The Dark Mirror and the Bright

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    “Do I want pie? Do I want a piece of fucking pie? How can…are you fucking kidding me?”

     

    Moriane tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes. Stenvar had been unusually quiet in the last hour, pacing through the house and setting her nerves on edge. She supposed it was warranted – a dragon had surprised them outside the garden that afternoon, just swooped down out of nowhere, it seemed. She hoped a piece of peach pie might chase away lingering shock or anxiety, but after that outburst, she had her doubts. “It’s pie. It’s good. Do you want a piece?”

     

    Stenvar stood staring in the middle of the kitchen, and slowly sank down into a chair, his head in his hands. After a long moment, he met her eyes. “You haven’t even changed your clothes, Moriane. There’s blood all over them, and – “

     

    He broke off and stared at his own hands, and shivered.

     

    Moriane smiled. “We’ve fought dragons before. What’s the big deal about this one?”

     

    “It attacked us at our home, for one. For another…”

     

    Stenvar broke off again and swallowed a few times before going on, his voice choked and raspy. “You did it on purpose, didn’t you? You lured the dragon toward that mill. You did.”

     

    Moriane scoffed and set the pie on a shelf. If Stenvar didn’t want it, she’d eat it later. “Yes, of course I did. There were guards. There’s always guards at Heartwood Mill. With weapons. And we’re alive. So,” she said, scoffing again, “you’re welcome.”

     

    “There were kids there, too. Kids. I helped them into the stable in time, but…”

     

    He swiped a hand over his shorn head. “I’m glad you’re alive. I am. Not going to lie. But there are things you just don’t do. Please, tell me. Tell me you didn’t know.”

     

    Moriane crossed her arms over her chest and scowled. Weren’t dragons enough to worry about? Didn’t she have enough on her plate trying to keep them both breathing? “You know, I didn’t see you objecting to my methods in Gyldenhul Barrow, when you were dancing around in all that gold.”

     

    “You don’t think that situation’s in any way similar, do you?” Stenvar crossed the kitchen to lean on the counter opposite Moriane. His eyes searched her face. “Those were vicious, vengeful ghosts who’d trapped us in their crypt. These are guards, town guards at that, who did not sign up to kill dragons. Not to mention unarmed civilians. And kids, Moriane.”

     

    Screw this.

     

    Moriane grabbed the pie and a fork and sat down at the table. A morsel of peach flew out of the pan and hit the blue-checkered tablecloth, and she scooped it up, licking the rich, spicy syrup from her fingers. Stenvar could leave, then, if that’s all he cared about. She opened her mouth to tell him so, but the words that tumbled out weren’t what she’d planned to say. “No one protected me when I was a child. I did the best I could.”

     

    “But…but wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had?” Stenvar slipped into a chair next to Moriane and took an apple from a brown stoneware bowl, passing it from hand to hand. Out of the corner of one eye, he glanced at her hollow eyes and pink cheeks. “Did no one, really? No one at all?”

     

    Moriane shook her head and tried not to think back too far, but Grelod’s hateful sneer and heavy fists were never far enough away. She shifted the memory to one less nauseating – the library at Mistveil Keep. Wylandriah’s absent-minded expression, ready smile, and generous, gold-filled purse. “Well, not really. Maybe a little,” she said, and frowned, her chest tightening against a swell of emotion. Had Wylandriah done anything about Grelod? Had she tried to help?

     

    Or, had she only taken advantage of cheap labor, and a child desperate to escape the horrors of the orphanage? Moriane tossed her fork down on the table and shoved the memory away. “No, not at all. I told you about growing up in Honor-“

     

    “Yes, you did.” Stenvar nodded, clenching his apple until the glossy skin cracked under the force of his grip. He set it on the table with a sigh. “And I get why you…how you,” he wavered, letting his voice taper off, “but after you realized you’d been wrong, in Solstheim. About Hermaeus Mora. When you saw what he did to that shaman, realized what he was, I was hoping…”

     

    Moriane cringed. She hadn’t known about the kids at the mill, hadn’t noticed them at all. But if she was being honest with herself, she couldn’t swear she’d have done anything different if she had.

