Gathering Clouds, Chapter 31

  • Chapter 31

     

     

     

     

                         The village was empty, which disturbed Eirandil to no end. There wasn’t a single Shadeclaw in sight.

     

                    There was no noise either. The Po’ Tun were not a rowdy folk to begin with, but even the subdued hubbub of activity was absent. It had been almost an hour since he cast his red fireball into the morning sky – they had chosen to attack well into the day as the shinobi had a clear advantage at night – but there was nothing from their troops. Not even an attempt to communicate, magical or otherwise. They were gathered near the centre of the village, where their welcoming feast had taken place. That same open square was as still as a grave right now. Within the span of one night, Tsukikage had become a ghost town.

     

                    ‘Sir,’ the battlemage swallowed. ‘This bodes ill. The Shadeclaws have found out somehow and-’

     

                    ‘We would still have heard something,’ Larethor muttered. ‘Even the Imperial Legion’s gone, along with old Titus himself. What’re they up to?’

     

                    Karinae licked her lips. ‘What do we do now, Commander?’

     

                    ‘Bah. The twenty of you,’ Larethor barked at the footmer with him. ‘Rush the Grandmaster’s office. We passed by it earlier and there were no guards. Find and kill Takarro, then return here. Hornets and Eirandil, with me. We’re going to check on the west end of the village.’

     

                    As the twenty Thalmor soldiers departed and Larethor slid his helmet on top of his head, Eirandil cleared his throat nervously. ‘Was splitting up really a good idea, sir? We would stand a better chance of taking down the Grandmaster if we stay as a group.’

     

                    ‘Takarro is only one of our objectives. We need to cause enough damage to the shinobi to take them out of the picture completely.’

     

                    And they only spared two hundred mer for this mission. Well, no point in having too many good Altmer kill themselves, Eirandil thought bitterly. The higher-ups didn’t devise this plan to take the shinobi out of the picture. No, the one they want dead is you, you sick lunatic. None of your precious connections are going to be any good if you ‘died in honourable battle’. You’ve enjoyed the company of one too many little boys; did you really think that the Emissaries wouldn’t find a way to put you in the ground and appoint someone more level-headed as Commander?

     

                    Of course, the Emissaries themselves were safe in their own quarters. Probably sniggering behind their backs as the Twinstinger and the shinobi tore each other apart.

     

                    ‘Understood, sir,’ he said with a stiff upper lip. ‘We’ll set off whenever you’re ready.’


     

                    They came across the first corpses in the marketplace. Seven of the fifty footmer assigned to the west side of the village. No signs of a struggle – even though the elves had their weapons out, the market stalls were virtually untouched. There was very little blood.

     

                    ‘By the looks of it, they must have seen the signal and begun the attack.’ Eirandil crouched and examined one of the bodies, propped up next to a cluster of grain sacks. The dead Altmer had a deep hole under his chin and was clutching an extinguished torch. ‘This one was carrying out his orders right up until his death. He must have been trying to burn their grain.’

     

                    ‘Stabbed through the skull, all of them,’ Aenir murmured. The captain of the Hornets was a quiet, thoughtful mer. He tilted the face of another corpse upwards. This one had been killed with a clean thrust through the eye. ‘Taken completely by surprise. The skirmish was over so quickly they never had time to react.’

     

                    ‘Hey, check this out, Cap,’ Karinae called. Aenir’s face twitched with displeasure at being referred to so informally, but he went over to her anyway. ‘I found this on the ground.’

     

                    The Hornet held up two miniscule half-spheres. Aenir peered at them. ‘A pellet?’

     

                    Larethor came over and took the pieces. ‘Hmm,’ he sniffed. ‘Smells like smoke. Some kind of shinobi gadget, I’d wager. Let’s keep going.’

     

                    ‘If the group began their assault from the west and we didn’t meet each other on the main street, they must have gone into the alleys. The closest one is on the left,’ Aenir frowned. ‘If I remember my scouting runs correctly, it’s a dead end.’

     

                    ‘We’re going in,’ Larethor announced. ‘Keep your guard up.’

     

                    They found another pile of corpses in the alleyway. A little more than two dozen.

     

                    ‘Looks like they put up a better fight this time,’ Aenir said calmly, shifting his spear to his shield arm and bending over a footmer with a slit throat.

     

                    ‘So you say, but I don’t see a single shinobi body anywhere,’ Eirandil remarked, feeling the first spikes of fear jab into his stomach.

