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> Sleeper in the Cave, a Morrowind fanfic
Kazaera
post Jun 21 2020, 06:14 AM
Post #521


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@haute ecole rider - let's hope so! Fingers crossed for Adryn, who's definitely managed to weasel her way out of bad situations before... although this is a whole new level.

@SubRosa - yeah, the Temple and the Nerevarines have had a long, tangled history! Involving murder. Lots of murder. Let's all hope that part of it doesn't repeat, at least not on Adryn's side.

(Honestly, I might go back and adjust this installment a bit, because it's actually not *entirely* accurate that all previous Nerevarines have been immediately killed out of hand - it's mainly the more recent ones where that's been the case.)

Last installment, we got to see Vivec and two of his loyal priests considering what to do about Adrynerevar. They decided to not kill her out of hand and instead continue seeing if she couldn't be brought around to be an ally for now, which Adryn would probably find reassuring if not for the way that every single part of that conversation would probably have made her run away screaming if she'd known about it. Next up, we revisit two people Adryn met back in Maar Gan...

Interlude II.5
*****


"Hey. Pilgrim."

There was a song, barely on the edge of hearing. The most beautiful song in the world, he knew it to be, but the more he strained to hear it the quieter it became.

"You deaf, pilgrim?" Something prodded his shoulder.

The whispering notes faded away, reality rushing back in to replace them. Above him, a woman stood with a spear in her hand. She wore netch leather and an Ashlander's face-mask, the scarf pulled down just enough to give a glimpse of facial tattoos trailing over her cheeks.

Familiar tattoos. He'd seen them during those endless terrified days of captivity, listened as that mouth framed the words but why don't we just kill him?

"...Rasamsi?" Beden asked. It came out more like a croak, as though he hadn't spoken in weeks and his voice were protesting the exhertion. "What are you doing here?"

The inked lines shifted as Rasamsi frowned. "Please don't steal my question, pilgrim. I thought I made it very clear that both you and the girl should stay away! Especially as by now even Manat has managed to work out he was deceived."

Slowly, the rest of the world began to come into focus around the woman. Grey skies over a grey landscape, the colour only broken by the occasional dead black tree clawing its way towards the sky... and, in the distance, a fortress brooding on a hilltop.

The Ashlands.

Everything felt muted, as though someone had packed his mind in wool, but even so that sight drove a jolt of surprise through it.

"But... I was near Gnisis, how did I get back here?"

"Walked, from the looks of it," Rasamsi said as Beden levered himself upright. The process was more difficult than it should have been, left him out of breath by the time it was complete.

Rasamsi was still talking. "-can walk yourself straight back, city-dweller. My cousins will be most unhappy to see you. So am I, for that matter, given that it seems you did not adhere to our bargain."

Something in those words should worry him, Beden know, but the idea felt very far away. Instead, he ignored her in favour of wracking his memory for any clue about how he got here. He'd finally been making good progress towards Gnisis, after having to backtrack almost all the way to Ald'ruhn in order to get over the hills to the West Gash. It had started raining, he'd ducked into a nearby cave to take shelter and let the shower pass, then-

Nothing. Only scattered impressions: a pair of red eyes glowing in the dark, stone warm beneath his hand-

A song, achingly beautiful, drawing him further and further into the depths.

"Are you listening to me, pilgrim?"

Beden found himself jolted out of his recollections by Rasamsi's angry tone. Her fingers had tightened on her spear, the blade now tilted forward instead of held upwards at rest. Even in his scattered state, he could identify that as a sign of danger.

"I'm sorry. I'm not... well."

The last word escaped him without his consciously choosing it, as though bubbling up from somewhere deep within him.

As though, the thought struck him suddenly, some small near-buried part of him was screaming for help.

If so, Rasamsi didn't pick up on these subtleties. Her spear shifted back again, but her annoyance did not fade. "And you are surprised? I would also not be well, if I walked through the Ashlands without supplies." Her expression turned thoughtful. "Although... from the looks of that pack, you do have supplies. If you are too stupid to use them, pilgrim, I will take them off your hands."

"Supplies?" Beden asked blankly. He'd lost most of his in his first encounter with Rasamsi and her kin, and although he'd been able to restock a little after his rescue he'd known he'd need to rely on the pilgrimage waystations on his way to Gnisis. Last he remembered, his pack had been light...

Had been, but wasn't now. When he glanced down at it, his pack was clearly full, the flap bulging upwards. For all the world, it looked as though he'd come across a long, oblong object and done his best to cram it in, but he didn't have the faintest recollection of how that happened or what it might be.

"What's this?" Beden pushed back the flap-

As his fingers touched the statue, the song roared back into his mind, eerily beautiful, drowning all else.

How could he have forgotten? The gift of the Lord's statue in the depths of Mamaea, the holy goal he was pursuing. Retracing the miles, step by step, as he grew steadily weaker for lack of true sustenance.

The woman's annoyance turned into fright as he drew out the sacred idol from its wrappings. "That's – Ancestors' fury, pilgrim, put that thing down! Do you know what it is?"

"It is the sign that our Lord awakes," the dreamer answered her, and struck.

The spell caught her unawares, red light splashing across her chest to twine around her limbs. She dropped like a stone. The dreamer bent to pick up her spear, looked at her unconscious form, and considered.

No. She was of Resdayn, she might yet come to understand... or be gifted, as the dreamer had been. He could sadly not yet share the gift himself, but she might meet one more blessed. He had no right to take that chance away from her.

The dreamer left the woman sprawled in the ash as he turned east. Dimly, he was aware that exhaustion had turned his limbs to lead and his stomach was shrivelled in on itself from hunger, but such sensations were faint and unimportant beside the song that called him ever onwards. For a moment, he thought it was coming from the fortress above, but-

No. The heretics had come with fire and sword, desecrated the sacred ground and butchered its priests. One day they might regain it, but for now Falasmaryon was lost to them.

