Lives of the Saints

Tengri Burns

Years earlier…

Deshaan had many smells. Scents clung to the damp, lingering in a way they didn’t linger in Hammerfell. A jaunt into the wilderness surrounding the cities was more refreshing to Shizzal now, where heavy scents of sweat and refuse were replaced by the earthier scents of flowers and soil.

The scent of death was then that much more shocking when it struck his nostrils.

Shizzal had cantered slowly up the hill to the Tengri camp, not wanting to alarm the sentries he knew would be posted along the path. No challenges had come, and Shizzal had begun to feel uneasy. Ashlanders moved campsites frequently he knew, especially along the fronts they skirmished with the House Dunmer. But there was something more to this, tugging at the edges of his nerves.

He crested the hill, expecting to see yurts dotting the brush and Dunmer moving about their daily tasks below, glancing up at him with the hardened suspicion common to all homeland Dunmer. He had expected to see Drai — though he knew the Ashlander hated to remain in one place for very long — sitting by his fire and doing whatever he did when he went into one of his trances. Shizzal had been looking forward to catching up with his old friend.

Instead, the camp had been deserted. A dream-catcher, feathers tattered and webbing ripped, swung drunkenly back and forth in the lonely wind. The ground all around was torn up and muddy; the yurts reduced to black poles and scraps of hide.

Shizzal had peeked into one of the yurts that was still somewhat intact, and quickly reeled out again, choking on the fumes of rotted flesh. He grabbed a tent pole to steady himself, and his hand came away black with damp soot. The scent of death clung to him, stirred up by everything he touched.

Shizzal moved steadily to the shrine of Mephala, checking the burned-out yurts as he went, heart thudding like a rock tapping his ribs. The stone altar had been defaced, the ritual implements cast down and broken around it. A banner depicting the Three’s initials had been planted in a prominent position, where the farseer had once stood to conduct Mephala’s rites. Its cloth was wet, spotted with mildew around the edges. The banner had been here for many days, perhaps an entire month.

Justice for the Temple mer and his daughter, Shizzal realized. He felt glad for her sake, but on looking back at the massacred camp, he began to wonder what the point had been.

He spent a few more hours looking through the camp, looking for a sign of someone he knew, for any survivors at all. He found nothing. Shizzal finally mounted his horse and rode slowly back to Ebonheart, head bowed against a steady drizzle.

The broken dream-catcher hung from his saddle. He did not look back at the camp.

He never returned.

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