help free them will probably go a long way to making sure you never have to lay eyes on him in the Isles.”

    Heaving a sigh large enough to make the weather change outside, Rommy laid his forehead against her, shaking his head. “At this rate, you may be giving him the official welcome in Passwall before we even get back.”

    “Huh? Whyfor?”

    “Well, if he goes insane while we’re there, you’ll be the official reigning monarch here.”

    “You plannin’ on driving him crazy there? What am I missing?” Telki had to stop a long shudder that threatened to quake her knees at the reminder of just what she signed up for when she decided Rommy was worth it. The Daedric Prince thing didn’t bother her nearly so much as the saddled with authority thing.

    “Not planning on it. Might happen anyway,” he obfuscated.

    “Rommy, considering you can decide whether or not to send people running mad, that’s not helping.” Telki cuddled him close, “Come back safe to me, bring my Erandur back safe to me, and wallop whatever’s holding my grands there a good one. And no leaving Ulfric there, neither.”

    “Damn,” he sighed, then looked up at Erandur. “Anything you need before we go...visit Ulfric?”

    “Lots of mead,” Erandur shook his head. “Nay, I’m fine. The sooner we get to the Soul Cairn, the sooner we get those children out of there. Let’s concentrate on that.”

    Rommy sighed again, stepped back from Telki, and changed his clothing magically to a set she’d picked out and presented to him. He rather liked them, though the Seducers had pouted that he hadn’t worn the chainmail loincloth they’d given him. Maybe he’d regift that to Ulfric and throw him in the barracks.

    Telki had been hugging Erandur, and checking his armor over before releasing him, and giving Rommy the same once over. “I mean it, come back safe to me. Don’t make me have to go there after you.”

    “And have neither of us in the Isles for who knows how long?” Rommy looked genuinely horrified. “If you want to tell your undercover menfolk goodbye, we’ll go set you up in the Throne Room.”

    “Best listen to me, then, huh?” Telki winked at him. “And yes to checking on my poor undercover darlins.” Telki looped her arms through Rom’s and Erandur’s, hugging them close all the way to the hat.

    “If you guys need pulled out, direct it to Telki for the next few days, alright?” Rommy called, then wrinkled his nose. “Gideon, is that smell from the pits? Do you need me to send a rainstorm before I go?”

    :: It would not be remiss, though I’m not sure how well the pits drain. It may turn it into a smellier swamp. But yes, it is that bad. :: Gideon sounded resigned. :: A month of baths probably won’t get all the reek out. ::

    Shaking his head, Rommy started tweaking his fingers over the hat, forming clouds over that part of the Isles. “We really need to get you all out of there. Maybe we should work on that before breaking the hold on the Young Ones, if this doesn’t work out. There will be a storm coming off the ocean in a few minutes. Not more than half an hour.”

    “I thought the whole reason we were breaking the focus first was so we could get the prisoners out without them worrying about hostages?”

    “I’d quite frankly rather have them worry elsewhere than have a breakout of plague,” he said, but sighed in resignation. It was a nice thought, but not entirely practical.

    “So slip a anti-plague agent in the rain, who’d notice?”

    “Um, Telki, how long have they been there? If they didn’t already have something in place, we wouldn’t be mounting this rescue.” Erandur was stroking his chin in thought. “That might be something worth looking into. It could save soldiers on long deployments.”

    :: That explains why the food’s so bad, doesn’t it? :: Gideon’s wry humor was sounding strained. It was past time to get her paladin out of there.

    :: I can attest barracks rations aren’t any better, :: Mercutio decided to pipe in. :: Pretty sure Hyaril, Min, and a few other new recruits would be willing to at least get out of the way, if not fight with us. Most of the older set? No dice. There’s one or two that might be worth a conversation, but that’d be it. ::
    “Hey Rommy, wanna send a nice roasty bribe to the barracks?” Telki giggled. “I love it, bribing the Thalmor with gustatory pleasures.”

    :: Well, it works on the prisoners. :: There were undertones in Gideon’s voice Telki did not like.

    Romulus was looking thoughtful. “Actually, that might ensure they stay out of the way. Sending them something to make them sleep the entire invasion, I mean.”

    “I like it. Make it so, my darling Daedra!”

    “I could also make them all think they’re grapefruit for an afternoon. Might be just as well, and twice as entertaining. Have you ever seen an Altmer trying to roll?”

    “No, can’t say that I have. However, remember, we like Hyaril and Min. They might not mind an afternoon nap, but I’m pretty sure they’d mind being grapefruit for an afternoon.” Telki shook her head at the idea. Fifi rolling around though, that she wouldn’t mind seeing. “Feel free to grapefruit Fifi, though.”

    “Come on, Love, Erandur; let’s go make Telki officially in charge,” he glanced at her as he said this, wondering if she still wanted to go through with it.

    “Can’t I just be in charge without, you know, making a deal of it? Please?” Her knees were already unsteady, any further shocks could take them out completely. Talk about a fall from grace the first day on the job.

    “I wasn’t planning on making it a big deal. There’s a very small group of witnesses, and Goldie and Plumwickle will go tell the Duke and Dutchess, who hopefully will be so distracted by the baskets of cheese and sugar they’ll forget to visit.”

    “Well, if they don’t forget, I’ll have Haskill bring me the heavy blankets. I have cider and brownies ready, too.”

    “Um...actually if they don’t forget, climb the tree behind the throne and have Haskill tell them you’re in Passwall,” he advised. “This is the only time I will ever tell you to climb that tree, but climb that tree.”

    Telki gave Rommy a very searching look. “You’ll explain that when you come back, right? Because that sounds very like you don’t trust me with them.”

    He stopped and turned to her. “Let me put it this way. The first time I met the Dutchess she was fifteen years old. Only having full Daedric powers kept her from eating me.”

    Telki had to tamp down the challenge that seemed to represent, especially given the number of times she’d tweaked her boys for the same reasons.
    “I agree to climb the tree, but I’m not going to be a very effective Queen if I have to hide from my subjects, y’know.” She hugged Rommy close. “I also know you don’t need to be worrying about me while traipsing the Soul Cairn. I’ll be as careful of myself as you could wish. Heart’s promise.”

    “I just have enough to deal with without returning to compete political upheaval. Also, the Duke would want to give you a present, and Me only knows what he’d come up with.” Taking her hand, he started back down the hallway.

    The Throne room looked as it always did when they were around: Mostly empty and fairly clean, save for a bunch of giggling potatoes rolling around. Murril and Pearl were running after them. Haskill stood holding a bag open with an indifferent look on his face while Goldie tapped her foot in impatience and Plumwickle rolled around laughing.

    “Playing potato round up again?” Just watching their merry time had Telki feeling better. She squeezed Erandur’s and Rom’s hands, hoping for many more such moments with all her family around.

    Murril picked up a potato, giggled, and handed it to Pearl. Pearl smiled, took the potato, and deposited it into the bag just in time for the potatoes to tumble back out and into Bosmer form.

    Fanny shook his head, making his hair fly around before snapping back up into its customary cone shape, then glanced up, round face lighting up. “Grand Champion! Cat Lady! Grumpy Mara Man!”

    “Grumpy Mara Man? Really?” Erandur folded his arms in front of him, and raised an eyebrow at the odd Bosmer. “Apparently, I need to work on my disposition around you.”

    The potato-prone Bosmer “eep”ed and hid behind Haskill. Pearl and Murril giggled, and Murril went back to give him a hug, petting his hair and making cooing noises.

    “So, are you comfortable with these witnesses?” Rommy asked, leading her to the throne.

    “Yeah, okay, this works.” Telki took a deep breath, and told her knees to shape up already. “Let’s do this.”

    Pushing her lightly so that she sat on the throne, he handed her the cane with the wiggling eyeball (which looked very confused), leaned over, and said clearly, looking into her eyes, “I, Sheogorath, do leave the Shivering Isles under the care of Telki for a period of no longer than five days. Obey her as you would me or I’ll play skipping rope with your bloody entrails.” He leaned over a little more and kissed her forehead, sending a surge of chaos magic to twine with her own. It felt disturbingly at home there. “If you need to make that fourth day last a few days, that’s fine,” he added for her benefit.

    “Be back soon, okay? Just come back safe and soon.” Telki frowned slightly in puzzlement, “And how would I go about making a day last longer than a day again?”

    “Easy enough. Decide days last a week and enforce it,” Rommy shrugged. “It’ll make more sense if you do it. Just make sure the pages get lots of naps. And the daycare. Well, all-day care. Where the rest of the children are. Oh, and the cabbage patch. And Stanley: If he doesn’t get his nap he goes mental.”

    “Yeah, come back soon, else you might find a proper Sheo-wife here awaitin’ on you.” Telki was trying to wrap her noggin around that, and it wasn’t quite working.

    He chuckled, leaning in to give her a full, heated kiss, making good use of their mind link to send her a memory of her “coronation” while he was at it. The rumbling purr in response set Erandur chuckling.

    “Alright you two, we have a focus to go smash, and you, My Lady Queen, have a realm to run.”

    Rommy stepped back at the shudder that went through her at the reminder. “You can crown me again when we get back,” he suggested with a wink.

    “We’ll definitely need different witnesses, then.” Telki sent him images of precisely what all she wanted to do during his ‘coronation.’

    Choking on a laugh, he pressed his lips to her forehead once more—anything more and he was taking her back to the bedroom—Rommy turned and waved a hand cheerfully at Erandur. “Come on and let’s get this over with; sooner we’re gone, sooner we can come back.”

    “And don’t forget Ulfric!” Telki hollered and waved after them, knowing that’d get her at least a good groan from the both of them. She was right.

    Dovazhul translations:
    "Dreh ni bo, mal dovah! Zu'u piraak nid fah hi." Come no further, small dragon! I have nothing for you.
    "Bo, kiir!" Away, child!
    "Saraan, kirr" Wait Child
    "dovahkriid" dragonkiller
  13. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Rommy wonders at the irony of opening so many Oblivion Gates, declares his undying loathing for Ulfric, and Gideon is taken from the pound for a test run.


    Chapter Text

    Rommy looked around the Museum of Curiosities as he stepped out of the Oblivion portal he'd erected in the living room. Ironic that, considering he'd spent the last bit of his mortality running around closing the things. Instantly the mice he'd spared in the floor started tattling to him that something was off, hoping he'd reward them with more cheese. The Book of Fate was on the floor, the thief that had knocked it down standing stone still over by the box holding a Gorgan's head. Rommy walked over and closed the box before Erandur got it into his head to peek.

    "Rommy, why is there a statue of a thief in your living room?" Erandur studied the thief with some curiosity. He looked slightly familiar.

    "Because he was trying to steal from the house," Rommy shrugged.

    "Oh dear. Rommy, can you change this one back? Telki's going to be upset."

    "You know, people have been saying that to me a lot lately," he grumbled, flicking the stone figure in the nose. The thief rapidly became flesh and blood again, falling on his butt with a bang. The mice scurried away from the noise, scolding him profusely.

    "Buggering hells! Last time I do Mercer a favor." Etienne the thief sagged, and Erandur caught him. "Bollocks. It's your house? 'M sorry mate. I didn't know."

    "Actually," Rommy said, giving him a disapproving glare, "it's my house."

    "I'll be sure to change the mark, then. Telki did me a good turn, and if you're friends of hers, you're friends of ours."

    "Well, at least some things haven't changed from when I was in the Guild," Rommy said, softening slightly.

    "You're Guild? Mercer didn't tell me we had another Guildie here!"

    "Cyrodiil Thieves Guild," Rommy corrected. "And retired. My former wife was a fence as well." He paused, tilting his head. " Delvin still around?"

    "Blimey," Etienne brushed himself down, taking the time to gather his thoughts, they were still a little cracky. "Eh, he is now. Just back, I might add. Vex put a real fear in him. She had to write out a contract promising not to kill him before we got him back. The Guild just wasn't as profitable without him, so Mercer convinced her." Etienne grinned, "Course, it didn't say anything about putting a hurt on him if he didn't stop peeping, either."

    Laughing, Rommy said, "Well, tell him Romulus moved here. He'll know who you mean. Some of the things in this museum I bought from him, and I wouldn't mind if he let me know of any other interesting things that come his way."

    "Cor, you're that Romulus? Mate, he still talks about you. Sure, I'll be happy to pass the word along."

    "Only good things I hope?" Rommy raised an eyebrow. "So how exactly do you know my fiance?"

    "His tavern story is my favorite. Wait? Fiance? Really?" Etienne's pleased surprise dropped a little at the memory. "She pulled me out of Elenwen's personal torture chamber, and kept a frost troll from eating me, is what. I'm still alive because of her."

    "Ah. Well, if the memory ever gets too much, look me up, and Telki will have some cider and a warm blanket to welcome you," he said sympathetically. "It's about noon right now, so why don't you stay until nightfall? We have places to be, jarls to kidnap and all, so just help yourself to the kitchen. The food, I mean. Leave the cutlery."

    "Did you just say what I thought you said? "Etienne regarded him with something like hero-worship. "Can I be the first to hear the whole story? 'Cause something tells me I'll have Guild bragging rights for decades if you do."

    Deliberately looking confused, Rommy told him, "Well, it is a kitchen, so when I moved in, I filled it with food. Someone should eat it before it goes bad, even in this ice cube of a city."

    "Romulus, the jarl kidnapping story? First dibs, please?" It was apparent Etienne had dealt with his fair share of sidesteppers. "Delvin'd probably drop the prices to member discounts if you shared it with us first."

    "Well, we have to go to a Daedric Realm to rescue a bunch of overly-pretty people, some of whom I'm related to, and we're taking Ulfric because—just maybe—he'll decide to take a left for Sovngarde."

    "Not completely accurate, but fairly close," chuckled Erandur, half at Romulus' telling, half at the jaw dropped amazement on Etienne's face.

    "Who knows? Maybe I'll introduce the Guild to some of the pretty people. I bet that Shell would have a ball with Delvin." The Daedric Prince of Madness smiled innocently.

    Erandur groaned, and shook his head. "Tell me, are there any exceptionally tall people in the Guild? Those are the ones that'll have to worry if she comes visiting."

    Rommy snorted, shooing the thief toward the kitchen in a passable imitation of his future wife. "Forget the Guild; I'm worried about walking her through Stormcloak central; Nordiest place since Sovngarde."

    "But they're not all TreeNords," Erandur's conciliation could have been more believable, but the stifled snickers ruined it.

    "Officially going to be the most problematic new family member," Rommy predicted, completely disregarding the fact that there were still a pair of possibly Dragonborn five-year-olds in that group.

    "Do not let any of them hear you say that Rommy; they'd hear a challenge," Erandur advised soberly.

    Shuddering, the Mad God headed for the door, opened it, looked outside, and closed it again. " might want a scarf or something to cover up your mouth. No one scrubbed away the mold garden."

    Erandur gave Rommy a stern look. "What did you do?"

    "I...may or may not have gotten very bored waiting for Telki and started a small garden of allergenic, fire and cold resistant mold in three brightly colored strains."

    Erandur sighed. "Telki drags us here regularly, would it be feasible to at least take the allergens out? Place could use a little color."

    He tilted his head, thinking. "See, this is why you're my favorite. At the moment, anyway. That might change later. I might see a cat or something. Yes, I can take the allergens out."

    "My lungs thank you from the bottom of my heart." Erandur shrugged his cloak into place.

    "That makes no sense. I like it," he said, opening the door, waving his hand, and striding outside. The sneezing and coughing on the streets petered out as he walked passed, waving to the nice girl that had welcomed him on his first day, and watching with interest as she swooned. "Blood pressure problems?" he asked Erandur.

    "She fancies you. Sam offered to comfort her poor broken heart when she saw you escorting Telki the last time we were here." Erandur shuddered, "I have no idea how that turned out, but she's apparently not over her infatuation."

    "She better get over that quick; that stuff drives you crazy," Rommy said knowingly, opening the door to the Palace of Kings before the guards could do more than stare at them quizzically. "Ulfric really needs some Blades; his security is terrible."

    "What Blades? The last we knew of before we knew about the Thalmor pens were Esbern and Delphine. Delphine is now a tavern wench in her own Inn, long story, and Esbern is living with the Greybeards and debating Paarthurnax on Sundas. His Stormcloaks are all he has. The Penitus Oculatus guards the Emperor, and they're...not very effective," he finished—charitably, he thought, remembering the supposedly elite fighters sending a lone Bard in to take out an entire Guild of assassins.

    Rommy halted, looking at Erandur in surprise. "So the Blades are completely gone? What all happened while I was in a fugue? Don't answer that."

    Erandur let the deep breath he'd taken to start answering out in a long sigh. "Perhaps when we rescue these, we can build a proper Blades with them, and a proper Emperor can be crowned. I hate to admit it, but the feeling I got from Ulfric was that he'd bend a glad knee to Tyrlief."

    "I'd like that. I might even help them out if they forgot a bit. I mean, I was a Blade, after all. Still am, technically."

    "You sound like Telki. I still don't know how she's fit so many roles in such a short time."

    "I joined the Thieves Guild at sixteen, I was an informant for four years before that, then I joined the Arena, got married, became Grand Champion for a few years—one of the longest running Grand Champions as well—then got tossed in prison because Felicia started a bar fight, and was accidently placed practically sitting on the Emperor's escape rout. Then he starts talking about seeing me in his dreams and I lost all faith in our system of government, because the Emperor was dreaming of me of all people." He drifted off, obviously remembering those days.

    "And then?" Erandur gently nudged, after giving him a moment.

    "Then...then I watched the Emperor be killed by Mythic Dawn assassins, was sent off to get an Imperial Heir no one knew about, dragged him home to Felicia, who was not happy to see someone from the other side of the family, then I joined the Blades while she gave them an existential crisis—some of them, anyway—and...and we saved the world and lost half of us in the process."

    Erandur seemed to be lost in thought. "I wonder, how much of his dream did he share? Because even half surviving is a miracle when discussing a Daedric Invasion, I suppose."

    "Well...let's just say the Blades of the time had some very competent people, even before I showed up," he said that last with an ironic smile.

    Erandur studied his friend. "No. No, I think it had to be you. I don't think anyone else could have managed as much as you did, half as well." Erandur snorted, not noticing as the other man blushed, "And it passed down. If it weren't for the hold they had on his wife and children, Tyrlief would be running that Altmer stronghold now." Erandur shrugged, "A match made by Mara herself if ever I saw one."

    "Tyrlief has taken a wife?" And there was Ulfric, eyes wide as septims at the news.

    "I was shocked too," Rommy said, looking up. "How have you been, Ulfie? Sneezing a bit I hope?"

    Ulfric crossed his arms and gave him a stern look. "So, that was you?"

    "Technically, that was mold," he replied, shoving his hands into his pockets.

    "That you set loose in my city? Can you give us some way to handle the sneezing? Some of the elderly and the younger children have been unable to even leave their homes."

    "Already dealt with."

    "Good. Now, what brings you fine gentlemen to me? Something I can do to help with the Alinor situation, I hope?" Ulfric rubbed his hands, as if enjoying the idea of a challenge.

    "Do you want to be filled in, or just to go?"

    Ulfric raised his eyebrow as he considered Romulus. "Did you not chastise me not so long ago for jumping into things without proper consideration?"

    "And I was sort of looking forward to doing it again. So, do you want to know what's happening or shall we all go to Oblivion?"

    "Where are we going, what are we doing, and what do I need to bring with me to get the job done right?" Apparently, Ulfric had been practicing his breathing exercises, because his calm demeanor did not crack.

    Turning to Erandur, the Imperial asked, "Do you want to weigh in here?"

    Erandur shrugged. "I wouldn't mind knowing if we had an actual plan other than 'charge' for a change."

    He made a thoughtful noise, "Less 'charge' and more 'be very quiet and hope the rulers of a realm that kicked out all the Daedric Princes don't notice we're trespassing.'"

    "Where is this?" Ulfric looked intrigued.

    "Oblivion Realm called the Soul Cairn. Very inhospitable. Lots of dead people. We'd understand if you wanted to stay here." Rommy's benignant tone made it clear that he hoped Ulfric would want to stay behind.

    "Why are we going there? How will that help Tyr and the rest of them?" the jarl asked, looking from one to the other.

    "Well, I can't go pull the links off all of them, one by one, without someone noticing or some of them dying anyway, so our plan was to go to this Aedra-forsaken place and get you, then go to Oblivion and break a foci to free them all."

    Ulfric considered that a moment. "Answer me honestly, would my going be more likely to make the mission fail, or would my blade prove useful?"

    Heaving a sigh and sitting at the table—which was conspicuously free of cheese, it having mysteriously vanished from the palace some time ago—and fiddling with an apple, Rommy admitted, "Telki says you should come. She has good instincts, and may sense something my general dislike of the very air you breathe makes me overlook."

    "Then I will trust her as well, and thank you for this opportunity to help."

    "You're welcome. Don't die. She'd probably blame me."

    Ulfric laughed. "I will do my best, then, to stay alive. I wouldn't put it passed her to track me to Sovngarde to yell at me for dying, either."

    "She would, undoubtedly," Erandur agreed. He nudged Rommy. "And you wouldn't be alone. I'd never hear the end if it either."

    "Great, Misery loves company, told me so herself. Everyone ready?" He looked directly at Ulfric.

    "If this is enough, then yes. I have never been to a Daedric realm." Ulfric gestured at his armored breastplate and thick greaves. He picked his massive twohander in its holster up from the sideboard, and slung it easily across his back.

    "Potions might be advisable. Also you might see if your Court Wizard has any black soul gems. I don't think I'll have to soul trap you two, but just in case this hurts…"

    "There is never any telling what Wuunferth has or does not have on hand. I'll return quickly." True to his word, Ulfric reappeared with a pack full of various potions, two black soul gems, and an odd look on his face. "In all my years, this is the first time I've seen that man blanche and shake. This Soul Cairn must be truly fearsome. Telki had left a pack with him for this Soul Cairn specifically."

    "Please tell me you didn't tell him what we're doing," Rommy rubbed his face with his hands.

    "He will tell no one. He has been my tutor since I was a small boy. He knows the importance of this quest." Ulfric shrugged, "Besides, who would he tell? Half this city is convinced he is a necromancer, and would feast on their souls while they watched."

    "That's hilarious. I hope they don't lynch him when they realize you're gone," Rommy muttered, rising, then paused, frowning. "Wait, what do you mean 'specifically for the Soul Cairn?"

    "She placed a potion made from something called a 'soul husk' that I am to drink upon entering the place." Ulfric gave him a questioning look and showed him the handwritten label.

    He wrinkled his nose, glancing at Erandur. "Do I have to drink that?" he asked, practically begging the elf to say no, his hiding what he was wasn't worth it.

    "Only if you don't want the Ideal Masters sucking your soul out through your nose," Erandur quipped. "It's up to you; Telki was able to withstand it a whole five minutes. I only lasted three before I was eating the husks gladly."

    He sighed and grudgingly resigned himself to it. "Someplace in this heap I can open a portal that no one will step through or try to close?"

    "My rooms?" Ulfric waved to the door behind him. "I tend my own. Not even maids go there."

    "Great! Let's get this over with." Rommy shuddered: He was not looking forward to this. "Lead on, McNord." The men followed Ulfric to his rooms, where the Jarl locked the door, and Rommy looked around for a good spot. Picking a blank section of wall, he built a portal, carefully parting the veil between Mundus and the realms beyond it, and ignoring the little voice laughing at him for doing it in the first place. Stabilizing the oval tear—much like a seamstress would a buttonhole, he glanced back at the others, curious to see what they made of the swirl of white, levin bolt like lights.

    "Shor preserve us," Ulfric looked properly impressed. "With magic like that, why did you ever bother with the warrior's route?" Humor danced in the Nord's eyes. "Did you secretly grow up in Skyrim?"

    "Saints and Seducers, no! I just kept getting bored." Turning his attention back to the portal, he slowly began linking it to the Soul Cairn, trying his best not to be obvious about it. The tendrils gradually took on a purple and black tinge, then separated into a doorway to a blighted landscape of fissures and skeletal flora.

    Erandur waved towards the portal. "After you, McNord."

    Ulfric shook his head. "McNord, does it have meaning?" He confidently walked through the portal, stopping for a moment to take in the sheer starkness of the place, and the chill even a Nord felt to his bones.

    "If only I could just close this and go home," Rommy lamented, regarding the gaping rip in the fabric of Nirn.

    "Just keep telling yourself, 'She's worth it.' It's working for me so far." Erandur followed Ulfric through.

    Saying the words like a mantra, Rommy stepped over the threshold, shivered in the cold air of the Soul Cairn and turned, closing the portal behind them.



    Dawn saw a very dew-laden pit. The storm the day before had erased much of the stench—and many of the men had taken advantage of the strangely warm rain to wash themselves, as well. Thankfully, it seemed the pits were equipped with a way for the water to flow out, though Tyr mentioned that the area the water filled had once been filled with people as well. "There used to be a lot more of us," he'd said in response to Gideon's look.

    Now, with the rays of light streaming over the mountains in the east and shining back from the pearlescent tower to the west, a small group of Thalmor stood by the gate, looking uncomfortably down at a piece of paper and out into the pit again. So far, no one had wanted to go ask them what they were doing, but everyone was eyeing them with wary curiosity.

    "I don't remember the last time I saw them look that squirrelly," Tyr remarked, tilting his head at them.

    "If it makes them nervous, it can't be good for us, either." Gideon's usual cheer was missing this morning. Tyrlief gave him an odd side eye, and Gideon chose his next words carefully. Tyr needed to know.

    "They captured a dragon and brought it here," Gideon said lowly. "With them eyeing us now, I wonder what their purpose might be, especially given the odd shakes that happen in the pits some nights." He hoped that was oblique enough that Tyr should get his meaning, and leave any eavesdroppers wondering.

    Unfortunately for Gideon's assumptions, Tyr had last been in Skyrim when the Dragonborn was just a story grandparents told their excited grandchildren. Having been raised by a half-Dunmer, half-Imperial father, he'd heard those stories even less than a normal Nord child. Ulfric had told him some, but mostly about use of the thu'um, and that it took years of training to do it. "That shaking thing?" Tyr flushed slightly but shrugged. "So I have a little more Warcry than your average Nord. What of it?"

    "Sweet Shor on a bender. Did nobody tell you?" Gideon shook his head. "I thought your shieldbrother would have told you about that little ability. Let's say you and my wife have more in common than just purple eyes."

    If anything, Tyr looked more confused and uncomfortable. Thankfully, the Thalmor started to move just as he opened his mouth to reply—well, less move than jump as a small woman practically materialized in their midst, startling not only them but the entire pit. "Oh, sweet Aedra," Tyr muttered.

    "What's the holdup?" Shell asked the Justiciar sweetly, hands demurely behind her back but nothing at all demure about how her breasts looked like they were going to pop out of her light breastplate.

    The Altmer's eyes played pogo for a moment between her sharp smile and the cleavage below it. He swallowed. "I...these orders can't be right," he started.

    "Let me see," she said, snatching the paper out of his hand and scanning it. "Everything looks in order to me."

    "But...but…" he stammered, looking her up and down, clearly not knowing what to make of her, but just as clearly having been warned not to make her angry.

    "But, but, are you questioning me?" she asked, slanting a glance up at him, apparently unruffled. A slow smile crossed her face as he paused, uncertain of how to answer that, "I sort of hope so," she added, the slightly sharp canine teeth some Bosmer had—or filed—peeking out, "I can think of all sorts of things to do to teach you better."

    Gideon shuddered. He did not envy the poor Altmer on the end of that sharp smile. Her voice carried over the whole pit, and Tyr had closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead like he was getting a headache. Around them, eyes were riveted to the scene, with some men apparently realizing that Shell's direct attention was the last place they wanted to be, and others wondering what would be wrong with such attentions.

    The Justicier made a slight outraged sound, and she giggled, a surprisingly childlike sound that echoed eerily off the stone. Putting her hands on her hips, she circled him like a shark, eyeing him up and down. He shifted uncomfortably. "You have a weak left knee," she said unexpectedly, then kicked it from behind, knocking him down, then quick as a wink setting herself on that leg, arms going about his neck. "Now, don't you worry about what your superiors are going to think of this," she cooed, kissing the tip of his nose. "Just know, that when they go to bed at night, they check under it for people like me. They check their wardrobes. They check the halls and the rafters. Do you know why?" He shook his head, struck dumb by something he saw in her gaze, and she giggled again and leaned in, whispering something in his ear. It evidently wasn't too amorous, because he fell over and backpedaled away from her as she slid smoothly to her feet, quite as if she hadn't actually just been using him for a chair.

    "What in Stendaar's name did she say?" someone wondered quietly.

    "Pray to Shor you never find out." Gideon murmured quietly back.

    "You…!" The Thalmor guard evidently couldn't think of in insult bad enough, glaring at her and drawing her sword, which Shell took in with interest. "You cannot treat your betters this way!" the woman cried, anger simmering in every word.

    Shell, who had been beginning to walk away, eyed her up and down. "You really shouldn't sleep with coworkers. Things tend to get messy," she told the woman, ignoring her threat completely and starting to walk around the perimeter of the pit, gazing into each cavelet, where the men either stood when she came by, or shuffled to the back. She smiled slightly as one spoke to her, tossed her hair and winked, but moved on.

    Gideon eyed it a little sadly, comparing Shell's purposefully weaponized flirt to Telki's cheerful and oblivious verve. "Do you think it is something that can be untaught or let go?"

    "What, her tendency to walk in and take over a situation out of sheer mischief, or the near-throwing herself at people?" Tyr asked, looking like he was ready to go back to bed.

    "Do you think she can learn to not think of herself as a weapon?"

    "In all honesty, Gideon, I think she rather likes that part," Tyr replied reluctantly.

    Gideon chuckled darkly. "Perhaps she's part Nord after all, but even we sometimes put down our weapon. I don't think she ever does, because she thinks of herself as a weapon. I cannot think that sort of worldview is easy to live with."

    "I have a feeling that you'll find out, if she gets her way," was all Tyr said, this time giving him an indecipherable look. He didn't elaborate, because the Bosmer had come within hearing range, and glanced over at the sound of his voice, grinned, and practically skipped up to them, giving Tyr a wink before stopping with a bounce on the balls of her feet right in front of Gideon, close enough she could feel the warmth coming off him.

    "Hiya!" she greeted him cheerfully, her smile—oddly enough—a bit less predatory, rather than what he might expect. "Been awhile."

    Gideon allowed himself a small smile, and a skeptical eyebrow. "Has it, then? What brings you to our rather lackluster abode?" he had to admit the more sincere smile suited her much better. Never telling her that.

    She giggled, well aware of their audience. "I'm kidnapping you!" she announced, loudly.

    "Are you now? You'll not get in trouble with What'sname over it?"

    She shrugged and replied with complete honesty, "I'm allowed to take just about anyone I want out of here whenever I want, provided my desire is to practice with them," she revealed. The tone in her voice was even, but a shadow in her eyes told him that anyone she "took out" would probably not be expected to come back.

    Gideon lowered his voice. "I will be needed here, will you be alright if you put me back here in one piece?"

    "Depends on the condition I give you back in," she purred, glancing him up and down. "So, you coming, or do I need to ask the angry banana elves to carry you out after I paralyze you?"

    "Which would keep you safer?"

    Devilment sparkled in her eyes for a moment. Reaching up, she curled her hand into the front of his tunic and tugged, laughing. "I found a new puppy!" she called to the appalled Thalmor. "I'm going to feed him and pet him and play with him!"

    "Never letting you meet Telki. Never." Gideon decided, as he played the part.

    Shell practically skipped as the large Nord stumbled along in her wake, heading right out passed the group of Thalmor. The woman was still hovering over the Justiciar, who was getting his knee tended to by the other guard. Narrowing her eyes at them, she muttered "Slut," under her breath, glaring.

    Shell stopped so suddenly Gideon almost ran into her, her arm flicking out toward the Altmer, who reared back, light shining off the thin, weighted chain coming from the Bosmer's gauntlet to wrap twice around her neck. Releasing Gideon's tunic, she whirled, yanking so the chain pulled the Altmer right off her feet and to the ground. Her face started to turn blue as Shell approached, menace in every step. Using only her thumb and forefinger, she pulled the helmet from the woman's head, looking down at her consideringly as she choked, simply watching as if she couldn't make up her mind whether to let her die or not.

    Gideon started to move forward and caught himself, torn. He'd almost forgot the delicate and fragile situation they were both in at the moment. He wasn't so much worried about the Altmer; that soulless husk had made her choice knowingly and willingly. Shell had not, and for that alone, he'd save her a murder on her soul. He could feel Telki's simmering anger sitting in the back of his head. Apparently, she was checking in on Her Boys.

    Pausing, Shell cocked her head the other way, as if she were a bird hearing a new sound. The cocky smile she usually boasted bloomed on her face, though her eyes remained cold as Atmora. Reaching down to cup the Altmer's chin, she kissed her, then unwound the chain, "Name calling isn't nice," she said with false patience as the woman sputtered, gasping for breath and wiping her mouth. "Come on, Treenord!" she called to Gideon, taking his hand like a little girl and sauntering out the entrance very unlike a little girl.

