Menzoberranzan to Morrowind

by M'jai

Written: 2006/02

Re-uploaded and Revised: 1 June 2010

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Disclaimer:

Morrowind world setting is property of Bethesda. Some of the character references and plot ideas for this story were inspired by mods designed by fans. The Realmsfade books and Mysthaven Manor came from the"Mysthaven Manor" mod by William the Taffer. Talvalo's character and several other employees of the manor were inspired by the mod "CM Partners 2.8" by Cutthroat Mods. The horse breeds, descriptions, and ranch near Vos was inspired by the mod "Pegas Horse Ranch" by Madmax. The drow cavern behind the tomb was inspired by "Abandoned Drow Cave" by Kalikut. I have put my own slight twist on certain aspects of these mods to pull them from my game into this story. If you created one of these mods and you don't want your specific character or place names used, contact me and I will edit changes. Along those lines, I have also altered the game's dialog and moon cycles to flow more naturally and easily for this story, so please don't expect game-exact scripts and mechanics. There are game spoilers for Morrowind, Tribunal, and Bloodmoon in this story.

Faerun, Menzoberranzan, the drow race, Lloth, Kimmuriel Oblodra, Drizzt Do'Urden, and anything else mentioned in relation to Forgotten Realms setting are property of Wizards of the West Coast. I stake no claim on them in any way. Chizrae is my creation based on the drow race presented in old Dungeons and Dragons character creation standards. Her house name, family, and background are my original design, though some events in her history were built through games shared with friends and their characters. I am forever in their debt for helping me develop my imagination and refine my storytelling. Khyron's character is the creation of my friend Michael, who continues to deny his own imaginative talent. I also have him to thank for the lizard tale inspiration. (wink) Mikal is the creation of my friend Evan, who gave me permission to do whatever I wanted including him in this little tale. The bard is lucky I won't test how far I can stretch my boundaries with that blank check like that. (evil grin) Thanks for giving me permission to use them in the story!

If you are a drow-a-holic and a Morrowind addict, you might enjoy a blend of these settings.

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Chapter 1: Menzoberranzan to Morrowind

(30 years ago in the land of Faerun ...)

The stars shone like diamonds on the moonless night, and a gentle breeze wafted into the interior of the cave in the small, rocky cliff.

"Two dwellings face toward the gate in close range," a harsh voice hissed with impatience. "The rest face other directions or are distant within the walls."

The young drowess blinked, her attention being brought back to the speaker. "Then we must take out the two dwellings facing the gate first. If we can open the gate without any alarms being raised, we can move in more quickly. Daerazal, split the warriors and send half with Aseidan. You will come with me."

The drow warrior regarded his younger sister without expression before leaving to obediently do her bidding. "As you wish, Jabbress."

Chizrae's glowing eyes narrowed and followed her brother's movements in the darkness of the cave. Did she detect jealousy? Good. Her hand slid past the symbolic weapon of the Llothian priestess, a snake-headed whip that writhed at her hip with every twitch of emotion she felt. It was a personal gift from the spider goddess for every priestess worthy of earning it. But past the whip her hand came to rest on the hilt of a solid black, adamantite-bladed weapon beneath her robes. Spiderbite meant more to her because it represented years of secret sword-training against her mother's directive in the clergy of Lloth. She would show her dear brother this night that his blade skills could not only be matched, but surpassed.

As she propped one boot heel on a rock, she smiled in anticipation and caught a hint of cool breeze - fresh air from outside the cavern. This would be her first surface raid, and her first battle wearing her newly rewarded rank as Battlecaptain. She would make Jereassien proud - such trouble her lover and trainer had gone through to secretly teach her and gain such special weapons for her. She turned her gaze onto the village of sleeping humans. By the time they knew what hit them, it would be too late - ebony faces, blood-red eyes, and stark white hair would be their final nightmare.

Daerazal returned to his sister's side. "The warriors are ready, Jabbress."

