PoTM: Chapter 17, Of Ashen Skin and Eyes of Fire

  • My lover's heart is numbing stone

    That hides in ice beneath our sight.

    So some decry, "It is not there,"

    While others whisper, "Yet, it might."


    Though stone is born from fevered ash,

    Once formed it yields no whiff of heat.

    So too, her heart betrays no love,

    Nor comforts those embracing it.


    As mountains grow and yearn for sky,

    Then climbers, conquering, ascend.

    With chisel, rope, with axe and pick,

    They force the rock to yield to them.


    One peak stands proud amidst the range,

    Invincible, and scaled by none.

    Those men who try wash down her slopes;

    Their eye-born streams obliquely run.


    For brash assault could never pierce

    Those guarded depths that lay apart.

    But patient water gently shapes

    A furtive channel to the heart.


    My love is delving water, ice

    That cracks with cycles of the sun.

    A lapping, yearning, whispered plea

    Will mark the time 'til I rush in.


    For I have dwelt among the rocks,

    My city carved from rugged stone.

    So in that burrow I will creep,

    And warm the soul which makes my home.



    20th of Evening Star, 4E 203


    Talvas sat on the bed, fully clothed now and watched Varona putting on her clothes. The air was still filled with lust, filling his nose, widening the nostrils, going down his lungs. Yes, the lust of sex was still hanging in the air, but so was the tense silence.


    This was the first time they shared a bed since the incident and Talvas felt strange afterwards. Strange in the sense that he didn’t really know how to feel. He had been avoiding Varona, trying as much as Tel Mithryn allowed him, but she surprised him. She had seduced him and he had tried to resist her, until he realized how badly he needed it. The escape, the feeling of getting lost inside her. After the act, as he was sitting on the edge of the bed, he was slowly realizing how the act of lovemaking had had this strange feeling of desperation - from his side mostly.


    Nearly a month of avoiding her, saying only what was necessary when he met her and why? Why all that? She was an addiction, that was the reason. He didn't want her, but he needed her, so if there ever was someone that could disagree that this wasn't the true definition of an addiction, Talvas would prove him otherwise.


    He couldn't take his eyes of her but at the same time he couldn't look at her. It was creating this phantom pain in his chest, as if his heart was crushed by his ribcage, clenching it tighter and tighter.


    One taste and you can't stop, that's how it works, he thought.


    She threw him a look, something between anger and concern, and he looked away. He heard her sigh and he sighed too, knowing that this time there was no chance avoiding it.


    “What is going on with you, Talvas?” she asked quietly, but he felt the subtle tone of irritation, the suppressed anger that came from being ignored.


    “Nothing,” he muttered. “I've just been busy.”


    She shook her head and came closer, sitting on the bed next to him. He felt her stare on his face, but he just couldn't meet her eyes. “Talvas,” she said resolutely. “Look at me. What is going on?”


    He reluctantly turned his head to her, looking into her red eyes, red with highlights of purple around her pupils and sighed. “Have you ever wondered what will happen with us? If we have a future together? I can't stop thinking about it.”


    She raised her eyebrows and her features suddenly went soft. She touched his cheek tenderly and he felt the warmth of her hand spreading over his face. “What are you talking about? Of course we have a future together, you silly. Right here, in Tel Mithryn.”


    “Do we?” he narrowed his eyes, trying to keep his mouth shut, but something in him stirred, wanting to escape. “Do you really believe that, V? That I'm going to be a Magister one day and you-”


    “I what?” she frowned, baring her teeth at him. “I what, Talvas? Just say it.”


    “And you will be Neloth's steward!” he finished, standing up. He couldn't sit any longer, he needed to move, to let it all out somehow, and pacing was as good a thing to do as anything else. “Who knows nothing of magic!” He added.


    Now she was on her feet too, her face turning a darker shade of red under the grey as her anger bubbled. “I am more Telvanni than you are!” she barked back at him.


    “You're of a minor House that has nothing to do with the real Telvanni!” he yelled back. “How could you think we have a future together? I will be a mage-lord one day and you will remain Neloth's hetman!”


    “You!” she clenched her fists and for a second she seemed like she going to leap at him. “This is all about Ildari, isn't it? That I'll never be as good as her. But this is where you are wrong! She never loved you! She never cared for you! Not like me. I love you, Talvas!”


