"Cast the spell."
"What spe- oh no. Harl, no. You can't do this to her."
"No, in that ye speak truth - I can't, not when this is what I have become. So ye'll have to do it."
"No, Harl. No, I... no."
know of anyone else who can - and will - try to help Tamriel in the same way? And if ye do, do ye trust them. Hey
Durana shook her head helplessly, looked down at Jalinda - and burst into tears.
"We can't, Harl. We must not
"There is no 'must not,' lass," Harl told Durana, "We must do whatever we must, or this young girl ye're trying to defend from me - and everyone else we care for - will be smashed down and slain and swept away, sooner or later-"
"Must not what?" came a soft mumble from the floor. Jalinda was gazing blearily up at them. "Is... is that you, Harlwystyr? Something made you... undead?"
"Not quite, but aye 'tis me. Though call me 'Harl'; we're friends, lass, friends! And I'm busy trying to convince my other friend here to weave magic that I can't, now that I'm air."
"Magic that will allow me to ride thy body. From within thee, I'll be able to move thy limbs and voice to my bidding."
Jalinda stared up at them - the eerie mask of air and the pain-racked, black-haired woman. As their eyes met, Durana nodded sadly, in confirmation.
Jalinda went pale. "Will it hurt?" she asked hesitantly.
"Only if I cause ye to trip and fall over," Harl replied.
"Will it... drive me mad?"
"No," he said firmly. "I do not use the inept mindpryings of foolish mages, which drive the caster to insanity as often as the owner of the mind they're ruining. I promise ye, lass, that I'll consider and treat you like the greatest treasure, the most precious princess in Tamriel, the most fragile infant in all of Nirn, if ye let me ride thy mind."
"And..." Jalinda looked steadily up into the face of air floating above her and swallowed. "And what if there are thoughts I'd rather keep entirely to myself? What then?"
"Those thoughts will be thine own. I'll not read them," Harlwystyr assured her solemnly.
Beside him, Durana turned away so Jalinda would not see the roll of her blue and weary eyes, but the young redguard's dark stare never strayed from the shape of ghostly air arching over her.
"How do I know I can trust you?" she whispered.
"Ye can't, lass. All ye can do is decide: Will ye host me - or will ye have the pryings of hired mages and madness?"
"If I choose you, what life will await me hereafter?"
"As normal a life as I can aid thee in having," Harlwystyr replied. "I've had centuries, but ye may not want that long. I promise thee, by the grave of thy mother, that I will not hasten thy time of death."
"And pray tell how you know where my mother's grave lies?"
"I came too late to save her," Harlwystyr replied, "But not too late to cast a ward on it that keeps grave robbers and necromancers from despoiling her bones."
"Do it," Jalinda said abruptly. "I want- I want not to have to fear mages or those who want Thalric dead or- or anyone else. Do it
"Thank ye, Jalinda. Thank ye," Harlwystyr replied and surged at Durana.
Who reluctantly muttered a swift and simple incantation, murmuring soft words, kissing her own fingers, then putting them to Jalinda's lips, breast, and stomach.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as she did so. "Oh, Jalinda, I'm so sorry."
The spell washed over Jalinda with a faint singing sound and the briefest of flickering white glows, and was gone.
"Finally," Harlwystyr growled, moving forward.
Durana grabbed at his shoulder, but her fingers pass through the air, stopping him not at all.
"Harl, no!" she hissed fiercely. "How much more can you stoop to embrace evil? This is nothing less, and daring what we must not! Yes, we're in desperate straits, but-"
"I'll ride her only briefly, to do what is needful, and then withdraw from command," Harlwystyr hissed back. "Ye have my body as hostage to compel my obedience."
"Three handfuls of ashes? How can I hold that
"Lass, lass, ye must trust me. How often, down the many centuries, have I failed ye?"
"I have lost count of the times," Durana replied bitterly, but the weak shape of air slumped - and Jalinda stirred, limbs flopping, forced to stand, and began a lumbering, dragging walk along the chamber, arms flailing maladroitly when they weren't dangling... a walk that gradually smoothed out into more natural movements as Harlwystyr slowly gained control.
The next circuit of the chamber looked like Jalinda the redguard swordswoman moving normally; she turned her head and carried herself as she usually did, and moved her hands as Jalinda, not as an archaic archwizard trying to decide just how a graceful young woman used her hands.
Durana Emhardt clenched her hands fiercely. "By all the Divines, you must ride her only when needful, and tell no one - and fully repay her for the use you make of her body... no matter how much she comes to hate us."
"Agreed," Harl replied solemnly in Jalinda's voice but with Harlwystyr's gruff manner. "Now gather up my ashes in a container of somesort, and we'll be out of here. So much magic has been hurled around that even hired mages can't help but notice."
Balaudron often thought he might not be the only grizzled old swindler in Evermore, but by the Eight, he was one of the most successful.
Recently, he had even had some legitimate business errands. Which is what he was out and about seeing to at the moment, scuttling along various alleys.
He was growing increasingly astonished at what he was seeing in the streets of Evermore. Guard patrols were everywhere, and he was challenged repeatedly. Thankfully, his wagon held nothing but wine casks for various taverns, and he was searched and allowed to continue. Many times.
Returning to his wagon when it finally held nothing but emptiness, Balaudron found himself astonished anew.
Jalinda of the Camlorn Blades was waiting for him, with the fighter he knew by sight: Captain Thalric Camry. With them was a tall and strikingly beautiful black-haired woman, who held a small coffer in her hands.
"I'll be blunt, we seek to hire your wagon - and your discretion - so that we may hide ourselves among your casks, until you've rumbled well out of the city," Jalinda said crisply.
Balaudron grimaced. "I- I'd like nothing more than to help you, lass, but truth be told, my only destinations lie within
the city walls."
Thalric Camry stepped forward with a thin smile. "Balaudron, I don't think Jalinda made your choices clear enough."
He hefted a well sized cloth bag. "These coins can be yours, if you make the trip - or you can refuse and take this instead. Every finger of its bright and very sharp length." He hefted the point of his drawn sword meaningfully, smile never wavering.
Balaudron swallowed then brightly observed that he'd just remembered he did
have to leave the city on urgent business, with
He leaned closer and added in brusque tones, "But I fear for my life - or the custody of my wagon - the moment we're out of sight of the towers. What's to stop you from just killing me?"
"This," Jalinda told him, handing over the most elegant hand crossbow he'd ever seen, and four darts. "Load it, aim it at one of us, and we can hopefully trust each other. So long as it doesn't go off by accident. That would be bad, see?"