S M Bonds

Morene Fellon

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"Ah," Morene purred, sitting herself down. Her eyes moved up and down Iris' figure, the outline of the android's silhouette now much puffier than before. The huntress was rather proud of her sense of fashion; the dark casual jacket that wrapped around Iris' body was just as sleek as her.

As the android girl popped the thick collar of her new coat, she swirled in front of Morene a single time. Showing off, a smile beamed on her face.

"That's more like it!" The knochten piped up, sharing a genuine grin with the lady in front of her, bubbling with young life.

"I think... this is the one! It's very cute," Iris spoke to herself almost, lost looking at herself in the small mirror at her side.

"Forsooth," Morene finished off, "now you can express yourself freely without the chill breeze in the air distracting you. Still..."

"Hm?"

"It needs something," Morene hummed, a finger on her chin as she slowly circled around Iris to the best of her ability in the still relatively small ship. The knightress pondered; as cute as Iris was standing in front of her with her swanky new outfit, it had something that could be considered an empty space. The woman heading the personal fashion show in front of her couldn't tell where exactly that empty space was. Finally, Morene walked slowly to the lockers in the same room as the mirror Iris used to oogle herself and her new clothes. She nodded once, reaching into the opened storage unit. From her single gauntleted hand held a rather small looking piece of cloth, which later revealed itself to be a beanie as Morene held it out in both of her hands.

"Here!" The knochten couldn't help herself, reaching over to the android's small head to fit the small hat. The piece of wool wrapped itself snug around her head; just as Morene thought, the dark grey color of both the jacket and her hat fit perfectly with her long white mane of hair. The huntress held both her hands to her cheeks as Iris raised her head, giggling. Morene gushed.

"Ohh, 'tis perfect!"

"I see what you mean, good choice!" Iris expressed her agreement without hesitation. With that, she blinked, hopping down the small room and right back into the cockpit of the ship, putting her duff right down on the seat. She folded her arms, eyes widening in slight surprise. "Huh," she murmured, "we're already almost there! Morene, do they know we're coming about now?"

"Yes, yes, they will in a moment," Morene blushed, realizing that she had forgotten to reply to her new employers, hoping the two of the girls were lucky enough to pass the interview ahead of them. In a rush, she pulled the tablet that Iris had to recalibrate after getting her new spacecraft. Pecking gently on the screen with her armored fingers, the woman clumsily went to her account details and looked at her sent messages. She figured it might have been a bad idea to jab at a screen with a suit of power armor, but she had no time, feeling the ship's altitude lower by the second.


-
CreedmoorKnocht: Hello, my name is Morene Fellon; I am stranded in space and am about to land near your general location. I and my partner need a job for financial support and also getting accustomed to the lands; I fit all of your requirements, I believe.

Bajiitro'aran: Oh, hi! Can I have some sort of verification of your appearance at least? I'll PM you the coordinates for the interview afterward, just don't try anything sneaky ;)

. . .

CreedmoorKnocht: I have messaged you the verification you have asked for, my partner Iris included. I apologize it took me so long, I am not familiar with the technology here. I will be reporting to your location promptly, miss N'air.

-


"And," Morene inhaled, pressing the tiny button reading 'Send' on the tablet, "there!" Before she could even realize it, the floorboards of the spacecraft shook as Iris stuck the landing with a surprising amount of grace. Iris focused her attention on making sure her new means of transportation was anchored firmly into the ground before lifting herself from her seat.

"So," Iris inquired, "where to now?"

"Don't worry about that, I already have their coordinates; we should be there in little time at all. Follow," Morene gestured back, reassuring the android girl as she walked outside of the spacecraft and out into the humid air of Opealon, the land of suspended soils.

It took the two women a surprisingly short hike walking on the beaten path laid out before them before reaching the coordinates halfway across the island's edge. It was a dock of some sorts; Morene knew she could see two figures standing on the edge of the wooden boards. The sun made it difficult to make out any details in their clothing, but Morene knew it was those who were to hire her soon, if she was up to the task anyway. Both her and Iris stepped forward, Morene stopping before she laid her sabaton on the docks.

The figure standing at the end of the boarded frame looked back, a very traditional garb wrapping her... furry face? Morene thought to herself. She didn't mind, but she certainly didn't expect the woman that was to interview her would have any feline features. A stern look marked the mother's face.

"Hm. So this is the one you picked out?" The feline eyed the knight with a cynical intensity. The younger girl at her side swayed a bit, giving her affirmation and gazing up at the knochten through thick lashes. The Khajiiti woman stepped forward, extending her hand.

"This one's name is Ra'tima-Dro. It is this one's daughter, Masahir, that the knight will be watching over- if, she passes the interview. Who is this partner?" She gestured to Iris.

“Ah, that is my companion, Iris,” the knochten replied, eyebrows raised at the mention of knights, a title she continue to ponder the meaning of. She elaborated, hoping to sound as innocent as possible as the android peevishly looked on at the small cat mother. “I didn’t know if this job was open for two; possibly not, but she’s my… driver, so to speak.”

Before Ra could say anything Masa chimed in. “Oh, a chaperone driver? I wouldn’t mind paying miss Iris for transportation, at the very least.” She stepped in front of her mom, a hand on her hip and one on her chin as she looked over both possible employees.

“How good are you at driving, miss Iris? And is it true what they say about this ‘space’ stuff? I’ve never seen a so called spaceship in real life, but they did have them in fancy commercials back home.”

Ra cleared her throat and glanced at Morene. “How long has this one been doing bodyguard details? The man this one is replacing had many years of experience, Ra’tima-Dro can only hope Moren e has as much, if not more.”

“Five years of mercenary work, a decade of general combat experience.” The answer was very forward; she wasn’t showing off whatsoever by the tone of her voice. Ra, in all of her experience living, was nigh-certain that the knight-errant in front of her was telling the truth just looking at her eyes alone.

If the khajiit was impressed, she failed to show it outwardly, instead opting to ask another question, “tell this one about your previous guard experience, and how you handle stressful situations. This one’s daughter has been attacked in the past, how would Morene respond in a crisis?”

“How broad of an inquiry!” Morene whistled, a slight smile resting on her face as Ra’tima-Dro still gave her cold eyes. She nodded, “I try to use as much force is needed for the task; overkill is not my game. Yet, I don’t think that’s the answer you want, ma’am.” Slowly, the knight-errant held her hands outwards. In an instant, the woman’s two-handed greatsword spawned in both of her palms, her one gift from the godmind that sent her here, Ark’maer.

“I,” Morene paused, “respond quickly, and without prejudice. I am quick with my wrists, and with my armor even quicker. Stress in the face of danger is not something I can do when I spent a decade of my life having flesh-rending monsters breathing down my neck nearly every week I slept, let me tell you!”

The cat cocked an eyebrow at the invigorated response, taking a long moment to study the sword the knight-errant had summoned. She delicately ran a lithe finger down the flat of the blade, murring at the familiar cold bite of a well forged weapon. Finally she looked up at Morene. “Come, you must kneel so this one can properly see your face.”

