Gathering Clouds, Chapter 30

  • Chapter 30





                    ‘You’re really going through with this, lad?’ Lencius asked quietly. ‘Do you have any idea what Larethor of Shimmerene is capable of?’


                    ‘At least seventy rapes during the Great War according to eyewitness accounts from survivors of his sieges and Legionnaires, but actual victims are estimated to be triple that number,’ Harrow replied, completing his manicure with a file. ‘I’ve read the Penitus Oculatus report. Your people are very thorough, Lencius-jo.’


                    ‘The boy has no idea what he’s getting into!’ Lencius pleaded to Unaka, who was helping Harrow into his new kimono. ‘That animal will use him like a plaything, then throw him away just as easily.’ Unaka simply grinned.


                    ‘“The boy” has twenty-one confirmed kills under his belt,’ Jorra said, running a fine comb through Harrow’s hair until it shone like the surface of a lake. ‘He has been active in the field for three years. With respect, Lencius-dar, we are perfectly aware of Commander Larethor’s sadistic tendencies. The Grandmaster would not have authorised this mission if he was not sure that Harrow could handle it.’


                    ‘He’s not going to kill me,’ Harrow said confidently, tying a green silk ribbon onto the back of his ponytail. ‘That would spark a major diplomatic incident. Also, according to the footnote attached to the Oculatus report, the target usually leaves his partners alive, be they willing participants or not.’


                    ‘You should familiarise yourself with the Commander’s fetishes, if any. Knowledge of his preferences will allow you to manipulate him much more easily,’ Torako suggested, looking over his student. ‘Hmm, I think the ribbon might be a bit much.’


                    ‘As I gather from the list of his victims and known… associates, the target’s preferences include purity, innocence and femininity, in both males and females.’ Harrow put down a powdering jar after sniffing it. ‘I simply thought to emphasise the last trait.’


                    ‘At the cost of the first two, but I do see your point,’ Torako reconsidered. ‘All right, keep the ribbon, but tie it into a knot instead of a bow. We don’t want to appear too eager.’


                    ‘Listen to yourselves,’ Lencius said desperately. ‘It’s as if you’re running a brothel. The great village of Tsukikage, a glorified whorehouse that sells children!’


                    ‘Why, thank you, Lencius-dar,’ Takarro said, appearing in the middle of the preparation room as if he’d been standing there all along. ‘Some of our best operations were executed by shinobi masquerading as courtesans.’


                    Harrow rose from the mirror and bowed along with his three instructors. ‘Grandmaster.’


                    ‘Very good.’ Takarro examined the young shinobi with a critical eye. His new kimono was green and gold, much more colourful than the standard formal wear for Shadeclaws, and his hair – noted early on to be one of Larethor’s points of interest – had been meticulously brushed, arranged and layered. The Shadeclaws had even dotted him with a few drops of a mild, fruit-scented perfume. ‘I am unfamiliar with Altmeri standards for beauty and attraction, but I’m sure that Commander Larethor would find you endearing.’


                    ‘Aww. The word, Grandmaster-ri…’ Unaka pinched Harrow’s cheeks, giving them a rosy glow. ‘Is cute!’


                    Lencius felt his lunch rising up into his gullet and he retched. Then he felt a gentle pat on the back.


                    ‘We have a different definition of virtue and honour here in Tsukikage, Lencius-do,’ Jorra said. ‘I do not blame you for feeling shocked. If it truly bothers you this much-’


                    ‘I have orders to observe,’ Lencius stammered, avoiding Harrow’s eyes. ‘So observe I will.’


                    ‘Do not worry about me, Lencius-jo.’ Harrow straightened out a snag in his robes. ‘Worry about your Emperor. We risk His Majesty’s life by having him stay here with such political machinations in play.’


                    ‘If His Majesty were to leave now, the Thalmor would simply follow him. Without his presence, they would have no excuse to stay in the village.’


                    ‘Then I will conclude my investigation as soon as possible to ensure that no additional complications arise.’


