PoTM: Chapter 20, Serpent Rising

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    Celestial Serpent, hear my prayer!

     

    Oh, Serpent, who descends from the sky, listen to my unworthy voice and raise me up.

     

    Oh, Serpent, who sheds the Worldskin to return us to a simpler, better time, hear my humble words and make a place for me in your nest.

     

    Oh, Serpent, who undulates with power and glory, accept my offering and grant me your venomous blessing.

     

    Celestial Serpent, hear my prayer!         

     

    3rd of Morning Star, 4E 204

     

    The air was cold that night, but the sea was at least calm. Thankfully. The stars were shining upon the night sky, with the Serpent glowing brightly, brighter than all the other signs. He was claiming his territory, his piece of night sky. Almost everyone murmured prayers every time they looked at the stars, mumbling something about ill omens and impending doom. The New year starting with the Serpent claiming his month. They were all scared shitless.

     

    Pussies, a young woman leaning against Northern Maiden's handrail shook her head, the wind playing with her long dark brown hair. Her eyes were of bright blue color with a little bit of green in it, like a dark see reflected on the surface of a sapphire. She was wearing a grey leather vest with a bandolier, leather trousers, and over that a thick fur cloak, protecting her body from the cold. But she wasn't paying much attention to it, she was a Nord through and through. At least on my mother's side, she thought, feeling the crumpled letter in her hand.

     

    She was of a mind to toss it into the frigid waters, because every damn word in it made her angry, getting under her skin. And yet she was reading that letter over and over again. She wasn’t sure why exactly. Maybe I just want to be as angry as I can get when I arrive. I'll just throw the paper into his face. Along with my fist. Damn bastard.

     

    The island was there, on the horizon, looming there like a piece of scary rock jutting from the middle of the sea. And as they were nearing so was dawn, the sky casting away the black of night with orange and gold as Magnus clawed his way up again.

     

    She heard a cough behind her and turned around, narrowing her eyes in annoyance. She had been enjoying the solitude, she didn't want to be disturbed. Behind her was a Dunmer, wearing similar leather armor as her, only he had more clothes under it, to fend off the cold. “What?” she growled.

     

    “Captain said we'll arrive with first light,” the Dunmer said.

     

    “I can bloody see that, Ravyn,” she grimaced, pointing at Solstheim looming ahead of them. “It's really hard to miss such a big piece of stupid rock.”

     

    “I take it you didn't sleep well,” he mumbled, leaning against the handrail next to her. She just growled at him, not taking his bait. Idiot… She wasn't interested in a chat, or any other types of socializing. Not from that poor excuse of a Dunmer and definitely not from that weird High Elf below deck. Him and his even weirder Nord woman.

     

    Not that they were socializing either. They mostly kept to themselves, minding their own business. She barely saw them and him only once in the entire voyage. At a hallway below deck. He was so large he nearly didn't fit there and he had to back away because there was no way she could walk past him. So he just backed few steps back into a bigger room and just let her pass, without saying a word.

     

    She knew that Nerussa and him were friends or something like that - no one can be sure with bloody witch elves. And she didn't give a crap about that. She was heading to a backwater shithole in middle of the sea and she wanted to get her things sorted as soon as possible. She didn't have to talk about that with someone who knew her Guildmaster. Guildmistress, or whatever.

     

    It certainly went downhill since Nerussa took over. Less independent work, less freedom. Nerussa was calling the shots, keeping a close eye on her Guild. Stealing only from rich...what a load of horseshit! To say that she didn't see an eye to eye with Nerussa would be an understatement.

     

    “Why did Nerussa send you, again?” Ravyn interrupted her thoughts and she clenched her jaw. The Dunmer was certainly getting under her skin. “I mean, you and her are far from friends - actually, you're the least reliable person in the Guild. So why are you going to Solstheim?”

     

    She narrowed her eyes.

     

    Smoke stung her eyes. The ringing in her ears. People screaming. Fire...

     

    She shook her head, trying to cast away the memory. It was bad, really bad. You barely got out. And when the time came you volunteered, like the stupid cow you are. And why? Because of a fucking piece of paper. She didn't bother replying, it wasn't the Dunmer's business.

     

    He just sighed and shook his head. “Well, this will be a very lovely trip. Already looking forward to it.”

     

    “Could you do me a favour?” she suddenly turned to him and he raised his eyebrows. “Could you fall over the handrail into the cold water so that some fucking fish can then eat you? Because I'm starting to believe that's the only way to make you SHUT UP!” she growled the last words, bumping roughly into the Dunmer's shoulder, almost sending him to the deck. She walked to the other side of the ship, her lips curled in a disgusted grimace. She just wanted to be left alone, how difficult was that to understand?

     

    She heard heavy footfalls on the deck and looked over her shoulder to see the Elf and his Nord woman coming from below deck, looking over the upper deck. Usually Altmer were sensitive to the cold, Nerussa often bundled in furs, but the Elf was clad in a worn, long brigandine of supple leather. Under it, just a wool shirt, not particularly fancy in the way she imagined that Altmer dressed. The boots and gauntlets looked like they didn’t quite match either and over it all, he wore a huge black bearskin cloak, which made his fair skin stand out more. The female wore a simple armor of what looked like a shit leather Colovian design to Sapphire, though her shirt was a dull rose color. The only color between the two of them. Her cloak also black. Both were armed and dressed in a way that if their backs were turned, she’d think Nord. Save the stupid golden Elven bow on the pale Elf’s back. They definitely didn’t dress the way Nerussa and that priss of hers liked to dress.

     

    The Altmer briefly caught her stare and she saw his watering, bloodshot eyes. He bristled a warning, baring his teeth, which prompted her to snort. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to be alone. She looked away, instead watching the island grow bigger with every second. She heard the woman talking to the elf, whispers so faint that she couldn’t make out the words, and heard his grunts in response. She didn't want to hear them anyway. It was just annoying buzzing in her ears, disrupting her quiet moment. Bloody ships! she cursed in her mind. Not enough privacy. The only way to get a moment alone on a ship is to throw everyone overboard…

     

    There was this big shadow hanging over the island, almost like a storm, but as far as she could see there was no lightning, no thunder and the colour was just wrong. It was more of a dark grey and brown than the grey-black colour of a raging storm. And as the ship neared the southwestern end of Solstheim she finally understood. It was ash. The breeze was blowing against them and she had to squint to protect her eyes from the small particles.  

