Chasing Death: Chapter 5, The Investigation

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    I’m going to kill him, club him to death. Shove his head up his nose and I don't fucking care it's not possible! What the fuck was he thinking? Decimus roughly slammed the door to the small quarters in the dungeon where Ronnie was waiting for him. The Mer didn’t even flinch at the sound.  His armor and gear had been returned to him, but The Elf was still only in his trousers, stooped over a washbasin and Decimus rolled his eyes. He was washing, his long hair crudely bound.  Then he nearly stopped when he saw the cuts and bruises on the Altmer’s pale body, but instead, it fueled Decimus. The Mer needed to learn.

     

    “I need to speak with you.” He snapped.

     

    The Mer stopped his washing, grabbed a cloth to wipe his hands and then faced Decimus, rising to his full height. “Very well.”

     

    The Imperial walked right up the older Altmer, raising his eyebrows in sarcasm. “Oh well thank you for bestowing upon me the grace of your attention.” They were face to face now and Decimus scowled when he - fuck! - was forced to look up. Fucking big and stupid, yeah, stupid for all your smarts, very stupid.  Decimus pointed with his finger at Äelberon and then he poked him in the forehead with it, pushing the Altmer’s head slightly backwards. The Mer narrowed his eyes in annoyance, but Decimus could care less. “Next time, try to use that clever head of yours, you idiot,” the Imperial growled and tapped the lined forehead a few times with that very finger to make his point. Ronnie angrily shoved the finger aside in a move that definitely pushed it. Getting you angry, eh Knife Ears?  I can hold my own against you, Decimus responded with hard shove with his palm at the Mer’s chest. The action didn’t quite yield the effect he wanted. Granted, pushing Ronnie was like pushing a wall and the Mer only looked at where Decimus had pushed him.

     

    “Think before you act.” Decimus started and the dragon eyes locked with his, but he wasn’t intimidated. He was mad and frustrated, but most of all, he had been worried. Ronnie nearly got himself killed. The Jarl could have sent him to his death. “Maybe in Summerset what you did would’ve been a perfectly fine thing to do and everyone would clap in joy, but not fucking here! This is Skyrim for fuck's sake! You see a vampire and suddenly you can't think straight!”

     

    The Mer only snorted and crossed his arms over his powerful chest. “Says a man who cannot think straight whenever he sees a fine arse. Oh, I am sorry, it does not even need to be fine, just an arse.”

     

    “Shut up!” Decimus grunted and shook his head, rubbing his temples, turning his back to Äelberon to take a few much-needed steps away. He just needed to walk, because otherwise he would have clubbed the Altmer to death. Or something… He turned and walked back to Äelberon, getting up close into the Mer’s space and he snarled. “Maybe for you the world is all black and white, but it fucking isn't, you moron! You can't go all ‘Auri-El’s might’  every time you see evil. There are laws of men and sometimes those come before the laws of fucking gods! Not black and white, just all shades of grey.” He could feel the heat of anger from the Mer’s cheeks and Ronnie opened his mouth. Decimus frowned, stopping him with a raised finger before he could speak. You’re going to listen this time. “We could have handled it differently, found proof of what Stentor was. All you had to do was just keep quiet and not go berserker! You nearly got us all arrested for fuck's sake!”

     

    “What would you have me do, Decimus? The evil has to be battled when it is revealed-”

     

    “Evil my fucking arse!” the Imperial exploded, gritting his teeth. So many years you're walking Tamriel and yet you still don't understand. “Ronnie, It's not all clear as day and night. If you see a man drowning, what do you do? You jump in the water and save him, am I right? But what if you knew the man was a serial killer? A necromancer? You would hand him to authorities after you saved him? But let me ask you this. Wouldn't it be better to just let the man drown?” Decimus hand traced his bald head and he narrowed his eyes, leaning closer to Äelberon. “And what about the fucking Companions, eh? Bunch of werewolves and yet you stayed your blade then. You made a compromise. That's what this fucking speech is about. Compromises. Sometimes you just have to shut up and speak only when it matters, if you follow me. Sometimes doing nothing is doing more. You make a compromise and wait for your moment. Not go and fucking execute a court's wizard in front of the court!”

     

    For a moment, Decimus thought the Mer would argue back or even hit him, but he only turned around and resumed washing at the basin. “You are correct. I will be ready in a few moments to begin the investigation.” The tone was flatter than a slab of marble and the face as the Mer washed it of the dried blood and warpaint was now unreadable.

     

    Decimus threw up his arms and released an exhausted growl that made the Mer look up. “You drive me fucking nuts! Dammit, don’t do that!”

     

    He still faced the washbasin. “Do not do what, Decimus?”

     

    “I nearly talk my fucking mouth off and all you have to say is ‘You are correct’? Come the fuck on, Ronnie, don’t do that, don’t do what you do.”

     

    “And what is it that I do?”

     

    Decimus slapped his palm to his forehead in exasperation, hating the Mer’s distant tone. It was precisely what Decimus didn’t want. He wanted Ronnie to question, to argue back so they could hash it out, but no, the Mer opted instead to retreat into his own world, building the wall up brick by brick. Say nothing and take it. You came in too strong, Old Blade, and now he won’t even talk. He’ll do his job for the rest of this shit and not say two words to you… Damn. He sighed and leaned against a wall, rubbing his eyebrows. Just fucking lovely.  “You alright?” The Imperial asked, even though he still felt the blood boiling in his veins. But it was the right thing to do. If he didn't want to talk, he at least needed a friend and Decimus could live with that. Barely...

     

    “I am fine.” The tone was still distant, clipped.

     

    “Yeah, and I want to fuck Falk Firebeard.” Decimus sneered.  