     

                    ‘No, see?’ Aenir pointed at the fallen elves’ gear. ‘Nicks and notches all over their weapons and armour. The kills were still quick, but some were less tidy. Not just head wounds this time. There’s marks on their necks and bodies as well. And here.’ The captain held up a sword with streaks of red running down it, along with a few strands of fur. ‘Some of them managed to draw blood.’

     

                    ‘Charring on the wall here and here,’ another Hornet chimed in, holding a body upright for inspection. ‘The robe got a few shots off before they… broke her neck.’

     

                    Larethor studied the dead mage. It was the girl he ploughed all the way up the mountain. ‘Stupid bitch shouldn’t have let them get close enough to grab her in the first place,’ he shrugged.

     

                    ‘As you say, sir.’

     

                    ‘More pieces from those pellets of theirs,’ Karinae reported. ‘And some of the shinobi star-darts too. Damn, these things are sharp. Could shave fine hairs off your arm.’

     

                    ‘Focus,’ Aenir cautioned her. ‘Your orders, Commander Larethor?’

     

                    ‘Back to the main street,’ Larethor said urgently, turning around and motioning for his troops to follow. ‘We need to track down the rest of the-’

     

                    A long, wordless moan echoed throughout the marketplace. Moments later, a lone figure dashed through the stalls. Aenir squinted. Sunlight glinting off yellow metal. Elven armour.

     

                    ‘Hold there!’ Larethor yelled, sprinting into the open marketplace. The Hornets followed closely behind. Not being as physically conditioned as they were, Eirandil sagged and began to slow down in the alleyway.

     

                    ‘They’re everywhere,’ the fleeing Thalmor raved. ‘They’re everywhere, nowhere, everywhere and nowhere, they come crawling out of the floor picking biting cutting and they fall from the sky scratching tearing stabbing…’

     

                    Something popped on the ground next to him and a large cloud of smoke swallowed the witless Altmer. His babbling stopped not long after.

     

                    ‘Shields up,’ Larethor shouted. No more than two seconds later, a series of metal darts bounced off the Hornets’ raised shields. The projectiles stopped after a while. Then two round capsules rolled into the midst of their defensive formation and burst, producing more smoke.

     

                    ‘Back to back, form a circle,’ Larethor coughed. ‘Eirandil, clear the air.’

     

                    ‘It would help if you didn’t rush ahead,’ the mage panted irritably from the alleyway, waving his hands in front of him and gathering Magicka. ‘Sir,’ he added as an afterthought.

     

                    Eirandil tossed a fireball that burst in the air a small distance away from the group. The explosion whipped up a gust of wind and the smoke began to dissipate. Larethor grunted. And they say you can’t be creative with Destruction spells.

     

                    The smoke lifted completely and he swore. ‘Stendarr’s low-hanging…’

     

                    They were surrounded by figures clad in grey hooded tunics and cowls, all of them clutching daggers and swords. The mask of subservient politeness that the Po’ Tun had been putting on since their arrival was gone now. An aura of deadly purpose burned in its place.

     

                    ‘So the shinobi finally come out to play.’ Larethor slowly raised Reilanco to shoulder level. He didn’t realise how much he’d been looking forward to this. ‘I do have to thank you. I’ve sated Little Sting on your lovely boy already, now it’s Big Sting’s turn.’

     

                    No reply. Three of the Po’ Tun had broken from the main group and cornered Eirandil, backing him slowly into the alleyway, tails flicking to and fro menacingly. Larethor wasn’t too worried. Eirandil could handle that number easily. The rest of the shinobi circled them, brandishing their blades. Then they swarmed.


     

                    The ambushes on the Thalmor had gone well and proven incredibly effective, but taking kits with them might have been going too far.

     

                    Well, there’s no point brooding over it now, Torako thought. I’ll just have to look after the young ones as best I can.

     

                    With that resolution in mind, and Diia and Ambarro at his side, he curled his palms inwards and called on his reserves of Magicka.

     

                    ‘Oh look, the little cat thinks it’s a mage,’ Eirandil sneered. ‘That litter of yours is just going to get in your way, you know.’

     

                    In response, his students raised their own palms. Diia sheathed one of her kunai and conjured a glowing spike of ice in her fist. Ambarro flipped his staff to his right hand and wreathed his left with fire.

     

                    Eirandil’s sneer only widened. ‘Please. I’m not about to go to the trouble of dealing with you myself.’ The Altmer gestured towards them, and a purplish light began to glow on the ground in front of the shinobi.

