As Nanna’s angry footsteps echoed away, the old crypt descended into silence.
There were some places in the foothills above Deshaan’s marshes that were as quiet as this, missing the hiss of insects and the far-off calls of guar or kagouti that the Deshaan lowlands were steeped in. Yet even in the foothills, the wind still blew through the trees or whistled in rocky outcrops. Down here, beneath the heavy earth, there was nothing. Only Drai’s breath limned the silence, rasping deep in his chest from his weak lungs and the dust.
The trails of blood, the rivulets where House Dunmer and Ashlander bodies had been dragged through the crypt dust, stuck out to him like pictures out of a House Dunmer’s book. They seemed as unreal as pictures too: dead and still like everything else in the crypt. Not like the colors and noise that had graced the ruin just hours before, when the two factions had fought for Mephala’s cursed blade. Drai wondered idly if the blood and drag marks would stay there forever, or at least until the next group of adventurers stuck their nose into the caverns.
His throat tightened, and he struggled to breathe. He held his sleeve over his nose and waited for the asthma to pass. If it was asthma. He couldn’t have proven it to anyone else just then…
He was lucky he could breathe at all, of course. For his betrayal, Taargus had only broken his knees, which the shaman could heal for himself. The betrayed look in Nanna’s eyes was harder to overcome though, still haunting Drai now.
He wasn’t entirely sure that look was all his fault, either. At the climax of the battle, Zeketah had seized upon the Ebony Blade. Her reckless slashes seemed to gouge rifts into the very air, opening portals to another plane of existence. Mephala’s plane. Zeketah had disappeared into those rifts, taking Taargus and many of the other cult members with her.
Nanna had not been among them, by chance or by intent. Drai had offered to try and recreate the portals so she could pursue her lover, but after Drai’s involvement with the Whirling School, she didn’t trust him. She had yelled at him, then fled, leaving him here to survey the results of his work.
The Sight still teased at the edges of his vision, but at that moment he would have given anything to be rid of it. What had it ever brought him but misery?
Yet, he couldn’t ignore it for long. Zeketah would be back. Azura’s path still led on at his feet, though he had no idea where to find the strength to keep following it…
Hours later found Drai walking stiffly up to the Whirling School in Ebonheart. His healing knees ached and he kept his eyes on the ground, still stumbling now and then despite being careful.
Drai looked up, squinting, at the mer running down the road towards him. Shizzal braked before running into the Ashlander–barely–slapping his shoulders as if checking to make sure he was real. Drai flinched and Shizzal drew back.
“Sorry,” said Shizzal. “Are you alright? When you weren’t with the others…” He trailed off without Drai having to say anything. They both looked away at the same time. “It didn’t turn out well, did it?” Shizzal finally spoke into the silence.
“Zeketah and her Deathweavers are gone into Oblivion.”
“Oblivion!” Shizzal stared at him with wide eyes. “You mean actual Oblivion, and not…?”
“If it was death, I would not be here,” Drai snapped bitterly. “As it is, I will still be blamed.”
Shizzal whistled softly. “Look, mate, I meant what I said about sanctuary. The Whirling School put in the paperwork for our own retinue of Ordinators, along with the Armigers. You would be safe–“
“I am not safe anywhere,” Drai broke in. “Not from this. Not from my… curse.” Drai’s confidence wavered, and he closed his eyes tight.
“Hey, heeeey. Drai, look at me. You only did what you thought was right. I don’t blame you for Drethas. She’s going to be fine. All of them are. No one died, and that’s more than could be said if Zeketah was left free to wander on Nirn! We both know that. I know that. You do too, if you would stop feeling sorry for yourself and think!” He added sharply when Drai didn’t look up, rapping him on the head. “Drai! Don’t you black out on me now. Get a grip!”
“I am not ‘blacking out’,” Drai said at length, though his face was still much too pale for Shizzal’s liking. “I am tired.”
“Then sit down!”
Drai wouldn’t, not in the middle of the road, so Shizzal reached out to steady him instead.
“What are you going to do now, if not come with us?” he asked.
When Drai didn’t answer, Shizzal gave him a shake, and Drai pressed a hand to Shizzal’s chest to push him away. “It would be better for all if I were not here,” came the quiet admission. “This is my fault, none other.”
“You are not to blame for all the idiots and evil people in the world, Drai,” Shizzal said seriously. “You have a gift. A lot of people don’t ken that, but it doesn’t make you wrong. It doesn’t make you evil, or sick — or anything else.”
“When it loses me my people…no matter what I do…”
“Wake up, mate. That’s life for you! We all fail.”
“Not like this.“
Shizzal screwed up his brow, giving the impression of a raised eyebrow without actually doing so. “Yeah, well, forgive me for saying this, buddy, but you do tend to assign yourself too much importance.”
Drai opened his eyes to glare at Shizzal. “You do not understand! Mephala took them right before me. I did not see it, I could not make him see. And now he is gone, because he loves the Spinner’s tricks more than his partner…”
Shizzal slowly shook his head. “Hold on there, mate. You’re forgetting the first rule of couple fights. You know what that is?”
Drai glared at him.
“Stay out of them! You’re also forgetting the second rule of couple fights, mate.” Shizzal suddenly beamed, and Drai frowned at him suspiciously. “Those two breaking apart is not an opportunity for you to get in there and–“
“Good Azura!” cried Drai and gave Shizzal a shove. He was surprised when Shizzal shoved back, laughing.
“Oh, b’Vehk, I was teasing! But I get it. I do! I’ll prove it. Your people think you’re a traitor and now you’re feeling sore because you almost got Nanna, her lover, and all your friends killed over it. Meanwhile your kin still have their heads up their arses proclaiming to the world Mephala is the greatest thing since sliced bread, despite everyone else being able to see right through that shite. And they’re angry at YOU for pointing it out no matter how many times they tell you to shut the fetch up about it.” Shizzal held up a wagging finger. “See, mate! I can foresee doom and gloom, too, and I don’t need any fancy hallucinations to do it with!”
Drai just stared. Still grinning, Shizzal softened and held out a hand to him, beckoning.
“What we need to do is talk, mate. Honestly and fully. What YOU need to do is relax and start to think. If I’m not wrong, you’ve got an upset Sister to apologize to, and an idiot Brother to drag out of Oblivion by the collar. That shite isn’t going to come easy, you know!” When Drai still hesitated, Shizzal grabbed him by the hand and dragged him along. “But you’re in luck! Because I think I know just the Telvanni to help you out.”
Drai stumbled forward, catching himself on his staff. “…your House Dunmer blood is not Hlaalu by chance, outlander?”
“Nope,” said Shizzal, pausing until Drai regained his balance. “Dres. Didn’t I tell you that?”
“You speak like one.” Drai muttered in Dunmeris then, not expecting Shizzal to understand. “By Azura, what would we do without stupid outlanders like you in everyone’s business?”
Shizal grinned wide, replying in Dunmeris without missing a beat. “Probably what we would do without uptight farseers like you in everyone else’s.”
Drai stared. “Aye.” He slowly began to smile as Shizzal raised his eyebrows expectantly, bobbing on his feet. “I admit you are not as stupid as you have appeared. Very well. Show me this Telvanni.”
Shizzal smirked, slyness outweighing his mirth. “There we go.”