     

    The Mer couldn’t resist a chuckle which made him then wince when his lip freshly split. “Shit.” He cursed. “The rings were definitely a bloody stupid idea, but she smiled so when I put them on.” He smirked. “Some dashing cub you are now, old Mer... .” The Mer’s hand then glowed a little as he raised it to heal his lip, followed by his nose and left brow. “I want to open the Temple first.” He began after rinsing his face with cold water a final time. The war paint was now completely gone, revealing Ronnie’s pale lined face, with all its hollows and hard lines, and Decimus saw the dark circles while the Elf dried his face with the cloth, the drained features, the lack of color. He had not slept a wink in that cell. “Then we should take the samples to the Alchemist. I will then compare my notes with Brother Styrr. And afterwards, we will make our recommendations to the court. Hopefully, they will not take forever to assemble again.” He continued.

     

    “I had liked the rings.” Volunteered Decimus, moving from the wall to rest his arse at the edge of a table. ‘So Tilma, eh? Aye, figures. She loves dressing up her ‘favorite, handsomest cub’. I remember that fine shirt she made you for your birthday. All indigo silk with that silver thread trim. Real nice. You wear it yet?” But the Mer was closed off again, throwing on his simple woolen shirt before reaching for his brigandine. “Ronnie?” He finally asked after a few moments.

     

    “What? What, Decimus?” He finally answered as he fastened his brigandine. “You want me to argue with you? Is that it?” He raised his eyebrows. “You want me to say something? Well, you are correct. I should not have killed Mage Stentor. The Jarl pointed that out already, my arrest clearly indicated to me that perhaps my idea was not sound. I also acted against you, the person who technically hired me to complete a job. I put you and Belrand in danger with my recklessness.” He then looked very old and he lowered his head. “I have dishonored you and I have dishonored myself.”

     

    And now, of course, Ronnie goes in the completely opposite direction, Decimus just sighed, eyeing his friend. “Ronnie you haven’t dishonored anybody, you just-”

     

    “Murdered someone.” He shook his head, donning his cloak and securing his weapons. “Let us work, friend.”

     

    “Load of horseshit,” Decimus protested. “Something’s bubbling just at the surface with you and I don’t like it.”

     

    “Decimus, I was wrong.” The tone was now exasperated and still sad to the Imperial. “What else do you want me to say? I feel terrible and I did  not sleep the entire night in that cell, praying that what I did would not result in you being punished. No, not about killing that Garlythi, I do not bloody care about that, she can rot, but I care what you think of me and I have disappointed you.”

     

    “Ron--”

     

    A guard stopped Decimus, rushing into the room. “Merotim?”

     

    “What?” The Imperial barked, whipping his head around to face the Nord.

     

    “They are waiting at the Temple.”

     

    The Altmer nodded. “We will be--” He then stopped and bent his head. “Sir Merotim.” He said quietly, acknowledging Decimus with a small nod and avoiding eye contact.

     

    Ah shit, Decimus groaned. It was going to be that way. The whole time, only “yes, Sir Merotim” or “Of course, Sir Merotim.” from his friend.  He is going to shut his trap and do exactly what you tell him to do because now he thinks he’s dishonored you and if he could fix it by sleeping on a bed of needles for a hundred years, he bloody would. Fuck you, Auri-El. I hate you for making my friend’s life miserable.

     

    “Yeah, we’ll be out.” The Imperial sighed. “Give us a second.” The guard stepped out of the room and Decimus then approached the Altmer again. “You’re not going to tell me what’s eating you, are you?”

     

    “No.”

     

    “It’s gotta be pretty bad if you’re not telling the old blade.”

     

    “I will be alright. I am not angry at you, Dec. I am angry at myself, but it will pass.” the Mer then sighed and rested his hand on Decimus’ shoulder. “I have not seen you in two months, my dear friend, I do not want to spend the entire time fighting.”

     

    The Imperial rested his hand on the hand on his shoulder and nodded. “Now that’s an argument I can’t win.”  He gave the hand a sound slap and grinned at the Mer. “Let’s go fuck up that Temple.”

     

    The Altmer made a sour face and rolled his eyes. “Auri-El help me, I am going to cleanse a city with a known blasphemer...”

     

    “But who else would buy you that bottle of milk afterwards? Mmm, mmm, mmm, just delicious.”

     

    The Mer’s laugh lines creased as they walked out of the room.

    “What is it?” Decimus asked, his eyes on the Altmer who had pressed his face against the sealed door to the Temple of the Divines, listening or feeling, Decimus wasn’t sure. He left that shit up to Ronnie. Well,  he was an Old Mary, if there was shit in there, he could probably hear them scuttling about too, so it wasn’t the “Auri-El coursing through his veins” shit, but honest “He’s got knife-ears and you don’t” shit.  He leaned closer to the Mer. “And no more ‘Sir Merotim’ bullshit, you tell me straight.”

     

    The red-orange eyes found Decimus’ and the Imperial could see the blaze in them under the furrowed brow, how they seemed to burn through him. The grim Altmer was definitely feeling something behind that door. The Priest of Auri-El whispered. “Why did they seal the doors, Dec?”

     

    “Fucked if I know.” He spit. “You didn’t go in there, you didn’t see.” The Imperial grumbled, blinking as the grotesque images from the Temple flashed through his mind. “They were overwhelmed by it. And while I’ve seen some heavy shit in my life, you know I don’t sanctify shit.” The Mer closed his eyes and Decimus saw the corner of his mouth twitch which made his lips curl in a smile. “Got an image didn’t you? See, this is why we have fun. You are so fucking literal sometimes.”

     

    “We need to focus on this and not me literally picturing you blessing shit.” The Mer then got that look on his face that he got when he feels sorry for something. Empathy, you dumb shit, that’s the word. “They should have prepared the bodies, Dec. Sanctified the remains and flooded the Temple with sunlight.”  

