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"You lost, elf?"

Drelas was two-thirds of his way through his second ale when the crotch of a man entered his peripheral. Leather strands of the all-too-familiar Imperial Legion armour dangled against the bench=edge as Drelas ignored the question, hoping the troublemaker would move on.

He did not.

"I said, are you lost, knife-ear?"

A faux-frustrated, gleeful intonation underpinned the repeated words. The overtly more insulting addressal further stated the hostile intentions of the questioner. There was no ignoring this particular dolt, it seemed. This was one drunk Nord that would not tire speaking to a uninterested Meric brick wall.

"No", Drelas answered. He was on his best behaviour, but he knew himself to know that such restraint would not last long.

A poorly-masked façade of curiosity continued to envelop the inquisitive thug. Drelas did not need to turn away from his tankard to notice the smug aura the Nord was exuding, nor the showmanship of swagger that was on display for anyone who cared to engage in the racial-led grilling. He took another swig, contemplating the words and actions he could opt to use in this situation and weighing up the consequences of each. He has his reasons. After all, while he was a soldier in the Imperial Legion, he was a Dunmeri soldier in the Imperial Legion, in Skyrim. A court martial would not look on him favourably if he stabbed the bigot in the eye with the nearest butter knife. And he wouldn't make life easy for himself if he was to antagonise half of the local legion by being the 'cunty Dunmer who can't take a joke'. So a 'no' it would remain. For now.

"Well, what's a grey-skin like you doing this end of Skyrim, then?", the Nord asked, the mocking tone increasing with every question.

Drelas let out a sigh, but quietly and through his nose only. It was drowned in the noise of the tavern, thankfully. "Same as you, I'm sure.", he retorted. Hopefully that response would invoke comradeship and not animosity. Though he did not have much faith that it would. The dark elf mused at the diplomacy he had shown; normally bottles would be breaking by now.

"What, to make Skyrim a home for the Nords again? To drive out the foreigners in our land? I doubt that, elf."

Patience was wearing thin, for both parties. Drelas could practically hear the Nord's knuckles clicking next to him, and his own sabbatical in passive non-antagonisation was nearing its end as well. Smart arse-ery was pushing its way to the front of the queue.

"You've got a fair few Imperials to worry about first, I should think. They're the reason I'm here", he said, as he turned to face his aggressor. A middle aged man, clearly not the cream of the crop of fighting men. Clearly not a career solder - his build nor character attested to that. Perhaps a fellow conscript, or an overeager jaded farmer who'd had enough of news of rumours of foreigners daring to encroach on borderlands hundred of miles away. The Nord's eyes narrowed as they met the dark elf's, and brief moment of tension flew by. A pin could be heard dropping, if not for the many loud conversations and ambience of merriment encompassing everything.

Drelas awaited the first punch as he had many times before. Nine times out of ten, they swung with their right. And so his left foot was tensed and ready to propel him away from the blow and out of the bench ready to counterattack.

Instead, the Nord belly-laughed, disarming Drelas with confusion, enough for him to allow a hairy hand to slap his shoulder. "Ain't that the truth.". The Dunmer would have shaken his head in disbelief of the sudden turn of discourse and emotion if he wasn't still in a state of alert. He'd witnessed and performed too many dirty tricks in fights to let his guard down at this point.

The Nord continued. "Means to an end, though. As soon as we drive out these damn Thalmor, these Imperials will leave, and we'll have a Skyrim for the Nords once again. And we can get back to what truly matters... Mead! Making good mead and revelry! None of this wartime piss that we're forced to drink!"

He let out another glottal laugh as he finished off his own punchline. Drelas was liking Nords less and less by the minute. Not only were they brutish animals, but they were unpredictably so. At least a pig was expected to roll in its own muck and gorge. These Nords would seemingly do that, attack you, then buy you a drink and get back to the rolling. Which was not appreciated by Dunmeri culture or Drelas as a result.

Drelas watched as the man he thought he'd have a tussle with stumbled off, presumably to poke at another poor soul who just wanted to wallow in peace. He looked around the tavern and noticed that everyone was mostly at least with someone else. Whether in giddy carousal, boisterous banter, ice-breaking curiosity or absolute silence. And he realised that on his lonesome he was a prime target for the gibing he'd just experienced, and that the next drunken Nord may be so fickle in their pursuit of a reaction for the fun of it. He needed to at least pretend he was with someone else so any other bully would think twice about approaching two men who could have each others backs instead of a sole Dunmer who kept to himself.

He glanced around the Winking Skeever for anyone who may be willing to accommodate his presence. Perhaps even his company - after all, he'd stuck mostly to himself since he left Morrowind, so it might be good to actually converse with someone else for a little while. As long as they weren't dull, of course.

The cold had somehow crept into his bones despite the warmth of the tavern, and his eyes were compelled towards the fireplace to his right. As he glanced over, he noticed a seat by the smouldering fire become vacant as a old civilian struggled to pull himself up - out of drunkenness or decrepitness, it wasn't immediately obvious. Maybe both. Either way, Drelas was already up and out of his seat to fill the void. The glow of the fire was a welcoming sensation, warming to the core far more than the ale ever would have been.

