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> Sleeper in the Cave, a Morrowind fanfic
ghastley
post Feb 18 2019, 08:45 PM
Post #401


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They're the other side of Maar Gan, but they are by the side of the road. Since you have to go through Maar Gan to get there, it had me worried at first.

I think the ransom changed from the time I played it, too. tongue.gif


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Kazaera
post Feb 23 2019, 09:44 PM
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@Grits - as ghastley said, they're in the area but not actually on the road between Falasmaryon and Maar Gan. As for their prisoner... smile.gif

@ghastley - I can't resist shuffling NPCs around a little for things like this. And - yeah, in-game the ransom is 5000 drakes at the start. A drake is more valuable in Adrynverse than in-game, so some amounts are subject to change. (Most obvious in quest rewards, which are usually significantly reduced when they're monetary.) This was actually more of an accident than anything else when I started writing, but I've run with it because it allows me to keep financial pressure on Adryn more easily.

Last installment, Adryn's trek back to Maar Gan was interrupted when she ran into a trio of Ashlanders who'd apparently captured a Redoran noble and were holding him for ransom. They didn't want to believe she wasn't there for him, and Adryn herself couldn't resist checking out the situation. Now, let's meet the captive noble in question.

Chapter 17.7
*****


I ducked inside a yurt for the second time today. This one was larger than Akin's, containing not just the bed-rolls and spread woven rugs I'd also seen there but scattered cushions, standing screens of wood and stretched hide, even a low table. This was a more permanent structure, I judged, erected by people who expected to be staying here for a while. In contrast, Akin's had been ready to tear down at a moment's notice, proof of his precarious existence in the shadow of Falasmaryon's monsters.

Also unlike Akin's, this yurt contained a captive.

He sat on the ground, knees brought up to his chest, staring at the floor. Rope was looped around his ankles, more tied his hands behind his back. His captors, I noted with a critical eye, had not had much experience tying people up and had tried to make up for lack of skill with enthusiasm. Unsuccessfully so; I could have twisted my way out of those bonds. The man hadn't, but I supposed nobility didn't generally bother with lessons in escapology.

If he was a noble at all.

Looking at him, I found myself drawing a different conclusion. The clothes were fine, yes, but merchant-making-a-decent-living-fine, journeyman-of-a-craft-fine, not nobility-fine. Linen, not silk; embroidery done in cotton thread, not gold or silver; no rare dyes nor gemstones to be seen. It was clothing of the sort I'd owned back in Skyrim for the occasions when I needed to dress up. Varvur, I suspected, would turn his nose up at it.

I must have made a sound, because the man looked up to see me in the doorway. The expression of hope on his face tugged at my heart.

"Please! Help me! Rescue me from these savages. They've held me captive for two days." I must not have looked as enthusiastic as he'd have liked, because he added, "I'm a noble of House Redoran. I promise you'll be well-rewarded."

"Uh-huh." My voice was flat. "A noble. I'd definitely be interested to hear you explain why you're wearing merchant clothes, and why you were wandering the Ashlands alone."

There was a frantic flicker in the man's eyes, but his voice didn't even tremble as he said, "I was travelling in disguise. My house has many enemies, when venturing into dangerous lands it is best not to do so openly."

Smooth. I was reluctantly impressed.

Not that that would stop me from needling him further. "Oh? I didn't realise Redoran honour bent far enough to allow for such practicalities. I thought you lot demanded one stomp straight into the ambush, shouting for your cowardly foes to show themselves."

The corner of the "noble"'s mouth twitched before he could stop himself. Ha! He thought it was funny too.

"Ah, I realise my... fellow Redoran may not always give that impression, but there is room for subtlety in our ethos. You should look into Dravon Indarys' Tactics and Strategy at some point, it sheds a lot of light on the philosophy of the house – and it's written by a mer beyond reproach, one widely considered to be one of the greatest Redoran has ever produced."

Really.

I let my voice drop into a whisper. "Look, this is all well and good, and I have to say I admire your improvisation skills immensely. If you ever choose to follow a career in acting, please do let me know, I'd love to see the performance. However, can you drop the lies for a minute? That boy out there is demanding a ransom of twenty septims for his high-ranking captive, and I think we both know no such fee will be forthcoming. I need you to be honest with me if I'm going to get you out of here in one piece."

I spent a moment to wonder at the fact that while I was distracted by my admiration of the man's ability to spin a lie, my subconscious had evidently decided that I was, indeed, going to do my level best to rescue him, my complete unsuitability for the task, the fact that I'd never even met him before today, and the fact that I was currently in the process of fleeing a fortress full of twisted monsters notwithstanding.

