Another mini-retcon here. Drai originally had taken the amulet to fight an agent of Mehrunes Dagon, not Mephala. Since I am condensing storylines though, this seemed like a good excuse to tie up the Mephalan plotline instead.Author’s Note
The sounds emanating from the yurt stopped Rakhulbi cold in his tracks. His heart started fluttering violently, and for a moment he thought it might be due to the weight of the scuttlers dangling from his shoulders, that he had caught in snares along the old foyada. He realized just as quickly that their weight couldn’t be that great and scolded himself. It wasn’t fatigue, but an anger he could do nothing about. In a hot daze, he lowered himself by the side of the yurt, cleaning the scuttlers to keep his fingers busy, if not his mind.
Sometime later, a figure stumbled out from his mother’s yurt. The man was obscured in the falling evening’s darkness, but still Rakhulbi could tell it was someone new. It was always someone new; whenever the House Dunmer traders came by with their strange flashing metals and colorful cloths, his mother would ingratiate herself to them the only way she knew how. And Rakhulbi would go on a long hunting trip, even though he was one of the tribe’s weakest hunters.
Rakhulbi worried at the scuttler carcasses until he couldn’t find any more excuses to remain outside, seeing as how the House Dunmer was long gone. He walked into the yurt, wearing his anger like a shield, as he always did. As he always did, the sight of his mother curled up in one corner of the yurt, shivering under the old guarskin cover, softened the anger enough he could put it away.
“Are you hurting, mother?” His voice sounded wooden. With an effort, he re-pitched it and asked again, “Do you want your tea?”
“No, I am alright,” said his mother softly to the first question. “Please,” to the second.
They had played this dance over and over again through the years. Rakhulbi looked away as she dressed, going to the herbs hanging from the yurt’s supporting poles and pulling down the ones he knew by heart. They mixed a subtle poison, useful for dulling the mind and also for keeping at bay any unwanted consequences of her evening’s work…
What would have been different if she had remembered to drink it the night she had conceived him…? Ralkhulbi’s thoughts took a painful twist, and Drai lost the connection to the dream…
The rocks cut into his hands as he climbed them, though Drai barely felt it. Compared to the upheaval a few scant hours ago, he now felt nothing. He had pushed his problems with Nanna and her grief with losing Taargus into the furthest corner of his mind, focused now only on the goal: slaying the Daedric beast Mephala had sent with the tools Delmadryn had given him.
In the process, he had pushed away, too, the notion that this was a bad idea, coming out here alone. To contemplate that was to contemplate all the other things he had done wrong, and to break.
“Servant of the Spinner!” he called out into the pre-dawn darkness over the Greymist Falls. His voice landed thick and heavy on the surrounding hills. “Come out and answer for what you’ve done!”
Nothing answered, and Drai almost swooned as his doubts once again rose up and threatened to drown him. Not this time. If there was nothing else in his life to strive for, then he was determined to have this, one last victory…
“Come out and face me, you necklace-chained guar!” He held up Delmadryn’s amulet in a show of defiance and condescension.
Behind him, he felt the roiling of the spirits as something big anchored and manifested onto Mundus. He took a deep breath and turned, steeling himself for battle.
But Drai was not ready for the blow that came…
That day, the gulakhan hadn’t allowed Rakhulbi to go on a hunt. He couldn’t remember the reason now, just that it meant he had been napping in the yurt when it had happened, rather than out on some lonely trail in the Ashlands.
He had risen to the surface of consciousness in a confused blur, to the sound of raised voices. The sudden snap of flesh hitting flesh brought him all the way awake, and he rolled over. He had been unable to comprehend what he had seen at first, and the image of him rising up between the two writhing forms, shoving the bigger man off his mother, was like watching it happen to someone else.
He had been just a scrawny teenager, and the other a full-grown warrior. He was seized by the shoulder and thrown down. A hot and heavy struggle took place, his neck and limbs being bent in ways they shouldn’t as the pair flailed in the ash of the yurt floor.
Rakhulbi flailed wildly with feet and fists, only hoping he connected a few times. He heard his mother begging him, then the other, then returning to him, sobbing at them to stop. Somewhere in the chaos he and the other become untangled, and Rakhulbi heard the snap of slapped cheek again.