     

    He’s going to leave.

     

    Her stomach sank at that jarring thought, and she tried to push it away, like she did the memories of her past. But her nascent, unfamiliar feelings for the gruff mercenary weren’t so easily dismissed. “You were hoping I’d repent and start being good and kind and helpful? I do what it takes to survive. I always have.”

     

    “I know. But, don’t you care about – “

     

    Moriane jumped up from the table and walked with long strides toward the bedroom. She lay down on the quilted bed and crossed her arms over her belly, feeling it rise and fall with deep, cleansing breaths. Did she care? She wasn’t sure. She’d spent the larger portion of her life, the parts she could remember, anyway, trying to stay alive. And after walking Riften’s streets and feeling invisible to so many people for so many years, she’d felt herself begin to fade.

     

    Like a ghost, she’d wandered the city, until one day she caught sight of her reflection in a window. Hazy blue eyes blinked in time with her own.

     

    Were they her own?

     

    If the reflection in the window was real, maybe she was too. So she’d fixated on it, her own reflection. In the glass. In the still, stagnant waters of the canal. Even on the back of her porridge spoon.

     

    After one particularly trying day, she’d taken a piece of broken glass and cut her forearm over the canal, watching her reflection do the same. The droplets of blood fell into the water, making tiny rings. But her reflection solidified again, once the blood sank below the surface.

     

    “I’m real,” she whispered, again and again. Over the days and weeks, it became her mantra.

     

    I’m real.

     

    And as her sense of self solidified, as she began to cling to her own identity once more, she realized she’d been wrong.

     

    And right.

     

    Ghosts did wander the streets of Riften, but she wasn’t one of them. Everyone else, though – the guards, the shopkeepers, the thieves – maybe they were the ghosts, the ones who weren’t real.

     

    Days and months and years passed. Moriane grew strong and sure, her purpose becoming clear, especially after her discovery in the library of Mistveil Keep. But other people – their wants and needs and desires – faded into shadow. And then, to nothing.

     

    A chair scraped against the kitchen floor, and Moriane braced herself.

     

    He’s coming in to say he’s leaving. He’ll go out to the bunkhouse and pack his things, and I’ll never see him again.

     

    Stenvar had stopped sleeping in the bunkhouse when they’d returned from Solstheim; it was always too cold to leave. Or too rainy. Or the bed was too warm. Or they’d stay up too late, and Moriane would gripe about getting out of bed to fight off frostbites in the middle of the night.

     

    No, he’d never truly moved in, never become an official fixture in her life, but at the same time, she’d gotten used to his presence. His warmth, and his smile. He’d become real. Not a figure in the background, not an object she could move around a gameboard, but real. Like her.

     

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

     

    The door jamb creaked and she peeked through her eyelashes at Stenvar leaning against the wood frame. He watched her for a moment, and cleared his throat.

     

    “What if it was me, between you and a dragon? Would you run away and let it finish me off?”

     

    Moriane turned on her side, away from him, and listened to his knuckles cracking as he waited for an answer. Minutes slipped away, and the threshold creaked again. She heard his boots slide against the wood floor, back toward the kitchen.

     

    “I wouldn’t run,” she blurted out, louder than she meant to, and waited as his footsteps halted and returned to the bedroom. She wanted to turn to him, to look at him when she told him she wouldn’t leave him for dead. To see if he believed her or not. But she couldn’t.

     

    Stenvar wouldn’t run, Moriane was sure of it. She didn’t want to be, but it was a truth she couldn’t deny. She could see it between them, shining like the sun. He wouldn’t run away, wouldn’t leave her to face a dragon on her own. And not because she’d paid him to fight at her side.

     

    He saw her. She was real, if only to him.

