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Co-Author and Beta: Etheral-23

Welcome to Denerim

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Towards the landmass of the 'new world,' as it were, they had spotted buildings, and a port in a large city, which meant these lands were inhabited. To some, this would be an exciting moment, the chance to meet and discover previously unknown cultures. To others, it brought all sorts of troubles as they knew nothing about the people who might live here. For all they knew, they could have laws, customs, and values that were not acceptable to the people of Tamriel, which could easily create friction and conflict between them.

For Miara Redoran, it was both. She felt thrilled at this new adventure but proceeded carefully and with a healthy amount of suspicion and preparations in case the worst came to pass.

Their ship had stopped a reasonable distance away, close enough to get a decent view of the port but not close enough to worry the inhabitants. They had hoisted a white flag, hoping its meaning was universal enough that the natives would not consider their intentions to be hostile.

She had sent scouts on a boat, a pair of imperials who could use their famed Cyrodiilic negotiating skills to secure a safe harbor and find out what kind of people lived in this city.

"Look at the size of that tower," A Pahmar-raht crew member uttered in amazement. His awe was shared among others who stood beside him. "Almost rivals the white tower back home!" It was the first object the crew member saw at the Crow's nest, showing land was close.

The Dovahkiin had to agree as she absently peered towards it but kept focused.

It should be expected that it had been nearly an hour since the time it had taken them to row to the port and speak with the local Harbormaster, but the crew was still on edge. Nevertheless, the sailors stood ready to act when Miara issued a command. From the corner of her eye, she saw Serana staring stoically at the foreign lands. Oryrn kept a calm posture with his arms folded while Sofie paced slightly over the deck. Sarya, for her part, looked very bored; her chin rested on her palm as she drummed her fingers against the railing in a rhythm.

Miara let out a soft breath, hoping it would all march well. This was a monumental occasion, first contact with another civilization had not been made in ages, and regrettably, more often than not, it ended in bloodshed.

She spotted the boat making it back with the two imperials. They were alive, which was good. The men climbed up to the deck while the sailors hoisted up the boat and secured it once more to their ship.

"Report," The Sentinel ordered.

"Population is human, ma'am" One of the imperials, Marus, a man in his forties with long sideburns, spoke.

Of course, they were human. She shouldn't be surprised; humans were everywhere on this planet. "Appraisingly, we had no difficulty regarding the language barrier," The other imperial, Adam, of nibenese descent with a lighter skin tone, added. "This land we're currently in is a nation called 'Ferelden.' The language here seems to be the same as the common tongue back in Tamriel."

Miara's red eyes widened mildly in surprise; "Truly? That's… odd."

Either it was a coincidence of astronomic proportions, or it was just the gods once more influencing things for the development of mortal kind. Zenithar, as the god of commerce, of which language fell under his sphere, would most likely be responsible for it.

"We've explained our intentions of the harbormaster and presented ourselves as explorers," Marus continued. "They agreed to let us dock and trade for supplies. They'll accept our gold. But our presence will most like be reported to the authorities. They'll undoubtedly want to inspect our ship and ask us questions personally. They don't seem particularly trusting of foreigners that come from nowhere."

"I don't blame them," Miara said with a shrug, "I wouldn't either."

"There is… more, ma'am" Adam looked hesitant to speak about whatever he had in mind. "There are elves here as well."

"Oh?" If there were humans in other parts of the world, elves would likely be along with them. Their kinds were fated to meet one way or another.

"Short and lithe as bosmer," Marus took over. "But their skin tones range to that of humans."

"Interesting…" Miara heard Sarya muse to herself in thought.

"Hmm," The Sentinel hummed as she looked at the crew; there was nearly one of each type of elf from Tamriel in their team. "Our presence will draw a lot of attention."

"It's not the only thing we discovered, ma'am," Adam cut in. "We asked about the types of races in these lands upon seeing the elves. Other than a race of horned people in the north, nothing on this continent resembles a beastfolk; indeed, I imagine the concept is alien to them."

Miara could feel the gazes of the beastfolk of their crew. If their elves would draw attention, then it was most likely the Khajiit and argonian would cause a panic.

"We can hide under the deck, ma'am," An argonian officer spoke; it seemed the others shared his sentiment if the nods and mumbles of the agreement were any clues. "A first contact is delicate enough; the natives might become frightened and aggressive at our presence."

"I thank you," Miara nodded; "Hmph, this mission looked much simpler on paper."

"It always does" Serana smirked at her.

"Oh! Another thing, ma'am," Marus quickly remembered. "Another race also lives in these lands, dwarves."

"Dwarves?!" Sarya couldn't stop her astonishment, a sentiment shared by the crew as they exchanged words of shock and amazement. "The dwemer are here?!"

"Oh no, they are not what we call 'dwarves,'" Marus clarified as he held up his hands, keeping one flat to the ground around his abdomen's height. "They're short human-like people who live underground for the most part… so, I guess not unlike the dwemer then. But still, um, not elves."

The crew fell silent after that.

"…This place is strange," Sofie droned.

Miara glanced back to the harbor before looking to the crew, "Alright, people." Her authoritative tone made the unit stand a bit straighter; "Marus."

"Yes, Sentinel?"

"What is the name of this city?"

"Denerim, ma'am, this is where their seat of royalty governs the nation."

Serana snorts, "Well, we got lucky to make first contact at their capital."

Miara shifts her gaze to the captain; "Make port captain, kids, Serana come on." The Dragonborn, joined by her kin and lover, made their way to the door to go below deck; "Everyone gear up and take what you need. If you need anything-"

"We all can summon Butler if we need anything. We will be fine, mother," Sarya interrupted, walking beside Oryrn with Sofie behind them as they went down the wooden steps.

"Summon him discreetly," Serana stressed the last word walking to her lover's side. "We don't know how these people would react to summoning a Daedra."

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They descended below deck and went over to their respective rooms where their chests were located, which in turn held their belongings, namely their gear, and began to put it on. Oryrn's ebony armor was decorated with golden accents engraved on various sections of the set, a crimson half-cape wrapped around his waist; he pulled out his longsword from its sheath, inspecting the state. A few testing swings let him know it was perfectly balanced, and he could find no error, no sign of rust, or anything like that in the weapon. As always, his mother's craftsmanship was peerless.

Sarya did not put on her robes so much as she 'cast them' on her. She snapped her fingers, and her casual clothing switched places with her telvanni robes. Dark red velvet, enchanted to her liking and tightly adjusted to show off her (in Sarya's humble opinion) most divine figure. She hummed happily as she adjusted the long pieces of scarf-like fabric around her neck. Her robe was decorated with arcane sigils of great design and detail. Testing her various enchanted pieces of jewelry, she found her gear to be in an optimal state. And why wouldn't it be? She had enchanted it herself. The mage was very eager to learn about this land's magic.

Sofie rolled her shoulders, making the metal clink as it moved. She had missed wearing her armor all these months at sea. Not even a sea monster to help pass the time. But alas, the gods had delivered them to their destination. The tall muscled nord smirked as she strapped her gauntlets. She was eager to see what monsters and foes she'd face here.

Miara donned an armor of her design, a dark leather cloak wrapped around the waist with multiple belts, the end of her pants were covered by metallic greaves, and over the sleeves, she had armored herself with a gauntlet and fingers guarded in metallic plates, small round shoulder plates, along with a chest plate with the front of a dragon's head carved on it that covered her front, leaving her back armor-less but in turn compensated with greater mobility, which suited her fighting style perfectly.

"Lucky me, I just need my gauntlets," Serana smirked, putting on claw-like ebony gauntlets with gold accents much like Oryrn's. While her clothes looked the same, there were marked differences as Miara had handmade an utterly new outfit with the finest materials she had. While the original cape was short, this new one went down to her ankles and could be wrapped around her entire figure.

"Between the ancestor silk and void cloth, that should be the most comfortable pair of clothes on Nirn," Miara snorts as she sheathed Dawnbreaker (Much to her lover's relief) and Dragonbane to her belt.

