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Lodge is looking for skilled players to fill following projects slots in our guild:

PvE Raid Core - we successfully filled existing gaps within our Core and are recruiting to complement it with additional "reserves". We looking forward to 2x DDs, 1x Healer, 1x Tank. Read more here for requirements and follow the instructions to join!

PvP Core - Please welcome @HawksHeart as our new PvP General. From this point on, we are looking forward to 1 more PvP General and skilled players to fill our PvP Core.

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Tyronus Venurori

Nowhere Like Elsweyr

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Chapter 1: Chain of Things

 

If someone had asked what he thought right in that moment, Adacus Valerion would have said, in his usual condescending tone, that there are three particular things that will instantly sour the mood of any Altmer: cheap alcohol, foul odours, and being forced to intermingle with non-Mers. If this statement held any objective truth or not didn’t matter, for even if the ragged Khajiit before him hadn’t had such a musky smell, and even if he hadn’t just tried to peddle a wine bottle containing cheap Cyrodilic swill, Adacus still had a far more personal reason to feel vexed about the whole situation.

 

He interrupted the overexcited beast-man before he unleashed another bluster of nonsense about his collection of trinkets, and said, “Enough with the sales talk, Khajiit. I already know what I’m here for, and I don’t need your help to understand the pertained usages of a spintop!†He paused only for as long as it took him to jab his index finger towards a small ring, resting along with the other trinkets on the cape that had been laid out on the grassy ground. “First of all… I would like to ask you about THAT!â€

 

The Khajiit squinted with his eyes, as the cat-folk of Elsweyr often did when they smiled. However, this didn't seem part of any practiced body language so often used by merchants all over Tamriel; no, this appeared to be a sincere expression of delight, as he bent over his crossed legs and picked the ring up.

 

“Hrrrrrmm,†the Khajiit purred, “quite a lovely piece, this. Ma’zaad sees that you have a good taste in jewellery.â€

 

“Well I should certainly hope so,†Adacus retorted, sharply, “that ring happens to be a family heirloom!â€

 

The Khajiit’s delighted expression faded. “Oh,†he finally said, “and as the ring’s former, ahh… ‘proprietor’, you seek to instigate a dispute of ownership?â€

 

From the Khajiit’s backpack, resting against one of the many trees by the road, a small, black-furred housecat stuck its head out, but Adacus chose to pointedly ignore it in all its absurdity even as the cat jumped out and sat itself down next to its apparent owner. Instead, Adacus pressed the issue at hand, “I am not ‘instigating’ anything! If I were you, Cat-Man, I would be a little more grateful! Grateful, that the Mer you stole from hasn’t brought a retinue of guards along to exact the rule of law!â€

 

“Thijzzrini…†the Khajiit growled under his breath, and shook his head. He held the ring up to the Altmer and tapped it with one of his long claws. “Such a strange word, this ‘stealing…’ Your customs regarding ownership clearly differs from mine, friend. You were not there to stop me from taking this ring, so why should it not be mine now?â€

 

Adacus frowned. “Actually, that is another thing I’d like to discuss. My estate is magically warded, and regularly patrolled by guards… How DID you steal it?â€

 

The Khajiit shrugged, and flashed his sharp teeth in an apologetic grin. “Secrets of the trade. Surely you understand why this one must not further incriminate himself, and certainly not with the circumstances as they are...† Ma’zaad put the ring down, and turned as if to pick up the cat next to him and place it in his lap, but the small pet began to frantically swat at the Khajiit’s hands as they got close, and they were finally withdrawn. “However,†he then continued, with another shrug, “I suppose if this item is of sentimental value to you, you may… purchase it at a discount.â€

 

“Oh by Namira’s putrid breath,†Adacus grumbled, “forget about the ring! Do you really think I divined your location and followed you all the way from the Isles just for that dusty piece of metal? No, that’s not why I’m here!â€

 

Ma’zaad’s ears perked up, and perhaps if Adacus hadn’t fancied himself to be such a rational and sensible man, he might have sworn that the small housecat had just mimicked the Khajiit’s ear movements perfectly. Ma’zaad proceeded to rest his hands against his knees, and said, carefully, “No? Then… why has this one been sought out?â€

 

Adacus sensed that the Khajiit’s attentiveness might not last if this conversation was needlessly dragged out, and so was quick to answer, “I might have a job for you. It would pay well. Far better than whatever coin you might scrape together by selling these…†he winced and made a gesture towards the goods in front of the Khajiit, “…things.â€

 

The small cat next to Ma’zaad let out a malicious, guttural growl as Adacus finished his sentence, and the coat of fur on its arched back bristled as it stared up at the surprised elven stranger. The Khajiit glanced to his pet, before he shook his head. “Well-paid means dangerous, and it would also seem that Ri’kir is suspicious of your intents.â€

 

Adacus felt his knuckles crack, and only then realized that he had clenched his fists. He had expected the Khajiit to be more intimidated by his presence, and he had certainly believed that the thief would be grateful for a chance to smooth over any past transgressions all at the same time as he’d get to be paid. After all, wasn’t gold and shiny things all that these vagabond dregs cared about?