But there was a greater shrine that remained hidden.

The dreamer turned and began to make his slow, shuffling way towards Kogoruhn.

*****
End of chapter


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SubRosa
post Jun 24 2020, 08:13 PM
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It sounds like Beden took shelter in one of the ancestral tombs. Not very sheltering... He's lucky to be alive.

Or maybe not. Perhaps that was a Sixth House base? Something about him smells like a Dreamer.

Sometimes I hate to guess right. Yikes! Rasamsi was lucky to survive that.


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Kazaera
post Jun 28 2020, 12:16 PM
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@SubRosa - yeah, Beden made... a very bad choice of shelter sad.gif Rasamsi was definitely far luckier than him in this section.

Last chapter, we zoomed out a bit and had a look at various reactions to both the quarantine and Adryn's antics across factions - ranging from the Blades to Telvanni to the Temple. But let's face it, Adryn is still our primary character and it's time to check on how she's doing after collapsing at the High Fane.

Chapter 22.1
*****


"Well, then."

Ranis Athrys sounded distinctly unimpressed. I tried to shrink against the wall in hopes of escaping her gaze, but it was a difficult task. Not only was I, after all, incapable of turning invisible at will, but I couldn't even vanish in the crowds. Although everyone at the Ald'ruhn guild was gathered in its main hall, that number was distinctly smaller than it had been a week ago.

No small wonder, given the chaos that had followed the announcement of the quarantine. It had taken me most of the week just to make my way back to Ald'ruhn; although I'd quickly recovered from the strange fit that took me in Vivec, the city had been in such an uproar that I'd still ended up spending the night on a hastily-erected cot in one of the Temple corridors, unable to make it back to the guild. I'd managed that the next day, only to make the unpleasant discovery that in adherence to the quarantine order, all guild guide services were cancelled until they managed to separate the Vvardenfell network from the mainland. The silt strider service, still recovering from the recent ash storm, had been completely overwhelmed and I'd ended up spending several nights on the floor in the Vivec Mages' Guild before I finally managed to beg a spot on a strider north. The other guild members who'd been out of town when the quarantine hit had similar stories to tell, and for many of the missing we didn't even know if they were trapped on the mainland or stranded somewhere else on the island.

For others, everyone was well aware of their status.

"As you all know," Ranis said, "Edwinna Elbert is currently in Narsis. Given the current... unpleasantness..." I had to bite my lip not to laugh at the understatement, "we do not know when she will be able to return. As such, I am temporarily assuming charge of the Ald'ruhn guild."

I could see a few of my fellow members exchange glances, but no one spoke.

Ranis nodded to herself, as if she was satisfied by the complete silence.

"I am aware recent events have been distressing. However, we of the guild leadership have been doing our utmost to alleviate them, including finding alternate supply chains to replace those interrupted by the quarantine. We want to do whatever is necessary for a quick return to normality, and it is crucial that each and every one of you do your part to aid in that."

"Alternate supply chains." The whisper came from my left, where our enchanter Tanar Llervu was standing. "Hlaalu supply chains, more like."

Ranis stared in our direction. Tanar shut up, but when I glanced her way I saw she was wearing a fierce scowl.

To my great surprise, most of the people I knew had fixated on one particular aspect of the quarantine: the fact that the Empire had given House Hlaalu, and only House Hlaalu, permission to keep running goods to and from the island. A complete blockade, we were told, would be impossible for humanitarian reasons as Vvardenfell imported food. ("Because it would be so terrible if the outlanders had to eat kwama eggs," had been Tanar's scoffing response when that filtered through. "More to the point, they want our ebony.") However, in order to ensure the Blight remained contained on the island, all trade should be funneled through a single organization which was capable of enforcing the new strict hygiene requirements.

So went the official reasoning. Literally every single person I'd spoken to, however, found it laughable. No, any inhabitant of Ald'ruhn would tell you, this was a Hlaalu coup. They couldn't achieve their desired trade monopoly by honest means, so they used dirty tricks to knock out their competition – and spent not a second of thought on the island full of people who would suffer for their ambition.

Personally, I agreed that the political and economic implications were serious, but the fact that nobody seemed worried about the contagious, untreatable disease spreading on the island – the one which was so dangerous that it justified quarantining the whole of Vvardenfell – had made me spend a few days wondering if I was living in a different reality from everyone else.

I'd slowly come to realise that the issue was the Empire.

To me, the Empire had always been much like the weather. One might complain when it was being particularly bothersome, but there was no point really getting upset about it – or questioning why it existed at all. The Empire simply was, unchangeable and eternal as the rain, as winter storms, as the moons in the sky.

Not so in Morrowind. I'd noticed stand-offishness and dislike of outlanders – I could hardly pat myself on the back for my observational skills there, since I'd have had to be deaf and blind to miss it – but what had passed me by until now was that those attitudes grew in the soil of a deep, unspoken resentment of the Empire. Many Morrowind natives still viewed it and what it brought – the Legions, the laws, the government, even the language - as an unwanted imposition into their lives. And so, when the Imperials announced quarantine, it was all too easy for them to fit into that picture. Oh, there couldn't really be any danger. The Temple had it all under control. The Imperials were just making things hard for good hard-working god-fearing Dunmer for no reason... again. I, who'd spent my formative years in the human heartlands of High Rock and Skyrim, was inclined to think the Empire wouldn't cut off an entire island without cause. I was very obviously the minority.

