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WellTemperedClavier
Author's Note: This is a series I've posted at a few other places (SpaceBattles, The Skyrim Forge), where it's generally gotten a pretty good reception. This obviously means you can go ahead and read the entire thing if you're so inclined. However, I'll post it piecemeal here so you can follow along as it unfolds, if you're so inclined. I'll probably post a new chapter every few days.

And yes, this is a crossover. Yes, with the old '90s sitcom Daria. The characters from the show are re-imagined as natives to Tamriel in the late Third Era. Forget about the Nerevarine or the Hero of Kvatch--this is Tamriel as viewed through the perspective of normal-ish people. I've found that the 3E 420s and American 1990s are weirdly similar in a lot of ways: seemingly peaceful and seemingly prosperous, but with a lot of corruption bubbling under the surface. The characters still have their cynical '90s snark--but they have to be careful what they say and to whom, because Morrowind's a much more dangerous place where violence is always an option. I try to stay true to the characters while also adhering to the rule of the setting.

If you're not familiar with the show, don't worry. I don't think you need to be. Daria's a new arrival to Balmora, so the characters are introduced to the reader the same time they're introduced to her. People have enjoyed this without having seen the show. Finally, this does use Morrowind/Redguard-era lore. While almost the entire series takes place in Vvardenfell, it does make occasional reference to Cyrodiil being tropical.

Anyway, here it is!

Episode 1: Outlanders

Chapter 1

Daria decided that she hated Sera Ondryn's smile. Most of the Dunmer she'd seen preferred to scowl, and if a typical Dunmer smile was anything like Ondryn's, that was probably for the best. He kept it on as he introduced himself in a soft and tremulous voice, the solicitous expression made all the creepier by the fixed gaze in his red eyes. Standing at the head of his adobe classroom, its deep and dusty shadows somehow made darker by the flickering light of a half-dozen tallow candles, Ondryn smiled even wider. The students, seated at long wooden benches, writing slates on their laps, remained stone-faced.

"Outlander," he said. "It's a kind of a scary word, isn't it? Hearing it makes you feel like you don't belong."

No one had called Daria an outlander to her face but she'd heard the word plenty of times already.

Not, she reminded herself, that she particularly cared what anyone here thought. The boors in her old hometown had been one kind of stupid, and the ones here were a different kind. But stupid never changed.

Daria grimaced. The thick lenses of her spectacles seemed to warp her shadowy surroundings, blurring and stretching the faces of her peers—all outlanders like her, except for one Dunmer girl at her side. Daria took the glasses off for a moment and blinked a few times to re-orient her vision.

"But I'm here to help you feel like you belong. Great House Hlaalu is a friend to the Empire, and we believe there's a place for everyone, even outlanders! Outlander just means you're from somewhere outside Morrowind. It doesn't mean that we don't like you."

Daria checked herself. Daughter of an Imperial legal advocate and a Nord merchant. Reasonably well-connected. However xenophobic the Dunmer might be, the Empire still ruled them.

What the hell.

She put her glasses back on and raised her hand. Ondryn's eyes caught the motion.

"Yes, uh... Doria?"

"Daria," she corrected. "If being an outlander doesn't mean you're a bad person, why is it always used as an insult?"

Ondryn gulped. "Well, uh... look, just let me get through this part and we can have some discussions later. Anyway, everyone here is welcome..."

Daria narrowed her eyes. She'd hoped to offend him, at least, but Ondryn seemed too squishy to get angry at anyone. This would be a boring session.

The Dunmer girl leaned in.

"Don't expect him to answer any questions. He's got the speech memorized. Just enjoy the nice man's soothing voice."

"How am I supposed to follow him if he's so disingenuous?" Daria wondered again why this Dunmer was with the other foreigners.

"I can fill you in later. I've done this three times."



*********



The weather worsened as Daria stepped out of the Drenlyn Academy compound. Sheets of rain fell from the thick and curdled gray sky, smashing into the adobe roofs and turning the Odai River into a churning soup. Porters packed the streets, bent under the weight of crates and bulging sacks.

Suffused through the rain was the thick and sour smell of the local cuisine. It all came from kwama—kwama bugs and kwama eggs: smashed into paste, drained and served as soup, roasted in their shells, or served with bitter hackle-lo leaf. But always sour, like bad cheese left out for too long in the sun. The smell seeped into every mud-brick apartment and paving stone in Balmora, and she was pretty sure the rest of Morrowind smelled the same way.

She'd never wanted a loaf of bread so badly in her life.

A gaunt Dunmer farmer walked past, his gray hands clasping the reins of his two-legged pack lizard. Daria was pretty sure it was a guar—or maybe a kagouti? Its beady lizard eyes studied her for a moment, Daria's pink skin and round face perhaps a novel sight for such a creature.

The Dunmer girl from the orientation stood next to the lantern, her crimson eyes observing Daria. Her gray skin marked her as one of the natives, but her clothes, a shabby red coat and black trousers, were pure Imperial. Her first name, Janieta, more often called Jane, was also Cyrodiilic.

"What's your story?" Daria asked. "You're not an outlander, so why were you in the orientation?"

"Don't let the looks fool you," Jane said. "I'm as outlandish as you are."

"But you're a Dunmer."

"Yes, I'm Dunmer and an outlander." Her angular face hardened for a moment, but then relaxed. "Just being Dunmer isn't enough for Morrowind. You have to be born here, too. I spent my first five years in the Imperial City."

"Five years away from Morrowind and you're an outcast?"

"Oh, well those were five critical years. I mean, if you don't get potty trained in the traditional Dunmer way you'll just never fit in."

"Just so long as you are potty trained."

Jane smirked. "Come on, I know a place where they occasionally serve some outlander drinks for people like us. If nothing else, we can dry out for a bit."

Daria tightened her green woolen robe and followed Jane west along the river. Her mother had told her to try and make friends. Jane hadn't done anything to annoy her yet, so that was a start.

"What's that you're wearing over your eyes?" Jane asked, her smoky voice pushed to the limit to be heard over the crowd.

"They're called glasses. I'm basically blind without them."

And basically blind with them considering the rain. She raised a hand to keep the ungainly device in place. It didn't take much for the things to slip off the bridge of her nose. Her family had money, but not to the point where they could casually buy a replacement pair, especially not out here.

"Huh, I've never seen anything like that. Is it a Dwemer artifact? I've heard you can buy those if you're Imperial."

"No, it was made in Anvil by a specialist. If you want to judge me for them, go ahead. I'm used to it."

"Nah, they're a good look. Not often I see something genuinely new in Balmora."



*********



True to Jane's word, the Lucky Lockup was dry.

Daria and Jane sat at a table next to a support post, beneath a reassuringly familiar metal lantern. Faded tapestries covered the rough adobe walls to ward off the northern chill. The smoky air buzzed with murmurs in a dozen different languages. A free Argonian woman sat on a rug in a shadowed corner, her emerald-scaled hands gently beating a pair of hand drums, the percussion as steady and smooth as a spring rain back home.

The publican sold Cyrodiilic brandy but not at a price either of them could afford. Jane instead ordered a bottle of a local drink called shein, along with a loaf of bread and a bowl of sour-smelling scrib jelly.

"The food isn't bad, but it does take some time to get used to it," Jane said, as she dipped her bread into the mashed insect guts.

Her stomach churning, Daria sipped the shein from her earthenware mug. The drink wasn't bad, actually: bitter with a faintly sweet aftertaste.

Outside the building, the castle-sized silt strider standing at port let out its long and mournful wail, redolent of the ash-swept land it called home. The whole cornerclub seemed to shake at the noise. At least Daria didn't flinch that time. She must be getting used to things.

"I don't get it, Jane. You've been at the academy for years. Why do you keep retaking the orientation?"

"It's a good way to network. No self-respecting Hlaalu noble will hire an outlander like me to paint them, but there are plenty of upstart outlander merchants who'd just love to get their images captured by a native artist."

"A native?" Daria raised her eyebrows.

"As far as they know. I paint them in the usual Imperial style so they don't get all uncomfortable. Make the angles a little sharper. That way it seems suitably native and Morrowind-y. Then they hang it up in their homes and no one's the wiser."

Daria nodded. Life in Morrowind was a lot more complicated than she'd been led to expect.

"My family sent me here to be trained as a savant," Daria said. "That way I can use my knowledge to help rich families avoid taxes and skirt the law."

Jane's lips turned up in a hard smile. "Then you'll have plenty of opportunities here in Balmora."

"From what you say I'll have to stick with outlander families like mine."

"Oh, not at all."

Daria frowned. "Didn't you just say that Hlaalu nobles wouldn't hire outlanders?"

"They won't hire misfit Dunmer like me. They think I'm a traitor for not being born in Morrowind. You, on the other hand, are Imperial—"

"I'm only half," Daria corrected. "My father's a Nord."

"Trust me, it's all the same to them. The point is, the Hlaalu hate the Empire but love to ingratiate themselves with the Empire's rich—or failing that, the Empire's moderately prosperous."

"So, in Morrowind, corruption and favoritism are rampant, the nobles stack the deck against everyone else, and life is all around miserable?"

"Yup!"

"Nice to know some things are the same the world over."

Jane took a bite of bread. No longer able to deny her own hunger, Daria tore off a piece. Bracing herself, she stared at the bowl of scrib jelly, gray and glistening in the lantern light. Holding her breath, she took her bread and scooped up a big chunk of the stuff and jammed it into her mouth before she could chicken out.

A roiling shock ran from the tip of her tongue to the pit of her stomach the moment she tasted the jelly, thick and viscous and oh so sour. She forced her teeth to close on the bread, the familiar texture fighting a losing battle with the slick alien condiment. Something crunched—maybe a tail segment or a leg. She didn't want to know.

Somehow, she choked it down. She swallowed and then grabbed her cup, raising it to her mouth for a deep gulp. The harsh taste of fermented comberry obliterated the jelly's noxious flavor.

Jane gave a little cheer and clapped. "You did it! Trust me, it gets easier."

"How do you people eat this stuff?" Daria wondered. She drank some more shein.

"We people?" Janieta raised an eyebrow. "Far from me to defend Morrowind, but when bugs are all you have, you get creative with what you consider edible. This stuff will fill you up."

"I guess it was pretty hearty," Daria said, feeling a little abashed.

She didn't like the Imperials who looked down on the Mer, Beastfolk, and other races of Men. She was half-Nord herself. Dunmer society was awful—she knew they still enslaved Khajiit and Argonians in the remote parts of Morrowind—but it wasn't like the Empire forced them to stop.

It was just that nothing about Morrowind felt like home.

"The Lucky Lockup's not a bad place, as Balmora goes," Jane said, her eyes settling on a party of nervous gold-skinned Altmer, their narrow shoulders draped by mantles of still-fluttering dragonfly wings.

"I haven't seen many other places here, so I couldn't say."

"The Lockup gets lot of visitors. Caravaners from the South Gate, pilgrims spilling out from the strider port, Bitter Coast fisherman coming up the Odai. I sit here and I get ideas, and then I paint them. Or sketch them, at least."

Studying the transient population, Daria could see what Jane meant. The place felt like everywhere.

And also nowhere.



*********



The rain stopped by the time they left the cornerclub. Dark clouds fled at the rays of setting sun, red as blood in the west. The air was clean at least, no longer heavy with that doused campfire smell that usually hung over Balmora.

"I should probably get home," Daria said. "It was nice meeting you."

"Sure."

"Do you live around here?"

"My brother and I rent an apartment in Labor Town, not far from the Odai."

"Okay. I'm in the Commercial District. My mother—"

Daria paused as a familiar, high-pitched voice made itself heard over the chatter of the late afternoon traffic.

"... pastel yellow is so in right now! Everyone in Cyrodiil is wearing it."

The sight of Quinn's red hair, so bright and bold in the drab streets, confirmed it.

"Everything all right?" Jane asked.

"See that redhead over there?"

"The overdressed one?"

"Yeah. That's my sister," Daria said. "Overdressing is what she does."

Quinn walked with a quartet of Dunmer girls her age, all of them garbed in robes stitched with elaborate abstract patterns. They listened intently as Quinn neared the door of the cornerclub next to the Lucky Lockup.

"You said she's your sister?" Jane's voice tightened.

"Yes—"

"Daria, just trust me on this."

Jane bolted toward Quinn. The younger Morgendorffer didn't notice until Jane jammed her booted feet into a muddy puddle right next to her. Daria distinctly saw her new friend kick the filthy water right onto Quinn's gown before running off toward the riverbank crowd.

The resulting screech could probably be heard throughout the entire province.

Quinn looked down at her ruined yellow dress, and then to her friends. And then her eyes locked on Daria.

"You! This is your doing, isn't it!"

Daria just blinked, too confused to react.

"Come, Lady Morgendorffer," said one of the Dunmer girls. "We can get you cleaned up inside—"

"No! I can't be seen like this—I have to go! You can blame my... my cousin over there!"

Quinn stormed off with her face buried in her hands, her wailing audible at some distance until the silt strider repeated its lonely call. The Dunmer girls who'd been walking with her simply shrugged and walked away.

"What the hell was that?" Daria demanded.

She hurried toward the river market. Her supposed friend was still there, tightly gripping the fabric of her thin red coat.

"What was that all about?" Daria demanded. "Normally I'm thrilled when someone takes Quinn down a peg, but what did she do to you?"

Jane exhaled. "Nothing. I was doing that for her, not to her."

Daria hesitated. She sensed this was serious. "Okay, I'm listening. But I don't know if I can forgive you for temporarily rousing my long-dormant big sister instinct."

"Your sister was about to step into the Council Club. That's not a place for outlanders."

"So what? It's too special for some dirty Imperial to visit?" Maybe Jane wasn't as open-minded as she'd seemed.

"No, dammit! You aren't listening! That's where the Cammona Tong meet. They. Do. Not. Like. Outlanders. People disappear there, Daria. And whoever those friends of Quinn's were? They knew that. You need to tell her not to spend time with them."

Daria shivered in spite of her thick robe. Only now did she realize how far from Cyrodiil she really was.

"Thank you. Is Quinn in danger?"

"Maybe. Now that I think about it, the Cammona Tong would've probably just thrown her out. Even they wouldn't be bold enough to kill some Imperial teenager who wandered in. But you do not want to cross the people in the Council Club. Being an Imperial—or acting like one—won't always be enough to save your hide out here."

Jane had been smart about it, Daria realized. Quinn would have never listened to a warning from a total stranger, not when she was trying to impress her friends. Thus, best to make it look like an accident or a prank.

"I'd better get home and talk to her. Will I see you at school tomorrow?" Daria asked.

"That's the plan. Take care."

Daria hurried up the street, wondering how she was going to fix the damage.



*********



Daria returned home to find her mother, Helen, seated at the office, still poring over a stack of documents. Mom had spared no effort in ensuring that her base of operations befitted a legal advocate trained in the time-honored Imperial ways. Tomes and scrolls filled the polished rosewood bookshelves, and not so much as a speck of dust dared touch the flagstone floor. Candles burned in the small marble shrine to Julianos embedded onto the far wall, the god's symbol of a triangle over an open scroll recreated in a mosaic above a basin filled with scented water.

Mom did not look up from her work. Her scribe, a young Breton woman named Marianne, smiled and nodded at Daria's entry.

"I need to talk to my mother," Daria said, quietly.

"How important is this, Daria?" mom replied, still not looking up. "I'm up to my ears in cases from the local merchants! Honestly, I don't know why they think Imperial law will protect them from bad local investments!"

"Potentially very important."

That time, mom paid attention. She knew the tone of voice.

"Marianne, you can head home for the day. It's almost night, anyway," mom said.

Once Marianne left, Daria explained the situation. Her mother's face turned white as soon as she mentioned the Cammona Tong.

"Quinn!" mom shouted. "Get down here this instant!"

Even Quinn's footsteps sounded sulky as she descended the staircase. "What's wrong?"

"Were you at the Council Club today?" mom demanded.

Quinn's expression changed to one of calculating innocence. "Of course not, mother! I was studying—"

"I'm serious!"

She pouted. "Okay, fine! I was! But I made a really nice friend named Synda, and she wanted to show me around!"

"I don't want you spending time with this Synda!"

"Why not?"

"Listen to me, Quinn. There are some very bad people in Balmora, and they run the Council Club. It's a dangerous place for people like us."

"What? The only danger I was in was from that weird girl who was with Daria! She completely ruined my dress!"

"Jane did you a favor," Daria said.

Mom reached out and grasped Quinn's shoulders. "I need you to understand something: we are very, very far away from the emperor's light right now. Balmora is mostly a safe place, but there are dangers for people like us. I forbid you from going to strange cornerclubs."

"But mom! This is just some prank that Daria—"

"Daria, that goes for you as well."

Daria blinked. "What did I do?"

"Nothing, but restricting you both is impartial and it's common sense. Girls your age have no business being in sketchy taverns. Maybe when you're married and established professionals, but not now!"

Quinn drew back, eyes already filling with her on-call tears. "I hope you know you've ruined my social life!"

She spun around on her heels and stormed up the stairs. Mom leaned back in her chair and rubbed her temples.

"Where's dad?" Daria asked. "He should know about this too."

"Late night for him, they're having a networking session in High Town." She sighed. "I did not think living here would be so difficult."

"Wait, hold on. Why can't I go to cornerclubs?" Daria asked. "It's not like Jane's going to lure me into some seedy den and rob me. Well, she won't rob me at any rate."

"Like I said, it's not a good look. And as foreigners we are under scrutiny. I don't want the Dunmer to think Imperial girls are a bunch of cavorting hedonists! If you absolutely must go somewhere, I'll allow you and Quinn to visit Eight Plates, so long as you have an adult chaperone."

Daria crossed her arms. "I see. And I suppose you'd be giving me the same talk if I were your son?"

"I don't make the rules, Daria. I just try and live by them."

"Yes, because following rules is the best way to get them changed."

"I'm not in the mood right now. What's important is that you keep an eye on your sister."

Sighing, Daria nodded. "I will."
SubRosa
I love the pic of Daria and Jane in Morrowind. I am a big fan of the show, so I am looking forward to reading about Daria's sarcastic escapades in Vvardenfell.
Acadian
I confess unfamiliarity with the TV show and that I never played TES III. That said, my elf has tons of time in TES IV, V and currently makes her home in ESO. And those who have played TES III inform me that ESO’s rendition of Vvardenfel’s mer, culture and politics is quite accuarte. So I do understand the Great Houses, kwama, guar and pompous too common Dunmer view of ‘outlanders’.

Fabulous fanart of Daria and Jane!

The term outlander as used by the Dunmer is well worth the time you spent on it. Noting that it was a ‘free Argonian woman’ playing drums also speaks volumes about the culture in Morrowind. Though common to describe the sights and sounds of a place, it is less so to read of the smells. That you included this aspect of Balmora really strengthens our feel for the city.

You have a neat concept, and your style of writing is comfortably inviting. smile.gif
Lena Wolf
I enjoyed that, thank you! biggrin.gif Hoping to read more in future! I don't know the TV show, but it seems indeed that it doesn't matter.
WellTemperedClavier
*SubRosa: Fantastic! There's not a lot of overlap between the two fandoms, so I'm glad there's another one of us who enjoys them both! There will be plenty more escapades to come.

* Acadian: I haven't played ESO myself (though I'm sometimes tempted, I'm a little burned out on MMOs in general these days), but I hear that its version of Vvardenfell has remarkable fidelity to the one seen in TES III.

And thanks! It's just a real simple Photoshop job I put together, but I'm happy with how it turned out. Also glad the writing came through. Part of the fun in writing this was to examine just how all these groups interact in the context of the late Third Era. And yeah, smell has a big impact on our impressions of a place for good or for ill.