"Then let the party begin," she murmured with a roguish smile before turning to face her fighters. "All hail Lloth! Lloth be with you in this victory tonight!" She raised her hands in blessing. "For it is the destiny of the drow to conquer all." As she spoke the words of an ancient prayer, magical sparks of red-hot energy surrounded her troop of twenty, slamming into the warriors with a shimmering, protective force that quickly faded, cooling their body heat and allowing them to fade into shadows, even among eyes with infravision. In response, the warriors readied their weapons and grinned with malicious bloodlust. Chizrae, quirked a white brow at her brother's mute smile of satisfaction, then turned and arrogantly strode past him to the cave's entrance.

Moments later, dark elves were creeping silently under a moonless canopy of stars and dropping over the stone wall to the ground on the other side without so much as a rustle. Death had come to the human village, and its name was drow.

It didn't take long for the gates to be opened from the inside. Chizrae and Daerazal lead their minor division to the right. "Shut the gate and guard it. None shall escape," Chizrae ordered, drawing her whip of hissing and snapping fangs. She waited for her brother and another warrior to kick in the door of the first unsuspecting household, and then followed them in with a dark grin.

The farmer and his wife sat up in bed with shock, but immediately recognized, by the rush of crimson eyes glowing in the darkness, what kind of creatures had invaded their home. "The baby! Elisha, get the baby!"

"House Velve'Xukuth has decided your village is unworthy of the Spider Queen's tolerance any longer," Chizrae hissed before snapping the whip forward across the woman's torso. The snake heads raked their magical fangs across the woman neck and chest, making her scream with excruciating pain. The farmer was already trying to grasp the drowess and pull her away from the assault on his wife, but a sword pierced his gut from behind.

"Don't toy with them unless they are last ones, Chizrae!" Daerazal growled. "Their cries will alert the others too soon."

"Are you giving orders to me? How dare you talk to me like that!" Chizrae tore open her Llothian robes and drew her newly enchanted black longsword. The wicked extension of her slender, black arm surprised him with a swift, broadside slap. "You forget your respect, Daerazal! I am in command of this raid!"

Daerazal drew back at the hot sting and touched the trickle of blood that rolled down his cheek, stunned more by the sight of the new weapon than the small, disciplinary gash.

Chizrae interpreted his expression to mean he doubted her ability to use the sword, so she turned on her terrified victim and slashed the woman's neck with such force that the head severed from the body in one blow. Though blood splattered on her piwafwi, arm and cheek, she gazed at the cleanness of the cut with pride and then turned to face her brother. "You can take care of the offspring, can't you?" she dryly commented as she pushed past him and out of the house.

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Daerazal's heat-seeing eyes remained focused behind her, on the corpse pooling in its own white-hot blood. The extremities were already beginning to cool to shades of violet and blue. One strike had sliced through bone like butter. Her weapon had been enchanted far beyond his own. How had she managed to get her hands on something like that? There was only one answer, of course - the house weapons master, Jereassien. The sound of a human baby crying reached past the throbbing pulse in his brain, and he followed it to find a small child and toddler huddled together in the corner near the baby's cradle. She would leave him the demeaning task of taking out the helpless offspring? A bitter grimace found its way to his ebony lips as he gripped the hilt of his own adamantite sword and strode toward the terrified children. "As you wish, ... Jabbress."

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As drow warriors slaughtered villagers, drow mages cast fireballs on the dwellings of thatch, wood, and stone. Nothing was allowed to survive this raid - especially not hiding places. Chizrae gazed at her grand destruction and laughed. Her sinister mirth was interrupted, however, when she spotted a young man trying to rescue his family by setting them on a frantic horse he had pulled from a burning barn.

"Ride until you reach anyone that can help!" he shouted above the battle, as he handed two young children up to his wife. The young woman on the horse was sobbing in protest as she cradled the hysterical children to her breast.