"Better than my old clothes you found me in when we first met," The finishing touch to Serana's attire was a voidsteel dagger she attached to her belt. "What next?"

"Once the ship docks, we leave before the inspection." A simple illusion spell would do the trick to leave the pier and head into Denerim quietly and unnoticed.

"They'll notice you, Oryrn, and Sarya."

Turning around, Serana saw Miara's skin begins to turn to the same tone as Sofie's, and her eyes also soon matched. "That should do. What do you think?"

A hum came from her lover, who tilted her head; "Hmm, you're always beautiful no matter how you look."

That earned a wink from the dark elf as the door of their room opened, and she saw both Oryrn and Sarya had changed their appearance as well; "I look weird," the Telvanni mage muttered, gazing at her reflection in a hand mirror. Her twin rolled his eyes. Both had gone their mother's route of having Sofie's skin tone and eyes.

Speaking of the young Nord woman, she paused as she neared her family; "Well, that's different."

"Now, some ground rules," Miara said in that authoritarian mother tone she's honed through the decades. "We proceed carefully, don't do magic in the open; we don't know these people's attitude towards it. We might be breaking the law for all we know, and I'm not spending money to get you out of jail."

"Mother of the year," Sarya droned.

"It helps you learn the consequences of your action. Remember when you set that racist nord's coat on fire?"

"You said you were proud of me..."

"Would have been prouder if you had been more discreet about it, honey" She wiggled her fingers at them. "No stealing... Unless the person deserves it."

"That's more a rule for you than us, though," Oryrn drawled.

"We're here to explore, but we don't need to draw more attention than necessary. Be honest about our intentions if you want, but only if it doesn't compromise our work. Also, let's try to avoid making enemies in this 'Ferelden,' we're representing the empire, and our actions will be reflections of Nihlus' intentions. Are we clear?" She noticed her children and Serana dryly stare at her; "What?"

"Out of all us, you have the worst temper and impulsiveness," Sofie drawled, earning a twitching glare from her mother.

"At any rate," Miara released an explosive sigh, "Let's go."

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As the Red Griffon docked to Denerim's harbor with ropes securing the ship to the pier. The gangplank was connected as the human crew and captain greeted the Harbormaster. None were the wiser as Miara and her family used a simple charm spell masking their presence as they quietly disembarked from the ship, leaving the port without fuss.

It wasn't long before they entered the market district. Sofie whistled at the sheer size of it with shops of every kind. From buildings to an enormous tent at the Market's center with all sorts of small vendors selling all manners of items. Sarya and Miara blinked at the dwarfs. Marus also mentioned having various shops and vendor stalls. Oryrn kept his gaze on the enormous tower that eclipsed all other structures in the city.

"That is sooo weird," Sarya stared at two Dwarves passing by them.

With her hood up, Serana took in their surroundings; "Reminds me of those markets in Elsweyr we had visited once." Then, she turns her head back to Miara; "What's next?"

"We cover more ground if we split up," Oryrn spoke up with his helmet off. "Look around the city."

"Right," his mother nodded; "Learn about what you can. Buy books if you find any."

Sofie's eyes looked at the vendor stalls under the tent; "A map of this place would help too. So we meet back up in two hours?"

Nodding in agreement, the family split off.

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Ahhh, this was what she was waiting for all that time stuck, sea-sick in that accursed ship. But, Sarya was sure her patience was now to be rewarded as standing before her was one of the sights she loved most in the world. Books, rows, and rows of books. They all contain knowledge, stories, and information about the foreign land she found herself in.

And with so many books with so many to choose from, she'd be busy for months!

This shop's name was very fitting, 'Wonders of Thedas' indeed... She guessed Thedas was the name of the continent. Her brow furrowed in thought. Was that the slight touch of magic in the air? Ohhhh, this place sold magical items, even better!

But first, she needed to get something that would help them guide themselves through this unknown terrain—maps and travel guides. No doubt, the crew of the Red Griffon was most likely procuring their own if they planned on traversing through the coast of this new continent.

She approached the clerk who stood behind a counter filled with various parchments, books, and the like, along with a giant ledger in front of the man, who happened to be a bald dark-skinned human. Although he had an exciting sun tattoo on his forehead, she couldn't fathom its meaning as she still lacked any knowledge of this land and its culture.

"Good morning, my good sir," Sarya greeted him with the most significant smile.

"Good morning, my lady."

The dunmer in disguise stopped in her tracks.

His voice was bereft of any emotion. His eyes were blank and unresponsive. And his face was set in stone.

Oblivion, what was wrong with him?

"Are... you okay?" Sarya tilted her head, worry laced in her voice.

"I am fine, my lady. Is there anything you need?" The clerk's voice was toneless, emotionless, devoid of all feeling. "Is this your first time meeting a Tranquil?"

Tranquil?

"...Yes, it is." The young Telvanni mage felt seriously unnerved by the lack of emotion from the clerk. But steeled herself by remembering why she was here; "M-may look at your library?"

The man nodded, "The library is open to visitors."

Sarya thanked the clerk as she warily walked away. Everything about that man felt so... wrong. Maybe the books explained what a 'Tranquil' was. Though her gut was telling her she wouldn't like it.

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Miara crossed gates, and as soon as she saw what lay beyond made the Dragonborn's blood boil, she had to bite down a growl from her throat. Makeshift homes and poorly built houses crowded together tightly. Rundown, dilapidated and poor were the words that described the district. She saw people dressed in clothing not precisely of good quality, even by commoner standards. Some could barely be called rags. But what made her rage spike further was who the residents of this area of Denerim were.

Elves... It was the damn Grey Quarter all over again, but worse.

Walls surrounded this city district, and by the number of people living here, she could see the elves were confined to a very tight place. The living conditions were deplorable, and she doubted any guard rotation would pass.

Was this how it was for the elves of this continent, or was this city the exception? Gods, she hoped that was the latter. It was saddening to see humans treat the elves like this, just as if some stuck-up elves decided humans were beneath them and treated them accordingly. A particular group of piss-skinned bastards came to mind.

Sometimes it seemed like an inescapable fate, a whisper of hatred passed down from their Ehlnofey progenitors. Men against elves, elves against men. It was always the same... That had been something she and many others had arduously fought to change as the empire was reforged and the Thalmor scum had been culled from Tamriel. The dunmer liked to believe they were achieving progress, but only time would tell.

These elves, though... She could only guess what had happened to them, and Miara was not sure she'd like the answers.

As she strode to the center of the district, where the massive tree rested, Miara paid no mind to the stares directed at her. As she was taller than the elves here, not to mention she was armed and geared in the equipment no other elf could afford. Miara chose to focus on the tree, placing a hand on it. She could feel there was something... spiritual about this tree that was of some importance or significance to the elves of these lands. The tree's trunk was painted with various markings, and offerings and candles were laid before it.

Miara was in tune with the spiritual so that she could feel this tree's emotions. Though emotions were a poor term, the concept itself was challenging to explain. She felt what this tree embodied, as the people in this place were respectful of it. The tree 'spoke' with the melancholy of loss and suffering. Yet encouraged its people to endure and remember.

Remember their home.

Miara sighed as that was all she could feel from the tree. The elves here had been wronged. Of that, she was sure now.

"Well, I don't think I've seen you here before," An elderly, wise and caring voice spoke. Miara turned to see an older elf (well, older in terms of looks for someone like her) walking towards her, his hair was gray, and his face with lined with wrinkles. He was dressed in far better clothes than other elves here. Most likely, this elf held greater wealth or status. He chuckled as he saw her up close; "My, you're... tall for one of our kind. And you look far better off than most. Are you a mercenary?"

"...Of sorts," Miara responded quietly. "Though I'm afraid I am not from your lands. I am Miara Redoran"

"Elder Valendrian, we rarely get many, if any, foreigners come to the alienage. Are you from Rivain, Orlais?" The old elf asked in purest curiosity, a sentiment visible among the other elves that looked upon her.

"Tamriel" got a round of odd looks from her distant cousins, the elder included. But, not surprised, she doubted anybody even knew of her lands here. "I came here with my family. They are looking around Denerim right now."