     

    “Shit.” The Imperial spit. “There’s something in there, isn’t there?” He asked.

     

    “Yes.” the Mer nodded, blowing a gust of air through his nostrils and Decimus could see the faint charge of magicks appear on his hands. Sun magicks.

     

    “Easy, old Mer.” Decimus warned.

     

    “I know. I know.” He took a deep breath. “But my heart just will not stop its pounding. It feels like it will burst through my chest it is so hard. And it will not stop until the threat is over.”

     

    “Is there something wrong, Goldpact Knight?” Asked Captain Aldis from a short distance away. He was standing with Styrr, Belrand and a small gathering of guards. Ronnie made good on his plans, immediately heading straight for the Temple of the Divines. At first there were protests, but a quick look from Decimus and a stern reminder set them straight. The Albino was under his employ and he was to be unimpeded in his investigation. His eyes then found a black-robed figure standing like a statue next to Captain Aldis, his pale gold-yell-fucking ugly eyes- narrow in scrutiny. Fucking Thalmor were watching too.  Decimus spit again and then glared at the crowd.

     

    “No!” Barked the Imperial. “Just consulting with my Squire here.” He faced the Mer again. “You’re making them a bit nervous. What’s in there?” The Imperial asked next. “Because I know for a fact none of them were moving when I was inside that temple.”  

     

    “Vampires...” The Mer growled, baring his teeth.

     

    The fuck? His eyes widened. “You sure?”

     

    “Yes.”  

     

    “How?” he asked and  Ronnie opened his mouth, but then Decimus grabbed his shoulder. “Wait. Let’s step away from the door and talk about what we want to do.” The Imperial nodded, leading the Mer away. He felt a bit of resistance, but the Mer followed.  

     

    “I want to bathe them with Auri-El’s light and impale them with silver, but...” He clenched his teeth as he spoke and Decimus caught himself chuckling. “What?” The Mer asked, frowning.

     

    “You are definitely trying.”  Decimus smirked, then he stopped. “Wait. Them?” The Imperial repeated.

     

    “Like I said, Sir Merotim.” He started, again assuming the role of squire as they approached the crowd. He doubted the Thalmor was fooled. Fuck, they probably know exactly who he is, but for now, they are playing along, even providing assistance. One actually stepped up under the robed figure’s insistence - has to be that fucker in charge of the Headquarters here - and was helping the Alchemist prepare for the work Ronnie would be sending their way.  Decimus didn’t know what to think on that. Just prepare yourself for a potential shitstorm when we finish with this. “Tha bodies should’ve been sanctified.” The Goldpact heard Ronnie continue, intensifying his Dusken accent. “It’s me suspicion that three souls ‘ave now been lost ta Coldharbour that dinna ‘ave ta be.”

     

    Decimus swallowed while Ronnie glanced at the gathered crowd, his prior hardness leaving him. “Wait, they were dead. I saw them with my own eyes. They were dead, old Mer. There was nothing left to make vampires out of.”

     

    “I don’t doubt that that is what ya saw, Sir Merotim.  At any rate, do we really want them ta see what’s become of their former ‘igh priest?”

     

    Shit shit shit. Decimus frowned, remembering the bodies, how they had died. “Belrand!” He then called, watching how the spellsword made his way quickly.

     

    “What?” The Nord asked then he saw Äelberon. “Shit. What’s wrong?”

     

    Decimus eyed the crowd again. “We need to clear the Temple.” he said quietly.

     

    “But there’s just the bodies in there...” Belrand’s face changed when Decimus and Äelberon shifted position. “Ah, shit.” The Nord spellsword cursed, kicking a bit at the stone floor. “Ysmir’s Beard. They can’t see this.”

     

    “Aye.” The Imperial nodded.

     

    “Sir Merotim?” The Altmer started. “One more thing. More than likely, if they be who I’m suspectin’ they are, they’re fledgling and they’ll be starved. Meanin’ no will, savin’ the lust for blood burnin’ their brains. Like Draugr on skooma. Be prepared.”

     

    “Yeah.” Decimus spit. He then gestured with his head towards the Temple door. “Alright, Belrand, you heard the Albino, open the door. We prepare for whatever comes out.”

     

    “Asshole.” The Nord grumbled, striding towards the door. Decimus readied his silver sword and he nodded at the Altmer, who began charging magicks.

     

    “Wait!” Decimus heard the Priest of Arkay call out from the crowd. “What is this? What? I don’t understand. What is happening? Why are you brandishing weapons?” His voice was getting closer and the Goldpact could hear the priest’s hurried footsteps.

     

    “Styrr!” Captain Aldis called and Decimus growled, now hearing the Captain’s footsteps.

     

    Äelberon’s eyes shifted to the Nord whose hand was ready to push open the door. “Belrand, open the door so I can go inside, quickly, please.”

     

    “Do it, Belrand, now!” Decimus urged and he watched Belrand push the door open. The Altmer was about to slip inside, from his hand appearing a warm white light and his voice grew terribly low.

     

    “Auri-El, Adonai, may the light of your servant cast out the darkness from the shadows of Coldharbour…”

     

    Loud Shrieks came from within the Temple and Decimus saw how the guard’s were now murmuring. The Thalmor’s nostrils flared. Äelberon’s face was dark, the eyes focused on the void, and the glow from his hands began to spread.

     

    “No, what is this? I don’t understand.” The priest of Arkay cried. “This is a temple, we don’t need--”

     

    A form rushed out of the Temple, screaming bloody Oblivion, and the light from the Elf’s hand flickered away, the Mer caught off guard.

