LotS: Frost Moon - Chapter Thirty-Three

  • Nightfall



    Blood on the steps. A weeping cub. Shades of dusk on the cooling sands. A broken home, life lost.


    "I'm s-sorry," Zahrri sobbed, her mother's blood in her veins and on her teeth. His beautiful Ahndra, gone.


    The house is too still. His heart cracks, empty as a vase.


    Red eyes instead of blue. Ruined eyes. Hungry jaws, reaching claws.


    A choice. A last mercy.


    Mor'vahka screamed, but it was all in his head. The sound came out half-sob, half-snarl as the hysteria began to flake apart. The crypt. The forest. The Lady.


    Without full grasp of his bearings, Mor'vahka pitched drunkenly to the left, retching into the now abandoned mine shaft. The contents of his stomach, once snowberry crostatas, had turned to a putrid green puddle.


    Through rasped, angry breaths, Mor'vahka whispered to his savior. "Down. Down, fool." He could not remember the man's name.


    All Nords looked alike.


    Khajiit did not sweat. They did not need to. Yet his clothes felt clammy, his fur damp beneath them. His head ached from that wretched spell, and black spots bloomed in his vision as he was set down on his feet.


    Mor'vahka's legs crumpled instantly, and his claws drew sparks over an iron ore deposit as he struggled to soften the fall. So weak he could not stand? The cat hissed, the sound a bitter, unwelcome acknowledgement of the truth.


    He had been weakened. More than this, he was still sane. Sane enough. Why?


    He had been unable to shield himself; unless...


    Golden eyes found steel blue. The werebear had taken the force of the Pale Lady's immolation. An accident, No more. He would owe this beast no debts.


    Mor'vahka coughed, tasting bile on his tongue. He spat into the dark places the torches could not reach. The blacksmith's arm found his, and hauled him back to his feet.


    White-Paw’s strength alone kept him from crumpling a second time.


    "Raulitha." He rasped. He must get back. White-Paw nodded, and he half carried, half-dragged Mor'vahka through the crypt. The cat drifted in and out of lucidity, speaking nothing of the nightmares flitting through his eyes.




    A familiar figure met him at the treeline; Kjeld's body tightened defensively. Why had she come back? He was weary, and Mor'vahka needed help.


    "Raj'irr ... Dead?" said Eisa, already knowing the answer. "What happened?"


    "It would take a day to explain, and even I don't fully understand it all." It was too soon to speak of the madness that had struck him low; Kjeld would keep that to himself. "I'm sorry, I don't have a day to spare."


    He moved past, trudging through the snow and tugging on Raulitha's reins.


    "Who are you? Are you Vigilants?" Eisa called after, following.


    "No." Kjeld glanced at the horse's burden. "He might be. I am Kjeld White-Paw, and he is Mor'vahka, priest of Arkay."


    Eisa's eyes lit up. "A priest? I'm coming with you."


    "What? No." Kjeld stared at the bandit, seeing past the warpaint to someone with ulterior motives. He'd had enough of people who spoke with shadows under their words.


    "That cat is hurt and so are you. If you want to reach Morthal alive, you're going to need my help."


    Kjeld rubbed a hand over his face. "Fine." He didn't trust her, but she was right. Their blood would attract wolves, bears, and worse beasts. “Walk in front.”




    The gray winter tones gained color as they arrived at Windbreaker Chapel, the snow stained orange by the shift to eventide.


    Eisa helped him carry the cat into the chapel; together, they lowered him through the trapdoor and into the hidden washroom.


    Kjeld had to give Eisa the benefit of the doubt that she would not loot the cat's possessions while they were busy, but he didn't give it much faith.


    The stone bath was lukewarm, but Kjeld didn't care. He pried the armor pieces from the Khajiit - Mor'vahka wheezed in pain - and set him down inside the water.


    It had healing properties. The power to cleanse.


    Clarity returned in fierce measure to the cat's golden eyes. His claws grated stone as he pulled himself to the edge. "White-Paw," the cat grabbed his arm. "The crostatas."


    "What?" Kjeld forgot the dig of claws in his arm to stare, brows dipped with fatigue and disbelief. Was he joking? "I think you need more than food, Mor'vahka—"


    "No, fool!" he snapped. "Poisoned! Bring potion. Short green bottle. Wormwood, eye of..." He broke off, coughing red droplets into the bath water.


