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  • Miragent of Mercy 1.) Jun 4, 2017

    1.)



    "Do you bleed?"



    She crossed the tight, muddy area between the houses - eventually discovering that in the early dusk, the townsfolk are retreating at least to their porches, if not outright into their houses, thus she can easily sneak past simply by being under their feet... All the buildings on the seashore were standing on a forest of tall, thin stilts; each having multiple storeys built over them. All of them looked old, made of creaking, graying wood long weathered in the salty sea breeze. Something told her she has to sneak past; hunger or not - she won't find food here. Too few people. Too aware. Too little food to start with: she saw no fishes or fishnets in the lagoon's water. This is not the Imperial City where a few disappeared pears make no difference. No; this has to be a fishing village, and if so, probably there is a trading post nearby, too. Or some orchard. Anything, really.

    She successfully snuck past the entire village in the in-creeping darkness, only to find herself before a smooth-looking, though not particularly tall wall. Not tall enough to be in par with certain city walls, but by far too tall to jump, or even climb over it. No trees near it either. Sh'kaille stopped in front of it in a mild shock. Then slowly looked around. Yes. It was everywhere. All around the settlement. In every direction except for the sea. Is this whole place... a prison? Or is it... protected from something...? Who on Nirn would ever wall in an entire village?? Especially a small one, like this...

    She decided to follow the wall to see those parts of it that weren't directly visible from this point. It had corners, bends, and had even smaller hills within its grasp, not to mention the houses: maybe there is a gate somewhere, she just couldn't see it. The idea was surprisingly fruitful. Climbing up a small hill - later, as she noticed, a half-buried ruin actually - she saw a majestic dual-gate in the distance, with stone carvings and statues to guard it. And.... and a giant.

    Yes, a giant. It looked like an enormous human at first, but Sh'kaille quickly realised that the creature is a sewn, partially flayed, and most obviously undead being with faintly glowing runes on its body wherever the skin was missing. Not really the usual kind of undead she found randomly in caves, ruins or town sewer systems before. She did have enough adventurer routine to not be phased by such things - as long as she noticed them first and had enough arrows to take care of them -, but this...? It was almost as tall as the wall itself. It made no sound, and as Sh'kaille crept closer, she quickly noticed it has no mouth... Its silence only made it much creepier. It also lacked eyes, which scared Sh'kaille to death: could that mean, whatever it is, sees without eyes...? Could it be possible that... it is already alert of her presence...? Morbidly enough, it scared her far less than being noticed by any person with actual eyes and the ability to speak, but being frightened of a monster came naturally even to her.

    The gate, however, looked like it is otherwise open: behind that beast it had its door boards open on both sides. It also seemed to be the only entrance to the village.

    "Perhaps it is a sort of a... guardian atronach then...?" she mused to herself.

    Sh'kaille, of course, already had her perfect idea of how to solve the problem. The giant looked tall, strong, and possibly highly... unnatural, but exactly because of its size, it also looked somewhat slow. She could simply sprint through.

    She snuck into a more upfront position to make sure she doesn't have to maneuver much, and briefly prepared, mostly mentally. Sadly, she saw the creature take a few quicker steps, so she was aware that it can probably run very fast as well - but likely not that much faster than a normal sized human, right? She knew this is going to be risky and frightening, but if she trusted something - only one thing in herself - that was her speed. All she had to do was to time it right: the being seemed to mostly be built for walking forward, so if it is turned with its back, it will have to waste time on making a full turn before running after her.... and it is much, much taller, and generally larger than any of the twin gates themselves: if she can pass through, she would be safe. The monstrous being kept walking back and forth, up and down, left and right in the small pavemented area that looked like an empty town plaza before the gates. (Well, in case we imagine a town plaza full of bones, rusty armours, a minor general waste dump, and a lot of stray plants and fungi emerging from between the cobblestones on the sides, where the gate-guarding monster didn't walk past too often. Clearly, keeping the place tidy was harder with a dangerous guardian giant around.) She prepared to run, then.... froze in the moment, almost even stopping to breathe. She had to remind herself that is a bad idea before running. She had to wait... wait, until the giant faced towards the gate on the right, then she set off trying to force herself to reach her full speed as soon as possible - within a few steps, preferably... she had to sprint past the creature before it could turn back, and fly through the left gate. The last thing she saw before pressing her eyes closed was the gigantic creature slowly straightening its broad back as it stood, just a step away from her - then the next thing was tripping on a stray rock on the other side. She fell, but the relatively soft, dry dust of the pathway leading from the gate was much less inconvenient than possibly being mauled to death by an undead giant, so she concluded she was successful with her transition.

