Chasing Death: Chapter 8, Black and White

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    “You can't save him,” Decimus suddenly said, with a voice clear and strong and Äelberon frowned, involuntarily taking a step back. He felt the dark magic rising as a midnight tide, drowning the room and Decimus was right at the middle of it. He had tried to stop it with his magic, praying to Auri-El, but how can one stop a tide? It was a tide, it was a storm, and the Goldpact Knight was its eye.


    “Reveal yourself,” the Altmer whispered quietly, eyeing the Imperial, feeling the darkness pressing on him, choking him and he narrowed his eyes. “Reveal yourself!” he shouted, fighting against it, light emanating from him as he drank from Aetherius.


    Decimus twitched, looking away from the light and when his blues eyes again found Äelberon’s, they swirled with purple light that emanated darkness like smoke.


    “No,” Äelberon murmured, his knuckles going white as he gripped his silver katana.


    “Yes,” the Goldpact Knight answered, the voice of both a man and a woman resonating through the hall with an echo spanning centuries and eras. “Yes!” the Imperial repeated, loudly this time, and his voice was a thunder and darkness that nearly made the Mer drop to his knees. Decimus lifted his silver sword, smoke rising from the hand clutching the hilt, and got on his feet, looking Äelberon straight in the eye. “Say my name, priest, tear down the veil from your eyes. Say my name!”


    “Auri-El Adonai-” he began.


    Do not fail Decimus like you failed Tyranus, his mind mourned, the visions of that fateful night passing through his eyes.


    “Your god can't hear you here, priest!” Decimus shouted into his face, making his face muscles twitch in pain. “Say my name!”


    Äelberon struggled against the command, fighting against it with all his will, praying for Auri-El's help, but his god was deaf to his pleas. Blocked. The Altmer groaned in pain as the pressure of darkness was pinning him down. And the words were forced out of him. Gritting his teeth he growled: “Potema!”


    “Yes!” Decimus laughed, stretching his neck. “What did you suspect, priest of Auriel? That he was meant to be my servant in death? That the curse revolved around him?” He raised his hand, looking at it and moved his fingers as if testing his abilities. “No, I was in this body all along. I was in the center of the curse the whole time.”


    “You used him to kill those people,” Äelberon hissed, slowly pulling himself back to his feet, his muscles trembling with effort. The gold light around began emanating with renewed intensity, pushing the darkness away.


    I will not fail you, boy.  


    “He said you wouldn’t give up easily,” Decimus smiled, his face twisting in a vile grin that just did not belong there. Not on the face of Äelberon's friend, a son to him, and the Mer felt the wrath in him churning like a sea during a storm. The wrath of Auri-El, the wrath of a father about to lose his child, it was growing stronger every second under the shadow of such evil.


    And then he felt it, the presence, centuries old and oh so familiar. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder to imagine him there. Probably on the other side of the hall, standing at the top of the stairs with his hands behind his back. He could almost picture the satisfied, smug smile on his face.


    They strive to take everything from you.


    “He also said that you would know.”


    “Yes.” He answered, all the weight of two hundred and forty-four years in his voice.


    “My freedom for you,” Decimus continued, drawing the baskethilt sword from its sheath, pointing it at Äelberon. “That was the deal. How easily you are drawn out, priest. The Pure White Knight.” He swung the sword at the Mer's neck who gritted his teeth, freeing himself of the darkness, and he blocked the sword with his katana, stopping it at the level of his shoulders.


    Decimus twisted the sword, turning the swing into a stab behind Äelberon's block and the Mer pushed the katana further away from his body, but Decimus then swung the silver sword from the other side, forcing Äelberon to quickly retreat. He realised his mistake when he stepped onto nothing, falling off the top level of the room. The levels were divided by a mere step high wall, but he fell on his back and he gasped for air.


    Decimus laughed while Äelberon was trying to get back on his feet, leaning against the katana. “This body,” the Imperial said, echoed by a woman's voice. “This body is amazing. Not young, but such strength, such finesse.” Decimus slid down to the middle level a few steps away from Äelberon, his swords resting easily in his hands. “I've never seen such natural swordsman in my life,” Potema continued. “Maybe my brother Cephorus, but he is long dead isn't he?”


    Äelberon reached into Aetherius, drawing on it and he released a sun fire spell in Decimus' direction, hoping to weaken the parasite that had taken over his friend's body. A wall of darkness blocked it a step away from the Imperial and Decimus shook his head. “The magic comes from one's soul, priest. It is not tied to a body. But imagine what I could achieve with this body and my magic?” Decimus then tilted his head to the side, smiling at Äelberon. “I know what you are thinking. How much of what was said between you and him was truth? Was it him or me? Ah, the questions.”


    Don’t listen to her, don’t. You are his instrument and she is a demon. She knows what scares you, she has from the very beginning. Don’t give her anymore.


    Decimus then lashed at Äelberon with both his swords, one going high and the other low. Äelberon stepped into that swing, blocking the attack coming on his head, while the immediate distance prevented Decimus’ second swing from coming in contact with him. Äelberon's reached for the Imperial's throat, a prayer ready on his lips. The Imperial's chin lowered, preventing the Mer from getting a proper grip and then the basket of Decimus' baskethilt sword hit his jaw, snapping his head to the side. He felt warm blood in his mouth and when he looked back he saw Decimus going low, both his swords cutting at Äelberon's chest.


    Äelberon took the katana in both hands and swung down, parrying both the swords, but Decimus then changed the direction he was moving, he spun on his heel, still crouching and the silver sword was suddenly coming for Äelberon's shoulder. He called forth a ward, blocking the attack, but Decimus' second sword stabbed at his leg, going under the ward, while he was distracted and he felt searing pain as the sword went past his calf. It went past, not through, so it cut him and he swung his katana in powerful swing that made Decimus quickly jump away. But the Imperial was grinning.


    “Did you know that your friend was always evaluating you when you fought?” Potema mocked him as he stepped on the cut leg, trying what it can hold. It wasn't deep cut, and he knew that if Potema wanted, it would have been much deeper. “It's that swordsman’s mind of his. He was taking notice of your weaknesses, of your mistakes. And one is that your height leaves you vulnerable to low attacks, especially when you are using the ward as a shield. Just as I have demonstrated.”


    Decimus then lunged forward, stabbing with his baskethilt sword and Äelberon struck the blade, pushing it aside while the silver sword was already coming from the other side. The Mer just switched his legs, his katana blocking the sword at waist level. He could then easily stab at the Imperial's face, he could do it, but instead, he let the katana slide down, blade on blade, and with a twist of his wrists, he pushed Decimus' sword aside, nearly ripping the weapon out of his hand. He then swung in a wide arc while taking another step back.


    “Ah, and that is another fault of yours,” Potema smiled. “You don't want to hurt your friend, am I right?”


    She was right, but that wasn't the only reason he didn't take a chance on that opening. He knew it was a ruse, very subtle, but still a ruse.


    “You fight too defensively you know,” Potema continued, one sword alongside Decimus' leg, the other pointing up, the hilt at his chest. “You lack the aggression, the will to defeat your opponent. The need to defeat your opponent.”


    “And you fucking talk too much, arrogant bitch.” He snarled, punctuating his anger with a spit. “You will be defeated and I will save him.”  


    The Goldpact Knight came at him again, his swords striking in wide circles at rapid succession, attacking from both sides, and Äelberon felt himself retreating from that flurry of blades. High attacks were changing to low attacks and then striking at his chest, turning into nasty stabs and Äelberon's hands were doing what they could to block all those attacks. He felt his wounded leg slowing him down as Decimus pushed harder and then blood was sprayed over the wall to his right when the tip of the Imperial's silver sword cut him across his chest. He hissed and conjured a Ward, a larger one to cover his whole body and as he took a step back he felt his crossbow hit the ground. The strike had cut the leather strap in half. When the weapon hit the ground it triggered and shot the silver bolt into the wall next to Äelberon, the bolt then ricocheting into the shadows.