     

                    Hmm, a portal from Oblivion. This ought to be interesting. If my eyes don’t fail me, it appears to be one for a dremora. Torako readied himself.

     

                    To his surprise, no fewer than three horned figures emerged from the portal. Well now. Most conjurers in Tamriel only manage one, perhaps two. This Eirandil has skill.

     

                    ‘Your bidding, Master?’ The three knelt before the Thalmor mage.

     

                    ‘Wipe them out,’ Eirandil pointed at the shinobi and smirked.

     

                    The dremora unslung their greatswords and advanced, their daedric plate armour clanking. Then one of them glanced at Torako’s tunic. Her eyes widened, and she stared left and right in a panic.

     

                    ‘No. No. No, no, no, no, no no no. No! Not here again,’ the dremora shrieked, scrambling back towards Eirandil on all fours and tugging at the hem of his robes. ‘No, please, Master, anywhere but here, anywhere but here!’

     

                    ‘Get off me, you pathetic creature,’ Eirandil recoiled, slapping his summon with the back of his hand. ‘What’s gotten into you?’

     

                    Torako blinked, then he understood.

     

                    ‘Hoh,’ the magic instructor smiled. ‘A veteran of the Oblivion Crisis, I see. Welcome back to Tsukikage, dremora-dro. It has been two hundred years, but I assure you that we Po’ Tun remain as… accommodating as ever.’

     

                    The dremora began to wail and kick her legs like a child throwing a tantrum. Eirandil growled in frustration and banished her. ‘Useless coward. The rest of you, attack!’

     

                    ‘I see an opening.’ Ambarro charged past the remaining pair with the momentary lull.

     

                    ‘Wait!’ Torako held out a futile hand. A loud explosion stung his ears as the boy’s fireball met a sturdy barrier. Orange glow... that ward is a Xivilai technique. This is bad; Ambarro’s not even halfway ready for such a foe.

     

                    ‘I’ve got him, Master Torako.’ Diia joined him in front of Eirandil, leaving Torako to deal with the dremora.


     

                    It’s like fighting a horde of humanoid cockroaches, Larethor thought, amused, as he deflected yet another slash from the flank. They come in, flap their hands in your face, run away, come around and do the whole thing all over again.

     

                    The battle had dragged out over the marketplace. Larethor had pushed five of the shinobi all the way to the end of the village entryway, to the twin moonstone gates.

     

                    ‘Not so tough out in the open,’ he taunted. ‘Of course, I don’t know what I expected from a band of thugs.’

     

                    Still no reply. ‘What happened to your manners from earlier?’

     

                    An attack from three directions at once. One shinobi went for his head, the other for the left side of his stomach, yet another one for his right leg. Pulling his leg backwards and shifting his weight, Larethor turned sixty degrees to the right and blocked the blow to his stomach with the haft of Reilanco, then slid the spear upwards and knocked the katana heading for his temple out of the way while allowing the low slash to bounce off his greaves. The shinobi hacking at his leg adjusted the angle of his swing. Drawing his foot up, Larethor simply stepped on the Po’ Tun’s blade, then quickly hopped backwards as the shinobi drew a kunai and stabbed at a chink in his armour in the waist.

     

                    That was a little too close. I’m getting rusty. One of the shinobi sped towards his left. Extending his grip, the Twinstinger barred his way with a sweep of his spear. Oh no. I’m not letting you get around me. The shinobi might outnumber him, but he had the advantage of reach. And skill, Larethor thought smugly, forcing the Po’ Tun back with a series of rapid jabs. One of them grazed a shinobi’s shoulder. The other four immediately covered for him by moving in close.

     

                    ‘Bad move,’ Larethor cackled. Reilanco stopped, hovering, then reversed direction like a snake coiling back for a bite. The spearhead whistled through the air as the Twinstinger swung it into a complex zigzag, feinting first upwards, then to the right, then upwards again at an angle. As the shinobi moved to guard their heads, Larethor pulled the spear down and behind his centre of gravity, put his weight on his back foot and sprung forward as he thrust, goring two of them in the midsection.

     

                    The remaining three reacted immediately as their comrades fell groaning in a pool of their own blood. Two of them broke from the engagement entirely and lifted the pair onto their backs, while the remaining shinobi raised his hand and flung it down. There was a pop, and smoke filled the air once more.

     

                    Not this again… then Larethor paused. The shinobi who threw the capsule had no tail.

     

                    ‘Oh,’ he grinned. ‘Hello there.’

