This is unfinished and will probably remain so forever despite starting months ago, ma’habocath may never get around to re-writing this especially the third part which may just stay sucking. Just posting so this one can stop clinging and continuing his Morrowind blue-ballin’.
Part One: Growing Up in the Slums
Enslaver Escape, Orphaned Studies
Decades before earning her name’s prefix, Hanacass was born, like most of the anthropomorphic felines known as Khajiit (of the suthay-raht breed), in the southernmost province of Tamriel known as Elsweyr. She spent the first years of her life in the southeastern regions of dense rainforest along the coast of Topal Bay. She loved playing in the waves but hated water “sticking” to her fur no matter how hard she shook it off, beginning a lifelong hatred for rain. If her parents weren’t keeping close tabs on her she’d probably keep swimming and trying to reach the sun on the horizon; her parents and everyone else who watched her curious love of the lake wondered if this coastal kitten was part-Argonian!
As a kitten who only just learned to walk and remember her name, Hanacass lost her parents to a raiding party of dark elven (or “dunmer”) slavers arriving across the bay during a rainstorm — just like many Khajiit during the late 4th- and early 5th-centuries of the Third Era. She escaped her captors by hiding and luck, mostly luck and the driving downpour louder than her frightened crying. She has never been able to remember them nor the tragedy more clearly than her own terror and their screams over the torrential downpour — were they killed, or only captured?
Hanacass wandered alone for who knows how long, hiding from predators while nearly starving, until she wound up in southern Cyrodiil and found by a patrol of Imperial guards. They, not knowing what else to do with the quivering kitten, dropped her off at an orphanage/school in the slums of Bravil. Here she spent roughly the next decade-and-a-half as the only Khajiiti child despite the few adult residents who weren’t interested in raising an orphan, growing to hate her studies and most those around her — especially those bragging wood elven (or “bosmer”) children and that stupid, lecturing high elf (or “altmer”) instructor who never let up in reminding Hanacass that she shouldn’t “give in to her Khajiiti urges” to sneak and steal. She had similar words for the bosmer children, which helped about as much.
Despite warnings and punishments, Hanacass survived by theft in between schooling and sleeping on the streets — she preferred the outdoors, especially by the river (rarely to swim in as the stagnant water was nowhere near as clean as the bay she was born by, her only clear memory of home), than sleeping in that one room with all the snoring and crying, except in bad weather because she hates rain in her fur. Not only was she a thieving little brat cat, she grew up so frustrated and angry she got into many fights with fellow students and other locals, losing most of them despite the advantage of claws. Of course, Hanacass was typically the only one punished due to her swipes leaving clear, bleeding claw marks while her fur hid the bruises left by bullies. That on top of a fair amount of racial prejudice, as experienced by most of the “beast races” like Khajiit and Argonians in humanoid territory. And the others were much sneakier in their teasing, or at least her raging reactions drew all adult attention.
However, she eventually grew to enjoy some reading if it wasn’t difficult, such as stories of thievery and thieves (especially Khajiit) and everything else about her people she could get her paws on. It was mostly from these (and the few Khajiiti residents) that she forced herself to learn her people’s dialect, if only in defiance of that shaming instructor. Among others, her favorites were Words of Clan Mother Ahnissi, The Tale of Dro’Zira, and Mixed Unit Tactics v1. (Planting the seeds that her people, too, could fight well and cleverly, on top of reinforcing her lifelong rivalry with wood elves.) She stole some from school and fewer from the Mages Guild before she was caught and banned for life, the rest snatched off the occasional visiting scholar the few times she succeeded. Furthermore, she developed a passing interest in magic (especially illusion) and the daedra inspired not only by tales (fictional or not) of caster-thieves, but also the occasional speech and spell-show from the local Mages Guild (the few times she and the rest had fun in school; she thought summoned scamps looked as fierce as they were cute) and books like On Oblivion and Incident in Necrom (even if she really didn’t like reading about. She’d stop reading if one detailed assassination and other gruesome murders, and wouldn’t go near any about the undead — the topic of death (if not battle, despite the link) made her very uneasy. She re-read her favorites many times over the years before they, like most of the few things she owned, were lost through carelessness, bad weather, or stolen.
Theft and Brawling Rises
Early on she joined a small gang of fellow urchins, mostly wood elves — most others (usually stupid mouthy Imperials who always mopped the floor with Hanacass in arguments and creative name-calling) never lasting long except for that one redguard whose name she forgets now, he was cool while he lasted. Much later on a dark elven girl named Virmvyne would “join” if you could call it that; she was more stealthy, anti-social, and violent than even Hanacass, dropping to downright demonic deeds that daunted the daylights out of discoverers.
Anyway, in regards to the wood elves, she grew a grudging respect for their skills at stealth and theft, and hated their many assertions that wood elves were better thieves than Khajiit. This proved her greatest inspiration at practicing her own stealth and deftness of claws if only to prove them wrong: that the Khajiit she read legends about were the superior sneakers. Stupid, stupid bosmer.
Hanacass eventually got good at fighting through much practice in that area as well, becoming one of the biggest bullies around and getting into so much trouble at school and with guards. Wasn’t long before she could easily send most mouthy kids whining and crying to their parents or teacher (that stupid, stupid high elf instructor) after losing sorely in taunts and name-calling which of course made her lose her already very short temper just about every time. By her mid- to late-teens she stopped getting in trouble for theft except rarely, as good as she got at it (but still taunted by most of her gang members about how much better at burglary wood elves were than Khajiit. Stupid, stupid wood elves.), but she spent plenty time in jail for being the center of street brawls whether or not she was a part of it (not like she helped her case by attacking the guards either way; she was never all that bright, any intellect immediately shut down by her fur-trigger temper). By her mid-teens, Hanacass dropped out of school. Not that it mattered much, as most in town agreed anyway that the place wasn’t going to last much longer and the building probably sold and turned into a shop or inn, or just torn down. Before storming off for good, she was sure to deliver a clawed wallop against her racist instructor’s chin — that’s as far up as she could reach even with a leap.
Despite all the violence she never picked up a weapon aside from the occasional blunt object like a table leg or rock, for not only did she always have her claws, she had always been strongly averse to killing and death in general. No one incident birthed this unusual phobia; maybe it was her horrific imaginings of what the dark elves may have done to her parents, maybe it was nearly dying of starvation, maybe no reason at all. In any case, nowadays just hearing about murderous bandits and especially the undead creeped her out, keeping her safely within the walls of Bravil despite how much she hated it there; she wanted nothing more than to dive into the filthy river and swim off, cursing over her shoulder all the way. Of course, those stupid wood elves (part of her gang or not) once they found out would love to hold her down and squish bugs and kick small animals right in front of her, laughing harder and harder as she tried to stop them, trying not to cry. Animals and reading about her people were about the only things she enjoyed, from insects to horses and even dogs (didn’t like cats though, never got along with them oddly enough), so watching critters being hurt never failed at making her explode. When she got really good at beating down local toughs, able to break free of even groups of kids trying to pin her down, they quit this method of bullying.
She along with most in her gang would always try one-upping each other in pickpocketing visitors and the few locals who weren’t on to their game, all of them losing any shred of shame for retreating when caught. This is how she acquired many of her favorite books while the rest were busy swiping bread, coin, and jewelry from those fool enough to openly brandish such baubles in this rotten seaside hamlet. Not once could she manage to steal from an adult Khajiit, though, a fact of which the wood elf children never let her forget and especially rubbed salt into her wounded pride showing what they managed to swipe. The reason for this, of course, was that adult Khajiit knew better not keep their eyes and especially ears fixed on dirty Khajiiti youths which kept their attentions unwisely away from the young wood elves. Hanacass interpreted this as the adults of her people were just that good, which made her all the angrier when considering the wood elves’ taunts about their race’s superiority in this arena.
It wasn’t all “fight this, theft that” growing up. Her gang of urchins and teenaged toughs ran the gamut from annoying whiners to big bad tough guys to kids who had nowhere else to belong. She had a few whom she could call friends (or at least “allies”) and others whom she hated but for the most part kept her claws sheathed for the same reason everyone limited blatant inter-gang bullying when he was around: a confident and skillful wood elf named Anthwaen. He had everyone’s respect and obedience not out of fear, but sheer awe for his skill and charisma. Unlike the arrogant sneers and glares of the more accomplished wood elf burglars, his sweet smile was one of well-earned confidence, and in his calm eyes glimmered that little daredevil spark most young girls found irresistible — even, at times, the ceaselessly-hissing Hanacass when caught in a rare calm moment (usually only when reading or overlooking the river). Even the adults couldn’t help but love this wonder-child who held him the model of good behavior — he obviously never got caught — so of course they saw little problem with his “friendliness” with their daughters. If only they knew he wasn’t so innocent. Stupid parents.