     

    Oars were pulled out and the sails were rolled, the ship now relying on the strength of Nord sailors to get them safely into the harbor. The wind was getting stronger, the ash literally assaulting them like the fiercest blizzard of the Pale and one could almost think the island didn't want them there. What bullshit… Since when can islands decide what they want or not? Bloody Serpent, that's what they're going to say. Ill omens my arse, idiots.

     

    Then she could finally see Raven Rock through the ash storm and a grimace clawed its way onto her face. What a damn shithole. Only a few familiar Imperial buildings were left standing, the rest were the strange and alien buildings of the Dunmeri culture. It only reminded her that right now she was to become the stranger in this strange land, completely out of her element. Which was probably why Nerussa sent Ravyn with her. Bloody ex-Morag Tong, at least that's what he says. As if that’s supposed to mean something to me. He could be a bloody Saint and I still wouldn't give a shit. But Ravyn was from Morrowind, so it made sense to send him to Solstheim, he had experience with the culture and the people. I vaguely remember Nerussa saying something like: “Listen to Ravyn”. Well, O clever Nerussa, go shit yourself and take the Dunmer with you.

     

    The ship then suddenly stopped and sailors jumped out on the wharf, tying the ship to it. It was difficult to say if there was someone waiting for them on the wharf, especially because of the curtain of ash. She covered her mouth, because she heard it wasn't exactly healthy to breathe that stuff. She could see the Altmer vigorously rubbing his eyes and shaking his head as if he was trying to get something out of his eyes. Don't like the shit, eh? Too bad for you.

     

    Ravyn appeared at her side and she instinctively groaned, because surely more words would leave his mouth. “We won't be meeting anyone outside right now,” he rasped. “It's too early, and the ash storm is obscuring everything. We better head to the local cornerclub and wait it out there.”

     

    “Whatever,” she grimaced and headed towards the plank that was being put between the ship and the wharf. The elf and the woman were already waiting there, the elf now covering his eyes with his hand. As soon as the plank was ready, he started walking towards the wharf.

     

    “My fucking eyes.”

     

    “Well, stop rubbing them.”  The female warned.

     

    “Damn bastard.” The Elf cursed, ignoring her completely. “I know now, ‘twas deliberate, not letting our gear on the boat. My goggles, from Calcelmo. He knew we needed it. That I needed them.”  

     

    “Well, you did break his nose.” The Nord woman retorted.

     

    “He’s a shit. Hope Alduin sits on yer arse, Jarl Farts-under-cloak.”  The pale elf grumbled.

     

    “You’re just crabby.”

     

    “I’m in pain! ko faaz!” He snarled back in a voice that didn’t quite sound right.

     

    “Easy, old Mer. Let’s just get you to the cornerclub.”

     

    Sapphire was watching him as he walked, for some strange reason not capable of taking her eyes off him, as if something took over her, the Serpent in the sky shining bright even though the sunlight of Magnus and particles of ash were obscuring it. She watched him set his foot on the wharf.

     

    And the island shook.

     

    It threw her against the main mast and she buried her nails into the wood to not fall on her face. Ravyn was on the ground and the Nord woman was holding the handrail while the sailors exchanged confused looks. The Mer placed his other foot on the wharf as if nothing had happened a sound scowl on his face.  And as suddenly as it started, it stopped.

     

    “Earthquake?” sailors wondered and she did too. If she had any idea this island was known for earthquakes…

     

    “He knows,” the witch elf rumbled softly, the scowl deepening. The woman shook her head, gave his arm a pat and a grin formed on her face. She then said something, whispered, to him that made him erupt in a sound belly laugh. Afterwards they turned to walk into Raven Rock in silence, him putting his arm around her shoulder, his stance changing.

     

    What in the bloody Oblivion just happened? Sapphire wondered, as she grabbed the captain, Gjalund Salt-Age, by his tunic and pulled him closer. “This happens often here?” she gritted her teeth.

     

    He raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “I'm as surprised as you. First time I have ever witnessed earthquake here. Damn, never heard of this place ever experiencing earthquakes.”

     

    She pushed him away with a growl, narrowing her eyes. “Bloody fucking shithole with bloody earthquakes,” she muttered under her breath as she walked the plank to the wharf. If Raven Rock was sleeping, she expected the people would be quite awake now. And she was right when she walked around the corner of first Imperial building, noticing some sort of market square through the ash. People were peeking out of their houses, unsure what was happening, but for whatever reason they didn't seem afraid, or even shocked.

     

    They were all Dunmer, with only a few exceptions and she could swear that she could see the true picture of rock-solid hardness in their faces. They all have been through lot of shit, they have seen it all, so what was an earthquake to them? Some of them probably even remembered Red Year. What was a small fart like this against the explosion of Red Mountain?

     

    She then noticed a Breton walk out from a building to her left. A strongly built Breton with a shaved head, and a frown on his face as he stepped outside, protected from the ash by a roof hanging over the forge in front of his house. His eyes stopped at her and the frown became even more prominent. She clenched her hand into a fist, crumpling the paper even more and began walking towards him.

     

    Recognition flashed over his face as he gasped in surprise. “Rilikja?”

     

    Her fist landed on his jaw, snapping his head to the side. “It's Sapphire!” she growled, throwing the piece of paper into his face. “Fucking bastard!” she hit him again and if it wasn’t for Ravyn, who grabbed her forearm, she would have beat the bastard to death. “Where were you when the bastards came and killed my mother?! Where were you when they took me?!” she screamed at him.