    :: Okay, I see your point. Maybe there is a person there worth the saving. No getting smug, though.::

    ::Smug? I have to survive however long she keeps me out here, and who knows what she's up to with me!::

    ::No worrying your sweet head, darlin, if you need me to, I'll get you out of there.::

    ::And if they are using that dragon to find Tyr? And who would tell the prisoners it was time to press their attack?::

    ::So Goldie would have to sneak you back in the pits, hide in the cavelets. We can make this work. Where's she taking you, anyhow?:: Sometimes, Telki's rapid curiosity shift left him feeling whiplash. Now he bothered to look around him, he wondered as well where they were going. They'd left the beaten path, and even the sandy ones. Orange trees surrounded them, old ones that barely looked tended to anymore. Animals lived among them, so people didn't come through often enough to scare them away. Beyond them was a rocky outcropping jutting several stories above the ground and out into the ocean. Behind them, the pits weren't even visible, and the Spire seemed to float above the trees.

    "Are you talking to people in your head again?" Shell asked, pouting. "I was hoping I could talk to you alone for once!"

    "My wife. She was wondering where we were going." Gideon smiled down at her, "She says no permanent injuries, and she might let you ride one of the dragons."

    There was a brief pause, then she smiled that deliberate way again, shudders back up. "Hello, Gideon's wife! Can I borrow him?" she waved her hand playfully in front of his eyes, as if they were windows.

    Gideon blushed. "She...I can't believe this. 'Leave him able to walk?'" He would never admit to his voice breaking.

    Relaxing slightly as a delighted laugh rang out into the orange trees around them, she purred, "Oh, really?" leaning in and fluttering her eyelashes in an exaggerated manner. "Can she feel what you feel, too? You did say she was cute…"

    "Sadly, no." Gideon was still flushed. "Because I would dearly love to share some of this….flustration." His words halted abruptly and he looked a little thunderstruck. "What do you mean you can? My name fits? What?" Gideon shook his head. "Never letting you two meet."

    "Why not?" the Bosmer whined, brushing light fingers down his hip and thigh.

    "Two reasons. People would think my natural face color is red, and I'd never see my dignity again."

    Giggling, hands definitely wandering in a way deliberately designed to make him very uncomfortable, she asked, "And what's undignifying about two lovely ladies that find you very attractive?"

    "The manner in which they choose to express it? Woah! I believe she specified 'able to walk'." Gideon had to skip back a half step to keep his feet, with those hands of hers wandering everywhere.

    "Oh!" she cried, delight in every line of her as she took him in, "You're proportional!"

    Gideon sighed. If his mother truly did use giant's milk, he might just have to go home one day to unthank her for it. "Come on, Treenord," she giggled, taking his right hand in both of hers and pulling. "We still have a ways to go."

    "Lead on, Bitsy Bosmer," Gideon chuckled. "Admit it. You only like me for reminding you of the ancestral home."

    Shell laughed so loud she had to slap a hand over her mouth to muffle it. "Oh, is that what you think?" she asked, eyes dancing. "Well, I have been to Valenwood, and while it is very pretty, that's not exactly the kind of...well, I actually like my vegetables."

    "I'm an equal opportunity quipper. I accuse Telki of the same thing. She's Dagi-Raht."

    "Ooooh. We'll have to climb together some time," she said, sounding like she might actually look forward to it. "You sure she's not into girls? I've met some very pretty Dagi."

    ::Sorry lovie, I very much prefer male anatomy to play with,:: Telki opined in his head, causing Gideon to chuckle. "Yes to climbing trees together, but she's got husbands, not wives."

    "What about climbing you together?" she asked without missing a beat, turning to walk backwards and watch his face. Somehow, she avoided both the trees and anything noisy underfoot.

    ::...Negotiable. Maybe. Have to think about that. How does she bleedin' do that? Will she teach me?::

    Gideon found himself again stifling a laugh. "That can be negotiated, especially if you teach her how you do that."

    "Eh?" Shell actually stopped walking, completely uncomprehending. "Do what?"

    "How do you walk backward, and still know where to place your feet silently?"

    Looking down at her feet and then to the path, she had a very quiet, thoughtful look on her face that might have shocked some that had met her that she could even pull off. "You know, I don't even think about it?" Glancing up, looking almost sheepish, she shrugged, scratching the shaved side of her head. "If I figure it out, I'll tell you? Anyway," she added, shaking her head so that her hair caught the sun, the soft waves shining with reds and golds in the midmorning light, "we have to hurry, or we won't have any time left."

    Gideon spread his arms in a very flippant manner. "I am at your disposal, milady, lead on."

    Smile all mischief, she asked, "How's your stamina?"

    Gideon leaned down to whisper in her ear. "I keep up with a mage, a priest, and a Dragonborn. What do you think?"

    "I think I'm still going to win in a footrace," she declared, then took off through the trees. Gideon, laughing, took off after her. He knew, despite his longer stride, he'd never catch her in a straight out run, so he'd have to cut corners and anticipate like he did with Telki and the children. Short rations hadn't done him any favors, either. Gideon started mentally mapping the layout, and decided on his cut off route to lay in wait for the Bitsy Bosmer. Like any assassin, she wasn't one to think in terms of straight lines, and seemed to disappear and reappear almost unconsciously, taking a winking path through the trees, avoiding both deep thickets and areas of low cover.

    "Surprise!" He swooped her up in a bridal carry, swinging her around until she was as dizzy as he was. Cutting a straight line through the underbrush was easy for a "Treenord." His weight made the thick brush a non-issue, and his long legs ate the distance easily where it was clearer.

    Whisking the dagger she'd automatically pulled back into it's hiding place, she pouted up at him. "You cheated," she had the audacity to suggest, wigging to sit better against his chest.

    "You didn't set any rules." He couldn't resist, she was adorable. He booped her nose. She caught his finger in her teeth, then closed her lips around it, smiling up at him.

    "You're lucky it rained yesterday. Else you might not be enjoying that now."

    Shrugging, she backed her lips off the digit with a pop. "You'd be very surprised what we've been taught to put up with," she said, then snugged down into his arms.

    "All the more reason not to subject yourself to it when you have a choice." Gideon hefted her against his chest. "Now, where does Milady commandeth me fetch her?"

    ::You're such a softy.::

    ::You love that about me.::

    ::True, very true. You get her house-trained, you can keep her.::


    :: Okay, okay, I shouldn't have worded it quite that way, but well…the analogy holds.:: There was an undercurrent there that she didn't know what way to word it.

    "That way," she pointed ahead of them, toward the rocky outcropping. Gideon wondered if he hadn't just consigned himself to Rommy's vassalhood between the two of them. He loped off in the direction she pointed, still carrying her snug against his chest and wondering where she was leading him.
  14. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Gideon uses Casual Confessions of Feelings. It's Super Effective. Sassassin Fainted!

    Image taken in my game, spruced up by the Talented Evil-Is-Relative

    Chapter Text
    The base of the outcropping looked very solid from a distance, and from up close, really, but Shell had him walk right towards it until it almost seemed as if, by magic, the opening appeared. It was completely dark, but she cast Candlelight when they grew nearer. "In there," she said, curling her hand into his tunic and glancing about, ears actually twitching a little as she took in all the sounds, then looking up the rock face. Forcibly reminding herself that Ilmiyon was gone, she simply enjoyed the feel of being held against the large man's large muscles, even if her stomach was doing some weird, interesting things she was worried might actually be some kind of illness.


    ::Yeah, if she's nervous, I'm nervous.::

    ::Help keep an eye?::

    ::And an ear, both of them.::

    The tunnel was winding, though perhaps not particularly long. Gideon was forced to duck in places, which he learned quickly to do with his legs, since ducking his head and shoulders put his face somewhere that made Shell wiggle suggestively. About halfway in, a roaring started, a rhythmic whooshing that drowned out all other sounds.


    "Sort of," she confirmed with a grin, shaking her hair a bit as the humidity grew. They quickly emerged into a tall, wide cave, completely open to the ocean at the end, with a small beach, and at the back the waterfall he had guessed, steaming water falling down into rocks and collecting in a sandy basin that emptied down the incline into the surf.

    "You wouldn't happen to have soap available, would you?" As lovely as the beach was, Gideon was thinking warm water and soap would be heaven on earth.

    "There's soaproot planted around the pool," she said helpfully, gazing over the place.

    "May Shor bless you all your days." Gideon found a plant with the right color roots, and gently sat Shell down next to him before he pulled and pulverized the root into lather.

    "Don't thank me," she said with odd shyness, gaze fixated on his hands as he worked. "I didn't plant anything. I tend to kill plants."

    "You brought me here, with soaproot and warm water? Whyever not?" Gideon chuckled. "Yet you don't keep them from growing here, either. Not everyone is cut out for everything." Gideon watched her over his shoulder, as he turned and ducked his head in the water. "I'm not exactly a proper Nord, if you ask certain people."

    "What makes them say that? Are they short?" she raised her gaze to watch him, a bit of a frown creasing her brows.

    "I'm as comfortable inside by the fire with a book as I am outside with a shield and hammer. I'm married to a Khajiit, a Dunmer, and an Imperial. That tends to make people very nervous, especially the 'Skyrim is for the Nords,' crowd."

    Shell waved her hand dismissively; making people nervous was a way of life for her. "Take off those clothes," she instructed, her tone completely businesslike.

    "Ummm? Do you have clean ones available? If not, I can wash these on me, as it were?" Gideon leaned closer, as if telling a secret, "Worse, I drink milk."

    Rolling her eyes, she said, "I'll put them in the stream to wash out with the current. What does milk have to do with anything?"

    Gideon raised an eyebrow at her. "One of the most feared Nord insults is 'milk drinker,' implying the person is too weak to handle a proper mead. Remember that, if you ever need to insult a Nord to his bones."

    Looking as if she'd just had an epiphany, she crowed, "Oh, so that's why it's so easy to break you guys' bones! I'd wondered!"

    "Hey! There's other things besides milk, like cheese! Really, Nord bones break easy, as compared to what?"

    "Mine," she shrugged again. "Are you going to give me those clothes, or what?"

    "Fine, fine. Although, if you're talking about the prisoners, I think it's the current diet you have to blame, not native inclinations." The bone breaking comment rubbed. He pulled the shirt off, and noticed he was about as lean now as he was the first month out of the cloister, hunting his own dinner. Shell obviously didn't mind, if the lascivious look on her face was any indication.

    He hesitated a moment, then stripped off the pants, making sure the breechcloth stayed put. She pouted. "There you are, but please, not in the salt water, unless you have no further use for things."

    "I have plenty of use for all of you," she winked, scurrying up the rock face as nimbly as a squirrel. She found one of the smaller streams of water and started looking for a good place to weigh them down.

    "Hmmm, let me know if you decide on long term plans, we might can come to an agreement." He ducked his head, rinsing the soap out. It felt five times lighter than it had. He started soaping his chest, watching the water run brown. He grimaced and pulled another soaproot. He hoped it wouldn't take all of them. It'd be a pity to denude such a lovely place.

    She froze a moment, then resumed her search, yanking out some soaproot while she was at it and rubbing it on the most soiled places. Finally, she found a relatively horizontal place and laid the shirt out flat, weighing it down with stones so the water could do all the work, then followed with the pants, grinning a little as she remembered just giving up looking and stitched two pairs together for him. Fey had been quite surprised at her actions, and had given her a long look she couldn't decipher, but her mother had stopped being completely open with her around the same time Ilmiyon had singled her out for special training. In many ways, her mother—actually all of them—were rival creatures once they separated from their groups. She'd even found out about Tyr completely by accident. She might not have stabbed him if her mother had simply told her. Maybe.

    Landing lightly back on the sand, she cast a glance at Gideon, who was ducking his hair under the water for the umpteenth time. He was a joy to look at, but the strange feelings coursing through her—mostly her stomach, but also she sometimes found her mouth dry or her palms weirdly moist—made her look away. Her gaze landed on surf.

    "Shell, does a towel or blanket come with this lovely cleansing opportunity?"

    "I tend to just air dry," she replied, making up her mind and unstrapping her breastplate, then stripping off her own tunic, folding it neatly with almost the same motion, and placing it on a rock. Two dozen little knives and her arm bracers quickly followed.

    "Oh, my," Gideon gulped. The presence of Telki in his mind left a teasing kiss and her blessings on whatever happened next and disappeared. It was scant comfort.

    "If it bothers you, Treenord, then I suggest you go back to washing your hair," she said, shimmying out of her pants after kicking off her shoes. "I'm going swimming."

    "I didn't want to use up all the soaproot." Gideon's eyes narrowed as he took in the telltale crisscrossed markings on her skin, a near-perfect pattern sliced in a centimeter at a time from mid-thigh to the bottom of her ribs, and growled. "I will kill him, have Erandur bring him back, and kill him again until Erandur runs out of magic or Mara's grace."

    Shell stared at him with wide eyes, arms coming up for a moment, almost as if to cover herself, before falling back to her sides. "Well, was in training. He didn't tie me down or anything."

    "Shell. That's not training, and don't make excuses for him. He was wrong. His mind is broken in a way I don't think even Sheogorath understands, and he needs killing." He held his arms out to her.

    Visibly flinching, she turned back to the water, watching the white foam move in and out like her breathing. "You know," she said after a long moment, "there really is harm in being too nice to people."

    "Only if you don't mean it. Someone I like very much told me I tell too much too soon, and too honestly." He flexed his hands. "Invitation is still open."

    Kicking a small sample of her namesake across the sand, she groaned. "I was going to keep the smallclothes on because of your weird modesty thing, but if I show you my boobs will you stop being so damned nice?"

    "All I'm offering is a hug." Gideon rolled his lip out and pouted at her.

    "Hugs are...I don't really hug," she lied, flustered. She hugged her siblings, but that was very, very different. She'd hugged Ilmiyon once, because he'd mockingly insisted in front of a group of people. Sometimes, she regretted not taking the opportunity to stab him. She'd be dead, of course, but he might not have made it, either.

    "It's easy, my favorite thing, and fun to learn. Shall we begin?" Gideon added wide moist eyes and a chin wobble to the pout.

    Shell stared at him for a long moment before her lip twitched. "You are...very, very strange. Look, you; you're a large, capable, muscular man with what I can already tell are a deadly set of skills and sound tactical sense. How are you managing to remind me of Orien at his most beg-y?" That weird stomach thing got worse when he batted those long dark lashes at her, forcing a laugh to bubble out of her. She sobered quickly, wrapping one hand around the opposite arm and glancing back at her clothes. She'd always been comfortable in her own skin—if nothing else, that was hers, and she could use it like she could anything else. She'd been fully naked before, but she couldn't remember ever feeling exposed like this.

    "I am a man of many talents, both sublime and silly." He raised an eyebrow at her, turning it into a dare.

    Her pride kicked in. Making a sound of complete exasperation, she marched up to him, hopped into the water with nary a splash, put her hands on her scarred hips and glared up at him.

    "Well, for a proper hug, the glare has to go, but we'll work with what we have." Gideon took her hands and placed them gently around his unfairly narrow waist. "Now, this arm goes here, and that arm goes there, and then squeeze gently. Think you can manage it? Telki prefers the trunk hug. Since she's about your height, I thought you might want to start there. We can work on the hanging strangle Lucia perfected later."

    "Hanging strangle?" she echoed, eyebrows shooting up and taking a few more liberties with her hands than hugs generally require.

    "She runs, grabs me around the neck, and hangs on for dear life." Gideon smiled down at her, despite his rising color. "My neck muscles have gotten very impressive since her adoption."

    "I can see that," she said, giving a husky chuckle. This was better. This, physical stuff, she could deal with.

    "Hmm," he rested his chin on her head. Despite the wandering hands, the hug was nice. "You are already proficient with Sofie's favorite 'sit and coddle,' or do you require a refresher?"

    "You're comparing me to a bunch of children, aren't you?" she asked with obvious disapproval.

    Gideon smiled into her hair. "Would you rather I compared you to my husbands? They're more backslappers, anyways." He thought a moment, "And I did start with the wife. You remind me most of her, as it is."

    "Oh," she said, processing this, then promptly slid her hands down to cup his rear, giving a light squeeze and stepping in to press herself fully against his front. "Anyone else do that?"

    "Only Sam when I can't get away quickly enough, if you mean besides the wife."

    "Alright, so I have no idea who Sam is. I'm guessing your 'Erandur' from the other night was one of your husbands? You mentioned a 'Merc' he the too-pretty boy recruit that has far too laid-back an attitude to be here then? And Khajiit wife...any relation to the—I'm assuming—Alfiq that befriended then abandoned my sister?"

    "To be fair, it wasn't her idea to leave her," Gideon huffed. "Care to sit down? Because this is not only going to take a while, but it's going to take a hellacious amount of faith on your part."

    "We don't have that much time," she replied, rolling large green eyes and wondering if his wife had to work this hard to get him to take a hint.

    "Shortest version I can manage? Telki's picked up a fourth, related to Tyr, and he's a good enough mage he can transform a Dagi into an Alfiq or an Altmer. Right now, he's in the Soul Cairn hunting down the damned focus to set you free, and get you and your family out of here before Telki brings in the dragons."

    Pursing her lips in thought, she gave him a doubtful look, wondering if he really was just crazy after all. Still, crazy people didn't normally summon body doubles that smelled strongly of cabbage. And he knew things he couldn't. And his hands were really warm and this was very distracting.

    Putting her hands on his chest, she pushed away from him. "I need to swim," she said decisively, turning and heading for the water.

    "I'll join you, if we'll have time to wash the salt off after?"

    "We'll have time," she said, not looking at him.

    "I like you. I could very easily love you, but you need time to learn who you want to be, and I want to help you do that." Gideon nudged her, and then dove under the waves, his body cutting through as cleanly as a fish.

    She froze, watching him, face hot and feeling as if she'd been punched in the gut. Her eyes ached with how wide they were, and her vision blurred strangely. She sat right in the sand as her head reeled from the unexpected confession.

    Gideon came back up from the water, since she wasn't chasing him quite like he expected. "Shell? Shell? What is it, was it a stone fish?"

    "What in Oblivion is a stone fish?" she asked, focusing on the apparent non-sequitur.

    "Poisonous little blighter that sits on the bottom and pretends to be a stone. You step on it and you can't walk for a good week or so."

    Shaking her head impatiently, she rattled off an elven word—apparently the name for the fish.

    "If you say so. Aldmeris was not in the libraries I studied at. You have your work cut out for you, Milady, if you wish to teach me." He offered her a hand up. "Swim with me, or shower?"

    She gazed up at him, dazed and slightly panicked. "What exactly do you want with me after we get out of here?" she asked quietly, her lips trembling slightly.

    "Your time, companionship, but no more than you're willing to give, certainly." Gideon sat down next to her. "You have no true idea how things should be between people. Fa-what's-his-face took that from you. You deserve to have the time to figure out who you want to be, what you choose to do, and who you choose to spend your time with, willingly. Not because of orders, not because of punishments. You deserve time just to be, and not just stolen moments in a hidden grotto."

    Turning away to look out over the short sliver of ocean they could see, she murmured, "I never really looked that far ahead. Didn't seem to be a point, really."

    "Well, as we speak, a very angry on your behalf mage and a very angry on your behalf priest are in the Soul Cairn hellbent on winning you your freedom. I think it's time to consider it a real possibility." Gideon leaned against her. "I understand you enjoy being a big sister. Imagine if you had more time to devote to swinging through the trees with them."

    "What…" she looked down at her hands, running her thumb unconsciously over the palm she had stabbed, "What will I do with myself?" she asked, sounding completely bewildered.

    "Well, what do you enjoy? If you truly enjoy maneuvering people, you could continue to do that, but on your own terms. A highly trained operative like you could demand just about any price from any head of state and have it met." Gideon let her think on that for a moment. "Or you could try something else, be a teacher if you so chose. Telki was serious about learning to move as you do. The point is, you have time now. You can explore that question, and if one doesn't work, you have the time to find what does."

    "I…" she glanced up at his face, so close to hers. Her stomach was doing that weird flipping thing again, only now it was cramping in anxiety as well. The edges of her eyes actually felt stretched from being so wide for so long. The thumb stroking the non-existent scar in her palm slipped in the sudden sweat, her heart pounding so loudly it nearly drowned out the surf.

    "You have to tell me how to help you, Shell." Gideon was watching her with no little concern. "If Telki or one of my girls were looking at me like that, I'd have them cuddled in my lap in a trice. I don't know if you'd want that right now, but I am here, and I won't let you down. My hope for Shor's Halls on't."

    If she'd been a normal woman, she might have broken down and cried. As it was, her breathing came faster and she felt as if she'd been running. Her thumbnail bit into her palm when she clutched her hands into fists to stop the faint tremors she could feel traveling up her arms. Everything spun slightly, and the roaring of the water seemed very loud. "I…"

    "You can lean on me, Shell. I'm not going anywhere. What else is a Treenord for?"

    She shook her head, looking down. The nail had pierced skin, and the pain grounded her a bit. Opening her hand, she regarded the little red crescent as if her life depended on it, tilting her hand so the small amount of blood welling dripped into the sand rather than pooling there. "I don't know," she replied, to more than just his question. In that moment, she felt more adrift than she ever had in her life.

    Gideon studied the poor girl, still worried. Her breathing seemed steadier, and she didn't look quite as wild eyed and lost. It rather bothered him he'd caused her such turmoil. She had seemed so unflappable. He had half expected Shell's patented evil grin and a catcall of 'sucker!' when he admitted how he felt about her. Never in his life would he have expected a panic attack.

    "I'm sorry I upset you." Gideon stayed still beside her. "And it's okay not to know. While you always struck me as a supremely capable person with ten contingencies and eight backup plans for any given situation, you are still allowed to not know some things."

    She shook her head, smiling slightly. "You really are dumb, you know that?"

    "Well, we can't all be gifted with legendary weapons masters, now, can we? Some of us have to make do with Aedric imbued cloisters and dusty old libraries." Gideon winked at her, and then stretched out on the sand beside her, resting on his folded arms behind his head.

    Looking over him thoughtfully, she nibbled her lip. "Do you know how old I am, Gideon?"

    "No idea." He settled himself in the sand, making a Gideon-shaped hole to rest in, and studied her carefully. "You're part elf, and I know they age more slowly than mere men. If you were human, I'd guess your age and development somewhere in the late teens or early twenties."

    "I'm thirty-two. There were over forty people in my age group. I shared sleeping space with them, classes, food, and play when we could get away with it." She turned away, wrapping her arms around her legs and settling her chin on her knees, tilting her hand back and forth in front of the water, watching the shine off both. "I've survived them all by eleven years so far."

    "I have one question for you, sweet girl." Gideon didn't shift or change demeanor, though there was an edge to his voice that hadn't been there as he growled. "Do you want to ride the dragon that pulverizes that godforsaken grandfather of yours? Or would you like to end him yourself?"

    "I don't think I could, honestly," she replied with a shrug. "Even if he couldn't kill me with a spell, he...well, Uncle takes after him. Not the manic part, the other part." Weirdly enough, she was pretty sure the manic part was from Grandmother.

    "It may well be moot. There's a chance he'll get sucked into the Cairn when they break the focus," Gideon shrugged.

    An evil grin crossed her face, hand curling into a fist. "I'd like that. I'd really, really like that," she decided darkly.

    "Then, if for some reason, he doesn't get sucked in there, you're welcome to help escort his sadistic arse there," Gideon offered. "There's a gate, we can make it happen."

    "I'd rather face Ilmiyon than have that man's attention solely on me ever again," she shuddered.

    "You've met Telki, as an elf and as an Alfiq. Where was your attention when it happened?"

    "The first time? On her mouth. Not only does she talk a lot, she has very nice lips. The second time? Well," she turned with a toss of her hair to give him a self-deprecating grin, "she was a very cute kitty."

    "She had the same effect on Talon, just so you know," Gideon shared in a stage whisper.

    A giggle bubbled out of her. "Really?"

    "Apparently, all supremely efficient and effective assassins become five in the presence of cute kitties."

    Delighted laughter rang out. "I knew he had a personality in there somewhere! Honestly, he watches Mother way too much not to have feelings, and I know he knows about Tyr. I can see it, and the man knows just about everything."

    "So, how does your mom feel about multiple husbands?" Gideon gave her a sideways grin. "How would you feel about it yourself, do you think, after you get yourself sorted?"

    Her breath hitched as what he just said penetrated. Considering she hadn't really even thought she'd have a future before, it was a bit much to take in. Marriage? She didn't think she'd mind more than one, but it was getting her head around the idea that she might have one in the first place that was the difficult part. "I...We might actually get out of this, huh?" she asked, her voice faint but with the weight of a thousand realizations under it.

    "If anyone can get us out of it, it'd be the people working on it, yes," Gideon said. "Remember, they can't stop me: I'm on a mission from Shor."

    She chuckled weakly, "Have you told them that, because I don't think they'd care. Honestly...I...I don't know if I can let myself depend on this."

    "Well, the one guard looked like I fed him a rotten lemon when he asked how I produced the servant's body, much less survived, but eh, Thalmor." The delight twinkling in Gideon's eyes was positively diabolical, and then sobered immediately when he saw her waiver. "Shell, think about what you've seen, and the things I know, but can't, since I've been in the pits and you know I can't get out. I have no idea how long they'll have to search through the Soul Cairn, it could be tonight, it could be a week from Sundas. I hope to hell it's before they flush out the Dragonborn you've got in the pits. Three guesses who it is."

    "What? Oh, really?" she blinked at him, distracted. "That's...really weird, actually."

    "Shell, I think you should know," Gideon's face was very grim. "Hope it's Tyr between Orien and the dragon."

    "Oh, I was thinking about that. I thought I'd kidnap Orien."

    "That won't cause them to snap the leash?"

    She shrugged, leaning back a bit, then giving up and stretching out beside him, propped up on her elbows and still watching the water. Looking at his face was doing too many uncomfortable things to her, honestly. "Well, if they just thought he was hiding in the caves...I mean, the link isn't exactly a…" she groped for words. "It just alerts certain parties when a Young One goes off the estate. If Orien really does have the same link I have, he should be fine in here, right? That way he's out of the pits and somewhere safe when all this goes to Oblivion."

    "Orien and his sister should be in here. Blossom has already gotten close to the dragon. She'll try to help it."

    "She what?" Shell startled, rolling to look at him so fast sand went flying.

    "Telki was with her, so she was protected, but Blossom talked to the dragon, and healed it as much as she could. Telki helped."

    Groaning, Shell slid her legs back under her and covered her face with her hands. "I just talked to them about being too nice! Look what happened—almost happened to Pearl!"

    "On the other hand, Pearl's too niceness allowed us to pull her out from under Ilmiyon with none the wiser."

    "Not the point," she muttered, then half-glared at him from between her fingers. "Apparently I'm to be plagued with overly-nice people. I suppose I'll have to stick around. You all are going to get into a lot of trouble without someone sensible around."

    "Indubitably. It's astounding we've lasted as long as we have without you." Gideon kept his voice neutral and his smile light. Shell could look all she wanted, but there would be no smirk or snerk for her to find.

    "Mind-boggling," she agreed, reaching out and walking her fingers up the left side of his abs.

    "Still ticklish!" Gideon dodged. "And it's really not fair, since I'd like to keep my fingers, which I'd lose if I were to retaliate in kind."

    "Weirdly enough, not actually ticklish," she informed him with a wicked grin for the unfairness of it all.

    "I can't believe it. Who's actually brave enough to tickle you?"

    "I believe I mentioned that I had friends once?" she reminded him, still rubbing her hands along his abs, though not in a ticklish sense.

    "I would dearly love to see you happy with friends again," Gideon solemnly informed her. "And it's a shame you're not, since a tickle fight between mutually ticklish people is one of the world's great joys."

    Leaning over him so that her hair came down to puddle on the sand beside his head, she smiled. "I can think of other fun things people can do."

    Gideon gave her a crooked smile. "I told you where I stand on that, lovely one. I want you sure of yourself and what you want before we start treading those deep waters."

    She sighed. "Probably just as well; I want to take my time with you." Also, she was a little afraid she had some feelings to sort out—rather unusual for her, to have sex and feelings mix. Sighing again, she laid half on top of him, folding her arms over his chest and resting her chin on them, looking at the bottom of his face. Not the best angle, but he was very comfortable.

    He heaved a sigh, and curled a warm arm around her back, cuddling her to his chest. "So, now what?"

    "Now, I have training to get to, and I will come get you later. With food." Reluctantly, she sat up, wrinkling her nose a little playfully as she straddled him. "I might have risked skipping it, but…"

    "Don't, we're too close for careless mistakes now." He playfully swatted her backside and she squeaked, "and if I know that much as dumb as I am..."

    "Anu, I hope I live long enough for some of the things I've come up with," she muttered, shifting her hips on him a bit. "You won't be able to be anything but dumb for a while after that."

    "A lifetime of devious ideas? I might could get behind that." Gideon wiggled salacious eyebrows at her.

    "Okay, this might work out alright. Even if I might have to start considering my actions before I...who am I kidding? I'm not going to even try," she laughed.

    "Besides, that 'think later, do now' has worked for Telki so far."

    "Do quit comparing me to your wife unless you intend for me to develop uncontrollable lusts towards her," Shell advised.

    "Well, I wouldn't mind, but she's strictly interested in guy parts."

    "I might be interested in seeing if I could change her mind," the Bosmer grinned, drawing little curly q's on his chest.

    "You're more convincing than a vampire? This I want to see."

    "Oh, sweetheart, I can be VERY convincing," she purred, leaning down and brushing her lips lightly against his. Gideon decided to show exactly what he was promising her, should she decide on the long haul, swirling her tongue with his and stealing her very breath in a deep, powerful and heated kiss. One hand tangled in her silky hair, cupping her head to him just so, and the other hand squeezed a very firm and curvaceous backside.

    Shell made a small sound and molded herself to him, pulling a very possessive growl from Gideon's deep chest. Oh, she liked that sound. She could stand to hear that a few more thousand times. Wrapping one arm around his neck, her other ghosted down his side, pulling another rumble from Gideon.

    Shell felt her whole body rise and fall as Gideon heaved a heavy sigh, gently pulling the kiss back to nibble lightly on her lips, and mumbled into their shared breath. "You cannot miss practice, remember?"

    Muttering something in Altmeris that probably translated roughly to "What practice?" she leaned forward again, catching his bottom lip in her teeth lightly.

    "The practice you were going to attend to keep from drawing suspicions?"

    Groaning a bit in frustration, she backed up to glare at him. "I can't believe you want to wait on this for me to make decisions." The last word came out like a curse or horribly dull chore.

    "Because all your life, people have made them for you, using you like a tool. You are far too precious for that. I also want you to understand exactly what I want from you, should you decide you still want me when you figure yourself out." Gideon tucked a lock behind her adorable ear that had fallen forward with his rather exuberant ministrations.

    "And what if I'm no good at it? The normal life, making decisions thing?" she demanded, letting none of the very real concern she had on that particular subject color her tone.

    "As intelligent as you are? I don't think that's likely, and if it is, you still have people that care enough about you to help you figure yourself out, and get better at the whole make your own decisions thing." Gideon shrugged, "Even if you are terrible at it, welcome to being mortal. You're still ahead of most of us."

    Thinking on that a moment, she decided she'd rather not dwell on it for the time being. "Be dressed when I come back," she warned, hopping off him abruptly.

    "The naughty boy in me wants to know what would happen if I'm not?" Gideon sat up and started walking back towards the cave. Shell was already at the back, nimbly making her way up the rock face to release his clothing and shimmying right back down.

    "If you're not dressed?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and wringing out his clothes before laying them flat on a clean rock to dry. "Then you'll not get back to the pits any time soon. I believe Mother has warned you that I lack discipline."

    "Shell, I want you to consider this, and consider it carefully. I'm not worried about me or my feelings. I am worried about you." Gideon had pulled her around, and rested his hands carefully atop her shoulders to look her in the eye while he talked to her. "While you can kick my ass six ways to Sundas, your emotions are practically new. You've never been allowed to even own up to having them. I refuse to be the reason you wind up breaking your heart, or worse, not learning what real honest to Shor freedom is."

    Pursing her lips in thought again, she queried, "But wouldn't that be my choice?"

    "How much of a choice is it, when you don't know the options?"

    "Look," her shoulders slumped a little, "I'm used to making quick decisions. I want something, I take it, because tomorrow might be too late. It might be gone or I might be dead. All this thinking is a little backwards."

    "Look me in the eye, tell me I matter to you and will matter to you ten years from now." Gideon watched her face for an answer.

    Distressed probably wasn't what he was hoping for. "You matter to me now. But, Gideon, everything that has mattered to me has been taken away, one way or another. I can't tell you if I'll still feel this way in ten years—I barely know what will happen ten minutes from now anymore!"

    Gideon pulled her to him, rocking her slightly. "I know; you've survived a hell on Nirn. That is one reason I want to give you time, instead of jumping feet first into something that's complicated even for people comfortable with feelings."

    Banging her forehead lightly against his chest, she muttered, "You're frustrating." Probably one of the first, entirely honest things she'd ever said. No hidden layers of meaning there.

    "I know that, too. It's probably one of my better qualities." Gideon pulled away from her a little to study her. "Now, have I ticked you off enough you'll survive practice? Or should I irk you a little more for good measure?"

    The smile she gave him was entirely evil. "Probably not a good idea; I was supposed to practice with the new recruits, so your husband won't thank you for what you've already done."

    "He's cute, too. You have permission to tease him uproariously. I can't wait for you to see him in his Imperial skin."

    "This might sound a little strange, but I don't actually like pairing with Altmer, so he probably will be more appealing as an Imperial," she said, heading over to her own clothes.