    She stood up to look around - and listen around, too. She heard the heavy steps of the gigantic creature on the other side, but they didn't sound faster, or noisier than before, so she hoped she managed to get rid of the threat. On this side, there were still a few rays of sunlight painting the lush, colourful flora a warmer hue, and the wall held off the sea mist and made the air clearer. Strange, sweetly-flowery smell filled the evening, which reminded her of the springs spent in some rural areas of Cyrodiil. She was always on the go, but she could still appreciate the few pleasant things her vagabond lifestyle could offer. Her heart felt much lighter, and she adjusted and checked all her carried package - everything from her oilskin cross-strap bag to her bow mounted on her back. Soon enough, she was walking the yellow pathway that made its way between the rocks like some sort of creek. She followed it until it ran into another, slightly broader road, the two gently meeting when coming from almost the same direction. Sh'kaille imagined them being rivers, flowing towards the sea. "What _is_ the sea, here...? A city, perhaps. That is good news for me."

    As she progressed, the sky went fully dark, and the wind turned cold; the air turned moist... Maybe there was some raincloud or storm approaching...? She emerged from the rocky canyon, following the path, and realised she is on some sort of highland, full of weird, skeletal trees, and twisted tree trunks, or... giant vines, maybe...? It wasn't fully dark yet, and she saw a chance to finally leave the road to avoid unwanted attention. While pondering on a possible route on the landscape only scarcely littered with trees - thus allowing her to keep an eye on said road -, she heard a sound that alerted her in an instant. Steps...? Who is coming? Somebody slowly but steadily jogging on the road, from the same direction as her. She left the road, swiftly and silently crouching down and hiding behind a patch of taller shrubbery on the roadside. It was growing out around an old, dead tree, and Sh'kaille was sure it is a good enough cover... but behind it, there was nothing but a low-sliding hillside, with some more plant-life that could prove a brilliant cover, especially in the deepening darkness. Behind them, she saw the sea's surface glimmering. She had the chance to sneak further from the road, and she did. She listened carefully as the steps rushed closer, and then got lost in the distance again. "Finally." she thought. It felt rather content and safe, hiding away so well, but it fell apart fast as there was a silent, skittering sound. She didn't even think: turned (only with her upper body to stay silent), while her eyes grew wide, and only the light possibly reflected by them could give her position away. Something moved. Something, only several steps away, on the hillside. She could take out the crowded outlines of a... leaf-like, or ant-like being in the evening darkness. It was mostly between the two. She has seen similar things before; small ones... Or even large ones, as large as a cub's paw. They were insects hiding away by looking like leaves, living in Elsweyr's forests. But this one was literally gigantic; not the skeever-size gigantic... the nearly horse-size gigantic. She kept her movements a tiny bit slower than the fastest she could react - to make sure she can do it silently. Set her bow and notched an arrow. This was the only reason she used a composite bow; not because she was short, but because it could be set in dead silence and without taking a step - _if_ the one doing it had enough routine. She aimed for the bug's eyes, which was a harder task in this case than with any other creature. Too many eyes - and too small ones. She knew these creatures are aggressive, but they weren't big enough to pose a threat - up to now.