    "I'll find it." Kjeld hauled himself back through the trap door, cursing as his entire right shoulder stiffened up. Crawling out, he pulled himself to his feet. The crostatas. Jonna.


    His heart thumped painfully against his throat. He could not bring himself to believe that she would poison Mor'vahka. Jonna was no killer.


    "We need to find a—" Kjeld broke off and swore again, running from the library alcove, across the hall, and into the sleeping area. The trunk at the foot of Mor'vahka's bed was open, clothes strewn haphazardly. The cabinets were left gaping, gorged of all but their least useful contents.


    Eisa was gone. The short green bottle gone with her.


    Kjeld flung open the chapel doors, and breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Raulitha was still here. Eisa's boldness had not spread that far. Tracks in the snow led away from Morthal, but he did not have the strength or time to chase her down. If he had Reidar here, Eisa would be as good as caught.


    But he didn't. He had his wits, and a dying Vigilant. Kjeld shouted a hasty goodbye down the trapdoor, promising to return quickly. There were two places he could check; Lami's shop, or Falion.


    Lami's shop was closer.


    The guards paced the docks, murmuring amongst themselves. All the chatter ceased as Kjeld's large frame came into view.


    Something felt wrong.


    "What's happened?" Kjeld stopped by Jurgen and Benor.


    "Jonna's been arrested. For poisoning Thonnir's boy." Jurgen said.


    Kjeld stared at him. "What? How?" Kjeld bit his tongue. Jonna had given a crostata to Virkmund. Someone tried to kill Mor'vahka, and Virkmund was caught up in this mess.


    "That wizard's with him now. The jarl's figuring out what to do with Jonna." Benor crossed his arms. "I still think it's a mistake, but what do I know? I'm just the town drunk."


    Kjeld shook his head. "It's a mistake. Jonna cared about Virkmund." Someone else was the cause of this. And he had a good idea who.


    "Where's Alva?" said Kjeld, with a barely perceptible clench of his jaw.


    "Ask Hroggar, but what's she got to do with anything?" said Benor.


    Kjeld took a step away, seeing that wild look men got whenever her name was mentioned. Half longing, half obsession.


    He excused himself, ignoring the questions lobbed at his back. He wanted to storm the barracks and tell them Jonna was innocent, but Mor'vahka was dying. Virkmund was being treated by Falion—but what if there was no time to save both?


    If he had to choose which one to save, Kjeld without a doubt would choose Virkmund. A child who still had a chance at a decent life. Images of Helgi ghosted across his vision, and Kjeld pushed the shop door harder than he meant to.


    "Lami! I need a potion to cure poison. Little green vial. Wormwood," he saw her eyes widen from behind the counter.


    "Someone else needs one? By Mara, you think you know a person..."


    Jonna didn't do this. Kjeld thought hotly.


    Lami was wringing her hands. "It's a special mix, gave the last bottle I had to Falion. But," her pale eyes found the dried bunches and bowls of ingredients. "It should take but a snap to make! I need to find the recipe..."


    "What can I do to help?" Anything to make this go quicker.


    Lami gestured to the bottom shelf of a nearby unit. "Grab those two books for me, the recipe should be in one those."


    Kjeld's body protested as he crouched, book titles drowning in his shadow as his hands found the spines of two herb tomes; a slim red journal fell onto his boots as he removed them.


    "What about this?" Kjeld held it aloft, the red calfskin leather soft on coarse fingertips.


    Lami's face flushed. "Not that! That's Alva's!"


    Kjeld’s stomach jolted. Before he could talk himself out of it, Kjeld undid the clasp and flipped to the most recent entry.


    Hroggar was easy to seduce. Movarth said I should find a protector first, someone to watch over my coffin during the day. Hroggar is perfect.


    Laelette came to visit me tonight. She slaked my thirst. I've hidden her away to let her rise as my handmaiden. I've spread the rumor in town that she left to join the war. Fools.


    Movarth has confided his grand plan to me. I am to seduce the guardsman one at a time and make them my slaves. Then he and the others from the coven can descend upon Morthal and take the entire town. We won't kill them. They will become cattle for our thirst. An endless supply of blood and an entire town to protect us from the cursed sun.


    Hroggar's family is becoming inconvenient. I've told Laelette to kill them all, but make it look like an accident. Hroggar must be seen as innocent if he is going to be my protector.


