Of Hounds and Men

  • The streets were scorched by the relentless onslaught of the sun, the tiles of the pavement emitting heat under people’s feet. But it didn’t seem to bother those people at all, the crowded streets being sufficient proof of that. There were still several hours before sunset and the City of Mages wasn’t about to stop its activity.

     

    The marketplace in the center of Elinhir was the pumping heart of the city, an overwhelming cacophony of sounds and smells of the people who were like ants in their own anthill. But if the people had to be compared to ants, than they were living in a very chaotic anthill. And chaos always bred opportunity.

     

    Plenty of things had changed from the days of Blackcaster mages or even the days of the Interregnum when Colovian fashion was still popular. The City of Mages was very close to the borders of Skyrim and Cyrodiil, so the cultures often clashed in a strange mix of clothes, architecture, and accents. Elinhir had always been a city of outcasts and the city was still reflecting that in Fourth Era. Redguards were far from the dominating population there for the simple reason that the city accepted pretty much anyone in between its walls and towers.

     

    But mages were still ruling the city, creating a magocracy of sorts. Every noble in the city was a mage, with an ancestorship of mages coming before him. It wasn’t as much about blood as it was about the magic. The royal families were marrying their offsprings only to other nobles with considerable magical skills and all these families were combined into a ruling body of Elinhir called the Bright Council, with an Archon being a de-facto governor of the city.

     

    Of course, the city was open to non-mages too, even to the man who was pushing through the marketplace’s crowd towards his favourite inn where they were making one of the best roasted boar he ever had the pleasure to eat. And, of course, he needed to wash it down with something, and it could be a coincidence - or maybe not - that the inn was also brewing its own Snakeblood Ale. There was nothing better than Snakeblood Ale. Except maybe roasted boar...

     

    Well, if one waits a few centuries there might be something even better than that, the man thought as he was struggling to push his way through the marketplace towards the Lower Terrace district. He was a Redguard, but no warrior, and not even strongly built like many of the children of Yoku. No, he was of average height and more than average girth, his big round belly jumping in front of him almost of its own volition. His dark brown skin was beaded with with sweat and he licked his meaty lips in exhaustion. A few more angaids to poor Barun’s weight and he should start worrying about his heart giving out. His eyes suddenly grew wide in terror. Barun might even slim down before he reaches his destination. The horror! He’d have to order two roasted boars to rectify that.

     

    He finally reached the Lower Terrace and sighed in relief. Finally through. Barun thinks they really are like ants these people. Elinhir was divided into three Terraces, each for a certain caste. The Higher Terrace was the district for Elinhir’s nobles and mages - which was actually far from mutually exclusive. The Middle Terrace was a commerce district, with mostly shops and warehouses located there, while the Lower Terrace was its own anthill for the little ants that were lowly to sleep at. Or eat. Or kill each other. Crime was ever present there. It was almost ironic how people were bent on killing or just generally harming each other.

     

    The fat man shrugged, fixing his purple shirt, only to notice that the three upper buttons were undone gain. He sighed in exasperation. This body certainly has its disadvantages. He exhaled and pulled in his belly, his sausage like fingers commencing a battle of epic scale with his bothersome buttons. He managed to do the first two but the last one was just too stubborn to give in. The man drew a sharp breath and let his hands fall down on his belly in frustration. Poor Barun outwitted by his own button! Bad, bad button! Barun wants to cry in frustration and shame for he has been defeated.

     

    With a sour face of defeat, he lumbered through the Lower Terrace, heading towards his favourite inn called the Boastful Smiley, called after the owner. Who was also called Smiley and was quite boastful, but Barun liked it. It was amusing listening to that Imperial during a meal - Barun liked entertainment while he was eating.

     

    He took a shortcut through the alleys, just as he did many times before even though the alleyways were a perfect spot for someone to rob him. But he wasn’t worried. If anyone asked him what he was doing there, he’d always answer that he was an actor. A good one too. He was known for always staying in character, until, of course, the situation required him to change his role. And so he would simply change it. He wasn’t worried, not at all.

     

    It was when he was passing one particulary dark alley that he heard the sound. A weak yowl, a sound of pain and fear. He then saw a faint flash of light from the alley to his right followed by another whimper. A bark sounded then closely followed by a weak howl full of even more pain and Barun involuntarily twitched, resisting the urge to answer. Not Barun's business, Barun is on vacation and yet he hesitates, forcing himself to resist, to ignore. But can something be completely ignored?

     

    “Oh for Morwha's teats,” the fat Redguard mumbled, his voice completely changing as began walking through the alley, following the sounds.

     

    ***

     

    A tall Breton was leaning against the wall of a shabby building in the dark alley, completely lost in his thoughts. He was bored, which wasn't a surprise considering the job he was  assigned these days. Being a nanny to a spoiled brat. Makes me miss the old days of stabbing someone in the back and such. That was certainly more thrilling than this.

     

    “How am I doing, Gaspred?” a voice pulled him out of his thoughts and he focused on the thirteen year old Imperial boy in front of him. The lad was tall for his age, with long blond hair, olive skin, and cruel blue eyes. The boy was currently practicing newly learned shock magicks on some street mutt they found in the alley picking through the garbage.