    The first arrow only hit its head. It ripped through the chitin, but she had enough time to notch another one long before the creature came closer - and it did... it started to run and attack a split-second later, even with an arrow in its head. "Do you bleed?" - Sh'kaille hissed under her breath. She quickly aimed and shot again, but only caught the side of one of the sturdy chitin plates. Another quick shot, now almost from point blank, and with no aiming... It hit the creature's abdomen and insect stopped... then finally collapsed with some suddenness, in Sh'kaille's consideration. "Hm. No. But you die. Works for me..." She closed the few steps left to the bug and attempted to pull at least one salvageable arrow out of its carapace.

    After that threat was averted, and adequately studied by her, she set off a good distance to the right from the road, but still keeping an eye on it. She was much more cheerful, even though her clothing was still wet and her belly still empty. The yellow, dusty road filled her with hope: where there are roads, there are towns as well. And where are towns, there is food, and warmth, perhaps even.... new clothes...? Maybe clothing traders... Or just traders in general... Or just... people.

    Halfway into the evening, she reminded herself to not work her hopes up. Who knows what she would find... and when. The next thing she found was an obstacle - nothing edible, but at least not too problematic. Apparently, the road crossed a wide, low wetland, and while it ran on a continual, low rampart, there were still small lakes, puddles and salty lagoons all around it. The road ran haughtily above her on its traverse, but down here, a lagoon crossed her path. Sh'kaille considered backtracking and climbing up, but quickly dropped the idea. She didn't want to be vulnerable, even if it was getting darker. Soon, so she could greet the time when she already has a natural advantage. Still, instead, she backtracked only halfway or less, and started to sprint towards the lagoon.

    "Run... Jump... Land. Good!"

    She flew right across the lagoon, and landed in the shallow, muddy water on the other side, only a puddle depth of it on the shore. Paws down, with a perfect landing. "Dammit." She still wasn't pleased by this. "I should have made no noise." Indeed, she should have jumped just a half step longer. However, at first, she had a glimpse of hope: what is the chance of somebody being around to hear it....? And then - much to her horror -, she realised somebody was indeed near. Right after the lagoon and the few bushes on the other side of it, the road turned, its rampart formed a half circle, and in the middle of that, there was another lagoon - a round little inlet. Some old, half-sunken ruins formed a small island right in the middle of it, and on the top of these ruins there was a wide stone table and a lit brazier. Whoever was tending the flames certainly was nearby, and Sh'kaille could already see the obscure, robed figures pass by the light again and again. They heard her splash-land... and talked amongst themselves. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but she was certain it involves the noise she made. She was laying low, to her best hopes: completely motionless, and in the shadow of the bushes she landed right next to. Oh how she wished these times she could force her tail to be still as well... But she couldn't help her own nervousness. Granted, that little movement - her rhythmically, softly swaying tail - never gave her away before in her entire life, she was well aware that it is just a matter of time. One day, one dreadful day, this will be her undoing.

    She spent minutes there. Maybe ten, maybe more. She hid there for so long, her heart started to beat normally - slower and slower... She almost calmed down. The robed people stopped looking for her; they apparently returned to their ritual, whatever it was, and decided she hasn't been more than a remarkably large fish. "Good", she thought. She gave them an enormous radius of space when avoiding them, since if she didn't want to backtrack and cross the road, her only option was wading through the water. It was shallow enough, and it was dark by then - she could do it slowly but quietly, if she did so far enough. She successfully snuck past, at the price of being terribly cold. The water was too cold for her, and by far too salty; she had to declare that the second time today.
  • Miragent of Mercy 0.) Prologue Jun 4, 2017

    Prologue:



    "Run like the wind!" - A prayer for mercy



    Step step step step step - the rhythm livened her up and gave itself to control her heartbeat. Sh'kaille ran as fast as she could; and deep within, she felt a strange, hidden, shady impression of triumph. Yes, they caught her, yes, they accused her... But she ran off, and nobody can catch her...!