"Did you work out from your alienage in your Tamriel?" A young, elven woman in her twenties, wearing a simple form-fitting dress with braided red hair, spoke up. She was pretty cute looking, the hidden Dunmer mentally mused.

Miara turned her gaze to the young woman; "There are no alienages in Tamriel" Shock, disbelief, and suspicion were the varying expressions from every elf listening.

Well, that had been the wrong thing to say for Miara. Every nearby elf who had listened began swarming her like she was some rare sight and began prodding her with endless questions.

"Is it true?!"

"You are not forced to live in alienages?"

"Do elves there have their kingdom?!"

Oh boy. Well, this was not the first time someone like this had happened to the dunmer in disguise. The crowd's attention, the questions, and the way they would look at her with awe. She had lived through it many times in Skyrim as the Dragonborn, with nords singing her praises and asking every question related to dragons. How big they are, what kinds, and how many she's killed. The current situation was eerily similar. Only the subject was different. She could see it in the eyes of the elves here, and they wanted to know that their kind was better off in some faraway land, that there was a better life than this one.

She had led armies, Shouted foes as great as giants, and battled gods. Yet Miara still found herself overwhelmed when faced with an excitable crowd. There were so many questions that she could scarcely focus on and answer.

"Uh, well, you see..."

Thankfully, the elder Valendrian came to her aid. "People, people..! Please leave her some room to breathe!"

Miara gave a grateful nod to the elder, "Well, I can say there are several races of Elves in Tamriel. With our lands and kingdoms," That got everyone's full attention. Feeling a tug on her leg, she looked down seeing several Elven children looking up at her.

"Can you tell us, please?" a little boy asked, with the adults also wanting to know.

The Dragonborn just smiled; "Of course, little one."

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Gnawed Noble Tavern... At least, in Sofie's opinion, that name was far better than the Retching Netch. However, she was unsure if the tavern's wooden sign was a dog or dragon gnawing on a person's head above the door. Shrugging, the Nordic woman went in.

As far as the taverns Sofie had been to as an adventurer and when she was a child with her mother, this place was rather homey. It reminded her a little of the Winking Skeever but with much better furnishings and a larger bar. Not that she would say that out loud back home with old Corpulus at earshot. Those from well-to-do families or nobles favored this place if the tavern's name was to be believed.

A young woman who was the waitress was taking orders at a table had noticed a newcomer entering the building. Finishing the order from the patrons, she turned around only to stop and look up. And up...

Sofie put on a friendly smile. "Hi there"

The young woman looked at the towering woman, who was a perfect blend of a feminine figure and powerful muscles, with bewilderment; she was unfamiliar with the concept of women being so tall. She had seen adventurers and mercenaries, men and women alike; indeed, many were powerfully built individuals. But before this mountain of a warrior, they paled in comparison.

Her mouth trembled a bit as she managed to speak; "H-Hello, my lady" She cleared her throat. "How can I serve you?"

"Well, you can start by telling me if you've got mead," The nord chuckled. "And if there is a quest's board, I can look at it."

"O-Of course" She pointed at the bar. "We keep requests there" She folded her hands in front of her skirt. "You can buy from him directly unless you want a table."

"I'm good, and I will just talk to him then," Sofie winked at the pretty blonde waitress. "Thanks, hun" She smirked when she heard her giggle a bit shyly. Yep, she still got it.

Taverns were an excellent place to gather information on the current topics in nearly every society. In areas where alcohol was served, and people looked to relax, taverns were the locales where tongues loosened. Patrons unloaded their problems on the bartender, who would listen, and patrons discussed various subjects that would reach the ears of the employees. Among the many things Sofie learned from Miara was that rumors and news always managed to find their way to a bar long before a street herald announced them. A place like this should be ideal for helping her learn more about this land.

A few feet from the counter, she heard, "Well, sweet Andraste's knickers, what did your parents feed you as a child, oxes?!" A mirthful rough voice spoke.

Sofie turned to see an auburn-haired man with thick stubble; he approached her with an easy-going smile. The nord tried not to cringe at his attire. Ugh, was that splintmail? That was a poor man's substitute for heavier armor when the only thing they could afford was leather. Alright, she had been blessed with an adoptive mother who did not lack money and was a divine with the forge, so her standards on the armor were understandably a touch high.

As he got closer, the man, having sized her up and whistled. "Phew. Yeah, stand by what I said, ate the whole damn ox, and you got build like one, too" He rubbed his chin. "Let me guess, avvar? Gotta have avvar blood at least."

Sofie did not understand what he meant by 'avvar,' a tribe of humans, perhaps? "I'm... from far away," She settled in saying. "And you are?"

The man did an exaggerated flourish with his arm; "Thomas Herthan, recruiter of the Blackstone Irregulars, and you" He looked at her gear, weapons, and armor, as well as her stature and warrior's build. "You look like the kind of person we like to get in our group."

"You're a fighter's guild?" She guessed.

"Ehh, we're trying to be" He awkwardly rubbed his neck. "We're mercenaries who have got a bit of a... 'History' of skirting the line with the law. But our boss Raelnor, he's making sure we go legit."

"I can applaud that." She could respect those who wanted to be recognized as a proper and legal organization of warriors. "So this would also involve sanctioned contracts?"

"Yeah, but well," He hissed, "the war at Ostagar is making business difficult..."

That got Sofie's attention. She could feel the hairs on her neck standing on end; "War?"

Thomas gave her a strange look before realizing, "You must not have heard much news on the road here, eh? Currently, King Cailan and his generals and soldiers are all stationed at the ruins of Ostagar. They even hired Ash Warriors and mages from the Circle of Magi." The man showed slight apprehension as he paused for a moment; "But then again, you don't take chances with Darkspawn. I pray to the Maker; this isn't a Blight."

How his tone and body language had become, he told her the threat these 'Darkspawn' represented. And this 'Blight,' it sounded like that had happened before. This was not a good thing.

So, they arrived at this nation on the cusp of a war...

...Awwww shit.

"Bartender!" She howled as she approached the bar, slamming her hand hard on the counter. "Mead!"

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Well, this place was rather pleasant.

The temple Oryrn had entered a quiet atmosphere. With rows of pews facing a podium upon which rested a heavy tome. There were very few people inside, the clergy if their distinctive robes were any indication, along with a few of the peasantry praying in the rows. Decorations such as paintings and statues of varying sizes dotted the temple, and windows made out of stained glass depicted various scenes and figures.

A common trait he found among all these was a woman. Graceful and beautiful, portrayed as divine, guiding the masses. Perhaps this woman was the center of this religion.

Oryrn calmly walked over the various paintings, examining the descriptions engraved in metal and reading what they represented. 'Andraste burning on the pyre,' 'Andraste rising against the Imperium.' One, in particular, caught his attention: the woman looking up to the sky in prayer as a light descended upon her and her alone, 'Andraste receiving a vision from the Maker.'

'The Maker,' hmm? Perhaps these folks were monotheistic, and this Andraste was a saintly figure significantly related to their god. There were cultures like this, like the Skaals of Solstheim, who worshiped their All-Maker.

Gods and worship were a complicated subject, it was apt to say that all faiths were fundamental, and all gods and their aspects existed. Even if they contradicted each other, notably if they contradicted each other. Indeed, theology was closely tied to the metaphysics of Nirn. The time during the dawn of their world did not work linearly. So the forces behind its creation manifested themselves in multiple forms representing the various forces of reality in one way or another. Sometimes the differences were subtle. Other times they were as different as night and day. Yet that did not make any of them any less accurate.

Most ordinary folks did not understand this, his mother had educated him and his siblings more thoroughly, being closely linked to the divine themselves, and it was something they had to understand.

Tamriel never doubted the existence of their aedric gods; the faithful would often receive their protection and blessings. Such as the pious having their wounds and lesser sickness cured at the altar of their gods. Their power was very much real. They protected Nirn still in their subtle ways, as reaching out in a too-direct approach was much more difficult. Unless things were indeed genuinely dire. Akatosh's manifestation of the Oblivion Crisis came to mind.