* Lena Wolf: Thank you!

Episode 1: Outlanders

Chapter 2


"Maybe you've fooled mom, but you haven't fooled me!"

Hearing her sister's shrill voice behind her, Daria put down her copy of A Dance in Fire. She first looked out through the narrow adobe-framed window of the second story room they shared, the stars outside a gleaming halo around the bloated red moon of Masser. Taking off her glasses, she closed her aching eyes and massaged them through the lids.

"Quinn, I don't think you understand how serious—" she began.

"How serious? Daria, we're here to spread Imperial culture to these barbarians—I mean, people! How am I supposed to do that if I can't make friends with the popular Dunmer? Now the future of the Empire might be doomed because of you and mom!"

Daria put her glasses back on and pushed back from the desk. She turned around to face Quinn. They both needed to go to bed soon. Mom and dad wouldn't want them to use up more candles.

"Yes," Daria said. "The Empire survived the Akaviri invasion and the Simulacrum Crisis but is sure to fall apart if you fail to make enough vapid friends."

"You don't get it Daria. You might like being alone all the time." Quinn raised a hand to her brow and raised her eyes to the ceiling. "But I will wither and die without friendship." Her delivery was worthy of a performer's.

"That sounds like a personal problem. Look, maybe you weren't in as much danger as Jane thought, but even mom agreed you shouldn't be going into strange cornerclubs."

Quinn lowered her hand and smirked. "Neither should you."

"Damn impartiality," Daria said.

Hopefully Jane would be okay with spending time at a different place.

"And you're both being so unfair to Synda! She's from a very reputable family. Who knows how many opportunities we might lose if I don't hang out with her?"

Better losing opportunities than losing you, Daria almost said.

"We'll survive," she said instead.

"Maybe. But mom's right about one thing: we do need friends here. And if we don't get any, things are really going to suck."

Quinn refused to talk after that. Daria took off her glasses again, crawled into her bed, and blew out the last candle. Darkness sometimes healed wounds—she remembered Quinn occasionally, always indirectly and circuitously, admitting fear or error in the long winter nights back in their old Stirk home. Hell, occasionally Daria did.

But only silence that night, Quinn soon breathing peacefully in her own bed on the other side of the room. Unceasing, the sounds of the city rose up to their window. Porters spoke in harsh Dunmer voices and guar claws clicked on the paving stones. Worse than the noise was the endless sour smell, a hundred plates of insect mash letting off their stench into the night sky.



*********



"Hey there, kiddo!"

Dad didn't even look up from the kitchen table as Daria walked down to the first floor, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes. The morning sun, made lurid by Red Mountain's fumes, cast crimson rays through the kitchen's slot-like windows.

"Morning," Daria mumbled, her voice barely comprehensible.

"You know," dad said, "at first I wasn't so sure about the stuff the Dunmer ate. Bugs are so... ewww. But then I started thinking: Jake! Bugs are just protein, perfect for a strong and healthy man like you. So, I took the liberty of buying a fresh bug egg last night. Thought I'd surprise your mother."

He stepped aside and gestured at the veiny egg sitting on the table, big enough to hold a medium-sized dog.

"You're right about one thing. She will be surprised," Daria said.

Dad paid her no heed. "This is going to make a great omelette!"

"If that thing goes rotten, we'll never get the smell out of here. Not that I'm sure we could tell the difference," Daria said.

"Nonsense! It'll be in our bellies way before that'll happen. So let me see... the man said to open it at the top... or was it the bottom? I'm pretty sure he said the top."

Dad picked up the large butcher knife and eyed the egg the way a warrior might study a foe for a weak spot. He made a quick swing and the knife embedded itself in the surface.

"Huh, this looks like a tough one," he said.

"Do you want me to ask the neighbors?" Daria offered. "They might actually know how to prepare this."

"Nah, I got this. Let me try the mallet..."

He wrenched out the knife and picked up a wooden hammer from the table. That time, he pressed the knifepoint against the surface as he would a chisel and raised the hammer for a decisive blow.

"I really don't think that's a good—" Daria started.

Dad struck and the knife plunged into the leathery shell. "Got it!" Dropping the hammer, he grabbed the knife handle with his right and cut to the side.

A jet of sickly ichor sprayed out from the opening and into his face.

"It's attacking me! Daria, get your sister out of here! Save yourselves!"

Daria's stomach roiled once she smelled it, the stench like something you might find in an old boot buried under a butcher shop's offal heap.

It spurted again. "Gah!" dad shouted.

Deciding to get breakfast on the way to school, Daria made a quick exit.



*********



"Wait, was the egg fertilized?"

It was lunch, and Daria and Jane sat in the shade of the emperor parasol growing in the courtyard. The towering old mushroom smelled a bit musty but at least gave them privacy from their fellow outlanders.

Daria had been relating her father's encounter with the kwama egg.

"No idea," Daria said.

"It must have been if it was squirting like that. Ooh, that means there's a partially formed scrib in there that your dad can serve for dinner!"

"Dad's probably going to be taking a long recuperative break from kitchen duties after this. Very possibly at mom's insistence."

Jane nodded. "Tell him to get an unfertilized kwama egg next time. Those you can just open up and fry. They're pretty good, and cheaper to boot. And if he doesn't want the scrib, I'll take it! Scribs taste a lot better before they hatch."

Looking at her own lunch, a loaf of bread and a skin full of lukewarm water boiled last evening, Daria wondered how long she could last before embracing the local cuisine. She chided herself for being so myopic. Weirdness was only a matter of perspective. There was nothing intrinsically normal about eating steak and potatoes. She just wished Dunmer cuisine didn't smell so unwholesome.

Unwholesome to her, she reminded herself.

She glanced around the courtyard. Ten squarish adobe structures, the surfaces smoothed out in the stately Hlaalu manner, crammed together in an enclosure and surrounded by a wall made of the same. Six buildings for instruction, one for a library, one for administration, one for storage, and one for a privy. All of the students present that day huddled together in their little cliques. Outlanders gathered with outlanders and native Dunmer stayed with their own, with one notable exception: Quinn was still with that same crowd. The leader, Synda, listened as Quinn chattered on about the latest sartorial irrelevance. The hackles on Daria's neck rose.

"What do you know about Synda?" Daria asked.

"Her? She's the kwama queen of her little hive, all of them trying to be more stylish than each other—but never more stylish than her. Honestly, she's not that big of a deal, but her family is. I know her mother's a bonded agent to House Hlaalu."

"I don't like Quinn spending time with her. And I definitely don't like being made to show concern for Quinn."

Jane turned her eyes to Synda. "I might have overreacted yesterday. I don't think the Cammona Tong would've done anything worse than embarrass Quinn. But they aren't nice people. The whole reason they set up shop in front of the strider port is so they can watch who comes and goes, and occasionally bully a confused traveler who thinks he'll get a warm bed at their place."

A little annoyed, Daria turned her gaze to Jane. "So was she in danger or not?"

Jane just shrugged. "That's the problem with Morrowind. You can never be sure."

"Is Synda part of the Cammona Tong?"

"Nah," Jane scoffed. "She's just a rich girl with a mean streak."

Synda stepped closer to Quinn. Her pouty lips turned up in a faint and mirthless smile, a bit like Ondryn's when he was about to talk about togetherness or confidence. She spoke, and Daria imagined the verbal poison leaping out from her tongue.

"Hold on," Daria said, standing up from the ground.

"What's this?"

"I'm going to stop this the only way I know how: by embarrassing my sister in front of her friends."

Daria set off before she'd really figured out what to do. All the frustrations of the past month boiled in the back of her brain. The harsh looks, the weird food, the ugly words always spoken at the edge of hearing.

She was of the Empire, and she wasn't going to let some barbarian threaten her sister!

Quinn saw Daria approach and made a shooing gesture with her hands.

"Oh hi!" Daria said, trying to sound like an ingenue. "You never introduced me to your friends, Quinn!"

Synda cast a baleful glare her way. "Who is this... person?"

"She's, uh, my servant!" Quinn said. "My parents hired her because no one else would take her. Servant, would you—"

"Don't be silly, Quinn! Everyone, Quinn's my sister!"

Daria threw her arms around Quinn and squeezed as tightly as possible. "And we're the best of friends!" she continued, raising her voice as high as it could go (which still wasn't high).

"Stop it!" Quinn hissed.

Synda crossed her arms, her smile as sharp as a knife. "Your sister certainly seems interesting, Quinn. Perhaps you should introduce us."

Quinn finally disentangled herself and stepped back, her cheeks red. Exhaling, she faced Synda. "No, she's not my sister. I told you, she's a servant. I think she might've been out in the sun too long," she said, adding a false laugh at the end.

"Is she your sister, or isn't she?" Synda asked.

Quinn opened her mouth as if to speak, her face frozen in uncertainty.

"Because," Synda continued, "I certainly would not trust someone inconstant enough to deny their own family."

"Huh?"

"Come, I don't think there's room for Quinn in our society. Maybe the Imperials don't care about family loyalty, but we do."

"Wait—come back!" she called as the quartet raised their noses in the air and turned their backs to her, walking away on quick little steps that barely disturbed the dark fabric of their dresses.

Quinn whirled back toward Daria, her face livid.

"How could you?"

Daria had to admit that hadn't gone the way she'd expected. Quinn always tried to distance herself. No one had minded such things in Cyrodiil—just the usual backbiting common to young people.

"You're better off," Daria said. "Those people are not your friends. Mom warned you not to spend time with them."

"How would you know what a friend is? It's not like you've ever had any."

Daria sucked in her breath. She remembered all those years puttering around in her mother's darkened library listening to the laughter and jokes in the other rooms, everyone in Stirk adoring Quinn's rosy cheeks and pretty smile and bright tone. So unlike Daria's monotone voice and flat affect.

Like they weren't sisters at all.

Daria blinked away her tears. "I do have a friend now. This time, you don't. Find some. It's always been easy for you."

She walked away, no longer sure if she'd made the right choice.



*********



Daria spent a dusty afternoon under Ondryn's questionable tutelage, learning the tiresome etiquette of properly addressing a letter sent to a priest of Morrowind's Tribunal Temple.

"I have tremendous respect for all faiths," Ondryn said, at the beginning of the lesson, "but now that you are in Morrowind, it'll make things easier—dare I say, more fun—to learn about the three living gods who protect and guide the Dunmer. And who knows? Maybe they'll protect your people too! The important thing is that we can all be together and reach our full potential under the Tribunal!"

Nothing made sense. Quinn was in danger—except even Jane thought she might not have been. Synda was bad news—but probably harmless. And there Daria was, trying to navigate her way out of the mess.

She looked up to the ceiling, the adobe surface crossed with wooden support beams. Daria didn't miss her home, exactly. But she was starting to, and that worried her. Better the dry hills and red-shingled villas of Stirk than this endless morass of insects and fungus and volcanoes!

Somehow, the matter didn't feel settled. Daria hated to admit it, but part of her wanted to get back at Synda for what she'd said to Quinn. Foolish, perhaps. The issue was basically solved. Or was it? How could she be sure?

In the old days, she'd be able to think of a way around things. People's habits (usually their bad ones) created weaknesses she could exploit. Morrowind threw everything awry. The rules here were different for people like her. So maybe she'd just be direct this time. Direct, with all the weight of the Empire behind her.

Daria found Synda loitering in the courtyard after the session ended, the afternoon bright but cold. Synda might not be nobility but she carried herself like someone used to authority. Angular Daedric script ran along her dark blue gown, the hemline and the ends of the sleeves gilded. Fashion was foreign to Daria, but she knew expensive when she saw it.

"We need to talk," Daria said.

Synda looked at her but said nothing.

"Why did you take my sister to the Council Club yesterday?"

"Forgive me," Synda said. "For I'm not familiar with your sophisticated Imperial ways. Where I come from, it's customary to take your friends to interesting places. Perhaps Imperials prefer not to share such things with friends? Loyalty does not appear to be your people's strong suit."

"My sister had her reasons," Daria said, and almost couldn't believe she'd said it. "And my 'people' don't take friends to places run by criminals. Unless they're criminals themselves."

Synda drew herself up to her full height (which wasn't very much). "I don't know what you're talking about. The Council Club is run by some of the most respectable Dunmer in Balmora. You had best be careful what you say about them."

Daria suddenly suspected she was in over her head. But there was no place to go but forward. "And you'd best be careful where you take my sister."

"Oh, I will be."

They stared for a few moments longer. Daria felt a moment of gratification when Synda finally sniffed, made a motion as if to brush dirt off her dress, and took her leave.

The problem hadn't been solved. But maybe it was a step. She wished she could just make it disappear with a smart remark. The odds didn't favor her, here.

She'd just have to be smarter than ever.
Renee
I know Daria! Pretty sure she is a Mike Judge creation, originally a side character on Beavis & Butthead, but she eventually got her own show. I always liked Daria, and how she was sort of haughty and totally different from B&B. They'd make fun of her and stuff. But nothing bothered her.

Is there a way you can make the picture smaller? Because what's happening on my screen is the entire page is stretched due to the size of it. And this makes it harder to read because I'm scrolling left and right, left and right, not sure if others are experiencing this. It's an imgur pic, so definitely possible. Up to you, of course.

WellTemperedClavier
QUOTE(Renee @ Apr 16 2022, 02:42 PM) *

I know Daria! Pretty sure she is a Mike Judge creation, originally a side character on Beavis & Butthead, but she eventually got her own show. I always liked Daria, and how she was sort of haughty and totally different from B&B. They'd make fun of her and stuff. But nothing bothered her.

Is there a way you can make the picture smaller? Because what's happening on my screen is the entire page is stretched due to the size of it. And this makes it harder to read because I'm scrolling left and right, left and right, not sure if others are experiencing this. It's an imgur pic, so definitely possible. Up to you, of course.


Yes, she is a Mike Judge creation. He didn't have a whole lot to do with her namesake show, however. In fact, he was somewhat miffed that MTV hired someone else (Glenn Eichler) to make a spin-off, since he felt like MTV was doing this to prove that they didn't really need him.

Sorry about the picture! I fiddled with it a bit, but couldn't find a way to shrink it. Thus, I've removed it for the time being. I'll see what I can do. Thanks for letting me know, and hope it didn't cause too much inconvenience.
Lena Wolf
QUOTE(WellTemperedClavier @ Apr 16 2022, 04:12 PM) *

Sorry about the picture! I fiddled with it a bit, but couldn't find a way to shrink it. Thus, I've removed it for the time being. I'll see what I can do. Thanks for letting me know, and hope it didn't cause too much inconvenience.

When I started posting my stories, I had the same issues. It seems that the picture should be no wider than 450px, which is pretty meager, I know. But if it is wider, it starts stretching the text making it difficult to read. Some people here prefer to just include links to their pictures, this way you can have whatever resolution you please.
Renee
I think the problem you might be having Clavier is a little bug with Imgur. If so, try this...

Go into Imgur, find the picture, then select its little pencil icon. Select Edit. Change the picture's resolution (as Lena has stated, 450 seems to be the max width). The picture's height will automatically redraw itself.

Press Apply, and press Save. smile.gif Now, when you copy the picture's BB Code, and then post it here at Chorrol, sometimes the link will not post right. Here is an example...

[im g]https://i.imgur.com/36eKFXz.png?1[/img]

After the .png extension there is ?1 which shouldn't be there. Just delete that ? and that 1.

Voila. I would post the result of removing those two characters, but I don't want to clutter your story with my picture! biggrin.gif Anyway, hope that helps. And I'll have more time to read tomorrow for sure.
WellTemperedClavier
QUOTE(Renee @ Apr 16 2022, 06:44 PM) *

I think the problem you might be having Clavier is a little bug with Imgur. If so, try this...

Go into Imgur, find the picture, then select its little pencil icon. Select Edit. Change the picture's resolution (as Lena has stated, 450 seems to be the max width). The picture's height will automatically redraw itself.

Press Apply, and press Save. smile.gif Now, when you copy the picture's BB Code, and then post it here at Chorrol, sometimes the link will not post right. Here is an example...

[im g]https://i.imgur.com/36eKFXz.png?1[/img]

After the .png extension there is ?1 which shouldn't be there. Just delete that ? and that 1.

Voila. I would post the result of removing those two characters, but I don't want to clutter your story with my picture! biggrin.gif Anyway, hope that helps. And I'll have more time to read tomorrow for sure.


Thanks! Unfortunately, I tried that but still to no avail. Though the image looks smaller on Imgur, it's still enormous on the forum. Probably best that I just do a link. I appreciate the trouble you took.

Daria and Jane - Here's the first Photoshop piece I did!

At the Lucky Lockup - And here's the second!

What I did here is take some screenshots, and then insert the characters (though Jane was obviously altered to look Dunmer). Then I modified the background to look as much like the show as possible. At one point, I tried to frame Morrowind clothes over their bodies, but I wasn't able to get this to work.

Also, I thought it might be helpful to give some information on the show's version of the characters. Might be fun for people already familiar with Daria, and could offer some context for those who haven't seen the show. I'm going to link to the DariaWiki. Reading the character histories might end up creating some (mild) spoilers for this series, so be aware of that if you want to go beyond the basics.

Generally speaking, Daria, Jane, and their family members have the same names they do on the show. All other characters' names have been changed to better fit in Tamriel.

Daria Morgendorffer - Pretty similar to the version on the show.

Jane Lane - Obviously different in that she's now a Dunmer. This version of Jane also has a different living situation, which will become more apparent in the next chapter.

Quinn Morgendorffer - Also fairly similar to her show counterpart, at least at this point.

Helen Morgendorffer - Daria's mother. Not too different from her show counterpart.

Jake Morgendorffer - Daria's father.

Timothy O'Neill (Sera Timos Ondryn) - Daria's ineffectual New Age English teacher is now an ineffectual Dunmer bigot who pretends to be open-minded. He was a pretty notable recurring character in the show, but he doesn't appear that often in Daria in Morrowind.

Sandi Griffin (Synda Grilvayn) - Now here's a pretty big divergence. In the show, Sandi was the president of the Fashion Club and Quinn's best friend/worst rival. In this series, the Fashion Club ends up having a different composition and Synda remains an enemy (not just rival) of both Quinn and Daria.

I'll provide links to other characters as they are introduced.



WellTemperedClavier
The fourth chapter is on the short side, so I'm going to post it with chapter 3, bringing the first episode to its conclusion!

Episode 1: Outlanders

Chapter 3


School ended for the day. Daria pretended to read as she watched Quinn plead with Synda, her sister probably spinning all kinds of excuses in some desperate attempt to get back in her tormentor's good graces. Quinn never had trouble making friends. Why was she so fixated on this particular Dunmer?

Probably because Quinn was as alone, scared, and confused as Daria was. Jane at least felt like a lifelong friend by virtue of explaining the place to Daria in a way that made some sense. Could she be trusted, though? If Jane was planning something, there'd be no way for Daria to find out. Not in Morrowind.

She dismissed this as unlikely. Jane was Dunmer, but she was also a fellow outlander. That put them in the same benighted social stratum. Synda, on the other hand, was an insider.

Quinn finally gave up and left the school, with head held high but lips quivering. Daria caught up to her and Quinn's mouth suddenly straightened, her eyes hard. Of course, she blamed Daria for all this, but at least they maintained a stony silence as they walked home. Inside, the odor of spilled kwama egg still lingered in the air. Quinn gagged the moment she stepped across the threshold. No one else was home at the moment—Daria assumed that her mother was meeting some of the other advocates.

Putting her hand over her mouth and nose, Daria braved the kitchen. Dad had cleaned up as best he could, but smears of egg yolk still streaked the tables and floor. He'd tossed the ruined egg in the metal wash basin.

