Sake

🧡 Gold Member
  • Content Count

    285
  • Joined

  • Last visited

Community Reputation

200 Renowned

6 Followers

About Sake

Personal Information

  • Gender
    Male
  • Sexual Orientation
    Straight
  • Location
    Mordor

Recent Profile Visitors

4,267 profile views
  1. Sake

    The Lord's Blade

    Under any other circumstances, being summoned to stand before the Great Lord of Sunlight would have been the highest possible honor. Of course, in light of the Eldest’s treason, those that served him were now potential traitors as well, and as one of the disgraced war god’s knights happened to also be the captain of the Four Knights, all four were to be in attendance. Ciaran could understand – after all, if the leader of the Four was a traitor, the Lord had good reason to believe that the other three would follow along. Quite frankly, Ciaran was surprised that she wasn’t the main suspect, or indeed the target of any suspicion at all, considering her status as the foremost among the Lord’s assassins and spies. Then again, perhaps that was exactly why she wasn’t seriously considered a threat; regardless, she couldn’t envy the Dragonslayer his present condition. “I swear I knew nothing, my Lord,” Ornstein said, kneeling. His helm and spear lay in front of him at the Lord’s feet. “His betrayal was as shocking to me as it was to you.” Being in the Great Lord’s terrifying presence was one thing; seeing the golden lion-knight, one of the most faithful and honorable knights of the Sun, brought to his knees to beg for mercy was almost nightmarish. “Thou wouldst have me believe that?” The Lord looked down on His knight from His throne, His expression unreadable and body almost motionless. “Thou wert his most faithful servant, and still he told thee nothing?” “Yes, my Lord. My loyalty to him only extended so far as to best serve you, and I suspect he knew that.” The Dragonslayer was unusually hesitant. Perhaps the others would see it as his nerves getting the better of him, as one would expect given the circumstances. No doubt all three of them were unsettled by this, Ciaran especially. She hoped that either her deductions were wrong or that the Lord would assume that any strange behavior by His Knights could be attributed to the stress of the situation. If Ciaran’s skills were still reliable – and right now she very much wished for them not to be – Ornstein was right to be afraid, though perhaps he’d never have acted on his desires. Still, some deep part of him was yet loyal to the exiled king, and Ornstein was very seriously considering listening to it. Of course this would be an uncomfortable situation. She really didn’t want to be around to see what would happen when the Lord saw the truth. There was another reason for Ciaran’s present anxiety, though, for she had been en route to deal with more personal matters when she’d received her summons, but that was a drop in the ocean compared to what potentially awaited the Four. Even so, if they were going to be executed as traitors, Ciaran hoped she’d at least be allowed to deal with that before being put to the hammer, to retain at least some dignity. The Lord sat still for a while, and the room was silent save for Gough’s breathing. Then the Lord rose and said, “Very well. I shall reaffirm thy station among my Knights. In return, thou shalt prove thy loyalty again.” He raised His left arm and snapped His fingers, and within seconds a silver knight was at His side, presenting His greatsword. The Lord pulled the sword from its housing, and taking it in two hands He touched the flat of the blade to each of Ornstein’s shoulders before returning the sword to the knight that had presented it. “Thine orders come now from the Princess. Thy station is to be shared with… the cannibal…” There was a hint of disgust to His voice for a moment. “And together thou shalt serve and protect the Princess and the Cathedral. Thou shalt not leave Anor Londo without my order to do so. Go now.” “At once, thank you my Lord.” Ornstein stood, collecting his helmet and spear, and backed away from the Lord while bent into a deep bow. When he came to be in line with the other Knights, he put his helm back over his head, straightened out, and turned to leave. The first to speak when he had gone was Artorias. “The cannibal, my Lord?” “If Smough cannot break him then truly his loyalty lies with me.” The Lord turned to Ciaran while Artorias bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Ciaran. Thou art to follow him, ensure that he does as ordered. Do not be seen. Gough and Artorias, I shall summon thee again if I have need of thee. Go now, Ciaran.” “Of course, my Lord.” Ciaran bowed deeply while the other two gave a salute and rushed off. By the time she’d turned to leave, Artorias was already at the steps leading down into the Cathedral’s main room, and she hurried to catch up with him. “So,” she said, popping up from behind him. “Where are you off to?” Artorias turned his head ever so slightly to look at Ciaran, presumably giving a bit of a sideways glance and a suspicious glare – hard to tell under his helmet. “I was headed to the blacksmith, but don’t you have work to do?” “Oh, well, I was actually going to go that way, so we can walk over there together.” Ciaran had developed a bit of a spring-step while speaking. “It’s… just down the hall…” They passed a set of Sentinels, and Artorias returned the salute they gave. And, indeed, the two were nearly at the first set of stairs that would lead to the Giant Blacksmith’s workshop, but Ciaran didn’t seem the least bit discouraged. “Yeah, I know, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of company for a little bit?” “I guess…” Ciaran glanced at Artorias, her expression hidden behind her porcelain mask. “What are you having the blacksmith do anyways,” she chirped. “All your stuff is in good condition.” Artorias put a hand on the sword at his hip and returned a salute from a passing silver knight. “Yes, it is, but I’m going to have him make me a shield. A proper magical one that can still protect someone even if they’re not actually carrying it.” “Sounds pretty complicated.” Ciaran had started fiddling with the hair on the side of her mask. Not quite the same as if it were her real hair, but it would do. “It has to be. It’s not just myself I need it to protect. But I trust the giant’s skills. He’s even earned our Lord’s trust, so I have no doubt he’s capable.” The rhythmic clanking of the Giant Blacksmith’s wooden hammer against his anvil could now be heard, and it grew louder as Artorias spoke and the two descended towards the workshop. “Should you really be going this way? Probably would have been better to just follow him out the front door.” “What do you mean?” The two looked at each other for a moment, and Ciaran suddenly realized what it was she was supposed to be doing. It was a good thing her mask hid her flushed face. “Oh! Oh, right, no, this is fine. He’s… he’s not going to sneak away anywhere just yet, I’m sure. I’ve, uh, got to keep a good distance anyways.” “Riiiiiight…” As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Artorias gave a little wave to the blacksmith while he spoke. “Well, here we are. Good hunting.” He made a gesture that was almost a hybrid between a salute and a wave, then turned to the blacksmith who greeted him the same way he greeted everyone else. “Forge, I can. Strong, I am.” “Oh, don’t I know it. Listen…” Ciaran cut him off when she suddenly turned around at the door and called out to him, carefully walking backwards to get properly outside. “Oh, I’ll probably need to check on the painting too, so I guess I’ll see you later.” She gave a wave before she disappeared. “Uh, sure, I guess.” Artorias shrugged, at this point no longer talking to anyone at all. Ciaran sighed as she walked the streets of Anor Londo. It hadn’t taken very long to find Ornstein, so it was just a matter of watching him and staying out of sight. She was looking for any opportunities to get on top of a building, so she could see and hide better. Not the easiest of tasks considering her divided attention. First, there was her job. She would be in quite a lot of possibly-explosive lightning-based trouble if Ornstein really did try to pull something and she wasn’t there to see it and report back to Lord Gwyn. Maybe even worse if she was there but wasn’t paying enough attention. Then there was Artorias. Ciaran wasn’t stupid. She could tell Artorias wasn’t responding to any of her advances. He barely even seemed to know she existed. And yet, she couldn’t help but think that some day she’d win him over, that one day he’d be hers alone. She knew perfectly well the odds of that happening were just as good as the chance that the Dark he hunted would take him first, and yet here she was chasing after him like a child. It’d never work, so why was she trying so hard? As if that weren’t enough, that personal matter of hers from earlier had returned in force once she’d calmed down from the audience with the Lord and almost having been briefly alone with Artorias. Keeping in constant motion was helpful, but considering Ciaran had already been preparing to deal with this issue hours ago, there wasn’t much time left until she didn’t have a say in the matter anymore. For now, though, she was still in control. Very fortunate, as she still had a job to do and Ornstein was passing by the stables, which Ciaran would have to go through to stay out of sight. Fortunately, they were mostly empty. Except for… Bark. Bark. The little grey wolf pup Artorias had brought back from the forests around Oolacile; the inspiration for his Wolf Ring. Her name was Sif, she was Artorias’s best friend, and as far as Ciaran was concerned she was absolutely adorable – or would be at literally any other time. As it was right now, Ciaran had to maneuver herself over a wall to hide from Ornstein, who almost certainly would have come to investigate the barking. Usually such a maneuver wouldn’t have been a problem, but her present condition made her a good deal slower. Sif was kept in a separate enclosure, large enough for her to grow into a proper great-wolf, so there was no doubt Ornstein knew exactly where the sound was coming from. Indeed, just as soon as Ciaran had gotten herself out of sight she could hear the clattering of the golden armor approaching, then stopping, presumably at Sif’s enclosure to see if the wolf had noticed anything out of place. Ciaran of course knew that she was the one to set Sif off in the first place, but Ornstein was left to try to find some reason the wolf would have been startled. So he looked, or at least Ciaran could assume that was what he was doing – she could only hear his armor rattle as he moved, never going far. Perhaps some other time Ciaran would have been more than patient with something like this, but right now she was praying for Ornstein to move on so they could both be done. The pressure was growing while Ciaran was just sitting there doing nothing, and if she couldn’t at the very least move along soon… something would happen that she preferred not to think about. Finally, after what must have been hours – but of course was hardly even five minutes – the Dragonslayer addressed the wolf. “Are you looking for your master? He’s not here now, but I’m sure he’ll come visit you soon.” Sif just barked at him in response, and he must have considered that to be acceptable, for the sounds of his armor soon faded away. Ciaran pulled herself up to look over the wall, with far more effort than it should have taken, then worked her way over and dropped onto the ground on the other side, receiving another greeting from Sif as she landed. That little bit of sudden warmth she was feeling had absolutely nothing to do with any of that and would go away if she just ignored it. Not that she had time to deal with that even if it had been something – truly, ignoring it was the only option. She had to hurry to make sure Ornstein wouldn’t get out of sight. He was approaching a path down to the lower city, and now there was finally going to be an opportunity to get above him, if only Ciaran could climb up one of the many buildings that made up the residential center of the holy city. All the better that the Executioner worked in the slums, where the spaces between buildings were just barely large enough for a silver knight to slip through. If this were one of the more upscale places out towards Duke Seath’s library, sure the houses would be larger, but they’d be so far apart that Ciaran would have to climb down and back up every time she got to the edge. Right now, just getting onto a roof once would be a problem. Ciaran was hanging back out of sight and, save for the occasional civilian, the streets were empty, so she had some time mostly alone to prepare herself for the task of scaling the side of a house. Mentally more than physically – things were under control for now and would remain so, if only Ciaran could focus on guaranteeing it. She had to act quickly, though, as narrow roads and sharp turns into innumerable alleys and side streets meant she could lose track of Ornstein in an instant. So, with a deep breath, Ciaran slipped into the nearest alleyway and got to work climbing up the house wall in front of her, grabbing at windows and using the Tracers to get a grip in places where the masonry was cracked. It was a good deal slower than normal, as Ciaran was trying to maintain the delicate balance she’d established in her lower half, and if anything were to happen to disturb that balance… she didn’t really want to think of what that meant. Fortunately, Ciaran was able to maintain focus and control long enough to get up onto the roof, and even more fortunately, she could see both Ornstein and the executioner’s block from there – she’d still have to jump across to another couple of houses on the way, but so long as Ornstein planned to do as he was told, there wouldn’t be any issues. He’d slowed down considerably, though, and stopped just before he rounded the last corner. He stood there, looking around at whatever there was to see, adjusting bits of his armor and inspecting his spear. Ciaran loomed overhead, just out of sight, both hoping the Dragonslayer would move on, so she could get back to personal business, and wishing he wouldn’t, so she didn’t have to get so close to the Executioner. After idling long enough to seem suspicious, though, Ornstein did head down the proper road, and Ciaran followed above and slightly ahead of him, hopping over gaps between houses to end up directly above Smough. There was a prisoner already on the block, so her focus was on Ornstein while he approached, putting up a hand to block his view and turning his head to the side as a massive cracking noise and guttural laugh rang out in the alley. Only Smough was left standing when Ciaran and Ornstein both looked again. Neither of them dared look directly at what had happened to the prisoner, though the Executioner’s reputation and the size of that hammer were more than enough to guess. The lion-knight cautiously stepped forward and opened the maw of his helm that served as a visor, and Ciaran dropped into a low crouch to hear what he was to say. There was a protest from somewhere deep within her body, but she willed herself to ignore it, just for a little while. “New orders for you,” he said, “From, eh, from Lord Gwyn.” “What? Why would He do that?” Smough’s voice was muffled and distorted by his grotesque helmet. “You’re, uh… you’re, you’re more than welcome to… to ask Him yourself when you see Him.” Ornstein tugged on the plume at the back of his helmet and looked off somewhere just beyond Smough – in Ciaran’s general direction, though she was sure she was hidden. “But… best not to bother Him with questions like that.” “Right.” Smough let his hammer down at his left side, grabbing the handle to keep it upright. “Well, what is it?” “I was sent to tell you,” Ornstein leaned his spear towards Smough as if to point at him. “That, uh, you, and me too actually, we’re to speak to Princess Gwynevere. We’re in Her service now.” Ciaran shifted around as her body continued to disagree with her choice of position – and she tried her best to stay silent as she felt a most unwelcome warmth in her smallclothes. “Uh, alright. Hey, if I’m working with you now does that mean there are Five Knights?” Ornstein closed his visor again and briefly looked up at Ciaran’s roof, this time quite explicitly. Surely he couldn’t have heard her fighting against her own body. “No, I’m pretty sure that’s never going to happen. I mean, you eat people’s bones. I don’t think that’s the kind of person the Lord wants representing Him. Lord Nito, maybe, or even Lady Izalith if She’s in the right mood, but not Lord Gwyn.” “Fair enough, yeah.” The two trailed off into some sort of conversation, though Ciaran had stopped paying attention. Still in her squatting position that her body hated her for, she had both hands vigorously rubbing her thighs, drifting ever closer to grabbing at herself without ever quite getting there. The inside of her mask was utterly saturated with her sweat and the warmth below grew in little intermittent bursts until she was practically sitting in a puddle within her own clothes. She was out of options and out of time. She’d done as she’d been commanded, and it seemed like Ornstein and Smough were just going to sit around making friends with each other. She’d earned a minute to herself. Thus, Ciaran backed away from the edge of the building, stood up and immediately ran back to the house she’d climbed up in the first place, the force from jumping the gaps between buildings causing a little more liquid to join the party. Once she was fairly sure she’d reached the right house, or at least was far enough away, she fumbled with getting the Gold Tracer off her belt, nearly dropping it, and dug it into the wall as she jumped off. Thanks to whatever magic the Giant could work into weapons, that knife was far stronger than it had any right to be, so Ciaran could simply slide down the wall of the house and drop into a quiet alley. And thanks to her small stature compared to the other Knights, she didn’t have to worry too much about being seen, though she was right next to the open road. Not that any of that was important. Ciaran could think of nothing else as she tore down her pants, a light but steady stream already working its way to the ground, which became a full-force torrent as soon as Ciaran had lowered herself into the usual position. The pale golden stones below her immediately became drenched in a fresh coating of a much deeper gold, and even the opposite wall of the alley was close enough to receive a generous spray. Alas, it didn’t last long. Before Ciaran was even halfway done, she could hear heavy footsteps coming from behind her, out on the road. If they were loud enough to be heard over her own cascade, that meant only one thing. With every grain of strength left in her body, Ciaran forced herself to stop, hastily redressed, and crossed her arms as she willed a disguise spell upon herself. Not a moment later did Ornstein pass by, Smough at his side. They were engaged in some sort of conversation that Ciaran truly did not care one bit about, until Ornstein, who was the nearer of the two to Ciaran’s alley, stopped abruptly and looked down. He lifted his right foot, and a little bit of the Blade’s waters dripped from the heel of his boot. “Eugh.” Ornstein shook his foot and took several steps to his left to avoid the still-expanding puddle that had spilled out onto the street, then the two carried on walking. “How do you live down here with these creatures and their filth?” Smough’s response was something about plenty of opportunities for him, but Ciaran only listened for when their footsteps had faded away enough for her to be considered out of earshot. As soon as she was sure, she dispelled her disguise and instantly fell forward, lying on her hands and knees in a pool of her own making. There was hardly even time to breathe before the flood she had so rudely interrupted started again, this time filtering through Ciaran’s clothes before hitting the ground with even more force than earlier. With no real options available, Ciaran moaned as she let herself fall even lower, head kept off the ground only by the fact that her forearms were in the way. Her chest and arms were soaked almost immediately, to the point where she could feel her waters on her skin. And yet she didn’t really care. She was bent over as if she were a dog in heat presenting herself, and was panting like one too, and still she didn’t care. Only the relief mattered, so Ciaran stayed as she was, reveling in the feeling of being able to remove what must have been more than twelve hours of fluids from her system. Ciaran couldn’t properly gauge how much time passed until the torrent ended, but even when it did she remained in her position for a while, letting whatever was left drip down from her garb and join the ocean she’d made. Once she heard the last drops land, she pushed herself up and fell back against the wall. Ciaran lifted up her mask and for a few moments gasped for breath before calming down again and sliding even farther into the pool below. It took a while to process what had just happened, and when she did finally figure it out she pulled her mask down again to hide her deep blush. Then she looked around and sighed. She was an absolute mess. Soaked through to the skin practically everywhere except her back and head, she had no idea whatsoever how she was meant to clean up. Perhaps she could just borrow a painting guardian uniform. They wouldn’t dare pry into their leader’s personal business, if she could get over there without being seen by anyone else, like a silver knight, or Artorias, or worst of all Lord Gwyn. What nightmare awaited her if her Lord found out one of his prized Four Knights lacked the constitution to perform a simple task without soiling herself like a pathetic Undead? Oh well. She’d deal with that if it came to it. At least she’d made sure nobody could say the streets in Anor Londo were not paved with gold.
  2. Sake