    Potema growled in frustration at that. “You want magic?!” Decimus shouted and the darkness reached out from the Imperial, tearing down Äelberon's ward as if it was a wall of paper. “Two can play this game,” Potema sneered and Decimus' hand pointed behind Äelberon, at the sarcophagi. The lids were blown open with great force and bony hands covered with thin sinewy skin were pulling the bodies of the draugr out. Their eyes were glowing with a dark purple light and they opened their mouths in unison, shouting a primal roar lacking any words. The air suddenly crackled with energy and a ball of purple lightning materialised in the air, hanging near the ceiling at the middle of the room. And it shot lightning in the Altmer's direction.


    He ducked, feeling his hair standing up, and then the nearest draugr swung its axe at Äelberon who growled, his sight involuntarily following Decimus, who for the time being was just standing there, watching, with that vile grin on his face. That’s not Dec, old Mer.


    The mer swung his katana, cutting off the draugr's hand before the axe could land a strike and following up, he drove the point up through the draugr's chin into its skull. The light that were its eyes faded and Äelberon ripped the blade out, whirling around.


    The middle level was now crawling with draugr, at least a dozen with various weapons, even bows. The ball of magic was spitting more lightning and he bared his teeth, nodding. They were coming for him while Potema and the figure on the stairs were just watching, amused. And he found himself chuckling. Just one more in your long life of trials, old Mer.


    Lightning headed his way just as a draugr on the other side of the room was nocking an arrow. He reached deep down into himself, into that bright star that was a piece of Aetherius, a window, and he drew on it, conjuring a Ward, using it as a mirror.


    The lightning was reflected by the Ward right at the draugr who began shaking as the dark energy surged through its undead body. Äelberon drew more and more from Aetherius, his skin slowly beginning to shine like a rising sun and the nearest draugr hissed as their skin began smoking.


    Äelberon pulled himself up to the highest level just as two draugr reached his position, their weapons ringing against the stone under his feet when they missed their target. He swung his katana down, splitting one draugr's skull like a melon while his other hand released an orb of light, setting the draugr on holy fire.


    He dove when he heard the humming of a bowstring, but he was too late. He felt the arrow scrape against his skull right above his right ear and he growled in pain, seeing some wisps of his hair fall to the floor. The light was already healing that wound, along with the ones inflicted by Decimus, and he clenched his left hand into a fist.  A spear of light then materialized in his clenched hand and he threw it at the draugr that shot him. “A gift from my teacher!” He snarled. The spear went straight through its chest, throwing the walking dead against the wall, burning a gaping hole in its ribcage.


    Another draugr came at him from left, swinging an ebony warhammer at his side. There was no point in blocking it, he would most likely break his katana, so he stepped inside that swing, burying the katana into the draugr's chest, while his left hand grabbed the draugr's forearm, pushing against him, stopping the swing. He let go the katana and grabbed the undead's face with his right hand, the light seeping from his fingers and the draugr screamed as the light seared through its head, coming out of its eyes and mouth. As it dropped to the ground, Äelberon hoisted the warhammer and threw it at another draugr coming at him, shattering its hip. The walking dead dropped on the ground, ignoring the injury, now crawling towards Äelberon.


    A lightning hummed through the air before he could react and his sight was suddenly overwhelmed with darkness, pain surging through his body. He found himself on all fours, spittle and his last meal coming violently out of his mouth - fuck, how nuts and honey scratch and burn when going up - his head ringing, limbs aching as he bled into his joints. The healing aura battled the pain and it was the only thing keeping him awake. He heard steps behind him and looked over his shoulder to see a draugr in heavy armor with sword above its head, poised to swing.


    Äelberon rolled down to the middle level again, falling right on another draugr, feeling his cloak tug a bit at his neck. Instinctively he summoned a light that blinded even him for a second and when he stopped seeing spots in front of his eyes, he could see that the undead's face was completely burned away. He quickly rose to his feet with a growl, a spear of light again appearing in his hand and he swung it at the draugr on the highest level, sweeping it of its feet. When it landed on its back, he plunged the spear into its neck with a battlecry.  


    He raised a ward just in time to block another lightning strike, reflecting it in Decimus' direction. The demon possessing his friend, Potema, raised a wall of darkness to block it and their united voices echoed through the chamber in a scream of frustration. “Why won't you just die?!”


    He found himself laughing at their frustration, laughing at the darkness’ anger that he managed, despite everything, to endure. Potema snarled and Decimus waved his hand in Äelberon's direction. Tendrils of darkness sprung up from the ground, snatching at Äelberon and when one of them struck him, he felt nothing at first, then a searing pain of frostbite and he gritted his teeth. I am tired of your games, bitch.


    He then spread his arms, the light tingling from his fingertips, his soul drinking deep from the well of Aetherius.


    I am the well.


    The light around him began whirling, creating an orb around him and the tendrils were smacking against it, bursts of smoke rising from them with every hit.


    If thou art broken, he shall make thee whole.


    The old rites, the old prayers. His whole life, his whole song. And he focused his mind. The magicka, it was flowing through him, through his fingers, the raw power of Aetherius coursing through his veins as he he pulled more and more light, layer upon layer.


    If thou art in darkness, he shall bring thee to the light.


    A whirlwind of light, tugging at his hair, banishing the darkness.


    If thou art sinful, thou shalt be reborn.


    A burning sun, anar molag, the flesh of the draugr smoldering.


    I am Talwin Anar, the summer sun.


    If thou art cold, his warmth shall bolster thee, he continued to pray.


    Äelberon closed his eyes, ignoring the draugr pushing through the light, the tendrils trying to reach him, ignoring Potema's snarls of rage. “All creatures shall bask in his glory, Auri-El Adonai, f’angua Tur,” he murmured in prayer, clasping his hands together.


    The room exploded in light as the shadows were cast away, revealing the bare bones of the world and its beating heart, pumping light. The whirlwind swept through the black halls of Potema's tomb, turning the draugr into ash, sweeping them away like a broom sweeps dust. Cleansing. Potema created a sphere of darkness to protect her, the light falling on it like a tide, flowing around it, but not breaking through.


    And then it was over. Äelberon found himself on one knee, gasping for breath, his limbs heavy like lead and his soul drained of magicka. He felt every fiber of his being wanting to give up on him any second, but he knew he couldn't afford that. He couldn't allow it. He grabbed the edge of the highest level of the room, pulling himself slowly back to his feet, fighting the dizziness. He reached for the katana lying on the floor and slowly began walking towards Decimus, carefully measuring his every step. I am his knight.


    The ball of lightning disappeared and so did the protective darkness around Decimus, who was watching the Altmer with continued amusement. “You just threw everything you had at me, priest,” Potema taunted him. “Couldn't defeat me with your sword. Couldn't defeat me with your holy magicks. What are you going to do now I wonder?”


    Äelberon just frowned and pulled out a Torvallian dagger, pairing it with his katana. He remembered, as he held the sleek weapon with it’s cat’s eye pommel, Bumph returning them to him, and little Dar’Kaala who gave them to him. His friends. Dead. He then faced Decimus and set his jaw. I will not fail you, boy, he silently swore, his eyes boring into the demon.


    Decimus raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Second round? Surprised you have it in you. You are so old compared to this body. Tired and drained. Come on then,” he slashed the air with his silver sword, pointing it at Äelberon while he held the other sword low.