     

                    The shinobi carrying the wounded had snuck off under the cover of the initial burst of smoke, but this last one had waited one second too long. Although it stung, Larethor kept his eyes wide open, and noticed right away as the smoke to his right began to shift along with the gust of air created by sudden movement.

     

                    The Twinstinger slid his grip to the base of Reilanco and lunged, utilising the full eight feet of the spear’s length. There was an adorable little ‘ungh’ and the small thump of someone falling, and when the smoke cleared, there was his darling porcelain doll on his knees with a bleeding thigh.

     

                    ‘Come now, sweetness,’ Larethor coaxed. ‘Is all that wrapping really necessary? Those beautiful eyes will give you away all the same.’

     

                    Once again, no reply. ‘Oh, the heartbreak.’ He raised the spear towards the boy’s chest.

     

                    Then the young shinobi reached for his face, pulling the cowl away and dropping the hood. And there it is again, that hair, that skin, those lips.

     

                    ‘Hello, Larethor-do,’ Harrow said, smiling gently. That smile. That voice.

     

                    Larethor suddenly felt his grip on Reilanco loosening. What on… get a hold of yourself. This isn’t the first time you’ve fucked someone and killed them the next day.

     

                    Then Harrow stood, and he found his eyes being drawn and pinned to the curve of his throat and the swell of his collar and that soft shade of… this is ridiculous. His tunic doesn’t even bare his chest at all. Why am I…?

     

                    Bright silver pupils peered at him under a delicate brow and even more delicate lashes. And I can’t… look away. Why…how…what…urrk so pretty like stars need to keep looking.

     

                    Something… someone… messing with my head, the sane part of his mind reasoned. Magic. A spell, but cast from where? And when? The smoke…

     

                    Harrow got to his feet and somehow, despite having one wounded leg, he kept a smooth grace in his stride as he glided over to Larethor, still smiling. Close your eyes. Snap out of it, Larethor screamed at himself. Move!

     

                    His skin, Little Sting screamed instead. Look, look, look, the cloth on his trousers is torn, you can see his exposed thigh, begging for you to caress, to run your fingers across-

     

                    Larethor squeezed his eyes shut for a brief second and bit his lip so hard he drew blood. When he opened them again, nothing had changed. Harrow was getting closer to him, close enough that he could smell his breath, and the scent almost drove him into a frenzy.

     

                    What is this? What’s going on?


     

                    The pair of dremora proved quite the challenge. Their daedric armour offered superb protection from both physical and magical attacks, and they were capable of swinging those greatswords of theirs with abnormal speed.

     

                    Fast as they were, however, Torako was faster. Ducking under a wide slash from the left, he slipped in close to the one at the front and set his glowing hand against the dremora’s front, then quickly whirled back.

     

                    The dremora yelped, then began to bat at his chestpiece as the ebony alloy softened, smoked, and began to melt into green slag. His partner shrank away as the corrosive substance ate first at his armour, then his flesh, finally at his bones. Torako took that opportunity to blast two consecutive bursts of ice towards the other dremora’s arms, freezing them to the wall. The first dremora succumbed to the acid, collapsing as his brittle skin crumbled and blew away in the wind.

     

                    Having bought himself a little time, the instructor spared a moment to see how the others were doing. Diia and Ambarro had their hands full with Eirandil, and it seemed that the Hornets were a little too good at their jobs. The twelve spearmer fought as a cohesive whole, forming a tight cluster with their bodies and guarding each other with their shields, thrusting with their spears whenever there was a lull in the shinobi’s offensive. The Twinstinger trained them well. We should fall back; open conflict is not the shinobi way-

     

                    There was a flurry of action in the westernmost corner of the marketplace, where the moonstone gates stood. Larethor had dispatched two Shadeclaws with shocking ease, and the rest were beating a hurried retreat. The Twinstinger had apparently gotten used to their smoke bombs, however. Even with his vision obscured, he managed to pin down another shinobi.

     

                    The smoke cleared and Torako groaned. Harrow. It had to be you.

     

                    The young elf had been wounded in the leg. Tensing, Torako prepared to charge at the scene. Then a rapid exchange of spells whizzed behind him and he heard a yell of pain. He turned and saw Diia flying through the air, her brown fur singed and smoking. Ambarro cried her name. Why is it always only my kits who get in trouble?

     

                    Ambarro was keeping Eirandil at bay, but only barely. The mage was toying with him, pushing him backwards with a steady stream of fire.