    Blackflame

    “I see flame. Flame, flickering, once again. Not enough blood yet shed. My flail… bring me my flail. Ahh, Friede. What stops thine ears? Please, my flail, right away…” I knew he’d be trouble, and now here he is, disturbing the Father. Damn Ash. I’d have killed him as soon as I saw him if he wasn’t undead. Damn Darksign. “Ahh, oh. Bring Friede to me, please. Canst thou not see? The flame, flickering once again. Soon it will surge. I can see it, feel it...” Oh well. Let’s just get it over with. “Fret not father, we have no need of thy flail. Tis only the flame, quivering at misguided Ash.” The scythe’s blade is cold as I run my hand across it. It won’t be for long. “Please avert thine eyes. I will snuff out these ashes for good.” All I do is walk forward, slowly, and the Ash comes running. I need to have a talk with Yuria about her idea of “potential”, if this is how her “Lords” behave in a fight. He comes into range, and all it takes is a few swings before he’s on the ground, fading away. “Return from whence thou cam’st,” I tell him. “For that is thy place of belonging.” He’ll be back, of course. But that’ll teach him a good lesson. It takes a few minutes – the fire’s just up the stairs, so at the very least he’s being smart about it and preparing himself. Maybe even poking at one of those white signs, as if it’d be any help. Sure enough, he comes charging through the fog. Now he’s got his shield up. How cute. He thinks he’s learning. Of course, I just walk towards him. Walking is always so much more intimidating than running. He thinks he has an opening, so he lunges around his shield. A jump to the side is more than enough to get out of his way, and a swing to counterattack leaves him reeling. I was really hoping that’d do him in straightaway. The Ash rolls off to the wall, and I stay behind. I bring the scythe up and pull it back, and then he can’t see me anymore. He takes a swig of that estus that undead are so attached to, and I jump across the hall to his side. The idiot runs over to where I just was, so I drive the scythe into his back. He falls, but by some miracle he manages to pick himself up again. He tries to roll off, but I hit him with a low swipe and he fades away before he gets a chance to figure out which way was up. “Leave us be, Ashen One.” I know he won’t listen, but at least if I tell him it makes him wrong for coming back. “Sweep all thought of us from thy mind. As thy kind always have.” A few minutes and he’s back again, of course, but now he’s changed into some lighter armor. Roll around all you like, it won’t help you. He runs at me, I walk towards him, and he manages to actually get out of the way of my first few swings this time. Apparently rolling is helping him. He takes a swing, and I jump out of the way, but he follows up with another and nicks me right as his attack is ending. No big deal, and it’ll be back to normal once he dies anyways. I jump back across the hall and turn invisible again. He hasn’t learned, so he runs at me, and I jump over his head. He’s on the floor in one strike yet again. This Ash is stubborn, though, and he gets himself out of the way before I can finish him. A dose of estus, and he rolls in for some attack. I catch him with the scythe-blade as he’s getting up from a roll, so he has to pick himself up off the ground again. He manages to lift himself directly into the path of another swing. Oh my, where did that come from? Down he goes again, fading away. I’ve got a few minutes to myself again – good time to think, though perhaps not the best time to notice my body making requests. But it’s no concern; this Ash has to give up some time, and I can outlast him. Especially since I’m restored to peak (almost, anyways) condition every time he dies. I’d always wondered about that – that and the fog doors, the damn things. He comes back, of course. This time he’s not running around, he’s rolling everywhere. I guess he figures that counts as an improved strategy. Not improved enough, though – it didn’t work last time, and it sure isn’t going to work again this time. One swing goes over his head while he’s on the ground, then a follow-up catches the back of his leg. He stumbles for a moment then lashes out, and I just take the hit and move on with a strike to the head. I don’t know how, but he survives, though he’s staggered. A strike to the ribs snaps him out of it and he rolls away, drinks some estus – they’re so reliant on that stuff these days – then he throws a knife. I can feel it fly past my head, then I jump back and turn invisible again. He runs forward and takes a jab at where he thinks I am, so I leap over him again and prepare to finish him. I have to give him credit – he is learning, a little bit. He rolls out of the way at the last second, either because he just happened to feel like rolling just then or he could tell it was coming, but either way the massive swing I’d just taken at him missed completely, and I almost hit the back of my own head with my scythe. He runs in for another poke while my weapon is out of the way, but I just take it and hit him around the head while he’s busy tiring himself out swinging his sword. He drops to the ground and fades away yet again. Perhaps if this were any other time I’d be admiring his persistence – he’s an idiot, no doubt about that, but a persistent idiot. That’s respectable, but… right about now I’d really prefer one of those guys who comes in, dies once, then gives up and spends the next few days lurking around with a soapstone trying to figure out how to kill me without actually needing to risk anything. Those people, they’re clever. And, well, they’d give me some time alone. Not that it’s necessary or anything, but still, it would be nice. Don’t want to have any distractions when I’m fighting. This one, though, he’s back again, and he keeps coming back. Even on a good day I hate these types – he rolls out of the way of a swipe, and then I jump over him as he tries to counter – they get really boring really quickly. Usually – I hit him in the head with the blunt side of the scythe, but he manages to stab my leg in return – there’s a bit of a rotation. One guy dies, another comes in, then maybe the first comes back. Not with these people. These people, they just – he runs over to Father Ariandel and starts throwing knives, but I just jump back, fade away, and while he’s trying to get over here I swipe my blade across the ground and freeze the stone beneath him – well, they just don’t stop coming. Kill them once, they try to figure out what they did wrong – he tries to roll out of the way, but the ice has slowed him, so I drive the shaft of the scythe into his head while he’s down and watch him dissolve – and then they come back and try to not do that again. Or, well, most of them try to learn. This one not so much. They all get mad and quit after a while, though – I just have to last longer than he does, and that’s simple enough considering I almost never get tired. Sure, there are… other things that could, eh, impair my skills, but… That’s not a problem yet. Not one I have to care about, anyways. Maybe I should stop thinking about it. T-there are more important things. Yeah, like the fact that he’s back again. But like every time before, this shouldn’t be a problem. Just a swing and h- I fucking hope for his sake he was just flailing that shield around. Now there’s a sword in my chest and I’m on my knees because why the fuck wasn’t I watching his left arm? Stupid. Just one stupid mistake that I’m not going to make again. At least, I’d better not, because the feeling of getting run through wasn’t the only pain from that… Come to think of it – he’s got his shield up in front of him now, but I just hit him around it because he doesn’t understand what a scythe is – I’m rather consistently amazed that I can survive something like that. My, eh… There might be some parts of me that wouldn’t be able to last through too many of those, but I still feel fine overall. Sure, it hurt like Izalith, but I’m in good fighting condition otherwise. Barely even lost any blood. And, well, even if I did die, it’s not like that’s a problem. I bet he doesn’t even know I’m every bit as undead as he is – got the damn Sign to prove it, even if its location means I’d rather not need proof– and that I’ll just be back in someone else’s world, even if I might not be in his ever again. I’m sure he wouldn’t care. He’s just running around poking at me and trying not to get his ass frozen again. He’s actually getting pretty good at finding me when I’m invisible, so I’ll give him credit for that. I’m still beating him into the Abyss, though. He has to know one lucky shot doesn’t give him a chance, right? That estus sure does give him a bit of favor, if he can use it properly – he just tried to drink it a second ago, but I smacked him before it could do anything – but it’s nothing I can’t handle. It is rather annoying, though. His supply is a little smaller than we could get back in my day, no doubt a tradeoff for not needing to sacrifice bits of yourself to get more, but it’s more potent. Probably just because they ran out of Firekeepers to shove into those things so they’re using something more plentiful, and a lot of it. If he’s not going to drop dead any time soon, though, I’ll have a real attrition war on my hands here. He was dumb with the drinking once, but he figured himself out quickly enough. I’ve been counting, he’s had four doses already, plus the one I stopped – I really shouldn’t be thinking about drinking that stuff, though; if there’s one thing about it I remember it’s that it goes right through you, and, uh, that’s not a convenient thought right now – so he’s still pretty well-stocked, I figure. He’ll just keep dodging, I guess, so I have to hit him enough to make him run out. For now, though, I get out of the way and turn invisible again. A jump over his head when he gets to where I just was, then… Wow, okay, I didn’t expect the pressure to get that intense already. S-surely just from the landing. Still invisible, I press my legs together for a moment, and I’m fine enough once again, so I take a swing. I miss. He decided to run away once he realized he had no idea where I was, and it just so happened that he chose the exact moment I’d decided to cut his head off. So, his neck wasn’t where it should have been, and now I look like an idiot and have to spend time bringing my scythe back into position. He’s actually smart this time, and he takes advantage of that opening, runs over, and… of all the things he could have done, he kicks me. Exactly the thing I needed right now, thanks… I’m sure it’s not the chance he expected, but now I’m bent over dealing with making sure various internal fluids stay internal – I’d definitely be reeling from that anyways, but this takes just a little bit longer to get under control than just getting the air kicked out of you. Whatever the reason, he’s got an opportunity, and he takes it. And, apparently, I greatly overestimated my condition. I get hit in the jaw with the guard of his sword, and then I just see a blur of what I can only imagine is the ceiling. Then there’s a horrible pain in my neck and I can’t see anything at all. But then I wake up. Two things about this situation are definitely not right. First, I am very warm and very wet. That’s… not a good sign. Second, once my vision comes back I can see that everything is fucking on fire, and there are the sounds of Father Ariandel thrashing about behind me. Then the feeling comes back, and fuck everything my head hurts. Okay, third thing not right: this is a pool of blood I’m in right now. My blood, as in all of my fucking blood is on the floor. And if this pressure coming back is any indication, this pool is just my blood. So now there are two problems. I apparently didn’t come back to life properly, or the Father’s done something, and I’m stuck here fighting this same idiot some more, and I could really use a piss that I’m not going to get to deal with any time soon. The pain in my head fades – that’s the worst part about dying, you wake up feeling like, well, like you died – and I move to pull myself up. Plant the scythe on the ground, push up off of it, then work up to standing again. At some point, I was apparently set on fire, too, but it’s reduced to a few embers by the time I’m upright. Then it’s just a matter of getting the scythe back into position. Ariandel is the first to act, and his idea of action is smashing that vessel of his on the ground. I take the opportunity to swipe up a sheet of ice, then I jump over to get behind the Father. The Ash seems to focus mainly on Father Ariandel, who is himself busy flailing wildly trying to crush the Ash like the bug he is. I can feel a little bit of pain every time Ariandel gets hit, like it’s me taking those hits, too. This won’t be something I can just wait out, so as much as part of me would greatly prefer that I just hid in a corner for a minute while Ariandel solves the problem, I can’t do that. Every second I waste is another second he’s left blindly crawling around trying to accomplish anything at all. So, as much as it pains me to, I jump around to get into position, and while the Ash is distracted I hit him with a series of winding strikes – he doesn’t roll away until after I’ve finished beating him up, and once he’s in the clear, he takes a drink. That’s six, unless he had one while I was dead. I throw another sheet of ice at him, but he’s already done drinking and out of the way by the time it reaches him. He’s… completely ignoring me now. Going only for the Father. Considering how much this is starting to hurt, I have to do something about that. And if I can’t distract him enough to get him to face me instead… A jump back and I fade out of sight, then take a knee, as much as my body would prefer I didn’t. I really don’t know how this escalated so quickly – I have to stop and work to get things under control before I search my belt and pockets for… where the fuck is this thing? I know I have it… A few more seconds of pain from within and without before I find what I was looking for. It’s just a bundle of cloth and a rock, but it’s my bundle of cloth with a rock in it, and I need it right now. I squeeze the talisman as tightly as possible and hold it up to my head, and soon enough, it’s glowing. A warmth envelops my entire body, even beyond the heat of the flames, and I feel reinvigorated. That is, until he runs over and slices into my arm. I’m sent staggering back, with a third type of warmth showing up now – this time only briefly, thankfully. I toss the talisman back into the depths of my robes and swat at the Ash and trip him up while he tries to run away. He falls to the ground, and I take another swing at him, but he rolls out of the way of that one and gets to his feet. He strikes me again, then rolls off, straight under Ariandel’s vessel. The Father makes a valiant attempt to crush the Ash, but the pest is too fast for him and is off to the Father’s side, where I can’t see him, but I can still feel what he’s doing. For just a moment, I press my legs together again – this is pretty bad now – then jump over to where I can see the Ash. I throw some ice at him and leap across the room to him, striking him across the back. He stumbles, but rolls aside and takes another drink, and I step back for a rest. Things aren’t going my way at all. First I die, then I come back and everything’s worse than it was before, and now the Father is very likely going to die and there’s nothing I can do about it. Not when I’m in this condition – I plant the scythe between my legs for a moment, hit by a sudden, powerful wave, but fortunately nothing else comes of that – and certainly not if the Ash is going to ignore everything I do and try to strike the Father down anyways. If only I coul- “Aah…” “When the Ashes are two, a flame alighteth. Thou’rt Ash, and fire befits thee, of course...” Alright, no, I’m mad now. Kill me, kill Ariandel, you’re going to get what you deserve. I pick myself up and draw the extra scythe I’ve had on my belt the whole time. I’m still dying inside, now more than ever, but nothing matters right now besides killing this bastard. Glorious abyssal flames are at my feet as I rise, and then I immediately jump into action. Wave the scythes and spin just so, and a swirling pillar of dark fire propels me upwards, then a downward strike has me crash down into the Ash with yet more flame. He’s gotten himself out of the way, but no matter. One scythe and then the other, an unyielding assault on the Ash. These blades are quickly polluted with his blood, and still he fights on. He rolls back and drinks in the moment I take to rest, but I immediately resume the assault and leave him running. No openings. He’s not going to get a chance. The second assault finishes, and I immediately drag one scythe across the ground, and when I lift it, a great wall of dark fire erupts and consumes everything in front of me – the Ash, unfortunately, not included. Let’s see how good he is at dodging what he can’t see. A step back, then I fade and jump over him. He keeps getting close, but every time he does I move farther back and fade away again. Then another jump, a deep breath, and the larger scythe carves into his back. He falls flat on his face, and yet he refuses to die. He gets up, rolls away, drinks, and then covers his sword in golden tree sap or whatever the fuck that is. I don’t give a fuck. I just want him dead. His weapon is sparkling with the Great Lord’s gift, and he charges at me. One strike I deflect with the smaller scythe, but he attacks again faster than I anticipate, and I feel the sting of the blade and the surge of lightning through me. I’m sure that’s made things a little warmer downstairs, but I still don’t care. A strike to the face with the blunt side of the larger scythe gets him to back off, and I unleash another assault on him. He takes a hit, then another, then gets himself out of the way to drink again. Then he pulls his sword up by his head with two hands, moving into a great lunge. I try to deflect with the smaller scythe, but still the lightning on the blade hits me, even if I’m not pierced by the metal itself. Another surge of pain and another involuntary release, and I’m right back to throwing fire at him. Swipe a scythe across the floor for a fire wall, slam the other onto the ground for a burst of flames. And yet he keeps running, while I run out of time. I’m not going to win this, not if I keep trying things the way I have been. There is one thing, one weapon he couldn’t possibly have seen coming, but I only have one shot at it. By the Lords, I hope I still remember how to do this. I drop the smaller scythe, then the larger one, and charge directly at the Ash. He puts up his sword to run me through, but it’s too late for him. I swat the weapon aside with my left hand – fortunately, the enchantment has worn off – and then grab him by the mouth. My right hand grabs his neck, and as he falls to the ground in my grip, and I fall to sit on top of him, I feel him struggling. I press harder with my left, and the resistance slows, until it stops altogether. I’m breathing heavily as I sit up and pull away from him. As soon as I lift my hand off of his mouth, he starts to dissolve again, and I’m holding a black sprite – I can feel it writhing for a moment before I crush it. It makes a satisfying cracking sound as I absorb its power, and I’m overcome by a great, soothing warmth. I let my hands fall to the ground, shut my eyes, and take a deep breath as I let the humanity flow through me. When I look again, I see a pool on the floor below me, and as the humanity’s effects fade, I can still feel a lingering warmth down my legs. I’m left staring in disbelief for a moment – truly, I have no idea how this actually happened, but I don’t have much of a choice but to surrender to it, so I just watch the pool grow until it reaches my hands. Then the warmth in my legs starts to fade, and I move so that I’m sitting on my feet. This wasn’t exactly how I’d intended for this to happen, especially considering I’m either going to have to find a way to get new clothes without leaving this room, or just surrender to the concept of fighting either half-naked or half-soaked. The one consolation is that I’m fairly sure the Ash won’t be back any time soon.
  3. There once was an abomination who had no place in this world. She clutched this doll tightly, and eventually was drawn into a cold and lonely painted world. What happened to that doll, anyways? And, for that matter, where was the painting? It didn’t matter much, of course, where anything was – the guardians would follow the painting anywhere, and ultimately the condition outside didn’t change anything inside anyways. Priscilla knew that, of course, though they were still interesting questions. She had brought her doll into this fascinating new world – or, well, she was pretty sure she had – and just now she realized that it was nowhere to be found. Wherever it was, though, if it were outside the painting, it could be used to get inside. And if just anyone from the outside could get in, well, surely they wouldn’t understand anything about its residents – what could an outsider possibly know about the world of rejects? More importantly, what would they do? The painting was home, for Priscilla and everyone else in it. They’d try to protect their home – and what if they were to be hurt? The Crossbreed shifted around nervously. There was probably nothing to worry about, but she’d been seen as a leader and protector within the painting ever since she first arrived. They were her responsibility. Priscilla took a deep breath. This wasn’t the first time she’d started thinking like that, and every other time nothing bad had happened. Why should anything be different this time? She had her own needs anyways, she couldn’t keep putting the painting before herself. Now that she’d calmed down, that was readily apparent – not a big deal yet, but why put it off? Setting her scythe to the side, she walked over to the edge of her tower and looked out at the distant horizons of the Painted World. No less beautiful than the first time she saw it. Putting her feet as close to the edge as possible without stepping off, Priscilla grabbed at her fluffy skirt of fur and prepared to lift it out of the way. But then there was a sound. She’d never heard it before, but she knew exactly what it meant nonetheless. She jumped back and grabbed her weapon, positioning herself right in the middle of the room just in time to see an armored figure walk through the light blocking the doorway. A human, no doubt, with some shiny plate armor covered up with a blood-stained blue surcoat. “Who art thou,” she said, softly, despite her fears, “one of us, thou art not.” Even though part of her was practically shouting at her to just kill the thing and be done with it, the rest of her was calm enough to give the human a chance to leave. “If thou hast misstepped into this world, plunge down from the plank, and hurry home.” Hopefully the human would listen. “If thou seekest I,” she said, “thine desires shall be requited not.” The human just looked up at her, their face obscured by the visor of their helmet. Priscilla took a deep breath and slowly moved her scythe into an attack position, but as she was doing that the human suddenly sat down, directly on the snowy tower floor. She lowered her guard as the human removed their helmet, revealing a soft face and black hair tied off into a tail at the back – female, probably. Her heart felt like it was about to punch through her chest. This could still be a trick. But, no, the human just sat there, and even spoke after a while. “Uh, hi,” she said, waving a hand. “You, uh, you’re not gonna use that?” The human pointed at Priscilla’s scythe – and she even glanced at it herself for a moment before turning to address the human, refusing to answer the question. “Thou must returneth whence thou came,” she said, still somehow managing to speak softly and calmly. “This land is peaceful, its inhabitants kind, but thou dost not belong. I beg of thee, plunge down from the plank, and hurry home.” The human just sat there and smiled at her. “Y’know, they told me about you. Well, sort of.” She adjusted some rings on her hand – one of them seemed far too tight to ever come off. “They told me there was a monster in the painting, some hideous beast that was the enemy of life itself.” Priscilla just stared at her. “I’m disappointed, actually. They told me there was a monster and all I find is you.” The human laughed, and Priscilla sighed. The human didn’t seem to be much of a threat, but Priscilla still wanted her to leave – she didn’t belong in the painting, after all, and, well… Priscilla lightly pressed her legs together. Hopefully the human would get bored soon. “Please,” the Crossbreed said, “thou hast no place here. Begone.” “But I want to know about the painting.” The human looked Priscilla right in the eye and crossed her arms. “What is this place? Why do they call you a monster?” She pulled a flask off her belt, its liquid contents glowing a brilliant gold, and took a sip from it. “And why’s it so cold?” Priscilla just stared at the human. She’d toss her over the edge herself if it meant she’d be alone again, but perhaps if she just answered the human’s questions, the human would leave on her own. “Ariamis created this world,” she said. “’Tis a haven for that which is cast out from the land outside. And thou art no outcast,” she added, “so, please, return to thy world.” “The world out there isn’t my world,” the human responded, “I remember nothing of it but I know I have this brand-“ She pointed to a slight burning ring around one eye, “-and that means I’m not wanted out there.” Another sip from the flask, and a muttered “damn it’s cold.” “Even so,” Priscilla said, shifting her weight between her legs and hoping it wasn’t obvious, “This world is not thine either.” “What’s really any different between us,” the human asked, still drinking that little undead drink of hers, “After all, we’re both monsters. I take souls from things when they die, and when I die I just wake up at a bonfire. I’m a damn human, I had to escape from a prison I was put in just because I’m human.” Another sip to warm up, and she added, “That’s actually where I found that doll that brought me here.” “Thou hast found my doll?” Priscilla’s eyes widened. “That was yours? I just found it lying around in my cell – though, somehow, it was only there after I escaped and came back.” The human pulled her arms close to her body and wiggled around where she sat. “Yes, that was mine. Long ago it drew me to the painting, and here have I been.” She now had her legs slightly crossed, just enough to apply a bit of pressure, but not so much that she couldn’t stand straight. This human really needed to get on her way. “But, uh, if you don’t mind my asking, why? Why’d you let it take you here in the first place?” More of that glowing liquid left the flask. “The gods fear what they do not understand,” Priscilla said, bending her knees ever so subtly. “That tyrant Gwyn cast me out from Anor Londo, and I cowered alone with my doll ‘till it brought me here, where the gods dare not trespass.” Tears came to her eyes but she blinked them away. The human drank yet more, and shuffled around. “The gods were afraid of you?” She laughed a little bit. “You’re not that scary. What could they possibly be afraid of?” Not only was this really not a conversation Priscilla wanted to have, but it was also a really bad time. She could feel the pressure in her bladder building by the second. Still, if the human’s curiosity was satisfied, she would leave. “Gwyn fears my powers,” she said, positioning her scythe in front of her so that she could press up against it without arousing suspicion. “He calls them the antithesis of life, he thinks them to be dark. Gwyn fears the dark – thus humans were imprisoned.” She shut her eyes tightly and concentrated for a second as a sudden wave of need came over her, but passed after a few seconds without consequence. “Thou art right, we are not dissimilar. And yet still this world is not thine – return to the outside, to thine own business.” The human seemed to be caught off-guard by Priscilla’s words. “But I was told to cast away the dark – link the fire and succeed Gwyn.” She shook her head and drank more from her flask, emptying it and leaving its usual cloudy green color visible. “If humanity is dark, then…” Priscilla stopped listening as she felt a small leak trail down her leg. She pressed harder with her scythe, hoping the human wouldn’t notice. “H-human,” she said, voice still soft but now with a hint of panic, “return to thy world. Thou art on some quest, and thy quest must be completed.” A fresh trail warmed her leg again. The human stood up and nodded. “Yeah, that’s probably for the best.” She stretched, and then said, “And, uh, is there anywhere I could, uh…” The human did a little dance. “Estus goes right through you if you’re not hurt, and there won’t be any good opportunities in Anor Londo…” Priscilla was both amazed she had to answer such a question and also that she could still maintain her composure, somewhat. “O-over the side.” She pointed off in some vague direction as yet more urine forced its way out and down her legs – now it was a constant trickle, though a very weak one. If the human could finish up quickly, perhaps Priscilla could get out of this without too much of an issue. Her feet were already a little bit wet and the snow under her already had a decent yellow stain on it, but, still, if she could wait just a little longer she could save most of her dignity. That would prove to be difficult, though. The human nodded at her and left to stand by the edge of the tower, out of Priscilla’s line of sight, but she could hear metal striking the ground as the human shed some of her armor. And if she could hear that, then of course she could hear what would inevitably come next. The shuffling of cloth as the human sufficiently disrobed, and then the one thing Priscilla really did not want to hear. Just hearing the human’s relief wasn’t that bad on its own – the only sound was of the stream itself, as there was nothing for it to hit against within earshot outside the tower. No, what made it unbearable was the sighs coming from the human herself. Clearly, the human was enjoying herself, and that was the breaking point for Priscilla. The constant trickle turned into a stream, and then she found herself dropping her scythe and falling to her knees as her hold broke completely. “Ahh… but, why…” Tears filled her eyes as she let out slight moans of relief. After all, she was sitting there on the floor, wetting herself uncontrollably, with a human nearby. If only the human just listened to her and left. Or, really, why’d the human need to show up at all? Priscilla was supposed to be beyond such things. She wasn’t supposed to act like some human child. And yet there she was, still going strong, now hugging her own tail for some degree of comfort. In Priscilla’s mind it was even more humiliating that the human had come over and leaned up against her – which she probably would have tried anyways, considering nearly every part of the Crossbreed’s body was covered in soft white fluff. “It’s okay,” the human said, but Priscilla paid no mind until she had finished. And then she wiped away her tears with her hand, but stayed in her sitting position. After a while, she spoke to the human, who was still pressing herself into Priscilla’s side. “What seeketh thee?” There really was no reason for the human to still be there. “I beg of thee, leave me.” She did nothing to force the human to move, and just lifted up the skirt-fluff over her legs to see what had happened. Her legs were wet, but she could feel that, and there was a rather large puddle underneath her. The puddle had reached far enough to soak the skirt-fluff on her backside, creating an uncomfortable moist seat. She quickly put everything back into place, though, once she realized the human was looking as well. “Leave,” Priscilla said again. The human looked up at her and nodded. “Alright, but once I have the Lordvessel, I’ll be back.” She hugged Priscilla as well as she could – she was much smaller, after all, so her arms couldn’t reach all the way around the Crossbreed’s body – before heading over to the exit. “This is a lovely painting” were her last words before she jumped off the edge and was carried away by a crow. Once the human had been gone for a while, Priscilla stood up and walked over to the edge, looking out at the view. In all honesty, she couldn’t say she didn’t want the human to come back. Solitude was fine, but a little company every so often didn’t hurt – when it was timed right, anyways. She smiled as she looked off into the cold painted horizon. It really was a lovely painting.
  4. “Anyways, it’s not terribly complicated. Just gotta remember what day it is, is all. Might help to mark off days that already passed, so you don’t think it’s last week, y’know?” “Right, but I still do not understand why it has nothing to do with the moons.” Azhani had brought her new calendar to the Dragonborn so he could explain it to her – she learned quickly enough, and was now working on a cup of tea and waiting for people to show up. It was her turn to do all the work after her little adventure the day before, so she really needed to wake up as much as possible. “Yeah, beats me.” Bjorn shrugged and took a bite out of whatever monstrous sandwich he’d prepared himself. “Must be some Alessian or Ayleid thing. I ‘unno. Kinda weird, ‘specially since Sun’s Dawn has like two fewer days than normal for no reason at all.” He paused for a moment and briefly looked off into the distance. “Though, now that I think about it, that sort of nonsense does seem like some shit elves would pull… Must be Ayleid.” Azhani’s nose twitched in amusement. “Yes, that’s flawless reasoning there.” She looked down into her cup, now half-empty. Seemed like just two seconds ago it was full. However that all disappeared, it was delicious, and Azhani needed more, so she held out her hand and shook the cup. “Hm?” Bjorn grabbed the pitcher they’d been drinking from, but stopped and raised an eyebrow just before bringing it over. “You sure ‘bout that? I mean, with all the…” He gestured in the Khajiit’s direction and made a vague sound. Her response was to flatten her ears and growl at him. “Do not mention that.” The Dragonborn threw up his free hand and said, “Alright, alright. But, uh… what specific incident is it that we’re not talking ab-“ He cut himself off when he noticed Azhani extending her claws. “Uh, okay, yeah, all of them, alright, sure. Here you go.” Azhani perked up instantly when her tea was refilled, and she gave an exaggerated purr. “Thank you, Dragonborn.” “Uh-huh.” Bjorn leaned forward on the counter just enough to be at Azhani’s eye level. “Man, this is all wrong. I’m a dragon, I shouldn’t be afraid of some cat, eh?” He let his last few words trail off into a chuckle. “Cats have claws, Bjorn.” Azhani tipped her head a little to the side, tripping up on the unfamiliar pronunciation of his name. “Can’t be a dragon with no throat to Shout with.” “Oh, hey, you know, funny thing about that is that, uh…“ His attention was drawn away from the conversation when the inn’s doors opened. “Uh, hey, take over, will you?” He didn’t wait for a response before running off to greet his returning housecarl. Azhani shrugged and looked over to the door, giving a little wave to Lydia and watching as the Dragonborn directed her to a table. Then she hopped over the counter and planted herself in the stool that would have usually been occupied by Keerava. She watched in silence, sipping at her tea while the two Nords had what looked to be a fairly energetic conversation. They were audible enough with how close they were to the bar, but Azhani wasn’t terribly interested, instead focusing on her tea and some of the things she’d brought down with her – her calendar and another book by Quill-Weave, once again borrowed from the Dragonborn. After a few minutes of absentminded calendar-flipping and half-hearted reading, Bjorn got her attention again, speaking right to her. When Azhani looked over at him, he and Lydia had both stood up, Lydia headed for the stairs. “Hey, we’ve got, uh, some stuff to do today,” the Dragonborn said. “So you’re gonna be on your own all day. That gonna be alright?” Azhani nodded and turned back to her book with a weak thumbs-up from the hand carrying her tea. She could hear the sound of his heavy feet taking the stairs, then several minutes later two sets of feet came down and over to the door. The Khajiit looked over and waved at them, the Dragonborn giving his typical half-assed salute in response– though now it looked out-of-place, as he was dressed in the same robes he’d worn at the summit at High Hrothgar, and Lydia was wearing formals of her own. “You know you are going to be robbed wearing clothes like that, yes?” She couldn’t help it – she knew more than enough about that sort of lifestyle to tell that wearing fancy clothes in Riften meant you were either Maven Black-Briar or a mark. Considering Bjorn and his housecarl were definitely not Maven Black-Briar… “Eh, if I were anyone else, yeah, I probably would. But nobody’s gonna fuck with the Dragonborn. See you later.” He gave another one of those salutes and followed Lydia outside. When the door closed, Azhani shrugged and turned back to her book, taking another sip of her tea as she did. It must have been an hour or two before anyone started coming in, and for the most part Azhani didn’t have to pay much attention to them. Reach under the counter, grab a bottle, hand it over, get back to reading. Nobody had ordered any food, so aside from brewing more tea for herself there wasn’t anything all that complicated to do – for some reason people didn’t seem to be very interested in having someone covered in fur cook for them. Nothing complicated until some very oddly-dressed men came in, anyways. A group of four had found their way into the inn and grabbed seats together at the bar, attracting Azhani’s attention just with how they looked. Their apparent leader – or at least, the first among them to take his seat – was mostly wearing the chitinous armor the Dunmer had made a tradition of, and the other three had bits of leather and steel. What was peculiar about him and his friends, though, was that they were all wearing various bits and pieces of Dwarven make, clearly worked on and polished up after they’d been collected. The leader wore the most of this old brass gear; his whole right arm was covered in Dwarven armor, he had a brass plate serving as a collar that attached to a piece for his left shoulder, and if his armor continued under his little kilt, his legs were covered in brass as well. Three of the men had taken off their helmets; only their leader kept his, and it would have matched with the traditional style of what the Dunmer called “bonemold”, if not for the fact that the bottom of the helmet had been cut off so that the leader’s mouth was exposed. That blue chin of his was the only indication of the leader’s race while he remained silent – his companions included a Redguard, another Dunmer, and some lighter human that Azhani wasn’t sure of. The lead Dunmer only spoke when his friends had settled down, and when he did speak his voice was deep, rough even for a Dunmer, and tinted with age. “Muthsera,” he started with a bow of his head, “you wouldn’t happen to have flin, would you?” Azhani took a moment to process the appearance of these adventurers, speaking quickly once she realized she had to answer a question. “Oh, uh, sorry, yes, somewhere around here, yes.” Then she got up, turned around, and went to looking through shelves while the faceless Dunmer called out to her again. “Two of those then, and two of whatever beer you have, please, sera.” “Anything?” Azhani paused for a moment and looked over at the adventurer, who nodded silently. “Yes, just a minute.” It took a little bit of rummaging to find Talen’s stash of foreign liquors – Azhani didn’t recognize half of them, and only even managed to find flin because she happened to recognize the Daedric F on the label. She grabbed a bottle of that and a pair of tall glasses, handing both off to the lead explorer, then reached under the counter for a bottle of whatever – smelled like beer, so good enough – and some mugs. The leader distributed the drinks and the adventurers gave a toast, then started talking amongst themselves. Except the leader. The leader, drink in hand, was ignoring his friends in favor of the Khajiiti barmaid. “So,” he said. “Been hearing a lot about the Dragonborn since I got to Skyrim. Know anything about that, sera?” “Hmmn?” Azhani looked over at him and nearly choked on her tea – she wasn’t expecting anyone to talk to her about something other than drinks, and she’d just settled down again to relax in relative quiet. “Aahn, sorry. Um, the Dragonborn, you said? Yes, he actually lives here.” The adventurer’s helmet hid his expression, but his voice indicated his shock just as well. “Wha-? Th- the- what? The Dragonborn? Lives here?” The Khajiit gave a little nod. “Yes, for the last maybe, two, three months, perhaps? He is busy today, though. This one thinks he will be very busy for a while after today, too.” “Oh yeah? How’s that?” “For the past couple of weeks he was recovering from a fight with… what, Alduin? He is just waiting until he is healthy enough to fight Alduin again, and that is probably soon.” “I see.” The Dunmer put his free arm up on the counter and rested his head in his hand. “I was hoping to meet him, actually, but that’ll have to wait, it seems. Wouldn’t want to delay a Hero any longer than necessary, after all.” Azhani’s head found its way to a slight angle. “You could stay here until he has time, if you can afford it. Plenty of rooms open.” “Oh, no, it’s fine, I was- well, we were just passing through, never planned on staying. My friend here-“ The adventurer grabbed the shoulder of the Redguard next to him. “-suggested we stop in for a drink, but we’re heading right back out afterwards.” “Mhm.” Azhani made some vaguely-affirmative noise through a mouthful of tea from the cup she’d just refilled. “So, you are adventurers, yes? Going anywhere good?” “Adventurer is… yeah, sure, you could say that. The Breton over there is more of a tomb raider than anything, but yeah. I’m actually on my way out to the shrine to Azura over in Winterhold, for right now. No idea how far these guys are going to follow, but that’s where I’m headed.” The Khajiit shrugged while the adventurer topped off his own drink. “Azurah is as good a reason as any to go that far.” “Yeah, she’s… she’s pretty important to the Khajiit religion, isn’t she?” Azhani nodded, and the adventurer continued. “Quite important to me, too, though I admit I haven’t been acting like it. Hopefully, if I go to her shrine, she’ll see I’m still here, still dedicated to her. And hopefully she’ll share just a little bit of her wisdom.” Azhani shuffled around a bit in her seat and looked into the pitcher of tea. Empty. “Then good luck with that. This one has not known Azurah to talk to people very often.” The other, younger dark elf chimed in at this point. “Without the Tribunal, some of the Daedra are more than happy to communicate with us - Azura most of all, and she'd especially like to-” He coughed and quickly finished up his drink upon noticing that the leader had turned to look at him - he spoke quickly to finish his thought, as if the leader was glaring at him under that helmet. "Er, I bet she'd really like to hear from someone as old and wise as, uh... as he is." The young elf pointed at the leader for a moment, then quickly slid his mug towards Azhani. "Anyways, about time we head out again, isn't it?" The faceless dark elf nodded and looked over at the rest of his companions. “Yes, we should be going. You guys set?” The two humans with him broke away from their own conversation and nodded at him, then the group stood and replaced their helmets while the leader slid a handful of coins across the counter. It was far too much for the little they’d bought, and Azhani was about to mention it when the lead adventurer addressed it himself. “I trust that’ll cover everything, and a little something for yourself, right?” He stood up himself and bowed his head, then turned to lead the other three out. “Thank you, sera.” “Uh, no problem…” Azhani pawed through the money she’d been given while the adventurers made their way outside. Most of the coins seemed to be fairly old, and the images on them were different from what Azhani had seen throughout the Empire. The head-side had a picture of some elf instead of the Emperor, and the tail-side had replaced the Imperial Dragon with a depiction of Azurah’s Star. “Money is still money,” she muttered, sliding the coins into a little box under the counter. With nobody else at the bar, Azhani got up with a sigh and went to grab a broom. With it, she headed into the dining area and went about cleaning up after the few people who had come in and taken seats at proper tables, still not ordering anything that needed to be cooked. Fortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot to get at – on top of the fact that everyone seemed to have a craving for bread and cheese today, either the regular clientele knew not to screw around with the Argonians, or they’d come to fear the Dragonborn and what he’d do if they didn’t leave the place in good shape. Whatever the reason, those still present started to hurry up once they noticed Azhani’s approach, and the few other tables that showed any signs of sentient activity were largely only marked by plates and bowls and a handful of gold. Azhani first went around and collected all the payment that had been left behind, dropping it all into the large pocket of her apron. Then all the dishes were piled up onto an unoccupied table, and she got to work on the floors – which really amounted to absentmindedly pushing the broom around and waiting for something to happen, as there wasn’t a whole lot to clean up other than dust from overnight, and when the last few patrons who’d decided to take tables cleared out, they hardly even left crumbs behind. That left Azhani alone in the bar with only her thoughts for company, at least until lunchtime proper came around. Of course, her thoughts right now weren’t the best friends – with no distractions, she found herself ever so slightly pressing her legs together and mentally berating herself: ‘That was a lot of tea, dumbass, of course this was going to happen’, and other such lovely mental notes. Rude though her mind may have been, it was right. She should have known better. Things were going to get very bad very quickly, and it was her damn fault. Azhani groaned, speaking a drawn-out swear in Ta’agra. It wasn’t too bad yet, at least, but just knowing she couldn’t do anything about it was already making it worse. Theoretically she could run upstairs, take care of herself, and be back down in five minutes or less, but both Keerava and the Dragonborn had put their trust in her to run the inn like a professional. And a professional wouldn’t run off and leave the bar unattended just because she had to take a leak. On the other hand, the place was totally empty, and there was very little chance of anyone save for the handful of regulars showing up, so odds were good she’d have plenty of time to sneak off. But what if someone did come in? She didn’t want to be responsible for turning away customers that thought the place was closed; or worse, her absence from behind the counter could very well mean anyone who came in would steal drinks or money and be out before Azhani knew they were even there. So, realistically, she had no options. She could only hope Bjorn would return in time – and for all she knew he and Lydia had already finished whatever they’d gone out to do, and the Dragonborn was just stalling for time because he wanted a nice show when he got back. The more she thought about that, the more it made sense, but he wouldn’t really do that, would he? ‘Sure, he’s an insufferable pervert,’ she thought, ‘but he’s not really a bad guy. He’ll be back and everything will be fine, I’m sure … I hope.’ For now, she needed a distraction, and she’d quite fortunately brought one with her. Taking her seat behind the bar, she picked up her book and flipped through it to find where she’d left off, pausing just for a moment on the very first page. This book, like the one she’d read on the way to and from the war meeting, was also apparently from the nascent Fourth Era – dedicated again to “K M”, with no other indication, as the Dragonborn said to expect. It still made just as much sense as it did last time – none – so Azhani quickly moved on to where she was, shuffling around a bit to forget why she needed the distraction, eventually getting comfortable enough to lose track of time… … until people started to come in and order drinks, meaning she had to pay attention to liquids again. For the most part it was a fairly easy task of simply handing out bottles and mugs, and glaring at Romlyn Dreth to silence him for once, but even so, the sounds of people pouring their own drinks from the bottles she’d given them weren’t doing her any favors. Azhani crossed her legs and draped her tail over her lap, hoping nobody would think anything of it while she tried to focus at least a little bit on her book. She was still well aware of the peculiar looks she was getting from people who came up to the bar, but it was more likely that they weren’t expecting a Khajiit to be serving them drinks – and not at all related to the fact that Azhani could just barely keep still, subconsciously and constantly jiggling one leg or twitching her tail. Couldn’t be that much longer. By now her book was essentially just a request not to talk to her – she’d been on the same page for who-knows-how-long, and it was obvious that she wasn’t even looking at it, focusing instead on the door and the people coming in and out. More accurately, on the occasional person. This was the Bee and Barb, after all. It was one of the better establishments in town, but that wasn’t saying much, and it still wasn’t terribly popular. But that didn’t much matter. Azhani wasn’t looking for customers; they’d just walk up to her anyways, and she’d tune in just enough to hear what they wanted, then try to tune back out again to save herself from the sounds. If she did everything right, she wouldn’t have to pay attention to them at that point, and she really didn’t want them to pay attention to her either. She’d managed to get her leg under control and stop it from bouncing, but her tail and ears were still twitching, ideally in a way that looked normal. Azhani had no idea how much time had passed by the time she finally tore her eyes away from the door. Staring at it wouldn’t do her any favors – though she’d definitely keep her ears focused on it. Instead, she lowered her eyes to her seat, pretending like she’d gone back to reading. The Khajiit’s lower belly was visibly rounded and she didn’t dare touch it, for if she was full enough to get her tiny frame to bulge then she was also full enough to lose it if that delicate system were to be disturbed. In theory, anyways, considering in reality her body wouldn’t allow her to release her waters somewhere she might be seen. For a moment she glanced over her shoulder at the little patch of floor that opened up to lead far below the ground to the dungeon under the basement, looking away again almost immediately. It was tempting, sure, but disappearing like that would be incredibly conspicuous, and that would be just as bad as being in public. So she just looked at her legs. They were locked together, constantly rubbing against each other, but if Azhani wanted to do more to help the pressure, that had to stop for a moment. She promised herself it would only be for a second, summoning with a quiet growl the strength to hold her legs still and spread them ever so slightly apart. Then she gingerly raised herself up off the barstool just far enough to fold her tail beneath her and pull it up between her legs, immediately dropping back to her seat and snapping her legs together again as soon as that was done. At any other time, Azhani would certainly have been bothered by the pain of her whole body weight resting on such a delicate instrument, but given her situation it was the more tolerable alternative. Azhani then slowly brought a hand down to grab her tail once she was sure nobody was paying attention, carefully pulling on it so that it could apply a little more pressure for just a little while – she’d have to let go eventually and dedicate both hands to her job, but what little her tail was doing for her made her feel a lot better. And of course it didn’t seem like even remotely long enough when she had to release her grip as someone she vaguely recognized as a regular ordered a new drink. Just her luck that it was something that wasn’t kept under the counter, so she’d need to go stand up to get. There was no way she’d be able to stand straight in her current condition – in fact, if not for the fact that she was in public, she was certain that she’d explode as soon as she got up – and she wouldn’t be able to move as slowly as she’d need to, but she had to try anyways. Once again she pried her legs apart and forced herself to her feet, leaning forward with her hands on the counter as the change of position caused a great surge of need to assault her, though only for a moment. When it passed, Azhani’s tail flew back to its normal position and she turned around as casually as possible, taking weak strides that would have looked like a human trying to emulate the way she walked normally – a comparison she’d only even been made aware of when her sister had teased her for her posture on their way through town after a long day out together, as if she hadn’t been waddling along herself. But why was she thinking about that? She really hoped the Dragonborn would get back soon; it was no good if she was desperate enough for it to mess with her head. At least she was still clear enough to know what she was looking for and where to find it. More excellent fortune for her that this particular drink was found in one of the lower cabinets. As sure as she was that her body wouldn’t let her break just yet, she really would have preferred not to tempt fate, but alas. It was the only way, so she forced herself into a squat as she pawed through the various bottles and tools in the cabinet to find what she needed. And though she tried to stay composed, her legs shook constantly again and her tail was absolutely furious. What Azhani really needed wasn’t in this cabinet, but right now she had to take things one step at a time. Get the booze and stand up again. She had to rid herself of that horrible feeling that her ocean of what once was tea was right on the border between in her body and in her pants, and for as long as she was in a squatting position her body would be trying to tell her that it was time to let loose. Perhaps the only real bit of good luck for Azhani was that it didn’t take long to locate the requested drink, and as soon as it was in hand she worked her way back up to a standing position, knocking the cabinet doors closed with a foot once she’d composed herself. Then she walked back to the bar with that same silly stride as before, setting the bottle down on the counter and leaning against it with one hand. The other pulled out a glass from one of the shelves below, and when that joined the bottle she was tempted to let that hand help out between her legs. But, no, this was one of those drinks where it was for whatever reason universally considered good form to never under any circumstances allow the guest to pour for themselves. Azhani didn’t really have much of a choice but to tear open the bottle in what was absolutely the incorrect manner, then subject herself to the deepest and foulest realm of Oblivion: pouring something into something else. Realm of the Daedric Prince of full bladders, of course. Sangiin, perhaps? Azhani tried very hard to not listen to what she was doing, but had to force herself to look directly at it to ensure it was done right. It was really only a few seconds she was standing there with her legs knotted and ears conspicuously flattened, and Azhani knew that, but refused to accept that it was anything short of an eternity before she got to slide the glass over. Her tail went right back between her legs as she prepared to sit down again, but she was distracted by the door opening. In came a very large, very loud man with his arms around a rather mundane-looking Nord lady. The man released his partner and waved her off in the direction of the stairs before quickly approaching the bar. The Dragonborn spoke quickly, starting to back away almost as soon as he came close enough for Azhani to hear. “Hey, do you think you’d be alright for another hour or two?” “Uh…” Technically, she’d be able to last until she broke something. She wasn’t near that point yet, so, sure, she could take another two hours. “Ah, well, I think s-” “Great, I’ll try not to take too long.” He didn’t let her finish his statement and was already headed to the stairs when she tried to respond. “W-wait, but I-“ But he was already gone, so Azhani just trailed off and muttered the rest to herself. “But I have to… nnn…” She straightened up and had her hands in tight fists at her sides. Her legs were inseparable and shaking as always while her tail was forced to keep down. People were looking at her, that much was certain, but perhaps they were merely brief looks of concern before they went back to their business. No doubt these people had seen Keerava in similar situations millions of times, no reason to act like this was any different. Staring wouldn’t accomplish anything anyways, and there was nothing any of them could do to help. Well, aside from all of them instantly leaving the bar so Azhani could run upstairs – or more likely to one of those washtubs in the kitchen area, at the rate things were going. And they just looked more and more appealing as time went on… When the present wave of desperation passed, Azhani threw herself into her seat again, back in that same position as before, legs locked together with her tail firmly between them. Nothing she could do now, and now she’d definitely attracted the attention of at least everyone at the bar proper. Preferring very much to not deal with whatever they’d say or think of her, she grabbed her book again to at least pretend to be distracted. At this point it wasn’t likely that distractions would even work anyways. The only thing she could think of was how badly she needed to pee and how she’d just missed her opportunity to deal with it. All she had to do was say “No”, just say she wouldn’t be able to wait, and she’d be upstairs by now. But then that wasn’t true, and even with the state she was in she couldn’t bring herself to lie to someone she tentatively considered something resembling a friend. It was likely only late afternoon, so Azhani was sure she’d waited much longer in the past – like that one instance in that one province with the big white tower that she didn’t want to think about – so there was no doubt that she could wait this time too. But of course, just because she could didn’t mean she should. Not like she had a choice, though, not with people around, but she really should have known better than to keep getting herself into these situations. She was twenty-two, for gods’ sakes, there was no excuse for the fact that it was easier for her to count the number of times it wasn’t her fault she either outright pissed herself or came close to it in the past three months. She could do it on one hand, even, which really only made it worse. And as much as she would have loved to blame the tea for being delicious and not herself for drinking way too much of it, this was definitely not going to increase that count. All that was left was to hope that the Dragonborn would be done with whatever he was doing before Azhani ended up in real pain. But if he was doing what she thought he was doing – and he was, surely; no way would he be that excited for anything else – there was no way to predict when that would be. Azhani shoved a hand to her mouth to suppress a groan while she leaned a little bit backwards. It was bad enough knowing she’d gotten herself into this situation. What made it worse was that this wasn’t something she could get herself out of. She had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and she couldn’t even rely on her body giving out on its own without doing real damage. Even as a kid she never felt so out of control, and that was when she lived under the Thalmor dictators. She didn’t have a choice, and she hated it. Nothing she could do but wait. Wait and give this guy a drink. Why did this guy ask her for a drink? Couldn’t he see she was not in the mood to deal with people right now? At least it was something simple, but even the little bit of leaning forward she’d have to do to reach under the counter felt like it added too much pressure. Pressure that wasn’t going to go anywhere – at least if she could wet herself just a little bit it’d be more tolerable, but that wasn’t about to happen, and her only hint of relief was when she sat back up again with a bottle in her hand and the extra pressure was gone, leaving behind the pressure of the entire Abecean Sea inside her. A marked improvement, truly. She slid the bottle over to whoever it was that had asked for it, and got money tossed onto the counter in return. At least she wouldn’t have to write anything down to keep a tab on this guy, but she’d still have to tolerate the sounds that came with being given a bottle of booze. This time she didn’t have to look at it, which helped quite a bit. Her gaze ended up directed downwards again – her legs were doing what they had been the whole time, except they’d gotten faster, and her little balloon seemed to have gotten just slightly bigger. Azhani lifted herself off the seat for just a moment, quickly swapping her tail for one of her hands, digging in as well as she could without actually shoving her hand down her pants. Come to think of it, there was a part of her now that wasn’t there before that was tempted by such an idea. She was very familiar with this part of herself – it was a regular visitor, and now that she thought about it, it had been about six months since the last time it made itself known. And if it was here again now… Just more trouble on the way for her. Great. That could be ignored for now, though. Her other hand hesitantly came to rest on her belly, just lightly enough to feel what was going on without disturbing anything. She couldn’t tell for sure without pressing on it – and there was no way that was going to happen – but it still seemed quite soft. Azhani let out a quiet mix of a whine and a growl. That meant there was still a good deal of room, so she could very well be kept waiting for a long time yet. More optimistically, it meant she wasn’t at her worst and would probably still be able to walk upstairs and look at least halfway normal if the Dragonborn came down soon. But he still wasn’t coming – at least, not… yeah, Azhani was in for some very familiar trouble soon if that was how her thoughts were going. That line of thinking wouldn’t do her any good anyways. She had to focus on waiting. The thing that she’d be doing whether she wanted to or not. She had to focus on it and find a way to make time seem to go faster. As it was she couldn’t tell if it had been an hour or five minutes since the Dragonborn and Lydia had returned – hopefully it wasn’t the latter. Azhani threw one leg over the other, crushing her hand between her thighs. Between that and her tail, she’d be quite sore in the morning… When she looked up again, she saw that there was nobody left at the counter. Money and some empty mugs or bottles, but no people. Leaning forward as far as she could without hurting herself, she looked over into the dining room. Quite a few people with drinks, and a handful had little plates of whatever food there was in the place that Azhani didn’t need to prepare herself. Looking off in the other direction, there wasn’t anyone hanging around by the door. Still in public, sure, but this was the best she was going to get if she had no idea how much longer she’d be expected to wait. Another look in all directions to confirm that at least the general area was clear, and Azhani got up carefully, now bent forwards a little to allow her hand to do what it had to. Then she turned around and quickly scanned the kitchen for anything appropriate. Or, more accurately, the closest container that nobody would have to drink out of later. There was a little wooden tub on the floor by one of the counters back there, probably what would have normally been used for dishwashing, but now it was empty. The Khajiit made her way over to it with that same silly walk as before, bending over with a groan once she reached it so that she could grab one end of it with her free hand. Dragging it back over to the bar took a bit longer than getting to it in the first place, but she eventually dropped it by the barstool she’d been abusing with her bouncing for however long. Then she sat down again, pulling the hand out from between her legs and instead grabbing her waistband with it. One last scan of the area to confirm that, yes, this counted as private, and her other hand joined in. In one slow motion she lifted herself off the stool and dragged her pants and underwear down to her knees, then sat down again and moved forward enough that she was pretty sure she’d get at least most of it into the tub on the floor. And then she shut her eyes, shoved a hand into her mouth to bite down on, and relaxed. There was a muffled moan into her hand as she felt the flood just about to break free, and then… “Hey.” Of course. Azhani very nearly jumped, sliding back to sit entirely on the stool, which now was also host to a tiny puddle made by the spurt that was supposed to go into the bucket. She forced herself to stand up and hastily get redressed as the Dragonborn approached. “You’re good to go,” he said. “I’ll take over from here for tonight.” There was a pause where neither of them said anything nor moved, so he spoke again. “You alright?” Azhani had no idea what to feel right now. For one, she wanted to claw his eyes out for interrupting her. But then she’d also been given the opportunity she’d been waiting for the whole time. The obvious response was to stutter for a little bit before saying anything. “Uhm,” she finally said. “no, yeah, fine, thanks. I’ll just… Mhm.” Then she shuffled her way out from behind the counter and rushed to the stairs as quickly as she could in her state. Her regular walking speed, though it felt like sprinting. The actual climb up the stairs hurt even more than the walk over to them, but then it was a clear shot to her room. Throwing herself at the door to open it with her shoulder, Azhani stumbled into her room and immediately stripped down again. All that was left was to squat down by her bed, reach underneath for… yes, there it was, right where it was supposed to be. With everything in position, there was no hesitation. Her stream started full-force immediately, and Azhani had to grab her muzzle with both hands to keep from crying out in ecstasy. And then she almost fell backwards, so one of those hands ended up supporting her from behind. Azhani closed her eyes and let out a suppressed moan that trailed off into a purr that didn’t end when the flood finally tapered off. Shaking herself to throw off any excess drops, Azhani stood up and stretched, looking down to see what would have to be dealt with. It was good that she stopped when she did – any more and that little pot would have spilled over. That definitely wasn’t normal for her, and as much as she hated to admit it, perhaps getting herself into terrible situations was actually working out well, in a really weird way that would probably turn on the Dragonborn and Keerava if they ever figured it out. She was still going to try to avoid getting into more trouble like that if she could, of course, but now she couldn’t deny that each time would help for future problems. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Uh, hey, take over, will you?” Lydia stood by the door and watched as the Dragonborn and that little Khajiit switched places at the bar – Azhani hopped on top of it and shuffled over to the far side while Bjorn simply walked around to get out, then headed over to Lydia. “Hey.” He was avoiding eye contact for some reason and motioned in the general direction of a nearby table. “Here, uh, why don’t you sit down?” Once they were seated, Lydia had to break the silence while Bjorn looked around aimlessly. “What, no drinks or anything?” She was joking, of course – a drink right now wouldn’t be the best of ideas considering she’d just finished a decent bit of travelling. Still, someone had to say something. “Uh, well, I could get you something…” The Dragonborn was now looking at Lydia, still not quite making eye contact, and cleared his throat. “Ah, but, no, I actually wanted to, uh… Eh, you know what, it’d be a lot easier if I just got right to the point, so…” He dug around in his pockets for a little while, and when his hand came back up he dropped a round wooden amulet with a familiar holy symbol carved into it onto the table. Lydia glanced at it and shot a suspicious look at the Dragonborn. “What is this?” “Oh, that’s an-“ “I know what it is,” Lydia said, leaning forward. “I meant what are you doing?” Bjorn waved a hand towards the amulet. “It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?” “Sure, but…” Lydia sighed and put a hand to her head. “What made you think I would go along with this? It’s gonna take you more than a piece of wood to get what you’re asking for here.” “I know, and I know I’ve been a complete ass the whole time I’ve known you-“ “Bit of an understatement there.” “-but at the same time you’re pretty much the only person who actually tolerates my bullshit for some reason other than not wanting to be Shouted to pieces. We’re in this together and you know it.” Lydia moved to say something, but paused, then shut up and nodded. “Alright, fine. But so far all you’ve used me for is carrying all the crap you don’t want to be bothered with. I don’t see any reason to believe that would change.” “Okay, first off, that’s exactly what you signed up for. Maybe not specifically with me, but with the Jarl, you knew what you were getting into. Second, you know by now that you have the option to not do things. Don’t go blaming me for your choices and the line of work you went into.” “Fair enough, but why should it be any different after… this…?” “Ah, well, because,” Bjorn said, holding up a finger as if stating irrefutable truth. “This situation we’re in now, it’s because someone else told you that you had to be here and do all this stuff. But this… this would be entirely up to you. