moonandstar: (Default)
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moonandstar: (Moon and Star)
Being a Concise Description of the Lands
Religion, and Diverse Customs of the Inhabitants,
Most Especially Those of the Eastern Province of Morrowind

Dedicated to Uriel VII, Blessed of Heaven, Emperor, and Father and Son of Emperors,
Inspiration of Faith and Safeguard of Justice, Long May He Reign


This post and its comments contain the basics of what a reader unfamiliar with the Elder Scrolls universe ought to know. If you see a word, term, or place name mentioned that is unfamiliar to you, it will probably be explained here. )
moonandstar: (On the Warpath)
The Garyn Balvadares who will be entering Milliways during AU week differs from the one you know in these respects:

The murder for which he was imprisoned, rather than a drunken brawl, was a deliberately planned assassination for which he was caught holding the bloody dagger. This led him down the path to becoming an assassin himself. Upon his release to Morrowind, he joined the ancient society known as the Morag Tong, where he learned the Dunmer way of honorable and secret murder.

Because this would be hard to convey (assassins don't announce themselves except by killing people), he will also come from a non-canonical future. Once this Garyn fulfilled the prophecy by defeating Dagoth Ur, slaying Almalexia, foiling King Helseth's plot against him, and surviving Hircine's plot in Solstheim, he engaged in a long power struggle with the devious king. This more ambitious version of Garyn succeeded in killing Helseth, routing his armies, and seizing the throne.

He retains many of the same ideals as he did before. But where he was once brooding and passive, he is now ruthless and powerful, imposing his will on his land and his people.

He has been coming to Milliways for a long but indeterminate period of time.
moonandstar: (Soldier)
Vivec is a maze. Every canton, every corner of the place is designed specifically to frustrate locals and baffle outsiders. Or so Garyn assumes. He can think of no other justification for why this city exists.

There are no streets to speak of outside the doors of the plaza; only a single wide concourse that encircles the whole canton. Nonetheless it is choked with life - rich and poor, beggars and vendors, drummers and street preachers, Dunmer and foreigners. In the full heat of the day there is scarcely any space not occupied by some poor soul or another; they swim past him on either side.

"Stand aside or move along, outlander."

Garyn turns to find himself startled by a stern-faced golden mask with a mer inside it.

"Apologies, sera. I'm looking for Hlaalu canton."

The masked mer glares. "Then find a gondolier and stop clogging our streets, f'lah. Move. Along."

Garyn quickly nods his assent - he can see the guards won't be a help to him - and forces his way to the edge of the concourse. He leans against the parapet and looks for the city beneath him, hoping to get a sense of it.

Instead he sees a watery labyrinth, a criss-cross grid of sea and stone. The cantons - each a stone ziggurat as big as a village and a hundred feet high - stand alone in the sea as artificial islands linked by narrow stone bridges. On the sides of each canton stand ramshackle wooden shacks and scaffolding, most of them off the edge overhanging the canal itself. Some are even stacked one atop the other. But they all leave room for the boats to pass underneath.

The gondolas are difficult to make out from here, the topmost level of the Foreign Quarter. But Garyn can just about make them out. From the look of it, there are at least two more levels beneath him. He can see where he needs to go. Now, to find a way down...

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Shaking the orc down is easy enough, once he flags down a boatman, finds his way up the Hlaalu canton, and asks every day-drinking stranger at the nearest cornerclub if they know an orc named Nar gro-Shagramph. When you're looking for a needle in a haystack, you don't worry about what you're going to sew with it once you find the damn thing. Garyn knows what to do with this one - stand tall, talk tough, and flash the steel just enough to let him see it. Nar was pretty quick to pretend he never wanted the ring in the first place.

Three hours of legwork culminating in a thirty-second confrontation where he didn't even have to draw his blade. If this isn't mercenary work in a nutshell, Garyn doesn't know what is.

By the time he makes it back to the Guild, the sun is a good deal lower in the sky. Lorbumol, meanwhile, is at a whetstone sharpening a knife. He hardly seems to notice Garyn as he arrives.

"What? Oh, you. You're finally back with that ring?"

Garyn might point out that he just found a perfect stranger in an enormous city that he just arrived in today using nothing but his own determination and investigative skills. But he desperately needs this money, and just as desperately needs to not piss off the mer giving it to him. He tosses the ring to Lorbumol.

"Right here, boss."

"Good. Here's a hundred drakes. Easy money." Lorbumol throws him a small bag of coins. "I'll let Sjoring know you're a full member now. Don't let the promotion get to your head, Apprentice."

Garyn weighs the coins in his hand and purses his lips. "Wouldn't dream of it."

"Good. That first job was barely work. I'm giving you a second today so's you can show me what you're really made of."

"I'm ready," Garyn says. No Guild member ever turns down paying work if they expect their bosses to assign them more. If the Guild says jump, you say "how much?"

Lorbulg picks up his knife and begins to fiddle with it. "There's an Argonian in Ald'ruhn who can't keep its mouth shut. Go to the Rat in the Pot and silence him, and I'll give you 500 drakes."

Garyn blinks. His first job had been a questionable one to start with. But he hadn't expected his second job would escalate to...whatever this is.

"...What do you mean by silence him, boss? What's he saying about us?"

"A lot of things he shouldn't be saying, Apprentice. You're gonna shut him up for good or I won't pay you. Now go find a Guild Guide and get to Ald'ruhn, before I hand this job to someone else."

Garyn shuts his eyes and nods. "Consider it done."
moonandstar: (Default)
Garyn isn't quite sure where he is. He's been told this is Vivec City, in some place called the Foreign Quarter. But what that means, where that is, he has no idea. He has seen nothing but stone beneath him and stone above him. He has clambered up four tall flights of stairs from the Mage's Guild teleportation chamber to what he has been assured is the central plaza of the canton - he supposes this must be something like a district.

And indeed, a plaza seems to be what he's found - a large open square, lined on both sides with shops and residences. But the air is still musty, and the wind does not blow freely. The bustle of men and mer going on about their daily gods-know-what echoes around a great stone dome that stretches overhead. The whole canton is one enormous building.

Garyn sees now his error. From what little he'd heard of it, he had been led to believe that Vivec was a city, not a citadel.

Looking across the street, he sees the shield-and-crossed-swords that mark every Fighters Guildhall in Tamriel.

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"Welcome to the Fighters Guild, boy."

Garyn blinked as he entered the well-appointed red hall. Bright red banners marked with crossed shields hang draped from the walls.

"Y-yes," he said. "Thank you, sera."

"You're welcome," said the Old Mer. "Do your job well, and this will all be yours someday."


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It doesn't look anything like the old place. But then, with the way the city's looked so far, he's not surprised. It's a series of cramped corridors and staircases, descending further into the canton with no obvious exterior. But it's the Fighters Guild, alright - the sound of training swords crashing against wood is unmistakable.

For the Guild of the largest city in Vvardenfell, there isn't much to the place. The hallways are narrow and the stairwells are steep. Gods forbid there's ever a fire inside. Still, it only takes one point in the right direction to lead him toward the man in charge - a long-haired Nord, currently nose-deep in a ledger.

"Sjoring Hard-Heart?"

"That's me," he says. "Haven't seen you around before."

"I haven't been," Garyn says. "I'm a mercenary looking to join the Vvardenfell guild. In Cyrodiil I -"

"Talk to Lorbumol downstairs. He'll see if you're worthy to join our ranks. I'll draw up the paperwork if he gives me the word. Until then, consider yourself a freelance associate."

He jabs his thumb rightward and Garyn descends the stairs to meet the orc.

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There was no family at the funeral of Salms Balvadares. None that counted for anything, anyway. The public consensus was that they probably existed somewhere. But the old mer's instructions were clear. His ashes were not to be returned to Morrowind. Instead they were to be scattered over the banks of the Niben. His people had surrendered their sovereignty to the Cyrodiils willingly enough; in his sight, the homeland they had so freely given was as much Cyrodiil as Leyawiin was.

None were to be invited to the scattering other than the persons specially mentioned. Not a single Balvadares was on that list.

There was, however, one person by that name in attendance. Salms's will had stipulated the mandatory attendance of "all standing members of the Leyawiin chapter of the Fighters Guild."

The ceremony, or what passed for it, proceeded under a shroud of dull silence. None had imagined it would end like this. Death not in battle, not even within eyeshot of an enemy, but on his own privy, from a sudden failure of the heart.

His face had always made him look older than he was - the lines, angles, and scars did him no favors. But he was hale and hearty, and carried about his physical labors with the strength and vigor of a soldier in his prime. He was a chiseled granite statue of a mer - muscular, imposing, unstoppable once he started moving. It seemed impossible to think that a mer like that could ever die. Surely one stare from those glinty eyes would have held back Arkay himself if he ever came for him.

The last of Salms swirled apart amidst the rushing current. Modryn Oreyn, the deputy guildmaster of Cyrodiil, read aloud his instructions for the distribution of his estate, unsealed after his scattering as per his will. It was not a long reading - for, it cannot be stressed enough, no family or natural heirs were present at the ceremony. Why he had never endeavored to marry and produce issue, none could be certain, though there were many guesses. It was a popular rumor that he had been castrated in battle, and that he kept his member in a jar on his mantlepiece. No such thing could be confirmed now, of course. His body was gone, and the contents of his office had been willed to the Guild itself, to be held in its stores under lock and key, never to be opened.

Three-fifths of his personal savings were to go to the central coffers of the Fighters Guild of Cyrodiil. The next 15,000 septims were to be spent on the addition of a new wing to the Leyawiin guildhall, to be enabled by the purchase of adjacent land. Control of the Guild Chapter was left to the discretion of the central leadership in Chorrol. They had chosen Lorbulg gro-Bagamu, previously the drillmaster, on the basis of his seniority and experience. Vantus Prellius would be named the manager of the chapter's financial affairs. The rank of Warder and the title of deputy drillmaster, along with the remainder of those savings not already devised (the latter considered as an eight-month advance on his base pay), were granted to Guild Defender Garyn Balvadares.

The banks of the Niben were silent again. There were no words, no expressions of regret, no benediction to his departing spirit. For there was no family at the funeral of Salms Balvadares, nor any who truly knew him.

The Guild turned their eyes to their new chapter leader. Lorbulg stared back at them, his face marked with an unexpression conveying not so much stoicism as utter gormlessness. He turned over his shoulder, as though believing they were expecting someone else. It seemed an eternity before he finally cleared his throat and spoke.


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"New blood?" the orc said.

Garyn's eyes narrow. "That's me."

"I'm Lorbumol gro-Aglakh. You want work, you'll be reporting to me. Sjoring's got better things to do. I bet you expect me to give you a job right away, don't you?"

"I didn't come for the pleasant conversation. Sir."

The orc puffs his chest and takes a step closer. Garyn doesn't flinch. A flash of respect shows on Lorbumol's face.

"Well, today's your lucky day, junior. I got some grunt work for you. Nar gro-Shagramph said he'd deliver a ring to Ranes Ienith, but he hasn't delivered. Go find him in the Hlaalu Canton Plaza and bring the Juicedaw Feather Ring to me. Do it quick and you might even get paid."

Garyn nods. "Yes, sir."

Garyn keeps his complaints to himself. He knows better than to ask a question like "Is that all?" He especially knows better than to ask questions about debt collection jobs on his first day here.

If nothing else, he'll finally have the chance to step out into the fresh air.
moonandstar: (Default)
Garyn had spent the night at the Eight Plates in the company of a bottle of strong mazte, and all his thoughts and burdens. Vainly he had tried to douse the latter with the former. Instead his passions swirl dizzily, mingling with his fears. Ibani. Caius. Blades. Sith. Milliways. Ibani. Above all else, Ibani. They have enough terrors to face on their own without having to bear their fears for each other. Of death, of torture, of transformation. This might be reason enough to stay away. But he knows he can't. He's already sunk too deep. He needs this too badly. And love without fear is a gift a mer like him will never know in his life.

He rises late. His back screams at him. He had fallen asleep half-sitting, the empty bottle still lying on his stomach. He staggers down the stairs, past the barkeep who is already scrubbing the tables down after the breakfast rush. She shoots him a strained, irritated smile and asks him how he slept.

Not well. Never well. Not in a long time.

He finishes his meal quickly. The eggs are cold, but the bread isn't stale yet. He can't complain. He pays his tab and leaves.

It's midday, and the city is melting. The whole of Balmora is a delirious haze, sizzling upward from cracks in the baked clay. He wades through the mass of men and mer on the scorching city streets. Their eyes are tired, indifferent. They scarcely even look his way. They don't know who he is, what he is. What he has done. No one does, save for Ibani.