Unlike other long-term thieves who threw their “accomplishments” around with gusto, Anthwaen let his ever-increasing pile of loot (even from places the rest daren’t attempt like the chapel of Mara and the castle) do the talking. Furthermore, Anthwaen was like the bigger brother none of the homeless children had, more than happy to give extra food and a sympathetic ear and advice, never showing favoritism. He wasn’t always around, though, often disappearing for days or even a week or two; everyone assumed he was off on some daring raid.
With Hanacass he spent many a long, heart-fluttery evening under the stars chatting about magic, thievery, the good points of both their peoples, and the meanings of life and death, the latter topic he never pushed further after she became visibly fearful. She interpreted it as him trying his best to help her get over her darkest night terrors, the attempts at which she will always be grateful for in a world of endless killing, the fear of killing and being killed is the greatest of burdens. He even named her his top enforcer (not top thief [second to himself of course], which bugged her endlessly) in regards to her furious claws. She happily went after anyone to whom he pointed his well-manicured finger, which wasn’t often for he knew if he told her to fight that she wouldn’t stop until the offending party was on the ground coughing into a pool of his own blood. Sometimes he would whisper the likes of “finish it, you saw what they did to me, go on, slay the beast, you know you want to” but as much as she wanted to obey and please the gorgeous Anthwaen she couldn’t bring herself to deliver the killing blow. She felt so ashamed for disappointing him despite his apparent understanding head-scritches.
Hanacass could barely hold her hot temper in check except in her esteemed leader’s soothing presence, and against the one dark elven teen in town. On the opposite end of the anger spectrum was the so-called top thief of the gang, Virmvyne, who matched her in indiscriminate violence but was utterly chilling in her expressions of hate for all who breathe. Not even the adults knew her story (she’d threaten anyone who asked), except that she arrived in town a few years ago from who knows where, joined the gang for no apparent reason but to have an audience for terrorizing with tales (fact or fiction), spent most of her time not stealing (always weapons, always) outside the walls of Bravil, and loves telling everyone about all the wild beasts she killed. Her withering, icy-red stare penetrated the souls of all who dared gaze into them, meaning she never needed to “prove herself” by open bullying. Didn’t stop her every now and then, even against Anthwaen, who always brought her back down with a laugh or a stare even more chilling than hers. Virmvyne was the only one aside from Anthwaen that Hanacass hesitated going toe-to-toe with, and not only because the fact that she was a dark elf, the same as those who either enslaved or slew her parents so she still felt uneasy around them — which is why she rarely tried pickpocketing one of them, which of course the wood elves of her gang never let up in reminding her.
But Hanacass got over her fear of dark elves when one day, with her keen Khajiit ears, she heard low, haughty laughter and the struggling, half-strangled whining of a dog. This brought her streaking like a cheetah through alley after alley to the edge of town. Here she was a stomach-churning sight: a hanging dog struggling against the noose, and standing before it was Virmvyne, slowly shoving the blade into its belly. That dog was her only real friend, who loved to play with her and curl up in her lap, the only time in her life she ever truly felt loved. Normally something being killed would have petrified her, but seeing the poor animal she loved treated like this made her screech. Her claws were at Virmvyne’s throat in an instant. The only reason Hanacass’s guts too weren’t splattered all over was that her attack was too quick, sending the short sword flying from Virmvyne’s hands as both of them tumbled to the bloody, now-muddy ground. If it were a fair fight who knows whose fury would have won, but Hanacass had the advantage of surprise so now even Virmvyne could barely fend off the flurry of claws and fangs shredding her arms as she fought in vain to kick the shrieking humanoid cougar off contrasting starkly with her deadly silence.
The ruckus finally attracted many to the grotesque scene, including the whole gang, but no guard was in a hurry to break up yet another teenager’s street brawl so they were the last to arrive. By then Virmvyne was a bleeding, shallowly-breathing mess, with Hanacass standing over her and screeching and hissing at the growing crowd, daring any to approach. Those few who tried talking sense into her got a slash across the face for their trouble. When a few of the guards drew their blades to finally put an end to that troublesome cat, Anthwaen made his move, trying to relax her with a cooing voice. Which only provoked her, for not even Anthwaen was recognizable as anything but a threat in her animal savagery. He dodged and deflected again and again, a few of Hanacass’s swipes ripping his sleeves. Only once did she get him across the cheek, this being the first time anyone saw him showing anger as he dodged and deflected ever more deftly more as he closed the distance. Wasn’t long before he sent her, too, to the ground with well-placed strikes to the sternum and finally square on the nose. She was unconscious as much from the blows as from her exhaustion.
By then Virmvyne had struggled to her feet, quietly took a few moments to catch her breath, grabbed her blade, and slowly stepped to Hanacass while spitting blood and one of her teeth on the way, to make sure her sleep was permanent. Anthwaen only had just enough time to whirl around when she was almost on top of Hanacass. But by then one of guards realized the seriousness of the situation and attacked, knocking out another of Virmvyne’s teeth with the flat of his blade. Perhaps he should have used the fine edge for, almost instinctively as she was tumbling down yet again, Virmvyne had sent the point of her stolen short sword into the guard’s face, maiming him. That finally got the rest of the guards’ attention and they were on her. They nearly had to break her arms as hard as they needed to keep hold and drag her away as she spat and swore like she were possessed by Malacath or Molag Bal. Anthwaen (aside from momentary loss of composure when struck) was the only one who wasn’t disturbed even with small rivulets of blood down his face. In fact, he was smiling. At both Virmvyne and Hanacass.
Part Two: The Return of Darkness and Evil
What shall she call this bloody, blackened feeling?
From that day on Hanacass seemed to cool off, if ony because someone finally put her in her place and/or perhaps it was just that everyone stopped teasing her, being the one who not only took out the vicious Virmvyne but stepped to Anthwaen. The wood elves would never acknowledge her thievery (but never again told her how much Khajiiti sucked) but they feared her gall now, when before they laughed at what a hot-head she was. And finally, considering their renewed awe for Anthwaen’s combat prowess on top of everything else he could do, they were less competitive and more cooperative, now more than just a group of petty urchins but well on their way towards becoming real criminals.
Members of the gang would get arrested every so often, of course. But they were homeless children for the most part so their punishments were slaps on the wrist, like a strong-worded lecture. The wood elves were especially good at putting on a sad and sorry face, later snickering at what suckers those Imperial guards were at the tears of a tiny wood elf kid who was just hungry, honest… Eventually those wood elves were fully-grown teenagers and the guards weren’t fooled so much anymore. Especially with repeat offenders, and doubly-especially with the more violent ones — who often got away with it because Hanacass’s inability to keep her hackles down in the face of any provocation drew most of the guards’ attention. The more thuggish wood elf teens appreciated her temper very much (or at least used to), hence their tireless bullying. Thanks you stupid cat for being so easy to tease. But sometimes, one of them (or someone else not part of the gang) would be taken to the castle, and never seen again. Fearful whisperings called this occurrence “taken to Imperial City“, as Anthwaen would sadly proclaim when one of their own were apparently taken to Imperial City.
Anthwaen, despite his obvious lack of need for a weapon, wielded a longbow of exceptional craftsmanship to match everything else inexplicably exceptional about himself. He was quick to assure Hanacass that his silvered arrows were only for burglaries and would never send one into the heart of a living being. He was lying, of course. And about so much else. The reason he seemed so unbelievably skilled for his age was that he truly was much older than he let on, for “Anthwaen” was none other than Ungolim, Listener of the Black Hand, the elite of the professional assassins known as the Dark Brotherhood! All it took was facepaint, a messing of his hair, and cheap-but-neat peasant garb to fool those idiot kids and the townfolk, too.
The reasons he did this were fourfold: to sharpen his skills (especially subterfuge), to stave off ennui between his duties as Listener, to have fun with wild underage dark elves (quick to remind Hanacass they “weren’t so bad once you got to… know… them…” if only to enjoy watching her ears go back in disgust), and find new recruits for the Dark Brotherhood. A shame that one of two candidates was squeamish about murder; Virmvyne proved much harder to keep “on a leash” than that gullible cat, but he or perhaps Lucien was going to break her out of prison after several few years of stewing in that dark cell to let her hatred grow ever-deeper, ever-colder.
All he needed with Virmvyne was to let bake that blood-and-steel cake and it would rise on its own, whereas he needed to work at coaxing the psychotic beast he saw in Hanacass’s furious, blood-hungry heart. Which is why he spent so much time with her, establishing a rapport and if he needed, to *urp* seduce her. He even tried nurturing her budding interest in the College of Illusion so when he finally “caught” her she’d be even better at stealthy murder — which sadly she interpreted as him hinting that she wasn’t a good enough thief without the crutch of spells. Stupid, insecure kitten.
