|Posted on June 20, 2014 at 5:55 PM|
The next morning, I emerged from the guest yurt to see Mashti hanging up clothes on a hand-made clothes line, and she gave me a disgusted look.
"Good morning, Mashti," I said, greeting her as cheerfully as I could. She gave me a curt nod and returned to what she was doing.
"Do you where Julan is?" I asked her.
"I sent him to get me something from Vos," was her response. "He should be back soon. Is there something else you need, Outlander?"
I could tell from the tone of her voice that she still didn't like me. What did I do?
"Maybe you could tell me more about you?" I began.
Mashti narrowed her eyes.
"Maybe I do not wish to speak about it with one such as you, Outlander," was Mashti's curt response. I suddenly remembered that Ashlanders liked gifts and that Julan and I had bought her something while we were staying in Balmora for the next time we visited; some alchemical ingredients. I took these out of my rucksack and handed them to her.
"You would know of my past?" Mashti said, surprised. "Very well. I was born to the Urshilaku, and I was respected there for my father was the chief of the tribe and my mother was a high-born Redoran slave-bride that he took in a raid. But one day, men of the Ahemmusa came on a trading mission. The spirits whispered to me that my destiny lay with them, so when they left the camp, I went with them.
"When my father discovered I was gone he was furious. I was barely eighteen and he had pledged me as a bride to one of his gulakhans. He disowned me, I never saw him, my mother or my home again. But my life with the Ahemmusa was not much happier. I trained in the ways of the wise women, and I was skilled. Too skilled. The petty jealousy of others made me an exile."
As Mashti said those words, I couldn't help but notice the bitterness in her tone. Well, it was no wonder; her story wasn't a happy one.
"Petty jealousy?" I asked. "What was there for anyone to be jealous over?"
I saw that Mashti was taken aback by my words.
"I do not like to speak of this, for even though it was long ago, wounds to the heart and honour do not heal," she said. "There are those who I can never forgive, and those whom I would have forgiven had they but asked. It is too late now. Ai, leave me now outlander for I wish to be alone…"
I was only too happy to oblige.
Considering that Julan hadn't returned from Vos yet, I decided to explore the nearby Grazelands alone until I found the Ahemmusa camp. The camp stood out pretty well, but I kept my distance. The Ahemmusa would probably be no more welcoming of Outlanders than the Urshilaku were.
"What are you doing here?" I heard a voice behind me say. I felt my heart skip a beat and turned to see Shani, who was frowning.
"So where's Julan?" She asked. "I'd have thought you two were attached to the hip the last time I saw you."
"He's in Vos," I replied. "His mother sent him. I'm just doing a little exploring."
"So he's told you all about me, has he?" Shani asked, scowling as she did so. "I bet he said I was clingy and demanding and argued with him all the time, I compared his lovely mother to a Hunger except without the charm and good looks, oh and I'm a cheat, liar, thief and troublemaker." Shani ticked each item out on her fingers sarcastically.
"Not really," I said. "Julan never said anything like that, Sh -"
"Not at all?" Shani seemed surprised. "You should've heard some of the things he did say. Oh, but I'm so sad, Ulina!" she cried.
I had no idea how to respond except by patting Shani on the arm awkwardly. Shani gave me a weak smile.
"Thank you, Ulina," she said. "We were best friends first you know, then lovers. Perhaps that was the mistake. Maybe we should have stayed friends, but it's too late now. Everything is broken, I'm a fool to still be here!"
"You're still here for him, aren't you?" I asked.
"Because he's making a terrible mistake!" Shani whispered. "His mother is a lunatic, and she's going to make him do something suicidally insane, but its all lies!"
I raised my eyebrows.
"What do you mean 'it's all lies?'" I asked. "Does it have anything to do with his sacred mission?"
"So, he's told you then? About being the Nerevarine?" Shani laughed bitterly. "And all that stuff about being found in the wilderness as a baby? Yeah, right. Babies don't come from rocks, Ulina, whatever Mashti says."
"I know babies don't come from rocks," I said slowly, not liking the patronizing tone of voice Shani was using.
Shani ignored this.
"Point blank, I don't believe a word Mashti says," Shani told me. "That's because I know what really happened. Mashti knows I know, she made Julan break up with me when she realised I'd found out. She was afraid I'd convince Julan, but that idiot buys anything she tells him."