    At the end of the day, Old Mer, there are only two things that matter in a fight. That you are still standing and the other fucker is lying face down. How you got there doesn’t fucking matter, Decimus' words were ringing inside his skull as he approached his dear friend, possessed by a darkness that should never see the light of world again. How you got there doesn't fucking matter…


    Potema had to be slain, there was no doubt about that. And there was a way, but how could he kill Decimus? If he was even able to get there… He narrowed his eyes and looked at Decimus and the only thing he saw was Potema behind those glowing eyes. Darkness and hatred, that was all he could see.


    He lunged forward towards the sword pointed at him and his dagger pushed the blade aside as he struck with the katana at Decimus' front leg. The Imperial quickly shifted his weight, the baskethilt sword blocking the attack, but Äelberon wasn't stopping. His dagger went for the Imperial's throat, getting closer. Decimus' feet shuffled on the ground as he quickly retreated, putting distance between himself and the Altmer who was much heavier and stronger than him, his silver sword stabbing at Äelberon's face during the retreat.


    The mer bent backwards at his waist, feeling every bit of that, with the silver sword not able to reach his face and the Imperial quickly turned it into a vertical cut that went over Äelberon's chest, but it lacked the strength to cut through the brigantine. Äelberon hit the blade with the back of his hand, protected by a steel gauntlet, and he hit it as hard as he could, which propelled the sword away from his body, creating an opening in Decimus' defense.


    The Imperial swung his baskethilt sword, which Äelberon blocked with his katana at shoulder level and then he threw the dagger at the Imperial from a mere step away. There was a little chance to harm him, but it threw the Goldpact Knight off-guard when he swung his sword to parry it, giving Äelberon a chance to draw closer, his now free hand clenched in fist aiming for the Imperial's face.


    Decimus lowered his head and Äelberon's fist hit the top of his head. A growl escaped the mer's lips as he felt something in his hand brake and he quickly retreated, raising his katana and pointing it at Decimus, hoping to slow down the coming attack. But it didn't come. The Imperial was grinning once again.


    “Better, better!” he cheered. “Very aggressive, but it's hardly eno-”


    Äelberon attacked him again before Decimus could finish, holding the katana just in one hand and he released a flurry of quick slashes. He felt his breath quicken, his heart hammering against his chest and there was an annoying stinging in his side. He wasn't used to such fighting, not anymore, not since the Tower or the Purge or even Red Ring. The endless, exhaustive fighting and he was so much older now. Especially not when drained of all strength. But he pushed on nonetheless. He would push until his body gave.


    What could he do?


    Thine eyes, whose gaze sees the sin in me yet still shows love.


    It was his friend, one of his closest friends. No, in many ways, his closest friend, a child to him, the son he would never have. Like Aela was his daughter, filling the void of the children he was forced to leave behind when he was exiled. The deep agony in his soul at not seeing his beloved Landril and Mia again, hoping that they still lived, hoping that they were happy, hoping one day that his old eyes would find theirs. He remembered Decimus, the boy, then, pictured him so clearly in his mind. So young, sitting by the campfire with a sound scowl, his blue eyes burning with hatred. Angry at the world and angry at you for looking like the very thing that had taken his world from him. How he hated you then. And then how he embraced you when you returned from Hammerfell, the hatred gone. Äelberon began mustering his inner strength, drinking the last bits of Aetherius from his soul. The Bitch doesn’t understand that, she doesn’t understand a father’s love, and he blinked hard, finding strength in tears.  


    Thine hands, whose grip pulls me out of darkness.


    The flurry of attacks were quickly stopped dead in their tracks and the Goldpact Knight then began pushing Äelberon back, even drawing blood as he managed to land a few minor strikes that resulted in small cuts.


    Thine ears, listening to my every prayer.


    Äelberon stopped a blade falling on his head with a raised hand protected by a gauntlet, but the sword broke his wrist and he felt tears of pain coming to his eyes.


    Thine heart, bright as the dawn, giving me warmth when I am raw.


    He then reached deep down into himself, into the very fabric of his being, looking for the door that lead eons back in time, to the time of the Aldmer and his Snow Elf kin… he saw his lenya, with her gentle pale face and snow-white hair, those beautiful crystal blue eyes gazing at him. Understanding, loving. She turned slowly, showing him the door to the beyond with an outstretched hand. He reached for it, briefly brushing his hand with hers, feeling her grace upon him, and then he opened the door. Energy rushed out through them, flooding his senses, his body hair standing up as tiny white-blue lightnings began travelling all over his skin, his strength coming back as the blessing of the Highborn surged through him.


    Radiant light, radiant life, and thy soul shall find warmth in his arms.


    His hand exploded in a light, the brightest light he had ever created. It was a short burst with only one purpose. Distract.


    Potema growled as the light blinded her and that was all Äelberon required. A lowly trick coming from a priest, but it served its purpose. He lunged forward, dropping the katana and his fist landed on Decimus' chin. The second time his hand came in contact with the Imperial's face was when he grabbed it between his fingers and light began pouring from them into Decimus' skull.


    “Leave him!” Äelberon whispered darkly and a white light flashed.

    His eyes snapped open and he released a gasp, sitting up with a start. He was in a bed of white rumpled sheets. Naked. He heard his ragged breathing, felt the dampness of his sweat.  


    “What is it, my darling?” She murmured, rising from the bed, her nude body pressing against his back, hot flesh against his, her hands moving around his chest to rest there, stroking, teasing the silver hairs, and he liked it. He felt her kisses along his shoulder like a blazing trail. Hot, so hot and his confusion mixed with lingering lust.  


    Her hand on his brow had been cool, like summer rains.


    “Nightmare.” He said quietly, lying back again. She shifted position to lean over him, her ebony hair spilling over her creamy shoulders and she kissed his temple, making him close his eyes from the pleasure of it. Her lips were so warm and she was… rielle. Beautiful.


    “One Oblivion of one by the state of these sheets.” She ran her fingers through his damp hair. “And you are soaked.” She laughed with the sweetness of liquid honey. “That must have tired you out.”  


    He opened his eyes and turned to face her. “Ebonnayne?” He asked, unsure.


    “Yes, my love.” She whispered, kissing his lips softly, her emerald eyes dancing before she closed them. Green? He narrowed his as she continued kissing him. Ene-molage… fire eyes. Like star-fire. She put one of his hands on her breast and he felt the intense rush of pleasure through his body as they settled back into the rumpled sheets, limbs intertwining, breathing quickening, blood pulsing, passion building. He felt the caressing softness of flower petals raining upon them. Flowers from a tree he knew only in dreams. “I will end all your nightmares.” She whispered, her lips teasing the burn on his neck. The mark of Bloodkin.


    “End them.” He murmured through his own kisses, his lust intensifying. Her hands were everywhere, all over his body and he slowly moved a hand to her neck, while the other continued to knead her breast.


    “Yes.” She moaned between kisses. “I will make it better.”


    His hand closed over her throat and he felt the sting of bitter tears in his eyes, knowing what he would have to destroy.


    His dream.


    He kissed her desperately a final time - ma tyava ma - the lyrics of his song, composed in the cold despair of fresh exile playing in his mind. He kissed her deeply, savoring the warm sweetness of her mouth like he imagined how the finest of wines would taste, savoring the dream for a few preciously agonizing seconds more. Then his hand began to squeeze her throat. “Leave him.” He croaked against her lips, letting his tears flow.


    She gasped and her eyes opened, meeting his, surprised by the roughness. “You would not hurt me…”


    “Leave him.” He commanded again, his voice gaining strength.


    Auri-El I hate you for this.


    “But I am your Ebonnayne.” She protested, beginning to beat at his arm to make him stop his squeezing.

    “She is not real,” was his tragic, tragic reply.


    “Your cock says differently.”


    She was right, but he knew that that was not real either. Elenwen’s cruelty had seen to that.