Chizrae's jaw set in anger. Her raid would have no survivors - no foolish attempts to escape and bring help! Breaking into a sprint, and raising her black-bladed sword with a war cry, she launched an attack on the horse. The beast fell quickly and hard, throwing the woman and her children. Chizrae raised the sword again to go after the escapees, but was stopped when something stabbed painfully into her back. The farmer was trying to thrust a pitchfork through her. Snarling with contempt, she pushed the pitchfork back and dodged his next attempt, and managed to kick the makeshift weapon away to score a deadly blow of her own. Then, jerking her bloodied Spiderbite from the dead man's throat, her hand slick with the glow of warm blood, she turned her enraged gaze on the fallen man's injured wife. "You will not escape my trap, human rothe! This village is my signature on the world!"

The woman crawled to her husband's body and watched as her children fled. "Run! Run for help!" she screamed after them. They never made it past the drow warriors at the gate.

When the woman's misery was complete seeing the slaughter of her children, Chizrae raised Spiderbite once more to finish her. Suddenly, a strong black arm slipped beneath her neck from behind, staying her strike with a firm hold while a dagger punched hard and deep between her ribs.

"This village is Lloth's signature on the world," Daerazal corrected with a soft, low hiss into her sharp elven ear. "The Spider Queen is not pleased that you would take her glory. You forget your respect, Chizrae," he added, clearly enjoying the irony of making his sister eat her own words.

Chizrae gasped at the shock and sharpness of the pain. Daerazal's words seemed to come from a great distance, though he was only a breath away.

The trembling woman beneath Chizrae's killing blow had been prepared to die, but now she stole the opportunity to crawl to her husband's body and mourn.

"A handmaiden has revealed your secrets to Matron Sevlessa, and she has demanded your beloved Qu'el'saruk Jereassien in payment. You have disgraced House Velve'Xukuth with your disobedience, and now you are both at the mercy of the goddess." Daerazal chuckled at the irony in his own words. The goddess of the drow, like the drow themselves, never showed mercy. It was a sign of weakness.

Chizrae's breath became ragged as she struggled to absorb her brother's news. Jereassein, her weapons master and lover, had been sacrificed, ... by a mother who plotted both of their deaths, ... at the hand of her only brother, … for a goddess that had betrayed her. "Jereassien?" she whispered in shock, clearly able to visualize her lover having his heart cut from his chest and offered as a spiteful gift to appease the Lady of Chaos. "Nau." Her already racing heartbeat quickened. "Nau! You lie!" she snarled between gasps. "You have resented my station as Battlecaptain over you ever since Matron Sevlessa gave me the position over you! I am a priestess of Lloth! You are only a male! How dare you defy me!" She pushed her brother away, stumbled forward, and tried to cast a healing spell on herself, but no divine magic came to her aid. Where was Lloth?

Daerazal smirked in grim pleasure at the obvious sign of failure as he slowly backed away. "Only a male, … but I am walking away from this, and you are not. I was told to leave your corpse in the hands of your enemies because you are a disgrace to House Velve'Xukuth. If they do not shred you for what you have done here tonight, tomorrow the burning sun will rise, and the wild animals will feast on your remains. Either way, your station is no longer a problem to me. I have earned my promotion to Battlecaptain. Alluve', dear sister."

With outraged heartache, Chizrae collapsed to her hands and knees in the mud. The smoke and heat of the burning buildings around her stung her eyes as she watched him snatch her precious Spiderbite from the ground and call to her warriors - his warriors, now. They were abandoning her. "Daerazal! Don't you dare walk away from me! You can't leave me here like this! Daerazal!" Grasping her snake-headed whip, she struggled to stand, to catch up to them. "Lloth, my Queen! I have done all for your glory! Don't let them get away with this! It's blasphemy!" But the whip quickly turned on her, all five snake heads sinking fangs deep into her arm, hand, and thigh, sending shock waves of excruciating, magical pain. The excommunicated priestess struggled desperately to free herself from their repeated attacks, and then, just before losing consciousness, she watched the whip disintegrate to dust and blow away - the power of Lloth's blessings never to be hers again.