Trying to ignore the worsening stench, she looked into the jagged opening made by her father's clumsiness. Sure enough, some kind of gray fleshy thing coiled up at the bottom of the egg, encased in filmy yolk and other fluids.

She remembered Jane's comment about the larva. Not quite believing what she was doing, Daria went upstairs and grabbed some clean linens. Taking them back downstairs, she laid them on the table next to the sink, still trying not to breathe too deeply. She rolled up her sleeves, ignored her fear, and then plunged both her arms into the egg.

Her hands broke through the cold and oily film, fingers probing the slimy larval flesh underneath. Daria's gorge rose. Her cheeks puffed out.

If her glasses fell in there...

Daria gritted her teeth. Eyes watered from the smell and the feel, but she focused. At last, she found a harder surface. Digging in with her heels, she pulled, the larva loosening with a series of wet pops. She lifted it out, and moments later found herself cradling a curled pinkish-gray... well, it looked more like a centipede the size of her arm than anything else. A translucent, segmented shell ran along the back and a half-dozen tightly curled legs flanked the underbelly.

Daria Morgendorffer: Insect Midwife, she thought.

She decided she'd stick with her savant training for a while longer.

Daria laid it out on the linens and wrapped the thing up as best she could. Then she walked over to the pump and worked the lever to splash water on her slimy forearms, and then mixed in some soap for a second rinse. Getting the stuff off her made her feel a bit better about the whole thing.

Placing the scrib in a canvas bag, she headed off to Jane's.



*********



The endless adobe rows of Labor Town served as a shabby reflection of the Commercial District across the river. Workmen and porters crowded the streets cheek to jowl, trudging under the watchful eyes of bonemold-armored Hlaalu guards. Paupers sat cross-legged on threadbare rugs spread out across the flagstones, tracing the sign of the Tribunal on their sunken chests whenever a coin clinked into the waiting earthen bowl.

Furred Khajiit and scaled Argonians roamed purposefully in small groups, the Dunmer majority keeping as much distance as they could but letting them pass without comment. Faces looked harder there, worn down by work and cheap food. And cheap alcohol. Daria smelled it in the air, fighting a losing but never totally lost battle against the sour bug stench and the more quotidian odor of trash.

Not that different from the Commercial District, she reminded herself.

Daria still carried the canvas bag with the scrib inside. The weight of the thing dragged on her skinny arms. She held it closer to her body as she navigated the narrower streets of Labor Town. Some of the people here looked hungry enough to grab it from her.

Was it still good? Did scribs go bad if left in a broken egg for too long? She had no idea what counted as fresh. Jane would know, she was sure.

Daria found her destination where Jane had said it would be, just a few rows east of the Odai River. The apartment looked like its neighbors, a two-story adobe building with an exterior staircase running up to a cramped balcony where Jane sat in front of an easel, her red eyes watchful and a paintbrush gripped in her right hand. A wooden sign hung outside the front door below, marked with what looked like a barrel. Going by the description Jane had given her at lunch that day, it had to be the sign of J'dash, the Khajiit junk merchant who served as Jane's landlord.

Jane said nothing as Daria climbed the steps. Getting closer, Daria saw what her friend had created: an image of a woman painted in sharp black angles, her body contorted into a spiral and her exaggerated teeth clenched in a rictus grin. Fear and pain leapt straight from the image and into Daria's head.

She'd never seen anything like it before.

"Uh, I hope I'm not interrupting," she said, speaking loudly to be heard over the crowd below.

Jane looked over her shoulder and smiled at Daria.

"Oh! I wasn't expecting you. Well make yourself at home. I usually paint outside so the fumes don't get to me."

"Always sensible." Daria again felt a faint chill looking at the image. All the artwork she'd ever seen consisted of stately portraits and landscapes. Jane's was different. Pure feeling in paint.

Noticing that Daria stared, Jane shifted in her seat. "It's just a little experiment. Don't worry, I know exactly how to capture the figure of Man or Mer. But sometimes I like to practice with something less conventional."

"No, I like it," Daria said.

"You do?"

"Yeah. I've never seen anything like this before."

"My attempt to do something new," Jane said. "Traditional Dunmer art has bold black lines and lots of angles, but it's almost all religious or historical. What you see on this canvas is what I see whenever I look at people like Synda or Magistrate Lli."

"Twisted people going slowly insane under the weight of their hypocrisy and cruelty?"

"See, you get it! Not that I have anything against religious art. All respect to ALMSIVI, of course," Jane said, briefly bowing her head, "but I think that the Dunmer gods and saints are probably sick of people making the same images of them over and over again."

"Do you sell these?"

"I wish! Like I said before, I mostly sell portraits to rich merchants. Gallus got me started."

"Gallus?" Daria asked, noting the name as an Imperial one.

"An outlander art dealer in the Commercial District. He introduced me to a lot of my clients, and he's the one who pulled strings to get me into the academy. It's not like I'd have had the money otherwise. Stuff like what I'm painting now is just what I do for fun. When I have time."

"It's unique."

"Too bad unique doesn't sell," Jane said. "Here, let's go inside. It's starting to get cold."

Jane opened the door to her apartment and Daria followed. What looked like all of Jane's worldly possessions jostled for space inside. Pigments and canvas filled up a full half of the room, with other samples of her bold and bizarre personal art laid out on a narrow bench. A rug and pillow served as bed, spread out next to stacks of neatly folded clothes.

Daria barely had enough room to stand. Jane motioned for her to sit down on the bed. When Daria did, Jane moved aside some paints and rested herself on a tiny wooden bench.

A single narrow window let in the ruddy light of the setting sun. The light fell on a small and triangular stone next to the bed, its surface decorated with a carved robed figure pointing ahead.

"It's a shrine to St. Veloth," Jane explained. "A pioneer who led my ancestors to Morrowind, always searching for something new. I guess I could relate, a little bit."

"I didn't know you were religious," Daria said.

Jane smiled. "Not exactly. See, Dunmer religion's different from others. Our gods are right there in the flesh. You don't need to have religion to believe in something if it's standing in front of you."

"Have they ever stood in front of you?" Daria knew about Morrowind's three living gods—though all the documents she'd read described them as nothing more than powerful sorcerers.

Jane's piety disappointed her, somehow. The Tribunal Temple didn't think much of outlanders like Jane, so why would their supposed gods be any more accepting?

"No, they haven't. But my dad saw Almalexia make an appearance at a Midwinter's Feast down in Mournhold. He said when she spoke, you could feel the presence of all the Dunmer generations past in that very spot, back to Resdayn and beyond." Jane's lips twisted into a regretful half-smile. "This was before I was born. I know it probably sounds kind of crazy, but I believe him."

More likely, her father had just seen some Dunmer priestess painted in gold and covered in jewels. Daria decided to change the subject.

"I brought you a gift," she said. "But I don't know if it's still good."

Jane's expression brightened. "By all means, show me!"

Daria opened the bag, holding her face away to avoid the smell. "It's the scrib from the egg I was telling you about. I don't think anyone in my family's brave enough to eat it, but I thought you might appreciate it."

Jane gasped, her hands shaking in anticipation. "Appreciate it? Daria, you just made my day! Hell, my entire week. And yes, that's definitely still good. Here, let's take this downstairs. I bet J'dash will let me use his kitchen if we share a bit."

"Wait, if we share a bit?"

"You're eating this Daria, whether you want to or not!"



*********



Slimy as the scrib had been, Daria had to admit that something in the kitchen smelled good.

While Jane busied herself with the meal, Daria sat in the crowded little junk shop with J'dash, an older Khajiit with streaks of white in his russet fur. He rested in his chair, wrapped in a threadbare linen robe, his left hand grasping a clay cup filled with warm sujamma. J'dash's golden eyes fixated on the far wall, as if he could see through it to the distant jungles and deserts of sugar-blessed Elsweyr.

Daria sipped her own sujamma, the drink's earthy taste adding to the warmth. Candles flickered on the table, the flames like red jewels in the dark. Her family, Synda, and the Camonna Tong all felt very far away. J'dash's long tail swished on the dirt floor as meat sizzled against hot clay in the kitchen.

"It's almost ready!" Jane called.

Jane came out a few minutes later, the scrib coiled up on a big redware plate. Daria breathed in the smell, thick and buttery with a hint of herbs. But it still looked like a bug.

From the looks of things this was a rare treat for Jane. Insulting her friend by refusing wasn't an option. She'd already eaten scrib jelly, so this couldn't be much worse. Except seeing it there in front of her, its too-many legs glistening in the candlelight, just reminded Daria of exactly what she'd be consuming.

"Ahh, Dunmer is a good cook," J'dash said, his eyes on Jane.

"Oh, don't listen to him. Seriously, don't: life's easier when expectations are low. Anyway, cooking's not my strong point but I did pick up a few tricks over the years. Meals like this don't come often so you want to make the best of them.

Jane took a seat and uttered a quiet prayer. J'dash lowered his head in respect, perhaps thinking of his own gods. When she finished, he extended his left hand, fingers outspread. Polished white claws slid out from the fur and he stuck one into a gap between the segments. Daria's teeth clenched as she watched, wondering about the Khajiit's hygiene and feeling a bit guilty for doing so.

The scrib suddenly snapped, the soft flesh beneath the shell exposed to the air. A heavenly scent wafted out. Purring, J'dash motioned for Daria and Jane to dig in. Jane tore a chunk of scrib flesh from under the shell and popped it into her mouth with relish.

Not letting herself show her unease, Daria reached in. The sauce's heat stung her fingertips and she pulled back, more from surprise than from pain. Trying again, she gripped a piece of meat and ripped it free, not allowing for any hesitation before she put it in her mouth.

Hot, crisp, and tender with only a trace of the sourness. Juices burst between her teeth as she chewed, a bone-deep warmth spreading throughout her entire body.

"This is delicious!" she exclaimed.

"See, our cuisine has its high points," Jane said.

Daria tore off another piece, the many-legged monster before her suddenly as appetizing as a holiday feast in the old country. She'd never tasted anything quite like it before, the flavor alien but somehow perfectly aligned to her palate.

Maybe, she thought, there was something worthwhile in Morrowind. It wasn't easy to find, but it was there. And finding it ushered her into a very select group, one bound together by this knowledge of secret splendor.

They finished all too soon. Leaning back in their chairs, all uncomfortably full, they nonetheless accepted drinks as J'dash broke open another jug of sujamma. All of Daria's cares seemed to spiral away in the comforting darkness.

"This one is pleased, but thinks it is a shame that Dunmer's brother could not share in this meal," J'dash said.

"I'm sure Trent's having a grand old time up in Caldera. Assuming he's still employed. Which is a pretty big assumption."

"Trent?" Daria asked.

"My brother. The only blood relation I have in Morrowind. He's a musician, so he's on the road a lot. Usually, he plays for room and board at whatever cornerclub will take him. He'll come by here eventually."

Daria nodded. How long had Jane been on her own? Part of her envied Jane for it. How nice it'd be to not have to watch out for Quinn, or deal with her parents' relentless social climbing. Just shut herself away in a little apartment with a job for the day and books for the night. A fatherly landlord like J'dash might be a nice bonus.

Couldn't be easy, though. Not if Jane got that excited over what seemed to be a fairly basic food item.

"Where are your parents?" Daria asked. "If you don't mind my asking."

"They left for Cyrodiil oh, I don't know... eight years ago? No clue if they're still there. Dad's a painter like me, mom's a sculptor, so they go wherever there's work. I've allegedly got another sibling, Penelope, but no clue where she might be."

J'dash made a rasping sigh. "Khajiit had many kin once, in the land where the sun is warm upon the sands. But the world is a cruel place and drove this one to damp and chilly Morrowind. Strange place for Khajiit, yes?" He looked at Daria. "And where is Imperial's family?"

"In the Commercial District," she said, feeling a little abashed. She wondered if J'dash's journey to Morrowind had been a voluntary one but didn't think it was right to pry.

"Imperial is fortunate," J'dash said. "The world is cold, but shared blood makes it warmer."

"Uh, yeah. Fortunate." Daria took another sip of her sujamma, the alcohol in the brew warding away some of the awkwardness. She heard no judgment in J'dash's words. Just a statement of fact.

She was lucky in some ways.

Chapter 4

Jane refused to let Daria wander alone through the darkened streets of Labor Town and insisted on her staying the night. The two girls retreated up to the apartment. Daria, for her part, refused to let Jane give her the makeshift bed, so she sat on the narrow bench and leaned against the rough wall. Not an easy position to sleep in, but she'd had worse on the long boat ride to Morrowind.

She woke up to a sliver of dawn's light, reddened by a fresh plume of smoke from Red Mountain. A hint of brimstone in the morning air stung her nostrils and made her eyes water. Behind her, Jane yawned.

"Hope you slept okay," Jane said, her voice still sluggish from sleep.

"Well enough." Daria groped for her glasses and found them next to a set of brushes. The foggy world turned sharp once the lenses came over her eyes.

"Do you have to go to Drenlyn today?" Jane asked.

"No. This is one of the days where I help my mom provide legal protection for greedy Imperial merchants."

"Fun," Jane said, yawning again. "No sessions for me today, either. I'm not really a morning person, so I think I'm going to sleep a bit longer. Feel free to stay."

"I should probably go," Daria said.

Jane was already asleep.

Daria crept down the stairs on stiff legs, the morning streets already busy with workers. Following landmarks she'd noticed on the way there, she soon reached the stone bridges spanning the Odai River, the equally busy but slightly neater Commercial District on the other side.

She went past Drenlyn's campus where a few early risers already walked through the gates with their bookbags. Curiosity led her to scan the courtyard for Synda, but she saw no sign of the girl. Synda didn't strike her as someone who'd wake up any earlier than absolutely necessary.

The academy disappeared behind another row of adobe stores. Daria squeezed through a shaded alleyway that led behind the milliner's shop. Home wasn't far.

Pain exploded in her left side, just beneath the ribcage. Daria staggered, her arms flailing as she tried to reorient herself. Another hit, this time on her right, and she fell forward. Palms smacked painfully against the stone road as she halted her fall.

"I'll be taking these," came Synda's haughty voice.

A hand wrenched the glasses from Daria's face. The street turned into a muddle of harsh light and muted colors.

"Synda? Dammit, I need those!" she yelled.

"Oh, I'm sure you do."

A figure, blurred to little more than a shadow, stepped in front of Daria. Daria bared her teeth. Fear and rage coursed through her, her hands ready to strike.

If only she could see.

Another blow cracked against her back, and she dropped to her belly. Her teeth cut into the side of her mouth, blood rushing over her tongue and down her throat. Two figures went around her to flank their boss.

Fear started to overwhelm rage. She had to stay calm.

"What do you want?" Daria asked, words distorted by the swelling wound in her mouth.

"Want? It's not what I want, it's what I demand. You Imperials think you can just walk all over us. I'm here to tell you that we Dunmer do not respond well to threats."

"What was I supposed to do?" Daria wheezed. "You tried to take my sister—"

"Your sister was no more than a curiosity. What matters is your attitude. I will not accept your insults or threats. And neither will the Cammona Tong."

Daria froze. This couldn't be happening.

Something fell to the ground in front of her. Straining her eyes, she could just make out a glittering object on the street. Synda's foot slammed down, and the sound of splintering glass left no doubt as to what she'd just crushed.

"You insulted the honor of my people and family—not like you Imperials care about family. I could have killed you, but I decided to be forgiving and just destroy those weird things you always wear," Synda said. "I'll consider us even. But if you decide to escalate... make sure you're ready. And I don't recommend telling anyone about this, because that will most certainly escalate things."

Daria tried to scoop up the shattered spectacles. She gasped as glass cut her fingers.

She heard footsteps and laughter as Synda departed with her thugs in tow.



*********



"Here's your money, or whatever," Synda said, once they were a safe distance away. She handed a few septims to each of the two toughs.

"I'll take it, but I don't like you telling outlanders that we're part of the Cammona Tong," said the bigger of the two, Todis. "If the real Cammona Tong finds out that we've been pretending—"

"They won't. You did your job, and that's the last either of us will hear about it. She didn't see you, and I'm sure she'll be too scared to do anything."

Todis shook his head. "Still a dumb idea. You should've warned us you were going to do that."

Synda sniffed. She brushed off her dress once the toughs departed to whatever cesspit had spawned them. Sure she was clean, Synda returned to Drenlyn Academy.

All outlanders revolted her, but the Imperials most of all. Each was a tyrant and a liar, hiding steel with honeyed words and false treaties. And they brought their lackeys with them: savage Nords, half-breed Bretons, and even the decadent Altmer her ancestors had fled so long ago. So too came the taxes, her family's business now funding the war machine that suppressed them. Morrowind reduced to a sideshow, ancient bloodlines of honor and faith kowtowing for the pleasure of plump Imperial bureaucrats.

The Imperials couldn't even show basic decency to their own kind. Her stomach turned at the memory of Quinn denying her sisterhood with Daria. She'd been so willing to sacrifice the bonds of blood to avoid embarrassment. How did such a people survive long enough to conquer the world?

They might have conquered the world, but they'd never conquer her spirit.



*********



No one back in Cyrodiil had known how to deal with Daria. Her sharp tongue punctured even the proudest and boldest. She knew words.

She did not know violence.

Daria suspected her family's safety depended on her covering her tracks. She'd cast aside the handful of copper drakes in her pockets and stumbled around blind until a guard found her. She'd almost bolted at the sound of his voice, the throaty rasp unmistakably Dunmer, but he'd been kind enough.

A robbery. That's what she told her parents. And as they gasped and fretted and hugged her she burned inside, knowing it wasn't the truth. That for all of the Empire's might, her family was small and surrounded by hostility.

Daria lied, and she lied well. She kept the story simple and the details consistent. There was doubt in mom’s tone, but Daria had been her mother's best pupil.

Dad at least found a Dunmer glassmaker who said she might be able to recreate the lenses. So he took the shards to her while Daria waited.

Blindness rendered the world incomprehensible. She opened up a book and ran her fingers across the pages, as if she could feel the patterns of the ink and turn them into words and images.

"Uh, Daria?" came Quinn's voice.

"What?"

"That Dunmer girl at school was asking about you."

Daria turned cold.

"Which one?"

"Me."

Daria raised her eyes from the book. The hazy gray figure next to Quinn gave her pause. All Dunmer sounded so similar. She tensed, beads of sweat forming on her brow.

"Daria?" Jane said.

"Oh!" Daria blurted out, trying to regain her composure. The events of the last few weeks spun around Daria's head, and she took a deep breath to calm down.

"I noticed you hadn't been in for a while. I asked Quinn and she told me what happened."

"Uh, thanks Quinn," Daria mumbled, blushing as she did.

"Sure," Quinn said. "I'll leave you two alone."

Daria relaxed as her sister's footsteps grew more distant.

"I'd get up to hug you Jane but at this point I'm just as likely to knock you over."

"Hey, I like a bit of risk, but if it makes things easier..."

Jane put her arms around Daria, squeezing gently before letting go.

"Do you want to talk about what happened?" Jane asked. "Quinn said it was a robbery..."

Daria thought about it. Was it safe for Jane to know?

"Yeah. A robbery."

"That really sucks. I've never been robbed but it's happened to Trent a few times. Guess you just got unlucky. What about your glasses?"

"Dad says he might be able to finagle a new pair. Let's hope he's right. There's not much demand for a savant who can't read or write."

"Right. You know, since I'm here, I could read out loud for you."

Warmth welled up in Daria's chest. She'd been stuck in her own head for days on end.

"If you don't mind," she said, keeping her voice steady.