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would get you to change your mind and decide, actually, no, you don’t want this.” He took a deep breath and continued slowly. “Look, ultimately, you’ve been the one consistent thing in my life since I got here. I am not gonna let that get away. I wouldn’t do anything that would make me lose you.” Then he looked down while Lydia sat in silence. She finally answered, speaking with a tone one would expect more from the Dragonborn than from her. “Okay, fine.” With a cheeky grin she added, “You’re not half bad anyways. I guess I could do a lot worse.” Then she held up her hands. “And I guess I did sort of willingly follow you to certain death a couple hundred times, so you must be doing something right. So, when are we going to…?” Bjorn perked up almost immediately. “Oh, well, we might be able to do a little something today, actually. Might have to wait a while but there’s some other stuff I’d like to take care of too, so we can get all that done. You just go put on something nice, I’ll come get you in a bit. Hey-“ He’d stopped talking to Lydia, so she gave a vaguely-affirmative shrug and headed upstairs, and when she got to her room she dumped her bag onto the floor, tossing whatever bits of armor she could easily remove down to join it. Then she turned to the little wardrobe in her room – more like a glorified box, but still – and looked through what little she had. “Something nice”? She didn’t exactly have formalwear, never having been expected to actually do anything requiring it before now, but quickly pawed through the handful of clothes arranged in the… whatever it qualified as. There weren’t terribly many options, so she just picked the one and only dress there, a simple little black thing, easy to move in, comfortable, but still looked good. This was laid out on the bed, and Lydia sat down next to it, fiddling around with the strings on her sides to remove her armor. When both pieces of it fell clattering to the floor, she kicked off her boots and worked her way out of all the requisite padding and everything under it, ending up more or less naked when everything was dealt with. Oh, sure some things still needed to be covered, at least for practical reasons, but it was close enough. And as she stood there in her underwear, she was reminded of the consequences of her travelling – something she should have dealt with outside of town, but had decided against doing due to her proximity. Well, here was the perfect opportunity, and yet… Perhaps she shouldn’t. It was, after all, well under control, if slightly annoying. But more than that, this was a special day… apparently. Sure, it was weird and a bit of a surprise to receive a marriage proposal practically immediately upon returning to town, but it was still special. So why not give him a pleasant surprise for afterwards? It took a couple of hours to actually get to the temple. The Dragonborn’s business included walking up to the blacksmith, handing over a little sheet of paper with his measurements on it, and demanding head-to-toe ebony armor – for the both of them. He’d dropped a large pouch of coins onto the counter when the smith tried to confirm that the Dragonborn knew what he was asking for and pointed out the difficulty of just acquiring the materials. The smith didn’t really have much of a choice at that point, but as he didn’t know Lydia’s dimensions, she spent at least a good hour there just being measured. Then it was just a matter of wandering around town doing small trades and the like – Bjorn had sold his knife to someone and hired a courier to go fetch a different one from all the way in Whiterun, paying the kid extra to ensure that this particular dagger be brought over with the greatest of care, in the special box it already would have been kept in anyways. Lydia had seen it in its case once or twice – strange-looking thing, it was. Hardly looked like a real blade, considering the business end of it seemed to be made of some sort of rock. But if the Dragonborn said it was a knife, then it was a knife. In any event, by the time they finally reached the temple after everything else was done, Lydia’s minor annoyance had become quite a bit more annoying. Tolerable, yes, but now it would be the center of attention if Lydia weren’t actively doing something else, and even then it’d still be an ever-present reminder of her situation. All for a good cause, though. Still, nobody ever said she had to pay attention to anything in spite of it, so she was only vaguely aware of what was going on at the temple. It was apparently empty, and she could hear the Dragonborn speaking with Maramal, who eventually hesitantly agreed to do a brief ceremony for them while nothing else was happening. That did take a few minutes to get everything set up, though, and in the meantime Lydia was shuffling around ever so slightly, just to have something to do. She did have to stop once everything was ready, now needing to stand as still as possible right next to Bjorn in front of the altar while Maramal droned on. If she were to be honest with herself, she wouldn’t have listened to a word he said anyways, but now at least she had some justification for it – it wasn’t quite bad yet, but she still did have to focus to avoid moving around subconsciously. She heard the Dragonborn say something, then Maramal said something else and waited. After a moment, Lydia felt something prodding her in the side – Bjorn had elbowed her to draw her attention back to the real world, where Maramal, among others, were looking at her expecting a response. Blushing, she said something to the effect of “yes”, then Maramal said something else, and before she could fully process what was going on Bjorn had pulled her in for a kiss. She put her arms around him and returned the gesture, then the two broke off after a minute. Bjorn handed over some money to Maramal as a “donation” to the temple, then grabbed Lydia by the arm and excitedly led her back to the inn. She was left waiting in Bjorn’s – no, their room for a moment while he said… something or other to Azhani. It wasn’t important. What was important was that Lydia was sitting on a bed with her dress and everything under it tossed off to the side of the room. It was cold, and she had her hand between her legs for… several reasons, actually, not the least of which was because if she moved that hand a little higher she’d feel the ever-so-slight distension of her lower abdomen that made visible her predicament. She could wait, though. Would be better for both of them if the Dragonborn had his fun with this. Lydia moved over to lie on her back, wiping her hand on the sheets. It was hard to ignore the pressure now, but at least this made it more bearable. Bjorn entered soon after, locking the door behind him, and Lydia shuffled around a bit, looking up at him silently. He looked her over as he worked his way out of his coat and the shirt beneath it, chuckling once he got to her midsection. “So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh? Hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.” Lydia responded with an innocent grin betrayed by her eyes. “I have no idea what it is you imply, master. I am but a poor…” She paused for a moment to consider how to replace the original line, but when she looked at Bjorn he was clearly trying to suppress laughter. “Ah, fuck it,” she said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea where this is going to go.” “Well, it’s not going to go anywhere if I have anything to say about it.” He stood over the bed, looking down, with his crossed arms just barely concealing the great scar across his chest that still seemed fresh. “Now then, let’s see here…” Bjorn leaned forward a little and laid one hand on Lydia’s bulge, applying just a little bit of pressure. “Ah…” Lydia’s legs came together as a response, then parted shortly after the pressure was removed. “Don’t do that.” “Don’t do what? This?” “A-aah!” Her legs twisted and she tried to sit up, but the Dragonborn’s other arm blocked her. “Hm…” He slowly removed his hands, allowing Lydia to grab at herself. “That’s not all that solid just yet, and if you’ve still got everything under control after that…” Bjorn looked at her with a wicked grin. “Then I don’t think it’s as bad yet as you’re pretending it is.” “Hmph.” Lydia only spoke once she’d recovered. “Are you going to just tease all night or what?” “Plenty of time, my sweet. Plenty of time.” Bjorn watched as Lydia rolled her eyes at his choice of quote. “Ah, but I suppose we could find a way to speed this up, hm?” Then he walked across the room to his bag of adventuring junk, digging through it until he pulled out a flask. He shook it and, apparently satisfied, brought it back over to Lydia and handed it to her. “Here, drink this.” Lydia sat up slowly and grabbed the flask, opening it and looking inside. It was still mostly full. “All of it?” “Well, not all at once, but a good bit of it right now, yeah.” He waited while Lydia looked between him and the drink, then spoke again when he felt he’d waited enough. “Unless, of course, you wanna quit.” Looking between the flask and her new husband one last time, Lydia raised the flask as if in a toast, then chugged a significant portion of it with her other hand raised in a world-famous one-fingered gesture. And of course she immediately regretted her decision – not the latter part, which seemed to amuse Bjorn more than anything else. Oh, no, the problem here was that she’d decided to drink what she’d been given, and not only was it alcoholic but it also seemed to be going directly where it was least welcome. Fantastic combination, really… for the other person in the room. Even so, she probably would have downed it all just to prove a point, if not for the sudden surge that caused her to stiffen, throwing her free hand between her legs and forcing the flask away from her mouth. The lower hand felt warm and wet almost instantly, and Lydia’s leg twitched as she felt another leak about to break free. So she pressed harder, though evidently not enough to keep a new burst of warmth away from her hand. “What, already?” The Dragonborn had clearly meant it as a joke, but the touch of disappointment in his voice was real. “Sure hope you didn’t mess up these really nice sheets I’ve got here…” Lydia blushed as she looked back at the flask, handing it off to Bjorn again. “So this is how we’re spending the night, huh?” “Feh, maybe an hour if you’re lucky, am I right?” Bjorn gave a crooked smirk as Lydia worked her way into lying down again. “And in any case I probably should deal with that… situation downstairs, so I wouldn’t be able to spend too long messing around up here anyways…” “You’re seriously still – aah-“ Lydia knotted her legs and took a moment to recover from a sudden urge. “S-still chasing after the cat? Really?” The Dragonborn leaned in close enough for Lydia to feel the heat of his breath as he spoke. “Oh, now why would I do something like that when I’ve got you right here, hm? And, anyways,” he added, straightening up again, “it’s not like it was ever going to get serious. Doesn’t mean I can’t have a bit of fun with the shit she gets herself into. For now, though… I’m not sure that’s where your hands are supposed to be.” “Yeah, well, that’s where they’re staying.” “Mm, is that so? Didn’t think a such a strong lady would ever need to use her hands.” He ran a hand down one of her arms, stopping at and lightly grabbing her wrist. “And, besides, you’ve still got to finish that drink you started, so I know it can’t be that bad yet.” Lydia shook her head fervently. “Nope, nope, that’s- that’s not happening.” “What a shame.” Bjorn’s grip on Lydia’s arm tightened and with his other arm he grabbed her free hand the same way. “Still, you know I’m gonna need these out of the way.” He encountered no resistance moving her arms to her chest – though when her hands left the precious area they were guarding, she pressed her legs together even tighter. His own hands wandered ever so slightly as he sat down next to her. “Y’know, that armor doesn’t really do these justice…” Lydia’s only response was a slight moan as the Dragonborn did his work, slowly shifting his hands lower until they found something else interesting. “Hm, this seems to have progressed nicely… But just to be sure…” He pressed on what he’d found, only to be greeted with a gasp from Lydia and a quiet pattering sound behind him for a second. Fortunately for her, the pressure was gone in an instant, but only because the Dragonborn had brought that same hand back up to block her own. “Aah… I don’t think I can-“ “Shh. Not much longer for you, but…” The Dragonborn slipped out of his dress pants and positioned himself near Lydia’s legs almost in one motion. “You’re gonna have to move these.” Lydia sat up just enough to look down at him. “B-but if I do that, I’ll-“ “I thought that was the point, hm? Or are you just too stubborn to give up now? Ah, but don’t worry-“ Bjorn grabbed her legs and gently set about trying to untie them. “I’ll help you if you need it, but you gotta get your legs out of the way first.” “Nnn… Fine,” Lydia said, dropping back down to lie flat and surrendering her legs to the Dragonborn’s guidance. As soon as what little pressure they were applying disappeared, it was replaced with his hand – though it was hardly any help considering where his fingers were going. “Aah… Careful…” “What, still not going to give up?” He shifted his hand to reduce the pressure on the outside, keeping up his work on the inside. The response was a brief jet soaking his hand and a groan from Lydia. “Guess not. I’ll just have to try harder.” He brought his free hand up and used it to press long and hard on her bulge – but even so the resulting stream only lasted three seconds at best before Lydia’s willpower took over again. “Gods…” Lydia groaned as she fought to take back some control beyond just the few muscles below, though the Dragonborn blocked any attempt at external intervention. “Y-you’ll have to do better than that to get what you want.” Bjorn removed his other hand, eliciting a slight gasp from Lydia, and leaned forward. “We’ll see about that.” Then he worked both arms under Lydia and picked her up, rolling the both of them over so that she was on top. “What are you do- aaah!” The Dragonborn had pressed her close, holding her tight and letting her own body weight do the work for him. And it seemed his plan had worked, for there was a brief spurt that was followed by a steady, if weak, trickle. “Nn-haah…” Lydia’s head found its way to Bjorn’s shoulder, and her hands were firmly attached to his arms. “Isn’t that better,” he whispered. “I’m sure you can imagine how good it would be if you just gave in completely.” Lydia gave a weak struggle in the Dragonborn’s vice grip, still slowly and unwillingly relieving herself onto him. She sighed when she realized she’d already lost her little fight, and surrendered herself to what was already happening anyways. Pressing her face close to the Dragonborn’s neck, Lydia let out a muffled groan as she gave up her last scraps of control. The little trickle soon turned into a stream and then a torrent. And then there was a Dragon inside her.
  5. “I really don’t want to hear what Valen Dreth would have done.” The Dragonborn waved a piece of bacon across the counter. “I’m sure it’s something asinine like half of the other shit you say he did.” Romlyn Dreth held up a finger as he took a spoonful of oatmeal. “Ah, well,” he said when the spoon returned to the bowl. “How would you know if you won’t listen, eh?” “Sure, but, how about I tell you a story for once instead?” Bjorn tapped his free hand on the bar. “I’ve got all of Keerava’s records back here, I bet I can tell you the story of all the money you owe her.” He held another piece of bacon in his mouth momentarily and pulled out a small stack of books from his side of the bar. “Better yet, I could tell you the story of how all the money I owe her for room and board ended up on your tab instead.” “You wouldn’t.” Romlyn shot a dirty look across the bar and went back to eating. The Dragonborn just shrugged. “Nah, you’re right.” Flipping through one of the books, he continued. “Though, while I’ve got you here… Ah, here we are, ‘Motherfucking Romlyn Fucking Dreth’ – mm, she likes you, eh? Aaaaaand that’ll be two hund-“ “YOU KNOW WHAT I JUST REMEMBERED I HAVE A JOB.” Romlyn suddenly shot up and yelled extremely quickly. “I’m going to go do that now goodbye thank you such a shame you can’t tell me more about that debt right now…” He spoke as he backed away to the door, and kept talking even on his way out, but whatever he was saying trailed off into incomprehensible muttering by the time he was in the street. At the same time, Azhani came downstairs, just in time to see Romlyn run out the door. She made her way over to the counter, rubbing her eyes. “What was that about?” “Eh, just Romlyn Dreth things,” Bjorn said, dragging his plate to a more convenient location – which, of course, Azhani promptly sat directly in front of. “Looks like you slept well. Figure you’d be ready to try magic again today?” Azhani licked her hand and ran it through her hair, which she hadn’t yet bothered to braid like she normally would. “Maybe something that isn’t going to explode in my face every time I try it.” “Hey, that last one was almost not an explosion.” He took a sip of the drink he’d prepared himself, tried not to react to the bitterness, and went on speaking. “But, no, there’s plenty of other stuff for you to learn. Even other kinds of magic, but I’m pretty sure the only kind that can’t explode is the kind where you can accidentally summon a Daedroth that destroys the entire town instead.” He drank some more and stuffed some bacon into his mouth right after. “S’I’guess tha’s worse’n ‘splodin’.” “Uh yeah maybe let’s not do that.” Azhani grabbed herself a handful of bacon, then turned her attention to Bjorn’s drink. “What is that? Smells familiar.” Bjorn lifted his mug and shrugged. “What, this? I think it’s Argonian coffee or something. Way stronger than any of the stuff I’ve known to come out of southern Nibenay, anyways. I wonder how they can afford stuff like this.” Azhani simply put her elbow on the bar, held out her hand, and made a beckoning motion, and Bjorn slid the mug over to her. She picked it up, sniffed at it for a bit, then repeatedly dipped her tongue into it. “Okay, I don’t know what humans think coffee is but if you think this is strong, you clearly have never seen the real thing.” She handed the mug back to Bjorn, who set it aside. “It is a bit different than traditional Khajiiti stuff, though – I guess Argonians have different taste.” Bjorn leaned forward onto the bar, careful not to let his body touch the counter. “Weren’t you a kid when you left? I find it hard to believe a little girl would drink enough coffee to know quality, much less be able to tell the difference between stuff grown in Elsweyr and Black Marsh just by taste.” “Well, not when I lived in Anequina, no, but the Baandari would always have some, and they always brought it from home. And of course whenever I had any it would be theirs.” Azhani shrugged. “I never did get as attached to it as they did, though, because I never needed to stay awake like they do.” “And then drinking enough to stay awake would just cause more problems, eh?” Bjorn chuckled, and Azhani glared at him. “Don’t go there,” she said. “Heh. Sorry.” The Dragonborn grimaced as he drank more of his coffee. “Gah. A-anyways, been meaning to ask… What’s up with the way you speak now? It’s, eh, more… human now, I guess.” “Hm? Oh, you mean the ‘this one’ thing? That’s… that’s a cultural thing. We don’t really… have the same kind of pronouns in Ta’agra as you do, so our «this one»-“ Azhani made quotes with her fingers, saying the phrase first in her native tongue then repeating it in Cyrodiilic. “- is… I guess you’d call it formal? For people you don’t know, or you need to impress. The rest is more personal, for friends.” “So, what, am I your friend now? I thought I you were still treating me like some crazy pervert.” “Hey, I never said you weren’t. But I mean, I did kind of watch you almost get yourself killed, so that builds trust a little bit, no?” “I guess so.” Bjorn leaned back as far as he could, reaching out behind him with his staff for more support. “And, uh, maybe not a good time to mention it but you… probably shouldn’t be leaning on the bar like that.” Azhani looked down without a word, then after a second straightened up, pulling her shirt collar up to her neck. “Though, I guess there’s not a whole lot to see there anyways…” The Dragonborn’s thoughts trailed off and turned into frantic stuttering as Azhani glared at him with a hand on her chest and a look on her face like he’d just killed her entire family. “Wait, no, I didn’t- that’s not- I meant- they- you don’t- but- the- ah, shit. I fucked up, didn’t I?” “Uh, yeah, you did.” Azhani sighed, then got up and started for the stairs. “Right, so, uh, I’m going to go… change into something better.” She wasn’t quite sure why she’d said that – she’d truly intended to wear what she’d come downstairs in, since she always wore an apron that would make it harder to tell she was wearing rags underneath. She couldn’t even remember if she had other clothes, since for most of her life even a second pair of pants would have been considered a luxury. Unfortunate, considering that same part of her life was when hauling around a second pair of pants would have made things significantly easier. Of course, if Azhani’s current living conditions were any indication of what would have happened had she had such a convenience, she wouldn’t have known what to do with extra pants. The first thing she saw on returning to her room, after all, was a variety of pieces of what few outfits she had strewn about the room essentially at random. The room had a dresser in it as a matter of course but considering she’d never had any reason to use one before, she’d just end up forgetting anything she left there and be right back at square one. Naturally, Azhani’s traditional rags joined the mess, ending up thrown in the general direction of the bed while the Khajiit seated herself on a stool facing a little mirror on the wall. While ostensibly there to get her hair in order, she couldn’t help but bring a hand to her chest, pushing up on her breasts one at a time and frowning at her reflection. Sure, Azhani had never needed to use support or anything, but they weren’t really that small. That’s what she’d keep telling herself anyways, even through the years where there were far more important things to worry about. Even so, for all her attempts to convince herself she didn’t care, it still kinda hurt to have someone joke about them. A joke in bad taste wasn’t about to kill her good mood, though. She had a job and a place to live, after all. And as she got up from the stool with her hair properly tied up, she found several pieces of a simple outfit she wouldn’t even have if not for Keerava’s generosity. With a very lenient definition of “generosity”, anyways, considering Keerava probably wouldn’t have even offered the arrangement if not for the fact that it was apparently very easy for her to get her kicks out of her Khajiiti tenant’s… misadventures, but it was better than nothing. Though, Azhani did feel a little strange knowing that her situation was, albeit indirectly, being used for someone else’s sexual pleasure again. At least she wasn’t expected to do anything in that regard anymore. And, really, she was barely expected to do anything to cover the actual business arrangement. Keerava and Talen normally covered all the necessary work well enough on their own, and even though they were away, Azhani would no doubt still be doing very little with the help of a legendary super-human like Bjorn, injured though he was. Assuming, of course, he didn’t decide to sit on the sidelines and let Azhani work constantly all day so that he could be entertained just the same as Keerava would be. With any luck he’d be smart enough to know better than to try that on someone with claws. A wet cat is a very dangerous thing indeed. He wouldn’t be getting that opportunity, unfortunately. Not today, anyways. After throwing on whatever it was she’d picked up off the floor, Azhani went back downstairs and up to the bar, where the Dragonborn was clearing dishes and wiping down counters. All with one arm, even, as the other was still occupied by the staff he was leaning into. “Hey,” she called out to him. “Would you be alright alone today?” Bjorn turned to look at her and shrugged. “Eh. Probably won’t be that hard, doesn’t seem like there’ll be much noise.” He put his staff in front of himself and leaned forward onto it, one foot slightly off the ground to make up for it. “Why, going somewhere?” “Just around town. Probably won’t get a chance when Keerava gets back.” “Yeah somehow I can’t imagine she’d want to let you out of her sight.” The Dragonborn coughed then went on. “Anyways, you’re not planning on going outside of town or anything, are you? Really shouldn’t do that without, like, a knife or something.” “No, wasn’t going to leave town. There some specific reason I shouldn’t or…?” “What, other than the dragons? Just the usual bandits and wild animals. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about getting mugged but the Rift, eh… reminds me of Bravil. And you’re pretty much the ideal target for a bandit. A woman, unarmed, with a nice ass, in some shady backwater part of the country is a very easy mark.” Bjorn coughed again, moving his staff back to his side for proper support. “Wait, what was that after unarmed?” “Nothing.” “Uh huh.” Azhani raised an eyebrow but didn’t press the issue further. “Well, no, I’m not going to leave town, but I do have money-“ She tapped the pouch at her side, mostly to assure herself that she hadn’t forgotten her coinpurse again. “-so why not go out and see what people are selling?” Bjorn just nodded along and shrugged. “Yeah, alright, you have fun then. I should be fine here, nobody’s going to try anything when they see who’s in charge today. I might even be able to scare some of them into paying off what they owe.” He chuckled for just a moment, having stopped abruptly and put a hand across his chest. “Ah… They don’t need to know I still can’t Shout just yet.” “Don’t anger the dragon, right?” Azhani twitched her nose as if silently enjoying her own joke. “Eh, anyways, I should be back by sunset. If you scare all the customers away by then and Keerava blames me for it, I’m going to kill you.” “Sure, that sounds fair to me.” The Dragonborn gave a two-fingered salute with his free hand while Azhani just rolled her eyes and headed for the door. “I’ll be sure to only scare Romlyn away.” Azhani’s only response was a little wave as she left, and when the door closed behind her she took a moment to just stand there. She looked out at the little bit of town she could see from in front of the inn, admiring the sun’s early glow reflected in the canals and the lake, and feeling the crisp morning breeze run through her fur. It was going to be a good day. Or, Azhani hoped it would be. That other feeling that was just making itself known, though very faintly, wasn’t a concern. Must have just been the cold. Indeed it was, as the slight twinge had faded away entirely once Azhani stepped into a well-insulated store – a shoemaker’s shop, more specifically, as Skyrim’s ground was decidedly hostile to bare feet, especially sensitive Khajiiti pads. How did she ever get by before? At best she’d have her feet wrapped up in crude bandages for a modicum of protection. That may have worked in the sands and savannahs of Anequina but the rugged terrain of the far north meant she needed something better. There was the light tinkling of quaint little chimes overhead as Azhani entered, and she was immediately greeted by the man behind the counter before she’d even crossed the floor. “Mornin’, miss. What can I do for ya?” He wiped his hands on a towel slung over his shoulder, then crossed his arms. Azhani hesitantly approached the counter, looking back at her own feet and grabbing at the pouch on her belt to feel its weight. “Yeah, uh, this one needs… eh, unusual shoes. What would it take to have a pair made?” The shopkeeper leaned forward slightly and looked down at the floor, where one of Azhani’s feet was idly pawing at the ground. “Well, can’t say I’ve ever worked with someone like you before. Had a few Khajiit in, of course, but they were all… uh, normal. No offense.” He moved on when Azhani just shrugged at him. “Anyways, I’ve got no idea what it’d cost. How high up your leg you gonna need ‘em?” Azhani took a step back and turned slightly to give the shopkeeper a better view of her leg. “Half way to the knee, yes? So, right about here.” Then she bent over and indicated with her hand a space between her knee and her ankle, presumably because a human wouldn’t be able to tell one joint from the other. “Uh huh.” The cobbler stroked his chin for a while. “Hm, I suppose I could have it done in a few days, if you just stick around here for a little while so I can get proper measurements. Or, if it doesn’t get too busy – and it never does, people around here will hold onto their shoes ‘til they turn to dust – I could be done by closing tonight, but you’d have to stay here the whole time, and that’s a good… twelve hours. Probably would be cheaper for both of us that way since I could be more precise with how much stuff I’m using, but it’s up to you if sitting around here all day is worth it.” “Would it be alright if this one had measurements taken now, then she could come back later for all the rest?” “Sure,” was the response as the shopkeeper produced a tape measure and perhaps far more paper than necessary. “It’ll take an hour or two to figure out what in Oblivion I’m supposed to be doing anyways. Just, uh, sit down right over there-“ He gestured to a bench off to the side, and followed Azhani over to it as the Khajiit took a seat. Azhani shuffled around a bit while the shopkeeper did his work – he was being very professional, sure, but she was glad he wouldn’t be doing anything higher up all the same. Even given the limited area he was working with, though, she was still uncomfortable. She never let anyone touch her legs – only her sister, and only to wrap them for long journeys. Considering this man was most certainly not a Khajiiti lady, Azhani really would have preferred to not be in such a situation. It was a necessary evil. Thus she sat there in silence, and after far too many awkward minutes, she was able to get up and leave. She gave a curt nod to the shopkeeper, who said something in response that Azhani didn’t hear in her hurry to go do something else. It was still cold when Azhani stepped outside again, though the sun had risen to a more respectable height. The Khajiit looked around for a moment, bringing her arms and legs closer together for a little bit of warmth, and eventually decided on heading in the general direction of the important-looking buildings over by the city wall. There weren’t very many people out just yet, but Azhani still made sure to weave her way around the few that were in the streets, still using her old techniques for passing unnoticed through a crowd. Of course, given there was hardly a crowd at all to begin with, Azhani just ended up disorienting herself. She took a moment to figure out what she was looking at. Seemed like some sort of temple, or at the very least some incredibly rich person’s massive house. What a silly idea. Nobody in Riften could afford something like that. Except maybe the thieves, but Azhani knew from experience they wouldn’t flaunt their wealth like that. Plus there were banners outside that had what was probably a religious symbol on them, and these people didn’t exactly seem like they’d be that fanatical. Azhani shrugged to herself and headed towards the temple – no doubt she could learn something, and she’d never actually been inside a temple dedicated to the proper Imperial Divines before. Sure, there had been plenty of Khajiiti temples with shrines to similar gods in her youth, but they were always overshadowed by the Moons. Humans didn’t seem to be all that big on ritual either, she realized upon entering, as there didn’t seem to be much of note inside the temple other than a massive statue to some god and a lot of benches. She could remember the occasional sermon by the Moon Priests, but nothing was ever so formal as this – seemed like the entire purpose of these temples was to come in, sit down, and listen to someone talk for a few hours. Silly human traditions. Sad, too, because Azhani knew that humans would get utterly wasted on moon sugar, so they’d never get to experience its proper spiritual – and delicious – effects. She was shaken from her thoughts by a voice – a Redguard in simple robes was talking to her. “Help you with anything?” “Uh, yeah, actually. Two things. First, is there any kind of magic you could teach someone?” “You want to learn magic?” The priest gave her a weird look for a second. “Uh, well, I couldn’t tell you any better than the absolute basics. And aren’t you the Dragonborn’s friend? He’s probably your best bet for miles.” “Yeah, that’s what this one thought.” Azhani shook her head. “And, uh, you can explain the gods here, yes?” “Of course, that’s my job.” The priest turned to sit on one of the benches, no doubt preparing some immense speech. “Well, first off I don’t know much about Nordic tradition – I mostly know the Imperial pantheon. ‘Course, they’ve still got the Eight up here. Or, I guess pretty soon it’ll be the Nine again won’t it?” The priest was thinking with his hands, pointing in various directions at absolutely nothing. “Anyways, everyone’s got the same basic Eight, I’m sure you know them under slightly different names.” He threw up his hands for a bit. “Now, I’m not going to pretend I know anything about how religion in Elsweyr works so I won’t even try to tell you how your names for gods translate to the Imperial names, but they’re the same gods in the end. Discounting, of course, all the extra ones beyond the Eight that your people have.” The priest started stroking his chin, ignoring Azhani’s glare – he was right to assume she was raised on the old pantheon of course, but that was still mildly racist. Plenty of Khajiit were being brought up on Auri-El instead of Alkosh, after all. “Anyways, the Nords have the Eight, and Talos, then… well, there’s Alduin, as much as I’m sure we’d all prefer that he weren’t a god. Then there’s Shor. I’m not exactly sure what he is, but I think he’s supposed to be some heroic warrior-god who fought for humanity. Far as I know they say he’s dead now.” Azhani shuffled around a little bit. She recognized the concept of a dead god – a Missing God back home – but she was always taught that he was an evil trickster. “There are Tsun and Stuhn, but I think they’re just versions of some of the Eight. Then there’s also Herma-Mora and Orkey. Orkey’s a villain like Alduin, I think. You’d have to ask someone more knowledgeable about him. I know Herma-Mora is just the Daedra Lord, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of him.” “Is that it? What about Azurah, or Y’ffer?” The priest raised an eyebrow at Azhani. “I don’t know anything about Y’ffer. I would assume it’s the same thing as Y’ffre, like the wood elves have. Empire doesn’t have a version of him, I don’t think. And, well, Azura’s a Daedra.” He crossed his arms. “Elsewhere in th- er, in the Empire, Daedra worship is… eh, it’s around, but to say it’s frowned upon is a bit of an understatement.” Then he hastily added, “Not that anyone would judge you for it, of course, as long as you keep everything clean. Uh, Azura’s normally considered one of the more acceptable ones anyways.” Azhani crossed her arms. “Uh huh. Oh, and, uh, one more thing. Where could this one get something to help keep track of what month it is?” “I suppose any bookstore would sell you a calendar.” The priest shrugged. “Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that wasn’t obvious. But then, plenty of people think star charts are obvious.” “Our ‘months’ go by what phase the moons are in.” This guy was either incredibly socially inept or a closeted racist – sure he’d tried to save face, but still. Azhani wouldn’t have been surprised if it were the latter, considering Skyrim’s general isolation from anything not human. “We don’t really have names for any of those time periods beyond just describing what the moons look like.” “Fair enough. If that’s all, I’m going to get back to work. You’re more than welcome to come back if you like, even if it’s just to be somewhere quiet for a while.” He stood up and waved, and Azhani gave an awkward little wave in return as she left. A while later, perhaps a couple of hours, Azhani found herself wandering back to the shoe store. She’d found a place selling calendars and picked one up, but almost immediately regretted making the purchase once she realized not knowing what month or day it even was to begin with meant the whole thing was useless. Perhaps she’d have to ask Bjorn about it, since it would be useful being able to keep track of time like a human. It’d also help if she could track the passage of hours in a way that didn’t rely on her fluid intake – she’d be fine for a while yet, since she’d only just dealt with her annoying internal clock by finding a quiet place behind the temple, but she’d feel a lot better if her body sending warning signals wasn’t the only way to know that six hours had passed. At least for right now it was a good enough system – she’d be in one place for who-knows-how-long, probably expected to either not leave or not go far, so it was good that she’d be going into it fresh. In any case, upon entering the store she went silently to the same bench she’d been seated at that morning. The shopkeeper took notice soon enough and approached with what was perhaps far too much leather and a good deal of peculiar tools – doubtless everyday objects to him, but aside from a few needles, knives, and shears, Azhani recognized nothing. Measuring tools, perhaps. The shopkeeper tried to engage in conversation while he worked, but Azhani either ignored him or gave the absolute minimum responses, so he eventually stopped talking. It was weird enough having someone working with her feet, she really didn’t need them to talk to her too. She was too tired for a conversation anyways. She couldn’t tell if that was because she’d been out since morning, or because she still hadn’t gotten used to getting proper amounts of sleep and her body was trying to force her to make up for ten restless years. Perhaps both. It didn’t really matter why anyways. As uncomfortable as the situation was, Azhani still found herself drifting off to the sounds of shears working leather, only to be suddenly awoken by something poking her shoulder. It felt like no time had passed at all, but her slurred response and the lack of other noise proved it had been a few hours. «Uhrrr… Nari? What are you doing…?» She couldn’t even remember any dreams, but clearly she had been pulled out of one, and it took her a while to readjust to the real world. And then she almost jumped off the bench before remembering where she was and why. Then she was awake enough to register that she wasn’t alone, and she was pretty sure she’d just said something. Something this man would have heard. “You, uh, you heard that didn’t you?” The shopkeeper nodded, having returned behind his counter after presumably prodding Azhani to awaken her. “Yeah, you’ve been talking in your sleep for a few hours. It all just kinda sounded like cat noises to me though. No offense.” He looked over at Azhani only briefly, now intently focused on his work, trying and failing to get a sole properly nailed to the shoes he’d made. “Didn’t really want to wake you anyways, but I’m almost done here…” He managed to get one of the shoes at the perfect angle and everything fell into place, but he still had to figure out the puzzle of the other one. “And, y’know, I’d quite like to get paid.” Azhani rolled her eyes and stretched. “Mmm. Of course you would. How much?” She stood up and headed for the counter, a hand reaching for the pouch on her belt, though her weight having shifted meant something deep within her body was calling out to her. As if she needed any more evidence that she’d been there for several hours already. “Let’s say… sixty-five, for the pair?” The shopkeeper seemed to be bending in impossible directions to get the second shoe to assemble properly. “Sixty-five, you say?” Azhani looked through her coinpurse for a little while, subtly pressing her legs together, then just dropped the entire purse onto the counter. “This one has fifty.” “Eh, fifty works too.” There was a shrug from behind the counter as the last shoe come together, then the pair was dropped onto the counter next to Azhani’s coinpurse. “There. If those don’t fit, then someone came in and used magic on them, because I made them perfect. Or, as close to as I can get for a first time with that shape.” Azhani grabbed her new shoes from the counter and held them out in front of her. They looked almost like those weird high-heeled contraptions she’d seen on the rich elves and nobles in the Imperial City. “Pompous bitch” was the best way she was able to describe that sort of person in her youth and as far as she was concerned it was still the best way to describe what her shoes reminded her of. It was a reasonable comparison, of course. Seemed like the point of those monstrosities was to have a woman walk mainly on her toes and have the rest of her foot supported by a spike. Azhani always thought it was humorous that they’d want to emulate her walk, couldn’t even do that right, then would go on for hours about how the Khajiiti beggar in the corner had done everything in life wrong. Now here was Azhani with shoes made specifically for someone who already did walk on her toes. And these were simple and functional, not some ostentatious mess built purely for the sake of whatever the current year’s Imperial fashion was to be. No, these shoes merely had simple laces up the sides, steel caps over the toes, and were made of good thick leather. They’d do exactly what she needed them to. They fit well enough, too, which was to be expected of something that necessitated sitting around for who-knows-how-long. Of course, a high-quality product was not the only result of that time spent, and bending down to put them on made sure Azhani was well aware of that. She gave a little nod to the shopkeeper before leaving, taking a moment to look around right outside the shop’s door. It was quite a bit warmer than it had been earlier, and it seemed like it’d be sunset soon – still bright and warm, but people filled the streets and their shadows were getting longer. Very good for Azhani, as there were still some places she’d been meaning to see and she had every intention of returning to the inn by sunset as promised. That, and she had to deal with her own personal problems, and if she went back to the inn to do that she wouldn’t want to leave again. Azhani’s current plan, then, consisted of wandering around in the general direction of the places she’d been meaning to visit and keeping an eye out for quiet, isolated alleys or some other such place. That was a bit of a skill of hers, as much as she’d rather not call it one. Years living on the streets had taught her how to identify from miles away quiet places wherein she could do her business in peace. As it turned out, those skills weren’t very applicable in Riften. Now that people were actually out doing things, there was a considerable lack of quiet space in town. It seemed as if the back alleys in Riften were all designed for criminal undertakings – which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be very surprising for the home of the Thieves Guild. On that note, perhaps the original idea wasn’t exactly ideal either. The flaws in a plan that consisted of hiding out in a confined space with one exit while being very much exposed were quite obvious. No, perhaps the best option would be to leave town. Only a little bit, enough to find some bush or something. And so she found her feet carrying her to the nearest exit, the south gate. Every so often she’d look over her shoulder, the sound of her own footsteps on the cobbled roads so completely foreign that she was sure someone was following her. That wouldn’t have been all that much of a problem if not for the fact that the possibility of being followed – even if she’d repeatedly confirmed that was not actually the case – would very much throw off her plans. And, if she was honest with herself, it was making her condition worse, her need increasing by mere virtue of the possibility that she would be denied. It would be alright if she could just get out of town, though, she’d keep telling herself. That was all she needed to do. Didn’t need to go far. She could probably even find a nice spot against the city wall if she really wanted to. The closer she got to the city gate, though, the more Azhani thought the world had found yet another way to make one of her plans go completely wrong. The guards looked to be acting a little strange from a distance, but at first she’d just figured they’d been standing there all day. In their shaking she saw a bit of herself. Alas, it wouldn’t be that simple. It couldn’t be, because the world seemed to love messing with Azhani. It turned out the guards each had a hand on their swords, and were looking at each other and back out down the road. One of them jumped when Azhani came up from behind, but then immediately resumed looking at whatever had frightened them so. Azhani needed only look around the guard to see what the problem was. A little way down the road, there was what seemed to be a large snake stretched out, twitching slightly every so often. Looking just to the right, towards the river, revealed that it was actually the tail of something much worse. Oh, sure, the dragon wasn’t doing anything – seemed to just be drinking – and it wasn’t all that large, for a dragon, but it was still there. Right next to a town. It had to have some reason to have been there specifically, and whatever that reason was it couldn’t be good. They were only a minimal concern, but it wasn’t good for Azhani’s pants either. The little warm patch that had just appeared didn’t bode well, especially since both of Azhani’s plans were now out the window, and there was little chance she’d be able to get back to the inn on time – not that she’d want to show up there in her present state anyways. No doubt the Dragonborn would have devised some way to complicate things for her. No, that wasn’t an option. But perhaps she still had a chance of sneaking out of town and into the woods, where hopefully the dragon wouldn’t see her? Well, the dragon itself defeated that plan fairly quickly. Still it wasn’t doing much, all it had done was stretch its wings and look over to the city gate, but even so, it knew Azhani was there, and it meant there was no way for her to leave town now. So she did the only thing she knew she could do and ran off, plowing through more than a few people who had gathered to see what was happening. Azhani wasn’t sure where she was going, but she now had the strangest feeling that whatever could happen to her inside the city walls was much better than what the dragon could do. She found herself rounding a corner into the one alley she’d seen that didn’t have anyone in it, and pressed her back against one of the walls. The warmth had replenished itself and spread, and it seemed to only be getting warmer. Naturally, that just sent Azhani into even more of a panic, and she started trying to claw her way out of the belt she’d been wearing while the wall she was leaning on grew darker. She eventually managed to get it undone, but by then it was too late for her and she slid down to the ground. The only effort on her part was to move her legs to make sure her new shoes would be spared from the flood she’d surrendered herself to. It was actually a bit of a disappointing flood, especially considering Azhani now just wanted it to be over as soon as possible – she was still in panic mode, heart racing and breathing fast and shallow, so the best she could do was a weak, slow stream that warmed her own rear more than it stained the ground. Azhani could only sit there for the several minutes it would take to finish, occasionally pawing at herself as if she still had some hope of stopping. Only a trickle made its way through the fabric of her pants and out onto the street, so the puddle was mediocre and nowhere near a threat to her shoes, so her legs came closer to the rest of her body until she could grab at her knees. Her head was tipped upwards, resting against the wall and watching the light fade from the sky. Only now did she realize what had been happening earlier and why the wall was warmer than anything outside in Skyrim had any right to be, but there wasn’t anything to be done about that anymore. When she finally finished and stood up, her pants nearly pulled themselves off with the weight of her waters, but she kept a hold on them and was subjected to another minute of waiting for them to stop dripping. That managed to create streams down her legs, finally allowing her to experience a sensation she never imagined she’d be able to experience nor did she ever want to. And these were brand-new shoes, too. Eventually Azhani decided she’d been dripping long enough to be able to get moving, so she headed immediately for the inn – sure, she’d had plans, but there was no way she was going to get to them now. She walked as quickly as she could while also being careful enough to not get too much of the sensation of urine against her feet. As it turned out, that wasn’t actually all that quick, so Azhani felt another wave of relief as she pressed up against the inn door, finally home and just working herself up to actually getting inside. The inn was about as empty as it was in the morning, except for a few regulars at the bar who didn’t acknowledge Azhani’s presence when she did get herself inside. Bjorn did give her a look, though, and he opened his mouth to make some comment, but was quickly silenced by a hiss as Azhani went upstairs.
  6. It took little over a week to return to Riften – twice as long as it took to get to High Hrothgar in the first place – though with no more need to move quickly, the slower pace and more-frequent stops wouldn’t cause any problems. The Dragonborn seemed to think so, at least, for he had explained as soon as he could speak properly that Alduin was unlikely to leave his hiding place for quite some time, if ever again. “We got each other good anyways,” he’d said. “Neither of us are going to be going anywhere any time soon.” Thus, Bjorn and Azhani had returned to the Bee and Barb without any sense of urgency, having left Serana and the Elder Scroll in Ivarstead at her own recommendation. The place was, as usual, quiet, though several chairs and tables were displaced and the stock behind the counter was far too low for an establishment frequented almost exclusively by a small handful of regulars, none of whom were there just then. Instead, there was only Talen, aimlessly sweeping around, and Keerava with her head down on the bar, though she straightened up when the door opened and the Dragonborn walked in leaning into a staff. “What in Oblivion happened to you?” she asked, grabbing several mugs and a bottle from under the counter. “You fall off the mountain or something?” Bjorn gave a light laugh as he sat down and grabbed the drink that had been put in front of him. “Yeah, almost. No but seriously, Alduin was there. Scared him off, but broke a whole lot of bones in the process. Probably won’t even be able to Shout safely again for another week.” “Damn, that’s rough.” Keerava had pulled out another bottle just for herself and was drinking from it while they spoke. “You’re still gonna recover enough to actually deal with him for good, though, right? We’re not all screwed forever or anything, are we?” “No, no, it’ll be fine.” He waved one hand dismissively and drank deep with the other before trying to speak again a little too soon. “Mmmh. Most annoying part is that all my armor is entirely destroyed. I’ve got bits of it that I can sell as scrap, but I’m still gonna have to get a new set tailored. I’ve got the money and all, but-“ Bjorn shook his head. “That is not cheap. I only got fitted for that set five years ago, and it was supposed to last at least thirty before it started to need major work done.” Keerava leaned back as far as she could in a stool with no back, using her tail as support. “Somehow I don’t imagine these smiths account for dragon attacks when they figure how good their stuff is.” “Apparently not.” Bjorn finished off the rest of the mug and filled it up again – Azhani, meanwhile, had barely gotten through half of her drink. “But, anyways, what’ve you been up to? You didn’t kill the joint or anything, did you? Looks emptier than it usually is in here.” Keerava shot forward and stuck a finger in the Dragonborn’s face. “Hey, don’t you make fun of my shitty business tactics.” Leaning back again, she grabbed her bottle and continued drinking. “Ah, really though, you just missed New Life. All the free booze really puts me in the hole, but after everyone shakes off their hangover, business is a little better than normal for a few weeks. Pays for itself if they start buying Talen’s specialties. Even better if they buy them during the celebration, since it’s just the ale and mead that’s free.” “Aw, I missed New Life? How’d I let that happen?” “Don’t start complaining now.” Keerava waved her bottle at the Dragonborn. “You already drink free here year-round anyways.” “Really? I thought you were running a tab.” “Not for your drinks. Is it too late to say I am?” Bjorn just nodded and drank more. “Damn. Well, all that food and your rooms are worth more anyways.” Then Keerava turned to Azhani instead. “So, how’d that trip go for you? I don’t imagine that’s the sort of thing you do regularly.” Azhani took a little sip, then leaned forward with one elbow on the bar. “One thing I learned,” she said, “is never to wear flat-foot shoes again.” “You actually wore human shoes?” Talen had appeared at the far end of the bar, leaning against it with his broom hanging by his side. “How did that happen?” “Well, you can’t exactly climb a mountain barefoot, can you?” Bjorn interjected, then looked over at Talen. “Well, maybe you can, with those scales everywhere, but I don’t figure that’d work out too great for a Khajiit.” He took a swig and continued. “And I’ve never actually seen her wear shoes, so I had to get her some – as it turns out, they don’t actually make anything for that kind of foot around here, so I just got her something. Better’n nothing.” “And now I can go right back to nothing,” Azhani said with a flick of her tail. “It was, uh, an interesting experience, though.” “Damn straight,” the Dragonborn said, lifting his mug, then turning to look down the bar. “Oh, uh, hey Talen, how’d that… thing… I gave you turn out?” Talen tried to speak, but Keerava answered first. “Oh, right, how’d I forget about that?” She held out one hand over the bar and waved her fingers around, showing off an elegant ring fitted with three expertly-cut deep purple gems. “Almost murdered Talen when he showed this to me, ‘cause I thought he’d gone out and blown all our money on something so silly, but then he told me you gave him the stones for it.” “I think the best part is that she still would have agreed if I’d just gone up to her empty-handed and asked,” Talen added, “but leading with a ring just makes it a lot less awkward. And the ring is tradition anyways.” “Speaking of tradition…” Keerava was now leaning forward onto the bar with her arms folded. “I was actually waiting for you two to get back. Talen insists on a traditional ceremony, so we’ve got to go out to a Hist. Of course, I can’t just close down – ‘operating expenses’ are the same whether we’re open or not – so someone’s gonna have to watch over the place while we’re gone.” “Ah, how convenient for you that I have nowhere to go for a couple of weeks,” Bjorn said, twirling his staff. “Where are you headed?” “As far as I know there’s only one Hist tree in Skyrim,” Talen said, “and that might not actually be a Hist at all. I’m… kind of willing to overlook that, since we can’t spare the time or money right now to go to Black Marsh and back, just so we can get married, but it’s still going to be a while for us to get over to the middle of nowhere in Whiterun and then come home.” “Uh-huh. Well, you know us.” Bjorn lightly prodded Azhani in the side with his elbow, prompting her to growl at him. “We’ll keep everything in working order for ya.” “Great.” Keerava stood up and put a key she had pulled from her pocket onto the counter. “Here’s the key, I’ve got an order of mead coming in already. If you manage to drink all of it before we get back, find a Black-Briar and buy more. Don’t even look at any other meadery, Maven will have my ass if she finds out this place is serving anything but her booze.” “Ah, too bad for her she’ll have to wait in line, eh?” Bjorn looked over at Talen with a stupid grin, and Talen tried to suppress a laugh while Keerava glared at the both of them. “Really though, it’s great that you two are actually doing this. Oh, and uh, if you don’t mind, could you take this along with you? I had it written up at the meeting, just show it to any Legion or Stormcloak guys you find.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of parchment, which he handed to Keerava, who then opened it and read it aloud: By authority of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Tamriel Titus II Mede On this day the Twenty-First of Evening Star in the Two Hundred and First year of the Fourth Era of Tamriel By the order of General Tullius of the Forty-Second Legion, Military Governor of the Imperial Province of Skyrim The Empire of Tamriel recognizes that The High Kingdom of Skyrim Has departed the Empire and is no longer an Imperial Province, and shall henceforth not be subject to the Laws of the Imperial Emperor And therefore the War against the Rebellion led by Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak of Windhelm has ended The Forty-Second Legion is hereby ordered to report to General Tullius in Solitude for reassignment, and any other Legion is to stand down and await further instruction from a superior officer Citizenship in the Empire of Tamriel is hereby revoked from all residents of Skyrim not members of the Imperial Legion nor Citizens of the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil nor of the Imperial Province of High Rock On behalf of His Imperial Majesty, Tullius “Wow. So that’s what you were doing.” Keerava folded the order and pocketed it. “How in Oblivion did you manage that?” Bjorn shrugged. “In my experience, negotiations tend to go a little smoother when you’re literally twenty dragons.” He paused, and when nobody reacted to his joke he went on. “And, really, these people were stubborn. Ulfric was satisfied just with independence, but Tullius of course didn’t want to let Skyrim go just like that. So I made a deal there: whoever becomes High King will pledge Skyrim’s armies to the defense of the Empire.” “Doesn’t sound very independent to me,” Talen said. “Oh, but it is. Sure, Skyrim still has to lend its armies to the Empire, but the important thing is that the laws of the Empire don’t apply up here anymore. No more Concordat, the Thalmor are getting kicked out, so the Stormcloaks are placated.” Keerava leaned onto the bar and posed a question. “Alright, but that sounds like a whole lot of concessions on the Empire’s part, how’d you convince Tullius to go along with it?” “Honestly, the promise of armies was enough.” Bjorn paused briefly and went on. “Well, sort of enough. I had to convince everyone that the Dominion is the real threat – and they are. The Empire can’t afford to fight stupid little wars up in Skyrim when it’s supposed to be fortifying the border with Elsweyr and that part of Hammerfell the Dominion grabbed.” He tried to take a drink from his mug, but found it empty, so went back to talking. “Tullius isn’t an idiot, he knows that. Ulfric’s not an idiot either. They both know who the enemy actually is, and they know neither of them can do it alone. Skyrim could maybe hold out in an assault a little longer than Cyrodiil could, ‘cause of all the mountains, but on their own they’d be fucked one way or another.” Azhani was listening in absent-mindedly, sipping at her drink that seemed to refill itself. She was paying only enough attention to find an opportunity to join in. “Independent Skyrim is a better asset anyways,” she said. “If they willingly side with the Empire, they’ll fight better. Especially against Dominion armies that don’t want to be there.” Speaking of not wanting to be places, Azhani could tell she’d want to be elsewhere quite soon. How long had she been drinking anyways? How many times had she finished this one mug? “Exactly. It’d still be better if we had the Redguards on our side, but when this war with the Dominion starts, I guarantee you’ll see Nords lining up for a chance to burn down Alinor in the name of their High King.” “Their High King? Not ours?” Keerava cocked her head. The Dragonborn shrugged. “Yeah. Didn’t I explain it to you? I’m from Cyrodiil. May be a Nord but I’m one hundred percent Imperial. Sure, I kinda… crossed the border into Skyrim illegally because Cyrodiil is a shitheap and I almost lost my head for it, but things actually might start looking up enough for me to go home when this is all over.” “Huh.” Keerava walked out from behind the bar and headed for the stairs, followed closely by Talen. “Well, I’m going to go pack. Don’t burn the place down while we’re gone.” “I’ll try.” A few hours passed and the Argonian proprietors had set out with meager supplies for their trip – Azhani couldn’t tell exactly what they had, but it smelled like meat and there was a lot of clattering of glass bottles. Way more bottles than any sane person would be expected to need on a voyage that would take two weeks at most. Almost reminded her of how she’d been sitting in the same place for a while, slowly but surely working through the remaining stock of mead. Of course, she was presently engaged in a conversation with the Dragonborn, so leaving to deal with the implications of her activities for the past several hours would be rude and, frankly, embarrassing. “Never tried, no,” she said to the Dragonborn who had moved to Keerava’s usual seat. “Really?” He leaned back and raised an eyebrow. “Never even considered learning magic?” “It never really came up.” Azhani shrugged and watched her drink be refilled for the billionth time today. “Not much of a Khajiit thing anyways.” “Yeah, sure, but how much of that is because you guys just don’t want to do magic?” “Growing up, the only thing close to magic was the sugar rituals at the temples.” Azhani folded her arms. “And I’m pretty sure now that we were just getting high on the fumes and none of it was magic.” “Alright, yeah, fair enough.” Bjorn stroked his chin. “But how about this: if you were born at the right time, you could have a lot of potential for magic no matter what. Do you know what constellation you were born under?” Azhani shrugged and adjusted herself on her stool – sitting around for hours on end was getting rather uncomfortable, for several reasons. “We don’t really keep track of the stars. I know it was winter, but we track the moons more than anything.” The Dragonborn shuffled through one of the pouches he carried with him and pulled out a small book, then flipped through to a page with a diagram of the moons. “Might still be able to figure it out. I assume you would know what the moons were when you were born.” “Well, yes… is that the Firmament?” The Khajiit’s head was at an awkward angle to allow her to read the title printed along the spine – the cover had no information on it but a picture of one of the moons with a constellation drawn on top. “A slightly more advanced, pocket-sized version of it, yeah.” Bjorn tapped the page he had opened to. “So, your moons?” Azhani pulled herself into a more comfortable position. “Right. It was, uh, two dark moons.” “Mhm. Give me a second.” For a little while, the only sound was the flipping of pages, and then charcoal rubbing on parchment once the Dragonborn had procured those. Azhani shuffled around a little more while he worked – she’d definitely need to leave soon, but this was interesting. She could, of course, just head upstairs while nothing was actually happening, but knowing her luck that would be the exact moment the inn would fill up with customers and she’d be needed for work. Now that she was thinking about it, that sort of reasoning was exactly what kept getting her into unfortunate situations. All logic would dictate she should just leave, deal with the problem, then come back. And yet… “So what exactly are you doing?” The Dragonborn didn’t look up. “The lunar cycle doesn’t line up exactly with the actual months, but it’s still fairly predictable. You’re, what, twenty…” “Two.” “179, right?” When Azhani nodded, he continued. “Hey, ‘70s kids, nice.” Then he cleared his throat – or tried to, anyways, and just ended up coughing instead. “Gah. Well, anyways, you can sort of predict where a particular lunar phase is going to land in any given month, since there’s always a pattern to the way they drift through the months. This book has information on every time each moon was full and new for the first fifteen years of the era, so I’ve got to just kinda… drag that along for a century and a half until we get to winter of 179 and see what comes up for two new moons.” “I barely understood half of that but okay.” She leaned forward a bit. “What exactly are you looking for?” “Well,” Bjorn looked up briefly then returned to his work. “Winter is three months, right, so that’s three possible dominant constellations. Atronach, Tower, and Thief. Plus, I guess, the Serpent, but I have no idea how that works. Anyways, out of those, only the Atronach does anything to magical ability, so if that’s actually what you were born under, that’s pretty great for you because it’d mean you’ve got a fuckton of magical potential.” Azhani put one leg over the other. “There’s a catch there, yes?” “Yeah, unfortunately, Atronach would mean you don’t make your own magicka, you’d have to get spells shot at you to get some or you’d just have to drink a potion or something. I mean sure odds are you just flat out can’t do magic, but if you were an Atronach the whole time, there’s your reason for it.” “Great.” Azhani rolled her eyes. A few minutes passed in silence, with the Dragonborn drawing his diagrams and various numbers. Azhani had just decided to get up and go upstairs when he’d finished. “Alright, I’ve got something here,” he said. “There’s one double-new-moon at the start of Sun’s Dusk.” Azhani dropped back into her seat. “Not that early into winter.” “Then I’ve got another one in the middle of Frostfall? That sound about right?” “I… guess? It wasn’t at the end of winter either so that must be it.” Bjorn closed the book and put it away, followed by the absolute atrocity of a calculation he’d just finished working on. “Then if all that’s accurate, that’d make you a Tower. So, by all means, you should be perfectly capable of magic.” “You say that now…” “Hey,” the Dragonborn said, pointing across the bar. “How would you know if you’ve never tried, huh?” He opened up the hand he had pointed with and laid it palm-up on the bar. “Here, just try this, really simple.” Then he lifted his hand slightly, made a fist, and when his hand flew open again, there was a little ball of fire floating there. “See? Doesn’t take much, you just have to learn how to feel the magicka in your body and move it out. Ah.” Bjorn shook his hand, dismissing the flame. “Just don’t let fire sit in your hand like that, you’ll get burned.” Azhani sighed and held out one hand in front of her. “Fine, I’ll try it.” She closed her eyes and tried to focus on… whatever the Dragonborn had told her to do. Though, she was shocked into opening up again when she felt the results of being a little bit too focused. ‘Just get this done with and then go’, she told herself. Then she sighed again and tried again to focus, this time with her legs pressed together. “Remember, just focus on your energy and feel it moving to your hand.” “Maybe I could focus if you shut up.” Azhani, of course, couldn’t see Bjorn’s response, but she had a feeling he’d done something with his hands. She focused on her hand until she could have sworn it got warmer, then threw her hand open and looked at what she’d done. Or, the lack of things she’d done. “One more try?” The Dragonborn was leaning into the bar a little bit, angled so that his injured side was facing the kitchen. Azhani nodded and closed her hand and eyes again, again trying to focus on making something happen. After a little while and more than a single distraction from elsewhere in her body, she was sure her hand had warmed up again, and again she tried to cast… whatever it would be. It turned out to be a spark and a puff of smoke, but considering Azhani was expecting literally nothing, she nearly fell off her barstool with a surprised squeak. When she recovered, she felt the secondary result of that incident, and immediately stood up with legs crossed. “Hey, that was something,” Bjorn said, but Azhani was barely listening. “Mmh, yeah, uh, I’ll be right back.” Azhani spoke quickly and rushed up the stairs before the Dragonborn could figure out what had just happened. Standing had made her situation quite a bit worse, and considering it had been several hours since she’d done anything about it, she didn’t have much time left. By some miracle, though, she’d made it to her room without releasing anything she hadn’t already. Of course, Azhani was not going to take any chances, so as soon as the door was closed, her pants were on the ground and her chamberpot had been dragged out from under her bed. She got herself into position immediately, and her body took care of the rest on its own. She was fairly sure it was loud enough to be heard downstairs, but then that was always something she was afraid of and it never seemed to actually be true. Except that one time… Azhani sighed and flicked her tail. Whatever. None of that mattered. What did matter was that she kept getting herself into these situations, and that needed to stop. It did feel good though, so perhaps some deep part of her actually wanted her to end up like this. But that was silly, right? Surely. Or maybe it wasn’t all that absurd. It was Keerava’s “thing”, after all. Then again, Azhani only took any pleasure in the release, as anyone would, not everything leading up to it as Keerava apparently enjoyed. Still, there had to be some reason she kept getting herself into trouble like that… That would be something to determine some other time, though – it had been a good two minutes and now nothing more was happening, so Azhani dressed herself up again and headed back downstairs.
  7. Sake