And Caius Cosades. For all its anonymity, this is his city. And however many nameless eyes have seen him, he knows that at least one set of them had to be his. He could feel them on his back as he passed beneath the ornately stuccoed walls of the Manor District.

They stayed on him as he sat in the courtyard, paging through the Yellow Book of Vvardenfell, and its accompanying forward which extolled the glory of its House. He had been given the volume by an eager Hlaalu kinsman in the Council House. Every noble house needs retainers to perform their martial duties. Garyn has the skill, and needs the money. And everybody knows that the Hlaalu are rich. He leans against a wall on the shaded side of the street and begins to thumb through the book.

House Hlaalu is the most open and modern of the Great Houses. We are the only Great House who has embraced the irresistible tides of Imperial law and custom. And thus we have profited by the Empire's new policies, rising from obscurity as the Greatest of the Houses.

Collaborators, in other words. Ready to betray their cousins when the opportunity struck.

In the great wind of progress, tradition cannot stand.

And perfectly willing to make justifications and allowances. Not that he's ever much cared for tradition himself.

The Redoran may surpass us on the field of battle, but when the dust clears, they will find themselves indebted to us. The Telvanni may know many arcane secrets, but they fight among themselves more than against each other, and they cannot adapt to the ways of the Empire. Ancient and powerful though a Telvanni wizard may be, no individual can withstand the march of history. The Indoril are loved by the people for their gifts and donations, but when the money runs dry, will the people remember? The Dres know how to make money, but they have not learned how not to make enemies.

Grasp fortune by the forelocks. When you see your chances, seize them.


They're practically minded, at least. He'll give them that. They would probably pay him well. He shuts the book and looks upward.

He sees the Argonian. He's been following him since the other side of the river. He knows he never would have seen him if Caius hadn't meant him to. Garyn glares at the beastman and hisses something foul in broken Jel. The agent nods and vanishes into the shade of the nearest corner.

Garyn looks out at the city. Most of it is beneath him now, sloping down into the Odai. Before him is the Grand Manorial Staircase, a quarter mile long, and 30 feet wide. At the bottom he sees the familiar sign of the shield and crossed swords. No doubt it's what Cosades expects of him. From the Guild of Cyrodiil to the Guild of Vvardenfell. It would suit Cosades well to have him in full view.

To hell with Caius Cosades.

From Ibani Garyn has no secrets. But from the world he will hold them sacrosanct. The world can do nothing for him but become a perfect stranger to him. Yes, this would be the best arrangement. He will know nothing of it, and it will know nothing of him. To do that, he will need to find a place where he can be truly lost. Not from the eyes of the Imperial Secret Service, of course - he knows full well that that's impossible. But perhaps, for a moment, he can forget that the Blades exist. He flags down a guard.

"Where's the largest city in Vvardenfell?"

"Vivec City, outlander. To the south."

"And the fastest way there?"

"Teleportation service."

Garyn's brow furrows. Then relaxes, and resolves. He makes his way to the Mage's Guild.
moonandstar: (Default)
Balmora isn't a city known for its architectural variance. Two stories of adobe here, two stories of adobe there, all the same color without paint or adornment. But no one would mistake Labor Town for the Commercial District. The air is damper here, heavier. Guarskins and peasants' laundry hang from the upper floors, blotting out even the moonlight from the narrow alleys. The walls are round and soft, blown smooth by centuries of wind and sand. The edges of the shadows are softer. The water between the cracks in the pavement sit as though it has been there before, and shall return again with the next rain. This is the oldest and truest part of the city, where the porters and dockworkers live.

Near the south end, the wear and the weariness gives way to filth and flies. A battered wooden sign hangs over the epicenter of the filth - the South Wall Cornerclub. Garyn minds his pockets.

The interior doesn't offer any surprises. A place like the South Wall is always busiest when its city is asleep, and right now Balmora slumbers very deeply indeed. The patrons drink quickly and discuss ongoing business. These are their work hours. But for now, they pause, and plan their next job. It reminds him of the Five Claws in Leyawiin.

A set of claws tap Garyn on the shoulder.

"What?"

The Khajiit smiles. "Habasi has not seen this one here before. Is the little toad looking for a lily pad?"

Garyn frowns. He knows enough Guild cant to know what she's asking. He even knows well enough to be friendly in refusal. "Hmmm, tempting. Some other time, perhaps. I'm looking for someone."

"Many someones in Balmora. Habasi cannot think it should be so hard to find one. Perhaps the friendly stranger should consider a mirror."

"Funny. I'm looking for an Imperial named Caius Cosades."

The catwoman shrugs. "Maybe Habasi has seen him, maybe she has not. They are hard to tell apart, these Cyrodiils. Talk to Bacola Closcius upstairs. He owns the place. He knows who goes in and who goes out."

"And he'll just tell any stranger who asks, will he?"

"Talk is free, little toad."

"I certainly hope so."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Honor and honesty among thieves aren't exactly common. But ask in the right way and you'll find it more often than you'd think. The publican doesn't hesitate to tell Garyn what he knows.

"That old sugartooth? Yes, I know where he lives - he's an old friend of mine. Rents a little bed-and-basket in the northeast corner of town. Go out the front door, up the stairs, and take a left on Labor Street. His is the rightmost house of the row at the end of the street."

Garyn nods. "Much appreciated."

Bacola shoots him a meaningful look. "Indeed. I hope your...transaction goes well."

Quickly he makes his way to Cosades's home, though it's hard to keep himself from wondering at this encounter. It rather reminds him of the roofless home he had made for himself in the years after his expulsion from the orphanage. What does the Empire mean by sending him here? And since when do contacts of the Empire live among the lower classes?

The journey isn't long enough to make him any wiser. He exhales as he approaches his doorstep. Whatever future the Empire has planned for Garyn Balvadares, it waits for him here. He knocks cautiously but firmly.

The door creaks open and an old man stands before him. He looks to be in his fifties, or perhaps his early sixties - mostly bald with a ridge of gray hair. His body isn't in bad shape for a man of his age. Apart from that, he looks like hell. His eyes are bloodshot, and he is wearing nothing but a grubby and slightly torn pair of trousers.

"...Caius Cosades?"

The man frowns slightly. "That's me. What do you want?"

"I was told to deliver this package to you."

"I see." He takes the package out of Garyn's hand and examines Sellus Gravius's letter. "You'd better come inside."

Garyn follows Cosades into the one-room hovel. The interior is a mess - strewn with dirty bottles, dirty clothes, and overturned chairs. Most of all it reeks of skooma - there are empty vials of it everywhere, and a still smoldering pipe under the man's bed. Is this some kind of joke?

If Cosades notices Garyn's expression of dumbstruck horror, he doesn't make any sign of it.

"Why don't you sit down?" he says, gesturing toward a bench in the corner of his room. "Wait here while I decode this package - it's encrypted."

Garyn nods and slumps into the bench, as Cosades begins to read.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The furrows and wrinkles on Caius's brow, already quite pronounced, deepen with every sentence of the Emperor's message he decodes. Once he's finished, he reads through it a second time. Then a third. Then he looks at Balvadares, the Dunmer in mismatched leather and chitin, shifting in his seat like a nervous cat on Hircine's shoulder. Is this some kind of joke?

He sets down the papers and sighs deeply. Then a smile crosses his face. He knows the mer is going to love this.

"Yes, very interesting," he says. "It says here the Emperor wants me to induct you into the Blades."

Balvadares's jaw drops. "What!?" he says. "The Blades?"

"Yes," he says. "The Emperor's spy service. His eyes and ears in the provinces."

"I know who they are," the Dunmer says. "But...that must mean...no, you can't be..."

Caius chuckles. "The spymaster of Vvardenfell? No one would suspect it, would they?"

The hapless convict continues to sputter, shaking his head. "I...I think there's been a mistake. You...I've come to the wrong house."

"Oh, there's been no mistake. Assuming you are Garyn Balvadares, born on the 29th of -"

"I am," Balvadares says. "But you -"

"If you are him," Caius continues, "you're to be made a novice in the Blades."

He raises his hand, already anticipating the convict's protestations. "You will accept this duty, Balvadares, because the Emperor commands it. It isn't wise or healthy to contradict the Emperor. Not for me, and especially not for you. Do you understand, Novice Balvadares?"

Balvadares nods, scowling. "Wasn't going to refuse it," he mutters.

"Very wise of you," Caius says. "Now, since I am your spymaster, you're to report to me and follow my orders without question or protest, regardless of what you might think of me. Are you prepared to follow my orders, Novice?"

"Yes, but - why me? Why have I been -"

"I'm sorry, I must have been mumbling. Are you prepared to follow my orders without question or protest, Novice Balvadares?"

The Dunmer sighs and nods again, cowed. "Yes, sir."

"Excellent. Here is your first assignment." Caius pauses, giving the Dunmer a more thorough look over. He's lean and wiry, though he's in more or less passable shape. The folds of his skin suggest that his frame once held a thicker and more muscular body. His clothes would do no one any favors. Caius frowns.

"Now, first thing, pilgrim -" he rummages in a chest beside his bedpost and pulls out a sack of coins. "You're new, and you look it. Here's 200 drakes. Get yourself some decent armor, or a spell. Feed yourself, you've been living on prison gruel."

Naturally, Balvadares doesn't protest the money he gives him. Typical.

"Second, and more importantly, you'll need a cover identity. This isn't Cyrodiil - when a Dunmer finds out that an outsider has come to their country, their first instinct is to wonder why. And the best way to answer that question is to find a job or join a faction. What were you before you were arrested?"

"A mercenary."

"The Fighters' Guildhall is across the river. You could also join House Hlaalu, or Redoran, if you prefer to walk a very long way. Whichever you choose, take it quickly. Go out, ask around."

"Yes, sir."

"Now go," Caius says. "Or don't. You can use my bed if you like, but I have a feeling that arrangement doesn't suit you."

"It doesn't," says Balvadares. "Are there any lodgings in this city that don't cater to thieves and murderers?"

"You'll want the Eight Plates. It's on the other side of the river near the North Wall."

The door is already open when Caius begins saying these words. It slams the instant he's finished.

Caius slumps back into bed and sighs.

"The things I do for the Empire," he mutters.
moonandstar: (Default)
Balmora murmurs beneath the moons. Before Garyn's feet the city glows, its baked clay walls and streets crackling orange under dim torchlight. In sight and smell there is nothing in it of any city he has ever seen - a three-story beige maze carved from earth and brick, with fifty thousand souls lost in the bowels. A guard crosses his path, armored from head to toe in bonemold and bugshell, with not a trace visible of the mer beneath. Behind him and around him sounds the tired hum of a vast alien mass - and the silt strider hasn't stopped making noise either. The city after the midnight hour - it whispers but it doesn't stop talking.

He'd almost feel comfortable if he had any idea of where to go, other than the name of a tavern and the name of a man. He looks to his left, peering toward the nearest alleyway. A rugged Dunmer leans against a wall, tossing and catching his knife as though it were a toy.

The Dunmer notices Garyn's attention. He gives him a look that would frighten the fleas off a dog's back. "What do you want?"

Garyn doesn't flinch. "Directions," he says. "I'm looking for the South Wall Cornerclub."

The Dunmer stops tossing his knife. If there was resentment in the mer's eyes before, there's murder in them now.

"And what sort of business does a Dunmer have there, pray tell?"

Garyn raises his hands - he knows well enough that he's said the wrong thing. "Nothing, nothing. Just food...drink. Lodging. I was...told to look there."

The street Dunmer tilts his head and another Dark Elf emerges from the shadows. Slowly they begin to advance on Garyn.

"Oh, I'm sure," he says. "If there's anything an outlander wants at this hour, it's to find a friendly dunghole to drink and foul themselves in. Isn't that right?"

"Better than he deserves, I say," sneers the other one. "What do you suppose we give him what's coming to him?"

Garyn's raises his left hand as his right hand drops toward his scabbard. "Actually, why don't we forget I said anything?"

In the distance, the armored guardsman turns back on his patrol. He stops in his tracks, staring down his visor as his hand reaches for his cudgel. He says nothing and is understood. A guardian mudcrab. The thugs look at each other.

The larger of the two leans in near enough that Garyn can smell his last meal. "This is our city, n'wah. Leave it and never come back. Race traitors like you are even worse than the Imperials. There'll be a reckoning for your lot. Very soon."

The second jabs his finger at him. "Never forget - we're watching you...scum."

Scum. N'wah. Garyn has heard the first word directed at him plenty of times. But n'wah was a word the Old Master directed at humans and beastfolk when they were out of earshot. He hadn't imagined it could ever refer to himself, even if he is an outlander.