                    Lencius raised his head and studied the young elf intently. Language a decade beyond his years and a quiet, calculating intelligence, all sealed into a small, slim package of raven hair and frigid silver eyes. He could see why Larethor became so fixated. As horrific as it sounds, I understand him. He wants to melt the ice. He wants to break through that cold mask, make him his…


                    He could feel his stomach churning again. ‘I will make sure that His Majesty knows of your sacrifice.’


                    ‘Please, stop saying such ominous things, Lencius-dar,’ Unaka laughed. ‘All right, Harrow m’boy. Seduction and even acting in general was never my specialty, so I don’t think I can be of much help, but if there’s anything else you need, simply ask.’


                    ‘Thank you, Master, but the sedative should be enough. Are you sure the target won’t be able to taste it, Jorra?’


                    ‘I am certain. The downside, however, is that I had to mix a small dosage to avoid arousing suspicion. It will be several minutes before the effects take hold – possibly longer, considering Commander Larethor’s renown for his fighting prowess. I dared not use a stronger anaesthetic.’


                    ‘It will have to suffice. If push comes to shove, I can always wait until he has… exhausted himself.’


                    ‘I’d rather not think about that, thank you very much,’ Lencius scowled. ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do to stop you people from carrying out this insanity, so… good luck, lad. You’ll need it.’


                    Larethor was getting impatient. There was very little entertainment available in the room he had been assigned. A couple of dull Akaviri paintings hung on the wall and the shinobi had even been considerate enough to leave a small stack of books on his nightstand. Larethor had taken a brief glance at the titles and tossed them all out of the window. Disgusting tripe.


                    He had boarded up that same window a few minutes later to ensure that no shinobi could sneak in, and Eirandil had come by to seal the entire place with magic. No one could hear or see inside. Unless, of course, he let them in.


                    The Twinstinger grinned. I’m not a complete idiot. The shinobi most likely didn’t mean to send their boy to him solely for his amusement. Harrow was here to search his quarters, or at the very least grill him for information after he was sufficiently drunk.


                    Have fun with that, sweetness. If you think to loosen my tongue so easily… well, you’re about to find out firsthand what I can do with my tongue.


                    Two of his Hornets stood guard outside. Every single one of the two hundred mer he had brought with him to Tsukikage had been carefully screened for the mission; they were the cream of the Aldmeri Dominion’s crop. Even so, the Hornets stood above all the rest. Hand-picked and trained since youth by Larethor personally, they were among the deadliest warriors across the Isles. Twelve elite spearmer, all serving as his bodyguards.


                    Nerunae and Karinae were the ones posted outside his room today. Sisters from Sunhold, each standing half a head taller than Larethor himself. Southerners. Freakishly large, the lot of them.


                    Karinae’s higher-pitched voice rang out first. ‘Look, look, it’s the cats’ pet slut! Isn’t he adorable?’


                    Nerunae grunted. She always was a woman of few words.


                    Karinae knocked on the door, then pushed it open a crack. ‘Oh, Commander. Your toy boy’s here!’


                    ‘Show him in,’ Larethor called, swallowing his excitement.


                    Harrow walked in and Little Sting began screaming for release right away.


                    They dressed him up for the occasion. Not only that, but it was as if everything they had done was tailored for his personal taste.


                    The young elf only had one sleeve on, and the entire upper-left side of his body was exposed. His hair had been arranged into an even more delicate style than last night’s, with a green ribbon tied to the back of his head. The leaf-coloured robes he was wearing were tight-fitting, serving to accentuate his delicate figure. A casual bystander could have mistaken him for a girl even before his change in attire, but now it was almost impossible to tell that this pretty little thing was male.


                    ‘Come in,’ Larethor heard himself croak. ‘Don’t mind Karinae, she doesn’t have a good head for manners.’


                    ‘You are very kind, Larethor-do.’




                    Harrow was carrying a tray laden with dishes. He bowed as he set it on Larethor’s table, shifting his robes in the process and giving Larethor full view of the left strut of his clavicle. Perfectly smooth, unblemished skin…


                    A doll, he thought, feeling giddy. My doll. My little porcelain doll.