The dark elf removed the gear on his back and belt obstructing his comfort and promptly sat in the chair before anyone else could claim it, noticing his tankard was running empty as he did. Would he have to go to the bar himself to get it refilled in an adequate time, and risk losing his prime position? Would someone be round soon? He was not familiar with Nordic customs of patronage in such places. He settled to wait for now though, and basked in the inviting embrace of the fireplace as he looked to his flanks.

Snoring to his left was a grizzled soldier in full armour that was slightly to small for him. Or rather, he had grown too much for it. No doubt incurred by the consuming of mead and beer and ale, if the empty bottles surrounding him were anything to go by. The man couldn't even wait for his booze to be decanted into a mug it seemed. And so there he was, fat and passed out.

To his right was a less-grizzled and admittedly handsome Imperial, who was very much awake if a little confused as he stared at the bottle. And yet not in an inebriated way, more in a bewilderment not unlike the one Drelas had experienced not moments ago. A fellow foreigner, evidently. As good as any to strike up a conversation with. In fact, he could swear that he recognised the Imperial from somewhere, perhaps earlier at the docks or on the ship? Time would tell.

Drelas cleared his throat as he hoped to not make a cracked voice his first impression. He said, raising his voice to be sure to be heard above all the rabble, "so, what do you make of this place?"

Drelas did not face his heckler, but ensured to remember his voice. Its gruffness seemed artificial, as thought its bearer was making an effort to seem more manly than boyish. Its accent was distinctly Nordic, but also with a peculiar twang unfamiliar to the dark elf. That was enough information to narrow it down for any intention of revenge that Drelas would enact at a later point, for the Dunmer were a proud people, whether by nature or culture, and Drelas was prouder than most - or at least more unwilling to allow slights against him. He would not let this transgression slide without consequence, especially not from a filthy Nordling who likely had more spots than hairs on his chin.

He found his head elsewhere as most of the squad seemed to nervously shuffle and stiffen and dulled growls seemed to vibrate through the air, but not really penetrating the Dunmer's ears. Drelas lazily swayed in the tide of reaction from the squad, more out of instinctual bandwagoning than any real effort. His focus returned to the Sergeant upon receiving the answer to his query after the short pause due to whatever entity had interrupted. Eight hundred septims! What opportunity that presented, in spite of any deduction of expenses. "I'll take it".
Drelas ensured his shield and bow were still secured over his back before approaching further. He held his hand out somewhat ungraciously considering Dallio had offered this out of his own pocket, but the Sergeant hadn't yet done anything to warrant much in the way of deserving gratitude considering the conscripted context of Drelas' presence there. Dallio dropped a coinpurse into the outstretched palm, which swiftly enclosed to secure it, and watched as the dark elf turned on his heels to head into Solitude. Drelas saw a tall woman approach the Sergeant in the corner of his eye as he headed off, but could not see much in the way of details beyond a great dark mane that seemed greatly out of place in a martial environment.

Drelas made his way through the bustling crowds that swamped the entrance to the Nordic capital noting - as impossible as it was not to - the strangely upbeat vibe of its inhabitants. Beyond the beggars and the crippled, the people did not seem to be aware they were in the midst of a Great War. The further he went, the more he realised that the opposite was true, they were not ignorant to the conflict surrounding them. They were accepting of it. Elated, even. These Nords became more strange and alien the more time Drelas spent trapped amongst them, and he was becoming increasingly unconvinced of the nobility some attributed to them and more convinced of their primitive and barbaric stereotypes they had earned. The Dunmer raised his eyebrows in bewilderment as he passed street performers and processions, preachers peddling their piety, and bardic tales spoken in incoherent languages.

His eyes darted above the crowds for a certain archetype of signage, and it did not take long until his groans of disappointment turned to ones of approval upon gazing upon his intended destination. The Winking Skeever. A fittingly crass name for a such a crass corner of the world. And yet Drelas withheld his disdain, for this fine establishment was a tropical island after a snowstorm. He barged past a drunken gang of Nords hobbled around the entrance and was met with a soothing embrace that engulfed his face. Cathartic sounds of revelry and carousing filled him with warmth and comfort as he secured a seat on the edge of a bench towards the far side of the tavern and for a moment, Drelas closed his eyes and imagined he was back at the Fervent Guar Cornerclub in Narsis. But alas, he remained thousands of miles west as he opened them.

He beckoned a waitress over and hesitated as he realised he wasn't quite sure what to order. Surely such a refined beverage such as sujamma was an unheard-of commodity in this backwater corner of Tamriel. These concerns were confirmed as he repeated his request to the barmaid twice without any progress. In the end, he had to settle for an ale - although on his first sip, it wasn't the swill he expected. Perhaps these Nords could do something right after all.
The temperate climes of Cyrodiil were not able to welcome Drelas for long. He had not long settled into the barracks that he was brought to before word arrived that he was to be shipped to Skyrim to join the war effort there, grim as its situation was. Supposedly, at least according to rumours whispered by the Legionnaires, Skyrim was a complete mess in that as soon as the banners of war were raised, every faction and their mothers crawled out from the shadows and took for themselves a piece of the Nordic territory each. The most dire of rumours spoke of things worse than Thalmor awaiting the Legion there, if one could imagine such a thing.