Garyn stands straight and upright, emboldened by the guard's presence. "Oh, I'll be sure to remember."

If only because I'll be sure to smell you before you see me, s'wit.

The pair of toughs snarl and disperse, heading for the inside of the tavern they were leaning against. Garyn has no idea what the reason for their reaction was, but he doesn't need to be told to put as much distance between himself and their headquarters as possible. He's halfway to the river before the faceless guard flags him down.

"Hold a moment, outlander."

Garyn halts in his tracks and groans. How is everybody in this city able to spot him for a foreigner so quickly?

"What?"

The bugmer swiftly closes the distance between them. "Just curious as to what you might have done to attract the interest of such a fine pair of gentlemen."

"Very little," he says. "I asked for directions."

"Where to?"

"The South Wall Cornerclub."

The guard lets out a startled chuckle. "Outside the Council Club? B'vek, you're either very new or very stupid."

Garyn's eyes narrow. "The former. What's wrong with asking there?"

The mer's smirk shines clean through his visor. "Sera, the Council Club is the headquarters of the Camonna Tong."

"Never heard of them. They're a gang?"

The guardsmer scoffs. "'Gang' would be a vast understatement. They're the largest criminal syndicate in the province - nearly in all of Tamriel. They've got their hands in everything - skooma, greenmote, Dwemer artifacts, slavery, extortion, murder. Anything you can think of. And they've got powerful friends - all the way up to the Hlaalu council, though you didn't hear it from me. Officially, the Duke's brother is very much not their leader."

"Of course he isn't." Balmora was beginning to feel more and more familiar by the minute. "They don't seem too fond of foreigners, from what I've seen."

"You don't know the half of it, outlander," the guard says. "You won't find anybody more violently anti-Imperial than the Tong. That's why it was damned foolish of you to ask them about South Wall."

"Because that's where this city's foreign element congregates?"

The guard crosses his arms. "Officially, it is very much not where the Thieves Guild congregates."

"Perish the thought."

Garyn certainly doesn't need the guard to tell him about the Thieves Guild. The existence of the Guild has long been the worst-kept secret in all of Tamriel. The Empire officially denies it and dismisses it as a romantic fiction, but no one who has ever come into any contact with the criminal world believes them.

"You know, for a moment, I nearly thought you were Thieves Guild," the guard says. "Especially with the way they confronted you. But you were just an ignorant outlander in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Your ringing endorsement of my character is heartening, sera."

"Make light if it if you want, outlander, it's your life on the line. House Hlaalu may be officially friendly with the Empire, but this is still Morrowind. It's no easy place for any foreigner - not even in Hlaalu territory. Walk into the wrong neighborhood, say the wrong thing, or just look at a mer the wrong way, and you'll be feeding slaughterfish at the bottom of the Odai. We don't suffer outsiders gladly - not even other Dunmer. Especially not other Dunmer."

"I'll be careful," Garyn says. "I don't suppose you could give me directions to South Wall?"

"Certainly. It's on the south end of Labor Town on the other side of the river. Cross the southmost bridge and look for the first major road on the other side. That's Labor Street. Take a right there and follow the smell."

"Thank you, sera."

"We live to serve, outlander," the guard says. "Now be careful with yourself and stop being a damned idiot."
moonandstar: (Default)
There is no speed so deceptive, no peace more unnerving, and no steadiness so impossible as that of a ride atop a silt strider. The enormous flea, already standing higher than its spindly legs have any right to carry it, rises and swells at the withers, its chitinous shell creaking as the abdomen fills with gas. The thing lifts, higher and higher until it sits perched on the edge of flight. But it remains as it is, half hovering and half grounded, like a buoy tethered to the ocean floor. Its legs no longer bear weight - they exist only to pull the beast along. Its footfalls weigh no more heavily upon the road than a well-laden Dunmer in netch leather. If the roads of the Bitter Coast were washed away entirely and left to turn to mud, the striders could still carry passengers over the bog without fear of sinking.

Atop the beast, the driver pushes a lever, wrenching and prodding the living machinery within its bowels. It lets out a long, low moan - sad, yet resonant, like the horn of a herald - and lurches to a start. This is the only bump Garyn will feel for the entire journey.

The strider glides over the gentle slopes of the swamp road. From its back, Garyn can see the flood plain stretched before him over the treetops. Heading into the setting sun, the marshlands are bound to his left by the Inner Sea and to his right by a range of rocky foothills extending toward Red Mountain. They're riding close to the edge of these hills - near enough for him to see the top of an enormous fungal tree peeking over the crest of a ridge. The famed Emperor Parasols of Morrowind.

The caravaner sees Garyn staring and smiles. "Never ridden a strider before, outlander?"

"Never even seen one before. Barely heard of them, to tell you the truth."

"Ah, but you've been to the Fatherland, surely."

Garyn raises an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"

"Little things, all around," the driver says. "Your accent's Cyrodiil, but I can hear the rasp of Dunmeris clear enough. That don't happen on its own. Your forehead has the ghartok. Most outland Dunmer don't pay no mind to their gods, old or new, 'less they're the sort that keeps one foot back where they came from. Damned shameful, the way they forget. Then they return, and expect us to treat them like a brother returning home, when they've forgotten the gods! There was one coming back from Vivec who wondered why the Ordinators turned aside and spit as he passed. I said he should know damn well why that was. Me, I see all kinds in the back of my strider, and I'm good at reading people. I figure you or your folks must be among those few - the ones who remember. Am I right?"

Garyn's expression is flat. "I've never been to Morrowind in my life," he says. "I speak how I was brought up to speak."

"Well, wasn't all wrong, then, was I? You've not been to Morrowind, but you've been taught to speak as a Dunmer ought. And I'll wager that same mother and father what taught you to speak, marked your head and soul for the Triune House and its Anticipations. Now is that right or isn’t it?"

Garyn falls silent.

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Garyn rises to one knee, his limbs bruised and his brow still bloodied.

"Better," the Master says, his wooden blade still pointed at Garyn's head. "Still not half good enough."

The boy bows his head. "I understand, muthsera."

The old mer's eyes narrow. "Clearly not yet well enough."

"Apologies, muthsera."

"Do not apologize. Improve your bladework, and you will not need to
explain to me that you understand. Stand up. All the way - you aren't hurt that badly."

As Garyn rises, the master takes his practice sword and points the tip at his pupil's forehead. "Do you know what this mark is, boy?"

"Some...kind of Dunmer symbol, I think. Muthsera."

"It is the ghartok. It is branded through magic upon a Dunmer child after birth or at circumcision. A symbol of the Divine Hand which guides our people. Whoever whelped you would sooner abandon you than allow you to forget your gods. Not that I pay any mind to the Tribunal - not since the Armistice. But I've never forgotten what the ghartok truly stands for. GHARTOK PADHOME AE ALTADOON DUNMERI. Do you know what that means?"

"No, muthsera."

"It's in the Ehlnofex, so it means many things. One meaning is 'The hand of Padomay is the weapon of the Dunmer.' It can also mean 'The arms of the Dunmer are the hands of Padomay.' Did they teach you who Padomay was at that damned temple?"

"The spirit of change, sera."

"That's right. The mannish priests were good for something after all. The blood of Padomay is the same soul that animates the Daedra. This is why the Daedra are our ancestors, why they chose us - our blood is theirs. We are their descendants - consanguine with the gods. Do you know what that means, boy?"

"That we share blood with -"

"Not what the word means, boy, what the TRUTH of it means."

"Sera?"

"It means that you are more than other mortals. That you are
expected to be more than other mortals. Your cousins are the Sons of Change and Brothers of Deceit. The Dunmer way is strength. The Dunmer way is cunning. The Dunmer way is making sure the other dies before you. Now - finally, boy - do you understand?"

Garyn bows. "Yes, muthsera."

The master brings his blade into position. "Good. Now, on your guard. You'll learn to parry this move today or die trying."


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"...More or less."

"Ah, good, good. Even just a little is good. Too few outlanders think on the Three these days."

"True enough, sir. It's a shame."

Garyn says this flatly. He doubts he can even name all of the Three, so little would his Master speak of them. “Traitors to the Dunmer” was all he ever named them. As far as Salms was concerned, Talos had proved himself the better god.

The caravaner is silent for a few seconds as he navigates a bend in the swamp road. Garyn’s weapons and chainmail jostle around in the seat beside him.

The driver glances back at the sound. “Mercenary, are you?”

“You’re very perceptive, sera.”

“Wouldn’t have needed to see the sword, f’lah,” he says. “That you’re an outlander and you’re here is enough. We natives are here because we were born here. Outlanders come here for business. Good business in mercenary work on Vvardenfell.”

“So I’ve heard,” Garyn says, though he has in fact heard nothing of the sort, and very little of anything about Vvardenfell proper.

“It's either that or the ebony, and I didn't figure you for an East Empire man,” says the driver. “You must be a sellsword of some repute to pay the Empire enough to let you through the blockade. A right terror with a blade, I’ll bet. Won’t pry into the bloody business, of course, but I don't doubt you’ve seen some action in your day.”

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"Take a good look at him, boy," the Old Master says quietly, as Calvus Egnatius ceases to clutch at his bowels and is finally still. "That's the work of your own hand. Him and the big orc. Your first harvest."

Garyn stares at the bloating and contorted corpses of the thieves before them. Their blood dribbles down the stone steps of their cliffside hideout, pooling with the stagnant rainwater of the landing below. The orc's jaundiced merish eyes are still open, almost quivering. But there is no life behind them. More of his comrades lie dead in the chamber behind him, felled by the blades of the Guild. Garyn bows his head.

"Don't be ill, boy. I won't tolerate a mer who vomits at the sight of blood in my outfit."

"I wasn't going to, sera."

"Good," Salms says. "You shouldn't. You did fine work. Two against one and you funneled them into a tight spot. Well struck, and cleaner than it looks."

"Thank you, sera."

There's a long pause as Garyn slumps down and sits back against the wall. Salms pulls up a chair as the rest of the company files in and begins ransacking the place. Chests are opened, tables are flipped, and the pockets of dead men are turned out. They take nothing, at least not yet - these mercenaries are looking only for one thing. The Old Master takes out his hackle-lo pipe and begins to fill it.

"Awful, isn't it?"

"Yes, muthsera."

"Awful when it's happening, worse when it's over."

Garyn nods, looking every bit the fifteen year-old. The sound of cracking earthenware echoes through the chamber.

"It's all normal, as I'm sure you're smart enough to know. I remember my first as well, clear as the sun. No feeling the world like it - fear, nausea, but also...excitement. But then there's that sick feeling afterwards - illness, regret. You'll want to get past that. You mustn't let it keep you from doing what needs to be done. It will fade with time, if you live long enough. You fall into the routine."

Garyn nods again. He's fallen silent.

"Not to say you shouldn't avoid drawing your sword when you can - death is an awful thing, necessary as it is. But when the time comes you must not hesitate or
this -" he gestures toward the dead criminals - "will be you. You've got to harden your heart to it, boy. And you will, faster than you'd think."

"I understand, muthsera."

The old mer shakes his head, smiling joylessly. "No," he says. "Not yet. But one day, you will. When I'm gone, and -"

A young Nord calls out from deeper inside the carved-out hollow. "Sir! We've found the key!"

Salms lets forth an annoyed grunt. "Very well," he says. "Open it and start counting our share. Our client will want to count it himself, but I'll be damned if I leave that to someone I've never done business with."

"Aye, sir."

Garyn's eyes turn downward again.

"You, boy -" Salms says, snapping his fingers at Garyn, "- stop gawking and help them carry it out. You've got centuries ahead of you. Plenty of time to stare at corpses then."


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“…I’ve come out the right end of a few scraps.”

“I’ll wager, I’ll wager. Though I won’t pry, as I said. I’ve been in some fights myself, and I know to use a shortsword if need be. I’ve the stomach for it. But I’ve enough sense not to ask a mer how many he’s killed in his time.”

“I’ll thank you for that.”

“Bah, basic courtesy is all it is. My cousin carried a banner for Redoran in Arnesia. I never cared to hear his stories and he didn't much care to tell them.”

"I'd imagine he wouldn't."

The caravaner shrugs and turns his gaze forwards. "Fair enough, then. You don't want to talk. I respect that. Should be only two or three hours before the Odai. We'll rest and graze her there."

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They're taking the short route, he says, and bypassing Pelagiad because it adds a day. The strider absorbs the weeds and water through the bottom of its rear legs as its enormous mandibles shovel the fodder behind its open mouth flaps. It sleeps standing up, as horses do, and two hammocks are tightly strapped and suspended to its side, that its passengers may rest unmolested by beasts and highwaymen. Their rest will be short, not that Garyn will protest whatever he can get as he rests secure amid the harness and straps suspended and shackled me in chains before the executioner

Tall he stands with his glittering axe and a face implacable, he is my father no not my father, the old master who gave me my wounds though if I do what he says I will make him a Father yes the full measure of his pride but I do not see it on his face because there is nothing on his face but

"Failed."

