Drai came awake to the pain in his shoulders. His arms were still chained to the stone wall behind him, cuffs digging into his wrists as he leaned on them, knees hanging a few inches from the floor. He stared at the tiles as he awkwardly clambered back to his feet, wondering how he had managed to sleep in the uncomfortable position.
Wondering, but grateful. He had had no dreams that night.
Drai rolled his shoulders as much as the manacles would allow them, rubbing them against the wall one by one when he couldn’t reach back to massage them. Someone had left a husk of bread and cup of water just inside the bars, and he stretched to bat the items closer with his feet. Transferring them from the floor to his mouth proved too difficult though, and Drai returned to hanging in silence, frowning down at them.
Somebody laughed. Drai jerked up his head and looked about. The prison cells remained lit only by a torch near the stair well, leaving many dancing shadows in between the bars and pillars of the underground room. He thought he saw something flitting just beyond his cell.
“Who’s there?” he called out tentatively.
The person laughed again, and he didn’t need her to step into the light for Drai to be able to recognize the farseer. Relief flooded through him.
“Farseer! How did you get down here?”
“Better question is how you did!” the farseer answered. The old Dunmer came up to the bars, smiling in that enigmatic, batty-old-lady way. “I told you to grow a fire in your belly, little wanderer. And what do you do? Run away the first chance you get!”
“I will not be used as some Daedroth’s pawn,” Drai growled in return, and he glanced at the floorboards above them, where light leaked through the cracks. “You’re in danger here, farseer. If the Mephalans want my wisdom, they will certainly want yours.”
“Oh, tish tosh!” cried the farseer. “I made deals with the Daedra long ago, but not anymore! Crazy stuff, that. Gets you into trouble. But just as much trouble comes from resisting them when they take an interest in you. What are you going to do about it now, half-savage, that Zeketah has you in her clutches?”
“I don’t know.”
“If I knew better, you have water in that gut of yours instead of steel!” The farseer rapped the bars, and Drai winced at the loud clang they made. “Answer me proper now, boy. You’ve been captured by the Tengri. You will be slain if you don’t submit to ol’ Zeketah. And you expect the rest of them to just prance down here throwing butterflies over their shoulder, and unlock your chains if you tell them you don’t know what you know?”
“Just help me, please!” Drai snapped in frustration. He heard sudden footsteps creaking on the floorboards above them, and lowered his voice. “No more riddles today, farseer. I don’t know how you got in here, but you did, which means you can get me out.”
“No,” said the farseer. Her tone was petulant, but the crazy look in her eyes had vanished, replaced by sadness.
“You know Alteration!” Drai hissed. “Unlock the door!”
“My dear student,” said the farseer slowly, and she drew back from the bars. “The time is long past for the ghosts of the Urshilaku to be shielding you. If you are to be Tengri, then Tengri you must be. I know you have never accepted your gifts, but your tribe needs their farseer now more than ever.”
The footsteps were on the stairs. The torchlight made the guard appear as a shadow, but it would not be long before he noticed there were two shadows in the prison cell instead of just the one.
“Release me now!” Drai hissed to the farseer. “He will catch you if you don’t!”
“Who the fetch are you talking to?” growled the guard, walking closer.
But the farseer only smiled at Drai with a soft, sad smile. Drai kept his eyes on her, willing her to move, to cast a spell, to do something before the guard got to her. But she remained standing still, her hair tugging at their braids as if caught in an invisible wind, her arms wrapped tight in her shawl to ward away the cold…
“There’s no one there,” came the rough voice of the guard, as he came to stand right besides the farseer. “Hallucinating again, Healer?”
Warding away the cold of a world she did not belong in… Drai abruptly shoved back against the wall of his cell, covering his face with his hands. He wondered how he had never noticed it before.
The guard checked the lock, his hand groping through the farseer weirdly, as if she wasn’t there. The farseer then spoke, but it was just as much in Drai’s head this time as it was echoing in the room around him.
“The ancestors have never left you, Rakhulbi. And we never will. But life is for the living, not the products of dreams.”
She faded from his sight. Never noticing a thing, the guard tugged the locked door handle in satisfaction, leered at Drai through the bars, then walked back up the stairs.
Drai stared after him, feeling as numb as the day he had walked out of the Urshilaku tribe, walked away from his old life.
But this time, he did not feel abandoned, as he had then. Slowly, he grit his teeth in determination. He had his answer for Zeketah.