     

    “Ril- Sapphire,” he raised his hands, moving his lower jaw. “I am sorry,” he said with a hoarse voice, full of pain, and that was making her angry. A ‘sorry’ wouldn’t fix the past, it was just a way for the guilty to deal with their pain, hoping for forgiveness, to ease the torment of their souls. They were naive and stupid. A ‘sorry’ couldn't ease the pain, not for those guilty or the victims. It was a mirage of foolish hope, and as every mirage, it disappears when one drinks from the cold waters of harsh reality. “I am sorry,” he faintly repeated, and she bared her teeth.

     

    “Save your fucking sorry!” Sapphire spat at his feet. “You happy now? You sent your letter and now I'm here. This what you were hoping for?” She shook off Ravyn's hand and pointed at Glover, spitting at his feet again.

     

    A clapping sound interrupted her and she turned around to see an Orc with big mutton-chops and a dark tattoo over his face, followed by a Dunmer in their alien armor that looked like made of fucking bug shells. It was the Orc who was clapping as he was walking through the falling ash. “This is better than a damn earthquake,” he exclaimed with a loud voice, a big grin on his face. “I love family reunions, I just love them-”

     

    “Mind your fucking business, green-fucker!” she growled, pointing her finger at him. “Or you'll wake up next to your balls.”

     

    He leaned back with raised eyebrows and then tapped at his temple, looking at the Dunmer next to him. “Gods.Damn.Shit! You hear that, Slitter? Damn, girl! You got bigger balls than all these grey bitches here combined! I LOVE it!” He then grinned at her and she frowned, confused. “I'm liking you already, young Mallory.”

     

    She threw a look at Glover, clenching her jaws. “Does the whole of bloody Raven Rock know?” Sapphire grimaced and looked at the Orc again, her hand on the dagger at her waist. She wasn't hiding it, she wanted the Orc to see it, so that the idiot would understand she wasn't taking shit from nobody. “I told you to sod off, Orc. Last warning.”

     

    He kept grinning as he raised his hands in gesture of mocked surrender. “Fine, fine,” he smiled, his tongue touching the tip of his left tusk. “I'll let you two have your moment. I'll let your daddy,” he pointed at Glover, “explain how things work here. I hope he can be really persuasive, for your own sake. I'll see you arround, ‘Mallorys,’” he waved his hand and walked to a building with a sign on it, difficult to discern through the falling ash.

     

    “Just what the fuck?” Sapphire growled and pushed Glover.

     

    “It's...complicated,” he said with a hesitation in his voice, rubbing the back of his neck. “This really isn't a good place to talk. Why don't we go inside? I'll explain, and you can tell me how Delvin, Vex and the others are doing back-”

     

    “Vex is dead,” Sapphire stated, crossing her arms over her chest. It was a cold statement, said with very little sympathy. A person was gone, dead, and it left a hole in the space of life, something that could be only remembered, and it was leaving Sapphire calm. Death was death and the dead were dead, that was how it was, nothing could fix that. “Brynjolf too, just as Dirge. Vekel's dead too. Delvin is still kicking if that even matters to you,” she added with a shrug and then shook her head. “I don't give a shit about your hospitality. Just wanted to knock your teeth out for being such a piece of shit coward. Now we're done,” she growled and headed to look around Raven Rock, ignoring the falling ash.

    Ravyn, who was trying to keep his distance from whatever just happened, followed Sapphire with his eyes and shook his head. So much for a low profile, he thought and he couldn't help himself but doubt Nerussa's decision to send Sapphire with him.

     

    “Dead?” Glover murmured and Ravyn looked at the Breton. Sapphire's father. This was the reason why she volunteered. It wasn't for the guild - it was only so that she could knock her father's teeth out. “Vex and Brynjolf?” Glover just stared with wide eyes.

     

    Ravyn pointed at the door with his chin. “I think I will take the offer of going inside.”

     

    “Yeah,” Glover nodded, obviously shaken. “Let's get out of this ash.”

     

    When they were inside and sitting at the table with tankards filled with Sujamma, Ravyn nodded in appreciation. “Damn good Sujamma. Haven’t had one in years, but this one is really good.” He then shook his head and tapped his forehead. “Where are my manners? I am Ravyn Imyan. You must be our contact. The Glove, as I've heard. Delvin's brother and apparently, Sapphire's…” he let the words trail off, not sure if he should continue. It seemed too fresh to be brought out.

     

    “Yes. Glover Mallory,” the Breton nodded, rubbing his eyes. “Damn it, Ravyn, just tell me what in the Oblivion happened.”

     

    The Dunmer clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes as he remembered the day. “We got hit. Hard.” He took a sip of the Sujamma and gulped, enjoying the burning sensation going down his throat, soothing his nerves. “Two Dunmer walked into the Flagon, with a message for Nerussa.”

     

    “The new Guildmaster,” Glover murmured and waved with his hand when Ravyn raised his eyebrows. “I left the guild when Mercer was still at the steering wheel, but one of yours stopped by not so long ago and explained how things work now. But continue, sorry for the interruption. Just wanted to make sure the bastard wasn't making things up.”

     

    Ravyn tilted his head to the side, wondering who Glover meant. As far as he knew, Nerussa hadn’t sent anyone to Solstheim - he and Sapphire were the only ones visiting the island after decades of silence. “Right,” he cleared his throat, making a mental note to bring it up later. “Two Dunmer walked in and wanted to talk with Nerussa. Brynjolf didn't let them, said that they can deal with him and Delvin. And so they gave their message to Bryn.” He then became silent, his thoughts whirling as he was remembering what others told him. He wasn't there, he saw only the aftermath…

     

    “What was the message?” Glover pushed and Ravyn sighed.

     

    “Something like: ‘The Deceiver filled you with lies and we shall expose to you the falseness in your hearts by tearing them out, as message to the False Dragonborn. The true Dragonborn comes.’ After those words their bodies began glowing with a strange light burning through their clothes. They had destruction runes carved into their own flesh! They blew themselves up to deliver that damn message!” Ravyn hit the table in anger, remembering the loud explosion, how he and others ran to Flagon only to find it in ruin, drowning in flames and smoke, people screaming and choking. He shook his head and took a proper swig of Sujamma. “And we weren't the only place that got hit this way. Messages were pouring in from other Holds. Lucky Moons meadery, Jorrvaskr, High Hrothgar, and nearly the College of Winterhold. Bastard mages caught theirs before they - fuck - went off. But the others, they got hit the same way as we did.”