"Nah, it's fine. Which book do you want?"

"Could you get A Dance in Fire? It's the brown one with the red bookmark."

"I think I see it."

Daria heard the book being slid out from the shelf, and the comforting sound of rustling pages. She could escape once more.

And this time, take someone with her.



The End

Will be continued in Episode 2: On the Origins of the Fashion Guild

J'dash is an original character without a counterpart on the show.
SubRosa
I feel like this belongs here.
Renee
Okay, it's probably your browser. I've had pics resize at Imgur, but then here at Chorrol they are still full size. But this only happened if I used Google Chrome.

So if you use Chrome, try Microsoft Edge, or even ancient Internet Explorer! Chorrol is old technology; an old version of I.E. will open our home just fine. smile.gif If you are using Edge or I.E., try a different browser. And if that doesn't work, sad.gif

Finally reading now. smile.gif Yes, don't post these chapters too fast. I won't be able to keep up, then! I'd suggest one a week, just because some of us have jobs and children and it's hard to keep up otherwise, but it's your thread of course.

I can totally hear Daria's voice as she speaks these words. She is always sort of matter-of-fact, and gets to the point, and here in Vvardenfell I get the sense she's playing a bit cautious, being an Outlander and all. It makes sense Hlaalu would try to recruit Daria, even though she's an outsider. They're the most open-minded of the Houses.

Yes, kwama. Dunmer culture is really centered around the kwama, right? It's like native Americans and bison.

QUOTE
She'd never wanted a loaf of bread so badly in her life.


Right?!? laugh.gif With my main Morrowind character (who is from Cyrodiil) it's sweetrolls rather than bread, but the same thought applies.

Daria's got her glasses, hey I won't judge. cool.gif Off-topic, but I like her glasses, and the way she dresses (on the show). Sort of hip, but not revealing too much.

Where did you get the Jane-as-a-painter inspiration? Just curious.

I lol'd when she forces down the nasty scrib jelly!

That's a clever way to keep the sister out of trouble. Yes indeed, you step into the wrong place in this game, and boy you're gonna pay for it. indifferent.gif



WellTemperedClavier
QUOTE(Renee @ Apr 17 2022, 02:12 PM) *

Okay, it's probably your browser. I've had pics resize at Imgur, but then here at Chorrol they are still full size. But this only happened if I used Google Chrome.

So if you use Chrome, try Microsoft Edge, or even ancient Internet Explorer! Chorrol is old technology; an old version of I.E. will open our home just fine. smile.gif If you are using Edge or I.E., try a different browser. And if that doesn't work, sad.gif


Browser interactions can get kind of weird, to be sure. I'll try testing it with IE and see how that works. Thanks!

QUOTE(Renee @ Apr 17 2022, 02:12 PM) *
Finally reading now. smile.gif Yes, don't post these chapters too fast. I won't be able to keep up, then! I'd suggest one a week, just because some of us have jobs and children and it's hard to keep up otherwise, but it's your thread of course.

I can totally hear Daria's voice as she speaks these words. She is always sort of matter-of-fact, and gets to the point, and here in Vvardenfell I get the sense she's playing a bit cautious, being an Outlander and all. It makes sense Hlaalu would try to recruit Daria, even though she's an outsider. They're the most open-minded of the Houses.

Yes, kwama. Dunmer culture is really centered around the kwama, right? It's like native Americans and bison.

QUOTE
She'd never wanted a loaf of bread so badly in her life.


Right?!? laugh.gif With my main Morrowind character (who is from Cyrodiil) it's sweetrolls rather than bread, but the same thought applies.

Daria's got her glasses, hey I won't judge. cool.gif Off-topic, but I like her glasses, and the way she dresses (on the show). Sort of hip, but not revealing too much.

Where did you get the Jane-as-a-painter inspiration? Just curious.

I lol'd when she forces down the nasty scrib jelly!

That's a clever way to keep the sister out of trouble. Yes indeed, you step into the wrong place in this game, and boy you're gonna pay for it. indifferent.gif


Yeah, I probably jumped the gun in posting the first episode so quickly! I'll scale down to one or two a week.

As for Jane, she was an artist in the show, as well. The difference is that, here, she actually paints for a living as opposed to just a personal interest. One of the ways in which the fic's version of Jane diverges from canon is that she has a more pragmatic attitude toward art--it's less about following her vision, and more about putting food on the table (since her economic situation is far less secure than it is on the show).

And yeah, it was fun to write about adapting to the cuisine. It's a pretty big theme in the first episode.

Lena Wolf
QUOTE(Renee @ Apr 17 2022, 02:12 PM) *

So if you use Chrome, try Microsoft Edge, or even ancient Internet Explorer! Chorrol is old technology; an old version of I.E. will open our home just fine. smile.gif If you are using Edge or I.E., try a different browser. And if that doesn't work, sad.gif

Well, not everyone is reading this on Windows. Some use Linux. Some read it on their phones! The constraint is simple: the actual picture that you are including needs to be no more than 550px wide (but that's pushing it, 450px is the recommended limit), or otherwise the text gets stretched and becomes uncomfortable to read.

As for the frequency of posting... just do what feels right. Everyone's schedules are different, and yes, even though some of us have jobs and stuff to do, and, dare I say it? - lives... phew... yeah, just don't worry about that. biggrin.gif Real life has no place on Chorrol! laugh.gif
WellTemperedClavier
QUOTE(Lena Wolf @ Apr 17 2022, 05:25 PM) *

Real life has no place on Chorrol! laugh.gif


And thank goodness for that!

Regardless, I'll scale down the post rate. As I mentioned in the OP, the entire series is finished, which means I'm not constrained by needing time to write chapters. At the same time, this is a pretty long series, so it's better if I pace myself. Give folks time to catch up (and the events of the first episode are pretty important in setting the tone).

Daria in Morrowind starts off as quite episodic (much like its source material), but settles into more of a continuing storyline in the second half. A lot of that does stem from events in the first episode. Given that I wrote the bulk of this during the pandemic (surprise surprise), I had to keep up with the stylings of peak TV to at least some extent laugh.gif
Acadian
I’m among those preferring a slower posting pace for the reasons Renee outlined. Otherwise, it can become easy for readers to fall behind, especially those of us who follow the fiction efforts of several writers.

I’m also delighted to see you supporting the stories of some of our other writers here. I’ve found that is the best way to garner and maintain readers for your own story. smile.gif


Chapter 2

Haha, you do a great job of making us appreciate Daria’s challenge adjusting to the local buggy cuisine, with its sights, smells and squirts.

Ironic of Synda to pick on Daria’s family loyalty when the whole reason Daria’s created a bit of a sticky wicket is because of loyalty to her rather undeserving sister. Oh well.
SubRosa
his adobe classroom

For a moment I was wondering if he has teaching Adobe Photoshop, or Illustrator... Then I remembered it is also a building style. laugh.gif

I liked Daria's observation about the term "Outlander" and how instantly Othering it is.

Ok, now I now who is Ondryn is from the show.

And I definitely know who that Dunmer Girl is. She has no friends. She walks alone.

Jane is definitely as outlandish as Daria! Just in different ways.

I love that both of their backgrounds have that nice, sarcastic, capitalist edge. Jane plays up to "outlanders" expectations, and Daria is there to make the rich people richer. After all, paying the taxes that actually make a society function is for the poor, right? At least so far.

Awesome description of how Morrowind sucks just like everywhere else! This story really, really brings back memories for me.

"... pastel yellow is so in right now! Everyone in Cyrodiil is wearing it."
I know who that is! laugh.gif
WellTemperedClavier
QUOTE(Acadian @ Apr 18 2022, 08:46 PM) *

I’m among those preferring a slower posting pace for the reasons Renee outlined. Otherwise, it can become easy for readers to fall behind, especially those of us who follow the fiction efforts of several writers.

I’m also delighted to see you supporting the stories of some of our other writers here. I’ve found that is the best way to garner and maintain readers for your own story. smile.gif


Chapter 2

Haha, you do a great job of making us appreciate Daria’s challenge adjusting to the local buggy cuisine, with its sights, smells and squirts.

Ironic of Synda to pick on Daria’s family loyalty when the whole reason Daria’s created a bit of a sticky wicket is because of loyalty to her rather undeserving sister. Oh well.


Thanks! Really wanted to get those sensory details across. So Quinn pretending Daria's not her sister is something taken from the show. There, she does it throughout almost the entire series, since she doesn't want to be associated with someone as odd as Daria. Here, she learns the hard way that Dunmer take family seriously and that denying Daria won't win her any friends (granted, Synda would have found some reason to go after Quinn regardless).

And yeah, I'll wait until more people have finished the first episode before I go further (so once you all finish the fourth chapter, please leave a note so I know!). And I'll only post one or two a week (is two too many?).

QUOTE(SubRosa @ Apr 19 2022, 01:08 AM) *

his adobe classroom

For a moment I was wondering if he has teaching Adobe Photoshop, or Illustrator... Then I remembered it is also a building style. laugh.gif

I liked Daria's observation about the term "Outlander" and how instantly Othering it is.

Ok, now I now who is Ondryn is from the show.

And I definitely know who that Dunmer Girl is. She has no friends. She walks alone.

Jane is definitely as outlandish as Daria! Just in different ways.

I love that both of their backgrounds have that nice, sarcastic, capitalist edge. Jane plays up to "outlanders" expectations, and Daria is there to make the rich people richer. After all, paying the taxes that actually make a society function is for the poor, right? At least so far.

Awesome description of how Morrowind sucks just like everywhere else! This story really, really brings back memories for me.

"... pastel yellow is so in right now! Everyone in Cyrodiil is wearing it."
I know who that is! laugh.gif


Heh, glad I captured the voices! And I remember Jane saying those lines!

This series takes a pretty close look at what life would be like for normal-ish people in Morrowind, so yeah: it goes a lot into corruption, class differences, etc.
WellTemperedClavier
Sorry for the double-post, but I wanted to get some feedback on scheduling.

Would two chapters per week (once folks finish the first episode) be too many? The reason I ask is because the series is pretty long--about two novels' worth of content spread across 32 episodes. Episodes vary in length. Some (like the next one) are just a single chapter. Most, however, are six chapters long. This means it's up to a month and a half per episode. My inclination is two chapters per week, but if you all prefer one, I can do that instead!

Let me know.
Lena Wolf
There is a balance to be struck between too frequent postings and not frequent enough. You want your readers to remember what they've read last time, or else each post must be sufficiently self-contained. On the other hand, I understand that not everyone has the time to read things promptly. When I started posting Lena Wolf story, I did a post every day because I post as I write, this was especially true in the beginning - no backlog at all (I have a small "skeleton" backlog now). This was too frequent for most readers, but then I try to write in such a way that posts could be skipped without missing anything important. It's like in life - some things just pass you by.

Your story is already written of course, so perhaps you need to ask yourself over what length of time do you want it posted? Months or years? This will determine the gaps between posts.

PS. I read your story but I don't often post replies. I am a silent reader. biggrin.gif
WellTemperedClavier
Thanks!

So I did a bit of math, and it looks like if I go by one chapter per week, we'll be doing this for three years (which is about how long it took to me to write this). Two chapters a week, and it's a much more manageable year and a half.

Thus, I'm strongly inclined to do two chapters a week, unless there's a great preference among readers for only doing one.

Alternately, I could do one update a week, but have each update consist of two chapters (assuming it's from a multi-chapter episode).
Lena Wolf
Personally, I think that shorter posts more frequently are better than very long ones less frequently. Your current post length seems to be good. Did you do a word count? 2000 appears to be the advisable upper limit, give or take a hundred or two. Although you will find stories here with much longer or much shorter posts - there is no universal recipe, of course. It must make sense - breaking up a logical unit is probably even worse. Unless of course it introduces a cliffhanger... wink.gif
SubRosa
I found one post a week to be the most manageable. I usually shoot for a word count of 1,000 - 3,000 words. Usually somewhere in the 2k range. Sometimes it can be hard to find a good spot to split it up.

I do not write post by post though. Instead I write an entire book/chapter of 50k - 80k words. Then after it is done I go through it and break it up into post-sized chunks. If possible I make each one entire scene. But often times scenes run long, and might take multiple posts (or even dozens if a lot is going on.).
Acadian
Although my first book was posted as I wrote it at two episodes a week, I moved to the same thinking as SubRosa for my subsequent ones. I now draft a full book before announcing it, then go into a posting phase where I continuously edit the draft and post one episode a week. As a writer, I found that once a week makes it easy and predictable for readers and, I’m convinced, helps them stay with me and provides plenty of flexibility to not fall behind. I also find it useful to post a one or two sentence ‘In our previous episode’ summary before each episode. That not only refreshes readers but also makes where you break the story for each episode less critical.

I often don’t make final episode breaks until right before posting, since I try hard to stay under 2000 words per episode and, for me, the story tends to change length a noticeable amount via editing. I actually aim for about 1400 words per episode. What I found is that when episodes get too long, readers tend to skim instead of savor them.

I do admit that once I begin the 'posting phase', it can be sobering to realize that my leisurely posting pace can translate to many months to post a book. That said, I've actually learned to appreciate separating my drafting and posting phases. In my case, my writing follows the life of my elf. She plays so much faster than I can write however, that I think of our fiction efforts as highlights from her neverending memoires.

*

Chapters 3 & 4

’While Jane busied herself with the meal, Daria sat in the crowded little junk shop with J'dash, an older Khajiit with streaks of white in his russet fur. He rested in his chair, wrapped in a threadbare linen robe, his left hand grasping a clay cup filled with warm sujamma. J'dash's golden eyes fixated on the far wall, as if he could see through it to the distant jungles and deserts of sugar-blessed Elsweyr.’
- - I found this description to be wonderful, the way you efficiently yet artfully wove in lots of relevant detail about this older Khajiit.

By Julianos little teapot! I’m surprised and delighted that Daria actually enjoyed something she was convinced was so disgusting once Jane turned it into dinner. tongue.gif

Damn that Synda – an ambush, targeting Daria’s glasses. I can imagine those’ll be hard to replace. kvleft.gif

Methinks, Jane has quite earned a spot in Daria’s heart by looking in on her temporarily blind friend and offering to be her literary eyes for a time.

I confess a soft spot for character-driven fiction and this story certainly fits that description. happy.gif
WellTemperedClavier
@ Lena Wolf, @ Sub Rosa, @ Ascadian

Thanks! On that case, I'll probably just do one chapter a week. Most episodes are about 10,000 words in length, and most have six chapters. Going by this, the average chapter is probably between 1K-2K words.

@ Ascadian Glad you enjoyed the description! I really wanted to paint a picture of the place, so to speak. And yes, the whole series is pretty strongly character-based, so there's more of that on the way.
WellTemperedClavier
This is the first of the single-chapter episodes.

Episode 2: On the Origins of the Fashion Guild

Quinn started planning for battle from the very moment she awoke.

That's what Imperials did, right? It's not like you could just snap your fingers and get the biggest empire ever. You had to plan and think and plot to win your battles.

And she had one doozy of a battle before her.

Quinn resisted the urge to squint as she looked into the mirror. Squinting created wrinkles. She had to stay calm and relaxed and perfect. She adjusted the mirror to catch some of the morning light, her mind already running through a hundred different possibilities for hair. There were just so many choices!

Making the wrong one wasn't an option.

Especially now, with how things fell apart with that one girl Synda, who was from exactly the kind of family you were supposed to make friends with in Balmora! Quinn still didn't know why things went wrong, whether it was something she did, Daria did, or Daria's creepy friend did.

Quinn listened to her sister's quiet breathing in the next bed over. Not like Daria ever cared about what happened to the family. Figured that the only friend Daria made was another weirdo who didn't have any other friends and who wasn't even rich for goodness' sake!

The Morgendorffers were outlanders. To survive, they needed to make friends with native Dunmer. Synda was mad at Quinn, and that meant a lot of the other Dunmer were also mad at her. Not all of them—just enough to make things a lot tougher.

"Oh Talos Stormborn," she sighed, bowing her head and clasping her hands in prayer. "I know I'm not a big general or battle-mage or anything, but I am fighting for the Empire in my own way. And fashion's something that affects everybody so it's actually a lot more important than swords and stuff! And I could really use some divine aid about now."

Raising her head, she studied her blurry reflection in the mirror's smudged surface. Maybe it would have been better to pray to Dibella, but right now she needed the backing of the biggest and toughest god of all time!

Quinn had two things going for her. First, she knew fashion better than anyone else. Second, she came from Cyrodiil, the Heart of the Empire and the fashion center of the known world. Sure, she was from a really faraway part of Cyrodiil, but it's not like any of the Dunmer knew the difference between Stirk and the Imperial City!



*********



You could learn a lot if you kept your mouth shut and your ears open, and that's just what Quinn had done for the past week when she was on school grounds. Most attendees were outlanders like her, from all over Tamriel. But if the Morgendorffers were going to make any impact on Morrowind, she needed to get in with respectable Dunmer!

Books were boring. But sometimes they were useful and she'd found a big yellow one (the ugliest shade of yellow, too) that listed all the important Hlaalu families. She paid attention to names and places of residence, making up a chart in her head of who was connected to who and how they mattered.

Between that and keeping a careful eye on things, Quinn had three prospects in mind. First, Briltasi Talori. From a minor noble Balmora family and super-nice, but already had like a million friends, both Dunmer and outlander. Quinn would just be a drop in the ocean in her crowd.

Second, Torosi Jerylso. Also really popular but was a total mystery beyond that. Everyone seemed to say something completely different about her, though what they said was almost always good.

Third, Vidrene Servo, who people liked but whose family might be friends with Synda's family or something. Quinn wasn't completely sure, but she didn't want to take that chance.

Quinn sat down in Sera Benniet's classroom. Benniet went on and on about investing in glass mines or something really boring like that. Quinn didn't even get why she needed to learn this stuff! It's not like she'd ever spend her life doing something so dull.

Next to her was a Dunmer girl with her shoulders bunched up and her round red eyes fixed on the sleeve of her blue gown. Her Imperial-style blue gown—so she probably wasn't one of those Dunmer who was all rude to outlanders. She smoothed the sleeve, like she was trying to get it just right.

Satheri Rowleni, Quinn remembered. The Rowleni family was loaded. Didn't the dad own like some kind of big jellyfish (or whatever those weird flying tentacled things were called) farm out in the Ascadian Isles? But even though the Rowlenis had connections, Satheri didn't.

Quinn smiled. This smelled like an opportunity!

"I really like that dress," Quinn whispered.

Satheri gasped. "Really? I got it imported from Cyrodiil. But I'm worried it doesn't match my eyes."

"It totally does!" Quinn insisted. "Color contrast is so in right now! I bet if this were the Imperial City you'd have guys, like, all over you. Plus, blue's a great color in Cyrodiil these days. Being from there, I would know!"

Okay, maybe color contrast wasn't in—but it's not like anyone would know way out here.

"Oh wow! We never hear anything about the styles in Cyrodiil out here. You're so smart!"

"Only about the important things."

"Do you know Tiphannia Blumius?" Satheri asked. "She's human like you and she's like my best friend—well, a really good friend."

Satheri suddenly seized up, the way you would if you saw a bug crawl out of your dress, except this was Morrowind and bugs weren't a big deal.

"Wait, don't tell her I called her a really good friend!" Satheri begged. "I meant she's my best friend but I didn't want to say that and make you think I didn't like you—"

"Satheri?" came Sera Benniet's voice. "Is everything all right in the back row?"

Satheri just quivered in place.

"Sera," Quinn said, "Satheri was saying she had like a fainting spell this morning, and she came here because she really wants to learn but it's acting up again."