    "I kinda had that feeling. I think he's cuter as an Imperial, and I don't usually notice that sort of thing."

    "We can talk more about it later," she said, giving his butt a pat and his cheek a kiss as she went by.

    "Just think of me, washing all this salt off and pulling on nice dry clothes."

    "Don't tempt me, Treenord!" she called back, disappearing down the passageway.

    Gideon sighed, then dunked back under the warm running water, washing sand and salt away before putting on clothes that didn't stink for the first time in weeks.
  15. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Erandur gains a Level in Aedra, and Rommy has a cheese party.Things get prickly.

    This lovely image would not exist without the talents of Evil-is-Relative. She took a sub par screenshot from my game and turned it into this delight to the eyes.
    I love you, Evil.

    Bonus Image at the end of the chapter.

    (See the end of the chapter for notes.)

    Chapter Text
    It was just a bit chilly. Unsurprising, given that the Soul Cairn didn't have a sun, but the ambiance was possibly causing the goosebumps that rose on their arms, rather than the cool, still air. A clump of Soul Husks threw up spores as they landed on them, jumping down from the ridge they'd been following. Each of the men had filled at least one pocket with the papery fungi, just in case Telki's potion wore off or proved ineffective. Rommy was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that she'd carted so much of it back with her to Nirn. So far, the souls had avoided them, possibly sensing something about him, or simply because Ulfric had his sword out and was glaring around him like a loan shark owed something.

    "So, Ulfric; you've been awfully quiet. Enjoying the Soul Cairn?" Rommy asked the man ironically, hiding his own distaste with the place. Suddenly, he was rather glad he'd never been much of a necromancer. Or an enchanter, for that matter. The idea that he'd ever have sent so much as a rabbit here was giving him hives, and unlike the Shivering Isles, there were no honey bees involved (bad week, that. Very sticky.).

    "I can see why the Thalmor aligned with them. Same sense of aesthetics." Ulfric brushed the spores off his clothing, looking about the place. The dreary atmosphere was very reminiscent of the pits where they'd kept him and his fellow Legionnaires.

    Rommy glanced around, "Nah. Not enough yellow."

    "Same hopelessness. It's as if the very air is dying about you." Ulfric hefted his sword back into its sheath, and followed Romulus and Erandur. At least they seemed to know where they were going.

    The Mad God gave him a long look. "Thank you. That so livened up my attitude. I was deliberately trying to be dull and dreary, but you've perked me right up."

    "Consider it a spur to finish this damned place as quickly as possible, and get Tyr free." It had rather surprised him, how quickly all the memories he'd thought he'd conquered came rushing back. Apparently, his meditation exercises were going to get a workout in this place.

    "I have enough spurs to get Tyr free, trust me," he muttered, heading on while waving spores out of his face.

    Erandur looked down at his fingers, and flexed them, watching small motes sparkle and dance off them. The feeling had been building for a while, a pressure, an urge to act, and now the power of his goddess was physically manifesting. "Now, that is downright odd."

    Wincing, Rommy glanced at his How did this even work, honestly? "Um, Erandur, could you maybe turn down the Aedra?"

    "I'm not even sure how it got turned on," Erandur protested, glancing around them at the wary souls keeping their distance. His gaze alighted on a familiar figure. "Perhaps...Romulus, do you mind if I try something? There's a soul over there I think would like to leave this place."

    "Do I have to help, because you're a little painful right now," the Daedra confessed.

    "No, I met this fellow last time we were here. He's also a Dunmer, been here since, well, a time you remember painfully." Erandur led them unerringly to a well where Jiub was still working on his next book. "Hello again, Jiub."

    "I didn't think I'd see you again." The soul of Jiub turned smiling to the living Dunmer, the grey landscape showing through his ethereal form giving him a hint of his original color.

    Erandur didn't waste time on small talk. "Do you mind if I try something to send you someplace nicer?"

    Jiub's arched brow arched even higher. "You think you can get me out of here? Truly?"

    "It seems I might, but I'm not sure. You'd be the first."

    "Try, please." Jiub looked down at his collected notes. "And, whichever happens, take my book back with you?"

    "It'd be my pleasure." Erandur raised his hands and voice in a paen to Mara, as the sparklies dancing around his fingers intensified. They bathed Jiub's ghostly form in brilliant white light, and then faded away, leaving an empty space where the saint once stood.

    Rommy stared for a moment, completely dumbfounded, then glared upwards. "Really, Mara, now? You couldn't have waited until we weren't being sneaky-like to turn him in an Aedric beacon?"

    "I have seen many things in my life, but that...That is a true miracle. Telki chose well." Ulfric stood, still staring at the empty place where Jiub had been, and thoughtfully picked up the notes. "The promise will be kept."

    Tilting his head in consideration, Rommy said. "It might be more accurate to call it an exorcism. The souls here are trapped in a kind of undeath, because the Ideal Masters believe the unrelenting boredom of this place is peaceful, and better than any nebulous afterlife serving Aedra or Daedra."

    "Who are they to decide for everyone?" Ulfric snorted. "People should decide their own fate, not have it decided for them."

    "For once, I'm in complete agreement with you," Rommy said with heavy bitterness, "But try telling that to a bunch of incorporeal necromancers."

    "Do you realize, now we might have a bargaining chip, though? At the very least, I can reduce the number of souls trapped here. As…charged as I feel, I might could even take on an Ideal Master, for all I know." Erandur shrugged. "Do I look less sparkly?" Erandur smiled wryly. "It's what Telki calls it. She always knows when I've been praying to Mara."

    "I wouldn't go testing it," the Imperial replied, sweeping his hair off his face and studying the Dunmer critically. "The Aedra don't have as much sway in Oblivion, just as the Daedra have less sway on Nirn. They're two respective planes of existence, and the barriers placed between them hinder interference from either side." After another moment, he added, "Although, since these were once mortals and not Daedra, who knows?"

    "Which way from here?" Ulfric was done with the existential philosophy. There was a goal, and people awaiting rescue. It was time to get back on the hunt.

    Giving him a pained look, like an instructor whose pupil has completely missed the point of a lesson, Rommy turned to Erandur. "Well, you're the one that's been here before. Do you remember seeing anything like I described, or should we just pick a direction and hope we get lucky?"

    "There's various buildings, some of them topped by large crystals. If we got too close, they'd…sap us. The one that held our soul gems was…that one." Erandur scanned the distance, using the massive edifice Valerica had made her home for so long as a landmark, pointing to a smaller, squatter building near it.

    "You mean you actually met one of the Ideal Masters and got away? No wonder they were so cranky!" Rommy crowed. "Relmyna wouldn't shut up about it."

    "I beg your pardon? That was an Ideal Master? It looked like an oversized soul gem!" Erandur shuddered.

    Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "Did you miss the part where they spend most of their time incorporeal?"

    "No, incorporeal to me generally means…" Erandur waved to all the souls they were passing. "As in no substance. A floating soul gem does not signify."

    Following his gaze, Rommy's attention turned inward as he replied absently, "They felt confined by their flesh and transcended it. Where some mages can make themselves practically immortal, and a flesh mage like Relmyna can bring people back to life, they actually escaped the cycle of life and death altogether by becoming consciousness alone."

    "And the best they can think to do with it is stuff themselves in a soul gem? Pah! Ashhoppers have more sense."

    Behind him, he heard Ulfric laugh. "Careful Erandur, I believe Telki's irreverence is catching."

    Grinning a bit as Erandur muttered something too low for even a Daedra to catch—though the tone was unmistakable—Rommy glance back at a smirking Ulfric. "How's that potion holding up? Do I get to see you writhing in pain any time soon?"

    Refusing to rise to the bait, Ulfric replied, "Sadly, no. Telki's a better alchemist than that. She also packed spares." It had not escaped him how ironic his current position was: He was traveling with the physical embodiment of the Old Empire and everything he'd gotten wrong in his own city.

    It still rankled. That night as a Dunmer had opened his eyes. If he meant to do right by his homeland, that meant being mindful of all her children. He couldn't fault Erandur for still holding his neglect against him. He was good to and for Telki, was an honorable mer, and that was all that mattered to Ulfric.

    Romulus brought up a whole host of feelings, most of them turbulent. He reminded him of a childhood hero, even to sharing a name, and all the ideals he thought the Empire stood for back then. He reminded him of how badly the Empire today let him down, even to refusing to join the Legion in their time of need.

    If he thought about it all too long, all that frustration, anger, and lost idealism would be enough to sink him, so he tried not to think about it. Right now, he had a family again, he had purpose again, and he had a chance to exorcise a few personal demons. He was not going to fail, so he concentrated on the job at hand.

    It did not escape him that Telki quite probably engineered this outing. He saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate he was not their worst fears personified, and that meant letting their barbs and insults roll off his thick hide. "There's enough here that we could probably stay here a week safely, if it comes to it. I'd rather not."

    "It's a big place. Sadly, I need to be home a few days short of that," Rommy sobered, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking forward again. Worrying about how Telki was handling the Isles—and how the Isles were handling Telki—wouldn't help either of them.

    "So, how long have you known Telki?" Ulfric attempted to distract them from the dreary lack of scenery and his own introspection, and decided to be politely curious about this new man in his Stormblade's life.

    "Is this where I get told I'm not good enough by the father-figure-in-law?" Rommy gave him an arch look. Never had to go through that with Felicia.

    "How long do you think Telki would abide that?" Ulfric smiled grimly.

    "She can be surprisingly tolerant when people aren't trying to kill each other," Rommy shrugged. She'd put up with his grumbling about Ulfric, anyway.

    "Until they decide to make decisions for her." Ulfric smiled at a memory. "She also has very creative ways of making her point. So, you haven't answered the question. Is there a reason you do not wish to share, or are you embarrassed by your meeting?"

    "Just don't know how you'll react when I tell you," Rommy glanced at Erandur, wondering what he was making of the conversation. He was mad, and even he knew that most couples weren't engaged after knowing each other a few scant weeks. Of course, most couples weren't a Daedra and a Dragonborn with far too curious a mind and the ability to see into people's souls, but potato, Fanny...same thing.

    "I think we can safely say the worst reaction is over."

    "You only tried to punch me," Rommy felt obligated to point out with a wry upward twist to his lips. "This time you have a sword."

    "Story for a story? We seem to have the time." Ulfric was getting twitchy. He had expected something to have jumped out at them by now. They'd come, released one of the souls, and so far, remained unopposed. That did not sit right.

    "Do you remember hearing about the big blizzard that hit Dawnstar a few months ago?" he asked.

    "I do, something about a dragon, and the," Ulfric coughed derisively "'damned mages' stirring up the weather."

    Giving the man a mock-innocent smile, Rommy purred, "Oh, you don't think I did that?"

    "You? Hardly." Ulfric scoffed. "Are you powerful enough? Thrice over. Careless enough? Definitely not. You care too much."

    Erandur was taken suddenly by a coughing fit. Whether it was to hide laughter or the soul husks he just stumbled over, was anyone's guess. Rommy pounded him on the back to help, either way. Erandur finally rasped out a convincing "thank you."

    "Anytime." Glancing at them, then at the sky as if he could read the time—he could, seeing right through the skies of any realm was sort of a perk of being a Daedra—Rommy announced. "We should pause for a bit. If neither of you are hungry, you should be. This place will try to lure you into undeath, and I'd really advise you not to let it."

    "And yourself?" Ulfric pulled a waterskin out to share. "I'm guessing that goes for thirst as well. A man will die of thirst quicker than he will hunger." He took a long swallow, and passed it to Erandur first.

    Erandur gave him a long look, then took a swig himself. Sputtered. Gave Ulfric a surprised look, before taking another, careful swallow, and then passed it to Rommy. Sniffing it, he gave them both an indecipherable look before taking a drink and handing it back to Ulfric. "You do know mazte isn't all that hydrating, right?"

    "You're more likely to drink it than water that has taken on the flavor of the waterskin itself." Ulfric capped the waterskin, and put it back in his pack. "Not very hydrating at all, if you can't bring yourself to drink it."

    "Drank worse," Rommy muttered with a shudder, then glanced at Erandur. "I'm going to check in with Telki," he said, tapping the side of his forehead.

    "Tell her I love her and give her a kiss for me," Erandur requested, pulling out some jerky to share and turning to Ulfric. "Horker jerky?"

    Ulfric eyed him, smiling slightly. "Yes, thank you." A troll recognized a troll.

    Leaving them to it, Rommy settled himself on a rock ledge and firmed the shield around them, giving it a little green and purple flickering border so Erandur, at least, would know to stay inside it. Whether Ulfric would notice...he'd make it up to Telki somehow if the man didn't live up to her estimation of his intelligence.

    ::Knock knock, Love.::

    ::ROMMY! How's my handsome soon-to-be-hubby? And my Dunmer Hubby? And my grumpybearpaw?::

    ::Should I be alarmed at the excitement to hear from me, or flattered?:: He asked, hoping she wasn't glad to hear from him because something had gone wrong.

    ::I miss you...and I've questions. How do I convince the unicorn to stay out of the Cabbage patch? Secondly, Stanley's after a wall again, my emotions are affecting the weather, and last, I keep getting invitations to tea. Help?::

    ::Grow a rose briar around the patch; the unicorn will eat the roses and be disinclined to go passed the thorns. There's still a few weeks until it's supposed to bloom, unless you've managed to make it unseasonably warm?::

    ::I was very very angry for a little bit,:: she said contritely, ::And then it rained.::

    ::How're my subjects?:: he asked, shifting a little to make himself more comfortable.

    ::Working their hardest to add me to the collection, I swear. How, how have you survived Fanny all these years? I need to know.::

    ::If he gets on your nerves too much, send him off to play. He's really great with children. Used to watch Orien for us.::

    ::Awwww. Will do, though I think he's been stretching Pearl's patience a bit, too. I think she almost frowned at him the other day. He fell right in the middle of their flower collection.::

    ::See, that's the kind of thing you need to focus on to get the weather nice and nice. Those little moments of "oh, hey, she has emotions." Haskill says her stoicism is making him uncomfortable.::

    ::I will try, Love. I told you that you were a wonder. This little stint in your formidable shoes just cinches it. Now, to the question of a wall and the increasing number of tea requests?::

    ::Tell the Duke we will join him for tea as a couple when I get back, but we wouldn't want to upset his mother's sensibilities by having you introduce yourself to a strange male. Old Imperial custom, he'll get it. As for Stanley...offer to bring him along.::

    ::I love you. So very much. So, how are you all faring together? Ulfric still got all his pieces, or have you or Erandur had enough of him already?::

    ::Can we please leave him here?:: Rommy begged. ::He's good at rebellions; he might get these souls out for you!::

    Telki's laughter rang pure and bright over the link. ::No Honey, though that is a thought, isn't it? Strangely enough, he's still needed right here in Skyrim.::

    :: Oh, and Erandur—who sends his love and kisses, by the way—has found a way to exorcise individual souls right out of here. Hope it doesn't last once we get out, or the Isles are going to have a stomachache at his Aedric aura. What was that "gloop?" What kind of a sound is "gloop" anyway?::

    ::Awwww. Yes, I melted. I am a puddle on the floor. You two are just so sweet I can't help myself.::

    He snickered, ::Telki melting makes a sound like "gloop." Good to know.::

    ::You're making fun of me, aren't you?::

    ::Actually, I'm making fun of the sound "gloop.":: He played it back for her in his mind so she could actually hear how ridiculous it was. She laughed.

    :: Okay, I've pulled myself back together again.::

    ::Sanguine been around? I'm actually starting to worry about how quiet he's being.::

    ::Haven't seen hide nor hair of him. Knew I was forgetting something. Should I have a Saint or two hunt him down?::

    ::Not unless they've done something to horribly offend you,:: he suggested.

    :: Oh no! They've been sweethearts. Though maybe I'll keep that in mind the next time they start pestering one of My Boys.::

    ::I've told them a thousand times: the girls won't tie them up unless they expressly ask for them to. Or they step in a snare again, but that was an accident.::

    ::Right, no snares allowed. No tea until you can introduce me, think happy thoughts, grow a rose hedge around the Cabbage Patch, and wait 'til you can talk to him about a wall for Passwall. Did I remember it all?::

    ::Yes, and if Stanley asks why you can't just grow a hedge around Passwall...throw him in the hedge.::

    ::Hedge my bets, huh?:: A certain mischievous glow infused her message to him. ::Miss you, find that thing already and come home.::

    ::Working on it. Stay safe, Love,:: he sent.

    ::You, too. Love you. Give Erandur my love, too.:: Apparently, Telki was a quick learner, because Rommy had the sensation of one of her squeezing hugs and kisses. ::No, you don't have to actually kiss him, unless you want him to blush in front of Ulfric.::

    ::I am very not into that sort of thing,:: Rommy shuddered. ::Honestly, you probably wouldn't be either if you'd once accidently looked up Dagon's skirt. I will hug him for you, though.::

    ::…No, no, I am not asking. Just no.:: He could feel Telki shuddering. ::Thank you, Love.::

    ::Take care,:: he sent, then opened his eyes, finding both Erandur and Ulfric watching him. "What?"

    "Goofy grin, warning border in purple and, my good sir, are properly smitten," Ulfric intoned utterly deadpan.

    After a moment of simply staring at him, Rommy reminded him, "I told Telki I wouldn't leave you here, but I said nothing about not bringing you back as a mouse."

    Ulfric shrugged. "I've had worse days."

    A single eyebrow rose. "Than being a mouse?"

    Ulfric gave him a doleful smile. "I imagine being a mouse would be less stressful than the roles I've been called to fulfill so far."

    He considered a moment, then shook his head, rising and dusting off his pants. "I'm not even going to go there," he said, lifting one hand and pulling in the colored warning lights marking the edges of his boundary. He could out-stressful Ulfric's duties on a light day in Passwall alone.

    "How's Telki holding up?" Erandur thought a change of subject was called for, and besides which, he'd been worrying how the Isles would treat her on her own.

    "Well, I'm officially going to have to take her to tea with the Duke. At least she knows to take a Cure Poison potion before drinking or eating anything he gives us," Rommy sighed, rubbing his head slightly, then walking over and giving Erandur a hug. Considering a) this was Erandur, and b) some of Telki's residual feelings were floating around, he made it a quick hug. "That's weird. Leaving that to her from now on."

    Erandur chuckled, and patted Rommy on the back. "Thank you for sending her love along, though."

    Ulfric simply watched and listened, wondering what sort of mad place Romulus must be running, that poison was expected at High Tea. He was rather glad neither one was looking at him, as he was fairly sure he didn't keep his face impassive that time.

    He studied Romulus, wondering if perhaps the wild idea he'd had as a young man was truly that wild. When he and Tyrlief first met Romulus, he pointed out the name similarity, as well as his uncanny resemblance to the ancient Champion. Romulus had laughed it off at the time. But he had fought in the Arena, and he was a mage that hadn't aged in almost forty years. The coincidences were starting to pile up.

    "Ulfric, you look like I hit you over the head with Galmar. What on Nirn is going through that thick skull of yours?" Rommy inquired, finally glancing over when it occurred to him that maybe Ulfric hadn't spoken in a bit because he'd accidently turned him into a mouse through wishful thinking.

    "Where is this Duke from, that poisoning High Tea is an acceptable practice?" Deflection was a time honored practice Ulfric had mastered before outgrowing short pants.

    "Cicero?" Rommy looked surprised, then scratched his cheek. "Cheydinhal? Maybe?"

    "That little jester we met on the road?" Erandur asked. "Why am I not surprised, and he's a Duke now?"

    "Well, he sort of...stabbed the old one and took over. Very jovial, for a hostile takeover."

    Ulfric laughed. "I was to be beheaded for a traditional challenge, carried out by rules, and your Dukes change hands by stabbing? Where is this hold of yours?"

    "Well, I think the Dutchess actually ate the last one, but I wasn't there for that," Rommy replied pensively. "I have only rumor to go on there."

    Ulfric shuddered. It sounded entirely too mad to be believed. Mad. The ancient Champion had disappeared who knew where, after watching his city crumble around him, and the last Septim sacrificed himself to save all Creation. What if the grief of that...made him run mad? Could he be now traveling with one of Sheogorath's vassals?

    The Imperial was staring at him. " you feel like something is tugging at you?"

    "I beg your pardon?" Now that Romulus mentioned it, there was a strange pull in his stomach, but he'd thought it was just a reaction to his own disturbing thoughts. His brows furrowed, and he pointed. "There is, that direction."

    Rommy cursed, using a phrase that would have once made his dear, horrid mother faint, and waved his hand a bit, Illusion magic making the aura around Ulfric visible. "I'd kill to have Telki here right now," he muttered, wishing he had True Sight like she did. Squinting, he examined the area the link between Ulfric and the Soul Cairn had been, and cursed again. "They know you're here, and I think they think it means you died, and you've somehow ended up wandering around rather than where you should be."

    "Wonderful." Ulfric was up and scanning the area. "Do you hear a rattling sound?" He drew his greatsword, ready for whatever popped up next.

    "Yes," Rommy groaned, magically changing into his armor, because some habits just didn't go away after mere centuries. There was a choked sound behind him, and Ulfric's eyes were wider than he'd ever seen them. Glancing back at him as skeletal figures rose from the ground, he snapped, "Pay attention! It's you they're after!"

    That was sufficient to pull Ulfric out of it. These things took his men. These things wanted to take the rest of his men, and by damned, they'd have to go through him to do it. Moving with practiced ease, Ulfric cleaved in the skull of one black boned monstrosity, before whirling elegantly in place to slice in twain two trying to flank him. "Rommy, on your left!"

    "On it!" he replied, hitting them with flames before slicing right through them, Akaviri sword slicing through bone like a warm knife through soft cheese. He'd actually missed using his sword, now that he was forced to need it again. Half his magic was with Telki, and most of the rest was concealing them or fighting to keep the Soul Cairn from affecting his companions. Perhaps he should practice more, now that he had friends that weren't Daedra or insane again.

    "Damn, I was right to be pissed you didn't join us. If you'd been there fighting like that, the Thalmor would have never touched us." Ulfric was again beset by two mistmen, only these were actually wary of the long glinting sword, staying just out of reach. They exploded with a satisfying pop when twin jets of fire roared through, courtesy of Erandur.

    "Rommy, is it safe to say no use stealthing now? I have a little present for our bony friends if so."

    "That depends," the Daedra called back, kicking the knee out from under one and tilting his head when it fell over. It was floating; why did it fall? Were the Ideal Masters trying to give him ideas? "Is this the kind of Mara magic that is painful to Daedra?"

    "I don't know, when I learned the spell, it only mentioned undead. Since I have a book at home dedicated to a similar spell that targets Daedra specifically, I'm guessing 'no.'"

    Ulfric froze, and then found himself ducking and rolling from the blackboned skeleton's swipe. "Daedra?" He didn't yelp.

    Rommy reached out as the thing passed him and grabbed it's skull, making it fall backwards and simply wrenching the head off. Not like it had all that much muscle holding it on, after all. "Get over it, Ulfric," he sighed, throwing the jammering skull at another mistman.

    "Forgive my surprise. You'd think I'd be used to them by now." Ulfric shook his head. "Though, it would explain why I can't shake the feeling you're that Romulus Amulius I idolized as a child."

    Honest surprise blossomed on Rommy's face. "What?"

    "Why do you think I was so crushed when a young man that looked like my hero, and named the same wouldn't join my cause? It would have been a childhood dream come true." Another boneman went down to Ulfric's greatsword. The shock on Romulus' face was a nice bonus with the workout. He really needed to make more time to practice. Too much time ruling and not exercising was leaving him winded too soon. Though, right now, the bonemen seemed endless.

    Romulus backed closer to Erandur, "Are you hearing this, or did I go mad again?"

    "Then it's two of us gone mad. I'm hearing it. Can't quite believe it, but I'm hearing it. Drat, I owe Gideon another twenty gold."

    "Isn't Mara against gambling?" Rommy asked, fending off a flurry of blows by another Soul Cairn denizen that apparently had an unhealthy admiration for draugr.

    "Why would she be? You should have heard the speech she had me deliver Maramal." Erandur stood up, made a complicated pass with his mace, and an explosion of golden power emanated out, dusting the bonemen and mistmen about them.

    "Ow," Rommy said, giving him an impressed look. His skin seemed just a tad sunburned.

    "Um, sorry?"

    "Just aim that away from me next time, will you?" he suggested, knocking the sword from another boneman's hands and using Telekinesis to throw it into his friend. The boneman's friend, not Rommy's.

    "How, Rommy? It's a burst, there is no 'direction' involved." Sometimes, Erandur actually forgot he was talking to the epitome of madness, and then a conversation like this happened.

    "Ugh. You mortals and your linear thinking. Get creative!" rolling his eyes, he turned the Telekinesis spell on an approaching mistman and used him to knock down the ones to either side.

    "Less talking, more smiting. Here comes another wave of the things." Ulfric had quite a pile of bones around him, but the Ideal Masters' lackeys kept coming.

    "I have an idea, but neither of you are going to like it," Rommy called.

    Erandur groaned, so it was up to Ulfric to answer him. "What is it?"

    "This," Rommy lowered his sword, raised one hand, and every moving thing within a hundred paces of him became a wheel of cheese. The approaching wave of skeletons halted, staring as their fellows all dropped to the ground and rolled, bounced, or went splat, according to their types.

    "Rommy, uncheese me right now, or I'm telling Telki!"

    "...I would like to request uncheesing as well." There was a snort. "Never thought to hear myself say such a thing."

    "Relax, you two," the Mad God laughed, lifting a former boneman and hurling it at a current boneman, spreading the cheesiness to the further ones. Seeing this, the remaining forces turned and ran. Rommy scraped a little arrow in the dirt with his sword, marking the direction they went, then turned back to collect Erandur Cheese and Ulfric Cheese. "I could make a joke about whining, but...who am I kidding; you're cheese! Wine away."

    ::Why am I getting an emergency SOS from Erandur about being cheesed off?::

    :: Because, Dearest,:: Rommy replied, hopping over a rather large rolling wheel to find his companions, ::I turned them both into cheese, then started making puns about it. Don't worry, I'm changing them back.:: He grinned. ::Sooner or later.::

    :: Ouch, adding insult to injury, really Rommy?::

    ::Should we tell Erandur that he's a blue cheese? I'm not sure if that's an Erandur thing or a Dunmer thing.::

    ::I'm curious, what kind of cheese did Ulfric make?::

    ::Not going to taste him, but he smells kind of bitter. I thought for sure he'd be Limburger, but I suppose it's just as well he's not.::

    ::Wait wait wait. Is he kind of a cheddar color, with holes in it?::

    Rommy examined the rind. ::No, I think he's Yarg actually...::

    ::Not Jarlsberg? Pity.:: There was a sensation of Telki shaking herself. ::What am I doing? Really, Rommy, change them back. Erandur is getting a little panicky, which means he's actually a lot panicky. Please?::

    Kicking an area clear, Rommy set the blue cheese down and turned it back into its considerably less moldy usual Dunmer self. Giving the man an apologetic smile, he asked, "Better?"

    "Thank you, yes, muchly. Not an experience I want to repeat. Ever." Erandur pushed himself upright, and glanced over himself to make sure everything transitioned back like it should have. His clothes had some crumbled mold on them, but that could very well have just been from the Cairn.

    Just to tease him, Rommy reached out and pulled a cracker from his ear. Erandur was mer enough to own the shudder that caused. "If you please, Romulus."

    ::Thank you, Angel. Please don't leave Ulfric a cheese, tempting though I know it may be.::

    "Any idea why you became a cheese that's rolled in nettles, Ulfric?" Rommy asked, rolling the wheel away and watching it unfold into a Nord. "Or am I free to make jokes about your prickly personality from now until next kalpa?"

    "Precisely how would I stop you from such in any case?" Ulfric gave the man a sardonic eyebrow.

    "You have a fair point there," Rommy admitted, holding out his hands to help them up. He was glad he could see convoluted thoughts, or he'd be rather disappointed in the Nord's stoicism.

    Ulfric took the help up in good humor. "I thank you."

    "So, are you going to ask, or shall we continue in blissful silence?" the Mad God asked, keeping hold of the Dunmer, who looked a bit more grey-grey than his normal shade of blue-grey.

    "They say the Champion of Cyrodiil disappeared after Martin's sacrifice, grief stricken. You appear centuries later with impressive power, a similar name and history, and Blade armor." Ulfric eyed him. "And fearful of Daedric banishment. My only question is, who claimed you?"

    Thinking for a moment, Rommy posited: "You know Telki, current hero of the age. Do you think for one moment she'd allow anyone to claim her?"

    Ulfric chuckled. "It seems more like she claims others. So, you are saying you are your own master, but with daedric power?"

    "Ironic, isn't it?" Rommy smirked. "Tell anyone, and you'll wind up a wheel of cheese again."

    Ulfric stifled a shudder, but barely, and nodded solemnly. "I am no stranger to keeping others' secrets."

    "Wonderful. So, now that I've ruined your childhood stories, shall we get going?" he nodded to the arrow he'd made, "They went that way, and since they all went together, I'm guessing it's to report to whoever was trying to reclaim you."

    "Let's go greet our hosts properly, then." Ulfric paused a moment, brow furrowed in thought. "Romulus?"


    "I do not consider my childhood ruined." Ulfric sheathed his greatsword, and started walking the direction pointed. He'd sort all the whirling thoughts later. Right now, he had souls and men to free.

    "Ulfric?" Rommy called, voice calm even though there was a little catch there at the thought that perhaps he hadn't ruined his own legend by becoming a Daedra.

    "Yes?" Ulfric half turned.

    "Tyr can't know."

    Ulfric thought a moment. "I will not break your confidence, but if he is truly family, I think you are doing both of you a disservice. Will you at least speak with Telki about it?"

    He snorted, "We both know what Telki would say."

    "And has her counsel proven false before?" Ulfric was smiling at him, the sort of smile that said he'd been on the losing end of a Telki conversation or twelve.

    "I have grandchildren now. Well, great-grandchildren," Rommy said, feeling decidedly awkward. "I have no idea how he'd react."

    "They have children in the pits? And nobody told me?" There was a very dangerous glint in Ulfric's eye, and Erandur thought now might be a good time to use that diplomacy Telki always raved he had.

    "Ulfric, remember the soul hook they had on you. There was nothing until now that you could have done to help. What you can do, you are doing, right now. Having a thu'um fit would suit nobody but the Ideal Masters, which you do not want to do."

    "If it helps, I promised to turn Gideon into a dragon to fall on their other grandfather," Rommy rumbled, definite deadly note in his voice as he started forward again. Standing around talking certainly wasn't going to help anybody.

    Ulfric's eyebrows rose. "You can turn people into dragons? I might ask to fly as well."

    "It's like the newest fashion or something," Rommy commented idly. "And here I thought we'd all be wearing wolves' heads this fall. Except the wolves, of course. They'd be in fuschia."

    Ulfric eyed him,"So, strange question. What became of...your predecessor?"

    "I beat him sane with a crazy stick," Rommy shrugged, realized he'd just admitted to being lord of a Daedric realm, and shrugged again.

    "That...does not surprise me, actually." Ulfric looked at the bleak terrain around him. "Is there any way to know when we're getting close before running into hordes of blackened bones?"

    "If I had to make a guess, the hoard of black bones will run out looking for us when we're close. Just to be clear, you both are vehemently opposed to being cheese again?"

    "Positively allergic to the idea." Erandur grumbled. "I don't suppose there is a way you could just cheese the bones?"

    "Only if you both were invertebrates."

    "Instead of targeting their bones, why not target what binds them to the Ideal Masters?" asked Ulfric.

    "Because then the entire realm would be...I'm coming back here after I get my power off Telki and turning the realm to cheese. It'd be hilarious." He paused, "Or maybe not. There are a lot of souls here still…" Halting, he squinted into the distance. "So, now that Ulfric's in on the big secret, do either of you mind if we go a little faster?"

    "The sooner we get there, the better." Ulfric's voice was adamant.

    "Do you have any cures for nausea in your potions?" he asked.

    "Telki packed the bag." Ulfric looked through the bag, Rommy could see the glow from the sober mead shining on his face.

    Smiling evilly, he linked his arm through Erandur's, then offered the other to Ulfric. "Coming?"

    Eyeing him speculatively, and utterly ignoring the little fanboy turning backflips in the pit of his stomach, Ulfric linked arms with Romulus. "Hold on to your lunch," the Mad God advised, and all three dissolved into blue butterflies, racing after the retreating bonemen.

    So, the following image came to be because Evil and I really don't know when we need to go to bed. For some reason, even though our eyes are groggy and our heads are spinning, we just keep typing at each other. Since we tend to do this, the madness we come up with is still there the next day when we wake up. This one, I mentioned to my good friend Janus3003 over on deviantart. He takes commisions. He's very talented, and this is what he managed with our crazy sleep deprived insanity. He's awesome.

  16. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Gideon gets all tied up with questions.

    Illustration found on pinterest, attributed to Dan waters photography


    Chapter Text

    The cavern grotto was fairly dark. There was some kind of fungi that grew on the walls and ceiling, giving off faint light, but it wasn't much to go by. His stomach rivaled the surf in its rumbling, but though the sun had set some time ago, Shell had yet to return.

    He had dug himself a pit in which he'd started a moderate driftwood fire. The dusk drew out the beach's crab population, of which he handily caught and spitted a couple for toasting. He split his time between watching the blue flames cooking his crabby appetiser, his general surroundings, and watching for Shell's return. While the area may have been hidden all this time, nobody said some binty crow couldn't discover it.