     

    “Good, my lord,” Gaspred murmured. He looked at the dog, with its short, mangy brown hair which had bits torn out here and there, as well as his scarred muzzle and the blind grey eye that was a contrast to his other normal eye. Survived few fights on the street, eh, boy? It doesn't matter. You just pulled the short straw today. It happens and there's nothing you can do when the mighty decide to crush you under their heels.

     

    The kid released another short burst of lightning from his hands, watching the dog squirm and yowl in pain. Young Amitian of house Catrinius was clearly enjoying himself. He was the only son of Bright Lord Vasumus Catrinius who had a seat on the Bright Council. There were rumors that he would become the next Archon, for the current one was growing old. Just don't forget who got you that position, Vasumus, Gaspred thought to himself. If it weren't for Gaspred, Vasumus certainly wouldn't have risen so quickly and sometimes it felt like Gaspred wasn't appreciated the way he should be. I'm the best nightblade in eastern Hammerfall, damn it! They don't call me the Hound because I look like a dog or something!

     

    Then he heard loud panting and frowned, pushing himself reluctantly from the wall. His eyes were set on the alley and he saw a shadow amble towards them. A rather large shadow and Gaspred the Hound narrowed his eyes to scrutinize, his hand slowly reaching for the longsword at his belt. The shadow then walked into the light and… Gaspred resisted the urge to laugh aloud. It was a Redguard who apparently really enjoyed sweets and an eating in general. A round man with fingers like sausages dressed in a purple shirt which was barely holding together on his shaking reserves of fat. Just to make himself look even funnier, the man with no sense of fashion decided to wear bright green pantaloons, the clashing colours literally hammering into Gaspred's eyes.

     

    “Barun has come in all his rolling fury... to see what kind of evil is... playing out in this smelly, dark and... rather scary alley!” the man shouted between heavy breaths. “And Barun can't catch his breath. Give the loveable man, who loves his food and his belly, and the food in his belly, some time to catch his breath.”

     

    The Breton just raised his eyebrows, the corners of his mouth twitching. “You do know you are addressing young lord Amitian Catrinius, son of Bright Lord Vasumus Catrinius, right? Show some respect, fat man.”

     

    The Redguard raised his eyebrows in return, his triple chin shaking as he opened his mouth to speak. “Barun is most honored to make such an acquaintance. He should most likely apologize to the young lord, that Barun definitely should do.” He then folded his hands on his belly, watching Gaspred and Amitius.

     

    “Just get rid of him, Gaspred,” the kid growled in annoyance when no apology came from the Redguard. “I have to practice.”

     

    “You heard the lord,” the Breton shrugged and pointed with his chin the way the man came. “Get lost, fattie.”

     

    “But Barun can't!” the man put his hands on his cheeks, horror written on his face. “Barun heard sounds of pain and now that he sees, he can't help himself but wonder why is the young lord hurting the dog? Barun's eyes are wide in shock and filled with sadness, just like apples are full of sweet juice. Aren't dogs the best friends of a man? Barun has to ask.”

     

    “It's just a street mutt!” Amitius barked. “Who cares?! Gaspred, I told you to get rid of him! Now!”

     

    Gaspred looked at the mutt who was trying to claw back to his feet, but his hind legs kept failing him. Too much shock magicks, paralyzed the muscles. He won't run anywhere now. The Breton shrugged and walked towards the fat Redguard. “Now you've made the young lord angry. Don't make me force you to leave.”

     

    “Stupid dog,” the kid behind him murmured and Gaspred felt another wave of shock magicks being cast behind him and another tormented yowl from the dog. But the Hound's eyes were on the Redguard whose face twisted into a grimace of disgust and anger. The Redguard rolled back his shoulders and stretched out his chest, which actually made him look comical rather than intimidating. Gaspred could even see the upper buttons of his shirt trembling in their struggle to hold the man within the confines of his shirt-

     

    The upper button then shot forward and Gaspred heard a surprised gasp closely followed by a yell of pain. “My eye!” Amitius cried out.  Gaspred turned around to see the kid holding a hand over his eye, the other one quickly filling with tears.

     

    “Ooops,” the Redguard peeped sheepishly.

     

    You're so going to lose your job now, Gaspred. The fucking kid will spin some damn lie about how it's your fault he lost his eye or whatever! Gods damn it! “You're so dead!” he growled at the fat Redguard. He pulled out his sword in one fluid motion. He didn't need magic to get rid off such a fool, good old steel was more than enough. He brought the sword down on the fat idiot's neck, releasing all his anger and frustration in that single movement.

     

    For a second it seemed as if the man had turned into a statue of stone and then the blade struck.

     

    Gaspred released a yelp of pain and surprise. The blade shattered into pieces and his hands went numb from the impact. He blinked and there wasn't a statue or a Redguard, but one huge ogre that hit him with the back of its hand, sending him into the air.

     

    The Breton hit the ground with a groan of pain. The side of his head felt as if someone was pounding an anvil there and he couldn't get rid off the ringing in his ear. He managed to look up and saw the fat Redguard standing in the alley, a sly smile on his round face. “What in Oblivion…?” the Hound gasped, shaking his head, but he could still only see the fat Redguard. Illusion. He must be using Illusion magicks. Oblivion. Oblivion. I'll give you Oblivion!