He says and the word shakes the earth, and I look at my chains and feel the poisoned robes he clothed me with devour my skin and watch the broken blade he gave me crumble to dust and hear the soiled prayers he taught me echo without meaning to be heard by no one, and so he who advised me and gave me his sword and his years that I may rule has now condemned me

"Failed."

He says again -- a third or a second time? -- and I wonder if it could really be true, for yes, we had both loved our departed House very dearly; but was it not its own corruption that made it fall, and was it not its leader who struck first at me? Or was it that I had denied him what he sought, the kingdom which I having earned he would now claim, a king of violence and blasphemous ambition beyond the very grandest of avarice

HE MAKES YOU, HE IS THE FATHER NOT YOU BETRAYER FALSE ACCUSER DEVIL DO NOT -- here the ada is angry for me -- THIEF GREATNESS ECHO BORN OF HIS SWORD AE ALTADOON INDORIL

I speak: Brought up for your glory, muthsera

Finally an expression. A snarl from my executioner, his face I see as I look up at him and my face is soiled with mud -- this was it, I remember it as it happened: this is when he killed me --

“Disgusting.”

Downward swings the axe, and away my head flies, tumbling endlessly in the dirt and

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into Daylight, as the dawn hits Garyn's eyes. The afterglow haunts him for a moment. A dream of...no, it was of someone else. Or maybe it was, him and...who was it? But the light climbing over the river bank hits his eyelids, and, as dreams often do, it fades into the morning. Already the caravaner is rolling up their hammocks.

Up the Odai, and then, to Balmora.
moonandstar: (Default)
Garyn's found his mudcrab, alright. It's taken up residence on the highest point of a large, smooth rock at the end of the peninsula. It has everything a mudcrab could want - water, moss, mushrooms. The blueing corpse of an Imperial bureaucrat.

The crab valiantly defends his domain against the thrusts and jabs of Garyn's broadsword, but it is to no avail. The sword cracks its shell and pins it against the rock. For a moment, it continues to struggle - beating and snapping against the air, trying desperately to grab onto something. But the twitching slows, and with one final shudder, its claws relax.

Garyn bends over to examine the dead Imperial, holding his nose as he does so. Already the maggots are beginning to feast. It would not take a policeman to deduce that the man was murdered - the pool of dried blood and the yawning gash where his throat used to be make it quite clear.

He begins searching the man's pockets. To his surprise, he finds a small purse full of gold - around 200 septims worth judging from the weight - and an unsealed scroll. Garyn unfurls it.

Processus Vitellius
Seyda Neen Census and Excise Office

Arrille - 450 drakes - PAID
Draren Thiralas - 200 drakes - PAID
Eldafire - 130 drakes
Erene Llenim - 78 drakes - PAID
Fargoth - 111 drakes
Fine-Mouth - 54 drakes
Foryn Gilnith - 225 drakes
Indrele Rathryon - 127 drakes - PAID
Terurise Grivayne - 98 drakes -PAID
Thavere Vedrano 134 drakes - PAID
Vodunius Nuccius - 87 drakes

So the man had been a tax collector. Half the town might have had cause to kill him. Strange that whoever did it didn't take his money.

Garyn sighs. He will have to report this to the Census and Excise Office. And even if he were comfortable with the idea of lifting money from the corpse of a murder victim, turning the money in is the only way to deflect suspicion. Why can't doing the right thing ever be profitable for once?

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Sellus Gravius does not look pleased to see Garyn marching back into his office.

"I thought you'd have left by now," Gravius says.

"I'm still planning on it," Garyn says. "But more important business got in the way. I've come to report the murder of one of your tax collectors."

Gravius's face falls. "Ah," he says. "That must be Processus Vitellius. He's been missing the last few days now. We were afraid something like that might have happened. Are you certain it was foul play?"

"Quite certain," he says. "His throat's been slit. So far as I can tell, he's been dead for a while - probably for longer than I've been in town."

Gravius sighs. "You'd better go and speak to Socucius Ergalla in the census office. He needs to be informed of this."

Garyn nods and heads through the courtyard to the office where he had been processed. Ergalla is every bit as annoyed to see him as Gravius was - though like Gravius, his reaction changes when Garyn delivers the news.

"What a waste," he says, shaking his head. "He was a good man, too. But these are dangerous times we live in."

"Tell me about it," Garyn mutters.

"Did you happen to find the tax money he collected?" Ergalla says. "I hate to sound callous, but I have a job to do."

"I did," Garyn says. "And the tax record as well."

He hands them over to Ergalla, who frowns. "Hmm. Odd that he was murdered, but not robbed. Still, your honesty is appreciated."

He pauses for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. "In fact, you're just about the only person in town I can rule out definitively as a suspect, released convict though you may be. Even the guards aren't beyond suspicion. And I've heard you're a mercenary of some skill - cleared out Addamasartus singlehandedly, if Arrille the innkeeper is to be believed. If you're looking for some money, I would like to see Processus's murderer punished. If you can find him, and bring him to justice, the Census and Excise Office will pay you a reward of 500 septims."

Garyn's eyebrows raise slightly. He'd been preparing to politely refuse the man - this is the Empire's business, as far as he's concerned. But he hadn't been expecting such a generous offer. "Five hundred drakes?"

"That's what I said," says Ergalla. "And I stand by it. I'm offering you good money, honestly made. Are you interested?"

Garyn falls silent. It's hardly a guarantee. He might not find the murderer at all. And if he doesn't find him before dusk, he'll have to stay in town another night, which he hasn't the money to do. He barely has enough for the strider as it is. And he'd rather sleep next to the dead smugglers in the cave than work for Hrisskar.

That's two reasons to say no against five hundred reasons to say yes. Well. The smugglers' cave is empty, at least.

"Very well. I'll find your murderer."

"Good," Ergalla says. "I suspect this tax record you found will give us some idea of where to begin."

"Indeed," Garyn says. "A list of people who owed him money is as good a lead as any."

"It's a start," says Ergalla. "Report back to me when you've found the culprit."

It's not until Garyn begins scanning through the list that he realizes the problem - one he really ought to have recognized earlier: He has no idea who these people are. The only one he recognizes is Fargoth, who couldn't kill a musk bug with a warhammer.

His eyes land on one name in particular - Vodunius Nuccius. An Imperial name, unless he had cruel parents. And the only one on the list, at that.

He is, if anything, easier to find than Garyn expects. Garyn spots him walking about town, making his way from the gathering of wooden huts on its outskirts toward the tradehouse.

"Vodunius Nuccius?"

The Imperial nods. "That's me," he says. "You're the fellow who came in on the boat yesterday, aren't you? I would have figured you'd seen enough of this dung heap by now."

"Other business has kept me here."

"Oh? Like what? What's this about?"

Garyn clears his throat, choosing his question carefully. "What do you know," he says, "about a man named Processus Vitellius?"

"He's the local tax collector," Nuccius says. "Not the friendliest fellow you'll meet. He's been missing the last few days. Why?"

"He's been found," Garyn says. "Dead. Murdered."

Nuccius sighs. "Can't say I'm surprised," he says. "Nearly everyone despised him. I won't pretend I didn't, either. Not that he deserved to die, obviously. Is there a reason I'm getting this news from you, stranger?"

"The Census and Excise Office has tasked me with investigating his death. I'd like to know if you have any idea of who did it."

"You're asking the wrong man, I'm afraid. I can't think of anybody who'd have more cause to do it than anyone else."

"Not even somebody who owed eighty-seven drakes to the Imperial Census and Excise Office?" Garyn says.

The Imperial's face reddens as his teeth clench. "I have been a loyal Imperial subject my whole life," he says. "I have paid every septim I've ever owed in taxes every year I've ever owed them, and I will pay my share this year too. And even if I wouldn't have, I am not so stupid as to think that killing a single official would erase my debt. Or that a death sentence would be worth the money.

"Murder is not in my blood - I'm not that sort of man. And I am definitely not the sort of man who appreciates some damned outsider thrusting his cock about town, digging through my tax records and suggesting I might be a killer. Rest assured, if I ever learn who did murder Processus Vitellius, I'll inform the proper authorities and leave you the hell out of it.

"I don't know what you think you're trying to accomplish, outlander, or why the Empire would send you to do it. But whatever you're doing and whyever you're doing it, at least do me the courtesy of not wasting my time, too. If you'd like to do something useful, you should consider breaking the news to Thavere Vedrano over at the lighthouse. She's the only one in town who ever liked him, the poor woman.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do. Unless you're not finished?"

Garyn looks straight at the man, his expression unchanged. "No, that will be all."

"Good," he says. He heads toward the tradehouse, muttering various epithets under his breath.

Once Nuccius is out of earshot, Garyn sighs loudly. The man was right. This is pointless. This was a murder which happened days ago, which nobody was likely to confess to. And Garyn is expected to find the one who did it despite not being trusted by anybody in town, and despite having next to no experience in conducting a criminal investigation. The only thing he can do that's likely to be productive is to break the news to Thavere Vedrano.

The door to the lighthouse is unlocked. He enters quietly. There's a Dunmer woman seated at the base, reading a book.

Garyn clears his throat. "Are you Thavere Vedrano?"

"I am," she says. "What do you want?"

"I'm afraid I've some bad news."

Her face falls. "It's about Processus, isn't it?"

Garyn nods. "I'm afraid so. He's been found dead outside of town. Murdered."

Thavere closes her eyes. "Gods," she chokes. "Why Processus? How could this happen?"

She turns away, fighting back tears. "He was the gentlest man I've ever met. I've never seen him raise a hand to anyone. Who could have wanted to kill him?"

"Truth be told," Garyn says, "I was wondering if you might have any ideas."

She thinks for a minute, sniffling. "I don't know. I can't think he had any serious quarrel with anyone. I've only ever even seen him get angry once."

Garyn's eyes narrow. "And when was this?"

"Well, not even angry, I suppose," she says. "I saw him arguing once with Foryn Gilnith about his taxes. He thought Processus had been levying too much, skimming off the top for himself."

A choked sob escapes her. "Ridiculous! Processus wouldn't have done such a thing."

Garyn's face remains implacable. Now this is something to go on. "And do you know where I might find Foryn Gilnith?"

"I imagine he's at home right now," she says. "He lives in the shack nearest to the pond."

"I'll speak to him," Garyn says. "Do you know of anyone else who might have wanted him dead?"

Thavere shakes her head. "No, I don't," she says. "But there is one more thing I would ask of you."

"What is it?"

She wipes her eyes with her sleeve. "Processus and I had become...very close, in these past few months. Could you find out what happened to the ring I gave him? I would like it to remember him by."

"I will do my best," he says, and leaves her to grieve in private.

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Foryn Gilnith's shack is exactly as Garyn would have imagined it. A small, run-down, moss-covered cottage with a leaky roof. The inside is as drab as the outside, unfurnished except for a hammock hanging in the corner and a crude table.

Gilnith looks up from a meager meal and glares at Garyn. "You're trespassing, outlander."

"Sorry to barge in like this," Garyn says. "But I believe we might have a mutual acquaintance. A dead man by the name of Processus Vitellius. Do you know anything about him?"

Gilnith rises from his chair. His eyes narrow. "That fetcher? You're damn right, I do! I'm the one that did him in, and a good thing too!"

Garyn's eyes widen. He hadn't been expecting an outright confession.

"He was skimming a load of money from all us honest people," he continues. "Overcharging us on our taxes and keeping the difference for himself. He was always flaunting his money around, showing off his new clothes and jewels."

"I see," Garyn says. "So you slit his throat and dumped his body in the swamp."

He nods. "Yes, and good riddance to the bastard. Just look at what I found on him!"

He pulls an exquisite gold and emerald ring from his pocket. "You think he could afford this on a taxman's salary? Don't make me laugh! The man was as crooked as they come. This town won't miss him."

Garyn's eyes narrow. "That ring was a gift from Thavere Vedrano. The closest thing to a widow the man has."

"So what? Is that supposed to make me feel sympathy? It's her fault for carousing with that damned crook in the first place. She's made her choice. What's yours? Them, or us?"

"You have it the wrong way around, Gilnith," Garyn says. "The choice is yours. You can either come with me to the Census and Excise office, or I make you come with me to the Census and Excise office. Whatever Vitellius may or may not have done, I'm not letting you get away with murder."