     

    “And what about-“

     

    “I don’t know. I don’t know about other people, what I’d do if... if I’d known about those kids. I can’t say…”

     

    Her eyes burned, and she blinked hard before opening them again. “I can’t say what I’d do, and I can’t tell you something that’s not the absolute truth. Not you. You, I know; you I’m sure of. Everyone else is still…still just shadows.”

     

    And shadows faded, every day; it was the way of the world. Did it matter, really, if she hastened their end to save herself, or her only friend?

     

    She did turn to look at him then, and she knew: it mattered. His face told her so.

     

    Her own reflection assured her she was real, and she’d depended on it for years. If she ever felt herself start to dissolve, she’d stare into silvered glass or a still pond and feel herself settling, becoming solid once more.

     

    Perhaps Stenvar could be a reflection, of sorts. Not her own, of course, but of...life. A normal life, or at least as normal a life as she could imagine. Instead of a rippling, hazy mirror, he would be a clear one. A bright one, full of light.

     

    “I-I have trouble seeing the shadows,” she said, stumbling over the unfamiliar words. Talking about her feelings never seemed to get easier. “But maybe…”

     

    Stenvar walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. He reached out and flicked a piece of grass from the hem of her dress. “What?”

     

    “Maybe you can see them for me.”

     

    The corners of Stenvar’s mouth twitched, and Moriane continued, rushing to forestall any objection. “Just until I can see them for myself. You were a shadow once, you know. And now…”

     

    Stenvar nodded, then, and said nothing, but his shoulders straightened as if a weight had been lifted. “Do you still need me to go to Riften tomorrow?”

     

    Moriane’s eyes flared and she sat up, throwing one leg off the side of the bed.

     

    “I’m coming back,” Stenvar said, and held out his hands. “You asked me to go last week, and – “

     

    “That’s right,” she said, and cleared her throat. Most of the gardening equipment had rusted or been stolen in their absence, and they needed some hens and maybe even a calf or two. He did need to go. “Yes. It’s fine. Go.”

     


    Moriane curled on one side, watching red light play over embers smoldering in the fireplace. Stenvar lay at her back. Any minute he’d start snoring. Moriane hadn’t wanted to talk after she’d blown out the candle, so she’d pretended to fall asleep quickly.

     

    But she knew sleep would be a long time coming.

     

    And, there it was. Not snoring, but deep, rhythmic breathing; finally she could relax. Their argument or discussion, whatever it had been that afternoon, had left her shaken. While the sun shone, she’d felt almost good about her new-found attachment. She was a human being, after all. Wasn’t it natural she’d develop feelings for someone like Stenvar? Someone who’d seen her through so much. And they shared a bed. It only made sense.

     

    But soon as darkness fell, that nagging, bitchy little voice piped up again. Moriane did her best to silence it, but once it started…

     

    Not for you, never you. Unwanted slum rat. He sees what you really are – a monster. A soulless, sucking lich. He’s lying there, pretending to sleep, you know. Waiting for your own deep breathing so he can slip away -

     

    Her heart slammed against her chest, and she curled her fingers around the dagger on her nightstand: Mehrunes’ Razor, the only weapon she kept at her side after their return to Waterview.

     

    He’s going to leave.

     

    Dying firelight flickered across the black blade, and Moriane sat up, running a finger over its edge. She didn’t have to wait for Stenvar to leave – she’d leave first. Maybe go back to the Dark Brotherhood, or even the Thieves Guild. They’d –

     

    No.

     

    She looked down at his supine form and swallowed a snarl, anger twisting her gut. No, he couldn’t make her leave. This was her house. Hers. She’d kill him first…

     

    The Razor twisted in her hand. Her stomach lurched. Instead of a snarl, she bit back bile and dropped the dagger on the quilt, kicking out from under it and running to the back door. Currents of chill air rushed around her legs and belly, raising tiny hairs on her back as its eddies traveled toward her neck. She looked down and stifled a groan. A nearly-finished blanket lay atop her loom, and she grabbed it, wrapping it around her naked body before walking out into the night.