                    There were two small cups on the tray, along with one ceramic bottle between them. Harrow poured what looked like white wine into both cups and slid one over to his side of the table, smiling as he slowly took the lids off the dishes. Larethor found himself staring at that smile. It was very subtle, with only the slightest hint of lips curving, but it had a sincerity to it that rendered him completely incapable of looking away.


                    ‘Please, Larethor-do… enjoy. I prepared the meal myself.’


                    Harrow’s demeanour was completely subservient, with his shoulders slack and his back straight. He did not sit – he knelt on the floor with his hands kept submissively on his thighs.


                    Larethor felt an insane urge to tear himself out of his skin. Every single demure gesture the boy was making sent miniature spikes of desire shooting through his stomach. He’s here to spy on you, he reminded himself. A fact that was quickly becoming lost on him as Harrow tilted his head towards him like a sad kitten.


                    ‘Are you not hungry, Larethor-do? I apologise if I’m troubling you.’


                    Gods, he even purred like one.


                    Still, the shinobi had overdone it with that line. Larethor looked at the bowlfuls of finely sliced meat and vegetables laid out before him. Steaming hot and, as he had experienced already with Akaviri cuisine, undoubtedly delicious. Most likely also poisoned or laced with some kind of potion. The wine, though, was probably safe, given that Harrow had poured himself a cup as well.


                    ‘No, you’re not troubling me at all, sweetness. Quite the opposite. But first a toast, to an excellent fight. That was superb swordsmanship.’


                    Harrow looked away bashfully, two streaks of red blossoming on his cheeks as he tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear with his ring finger. ‘That means so very much coming from a peerless warrior like you, Larethor-do.’


                    Larethor could feel his self-restraint burning away along with rational thought. ‘To good fights.’ He managed to choke out as raised his cup.


                    ‘Wine on an empty belly, Larethor-do? The maishu is very strong.’ It was beyond question now. The food was poisoned.


                    ‘I can handle my drink,’ Larethor said stubbornly. ‘To good fights.’


                    ‘To good fights,’ Harrow relented, smiling faintly again as he raised his own cup.


                    They both drank. It tasted like the rice wine from the night before, only with a sharper bite and a heartier flavour. Harrow swayed as he set the cup down, his blush more pronounced now. Larethor smirked. You’re barely half my size, sweetness; you don’t get to lecture me about strong drinks.


                    ‘That’s a fine wine,’ he reached for the bottle and poured again. ‘Let’s have some more.’


                    Harrow’s eyes widened in barely suppressed alarm. Yes, weren’t expecting that, were you? Po’ Tun courtesy meant that the boy would have to drink with him. You played the quiet paramour card too much, my sweet. Now you have no choice but to stick with it.


                    ‘Of course, Larethor-do. But let’s not be too hasty, maishu is best taken-’


                    ‘Drink,’ Larethor ordered as he downed the wine with a single gulp. A clink of ceramic and a tiny hiccup told him that Harrow had done the same. The streaks of red had spread to his ears, and his eyelids were beginning to dip. Larethor chuckled. It only took a couple of drinks to get the boy into this state. Soon now, soon. Soon the night could truly begin. He poured another two cups.


                    ‘Larethor-do, perhaps we-’ Harrow let out another hiccup, his head bobbing up and down in a dainty motion. ‘Perhaps we should slow down? The food is getting cold.’


                    ‘You seem very interested in having me try the food, sweetness,’ Larethor said in a low voice, draining his cup yet again.


                    Flustered, Harrow drank from his own cup. ‘I’m simpulee… I’m seembly… simply…’


                    ‘You’re teetering all over the place. Are you all right?’ Feigning concern, Larethor took the opportunity to scoot around the table and place an arm around his waist. The robes were very thin; he could feel the boy’s skin through the silk. The contact sent an electric shiver down his spine. Harrow took a shuddering breath.


                    ‘Th-throat… parched. I should g-go and get some wa-’


                    ‘Some more wine, you say?’ Larethor cut him off before the next syllable could drop. ‘Well, if you insist.’ He touched another cup towards Harrow’s lips, dribbling the maishu down.


                    As Larethor replaced the empty cup on the table and reached for the bottle again, Harrow’s small frame began to shake. His head lolled and he fell backwards into Larethor’s lap, his breath coming in short, hurried pants.