"So, what happened?" I asked. Something was going on with Julan's mother, and I didn't like it. Shani only made me even more curious. I was often warned about a curious scamp when I was younger, but I didn't care.
A life without curiosity wasn't a life worth living.
Shani looked towards the Ahemmusa Camp anxiously, but then turned back and lowered her voice to a whisper.
"I can't talk about it here. I shouldn't even be talking about him in the first place," she hissed. "If Ahmabi heard she'd go mad."
"Wait?" I asked. "Who in Oblivion is Ahmabi?"
"She was the one that banished Mashti in the first place, and she's banned all talk about them," Shani continued. "Look, I'm leaving with the hunt soon. I'm not sure when I'll be back, but when I am I'll send word to the Varo Tradehouse, and we can meet up and talk if you want to. You probably should know if you going to be travelling with him."
"Don't mention it," she said, then turned back to towards the camp. I went the other way.
Dinner was a quiet affair that night, with me and Julan sitting around the fire eating some of the food he managed to buy in Vos - and Mashti confining herself to her Yurt. I saw the light of the fire even from inside her Yurt - and heard some humming - so I guessed she was doing some sort of chant.
The fire outside with us was roaring loudly enough now, and I heard the slight chirping of scribs from over the hills and the Mud Crabs along the beach. The stars were shining brightly and the moons were full.
"I've been thinking about Shani," Julan said in between bites of his food.
I raised my eyebrows.
"No, not like that!" He said hastily. I let out a sigh of relief. "It's just...everything that's happened over the past week. When I was furious at you… It makes me think, what if I had stayed angry at you then something terrible had happened, and I never got the chance to sort things out? I'd have never forgiven myself…And…then I think about Shani…"
"Oh, Julan…" I sighed. "Maybe you should talk to her?"
"Will you come with me?" He asked.
I nodded. "Then we'll see her tomorrow."
That night, I didn't sleep in the guest yurt, but slept in Julan's arms in his yurt. It was a mess, but I was tired and didn't care.
That was also the first night that no bad dreams affected my sleep.
The next morning, we went back down to the Ahemmusa Camp to look for Shani, and more or less ignored the stares from the Ahemmusa. One woman looked up when she saw us coming, and folded her arms over her chest.
"You'll find no welcome here as long as you're with that outcast scum, Julan," she seethed. "He should know better than to show up here after what his foul mother did."
Making a mental note to ask about Mashti later, I put that aside for a moment.
"Relax, we're just here to see Shani," I said. The woman narrowed her eyes.
"Shani's hunting troupe returned some time ago, but she was not with them, Outlander," her tone becoming a little less angry and a little more worried. "They say they lost her somewhere in the Grazelands. Normally I would not speak to you of this, but I confess that I am worried, and we cannot spare the warriors to search for her."
"Is there anything we can do?" I asked.
"Go speak to Gunta," she said. "She was leading the expedition."
Julan lead the way to Gunta's yurt, who explained everything while trying to help a very upset Lanabi - Shani's aunt. Clearly she was upset because she was talking to Julan directly and not me.
"Where was she last seen?" we asked together.
"Near the Nerano Ancestral Tomb," Gunta said.
"Let's go," Julan said. As soon as we we far enough from the Ahemmusa camp, he started muttering things under his breath.
"Lost in Grazelands...that s'wit! And she calls herself a scout!"
We followed the fallen corpses of kagouti, until we eventually found ourselves on the edge of the inhospitable Ashlands. Despite this, there were no ashstorms in sight. It was still a clear, sunny day. Down the long road there were two Cliffracers attacking a netch leather shield.
"Look!" I heard Julan cry. "That's Shani's!"
The two of us rushed forward, shooing the Cliffracer's with a combination of weapons and spells.
"D'you think she might be in here?" Julan asked, pointing to the door. I read a note pinned to the outside about it being an abandoned glass mine. Nearby, there were two pickaxes. I picked one up and started mining the blocked, wooden door. It proved to be no use.
"Help me, Julan!" I cried. "We both know Shani's in here and she's most likely in grave danger!"
Julan leapt forward and grabbed the other pickaxe. After an hour or two of mining, we managed to get the door open. My fingers were really sore, however.
The air in the cave was cool and damp, and I regretted breathing in the smell immediately; I could have gotten sick. There was shards of glass on the floor, and I did my best to step carefully around it.