     

    He reached through the limen to the other side, finding his favourite toy, and he pulled it back to himself, to Nirn. The air split in purple flames and then there was a Dark Seducer standing in the alley. She looked quite annoyed, but that wasn't a surprise. Gaspred most likely pulled her from a very enjoyable torture of some poor mad fool. Kill him! Kill the Redguard! he ordered her in his mind and she strode towards the man.

     

    He had full confidence in her abilities and he knew Illusion certainly wouldn’t stop her. He underestimated the Redguard, but he had a job to do and it wasn’t personally making sure the man died. It was to make sure the royal brat didn’t get hurt. He grabbed the now hysterically weeping boy, threw him over his shoulder, and ran, ran away from a fat man. I'll get you later, bastard! he promised himself. Unless she gets you first.

     

    ***

     

    Barun watched the Mazken stride towards him with a drawn dangerously looking axe made of black glass. He looked into her eyes and cocked his head. “Barun knows this beautiful creature, oh he certainly does. That frown, those hips and the way they swing, Barun can't help himself but grin at that sight. Barun still remembers you when you were young, pretty and dark Autkendo Jansa.”

     

    The Mazken stopped for a moment, her dark, pool-like eyes narrowing. “You,” she murmured. She clenched her jaw, as she struggled against the summoning spell, against the command to kill him. He could see that very well. “I...can't…”

     

    He narrowed his eyes. It was always sad to see a Daedric being used by the inhabitants of Tamriel as tools, doing the dirty work for them. Daedra didn't like that. Actually, they hated it, because Daedra were beautiful and prideful creatures, Mazken especially, and it was just touching to see the captain of the Palace Guard struggle valiantly against the summoning sigil.

     

    “Don't fret, my dear, Barun is here and he will help you, with a smile and wave of a hand,” he said, making a gesture, “he shall free you and he shall bask in your beauty and unending gratitude.”

     

    She suddenly stopped, the sigil bending her will to the caster no longer existing. She released a sigh of relief and then quickly straightened. “We have heard rumors, of course, but I didn’t expect-”

     

    “Shh, shh,” the Redguard put his fat finger on his lips, silencing her. “The walls have ears and the pavement has eyes, and they keep looking because He keeps looking. But Barun doesn't want to be found, because Barun is on a vacation, dear captain. So no one can know of poor hungry Barun, because it's not the time yet, dark creature of beauty. Be so kind and do Barun a favour: tell no one you have seen a tiny little Barun, will you? Barun pleads with puppy eyes, yes?”

     

    The Mazken then disappeared the same way she appeared and Barun released his own sigh of relief. He then kneeled beside the dog, scratching him behind the ears and the mutt sniffed with uncertainty. Once it recognized his smell, it crawled closer to him, its head resting on his boot.

     

    “It's alright, Barun says with a reassuring voice, it is very much alright now. Here, Barun will help you.” He picked the dog up, slowly walking down the street even though he was already beginning to sweat with effort. “You deserve a big piece of a roasted boar, my friend, just as Barun deserves a big pint of Snakeblood Ale. Yes, roasted boar and ale. Barun is buying and he will buy you the best roasted boar you ever had. Now that Barun thinks about it, he might actually buy you a smaller piece because heroic actions like the rescue of dogs in distress makes Barun very hungry.”

     

    ***

     

    “I'm telling you, father!” the kid screamed as if the world was about to end and it only made Gaspred's head pound louder. “There were ten men, they attacked us in the alley and-”

     

    “Enough!” Vasumus Catrinius barked, making the boy immediately shut his mouth, averting his father's gaze. His eye was completely fine - thankfully - just little bit red. But it was just as Gaspred was expecting. The boy was spinning a lie and he blamed Gaspred for everything that had transpired. According to the boy Gaspred went down immediately and the boy had to fight off ten skilled mages who were there to kidnap him. “Go see your tutor now. You have to study,” the Bright Lord continued and his son was about to say something, but when he looked at his father, he reconsidered. With a simple nod he left the room, closing the door behind him.

     

    The room was pretty, with all that fancy stuff Gaspred kept seeing in Elinhir. It was Vasumus' office of sorts, with all the important things for office meetings. Like a table, chairs, lots of drawers, but also expensive carpets and paintings and even a chandolier made of crystal. Vasumus himself was an unassuming Imperial, with short hair that resembled straw. Not even close to his son's nearly golden locks. But his eyes were dark and calculating and that exactly captured Vasumus’ personality. Calculating.

     

    Precisely that was what the Imperial doing when he looked at Gaspred who returned the stare with narrowed eyes. After few seconds of silence, he sighed and opened his mouth. “Your son-”

     

    “My son is an idiot,” Vasumus interrupted, sitting down behind his table. “An idiot who likes to torture animals. Would you believe that? Fending off ten skilled mages,” Vasumus shook his head in disbelief. “So what really happened?”

     

    Gaspred bit his lip and grimaced. “One man,” he said bitterly, not very fond of saying that out loud. It certainly wouldn't do his reputation any good if the word spread.

     

    “One man?” the Birght Lord raised his eyebrows. “Would that happen to be a fat Redguard in a purple shirt and green pantaloons?”

     

    “How-?”

     

    Vasumus waved his hand. “You kept asking my guards about him. I think you're forgetting they answer to me first.”