“You bitch…! How dare you–“
Furious, Rakhulbi whirled to strike the man — scratch him, grab him, anything — but the other had had enough, and was backing away out the yurt. Rakhulbi flung a handful of dirt after him, more defiance than anything effective. An angry tirade came from just outside, cruel words Drai could no longer hear, or perhaps only in the depths of his heart.
The teenager Rakhulbi could only burst into tears of rage and fear as the assaulter got away. Beside him, his mother was quiet, stunned into silence.
Rakhulbi felt a stab of vicious anger directed at her, at her weakness, but that only made the shameful tears come harder. He hid the feelings deep away with a hard sniff, swearing he’d never again cry for such things. Then there was nothing to do but sit and wait for the dread-time to pass…
“You don’t have to fight for me,” came his mother’s voice suddenly, and she placed a hand on his back, rubbing with all the soothing she could manage.
Rakhulbi pulled away, anger flaring when the shame and fear could not. “He shouldn’t treat you like that. This isn’t right!”
“Very little in this life is right or fair, dear one,” said his mother with a soft, defeated sigh. Rakhulbi couldn’t bear to look at her, rising abruptly and shoving his way from the yurt. He didn’t know where he was going, barely cared when the other warriors saw his tear-stricken face. He only grabbed his spear and fled deep into the Ashlands.
Hours and miles away, sitting on the lip of the old foyada, the angry teenager couldn’t decide who he was more angry with: the callous traders seeking their night-time pleasures, or his mother, for letting it all happen. The anger covered his pain, made him feel strong, when deep inside he felt like a bleeding wound that could never be staunched…
Some memories cut as sharp as glass, clear and cold and pain long-lasting. Then with a suddeness and viciousness, they dragged him under their heavy waters, until he wasn’t sure what was up and what was down.
This memory was only shreds, and Drai realized dimly it was not just the memory, but the death throes of his mind, as Mephala’s servant latched onto his soul and attempted to rip it away. Images and feelings assaulted Drai from all sides, the images of his mother and other painful memories played out for him over and over. These were nightmares that he could never wake up from, for these had once happened. This was real.
He had the sense of greater movement in the spirits all around him, the conduits of ghostly power deepening and darkening, of his own being washed to a brink of a great void by the power of their struggle. That way lay madness, nothingness, and Drai writhed and clung helplessly to the edge.
Where was he? Who am I? Thoughts flickered wildly; he was being strong-armed under like a weak little boy losing a wrestling match against a much older foe. The weak little boy he still was, under all the pride and layers of defenses he had built up over the years, was failing him yet again…
“…fire in your belly…!”
The farseer had been wrong, Drai suddenly realized, as he was flung out over the chasm and began to flutter away down it like a leaf at the mercy of a gale. With a vague pain he could feel pieces of himself whipping off into the nether, feeding some great entity up top the rift.
Of that which I have none.
What are you doing, Rakhulbi! Fight!
“The fire! Use it, child!“
It was Delmadryn’s voice, not the farseer’s. He had tracked the amulet after all, and watching over the battle, though his ability to help was constrained by the spaces between them.
With the last shreds of his consciousness, Drai gripped the amulet between his fingers and poured all his magicka into it. The thing only needed one prod in the right place, a spear of flame, and it shattered in his hands.
The being on top the rift screeched in sudden dismay and confusion. Drai grimaced a grin, but he was no longer thinking of the creature. Falling under the weight of the spiritual assault, he was looking at his mother. Her face was as clear as the day he first realized why she took men to her tent.
“I can now say I hate you,” he said to her, before the memory tore away.
The being on the rift screeched once more, but it was lost, as darkness, sweet enveloping darkness, closed over him. It blocked out the world, blocked out thought and memory, as the worries about the tribe, about his mother, about Nanna and the Whirling School were all flushed away…
He came to rest somewhere at the bottom of the rift in darkness and silence. But he quickly realized he was not alone. Also in that darkness was a weak little boy.
Drai looked at him, recognized him, and reviled the thought. He looked away.
“I can now say I wish I were dead…” And perhaps he soon would be.
But Rakhulbi, instead of fading away, looked up at him instead. Nowhere to hide or to run, Drai flinched under the little boy’s gaze.
But Rakhubi was nonjudgmental. He spoke only a few words, and Drai found himself finishing the thought for him.
“But we aren’t, are we…?”