28

After the frantic pace of the last two days, it was almost a relief to fall back into work, and there was more than enough work to do. I went to the kitchen and returned to my normal schedule of helping Liman with meals, preparing some of the food, and cleaning up afterward. Liman was pleased to see me there and shared a few kind words with me, but he soon returned to his normal busy self, diving into his work to distract him from all that had been going on. I was the only one there, aside from Liman, who was familiar with the kitchen, as the rest of the normal kitchen crew, including Tomas and Grilda, had perished in the attack. We had a few others helping out, so I wound up giving a few people orders as well.

After the lunch rush, I helped clean up a little and then headed outside to see what else needed to be done. A dozen of Cavorian's guards had stripped to their underclothes and were working up a sweat chopping down trees and hauling the timbers up to the fort to be used in constructing temporary barricades to cover the gaping holes in the fort's defenses. In time, the Legion would have to bring experienced stonemasons from Morrowind to rebuild the damaged portions of the fort, but for now we would have to make due with wooden walls.

I grabbed a shovel and helped dig out what remained of the destroyed Command Office, a pile of cold ash and debris. Thankfully, all of the bodies had already been pulled from the wreckage and put to rest, so I didn't have to deal with that. All I had to do was dump shovelfuls of ash into a cart, which was taken down by the shore and emptied. Once all of the ash and debris was removed, they would begin construction of the new offices.

Almost everyone was working, and only a few guards actually remained on guard. Most of them were not wearing their armor, and were busy hauling debris, cutting logs, or bringing in supplies that were still being delivered. I didn't see Cavorian or Gaea anywhere, but I guessed they were in a meeting or something, coming up with plans on how to schedule the work being done, while at the same time protecting the fort from further attack.

When dinner time came around, I headed back down to the kitchen and started unpacking crates of salted meat. I was already exhausted, but so was everyone else, and we weren't even done preparing the food before groups of workers and guards started shuffling into the cafeteria. It was time for the dinner rush again.

When we were done preparing meals, and almost everyone had been served, Liman pulled me aside and told me to go get something to eat myself.

"Thanks for helping out again," he said with a weary smile on his face. "You're a godsend, Sasha. Go and take a break, I think we can handle it now."

"Are you giving me the rest of the night off?" I said sarcastically.

Liman laughed softly and placed his hand on mine, looking down at the stitched-up bruise along my forearm. "If anyone here deserves a night off, you do," he said gently. "You've done so much for us. I don't know how we ever could have gotten by without you."

"I haven't done anything special," I said, shrugging it off. "I don't even know how to cook. But thanks for the praise."

"Have a good night, Sasha."

"I will, and I promise I'll be back in the morning to help with breakfast."

Liman smiled again and let me go. I grabbed a plate of food and went out to sit in the cafeteria. I didn't know any of the guards and didn't feel like introducing myself, so I found an empty table and ate my dinner alone. I caught a few Imperial Cult members looking my way, but I didn't feel like talking to them, since I knew they would only want to thank me for saving Mirisa, and I was already tired of the attention.

When I was finished eating, I left the cafeteria and headed outside, feeling tired enough to fall right asleep. When I opened the door, the blast of freezing cold air was enough to wake me right back up, and I stepped out into the main yard, wrapping my arms around myself. A dusting of snow was on the ground, but the sky was completely clear, and stars were visible already in the twilight. Soon, it would be dark.

I looked up at the fort walls, and saw plenty of guards on duty, as I had expected. I thought it unlikely that we would be the focus of another attack, but Cavorian was clearly taking no chances, and I didn't blame him. Now that the sun was going down, it was time for everyone to be on alert.

Three guards were standing around a flaming brazier, warming themselves against the bitter cold. I wandered over and one of them eyed me up in surprise.

"By the Nines, girl. Aren't you cold?" he said, looking down at my shirt and trousers.

"I just came from the kitchen," I explained. "I'm just getting some fresh air before I head back inside."

One of the other guards quipped, "If I came out in the cold dressed like that, I'd probably get frostbite in my sensitive parts."

We all laughed at that, and I said, "Well, I wouldn't stay out here all night dressed this way, but I can handle it for a few minutes. The cold feels good after being in that hot kitchen for hours."

"You Nords must have fire in your veins if you can handle cold like this all the time."

"It has been rumored," I said with a smile.

"You certainly are a little hot one, I'll give you that. You can come heat up my bed tonight, if you're interested."

I gave him a grin. "Aren't you on duty this evening?"

"Yeah," he said. "Unfortunately."

I stepped closer to the fire and warmed my hands. "Have they told you how long you'll all be stationed here?"

"A few weeks, at least," one of the other guards said, his voice low. "Maybe a few months. Not longer than half a year, I would hope."

"Unless we get into some trouble," the first guard added. "If this Nord cult, or whatever it is, becomes a serious threat, then the Legion will be forced to increase their presence here. That means more men, longer assignments. Some of us might be here longer if they can't find men to replace us."

Another guard grumbled, "I've only been here a day and already I hate it here."

"Could be worse," the first guard said. "I'd rather be here than back on the east side of Morrowind. Ever been stationed near Sadrith Mora? That place is a festering nightmare. Hot and sticky all the time, fighting off swarms of bugs, and surrounded by Dunmer and all sorts of freaks. I hated it there, I'll take Solstheim any day."

"See?" I said to the others. "It's not so bad here. Maybe you'll learn to like it."

"Not bloody likely," one of them muttered.

The chill was finally getting to me, so I nodded to them and said, "Well, I have to get going. You gentlemen have a good evening."

As I walked away, the first guard called to me, "Hey sweetheart, what did you say your name was?"

"My name is Sasha," I said.

"I'm Dannus Grandius," he said. "Maybe if I have tomorrow night off, you and me can spend some time together."

"I'll think about it," I called back, and the other guards laughed.

I headed inside and shook off the cold. I was still tired, but I felt better. Spending the day working had helped burn up some of my anxious energy, and I felt more calm than I had for the last few days. I was glad that things seemed to be getting back to normal, or relatively so. Another few days of this and maybe I'd begin to get over my frustration and anger regarding the attack and everything that followed it.

I thought briefly about those who had died, and decided there was no use in grieving over them any longer. Even Falx, who I had been close to, was now just a memory. In time, we would avenge their deaths, I was sure of that. Now it was time for us to move on and rebuild our lives. It was not the first time I had faced the death of those close to me, and I knew it wouldn't be the last. The world is not a kind place.

One thing did bother me, however. I hadn't really thought about it until I saw all the guards lined up on the fort walls, but it occurred to me that we were not the only location that was under the threat of attack. The Raven Rock mining operation was far more vulnerable than we were, and I wondered if Cavorian intended to send reinforcements there as well. I had to assume that was the case. I would ask them about it in the morning.

When I made it up to the bunk room, I sat down on my bed and kicked off my boots. Sitting on the floor by the bed were my other clothes, including my jacket from the day before, still stained with both my blood and Mirisa's blood.

Leaning up against the wall was my sword, and I carefully picked up the scabbard and gently pulled the blade free a few inches. I would probably need it again, soon. Life had returned to some semblance of normalcy here at the fort, but the men who attacked us were still on the loose, whether they were Nords or not. And I wasn't going to fool myself into thinking that my part in this fight was over.

Before too long, I would need to use my sword again. But I hoped that I might get at least a few days to relax.