I'd say that I liked to think I was the one with the right of things, but that wasn't exactly accurate seeing as I didn't like thinking it at all. Thinking it made dread pool in my stomach, made me lie awake at night remembering the Blighted guar Gelduin and I had put out of its misery in the West Gash and quietly imagining its weeping sores and inflamed eyes on people. No, I would have loved to believe that the whole thing had been cooked up between the Hlaalu and some crooked Imperial governor, that I and the rest of the population of Vvardenfell had not in fact been deemed an acceptable loss to keep a plague from reaching the mainland. It seemed like it would be a very comforting worldview, and given that so many of my companions subscribed to it I was honestly a little bitter to be left out in the cold.

"You may return to your duties now. I expect you to give them your full attention," Ranis said, and I realised with a start that I'd drifted into thought and missed the entirety of her pep talk. Luckily, no one seemed to have noticed my daydreaming – Ranis especially – but it was still embarrassing. I'd have to ask Tanar later if I'd missed anything important.

People began to file out of the room, low murmurs rising in the air as they discussed this new turn of events. I was just about to follow suit with an internal sigh of relief, when-

"Apprentice Adryn. A word, if you please."

I supposed an easy escape would have been too much to hope for. Had she noticed my distraction after all?

Or- no. Return to your duties, she'd said. And although I'd been very satisfied with the work given me by Edwinna, Ranis' suggested duties had been entirely different.

She couldn't possibly mean to...

"Yes, guildmistress?" I pasted an expression on my face that I hoped very strongly made me look like an earnest, dutiful apprentice, with none of the sudden dread I was feeling shining through.

Ranis didn't respond in words. Instead, she simply jerked her head for me to follow. By the time we reached Edwinna's office, my stomach felt like it had fallen in on itself and I was almost certain my demeanour was no longer helpful and obedient but instead broadcasting please don't make me a guild guide, please.

When Ranis took a seat behind Edwinna's desk, the dissonance broke me out of my terrified imaginings. I'd spent a fair amount of time in this room, discussing some report I'd written, the findings of one of Edwinna's ruin excavations or the latest article from the Cyrodiil Dwemer journals. No matter what the topic, Edwinna was never anything but helpful and encouraging, and her domain seemed to emanate warmth and friendliness. Ranis fit in roughly as well as I had at the Sarethis; I felt oddly indignant on the room's behalf, to be forced to put up with her.

"I'm aware that you were working as an aide for Edwinna's research," she said now. "I'm afraid that you won't be able to continue in that role while she is absent."

I frowned. I wasn't sure either I or Edwinna would have described me that way, especially because...

"I was doing a fair amount of independent work as well. Couldn't I just continue that way until she gets back?"

"Entirely out of the question," Ranis ruthlessly crushed my poor fledgling hope before it even had a chance to grow. "Of course we're not going to let an Apprentice run wild, and there's nobody left at the guild with the rank and knowledge to supervise Dwemer research."

Really? Because our spellmaker Heem-La was a Conjurer, and not only was he a fixture at the weekly Dwemer discussion group, he'd joined mine and Edwinna's meetings a time or two. I'd been quite impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of Dwemer ruins. I opened my mouth to ask what made him unsuitable-

"Although, didn't I hear something about you working on propylon indices? Folms Mirel would be quite suitable as a supervisor."

That suggestion drove Heem-La so far out of my head he'd probably breached quarantine and left Vvardenfell. I spent a moment simply gaping at the Balmora guildmistress, who didn't seem to see anything wrong with her suggestion.

I'd thought that at this point even the newest guild associate, even Edwinna's ruin divers who might only spend one week in ten in anything one could term 'civilization', knew about the state of affairs between me and Blowfish. Was she completely cut off from the guild gossip vine? But in that case, how had she even heard about my research?

"Apprentice?"

Impatience seeped into Ranis' tone. I swallowed.

"Er. Sorry. I... don't think it would be a good idea."

Ranis' expression indicated that I'd managed to fall short of already low expectations. I had to suppress the urge to fidget beneath her withering gaze, never to mention the two words guild guide I could feel looming over the conversation.

I decided that I wanted to lodge a complaint with the universe. Why, exactly, couldn't Ranis have been the one stranded on the mainland, and Edwinna left in Ald'ruhn where she belonged?

"Well, in that case there's nothing for it," Ranis said. "You'll have to be my agent."

Wait.

What?

"Agent?" I repeated.

"I don't have any academic work suitable for you, and the guild guide role I'd planned for you is now impossible given the quarantine." Right, I'd almost forgotten the guild in question was on the mainland. It was a very strange sensation to suddenly feel grateful for being trapped on the island. "However, I do have the odd task I need handled, and the person who usually takes care of such things for me thought last week was the perfect time to visit his family in Stonefalls." Ranis rolled her eyes, as though in contempt at the man's failure to predict the completely unprecedented travel interdict. "I've heard you might be minimally competent in such things."

"What sort of tasks are we talking about here?" I asked warily.

"Oh, the odd errand. Running messages, procuring information, perhaps the occasional stint as a bodyguard-"

I must not scream at my guildmistress. It was unlikely to make things any better. "You... do realise that I'm an alchemist, right? And Dwemer researcher, I suppose, but in any case not trained in combat. I really can't-"

"Don't play me for a fool, apprentice." Ranis' voice was cold. "I do hear things, you know. Anybody who can infiltrate both Tel Naga and Tel Fyr to retrieve Telvanni hostages is more than capable of handling my small requests."

I opened my mouth. Closed it again. Desperately tried to work out how I could possibly explain that although that was technically close to the truth, for all practical intents and purposes she'd gotten things terribly wrong-

Alas, Ranis didn't care to give me the chance. "Unless you only care to use your skills to aid House Redoran... but in that case, I fail to see why the Mages' Guild should keep you as a member." I'd always thought of crimson as a warm colour, but her eyes were like two chips of ice in her face. "Well, apprentice?"