     

    Shit shit shit! Decimus’ eyes widened. It was the Acolyte, the girl. She bolted from the Temple door like a crazy animal, her skin grey and bloated from days of rot, nearly knocking Belrand backwards  Her arms were flailing wildly while she ran, still fucking broken, and the look from her glowing red eyes was… unbelievable.

     

    “Oh gods! Silana! No!”

     

    It heard the priest of Arkay wail his words and began running at full speed, her skin beginning to char and smoke from the sunlight, bent on one thing. The priest’s blood. Fuck! He swung with his sword to stop her, but she moved too quickly, running past him.

     

    “Ne! Ge av Molag Bal! Ne!” Cried the Altmer and she stopped dead in her tracks, whirling around to see the Mer before her, his hand raised in what looked like a benediction or a curse, Decimus couldn’t tell, the golden white light returning. The priest in a brigandine, the priest with weapons.  

     

    She snarled and Decimus watched her snap her neck, breaking it yet again, the now black blood oozing from her wounds, the carvings all over her body. It was no longer a human, but a creature, a bloodfiend.

     

    “Come for me then.” The Mer challenged, flashing his magicks at the creature like it was an irresistible toy, but his eyes briefly shifted towards Decimus and the Imperial nodded, their years fighting together enabling him to understand. Alright, distraction ploy. Let the pretty Shiny Mer attract all the attention and I’ll sneak from behind. Too many people were involved and Ronnie wanted the creature’s attention solely on him and Decimus. He understood. If that creature bolted into the crowd, a small scratch, a nip was all it took for infection to set in and the Altmer priest was more resistant and the fucking Thalmor was too close to the others to make him a worthwhile distraction. Decimus inched towards it, but not before he gestured to Belrand to grab Styrr and get him away. Berland led the priest away, but he also kept his eyes on the door and Decimus hoped that the rest were still tied up in their same positions, only to notice that it was shut. Damn, she shut the fucking door with the force of her run. Or something else shut it. Decimus shook his head and kept his eyes on her. It, not her. It continued, moving towards Äelberon, drawn to the sound of his voice. Not even human movements, but like an unnatural animal that wanted to destroy.

     

    “Ya think I’m afraid of ya, demon?!” Äelberon began as he slowly circled to give Decimus the advantage, extending his hands outward, further goading the creature to attack. “Ya come here and show me what ya can do, eh? Yer master didna give ya the teeth ta even cut through me withered old ‘ide.”

     

    It hissed in response and that only fueled Ronnie.

     

    “COME ON!” He suddenly bellowed, his blood getting hot, his eye blazing. “Show me what ya got!”  She uttered a cry and hurled herself at Äelberon, her limbs a blur of motion. Fuck!  Decimus swung his sword just as the beast tackled Ronnie to the ground, seeing a glimmer of silver appear out of nowhere from the Mer’s back as he fell.   

     

    No one dared breathe for a few moments, even the Thalmor’s face was a good shade paler. The bloodfiend’s head lay some distance away and Ronnie was flat on his back, his breathing heavy, black blood splattered upon his brigandine. Decimus ran, leaned over him and the old Mer looked up, blinking against the sunlight. He was fine.

     

    “Capt’in Aldis!”  The Mer barked between breaths, still flat on his back, but now he shoved the body of the Acolyte unceremoniously off his chest, a Torvalian dagger embedded deep in her heart. Thank you, Bumph, for bringing those back to him before you found Good Death, Decimus released a gust of air.

     

    “Yes?”

     

    “‘Ave yer men set ta work on a pyre.” He hoarsely commanded from his position. “I want it lined with sprigs of garlic, canis root, and frost mirriam. But first take the ‘ead and the body to the ‘all of the Dead.”

     

    “We don’t burn the body?” The Captain questioned.

     

    “No, not yet. I need ta see ‘er first. I’ll need ta examine all the bodies, murder victims too.” His face grew stern. “Then we burn--”

     

    “But they are laid to rest!  It is blasphemy--”  

     

    “Ya want yer city cleansed or not?!” The Altmer yelled, but then he stopped, taking a deep breath to compose himself, and he waited.

     

    Fuck.

     

    “You heard him.” Decimus muttered, growing a little annoyed with Ronnie. “In fact, just do whatever my devoted squire says. I speak through him. He is my big, fat ugly mouth.” He then growled at the Mer under his breath and nudged the shoulder with his boot for good measure. “There, now you can’t be all ‘Sir Merotiming’ me all the fucking time, annoying as Oblivion.” He saw the corner of the Elf’s mouth twitch.

     

    “‘All of the Dead. Then await Sir Merotim’s further instructions.”  The Mer repeated and Decimus kicked the shoulder again.  

     

    “You have your orders, men.” The Captain spoke solemnly, starting to herd his men to the stockpiles of wood.

     

    The Thalmor nodded slowly to the Captain. “I will take my leave and check on my agent at Morrard’s. We will be prepared when you bring your materials for analysis, Squire Rovaniik.”  For an instant, Decimus saw a flicker of something behind the Thalmor’s eyes. Decimus did a double-take and was about to open his mouth when he felt a fist pound repeatedly on the tip of his boot to get his attention. Right on the part of the foot where his boot pinched at his big toe. And he looked down.

     

    A pair of red-orange eyes found Decimus and he could have sworn there was a twinkle in them. Aye, you’re in your element now, aren’t you? And you were fucking right. Again. Fuck. Aye, we’re going to need that stupid, brilliant brain of yours.  “Sir Merotim?”

     

    The Imperial shook his head and chuckled.  “What do you want now, you old fucker of a squire?”

     

    “Ready to sanctify shit?” He asked with a wink that came out more like a squint because the sun was still in his bloody eye and Decimus offered his hand to help the Mer get up.