    It didn't last long, though. It was just a brief impression, and as after an initial long-seeming few moments of sprinting, she slowed down, her primal thoughts and feelings crept back in. Ah yes, the city guards... Enormous men of steel, clad in armor she herself couldn't even carry if she tried. They are towering over her, accusing her, talking to her.... She can’t always understand the words in her panic, only the accusing tone. Asking if she is a servant here... asking if she is a trader, a smuggler, a thief... They wonder what a "khajiit even does here"... Accusing, accusing, accusing. Sharp and accusing. For what? For why? "What is so bad in me?" she thought. "They cannot accuse me for being a 'defect' of my kind: they have no right to tell a khajiit she is supposed to find her way anywhere!!!” After thoughts like this, she kept remembering every time: ah yes. They are accusing her for being what she is . No more. No less.

    Hidden. Dark. Small. Unusual in build, at least compared to those free traders who come and go here - and no others... lived nearby of her kind. She was too “beast”, and not enough “man” for them, despite most smoothskins couldn’t tell why they have this impression. Not many walk past here who hail from Elsweyr... and even less of them walk past unharmed, or without being showered in questions and accusations.

    She rested a few seconds by only walking for a while, when set off running as fast as she could, again. Her mind spitting back out all the nightmarish memories of the last few minutes of her life: accusing stares... painfully honest and painfully clueless words... "Are you a thief?" "You didn't think I will let you just run off, beast man!" ....and even "Why is your kind even let in here?"... Ah yes, it was long since she didn’t expect much more, especially in smaller towns of Cyrodiil. Yet still... her initial hopes of ever finding a home outside of her home kept returning, not in form of hopes... more like, in the form of beautiful dreams. A place with familiar faces. A place with smiles. A place where she can ask for directions - and get them, with no mockery to withstand in return... A simple, sweet, sugar-sweet paradise.

    Her bitter thoughts hastened her steps.

    "Run.... Run like the wind!" - she thought to herself, setting off with full speed again. "Let's see if you can catch up in your darned armors! Let's see...!"

    Somewhere, maybe even miles back, who knows, a few guards gathered into a haphazardly-done circle near the small city's gates.

    "Ya' saw her? I saw her run off but didn't follow. Damn if I will. As long as that stays outside, I'm fine. Not my job to catch her kind. Just get them outta the city." The old guard speaking found deep understanding and importance-acknowledging nods from left and right. Nobody felt like running after the 'fugitive' thief in armor, especially in this heat. And it wasn't worth tiring out a horse either. She didn't steal more than an apple and some bread anyway.

    Meanwhile Sh'kaille grew tired once again, but this time she contently judged the distance put between herself and the previous human settlement big enough for safety and convenience. Now, to avoid any possible travelers and caravans...

    She found some sad, grotesque irony in how she had to avoid even khajiit trading caravans, and any possible travelling adventurers, couriers, or anybody else, who, in truth... didn’t have much more of a highly-regarded lifestyle than herself. Their superiority...? Who knows. Who knows why they still judged her.

    Why they still stared at her accusingly on every turn... why they laughed at her as the caravan rolled by; why they pointed and stared and whispered between themselves about her being "lost again"... or her being a "shame to her people"... She had her own solution. It was called - not using the road.

    Her steps, especially when slower, were completely silent in the road's dust and the early afternoon heat. She left the road at the first forest patch she encountered; and she estimated it to be much larger than a mere grove. By the steadily raising relief and of how she had to keep upwards after leaving the road at a turn, she imagined this is some sort of forested hill, or lower mountain ahead. "Good, a place nobody will follow me to!" And with that thought, she gleefully and voluntarily left the road.

    Her steps were careless and quick initially, jumping form rock to rock, log to log in the deep cover of old leaves on the forest soil. She quickly remembered how she didn't like running in forests; shame for her kind that's known to be a forest people, or not. She could never tell which rock is safe to jump on, or which pile of leaves hides a deeper pit than she expected. She had to go uphill for a long, long while. Meanwhile she daydreamed about what she might see from the top solely to entertain herself, and she was outright surprised when she discovered the sun is already setting on her - it has been a long, long walk.