     

    “I think you're forgetting who got you your title,” Gaspred muttered with a frown.

     

    “What is that supposed to mean?” the Bright Lord rose from his chair, leaning against the table, probably trying to intimidate Gaspred. But it wasn't working. Far from it.

     

    “I'm not a fucking nanny, Vasumus!” the Hound growled, making his namesake proud. “Find some other idiot to watch over that brat, but I'm done with that. I want real work, not babysit your spoiled little terror.”

     

    “Just tell me what in the Oblivion happened, Gaspred!” the Bright Lord growled in response and the Breton narrowed in his chair, throwing up his arms.

     

    “Fine, fine!” He sighed, rubbing his eyes. “We were in the Lower Terrace, in an empty dark alley. Your kid was frying this mutt. Some street stray. Then this fat Redguard showed up, spewing gibberish about dogs being the best friends of man and shit like that. Then…” he stopped himself, thinking about how that stupid button hitting the boy's eye. Should he really talk about that? Didn't seem really believable, because what were the chances? The Redguard certainly didn't use a spell for that, because Gaspred would feel the magicka at least.

     

    “Well?” Vasumus urged him to continue.

     

    “The Redguard demanded the kid stop hurting the dog and when he didn't, the fat guy went nuts. I drew my sword. And I hit him with it.” Gaspred stopped for a moment, trying to recall that precise moment. “I swung at his neck, classic oblique strike aiming between the collarbone and spine. It hit him, but the blade shattered to pieces. For one second it seemed like the Redguard became a statue. And then an ogre showed up and tossed me across the alley.”

     

    “Statue? Ogre?” Vasumus blinked several times. “What in the blazes are you talking about?”

     

    “It's strange, I know,” Gaspred shook his head. “Must have been an illusion or something. But I know those and he's either so good that I didn't notice or it was something else. So yeah, I summoned that Mazken, grabbed the kid, and ran. And this is where it gets strange. I lost command over that Dark Seducer. She wasn't banished, she wasn't taken over either. It was like someone just...made the binding spell disappear and she was free. And then I felt her return to Oblivion, of her own volition.”

     

    Vasumus stared at him, those dark eyes calculating. “It sounds like powerful magic,” the Bright Lord murmured. “You want real work, right? That Redguard has harmed my son, thus he has gone against the law. Find him, bring him to the dungeons.”

     

    The Hound narrowed his eyes and solemnly nodded.

     

    I won't make the mistake of underestimating you again, fat ass.

     

    ***

     

    Barun was picking off the roasted boar's bones, making sure they were completely clean of every drop of fat, tendon, and, most importantly, meat. It was so good he was almost of a mind to try chewing the bones, but he wasn't sure if his sweet-weakened teeth could handle that. So he was throwing all the bones to the dog under the table and he could hear the satisfying cracks of bones being grinded by sharp teeth. He was actually savouring the sounds, they were like a calming tide for him.

     

    “Well, that's a whole second boar,” Smiley, the innkeeper, smiled when he came to Barun's table. Smiley was a Redguard with a bald head and dark brown eyes that never stopped smiling - just as he. He seemed to be always grinning, showing everyone his perfect white teeth. Barun sort of envied him those. “Another two, Barun?”

     

    “Two?” the fat Redguard raised his eyebrows in horror. “You must have lost your mind, my friend, Barun can't eat so many boars even though it seems impossible considering he just ate two boars. Barun will tell you what happens. You will bring Barun a big pint of Snakeblood Ale and one more roasted boar. Because Barun doesn't cram before sleep.”

     

    Smiley just laughed out loud and went towards the kitchen, shaking his head in disbelief. Barun looked under the table and the dog gazed up at him, watching him with his one good eye. The Redguard smiled and patted the furry head and the dog licked his fingers. “No, no, that's Barun's meat juice, boy! You have your bones, leave the rest to Barun. He's bigger, he needs more of it.”

     

    Smiley showed up with a big pint of ale and Barun quickly snatched it from the innkeeper’s hands, swallowing the liquid while groaning with delight. There was nothing more refreshing in a hot day than Snakeblood Ale.

     

    Snakeblood Ale. Brewed with barley grown just beyond the desert's reach, the ale would be fine on its own, but the unique ingredients really made it something special. In a number of areas, Snakeblood Ale was actually a misnomer - on the western side of the desert, real snake's blood was preferred, adding a rosy hue and a flavor similar to brandy, along with a cooling sensation purportedly coming from the alchemical properties of snake blood. On the eastern side, a splash of blood may be included, but the ingredient that took center stage was venom. A substantial amount was added and it cuts the natural sweetness with a note of sharpness and a peculiar, tingling numbness.

     

    Barun felt something wet on his thigh and looked down to see the dog’s sad eye pleading at him, his head resting on Barun's leg. “No, Barun says a resolute no. The ale is Barun's and sad puppy eyes don't work on Barun because-” The dog whined and the Redguard sighed. “Barun is such a weak-willed man.” He poured little bit of the ale on the floor, his heart aching after seeing such a waste, but he just couldn't say no.

     

    The door then opened with a loud bang and in walked several men in blue and violet cloaks. Barun sighed when he noticed who was leading them. The one called Hound - Barun thinks it's such an ironic name, yes, that's what Barun thinks. He also thought that he made a mistake back in that alley.