 

‘Well…’ Adacus thought to himself. ‘That, and their blasted sugar…’ He stared back at the small house cat – Ri’kir, was it? He wondered for a moment if the name was what the Khajiit might consider a people’s name or not, or if their words and language was simply that unintelligible to an outsider. Either way, he had decided that he held a great dislike for the ugly little critter, more so than for its owner.

 

“I am not someone whose offers one normally declines…†Adacus said, slowly but with a distinct sharpness to every word. “Especially not so whimsically, and certainly not when my offer is all that stands between us and a highly problematic debt that you shall have to pay one way or the other.â€

 

“Ahh,†said Ma’zaad. “So the Altmer is suggesting that there is danger associated with either path, but profit in only one?â€

 

“That is indeed what ‘the Altmer’ is suggesting.â€

 

“And what if Ma’zaad finds the ring to have been profit enough?â€

 

Adacus scowled deeply, but his expression was soon replaced with a wry smirk. ‘Intriguing… the cat is trying to negotiate!’

 

“The value of that ring will keep you fed for a long time I admit,†said the Altmer, quickly, after which he looked around to make sure that they were still alone. “But once a person is fed and well-rested, he will look beyond his base needs to enjoy other things in life. Some of these things are difficult to find even if you have coin… Sweet things, that you cat-folk in particular seem to crave so…â€

 

“Sugar?!†In an instant, Ma’zaad had jumped to his feet, knocking over several bottles and sending Ri’kir running away from one of the rolling glass cylinders. “Ma’zaad has not tasted sweet sugar since he last set out from Elsweyr. Does… the Altmer have it on him?â€

 

Adacus shook his head. “No. The moon sugar is in the possession of the people I want you to deal with.†He studied the khajiit once more, sensing disappointment, but also a newfound attentiveness, so he continued: “Not far to the east from here is the ‘Restless Spriggan’ Guesthouse. I am reliably informed that the owner is a local fence of stolen goods, and I want you to find me evidence of this.â€

 

Ma’zaad’s ears drooped back. He returned the Altmer’s gaze with a suspicious look. “The Altmer forgives one thief… but not another? Surely this is not a cruel attempt to trick poor Ma’zaad?â€

 

“I will not deceive you over a glittery trinket,†Adacus sneered. “This is a purely political move. I have little to gain from exacting revenge on you, Khajiit, but helping the Bosmer to uncover a cell of criminals? And in the midst of Valenwood itself? Such a feat would strengthen my political clout both here and on the Isles, and serve further purposes of mine that you need not trouble yourself with. Now, is that good enough for you, or does the thief wish to question MY honesty even further?â€

 

“Hrrr….†Ma’zaad groused, fidgeting with a dull amulet around his neck as he glanced to his house cat, which had returned to its former spot beside him now that there were no more bottles rolling about on the ground. “Very well; this guesthouse, how far to the east is it?â€

 

“Follow the trail and you will be there before it gets dark. Just pretend you are passing through and need a place to spend the night. I will come by in the morning and find you, along with any evidence you have uncovered. Sounds simple enough?â€

 

“Odd that this place should be so close…â€

 

Adacus wringed his hands together and said, matter-of-factly, “Life is convenient sometimes. Now do we have an agreement? Any sugar you find, you can keep, and I will also let you keep that ring of mine.â€

 

Ma’zaad nodded, and Adacus tensed up as the hand he had held out to be shook was ignored by the Khajiit, who instead chose to leap forward and give him a tight hug. The awkward moment was over in the blink of an eye, but before he had a chance to make a disgruntled remark, the Khajiit spoke: “Very good! But, now that we are business partners, this one must make a confession… He does not remember you, or the night when he found your ring.â€

 

“The important thing is that you have proven your skill by actually stealing it,†said Adacus coolly, wiping loose fur off the delicate fabric of his robes. “I would imagine that thieving becomes a bit like what killing is to a soldier… eventually, you start to lose count of the different occasions, and then you forget them completely.â€

 

“Perhaps this is true,†the Khajiit agreed and picked up the cat, which this time did not struggle. He squinted as he smiled once more, and then concluded: “But now, Ma’zaad must collect his things. A long night awaits him.â€

 

Adacus nodded sharply. “Until tomorrow then…†He turned and made strides down the path to the west, but then stopped and turned back around. “And don’t think to run off with just the moon sugar. A few coins, and an additional job awaits you if you succeed in this.â€

 

The Khajiit said something back that Adacus didn’t quite hear. But he didn’t care, and continued along the trail. It wasn’t long until he reached a crossing, where a young Bosmer girl was waiting, holding the reins to a slender, white steed.

 

“Good, you’re still here,†Adacus muttered, and pulled the reins away from the girl. She, in turn, held her hand out to him, and he looked at it for a moment before he realized what she wanted. “Ahh, of course…â€

 

Adacus reached for the money pouch hanging by his belt, but frowned as his hand only felt the robe.