The daedra, though, hmph, though it was too a simplistic point of view to call them evil, they indeed were much more meddlesome than the aedra, for good or ill. Even Grandmother had her own... 'Quirks,' so to say.

"Greetings, my child," A woman's voice called, and he saw a brown-haired woman dressed in the golden robes of the clergy. She was somewhat taken aback the moment she saw his ears. He did not doubt she had never seen an elf like him before, he was taller than the average dunmer, and his build was much more befitting of a warrior. Elves of this land, as he could see, were too much like the bosmer. But, on the other hand, Oryrn knew he was an unusual sight. "I am Revered Mother Perpetua. Have you come to pray?"

"I came out of curiosity, Mother. I am Oryrn Redoran; I came with my family from distant shores. Tamriel."

That piqued the sister's interest; "I have never heard of that place. Do you know of the Maker?"

"I am unaware of your religion, Mother." Oryrn shook his head as he spoke politely, "Our nations are polytheistic as we believe in the Aedric Nine Divines." He noticed a few gasps from those close to him and the mother who were overhearing their conversation.

He could hear the accusing whispers. Finding out he was a pagan was not a positive reaction. The few priestesses gazed at him with a mix of disgust and pity. He was not sure which was more prevalent among them. As for the 'Mother' who engaged in conversation with him, he gave him a saddened gaze. "That is most unfortunate, my son."

He could tell she pitied him like a lost soul who needed saving.

A sister, or perhaps a mother, Oryrn was not sure, brought a book to Mother Perpetua. She, in turn, offered it to the elf with a solemn gaze; "May you seek enlightenment from the Maker," She gently said, honestly believing she was doing the right thing for him.

Oryrn had no intention of following their god. His relationship with the gods was already complicated, as with his whole family. That, and there was something... off about all this. Nevertheless, Oryrn could feel this was a place of faith, the faith of the people who gathered here, who prayed, who truly venerated this figure. So it was in the air, in every book, every picture, and statue dedicated to their faith.

But... there was no holiness in this place. No true sacred power behind it.

In Tamriel, one could feel the power of the gods in their temples. Their holy relics shimmered with divine energies, and their shrines resonated with the will of the gods to the faithful. But this temple, this Chantry... it was empty. There was no power here, subtle or not. No divine essence could belong to a deity whose patronage should be present on his worship sites.

In the hierarchy of the Ada, the lesser spirits or minor gods like Tsun, Phynaster, or Ius, as they were known, still had their presence in objects and shrines dedicated to them, though not as overwhelming as the sacred energies of the much higher and supreme spirits that stood at the top of the ranks of the Ada, the major gods such as Akatosh, Mara, Kynareth and such.

Even the 'dead' gods' power could still manifest. Death was not as simple for the Ada as it was for mortals; indeed, 'death' was a complex concept to apply to the divine, even to the aedra whose compromise in the world's creation left them more vulnerable forms, such as the aspects of Lorkhan. Or even the supposedly consumed Trinamac.

Oryrn's mind reached different conclusions as to why this temple, and many others he suspected, was bereft of their deity. This being had indeed perished entirely and totally... or it was no god, to begin with. Perhaps it did not even exist.

But he would not speak his thoughts out loud to the clergy. Already he could tell he was on thin ice with them due to him being a 'heathen'; there was no reason to insult their faith.

"It shall prove an interesting read," He said, much to the Mother's joy. She curtly nodded and left him so he could begin his study.

Skimming through the pages, he found the verses of this 'Chant of Light.'

These truths the Maker has revealed to me:

As there is but one world,

One life, one death, there is

But one god, and He is our Maker.

They are sinners who have given their love

To false gods.

These people had an issue with polytheism and other religions in general. The second, Unfortunately, there was not much better.

Magic exists to serve man and never to rule over him.

Foul and corrupt are they

Who have taken His gift

And turned it against His children.

They shall be named Maleficar, accursed ones.

They shall find no rest in this world

Or beyond.

Hmph... This was problematic.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Miara's footsteps were heavy as she finally left the Alienage. Valendrian and the redheaded girl who went by Shianni had explained that most cities like Amaranthine, Highever, Edgehall, etc., had alienages. The same went for all of the continents. Some varied in the degree of how impoverished they were. Especially with Edgehall's being outside the city itself, it was the perfect place for bandits or invaders always to hit first.

And the treatment of elves was more akin to animals than actual people. Not to say all humans felt like that. Even among the nobility, some people spoke for the elven-kin in Thedas, as she learned of the continent's name... But that generosity only went so far, even less noticed. And they were not very numerous, to begin with.

After saying her farewells and promises to return, the hidden dark elf needed to find some way to cool off before she hit someone. Returning to the Market district, it was like night and day with how different the two areas were. Standing at the Alienage entrance, her eyes gazed around, absently seeing Serana roaming the market. No, she did not want to ruin Serana's mood with her poor one.

Looking around, the dark elf froze as she saw her salvation... 'Wade's Emporium,' a wooden sign was hanging above a door of a large shop. The carved symbols of the hammer and anvil below the shop's name only made Miara smile. A blacksmith! YES! Oh, that is what she needed right now.

Oh, she wanted to know what work could be done in these lands. So far, what she had seen from the guards interested due to their particular styles. Gingerly, she entered through the door and was greeted with a familiar sight. A darkly lit store from which she could see the glare of a forge on a corner.

She watched the myriad of weapons on the stands and racks. Although they looked like solid work at first glance, upon closer inspection, she was hard-pressed to find any glaring inadequacy in the various pieces of weaponry. The smith responsible for their work was talented, very talented.

Eager to meet the person responsible, she turned to face the counter and saw two men arguing. Both were humans. One was fair-skinned and had brown hair. He bore a very exasperated look directed at his companion, a bald human with dark skin and a thick mustache and beard. By the stained apron on his person, Miara quickly deduced the second human was the smith.

"Wade, he already paid up front! You HAVE to make this!"

"With the piss poor materials, he requested? That is just an insult to me and my work, Herren!" The smith spoke in a tone Miara often found on snooty nobles and artists. This man considered his craft to be more of an art than a profession if he denied work that was paid upfront. Miara could respect that, but that was no way to make a living.

"Oh, you're exaggerating again..." This was not the first time the two argued like that.

The smith replied slowly before shouting. "He wants me to forge a sword out of brass... BRASS!"

Miara couldn't help but wince in sympathy. Brass was pretty gold but useless in weaponry. A weapon like that would break in a few swings. Hmm.

"Might as well make him a wooden sword. How does he expect me to make him a weapon with such a fragile metal?!"

"Use ground-up turquoise dust during the forging process," Miara spoke, gathering the attention of the two men. "And then tamper it quicksilver."

The man Herren quickly stammered. "O-Oh, I'm so sorry you had to see that. Feel free to browse our wares, or if you have a request, Wade here can make it. He's simply an artist" He spoke the last word through gritted teeth in barely controlled anger. "Isn't that right, Wade?" Instead of the usual comeback, Herren found the smith to be oddly silent. "Wade?"

The darker-skinned man was stroking his mustache, his gaze lost in thought as he muttered to himself. "The alchemical properties of turquoise have the effect of hardening materials... Hmm, quicksilver to tamper the blade, yes, yes..." He suddenly brightened up. "Yes, indeed!"

Miara leaned back as Wade came a bit too close to her personal space; "My dear, are you a smith?"

"Wade, you're being rude," Herren spoke up, glaring.

The Dragonborn moved back a little; "Been one since I was little. It's my first trade next to adventuring." Then, pulling out an ebony dagger from her belt, she handed it to Wade; "Other than my swords, from my attire to this dagger was made by me."

Herren blinked as his partner inspected the small weapon. His eyes bored at every detail of the dagger; "This... THIS IS MAGNIFICENT!" the clerk jumped as Wade shouted to the heavens. The dark elf in disguise winced at the man's sheer volume of his voice. "The detailing is remarkable!" Again Wade encroached on Miara's personal space as he started to inspect her clothes. "Marvelous! Marvelous! You are not ranked amateur, my dear. You are a master! HERREN!" The eccentric smith spun around to look at his longtime friend, "She gets a fifty percent discount on all wares!"