                    Larethor managed to control himself long enough to feed him another cup. Harrow was completely limp by now, completely unaware that a raging Little Sting was pressing against him from behind. A trickle of wine ran down the corner of his mouth and left a glistening trail down his neck as he turned to look up at Larethor, his eyes half-closed and glazed over, like a pair of moons behind a cloudy sky.


                    ‘I can’t…’ A soothing, melodious whisper, almost a mewl. Harrow trailed off as he rested his head on Larethor’s arm. His hair smelled of citrus, his skin of redcurrant and cherry.


                    That scent and the combination of wine with the pressure of a warm body was enough to tip the Twinstinger over the edge.


                    Larethor hissed like a roused viper and grabbed Harrow by the chin, tilting it upwards.


                    ‘There’s wine dripping from your lips, sweetness,’ he growled. ‘Such a messy drinker. Let me clean it up for you.’


                    Those two thin petals of flesh were even softer than he’d imagined, melting into him like some kind of exotic fruit. Larethor devoured them, latching onto them like a leech as he snaked another arm around the boy’s abdomen, the familiar, hungry beast that he had kept chained for so long bursting free again as his hand crept downwards. He broke contact with a wet squelch after two full minutes, leaving both of them gasping for air.


                    ‘Larethor-do…’ Harrow’s breath hitched as he looked down, tugging half-heartedly at the hand in his robes. Larethor stopped as he continued down a few more inches, then pushed the table out of the way, sending the assorted dishes on the tray clattering to the floor.


                    ‘Larethor-do, dinner will be ruined…’


                    ‘Shh. That’s fine.’ He slid Harrow’s collar down over his right shoulder and nibbled on the side of his neck, lapping the traces of wine off with his tongue. ‘I have other things to sate my appetite with.’


                    Groping back upwards as he tightened his embrace, Larethor gnawed on the soft mound of the boy's shoulder, then scooped him up and threw him onto the bed. Harrow’s robes fell to his waist, the sudden movement loosening them around his torso. Like unwrapping a present.


                    Larethor clambered on top, then paused. A wave of sleepiness shot through him. I must have had too much to drink after all. ‘Oh,’ he murmured, running a hand gently down the small indentation on an otherwise unmarred chest. The boy was missing his right nipple. ‘Oh, you poor thing. What kind of monster would do this?’


                    ‘A mercenary captured me once. Had me tortured.’ Larethor felt a surge of jealousy. Sweetness must have made the most delightful squeals. Rot in Oblivion, whoever you are.


                    ‘Does it still hurt?’ He leant closer, working his thumb into the hollow. That cherry aroma was intoxicating. Larethor could fell himself growing lightheaded, and the edge of his vision was growing dark. Calm down there. This isn’t my first tussle.


                    ‘Sometimes,’ Harrow breathed, stretching his hands outwards and reaching for him, silver eyes watery and full of need. ‘Kiss it and make it better, Larethor-do.’


                    Larethor felt blood rush to his skull as he fell forwards, lips tingling. His face came to a stop on a warm, velvety pillow, but that was impossible, as pillows didn’t have a pulse. Somehow he was still falling, falling forever as two smooth, cold arms wrapped around his head and pulled him down into eternity.


                    Harrow almost gagged when Larethor kissed him.


                    The Twinstinger’s mouth was unpleasantly moist, and his grip was like a steel cage. He doubted that he could have struggled free even if he tried.


                    But he was a shinobi. A shinobi does not have pride. A shinobi does not need pride. So he had gone slack in Larethor’s arms instead, giving the Altmer full access to his body.


                    Maintaining the balancing act had been challenging, as he had to act childish and innocent while also being inviting enough to keep Larethor’s attention. Some of the hints he dropped had felt particularly risky – especially the last one. Kiss it and make it better, Larethor-do… By Masser, he hadn’t needed to fake blushing at all. Even thinking about those lines made his cheeks burn.


                    It had paid off in the end, though. Thanks to the elevated heartrate that Harrow induced on him, Larethor succumbed to the sedative much faster than he would have if he had stayed calm. Even so, it took almost half an hour before he finally dropped. ‘Several minutes’ indeed. The Twinstinger must have the body of a workhorse.