 

‘Strange… I could have sworn I had it with me.’

 

**************************************************

 

Ma’zaad wandered cheerfully along the trail to the east. Even though he carried the full weight of a stuffed backpack, his feet felt surprisingly light. He reached for the amulet around his neck once more and kissed it. “Praise be to Riddle’Thar! Tonight we feast, Dro’kir!â€

 

The small house cat walking by his side growled menacingly, but Ma’zaad didn’t care. Not this time. Not today. He picked up the Altmer’s pouch and began counting the coins inside, as the two cat-folk continued their journey, leaving the setting sun amongst the trees behind them, and stepping into an unknown future.

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Chapter 2: The Moonstruck Khajiit

 

The trees of Valenwood grew thick all around a scarcely visible trail, heralding the path into the deep jungles of the inlands. Along the path stood a curious little building, slithering like a snake around the trees in an area of slightly less profuse vegetation. Dim light shone out from the building’s windows, and from the chimney rose puffs of grey smoke.

 

A Khajiit stood on the trail outside, along with a small house cat, studying a road sign carved from bone, depicting a spriggan with its limbs spreading out in beautiful and intricate carvings over the board.

 

“Hrrr… Very well,†muttered the Khajiit as if to himself. “Let’s see how hard this job turns out to be. If it’s not too bad, perhaps Ma’zaad has found himself a new career with this… Altmer.â€

 

The tiny house cat at Ma’zaad’s side glared up at him, licked its mouth, and then hissed.

 

“Oh come now, Dro’kir-“

 

Again hissed the cat.

 

“Ri’kir,†corrected the Khajiit. “Come now, Ma’zaad does not wish to spend his twilight years selling stolen trinkets! Let us at least see what this job might bring.â€

 

The interior of the building was smoky, and turned out to be just as dimly lit as the glow from the windows had suggested - not that poor lighting had ever bothered a Khajiit. Ma’zaad smiled warmly at the two patrons who sat alone at a table and pointedly ignored his gesture, and so instead he walked up to the heavy-set Bosmer behind the counter.

 

“Welcome to the Restless Spriggan Guesthouseâ€, the viscous elf said drowsily, and without looking up from his ledger. “Here for rest, food, or both?â€

 

Ma’zaad grinned and heaved himself up on a bar stool before he picked out Adacus’ money pouch and poured the contents out over the counter. The jingling sound of coins piling up before him caught the attention of the innkeeper, who instantly looked up with wide eyes and practically tossed the ledger away. Somewhere in the background, the hushed conversation from the two patrons stopped briefly as well, as everyone seemed to wait expectantly for what would happen next.

 

Sensing everyone’s eyes set upon him, Ma’zaad calmly picked up Ri’kir and seated him on his own stool by the counter. He then counted ten coins out loud from the pile and pushed them over to the Bosmer. “Let’s start with a room for the night,†he said.

 

“Oh my yes, certainly!†the innkeeper gasped, and quickly presented a dull key before grabbing the coins. “Room number three, it’s the best we have. Now, can I interest you in anything else? Food? Drink?â€

 

Ma’zaad maintained a polite smile, even though the elf had leaned in just a little too close over the counter; so close in fact that Ma’zaad could feel his breath strike against his face. It was a rather putrid breath at that, and certainly not one that put the Khajiit in a mood for food, but still he nodded, if only so he could send the elf away from his direct vicinity.

 

“Ma’zaad will have four sweetrolls, a chocolate cake with extra frosting, a half-dozen lemon meringues, and a cup of syrup to dip them in. …oh, yes, and a pear. Honey-glazed.â€

 

The innkeeper gave Ma’zaad an incredulous look, but then his eyes wandered back to the pile of coin, and with a slight shrug he hurried into the pantry to gather everything he needed, much to the Khajiit’s relief.

 

Meanwhile, the sound of two chairs being pushed back could be heard from the table nearby, and two pair of boots struck lightly against the floorboards as they approached. Ma’zaad smiled politely once more as the two patrons sat themselves down next to him and Ri’kir, and this time the gesture was returned.

 

The two strangers were also Bosmer, both women, clad in thick leather armour and long, green cloaks. One of them also had a piece of carved bone hanging from her ear, barely visible underneath her long, black hair. This was the woman who sat closest to Ma’zaad, and she was also the one who spoke: “Quite the sweet-tooth you have there, Khajiit…†Ma’zaad merely maintained his smile, so she continued, “I’d offer to buy you a round of cranberry liqueur to wash down your order with, but…†she smirked wryly and gestured to the pile of coin, “you seem to be doing well enough for yourself.â€

 

“Khajiit still thanks you for your kind offer,†Ma’zaad said, politely.

 

There was a short lull as the woman expected Ma’zaad to continue, but when the innkeeper returned briefly with the four sweetrolls and it became evident that she was no longer the most interesting thing around to pay attention to, she exchanged a quick look with her friend.