Morene did as she was told, without hesitation. A large thud was heard by all witnessing parties as the huntress took a knee. The knight-errant was in full sight now, and Ra’tima-Dro knew full and well how genuine her stories were. Still, this interview wasn’t over yet.

“Hm,” Ra mumbled lowly, “how often does Morene train? How?”

This is getting excessive, Morene thought, doing well to disguise her slight bewilderment at how thorough this entire process was. Am I protecting royalty of some sort? She replied. “Every day, if possible. My van’giir organs allow me to eat sufficiently as to allow for better strength, and I do drills every day to keep my hands quick.”

She knew that wasn’t enough. The cat mother almost scowled. Almost.

“Er,” Morene nodded, “I can bench eight-hundred without armor, two-thousand and five-hundred with.”

“Morene is hired.”

“Oh--”

“Come, this one will allow you to show us to your ship,” Ra finally concluded, Iris in the meantime popping her head up from behind Morene’s tank-plated back.

“Yes ma’am,” the android nervously piped up in response. Morene cracked a slight smile at Iris’ slight intimidation.

The four women walked for a few minutes thereafter, little words spoken. That didn’t last long. Quickly, Iris and Masahir made easy conversation, the two young girls finding each other’s presence quite comfortable, nevermind the hulking knight and ferocious feline assassin walking with them side-by-side.
 

Iris Severity

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“Inverxe? I think it’s a small ice planet not too far from here. If he really is from where you were before here, then we should definitely check it out.”

Iris responded to Masahir speak about this man named Victor Wolfe. An eccentric politician that used to help a King Gilgamesh where she used to live. This omniverse seemed like such an interesting and strangely familiar place. In any case, she and Morene now had a job! The android couldn’t help but feel a large well of excitement from within here, she was practically glowing underneath her skin from the thought.

Iris and Morene guided their new employers into the ship, making their way past the empty cargo boxes and barrels in the bay and moving up the stairs into the main hall.

“Downstairs is the engine room and life support systems. I suppose you wouldn’t need to go in there much since Morene or I will be taking care of the ship, but just in case!”

Ra’tima and Masa each gave a nod, with the furry feline speaking up only for a moment, her tone dry. “This one would hope no such repairs would need to be made.”

“I promise you that even in that case, we would be well prepared to make the necessary response and keep you both safe.” Morene quickly responded though she could hardly admit she knew anything about keeping a spaceship running. She assumed it would not be too much different from any technology she had already engineered with.

“Of course! And don’t forget about the bedrooms on the right, plenty of space for everyone, with a locker room and all. The kitchen and workshop are to the left, and if we keep going forward we will see the control room! Oh, and in case any of us gets sick or hurt there a small medical area behind us on the right, and a teeny tiny jail cell on the left in case we find someone naughty!”

Masahir seemed excited about the ship, looking around the main hall with all of the chairs around it, peeking into each of the rooms with wild curiosity.

“Well, what do you think Mamá?”

“This one thinks the ship will serve its purpose and that these two will provide protection for now. We will see about long term employment.”

Iris and Morene gave each other a glance and a nod, a smile coming across the android’s face at the affirmation of their good first impression.

“Off to Inverxe, we go then! There are extra food and clothes in storage, though there isn't anything long term. I don’t need to eat or anything so I only picked up stuff for Morene on our last trip to a station.”

“No worries! The place we were staying at served us breakfast, so we should be fine! I must say, I am pretty excited to see space! I always wondered what the night sky looked like up close.” Masa looked down the stairs as the boarding ramp closed tight against the hull.

“Well, everything is just as far as it looks,” Iris said with a nervous chuckle. She never thought that space was that interesting, people were loads more intriguing in her eyes. “If you want, you can stay up front with us so you can see outside.”

“Really? I won’t get in the way or anything?”

“Of course not, there is plenty of room.”

Both of the girls moved over to the cockpit as Masa left her bags with Morene. Her feline mother seemed to roll her eyes as she beckoned for Morene to help her bring the bags to the rooms. Morene obliged, grabbing the bags with no effort and following the small khajiit down the hall to the pair of rooms at the end. It would make sense to have them there since they would need to most time to react to any dangers aboard the ship.

“Ra’tima will take the room on the right, place her daughter’s belongings in the one beside it. This one will make sure they are in order.”

With a nod, the Knochten opened the door and began to set the bags on the bed. Though she was still new to this plane of reality, she felt as if she was beginning to settle in quite nicely. The hum of the ship coming to life caught her attention as she made her way back down the hall toward the control room.

“The world so far away… I never thought it would look so amazing. It's so blue!”

“Well, there is a lot of water on it. Inverxe is blue too, but a bit lighter because the water is all ice.”

“A whole world covered in ice? Oof, Dios mío the motion is actually making me a little sick to the stomach.” A small groan came from the woman as she held her belly.

Iris nervously looked around, unsure of what to do.

“I’ll go grab you some water, it should help,” Morene called out from the doorway, saving Iris from wondering what to do about an upset stomach.

The Knochten entered the kitchen and searched the supplies for some fresh drink, but soon froze in her tracks.

It seemed as though somebody else had already begun to help themselves to one of the bottles, as well as a few other small snacks. Morene immediately kicked into gear, making her way to the main hall in a rush while calling out to the others.

The commotion had already begun in the living quarter's hall, footsteps rushing down as Morene put a hand up to Masa to motion her to stay in the cockpit. Her eyes went wide as she nervously backed up, Iris readying her whip and stepping in front of her to join the action. Before the culprit could round the corner, Morene was already mid-swing, her blade ready to cleave the intruder in two.

Out of the doorway stepped a roguish man, cloaked in brown garb and leather with numerous buckles, his grey eyes darting straight to Morene as he narrowly ducked under her blade. As she recovered and repositioned herself how she could in the small room, Ra’tima came behind him, claws extended and eyes throwing daggers at the man.

Iris sprung forward, whipping her energetic lasso and catching the stowaway on the cheek, leaving a bright red burn and his tanned skin. It was enough to force a flinch out of him, allowing Morene the chance to shove the dull side of her blade against him and pin him against the wall by his shoulders.

“Hold it there or I won’t hesitate to flip this blade.”

“Now now, I don’t recall ever being into the whole domination thing, do we have a safeword?”

“No jokes, surrender and-”

A tether shot out from the man’s hand into the ceiling, allowing him to push himself down and flip under the blade, freeing himself as he began to make way for the cargo bay.

Out of the shadows came a fuzzy arm that snatched the thief by the collar and pulled him to the brig doorway. A blade pressed against his throat and drew blood.

“If this one treasures his life, then he would submit and play no more games.” Her threat came with a fierce hiss.

Without any hesitation, the man held his hands up and listened, just before making a last remark.

“Alright, the pretty kitty that came out of nowhere says the fun is over, no need to point anything else at me!”

“Ra’tima can help this one’s fat tongue become much slimmer, yes~?”

The rogue bit his lip as he gave a sigh and shook his head, deciding to comply.

“Good.”

The women kept alert as Ra’tima led the rogue into the cell, forcing him to remove any and all weapons and gadgets on his person before shoving him in and locking it. Iris brought the stowaway’s belongings to the main hall as Morene and Ra spoke. Masa peeked out the doorway of the cockpit and slowly came out once she realized it was safe.