    11 - 15 | Season Unending

    The next two weeks passed by without fanfare – without the Dragonborn, everything was just business as usual. For the most part, everyone had forgotten he’d even existed. He was in town for a week, and then he wasn’t. It wasn’t unusual for travelers to show up out of nowhere and then disappear right back into nowhere, and considering the vast majority of Riften’s population had better things to worry about than the whereabouts of the Dragonborn, he’d become just another traveler passing through. Even at the Bee and Barb, evidently the Dragonborn’s favorite establishment, nobody really seemed to notice anymore that he hadn’t been in town. So, on one cold Tirdas morning, there was a breakfast only just big enough for the three people who were actually there. No pile of meat to satisfy the Dragonborn’s gluttony, no free-flowing mead. Just hot cereal, cheese, and tea. Azhani didn’t really mind. It was a simple life, but at least she had a roof over her head and food to eat every day. It was better than most of her life before then, even with Keerava’s eccentricities added in. It really was quiet, though. There was only so much to talk about when nobody ever really went any farther outside than the market, and only rarely would some trader get interesting information. Just a day ago, in fact, the Dunmer lady who had set up shop right outside the inn to sell her vegetables reported that the Jarl of Windhelm had been seen travelling through the Rift recently. Considering nobody actually knew where he was headed, that provided a good deal of conversation that morning, and even carried on to the next day, so there was still plenty to discuss on this particular Tirdas. “I keep telling you, this is a Stormcloak hold, nothing bad is going to happen just because Ulfric decided to come take a look at his land.” Talen had been trying to reassure Keerava ever since they first heard of the Jarl’s travels the day before. Now, he had one hand resting rather awkwardly on her shoulder. “Yeah, it’s Stormcloak land,” was the response. “But remember, he was captured in this hold once before. And he only got out of that one because a dragon showed up. If they get him again, things might not end so well.” “Oh, come on.” There was a slight thud as Talen dropped the tip of his tail to the ground. “Stormcloak, Legion, won’t really matter who controls the city, we’ll still be doing just as much work with just as much extortion.” He gave a sideways glance at Azhani, who was trying very hard to not look at either of them right now and just focus on her food. “Think about it, Talen.” Keerava turned around and pushed his tail aside with her foot. “If the Legion gets the Rift, they’re going to need a new Jarl, right?” He nodded, and she continued. “Well, there’s only one person around here I can think of that has enough influence and ‘leadership skill’ to be their candidate.” She made air quotes with her fingers as she talked. Talen dipped his head in surrender. “Maven?” “Fucking Black-Briar.” Keerava nodded aggressively. “I don’t know about you, but considering how she’s already got a hand in everyone’s pocket around here, I’d really like to see that bitch kept as far away from the Jarldom as possible, thank you.” Talen smiled as well as his facial structure allowed. “Mmh, don’t let her hear you say that. She’s got eyes and ears everywhere, you know. I don’t think she’d appreciate being called mean things.” Keerava rolled her head around as a substitute for doing so with her eyes. “Shut up.” Then she gave Talen a light kick in the shin. He seemed to get the message, and the room was quiet again. At least, it was for a little bit, but some big jerk covered in steel plates and wearing a red travelling cloak decided to barge in and interrupt the silence. He quickly scanned the room, before calling Talen over, by name, along with a beckoning wave. The two women looked over at him while Talen stepped forward, and Keerava was the first to address him. “Hey, Bjorn, where’ve you been?” The Dragonborn grabbed a small pouch from his belt and put it into Talen’s hands – he looked into it and his eyes lit up for a moment while Bjorn spoke. “Everywhere. I don’t have a lot of time, is, uh – oh.” He’d been looking around the room some more, but stopped once he saw the Khajiit seated across from Keerava. He walked forward a little and held out a hand. “Azhani, come with me, I need your help.” Azhani looked between him and Keerava for a moment before responding. “What? Why?” Bjorn was already starting to walk back to the door, and spoke quickly. “Uh, no time, we have to leave now, I can explain on the way. You coming?” The Khajiit looked over at Keerava again, who just shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, okay, fine, she’ll go,” Azhani said while she stood up. “Great.” Bjorn tossed her a white cloak. “You can wear that, it’s actually your size, I hope. Come on.” Azhani stood there a moment and pointed over at the stairs. “But, shouldn’t thi-“ “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Bjorn was making a flurry of nondescript hand motions. “There’ll be time to do everything once we get moving, but we do have to leave, like, now.” Azhani threw up her hands and followed along. “Alright, fine.” The two gave a brief wave to the Argonians, and Azhani nearly stopped to say something but was rushed out before she could. So, instead, she spoke to the Dragonborn, as well as she could while trying to keep up with his brisk pace – despite her best efforts she always ended up slightly behind. “So, what did this one just agree to?” Bjorn looked over his shoulder but didn’t slow down. “Remember in the sewers a few weeks ago, when you told me to go end the war?” Azhani raised an eyebrow. “Yeah…” “Well, I figured out how to do it. Had to go all the fucking way across the country and back, but I can do it – we can do it, which is why you’re coming to Ivarstead with me.” “And why do you need this one, exactly?” Azhani nearly tripped over her own feet trying to keep up as the two headed towards the town’s southern gate. “Well, you’re going to be damn near the only person there who’s not some political leader or twenty dragons in a man’s body.” He laughed a bit at that and carried on. “Ulfric and Tullius and Balgruuf and whoever else shows up, they’re only going to care about what they can get for themselves. How they can benefit their side in the war. What you’re coming along for, is-“ He reached out to stop Azhani from falling over, as she had tripped again, but returned to his original stride as soon as she was upright. “You’re coming along so that they can’t ignore what’s happening to real people. Without you, all I’d really get out of them is some half-assed ceasefire that’ll be over as soon as Alduin’s not a threat anymore. But with you there, I may just get them to end this shit entirely.” He turned around once he got to the gate and waited for Azhani to catch up. They headed through as soon as she did, and found a cart loaded up with supplies a short distance ahead of them. There was a hooded woman who Azhani didn’t recognize already seated up front with the horse. “And you really think it can work?” Azhani asked. “I fuckin’ hope so.” He pulled himself up into the cart as soon as he got to it, then turned around and waved for Azhani to sit in the back with the supplies. The woman didn’t acknowledge her, but Bjorn decided to introduce the two anyways. “Azhani, that’s Serana, Serana, that’s Azhani, we’re all acquainted, good, let’s go.” He waited only as long as it took Azhani to get properly seated before he whipped the reins and set off. Azhani watched behind her as the town walls faded from view, and once they disappeared behind trees and over the horizon, she took to examining their stock for the journey. For the most part, she was seated among boxes of food. There were some blankets, folded up into a pile which she turned into her seat, and some bags filled with potions. There were a few fancy-looking ones that must have been healing potions. They were a very deep, luminous red that Azhani hadn’t seen on any other potions before. Granted, she didn’t handle potions very often, but still. She figured it was probably best that she not mess around with them – they were probably very expensive and rare, so breaking them or drinking them when they weren’t necessary likely wasn’t a good idea. Something else caught her eye once she put those healing potions back. There was a faint glint of metal coming off of something hidden beneath some clothes and a few more blankets. It wasn’t like Azhani had a habit of trying to take shiny things, or anything, but she still felt compelled to carefully rearrange the pile of clothes so as to better see what was hidden below. She wasn’t really sure what it was, since she’d never seen anything like it before. It was some sort of golden tube, with handles coming out of either end of it. There was a large jewel in the middle of it, and a few smaller ones near the edges. Azhani picked it up, slowly and carefully, and rolled it around in her hands. Below the center jewel, there was something that looked like it could be pulled on to make something happen. Maybe if she just- “Hey, wait, don’t touch that!” The hooded woman – who Bjorn called Serana – had turned around just in time to see Azhani attempting to open the device. The Khajiit’s hands flew up, and she dropped the thing and let it roll over to the side of the cart. Bjorn had pulled the horse into a hard stop and turned around to see what had happened once he heard the shout, and saw Azhani just sitting there with her hands up, shaking, looking at the two of them – more at Bjorn than Serana, who she found slightly unnerving, but didn’t really know why. The golden thing was still rolling around a bit without anything to keep it in place. “You didn’t open it, did you?” His question was answered by some rather violent head-shaking, so he sighed and turned back around, setting off once more. “Good. Keep it hidden, and, seriously, don’t touch it.” Azhani slowly brought her hands down again as she calmed down a bit. Her heart was still racing, but that would sort itself out. “What is it?” She shoved the pile of clothes back on top of it. The Dragonborn and Serana looked at each other, then they both turned to face the road. “Looooooong fuckin’ story,” Bjorn said, taking a deep breath. “That-“ he pointed over his shoulder with a thumb. “- is an Elder Scroll. We’re taking it to High Hrothgar. Not for the war meeting, though.” Azhani moved as far away from the Scroll as she could once it had been covered up again. “Why are we doing that?” “He needs it so it can teach him some Shout to defeat Alduin,” Serana said, looking over her shoulder just slightly. “Something about going back in time, I think.” “Yeah, like I said, it’s a really long story. It’ll take us a few days to get there, maybe I could tell it…” Bjorn shrugged. “Doubt you’d believe it, though.” “Hmph.” Azhani crossed her arms and just stayed seated in the farthest corner from the Elder Scroll. “And who is she?” She pointed at Serana without uncrossing her arms, just lifting a finger and directing it towards that general area. Bjorn and Serana looked at each other and didn’t say anything for several seconds. Bjorn finally gave the answer, “Old friend.” Then he turned around to watch the road again. Azhani nodded silently, and they continued on for a few minutes without anyone saying anything. In that time, Azhani finally calmed down completely from the Scroll incident. Though, that made her faintly aware of something. “Hey, uh, when do we stop?” The Dragonborn looked over at her. “I wasn’t planning on it until around noon or so. Why, do you, uh, need us to?” Azhani quickly turned away from him and looked out over the back of the cart. “N-no, no. Just, just asking.” Bjorn shrugged. “Alright then.” Just until noon. That wouldn’t be a problem at all. For once, she was right. The group had stopped by the western shore of Lake Honrich shortly after noon, and Azhani gladly took the opportunity to run off into the woods and do her business. She didn’t need to, really, but if this was going to be the pacing of the whole trip, it would probably turn out better for her not to risk it. The hardest part would be finding somewhere private enough, especially as they got closer to their destination and the woods inevitably thinned out. But that wouldn’t be a problem for another couple of days yet. Azhani re-dressed and started working her way back through the undergrowth, and she was suddenly hit by the gravity of their destination only being a few days’ journey away. They’d get to Ivarstead by the end of the week, work their way up to High Hrothgar, and if everything went according to plan, the Civil War would be over for good by the end of the month. She wasn’t really sure what to do with that information – she didn’t really have any home to go back to once the war was over and the dragons were dealt with. Of course, this particular war had only been going on for a few months, so it’s not like it specifically had any major effect on her, but it was still just one more thing out to ruin everyone’s lives. Apparently the last thirty years were really good at doing that. Even when there wasn’t some war going on, there would be some internal strife or some problems rebuilding, and then something else would come along and throw everyone back to where they were before. Even so, the chance of some reprieve from the endless conflict made Azhani hopeful that she could actually turn her life around. She’d probably have to stay in Riften for a while, and she didn’t really have any marketable skills, but still. There was a chance that she’d become something, and that was enough. She shook her head as she came out of the woods, crossing the road to head back to camp. None of that really mattered right now. They had a job to do, and frankly it was kind of exciting for her to be involved in something so important, even if she had no idea what would come of it. Azhani returned to camp to see the Dragonborn building a fire a little way’s back from the shoreline, while Serana crawled around in the back of the cart, looking through the various bags. She grabbed one, then jumped out of the cart and sat down with it under a nearby tree. Azhani looked over at her only briefly – it seemed to be the bag with the fancy potions in it, but something about Serana told her she’d be better off minding her own business. So, rather than taking a closer look to find out more, she took a seat by the fire, which Bjorn had lit just by touching it. “Alright, so, way I figure it, we can only afford to spend maybe an hour here.” He walked over to the cart and pulled out one of the boxes. He brought it over to the fire, opening it to reveal a small assortment of meats. “These are frost-salted,” he explained to Azhani while he skewered them and set them up over the fire. “They’ll last a while, but not the whole trip. Probably just good for today, really, considering I’ve already been hauling them around for a couple days.” He nodded in the direction of Serana’s tree. “Serana’s going to do our hunting, though, so we’ll be fine.” Azhani nodded, not really paying attention, since she was absorbed in watching the food being cooked right in front of her. As soon as she pulled herself out of it, though, she asked the first thing to come to mind. “Why bring her, anyways? Why not Lydia?” “Because of the Scroll.” Bjorn didn’t look up from his work. “Serana is the only person I trust to actually handle one, and since we won’t be able to take the cart all the way up to High Hrothgar, she’s got to carry it for us. I’d do it myself, but I don’t really want to take something that valuable to a war summit.” “So, why is she so special? You never mentioned her.” Azhani looked over her shoulder at Serana, but almost immediately turned around again to stare at what would shortly be lunch. “Uh…” Bjorn very briefly stopped what he was doing and leaned back a little. “She, uh… has a history guarding Scrolls. Kept one out of the hands of… a, uh… vampire lord, and because of that he didn’t conquer the world. So that’s nice.” “Vampire lord?” “Yeah, ever hear of the Volkihars?” He went back to getting their food ready, and Azhani just shook her head. “Well, then, it’s not all that important. Guy was crazy, guy was stopped, not, uh, not much to say about that.” The last few words almost blurred together as Bjorn tried to end the sentence quickly. Azhani didn’t seem to notice. Neither of them had anything else to say for the next few minutes, until Bjorn decided that the meat was properly cooked and brought it out of the fire. He handed some over to Azhani, keeping the rest for himself. The Khajiit decided she had something to say, but not before taking a few bites. Or, more accurately, eating half of what she had just been given. “What about her?” She glanced at Serana, who was now looking out over the river and at the wilds beyond the far shore. “Oh, she’ll be fine.” Bjorn hastily pulled a flask off his belt and drank from it before offering it to Azhani, who reluctantly took it after taking a moment to consider. She sniffed at the flask’s opening, then took a sip. It was some sort of wine unlike anything she’d known to come out of Skyrim. “This is good.” She took another swig and handed it back. “Where did you get it?” “It’s from Cyrodiil,” Bjorn said as he set the flask down. “Got it from some Baandari, actually. Only people who’ll actually risk hauling stuff around between provinces nowadays.” Azhani nodded. She finished off what food was left in front of her, then spoke again as she started leaning back. “About that. What exactly is your plan?” “Hm?” Bjorn looked over at her with his mouth full, swallowed, and gave his answer. “Oh, well. I don’t really have an actual plan.” Azhani glared at him, and he rushed to continue speaking. “Eh, I mean, I know what we’re doing, but it all really depends on whether or not these people will listen. Really, the meeting is just so that I can deal with Alduin, but I figured I might as well go one step further.” He took another bite and another drink, then went on. “Basically, what I did was: I took that old guy – Esbern – from the sewers over to some old Blades temple way out in the Reach, and then I was told I’d need to get a dragon to help me get to Alduin. They recommended I go to Whiterun, since Dragonsreach was actually used to trap a dragon once. So I go there, but Balgruuf doesn’t want me to call a dragon to his city unless I can guarantee that nobody’s going to attack it. And then…” He took another drink. “Then I went all the fucking way out to Solitude, asked Tullius to agree to a truce, he said no, so I told him to get his ass to High Hrothgar to negotiate one. Then I went to Windhelm and did the same damn thing with Ulfric. I, uh, picked up Serana right after I left Solitude, and on our way east we stopped by Winterhold, because I left the Scroll with the College.” He sighed. “Then I went back to Riften, and now we’re here. The plan is to get Ulfric and Tullius to stop trying to kill each other. If all goes well, the war will be over for good. At first, I just wanted to get them to agree to a temporary peace, and then they’d go right back to burning stuff down. But then I remembered that you gave me the idea to end the fucking war entirely, so now I’ve got to figure out how to do that without giving either Ulfric or Tullius anything they actually want out of a peace deal.” He let himself fall back onto the grass. “We’ve all got more important shit to deal with than their war. There won’t be any better opportunity to end it without letting any more people die.” “You did all that in two weeks?” Azhani looked over at Bjorn, with an eyebrow raised and her head cocked. “Yeah, I had Lydia go home once I had Esbern, and we got the fastest horse and most direct route possible to where we were going. That and getting to Windhelm and back to Riften took the most time. I can move really fast when I’m on my own. Only problem is it’s really exhausting, too.” He suddenly jumped up just then. “No time for that, though, time to get moving again.” He reached out with one arm and snapped his hand shut, causing the flame in front of him to fade away immediately. Then he picked his box back up, tossed it into the cart, and climbed aboard. Apparently, Serana had found her way back while he was explaining everything, so they only had to wait for Azhani to negotiate her way into the back again. As soon as their feline cargo was secure, though, they set off immediately. It wasn’t until well after sunset that the group stopped to make camp again. Or, at least, Bjorn was setting up camp while Serana made her way into the woods, and Azhani was hurrying along in a similar direction. In hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to just drink from the river or something last time they stopped. Sure, she didn’t really have all that much wine, and only tapped into their reserves a little bit, but considering the length of the journey, it’d probably be smart to avoid alcohol altogether. She did have to give Keerava some credit, though, as she found a suitable location and got herself into position just in time. That “training” she had Azhani do was actually helping quite a bit. She probably wouldn’t have been nearly as dry by now if she hadn’t taken part in all that. Granted, her current situation couldn’t strictly be called “dry”, but it was still quite a bit better than what she was capable of at the start of the month. Quite fortunate for her, really, considering she only brought with her what she was wearing, and there didn’t seem to be any extra clothes brought along in her size. And it’d probably be considered rude if she were to ruin her own clothes, then borrow Serana’s and ruin those too. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen. At the very least, it wouldn’t be happening that night. Sure, that little bit of dampness that was there wouldn’t be particularly comfortable, but it was better than the alternative. It was also a problem for later – for right now, she’d just finished draining herself for a good minute, so it was time to get back to camp and see what Bjorn’s idea of dinner would be. Too bad she had to go so deep into the woods to feel decently private – it took a lot of work to pick her way out again, and even more work to remember what direction she was supposed to be heading in to begin with. If she hadn’t been in such a rush she probably would have remembered the path she took and wouldn’t have had to waste ten minutes wandering around trying to figure out which way was north. Once Azhani finally did find her way back to camp, she was a little bit surprised to see that the only person there was Bjorn, who had tossed some blankets out of the cart and onto the grass. He’d somehow managed to get all his armor off on his own, and he was sitting by the fire he’d made. If not for the firelight, Azhani might not have even seen him at first, since the padded clothes he was wearing were all completely black – at least, she wouldn’t have seen him if she didn’t have built-in Nighteye. Non-Khajiit vision problems aside, Azhani grabbed one of the blankets and dragged it over to the fire, lying down on it as soon as she’d gotten it positioned just so. A quick, lazy scan of the area showed that it was just herself and the Dragonborn at camp at the moment. Serana was nowhere to be seen, which meant she never came back from her trip into the woods when they arrived. More importantly, though… “Where’s the food?” Azhani pulled herself up into an almost-sitting position. Bjorn pointed over his shoulder at the woods across the road – seriously, if Azhani were any other race, he’d just be a floating head to her right now – and yawned out an answer. “Serana’s getting it.” He reached off to one side and produced a bag. “Some bread here if you want it, though.” Azhani shrugged, grabbing a piece of bread and nibbling at it. Wasn’t exactly high-quality, but she’d had worse. And there was still the promise of eating something that had only died a few minutes ago. When was the last time she’d gone on a proper hunt for herself, anyways? Months, years ago, maybe, considering she’d been entirely unarmed while wandering around Skyrim recently. There wasn’t much in the way of conversation in the few minutes it took for Serana to get back – and when she returned, she was hauling a decently-sized buck over to camp, holding it over one shoulder as if it were a barrel, or something. Azhani couldn’t help thinking that that definitely shouldn’t have been possible for a single person to do. But, then again, the Dragonborn was ten feet from her, too, so she really wasn’t in a position to judge what was possible and what wasn’t. Impossibility aside, it was happening, and now a deer had been dropped right by the fire, and a woman Azhani hardly knew was busy skinning it. Not that her familiarity with Serana really changed anything – the Khajiit was sitting perfectly upright, eyes trained on the deer as skilled hands shaped it into a form suitable for cooking. It must have still been warm, and smelled like it’d be delicious. In fact, she would have just reached over and grabbed a piece if not for the fact that there was a fire and a knife in the way. Azhani was a Khajiit, she could handle a little raw meat. But there were two humans there, and only one of her, so their need to have their food cooked outweighed her impatience. She did manage to tear herself away from what would soon become dinner, and decided to get some water instead. If Azhani were to go do something else, she’d feel less of a need to jump Serana and not bother dealing with the whole preparation process. That’s what she told herself, anyways, and it was partially true. The other part was that she was really damn sure that keeping some water for herself would be a much better idea than getting into the group’s supplies. Those were mostly beer – great for travelling with, sure… for literally anyone but Azhani on this particular journey. She’d already seen where that would get her, and that’d only get worse later. Fortunately, there was an empty waterskin on the cart, stuck under one of the several piles of cloth concealing the Elder Scroll. Not that she’d been trying to dig the Scroll out or anything – in fact she would have very much preferred to be as far away from it as possible, in case it did something crazy like explode and set everything on fire – but she’d been pretty sure there was interesting stuff stashed into those piles. She was extremely disappointed to find out that the piles pretty much only contained random cloth and some spare clothes, aside from the waterskin. At least she got something useful out of it. Azhani knelt down once she got to the shore of the Treva. She could still hear the sounds of camp behind her, but if she just focused on the river all she could hear was running water and the occasional owl or some other such creature. Azhani reached out into the river with one hand, letting a little bit pool up before bringing it back out to taste it. She wasn’t quite sure how the water looked just now, considering everything looked a little blue and washed-out thanks to her Nighteye, but it tasted fine. Not the greatest, considering it came out of Riften, but it would do. With the skin filled, Azhani headed back to camp, where the group’s dinner was already being cooked – the deer had been fairly completely stripped of fur and meat, with the excess meat shoved into a box nearby. Bjorn was keeping watch over the food to make sure it was cooking evenly, and Serana had gotten up to make sure the horse wasn’t getting into trouble – and to grab the bag of potions from the cart. Azhani seated herself on her blanket again and got back to staring at their food. She seriously considered just grabbing some off the fire and eating it right then, but decided that it’d look weird if she were to do that. It’s not like she was starving or anything, but this would be the first fresh meat she’d eaten in a long time. Why ruin that with something as silly as cooking? In any event, in the time it took Serana to get back to the fire and sit down with those potions, the Dragonborn had apparently become satisfied with the state of the venison in front of him, and distributed what meat had been prepared according to his idea of “even”. Which is to say, he gave himself the bulk of it, Azhani had a respectable slab for herself, and Serana only had enough to feed a child. That struck Azhani as rather odd, considering she hadn’t actually seen Serana eat anything at all since she met her – granted, that was only twelve hours before, but still. Serana didn’t really seem to care about it, which was even weirder. Serana was just sitting there, sipping on a potion. She’d occasionally prod at the food she’d been given and eat a little piece of it, but she seemed way more focused on her drink. Not that it was any of Azhani’s business, really. According to her understanding of humans, they didn’t strictly need meat. Not the way Khajiit did, anyways – as she understood it, a human could go for quite a while on just plants, especially if they got the right ones, but a Khajiit would starve pretty quickly if one were to try that. Maybe Serana was just one of that kind of human. Azhani had never met one before, though she always thought they were kind of interesting. They were like reverse Bosmer. Though, if those potions were all Serana ever put into her body, then they probably weren’t actually healing potions, and were instead some food-type-thing made specifically for her, and it’d be a good idea for nobody else to touch them. Yep. That made sense. Azhani could now eat comfortably having come to this entirely logical conclusion, though she still couldn’t look Serana in the eye without feeling weird about it. There was something about her that really did make Azhani uncomfortable, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Maybe she was just racist. Maybe it was because Serana never seemed to take that hood off. Or both. Whatever it was, Azhani knew she didn’t really have any reason to think Serana would do something weird. The Dragonborn trusted her, after all. Azhani didn’t fully trust the Dragonborn, sure, but that was just because of the one little feature he shared with Keerava. He could definitely be trusted to keep people safe otherwise. And, ultimately, her concerns didn’t really matter all that much. Once her meal was finished, Azhani ended up being the first one out of the three to fall asleep. Whatever her concerns were, she could no doubt just ask about them in the morning. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Fuck!” That couldn’t be good. “Mu alok ahst folaas tiid! Ruth shul… Alok.” Bjorn prodded Azhani with one foot, repeating that word. “Alok, alok.” He’d negotiated his way into his armor and was now running around collecting everything they’d strewn about the campsite the night before. “What’s going on?” Azhani sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Volost tiid, mu b-buh…“ Bjorn briefly stopped packing and took a deep breath when he saw Azhani’s look of utter confusion. “Krosis, I, uh… This is way later than I’d wanted to wake up, and now we’re kind of in a rush if we want to get there on time. Which I do.” He picked up all the blankets and carried them over to the cart under one arm. “So, uh, get in. We have to move fast to make up for lost time.” Azhani looked around for a moment, but quickly followed along and hopped up into the cart. Serana had apparently been sitting up front already and was silently waiting for them to leave. Bjorn haphazardly loaded up the cart with whatever was left and got his horse running as fast as physically possible. Azhani took the chance to ask a question. “What’s the rush? It’s a few days of a trip, no? What does it matter if we’re a few hours late?” She splashed her face with some water out of the skin she’d filled the night before. “And what’s up with the dragon-speak?” Serana chimed in with her own question. “Be a few hours late one day and we end up getting there two days after everyone else. Time really just goes nuts if you let it start getting away from you.” Bjorn looked over his shoulder just long enough to see Azhani give a slight nod. “And you know how the whole dragon-killing thing goes, Serana. I get their souls, but also their knowledge. That’s how I learn new Shouts – and those are just dragon words. At this point I’ve slaughtered enough of them for their language to be second-nature. Hardly even notice what I’m speaking in anymore.” “Yeah, but, I mean, why speak in it at all? When is a dragon ever going to want to have a conversation with you?” Serana was looking dead ahead as she spoke. “Because it’s a really great language for swearing in. It’s pretty much specifically designed for anger.” Bjorn shrugged. “And a dragon conversation is literally a fight anyways, so technically dragons come up trying to talk to me – or, at me, I guess – all the damn time.” “Uh huh. I’m sure they love you.” Serana folded her arms and bowed her head, as if she were trying to fall asleep sitting there. Turned out she did end up falling asleep, maybe. She was normally quiet anyways, but, still, she was hardly moving at all. So everyone carried on in silence for a few minutes – a few minutes which Azhani used to shuffle around through bags and piles, looking for something interesting. This, apparently, attracted the Dragonborn’s attention. “Whatcha doin’ back there?” He looked over his shoulder, and Azhani turned around to look at him as well. “Did you bring any books, or something like that?” “Uh, yeah,” Bjorn said. “Old ones, but they should be there somewhere, packed into some corner, maybe.” Azhani nodded and shoved her hand into a gap between one of the boxes and the side of the cart. Sure enough, she pulled out a worn-out book. The leather on the covers was beaten-up and torn in places, and the pages were brown, several of them seeming to have been slightly burned. The title was illegible, but the author’s name was still clear enough. “Quill-Weave? This one is not familiar.” Azhani settled herself onto the blankets from last night and leaned against the edge of the cart, gingerly flipping through the first few pages. “She was a writer from Anvil during the Oblivion Crisis. Kinda famous back home, obviously not so much up here.” The Dragonborn was looking at the road now. “I don’t know what happened to her, but I’m pretty sure she survived the invasions.” “And what about this? The dedications page, it says ‘K. M.’” Azhani pointed to the letters and looked over at the back of Bjorn’s head. “No fucking clue.” Bjorn threw up a hand and turned just enough to see Azhani. “Could be anyone. All her stuff from the Fourth Era has that person listed, but I don’t know why or who it is, and I doubt anyone but Quill-Weave ever did.” “Hm.” The Khajiit crossed her legs and leaned back as far as she could without falling out onto the road, and flipped around until she found the first page with an actual story on it. Azhani could tell pretty quickly why this Quill-Weave was so well-known in the Imperial Province, and she could guess where the name came from to begin with. If she wasn’t careful, Azhani could get herself lost in the book for hours. Of course, she had no intention of being careful. The abrupt start to the morning meant she was not in peak condition, which made the book’s distracting powers all the more useful. Only problem being that it’d eventually get to the point where a distraction wouldn’t work, but they’d more than likely have to stop for lunch before then. Or not. They could just keep following the road as it wound its way through the woods and make a lunch out of what food they had on the cart with them. That would work, too. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – Azhani got to dig through what was left of the deer from the night before, and if they didn’t stop she’d have more time to read that old book she’d found. But, then again, the meat had already been salted and had dried out, so it wasn’t as good of a meal as Azhani had expected. In fact, it tasted pretty much just like cooked meat at that point, except it was cold and also salty. What a waste of perfectly good food. Fortunately, this was absolutely the primary concern for Azhani. There was nothing at all that could possibly have been more important than this issue. Salted food was without a doubt the single worst thing to have happened to Azhani that day. Absolutely. Not a single thing was more important or could possibly make things any worse than that. Not one thing. Not even something that needed her immediate attention and would only get worse over time, and also didn’t exist. Nope. That would be ridiculous. What on Nirn could make anyone assume there was such an issue? Probably the fact that Azhani couldn’t sit still. That would tend to give someone that impression. Of course, being in the back of a cart, surrounded by boxes, sacks of alchemical supplies, piles of fabrics, and the world’s most dangerous sheet of paper meant comfortable seating was hard to come by. Still, though, considering Azhani had been fairly stationary with her book for the past several hours, something was definitely amiss now. “Holy fucking Tiber.” Fortunately for Azhani, Bjorn wasn’t paying much attention. “Is this woman really still asleep?” He had to grab Serana to make sure she didn’t fall out of the cart. As it turned out, she was indeed still asleep. The Dragonborn sighed and looked over his shoulder once he was sure his companion was properly vertical. “Anyways, how’re you doin’ back there? Quill lived up to her reputation, I hope.” “What?” Azhani did her best to not move around too much. “Oh, uh… yeah, it’s, uh, it’s a good book.” She shuffled around and presser her legs together as discreetly as possible. “Hey, we’ve, uh, we’ve been on the road a while, yes?” “Yeah,” Bjorn sighed. “And we’ve still got another… two hours, almost, to make up for lost time today.” He quickly turned to look at something else – nothing in particular, just not at the Khajiit in his cart. “That, uh, that won’t be a problem, will it?” Azhani gave herself a little squeeze as soon as she was sure she wasn’t being watched. “Nnn-no. No. It’s fine.” She hoped he couldn’t hear the doubt in her voice. Bjorn responded with a “Hm”, and then the two refused to say anything for several minutes. Azhani couldn’t tell if the silence was making things worse. She was sure that a distraction would be really helpful, though, considering she now needed to add an extra two hours onto what had to be at least twelve by now. It wasn’t helping that the whole being-in-a-cart thing was just making the situation even more like Cyr- “Hey, if you don’t mind…” Bjorn decided that that exact moment was the right time to strike up a conversation. “Uh, what were you doing before you got to Riften?” Then he hastily threw in, “B-besides, uh, Guild… stuff… I mean.” “Before Riften?” Azhani shuffled around in a vain attempt to get comfortable. “This one… she, ah, she was wandering the, eh, the Empire. She l-left home as a girl, twelve years old, and just… went from town to town, to make money.” She was now lying down as well as she could in the limited space in the cart, with her tail wrapped around her legs. Only problem was she couldn’t get those to stop moving. “Bravil was closest big city to home that wasn’t… Dominion… so she st-started there.” Bjorn looked over his shoulder again, which caused Azhani to straighten up again as quickly as she could. “Oh, you’ve been to Cyrodiil? When was that?” Azhani winced from the effort of sitting up again, and her words blended with a low growl. “Brrrrrravil was… was… ten years ago.” “Ten years?” Bjorn turned back to the road and took a moment to think, and then he lit up. “Hey, I was in Leyawiin for about a year or two back in the ‘90s. Might have even seen you on the way back north.” Azhani shook her head. “Doubt it. No- nobody notices Khajiit in rags in the c-city where everyone is in rags.” Then she turned and looked at the back of the Dragonborn’s head. “Wait. You went south of the Jeralls?” Bjorn looked over at the shaky Khajiit with a confused look on his face. “Uh, yeah, I’ve been all over the homeland. Leyawiin, Cheydinhal… Even been to Kvatch a couple times.” “Kvatch?” Azhani leaned forward – as well as she could, anyways – and stared intently at Bjorn. She was even surprising herself with how effective a distraction this conversation was, especially considering the country they were discussing. “How is Kvatch? This one heard good things. She’s wanted to live there for years.” The Dragonborn shook his head. “No, no no no no. You do not want to live in Kvatch. It’s a bunch of touristy bullshit.” “Touristy?” “Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place and all, but…” Bjorn took a deep breath. “But there’s fuck all to do there. Sure, looks nice, the people are nice, but it’s pretty much just a town full of shopkeepers trying to cash in on the Oblivion Crisis.” He turned to watch the road again and started using enthusiastic hand gestures while he talked. “Come see the town the Daedra destroyed, come see the house Jiub died in, come see the place Emperor Martin took a shit once.” He shook his head. “They even rebuilt the fucking arena, but it’s all just reenactments of either the liberation of Kvatch, the Battle of Bruma, or the assault on the Temple of the One - or whatever the fuck the Thalmor want us to call it now. Temple of Akatosh? What the fuck ever. Point is, they don’t do anything good there. Yeah, we get it, your town was destroyed two hundred years ago. You can stop making a big deal out of it now.” Azhani tilted her head. “So, what towns are good there?” “Honestly?” Bjorn shrugged. “None of them. Cyrodiil’s a terrible place to live. Can’t go more than a week without someone somewhere destroying everything. I mean, sure, I’ve never actually seen a Cyrodiil that’s not reeling from the Great War, but, still… It sucks. It’s home and everything, but with all the shit that’s been going on for the past thousand years, it’s not a great place to live.” “Oh. W-“ “But!” Bjorn cut Azhani off. “Assuming nothing goes horribly wrong, I deal with the dragons, and the Dominion gets their ass kicked… I’d like to retire to Anvil.” The Khajiit’s legs crossed, un-crossed, then crossed again. Hopefully subtly. “Why Anvil?” “It held up really well during the Crisis, and even though it got wrecked by the Dominion it’s still pretty rich.” Bjorn reached for his flask and took a sip. “And, anyways, it’s a major port, but apparently it was a calm place with good people before the War came along and fucked everything up.” He shrugged again. “I dunno, it might never get back to the way it was, but it’d be nice. Anyways, you got any plans other than Kvatch?” Azhani shrugged and bounced her legs absentmindedly. “This one isn’t the plan-making type. Never had money for that. But, uh, she’s from Rimmen…” She shook her head. “No, this one left for a reason. It wouldn’t be home anymore.” Hopefully, Bjorn couldn’t see her eyes watering. It was better than if that moisture were much lower, though, but still. And if she didn’t deal with things soon… Bjorn looked over his shoulder again, then turned back immediately, realizing it was probably in his best interests to not get too involved. “W-well, there’s still Riften, right? Just stick with Keerava and Talen, things won’t be all bad.” “Aren’t they trying to get out of Skyrim?” “Y-yeah, they are. But they’re your friends, aren’t they? I’m sure they’d help you out with something once they don’t have to worry about keeping their lives together.” Azhani let out another low growl, trying to form it into a word instead while she shifted around. “Rrrrrrreally?” She hesitantly reached for her waterskin and drank a little bit. She didn’t really want to, for obvious reasons, but the one downside to using a conversation as a distraction was that it made her thirsty. And then that ultimately just made things worse. The Dragonborn nodded. “I don’t see why not.” He turned around just enough to see what was going on in the back of the cart and saw that Azhani had moved herself to be sitting on the floor, with her foot jammed underneath her. “Uh, you sure you’re okay?” Azhani’s response was to cross her arms and press herself even harder into her foot. “Fine.” “If you say so.” Bjorn rolled his eyes and turned back to the road. Of course, Azhani was most certainly not fine, and as soon as the Dragonborn wasn’t looking anymore, she got straight to doing whatever she could do to make herself last just a little longer. And she was definitely not thinking of the fact that the entire conversation they’d just finished could only possibly have taken up twenty minutes at most. That would have bad implications, plus it felt like it had taken more than an hour, so clearly that was the proper thing to believe. For all the “training” she’d received from Keerava over the past month, the one thing she never prepared for was the possibility that she wouldn’t be able to relieve herself in the morning. After all, why should she? There would always be an opportunity for that. Now she was mentally kicking herself – physically too, to some extent, and with a loose definition of “kicking” – the entire point of the training was to prepare Azhani’s tiny bladder for unforeseen circumstances, especially relating to work. Well, here was an unforeseen circumstance that she hadn’t been prepared for. Keerava would be disappointed. Or maybe just aroused. Either way, Azhani didn’t really want to consider either of those situations. The former was just shameful, and the latter was… weird, to say the least. The good thing was that Keerava wasn’t there. And, assuming no further Dragonborn interventions, Azhani would have some degree of privacy to do whatever she needed to. Well, not whatever, considering the one thing she actually did need to do was practically impossible. That would be varying degrees of rude and unsanitary. And possibly deadly – were Elder Scrolls waterproof? This was not the time to find out. So, Azhani sat where she was, rocking back and forth and occasionally shivering, despite the fact that she hadn’t actually taken off the cloak she’d received from Bjorn since putting it on the day before, and it was still just a few hours after noon so the sun still had quite a long way to go before disappearing below the horizon. The fact that the road had just recently turned to run much closer to the banks of the Treva wasn’t helping matters at all. It was close enough to hear – it still was before, but it could be ignored then. Now it couldn’t, and there was the bonus of not being able to run off somewhere farther away. If she could have done that, she would have a long time ago, but if she were to jump out of the cart somewhere, it’d take her far too long to find her way into a secluded spot in the woods, do what needed to be done, get back, and then find the cart again. It’d probably just waste even more time since the Dragonborn would either stop and wait for her or go back and try to find her once he noticed she was missing. For as much as she really wanted to do that and be done with it, it was not a good solution. She was in this mess because of wasted time, after all. What made things worse was that that was the only solution, really. Azhani had already pawed through the alchemy bags – for completely unrelated reasons – and found a bunch of little vials just a bit bigger than her hands, several of them stained with the remnants of that vegetarian mixture Serana drank. No big mixing jugs or anything. Nobody even takes those on trips like this anyways, especially not adventurers. Alchemy equipment just weighs them down to the point of immobility if they were to try to take some along and grab a bunch of loot out of whatever Ayleid ruin they were plundering. Plus, these vials were glass, so even if they were big enough to contain the rather excessive amounts of liquid they needed to, they’d make a lot of noise, so they wouldn’t be an option anyways. She had also given some consideration to grabbing up some of the cloth that was lying around the cart, shoving it all underneath her, and just letting loose then tossing the stuff overboard when she was finished. That idea was quickly dismissed, since everything that would actually be useful in that situation was either a blanket or an article of clothing. In other words, things that were far better off not covered in what was essentially cat piss. Sure, there were some apparently-useless rags and little scraps of cloth, but not only were those used to conceal the Elder Scroll, they also wouldn’t be anywhere near absorbent enough. And “absorbent enough” was becoming a higher and higher bar by the second. Then there was the much simpler choice, which was also the first one to be ruled out: Azhani could just give up and wet herself right where she sat. That would do by far the most damage, and it’d waste by far the most time. Pretty much anything touching the ground would be soaked to the point of being ruined, everything would need to be cleaned out, all the food would need to be destroyed and replaced… It was clearly the worst idea. Plus, even if she’d wanted to do it, she wasn’t really sure if she could. After all, she was very much in public. Sure, the road was deserted aside from the cart Azhani was riding on, but there were two people within arm’s reach of her that would definitely hear things happening. There would be no way she’d relax enough to let that happen, especially considering she was still extremely uncomfortable with Serana for reasons she still didn’t quite know. She’d forgotten to ask about that, and now was nowhere near a suitable time. So, having ruled out all possible means by which to relieve herself, Azhani was left with only one thing to do: wait as long as necessary. She knew it was possible, theoretically. As long as there were people around to see, her body would fight itself for her. She learned that in Cyrodiil. She also learned that relying on her bladder-shyness would just end up with her in pain, or worse, so ultimately even her only viable option wasn’t a very good one. What made things even worse was that she was pretty damn sure that her wait now was at least as long as it had been then – which meant it’d end the same way, if the next hour could hurry along and finish. And if it couldn’t, it’d end worse. If there were literally anything at all Azhani could do about her situation, things would be fine. But as it stood, all she could do was sit around and bounce and shake and just try to not have things end catastrophically. She couldn’t even see properly anymore, and all the sounds around her were starting to blend together into some formless roaring. At least, she sure did hope that was the many hours of urine in her messing with her head, and not something incredibly inconvenient like a giant, until-recently mythical, carnivorous beast about to fall out of the sky and cut off their path. Knowing her luck… As far as she could tell, though, she got lucky. She didn’t have to add “escape a dragon attack with an extremely full bladder and also find a place to take care of that problem at the same time” to the list of things she needed to deal with. Not yet, anyways. Her only real solace was that she was pretty sure she wasn’t the only one on the cart dealing with this problem of hers. She had no idea what kind of machine Bjorn was, but Serana would surely be in a similar position to her by now. At least, if she were awake, she would be. Possibly. Unless she woke up early and took care of it, and that was why she was already waiting on the cart that morning. But even then, enough time had passed for it to become a problem, right? But then, if it had become a problem for Serana, too, surely she would have woken up by now? Maybe Azhani was just doomed to meet only steel-willed, iron-bladdered women in the Rift. After all, that seemed to be the rule so far, given the amazing sample size of two people. Come to think of it, Azhani hadn’t actually met all that many other Khajiit since leaving home, and she didn’t remember anyone from Anequina other than her own family and that boy from Riverhold that she liked. Maybe everyone she’d meet would be way better than her, just because all Khajiit were cursed with completely useless bladders. Though, hers wasn’t exactly completely useless – it was doing its job, after all, and it was sticking out in front of her a good deal as if to demonstrate how good of a job it was doing. Why was she even thinking about that anyways? That was exactly the opposite of what she wanted to have on her mind. But then, she really couldn’t distract herself with anything else either. She couldn’t see or think straight, so she couldn’t read, and salted meat would make things worse, so she couldn’t eat… Azhani was really sure that things were not going to end well for her. In fact, she was ready to give up – wanted to, even, because at least then this whole situation would be over. There was just one small problem with that, and that was the fact that it was completely impossible. This was just Cyrodiil all over again; no matter how much she wanted it to be over, she wouldn’t be able to actually do anything about it until she was able to be alone. Which meant she had to just sit there for who-knows-how-long, waiting for that opportunity. The only good thing about this compared to Cyrodiil was that she at least had some idea of how long she had to keep waiting – not a very good idea, but some vague concept of time passing and time that still needed to pass nonetheless. She knew it was just a little longer, so she kept telling herself that, whispering it as she rocked back and forth on the floor of the cart. The more she repeated it, the more time would pass, so the truer it would become. Flawless. Eventually, it did come true. She felt the cart stop, felt some boxes bump into her as things settled into place… There was even some mumbling that must have been the Dragonborn saying something, but Azhani was in too much pain to understand anything that was going on around her. All she knew was that right now, she had to stand up. Just stand up. It’s not that hard. All she had to do was one thing. Just one, simple thing. Azhani was stuck. That just made her angry. Here she was, given a perfect opportunity to take care of what was extremely necessary, and she couldn’t get herself to stand up. It’d make sense if she were stuck on something, or under something. But no, she just couldn’t stand, and could barely move at all to begin with. After all that, she couldn’t let it end like this. She heard movement around her but couldn’t pinpoint it. As much as she didn’t want to, Azhani tried asking for help, but she couldn’t make a sound. She heard what sounded like a voice, but it didn’t seem to be talking to her. But then it got closer. Sounded female. Azhani still had no idea what the voice was saying, nor could she see the person it was coming from, but she tried to respond to it. Azhani managed to lift an arm and was almost immediately dragged to her feet. She then felt her body get pulled along the cart for a bit, then for a brief moment she was in the air, and then she was standing on solid ground again, leaning against something- no, someone else. She felt the weight of a body on one side of her, and what must have been a hand that had been placed on her shoulder on the other side. The person she was leaning on – Serana, most likely – spoke to her, but Azhani still couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. All she did was make an attempt to walk forwards, and fairly soon she was more or less being dragged along towards what was probably the woods. Her vision was still blurred, but she could see well enough to know what they were headed for. That, and it was the only logical destination. Azhani and Serana walked for a while, long enough to put the sounds of the river far between a sizeable barrier of trees – at least, that’s probably what happened, since the little roaring sound wasn’t there anymore. Azhani felt herself get propped up against a tree, then apparently was asked a question. She just nodded and waved Serana away, reaching down with trembling hands to undress. It took a little while, and she almost fell over getting into position, but eventually she was fully prepared to just let everything go. And yet she couldn’t. Hopefully she didn’t break anything, because she really needed to, but was just completely incapable. Azhani opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, she was jabbed in the abdomen. When that didn’t accomplish anything other than a single spurt, she felt pressure being gradually applied, and then fairly soon she broke down. Azhani closed her eyes and let herself slide down to sit on the forest floor as she removed what was probably sixteen hours of liquid from her system. Her senses came back to her after a few seconds, and she realized she’d ended up sitting on both her tail and the cloak she was so kindly given. Whoops. Nothing she could do about that now. That could all be washed once she’d finished. “Gods, I thought we’d left the Treva behind us.” Azhani opened one eye to look at the source of the voice. Serana was standing nearby, just close enough to help out if need be, but far enough away for it to technically be considered privacy. She didn’t really care at this point. Things had worked out for her, just barely. And, if she was honest, they probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t gotten help. She was… a little bit grateful for that, though it was still really weird that Serana was watching her. Half because it was Serana and half because she was being watched. Though, Azhani had to admit, it was quite a spectacle. She’d never actually seen that much urine come out of her at once, and with such force. Keerava would have approved. It took a couple of minutes for the torrent to die down to what could reasonably be called a stream, then it took a little while for that to die off, too. Azhani was left sitting in what was now mud, panting, half-naked, and effectively soaked from the waist down. The cloak wasn’t in usable condition, her tail was thoroughly saturated, and her pants had taken lots of collateral damage thanks to her positioning. But at least it was over. “Need help getting up?” Serana had come closer and was offering a hand, which Azhani took. She was pulled to her feet surprisingly quickly, considering she was making no effort at all to actually stand up. “That’s all pretty much ruined, isn’t it?” Azhani looked down at herself. “Yeah. All ruined.” “Well, here.” Serana unhooked a piece of fabric from her shoulders – essentially a miniature cape – and handed it to Azhani. “You can wear that as a skirt, get to camp, and I’ll deal with…” She gestured to the pile of soaked clothes left in the mud. “…this.” Azhani nodded and wrapped the cape-thing around her waist. It was shorter than she would have liked, and she couldn’t really negotiate her tail into it very well, so just had to wrap the “skirt” over it and have her tail hang straight down, but it was better than walking around half-naked. At least, she felt like it was; a human probably couldn’t see any details, but Azhani still had some degree of dignity. “What about you?” She looked over at Serana and pulled her cloak off, slinging it over one arm. “What about me?” “Don’t you need to…” “No.” Serana was trying to collect Azhani’s discarded clothes without getting her own clothes wet or dirty. It was harder than it sounded. “I’m fine.” That could not possibly have been true, but it really wasn’t Azhani’s business. So she just shrugged and picked her way through the woods, after being pointed in the proper direction. Azhani was pretty sure she’d just sleep for the rest of the trip that day. She’d earned it. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The next two days were uneventful. A dragon flew by once, early in the morning on Turdas, but either couldn’t detect the group through the trees they were under, or just didn’t care about them. Thus, for the last leg of the trip, Azhani alternated between being asleep and reading the book she had dug up – it was about some monoliths in Cyrodiil that had constellations carved into them. Azhani had seen some things like that in her travels, but in her experience, the ones in Cyrodiil didn’t do anything at all, unlike their relatives in Skyrim. The book was based on the premise that they did do things, and was written well enough that Azhani generally couldn’t tell what time it was unless the cart stopped or it got dark enough that she had to light a candle. She did have another tool for sensing the passage of time, but to her surprise it wasn’t very useful until they got to the borders of Ivarstead – there was plenty of tree cover up until then, and by the time they got to the edge of town there was practically no travelling left to do anyways. Still, though, they’d skipped their usual lunch break on the last day because they were too close to town to justify stopping, so now she was hoping they’d get done weaving through the streets soon and stop by some inn or something. Azhani had been wearing Serana’s clothes since the incident on Middas, and they were a much better fit for her than she’d expected, comfortable, and she liked the way the light gray looked on her, so she really didn’t want anything to happen to them. Of course, given that Ivarstead was a small mining town, and getting smaller by the day, travel through the town was fast enough to not be an inconvenience. The inconvenience would be the time spent renting a place to keep the horse and cart, unloading the cart, and preparing the Elder Scroll for transportation. That was the hardest part. Serana already had a belt she could have attached the Scroll to, so that she’d be able to carry it on her back, but they couldn’t just have a Scroll out in the open for everyone to see and potentially steal. So, they had to spend a good twenty minutes wrapping the Scroll in the cloth they’d hidden it under, making sure that no part of it would be visible to anyone, and that the cloth wouldn’t fly off in the wind. Then they had to make sure that Serana could wear a cloak over it and it wouldn’t be obvious there was something there. “Because,” the Dragonborn said, after Azhani impatiently questioned him on the purpose of hiding it so thoroughly. “If there’s just this bundle of cloth on her back, it’d look kind of suspicious. And if she were to just wear the Scroll outright, the cloak could easily fly up and reveal it. Considering we still have to go through town, up the mountain, and sit through however long this summit is going to last, I’d prefer if we attract as little attention as possible.” When Azhani glared at him, he added, “I realize that is still a large amount of attention. Even so, it’s best that people don’t know we have a Scroll with us.” So, all Azhani could do was stand there with her arms crossed, absentmindedly tapping her foot. Sure, technically she had money for once. She got a decent commission on the money she’d “recovered” from Keerava, so she could have just tracked down the inn and rented a room for a little bit of privacy. She could, if she hadn’t left her coinpurse in Riften. That complicated things, all because she had a habit of not having money that needed to be carried around, and as a result didn’t normally wear a purse that had no practical function. Would have been really nice to have noticed that she didn’t have it with her when they set out. Thus, she could only wait. If nothing else, Azhani at least knew that they’d have to stop by an inn somewhere – it was already a few hours past noon, and the food they’d brought along had either been eaten already or sold off as payment for stable space. Or barn space, in this case, considering they had to store a cart as well. There was no way they’d attempt the 7000 steps without having had lunch. Sure enough, as soon as the Elder Scroll was hidden to Bjorn’s satisfaction, they set out down the quiet roads to the one place in town that could be called a “major” inn. To Azhani’s great annoyance, the Dragonborn stopped just outside the door. “So,” he said. “We’ve probably got time for a few hours’ rest, so I’ll buy us a couple of rooms, and we can get some food here too.” He gave a sideways glance at Azhani. “It’s a long way up to High Hrothgar. No sense starting on it unless we’re all fully prepared.” Azhani rolled her eyes and followed a little behind him and Serana as they all went inside. She even came up to the counter, but only long enough for Bjorn to slide a small pouch of money across the counter and hand her a key. Conveniently, the inn’s rooms were all on the ground floor, so all she needed was a short dash across the dining room to get to privacy. But, of course, things just had to be inconvenient anyways. Azhani whined a little bit as she remembered what she’d been using as a belt. Serana’s clothes, despite being close enough to Azhani’s size to be wearable, were still too big to not slide off every two seconds. Azhani’s solution to this problem was to grab a rope and tie it up into a complicated knot, thus serving as a tight belt. It did what it needed to do, but right now it was just annoying. She’d only decided on this solution that morning, when she was informed that their destination was near – she figured it would be pretty stupid to try climbing a mountain while also trying to keep her pants from falling off, and then most likely flying away because that’s just the type of thing a mountain would do to her. The makeshift belt did what it needed to, though, albeit a little bit too well. As a result, Azhani couldn’t do anything other than fumble around with it, trying to find the one little part of it that’d get the rest to come loose, and with the work she’d put into tying it that morning, that wasn’t easy. The fact that Azhani could still hear people talking and the bard singing also wasn’t helping matters. Among other things, it made it harder to concentrate on the one thing she very much did need to focus on. After a couple of minutes with no success, she moved over to the bed and sat down, still prodding at the mess of rope that was getting in the way of her relief. The large pale stain on her cloak was an unpleasant reminder of what would happen if she couldn’t get things figured out in time. She was rather amused, though. Pretty much any other time, Azhani couldn’t tie a knot to save her life. And now here she was, trapped by a knot she had tied so well that she couldn’t get it untied. Or perhaps not knowing how to tie a knot was the problem, and she’d actually done a really terrible job. After all, a well-tied knot would be secure, but come undone fairly easily. This was extremely secure, but that was about all it had going for it. Her right leg constantly bouncing wasn’t exactly making things any easier, nor was the fact that there was that little metal bowl constantly off to the side of her line of sight. Probably best if she were to just… slide that back under the bed for now. It took another couple of very annoying minutes for Azhani’s prodding at her makeshift belt to loosen it up enough to come apart. She wasn’t quite sure what she did, or how she managed to avoid breaking a claw doing it, but that wasn’t really all that important if it meant she could unwrap the unholy abomination of rope she’d created. Perfect timing, too – right as Azhani got her belt off and her pants a little bit down, she’d inadvertently let out just enough to create a little puddle on the bed, which was almost immediately absorbed into the sheets. Wasting no time, she turned around and dropped into a squat directly over where she was sure she’d seen the chamberpot last and started to release. Except that sounded more like wood than metal. It had only been for a few seconds, and her stream hadn’t quite had enough time to get to full strength, but it still took some effort for Azhani to stop herself. She knew exactly what she’d find if she were to look down, so shoved one hand between her legs to make sure she didn’t start up again, while the other hand fished around under the bed. After a moment that was just long enough to feel an unpleasant warmth on her fingers, she’d dragged the pot out and under herself. Her hand got out of the way just in time for her stream to start again in force. She was certain that everyone outside could hear, and she knew someone would end up paying for the damage to the bed and floor – it wasn’t much, but, still, they’d find a way to charge for it. Especially since the puddle on the floor would, sooner or later, soak into the boards and leave them marked fairly permanently. Azhani made a mental note to do what she could to not get the same room on the way back from the Greybeards’ temple. Or, ever again, really. About a minute later, Azhani stood up and dressed herself up again, this time making sure her belt would be much simpler, while still being effective enough to actually be a belt. It mostly did what it had to do, so she slid the chamberpot back underneath the bed with one foot – still not looking down; she didn’t need to to know that the puddle she’d left had found a way to get her feet wet – and then headed out into the main room as if nothing had happened. Though, apparently, in the time she’d been gone, something interesting had indeed happened. The Dragonborn and Serana were sat at a table with a large assortment of meats and other foods laid out on it, and there was a golden-haired man in very expensive-looking furs seated across from the Dragonborn. He had a Dunmer lady behind him and a balding (Imperial, as far as Azhani could tell, but that was only because all the balding men she’d seen had been Imperials) man seated at his side. There was also a handful of yellow-cloaked soldiers standing around, some of them carrying shields with a horse-head motif painted on them. They’d only recently arrived, apparently, since the innkeeper was just now handing out drinks to the well-dressed man and his companions, and Bjorn already had a few bottles scattered around on his side of the table. As Azhani got closer, she heard the Dragonborn trying to strike up a conversation in the brief moments there wasn’t either a slab of meat or a mug in his face. “So,” he said when he got a chance, “Have you heard anything from the others?” Bjorn gave a little nod of acknowledgement to Azhani as she took a seat at his side, but neither of them said anything. The Dragonborn was already getting back to work at the food he had in front of him, though, so at least he had an excuse for being quiet. “They say Ulfric should be here soon. No news about Tullius or those Blades of yours.” Now that she was close enough to get a good look at him, Azhani could identify the man as Balgruuf the Greater. She tried not to make eye contact, but he’d noticed her anyways. “Do I know you, little lady?” His Dunmer companion was looking at her, too, with an eyebrow raised and her arms folded. Azhani’s response was to quickly grab the closest edible thing to her and shove it into her mouth, shaking her head fervently. Bjorn gave her a sideways glance and turned to the Jarl as soon as he could actually speak. “Uh, no?” He had no idea what he was doing. He knew it, Azhani knew it, Serana knew it. That Dunmer probably knew it too. “Her name is Azhani. She came here with me from Riften.” Balgruuf kept looking at the Khajiit for a little bit, but then took a swig of his drink and turned to the elf behind him. “Irileth,” he said, before trailing off into some quiet instructions. Irileth just nodded and disappeared into one of the inn rooms, and the Jarl turned back to Azhani. “Nice to meet you, then.” Azhani gave a little nod and got back to eating to guarantee that she wouldn’t have to make conversation. Plus, it was good food. She wasn’t exactly big on cooking meat most of the time, but the sausages at this particular inn were made exactly the right way with exactly the right seasoning. They were making her thirsty, though, so the first chance she got she managed to direct the innkeeper to get her some mead. “I don’t suppose,” Balgruuf said, leaning forward with a hand over the top of his mug, “that there’s any way at all to convince you to not bring a dragon to my home.” “Nope.” The Dragonborn seemed a little bit too happy about that, considering he was suggesting that a giant winged death machine should be lured directly into Skyrim’s center of trade. “You wouldn’t have come all the way out here if there were any other way to get rid of Alduin.” He finished off his current mug of whatever and waved the innkeeper over for another bottle or dozen. “I hope you know what you’re doing, then.” Balgruuf sat back and brought his mug halfway up, then stopped and went on talking. “You… do have a plan, don’t you?” Bjorn and Serana looked at each other, and Azhani looked around the room, not entirely sure what was going on. “I’m not going to lie to you, Balgruuf.” Bjorn leaned forward with both arms on the table, hands folded in front of his face. “I have no fucking idea what in Oblivion I’m supposed to be doing. I was hoping the Greybeards would tell me.” “So, what you’re saying is…” The Jarl calmly took a sip from his mug and flagged down the innkeeper for more. “… that you had me come all the way out here, to discuss a truce, so that you can execute a plan in my city that you don’t have yet.” “Well, yeah, that’s the gist of it,” Bjorn said, “but you’re missing the real point here. There are more important things right now. This whole dragon thing? Honestly, I can deal with that shit when the fuck ever I want. I could probably even go catch a dragon literally anywhere. It just so happens that your nice little castle was built specifically for that. But that’s not the point.” He filled up his mug with one of the bottles he’d been given, took a swig, and continued. “What is the point, is that I’ve got this amazing opportunity just handed to me right here, all because you just happen to be the most convenient way to get one of the things that I need. I’m not going to throw that away on some fucking dragons that I can yell at until they die no matter what you do.” He gave a little hand wave and drank some more. “No, I’ve got the chance to do something really important for everyone. Do you really think I’d go through all this effort just to get Tullius and Ulfric to stop fighting for just as long as it takes them to get back home?” Balgruuf shook his head. “I see what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work. Ulfric is too stubborn. You think he’d agree to give up on his quest to become High King? As long as he’s alive, he’s going to be fighting the Empire.” “He will give up, if I can pound into his head that the Empire isn’t the real enemy.” Bjorn tapped the table in time with the last four words. “I’ll have to see what kind of terms I can get for the end of the war, but if things work out, one way or another he won’t be a problem. More importantly, when the time comes, he’ll be a valuable tool in the real war. And I know he won’t turn his back on that opportunity.” The Jarl of Whiterun leaned back as far as he could as his eyes widened. “Are you suggesting…” He shook his head again. “You’re completely insane.” Bjorn chuckled. “Yeah, maybe.” Then he raised his mug as a toast. “To Tiber Septim,” he said, perhaps a little too loud. “To the Nine.” He downed whatever drink he had left and poured himself some more. Serana and Azhani quietly raised their own drinks – Serana’s being in a cheap goblet as opposed to the mugs and tankards everyone else was drinking out of – while Balgruuf muttered something under his breath. Azhani didn’t really know why she was joining in on the toast, but twelve years with the Dominion was enough experience to know that it was her chance to stick it to them. In spirit, anyways. After that, the meal carried on in relative silence, and once everyone had finished eating they just lounged around at the table instead of actually going anywhere. “Should be almost sunset,” Serana commented, with her feet on the table and her chair looking as if it could fall back at any moment. “Oh, yeah, you’re right.” Bjorn got up and stretched. “We should be going soon, then.” Balgruuf leaned forward. “You’re going to climb the tallest mountain the world, and one of the most dangerous, at night?” The Dragonborn shrugged. “Yeah. I want to get there first, and really, it’s not like it’ll be any different than climbing during the day.” He pointed at each of his companions. “Everyone’s got darksight. No big deal.” His eyes glowed blue for a moment as a demonstration. “Fair point.” The Jarl nodded. “I suppose I’ll meet you up there, then.” “Yep. You two ready?” He looked over at Serana, who worked her way out of her chair without knocking anything over or getting the Scroll out of position, and at Azhani, who gave a shrug and a little nod before getting up. “Alright, I’m gonna grab us some supplies for the climb, we can meet out where the steps start.” Serana nodded and quietly left the inn, but Azhani stayed behind for a moment. “Uhh…” she started, lifting one foot off the ground and wiggling it around a bit to demonstrate that it was, indeed, a foot. Problem being it was just a foot, and bare feet were not optimal for mountain-climbing. Bjorn looked over, raised an eyebrow, then nodded. “Oh, yeah, right, I’ll get you some boots too. Don’t know if anyone around here actually makes Khajiit shoes, but I’ll find something. Just, uh, go wait with Serana, I’ll be right there.” Azhani nodded and turned to leave, walking past way more city guards than she was comfortable with. Once she’d left the building, she took a moment to look around and see which direction she was supposed to be heading in. Down one road there was a cart loaded with more city guards, these ones wearing blue. Or, it looked like blue, anyways. It wasn’t quite dark enough yet to justify using Nighteye, but it was still pretty hard to make out colors at a distance. Whatever they were wearing, they must have been one of the other delegations that the Dragonborn had invited. That wasn’t exactly any of her business, though, and Azhani figured it’d be a good idea for her to leave before someone who did recognize her showed up. She heard someone behind her shout “Death to the Stormcloaks” as she walked away, and that only made her walk faster. That was something she definitely didn’t want to get caught up in. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be a concern, and soon enough she found herself at the bridge leading directly to the foot of the Throat. Serana was sitting on the stone railing, looking up at the sky and watching the moons come into view as the sky grew darker. She didn’t acknowledge Azhani until the Khajiit came over and sat next to her. “Never done this before, have you?” Serana continued looking up at the sky as she spoke. Azhani looked over at her, and then up at the moons. “Nope. First time.” She still felt weird in Serana’s presence, but considering they’d been stuck in a cart for the past four days and nothing bad happened, she couldn’t be that bad. Serana looked over at the Khajiit without moving her head. “It’s… a bit of an experience. You should be fine, though. Just hang back and we’ll take care of everything.” “You don’t have a weapon, though.” Serana didn’t say anything. She just held out her left hand, palm up, and a block of ice soon appeared. She moved her arm across the front of her body and the block turned into something that could be called a spear. Then she brought the ice-spear back and casually tossed it away over the bridge. “You were saying?” Azhani just nodded. “Y’know, it would help if you were to get yourself a knife or something.” Serana turned to look at Azhani. “Learn some magic, whatever. Running around defenseless is… kind of a bad idea.” “This one never learned how to fight,” Azhani said. “A knife would be useless in real danger.” “True.” Serana jumped off the edge of the bridge, reaching back and adjusting the Scroll to keep it properly positioned. “Tell you what, once we get done here, I can show you how. Or the Dragonborn could if he ever gets time. Either way, good skills to learn.” She looked over her shoulder just in time to see Bjorn approaching, with a pair of boots in hand and a bag slung over his shoulder. He’d even brought his sword from the cart and had it hanging off his belt. “Until then, though, just stay out of the way, alright?” Azhani nodded and hopped to the ground just in time to have those boots thrown at her. “Try those on,” the Dragonborn said. “They didn’t have any made special for Khajiit, but they should still fit well enough. Better than nothing, anyways.” Sure enough, the boots were a decent fit. Azhani slid them on without too much issue, and they fit around her legs nicely, and they were warm. They were completely the wrong shape for her feet though, and that would be mildly uncomfortable, but there was enough space there for it to not be too big of an issue. At the very least, she wouldn’t need to wear them very long, and could just take them off once they got to the temple. She walked back and forth for a bit to confirm that they were usable, then just shrugged. Bjorn took that as confirmation, so he set off towards the mountain. “Alright then, let’s get going.” Serana followed close behind, and Azhani took up the rear, making sure to keep her distance in case anything were to happen. There was still just enough light to see without Nighteye, and Azhani’s cloak, despite its damage, was warm enough combined with Serana’s clothes that the temperature wouldn’t be a concern. Bjorn had surely packed food and drink, so all they had to do was get to High Hrothgar. Still, Azhani couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing. Like she’d forgotten something. It didn’t take long to figure out what she’d forgotten. It took longer to figure out why, but even then, the answer was surprisingly simple, if a little contradictory. It was the alcohol. That was both the cause of this problem and the reason it hadn’t been dealt with earlier. Sure, Azhani hadn’t gotten drunk or anything, but she still knew it wouldn’t be the greatest idea to break the seal in town when she still had to climb up a mountain with no certain cover. She wasn’t entirely sure if that would even be a problem, but she still figured that holding on and taking care of the problem just once would be much better than the chance of having to deal with it constantly. Plus, in her own defense, she actually didn’t really need to go until they were already working their way up the mountain. She could have, but somehow, she managed to not feel it. And even if she had needed to, she wasn’t too keen on returning to her room, so odds are she would have been stubborn and tried to wait it out anyways. Fortunately for Azhani, that hadn’t been the case, and she wasn’t actually in terrible shape just yet – surely, she would have been by if she actually had noticed the need back at the inn – so she was fairly confident she’d be able to wait a while longer. The one problem with that was she had no idea how far they had to climb, it was fairly steep, and Nighteye was just making things blur together, so anything other than the path forward was practically invisible. At the very least, Azhani didn’t have to deal with any of the various things that were attacking the group on the way up. There’d be an ice wraith or some troll every so often, but Bjorn would Shout fire at it or Serana would skewer it and it’d be dealt with. It was slowing things down, though. Nature was putting her in this situation in the first place, it didn’t have to make things harder for her on top of everything else. Azhani was fairly sure they’d have to take a break somewhere along the line, though. They’d already been climbing for a couple of hours and they still didn’t really seem to be making much progress – though that could easily have been the Nighteye playing tricks on her. Even the Dragonborn couldn’t march on forever. Only problem would be finding somewhere to hide once they did stop. If the constant blue blur of what had to be a cliff face off to Azhani’s right was any indication, the mountain was rather unforgiving in that regard. She could potentially just go back down a bit, but she’d still be very much exposed, and still very much visible to her companions unless she were to find a part of the path that curved around, so she could use the mountain itself for cover. And by that point she’d end up alone and defenseless, so she’d have to bring Serana along to protect her, and that’d defeat the entire damn purpose. There was also the chance that they were already close and could make it all the way up to the monastery in one go. But considering the size of the bag the Dragonborn was carrying, that wasn’t all too likely. And even then, she wasn’t sure what sort of facilities the Greybeards would have. Plus, if their name was any indication, they were a group composed entirely of elderly men. That would make things weird, to say the least. The thunderous, earth-shaking boom of the Dragonborn Shouting a troll off the edge of the mountain brought Azhani back to reality, and it helped her realize two things. The first was that Unrelenting Force was not helping her situation at all. The second was that she was making things seem way worse than they really were. Sure, it was taking a while, and sure, there was still that constant feeling that something needed to be done. But Azhani had been through far worse just that week. Getting to that point again wasn’t high on Azhani’s list of priorities, but, still, until it actually got to that point, her situation could always get worse. And, technically, even at that point it could still get worse, but then she’d end up permanently damaged for it. That wasn’t something to look forward to. For now, all she could do was hope that they’d stop and eat soon, and that there would also be a bush or a cave nearby. Or just a big rock. Anything, really, as long as she could see it. For all she knew, she’d already passed by some perfectly valid cover, but she hadn’t seen it because it was too similar to the cliff face backdrop for it to get through the Nighteye filter. But then, if she couldn’t see it through Nighteye she wouldn’t be able to see it at all. At least, unless someone were to cast Light, but Azhani didn’t know any spells, Serana didn’t seem like the type that would use a spell like that, and the Dragonborn’s capabilities must have made something as crude and simple as Light seem like the kind of parlor trick one would perform at a child’s birthday party. And considering all three of them could see perfectly well in the dark, Light was, logically, entirely redundant. Come to think of it, this was a good lesson on the importance of redundancy. A lesson for next time. An hour passed and Azhani was really wishing that someone had learned that lesson sooner. It was cold, even with her warm clothes and cloak, and her attention had to be divided between climbing the mountain and… dealing with her other situation. And she would have greatly preferred being able to pay maximum attention to that. As it was, her need had escalated far quicker in the past hour than she’d anticipated, and considering there was still no indication that they’d be stopping any time soon, Azhani had to put some serious thought into giving up and just finding somewhere to hide. She could catch up to the others again when she’d finished. The only problem with that idea was that, if the number of trolls and bears that had been Shouted over the edge of the mountain so far was any indication, she really didn’t stand much of a chance going out into some dark corner alone and unarmed. Azhani shivered and put a hand between her legs. She really didn’t want to ask for help, but she also didn’t want to take the risk. It was cold, she really had to pee, and that would only get worse over time. Plus, even if they did stop she’d have to get an escort anyways to get somewhere private enough. She didn’t really have much of a choice, so she sped up enough to get closer to Serana. After taking quite a while to confer with herself to determine that this was, indeed, the only valid option, Azhani quickly and lightly tapped Serana on the shoulder to get her attention. She tried to say something, but only managed to get out “Uh…” Serana turned to look at the Khajiit. “Hm?” A quick glance at the little dance that was going on there was enough to determine the problem, so she just nodded and stopped. “Hey, you go on ahead, we’ll catch up with you, alright?” Bjorn turned around – completely around, in fact, and he was now walking backwards along the trail. “Uh, sure, alright, don’t go too far.” Then he turned back to face the proper direction, and Serana set off back down the mountain, signaling for Azhani to follow. It seemed to Azhani like they’d just spent a few minutes wandering in circles, and for all she knew that really was what they did, but they did eventually find a dead tree with some thin foliage trying to reach through the snow around it. Serana gestured at the tree then turned so that she was facing away from it, and Azhani hurried over and found what she was pretty sure was the most well-covered location. There, she removed her pants just enough for them to not get in the way, dropped into a squat, and tried to relax. That wasn’t the easiest task, considering it was cold and there was someone standing just ten feet away. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and when she opened her eyes again, her Nighteye had turned off and there was the sound of a weak stream of liquid hitting the ground beneath her. The light from the moons was just enough to see rudimentary shapes, but other than that it was completely dark and Serana wasn’t particularly visible anymore. It was the illusion of being alone, at least. After merely a few moments, though, the illusion was shattered all at once. Things happened too quickly for Azhani to keep track, but she was pretty sure she’d heard the shrieks some troll and saw Serana jump in front of her. Azhani couldn’t actually see the troll, but she did see a lot more of Serana than she would have liked – there was a red glow to her eyes she hadn’t noticed before, and in an instant a stream of red magical something flowing from who-knew-where into Serana’s hand lit up her face. She was very clearly angry, and her mouth was hanging open just enough for Azhani to see a set of teeth she’d only ever seen on other Khajiit. Azhani didn’t even bother trying to stop her stream, she just pulled her clothes back up and ran. She didn’t know where she was running to, and she tripped over her own feet and more than a few roots and stones in the process, but she did know that was not a place she wanted to be. Azhani practically crashed face-first into the cliff wall, and as soon as she recovered she worked her way along the wall, keeping her hands against it to feel for any changes. Turning Nighteye back on hadn’t really come to mind just yet, and that uncomfortable warmth down below was pretty low-priority as well. After a few seconds of blindly shuffling around the side of the mountain, Azhani felt the rock curve around into some recession or cave. A quick look at it showed that, according to what little was visible, it was just a small alcove that dug a few feet into the cliff wall. Azhani followed the curve of the cliff face until she came to a corner, then put her back to the wall and slid down to the floor. She sat there for a bit, trying to get her breathing under control, and once she’d calmed down enough to think straight, she looked out towards the sky, just staring at it for a little while. Tears filled her eyes as she watched the sky-lights dance, and soon enough her head was in her hands. For the next few minutes, all she could do was sit in her corner and cry. Azhani didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there, nor did she notice that she wasn’t alone anymore until she heard a voice. “Hey. You okay?” Azhani looked up and, through a haze of her own making, saw the faint shape of a body resting against the wall opposite her. The form included two faint red lights. Azhani just pulled her knees up to her chest and pressed back against her own wall. “Yeah, I get it.” The lights lowered as Serana slid down to a sitting position. “I don’t suppose you’re going to talk, are you?” Azhani sniffled in response. “Alright. Sure.” There was the sound of fabric shifting around, but Azhani couldn’t tell what was happening. “We’ll just sit here for a while, then. But, uh, I don’t imagine it’d be all that great for you to stay here for too long.” Azhani grunted. She didn’t really want to acknowledge that Serana was right – just a couple of minutes ago, Azhani was warm and wet. She was still wet now, but she was getting cold, too. “Fine. Guess we’re sitting here until you’re ready to do something.” The two sat in silence for a couple of minutes, watching each other and not moving. Unsurprisingly, Serana was the first to speak. “You know,” she said, “there are worse things you could have seen.” “What?” Azhani’s voice was hoarse when she finally spoke, and even drier than normal. “What are you, exactly?” Serana shook her head. “That’s not something you want to know the answer to.” ”No.” Azhani growled. “No more secrets.” “Fine, fine.” The glow from Serana’s eyes vanished for a moment as she took a deep breath, then returned as she started to speak. “I was the daughter of Harkon Volkihar. Bjorn mentioned him. We had to kill him because he was trying to destroy the sun or… something.” “What, not who.” Serana sighed. “I was getting to that.” She looked over to the sky and continued. “The term for it is, uh, ‘Daughter of Coldharbour’, I think. Cursed by Molag Bal himself.” “Cursed?” Azhani raised an eyebrow. “Don’t vampires call it a gift?” “Oh, yeah, the ones who were lucky enough to get the disease, they call it a gift.” She shook her head. “But they don’t know…” “Are you trying to get this one to feel bad for you?” “What?” Serana’s head jerked over to look at Azhani. “No, no. You’ve got every reason to hate what I am. I know I hate what my father did to me.” She sighed. “But, really, it’s just who I am now. And I’m still the same person you met in Riften a few days ago.” Azhani loosened up a bit, keeping her legs pulled in close. “If you hate it, why not get cured?” Serana shrugged. At least, it looked like she was shrugging. Azhani still hadn’t turned her Night-eye back on. “I never really thought about it. And, like I said, it’s been part of me for so long that it’s just… me. Wouldn’t feel right to change it.” Azhani took a moment to look around, then went back to growling again. “What else are you hiding?” “I’m not hiding anything.” “Yes, you are!” Azhani’s tail fluffed out. “What about the Scroll? When you met the Dragonborn.” Another sigh, and the red lights disappeared for a second again. “You want to know about that? Really?” Azhani just nodded at her, so Serana continued. “Alright, well. That was my mother’s idea. My father had that plan of his to block out the sun and conquer the world. There was an Elder Scroll he needed for that, so I ended up sealed away with it. Dragonborn found me and we dealt with Harkon.” “When did all this happen?” Serana looked around before muttering something. Apparently, Azhani couldn’t hear, and when the question was asked again, another, louder answer was given. “It was… uh, according to the Dragonborn…” She put a hand to her mouth and spoke around it. “…a thousand years, at least.” Azhani shivered. That wet sensation was kind of comforting a while ago, but now it was just cold, and things were sticking and freezing. “H-how old are you, then?” “No idea.” Serana shrugged. “On top of the thousand years I was stuck looking at the inside of a box, I don’t really know how these last couple of eras work. Could be two, three thousand years. But, look, you’re fucking freezing to death here.” She stood up. “If you really want to keep talking, we can do it once we get out of here and find the Dragonborn, alright?” She extended a hand to help Azhani up, but the Khajiit just growled at her and pushed herself up off the floor. “You don’t trust me at all anymore, do you?” “Nope. But we’re stuck together for now, hm?” “Guess so.” She shrugged and pointed at Azhani. “But, you know, you’re gonna have to do something about that.” Azhani shifted around uncomfortably to acknowledge her current state. “Sure, but what solution is there here?” “Well, you’re wearing my clothes, aren’t you?” Azhani wrapped her tail around her legs and pulled her cloak tighter around her body. “What?” “It’d be really stupid for you to go out there wearing those. You’re soaked through. But…” Serana looked around at nothing in particular. “Are you serious?” “Well, yeah. I don’t see any other clean clothes around here, do you?” Azhani sighed and knelt to work her way out of her boots. She finally had to turn her Night-eye on again to see what she was doing. “Fine. But make it quick.” It took her a while to maneuver the ill-fitted boots off of her feet, and by the time she’d gotten them off and stood up, Serana was already naked from the waist down, holding her pants out in front of her with one hand and using the other to pull her cloak around for some semblance of cover. Azhani spent the next minute hopping from one foot to the other, trying simultaneously not to stand too long on the cold stone ground and also remove her own pants. Fortunately for her, at least, the latter task wasn’t particularly complicated, as they were glad to fall to the ground on their own once her belt was removed. Then she held out her hand and kicked her soiled clothes over in Serana’s general direction, moving her tail between her legs for whatever privacy was possible in such a situation. Serana dropped her clothes into Azhani’s hands and carefully picked up what was on the ground. Azhani had no problem dressing, but Serana had to inspect what she was to wear before sliding her panties on, and then stepping into and pulling the pants up over them. “Gods,” she said. “This just isn’t right.” She moved her legs around in some attempt to find a position where the cold wetness was comfortable, but unfortunately for her there was no such thing. After Azhani had worked her way back into her boots, Serana sighed. “Well, let’s go then.” “This doesn’t change anything, you know.” Azhani was trying not to look over at Serana and just stayed by her side as they worked their way up the mountain again. “Yeah, I know.” Serana rolled her eyes. By the time the two got back to the Dragonborn, he’d already found himself a shallow cave and lit a fire, already roasting some meat over it. He hailed his companions over as soon as he saw them. “Hey. What took you so long?” Then he got a closer look at them – Serana’s red top and thoroughly stained gray pants, and Azhani’s gray top and pristine red pants. “And, uh, what happened there?” “Let’s not talk about it,” Serana said, immediately rummaging through the bag of supplies Bjorn had tossed aside. She pulled out one of her bottles and a clean set of clothes, then went into the cave. “So.” The Dragonborn turned to Azhani, who had taken a seat as close to the fire as possible. “That seems like it was a bit of an adventure.” “Cut the crap, Dragonborn.” Azhani pulled her ears back, flattening them. “Why didn’t you say anything about her?” She pointed in the general direction of where Serana disappeared to. Bjorn folded his hands and brought them up to his chin, then took a deep breath. “So you found out, huh? Look, I’m sorry for not telling you anything, but I need you here. Would you honestly have come along if I told you we’d be travelling with a millennia-old Daughter of Coldharbour for a week?” Azhani shrugged. “That’s… not the point. Don’t treat this one like some child that needs to be protected from every little thing. This one is… not sure whether to trust you, but it’d be easier to decide if you stopped keeping secrets.” “Yeah, that’s fair.” Bjorn gave a little nod. “I just couldn’t risk having you stay in Riften. I told you already, you’re my one chance at making this thing work. If Serana’s just some friend, some person, there’s nothing stopping you from coming along. And I mean, really, she is just a normal person. She hasn’t actually done anything, right?” “Guess not.” Azhani pulled her shirt collar up around her neck as far as it would go. “See? I wouldn’t have brought Serana along if I thought she’d do anything to hurt you. What kind of hero would I be then?” He sighed and grabbed the meat he was cooking from the fire, handing a piece over to Azhani. “I may have a dragon soul, but I’m not so much like them that I’m going to put innocent people in danger to get what I want.” “You still should have said something.” Azhani already had her mouth full as she spoke. “Yeah, probably.” The Dragonborn pulled his flask from his belt and took a drink. “But, I mean, you’re not really going to have any major problems with Serana, right? Like, you can still tolerate her?” Azhani shrugged, gave a little nod, and kept eating. “That’s good, I guess. So really all that happened was she scared you.” The answer was another little nod, so he continued. “Well, I’m a lot more dangerous and scary than she is. You’ll be fine.” “You know,” Azhani said, having finished her food entirely. She spoke while looking around for her waterskin. “She said something about how there were worse things to see. What was she talking about?” Bjorn looked behind him into the cave and at the very faint red glow in the distance that indicated he was being watched. “Uh…” “Bjorn.” Azhani had her arms folded. “Right, right.” He turned back around and sighed. “She’s not strictly… uh, human.” Another swig from his flask and he continued. “That whole family, they can turn into these big vampiric monsters. Serana doesn’t do it – at least, I’ve never seen her do it – but I know she could. I don’t know if it’s anything like lycanthropy where you’re not fully in control of yourself while you’re transformed, but if anything, I’d guess that’s why she sticks to human form.” “Knowing she can do that doesn’t really make things any better…” “No, but you asked about it.” Bjorn shrugged. “Just consider yourself lucky that, whatever happened out there, you weren’t actually in any real danger. No more than you are with me, at least.” He stood up and stretched. “Anyways, you should try to get some rest. We’re going to start moving again in a few hours.” Azhani woke up just before sunrise to Bjorn’s prodding. Or, whatever the equivalent of waking up would be, considering she didn’t really fall asleep. She tried, but in hindsight she probably shouldn’t have asked about Serana’s transformation. That wasn’t exactly a relaxing concept. So, instead she was just lying on the floor of the cave with a blanket for a while. Breakfast was had, and there was an unusual lack of conversation, and then the group continued up the mountain in silence. Azhani was hanging around a little farther behind than she had the previous night, only partially because of how tired she was. By late morning, they’d arrived at what almost looked like a fortress built into the side of the mountain. The Dragonborn said it was High Hrothgar, and when they went inside, they were apparently the first to get there. Not a surprise to anyone, of course. “Dragonborn.” An old man in loose, dark robes approached, and Azhani could tell why they were called Greybeards. “Is there something we can do for you?” “There sure is, Arngeir.” Bjorn set down the bag of supplies by the door. “I would have stopped by earlier, but that would have just taken way too long. Basically, I told a bunch of people there would be a meeting here to discuss a way to end the civil war. You guys are cool with that, right?” “Why would you tell them that? We don’t get involved with Skyrim’s politics.” “Exactly.” Bjorn pointed at Arngeir with both hands. “That’s why this is the perfect place for it. You guys don’t care, you don’t even have to do anything. We just need a big table, and I know there’s one right in there.” He pointed at a door behind Arngeir, who just sighed. “Fine. But I have to be there to keep the peace.” “Of course.” Arngeir turned to Serana and looked her up and down. “What did you bring the vampire for?” “Show him.” Bjorn nodded at Serana, who took the Scroll off her back and unwrapped it. Arngeir grabbed it and rolled it around in his hands. “I don’t suppose there is any way at all to convince you not to do what you’re planning?” “There is not.” “Then at least listen to my advice, Dragonborn.” He handed the Scroll over to Bjorn. “Alduin is the World-Eater. I told you this already. What you plan to do was done once before, and it only delayed him. He is an unstoppable force. When it is time for him to end this world, it will end, and a new one will be born in its place. Do not use this Scroll lightly. What you do with it may just postpone the doom again, not stop it. And if you do stop it, it may be worse than if you hadn’t.” “As long as I have anything to say about it,” Bjorn said, tucking the Scroll under one arm. “This won’t be the end.” Arngeir shrugged and walked away. The Dragonborn turned to his two followers. “Well then. We should have a few hours before anyone else gets here. There are some spare beds this way.” He pointed with his thumb and took off in that direction, so Azhani and Serana followed along. There were a few identical bedrooms all along one hall in the monastery, and every so often there would be a monk kneeling under a window as well. They stopped when they came to the end of the hall, and Bjorn pointed at two doors. “These should be empty. You take this-“ he gave Serana the Elder Scroll again. “-and I’ll go back outside and wait for everyone else.” Azhani went into one room and closed the door behind her as Bjorn walked away. It was a small room, and everything in it was dark. There was a sizeable window, sure, but the walls were the black stone the rest of the monastery was made of, the floor was made of the same thing, and what little furniture there was, was either carved from stone as well or was made of dark wood. There was a simple bed stuffed in one corner, with a few pelts over it but nothing particularly noteworthy. At the very least, to Azhani’s satisfaction, the room was properly-stocked. Which, essentially, meant that when she bent down and searched under the bed she found what she was looking for and was able to make use of it. And this time, her belt was loose enough to not be a problem. That taken care of, Azhani then kicked off her boots and crawled under the furs on the bed to get some degree of rest. It helped that it was much warmer than she’d expected of a bed in a monastery. Comfortable enough that she was almost drifting off to sleep… At least, she was until she heard some commotion going on outside. She couldn’t quite figure out what was happening, but it sounded like yelling. Serana seemed to have heard it, too, since by the time Azhani got out of bed, worked her way into her boots again, and looked out the door, Serana was already halfway down the hall and headed for the main door. Azhani followed along quietly, and when the two got outside, they saw that practically every delegation had arrived. Everyone was watching an argument between the Dragonborn and some Altmer lady. They were being backed up by someone who must have been a Jarl, judging by his fur coat, and an old man in Imperial armor, respectively. “I have every right to be at this negotiation,” the Altmer said, far too calmly for someone being accosted by the Dragonborn. “I need to ensure that nothing is agreed to here that violates the terms of the White-Gold Concordat.” “She's part of the Imperial delegation.” The Imperial tried to defend her. “You can't dictate who I bring to this council.” “Do you really think that we would sit down with that... Thalmor bitch?” The Jarl spoke directly to the Imperial soldier. “Either she walks, or I do.” “We’re not going to let you dictate terms to us before the negotiations even start, Ulfric.” The Imperial folded his arms and glared at the Jarl. There was a deep, low rumbling as the Dragonborn spoke. “That’s enough!” He looked back and forth at each of the men. “Both of you. Shut the fuck up.” He turned to the Altmer. “As for you... You have a lot of nerve showing up here. This is an insult. A mockery of everything we’re trying to do here. Get the fuck out of here. You don’t belong here.” “She’s staying wit-“ the Imperial tried to say something. “Quiet, Tullius!” The Dragonborn pointed at him and got in his face. “You knew what you were doing when you brought her here. How dare you? We are not negotiating with the Dominion!” He turned back to the Altmer. “You’re leaving. Now.” “No, I am not.” The Altmer crossed her arms. “The Empire agreed to the Concordat. Skyrim is part of the Empire. I cannot allow this negotiation to end with a violation of the Concordat.” “The Thalmor doesn’t rule in the Empire. This is an internal Skyrim matter.” Bjorn spoke in a low, harsh voice, almost like a growl. “Your government needs to learn its place, black-cloak bitch. You have no power here. You have no business here.” “I must-“ “What you must do is leave!” Bjorn pointed past her, down the mountain. “This is not your concern. You have no voice here. You were not invited here. You have no right to be here. You’re not going to sit around and report back to your superiors in their glass towers about what Skyrim is doing.” “You’re going to regret this.” The Altmer tried to sound threatening. “No, you’re going to regret it, Elenwen.” Bjorn stood up as tall as he could make himself and stretched out his arms. “Do you know who you’re dealing with?” He was shouting. “I am the Dragonborn! You’re making a very powerful enemy! Leave now, or when I’m done here I will go to your Embassy and slaughter every last Thalmor agent in it, starting with you!” “Fine. But they will hear of this in Summerset.” Elenwen turned around to leave. “Good! Tell them their time is up. Tell them the dragons are back, and they’ll be coming for Alinor.” “Is that a threat?” “No, it’s a fact.” The Dragonborn said. “If you want to see a threat, I’ll gladly help you find your way down the mountain the fast way.” Elenwen gave a contemptuous snort as she turned around and left without saying another word. Bjorn turned to the Imperial delegation. “Watch yourself, Tullius. This is not a game. You try something like that again, I won’t give you the choice of taking the long route, you understand?” Then he turned around, took a deep breath, and addressed everyone. “Camp out here if you like. Meeting starts tomorrow morning.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Is this everyone?” The Dragonborn was standing with his hands on the large, round table, just in front of an ornate stone chair with furs draped over it. It was late morning, and people were slowly filing into the room, including a Greybeard or two. Azhani was already seated just to Bjorn’s right, and to her right there was Serana. They were wearing matching outfits, since the only clean clothes that fit either of them were gray – though, at the very least, Azhani had dug up a proper belt. The Dragonborn himself was dressed in long black robes lined with fur, including a large collar wider than his head. Perhaps a little excessively formal, considering several other attendees were wearing armor. Azhani yawned while everyone else found a seat. She’d only woken up an hour beforehand, and wasn’t looking forward to sitting around all day listening to people argue about nothing. Unfortunately, Bjorn took his seat once everyone else had settled down, then waved a hand in the general direction of the Imperial delegation. “Our terms are simple.” Tullius stood up as he started to speak. “Riften must be returned to Imperial control. That’s our price for agreeing to a truce.” He sat down again, and Ulfric’s lieutenant – who apparently refused to stop wearing his bear-hat – immediately launched an assault on the General. “By Talos, the stones on this one!” He took a moment to laugh and went on. “You’re in no position to dictate terms to us, Tullius!” The Jarl of Windhelm leaned forward and nodded. “That’s quite an opening demand, Tullius.” “Ulfric, you can’t be taking this demand seriously?” His lieutenant turned to face him. “We can hold Riften against anything the Empire can throw at it. Besides, Jarl Laila will never agree to-“ “Galmar.” Ulfric held up a hand. “We will do whatever I decide is in the best interests of Skyrim. Are we clear?” “Yes, my lord.” Azhani bent over and rested her head on the table as Ulfric turned back to look at the Imperials. “Come on, Tullius,” he said. “You can’t seriously expect us to just hand over Riften at the negotiating table.” He leaned back and folded his arms. “You haven’t been able to take it back yet. Why should we give it up now?” “Because,” Tullius started, holding up a finger. “Because… the Empire will offer you-“ “Stop!” An old man at the far side of the table slammed his fist and stood up. “Are you so blind to our danger that you can’t see past your petty disagreements? Here you sit arguing about… nothing!” Azhani had to agree with him there. Currently, her tail was swaying around idly so she could pretend she had something to do. “While the fate of the land hangs in the balance!” “Is he with you, Delphine?” Ulfric turned to address the woman sitting next to the old man. “If so, I advise you to tell him to watch his tongue.” “He is with me,” she answered. “And I advise you both-“ Delphine pointed at Ulfric, then at Tullius. “-to listen to what he has to say, before you do anything rash.” The old man waved his hands around like a preacher. “Don’t you understand the danger? Don’t you understand what the return of the dragons means? Alduin has returned! The Wo-“ “Alright, wait, hold on right there.” Bjorn stood and held up a hand, and Azhani straightened out and rubbed her eyes. “You talk about understanding danger, Esbern, but it’s clear you don’t know what this is really about. I doubt anyone here really does.” “What are you talking about? Alduin will kill us all if we sit around here doing nothing.” The Dragonborn leaned slightly forward. “Yeah, no, see, that’s what I’m talking about.” He folded his hands together and pointed across the table. “Alduin seems like a threat now, but very soon I’ll have the tools I need to defeat him. I even came up with a great plan to get to wherever in Oblivion he’s hiding out.” He looked over at Balgruuf for a moment then continued. “Ultimately, the whole dragon… thing… It’s not an issue, really. A divided Skyrim can still fight back against the dragons. A broken Empire can fight off the dragons for as long as they need to. There’s one enemy – the real enemy – that we can only fight together.” Bjorn shook his head. “I’m not going to deal with any of your bullshit political games. Nobody’s going to give up any land, because this war isn’t going to start up again once we’re done here. You’re not here to come up with your own terms for peace, you’re here so I can slap some sense into you until you agree to my terms.” Ulfric leaned forward in his seat. “And those terms would be…” “Well,” Bjorn started, “First of all, Skyrim will become an independent nation.” He carried on through the complaints from the Imperial camp. “The Empire will recall all Legions back to Cyrodiil and all Imperial diplomatic missions in Skyrim – including the Thalmor Embassy, since their agreement is with the Empire – will be shut down.” Tullius stood up immediately once the Dragonborn finished speaking. “Grant Skyrim independence? What, so that this lout can become High King?” He gave a dismissive wave towards Ulfric, whose response was calm. “It would be up to the Jarls to elect a High King.” “Even so,” Tullius said, “The Empire isn’t going to give independence to Skyrim for as long as he is a Jarl.” Bjorn pointed at Tullius. “What did I tell you about games, Tullius? Enough with your politics. Ulfric will stay Jarl, unless he gives up the office on his own.” He crossed his arms. “Anyways, the second term is that, when the real war begins, Skyrim, no matter who the High King becomes, will fight alongside the Empire.” Galmar muttered something to Ulfric, who turned to address the Dragonborn. “What’s the point of independence, then, if we still have to die for the Empire?” “Because, Ulfric,” the Dragonborn said, “You won’t be fighting for the Empire. You’ll be fighting for Tamriel. Independent or not, Skyrim’s going to be part of the war to come regardless of what you want. The real enemy is too big of a threat, to everyone, for us to pretend any one country can take them on alone. We’re all going to be fighting for our own freedom, and if we lose because we were too blind and stubborn to fight together, there won’t be a Skyrim anymore. There won’t be a Cyrodiil. There won’t be anything.” “What are you talking about?” Tullius had a look on his face that made him seem like he didn’t even know where he was. Bjorn shook his head. “You, of all people, Tullius, I would have expected to understand. You were there, thirty years ago. You fought them then. You know how dangerous the Dominion is.” “What?” The General seemed taken aback. “I do understand the threat from the Dominion. That’s why I’m fighting this rebellion, so we can get the Empire back together as soon as possible, and stop wasting men on a fight with ourselves when we should be trying to protect ourselves.” He slammed a fist on the table, and the sound it made reminded Azhani that the tabletop was made of stone and uncovered. “But giving up Skyrim entirely? Are you mad? Skyrim is a military asset, how is the Empire meant to defend itself with just Cyrodiil and High Rock?” The Dragonborn shrugged. “Well, that’s why part of the agreement is that an independent Skyrim would contribute forces to the war to come. Skyrim has been one of the most important provinces in the entire Empire, I get that. But if we’re going to wage a proper war on the Dominion, we can’t have internal divisions getting in the way of it.” The conversation went on like this for some time, with Bjorn trying to convince Tullius that an independent Skyrim would be more of an asset than a subjugated one. Or, at least, that was what Azhani had gathered that the conversation was about. She wasn’t really listening, and her head was on the table again. Just to make things worse, her chair was cold stone, her back was hurting just from sitting down like that for so long, and she was starting to feel a familiar discomfort. She tried to listen in on the conversation as a distraction. “… we’re going to have to take the fight to them,” the Dragonborn was saying in a grave tone. “If we sit around and wait for them to attack us, we’re going to have another sack of the Imperial City. Now, I was born just before the war started, so I have no idea what life was like back then, but even I know that’s not something we want to have happen again.” “How do you suggest we fight them, Ironside?” Ulfric was leaning back as far as his chair would allow, one hand on his chin. “We don’t have the manpower. We lost the last war.” “Correction,” Bjorn said. “The Empire surrendered in a war they were winning. All we ha-“ “Wait, wait, wait, did you just say we were winning the Great War?” Tullius butted in. “What nonsense is that?” “Yeah,” Bjorn said with a shrug, ignoring the General’s rudeness. “Like I said, I was barely a child then, but if my understanding is correct, Hammerfell fought what was left of the Dominion to a stalemate after we left the War, and that was just one province. If Titus weren’t such an idiot, he could have fought back and won.” “What, so this is all the Emperor’s fault? Are you a damn Stormcloak? Emperor Titus acted in the best interests of his men – those Legions were shattered and exhausted, they wouldn’t have stood up in a fight anymore.” “Yeah, but we had more than just the Legions, didn’t we? Hammerfell, again.” Bjorn took a seat and tented his hands. “High Rock. Skyrim. They all had fresh meat. After Red Ring - again, accounting for the fact that this is all just from books - pretty much the entire Dominion force was destroyed, right? Hammerfell fought against what little was left over, and if we sent in the Nords or the Bretons against that, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.” The Dragonborn leaned forward and set his elbows on the table. “Titus was blind, and he threw away his Empire. Hammerfell left because of the surrender and then immediately proved the Concordat was idiotic, and now Skyrim is lost for the same damn reason.” “So, wait, what good are we supposed to be able to do against the Dominion?” To the surprise of most of the room, it was Ulfric’s voice ringing out with the question. “This Empire would be the same one it was at the end of the War – that Empire can’t beat the Thalmor.” Bjorn nodded quietly, then said, “Mm, yeah, that’s the hard part. To destroy the Aldmeri Dominion, we need to bring Tamriel back together. I reckon we need, at the very least, Hammerfell and Elsweyr.” “How do you propose we get… either of those? Hammerfell isn’t going to cooperate with the Empire anymore, and Elsweyr is Dominion-controlled.” Tullius spoke up and voices on both sides of the table muttered in agreement. “Well, I’m still working out a plan for Hammerfell, and I’m sure the leaders in the Empire could come up with one too, but, uh…” Bjorn nudged Azhani, who looked up at him. He spoke quietly to her, “You should say something; this is why I brought you here.” “What? This one was only a child when she left, she doesn’t know anything about these politics.” “No, but you left for a reason, right?” Azhani looked away from him as he spoke. “I’m not gonna make you tell me or anyone here what that was if you don’t want to, but surely you can come up with some reason the Khajiit would fight the Thalmor, right?” Azhani looked around the room – practically everyone was looking in her direction. She shuffled around in her seat for a bit before shrugging and standing up. Her heart was racing, and her bladder was starting to feel heavy, but she worked out a little speech anyways. “Anequina and Pellitine,” she started, “w-will fight for the Empire, i-i-if they’re liberated. Maybe. The Dominion…” Azhani took a deep breath and subtly pressed her legs together. “The Dominion is… the Thalmor… the Thalmor are cruel to the people there. People d-disappear, a-a-and if they come back they’re different.” She started speaking faster and pulled the little cape she was wearing around her as much as she could. “Nobody there likes the Dominion, but nobody fights back because they’re scared of them. The Thalmor hide behind the few people that worship them for bringing the Moons back, and everyone else has heard rumors of what happened to thi- to people who rebel…” Bjorn put a hand on her shoulder, and she sat back down as he finished for her. “The Khajiit are practically waiting for a foreign force to come in and show them that they can throw the Dominion out. They’ve been loyal subjects to the Thalmor for a century, and there are only so many times they can be told ‘but we ended the Void Nights’ before people start to see what’s really going on. If not to be rid of the Dominion, we have to at least liberate the Khajiit and the Wood Elves from this tyranny they’re living under. They were part of us once, for longer than most of our ancestors can remember, and more than that, we can’t let living people be treated worse than animals.” “So, basically, you’re suggesting that we go to war with a vastly superior force because of some silly sense of righteousness that means we have to save these people?” The armored lady accompanying Tullius, who Azhani heard be called Rikke, spoke up this time. “I mean, I’m all for helping people out, but is it worth all the resources and men we’ll have to throw at them?” “They’ll make it worth it if you rescue them,” Azhani said quietly, shifting around a little bit. Rikke crossed her arms. “That’s… hardly