 

“Perhaps we could offer you something else…†the other Bosmer said, carefully as she leaned in over the counter.

 

“Hrrr…†Ma’zaad took a bite out of one of the sweetrolls and chewed thoughtfully. “Khajiit might be more willing to listen, if your friend would take her hand out of his backpack.â€

 

The Bosmer sitting closest quickly withdrew her hand. She appeared flustered for a moment, and although she was quick to regain her composure, the apparently feigned pleasantness in her voice was all gone once she spoke again. “Hmpf… right! Well how about this then, Khajiit… we can offer you some moon sugar…â€

 

“IF you are willing to pay a fair price for it,†added her partner.

 

“And by that, surely this one expects us to overpay…†Ma’zaad broke off a piece of the last sweetroll and gave it to Ri’kir, who devoured it greedily. “But perhaps we can make a trade that benefits us both, yes? Khajiit needs to get rid of some items from his backpack, as well as just the coin.â€

 

Both Bosmer tensed up, and the innkeeper who stood a bit away began to very pointedly not look in the group’s direction. “Just how hot are these ‘items’ then?†asked the one farthest away.

 

“Nothing hot, but still valuable,†Ma’zaad assured them. “Khajiit simply needs to drop off some weight for the long road ahead.â€

 

“Very well.†The woman next to Ma’zaad nodded quickly. “Then I think it’s best we get Melcher in on this little talk.â€

 

“Ahh,†said Ma’zaad, “and who is this Melcher… a friend of the Bosmer?â€

 

At that, the innkeeper stepped over with the cake and the remaining goodies that Ma’zaad had ordered, placing them on the counter. “It seems you don’t ask for names unless you have to, Khajiit. I like that.†He extended his meaty hand, grinning. “I would be Melcher, and if I heard it right you need a little help to settle on a deal with Feyona and Lyrti here.â€

 

Lyrti, the woman closest to Ma’zaad, nodded quickly in recognition of her name, while Feyona didn’t much bother. “Well then,†Melcher continued, “could we have a look at some of the items that are up for appraisal?â€

 

Ma’zaad agreed, and reached into his backpack. Unto the table, he put a small piece of wood, round at the bottom save a slight tip sticking out underneath, while its wide, round form grew thinner as it went along the other end. The sly expressions of all three Bosmer were instantly replaced with confusion as they saw the object, but Ma’zaad happily took a large bite out of his cake.

 

“What in Y’ffre’s name is that?†asked Melcher.

 

“Oh! Is it one of those clever Cyrodilic trinkets?†asked Lyrti. “We only really import lumber for construction work here in Valenwood, so we don’t see many of these.â€

 

Feyona picked the item up and traced her finger over some decorative carvings in its surface. “These things… are they runes? Is this thing enchanted?â€

 

Ma’zaad watched the Bosmer take turns stroking the perfectly ordinary spintop, and flashed a huge, chocolaty grin as he nodded. “Indeed, this is a trinket most magical! It belonged to an Altmer in the Mages Guild, and it can defy the laws of movement and gravity itself!â€

 

The three elves shared in an impressed murmur, and finally Melcher handed the spintop back over to Ma’zaad. “Will you kindly show us how one… activates it?â€

 

Ma’zaad took the piece of wood and put it down on the counter where he made it spin rapidly, before the wide eyes of everyone around him. When Lyrti moved as if to touch it, however, Ma’zaad was quick to slap her wrist: “No! Once this contraption has been activated, it must run out of power by itself. It is built after old Dwemer schematics, and taps into the realm of Aetherius itself.â€

 

Lyrti nodded slowly, and looked at the spintop with newfound awe. The elves kept watching it in silence, until it finally tipped over and rolled over towards Ma’zaad, who was quick to fish it up. “See? It even returns to its owner once it’s energy has been spent!â€

 

What followed was an intense five minutes of haggling, where Ma’zaad finally got to trade the spintop straight up for the offered moon sugar, on provision that he was also allowed to trade in his bottles of Cyrodilic wine that he had been unable to sell anywhere else. Melcher turned out to be more than willing to oblige the offer, seemingly thinking he would still come out the clear winner of the trade if his complacent grin were any indication.

 

Once the transaction was complete, Ma’zaad patted the pouch of moon sugar and tied it around his neck. He then rose from his stool, bowed, and excused himself: “Khajiit has long journey ahead tomorrow, and he should get some rest.â€

 

Melcher showed him to his room down a crooked hallway, and as Ma’zaad and Ri’kir were left alone with the door closed behind them, the two feline companions squinted at one another before Ma’zaad let out a hearty chuckle. “It is a shame we need the sugar as evidence; it would have been nice to celebrate right now.â€

 

Ri’kir sat himself on the bed with a cocked head, and let out a disgruntled growl. Ma’zaad shivered slightly as he thought he spotted something in the cat’s eyes for a moment, but then he pulled the pouch out from underneath his shirt and took out a pinch of the sugar. “Alright, alright… It has been long for you, Dro’kir. I suppose we can take just a little.â€

 

The Khajiit sprinkled the sugar on the bed covers and then watched as Ri’kir began to purr, lick at the sugar, eat some of it, and roll around in the rest as a puddle of drool began to form next to his head.

