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Saturday, February 26, 2011

XIX - Shani (part 2)

Nibani Maesa had said to return when the moon had come and gone. Fen reasoned that this meant a month, and she and Julan spent most of Evening Star doing guild jobs for Skink-In-Tree’s-Shade and tracking down the remaining propylon indices for Folms Mirel in Caldera. A few of these ventures took them to Sixth House bases, which were easy to clear out, albeit physically and mentally draining for both of them.
At some point near the end of the month, Skink asked Fen to acquire a copy of the rare Galur Rithari’s Papers. She and Julan went to Vivec and visited Jobasha’s Rare Books, where she had bought most of the other books that she had been asked to get, but she was dismayed to discover that he didn’t have a copy.
“You might try looking at the library in the Hall of Justice here in Vivec,” Jobasha said when she asked after the book. “It is a well-hidden library and guarded at all times, but you will find a copy there.”
“Thank you,” Fen said, and she reasoned that it would be best if Julan sat this particular venture out, seeing as she would most likely put her Amulet of Shadows to use. She had him teleport back to Ald’ruhn and took a gondola to the Temple Canton, then into the Hall of Justice. Fen waited until the Ordinators were out of sight, then slipped the Amulet around her neck. There was a faint hissing sound and she vanished where she stood, the colour almost melting away from her. Hoping no one had seen, she crept up a flight of stairs and slipped into the Office of the Watch, a small room where a single Ordinator sat at a desk, scribbling on a piece of parchment and frowning slightly. Fen glanced around the room and saw nothing unusual, but cast a silent detect lock spell to be sure. The spell, invisible to all but her, swept through the room as a white mist, then concentrated at the corner of the carpet for a moment before vanishing.
Fen moved the rest of the way into the room, moving the door as little as possible. She passed the desk where the Ordinator’s quill scratched softly and knelt down in the corner where the mist had accumulated seconds before. Peeling back the edge of the carpet, Fen found a trapdoor that was, presumably, locked. She glanced back at the Ordinator, who had noticed nothing and was still pored over his papers. Fen pressed her hands to the trapdoor, unlocking it, then added a silence spell so that she could open it and climb into the room below unheard.
The room was empty save for a woman in a dark robe reading at a desk in the back. It was lined with shelves, similar to the Library of Vivec, though the ceiling was low and the room stretched longer. Fen went to the first shelf and let her eyes travel along the spines of the books. Reflections on Cult Worship. The Real Barenziah, Volume Four. Vampires of Vvardenfell, Volume II. Progress of Truth. Antecedents of Dwemer Law.
These must be the books banned by the Temple, Fen thought, recognizing a few. While the books were fascinating, Fen had a feeling that the woman in the back would notice if books began disappearing off the shelves at random. She located Galur Rithari’s Papers and was about to leave with it when something else caught her eye – a single sheet of parchment sitting on a blank space on the shelf, headed Nerevar at Red Mountain. Moving with sudden instinct, she grabbed it at precisely the wrong time, for the woman had just glanced up to see the paper floating into the air and disappearing.
“Thief!” she screamed at once, jumping to her feet, and Fen shoved the paper roughly into her robe and made a beeline for the trapdoor. She threw herself to the side as it sprang open and the Ordinator from upstairs jumped down, running into the library. “There was a thief!” the woman practically shrieked at him, and Fen seized the opportunity to hastily scramble up the ladder and into the Office of the Watch. “There! I heard something!” Fen heard the Ordinator climbing the ladder behind her, and she wrenched open the door and sprinted down through the empty Hall of Justice, pushed through the door outside, and yanked the Amulet of Shadows off her neck, quickly finding the gondolier and shoving several septims into her hands.
Marveling at her miraculous escape, Fen sat down in the gondola and took out Nerevar at Red Mountain, which had become severely crumpled in her inner pocket. She smoothed it out on her lap, bending close to read the words. The paper was handwritten in tiny, cramped writing that completely filled the page, though the parchment was spotted with age.

 [The following is from the Apographa, the hidden writings of the Tribunal Temple. It is a scholarly retelling of a tradition transmitted through the Ashlanders concerning the battle at Red Mountain and subsequent events. The Ashlanders associate this tale with the telling of Alandro Sul, a shield-companion of Nerevar who came to live among the Ashlanders after the death of Nerevar and during the ascension of the Tribunal. There are many variant treatments of this story, but the primary elements are consistent throughout the tradition. The murder of Nerevar, the tragic fate of Dagoth Ur, and the profane source of the Tribunal's divine power are denied by Temple doctrine as ignorant Ashlander superstition, and not widely known among civilized Dunmer.]