The thought suddenly struck me that Ranis had known Blowfish would never willingly work with me. Of course she had. She'd simply been making a point about my lack of other options.

My thoughts whirled frantically as Ranis' gaze bored into me. Sadly, as the seconds dragged on it became clear that this time, she had me thoroughly trapped. With Blowfish's enmity, Edwinna's absence, Trebonius'... Trebonius, and the fact that I really shouldn't show my face in Sadrith Mora for a while, I'd run out of other guild heads to hide behind. I could do as she said, or I could leave the guild – and, as I'd realised not so long ago in Maar Gan, I wasn't ready to take that step yet.

"All right," I finally said. "I'll do it."

Ranis' ice glare of death warmed until her expression could be described as merely frosty. She didn't smile; I was beginning to suspect her face would crack in half if she ever did.

Although really now – I hadn't paid attention, but I didn't think she'd acted this like this with the other Balmora guild members. Haughty, unfriendly and very full of her own authority, yes... but not as utterly unwilling to listen as she was with me. I was beginning to get the impression she disliked me personally – but why? I hadn't done anything...

I considered the events that had transpired since I'd joined.

All right, so it was possible I'd become involved in a few things that might, theoretically, harm the reputation of the guild or gain it enemies if more widely known. I was of the firm opinion that all these transpirings were entirely involuntary on my part and therefore not in fact my fault, but thinking about it Ranis Athrys might have missed that part.

"Very good," Ranis said, and I decided to put the question of how to convince my guildmistress that I wasn't a reckless renegade aside for later. "Now, the first thing I want you to do..."

As I listened, I hoped desperately this would go better than I feared.


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haute ecole rider
post Jun 28 2020, 04:27 PM
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Yikes! Talk about a Downward Transition! *Dressage folks speak of downward transitions and upward transitions as the changes between gaits: a downward transition refers to a change from a canter to a slower gait, say a trot or even a walk, for example - and we often jokingly use that term to describe that sinking feeling one gets when one sees the caca about to hit the oscillating blades*

I really enjoyed the perspective of the native Dunmeri towards the Empire - it really explains a lot of what one feels in that game (also in TESV, I've noticed, and on a smaller, more sporadic scale, in ESO). It certainly feels like Adryn experienced what I call a light bulb moment. The quarantine certainly puts the Empire in a different light, and really plays up the way folks see House Hlaalu. Personally, I've always preferred House Redoran, even though they're often quite stodgy in their ways. Funny enough, I've never played TESIII, but I picked up a fair bit about the Houses from the lore, fan fictions like this one, and ESO. And my first exposure to a member of House Hlaalu is actually the Count of Cheydinhal, when people refer to his connection with House Hlaalu . . . a more shady character I find it hard to think of.

As for Guild business, on the one hand Adryn doesn't have to be guild guide, so that's the one silver lining in this whole quarantine business. Unfortunately, it's more a frayed silver thread, as the other options aren't much better . . .

Poor Adryn! I look forward to how she gets along with Acting Guildmistress Ranis . . . ohmy.gif


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SubRosa
post Jun 28 2020, 07:52 PM
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Alternate supply chains sounds like where Han Solo and the Falcon come into the story...

but the fact that nobody seemed worried about the contagious, untreatable disease spreading on the island – the one which was so dangerous that it justified quarantining the whole of Vvardenfell – had made me spend a few days wondering if I was living in a different reality from everyone else.
No Adryn, you are living in the same reality I am at this moment...

I liked how you showed how the grievances of the Dunmer - real and imagine - festered into their beliefs. That is another nice touch of reality.

It seems like Adryn can look forward to a long and fruitful career working side by side with Ranis. Not! laugh.gif I suspect antics will shortly ensue.


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Kazaera
post Jul 5 2020, 12:30 PM
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@haute ecole rider - thanks for the explanation! Downward transition - I'll have to remember that, especially as there are... more than a few in this story. biggrin.gif

I had fun with the Dunmer and the Empire! Er... insert GIANT DIGRESSION about my own conflicted feelings about the Empire as presented in TES here (summed up with "but colonialism is bad??"). It's safe to say that I think it's understandable the Dunmer are bitter and jumping to bad conclusions re: this new turn of events - even if, in this case, it does mean they're dismissing a real and present danger.

I also appreciate Redoran a lot, for what it's worth, and adore Athyn Sarethi (...somehow I don't think any of my readers are surprised.) I'll admit I have a soft spot for the Telvanni too, although they're obviously a lot more problematic. Hlaalu... eh, do we really need them. Especially since - you might not know this if you haven't played TESIII, but the Hlaalu patron is a horrible sleazeball and there's a nasty bit of sexual harrassment you're forced to accept if you want to finish the questline. Didn't exactly endear me to the House, let's just say.

@SubRosa - laugh.gif I hope you realised I am now wrestling with the temptation to include Hanus Solo, his Senche friend Khuba-qa and their trading ship the Century Falcon! More seriously, I may go into this a little more later but I absolutely want to use the quarantine to explain the absurd amount of smugglers Morrowind seems to have. There's a lot of impetus for all the small-time traders between Vvardenfell and the mainland to just sneakily continue on, and for local fishers to turn their hand to transporting wares as well.

And yeah, this chapter was weird to write given current events. wacko.gif Speaking of parallels I really did NOT plan to have in my work!