 

“Hrrmmm…†grumbled Ma’zaad, “Perhaps a little more of the sweet sugar for me as well…â€

 

He took another pinch from the pouch, and the night became increasingly blurry from there.

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Chapter 3: Cleverest of All

 

“The ring…†Ma’zaad wheezed as he rummaged through his backpack. “The ring, the Altmer’s ring! It’s not here, they took it!†It was late, and this was not a good time for such a revelation. Ma’zaad knew as much, but he also couldn’t help the fact that he was still tripping on a sugar high.

 

“Ma’zaad may fleece others, but nobody fleeces Ma’zaad!†he firmly stated.

 

Ri’kir gave the Khajiit a disinterested look and rolled over on his back in the bed, which he had occupied by himself while Ma’zaad had dozed off on the floor. He stretched, and opened his maws in a wide yawn.

 

“Of course you wouldn’t care,†Ma’zaad grunted, “but if we go back with the sugar, and the Altmer sends his enforcers here, then we will never see the ring again!â€

 

Ri’kir sneezed weirdly, in a way that almost made it sound like a sneer. This seemed to give Ma’zaad a moment’s pause, and he paced back and forth over the floorboards, grumbling under his breath. “Hrrr… so they think they are more clever than Ma’zaad, do they? Ma’zaad will show them… Ma’zaad is the cleverest of all!â€

 

The Khajiit stopped abruptly and turned to Ri’kir. “Ma’zaad knows now! While he gets the ring back, he can also find other proof against these people. Then he can keep the sweet sugar. Not just some of it… ALL of it!â€

 

The tiny cat perked his ears and looked up. After squinting at Ma’zaad for a moment, Ri’kir jumped down on the floor and darted over to the door, placing his front paw against it.

 

Ma’zaad smirked. “A pinch of sugar is good, but more is better! Very well, Ma’zaad thought he saw a hatch down to a cellar. Leave the ring for now, and we go find more proof first.†Ri’kir stared back up at Ma’zaad, who waved his hand dismissively as he opened the door. “Don’t worry. Ma’zaad will figure this out as we go along. This Altmer hired us for Ma’zaad’s great skills did he not? Even if Ma’zaad does not remember what he did that was so clever…â€

 

Ri’kir sneezed again, then hurried out into the corridor as soon as the door opened enough for him to get through. Ma’zaad followed, making sure not to let the door creak as he closed it again behind him.

 

As they snuck back to the main room, the only thing that disturbed the stillness and quiet of the Restless Spriggan Guesthouse were the two feline silhouettes that moved silently through the blackness. However, the two figures soon came to a halt by a certain trapdoor behind Innkeeper Melcher’s counter.

 

Ma’zaad eyed it curiously, as light appeared to be seeping up from the cracks in the floorboards. He pressed his ear against it, and could hear muffled voices. Amongst them, Ma’zaad could discern both Lyrti and Feyona, but also Melcher himself, and at least two more voices. He frowned; had there been two more people here all along?

 

At any other day, Ma’zaad would have recognized this as an opportunity to clean out the upper level and make off with any valuables that hadn’t been bolted to the floor, but that pinch of sugar still fuelled a bold fire in his chest. He gave Ri’kir a determined look, before he carefully opened the trapdoor and began his descent down the ladder.

 

“Don’t worry Ri’kirâ€, he whispered as he caught the cat and put it down on the ground next to him. They were in a tiny room adjacent to yet another door, behind which the voices could now be heard more clearly. But Ma’zaad continued, “We will steal from right under their noses, get out of this place, and live like Manes! Ma’zaad has a plan. He will show them how clever we are, oh yes he will…â€

 

“Who’s there!†The shout caught Ma’zaad by surprise, and he realized that he might have perhaps started to ramble, completely forgetting to stick to a whisper. He only just managed to recognize the voice as belonging to Melcher before someone he didn’t recognize called out:

 

“It’s the authorities! They found us out!â€

 

“We’re done for!†wailed Melcher in a strangely effeminate voice.

 

There was the sound of a sword being drawn, then Lyrti spoke: “To Oblivion with that, I’m going down fighting!â€

 

“This… is not good…†hissed Ma’zaad, and only barely had he managed to grab Ri’kir and turned to climb up the ladder once more before the door behind him flew open.

 

“It’s just the one!†someone shouted, before Ma’zaad felt someone grab him and pull him away from the ladder. He yelped and flailed wildly, but was dragged into the adjacent room and thrown to the floor.

 

Dazed, Ma’zaad looked up to find himself surrounded by the three Bosmer from before, as well as another Khajiit and an Altmer. It was the latter who stepped up to get a closer look.