))((

The drow troops, adrenaline-pumped from their destructive chaos, regrouped back within the safety of their cave. Some bagged human ears they would dry and add to their collection of souvenir kills. Some were already trading tales of their dastardly deeds and laughing darkly at the rush of power they had felt this night. And some, the young, were still lingering at the cave entrance, wishing they had not be recalled - wishing there had been more humans to destroy. They would have to wait until the Running, now that they had passed their rite of passage into adulthood through the Blooding.

Daerazal smiled to himself at their energy and enthusiasm. He was certain that if his stab had not been enough to kill Chizrae, the human female that had lost her husband and children to his sister's attack would finish the job for him. "Dal ultrinnan ulu el'inssrigg!" He shouted and raised Spiderbite in answer to their bloodlust. The new Battlecaptain's cry was heralded by the drow around him. He counted the remaining heads left under his command. Only a few had been lost, and the plunder for House Velve'Xukuth had been good. It was time to go home, ... for all but one of them.

))((

Back in the burning village, the woman that had survived Chizrae's attack groped her way toward the unconscious dark elf and touched her throat to feel a pulse. The drowess was still alive. Not understanding their language, she could not comprehend why the male drow turned on the female, but she knew it had not been to spare her own life. Filled with rage and despair, the young woman grasped her husband's pitchfork and lifted it over Chizrae's heart in a white-knuckled grip to finish what he started. But then, ... she hesitated. She began to sob and dropped the sword. Even after everything that had happened, she couldn't do it. "I'm not like you," she whispered hoarsely to the unconscious drow. "I will despise you from the depths of my broken heart for all eternity, but I am not a murderer!" She threw aside the pitchfork. "I ... am a healer. Your blood ... will not be on my hands," she informed the dark elf as she sniffled and - in a not-so-gentle manner - began stripping away the supple armor that concealed the dire wound.

))((

As the sun rose on the burning remains of the village, the handful of survivors from the raid came out of hiding to see the full extent of their losses. They protested the decision to save the drow, but the healer's resolve to not mirror the spiteful violence they had witnessed that night was strong. She patched Chizrae up with what magical herbs and bandages she could find, after the survivors of her village were tended first. Then, they transported the still-unconscious drow on a trundle to the cavern of an old hermit wizard behind the forest where their village once proudly stood. They suspected the wizard was actually a green dragon, so they offered the drow to him in hopes that he would hunt down the other raiders escaping back into the Underdark. The wizard agreed to the exchange. Elf meat was his favorite. When the humans left, however, he devised another plan.

Chizrae didn't recover from her injuries until several days later. When she woke, she found herself in chains in a dark cavern facing a forest grove. Moreover, she found herself cloaked in illusionary magic that made her appear to be human. Her protests were greeted by the old hermit who then transformed himself to reveal that he was, in fact, a very large, green, forest dragon. And as a forest dragon, he had no intention of wasting his time wandering through dark, cramped tunnels in search of nasty little drow. A damsel in distress, however, could bait many would-be heroes into his den. Chizrae had become a novelty item in this monster's collection of treasures. This time, she thought, her life had surely come to an end. But in fact, it had only just begun.

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(Two weeks following the defeat of Dagoth Ur at Red Mountain, … Morrowind)

As a gold elf, Talvalo Shalonethyr towered above most of the people in the room at Shenk's Shovel, in the sleepy, little coal-mining town of Caldera. It was dusk now, and the tavern was becoming crowded with prospects. He wondered who to introduce himself to first - preferably a woman, preferably high bred, and preferably in need of a bodyguard, or at least companionship. He had almost settled upon an attractive Breton with cropped auburn hair and stunning blue eyes, when he noticed another petite figure weaving its way through the crowd behind her. Another female, no doubt, judging by the soft texture of the indigo, hooded cloak she wore and the way that she moved. Talvalo wondered briefly if he had already had the pleasure of meeting her before, but his question was answered when close contact with another patron brushed back her hood exposing snow-white hair and an ebony-colored face. "My gods, ... that's the darkest dark elf I've ever seen," he muttered to himself in mild astonishment. "Does she mine ebony, or is she made of it?" Forgetting all about the Breton, he set down his glass of wine and left the counter to follow his curiosity, and her trail, to the back of the room where a food merchant had set up a stall.