Last installment, we found Adryn back in the Ald'ruhn Mages' Guild, having taken some time to make her way back from Vivec after the announcement of quarantine threw all the transport networks into chaos. Alas for her budding career as a Dwemer scholar, the quarantine also left Edwinna, Ald'ruhn guildmistress and Adryn's mentor in such things, stranded on the mainland... to be replaced by Ranis Athrys, last seen attempting to send Adryn to be a guild guide. This time, Adryn narrowly avoided such a fate, but she did wind up agreeing to be Ranis' "agent" who would run "errands" for her.

Let's see what the first one is...

Chapter 22.2
*****


The first I learned of how Balmora had changed since my last visit was the cold voice that greeted me when I came out of the teleport.

"Step away from the platform, hands at your sides."

"It's all right, she's a guild member!"

The second voice was more familiar, and when I blinked the world back into focus I saw Masalinie. She looked rather pale and drawn compared to the last time we'd spoken. A week ago, I'd have assumed it was something to do with the two armoured figures flanking her, their hands on their weapons.

A week ago, Vvardenfell had been a very different place.

"Adryn!" Masalinie looked as though she wanted to hug me but – with a glance at the guards at her side – refrained. "You're safe! Last we heard nobody knew where you were-"

"I was in Vivec when the quarantine hit, didn't manage to get back to Ald'ruhn until recently. The network going down really threw everyone for a loop." I studied Masalinie's face more closely. Up close, I could tell she was trembling faintly and there was a dark patch on one cheek I'd taken for a shadow but was actually a bruise. "But what about you? You don't look well."

"Some people thought I could still send them over to the mainland after we shut down the network. They didn't want to take no for an answer." Masalinie's smile was a sickly thing. "Thankfully, the Fighter's Guild has been kind enough to lend us some support."

"It's our pleasure to help our neighbours," said the Redguard who'd threatened me on my arrival, his tone now noticeably warmer.

"Particularly as it's in our interest to have the Vvardenfell network back up and running again, too," his Breton colleague chipped in. She looked familiar, bringing back vague memories of chatting with a Fighter's Guild scout on the way back from Suran in my first days on the island – half a lifetime ago, it seemed now. "And that's not going to happen as long as you mages have to worry about people who think beating you up is their path off the island."

Masalinie touched her cheek. I decided very rapidly that I would never, ever be mentioning the fact that I also knew the guild guide spells to anyone as long as the quarantine lasted.

"But what are you doing here, Adryn?" she asked. "I know you're part of the Ald'ruhn guild now." Something bitter flashed over her expression. "Sounds like a better place to be right now, too."

I couldn't argue that. I'd come back to grim expressions, a strict curfew and Redoran guards at nearly every corner, but to my knowledge nobody had accosted Erranil, and we didn't need fighters stationed within the guild itself.

"Trust me, I'd rather be staying there," especially after getting back had been such an ordeal, "but I have some things to do here in Balmora."

I refrained from going into detail, as Ranis had asked me to keep the details of our new arrangement between us. Although that was of course not going to stop me from sharing them with my friends – if she wanted actual loyalty from me, her current approach was not the way to get it – it was enough to stop me from doing so in the middle of the guild, with two strange Fighter's Guild members listening in.

"Ajira is fine, just so you know," Masalinie said. "Not in Balmora, though. She went up to Fort Moonmoth the other day and isn't back yet."

Disappointment sat heavy in my stomach. I'd heard that Ajira had come through recent events all right, but had hoped to look in on her myself to reassure myself of that fact.

Still... the quarantine had been announced on a Fredas, which meant young Ma'Zajirr would still have been at Fort Moonmoth when chaos engulfed the island. It was hardly a surprise if Ajira had gone after him, even considering her fear of travelling outside of town.

"Thanks for telling me," I said. "I'll have to catch up with her some other time. But that wasn't the only reason I came to Balmora. Do you happen to know an Argonian by the name of Only-He-Stands-Here? I have a message for him, and I've been told he's still in town."

A message, indeed. Controlling my face, not letting any of my fear or distaste show, took a real effort of will. I was not happy about my first task as Ranis' 'agent'.

Masalinie frowned, clearly searching her memory. Before she could respond, however, the Redguard cleared his throat.

"Believe I do. Healer, isn't he? Lives down the alley near the river, but spends a lot of time in the South Wall Cornerclub."

I decided that, in addition to my apocethary business, I could look into making some money through weight-loss remedies (something rich nobles were always interested in). The way my appetite had fled within moments, the faint sensation of hunger that had been so-insistently informing me breakfast had been a long time ago replaced by queasiness, was downright magical. It must be possible to bottle it somehow.

Focus, Adryn.

"...the South Wall Cornerclub, you say?"

"Yes. They've actually reopened already, believe it or not – all the other taverns are still shut until things quiet down. You could try there."

"Thanks for the information," I told him, trying not to let my abject despair show.

Of course the man I was looking for was associated with the Thieves' Guild. As if I needed more proof that the universe had it out for me.

"You say you have a message for him?" In fact, more proof might be materialising right now, seeing as the Breton scout had an unfriendly look in her eyes. "What sort of message might that be?"

Oh, apparently he's offering illicit Restoration training, and our most honourable guildmistress wants me to get him to stop. You know, threaten him a little and all that.

Having more intelligence than a kwama (or its equivalent, a Varvur), I did not say any of that out loud. Especially as I suspected this might be exactly what she was hoping not to hear.

After all, Only-He-Stands-Here would hardly be an illicit trainer if he didn't have customers, and the Redguard had known where he lived. I imagined the Fighter's Guild found it quite handy, to have a healer and teacher who wasn't charging guild prices. I couldn't even blame them – Nine knew I'd made use of non-guild-approved mages in the past – but it meant that honesty was definitely not called for.