     

    “Aye, old Priest.” Decimus nodded, before shooting a look at the crowd. “I don’t think they are though.”

     

    The Mer didn’t even bother wiping the blood from his brigandine when he stood, he only scowled at the crowd and then started walking briskly to the Temple. “I don’t care. This is what wavin’ incense like a bunch o’ scared pussies has gotten ‘em.” He growled. “We go in, Dec, neck deep in the unholy shit if we ‘ave to, but as Auri-El is me witness, this Temple will see Sundas service again.”

     

    “You sure that’s a good thing?” Decimus asked with raised eyebrows, knowing full-well he was baiting the old Fart.

     

    “Gods Above! Y’are a little sinner.” The Mer snorted, but then he chortled and a bear paw found Decimus’ shoulder, giving it a good shake as they walked. They were fine, though Decimus suspected that Ronnie was still hiding something. You’ll tell me eventually, probably some shit I can’t handle right now and he spit at the thought, which got old Ronnie rolling his eyes. They were soon joined by Belrand who was heading to the door, only for the Mer to intercept first with a leisurely jog. The heavy doors then yielded to his powerful arms, flinging wide open with a metallic groan, and the dark decay of the Temple was suddenly flooded by the light of the morning sun and her crisp air. And the old Fart walked without fear right into that, his back straight, hands behind his back as if he was on his way to deliver a lecture at the Bard’s College. Belrand was close behind and Decimus noticed that the Nord was now seeing the Mer in a new light. Yeah, friend, that old Mer is crazy as fuck, but you will not want anybody else by your side for this shit. Before he finally entered, Decimus turned and glanced back a last time time at the still-shocked crowd and grinned.

     

    Get ready to get dirty, you fuckers, this Albino doesn’t mess around.  

    Who would have thought that under all that silver and weaponry dwelled a… priest. Styrr watched the old Mer remove a pot of boiling water from the fire pit and though those strange eyes were focused on his task, they would occasionally glance at Styrr as he sat at his table to the left of the room.

     

    “A wee spot o’ tea will do us both some good.” The Mer commented.  The eyes then settled upon Styrr’s. “I thank ya, Brother Styrr, for yer ‘elp. You’ve made this much easier.”

     

    “I did nothing.” The Nord said softly, wearily resting his head in his hands. “I did nothing save spread incense and pray. If I had known--”

     

    “Ya canna do that to yerself.” The Mer argued back. “Ya didn’t know the darkness that hangs over yer city.”

     

    “I should have.”

     

    “It’s hard ta prepare for that much darkness, Brother.”

     

    The Mer’s expression softened somewhat, but Styrr had felt the bite of Elf’s comments at the Temple. The anger that the city had left those people to turn into monsters when their bodies could have been sanctified beforehand. Bloodfiends, barely vampires. Monsters consumed by their bloodlust.  And your fear had let that happen to them, Styrr.  You, a priest of Arkay, should have known better. So, he sought to redeem himself in the eyes of Akay by providing the Mer with any assistance he needed in the Hall of the Dead.  

     

    “You seemed prepared.”

     

    “I’ve known worse.” He said, his voice showing a measure of quiet grit. Those words made Styrr shudder. Worse than this?

     

    The work had been horribly gruesome, methodical, and at first Styrr wondered if the Mer was really a priest of the Aedra or rather some darker creature, his work was so… Blunt, blunt was the word. The Temple had been cleared, the bodies removed with an efficiency that bordered on sacrilegious. Except that during the process, from deep within the temple, they heard his singing echoing the halls as he performed his bloody task. The delivery of rites, prayers of consecration all through song and chant. In the Old Altmeri language of all things. That had been a surprise as the Goldpact had claimed he was a Nord, but there was not a person there that did not feel the power of the Mer’s rites to Auri-El, whether they believed in that pantheon or not.

     

    Styrr fingered the key in his belt. The Mer had asked about the locked iron gate, honing in on it almost immediately, like how a hound courses a deer. The key to the catacombs, what the priest of Auri-El was going to speak to the court about after they visited Angeline a final time. Auri-El, definitely not a squire, Styrr thought, letting a small gust of air escape his lips. He knew vaguely of that old order, but their reputation for dealing with the dark forces of Tamriel was well-established. He had thought the order extinct, but apparently there were vestiges that still followed the tenets. A tenacious group and the Mer making his tea was no exception.  He was going to ask to be let into the catacombs and Styrr was inclined to let him do just that. It was not a matter of just cleansing the Temple. The darkness that hovered around the city was centered around Potema herself. When she finally died, she had been laid to rest deep inside Solitude’s catacombs and both he and the Altmer priest were of the notion to nip the evil at its source.  

     

    The Mer’s investigation, however, was not only centered upon the Temple and the catacombs. Vials and containers were scattered everywhere in the Hall of the Dead and they were filthy from their efforts, blood and flesh upon their clothes. There was no eating, no drinking, just work. The victims were exhumed from their burial alcoves and laid upon the preparation tables. They were labeled and then the Mer proceeded to examine each of the bodies carefully, making quick notes when he found something and sketching. He removed samples of hair, blood, and tissue and placed them in vials to send to Morrard, one of the Thalmor agents acting as a courier. And then they washed the bodies, preparing them for the pyre. Afterwards, he wrote down the unholy script appearing on the bodies; translating and transcribing it to the Common Tongue.

     

    He knew Daedric script, understood the demonic language, and Styrr didn’t know what to think of that. The Mer was pouring the boiling water into two tankards when the door opened. It was the Goldpact Knight. Clear from his dented armor that he was a former Legionnaire. Yet at the same time, he was friends with the Elf. “Ah, Sir Merotim? What news?”