Gilnith snarls. "You snivelling, boot-licking, coward!"

Gilnith draws his dagger as he says his last word, lunging at Garyn with abandon. Garyn leans back, safely distancing himself from the peasant's wild thrust.

His back is exposed now. This is all Garyn needs.

With a single thrust his sword skewers Gilnith from kidney to ribcage, drawing life and expelling breath as blade pierces lung. Gilnith falls back and writhes, gurgling as blood dribbles from his mouth. Two more strokes and it is over - the lump on the floor that was once Foryn Gilnith ceases to move.

Garyn stands alone in the blood-soaked room. He has been in Seyda Neen for all of a day and already he has killed four people and committed two justifiable but legally-dubious acts. At the rate he's going, he'll be lucky if there's anyone left in town in a week.

If it weren't already high time he left Seyda Neen, it certainly is now.

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Garyn walks out toward the courtyard with his pockets considerably heavier than they were before. It had been easier than he anticipated to convince Socucius Ergalla of what happened, particularly once Thavere Vedrano was summoned to give her testimony. Processus's ring turned out to be rather convincing evidence.

Ergalla gave him his reward and Thavere gave him a few healing potions and her undying gratitude. He suspects that all anyone else in town would give him is two hours to leave.

Garyn takes the bag of coins out of his pocket and examines it again. It would be an above-average month's commission for a mid-ranking Fighters Guild member back home. He can't count all of them but he certainly has a good feel for what that much money weighs in his hand. Regardless of whether Vitellius had been an honorable man or not, Garyn certainly won't regret earning this money.

His train of thought is interrupted when his foot strikes a barrel in the courtyard. A few pieces of debris come tumbling out of it. Near the top of it is a cheap brass ring.

Garyn bends over to examine it. There's an inscription on the inside.

"PROPERTY OF FARGOTH," it reads.

Garyn laughs. Of course. Of course he would find it now.

He's still chuckling as he exits the office. He whistles at the passing Bosmer and tosses him the ring.

"Here you go!" he says. "Put in the good word to Arrille, won't you?"

Fargoth's eyes wide up. "Oh, thank you! Thank you! You are now my favorite friend! I -"

"Just let Arrille know about this, won't you?"

Fargoth scampers off toward the tradehouse, eager to tell Arrille the good news. Garyn gives him a few minutes before following him in.

When he leaves, he's decked out completely in netch leather and chainmail - though mainly the former. He knows he'll need it if he has any more days even remotely like this. He's not sure if he actually got the discount he was promised, but helping out a friend couldn't have hurt.

Garyn looks up. The sun is getting low in the sky. The strider will be leaving soon. He begins making his way toward the dock.

Suddenly he hears a shrill sound from above, very swiftly getting closer. Instinctively he throws himself to the ground. There's a loud, blunt thud a few feet from his head. For a moment Garyn stays on the ground, motionless. Then, slowly, he brings himself to his feet.

Right next to him is a robed Bosmer crumpled into a twisted heap on the ground. Next to him is a thick leather-bound book, sprawled open on its spine.

Garyn groans. "For the love of Stendarr, can I walk FIVE STEPS in this place without someone getting killed!?"

He comes closer to examine the body. Idly, he begins flipping through the book. It's a journal - more specifically the journal of a wizard named Tarhiel. He's assuming this must be the unfortunate Wood Elf's name. Apparently he'd managed to create a spell that would allow him to jump dozens of miles in a single step. But he had neglected to consider that he would eventually need to land.

"Idiot," Garyn mutters.

He looks through the wizard's belongings. In the folds of his robes there is a cheaply-made arming sword - the sort any half-respectable village smith could throw together in less than a day. More intriguing is the faint blue aura around the blade. The Old Master had taught Garyn to recognize enchantments upon a blade. This one had been imbued with a reasonably powerful lightning spell. It could sear open new wounds, arrest the rhythm of the enemy's heart, and even turn an enemy's plate armor against them.

Well. He's not usually in the business of grave robbing, but in this nitwit's case he's willing to make an exception. This mer's misfortune has become his boon.

He straps the sword to his waist before dashing back to town and reporting the death to a guard. Then he finally makes it back to the strider dock, just in time for the last trip of the day.

He pays the caravaner and steps into the hollow cavity atop the beast's back, slowly clambering down into the cabin.
moonandstar: (Default)
"You must be joking!"

"I'm afraid not," the caravaner says. "The strider for Balmora leaves twice a day on Sundas. You'll have to wait until dusk."

Garyn sighs. "And there's nothing I can do to convince you to leave sooner?"

"No can do, I'm afraid," he says.

Garyn kicks the dirt beneath him and grumbles an obscenity. He has no great desire to meet Cosades in Balmora, but he's grown light on coin over the last day. He has the money for the silt strider fare and almost nothing else. He probably won't be able to afford a complete meal today - not a good situation for someone about to travel 40 miles right now, much less half a day from now. But he can't change when the strider runs.

"Fine," he says. "I'll see you at dusk."

Garyn descends the staircase of the strider platform. It's situated on a hill around a hundred feet outside the village proper. From there he can see all of Seyda Neen laid out before him, what little there is of it. On the other side of town there is a small rocky peninsula jutting out into the sea. He can just about make out a few mudcrabs basking in the sun. If all else fails, he could kill and cook one of those. If that fails, too, he'd still rather starve than accept Hrisskar's offer.

But something far closer catches Garyn's eye - a worn wooden door, built into a cliff face not 15 yards from the strider dock. He walks toward it to get himself a closer look. He can make out a crude inscription engraved above it. "Addamasartus," it reads. He can make out footprints in the marshy ground in front of it.

This must be a dwelling, Garyn surmises. He's seen people live in stranger places on the outskirts of town, after all.

He hesitates for a moment. But since there is nothing to indicate that the dwelling is off limits, he forces the door open and enters the cavern behind it.

The cave is small and dark, lit only by a few dim torches and a small fire. At the other side of the chamber, Garyn can see a crude wooden gate which covers a passageway. The entrance stands on a rocky ledge a couple of feet above the ground.

On the floor below, next to an overturned boat, a Dunmer woman in a wicker hat sits by the fire. Next to her is an opened crate of skooma vials.

Garyn blinks. "...Oh."

The woman gives no warning. There are no threats, no rebukes, no demands for Garyn to mind his own business if he knows what's good for him. She leaps to her feet, draws her dagger, and charges. "N'wah!"

Perhaps this smuggler thinks that Garyn is unarmed, or that she can bring her dagger to bear before he can draw his weapon. But if eighteen months of inaction have weakened his muscles, they haven't dulled his reflexes.

There is no hesitation - Garyn draws his sword and parries the woman's strike before making a counterstroke of his own. The dagger falls from her hand as he cuts deeply into her arm. He slashes again across her chest before kicking her off the ledge into the chamber below. Her head strikes a jutting rock with a sickening crack as her skull splits open.

Garyn jumps down from the ledge and runs toward the gate and the steps beneath it. Footsteps and alarmed voices echo through the cavern. He presses himself against a hollow by the back wall and waits for them to arrive.

The first to arrive is a robed Dunmer mage. Garyn doesn't wait for the other one to enter - they will see him if he hesitates. And without the element of surprise, the weakened and unarmored Garyn doesn't stand a chance. As the wizard emerges from the doorway in aid of his comrade, Garyn lunges forward, plunging the blade into his abdomen. The sorcerer's bowels protrude from his stomach as the blade leaves him. He falls to his knees and writhes in conscious agony.

Then something sharp grazes Garyn's shoulder. He wheels around to face the mage's accomplice. It's another Dunmer woman, this one wielding throwing stars. Garyn bellows and charges at her with his sword extended to close the distance. The markswoman can't backpedal down the stairs as fast as Garyn can barrel down them. She stumbles over her own feet and slams against the back railing. She can't get up before Garyn runs her through.

The cave falls silent. For a moment, Garyn says and does nothing - not even tend to the wound on his shoulder. Calmly he doubles back to deliver the coup de grâce to the suffering hedge wizard. Then, when he is sure the danger has passed, Garyn slumps against a cave wall and gives a long, ragged sigh.

He should be dead. He should be dead three or four times over. One unarmored and unprepared swordsman shouldn't stand a chance against three defenders. But they had fought him one at a time instead of all at once. Any smugglers' den this close to a settlement shouldn't be caught by surprise when someone stumbles upon them.

Which raises the question - why had they been allowed to operate so close to town in the first place? And next to the caravan route, no less! Either the town guard is legendarily incompetent, or someone is choosing to deliberately look the other way. Given the quarantine, Garyn strongly suspects the latter. Whoever it was wouldn't have the chance to profit from it anymore.

But Garyn might, now that there's nobody left to claim their goods. He'll leave the skooma, obviously - he has no intention of going back to prison - but anything else is fair game if it means he can eat and get himself some armor. He snatches a key hanging from the waist of the markswoman and heads deeper into the cave. The passage leads to a T-junction; Garyn takes the right-hand path.

After gathering a sizable sackful of coins and other valuables, he makes for the other path when he hears a stifled cough coming from the end of the passage. His sword comes out again. Slowly he crosses the narrow passage and emerges into a chamber containing a large wooden cage. Inside that cage are two Argonians and a Khajiit. They are all painfully underfed, and the Khajiit's fur is filthy and matted. They stare silently at Garyn with bleary, tired eyes.

Garyn stares back at them for a moment, wondering what three petty drug smugglers would need to keep prisoners for.

Finally the Khajiit speaks.

"They are dead?" he croaks, in Senchal-accented Ta'agra. "We are free?"

Gods. Now Garyn understands - they're slaves. He is in Morrowind, after all. He had taken enough jobs hunting down slavers in and around the Topal Sea to know what goes on off the coast of Elsweyr and Argonia. They had been kidnapped from their homes.

"Yes," Garyn says. "I killed them. You're free to go."

He turns to one of the Argonians. "How far can you walk?" he says.

Garyn's grasp of Jel is not as strong as his Ta'agra. But it's far stronger than that of most other men and mer who have attempted it. Growing up in Leyawiin does have its advantages.

"As far as we need to go, once you let us out."

"Give me a moment."

Garyn reaches for the key at his waist and tries it on the gate. This isn't a hard decision for him - these people were seized illegally, enslaved illegally, and brought to Vvardenfell illegally, so he won't be sent back to prison for doing the right thing. These beastfolk were born free - none had any right to take them. If that's not the law, then the law be damned.

And if they had been born into slavery? What would you have done then, convict? Leave them to rot here, like a coward?

Garyn shakes his head and banishes the thought as the key slides smoothly into the lock. It fits the locks of their bracers just as well. Soon they are all free.

"Thank you, stranger," the Khajiit says. "You will forever be a friend to Baadargo."

One of the Argonians crosses his arms. "We owe you more thanks than we can number," she says. "But we do not know how to return home. We don't even know where we are."

Garyn winces. "It will be difficult," he says. "The island's been...cut off. You need...pardon me. Do you speak Tamrielic? It would be easier for me."

"I do," she says. "But Okaw's grasp of the man-language is poor."

"We both speak Ta'agra," the other one adds.

"Fair enough," Garyn answers. "You'll have to either appeal to the authorities or have yourself smuggled back. Either way I wouldn't do that anywhere near where we are right now. The people who run this town were probably on the take from these smugglers."

"My cousin is an abolitionist in Dres country on the border," says Okaw. "I've heard him talk about an Argonian Mission in a city called Ebonheart. Do you know where that is?"

"Couldn't tell you," Garyn says. "I'm an outlander. But I do have a map."

Garyn pulls out the map. After translating again for Baadargo's benefit, he, Banalz, and Okaw (these are the Argonians' names) lay out a plan. They will take a silt strider to Vivec. From there it's a short boat ride to Ebonheart. Garyn will pay their fares, while Baadargo will conceal enough moon sugar on his person to bribe passage off Vvardenfell if there are no legal channels for doing so.

They go their separate ways and Garyn heads back toward the tradehouse. After paying to have his wound treated and shirt repaired, he has money for either a cheap netch leather cuirass or a full meal, but not both.

He takes the armor and goes off to look for mudcrabs.
moonandstar: (Default)
Garyn emerges from the Census and Excise office bewildered but fully awake, though the atmosphere isn't doing him any favors. The summer air still carries that thick smell of seawater and rotting moss. He practically has to swim through it. Choking would be the best word to describe it - the kind of tangible miasma that hangs over a man's shoulders and squeezes the life out of him.

Garyn squints into the afternoon sun. Seyda Neen looks as dead as it smells - a glorified swamp clearing still mired in last night's storm. In the distance a guard paces from one side of a bridge to another as a fisherman drags his cart across it. Apart from this, nothing.