     

                    On the other end of the market stalls, Harrow had taken off his face coverings. He appeared to be talking with Larethor. Smart boy. That’s right, buy time, get close, wait for an opening.

     

                    Torako considered his options. Harrow was in the most immediate danger right now, but if he left the alleyway, Ambarro likely wouldn’t survive. The dremora was beginning to get loose. He had time for one spell.

     

                    Raising an arm, he pointed two fingers towards Larethor in the distance and drew a sigil in the air. Tamriellians would have classed the spell under the Illusion school, but Torako personally disliked that moniker. This is not a false compulsion or a fabricated image. Everything I’m manipulating is real.

     

                    The spell enhanced the Twinstinger’s perception of everything he found alluring in the young shinobi. His facial features, his build, his demeanour. Hopefully it would be enough to shake Larethor’s concentration off the more immediate details – like the fact that they were in the middle of a battle and that Harrow had a sword clutched in his right hand.

     

                    Torako gasped as he released the magic. The cost of a spell increased over distance, and Larethor had been quite far away indeed. There was no time to rest, however. The dremora had almost gotten one hand free. As he laughed triumphantly and ripped his wrist out of the ice encasing his arm, Torako paced himself, exhaled, and shot a spike of ice clean between the summon’s eyes.

     

                    At the exact same moment, Ambarro screamed and fell to the ground, convulsing as Eirandil sent a barrage of lightning coursing through his body.


     

                    After the first couple of spells, Eirandil realised that he was fighting children. The pair of shinobi had a stronger magical signature than most beings their age, but their essence was still... fresh. Fourteen, fifteen? No more than sixteen.

     

                    The notion was distasteful, but these Po’ Tun weren’t much younger than the men and mer he had killed before. Barely a decade of difference. And at the end of the day, compared to us all men are children.

     

                    The girl showed signs of weakening first. She wasn’t as well-versed in Destruction as her companion was. Eirandil exploited the opportunity without hesitation, rupturing her ward with a bolt of fire and propelling her limp form to the other end of the alleyway. The boy turned to her in a panic.

     

                    ‘Diia!’

     

                    Diia. So that’s her name. Eirandil shook the thought out of his head. Corpses don’t need names.

     

                    The remaining shinobi released a guttural cry and leapt at him, swinging a six-foot long staff at his head. Eirandil flicked his palm and cast a spell of Ironflesh, and the staff bounced off his skull with a dull thud. The shinobi let out another cry and smashed the staff against his neck. Eirandil had no doubt that it would have snapped had he been unprotected.

     

                    ‘You’re quite loud for a supposed assassin,’ he mocked as the black-furred Po’ Tun rained a series of furious blows on him, yelling with each strike. One of the swipes connected with his ribs and he frowned. That one hurt. ‘All right, that’s enough.’

     

                    He raised his arms and an orange inferno whirled from his hands. The shinobi erected a ward and managed to avoid being cooked alive, but the force of the flames still flung him away.

     

                    ‘You were throwing a lot of fireballs around earlier,’ Eirandil observed. ‘I take it you’re quite familiar with this particular element?’

     

                    The young Po’ Tun said nothing. His ward glowed brighter and he began pushing back. Narrowing his eyes, Eirandil studied the spellwork. Absorbing the latent heat and using it to fuel his own magic. Takes a lot of focus. Not too bad for his age.

     

                    Concentrating on a single element was a mistake on the boy’s part, however. Eirandil flicked his wrist, and lightning began spiralling from his left hand instead. The combined assault ate through the shinobi’s ward, and the Po’ Tun fell, spasms rocking his body as the battlemage increased the shock and began electrocuting him.

     

                    ‘I take no pleasure from this,’ Eirandil shouted over his screams. The boy was as durable as they came. ‘So hurry up and die.’

     

                    A lightning bolt splattered against his shoulder, knocking off the last of his Ironflesh. Eirandil twitched, annoyed, and turned to face the last of the three shinobi – the older one who had scared off his dremora.

     

                    ‘“Master” Torako, was it? I certainly hope you present a better-’

     

                    ‘What do you think you’re doing to my students?’

     

                    Eirandil felt a chill run down his spine. The Po’ Tun’s calm composure had broken, replaced with an unmistakable, murderous rage. Torako hissed as he advanced, his whole visage shaking. There was no glow of magic around him and he appeared completely defenceless.

     

                    ‘Imbecile,’ Eirandil stammered, an orb of fire collecting in his hand. He prepared to throw. Then the spell sputtered and died.