     

    It wasn't a mistake to save the dog, absolutely not. What was a mistake was that he might have shown too much back there. Barun should have changed his role right after that, disappear from sight, yes, yes, Barun was stupid and still is. Stupid and weak-willed, that's what Barun is. All he wanted was just a tiny piece of roasted boar, because Barun was hungry and thirsty. Oh, the stupidity of Barun! He was now absolutely sure he should have had changed his role and simply disappear.

     

    Or he should have had killed the man and the boy.

     

    “Someone seems to be hungry here,” the Hound said with a chuckle and Barun wasn't sure if he was talking about him or the dog. It was difficult to say. The infamous nightblade was surrounded by a half a dozen of Elinhir's Lanterns - the so-called elite law enforcers. All mages and very skilled ones too.

     

    He motioned towards the chair at the other side of the table. “Please, sit. Barun has just ordered his third roasted boar, so Barun can say with certainty he is hungry. But is the Hound hungry too? Barun could share a small piece - but only a small one.”

     

    The nightblade shook his head in disbelief. “I keep listening, but all I hear is bullshit.” He took a seat, turning the chair around so that he could lean with his elbows against the chair's backrest. Barun had seen lot of people sitting like that before and it was saying a lot about those people, about their stance. The Hound was cautious. The backrest of the chair between him and Barun was a certain first line of defense. If Barun would throw anything at him or try to stab him with a fork the Hound would use the chair to block it. And then smash it over Barun's head. “Maybe all this is just some kind of elaborate play, making yourself sound like a complete idiot. Or maybe you really are an idiot. But you caught the attention of the Bright Lord with whatever that was what you did back in the alley.” The Hound flashed a grin full of yellow teeth. “So you either come with us. Or we make you.”

     

    “Barun has caught the Bright Lord's attention? Barun is all blushing now, such praise. But Barun has just ordered a third roasted boar and he can't just leave it here-”

     

    “The hard way it is,” the nightblade shrugged.

     

    Barun felt magic being cast from behind him and he realised the Lanterns must have came through the backdoor too. He quickly rolled from his chair, but as he was dodging the magic from behind, he was hit by a lighting from the front, the Hound being much faster than he expected. The lightning hit him mid-air precisely in the middle of his chest and he could feel the crackling magic surging through him. The air was filled with the smell of burning clothes and hair, but beside that, he didn't feel much pain, that magic mostly breaking against him.

     

    And then the Lanterns released magic of all kinds, but they all intended to just harm him and not kill him. He was being hit by lightning, by weak frost spells, by spells draining his stamina and by paralyzation spells.

     

    It was too much even for him, he could feel his mind slipping away as the pain was slowly getting to him.

     

    He was on the floor and he could see the dog jump from under the table, his teeth burying into the Hound's calf. No! he wanted to cry out, but he just couldn't.

     

    The nightblade growled in pain and its sword went down, its tip burying in between the dog's scapulas, severing his spine. The dog released a terrible of sound of pain as he fell on the floor, his rear legs not responding. Barun was watching, looking into the dog's yellow eye as the animal began crawling towards the Redguard.

     

    “Stupid dog!” the Hound growled, raising the sword again.

     

    Stupid dog, Barun repeated in his mind. Stupid loyal dog. It's in their nature. He closed his eyes so that he didn't have to watch the end. He was hoping he would pass out soon, so that he wouldn't hear the sword fall.

     

    And his wish was granted.

     

    ***

     

    He had woken up in a dark cell lit by only the flames coming from the torches in the hall just outside his cell. The door was comprised of simple bars, but the whole cell was made of stone, three by three steps long and wide, and he could feel something in the stone. Enchantments maybe, dampening all magic around. But Barun wasn't a mage.

     

    He had been there for days, it seemed. It was difficult to measure the time down there. It was a dark and damp place, with guards barely going there, rats very often shuffling under his feet, but what he hated the most about it was the food. It was much, much worse than any torture they could think of, because all he was getting was this...disgusting grey mash brought to him once a day along with a jug of water. What Barun would do for a piece of roasted boar and pint of Snakeblood Ale? He would most definitely tear through the iron bars, shaking his plump fists in wrath of hunger and… He then shook his head. He would wait. A little bit longer.

     

    They didn't even give him a proper bed, but a simple bedroll crawling with fleas and all other kinds of life. But that he could still reconcile with, but they didn't give him a chamberpot! No, he was just supposed to defecate in the corner and over the course of a few days, the smell was already overwhelming. Barun sighed and sat down in the opposite corner, leaning his head against the cold stone.

     

    “Why the sad eyes, puppy?” a feminine voice sounded from the corner drowning in darkness and Barun frowned. “They've taken your bone or - shit! I've stepped into your shit!”

     

    A woman came stumbling - or more like jumping on one leg - from the shadows of his cell, trying to get rid of the dung on her boot. She was clad in what seemed like archaic Mithril armor and he immediately noticed how tall she was. A tall Altmer with short blonde hair that had a slightly darker hue and eyes somewhere between green and golden. “This is just rude!” she kept mumbling as she began wiping the boot on the floor. “And it stinks. More than a stinky cheese!”