     

    “Mara's mercy,” Glover gasped and followed Ravyn's suit, downing his tankard of Sujamma. He wiped his mouth and shook his head. “Vex and Brynjolf...gods damnit. All this because of the Dragonborn? So it's all true then? Gjalund was telling me about dragons and this Dragonborn bullshit, but I thought he was just pulling my leg. Damn.” He then paused and narrowed his eyes. “Wait, but...why are you here then? Why Solstheim?”

     

    Ravyn looked him in the eye and sighed, rubbing his eyes. Most of the times I would like to believe it's bullshit too, all that around the Dragonborn. “Because we tracked the fanatics here. They came from Solstheim, Glover.”

     

    The Breton's eyes grew wide in surprise and confusion. “From Solstheim? But...there's nothing here. Trust me, if the east ever had a dump hole Solstheim would be the place.”

     

    “Nothing out of ordinary then?” Ravyn wondered. Can't be true. From their words they were fanatics, members of some kind of crazy cult. Maybe Daedric, maybe not. He would know, he had experience with such cults. His targets were often members of those cults, back in the day.

     

    “Well, now that you mention it…” Glover murmured, frowning, almost as if he wasn't sure if he actually knew something or not. “People are sleepwalking on Solstheim,” he said which prompted Ravyn to raise his eyebrows. “Like...they sleep, walk out of their houses and go work on this strange stone in south-western end of Raven Rock. Murmuring some bullshit while they do it.”

     

    Could it be Sharmat returned? Ravyn couldn't help himself but wonder. There could be a possible connection and he knew he had to investigate. But there was the matter of Raven Rock first. “Just tell me. The Orc. What was that about?”

     

    Glover leaned back in his chair, releasing a sigh while he rubbed his ribs, as if remembering that they had hurt once. “Mogrul. Aye, that's going to be a problem. He kind of...owns this place.”

     

    Ravyn just stared at him in disbelief. “Owns this place? But...this is Redoran territory. They don't take shit from anyone, their honor and code-”

     

    “Doesn't work on Mogrul,” the Breton snorted, interrupting him. “Raven Rock is dry as week old slaughterfish lying in the sun. Has been for quite some time. Mogrul came with money and began...lending it. To the Councillor, to the people. Got them all in debt, and it was then that he started collecting protection money. He’s got Reavers - local bandits - into his pocket and who doesn't pay usually meets with a bloody end. Got the guards in his pockets too. And precisely that Redoran honor and code shit is preventing the Councillor from doing something about it. He can't do shit about Mogrul, not until Raven Rock pays its debt.”

     

    “Mephala's hands,” Ravyn murmured. It was getting more and more complicated every second. He was wondering if he shouldn't start sharpening his knives, like in the old days. He wasn't bound by Redoran honor or similar things. He wasn't even bound by Morag Tong honor anymore. Could he lower himself to do what was necessary? Raven Rock would certainly appreciate it.

     

    “That's not all,” Glover grimaced. “Mogrul...he knows I'm with the Guild. Or that I was. All that thanks to that idiotic Orc that stopped by. Grulmar. The fucker stole the letter to Sapphire and sent it to Skyrim. And Mogrul caught wind of it.”

     

    And Ravyn thought that it he had already heard all the surprises and bad news, but this one just made him roll his eyes as he groaned. “The Greenskin? That damn bungler is here? Oh shit, Tribunal watch over us.”

     

    “I'm starting to think the same thing,” Glover growled. “So Mogrul knows who I am now. Blackmails me to work for him. Half of my shit, as he says. And with you here… He's not stupid. He knows you belong to the Guild too. You seem like a clever fellow, Ravyn. Grab Sapphire and run from this place - knock her out, drug her, it doesn't matter, just get out of here as fast as you can. Otherwise you'll have trouble with Mogrul. He'll either kill you or make your work for him, and you don't want either of that.”

     

    The Dunmer listened in silence, narrowing his eyes. ‘If you are to be born a ruling king of the world, you must confuse it with new words. Set me into pondering.’ And Ravyn was pondering about his options.

    It was quite early to be sitting in a cornerclub, drinking Blacklight Ginger Mazte, but as far as Venhen was concerned about the opinions of others, it didn't really matter. The barkeep might have been grumpy, but he had to get used to it. Old people didn't sleep as much as the young did. Venhen chuckled to himself as he remembered his younger days when he was capable of sleeping well into noon, eating lunch for breakfast. But not so anymore.

     

    So he was quite enjoying his early breakfast with bottle of Mazte. Because why not, right? He was but a senile old mer, he was allowed to have some pleasures.

     

    He had moved to cornerclub few days before the New Life Festival and to say that Mogrul wasn’t too happy about it would have been an understatement. He'd been catching wind of some foul play from Venhen for some time, but Venhen, in all his senile prescience, was still paying the protection money. And frankly, all Mogrul could do was just suspect, because Venhen kept his cards close to his body.

     

    It had been a strange New Life Festival to Venhen though. In his long life - all things considering - he had attended - and drunk through - plenty of New Life Festivals, but the one in Raven Rock… Well, it wasn't exactly big. People just gathered in cornerclub and drank well into morning, but that was all, as if they didn't really care, just another day on the frontier. And to Venhen's surprise, he found that he actually didn't care either. After so many years, everything became old and overplayed.

     

    The room suddenly shook, dust falling from the ceiling and his cane dropped to the floor. He quickly grabbed his bottle, watching the ceiling with raised eyebrows. Earthquake on Solstheim? Well… He put the bottle to his lips, turning it upside down, still watching the ceiling with raised eyebrows as he was working through the bottle. He heard surprised gasps and screams, people were coming out of their rooms, as if they were expecting the building to fall on their heads. And he found himself wondering the same thing. Is this it? After all these years...getting crushed by a ceiling doesn't sound so bad, he thought as he finished the bottle. When he finished it, the room stopped shaking. He frowned and took a proper look at the bottle. Well, aren't you a little magic bottle, eh?