Thankfully (in Ungolim’s opinion) she had grown in confidence since the rest of the gang stopped picking on her. She even began bullying them almost as hard as many of them had bullied her over the years, them being too afraid of both her and Anthwaen to fight back. This incensed the rest of them, claiming favoritism (not to his face of course) but Ungolim had his suspicions and did nothing to discourage their growing discontentment. This was out of amusement as much as (hopefully, Ungolim thought) letting her grow up as the crazy cougar he knew she could be. Maybe fanning the flames little by little would lead to some sort of coming-to-a-head which might end with her ending a life or two and winning the blessing of the Night Mother — he wouldn’t let his project die of course, and it would be so much fun to watch her descent into despair and madness, coming out the most villainous Khajiit of the Third Era, Ungolim holding the leash, his personal attack cat.
But his long-term plans with Hanacass weren’t to come to fruition as he envisioned.
Taken to Imperial City
The reason some were “taken to Imperial City” (about once or twice a year, enough to keep the children scared) was, on the rare occasion somebody did discover Anthwaen was Ungolim (no one found out he was Listener, of course, just that he was that one rich wood elf who spent a lot of time at the statue of the Lucky Old Lady for some reason) he’d, out of desire to keep “raising” Hanacass and to keep playing his gang-leader game until he tired of it, frame them to get them arrested, and shortly thereafter sneak in and butcher the poor sap.
Of course most really were just left to rot in the dungeon or sent someplace else (not necessarily Imperial City) without having ever known who Anthwaen really was, but that made no difference to anyone. And no, the guards were NOT going to blab that someone managed to sneak by them, murder an inmate, and sneak out, no one the wiser until next morning the morning watch threw up at the grisly discovery. This only meant the guards really did end up sending many of their prisoners to Imperial City, much to Ungolim’s amusement and gladness that he needn’t bother killing anyone because who on the outside would care if some guy named Ungolim was playing a teenage gangster in a moldy hamlet?
The one thing all “Anthwaen’s” gang wished was to join the legendary Thieves Guild. But of course they never had the luck no matter how many daring acts of theft they tried (almost never successful beyond pickpocketing peasants and swiping bread from the store) if only to “prove themselves” to each other and to any Thieves Guild members who might be judging. Maybe they were found unworthy and nobody knew. If any it would’ve been Anthwaen, and he apparently never was so what hope had the rest? Which only spurred on their stubborn attempts.
But with their renewed teamwork (and Anthwaen not around the past few days to tell them to cool it) they actually managed to pull off some noteworthy heists, most impressively a statue of Mara right from the chapel. That victory bloated their pride into trying to take on the castle, a place none of them even thought to try before, sans the wisdom to wait until the guards weren’t on high alert.
Long story short, their luck ran out. Specifically, Hanacass was caught: she was abandoned by her fellow thieves, who conspired to get rid of the bullying cat for fear of Anthwaen naming her top thief instead of one of them because despite their teasing, they always recognized her skills.
The guards by now were not only fed up with Hanacass over the years, they realized she had become a true threat: what with Virmvyne, and now able to infiltrate both the chapel and the castle? They wasted no time wrapping her in chains and dragging her out of town kicking and screaming, much to Ungolim’s consternation when he found out more than a week later. This would mark the second — and last — time “Anthwaen’s” gang saw him angry, regretting immediately drawing the ire of one whose rage surpassed that of Hanacass and Virmvyne combined.
As for that angry cat, after a few days being taken who knows where on foot after a few days down the river (she never asked nor was told, she assumed to the dungeons of the Imperial City), the party of guardsmen were attacked by bandits who may have mistaken them for a merchant caravan. During the ordeal Hanacass escaped, hands still heavily chained but thankfully her legs left unbound. But before she got far, she made the mistake of turning around and witnessed her first humanoid murder: a bandit ran one of the guards through with a rusted iron blade. Their expressions seared seared themselves into her memories: the light of life dimming and dissipating from the guard’s eyes as the bandit’s seemed to light up in hateful glee. She ran from the battle-cries and clanging of blades as best she could, clumsy from chains, lack of food, and fear numbing her limbs and sending chills of disgust blazing up and down her spine for hours.
Once again Hanacass found herself wandering aimlessly, dressed in rags and chains and only able to feed herself in the most embarrassing manner. She spent most of her time hiding behind rocks and in caves and ruins, terrified of any more bandits as well as the usual predators. In an Ayleid ruin she ran face-to-not-face with a headless zombie which sent her screaming right back out and to the hills, not sleeping for days.
She didn’t know how many months or how many miles she wandered before being caught by none other than dark elf slavers, who mistook the underweight and exhausted Hanacass for a runaway. This time she had no energy to fight no matter how badly she wanted to flee, and after several days she was dragged to the middle of a farm field surrounded by similarly-chained slaves (mostly Argonian, some Khajiit!) — she later learned she was in House Dres country in mid-southern, mainland Morrowind — and punished severely as an example to the others, then put “back” to work, now knowing firsthand the fate of her parents.
Part Three: The Value of Hard Work
Taken to the Big House
For at least two years she suffered the whip, forced labor, and the near-loss of faith in her heritage — many of her fellow slaves obviously nowhere near as good as she had so often read.
When Hanacass had the energy to she’d fight and she’d bite, throw and destroy equipment, and even attack other slaves, but her masters were well-versed in dealing with misbehaving cats. They’d begin with the standard “beat her into submission” which never worked for long; she’d been bruised and bloodied all her life by worse bullies than they, big deal. So they’d try beating other slaves in front of her, and when they noted the selfish suthay-raht never winced at bloodied and screaming Argonians they beat other Khajiit to some effect, that stopped working when she became disgusted with how apparently weak her people really were. But they got to her latent momma-cat instincts with kittens.
But what really got her submission was when one day, when the slavers didn’t have any young around and Hanacass wouldn’t cease and desist despite how many times they whipped the fur off her back and belly only to heal and punish anew (by then frustrated to their wit’s end with her, just about gutting and tossing the ferocious feline to the necromancers), she happened to witness in the distance a dark elf summoner conjuring a zombie, which stopped her dead in her tracks — these monsters can create and control the undead?! Her masters, smiling when they noted her sudden terror, called him over, “Oh, Torvald!” and right in front of her the mage summoned another zombie. She about cried from the horror, and the dark elves laughed uproariously when they pinned her down and had the zombie slap her around before the spell wore off. Then the mage summoned another and had that zombie beat her up before the spell dissipated. So from then on, they didn’t even need to risk damaging the goods anymore: whenever she’d spit and hiss or just refuse to downcast her eyes, her master that day would smile and cheerfully shout in the distance: “Oooh, Toorvaaald!” and she would get right back to work, her spirit of resistance finally broken.
That was her life until, yet again, a battle broke out around her. This time her head was too hazy to take note of anything more than it was dark elf vs. dark elf wearing slightly different armor and waving slightly different banners. But her head wasn’t so hazy that she couldn’t escape with several other slaves by luck, hiding, and cunning.
On the direction of a few of the older Argonians, everyone went south, south, and south until the fertile greenlands became dark and murky forest, then swampland. They were now in Black Marsh, ancestral home of the lizard people. Again on the direction of the elders, they set camp at an apparently unremarkable locale little different from the surrounding swampland. Despite growing impatience from Hanacass, they waited until a party of spear-wielding, hide-clad warriors arrived and brought them with, eventually to some rickety boats where they slowly traveled further south for days.
Hanacass hated the sticky humidity, the insect swarms, and the bizarre wildlife. She’d get nervous when some of the warriors would, unannounced, leap into the water or climb nearby trees and go kill some beast, often bringing its corpse back much to Hanacass’s (and some of her fellow Khajiiti’s) extreme disgust for several reasons. More often than not she’d choose to go hungry than eat the fried flesh of a snake or giant worm.
Eventually they arrived at a small settlement “northeast of Gideon, southwest of Stormhold” with a name unpronounceable to any of the Khajiit, with a few rickety shacks, a shop or two, and a tavern, so not much different from Bravil aside from being even more squalid. Here the former slaves finally had their heavy, magicka-repressing slave bracers removed and told that “for you with families, we send word to come or direct you to return home; for you without, we bid you stay or go, for we are close to the border of Cyrodiil and you may return home as you wish”. Hanacass at this news was gleeful to leave, except she had no place to go. Most of her fellows had homes to go back to and were glad to leave this Mane-forsaken swamp.
Oleen-Jee and Jo’rashid
Except for one. Jo’rashid was a quiet one, never refusing an order from the slavers, and except for one-to-three-word replies to questions kept silent and kept to himself. A few days of rest and food later, after all the other Khajiit but her and him left, when the two were alone Hanacass out of the blue began venting her frustrations with Black Marsh, her slavery, her various escapes and her life in Bravil and loss of her parents, basically everything came out. She hadn’t opened up like this to anyone other than “Anthwaen” in her life.