Resdayn, present day Morrowind, was contested ground between two very different types of mer: the Chimer, who worshipped Daedra, and the Dwemer, who worshipped a profane and secret power. These two people warred with each other constantly until their lands were invaded by a young, vibrant, and violent alien culture, the Nords.

Two heroes, one from the Chimer and one from the Dwemer, Indoril Nerevar and Dumac Dwarf-Orc, made peace between their people and together ousted the alien invaders. Then these two heroes worked long and hard to maintain that peace thereafter, though their counselors thought it could not last or, worse, that it shouldn't. Nerevar's queen and his general – Almalexia, Sotha Sil, Vivec – told him to claim all Resdayn for his own. But Nerevar would not listen, for he remembered his friendship with Dumac. There would be only peace.

Until Dagoth-Ur arrived. House Dagoth had discovered the source of the profane and secret power of the Dwemer: the legendary Heart of Lorkhan, which Dumac's people had used to make themselves immortal and beyond the measure of the gods. In fact, one of the their high priests, Kagrenac, was building a New God so that the Dwemer could claim Resdayn for their own.

The Tribunal urged Nerevar again to make war on the Dwarves. Nerevar was troubled. He went to Dumac, his friend of old, and asked if what Dagoth-Ur said was true. But Kagrenac and the high priests of the Dwemer had kept their New God secret from their King, and Dumac said the Dwemer were innocent of any wrongdoing. Nerevar was troubled again and made pilgrimage to Holamayan, the sacred temple of Azura, who confirmed that all that Dagoth-Ur said was indeed true and that the New God of the Dwemer should be destroyed for the safety of not only Resdayn, but for the whole world. When Nerevar went back and told his Tribunal what the goddess had said, his queen and generals felt themselves proved aright and again counseled him to war. There were reasons that the Dwemer and Chimer had hated each other forever.

Finally, Nerevar, angered that his friend Dumac would lie to him, went back to Vvardenfell. This time the Chimer King was arrayed in arms and armor and had his hosts around him, and he spoke harshly to Dumac Dwarf-Orc, King of Red Mountain. "You must give up your worship of the Heart of Lorkhan or I shall forget our friendship and the deeds that were accomplished in its name!" And Dumac, who still knew nothing of Kagrenac's New God, but proud and protective as ever of his people, said, "We shall not relinquish that which has been our way for years beyond reckoning, just as the Chimer will not relinquish their ties to the Lords and Ladies of Oblivion. And to come at my door in this way, arrayed in arms and armor and with your hosts around you, tells me you have already forgotten our friendship. Stand down, my sweet Nerevar, or I swear by the fifteen-and-one golden tones I shall kill you and all your people."

And so the Chimer and Dwemer went to war. The Dwemer were well-defended by their fortress at Red Mountain, but the bravery and cleverness of Nerevar's queen and generals drew most of Dumac's armies out into the field and kept them there, so that Nerevar and Dagoth-Ur could make their way into the Heart Chamber by secret means. There, Nerevar met Dumac and the Dwarf King and they both fell from grievous wounds. Dagoth-Ur slew Kagrenac and took the tools the Dwemer used to tap the power of the Heart. He went to his dying lord Nerevar and asked him what to do with these tools. And Nerevar summoned Azura again, and she showed them how to use the tools to separate the power of the Heart from the Dwemer people.

And on the fields, the Tribunal and their armies watched as the Dwemer turned into dust all around them as their stolen immortality was taken away.

Back in Red Mountain, Nerevar told Dagoth-Ur to protect the tools and the Heart Chamber until he returned. Dagoth-Ur said, "But shouldn't we destroy these tools at once, so that they might never be used for evil again?" But Nerevar was confused by his wounds and his sorrow (for he still loved Dumac and the Dwemer people) and so went to the fields outside of Red Mountain to confer with his queen and his generals, who had foreseen that this war would come and whose counsel he would not ignore again. "I will ask the Tribunal what we shall do with them, for they have had wisdom in the past that I had not. Stay here, loyal Dagoth-Ur, until I return."