    Gideon leaned back and let, for a few minutes, all his worries come out to play. How were Erandur and Rommy faring in the Cairn? Was Telki safe in the Isles? Was Merc safe in the barracks, were Tyr and Orien safe in the pits, or had they already outed him with the dragon? So very many ways this could all go so very wrong, and so few that didn't leave someone someway crippled. He just had to pray the powers that were guiding them were enough to overcome chance and malice. Gideon took a deep breath, and cleared his mind to meditate.

    It felt like a sting, right on his upper arm. His initial reaction was to swat at it, but his arm wouldn't move at all.

    Gideon rolled flat against the log, using it to cover and confuse his outline. Great, the numbness was spreading. He politely knocked on the mental link. ::Either I've royally ticked Shell off, or someone else has found her hidey hole. Care to have extraction ready?::

    ::What did you do this time?:: Telki demanded.

    ::See, that's the thing, I thought she left only mildly irritated. There is also a chance this isn't Shell. Aaand I'm now numb all over. I couldn't move if I wanted.::

    ::Right, want me to send Goldie? She still claims you owe her a kiss, by the way.::

    ::If I have to fus ro someone's dah, send Goldie. It could be Shell's version of teasing. I think.::

    There was a momentary pause as Telki examined him through the link. ::Well, the good news is whatever's got you isn't poisonous, just a numbifyer, so there's that. I think I could manage a big surprise for whoever's creeping up on you, if you want it.::

    ::The more I think about it, this doesn't feel like a Shell sort of thing. If she was teasing, she'd want me to feel every tickle and tease. I'm numb.::

    Something dark was tossed over his head, blocking what little he could see, followed by some oddly non-painful pins and needles as his arms and legs were moved, followed by pressure on his wrists and ankles.

    "So, who do I have the pleasure of addressing? It's not often a prisoner is taken prisoner from a prison."

    "What are you doing in here?" a strange, low voice asked. It had a peculiar quality to it, as if the person were talking with great difficulty.

    "Cooking a pair of crabs until my warden comes back." Gideon tried to nod toward the firepit. "Please, help yourself. My stomach's strangely numb right now."

    There was a long pause and what sounded like someone inhaling from a pipe, or when people blew into an deflated waterskin. "Your warden?" the strange voice finally asked.

    "The person that brought me here. Very big danger in a very tiny package. I would not want her angry at me."

    Despite the apparent numbness, Gideon certainly felt the next swift jab of the small dagger, and the strange feeling coursing through his veins from the wound. "Now you have to tell the truth," the odd voice said with something like satisfaction.

    "Everything I have told you is the truth. Lies are boring, confusing, and usually not worth the time it takes to tell them. I get much further using the truth."

    Another pause and strange flapping sound, "What did you do to the Bosmer?"

    "Besides help her? Nothing. She left me here to wait for her until she was done with her training session."

    "She was off. What did you do?" the voice insisted angrily. The last word came out an octave higher than the rest.

    "Now, here's where we come to a problem. I don't know you, I don't trust you, and I'll be damned if I'll tell you something you can use to hurt her." Something jabbed him again, as if his interrogator thought whatever they were using to force the truth out of him wasn't working correctly. "Look, if you're not even going to trust whatever you're using to interrogate me, this isn't going to go anywhere. Just keep me tied up and you can wait for Shell to fill you in."

    There was a muffled "eep" at the sound of Shell's name, as if the person hadn't expected to hear it. "You know her name?" the voice was quiet.

    "She told me her name herself, when she decided I was crazy enough to be more entertaining alive than dead." Telki had been surreptitiously counteracting the poison, but was having to do it slowly, so that the glow didn't give him away, and she was still new to the whole Daedra levels of power business, and feared burning either herself or Gideon out.

    "Do you happen to know a red kitty with purple eyes? She told me she met a very special girl out here, and that I should help keep an eye on her." Gideon might not be the fastest on the uptake, but he could put two and two together and come up with 'baby sister'. They were in Shell's protected place, and the squeaky voice was rather protective of her.

    Another pause followed. "She did?" the voice asked, definitely getting higher and more childlike as whatever she had been inhaling wore off.

    "She was very proud of how brave you were with the dragon, and royally miffed she had to leave, but she'll be back soon. She did not want to leave you even for a little bit."

    Slowly, the cloth was pulled off his head, revealing a tiny girl that looked remarkably like Orien, with a slightly more delicate face and a mistrusting expression. She was also holding a dagger, which was slightly alarming.

    "You must be Blossom. Hello, I'm Gideon Rainier."

    Blossom flinched at her name, emotions whirling in her eyes where her sister was able to hide them behind flirtation and toughness, and her mother with cool detachment. "What did you do to Sissy?"

    "I told her that she may be free to make her own decisions soon. It's a choice she's never had before, and it scared her a little bit."

    "You scared my sister?" Blossom demanded, affronted.

    "Well, let's be honest, not even you are scared of me, and she taught you, didn't she? So, it's not me she's afraid of, but the message.

    "She's been stuck here a long time without choices, and since she's never had them, it's scary because she's not sure what the right ones are." Gideon leaned forward a little. Blossom scooched back. "Sometimes, it's very hard to tell, even with practice. Now imagine you have all the choices, and no practice in making them." Gideon leaned back, and tried to prop himself on his driftwood log. It was comical, but he finally got somewhat comfortable despite it all.

    The girl considered his words. "What choices?" she finally asked.

    "All of them. What she wants to do when she can leave the Island, who she wants to spend time with, where she wants to live." Gideon raised his eyebrow at Blossom. "Though I'm pretty sure your mom is still going to be making most of the choices for you, your near future probably includes more playtime and more siblings."

    Open yearning crossed the girl's face before it closed up again. Lifting the bottle she held in one hand, she looked from it to the dagger and back again, then carefully corked the bottle. "True potion is no good on crazy people," she decided aloud.

    Gideon laughed. "Not the first time I've heard that, either. Though, you'll see soon enough if I'm crazy or right. For both our sakes, I hope it's sooner rather than later. " He looked at her as if considering. "One thing I'm not sure about, though. Are you a little girl that likes stories, or songs?"

    "I'm not supposed to sing; I'm awful," she told him matter-of-factly. "Besides, you never told me what you did to Shell. And I am not leaving until you do," her little face became very stubborn.

    "Well, good. I want you here when she gets here. So that works for both of us."

    "She's not coming tonight. Talon noticed she was off and gave her extra things to do," Blossom pouted at this.

    "What?" That got Gideon's attention. "How long will those 'extra things' last?"

    "I don't know. I haven't started training with magic yet. I hear it hurts," her eyes were wide.

    "Magic training only hurts if you're doing it wrong. Stupid idiot Thalmor."

    Short red hair cut far neater than Orien's swung back and forth. "To withstand magic, not do magic."

    "That's what shields are for. Still stupid idiot Thalmor." Gideon slid himself along the log until he could look down the pit at the still toasting crabs. "So, since you don't believe me, and we'll both have to wait here for whenever Shell gets done, would you care to share a supper of toasted crab with me? You may want to pull them out now before they burn."

    Heaving a reluctant sigh, the small girl walked over to the entrance, where she ducked out of sight just long enough to return with a basket nearly as big as she was, and from the looks of it, just as heavy. She had to drag it along the sand after a few steps, making little huffy noises of effort.

    "Shor's Halls, were you feeding a squadron?"

    "I didn't pack it!" she protested indignantly. "I don't even know you!"

    That elicited another laugh. "Well, I know of you, and I would like you to learn enough of me to call me friend someday. That was the other thing that bothered Shell. She lost her friends and is scared to make new ones, because of what the Stupid Thalmor did to hers."

    "The Empire killed a lot of her friends," Blossom grunted, still laboriously tugging the basket.

    "Who sent them to the Empire, Blossom?" Gideon watched her progress, testing the ropes in case he had to lunge to save her from the pitfire. It physically pained him to watch her struggle and not be able to help.

    "Dunno," she replied, looking into the basket, then pulling out a long pair of tongs and using them to remove the crabs from the fire before reaching back into the basket and skewering a pair of sausages.

    "Hmmm, tell me, did Shell tell you to meet her here tonight?" Gideon had a suspicion forming. It created a funny little hitch in the pit of his stomach. If it were true.

    "I was supposed to meet her, but she didn't say where we would be going. Just that we were having a picnic," Blossom grumbled, stabbing the ends of the skewers into the sand deep enough for them not to fall into the fire.

    "Blossom, has she ever introduced anyone to you before?" He was fairly sure he knew that answer already.

    "Sure. She introduced me to a bunch of fairies once, but they're all gone now," she said.

    "Hmm." That didn't really help him. "What would you think, if I told you Shell was going to introduce us tonight and have a picnic together? Is that something she'd normally do?"

    "No," Blossom shrugged. "Mostly it's Grandma Lili that introduces me to people." Her pert little nose wrinkled. "Sometimes I think Lili might be a fairy."

    "Who did Grandma Lili introduce you to?"

    "Well…" Blossom looked embarrassed and turned the skewers a bit to cook the other side of the sausages. "There was a time she sent me walking out of my head, and I met a boy that said he was a dragon and thought I was an elf. Then there was the Psijic man who really wanted to be elsewhere, and…" she flushed and muttered, "a talking grapefruit."


    "How did you know?" she demanded, eye wide.

    "The same way I knew about your red cat with the purple eyes. I wonder if the Psijic man was the same, too. Was his name Quaranir? He's the only Psijic I know."

    "I don't know. He didn't get much out after Lili started going on about how tall he was and that he reminded her of her third husband and if she was only a few centuries younger she'd show him a thing or two."

    Gideon laughed out loud. "Oh poor mer! Did he turn bright orange?"

    Blossom giggled. "Yes. He has to respect her though, because she's really old. She says the original Thalmor would be rolling in their graves at the new ones, and that their queen was very nice."

    "That's the way things sometimes go, sadly. The newer generations forget what the older generations went through to give them what they have, and they don't appreciate it, and they ruin it." Gideon sighed. "So, you still haven't told me, shall I sing to entertain you, or shall I tell you a story?"

    "You don't have to entertain me," Blossom replied, taking out a bizarre little hand instrument that she used to crack open the crabs. After a moment, she dug around in the basket. "Do you eat these with salt and butter? Or salt or butter? Or…something?"

    Gideon chuckled. "They are better if you have butter and garlic, yes. Though if you're hungry enough, the meat is sweet enough on its own."

    Pulling out a little jar filled with minced garlic, she looked down at them doubtfully. "How much?"

    "Just a pinch of garlic, it works better if you put it in melted butter, and dip the meat in the garlic butter mixture." There was another long moment of confusion on her part where she just stared at what she was doing, then into the basket. "Do you have a bowl with you?"

    "Maybe?" she glanced back into the basket, put the jar down, and started rummaging.

    "Set the bowl on the warm stones around the fire, put a small bit of butter in it, then a small sprinkle of garlic," Gideon instructed. "It'll melt, and you can dip the crab meat in it."

    "What if I just scoop the insides out of one of those crab shells and put a fire rune in it?" she asked.

    "Is it a steady heat fire rune, or one that will combust on contact? Probably easier just to use the crab shell as a bowl, and let the warm stones do the rest."

    "It gives off steady heat if you don't poke it," she grumbled, taking his suggestion anyway. By that time the sausages were burning a little, and she had to turn them again.

    Gideon chuckled. "First rule of magic safety: assume accidents will happen. What would happen if you touched the fire rune while dipping the crab meat in?"

    "Toasted crab!" she declared, unperturbed.

    "And a face full of hot butter," countered a chuckling Gideon.

    "Sounds yummy," she giggled, scooping out crab innards into the other shell and carefully putting a pat of butter and a single pinch of the garlic in before nestling it in a small pile of sand she put on a rock to keep it upright.

    ::Um, well, that was interesting.:: Gideon perked up. Telki's voice sounded downright contrite.

    ::What happened?::

    ::Well, I was watching you and wee Blossom there, and the next thing I know, I'm a puddle of melted kitty on the floor. Again.::


    ::Luckily, I was able to pull myself together. It seems the upgrade kiss had unforeseen side effects, like my emotions having literal repercussions.::

    ::Upgrade kiss?::

    ::Uh, yeah, Rommy left a little of his Daedraness with me when he left me babysitting the Isles. Yay me?::

    ::Well, that's not a recipe for disaster.::

    ::Gideon!:: Her mental voice had a gong-like quality.

    ::You have to admit, it's scary.::

    :: Pfft, I'm just hoping JiggyWiggy decides to make a pest of himself. Malacath said I could borrow Scourge.::

    ::Let's hope they get done in the Cairn before that happens.:: Gideon managed to keep an eye on Blossom while worrying over his wife's sudden catapult into godhood. ::When did you talk to Malacath?::

    ::Long distance birdcall.::


    ::Eh, wishful thinking and Rommy's powers made it happen? I got 'Cath laughing, and he said I could borrow Scourge anytime.::

    ::And how did you get him laughing?::

    ::Strangely enough, just telling him I'm dating Rommy. What we did to Boethiah's shrine didn't hurt.:: Telki took great pride in turning a place of sacrifice into a garden that sustained life. She insisted both Shor and Mara had shrines there.

    Gideon took great care to make sure the dedication to Shor stuck. It was his first time using that particular ability. He was secretly wondering if Erandur was going to replace every evil Daedra's shrine with one of Mara's. He wouldn't be surprised to find notches on the back of his mace keeping score.

    "Do you like bananas?" the little girl asked, leaning up from where she had practically been folded over the rim of the basket.

    "What is it?" Gideon asked. "I've never even heard of them." Rather than answer, Blossom held up a long yellow fruit. Quite suddenly, he understood what Shell had meant earlier by "banana elves" and rolled laughing.

    "Blossom! Your sister…she's…oh dear." Gideon gasped himself quiet. "Has she ever said anything about the Altmer and bananas?"

    "Um, no?" the girl was watching him sort of warily, like she thought he might be having an adverse reaction to the poison.

    "Eh, maybe it's better if I don't tell you yet. Less chance you get in trouble that way." Gideon's humor died quickly, thinking of what their reaction to the nickname might be. "I'll share your sister's joke with you later."

    "You already got her in trouble. I'm not letting you get me in trouble," she grumbled, setting the fruit aside and digging in the basket again. "Oh!" she cried, righting herself when she all but fell in. "She did pack bowls!"

    "Your sister is a very wise, very intelligent young lady."

    "No she's not!" Blossom protested with the affront of someone who knows a lot more about their stupid sibling than any adult.

    Gideon gave a slow smile and a sideways look at the young girl. "Hm, I suppose so. Afterall, she let a little thing like having choices get her in trouble with Talon."

    He had to duck as a wadded up napkin was thrown at his head. "Don't make fun of Shell!" Blossom warned.

    "You were the one just saying she wasn't intelligent. So, which is it?"

    "I still have a dagger and I don't know what half those potions do," Blossom said, narrowing her violet eyes at him. "Make fun of Sissy and I will cut you."

    "One: I like your sister very much, I was pointing out that you seem to have a double standard going there. I was teasing you. Two: it would make your kitty very unhappy if something bad happened to me. Three: it will make Shell very unhappy if something bad happened to me, and four: here's your rope back. I got bored." A neatly coiled bit of rope landed next to the basket.

    Blossom stared at him in complete disbelief for a moment before she literally vanished in a burst of black light. Gideon stayed put, slightly miffed he'd apparently overplayed his hand. "Blossom, if I were going to hurt you, would I have given you the rope back? Or announced I was free? Come back and eat." He picked up one of the sausages and tasted it. "The sausages are ready." He gently moved the other one to where it was close enough to stay warm, but not burn, and sat back by the log to wait.

    "Why is Shell scared of choices?" the little voice asked out of the dark.

    "Because she's never had any before. It's a big change, and nothing has prepared her for it. Until now, she couldn't even imagine having choices." Gideon's voice was very sad as he said that. Then, with a bit of humor, he added. "You need not fear me, little one. Shell would use my guts for garters if I as much as thought about harming you."

    "That's true," the girl said matter-of-factly, abruptly reappearing right where she had been. "And she could take you down easily."

    "She could, but for some reason, you girls keep letting me live. Thank Shor I'm entertaining," Gideon winked at her.

    "You're strange," Blossom informed him baldly, going back to her rummaging and pulling out a sweetroll with a cry of absolute joy.

    "So, you like sweetrolls? Are they your favorite?" She just looked at him over a mouth so full of cake her cheeks puffed out, shining with frosting. Gideon could only chuckle at the precious picture.

    ::And I'm goo again.::

    ::I might join you.::

    Looking vaguely guilty, she held out the half roll she had left. "Did you want some?"

    "That's alright sweetling. You're enjoying it way more than I could. Please." Gideon waved her generous offer away, smiling at the smear of icing on her nose. She didn't give him an opportunity to change his mind, practically inhaling the rest of the sticky sweet before sighing that it was gone, then giving him a pensive look.

    "What is it?" Gideon studied the thoughtful little face. "The last time I saw that look, Lucia was trying to talk me into keeping a wolfcub."

    "Why are you so interested in Shell?" she asked, no dissembling whatsoever out of a Young One her age.

    Gideon thought a moment. "Why did you like your red kitty? Can you find all the words to explain all the reasons? The best I can do is this: she is a person worth caring about."

    "I like her because she plays with me," the girl replied. Gideon chuckled.

    "That works, too."

    ::Soon as I figure this out, I'm making her a brand-spankin-new Blossom Kitty,:: Telki declared.

    Titling her head so far she looked like she was going to fall over, Blossom asked, "Why does your face look so funny?"

    "I was talking to someone. You have a present waiting for you, when we leave Summerset."

    Rather than be happy, Blossom looked downright suspicious—though, oddly enough, not because she hadn't seen him talking with anyone, "What kind of present?"

    "The kind that purrs."

    Perking right up, she whispered, "Kitty?"

    "Yep, and you get to keep her as long as you like."

    "What if Ilmiyon finds her?" she asked, eyes big and sad and fearful.

    "I have a feeling Ill Minion is not going to be a factor in our lives for much longer." Gideon's face was downright thunderous. Blossom flinched away from it and scooted behind the basket.

    :: Plus, Kitty could eat him for lunch.::

    Immediately contrite, Gideon winced. "Sorry. I am very mad at him right now. I did not mean to scare you."

    "You're mad at Ilmiyon?" she asked, tucking some errant strands behind her slightly oversized pointed ear.

    "Let me put it this way: if his guts were on fire, I wouldn't even spit on them."

    ::I'd be happy to test that out. Afterall, I'm supposed to practice my Dovahzul.:: A hazy mental image of Ilmiyon running about shrieking while on fire accompanied those words. Telki was still more than irate with the mer herself.

    Blossom darted back to the little cache of poison bottles she'd brought. "This one really stings!" she suggested helpfully. "I made it out of fire ants!"

    "You are a talented little lady. Thank you. However, I don't think that and my hammer will get along well." Gideon dutifully admired the little bottle, wincing at the memory of whatever it was Shell used on him when she was grieving Pearl.

    "Oh, could you please use it on him? Please? He…he hurt my sister, and I really don't like him, but he'd kill me without trying. And he likes to tweak my ears!"

    "Blossom, I want you to listen very carefully, okay? There is a lot going on right now, and much of it I can't tell you, because it would put you in danger to know, but very soon, I promise, you will not only be safe, but very happy. Okay?"

    She sat back on her heels and regarded him for a moment. "You shouldn't make promises you can't keep," she told him sternly.

    "I am a paladin of Shor, do you know what that means?"

    "You're a heretic that worships heathen gods?" she replied brightly, saying the words carefully and as if she wasn't exactly sure what they meant, only that they were Important, and Bad.

    "I keep my impossible promises, all the time." He booped her nose. "But you'll see for yourself soon enough."

    "I brought blankets," she said, changing the subject. "Shell packed them all, but I brought them. It took a couple of trips."

    "Are you cold?"

    She shook her head. "No, but I have to go. Someone will notice if I'm out here much longer."

    "It was lovely to meet you, Blossom. Stay safe, please."

    "Okay!" she replied, hopping up.

    "Excuse me, but may I offer you a hug? I'm told I'm very good at them."

    "You could squish me without trying," she said.

    "And Shell would gut me if I did. I have three little girls, all unsquished at home."

    "Maybe later," she said, not entirely trusting him. Eating dinner and talking with the big man was one thing. Putting herself within his reach when they were all alone and no chance of backup was another.

    "As you wish." Gideon dropped his arm, not hiding the disappointment on his face. That distrust was probably a necessity with her life as it was, and it hurt that she needed it at all.

    With a little wave, she scampered off, vanishing into the shadows before she even reached the door.

    ::I got water dumped on me again.:: Telki's thoughts had a rueful, soggy undertone.


    ::Apparently, I nearly combusted.::


    ::Mad at Ilmiyon, at her upbringing, that I can't tell her Pearl's fine, and sad for her, because that sort of environment is just…unbelievable. So, I was getting a little…steamy, and Fanny threw a bucket of water on me. Then he turned into potatoes.::

    :: By Azura.:: Gideon was snickering, and couldn't resist the Bosmer's favorite phrase.

    ::Careful; why do you think Fanny turns into potatoes?:: They both laughed, and then Gideon and she talked until he fell asleep there by the pit, wrapped in a blanket that smelled of orange blossoms.
  17. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    The Soul Cairn crew get the show on the road and discover a potential problem.

    Illustration taken in my game, edited by the ever clever Evil-is-Relative

    Bonus Image at the End.

    (See the end of the chapter for notes.)

    Chapter Text
    Some people, like Telki, reacted very well to travel by butterfly. Other people reacted quite poorly, so Rommy stopped some distance away from the edifice their attackers were milling around, shielded them all from sight, and softly fitted their bodies back together.

    Erandur quickly went to his knees, breathing heavily. His skin was nearly white. "I think I may have to forgo further butterfly rides, at least until this extra Mara attention passes."

    Ulfric watched Erandur with faint concern, before schooling his features back to impassivity. "That was interesting."

    Rommy was staring at him. "You loved that," he said, surprise clear in his voice.

    "I would not be adverse to another such trip." Ulfric's tone and voice gave nothing away with difficulty. His spirit felt lighter; for all that they were in the dreariest place Oblivion could imagine, he was finally doing something about the men left behind, and it felt very freeing. The butterfly ride had only added to that feeling.

    Smirking a little, Rommy raised an eyebrow that let the jarl know that he saw right through him. "Right. Erandur, why don't you have some Sober Mead, while I let Telki know what we're up to? It should be night back on Mundus, so I don't think I'll be interrupting anything. Though given some of the echos I felt from Gideon earlier…"

    Erandur chuckled tiredly as he nodded, and found an open bottle of Sober Mead waiting right under his nose, Ulfric's hand holding it for him.

    Ulfric helped steady Erandur until his hand firmed on the bottle and was sitting upright, and then moved toward Rommy, to softly ask, "Is Gideon all right?" Erandur could probably still hear, but it was the thought that counted, right?

    Rommy allowed himself an evil snicker. "Depends. Is 'eaten alive by a Bosmer' all right?"

    "That phrase has two meanings. One horrifying, the other hilarious. Which is it?"

    "There's a Thalmor assassin that's taken an interest in him," Rommy told him. "She's…rather forward about it." Ulfric hadn't laughed that hard in an age. "Oh, it gets better."

    Ulfric quieted so he could continue, eyebrow raised in curiosity. "How?"

    Just to be a shit, Rommy created a life-sized illusion of Shell right there in the Cairn. Ulfric was a soldier, so he probably wouldn't be offended—or pretend to be offended—by blatantly pointing out when someone was attractive. "Firstly, that's her. Secondly, I have no idea where she's hiding as many knives as she was carrying."

    "Dangerous and beautiful." Ulfric studied her thoughtfully. "And she's interested in Gideon?"

    "Third," Rommy added some of Shell's mannerisms he'd observed—flirting, laughing, and her smooth body language that had first struck both himself and Gideon that this Bosmer acted a lot like a version of Telki without a moral compass. He wondered how long it would take Ulfric to notice.

    "Either he has the patience and fortitude of a saint, or something's wrong with him. Which is it?" Ulfric narrowed his eyes. "Of course, Telki. The fact she's so similar and different at the same time would make him cautious."

    "Evil Telki," Ulfric shook his head. The stereo effect from Romulus and Erandur was disconcerting.

    "I suppose, that is one way to put it."

    "Oh," Rommy grinned again, "and she's Tyr's stepdaughter."

    "So, in effect, thank the gods he has the patience of an Aedra," Ulfric chuckled. He couldn't remember what he did for entertainment before the chaos Telki brought in his life. It was another thing to be thankful for.

    "Well, last we sensed from him, it seemed she had dragged him off somewhere, and there were some amorous feelings echoing back, so…" the Mad God shrugged.

    "Well, I always knew I'd die in combat. Just did not know it'd be protecting my daughter's husband from my own shield brother's fatherly wrath."

    "Actually, Tyr was wondering if he'd need to protect Gideon's honor from Shell." Erandur had toyed with the idea of letting Ulfric stew, but, dammit, the man had been surprisingly decent. Simple fairness wouldn't let him hold his tongue.

    "I'm inclined to agree," Rommy said ruefully. "The way she flirts makes it look like Telki handles him with kitten gloves."

    "When you check in on our kitten, would you give her my own love as well?" Ulfric refused to blush. It was beneath him.

    Both eyebrows shot up as the Mad God gave him a long, searching look. "I'm throwing you in the barracks," he decided, shutting his eyes on Ulfric's puzzled, mildly alarmed face and reaching out for Telki.

    ::Knock, knock. How's the Mad Queen? Oh, sorry. Chief Madman Swaddler?::

    ::Hardy har har. Eh, I think I might be catching the swing of things, maybe. And I'm not goo!::

    He chuckled slightly, smiling without realizing he had done so. ::You were goo again? What, did you wander into the daycare? Or is the Cabbage Patch in bloom?::

    ::Your grandestbaby was being cute with Gideon. I melted on the spot. I'm trying to make her a tabbycat that can turn into a sabercat when needed. I'm making some progress.::

    ::Let me check over it before you give it to her,:: he said, not bothering to stem the rush of affection he felt for her at those words.

    ::Well, duh. I'm new at this whole epic powerful magic thing, but the music around it looks right. She's very affectionate, too. Oh! And the hedge worked beautifully! Stanley has made himself a little bower in it. Yes, I had to toss your grapefruit in. The Duke has requested an official visit a week from next Turdas. How'd I do?::

    ::Sounds like you're doing great, Love. Send Cicero a tentative acceptance note. As for Stanley I'm not surprised at all. What I am surprised about is my littlest grandbaby being with Gideon when it certainly FELT like things were heating up with someone else.::

    :: Okay, I thought they were, too, but Gideon insists on waiting until Shell sorts herself out. She was understandably off her game at a practice, and had to do punishment routines. Which left Blossom looking for Answers. Let's just say Shell's a great teacher.::

    ::That's really unexpected, and I don't imagine Shell's used to being rejected. Wait…are you saying Blossom somehow took Gideon down for questioning all by herself?::

    ::Yup, and apparently makes some of the dagger poisons herself.::

    ::I…I honestly don't know whether to be proud or appalled. My Mad God side is cackling, though.::

    ::I find 'both' is usually a good answer. I know, it tickles. Stop before I sprout feathers for cackling like a hen.::

    ::Stop that thought right there. Last thing I need is to come home and find you've made a nest in the Great Hall. Oh, speaking of Great Halls and annoying clucking, Ulfric says hello.::

    ::How's that going by the way?:: It pleased her no end they were getting along well enough he actually passed the message to her. Dang it, her stripes were dripping again.

    ::Weeelll…he likes being butterflies…::

    ::AHAHAHAHA I TOLD YOU! Dangit! I don't want feathers, and black isn't my color!:: There was a sense of shifting and grumbling, as Telki rid herself of her unwanted finery.

    :: Did you just turn into a hagraven? And I admit it, he's smarter than I gave him credit for. Of course, I had no idea I was apparently his childhood hero and he'd seen renderings of me, either.::

    ::Honey, you were famous, you were a hero, and then you disappeared, making yourself a mystery on top of everything else. Yes, you had books, tall tales, and songs written about you. Ulfric was a very idealistic youngling. And we will not discuss the feathers. Ever.::

    ::Wait…SONGS? Some idiot wrote SONGS about me?::

    ::If you're a very good boy, I might even sing a few for you.::

    ::I didn't deserve songs,:: Rommy said, oddly disturbed by this, even if they had been written two centuries ago. ::If anything, Martin deserved songs. I just bumbled through the entire thing trying not to die.::

    :: Oh honey, there were songs turning you two into a tragic starcrossed couple. You drifted away because of heartbreak over Martin, didn't you know?::

    ::Look, he may have had a…you know how I feel on that matter anyway. And last I checked, it was Felicia people were more worried about with him. Not to mention that one time she snuck out and slaughtered a bunch of spies without anyone being the wiser.::

    ::The Blades kept Felicia firmly out of official stories. Though I think your Blades friend probably did that more for Orien's sake than anything.::

    ::Remind me to have Erandur ask Mara to pass on my heartfelt thanks, then. Felicia would have returned from the grave to beat the bard over the head with his own lute that dared write her into a song.:: Despite his words, there was a lot of affection behind that statement.

    ::Well, I guess I need to go burn that score I was working on…::

    He chuckled, ::I think she would have liked you, don't worry.::

    Telki sobered a moment. ::You really don't get how heroic and wonderful you all were, do you?::

    ::Telki, I'm just an idiot that got arrested for a bar fight, then somehow wound up sitting on the Emperor's escape rout.::

    ::And I'm just an idiot bard that keeps finding herself surviving one outlandish situation after another.:: There was a pause as Telki tried to drag her straggling thoughts into a semblance of order. ::You are exceptional, and no one but you could have made that situation work out as well. Felicia's amazing just for putting up with you on a daily basis, much less the stuff she accomplished all her own.:: Her tone turned apologetic. ::You tend to think loudly sometimes, Dear, especially when remembering. And Fanny likes to talk.::

    ::Well, from one lucky idiot to another, I love you.::

    ::I love you so much, and give my favorite lunk of a father fill-in my daughterly love, and my Dunmer all his loves, too.::

    :: Oh, between Mara and me, we may have temporarily broke Erandur.::

    :: Ooooh? Do tell.::

    ::Well, he's all sparkly and Aedra-y and kinda sickeningly sweet to stand too close to, and then butterflies. I'm waiting for him to vomit, actually. He's been sucking down Sober Mead and he still looks pale.::

    ::My poor darlin'. Honestly, I have no clue what to do in this instance. Do I need to yank him home?::

    ::That might actually be worse,:: Rommy cautioned soberly. ::I think we'll just have to wait it out.::

    :: Dang it, I want to fix it!::

    ::Well, I actually checked in just now to tell you we think we're close to the focus. I wanted to see where everyone else was at the moment so everyone was ready.::

    :: Oh goody, because I'm getting worrisome pings from both Merc and Gideon. The Binty Crows are being busier than usual. So, if you can hurry things along a little more, that'd be good.::

    ::As soon as Erandur is back on his feet, we'll storm the castle. So to speak. Oh, hey. That kind of rhymed.::

    ::You're a poet, and didn't know it?::

    ::Mad God. Not exactly the person you want writing poetry. Half my verses would be about you, the other half about cheese and entrails.::

    ::To be fair, you're also the God of Creativity. Don't forget that.::

    ::I can be very creative about entrails. And Dibella has the sphere too. Only she's more socially acceptable. Ironically.::

    ::I prefer my creative with a dash of mad, as it turns out. I'll take you over her any day of the week, and twice on Sundas.:: There were some very warm recollections coloring that little thought.

    ::Considering what else her sphere encompasses, she'd probably be all for that.:: Rommy blushed bright enough he gave off physical light. ::Woman's twice as bad as Sam—you'd think they'd get along better. She's really fond of Fanny, though. First man that wanted to cuddle just to cuddle, was how she put it.::

    ::Wow, I now actually feel bad for 'Bella.::

    ::Considering that he's resisted Evil Bosmer You, maybe we should introduce her to Gideon. Woman could use some non-bedmate friends, I think. People seem to forget she's also the Aedra of Friendship.::

    ::I would be THRILLED to make that happen. Erandur's also good at behaving himself, y'know. Merc? I dunno. He suffers foot in mouth like nobody's business.::

    ::FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING YOU HOLD DEAR DO NOT INTRODUCE HER TO MERC.:: At the sense of blank incomprehension that echoed back down the link at him, he urged, ::Telki, think back very carefully. Merc has met a lot of supernatural people in the last few months. What has been the overwhelming reaction?::

    ::You mean she would want to keep him and not give him back? That's ironic right there.::

    ::I can't say she wouldn't want to give him back, but I can say that if Dibella skips out with Merc, Sam will not react well. Or will react very well. I can't say until it happens.::

    :: Or they both skip out with my poor little Impy and my stash of stamina potions. Poor poor love.::

    ::If you want him back in this lifetime, do not introduce her to Merc.:: That thought was very firm.