    I am now the corpse-shell of what I once was… A pure vessel for my father’s work. I am white like the morning dawn over freshly fallen mountain snow. Purity.


    “Weakness of the flesh.” He replied. “She is not real. Now, go back to the shadow, demon!” The last words were snarled like a wounded animal and he groaned when he felt her nails rake across his his back, drawing blood. He responded with the back of his other hand hitting her cheek, his knuckles cutting the skin, drawing first drops of her blood.


    “Wow, just wow.” A voice echoed in the distance while Äelberon struggled with Ebonnayne - No, not Ebonnayne. Potema. Potema using his very dreams against him, corrupting them, forcing him to destroy them. “Y’are stronger than I give ya credit for, Shiny. Here I was thinkin’ that this was just goin’ to play out like some sweet and tender fuck, which is shit, but no, ya go and start chokin’ the bitch.” The gruff voice laughed. “And then ya smack her. I love it!”  


    It sounded like Grulmar, but it wasn’t. The voice was far away, as if above them. Above the showers of pink blossoms that coated the bed as they now fought naked for Decimus’ soul. Listening, observing. An image of an old Orc female flashed through his mind. She was passing her hand over...


    Decimus? Younger and lying in a cot in the darkness of a stronghold’s longhouse, his face burning red from fever. He felt her thoughts then as she bent over his friend, passing her hand over him, feeling jealousy...


    Nothing could possibly be so pure; nothing could possibly remain free and unclaimed. She felt vile in that moment and thus she reached out again with her magicks to touch the soul. It recoiled; it was pushing her away and she felt the human’s body weakening. She realized that this could kill him. She pulled away and saw a small green glow amidst the golden light.


    His soul golden and then a wind came. She had touched his soul and… What? He was sick, why did she need to touch his soul? Just use healing magicks?


    “What are you doing?” A youngling Orc’s voice sounded like a distant echo in his mind, a voice of the past.


    Grulmar… He was there! And he knew. It was not hers to give-- Äelberon blinked when Ebonnayne’s fist slammed hard against his own cheek, making him see stars in front of his eyes.


    “Hahaha, don’t get distracted, Bloodkin.” The voice continued. “She’s a feisty one.”


    Ebonnayne scratched his face, making him release his grasp on her throat to protect his eyes and he responded by punching her. His fist landed on her jaw, snapping her head to the side along with a splatter of blood and teeth, her blooded tongue flashing between her lips for a second. How he hated himself for this... It is not real… “Leave him!” He yelled frantically, the pitch of his voice higher from his grief.


    “Never! He’s mine!” She spat blood into his eyes, gnashing her teeth, reaching for him with her hands. He blocked them, bending back a wrist, breaking it, hearing her scream. It broke his heart. With her good hand, she fumbled for and grabbed a crystal vase, swinging with it at him. He raised his forearm, blocking it. It shattered, sending a shower of shards onto his face and the bedsheets. One large shard remained in her hand and she went at him, using it like a knife, stabbing at him. He felt the cuts against his forearm as she swung her arm wildly, trying to slice him. Anywhere. The shards in the bed were now cutting both of them as they struggled against each other. This fight was dirty and cruel. She swung the shard at his crotch. He moved, but not fast enough and his eyes went wide when the crystal grazed the sensitive flesh, making him cry out in pain. He made to grab her other hand, but she was moving it all over. “You’ll never kill me.” She sneered, her teeth bloodied. “You are weak. Like you were with the Knight. Too filled with kindness. Unable to kill--”


    He caught her hand and twisted. Hard. Bone snapped and she screamed again, dropping the shard of crystal. He heard it crash upon the floor, becoming thousands of smaller shards.


    “Leave him!” He said, the rage burning in him. She started using her legs to kick, but with two broken hands, he now had the advantage and gazed once more upon his beloved Ebonnayne. Saw her bleeding, sneering face, twisted in malice. So far beyond the images of his dreams and songs…


    She is not real. Potema’s projection of her is not real. Her hand was cool like the summer rain. No, this creature had been hot. This is not your Ebonnayne. Ebonnayne is your winter moon, your Mafre Maira, Jone’s pallor against the ebony night. Cold snow. Soothing, cold  snow. The calm stillness in the firestorm of your Dovah’s life, of your summer sun.  


    And she will always dwell in the mists of your dreams, Talwin Anar, a shadow of beauty.


    “I am his knight.” He began hoarsely, hating the emotion in his voice, placing a hand on her forehead as she struggled. The blossoms continued to fall, as if weeping.


    Do not weep for me.


    I do his work.


    “I am…” the next word simply came from his mouth and he accepted it. “married, foul darkness. Already bound.” He felt the light of Aetherius emerge from his hand, crossing, traveling towards her while she hissed and kicked, spitting many insults. “I am married... to my faith, to my heart. And you will obey me. LEAVE HIM!” The final words were Dragon’s thunder, making the hairs on his neck stand on end.


    He surged the light into her head through his clenching hand, crushing her skull with his naked strength, breaking bone, into the brain, sanctifying. The light from his hand emerged through the sockets of her eyes and the scream from her throat made the flowers falling around them blow in all directions. The light faded as quickly as it appeared with a final bright flare and he was left spent, trembling, still clasping her crushed skull in his hand. The pale body he was loving moments before was lifeless and it changed before his eyes. Smooth creamy softness became the wrinkled fuzzy grey of the old with its age spots and warts. Firm breasts now sagged. Ebony became a dull yellow-white, stringy and thin. The face under the crushed skull was still locked in its perpetual sneer.


    He let go.


    You had to let go, old Mer.


    There was a pain through his heart as if a dagger had slashed through it. Cutting him. He put away the pain and rolled away from her, ignoring the smarting of his back from her scratches and the shards of crystal and he could only lie in the bed for a spell, next to her, watching the petals fall from the imaginary sky that was now swirling with ash. His brain was dull, exhausted from his efforts, the sound of his heavy breathing all he heard.  


    It was not finished yet.


    “He doesn’t belong to you.” He spoke flatly into the ash storm above him after a few seconds rest.


    “The cursed shaman gave him to me,” a voice thundered out of the storm, the ash whirling in angry motions.


    “It was an accident and you know it. The mistake of an old female, jealous by its beauty, by its freedom.”


    “It is of no concern to me. He will be entertainment in Ashen Forge, for those who have found Good Death.”


    “And entertainment for Ashen Forge is of no concern to me, so I ask you, what is his Blood Price?”


    “Bloodkin indeed,” the ash storm laughed.


    “What do you mean by that?” Äelberon narrowed his eyes.


    “The Huntsman answered you already. Best to go ask your brother.” Shit, fucking Daedric princes, he groaned. He had hoped Malacath would be different, but no. I don’t have a brother. “You ask questions. Do you expect answers?”




    The ash storm then filled the whole sky, dissolving the flower petals, the grey powder sticking  to Äelberon's nostrils and mouth, giving the air a stale, burnt taste. “Make me,” it challenged, swirling around the Altmer, making his bloodied hair blow in the wind. “MAKE ME!”


    “TINVAAK!” He roared, springing from the bed.


    Air raged in seven-folded things unknown and known, the words folding themselves like stars or messages of stars. The storm became trashing in implications of meanings, forming under the ninth cut of truth, molding into accursed/golden shape, one and one, eleven.


    And so there stood Malacath, as tall as Äelberon, as broad as the Dusk. Naked, save a loincloth of dark linen touching the ground, revealing his hips and muscled thighs. His skin was much a darker shade of green than Äelberon ever saw on an Orc, making his torso and arms gleam with reflected light, highlighting the prominent muscles. From his mouth protruded long tusks. His forehead was covered with bone protrusions that one could consider horns and from underneath them were staring two black holes of infinite curses that were Malacath's eyes.