"Oh, I'm acquainted with some of the healers who work at Ald'ruhn Temple," I said. "Sometimes I run messages for them – and they're really trying to pull together all knowledge on diagnosing the Blight right now."

Each individual part of that sentence had the advantage of being true, although the implied inference – that I'd been asked to get information from Only-He-Stands-Here about Blight diagnosis – was definitely false. In fact, I hadn't actually spoken to any of them directly since returning to Ald'ruhn, although I'd been hoping to change that today.

Although everyone in Vivec had treated my fainting fit as a benign, even positive thing – being overwhelmed by Vivec's divine power was nothing to be ashamed of, I'd been told more than once – it sat badly with me nonetheless. I wasn't exactly prone to religious fervour to the point of losing consciousness, and although remembering the time immediately preceding said fainting fit was strangely difficult, the few fragments I could piece together indicated my new headaches might have played a role. All in all, it added up to a worrying picture, and I'd been hoping Sosia – who helped at the Temple as an independent, and professed only a vague belief in the Nine – might be willing to take the time out of her day to perform a health check. Sadly, my most esteemed guildmistress (substitute edition) didn't believe in asking apprentices what their plans were before sending them off on completely unsuitable missions.

Speaking of completely unsuitable missions, it seemed my dissembling had been successful, because the Redguard was nodding. "Makes sense, I heard him mention he's been looking into the Blight. Greet him for me, will you?"

"I'll do that," I responded, and went to quickly make my escape.

Not quickly enough, it turned out, because as I was leaving the guild common area someone caught my arm. I froze.

"Excuse me?"

"Ah, Adryn." Estirdalin let go of my arm with no sign of guilt. I could feel myself tensing up. I mainly associated the Altmer with her telling me all about my newfound learning disability in front of an audience. The resulting dislike was possibly unfair – it wasn't as if she'd given me Ledd's Syndrome – but hard to shake, and I'd been quietly content to not see her around much after moving to the Ald'ruhn guild.

The dislike was apparently not mutual, because Estirdalin looked happy to see me. "It's good to know you're on the island still. Such confusion these last few days, really, we still don't know where Marayn is – well! What brings you to Balmora?"

"Oh, I'm taking a message to someone. Only-He-Stands-Here - healer, lives near the river?"

Estirdalin's smile widened, taking on an almost triumphant cast. "Well, finally! It's about time Ranis sent someone to have a word-"

Alduin's breath, did she have no sense of discretion at all? The woman hadn't even lowered her voice! I could feel the guards' eyes burning into my back from where they stood beside Masalinie.

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about," I said loudly. "It's an errand I'm running for the Temple, nothing to do with the guildmistress at all."

"Of course, of course," Estirdalin said, but judging by the way her smile didn't slip I didn't think she believed me. "Whatever you say, my dear. All that aside, I've been meaning to have a word with you."

Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm afraid I'm in a hurry-

Alas, the Altmer wasn't going to give me time to weasel out of this. "I don't like to give too much credence to guild gossip," she went on without giving me the chance to get a word in edgewise, "but I've heard you were investigating propylon indices with Tiram Gadar?"

I frowned. "With is something of an exaggeration. I've been working on them on my own, he showed interest, we met once to discuss them."

The man had been pleasant enough, but either he was somewhat dim or Ledd's syndrome had struck again, because he hadn't seemed to understand my theories about how they worked at all. All in all, the meeting had been a disappointment, and when he suggested repeating it I'd immediately started looking for excuses. The quarantine served that purpose nicely – especially given that I hadn't seen him in the Vivec guild at all afterwards, and I'd spent enough time there that I should have if he'd been around. With any luck, the man was stuck on the mainland.

"Ah. I suppose that makes sense."

"What does?" I asked, feeling wary.

Estirdalin hesitated. "Well... it's speculation, and I wouldn't want to gossip..."

As one might imagine, this only served to heighten my curiosity. "I promise I won't spread whatever it is any further."

"...I suppose that would be all right," Estirdalin answered after a moment of hesitation. She darted a glance at the Masalinie and the Fighter's Guild members. "If you'd join me in the kitchen?"

How nice to know that the Altmer was capable of discretion when it was something she wanted to keep secret. "Of course."

"Not long after he joined the guild," Estirdalin began in a low voice once we were esconced in the private area, "Gadar began to work closely on novel uses of the water-walking spell with another apprentice. He later published a paper on the subject in the Crystal Tower Annals, in which he thanked her for her assistance in the acknowledgements. But... when it appeared, the apprentice in question was furious. She said it had been her work primarily, with Gadar's part being incidental at most, and he had no right to claim it as his own."

I frowned. I'd thought I was more or less up-to-date on guild gossip, but I hadn't heard this before. "Which apprentice?"

"You wouldn't know her, I'm afraid. She left the guild afterwards, when despite her lodging a complaint the paper was not retracted. She was very angry... people don't like talking about it. Ranis Athrys said it was a clear case of an apprentice overestimating their own contribution and being too greedy for their own good, but I always wondered." Estirdalin paused. Very delicately, as though picking her way past pressure plates, she said, "Gadar did seem quite clear when he talked about the two of you collaborating. In fact, at one point he may have framed it as you helping him."

The surge of indignation took me by surprise. The me of a few months ago, who'd joined the guild looking for stability and a roof over her head more than anything else, wouldn't have cared. Pointless academic posturing, she'd have called it. Who cared about some long article that would be read by perhaps a dozen people, or about whose name stood on the byline? Some of us had real problems to be concerned with.

But apparently my time in the guild had changed me more than I'd thought, because now I cared. That was my research, my work, me hiding from ash monsters at Falasmaryon or trudging through the swamps near Hlormaren, me running the risk of having Blowfish lose his temper and actually try to set me on fire one of these days. I'd be damned if I'd let Throat-Ailment take any of the credit for it.