     

    The Mer looked up from his pouring.

     

    “Pyre’s finally ready.” The Knight started, only to pause when he saw the Altmer. “Fuck, old Mer, you look like shit.” Styrr looked up from the table and then the Imperial cleared his throat. “Sorry, my mouth isn’t exactly connected to my brain sometimes, Brother Styrr.”

     

    “That’s alright, son.” He replied, mustering a tired smile. For all his coarseness, Decimus Merotim had done more for Solitude in the weeks he had been here than most who had lived in the city their entire lives. Styrr was going to allow the foul mouth with open arms.   

     

    “You two about done?” The Imperial asked. The Mer nodded, placing two satchels of canis root to begin their steep in the hot water. The Goldpact’s lips twisted in a smirk and he tilted his head to the side. “Tea? You’re covered in shit and you’re drinking tea?”

     

    “There’s always time for tea, friend.” The Elf smiled and Styrr could not fathom how he managed to remain so cheerful throughout the process. Well, it wasn’t cheerful, but he seemed to not let the darkness overwhelm him. Instead, he seemed to treat the entire process as if he was solving some grand puzzle. For a Mer that was a priest, he conducted himself more like an investigator and it reminded Styrr of the books he used to read as a youth on Investigator Vale. How she would solve murders with logic and reasoning. Some of his favorite childhood reading.

     

    “Just make sure you don’t accidently swallow some of the shit you two have all over you.” Before the Mer brought the tankards over, he brandished a dagger and cut a bulb of garlic from the braid hanging over the fire pit. He peeled the flimsy outer skin, selecting two largish cloves. “What’s that for?” the Imperial asked. The Elf gave him a look and then used the pommel of his blade to crush the cloves upon the stone of the hearth. He then scooped up the crushed garlic with the silver blade and slid a portion of each clove directly into the tea. “Dragonborn’s Balls! As if canis root tea wasn’t bad enough. That’s just gross,” The Imperial spit, making a sour face.

     

    “An angaid of prevention is worth 1000 angaids of cure.” The Mer pointed out, bringing the steeping tankards to the table. He took a seat opposite Styrr.“ Let the oils of the garlic permeate, Brother Styrr.”

     

    “Of course.” The Priest of Arkay nodded, though he didn’t begrudge the Imperial his sour face.

     

    “Give me wine any day.” The Imperial grumbled.

     

    “Did you know that wine is an antiseptic?” The Mer raised his eyebrows.

     

    “No wonder my pipes are always clean.” The Imperial quipped, making the Altmer roar with a sound belly laugh. The Imperial rubbed the back of his neck and faced Styrr. “I officially apologize for my Squire if he’s been spewing this shit at you the entire day.”

     

    Styrr shook his head in dismissal and could not help the smile while he relaxed in his chair, stroking his beard.  Despite the unpleasantness of the past events, the two crusty warriors were infectious in their grim determination, but also in their good humor.  Their witty banter had been nearly constant and it seemed to Styrr that they were close friends.  That they had each other's backs.   It did much to elevate his spirits. “Do not apologize, friend. Your  boundless energy has been a godssend in this horrible ordeal.” He reached for a tankard and wrinkled his nose at the garlic odor.  It had to be done. There was too much flesh and blood and the Priest of Auri-El was only being cautious. “And to answer your question, Sir Merotim,” Styrr continued, finally managing a sip of the infernal concoction. He cleared his throat and his eyes started to water. Shor’s Bones! The Elf was not shy with his garlic! “We are just about done.” He gasped.

     

    “Aye, Justiciar Coredalf’s agent stopped by ta pick up the last samples to Morrard about two hours ago. We’ll quickly stop there before we ‘ead to the Blue Palace,” The Altmer gave the Imperial a look that didn’t bother masking his annoyance.“The court’s assemblin’ I hope?”

     

    Those last words sported the infamous “Altmer” tone, despite the heavy accent he was sporting.

     

    “Aye, they’re starting to move.”

     

    “Brilliant, as soon as Brother Styrr and I finish with Morrard, I’ll head over.”

     

    The Imperial smirked. “And if they’re kept waiting?”

     

    The Mer shrugged, gulping his tea as if it was something delicious. “They wait. I’m not done yet.” He huffed gruffly and to Styrr, just at that moment, the Mer resembled a stubborn bear.  

     

    “I know, your tea. I’ll meet you at Morrard’s then.” The Imperial released a chuckle and headed out of the Hall, shaking his head and Styrr could again hear him mutter. “Dragonborn’s balls…”

     

    Well, it was no surprise they would start using the Dragonborn’s name as a curse. Fortunately, so far, Solitude had been spared that particular horror with the doom-driven warrior never needing to make a stop in their city. Dragons were sighted more to the west of the hold, near the Reach and towards their little sister province of Hjaalmarch.  Solitude was a walled city, he could only imagine Ravencrone’s Morthal under a dragon’s fire.  One against many, Styrr absently shook his head. The Dragon Wars of the early days had been more evenly matched, with many  great Tongues battling the beasts. Only the Greybeards and Ulfric Stormcloak practiced now and clear what they did with it. He didn’t begrudge the Greybeards their praying, he was a man of faith too, but to turn a blind eye to a bleeding land? And he knew what Ulfric bloody did with his gift. Styrr snorted bitterly. It was said The Dragonborn lived closer to the center of the province and that he was now the Harbinger of the Companions, but they knew precious little else about the enigmatic figure. Word only circulated that he was not a Nord and that had been a surprise to Styrr...  

     

    “Ya awake, Brother Styrr?”

     

    Styrr snapped to attention and swirled his tankard. “Just lost in my thoughts.”