     

    “Seems like it's over,” the innkeeper raised his voice. “It's alright everyone, you can calm down. Let's all have one on the house, nothing like a small pinch of Shein in the morning to soothe one's nerves, eh?” he continued, pouring himself one and downing it one big gulp.

     

    Venhen was considering if such a weak earthquake was worth drinking Shein. Probably not. But he would take one, so not to insult. Plus if they were free… He began looking for his cane that dropped to the floor, his eyes swimming a little. No wonder, after a whole bottle of Mazte. “Where did you hide, you little bugger?” he murmured, careful not to fall from his chair.

     

    Neriila showed up and picked the cane from the floor, handing it to him. He took it and frowned, looking at the bar that was several steps away from him. He waved his hand and grimaced. “Oh, shcrew it. Be a good velk and fetch me that free Shein, would you?”

     

    She just nodded and went to the innkeeper's counter. In that moment Venhen's eyes darted towards the stairs because down walked the strangest duo, a dusting of ash covering their cloaks and clothes. A pale Nord woman with the biggest damn Altmer he had ever seen. Did they come that big? And an ugly one too. As he walked, he was removing his hood, shaking off the ash with a irritated frown on his face. Then he pulled roughly at the back of his neck and out came a disheveled braid, and it came out and came out! That was some long hair! White, like his full beard was. The eyes scanned the room, their watering red-orange glare peeking from bushy brows, his forehead creasing. Not so young anymore too, eh? High elves… Well, don't be jealous, old mer. Yes, he carries himself much better than you do, still has healthy limbs and probably all his teeth - shining in perfect brilliance too, no doubt. Altmer and their damn magic. But he certainly is not as charismatic as you, no doubt.

     

    The duo sat down at the other side of the room, just minding themselves. The Altmer was vigorously rubbing his eyes and his gaze fell on Venhen for a second. The old Dunmer flashed his toothless grin and raised his bottle of Mazte in a toast. When he put it to his lips, he realized he already drank it and frowned at Neriila at the counter, the High Elf completely vanishing from his mind. Everyone already had their drop of Shein to forget about the earthquake and he still didn't have any. I am shaken to my very bones, I need my damn Shein too, hehehe.

     

    Then Mogrul walked into the room and Venhen suddenly didn't want that Shein at all. Just looking at that ugly green pig face made him want to vomit - Shein would be just the last nail in the coffin. The Orc had his ugly grey shadow in the form of a Dunmer with a very silly name following him like a...well, shadow. And Venhen had to give this to the Orc, he certainly had good eyes, because he spotted the big Altmer right away. What a surprise!  He’s the biggest damn thing in the room!

     

    Venhen put the most senile expression he could muster and grinned at Mogrul, who just bared his tusks at him and walked to the table the Nord woman and the Altmer were sitting at. It's almost like a routine of sorts. New people show up, Mogrul scares the shit out of them. Certainly lacks the subtlety I would use. I would befriend them first and such, yeah. The look the pale elf threw at the Orc made Venhen chuckle. Oh, this could be quite fun. The Altmer certainly has that Altmeri air of annoyance around him, like if he just took a step into shit.

     

    Mogrul sat down at their table, as if he owned the place and Venhen sort of understood why he was doing that. He was showing them he really did own the place, in a way. Nobody was going to stop him. It added to that aura of confidence around him, add one ugly Dunmer with a hand on his weapon, and warning bells start to immediately ring.

     

    Though the Altmer didn't look worried. More annoyed than anything. As if that shit he just stepped on seeped into his boot, like Mogrul was a worm. Yes, that's appropriate comparison. Mogrul started talking, though the words weren't reaching Venhen's old ears. And right then he wasn't sure if Mogrul was realising it, but the elf was starting to look like he was about to blast the Orc into Oblivion. Venhen certainly wouldn't mind that. Mogrul then locked his eyes with the Altmer and Venhen knew that Mogrul knew. The High Elf probably had enough, because he just got up and walked to the counter, renting a room for himself, then he walked to the door and closed it behind him with a loud bang. Yeah, us old people don’t put up with much stupid, pig face. Mogrul wasn't happy about that, clearly, but the woman stayed and so he talked with her. He was telling her about the guard being in his pocket now - at least Venhen suspected it, because that's what he would do. Probably continued with something like if they didn't want to get into trouble it would be much easier to pay the money.

     

    Venhen's eyes then shifted towards the Nord woman and he could see she understood the situation very well. She knew what she had to do.

     

    He didn't even notice Neriila finally bringing him the Shein, he was so focused on the exchange. He only wished he learned how to read lips, it would be so invaluable now. He then blinked and realized that Neriila could do precisely that. He pointed with his eyes at the exchange and she narrowed her eyes, focusing on the lips of the woman. Venhen was beginning to look forward hearing all about it.

     

    “I feel like the time ish shlowly coming, velk,” Venhen suddenly murmured, grinning at his niece. “We'll own Raven Rock very very shoon.”

    It was already late noon when Ravyn walked out of Mallory's house, the ash storm was now reduced to only a weak sprinkle - if it even could be called that. Raven Rock was now much more livelier, people were going about their regular business, heads covered with hoods. The stores weren't open though, probably not worth opening this day. Ravyn looked around, making sure that the Orc, Mogrul, wasn't anywhere around and headed to the cornerclub. He felt like lunch and he didn't want to eat from Glover's modest supplies, so the local cornerclub seemed like a good choice.  If one had money, of course.

     

    He walked in and released a delightful sigh. The smell from the fireplace opposite him assaulted his nostrils, bringing home that beautiful smell of Ash Hopper meat roasting on the fire. How he missed that. It was several years since he ate food from his homeland and he immediately knew what he was going to order for lunch.

     

    He headed down the stairs, walking to the bar without hesitation, getting attention of the innkeeper.

     

    “Welcome to Retching Netch, sera,” the Dunmer said. “Name's Geldis Sadri. What can I get you?”

