Drai Has Doubts

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… Continue reading “Drai Has Doubts”

Drai Dreams

Unfortunately we are reaching the part in this story where much of the plot was carried out through ingame events I didn’t save any writing from. In summary, Zeketah was given a vision of the Ebony Blade, an artifact of Mephala, and demanded Drai scry out its location for her. Frightened of how she might use the Blade, Drai reached out to his allies to set up an ambush for her. In the original plot, these were people from Goldleaf Acquisitions, not Shizzal’s Whirling School, but for the sake of condensing this plotline, I’ve re-geared the allies to come from the latter organization instead.

The relationship between Taargus and Nanna was another side-plot. Despite the Mephalan cult’s reputation for being cold-blooded killers, these two characters fell into true love. Though Taargus bullied Drai frequently, Nanna was closer to him, and out of all the cultists, these two were the only ones Drai wanted to spare from Zeketah’s machinations, so he feels some guilt for their getting caught in the ambush meant for Zeketah.

I forget who Nerien’eth was; I want to say it had something to do with Taargus’ backstory: either a past friend he had accidentally killed, or Taargus’ real name when he had been living with House Dunmer. I could be totally wrong, of course.

Author’s Note

Drai dreamed… Continue reading “Drai Dreams”

Drai Enacts a Plan

Getting the ashes for his ritual had been the easy part. Steeling himself to give in to the Sight’s premonitions proved much more difficult. And always, the cult was watching him, asking why he delayed with their plans.

Drai sat cross-legged, in a little clearing between two spurs of the ashy mountains dividing Deshaan and the Stonefalls. Even up here, Drai was aware of the cult’s lurking eyes. What acrobatics the trailing cultist had to make to follow him up here while also keeping out of sight, Drai couldn’t imagine. But he chewed more over the fact there was a follower at all, rather than how they managed it. The hate and distrust growing in Tengri, in the Ashlanders’ faces when they looked upon him, were jarring to him. Stabs of fear shot through him several times a day, and for once he did not dream, being unable to reach the deep sleep it required.

He wondered how he could get out of this one; how he could make it up to Zeketah and the rest of the cult. It occurred to him they would hate and distrust him no matter what he did. Continue reading “Drai Enacts a Plan”

Drai and Shizzal Conspire

Light flickered from the top of the hill overlooking the Vale for many hours, like a second sunset tucked under the arm of the mountain. There was a shrine up there, so the Ashlanders told Shizzal, but he was not allowed to go look at it, and they wouldn’t tell him who it was to. It was a few hours after sunset when the participants of the ritual came back down, walking as mere shadows in the night, for none of them had brought torches.

They filtered out into the camp, headed for their individual yurts. All except one, who paused on the lip of a bank just outside the encampment. Continue reading “Drai and Shizzal Conspire”

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.

Shizzal and Drai Declare Their Allegiances

The Dunmer moved slowly, as if stiff and sore, but proudly, as if just come from a fiercely fought battle. He made his way slowly up the long winding guar trail to the Tengri camp, and no Ashlander either called out to him in friendly greeting or challenged his presence. Like a pariah, yet not, Shizzal thought. Continue reading “Shizzal and Drai Declare Their Allegiances”

Drai Sees Another Ghost

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. Continue reading “Drai Sees Another Ghost”

Shizzal Prays

The candles in their alcoves flickered quietly as the robed figure swept them by. Shizzal cursed and slowed his stride, wishing again for his soft leathers that left no trace of his passing, auditory or visual.

“You are up late this night, brother,” remarked the Ordinator on night duty as he passed him.

“So are you,” said Shizzal lightly, and continued down to the Triolith. He felt the Ordinator’s eyes on his back, but after a few moments, the Dunmer moved on along his beat. There was at least one advantage to the robes, Shizzal thought. They could more easily conceal the person inside. Continue reading “Shizzal Prays”

The Bridge

Shizzal’s hands shook as he descended the steps of Iliath. The young Dunmer wanted to punch something. He also wanted to find a deep well to hide in. What he ended up doing instead was pacing, up and down the stairs, ’round and ’round the Ordinator training field, until his feet were sore and his mind no less calmer than before.

Shizzal wasn’t exactly angry. It was one of several emotions swirling inside, including embarrassment and a kind of reckless excitement he usually got before taking on a major heist. He hadn’t dared challenge Tidras up front of the other priests (he wasn’t sure he dared challenge him ever, if he was being honest with himself), but he wasn’t about to back down so easily, either.

Ashlanders had been harrying the outer villages, and the Temple’s Ordinators had been called to respond. Shizzal had offered to help, on account of his experience with the sword and with Ashlanders, but Tidras had turned him away as useless. The priests had no place in combat, he maintained, and Shizzal would be at best a hindrance, and at worst, a heretic.

Tidras seemed to love using that word. Continue reading “The Bridge”