Fainting spells were perfect for an excuse. They weren't gross like food poisoning or fevers. When guys heard "fainting spell" it just made them want to protect you.

"Could I go outside with Satheri? I think some fresh air might help," Quinn said.

Benniet shrugged. "Fine. Better that than a classroom disruption."

Satheri was still freaking out when Quinn walked her outside.

"Calm down!" Quinn said. "We're out of that stuffy classroom."

"Please don't tell Tiphannia what I said, because I really didn't mean it that way, except I sort of did—"

"I won't say a thing." Not like she could even figure out what Satheri was going on about.

Satheri brightened up. "Thank you so much! You are my best friend, Quinn, and I mean that!"

Okay, that was a little weird. But whatever. Best to have someone who was gracious.

Satheri kept going. "And I'll introduce you to Tiphannia later on. I think you'd really like her. She knows all about fashion. Plus, she's actually from some big family in the Imperial City."

"Wait, the Imperial City?"

"Yeah. Are you from there too?"

Time to change the subject and not mention coming from a city out on an island in the middle of nowhere. "Oh, you know what else is in? Ruffles," Quinn said, and really hoped it was true.



*********



Quinn wanted to freak out, but the problem was she couldn't. Not if she wanted to be popular. Yes, there was a time and a place where a girl could do that, like at the right dramatic moment to prove a point to mom and dad, but not when she was trying to make friends.

And why hadn't Quinn heard of Tiphannia if she was some big deal from the Imperial City?

She just about froze when Satheri pointed Tiphannia out, standing outside of Instructor Ondryn's class and looking at her nails. Perfect jet-black hair, her face round and fine-boned, with a cyan dress that was just right for her figure. Tiphannia wasn't an Imperial—Quinn couldn't quite figure out her background—but that didn't matter when she already looked so good! Quinn was just some backwater hick. No way she could compete with someone who'd grown up in the capital and probably knew all of the latest fashions by heart. It wasn't fair!

"Hi, Tiphannia! This is Quinn, I met her in Sera Benniet's class today. She's super-smart—like in a good way—and knows all about fashion."

Tiphannia slowly looked up at Quinn, her face serene and incurious.

"Hi," Quinn said, standing straight and tall.

"Hi," Tiphannia responded, drawing out the greeting.

Go ahead and judge me, Quinn thought, as Tiphannia eyed her up and down. And then all of a sudden Tiphannia looked back down at her nails. Like Quinn wasn't even worth judging.

"So Quinn was saying that all the popular girls in Cyrodiil are wearing blue and ruffles right now," Satheri went on. "And that color contrast is in, so blue goes well with Dunmer eyes."

"Blue... goes really well... with my hair..." Tiphannia said, and she spoke so slowly that listening to her talk was like watching molasses drip from a spoon. And she still didn't look up from her nails.

Something about Tiphannia seemed off. It wasn't like she was making fun of Quinn—even if she was, there was no way Satheri was in on the joke. Maybe Tiphannia was just like that for some reason.

"Exactly!" Quinn said. "Which is why it's such a popular color right now."

"And ruffles, too!" Satheri added, beaming.

"Ruffles... are so like... complicated..."

Okay, so Tiphannia was really weird. That must have been why Quinn hadn't heard of her. But this was even better! Unpopular friends from very popular families!

Quinn kept up the attack. "Which is also why it's crucial that they be perfectly matched to the outfit! Too many and they just look too busy, but the right amount totally gets attention. A little around the sleeves and maybe around the back of the neck—they can be really slenderizing like that."

And sure, Quinn didn't know for sure if that was true. But all that mattered was that people thought it was true! It's like mom said—you needed the right story to win a court case, and fashion was no different!

By the end of the day, Quinn knew she'd found her place.

"I think it's clear that Morrowind's been neglected for too long," she said. "So I say we form a Fashion Guild to make sure that the ladies of Balmora get the style that they deserve! And as founders, we get first dibs."

"Oh wow! That's so great! I never thought I'd be in a guild!" Satheri exclaimed.

"Gilded sleeves are like... so slimming..."



*********



"I do applaud your ambition," mom said, back at home. "But legally, to call yourself a guild, you need an imperial charter."

"And you can get one, right?"

Mom looked thoughtful for a second. "That would be an interesting legal challenge—but obtaining a charter is a long, drawn-out process. It took the scenarists decades to get theirs."

"Decades!? I'll be all old and wrinkly then!" Quinn protested. "This is important. By spreading Imperial fashion I'm spreading the Empire!"

Mom sighed. "Yes, but you'll have to convince the emperor of that. I think you're off to a great start! This is a wonderful way to make yourself known in the city, and both the Rowleni and Brolius families are well-connected. In fact, I met Junius Brolius a month ago, he does a lot of business with the East Empire Company."

"Is he Imperial? Because I don't think Tiphannia is," Quinn said.

"He is, but Tiphannia's adopted. She's an orphan from Esroniet—Junius and his wife were stationed there and took Tiphannia in just before they were sent back to the capital for reassignment. Regardless, you can't call yourself a guild, and professionally, I can't defend you in court for false representation."

"Fine," Quinn sighed.

So, Fashion Guild was a no-go. Thinking about it a bit, she decided Fashion Club was a good start.

In the meantime, she needed to figure out how to get an imperial guild charter. If it took decades, she had to get started now!

The End

To be continued in Episode 3: An Invitation

Stacy Rowe (Satheri Roweni) - She's Quinn's highly neurotic friend in the show, and is so here as well (also a Dunmer).

Tiffany Blum-Deckler (Tiphanni Brolius) - The presence of East Asian-looking people in TES is kind of ambiguous. Rather than have her be a human of Akavir, I decided here she's from the obscure archipelago of Esroniet, which is still an Imperial province (though only in name at this point).
Acadian
’Quinn resisted the urge to squint as she looked into the mirror. Squinting created wrinkles.’
- - What a fun idea to write this episode from Quinn’s perspective. Being immersed in her mind, I was expecting a walk in the shallows. . . . wink.gif I was pleasantly surprised at the level of strategic brilliance in there!

Nicely done foot-in-the-door maneuver with Satheri – and it paid off. Uh-oh, could this Tiphannia see through Quinn’s self-generated fashion diva credentials? Whew, it looks like no problem there, so far.

The Fashion Guild is a brilliant idea. Too bad about those darn Imperial bureaucrats. . . . Oh well, Fashion Club will have to do for the nonce, and hopefully serve Quinn’s purpose. She has established a beach head. I’m sure she’s hopeful that Daria doesn’t screw it up for her. tongue.gif
SubRosa
Every time I read the title of this fic, I hear it in the gravelly tone of the Morrowind (game) Dunmer.

Oh no, the future of the empire might be doomed. Sure Quinn...

Kwama and scrib, yum!

Poor Daria, up is down, down is up, and life has really gone sideways since they moved to Morrowind.

So I am thinking that the Commercial District is on the west side of the river, with the Fighters and Mages Guilds, and LaborTown is on the east side, where Caius Cosades lives?

And now I just read that Jane's house is just a few rows east of the Odai... Ope!

Wow, is Jane doing a portrait of Boethiah?

"Twisted people going slowly insane under the weight of their hypocrisy and cruelty?"
Ok, I was close...

That fried scrib is making me hungry now. I'll have to check the pantry to see if I have any kwama or guar steaks...

Synda is really escalating things. Time for Daria to learn a frenzy spell, and a wait for her to walk past a guard...

I really enjoy how you took the (minor?) antagonists of Quinn and Sydna and gave them depth when you portrayed things from their points of view. That is one of the most difficult things to do as a writer.

Wow, Tiphannia is exactly as I remember her from the show. So is Satheri.

And the Fashion Club Guild Club was born!
Renee
A Fashion Guild! Hey, why not? Dibella would certainly approve. wub.gif

There's a lot of thinking and in-game moments of societal strife in this chapter! It's cracking me up. Like, it's all very quaint and subtle. Bizarre inspirations. How do you think this story up, Clavier? biggrin.gif

QUOTE
Fainting spells were perfect for an excuse. They weren't gross like food poisoning or fevers. When guys heard "fainting spell" it just made them want to protect you.


Ain't that the truth? Especially in old-time movies. We women really have lost the art of a good faint, if those movies are to be believed.

This story's a blast. Let's see if the Fashion Club can get a good start, or not.
WellTemperedClavier
@Acadian I re-watched the show a few years ago. What's interesting is that, even though Quinn's mostly a target of mockery in the early seasons, those episodes still hint that she's a lot more thoughtful than is immediately apparent. It doesn't become obvious until the later seasons, though.

@Subrosa Heh, I guess "outlanders" does bring that voice clip to mind. FWIW, Jane already kind of sounds like a Dunmer in the show.

And you were right: Labor Town's on the east side. I did actually make a map of Balmora. Sadly, the software I used (Inkarnate) didn't really have a tileset that looked like Balmora, so I had to use a standard medieval setup. But it'll give an idea of where everything is in relationship to each other (I assume Balmora's much larger than what we see in the game).

https://imgur.com/a/GZkm1wD

And thanks. Synda's not a good person, but there's a reason she acts the way she does.

@Renee Thanks! Mostly, I just wanted to write about Balmora from the perspective of a normal-ish person (as in, not an adventurer). I also wanted to get across the idea of danger being omnipresent while still keeping it somewhat grounded in the tone of the show.

Episode 3: An Invitation

Chapter 1


Daria took off her heavy glasses and closed her eyes, then raised her right thumb and forefinger to massage them through the lids. Dad had said the new pair was just about the same as her old one, but she saw the differences—the lenses got blurry at the top instead of at the bottom, and the ache always started in her right eye instead of her left.

At least Daria could see. Could see, read, and walk without stumbling into somebody. Which also meant she could return to the dreary instructions at Drenlyn Academy.

She hid from the sun as she so often did, taking shelter in the surprisingly well-stocked Drenlyn library. Safe amidst the dry smell of old paper, the same in Morrowind as it was in Cyrodiil, she returned to work. And to actually see letters again, clear and precise and ordered! Reading felt like breaking a long and unwanted fast, and her eyes devoured page after page as she committed the facts within to memory.

Which in this case meant memorizing the names of nobles whose greed and ambition had earned them grand titles and places of honor in Great House Hlaalu's semi-annual Yellow Book.

"Mistress Nevena Ules," she mouthed, "by Grace of ALMSIVI, Honored Councilor of Hlaalu Council, Vvardenfell District, Free Trader, Ules Manor, Suran, Ascadian Isles, Bal Ur, District of Vvardenfell, Province of Morrowind."

She looked up from the text.

"And exploiter of forced labor," she whispered.

"Exploder of forced labor? Huh?" chirped a high-pitched voice behind her.

Daria flinched. Bad idea to say that part out loud—no way to know who was listening. She slammed the book shut and shoved it to the stack of finished texts. Turning around, she saw Briltasi Talori and let herself relax a bit. The Dunmer girl's saucer plate-round eyes looked bigger and more vacant than usual. She twirled the strands of one crimson ponytail around her finger as she stared, waiting for an answer.

"It's an Imperial joke, Briltasi," Daria said. Doubtful that Briltasi understood anything, but she had to be careful. Synda still watched. As did the Cammona Tong.

"Gee, outlander jokes are weird. I don't know why you keep making them when you're in Morrowind!"

"We Imperials are simple folk who only run a vast continent-spanning polity, far too uncultured to understand the complexities of Dunmer humor," Daria said, not allowing so much as a quantum of emotion into her voice.

"That is sad." Briltasi's full lips pouted, her eyes thoughtful as if pondering some unquantifiable and slightly tragic mystery of life.

She really does feel bad thinking that I can't understand things here, Daria thought.

"Well, it's tough for me too, sometimes," Briltasi said, perking up. "Like right now I can't understand what Sera Benniet wants me to say. Maybe you could help? You and she are both outlanders, so you probably think really alike!"

"I'll see if I can tap into the vast gestalt that animates all non-Dunmer."

Briltasi turned her head to the side. "Is that a yes?"

Daria sighed. Annoying though Briltasi was, there was no chance she'd ever understand Daria's mockery. Which made her safe, or as safe as anyone got in Morrowind.

"Yes."

"Great! Benniet wants me to write something about how many people it takes to make a quill pen. I told her it was just one, because usually only one servant brings a quill to you, but she said I should think about it harder. But I've already thought about it really hard, and I have to go to a party tonight! Are there really heavy quills that you need two people to carry, or something?"

Daria sighed. This was going to be tough. Part of her just wanted to give some flippant answer, but she knew the Talori family had some influence in Balmora. It wouldn't hurt to have powerful friends after what had happened with Synda.

"Well, think of it this way," Daria said. "Where does the feather for a quill come from?"

"Um, a bird?" Briltasi said, as if she genuinely wasn't sure. She actually might not be. Few birds lived in Morrowind, their ecological role instead assumed by big bugs.

"Right. Now are you the one who takes it directly from the bird? Or does someone else do that?"

Briltasi put a finger to her lips, tapping twice.

"I guess someone else does that. I feel bad for the bird though."

Suddenly a bit more sympathetic, Daria continued. "Quills are usually made from molted feathers, so the bird won't mind."

"That's a relief!"

"Anyway, a fowler or a bird keeper might collect the feathers."

"Okay. Isn't that just one person though?" Briltasi asked.

"Sure. But you can't just use a regular feather as a quill pen. A penturner has to cut it so that it can hold ink."

"Got it! Two people!"

"Maybe more than that. Remember, the penturner has to use a knife to cut the quill. Where did he get the knife?"

"Uh... from his dinner set?"

"My point is that the penturner has to rely on tools, which in turn are made from materials mined from the ground, forged by smiths, delivered to merchants, and so forth."

Briltasi looked down, her ponytails limp and her brow furrowed. "I don't think I understand this."

Daria resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Just say that a quill pen needs lots of people working in lots of specialized tasks to create. If she asks for more detail, say it needs a fowler, a penturner, a miner, a smith, and probably some more. She'll get it." Maybe. But it was unlikely that an outlander instructor like Benniet would put undue pressure on a Dunmer client. A noble Dunmer client, at that.

Briltasi's eyes brightened as she scribbled down the simplified notes.

"Thanks! I wish I could help you with schoolwork, but I only know about important things."

"If I ever need to know how to look..." Daria had been about to say vacuous, but immediately realized how bad of an idea that was. "...glamorous," Daria finished, the word as foul as oil on her tongue, "I'll be sure to ask."

"Is your family important?" Briltasi asked. "Like important here, not important back wherever you came from."

Daria hesitated. What was Briltasi getting at? She decided to be direct.

"My mother's an advocate with the Imperial Guild of Barristers and my father is a consultant for local merchants seeking to do business with other non-Dunmer."

"Hmm, I don't know what all that means but it sounds pretty important! My dad does a lot of business with outlanders and he's holding a banquet on Loredas evening. Why don't you all come along?"

Daria thought about it a moment. A party sounded dreadful, but her family needed allies. Did the Taloris really amount to much? 

"Is your dad going to be okay with it?" Daria asked. Seemed odd that he'd allow Briltasi to make decisions, given what she'd heard about Dunmer parents.

"Daddy says I'm an excellent party arranger! I'll ask him, but I'm sure he'll say yes."

"Sure, on that case." Not that she wanted to go. But a connection was a connection.

"Great! I probably won't talk to you too much since you're not really, well, popular, but that's not because I don't like you. I just don't have much time for you."

"Believe me, I'm completely fine with that."

"There will be a lot of important people there. Kavon, of course," she giggled. "Then there's Elmusa and Llemisa and Synda..."

Hearing the name "Synda" brought back the blows suffered in that alley, the crack of her old glasses and the weeks of blindness. Daria sucked in her breath, suddenly faint.

"Don't worry!" Briltasi said, interrupting her endless guest list. "There will be plenty of outlanders too, so you can hang out with your own kind! I wouldn't want you to be lonely."

Daria could only stammer out a mumbled thanks.




*********




The day drew to a close and Daria put the books back on the library shelves. She looked out the bulbous green-glass window, so much like an insect's eyes. No sign of Jane in the courtyard.

Or of Synda.

Quinn had already found protection. She'd had no trouble winning a new group of friends, not to mention a trio of male admirers: an Imperial, a Breton, and a Bosmer. Nice to know that blind adoration of Quinn crossed most cultural divides. At any rate, Synda no longer seemed to care about Quinn.

Daria had always surpassed her sister when it came to earning enmity.

Probably safe to leave without waiting for Jane, she thought. Just stick to the crowded streets, don't go out of sight of guards...

Daria leaned against the adobe wall, taking deep and measured breaths until the fear went away. Of course, Synda would be at the party. Her family possessed wealth and influence.

And, as Synda had demonstrated, connections to a xenophobic criminal organization active throughout the entire province.

She saw Jane leaving Sera Defoe's atelier, Defoe being the only other outlander instructor besides Benniet. Daria hurried out of the library and fell in next to her friend, the two of them soon navigating the dense crowds on the flagstone-covered banks of the Odai River. The late afternoon sun gleamed off the river's murky current.

"Briltasi invited me to a big Talori family banquet." 

Jane whistled. "Not bad. Between you and your sister, social climbing must run in the family."

"If it were up to me, I'd have declined. But mom would kill me if she found out I didn't take advantage of this 'opportunity'. You don't think Briltasi's just setting me up, do you?"

"Nah. Planning something like that requires more brains than she has. And her dad does do a lot of business with Imperial interests. East Empire Company, I think. They made him rich."

"Nice to know that the most craven of Dunmer natives can find their equivalents among the Imperials. This whole banquet's probably going to be an endless cavalcade of flattery and networking. I wouldn't mind some sane company. I could try to get you in," Daria said.

"Hmm, that's kind of a long shot. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to go—I could probably get a bunch more clients there. But menials like me usually don't get invited anywhere."

"You paint awfully well for a menial."

"A skilled menial is still a menial. Look, I usually only get commissions from outlanders. People like the Taloris don't want to be around foreign-born Dunmer like me," Jane said, the two of them briefly parting ways to make room for a line of barefoot Dunmer pilgrims in rough robes, their smoky voices joined in prayer.

"What if I talked to Briltasi about letting you in?"

"It's just not done, Daria."

"Maybe if..." Daria scanned the crowd, its sea of sharp gray faces and red eyes. Her heartbeat picked up, a cold sweat forming on her back.

"Is everything okay?"

Daria turned her gaze forward, her world shrinking to the space within the copper rims of her spectacles. Nothing bad would happen along a main road during the day. "I'd just feel a lot better with you there."

Jane's head lowered for a moment. "Right, sorry. I forgot. But I don't think anyone's going to rob you at a High Town manor party. If they do it'll be with bad deals and legal forms, not cudgels."

Probably true. But Jane didn't know the truth of the attack. More importantly, she couldn't know. Telling Jane about Synda and the Cammona Tong might put her in danger. Daria gritted her teeth and stilled her tongue, fear and rage boiling to be let out to knock some deserving heads.

They passed through a veil of smoke drifting from an outdoor oven, the scent of baking deshaan bread a peppery and momentary delight.

"How powerful are the Taloris, anyway?" Daria asked.

"They've got a lot of money. I don't think they're that powerful, though."

Daria groaned. "Great. So the one time I surrender my ethics for the rat race of social climbing I pick the wrong family to suck up to."

"Hey, it definitely wouldn't hurt to have them on your side. None of the big Hlaalu movers and shakers live in Balmora anyway. This whole city's just a show they put on to impress foreigners."

"Can I at least throw rotten fruit at the players?"

"Sure, just make sure you have an escape plan for when they set the guards on you."

Everyone back home had described Morrowind as a remote and barbarous province. Some small part of her had hoped there'd fewer rules to hold her back.