     

    Water had a calming effect on Moriane. Ever since water had played its part in restoring her identity, she’d gravitated to it, whether mist or rain or even Morthal’s fetid swamps. But Waterview was special – the Treva River flowed calm and wide at its back, and Moriane stared out at milky moonlight dancing over its serene stretches. Dragonflies hummed over muddy banks and harmonized with distant Nirnroot, their glow shining like foxfire in the dark. So beautiful, her home. No wonder she’d contemplated killing for it.

     

    But her rage hadn’t been a comfort, or a source of power, as it had in the past. Instead, she’d nearly vomited at its fiery swell. The whole thing was illogical, she could see that now. First of all, why jump to conclusions? Stenvar hadn’t asked to leave. And he certainly wouldn’t ask her to leave her own home. It made no sense. Second, and probably more important – she didn’t have to kill in any case. He was leaving for Riften in the morning. She could just ask him not to come back. Problem solved.

     

    Third…

     

    Moriane felt along the porch railing and table for the dagger, and cursed under her breath, remembering the dull thud it made as she’d dropped it on the bed. Relief at having abandoned it coursed through her chest, and her stomach turned again at the uncomfortable truth: the thought of Stenvar lying on the bed with her blade in his heart hurt more than the thought of his leaving her alone.

     

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

     

    She groaned, loud in the early-morning stillness, and plopped down in a nearby chair, snagging a sprig of lavender from a pot to fidget with instead.

     

    The door clicked shut, and Moriane whirled around. Stenvar stepped out onto the porch, bare-chested in drawstring linen trousers. He lowered himself into the other chair, flinching a little at the frosty wood at his back, and lay her dagger between them. “Looking for this?”

     

    Shit. Moriane stared, wide-eyed. “You were – “

     

    “Awake while you snarled at me with a dagger in your hand? Yep.”

     

    Moriane reached for the Razor, but pulled her hand away and clutched it in her lap instead. She swallowed hard, and made an effort to keep her voice low. “Why didn’t you say something? I could have killed you.”

     

    “Fact is,” Stenvar drawled, picking up the dagger and balancing it on the edge of his palm, “you could kill me anytime. I know it. There’s the Beastblood. And your poisons. I watched you make one that could paralyze me for half a minute and drain my health while I’m lying helpless on the ground.”

     

    Moriane wished she could see his face in the dark, but kept her magelight at bay. Maybe it was better she couldn’t see.

     

    “Ah, can’t forget your flame cloak. Sidle up to me while I’m gardening. Curl up next to me while I’m sleeping. Or…holding you,” he said, and set the Razor back down with a clank. “And the Shouts. Ulfric killed the king of Skyrim with one, and he’s a mere child compared to you. You’re a deadly weapon without that dagger, Moriane. I sleep next to you every night knowing: if you wanted me dead, I’d be dead, long before now.”

     

    Moriane didn’t know what to say, so she sat in silence for long moments before deciding to confront the truth, and let it out. Still an uneasy, unfamiliar feeling. “It’s not…it’s not like I hear voices telling me to kill while I’m lying in bed at night. It’s not like that, I just thought about you leaving. Maybe you’d leave because what happened with the dragon, and – “

     

    “That made you want to kill me?”

     

    “No, it made me want to hurt you before you could hurt me. Before you could leave.”

     

    Stenvar sighed. “And if I’d wanted to leave, I could have done it anytime. Why wait until now? You were trapped in Apocrypha for more than a day. I could have made it all the way back to Raven Rock if I hustled.”

     

    “But the thing with the kids…”

     

    Stenvar scoffed and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on the railing. “Remember back in Solstheim, we were clearing a barrow for that asshole Dunmer?”

     

    Moriane nodded. “Ralis.” They’d needed work while she trained, preparing to meet Miraak in Apocrypha, and Ralis Sedarys had come along at just the right time. The barrow he’d partially excavated turned out to be the resting place for the Dragon Priest Azhidal and all his draugr lackeys. Good practice for them both.