"Five blocks of cheese, five salted bark fish, and ten oranges." Chizrae placed her order and counted her gold as the food merchant nodded and began to wrap and bag her items.

"Good evening." Talvalo boldly approached her. "I hope you don't mind me saying so, but I can't remember when I've seen such an intriguing dunmer. May I ask your name?"

Chizrae raised an arched brow and turned her chin to survey the altmer, but then ignored him and returned her attention to the food being prepared for purchase.

Talvalo was not used to such immediate, flat rejection, but he smiled at what he supposed was humor. "Have you been to Red Mountain since the skies have cleared? You look as if you fell into the core of the volcano itself and burnt to a lovely shade of crisp."

This time the drowess turned her chin toward him with a slight frown. "I have been to Red Mountain, yes. But I did not fall into it; I went under it."

Talvalo paused. "Under it?" That seemed unlikely, but at least she was speaking to him now.

"I killed Dagoth Ur. Have you heard of him? He was the last man to harass me."

Talvalo's expression fell slightly, both at her cold tone and her bold statement. Rumors had been flying like crazy ever since the skies above Red Mountain cleared. The dunmer prophecies of the Sixth House had been fulfilled, but very little was widely known yet about this person that the Ashlanders called "the Nerevarine".

"Here you are. Five salted bark fish, five cheese, and ten oranges." The food merchant handed a cloth sack to the drowess.

Chizrae paid her money and nodded her head in small gratitude before promptly walking away.

Talvalo pressed through the crowd to follow. "You know, I've seen General Nerevar's likeness in statues and paintings. You don't look anything like him," he complimented.

"I don't suppose I do." She pushed open the door.

"Tell me, then. What was it like under Red Mountain?" He followed her out of the tavern.

"Dark, hot, and full of lava."

"That's it? There had to have been more to it than that. Red ash blight storms have been blowing around that mountain ever since I can remember. Blighted animals driven insane by the diseases carried on the wind attack anything in sight. Corprus monsters that were once human have been sighted around the land - their flesh literally bloating, rotting, and dropping off of them until they are nothing but empty hulls that eat the flesh of their own dead. And strange ash creatures from beyond this realm have been reported inside the Ghostgate and in Sixth House cults. And all you can say about it is that it was hot and full of lava? Weren't there horrors beyond imagination?"

"There were mindless idiots walking around in loincloths and fat creatures that looked like overfed illithids," she droned, tiring quickly of his attention.

The gold elf's nose scrunched in confusion. "Fat what?"

Chizrae stopped with a sigh and faced her unwanted companion. "Look, I don't like you or this conversation. If you don't mind, I'd like to be left alone now. ... Or do I have to report you to one of these clones in a guard uniform."

"No need to call on guards. I just forgot my manners. My apologies - my name is Talvalo." He gave a short bow. "I'm a mercenary battlemage looking for challenging hire among good company, and you look like you might be both. " He pushed back the hood of his ornate, red robe to reveal pale-green eyes, a finely chiseled face, and long red hair, neatly tied back in a gold clasp.

Chizrae took note of the polished silver armor visible at the neck and sleeves beneath his robe, and the longsword and axe strapped onto his hips. "Well, Sir Paladin, I'm not a damsel in distress." She started to move past him.

"I ... didn't say you were." Again, he was caught off-guard by her frank mannerism, but he stepped in front of her to prevent her from walking away just yet. "And, ... while knights and paladins are admirable company, I'm afraid I like a few more worldly pleasures than their codes of conduct usually allow. But, you look like you're stocking up for a trip. Am I right?" He gestured to the sack of food in her arms. "Perhaps I can be of small service to you along the way?"

Chizrae was becoming irritated with his persistence. "Why?"

"Why?"

"Yes, why?"

"Well, ... I just ... happen to like a good adventure and a change of scenery from day to day. I'm a bit of a wanderer at heart. I am originally from a very boring noble house in Cyrodiil, but I'm registered with several chapters of the Fighters Guild and Mages Guild throughout Vvardenfell, if you want to check my credentials first. There's a Mages Guild in this town, in fact."