     

                    What? After a brief moment of reflection, it struck him. The lightning bolt from earlier. That wasn’t a pure Destruction spell. Something else was mixed in there… and it’s sapping my magic.

     

                    ‘Don’t you dare thumb your nose at the Aldmeri Dominion, you flea-bitten stray.’ Eirandil clenched his teeth and managed a fireball anyway. Torako didn’t even flinch. He simply walked right through the explosion, the flames curling harmlessly around his form. Eirandil hurled spell after spell at the approaching shinobi, each weaker than the last as his Magicka deserted him. Torako marched right up to his face.

     

                    ‘Oblivion take you,’ Eirandil bellowed as he drew his dagger and stabbed.

     

                    Torako grabbed his wrist with his left hand and pulled, straightening his arm. Then he punched upwards with his right hand. Eirandil howled and dropped the dagger as his elbow splintered. Torako extended his fingers. His claws popped out.

     

                    The Shadeclaw stared straight into Eirandil’s eyes as he dug into his neck, burrowing deep. As blood filled his lungs and he began to choke, the battlemage rolled his eyes upwards, gazing at the clouds and flinging one last curse at Larethor of Shimmerene.

     

                    When the shinobi finally come for you, Commander, I hope they make it slow.

     

                    Torako tightened his grip and tore out his throat.


     

                    It was fortunate that he had thrown the smoke pellet a moment before Larethor had struck. The spear had missed his vitals.

     

                    Now that the smoke is gone, however… Harrow swallowed. He won’t miss the next thrust.

     

                    Normally, a shinobi would already have put a couple hundred feet of distance between the Twinstinger and himself. Fighting someone like this directly was nothing short of suicide. The memory of the practice spear jamming into his stomach was one still fresh in his mind.

     

                    But the leg wound was slowing him down. Add to that how quickly the elven Commander could close gaps with his spear, and Harrow was fairly certain that the moment he turned his back, Larethor would run him through.

     

                    I can’t beat him in reach. I’ve lost my edge in speed. I’m definitely not a match for him in skill and experience. I only have one advantage left.

     

                    He took off his cowl and flashed a wan smile. ‘Hello, Larethor-do.’

     

                    ‘As enchanting as ever, even in that hideous grey outfit,’ Larethor returned his smile. ‘A pity we have to meet like this.’

     

                    The Twinstinger still had his spear levelled at him. Not yet. Would I even be able to get close enough?

     

                    ‘I don’t mind,’ Harrow slid his ring finger behind his ear and rearranged his hair, drawing Larethor’s attention away from his sword arm. ‘So long as I get to see you again, Larethor-do.’ His pupils dilate every time I say his name.

     

                    ‘Spare me the act…’ Larethor’s speech slurred for a moment as his eyes glazed over. Harrow took the opportunity to stand, studying him closely. A slight green glow had settled onto the back of the Altmer’s head.

     

                    I find myself in your debt once again, Master Torako.

     

                    ‘How cruel of you, Larethor-do,’ he whispered as he slunk close, loosening his collar with one hand, hiding his katana behind his back with the other. ‘Don’t you remember the night we spent together?’

     

                    ‘The night we-’ Larethor flinched and squeezed his eyes shut, jabbing at the air in front of him. ‘Stay back.’

     

                    Harrow stopped, then continued forward at a slower pace.

     

                    ‘Larethor-do, you’re horrible…’ He bent his head slightly, strands of hair falling over his forehead. Chewing softly on the crook of his index finger, Harrow allowed his eyelids to droop and he peered at the Twinstinger with limpid doe eyes. ‘After doing such… depraved things to me…’

     

                    ‘Depraved… things…’ Blood ran from a corner of Larethor’s mouth as he tried biting his lip to recover his focus. His spear wavered, and Harrow risked a faster walk. Just a bit further.

     

                    Footsteps, coming from down the main street. The Hornets had broken through the shinobi’s ranks and were fighting their way to the gate. Not now, damn it.

     

                    ‘Yes,’ he crooned as he closed the last two feet between them. ‘You’re such a pervert, Larethor-do.’

     

                    His knuckles whitened.

     

                    ‘Commander!’ Karinae cried out a warning just as Harrow began to move.

     

                    Snapping to attention immediately, Larethor straightened and pushed his spear to the left, catching the slash on the haft. Harrow lunged again, working the blade around the nock on the polished wood as he thrust at the Twinstinger’s neck.

     

                    Larethor tucked his head down and moved slightly to the right. The sword dug uselessly into the side of his helmet. No, no, no! Blasted armour!