     

    “Hm…yeah,” Stenvar continued, “and after we dusted everything, Ralis pulled himself off the floor, sort of dazed, and spouted his bullshit. And you – you said you understood, that it would all be ok. Even patted him on the back, and started to walk with him out of the crypt. And then…”

     

    Moriane shivered. She still wasn’t sure why she let Ralis think she’d believed his ridiculous story. The words had just tumbled from her mouth, right before she’d fallen behind him and cloaked herself in flames, and dragged the Razor across his neck. She’d wiped her blade before turning back to Stenvar, and flinched at what she’d seen in his eyes – disbelief, and more than a little fear.

     

    “I was no friend to Ralis, and I don’t think he was under Azhidal’s control – that was just an excuse after Azhidal failed to kill us. But it still surprised me how easily you killed him. Especially after what you said. You were so…convincing. I believed it.”

     

    Stenvar pushed his feet from the railing and leaned forward. The chair creaked under his shifting weight. “What I’m trying to say is, I know who you are. The good and the bad. Sometimes, learning new things, like your strategy with that dragon? Well, it takes a while to process. I hadn’t processed it yet this afternoon. Now that I have, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Angry, yes, still. You’re going to do things that make me angry, you know that. I know I’ll do the same to you.”

     

    Moriane shivered again, and pulled the blanket tighter. “But…”

     

    “But it doesn’t change the fact that I know who you are. I’ve always known. And I’m still here.”

     

    “Well, you’re stupid, then,” Moriane said, glad he couldn’t see the smile spreading across her face. “Or a masochist.”

     

    Stenvar laughed, a low and deep rumble. “Maybe so.”

     

    “So, I could have killed you, and you could have left me. But we didn’t, either of us. So we’re going to be alright?”

     

    “As alright as two idiots can be these days.” Stenvar shoved the Razor across the table. Moriane stopped it with her palm before it slid off the edge, but left it alone. “I’ve had time to process something else, too. That dragon, he’s not alone. I’ve heard too many roars in the distance over the last week or so. They’re getting closer, and gathering strength. And not leaving Skyrim anytime soon, I’m afraid.”

     

    “I know. I should go back to the Greybeards. Delphine and her Blades can rot, though. I’ll have nothing to do with the Dominion, no matter what.” Moriane glanced over her shoulder at the garden, still seeing the men in black and their lightning and her mother’s dead, green stare into black, starry skies. She shivered. No, Delphine would have to find another patsy for her worthless plan.

     

    “I’m up for a little climbing,” Stenvar said. Moriane could feel his grin, and she cast a ball of magelight on the table between them so she could see it, too.

     

    The cool light cast shadows under Stenvar’s eyes in stark relief, and he lifted a hand to cover a jaw-splitting yawn. Moriane jumped up from her chair and pulled at his arm. “Hey, you need to go to sleep. You’re starting out for Riften in a few hours.”

     

    Stenvar allowed her to help him up, and clutched a hand to his heart. “Is that concern for my well being I hear? That’s progress.”

     

    “I thought about killing you earlier, killing you in your sleep, mind you. And you’re happy I’d rather you not be too sleepy for your road trip?”

     

    Stenvar looped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “It’s a start.”

     

    Moriane relaxed against his chest and gazed at the river, a wide, gently-flowing swath of black under swiftly-forming clouds. Two luna moths fluttered along its banks, casting a green glow on the dark ripples below. Silvery dust trailed from their wings, and their intricate dance quickened, spiraling higher and higher into the starless sky.

     

    “I guess it is.”

     

    This short story accompanies and complements Moriane's Character Build and Roleplay profile. Click the links below to view. And thanks for reading!