If anything, it had more rules than Cyrodiil.



Brittany Taylor (Briltasi Talori) - Popular, cheerful, and without a brain in her head (or maybe she does and is just good at hiding it), Brittany's almost an archetypal nice cheerleader. Here, she's the daughter of a very minor Dunmer noble family.

I actually wrote this story pretty early on, before I'd even conceived of writing an entire series. Looking back on it now, I think that Briltasi, nice as she is, should be a little more distant. The class structure's a big deal, after all. As it is though, I suppose her behavior can be explained by her personality and maybe her father being too busy with work to really raise her (and her stepmom, to whom she's close, is a rich human outlander).
Acadian
Once again, I like the way you incorporate smells into your descriptions. In this case, it was the comfort Daria got from the smell of paper and its familiarity, whether in Cyrodiil or Morrowind.

"We Imperials are simple folk who only run a vast continent-spanning polity, far too uncultured to understand the complexities of Dunmer humor," Daria said, not allowing so much as a quantum of emotion into her voice.’
- - By Kynareth’s wings this was superbly crafted and delivered by Daria! Ironic that her target did not really understand it. Briltasi is a welcome addition to the intrigue in this story – her childlike intelligence makes it easy to keep track of what she’s thinking.

And a party upcoming. That will be attended by Synda the spectacle smasher. Jane’s right though in that physical confrontation should be unlikely.
SubRosa
That is a really cool map of Balmora!

Brittany!

You really are nailing Daria's completely deadpan sarcasm. At least she is making friends. Or at least allies. In spite of herself.

Wow, Daria really is dealing with some serious side-effects from the attack. Which is only natural. Hopefully she will be able to overcome her fears. Maybe she just needs a self-esteem class... After all, Jane likes having low self-esteem. It makes her feel special...

Renee
Awesome, so it's sort of like when some gamers like to roleplay as themselves when they play these games, instead of an adventurer.

Hlaalu has a Yellow Book. biggrin.gif Jeez, even in real-life here in Earth we don't have those any more.

Their dialog is making me giggle. laugh.gif I hope this okay! This story's funny. I still haven't watched Daria, but the way they speak reminds me of those '90s-era cartoons which Outlanders is inspired from.

Daria contemplates the presence of the Cammona Tong as she tries to schmooze her way into this gala event. Yikes.

QUOTE
"Great! I probably won't talk to you too much since you're not really, well, popular, but that's not because I don't like you. I just don't have much time for you."

"Believe me, I'm completely fine with that."


Ha ha!

WellTemperedClavier
@Acadian Thanks! And yeah, Daria talking over people's heads (intentionally or otherwise) happens a lot in the show, and in here.

@Subrosa Thanks. Heh. The attack in the first episode does cast a long shadow throughout the series. I found it useful as a way to remind readers that Morrowind can be a pretty dangerous place, even for someone in a relatively secure position like Daria. Granted, this is true of the real world, too.

@Renee That was part of it. Mostly, I'm trying to write from Daria's perspective, but the reason I'm having her still basically be herself is to theorize what the setting might be like from a normal perspective. Granted, this isn't the most lore-friendly interpretation of Tamriel (while it's darker than anything you see on Daria, it's generally lighter than the actual games), but it still lets me explore the more mundane aspects of a fantasy setting.

Episode 3: An Invitation

Chapter 2


"Let's see how this works out," came dad's voice from the kitchen. "A hearty Skyrim recipe with exotic Morrowind ingredients!"

Daria sniffed and caught the scent of fish mixed with local herbs. Mom paid her husband no heed, her eyes intent on a legal document she'd taken to the table with her. Quinn, meanwhile, chattered on about her friends.

"... and I told Satheri that she looked really good in blue, but that she'd look even better if she added some gold trim."

"Oh for goodness sake!" mom exclaimed. "It's like the guild still thinks we're in Cyrodiil! I have half a mind to go down to Old Ebonheart and tell them what we're dealing with up here."

"The secret," dad said, "is to use just the right amount of hackle-lo. Too much and you can't taste the fish anymore. Too little and you only taste the fish!"

Daria wondered when she should bring up the invitation. It wasn't something they expected of her. Quinn would just go right into it without hesitation, any invitation just one of many, to be considered and weighed like a new outfit for her ever-growing wardrobe.

Best for her to follow suit and be direct. It'd impress them, at least.

She opened her mouth to speak.

Quinn spoke first.

"By the way," Quinn said, "I was talking to Briltasi Talori, you know, of the Talori family, and she invited us to this big party she's having on Loredas. It sounds like everyone's going to be there, so it'd be great for me. And the rest of you, of course. Maybe not you," she finished, looking at Daria.

Dammit so much.

"The Taloris? They are an important family here," mom said, finally putting down the papers.

"Not that important," Daria said. "They don't even show up in the Yellow Book." Quinn had already stolen her glory. A bit of snark was the least she could do.

Mom rolled her eyes. "Nonsense, Daria. The Taloris might not be the most influential, but they are at least connected to everyone in Balmora, and they work closely with outlanders. Jake, did you hear that?"

"I sure did! That's why I added in just a dash of russula. Really adds that Morrowind-y flavor—"

"Jake! Are you paying any attention at all?"

"I am!" Dad rushed out of the kitchen. "Um, I totally approve of what you just said."

Mom sighed. "Quinn just informed me that the Taloris have invited the family over to a banquet on Loredas evening. I think it'd be a great opportunity for all of us."

"The Taloris? Sure, that's a great idea!"

He vanished back into the kitchen.

"It'd be a particularly good opportunity for you, Daria. You could meet a lot of potential employers at this party," mom said.

Daria feigned a thoughtful expression. "I don't know. I hear that Daedric cults are hiring a lot of savants right now. We're the only ones who can keep track of all the pesky details that go into a good ritual summoning."

Mom sighed. "Just don't embarrass us! Like it or not we need to make connections here."

Later that evening, Daria walked up to her room to find Quinn practicing the steps to an Imperial minuet. She hummed as she glided back and forth in the constrained space, visions of grand ballrooms and handsome suitors doubtlessly flitting through her mind.

"By the way, Briltasi invited me, too," Daria said.

Quinn stopped mid-step and stared.

"Is this some kind of joke?"

Daria kept at it. "Normally I wouldn't care enough to bring this up, but does Briltasi know we're sisters? Since I remember Synda being less than happy about you denying that. Dunmer take family relations very seriously."

"Of course, I told Briltasi!"

"So why did she invite me separately?"

Quinn tapped her cheek with an index finger, eyes intent. "Oh, probably because I didn't mention your name. I just said I had a sister and that she'd be coming along."

Daria let herself relax. "Good."

"Why would Briltasi invite you? You don't know anyone. Except that one girl."

"I gave Briltasi access to my extensive network of loyal assassins. Already she's climbing to the top of the Hlaalu hierarchy, a trail of dead bodies in her path."

Quinn shook her head. "You are so weird, Daria."

With that, Quinn returned to her dancing. Daria watched for a while, trying and failing to remember the nimble steps. She'd have to practice but was too tired to even consider it that night. Another thing about parties she hated. Did Dunmer even dance?

One thing was sure: she needed to get Jane to that party.



*********



Briltasi found Daria early the next day.

"My dad said he'd be happy to have a lawyer's family at the banquet, so you're in!" she squealed.

Daria inclined her head slightly, the world feeling slightly surreal. "Thank you," she said. After giving it some thought, she decided it'd be best for Briltasi to know the truth. "Did you also invite Quinn yesterday?"

"Sure! She's really popular, and she said her mom was a lawyer. Huh, kind of like yours! Are your moms friends?"

"In a manner of speaking. Quinn and I are sisters."

"Ohhh, so you're the sister she mentioned!" Briltasi said. "Wow, you two don't look alike!"

"Well..." Daria wanted to finish her line. To say: "... we used to, but we had to hire a wizard to alter her face after going into witness protection."

But she couldn't. Because like it or not, Quinn was an asset for the family and for Daria's future well-being. Everything depended on who you knew, and the world was a vast prison of gossip and backslapping and flattery. Undermining Quinn would make things worse.

"Quinn got a lot luckier in the looks department," Daria blurted out, knowing it was true and completely believable. Cheeks burned at the admission. Gods this was humiliating!

"One more thing," Daria said, steering the conversation to a new subject. "Would it be all right if I brought a friend?"

Briltasi frowned, like someone asked to do something not entirely legitimate. "Maybe. Who?"

"Jane Llayn."

"I don't think so, Daria. Her family's not reputable. I don't even know if she has a family."

Daria thought about it. "Well, you'll have servants at the party, right?"

"Of course!"

"So would one more menial really matter?" Didn't really feel right to call Jane a menial... but it was technically true.

Briltasi made a frustrated sound, halfway between a hum and a squeak.

Maybe it was best to drop it. Dealing with a boring party wasn't worth risking Morgendorffer status. Except that Synda would be there, cruel and ruthless Synda, connected to the Cammona Tong and all of Morrowind's barely hidden violence...

"Here's the thing," Daria said, speaking faster than she normally did, wanting to say her piece and see if it worked so she could stop worrying. "My family really wants to commemorate being invited to your fine, uh, party. And I thought Jane could paint a picture to capture the event."

A hell of a lie. But now she was sweating. Would Jane be all right with this?

Briltasi thought about it for a bit. "I guess it's okay if you bring her as a menial. But she should only talk to other outlanders."

Perfect. Those were the kind who'd give Jane business, anyway.

"Fine, I'll let her know," Daria said hurriedly, exhausted from the effort of the lie. "And thanks. I appreciate this. I mean that."
Renee
Hee! You posted the next chapter before I finished commenting! Sorry, I got interrupted as I was reading and didn't want to lose my place. Final comments up above.

I'll check out Chapter 2 in a few...

Acadian
Jake (Dad) is wise to focus on his herbs and spices and stay out of the social and family infighting. wink.gif

"I gave Briltasi access to my extensive network of loyal assassins. Already she's climbing to the top of the Hlaalu hierarchy, a trail of dead bodies in her path." laugh.gif

Well, the need to make sure Briltasi knows Quinn and Daria are sisters went okay. The push to get Jane there - though quite understandable – is getting a bit complicated it seems. Daria managed to get Jane invited (sort of) but now has to sell Jane on the painting gig she just signed her Dunmer friend up for. Hope Jane’s okay with that.

Plenty of fun social intrigue here and you manage all the interactions very well, making for a very fun read.
SubRosa
Is dad going to make his macaroni I mean Pesto? laugh.gif

This sounds so much like a conversation at the Morgendorfer dinner table! Which is to say, three different conversations at once that is obliged to include mom yelling at dad for not paying attention.

I love the jokes about Daedric savants and Hlaalu assassins, because this being Morrowind...
WellTemperedClavier
@Renee Oops! Sorry.

@Acadian Jake tends to do that in the show as well. It has mixed results as a strategy--it does let him avoid some fights, but it also means he's not seen as especially reliable. I get it, though. And yeah, social class is an even bigger deal in Morrowind than it is here (and really, I'm blunting it quite a bit compared to what the lore indicates), so that's something the characters have to navigate.

@SubRosa Heh, good to hear that I've captured the tone.

Episode 3: An Invitation

Chapter 3


Loredas evening arrived, the rosy sunset haze carrying with it a whiff of brimstone. The sulfurous quality struck Daria as weirdly fitting as her family trekked to the elegant manors of High Town.

"Isn't this great? We're finally making our mark in Morrowind," dad said. "Soon these Dunmer will know that Big Jake's the man they need to do business with the Empire!"

"Not so loud," mom cautioned. Locals, mostly Dunmer, still crowded the market stalls negotiating last minute deals for dinner's kwama eggs.

Like a gray sea with red shark eyes, Daria thought.

Daria struggled along as best she could, wrapped up in a blue woolen robe so stiff and starched that she could probably fall asleep in it and remain standing. Wearing the damned thing felt like wearing a box that gave just enough room for her feet to shuffle across the flagstones. Quinn had something perfect for the occasion of course, a pale rose gown that hinted at her figure while staying within the bounds of modesty.

"Thanks again for getting me in," Jane said, walking behind the Morgendorffers with an easel under her arm and a backpack full of pigments. She wore one of Daria's older dresses, green and faded, baggy on her angular frame.

"Sure. You're the only one making this ordeal tolerable."

"Just sit back and enjoy the party favors," Jane said. "These things go by a lot faster after a few cups of mazte."

"I'll do what I can to get you the best booze."

"I knew you'd come in for me," Jane said, with a smirk.

They turned a corner to a pair of steep and high staircases cutting a straight path up the rocky slope to High Town. Rectangular adobe towers stood watch on either side at the top of the stairs and Daria could just see Hlaalu guards observing traffic through the vertical slot-like windows.

"Ugh, I thought this place would be elegant!" Quinn complained. "It looks like a big blocky fortress."

"That's because it is one," Daria said. "Nobles need lots of protection for when people get tired of their shenanigans."

"Enough, Daria," mom warned. "And maybe spend some time thinking about which side of the barricades you'd actually be on. You're not exactly part of the underclass."

Daria blushed, suddenly conscious of Jane standing next to her. Jane hadn't seemed to notice the comment though, her crimson eyes on the architecture ahead.

Climbing the stairs brought them to a broad and clean plaza shaded by a few well-trimmed plane trees. The homes of the rich surrounded them, stout doors facing each other across the plaza. The houses there didn't actually look all that different from the ones below—definitely bigger but more or less in the same style, just with fresher adobe and the ovoid windows filled by actual glass. More modest by far than the wealthy Imperial residences back in Stirk.

Stony hills clambered up behind the manors. High Town occupied the farthest northwest point of Balmora, between rocks and a hard place. The sour kwama smell hovered here, too, but not as strong. The murmur of the marketplace was long gone, replaced by a cold and stately silence.

Dad checked his map while mom motioned for Daria to come closer. Not sure what to expect, Daria obeyed.

"Remember our deal?" mom said.

Convincing mom to let Jane tag along hadn't been that hard. Her parents liked Jane well enough, lacking though she was in social links. But in return for this charade Daria had promised to at least try and network. Make two well-connected friends, no more than that.

"I remember," Daria said, the two words grudgingly enunciated.

"I know this isn't what you like to do. But it's just how things are."

"This one must be the Talori manor," dad said, pointing to a nearby house. A sharply rectangular second story peeked out from behind an elegantly curved balcony wall. Next to the door stood a Hlaalu guard clad head to toe in yellowing bonemold armor, a too-large sword waiting in his scabbard.

"Who goes there?" the guard asked, his raspy voice deep and echoing behind the helmet. Daria could just see red eyes peering through the slit of his visor, which reminded her of some strange animal's mouth.

Dad stuck out his hand. "We're the Morgendorffers! We've been, uh, invited to the party. I'm Jake, this is—"

"Father, mother, two daughters, and a menial," the guard said, as if reading off a checklist. An edge crept into his voice at the last bit. "You may enter."

He waited a bit for the guard to open the door, an expectant smile on his face. The guard offered only silence.

"Uh, I guess I'll show myself in."

Dad took the handle and pulled, the heavy wooden door barely budging. He grunted in surprise and tried again. Now grabbing it with both hands he wrenched it open and leaned a bit to the side so his weight would keep it that way, his teeth clenched with strain.

He let it swing shut once they were all in. The door hit the frame hard enough to rattle the entire building.

"What the hell was in that door?" he wondered, rubbing his back.

Daria took a quick look over her shoulder, noting the horizontal slats on the door's inner side.

"Reinforced. Helps against battering rams," she said.

"Not very welcoming," dad muttered.

"That's the idea."

They stood in vast square room. Curved wooden support beams wound in and out of the adobe walls to connect with a massive wooden column in the center. Leafy bittergreen vines hung from the rafters, the bright color indicating that they'd recently been plucked. The place reminded Daria of a forest.

Five long wooden dining tables with accompanying benches had been arranged in a semi-circle around the central column, surfaces already laden with lit candles and bowls of dark blue glass. Imperial-style glass-and-metal lanterns glowed from between the beams, like fairy fire burning in the darkest woods. Narrow windows on the west wall let in the last of the day's dying light. Massive serving tables along the eastern wall bore rows and rows of clay vessels while the savory smell of some kind of roast drifted out from behind a paper screen placed in front of a doorway leading to the kitchen.

A number of guests were already present. The smaller and slightly more lavish dining table at the center of the semi-circle, presumably reserved for the Taloris, remained unoccupied. Dunmer sat at the tables next to it, decked out in brightly colored frock coats and gowns cut in the latest Imperial styles. Outlander guests took positions at those farthest from the center, some with fine clothes like the Dunmer, others with drab outfits a la the Morgendorffers. Their placement around the big central pillar made it difficult for the occupants of one table to converse with any other not directly to their side. Menials, working for either the Taloris or the guests, took standing positions around the room with hands clasped and heads bowed. Jane had already moved to join them, and part of Daria wanted to stand next to her and enjoy the comparative remoteness.

Daria recognized several attendees from Drenlyn Academy. There was Jolda, a Redguard girl reputed to be one of the smartest students, clothed in a flowing pink cotton dress and her long black hair done up in cornrows. She sat between her parents, whose bejeweled golden bracelets proclaimed their wealth. Next to her father was another Redguard, this one in the smart dress tunic of a junior legion officer.

Quinn's current crop of suitors, Jonus, Julien, and Jeval, made themselves known at the table farthest from the door, eyes bright and already waving their hands to get their goddess's attention.

Quinn only smiled and gave a brief curtsy, sending the trio in paroxysms of hopeful glee.

And finally, Synda, dressed in darkness with her gray hands folded on the table. Next to her, her mother, Lynda Grilvayn, Bonded Agent to Great House Hlaalu. Synda didn't so much as look at the Morgendorffers, her lips curled in disdain.

"I hate her," Quinn whispered.

Daria froze up. Quinn still didn't know how dangerous Synda might be.

"Tempting as it might be to go after her, I suggest keeping your dislike to yourself," Daria warned.

"Oh please, Daria, how old do you think I am? I'll just gently tear her apart with insults that sound like compliments. Watch and learn."

Daria's heart skipped a beat. She wanted to tell Quinn everything—how dangerous Synda really was. But there was no way Quinn would keep that a secret. "Don't. This isn't some Cyrodiil tea party," Daria said, voice trembling slightly as she made sure to look away from Synda.

Dad ushered them to the table occupied by Jolda's family. Daria took a seat, muscles tensed as if in expectation of a blow.

Synda wouldn't hurt her here. Not in front of everyone.

But what about on the walk back home, with her whole family and Jane as targets...

"Presenting!" thundered a harsh voice, and Daria turned her head to see a tall Dunmer in what she took to be traditional robes colored a lurid yellow. His arms were crossed over his chest, eyes bulging with a fanatic's glare.

"Serjo Sedrane Talori, by Grace of ALMSIVI, House Cousin and Tradesman of Great House Hlaalu, Patriarch of Family Talori, Officer of the East Empire Company, and Gentleman of Balmora Currently and Originally, and Cheydinhal Formerly!"

The herald stepped aside. From behind him strutted forth a short-haired Dunmer who was anything but traditional, suited in a splendid deep blue coat. The skin beneath his eyes was lined with dots of raised flesh, an example of the subtle scarification seen in many highborn Hlaalu Dunmer. Next to him stood a tall human blonde in a shimmering gown. Only when Sedrane put his arm around her waist did Daria realize that the woman was actually his wife. Dunmer didn't often marry outlanders, even for money.

No wonder Briltasi seems so comfortable with us outlanders, she thought. Of course, the outlanders were still relegated to the far tables.

A smiling Briltasi followed close behind, along with a young boy wearing a coat much like his father's. A scowl flashed across the boy's face before freezing back into a more restrained expression.