Then Nerevar told his queen and generals all that had transpired under Red Mountain and how the Dwemer had used special tools to turn their people into immortals and of the wondrous power of the Heart of Lorkhan. The Tribunal decided that the Chimer should learn how to use this power so that Nerevar might claim Resdayn and the world for their people. Nerevar did not expect or want this, so he asked his queen and generals to help him summon Azura yet again for her guidance. But the Tribunal had become as greedy as Kagrenac upon hearing of the power of the Heart and they coveted it. They made ritual as if to summon Azura as Nerevar wanted but Almalexia used poisoned candles and Sotha Sil used poisoned robes and Vivec used poisoned invocations. Nerevar was murdered.
Then Azura came forth anyway and cursed the Tribunal for their foul deeds. She told them that she would use her powers over dusk and dawn to make sure Nerevar would come back and make things right again. But the Tribunal laughed at her and said that soon they would be gods themselves and that the Chimer people would forget their old ways of worship. And Azura knew this would be true and that it would take a long time before her power might bring Nerevar back. "What you have done here today is foul beyond measure and you will grow to regret it, for the lives of gods are not what mortals think and matters that weigh only years to mortals weigh on gods forever." And so that they might know forever their wicked deeds Azura changed the Chimer into Dunmer, and their skin turned ashen and their eyes into fire. "Let this mark remind you of your true selves who, like ghouls, fed on the nobility, heroism, and trust of their king."

And then the Tribunal went into Red Mountain and met with Dagoth-Ur. Dagoth-Ur saw what had been done, for his skin had changed as well, and he tried to avenge the death of Nerevar but to no avail. He was driven off and thought dead. The Tribunal found the tools he had been guarding and, through study of Kagrenac's methods, turned themselves into gods.

Thousands of years after their apotheosis, the Tribunal are still the gods of Morrowind and the old ways of worship are remembered only by a few. And the murder of Nerevar is known to fewer. But his queen and generals still fear his return, for the words of Azura linger long and they see the mark of her curse on their people every day.