a reason.” “Oh, come on, Rikke.” Bjorn waved a hand at her. “If the Dominion invaded Skyrim right now, I guarantee you the Stormcloaks and the Imperials would drop everything to fight them. If the occupied lands are as bad as… well, we’ve all heard the rumors, and we’ve got a first-hand account right here.” He gestured to his right, and the Khajiit tried to shrink into her own clothes. “If they’re that bad, we just have to show up and they’ll immediately turn around and take down the Thalmor.” Rikke shrugged, and for a little while nobody said anything, so Bjorn spoke again. “So, is that it? We can all agree on an end to the war now? All hostilities cease as soon as the soldiers get word, Skyrim becomes independent, the Jarls will convene and elect a High King as soon as we give them the news, the High King will answer a call-to-arms when it’s time to fight the Dominion, the Thalmor will be evicted from their embassy in Haafingar and anywhere else they’re hanging around, and the Legions will go back home.” The Dragonborn crossed his arms and sighed. “I’m not forgetting anything, am I?” “Well, there’s one thing, but it’s not all that important.” Tullius spoke up. “You know of Vittoria Vici? Emperor’s cousin? Her wedding was meant to be in Solitude, and the Emperor himself was supposed to show up. It’s been planned for months.” “Bah, just treat the Emperor like a foreign diplomat and it’ll go fine.” Bjorn gave a dismissive wave. “Throw in some armed guards and make sure they aren’t just going to let some idiot into the kitchens, just because the dude’s wearing an apron and says he’s the Gourmet or Saint Vehk reincarnated or whatever. Typical foreign dignitary stuff, y’know how it goes.” Tullius shrugged, and everyone except the Dragonborn and his friends stood up to leave. Bjorn quickly called out to Balgruuf before the Jarl left and asked for Lydia to be sent to Riften, and then he rubbed the sides of his head and sighed. “By the fucking Nine,” he said. “I just did that, didn’t I? Fuck, I need a beer. Or three. Or ten. And some food. You hungry, Azzy?” He looked over at Azhani, who nodded enthusiastically. She’d only had a little bit of breakfast and had just gotten done sitting around doing nothing for several hours. Of course she’d be hungry. Well, and there was that other problem, but that wasn’t quite as important as she’d expected it to be. Still, she did feel the need to shuffle around a little bit every now and then. Bjorn stretched and headed for some other part of the temple. “Alright, you stay here, I’ll be back with food.” Once the Dragonborn left, Azhani and Serana were left sitting at the table, together alone in the room aside from the occasional Greybeard passing through. “So,” Serana started after several awkwardly-silent minutes. “You okay?” Azhani raised an eyebrow and shifted around again. “Fine. Why?” “Oh, nothing.” Serana shrugged. “It just seemed like, with the things you were saying about, uh…” “It is the past,” Azhani said. “No more talking about it. Not with you, anyways.” Serana nodded. “Fair enough.” After another quiet minute, she spoke again. “What about the future? Now that the war is over, what are you going to do?” Azhani shook her head. “Don’t know. Can’t do much without money. Riften is always an option, though. Might just stay there.” “Eh, well, a simple life is always a fine idea. And, hey, I imagine it’d be more stable than you’re used to, right?” “Past,” Azhani said, glaring over at Serana. “Right, right, sorry.” Thus, the two sat in silence for several more minutes, before the Dragonborn returned carrying a tray loaded with meat, cheese, and a large jug of beer. As loaded as one would expect from monastery provisions, at least. Azhani immediately dug into a piece of meat, while the Dragonborn served himself a generously-portioned drink. He downed a quarter of what he had straightaway, then spoke between additional sips. “So, the plan now is… Tomorrow, we go up to the top of the mountain… I use the Scroll, learn what I need to learn… Then, we get back down the mountain, Serana finds her way home… We go back to Riften and rest for a few days, then I get over to Whiterun and end this whole dragon thing.” His mug was empty by the time he’d finished speaking, so he refilled it and grabbed himself some food. “What will you do after that?” Azhani found time to ask a question after finding a moment where she wasn’t either eating or drinking in between rounds of eating. “I dunno.” Bjorn shrugged. “Go home, maybe. Help prepare for the war with the Dominion. I’ve only been away a few months, but it already feels like it’s been ages.” “So you’re… you’re actually going to do it? Fight the Thalmor?” Azhani looked over at the Dragonborn, took a sip of beer, and shuffled around. He nodded in response. “Well, I’d hope it’s not necessary, but it’ll come to it one way or another.” “Well, when you go to Anequina, could you, eh…” Azhani twitched her ears and looked down at her drink, saying nothing more. “You want to come with me?” Azhani nodded and took another drink to avoid saying anything. She got the feeling that it would have been a better idea to eat something instead, considering that need of hers had escalated quite a bit recently. The Dragonborn chuckled. “Ah, well, learn to fight and we’ve got a deal.” “You could teach, no?” “Yeah, yeah I could.” Bjorn raised his mug. “Once we get back to Riften, we’ll see what we can do, eh?” Azhani gave a little smile and flicked her tail, then got to work on the cheese that had been brought out. For the first time since leaving Riften, she even engaged in pointless smalltalk with the Dragonborn – and Serana, though she didn’t particularly want to have a conversation with her just then – and over the next hour she was able to put more thought into what would come next for her. She’d already thought about it on the way over, of course, but now the war really was over. That was a real thing, and frankly Azhani couldn’t quite believe it. She’d sat through the whole debate about it, but it still seemed too good to be true. For once, at least for a little while, she didn’t have to keep packing up to move from one war-torn city to another every couple of weeks. Though, come to think of it, she had spent quite a long time in Riften. She could see living there for much longer, even if Keerava was… eccentric. And that reminded her of that slight problem – it had become quite important by now, and it’d need to be dealt with soon. Right after this beer, she told herself. Of course, she just ended up pouring herself another once the one she was holding ran out, and her thoughts moved to the planned invasion. She knew her home wouldn’t be anywhere close to what it was when she left. She wasn’t even sure if anyone she had known would still be there. Her sister would be floating around somewhere or other, if she’d survived so far, but beyond that… what was there for her in Anequina? Perhaps that was why she wanted to go back, to confirm beyond any doubt that it was no place for her anymore. To confirm that she was right to leave when she did. There was a part of her that wanted to find a reason to stay, too – a reason to doubt everything she’d believed for twenty-two years. It would be a much better world if none of that were true, after all. But then, if it weren’t true, what reason did she have for fleeing to Cyrodiil? That was the sort of question that kept up her pattern of telling herself “just one more” until, with the Dragonborn’s help, the beer had run out. Fine timing, too, considering she couldn’t ignore what her body had been telling her for the past several hours anymore. And considering what she’d been doing for two of those hours… Azhani stood up and stretched, the weight of her bladder now making itself fully-known. She had to bend over for a second to maintain control. “Going to bed now,” she said, not waiting for a response before leaving the room and heading off towards what was, for now, her room. When she got inside, she managed to surprise herself by first checking the little window to see the time – still before sunset, but not all that long. Apparently relief wasn’t a top priority, even though her need had gotten far worse just by walking into the room. She did almost immediately turn around and head for her bed, though, once she had confirmed that there was still daylight out. She bent down and reached under the bed, finding nothing. ‘What? It was here this morning…’ She stood up and looked around the room, one leg bouncing. She figured Bjorn might have tried to pull some trick, but he never had any time to get into the room while she wasn’t there. Odds were, some Greybeard came in to clean things up and forgot to put things back. How very convenient for Azhani. She had to question why stuff like this kept happening to her. Sure, it was normal for her to be in situations like this, but not all the time. At the very least, normally there’d be some dark alley she’d be able to hide in, and that would solve everything because literally everyone does that at some point. What made things worse was that she really didn’t have any options – she could go to another room, but there was no guarantee that any of them would be vacant, and if her room was missing a pot, odds were good the others were too. She couldn’t exactly go outside; it was quite the small space, and there were people everywhere. Plus, it was a mountain so there was no cover, unless she went downhill and found somewhere, but she was certain she wouldn’t be able to wait long enough for that. She lashed her tail in frustration. The gods really didn’t like her, did they? Especially considering there was now someone knocking on her door. Couldn’t even let her piss her pants in private, could they? Either way, she kicked off her shoes and jumped into bed, and then reluctantly answered, “Come in?” It was the Dragonborn who entered, closing the door behind him and pulling over a chair for himself. The last thing Azhani needed right now. “So, uh, that stuff you said about the Thalmor…” He rubbed the back of his head. Azhani grunted, rolled over onto her side and stuffed her tail between her legs as she felt a warm spot appear. “Not a good time.” “Oh, it won’t take long, I just have a question or two.” Bjorn leaned forward, resting an elbow on one knee. Azhani responded with a groan and rolled over onto her other side to face the Dragonborn. “You’re not going to leave until you get an answer, are you?” “I don’t think so, no.” “Fine,” Azhani said with a sigh. “What is it?” “So.” Bjorn folded his hands. “How much do you know about what the Thalmor are doing?” Azhani knotted her legs as the warm spot grew. “Nothing. People vanish, what happens then, only they know. Sometimes they come back, always as Thalmor.” “They have Khajiit Thalmor?” “Rarely.” Azhani grabbed her tail and pulled it farther up between her legs. “Mostly elf, Khajiit only if they need to. For… propaganda, things like that. We’re not technically part of the Dominion, but still they take our own people and send them back to make us wish we were.” “They haven’t… openly, uh, done… anything, have they? I heard what they did in Valenwood…” Azhani shook her head vehemently. “No, always secrets, always just… disappearing. Is… is that all?” This wasn’t exactly the best of topics for her to discuss on a good day, and this was surely not a good day. “Yeah, yeah, I just…” Bjorn looked around the room for a moment, then stood and walked to the door. “I just needed to know what kind of people we’re dealing with. Thanks.” Then he left. As soon as the door closed behind him, Azhani rolled over onto her back and groaned again. She had things under control for now, but something would have to be done. She did have one idea that hadn’t been totally ruled out for being utterly insane. It still wasn’t the best idea, but it was all she had. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her rear off the bed and slid out of her lower clothes, throwing them to the floor. She did the same to her shirt, then rolled over onto her front and held herself up on her forearms. The blankets weren’t quite covering her, and her chest was clearly exposed, but that didn’t matter right now – not like anyone could see anything through all the fur anyways. With her front half lifted up above the bed, she positioned herself so she was sitting on her knees, then spread her legs apart so her rear half was as low down as possible. She picked up her tail and wrapped it around one leg, then sighed as she let go. There was a faint pattering sound as her stream immediately hit the bed’s material and absorbed into it, but, being a monastery, the beds at High Hrothgar weren’t terribly high-quality. It took almost no time at all for the sounds to turn to the splashing of a puddle being made. Not that Azhani really cared, even if the puddle very quickly started to reach her feet. No, all she did was relax and slide down even further so that she ended up lying directly in it rather than avoiding it. As a bonus, she was able to press her face into the pillow to muffle any sounds she might make – and there were plenty of those. It took a minute for her to finish this time, at which point Azhani simply continued to lie around in her puddle for a while, not fully realizing where she was or what had just happened. When she did become aware again, she immediately moved the blankets out of the way and rolled over to her front to expect the damages. The fur on her belly was soaked, and there was a large pool of urine on the bed that wouldn’t be absorbed into anything any time soon. She sighed again, and gingerly worked her way out of bed, wiping herself off with the blankets as well as she could on the way. As she bent down to retrieve her clothes, she noticed something. A Greybeard had dropped off her chamberpot in the meantime, and no doubt saw what was going on. Azhani covered her face with both hands and screamed internally. ‘At the very least,’ she thought, ’please let him think it was something else. By Azurah…’ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ When morning came the day after the war summit, High Hrothgar was quiet. The dignitaries from the day before had already started making their way home, and the only sound within the monastery itself was that of a body covered in plate armor walking the halls. Of course, there was another set of feet moving behind him, but through either great skill or unnatural ability, they were inaudible even on the Greybeard’s polished stone floors. The two came to one particular room in the residential wing of the monastery, and on entering found a small black Khajiit on the bed, pressed against the wall and lying on top of the sheets as if to take up as little space as possible. Still half-asleep, she gave a slurred protest upon being prodded by the Dragonborn: «Nnnnn- Ten more minutes? There’s nothing to do today.» Then she curled up tighter. Bjorn stared blankly at her for a moment, looked over at Serana, then addressed Azhani again with a chuckle. “I don’t need to speak the language to know what that meant. Come on, get up, we’ve gotta get the Scroll up to the top of the mountain, and I think you might like to meet… uh… the leader of the Greybeards.” Azhani rolled over to look at the source of the disturbance with half-opened eyes. “Isn’t that Arngeir?” “See?” Bjorn just pointed at her. “Now you’re interested. Get yourself ready and meet us out back.” The Dragonborn turned and left without another word, leaving one barely-awake, half-naked Azhani lying in bed trying to figure out exactly what had just happened. On the other hand, why was this even a problem? By the looks of it, it was late morning already – Azhani would normally have been awake hours ago, unless something had kept her awake far too long the night before. Sure, the previous night wasn’t exactly the best – a quick prod determined that the bed was still cold and, somehow, still slightly damp – but that wasn’t enough to keep her sleeping for hours longer than usual. Then again, she did spend the last month in the same inn doing the same work day in and day out. She took a moment to consider that while she ran through her daily routine – staying in one place for more than a week was highly unusual for her, especially since she tended to get herself into trouble if she stuck around for more than a week. But then, considering the events of the past month, she still technically was getting herself into trouble, just a different kind of trouble and a lot more of it. She couldn’t help but think, again, that there was some god somewhere planning everything just to mess with her. A ridiculous notion, to be sure – perhaps only Sheggorath could be responsible, and Azhani had done nothing to anger him recently – but an entertaining thought nonetheless. It was an explanation, if nothing else. In any event, staying in one place for so long had made Azhani lazy. The trip to High Hrothgar had been a well-needed change of pace, and if the goal now was to go to the very top, it would be that much better. What are the odds that she’d ever get another opportunity like this? It took a little under an hour for Azhani to appear in the monastery’s rear courtyard. She’d been sidetracked by the food someone had left out in the open, and then she had to return to her room to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. She was already wearing borrowed clothes, no need to make it any worse. The Dragonborn gave her a curt nod as a greeting, then set off immediately, Serana at his heels, leaving Azhani to run after them to keep up. From her position at the back of the group, Azhani couldn’t help but notice that everyone was travelling very light – Bjorn had only what pouches he could fit around his belt, plus his sword and a dagger, and Serana was carrying only the Elder Scroll, now not bothering to wear the cloak she had brought it up the mountain with. No doubt it would be a short climb, and a quiet one too; Bjorn had started telling a story about how this particular path used to be shrouded in magical clouds that he had to Shout away, so there wouldn’t be anything to disturb them. “Quite a good thing for us,” he’d said. “Means we can just get up there, I read the Scroll, then we go home.” “About time for something to be simple for you,” Serana had joked in response. “I’ve only known you for a few months and you never seem to be able to go more than two seconds without getting into a fight.” “I know, it’s getting annoying. I just want one thing to happen the way it’s supposed to. Is that so much to ask for?” Sure enough, things really were going the Dragonborn’s way. Nothing had attacked any of the group on the entire trip to the peak, the Scroll hadn’t been carried off by some bird of prey for no reason, it didn’t spontaneously explode, nothing. Thus, when the land flattened out, Bjorn took the Scroll from Serana and held it up above his head, walking towards a strange-looking wall a short distance ahead of them. “Paarthurnax?” He looked around and called out. “Het nii, ol laanaan.” The Dragonborn looked around some more, and just as he was turning to walk back to Serana and Azhani, there was a distant roar. Then the mountain started to shake, and a dark shape appeared overhead, spiraling in until there was a massive, battered dragon close enough to the ground that the beating of his wings was enough to knock Azhani over – not that she minded, she’d much rather be safely on the floor if there was going to be a dragon to deal with. She didn’t get a good look at anyone else in the time it took her to fall down, but it seemed like neither the Dragonborn or Serana seemed to care that there was a dragon directly above. She only got up again when the lack of wind indicated the dragon had settled down, and the lack of any other type of noise indicated nobody was currently trying to kill anyone else. Instead, the dragon was having a conversation with Bjorn. “Lost nii. Fin Kel. Tiid kreh... qalos,” it said, “Kos nid motmahus morah. Hi kos daanshaan. Kogaan Akatosh. Qethsegolle kos ahst him uth. Amativ.” The dragon lifted a wing as if to point in one direction, apparently towards nothing at all – though, looking a little closer it did seem like the air was a bit distorted. “Krongah qostiid. Drun fin Kel kotin fin Tiid-ahraan. Ni lingrah-tiid. Alduin fen meyz. Rok nis voskoraav fin grah meyz...” Now it was looking directly at Azhani, who was staring back at it, unsure of what to do and unable to bring herself to move at all. Thankfully, it turned back to the Dragonborn. “Wo kos fin Kaaz?” “Huh?” Bjorn seemed to have been caught off-guard by the question and looked back and forth between Azhani and the dragon for a few seconds before answering. “Oh, rek kos, uh… aan fahdon, hey,” he said as he walked up to Azhani, put a hand on her shoulder, and pointed up at the dragon with his other arm. “Azhani, that’s Paarthurnax, leader of the Greybeards.” Azhani gave a nervous wave and squeaked out a quiet, “Hello,” which seemed to be enough to get both Paarthurnax and the Dragonborn to leave her alone. Indeed, Paarthurnax merely dipped his head at her as a greeting, then immediately returned to his conversation with Bjorn. “Dovahkiin,” he said with what seemed to be a hint of impatience. “Geh, geh, amativ.” Bjorn gave a dismissive hand wave as he walked with the Scroll over to the ripple Paarthurnax had indicated earlier. He got himself into a fighting stance, putting the Scroll in front of his face with one hand poised to open it. “Here we go,” he said, pulling on the tab on the bottom of the Elder Scroll. There was a flash of light from the Scroll – blinding even under the midday sun – and in an instant the Scroll closed itself again and Bjorn had been brought to his knees, falling over onto his side where he remained motionless. Azhani started towards him to do… something. She wasn’t sure what, just something, but before she could make any significant progress, Serana had stuck out an arm to stop her and Paarthurnax had turned to address them both. “Do not touch him,” he warned. “He is through the Tiid-ahraan, the Time-Wound, in a vision. Move him and he may be forced out.” “And that would mean what exactly?” Azhani relaxed only slightly and backed away from Serana’s arm. Paarthurnax tilted his head. “I don’t know. The Kelle are unpredictable. It could do nothing, it could destroy his mind. Best to not find out.” Azhani looked over at the Dragonborn – he was hardly even breathing, though perhaps that was just hard to see under all the armor. “When will the vision end?” The distant call of a dragon rang out, and Paarthurnax’s head immediately sprung up to find the source of the sound. Serana had gotten herself into a combat stance as well, scanning the skies and maintaining little balls of frost in either hand. “Hopefully soon,” she said. The calls only got louder as time went on, and the Dragonborn still did not respond. Not until the mountaintop went dark from the shadow of a massive dragon circling overhead did he wake up. He pushed himself off the ground and staggered about for a moment with a hand on his head. As soon as he could properly function, he took a quick look around, then looked up, and immediately pulled both his sword and dagger from his belt. Evidently, the dragon overhead figured that was his opportunity to attack, so he dove until he was just barely above the ground, the wind from his wings nearly blowing all the snow off the mountain as he hovered there and accosted the Dragonborn. “Bahloki nahkip sillesejoor, Dovahkiin,” he yelled. “Dir nu ahrk saraan dez ko Sovngarde!” Bjorn just brought his dagger in front of him and widened his stance; Paarthurnax was the one to respond. “Lost funt. Lingrah tiid, Alduin! Dovahkiin! Zaan Dragonrend, aal mindok!” Once he’d finished speaking, whatever he was saying – Azhani wished they would speak Cyrodiilic so she could follow along – he took off and immediately engaged Alduin. The two dragons flew far above the peak of the mountain, locked in a vicious melee with each other the entire time, and the Dragonborn took the chance to run back to the rest of the group. Serana was throwing icicles up into the air, mostly at random, and Azhani had taken to sitting behind a rock where hopefully nothing would hurt her. Bjorn looked up with arms out by his sides, trying to make sense of the serpentine mass overhead. He would flinch occasionally when the shockwave from one of the dragons’ thunderous Shouts hit him, but otherwise maintained focus. It took quite a while, but as soon as the dragons overhead separated enough to tell one from the other, he took a deep breath, and Shouted into the sky above: “JOOR, ZAH FRUL.” The full force of the Shout took a few seconds to reach its target, and when it did the residual power of it was enough to blast Paarthurnax away and stun him, though he regained control after a few seconds and was back to circling overhead, waiting for a good chance to attack. The same could not be said for Alduin, who was covered in a blue aura and immediately crashed down to the mountaintop like a rock. “Fen naak him sil ko Sovngarde!” Alduin yelled and reared his head, unleashing a Shout as he came forward again: “Yol!” But nothing happened. He tried again, then a third time, and still nothing happened. “Hah! I didn’t know it would do that!” The Dragonborn stepped forward, and when Alduin moved to bite at him, he unleashed a brief Shout – the single word he used was inaudible through the blast, but Alduin’s head was thrown back long enough for Bjorn to deliver a mighty strike with his left hand, driving the dagger into Alduin’s neck. When it was pulled out, it took several scales with it, but Bjorn had to retreat before he could take advantage of the opening – Serana had instead thrown some icicles in that general direction, a handful of which had hit the small spot of exposed flesh. There was a cry of “-SHUUUUUUUUUUUL” from overhead as Alduin moved to attack again, only to be covered in flame. He looked up and tried in vain to Shout Paarthurnax out of the sky, but this only resulted in him having a sword plunged into his neck. The Dragonborn had to put a foot on Alduin to retrieve his sword, which now bore a healthy coating of black blood, and received a claw to his side as a bonus. When he stepped back, his armor looked as though it had been punched through, and yet the Dragonborn didn’t seem to notice. Indeed, he just lashed out again with his sword, and with the help of a distraction from Paarthurnax, he drove his dagger into Alduin’s muzzle, ripping out yet more scales. Alduin tried to take a bite out of Bjorn in response but got a sword to the mouth instead. Bjorn suddenly backed off just after that, and prepared a Shout: “KRII LUN A-aaaugh!“ His Shout went off unfinished and into the air just above Alduin as the dragon spun around and hit the Dragonborn with his tail, causing him to fly back and crash into the wall Paarthurnax had been resting on just minutes before. The aura around Alduin faded, and he jumped into the air and prepared a Shout of his own. “YOL T-“ “FUS-“ There was the sound of a great metallic explosion from above as Alduin came crashing back to the ground – his own Shout had amounted to little more than a puff of fire that was gone as soon as it had been summoned. The Dragonborn had worked himself to his feet in the meantime, and with a deep breath he added his own Shout to the mix. “JOOR ZAH FRUL!” There was a spray of blood included with the Shout, but Bjorn didn’t seem to notice. Alduin seemed to writhe in pain as the aura returned, and even Paarthurnax recoiled from the effects of the Shout, though he was in an entirely different direction. Serana took the opportunity to send a few icicles into the exposed flesh on Alduin’s nose, and the Dragonborn delivered a blow to the opening on Alduin’s neck. “Paarthurnax kos sahlo. Zu’u mul,” Alduin yelled as he lashed out at the Dragonborn with the claws on his wing-hands. Each strike pierced the plate like it was hardly there, and though Bjorn tried to maintain his stoic appearance, he had to turn aside and spit out blood before delivering a strike with his dagger. His stance faltered, and he stumbled backwards when the attack was done – Alduin took the opening and swatted at Bjorn again, creating a massive crack on the Dragonborn’s chestplate and forcing him even farther back. His reward for this initiative was an icicle to the eye and a blast of fire from above. He didn’t seem to care about either, though, and marched back into range of the Dragonborn. “Mar saraan ko Sovngarde,” he said, leaving his jaw open as he lunged forward for a bite. Bjorn rolled out of the way as well as he could and Shouted in retaliation. “Fus… ro daahhh.” Though his voice was soft, Alduin was still forced aside, and the Dragonborn himself was knocked back as well, leaving several bits of armor behind as he was forcibly rolled away. And yet he still stood up – his feet couldn’t seem to find a place to stay, and his breathing had become labored, but still he was standing. Alduin simply looked at this, then at Paarthurnax and Serana, and as the aura faded again, he yelled out: “Meyz mul, Dovahkiin. Nuz zu'u kos Al-Du-In, Saraaniin se Akatosh! Mulaagi zok lot! Nis kos kriiaan het, naal hi uv naan joor! Hi nis viik zu'u.” He took off, and as he left he taunted the Dragonborn. “Fen saraan fah ul... joor!” Paarthurnax flew off as well, and as soon as they were sure Alduin was gone, Serana and Azhani rushed to the Dragonborn’s side. He said nothing, and tried to limp over to Paarthurnax’s wall, though almost immediately had to resort to leaning on Serana. He left a trail of blood as he walked, and when they reached the wall he practically collapsed against it, leaning back and looking blankly up at the sky. He slowly raised his left hand and brought it to his chest, at which point it was engulfed in a golden light. Then the Dragonborn closed his eyes, only opening them again when Paarthurnax returned and took his place atop the wall. Azhani was the first to speak. “Are you going to be okay?” The Dragonborn stared at her for a moment, then answered slowly and quietly. “Haaah. He forgot to kill me. He’s just made me angrier.” Blood dripped from his mouth as he spoke, and he raised up his right hand to wipe it away. “Hey, where did the bastard go anyways?” He looked up at Paarthurnax. “I would not know. I followed him only as far as to know that he is gone from here,” the dragon responded. “One of his allies could tell us… Motmahus. It will not be easy to… convince one of them to betray him. Perhaps the hofkahsejun…” “You mean Dragonsreach?” Bjorn coughed, sending more blood onto the snow. “I’ve already got everything sorted out to lure a dragon there and trap him. Turns out the Blades were right for once.” He tried to laugh but ended up coughing again instead. “I don’t suppose you have a particular name in mind?” Azhani’s ears perked up. “Name? What would you need a name for?” “Dragon names are Shouts,” Bjorn replied. “Paar-Thur-Nax, for example, is a Shout. Shout a name, and you call a dragon. It’s, eh, a challenge of sorts.” “The dovve are prideful by nature, so many consider it to be shameful to refuse a challenge,” Paarthurnax added. “Especially from the Dovahkiin. And this particular Dov, he is… boziik. What is it? Like brave, but he does not think first.” He turned to Bjorn, who gave the translation as “reckless”, then continued. “He is reckless. Even among dovve, he was known for this. He would not refuse a call from anyone, much less Dovahkiin.” “So what’s his name?” “His name, Dovahkiin, is Od-Ah-Viing. Make the words your own: Od-Ah-Viing.” The Dragonborn rolled his head back and closed his eyes, and after a moment leaned forward again. “Odahviing. Understood.” He shook his left hand to shut off the healing magic and raised an arm for Serana to pull him up by. “Everything is ready. We have the trap, we can get the dragon.” “You’re not ready for anything in this state, tough guy,” Serana chided. “Heh, you’re right. So not everything.” Bjorn turned to look at Azhani. “We’ve got to back to Riften anyways. Might as well stay there until I’m in fighting shape again. And Lydia should be there by the time we get back, or a little after… I don’t suppose we could get a dragon ride there?” “I am needed here. I cannot be your personal transportation,” Paarthurnax said. He sounded annoyed, but Azhani couldn’t be totally sure since dragons seemed to always sound angry. “Ah, it’s just a joke, lighten up. Getting down the mountain is going to suck, though…” “Deal with it,” Serana told him, leading him back down towards the monastery.
  8. The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully, and Azhani awoke the next morning to find Keerava once again standing over her with a candle before sunrise – though this time it was barely an hour until then, and the Argonian just walked out of the room without saying anything once she saw that Azhani was awake. Figuring staying in bed would not be the greatest idea, the Khajiit reluctantly got out of bed and went about her normal morning routine, yawning practically the entire time, before heading downstairs for whatever Keerava had planned for today. As it turned out, the plan was “work”. “I don’t expect we’ll get another day off today,” Keerava had said. “But we should have a while before people start showing up.” Thus, they spent the time with breakfast. Talen had prepared some kind of stew – and also complained about how “this meat is going to go rotten if we don’t do anything with it soon” – and Keerava brewed more of her tea from the day before, so the three of them enjoyed their little feast. It quickly became apparent that there was a problem, however. The food wasn’t disappearing as fast as it should have, and the mead supplies for the day were as of yet untapped. Keerava was the first to speak up about this oddity. “Anyone seen the Dragonborn?” She waited for the other two to look around and shrug, then spoke again. “Az, you were in the sewers with him, right? Do you know where he went to from there?” Azhani shrugged again. “No, we went two different directions. He did say something, that he knows how to end the war, but he could be anywhere. Also Lydia mentioned that they were going to rescue some person from the Ratways. Maybe they took that person somewhere.” “Huh.” Keerava gave a sort of half-nod. “That’s interesting. Well, wherever he went, I hope he comes back. He’s given us more money in the last week than Romlyn has in his entire life.” “He’ll be back,” Talen said. “Sooner or later. After all, I… uh, hm…” He trailed off into some incoherent mumbling and took some quick sips of his tea. Keerava gave him a look but didn’t say anything about it. She did turn back to Azhani, though. “So, what were you doing yesterday, if you don’t mind my asking?” “Uh, actually,” Azhani said, eyes darting around and tail-tip flicking. “Could we go somewhere private, maybe, to talk about that?” Keerava leaned back for a moment and raised what passed as an eyebrow. “Yeah, sure, right this way.” She picked up her cup of tea and led the way upstairs and over to her own room, where she sat on the edge of her bed while Azhani locked the door. “Alright, what is it?” She took a sip of her tea and then held her cup in her lap with both hands. “Well, uh…” Azhani’s hands were working mainly at rubbing each other, and she was looking at everything in the room that was not an Argonian. “The, uh… Thi-“ She cut herself off and sighed. “I was told s- I need to collect money that you owe.” She rubbed the back of her head and managed to produce a nervous smile. Keerava just moved her mug over to a nightstand and looked around for a moment. “You’ll have to be more specific. I owe money to lots of people. Black-briar, half of the woodworkers in town, Maramal even got his way in there somehow…” “It’s, uh, it’s the Guild,” Azhani said, quietly. “Guild?” Keerava tilted her head for a moment, but then straightened up again soon after. “Oh, right, that Guild. Well, I don’t know what Brynjolf thinks he’s doing, I already told the fucker I’ve got nothing. And you know that.” “Yes, yes I do, and I told him that also. I said I couldn’t get you to pay, tried to make him forgive the debt, but he said to try anyways.” Azhani nodded a little bit too enthusiastically. “Persistent little ass isn’t he,” was the muttered response. “Well, I do have some money saved up – most of it’s from Bjorn, actually. I was hoping to use it for getting out of this dump, but if the Guild’s sending collection agents, I guess I’d better pay up before they send the real muscle, right?” She chuckled, and Azhani followed along, though half-heartedly and unsure if she was actually supposed to be laughing. “Anyways, I do have one condition. I’ll give you the money Brynjolf wants, but only if you do something for me.” “Do something?” “Yeah. It’s, what…” Keerava leaned forward to get a better look out her window. “A little bit after sunrise now. You don’t get any breaks until sunset, and if that all works out, I’ll give you all that money. If not, tell Brynjolf I say he should see if he can fit bread into his oven.” “What?” Azhani looked over at Keerava with an expression of absolute confoundment. Keerava started laughing a little bit. “Oh, it’s, uh, it’s from a-“ “What?” It was now the Khajiit’s turn to tilt her head, very soon straightening out again and speaking quickly. “No, no, not that. I’ve heard of- that. Think I saw the play once, few years ago. It was… something. But, no, the first thing.” “Oh, right.” Keerava’s eyes shifted about and she let out a quick breath of laughter. “Right, no, uh, it’s just, if I’m gonna pay that much money, I want to get a good show out of it, y’know?” She chuckled. “I’d get Talen to do it, but that’d take way too long before anything interesting happened. Fortunately, you’re here, and I want to test you. I’m… fairly confident that you could pull this off, all you have to do is keep yourself dry for a few hours. Not hard, right?” Azhani held up a finger and opened her mouth to respond but thought better of it and shrugged instead. At the very least, if things went according to plan, she’d get part of the money she delivered. And if they didn’t… She couldn’t really come up with a reason to go through with it if that were to be the outcome, but the potential reward could very well outweigh the rather large chance of failure. She certainly wasn’t making irrational decisions because there was some Elder Scroll somewhere dictating that Riften should be the site of some fetish story, or something. No, that would be absurd. Justification aside, Azhani shrugged again and said, “Okay, sure.” “Great,” Keerava said, picking up her mug and getting back on her feet. “Let’s get downstairs, then, we’ve got work to do.” The first few hours of the “test” weren’t too bad. Azhani was limiting her drinking, as well as she could all things considered, and it took a while for her drinks from breakfast to get through her system. By the time people actually started showing up late in the morning, those drinks were making themselves known, albeit very quietly and certainly entirely manageable. At the very least, she was having an easier time managing that than the two Argonians were managing their present situation – a situation involving, as expected by quite possibly the entire population of Tamriel, Romlyn Dreth. Except this time there was another Dunmer involved as well. Azhani heard them refer to him as “Indaryn”, and apparently, he was the one running the Black-Briar Meadery for Maven. Evidently, he’d come to collect Romlyn, who had made himself extremely late for work in his quest to obtain breakfast at the Bee and Barb, and then sit around for a few hours telling stories. He was now trying to explain his situation while the Argonians were now, surprisingly, on his side. Or perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising, considering Indaryn was threatening to fire Romlyn, and this was clearly not a desirable outcome for the innkeepers. Azhani wasn’t paying too much attention to all that, though. There were only a few people actually in the building at the time, but considering everyone else was preoccupied, she was the one not only bringing food and drinks to customers, but also preparing it herself. She was no expert chef, but fortunately nobody going to an inn run by an Argonian with hardly two spare septims to rub together expected all that much out of their food. And as an added bonus, the little Khajiit was practically unable to focus on anything but her work for the moment. She didn’t need to be distracted just yet, but if this were to keep up, it’d be quite helpful. Of course, it didn’t keep up. It didn’t take very long for Romlyn to be dragged – literally – out of the inn, at which point Talen took over cooking and Keerava went back to standing around and occasionally pouring drinks, which left Azhani to wander around aimlessly with a broom when she wasn’t taking food to people or clearing tables. That didn’t last too long, either, and fairly soon everyone had left for that brief hour or two of actual work before they came back again for lunch, so now all Azhani had was her broom and her thoughts. Even her thoughts would be taken away, though – her wandering and sweeping had brought her over by the bar, where Keerava was quick to strike up conversation. “So, how’re you holding up?” Azhani looked back and forth between Keerava and her own feet for a little bit before answering. “Fine. Don’t know for how long, but fine.” She really was doing fine, which she didn’t quite expect. The pressure from the morning’s drinks was still very slight, now more noticeable than just a half hour ago, but still slight enough to ignore. Keerava gave a little nod. “Well, that’s good. Hopefully you’re still staying hydrated, though. That’s, you know, fairly important.” As if to accentuate her point, she pulled out a mug that she had been keeping under the bar and took a long drink from it. “Yeah,” was all Azhani said in response. She was actually getting rather thirsty, but considering they’d all be sitting down for lunch soon, she could deal with that then. No need to add any unnecessary fuel to the fire. The next hour was incredibly uneventful. Noon came around, a lunch of various things made of chicken was had, and mead flowed a little bit too generously considering the price. There was also a distinct lack of Dragonborn, though as far as Azhani was concerned that was probably for the best – no need to let him see the condition she’d quite soon find herself in. And she was certainly getting there. She’d had a little bit more to drink than she intended, so that pressure was growing faster than she would have liked. It was still tolerable, for now, but getting to be harder to ignore all the same. Even the little wave of people coming in to get something to eat didn’t provide as much of a distraction as it had that morning – in fact, it was probably getting to the point where all that running around was starting to make things worse. Fortunately, as far as Azhani knew, nobody noticed anything strange about the way she would stand whenever she had to stop running around. She kept her legs close to each other, and every so often she’d squeeze them together very briefly for a little bit of help. Just five hours left, or something in that area. Totally possible. Maybe. Or maybe not. Hardly two hours later and Azhani was already putting a great deal of effort towards not dancing around. She was fairly sure there was a little bump in her abdomen by now, though that was about the only thing she was actually sure of at the moment. She’d stayed dry, sure, but now she was starting to doubt whether that would last much longer – though being in public and now dealing with a constant stream of people coming in and out of the inn was really helping her stay under control for the moment. It was kind of like Cyrodiil, only not as bad, now that she thought about it. Though, she almost immediately realized she shouldn’t be thinking about it and tried to focus on doing her actual job, which was going well enough, all things considered. Of course, all her job consisted of just then was running back and forth between the kitchen and some table to get someone some food or refill a drink or something. It was quite tiring, and she found herself drinking a little bit whenever she got the chance, despite her body’s objections. Keerava was right, of course, couldn’t risk dehydration or anything like that. Still didn’t change that Azhani knew exactly what she was getting herself into. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too much longer, or there would start to be some serious problems. She did eventually get a bit of a break, though – people had stopped coming in, the last few people who were actually eating anything had left, and everyone else was starting to gravitate towards the bar to throw away the rest of their afternoon into a mug, or two, or ten. That was, of course, something Azhani needed to have absolutely no involvement in, so she just grabbed up her broom and started wandering around with it like usual. Of course, there really was dirt that needed removing now, but mostly it gave her an excuse to walk around. If she stood still for too long, she’d either have her legs locked up together or she’d start doing a little dance. Not that she wasn’t still dancing anyways, it just wasn’t as noticeable if she walked around at the same time. Azhani managed to shuffle over to a window, and looking outside saw that there was still a good deal of daylight out there, which meant she was still hours away from being done with this. It was starting to get darker, of course, as it was getting to be late afternoon, but not quite late enough for it to be near sunset. Azhani hoped nobody could hear the little whine she let out. To her credit, that was all she’d let out just yet – being desperate in public did have one advantage for her, at least. Of course, that advantage could very easily turn into another Cyrodiil, which she was now thinking about again, which was definitely not something she should have done. ‘Focus’, she kept telling herself. That was getting harder to do, though, considering there was only so much entertainment one could get out of a broom. And she was fairly sure that her bulge was visible now; sure felt like it was, and a quick, subtle probe revealed that it was indeed very round, but still had some give to it. Though perhaps pressing on it wasn’t the brightest idea. Even so, she’d kept herself dry for this long, a little bit of extra pressure wouldn’t break her yet. It certainly wasn’t helping, though, especially considering the internal pressure just kept growing. The sun had to have slowed down since last she checked; surely all this time she’d been waiting had been enough for it to be sunset already. Of course it wasn’t, so she didn’t really have much of a choice but to get back to sweeping. It wasn’t helping as much as it had just a little while ago, but it was better than nothing. Certainly better than sitting around like Keerava was doing just now – though she was clearly not troubled by the same burden Azhani was carrying. In fact, Azhani could have sworn she saw Keerava leaving to go upstairs not too long ago, then coming back down and settling herself right back onto her stool behind the bar. It wasn’t like her to take a break like that, and Azhani couldn’t tell if that was some subtle way of messing with her. Whatever the point was, Azhani was a little jealous – here Keerava was, able to leave to take care of her own business whenever she wanted, all the while leaving her Khajiit employee to suffer through a full bladder all day long. And she was watching, too. Sure, she was trying to be subtle about it, but Azhani could tell that Keerava was looking over every so often to see what was going on. Funny enough, if she hadn’t been doing that Azhani may very well have leaked by now, which is probably what Keerava was actually looking for, but knowing someone was watching was enough to scare her body into submission. How long, though, would that really help? That pressure just kept growing and getting more distracting, and sooner or later something would need to be done. More likely sooner than later, which was a real problem considering it still wasn’t quite sunset yet. It was starting to get closer and closer, though, but that ultimately just caused more problems – Azhani, of course, was constantly thinking about how much time had passed and how much longer she had to wait, and knowing that she’d be able to get what she needed for the Guild, and more importantly some sorely-needed relief, she couldn’t help but connect the two events. And that meant that as sunset grew closer, Azhani could only imagine the possibility for relief growing closer as well, which was not a very helpful thing to think about. Especially so, considering she was starting to let out little involuntary drips. There wasn’t really much she could do about that, so she just tried to keep moving, until inevitably a little jet of urine forced its way out. That really set things off. Azhani threw one hand between her legs and pressed them together as tightly as possible in an attempt to stop anything worse from happening – a successful attempt, but now a warning that things really had to be taken care of soon. The only question was if “soon” was even an option. The sun was inching its way closer to the horizon, so it would definitely go under soon, but that kind of soon wasn’t necessarily the same kind Azhani’s body was thinking of. A quick glance at Keerava showed that she was looking out the windows now, too. Considering the amount of money she had on the line, no doubt she was trying to will the sun to slow down. That was a little ray of hope for Azhani, though – if Keerava was getting concerned with how close sunset was, that meant it really would be quite soon. Though, considering her present state, the current question from Azhani wasn’t whether she could keep everything else locked up until then, but how much she’d lose waiting. Hopefully Keerava would be lenient with her definition of “dry”. As the last few minutes of her wait dragged on, Azhani hobbled over to a fairly-remote corner near enough to the bar to keep an eye on Keerava, but far enough that nobody at the bar would notice her. It was as close as she could get to privacy at the moment – she hadn’t tried it, but she was sure that if she tried to hide behind something or head upstairs Keerava would be running after her to stop her or hover around her to make sure she wasn’t trying to cheat. There was very little traffic near her corner, though, so it was private enough for Azhani to grab herself or wiggle around or do whatever she needed to do without having anyone see her doing it. There was only so much she could do, though, and another spurt found its way into Azhani’s panties, which were already decently soaked from the constant dripping. At least nothing showed on the outside yet, but if things didn’t hurry up that wouldn’t last long at all. Keerava was starting to look a little worried, so hopefully it would last just as long as it needed to. Azhani managed to get herself lost in her thoughts for a while after that. It was only a few minutes, but still enough time for her to let her guard down enough for yet another spurt to work its way out, this one slightly longer than the rest. Azhani was just barely able to get herself back to reality in time to put an end to it, but not before it left its mark on her pants – that would surely be visible if there was any light at all cast on her. She couldn’t stop herself from shaking all over, watching Keerava intently to see if her time was up yet, or at the very least hoping for something to happen that would stop her from being very gradually drained by those little drops she was losing. Something like Cyrodiil that one time, except also not because she wasn’t thinking about that. She was just about to think about it, though, when she saw Keerava sigh and turn around, looking for Azhani. Once she found her, Keerava subtly waved her over. On one hand, that meant that everything was over and she could do what she really, definitely needed to do two hours ago. On the other, she had to walk over to the bar. Where there were people. People who would notice her dancing and shaking and everything. Still, she couldn’t really ignore what would be her golden opportunity, so she ran over to the bar as fast as she could without looking like she was running. That caused her to lose a couple more spurts, but by then she didn’t really care. When she got there, she made a point of standing behind everyone seated at the bar, hoping none of them would turn around to look at her. Keerava grabbed a pouch from under the counter and came out to meet the little increasingly-wet Khajiit, Talen seamlessly replacing her as the barkeep. “Guess you win,” she said, directing Azhani over to the stairs and handing over the pouch. “Barely,” was the response – Azhani had both of her hands buried between her legs and it took a great deal of effort to remove one and collect the one thing she’d been doing all this for. Those spurts of hers weren’t slowing down, and there were obvious dark trails down her legs that were gradually growing longer and more numerous. Keerava looked Azhani over a few times and said, “Just make sure you let Brynjolf know that he’s an ass. Now, I’m sure you have something you’d like to be doing now.” Azhani gave a quick nod before bolting up the stairs and into her own room. The door slammed shut behind her, and as soon as she was in the room she was already bent down to drag her chamberpot out from under the bed. Her body seemed to think that meant it was time to let go, though, so she didn’t even bother undressing as she felt a stream start and quickly pick up into a rush of wet heat down her legs. All she did was try to seat herself over her pot so that she wouldn’t ruin the floor, and for a few minutes stayed like that, pissing through her clothes into a chamberpot, letting out a sigh of relief. She was otherwise completely unsure how to react – the sigh was involuntary, but now she was thinking about whether or not this turned out well. After all, she did end up wetting herself anyways, but it was also in the privacy of her own room and after an entire day’s wait. She didn’t have very many clothes, but at least she had more than she came into town with, so she had something to change into. Still, she couldn’t believe she’d wet herself again. Third time in a week she’d properly done so, and before then she hadn’t done it at all for years. Things really weren’t working out for her, but at least now she had money, even if it wasn’t exactly a normal way to get some.
  9. Keerava didn’t wake up again until noon. Or maybe it was a few hours after noon. Hard to tell, both because there was still no break in the clouds – though the snow had stopped falling – and also because sleeping far longer than normal left her disoriented. Not that it mattered, since it was still quiet downstairs, which meant Keerava had absolutely nothing that she needed to be doing just then. Well, there was one thing, but that would just be more of an inconvenience than anything. That’s why she didn’t take care of it the night before, or just before getting back into bed that morning. Keerava very much preferred the simpler option of just going directly to sleep, so much so that she never actually changed her clothes since morning. Meant she didn’t have to do anything to get ready, too – she only spent as much time in her room as it took to get out of bed and stretch, then she was immediately out the door and downstairs. Nobody was there save for Talen, who was behind the bar, standing over a pot in the fireplace. Smelled like chicken. Everyone else must have still been out on their adventure, which meant they’d miss out on the food – a real shame, considering the quality of Talen’s soups. Keerava hurried over to the bar and sat herself down on one of the stools. It took a few moments of shifting around to find the right position for her to get comfortable, and not just because she hardly ever sat on that side of the bar and was not used to the strange perspective. Still, she ended up leaning back against the bar, arms spread across the counter. The only time she moved was when Talen walked up and started talking, and even then, all she did was tilt her head back so she could see him – upside-down, of course, but close enough. “I was just about to go wake you,” he said, setting two bowls onto the counter and taking a seat for himself. “Perfect timing.” He watched Keerava turn around to face him; she shuffled around a bit more and threw one leg over the other. Talen quickly looked her over and pointed his spoon at her while he spoke. “Are you really…?” Keerava nodded and took her own spoon out of her mouth. “Yep!” Talen simply shook his head. “What am I going to do with you?” He was waving his spoon around to replace hand gestures. “Oh, come on,” was the response. Keerava wiggled seductively – partially so, anyways. “Don’t act like you don’t like it.” “Hey, I only do it because it’s part of the job. You just… you go a little overboard with it. Didn’t you just do this yesterday?” “I sure did.” Keerava leaned forwards and was now drinking her soup straight from the bowl. “And now I’m doing it again today.” Talen sighed. “You’re gonna hurt yourself doing that, you know.” A hand wave and a huff was the response. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I know what I’m doing. But, yeah, you’re right. After today, I’m gonna go back to normal for, I don’t know, the rest of the week. Maybe even next week.” Keerava shifted a bit as she finished off her soup. “It’s just, I’m kinda, uh, working overtime right now, y’know? Don’t want that to go to waste.” “Yeah, okay.” Talen rolled his eyes, or as close as he could get considering Argonian physiology. “You do that.” “Mhmm.” Keerava turned around again – this consisted of, essentially, lifting herself off the stool, turning rather slowly and carefully, then dropping down to her seat, at which point she went back to leaning against the bar. That was followed up by a great deal of shuffling, and her tail subtly twitched a few times, but eventually she settled into a position with one arm on the counter, supporting her head from the side while the other hand rested on her belly. The firmness was rather surprising; it hadn’t really been all that long. Well, it was less than a whole day, anyways. Then again, she also wasn’t at peak performance either, so this was to be expected. The morning tea was really helping, too. If nothing else, she had a chance to relax for once. No work to do, nobody to feed or listen to, just her and that nice full feeling of hers. And Talen was still hanging around, which was nice too. ‘If only every day could be this quiet,’ she thought. ‘Wait, no, that’d mean I wouldn’t make any money. If only the damn guild would get off my ass, maybe I could afford to not make money for a while.’ That reminded her… “Talen?” She tipped her head back again to look behind the bar at him – he had put away the excess soup and was now cleaning out the pot he cooked it in. “What’s Maven selling her mead for now?” Talen looked over at Keerava, who had slid down in her seat to the point where she was more lying on the counter than against it. “Hm? Oh, it’s, uh, 25, last I checked.” Keerava groaned but didn’t move from her new position. “That’s not unit price, is it? How are we supposed to turn a profit on that?” “I don’t know.” Talen shrugged. “Maybe we could look for another brand.” “That isn’t an option.” Keerava groaned quietly and stretched. “Maven sees me selling a competitor’s brand here and we may as well dig our own graves.” “Yeah, well, I’ve got shovels.” Talen pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “If we start now, we might be finished by the time she finds out.” “Real funny.” Something about the way she dragged out “real” made her sarcasm painfully obvious. “Maybe we could hope for a dragon to fly over in the meantime. Would be a lot safer to piss one of those off.” “Knowing you, you’d probably piss on one.” Keerava had never thought of that before. Now she suddenly wanted to try it. But, given that she could not, she simply performed a vulgar Argonian gesture instead. “Don’t you have a pot to clean?” Talen chuckled. “Yeah, but maybe I shouldn’t, you might need it. Wouldn’t want to have to clean it again.” “Really? I thought you’d be more than happy to get your hands all over something I’d sat on. You know, naked and everything.” “Um.” That was all Talen could come up with, and for a few seconds that was all he said, repeatedly, until he finally decided to also say, “What?” “Oh, nothing.” Keerava sat up straight again and tightened the knot her legs were making with each other. “Just thought that’d make a nice image for you, hm?” “Well, I, uh…” “Ah, never mind. Get back to… whatever it was you were doing. I’ve got to actually pay attention to this now.” She didn’t wait for the response – which was a simple “right, yeah” – before slowly bringing herself to stand up, but then very nearly regretting that decision as she felt the sudden rush of a leak she was just barely able to suppress. Perhaps she lost a drop or two in the attempt, but nothing major, so she recomposed herself quickly and took to walking around the room. Things really had progressed a lot faster than Keerava had anticipated. She had figured she’d have another few hours, possibly even until sunset, but at the current rate she doubted she’d even be able to last a single hour. So, essentially, everything was going perfectly. She was wandering around, arms behind her back, the occasional jerk of her tail the only indication of the situation at hand. There wasn’t even any need for subtlety; Keerava simply found it more entertaining. She did have to stop every so often to take back full control over her own body when it tried to defy her, but otherwise she just kept moving, going around in circles. And considering the place was empty, she had lots of time to think, and considering the distraction this provided she was more than happy to take full advantage of it. ‘Why isn’t anyone in here anyways?’ was one such thought. ‘It’s only a few feet of snow, these people are Nords, they see this all the time. Though, I guess it is kind of a lot for this far south.’ She sighed and flicked her tail. ‘I guess it’s for the best, stumbling around drunk in the snow when it’s this cold isn’t the best idea.’ That reminded her of something. Even with several fires going, it was still cold inside. It didn’t much help that Keerava was wearing her regular work clothes and was not outfitted for anything beyond the usual Skyrim weather. Combine that with the fact that Argonians aren’t built for Skyrim in the first place, and Keerava was really feeling the effects of the cold. Or rather, one specific effect. Sure, compared to everything else that was contributing to her situation, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but the cold definitely wasn’t making things any easier. Even so, through some miraculous iron will, Keerava was still completely dry – theoretically, considering she actually was slightly wet, though nothing had escaped her bladder just yet. That would no doubt be changing shortly. There was still a chance to delay it, though. Keerava worked her way over to the nearest fireplace, getting as close as she reasonably could. Then, despite knowing full well that it was a bad idea, she sat on the floor in front of the flames and leaned in closer. Her hands, of course, were planted exactly where one would expect from someone in her situation, and she was practically bouncing in place as she sat. At the same time, though, she had her legs positioned in just the right way to allow her body to apply maximum pressure to that balloon of hers. Being curled up like that didn’t last very long, though. After bouncing around for a little while, she suddenly sat straight up, put her arms to her sides, and spread her legs out as her strength waned just enough for a quick spurt to add some additional warmth to the equation. Keerava regained control just long enough to stand up, but in doing so briefly lost control again. Once she was standing, she immediately ran back to the kitchen, dripping just a bit along the way. “Talen, get the thing,” she said as she rushed behind the bar. Talen was barely paying attention until just then, so could only respond with, “The thing?” “Ah, never mind.” Keerava made her way over to a counter with a washbasin on it – fortunately, an empty one – and as quickly as she could, she dropped her pants and pulled herself up the counter so that she was above the basin, leaving behind the slightest puddle on the floor as she did so. As soon as she was relatively close to being in position, Keerava gave up completely. The contents of her bladder rushed out into the large wooden tub she was hovering over, and fairly soon she gave up on doing that as well and dropped herself into the ever-growing puddle beneath her. She didn’t seem to have noticed, though, and simply leaned back as far as she could without tipping anything over, closed her eyes and sighed, losing herself in the moment. Keerava was only dragged back to reality when she heard someone opening the front door. The front door, which was practically directly across from her current location. A location from which she was unable to move – there was definitely no stopping that waterfall just yet. So she just stared at the door as it opened just enough for a little black Khajiit, practically hidden inside a cloak that was clearly too big for her, to walk in. The Khajiit shook her head and took a few steps into the room before she realized what was happening. She looked over at Keerava, then at Talen, then back to Keerava, who gave what could probably be called a smile, waved, and said, “Hi, Az.”