"Well," my voice was frosty as the Pale in midwinter, "now you know better. It's my work, Thr- Gadar had nothing to do with it."

"I'll keep it in mind, Apprentice." Estirdalin sounded satisfied that I was taking her seriously. Perhaps, I decided, she wasn't all that bad. She hadn't had to warn me, after all. "Do give my regards to Only-He-Stands-Here."

Or perhaps she was that bad. Our conversation had made me forget all about of what had brought me to Balmora, which frankly was a happy state of affairs. Why did she have to go about reminding me?

"I'll do that," I told her, and went to face my doom.


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SubRosa
post Jul 5 2020, 11:23 PM
Post #527


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TBH I think the reason for all the smuggling is right there in the game. The East Empire Company has a monopoly on practically all trade coming out of Morrowind (I can't remember if it also includes Imperial goods going into the country as well). Walk into any ebony or glass mine, and the Imperial soldiers will tell you the ore is the property of the Emperor, and they will kill you if you try to take any.

So yeah, fetch the Emperor, let's smuggle.

I so want to see the Century Falcon now, and maybe its former owner, L'hando Calr'sien. I hear he runs a mining outpost in the Sea of Ghosts now...

Looks like things are getting ugly in Balmora. At least the Fighters Guild is stepping up. Though now it looks like they might be a complication.

Oh boy, Gadar is a stealing other people's work, and now Adryn is his next target. Looks like she's got her dander up. Maybe she can get him out to one of those Dunmer strongholds. It would be a shame if something were to... happen to him there...


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Kazaera
post Today, 10:51 AM
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@SubRosa - very good point! I still think there are very many smugglers (seriously, it's like every second cave) to all be smuggling ebony and glass... but yeah, there's a lot of control of Morrowind's economy that could also explain it. Dwemer artifacts are another one where they just belong to the Empire automatically. (Dumac wishes to object to this state of affairs.)

Adryn is still very much against things "happening" to people, but she might be tempted to make an exception for Tiram Gadar. Might. laugh.gif


Last installment, Adryn returned to the Balmora Mages' Guild - in a state of alert and with new Fighter's Guild guards due to the quarantine. The whole thing, along with a discussion with Estirdalin where the Altmer warned her that Tiram Gadar has been known to steal work and credit, made her forget the reason she'd come for a while. But in the end, Adryn does have to set out on her mission for Ranis Athrys - making an Argonian called Only-He-Stands-Here stop offering illicit Restoration training.

Let's see how that goes.

Chapter 22.3
*****


Outside the guild, the differences between how Balmora and Ald'ruhn had handled the quarantine became even more apparent. Ald'ruhn hadn't been a comfortable place to return to, true – House Redoran was out in force, with guards glaring at you suspiciously at every corner, and the strict curfew along with the ban on public gatherings left most of us feeling stifled. All the same, the harsh measures had succeeded in their aim: channeling the residents' understandable anger away from pointless destruction.

The same could not be said for the Hlaalu, it seemed. The streets, eerily empty of people, were instead littered with debris. Scattered shards mingled with spoiled food showed that many of the large pots people kept outside their home had been smashed, and boards covered many windows and doorways. Here and there I made out actual scorch marks.

Although really, the scale of the destruction shouldn't surprise me. Hlaalu was less military than Redoran, and the anger at them had been far greater after their arrangement with the Imperials became common knowledge. The other Houses and the Temple had had the quarantine forced upon them, so people thought, while Hlaalu was not just complicit but exploiting it for its own gain. The effects were obvious.

Really, I should probably be glad I'd been stuck in Vivec so long. The mood had been dire, true, but there'd been no violence. Not after-

A pair of mismatched, glowing eyes, radiating power-

My mind skittered away from the memory like a drop of water on hot stone.

What was I doing, anyway? One only had to take a single look around to realise that I shouldn't linger on the streets.

Only-He-Stands-Here lived in the lower floor of a small house near the river. It seemed to have been spared some of the destruction, with several crates still intact beside his door and his window whole and unbroken. Well, I supposed it made sense. Even when tempers were high, nobody wanted to annoy the neighbourhood healer.

I rapped on the door. Nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for a long enough amount of time that I started to daydream about heading back to Ald'ruhn unsuccessful. So sorry, guildmistress. I couldn't find him – are you sure he's not stuck on the mainland? What a pity, really. But don't put yourself out thinking up something else for me to do, I'll just occupy myself with these books, stay out of your hair...

"What is it, smooth-skin?"

Lost in thought, I hadn't noticed the door creak open. A slit-pupilled green eye stared out from the crack.

"Only-He-Stands-Here? I'm-" not going to introduce myself to someone with Thieves' Guild ties- "from the Mages' Guild. I'd like a word."

Absolute silence. The eye stayed focused on me, unblinking. I got the impression its owner was thinking very rapidly.

"I'm unarmed and not a combat mage." I could be helpful, right? "I only want to talk."

Slowly, the door opened. The hinges squealed, as though expressing their owner's reluctance.

"Come in, then. And quickly."

*****


Inside, I found a small, well-appointed home. Like Ajira, Only-He-Stands-Here had managed to fit his whole life into the single room he had available. In one corner, a kettle sat on a low hearth, in another, reed dividers almost hid a fur-laden bed from view. (I gave the thing a jealous look; the lack of privacy in Ald'ruhn dorms was wearing on me.) A low sideboard held a full set of journeyman-quality alchemy apparatus which I also eyed enviously. Pride of place, though, was given to a Dwemer table which was apparently experiencing a second life as a healer's workstation. A young Khajiit sat perched on it, staring at me curiously.