    It wasn't dark enough for her to even so much as worry, but she stopped briefly only to assess where she is, and she quickly realized - she is lost. Again. Hopelessly.

    She wasn't sure if she managed to keep her direction the same since she left the town, nor that if she managed to keep her direction with any correspondence with the road she left at that ominous turn. She couldn't even exactly take out where the sun was supposed to be, as it has already set behind the hill she was climbing at the moment.

    Sh'kaille pretended to not care much at first, but as she mechanically kept walking - almost sleepwalking awake -, her old memories crept up to her once again. She saw her brother's laughing face. "A cat never gets lost, you little dummy! If you do - something is really wrong with you!". She saw her mother walk by - tall, thin, long-boned woman, with an injured tail and sharp, hazel eyes. She always walked by her like that. With that hidden half-glance, the kind that hinted "I keep an eye on you, daughter, because you are mine, but all ancestors so help me, I wish you weren't". Or at least this is what Sh'kaille felt. Every. Single. Time.

    The feeling already burnt into her bones. She kept walking forward with no care for what she might find, or where she might end up - just to keep pretending before herself and the creatures of the wilderness that she is alright, she is perfectly fine and needs nothing... Nothing at all. Not a smile. Not directions. Not a warm hearth. She tried to find rhythm in the pulling-releasing sensation on her shoulders as the bushes kept getting caught in, and mildly tearing at, her dark gray capelet. She started to feel cold enough to use the hood on it despite not even in a city. Her mindless marching led her to a small camp at the top of the hill, which she only noticed when she was almost dangerously close to it. She stopped, startled, looking up at the small lean-to, and the elderly, probably imperial woman reading inside at the last rays of the setting sun. She almost walked right up without noticing!!! She was frightened by the mere possibility. Where is her cautiousness???

    She stopped, donned the hood fully and hid under it deeply, and started to approach as carefully as possible. She discovered the lean-to and the few benches behind it weren’t the only thing on the clearing ahead: there was a tall stone-carved statue, and a thin, almost absurdly skinny argonian kneeling before it - nearly naked but with a helm on her head. Sh'kaille curiously, but silently approached, as slowly as possible but still moving on ahead.

    She was convinced she managed to stay unseen; free of the judging eyes and free to try and guess what is happening, but she had to experience the opposite. The elderly woman sitting in the half-tent shelter simply looked up - directly at her, despite she was crouching in the darkness - then put her book away with a quick motion.

    "Greetings, traveler, come closer, come closer, we don't bite!" The old woman said on a hoarse, but friendly voice. Almost disturbingly overly friendly. She was wearing light gray, or perhaps white, from top to toe - mostly the same hue. Sh'kaille was frozen in the moment, eyes wide open and pupils growing rapidly. The woman waved her to call her closer. Agile legs or not, the khajiit felt like she is walking on freshly cut sticks instead of legs as she stumbled a bit closer as soon as she dared to.

    "Have you come to offer yourself to the Madgod's service? You have done well to have done so." The old woman's smile - and preaching - sent the chills down Sh'kaille's spine. "You may pray to any other god before the storms come, but after - nobody else takes a lost soul! His realm is wonderfully terrible and terribly wonderful, His ruthlessness is wise, and His wisdom is ruthless and deadly. Nobody else has mercy on those who have lost everything, thus have nothing left to offer Him. He is the only one to take in the orphaned, the lost, the wandering."

    Sh'kaille felt the words almost literally echoing in her mind as she repeated them to herself again and again and again. 'The only one to take in the lost.... orphaned... the wandering...'