 

“You…†the Altmer said. “I recognize you, Khajiit!â€

 

Melcher stepped up next to the tall high elf and nudged him. “Calm down, Drevon. This is the guest I told you about. Where could you have possibly seen him before?â€

 

“I’m certain of it…†the high elf muttered, and then his eyes widened in surprise as a thought seemed to strike him. “I know! The Isles! You traded me for that ring!â€

 

“Yes!†Ma’zaad spat out defiantly, as he finally remembered the man that he had dealt with while he was on the Summerset Isle. “Ma’zaad got the ring from you! Ma’zaad got in trouble with its former owner, just because of YOU!â€

 

“Trouble, huh?†The Altmer, Drevon, narrowed his eyes. “What sort of trouble?â€

 

“The elf sought Ma’zaad out! He was-“

 

Ma’zaad trailed off as it dawned on him that he probably shouldn’t reveal the details of that meeting. Nobody seemed to notice his reaction, however, as Drevon let out a sharp, derisive laugh. “So you claim Valerion found you?†he asked. “And yet somehow, you still live?! My my, your race sure does seem to try and lie your way out of anything… no offense intended, J’aresh.â€

 

The Khajiit in the background nodded and said, with a disinterested shrug, “none taken, chief.â€

 

“Now, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as lies!†Lyrta budged in, turning to Ma’zaad. “Khajiit, was it from this Valerion fellow that you stole that wonderful Dwemer replica?â€

 

“The what now?!†Drevon spat out, turning on his heels to face Lyrta. “You said he bought half the sweets in Melcher’s pantry, and then some moon sugar. Are you keeping something from me?â€

 

Lyrta reached into a pocket in her cloak and brought out the spintop, holding it in her open palm. “I’m sorry, chief, I didn’t get around to show it yet,†she mumbled, averting her gaze.

 

Drevon snatched the item sharply out of her hand, gave it one look, and then asked in an icy tone, “How much did you pay for this?â€

 

“We got it at a bargain, chief!†Melcher stated proudly. “We traded it straight up for the moon sugar, and I agreed to also buy some bottles with coloured water that the Khajiit had tried to pass off as alcohol.â€

 

“…and then you took my ring,†Ma’zaad muttered, not fully grasping the severity of where this discussion was headed.

 

“Well, yes there was also that,†Lyrta retorted, cheekily. “But what about it, chief? The Khajiit has potential. Perhaps we should, you know… induct him into our little group?â€

 

Drevon, who had been staring at the spintop all along, finally looked up at Lyrta. “Would you still say that even after I told you that this is a children’s toy?â€

 

All air seemed to seep out of the three Bosmer, who had been puffing up their chests while looking generally proud of themselves. J’aresh, however, broke out in a fit of manical laughter. “Ohh you stupid elves!†he cackled, happily adding insult to injury in spite of the looks he was being given. “You never learn, do you? Did J’aresh mention he has a wooden bucket he’d like to trade for some diamonds?â€

 

“But… but we saw it work!†Feyona insisted. “We saw the magic that kept it from falling over!â€

 

“That’s not magic,†said Drevon, and added rather snarkily: “…but I suppose you Bosmer wouldn’t know the basic laws of motion, considering how you apparently HAVE lived your entire lives under a rock!â€

 

“Yes, yes…†Melcher muttered, sourly. “We made a mistake. But now what about our… guest?â€

 

“Don’t worry about him,†J’aresh snickered. “You both scammed each other, now just call it even and send the Renrij on his way.â€

 

Ma’zaad stumbled awkwardly to his feet and glared at J’aresh. “What did you call me?†he hissed.

 

“Oh,†said J’aresh and smirked, “is that not what you are? Landless, and a drifter?†Seeing Ma’zaad’s tail start to lash and twist, his smirk split into a grin as he continued: “I don’t see a caravan with you, either. If it wasn’t for the Alfiq, J’aresh would have thought that you were an outcast, and-“

 

Ma’zaad let out a shrill wail and threw himself at J’aresh. “Quiet! Be quiet! Be-“ Just as he was about to grab the taunting Khajiit, he heard a loud thump that seemed to resonate through his skull somehow. The world blackened, and Ma’zaad didn't even feel the impact as he collapsed back on the floor.

 

**************************************************

 

The smell of soil was the first thing Ma’zaad noticed as he woke up, but it was soon followed by a splitting headache. He groaned, and struggled to open his eyes so he could look around.

 

He felt that he was on the ground, and judging from his inability to move, his hands were tied. Through his blurred vision, the first thing he noticed was that he was also outdoors, surrounded by vast trees that towered over him. Some of the trees were moving about, and Ma’zaad realized that they were in fact people.

 

A little closer, Ma’zaad also saw a small box. Or rather, upon closer inspection it turned out to be a cage. Inside sat Ri’kir, glaring out between the bars at Ma’zaad, and producing a growl so malignant that it might as well have come from an enraged Dremora.