    That little fool! Laelette burned Hroggar's family alive. I asked for an accident and she gave me a scandal. To make matters worse, she tried to turn his little girl, Helgi. Except Laelette couldn't even get that right. She killed the child and left the body to burn.


    Something is wrong with Laelette. She keeps talking about Helgi. I think her mind has snapped. She seems to think that the child can still be brought back to be her companion.


    There is a stranger in town, looking into the fire. I'll have to be careful.


    There’s something different about him. Something dark. I can’t quite put my finger on it; if I didn’t already have Hroggar, I would've properly introduced myself. Morthal’s new blacksmith seems to be replacing all the locks in the village. How quaint. What concerns me is his associations with that fur-faced Vigilant.


    Mor’vahka must be dealt with. Sweet, sweet Jonna let slip that the cat has a soft spot for snowberry crostatas. I hope he enjoys the change in recipe.


    The time of feasting is upon us. At nightfall, we will take what is ours.


    Kjeld recoiled from the journal as if it were oozing blood — and it should have been. Laelette's. Helgi's. Brynhilde's. And the entire town's if he didn't do something.


    "I need you to brew that potion as quickly as you can." He wet his dry lips, energy turning frenetic with the need for action.


    She nodded, mouth unhinging to blurt a question, but he was already out the door.


    Mor'vahka's poisoning was only the beginning. His stomach churned, dark and unpleasant as a sea storm. It wasn't too late to stop the madness.


    An orange sky threw a frisson of panic clawed down Kjeld’s back. Dusk was almost through. Vampires would be here at nightfall.


    He barged into Highmoon Hall, arresting the attention of Jarl Ravencrone, Aslfur and their two guards sitting down to supper.


    “If this is about Jonna,” said Ravencrone, not rising from her seat at the head of the table. “I have already heard her side of the story.”


    Kjeld approached uninvited, and handed the Jarl the journal - eager to be rid of its vile truths and the burden of knowing.


    Aslfur rose with a hard stare. “How dare you barge in—”


    “There’s more to the story. Morthal is in danger.”


    The lines of Ravencrone’s face deepened. The Jarl opened the journal.


    “You are dismissed,” she said.


    Not to her husband or Kjeld, but to the pair of guards stationed by the door. They protested, but Ravencrone’s cold adamance yielded no ground.


    Seconds ticked by to the crackling of a hearthfire. Then the Jarl stood, dinner forgotten. “This is an emergency. That traitorous bitch! I want her head, but Alva is not our first priority.”


    Aslfur read the journal next. “By Morihaus,” he cursed, eyes blazing.


    “Send Gorm to the Legion’s camp, Aslfur. Taurinus will have his chance to prove his word that the Legion stands with Morthal.”


    “What’s to be done with the guards?” Kjeld’s pulse raced. Every second felt like a second lost.


    “Idgrod and I will see to them. What of our vampire hunter?” said the Jarl.


    “Poisoned, but Lami’s working on it.” Kjeld grimaced.


    “See to it that he recovers.” Ravencrone then called for her daughter. “We must arm ourselves. Fetch every weapon in your stock, and tell the wizard what’s happened.”


    “And Jonna?”


    “Free,” said the Jarl. “If she survives the night.”




    The dreary town came awake, house by house, as those aware of the encroaching danger struggled to protect those not.


    Kjeld placed a spare sword, shield and newly-repaired guard’s helmet into Aslfur’s waiting arms. “I have more daggers inside,” he said, closing the trunk beside his forge.


    “Bring them to the Hall,” Aslfur was already navigating the dusk-dark ground to bring the latest load to the Jarl’s war room. “Hurry! We have no time on our side.”


    I know. Kjeld pushed open the door to his homestead, pawing his way to a candlestick and lighting it. Nightfall’s coming.


    Five iron daggers and one additional shield completed the meager armaments. If the guards would allow it, they’d be borrowing the weapons and light armor going unused in the barracks.


    Kjeld had never fashioned armor for himself. Never thought to. Now he regretted not investing in at least a padded undershirt. Instead, Kjeld grabbed his tool belt, steadier now that he had a hammer in addition to his fletching knife.


    Turning to the door with his burden, the empty space on the wall beside the door frame gave him pause. The ring of master keys was gone.