    Without her knowledge, she stepped closer. Her curiosity was momentarily stronger than her fear - even if the miracle was brief, and she did not know what her face implied at this moment, but it was enough for the elder in the worn clothes to continue her speech. "You see, you have nothing to shy away from - as long as you have something to lose... the other gods, or even your fellow men will take it from you... But if you have nothing left - only He will accept you for free; accept what and who you are standing only by yourself in the end, no other gods will. Make your offerings: Offer yarn, a head of lettuce, and a soul gem... If you are lucky and Sheogorath feels generous, you can feel his blessing on you. If you are not - well, then you wouldn't be the first one to bore Him!" The old woman laughed but her voice, somehow, still didn’t carry malevolence... Not too much, anyway. Sh'kaille stood completely still for seconds. She didn’t really know why she is doing this: why would she assume if she stands completely still, anybody would just "forget" she is present...?

    Regardless, the woman turned back to her book, seemingly reading in the darkness of dusk where even Sh'kaille had hardships to see clearly. She didn’t question it. Instead, used to opportunity, to try and sneak past - past the shelter, past the benches - now seemingly empty -, past... the praying argonian. Latter seemed to ignore her, much to her relief. Sh'kaille remembered having acquired a spool of yarn for no other reason than loving its dark moss green color; and, of course, because the opportunity presented itself so brilliantly: Normally, she never took anything she didn’t immediately need, but the bazaar trader outright _leaving_ his shack with her hiding only a few steps away behind a barrel... and with that beautifully colored ball of yarn there, she didn’t see any point in resisting the temptation. Nobody ever caught her in the act. Sometimes they caught her being a thief, and rare times, they even had proof - but nobody ever caught her in the act and managed to catch her since she left her home.

    She was a little reluctant to give her only whole lettuce away, but she was terribly bored of having to eat tasteless vegetables anyway. She secretly longed for a good, hearty cooked meal. Something sweet, preferably. And meaty. She didn't even remember when she last had one. This was because it is what was the hardest to quire: the things easiest to take were those people traded on the streets, or grew in gardens: fruit, vegetables, and sometimes bread or pastries. These were her most common 'staple diet', and having nearly no means to safely acquire anything sweet, or more nutritious made her humble - and rather bored of eating more-or-less fresh plant life. She decided a little hunger is worth it, if she has the opportunity to share her dinner with a deity. She didn't remember having a soul gem, but, after slowly, and with a nearly sleepwalking gesture, she placed both the dark green yarn and the somewhat-flabby lettuce on the base of the statue, she reached into her oilskin backpack, and found the cold, hard and soothing surface of a small, unidentified crystal she had found on a shop counter much earlier - possibly even in another, previous city...? She didn't remember. Nor she did ponder much on identifying the stone. She remembered finding (and taking) quite some books form the same shop, and taking the stone because of its smooth, shining surface. Now she offered it up to somebody she was supposed to respect - she knew _she_ liked that stone... Doesn't it mean others might, as well? Maybe even a god.

    The stone made a tiny cling sound on the stone surface of the statue base. Then, there was silence. A strange, filled, heavy silence. She felt that the silence... is listening. Not the cicadas, all around on every tree and bush that were giving their relentless evening concert. And not the still dead-silent devotee only a few steps away from her, who regularly switched between kneeling and standing with her arms held high towards the sky.

    Sh'kaille was peeking up at the tall statue from underneath her hood; shyly but with wide open, yellow eyes. For some reason, she didn't feel judged - and this was a new, entirely unknown, both exciting and fearsome feeling. She explained it by that only being a statue, of course. She felt _threatened_ - but not judged; nor accused.

    "Sheogorath.... The... The Madgod..." - she whispered, on a shaky voice she thought is silent enough so that only she herself can hear it. She knew well how her own people had their own name given to the Madgod - and she felt defiant and rebellious on her own way for not using it. She kept lying to herself she denied all her roots, only to give her a reason to remember them and miss them again and again.

    "I know nobody else would shelter me from those looks... Maybe you won't either. But I miss people. Miss the eyes. The hands. The smiles... I know they all hate me. But I don't hate them. I miss them. They are... my company. Me unseen, but still seeing them. I'm so lonely... Oh, I'm so lonely."