"I know that."

"Do you? You don't seem to be from this region, so I assumed you didn't know."

"I'm not, but I do."

He tried to remain polite in the face of her rudeness. "May I ask where you're from, then?"

"You may, but I will not answer."

Talvalo was finally at a loss for words, but he was still not ready to bid her good night yet. He stubbornly tried to think of something else to say.

The drow pitied his effort with a begruding sigh. "Do you know the region of Molag Amur?"

The altmer stopped straining to find his silver tongue. "I have a good sense of direction and knowledge of prominent landmarks, if that's what you mean. Is that where you're headed? Molag Amur is a long way from here - a dangerous journey, too. Then again, if you've been under Red Mountain, I suppose a few wild animals are no skin off your back."

"I have a excavation report to pick up for the Mages Guild. They're doing research at a dwemer ruin in the Molag Amur region. Every direction looks the same out there in that godforsaken land, and I've lost my way more times than I care to count."

"My lady, I am at your service." He bowed graciously, glad to hear it. But then, he quickly added, "For two hundred septims a week."

She wasn't surprised. "Pricey little bastard, aren't you."

"I am willing to negotiate other options."

"Good. Because I don't have it. I will pay you upon completion of the task when I am paid, and I will share provisions with you for the journey. Is that well enough?"

"Well enough," he agreed with a light smile. "Oh, and ..." He lifted a finger. "You must agree to tell me more about what happened under Red Mountain, ... if indeed you truly are the Nerevarine."

With that settled, she began a strong pace toward the southern gate.

"Wonderful. And, ... might I know the name of my contractor?" He followed at an easy stroll, though he could have easily outpaced her with his long legs.

"Chizrae."

"That's an unusual name. Sounds like a kiss with a razor's edge. Chizrae ..." He repeated the name using word association to help remember it, but he said it as if it carried an air of suspense about it. "No surname?"

"My last name does not matter because my House is dead. But it's Velve'Xukuth, if you must know."

He blinked as the strange name whizzed past him in her strange accent. "Velkuth what? That doesn't sound dunmer."

"Because I am not dunmer."

"Then, ... what are you?"

"Drow."

The term did not ring any bells for him - not for race or region.

"The dark elves where I come from are nothing like the dark elves of this place. Our skins are darker, our eyes are brighter, and our magic is quite different. The dark elves here despise necromancy. The dark elves where I come from are experts at it."

"Oh. ... I see."

She flashed him a thin, dry smirk. "I don't think you do."

"Well, at least you seem to be like our dark elves in one respect. You don't hesitate to speak your mind." He happily shifted his backpack into a more comfortable position for walking. "So then, where are we headed for the night?"

"Vivec."

"Ah, teleportation. But the Mages Guild is behind us, toward the north gate."

"I'm not teleporting; I'm walking. They charge too much for teleportation."

His expression fell slightly. "Walking? But Vivec is -"

"A long way away," she finished his thoughts.

"And you intend to walk that distance in the dark?"

"The evening is cooler and clearer for me to travel."

"But more dangerous."

Chizrae chuckled to herself. "For me? Or for the fool who tries to attack me?"

))((

Their journey had carried them through the town of Balmora, down a long country road toward Pelagiad. Most of the trek was done in silence because Chizrae had little to say and Talvalo was trying to respectfully guard his tongue against offending the touchy woman that would be the source of his next payment. But by sunrise, the altmer could stand the silence no more and was ready to try to engage her in conversation again. "We've been walking all night. Might I suggest we stop in Pelagiad for a rest before going any further?"

"I decline."

"You ... decline. Of course, you decline," he muttered in discouragement, but he continued to follow her pace as he watched the sign toward the town - and the tavern - pass them by. "You know, what you need is a horse. A horse could cut your travel time in half if you don't like paying teleport fees."