     

    Barun rubbed his eyes, more annoyed than surprised that an Altmer woman appeared inside his cell out of nowhere. “Barun is deeply sorry for the inconvenience of a pile of heaping dung being in the corner-”

     

    The Altmer's face wrinkled with horror at his words. “Did I just step on Malacath? Oh, I hope he's not angry. He's such a party crasher when he's angry. And who's Barun?” she suddenly smiled, leaning closer. “Am I speaking with your conscience?” she whispered and then quickly narrowed her slanted eyes. “No, wait. I got it. That's what you call that tiny spear which you polish so often.”

     

    Barun sighed. “Barun sort of misses the old days. Back then one could rely on Mazken not spilling everything-”

     

    “Stop talking like that! Barun is driving me crazy! ME!” the Altmer raised her voice, a very strange cheerful panic resonating in that voice - as if panic could be cheerful. She then ran towards the bars of his cell and began hitting them in a frenzy, shaking them. “Guard! Guard! He is driving me crazy! I need help!”

     

    “Shut your mouth, criminal scum!” a woman’s voice came from the hallway and then a wooden club hit the bars. The guard came into the view and Barun could see it was the same Altmer woman, only wearing a guard's uniform. “Nobody breaks the law on my watch!”

     

    The Altmer in Mithril armor giggled at that. “Hihihi. I love that line!” She then cocked her head, looking at the guard. “Isn't she a pretty one? And how do you like what I wear, eh?” she looked at Barun, her hands going over her body, stopping at her breasts. “I haven't worn this since I've grown manly parts.” She then twitched as her fingers began making circling moves. “Oh, this is awkward. And pleasant. I'm touching myself tonight.”

     

    “You've violated the law!” the Altmer guard hit the bars with the club again.

     

    “Ewww,” Barun made a sound of disgust.

     

    “What?” she looked at him confused. “Not everyone is fond of licking their own balls like you are.”

     

    Barun decided it was time to drop the act, because this was certainly getting on his nerves. “Why don't you go drive someone else crazy, eh? Like judges?”

     

    The Altmer raised an eyebrow and then grinned. “Good idea. Let's ask the JUDGE!” she raised her voice full of theatrics, pointing to the opposite wall. Suddenly there was a third Altmer woman, wearing the white robe of an Imperial judge. “Your honor-” she bowed.

     

    “Request denied!” the judge screamed. “Overruled! Denieddenieddenied!”

     

    “I haven't asked my ques-”

     

    “Guilty!” the judge kept screaming and pointing at Barun. “Guilty of sanity!”

     

    He released a sigh of exasperation and shook his head. Who could keep the role in the face of such madness? Certainly not him. “Not for long if this keeps continuing. This cell is getting kind of crowded. Soon we'll be swimming in shit.”

     

    The guard and the judge disappeared, only the Altmer in Mithril armor remaining. She cheered up, patting Barun on his shoulder. “Yes! That's it, puppy. Like the old days. I so miss our conventions. No one's chewing my slippers these days - what a bore.” She then looked at him suspiciously. “You aren't going to chew my slippers now, are you? I hate it when you do that.”

     

    “Sometimes I think about that time when you were all about order and stuff,” Barun looked at the Altmer with a frown. “You were less annoying then. So why are you here? To drive me crazy?”

     

    “Ah well, I was just nearby. Did you know they make a terrific roasted boar here?” the high elf knowingly grinned. “So I thought I'd drop by, to mock you a little, see if you want to play fetch. And to why are you sniffing here, of all places too. The curiosity is killing me! Well, not really.” She then frowned and raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Did you get kicked out again? Oh, yes, you did! Hahaha! Sorry, can’t help myself. Never liked you, you know? So fun to mock you.”

     

    “We had an argument,” Barun replied, not really comfortable with talking about it.

     

    “An argument? Is that the thing you wear under your clothes?”

     

    “That's undergarment.”

     

    She wrinkled her nose and snorted. “I knew that. So what is argument then? Oh, oh, I know, I know. Is that the thing that happens in marriage when one cheats on the other and the other grabs a fork to stab the one and the one pulls the other's guts out and then they dance in happiness of undeath?”

     

    Barun stared at the Altmer, not sure how he should respond to that. He then just shrugged, letting it slide. “Well…” he then grimaced. “He did try to kill me.”

     

    “Marriages,” the Altmer woman nodded solemnly. “Bloody business that. So you are what? Running? Waiting for him to take you back? Oh, puppy.” She then looked around. “But is a dark cell really the perfect place for that? Not much running can be done here. Why are you still here then? Change into a rat and slip between the cracks. Oh, or change into a bat - which is still a rat, but with wings! - and fly out. Wait, wait, don't do it yet. Got better idea.” She leaned closer with a devilish grin. “How about a dragon? Change into a dragon! Please, please, pretty please! That could be so much fun! So why don't you come for a visit then? Cliff of Suicides is lovely this time of year.”

     

    “No, I won't change into dragon!” Barun growled, getting on his feet. “Plenty of those in Skyrim these days.” He began pacing, the presence of the Altmer getting under his skin. “Still have some business here. I was slowly getting ready to leave, but then they made it personal! That's just what they do, don’t they? So I can't leave until I solve that…” he looked in the Altmer's direction, but there wasn't anyone there anymore. “And now I'm talking to myself. Well done. Well done.” It’s in the nature of dogs, you know? Be alone with their thoughts, be always loyal even if their master takes a stick to them. But the Altmer woman wasn’t a dog and not a master. She was mad.