Sedrane smiled and raised his arms. Most of the guests bowed their heads in response, the Morgendorffers only doing so belatedly.

"Ladies and gentlemen, visitors and natives: welcome to my humble home!" Sedrane said. "It's my honor to present you with the very best in Hlaalu hospitality on this day, which symbolizes the growing union between Morrowind and the Empire, a union reflected in my recent marriage to the lovely Asciene-Amarie."

Sedrane lifted his wife's hand to polite applause and a few stony glares from the Dunmer tables. Briltasi beamed. A good sign, Daria supposed.

"But for all these glories let us not forget those greater than us. Let us humble ourselves in honor of our deities, whether they be the tripartite gods of Morrowind or the other gods from the many kingdoms within our glorious and eternal empire."

He bowed his head and the rest of the room followed suit. Daria tried to ignore the heavenly smells drifting from the kitchen. Was Synda plotting something right now? Or was her head bowed in worship of the three mortal wizards who passed themselves off as the gods of Morrowind?

"And may we walk in ALMSIVI's grace," Sedrane announced as he finished. Smiling, he flexed his shoulders. "Back to more earthly matters. I achieved my success in the Imperial entrepôt of Cheydinhal..."

Sedrane went on to detail his history of helping the East Empire Company find the most profitable ebony and glass deposits in which to invest. Daria tuned out, hoping the drinks would soon be served.

Jodie Landon (Jolda at-Armand) - Much like her canon counterpart, Jolda is one of the very students capable of matching wits with Daria. Fortunately, they're (usually) on the same side. She also faces a lot of pressure from her demanding and upwardly mobile parents, and from being one of the very few Redguard students in Drenlyn (reflecting her canon version being one of the very few Black students in Lawndale High).

Joey (Jonus) - One of Quinn's single-minded suitors.

Jeffy (Julien) - Another of Quinn's single-minded suitors.

Jamie White (Jeval Whitethorn) - The third of Quinn's single-minded suitors. However, Jeval ends up becoming a more important character here than he does in canon. That's still a way's off, however, so for now he's just one of the boys.

Steve Taylor (Sedrane Talori) - Briltasi's father. He's wealthy and unpleasant, much like in the source material.

Some pictures of High Town as it appears in game
SubRosa
It's the night of the big party. It reminds me of the party in the show that Brittney threw, except without the parents.

Mom makes a good comment about whose side Daria might be perceived as being on when the revolution happens. But Mom is not the best observer of history. Mike Duncan's Revolution podcast really brings out some commonalities in successful revolutions. For starters they are formed of two groups. 1 is the exploited underclass who do the fighting in the streets. 2 are members of the professional, middle class. People with an education who can both organize, but also can talk to the upper class in a language they can understand. You know, lawyers. If you only have #1 you just have riots that burn out after a little while. If you only have #2 you just have people talking about change but never taking action. I could easily see Daria as a future John Adams.

I love Daria's continued comments on the fortified nature of the manors.

I have to admit to wanting to hear Quinn play mean girl "frenemies" with Synda. I don't know how "popular" people have the energy for that.

I loved Daria's unspoken jab at the three mortal wizards.
Acadian
Let’s party! Um, no, this is entirely too stuffy an affair where tense politicking and maneuvering overwhelm the savory smells wafting through the air. I do find it a hoot to note that the pompous Dunmer of the ‘Great Houses’ go to great lengths to be seen in the latest Imperial (not Dunmer) fashions. In the case of our host, that even includes sporting trophy Imperial on his arm. Quinn has already learned to put their fashion festish to use.

Despite the restrictions, Jane seems happy to be coming along – that is good.

Nice job setting up and describing this tense situation.

I learned a couple new words from you - paroxysms and entrepôt. Neat! smile.gif
Renee
QUOTE
"By the way," Quinn said, "I was talking to Briltasi Talori, you know, of the Talori family, and she invited us to this big party she's having on Loredas. It sounds like everyone's going to be there, so it'd be great for me. And the rest of you, of course. Maybe not you," she finished, looking at Daria.


Oh gosh that's rude! Briltasi's really full of herself.

Do Dunmer dance? If you're in Suran they certainly do sometimes. embarrased.gif

Daria's Speechcraft goes up a notch with the success of her lie at the end of C2. Okay now let's read this party. I can already sense... I don't know... disaster? Plenty of faux pas moments? laugh.gif Whichever, you really describe the atmosphere at this party well. Sort of elegant, sort of stuffy. But also retaining the Dunmer style of slight contempt and haughtiness.

Oh goodness, I wonder what's going to happen. Something definitely disturbing, right?
WellTemperedClavier
No story update today (that'll be on Wednesday), but I wanted to respond to everyone's thoughtful comments!

QUOTE(SubRosa @ May 7 2022, 08:18 PM) *

It's the night of the big party. It reminds me of the party in the show that Brittney threw, except without the parents.


Yup! It's basically that episode. That said, this story is the only one that patterns itself off a show episode so closely. While future stories will take a lot of the events seen in the show, they'll typically happen in different ways or even to different characters. Diverging from canon makes it more fun to write (and hopefully to read, as well).

QUOTE(SubRosa @ May 7 2022, 08:18 PM) *

Mom makes a good comment about whose side Daria might be perceived as being on when the revolution happens. But Mom is not the best observer of history. Mike Duncan's Revolution podcast really brings out some commonalities in successful revolutions. For starters they are formed of two groups. 1 is the exploited underclass who do the fighting in the streets. 2 are members of the professional, middle class. People with an education who can both organize, but also can talk to the upper class in a language they can understand. You know, lawyers. If you only have #1 you just have riots that burn out after a little while. If you only have #2 you just have people talking about change but never taking action. I could easily see Daria as a future John Adams.


Very good point! I haven't heard the podcast, though your description does remind me (oddly) of the Theory and Practice of Collective Oligarchism, the book-within-a-book of Orwell's 1984. Sadly, this Tamriel follows a pretty similar course to the Tamriel of the games. But one wonders what might have happened if the Septims had continued reigning. The Third Empire under their rule seemed at least to have pretty widespread literacy. High expectations combined with a slow and ossified ruling class could have led to a Tamrielic Enlightenment of sorts.

Might be a good AU fanfic in there for someone.

QUOTE(SubRosa @ May 7 2022, 08:18 PM) *

I love Daria's continued comments on the fortified nature of the manors.

I have to admit to wanting to hear Quinn play mean girl "frenemies" with Synda. I don't know how "popular" people have the energy for that.

I loved Daria's unspoken jab at the three mortal wizards.


Yeah, I never understood how people had the energy for that, either. It sounds exhausting.

Daria's opinions on the Tribunal will lead to some conflict with Jane farther down the line. I try to walk a balance in the presentation, since while I detest the Tribunal, I also realize that the vast majority of Dunmer have no idea what their gods are really all about. And, given that she's a representative of a colonialist and expansionist state (however reluctantly), Daria's probably not the best person to correct the Dunmer since anything she does will look like Imperial propaganda (and, in effect, be Imperial propaganda even though she's correct).

QUOTE(Acadian @ May 8 2022, 08:47 PM) *

Let’s party! Um, no, this is entirely too stuffy an affair where tense politicking and maneuvering overwhelm the savory smells wafting through the air. I do find it a hoot to note that the pompous Dunmer of the ‘Great Houses’ go to great lengths to be seen in the latest Imperial (not Dunmer) fashions. In the case of our host, that even includes sporting trophy Imperial on his arm. Quinn has already learned to put their fashion festish to use.


Heh! From my understanding, "teenagers" as a distinct group are kind of a modern marketing invention. Since this is still a vaguely medieval/Renaissance/early modern setting, I figure that there wouldn't be such a sharp distinction. Which is also why Daria and Jane can drink booze without anyone batting an eye.

The Imperial fashion is really more of a Great House Hlaalu thing. The other Great Houses wouldn't be caught dead in anything but traditional Dunmer clothing (save for Great House Telvanni, whose wizard lords will wear whatever they want--or nothing at all--as the mood strikes them). But yeah, shows how Hlaalu sucks up to the Empire.

QUOTE(Acadian @ May 8 2022, 08:47 PM) *

Despite the restrictions, Jane seems happy to be coming along – that is good.

Nice job setting up and describing this tense situation.

I learned a couple new words from you - paroxysms and entrepôt. Neat! smile.gif


Thanks!


QUOTE(Renee @ May 9 2022, 01:27 PM) *

QUOTE
"By the way," Quinn said, "I was talking to Briltasi Talori, you know, of the Talori family, and she invited us to this big party she's having on Loredas. It sounds like everyone's going to be there, so it'd be great for me. And the rest of you, of course. Maybe not you," she finished, looking at Daria.


Oh gosh that's rude! Briltasi's really full of herself.

Do Dunmer dance? If you're in Suran they certainly do sometimes. embarrased.gif


Ha ha! I actually slightly regret not having dancing in this party. Even if it's not normally associated with Dunmer, these are Dunmer closely linked to the Empire, so they might pick up some Imperial habits.

QUOTE(Renee @ May 9 2022, 01:27 PM) *

Daria's Speechcraft goes up a notch with the success of her lie at the end of C2. Okay now let's read this party. I can already sense... I don't know... disaster? Plenty of faux pas moments? laugh.gif Whichever, you really describe the atmosphere at this party well. Sort of elegant, sort of stuffy. But also retaining the Dunmer style of slight contempt and haughtiness.

Oh goodness, I wonder what's going to happen. Something definitely disturbing, right?


That's what I was trying to do. The party is essentially work, since so much of it relates to networking. Goes right down to the table arrangements.
WellTemperedClavier
Episode 3: An Invitation

Chapter 4


*****

Musical Intro - Daria was known for using a lot of pop and alternative songs to help set the tone of the series. Since this is a Daria fanfic, I figured I'd do the same and add musical intros/outros to some chapters. I'll try to lean toward stuff that was already around in the '90s and early '00s, including some that were featured on the show, but I won't strictly limit myself to those. Anyway, for this chapter, it's going to be:

The Sweater Song, by Weezer

*****

The Taloris went all out with dinner. Appetizers of fried saltrice strands and gelatinous eyestars paved the way to a heroic main course of ornada (an ornada resembling a cat-sized ant that tasted like lobster) braised in comberry wine and served in its still bright-red carapace, its fat legs curled tightly under its thorax. Bowls of marshmerrow pulp mixed with shredded ash yams served as dessert. Servants refilled emptied cups with imported rice wine from central Cyrodiil. Having grown up off Gold Coast, not too far from western Cyrodiil's grape country, Daria reasoned that she probably found the drink just as strange as the Dunmer did. Strange, but by no means bad.

And a welcome relief.

Some of the families put aside bits and pieces of their meals for their servants, who stood in a state of famished torment as the feast's riot of sweet and sour smells filled the enormous room. Other families didn't bother.

Daria kept staring guiltily at Jane, who looked completely absorbed in her artwork. Jane's plan had been to make a quick and flattering painting of the Morgendorffers and show it around to advertise her skills. Never a big eater, Daria put aside a generous amount for her only friend.

All the while the room buzzed with conversation. Words snapped in and out of her ears, never enough to piece together a full conversation. Mom took note of every missed opportunity, she was sure, but how could anyone talk on and on about getting good deals on Solstheim furs or exactly how much money the Sloan family really had? Quinn and Jolda talked, or at least Quinn did, Jolda nodding and smiling in response. Dad seemed interested in whatever Jolda's father had to say.

Thoughts of the attack kept replaying in Daria's mind, undeterred by her one and a half cups of rice wine. All the while Synda ate her meal at the neighboring table in complete serenity, Daria's pain no more than an amusement.

How many of the other Dunmer would find it equally amusing?

Not fair to think that, she noted. But she couldn't quite get it out of her head.

Finally, the meal ended, and the social mingling began. Daria stood up and took the bowl she'd reserved for Jane, complete with a full ornada leg.

"Hey, give Jane some of ours, too," dad said, piling some marshmerrow into the bowl. Mom and Quinn followed suit until the small vessel threatened to overflow.

Pleased at her family's generosity, she added a spare fork to the meal and walked over to Jane, who was still busy at work.

"Got this for you," Daria said. "Sorry it's so late."

Jane's eyes widened as she took the bowl. "Wow, I was not expecting a whole ornada leg?"

"I think so?" Daria said. "Hard to know given I've never seen an ornada before tonight."

Jane grabbed the segmented leg and ripped into it with her teeth, tearing off the translucent red carapace before biting into the white flesh beneath, flecks flying off the side of her mouth.

Daria blinked in surprise. "Uh, I also brought you a fork," she said.

"Forks are for rich people," Jane mumbled between bites.

"I don't think socioeconomic status really affects one's ability to use utensils."

Jane paused. "Seriously, Daria, I don't know how to use one. And I'm not going to waste time learning when there's this delicious meal in front of me! And thank you again for bringing me this!"

Daria looked at the drying painting while Jane ate. Jane had made the image in swift broad strokes, trying to capture as much as she could in the limited time available. For all that, her intent had come through: the Morgendorffers as refined and tasteful members of the merchant class. The painted Daria, smiling and sans glasses, engaged in conversation with a Quinn who noxiously managed to look even more graceful and lovely on canvas than in reality.

"It's beautiful. But if you think that's how we look then I think you might be the one who needs glasses," Daria said.

Jane shrugged. "Hey, a lot of the people in these walls hire artists to flatter. Not many want paintings of what they really look like."

"Kidding aside, it is excellent. How did you do it so quickly?"

"I took a few shortcuts. Most people won't notice." Jane tossed the now-empty carapace on the floor. "That's the nice thing about selling to the artistically illiterate."

"Not to mention ethically bankrupt," Daria added.

"Now come on, I need your help once this dries out," Jane said. "Remember, I'm your menial, so you need to break the ice for me. Wouldn't look good to have a lowborn like me pestering all these good people. Plus, it gives you a chance to network."

"Mutual exploitation is the foundation for any good friendship."

Jane shrugged. "Seems to work for Hlaalu and the Empire."

"Let me get another one of these, first," Daria said, taking her empty cup and filling it to the brim with warm rice wine. A nearby servant watched her initiative with a disapproving frown, which she chose to ignore.



*********



Karl the Unctuous (though he knew he'd one day be called Karl the Lover, or perhaps Karl the Golden like his father) observed the wondrous array before him and hid his gut-wrenching terror behind a smile.

Dinners like this were the perfect opportunity to meet new and interesting people. And from there, well, anything could happen, and his heart soared at the thought of soft kisses and perfumed arms. He'd left nothing to chance, styling his curly red hair and shaving with great precision to avoid any unsightly nicks or scratches. His extravagant yellow coat gleamed in the lantern light.

And he had one more way to make himself (hopefully) sound and look like the man he wanted to be.

The three lunkheads from Drenlyn were again drooling over Quinn and arguing as to the best way to woo her.

"Girls like dancing, so we should ask her to dance!" Jonus said, perspiration causing his lank black hair to stick to his brow.

"There's no music, dummy! I don't think this is that kind of party," Julien disagreed, drink and heat rendering his face almost as red as his coppery hair.

"So two of us could like, sing or something," blond Jeval suggested, his black Bosmer eyes fixed on the object of his fascination, "and the third one dances with her."

"Sure," Julien scoffed. "I volunteer to dance with her while you two suckers sing!"

"No way!" Jeval protested. "It was my idea, I should be the one to dance with her."

Karl announced his presence with what he hoped was a knowing chuckle. It got the trio's attention, at any rate.

"What's so funny, weirdo?" Jonus demanded.

"Simply observing your intense but perhaps myopic ardor for the admittedly stunning Quinn Morgendorffer."

"Does anyone know what the hell he's talking about?" Jeval asked.

Karl straightened up and tugged at his coat's silver-threaded lapels. If he spun this the right way, he could make a tidy profit from his plan.

"Gentlemen, I believe we pursue the same goals," he announced, thrusting a bony index finger into the air.

"Get lost! We saw Quinn first!"

Karl cleared his throat and let his arm drop. "I mean, we'd all like to win the hand of a lovely maiden. I certainly would not intrude on your quest for the luscious younger Morgendorffer. But mortal Men and Mer that we are, it'd certainly behoove us to smell our best, so to speak."

The three stared at him with blank expressions. Karl waggled his eyebrows and reached into his coat, taking out a long-necked porcelain bottle he'd carefully tucked away.

"I present to you none other than genuine Telvanni bug musk, the finest cologne in all of Morrowind--nay, all of Tamriel!"

He uncorked the bottle and held it out, just a bit so that he could pull back if any of the goons tried to grab it. A spicy and prickly scent drifted out from the open vessel, redolent of eastern Morrowind's arcane darkness.

Jonus sneered. "There's no way you got your hands on the real thing."

"On the contrary, my good man. My father's a deputy of the East Empire Company after all, and I am something of an, ahem, unofficial company agent," Karl said, following his words with a grin.

Being an intern was just like being an unofficial agent, he was pretty sure.

"So, are you going to share that with us?" Julien demanded.

"Share? No, not share, there are limits to even my generosity. But I may be willing to sell some portion of this enchanting aroma. There should be enough here for the four of us."

That way, even if wearing the musk failed to win him any lovelies, he'd still have coin to go toward a finer suit of clothes. Another brilliant plan!

The three went into a huddle, voices low and murmuring. They turned to face him once they finished, eyes wide with hope and mouths set in doubt.

"Before we pay for this, we want to see you try it out. Put some on yourself and then ask Quinn to dance," Julien said.

"No, you idiot! What if Quinn decides she likes him?" Jonus interjected.

Jeval settled it. "Put some on yourself and ask some other girl. Maybe that sister of hers or whatever."

Karl smiled and bowed. "Very well. Prepare to see the power of bug musk in action!"

He didn't actually know if this would work. Everyone said it smelled enchanting though it hadn't smelled all that great to him. Taking it from his father's cabinet had been a big risk--but how could he deny opportunity?

Karl opened the bottle again and poured out some of the clear liquid on his right hand. He dabbed it on his neck and brow, stifling a sneeze as he got a stronger dose of the stuff.

Now or never. Puffing out his chest he headed straight toward Daria Morgendorffer and the Dunmer girl she was often with. He ran his fingers through his hair, dreaming of the passion the two (or maybe three) of them would soon enjoy. Daria was no beauty but she certainly wasn't unattractive, in spite of the awkward spectacles barely balanced on her nose.

"Ah, if it isn't the lovely Miss Morgendorffer," he said, giving a florid bow. Already he imagined her senses intrigued by the powerful fragrance that clung to his body. "So often I've seen your beauty gracing the drab halls of Drenlyn Academy, yet we've never had the chance to interact. So, pray tell, where have you been all my life?"

He leaned close. Would she just go in and kiss him after the preamble? Did girls do that?

No expression stirred her stoic face, eyes cold and distorted behind the thick lenses. "I've been staying as far away from you as humanly possible, something I intend to continue doing for the rest of your life."

She turned and walked away with her friend.

Karl tried to halt the panic rising within his chest. "I'll be here when you lovely ladies are ready," he said.

The trio was already jeering.

"I knew it! Whatever he has in that bottle isn't the real thing," Jeval huffed.

"It absolutely is the genuine item!" Karl protested, his voice getting reedier as his words quickened. He knew that for a fact!

Brainstorming for an excuse, he continued. "But perhaps I didn't use enough. I know exactly what to add to the mixture to make this bug musk live up to its reputation. Rest assured, I am a proficient alchemist!"

He'd taken a few alchemy lessons, at any rate. Karl looked for an escape route. "I'll be back shortly!" he said, hurrying deeper into the manor home, heart pounding and very much needing a few moments to recalibrate himself and his cologne.