J0’rashid kept quiet, rapt attention on the yelling cat-woman as she spilled her guts at his feet, blinking rarely, keeping up his usual statue-still, near-emotionless expression the whole time. Several Argonian residents overheard her ranting but let her be, apparently used to the emotional outbursts of the recently-freed. It took Hanacass so much time to empty her lungs, finally gasping and coughing for a few minutes, Jo’rashid never looking away.
An Argonian woman then walked up and handed her a glass, which Hanacass swiped and gulped in less than a breath — and was coughing and gasping once more, eyes wide with the multi-front shock, for this was one of their homebrew ales. When Hanacass demanded to know why the Argonian poisoned her, she (named Oleen-Jee) laughed heartily and asked, “Is this your first alcoholic beverage, desert-walker?”
Many times Hanacass was offered stolen boozes by her fellow underage gang members, but noting how it dulled their senses and skills of anyone who imbibed, she thought it was the dumbest thing to drink. But feeling the effects of ale first-hand, she exclaimed to Oleen-Jee, “It tastes horrible, horrible, so horrible. But this one needs more, more!” Oleen-Jee laughed and was more than happy to further feed the former teetotaler, Jo’rashid continuing to watch without comment.
As expected, Hanacass went through days of aches in head and belly, but acquired a newfound love of booze; perhaps drugs and alcohol were just part of being Khajiit and this only awakened and got her that much to her people? During one of her benders with the locals (who were only too pleased to keep buying the penniless former slave drink after drink, she was a laugh riot!) she stumbled about outside, about to collapse in the muck like several of the past nights, when she saw a semi-sobering sight: Jo’rashid overlooking a murky lake a ways out of town, who eventually performed an odd hand-gesture and floated up, up, up until he was above the canopy. He muttered just loud enough for her keen ears to pick up, “It’s been too long.” She passed out.
Come morning, Hanacass was again hating her pounding head and churning belly, and hating the week or so of of dried mud clinging to every last strand of fur. She stumbled about, and ran into Oleen-Jee who smiled (as much as a lizard-woman can) and helped her to a pond to wash off into which Hanacass eagerly dived. Trying in vain to clean her, she finally told Hanacass, “Your friend is looking for you.”
After a few hours to eat at Oleen-Jee’s home and sober up (slightly) she went out and eventually found Jo’rashid overlooking the same lake. She suddenly remembered him floating but dismissed it as an alcoholic delusion… until he performed the same gesture and floated once more. She ran up, exclaiming her surprise. He looked down, floated back down until they were eye-level again and, after a pregnant pause and expressionless as always, asked, “Who are you?”
“…Hanacass. You were told. Is this one hung-over or you?” Growing up on the slummy streets of Bravil, her tongue was easily as sharp and unrestrained as those of Imperials and wood elves, if nowhere near as skilled.
Unmoved (or just unimpressed), he replied immediately, “that’s a name. Just a word. Who are YOU?”
Her booze-addled brain couldn’t put two-and-two together, even less able than normal.
“Are you orphan? Bully? Thief? Khajiit? Who?”
“This one,” Hanacass replied thoughtfully (as much as she could) and slowly, “is orphan. Bully. Thief. Khajiit…” She hesitated with that last one, as it was dawning on her just whom she was speaking with.
“Are you?” sensing her hesitation. Almost before he finished speaking he disappeared. She hissed in shock, instantly sober, only knowing of spells like Invisibility and Levitation from storybooks. Looking around, wide-eyed, calling out “Jo’rashid! Jo’rashid!” a few times until after several minutes he appeared before her again, her hissing in shock again.
After a moment he handed her a bottle of Argonian ale, the second-oldest and second-most expensive bottle in their stock, which few of the local lizards could afford and those who could wouldn’t waste it on a freed slave.
The realization hit her as hard as the booze. All her faith in her heritage restored, she fell to her knees before Jo’rashid and begged, “Teach Hanacass the ways of Khajiit! This one never grew with them, she is terrible Khajiit! She wants nothing more than to learn!”
Before she was even finished with her pathetic display Jo’rashid had already turned and was pointing one claw towards town, roughly in the direction of the tavern. When she finished her tirade he said, “Bring the oldest, the most-expensive. If you can’t, you aren’t Khajiit.”
“More already, warm-blood? It’s not even noon!” laughed a patron, one of the hide-clad warriors who helped her and the rest of the escapees. They were gone for a while but today the whole war party was enjoying a stiff drink or three, having protected a caravan of goods.
“We’ll make this hamlet worth putting on a map!” another warrior shouted triumphant.
“It’s gone!” the bartender hissed, finally noting the missing ale. He turned and cast a suspicious glare down on the brawl-and-bauble-loving suthay-raht.
“Th-this one knows nothing!”
Another of the warriors laughed and clapped her back hard enough to make her yelp, and yelled, “This sweet little sugar-tongue would never do such a thing!” and laughed again along with many of the other patrons.
She forced a laugh to go along but was growing irritated, finally realizing just how much harder it’s going to be to take that bottle now that barkeep’s eyes were on her. Stupid Jo’rashid.
After some time trading words with a few locals too imbibed to care about her clumsy attempts at making conversation, the barkeep turned his back. She figured, without the advantage of invisibility, she’d never get her claws on that blasted bottle without anyone seeing her so she’d do the old swipe-and-sprint into the crowd as she and her old “friends” had done plenty of times. Not much crowd-cover in a dingy hamlet tavern but she’d do what she could, and figured she was far more agile than any lizardman. She made her move, and as she reached out the haft of a spear blocked her path.
“No, sugar-tongue,” said that one warrior, no longer laughing, “I saw it eyeing the prize. We’ve had to deal with your kind many a time. One wonders why we bother helping any slave who isn’t a marsh-brother or marsh-sister.”
Most had their eyes on her now, including the bartender. “Now, pest, give it back!” he shouted.
She, reminded of all those times blamed for crimes she didn’t commit, felt bubbling that old frustration she couldn’t express for so long. But if there was any useful lesson from years in chains it was how to keep her temper in check, at least until an opportune moment. She sat down as if in submission, slightly relaxing the Argonians around her, but that was just to prime her legs for a leaping cheap shot to the warrior’s chin. Knocked back but he quickly recomposed and assumed a battle-stance, spear-tip at her throat. Low, sinister chuckles rumbled through the tavern as three other spear-wielders slowly scraped chairs rising on their wicked webbed feet.
“Don’t get it’s warm blood on my floor! Drag it out, I’ll buy the hide!”
A chord of fear reverberated her innards, seeing how easily just one experienced fighter could take the blow of a simple street-brawler, but she was not about to disappoint her first “real” Khajiit. She made good use of her advantage of agility against heavily-armed drunks by falling to the floor and running through and around as they failed to impale. She’d rise only to make more swipes but she barely made a scratch against hide nor scales, not at all like those soft-skinned teen toughs!
Despite this she was having too much fun, her skills little-rusted. But when one dropped his spear and drew a short blade she not only recalled Virmvyne’s favored weapon, she knew from books about losing her advantage of reach; it was time to grab the ale and go, go, go! She leapt over the counter and with arm and tail swept and struck bottle after bottle with one thunderous crash after another. She grabbed and shattered one across the chest of the snarling bartender, then swiped the best (unwisely on display). Holding its neck in her mouth, she climbed up the walls, flung herself over spear and sword, out the door, climbed up the side of the building (more warriors rushing over to see what the commotion was about) and jumped as far as she could and bolted right as the rest got out to make chase. But Hanacass was an accomplished swipe-and-sprint, running up, over, and through the trees no differently as she had so often with wooden roof and lamp-post.
Hanacass waited up one tree after another for hours, seeing that some of the warriors were, too, climbing trees in their search — those spear-tips promising she wouldn’t merely be jailed if she were caught.
As the sun sank, she made her way to Jo’rashid’s customary place hovering over the shore. He lowered as she approached and, panting, when when she tried handing it over, he gently pushed the bottle back.
“It’s yours. Moon sugar for Jo’hashid only. It’s been too long,” then handed her the one he stole.
Before she greedily tore into them he stopped her, “We should leave.”
She heard twigs snapping and, too late to run and hide, assumed a fighting stance. But it was Oleen-Jee, carrying a large backpack.
“We’ll need something for the swamps, desert-walkers.”
“‘We’?” asked Hanacass.
“You think I want to stay here my whole life? I know how to navigate this place, at least well enough to avoid, well,” she laughed, “you know they’re not going to forgive you making a fool out of them!”
“Why not leave sooner?” asked Jo’rashid.