    He staggered as if she hit him with a rock. He felt the colour draining from his face, turning pale, and he swallowed. You can't stop now, you have to see this through. “But I don't love you,” he whispered hoarsely.


    She took a step back, hugging her shoulders, and looked away. “So,” she murmured, shaking her head and he could see the disgust in her face. “So I've only been a toy to you,” she stated and his silence was her confirmation. “You will be a perfect Telvanni mage-lord,” she whispered, walking quickly from the door of her house, her head held high. Her face became a mask of stone, unreadable, and Talvas couldn't even guess what emotions were controlling her now. The door closed with a loud bang and he twitched at that sound, almost like the door became a conduit of her frustration.


    Talvas sat on the bed, with his head in his hands and let out a slow exhale. Now you’ve really done it, Talvas. But it's for everybody’s good. He shook his head. Yeah, keep telling that to yourself.

    Her pace was fast, hectic, like she was filled with this energy that just needed out, but there was no way it could burst out. She clenched her jaw as her brisk steps carried her through the ash, her feet creating small shockwaves; lifting the ash into the air where she stepped. She watched how each step created a mini-crater in the ground, pushing the ash away from her feet and to her it looked as if the ash was avoiding her, trying to get away from her, as far away as possible.


    “But he can't get away from me,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes. “He's going to a be a Mage-lord,” she imitated his voice and she had to suppress the impulse to spit the moment she said it. “Bastard! Reclamations take him!” she growled.  She passed the Sun Stone, with its sleepwalking builders, their gazes looking into distances even Neloth couldn’t understand.  Varona reached down, grabbing a stone. “Oblivion take him!” she cried, throwing the stone at one of the sleepwalkers, most likely a Reaver. It struck him against his bonemold helmet and any other person would have reacted to the blow, but he didn’t. He only resumed his work.  


    “How could he?!” she yelled as she lifted another rock and threw it. “How could he use me like this?!” she screamed her frustration out at those who couldn't even hear her. Her composure was cracking, she didn't have to hold it together, not any longer and definitely not in front of those who couldn't see, hear, or even understand. “I was there for him!” she shouted, looking for something else to throw, but she ran out of rocks and her gaze fell on the ring on her hand. The ring he gave her, to protect her.


    She grimaced and ripped it off her finger and threw it at the stone, loosing her balance in the process and falling into the ash. She felt how everything was trying to get out and she couldn't hold it any longer. Her shoulders began shaking with sobs and finally, she felt hot tears on her cheeks.


    And she didn't care. She allowed herself to cry when there was no one around to see it. “He needed me,” she moaned between the sobs. He needed me. And I needed him. How could he do this to me? I gave him everything. “Everything!” she hit the ground with her fist.


    How did you think this would end up? she asked herself, shaking her head. She didn't think it would end like this, no, she had hoped for something much better. She looked back at Tel Mithryn, imagining Talvas standing in front of the tower, waiting for her. As soon as she would go back there, the image of him would turn away, locking himself in the tower, away from her.


    She wiped her tears with hands dirty from the ash and stood up, shaking her head to clear it. She needed time alone, she couldn't go back there now. She needed to think. And so she walked away from Tel Mithryn, to think, to be alone.


    He was right. She really was from a minor house, not versed in magic. She couldn't just leave, because that would bring shame on her family. If she went to her family's small plantation near Tel Molag...they would turn away from her. She was a hetman of a great Mage-lord. The hetman of Master Neloth himself. No one walks away from that.


    But who was Talvas to remind her of that? He was even less! A nothing! A bastard of House Hlaalu. No one! What gave him the right to say such things, to look down on you? But it didn't matter, because he was right. One day he would become a Magister. With his skill, he would rise through the ranks of House Telvanni. And she would still be a steward of Neloth.


    She couldn't leave Tel Mithryn even if she wanted to. She couldn't run away from him, but she couldn't stay near him either.


    Hot tears streaked down her cheeks and fell as heavy drops onto the ash as she realized that she still loved him, even after what he had said. He broke her heart and those pieces still loved him. Why? I don't want to! How can I make this stop?


    The feeling was ripping her heart apart… How could she cope with such terrible pain? The pain of rejection? There was always rejection in life, and everyone learned how to deal with that, but rejection of love? Or love rejected? She heard it so many times in her life, stories told be the people around her: Time heals all wounds. She never really expected she would eventually believe in that. Hope for that. But now she did.