     

    How could one hope to react to such madness? Such unpredictability? All plans were falling apart when madness came into play, the voice of reason missing a tune and the walls of sanity slowly cracking. Not even millennia of experience could withstand the onslaught of insanity. But weren't they all little bit insane, each in their own way?

     

    Barun shook his head. Yes we are. But some have to be insane for all of us.

     

    He heard footsteps in the hall. The boots of at least a dozen of people hitting the cold stone and he knew that his time in this dungeon was coming to its end.

     

    ***

     

    They dragged the Redguard to the interrogation room, ripping the ridiculous choice of clothing from him and chained him to the ceiling by his hands. His feet were barely touching the floor, and as he was hanging on those two chains, the Redguard’s head almost disappeared between the layers of fat.

     

    Gaspred just shook his head disbelief. This ball of fat got the jump on you? Difficult to believe. The Hound grew up in Evermore, with the ever constant threat of Reachmen always hanging above the city, and Gaspred had even fought those barbarians.  Multiple times. They were the scariest thing he had ever encountered so it wasn’t a surprise that a fat Redguard wasn’t a threat to him. At least he thought so at first.

     

    “Who are you?” Bright Lord Vasumus asked with a commanding voice, the sound echoing through the room. It was big enough to hold Gaspred, Vasumus and half a dozen Lanterns - which seemed somewhat ridiculous considering they only had a fat Redguard chained there. But Gaspred urged everyone to be cautious. There was something strange about their prisoner.

     

    Back in the inn, they had thrown at least a dozen spells with various effects at him, but the Redguard seemed to just shrug them off. He wasn’t immune to them, but very resistant. He can’t be that tough. At first they had thought he was protected by powerful enchantments, but nothing of that sort, they didn’t detect a single enchanted item on him.

     

    The man was a mystery. And Gaspred hated mysteries.

     

    “Who are you?” Vasumus repeated when the Redguard didn’t answer. It almost seemed as if hunger tied his tongue or something, because he was silent this time too. The Bright Lord then nodded at one of the guards in the room who released a torrent of crackling lightnings from his hands. It hit the Redguard and danced over his skin, but he didn’t release a peep, just clenched his jaw. “Who are you?!” Vasumus growled.

     

    And the fat Redguard chuckled. “I am you,” he said and in a blink of an eye the Redguard was gone, a perfect copy of Vasumus now hanging from the chains. Gaspred pushed himself from the wall, his hand going for his sword.

     

    “Impossible,” the Hound growled, looking at the perfect copy of Vasumus in the chains, even with the correct clothes and all accessories. “The chains should block all magic-”

     

    “I am the Hound,” the man continued and suddenly there was a copy of Gaspred in the chains. With clothes, scars, rings and even a sword at his side.

     

    “What manner of magic is this?” the Bright Lord gasped in surprise and then he narrowed his calculating eyes. “I can't sense a single trace of magicka. How are you doing it? Where did you learn that?”

     

    Gaspred watched the man wearing his face shake his head, a very familiar scowl appearing on his face - a scowl Gaspred saw every morning in the mirror. Watching himself like this was very much like looking into a mirror. “You people feel privileged. Powerful. In control,” the man snorted. “Just because you know few parlor tricks you feel privileged to rule others. You think you own this world, but in reality you are nothing but ants fighting each other. You are an experiment, nothing more.”

     

    Vasumus motioned with his hand and his men released a concentrated burst of magic against the man and this time a growl of pain escaped his lips as the energy surged through his bones and flesh. “I have asked you a question.”

     

    The prisoner chuckled and shook his head. “I'll tell you what's going to happen now,” he murmured and looked around. “In a few seconds, I will be free of these chains. And when I am, the killing will start.”

     

    Gaspred now pulled out his sword even though he didn't realise what he was doing. He just felt the pressure in the room rising and he knew there was something about to happen.

     

    “And when you are all dying,” the prisoner continued, “I want you to think about how you have brought this upon yourselves. What have you done to be punished like this? I want you to think about it as you bleed and the life slips from you. But there is no answer to that. You have just gotten yourself the wrong end of the deal.” He then looked directly at the Hound, narrowing his eyes. “You will die last. You will watch everything, and you will know you are powerless. You can growl, you can bite, just like the dog you killed. But it won't matter.” The man's gaze then set on Vasumus. “And lastly, I want you specifically know that your son will suffer fate worse than death.”

     

    They were all charging their spells, because they felt the imminent danger radiating from their prisoner, like high tide hitting the beach. And then the chains were suddenly empty.

     

    Gaspred licked his lips, feeling a salty taste of sweat on his upper lip. He couldn't just disappear. Where did he go? Then he noticed something on the floor, a tiny statue of stone, not bigger than his palm.

     

    “Go to my son!” Vasumus ordered two men. “Now! You have to protect him!”

     

    They ran towards the door while another guard walked towards the statue on the ground, watching it with a frown. He lifted it, holding it in his palm, and Gaspred finally saw what it was.

     

    It was a small statue of a hound.