“No one in this pile of shacks and idiots is interested in leaving Black Marsh, and I wasn’t about to accompany anyone… uninteresting,” she stated with a twinkle in her reptilian eye.
“And besides,” she said as she gestured and pointed over the murky, steamy lake, sending a glowing orb that struck what was now illuminated enough to show it was a boat, “I won’t be an entirely useless traveling companion, I promise.”
“I see cat-prints, she’s come this way!” a shout in the distance.
Oleen-Jee quickly handed her backpack to Hanacass, ran towards the shouting, and after several tense moments returned with a wry smile, “They’ll be looking elsewhere for a while. I recommend we make ourselves scarce.”
“This one just got dry, too,” complained Hanacass.
“Won’t be dry,” said Jo’rashid, “’til we leave, Ma’hanacass.”
“Yes, yes,” she replied, then looked back when she noticed, “hah? Who?”
“You,” Jo’rashid replied in his usual cool monotone, “Ma‘hanacass.”
Black to Black
The three traveled west-southwest in Oleen-Jee’s rickety boat. But it was only days when the waterways got too narrow, forcing them to abandon it and continue by foot for the next handfuls of weeks much to Ma’hanacass’s chagrin. They stopped for only three reasons: to hunt, at which Oleen-Jee’s showed her skill at spearing fish with the many long and heavy sticks strewn about; to hide from large predators as none of them were good at fighting, which was the specialty of the desert-walkers; and to make camp and climb trees to sleep when they could, which as clawed beast-folk all three could do easily.
They passed the time talking about their pasts (except Jo’rashid, who replied with the likes of “it’s not important” and “this one isn’t interesting”) and Oleen-Jee being a mage of some skill who wished to join the Mages Guild in Cyrodiil, and learning from one-another. The perpetually-irritated cat-woman was no good at teaching and indeed had little opportunity to show off but her supremacy at running and hiding. However, she (in between complaining about the food, the environment, and running out of booze) listened and learned from the two mages what little she could so long as her patience lasted. Oleen-Jee (having no one to teach her better spells until now despite her years of practice with cantrips learned from her family and the occasional freed slave) quickly mastered the likes of Invisibility and Levitation from Jo’rashid. However, Ma’hanacass could only succeed less than half the time at novice-level illusions like Oleen-Jee’s Illuminate and a weak Blind spell from Jo’Rashid.
None were with weapon nor skill enough to slay but the weakest of prey, Ma’hanacass never watching until it was done cooking and then probably wouldn’t eat after hearing its death-cries if she wasn’t so hungry. If no suitable trees were around the two would Levitate, one or the other holding the struggling and embarrassed Ma’hanacass. The few times they could neither escape nor hide quick enough, Jo’rashid would cast Demoralize Beast or Paralysis, or basic Strength- and Speed-Drains from the college of destruction (if he knew the likes of Fireball and Frostbite he never cast them). All injuries were treated with Oleen-Jee’s knowledge of herbalism and alchemy with her trusty mortar & pestle, and if she needed she’d cast restoration spells, even knowing how to cure diseases which saved her furry friends many times. Ma’hanacass, thinking how useful it’d be if she knew when on the run in the wilds, was interested in Oleen-Jee’s alchemy, and very interested in Jo’rashid’s various spells to stop or harry dangerous foes, but was hindered again by her lack of wits and patience. She was getting better at both as time went on, though.
Only once did they encounter other humanoids: a pair of well-armed and armored Argonians — where they in the tavern that day? Despite Oleen-Jee’s warnings, Ma’hanacass got her chance to shine with a back-approach, looting a few coinpurses and small sacks of food and alchemical reagents (much to Oleen-Jee’s delight, because by now Ma’hanacass had begrudgingly learned to share), and escaping uncaught. If Jo’rashid was impressed he didn’t show it, like he didn’t show much of anything else.
The trio finally emerged out of the swamps into forestland, the southernmost region of Cyrodiil (just south of Bravil) between Elsweyr and Black Marsh known as Blackwood. They spent another three or four more days hunting, foraging, and fending off predators, and steering well clear of the few cave entrances and ruined fortresses they passed by (especially that one with skeletal guards). Oleen-Jee was happy to pray at a shrine of Mara along the way, and finally reaching the main road traveled south, stopping in Blankenmarch but not staying long after finding nothing of value in anyones’ pockets. More travels south on the road along lower Trans-Niben (Ma’hanacass not worldly enough to know this was the same river she overlooked and swam in for years while growing up north in Bravil) they reached and passed through the eastern gate into the Imperial, Argonian, and Khajiit populated Leyawiin.
Slight and Magic
With the small savings brought by Oleen-Jee, swiped from those spear-lizardmen, and from Jo’rashid and Oleen-Jee selling the few things they had the packs and strength to carry (mostly alchemical ingredients), the three rented longterm rooms at the Five Claw’s Lodge.
At Oleen-Jee’s request to keep out of trouble, Ma’hanacass grumpily controlled her thieving though couldn’t help herself at times. She managed to swipe a few cheap baubles from Best Goods and Guarantees and maps from Southern Books, but wasn’t confident in her competence to take anything valuable — especially from that even-grumpier orc proprietor! She had at least learned enough patience and cunning to wait until the store-owner was distracted by other customers. The few on Khajiit and illusions she hadn’t already read were out of her price range, and wasn’t about to purchase anything but booze.
Most of her days in Leyawiin were spent as thus: mornings at the inn (no longer enjoying sleeping in the rough) nursing a hangover, some of which would last ’til the afternoon — those days she cursed the sun and stayed indoors. If and when her head and stomach cleared up enough, she would either kill time thumbing through books and maps (either stolen, or still in-store), chit-chat with Oleen-Jee if she came around to say hi (Ma’hanacass still too anti-social to start conversations), and/or accompany Oleen-Jee or (rarely) Jo’rashid (he wasn’t around much, even in his rented room at night or in daylight; off on personal business? Daring thefts?) to the local Mages Guild. Oleen-Jee finally got her wish to join the Guild, but despite initial interest from Ma’hanacass (if only to have something interesting to do!) the instant she was told all would-be mages needed recommendations from all the Guilds in all cities in Cyrodiil, including Bravil, she hissed and spat she would never go back to that dungheap and stormed out. She’d still come around every now and then, though, greedy to learn those intriguing illusions and to get her claws on all those pretty alchemy tools and spell-staves. Her craving for spells and training (since she couldn’t just swipe those, and was loathe to buy expensive goods even if she could afford to) is what planted the seeds of the need and greed for gold, and a lot of it. But work for it? Pfah! After this, Ma’hanacass would either head back to the inn and drink alone while perusing stolen maps and book — still insecure about being a “good enough” Khajiit to talk to the many locals — or the odd day she chose not to drink (mostly after a particularly harsh hangover) to take her books and maps to the waterfront until it got too dark. Wherever and whatever she read, she never knew what she was looking for.
On yet another tiresome Tirdas, doing the best she could to focus on her standard evening time-killers of snooping in to the conversations of local Khajiit (some much louder than others) in between book-perusing and chugging cheap beer for lack of better, in walked in a rowdy few from the Fighters Guild. They were a male Nord in ugly bronze-colored armor (sans helmet and shield) with a matching battle-axe, a male Breton in even-uglier grey armor (including shield and helmet) with a sheathed longsword she couldn’t see, and a female Bosmer (ugh!) in admittedly-pretty silverish armor (helmet, no shield) with a sheathed dagger on her hip and fancy greenish-yellow longbow and matching arrows strapped to her back. She tried to ignore them and pay attention to the local Khajiit, but it wasn’t long before they too were distracted by the boastful warriors, getting drinks to celebrate a successful contract as they made sure to tell everyone. Ma’hanacass flattened her ears in annoyance and tried to go back to her stale beer and barely-readable-by-candlelight maps, until…
“It’s true, though, we really are the best thieves!”
This won Ma’hanacass’s full attention and scorn. Lines like that went back and forth between the Guildmates and a few irritated locals who dared talk back (especially a foul-mouthed Khajiit woman), the Bosmer getting an occasional hearty clap on the back from the belly-laughing Nord behind her which broke neither her proud stance nor all-too-familiar smirk. But it wasn’t until the Breton smugly asserted that most the “skooma-sucking natives would make terrible blankets” that Ma’hanacass jumped out of her chair, stomped over, and in his face threw a well-remembered one-liner from an Imperial rugrat:
“Is your mother, your sister? Or are all Bretons like that?”
This was met with ‘oohs’ and laughter from the locals, one Khajiit shouting, “So she CAN make words!” All three the Fighters Guildmates looked down on Ma’hanacass.
After a tense moment, the Breton put on an exaggerated face of disgust and turned to the Bosmer, “It’s going to talk to me? Dressed like THAT? What a REVOLTING display!”