"WHAT!? You just met her!"

"A true master smith shows respect to their fellow smith. And this young lady is a true master blacksmith," Wade spoke with utter seriousness as his eyes danced with a steely fire. "Anyone who can make such quality work is to be shown complete respect!" Wade turned back to the wide-eyed elven woman; "I forgot to ask your name, my dear."

"Miara Redoran," she said. A part wanted to say she was likely older than both of them combined but kept quiet.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Serana, as a vampire, possessed various strengths at the cost of the weaknesses that came with her kind. One such strength was her senses being much more potent than a regular mortal's, her hearing, her sight, and her smell. The last one was susceptible to the scent of blood. Indeed, Serana's nose guided her just as well as a bloodhound (no pun intended).

And right now, fittingly perhaps, Serana's nose was telling her Ferelden smelled like a wet dog.

The day wasn't over yet, and she had caught the scent of at least a dozen dogs since they disembarked. They couldn't walk a few blocks without coming across one. This country had a thing for canine companions, either street mutts or dogs that wandered with their owners.

Though the vampire could understand, her death hounds CuSith and Garmr were just the most adorable and loyal companions a vampire could ask for, even if their undead appearance made people run away in terror, which was why she made it an upon of conjuring them to her side only when no strangers unfamiliar with them were around, aside from when she wanted a little help killing something as well.

Trying and failing to ignore the constant canine smell, which she doubted would go away unless she left Ferelden, she kept her keen eyes on the small shops and vendors selling all kinds of wares, from clothing to weapons, and jewelry, furniture, and pets.

However, she stopped upon seeing a dwarven man in decent clothes setting up weapons and armor. It was still so weird not seeing an elf tied to the name dwarf but a small humanoid. Aw, well, curiosity called to her as she walked over. Eyeing the man, she saw he had short red hair with a short braided beard. Well, the beard thing matched, at least.

Setting up varying weapons on a wooden rack, he looked up to a rather towering cloaked figure but could see quite a beautiful pale face with full red lips smiling at him; "Hello, my name is Gorim Saelac."

"Serana Volkihar, are you a weapon merchant?"

"Well, plan to be," Gorim said honestly; "I just started this trade a few days ago. Are you Avvar by chance? I've heard about them but never actually seen one."

So there were people like Nords here? She kept that tidbit of information to herself until she met back up with her family, "No, but I am a foreigner from very different shores." She paused for a moment before smiling again; "You have remarkable weapons and armor here."

Gorim smiled at that; "Thank you, I like to say we have all manner of gear. From human, dwarven, and some elven."

"Would you happen to have schematics for weapons and armor?"

That was an odd request; "I do... Are you a smith?"

"No, but my lover is."

"Ahhh, a man who knows his work around the forge," Gorim said in approval. Smithing was a very valued skill among the dwarven people. "A good choice"

There was one part he got wrong about his assumption. Serana was far from offended, though. Instead, she merely chuckled and corrected him. "My lover's a woman."

His eyes widened and blinked quickly, mouth open in embarrassment as he let out a soft 'oh.' "M-My apologies, I didn't mean to assume" He awkwardly scratched his neck. "Nothing wrong with it. It's just very different from how things are in Orzammar."

'Orzammar' must be some dwarven land or city, Serana guessed. "Indeed?" She neutrally said.

"It's not forbidden or anything. It's just, well," He sighed sadly, and the vampire could see the melancholy in his eyes. "We're not very numerous, to begin with, and over the last generations, our race has been facing a problem of dwindling conception rates, so you don't see unions like that very often."

That was a grave issue. One that the altmer had been facing for some time now, the Thalmor's government-endorsed practices on arranged marriages and breeding to produce 'superior offspring' had been steadily deteriorating their fertility rates. For as much as it was necessary in various cultures to keep a bloodline strong for whatever reasons, often a unique trait found in that bloodline, for example, magical or otherwise, the truth of the matter was that variety in the lineage was very important. Type in the blood, mixing and producing new blood, was what kept a sapiens's biology strong.

Mixing blood between different families could produce offspring with a much stronger fertility rate, but seeing as those types of bloodlines belonged to those of 'lower status,' the Thalmor would not even entertain the thought, 'impurities' they would call it. It wasn't until the Second Great War had wiped out the Thalmor and redefined the power structure in Summerset was the altmer, free of forming unions as they pleased, a mixed heritage of different bloodlines, rather than keeping them 'pure' was already showing promising results. It would take time, but Serana was sure the altmer would overcome this. For the entire high and mighty attitude, she couldn't help but agree they were arguably the most cultured race of Tamriel for a reason.

She didn't know if this was a similar issue with the dwarves, if there were different levels of nobility and castes with intermarriages causing the problem, or if it was directly tied to their biology, but she did not press the issue. It was a sensitive subject.

Though the vampire did notice the nostalgia and melancholy in his gaze and the tone of his voice. "So you are from Orzammar, I take it. Do you miss your home?"

Gorim contemplated his answer for a silent second. "I do," He confessed. "At first, the surface was very odd to me, all this... sky and sun" Interesting, so the dwarves were an underground race. Another strange coincidence they shared with the long-gone dwemer from Tamriel. "Honestly, I was forced to leave due to... circumstances. Forgive me, but they are private, and I don't want to share them with a stranger."

"Understandable" Oh, Serana understood all too well. "I hope this life here is kind to you" She meant that honestly.

"My thanks" He smiled; the gesture showed sincere joy. "I've entered in business with a dwarven smith here. This gear I'm selling? His work. And I um" Oh, he had that lovey-dovey expression on his face, Serana noticed with delight. "His daughter is... very kind."

"Oho?" The vampire smiled widely. "Well, this surface under the sky and sun isn't so bad, then?"

He chuckled happily. "Indeed, stranger. Indeed it is not"

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

"Have they taken any cargo off their ship, Harbormaster?"

"Only two crates, my lady. Both were opened to show the contents. One was filled with different type's beverages, the second being clothing of various types. Captain Rag'Nar explained they had other items to show, but I asked them to wait for the inspection... Though I was not expecting your majesty to conduct the inspection personally."

There was a complete surprise in the tone of the Harbormaster's voice as he walked beside the queen of Ferelden with her elven handmaiden Erlina and royal guards making their way to the docks.

"This is the first contact with a foreign nation unknown to Ferelden and perhaps Thedas itself. Such an event must be taken seriously."

"Yes, your grace."

The queen of Ferelden could barely even make sense of the situation. Foreigners, from beyond the sea, from lands no one had ever seen. First, the Blight emerged from the south, and now this? The timing was extremely convenient, but Anora could not attribute it to anything more than a coincidence, as there would be no relation between the two that could be explained logically.

'Explorers,' her soldiers had informed her. That's what the outlanders called themselves. Perhaps it was her father's distrustful nature speaking, but Anora was a politician. She knew it was naive to expect some foreign people to arrive at their shores without a plan in mind. Perhaps that was the Ferelden in her, the experiences of the Orlesian occupation culturally ingrained into her. Nevertheless, they were making her wary and skeptical about the whole affair.

But she had a duty to perform, to make sure her land and people were safe. She could trust her men to do it, but Anora wanted to see it personally. She needed to ensure these people were not threatening her kingdom. Had Cailan been here and not in Ostagar, he would have found the situation exciting, but Anora was far more careful in her approach than her husband. She would evaluate these foreigners herself.

Her soldiers cleared the way through the docks; she barely acknowledged the commoners bowing before the queen as she marched, focusing solely on the ship anchored on her pier. Similar in design, yet clearly not from this land. The red flag with the symbol of what she could only guess was a dragon flapped gently with the wind.

Oh, Maker above, this couldn't have come at a worse time... "Well," The queen sighed to her handmaiden, "Let's hope this isn't something the history books will look back with grieve."

"It is too early to say, my lady," Erlina, ever her confidence, assured her.

