Hunting the Hunter Ch. 04byEnithermon©
She gave him a sour look. "And what did you tell them...and I use the 'royal' you." He smirked and gnawed his apple thoughtfully.
She sighed heavily. "What is 'yet' costing me pray tell." His smirk turned into a grin.
He chuckled. "Listen here girl," he left his apple on the plate and leaned in on his elbows. "You're half way in already darling, you're practically family. God knows Armand has been trying to get you in for years."
"I have commitment issues." She smiled playfully at him.
"That you do. My point is...we'll keep your secrets, 'cause you keep ours." She softened a little at that. He was right. Mutual dirt is safe dirt. They were stuck with each other.
"Yeah ok. Listen...I need some secrets, and I'm willing to bet you're just the folks who can help me with the leg work. I'm trying to find some people."
"The people who are hunting you down?"
"Yeah...that 'Nord looking' fellow, he's a good friend and they were after him first."
"What he do?"
"Nothing. They just want him and his family dead. The why is still in question. They're...special, so in a way it makes sense, but the exact way it makes sense...I just don't know. I'm headed to Wariel, to see if I can't find out more...they have a headquarters or something there, or I hope they do. I was thinking you could get someone to watch for anyone, like a messenger coming or going...and where they come and go. Don't even need to get dirty...that's our job."
He looked at the table thoughtfully. "What you want is access to our information networks." She shifted slightly as he waited for an answer.
"Yeah, pretty much.'
He looked up at her from under his brows. "We'll do it, that and more, if you do us a favour...but it's a doozy." She took a breath and steeled herself.
"Let's hear it."
"Well...I guess I'll just come out and say it. We need someone dead, and we need the dark brotherhood to do it...and we may need them again in the future. What I'm thinking of here is a sort of...professional arrangement, one business to another. 'Cause deep down, that's what we both are, and the not so legal sort at that." He made a dismissive gesture. "We have enough in common." He paused again and clasped his hands. "We're going to need someone to be our contact and we need someone who is both inside and outside of our 'organization.' Someone like you."
"Why not someone like Hon?"
"Honditar?" he only said the name, but the subtext read, 'are you fetching kidding me?"
"Why someone outside?"
"You know the policies, no killing. No blood on our hands. We're not assassins and we're not thugs. Plus a lot of guild members aren't big on the brotherhood. Hell most sane people aren't."
"And the Grey Fox is sanctioning this?"
He cleared his throat.
"Well that's the other thing...he has not. He doesn't believe we should have business dealings with their particular kind." He opened his hands in a helpless gesture. "However, no other options seem to have availed themselves. I feel compelled to do what I feel needs to be done for the sake of the organization."
He didn't like it did he? Well she didn't either...but she liked it better now that she knew the Fox didn't.
"You're perfect for this Ina. You're smart and tough, and more importantly you don't scare easy...besides from what I hear the dark brotherhood is more or less an on the books institution where you come from."
She sighed. "Yeah...but in Morrowind they're a business first, and crazy cult second. They seem to be the opposite here. There, if you want to do business you walk up to them and ask for a contract and voila, all done. What's more the night mother is an actual woman so if you don't like the way she does business you can track the bitch down and take it up with her personally...from what I hear they've got some kind mystical spirit crap going on here, and you have to 'summon' them with some kind of nutty deadric ritual. Not my cup of tea, let me tell you. I got out of that mess none too soon, and I don't fancy going back, thank you kindly."
He nodded. "The Night Mother ritual." He pulled something out of his front pocket and unfolded it, smoothing the parchment before turning it towards her with the tips of his splayed finger. She read it. She'd need a skeleton, a human heart, nightshade, four tallow candles...
"You're kidding me. You want me to do this?" She looked at him, very seriously. "Do you understand what you're asking me? This is boarder-line necromancy!" She stabbed her finger at the paper. "A corpse! It needs a bloody fetching corpse! You are aware of how completely unacceptable that is to a Dunmer, don't you? Never mind an Ashlander?"
He shrugged apologetically. "You take out bandits all the time...couldn't you...you know..."
"Luv, there is a world of difference between taking a life, and desecrating the corpse afterward with creepy hoodoo."