     

    “Happens to me too.” The Mer in front of him then set down his tea to open his journal. “Drink up, Brother Styrr. And don’t forget make sure yer evenin’ bath is laced with Frost mirriam.”

     

    The Nord priest of Arkay raised his eyebrows and managed another tentative smile as he held up his tankard in a mock toast. “At least I do not have to bathe in garlic.”

     

    A baritone chortle from the Mer. “That we are drinkin’ it is quite enough. I love the stuff in me food, but ‘tis rough to stomach in me fav’rite tea.  Would rather ‘ave me ‘oney an milk.”

     

    “You were translating the Daedric script. Why?” The Nord suddenly blurted out, gesturing towards the open journal the Mer had in front of him.

     

    The Mer’s eyes shot up from his notes and met Styrr’s. “Because ‘tis important.”

     

    “Do you suspect a Daedric connection to these happenings?”

     

    The journal in front of the Mer was turned and then slid to Styrr’s place. His lined eyes widened when he saw detailed sketches of the letters as they appeared on the bodies. “What do ya see?” The Elf asked.  

     

    “Unspeakable horror.” Styrr replied sullenly.

     

    The Mer made an annoyed growl - a very un Altmer sound - and tilted his head to the side, making Styrr’s eyes narrow.  “Put away yer fear of the unholy for a spell. Don look at it like that. Really look at the letters. Study ‘em, y’are smarter than that, Brothery Styrr. Don let the darkness and fear hide from ya what is as plain as the nose on me bloody face. Look at the letters.” The Mer insisted, practically shoving the journal into Styrr’s face.

     

    Styrr’s tired eyes studied the images, the Daedric script as the Mer had mapped them on each body. He looked at them in the order of their deaths, starting with the first prostitute and ending with poor Salina, remembering her cheerful smile as she would greet him on Sundas. Like an alkanet blossom on a spring day… She had known such trials in her life and then found the Temple and… A wave of sadness passed over Styrr and he pushed the journal away. “I don’t understand, I don’t read this script.”

     

    “Ya don need ta read to know. Look again.” The Mer insisted.

     

    “I can’t.” Styrr replied, rubbing his forehead.

     

    “Tell me about yer dream, Brother Styrr.” The Mer probed, pushing the journal back at him. “Tha dream is key.”

     

    “I told you already, Arkay spoke to me, visited me in my dream.” He left his hand fall to the table with a thud and felt the despondency threaten to creep upon his soul. “Told me how they would die.”

     

    “Wasna Arkay, Brother Styrr.”

     

    “That’s not true!” Styrr shot back, feeling a terrible uneasiness in his gut at the Mer’s tone of voice. “He appeared in his maroon and gold robes. Golden light. He told me how they would die.” He repeated.

     

    “Look at the letters on their bodies, Brother.” The Mer commanded, flipping to the page in his journal where the the drawing of Silana was. “It says on ‘er body ‘as it was with tha first’ over and over again, all over ‘er.”

     

    “Gods, that you can read that.” Styrr groaned. “And you call yourself a Mer of Auri--”

     

    “Because I need ta, Brother!” The Altmer priest thundered, dashing his tea to the floor in a move that made Styrr nearly jump his seat. “Ta walk tha light, ya must face the darkness. Now look, dammit! Look at tha way the ‘f’ and tha ‘a’ is drawn!”

     

    Styrr gazed at the strange script as it was drawn on the girl’s thighs, but then the Mer flipped the page quickly to the images of the first prostitute. “Now look at this victim. Tha word spells ‘fraud’, sharin’ an ‘f’ and an ‘a’. Look at the letters!”

     

    He studied the letters, his old eyes tracing the lines of the script and Styrr felt his mouth drop as he put down his tea. “Sweet breath of Arkay, they are not from the same hand.”

     

    “Now y’are thinkin’ how ya need ta think to rid yer city of darkness, Brother Styrr.” The Mer acknowledged with a slow nod.

     

    “There are two killers.” The priest looked up.

     

    “Aye, two.” The Mer replied, his voice suddenly turning cold, resolute. “And in arrogance, the second killer has shown ya who ‘e is.” The Mer’s eyes bore into Styrr’s. They were like two rocks of burning coal hooded under his silver brow. Glittering, flickering eyes that seemed to capture the light, no matter what room he was in and Styrr felt the gooseflesh crawl over his neck and into his back. “Y’are strong in yer faith, Brother Styrr.  That ‘e showed ya what ‘e showed ya and ya dinna budge to ‘is will is a reflection of that.”

     

    The color left the old Nord’s face. “Who was in my dream?”

     

    “Who stands for everythin’ Arkay is against?” The Mer asked. “Even takin’ yer eight-sided star. Twistin’ its beauty into a cold, grey metal. Takin’ it an puttin’ a smatterin’ of red jewels in tha center. Red like shed blood. Like the drop o’ blood he sweated upon her brow.  ‘As it was with the first’.” The Mer’s last words were whispered and he gazed grimly at Brother Styrr, his eyes probing, waiting for Styrr to think.

     

    “As if spoken in the shrieking winds.” Styrr quoted his own letter and then he understood. “As it was with Lamae Bal...” His eyes found the Mer’s and he felt his mouth go dry at his next words. “Arkay’s Life! It’s a vampire.” Then his jaw hit the floor.  “Sten--”

     

    The Mer raised his hand in dismissal. “No, it was not your court mage. She was Garlythi. A High Rock clan.” The priest of Auri-El rose from his seat to pick up his tankard and he placed it upon the table as if it weighed a thousand angaids. “And to her credit and my deep regret, I think she had actually solved the mystery of the murders.  But I was clouded by what I saw and for that I am sorry for what I did to Solitude and the Jarl.” He released a sigh and his tone became resolute. “I will need to atone for that great sin another time, but now, I need inside those catacombs, Brother Styrr. Urgently. Not only to retrieve Potema’s remains so that you and I can sanctify them, but to go directly for the source of her current corruption. Someone is attempting to bind her to this plane and they need to be stopped. I know the symbol you described in your dream. I’ve seen it before.” Styrr noticed how the Mer’s voice changed again, the accent leaving him, replaced by something far heavier.  