Before this, Drelas had arrived at the Imperial City a few weeks after being carted off from Morrowind. The journey, while uncomfortable, was surprisingly trouble-free and unremarkable. A small Dunmeri trading outfit had a route between Narsis and Nibeney, with a stop off at the capital for mass restocking and offloading before heading back north-east. Its owner was a snobbish and snooty mer, who spoke few words to Drelas - the ones that did come to pass were merely grunted announcements of resting or of setting up camp. More engaging were the mercenaries and the labourers who travelled with the caravan. Of those, Drelas spent his time with and got to know Bevdyni, a female dark elf from Balmora, the most.
She spoke of the fickle and fragile state of her city, which was once a Hlaalu stronghold of trade and commerce on the isle of Vvardenfell, but was now a frontier town at best. The Red Year had not been kind to her family nor any who resided there, but the reconstruction efforts had fortunately gone fairly well thanks to the pride and resilience of the Vvardenfell culture and the skills of the workforce - a labour that had clearly not enticed itself to Bevdyni. As the White-Gold Tower grew closer, Drelas had grown fond of Bevdyni, and caught himself oddly forlorn as she bid him farewell and disappeared into the city, right before an attachment of Legionnaires arrived to 'escort' him to one of the garrisons to sign what seemed like a book's worth of papers and essentially contract himself into a near-certain death by sword, arrow or fireball.

Perhaps this is what his father truly wanted for his most disappointing son. Not to make connections, not to bring glory to the family name, but to be rolled into a shallow grave on some wretched battlefield.

As was not surprising for a soldier's life, the food was gruel and the ale watered down, and Drelas found the company to be drab and predictable. The enlisted were the expected mix - patriotic zealots mingling with terrified conscripts, overseen by dreary and stone-gazed officers ensuring that neither were acting out of turn. The Dunmer made no effort to engage with any of them, instead opting to stick to himself and consume his poultry rations with resigned disinterest. He had considered escape, but with the watchful eyes of his 'superiors' combined with what Drelas presumed to be heightened intolerance for insubordination as a result of the increased levels of conscription across the Empire, he reckoned an attempt wasn't worth the effort or risk. There would be opportunity enough for desertion, he mused.
So drab company it was. Between the mealtimes, training and drills were the norm. Drelas was initially taught, forced as he was, to learn the fundamentals of sword-and-shield combat and archery in between. After the first couple of days, however, he was brought aside for special training as a scout. The reasoning here was his slender frame and 'elf-eyes' making him well-suited for such a responsibility, and so the physical conditioning was supplemented by theory on staying hidden behind enemy lines and how to survive on your own in the wilderness if needs be. It was a useful curriculum, at least - far more beneficial to know than being shown the right way to slash and thrust before being inevitably cut down unceremoniously like the insignificant grunt you are.

Drelas had become accustomed to the routine until the rumours of deployment were confirmed the next morning. The next few hours were a blur as what seemed like the entire garrison was led through the city to the Waterfront, names were called from clipboards and soldiers were shifted to different vessels. Drelas' mind was with thoughts of home and nostalgia when he heard his name called out, he didn't quite catch which detachment he was to be part of, but he was gestured to embark on a chunky and blandly-brown vessel which he sheepishly shuffled over to after the captain had to bark his name once again with no attempt to hide his annoyance.

The naval journey was no more pleasant than the overland one Drelas had not long since experienced. The hull was almost overloaded with stock, and the cabins even more overloaded with sailors and soldiers. Days turned into weeks, the only semblance of time was sunlight and moonlight glimmering through the shutters, for the deck was found to be most unwelcoming for anyone wishing to gawp at the outside world as Drelas quickly found out.
He came to learn that his immediate superior was one Antony Dallio, and Drelas found him a somewhat uninspiring man who nonetheless seemed to go out of his way to not be unpleasant which was at least worthy of appreciation if not respect. His newfound compatriots did nothing to disprove Drelas' earlier presumption of the qualities of the typical Imperial Legionnaire, at least not the ones he managed to get a good look at. On one particularly dark evening, he could have sworn he saw the silhouette of another Dunmer down a corridor, but dismissed the thought as he realised the figure was far taller than anything but an Altmer should have a right to be, and far bulkier than any mer could surely ever be.

The voyage become more stop-and-start as the weeks dragged on, with many of the crew having to do shifts to remove the ship from the trappings of ice and frost that threatened to leave them stranded in the frigid and chillingly hostile sea, to the point that Drelas grew to dread every time the ship rocked for fear that command would be issued. Eventually though, the famed Sea of Ghosts gave way to the landmark of Solitude, and Drelas could not help but gasp has he lay eyes on it for the first time. He was under the impression that Nordic architecture was crude and rugged, lacking the finesse of most other cultures. But the city atop the natural arch was truly a wonderful sight to behold, and once again Drelas was surprised by his reaction to an event that marked another step toward a surely doomed end. He shook himself clear of his awe and reminded himself of his situation as they sailed underneath the stone structure.