  10. It was late morning by the time Azhani was awake and downstairs, which made it particularly surprising that there was absolutely nobody at the bar – nobody behind the counter, no Romlyn Dreth telling stories waiting for the socially-acceptable time to drink, nothing. There was the smell of meat in the air, and a fire was going strong in the pit that served as a stove, but beyond that it would have seemed like the place was abandoned. Well, abandoned aside from the fact that the entire current residency was gathered around a table in the dining room – more accurately, two tables that had been pressed together. A few heads turned to acknowledge the new arrival, but only Keerava said anything to her directly. “Oh, hey,” she said, bringing up her mug of whatever-that-was in a sort of salute. “Looks like you’re not the only one getting a day off.” Then she waved the Khajiit over, who tentatively took a seat next to Keerava, leaving herself directly across from Lydia, who was more invested in the conversation Talen and the Dragonborn were having. War stories, by the sound of it, though very much a one-sided discussion. “As it turns out,” Keerava said, bringing Azhani’s attention back to her own side of the table, “Even the Nords around here don’t much like snow. They’d rather sit around and get drunk off their asses in the comfort of their own home than make the effort to dig their way over to the local bar.” She drank from her mug of whatever – by the smell of it, it was apparently some sort of tea – and went on. “Not that I can blame them. I mean, it’s still snowing, probably won’t stop until tomorrow. I sure wouldn’t want to dig out the streets only for them to get covered up again. You want some?” She had grabbed the pitcher that had been sitting on the table near her and re-filled her own mug – though the tea surely had to be cold by now, sitting there out in the open – and was now waving it at the Khajiit next to her. Azhani nodded quietly and took some bread from a plate in the middle of the table, speaking while Keerava found a new cup and filled it with tea that was definitely no longer the correct temperature. “Wouldn’t you want people to come in today, though?” “Oh, yeah, of course.” She handed the cup over to the Khajiit. “Can’t get paid by people who aren’t here. But business was going to be shit anyways, I’d have to do way more work than makes any kind of sense, and I’d have to put up with Romlyn and his asinine stories about how his ancestor was imprisoned alongside the Champion of Cyrodiil. I mean, how do you even go from being some nobody horse thief or whatever in some dank cell under the Imperial City, to being savior of the world?” “Happens more often than you’d think,” Bjorn chimed in. “Haven’t you heard of the Nerevarine?” “Everyone who knows how to read knows about the Nerevarine. What about him?” Keerava had set her tea down and was now leaning back with her arms crossed, while Azhani was listening in quietly, working on her bread. “Well, the Nerevarine started off as a prisoner, too, y’know. Emperor at the time was, uh… Uriel, I think. Guy right before Martin, ended up getting himself killed. Anyways, he gets this vision or something, decides to release these prisoners he has, so he sends them off to Vvardenfell, one of them ends up punching Dagoth Ur in the face and stabs some heart or something. I forget the details, but we all know the story.” Bjorn took a swig of his own drink, which was definitely not tea. “Oh, but that’s not even the best part. I, uh… found… this book, right?” Lydia looked off to the side while Bjorn spoke, trying to seem casual, but obviously knowing more than either of the two were saying. “Memoirs of Saint Jiub. The guy says that he was on the same prison boat as the Nerevarine. Crazy, isn’t it?” “Jiub the fucking Eradicator?” Keerava was leaning forwards now, with her elbows on the table. Azhani and Talen were watching silently from either side of her, neither of them really knowing what to do. “You’re telling me, Saint fucking Jiub was a prisoner shipped off to Vvardenfell along with the Nerevarine?” “The guy who would become the Nerevarine, yes.” “And, what, that’s supposed to make Romlyn’s crazy stories more believable?” While Keerava was talking, Azhani was reaching across the table to get to that pitcher. Cold, yes, but still good. “No, just the part about the Champion of Cyrodiil having been a prisoner. All that Mythic Dawn crap he says Valen got involved in, I ain’t buying. But it definitely makes sense that the guy who saves the world started off as a prisoner.” Keerava threw up her hands in defeat. “Alright, fine, you win, but that doesn’t make his stories any less of a pain to listen to every damn day.” Then she stood up. “Now I’m going to go back to sleep. Have fun with your history lesson.” She turned and walked off towards the stairs, with the faint sound of a door closing above confirming her location. Everyone else got up a little bit afterwards, too – everyone except the Dragonborn, who had his feet up on the table and his chair in critical danger of falling backwards, just sitting there drinking. Though, with nothing for any of them to do, they didn’t go far. Talen underwent the unthinkably massive journey of travelling all the way to the opposite side of the table to talk to the Dragonborn, and everyone else went off to some corner of the inn or another. Azhani quietly followed Lydia, not paying attention to anyone else’s whereabouts, though she heard a brief exchange between Talen and the Dragonborn that seemed to be about gemstones, or something along those lines. Nothing was actually exchanged, though – not that she was paying attention to expensive things changing hands, or anything. Lydia was paying attention, though, and noticed the Khajiit walking up behind her. “Hi,” she said, “Need something?” She was sitting on a table, looking out the nearest window. The view was pure white, a combination of the modest amount of snow that had piled up outside and the cold glazing all the windows with a layer of frost. “Actually, yes. Need some help.” Azhani had her tail at her side and was stroking it with one hand, in a way that would have looked like grooming, but considering she couldn’t seem to look at any one thing, the idea of asking someone else to do anything for her was making her nervous. “Need, uh, protection. Escort.” “Eh?” Lydia had stopped looking out the window and was now watching the Khajiit. “What for?” Azhani muttered something inaudible and moved her tail around so that she could hold onto it with both hands – for some reason it made her remember that one time she saw a painting of a bridge in some temple somewhere – but when Lydia just tilted her head, clearly not having heard anything, Azhani spoke again, a little louder. “Ratways,” she said. “Have to go to the Ratways. It’s dangerous there. Need help.” “Oh, is that it?” Lydia jumped down from the table and stretched. “Guess you’re not the type to carry weapons around, huh? Well, I’ll go let the Thane know.” Azhani froze as Lydia started to walk off. “Wait, what? Why?” “Because he’s got to go down there, too. Rescue some old guy or something. I don’t know, don’t really care, I just carry his stuff. And technically I can’t really go anywhere without telling him first, because that’s how housecarls work, I guess.” Lydia shrugged. “Good chance to get it done, though, if we’re going down there for you anyways.” She started walking again, but turned around one more time. “Oh, you don’t have anything to wear in the cold, do you?” Azhani shook her head, and Lydia continued, “Well, alright, meet us down here in an hour or two, I’ll have something for you.” Sure enough, two hours later, Bjorn and Lydia came downstairs fully armored, both wearing hoods tucked into the padding beneath the plates with scarves bundled up around their necks – Bjorn wearing his traditional red, Lydia now wearing a plain dark gray. Lydia had a bundle of thick tan cloth in her arms. She set the bundle down on the nearest table as Azhani walked over. The Khajiit had spent the entirety of the last two hours wandering around on the ground floor of the inn, making some attempt to socialize with Talen, and mindlessly checking the various barrels and bottles lying around. Lydia waved one hand over the bundle on the table. “Here you go,” she said, as Azhani lifted it. The bundle promptly unfolded, revealing itself to be a travelling cloak. Slightly bigger than Azhani’s frame, it was clearly intended to fit Lydia, but it was a proper, heavy woolen cloak, sure to keep out the elements. It even had fur around where one’s neck and shoulders would go, though that would likely only be useful for aesthetics. And it was slightly unnerving – it was definitely from some fox or something, but Azhani still felt weird handling it. One thing to be covered in fur naturally, another thing entirely to wear something else’s at the same time. Or someone else’s. The Dunmer didn’t do that anymore as far as she knew, but still. All she could say in response was “Uh, thanks” as she put the cloak on and adjusted it around the neck to make it fit better. When she put her arms down, the cloak surrounded her so completely that only her feet and the tip of her tail could be seen sticking out from the very bottom. Then she headed to the front door without another word, leaving the Nords to follow behind. It was still snowing, and Azhani had to work her way out the door and on top of the little pile of snow packed in front of the door. Fortunately, since the door was slightly recessed, that space didn’t get as much snowfall as the area around it. That still had the problem of there being a rather significant amount of snow on the ground everywhere else – only half a foot or so, barely anything by Skyrim standards, but still uncomfortable to navigate considering Azhani’s boots were old and worn-out from years of being her only footwear, and weren’t even intended for this kind of activity even when they were new. Fortunately, the Nords seemed to have a solution. Lydia stepped outside first, followed by Bjorn, who came forward, planted his feet into the snow as securely as possible, and looked down at the ground. Then he Shouted: “FO, KRAH DIIIIIII-” The last word blended into the sound of ice magically pouring from his mouth, chilling the snow in front of him even beyond its regular frozen status. Azhani shivered behind him – her cloak could apparently not protect from even the residual chill from a blast of a dragon’s ice-breath. Good thing she didn’t have to test that out on a real dragon. The Shout ended after a few seconds, though, and as soon as Bjorn had shut his mouth, he held one arm up in the air, then quickly dropped it again in a slamming motion, accompanied by a purple flame. There was a cracking sound as all the super-frozen snow suddenly packed itself down, providing a solid walking surface. “Well, let’s get going then,” Bjorn said, rubbing his hands together and stretching. The Shout-and-telekinesis combination had to be done repeatedly on the trip down to the Ratway entrance, making what would have been a relatively short walk into an extremely slow hike. The good thing about that was it gave Azhani plenty of time to think. She had nearly forgotten why she had come to Riften in the first place, after all, and now was a good time to consider her plans. The bad thing was having time to think made her realize that she’d been wandering around the dining room back in the inn for the last two hours. In fact, she was already fully dressed when she came downstairs right after waking up, so she couldn’t remember if she had gone back to her room for anything. Though for right now that wouldn’t be a problem as long as she didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. In fact, that might not even be a problem at all, if they could get through the Ratway quickly and not get interrupted by some maniac with magic gloves, or something like that. All things considered, it didn’t take them too long to actually get into the Ratway – the last little bit of the route was all underneath the regular boardwalk-streets, so there was hardly any snow there to deal with. Once they were in, all three of them stopped for a moment to clean the snow off themselves. Azhani shook her head energetically. Her hood was big enough to cover her eyes if she pulled it up, so her usually jet-black hair was now powdered white from standing outside for so long. She was fairly sure some of that snow ended up on the Nords, which wasn’t necessarily a bad outcome. Neither of them seemed to notice, though, so after a minute they were on their way. The tunnels were extremely straightforward, at least at the entrance. Quite literally, even. All they had to do was walk directly forward – indeed, that was all they could do – before they came across a room with a pair of bandits living in it. Azhani ended up in the back of the group, which proved to be very useful when they encountered this minor annoyance. Without anything in their way, the Nords were able to take the bandits down before they could even decide that it was just the wind. Being behind everyone else also had the advantage of giving Azhani extra cover if she needed to move around discreetly, though the cloak already provided cover enough for that. Also she didn’t need to – there was a feeling there that she knew she should do something about, but that was it. That feeling was soon accompanied by a feeling of great annoyance. The group had come to a drawbridge. Except it was raised. And the lever to lower it was on the other side of the gap. “Okay, first question.” Bjorn was rubbing his forehead, very much displeased, though not at the bridge itself. “Who in Oblivion puts a drawbridge in a sewer? Second question. What moron puts the lever for a drawbridge in a sewer on the far side of the bridge?” Lydia looked down over the edge and into the gap the bridge would have spanned. “Small enough drop to jump down. Looks like the only choice.” “Couldn’t he just, eh, Shout his way across and pull the lever?” Azhani’s question was technically directed at Lydia, since she still didn’t want to talk to the Dragonborn. “Oh, sure, I could,” he said. He made no indication that he noticed the question’s intended target. “If I wanted to slam my face into that bridge. And I don’t. We’ve got to go around.” Then he jumped down to the floor below. His head still reached up to the floor he was just standing on. “Well, let’s not spend too long waiting around here, huh?” Lydia and Azhani looked at each other for a moment and shrugged, before they both jumped down and followed along. Azhani took a second to recover from the impact of the landing, mentally reassuring herself that everything was fine. Particularly noticeable now, though, but still fine. So she carried on, and neither of the Nords noticed she had fallen slightly behind. It didn’t take long for the group to stop again, though. They were passing through one room, when a door opened off to the side and an old vagrant stumbled out to greet them. Although, his definition of “greet” seemed to be shouting “Aim for the middle one” at himself and throwing wildly inaccurate drunken punches. He flailed around for a while, occasionally landing a hit on the Dragonborn, creating slight dents on the armor plating that shouldn’t have been physically possible. Bjorn, of course, just stood there. “Stop that,” he said. “What are you doing?” He received no answer and the drunk continuing punching in his general direction. Once Bjorn grew tired of that – which only took a couple of minutes – he grabbed the drunk by the shoulders and used his knee for the only thing it could do beyond storing arrows. When he released his hold, the drunk ended up immediately on the ground, rolling around aimlessly. Bjorn took a moment to slide the gloves off the drunk’s hands, and gave them to Lydia. “Good magic on these, hold onto them for a while, will you?” The answer he got was something muttered about burdens, which was apparently satisfactory, since he continued on like nothing had just happened. Lydia followed, and Azhani hurried along a few seconds later once she had properly absorbed that encounter and realized that she was starting to fall behind again. Fortunately for all three of them, the rest of the journey was very much uneventful and straightforward – they came across and pulled the lever for the drawbridge, but beyond that it was very simple walk to their destination, with hardly any distractions. Especially fortunate for Azhani, since that tea of hers had finished settling down and was now letting her know that now would be a great time to do something about it. Eager to not wet herself for once this week, as soon as they passed through the door to the run-down cistern that passed for a bar down in the Ratway, Azhani stopped the group. “Okay, here is far enough,” she said. Her legs were shuffling ever so slightly under her cloak, subtle enough to not be visible from the outside. “Go on ahead, can get back alone.” “What, here?” Bjorn looked around. “What’s here? Why would y-“ He cut himself off by pointing far too dramatically at the Khajiit. “You’re Thieves Guild?” “Yes, Azha is Thieves Guild.” She shrugged like it was just part of normal life. Lydia had run off to some distant corner while Bjorn continued. “But, why? Why would you do this? There are plenty of ways to make money without having to take it from someone else.” Azhani really didn’t have time for this. Having someone criticize her life choices wasn’t high on her list of priorities. “Has it noticed,” she started, “that there is a war going on? Has it noticed that there are dragons burning down cities and eating people?” “Yes! Yes, I have! They’re kind of hard to ignore. I’d think that makes it an even better reason to not steal from people, since everyone else has lost so much.” “We don’t steal from the poor. And does it really think they’re not doing what they can to survive? This one does this because it’s all she can do to survive.” Fortunately, her legs were still concealed, because she’d probably be taken far less seriously if their movement was visible. “Surviving doesn’t have to involve taking things from other people. Things aren’t easy, but there are other ways to get by.” Bjorn crossed his arms. “How should it know? It’s the Dragonborn. When has it ever had to fight to survive?” That tail lashing could very easily be interpreted as anger. And, sure, that’s what it was. Mostly. “Before I got to Skyrim, actually, if you must know. Don’t you know about Helgen? My head was on the godsdamned block all because I happened to be on the wrong side of the border, near the wrong road, at the perfect time to meet the guards taking Ulfric Stormcloak to his death. Shit, I was born in Bruma during the Great War, and let me tell you, Cyrodiil is the last place you want to be when the Dominion is busy burning down White-Gold and raping everyone in the Imperial City.” “But it wasn’t in the Imperial City, was it? It was in Bruma. Dominion never touched Bruma. And it was too young to remember anything, anyways.” Azhani just realized that she was in a shouting match with the Dragonborn, which could get extremely terrible if it escalated into the other kind of Shouting match. Didn’t matter, though. And there was still that whole bladder situation to contend with, too – it was yelling at her even louder than she was yelling at Bjorn. “Sure, sure, but that fucking idiot Titus got, what was it, three Legions killed taking the city back.” He inadvertently let some flames escape from his hands, which were now tightly balled into fists – fortunately the flames were only light bursts, and were gone as soon as they had started. “Legions too small, no police. And guess what the first place they decided to recall the Legions from was? The force there never actually recovered.” “So, wait, it knows what these wars do. Why hasn’t it tried to stop this war?” On one hand, this was greatly reducing the pressure in Azhani’s abdomen. On the other, that pressure would all come back at once when she calmed down again. “I- what?” Bjorn was expecting some other criticism about how all the supply lines to Bruma were still intact. “It’s the Dragonborn. Has it gone to Solitude? To Windhelm? Has it talked to Tullius or Stormcloak?” She wasn’t quite sure, but Azhani thought she felt a little drop escape. “It- you. You could convince them to end the war.” Taking a deep breath just then probably wasn’t the best idea, since Azhani felt a brief spurt rush out as she did. “What do you- they wouldn’t-“ It took a moment for the Dragonborn to find the right words. “Even if I had gone over to try to convince them, neither of them would go ahead and end the war. Not alone. Not without…” Azhani was left waiting for him to stop being lost in thought. And she didn’t really have the time to wait. “Dragonborn!” “Ah, what?” He shook his head. “Oh, right, no, I know what I need to do. I know how to end the war. Just need… Yeah.” Bjorn started to run off towards his initial destination, but before he was completely gone he turned around and yelled “Thank you”. The little Khajiit, meanwhile, was left rather confused. She had no idea how that conversation had reached that conclusion. But, now that it was over, she had one thing only to focus on. Lucky for her, she knew the exact location of what she needed down there. There was a closet across the room, a place that nobody ever went into – odds were nobody even realized it existed, since it had nothing to do with the secret entrance to the Guild just nearby. It took some miracle, but Azhani managed to rush over as fast as she could with her cloak nearly tripping her, and only a few drops had escaped on the way, still not enough to leave a mark on her pants. She wasted no time actually getting into the closet and shutting the door behind her. The room had no light source at all, but that was hardly a problem – Azhani couldn’t see any containers on the floor, but that was more because there were none there than because it was dark. She did see a bottle or a pitcher or something on a shelf within arm’s reach, though, and immediately grabbed it, simultaneously undressing just enough to get this to work. There was a brief moment of careful positioning, which perhaps included a leak or two hitting the floor directly, but once everything was in position, Azhani didn’t even bother lowering herself to a squat. She just stood there, emptying herself into a jug she was carefully holding up in exactly the right position with one hand. All she really could do was just lean back against the door and wait. She closed her eyes, listening to the sound of her stream hitting the clay walls of the jug, which drowned out the sounds of criminals getting up to whatever they were doing out in the bar. Hopefully they couldn’t hear it from there. It took a minute, but eventually she finished – just in time, too, the jug wasn’t particularly big and was nearly at capacity. She set the container back where she found it and dressed up again, dusting off her cloak and thoroughly checking her pants to make sure there was no visible wetness on them. Satisfied, she quietly left the closet and slipped through the cabinet that acted as the door to the Guild. She had quite a few things to tell Brynjolf, but this was most definitely not one of them.
  11. "Wake up, we’ve got work to do.” Azhani sat up in bed, one hand holding her blanket against her body and the other rubbing her eyes. She wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but she did know that it was dark, except for a candle nearby, and for some reason there was an Argonian standing over her holding that candle and talking to her. “Good morning,” Keerava said with a slight smile – or as close as one could get to one with a lizard snout – “long day ahead for you, there’s breakfast downstairs, the sooner you wake up and get down there the sooner we can get started.” She turned to leave, but was stopped when Azhani yawned and asked, “What time is it? It’s still dark out, yes?” Keerava nodded, “Yeah, still a couple of hours before sunrise. We need to start early today, so hurry up.” Then she left, closing the door behind her and leaving the room dark again. Azhani yawned once more, sat up properly, and stretched, letting her blanket fall and expose her chest. The fur there fluffed up as Azhani turned and set her feet on the ground, then stood up and yawned again. She had no problem waking up at sunrise – not like she could sleep through the light and noise of morning anyways – but it was still dark out. Walking over to her window, she could even still see the moons just as well as ever. It just wasn’t natural for her to be awake so early in the morning, and she wasn’t even entirely sure why she had to be today either. Sure, she remembered a conversation with Keerava the previous day about “training”, but in her mind there couldn’t possibly be a reason to start while they’d be the only two people in all of Skyrim not still sleeping. Even so, if her employer thought it was important, Azhani couldn’t really argue, seeing as how if she lost her job she also lost the bed and food. All she could do was go along with it, so she just set about her usual morning routine. Fortunately for her she was born a Khajiit and could see in the dark, so aside from the fact that she was more tired than usual, nothing changed. It was rather unusual, though, hearing nothing other than her own footsteps and the faint sounds of meat being cooked downstairs. Usually everyone else would be awake and preparing themselves at the same time. The silence was so profound that when Azhani lowered herself over her chamberpot and released the overnight contents of her bladder, the sound of the stream hitting metal seemed like it would have been loud enough to wake everyone else up on its own. She even positioned herself to cover as much of the opening as possible just in case it actually was as loud as she thought it was, but it didn’t last long enough for her change of position to make a difference. Though as Azhani threw on whatever clothes were available that day, she wondered if the Nord next door had heard – she could hear faint noises of movement through the wall but couldn’t be sure of the source. Not that it mattered at the moment, anyways, since she would presumably need to be done with breakfast before sunrise, and therefore needed to head downstairs immediately. It was still dark out by the time Azhani and Keerava had finished their meal, though if either one of them had looked outside they’d see the first hints of sunlight. Keerava refused to answer any of the Khajiit’s questions about the day’s plans, just telling her “You’ll see” or “Be patient” every time Azhani asked. Eventually, she stopped asking and half the meal was eaten in silence. Afterwards, though, was a different matter. Once all the food was gone and both women had stood up to go do whatever Keerava had planned, the innkeeper quietly motioned for Azhani to follow. The two went behind the bar, and in a far corner Keerava kneeled down and, taking a key from her pocket, unlocked a very well-hidden lock that looked to just be part of the floor. With the key in the lock, the floor then opened up to reveal a ladder, which Keerava went down first, Azhani following hesitantly, closing the trapdoor behind her following a quiet command from her Argonian companion. The mysterious cellar was, of course, completely dark. The first thing Keerava did once her feet were on the cold stone ground was to reach around in the blackness until her hands found a candle and some flint-and-steel – with the candle lit, she then wandered around the room, using it to light other candles on the wall. While she was doing that, though, Azhani was looking at the layout of the place – the candles helped to see some more specific shapes but for the most part she already knew what this cellar looked like by the time Keerava had lit the first candle. All the walls and floors were stone, and the whole basement was a small square, roughly the size of the kitchen and dining room of the building above. To the left of the entrance ladder there was a counter, of the same style as the bar upstairs, with various cloths piled up, several bottles of varying sizes, and a few unusual instruments – including a set of calipers. Azhani gave a quiet snort of laughter upon seeing them, for she remembered a strange encounter with a strange Khajiit, who was apparently on a quest to find calipers but never actually managed to get any. The most peculiar sight wasn’t the supposedly-mythical tools on the counter, though. In the middle of the room the floor turned from stone to a steel grate. Water flowed beneath it, likely part of the city’s rudimentary canal system. It was beyond Azhani why such a thing would be a prominent feature of an inn’s basement – but she didn’t have time to question it before Keerava came back to the counter, having finished lighting the area. The Argonian set the candle down, then turned to address Azhani. “Alright, so, this is where we’ll do your training.” She grabbed one of the smaller bottles from the counter and handed it over to Azhani, then took another for herself. “First thing, drink that,” she said, before proceeding to down the entirety of her own bottle in one go. Azhani looked at what she had been given – it seemed to just be a small glass bottle with water in it, so she nodded, pulled the stopper out, and took one big drink, leaving the bottle half-full. “Great. You finish that, and I’ll get everything else set up,” Keerava said, turning around so her back was to the Khajiit. Azhani watched as, to her surprise, Keerava casually lifted her shirt off of her body and set it down near the cloth-pile, then slid her pants down her legs, stepped out of them, and folded them up on top of her shirt. She turned back around, providing Azhani with a very clear view of a naked Argonian body. There wasn’t much to see, of course, as Argonians lacked nipples and any detail down below was hard to make out, but every last scale on Keerava’s body was now plainly visible, as was a slight distension in her lower abdomen. Azhani finished the rest of her water in a rush as Keerava spoke to her. “You’ll want to take all that off, too, just leave it on the pile there,” she said, turning back around and heading to the other side of the counter, pulling out a chair in each arm and setting them down near the grate in the middle of the floor. One of the chairs was close enough to the counter to pull things off the edge if need be. Azhani’s ears flicked and her tail twitched, and she asked the obvious question: “Why would Azha want to do such a thing?” Keerava responded in a very casual tone, as if this entire situation was perfectly normal. “Oh, you’ll see soon enough. Well, that is, if you haven’t already figured out what this training is.” Azhani raised an eyebrow, but then said “Ah, alright, but turn around.” Once Keerava was facing a satisfactory angle – a process that included a shrug and a chuckle – Azhani also stripped down to her fur, leaving everything else piled on top of the Argonian’s clothes, which Azhani just now realized were loose and simple, even moreso than Keerava’s typical work clothes. That made perfect sense, given the circumstances. With that done, Azhani looked over at Keerava, who was leaning on one of the chairs with her tail waving as if to imitate a flag in the wind, and said, “Okay, what happens now?” Keerava looked over her shoulder. “Well, now we wait.” Then she turned around and headed over to the counter, collecting all the bottles and moving them to the far end next to one of the chairs. “This is going to take a while – or it should, anyways. Hopefully. A few hours, at least.” She took a seat in the chair closest to the counter, and opened one of the largest bottles next to her. “And hopefully all these will be gone by the time we’re done.” By now it was fairly obvious what the plan was here, but Azhani still felt the need to ask: “Done with what?” “Ah, well,” Keerava said after a sip from her bottle, “you’re not bad at actually, eh, doing your job-“ She took another sip. “- but you need to be able to keep on working for as long as possible.” And then another. “So the point of all this is to, uh, build your endurance, so to speak.” And another. “Of course, the door’s right over there so you can just give up and leave whenever you want, but I’d prefer if you stuck around and saw it through to the end.” Azhani nodded slowly walked towards the empty chair. The stone floor was cold, but then again so was everything in this province. “And the end is-“ Keerava answered the question before Azhani even finished asking it. “Ideally, you’d last longer than I do, so just accomplishing that would be the end. And, uh, as you can probably tell-“ She rubbed her bulge with her left hand. “- You’ve got a bit of a head-start here. But if even that’s not enough then the end is just whenever you give in.” By the time Keerava was done explaining, Azhani had reached the second chair and sat down, and was handed a bottle. Bigger than the initial one, but still smaller than Keerava’s – which was more like a large jug than a bottle, really. “So we just drink these and wait, yes?” “Yeah, that’s the idea,” Keerava said, drinking yet more from her jug. “Though I imagine you’d get sick on just water a lot faster than I would, so just take it slow. I’m trying to see, eh, how far you can get, so if you end up getting sick or hurt that’s no good for either of us.” Azhani nodded and started drinking. “So how long would it take to beat you?” Keerava just laughed. “I’m not sure you actually want to know the answer to that question. Suffice it to say, it’d be a long time.” “So then Azha will lose, for sure, yes?” “If you want to call it losing, sure.” Keerava put a hand on her belly again as she kept drinking. “That would be the des- err, the expected outcome.” Azhani looked over at Keerava, wondering what it was she had started to say, but said nothing herself and kept drinking. Then there was silence for some time, with the only noise being the quiet rushing of water below and the movement of water in glass containers as the two kept working on what they had in hand. By the time Azhani finished the bottle she was given, Keerava had made it to roughly the half-way point of her own jug. Once she noticed Azhani had nothing left to drink she handed over a new bottle, same as the last one. “Feeling anything yet?” Keerava’s question finally broke the silence. The answer was quiet, though considering the two were merely a few feet from each other it was audible enough. “A little bit.” Azhani took the bottle she was being offered and presented her own question as she opened it. “Do we actually have to drink all of these?” “Hmm?” Keerava had her jug to her mouth and had to take a moment to finish drinking before she could answer the question. “Uh, no, actually, no. Eventually you’ll want to stop and just wait and see what happens. I think for you maybe that one and another after it should be enough. Maybe even just that one. I don’t think the first one’s quite hit you yet, so once that happens, we’ll sort it out.” She shifted around a little in her chair and went straight back to drinking. As Azhani sat there, once again with no sound but the occasional swirling of water in bottles as each of them drank more, she realized she had absolutely no idea how long they’d been down there. There were no windows in the basement, and there was enough between them and the room above that even if there were people up there, nothing could be heard. Of course, that had the benefit of meaning that they couldn’t be heard either, but without some way to see the sun Azhani couldn’t be quite sure exactly how long she’d been sitting there just drinking. Sure, it had probably been a couple of hours – more than one, for sure – but beyond that, she could only guess. Perhaps that was an intentional design choice with this… cellar. Perhaps Keerava didn’t want to know how long she’d been down there – not being distracted by watching Magnus meant she’d have to focus on her bladder alone. Azhani wasn’t quite sure if that would make things better or worse for her. The only real distraction was Keerava, who was still just calmly working on her jug – which was now only a quarter full – and starting to move around a bit more. It was hard to tell but that bulge of hers was getting bigger, too. Still rather subtle, but definitely bigger than it had been at first. Azhani still didn’t have one of her own yet, but she was starting to feel the effects of her drinks. It would be a while before things got bad, but with half of the current bottle still there, it’d get worse rather quickly. She eyed the bottle, rolling it around in her hand, before deciding it best to just finish it off. And when it finally was empty, Keerava had also emptied that behemoth of hers at the same time, so when she went to get more for herself she looked over at Azhani. “So, you up for a third one?” She grabbed herself a bottle – a large one, but now just a regular bottle – and kept herself leaning in the direction of the counter in case she needed to get another. “Uh…” Azhani started, but then took a moment to think. She could probably handle one more, but there was already some pressure there, and it was slowly growing. Perhaps it’d be best to just leave it as is? “Uh, no,” came the answer after several seconds. And then she repeated, “No,” as she shuffled around in her seat a bit to get more comfortable. Keerava shrugged and sat properly down again. “And now we wait, then,” she said as she downed a quarter of her new bottle at once. Somehow Azhani actually started to regret not taking another bottle. The bottle was a distraction in its own way, and now she had nothing to focus on but all that water inside her. Sure, it would just get even worse if she was drinking more, but at least it gave her something else to think about. Not the best distraction all things considered, but it was something. Everything was finally starting to catch up to her, though it wasn’t hitting her as hard as she would have expected. In fact, she was even starting to think that maybe it was worse that everything was trickling in instead of making itself known all at once. As things were at the moment, she wouldn’t really know if all that she had drank had done all that it could. It’d just get a bit worse a little while later. At least now there was some roundness in her belly. It wasn’t very pronounced – certainly not comparable to Keerava’s, which just kept growing – but it was an external sign of the pressure inside. Azhani wiggled around a bit more. She would have started using her hands by now but even though both her and Keerava were totally naked, she couldn’t bring herself to do that while she was sitting within arm’s reach of someone else. So Azhani continued to suffer in silence. Even worse than silence, actually, since there was still the repeating sound of water swirling around in Keerava’s bottle as she kept drinking from it. In fact, this wasn’t even the same bottle as before; she’d already gone through that one and gotten herself halfway through a second one. Fortunately for the little Khajiit, Keerava finished off that bottle very quickly, and put it down with a sigh. Then she stretched, putting her hands on her bulge once she had finished and letting them rest there, one hand slowly and carefully poking at it. Azhani just watched – it was rather interesting, seeing Keerava sitting there like that, looking almost pregnant, and not seeming to care. “So, uh, how long have you been, eh…” Azhani started to ask a question but couldn’t find the proper words to finish it. Keerava looked over, and fortunately knew what she was being asked. “I’m not sure exactly. More than twelve hours, I think. Normally I’d be able to do a lot more before getting to this point, but I also normally take care of things in the morning. And I’ve been drinking a bit more than usual, too.” Then she sat up straight and asked, “How are you holding up anyways?” Azhani pressed her thighs together upon hearing the question. She glanced over at Keerava, said “It’s, uh… it’s fine”, then turned her head back to look at the wall in front of her, grabbing the edges of her seat with each hand. Keerava just laughed a bit at the sight. “You don’t look very fine,” she said, making Azhani suddenly aware of what she was doing. The Khajiit quickly folded her arms in front of her, though her thighs held their position. She wasn’t actually sure how well she was doing. The pressure had increased some and that bump was starting to get noticeable, but she was sure she could wait a while yet. As for how long, though… That’s where the uncertainty came in. Things were starting to move faster, so she had no way of judging how long it’d be before it got bad. All she knew was that the pressure she was feeling was steadily increasing, and that it wouldn’t be very long. Especially not if she had to watch Keerava doing her own dance, which surely would start soon. Fortunately, though, Keerava was relatively stationary. Her hands were running along that scaly bladder-mountain of hers, feeling things and giving a careful press every now and then, but other than that she wasn’t moving. At least Azhani knew her situation could always get worse. Sooner or later she’d quite badly need relief, but as far as she was concerned the worst it could get had already happened, years ago. Nothing that happened in that basement in Riften could ever be as bad as that time in Cyrodiil. She had gotten into trouble with the Imperial Legion for things that were absolutely not her fault, and with all the fines to pay and counts to stand before and jail to go to, all in one day, she never really had any good opportunities. Add on top of that getting carted around everywhere, with guards that would certainly have been displeased if their transports needed cleaning, and being under constant watch whenever she wasn’t being moved from one place to the next… And then of course after never getting more than five seconds alone all day, they decided she’d be better off spending the night in jail anyways. They’d finally left her alone, and she had managed to overflow the bucket that was left for prisoners to use. Of course, that wouldn’t have happened if they could just make up their minds, but, still, being sent to jail just then was a godsend for her. She’d spent so much of that day feeling as though she could burst at any moment, but being unable to because of the eyes constantly on her… She never could think of what would have happened if that day had ended differently; if she’d just wet herself in public somewhere or if she’d just get to the point where she absolutely couldn’t let anything out no matter how much she needed to. Fortunately, the latter had yet to happen to her. Unfortunately, now she was thinking about Cyrodiil again. Forcing herself to stop thinking about Cyrodiil – and act like nothing even remotely related to the Empire existed – she stood up and crossed her legs. Keerava, who until then had been intently watching what her hands were doing, took notice and glanced up at the Khajiit. Subtly, of course, so as to not be seen watching. Not like Azhani would be able to tell, anyways. She was busy putting on a show, crossing her legs and uncrossing them again, shifting her weight around, all while Keerava watched. It was an enjoyable show, particularly because Keerava’s own bladder grew heavier just from watching, as if to empathize with the Khajiit. Some bolt of sudden need must have struck both of them at the same time, because Azhani doubled over with knees bent, and Keerava jumped up out of her chair with her tail between her legs. That moment, of course, passed quickly, and Azhani straightened up, her hands balled into fists at her sides and hips swaying, while Keerava dropped her tail into a normal position and started tapping her feet against the grating instead. Azhani was in trouble now, though. The pressure had turned into a sort of burning sensation. She’d managed to stay dry so far, but that wouldn’t last very long. She wasn’t even sure how long she’d been down there, but whatever length of time that was she was sure it was starting to get to be too long. But at least she hadn’t let anything out – she could hold longer, and potentially even beat Keerava. She wasn’t even sure why she wanted to do that, but she did know that either way she’d benefit from this. Perhaps even prevent another Cyro- and off she went thinking about Cyrodiil again. She was nearly lost in thought until she felt herself very nearly let go. She managed to stop before she had started, but now she’d definitely not be thinking of anything except the room she was in at that moment. Now she knew she was right on the edge, and that she really didn’t have very much time left at all. She was so focused on her own body that she was startled when Keerava spoke. “Well, looks like it caught up to you now, hasn’t it?” Azhani was almost surprised enough to leak – but once again she stopped it at the last moment, though it took great effort and she’d surely be unable to do it again. She did have to start using her hands, though. Bent forward slightly, she planted her right hand firmly between her legs and pressed as hard as she could. By now that pressure had a minimal effect, but it was still something. All she could do to answer Keerava was nod, though now that the Argonian had spoken Azhani’s gaze had drifted down to Keerava’s bloated belly. She wasn’t sure why, but seeing the body stretched so much just by needing to pee was quite interesting. Keerava noticed, of course, and spoke again. “You could touch it if you’d like.” Azhani tilted her head to the side. That was not something she’d expected to hear, and definitely not something she expected herself to do. And yet, there she was, silently lifting her left arm, carefully placing her hand on Keerava’s bulge. It was very firm, moreso than could be attributed to just Argonian hide. She pressed a little bit, causing Keerava to bend forward slightly from the shock, but otherwise the bulge didn’t give. It was almost captivating, in some strange way. So much so that Azhani didn’t notice the hand moving towards her own little hill until it was too late, and feeling a cold, scaly touch forced her to jump back, her left arm flying down to join the other – only for them both to suddenly become very warm and wet. It must have lasted a second before Azhani gained control again, but now she was unsure if she really wanted to regain control. Stopping that leak just made her need even worse. Keerava’s only response was a light laugh and a “Sorry.” The pressure was starting to get overwhelming for the little Khajiit. Her belly was quite noticeably stuck out in front of her – not to the same degree as Keerava’s, though – and she had to kneel so she could use the back of her foot for more pressure. Her entire body was shaking. Keerava just watched, now starting to hop from one foot to the other – it must have been her bladder trying to empathize with the girl on the ground in front of her, because her need suddenly became much worse than before. It took a while, but Azhani was finally able to stand up again, though neither hand would leave its place, and her legs were constantly moving. Before long, though, she was wracked by wave after wave of desperation, each one bringing her closer to losing everything. By some miracle, she was able to still avoid leaking, but she knew that was because the next time anything came out, it’d be everything. And, sure enough, one last wave was all it took. It started off slow – just a trickle into her hands, and with her legs now locked together anything that got through her fingers would just get her thighs wet. A short burst, and then another, warned of the impending flood. The only thing she could do was lower herself into a decent position. “T-turn arr-arrround,” she said. Keerava nodded and turned, and as soon as she did Azhani removed her hands. Speaking had taken the last ounce of her strength, and now she was steadily peeing into whatever part of Riften’s sewers was below them right now. Her stream was still slow, but soon enough it picked up until there was a pale yellow cascade emanating from between her legs. Her breathing was heavy, and there were tears in her eyes – both from the effort of holding and the joy of release. It took her a good half a minute once her stream reached maximum power before it started to die down again, until finally she allowed herself to fall over, first sitting directly on the grate, still dripping a little bit through it, and then just lying down on it. She let out another sigh as she lay there, saying nothing else. Keerava, of course, was left to suffer some more, though of course she found her own bit of pleasure in it – only problem being she never could decide which part she liked more. She did turn around once she heard the storm behind her subside, and now she was watching as Azhani lay there, eyes closed, mouth open but saying nothing. She would even let out the occasional subconscious burst of pee that didn’t get to be part of the flood. Keerava didn’t know if the Khajiit noticed or cared, but it didn’t seem to matter since either way she was still just lying there, enjoying being empty again. Keerava also didn’t know when she might get that same euphoric rush that comes with relief. All things considered, she wasn’t quite at her limit, but at the same time she couldn’t stop herself from doing a little dance. She could just let go whenever she wanted. For once, she wasn’t down there to test her own limit – it was for someone else, and she’d already knocked herself out. She didn’t have to keep this up. And yet, she wanted to. She hadn’t even started leaking yet, after all. Just wouldn’t be fun if she didn’t at least get to that point first. Thus she resolved to keep waiting. For several minutes, she kept on dancing around, the dance getting more complex as time went on – adding twists and bows and all sorts of motions, her massive bulge sticking out the whole time, now even a possible rival for her breasts. The only real noise in the room was the rhythmic tapping of bare feet on metal. When Azhani finally got herself together, that tapping was the first thing she noticed. Then she sat up, and off to her right she saw Keerava, shamelessly dancing away, doing almost anything to help herself hold her waters – “almost”, of course, because she wasn’t using her hands. No, they were balled up at her sides. She wouldn’t need them, anyways, didn’t want them getting in the way when her body gave in for her. She was thinking more and more about that moment, and didn’t notice that Azhani had gotten up until she walked right in front of her. The Khajiit had gone to get her clothes, and Keerava spoke as well as she could in her current situation. “Stay here… a little while longer… Don’t go up there… without me,” she said, everything she was doing all at once robbing her of breath. Azhani nodded and quietly threw her shirt on, and slung her pants over her shoulder, with her panties tucked away inside, as she walked back to her chair. Her thighs were quite wet still, as were other parts from which drops would still fall occasionally. Not wanting to get her clothes wet yet again, she just sat down, naked from the waist down, and watched the Argonian. Her gaze was once again drawn to that great monster of a bulge Keerava was sporting. If it was firm when she touched it earlier, by now it must be like pressing up against steel plate. Before she could think, Azhani found herself asking, “How much can you even hold?” Still in constant motion, Keerava looked over at Azhani and said, “Not sure… Longest I’ve ever done was… fifty-some hours… But that was… that was special circumstances… Normally I… Normally I keep it to twenty-four… I can do a little over… over thirty, usually, though.” She was panting from the effort of holding. “And this has been how long now?” “Don’t know,” was the strained reply. “We’ll find out… when we go back… upstairs.” Keerava ended that statement with a deep sigh, stopping her dance for just a second. A second which her body took advantage of, allowing a thick clear spurt of urine past her defenses. “Damn,” was all she had to say to that as she went back to her dance. But by now it was fruitless. That one spurt had doomed her, and now every few seconds she’d let out more, but still she’d refuse to stop moving. Thanks to her movement she’d been spraying her own legs, but that didn’t matter if she could just hold on for a few more seconds. Soon enough the spurts turned into one-second streams, then they just got longer from there, to three seconds, then to five, then to ten. Keerava tried to stop, just command her body to close itself to relish the feeling of desperation for just another moment, but soon enough the pressure was too much for her. She had to stop her dance, and just spread her legs apart as that balloon of hers finally popped, all coming out in one hard, clear stream. Most appropriate for a bulge of that size, even with the torrent of pee Keerava was letting out, it still took more than two minutes for her to be done. She was left standing there, not changing her stance, belly now flat, still leaking the occasional weak spurt. Her breathing was deep, and she threw her head back as she composed herself. Finally, she brought her legs back together, and got her breathing back to normal. The scales on her legs were still glistening with the piss they had been sprayed with, and drops were falling from her legs to the floor, but otherwise the way she was standing there looked just the same as any other time she’d be standing behind the bar – except generally if she’s behind the bar she’s wearing clothes. Nobody talked for a while, but when a voice was finally heard it was Keerava’s. “You know, I’ve never been down here with anyone else before. That was, uh, well, it was interesting,” she said, before quickly hurrying to change the subject. “But, uh, you’ve still got business in town, right? How about you take tomorrow off for that.” Then she went to collect her clothes, which she casually threw on as if nothing had happened, even ignoring the fact that the crotch and inner legs of her pants were darkened instantly. Fortunately, it wasn’t a significant darkening since they were quite loose, but there was still a fairly obvious wet patch right between the legs, not helped by the fact that Keerava was still dripping. Azhani, meanwhile, was feeling her own legs to make sure they were dry enough. Satisfied, she slipped back into her underwear, then brought her pants up to cover them. “Oh, yes, business,” she said, having actually forgotten why she was in Riften, “Yes, tomorrow it will be done.” She nodded a little bit too enthusiastically. “Speaking of, what are you going to do once you’re done with… whatever you have to do?” Keerava climbed up the ladder, speaking over her shoulder as she cracked the trapdoor open to check the situation upstairs. “Don’t know,” Azhani said, “If there’s more business in some other town, Azha will go there. If not, she would like to stay here.” Keerava signaled from the ladder for her to follow, and one after the other they climbed up out of the basement, Azhani dropping the door behind her and watching it blend in almost perfectly with the rest of the floor as it shut. There was nobody at the bar except for Talen, who turned around upon hearing the two crawl up from the cellar. He just nodded at them as they both went their own ways, Azhani heading upstairs, and Keerava just leaning over on the bar, telling Talen about what had just happened, in her own clever way of telling a story such that if anyone overheard, it’d just seem like a regular, crazy adventure story.