    ::Right, make sure he's off galavanting…who can we trust Merc with, then, if she comes calling?::

    ::Stash him in the daycare—she's weird around kids. Unless they're drawing or quiet.::

    ::He'd actually enjoy that. Good call.::

    Rommy sighed. ::Anyway, I suppose we'd better go storm the castle. This would have been so much easier if we could have just yanked everyone out in the first place. I might ask Gideon to stomp on Falofifi once just for that.::

    ::Have fun storming the castle!:: There was a thinking feel to the link for a moment. ::Yeah, probably the only one that deserves a lick at Fifi that's still emotionally whole enough to do it that's there is Giddy, huh? I'd love to let Pearl, or Shell, or Fey. Hmmmm, how do you think Tyr'd like to be a dragon?::

    ::I honestly don't know. What's Merc up to that he's not emotionally whole?::

    ::Minding my new Thalmor babies. Well, neither of them want to be Thalmor anymore, and they were okay with me adopting them while I was an Altmer.::

    ::I have no problem making them both scamps until they see the error of their ways if they reject non-Altmer you.::

    ::Well, remember Murril. These poor babies reached near adulthood with that poison in their ears. They may need a little bit to adjust.::

    He was quiet a moment. ::I don't suppose my grandchildren will be free of that attitude, will they?::

    ::Well, Pearl's cool with me, so? Maybe? Maybe not? I might have an 'in' since I was her 'Blossom Kitty."::

    ::You'll have to tell me the whole story when I get back,:: he said, stretching a bit and opening his eyes, glancing about to see what the others were up to. "Ready?"

    "As ever I shall be. Mara's Blessing's never been more potent." Erandur sparkled with a luminescence that seemed to shine right through his skin.

    "By all means, let's acquaint the Ideal Masters with the error of their ways." Ulfric pulled his greatsword from its sheath on his back.

    Rommy rose, walking over to the edge of the shield to regard the edifice. "Either of you have any idea for getting in there? Do you think we should draw a few of them out first?"

    "Last time we were here, she 'ported up, grabbed her stone, and ported back down. Could we do something similar this time? Pop up, smash it, and run like a swarm of cliffracers were after us?"

    Rommy thought a moment, "Well…If we knew what the focus was, that might work, but we could be dealing with something we have to talk to the Ideal Master itself to break."

    "It pulls at me, is there a way for you to trace that pull to its source?" Ulfric was studying the building with calculation in his eye. "It galls me that we can tell so little about what to expect." He cut his eyes at Rommy, "Especially after someone took the time to remind me how ill it goes walking in blind."

    "Well, I did suggest luring some of them out. Easier to investigate when something's not trying to stab you while you do it. I suppose I could sneak in. Old habits and all that."

    "Would you mind terribly stepping out and calling 'here boney boneys?'" Erandur suggested to Ulfric. "I'm quite sure that's all it would take to get their attention."

    Ulfric gave the Dunmer a speaking look; one that said he'd clearly spent too long in the Shivering Isles. "I will watch your attempt to explain what happens to Telki with great joy."

    "Actually, that's not a bad idea," Rommy said thoughtfully. "If I'm not around, would you two be able to find and grab the thing? Your priestly training should give you enough True Sight for that."

    "I possibly could, but wouldn't it be easier to trace the pull with your magic?" Erandur asked. He did not like the idea of leaving Rommy to deal with the bonies on his own, Daedric Prince or no. Telki'd kill him for sure, or just make him feel guilty enough he'd wished she had. "I'm really not comfortable separating."

    The jarl's eyes narrowed. "Romulus, what exactly are you suggesting?"

    "I can lead them away and double back once I've cheesed them," he offered.

    "That…is sound strategy, so long as it works," Ulfric offered. "I am assuming you can mimic this pull upon me?"

    "Even better," Rommy smiled grimly. "I can put it on me and let them chase the tail end of it. Even if they catch it, all that will happen is they'll be infused with chaos magic. Doesn't really work out so well for most people."

    Ulfric nodded. "Then I will trust you to be careful with yourself. Telki's vengeance is not one I would wish to contemplate should something befall you, Daedric Prince or no."

    Giving a careless shrug, Rommy didn't mention that if something happened to him, not only would Telki become the new Prince of Madness, the old one would probably march down here and resurrect his arse just so he could scold him. "Are we agreed, then?"

    "If the two of you are agreed, how can I object? " Erandur sighed, gesturing with one hand and pulling his mace with the other.

    "Alright," Rommy stared closely at Ulfric, fixing every detail of the man in his mind, making a mental note to have Telki make him some moisturizer. Cold air was wreaking havoc on the man's skin, Nord or no. When he had him memorized, he shifted his attention to his aura, for that would have to be duplicated as well as or better than his physical appearance. Finally, he had his illusion ready, and he released it with a thought. This wasn't precisely a simple illusion like that which had once changed the Jarl into Erandur to see the state of his city as a Dunmer would, nor was it a complete change as he had done with Telki and Merc, but somewhere between the two.

    "And there's my worst nightmare realized." Erandur quipped with a shudder. "Two Ulfric Stormcloaks."

    "I beg to differ," Rommy said in Ulfric's voice, but with a Cyrodiilic accent. "I am much prettier."

    Ulfric raised an eyebrow at the both of them. "I think, by the end of this, any penance I've owed should be considered paid." He studied Romulus for a moment. "My nose is not that large."

    "Whatever body distortions you experience are none of my business," Rommy shrugged, then winced. "These furs are scratchy. Shouldn't a jarl have less itchy clothing, or do Nords think that builds character or something?"

    Ulfric smirked at him. "The next time I take out a wolfpack threatening a village, I'll be sure to condition their fur first."

    "See?" the Mad God turned to Erandur. "I told you we'd all be wearing wolf heads next year."

    "Galmar actually tried that once. They're not as comfortable as you might think. He had to go a size larger." Ulfric could not quite keep the snarky smile down this time. "Bear seems to work."

    "Well, he does have a rather large head. Too bad his brains don't quite fill out their quarters."

    "If we're done with the male bonding portion of our evening? Shall we get started?" Erandur gestured to the keep. "Evil won't smite itself."

    "One moment," Rommy replied, getting back to business as he focused in on Ulfric's aura. "I need to move the link, then I'll step out of the shield. Once I've lured the bonemen out of sight, you two go in. Erandur, whatever you're looking for was bright enough to nearly blind Telki for a few moments, so be careful."

    "Will do. I'll even try to keep this old warhorse she's so fond of in one piece," Erandur winced.

    "I'm touched. I shall do the same." Ulfric shuddered slightly. "I fear Telki would rip the Universe to shreds herself should something befall either of you."

    "Probably," Rommy replied, with neither irony nor worry, ignoring them for the moment and stepping out of the shield behind some rocks.

    Ulfric took a moment. "Why am I not more surprised that the Mad God just confirmed she could literally rip the Universe apart?"

    Said Mad God leaped into the open, waving his arms and hopping up and down. "Hey!" he yelled at the bonemen, waving his replicated greatsword like it weighed nothing, "Get over here so I can fight you properly in a near-suicidal battle to prove I'm not lacking as a man!"

    "I cannot tell if he's being sincere, or sarcastic." Ulfric and Erandur watched the near endless stream of bonemen chase after the fast disappearing figure of Rommy-as-Ulfric.

    "Stereotypes are the very daedra, are they not?" Erandur was not gloating, okay, maybe a little. His red eyes began to glow a gentle gold. "Now follow me, and then bash with your oversized sword whatever I point you towards."

    Ulfric followed carefully behind Erandur, wary of straggling bonemen. Erandur led them to a dark stone building with an open portcullis. A faint light in the doorway and a light mist on the second story completed the almost requisite spooky ambience.

    A faint pink glow hummed in the middle of the second story mist, the soft light filtering down the stairs at the end of the winding corridor. The dirt floor was littered with bones, none of which, thankfully, looked like they wanted to reconnect with each other. The only doorway proved to house a room full of remains, piled waist-deep in a haphazard heap with weapons, jewelry, and a lone ghost that sat in the corner, curled into a fetal position and shivering. It didn't appear to notice them.

    Erandur made himself a promise to bless the poor soul on the way out. Doing it now would only undo Romulus' hard work. He firmed his grip on his mace, and led Ulfric unerringly through the building. "These buildings all seem to be built the same way. There should be a teleport pad right over here, and a chest up top that will probably hold the focus crystal."

    "Then allow me to go first. If they are busy with me, that will give you the freedom to use your Aedric power uncontested." However, there wasn't a teleport pad, but a staircase to the next floor.

    "Well, this is new." Erandur was genuinely surprised. The second floor was nothing but one large room, lined with a waist-high ledge that went all the way around. On the ledge rested soul gem after soul gem, all black, all apparently full, heaped over one another until they spilled onto the floor. Windows above them gave a full round view of the Cairn under the pink glow of the Ideal Master hovering above the building.

    "No." The simple word was fraught with guilt. Erandur weaved on his feet slightly. Ulfric steadied him with one huge hand.

    "Erandur! What is it?" Ulfric looked about for the cause.

    "We could have ended it years ago." The words seemed pulled out. "The focus, we were right there under it. We could have ended it then."

    "Did you know then?" Ulfric knew the answer, just as he knew how easy it was to shoulder guilt that wasn't deserved. "Did you have any reason to look upon it with True Sight? Would you even have known what it meant if you had?"

    "No." The weight of the world lifted with that simple syllable. Erandur gave Ulfric a searching look. "Thank you."

    "You're welcome." Ulfric looked about the room for the way out to the roof, uncomfortable with the talk. "I know the weight of guilt. Carrying one's own is often more than enough for a pair of shoulders to bear."

    "There's the port. It should take us to the roof," Erandur pointed out. Ulfric wasn't the only one uncomfortable with the talk.

    "Then let us smite this stone, and be done with it." Ulfric stepped on the portal, and was suddenly outside on the roof in a haze of inky power. The roof was in two levels; the one on which he stood and a rise, almost a dais, with the floating gem above it, hovering over the blighted landscape as if surveying it. It emitted energy as well as light, so strong even Ulfric could feel it, like brushing up against something underwater, there and gone again and leaving only a faint impression of sliminess. Underneath the overbright crystal was a stone chest.

    Erandur appeared behind him. "Ugh, never get used to those fetching things." He took a moment to look about him, and pointed to the stone chest. "Typical. Whatever the focus is, it's in the chest, just like last time." Erandur didn't get to finish. Ulfric was off like a shot.

    Erandur cursed under his breath and made to follow. A swelling darkness from the Crystal floating over the chest had Erandur throwing his strongest blessed shield in front of Ulfric barely in time. Most of the Ideal Master's power was deflected, but enough got through to knock Ulfric off his feet.

    The Ideal Master paused, as if considering them, before renewing its assault, this time focusing on the priest.

    Ulfric wasn't down long. He flipped back to his feet and shoved a shoulder into the lid, sliding the heavy stone off. He grabbed the carefully wrapped bundle inside, bellowing to Erandur. "Back to the portal! We have it!"

    Erandur covered their retreat, having to throw up one more blessed shield before he could safely take the teleport on Ulfric's heels. He actually hoped Ulfric had some understanding of Dunmeris, because he had a few choice words for gena'id s'wit Nord jarls.

    Ulfric barely paused when he reached the room below before sweeping all the filled soul gems he could into the pack Telki had given him for potions. Strangely enough, however many stones he put in, the thing never reached capacity. In less than five minutes, he had them all. "There, ready to make an expeditious return to our realm?"

    "Hey! Are you two done in there?" Rommy's voice echoed through the windows. A moment passed before he yelled out, "I wasn't talking to you, you oversized sugar cube."

    "The sooner the better, we may have irritated our hosts somewhat." Erandur kept his tone level by some miracle. While Ulfric had piled all the gems in his bag, he'd kept his personal promise to bless the quivering soul on the bottom floor, and was coming back up the stairs to check on Ulfric.

    "Somewhat? He's demanding you give it back and…something about a dog? Oh, his dogs. The bonemen. I got a little peckish."

    "I did not need that image." Ulfric shook his head, as if he could dislodge the mental picture.

    Butterflies abruptly filled the room, colliding together to become the Mad God in all his Daedric finery. "Time to go," he said firmly. "He's calling the others. At least, I think its a he…do crystals have genders?" Glancing up, he yelled, "Hey, what gender were you? Oh," he looked somewhat sheepish. "It forgot."

    "Rommy, our return to our world, if you please?" Erandur had to give it to him, Ulfric sounded as cool as if asking for the next course at a social function, instead of escaping a hostile realm at the mercy of the Mad God.

    "Sure thing," he replied, turning to open a portal right there in the room, then pausing, eyes focusing sharply on the focus. His face went utterly still and cold.

    "Romulus?" Erandur noticed immediately and worried.

    "Ulfric, we're going back to your Palace rather than the Isles. Telki will just have to wait a little longer." The Daedra's voice was tightly laced with anger.

    "As you will, but I suggest you let her know we're alright." Ulfric looked at him quizzically, "Are you alright?"

    "Erandur will as soon as we get there," Rommy said curtly as he started forming the portal. "I probably shouldn't talk to her right now."

    Ulfric was impressed. He had no idea Erandur knew that many languages, or that many swear words. The stream of curses continued on right through the portal and didn't stop until Rommy closed the thing.

    "Romulus, what has happened?" Ulfric asked, handing over the focus.

    Carrying it carefully over to the bed, Rommy's face remained closed. "Please, Erandur, tell Telki we're back and will be with her shortly."

    "Will do." Erandur immediately got that preoccupied 'speaking look' complete with indulgent half smile from whatever Telki answered.

    Waiting, Rommy leaned over the focus on the bed, hands on either side, watching Erandur closely. "Done?"

    "Yes, but if you don't contact her soon, she says she's coming here to you."

    "Horrible idea," he said shortly. "Oh, and if you could tell Gideon that no one is allowed to stomp Faloniril anymore, that would be wonderful. Stomping is too good for that bastard."

    "I can send that message." Erandur looked over to Romulus. "Just so I know what to tell them, what are we going to do with the skeeving bastard?"

    "I have a few ideas, but they're all on his level," Rommy admitted with absolutely no change in tone. He wasn't apparently bothered by stooping to Faloniril's level.

    "Given what he has done, there is precedence for even Mara's mercy running out. In this instance, it isn't revenge, but justice."

    "Good. I'd like to give him to someone in the Isles, if you all don't mind," Rommy said, carefully unwrapping the layers of spell-woven cloth. "It's the worst thing I can think of," he said softly, finally folding back the last layer to reveal a small, curled skeleton.

    "Mara's mercy, no." Erandur could barely breathe.

    "Is that?" Ulfric eyed it. "Surely not!"

    "Skull wasn't even fused yet," Romulus said flatly, then reached out and gently stroked along the small white bones. "Wake up, you're out." Misty wisps curled around the bones for a moment before solidifying and opening small amber eyes, the only features not completely bleached out. There was no sense in them.

    "Oh Shor's Halls, what manner of monster could do this?" Ulfric breathed.

    Rommy was still examining the ghostly infant. "He needed something they would consider a real sacrifice. The more he gave up, the more power he would get. Most of the time, they spill their own blood. I suppose Faloniril decided to give his blood in a different manner."

    "But he doesn't value them at all. How is that a sacrifice on his behalf?" Erandur was outraged, horrified, and several other emotions he didn't dare label.

    "I suppose they don't know that, but if I had to make a guess…this child is full Altmer. Do you know how much Altmer value children? Well, Altmer children, anyway? I suppose you do, being Dunmer and all." Rommy sat abruptly on the bed, covering his face with one hand. "I'm babbling."

    "I think, in this case, we're allowed." Ulfric was still having trouble finding his words through a growing rage. "What will become of the child's spirit now?"

    "Erandur?" Rommy looked to the Dunmer beseechingly. "I can take him, but I really don't want to. The Isles can be peaceful, but I think Mara is better suited to giving this poor boy some kind of solace. Besides," he added, "I'd really like to be able to give Telki some kind of good news, since keeping this from her probably won't be possible."

    Erandur closed his eyes, and a familiar swirl of sparkles whirled around his head, taking extra laps around his eartips, before swirling about the child, both slowly fading from view. "She says 'Fear not for the child, for I shall hold him until the appointed time, and you shall meet again.' Do you have any idea what she means by that last?"

    "I…don't talk to Mara a lot," Rommy said, blinking in surprise. "Something about being a Daedra and mad at her for centuries."

    Erandur chuckled. Knowing the child would be cared for went a long way to soothing his feelings. Apparently, the channel was still open. "Well, seems She wants to change that."

    "Um…" he wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. "She's not planning to go walking around the Isles with blankets and hot drinks too, is she?"

    "No, her Champion has that well in hand, apparently. Do you know, she's organized some of the Saints and Seducers to help her with that?"

    "Not surprised in the least," he grinned slightly, then looked sad again as his eyes fell on the small skeleton still resting on the bed. It was empty now, but the bones still resonated with the energy of the Soul Cairn. He wished they could give the child a proper burial, but with his soul already in Mara's care, it was only a formality.

    "Romulus?" Erandur looked faintly horrified. "Are Aedra supposed to cackle?"

    Lifting an eyebrow, Rommy looked right past Erandur's eyes and said, "Cut that out woman, before I don't even have to work to take him from you."

    The sudden relief on Erandur's face spoke volumes. Ulfric shook his head. "Did I actually win free all those years ago, or is this some clever Thalmor plot to finally turn my mind?"

    "Rest assured, Ulfric, the Thalmor are not this creative," Rommy waved that concern off as not even worth the effort. Deftly re-wrapping the skeleton, he tucked the bundle under his arm and took a deep, calming breath, forcing his hair back to its darker state. "So, once Erandur takes care of all those black soul gems, shall we return to Telki?"

    So, while editing, Evil had one of those inspired moments, and created this little wonder.

  18. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    In which Shell and Gideon keep getting interrupted by the world going to Oblivion.

    Illustration taken in my game, edited by the incomparable Evil_is_Relative


    Chapter Text

    The first thing Gideon noticed was the sound of the surf, the muted roar and rush of water in and out of the cavern, then a warm, comfortable weight on his chest. Slowly cracking his eyes revealed a badly used Shell sleeping on his chest. Half healed welts covered her, showing how she'd been used for magical target practice. Someone was going to pay for that, and he'd happily see to it personally.

    In the meantime, without the poisoned food repressing them, he felt the familiar tingle of his magicka stores. They weren't much, but they were enough to offer some relief from the obviously painful welts covering her body. He gently ran his hands up and down her back, giving her what help he could. It didn't hurt at all that she was a pleasant armful to cuddle.

    He figured he'd better enjoy it while he could. He imagined she was going to wake rather furious. If not about being found cuddling him, then at least about the punishments. He sighed through his nose, and let his one healing spell run through his hands into her back, erasing the night's damage.

    Shell moaned softly, stirring slightly. Obviously, even years of training couldn't make morning people out of everybody.

    "Ready to face the day, sunshine?"

    The young woman bolted upright, tumbling right off him and cursing as she pulled some of her bruised muscles. Her face blazed red even as a Healing spell went off, surrounding her in golden light. "Gideon!" she gasped, obviously more embarrassed than he'd ever seen her.

    "Right where you left me, obviously. I had an interesting visitor last night. You've taught her well."

    "Blossom left the basket for you? Wait…taught…what?" she asked, shaking her head in confusion. Things weren't exactly lining up for her at the moment.

    "She was very miffed about you having to do punishments, and figured I was the cause. Thorn daggers, poison, even disguised her voice. She's very protective of you."

    Wide green eyes stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment before her mouth dropped open, then shut, then opened again to let out a string of Aldmeris expletives as she hid her face in her hands. "I am so sorry," she finished.

    "Don't be, your teachings are probably what has kept her alive this long. She was pleasant company once we worked past that initial misunderstanding." He gave her a mock stern glare. "Though, how you can be this close to the coast, and not taught her how to cook crab yet, I cannot fathom. Shame, Shell, shame."

    "She's five," was all the Bosmer said, standing and not able to meet his eye as she dusted sand off her trousers. She hadn't meant for him to see her like that. She'd meant to Heal herself as soon as her magicka returned, but apparently sleep had caught her first. Normally, the presence of another person was more than enough to keep her awake. She must have been more exhausted than she'd thought.

    "Truly?" Gideon shook his head. "I do not know much about the aging of elves. If she is only five, then you should be doubly commended. So, how are we going to get me back in, and in what state do I need to be in to keep you out of trouble?" He let his shoulders slump, his whole posture changing to that of a barely upright and utterly exhausted captive. "Something like this? 'Rode hard and put up wet,' as my Grandfather would say?"

    "I…ah…" she glanced at him and blushed. "Give me a moment," she said, walking down toward the beach, then thinking better of it and heading to the back instead. She rubbed her arms, not quite sure what to think.

    In all her adult life, she'd never spent the night with another person, even with someone she'd had sex with. She'd not been able to fall asleep with someone else around, not since leaving the dormitory, anyway. Even those last few months there had been a trial, after Ilmiyon had returned with her from Valenwood, after what he'd done to the others there.

    And yet here she'd woken up not only sleeping with Gideon around, but quite literally on top of him. First her muck-up yesterday, barely paying attention to what she was doing—not that the recruits needed her full attention at their level—and then this? Glancing back at the man, she wondered if this was perhaps a very bad idea on her part.

    He was smiling back at her, and her stomach did that strange flipping thing it had been doing lately, and she hastily turned away. Yes. Very bad idea. Horrible. Probably the worst idea she was ever going to insist on continuing. Reaching the spring, she peeled her tunic off and shimmied out of her trousers, not bothering to make a show of it, given her conflicted emotions. She didn't pause to make sure he was able to enjoy the view before she ducked under the hot water, either, but the missed opportunity was driven from her mind as the heat soothed overworked muscles still cramped from electricity.

    "Shell, is it going to bother you if I wash the smoke off, before we go back to the pits?" Gideon called to her. On the one hand, he was thrilled she didn't wake up furious. On the other hand, he certainly didn't enjoy her this upset and off her game. Given her lack of proper social upbringing, he was left wondering how best to help her adjust. It was annoying. He was a paladin of Shor. They were born sure of their purpose and place in life.

    Leaving her head under the spray for a moment more, she took a deep breath, then tossed her hair back and gave him her usual game grin, even if her heart was pounding a little more than normal and her cheeks were still a tad pink. "Whatever you need, Sugar. I'll be out of your way in a moment."

    Gideon chuckled, and waited for her. He figured she did not need to know just how familiar she sounded just then.

    Climbing out of the pool with her usual grace, she perched on a rock and began wringing out her hair. "So what all did my darling, deadly baby sister do to you?"

    "Poisoned me with darts, tied me up, questioned me, and then we ate supper together."

    Shell burst out in delighted laughter. "Sounds like my first date," she admitted.

    "What can I say? I seem to have that effect on deadly assassins." Gideon shrugged his shoulders in a rather hapless manner, before jauntily making his way to the falls, leaving his clothes safely on a fragrant soapbush just out of reach of the water. "Though, it seems it's nothing compared to the effect Telki has on deadly assassins."

    "Do I even want to know?" Shell asked rhetorically, spinning on the rock so that her back faced Gideon before removing her breast band, wringing it out deftly. Man had the weirdest sensibilities, she swore.

    "What Talon did, or how Blossom reacted?" Gideon was already soaping his hair.

    "Okay, I'll bite," she smiled indulgently, half turning to look at him. "You already told me a little, but I'd like to know in detail, if it's that funny."

    "Apparently, Talon is very adept at kitty cuddles, and knows the exact spots in need of scratching." Gideon gave her a teasing woebegone look. "I'm very afraid for his dignity when Telki meets him as she truly is. She will demand hugs and get them."

    "I knew it was impossible to be as successful as Talon is without some semblance of personality," she said, sounding pleased. "I've seen both ends of the spectrum in Young Ones. There are those like Ilmiyon and myself, who show a lot of emotion—"

    "Never put yourself in the same category as Ilmiyon." Gideon let the steel show in his voice and gaze. "You are to Ilmiyon as a priceless diamond is to a worthless chunk of quartz, and never doubt it."

    She gaped at him, face flaming again. Gideon finished his ablutions, before coming out and tossing his pants on. He approached her, studying her face. Shell was still blushing slightly, but her expression was almost puzzled, and she was studying him in her turn, almost as if she couldn't quite figure out what manner of creature he was. "Can you not see it? You've managed to survive with your heart intact. I truly doubt Ill was born with one." He took both her hands gently, rubbing circles on the back of them. "And considering the hells you have braved, that is nothing short of a miracle."

    "There are others that have been through worse," she said softly, gazing down at their hands.

    "That does not diminish your accomplishments, Shell." Gideon looked down at her. "May I hug you?"

    She scoffed slightly. "You and your hugs," she chuckled, but there was no rancor in her voice. She dared a look up at him, even though her emotions were probably a little too easy to read at the moment. "You are strange, you know."

    "I'm told I'm very good at them, why be stingy with them?" Gideon shrugged, and pulled her gently into the cradle of his arms. "And you like that I'm strange." He would not be one of Shor's, if the sight and feel of her glorious chest didn't tempt him, and yes, it tempted him mightily. However, that wasn't what she needed right now, and he was man enough to put such nonsense to the side for a later date when it would be more appropriate. When it would be welcomed, not as a tawdry diversion, but for the worshipful thing it would be.

    "No comment," she mumbled, her arms going around his back as she simply rested against him. Anu, she was tired. For a long moment, she entertained the thought of just going back to sleep, but she only had a few hours left to get him back into the pits before she would be missed, and he would insist on going back to the pits. The rocking motion he made wasn't helping her stay awake any, and she reluctantly pushed him back, smothering a yawn. "So, ready to go back to that smelly hole in the ground?"

    "Not particularly, but I need to anyway," Gideon sighed. "There's been mutterings and machinations going on. If things don't come to a head soon, I'll be very surprised."

    Shell tilted her head curiously. "What do you mean?"

    "Shell, why are they moving the dragon towards the pits, do you think?"

    "It needs to be fed?" she guessed, shrugging.

    "Chained and muzzled like it is? No, it living much longer is not on the Thalmor agenda." Gideon looked down at her. "Drop me off in the pits, and get the kids well away. Something tells me we're out of time."

    "Well…shit. I really was hoping I'd seduce you before that happened," she sighed, flipping her hair over her shoulder. It was impossible to tell if she were joking or not.

    "When it comes to that, when you are ready, perhaps I'll be the one to seduce you." The rumble in his voice and the heated look in his eye left no doubt to his sincerity.

    Her eyes gleamed after a moment's startlement. "I'll be looking forward to that," she purred huskily, leaning forward slightly so that she was pressed against him again. His hands immediately started that automatic running up and down her back, soothing her skin with his warm wide palms. Shell made a contented noise, smiling against his skin, then ran her fingers teasingly up his thigh.

    "Hmmm, are we not on a time limit this morning?" Gideon was pretty sure they could not afford to get distracted. That niggling urgency prompted that things were coming to a head, and quickly. He needed to be in the pits when it happened, but it was getting more difficult to push her away each time.

    "Apparently," she huffed, her clever fingers moving to dissuade him from going anywhere, even if she knew he was more damnably resilient to that than any man she'd yet encountered.

    Gideon fidgeted in place and groaned. He had to gently remove a wandering hand. "I promise it'll be worth all this wait, when we get there." He winked at her, and reached behind him for the tunic left on the soapbush, pulling it on easily.

    "If we don't all die first," she grumbled, rolling to the side and retrieving her breastband. The things were a lot more awkward since she'd gotten bigger, but she was getting used to it. Slanting a glance at Gideon, she reflected that they definitely had some perks.

    "That is a possibility, only a fool would believe with certainty otherwise, but…I don't think that is how this shall end." Gideon shrugged, "I cannot tell you why, but I do not think our story is even nearly done."

    "Don't tempt fate," she said seriously, "You never know when it might be listening."

    Gideon snorted. "If that happened, it could no longer use me for all its grand jests."

    "As long as I don't become one," she muttered, finding her tunic and slipping it on, followed by her bracers and several sharp, deadly objects that went in various hiding spots.

    "That is a distinct hazard if you befriend us," Gideon warned, though a smile was all but dancing on his lips.

    "Don't do that," she warned, raising an eyebrow as she watched him, bare legs still peaking out from beneath her tunic as she failed to find her trousers.

    "Do what?"

    "That thing where your eyes get all warm and melty and you look like you're about to laugh at something. It bothers my stomach and it makes me want to climb you a lot, so if you don't want us dallying, stop it." Flushing slightly, she turned away, "And have you seen my Aedra-forsaken pants?"

    Gideon looked around, smiling to himself, and spotted the delinquent britches practically at Shell's feet. "Those things three feet to your left? Haven't seen them."

    She frowned and peered around the brush they had fallen off of. "Very funny," she grumbled, snatching them up and shaking the sand off them before shimmying back into them, then strapping some very obvious daggers over her thighs. She wasn't in the mood to have her authority questioned again today.

    "Well? How do I look? Am I fit for the pits again?" Gideon turned so she could get a good look all around of his freshly scrubbed hide and the severely worn clothes.

    Worrying her bottom lip a bit as she watched him, she put one hand on her hip and thought. "Well, not exactly. And there are a couple of things we could do about it…"

    Gideon heaved an exaggerated sigh, the sort that raised the tunic half a foot with his shoulders, giving her a peep show of his well defined abdomen. "I was afraid of that. What needs be done?"

    "Well…You could run around until you're sweaty and exhausted like a horse, I could cover you with eletric marks or burns, or give you a couple of…well, things you've been actively avoiding me giving you. That last would at least explain why you're clean." She shrugged.

    Gideon raised an eyebrow. "Lovebites?"

    "Would the electricity markings be easier on your sensibilities?" she inquired sweetly.

    Gideon chuckled and shook his head. "I suppose it is a good thing, then, that Telki's already given her blessing, eh?"

    Shell's jaw dropped for a moment. "What?" she asked, eyes wide. True, he'd relayed what the other woman had said, but she had assumed they were joking, especially given that Gideon had proved fully capable of controlling himself around temptation.

    The mild chuckle became a tumbling rumble in his chest. "Make no mistake, I want you sure of yourself before you commit to anything, but Telki has a way of seeing things that defies logic. So she has already given her blessing on whatever transpires between us."

    "So long as there's no more stabbing and poison, I assume," she giggled, feeling strangely light.

    "That was a condition, yes." Gideon gently pulled her closer, "So, where all do you wish to mark me? I'm guessing you'll take fiendish delight in winding me up."

    "Always," she smiled impishly, pushing him backwards until the backs of his legs collided with the stone.

    "Then I suppose it's only fair I wind you up just as well." Gideon scooped her up one handed, and had her pressed against the cave wall with his considerable bulk in a blink, already kissing down her neck and back up, ending with a feathersoft swoop around her delicate earpoint.

    Shell gasped, suddenly very, very certain he wasn't lying or boasting earlier when he said it would be worth the wait. About to remind him that she'd already been worked up, thank-you-very-much, her mind went a little blank when he began in on her ear, all her nerves catching fire in an instant.

    She had no idea that the whole "elven ear" thing had made it as far north as Skyrim—it was considered a crass joke, but like most jokes of that type, there was a reason it got started. Very few elves actually turned into pudding when their ears were fondled, and as a half-breed, by rights she should never have been counted in that number. Dang it. Not that she was complaining, except his abrupt action had taken her a bit by surprise given his early reticence, and she couldn't seem to think very well…

    "So, do I get to mark you as well?" He was nibbling his way across her chin headed for the other earpoint as his words rumbled through her. Poor Shell was so sensitive by this point that the vibrations made her whimper.

    "Frankly, Gideon," she barely recognized her own voice, "I don't care what you do as long as it doesn't involve stopping," she breathed out, fingers clutching at him convulsively. He was so big he penned her in completely, a novel experience for her, but one she'd been aching to try for weeks.

    Gideon groaned, nibbling her other ear delicately, before sucking the lobe into his mouth, and then kissing it. Shell moaned and arched against him as much as the small space between the rock and him would allow. Gideon pulled her back from the wall, one hand cradling her head and the other under her backside, carrying her to where the blankets were still spread out. "I think, it is supposed to be you marking me."

    He laid himself down, cuddling her to his chest. "And I could get very used to seeing this in the morning."

    She pouted at him a bit for stopping, then "punished" him for it with a sharp bite to his shoulder, where it was easily visible above the neckline of his tunic. The growl that elicited made her grin, and she soothed it lightly with her tongue, then a soft kiss laced with just enough Restoration magic to feel pleasant without actually healing anything before moving up his neck, making sure there were plenty of marks on the way to his ear. He wanted to play with her nerves, she was going to return the favor, with interest.

    She wiggled enticingly against the flexing hands on her hips, grinding her instinctively against a very interested party in his pants. Little gasps left her in rhythm to his movements, until she finally gave up and tugged his hair, guiding his lips back to hers.

    Gideon kissed her deeply, thoroughly, and as if his very soul depended upon it. He could feel what little control he'd managed to maintain slipping away with every bite, suckle, and nibbling kiss. Perhaps this hadn't been the wisest course of action. "Shell…Shor's halls, woman." Gideon's head leaned back, the cords standing out in his neck as he tried to grab the last floundering strings of his restraint, teeth gritted and eyes fluttering.

    "You talk way too much sometimes," she muttered, catching his bottom lip and worrying it with her teeth gently.

    With a deep rumbling growl, Shell quickly found herself engulfed in Gideon's embrace. "Fuck talking. Let me show you," and he rolled over atop her, hands running under her tunic to rub and roll her nipples to pebbled attention. Her head fell back as she arched into his touch, gasping his name.