Fen looked up slowly at the tall canton walls on either side, drifting serenely past as the gondolier paddled among them. Her mind felt like it was overflowing with questions and information, and she scanned the parchment again, hardly daring to believe the words she had read.
The Tribunal had murdered Nerevar. There was no doubt in her mind now. They had slain him for their own gain, so that they might become gods. Fen buried her face in her hands. Their betrayal had cost Nerevar his life…Fen resisted the urge to scream. And Nerevar…Nerevar had been friends with the Dwemer. Is this why I love the Dwemer ruins so much? Fen thought to herself. Because I carry Nerevar’s soul?
“Foreign Quarter,” the gondolier said suddenly, catching her oar on the small dock beside the canton to steady her boat.
“Thank you,” Fen mumbled, folding Nerevar at Red Mountain and slipping it into her robe again, climbing clumsily out of the gondola. It was too much. She couldn’t think properly about it, not now.
Skink’s reptilian face spread into approval when Fen presented him with Galur Rithari’s Papers.
“I am honored to have worked with you, Fen,” he said, taking the book and handing her an official-looking sealed envelope. Fen flipped it over to look at the seal. It was stamped with the insignia of Chancellor Ocato, the Royal Battlemage at the Imperial City. She glanced up at Skink, puzzled. “Take that letter to Arch-Mage Trebonius in Vivec, if you will.”
“What is it?” she asked suspiciously, knowing she was past doing hapless errands for the guild. Skink smiled widely, showing his pointed teeth.
“They are his retirement papers, Fen. The Council of Mages at the Arcane University in Cyrodiil has decided that you shall become the new Arch-Mage of the Vvardenfell chapter of the guild.” Fen blinked.
“Me? Arch-Mage?” Skink nodded, and Fen realized the room was silent, all of the other mages watching them intently. “Um…Skink, could I speak with you for a moment?” she murmured, lowering the letter as her face flamed. “Outside?” They went into the corridor, Fen shutting the door to the guild firmly behind them.
“I’m honored,” Fen said first. “I’m really, truly humbled by this, Skink.”
“It should not come as a surprise,” he told her. “You have advanced through the guild faster than anyone ever has before, and your natural talent with the Arcane is unmatchable.”
“Thank you, but I have to know…how much of a commitment is this, Skink? Because, lately, I haven’t got a terrible lot of extra time on my hands.” Skink laughed.
“You will find, Fen, that the Vvardenfell Mages Guild is comprised of a very hardy group of people. Trebonius has left scars on the guild, yes, but we will bounce back again easily. The guild stewards will handle all local business, and I will take care of anything larger while you are away. If we come across something that needs your attention, you will be notified.” Fen gave a sigh of relief.
“That sounds fantastic.”
“You deserve it. Here.” He reached under his collar and took an amulet from around his neck, handing it to her. “It holds no enchantment, but it has a very high capability. Take it.”
“Thank you,” Fen said again, taking the smooth, rounded amulet from him.
“You will do great things for the guild, Arch-Mage,” Skink told her, opening the door. “I know you will.”
Trebonius seemed irked at the letter, but agreed to step down graciously, mumbling that his wife had been badgering him about moving back to the Imperial City. He packed up his office and gave Fen a short nod of recognition before he left. She entered the Arch-Mage’s quarters with the key she had been given and lined her books up on the shelves, filled the wardrobe with her clothes, set up her alchemy set on the desk. It had no comparison to her quarters in the palace in Mournhold, of course, but it was something. And now, she felt as if she belonged. There was an enormous king-sized bed with rich green sheets, and Fen fell onto it, feeling giddy. This was her bed. She had a place now. For months she had been keeping her spare things in a chest in Sadrith Mora, lugging everything else around with her. Now there was a spot for her to come and rest, a spot that was all her own. Fen used her ring to tell Julan to come meet her and stood up, changing out of her simple traveling robe into something grander, more suitable for the Arch-Mage of the Vvardenfell Chapter of the Guild of Mages. There was a knock on the door – her door – and she opened it to find Julan standing there, looking puzzled.
“They told me you were in – Sheogorath, you look like you’re going to go meet a king.”
“I’m the Arch-Mage!” she told him brightly, letting him in. “Trebonius retired!”
“Really?” Fen saw a quip about mages coming up, but Julan, thankfully, kept it to himself. “So we get to use the guild guides for free now, right?”
“Right.” Fen laughed, for what felt like the first time in years. She offered to buy dinner, but Julan said simply he was tired. “Are you all right?” she asked him, her smile fading. “You seem odd, Julan.”