As the ship docked and the crew began disembarking, a familiar chaos of the organised sort erupted along the port in the shadow of the Great Arch. Orders were barked by grumpy officers, soldiers shuffled along the piers to where they were told to be, and arms and armour were unloaded and exchanged hands. Drelas himself came to possess a somewhat droll steel sword and clunky steel-lined shield, a basic hunting bow, and a set of late 4th-era Imperial-style lightweight leather armour that felt like it would struggle to stop a butter knife - Drelas hoped his inexperience in handling armour would prove him wrong. Finally, the young Dunmer was instructed to approach one last station wherein he received a worn telescope surely intended to be specialised equipment for his scouting duties should they arise, judging from the relative rarity of their issuing. Drelas donned his armour over his roughspun tunic, equipped his gear on the respective belts and buckles and slung everything else over his shoulders. After that, he was yet again implored to stand in a certain place in the formation that was built at the base the Western side of the mighty Karth.

The climb to the city itself was not easy, the difficulty of the journey exasperated by the pace that the Imperial higher-ups demanded the Grey Legion to maintain. Morrowind seemed like a flat plain by comparison to this hike alone (Red Mountain not withstanding), but then Skyrim was known to be the land of great and majestic mountains, unfortunately marred by the brutish and lowbrow nature of its inhabitants. It felt like hours had passed by the time they reached the imposing gates that had insofar protected Skyrim's capital from being overrun by whatever forces threatened to smother this side of the province, forces that Drelas would no doubt become acquainted with in the coming days.
He caught many glances at what seemed to be the commanding officer of the Grey Legion in its entirety - the decorated and ornated armour attested to that. A brute of a Nord, even by their large standards, his already broad presence was underpinned by his booming voice as he roared his threat of consequence to any notion of desertion that may stir within the ranks. Perhaps Drelas would have to withhold any attempts at escape for the time being.

The organised contingent soon devolved into a disjointed rabble as soldiers went their separate ways. Before Drelas could slip away amongst them, Sergeant Dallio approached and it became clear that those around him were not random troops, but were his squad. Suddenly, he made an effort to take stock of who surrounded him, but his attention was snapped back to the Sergeant upon hearing mention of pay. The loan-nature of it didn't matter to Drelas, what mattered what the financial freedom it represented. With money, he could find company was wasn't drab, he could at least enjoy himself before being carted off to his shallow grave - better yet, he could even use it to arrange a way out of this fate or explore the options available to him to be used at a more optimum time, when watchful eyes were relaxed and suspicions were beginning to falter.

Drelas was the first to approach to the Sergeant, perhaps a little too eagerly, to simply ask: "How much?".

Gained Equipment: As an auxiliary with little of his own, Drelas has been provided some of the grandfathered equipment that the Legion used in Skyrim during its civil war for the Nordic irregulars. A full set of Imperial light armour is provided, along with a hunting bow, a steel sword and shield, and a telescope.
@Andreyich Whoops, forgot to add the hider. Added now and I'll move him over to the Character page.
Hey there, is this still open? I'd love to sign up but I'll need a little time to think about a character, maybe tonight maybe tomorrow.

(Think we were both on a Fallout RP that faded out like 2 years ago, hello again!)

Edit: Thinking a Dunmer, for anyone still creating their characters!
Veta was in a state of disbelief as she strolled, dodged and bumped her way through the crowds and crowds of people that clustered the many streets of the Imperial City. Children, elders, soldiers, merchants and everything in between had come out either for the festivities revolving around their Emperor, or in protest against him. It was a powder keg, to be sure, Veta could feel the tension in the air, breathing in the resentment and breathing our her anxiety of being in the middle of it. Her armour and wits would only do so much if a skirmish was to break out and she was caught in the middle of it.

"Flowers for sale here!"
"Get some sweet Nordic Mead to keep you going!"
"Pyrotechnics! Celebrate your Emperor with the finest displays!"
"Toys! Toys for your children! The best prices here!"

All of the merchants of Tamriel were apparently here to peddle their cheap tack while they could, while spirits were bubbling and coinpurses were generously loose. Their individual cries and self-promotions eventually became urbane white noise as Veta continued to push her way through the endless mobs of citizens. No doubt, there would be some shady things occuring this day. Veta just didn't think she'd have a hand in some when she woke up this morning. Eventually, the hordes began to thin out, and the hustle and bustle of the festival decreased in volume as she left the worst of it behind. She sighed in an unexpected feeling of relief; she wasn't a city girl, and she had barely had any time to adjust to life in the metropolis surrounding the White-Gold tower.
With that thought, her heart panged at the thoughts of home. How she missed it so. The great beams of trees replacing the dishonesty and stench of the people here. The fresh air and the green grass, where there were placcid and friendly sheep instead of rabid rats and other vermin scuttling about.