Somehow, I was sure, this was Athyn Sarethi's fault.

The man pinned me with a suspicious, narrow-eyed gaze. For a moment, I thought he was going to stick with his story. Then I saw him glance out the open entrance-flap, apparently making sure none of his three captors were in earshot. Upon seeing they were occupied at the campfire, he deflated.

"You're right, of course." His voice was so soft I could barely hear him. "I'm Beden of clan Giladren. We're no nobility – I'm a glassblower journeyman from Vivec." Called it with the clothing – it was nice to know that despite the change in location, I hadn't lost my eye for value. "I was on a pilgrimage to the shrine at Maar Gan, got turned around... next thing I know, I have three Ashlanders pointing their spears at me. I panicked. I thought they'd kill me unless I gave them a reason to think I'd be worth more alive. My master's shop is in Redoran canton and he has a lot of noble patrons, I figured I could ape them well enough... worked swimmingly, as you can see, but I didn't quite think it through."

I couldn't stop the surge of empathy that swept through me. This sounded like the sort of fix I might get myself into. Matters weren't helped when he added, "For what it's worth, I did mean it about Indarys' book – it's engagingly written, and a very interesting glimpse into the different schools of thought one can find in Redoran. I'd recommend it to anyone who needs to interact with the house."

A fellow bookworm, too. I could almost find it in myself to forgive him for getting himself kidnapped and leaving me to sort the mess out.

"Tell you what, you can lend me your copy as thanks once we get out of this." I frowned. "Now, let me think..."

*****
End of chapter


Notes: Short installment this time, and it might be followed by a longer break - I'm heading off on holiday for two weeks and there's still a few sections in chapter 18 that need work. I'll do my best to resume updating when I can!


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Grits
post Feb 26 2019, 02:25 AM
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I hope you have a marvelous holiday!

I loved Beden’s little flash of humor. You’ve brought him to life in very few lines. I’m glad Adryn is going to attempt a rescue.


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haute ecole rider
post Mar 4 2019, 05:31 PM
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Finally had the time to catch up while waiting for ESO to repair following this week's update.

Yikes, that old fortress sounds horrific enough! Maybe the devs had been reading too much Lovecraft?

And I couldn't help but laugh at Peacock and Co. I am interested in seeing what happens next. Will keep an eye on this one!


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Kazaera
post Mar 15 2019, 12:18 AM
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@Grits - Thanks! It was great - Spanish course in the south of Spain, so I got to soak up some sunlight and nice weather while significantly improving my language skills. Also went to the carnival in Cadiz, which was an experience.

And I'm glad you like Beden! He grew on me very quickly while writing this.

@haute ecole rider - yeah, you really have to wonder about the game devs, don't you? I'm really only spelling out a little more explicitly what's already in the game here. wacko.gif At least Peacock and Co make for a nice diversion... and I hope you'll like Adryn's solution to the problem they present. smile.gif

Last chapter, Adryn accidentally teleported herself to Falasmaryon while playing with a propylon index. There, she almost made close acquaintances with an ash ghoul, did meet a (thankfully friendly) Ashlander who told her about the provenance of said ash ghoul, and finally - on her trek back to Maar Gan - ran into another group of Ashlanders. This group happens to be holding a Redoran noble for ransom - something that would probably work out better if the man in question were actually a noble, instead of a terrified craftsman from Vivec trying to save his hide. But fear not, Adryn is reluctantly on the case. (Don't tell Athyn Sarethi.)

Chapter 18.1
*****


"Hi. Rasamsi, wasn't it?" I gave the Velothi woman I'd managed to catch alone my best, most charming smile. Judging by her unimpressed stare back, it was unsuccessful.

"What is it, outlander? Here to negotiate?"

All right, I'd been very accommodating, but enough was enough. Beden would have to allow for a minor digression. "Just for the record, I have a name, and it's not 'outlander'. It's Adryn. Foundling, no clan," I added hastily, remembering the caravaneer two days ago. I really didn't need more misunderstandings regarding my lack of a family name.

And yes, that was pity in those eyes. I was sure the tendency of Morrowind natives to treat my existence like some horrific tragedy could be useful, but at the moment it mainly smarted.

"...fair enough. Rasamsi of clan Esurarnat, of the Urshilaku. Well met." Case in point: I doubted she'd have been as civil a minute ago.