She, too, with much exaggeration in her sigh and rolling of eyes replied, “Looks like I was wrong, because at least ONE of these lead-feet can stay unseen. In fact,” then beaming a sweet smile at Ma’hanacass, “I barely notice the shaking puss-in-boots now.”
Another raucous laugh and back-clap from the Nord drowned out snarls and hisses. Ma’hanacass snarled loudest and took an aggressive step forward, met with a strong paw grabbing her shoulder from a beefy Argonian worker.
He whisper-hissed, “you really think you can out-fight the Fighters Guild?”
“Oh, give her a chance!” the wood elf shrieked in amusement, “She’s got to be of those legendary desert-monks! What was it called?
“Wasn’t it called Rawlith Kharj?” asked the Breton.
“That’s it!” excitement poured from the Bosmer, then leaning down with a ‘fang’-bearing grin at Ma’hanacass, “C’mere c’mere grimalkin, show us your moves! Show us your moves!”
The Nord then stepped forward, cracking his knuckles as one would expect, “I can teach ‘er a lesson. She been takin’ all me booze, too!”
“No,” cooly spoke the Breton, “I will.” then grinning and glaring at Ma’hanacass, “Tomorrow, when the sun is at its highest. Meet me at the plaza.”
Ma’hanacass waved a dismissive back-o-the-paw towards the Breton, then “This one will eat you after taking leaves out her teeth,” with an unbroken death glare on the wood elf.
“Oh no no no, sweety-kitty,” cheerfully replied the Bosmer, “I insist,” and with a regal bow and a giggle toward the Breton, “gentlemen first.”
A fierce growl erupted from Ma’hanacass, making the locals back off which only elicited low-laughter from the Guildmates. “It don’t matter! Whoever first! Ma’hanacass will be full tomorrow!”
Street vs Sword
When next the sun was at its highest, a small crowd had encircled the plaza. Ma’hanacass and the Breton were facing one-another. He was unarmed and unarmored, wearing only slacks, shoes, and sneer.
At the edge of the crowd were some of the town’s guard. Ma’hanacass was assured these brawls happened every now and then; so long as no one tried anything lethal, they’d just hang back and enjoy the show with everyone else.
The “rules” for this fight, explained by one of the guard, was as mentioned to keep it non-lethal, no weapons beyond your hands and non-lethal spells (unless they made the fight ‘uninteresting’ like Paralyze), and to wait for the signal.
The Khajiit and a few Argonians — including Oleen-Jee, shaking her head — cheered for Ma’hanacass, but all she heard was her hammering heart. This was her chance to get into the first good dust-up in years without worrying about getting gutted or imprisoned! And how could these soft-bellied men and mer take full-grown claws?
Then sounded the signal. Like a sprung trap, Ma’hanacass had covered the distance, the human remaining motionless in his well-trained stance. She snarled and clawed downward! But he in one motion side-stepped and sent a strike into her collar-bone and side-of-throat. Ma’hanacass tumbled to the ground, spitting and sputtering. But she had so much experience being thrown around she was back on her feet with a reflexive tuck-and-roll.
She was maddened more than surprised, and after a moment to catch her breath and balance she lunged again. His shoulders dropped and he drew back his right, which her cat reactions were quick to block. Just as quickly his left crashed into her liver.
The wind blasted out of her, her vision shaking, her rage like a boiling pot kicked. But her head was cooling enough to hear the crowd:
“No street-cat can step to a trained martial-artist!”
“Quit falling for it! Be smart! Tactics!”
“She’s gonna go home hungry! Aww, poor kitty!”
Ma’hanacass’s stomach lurched from the realization she was losing to a weaponless human. How could this be? But she was not going to go home hungry, she had a wood elf to shred. And so she got her bearings and, rare for her, took a moment to think: the Breton wasn’t taking the initiative, but taking advantage of her aggression. She remembered some of the teen toughs doing very clumsy moves like these but she could usually overcome them with brutality, which wasn’t going to work now.
What she chose was to charge again, but kept in mind how well she could weave through a crowd in escape after an unsuccessful theft. She tried leaping to the side and behind, but the Breton’s stance remained trained on her wherever she went. She fell to the ground on all fours and attacked but intentionally missed; the Breton merely hopped back a few steps, not falling for her clumsy feint. By now the crowd was booing:
“Stop dancing and fight!”
“I came out for this?”
Her pride was wounded, her head heating up again. She missed with her right but backed in time to dodge a counter-jab. She missed with her left and again jumped back though he budged not. She came forward again and reached out, the Breton leaning back but she wasn’t slashing this time, managing to touch off a spell of Blinding! A weak one, inflicting only a bit of blur, but he wasn’t expecting anything like that from a mouthy alley-cat. He hopped back twice, but she jumped further and, him caught off-guard, got in a good downward swipe on his shoulder!
But she was ignorant of the resistance to magic flowing through the blood of all Bretons, so ultimately her spell did little to hinder his aim: her belly, throat, nose, these and more smashed like a hail of stones. Lurching and heaving, he tenderly placed his finger atop her head at which she felt her muscles drain away. The Breton, though, looking buffer than ever, kneed her ribs as painfully as if he wore steel greaves. As she fell forward, all her senses going dark, he fully blackened her world with a bone-crushing grip on her thin arms and a crashing head into hers.
Neither Honor, Valor, Nor Pride No More
“Oh for the love of Dibella,” groaned Oleen-Jee over the writhing, screeching Ma’hanacass. They were in the chapel of Zenithar, the mad cat oblivious to the healer’s attempts.
“HOW? HOW? HOW DID THIS ONE LOSE??”
“What other outcome was expected,” matter-of-factly replied Oleen-Jee, “from a teen-fighting street-brawler against a trained martial-artist?”
“GHAA!! HISS!!” and all manner of other incomprehensible racket burst from her throat. Thankfully she was too sore to arise and damage anything but the blankets and pillows she was laid upon while carried in unconscious — at least she didn’t hear the laughter from man and mer, various noises of disappointment from her furred fellows.
“How long does it take for her to go hoarse?” asked the healer on duty, barely-audible over the aforementioned wall of angry cat.
“Less than two hours. She’ll pass out soon enough.”
“She needs to stop drinking so much, too! Where did you find her?”
“Fresh escaped from Morrowind slavers.”
“Oh, my,” it was now the healer’s turn to shake her head.
As expected, it took about an hour or two before both the healer and Oleen-Jee could relieve her battered body, though neither had a chance of fixing her broken pride.
By the time she had came to again, much to the healer’s and other present priests’ chagrin, Oleen-Jee had wisely brought Ma’hanacass liquor, the more expensive and potent ones normally unaffordable.
She complained just as vociferously (now slurred), but now it was between moans and sobs, and self-inflicted.
“This one is no good, no good! Only things she can do, steal and fight, and can do neither good anymore!”
One of the priests offered, “Maybe the Nine can offer guidance on a new and wholesome path?”
She hissed, weakly, and retorted, “If the man-gods cared they would not have let her parents taken, or herself, or be ‘raised’ by Bosmer orphans!”
“What about the gods of your people?” asked the healer.
She dropped her chin, and was silent for a tense moment, then, “Ma’hanacass is too disappointing. She is no good Khajiit. No good. She only knows Khajiit in books, and is no good at any ways she should. She has no sugar, she can’t dance with moons, she can’t talk to Khajiit. Khajiit laugh at her. Rajhin laughs. Ma’hanacass knows.” She drained nearly half a bottle, choked and coughed most of it back up all over the floor and herself, and between coughs sucked down the rest and threw the bottle at a pillar.
It stopped in mid-air, caught by the deft claws of a previously-invisible Jo’rashid. The only one not startled was Oleen-Jee who had come to expect his signature entrance. What didn’t that tight-lipped, ever-robed illusionist overhear and oversee, himself unseen and unheard?
Ma’hanacass stared, then looked away in shame with a sob. Jo’rashid walked by the group, took her arm and helped her up — too weak, wasted, and sniffling to fight him off — and led her out to the crisp night air.
He patiently brought her across town, few awake to see the spectacle other than a night watchman who, after a moment’s confusion, gave Jo’rashid a frown and a knowing nod, thankfully misinterpreting the situation. He led her through the gates where they entered Leyawiin, walked south until they were by the mouth of the river towards Topal Bay. He let go and she wobbled, trying to stay standing, looking at his emotionless expression in confusion, then looking out to the Bay in the far distance, eventually groaning in illness while looking up to the half-cloudy, half-starry heavens.