     

     

     

Comments

13 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 6 others like this.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  July 9, 2018
    She sorta reminds me of Morrigan from Dragon Age. Less snappy, but just the right kind of bitch a man has to try out at least once in his life. An unhealthy relationship can be ultimately healthy, when it ends. And heh, some men are drawn to women like th...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      She sorta reminds me of Morrigan from Dragon Age. Less snappy, but just the right kind of bitch a man has to try out at least once in his life. An unhealthy relationship can be ultimately healthy, when it ends. And heh, some men are drawn to women like th...  more
        ·  July 9, 2018
      In my head, there’s a lot more to it, so I”m definitely going to have to write another story so you guys can see it, too. Sometimes I forget that readers can’t see into my brain. And...nor would you want to. ;)


      And thank you, I haven’...  more
  • Golden Fool
    Golden Fool   ·  July 8, 2018
    Well shit... I'm not sure what to say after reading this other then "This is really good". Oh I also sort of want more but am at the same time glad this is a "self-contained" story since while the character's story isn't over there was still a conclusion ...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      Golden Fool
      Golden Fool
      Golden Fool
      Well shit... I'm not sure what to say after reading this other then "This is really good". Oh I also sort of want more but am at the same time glad this is a "self-contained" story since while the character's story isn't over there was still a conclusion ...  more
        ·  July 9, 2018
      Thanks! And “this is really good” totally works if you’re ever at a loss for what to say again. :) 


      When I posted this, I wasn’t thinking about writing more, but a couple of comments made me think of more potential here, so I mig...  more
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  July 8, 2018
    I'm surprised Stenvarr is still beside her. Is he a masochist by any chance? :P
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      A-Pocky-Hah!
      A-Pocky-Hah!
      A-Pocky-Hah!
      I'm surprised Stenvarr is still beside her. Is he a masochist by any chance? :P
        ·  July 8, 2018
      She did accuse him of that! The short answer is sort of.  The long answer might come out in a second story, hopefully. :)
  • Dragonborn2121
    Dragonborn2121   ·  July 8, 2018
    I...damn Ilani. All I can think at the moment is to ask if there's any chance for a full blown story here, because this was a fascinating read. I love how the Profile, Build and now this story have all combined to make Moriane a completely fleshed out and...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      Dragonborn2121
      Dragonborn2121
      Dragonborn2121
      I...damn Ilani. All I can think at the moment is to ask if there's any chance for a full blown story here, because this was a fascinating read. I love how the Profile, Build and now this story have all combined to make Moriane a completely fleshed out and...  more
        ·  July 8, 2018
      I hadn’t planned to write more, but why wouldn’t I, right? If people say they want to read it, I’ll get on it. :) and thanks! I sort of wanted to do what I did in my Schoolgirl build, but spread out more over the different sections. At times, I wanted to ...  more
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  July 8, 2018
    Yus! I like this Moriane the same way I like a lot of broken killer characters - calculating, slightly homicidal, unrepentantly practical, but also vulnerable at the innermost core. And this is a CB story? One of these days I'll pay more attention to buil...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Yus! I like this Moriane the same way I like a lot of broken killer characters - calculating, slightly homicidal, unrepentantly practical, but also vulnerable at the innermost core. And this is a CB story? One of these days I'll pay more attention to buil...  more
        ·  July 8, 2018
      She’s fun to write, thanks! I think I might do more. There’s little ficlets in the Roleplay and the build, too. :)
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 8, 2018
    I don't know if I can be in a relationship with someone who was contemplating killing me so that they could be spared being parted from me. That's some unhealthy shit. I say "Stenvar! Run for the hills!" 
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      I don't know if I can be in a relationship with someone who was contemplating killing me so that they could be spared being parted from me. That's some unhealthy shit. I say "Stenvar! Run for the hills!" 
        ·  July 8, 2018
      It’s absolutely unhealthy. These are highly flawed people just living in their own little bubble. And TBH I don’t think Stenvar holds out much hope for survival anyway, given what road he’s chosen to go down. But yeah, me? I’d totally run. 
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        ilanisilver
        ilanisilver
        ilanisilver
        It’s absolutely unhealthy. These are highly flawed people just living in their own little bubble. And TBH I don’t think Stenvar holds out much hope for survival anyway, given what road he’s chosen to go down. But yeah, me? I’d totally run. 
          ·  July 8, 2018
         HAHA, as for Stenvar, Karver and I had fun with him in Chasing Aetherius.