Speaking with docks officials, Anora saw a very tall man. Strongly built with a head full of bright auburn hair and a thick beard, the shade of his skin was tanned, the type sailors obtained from lifetimes under the sun, but his tone was almost a reddish burn, indicating his skin was originally pale in comparison with other folks. He reminded her a bit of the people from the Anderfels.

His attention turned to her as she and her entourage approached the officials he had been speaking to and bowed before her, something he took notice of. "You are Captain Rag'Nar, I am informed correctly?"

"Aye," The foreign sailor replied with a gruff accented voice. "That is I. To whom am I speaking, my lady?" He was polite enough, it seemed.

"I am Queen Anora Theirin of Ferelden," She regally spoke, projecting her authority as a ruler.

His eyes widened in surprise. "I... I had not expected to meet royalty, your highness" He bowed his head shortly, showing the proper etiquette one should present to a foreign member of royalty.

"My people also inform you are 'explorers,' you say?"

"Yes, we are, my lady," He said. "From the lands of Tamriel, across the seas from these lands. We explore in the name of the Cyrodiilic Empire, by order of his imperial majesty, Nihlus Crassus First of His Name."

An empire? That was... worrying. Very much so if Anora was being honest with herself. "And what are your intentions?"

"As I said, your highness. We merely set out to explore" He put a hand to his chest, emphasizing that his words were the truth. "As well as trade, we bring items that might be of value, your majesty."

Anora turned her sight to the open crates the Harbormaster as told her a moment prior. With Erlina faithfully following her majesty, the Queen looks at the alcohol. Rag'Nar also came over as he spoke, "We felt it best showing the best of Tamriel has in trading of goods. So that is one of the few crates of beverages."

The queen read over the brand names, Cyrodiilic brandy, Surilie Syrah Wine, Cloudrest Golden Ale, "And Black-Briar Mead?"

"Aye, that is a rarity from the northern lands of Skyrim. After the untimely passing of Maven Black-Briar, Her family's famous meadery declined. Her husband and children never had the business clout she possessed."

There was certainly a wide range of drinks, though she paused again to see what looked like a vase sealed at the top. And unlike the rest had no name on it. "What is that?" Anora pointed to the vase.

"Ah, that is Sujamma. The primary alcohol of the Dunmeri people." The Red griffon captain smiled, being fond of it himself.

"Dunmeri?"

"Dark Elves, your majesty," he noticed that got Anora's handmaiden's attention, who was previously looking over the clothing.

The queen placed that thought in the back of her mind as she turned her attention to the captain; "I'd like to inspect your ship if that is no trouble?"

"None at all. The ship is open to you, your majesty. However, I must say that my crew may look unique to you."

Anora arched an elegant eyebrow. "Unique, you say?"

"Some of them, uh... they're not human."

"Elves," She guessed.

"Among others. You most likely won't believe me until you see them for yourself, hmph, might not even believe it even if you see them"

The queen did not know what the man said among others, but she felt he was avoiding the issue and wanted to get to the matter of it; "Please, captain, whomever your crew is composed of, I do not think they'll be so outlandish for me to believe."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Anora did not believe it. She did not believe it at all.

Years of etiquette had been thrown out the window. Her calm composure shattered like frail Orlesian pottery. She could not stop opening and closing her mouth as nothing came out of it, not even a half-formed word.

She was currently staring at a... lizard. A giant, walking, clothes-wearing lizard.

"This," Captain Rag'Nar said awkwardly, "Is what I meant" He coughed and cleared his throat. "As you can see, this is my crew. Some of the races that make up Tamriel's many diverse peoples."

Anora just continued staring at the lizard ('argonian' the captain had said), his (was it even a he?) eyes staring back at her. It was challenging to determine what the being was thinking or feeling with its stiff facial expressions.

Her soldiers were... 'Frightened' could be one word, and none were in a better state than her. The humans from Tamriel were ignored in favor of the rest. Erlina, for her part, marveled at the sight of these elves, from short and green-skinned, medium-height, and colored like ashes with blazing red eyes to the astonishingly tall and golden-skinned. First, of course, they were more outlandish folks, such as those furred creatures with the forms of walking cats, one, in particular, looking particularly elven or perhaps even human in facial structure. Despite being covered by furs, she still had a tail and ears like her kin's. Then there was that vast hulking mass of rippling muscle wrapped in greyish-brown skin that presented a threatening look. It was like a qunari if the horns had been replaced with tusks on his lower jaw.

Erlina shivered as the tusked-mouthed elf growled as he walked past. Then, as the Captain explained, one of the cat people (Khajiit) spoke, "This one can tell you are nervous, do not mind Baronk. For an Orc, he is quite gentle."

'Gentle' was not the word Anora's handmaiden thought of as the 'Orc' quickly picked up a large crate with one hand. Baronk growled again as he walked passed them. Anora could not stop staring at the Argonian, who stared back in amusement. "Beast folk, I see, are quite a surprise to you, your majesty," his voice was a deep masculine tone with a rasp. But not with an accented style like the Khajiit.

For once, Anora could admit she was lost for words. However, she and her entourage were oblivious to the figure hiding in the shadows. Miara was thankful that a runner came to her as she left Wade's Emporium. Upon learning who was inspecting the ship, the elven Sentinel stealthily got back onboard the Red Griffon to observe the Ferelden Queen.

Anora looked about her children's age; intense blue eyes, fair, beautiful skin, and blond hair in a double bun. She wore a beautiful and elegant velvet and maroon dress with gold lining with boots. She carried herself well for a young queen.

Her handmaiden also had Miara's attention as the elf servant blushed at being winked by the Ohmes-raht smiling at her. Small and lithe like Bosmer and elves here with fair skin, black hair in a bun with a single bang-out. She was wearing a simple but elegant red and black dress, a far cry from the other elves she had met.

"I-I apologize for staring at milord Argonian," Anora's voice was slightly shaky, but she recovered her dignity and composure.

The Argonian laughed softly, saying, "Just Haran, your majesty, welcome aboard the Red Griffon."

The queen had to gather herself, "Again, I-I do apologize" She rubbed the bridge of her nose, trying to collect her thoughts. "I never- I never expected there could be there could be... people like you out there in other lands."

"I imagine it must be so," The captain replied. "When we came to these shores, we did not know what to expect. Humans were not a surprise; humanity and elves seemed to be a constant in the world. So your elven folk here is not odd to us," Rag'Nar chuckled lightly. "The dwarves, on the other hand. Well, that's another matter, but for another reason, we don't have the time to discuss it today."

"I see..." Anora's tone made it clear that she did not 'see' at all. But left it at that. "I cannot fault you for hiding most of your crew away. Most of the folk here would probably react... violently upon seeing some of your men."

"The monstrous beast people were suddenly walking about," The argonian said humorously. "Yes, better to be safe than sorry."

"Maker..." One of the queen's guards couldn't help but breathe out.

Erlina was unsure what to feel. These elves were... alien to her. So outlandish in their looks, mysterious. That tall one with golden skin looks so majestic. She had to admit these 'beast folks' were frightening to her; there wasn't anything like them in Thedas. The imposing qunari fell short when compared to these new races. Though some of her felt oddly curious about this cat-folk, she had always been a cat person, so she felt the soft urge to pet one of them. But, oh, Maker, was that racist? She didn't want to do something a bigoted human would do...

With the looks of a furred elf, the female one winked at her again when she caught Erlina staring. The handmaiden blushed and coughed into her mouth, avoiding her gaze.

"So," Little by little, the queen began recovering from the shock. "You truly do come to explore and nothing else?"

"The empire is not looking for war, your majesty," Captain Rag'Nar assured. "Tamriel is enjoying peace, as peaceful as our continent can be. But we never know what might come for us when we least expect it."

At that, Anora could respect that statement; nobody knew what would happen in the future. Her nation's current situation came to mind. Taking a long breath, the young queen smiled at the captain; "I authorize the trading of goods."

Rag'Nar bowed his head; "I thank you, your majesty. As a token of good faith, feel free to take any alcoholic beverages and clothing you'd like."