Just as her doubled-vision fixated on the partially-obscured moons, a shove sent her off-balance and she shrieked and ‘danced’ in the shallows trying to stay upright, then fell face-first, her whole body soaked. She threw her head back, coughing up seawater, and turned an angry gaze back but Jo’rashid was nowhere to be seen. She as quick as she could dragged herself out of the chilly Bay and shook off as much as she could. She slowly made her way up the bank on all fours (too dizzy to try getting up), but when she got out of the sand her body just gave up and she collapsed into tall grass. It felt so comfortable, so comfortable against her spinning head and bruised belly. She sighed contentedly and shut her eyes.
Meats, Only Some Were Sweet
She opening them with a start, squinting against the light on grass and ground. Took her a few moments to adjust her eyes — and her ears, which woke her when they detected the hungry chittering of approaching mudcrabs. She wobbled up on all fours (too ill to even try standing) and tried hissing and snarling to scare them off so she wouldn’t have to kill them, but they were not about to let such a large meal go without a fight. At this point she was too aggravated by the late morning sun about blinding her and adding to her throbbing head, and her sand-soaked clothes and dirty fur, and about losing the brawl, and about acting so embarrassingly last night, and being too cowardly to approach any of her people, gah! Wasn’t gonna run from stupid beasts this time, they picked the wrong day! So she got in an offensive posture; it was kill or be killed!
When one of the stupid creatures got close enough she swiped, hissing when it got her forearm. They squared off, cougar vs crab, trading claw and pincer until she killed it just in time for two more. She instinctively leapt to her feet, but this sent her head spinning and she staggered several steps back before meeting soft grass again. Her humiliation shot up as quick as her vertigo. Groaning, she rolled over to face the incoming pincers. She struggled to raise herself to attack, then one of the grabs was speared from above, and after after a moment of flopping about it collapsed. The spear withdrew and went into the other.
“Breakfast! Breakfast for all!” It was that strong Argonian worker from earlier. He pressed his boot into the side of the second and yanked out his spear, then turned to her. She stared blankly for a moment, at him and the crabs still twitching in their death throes, the sight of which triggering her stomach into emptying.
“Ahh, that reminds me of my youth. And last Sundas. Ha!” he said with an amused tone as she coughed out the last of the vomit. She wiped her mouth and looked back up to the lizardman, now offering a hand. She growled a bit and looked away, in embarrassment if nothing else.
He laughed and told her with a friendly smile, “Come now, you’re not the first to wake up hungover by the river.” Her head turned back, and before she knew what she was doing took his scaly hand and was on her feet, but barely.
“Name’s Fins-On-Back, because I’m a shark. Ha! No, I just fish and chop wood. And sell what I didn’t eat. No, I don’t eat lumber, ha! And I walk through woods and swim if my joints aren’t too bad that week. Then I drink. But not nearly as well as some crazy furbags. Ha, I’m jealous of your liver! And the rest of your guts, since you CAN take a punch.”
Her ears went back, her eyes widened, her head shrank back, her fangs bared; the realization that she had to be the talk of the town now hit her like that man’s well-trained fist.
Her fears and humiliation plainly etched all over her face, Fins-On-Back smiled and told her, “Oh it’s not as bad as you think. But I’d take a bath by the river before heading back. I’ll fry us some fresh crab. Don’t worry, I won’t look, I promise. Ha!”
She had no desire to fill her belly, but she really needed to get the caked sand off her fur and face and everywhere. Ugh. So she cleaned as best she could, head still fuzzy, and wincing as water got in her cuts. Hopefully she’ll run into Oleen-Jee later, if the lizardwoman’s not too embarrassed by Ma’hanacass’s behavior last night. Wasn’t long before she lied back, letting herself float away with the gentle currents. She had no plans to leave the healing Bay anytime soon, but once the smell of smoked crab meat reached her she shot her eyes shot open and swiftly, awkwardly paddled back to dried off as best she could. No longer at catnap’s door, the whole of her being ablaze in craving for food and vengeance!
“Careful! Don’t eat so fast it comes out just as fast, ha!”
They took their sweet time stuffing themselves as much as they could, Ma’hanacass smiling for the first time since pickpocketing those spear-hunters at the edge of Black Marsh. When Fins-On-Back got his fill he smoked and bagged the rest. “All this wouldn’t even earn an ale, but I’m not about to let it spoil so may as well.” She watched him cook, almost forgetting her now-mild hangover. When that got boring she looked and listened all around, towards the distant forest and nearby plains with all the bugs and beasts sounding their chorus, across the Bay and the gentle winds sending waves into the sands and back, to the walls of Leyawiin with a few shouts and other city sounds making their way out. All of this, along with the soothing scent of smoked crab, made her want to curl up in the grass, nap, and let her stuffed stomach do its job.
When done he turned to the quiet cat, her eyelids heavy, and said, “A bed might be better, heh heh.” She grumbled, stubbornly unmoving, and could sleep like this the rest of her night if the ground were always this comfortable.
“You don’t want to keep them waiting, eh?” he offered, “the furry boys especially, ha, they’ve got their eyes on you!”
She perked, “Hah? Who will speak to Ma’hanacass?”
“Why, your adoring fans at the inn! But don’t wait for me, I’ve got lumber to grab and sell. Get ’em, whiskers!”
She turned to Leyawiin a skip and a hop away. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go back with those stupid Fighters lurking about. But now her curiosity was overruling her fear of leers and jeers, from them and the rest in town. A pause, then without a word she shot up — too fast! Still a bit of hangover! Can’t risk losing all that delicious crab. Another pause, then she more mindfully this time walked up to the gates, went through, and kept out of sight as much she could on the way; Ma’hanacass wanted to avoid as many humiliating stares as she could, so she crept behind as many buildings and through the shadows as she could, which weren’t many thanks to the glaring gateway to Aetherius so far above.
One Claw Lodged
The bustling noonday crowd was what Ma’hanacass walked into. Or as much a crowd as there ever is at the humble Five Claws Lodge. Took a few moments for the first to notice her. But then, a few mutterings of “hey, look, it’s her, there she is!” later, the inn was quiet with about a dozen eyes boring into her. Her cheeks were growing uncomfortably tingly and warm — she’d spent much of her life avoiding others’ gazes!
In embarrassment she was close to turning tail, then an Imperial man with a dagger on the table before him turned to the Khajiit woman sitting next to him and said, “Rasrin! Didn’t you say you were going to buy this ‘crazed calico’ a drink?”
She snarled at the Imperial, “Daro‘rasrin! Stupid man, put your toys away.”
“Oh, but who could say that,” he said with a laugh, “not us without a comb on our tongues!”
“Anantor Druaus!” his name tearing out her mouth with the ease a snake shoots venom, “You again talk as if your tongue were wood! And you call yourself Cyrodiil?”
Anantor turned a face of mock exasperation towards Ma’hanacass, but before he could fire a doubtlessly clever retort, Daro’rasrin got up and ran up to Ma’hanacass.
“And you! You are a stupid woman,” but she said this almost with a purr, “Daro’rasrin respects that SOMEONE,” firing a fierce glare towards Anantor, “will face the Fighters Guild.”
“Yes!” shouted another, a older tomcat seated away, “They are too full of themselves! Why, if only one would put them in their place…”
“Did YOU try?” Daro’rasrin spat toward him, then whipped her head back to Ma’hanacass, her face shifting from vicious to equally-eager officiousness, “WHY are you still standing quiet like a mewling kitten!? Sadder than sitting quiet!” Daro’rasrin grabbed Ma’hanacass’s arm, her expression exchanging to exaggerated exuberance, “Come in! Tell us! Tell Daro’rasrin where you learned to fight!!”
Through Daro’rasrin’s persistence, disregard for anyone’s shell, and no shortage of booze-bribery, Ma’hanacass was pried open before her people for the first time in her life. She was most amazed by how easily Daro’rasrin switched from insulting and threatening Anantor to laughter as booming as that of Fins-On-Back and the Fighters Guild Nord, barging through the inn’s door with his Breton and Bosmer companions. Got quiet quick but for the low growls from both cat-women.
[blah blah back-and-forth]
[something something Daro’rasrin gets in their face before they have a chance to gloat over Ma’hanacass too much]
But instead of joining her, Ma’hanacass got the rare flash of an idea. She slinked off while the Fighters Guild were laughing at the raging old tiger, completely confident that insults and empty threats were all she had. With shouts and laughter muffling her footsteps, it was too easy to move behind the three braggarts, along the way pocketing that nice silver dagger now that Anantor had backed away from the warriors.
She didn’t dare try stealing their weapons; they carried nothing else of value, she checked. So instead she made little cuts here and there: half-way through the belts holding the Breton’s blade, removing that ugly skirt from the Nord’s ugly armor, nicking the Bosmer’s bowstring, and so on. She then snuck outside, grabbed a rock, returned and while standing in the doorway whipped the rock at the Nord’s back with a loud thunk.The three got deadly quiet and turned, Ma’hanacass making sure they saw the dagger waving threatening at the three.