“Apologies for the disruption. Had we known that there was a stowaway on the ship-”

Ra’tima raised a hand. “This one has dealt with enough rats like this in her lifetime. One cannot help but find them every time the moons rise.”

Morene gave a soft nod, glad to know that the incident didn’t impact the khajiit’s reliance on the duo. She then turned her attention to the confiscated supplies from their newfound prisoner. A few interesting gadgets lay across the crescent table, where Iris and Masa were already beginning to pick up and inspect them.

“Careful with that, you don’t know how hard-”

“Hush, this one has had enough of your babbling.” Ra’tima’s tail twitched dangerously through the air as she leaned in the doorway to the containment cell room.

“I’m just… fine. So be it.”

Morene’s sigh filled the room before she spoke up. “Iris, any idea what any of these things do?”

“From my understanding, most of this is mobility and concealment oriented, I assume that he has adapted to reconnaissance and infiltration, similar to myself. “ She picked up one of the leather pouches and watched as the missing water bottle slowly rolled out and across the table before Masa caught it. “Though perhaps with much fewer resources.”

“So just as he appears. A lowly thief.” Morene noted.

“Space pirate.” Spoke the voice next door.

“Excuse me?” Morene questioned, turning to look at the man.

The rogue leaned against the metal bars, peeking in between them while twiddling his fingers.

“I’m a space pirate. A pretty decent one I would say as well. At least until one of my mates decided to take a bribe and betray me. Serves him well to be either dead or behind bars like the rest of my crew. Suppose it was only a matter of time before I was to share their fate. On my own ship no less.”

“Your ship?” Iris perked up. “That would mean you were behind what the salesman was talking about with this ship having a bad reputation.”

“Suppose that would make its bill clean now if you four are the new owners of it. Might be stopped a few times but nothing will pop up on record. Lucky you.”

“Tell Ra’tima-Dro, how does one with such a wondrous reputation get caught with stolen snacks and water inside a closet? Perhaps this one was a simple lackey.” She huffed and chuckled, amused as the rogue seemed to straighten up and wag his finger.

“Hey, I’ve been starved in here, alright? I wasn’t thinking straight. Believe me when I say I am good because I am good. I know when to fight and when to hide and that’s why I am still here. They searched this ship from top to bottom and they found nearly all my safe storage spots. I don’t even have my blaster anymore.“

“A tall tale for sure. Ra’tima-Dro thinks you can do better.”

“Better? You haven’t even seen the half of it. If it were any other four hot babes in control of this ship I would be back in business by tomorrow with a full crew on the solar winds.”

“Ah, how sweet~” Masa piped, taking the compliment.

“Do not encourage him, Tal.”

“Sorry ‘amà!”

“Listen, all you need to do is let me out of here and let me be captain of this ship and you’ll be rolling in loot in no time.” A smirk came across his face as he cocked an eyebrow at Masa. Iris tilted her head as Morene’s fists balled up a bit tighter from the man’s cockiness. It reminded her of the one she met when she first arrived. Ra was quick to snap back to him.

“Oh? Does this one believe they hold power even now? Tell sleek Ra’tima-Dro, why haven’t you escaped from your prison already if you find yourself so clever?”

“Well, uh…” His grey eyes darted to Morene for a moment before steadying back towards Iris and Masa. “I have my reasons.”

“And what might those be?”

The rogue raised a finger, “For starters, hotness, you didn’t walk into this room when you came up behind me. I don’t know what you did but I don’t fancy a blade at my throat again.” A frown spread across his face as he rubbed the small scab on his neck.

“Secondly, that woman has a sword that is larger than I am and looks like she could lift this ship with a full planet’s gravity. I felt the air between me and it soil itself when I came out of that hallway.” A shiver followed his words.

“The sexy babe with the white hair there is cybernetic, I can see her glow and I know nothing of what she is capable of, biotech like that is not cheap.” He shook his head and seemed to contemplate the possibilities for a moment.

“And lastly, your… ahem… daughter is far too pretty for me to be so rude as to anger her dashing loving fuzzy mother. Seems like the best choice for me is to stay in here, after all, I don’t hear any plans to turn me in quite yet.” A smirk began to creep up as he gave a shrug.

“And besides, it doesn’t seem like any of you really know the ins and outs of the solar system. From the way I see it, I don’t have anything to worry about while I relax in here. This room does come with food and drink, right?”

“Hmm… This one will come back and talk about it after some time.”

With that the khajiiti woman simply walked out and allowed the ship door to close behind her, leaving the man in solitude.

“Hey, I am still starving you know! You interrupted me before I could actually get a bite of anything!” A muffled shout came from behind the metal door.

Morene spoke as the muffled shouts continued for a moment. “Are you sure we should keep him from food and drink?”

“The foolish one is already capable of doing that himself. Ra’tima-Dro simply wishes to find out how exactly he shall go about it.”

“You guys don’t want a dead man in your brig if you come across any law officials!” More shouts came from the room.

“Mamà, are you sure? Pobresito, what if he really does starve?”

“I am unsure of how you have so much certainty in this?” Iris puzzled, trying to make sense of the assumptions.

“She’s right, he wasn’t bluffing when he said there was more to him than we thought.” Morene crossed her arms as she put the pieces together. “He must be waiting for us to make land once more. Even with the arguments, he made about his captivity, his attitude was far too relaxed to warrant his arrogance. Then again, he could just as well be a fool. If so, Masa, you can bring food to him if we don’t get a response. Iris, how long until we reach Inverxe?”

“Shouldn’t take longer than about half an hour. I doubt our captive would starve by then.”

“Sounds fine then, if he doesn’t measure up to his own words then you can bring him food then, alright?”

With a nod and a smile, Masa agreed and returned to the control room with Iris in order to watch her plot course.

“With that done and over with, I wanted to talk about-” Morene began but was quickly hushed by her employer as Ra’tima’s ears twitched.

“The foolish one grows quiet. This one can hear shuffling.”

Scraping could be heard against the vents above as something rushed quickly through them. Morene stormed through into the brig and found the rogue stuffing his bearded face with chips. He stopped mid-chomp and stared up at the hulking knochten, blinking a few times.

Ra had made her way to the kitchen, making note of where subtle changes could be seen. Something had snaked its way through, a bit sloppily too she would say. The self-proclaimed space pirate certainly held some trick up his sleeve.

“How did you get the chips?” Morene was stern as she approached the bars, staring down the prisoner.

“Look if we were on first name basis then maybe we would know enough about each other for me to not grab your favorite chips, alright, cut me some slack.”

Morene’s eyes narrowed. “You know why I ask.”

“I do, and I still say cut me some slack.”

Silence hung in for a moment as the khajiiti woman came around the corner.

“Did the foolish one talk?”

“You know, I have a name.” The rogue spoke in between mouthfuls.

Morene stayed relatively still before turning to Ra.

“No, he refuses to cooperate.”

The feline motioned for Morene to head back with the others. “Ra’tima-Dro will stay until he decides to.“

“As you wish.” Though Morene felt it her own responsibility to keep watch, she knew as well as the man behind the bars that the feline was more than capable of holding her own with her display earlier. After a quick glance, she exited the room and let the door shut behind her.