Miara saw the young queen smile as she bid farewells to the captain and crew. Then, as she, her handmaiden, and her guards were gone, the dark elf walked silently out of the shadows in her proper form. "Well, even I wasn't expecting that. She knows how to take the initiative."

The Argonian Haran chuckled; "Only children have stared at me like that." He looked to the elven Sentinel; "Your thoughts?"

"Young but well educated. Also has that stature of a true monarch, but can tell she has much room to grow." Miara offered her first opinion of Anora Theirin.

The Altmer among the crew snorted; "Her guards were not as calm. I saw their hands going for their swords."

"And would you expect your day to consist of encountering anthropomorphic catmen and lizardmen you've never seen before?" Haran chuckled again.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Anora let out a long sigh as Erlina held onto several dresses and a bottle of Surilie Syrah Wine. "That was... different."

"Bloody monsters, your majesty," one of her guards spoke with a shudder.

"Do not be rude Ser Benjen. I admit I was surprised by the appearance of the beast folk. But they, as we all saw, acted like proper individuals. But, Ser Edmond, I'd like one or two guardsmen least to keep an eye on the crew of Red Griffon. While I doubt there will be trouble, being prepared is never wrong."

Her other guard nodded, "Yes, my queen."

"When I woke up this morning," Erlina started, her expression indicating she was still processing today's events, "I did not expect to meet entirely new races."

"On that, my dear, we can both agree," The queen replied, letting out a soft sigh.

"Should a letter to your husband and father be written about today's developments, my queen?" Her aid asked.

Anora considered it for a moment; "Let them focus on the Darkspawn. They don't need to worry about this 'empire of Tamriel.' I'll inform them once the situation in the south is under control. For now, the day-to-day affairs must be taken care of"

"Per your wish, my queen."

They left with her mind wondering as they made their way back to the palace. The darkspawn at the south, and now strangers from mysterious lands that came from the eastern sea, she hoped this wasn't a Maker-sent omen. Their intentions were peaceful, but she knew not what the future would entail. One thing she feared was that Tamriel would become a player in the affairs of Thedas one day. Nothing threatened the status quo and frail balance of power more than a new player.

Maker, what was this world coming to?

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

The patrons of the Gnawed Noble Tavern were startled as the door was slammed open in a rage. Everyone looked over as Sarya came inside with sheer anger radiating off her. It was enough to quell anyone from talking back to her, as no one wanted to face the fury coming off the woman. Sarya ignored the looks, taking a seat on one of the large sofas opposite her brother and sister, who blinked at her.

"Gonna take a guess and say you're angry," Sofie remarked, earning a glare; "What did you find?"

Oryrn spoke up, "Wait for our mothers. I doubt Sarya wants to repeat what she learned. It'll just make her madder." Being twins, he could feel his sister's rage as if it was his own at an unconscious level. Whatever she learned affected her greatly.

She had that expression, 'If I do not kill someone right this moment to vent my anger, I will set this land ablaze.'

He was used to his twin's expressions.

Thankfully it was not long before Miara and Serana came to the tavern. The hidden dark elf lifted a brow at her Sarya, who looked ready to burn the entire pub into ashes as her fingers wrapped on the table.

"Alright, alright" Years of experience regarding placating her children... Okay, it was just Sarya who needed to be held in check. Sofie and Oryrn had been little saints, but her youngest daughter was simply a hurricane of intense emotions, tantrums, and raw magical potential waiting to happen, so she often had to keep a closer eye on her little magician. The point is; that she knew how to handle her. "Let's all calm down before you reduce this place to a crater. Now" She sat next to her daughter and put a hand on her shoulder, talking to her like one would a child throwing a tantrum. "What's wrong?"

Sarya grumbled, clearly holding back the rage that threatened to explode. "Not. Here." She immediately went to the counter, dropping a bag of gold in front of the man behind it. "We'll take a room" She did not even wait for the man to tell them which was available, nor did she care to pay him the right amount for whatever a room was worth. He did not want to get in her way with a mood like that.

Oryrn sighed as he followed his twin. His family joined in soon after, already dreading what could be that got her into such a mood. The elven man had a guess, given what he learned in the Chantry...

"Oh great, it's going to be one of those days," Serana muttered.

"You have no idea," Sofie dourly said. They haven't even gotten to what she learned.

The first room Sarya took was thankfully empty. Once her family went inside and got comfortable, she waved her hand in the air, a trail of magical energy casting sigils that spread across the room, glowing before vanishing, effectively warding the area from prying eyes and ears.

"So," Miara started as she sat on the edge of the bed, one leg crossed over the other. "What did you learn that's got your small clothes on a twist?"

Sarya took a deep breath, and so she told them.

She laid it out to them everything she had learned from the books. The Chantry, Thedosian Templars, Mages, the Circles, the Tranquil...

When she was finished, her family was staring at her wide-eyed. Only Oryrn kept a more focused and collected expression.

"...Barbarians," Serana breathed in absolute disgust hearing about the Tranquil. "Don't they realize they have effectively violated that person's soul?!"

"Caging up people like animals simply because they have magic," Miara growled.

Oryrn grunted, "Coincides with everything I learned at the Chantry." He tossed over the book the priestess gave him to his elven mother.

Serana took a seat on the bed beside her lover as both she and Miara looked through it. Sarya paced, "If anyone is shown to have an ounce of magic, they become an outcast and are sent to those Circles. They treat magic like a damn curse! And their Templars are an insult to everything Oryrn stands for!"

Though offered a position and trained among the Paladins of Saint Alessia, Sarya's brother was content being a holy Templar, wielding divine magic in defense of people. The news of the Thedosian Templars was disconcerting to the dark elf. However, unlike the rest of the family, he was reserved with his feelings. "I had expected their culture to be different, of course. But this…" His voice trailed off.

"Oryrn," he looked over to his elven mother, "do you intend to read this?"

"I already did. But I won't keep-" The book was covered in flames in seconds. And his mother wonders where Sarya gets her temper. "Well, I have a few more bits on the Chantry."

"If I ever go to one of their Circles," The youngest daughter swore darkly. "I'll burn it to the ground."

Sarya was far more affected than the others. That much was clear to Miara. Magic was everything to her youngest daughter. You couldn't simply describe how much that young woman valued her craft. Knowledge and advancement were the things Sarya held sacred to her. And from what they found so far, the Chantry's practices were anathemas to everything she believed.

"Let's calm ourselves for a moment," Ever the diplomat in the family, Oryrn calmly remarked. "There is a particular part I find disturbing."

"Oh!" Sarya sarcastically replied, "The mutilation of people's souls by severing their emotions wasn't enough for you?!"

He merely regarded her for a moment, unphased by her outburst. "Magic is severely limited here."

His words brought pause to Sarya and the others.

That... was true. Only a handful of people were considered mages because they were the 'only' ones that could perform magic by drawing the energies of this 'Fade' realm.

That particular piece of information was alarming. In Tamriel, magic was everywhere, and everyone had the capacity for it but not all bothered to learn it. Only those who truly dedicated themselves to the craft were considered 'mages' or some of their variants. Magic came from the aedric realms of Aetherius as it passed through the daedric worlds of Oblivion. Magic made up the very fabric of existence in every sun ray to every plant that grew on the ground.

Those people in these lands could not access it, save for a few who were just 'born' that way... that was unprecedented.

"Something is wrong here," Sarya critically said, her mind racing over the possibilities. "The connection to Aetherius must be severely weakened in this continent. Limiting the number of people who can use magical abilities, and those that can... their only source must be this Fade, which I suspect must be by an Oblivion realm."

That made a frightening amount of sense. As they read, mages were caged because their powers could get out of control without proper training, and they were at risk of being possessed by demons. Now, in Tamriel, magic didn't go out of control unless you were actively casting it and didn't exercise enough control, people wouldn't just randomly 'lose control' one day unless something was wrong with their magic, and cases like that were rare.

Magic from Oblivion was far more unstable than from Aetherius. If the mages here only received magical energies from an Oblivion realm, it would explain why their magics were so volatile.