    She wanted the pain to go way. And time could heal that.


    But time could also heal the wounds between her and Talvas.


    Maybe if you are patient, Varona. Maybe then he will return.


    Don't be a fool. He only used you, he never really cared for you.


    But what if he really did? Or...that he might one day?


    You are nothing but a toy to him.


    But you could be more. If you waited, proved yourself to him.


    Why would you wait? How can you forgive him?


    Maybe he had good reasons to say what he said.  


    Good reasons?! How can hurting others, breaking their hearts, be ever justified?


    You hate him.


    You love him.


    She blinked several times when she understood the arguments she was having with herself, why it was causing so much pain. She really loved him. Even after all this. Does it matter why and how? What was more, she didn't want to loose him. She couldn't forgive him, not really, but she would if that meant not losing him.


    “What's with the tears, love?” voice suddenly sounded next to her, making Varona jump up in fright. She looked to her right and there was a Dunmer clad in chitin armor, leaning against a dead tree. And it was then that she realized that she strayed too far from Tel Mithryn and too close to Ashfallow Citadel.


    “S-stay back,” she stammered, slowly beginning to retreat from the Dunmer, who was a Reaver no doubt. He pushed himself almost lazily from the tree, following her with his eyes before following her with his form, taking confident steps. He carried himself like he was the king of this forest of dead trees and that scared Varona.


    “Come on, gorgeous,” the Dunmer purred, clicking his tongue while he shook his head. “There's no reason to run.” She could feel his sneer and his stare.


    Varona turned around and ran, trying to get away from the Dunmer. Only to bump into another Reaver, this one in a strange mix of various armors, a dented steel helmet covering his face. He grabbed her by the shoulders and squeezed. Panic went down Varona's throat, suffocating her. Her heart was beating so fast she expected it to burst from her chest at any second.


    “Stop squirming, lovely,” the Dunmer holding her half-growled and all she could do at that moment was spit in the helmet's visor. “Fuck!” the Reaver cursed, releasing his grip. Varona then kicked him in the crotch, ignoring his groan, and she darted away, running towards Tel Mithryn in the distance.


    You shouldn't have thrown that ring away, you stupid cow! her mind raced, her eyes set on the mushroom tower. Talvas! I can make it! I can-


    Something hit her between her eyes and her vision turned black. She felt a distant pain as she hit the ground, rolling over some rocks. Hot blood flowed between her eyes and over the bridge of her nose, and she struggled to catch a breath.


    When her sight returned, through a blurry haze, she realized she was still lying on the ground, with someone standing above her. Talvas! her mind cried out in joy. He rescued me!


    But when her vision cleared, she saw that it wasn't Talvas. It was that Dunmeri girl, the one who came with Talvas' grandfather. Neriila.


    The girl smirked at her. “Seems you're in trouble, hetman.” Neriila then looked away towards Tel Mithryn and snorted. “Where is your Mage-lord now? Why isn't he here to protect you?” A vile grin then spread over her face. “Or where is your lover?”


    Varona could only stare at her. Not anymore, she thought. And she could say that out loud, but she didn't because she wasn't capable of that. The shock of meeting Talvas' niece out here, of all places, with Reavers at her side, was too strong. Talvas had warned her about his grandfather, but she didn't believe him.


    Neriila shook her head and sneered. “How fitting, that you wandered here all alone on Chil’a. Didn't your ama teach you that you shouldn't wander alone on this day? Molag Bal rules this day. The lord of domination and... rape.” Neriila then glanced at the Reavers and Varona realized how dry her throat was when the Hlaalu bitch said her next words: “She's all yours, boys. Send a proper prayer to Molag Bal.”

    Venhen Ules was sitting in a chair, a blanket over his feeble shoulders and he was watching the embers glow at the hearth. They were slowly dying out and it was not enough fuel to keep them alive.  For hours now, he had slowly felt the temperature drop.  


    I would grant you counsel and power-


    “Hush, shtupid shpiritsh!” Venhen snapped, pulling the blanket tighter around his body, trying to draw the warmth from it. Or whatever you are.


    The house he and Neriila had found along the coast proved to be quite a find because of the hidden basement under it. It was already occupied by few Revears. Unfortunately, they were not receptive to a peaceful negotiation of the terms of their departure. But, fortunately and happilly, Neriila was very eager to start an aggressive negotiation and Venhen suspected that type was her favourite. She is an excellent negotiator.