                    The anaesthetic had been inside the wine all along. Harrow allowed himself a small smile. The Clear Flask’s mutagenic effects on the digestive and immune systems gave shinobi an extreme boost in their resistance to poisons and potions. It’ll take far more than five cups of maishu to knock me out, spiked or not.


                    There was a sudden wetness on his bare chest. Flinching, he looked down. Larethor was drooling. Harrow recoiled in disgust, then began sidling out from under the sleeping elf as steadily as he could. Larethor grunted, then muttered something intelligible in his sleep.


                    Harrow froze, then took a breath and targeted three of Larethor’s major acupoints with a series of thumb jabs – one on the temple, one behind the ear, and one under the chin, ensuring that he would stay down until well into the morning.


                    For good measure, he turned Larethor over and pulled his trousers down along with his loincloth, wrinkling his nose at the exposed organ. Then he launched a series of rapid finger strikes to eleven different acupoints on and around the groin, cutting off the flow of blood to and from the capillaries. The Twinstinger would find it quite difficult to use his other sting when he woke.


                    With that out of the way, Harrow began his search. First he rummaged Larethor’s pockets. Nothing, though he wasn’t expecting much in the first place. Then he went through the tables and drawers in the room. Again, the Commander was unlikely to keep anything there. He found a few septims, but he wasn’t even sure those were his to begin with.


                    That left the wardrobe and Larethor’s bag. Two spare sets of tunic and trousers were inside the wardrobe, folded neatly on top of each other, and the Twinstinger’s armour was stacked next to them. He studied the armour with some interest. A combination of refined malachite and moonstone, known more commonly in Tamriel as ‘glass’ armour. A trademark of the Third Dominion. Larethor’s set had a black hue covering most of the interlocking plates, denoting his high rank and status. Harrow recalled how his bokuto had simply bounced off the gauntlets. Very tough, but also very light, given how fast Larethor had been moving during their duel. That armour’s going to be trouble in close-quarters engagement. I doubt I could put so much as a scratch on it even with Akaviri steelwork.


                    Nothing else noteworthy was in the wardrobe. Sighing, Harrow moved on to Larethor’s leather pack. He had hoped to avoid this. Searching bags without leaving a trace was not an easy task, and he had only done it in training. It couldn’t be helped, though. If there was important information to be found, it would likely be inside.


                    He unbuttoned the pack and reached in, taking careful note of the items inside and their arrangement before he even touched anything. Then he took the top layer out first. A hunting knife. A detailed map of the Jeralls. A compass. A mirror – he chalked it down to Larethor’s vanity at first, then he saw the Thalmor insignia etched on the bottom. The mirror was used for long-distance magical communication. Tsukikage’s heavy enchantments would have rendered scrying practically impossible, however.


                    The bottom layer consisted of field rations. Dried fruits, salted beef jerky, hardtack and one full skin of water. Enough to last a week, perhaps two. There was also a small pouch of coins, and a rolled-up sheet of parchment.


                    He unfurled the parchment, hopeful, then his shoulders sagged. It was just a certification writ for Larethor’s twentieth term of active duty. Considering that a term of service in the Dominion lasts four years, that means that he’s been in the army since he was seventeen.


                    Right, that’s certainly very interesting, but is there anything useful I can get out of this?


                    At first glance, it didn’t appear so. The writ told him that Larethor was from the city of Shimmerene, that he had a pure Altmer bloodline that could be traced back at least fifteen generations, and that for now, he was under the direct command of High Emissary Orndil, who was himself a subordinate of First Emissary Elenwen. That makes sense, considering Mount Furiya’s proximity to Skyrim. But this is hardly incriminating evidence. I need mission details, orders, something!


                    Harrow frowned, momentarily stumped. That was why Larethor had been so confident inviting him up to his room. The only plans he was carrying around were in his head. I can’t have gone through all this for nothing, and there’s no better chance of finding out what exactly the Thalmor are plotting. Think! They must have something to hide if they’ve gone to the lengths of casting silence wards around the room.


                    Silence wards.