    The cavern shook with a sudden roar, the water splashing out of the pool and pebbles raining down onto the sand. Shell gasped for an entirely different reason. Gideon all but collapsed atop her with a pained groan, quickly followed by an impressive string of invectives, nonrepeating, and in several languages.

    "What in Oblivion was that?" she asked, eyes wide with fear.

    "Proof of what I said earlier about bearing the brunt of all Fate's jests." Gideon quickly rolled to his feet, offering her a hand up. "The dragon, whatever it was I felt coming, has begun."

    Letting out her own string of curses, she grabbed his hand, then started pulling him toward the entrance. "My siblings are in the middle of that!"

    "You need to go get them." Gideon listened as she guided him unerringly through the dark, winding tunnel, her Bosmer eyes able to pick up far more than his. That was the sound of a dovah going to battle. He did not want to think of either Blossom or Orien anywhere near a rampaging dragon.

    He needn't have worried about the first one. Just as they emerged from the cave a small figure skidded to a halt in the sand in front of them, wild-eyed and talking at full-speed in Aldmeris. Blossom was near tears, her little elbows scraped up and barefoot. Shell scooped her sister up, listening with that peculiar, quiet expression she got when concentrating. He allowed himself a soft smile to see them together. Apparently, she wasn't closed off with everyone.

    Shell closed her eyes, thinking hard and simply holding her sister to her. Finally, she opened them, all business. "Get in the cave," she told Blossom, setting the child on her feet. "Someone will be back for you later. It may not be someone you recognize, but they'll know my riddle, alright?"

    The girl nodded, staring. "Are you going to go get her?" she asked softly.

    Heaving a big sigh and brushing the hair off her face, Shell huffed, "Going to have to, aren't I?" The smaller girl nodded and took off like a shot into the cave mouth with barely a glance at the large Nord.

    "Who are we saving?" Gideon asked, rolling his shoulders to loosen them.

    "We? You are going back to the pits. I am going to go remind my mother for the thousandth time why Tyr is still in the pits. And probably grab Orien while I'm at it." She started walking into the groves as she spoke.

    "Ten to one she's in the pits already," Gideon smirked as he followed her, "or headed there."

    "One question," Shell asked, giving him a quick, hard glance, "Why is my mother so concerned if that dragon dies near Tyr or my siblings? I assume it has something to do with this 'Dragonborn' business, but what difference does it make where the thing dies?"

    "'Dragonborn' means exactly that: the person is born dragon souled. If the dragon dies near Blossom, and she inherited the Dragon Blood, she'd absorb its soul. What do you think the Thalmor would do with her then?"

    Shell halted, staring at him. "What? What do you mean 'absorb?' Like a soul gem?"

    "Very similar process. Everything that dragon thinks and feels, everything that it is, trying to make space in that sweet girl's head. It's not easy for someone who's made a living of it; imagine what it would do to Blossom."

    "Well, that explains why my mother is acting stupid anyway," Shell muttered, then reached out and grabbed his arm, towing him a long, "So what's so great about being able to eat dragon souls?"

    "Well, it also comes with the ability to use the thu'um. Basically, magic spells just by knowing the right words. It requires no magicka and no gestures. Just say it, and it happens. Nord Tongues can use a few. A Dragonborn is only limited by how many dragon Words he or she has found. Plus, imagine the blow to Nords if it becomes common knowledge that an important legend like the Dragonborn was the Thalmor's puppet to do with as they please?"

    "And the so-called 'Dragonborn Emperors?'" she asked tightly, the missing pieces falling into a rather uncomfortable whole. "Is my mother sleeping with the rightful heir to the human empire?"

    "And Morrowind, as it happens."

    "Please tell me that is a horribly timed joke," she groaned, eyes flickering as she took in everything around them. The roaring was getting louder, and off in the distance someone was shouting and the sounds of magical combat issued forth.

    "Did you never wonder why he has purple eyes?"

    "Not really. Tyr's alright, but he puts my mother in a lot of danger. I hope you won't think less of me that I've been expecting to have to kill him myself one of these days."

    "Dunmer Royalty." Gideon eyed her speculatively. "If he hurt her himself, I might possibly beat you to it. If your idiot masters hurt her because of him, I'd be pissed. You'd be blaming the wrong target."

    "A liability is a liability," she replied flatly, then halted. "Stay here. I'll be back in a moment."

    "You might want to clue me in, I'm terrible with vague orders."

    For the first time since all this started, she gave him a small smile. "Should have guessed. I'm scouting. If you move, it'll take me longer to find you."

    "Then I shall stay put." Gideon melted into the nearest thicket. Shell gave him a surprised glance, then smiled before leaping into the trees by the simple expedient of running up one until she could snag a branch, then flitting out of sight faster than they had been moving along the ground.

    "Yeah, no wonder Telki's jealous," Gideon mused, enjoying the show until she was out of sight.

    Shell moved lightly from branch to branch, barely needing to think about it after so many years, then halted abruptly at the edge of the treeline, green eyes narrowing as she took in the sight before her and making some quick evaluations. Lightning arched off to her left, and she glanced over as the ground shook hard enough to make the leaves shiver around her. They'd grounded the thing then. Still, no telling if it would be able to get back up.

    A few more moments travel through the treetops brought her alongside the sturdy buildings where gear and food for the prisoners was created and stored. They were stone, and designed specifically to hold out against a hoard of angry prisoners if they ever managed to riot their way out of the pits. Food meant for the prisoners could easily sustain their guards through a mini siege.

    Dropping to the ground, she ran into the nearest structure and snagged a shirt and pair of baggy pants before she popped back out, tugging the coarse, ragged thing over her blue tunic before taking to the trees again. No use looking for her mother; Fey hadn't gotten as old as she had by not being able to hide from just about anyone, no matter what Blossom thought. Even Talon couldn't find her when she put her mind to it. Of course, Fey wasn't at her best at the moment, and Shell just thanked all the gods individually and by name that Talon had found a mission to send Ilmiyon on.

    She dropped back beside Gideon so silently she was able to stop and admire how well he had blended himself in. Given his large stature and extreme coloring, he managed it remarkably well. Who knew? "I'm back," she said, hoping to see him startle.

    "What were you able to find?" Gideon had years of Telki popping in and out on him. He knew she wanted a reaction, but well, it actually made him a bit homesick.

    Taking a second to pout at him, she filled him in on what she had seen. "The dragon might be back under their control. I didn't see any giant flying lizards, anyway. They've thrown open the gates between pits—all the prisoners are able to move freely, but it looks like they're pulling people of a particular list into the largest pit. From what I saw, older prisoners. I also recognized a few Blades. They…won't be happy if they recognize me. No sign of them bringing anything in, dragon or otherwise."

    "Damn it to Sithis," Gideon huffed. "They know they have a Dragonborn, and they're trying to flush him out." Gideon eyed her new tunic. "Why are you wearing that?"

    "I'm going in with you," she told him, heading down the path again as her hands rose, parting and deftly braiding up the edges of her hair, interweaving them in a way that covered the shaved sides. Prisoners had no way to shave the sides of their heads so cleanly, and she needed it to look as if she had a full head of hair. She twisted it back so that it all sat like a cap over her head, knotted at the back of her neck.

    "We're going to just walk right in?" Gideon asked. It was hard to tell once she was done with her hair that it was anything but the normal prisoner mess she'd finger-combed into a bun at the back. It was rather cleverly done. He refused to think what else her fingers would be clever at doing.

    At the current moment, they were removing all the gadgetry from her arms; bracers that proved to have knives on the underside, that clever little chain contraption, things that had no immediately obvious purpose. All of this vanished to different places about her person as she walked, leaving apparently no trace. "Sort of. Let me think a bit."

    Gideon nodded amiably, hiding his amazement at her walking arsenal. It was all he could do not to gape like a fish. He'd never seen the like before, and doubted he'd see its match again. She continued to surprise him. Catching the look out of the corner of her eye, she smiled softly, and with just a hint of mischief. "Wait until you see my jewelry."

    "I'm thinking I might need a Restoration spell handy if I ever help you disrobe."

    "Oh, several," she chuckled, then halted just before the treeline, looking out through the spaces between the trunks and over the massive mess of craters. Pulling her boots off, she hid them in the roots of a nearby tree, then yanked the oversized pants over her own, neatly hiding the very obvious daggers strapped to her thighs. A different dagger from her boot sliced off the long ends of the trousers, and she quickly wrapped them about her feet. "Ready?"

    "As much as I can be. What do I need to do?"

    "Be as quiet as you can manage," she told him, taking his hand and casting with the other. In a moment, neither of them could be seen. Shell moved forward, tugging on his hand as she wove through the trees, then under a tunnel in the dividing wall. They didn't go immediately for the first pit, but around the edge of it, moving passed both means of entrance and guards. When they approached the center pit she reached out and placed a hand over his chest, then led him to the ledge, hopping up to perch on the railing. Bringing his hand up to feel the bend of her leg so that he would know she intended them to jump over she resolutely ignored the sparks that the touch sent through her.

    Shell found herself scooped up in massive arms, cuddled, and then the ground dropped out from under her as the giant git jumped over the edge. It was only marginally mollifying that he landed smoothly, hardly jostling her at all. He whispered in her ear, tickling the auricle. "Being a Treenord has to be good for something, after all."

    Her hand convulsed a little in the fabric of his shirt when his lips brushed her ear, but after taking a deep breath she managed, "Go into that side cave there."

    "As you wish." Gideon transport was surprisingly smooth, and he didn't let her down until they were in the most sheltered spot in the cave he could find.

    "Now, did you notice that everyone is mixing?" she said, focusing on simple things as her body and Gideon's warmth reminded her what it would rather be doing. "Races and sexes?"

    "Yep, apparently, they are making no assumptions about the Dragonborn except age."

    She shook her head, snuggling into him while she still had the chance. "Whatever gave him away, he's probably been doing it a while. He's been here since the War, after all. They're taking those who are old enough to have been here since…whatever…started." This man made it blastedly difficult to think sometimes, with his muscles literally all around her and his heart beating in her ear. Biting her lip, she entertained the opportunity to think aloud as she got her observations in order. "And if your wife is really Khajiit, they won't be thinking in terms of just Nords."

    "She's Dagi-Raht, and proud of it."

    "No hiding that even if she wanted to," Shell replied absently. "Anyway…" she grinned, "think you could pretend to like me long enough to be a reuniting couple? There are quite a few probably taking this oppurtunity for that, not to mention those who were married before being thrown in here."

    "Pretend? Did that feel like pretending earlier to you?" Gideon shook his head. "The biggest problem will probably be not carrying it too far."

    She's simply meant to emerge from the cave holding hands and acting loverly, but his words spurred her into impulse. Slender arms went around his neck as she stretched up, catching his lips with hers unerringly and breaking the invisibility spell.

    Gideon growled and hugged her tight. "I'm supposed to let go after that?" He lightly nipped her bottom lip before kissing her again. She sighed softly, wishing they were back someplace private, and squirmed around a little in his arms.

    It took him a while, he really liked her bottom lip, to the point he even sucked on it lightly. Nibbling his way down her jaw and to her neck, he remembered those adorable ear points needed attention. Peppering kisses all around the edge of her nearest ear, Gideon drew the point of it into his mouth, swirled his tongue around it, and sucked on it lightly. Shell started quivering the moment she realized what he was about to do, her eyes fluttered closed and she bit him lightly as her mind began to fog, a small, needy sound escaping.

    The familiar tramp of armored boots and the sound of a spell thrumming was all the warning Gideon needed to turn and present his broad back to the frost spell the Thalmor guard hurled at them. Gideon thanked his ancestors for his natural resistance, or he might have been permanently relegated to the shallow end of the gene pool. As it was, he waited and cleared his throat before speaking. "Are you done making an ass of yourself, or was there something else you wanted, you binty crow?"

    "Break it up, you two," the Altmer sighed, sounding like he'd been doing this a lot lately. "Nord, move to the center pit, or you will be escorted there."

    "So very tempting," Gideon growled low enough only Shell heard, and that mostly because she could feel it through his vibrating chest. "to see how many it would take to make me go."

    Despite everything, she snickered, "Probably best, anyway," she said, pushing away with reluctance.

    "Aye, I wouldn't be much use to anyone if they decided to paralyze me again."

    "Actually," she tilted her head, a few drops of blood escaping a cut a stray ice shard had sliced through her eyebrow over his shoulder, "I just meant that you were so…adamant earlier, about waiting. If you've changed your mind, I'm all for it, but I'd rather you not feel conflicted later." She'd be having enough of those feelings herself.

    Gideon sighed through his nose. "The smart thing, the right thing, is to make sure you understand exactly what I want with you. I want a relationship from now until we pass this plane of existence. Right now, you've not even had time to learn who you want to be. It would be unfair to ask you to make a decision like that.

    "Secondly, I don't want you mistaking what this could be between us. It isn't merely sex, and I'm afraid if I do give in to you and your very persistent charms, you'll be tempted to think that since it's more familiar and less unnerving."

    "It is that," she muttered. Wiggling out from between him and the wall, she peered out into the pit and giggled, "Did you hear his tone? I wonder what he did to be sent around specifically to break up couples. He'll have a few broken bones by tonight, for sure."

    "No telling. Though, I'm tempted to think it must have been something halfway decent, since they seem to punish anything remotely redeemable." Gideon pulled her back around to face him. "I want to prove to you that you deserve loving, and to show you precisely what it is like to love and be loved. Nothing less." He tapped her nose. "You're worth it."

    She glanced down, slight flush to her cheeks. "Well, he did tell us one useful thing," she said, rather than respond. "Now we know where Tyr and Orien will be."

    "Aye, so it would behoove me to go join the great unwashed masses in the center ring," Gideon sighed, and then wiggled his eyebrows at her. "Kiss for luck?"

    "Bad idea," she said, laughing. "You'd have to bend down, anyway, unless you want me to climb you in front of the entire pit."

    "I've seen you in the trees. You might not make it back down, and I really don't want to play dragging statues today." Gideon swooped down and kissed her soundly, before presenting her a courtly arm. "My Lady, shall we?"

    Dimpling at him, she threaded her arm through his. "Think Tyr will let me abscond with his son, or do you distract him while I kidnap, and you can risk his wrath explaining it?"

    "He's no idiot. My guess is he'll toss you the boy and hiss at you to disappear with him as quickly as possible." Gideon cocked his head, "Damn, unless he doesn't understand what this is all about. If all else fails, I'll explain it to him now, and then he'll toss him to you with a 'what-are-you-two-still-doing-here get-gone-now.'"

    "Speak of the daedra," she nodded ahead to a knot of men, apparently happily getting reacquainted. Tyr was in the middle of it, as always, and Orien was acting like he'd just been brought to a family reunion, grinning from ear to ear as a large Redguard commented on how much he'd grown.

    "Tyr!" Gideon bellowed, and waved a long arm at him.

    "Gideon!" the man called back cheerfully. There was actually quite a bit of cheer in the pits as people reunited. "There you are! Can you believe this? It's been nearly two years since they let us all roam," he pushed hair out of his eyes and gave Shell a telling glance.

    "Trust me, it's not for any charity on their part." Gideon bent his head low to Tyr's ear. "They're going to use the dragon to out you. We need to get Orien out of here, unless you want to let the Thalmor know there's a young, malleable option they can mold as they wish."

    The man sighed. "If I hadn't been here so long, I'd accuse you of being a killjoy." Looking at Shell, he simply raised an eyebrow.

    She shrugged. "Don't look at me. It's not like they keep textbooks of Nord legends laying around the tower. All I know, he told me."

    "I've been asking, actually," Tyr turned speculative eyes on Gideon. "All those stories of your wife's exploits…You really think I could do all that?"

    "I know you can do all that. Look around you, man. If they weren't holding your family hostage, you would have taken over this place decades ago."

    "Mister Gideon!" an exuberant voice chimed in, preventing Tyr from answering. A small redhaired meteor plowed into the tall man's side. Gideon hugged the boy. "You're back! They didn't kill you!"

    "Of course I didn't!" Shell interjected, affronted.

    "Orien, are you ready for your own adventure?" Gideon eyed the youngling with humor dancing in his eyes, even though wearing a mock serious face.

    "So you're taking him?" Tyr regarded Shell measuringly, and she stared right back. Though they had been cordial up until this point, it was blindingly obvious there wasn't complete trust between them.

    "If everything is fine, I'll put him back after the dragon's dead," she told him. "Not like we can get him off the isle at this point."

    "Tyr, he'll be safer there than in here with a loose dragon soul. It's hard for someone who is practiced at it. I do not want to see what it'd do to a youngling."

    "Safe out there?" he rebutted, a hint of anger in his eyes. "And what if they just decided that since he's lived this long, they want him after all? They've begun training at his age before."

    Gideon gave Tyr a "I thought you were smarter than that" look. "Tyr, where do you imagine she's taking him?"

    "Away is bad enough," the man retorted while Orien looked from one to the other with wide eyes.

    "She's a Young One, you better than anyone knows what that means. For her to have any soul left means she hides better than even the Thalmor expect. They will be safe. If you can't trust her, trust what Fey would do to her if anything befell Orien."

    "It wouldn't be the first time she's done things against Fey's wishes," he openly glared at Shell there, and she narrowed her eyes right back at him. "You're right, Gideon, I do know what being a Young One means, better than you do. And at this point," his eyes glanced over the marks on the taller man's neck, "she can have you thinking anything she likes."

    "You're still breathing. That says plenty." Gideon shook his head, "It's simple: Either he can go with Shell, where he isn't exposed to a dragon's death, and maybe the Thalmor find him, and maybe they take him for training, or he stays here, and gets pummeled by a grown dragon's personality trying to shove itself in his too young mind, and either dying from it, going crazy from it, or—if he somehow survives mentally intact—getting warped when the Thalmor discover they can have their own pet Dragonborn. Your choice."

    "So it is true," a new voice popped in. Though it had seemed everyone was too far away to hear them over the din, a slight form made his way over, wispy brown hair swaying as he looked them over. His eyes fell on Orien, "There is a Dragonborn in the pits."

    "Tim, meet Tyrlief. Tyrlief, the one intelligent man that survived Shell's little training session with me, Tim."

    "We've met," they said in unison, looking each other over.

    "We surmised the Dunmeri royal ancestry," Tim said, giving the man a completely new examination, "But you really are Orien's son?"

    "No, he's my father," Orien said, confused.

    "He meant your grandfather, Orien, the man you're named after." Gideon bent down to softly explain to him, ruffling his hair affectionately.

    "Perhaps I should reintroduce myself," the Breton said, smiling slightly and giving a shallow bow. "Timothy Meurig, one of the former Blade Loremasters in Cloudruler Temple."

    "Really?" Gideon looked around. "How many Blades have survived these pits?"

    "More than you would think," Tim replied. "Faloniril put great effort into capturing, rather than executing, many of us in the upper parts of the order. I myself had just retired when the war began."

    "Would the name Esbern mean anything to you?" Gideon asked.

    "Esbern? You know Esbern?" there was real surprise in the Breton's face.

    "Telki kicked him and Delphine out of Sky Haven Temple when they forced her to choose between them, and the dragon that freed people from Alduin in the first place," Gideon eyed him speculatively. "Just a fair warning. She has no trouble killing a dragon that needs killing, but won't kill one that's not causing trouble. In fact, if things go south like I expect in the not so distant future, you'll probably be meeting some of them."

    "You're acquainted with the Dragonborn, then?" Tim looked even more excited. Tyr looked like he wanted to be elsewhere.

    "I'm one of her husbands." Gideon grinned, and then shook his head. "We're well off topic. Tyr, will you let her hide him for now, or do you really want to chance him in here?"

    "Looks like I don't have a choice in the matter," Tyr cursed angrily, glancing around. Both Shell and Orien were missing. "If anything happens to him, I'm blaming you," he told Gideon, storming off.

    Tim was watching Tyr head off, a slightly wondering expression on his face. "I was questioning the gods for a long while after the war," he told Gideon softly, "but now it turns out that all this time, the new Emperor has been in here with us."

    "Yep, be nice to see the old Septim line back in place," Gideon grinned, "But really, tell me these Blades are smarter than Delphine. I really don't want Telki mad at you all."

    "I don't know much about Telki, and I only vaguely remember Delphine, if I'm even remembering the right person," he scratched his balding head. "We aren't going to have to break up a fight between two Dragonborn Factions, are we? Because from what I remember, Tyr has direct linkage to the throne, though the records I had access to were all fairly vague on exactly how."

    Gideon laughed. "Honestly, the only fight you're likely to break up is each one trying to throw the other at it. As far as I can tell, they'd both rather leave it lie."

    "Well, that's distressing. We only suppressed Martin Septim's will in regards to Orien—the other Orien, not that sweet, if problematic, child—because he was so young, and then he refused to have anything to do with it. You can't force someone to be Emperor, and by that time the Medes had settled the war and taken over and would have had him assassinated anyway."

    "I'm a paladin of Shor: We're reckless, not stupid." Gideon scratched his chin, "I think Ulfric's enthusiastic support and Tyr's own sense of responsibility will bring him around. Telki, much as she despises it, picked up her responsibilities well enough when the alternative was made clear to her." Gideon narrowly eyed the Breton, "And what do you mean 'problematic?'" There was a wealth of warning in those few words.

    "I didn't miss the ears," Tim sighed. "The child is half-elf, and I can guess what that means."

    "Last I checked, wasn't the Empire supposed to be a 'melting pot?' If you mean was his mother pressganged into being a Thalmor broodmare against her will, aye, as were all of you. Are you suddenly unfit to return to the Empire?"

    "I've been in here near thirty years, Gideon. That is the only child I've seen in here." Tim frowned, looking troubled.

    "Where do you think the Thalmor got their 'Young Ones?'" Gideon's voice softened. "Orien is hostage to Tyr's good behavior, as is his wife. Make no mistake, that is a match made by Mara herself. If it were not for Fey and Orien, Tyrlief would have had this place under his thumb decades ago. Tell me I'm wrong." Gideon folded his arms, and waited for Tim's brain to catch up.

    "He did have it under his thumb for a while," Tim revealed. "I'd actually wondered what happened, but I just assumed that's why they separated us all."

    "I wonder, was that when they sent Fey in, or when Orien showed up?"

    "Honestly, I was locked in with the other Bretons at that point. They threw all the Altmer and Nords in for a while, as well as Dunmer and Argonians…sort of let us tear each other apart for a bit, I think. Much of the unity we had before that evaporated under the old rivalries, but I suppose it worked itself out eventually. I certainly have a lot more Orc friends than I did coming in here."

    Gideon laughed. "Aye, hardship makes strange bedfellows of us all."

    "Speaking of bedfellows…" he arched an eyebrow at Gideon. "The Bosmer?"

    Gideon laughed the harder. "You wouldn't believe the truth, even if I swore on Shor's bones."

    "I heard what I thought was a dragon this morning, mixed in with battle magic. I'm no longer surprised by much."

    "These are for show. We've not bedded each other yet."

    "I take it back. I'm surprised." The Breton glanced about them. "Things seem to be calming down. Whatever they're doing, either they're not doing it today, or they're waiting until we're lured into a false sense of what laughingly passes for security."

    "I think you're right." Gideon stared up at the ridge, as if he could see from here what became of the dragon. "I just pray that if it died; it died well away from the children."

    "Will you be sticking around this pit, Gideon? Not that you'll apparently be allowed to wander far," Tim shrugged.

    "Honestly? One way or the other, we're all leaving soon." Gideon grinned at him. "I told you that the first day I came."

    "I still hold that I'll believe it when I see it," the Loremaster smiled. "In the meantime…I think I should go look up some old colleagues." Folding his hands before him peaceably, the Breton wished him a polite good day before going off to inform those he absolutely trusted that they had an Emperor to break out, and may have very little time in which to do so before their hosts discovered who he was.
  19. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    All Oblivion breaks loose, first figuratively, then literally. Aedra help them all.

    This lovely image was spliced by Evil-is-Relative from screenshots from my game. I've about decided that woman is literal magic.

    We have fanfiction! The lovely CelticDragon has added Telki and Rommy to her universe! It's a hoot. Come give it a look.

    Chapter Text
    "Where are we going?"

    "Nowhere good if you don't shut up," Shell grumbled, wishing Orien was as disciplined as Blossom, then taking it back immediately. She'd have spared Blossom her training, if she could have.

    "Where did you learn to climb trees like this? Can I have an orange? How come you weren't wearing your shoes earlier? What's that shiny stuff?"

    "Shut up, Orien," Shell sighed, halting for a moment to get her bearings. Her brother was wiggling around in her grasp to see out over the edge of the trees, and his audible inhale made her glance down.

    The boy looked absolutely stunned. "That…what is that?"

    "That's the ocean. You've heard it all your life."

    "It's so big!" His eyes were so wide she could see whites around the violet irises.

    "Yeah. Ocean," she sassed, finding herself smiling anyway. "Close your mouth, sweetie, before a fruitfly decides it wants to build a home in there."

    Orien's mouth snapped shut so hard his teeth clicked. Shell chuckled and continued on, glancing around to make sure no one saw them. She'd been enough off her game lately to realize the extra vigilance was necessary.

    "Are you going to marry Mister Gideon?"

    Shell was so startled she missed a branch, barely catching them both with a wrenching halt against the trunk, scraping her arm badly enough to draw blood. "What?" she yelped.

    "Mister Gideon. You're doing the face sucking thing and the weird looks and you were holding hands."

    "You know what? The dragon can have you," she grumbled, climbing back above the protective canopy of moss that shielded the upper limbs from the ground. Thankfully, whatever his irritatingly fertile imagination was supplying him with kept him quiet until they reached the cave.

    Shell poked her head in, looking around. If she knew her little sister…

    The fire rune went off with a small puff when she kicked some sand, not enough to really hurt much more than a hare, but enough to let anyone that was paying attention know that an intruder was about. "Didn't anyone tell you you're technically too young to know that spell?" Shell called caustically.

    "Shell!" Blossom materialized out of the shadows, giving her sister a moment's startlement that melted into something that could be pride, but was quickly stamped down when the girl froze, staring at Orien, who stared right back. The Bosmer put her little brother down, letting the twins come face to face for the first time.

    "Hello," Orien said shyly, violet eyes wide as he looked her over. It turned out Blossom was taller. Not all that surprising, given the food in the pits.

    "Why do you look like me?" Blossom asked suspiciously.

    "He's your twin. Get over it," Shell rolled her eyes. "He was supposed to be culled, but it didn't work out so well for them. Congratulations. Be nice to him, or I'll do something…ornery…to you." That was enough of a threat to get Blossom on her best behavior, and the girl jerked upright, looking from her sister to her brother before sighing.

    "Teach him hopscotch or something. I'll be back if the world doesn't end," the eldest sister said with such a long-suffering tone one would think she had to stop it herself. Swooping in to give both of them smacking kisses on the cheeks—eliciting identical giggles—she headed out, hoping they didn't instantly hate each other, but not really knowing how to mediate it if they did. Blossom, at least, had enough training to be able to keep them out of trouble as long as they stayed in the cave, with the surf to swim in, blankets to keep warm with, and food in the basket.

    Still, she had the feeling her sister was about to become horribly bossy. She smirked a little. Should be interesting to see how spoiled little Orien took it.


    She froze, looking up at the rock face above the entrance. "What are you doing here?" she blurted.

    "Better question," her uncle dropped lightly on the sand beside her. "What are you doing? Bringing a cull back in to meet my adorable baby niece, apparently inheriting a human fetish…were your ears always that sensitive?" he asked archly, reaching out and tweaking one. "You were squirming so much!"

    Shell blushed in both embarrassment and rage. "Go sit on a spike, Ilmiyon," she said hotly, without thinking.

    He gave absolutely no indication that he even moved, but Shell found herself on her back in the sand, then rolled with a kick before he was kneeling on her. "I know you better than you know yourself by now, Niecie," he teased, leaning down so that his breath tickled her cheek. "I could see you getting bored. It was only a matter of time before you found something to entertain you, but I really didn't think it would be this interesting. I've been battering my brain trying to figure out just what you're up to, and I can't. It's bothering me, enough that I didn't kill that massive lout you've been toting around when you left him alone." He backed off a little to give her a once-over, fingertips brushing over the scrapes on her arms before coming to rest on her hipbone. "How are you even planning to fit him? Do you like pain that much?"

    Shell thought quickly. He thought it was a game. Of course he did; Ilmiyon lived for entertainment. Anyone else might think him unintelligent, he flitted from task to task so quickly, but she'd seen him puppeteer half a dozen convoluted plots until the players all ended up killing each other. He was canny and sly, and his only scruples were those it served him to have at the moment. Flipping so that he landed in the sand next to her, she pushed up and gave him a quick grin. "What fun is telling you?"

    Ilmiyon laughed. "That's the spirit!" he crowed, pulling himself up. "Honestly, if it were anyone else, I would have thought you were going soft," he reached out and grabbed her chin, pulling her closer so that he could examine the cut the ice shard had left. Shell knew better than to move, despite every instinct she had screaming at her to flee. "At least I know you're not that stupid," he mumbled, breaking the scab with his thumbnail so a tear of blood welled up. He watched it trace a path into the divot beside her eye and then out along the top of her cheekbone before licking it off.

    "Who's the Bosmer here, me or you?" Shell waved him off quite as if every part of her wasn't thoroughly revolted and Healed the cut, not bothering to localize the spell so that it would heal her arm and ease her rising nausea without being too obvious about it.

    "So," he said, releasing her to rub his hands together in glee, "where's the part where we watch my sister get herself killed? I've been waiting for that since she started sneaking into the pits to save a cull."

    "Weren't you obsessively looking for a recruit?" Shell asked, rolling her eyes and strolling leisurely away from the cave, drawing him away from her siblings without actively looking like she was doing so.

    He snarled and she froze, shocked, and stared back at him. Oh, shit. The look on his face sent off every alarm she had, and goosebumps erupted on her arms. He wasn't even paying attention to her anymore, his gaze turned inward. "When I find that girl…" he finally said, trailing off.

    Shell shivered, "I can imagine," she said honestly.

    The older Young One broke out of his trance, blinking and looking her over with a smile that would have charmed someone that hadn't known him for very long. "Take those rags off, Niecie. You look like a human."



    Somehow, the pits seemed much less miserable when everyone was mixing, as friends reunited and couples gave cries of joy as they saw each other again after years of separation. Many a quiet conversation was going on, and it seemed as though at least a few members of every race stopped and talked with Tyr, comparing notes on what had happened in their pit after they were separated. All of Ulfric's original troop were together again; what was left of them, anyway. They were only one of two particular groups keeping him in sight, however, and he glanced at the other with narrowed eyes. The Blade Tim nodded back in acknowledgement, and he sighed.

    "Gideon, you have a big mouth," he said tiredly, sinking down on a rock. Unlike their original pit, this one had many large rocks, rolled over the years into rough rings to be used as seating.

    "Yep." Gideon grinned widely at Tyr. "It gives the enemy less purchase, when there's no secrets to hold over one."

    "Remind me to knight you or give you some form of horrible responsibility, like…a kingdom of scamps, or something," Tyr grumbled. Gideon simply fell over laughing, and Tyrlief raised an eyebrow. "Never mind. Apparently you're mad. I can legitimately have you put away for my own safety," Tyr couldn't help but grin slightly, watching the large man with puzzlement.

    "Remind me to share the irony of your proposed punishment when this is all over." Gideon finally caught his breath, and reclaimed his spot sitting next to Tyr.

    "I could always have you put away for your own safety. I can't believe…" he shook his head. "I thought you had better self-preservation than to take up with Shell. Honestly, I thought anyone did."

    "Paladin of Shor," Gideon smiled slightly wistfully, as if that explained everything, "And Shell has the potential to be an amazing person, once she gets herself figured out away from this hellhole."

    "Shell somehow survived nearly six years of Ilmiyon's undivided, personal attentions," Tyr said grimly, "I don't know how anyone can do that and still have a conscience. She acts so much like him she even puts Fey off, now."

    "Act is the operative word, Tyr," Gideon frowned. "And this Ilmiyon had best hope someone else kills him. Neither I nor mine will have mercy on him." He refused to think what Romulus would do to him.

    "Good," the man replied shortly. "Sometimes I remember that he and Fey are full siblings and shiver. I really hope it's not something that can be passed on." There was real worry in his voice as he said that. "Though Fey said it was apparent early on. Something about insect wings and small animals."

    "There is a sickness of the mind." Gideon grimaced, remembering one acolyte that had to be sent to the healers, and then back home for safekeeping. "It first shows itself in cruelties to animals."

    "Did one of your people really send him skipping like a stone into the bay?" Tyr asked with a bit more humor, slouching into a more comfortable position.

    "That was Telki, and yes, she did. Pity it wasn't too far back for him to swim." If Gideon's chest puffed any more with pride, it would pop.

    "I'd really like to be able to do that," Tyr said emphatically. "Specifically to him."

    "She'd be more than willing to teach you." Gideon thought a moment. "In fact, that's one of the few I know. Shor's bones, I could teach you."

    Eyebrows shot up as Tyr regarded him with interest. "In here?"

    "Hmmm, is there a deeper than average cavelet around here?" Gideon looked around at the available options.

    "Not in here," the shorter man replied, standing. "But, as long as you don't mind that we might interrupt a couple or two, there are some further on."

    "Let's go. I don't want to make it too easy on them." Gideon got up and clapped Tyr on the back.

    "I have one thing to ask, first," Tyr said, looking slightly uncomfortable again.