As for what Thedas referred to as 'demons,' well, they could only speculate. While the phrase had fallen out of favor to describe the daedra, it was still a very apt term. Possessions were a varied case in Tamriel, often due to specters and the unrestful ghosts of dead mortals. Some daedra were capable of affecting the mind or outright controlling others. Still, such cases weren't limited to mages, and daedra were not interested in taking over bodies but wanted their pawns to facilitate whatever goals they had. And it was not a rampant problem that would plague society like demons would invade Thedosian mages if what these texts said were true. That and there were ways to ward off foreign influence affecting one's mind, particularly that of the daedra.

The news did not improve as Miara explained her trip to the Alienage. Speaking with that Shianni girl and Elder Valendrian, having been told of the plight of the elves of Thedas, though not to their surprise, Sofie was the most enraged.

After the death of her parents, she lived in the Grey Quarter with the Dunmer. They took care of her while the Nords ignored her in Windhelm because their precious civil war for independence meant more than feeding homeless, orphaned children, or starving citizens, no matter their race. Why she still hated the fabled 'City of kings,' Ulfric Stormcloak, and his Stormcloak soldiers to this day. After the death of her birth parents, that place held no pleasant memories for her.

But she shoved down her rage with an explosive breath; "Well, not that I have much good news either. I met a spokesman of the Blackstone Irregulars group. A band of mercenaries wanting to make a proper name for themselves by going legal."

"Offered you a position?" Miara asked, smirking.

"I declined but agreed to help them out. I was told King Cailan of Ferelden and his army were at the ruins of Ostagar preparing for war..."

The Redoran family looks at her with wide eyes, their gaze slowly going over at their matriarch.

Miara still had her legs crossed, with a hand resting over her mouth. Overall she looked like she was in deep thought. She was probably taking in the news and planning their following action.

"Awww, fuck..." She suddenly jumped off the bed with a significant smile; "Alright, kids, pack your things. We're going back home!" She nearly runs out of the room if not for Serana's swift reaction by grabbing the dunmer's wrist. Although her vampiric strength managed to hold Miara's beyond-mortal might, the struggle was visible on both faces. One sought to escape and the other to keep her in place.

"Don't... be so childish, Miara!" Serana grunted under strain, burying her heels in the floor so the dunmer wouldn't escape her grasp.

"No! No! Nononono! I'm not doing this shit again!" The Dragonborn cried back in petulant defiance. "First a prophecy, and now I enter a country in a war! This is how it always happens! I'm not staying here, and you can't make me!"

By her Mother and all the gods in the heavens and all hells, she wasn't going to live through another Skyrim! All the signs were here already! However, she had made the mistake of looking back at her children and seeing the determined gazes of all three.

Miara sighed in defeat as she gathered herself. "Very well, let's think this logically" She massaged her temples as she thought over all the information they had obtained. "So, who are they fighting?"

"Some race of monsters called the 'Darkspawn,'" Sofie explained. "They periodically rise from underground throughout the eras to attack the surface and destroy everything in their path."

"I read about them," Oryrn said, perking up as the words from the book he had read suddenly came to him. "Their lore says these beings were born out of a curse. Their god cast out mages that had tried to usurp heaven and sent them back to the world as horribly creatures that spread their 'Taint'"

The Dragonborn's eyes narrowed in thought, the High Seer's words echoing in her head.

A darkness that spread from the west...

"Could it be what Arameris saw?" She pondered.

"It would certainly seem possible, given the circumstances" Sarya nodded. "But it'd be best to investigate, see what else we can learn about these lands."

"Then we need to split up," Oryrn suggests, running a hand over his chin. "Cover more ground."

Miara agreed; "Very well. I shall go north, Oryrn; you go west. Sarya, you travel south, and Serana, we need a pair of eyes in the capital" Her family nodded in agreement with her plan. "You all have your rings?"

The answers came in the form of the four raising their hands, showing each possessed a ring with a blue jewel. A unique piece of jewelry was enchanted to work as a form of communication, sending crystals or communication stones they were called. That way, they could keep in touch.

"Sarya" She turned to her youngest. "Have you placed any Mark and Recall runes here?"

"Found a few good safe places," She brightened. "I even found a cache from something called the Mages' Collective, and they seem to be an underground group that…." But, upon seeing her family's dry gazes, she knew to stop before she could go on a rant. "Right, right. I'll tell you more on another occasion."

Miara sighed and looked lovingly at her children; "Be careful" She hugged them one by one. "I love you."

"We love you too, mom" Sofie smiled brightly as she picked up her more diminutive mother from the ground. Then, setting her down, she looked at the vampire coyly. The Volkihar knew she wouldn't escape this, so she submitted to her fate of being embraced in a painfully tight hug.

"Okay, okay," Serana huffed. "Love you too, my big girl."

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Miara sighed as she stood at the gate entrance of Denerim. Luckily Serana had the mind to get everyone maps to know where they could go. The hidden dark elf hoped none of them, Sarya, wouldn't cause too much trouble. Grunting, Miara soon began her journey, figuring it was best to summon Shadowmare away from prying eyes and avoid a fight with the Templars. So she waited until she was alone on the road to call her dark steed.

Honestly, it's not that she was unsympathetic to the plights of a land at war. But this already felt too much like her early days in Skyrim, such that it unnerved her. A prophecy, a land at war, her arrival when it was all coming to fruition, yeah... This had Fate written all over it.

Skyrim... had been horrible at some points. She had made a mistake after mistake, a particular episode of her life involving how she became drunk on her power.

Amidst chaos and turmoil, the dragon's voice, her instincts felt so clear. Easy to understand. It brought a world that had none. She felt at ease.

But little had she understood back then was just how much some of her actions were becoming more... ruthless. Oh, Miara did not delude herself into thinking she was a good person. On the contrary, she was still utterly savage and brutal but would direct those actions against those who deserved it.

But those early days were her most foolish, so selfish and centered only on her ambitions that she had not stopped to consider the consequences, how her actions were affecting everyone else.

Sometimes she would think back on that day, on the fearless eyes of Titus Mede as he stared at her, unwavering even in the face of death. The battlefields she stumbled upon, the war growing worse due to what she did. The Thalmor rose bolder as the empire weakened.

All because she had been selfish. She had just cleared her mess, the people she saved, and the wars she ended. A hero should not crush the hopes of a proud people because it is the most pragmatic solution.

She did not want to repeat those mistakes, so she strived to improve. But the dragon, her soul... it was a greedy animal. She had long since accepted it, the dragon was her, and she was the dragon. There was no changing that. She would be merciless upon those that deserved it and indulge in the need for domination. But, on the other hand, she would try to be the best she could for those who needed it.

Miara would walk between the light and the dark but never allow the dark to consume her. That lead to-

'Do you ever wonder if it hurts? To have one's soul ripped out like that?'

The dunmer squeezed her eyes shut, pushing the memory, the echo in her soul, as far away from her mind as she could and focused on the present. Now was not the time for self-pity.

Collecting her thoughts, the Dragonborn marveled at the engineering feat, the Imperial Highway. From what Sarya explained about Ferelden's history, the Tevinter Imperium ruled these lands and all of Thedas long ago. With powerful magic, they craved large stones, creating a vast highway that spanned all over Ferelden and areas once ruled by the Imperium.

Said to be the safest and quickest way to reach any of the cities of Ferelden.

"BANDITS!"

Well, the safe was a debatable term. The Elven general rode forward, ready to offer aid to whoever needed it. Drawing Dragonbane, she did not have to go far. Ahead of her, she saw men wearing well-crafted plate armor, swords drawn, fighting against men in poor armor of leathers and weapons of lesser quality. The mark of any bandit, no matter what country they are from.

The men in plate armor were defending a human man in his mid-latter years, wearing a refined shirt and pants—definitely a noble. However, unlike most, unless you count Skyrim nobility, this man had his sword drawn and was fighting beside his men.

Miara grinned. Well, time to down her first foe in this land.

She was disappointed it'd be mere bandits, but they'll do.

For now…

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