    “Quit talking in hurricane, corpse-walker,” Malacath growled, crossing his arms over his chest. “You shout so far backward your own future had to be rewritten and I am neither Molag Bal of Stone Fire or Hircine of Bitter Mercy. There will be no comparing spears between us.”


    Something in Äelberon seethed at the prince’s words. Something deep and snarling, arrogant with its ancient pride, but he put it in check. “Good, I am not Vivec.” He smirked.


    Malacath snorted and shook his head. “You just repeat. Can you learn, Breaker-of-Worlds-with-Grudge-to-fulfill? Then repeat. Shed your skin, bleed diamonds, ask your question. Or shall we polish tusks, which you love so dearly?”


    “Blood Price.” Äelberon repeated, daring to.


    “Blood Price be Blood Price,” Malacath replied. “Blood. Or maybe it was just an echo in everything’s ears, thundercracked in your thoom. You bleed ruby cut motions, the godless one walks godless meanings again. Yes?”


    “And this thing I have thought of, I have named it, and I call it freedom,” Äelberon replied, naked, unafraid, a diamond soaked red with blood, his shadows stretching into five corners of the world. And at those words, he felt the peaceful that was himself stir.  “Act, rather than talk, for language without exertion is dead witness.”


    Malacath unfolded his arms, clenching his ash-marked hands into curse-pointed fists. “Just flesh and bone and blood, no Tonal-tuning or soul-singing. Stand, or fall, along with the godless one.”


    The Daedric Prince strode forward, towards the Altmer, who began walking at different angles. Yet the Orc-King followed nonetheless. He enacted his right fist carrying the weight of Ashen Forge with it.


    Äelberon of Dusk blocked with his forearm, the distant echo of a beating anvil reverberating through his bone, shattering it into pieces of now-useless numbers between twelve and thirteen. The cry of pain shifted around Äelberon in patterns of entrapment when he replied with the Four-Hundred and Fifth Strike: the serpent's right fang as it pierces the eye.


    Malacath shrugged it off with grudge-forging of colors bent into earth and his left fist grudged the Altmer's bone cage of holding, ruby diamond themes pouring out of Äelberon's mouth. “Enough with hun-diin-jery,” Malacath growled a cloak of dirt. “Ansu of orichalc make me angry. The sequence is set in truth, Bloodkin. You will bleed disparate elements, I get an answer.”


    The truest body of work is made up of silence, so Äelberon said nothing and began the Seventy-Ninth Strike: the spear of the fisherman sharpened at daybreak. It grazed Malacath's phase aspect of the innate urge and Mauloch's anger gave clouds stomach aches and turned rain into bile. “What is the answer?!” Orc-King folded into himself twenty times as he shifted into armored winning moves, pummeling the Altmer like a traitorous house. “What is the answer?!”


    Äelberon's soul shell cracked and bled diamond red fixation points of complexity that will erase from the awe, jumping wounds looking to hop onto him. He bled and didn't understand. Testing-grudge was whirling and he wasn't giving in. “What is the question?”


    Malacath snorted. “The World-Eater is the question,” he said invisible words and swords, each like a glimmering rope through water. “What is the answer?”


    Äelberon was dying in the striking from the ash, lessons learned only by a mace, but he still wasn't giving in to the broadening of evil. But he understood then. He understood synchronicity comes out of repeated coincidences and that he was the letter written in uncertainty. “I know the answer,” he murmured with Heart Roaring and of sky sickening.


    It will be the death of me, they then surrounded him in his mind, purple and black and then the great black one loomed over him.


    The question.


    And it was then that he knew he had bled enough ruby damn sunderings and Malacath stopped his fist-curses and spoke: “The sword is an impatient signature. Write no contracts on the dead,” Malacath folded his arms on his phase-aspect and grinned forty different and ugly ways all at once. “The true prince that is cursed and demonized could be adored at last with full hearts, armored head to toe in brilliant flame.” A final nod. “Take your godless meanings and go. Other awaits you.”


    His eyes flew open at the sound of Decimus’ anguished cry. He still had his hand over the Imperial’s head, only the light had stopped, and then the Imperial began trembling and sputtering, not quite knowing what to do with his reclaimed body yet. Äelberon ignored that he felt like a mammoth had sat on him for a week and rushed to cradle Decimus, supporting the Imperial’s head against his shoulder.


    “Fuck…” The Imperial managed and Äelberon could not help the eye roll.


    “Why am I not surprised.” The Altmer quipped.


    A pair of blue eyes opened under the shadows and lines of strain. Bloodshot and tired but his. “Fuck… you…” Punctuated with a spit.


    The Altmer laughed and gave the Imperial an encouraging slap on the shoulder. “Now that’s the Decimus I know. That’s me boy!” He grinned, letting his laugh lines crease.


    He watched the Imperial try to take in his surroundings, the eyes darting about the room. He was still trembling and Äelberon knew it was only a matter of time. “She gone?”


    “Yes.” He replied, the grin morphing into something both happy and sad.


    “Fucking bitch.” Decimus growled between gasps, spitting again. The blue eyes then found his and Äelberon felt how they studied him. “Dragonborn’s balls, you look like Malacath took a dump on you.”


    “He sort of did.” Äelberon cocked an eyebrow and nodded. “That was a surprise.”


    “Huh?” Decimus croaked. “I don’t understand.”


    “Don’t worry about it, son.” The Almter replied. He knew that he would remember that conversation for the rest of his days. Ponder its meaning. Much of it he already knew. Thirty-six lessons. The prince was quoting from it and so was he, though he also used Song of Pelinal too, but it was all taken out of context, forming a new conversation. A new lesson. Malacath would be watching him. They all were watching him. It is what they do from their realms. Watch and meddle.


    Decimus narrowed his eyes, not understanding Äelberon’s words and the Imperial’s strong hand grabbed his forearm feebly. They were both worn from battle, dirty from the dust of the tomb, of dried blood and sweat. “I hurt you.” Decimus admitted, his voice low, and there was a depth to the Imperial’s words, an understanding behind those blue eyes that almost made Äelberon look away. He let those feelings go and focused on his friend. Now was not the time to grieve for dreams forever-lost. Potema had left Decimus a wreck, mentally exhausted. He would need time to process what had happened. Äelberon hoped he would not remember everything. Gods, Auri-El, spare him the murders. That soul was too clean for such burden.


    “She hurt me, not you.” Äelberon corrected, though he hated the distant cut to his voice. Decimus looked away and Äelberon saw the eyes water. The Imperial blinked several times, groaning again.


    “Why do I feel like crying? My chest is so tight.” He muttered, swallowing, his body still shaking. Äelberon shifted the Imperial’s weight to rest heavier on his shoulder, ignoring the pain in his wrist to unclasp his ash-covered cloak with his other hand. That motion hurt too. Both hands broken. Nothing major, minor fractures, but painful. Amazing what a warrior will let go when he is busy with purpose. Doing his work, he thought quietly. Tomorrow, you will be lucky if you can even get out of bed.


    There will be no bed tomorrow. Äelberon put the dark reality away and draped the black bearskin over his friend, like how he used to drape his Larethian cape over Landril when he would catch the lad dosing in the garden under one of the old orange trees when he should’ve been with his tutors. The warmth of it seemed to calm Decimus’ shivering.


    “It is normal. Possession is…” He paused, trying to think of the best words, but there was no way to sweeten what he had to say. It was better to be honest, like he always was with Dec.  “It is almost like a rape of the mind, son. A rape of the soul. A violation. But you are truly free now and the mind…” He sighed. “The mind just needs to feel that release. Tears are perfectly normal.”  


    “Well, make it stop.” Decimus ordered grouchily, wrinkling his features. “It fucking feels like shit.” Another spit.