    "You're only into girls, right?" Poor Tyr had probably inadvertently broken as many hearts as Fey had on purpose, and he wasn't looking to add to the list. Considering the man's mad relationship with Shell, he wouldn't normally ask, but Gideon had mentioned multiples enough times for him to still be concerned.

    "Sadly yes, but I'll be happy to introduce you to both Erandur and Merc, who like both."

    "That's alright," he said hastily. "If I wanted that kind of company I'd already have it."

    "You're probably right. You and Mercutio would probably have fights over which one of you's prettier." Gideon couldn't help but tease, then his brows drew down. "So, why did you ask me what I liked?"

    "Women aren't the only ones that like my eyes," he sighed, then grimaced, "And I apparently can't tell flirtiness from friendliness; I always assume it's banter." Fey had needed to work very hard to seduce him the first time around, simply because he couldn't believe she was interested in him. She'd laughed about it hysterically when she finally figured it out. Sometimes, he wondered if that's what had actually drawn her in. He'd been no stranger to play flirting before being caught by the Thalmor, but the idea that someone as beautiful as Fey, who, truth be told, he'd thought of as an untouchable goddess, would actually be interested? It had blown him away at the time. Now, he just couldn't believe he hadn't been able to see how utterly lonely she was.

    Gideon put on his corniest 'noble' expression. "Upon my honor as a paladin, Tyr, your virtue is safe with me."

    "I have virtue? Gods be praised," Tyr said dryly, much more relaxed now that he was assured that the large man wanted nothing but friendship. Out of him, anyway. He still wasn't sure if he should worry about Shell—was he even supposed to worry about Shell? She was his stepdaughter, so he probably should be, but she'd once stabbed and threatened to geld him, so…

    Gideon chuckled and shook his head. They'd finally reached the back of the cavelet, and he whispered "Fus Ro Dah" at the back wall, etching the words into the stone. The entire pit seemed to shiver. "Come read these."

    Tyr squinted. It was a bit difficult to concentrate when apparently some of the men had decided to start chanting or singing or something. "What is…Force, balance, push?"

    Gideon cocked an eyebrow at Tyr. Interesting. "Share in my understanding." And Gideon closed his eyes, and pushed his understanding towards Tyrlief as he'd been taught. He was mildly surprised when it worked.

    Tyr burped into his hand, "Oh, that feels awkward. Like I'm supposed to try it right away, but it's a horrible idea."

    Gideon grinned. "Aye, they do that. There's another that'd be useful, but I only know the one word to it." Again at the rock, Gideon whispered. "Yol."

    "You just breathed fire," Tyr said, sounding as giddy as Orien.

    "Aye, give me a moment, I'm still a little lightheaded. I've never done the sharing thing before, or used two thu'ums so close together." Gideon put a hand on the rock wall to steady himself. Nothing like falling on his backside to keep that spit shine paladin mystique going.

    "No rush," Tyr assured him, walking back and gingerly tracing the rapidly cooling gouges with his fingertips. "Wait…three…Gideon!" he whirled, eyes widening, "Is this the 'thing or three' you were showing Orien?"

    "Well, mostly, we practiced meditation and stretches. Even I'm not reckless enough to give Orien Shouts."

    "I should hope not," he muttered. "It's bad enough I think Shell has been showing him fire magic."

    Gideon shuddered. "I'll leave teaching him the thu'um to Telki and Paarthurnax."

    "I still can't believe he's a twin," Tyr said, wonder entering his voice again.

    "I vow to you, Tyrlief, son of Orien, if by my life or death I can win you and your family free of this place, I will see it done." Gideon smiled at him, "I think it's well past time you got to spend quality time with all of your family."

    Casting him an amused look, Tyr teased, "Are you always this dramatic, because I hear Emperors need speech writers. Wait, that means I'd have to say it too. Never mind."

    Gideon laughed. "Pelinal Whitestrake was required reading. I blame them." He drew in a deep breath, and then stood up straight from the wall. "Oh good, my balance is back, ready to understand how to breath fire, then?"

    "Oh for the love of Anu, you again?" The Thalmor peering into the cave had a black eye and a limp. "First the Bosmer girl…I don't even want to know."

    "Come join us, I'm teaching crochet," Gideon offered with a grin. "No? Okay, okay, we're coming. You'll have someone see to that eye, won't you?"

    "All Nords to the center pit," the guard said tiredly, moving before he even saw his orders enforced. He definitely had a limp going.

    "Oh for Shor's sake, man." Gideon couldn't help it. He propped up the limping side of the Thalmor. "As far as banana elves go, you've been a decent sort, and you must have done something halfway nice to draw this bad of a duty, so let me at least get you out of here before turning all superior on me."

    The elf turned bright orange in embarrassment. "What are you doing?" he yelped, while Tyr broke into howls of laughter behind them.

    "Probably proving beyond a shadow of a doubt I'm more than a little Sheo touched." Gideon felt the familiar tingle that his healing spell went off. The mer would probably be able to walk on his own before they got to the cave mouth. "Do me a favor? When a flight of dragons show up? Get well away from here?"

    "A Nord just healed me; I'm going on vacation. I need a vacation," the elf replied, struggling a little to escape Gideon's grasp.

    "Can you walk without limping? Be a fool move to get injured again so soon." Gideon carefully let the mer go, once he saw both feet firmly on the ground. "You have vacation due? Take it now. Not jesting."

    "Just…get to the center pit," the elf said, rubbing his face under his helmet. "And…don't tell anyone about this?" His voice cracked as it rose half an octave in embarrassment.

    "On my way, and tell who what?" Gideon gave the poor blushing mer a snappy salute and jauntily swaggered to the center.

    Tyr followed, still snickering. "I had the same worry," he told the elf, who had finally started to calm down. He lit right up with blushes again.

    Outside, all those gathered were being herded into the next pit, with Sparks being applied where needed. After so many years, it mostly wasn't needed. "Here we go," Tyr sighed, even as Tim made his way over to their sides.

    Gideon's gaze narrowed as they were forced through the gated passage. The dragon was already there, hauled into the only pit left closed while the prisoners were busy mingling. The dovah was in terrible shape; all but dead, its wings mere stubs halfway down the length, bleeding sluggishly. Those being herded stopped and stared, muttering.

    "Blessed Talos," Tim breathed, sounding ill.

    "Void take it," Gideon muttered.

    "Well, nice to know the first time most of us see a creature our ancestors used to worship, it's been mutilated and beaten down," Tyr sighed, brushing his hair off his face. "Probably exactly why they did it, really."

    "Yep. That sounds about right. Show how much mightier than our old gods they are." Gideon felt a combative smile, full of teeth, tugging on his lips. "I wonder how they'll take it when some of the current deities weigh in on the matter."

    Tyr and Tim both gaped at him slightly, but it was the Blade that spoke first, "What?"

    "Hmm? I wield Shor's Blessed Hammer, didn't I tell you?" Gideon gave Tim his most guileless wide eyed look. "It comes when I call for it."

    "They always said the Septims surrounded themselves with interesting people," Tim muttered.

    "I am not a Septim," Tyr grumbled, glaring a bit.

    "Um, Tyr, you do know who your great grandfather was, yes?"

    "I'm an Amulius," he replied firmly, lips tightly pressed together.

    "Aye, and Amulius was an incredible man. One does not preclude the other, though," Gideon responded gently. "Denying the connection does not make it untrue. I think we can all agree Tiber was an unmitigated asshole, but you're still bloodkin."

    "Hey!" Tim yelped.

    "Get over it, Tim—my half of the family doesn't like him all that much," Tyr informed the Blade, then smirked a bit, "Still want to hand me the throne? I can always retire to Riften."

    Gideon shrugged. "He did many great things; he even did some good things. He was undoubtedly charismatic, but he was still an asshole."

    The Breton was rubbing his temples with his fingertips. "We can discuss this later," he sighed, hoping some of his colleagues weren't listening in. Most of them were having a very hard time believing him, some of them suspected a trap, and a good half of them had simply shrugged and declared that the Empire had already fallen, what did it matter if their estranged Emperor died in a pit with them, unnamed?

    A guard was coming around, asking names of some of the prisoners. When he got to Tyr he merely jerked his head that the man should step forward. No need to ask for confirmation with that coloring. Wishing he'd been born brunette, Tyr gave them a rueful look and headed toward the front.

    "Oh, I don't like where this is going," Tim muttered.

    "You're going to like it even less in a few moments." Gideon figured it was close enough to go time to summon his hammer. He had no idea how long it'd take to get from where he had it stashed. He'd have to hope fists and Fus would do until it arrived.

    The Thalmor had around two dozen people lined up in front of the dragon, most of them Nords, but a few Redguard, a man that could have been Breton or Bosmer, and an Imperial that looked like he thought he was as big as Gideon, even though he barely topped the Bosmer/Breton man. The pair of Dunmer edged away from the dragon, eyeing it warily. One of them was the first to speak. "What's going on here?" she demanded.

    No one answered her directly, though a Justiciar did climb up on the wagon with the dragon, glancing out over the group. Nodding to the guards, he summoned a Bound Battleaxe as they pulled the doors shut, locking them all in. All the Thalmor had spells or weapons ready as they spaced themselves around the crowd of prisoners, and the ones on the walkway above had bows and arrows out.

    "I really, really don't like where this is going," Tim muttered, glancing around nervously.

    "No, we're fish in a barrel," muttered Gideon, flexing his shoulders. He could feel the hammer's presence grow warmer in his mind as it got nearer, but he worried it wouldn't be in time to do much good.

    Without further warning, the Justiciar brought the axe down on the back of the dragon's neck where the scales had been pried off, severing the spine. The dovah passed without a sound as every Nord flinched, staring. One or two muttered an old prayer into the moment of silence following the strike. Tyr glanced back at Gideon and shrugged.

    A startled curse shattered the quiet as the Altmer fell back, the hem of his robe nearly catching on fire as the dragon started to burn, scales and flesh crisping to ash so quickly the dragon might have been made of kindling. Wind whipped through the pit and churned the light rising from the smoke, the entire ethereal aurora hovering over the corpse for a breathless moment before surging forward. Tyr visibly braced himself as the soul enveloped him unerringly, cycloning about him a moment before sinking through his skin, filling him with fire and pain and various emotions he'd never felt so closely together. He couldn't see, couldn't speak, could barely move. As abruptly as the assault started, it ended, and he lowered his arms to find himself staring at the dragon across a blank expanse, and realized that this was inside him.

    The dragon looked at him measuringly, then laughed, a bitter, vengeful sound, and the blank space was filled with fire.

    Tyr opened his eyes to see the Justiciar striding toward him, a determined, hateful expression on his face. Glaring right back, he gave the fire filling his mind free reign. "YOL!"

    Everyone, prisoner and Thalmor alike, stared in shock as the Justiciar was thrown off his feet, sailing through the air as robes went up in flames, screaming. Tyr turned his head slightly to eye up the nearest guard, who flinched back involuntarily.

    Gideon turned to Tim at his shoulder. "That would be our cue, then." A wide grin more suited to a saber cat wrapped around his lips before "FUS RO DAH!" knocked over a cluster of guards on their flanks. "Weapons, anyone?"

    Tim ran over without further prompting and pulled a guard's sword from his limp hand, turning to look at the rest of them. "What are you waiting for?"

    Yelling rang out as the prisoners rushed the perimeter, the Thalmor too unnerved to fight them properly. A few men went down, but the mer were quickly overtaken. Tyr pulled an axe up from a cowering Altmer, knocking him out with the haft before striding toward Gideon. "I can see why your wife doesn't like that," he said with a grimace.

    "She's gotten better, but she used to claim it felt like dislocating her jaw. Not to mention the headaches the dragons themselves always gave her."

    "I meant the soul thing," Tyr shrugged with a bit more of a wild grin than he'd ever given before, "I rather like the other bit."

    "Aye. I don't mind Shouting so much myself, if only it didn't take so long to learn them." Gideon rolled his shoulders reflexively, feeling bare without his hammer or shield. Why was it taking so long?

    "Tyr!" one of the Nords ran up to them, grinning through his overgrown beard. "What now?" he asked, "Are we breaking out of this dump?"

    About to answer, Tyr instead shoved the man aside, both of them staring at the quivering shaft of an arrow that had almost hit the man. The sound of wood sliding along metal echoed all around them, and as they looked up, all that could be seen was a line of Altmer along the rim, practically shoulder to shoulder, all aiming their weapons into the pit. Glares and moans met them as the prisoners stared up at the firing squad.

    One of the Altmer fell forward as a slender figure bowled him over the railing and into the pit, landing with a crunch. Fey landed in a roll that turned into a run, skidding to a halt in the center and raising her hands as the arrows were released. A massive dome of energy formed over the pit, shimmering momentarily before rushing outward, knocking both arrows and archers back before contracting, shattering into a million motes of light.

    "Thanks, Love!" Tyr called as the other prisoners stared at the Altmer woman uncertainly.

    "Thought you could use some breathing room, mellani" she said urbanely, standing and tucking her hair demurely behind her ear. For the first time, she was in armor, a light cuirass that molded to her figure, moonstone scalemail the size of her thumbnail encasing her arms and dropping down to points by her knees in front and back. Her hair shone rose-gold in the sun as she walked over, and Tyr slid an arm around her waist without any hesitation, his eyes glinting as he looked her over. "So," she said, glancing over at Gideon and the gaping Tim, "Is this where we all escape or where we all die?"

    "I could tell you, but you've had so much fun insisting I'm crazy, I'm tempted to leave you in suspense." Gideon's eyes searched the edge of the pit. It should be here any moment now.

    "Oh, so die then," she replied, a grin hovering at the edges of her lips as she correctly deduced "escape." "Oh, well. I suppose I'd rather go out like this."

    "We say, 'Victory or Sovngarde,' Love," Tyr informed her.

    "Or," Gideon watched guards get tossed high off the edge of the pit, and a small comet, bright from the speed it'd been traveling, landed lightly in his hand, revealing Shor's hammer. "We take these bastards down, and go home."

    Regarding the gleaming Aedric Artifact, Tyr sighed, "I somehow doubt I'm going to get to retire to Riften in obscurity after this."

    "I should think not," Tim muttered.

    "I'm letting you and Telki fight over who has to take the crown, I'm staying out of it, like a smart boy," Gideon quipped back, rocking the pit slightly when he hit the wall with his hammer, causing a line of just-recovering guards to fall into the waiting prisoners below as the more fragile railing crumbled. He wished the shield was the sort that came when called. The other prisoners—those with less convenient weapons that also did not come when called—were divesting the Thalmor of their arms and armor.

    "Dast it," one muttered nearby, "Decades of near-starvation in this hellhole and this armor's still too small."

    Gideon smiled that ferocious smile, and blithely knocked another batch of Thalmor into the pit. Prisoners snatched up bows and started bringing Thalmor down to them their own way.

    "You're so helpful," Tyr said, laughing, then looked at the gate consideringly. "Want to help me get that open?"

    "Open says me." Gideon took in a deep breath, and timed his Unrelenting Force perfectly with Tyrlief's. Prisoners on the other side saw what they were doing and ran for either side, sheltering in the caves. The approaching guards weren't quite so quick to figure out their intent. More than twisted metal took flight in the storm of their thu'um.

    Tim, meanwhile, was brushing off his little-used public speaking. "Men! Erm…and women! Behold, your Emperor! Er…That one. The first one! You get it. Are you with him?"

    Shaking his head as the men looked confused, Tyr glanced at Gideon, "Your friends ready?"

    ::Ready?:: Gideon wondered who was minding the crystal hat. :: Because now would be a very good time for some Dragons or Mad Gods to show up.::

    :: Oh, it's safe to say a Mad God is on her way.:: Erandur's dry wit wasn't enough to cover the very real worry lacing his words.


    ::We just got back from the Soul Cairn. We tried to keep Telki from seeing the focus, but she sensed it immediately. She left here in a cloud of boiling mad hornets.::

    ::Mara's Mercy, what was the focus?::

    ::A newborn. He sacrificed his newborn child, Gideon.::

    Without looking, Gideon swung his hammer, all but liquefying the innards of the approaching Thalmor. A haze of anger unlike any he'd felt prior left him speechless.

    Fey glanced at him even as Tyr started in surprise, then looked around, taking in the retreating Thalmor and the confused prisoners. They currently had the advantage of surprise, but that wouldn't last if they couldn't come together. A riot wouldn't free them, they needed a concerted attack. She sighed and stepped forward. "Soldiers of the Empire," she called, her voice ringing out clearly and cutting right through the din. Surprised glazes turned toward her and were caught. "For thirty years some of you have been here, captive. Many of you know Tyrlief from that time. He has kept you from fighting, kept you from starving, organized you so that when something befell you, it was shared. When one area prospered, it was shared. Many of you owe him your lives in one manner or another. Did you ever wonder where he learned this? What ability he had that your other leaders did not?"

    She paused, taking a deep breath as they glanced at each other. More prisoners crowded the shattered gate, and the locked one on the other side, watching, listening. "Two hundred years ago your Emperor died, leaving the throne in lesser hands. The Empire and the world was saved by the sacrifice of a Dragonborn, one born out of wedlock, one born in secrecy. It was believed he was the last. It was not so."

    Stepping back, she waved a hand gracefully at Tyr, who watched her with a hooded expression, but seemed resigned to have his secret out. "Tyrlief's ancestor was another such Dragonborn, a Septim kept out of public eye, known only to the highest ranking of the Blades," she nodded here at Tim, who flushed and stood straighter, trying to look as official as he could in his rags. "The Thalmor have long suspected there to be a rightful Emperor, and knew he was among you, imprisoned with you, suffering with you. What they did not know was who he was, but the time for secrecy is over.

    "The god Shor sent his own Paladin to bring the Emperor back to his throne," she nodded to Gideon, who quickly found himself the center of attention as well. "He and his friends, including the slayer of the World Eater Alduin, are on their way. It is up to us to meet them coming." Holding out her empty hands beseechingly, she asked, "Will you not follow him to freedom?"

    "For Tyr!" Bellowed Gideon, hammer high in salute. It took half a dozen pulverized Thalmor for him to finally see colors other than shades of red. He caught half of Fey's impassioned plea, and decided to do what Nords do best: cheer on a rousing fight.

    This time, it worked. The rising cheer rang off the walls of the pit, gaining volume and voices with every second. Weapons were claimed off guards, armor shared around. Fey turned to whisper something to Tim, who looked surprised and grateful as she cast a spell on him. He flexed his fingers with a nearly tearful smile, magic arching off them as her spell purged the poison from his veins. Seeing this, several others came over, the Imperial Battlemages regaining their powers before turning to cure their fellows.

    "Please tell me your friends will be here before their reinforcements are?" Tyr said lowly.

    "One is on her way as we speak, though, I need to warn you now," Gideon chewed his lip wondering how to even explain the situation. "She learned what the focus was. She's beyond furious, and carrying more than a little borrowed power with her."

    "As long as she aims it at the right people, she can work that fury out to her heart's content," Tyr replied grimly.

    "I have never known Telki to mistake friend for foe, but there may be a slight worry with…collateral damage," Gideon winced. "The borrowed power affects weather, and there will be dragons."

    "Bad weather and dragons." Tyr thought a moment, then laughed. "Well, no one ever thought this was going to be easy."

    "They're marshalling," Fey warned, jogging back over to them as she glanced at the rim of the further pit.

    Suddenly, the bright sunlight was gone in a clap of thunder so loud they could feel it like a wardrum thrumming through their chests, and right in the middle of the marshalling forces, a meteorite struck. It first appeared to be a swarm of buzzing hornets, then coalesced into one spitting mad Dagi-Raht. She put fingers to her mouth, and whistled shrill and high. A chorus of dragon bugles answered her.

    "Any of you binty crows willing to disavow any and all allegiance to Falofifi, you may leave right now, and you won't become dragon food. Anyone that wants to stay, well, no, I can't say it's been nice knowing you." A giant red dragon landed just behind and to her right, while a larger dragon, a more weathered white with red edges to his scales, landed behind and to her left. This dragon eyed the Thalmor with humor in his eyes, and snapped his jaws as if enjoying the idea of Thalmor dragon biscuits.

    "You might want to hurry up the decision making process. I understand Yolriiklok is hungry." The predatory smile gracing the tiny Khajiit's face was a perfect match to the two dragons towering behind her.

    Several of the Thalmor dropped their weapons and ran. Most of them readied Destruction magic, wasting no time hurtling it at the small form, as if she were a Conjuror and if they defeated her the dragons would somehow go away.

    Telki yawned as her plumward popped into place. She was going to miss the borrowed power, no doubt about it. As they geared up for the second volley, Telki borrowed Ulfric's phrase. "My turn." She turned to the dragons at her shoulders. "You guys like sheep, right? Lambchops good?"

    A burst of light engulfed each of their opponents. Suddenly before her were malformed gold-faced sheep with sharp ears and blonde wool. They stumbled and bleated in their shredded Thalmor clothes. One disconcerted elf-sheep was still trying to kick off a boot.

    Strunodven bellowed a laugh that shook pieces of the pit walls down in cascades of pebbles. "Kul, you have found an interesting Thuri to follow."

    Odahviing spat out a helmet before replying. "This is nothing, Bormah."

    "Vahzah? I look forward to the rest of today, then," the elder dragon declared, then turned his massive head toward Telki. "So, Thuri-for-a-day, what is it you wish us to do? Fent mu naak?"

    "If they have the sense to run, let them. Some of these are misguided babies themselves. If they stand and fight in the Thalmor armor—that's the black robes—eat 'em. Roast 'em. Take 'em down however you please." Telki shifted back into hornets. "I'm going to take off the head of this serpent."

    Tyr glanced over at Gideon, "So…your wife?" he asked, ignoring the chaos around them for the moment as prisoner and Thalmor battled, taking the second pit and tossing weapons through barred doors into the next.

    Gideon nodded, grim faced. "Faloniril used a newborn's soul to tie the spell together. This is what drives her fury."

    Flinching, Tyrlief's jaw tightened and he pulled Fey against his side without realizing it. She merely closed her eyes, sorrow playing across her face before it was shielded by her hair as she looked down. "That utter bastard."

    "The only question remains who will reach him first? Romulus with the focus to break, or Telki with her anger."

    "Do not let her kill him without breaking the focus first," Fey cried, head snapping back up. "He made the deal, but he is linked with the other lords. If he dies, the power may well go to one of them, the tie will go to their focus, and this will all have been for naught."

    Gideon nodded. "Wish me luck, then." Gideon loosed his hammer, making a hole in the Thalmor still willing to fight.

    "Odahviing! I've a boon to ask!" It wasn't hard to find the red dragon. He almost looked to be playing with the Thalmor, sweeping them aside with lazy bats of his tail and wings. It struck him as very catlike.

    "Geh, Tu Mun?" the dragon called, sounding as if he was enjoying himself mightily.

    "We need to catch Telki before she does something she'll be mad at herself for later."

    If dragons could shrug, Odahviing probably would have. "I cannot get stung anyway," he mused, taking off to land in the pit, swatting one last elf with his tail before lowering his head for Gideon to climb on.

    "Thank you, Odahviing. I'll make sure there's a heifer just for you when next you visit our homestead."

    "Do ensure Lucia has not made a pet of it this time," the dragon grumbled, taking off.

    "You know," Tyr said conversationally, watching his friend fly off on a creature out of legend, "It's entirely possible we've all gone mad."

    "Do be quiet, Dear," Fey said, tossing a dagger into a Thalmor's eyesocket. "We have a lot of guards to kill before we get out of here."

    Looking around at his rapidly growing army, the newly awakened Dragonborn smiled. "Somehow, I don't think that's as much of a problem as we thought it was going to be." With that, he hefted his two new axes and waded into the fray.
  20. Telki Member Author

    Blog Posts:
    Merc gets to explain what’s going on to Talon, and Gideon gets to meat Shell’s loving uncle.

    Trigger Warning: Most of the fighting has been glossed over, but things between Shell and her Uncle are rather graphic this chapter. Reader be warned.

    Picture taken in my game, made scrumptious by the incredible talent and skill of Evil-Is-Relative.


    Chapter Text

    The screaming was a distant sound, but Talon paused in the middle of practice, glancing toward the horrid prison they had been shown a week or so ago, going utterly still. When the battlecry of a dragon rent the air, Mercutio knew that waiting was done.

    ::Where am I heading, and what am I doing?::

    ::Telki's on a rampage.:: Well, that brought Mercutio up short. He'd seen her mad, he'd seen her grieving, but rampaging? It didn't fit.


    ::It appears even Mara's mercy is beyond this Faloniril,:: Erandur's voice was very grim. ::She's quite alright with whatever punishment Telki decides to dole out to this character.::

    ::That worries me.::

    ::Let's say I'll be running out of the ability to be surprised at this rate.::

    "What was that?" Hyaril asked, eyes wide.

    "I don't really want to find out," Min said doubtfully.

    The other recruits were apparently of like mind, milling in confusion. Throughout this, Talon hadn't moved, simply staring off in the direction of the pits, thinking deeply.

    ::Mercutio, Telki has decided Talon is trustworthy. Tell him.::

    ::What if he kills me?:: Merc eyed the elf warily. Rescuing cats and elven children was one thing, but betraying an organization he'd worked for for decades?

    ::Telki trusts him, but I can still pull you out if something happens.::

    "Master Talon," Mercutio approached the Weapons Master, a little worried despite Erandur's assurance.

    Talon whirled around, grabbed his arm, and pulled him off to the side while people jumped and stared, his face as expressionless as ever. When they were out of earshot, he released his arm, regarding him, evaluating him for a long moment. "These are your friends, I presume."

    "Yes sir." It took all Merc's willpower not to let his knees knock, and he'd stood between Telki and honey nut treats.

    "Good," Talon nodded.

    Mercutio took a deep breath, and let it out with all the tension that had been hiding between his shoulderblades. "So, there's about to be dragons and other things down there. Erandur said I could trust you. Most of these recruits are little more than scared kids, not to mention those trotted out when…What do we do?"

    Talon allowed his eyebrows to rise slightly. "You're asking me? How disorganized are you?"

    Mercutio snorted. "Well, when we made this plan, we didn't know we could use your resourcefulness, now, did we? So, this is us, including you, in our grand escape plan. Unless you don't want in?" Mercutio was quickly finding his equilibrium.

    "And everyone says Imperials are good with words," Talon mocked slightly, shaking his head. "Have you anything you specifically are to be doing?"

    "Watching everyone's backs, filling in wherever I'm needed. I'm the reserve," Mercutio informed him, hiding his surprise. He didn't want to know how he figured out his real race. Well, okay, yes he did, because that was impressive.

    "Not anymore," the Weapons Master said, "follow me." Striding back to the others, he barked out for them to line up, which they did, smartly, having learned enough by now to know they'd be running a lot more if they didn't. "There's an emergency," he informed them, "Follow me and keep up. If you lag you may be left behind, and today that might just get you killed. If you see fighting, do not engage." With a quick glance at Merc, the mer started off, leading them all through the trees at a pace much faster than their normal one. Several of them found themselves thankful they'd been practicing running so much.

    "What's going on?" Min huffed as she caught up with Merc.

    "The Dragonborn's here for Faloniril's blood."

    "The what is here for head man?" she gasped out. Never a fan of running, Min.

    "That crazy Khajiit woman from Skyrim?" Hyaril asked, breathing much easier and looking very confused. "Why?"

    "The girl on the docks, for one. Then she learned something worse."

    "Worse than Scary Man murdering a little girl? Yeah, I'll just stay out of her way," Min decided.

    "Wise course. Let's see what Talon has planned for us. I'm sure it'll be more than enough excitement for us to handle," Mercutio snarked.

    Talon had apparently reached his destination, for he slowed, leading them all into another training yard. He glanced around the startled group of youngsters there, mostly sitting. "Where is your Trainer?"

    "She never showed up," the little no-race boy said, sounding nervous.

    He glanced toward the pits again, eyes narrowing slightly, before turning back to Merc. "Get in the center," he ordered, then grabbed a practice blade, walking along the perimeter drawing an even circle while his students, young and even younger, watched him quizzically. Merc was already waiting in the center, puzzled by Talon's need for the sudden artistic display.

    "Everyone else, pace yourselves along the inside edge. Young Ones, put yourself between two recruits." They obeyed, still looking completely confused. "Sit," he barked. The children dropped into the sand immediately, the recruits following a moment after. Merc shrugged, and folded himself down. He wasn't taking any chances.

    "So, why am I in the mushpot?" Mercutio was oddly reminded of several childhood games.

    "Because you have a limitless ability to hold magicka," Talon explained immediately.

    "What do you need me to do?" Merc was all business again.

    "For the moment, sit there," the Trainer replied, stopping his circle with two paces to spare between the ends, where he set a quick rune Merc couldn't identify. "Everyone not Merkelwyn, prepare your magicka as if you were about to cast." He paused, looking around, and nodded. "You are about to do something you may have never heard of before. You are going to close your eyes, focus your magicka and send a small amount of it to the man in the center. It will feel something like a ward, a constant drain on your power. Keep it up and steady as long as you can, then let it build back up, and give again, for as long as it takes the fighting to stop."

    They all stared at him with wide eyes. Merc thought he finally knew where this was going. "I'm warding everyone, aren't I?"

    "Buildings may not be safe anymore," was all Talon said, then glanced at him. "Do you know how to build a spherical ward?"

    "Funnily enough, I even learned the version with rotation to it recently." Mercutio prepped the spell, and waited for Talon's nod to cast it.

    Looking to the rest, he called, "Begin."

    It first felt like a tickle, trickling along his skin. Then it grew, until he felt he was being washed down a shallow but fast stream; the current strong enough he could not gain his feet, even though he could feel the bottom slipping by him. It seemed to take him forever, but eventually he found his magical footing, and took control of the energy washing through him. It surged through his magical center as if he were a funnel, leaving him giddy and with a strange sensation quite like being drunk, but without the inebriation. "I'm ready."

    "They're not. Let them regain their magicka once more, while things are still relatively calm here," Talon said, a glance back toward the pits his only tell of agitation.

    "Aye sir."

    Minutes passed, then Talon had them give their magic to Merc once more. The experience was much smoother this time, and midway through, Talon finally signaled him to create his ward.

    A sizeable plumward popped into being around Merc and the others, naturally forming its barrier at the circle Talon had scribed, just beyond those feeding it, rotating lazily behind them with shimmering colors. There was a small hole in it where Talon had left the rune. The Weapons Master examined it for a moment before nodding, then walking over to Merc and lightly tracing on his forehead, moving the spell into third stage, beyond what Rommy had been able to show them. A second ward appeared inside the first, the magic going up and around Merc rather than down. The plum shape became a true sphere as magic traveled down the inner ward and funneled to the outer.

    "Oh wow, oh wow oh wow." Mercutio puzzled at it, "Why couldn't Rommy show me how to do that? It seems ridiculously easy now."

    "It is one thing to be shown something, and another to be forced to grasp it yourself," Talon replied, rising.

    "You'll be willing to teach me more, right? Once this is over?" Mercutio wasn't beyond using the hopeful puppy stare, even on Talon. Magic lessons were on the line.

    A ghost of a smile crossed the mer's face. "If I am not eaten by your friends," he said. "Then, perhaps."

    "Nah, Telki spilt the beans on you. You're safe." Merc smiled, "She said to thank you for catching her when she fell out the window."

    "I should not be surprised," Talon said after a moment of staring, his face closed again as his mind went through all the implications. Walking to the edge of the ward, he stepped through the hole and completed the circle. "Keep that up," he warned, then vanished.

    "So glad I brought potions today." Mercutio looked down at his pouch. "I might need the stamina before this is done."



    ::I have news, and it's not pretty.:: Gideon gave himself a moment to gather his thoughts into a comprehensible idea. ::Rommy, you have to catch Fifi first. Fey told me if the focus isn't broken before he's killed, the deal will simply snap to the next Lord in line. All of this will be for nothing.::

    ::Well, shit,:: came the very clear, very tired reply, accompanied by cackling, whirling noises, and faint screaming. ::She's moving fast, and seems to be all over the place. First Atmora, then Skyrim, then here. I think she's going through every room in the Spire.::

    ::Snare her.:: Erandur's simple solution grabbed Gideon's attention. ::She's always preferred dealing with someone else's hurts over her own. Give her someone in need of aid to focus her attention.:: Gideon could feel Erandur's attention turn to Romulus. ::You sound a hair's breadth from snapping now. If she had a glimmer of your state, she'd be pulled to you in a trice.::

    :: OF COURSE I'M A HAIR'S BREADTH FROM SNAPPING SHE'S GOING TO LITERALLY RIP THE ISLES APART IF SHE KEEPS THIS UP,:: Rommy thundered, sounding worried and angry at the same time.

    ::So why aren't you knocking on her mental door already?::

    ::She can't hear me. Everything's drowned out in her anger right now. She's focused on it to the exclusion of everything else.::

    ::WHAT?:: Erandur yelped. Gideon echoed it. That did not sound like Telki at all.

    ::What did you expect? She's not exactly sane at the moment.:: Rommy's mental voice was grim. ::That's why I didn't want her to see the focus until I'd pulled my power out of her. She can't hear us over the chaos in her own mind.::

    ::Sodding hell.:: Gideon still didn't understand how swearing worked when representing the Aedra of love and families. As a Follower of Shor, swearing was almost a requisite. Time to add to the conversation himself.