     

    “I'll have ale if you have some,” Ravyn smiled and then pointed up the stairs. “And I caught the most delicious smell of roasted Ash Hopper on my way here, reminded me of the homeland. Can't pass up the opportunity to have some.”

     

    Sadri chuckled at that. “Nothing like a good Ash Hopper, eh? I'll get you your ale, sera, but first I'll rather check up on Drovas upstairs, see if he's not overcooking that Hopper.”

     

    Ravyn nodded in appreciation and studied the cornerclub. It was rather crowded for Ravyn's liking, but he guessed that was a good sign. If the food and drinks weren't worth something, all these people wouldn't be sitting here at noon. He was looking at the faces particularly, secretly hoping he would recognize some of them, but not really expecting to. None of his friends went to Solstheim as far as he knew, but… One never knows, right?

     

    He paused at one face, an old Dunmer sitting at the far side of the room, at a corner table. Best place to watch the whole room. Ravyn narrowed his eyes, trying to place that face somewhere because he had a feeling he knew that Dunmer. Or if he didn't know him, he at least saw him somewhere. Then it hit him. Blacklight!

     

    “I'll be damned,” he murmured to himself and then the Dunmer noticed him too. He looked straight at Ravyn, noticing his stare, and tilted his head to the side, thinking. But he couldn't recognize him, because he never saw him, Ravyn was sure about that. There was a question in the old mer's face and Ravyn bit his lower lip. Why the damn not? He pushed himself from the counter and headed towards the mer's table.

     

    As he walked around the stone pillar he noticed young Dunmer female sitting next to him - he didn’t see her before because of the pillar. He stopped by the table and slightly bowed his head. “Excuse me. May I sit down?”

     

    The old mer smiled, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “Why?” he plainly asked and it didn't surprise Ravyn. He knew the Dunmer could be unpredictable like that, throwing others off balance.

     

    “Because we might have business to discuss,” he shrugged and pulled up a chair. “Sedura Venhen,” he added, as he was sitting down.

     

    The old Dunmer raised his eyebrows and exchanged looks with the Dunmeri girl. Ravyn could only imagine what was now going through his head, trying to place Ravyn somewhere. But he knew he couldn't. “Have we met, shera?” Venhen asked. “Becaushe you have to forgive my memory - it'sh not what it ushed to be - but I have a feeling I would remember you if we'd met.”

     

    Ravyn shook his head, actually quite enjoying how the old man wasn't sure. “No, we haven't met in person. But I know who you are,” he lied, because he actually did meet Venhen Ules. Once. It could have been fifty years back, in Stonefalls. Venhen hired him for...well, an extermination and they talked in person, but Ravyn had his face covered back then. But there were things old Venhen didn't have to know.  It was more fun that way. “And since Venhen Ules is in Raven Rock,” he said, leaning closer, “I know that things are going change around here.”

     

    “Are they?” the old Dunmer grinned, revealing his few remaining teeth. “My, my. You either know me very well, shera, or not at all. And if thingsh were to change here, what'sh in it for you?”

     

    Ravyn smiled, when suddenly the innkeeper showed up with his ale and plate of still smoking Ash Hopper legs. “As you ordered, sera. Anything else I can get you?”

     

    “That will be all, thank you,” Ravyn murmured and sniffed the smoke coming from his food. He rolled his eyes in delight and smiled at Geldis Sadri. “It smells even better up close. Thank you, sera.” The innkeeper nodded and as Ravyn began enjoying his food, he eyed the old Dunmer, leaving him in suspense a little while longer. And he knew Venhen was reveling in it. “Let's just say,” Ravyn started, wiping some sauce from his mouth, “that I represent a certain group from Riften. A group that has an interest to...hmm, make an outpost here.”

     

    “And what kind of outposht that would be?”

     

    The ex-Morag Tong grinned, washing the meat down with ale, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “Damn, that ale is good. What kind of outpost? The one that makes profit, of course. And we're not exactly looking for competition here. And knowing who you represent, we wouldn't want to… tread on someone's toes.”

     

    He was making all that up, of course, because Nerussa certainly didn't plan to make an outpost in Solstheim - and even if she did, he doubted she would want to ‘deal’ with the likes of the Camonna Tong. She had a completely different policy. But Ravyn saw an opportunity, because Venhen Ules was much more reasonable to deal with than that Orc seemed. And the enemy of my enemy...

     

    “Very intereshting,” Venhen kept grinning, motioning with his hand for Ravyn to continue.

     

    “We would rather deal with you, than with that… green obstacle.”

     

    “Green obshtacle,” the old Dunmer chuckled, shaking his head. “Bravo, I like it. Hehehe.”

     

    Ravyn bowed his head, acknowledging the old Dunmer's amusement and continued: “I imagine you're not happy about him either. And I have no doubt you are already putting a plan into motion. So, all I want is to be included in that plan. You could consider me your pawn, if you wish, and I'm alright with that. For the sake of our future cooperation.” It was a gamble, offering himself like that. He knew Venhen would weigh the options and he also knew the old Dunmer would come to the realisation that Ravyn was certainly no ally of Mogrul - but there was still the possibility he would snitch to Mogrul if Venhen would tell him his plan. So Ravyn wasn't expecting a definite answer - what he was expecting was that Venhen would call for him in the last second before he moves on Mogrul, to figure out if he's true to his word.

     

    And he wasn't that wrong. “How can I passh shuch an opportunity, right?” Venhen tapped into the table cheerfully. “I will shertainly let you know when the opportunity arishesh, shera.”

     

    Ravyn grinned at that. “That's all I ask for.”

    He had spent the rest of the day walking around Raven Rock, observing and, at times, listening to the town's people. It was strange seeing these Redoran walk around with their heads bowed, shoulders low, as if they were carrying the weight of a shame on their backs for all eternity.

     

    Unusual for House Redoran was a proud house, faithful and pious, everything that was thrown their way was always seen as a test. But in Raven Rock...it almost seemed like they stopped caring about the tests of the Reclamations. But why?