    She didn't know what to say. She knew what she wanted - but how to word that...? What was there she still wanted for herself, and what was something she would have given away if that was required as an offer...? The line was so clear, but she felt there are so few words for it.

    "I wish they would speak to me. The... the people. I wish they would speak to me, but not judge me. Or mock me. Or laugh at me. I would give... anything. I give you... anything. Everything I have... everything I am. I... I know I'm nobody... I'm nothing... A waster. A bad apple. But that's all I have, so... So take me, take anything you want, my soul, or my mind, whatever is your fancy... All I ask for... Is to ease the pain. I have no care for what is left of me... Just take this pain away! I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I don't want the fear, the tears... The darkness I am forced to live in... Or the darkness within me. Being always lost... Being laughed at for being lost... Being the one accused for not being a "real khajiit" by her own siblings... I just want to be happy. Or at least not lonely anymore.”

    She paused, slowly thinking it over again. What would satisfy her…? Not living, obviously. She didn’t wish for death through. She wished to be safe from her greatest fears of abandonment.

    “All I ask for... Is to take me, should I ever fully succumb to despair. If I ever get so lost I would never find a town again; I could never find a settlement of people again, or I would never see a smiling face again... Then take me! Take me, body, soul and mind, it doesn't matter... Take me and in turn have mercy on me - and if that mercy is death: so be it! Death is better than feeling that darkness and cold forever..."

    ----------------------------------------------------

    Step step step step step - the rhythm was pumping and dragging her every cell with itself, mercilessly shaking up her body and entire world, with every one of her senses throbbing with pain with it. Sh'kaille ran as fast as she could; her panic sending her forward rather than her actual muscles. Those were already so painfully tired they were working miracles just so much as to move.

    They accused her; they found her, they laughed at her, they pointed at her.... Her own kind!! There were four or more of them, perhaps a whole family - a happy, stupid, clueless family, with children who have no idea how terrible this world is! They mocked her as they caught her on the road; just because she was careless and, instead of choosing to follow the road from a distance or use directions instead of any roads, she stayed on the beaten path. Just because she was careless _once_ and now... now here is the catastrophe! They saw her. Nobody has seen her directly for... What, years now? Who knows. Now they did. They did, and instantly, that horror, that hell started again. They laughed! They stared at her! They stared at her dusty, town cloak, they laughed at her short, almost tiny stature, they laughed at her thin ears, her long tail, her dark fur, her large eyes.... They laughed at how slowly she was walking on the same road as them, and how she was obviously confused about said road's direction.

    "Run! Run like the wind...!" - she thought, while, without any specific pre-consideration, she refused to follow a bend on the road and instead, disappeared in the forest right ahead. It was dusk on a grim, windy day, and the deepening darkness hid her away from anybody who would have possibly followed for whatever reason. She still couldn't stop. Tried to run as effectively as possible; doing her best to estimate which dark spot ahead is a rock, or anything else solid she can gain momentum from, and which one is just a pit or shallow grave to anybody who is foolish enough to break an ankle stepping into it. She grew tired, but she gathered her energies again and again. "Run like the wind! Run like the wind!"; she kept repeating it like a prayer. "Nobody can catch up to this one. Nobody! Will not let them! I may be too small but I'm fast - that much I know!" She found some comfort in these words, but the more she repeated them, the emptier they were to her.

    Exhaustion took over her entire body, and she stopped. She was standing in a shallow ditch and under a thin, smooth-barked tree. At first, she only meant to assess where she exactly is, but by the time she could gather her thoughts she already collapsed, with her back against the tree and a thick layer of leaves under her toes. She was far more exhausted than she previously thought; her heart was still pounding from the "chase", and her entire body felt soaking wet. The cool night air felt good at first, but she quickly started to shiver in the cold without the movement to keep her warm. It went completely dark, and even though she could see all the trees around her and their leaves up above, she saw no difference in the forest's pattern in any direction. It all looked the same. She wasn't even surprised anymore. She kept getting lost on the streets... The cities, that even had marks and street names carved on the house walls. She kept getting lost in the fields, where she could see long enough distances to spot familiar roofs if there was a settlement nearby. A forest... A forest wasn’t even surprising anymore. She was too weak to move from here today anyway - she tried to comfort herself by acknowledging it doesn’t matter what direction would be beneficial: she cannot follow it right now.