She snapped out of it. She had a job to do to ever have a chance of returning to the verdant hills of the Great Forest and the rustic stone of Chorrol.

Veta had finally escaped the Market District through the gullet of an epic gate and found herself in the shadow of the White Gold Tower, it's once-pristine marble elegance still sundered and tainted by the Sacking at the hands of the Thalmor some 30 years ago. The stains of the Great War would not be easily washed, and many are reminded of how weak the Empire had become. Perhaps that has helped Emperor Havfyg justify the means he had undertaken to restore it to its former glory, if not to himself, then to the many millions of citizens living under the Imperial Banner.
Despite it's experiences of war, the magesty and authority of the White-Gold tower still emanated from the white stone as Veta walked around it. If nothing else, the Camorans built a monument that has lasted well beyond their demise, and still serves as a beacon of civilisation at the heart of Tamriel. Veta still felt a sense of awe in her being but an ant scrambling around the base of a tree. She passed numerous Legionaries who maintained an air of alertness and alarm, as if they were on their utmost guard in reaction to the detrimental potentialities that the Festival threatened. Each eyed Veta up, giving an occular assessment of her intentions, and each had reasoned her to be a non-threat fairly quickly. She wondered if they had come across any of her new colleagues, and if they had come to similar, or drastically different conclusions. A thought occured to her - How in Oblivion would the Lich cross the city unseen? Surely even Havfyg couldn't ensure that the men of the Watch wouldn't freak out if they saw an undead abomination roaming the streets?

She reached another gate that cordoned off the city into its famous Districts. This time, it was the one guarding the Arboretum. She stepped through, after undergoing yet another approval by a guard. She gasped as she appreciated the nature of its contents in a resurgent adoration of greenery and flora, born out of her experiences in the confines of her cell, and the urban jungle of the city prior to that. Great trees blotted out the sky in places, replacing it with airborne seas shaded green. Butterflies, birds and other fauna populated the rainbows of flowers that littered the ground, each pedantically cultivated into an organised chaos of botanical spectacle. Not another soul was in sight, save for the gardeners and a couple of guards posted at the edges of the Arboretum. Veta did not rush this leg of her journey towards the College. She never wanted to leave the comfort that the pocket of solace had gifted her this moment. But alas, she had commitments elsewhere, lying across the sprawling bridge hidden just behind the opposite gate to the one she had entered through.

She could see the towers of the College of Whispers as soon as the gate towards it opened for her, it's clandestine nature permeating from its architecture. Veta felt dirty even walking towards it. She certainly did not belong here, and loathed as the cruelty of the Gods that had led her into this situation. She prepared herself mentally as she approached, as she often does before going into battle, if she has time to. She was not immediately expecting a fight, but she didn't trust mages too well, and those harboured within the College were the most untrustworthy of civilised mages.

One more gate was between her and where she was needed to be, and it opened for her just as easily as the rest, but with an indescribable sense of forboding. There was an air of darkness here that creeped into Vera's bones, a corruption forking its way into her nerves. It sent a shiver down her spine, one that she struggled to shake off. As she approached the imposing structure, she paused, startled to see people once more, the tranquility of the Arboretum seducing her into a state where she was getting used to a world without other sentient beings. What a peaceful life that would be.

As she stared, she began to understand what she was gazing at. Two fresh-faced mages, their details hidden by hoods, stood at the top of some steps that led up to the doors of the College. An aura of superiority was woven into their stance, and general attitude. Whether justified, or one that was self-invoked, remained to be seen.
Below them, and recovering from what looked to be a tumble down the stairs, was an figure with a merethic build, slender and lean. It had a familiarity about it, and it took a moment for Veta to realise who it was.

It the mysterious, purple-eyed Dunmer that had been her cellmate for these past few weeks.

He was not the friendliest companion she had ever met, but she had at least heard his laughter boom from him as she stormed out of the Imperial Prison following her seething hiss at Caro, so he was capable of emotion at the minimum. It didn't matter if it was at her expense of the Lich's, the Dark Elf was an ally, willing or unwilling, and she figured she ought to get on his good side while she could. What was her alternative? A Lich or a Werecreature? She'd take her chances with someone that could at least participate in society.

She walked towards the Dunmer from behind, electing to announce her arrival in order to prevent alarming him. "Hail, Dunmer. Have you had a disagreement with the stairs?". She outstretched a hand to help the Dark Elf up, aware that he may be too proud to accept it, but she offered it all the same.

Collab with @Stormflyx

As the rest of the team got themselves on their way under Paladin Moss's orders, only Dr. Kinsley and Lancer Brown stayed behind, and of course the hero of the hour, Chowder, remained sleeping in a cubby hold within the vertibird that he'd found. The doctor tracked them all as they left, standing in the doorway of the ship, her hands in the pockets of her fatigues, fingers idly twitching within the fabric.