The thief seemed only slightly troubled. “I at least keep the chips, right? I’d say I earned it.”

“Of course. Ra’tima-Dro would also ask what this one calls himself.”

“Ah, finally, introductions. Demetri Malius, at your service.”

“Demetri Malius. Ra’tima-Dro thinks it does not roll off the tongue well. Tell this one, Demetri, chips are salty, yes? This thief must be parched, no?” She spoke as she approached the thermostat, raising it up some.

The thief stayed silent for a moment. “Well, there were plenty of waters in the fridge, if you would be so kind as to offer. And we can’t be that far from Inverxe, which is where you wanted to go if I remember hearing correctly? Thirty minutes if there isn’t too much traffic, and there never is.” The thief gave a smirk as he bit into another chip, the crunch echoing in the chamber.

“How long does thirty minutes feel?” Her fuzzy face gave no hints to her emotions as she opened a small water bottle and took a long swig of it.

The confused rogue paused for a moment, the smirk slowly dissipating as the thermostat kicked in. The small woman took a seat on a cargo box across from the cell door, staring across at the thief.

“She thinks this one will find out soon enough.”
 

Masahir N'air

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The dancer’s dry tongue pulled across her lips in a vain attempt to moisten them. She stood awkwardly in her new bedroom, wringing her hands over and over again as she stared vacantly into her suitcase of clothes. Almost every article was the same deep, bloody crimson red, intense and smoldering. Her jaw clenched and unclenched, teeth grinding against each other like clockwork as her mind played the scene back for the hundredth time.

Her spine felt uncomfortably tense, her breathing shallow and barely perceivable as she dry swallowed again. There had been some stranger, some intruder, a shadowy unknown man waiting around in some undisclosed crack or corner. It had been handled quickly and efficiently by her entourage, he was thrown into the brig and her own mother sat guard, yet that didn’t matter. An intruder had been hiding on the ship for who knows how long, intentions and abilities unknown. Questions blazed through her mind, etching her fears and insecurities into her soul. If he had had the willpower to wait until night he may have snuck into her room. The thought alone made her throat clench tight. She didn’t even know if night was a thing in space but it didn’t matter.

She twined her fingers together and twisted her hands again.

The thought of changing her outfit, undressing when she knew some felon was onboard bunched her stomach up into a painful, unshakable knot; she could try picking it apart for hours and make no progress. How could she feel safe being so vulnerable, unable to run very far? What if he came upon her while her shirt was over her head or her pants restricting her legs? The knot in her gut rolled and she gasped in a sharp breath.

She felt so stupid, being so worked up and so scared that she couldn’t even change her own clothes without the bedroom door open. She’d been too unsettled to close any room door, the walls suffocatingly cramped. She was surrounded by people infinitely stronger, infinitely more capable than herself and yet she still found herself climbing onto the lower bunk and pulling her knees to her chest, like some wounded little animal. Her grip tightened around her legs. Gods above, she felt so weak and worthless. To keep telling herself that it would all be okay that things would go back to normal, that the world was normally such a safe place. She wanted it to be true, she wanted to believe it but a quiet bitter little voice constantly nagged at her, pouring sour poison into her head. What if? What if? it always asked a thousand times an hour. What if you close that door and they can’t hear you scream? What if they can’t unlock it in time? What if his slitted, prying eyes are hiding under the bed, or in the closet? What if? What if? What if?

She wanted to hide, she wanted to scream until her throat bled. She wanted anything that would take this feeling, these thoughts away even for a little while. She laid in bed at night and her body ached yet her mind wouldn’t let her sleep. He was behind her eyelids, turning her dreams into warped nightmares that left her crying and screaming herself awake in the middle of the night. She found no peace and no solace. She’d thought that might change when she got a new bodyguard, another layer of protection and safety.

It didn’t matter though, none of it did. No amount of posthumous safety or defenses or comfort would ever give her back that illusion of security. A tear rolled down her coffee colored cheek and her nails dug into the sides of her calves. She had desperately tried to convince herself that that night hadn’t happened, that it was some sort of fucked up fever dream, maybe she was exhausted, maybe she imagined it. It couldn’t be true, it couldn’t be reconciled with her perception of the world or herself. Things like that didn’t happen to beloved famous people with bodyguards, people couldn’t- wouldn’t- be that vile, no one she had loved once could be so evil as to hurt her like that, certainly- right?

That morning she’d woken up in the hospital with blue stains between her legs, it hurt to walk, to breath, to move. They’d taken the tubes out because she demanded to walk to the bathroom next to her bed. Seeing the bruises and cuts on her face and neck shocked her to her core, her busted lip stitched with tiny surgical floss strands and her eye swollen and puffy. It still didn’t really hit her until she shakily sat on the toilet. The pain had been so unbearably sharp that she cried, and in that moment her old reality started to fall apart, replaced by the piercing static of this new and undeniable truth.

Someone she had loved deeply and passionately had, indeed done this to her. Her judgement of character had failed her to the utmost extreme, vile evil people could worm their way into her heart and strike her a crippling blow.

It took three knocks and a name call before Masahir snapped out of her thoughts. The gigantic knochten stood on the other side of the doorway, peering in with a look of concern. The dancer cleared her throat and wiped her reddening cheeks dry, unwrapping her arms from around her knees and trying to shift into a less worrying pose. How long had she been standing there? Dios mio, she probably thinks I’m some crazy lady...

“Ah- yes, Morene? You can come in. What’s wrong?” She made a valiant attempt to sound cool and normal, but she doubted that it was convincing; her head still pounded with a sinus headache. As Masahir desperately gathered herself, she noticed Morene was rather casually dressed; through her watery eyes, she noticed a padded jacket, and a strange hat that flowed like a scarf… Before she could rub her eyes to look any further, Morene opened her mouth to speak.

“I was going to ask you that,” the towering woman replied lowly. “You look like you’re trembling.” She shifted her weight, a dead serious look on her face as she noted that. Masahir didn’t do much in response, choosing instead to work her bottom lip between her teeth as she pondered the numerous excuses she could give as to why that was the case. Before she could even muster an answer to that, Morene asked again. “Are you sure?”

Masa gave a weak nod and gestured to the open space on the bed in front of her, “I’m- I’ll be fine yeah,” the corner of her lip twitched as she struggled not to frown. “I just- ... I’m just over reacting. I’ve been through a lot the past week but it’s okay. I’ll be okay.”

The knight-errant hummed lightly as Masahir finished. Morene didn’t buy it; the way Masahir repeated herself, stammering at almost every sentence coming out of her mouth; the knochten was less stressed as a literal bush woman at the heart of Creedmoor. Something was wrong, and Morene truly didn’t intend to pry. A few exchanges of gestures later and the knight found herself sitting on the other end of the bed across the room, giving her employer a lot of space. Still, Masahir’s new bodyguard felt a need for her to be honest.

“You don’t have to elaborate,” Morene began, “but please, tell me if you don’t feel safe. I’m being paid for this, and more importantly, you look like a mess; I don’t like that. Alright, dear?”