"I can't afford a horse, and I'm not settled enough to consider ownership of one. But I do like them. They don't have horses where I came from. They're strong, graceful creatures - like art in motion. Someday, perhaps."

"The Reincarnate of the Great General Nerevar can't afford a horse."

"I am not Nerevar's Reincarnate."

"No? You just happened to come along at the right time and the right place to fulfill his role. Come now. I may not be an Ashlander, but even I understand the complexity of such prophecies. There's no way you could have accomplished the defeat of Dagoth Ur without some kind of supernatural help."

"I had the favor of four Ashlander tribes and three Great Houses. I also had the favor of the Daedric Prince Azura. That was more than enough support for the task, though it would have been nicer if they had lent me some armed warriors rather than sending me in all by myself."

"And how did you come to gain the favor of one such as her? You know, no offense, but you resemble a dremora lord a bit yourself - minus the hellish, red tattoos and horns, of course." Talvalo delivered a clipped smile along with his comment.

Chizrae cut him a skeptical side glance. "A noble elf with a sense of humor. Will miracles never cease." She looked straight ahead again. "I came to this world through a portal from Oblivion. Azura protected me so that she could employ me to accomplish her final revenge on the Sixth House here."

Talvalo didn't know what to think of that. "You came through Oblivion?"

"The Multiverse connects all portals of time and place. I don't understand it myself, but it's true or I wouldn't be here."

"You couldn't pay me enough to walk through Oblivion. You must have had Azura's blessing to survive that. But ... why did you leave your world?"

"I was an escaped prisoner of one noble house after having been exiled from another. When you leave under conditions like that, ... you can never really go home again."

"Exiled? Why?"

Chizrae cringed slightly at the memories. "It's not important now."

Talvalo could tell by the somewhat emotionless expression and loss of edge to her tone that it was still important to her, but he decided not to pry further.

))((

By the time they arrived at the outskirts of Vivec, they were both hot and sweaty from the exhausting, non-stop trip. Chizrae paused only to cover her eyes from the glare of the noon day sun before turning left and heading down an inlet toward the docks. She nodded to a ship master who usually stationed his boat there and continued across the old, gray pier. As she walked, her eyes focused between the slats on the large slaughterfish that swam beneath them, following them with predatory stealth. "Not today," she quietly told it. "I will not fall through any loose boards into your jaws today."

Talvalo followed her down the extended docks around the city and up a ladder to an abandoned building. "So this is where the Nerevarine lives? I was expecting a palace."

"I'm working on that." At the door, Chizrae removed her boots and stepped inside. "Jiub?" she called as she set her shoes near an old, lacquered chest and unclasped her indigo cloak, tossing it toward a handrail leading down some stone steps.

Talvalo squinted slightly at the name, but paused to set down his backpack and copy her actions, placing his boots next to hers. He crossed the soft straw mats on the floor and found a more typical-looking, ash-blue dark elf sitting by the fire pit at a low table with a book in his hands. This dunmer had a shaved head, a scar across one eye, and multiple piercings in his nose, ears, and lips - the kind of person that normally made Talvalo rest a hand close to his money pouch and his sword.

"This book's interesting. It's really old, but probably worth at least a hundred hundred septims." Jiub closed it in one hand and looked up at her, obviously not expecting to see company.

"Talvalo this is Jiub; Jiub, Talvalo." She introduced them with a flat, uninterested tone, but then promptly answered the dunmer's appraisal. "I'm not selling the book."

Jiub nodded to the high-bred altmer with caution, but continued to converse with the drow. "It's a cookbook. Why would someone like you need a cookbook?"

Her snow white brows furrowed over her dark crimson eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Please, Chiz, you're not exactly a gourmet chef. You can barely afford a loaf of bread, much less these fancy ingredients. Sell the book at the trade house and get your money's worth from it."

"One of these days I will be able to eat a meal that wasn't grilled over an open fire pit, and when I do, I will use that book. Soup would be nice for a change, you know." She set her bag of food on the small table and pulled out an orange. "I'm not selling it."