*********



"I guess you had to run into Karl the Unctuous sooner or later," Jane said, as the skinny Nord hurried away.

"Whatever connections he has can't be worth it," Daria said. "And I think even my mom would back me on that."

"His dad does run the East Empire Company's Balmora office."

"All the more reason to avoid him."

"It's a pretty dinky office, anyway. So one unworthy prospect shot down, a few dozen more to go." Jane eyed the crowd.

Daria sighed. "You know these people better than me. Who isn't awful?"

Jane frowned. "Hmm, that might not be the best metric by which to pick. Hey, how about Serjo Talori himself? Since you're already giving into corruption you might as well go all out."

Daria glanced at the master of the house, who was chatting with a wealthy-looking Imperial couple. He did seem at ease with outlanders. Though his own wife had still been seated at the other outlander table, matrimonial bonds be damned.

"I guess I don't have a choice."

"Just remember to bow," Jane said. "Both when you meet him, and when you leave. Refer to him as Serjo Talori--nobles always get the 'serjo'. Keep your eyes a little downcast, like you can't quite bear to bask in his radiance. Give your parents' names before you give yours. Talk him up on being part of Hlaalu, he'll love that. Make sure your hands are open, not balled up in fists like they are right now. I think that's it?"

"You think? Maybe you should do this, Jane."

"You're not noble, but you are respectable. Us Llayns are proud menials. Come on, you'll be fine. Serjo Talori does a lot of business with outlanders, so he's used to the occasional screw-up."

Jane put her hand on Daria's back and nudged her forward. Daria's booted feet shuffled on the flagstones.

"Oh, don't shuffle either," Jane warned. "Forgot to mention that."

Resigned, she took proper steps, her stiff clothes fighting her every inch of the way. When she reached Sedrane she bowed and waited expectantly. He continued chatting.

Daria glanced at Jane, hoping for a hint. But Jane had her gaze on the floor, hands clasped around the painting.

"Excuse me," Daria said, a bit louder than she'd intended to.

Sedrane stopped in the middle of describing saltrice investments in the Ascadian Isles.

Trying to strengthen her position, Daria met Sedrane's gaze head-on. "Uh, good evening Serjo Talori. I'm Daria Morgendorffer, and I wanted to thank you for this lavish meal and for inviting me and my family. Uh, congratulations on being a part of House Hlaalu."

Only then did she remember that she wasn't supposed to look him in the eyes and that she wasn't supposed to have her hands clenched. She released her grip but didn't turn her gaze.

"And who are you?" Sedrane asked.

"I just said--" she stopped, remembering that she was supposed to introduce her father. "I mean, I'm Jake and Helen Morgendorffer's daughter." Her words came out more acidly than she'd intended.

"Ohh, of course. My daughter suggested your family." Sedrane chuckled. "I've heard of your father, he helped the Hlerso family close that deal in Seyda Neen a few months back. Impressive work."

"He did," Daria said, remembering the transaction in question. "Anyway, I'm training at Drenlyn to be a savant. And uh, this is my friend Jane, who is an artist."

Weight lifted from Daria's shoulders the moment she diverted Sedrane's--she'd be damned if she ever thought of him as Serjo Talori--attention to Jane.

"Thank you, Mistress Daria," Jane said, her voice suddenly crumpled up like old parchment. "The Morgendorffers were kind enough to request my services so that I might capture the honor of your invitation in paint. This is but a practice draft, but I pray I was able to portray the refinement and grace of my employers."

Chills ran down Daria's spine. The confident Jane was gone, replaced by a bowing and cringing girl she barely recognized. Sedrane leaned in for a closer look at the painting.

"Not bad," he said. "The brushwork gets a little lazy at the edges."

"My apologies, Serjo Talori. And to you, Mistress Daria. I assure you that the finished product will not be marred by such carelessness."

"I'm a bit of an art aficionado myself," Sedrane said. "I tend to prefer traditional Dunmer styles. In painting, if not in wardrobe," he added, with a chuckle, turning slightly to show off his coat.

"I've seen some more traditional work from Jane. It's excellent," Daria said.

Sedrane faced her. "Given that you're an outlander, how would you know what makes for good Dunmer art? Anyway, I have plenty of native artists I can choose from. I can tell that your artistic menial isn't from Morrowind. But I'm sure plenty of other outlanders would love to hang her scribblings on their walls. Good evening, ladies."

Daria was too angry to remember to bow.

"How could you stand that?" Daria demanded, as they walked away.

"It's just how it is."

"And how did he know you're not from here? You're both Dunmer. You're wearing Imperial clothes, but so is he."

Jane shrugged. "They always know, Daria. Don't ask me how, they just do. Anyway, one more on the reject pile. Who else?"

"Is 'nobody' an option?" Daria asked.



Charles "Upchuck" Ruttheimer III (Karl the Unctuous) - Easily the most loathed student in the show's Lawndale High, Karl the Unctuous is similarly hated. He's sleazy, but too inept to be terribly harmful.

Ornada - This is an antlike critter. It's only found in the Tamriel Rebuilt mod, which is loosely canonical to this series (in broad geographic and cultural strokes, anyway).
Acadian
"Mutual exploitation is the foundation for any good friendship."
Jane shrugged. "Seems to work for Hlaalu and the Empire."

tongue.gif

Oh, bug musk. . . . That sounds like quite the way to win the heart of an Imperial lass from Cyrodiil. blink.gif

Well done to Daria on her appropriate response to Karl.

Thank Kynareth that Jane is there for Daria. Despite the coaching and reasonable performance from Daria, Serjo Talori quickly reveals himself to be a pompous jerk typical House Hlaalu Dunmer. Ugh. Looks like a long evening ahead for Daria.
SubRosa
I look forward to hearing some Mystik Spiral tunes, like Little Sister, or Freakin' Friends. I wish Trent's band was real, because I'd love to go see them.

Once again, I liked the not so subtle nod to the Classism in evidence. The servants literally eat the scraps from their master's plates.

Wait, Jane painted Daria smiling, and without her glasses! Nine Divines save us! laugh.gif

I know he is an absolute creeper, but I always had a soft spot for Upchuck. I guess unlike modern Incels, he always felt harmless to me. Granted, it is animated. All the characters are "better' than their counterparts would be IRL. Even Kevin and Brittany are often nice to Daria. They insult her without even knowing it. Where the real jock and cheerleader would be mocking her on purpose.

Upchuck has a secret weapon! The (in)famous bug musk! Now I see his plan. He's going to sell it to the Three Stooges. Now I really do respect him. That is how to do Capitalism. Erm, I mean entrepreneurship.

But not even the mighty Bug Musk of the Telvanni Wizard Lords can make a dent against Daria's cool demeanor. Only Trent can do that.

Wow, Jane knows how to lay it on thick for the snobs. But to no avail. Snobs are snobs everywhere.
WellTemperedClavier
So I've settled into an update schedule of Wednesday and Saturday. Does this work for people? I can change it if not.

@ Acadian - The first of many long evenings...

@ SubRosa - Don't fret, Trent will appear... in the next episode, as a matter of fact. He's a bard here (surprise, surprise).

At the very least, Upchuck doesn't have the stewing anger and resentment seen among some incels. He's just a really inept '90s style pickup artist who believes his own hype.

Episode 3: An Invitation

Chapter 5


Karl had disappeared somewhere. Jonus, Julien, and Jeval argued about what to do next.

"Maybe Karl just screwed up the delivery. Maybe that bug musk was real!" Julien hadn't quite given up on the idea.

Jeval sniffed in disapproval. "No way. Karl's always full of it."

Jonus settled it. "Even if it was real, we're not creeps like he is. We don't need some crappy perfume. But we still gotta do something!"

"So we just all ask her out now?" Julien wondered.

Jeval wasn't satisfied. "But which of us gets her?"

"That's up to her," Jonus said. "Look, if none of us gets her, some other guy will, so we better make a move! There she is now, headed toward the refreshments!"

Sure enough, Quinn was walking toward the drinks table, so graceful that she seemed to hover above the floor, her feet untainted by its dust.

Jonus got there first, cutting in front of her. "Hey, Quinn! Do you want me to get some wine for you?"

He'd scarcely finished when Julien made his pitch. "I'll get you two goblets of wine!"

Jeval stood on his tiptoes to be seen over his friends. "I'll get you three!"

Quinn's irresistible lips turned up in a goddess's smile.

"Hmm, I guess you could get me some water," she said.

Immediately all three rushed to the table. Julien lunged only to be blocked by a quick parry from Jonus. Agile Jeval darted in and grabbed a clay flask, light fingered hands closing around the neck only to have Julien pull it out of reach. Julien grunted in pain as Jonus stepped on his foot and grabbed the flask.

Jonus spun around on his heel, dropping on one knee and holding it out.

"Here you go!"

"No fair!" Jeval bellowed.

"That should've been me!" Julien insisted.

But their goddess had already picked up the flask and raised it to the pink bow of her lips. She gave a contented sigh of satisfaction as all three watched in awe.

"That was nice. Now I'm hungry. Who wants to get me a snack?"

Again, all three volunteered.



*********



"Let's see," Daria said, as her headache worsened. "So far, I've inadvertently insulted at least three local notables, including the host, and completely alienated a fourth."

"All in a night's work," Jane said. Her cheerful tone belied her furrowed brow and tense jawline.

Daria knew she hadn't actually done anything to help her friend. Social niceties always eluded her, their rules as inconstant as quicksilver. Easier by far to focus on the facts of history and geography and law, which only changed slowly and through proper channels.

Somewhere in the distance Daria heard Quinn's high-pitched and delicate laughter, the kind she practiced in front of the mirror and not the lower-toned laugh she made when she actually found something funny. Never hard for her to play a role. Hopefully Quinn's efforts would make up for Daria's failures.

"Hey, what about Jolda?" Jane pointed at the Redguard girl, who was chatting with the legion officer she'd been sitting next to.

Daria had avoided Jolda, too embarrassed at having barely said a word to her over dinner. But with the night coming to a close, she needed to try. "What do you know about her?"

"Her parents are both wealthy." Jane stepped in close, her raspy voice lowering to a whisper. "There's a rumor that her dad has a charter to tinker with Dwemer artifacts."

"Okay, that's actually legitimately impressive."

Jane stepped back. "Don't ask her about it, though."

Daria decided to try talking with Jolda. She was almost at the end of her rope, though. Worse, her cumbersome robe was practically cooking her in the now hot and crowded feast hall, its air dense with droning conversation and alcoholic fumes. How could anyone network in this kind of environment?

She reached Jolda and paused for an awkward moment of silence before speaking. "I didn't properly introduce myself earlier," she said, her words flat and quick. "I'm Daria Morgendorffer."

"Jolda at-Armand," she said. "Your family seems really nice."

"Don't worry, it's just a facade. They're as venal as everyone else in Balmora," Daria remarked, her tongue outpacing her brain. Instantly she realized her own stupidity, red blooming across her cheeks. "Uh, sorry, can we forget I said that?"

Jolda laughed. "It's okay. The corruption here is pretty galling."

Daria relaxed. This might not be so bad after all.

"I'm Maiko," the officer said, with a curt nod. "Agent of the Imperial Legion."

"He's stationed in Moonmoth Legion Fort," Jolda explained, "attached to the diplomatic corps."

"That last bit's why they sometimes let me out to mingle with the locals. Sure beats another night in the barracks!"

"He's my... escort for the evening, but we've met a few times before," Jolda added, eyes furtively darting back to her parents, who were engaged in discussion with Sedrane.

"Uh, great," Daria said. "So what do you do in Balmora?"

Jolda took on a thoughtful mien. "I keep a relatively busy schedule. In addition to my historical and legal research at Drenlyn Academy, I'm an intern at the East Empire Company and a guest scholar at the Balmora Mage's Guild. When I have time, I go down to Moonmoth and help out at the Imperial Cult chapel."

Daria nodded. "I like to read," she said.

"Me too. What are some of your favorite books?"

"Well, I really liked the works of Zylmoc Golge growing up. Something about entombing people alive just sits right with me." Daria tensed at the last moment, anticipating another faux pas. Golge wasn't a respectable writer. But Jolda just smiled.

"You have an interesting sense of humor," she said. "But yeah, I like Golge, too. 'Chance's Folly' is one of my favorites, even if it is pretty dark."

Still a little anxious, Daria decided to change the subject. "The Dunmer you see next to me is Jane, a skilled artist." Daria took a deep breath. How was this going to work? Jolda didn't seem to like the hypocrisy that was in vogue, and Jane's art was anything but an honest portrayal. "My family hired her to capture our likenesses at dinner. You can, uh, see for yourself."

Daria heard her own words falling flat as she spoke. Dammit, Jane deserved better! And the painting was magnificent on technical terms, especially considering the time constraints. But Jane had already stepped up with her finished canvas, showing it to her new audience.

"That's amazing!" Jolda said, admiring the work.

But did Jolda mean that? Hadn't she just complained about corruption?

Daria's headache got worse and she squeezed her eyes shut. Noise and the distortion of her lenses made for a nasty combination. The three cups of rice wine probably hadn't helped either.

"I've done some work for the Morgendorffers before, along with the Hastiens, Clanlers, and others," Jane continued. "So if you need anyone painted, I'm your gal."

Jolda met Jane's gaze. "My dad's always saying he wants a good artist to paint his portrait, so I'll let him know."

"Please do! I'm at Drenlyn Academy a lot, so just let me know when he's ready."

They talked for a bit longer, Jane leading the conversation as Daria's headache deepened. Maiko didn't talk as much, other than saying that bulky Moonmoth Legion Fort, east of Balmora, was pretty boring.

"Speaking as a soldier, I guess boring is better than the alternative. Besides, Balmora's got its charms and I get sent here more often than most."

Finally, they drifted apart. Daria's head was pounding, as if she'd skipped past inebriation and straight into the hangover. Parties had that effect on her.

"That went well!" Jane said.

"How did it go for you?"

"Maybe she'll tell her dad, maybe she won't. There aren't many guarantees with this sort of thing."

"Was I able to help or not?" Daria asked.

"You helped some. Now I'm better known. And you gave me the best dinner I've had in years."

Daria had forgotten all about the leftovers.

"You still need one more connection," Jane said.

"No," Daria said. "I made two. I'm counting Maiko."

"I'm pretty sure your mom wanted you to make two rich friends," Jane said.

"Sure, Maiko's rich. He's rich in the discipline and spirit of the military that's protected the Empire's hegemonic ambitions for so many centuries. And if mom's bothered by that she can take it up with the emperor."

Daria leaned again the wall. She took off her glasses and rubbed her aching temples with her free hand. This pair definitely wasn't as good as her old one.

"Gee, Daria, are you okay?"

Daria blinked at the tell-tale squeak of Briltasi's voice. She searched the haze of her vision.

"Briltasi's a little to your left, Daria," Jane said.

Grunting, Daria gave up and put her heavy, painful glasses back on, the world lurching back into focus. "Hi, Briltasi. I'm actually not feeling that great."

"Hmm. You could go up to my room and lie down for a while. You're not going to get... sick or anything, are you?"

"No, I think I just need some quiet."

Briltasi reached into her sleeve and took out a metal key, offering it to Daria. "Here. My room's upstairs, first door on the left. Just lock it when you go in. I don't want anyone else going in there."

Daria realized that, whether she'd intended to or not, she had made another connection. Briltasi might not be the brightest, but she was friendly. That counted for a lot in Morrowind.

"Thank you," she said, bowing slightly and then taking the key. "By the way, did you see my friend's art?" Daria asked, pointing at Jane's canvas.

Briltasi blinked. "Why would I look at a menial's—oh wow, that's really pretty!"

A guileless smile brightened Briltasi's face. "Did you just do that tonight?" she asked.

"Sure did!" Jane said, flashing a grateful smile to Daria. "You like Imperial-style art?"

"I really do! My stepmom likes it too, but my dad doesn't."

"Do you and your stepmom have any financial independence?" Jane asked.

"Huh?"

"Would you two be able to pay me if I painted a picture of you?"

"Sure! You even figured out how to make Daria look pretty, so I can't wait to see how you make us look! You should meet my stepmom!" Briltasi said, grabbing Jane by the forearm.

"Have fun," Daria said. Satisfied with having helped her friend, she wove through the crowd to the hallway that led deeper into the manor, the key pressed against her sweaty palm.



*********



"Did Serjo Talori give you permission to be here?" the glowering Dunmer servant demanded.

Still with his partially empty bottle of bug musk, and a new layer of sweat on his skin, Karl the Unctuous made an indignant sniff from his hiding place next to a mostly full clay washtub in a damp storage room.

"I don't think Serjo Talori would care for his menials interfering with the son of a key business partner," Karl said, raising his nose in the air. "Of course, as long as you respect my privacy, I'll keep silent about your little breach of etiquette."

The servant grumbled but walked off, leaving Karl alone. His mind turned back to ingredients and portions and mixtures. None outside of Great House Telvanni knew exactly what went into bug musk—well, other than bugs and musk, but which bugs and whose musk?

He reached into his pocket and took out the ingredients he'd nicked from the kitchen: kreshweed fibers, sweetpulp, and an ash yam.

This probably isn't a good idea, he thought.

But how could he know unless he tried? Maybe he'd improve on the bug musk formula and in so doing make himself one of the wealthiest men in Tamriel!

Standing up, he laid the ingredients and the bug musk next to the tub and prepared to make history.

Musical Outro: All That She Wants, by Ace of Base


Michael "Mack" Mackenzie (Maiko Maccaneus) - Mack was the token "smart jock" in the show, a general all-around decent guy. Football obviously doesn't exist in Morrowind, so I re-imagined him as a promising young legion soldier.

The rice wine references come about because I'm using the First Edition PGE/Project Tamriel as a basis for the rest of the continent. Here, central Cyrodiil is tropical with rice paddies instead of the forested land seen in Oblivion.
SubRosa
You really nailed Jeffy, Joey, and that other J guy who are always orbiting Quinn.

Zylmoc Golge sounds like Poe. I wonder if they wrote The Fall of the House of Ushiel?

I loved Daria's quip about Mack being rich in the hegemonic traditions of the Empire! laugh.gif

"Sure! You even figured out how to make Daria look pretty,..."
Now that is exactly the sort of oblivious insult that Brittney and the other popular kids in the TV make all the time.

Upchuck is going to make his own bug musk? Hilarity is bound to ensue with that!
Renee
I love Daria for all her verbal foibles. She's trying to do this yet keeps screwing up.

Maiko speaks exactly like an NPC stationed with the Imperial Legion. laugh.gif It's just like the dialog which returns when we click on Background or My Trade.

Oh man, this is awkward. Yes, the part when she tries to introduce Jane as a painter; it's just the sort of networking moment which really demands the right amount of boasting, without seeming to boast, if that makes any sense?

Poor Daria. I wonder if she's been poisoned.

QUOTE
"By the way, did you see my friend's art?" Daria asked, pointing at Jane's canvas.

Briltasi blinked. "Why would I look at a menial's—oh wow, that's really pretty!"


Oh my gosh. No!

Acadian
Silly boys! Work it, Quinn!

Jolda seems refreshingly open to Daria’s sense of humor and honest opinions. And Maiko seems like a good sort as well.

Briltasi is charming in her own inept way.
"Sure! You even figured out how to make Daria look pretty,’
As SubRosa said, oblivious to the fact that this is an insult to Daria. Actually makes her rather likable.

Jane finally gets some deserved attention for her art.

Daria has scored a couple small wins here, but it looks like it’s taken its toll on her. Hope the rest helps.

Karl. Somehow, methinks this bug musk experiment will not turn out well. . . .
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