“Hmm?” he said, looking up. “Oh, no, I’m…I’m just thinking about Shani.” Fen raised an eyebrow. “Not like that!” he added hastily. “Just…everything that’s happened...when I was mad at you...and then when you had corprus, and I thought you were going to die...It just makes me think, what if I had stayed mad at you, and then something terrible had happened, and I never got the chance to sort things out? I’d never have forgiven myself for being such an idiot. And...then I think about Shani.”
“You think you’re being an idiot?”
“I'm not sure. But I think maybe I should talk to her again. Just in case.”
“Oh, Julan,” Fen said, setting a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll go tomorrow. First thing in the morning.” He gave her a slight smile.
“Sorry for ruining your – er – moment like this.”
“It’s fine,” Fen replied, knowing it was. “This is more important.”
So, early the next morning, they bundled up in their cloaks and rode the short voyage to Vos. Julan was unusually quiet as they crunched through the frost-dusted grass, and even more quiet when they came over the crest of a hill to the Ahemmusa camp.
“Put your hood up,” Fen muttered. “We don’t want Ahmabi to see you.” A short walk around the camp showed them that Shani wasn’t outside, and when Fen asked a woman tanning a guar hide, the woman’s face turned dark.
“You are looking for Shani?” Fen nodded. “Her hunting troupe returned some time ago, but she was not among them. They say they lost her somewhere in the Grazelands.” She glanced around, then looked straight at Julan, lowering her voice. “Normally, I would not speak to you of this, but I confess I am worried, and we cannot spare the warriors to search for her. Perhaps you should speak to Gunta. She was leading the expedition, and can tell you more. She’s in the camp somewhere – try the healer’s or the trader’s.”
“What an idiot,” Julan whispered as Fen lifted the tent flap of the trader’s yurt. “Getting lost on a hunting trip!”
“Shush,” Fen muttered, bowing respectfully to the trader and the woman that stood with her, in turn. “Gunta?” she asked the woman, and the woman nodded. “We’re looking for Shani.”
“You are not Ahemmusa,” she said quizzically, and Julan pulled the hood lower over his face.
“We’re friends of her’s, though,” Fen said, and Gunta sighed and rubbed her eyes.
“Yes, then, she was a member of my hunting party. But we were attacked suddenly by many kagouti in the Grazelands, and the group became scattered. When we assembled again, she was missing. We searched for her, but time drew on, and we returned to camp, thinking perhaps she had come here.
“That was some time ago now, and I fear the worst. She is very young, and not a strong fighter. We cannot afford to send warriors after her, as we have few left, and they must hunt and defend the camp. If you are her friend, perhaps you could search for her? I would be in your debt. She was under my command, and I feel responsible.” The woman sighed and Fen thanked her and led the way out of the yurt.
“Lost in the Grazelands...that little s’wit never did have any sense of direction,” he said scornfully, pulling off his hood as they left the camp and started to walk west, as Gunta had indicated. “And she calls herself a scout!” He made an odd face, like he was trying to look offhand. “I suppose we’d better go and bring her in, although she probably just wandered over to Vos for a drink and got talking to someone.” Fen didn’t reply, and they walked for about an hour until they reached the mountains. Remembering what Gunta had said about Shani running over the mountains, they levitated over them and into a deep foyada, where they continued to walk.
“What’s that?” Julan said suddenly, breaking the silence. His voice sounded strained. Fen looked where he was pointing and saw a netch leather shield lying on the ground in front of what looked like the door to a mine. They jogged over to it and Julan picked up the shield. “This is Shani’s!” he said at once. “I’d recognize it anywhere…she once hit me over the head with it in the Varo Tradehouse.” Fen passed him and tried to push open the door to the mine, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Help me with this,” she said, and Julan dropped the shield and they pushed together on the door.
“It’s stuck,” he said, panting. “It must have caved in.”
“Right,” Fen said. “Stand back.” She pressed her hand to the door and used a disintegrate armor spell, hoping it would work. Thankfully, the door melted away, leaving them to stare at a pile of rocks. It looked as if the mine had recently caved in.
“Can you blast those out of the way?” Julan asked, taking a few more steps back.
“I don’t think we should. If it’s caved in this recently, it’s probably unstable. Help me shift some of this rock.” After a few moments of straining, they managed to make a small hole into the cavern beyond.
“Lucky we’re both skinny,” Julan grunted, struggling through the hole after Fen and hitting the ground with a loud clanging noise. “Ouch…dented my armor…” He straightened up and stood beside Fen, glancing around the cavern. It was low-ceilinged and there was a greenish glow about the whole room that came from the glass deposits that stuck out of the walls.
“It was a glass mine,” Fen said quietly, and her voice echoed. She walked over to a few stacked crates and picked up a sheet of torn paper that sat on the surface of one of them.