    “Because you are holding it in like a stubborn Colovian.” The Mer argued back. “Look at it this way, my son. When you drink too much, don’t you vomit to let it out?”


    “I sure do.” Decimus chuckled weakly. “You’ve been there for some of those.” he nodded.


    “Aye, amazing what ends up in that stomach of yours.” Both laughed and Decimus spit again, making Äelberon muster a good sour face for his friend “Gah, you are getting your slime all over my cloak, human.”


    “It’s dirty. I’m cleaning it, Old Mary.” He slurred with a grin.


    “I’m sure it is cleaner than your disgusting mouth, ya shit.” He was putting away his own grief and assuming the role of comforter. Nay, father, it didn’t matter. He needed Decimus calmed down, preferably sleeping, and he knew by the slurring speech that the Imperial was very close. Do you have a little magic left to help him along? He began to attempt to dig into Aetherius, like digging a well into the desert sands under a hot, hot sun. Somewhere, deep, there had to be a little. I just need a little, my Lord, he prayed in his mind, feeling the urgency of their situation build with every moment Decimus was awake. Just a little.. “Well, think of this like a hangover of the mind.” The Mer continued with a smile, masking his growing dread from his struggling friend. “Just cry, Dec. You’ll feel better for it.”


    He could tell by the Imperial’s breathing that the sobs were beginning to manifest. A finger pointed at him. “You don’t tell anyone. You got that?” Decimus growled a warning while tears began to fall from his eyes.


    “I’ll make sure everybody in the Fort knows.” The Altmer grinned slyly. “Especially Isran.”


    “Fucker.” Decimus managed between sobs, his face going blotchy. And then the Goldpact broke down, letting it out. The hand on his forearm grasped tighter, clinging, and Mer held Man while Decimus wept the darkness of the tomb. He held Decimus tightly as the Imperial rode the waves of emotion, his shoulders shaking, making the sounds of despaired release that needed to be made. And Äelberon prayed for his friend that he would never remember, all the while the image of him in the desert continued to dig fiercely for the elusive magicka, with his hands, cutting them in the sand, trying to find it deep from within the ground. A drop, a drop, my Lord, is all I need. Äelberon closed his eyes, feeling the presence draw closer. Ancient, sinister, and cruel. I keep things from you, Decimus, I do, and I’m so sorry, but I swear on my god, you will feel nothing.  


    Closer it came. Footsteps, feather-light upon the stone from the steps above.


    Please, just a drop, he begged in his mind.


    Decimus’ teary eyes fluttered open. “Who’s that? Somebody’s coming?” He choked, the eyes widening. Dammit, he sees! It leaves a mark! Have I marked you?  All of the sudden, in the desert of his manifestation, his hand cleared the deep hole of sand with a triumphant cry. It glistened, an orb of tiny infinite possibilities under the blistering, angry sun, a rainbow reflecting off its smooth surface like a precious jewel. He gazed upon in awe as it rested on his fingertip, the moisture just barely perceived and all to able to be destroyed by a single glance from the angry sun. He opened his mouth and let the single drop fall inside. It is enough, my Lord.


    “Only the shadows, Decimus, only the shadows…” He whispered softly as he held him, quickly placing a hand on the Imperial’s forehead, watching the faint golden glow seep from his hand into Decimus. “Sleep, my son, sleep.”


    “Ronnie… what? wait…” The blue eyes grew heavy and closed, sleep overtaking his senses. The troubled face relaxed, becoming peaceful, and Äelberon set the now-slumbering Goldpact Knight gently onto the tomb floor, his hand lingering on the Imperials grizzled cheek.


    And may you, my son, be spared the cruelty of his death blow.


    He then rested on his haunches, drained, the sound of his steady breathing the only noise in the tomb. How calm you are when you know you are facing death. When you know it is all over.


    Or is it?


    It was as it was all those years ago, over a century, and his mind flashed backwards, into the whirling snows near Dive Rock, where the jagged Jerrals and Valus met.  He was under a moonless sky when he felt the clawed hand of the black Cathay-raht drop from his throat into the snow. Defeated. The Bleak Walker no longer able to fight back, dying. And he felt the same presence that watched him then, standing behind him, from above the steps.


    “Where is a troll matron when you need one?” He asked into the shadows matter-of-factly. A terror and yet, a lumbering accidental boon that stumbled upon their deep-seated conflict and inadvertently saved him. He owed his life to a troll that fateful night.  A troll that then proceeded to play cat and mouse with him for almost a year. It was not his first game of cat and mouse. He then became silent, waiting for the response.  


    A dry chuckle was heard from the dark depths. “That bitch nearly took my wing,” came the quip in reply.  


    The same droll sense of humor and Äelberon felt an intense wave of nostalgia at the sound of his voice. Despite everything, there were days when he missed it. How their childish pranks would make Lenni laugh. Their journeys together, the fun times. The three of them, the best of friends.


    He is not your friend anymore. “Potema’s freedom for me, eh? I find it hard to believe that a lowly Dusken Dog would be worth that much to you.”


    “You aren’t. Quite plain to see by the pitiful excuse for magicks and fighting that I saw on display. You have defeated armies of Daedra and yet a small group of Draugr nearly had you. And worse… He cut you. A human! How far you have fallen.” Äelberon could feel the grin behind those words.


    “I have not fallen as far as some.” the Priest of Auri-El retorted.


    “How I languished under your sanctimonious shadow.”


    “Oh spare me the dramatics! You know that is not true. You were my friend. Like a brother to me and they only ever treated you as family.”


    “Do not bring them into this.” The voice darkened.


    It was Äelberon’s turn for his voice to go dark. “Ah, so there is regret then? She loved you like a son, you know. She never knew it was you. I never told her, never took her golden image of you away. She went to Aetherius thinking--” And he couldn’t finish. “Did you visit her tomb, you fuck? Did you taint that place with your filth?” There was an awkward, hard silence between them for a few seconds. A memorial silence for her, while Äelberon steadied his breathing and he could almost smell the taint of remorse, almost. You hated what you did to her, deep down you did, rume alda.


    “You know, one of best days of my life was when I found out that you... were a lie.” Delivered with a venom that made the hairs on Äelberon’s neck stand on end.


    “What new craziness is this? I have never lied to you.” Äelberon narrowed his eyes, finally turning around to face the figure at the top of the steps. His breath caught at the sight of his old friend, the vampiric pallor reflecting the dim light of the tomb, highlighting features that at one time, belonged to the handsome golden Mer of House Caemal. The burning eyes honed in on him. No Thalmor robes of black and gold this time, nor the maroon and gold robes of his old and proud family, only the grey armor of the creature he had been hunting for over a century, the blood-red gems of the dark-metaled, eight-sided star broach he wore catching the light.  


    Vingalmo of Clan Volkihar.  


    “Oh? That it wasn’t your strength that slew Bet... Or your faith.” He continued, arching an eyebrow.




    “Oh no, it was all the enchantments that traitor pumped into your armor.” Another chuckle. “The propaganda was from both sides.”


    “Rynandor was not a traitor.” Äelberon fumed, feeling his face go hot. “Summerset betrayed him.” he said through gritted teeth.


    “He wanted to make an example of you. Find a dirty peasant from the South, make him a very nearly a god. The equality bullshit of the Unforeseen Queen. Gah! The damage Ayrenn did to our people.” Vingalmo shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands in sarcasm. “Oooo, that we should all be part of one happy Aldmeri Dominion family…” He shook his head. “You’re so stupid, Ronnie. You don’t get it. Aye, you are staring at me with that dumb look on your face, your mouth open and your eyes wide. Like a fucking farm animal.”


    “Lies.” Äelberon hissed, baring his teeth.


    “All you have to do is compare how you fought then to how you fight now and you will understand the truth.”