A shrill voice cuts through the greasy silence. "Ho there and welcome, Dunmer!"

Garyn blinks and looks downward. The voice belongs to a bronze-faced young Bosmer, as short, slight, and wispy as they all are. He's nearly clinging to Garyn's shirt. Garyn isn't sure how to respond. Just as well, since the Bosmer keeps talking.

"Welcome to Seyda Neen! Are you the one the boat dropped off? Never mind, forget I asked, of course you are - anyway, hope the Imperials treated you okay. Bullies and tyrants, the lot of them! I swear they took my ring! Of course, when I ask them about it they claim to have no idea what I'm talking about, but -"

Garyn interrupts him. "Your ring?"

"I swear one of the Guards has it. I had it last week before their weekly 'Let's shake down Fargoth' ritual," says the Wood Elf whose name is apparently Fargoth. "An engraved healing ring, family heirloom of mine. You haven't seen it, have you?"

"Erm, no...sorry, I'm afraid not. I'm only just off the boat."

Fargoth's face falls. "Oh. Of course. How...silly of me. How would you have even known to look for it? Still, will you let me know if you find it?"

He looks up at Garyn, his expression nervous and pleading.

"I'll keep my eyes open," Garyn says. It's a lie - there is obviously nothing he can do to help this mer. If the guards have his ring, the only way to get it back is to steal it from them, and Garyn isn't keen on going back to prison, especially not for this stranger. Fargoth knows this, too, if he's at all smart.

"Oh, thank you!" he says. "It's really all I ask - I can't tell you how much it would mean to me."

Apparently not. Garyn clears his throat. "Anyway, I don't suppose there's anywhere in this town I could get a fresh set of clothes and a bath?"

"Oh, yes, you'll want the tradehouse," Fargoth says, pointing to a stone Imperial building across the mudded clearing that passes for a road. "Arrille runs it. He sells general goods, and there's an inn upstairs. You know, he's a good friend of mine - if you find my ring, I can see that he makes it worth your while."

"I'll keep that in mind," Garyn says. "Thank you."

It's not until he's halfway across the road that the small handful of townsfolk (Fargoth's chirpy "Nice to meet you!" aside) begin to pay him any mind. Most of them give him nothing more than a brief glance, long enough for their mild contempt to register. The fisherman towing his catch turns the other way and spits. The fisherman seems to be the only other Dunmer about. Garyn had expected to see more. Still, it is an Imperial port town, for all the lack of activity.

Garyn stomps the mud from his feet and enters the inn.

The proprietor, a High Elf, looks down on him from his seat at the counter with a thin smile. "Good day to you, Dunmer," he says. "Welcome to my tradehouse. I am Arrille, publican and proprietor. You must be the new arrival."

"Word travels fast," Garyn says. "Especially on a slow day. The villagers must all be out fishing."

"Not at this hour," Arrille says. "Most of them have already retired for the day. The quarantine hasn't been good for business."

Garyn raises an eyebrow. "Quarantine?"

The Altmer chuckles gently. "You really are an outlander, aren't you? I get few enough of you these days that I forget not everyone is familiar with local politics."

Arrille clears his throat. "Ever since the Blight started to get worse, the Empire put the whole of Vvardenfell under a soft quarantine. Only ships with official Imperial clearance can get in or out of the district. Did a number on trade, especially here. The fish off Firemoth Reef always sold well in Omayni, and Pelagiad just isn't as good of a market, even with the inflated prices. Of course, there's no shortage of smugglers and blockade runners on the Bitter Coast for those willing to pay."

It's an obvious solicitation from Arrille - smugglers are always the greatest beneficiaries to a blockade. Garyn ignores it. He has no interest in risky criminal enterprises after the eighteen months of hell he just went through.

"What sort of plague is this Blight?"

"As bad a plague as there's ever been," Arrille says. "Some kinds of it can't even be cured. It comes from out of the ash storms from the Mountain - some even say it comes from the Devil that lives in it. I don't know about that, but it's bad news all the same. I've seen all manner of men, mer, and beast come down with it."

His expression darkens. "These are rough times, Dunmer. If you're planning on leaving town, I would suggest you leave armed. There are blighted creatures about."

"I was already planning on it," Garyn says. "But thank you. You mentioned the Bitter Coast?"

"It's where we are right now," the Altmer says. "The southwest coast of Vvardenfell. It's full of swamps, caves, and bandits - too dangerous to go unarmed. Might I recommend my selection of armor and armaments? Or perhaps some spells and potions? You won't find a finer selection from here to Balmora."

"Right now, I would like a room, a bath, and some fresh clothes," Garyn says, cutting through his merchant-speak. "We'll see what kind of sword I can buy after that."

"Of course, sera," Arrille says. "Fortunately, there's a room available upstairs. That will run you fifteen drakes a night. The bathhouse is round the back - that's five drakes. As for the rest, well...let's see what we have."

It's only after fifteen minutes of haggling that he is able to get what he needs: two sets of clean clothes, a steel dagger, and an iron broadsword. He even gets Arrille to throw in a map of Vvardenfell. He'd made himself a fair bargain. He leans back in the bath and shaves his ragged face as well as his dagger allows.

Garyn gets dressed, holsters his sword, and heads upstairs to the bar. He won't be leaving town tonight. He haw already traveled thousands of miles, and emerged from the darkness of months of captivity. Just getting to this strange land has been a trial, and arriving here has been a shock greater than he could have imagined. Real food, real drink, a real bed - these are things he had never thought he would see again. He is not about to compound that shock by adding to his experience things he has never even seen before. After eighteen months of never leaving his prison cell, with barely any light to illuminate it, he's not about to throw himself into some harsh foreign swamp.

Quietly, he slides into a bar stool and orders the cheapest jug of mazte they have. For the next hour, he is mostly silent, letting his unanswerable questions occupy him: Why him? Why now? Why here? He scarcely speaks to the bartender save to order more booze.

His silence is interrupted by an off-duty Legionnaire sliding into the seat next to him. He's a large, bearded Nord with braided flaxen hair, still fully dressed in his uniform.

"Ho there, outlander!" he says. "You look like you could use a little money. More than that, you look like you could use a friend. Perhaps I could be your friend...if you help me recover some gold."

Garyn sets his mazte down. He's not so wrapped up in his own thoughts that the prospect of a job doesn't interest him. "I'm listening."

"You see, I've had a run of bad luck," he says. "Lost a bit of money playing Nine-holes. Normally I'd be fine, what with the money the locals pay us for...protection, but -"

"Oh, is that what you call it?"

"But I know some of them are holding out on me," the Nord continues, ignoring his interruption. "That little fetcher Fargoth, for example. He's come up light the last few times I've shaken him down. And I've been through his whole house, so I know it's not there."

Garyn slams down the rest of his matze. "Whatever you want, I'm not interested."

He's been down this road before. He knows where it leads. It led him right to where he's sitting. Next time he would not be so fortunate. He gets up to leave his seat. The Nord grabs him by the wrist.

"But I haven't told you the best part."

The bartender - a slender, athletic Redguard woman - grabs the Nord's shoulder. Her skirt has subtly shifted to leave a shortsword clearly visible. "Leave him be, Hrisskar. Don't make me throw you out of here again."

The Legionnaire frowns. "Fine. It's his loss, anyway."

He gets up and stomps away from the table.

The bartender shakes her head. "Sorry you had to go through that. You'll be leaving for Balmora tomorrow?"

"Don't think I've said anything about Balmora," Garyn says. "But I was planning on going there. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious," she says. "It's good for a bartender to know the local comings and goings."

She leans in and her voice lowers. "When you get there, tell him Elone sends her regards."

Garyn nods and mutters a few words in thanks.

It's not until he's nearly back in his room that he realizes what this woman just said. She had been talking about Caius Cosades. The Empire was watching Garyn more closely than he thought.

It is with that uneasy thought swirling around his mind that sleep finally finds him.
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Forever, forever - here forever, or might as well be - 199 years, though I will surely be dead before that eternity passes. No sunlight reaches me seven months out of the year and so the day and night and waking and dreaming are one and one and just as we two are eleven, one and one day and one night after another comes and goes - not that I can tell the difference anymore for if we switched places who would know and not that it matters for I know I am dead and only dream that I live on rinds slurry gruel and once a week bread made rough and hard so the worms and rats don’t get into it - they put something in it, I know, something poisonous, and I know it is weakening my mind and my body for I feel it in my veins and in my dreams and It sustains and feeds me for a time until I am slightly less hungry than before, though my brain should scarcely tire of feasting upon the thoughts of my failure - I can think of aught else for even the men in the cells nearest do not speak so loudly anymore and at some moments we struggle to remember our names KNOW THAT I AM THE SHARMAT AND I SLEEP AS YOU DO or that we were ever not here imprisoned OLDER THAN MUSIC, WAITING, DREAMING yes dreaming of blinding light BLAZING UNDER THE MOUNTAIN of pounding hooves and tumbling wheels THE RED TOWER on stone and dirt of unfamiliar roads and Nibenay sun WHERE I SHALL BRING MY STAR, until my body at least has reached the sea.

For a moment I am almost conscious to wonder, to wander where they have taken me; where is there such wind flying rushing falling over grey valleys bare trees and ashen sands where the moons tumble over the skies and now I am as the wind blowing over it

STAR-WOUNDED EAST COME MY CHILD I HAVE WAITED

Her voice is kind - she comes to me through red skies and dust, through wind and flame ---

WELCOME MOONSTAR SON CROWN REBELKING DEVIL GREAT DOOM

Great Ada. I do not understand ---

LISTEN

Her presence congeals now in my mind; I know where I am floating, even before she says it.

MORROWIND

She speaks plainly now and her voice is so beautiful

THEY HAVE TAKEN YOU FROM THE IMPERIAL CITY’S PRISON.

And so shall we both break free of our bonds - join us! Nu-mantia! Liberty!

FIRST BY CARRIAGE, NOW BY BOAT.

Yes for my dreams now smell of brine

TO THE EAST, TO MORROWIND.

where I died, where I was betrayed, where I wait and dance at the core

FEAR NOT, FOR I AM WATCHFUL. YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN

MANY FALL, BUT ONE REMAINS

The pregnant Masser hastens his dancing over the sky. She speaks again, but her voice has lost its kindness ---

”Wake up, we are here.”

Who is this? Not her -

“Why are you shaking?”

The red sky fades

“Are you okay?”

And then

“WAKE UP!”

I AWAKEN.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Garyn opens his eyes, blinking and still shaking for the dream has not left him yet. Leaning over him is another Dunmer, dressed in a prisoner’s sackcloth trousers and nothing else. His face is gnarled and laced by vicious scars. His one good eye flashes soft concern. Garyn gives his surroundings a bleary-eyed glance - he is below the deck of a ship. He had not laid his head here. It is dark and cramped and has the musty smell of the sea and it sways, sways as he does on blowing ash over Velothi hills and great plains of vast grey wide sweeping

“Can you stand?”

Garyn groans and blinks again, shaking clear the days of sleep from his head. Though he had not meant to say no, he gets a yank and a lurch for his troubles as the Dunmer pulls him from the floor where he had been sleeping. He grabs onto the mer’s shoulder to steady himself as he wobbles forward on unstable knees.

“Right. There you go. You’ll be alright,” he says, holding out his arm as Garyn finds the ground beneath him. “You, ah, you were muttering in your sleep. What’s your name?”

Garyn grunts a third time. Dry, cracked lips, lips that have not formed words in long months, grind together before slowly finding them. “Hrrrrnn…Garyn. Garyn…Balvadares.”

The prisoner jabs a thumb toward himself. “My name’s Jiub,” he says. “You’ve been out like a snuffed candle since they picked me up. Not even last night’s storm could wake you. For a while I was wondering if you were dead.”

“Well…’m not,” Garyn murmurs, as though unsure of it. His blurred gaze turns further up the cabin. “Where are we?”

“I heard them say we’ve reached Morrowind,” Jiub says. “I’m sure they’ll let us go.”

“Morrowind?” He can't have heard that right. He might be a Dunmer, but Morrowind is a thousand miles away from anywhere he has ever traveled. He has never laid an eye on it, much less set foot on her dry grasses and shrubs and steaming vents and

…He knows he had been dreaming of it, though the particulars have left him. Why were they letting him go here? Why were they letting him go at all? It makes no sense, it’s too easy, and as his thoughts continue to blur together he wonders if it is but the dream of a cracked and broken mind. The last twitch of a dead hope. A flea of assertion on a wolf of naught.

“But how…it…why …”

If this Jiub has an answer, he doesn't give it here. Instead, he looks back over his shoulder. “Quiet. Here comes the guard.”