     

    Then it suddenly blinked and the guard yelped in surprise. Surprise then turned into terror as the statue suddenly became a real hound of a size of a horse. It was black as night and its eyes were glowing red with maleficent wrath.

     

    The guard's head disappeared in the hound's maw and then the jaws snapped followed by loud sounds of cracking bones as the beast crushed the man's ribcage. It swung with its head and tossed the corpse against the wall, like a discarded toy of flesh and bone.

     

    Gaspred watched as the hound then leapt upon the two men reaching for the door, its paws landing on their backs, breaking their spines, the claws ripping their armor. Vasumus summoned a wall of fire between himself and the hound, but the beast just ran through the flames and with a careless swipe, opened the Bright Lord's belly, sending him against the wall with his guts falling out of him.

     

    It didn't matter. Nothing they could do mattered. No spell or weapon would be able to stop that beast. Gaspred knew that as he sagged to the floor, his sword loudly ringing on the stone.

     

    The beast tore through the guards as if they were nothing but dummies made of straw, their armor made of paper. The claws and the teeth were cutting through steel, flesh and bone with ease and Gaspred found himself sobbing in the face of such a massacre. The room was filled with smoke and smell of burning clothes, hair and flesh, as well as blood.

     

    The last body was tossed in front of Gaspred and he looked into the face of a man, a face twisted in horror, forever frozen in death, because the man was missing everything from waist down.

     

    Two pair of burning eyes appeared out of the smoke, followed by the body of the massive hound, its maw red and shreds of clothes clinging to its teeth. The beast slowly walked up to him and he could feel its hot breath smelling of death on his face.

     

    It reached forward with its massive paw and pinned him down, its claws burying into the skin of his chest only a little, but he screamed in pain. “Please,” he forced out of himself.

     

    “How does it feel?” the beast's voice sounded in his head. “How does it feel to be powerless? To be the inferior creature subjegated to the whims of  a superior predator?”

     

    “Please! If I had any idea-”

     

    “Then what?” the beast interrupted him, the pressure on his chest increasing. “If you had known, would you try to bargain, maybe?” The maw then came closer, the burning red eyes looking straight into Gaspred's. “Bargain is not my domain.”

     

    The Breton then screamed as he heard and felt his rib cage sagging under the weight, crushing his heart, his last thoughts was a prayer for forgiveness, before the darkness swallowed him.

     

    ***

     

    The whole City of Mages was on its feet that night. Bright Lord Catrinius murdered; his young son disappearing without a trace. And every dog in the street was howling.

     

    People talked about it for weeks. They were saying the Bright Lord summoned a powerful Daedra and failed to contain it. They were saying his son made a deal with a Daedric Prince. They were also saying that the Bright Lord was killed by one of his rivals. People were saying lot of things.

     

    But there was one truth in the rumors. One guard has survived the bloodbath. He was taken to the infirmary, but by the time by the time the Lanterns came to interrogate the injured guard…

     

    He was already gone.

     

    Continuing east.

     

    Looking for more distractions.


Comments

8 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 3 others like this.
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  November 4
    Love the second half of the chapter. I'm going crazy thinking who that Altmer woman is. Hallucination? Daedric/Aedric avatar? I still don't get what importance dogs have in this story. Or maybe the moral of the whole story here is "animal abuse is bad" :P
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      Love the second half of the chapter. I'm going crazy thinking who that Altmer woman is. Hallucination? Daedric/Aedric avatar? I still don't get what importance dogs have in this story. Or maybe the moral of the whole story here is "animal abuse is bad" :P
        ·  November 4
      I'm torn here to be honest. Should I tear down the veil over your eyes and take away the mystery or should I leave you stumble in the dark? :)
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Lorc of Flowers
        The Lorc of Flowers
        The Lorc of Flowers
        I'm torn here to be honest. Should I tear down the veil over your eyes and take away the mystery or should I leave you stumble in the dark? :)
          ·  November 4
        A good stumbling in the dark is worth its weight in... uh... dunno? Coffee? Sure, worth its weight in coffee. 
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  November 4
    There was plenty of lightning magic here, and that automatically gets a plus from me~! Zap zap zap zap! And I do love a good slaughter scene.

    I didn't understand some of the nuances in the story, though, since I'm reaaaally behind on my deiti...  more
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      There was plenty of lightning magic here, and that automatically gets a plus from me~! Zap zap zap zap! And I do love a good slaughter scene.

      I didn't understand some of the nuances in the story, though, since I'm reaaaally behind on my deities and pantheons.
        ·  November 4
      Of course you enjoy good slaughter. And get educated, Harrow! :D
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  November 3
    Who is the real demon in this tale? A good read, Karves. Subtle and laden with subtext, a fresh take on a familiar mutt. "...Then listen to what the dog has to say" indeed!
    • The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Who is the real demon in this tale? A good read, Karves. Subtle and laden with subtext, a fresh take on a familiar mutt. "...Then listen to what the dog has to say" indeed!
        ·  November 4
      "Who let the dogs out?!" Hehehe. But that's the MK quote right? Tell god's story, tell mortal's story and then listen to what the dog has to say. Or something like that, no?
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  November 3
    A great read, Karver. Barun is a fascinating character. I enjoyed the particular speech patter you gave him. Glad everybody got their comeuppance.