     

                    Desperate, Harrow slammed his left hand onto the bottom of the katana’s hilt, channelling every drop of Magicka he had into the weapon. Lightning crackled, erupting from the steel and enveloping the blade.

     

                    The electrified katana hummed, cracking the entire bottom-right section of Larethor’s helmet into ragged chips and shearing off most of his cheek.

     

                    The Twinstinger roared as he pressed a hand against his mouth, which had now tripled in size. He kicked Harrow off him and rolled back into the ranks of the Hornets, who formed a bristling wall with their shields and spears.

     

                    Lightning flashed again, and all of a sudden Master Torako was standing at his side, carrying him up like a kitten by the scruff of his neck.

     

                    ‘I’m sorry, Master,’ Harrow mumbled. ‘I tried.’

     

                    ‘You marked Larethor of Shimmerene, Commander of the Dominion’s Third Division.’ Torako gave him a pat on the head as he leapt up towards the roof of a nearby building, out of reach of the Hornets’ spears. ‘Very few can claim to have done as much.’

     

                    He set Harrow down on the tiles and the boy gazed down wearily.

     

                    Larethor stared back up at him, blood gushing from his jaw and between his fingers. Harrow could see his teeth and the exposed bones of his mandibles. There was no trace of affection or arousal in his eyes now, only a black, animalistic hatred.

     

                    ‘The shinobi are falling back, but reinforcements are likely on their way. Your orders, sir?’

     

                    ‘Retreat,’ the Twinstinger spat, his disfigured mouth mangling his words. ‘Get this gate open.’

     

                    ‘We had best leave as well.’ Torako laid a hand on his student’s shoulder. ‘Some of them might try casting spells or throwing their spears.’

     

                    ‘As you command, Master,’ Harrow stood and grasped his sword, still buzzing with residual traces of lightning. As they bounded across the rooftops back towards the centre of the village, cracks began to run down the steaming blade. With a sudden snap, the katana shattered.

     

                    Harrow held the hilt up to his eyes, frowning. ‘What on…?’

     

                    ‘The lightning,’ Torako explained as they continued on. ‘As you ran an electrical current through the katana, you greatly increased the keenness and the potency of the blade, but you also destroyed the temper of the steel in the process. Once it cooled down in the snowy Tsukikage air…’

     

                    ‘The metal could no longer maintain structural integrity,’ Harrow finished. ‘Thank you, Master. I will make note of this in the future.’

     

                    Torako led him towards the rest of the shinobi, who were regrouping outside the Grandmaster’s office. ‘Come on. Takarro-ri should be almost done by now.’


     

                    Aeicano was becoming impatient.

     

                    The twenty footmer had been wandering the complex that housed the Council Chambers and the Grandmaster’s office for almost half an hour now. The place was a damned maze. And Aeicano had a sneaking suspicion that they were the mice.

     

                    ‘All right, let’s split into two groups,’ he ordered his mer. ‘The ten of you, search the north end of the building. We’ll handle the south. One last sweep. Let’s get this over with. The Grandmaster’s probably gone already.’

     

                    The ten that went to the north met their end first.

     

                    As they stepped from one corridor into another, the torches on the wall flickered and died. After a moment of confusion, Magelight sparked, illuminating walls sticky with gore.

     

                    Two of them were missing their heads.

     

                    The Altmer troops swore. The cuts had not been clean – in fact, it looked as if their skulls had been ripped off with brute force rather than chopped off with a blade.

     

                    ‘All right, calm down,’ one of the eight remaining elves said. ‘See if you can find where-’

     

                    Something whooshed past the group. And then there were only seven of them left.

     

                    Shrieks came from a room nearby, along with sounds of armour being shredded. As the elves rushed over, the paper screen door tore and a footmer stumbled through, his eyes wide and terrified.

     

                    ‘Help,’ he pleaded, tears dripping from one side of his face. The other side was gone, carved off with ribbons of skin and muscle hanging from his head, like he had been mauled by a wild beast – no, some kind of monster.

     

                    ‘Help me,’ the mutilated High Elf screeched as the thing from earlier pulled him back into the room. They could hear him begging. Then came more sounds of rending flesh, and all was silent.

     

                    A hulking shape appeared in the hole on the door. The Thalmor footmer caught a glimpse of orange and black stripes, two bright yellow dots full of malice, and a heavy huff of breath that reminded them of a bear’s.

     

                    Then the shape pounced into their midst, and all they saw was red.