When they were gone from her sight, she turned on her heel and made quiet steps back to Lancer Brown in the cockpit. Surely at the forefront of everyone's minds was the note that had soured the relative success of the rescue. That McDowell had been left behind. She'd already tried to soothe Grimshaw over it, and there was certainly a tension simmering between their Paladin and her fellow Senior Scribe.

Still, she and Brown had a task of their own, but she gave him a scrutinous look. Tracing him from head to toe with her watchful eyes. "Alright," she began, removing a hand from a pocket, placing it flat on the back of the pilot's chair. "Shoes off."

Sami was lost deep in thought before the doctor once again came over to visit him at the helm. He blankly stared at the grating in the metallic flooring of the Vertibird, with thoughts of anger, guilt and despair rattling around inside his shaken mind. When the doctor snapped her orders, Sami shifted back to reality, startled at the command. As he came to and realised what she meant, he lightly chuckled and joked in reference to his stripping, "Wow. You get me alone for two minutes, doc…"

As he remarked, he unbuckled his boots, only to experience a fair amount of unexpected difficulty with removing the right one. Clearly, his ankle had swollen. What a battered and bruised bunch the squad had become, and they weren't even where they were meant to be yet. He winced and groaned as he gently but impatiently removed the brown leather casing that engulfed his pained leg. Eventually, it gave way, revealing a dark wool-covered blob that was meant to be his ankle and foot, noticeably larger than its unharmed sibling attached to his other leg. Presumably, Dr. Harper had asked him to remove both so she could compare what the injured foot was meant to look like, but he did so because it was what she told him to do.

Removing the socks were much easier, though smellier. His rushed morning had not left him much time for showering, a reality that he regretted more and more as the comforts of his Prydwen cabin lay further and further behind them. Presenting his swollen ankle to the doctor for inspection, Sami looked upon her eyes, which were relatively soulless and solemn, even moreso than normal. He didn't know Kinsley's story, but she obviously had one to tell, and it didn't seem like a particularly happy one. He didn't probe her for it now, though. It wasn't the time. But Sami did feel the closest to her on an emotional level, having spoken to her the most. Otherwise, he'd only really had a chance to get to know Frank, and look how that turned out. He hoped that his choice of companions weren't correlated to their untimely deaths, not only because of how woefully misfortunate that would be, but also because he was very fond of the doctor so far. She was kind and compassionate, despite the fact her presumably tragic worldly experience was probably telling her not to be, and she was brave and competent and many other good things. But most of all, she was human. Unlike the caricatures and gung-ho soldier types that made up the majority of the Brotherhood's ranks, Kinsley had something about her that Sami respected. She was different, and not like the others. Perhaps they were kindred spirits in that respect.

"So, what's the damage?", the Lancer inquired, not expecting good news.

“Well,” Kinsley began with a long sigh and a tilt of her head as she inspected him with narrowed eyes. “It isn’t broken,” - there was little optimism in her voice however, as she placed two fingers either side. It was incredibly swollen, more so than Grimshaw’s. “Probably not a fracture either,” her lips pursed. She wasn’t all that equipped to deal with it, and it’s not like they were in the best circumstance for her to be able to take her time. To x-ray him, apply a splint, some ice - have him on rest.

No, they had a ship to fix and fly - potential dangers lurking. All that Kinsley could do was prevent it from being injured further, and treat it correctly in the quiet moments such as this.

She couldn’t yet shake free the image of McDowell from her mind, the absolute hopelessness he must have felt had been written all over him during his last stand - but, he at least held the line. She tried to avoid thinking too much about how it would have been to have been in his position. That kind of violent death was not the kind she was drawn too, a quicker one was preferable. Still, McDowell had been their Knight Sergeant, and now he was under the rubble. What was on everyone's minds was of course, that Moss called it - and his manner of doing so.

Would he call it on her one day?

It was a raw and confronting thing to think about, and now was not the time for her to be having such bleak and spiralling thoughts. She averted her gaze from Brown’s ankle while she grabbed more of the same bandage she had used on Grimshaw. She looked at Brown, the worry in his expression, and yet still he had something of a kindly energy about him. Like whatever the news was, he’d still carry himself with a spring in his step because that’s how he was built. That he’d take it on the chin and keep going for the sake of everyone else. Kinsley realised in that moment just how important he would be -- far beyond the skills he displayed as a pilot and mechanic.

Of all the team members, she knew Brown best. Or, she’d encountered him many more times than anyone else. Usually with a different woman each time, always smiling though. It was easier to be annoyed by that in the relatively safe confines of the Prydwen, where trivialities like that mattered. Here? Not so much. She was somewhat loath to admit it to herself, but she was glad that Brown would be the person she’d likely spend most of her time with. He wasn’t difficult, intrusive, or aggressive in any way, or on a power trip that seemed to be something of a commonality in the Brotherhood. Samuel Brown was so laid back, he was practically horizontal. Yet, she still sensed that something was amiss with him.

As she got to bandaging his leg, pulling tight for good compression, she glanced sidelong at him. “Your ankle will heal, and I’ll clean up your forehead there - is everything else alright?”