     

    “Where did you see this symbol, brother Rovaniik?” Styrr ventured the question.

     

    The Mer rested a hand on the back of a chair and another sigh escaped his lips, but then the jaw clenched and his eyes seemed to shoot daggers at whatever he was seeing in his mind, his pale face beginning to redden. His whole demeanor quickly changed, becoming something much darker, something more akin to a hunter rather than a priest.. “The first time? Officially? Worn? Brandished on the collar as if it was a seal of fucking approval? Hmph. More like how a cow or a pig is branded by a rancher if you ask me. Owned. Owned til the very bitter end, f’angua alda rumare, owned. A servant. Nothing but a Bitch to the Master of Rape.” The Elf looked up and Styrr heard the profound agitation in his voice as he whispered into the air, saw how his face contorted in anguish. “Did you ever heed my teacher’s stories? Of his time in that awful prison? Soulless. Gods! This is where you will be! Forever!”  Soulless? The Mer wasn’t making much sense, but Styrr’s priestly nature tuned in to the deep bitterness of the Mer’s outburst. The suppressed rage and sadness. He wanted to speak, to perhaps offer the now troubled Mer counsel, but the priest of Auri-El wasn’t finished.  

     

    “The first  time I saw that symbol was Year 99 of the Fourth Era, somewhere near Dive Rock, in the mountains of Cyrodiil.” Sweet Breath of Akay! The Mer was so angry now and he could only watch in silence as the Mer continued to speak through clenched teeth. What have you lost, son, to have made you so angry? What many have lost to such creatures and the demons of other things, old Styrr. War, famine, disease, are only monsters of a different kind, but still monsters. And it is why you have the key to the catacombs. “The second time? The ninth of First Seed, year 185 of the fourth Era, the Office of Provincial Studies Lecture Hall, city of Alinor, Province of Alinor of the Aldmeri Dominion. And the third? In the cusp between the first and second days of this New Year, year 202. The Hall of the Vigilant, Skyrim. It is worn upon their armor, like a brand. His cattle.”

     

    The last words were snarled and the priest’s eyes met Styrr’s and the Nord felt the righteous fury burn through him. And he felt the pain. This wasn’t only about cleansing. There was something deep-seated in the priest of Auri-El’s drive to cleanse Solitude. A vengeance? “I need in those catacombs.”  He growled before heading out the door of the Hall of the Dead.   

     

    “I know.” Styrr whispered as he slowly rose to follow the Mer.  

     


     

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Comments

11 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 4 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  September 7
    Styrr's a fan of Vale, eh? Nice, I can totally picture that. Opening section between Dec and of Dusk was pretty intense, very real. I thought they were about to brawl, glad they remained mature. The temple scene... I love it when it gets all holy, reminde...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Styrr's a fan of Vale, eh? Nice, I can totally picture that. Opening section between Dec and of Dusk was pretty intense, very real. I thought they were about to brawl, glad they remained mature. The temple scene... I love it when it gets all holy, reminde...  more
        ·  September 7
      Yeah, I thought I'd make him like the old murder mysteries. And yes, it was intense, of Dusk did something Dec thought was stupid. And Dec was right. 
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        Yeah, I thought I'd make him like the old murder mysteries. And yes, it was intense, of Dusk did something Dec thought was stupid. And Dec was right. 
          ·  September 7
        But like I was telling Shadow earlier in I think chapter 3, Albee's got some issues to deal with. 
        • Paws
          Paws
          The Long-Chapper
          The Long-Chapper
          The Long-Chapper
          But like I was telling Shadow earlier in I think chapter 3, Albee's got some issues to deal with. 
            ·  September 7
          It was pretty stupid, but, you know, shit happens. There's cause and effect in everything and until the cause is determined and weighed, judging the effect is only a small part of the story. Passion and feelings are good, and I like to think he acted upon...  more
          • The Long-Chapper
            The Long-Chapper
            Paws
            Paws
            Paws
            It was pretty stupid, but, you know, shit happens. There's cause and effect in everything and until the cause is determined and weighed, judging the effect is only a small part of the story. Passion and feelings are good, and I like to think he acted upon...  more
              ·  September 7
            If Albee is anything, it's not wishywashy and he lives with the decisions he makes.  Like Dec says though, he's black and white. 
            • Paws
              Paws
              The Long-Chapper
              The Long-Chapper
              The Long-Chapper
              If Albee is anything, it's not wishywashy and he lives with the decisions he makes.  Like Dec says though, he's black and white. 
                ·  September 7
              Mostly a very pale white :p But no, certainly he isn't wishy-washy. Man, that wouldn't work at all!
              • The Long-Chapper
                The Long-Chapper
                Paws
                Paws
                Paws
                Mostly a very pale white :p But no, certainly he isn't wishy-washy. Man, that wouldn't work at all!
                  ·  September 7
                Nope, it wouldn't.
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  September 7
    Caught up after a burst of reading, I'm reading for the next one.

    And I want it NOW, damn you!
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Caught up after a burst of reading, I'm reading for the next one.

      And I want it NOW, damn you!
        ·  September 7
      What did you think of this one?
      • A Shadow Under the Moons
        A Shadow Under the Moons
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        What did you think of this one?
          ·  September 7
        Of course I liked it! The brief fight scene between the suspense-building did a good job of keeping readers riveted.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 7
    YAY!!