     

                    Aeicano’s group, the ten in the south, did manage to get all the way into the Grandmaster’s office.

     

                    ‘Well, what do you know,’ he breathed, pausing outside the door. ‘I think we’ve made it.’

     

                    The Altmer kicked the door down and rushed in, circling the one desk in the middle of the office.

     

                    Grandmaster Takarro was seated there, sipping calmly at a cup of tea. ‘Why, hello.’ The elder Po’ Tun shook a toothpick from a small square carton and slipped it into his mouth. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Would you care for some tea?’

     

                    ‘Spread out,’ Aeicano ordered, motioning with his shortsword. ‘Careful, he’s definitely got tricks up his sleeve.’

     

                    ‘Just rush him and be done with it,’ one of his mer said, swinging his mace.

     

                    ‘My, my,’ the white-furred Shadeclaw shook his head. ‘Such violence. Are you somehow displeased with our hospitality? As Grandmaster, I feel I must apologise. What say you, hmm? May we start anew?’

     

                    Muffled screams began to echo throughout the building. The footmer stopped, shivering. Whatever wretches produced those, they sounded like nothing human.

     

                    ‘Oh dear,’ Takarro tutted. ‘It appears Bengakhi has already begun. He never was one for subtlety. Well, I certainly can’t be shown up by my advisor when it comes to greeting my guests.’

     

                    The office was dimly lit with candles. As the Grandmaster pulled the toothpick from between his teeth and set his hands on his desk, the candles slowly snuffed out, one by one. Takarro’s voice lowered with each extinguished flame.

     

                    ‘Welcome! Welcome, my friends. Welcome, our old acquaintances from the Great War. Welcome, honoured representatives of the mighty Aldmeri Dominion. Welcome, all.’

     

                    The candle on the desk went out, leaving only a faintly glowing wick tainting Takarro’s face the dark gold of a setting sun.

     

                    The Grandmaster’s eyes glittered in the dying light. The last of the distant screams trailed off into silence.

     

                    ‘Welcome to Tsukikage.’

     

     

     

     

     

    Contents

     

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Comments

8 Comments   |   KaiserSoSay and 4 others like this.
  • Lissette Long-Chapper
    Lissette Long-Chapper   ·  May 16
    Those Thalmor are so screwed. Great chapter, Harrow. I had read it and then left to do something else. Gah! Sorry. 
    • Harrow
      Harrow
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Those Thalmor are so screwed. Great chapter, Harrow. I had read it and then left to do something else. Gah! Sorry. 
        ·  May 16
      Screwed they are indeed... especially with Larethor gone.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 13
    I keep tripping up on this line.
          ‘They’re everywhere,’ the fleeing Thalmor raved. ‘They’re everywhere, everywhere, everywhere but nowhere, also nowhere, they come crawling out of the floor picking biting cutting and they fall f...  more
    • Harrow
      Harrow
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Sotek
      I keep tripping up on this line.
            ‘They’re everywhere,’ the fleeing Thalmor raved. ‘They’re everywhere, everywhere, everywhere but nowhere, also nowhere, they come crawling out of the floor picking biting cutting and they fall from th...  more
        ·  May 13
      Hmm. Upon review, yeah, 'also' doesn't seem to be something a soldier scared witless is going to say. Changed it to 'everywhere, nowhere, everywhere and nowhere' to give the rant a more desperate feel.

      And yeah, Torako cares for his students ...  more
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  May 13
    Superb! I really like the way you portrayed this battle, especially the part enacting the struggle old as civilization: "assassin vs soldier" It was really good to see the shinobi wash upon the good old shield wall only to be pushed back, which really is ...  more
    • Harrow
      Harrow
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Superb! I really like the way you portrayed this battle, especially the part enacting the struggle old as civilization: "assassin vs soldier" It was really good to see the shinobi wash upon the good old shield wall only to be pushed back, which really is ...  more
        ·  May 13
      Glad you liked it! The next chapter is going to be more... one-sided, since it'll be a 'fight' that revolves around Takarro.

      As for the dremora, I might one day write a piece (or even pieces) about Thirty-First Grandmaster Yagurra and everyth...  more
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  May 12
    Finally get to see more shinobi action. The last line certainly sent shivers down my spine.
    • Harrow
      Harrow
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      Finally get to see more shinobi action. The last line certainly sent shivers down my spine.
        ·  May 12
      Haha, thanks. It's certainly not a welcome that the Thalmor are going to forget any time soon...