    “I was in my prime!” His voice echoed through the tomb.


    Vingalmo shook his head and clicked with his tongue. “You are a fool. My lord will be pleased. Our plans will not be hindered.”  


    Äelberon began to stand, hating how his bones cracked, that it showed his weakness. His mind flashed through all his many battles, Crystal-Like-Law, Imperial City, Sentinel, his Exile, the Great War, the Vampire Symposium, Darkwater, and Skyrim. His brow furrowed and he looked away, absently picking up Decimus’ sword. The Goldpact sword with its little pommel that he custom-made for Decimus and Pelaex. You thought you were getting old, that you were injured. The poison from Helgen. That was what made things so hard since you came to Skyrim. Wasn’t it? He no longer had the armor. It was taken from him before Helgen. He wanted to speak, but nothing was coming out and his eyes found Vingalmo’s.


    Rynandor, what did you do?


    “He was a remarkable enchanter, probably the best in all of Tamriel. The Telvanni had nothing on him, the Archmagister of our Crystal-Like-Law.” Vingalmo began. “But we Volkihar are quick learners.  Shame your lenya’s hard work, her labor over that hot forge was destroyed in the process, but as you will see when I end you, when your eyes finally see your death, my old friend, it was well worth it. I will now rise above you. Rynandor’s skill now blesses me, not you, in delicious corruption.”  


    And with the last words spoken, Vingalmo jumped down the stairs, his long legs carrying him to Äelberon with tremendous speed. The vampire was running through the lowest level of the room and Äelberon found his own feet carrying him towards Vingalmo, katana in right hand and Goldpact sword in the left.


    Vingalmo's hand glowed with the magic of Oblivion for a second and then twin thin blades burning with purple flames appeared in his hands. Äelberon bared his teeth at seeing those dark magicks practiced by an Altmer, betraying everything his people went through during Great Anguish. But Vingalmo wasn't an Altmer anymore.


    He was Molag Bal’s cattle.


    Just two steps were dividing them and Äelberon swung his katana at Vingalmo, aiming for his neck. The vampire suddenly changed direction to the right, close to the lowest level wall and when Äelberon changed the direction of his strike the vampire's leg touched the wall and Vingalmo pushed himself to the other side. He flew through the air, dodging Äelberon's cut and he deftly landed on the middle level, cutting at the priest's head.


    Äelberon blocked with his silver sword and his katana then aimed for Vingalmo's legs. The vampire quickly pushed himself to the highest level of the room, looking down at Äelberon, mockingly saluting him. He knew Äelberon was weak, drained of all energy. It was his plan all along, no doubt. Or if not the plan, then the backup plan. You could never fight fair, you fuck.


    Both Altmer remembered their sparring days back when they both were Knights of the Crystal Tower. They knew each other, they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. Äelberon pushed himself to the middle level of the room, grunting when his body protested against such a strain. He felt like he hadn’t slept in days. Well, you really haven’t slept, old Mer. His last good night’s rest was the night before he arrived in Dragon Bridge, alone in the wilds. Funny how he could sometimes sleep better in the wilds, away from everyone. Stop, thinking, old Mer, and pay attention to the little monster.


    Vingalmo jumped back to the middle level, two steps away from Äelberon and put one of his bound blades in front of his face, challenging Äelberon. He elegantly cut the air with a flick of a wrist and lowered his posture into a classic Altmeri dual-wielding stance. As if he wasn't mocking their people's legacy enough.


    Äelberon only frowned, showing no patience for the pomposity.  In contrast, his weapons were low, as he just stood there, slowly breathing, like an old worn out bear, ready to strike. Every second that allowed him to catch his breath was precious and he knew he needed to save his strength. So he wasn't about to attack, no, he would leave that privilege to Vingalmo. It just wasn't his preferred style, even though he was giving up the initiative.


    Vingalmo's face twisted in annoyance and he lunged forward in blinding speed. He was always fast, more refined than Äelberon, more traditionally Altmer, and his unholy state of being was only making him faster and stronger. Stronger than Äelberon. And now he had… Don’t think on that, old Mer. He knew he couldn't just throw himself at Vingalmo, in an attempt to overwhelm him.


    He stepped away from the first cut, blocking the second and then he stabbed with the Goldpact sword in between Vingalmo's blades. The vampire just twisted his body to the side, avoiding the blade and he then pushed against the blades, pushing against Äelberon.


    The priest found himself stumbling back, Vingalmo following in a zigzag motion which ended with one of the bound swords cutting low at Äelberon's legs. Äelberon just kept retreating and Vingalmo continued with his low cuts in his low stance, as if he had knees of fucking steel. He was nearly crouching, all his attacks aimed at Äelberon's legs and the priest kept running away from them.


    Then he suddenly stopped and pushed forward. He blocked a cut at his left leg with the Goldpact sword while Vingalmo stabbed up at the priest's crotch. Äelberon quickly parried with his katana and then his knee shot up for Vingalmo's face.


    The vampire leaned back, getting out of the knee's reach, ready to use the opening. But Äelberon wasn't finished and as he had the knee in the air he pushed himself up from the leg on the ground, getting both his feet in front himself and he kicked Vingalmo in the face.


    Stronger and faster, aye, but not smarter.


    It sent the vampire rolling on the ground and Äelberon landed hard on his back. He groaned and rolled onto his belly, pushing himself back to his feet, using the Goldpact sword as a crutch.


    His eyes were on Vingalmo who was getting up with far more elegance and vitality, red-black blood pouring from his nose. The vampire wiped the blood with his hand and then licked it, revealing the long fangs in his mouth. Äelberon just scowled at the display of ugliness. You think you are so grand, don’t you, licking your own blood? You’re just a monster, Vingalmo, a beast. A month in Coldharbour will change your perspective. You won’t have the stomach for what Old Bal will do to you when you die.  


    “Well, this is a new one.” Vingalmo then smirked, his orange eyes glowing with renewed intensity. “It seems we never stop learning new things.” The bound sword in his left hand disappeared, replaced by tiny lightning bolts spinning around his fist. The shock magic then enveloped his body in a whirlwind that was a Lightning Cloak. Vingalmo then charged Äelberon who renewed his retreat.


    Suddenly, Vingalmo jumped out of the Lightning Cloak which continued to travel in Äelberon's direction while the vampire ran over the highest level of the room. The priest dropped the katana and raised a Ward with the last drops of magicka he had in himself while he cut at Vingalmo's legs with the Goldpact sword. The vampire rolled over the blade, then quickly slid behind Äelberon.


    The priest was now holding a ward to one side and blocking an attack from the other. The whirlwind of Lightning then hit and Äelberon quickly turned the ward inside out and it swallowed the whirlwind. The priest felt the surge of absorbed magicka flowing into his body and he heard Vingalmo growl in annoyance. I still remember some old things.


    Äelberon turned, quickly switching the Goldpact sword to his right hand and stabbed at Vingalmo, who parried and followed with stab, blade on blade. Äelberon stepped closer to the wall and his hand charged with sun fire. He threw it into Vingalmo's face and the Volkihar bellowed in pain as his skin burned from the holy light. Red energy then came from his vampiric hand, draining Äelberon of his essence and the priest bared his teeth. He summoned another ward, absorbing the dark magic, making it his, and Vingalmo hissed, barreling towards Äelberon at full speed.


    He began transforming mid way to Äelberon, the armor tearing from his skin, unable to contain the growing bulk.  Red magic glowed around him as his limbs became longer, stronger and the shape of his skull changed, channeling the aspect of a bat. Membranous wings emerged from his greying, muscled back. What hit Äelberon wasn't a mer any longer, but the creature that nearly ended him in the mountains. No ordinary vampire, but like the very spawn of Molag Bal himself, it seemed to the old priest of Auri-El. Its claws swiped the air, aiming for Äelberon's head who ducked and swung his sword at the vampire's belly. His sword came through as the vampire turned into a mist, a mocking laughter ringing through the hall.


