Years had passed. Other scenes had come and gone. He picked up each of them like shards of a broken burial urn, holding them stupidly as if he couldn’t believe anyone could’ve been so callous as to desecrate the dead inside. He couldn’t bring himself to piece them together though, only stare, like a warrior hit with a paralysis charm.
And as he stared numbly into space, over eons, a thought slowly coalesced in Drai’s mind.
In this space between times he was fading, bits of his soul leaking off into the nether, and yet… some memories were still as vital and strong as the day they had become real. Looking down at his hands-not-hands, he held onto those shards, each biting into his being like bits of glass.
Were those angry, painful memories all he had been made up of before? It was an interesting thought to play with, here in the nether while there was nothing else to do. Certainly they had seemed to gnaw at his mind constantly while he had lived, kept him second-guessing himself, and many of the things he had done had been in efforts to prove himself. To prove that that image of a weak, foolish boy, who couldn’t maintain a relationship to save his life, was not the real him.
He looked over at the Rakhulbi fragment. All that proving… and the one who mattered most to prove it to had never believed it.
Dropping the shards from his not-hands, he touched the Rakhulbi fragment, drawing close to his own face to look into its eyes. They were a deep red, deep set and slightly slanted, the eyelashes just a little longer than was usual in a Dunmer male.
He looked at them, and thought, maybe he didn’t hate those eyes. They were what they were, whether or not they would be winning any contests of beauty.
And in the same way, maybe he didn’t really hate the being they belonged to. He had been like any other silly teenager, who hadn’t known where his feet were while insisting he was always right. Bad things had happened, and he had reacted to them with the best ways he had known how. He had grown up and gotten thicker skin, smarter and stubborner ways of relating to the rest of the world, but the same fears and doubts still drove him.
Yet maybe, just maybe….just like some traumas didn’t need to happen, the motivations they planted in him didn’t need to be there.
“Here you and I are, at the end of all things, alone together. If I am going to be like this for the rest of eternity…I might as well make it a pleasant place to be…no?”
He pulled the fragment closer to him, and then into him, shivering a little as thoughts that belonged to his old teenage self clicked on in his head. Yet this time, instead of pushing the thoughts away or denigrating them, he brought the image of that teenager’s face into his mind’s eye, and soothed him like the frightened little boy he was.
Then he turned, picking up the other shards, and pulling them inward. Each one hurt like being stabbed like a knife, but Drai murmured as he went, repeating a mantra though he could not remember where he learned it.
“I am Rakhulbi-Sul.
“I am the Dreamer, Dreaming Mer, the Drai-Mer…
“I am the darkness I project, that stares back into me…
“Yet I am what I choose to be…”
He shivered as the old memories shuffled inside of him, threatening to steal away his newfound confidence. The accusing gazes of the farseer and the gulakhan, of Taargus, of Nanna, of Enul-Adabni and all the others, rose up in his mind. He swallowed hard, staring at them.
“…I ch-choose forgiveness.”
Some of the images shattered, while some grew larger and darker, menacing. Drai took a steadying breath.
“I-I choose to not let you affect me anymore.”
The shard-people laughed, not believing him. He wasn’t sure he believed himself… he had to keep trying.
“…I choose not to rip you from me, but to build on what you have given me. My self is stronger than the pain you gave, and I have learned its movements for myself. You are not part of my meaning.”
Their faces contorted like Daedra, gaping mouths of disbelief and fury — but they were only images. The people they represented were, after all, going through their own troubles, no eye or time to care for his. He couldn’t fault them for that…
“…I-I choose love.”
One by one the images melted away, into the ground at his feet. Ash and rugged rocks sprinkled with shrubs–the landscape of his home–sprouted around him. The sky smelled of brimstone, the sun was bright and hot. He breathed in the air, nostalgia and stirrings of good times spent in such a place filling his mind.
Peace… “I choose peace.”
He felt the wind, he heard its moanings in the rock, an Ashlander child’s lullaby. He saw the air wavering in the heat off stone and lava, creating a mirage, a dreamscape, stretching out before him all sides, until it faded into cloudy blue on the horizons
“I chose freedom.”
He was free.
“Well! You took your damn sweet time getting out of there!”
Drai jumped and swung around. A spirit with a mohawk, nose ring, and heavily tattooed face regarded him, his thumbs hooked into the sash holding his pirate sabers at his sides.
And Drai knew then he had broken through the gap. This was no longer in his shattered mind, but in Stonefalls, near the waterfall he had almost met his death to Mephala’s beast. He squinted at the spirit in wonder, recognition dimly clicking on. “You are…Shizzal’s father. A spirit of the fallen, like me… Why are you here?”
“To help bring you back,” said the spirit with a shrug and crooked grin. “The little fetcher sent a spirit to find a spirit. Pretty good idea, right?”
Drai smiled despite himself. That daring little outlander… “Yes.”
“Yep,” said the spirit, and Drai noticed the Dunmer was eyeing him oddly. “Reckon there’s a few things we need to discuss on the way home, anyway — if you’ll lend me an ear, a-course.”
“We? What would you have to tell me, spirit?” It was not Drai’s experience that spirits took much interest in the doings of people besides their descendants…
The spirit sighed, and brought his hands before him to rub together. A nervous tick, which looked decidedly odd considering the rest of the pirate’s bluster. “Family business. Your ma and I talked, and we’ve decided you’re ready to hear some things. Maybe it’ll make the rest go easier on your mind, too.”
His mother… His vision of her had been real? His battered insides curled and uncurled in fear and worry, but Drai reminded himself that was in the past.
He took a deep breath, looked back up to the spirit and nodded cautiously. “Alright. I will listen as we return home…”