Silence hung in the room like an oppressive fog as the young woman chewed her lip, trying to gather her thoughts. Eventually her reply came, “I’m sorry... I really don’t mean to bother you. I- ... Earlier this month...” She took a second to try to compose herself, she felt like a total loser stumbling over her words like this, normally she couldn’t stop talking.

“Earlier this month I was- ...” She hung on the word, as if actually saying it would make it irrefutable, as if saying it outloud would irrevocably mark her for life and solidify her trauma as factual reality. The pain and weight of the word struggled on her lips and she dropped her eyes away from the ghostly blue orbs of her bodyguard. Her tongue was heavy with shame, and her answer was a choked whisper, “raped.”

She bit down on the inside of her cheek and tears sprung to her eyes again as she snapped them up to stare, nearly glaring, at Morene, “nothing feels safe anymore. Nothing. Nothing at all! Everything is horrible and scary, men hide in the shadows waiting for me to be alone. Around every corner could be,” she sucked in a shuddering breath, “a threat.”

She pulled her knees up close again, waving her hands with a frantic, choppy swell of tears. “I thought- I thought hiring a new bodyguard would make me feel safe! I thought maybe- maybe things could be normal again but they can’t. They can’t and I don’t know what to do! Everything is awful and I can’t even go back home, all of my friends are gone, my life is gone, I don’t know anyone here except for mi- mi mama.”

Masahir couldn’t see it now, but Morene’s lips quivered. The pain she detected in the dancer’s voice was genuine, completely unfiltered. The woman turned her head to the side, letting Masahir vent completely before even entertaining the thought of a reply. As Masa’s sniffles filled the room, Morene looked up at her again after a long pause.

“I know that,” Morene swallowed, “right now, you can’t do much about the feelings you have trapped inside of you. I ask of you though, if not anything else, don’t feel sorry. If you had told me this before I hopped on the ship, I would have offered my protection for free,” she continued, waiting for a moment so that Masahir could listen. The dancer knew by the tone of her voice that the notion of Morene working for them wouldn’t reassure her; Morene knew that too. The knochten nodded, keeping her eyes dead set on Masahir’s face, visibly broken and gently trembling.

“However,” Morene changed her tone of voice, as if giving a promise, “though I know this won’t reassure you much, nobody will touch you if I’m even on the same planet you have foot on.” The ghostly visage of the woman’s gaze pierced into Masahir’s soul as she said this. Still, the knight-errant knew that it would likely do more to scare the lady she was supposed to be protecting, so she finished, actually giving her employer a promise this time around. “I swear upon my life that we’ll be here, and nobody will hurt you like that ever again. Forsooth?”

Masa’s deep brown eyes stared right back at the knochten, digesting her statements. She felt no fear staring into those supernatural eyes, she’d already seen plenty of crazy things in her time in Nippur. Nothing would top that boy and mouse folding into each other and merging into a single creature, or watching thugs kick in a street rat’s teeth for snitching. Rich blood quenching the parched desert sand and bodies smashed under the rubble of the city in the aftermath of battle stained her soul. Spooky eyes just reminded her of her mother’s icy glare.

She gave a dry, wry chuckle, “I appreciate the idea but I couldn’t imagine expecting you to work for free, but I’m sure mi amà would be amused by that. ... You seem like a good person Morene, you’re very strong and an intimidating woman. I’m sure you’ll chop anyone who fights me in half~” She paused for a moment, sniffling before continuing, “I really do appreciate it though, you checking on me and the noble gestures. It’s sweet really.”

“I mean it,” Morene smiled back briefly before continuing, “nobody deserves to go through what you’ve been through the past few weeks.” She stood up, breathing deeply as the weight of Masahir’s pain slowly sunk into her conscious, now confronted with every implication that comes with what the dancer had told her, too numerous to count. The knight-errant tilted her head, a little relieved she could at least joke back as Masahir teased.

“What,” Morene chortled, “you think I’m so brutish I just… split people in twain? How gruesome of a thought; I need to work on being presentable apparently!”

The singer snorted softly, “Oh no, you’re a classy senorita, certainly. Your hat says so~” Her posture loosened some as she cracked a smile, “it’s cute, I really like it. Reminds me of my people back home. ... Were you flung into this place as well, or are mama and I the odd ones out?”

“Least somebody thinks so,” Morene blinked. The expression on the knight-errant’s face changed from that of a whimsical smile to something of slight ire, determination even. Masahir was expecting an earful as Morene moved her lips to answer. “I was sent here, yes. To this plane of existence, that is; a god of my own world sent me here, I believe as a test. For how long, I do not know, but no, if that’s a familiar experience for you, then I welcome you to the club, I believe the expression is.”

Masa tilted her head curiously, “what was your home like?” Her voice, finally having returned to normal, floated across the room. It carried a twinge of homesickness in it’s rich notes. She was missing Nippur sorely, missing the familiar streets and the smells of fresh cooked street food wafting on the cooling evening winds, the hussel the bazaar merchants, beckoning shoppers to their stalls for a traditional round of haggling. It was like a sport for them, a fun and amusing challenge to go back and forth with visitors to discover the right price of whatever item they sought to sell. “Do you miss it at all?”

Leaning on the mattress hung on the wall behind her, Morene looked down and honestly pondered that question. “Well, the place I lived before being thrown here I stayed for an entire decade of my life, and it was… a literal purgatory for daemons and spirits, so not particularly! If you’re talking about the quaint city that I was actually born and raised in though, of course, Masa; I wish I could tell my mother and father what’s going on; I’d be content, barely, if they just knew where I was and I never got to talk to them again otherwise…”

“Oh, dios mio, daemons?!” She exclaimed. “Is that how you got those organs you talked about when mi ama was interviewing you, or is everyone as... stacked as you where you’re from?” She stopped for a moment, her face pulling into a contemplative expression, “I don’t have any memories before my late tweens. Where I’m from some people had been blessed by the Smiling One with special powers that let them summon all sorts of things, including other people, into the world. Apparently I was summoned by the god king who ruled the kingdom I lived in. ... I’m actually going to Inverxe to visit one of the Nippurian lords, Victor Wolfe. He’s pretty slick and smooth, but I’ve heard he really likes to play the love game with beautiful women like myself.”

She gave an airy sigh, her dark eyes dreamy, “he’s handsome but he doesn’t quite compare to King Gilgamesh. I was actually invited to perform at the palace by the king himself before I was snatched away by,” she gestured all around her, “all of this, whatever it is. Mama always teased that I’d end up married to him, but I guess that’ll never happen now... Not that I’m sure he would have married a dirty little street rat like me!”

“Oh, dear,” Morene exasperated, “street rat?! Zounds! You perform for royal blood, and you look a lot better than I do, that’s for sure. Yes, though, monster hunting in Creedmoor is eventually what got me to cut myself open and put all those nasty van’giir organs in me; it’s a long story!” The knochten chuckled rather heartily, another pause as she looked at Masahir with sudden concern. “This Victor individual though, are you… sure about him?”