A stocky, scowling Imperial strides into view down the narrow cabin. He points a stubby finger at Garyn. “You, this is where you get off. Come with me.”

Garyn looks back at Jiub, who nudges him forward. “Do as he says.”

He mutters a farewell as the guard turns back the way he had come. He leads Garyn along by the wrist, dragging his arm so quickly his feet can scarcely keep up. If he weren't so busy keeping himself upright, he might think to ask questions. Not that the guard would answer them anyway – it’s clear that he regards Garyn as a sack of elven garbage that he needs to haul above deck.

The sneering Imperial shoves Garyn toward the hatch. “Get yourself up on deck and let’s keep this as civil as possible.”

Garyn limps up the ladder as best he can, and is thrust like a newborn into the blazing white sunlight. His eyes, which have known nothing but dimness at best for over a year, are seared blind by the hot light of summer. He backs away from it, blinking and rubbing his eyelids. It’s nearly enough to make him duck back below deck.

Even when his sight clears enough to open his eyes, the brightness scarcely subsides – all around him the edges of the world look as though they are on fire. And it brings the sheer, unmitigated strangeness of what surrounds him into sharp relief. They have moored at the end of a small jetty near a small village built in the standard Imperial style. There are thatched stone houses and small reed shacks arranged loosely around muddily-trodden paths and circles. It would look almost like any village in the West Weald if it weren’t for every other thing about it – the lush jungle of strange trees, vines, and algae-choked swamps that threaten to swallow the whole town; the humming and buzzing that fills the air at all times; the greasy soup that passes for an atmosphere; and is that a giant bug standing on the outside of town? At the furthest point of the coast, a stone lighthouse juts out of the moss and rocks, blazing defiantly, arrogantly above the unreclaimed wilderness - a monument to the idea, the naked Imperial hubris that would cause a man to think he could impose Cyrodiil upon this natural bedlam.

A Redguard steps forward and addresses the bewildered Dunmer: “This is where they want you. Head down to the dock and he’ll show you to the Census Office.” He gestures toward another Imperial Guard strolling down the jetty to meet him. Another cattleman to grind another sausage through the abattoir of Imperial bureaucracy.

Perhaps, he thinks, this is real after all.

The Census officer introduces himself as Socucius Ergalla, speaking in the shrill and mannered tone of a Temple castrato. Garyn is barely awake as the man wheezes his way through the formalities, introductions, and would-you-please-sign-heres – and "barely" is being charitable. He stammers. He mutters. This is the first real conversation he's had in months and he has to share it with this bloviating functionary. He tells them that he is twenty-six years old and a mercenary by trade. He confirms that he was born in the month of Frostfall under the sign of the Serpent to uncertain parents. He signs it. Ergalla barely looks at it. It might touch his desk before he stamps it with the Imperial Seal.

“Very good,” Ergalla says. “Show your papers to the Captain when you exit to get your release fee.”

Yet another guard unlocks the door in front of him and gestures down the corridor. “Head through to the next building and talk to Sellus Gravius.”

Cradling the papers in his hands, Garyn makes his way through the corridor and across the small courtyard that separates the two buildings of the Census and Excise Department. He finds himself in a small, well-furnished office with a single desk overflowing with papers. Buried within them sits an Imperial Legionnaire in full uniform. The soldier looks up at Garyn.

Not for the first time it occurs to Garyn that he holds his freedom in his hands. All he needs to do is hand it to this Imperial and he will have notarized his life back. Two whole centuries of imprisonment shall be lifted from him with a few strokes of a quill. It cannot possibly be. There can be no reason for it. Yet it is about to be so.

The officer’s eyes narrow. “…Well?”

Garyn clears his throat. “Er…Captain Sellus Gravius?”

The corners of the captain's lips turn downward. “Yes?”

“These are for you.” He thrusts the papers toward the captain.

Gravius sets his quill down and sighs, looking at the release form. He addresses Garyn, not looking up from the form as he does so.

“Hmm, yes. I do apologize. Word of your arrival reached me only yesterday, which left us little time to prepare for your being here. But that is no matter. I’m here to welcome you to Morrowind.”

Garyn nods. “Morrowind…” he repeats. “Where in Morrowind, exactly? And why the hell am I here?”

“Specifically, this is the Vvardenfell District, the island at the center of the province,” Gravius says. “Though no one would confuse it for the beating heart of it. Aside from a few major settlements, this is a rough and tumble place. You’re on the frontier, Dunmer. Be thankful you at least look more or less native.

“But as for your other question, I’m afraid I've no idea. That answer’s beyond my pay grade. When you leave this office, you are a free man – that’s all I know and all you need to know. What I do have for you are some very important instructions on your duties. Instructions from Emperor Uriel Septim VII himself, who personally authorized your release, so pay attention.”

Garyn blinks, his mouth agape. He had not been expecting that.

Oblivious to Garyn’s reaction, the captain grabs a parcel and a small letter from his desk. “This package came with the news of your arrival. You are to take it to Caius Cosades, in the town of Balmora. Go to the South Wall Cornerclub, and ask for Caius Cosades – they’ll know where to find him. Serve him as you would serve the Emperor himself. I also have a letter for you, which explains more, and a disbursal to your name.”

Garyn's dumbness finally subsides. “…The Emperor authorized my release? Emperor Uriel Septim?”

Captain Gravius shrugs. “As I said, I can’t tell you why. It’s all very mysterious. But that’s the way the Empire works. Silence. Secrecy. Let not the left hand know what the right hand is doing. I’m sure if you deliver the package as instructed you’ll find out more.”

He places a small sack of coins on the desk. “Here’s your gold. You’re free to go. Balmora is north of here. If I were you, I’d take the silt strider – that’s that giant bug you saw at the edge of town. It’s cheap and a good deal safer than walking. Good luck.”

There might exist some witticism, some intelligent thing one can say when one is a released convict who has been tasked to deliver the Emperor's mail. If there is, it isn't coming to Garyn's mind right now. He remains where he is, half-catatonic.

The captain glares at him. “Please leave my office.”

Hurriedly, Garyn gathers the package, the letter, and the coin purse and stumbles out the door, out into…
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Garyn sat in his usual stool at the Five Claws, watching the condensation slowly form over the edges of his fourth ale of the night as he rehashed his worries.

Ri’Darsha would be fine, he was certain. And even if he wasn’t, Garyn had done the best he could for him. If he hadn’t come with Lorbulg, someone who didn’t care about Ri'Darsha would have.

He could not say the same of the Guild.

It was clear to him now. As a lieutenant, or even as a second-in-command, Lorbulg was a good man to have around. Whether leading a drill or a contingent for battle, his instincts were sound and his physical courage was unimpeachable. Salms's harsh guidance had kept his worst instincts in check. But he had neither business nor moral sense - he’d never had to make rain for his guildmates before. And his unwillingness to speak or learn Ta'agra only made matters worse.

The Blackwood Company, fresh from their failed campaign in the Black Marsh, had sensed their weakness and established themselves in the Leyawiin city limits. They had no shortage of Khajiit and Argonians in their number. The Khajiit merchants and caravaners, who had trusted Salms and formed the backbone of their clientele, deserted Lorbulg and his guild.

Garyn had noticed the change. The jobs had gotten worse - nasty ones from nasty people, the sort Old Man could afford to turn away. But even this must not have been enough. He'd gotten into the skooma trade. He had surely been taking out loans. And probably not good ones, either. If Lorbulg was desperate enough to be pressing a low-level pusher like Ri'Darsha as hard as he was...

Garyn slumped in his stool, defeated. He could have stopped this at any time. He could have stopped it before it happened. Lorbulg had needed his guidance and linguistic skill, and he had shirked his duties by drinking himself into a self-pitying stupor.

Pity Lorbulg. Pity the Guild. Gods help him, Garyn still cared about this guild, as cruel a life as it had made for him. He couldn't bear to let it die.

But how to save it? Alerting the constabulary in this city would hurt his chances, if anything. Obviously, the main chapter in Chorrol needed to be informed of this. But Chorrol was on the other side of Cyrodil – at least two weeks’ journey, even in good weather. It would be at least a month and a half before he could expect help from them. Could he afford to wait that long?

Garyn took a long drink as he pondered this. Clearly, he could not. He would need to take matters into his own hands - and the Guild prohibited violence against a fellow member. Salvation of the chapter would mean his expulsion from it.

He could perform the Black Sacrament, of course. The Dark Brotherhood would make short work of him, as assassins always do. But would Lorbulg’s death deter his creditors? Surely they might suspect that someone in the Guild was responsible. They could well decide to collect from the Guild itself - in coin and in blood.

It was the only option. The time to resolve this lawfully had long passed. Between Lorbulg and the Guild, something had to die.

Garyn’s reverie was interrupted by three sets of footsteps approaching loudly behind him. He turned around slowly to see Apelles Velvus, all arms and no torso, flanked by two large orcs who looked like they could grind the little Imperial's bones to oatmeal.

“Evening,” he said.

Garyn snorted and turned his back to the man. “What do you want?”

“I’m looking for a friend named Ri’Darsha. I saw him down by the river yesterday, but he hasn’t turned up.”

Well, well. Lorbulg wasn't a total idiot after all. Garyn took another drink, measuring his words.

“I haven’t seen him since. Something seemed to be weighing rather heavily on him.”

“Oh? Like what?”

Garyn rolled his eyes. “A hundred pounds of rocks. Now leave me be.”

“Is that so?” Apelles said. “Well, the Boss was really hoping he’d turn up by now. It sends a message, you see. At least, that’s what he told you. It’d be a real shame if we never saw him again.”

“Then he can dredge him back up if he likes,” Garyn snapped. “Because right now he’s sucking mud from the bottom of the Niben. He was a popular Khajiit – it’s not like the world won’t notice once he’s been missing for a week. Now stop bothering me.”

“Not sure I like your tone, whoreson. Don’t think the boss will either.”

It was a clumsy, sneering schoolyard insult. The sort an orphan with unknown parents hears countless times throughout his life. It meant nothing coming from a waste of flesh like Apelles.

He'd put up with the likes of Apelles Velvus for long enough. He would not get away with it. Not now.

“If you want to find him, you can dive in the river. Gods know your father wouldn’t miss you.”

The Imperial grabbed Garyn’s shoulder, seeking to whip the Dunmer around to face him.

Garyn's fist was one step ahead of him.

Apelles buckled as the blow connected with his chin. He collapsed, unconscious, head-first toward the row of chairs behind him.

Garyn could hear the crack of the Imperial's neck upon the wooden stool leg as the orcs descended upon him.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The trial passed like the formality it was. Witness after witness came to the stand. More than could have possibly been in the Five Claws on a Middas. Each told of how they had seen him strike the fatal blow against Apelles Velvus, third son of the Baron and Baroness Velvus of Trans-Niben, just after he had confessed to the murder of Ri’Darsha, who was obviously not on hand to dispute the allegations. They brought out Apelles’ mother, who wept dutifully, and his father, who demanded justice. It was a trial in name only.

Garyn was barely even listening when they read out his sentence: one hundred ninety-nine years in the Imperial City’s prison. Two hundred, ninety-nine, what did it matter? No one survived long in there. In all of Tamriel, only Blackrose was worse. He would die in that dungeon – wasted away by time and neglect. Next to a long sentence in the Imperial dungeons, the noose is a mercy.

Lorbulg had set this up, he knew. Most of the rest of the Guildhall was either in his pocket or too cowed by his presence to act. He hadn’t known of Garyn's plans against him, but he suspected, and when dealing with the only Guildmember who could have challenged him, suspicion was enough. He hadn’t suspected that Garyn would kill Apelles, but he knew that Apelles was the perfect man to provoke the confrontation – dumb enough to think he could take Garyn in a fight but weak enough for his defeat to be assured. Garyn was an easy enough mer to provoke in a drunken state - any man as annoying as Apelles should have had an easy time of it. He would have settled for a trumped-up assault charge that would get Garyn thrown out of the guild. But his plan had worked beyond his wildest expectations.

Garyn had to admit, the orc was cleverer than he gave him credit for being. Not that it would save him in the end, of course. And not that it mattered now, anyway. Lorbulg wouldn’t get what was coming to him until he took the entire Leyawiin Fighters Guild down with him, along with anyone who had ever stood in his way.

Garyn had failed. And now his life was over.
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Ri’Darsha’s screaming and yowling sounded in vain against the rushes of the Niben. Not that anyone would care even if they could hear him. Not when they were this far from the center of Leyawiin. Nobody cared what happened south of the docks, much less outside the walls.