Sami looked up and into Kinsley's eyes, always assessing, forever diagnosing. She knew that something was gnawing at his mind. Was it that obvious?

If it was anyone else, he'd simply say 'I'm fine' and try his best to leave it at that. But he trusted Doctor Harper. And he couldn't trust anybody else to be anything but a good, loyal, die-hard Brotherhood soldier who might have court-martialed him at what he said next.

Sami huffed, shook his head slowly and leaned back in his chair, taking a defensive-looking stance, planting one hand on his knee to support his back. He swallowed and took a deep inhale that doubled as a sigh before replying.

"I just left a man to die. I didn't have much of a choice, I couldn't have refused, but I did it." Sami paused, but Kinsley didn't say anything, she simply listened to what was to come, so he continued. "And I feel fucking awful about it. McDowell was a big, angry man, and I don't think we'd have been best buds. But I effectively killed him."

"And Moss… Moss didn't even give a shit! He's said nothing since. Nothing." The Lancer was letting his emotions increasingly line his words as he ranted. "Not an apology, not a justification. Not even a 'these things happen squad, but we need to stay strong. Ad Victoriam!". He mocked the Paladin for that last part, even mimicking the salute. "It's like any of us are expendable to him, like he'd let us all die, head back to HQ and chalk it all up to 'bad intel'".

Sami sighed again. "I thought the Brotherhood was meant to be different. I joined so I wouldn't have to look over my shoulder, because we watch each others' backs". He hesitated saying the next part, because the realisation had set in midway. "But if we're all as expendable as McDowell is, then I'd rather be back to surviving on my own. At least then there's not a false pretence of security and trust."

Rant over, Samuel waited for Dr. Harper's reaction. Perhaps he'd let too much of his mind slip. He considered the possibility that the Paladin was just within earshot, and what he'd do if he barged in with the knowledge of what Sami just said. But he didn't feel like he was the only one with these frustrations. At least he hoped so, otherwise this was going to be one lonely and potentially deadly mission for the Lancer.

For a while, Kinsley said nothing. She simply let him level his breaths again, and when she was sure he was done she relaxed her posture and took a seat on the floor beneath him, sucking in a breath through her teeth. "Well I'm glad you didn't let that one stew." Her brow quirked up, and she tilted her head back until it touched the edge of the control panel.

"It wasn't your fault, Brown," she said while maintaining eye contact with him. Her countenance somewhat stern - clinical. Like it was all she could do to manage her own feelings. A slight veneer of disinterest but her tone told a different story. It was warmth enough to take the bite out of the air around them. "You didn't let him die, you didn't kill him. It wasn't your fault. I need you to know that." Kinsley ran the back of her hand over her forehead again, blinking slow.

"Moss… Is under pressure, no doubt. We're on this mission and we all know that it could well be a one way trip. McDowell knew that too…" Kinsley said with a forlorn sigh, trying to be as diplomatic as possible considering the situation.

Brown wasn't wrong though, Moss hadn't acknowledged the grief that hung like a stormcloud, threatening to burst. Moss hadn't said a word about McDowell, and from what Kinsley could gather - the man had performed some heroics. She'd spent her life breaking awful news to families. She would forever be a part of their life, the first ripple of grief for them. There needed to be sensitivity in those moments. Seeing the Lancer so furious was unexpected, and his anger had been formed in a place inside him he probably didn’t like to dwell around in.

She turned her head to where Frank had been sat. They'd lost two people, two brothers - and not a damn thing had been done about it.

She held a breath, pinching the bridge of her nose as her eyes closed tight momentarily. It was exhausting. Kinsley was exhausted. Everyone was already exhausted. They needed something for morale. Brown needed something for morale. “If Moss can’t say something for our fallen, that doesn’t mean you have to be silent. Take that feeling you have here-” she brought a closed fist to her chest, her eyebrow arched and her expression harboured an altogether different kind of seriousness. “Take that, and use it to honour McDowell, and Frank too… To celebrate the lives they lived.” She then seemed to deflate a little after her words and she broke her gaze to close her eyes. “He didn’t die because of you. You didn’t kill him.”

The doctor's gentle voice soothed Sami's emotional irritation. She had tried to put a positive spin on it, of course, but she was trying to polish a fresh steaming pile of brahmin shit. He still felt guilty for his actions despite what she had said, but he knew he'd get over it, eventually. What mattered was going forwards, and making sure he never had to do such a thing again.

Her last suggestions sparked an idea in Sami's head, something had to be done that wasn't particularly pleasant, that everyone else had neglected to do. Well, at least something that the Paladin clearly didn't give enough of a shit about to order its doing.

Frank was still slumped lifeless in the chair, his grey corpse stained red. Sami looked over to him, and he could feel Kinsley realising his intentions in his peripheral. Sami shook his head in disapproval of the loss of the pilot, the man whose quick thinking and flying skill had saved the lives of four members of his crew. He was a good man, and he deserved a decent funeral. As he considered this, Sami could feel the immense weight of the photograph Frank had given to him in his last moments. It was all a damned shame.