"Aren't you going to say anything about the stray elf behind you?" Jiub used a finger to pry open the sack and see what else she bought. "A cat would have been more practical you know, considering all the rats down in the cellar."

"He's a battlemage. And he's going with me to Molag Amur because he says he knows the region."

Jiub raised the back of his hand to his mouth and gave a gruff laugh. "An altmer knows the Ashlands?"

Talvalo raised an indignant brow at the dunmer's assumptions concerning his knowledge of the land - or lack thereof. "I've traveled extensively in Morrowind, including the Ashlands. Will you be joining the excursion?"

"Are you crazy? I'm a thief, not a pack mule. That's what she's going to use you for, believe me. I've raided smugglers' caverns with her a few times, and she will load your ass with everything she can stuff into your pack."

Chizrae rolled her eyes lightly. "I met Jiub on the prison ship that brought me to Morrowind. Other than a whiny-voiced wood elf named Fargoth, Jiub was the only person who would give me the time of day. I needed a place to live so I recruited him to help me clean out a nearby smuggler's cavern. We cleaned the place out completely because everything in there was worth something, and we both needed some coins in our pockets. But when I came across this place on my first trip to Vivec, we moved here instead - closer to bigger commerce."

"And what is this place?" Talvalo asked.

"A shrine to Azura. The actual shrine is across the water. There's a tunnel under the house from the cellar that leads to it." Chizrae finished peeling her orange to break apart the sections. "I think this used to be the caretaker's house, but it was abandoned and filled with dust when I found it."

Jiub straightened and folded his arms over the book at his chest. "Who am I to say no to an ex-priestess with longsword specialties offering free shelter?"

"Priestess?" Talvalo looked at the drow with surprise. "You didn't tell me you were a priestess."

"Because I'm not." Chizrae slid to the floor by the fire pit and reached for a bottle of water packed into a nearby barrel.

"Chiz here used to be a priestess of Lloth," Jiub informed Talvalo with a hint of dark mystery in his tone.

"Oh. Well, I'm not familiar with that deity, but if she's a priestess, that might explain why Azura chose her to take Nerevar's place in the prophecy concerning the Sixth House." Talvalo invited himself to sit down at the table opposite the thief. "What say you? Does she speak the truth concerning this Red Mountain affair? I have my doubts."

Jiub snorted in amusement at the question and leaned across the floor to grasp Chizrae's ebony hand and thrust it under Talvalo's nose. "See that ring? That is the Moon and Star. Azura cursed that ring so that only her beloved Nerevar could wear it."

The drowess frowned and jerked her hand back to herself. "I am not Nerevar. And though I do honor Azura for all she has done for me during my stay in this world, I am no longer a priestess - not for anyone. I am a spellsword doing what I must to survive in this world. Nothing more."

Jiub leaned on the table facing her. "They say only a dark elf like no other could bear the soul of the betrayed general back from the grave. Only a dark elf like no other could lift the curse of the Sixth House. You happen to be a dark elf like no other, my dear," the thief reminded her in his gruff voice. "And word is spreading of your involvement. Your days as an ordinary spellsword are numbered; mark my words."

"I was betrayed all right, but I am not your legendary general," Chizrae muttered as she drank some water and ate her orange, while Talvalo reached for some water and an orange, as well.

Jiub chuckled at her irritation with his teasing. "What's wrong with a little fame and fortune? Vivec owes you something for helping him out, doesn't he?"

"The fortune I'd be willing to take - if there was one. Otherwise, Vivec and I have an understanding."

Talvalo raised his brows at the absurdity in that statement. One does not "have an understanding" with a god. Who did this elf think she was? She might not have looked much like an ancient general who was friend to the gods of the Tribunal, but she certainly acted like one.

"Last chance. Are you coming with us to Molag Amur, or are you going to sit here with my cookbook and study how to make onion soup?" Chizrae challenged Jiub.

"Neither. But I shall bring us a plethora of onions to make said soup, if you wish? I know where I can find them ... cheap." The thief spoke in imitation of her new noble-bred acquaintance and gave her a rudimentary grin.