For the attention of Canctunian Ponius,

As you are aware, the Imperial Glass Mine known as Haishibi has been judged unfit for continued development by the Imperial Mine Inspection Committee. Repeated cave-ins and tunnel collapses have demonstrated that the rock is simply too unstable to support further excavation. Given that glass yield has diminished severely in recent months, it has been decided that the profit no longer outweighs the risks, and the mine is to be condemned.

As foreman, it is my duty to inform you that the wishes of the Commission have now been carried out, and I have personally overseen the closure of the mine and the dismissal of the remaining miners.

Your faithful servant,

Drels Arvel, Foreman, Haishibi Mine.

“Be careful, Julan,” Fen said, setting down the paper. “This place is unstable. Let’s just find Shani and get out of here.” They moved through the mine, meeting a few nix-hounds and a kagouti or two, but nothing out of the ordinary. Several times the passage was blocked and they had to double back and find a different way through. They soon reached a round chamber that held nothing but a few broken mine carts and an Ogrim, an enormous green Daedra that was fat and stupid, but immensely powerful. They managed to get rid of the Ogrim together, and it fell heavily on the ground, making a dust and rocks from the ceiling shower down on them.
“She’s not here,” Julan said, turning back. “Let’s get back outside and keep looking.”
“Wait,” Fen said, noticing a shallow pool of water in the back of the room. “Look.” She waded into the water and found a small hole, just under the surface, leading to the room beyond. “Let’s just look in here, then we can leave.” Julan didn’t seem keen on the idea, but he swam through the hole with her anyway, and they surfaced on the other side of the collapsed rocks. This, too, was a small cavern with several glass deposits on the walls and mushrooms growing from the ground, but what caught Fen’s eye was a small figure with vibrantly red hair, motionless upon the moss-spotted ground.
Shani!” Julan cried immediately, splashing out of the water and sprinting over to her. He fell to his knees beside her, turning her face towards him. “She’s unconscious,” he said as Fen knelt down on her other side. “Gods…how long as she been here? Do you have anything for her?” Fen rummaged in her bag and found a restore fatigue potion, which Julan snatched out of her hand and poured into Shani’s open mouth. They both watched her, silent, then she started to cough and she weakly opened her eyes.
“Shani,” Julan said, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Fen?” she croaked, blinking up at them. “Julan?” Something seemed to register in her mind, and she sat up suddenly. “Oh, thank Azura! You came for me! I’ve been living off mushrooms for days…” Shani looked awful. Her once-bright hair was matted with dirt and her clothes were torn and crusted with dried blood. Dark bruises lined her shoulders, and her face was scratched and pale.
“Why are you here?” Fen asked her.
“Oh, you know, I just thought I’d enjoy the scenery,” Shani said nonchalantly. “I GOT STUCK IN HERE! WHAT DO YOU THINK?!” She started to cough again.
“Calm down,” Fen said quickly. “I mean – what happened?”
“There was a pack of kagouti,” she muttered weakly, her eyes watering. “I ran up onto the hills to get a better shot with my bow, but then one cornered me, and I kept backing up, trying to shoot it...and then I stumbled over the edge into the foyada. I was hurt from the fall, and I couldn't find my way back over the mountains. The blight came down, and there were so many creatures – I just needed to find shelter, fast.”
“So you came in here,” Fen said, glancing at the wall of collapsed rock they had swam through. “And the cave collapsed behind you.”
“Right. And there were monsters in here too! I just ran and ran, trying to find another way out. And then the Ogrim! I dived past it into the water and found this cave. I could still hear the Ogrim outside, and even if it was gone, the entrance was still blocked. I was better off in here, with light, water and....ugh... mushrooms...”
“You didn’t…try to escape?”
“Of course I did! You try sneaking past an Ogrim, and a horde of cave creatures, when you’re hurt and exhausted! And anyway, as I discovered, THERE IS NO WAY OUT! WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO, DIG?! IDIOT!” She hunched over, coughing, again.
“Calm down,” Fen said as she cleared her throat. “We’re have a way out.”
“I’m sorry. I'm so sorry...I...I just didn’t think that anyone would come for me. I had given up hope. I thought I was going to die.” She sniffed loudly. “And no one would ever even find my body, and give me proper burial with my ancestors. So even my spirit would be trapped here, forever, alone...”
“Well, you’re going to be fine,” Fen said quickly, hoping she wouldn’t start crying again.
“Thank you. Very much. And...thank you, Julan. Of all people, I never would have expected you to come for me.” She paused, but Julan said nothing, just stared at the ground. “You’re being very quiet. That’s not like you. When I was telling Fen what happened, I kept expecting you to interrupt to call me a little s’wit, but you didn’t. Are you feeling all right?” Julan was quiet.
“Er…can you walk?” Fen asked Shani. “We should get you home.”
“I think so,” Shani said, and Fen stood up, taking her arm and helping her get to her feet. “Did you hear that?” she said suddenly, and Fen heard a loud rumbling from the ceiling and the ground shook, making them all stumble to the ground again. As she watched, rocks began to shower from the ceiling, splashing in the water and blocking their way out.