"Isn't it nice when we're all polite and introduce ourselves like civilized people." I spotted Rasamsi's eye twitch and decided I shouldn't overdo it. "Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about your captive."

"And what do you want to say about the most illustrious son of House Redoran?"

I paused for a moment. If she hadn't already guessed...

What was I even thinking? Of course she'd already guessed. The sarcasm in that sentence had been so thick it was almost visible.

"I think," I said quietly, "we both know he's no such thing."

Rasamsi let out a groan of pure relief, as though I'd lifted a weight she'd been carrying for too long. "Ah. Thank you, outl- Adryn," she hastily corrected herself. "It is such a pleasure to deal with people who have a brain again. Sadly, neither of my cousins qualify."

A gaping hole where the creature's – the person's, once upon a time – eyes should be...

As my stomach twisted, I really hoped that one day I'd be able to take that expression as innocently as it was meant again.

"So," I prompted, "I guess you know a twenty-septim ransom won't be forthcoming, not for a glassblower from Vivec."

"Glassblower? I suppose that explains the strange powders he had with him." Rasamsi sounded happy at a mystery resolved. "And I told Manat his ransom was an idiot idea and we should just kill the man, but it's always shut up, Rasamsi, you don't know anything, Rasamsi..."

I swallowed. All of a sudden, Rasamsi no longer seemed so down-to-earth and likeable. "Kill him?"

Rasamsi threw me an exasperated look. "Well, obviously it would have been better to send him off after the storm passed, but what else are we supposed to do with him now? If we let him go, he'll run to Maar Gan Temple bleating about dangerous Ashlanders holding him captive... and we all know how they'll respond. I have no intention of dying at the hands of the zebdusinael because my cousin is an idiot."

The worst thing was, after Akin's lesson on the history between the Velothi tribes and the Tribunal temple, I couldn't even tell her such an idea was ridiculous. Even if I still strenuously objected to her proposed solution.

More to the point, I thanked the Divines and – getting in the Morrowind style of things – my anonymous ancestors for the fact that our bonding over Peacock's idiocy meant Rasamsi was thinking of me on her side... as opposed to another outsider who could run 'bleating to the Temple', as she'd put it.

"For what it's worth," I chose my words carefully, "Beden seemed reasonable, and honestly more embarrassed about how he got himself into this mess than anything else." I let the name fall deliberately – the more I could do to make his would-be murderer remember that he was a living, breathing person with dreams and hopes of his own, the better. "If he's also grateful to me for rescuing me, I'm pretty sure I can talk him into an... alternate version of events, one that leaves out certain ill-advised decisions. Perhaps," I was thinking out loud, "he was ill, or injured, after the ash storm, and a gracious – no, heroic – group of Velothi found him and nursed him back to health."

Rasamsi looked as though she wanted to be convinced but hadn't quite managed it. "I like the sounds of that. But I don't like the sounds of pretty sure. What are we supposed to do if he doesn't go along with your idea?"

"Well... you could always move? Hard for them to kill you if they can't find you." An idea shot through my head. "Maybe in the direction of Falasmaryon. I met someone there who said he was a relative of yours, and he could probably use some support. And I guarantee you that any Temple warriors at Falasmaryon will have more important things to worry about than P- your idiot cousin."

"Falas-" For the first time, I saw Rasamsi lose her air of world-weary cynicism. In its place, blank shock spread over her face. "Missun. You're talking about Missun." She moved forward like a striking snake – before I could react, my wrist was caught in a firm grasp. "You've seen him. Spoken to him. Is he all right? Is he injured?"

I stayed silent in favour of staring pointedly at the unwelcome and uninvited source of physical contact. If we were to have civil conversation and exchange of information, no manhandling had better be involved.

For a moment, Rasamsi's grip tightened. A chill raced up my spine, anxiety rising with it. Had I pushed her too far? We'd been friendly enough so far, but at the end of the day I was still an outlander, an interloper. There was nothing preventing Rasamsi from treating me the same as Beden... or, worse, the way she'd have liked to treat Beden.

Then she let go. When I looked up, I saw that a flush stained her cheeks purple. Embarrassment at her own behaviour, I hoped. I did my best not to let my own relief show.

"He seemed well enough, and uninjured," I said once it was clear that my personal space would be staying free from invasion again. "Mind you, I personally am not sure how long such a state of affairs might last, considering he's staying right next to a fortress of twisted monsters." I shuddered. I'd have liked to pretend the movement was an act, one to help sell Akin's dire situation and need for help. Alas, it was all real – I suspected it would be quite some time until I could talk about Falasmaryon and keep an even expression.

