The wind swept back and forth across the Ashlands, sculpting the ash into great spirals in the sky and kicking it back into Shizzal’s face. He spat it out, grimacing at the taste, and closed the small yurt’s flap a little tighter. He could do nothing for the opening in the roof that let the campfire’s smoke out, and he sat down again, frowning up at it.
“So who are these gods you keep praying to, Drai?” he asked at a break in the howling wind. “I hear one’s named Mephala?”
Drai opened one eye, giving Shizzal a long suffering look from across the fire. The Ashlander had his knees folded and his hands pressed together, one hand covering his fist in a style very unlike the palm-to-palm prayers Shizzal knew from Hammerfell.
Shizzal shrugged apologetically at his expression. “Just asking! You’ve been crouched there for a while now. I got the hint pretty quick you don’t serve Tall Papa or the Eight Divines or any of them out here, so I was wondering. Who do you worship?”
“The Daedra, mostly,” said Drai distractedly, frowning in puzzlement. The date had been correct, as had the positioning and the offerings. Still they did not answer. “The ancestors as well. Who are the Daedra, if you go back far enough.”
“Really?” Shizzal’s eyes went wide, and a sudden look of consternation crossed his face. “Oh. Well. I guess that’s why no one out west likes us, if Dunmer are the spawn of devils.”
Drai raised his eyebrow at him. “The Daedra are not evil, outlander. They simply are. Do you call fire evil? It can burn down your yurt, but it can also warm you and cook your food. The Daedra are like this. They are power that we can use, or that can be used against us.”
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” said Shizzal uneasily. “But you said ancestors. You mean like your mother and father, or your grandparents?”
“Yes, if they have passed on,” said Drai. He paused. “They are much…kinder to us than the Daedra are. More helpful.” At least, they are when they answer, he thought to himself, but did not say it out loud.
“Amazing!” said Shizzal. “But I don’t know my ancestors. I certainly doubt they ever watched over me! I told you that: how I grew up an orphan, ya?”
“That and many other things,” said Drai dryly, but he smiled when Shizzal took it for a joke and grinned. “Do not doubt, outlander. Though you are foreign, you are Dunmer, and your kin still smile on you. Think. Was there ever a time events seemed to come together in your favor, to work out by coincidence?”
“I do have a lot of luck,” said Shizzal hesitantly. “I’m not dead yet, after all.”
Drai nodded. “Some would say that is the doing of the ancestors.”
“Some, but not you?” said Shizzal slyly, catching on to Drai’s careful caveat.
“Many times we make our own fortunes,” answered Drai, looking away.
Shizzal didn’t press, but leaned back on one palm, shifting so he was half-lying down in the ash on the yurt’s floor. His other hand unconsciously drifted to a small pouch tied on his belt, fingering the flash pellets inside. “I remember one time I thought I was just lucky,” he began slowly, “but after what you said, I’m wondering. Maybe it was all tied together after all.”
“One may never know,” answered Drai. The sunlight glowing in the yurt’s wall faded as the day died, the inside of the tent cooling and darkening. Drai shivered, suddenly glad for mortal company.
Shizzal was still talking, if mostly to himself. “I don’t know why, but it seemed to start with this execution I once saw. It was of a Dunmer, who were rare in my hometown, so I guess it just caught my eye…”
Drai closed his eyes. He thought he heard something in that muffled wind, like a voice, but not of the spirits he had been calling on. Shizzal had settled into a comfortable narrative by now, but Drai wasn’t really listening. He had his ears peeled instead for the narrative of the Ashlands: of the spirits that had died to its harsh climate, that stalked it looking for remnants of their past. One was coming closer now, as if interested by the outlander’s story. Drai’s skin began to crawl.