 

“I am sorry, Ri’kir…†Ma’zaad mumbled. “Ma’zaad is sorry, he was full of sweetness and did not think about what he did...â€

 

“Touching!†The voice belonged to Melcher, who came into view and glared down at Ma’zaad. “Well, you will have plenty of time to talk things over with your little friend. We’ll be leaving you here, tied up, and I’m sure some wildlife will come along sooner or later to see if you’re edible.â€

 

“Quite!†Drevon agreed, stepping up next to Melcher. “Believe me, I would have been more than happy to end it here and now, but, this is Valenwood after all, and this ‘Meat Mandate’ gets just a little too messy for my… taste.â€

 

The Altmer chuckled dryly, as if he had just made a joke. Ma’zaad, however, was merely confused and looked at the two elves questioningly. “Hrr… You’re bluffing, surely. You are organized fences, not murderers. You would not leave this one to die needlessly!â€

 

“Perhaps we wouldn’t,†Drevon agreed. “but guess what, fencing is not the main part of our operations.†Before he continued, the Altmer cocked his head. “Really now… as if the noble Mer would confine themselves to such a menial and singular activity… where did you get THAT idea?â€

 

“You are not common fences?†Ma’zaad growled. “The Altmer tricked me!â€

 

Drevon frowned. “I never tricked you, you stupid cat! That sugar seems to have done quite a number on you.â€

 

“Might have been that blow to the head, chief,†said Melcher.

 

“Perhaps…†Drevon agreed, looking thoughtful. “Hmm, well… at any rate, we should be on our way.†He turned away and called out: “Lyrti! Feyona! You can nap once we get back home. Come on!â€

 

Ma’zaad followed Drevon’s gaze. In the rays of the rising sun, he could make out two female silhouettes leaned against a nearby tree. Neither of them responded however, remaining perfectly still as if in a tranquil sleep.

 

Drevon sighed, indignantly. “By the eight… Auri-El weeps at what has become of his children. J’aresh, be a good Cat-Man and go wake them up!â€

 

The grinning Khajiit, who was sitting by the cage keeping an eye on Ri’kir, nodded and got to his feet. But no sooner had he hoisted himself up before his body went limp and he crashed back into the grass. Ma’zaad could see blood seeping from the side of the Khajiit’s head, only not the side that had struck the ground.

 

“What is this!†Drevon demanded. “Melcher!†He stared in the Bosmer’s general direction, but Melcher had taken off and disappeared amongst the trees as soon as he had spotted the blood. The Altmer swallowed, and looked around frantically. “Show yourself!†he called. “…coward!†Another pause, as Drevon hesitated. “Show yourself…â€

 

The sound of boots stepping through the piles of fallen leafs finally reached them, which made Drevon twitch and look for its source. Shortly after, two Bosmer rangers stepped out in the open, one holding Melcher by the neck and the other aiming a bow at Drevon. Yet another figure stood tall behind them – another Altmer, that Ma’zaad instantly recognized.

 

“Tut tut Drevon…†said Adacus, in a condescending tone that Ma’zaad was now convinced was the Altmer’s neutral speaking voice. “Your sloppy thieving aside, it seems your last words need some work as well.â€

 

“Valerion…†Drevon gritted his teeth. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about!â€

 

Adacus waived his hand disinterestedly. “Oh please, let’s not pretend. Several tomes have gone missing from my estate. Important, and highly valuable tomes. You were too obvious, Drevon. Only you would know what they were.†He gestured briefly to the increasingly confused Ma’zaad who was still helplessly tied on the ground. “And now I see you’re in the business of kidnapping. Is there any criminal deed you won’t stoop to?â€

 

“Wait…†Drevon looked from Ma’zaad to Adacus, wide-eyed. “I get it now!†He pointed an accusing finger at Adacus. “You set me up? You set me up, you bastard! You knew if we caught the Khajiit we would have to drag him out here! Then you’d just wait to track us and clean out-“

 

A disintegrating bolt of lightning struck Drevon, and the Altmer was no more. Ma’zaad blinked as he saw the cloud of dust that had once been Drevon spread out over the grass. The Bosmer rangers took a few steps away from Adacus, who was slowly lowering his hand again. “Enough is enough,†he stated calmly. “A man of my stature has no time to listen to blind accusations from his lessers…â€

 

Adacus strode over to Ma’zaad, and kneeled beside him. “You did well, Khajiit,†he said in a hushed voice. “Even though we had to resort to Plan B.†He helped untie Ma’zaad’s wrists, and continued to speak as he did so. “You have proven reliable, despite all. I think we should discuss that second job, and perhaps-“

 

Adacus suddenly froze and took a harsh grip of Ma’zaad’s shoulder. “Is that the moon sugar?†he whispered, and pointed to the bag hanging around Ma’zaad’s neck. “You... what, thought it was a good idea to parade around with it around your neck, rather than hide it?â€

 

“Yes,†Ma’zaad whispered back, smiling. “Would this one like to join Ma’zaad and Ri’kir and celebrate our good fortune under the grace of Riddle’Thar?â€

 

“…who is Riddle’Thar?â€

 