Rasamsi spat a curse. "Idiot man. He's as bad as Manat in his own way. Ancestors' gift to archery he may be, Sul-Senipul come again, but last I checked that didn't make him invincible!" Her breath hissed between her teeth. "I told Manat we should go to Falasmaryon to help. Wonder of wonders, he was actually listening to me for once! But then the so-called noble stumbled upon us, and Manat had one of his brilliant ideas, and we've been sitting here ever since."

"So..." I hazarded, "I take it you'd be willing to let said so-called noble go? Seeing as you'd be able to move on to help your cousin, and any Temple force that reaches Falasmaryon will definitely have other things to worry about than a group of Velothi who've learned their lesson and won't be kidnapping anyone again, right?"

"Me?" Rasamsi sighed. "Yes... I guess it'd be fine by me. But in case it escaped you, I'm not exactly the hunt-leader of this little party. Adairan will go along with whatever Manat says... and Azura only knows what it'll take to get my idiot cousin to let go of this nonsense about a ransom."

My stomach sank. "I... take it simply telling him Beden's not a noble won't end well."

"He won't believe you. He'll claim you're trying to trick him, or something." Rasamsi's voice was gloomy, and heavy with the weight of experience. "It wouldn't even be so bad if he simply accepted he was an idiot, you know? Adairan's no trouble if you separate them – he knows he's not the sharpest arrow in the quiver and is happy to follow the people he thinks are more intelligent. Unfortunately for me, for some reason Manat is at the top of that list. And Manat has to try to be clever."

"Hmm..." I let the sound trail off as I considered what Ingerte would do in my situation. (I steadfastly refused to think would have done).

Although Peacock did indeed sound infuriating to deal with, and I scarcely wanted to imagine what it must have been like to grow up with him, looking at the whole thing from the outside in it didn't seem nearly as hopeless as Rasamsi was making it out. The direct route was obviously out, but... he wanted to be clever, he wanted to feel as though he'd triumphed over an opponent by his wits alone. There were definitely ways to use that.

Ingerte would already have come up with half a dozen at this point, I was sure. I wasn't her, so I could only boast one.

"Can you tell me more about what you found in Beden's belongings?"

"Hmm. You have an idea, outl- Adryn. I'm curious what it is." A pause as Rasamsi's expression changed, brows drawing together. "But before I tell you, answer a question for me."

"Oh?"

"How on Nirn did you end up in Falasmaryon with no shoes?"

*****


"So, outlander! You have seen that we truly hold our captive just as we said. Now, are you ready to pay the ransom?"

I turned to face Peacock, dredging up every shred of acting skill I'd ever had as I did so. It had never been my strong point, I was forced to admit – my face was a little too expressive, never to mention that I was a little too prone to blurting out what I was thinking at inopportune moments. Back in Solitude, Ingerte – who could have convinced a Vigilant of Stendarr to make an offering to Sheogorath – had taken point on any smooth-talking required. Still, I was hardly hopeless, as Arkngthand should have proved.

Besides, it wasn't as if I was facing fierce competition here.

"Of course, however... I'm afraid I really don't have the money on me. His family wanted confirmation of the story first, before they sent someone into the wilderness with a fortune." I noticed Peacock's brows drawing together and decided to try the magic words. "They figured it was the smart thing to do – I'm sure you understand."

Peacock's expression cleared. "Naturally, naturally! I expected as much, in fact."

Of course you did. "They would, however, obviously be willing to send me back with the ransom if I bring them proof he is here. Such as..." Now for the tricky part. "The guarhide bag he was carrying. Its contents should suffice. Not that they're valuable!"

The last sentence had been spoken with haste, my tongue stumbling over the words, my eyes wide and panicked. Anyone smarter than Varvur should become suspicious at this point, a group I fully expected to encompass the vast majority of the population of Vvardenfell – animals included. Alas for me, Peacock did not seem to be among their number, because he was nodding, mouth already opening to agree-

Thankfully for both me and Beden, Rasamsi got there first.

"The bag with the strange powders, outlander? The ones none of us could identify?"

"Strange- the powders, yes!" I forced a nervous laugh. It came very easily, given the situation. "But- but they are ordinary powders, nothing unusual or valuable about them at all, of course."

Help came from an unexpected quarter. The third Velothi, who'd been listening to this with a growing frown, interrupted.