“Oh, ho, ho…” the Breton said quietly, evilly.
The Bosmer crossed her arms and flashed a slasher-smile, first at Ma’hanacass, then the Nord who was looking like Ma’hanacass just called his papa a milk-drinker and a seamster. He growled, “Wa’n’t nuff for you, huh? Ya need more lessons, fur rug?”
He grabbed the handle of his battle-axe, telling the innkeeper shouting at him to take it outside, “Keep yer britches tight, woman, this cat’s gonna flee and I’m gonna love the chase.”
The Breton slow-clapped a few times as the Nord drew his gleaming weapon, its razor edge aimed at Ma’hanacass. When she didn’t budge, unblinking at the Nord’s death glare and fighting stance, he finally broke the silence, “So that’s how yer gonna be. Then HOLD STILL!”
He charged with a thunderous footfall, then the rest of him falling just as loud as he tripped over the fallen kilt tied up around. Ma’hanacass threw the dagger and ran towards the fallen axe.
“Oh no you don’t!” screamed the wood elf, drawing her bow and nocking an arrow in one fluid motion, the string predictably snapping and her shouting in dismay, “I just got that fixed you..!”
The Breton was next with, “You shouldn’t have done that!” barely audible over everyone else’s laughter. But the moment he went for his blade it and the sheath clattered on the floor, the laughter growing louder. The wood elf had already expected such a thing so she was careful drawing her blade before she rushed at Ma’hanacass. She had long ran out the door, and as the speedy wood elf got hot on her tail the Nord had over his mishap and followed close behind, axe ready for blood.
Ma’hanacass made sure to scream in fake terror, begging for “someone, anyone, help this one!” The Bosmer realized what just happened and took off, but the Nord kept chasing until the guards got to the hothead. His swing was blocked by a guard’s shield before he stopped seeing red and, too, realized what he just did. But it was too late. He had just assaulted a guard in broad daylight.
“You idiot!” shouted the Breton from the inn.
“And what about you, you were gonna kill her, too!” shouted back the Bosmer.
“Who were you going to kill?” demanded another guard.
“This one!” shouted Ma’hanacass, making a big point to hide behind another.
That the Nord was being taken away was a given, but it wasn’t until the innkeeper and the others there told the guards those three from the Fighters Guild had been taunting and threatening everyone there (especially the “defenseless” Ma’hanacass) that the Breton and Bosmer were taken away, too.
It was about here Oleen-Jee (and a few of her new Mages Guild friends) came out to see what the fuss was, and when she found out groaned and shook her face into her palm while going back inside. Fins-On-Back, finished with whatever business he was with, came to the inn. Everyone else had gone back to where they were.
“Ha! Beautiful! There’s no cat for miles who could do as well as you, you filthy fuzzball!” triumphantly shouted Fins-On-Back. The rest (especially Khajiit) nodding and agreeing, which put the finishing touches on the new fortress of pride built around her heart. She may not fight well, but she was assured she finally came into her heritage.
One of the other Argonians piped up, “The famous Hanacass, talk of the town!”
“Hanacass? Ma‘hanacass.” she corrected him.
Daro’rasrin, “Are you deaf, swamp-walker?”
He replied, “That’s not what the guards called her the other day.”
“Hah?” this got Ma’hanacass’s attention.
“After the fight,” the old Khajiit from earlier said, “when everyone was going about their way, one said to another, ‘Hey, didn’t someone call her “Hanacass”?'”
Ma’hanacass stared blankly for a moment, then a nervous pang sank into her gut. Could they know? Bravil is not too far north…
Daro’rasrin didn’t understand the situation, but seeing worry etching across her new friend’s face was enough to make her hiss and demand of the old cat, “Why did you not say this before?”
“Didn’t matter, did it?”
“It does!” stated Oleen-Jee as she entered and approached Ma’hanacass.
“Hello, troublemaker,” she said with a mix of disappointment and “only you” friendly familiarity.
“Oleen-Jee,” Ma’hanacass fearfully whispered, “do you think..?”
“Thanks to you those little stunts of yours the past few days, the guards have been… talking. I don’t know much, but Jo’rasrid– well, I’ll let him tell you.”
She looked to her left, and there he was. This time Ma’hanacass wasn’t nearly as shocked as everyone else.
“Time to go,” was all he said.
Time To Go
The situation was: that losing cat’s name sounded familiar to the guards so they had begun looking into her. Wasn’t much of a priority beyond curiosity. But she had their attention now; despite their being busy with the three attempted murderers and one guard assault, it wouldn’t be long before they got back to Ma’hanacass and learned she was a runaway with years of arrests behind her name.
That early evening Daro’rasrin, Anantor (complaining only mildly about the new dent in his fancy weapon), and Fins-On-Back had followed Ma’hanacass, Oleen-Jee, and Jo’rasrid back to the shore Ma’hanacass awoke that morning. Fins-On-Back had dragged over an old boat, the second time one of the People of the Root had provided the means to her escape.
“So what does she do now?” Ma’hanacass asked with a mix of annoyance and nervousness, “where does this one go?”
“You know,” replied Jo’rasrid.
Ma’hanacass studied his face for a moment, then looked out across the Bay towards Elsweyr.
“This is why you threw Ma’hanacass into the waters. To tell her.”
“You were dirty.”
She looked back, squinting. Then Jo’rasrid approached and handed her a book: Rain-Of-Sand, which detailed the brands of Khajiiti unarmed combat, right up the alley of this fighting alley-cat.
Daro’rasrin’s eyes widened, “You are a lucky wild animal!”
“Will you follow Ma’hanacass?”
“Pssh,” Daro’rasrin waved a paw dismissively, “this one is no good for going on adventures. Only good for calling names. And Elsweyr is not much different, but hotter. Daro’rasrin does not miss the heat! She hates it!” And she laughed
Anantor, finally sheathing his little dagger that he never plans to use anyway, asked her, “Is there any one thing you do not hate?”
Oleen-Jee handed Ma’hanacass a map, “Go here, [is there a Mages Guild in Elsweyr? look it up]” [hands her the fancy mortar-and-pestle and tells her to ask the Guild/herbalists/etc (?) about local ingredients]
Ma’hanacass took the backpack full of booze and dried crab, the map and directions, and Rain-of-Sand into the boat. Fins-On-Back and Anantor shoved her out into the Bay. As she began floating away, she suddenly turned back and shouted,
“Jo’rasrid! Who are YOU?”
He is silent for a few moments, the rest turning to the robed cat-man. Finally, in his characteristic curt and cryptic style, “This one is Khajiit.”
Part Four: Rain of Ash
[She in Elsweyr gets stolen from but isn’t angered, instead in awe: so THESE are the skills of “real” khajiit? She has much to learn! Going from bar to bar, trying to ask around, she is eventually directed towards “old masters” deep in the desert, probably just to get the uncouth woman from pestering them any more. She is none too bright and gullible so she heads off into the desert and nearly starves once again until she finds one of these “old masters” whom she begs and begs for weeks on end, until she lets her temper get the better of her and attacks… which he blocks easily. He tells her “you show your true colors. you pass. I was never going to train one who lies, especially to herself about who she really is.” Training happens etc. until he tells her “I’ve taught you all I can, the rest is up to you. Truth be told I don’t care what you do with your new abilities, I only took you in because I was bored and if you kept pestering me any more I would have killed you out of spite. Now leave, and don’t come back unless you are certain you can keep me from killing you.” She leaves and takes this as a ‘test’ (she is none too bright)]
[She travels some more, leaving Elsweyr, surviving again through alchemy and petty theft, no muggings this time to keep a low profile and to “save” her new hand-to-hand and spellcasting prowess, for whom and for what she did not know. She travels aimlessly, not knowing what to do or where to go now that she has accomplished one of her life goals: reconnecting with her people, avoiding guard patrols, and finally weary of her weeks of walking, stops at the local wateringhole in (upper-right city of Cyrodiil near Morrowind border). She overhears slavers bragging about slaving, blah blah blah big fight blah blah loud nord woman lout were-pig blah blah she ends up killing one of the dark elves, she goes near-catatonic and is knocked out by an imperial guard with a steel warhammer, she is taken in for questioning, she is too dazed to do naught but cooperate and confess her life story, which is confirmed by Bravil’s rap sheet on her an arm long (they even blamed her for the ‘dungeon-assassinations’!) which she had no energy left to deny. Her cooperativeness spared her from the noose but the guards decided she was too dangerous to let loose so they chained her, put her on a boat and planned to ship her off someplace far, far away to rot in a dark dungeon for the rest of her days…]
[…until orders direct from the Emperor tells them to pardon her crimes and send her to Vvardenfell.]<jh