Ma’zaad grinned happily. “The Sugar God!â€

 

Adacus wrinkled his nose. “Hmm, no… nono… this won’t do. This won’t do at all…†Letting go of Ma’zaad, Adacus rose back to his feet and turned to the Bosmer rangers. “Guards? Guards! This Khajiit is carrying moon sugar! I suspect he was working with the bandits all along, and we just happened to step into the middle of some internal fight!â€

 

The Bosmer ranger that wasn’t keeping watch of Melcher rushed up to Adacus’ side and pointed his bow at the Khajiit. “STOP RIGHT THERE CRIMINAL SCUM!â€

 

“Hrr… Ma’zaad hates it when they say that…â€

 

“On your knees again!†insisted the Bosmer, and Ma’zaad was forced to comply.

 

“Good.†Adacus nodded in apparent approval. “I trust you will take care of this criminal for me?â€

 

The Bosmer nodded briskly. “Yes sir.â€

 

“Then if you’ll excuse me, I need to return to Auridon to report on what happened here. I assure you, my superiors will be most pleased. This will strengthen the Aldmeri Dominion, and most likely pay a good handout to the brave rangers that assisted me today.â€

 

“Of course sir,†said the Bosmer, nodding even more eagerly. But just as Adacus disappeared amongst the trees, his expression turned into a scowl, and he looked back at Ma’zaad. “You, Khajiit.†He pointed to the dead bodies that Melcher was being forced to stack by the same tree. “Over there.â€

 

Without being given any real chance to obey, Ma’zaad was dragged along the ground and thrown to his knees before the dead. The Bosmer ranger looked at him again, then pointed to the body of J’aresh.

 

“Eat.â€

 

Ma’zaad gave the Bosmer an incredulous look. “What?â€

 

“Eat!†the Bosmer demanded. We eat what we kill. We won’t leave here before the bodies are properly handled.â€

 

“Can’t ‘handle’ mean we bury them?†Ma’zaad tried to helpfully suggest before the Bosmer struck his bow against the back of the Khajiit’s head. Next to him, Melcher whimpered as the ranger keeping watch over him had sliced off a piece of Lyrta, and handed it to him to eat.

 

“We need to consume as much as possible while we're here, so we can carry the rest†the ranger said. “And neither of you even think about running away. You will NOT be able to outrun one of my arrows.â€

 

Ma’zaad felt sick to his stomach, and watched the ranger next to him lean in and tear a piece of flesh right off J’aresh’s body. “You should be happy,†he said. “You get to dine on the GOOD meat. All that sugar your people eat adds a sweetness to your meat as well.â€

 

“Hrr… urgh…†Ma’zaad gagged, which made the ranger stop and look at him.

 

“Alright, let the thought settle in first. We don’t want you to heave once you start.â€

 

In the background, Ri’kir also made a strange gagging sound, just as Ma’zaad had done. Then came another, similar noise out of him, and another.

 

“Is your cat being sick tooâ€, asked one of the rangers, “or is it in heat?†Both he and his colleague laughed at the joke, but Ma’zaad did not. If he had looked sick before, he now stared at the cannibalistic scene before him in utter horror.

 

Another meow from Ri’kir.

 

“Go shut the cat up!†the ranger ordered, and Ma’zaad hurried to his feet and began walking towards the cage where Ri’kir was still locked up.

 

“Hey, look at that!†the other ranger called out. Valerion must have crushed the Khajiit’s brain pretty good with that telekinesis spell, I think its foot is still twitching!â€

 

Ma’zaad started walking quicker towards the cage.

 

“And shut that cat up already!†demanded the same ranger.

 

But the next sound was not from the rangers, nor from Ri’kir, or even Ma’zaad. The next sound was a deep, guttural snarl, followed by a pained shriek from Melcher. “It got me! It got me! Oh, mercy!â€

 

Ma’zaad’s rapid walk turned into a sprint. He didn’t bother to look for his backpack; even if the bandits had brought it, there was no time to hoist it over his back. He simply grabbed the cage with Ri’kir in it and kept running. In the background, he could hear the screams of the Bosmer as they were now the ones being dined on by the undead.

 

“Ma’zaad can’t believe you did that!†he finally dared hiss at Ri'kir, once the screams had grown distant enough. “We agreed! Never again since that incident with the noodles!â€

 

Ri’kir didn’t seem too bothered, or even distressed by the bumpy ride inside the cage. Instead, he purred loudly, and curled himself up in a tiny little black ball.

 

And so they went. A seemingly mad Khajiit running through the forest, his coat of fur drenched in sweat. And then there was the sweetest, most innocent-looking cat that he was carrying along. If anyone had seen them in that moment, they might have commented on just that, and how calm and friendly the little critter must be if it even accepts this kind of treatment.

 

But looks are often deceiving, and Ma’zaad knew this better than most.

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Why thank you! :) I have more planned, but we'll see when I have the time to write it. I wrote this pre-release, and I kinda wanna play the game now! :P

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