                    Larethor must conduct meetings in his room. Why else would he take measures against eavesdropping?


                    Formulating a new plan, Harrow replaced all the items in Larethor’s pack as he scanned the room for hiding places. There were a few that he could think of immediately, but he discounted them just as quickly. None of them would hold up if Larethor performed a search – and he most certainly would, considering how he had just spent the night with a shinobi.


                    The windows are boarded up. I could loosen the planks without making too much noise, and the space in between could allow me to listen in from the outside… but the magical silence encompasses the interior of the room. I would still be unable to hear anything. I need a position from the inside. The floorboards? No, too obvious, and there’s no time to dig up a hole. The ceiling and the walls are out of the question as well – the village’s architecture is too sturdy for me to fashion a hiding spot in one night. Under the bed? It’s so predictable it might just work, but am I willing to risk… wait.


                    The pipes. Tsukikage’s living quarters all shared a liquid waste disposal system of drainage piping that flowed naturally from top to bottom. No matter the layout of the room, there would always be at least one point where the piping was funnelled inside – the latrines. In Larethor’s case, his washroom was right next to both the dining room and the study. And he kept the door open.


                    Harrow grimaced. Time to crawl through filth again. When I get out of this mess, I should make a note to the Grandmaster to have whisper lines and hidden compartments implemented in all guest quarters.


                    Before he set out, he pulled the green ribbon off along with a few strands of hair, then stuffed them into Larethor’s hand. Then he tore a small corner off his kimono and placed it between the Altmer’s lips. Hopefully that would be enough to mislead him.


                    Larethor chewed on the fabric, giggling in his sleep. ‘Cherries… sweetness, your cherry.’


                    Harrow examined the Twinstinger’s throat, which was twitching like a nervous mouse as he snored. It would be so easy. One well-placed Whispering Fang chop to the windpipe. Not even a particularly forceful one. Instant fracture, followed closely by asphyxiation and death. But no. Not without proof, not in the presence of the Emperor.


                    Holding his killing intent in check, he slipped his kimono back around his shoulder and made for the door.


                    ‘Say, Nerry. I don’t know what the Commander sees in the boy,’ Karinae complained, flicking accumulated snow off her shield. ‘He’s so… tiny. And not in a lean, wiry way either. I mean, he’s got no muscle at all. Can’t even see his bones. It’s like he’s just skin.’


                    ‘Feminine,’ Nerunae shrugged.


                    ‘I know! When I saw him coming with that tray I almost mistook him for a lady in court. That was supposed to be one of the terrifying shinobi? I’m telling you, everything about him just screams “soft”. Girlish.’


                    ‘The Commander does like them that way.’


                    Karinae stared at her elder sister for a moment, a little shocked. Nerunae rarely used more than five words in a single sentence. She must be bored.


                    ‘Anyway, have you looked at the other ones, the cats? All of them look underfed. Except maybe for that Bengakhi fellow. Really, if they’re all this weak, they’re no threat at all! We came here for nothing. Let’s pack it up and go home already-’


                    ‘Careful,’ Nerunae warned. The door opened slowly and Harrow made his way out, holding a tray of overturned food. Karinae sneered as she let the boy through. Messy hair, torn clothes, obvious pain in the hips, bite marks on the neck. She had served under the Twinstinger for thirty years; this was a familiar sight.


                    ‘Did you enjoy Commander Larethor’s company, whore?’ Karinae gloated. ‘He obviously didn’t think much of the dinner.’


                    Harrow bit his lip and looked away as he increased his pace. ‘Larethor-do,’ he said, voice trembling. ‘Was not interested in food.’


                    ‘How many times did you polish his spear, you little fuck-toy?’ Karinae jeered after him. ‘I hope you left it nice and clean!’


                    Nerunae snorted. ‘Tamriel’s deadliest assassins.’


                    That was the only bit of levity they were to have for another three hours. The monotone of standing guard and the biting cold in the Shadeclaw village soon sapped them of their amusement. When two other Hornets finally came to take their shift, they had to pry their hands from their spears. Then they spent almost an hour in their quarters trying to take their armour off with fingers and limbs frozen stiff.


