The little wood elf sat in a corner of the inn, away from the fire. Though she was still drenched from the rain outside, she seemed to want nothing to do with its warmth. One had only to look at her to guess why. She could feel the other patrons staring at her disfigured face, arm, and side; it seemed almost the entire left half of her body was covered in scars. Other than that, she was a rather pretty thing. Tiny, for sure, but then so were nearly all Bosmer. She had long hair of a light brown color, pulled back into a single braid, and deep hazel eyes that reflected deep emotions. A dark circlet that seemed almost to be made of wood sat on her brow, and she had earrings to match.
Most of the staring had ceased hours ago, when more and more of the patrons started telling their stories. The occasional piteous glance was sent her way, but that was more bearable. She listened with quiet intrigue to the tales that were spun within that common room. There was a tall Altmer with silver hair, clan in heavy armor, yet wielding a staff. She had told of how she'd grown disillusioned with her kin on the Isles of Summerset, and refused to bend the knee to the child queen, choosing instead to flee to Morrowind. And then there was that Breton. The poor girl had been betrayed by her own father and sacrificed to Molag Bal, and even now was separated from her husband.
The Bosmer shifted uncomfortably when the circle made its way around to her. It was expected now; she had to tell them a story. True or false, they would likely never know. She knew they would want to hear about how she was burned. Their eyes seemed now tied to the left side of her face, the staring now completely open.
"Guess you all want to hear my story, then," she said, leaning back in her chair. She took a gulp from her mug, trying to steady her nerves. She never liked being the center of attention, and her story was far from a happy one.
"Well, it all goes way back. I came from Valenwood, you see. Name's Fira. Fira Estelle. Me an' my brother. Our parents died when I was little more than a baby, an' my brother was the one who took care of me. Well, for a few years at least. Then one day, he drops me in the hands of some neighbors and runs off, an' 'twas a number of years 'fore I ever saw him again.
"Life passed on well enough, I suppose. Them neighbors soon adopted me like a daughter, and they had a girl 'bout my age, too. Pretty much grew up normal as you could please, but for one thing. I never could forget about my brother. Nicto was almost always on my mind, and I couldn't help but wonder why he run off like he did."
Fira paused in her story. Her audience was growing bored, she could tell. They didn't want her entire life's story. Just the good parts.
"Well, few months ago, I found out. You see, necromancy was starting to become a problem in Valenwood about then. You all know why by now. Well, me an' Lyzan--me adopted sister--we were both a part of the city watch, an' we were sent to investigate. Found out it was Mannimarco's worms, of course. But what I found out was that my brother was one of these worms. Found him with some others, raising skeletons from the ground wherever they could find them. When he looked me in the eyes, I knew it was him. He knew it too. He sent a fireball straight at me." Her audience had a half-satisfied expression. She rolled her eyes and smirked for a brief moment.
"What do you all take me for? I dodged it an fired arrows at him. Neither of our attacks on each other were deadly, though Lyzan an' me made some quick work of his friends. I convinced her to let him live. Told her we should take him back to the city for questioning, whether there were more cultists around and such.
"I visited his cell that night. Asked him all sorts of questions, about why he left me an what he was doin' with the cult. He told me that all those years ago, we was nearly starvin'. He was givin' me all the food he could earn or find an' hardly ate half a meal himself every day. Said a dark elf found him workin' hard, nearly all skin an' bones, an' offered him some work. The work would cause him to travel, an' I wasn't invited. So he gave me to our neighbors and went off to make a living. Turns out this 'living' involved studying dark magic and contacting the daedric princes." She stared across the room thoughtfully, her eyes resting on the ginger Breton who had shared such an angry tale. "He did what he had to in order to live. I can't fault him that, an' I even forgive him. I asked him if he would consider leavin' that life an' startin' up an honest living. Told me he'd think about it. I believe he did think about it, 'cause he didn't escape until near a week later.
"Whatever the Worm Cult promised or threatened him, he must have a terrible fear of what they can do, 'cause he went right back to them. I made a vow to chase him down and bring him back to justice. Said prayers to Stendaar every day that he would change his mind, an' that he might be allowed to return to a normal life. Followed him through Cyrodiil, into High Rock, through Skyrim, and deep into Morrowind 'fore I finally caught up. It was there by the lakes of lava under Red Mountain that he finally stopped runnin'. Probably was his bosses told him to take care of me."
In her mind, that battled seemed to last for centuries. Actions and reactions played through her mind. Her brother was all stick and robe, while she wore leathers and shot arrows, or switched to daggers whenever he got close. Despite those differences, they were evenly matched. He would shoot fire at her, she would siphon his life. She would shoot an arrow and he would immediately heal. It was like a deadly dance between the two of them.
"The fightin' prolly lasted some hours. It's all just a blur to me, but I know we were both getting tired. One of us had to end this. Finally, he got clever. I moved to strike him with my daggers. He blocked with his staff an spun it, tearin' the knives clean from my hands. 'Fore I could even move out of my surprise, he took my bow an' quiver an' tossed them into the fiery drink. Now that he had me, I knew he was goin' to kill me. 'Fira,' he said, 'Do you have any last words?' I don't know what I was thinkin'. I was cryin', I remember. But not for me. I was cryin' for him. 'Cause I knew the gentle, lovin' brother I'd known was gone. I looked him right in the eyes an' I told him, 'I love you, Nicto.' I think that caught him off guard, 'cause for a minute, he seemed to soften. But then he was ready to give the killing blow, an' he raised his staff. Then..." Fira paused. It wasn't intended for dramatic effect. She paused because all the terror and pain and confusion of the moment came rushing back to her. The agony of the burning. When she was in control of herself again, she took a deep breath and continued speaking.
"I guess a large rock must've fallen into the lake beside us or something. Next thing I know, a wave of lava is rushing up at us. Nicto dodged, rolling out of the way and behind another rock, but I was still frozen to the spot. The lava struck me, right on my face, arm, and side. All I knew was pain, and then I must've passed out. I thought I died.
"I drifted in an' out of consciousness quite a few times after that, and it felt like every time I woke up, I was somewhere different. I think some of them I dreamed up, because I was in a Dunmer house, an' then I was back at my childhood home, from before our parents died, an' then I think I was somewhere in Oblivion, tryin' to escape. The last time I woke up, I was about fifty leagues south of here, an' I've been wandering ever since. Dunno what happen to my brother, but then, I don't think I want to. Not today, anyway. Maybe some day, when I'm stronger. When I can save him."
Fira fell silent at the end of her tale. In the days since she'd last awoken, very little had happened. But one thing about her was very different from how she was before. She now had a mortal fear of heat, of fire, and particularly of lava.