     

    It could have been the land itself, but Redoran had tamed even more inhospitable lands. No, Ravyn had a good guess when he noticed Mogrul walking the marketplace as if he owned the whole island. It was the debt. They were ashamed, their soul-fires being slowly, but steadily put out, making them obedient and frightful sheep.

     

    It was making Ravyn sick. None of them deserved that and he vowed to himself that if he could do something about it, he would do it. He hoped that Venhen Ules wouldn't be such a slaver as Mogrul.

     

    Slaver. That's what the Orc was. He was taking away the people's freedom, making them his slaves in all but name. And apparently he had experience with that as Ravyn learned from the few people willing to talk with him. He had been a slaver back in Morrowind, capturing Argonians for Great House Dres, and it was probably there where he learned how to enslave others. Ravyn was alright with using Argonians as slaves, especially after what those damned lizards did to his homeland, but Mogrul? Mogrul had been know for enslaving even his own people. He was like… an Orc Archein. A slaver of his own kind, hated by his people and spit on by the Dunmer.

     

    Ravyn certainly saw the Dres handiwork in Raven Rock's day to day business. Mogrul learned well from Dres slavers. It only hurt so much that those practices were being used against Ravyn's people too. It had to end.

     

    By the time he stopped by the strange stone in south-western end of Raven Rock, standing in the middle of small plaza framed by Dunmeri houses, it was already getting dark. It seemed as if they were building around that stone and Ravyn had to wonder why that stone wasn't toppled when the Dunmer took over Raven Rock. It stood there, like some strange animalistic totem, and it was literally hitting his eyes the way it didn't fit in amongst either the Imperial influences of Raven Rock, or the houses of Velothi culture.

     

    There were two Dunmer near the stone, working with chisels and hammers as Ravyn approached them. Their eyes were staring into the distance and he waved with his hand in front of one Dunmer, an old man. He seemed to be barely walking and yet his moves with the chisel were precise as if he had been born a mason. “Here in his shrine,” the Dunmer murmured and Ravyn frowned.

     

    It really was like Sharmat had returned, which was still giving Ravyn the creeps. He still remembered the waning days of the previous Era, the disturbing dreams taking over him as Dagoth Ur turned him into one of his Sleepers. Ravyn shuddered and walked towards the beach, in secret hoping it was just his mind jumping to conclusions. There was no Nerevarine now to save them from Sharmat again.

     

    As he neared the beach, he finally saw her. People told him they had seen her there, just sitting in the ash and he shook his head. He took a deep breath and walked towards her, sitting down in the ash too, a mere step away from her. They both watched the Red Mountain in the distance, spewing ash into the air and he tried to imagine how it must look to her. He knew that image very well, he had been seeing it most of his life - which wasn't exactly short. But to her? So close to it, feeling the ash all around her. It had to be alien.

     

    “I grew up there,” he suddenly broke the silence, pointing with his chin at Red Mountain. “In Khuul, before Red Mountain erupted. Seems so long ago. I was someone else back then, still using my birth name.” He paused and his lips became a straight line. “Had a family there. A long time ago.”

     

    She didn't look at him, she just snorted. “That supposed to mean something to me?”

     

    Ravyn shrugged at that, knowing that Sapphire wasn't inclined to really listen to him. He actually didn't care about that as much as he thought. She was headstrong and stubborn, and she could remain that, but he just wanted to say few things. What she would do with what he said wasn't his concern anymore. “I won't see my family ever again. You, on the other hand, have the opportunity. Just saying.”

     

    Sapphire didn't respond to that, only loudly exhaled.

     

    Ravyn shrugged again and rolled his eyes. It's her business, Ravyn. Focus on the real business. “I haven't found a trace of those cultists here. We'll have to stay a while if we're to dig them out. And that Orc is going to be a problem.”

     

    “Really?” she murmured and looked at him. “Saw him talk with few people. I think I have quite a clear image. Is he really going to be a problem?”

     

    The Dunmer tilted his head to the side, frowning. “Not a problem? Are you serious? Wait.” He raised his eyebrows in complete shock. “Are you seriously-”

     

    “Why not?” she shrugged, apparently not really caring about all the people in Raven Rock. “Sometimes it's easier to cooperate than try to kill each other, right? Could be turned into our own advantage.”

     

    Ravyn resolutely shook his head, completely put off by Sapphire's pragmatism. “No, not a chance. He's just a leech, feeding on people's blood and sweat. And besides, he might not be the king for long. I just talked with certain old Dunmer and plans are being put in motion. There's more to Raven Rock than it seems at first glance.”

     

    Sapphire snorted. “Whatever, Ravyn. Maybe you could talk with one of those idiots working on the stone, they seem to be your type of companio-”

     

    Ravyn heard quick footsteps in the ash and the rattling of a chain, which interrupted Sapphire's words. The Dunmer looked over his shoulder, only to see a black skull, it's spikes glimmering with the reflected light of the moons. It was growing in size until it was bigger then him, and for a moment he felt pain, then a strange numbness. The world turned to the side, somewhat distorted, and he could see the sea in front him, glimmering in all its glory. But it was strange. Like everything was turned to the side. But if everything was turned to the side, then why didn't the water pour down? He really wanted to find an answer to that, but for some reason he was so sleepy. He just wanted to close his eyes and sleep. So he closed them and felt pure ecstasy as the darkness came.

    Sapphire turned around to see that Orc, Mogrul, coming at them with quick steps, a flail in his hand, the head in the shape of skull spinning on a chain. Before she could react, the skull came swinging in a wide arc, striking Ravyn’s head. Bone, blood and pieces of brain showered Sapphire's face as the flail's head completely obliterated half of Ravyn's face, taking out his eye, knocking out his teeth and revealing everything underneath it.

     

    The Dunmer fell on his side, the destroyed face pointing upwards and she watched as the light of life vanished from his remaining eye. His legs kicked several times and his bowels emptied their contents, filling the air with an awful stench. She just stared, stunned.

     

    A strong hand grabbed her by the hair, forcing her to look up. Her eyes found the ugly face of an Orc, just staring, not even feeling the pain as her hair were being pulled.