He sighed and folded his hands on the table. "Please Ina...I'm pretty much begging here. The world is changing, faster than we can keep up with, sometimes we need more than the old rules can offer...sometimes we have to bend them. But I need you for this Ina." His serious expression broke again. "And hey...think about it, you do this and we're over your knee girl. Especially me since I did the asking. All you have to do is tell the wrong person and I'm up the creek."He grinned and spread his arms, "I'm your bitch." She really didn't want to do this. Of all things she could do, this was sooo the last one, or damn near.
"Tempting." She gave him an award winning smirk. Not sly my ass, she thought through her perfectly believable smile.
"Isn't it though?"
Not really she mused. Well...having the whole guild available to her was an interesting thought...useful...very useful. She gnawed the inside of her lip, reaching out and toying with the strand of apple peel. She thought of Feric sitting outside, waiting for her...counting on her. Then she thought of Lucas and Aina, of the cubs, of all of them. The last of their line...the last of a race perhaps.
"Times are changing." She repeated softly, still fingering the shiny red peel. Would she bend her own rules to save a people? Could she walk away if she didn't? How many lines would she cross? She had a sinking feeling there would be very few left to cross when all was said and done.
"Ah hell...Azura take me...let's do it. Give me about a week though...alright?" She looked up at him. He looked surprised. "You look like you weren't expecting that response."
"Part of me wasn't. I know how your people feel about messing with the dead..."
"Yet you still ask me?" He shrugged again. Not dismissive, she decided...just uncomfortable. She let it drop. "Here's the deal. The people looking for Feric's family are hunters, hired swords and mercs mostly, and they are hunting lions."
"Lions?" he frowned at her.
"That's right. So if you hear about anyone looking to hire lion hunters...you let me know." He gave her an odd look but nodded.
"And watch Wariel...anything going or leaving?"
She nodded. "I suspect after we're done with them they'll be sending word back to whoever hired them, letting them know there's been a problem, so you'll have to work quick. Is that going to be ok?"
"Your wish is my command my lady.'
"Hmm, I like that, I could get used to this upper hand business."
He chuckled. "You're doing us a huge service. You're doing me one as well."
"Tell me about it."
She wondered how much of her soul she'd have left to barter by morning. Pretty soon she'd be handing out IOU's. Get it while it's hot people, it ain't gonna last long.
Feric watched as Glistel wandered off behind the house, her hands behind her back, her heel scuffing idly in the dirt. Inanna was one of the few dark elves he'd spent any real time around, so it was interesting to see how very different the two seemed to be. They were both confident and easy going, and of course shared a very similar sly smile when they thought they were getting away with something, but Glistel was dark skinned, blue black in colour rather than the lighter grey, and dark haired, with a heavier, curvier build and was nearly half a foot taller than Inanna. Her voice was also very different. Inanna had a smooth, rolling accent, and something dark and rough, quicksand he had once thought it. Glistel's was higher, more nasal, and her accent almost twangy, though in a charming, friendly way.
"Say, where is Glistel from?" He asked leaning back against the wall, and stretching his legs out in front of him. Honditar glanced over at him a moment then looked back up the road.
"She sounds different from Inanna" and Modryn he added to himself.
Honditar nodded. "Inanna is an Ashlander from the north of the island Vardenfell. The people, and culture, are very different there. Glistel was born into house Dres, a dying house...though not to any family of great wealth or repute, and in the south, on the mainland. Morrowind is a large province, it stretches from the Nord territories of Solthsiem to the Argonian swamps. Each house and region is unique, though they are all a force to be reckoned with." Feric arched a brow at him.
"Then how was the empire able to overcome them so easily?"
Honditar chuckled. "Indeed." He nodded. "They are a strong people...but they are also a divided one. The houses have been divided since the making of the tribunal...now that their gods are dead, and the Neverar returned to unite them...well, it remains to be seen how long they will be held under the foot of an aging emperor. Inanna is convinced it will not be long." He paused, his eyes tipping up to the star filled sky. He sighed. "But she is young and an optimist I suspect, and her relationship with the Neverar gives her greater faith in her impact on the Dunmer than is perhaps realistic." That caught Feric's attention.