“You cut yourself open? That’s brutal. ... And yes, I’m sure about him! Apparently King Gilgamesh didn’t get drug over here with us, sadly, so Wolfe has stepped up to take on the reigns and keep the faction together in this new world. Mama says he’s just another politician, and maybe that’s true, but he’s done plenty of good for New Babylon, he’s always been there for us, against all odds. I think that says something good about him, besides, I’ve missed having attention piled on me.” She feigned a sniffle before grinning at the knight-errant. “I’ve never minded being in the spotlight, to hear people cheer for you, yelling for you to encore at the end of a concert is the most thrilling, satisfying experience for an artist... and cute little lunch dates never really hurt either.”

“If it makes you feel any safer, the only attention I’ve really gotten the past decade was some mix of talking to dead people and then horrible, screeching creatures of the night crawling into my bed, so… Lucky you, miss Masahir! If I looked as good as you, I’d not mind the lunch dates either,” Morene smirked playfully, grateful that the dancer she spoke to had distracted herself from the perpetual state of suffering she was in a moment ago.

The corners of Masa’s lips pulled into a coy frown before she pursed them, “you have a rugged beauty, like one of desert bears of my homeland. Strong and sturdy, built to survive even in the worst conditions. I think that’s a unique type of charm not many people can boast having. Maybe you’d like to go on a lunch date with me sometime, after we get settled in on inverxe, si?”

The knight-errant put a finger to her lips, giggling like a snooty schoolgirl. “Why!” She replied, flattered immensely, “I’d love that! I probably need it too.”

The dancer gave a flashing smile that seemed to go from ear to ear. “Great! Now... Maybe now you can help me pick out a fashionable and cute outfit, so I don’t freeze when we land. Emperor Wolfe told me he was throwing a feast in honor of our arrival, so I have to look my best!”


~ * * * ~


The so called ‘space pirate’ in front of Ra’tima wheezed in the heat of the cargo bay. He had slumped down to the floor of his cell, the sixteen ounces of water he had stolen now leaked from his pores as musky sweat. Demetri, the arrogant thief across from her had already removed his shirt in an attempt to stay cool in the climbing warmth. The thermostat had been set as high as it would go, but at least, he surely thought, the air was dry.

"You'd think that with all that fur you'd be worse off than I am, especially under all those robes you're wearing." He quipped, breaking the silence that had spanned the better half of his imprisonment thus far.

“This one is unphased by the heat, she made her life in scorching deserts and dusty badlands for as long as she remembers.” Her tone was drier than his mouth, so matter-of-fact... Yet he still saw a chance, she had responded to him and that was an opening to ply his silver tongued tricks and games.

"You know, it's only fair if you take off your clothes too. Come on, show some... fur?" The rogue questionably flirted, waving an arm around in the air, clearly unsure how to approach a woman of feline qualities.

And of course it was an attempt to coyly flirt with the Khajiiti woman. She deadpanned at him before rolling her eyes. She twisted the cap of her bottle of water and took another agonizingly long swing from it. Frosty condensation had beaded up on the outside of the bottle, dripping cooly onto her mauve robes and leaving her palm pads pleasantly wet. She give a, only slightly, exaggerated shiver as the cold sensation worked its way down to her stomach. The feline gave a contented sigh, eyes lazily raking over the toned chest of the trouble maker.

"I'll trade you these pants for the rest of that water." He jumped eagerly into propositioning as soon as he noticed her gaze had fallen back on him. "We both know you wanna see me pantless whether it's out of my humiliation or your pleasure, quite possibly both." A smirk stretched across his devilish face as he waggled his eyebrows at her. “You won’t even have to tell me which one it is!”

She snorted, her grey tail swishing in amusement. “No no, at this rate this pirate will end up taking his pants off anyway, poor Ra’tima-Dro is not obligated to do any such thing when a sweeter deal can be snatched just by biding her time~” She smirked widely at him.

The smug pirate cocked his head a bit, shifting enough for the sweat on his brow to drip down his face, “I never was great at the long cons.” With a groan he rummaged through the already soaked clothes beside him, attempting and failing to find any oasis of dry cloth among the harsh leather. After a heavy sigh, the rogue settled for scraping the sweat off with a bracer, similar to how one might have their space windows cleaned. A soft raspberry came from the pirate as he tried to wick the moisture off his lips. Not long passed before more words flowed between them. "You could always just give me a kiss and I'll survive off of that."

“Or this thief could be resourceful and lap the puddle of sweat off the floor and regain some of his loses.” She tutted back, nearly cooing the sarcastic response towards him.

“Even I know that doing such a thing would make my throat ache even more for some ice cold beverage.” Demetri leaned his head back against the wall and scoffed, “and I’m not even that type of pirate.” A soft chuckle escaped from the tired rogue before a long exhale followed soon after, his arm reaching up to dangle across his forehead. It had been quite a while since they started on their journey, or at least it felt like it had been. "Is it against the rules for you to tell me how much time I have left?"

The only response he got was a flick of her tail tip and more tutting as she shook her head. “Thirty minutes feels like quite a long time in this heat, no? Maybe next time he steals he will be more clever, like the beautiful sleek Ra’tima-Dro, yes?”

His wavering arm slunk down to clutch his chest, feigning pain. “I don’t remember being shot back there, could also be my stomach trying to willpower the chips I ate into something liquid.” His head perked up as he looked towards her once more, giving a more serious look as he raised a finger. “I will have you know that my skills are not bested by any other, this is just an extraneous situation with extraneous circumstances, and I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, I’ve just decided not to show them.” His arm relaxed and rested back on his chest. “After all, the only difference between being on some hot beach with some sexy ladies and this are you still having those clothes on, no sand, and the metal bars between us. Not to mention I can’t give away all my secrets now. Where would be the fun in that?”

“Mmmm, mhmm. All this one has to offer the smart and wise Ra’tima-Dro’s keen ears are second-rate excuses and boring flirts.” Her body rolled into a languid stretch followed by a huge yawn, her robes shifting and showing parts of her figure more clearly. “Ugh, poor Ra’tima thought this one would be more interesting than the run of the mill silver-tongued charmer. Maybe she should just leave this so-called captain to his lonesome until we get to Inverxe?”

With each word the rogue sat up an inch further, giving an incredulous look that continued until he was fully standing, holding the bars of his prison with one hand and wagging a finger with the other. “Alright listen-”

“Oh? Listen to what, hm? Slowpaws should be careful standing so quick, he might slip in his own sweat~” she cooed, leaning back comfortably on the cargo crate and crossing her legs.”

“Slowpaws?”

She hummed an affirmative as rebuttal to his offended, dumbstruck tone.

“I’ll admit miss pretty kitty Ra’tima has a bit of silver showing of her tongue right now but guarantee you are gonna have to double check on those eyes and ears because these paws are anything but slow. A bit rugged and risky at the moment but that tends to be my aesthetic, so you will get to see as much of that as you will of me in about two seconds because these pants are far too moist for me to continue ranting at this point.” Demetri took no time at all to raise a leg and tug at the cloth, quickly undressing until he was left standing in a puddle of sweat in his undergarments. “Don’t worry if you keep this up I won’t take as long with the last part.”

“Oh ho ho, look at this, Slowpaws didn’t slip! Tell this one, Dullclaws, why must you threaten her with a good time, hm?”