Turning to Kinsley, he asked gravely "would you care to help me to move his body outside? The repairs can wait."

"Of course," Kinsley answered quickly, bringing herself back around from her tired state with a shake of her head. "I'll try and take most of his weight," she offered as she stood up - placing gentle hands on Brown's ankle again, even bandaged as tightly as it was, it was still badly swollen. "Then after that I want you to keep your foot up. I'll need to see to your head too, but let's clear this first, okay?" Sami nodded in agreement, he wasn't going to argue with her.

Kinsley gave him a smile, and it wasn't just for show. She was relieved to have calmed him for now. A funeral was a good way to hold onto their humanity. "And Brown…?" She said, with a slight change to her cadence. The doctor realising she didn't need or want to feel so shy and aloof around the Lancer. "I'll have your back. Don't know just how much good that is, but I'll have it. Chowder too."
Sami smiled at the promise. Sometimes, such words could be empty and insincere, but not in this instance. The doctor had a good heart, and he felt comfort in being able to confide in, and maybe even truly trust in her comradeship. And Chowder's loyalty was unarguably the most solidified certainty Sami had even known. The pilot glanced over to the sleeping canine, now so at rest and peaceful compared to his antics earlier that day. "I appreciate that Dr. Harper. But hopefully you won't need to."

Kinsley cleared her throat and moved behind Brown in the chair, placing a hand on each of his shoulders, "come on then, let's get to it… We'll even toast this hero off," she suggested in a whisper-like voice, rubbing the Lancer's shoulders some, as if it would relieve whatever anger may have been left - or maybe it was simply to make the man feel good before a shit job.

They managed to carry Frank through a combined effort of lifting, shimmying, dragging and hobbling. But sure enough they managed to get the corpse to a digable patch of dirt. Fortunately, it had seemed to have rained here fairly recently, so the earth was moved easily enough. Sami did most of the shovelling, shrugging off Kinsley's protests that he shouldn't spend too long on his feet. He needed to do this, and the doctor had already done more than her fair share. They didn't have time for six feet, so they had to settle for three, give or take. No doubt molerats or ghouls would smell and find Frank's body anyway; this whole thing was more of a morbid formality than anything.

They rolled Frank into the ditch, and re-covered the haphazard grave as quickly as they could. The late pilot's death was rushed, it was only fitting that his ritual of passing be the same, as sad as that may be. Sami struggled to find any words after the burial was finished, and neither could Kinsley.
Instead, the doctor had offered the vial of vodka that she had stashed in her medical, and the two chinked bottle and mug as Sami finally found the courage to say something in memoriam.

"To a good man'', he murmured, with a tear creeping out and trickling down his cheek. The two necked the vodka, it's warm sting a welcome feeling amidst the numbness the situation had fostered. Kinsley once again felt it necessary to place a supportive hand on Sami's shoulder as they turned and walked away, yet again accuracy assessing the need for a comforting human touch.

Scratched into the makeshift gravestone were the words:

Frank McCarthy.
Pilot. Saviour. Father.

Take off. Take. Off.

The words hung heavy in Sami's heart, and caused his stomach to twist and turn and fold upon their repetition inside his head. The crew said little after the orders were spoken. The Paladin spoke them softly, yet with the weight of a thousand McDowells. Sami himself became a vessel, zombified in his reluctant compliance. He dare not refuse, not if Moss was so willing to toss aside his most loyal subordinate so easily.

His face was uncharacteristically stoic as he piloted the Vertibird, paying the skies ahead far more attention than he had previously. Lesson indeed learned. The past few hours had been a brutal whirlwind, and not one that Sami had prepared himself for, nor ever thought he's be involved in. There were a million things going through his mind, guilt first and foremost.
While under orders, he had left a man to die. He didn't know Gregory McDowell at all really, and he was not one to get overly-attached to strangers - a lonely life spent in the Wasteland quickly makes sure of that. But he had never directly caused a comrades death before, and not without so much disregard for it from what was meant to be the man ensuring their survival.

The whole event made Sami think. Like, seriously think about his situation, and what his priorities were. The question that had occurred to him before was exponentially more present now. What the fuck was he doing here?

Of course, none of his pondering escaped out of his mouth. The Paladin in question had positioned himself right behind Sami, scouring the horizon like a hawk, no doubt searching for the next landing spot that hopefully be less crash-y. Lancer Brown wanted to turn around and give Moss the what-for, he wanted so intensely to curse him out and rant at him for forcing Sami to hold McDowell's life in his hands, and throw it away as if he was one of the many feral ghouls the team had collectively slaughtered. But he remained silent, his caution around the commander reinforced, and his doubts about the Brotherhood and its fanatics heightened.

A gruff growl came from the space above Sami's head, sternly ordering the pilot to land on what looked to be some sort of military or emergency services outpost. The latter was more likely, as it's defensive capabilities were minimal, from what Sami could see.

The Paladin had predictably told Sami to stay put while the others explored and fortified. Sami mused at the fact that he and Kinsley were to stay behind. He would fix the machines, and she would fix the people. He felt that he had the easy job.
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