    Kjeld felt chips of ice slide painfully into his lungs. The day he’d seen Alva walking from his house, he’d thought nothing of it - what a fool he’d been.


    He had to warn the Jarl. He should have noticed. He should have prevented this. It wasn’t fair to say the slow-paced town had made him complacent. His mind had long been preoccupied with the seal on his shoulder and the mark on his soul. Stars above, how many people would pay for this mistake? His mistake?


    He gripped the hammer as a shadow fell over the threshold.


    “Kjeld!” Jonna stood in the open doorway, wide eyes on the armaments. “What’s going on?”


    “It’s Alva, she poisoned Mor’vahka so a vampire coven could attack Morthal. Tonight.” Any elation felt over seeing her face was mercilessly stamped out by the gravity of his own words.


    “Poisoned? By the Gods, the crostatas! I never should’ve told her about them. Onsi take her.” Jonna swore, then clasped a hand to her mouth, deep brown eyes reflecting the gathering dark. “And what do you mean a coven? That means Alva’s a—how? vampires can’t walk around in daytime!”


    “If we survive the night, we’ll be sure to ask for her secret,” said Kjeld. Alva’s daywalking was the least of their troubles. “She has my keys. My master keys to every building in Morthal.”


    “Except for Highmoon Hall,” said Jonna. “I’ll tell the Jarl. You must find Falion. If Mor’vahka’s dead, he’s the only one left who can stop them.”


    Kjeld transferred the armaments to the innkeeper. “He lives, but not for long if I don’t get that potion to him. I left Lami to brew it.”


    All-Maker, he couldn’t be in three places at once. Even if he got the potion to Mor’vahka, would he be in any condition to help?


    One false step and everything would fall apart. Alva had been several paces ahead for months. He clung to the hope that they still had time.


    “My brother’s the better alchemist,” said Jonna. “And Lami’s been Alva’s closest friend after Hroggar.”


    Kjeld’s jaw tightened, reading the unspoken suspicions there. If Alva had so easily tricked Jonna into poisoning the crostatas, what was to stop her from making sure Lami’s potion did not do what was promised?


    Kjeld touched her arm, squeezing gently.
    “Thank you.”


    He had never doubted Jonna’s strength before, but there was something worth admiring about a woman who did not shy away from disaster. She had been falsely jailed not even half an hour ago, but that had not turned her away from helping others.


    Mor’vahka was not the only one who could claim unbreakable resilience.




    Falion sensed his approach, the door opening before he could take that first step onto the porch. Falion’s eyes were alight, the bags underneath them a remnant of the long nights prior to this longest night of all.


    Agni hurried past Kjeld, her footfalls a small drumbeat on the dock, the fading orange light turning brown hair to copper. She cleared the walkway onto the main road out of town, and ran.


    “Where…?” said Kjeld.


    “To heal Mor’vahka.” Falion ushered him inside. “Virkmund is already fetching a ladder.”


    “A ladder?” That the boy was up and moving around gladdened Kjeld’s heart, but he frowned instead. “You sent Agni to the Chapel alone? It’s nearly night!” He cursed the image in his head, of the small, persistent girl being stalked by all manner of monstrous things - not the least of which had human faces.


    Falion’s mouth twitched, forming a grim smile so fleeting, Kjeld nearly missed it. “Agni is a wizard’s apprentice. She doesn’t need your coddling.”


    The wizard pulled the hearthrug away from the fireplace, revealing a storage space tucked beneath the floorboards. Falion grunted, freeing the slats from their joinings. A heavy, long parcel wrapped in sackcloth was pulled into the firelight.


    The wizard crouched beside the cavity. “Do you have your tools?”


    “Yes,” said Kjeld, staring at the contraption. “What am I looking at?”


    Falion’s hand pulled aside the edge of the cloth, revealing a myriad of iron and wooden pieces, and what looked like a crossbow bolt—ten times its normal size.


    “A ballista.” said Falion. “And you’re going to help me put it together.”






2 Comments   |   ilanisilver and 2 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  December 17, 2018
    Vampires out to paint the town red, Morthal's pet cat out of action... Gripping stuff! Perhaps the white-pawed beast will be unleashed before the pale sun rises  :[
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  November 13, 2018
    Love. I know you’re stoked there’s so few chapters until it’s done. I liked your twist on the Morthal story here, and Alva. Nicely done.