“Slow and dull? Well I don’t know about you but having these ‘dull claws’ makes things a bit cleaner and easier on the job and in the bedroom, and I will always threaten a good time my dear because that’s all I am about. I am also about to hit this floor if I don’t sit down and at least think about the water that should be in my body at the moment.” He shakily slid down the bars and laid across the bed of sweaty clothes, arms at his side as he stared into the ceiling. “Alright kitten, final deal.”

Her ears perked up and she leaned forward in her seat, curiosity for this so called ‘final deal’ burning in her belly.

“Hands on, full package, free of charge, not even a water droplet, so long as you turn off the damn heat in this room before it kills me.”

She deadpanned before cocking her brow, “Did this one just call his cock the ‘full package’?”

“It’s definitely not a half package.”

She remained silent as she checked her communicator, scrolling through the messages her daughter had left her. The Khajiit stood in a single fluid motion, hitting the thermostat before cracking open another bottle of icy water and prowling up to the brig door. She stuck her hand through the bars and with a casual flick of the wrist she dumped the contents of the bottle onto Demetri’s hairy, sweaty chest.

She spoke over his shocked gasps, watching him clench and tense on the floor with cold disregard. “We will have to see how generous Morene is feeling about lending this rogue some clothes, yes? Demetri has been invited to a feast by the most gracious and slick Emperor Wolfe.” She crouched down and patted his face with a dainty hand. “Be grateful.”

"I... hate politics..." Came his sputtered mumble. The feline turned and made her way from the room only to hear, "Wait! Wait, I wear medi-" as the door slid shut.
 

Morene Fellon

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Iris laid her android hands on the cockpit in front of her, watching as the sphere of ice and gas known as none other than Inverxe approached. The deadly cold planet began to engulf her vision, and again, the android pilot couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe. Though her computed thoughts deceived her into believing otherwise, there was nothing quite like the feeling of sticking a landing from orbit. The landing itself would come later though, Iris blinked, looking back down at the array of buttons laid out for her, flipping a brightly lit red switch.

“Autopilot: on,” a choppy female voice played over the faint speaker above Iris’ head. Getting up from her seat, the android felt at the arm of her chair, grasping at the little beanie Morene had picked out for her. Placing it onto the top of her head, a faint smile formed at her lips.

Taking a deep breath of relief, Iris turned her head away from the window as the cosmos surrounding the ship slowly faded, Inverxe’s horizon lurching out of its curvature as the ship made its descent. Stepping out of the sizable control room in comparison to her last spacecraft, Iris was getting gratefully used to the luxurious scale of the vehicle. The downside to this, as Iris now realized, was that the layout of the ship itself was all that more complex; she needed to let everyone onboard know to buckle in their seats in the next…

“...Five minutes, probably,” Iris thought out loud, wondering where anybody could be, let alone what they’ve been doing. The android herself almost forgot about the scandalous thief now trapped inside of the ship’s awfully convenient dungeon, as she jokingly referred to it in her head, which didn’t exactly lighten the implications of keeping a prisoner on board.

Still, as Iris heard the faint sound of giggling across the corridor leading to the cockpit, she at least reassured herself with the notion of better company. It was obviously Masahir, and Iris immediately connected the dots with her being in the room of the ship that she designated as the clothes department, stuffed with more wares than the android had pistons in her body. Iris put those pistons to work, jogging forwards to relay the time of landing to her companions.

Ra’tima-Dro then reared her head from out of the other side of the tiny hallway leading to the prisoner’s cell. The woman was very obviously not concerned with the android, even as Iris’ mechanical heart skipped a beat from how deathly silent she appeared. The feline was looking back, an irritated look on her face. The android knew from the little time she talked with Ra that irritated was kind of her default state of being, but that didn’t wipe the look of slight concern that caught Ra’s attentive eye as she looked back at the ship’s pilot.

Slitted blue eyes raked over the android's form, fixating on her face. The Khajiiti woman was dressed up, sporting a long green kaftan embroidered with elegant golden floss. A plain gold hijab hid her dark hair and framed her angled face. Her ear flicked as she waited for the android to either say something or move past her.

“Yes?” Ra’tima-Dro’s voice rasped, whether with pointed annoyance or a sort of vocal resting bitch face Iris couldn’t quite discern.

“Oh,” Iris stumbled, “we’re about to land in a few minutes, ma’am!” She exclaimed, akin to a child forcing a polite tone at a family reunion at one of their elders. Ra knew full and well that the android girl was trying to get on her good side, and for now that seemed to be the case. Still, after dealing with the Demetri clod locked up somewhere behind her, the stern mother wasn’t up for much conversing at the moment. Ra’tima-Dro nodded after a brief moment of thought.

Then, as quickly as she snuck in front of the girl, Ra turned around and went to the room that Iris was headed towards. The android realized she’d have to awkwardly follow her now, and exasperatedly shrugged to nobody in particular, watching the cat lady rather abruptly open the door, her free hand rested above her tail.

Her posture exuded patience, yet her face spoke of the complete opposite. Masahir didn’t care though. No daughter of a mother like that would, after all.

The dancer’s eyes snapped up from the mirror, “hola mama~ Miss Morene was helping me pick out an outfit for when we land- what do you think of this one?” Masa held the side seam of her gown and twirled once. The rose gold sequins caught the sterile overhead lighting of the ship and sparkled gleefully against the crimson silk.

Ra pursed her lips for a moment before turning her gaze onto Iris, “This Inverxe moon is cold, no?”

“Oh, yes. It is.” The android replied, nodding almost sheepishly under the piercing stare.

“Then this one’s daughter must dress warmer... Or at least put on a thick jacket.” She relented as Masa pouted. The young woman gave a brilliant smile and turned to face the knight-errant, reaching out her hand and wiggling her fingers at a fur-lined maroon pearl coat. Before she could toss it to her mom for inspection Ra held a hand up and shook her head. “Yes yes, this garment is fine, Ra’tima-Dro is familiar with it.” Iris took note of the slight pause after the feline mother gave her approval.

Raising her finger rather comically, she hesitantly interjected. “We’re,” the android breathed in, “about to land, by the way! In… a few minutes, by now!”

Morene raised her eyebrow, folding her arms. “Already?”

Iris hummed back in response, nodding her head. Ra’tima-Dro noticed the android felt slightly more comfortable referring to the knochten than she did with her a moment ago, which was honestly understandable given the circumstances. As her daughter gazed in the mirror at the coat she had to put on to ward off the sub-zero temperatures, Ra looked at the towering knight woman beside her.

“Does this one know of any garments the rat can use? Tal said that Wolfe planned to pardon him and invite the poor thief to the feast.”

“Nothing that fits,” Morene replied with a snark, pausing to dig back into the storage compartment of the room, pulling out a slim set of dark clothes, obviously meant for Iris’ feminine frame. She continued, “but that’s what he’ll have to deal with!”

The cat mother nodded, not at all concerned with how the opossum of a man would feel about being forced to wear women’s jackets. If she was there to respond to his very predictable response to it, Ra’tima-Dro would have told him it might make him actually look presentable. As Morene took the set of clothes from undergarments to overcoats out of the room, the thought of that woman tossing him around still amused her nonetheless.