"Tsahbani, please go to your aunt," the Argonian told her.

"But-"

"Now, please. Let her know I have a- guest-" I could hear another word hiding behind that pause, "and will not be able to teach you this afternoon."

"Really? All right." After a last look at me, the kit scampered.

"I didn't mean to interrupt your time with a patient. Or student," I told him. "I could have waited."

Only-He-Stands-Here gave me a long glance. "You are very polite. I must admit it is unexpected." His head-frill jerked. "It behooves me to be polite in turn. Tea?"

Nobody could call themselves an alchemist and not feel a frisson of alarm when an Argonian offered them tea. "Er-"

"Hackle-lo." Only-He-Stands-Here gave the impression that although he was too polite to roll his eyes, I should understand the temptation was great and refraining took a significant expenditure of will on his part. "I have lived in Morrowind many years, I do understand smoothskin physiology. And poisoning you would not be..." his chin-tendrils twitched, "proper, here and now."

Despite the situation – in particular, my distinct and pressing desire not to be in it – something in me relaxed at that. I could see the guild ties, now, and although they were of course extremely dangerous to me it was still so nice to be in the presence of someone who understood how things worked.

"In that case, I'd love a cup. Thank you very much," I said sincerely.

A short time later found us seated on stools in front of the tiny hearth, clay mugs held in our hands. (The tea was indeed not poisoned, I had been pleased to discover.) My back was to the door, which I didn't much like, but there had been no way to rearrange our seating without being extremely rude. I consoled myself that judging by my experience on entry, an intruder would deafen me long before they managed to get the door open.

Our conversation thus far had been polite, superficial – how did I find Vvardenfell, how long had Only-He-Stands-Here lived in Balmora, and of course the unavoidable topic of what a shock the quarantine had been. Now, the formalities dealt with, we turned to the heart of things.

"It is a great surprise, seeing a member of the Mages' Guild cross my humble threshold. He wonders what he can do for you."

The body language wasn't giving anything away – not that I had a lot of experience with Argonians, anyway – but I thought the slip into third person might signal nervousness.

If so, he was still probably less nervous than I was, given how much I didn't want to do this.

"Ranis Athrys sent me," I said, doing my best to shift the blame for this whole situation where it belonged. "It came to her attention that you've been offering Restoration training without Guild approval."

A beat of silence. Then the Argonian let out a long hiss. It sounded remarkably like an overheated kettle – I even shot a quick glance at the hearth before I realised where the noise was coming from.

"Is the smooth-skin serious? The island under quarantine, dangerous illnesses seeping out from Red Mountain, society on the brink of collapse, Hlaalu being given a trade monopoly-" I got the impression that once again the last point was the most offensive to Only-He-Stands-Here- "and this is what the guildmistress chooses to focus on? A poor humble healer, passing along a few tricks he picked up along the way?"

I was fairly certain the Argonian was nothing of the sort. But other than that, I had no rebuttal.

So I went for agreement instead.

"I know! Her priorities are absolutely out of order. We only got the guild guide network up and running again two days ago, at least one guild head is stuck on the mainland, there are so many things she should be focusing on right now. What does she do? Twist my arm into going off to harass innocent healers."

It wasn't even as if I was in favour of the guild monopoly on paid magical teaching of more than the simplest spells. Why shouldn't a skilled healer be able to pass down their knowledge for a fee even if he wasn't registered with the guild?

"I am... glad you understand my position, mage." Only-He-Stands-Here seemed calmer, or at least unlikely to resume making noises that were better suited to angry kitchenware.

"Tell you what," I offered. "How about a deal? You try to be a bit less conspicuous about your training, tell people something about how the Mages' Guild found out and forced you to stop. I go back to Ranis and tell her you've agreed to stop, you continue training people on the down-low, we're both happy."

The Argonian tilted his head, eyes staring over my shoulder, his chin-tendrils winding back and forth. After a long moment, they stilled. Only-He-Stands-Here nodded, as though he'd come to a decision.

"Yes. Yes, this is a solution it can work with. Thank you, Adryn."

It was always so nice when people could find a mutually acceptable compromise. "Glad to be of-"

Wait.

My smile froze on my face as I realised there was something very, very wrong about what he had just said.

"I... didn't... tell you my name."

"You didn't have to," said-

a voice-

from behind me.

Tea sloshed over my hand as I sprang to my feet, whirling around.

"Hello," the Khajiit said. The green light sparkling around her fingers explained how she'd entered without my noticing – it also made me flinch back as the memories started to well up from where I'd suppressed them.

It isn't wise to stand against the Thief-King-

This was absolutely not the time to start having a flashback! I wrenched my thoughts back to the present with the force of pure desperation.

"This one is Sugar-Lips Habasi," the Khajiit went on. Her eyes were a gleaming merciless yellow where they rested on me. "Mastermind of the Thieves' Guild in Balmora. And you are Adryn, once joint leader of the Windhelm guild." She didn't even have the decency to make it a question. "Habasi has wanted to speak with you for a long time now."

*****


Notes: ...smile.gif


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SubRosa
post Today, 08:27 PM
Post #529


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I must admit to finding some eerie similarities between your portrayal of Vvardenfell on lockdown and the real world. Though some of the specific reasons are different, the same sense of grievance is there, and the need to invent someone to blame. Okay, not wanting to annoy the neighborhood healer is different. Your fictional Vvardenfellians are more intelligent than Americans.

I wonder if there is a law that states that Only-He-Stands-Here cannot stand in the company of other people?

I have been wondering though, why should anyone need Guild approval to offer training? Do the Mages Guild really have a legal monopoly on it? *That* sounds sketchy.

Uh oh, it looks like Adryn's past from Skyrim is catching up with her!


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