    While the house was a good find, the persistent voices were becoming quite annoying. What voices do you ask? Well… That is the question, my friends. What voices? Coming from that secret tunnel behind the bookshelf. Muttering nonsense and bullshit all the time. Promising power and such.


    In exchange for blood-


    Venhen shook his head and chuckled when he heard their mutterings in his head again. “Try ash you want. But I washn't born yeshterday. It's better to leave thish bullshit to magesh and such. I want gold. Can you give me that?” The only answer to that question was silence and he snorted. “Jusht ash I thought.”


    So yes. Quite a find. Belonged to some stupid Nord called Hrodulf. The voices apparently drove him mad.  Neriila found him on the coast, dead. And his lover? Bjornolfr? Dead down in the basement, most likely taking his own life, forced by the voices. What a tragedy.  One leaving, the other looking for him. They must have missed themselves. And now they're both dead. Because of the voices.


    Stupid Nords. No willpower.  Venhen was positive he would be able to resist those voices, certainly better than some foul smelling Nords, but it was a gamble. What if he went mad too? He realised the risk and came to the conclusion that the risk was too high for so little reward.  As a result, this hideout would only be temporary. Besides, we'll be moving to Raven Rock soon.


    He stirred when he heard approaching footsteps. No, no Reavers, only his little velk. Neriila’s form was highlighted by the embers and Vehnen threw her a look. “Where were you sho long? The fire ish nearly out and I'm freezhing. I'm old feeble mer, velk.”


    “I apologize. I was waiting for an opportunity, urman,” she replied, taking the fire poker and rolling the embers about so that sparks shot up. She then threw a few scraps and pieces of wood into the embers and they came alive while she poked at the wood, catching fire. Venhen grimaced. Of course he could do that too, but why should he bother getting up for such a rudimentary task?


    “What opporutnity?” he grumbled.


    “Remember Neloth's hetman?” she asked, not disguzing the bitterness in her voice. It almost sounded like she was challenging him.


    “Of courshe I bloody remember. And? Any luck today?”


    She looked at him and smirked. “Yes. She’s enjoying one Corner's attentions right now.”


    He felt a wicked smile crawl onto his face. “Well now. And on Chil’a no less. If I were shupershtitioush I would almost make a shacrifishe to the Houshe of Troublesh.  All we have to do ish jusht wait now. It won't take long before that shtupid boy that ish my grandshon will come looking for us.”


    She gazed into the flames and Venhen narrowed his eyes. He felt the question coming. She eyed him and frowned. “Do you think it will work? That he'll come to us for help?”


    “Pleashe,” he snorted. “He might be playing at big mage-lord now, but he's shtil the shame ne’er-do-well. Neloth won't give a damn and sho Talvash can only turn to hish family to help him find hish precioush lover. But it will be too late already and becaushe there will be nothing holding him here he'll leave with ush.”


    “And if you're wrong?”


    Venhen shook his head and scowled, letting his voice lower in warning. I may have no teeth, but I still have a nasty bite. “Don't doubt me, velk. I'm never wrong. Now tell me about the Reaversh. How ish that going on?”


    “The distribution is going smoothly. They have all the booze, skooma and food they want, selling it among themselves. They are slowly turning our way.”


    “Of courshe they are. They’ve never felt sho good ever before. Definitely not under the Orc'sh fat green thumb.”


    “But he's slowly catching wind of what your up to.”


    Venhen smiled at that. “Ish he now? Well, that'sh unfortunate. Maybe we should hashten our shchedule then? Go make it happen.”


    She frowned but left without further word, like a good little velk. And with the fire fully burning and emanating warmth once again, Venhen was pleased. What a lovely Chil’a, he thought, relaxing into his chair. All is well. Your plan is perfect, as always. Soon, you will be out of here, with wealth, riches, and your grandson. Who can stand in the way of progress?





3 Comments   |   A Shadow Under the Moons and 5 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  June 24
    Hey, cool title dude! But this chapter is downright evil. Jesus!
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  June 19
    I invoke the 'Love Makes You Dumb' trope!
    Guess when a character was meant to be dead. It HAS to be dead.
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  June 19
    Heh heh heh heh heh, so Varona ends up dead anyway. And what a way to go. Wonder if everything's going to go as smoothly as Venhen has planned.