Morene Fellon’s face immediately swept from that of a welcoming smile to her employer to that of a deathly stare. Again, nobody was around to see it, but the knochten was not looking forward to talking to the thief. She walked in, the sound of her boots stamping on the floor immediately alerting Demetri to her presence. Unfortunately, their interaction had to be brief. Both of them knew that.

“I would ask if it was too late to cleave me in half but I worry that you might actually do it if I did.”

Morene stared intently at the man as he made his clever little quip. The knochten knew he’d be the kind of man to do this to no end; she wasn’t interested in any of it. Still, he was simply a petty thief.

“No,” Morene replied in earnest, “we’re about to leave this ship for what I presume is a few days, so I assume you don’t want to sit here and rot.” The knight-errant looked down at the man, a strange damp smell in the air as she opened the cell door, not making a sound. Tossing the set of clothes at him, the thief flinched as a pair of skinny pants draped over his head.

These are… women’s clothes, Demetri realized. "Well, I am not sure what I expected with there only being females on this ship."

“Aye,” Morene nodded nonchalantly, rolling her eyes at his disappointment. Demetri himself shared the sentiment, picking up the dark women’s jacket over his moist lap, inspecting it with a twinge of relief that it was at least warm. Or, was warm, rather, before it fell down to the damp floor below when the lady in front of him chucked it. Morene closed the door, back turned.

Demetri quipped, "as much as I enjoy women being in the least amount of clothing possible, I promise you are going to want to bring a furnace on your back when we head out--"

“I have an A/C unit in my armor,” Morene interjected to reply before the thief even finished his sentence. This woman was really not fun. Still, she sighed, continuing to speak, not even giving him the honor of facing him directly. “We’ll be landing soon. You will be watched with a close eye; trying to stray off the road to run will likely get you killed.”

"And wherever shall I go? Into a long-forgotten cave to battle, a sleeping creature that's been waiting for the next meal to walk in?" He chuckled.

“Perhaps,” Morene drew out a reply, “but, even if you survived, you’d still be worse off than if you stayed to feast with this emperor we’re paying a visit.”

"I suppose a warm meal is worth some embarrassment and a handful of frostbitten digits.”

“I gave you gloves, hush,” Morene finally turned to face him. She leaned against the door holding the prisoner captive as he reluctantly put on clothes two sizes too small and with only slightly more curves than he had on his hips, shivering. The knochten turned away, elaborating, “besides, this emperor is willing to pardon you as well.”

"Are you positive that this ruler is not mad? The only rulers that want anything to do with frozen wastelands have either lost their sanity, their will, or both," Demetri grumbled, uncomfortably squirming.

“My hopes aren’t high if that’s what you’re asking.”

“So,” Demetri clarified after a pause, "if I promise to be a good scoundrel then may I at least continue to have freedom for my hands?"

“Mhm,” Morene responded confidently. Demetri’s eyes widened in slight surprise at that retort. She knew it would shock him. “You won’t be able to get away with much,” the knochten seemed to taunt, her expression still dead serious as ever.

The ship descended roughly. As the floor shook, Morene could feel her ears begin to pop as they plummeted into the atmosphere of Inverxe, ice-cold thousands of feet up as well as on the ground. Turning to face the door, she held onto its frame, free hand waving over the switch beside it. She looked at the thief again, referring to him in her words.

“Ought to hold onto something in there; you’ll have your head busted open at the broadside of the door if you don’t.”

"I've been dealt worse hands at the gambler's table," the thief snickered, lights flickering to almost complete darkness as the ship headed towards the sub-zero wasteland below.



. . .



Pure white porcelain surrounded Morene. Chilling cold water gently dripping from the faucet in front of her, the knight’s gauntleted hand lifted a washrag to her face, reflecting the bright yellow lights just above her head. She didn’t often feel a discomforting, dirty itch beneath her pores, but she knew that it didn’t make sense. Morene knew she had only just come out of the shower before plugging into her armor, but she felt uneasy, greasy even.

Perhaps it was a little bit of femininity she actually cared about getting to her head, but she knew better. This wasn’t about beauty, it was a feeling. Something was wrong.

Scrubbing into her cheeks even harder, the knochten nearly made her face red. Putting her hands down onto the ends of the sink, Morene knew she could crush this entire washroom into rubble. She almost wanted to, the knot in her stomach building to the point of being insufferable. Her lungs, however sturdy due the van’giir organs shoved inside her chest, felt like they were gonna pop inside of her ribcage.

Shakily turning on the faucet again, Morene ran the ice-cold water over her gauntlets, seeping into the cracks and slowly draining out from the bottom in a steady stream. She could almost feel the chill through the airtight enclosure of her plated hands. Bringing her hand up to her face, she felt her cheeks. She couldn’t feel much at her fingertips, but the cold stung her skin, distracting slightly from the anxiety building in her gut.

Controlling her breathing, Morene made her best effort to calm down. Ten breaths. Cupping her hands beneath the flowing water, she sipped slowly. Refreshing. Another ten breaths. Sighing and swallowing, the knight-errant barely wanted to open her eyes. She continued to breathe through her nose, opening her eyes. She was ready.

She lifted her head to look at the mirror, finding a pair of limbs towering behind her.

Her heart stopped. In the brief moment she trained herself to react, Morene saw eyes at the corner of hers. Her body went chill, and the figure behind her didn’t move. Not even a single vibration of sound.

Slowly, it lowered its head to look at Morene, watching her tense up beneath all of her armor. She waited. Watching it move was like watching a muted TV screen. Only a second later did Morene’s muscles suddenly loosen, realizing who this figure was, still catching her breath slowly.

“Willio,” she beckoned.

No sound. Just a glare. The spirit stood silent still.

Morene asked gently, “where have you been?”

“Where I need to be,” he responded, lips unmoving, voice planted deep in the knight-errant’s head. Cold as ever. She nodded, waiting for him as he stared into her eyes through the mirror glass.

“You’ve come to tell me something?”

He smiled. Expectantly.

“Souls begin to wail. The false emperor’s back is turned. You will find it.”

Morene’s eyes widened, her mouth agape. She wasn’t sure if the wisp behind her had made her feel like throwing up, but she did. Willio smiled still.

Suddenly, the bathroom door opened, no consideration of whoever was inside. Morene jumped again, harder than she did seeing the ghost behind her. Sweat pooled at her brow, her face fuming red despite the air surrounding her being deathly chill.

“We will be landing in thirty seconds,” Ra’tima-Dro seemed to scold, “the android said to brace yourself for turbulence.”

Morene frantically looked back at the mirror, not entirely paying attention to what Ra had told her. Willio was gone. She breathed, remembering something about the landing. Nodding her head slowly, she looked down at the sink again. Then, back to her employer.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ra’tima-Dro nodded back, only once, before closing the washroom door behind her. Morene could feel a descent now, the ship trembling under pressure of the atmosphere burning around it. Looking back at the mirror again, the knight-errant finally turned the handle of the faucet, halting the stream of running water. Morene could hear the remaining droplets fall from the nozzle. She reached for her helmet’s switch, the cerantium plate folding over her head. His voice repeated in the huntress’ head as if he was still there.

Souls begin to wail. The false emperor’s back is turned. You will find it.
 
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