  12. Lydia awoke a few hours later than she was used to – normally she’d have woken up right at sunrise, but since the Dragonborn was content to stay in one place for once, there wasn’t as much urgency to get up and get moving in the morning. As a result, her entire routine was slower than it normally would be. It took her longer to actually get out of bed and stand up, her stretching was more drawn-out than usual, and walking the entire ten feet to get her clothes seemed more like walking across the entirety of Riften. And then, of course, she had to walk back over to her bed with clothes in hand. With that journey completed, Lydia tossed her clothes onto the bed, and stripped out of her nightclothes, which were also haphazardly thrown aside. With just the cool breeze from the window for coverage, she bent down and reached under her bed. Finding a distinct lack of the usual amenities, even after a few seconds of probing, she sighed and thought, ‘This is gonna be one of those days, isn’t it?’ Lydia stood up and stretched again, this time getting dressed in the plainclothes lying scattered on top of her sheets. ‘Ah well, not like I haven’t done this before. Not even that bad yet anyways.’ One last stretch and Lydia was out the door and down the stairs. Bjorn was already seated at the bar, working on levelling a veritable mountain of bacon. He didn’t seem to pay any attention to Lydia until she came up and took a seat right next to him. He glanced over and slid an extra mug of mead he just happened to have on-hand down the counter towards his housecarl, who was quietly relocating some of the bacon-mountain to a plate that she had only just acquired from Keerava. Bjorn was the first to speak: “So I figured today we’d go for a hunt,” he said between bites. “Isn’t it a bit late to start a hunt,” Keerava asked from across the bar, with her Khajiiti assistant scrubbing plates behind her. “I mean, sun’s been up for a few hours now.” “Yeah,” the Dragonborn said with a shrug, “but we can still make a day of it. Whadda you think?” He nudged Lydia as he spoke. She looked over at him, giving a shrug and a nod, too busy eating to respond verbally. “Great.” Bjorn took a handful of bacon and nonchalantly shoved it into his mouth. “I’ll get errything ready,” he said – or at least attempted to say, anyways, “an’ when y’r done here we’ll head out.” He finally got around to swallowing the bacon he had just been working on, and took a deep swig from his own mead. “Just come on up when you’re ready.” Bjorn tossed a couple of septims onto the counter as he walked off – more than he needed to, even considering how much food he had ordered. Magnus was high overhead by the time Bjorn and Lydia made it outside the city walls and started on a path through the woods, away from the roads. They both had bows drawn with arrows in hand, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Both of them were carefully watching their surroundings as they went deeper into the wilds outside of Riften – as carefully as possible in Lydia’s case, anyways. She wouldn’t admit it, but she had slept later than usual, and it was already noon, and she had more to drink at breakfast than she should have, and she was still hauling around all her fluids from overnight. Altogether, that created quite the little problem. And she was fairly sure it was by design, too. Wouldn’t be the first time Bjorn had done something like that – she didn’t really mind, and she didn’t have to deal with his games if she didn’t want to anyways – but it was still annoying. The least he could do is tell her about it in advance, right? But at least it shook things up every once in a while. Surprisingly, running around hunting dragons gets pretty boring after about the fifth time. You’ve seen one dragon get its soul ripped out, you’ve seen it a million times, Lydia would always tell people who asked about her adventures with the Dragonborn. Not very many people asked, but still. Lydia was pulled from her thoughts by a hint of movement in the bushes ahead. Bjorn had already stopped and drawn his bow, and seemed to be tracking his prey even behind the cover of undergrowth and trees. Lydia had no idea what he was looking at, but then again, she couldn’t just mutter a few words and be able to see magical pink blobs everywhere there was something moving. ‘Not much of a hunt if you don’t actually have to track things down, is it?’ There was hardly any time for Lydia to react when the current target had moved to a less-covered part of the woods – she saw a deer’s head sticking out from behind a bush for just a moment before it went down, the only sounds being the Dragonborn’s arrow being let loose and the soft thud of a body hitting the ground a short distance away. Bjorn had already slung his bow over his back and pulled a knife off his belt by the time Lydia looked at him again. He flipped the knife around so that he had it by its blade, and silently offered it over to his companion, who just nodded and worked her way through the various plants to where the deer fell. She set to work skinning the thing before she even had a chance to think about it. Lydia was no stranger to hunting, she didn’t really need to think to do it properly, but perhaps in this situation thinking would have made things considerably easier. After all, her little problem had been relatively manageable the entire time, but now she wasn’t standing and moving – she had to kneel to be able to work, and of course that brought with it its own set of problems. On top of that, she needed both hands – and they wouldn’t be all that clean in the end – so when inevitably there was a surge of need, her willpower would be the only thing keeping her pants dry. And then, of course, she’d be the one carrying everything, and she still had her own bow that needed carrying as well. It’d be a long day ahead, and her legs were already shaking ever so slightly. Once Lydia was done and had stowed away all the pelts and usable meat away in various bags, she stood up and took advantage of the natural cover to press her legs together. The thought had crossed her mind that she could take even more advantage of the natural cover and just let go right there. Of all the burdens to carry, Lydia swore no oath to carry that one. Even so, the Dragonborn was standing there just ten feet away. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing she had given up so easily. She didn’t even like it as much as he did, she just knew he wanted her to give up, and she would refuse to for no other reason than to spite him. Sure, he’d get a kick out of it either way, but there was some sort of twisted good feeling about denying the Dragonborn what he wanted to see. Knowing full well it was not the rational course of action, Lydia stepped out from behind the bushes and returned Bjorn’s knife to him. They set out again, Dragonborn in the lead, Lydia trailing behind by a few steps, moving slower and more carefully than he was. She was actually rather amazed that she was still totally dry, though the occasional larger step over a root or climb over a fallen tree put her right on the edge. Even with her slower pace and the constant threat of a leak any time Lydia put in even the slightest bit of effort to doing something, it didn’t take very long for the Dragonborn to raise a hand to indicate a stop. There was the faint sound of water running nearby, and as Lydia caught up to Bjorn she could see why – he had decided to stop in a clearing with a little stream running through it. Of course. “This seems like a good place to stop and cook some of that up, eh?” Bjorn had set his gear down on a rock nearby, and put himself to work grabbing up whatever he could find to support a cooking fire. Lydia couldn’t argue with the idea of lunch – it had been a good few hours since breakfast, after all – but the choice of location wasn’t exactly ideal. Even so, she pressed her thighs together and set off towards a tree near the edge of the clearing. Once there, she gingerly lowered herself to the ground, sitting on her foot and leaning back against the tree, taking extra care to not move quickly or bend over in any shapes that would be… less than helpful. Now seated, Lydia reached into one of her bags and took out some slabs of meat, and pulled her own knife off of her belt. She figured cutting up the meat to prepare it for cooking would provide a distraction, and at the same time it needed to be done anyways. One small problem with that, however. In order to work properly, Lydia needed to be leaning forwards. That would, of course, add unwanted pressure to her bladder, a situation only made worse by the constant sound of water nearby. But it needed to be done, so she adjusted her position as much as she could, making sure to keep her foot beneath her, and got to work carving up her venison slab. By the time Bjorn had returned with a bundle of adequate firewood, Lydia was working on getting the last chunk of meat into a state where it could be easily cooked. She glanced up to acknowledge his presence but did nothing more, instead focusing on the task in front of her – and, apparently, on pressing into her heel and rubbing it against herself. Slight movements, but noticeable, especially to a trained eye like the Dragonborn. He, of course, pretended not to notice, and instead took a seat nearby and started building up a fire. Soon after, Lydia had finished her work, and went right back to leaning against the tree, her hands rubbing her thighs and accomplishing nothing. She did manage to relax, though, and ended up slouched a little bit. In no time at all, though, she had let out a short gasp, causing Bjorn to raise an eyebrow, stop his work for a moment, and look over at the source of the noise. It was not a disappointing sight – Lydia’s hands had jumped immediately to press at her lower lips through her pants. She held them there for a short while as her first leak quickly turned into several in succession. It took a moment to get things under control, but as soon as they were, Lydia carefully moved her hands out of the way to inspect the damage – and, knowing she wouldn’t be the only one trying to do that, she made sure to move her hands only enough to allow her to see. Fortunately for her, her pants were a dark brown and rather thick, so even though there was a rather extensive dark spot there, it wouldn’t be very visible, unless one were to notice the slight glistening. Unfortunately, despite the several seconds of relief, there was still an ocean left inside, and the situation hadn’t actually improved – indeed, now that Lydia had forced herself to stop her need actually got worse as her body demanded that she let it get back to work. No such demands would be entertained, though – Bjorn had already finished assembling the campfire, and was presently sticking his fingers into the pile of sticks, casting a weak fire spell once he was positioned appropriately. Once it got going, the sound of the fire had nearly drowned out that of the stream, though it was still in view, and by now Lydia was too far-gone for the fire to be of any help. And yet she continued to fight, now keeping one hand firmly in place applying the necessary pressure, with the other hand trying to prepare something to eat. “Y’know,” Bjorn said, suddenly, while skewering bits of meat and putting them over the fire, “you don’t have to keep waiting.” “No, I don’t.” Lydia’s voice betrayed the amount of effort and focus she was spending on controlling her bladder. “But I’m not just going to give up. We’ve been over this a million times, no matter how many times we do this you’re not going to get to see anything.” The Dragonborn chuckled. “And I suppose you don’t think you’re putting on a show right now, hm?” Lydia looked down. She had bouncing and wiggling subconsciously, but now that he’d mentioned it she forced herself to stop. “Well, alright, now you’re not, but the point still stands.” Bjorn spoke as he rolled the skewer over to cook the opposite side of the meat. “I am curious though, normally you’d have given up long before now. You’re no stranger to the outdoors either. What’s so special about this time?” Lydia didn’t really have a good answer to that. She was only in this situation because she wasn’t really thinking, after all. Now that she finally did have an opportunity to think, it had occurred to her that every other time she’d done this, they’d been indoors somewhere, so once she gave up she could just run off and lock herself in a room away from the Dragonborn. She never actually wanted him to see the results, but now, here she was. In a situation like this… “You could follow me wherever I go. There are no doors or walls or anything. I’ve never let you see what happens at the end, and now if I just run off into the woods somewhere, there’s nothing stopping you from coming along.” Bjorn nodded and poked at the meat currently being cooked, and, finding it adequate, took off a piece for each of them. For Lydia, the food was a welcome distraction, though now there was the constant threat of her starting where she left off – plus the wetness had cooled down and still was making things worse on its own. “True enough,” the Dragonborn said, “but you know if you sit around for too long I’ll see everything anyways.” “That’s why I want to finish this up and get back to town.” The throbbing and pressure she was currently feeling were practically shouting at her that that’d be better done sooner than later. “Would you even be able to walk by then,” Bjorn said, now spinning a skewer with new meat on it. “We could be here a while, and on top of that we’re still a good bit away from Riften.” “We’d be out of here faster if you didn’t have to eat your own weight every time you sit down for a meal.” Lydia had finished her food by now and had both hands in place, and she was rocking as she sat. “Hey, that tone’s not very becoming of a huskarl, now is it? I’ve Shouted people off of cliffs for less.” A pity that Bjorn’s dark humor was of a brand that only himself and few others would actually find entertaining. Probably didn’t help that it was true. “This isn’t a good time for your jokes, Bjorn.” The Dragonborn just shrugged and continued his meal. “If you say so.” For the next few minutes, that was just about how things progressed. Bjorn would tear through a chunk of meat and start on the next one. Lydia would be sitting against her tree bouncing around, every so often ending up right on the edge of leaking again, but miraculously fighting it off. Eventually, though, even Bjorn had eaten his fill – surprisingly, there was some prepared meat not yet cooked, not even counting the rest of the deer that hadn’t had anything done to it. He stood up and stretched, grabbing his gear off the ground as he did so. “Well, that’s it then. If you can even get up anymore, we’re heading back,” he said. Lydia looked up, nodded, and slowly picked herself up off the ground, using one hand to push herself up and to grab the equipment she had set down earlier, while the other hand remained firmly in its place. Once she was standing, she tied her legs together as much as physically possible, though it turned out to not be enough to suppress a brief leak which escaped and re-heated her underwear. She doubled over, and when she recovered the Dragonborn spoke again. “So, do you want to do the honors,” he said, gesturing to the still-burning cooking fire. Lydia stood there for a moment, thinking very briefly. He was giving her an out, a way to just give up and move on. She knew damn well it was completely irrational, but for whatever reason this had turned into an all-out war – she had to protect her pride, she couldn’t just give up now. It made no sense, she didn’t even get anything out of it, but she just wanted to be right. So she shook her head and turned around. Bjorn shrugged and just said “All right.” Lydia had prepared herself, she knew what would happen next, but even so it still hit her hard. The sound was unbearable. She pressed harder, but it still wasn’t enough to stop her body from trying to imitate what was going on behind her. She held off for a little while, but eventually a light stream made its way out of her, refusing to stop, but fortunately amounting to little more than a constant trickle. Lydia could feel it trailing down her leg. It was hardly anything, but it made things infinitely worse for her until she finally got things under control and stopped – coincidentally at the same time as the Dragonborn. “Seriously, what are you trying to prove,” he asked, “you’re going to hurt yourself.” “If I give up now, you win,” Lydia said, slowly, “I don’t want to let you win.” Bjorn sighed. “Alright, but don’t blame me if you get sick or something. Let’s just get moving.” And so off they went, in silence. Lydia was surprisingly still able to walk, though each step just caused another brief leak. She didn’t want to look at the damage, but she was sure that it was very visible now. Good for her there was only one other person in the woods with her. It didn’t take very long for the two to come to a fallen tree, flanked on all sides by thick bushes. And of course they had to be covered in thorns. In truth they had already encountered this tree on the trip into the woods – but now it’d prove insurmountable for Lydia in her current state. “No way around?” She had a little bit of hope that there was another way through. “No way around,” Bjorn confirmed, stepping over the downed tree with ease. Lydia groaned. Each step towards the obstacle made her pants even wetter – by the time she was next to it she was leaking through to the ground. She took a deep breath, then another, preparing her body and hoping everything would be fine. She’d need both hands, so she removed them from their place and held them out in front of her – slightly wet, of course, and shaking. She grabbed onto the tree and brought up one leg to mount it like a horse. She wasn’t surprised at all with the outcome. There was absolutely nothing left keeping her bladder from emptying on its own accord, so that’s exactly what it did. She managed to quickly get into a sitting position on the tree, then hurried to get off, unable to control the flow anymore. Her pants were now thoroughly soaked, and there was a decent puddle on the fallen tree itself. The instant Lydia hit the ground, she realized she was out of options. She moved over to the side, away from the fallen tree and towards a small bush, and just squatted there as she was. No use in trying to save her clothes. Plus this way she still got to keep a little bit of dignity – or as much as one can keep with dripping pants. All Lydia could manage to say was, “Looks like you win,” followed by a long sigh. Her stream went on unabated for another couple of minutes, soaking the earth below her and even getting her shoes wet as she had failed to get her position right. When she finally stopped, she stayed squatted for another minute, waiting for her pants to finish dripping. Only then did she stand up, saying nothing to the Dragonborn. He said nothing either – didn’t really need to say anything anyways, whatever could be said could already be implied from what could be seen. In this way they continued their trek back to the city, Lydia soaked and only briefly warm, and both of them totally silent. When they arrived back at the inn, it was sunset. Keerava was still behind the bar like she had never moved, and Azhani was still hovering behind her, the two engaged in conversation. The talking stopped rather abruptly though as Keerava noticed the returning guests. “Just so you know, I just did all the laundry today so if you want those cleaned you can do it yourself,” she said, perhaps a little louder than necessary. Lydia just blushed and waved and hurried upstairs to get to her room, change, and get some rest.
  13. Night had fallen by the time Keerava returned to the inn – a day out on the town had tired her out almost as much as working did, but it was still nice to get a day off for once. Plus, if she just quietly slipped away every now and again she could get her new employee used to the schedule and everything involved in that. Worked out for everyone, as far as she was concerned. At the moment there was nobody on the ground floor – nobody behind the bar or anywhere else in the place, except for whoever it was upstairs that was still walking around, making the slightest noise as the wood planks creaked beneath them. Keerava wasn’t too keen on interacting with people right now, but considering she had to go upstairs anyways to get to bed she’d have to risk talking to whoever it was up there. Not that that would be a problem, or anything, but she’d have to get up early and the prospect of being delayed getting to bed didn’t seem that great. Thus, she snuck upstairs, both to avoid detection and to avoid waking anyone up. Someone else managed to do a better job at avoiding detection, though, as evidenced by the fact that Keerava jumped when he spoke. “So, where’ve you been all day?” It was the Dragonborn, leaning against the wall of his own room. His arms were crossed, and he looked quite contented with his wall-leaning. Keerava looked around a little bit – he didn’t have much of a reason to be standing out in a hallway in the middle of the night, after all, so surely there was something interesting out here to justify it – before asking, “What are you doing out here?” “Oh, I came out to see you, once I knew you’d gotten back.” “And you knew when that was because…” Keerava narrowed her eyes at Bjorn. That was definitely not something a normal person would say. Then again… Bjorn brought up his left hand and tapped a ring on one of his fingers. It either hadn’t been there before or she just never noticed. “Detect life,” he said, “I always wear one of these when I’m asleep. Lets me know if someone’s gonna try to sneak up on me.” He paused for a minute and added, “Of course, I know a shout to do the same thing but it’s only temporary, not long enough to keep me aware of what’s going on when I’m asleep.” Keerava just nodded and said, “Uh-huh, but why are you out here now?” Bjorn frowned, though it was obviously meant to be humorous. “I seem to remember asking you a question first.” The Argonian rolled her eyes. “You know I don’t get out much, holed up in here all the time. I’ve been wandering around the forests outside town all day long, just to see what’s out there.” “Right,” said the Dragonborn, “and to make sure your plans back here work out, right? Don’t worry, everything was fine, I helped her along, turned out great.” Keerava raised an eyebrow – or the Argonian equivalent to one anyways – and took a step back. “What are you talking about?” Bjorn stood up from the wall, and came in close to Keerava. He leaned in and whispered, “Maramal’s right. We’re all sinners. You and I, our sins aren’t all that different.” Then he stood up, smiled, and gave a half-hearted salute with two fingers. “Well, good night then,” he said as he walked back into his room and shut the door behind him. He left Keerava standing in the hall, stunned. ‘What was that,’ she thought, ‘Does he… no. What? How could he?’ And so she stood there for some time confusing herself with her own thoughts before finally thinking out loud: “Screw it, I need some sleep.” She forced herself to stop thinking about anything, and when she got to her own room she immediately headed for the bed, and when she got there practically collapsed onto it. In mere moments, she was sound asleep. Keerava found herself on a farm, looking out over a vast field of crops, getting ready for harvest. She felt proud, like she had done that. Like for once in her life working her hands to the bone was actually accomplishing something. This, of course, was the result of clawing her way out of poverty in Riften, and finally escaping the place to get to this farm – her farm – so she could work on something she enjoyed. She couldn’t stand there all day, though. The work may have been good and done, but satisfaction isn’t the only feeling to come out of a long day of work. When was the last time that needed taking care of? Thirty hours? Twenty? Hard to tell, but that didn’t really matter if she was being yelled at by her own body right at the moment. Even with all her training and her natural advantage in that area, she could only wait so long, and if she was being told now that she needed draining, then it’d be better done soon rather than later. Therefore, she had to head back inside. It was a possibility – and a very tempting one – to just relieve herself right there in the field. Nobody was around to see, after all, so she could do whatever she wanted. And yet despite how much she would have liked to do otherwise, Keerava decided that she wanted to head inside instead. It was starting to get dark anyways. Keerava headed for the farmhouse door, pushed it open, and found herself inside the Chapel of Mara in Riften. This, of course, did not seem the least bit strange to her. It did throw off her plans some, though, since Maramal was giving a sermon at present. Wandering around a church, looking for something to urinate into, while the place was filled with people listening to the word of the Divines didn’t strike Keerava as being a very smart idea. So, she did what any sane person would do in her situation, and immediately sat down in the nearest bench, threw one leg over the other, and started to just wait. It didn’t take very long for the service to end – in fact, it felt to Keerava like it was over as soon as she sat down – but once it did everyone else in the church either left through the front door, or in the case of Maramal walked off to a corner and disappeared completely. Then she stood up, now feeling the force of however much fluid she was carrying inside her. Keerava had to bend slightly at the knees but refrained from grabbing herself as she was still in a public place, even if nobody was around. A quick walk around the main room of the chapel accomplished nothing interesting, though Keerava did have to stop several times during it to pull herself together, and having found nothing inside she left from the way she came. This time, the door led to Riften, though instead of coming out at the chapel, Keerava found herself leaving a house near the main square. There was one minor difference, though: all the shop stalls in the square were replaced with small wooden booths – outhouses, quite the rarity in Tamriel and yet here were several of them all in a group. But then this was just normal Riften so there’s nothing spectacular about that. Keerava wasn’t one to waste a good opportunity, so she headed to the closest one, fortunately finding it unoccupied. Once inside, she barred the door and stripped down so she could take care of business. Being careful to avoid agitating her bladder – which by now was rather distended and firm – she pulled her pants and underwear to below her knees and sat down. The outhouse had a bench-like seat, with a round hole in the middle leading to who-knows-where, so it was no less comfortable than sitting on any chair. In her seat, Keerava relaxed herself – and nothing happened. Her need had escalated greatly in the past few minutes, and yet she could not will herself to take care of it. She tried teasing herself with two fingers, and that too did nothing. The only sensations there were for her at the moment were the great pressure that was her full bladder, which only recently made itself known, and the burning sensation in her nethers that seemed to demand she do something about that pressure. There wasn’t much she could do about either of those feelings though, since nothing she tried seemed to actually get anything to happen, and now someone was knocking on her door. If she couldn’t do anything, she’d have to leave. She tried to relax enough to let go once more, and once more nothing happened. Sighing, she stood up, bent down to re-dress, pressing ever so slightly on the weight in her belly, and left the outhouse as some Dunmer lady went in. Unable to think of any other options, Keerava decided the logical choice was to go to the docks, so with one hand resting on her bulge and the other balled into a fist at her side, she slowly made her way there. It took some time, though fortunately there were no people getting in the way and all the buildings that should have been blocking her had apparently been moved ever so slightly, so the path was straight and clear. Once she got to her destination, Keerava walked over to one of the piers, and all the way to the far end, where she stood for a few moments thinking about what she would do next. Looking around, she saw nobody in the area, so she once again disrobed from the waist down, got into a squatting position, and again tried to relax. Yet again, to nobody’s surprise, nothing happened. One more try, and this time she managed to let out a short dribble, but as it was only a few drops she felt no different. She did feel warmer, for some reason, but the pressure was still there and still as strong as ever. Keerava was now officially out of ideas, so she re-dressed and sat down on the pier, with both her hands now in her crotch and her legs hanging off the pier, crossing over each other and getting tangled together in all sorts of shapes. Keerava sat there doing that for a little while, until finally one of her feet just barely touched the surface of the water below her. Whether by coincidence or because the water was some kind of magic, she felt a long, hot spurt dampen her clothes. Surprised, she fell over backwards, and shut her eyes tight as she fought with her pants to get them out of the way now that she was actually doing something. Another spurt came, and then another, and once she finally managed to wrestle her clothes into a position where her lower body was clear, she let out a two-second stream that arced out of her body and into Lake Honrich with what should have been a splash. It was not a splash, however. Instead it was, for whatever reason, the sound of liquid hitting fabric. Come to think of it, the boardwalk here was unusually soft. When Keerava opened her eyes again, she found herself staring up at a ceiling with her head resting on a cheap pillow. Her knees were up to her chest, and she had her pants pulled just the tiniest bit down her thighs, just enough that there was nothing in the way when her stream started up again, making a pattering noise as it pooled on the Argonian’s bed. Not quite awake yet, Keerava took some time to realize what was happening. She had been left emptying herself for a good twenty seconds before she finally figured out that the noise of urine hitting mattress was not a normal feature of this room. Collecting all the willpower she could in her freshly-awakened state, she managed to cut off her stream, and as fast as possible kicked off and rolled into a sitting position, her feet ending up in the puddle she had just made. Her hands shot down to try to stop the rest of what needed to come out, but as soon as she tried to stand up, her hands were instantly soaked and several trails of urine seeped out between her fingers, dampening the bed further. This was surprising enough that just as soon as her hands found their way down, they were right back up again, and fell right back down into a sitting position. As soon as her ass hit the bed, her stream increased in power. Keerava tried to lift herself up to get anywhere but there, but she only succeeded in moving a few inches off the bed, still forcefully wetting it, before her arms gave out and she fell down again. All she could do was sigh and surrender herself to what was currently happening, so she gave a little push to maximize the force and speed with which she relieved herself, mainly to just get it done with as fast as possible. It didn’t take long at that point, and in another ten seconds Keerava’s torrent was reduced to the occasional drip. Once she figured she was done, she carefully got her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, removing all her clothes once she was upright. A damage inspection revealed that the bed was rather thoroughly destroyed – if it could be cleaned it would take far more energy than anyone at the inn could spare. Keerava’s pants had survived mostly unscathed, though there was a rather small wet spot on the crotch, and some other dark spots on the back from splash damage. One could not say the same of her panties, which received a good soaking while Keerava fought to remove them. The pants could be salvaged, and would be perfectly usable after being left to dry for a while. Everything else needed washing, though, even her shirt, which had a significant stain on the back as a result of her puddle creeping towards and under her while she was lying down. Fortunately, she seemed to have been woken up early – nobody else would be awake for a couple of hours yet, so there was plenty of time to clean up. There was a backlog of laundry anyways, so Keerava had to admit it was a rather well-timed wetting. And as she stood in her room, naked, finding her hand drifting down again, she also had to admit that Bjorn was probably right. Creepy, but right.
  14. When dawn broke on the day after the Dragonborn’s arrival, Azhani and Talen were the only two people on the ground floor of the inn. Having awoken only recently, neither of them seemed to have noticed, but when Azhani went to get an apron and broom from behind the bar, she rubbed her eyes, looked around, and asked, “Where is Keerava?” Talen seemed surprised to hear a voice, almost jumping and frantically searching the room for the source for a moment before realizing where he was and who was talking to him. “What? She’s right over, uh,” he started, “wait, she’s usually down here.” “But she is not.” The Khajiit was leaning on her broom, hands on the top of it and her head on her hands. Her eyes kept trying to close themselves, but she would always force herself to stay awake whenever that happened. “Probably thought she could get a day off with you working here now. Out exploring the town, I bet.” Talen was currently checking all the kegs to make sure they were full, and replacing ones that weren’t. Azhani yawned and twitched her ears. “So what do we do?” “First, we eat,” Talen said, dropping a plate, a fork, and a mug for each of them onto the bar. “Then I suppose I’ll stay here and serve and you can wait around, clean up whatever needs to be cleaned up, and make sure people at the tables are getting whatever they need.” By the time any customers started to show up, it was a few hours into the morning. The empty time between dawn and then was filled mostly with preparing the bar to make sure it could handle the day’s business and cleaning up from the night before. Especially the cleaning part – Azhani actually spent that entire time cleaning up some massive puddle left on one of the chairs and the floor. Pungent enough to be easily identifiable to a Khajiit nose, but that didn’t make it any less strange. It even reminded her that nobody ever told her when she’d get a break. Not that she needed to know at the moment. It would be a long day ahead, though, especially if Keerava didn’t turn up, wherever she was. Hopefully she’s enjoying her vacation, Azhani thought, she probably doesn’t get very many. Conveniently, at that exact moment Romlyn Dreth wandered into the bar. Understandable why she would want to get away. Good thing he’s Talen’s problem. Sure enough, he immediately situated himself on a barstool and started telling his stories. Talen was looking at Azhani with pleading eyes, but she just shrugged and playfully waved her tail at him before hauling her broom off to some remote corner. She pretended to sweep her corner for some time, before she heard a set of footsteps heading down the stairs, followed by some comment from Romlyn, and then a loud and clear “Shut up, Romlyn” from Bjorn. He appeared shortly after in the dining hall with a nearly-charred leg of some large bird, took a seat, and waved Azhani over as soon as he noticed she was there. “Do you need something, Dragonborn?” she asked as she approached. Bjorn took a large bite of his bird-leg before speaking. “Where’s your boss? Isn’t she, well, always down here?” Azhani shrugged and tipped her head slightly. “Don’t know. Woke up, came down here, she was already gone.” Bjorn leaned back as far as he could in his chair, food still in hand. “So she left you to take over her schedule, huh?” The Khajiit nodded silently, and in response Bjorn gave a slight grin. “Interesting.” Azhani either didn’t notice that last comment or pretended not to hear it, and commented on her current workload: “This one may have to stay at work here until nightfall. Business will pick up in a few hours, for sure.” She sighed. “Very tiring day indeed.” “Indeed…” Bjorn started chewing on his bird-leg, staring off at something in the distance, before asking with his mouth full, “Buy yuh uh drink?” The response was a shrug and a “Why not” from Azhani. “Something from Cyrodiil, please,” she added. The Dragonborn nodded and wandered back to the bar, refusing to put his food down. Azhani could only see his back, but from the bar Talen would be able to see Bjorn smirking again, if he cared to look. Sure enough, business picked up, and by the afternoon the inn was quite busy – not as much as an inn somewhere in Whiterun or Solitude, but still rather busy by local standards. One of the priests of Mara from the nearby temple even showed up to preach, and the Dragonborn bought an amulet from him. Oddly enough, the Dragonborn had spent the entire day simply wandering around on the ground floor of the inn, wearing plainclothes and carrying a dagger on his belt instead of the longsword he brought to town. He even seemed to be lacking in an assistant – Lydia would show up occasionally but whenever she came back she’d be sent off on some new errand. Azhani was busy too, of course, and spent a large portion of time gathering used plates and the like, and bringing them to a large bucket behind the bar. They’d be taken care of later, the rest of the inn still needed cleaning. Whenever she got a chance to rest, the Dragonborn would buy her a glass of Imperial liquor, which she would always down quickly before getting back to work. There was, of course, one rather obvious problem with that. Delicious though the liquor may be, a Khajiit can’t just keep drinking them forever. Room for more would eventually need to be made – and without any extended periods of quiet, that inevitability would be very inconvenient. Azhani, of course, despite the incident the day before, was still very much incapable of intentionally disgracing herself by handling such an inevitability in public. And so it was that she came to regret accepting Bjorn’s offers of free drinks – which she just now realized she could have been getting herself anyways, since drinks were part of her payment – and began considering ways to deal with what very soon would become a problem. Waiting as long as she had yesterday was definitely not an option, as Bjorn’s gift of pants was still her only clean legwear at the moment. Her original clothes had been tossed in with the Argonians’ laundry, which nobody had found the time to do just yet – and when they did get around to it the wetness would be clearly visible on the gray material of her pants. Some solution was definitely necessary, sooner rather than later, or she’d have nothing to wear and would have to hope her fur would provide enough cover. Thinking about a solution was not as easy as Azhani had hoped, though. There was always something new that needed doing, especially now that the regular patrons had been drinking for a few hours and engaging in all manner of drunken recklessness. Whenever she would stop, either to clear a table or clean up some idiot’s vomit or the blood and teeth left over from the usual Nord barfight, she’d have her legs crossed, hopefully as discreetly as possible. And to make matters worse, she’d still get thirsty and would force herself to accept yet more offers of drinks from the Dragonborn. You’d almost think he planned for this, she thought when she went to claim her most recent drink. He seems very much too interested. Indeed, Bjorn had been watching the Khajiit intently the entire time, looking over at her with the greatest subtlety and carefully positioning himself in just such a way that it looked like he was just wandering around the bar, but could also keep an eye on her no matter where she went. Keerava still isn’t back yet, Azhani thought, making another round. She might have planned for this too. But she’s not here to see it. The Khajiit was unsure of how she felt about that. On one hand, that’d be one less person to see her as she gradually got more and more desperate. But on the other, Keerava running off without a word to do Divines-know-what surely indicated she wanted to put her new employee into this state. And maybe she wanted to annoy Talen, too – he was currently behind the counter staring at Romlyn, possibly envisioning the many ways he could make the Dunmer stop talking. In fact, maybe that was most of the reason, but Azhani still couldn’t shake the thought that maybe someone had intended for her to be working all day, with no good chance of a break, just to see what happens to her. Fortunately enough, the need to run around the inn had diminished – unfortunately the only need to have done so – as most of the patrons were now at the bar. There was still lots of work to be done, of course, but at least Azhani could stay mostly in one area, and didn’t have to run around and jostle her bladder. A good thing, too, since her need just kept getting worse. She did get to take advantage of the ability to stand still to slip a hand underneath her apron and up against the front of her pants, maybe pretending to be adjusting her shirt or something. That brief moment of relief didn’t last very long – as soon as Bjorn noticed Azhani wasn’t running around anymore, he was already right beside her with a new drink, and a mug of his own this time. It did take her a while to consider her options, but eventually she reluctantly accepted the offer and drank yet again. At least the drinks weren’t liquor anymore, and hadn’t been for a few hours – instead, they were milk, no doubt a joke either about her being a Khajiit or asking for something Imperial. “Tiring work, huh?” Bjorn said, trying to make some kind of small talk while also occasionally taking a swig from his mug. Azhani responded with a nervous half-laughing half-growling sound as she crossed her legs as tightly as possible, licking the milk out of her glass more like a housecat than a Khajiit. She could drink it slower that way, and it wouldn’t look weird if she didn’t respond because she was drinking. Eventually, though, she did need to respond, and said, “Very tiring. Haven’t had a good break all day.” The Dragonborn took another swig of his drink and seemed to be checking out the Azhani’s legs. She quickly uncrossed them and instead pressed her thighs together as much as possible, not wanting to have her situation on display. Bjorn almost seemed to have smirked again but if he did he almost immediately had his mug up to his mouth again to hide it. “Y’know,” he said, “I’d be glad to help if you need anything.” He was now leaning back against the nearest wall, with Azhani off to his right side. The Khajiit was not expecting such an offer, so could only stammer and respond “N-no, no, don’t need help, thanks, no.” She quickly downed what was left of her milk and was looking for some way to get out of the conversation, fortunately being distracted by a thud from the dining room and a voice calling out “Shit!” She gave an awkward smile, practically shoved her glass into the Dragonborn’s hand, and rushed over as well as she could to see what had happened. What she saw was a patron standing near a table, looking at a mug that had fallen off the table and spilled its contents onto the floor. Don’t think about spilling, Azhani commanded herself, realizing there may not be much time before she did the same. When the patron saw her, she waved him off to the bar to get another drink, pulled a rag out of a pocket in her apron, and made her way over to the spill to clean it. Upon bending down to get to work, though, she felt herself leak into her new pants – directly, since her only set of underwear was also in a basket waiting to be cleaned. She immediately jumped up and moved a hand to cover her rear, just in case it was visible from behind, quickly looking around to make sure nobody saw. Fortunately the dining room was mostly empty now, and the only people who were there were facing away from her. Bjorn was the only other person in the bar who could possibly see her – he probably did, but she couldn’t be sure since he was quite good at hiding it if he was looking. Once she was sure nobody was looking at her, or at the very least nobody but the Dragonborn, she bent down again, this time staying dry, and got to work cleaning the spill. She needed to use two hands for it so had her tail shoved between her legs to apply some modest amount of pressure. The pressure from the outside couldn’t compete with the pressure from inside, though, and soon enough another leak escaped, getting her tail slightly wet. Azhani let out a quiet groan and thought, This is not good, need to do something soon. She looked at the puddle of spilled drink on the floor in front of her. There was still a significant amount of it left – the dropped mug must have been nearly full at the time – and with only Bjorn potentially able to see her she had some degree of privacy. Nobody would notice if this got a little bigger… She didn’t want to consider that as an option, but there weren’t very many choices available at the moment – and that amount would quickly diminish further over time. Maybe just a little bit? No time for anyone to notice if it’s just a little bit. The puddle on the floor was not growing any smaller in the time it took Azhani to consider whether or not peeing right then and there was a viable option. If she could just let a little bit out, she reasoned that she’d be able to wait until something more appropriate and more private became available. But then, would she be able to stop once she had started? Would she even be able to start at all with people potentially watching? All sorts of questions flew through her head, but were quickly dismissed by another leak, larger than the two before, leaving a few drops on the floor. Fuck it, she thought. With another look around the room to make sure people were paying more attention to their food than to her, she grabbed her pants from behind and moved them as far down as she could without changing position. Moving her legs ever so slightly apart, she closed her eyes and forced herself to let go. After a second, she felt a short burst shoot out of her and heard it land on the floor with a quiet pattering noise, followed by a slight involuntary trickle. She tried again and this time there was a thick stream, running directly into the puddle of spilled drink. Azhani started to sigh but almost immediately realized that the stream was making far too much noise, and when she opened her eyes she remembered that she shouldn’t be doing that here. Almost as soon as she started she forced herself to stop, though her body refused to listen to her for a few seconds, leaving her to wonder if anyone would catch her before her stream finally died down. As soon as it did, she rushed to pull her pants back up and get back to work. It took a few minutes to clean the puddle, a task only made longer by her recent addition to it, and harder by the fact that she was leaking every few seconds. As soon as the puddle was gone, she jumped up, grabbed the dropped mug, and hurried over to dispose of her cleaning rag. When she got to the bucket full of dishes needing cleaning, she glanced at the mug and decided to put it into her apron pocket instead. Might be useful. That done, she immediately rushed over to the Dragonborn. She didn’t like the idea, but he offered to help and she certainly needed help now – she wasn’t sure how much longer it’d be before it would be more than just some leaks. When she got up to him, he was still leaning against a wall, drinking, and pretending not to notice the dancing Khajiit just within his line of sight. “Azha needs your help now,” she said bluntly. “Does she now?” Bjorn just grinned and took another sip of his drink, which he surely must have refilled since the last time they spoke. “Very much so,” was the response from the Khajiit whose dancing was gradually getting more frantic and whose pants were gradually getting more wet. “Need to get away, somewhere quiet.” “And not much time to do it, I assume.” Fortunately for Azhani she was a Khajiit and her blushing couldn’t be seen. She was very much embarrassed that someone, especially someone as important as Bjorn, knew of her situation, but she really didn’t care by then and just nodded. “Well, I have a solution,” Bjorn said, putting his mug down on a nearby shelf. “But it’ll be… well, it’ll be loud.” It took a moment for Azhani to realize what that meant, and once she did realize she started to ask “You’re going to- “ “Yes,” the Dragonborn cut her off. “It’ll slow time, moreso for everyone else than for me, and if I’m touching you, you should be as unaffected as I will be.” Azhani did not like where this was going. “If I let go of you, though, you’ll probably just return to the normal effects, so really there wouldn’t be much of a change from your perspective. And it won’t last very long.” This was not a very good proposal. Azhani would have some extra time to sneak off before anyone noticed she had gone anywhere, but she wasn’t sure if she could actually go while the Dragonborn was touching her – especially not if he was touching her and looking at her. And if the entire Shout lasted less than a minute, she wouldn’t have time to finish before it wore off. But she didn’t have any better options, so just nodded and said “Okay.” “Alright,” Bjorn said, “you can probably hide under the stairs, so just head over there as soon as you hear me. Maybe I can start a little distraction so it’s not so obvious…” He scanned the room quickly and almost immediately decided to pick Romlyn as his victim – fairly soon a red blast shot out from the Dragonborn’s hand and struck Romlyn in the back, and he got up and started trying to pick a fight with anyone near him. The bar immediately erupted into yelling as everyone inside tried to get in on the action – Talen was even using his tail as a weapon. “That’s definitely illegal but you’re not criminal scum if nobody catches you, so… TIID KLO UL!” His right hand shot out to grab Azhani by the shoulder as soon as he started speaking the words of power, and once he was finished the fight scene across the room was now barely moving – teeth were floating in mid-air, moving ever so slightly towards the ground. But there was no time to watch, as Azhani had followed her instructions and immediately started pulling the Dragonborn around a few boxes under the stairs. Once she was sufficiently hidden from everyone else, she immediately got to work getting her pants down, pulled the mug out of her apron pocket – and taking the apron off completely and tossing it to the side as it’d only get in the way. She also took the chance to shoot an evil glance at Bjorn as quickly as the Shout would allow her to. He was watching but turned his head away once she looked at him. It felt very strange to Azhani that she was moving so slowly – she tried to rush into a position with the mug underneath her but nothing seemed to move as fast as she wanted it to. She did manage to get herself positioned properly, though, and as soon as she did she tried to force herself to empty out. For a while, nothing happened – it was an even longer period of time than one would expect could be due to time being slowed down. Azhani was in position, her nethers were burning with the desire to relieve herself, but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything for some time. After repeatedly trying to let go, she decided that she could use her free hand to speed things along. As quickly as she could, she brought her hand up to her belly and pressed as hard as she could, doubling over in the process as she dramatically increased the pressure on her bladder. Sure enough, though, that worked, and a trickle was making its way into the mug, and that became a stream, and soon enough Azhani was forcefully urinating into what had only recently been full of alcohol. The mug wasn’t even halfway full before time returned to normal, though – but Azhani didn’t seem to notice and was just enjoying the feeling of release. Her eyes were closed, her head was tipped back, and she was breathing heavily. She didn’t even notice that the Dragonborn was watching again and trying to pull his shirt down. Nor did she notice that she had filled the mug until she felt its contents spill over onto the hand that was gripping it. In shock, she jerked her head up and her eyes open – Bjorn reacted immediately and pretended that he was never looking, though his work with his shirt wasn’t very functional camouflage - and she very nearly dropped the mug, only stopping herself by bringing her other hand to it, stabilizing it. She had still spilled some onto the floor, though, and she couldn’t stop herself from continuing to empty herself into a container that couldn’t hold any more of what was in her. Her solution was to just get the mug out of the way, so she set it down off to the side, stream still as strong as ever, and looked down at what she was doing to the floor. The puddle Azhani was leaving was rapidly growing, almost touching her feet. And yet she still showed no signs of slowing down, so all she could do was spread her legs even further apart, which caused her to lose balance and fall backwards. She hit the back of her head on one of the crates separating her from the brawl on the other side, and when she recovered from that confusion she realized that she was now sitting directly on the ground, her stream shooting straight out in front of her between her legs – also managing to get her pants soaked as they were now directly in the line of fire. She also noticed that the Dragonborn had released his grip on her shoulder, as his Shout and worn off. Fortunately he wasn’t looking at her, because the view would have been perf- Wait, no, he is looking, she thought. He wasn’t being as subtle as he had hoped, so Azhani had noticed and moved both of her hands to give herself as much cover as possible without ending up peeing through her hands. And she shot Bjorn another evil glare, causing him to turn around completely so he couldn’t see. Fortunately, the need for Azhani to have her legs spread was diminishing very quickly, and soon enough her stream stopped entirely. Once she was finished, she stood up with some difficulty, trying not to slip in her own puddle, and got her pants back up where they belonged once she was fully upright. They were thoroughly soaked as a result of her last position, mostly on the back. Her apron would hide most of the damage from the front, but for now she’d have to be careful to not be seen from behind. Even with the dark blue material of the pants the wet spot would be easily visible. Once she was totally re-dressed, she carefully stepped over the puddle and came out from her hiding place. As she passed Bjorn, she smacked him on the back of the head. “Pervert,” she growled at him before heading off to get a new cleaning rag. The fight had died down by now and nobody was quite sure why they were fighting each other in the first place – except Talen, who had many reasons for beating Romlyn up; and Bjorn, who had started the fight to begin with and also now had a very good rear view of a Khajiit barmaid’s soaked pants.
  15. Lydia followed her master into a tavern – he was the Dragonborn, so perhaps getting drunk wasn’t the best for his image, but he was a Nord too, and what else would one expect a Nord to do after a fight but drink himself into next Loredas – and she was glad for the chance to rest. It had been a long journey to Riften, and then immediately upon arrival there was a dragon to deal with, and then she had to carry dragon bones halfway across town to give them to some other poor sap who then had to figure out what to do with them, probably going broke just getting them. Her arms hadn’t been this sore in years. She could hardly lift the mug of beer the Dragonborn had ordered for her, but at least she got to sit at the bar and rest. Plus, she could always find the energy to lift beer to her mouth no matter how tired she was. The Dragonborn was seated to her right and engaged in conversation with the Argonian behind the bar, with the Dunmer to his right occasionally chiming in with some insipid comment about something. His name was Romlyn, apparently, since whenever he said anything the barkeep would tell him “Shut up, Romlyn.” At present, though, Romlyn was silent, drinking his mead – the entire place had quieted down, in fact. The Argonian noticed the silence and spoke to break it: “I don’t believe I ever got your name?” The response from the Dragonborn came as “Bjorn Ironside”, and included a slight bowing of his head. Then, of course, came the comment from Romlyn: “So does that make you the Dragonbjorn?”, and this time the response of “Shut up, Romlyn” came from the bartender and Bjorn at the same time. All the while, Lydia was sat on her barstool, slowly working on the mug of beer in her hands, hardly paying any attention to anything around her. She wouldn’t have noticed that a Khajiit had come to stand by the bar as well had the Argonian not said something about it. “How long were you planning on staying in town, Khajiit?” Lydia glanced over – she had seen this same Khajiit just a few hours ago, although not in blue pants. The Khajiit answered, “Actually, this one had forgotten why she was even in town until now. May need to be here all month. But- “ “But you have no money.” Keerava – Lydia had learned her name after hearing another Argonian say it in passing - cut the Khajiit off. “No money, you don’t live here, but you don’t want to be left out in the streets.” “Yes, Khajiit would very much like to not live in the streets,” was the response. “Well, I can’t house you for free. But as I’m sure you can see, I’m overworked. Especially with this idiot-“ Keerava pointed at Romlyn with two fingers, “And at this rate our friend here’s gonna drink me into even more debt-“ Now she pointed at Bjorn, who had managed to tear through half a dozen bottles of mead without even a hint of drunkenness, “So if you want to live here, you’ll have to work for me.” By now Lydia was barely paying any attention to the conversation, but she heard the Khajiit respond with a rather enthusiastic “Yes”, and then Keerava called for someone named Talen, who started talking to the Khajiit about work. She had better things to focus on, anyways. Her beer had already been refilled once and she was halfway done with the new mug, and now she was just waiting for Bjorn to be done drinking and dismiss her so she’d be able to get to bed. It took a great deal of strength just to stay awake. Strength, of course, was not something Lydia was lacking, but a long journey and a day of bearing the Dragonborn’s burdens had taken a lot out of her. Plus, sitting there drinking wasn’t really helping to distract from her own burden. Sure, she could probably wait a while longer, but her bladder was already making itself known, and it’d be much better to deal with it sooner rather than later. The only problem being, of course, that as a housecarl Lydia couldn’t let her Thane out of her sight unless she was specifically dismissed. Finding an appropriate place to relieve herself would mean leaving Bjorn alone – not a problem for him, of course, but she did swear an oath and had every intention to honor it. She knew she could wait, so just pressed her legs together and kept drinking. Drinking wasn’t the best course of action in this situation, but she had to at least finish what she had. Several minutes passed quite uneventfully, with Bjorn telling stories about Helgen and Whiterun, the newly-hired Khajiit sweeping floors, and Lydia continuing to keep her legs as close together as possible, though now with her right leg bouncing. She’d have grabbed at herself by now, but considering the fact that she was seated at the bar, with patrons and a bartender to potentially notice, she resisted the temptation, wondering when she’d be able to leave, pee, and get some rest. Lydia didn’t need to wonder for very long, since she noticed Bjorn stand up and stretch, and prepared to do the same… but then she saw him walk over to Talen and enter into a deep conversation. She sighed, and felt a leak dampen her underwear. ‘If he doesn’t hurry,’ she thought, ‘I may be in trouble here.’ But he did not hurry, and even when his conversation was finished he decided to linger around and talk to apparently every single person in the bar at that moment. She felt another leak and quietly groaned. The sound of other patrons getting refills just made things worse. Something would need to be done very soon unless she wanted to end up wet. Lydia saw Bjorn walk off into the larger dining room, and slowly stood up to follow him so she wouldn’t lose sight of him behind a wall. Her need worsened as soon as her feet hit the ground, and she crossed her legs for a moment before shuffling off to the dining room. There, she found an empty table at a nearby corner, and took a seat. From there, Lydia could see the entire room, but odds are nobody would see her unless they were looking for her. That gave her an idea. Her legs weren’t very heavily-armored, and she was wearing a thick green travelling cloak. If she covered herself with it, nobody would see her do what needed to be done – and if they saw, they wouldn’t think twice about it and would most likely just assume she was cold. Another leak, this one much more substantial, motivated her to go ahead with the plan. ‘I just hope nobody can hear it,’ she thought as she raised herself off the chair slightly, lowered her pants and damp panties to her knees, and pulled up her cloak so she wouldn’t be sitting on top of it. Then she sat down again, inadvertently letting a small burst of pee out when she made contact with the chair, and quickly threw her cloak over her legs. Her right arm was under the cloak, holding it up above her legs a little bit to ensure it wouldn’t get wet, and her left was balled into a fist on the table. Another leak added to the small puddle on the chair – and her legs, which were pressed together again while Lydia built up the courage to release. With one last look around the room to make sure nobody was looking at her and to confirm Bjorn had not left the room, she spread her legs and let go. Her stream took a second to start, and when it did it was a mere trickle, despite the intense pressure in her abdomen and the strength of her leaks, but it quickly turned into a veritable river, pooling onto the chair and soaking the underside of Lydia’s legs and butt. She was shaking and had her eyes still scanning the room to see if anyone was paying her any attention. Her cheeks were flushed and her left hand was now covering her mouth to prevent her from making any noises. She was, of course, still making noises, her thick stream most definitely audible, and now that the chair had been filled there was the added noise of constant dripping as a puddle formed on the floor beneath the table. Lydia could only hope that the cloak covering her blocked some of the noise, and since she could still hear drinks being poured in the other room assumed that anyone that could hear her would think it was that. After a minute, the stream started to subside, and when it returned to a trickle Lydia started to lift herself off the chair again. When it became merely the occasional drip, Lydia quickly redressed herself, feeling the cold wet spot on the crotch of her underwear heat up a little bit as the last drops came out. Looking down, she saw a rather significant puddle on the chair and under the table, with the puddle on the chair still slowly feeding into the one on the floor, which was just about to reach her boots when she stopped. Blushing even deeper, she quickly shuffled away from the scene of the crime, released her cloak when she was sure it was safe, and hurried over to follow Bjorn, who was now finally heading upstairs.