"Inanna has mentioned this person to me, but has said very little. She said only that she met her, that she acted as her guide in the Ashlands, but little more."
Honditar arched his own brow at that. "Surprising, for a while it was all she wanted to talk about...or brag perhaps is the right word." He smiled that indulgent smile Feric remembered from before. "From what I have heard the three of them, Inanna, Emily...that was the Neverar's original name if I recall, and her sister, another Breton, something starting with a Desire...or something, I think. A bard of some sort. How a scout, a bard and a twenty year old mage's apprentice managed to defeat the entire house Dagoth, and destroy the tribunal as the cherry on top...well, it seems far fetched to say the least. Inanna has told some very tall tales about their adventures." He smirked a little, and Feric found himself slightly and irrationally irritated by it, perhaps for Ina's sake. "Though some are so outrageous one is almost forced to believe they are true."
He looked away and nodded."Truth is stranger than fiction...or so I've heard." he gave his own smirk. "I'm sure if you asked her what she was up to now, she'd tell you something like...oh, I don't know, like she's been adopted by a pack of werewolves," he paused with a small smile, "and, after stealing Daedric artifacts from a coven of vampires...and having battled a few necromancers, swam the Rumare with a giant mountain lion." He gave the mer a smirk to match the sardonic tone of his voice. Honditar laughed lightly.
"Your imagination is almost as wild as hers."
"I suppose she's wearing off on me."
"They do tend to do that." He cleared his throat. "So where are you headed after this?"
"Toward Kvatch, I believe."
"North or south." Feric looked at him again. The mer looked curios, but not in a way that made Feric uncomfortable.
The mer nodded. "You'll want to keep north of the cities then, there are some decent paths through the mountains, clear and unoccupied. I've heard that the two of you are being looked for so it's better to stay off the roads. There is a good camp, usually empty though occasionally a roost for bandits...Last Chance I think it's been called, or something of the sort. It is almost directly north of the city, far from habitation and close to an Ayleid well. It will probably serve you well if you need to find shelter for the night." The Altmer paused and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I think there is an Ayleid ruin to the west and a fort to the east, you'll know you've overshot if you hit the western ruin. Would you like a map?"
Feric smiled and shook his head. "I've been through that area...I think I even remember the camp you speak of, though faintly. With your directions, it should be easy enough to find again. Thank you."
"You're very welcome. Oh...and steer clear of any small settlements you find on the way...there are many dangerous people living out in the forests between us and Skingrad. I'm sure Inanna will guide you, but be wary."
"I will." And he would.
The door swung open behind him with a loud creak and a small hand came down on his shoulder, giving it a faint squeeze.
"Feric, this is M."
Inanna had indeed led them north as Honditar had suggested, keeping them both entertained with her unending stories of the many near misses had by herself and acquaintances in the places they passed through and around. The forests they travelled through toward Skingrad, though apparently dangerous, were beautiful. The trees were tall and lush and the spaces beneath open and covered with mosses, ferns, and a wide variety of brilliantly coloured flowers. As they moved into the mountains the terrain became less verdant, more rocky, and much more familiar. It tugged at something deep inside him to be here, in a place so similar to the home he had been forced to flee.
They found the camp easily and finding it empty made a small fire. It was clearly a well used hunting camp, so a fire, even if seen, would not look out of place or suspicious. They'd eaten and Feric watched Inanna as she crouched, knees up, on a well worn log near the fire, drawing lines in the sandy earth with the head of an arrow as she dangled it loosely between her hands.
"What are we doing Inanna? Are those people trustworthy?" She looked up at him and smiled gently.
"Modryn is. The others...trustworthy enough, though it's best to go with your gut on it...I didn't tell them everything, and they're sort of beholden to me." She gave him a pointed look. "But really, if you need something from that group, go to M first, and to a Redguard in the waterfront named Armand. Don't tell anyone else too much." She looked thoughtful. "Actually you remember that Orc?"
"Gro-ba? The drunk one?"
"Yeah, I've worked with him a few times while doing jobs for the fighter's guild, and trained with him a bit. He's good too, friendly, doesn't ask too many questions, doesn't hold stuff over your head...everything is on the up and up with him, just say you're a friend and that should be enough....and you know Max. Max is good people. But you probably got that already." She smiled again.