"Sheogorath, just how long was this mine abandoned?" Julan asked. I sighed.
"Just help me find Shani."
"I'm doing just that," he replied. "It's just...it stinks in here."
Up ahead, there were a few more kagouti; how they managed to find their way into the cave was beyond my understanding but they all ended up dying either by me or Julan killing them - or they drowned. Then, there was something much worse.
"Dammit," Julan seethed, then proceeded yell out several profanities. I knew why.
There was a huge, almost troll like creature in front of us.
"What in Oblivion is that thing?" I screamed, ducking as it started to raise it's fists and hit me.
"An Ogrim," Julan answered, also ducking. "We won't be able to kill it! So jump down."
'Down' turned out to be a ditch with a puddle of water at the bottom. When I landed, my clothes were soaked and covered in mud. I was even more sweaty than I was outside and I found it hard to catch my breath. Julan landed a few short minutes afterwards - also covered in dirty water and mud.
"Come on," he said, "Shani might be nearby."
Shani was lying a few feet away from us, and looked unconscious. Luckily, she wasn't dead; she was still breathing.
"SHANI!" Julan cried. He then took a few potions of fatigue out of his rucksack and started to pour it into her mouth. Shani went into a fit of coughing, but was alright. I was glad of that.
"Uhhh... Ulina?" She turned around. "Julan? You... you came for me!"
Shani sat up and then I gave her some of the food I managed to keep from the previous night.
"Thank you for the potion, Julan," she said. "I... I can feel my strength returning. I lost track of time in here, but I've eaten nothing but mushrooms for days, I think."
"What are you doing down here?" I demanded. Shani could have just gone home. But then I remembered that Julan said she didn't have any sense of direction.
"Oh, you know…" Shani began, "I just like the scenery."
I narrowed my eyes. "So, you're being sarcastic."
"I got trapped in here! What do you THINK?" Shani yelled, then went into another coughing fit.
"Let me put this another way," I said after a heavy sigh, "what happened to you?"
Shani started coughing again, and I gave her some more potions and food. When she was well enough to explain, she began telling her story.
"There was a pack of kagouti. I got separated from the troupe. I ran up onto the hills to get a better shot with my bow, but then one cornered me. I kept backing up trying to shoot it... then I stumbled over the edge into the Foyada. I was hurt from the fall, I couldn't climb my way back over the mountains. Then the Blight came down and there were so many creatures. I needed to find shelter fast."
Behind me, I heard Julan snort and mutter profanities under his breath. I had to agree with what he had said; Shani had been a bit stupid.
"You try sneaking past an Ogrim, Julan!" Shani snapped. "And a hoard of cave creatures, when you're hurt and exhausted. And even if I did get past them, the entrance was blocked. What was I supposed to do, dig? You s'wit!"
"OK, calm down -" I tried to make my voice heard, but then we all fell silent. There was the sound of something shattering above - something breaking. Sure enough, a huge boulder fell by the entrance.
We were caved in.
Shani screamed. I could understand why. I probably would have screamed too, if I were her. Julan, however, stood to the side and looked as if he wanted to disappear right then and there.
"For the love of Azura, Shani -"
Shani, however, was still bawling. I wanted so much to try and calm her down, but didn't have the words to console her.
"WE'LL BE STUCK HERE FOREVER," she shouted. "STUCK HERE WITH THAT SELFISH N'WAH -"
"Hey!" Julan yelled. "Wait a second you little -"
" - WHO'LL JUST INSULT ME UNTIL I SMASH MY HEAD A ROCK TO ESCAPE!" Shani continued bawling.
"Look," I began, trying to be the voice of reason, "we should all try to calm down -"
Except neither of them calmed down, much to my chagrin. Both were now engaged in an angry shouting match.
"..I don't know why you're here, if you're only going to yell at me!" Shani shouted. "Why are you here, Julan? I bet you didn't even want to come and find me. This was probably all Ulina's idea! You don't care if I live or die anymore, do you? And now I bet you're wishing I was dead, just to shut me up!"
"WHAT?!" Julan yelped. "YOU LITTLE S'WIT!"
"This isn't getting us anywhere, you two!" I yelled over them. "We need to try and get out of here before we get ourselves killed!"
Shani turned to me with a frustrated expression.
"Well, I don't know why he's here!" She shouted. "He hasn't even asked me how I'm feeling; he's hardly spoken to me."