"If they're so ordinary, 'fraid I don't see how the bag's to prove we have the man captive. Shouldn't you need something like..." his brow furrowed. "A ring, or an amulet, or a lock of hair? That's how it goes in the stories, right?"

Yes, because the stories are definitely a good guide to how things work in reality.

I didn't say it. Instead, I let a hunted expression spread on my face, my eyes dart back and forth. "Ah... well... um..." When my glance passed Peacock, I saw that he was leaning forward, his own eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Well, finally.

"I think," he purred, "that you are trying to slip something past us, outlander. Foolishly so, for – after all – I am Manat Shimmabadas, known throughout the Ashlands for my cunning mind." My eyes met Rasamsi's at that moment, and I had to bite my cheek in order not to laugh. Judging by her expression, that was not what he was known for.

Now, for the next part of the act.

I sighed, let my shoulders fall, did everything I could to project an aura of defeat. "All right, you caught me. Should have known better than to try. I'm really interested in those powders."

"Why? And what about the ransom?" Rasamsi picked up the cue.

"Oh, no one was going to be paying that. He's not a noble, you see."

Careful, now. I could see Peacock's expression begin to close off. This next part would be delicate.

"It was all a front for smuggling Alinorean glow-dust to Gnisis. Very rare." I let my nose wrinkle slightly as I looked at Peacock, allowed a sliver of contempt to seep into my voice. "I don't expect any of you to have heard of it."

Peacock, Nine bless him and his predictable nature, fell for it hook, line and sinker. "What? I- oh no! Alinorean glow-dust, of course I know of it. From... from the Summerset Isles, yes?"

Congratulations, you know basic geography. "Yes, that's exactly it," I said, making sure to widen my eyes as though in amazement. "I see I really shouldn't underestimate you. Well, I'm sure you'll know then that it's highly sought-after, goes for ten whole septims the ounce on the black market. Empire's cracked down on the trade, but we have a buyer in Gnisis, just had to get the goods through the wilderness... we figured that if anyone looked through the pilgrim disguise, they'd be fooled by the Redoran noble act. Of course, we didn't realise we'd be running into such a clever adversary as you. Why, you must have seen right through it."

In Peacock's eyes, I saw a brief battle between truth and pride. Truth lost decisively.

"I- yes, of course I did! Obviously, I knew from the start the so-called Redoran noble was no such thing." There was a choking sound from Rasamsi's direction at this blatant and shameless fabrication. I wished I was standing closer to her so I could step on her foot. "I, I simply wished to see what would turn up. No man would simply pretend to be a noble, after all! Clearly there was something bigger afoot."

Oh, of course, no man would simply pretend to be a noble. Definitely not a poor journeyman from Vivec who's run afoul of an armed group with no reason to wish him well and who's terrified they're going to murder him out of hand. Of course such a man wouldn't pretend to anything and everything that would make him worth more alive than dead. You arrogant fool.

I bit my tongue.

"So," Peacock said, triumph spreading across his features, "I will be keeping the... glowdust."

I schooled my features into an appropriately dejected expression. "Suppose I can't argue, can I. You beat us fair and square." I heaved a sigh. "Will you at least let my friend go? You already have your prize, after all."

Peacock hesitated.

Come on, come on...

"And how do I know you won't come after me for revenge, outlander?"

All right, acting was one thing, leading someone with a vastly overblown sense of his own intelligence around by the nose was one thing, but this was something entirely different. My professional pride refused to let such an outrage pass. "Revenge? Have you lost your mind? This is- it's business, it's not personal! The appropriate response to being outsmarted is not to come after the smarter person with a big stick!" I blurted out.

Thankfully, it seemed this fit into my story well enough, because Peacock didn't seem to become suspicious. I suspected the use of the word "outsmarted" meant he hadn't heard anything else over the sound of his inflating ego.

"Very well, then." Peacock waved a hand. I suspected he was trying for dismissive in a lordly way. He wasn't succeeding. "It seems you have learned your lesson. I can be generous. You may have your companion back, just as I have the prize. "

Relief suffused my body. I kept it off my face by reminding myself that matters weren't quite done yet.

After all, I'd managed to secure Beden's release, but the two of us had better be well away by the time Peacock realised 'the prize' was, in fact, particularly pure and fine-grained sand.

*****


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ghastley
post Mar 15 2019, 01:56 PM
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But, but, but, .... who's going to rescue that poor defenceless dust? biggrin.gif



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Grits
post Mar 19 2019, 09:41 PM
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Yay, Adryn! That was a fun scene to read!


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