The Khajiit thrashed in vain against the combined vice grip of Garyn and Apelles as the porcine fists of Lorbulg gro-Bagamu pummeled his ribcage once more. His fur was matted and filthy with blood. Garyn had no idea how the catman’s chest hadn’t collapsed in on itself.

Lorbulg finally ceased his barrage of punches. The orc stepped back and shook his hands theatrically.

“I’m starting to get bored with this,” he said. “So I’ll say it for you again, real simple and slow-like. You owe me money. Pay it back right now or I really get mad.”

“Ri’Darsha…is not…withholding anything!” the Khajiit cried between labored breaths. “Give him more time!”

“You’ve had long enough,” said the orc.

“He’s telling the truth, Lorbulg,” Garyn said, loosening his grip slightly. “I don’t think he has it.”

“Think he’s right, boss,” Apelles said.

“Yes! Listen!”

Lorbulg smiled grimly. “Well, then. What do you suppose we should do about that?”

Ri’Darsha’s eyes widened. “Please –“

“I can think of a few things, boss,” Apelles said.

“Ri’Darsha needs more time –“

“I’ll take care of him,” Garyn said.

The orc nodded. “Do it.”

“Garyn, no –“

It was effortless. It was quick. A chop to the neck, a dagger to the belly. The Khajiit fell limp.

The Niben roared quietly. There was no other sound. Then –

“It’s finished,” Garyn said.

Apelles nodded, shaking the momentary dumbness that had struck him.

“What do you suppose we do with it, boss?” Apelles asked.

Garyn intercepted the question. “You go. I’ll take care of it.”

Lorbulg started to protest, but Garyn cut him off again. “You’re needed at the Guildhall, sir. And Apelles would get in my way. I'm the one who killed him – I'll be the one to dump him outside the underworks.”

Lorbulg sighed. “Very well. Apelles – you’re with me. Garyn, make sure he turns up eventually."

Then, smiling - "One way or another, I always collect. Tomorrow this city will be on notice.”

The pair walked away as Garyn draped the Khajiit over his broad right shoulder.

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Ri’Darsha grunted as Garyn set him down upon the sludgy banks of a drainage culvert.

“I knew you weren’t on the level, Ri’Darsha,” Garyn said. “But I never thought you'd be the sort who’d associate with an idiot like Lorbulg. I figured you for a better class of pusher than that.”

“And who is the one working for Lorbulg, Ri’Darsha wonders?”

“Even I didn’t know he was in this deep,” Garyn said. “I’m not in his inner circle. Neither are most of us at the Fighters Guild. You’re lucky he even brought me along. And that I thought to bring this.”

Garyn waved the empty leather pouch filled with false blood.

“You’re welcome, by the way,” he continued. “I don’t know why I'm sticking my neck out for you. But you should know better. You know he doesn’t know skooma from his own jizz.”

“He offered Ri’Darsha a bigger cut than he was getting.”

“And you figured you’d take out an advance straight from the merchandise itself.”

Ri’Darsha shrugged. “Ri’Darsha is Khajiit.”

“Ri’Darsha is Ri’Darsha,” Garyn said. “Lorbulg doesn’t know you like I do. And you don’t know Lorbulg, or you’d know he's in debt up to his tusks. He must be in deeper than I thought if he’s this desperate to collect from his debtors.”

“Ri’Darsha knew, but he underestimated.”

“It’s alright, so did I,” Garyn said. “Can you walk?”

Slowly, Ri’Darsha made his way up to his feet. It wasn’t easy, but he was just about able to manage. “…Y-yes,” he said.

“Good,” Garyn said. “Because you're about to skip town. It’s dark out, so you’ll need to hide in the woods and have Neesei take you on the first boat to Elsweyr tomorrow morning. You can bide your time there until this blows over. Which means don’t come back until you’re absolutely sure that Lorbulg is either dead or in prison.”

“Ri’Darsha gives that about six months.”

“More than I'd give it,” Garyn said. “Still, I can’t linger. Lorbulg will be looking for me. If we don’t meet again, then I bid you farewell.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Ri’Darsha said. “May you walk on warm sands.”

Garyn nodded, and left the Khajiit to himself.
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You make a terrible thief, boy. All lead feet and pork hands. I could have tracked you down in the dark. And you chose your - set that down. I'd kill you where you stand if you tried and you know it. Give it to me, boy. That's a good lad. Now where was I? Ah yes, you chose your mark poorly. Didn't look past the grey hair or the good clothes to see the muscle tone. Or that I saw you three godsdamned times before you made your move. You don't need to have worked the Market District your whole life to recognize an escape route when you see one.

Still, not a bad fighter for a boy your age. No, not bad at all. Pretty impressive what you did to that guard - you should look at him. Nasty gash on his arm, and that kick will leave him bow-legged for a while. Made damned fools of the other four, too. Would've gotten away with it in spite of everything if it hadn't been for me. You're completely undisciplined, of course - Imperial Guard ought to be ashamed of a spectacle like that. Still, very promising. Raw, but promising. What's your name? Eh? G-G-Garyn what? Who's your father, boy? 'Fraid I didn't catch that. For gods' sake, speak up. None of this hemming and hawing and erming and ahring - talk plain and direct, you'll get further with people. I ask you who's your father, you tell me.

Hrm. I thought as much. Perfect. Don't you go anywhere, boy, I'm not done with you yet. Ah, there you are. Why thank you Officer, I think I'd rather deal with this. Oh, how foolish of me. What's the fine? Hmm, yes. Could you give us a moment? Thank you.

This isn't a bad sword, boy. Where'd you get it? I know that, you little s'wit, I mean from who. Thought as much. That's a naval cutlass. You may not know it, but that isn't such a bad choice for a boy in your position. Light, easy to use, good in tight spaces. And you seem to know how to hold it at least. Yes, I'm coming to that. Give me a minute, officer.

The way I see it, that fine's well above what you can pay. So you're looking at at least five to ten in the dungeons, and that's if you're lucky. Even for us Dunmer those years don't go quick. And good luck surviving when you get out. No friends, no money, and no skills worth a damn. Don't interrupt me, boy, I'm not wrong and you know it. You are fucked, and you haven't a prayer of righting yourself. You won't last five more years living a life of crime.

Now, as it happens, I've a little problem of my own. I'm a Fighter's Guildhall leader of some importance, and a man of - let's say, reasonable means. Certain...circumstances have arisen which prevent me from having heirs of my own. And I'd rather burn the damned guildhall to the ground than let Marcus Prelius's damned fool of a son have it! I made that Guildhall what it is today, I'm not going to let some pathetic, mewling little whelp ruin what I've built. And yet I've no alternative. None that I can trust, anyway.

Which is what brings me here - to adopt and groom a successor, or to find a father willing to apprentice his son. I've looked at dozens of young men. Not a damned one of them has been any good. Even I couldn't mold them into anything useful! And the ones that are useful - well, most fathers tend to be less than willing to part with their favorite sons. But you, you don't have that problem. And frankly, I'm running out of options mys- why yes, that is precisely what I'm asking. Well done. Interrupt me again and I'll tan your hide.

Yes, as you may have guessed, I am offering you the privilege of beocming my apprentice, and my legal heir. I cannot guarantee your success - if you fail to live up to my standards, which are quite unreasonably high, you will not inherit a godsdamn thing. There's just a few things I can guarantee: You will grow to hate me very quickly. There will be times when you wish you were in prison. But it'll make a proper mer out of you. You'll be doing real work, dangerous work, the work of mercenaries and soldiers and adventurers. You'll learn how to fight with a sword and move in armor. How to repair your equipment and dress your own wounds. And you'll learn how to work until you can't any longer. And as I said, it comes with no guarantees of advancement or inheritance. But it's the only chance you'll ever get to pull yourself out of the sorry mud-sucking subsistence that is your miserable little existence. You can stand on your feet or you can keep crawling. It's your choice.

Or, you can keep stammering. That works, too.

Excellent. Congratulations - you are now my son. Grab your sword and get your ass in the back of the carriage. Quickly, before I change my mind.
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The earliest years of his childhood were lonely ones. You would expect nothing less of an orphaned child, for the life of an orphaned child is defined above all else by what he lacks. Absent those filial bonds that anchor him to life, love, and shelter, it falls to the village he was born in, and the kindest people in it, to provide for this lost child. And though every child needs a village, a village cannot suffice on its own.

Yet there are worse parents than the Imperial City, and few who value kindness more than the Imperial priesthood. And so, on a chill autumn evening in the waning years of the Third Era, when a newborn Dunmer was left cold and crying on the steps of the Cult-run orphanage of the Imperial City, the child could take some solace in the fact that the Abbess's scouring of the stubborn cracks in the Temple floor had brought her near enough to the door to hear him over the storm. Thank Stendarr for small mercies, at least.

He had been left alone in the shivering winds with little to mark or identify him - not even a name. Only the mark of a black hand inked into his tender skin, and the sign of the cursed unstars that had crossed the sky on the night of his birth: the Serpent conquering the Tower. No matter. If he had no name, the priests would give him one. And if he had no home, the priests would do the best they could.

One could do a hell of a lot worse.

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Mind, one could also do a whole hell of a lot better. The orphanage had always been blessed with more children than money. The meals grew more meager as the year inched forward, despite the priests' best efforts to conserve food and insistence on donations of money and on food that will not spoil. However much they scraped and begged for alms, there always seemed to be more children left behind by tragedy and neglect. The Imperial Simulacrum of Jagar Tharn had ravaged the Empire, and left too many children without fathers.

Garyn - for this is what the priests had named the boy - would certainly have no shortage of company in this place. Yet even in a world full of outcasts and unfortunates, there were days when the child would feel that he was the most forsaken child of all. As he grew, he only felt it more. So many children, but so few of them elves. He still remembers the history lessons, when the priests would teach of the cruel whip-hands of the Ayleid slave drivers in the days before the Alessian Rebellion. How all the eyes in the room would turn to him, and how they would narrow when they mentioned Morrowind's special exemption to the wise and merciful Empire's abolition of that abominable institution.

It was on days like this when Garyn learned to fight back - with his words, and with his fists.

Still, in one regard, he was better off - he had never known his parents. He never knew it better than on those days when they brought in new war orphans, and he saw the looks on their faces. Yes, he was lucky. At least he didn't remember any faces he could miss. At least he hadn't known what it was to live outside the walls of the orphanage. And on those midsummer nights when the children would struggle, scramble, and claw for that last scrap of bread or spoonful of stew, at least he had someone other than the the gods to blame for his hunger.

What friends he did make, he made on those nights.

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Of course, we don't remember days and nights of our childhood so much as we remember moments. There are things - words, faces, the names of monks and even old friends - that Garyn has long forgotten. But whatever the reason, he remembers gathering flowers and mushrooms for Brother Gaius.

Every time, Gaius would give him the same warnings and instructions - which mushrooms aided in curing disease, which ones aided in healing wounds, the number of leaves the poisonous plants had, how much of each he would need for his potions, and (most importantly) the different means of harvesting the shelf and the cup of a Green Stain fungus.

He weaved and dashed through the city - through the massed crowds, teeming streets, and filthy alleys; up and over the city walls to the outside of the city, to the base of the wall where the mosses and grass grew. It was the closest to a quiet place as there was in the Imperial City. As far from the center of the city as he was, he always had the White Gold Tower as a beacon to guide him back. It loomed hundreds of feet above the radial city beneath it like the hub of a great Wheel, as though the whole world turned around it. Garyn would keep the hour of the day by the sun's position in relation to it. Under the blazing light of midday it looked like a great letter "I," asserting itself against an infinite sky.

He made his way back quickly, hoping that Gaius would let him help with the mixing this time. Invariably, he would shoo him off and tell him to go play or kill rats or whatever it was elf-children did.

Yes, indeed. One could imagine far worse, as far as childhoods go.

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Yet some childhoods end sooner than others. At the orphanage, the children of the Wars of the Simulacrum rarely had many days of it left after puberty. The faster the children grew, the sooner they became too old for the Cult to care for. And Garyn had grown unusually quickly for an elf. By the time he was thirteen, he was too big, and he ate too much food.

It was frequent enough in these times that the priests could scarcely bring themselves to weep anymore. They offered what advice they could. He could find other forsaken orphans and band together with them. Perhaps if he worked hard enough, and came upon an incredible stroke of good fortune, he could find a trade. But he shouldn't count on it. Whatever his age might be, Garyn was a man now.

Young Garyn offered not a word in protest. He knew it was of no use. He gathered what belongings he had, bid goodbye to his friends, and left the orphanage, never to return. It wasn't until he was a hundred steps down the avenue that he paused. His city looked so strange to him now.

He thought of the flowers that grew outside the wall, and finally wept.
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