     

    “I gave you a whole fucking day to come and apologize,” he growled into her face. “I was being generous, but you just spat into my face by ignoring me. Let me tell you this, girl: You don't fuck with me. Look what happened to your friend. Want the same thing?” He then pushed her away, dropping her into the ash. She felt the blood and ash mixing in her mouth and she looked up at Mogrul, gritting her teeth. He frowned back at her and shook his head. “Oh, nonono. This won't work. This fucking stare. You still don't get it, do you? You work for me now, girl. Do you want to live? Do you want to have all your limbs intact? You do what I say. You should have listened to your daddy.” He at kicked Ravyn’s body, spitting at it. “This idiot would be alive if you did.”

     

    “I will kill you,” she growled, staring into his eyes. “Maybe not today, but one day-”

     

    “One day, one day,” Mogrul repeated with mockery in his voice as he crouched next to her. “You got balls, girl, I already told you that. But get this into your head. You screw me over once, I'll take your fingers. You screw me over twice, I take your fucking hand. You screw me over thrice… Well, I think we'll come up with something.” He pointed at Ravyn's corpse. “Do you wonder why I killed him and not you? It was you who insulted me. Ignored me. Am I right? Well...the reason I killed him was so that you could live with it. Someone died instead of you. Want to try it again, girl?”

     

    She bit her lip, wanting to pull out her dagger and bury it into the Orc's skull. She wanted to, but all she could do was just stare at him, raging inside.

     

    “That's more like it,” Mogrul grinned and then grabbed Ravyn's left leg. “Slitter, come on. Give me a hand.” The Dunmer in armor made of bug shells grabbed Ravyn's second leg and they dragged it into the water, just tossing it there, as if it was nothing. It wouldn't take long before Ravyn's body became food for mudcrabs or any other nasty buggers. And Mogrul didn't care, he even didn't care if someone found the body. She understood that. “Well, that should suffice. Now, you,” he pointed at Sapphire. “You should clean yourself up, you look like shit with bits of brain in your hair. I'll drop by later, Mallory.”

     

    With that, he walked away and she stared at Ravyn's corpse. With clenched jaw and dry eyes, the Serpent shining bright on the night sky again.

     

     

     

     

     

     

Comments

14 Comments   |   Meli and 7 others like this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  October 10
    Caught up! Wait, no, one more chapter yay! What a left-field ending to
    this chapter, like those movies where they're casually talking in a car
    and you barely have a sec to see the semi (or lorry) incoming in the
    side mirror. Not sure ...  more
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Exuro
      Exuro
      Exuro
      Caught up! Wait, no, one more chapter yay! What a left-field ending to
      this chapter, like those movies where they're casually talking in a car
      and you barely have a sec to see the semi (or lorry) incoming in the
      side mirror. Not sure who I want to see ...  more
        ·  October 10
      Awesome that you've caught up! Mogrul getting a happy end? Now there's a thought, hehehe. 
      Many plot lines, yeah, I guess I'm guilty of that. Lot of them were cast out, some were resolved, some got mixed up and few new pop out. Thing is that ri...  more
  • Teineeva
    Teineeva   ·  October 3
    I remember you had me proofread this monster of a twist so I'll just repeat what I said then: FUCK MOGRUL! there you go. Great chapter Karve.
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  September 26
    Dammit, Lorc! You pulled a GRRM (pronounced Grim) on us. :P I'm curious to hear Mogrul's conversation from a certain Elf's point of view. 
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      Dammit, Lorc! You pulled a GRRM (pronounced Grim) on us. :P I'm curious to hear Mogrul's conversation from a certain Elf's point of view. 
        ·  September 27
      Did I pull GRRM? Ooooo. Where? :D
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  September 26
    Whee, another chapter! Definitely worth the wait. The character interactions in this universe remain as entertaining as ever. And though Mogrul is a villain I love to hate, his tactics are beginning to seem a little... lacking in finesse. As expected of a...  more
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Whee, another chapter! Definitely worth the wait. The character interactions in this universe remain as entertaining as ever. And though Mogrul is a villain I love to hate, his tactics are beginning to seem a little... lacking in finesse. As expected of a...  more
        ·  September 27
      Thanks, Harrow. And you know how it works. Sometimes you have to use finesse but sometimes you just have to make it...sloppy :D
      • A Shadow Under the Moons
        A Shadow Under the Moons
        The Lorc of Flowers
        The Lorc of Flowers
        The Lorc of Flowers
        Thanks, Harrow. And you know how it works. Sometimes you have to use finesse but sometimes you just have to make it...sloppy :D
          ·  September 27
        Why are you always so perverted, Karver-jo?!

        B-but it's not as if I d-dislike that or anything... >////<
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  September 26
    I actually feel quite sick.  (sn)
    • Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      I actually feel quite sick.  (sn)
        ·  September 26
      And I can't hit the right emote button either. But man, lots going on and I echo everyone else in saying that I hope that Orc dies horribly :D
      • The Lorc of Flowers
        The Lorc of Flowers
        Paws
        Paws
        Paws
        And I can't hit the right emote button either. But man, lots going on and I echo everyone else in saying that I hope that Orc dies horribly :D
          ·  September 27
        Sick like an onion being slowly flailed - I mean peeled off - alive? :D
  • Meli
    Meli   ·  September 26
    And Lorcys back :-) Hatesies Mogrul, hatesies, hatesies him, but I get the feeling he'll get his comeuppance at some point.. 
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Meli
      Meli
      Meli
      And Lorcys back :-) Hatesies Mogrul, hatesies, hatesies him, but I get the feeling he'll get his comeuppance at some point.. 
        ·  September 26
      I hatesies him like I hatesies Negan, but I lovesies them at the same time. 
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Meli
      Meli
      Meli
      And Lorcys back :-) Hatesies Mogrul, hatesies, hatesies him, but I get the feeling he'll get his comeuppance at some point.. 
        ·  September 26
      *kicks Mogrul into kneecap* :D
      Thank you, Meli. Everyone get what they deserve :)