    The wind grew stronger. Small knocking, tapping sounds indicated the approach of the rain, its drops already playing music on the leaves nearby. The sound of the forest roaring at the approaching storm made her feel small and cold, even before the temperature dropped at all. But then it did. And the rain decided to get to work for real.

    For a foolish moment, Sh'kaille considered trying to make a fire. There was no fireplace, and all she could reach that would burn well enough were the dead leaves all around. She closed her eyes, and for a short time, she dreamed of setting the entire forest on fire. She wouldn't be cold anymore...

    She tried to reach anything useful in her bags, but she had nothing in particular in mind. She was starved, but she hadn't found anything edible for days by now... Everything was too well-guarded. She even stole some gold, but she concluded (once again) it is completely useless to her. She couldn’t even loosely estimate how much it was, let alone consider buying anything in a shop. She closed her eyes again. As much as she felt terrible for it, she started to daydream of the warm, cozy rains in Elsweyr. They were sudden, warm, refreshing showers, getting everything soaking wet - her mother used to say, if you stay out in the rain in the forest, your clothes and fur gets so soaked it might even get under your skin... Then she remembered her little brother telling everybody she probably has rainwater in her head, that is why she is so strange... so silent, shy, and gets lost all the time. Now she wondered if it is true, and her tears bubbling up are just the rainwater overflowing... like in a city canal.

    She made one last attempt to look around, but she saw nothing but the endless repetition of tree trunks before the pitch-dark skyline; the cloud of leaves above her, now torn by the wind... And the dead leaves providing the only thing resembling a nest to her right now. The only place to turn to was the sky: sometimes she saw the stars up above, even if only through small holes in the foliage, and she knew they give directions to the knowing... But even then, she could never determine those directions. Once she... stole, and read a book about the pictures in the sky; a mosaic of stars, an "art done by daedra", as the book stated... But that was long ago. Even then she didn't fully understand it. She was better at reading since, but never got better at directions. Nobody ever taught her... And it was harder to learn if she was alone. And she was. Always alone.

    And now...? Not even stars. Just a dark sky. She turned her face towards it as a very last attempt, and soon, she couldn't even keep her eyes open. The driving rain washed over her face like cold creek water, washing down her tears and washing away what little hope was left in her. She gave up. There was no point in setting camp here and now. Her warm tears appeared only to mix with the cold rain - those were the only things trying to keep her warm... Sh'kaille was slowly crying herself into sleep. She was lost. Again.

    -----------------

    At first, she thought the salt water she can taste is nothing but her tears; diluted in the rain and surrounding her; getting into everything, well... like water. Every piece of clothing, every single cell of her felt soaking wet. "I hate cold water", she thought - like as if grumbling made it go away, or anything. She eventually realized it is not only her clothing and hide being wet from the rain - she really _is_ surrounded by water. Salt water. As soon as this became clear, she near-panickedly tried to put her feet down instead of floating, and calmed down a good deal when she realized it was just a shallow lagoon: soon enough, she was wading through the shallow, slightly murky water towards the nearby land she saw. There was a small village of a few houses here, with a clear, dark sky above them. She automatically headed that way, not even letting herself fully relish in the delight she secretly felt over this. She was seeking refuge behind a stilt and moving much more slowly to avoid making any sound, as soon as she heard speech from between the houses.

    She failed to fully hide away, but drew absolutely no attention with her actions either. She emerged from the water, a total stranger, and yet nearly nobody paid any attention to her sudden appearance. An old redguard was playing cards with himself on an elevated porch of one of the wooden houses. The salt sea wind made the nearby, slightly run-down inn's sign plate creak a little on its chains.