                    ‘Daedra take these mountains,’ Karinae shivered on her bed as she pulled her blankets to her chin. ‘I wish we were back in Summerset. Say, Nerry, do you remember the beaches on Sunhold? We used to chase each other in the surf. The sand was so warm… say, Nerry, we haven’t been home in a while, have we?’


                    ‘Sleep,’ Nerunae replied, turning on her side. ‘Meeting’s early.’


                    So of course Karinae had overslept.


                    ‘It’s not my fault,’ she whined as an infuriated Nerunae dragged her from the bed and into her armour. ‘I haven’t even gotten four hours in yet. I need my beauty sleep.’


                    ‘Shut up,’ her sister snapped, slamming her helmet onto her head. ‘You call yourself a soldier.’


                    ‘Yes, yes, discipline, stepping out of line, and all that,’ Karinae yawned and rubbed her eyes blearily. ‘That’s why I have you, dear sister!’


                    ‘Hurry,’ Nerunae hissed, tossing her shield and spear at her.


                    Somehow they made it to Larethor’s room on time. ‘Sir,’ Karinae panted, standing to attention. ‘Hornets Karinae and Nerunae reporting for duty, Commander, sir!’


                    ‘You can drop the eager recruit act, Karinae,’ Larethor groaned. ‘I’m not in the mood for it right now. Agh, my head. Trinimac’s balls, these cats make strong brew. I’m surprised the boy woke before I did.’


                    ‘Well, the way I see it, sir, you were doing most of the work last night- hey!’


                    Nerunae slapped her on the back of the head. ‘Apologies for her rudeness, sir.’


                    Larethor grinned, then rubbed his temples in discomfort. ‘Think nothing of it. She’s right. Pity I don’t remember half of it, but damn it all, sweetness must have been tight. Little Sting is still sore. But in you go. All that’s left is to wait for Eirandil to show up, and we can begin.’


                    As if on cue, the taupe-robed battlemage appeared at the door, stopping in the doorway and saluting. ‘Commander, sir. Fine morning.’


                    ‘Come in. Close the door behind you.’


                    As Eirandil joined the Hornets in formation, Larethor went to his waterskin and guzzled down a few mouthfuls, then sat in front of them.


                    ‘All right. Progress report.’


                    ‘We remain incapable of breaking through or nullifying Tsukikage’s enchantments, sir,’ Eirandil said, his brow furrowing. The spellwork is simply too well-laid.’


                    ‘You’re telling me that thirty of the finest mages in Tamriel – no, on Nirn – can’t do anything about a couple of parlour tricks performed by back-alley strays?’


                    ‘It’s not that simple, sir. The shinobi have had two thousand years to layer enchantment on top of enchantment. The entire village is a confusing web of Magicka. Last night I went and stole a loose brick off the battlements. That one brick showed effects from no less than twenty different arcane sources.’


                    ‘And what does that mean for our mission? Laymer’s terms,’ Larethor warned. ‘No magebabble.’


                    ‘It means that we have no means of communicating outside the village. It also means that any spell we cast inside will alert the shinobi – even the detection spells we used to scout out the village drew immediate attention.’


                    ‘Wait,’ Karinae interjected. ‘They found you robes snooping around?’


                    ‘We passed it off as simple curiosity, and the shinobi seemed to leave it at that. Still, Karinae brings up a good point. The moment we use any kind of Destruction spell in the operation, we will bring the Shadeclaws down on us.’


                    ‘That complicates matters, but we can use it to our advantage.’ Larethor tapped his chin. ‘If we select a few battlemages and have them run amok as decoys, we could sow chaos among the village.’


                    ‘Every mage is precious. Should we really sacrifice them as pawns, sir? Many among the common soldiery know spells. We could use them instead.’


                    ‘Good point,’ Larethor admitted. ‘Moving on to the footmer. Are they in position?’


                    ‘Yes, sir. Fifty in the west, Fifty in the east, forty in the south and forty in the north, each group supplemented with seven battlemages. The west and east sides of the village should see the most fighting, given the layout of the village. If we are to use the magic decoy plan, I suggest drawing from the soldiers in the south and north.’