He nodded. It was pretty much what he thought. He was glad she thought so to, there was a lot more at stake here then his sorry hide...and he was beginning to feel the weight of the risks he had been taking, controlled though they were, and the burden of failure if he miss stepped. "And what's the plan for tomorrow?"
She grinned at him. "Well we can do the stealth thing...but I thought it might be more fun to kick ass and take names...plus it might be hard to sneak in with the two of us." She raised the arrow and tapped the tip against her lips thoughtfully. "It might be best if we take out as many as possible. Let them know you're not screwing around any more...send an unmistakable message. They aren't safe until you are." She gave her patented sideways grin. "That ought to fuck with their heads eh?"
Feric felt a pang of something, annoyance perhaps, frustration...they needed to get this done quickly, to flush them out and ended this madness before he lost what little remained of his family. He sighed and leaned forward on his knees rubbing out a growing headache which was rapidly forming in his temples. "I don't know...I don't want them to think I'm throwing down the gauntlet, that might just bring more heat down on us, and there's too much at stake for that." She lost her grin and came over to him, plunking down on the log and placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Listen, Feric...I get that you're worried, I'm worried about them too, that's why we're here, but you can't let them cow you anymore. This is what they want, for you to keep running and hiding, and you must have noticed by now how that's working for them. If you don't make a stand and show them you're going to be pushed around, then they will continue to hound you." He glanced at her face, she looked excited, eager. "This is your chance to turn this game around, to be the hunter and not the prey. The prey never wins Feric...they just keep staying alive until the next round. If you want to come out on top, you need to own them, now."
He gave an exasperated sigh and shook his head. Was this a game? Did she take nothing seriously? Didn't she understand what was at stake here?
"Grow up Inanna. That's not how it works. This isn't about winning or making a point, this is about survival, about making sure our children have a place in the world where they can grow and thrive. This isn't one of your games." He gave her a derisive look and was about to continue but paused when he saw her expression change, or rather vanish. She blinked once and her face became as smooth and still as polished stone, flat and empty. She pulled away slowly, sitting up. It was a look he'd never seen on her face and he felt his heart drop suddenly into his stomach.
"Inanna, look, I didn't mean..." she held up her hand.
"Of course you did. People don't say things they don't mean only to take it back, they say things they haven't the tact or duplicity to keep to themselves." Her voice wasn't angry or hurt, just smooth and even. He wished she were angry. He'd never seen her face and body so empty of expression, so very still, it alarmed him.
"Inanna, I just meant..." She stood before he could reach out to her, incredibly anxious to take back the insult that had made her withdraw. She smiled slightly, it wasn't tight, but it was polite, empty, and her eyes whirled with nothing he could recognize.
"That you don't think I take anything seriously." She finished for him. Her smile did turn tight then. "I understand that I come off that way to most. Don't trouble yourself too much. More often than not it's intentional, so I shouldn't be surprised." She turned her head away from the fire and towards the darkness of the starless night. "I think I'm going to do a perimeter sweep before we settle down for the night. We're a little exposed up here." He could only nod when she turned back to him, her face serene. She tilted her head and walked away to collect her bow.
She stooped to pick it up then walked in the direction of the ridge. He watched intently as she stopped just before disappearing into the shadows and paused a moment only to turn and walk back. She came to stand in front of him and squatted down, resting her arms on her thighs. He watched her uncertainly, expecting her to finally lay into him, almost hoping she would, but her demeanour remained unchanged.
"I understand that you and I barely know each other, really, and that you're unused to dealing with Dunmer, so I will tell you something that most outlanders rarely learn, unless their observant or smart, because it's not something we ever bother telling them. It will be very useful to you in dealing with my people should you need to in the future, and with me if you wish to continue to do so. Don't, ever, assume, anything." Her gaze was even and intense. "We were led, and shaped by Boethia, Mephala, and by Azura, the lords of deceit, webs, and of the hidden doors of knowledge, among other things, and we've been woven by their clever fingers into the image of their servants. Have you ever seen a Spider Daedra or the Winged Twilight?"