Sheogorath!” she heard Julan shout through the rockfall. When it finally stopped, smaller rocks skidded down and landed with small plunks into the water and dust floated down from the ceiling.
No!” Shani cried tearing at her hair. “Now we’re all going to be stuck in this stupid cave forever, with this selfish n’wah!
“Julan?” Fen said blankly.
“I don’t even know why he’s here!” she wailed. “He hasn’t even asked me how I’m feeling, he’s hardly spoken to me. But I suppose he promised his darling mother that he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, and he HAS to do 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 is NOT true!” Julan roared suddenly, causing more stones to shower from the ceiling. “You think I broke up with you because she told me to? I did it for your sake, you’re just too blind to see that!”
“Um…this isn’t getting us anywhere,” Fen tried to say, but they didn’t seem to notice her..
“No you didn’t,” Shani said savagely. “You broke up with me because you were getting bored, and your mother gave you an easy way out. I know that. 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 guarshit. 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.” There was a long silence.
“Let’s…um…try to get out of here now,” Fen suggested.
“Yes, let’s,” Shani said, sounding dejected. “Maybe if we –”
“You idiot!” Julan shouted suddenly. “You think you know everything about me, don’t you? From what you’ve been saying to me lately, you don’t know me at all. Maybe you’re right about some things. Maybe I was thinking of ending it with you, even before Mother told me to!” Shani sniffed, and he went on. “But if you really believe that I hate you, and wouldn’t come to find you when you were lost...DO YOU KNOW HOW WORRIED I WAS ABOUT YOU?” he roared suddenly, making both Shani and Fen jump. “I thought you might be dead! Don’t you EVER scare me like that again! You’re damn right I’ve known you all my life, you’re like a sister to me, and I love you more than you will ever get into your stupid little head –” he took a breath “– so don’t you EVER start telling me that I’d rather you were dead!” Shani sniffed again.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” she cried suddenly, slapping her hands to her glistening cheeks. “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!”
“I won’t. I'm so sorry, Shani. You know I’d always come to find you.” Shani let out a great wail and fell into Julan’s arms, sobbing hysterically.
“Um…this is touching, but we should really leave before more of this mine collapses,” Fen said after an awkward moment.
“Yes,” Shani sniffed, standing back. “But how?”
“I’ll teleport us out of here. I set a Recall point outside.”
“You did?” Fen said incredulously. “But I didn’t see you cast Mark!”
“It doesn’t matter!” Shani said vivaciously. “Let’s go!”
“Uh... anyway, hold on.”
“I hate teleporting,” Shani whined as they grasped each other’s hands and Julan teleported them. They reappeared just outside the mine. “It always makes me sick,” Shani muttered. “Oh! My shield!” She picked it up off the ground and dusted it off, then faltered slightly, swaying on the spot.
“Come on,” Julan said quickly, casting a levitate spell. Fen and Shani followed suit. “Let’s get you out of here.”
They walked back through the Grazelands as night began to fall, and soon they reached the Ahemmusa camp. Julan led the way to the healer’s yurt, and Shani went straight inside and collapsed on a bedroll.
“Shani!” the healer said, hurrying over to her. Shani glanced up at Fen and Julan.
“I feel like I could sleep for a week. Come visit me when I’m feeling better, won’t you?”
“Of course,” Fen said, and the healer shooed them away.
“Maybe when she’s better, we can all go for a drink in Vos together,” Julan said brightly. They started to walk back towards Vos. “So what do you think of her?”   
“Think of her?” Fen repeated, taken aback. Julan rarely asked for her opinion.
“Well, I’m interested. It’d be great if you two were friends.”
“She’s sweet,” Fen said after a moment. “Loud. But sweet. And her hair is gorgeous. Did I tell you I always wanted red hair?” Julan grinned.
“You? With red hair?”
“My grandmother had hair like Shani’s when she was younger. I’ve always been jealous. But Shani’s a lovely person, I’m sure.”
“She is,” Julan agreed. “Mind you, she can also be bad-tempered, whiny and annoying, and she never lets anything drop. But then, she can also be very loving, and she was always fun to be around.” He sighed. “I don’t think I want us to get back together, but anything could happen, I suppose. It’s just that...Shani never really understood me, or what I’m trying to do. She wanted me to marry her, settle down and be a hunter, or a herder.”
“But I don’t want that. I want to make a difference, and to help my people...somehow. You understand that, I think. Whether you believe in my mission doesn’t really matter, you believe in me, and that’s what counts. I'm stronger when you’re with me. I hope I can make you stronger too.” Fen smiled, feeling an overwhelming trust in Julan at that moment. They walked in silence for a time, their boots crunching in the frosty grass.
“But now,” Fen said after a while, “we ought to get back to the Urshilaku camp. It’s been nearly a month. Nibani Maesa will be expecting us.”

Shani, her dialogue, and this quest are all from Kateri's Julan Ashlander Companion mod.

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