                    ‘And the twenty footmer and one battlemage left over?’


                    ‘Those will be guarding you along with us Hornets and Lieutenant Eirandil, sir.’


                    ‘Good. So everything is in place?’


                    ‘Yes, sir. The troops embedded in the corners of the village are not in formation yet to avoid drawing suspicion, but they can mobilise at a single word. Given that the shinobi can detect magic cast within the village, will we still be using magic to coordinate the offensive?’


                    ‘Have messengers spread the plan. Eirandil, copy this down.’


                    The battlemage pulled out a scrap of parchment as Larethor began to dictate.


                    ‘The signal to attack will be a red fireball cast high into the sky. Troops from all sides are to advance to the centre of the village. Our orders are to wreak havoc. Burn or otherwise destroy all important infrastructure on the way and kill any shinobi or Legionnaire you come across. Regroup with me at the centre and we will make one final push to the Grandmaster’s office. If we time it well enough, the Shadeclaws won’t have enough time to react and send reinforcements.’


                    ‘And after that, sir?’


                    ‘We fight our way out of the village. Move quickly. The shinobi may outnumber us seven to one, but remember that we have Altmeri might and the element of surprise. The Shadeclaws are just a band of cutthroats; they are no match for us in open combat. One of us is worth ten of them.’


                    ‘What about the Legion?’


                    ‘Imperial dogs,’ Larethor spat. ‘We’ll have to hope that the Emissaries keep them mired with politics long enough for us to do our jobs.’


                    The room was silent for a while. No one dared raise the point of how much of a gamble that was – or how much of a gamble the entire mission was. And so the meeting adjourned, leaving Karinae feeling a bit glum.


                    ‘Say, Nerry,’ she said, tightening the straps on her armour. ‘If I die, have my ashes scattered next to Mammy and Pappy, okay?’


                    ‘You won’t die.’ Nerunae bumped her shoulder. ‘I have your back.’


                    Two hundred Thalmor, spread across the village. Thirty of their number were battlemages. The signal to attack was a red fireball.


                    They think to purge Tsukikage with such a small force? Harrow almost felt like laughing. Then he winced as a spasm of pain shot up his body.


                    Getting into the drainage system had proven difficult. The pipe was barely wide enough for his head, and he had gotten stuck midway. His torso had been too thick to fit inside, forcing him to improvise.


                    First he popped his left forearm out of his shoulder joint. Then he dislocated both his femurs and folded them under his pelvis. That had left just enough room for him to drag himself through the pipes with his right hand. The whole process had been torture enough, but the smell of the sewage was almost worse. By the time he made it to the section of piping in Larethor’s room, his green kimono had been stained entirely brown. Note to self – keep mouth closed.


                    The past few hours had been exhausting, pushing both his mental and physical endurance to the brink. Still, he knew he would have done more, gone further, if it meant acquiring information on the enemy.


                    It’s a shame, Commander, he crowed inwardly as he pulled himself towards the end of the piping. But the element of surprise is no longer on your side.








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6 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 5 others like this.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 7, 2017
    I have to admit you handled this rather well Harrow. 
    Well done.
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      I have to admit you handled this rather well Harrow. 
      Well done.
        ·  May 7, 2017
      Yes!! So I'm not in trouble!
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  April 15, 2017
    Sick and disgusting, that´s what it is. And I love it! :D I have to say you tackled this exceptionally well, it´s not an easy subject to portray without it turning into "too much". There´s a thin line between too much and very little and you hit precisely...  more
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Sick and disgusting, that´s what it is. And I love it! :D I have to say you tackled this exceptionally well, it´s not an easy subject to portray without it turning into "too much". There´s a thin line between too much and very little and you hit precisely...  more
        ·  April 15, 2017
      I have to thank Lissette-ko for that. The original scene was longer and far more explicit, which might have crossed the line for some, considering Harrow's young age.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  April 14, 2017
    Oh boy, the shit we go through to get information. Damn, Harrow.
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Oh boy, the shit we go through to get information. Damn, Harrow.
        ·  April 14, 2017
      Literal shit, heh heh heh...

      Sorry, couldn't resist.