    ::So, what are our options for garnering a raging Telki's attention? Merc? Any ideas?::

    What should have been a fairly clear response sounded oddly muffled. ::I'm. Sitting. In. A. Super. Shield. Nothing in. Nothing out.:: The words sounded odd, as if shouted from a great distance away, seeming thin and weak. Which, if he were projecting from behind a shield, could be expected.

    There was suddenly a lot of cackling in their minds, and some applause, and something that sounded like feet being pulled out of sucking mud, ::When we have a moment, you are going to explain exactly how you built that. Do you know how long I've been trying to get the trick of that?:: Despite only being at half power, the Mad God was distractible as ever.

    ::Then we want to keep Talon alive. He made it happen. I'm shielding the recruits and wee Young Ones.::

    ::It's a damn good thing I know for sure she's not attracted to him,:: Rommy muttered, the thought almost drowned out by a loud screeching sound, like a large bird the size of a dragon and twice as angry. Fleeting impressions started leaking into their minds of people screaming and ducking out of the way as the swarm of butterflies came at them. One man had the audacity to aim a frost spell at him. He quickly found himself imitating a caterpillar, all the seams on his clothing binding themselves together to make a cocoon. He fell over like a toppling tree.

    ::Considering how fast it seems she's moving, I think you may be the only one with a chance to catch her, Romulus. Is there anything any of us can do to improve your chances?:: Erandur sounded hesitant.

    There was a long pause. :: Did you all forget there is a rebellion going on out there that neither of us can help with? Go make sure no one dies that doesn't need to.::

    Gideon found himself nodding. Romulus, even a tired and only half effective Romulus, could move faster than he could. Telki and the dragons had torn a hole through the Thalmor defenses, but there were still entirely too many binty crows for Gideon's comfort versus the mass of underfed, underarmed, and underarmored prisoners. "Odahviing, I am sorry my friend. Romulus is handling Telki's problem. We are needed back towards where the prisoners are fighting the Thalmor. Got room for banana pudding?"

    "I know not what pudding is, but I am willing to eat more elves," the dragon replied, banking to soar back the way they had come.

    Gideon laughed. "I have a funny story for you after this is over. Let's go stomp some elves."

    "One thing, Tu Mun," the dragon put in, "Do inform the new Dovahkiinne that we are not here to fight them."

    "Oh, Tyrlief knows you are allies. I made sure to include tales of the valiant Odahviing around the campfires at night. The children should be safe at the cave." Gideon eyed Odahviing. "Or did you sense more in the pit?"

    "Ah, kiirre. That makes sense, then. It is good they are out of the way. Monah is broody and would throw quite the fit if they were in the thick of things."

    "Would you feel better if we flew by and checked on them?" Gideon nodded to himself.

    "And draw the elves to the nest? I think not," the dragon said firmly.

    "Then back to the fray, my friend," Gideon looked away toward the pits. "Just how many Thalmor can you land upon at one time?"

    Odahviing made an interested noise. "Let us find out."



    "He's…very green," Shell noted, tilting her head as she examined the dead Altmer. "Do I want to know why he's green?"

    "I thought it was funny," Ilmiyon said, jerking his blade from the carcass. "Let's people really know they were poisoned."

    "Because the foaming, screaming death didn't clue them in," Shell nodded agreeably, wondering, as always, if her Uncle belonged to Sheogorath or if he was too warped for even the Daedra of Madness. "Do you always color your poisons now?" Young Ones weren't supposed to use a signature unless it suited the mission for deaths to be linked to a particular murderer. If Ilmiyon was going against that…well, to be honest, no one really even bothered to reign in Ilmiyon anymore.

    He thought for a moment, ripping off a bit of the soldier's sash and using it to clean the dagger before sheathing it. "Not really. I've been sent to Valenwood a lot lately. I tend to just kill whatever the mark is battling with poison, then let him eat it."

    "Thus killing your mark and his entire family," she surmised, not letting any emotion flavor that observation.

    He shrugged. "If it happens, it happens. Probably would have been sent after the rest sooner or later anyway; there is a lot of tainted blood in Valenwood. It will probably be centuries before they're a pure race again, if ever."

    Shell nodded, wondering if her father's people even knew they were being "cleansed," even now. Some did, and they had run for the Empire as hard and as fast as they could, or hidden in the deepest parts of the forest. The Thalmor would find them though; they always did. Her father made sure of that.

    Screaming rose from the pit again, and they both instinctively blended into the trees as a massive shadow passed over them. Feeling her heart lurch, her mouth dry, Shell stepped back out of the shadows as the beast wheeled overhead, aiming for the Spire. Massive—more massive than she had ever imagined, big enough to rival the whales that sometimes swam passed the shore, or challenge the sea monsters the Sload brought to bear—the dragon was the crimson of blood with mulberry accents. It roared and shook the ground, half-ripe fruit falling all around them.

    "Well, how about that," Ilmiyon said, sounding more moved than she had ever heard. She glanced at him to see him actually looking impressed, then away again before he could realize she'd caught his lapse. "A dragon."

    "Let's hope it doesn't want to eat our dead friend here," she drawled, swallowing to cover her emotions, which were so mixed she couldn't even begin to sort them out. Ilmiyon terrified her, but he was a familiar terror. Still, at least the dragon would only eat her. Probably. "Do I even want to ask why you killed him?"

    The handsome Young One shrugged, all cheerful veneer over soulless interior. "Never really liked that one. There are all sorts of people out killing right now, figured he'd make a nice outlying casualty."

    "The fighting's all over by the pits," she replied, wondering what he was thinking. "Do you intend to drag him?"

    "Hmm," Ilmiyon thought for a moment. "You're right." Quick as a thought, he turned and incinerated the poor mer's corpse, leaving it charred and unrecognizable. "Dragon got him."

    Shell suppressed the urge to do anything but look off after the dragon. Ilmiyon was taking this far too cheerfully, and she wondered what he was up to. They had responsibilities to the defense of this place, and if she weren't complicient she'd be heading toward them. "They're going to ask us, later, what we did to help."

    "I'm off on a mission, remember?" he barred his teeth at her, clacking them like he was threatening to bite her. "A baby mission at that. Talon really wanted to move that recruit out of my grasp, didn't he?" Darkness hovered under the words, and she just barely managed not to shudder.

    "I don't know what happened to her," she told him honestly. "I spent the afternoon hunting for the body." That, at least, was completely true. The thought of Pearl's remains floating in on the next tide—or worse, picked up by a Sload and reanimated—had been more than she'd been able to handle. Besides, it was much easier to hide tears when submerged in salt water.

    He frowned, then his face cleared with almost sheepish realization. "Oh, right. I forgot in everything that happened." Shrugging, he offered his semblance of condolences. "Sorry your sister wasn't good enough. It happens."

    Throttling down rage so fierce she felt bile rising, she merely gazed after the dragon again. A Young One—a perfect Young One—wouldn't care. She couldn't show that she did, or he might decide to teach her better. Distraction was readily at hand, though. Her eyes narrowed, then widened. "He's coming back around," she said.

    Ilmiyon frowned, then cast a spell on his eyes, which glowed slightly green with Illusion. A sly smile curled his lips, sending ice down her spine. "It is. Guess who's on it?"

    "Oh, I don't know. Anu?" she bit out caustically, putting her hands on her hips. She'd yet to figure out why he liked it when she was as sassy with him as everyone else; he never tolerated it from another. Perhaps it was only because she did remind him of himself. The thought made her even sicker.

    Laughing merrily, he dissolved the spell and sent her a mischievous look. "It's your Nord friend. I take it whatever game you're playing has been ruined by this little riot? Well, I think it's time we made some new fun." Before she could do more than open her mouth to ask, Ilmiyon's hand struck like a viper, tangling itself in her hair and pulling her off balance as he set off through the thickest part of the groves, half dragging her.

    "Ilmiyon, what the bloody fuck do you think you're doing?" she yelped, managing to sound more angry than fearful. Her hands automatically came up to grasp his wrist, trying to stay upright as searing pain tore through her scalp.

    "You need to look a little more beat up than you do, and he'd never see us in the trees," Ilmiyon told her cheerfully, glancing back and looking quite like he were enjoying her struggles. Tall bastard probably was. "Too bad I toasted that idiot's armor—would have been useful for him to think I was a Thalmor."

    "As if I'd ever let an ordinary Thalmor beat on me," she couldn't help the words pouring out in response to that; she had her pride.

    "Of course not," he purred, voice so laden with satisfaction it sent off alarm bells before a quick tug of his arm really put her off her feet. In real pain now, she did something she hadn't dare do in earnest since she was a teenager: She retaliated. Using his arm as a hold, she lifted herself off the ground as he staggered with the sudden weight, and flipped her legs up to tangle with his, sending them both to the ground. Ilmiyon lost his grip on her as he caught himself, giving her a surprised look.

    "You're messing up my hair," was all she said, glaring at him.

    Flipping over and pulling his legs under himself to crouch down, he simply sat on his haunches a moment, examining her. She felt quite a bit like a dove being stared at by a hawk right outside the flimsy walls of a cote. "I suppose this works," he finally said.

    "For what?" she inquired, but he was moving again, and this time she had to roll out of the way to avoid him. Shell scrambled to her feet, dodging blows as he came at her. She'd avoided sparring with him as much as possible over the last few years, but she still remembered how he fought, the adrenaline of remembered pain giving her extra bursts of speed to avoid his strikes.

    "Quit moving so much!" he protested, rolling his eyes. "How is he supposed to come to your rescue if you're holding your own?"

    "All those years of training, and you want me to let myself get hit?" she asked, astonished. Holding her own? Against Ilmiyon? "I'm not an idiot, Uncle. If you want to hit me, I'm going to make you work for it."

    He laughed, catching her ankle with his foot and pulling, sending her tumbling, then rolling out of the way. "That's my girl!"

    Shell gasped as her evasive maneuver instead took her right into a frost rune, chilling her through and slowing her movements. She was unable to dodge when he caught her arm, whirling her around to hit her square in the stomach, driving all the air from her lungs, the frost magic behind it causing all her muscles to seize up. Doubling over, she backed away, unable to do more than ineffective blocks with her arms. "Now, this takes me back," he grinned, shoving her. A tree stopped her from falling to the ground, and she glared at him from it. He seemed to enjoy that, too.

    Healing light arched from both hands, and she launched herself from the tree, taking him by surprise. Ilmiyon darted back, flinching as he held his arm, flexing fingers that had gone numb after she'd struck the nerve cluster that commanded them. The digits barely twitched. "I am not letting you beat me up to play a game," she snarled.

    "Oh, that's good," he replied, maddenly pleased with that response. "But we only have so much time before he can see us," he glanced at the dragon again and sighed. "I suppose it's the short route, then." He turned back to her and lobbed a spell at her. She gasped and moved out of the way, only to blunder into the knife he'd tossed with the other hand. "Always watching the shiny things. Some things, you really need to work on yet," he admonished her as all her strength leached out of her. Shell dropped, unable to move. "Hey, remember when we used to train with knives? How far up did I get that pattern to go anyway?" he asked, leaning down to pull the dagger from her side, then pausing to consider her as he licked it clean. It was a poor Young One that wasn't immune to their own poisons. "What do you think is most likely to set him off and not have me be roasted? Oh, wait. I think I got it."

    If she could have run, she would have. Shell couldn't do more than twitch as he straddled her, giving her a wink as he placed his hands around her throat. In a true ruse, he wouldn't need to squeeze. He did anyway. Black spots swam in her vision, her breathing quiet gasps whenever he felt like letting her get some air. The pain in her lungs quickly eclipsed the pain of the poison and her wounds. Through it all he simply stared back into her increasingly desperate eyes, face closed as thoughts whirled behind his own green eyes. They were the last thing she saw before her vision went black.



    Sheer luck had Gideon looking in the right place at the right time. He'd been scanning the grounds they flew over to get some idea of the Thalmor forces coming at the prisoners. It would be vital information when martialing the prisoner's resistance.

    So, Gideon's eyes were riveted by the sight of an male elf kneeling over a slight, prone figure. With a jolt like being caught in a sudden squall, Gideon realized the person was Shell. "Odahviing, this is where I get off. I've an elf to squish." He lept off Odahviing's back, hammer first. It was as good a time as any to see if the first time he landed safely was a fluke, or an inherent power of the hammer. Either way, that elf was going to learn nobody touched Shell anymore.

    Gideon had never understood when people would talk about standing back and watching their own actions. It just hadn't made sense. You are yourself, and therefore, in the immediacy of whatever it was you were doing. Simple.

    Until he saw that elf strangling Shell. At that point, there was the raging anger in the back of his mind, ready to rend him limb from limb, and there was the cold deadly voice telling Odahviing have a nice flight, this was where he got off.

    It was scary, exhilarating, and he hoped he never felt it again. He landed several feet from them, close enough to bowl the idiot off Shell with the concussion wave, not close enough to liquify her innards. Gideon stood up from the crater of his landing, the innate power of the hammer protecting him from the fall as he waited for the elf to find his feet. "Fus Ro Dah!"

    Ilmiyon was sent arse over end into the groves, bouncing off the edges of several trees until one finally ended his path. Hissing in pained surprise, he tumbled into the underbrush and vanished, needing to reevaluate. Had that pesky Khajiit taught all her friends that trick? Downing a quick potion and slipping through the groves to slightly flank the Nord, he examined him anew, noticing as he did that his apprentice was still laying where he'd left her.

    Whoopsie. Took it too far, apparently. He could tell she wasn't dead, but she probably wouldn't be too happy with him. Bruises were blooming all around her neck, and though it had been clean, her dagger wound would need seeing to sooner rather than later. It was inconvenient to have to stop to poison a blade all the time, so his sheaths usually held something uncomfortable. He hoped she'd do something interesting in retaliation. She really was getting more interesting every year.

    "Laas," Gideon murmured. He breathed a soft sigh to see Shell's aura was still steady, and quickly scanned for the other mer. "Touch her again, and there won't be enough of you to bury." Gideon confidently stalked towards Ilmiyon's hiding place. It always threw the stealthy types off when he'd do that. Afterall, he's not supposed to know they're there. It made them wonder when they'd misstepped.

    Ilmiyon frowned, backing away and up into the trees, moving around the clearing and keeping an eye on the Nord, who just kept coming after him. He couldn't remember the last time someone had been able to tell where he was. Well, besides Talon, but this wasn't a Young One. This was an idiot human from a hole in the ground. He made it halfway across the clearing when he doubled back, to see if it were a fluke. The Nord's eyes tracked him the entire time, and he scowled. How was the man doing that?

    Gideon got tired of chasing him as the auras of life began to fade, the Shout running out. Thalmor liked electricity, right? He wondered how the hammer's bolt would compare to what they usually used. Gideon lined up, and fired.

    Eyes widening as the human actually channeled a massive thunderbolt right through his damned hammer, Ilmiyon barely managed to snap up a ward as he dropped out of the tree, rolling, ward and all, with the sheer amount of power being sent at him. He stared down at the curving bottom of the ward, supported on the ground as a complete ball, not going through it. He could honestly say that had never happened before: No wonder Talon always harped on and on about making sure you were grounded before casting it.

    Gideon laughed, a deep, rolling predatory laugh. "It has been a long time since I played warball. Let's see how much I remember!" Using both hands on the hammer, he whacked Ilmiyon's ward hard toward the nearest orange tree.

    It rained unripened fruit around the startled mer, who struggled to rise to his feet, staring, then scowling. The ward broke as he vanished back into the trees, lobbing something towards Gideon as he disappeared. Gideon, as a matter of habit, swatted the thing with his hammer, exploding powder everywhere. With a startled curse, he rolled out of the spray, sending a cleansing through himself. His eyes watered until they washed the powder clear.

    "I have to say, I didn't expect you to have any level of skill. At all," Ilmiyon said from behind him. He didn't sound as if he was having much fun anymore. "No wonder she found you interesting."

    Gideon gave his ears a moment to do their job. Obviously, the mer wouldn't be where he'd spoken from, he'd have moved, as silently as Shell had. Gideon still needed a moment himself before he could whisper for his opponent's location, and he had no intention of giving the game to him. Between his fighting style, and rather cocky attitude, Gideon would guess he'd either run afoul of Ilmiyon, or one following his footsteps. He didn't think the elf's ego would allow for another who so closely resembled himself.

    "Ill Minion, I presume?" Gideon smirked as he turned, hammer ready, to face the elf.

    "You really shouldn't tease people about their Names," he said, real annoyance in his voice. "Some of us have to work for them." The Young One had decided that the game wasn't in his favor anymore. He was never fond of that happening. So, when things got a little rough, he did what he did best—he took a dagger to something. Unfortunate that it had to be his niece in this case, but if the Nord held really still, she wouldn't actually get stabbed. Well, any more than she already had, anyway. Still, she looked pretty cute, all unconscious and draped across his arm like that. He'd have to tease her about it later.

    "Yes, you worked very hard to earn that particular epithet." Gideon searched Shell's face for any sign of wakefulness. He was past ready to tear Ilmiyon limb from limb. The question remained whether he would remember doing it later or not, and that depended on how badly off Shell was now.

    Irritation narrowed the mer's eyes momentarily. Whatever his darling apprentice wanted, he was going to kill this man. It may not be as slowly as he would like, but he was going to carve a piece out of him for every time the Nord misused his Name. Maybe he'd give her the human's torn-out heart for a keepsake. For that, he needed a weakness, but it was surprisingly difficult to get close to this juggernaut. He might just have to resort to lobbing daggers after all.

    A hint of wetness as his fingers idly ghosted along the wound in the unconscious woman's side recalled him to his initial reason for coming over. Silver was not her color, he noted, the cold, straight edge of the blade jarring unaesthetically along her collarbone and throat. Jostling her a bit, looking absurdly like someone trying to bounce a baby, he grinned up at Gideon. "She's so small, isn't she? I really like that about her. Her father…well…I don't know how Fey does half the things she does, but Bosmer are just adorable, aren't they?"

    "ZUUN HAAL VIIK!" The dagger was knocked from the elf's hand, and Gideon's large body followed right behind, pinning Ilmiyon to the ground, and rolling Shell out of harm's way with the arm not across the struggling mer. The elf scrabbled against him a moment before sharp pain bloomed in Gideon's side, sending needles of fire through his abdomen. A short dagger pinned his clothing to him.

    "This again?" Gideon's elbow found Ilmiyon's face, hard. He heard bone crack. He borrowed magicka from the hammer to heal some of the damage, knowing poison was a very likely prospect. Luckily the wound itself was shallow, and more or less with the grain of the muscle it had punctured.

    Startled curses in Aldmeris filled the air. Glaring at him so hard the Nord should have crumbled to ash under the heat of it, Ilmiyon Healed his nose back crookedly, gently probing his shattered cheekbone.

    "You missed a spot."

    "She was supposed to breed you, wasn't she?" he asked flatly. It was galling to be having this much trouble with a Nord.

    "I have no idea." Gideon raised an eyebrow. "But that's not happening until she knows what she wants, not what the Thalmor want." Gideon ungently thumped Ilmiyon's head against the ground. "And why am I bothering to tell a dead man?"

    The elf's hand flattened against the Nord's chest as if to fend him off, but instead a powerful lightning spell erupted from his palm, potent enough to burn a star-shaped hole through the fabric, branding the star into the Nord's chest.

    Gideon grunted and jittered in place, but did not let the mer up, mitigating the damage by sending the lightning into the hammer. "Oh, do you really want to play lightning toss? My. Pleasure." Gideon lifted the hammer.

    A ward formed in front of the elf before the first volts got through, blooming outward rapidly and tossing the Nord halfway across the clearing. Sitting up quickly, the Young One wiped the blood from his lip and stared at the Nord, his face quietly calculating. Today was the day for reminiscing, it seemed, though Ilmiyon couldn't really recall ever having been pinned, not since he'd gotten his Name, anyway. If this human really had been supposed to be added into the Young One bloodlines, there must be far more to him than he'd initially thought, much to his annoyance. Summoning up fire, he placed a wall of flames between them, standing and Healing himself of the worst of the damage. This was certainly problematic.

    He glanced over to where his apprentice had landed. She wasn't there anymore, and he smirked. She wouldn't get far with that wound. Green eyes flickered over the trees, knowing she'd be there, watching.

    Gideon's chest hurt like the daedra, but he didn't dare show any of it. He pulled yet more energy from the hammer, healing it as best he could, and walked toward the fire wall. Interesting. He chuckled low in his chest. "So, the great assassin must hide behind a firewall from a mere lumbering Nord?" Gideon tsked. "Whatever would Talon think?"

    "I don't give a toss what that stick up the ass mer thinks," Ilmiyon replied, tilting his head quizzically. "How much has she been telling you, exactly? Or do you all have dossiers on us, as well?"

    "She hasn't told me much of anything. Perhaps you lot aren't as good at keeping secrets as you thought," Gideon smirked through the haze at him, dark eyes reflecting back the firelight like a Daedra.

    Head tilting the other way, like a bird trying to puzzle something out, Ilmiyon took a moment to consider his position. The Nord was at least partially resistant to poisons, could follow his movements when stealthed, and had strange voice magic, as well as some training to ignore pain while in combat. Ruefully, the elf wondered if it hadn't been too long since he was challenged. He was having a bit of difficulty discerning the man's major weaknesses.

    A little pained gasp from his right, audible only because of his elfen hearing, clued him in to where the woman had dragged herself. His lips curled slightly upward, looking like a cat that just spotted an unwary mouse. "I'm frankly surprised you two ended up doing any talking at all. You certainly looked like you were focused on other things."

    "Jealous? Truly?" Gideon shuddered; the elf was good, but he would have sworn to Shor that was a repressed startle he saw. "She's your what? Niece?" Gideon wondered how much longer he could keep Ilmiyon going. If anyone deserved the killshot on this mad dog, it was her, and he didn't want to take that closure away from her.

    "I am simply worried about her well-being," the elf said with false sincerity, "You might tear her apart. I sort of wonder if she'd like it."

    Gideon could only shake his head at him. "You have some very odd…preoccupations. Why would you even think that'd be a problem?" Gideon realized his error. "No, I take it back. I don't want to know why you'd think that'd be a problem."

    Ilmiyon's hands fidgeted slightly, a nervous gesture to any other eye. "Well, she's so delicate. I should know. Do you have any idea how many times I had to put her back together before she stopped coming apart so easily?"

    Gideon's brows dropped, and his voice a low growl. "I have some idea, and it's only part of the sins you will be paying for." He watched the hands. That was casting if ever he saw it. "Starting now. FUS RO DAH!"

    Seeing the indrawn breath, Ilmiyon threw himself to the side, getting caught in the edge of the Shout and blasted into the trees. Colliding once again with an unmoving trunk, he cursed, unable to get his feet as he slid down. This was getting old. He should have just poisoned the big bastard in the first place. Even resistance could be overcome with enough applications. Struggling to get his feet beneath him as the insufferable giant started for him again, Ilmiyon jerked as something slight thudded into his side. Blinking, he looked down, and frowned in confusion.

    A tiny blade, completely cast in silver, with an ornate handle. He recognized the knife. He'd tried to get her to get rid of them—the only gift her father had managed to send along with her, compliments of Valenwood. Further recollections were interrupted as a second small dagger found his other side, just below the ribs, followed rapidly by one in each shoulder, several in his thighs, then the center of his gut. Fire coursed through his veins from each point, poison stealing his strength, his magicka, and his ability to move well.

    Ilmiyon fell. He landed practically sitting against the tree, able to watch as his niece rose from the brush, her expression a cold one he'd never seen before. He hadn't even sensed her. "You…well, you did promise," he grinned at her, laughing slightly at the irony.

    "Of course I did," she replied, coming over and wrenching all the knives out. "One for each of them," she reminded him, then stepped back, and he felt his head fall forward as the toxins hit him a second time. He counted until the last dull thud landed in his stomach, hand twitching as the very small amount of magicka left to him kept him alive. Finally, he sensed her come over and kneel beside him, drawing out the last dagger, and reached up, grabbing the hair on the back of her head as she stared at him with wide eyes for his ability to move. "I told you that you'd be better than me one day," he chuckled, drawing her toward him while her eyes widened even further in horror.

    Shell pushed herself away as another dagger thumped into Ilmiyon, pulping his eye and knocking his head further away from her. A firm hand grasping her arm drew her up, and she glanced over to find Talon looking her over, then regarding Ilmiyon. "Apparently everyone talks too much these days," he commented with his usual dryness, giving her something else to focus on. Ilmiyon had tried to kiss her. Ilmiyon had tried to kiss her.

    Falling right back down into the loamy soil, she retched helplessly, sobbing. Gideon softly padded to her, and knelt at her side. His own stomach was roiling, but Shell needed him. He fought the heaves down, barely. Shell needed him. "I'm here, Shell. Lean on me."

    Wrapping her arms tightly about herself, not sure she'd ever be able to wash away how dirty she felt, she shook her head, not sure what to do. Nothing was making sense and it seemed as if the world were turning itself upside down. Very few things in her life had been constant, and she'd just killed one of them, and in an odd way, she grieved. She also lamented that she couldn't kill him again, and though he was gone, he had marked her, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and knowing he had been planning worse violations shook her. Or had he only done it to mess with her one last time?

    Gideon watched her helplessly for a moment, then remembered the other Young One still there. He looked over to Talon. "Thank you."

    "You shouldn't play with mad dogs," Talon rebuked him after nodding acknowledgement. "Very often, whatever made them mad is, in one way or another, catching." Cleaning his dagger, he looked over his sobbing former student. "Are you going to comfort her, then?"

    "If she'll have me. She's had enough decisions taken out of her hands for a lifetime. I wasn't going to take another."

    Talon cast his eyes heavenward, an open expression of exasperation. "She's not thinking clearly right now, and if you don't make sure she doesn't break, I'm going to have to, and we'll all feel awkward."

    Gideon scooped her up close, stroking her hair. "If she stabs me, I'm coming back to haunt you." He moved her away from the mess and Ilmiyon's body. She could hardly recover from her upset with the causes right there before her.

    "I think I'm safe," Talon observed as Shell not only didn't stab him, she turned and clung to him like she was drowning, sobbing so quietly you had to be near her to hear it. It broke Gideon's heart to hear, but he kept stroking her hair, finally making all the promises he'd already been thinking out loud. Throughout it all, she simply held herself to him, unable to hear at first, then not sure she believed when sense finally started coming back, but she wanted to.

    "Are you going to let me see to your wounds now?" Talon asked calmly, settling himself before them after several minutes, holding her cleaned knives out to her.

    Shell wiped her nose. "I knew you had a personality in there," she muttered, face flushed with more than just tears.

    "Of course not," he scoffed, already displaying more personality than Shell was used to seeing from him in a month. The cleansing spell he sent over her cleaned the dirt from her skin and purged the taste of bile from her mouth. She bit her lip as he started drawing the poison out of the wound to be purified.

    Gideon coughed into his hand. "A red and black kitty with purple eyes says otherwise."

    "Cats are well known for saying whatever suits them," Talon replied. "Though usually it comes out more as a yowl." He paused, watching Shell make her daggers disappear as if by magic. "If it comforts you," he added, much to her surprise, "he did have a dagger in the other hand."

    She thought about that a moment, wincing away from where blood foamed the poison out of her system. "It does. It really does."

    "I noticed you didn't stab him for your sister." Talon wiped the poison away with a handkerchief, tossing it to the side.

    "That's because you covered for her, you apparent softy," she said, giving him an arch look more in line with how she usually acted.

    "I have no idea what you mean," he replied, hand moving to her neck to fix the bruising there. She sighed, wiggling a little in discomfort.

    Gideon had to cough again. "Well, best get an idea. I have it on good authority your 'no idea' will insist on a hug." A very pained look crossed his face. "Shell, I know it's not your usual, but please, just a little mercy?"

    "What?" she asked, glancing up with a wince as she pulled sore muscles.

    Talon sighed, deciding they were hopeless, and widened the spell to cover both of them now that he no longer needed to do delicate work. "If you have no potions, you should both rest before returning to the fight. And stretch, or you'll be regretting it in battle."

    "Aye, contrary to popular opinion, I do occasionally have a clue." Gideon nodded to Talon. "Thank you for the healing." Gideon glanced over against the tree Ilmiyion had landed against, seeing his body gone. "And taking care of that." Only, Talon was now gone. "Is everyone going to do that?"

    Shell giggled, snuggling up to him, and, yes, wiggling. "Best get used to it, mellani."

    Gideon looked down at her. "So, does this mean you're making up your mind now, or something else entirely?" Mellani. He seemed to remember something about that word…what was it? He'd have to ask someone. Erandur would know.

    "Well, one thing I decided a while ago," she said thoughtfully, smiling against him. Talon must have worked some Calm spells in there, the sneaky bastard. She felt very much her old self. Only her tunic was ruined. Too bad; she really liked the way Gideon couldn't help but look right down it when she stood close. Later, she could deal with her emotions. Right now, she wanted to deal with something more pleasant and easier to understand and capable of wiping every other thought from her head.

    "And what was that?" Gideon rubbed his chin in her hair, enjoying the feel of her against him, even with the unfair wiggling. She smiled brightly and wrapped her arms around his neck, stretching up to lick the shell of his ear and whisper into it.

    This was not the right time. There was a rebellion on and they were needed.

    But she'd been wiggling, he was emotionally and physically wrung out and she licked his ear and just killed the last of his restraint with every dirty thought that apparently ever passed through her mind. Gideon growled low, and rolled her over in the leaf litter. They would probably be here a while, but their muscles would definitely be nice and stretched.

    The ground shook in a very familiar manner as Odahviing landed in the clearing, great head casting about. "Tu Mun? I sensed your thu'um. Did you not want to return to battle?"

    Gideon was not whimpering. Paladins of Shor did not whimper, ever. However, Paladins of Shor did have an impressive swear vocabulary, and right now, Gideon was giving his a full workout. "Yes, I suppose I should return to battle. Fair Maiden, would you care to join us?" Gideon turned to Shell and offered her a hand up.

    Shell sighed, allowing herself to lay limp on the ground for a moment. "Your heathen god holds you to oaths, doesn't he?"

    Odahviing had turned at the sound of their voices and was regarding them curiously. "Tu Mun…were you not angered that the other man was on the woman? Why were you on the woman?" Shell flinched.

    "Odahviing, what he was doing to her was not the same as what I was doing with her." Gideon helped Shell on her feet, and led her to Odahviing's side. "Odahviing, this is Shell. Shell, my friend Odahviing."

    Shell's eyes were wide and bright looking the dragon over. The shudder his words caused was eclipsed by the nearness of the massive, intelligent beast. "Hello," she managed.

    "Drem Yol Lok," the dragon replied, torn between being fascinated and being impatient to be off. "You are the female that 'pinchusioned' Tu Mun?" he glanced up at Gideon. "I take this is not a normal mating ritual, but the Bosmer are strange?"

    "More like the Thalmor are," amended Gideon.

    "Ah, yes, the crunchy ones," the Red Dragon said with relish. "The hunt is still ongoing, though the new Dovahkiin seems to be having some difficulty with the sheer number of fahliille. Bormah was driven off for a while. He claims he is getting old. I say he is too long out of combat," Odahviing's scorn was apparent, but he sounded so much like a disgruntled teenager it was difficult to take him seriously.

    "Well, my lady, the dragon awaits, shall I help you up?" Gideon gave her his most predatory grin. "After all, the Thalmor won't kill themselves."

    She shivered pleasantly at that look, "Debatable," she sassed to the second point, looking over Odahviing's neck. "Where are you supposed to sit?"

    "Would it be easier for you if I mounted first? Then you can sit before me?" Gideon offered.

    "It'd be easier if you mounted me," she muttered, but gestured for him to get on with it.

    "Later," He breathed low in her ear, before vaulting easily up the proffered forelimb onto the joint between neck and chest, settling easily in the natural seat. He turned and proffered his hand again. "Care to join me?"

    Shell took his hand before climbing up, as gracefully as if the dragon were a tree, broad grin on her face. "I'm holding you to that," she muttered, settling herself against him and very firmly planting his large hands on either hip. Those large hands pressed her down against proof positive he meant what he said and she moaned slightly. So, apparently she had to make "decisions" before his vow allowed them to do what she was very, very certain she wanted to do.

    Exactly how well-informed did he want her?

    "Settled?" Odahviing called, then followed up with "Good," before they could really answer.

    "Aye, my friend. Let's go thump some Thalmor."

    "You thump, I'll stab and zap and other more refined things," Shell teased, tossing him a glance over her shoulder. Her eyes were bright with excitement and she squealed in glee when the mountains came into view, whipping her head around to see the ocean. There was a fleet of ships on the horizon, but this would be over long before they arrived. Still, she wasn't sure if the prisoners could handle another wave of Thalmor. She leaned back into Gideon to ask, enjoying the press of him along her back almost as much as the free feeling of riding the dragon.

    Gideon chuckled low and pulled her tight against him. "That sounds like a fine plan." He followed where her gaze had been. "Damn, we do not need more Thalmor. Shall we go say hello?" The grin that accompanied it was sheer sin.

    Her heartrate picked up a notch at the sight of it and she smiled back just as wickedly. "I'd rather go say goodbye."

    Gideon growled low as Odah's sudden dive pushed her back against him. "Better make it a quick goodbye, then."

    She laughed as the dragon wheeled around to rise over the sea, the fleet of ships growing larger with every wingbeat. If it was just a merchant coming in, they'd direct them on. If it were reinforcements, however…Well, Shell had a lot of emotions to work through at the moment, she could use someone to take them out on.