I resisted the urge to start screaming in the same manner Shani did only a few moments before. "He came after you, didn't he?" I asked.
Shani ignored me.
"But I suppose he promised his darling mother that he wouldn't have anything to do with me, and he has to what she wants, doesn't he? He always does everything she tells him, because it makes his life so much easier that way! He never has to think at all!"
"That's not true!" Julan snapped. "I didn't break it off because she told me to; I broke it off because it was the right thing to do. I was protecting you, Shani; you're just too blind to see that."
There was a pregnant pause that filled the room for a moment. Shani looked nervously towards me, before flashing Julan a glare. Then, she began speaking in a low voice.
"No you didn't," Shani began. "You left me because you were getting bored, and your mother gave you an easy way out."
Damn, damn, damn...I so wish I wasn't here right now, I thought.
"I know that, Julan," Shani continued. "But I hate that you're too much of a coward to admit it, so you pretend that you did it for the sake of your mission, or some other load of noble guarcrap. You know I'm telling the truth – I can see it in your face. I've known you all your life Julan, you can't lie to me. You never could."
"OK, That is enough, I said, but Julan strided towards Shani and roughly pulled her to her feet.
"You. Godsdamned. S'wit," he spat, "You think you know everything about me, don't you? But from what you've been saying, you don't know me at all. Maybe you're right about some things. Maybe I was thinking of breaking up with you, even before mother told me to. But if you really believe that I hate you, and wouldn't come to find you if you were lost...DO KNOW HOW WORRIED I WAS ABOUT YOU?"
Julan's last words echoed around us so I heard it over and over again. I sighed and said nothing as they then hugged and Shani was crying.
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I was just angry! I didn't mean - you're my best friend! I've been so lonely without you to talk to. Just promise me you won't be so horrible to me anymore!" Shani then broke down into hysterical tears.
"Guys," I interrupted, "I'm glad you've reconciled and all, but we really need to leave."
With that, Julan cast a recall spell and we were back at the Ahemmusa camp. Shani had passed out, so Julan carried her the rest of the way to the healer's yurt.
"Thank you for bringing her back to us," Lanabi said, "you are truly a friend to the Ahemmusa."
The fact that she didn't mention Julan didn't go unnoticed by me, and I hated that. He saved her too!
But of course, they still intended to treat Julan like an outcast.
Two days later, we were in Balmora and I gave the notes from the Urshilaku to Caius, who didn't seem to think I came back late at all. Good, I thought.
"Good work, Therayn," he said, "I am promoting you. to the rank of traveller. You've spoken with Sul-Matuul and Nibani Maesa, and, from what they say, it sounds like you could really be the Nerevarine. That's just incredible."
Not really, I thought, but said nothing. It felt that all I could really do was keep my mouth shut.
"But I'll have to get used to the idea," Caius said, "and I'm sure you will too. Let me try to get word to Mehra Milo. Maybe she can find out whether the Dissident Priests have any lost prophecies. But in the meantime, I have a very tough assignment for you. Do you think you're ready?"
"I'm ready for whatever you think I'm ready for," I said.
"Hmm. Don't get over-confident, Ulina," he said. "But it so happens that I agree - you're ready. But just in case I'm going to give you 400 drakes. Before you head out, make sure you outfit yourself with healing potions, new gear, a little training, whatever you think you need most. And remember: if you get in trouble, back off, rest up, and go back fresh. Don't get cocky. I think this will be a tough one."
It couldn't be much tougher than any other assignment he had given me so far, was what I was thinking, and I told him as much. Caius shook his head.
"Here's your mission. Fort Buckmoth sent a patrol to Gnaar Mok, hunting smugglers with Sixth House connections. They found a Sixth House base, a Sixth House shrine, and a Sixth House priest named Dagoth Gares."
"You...you want me to take on a Sixth House base," I said, aware my voice didn't sound like a question. Julan wouldn't be happy about this at all.
"Speak to Champion Raesa Pullia at Fort Buckmoth; she'll tell you about the patrol and the Sixth House base," Caius said as a way of reply. "Your orders: find that Sixth House base, kill Dagoth Gares, and bring me a full report on the Sixth House base."
I nodded and left the house, telling Julan all about the assignment Caius had given me. As predicted, Julan didn't like it one bit, but insisted on going with me.