    Äelberon released a pillar of light at the mist and the mist whirled, its laughter turning into a growl of pain. Right out of the mist came the creature again, grabbing Äelberon by the throat, its other hand grabbing the hand that was holding the Goldpact sword, preventing the priest from striking the vampire.


    The Knight-Paladin found his feet above ground, and he flexed his neck muscles, struggling against the unnatural strength that was crushing his throat. He felt magic surging from the hand, draining the strength out of him and he reached into himself, scraping the drops of Magicka to summon an aura of light around his body.


    The vampire's face twisted with rage as its flesh began smoking at the places where he was touching Äelberon. The stench of burned flesh filled the air, making the vampire hiss in anger when it was forced to throw the Altmer away. He braced himself for what was coming next.


    Äelberon flew threw the air, his back hitting one of the coffins at the other side of room and he felt the air being pushed out of his lungs. Darkness welled in front of his eyes, as he felt himself gasping for air, unable to breath. He opened his eyes to see the room spinning around him, swimming, while his eyes watered. Vingalmo flew into the hair, now hovering in the middle of the room, watching Äelberon and then he turned, looking at Decimus lying near the door they came in.


    The vampire extended its arm, dark magic coming out of his clawed fingers in Decimus' direction. Vingalmo was draining Decimus' essence while his eyes were still on Äelberon. Vingalmo was slowly killing Decimus and Äelberon wasn't even capable of catching a breath, forced to watch it. He felt the pressure in his head rising, but he fought it, clawing his way to end up on all fours like an animal, crawling across the room towards Decimus, trying to reach him.


    “You will not have him!” He snarled softly, feeling the spit coming from his mouth.


    Vingalmo laughed and his other hand began draining Äelberon. He felt his strength escaping his body, the terrible pain of the draining spell overwhelming his senses. It was as if something was tugging at his very soul, gripping it, tearing it apart and that pain alone made him gasp. He gasped again, slowly realizing he was able to breath again and he used the magicka that was used on him to power another absorbing ward. He felt a surge of energy as he absorbed the stream of dark energy and Vingalmo immediately stopped.


    “Coward!” Äelberon shouted at him. “That is what you have always been! Face me, you FUCK!” He growled, hating how tired he was while he leaned against the wall, trying to keep himself on his feet, closing in on Decimus. It was as if the boy was in a narrow corridor now, and the corridor began to stretch, increasing the distance between them. An infinity apart. He could see how Decimus' skin was turning pale as his life essence was being forcefully ripped out of him. Vingalmo just laughed at Äelberon, mocking him for even thinking that he had the upper hand. The vampire knew how to hurt Äelberon the most and it had nothing to do with the priest's own physical pain.


    He was killing something dear to him. That was all he ever needed to do.


    The Altmer growled and began to hobble slowly towards Decimus, pulling a Torvallian dagger from his belt and he threw it at the creature hovering in the air. Vingalmo's wings beat only once, moving his body out of the dagger's trajectory and Äelberon kept pushing towards Decimus. Still hobbling, the Imperial still so far away, but he kept going. He couldn't allow it, he couldn't allow Vingalmo to take anyone else away from him. The corridor continued to stretch and he began to run, pumping his legs beyond their limits, his heart hammering in his chest.


    Reach him, he willed his body.


    He closed the distance, only two step away from Decimus and he turned towards Vingalmo, sharply inhaling. He could hear the infernal creature laugh again and something in him then snapped, his face going blood red. He opened his mouth and shouted his fury into the space.


    “YOL TOOR!”


    It was as if the air suddenly grew still, a calm before a storm and even Vingalmo seemed to freeze in time and blink. Tiny sparks of fire filled the air, like the air was about to ignite. And then a raging fire filled the room. A tidal wave of fire, a whirlwind of flames. A storm of inferno, created from the very bowels of his soul. The air was unbreathable as the room literally drowned in fire which was rolling over every surface like molten lava.


    Vingalmo released a shriek of surprise mixed with pain and Äelberon hurled himself over Decimus, raising a feeble ward around them, trying to protect them from the mess of his own making. His unbridled destruction, fueled by the grief of profound loss. The ward was barely holding together and he knew he couldn't hold it for much longer.


    Keep him safe.


    He made it smaller, quickly pulling Decimus' legs to the Imperial's chest, to make him as small as possible. The ward barely covered Decimus' body and Äelberon's upper torso and that's when a pain engulfed Äelberon's legs, making him roar in agony. Time seemed to stop, his legs burning off, it seemed to him, the pain unending.


    And then it ended abruptly, leaving the tomb nearly black from the lack of light. Äelberon rolled on the ground, trying to smother the flames dancing on his legs and he used his hands too, feeling them burn through his gauntlets. When they were out, he looked around the hall frantically, ready for anything. Where was a sword? Dagger? Anything? His legs were a storm of pain and he gritted his teeth, fighting against it with every ounce of strength he had left. Sit up, old Mer and be ready.


    He sat there, his heart racing, his nostrils wide as he breathed in the ash and heavy air, a clear, slimy mucus pouring from his nose to quell the irritation. He was barely conscious. Through the film of oozing tears, his eyes tried to scan the room for any signs of Vingalmo. A trace, a pile of dust, anything.


    Nothing. Äelberon blinked. Nothing, and he let out a gasp of air, fighting relief and anger at the same time. The bastard must have escaped, there was no doubt about it. Äelberon hoped he was so badly injured that he would lick his wounds for months. And that he was in pain. Oh! How he wished it! He trembled with his selfish anger, hating himself for such ugly thoughts. Of wanting someone to be injured, to feel pain, but the monster deserved every moment of that pain, for everything he did, for his lenya’s suffering and his ata’s eternal torment. For Dusk. For everything!


    “Weren’t countin’ on that, now were ya, ya fucker!” He suddenly bellowed into the darkness, though it came out more like a croak, as if Vingalmo was going to hear. “This old Fishermer has some new tricks! I don’t need a Troll anymore ta drive ya away!” He threw a rock into the air in exasperation for good measure, wanting to hit more, to punish, something, anything. Something in him then seemed to laugh at his folly, and he could only guess it was the Dovah in him because his mind kept picturing Vingalmo as a lir. Worm. He is a worm, he thought with a humph. An ugly grey worm with wings. Now, you’re just being a child, he chuckled weakly, his arse finding the stone again with a thud, and his eyes watered when the pain hit him like a warhammer. Ya burned yer arse and now ya have ta ride a horse, and he nearly sobbed through his feeble laughter.


    He put away his pain for a moment and leaned towards Decimus', checking his state. The Imperial was pale, his breaths shallow, but he was alive with no signs of the curse, no signs of burns. And the soul, Äelberon smiled, feeling the familiar lump in his throat build. Possession hits the priest hard too. Relief mixed with joy. It was clean. “Ah, my son, you are truly free.” He began, his voice soft as he carefully wiped some of the soot from Decimus’ forehead, studying the Imperial’s face, and he chuckled, hating this mix of tears with laughter, letting the raw emotion try to sort itself out, “free to go wherever you wish.” He finished with a heavy sigh.


    And that was all that mattered.


    In the back of his mind, he was still worried what Decimus would remember and he whispered a silent prayer to Auri-El to spare the friend he saw as son the pain that were memories. My Lord, let the event that was Potema’s catacombs become yet another grain of sand stored in a mind that is already filled with infinite beaches of sand. Memories, flowing, twisting, turning… that is my pain to bear alone, my Lord, not his. If Decimus ever remembered what Potema did while in his body… Äelberon shook his head, hoping it would never come to that.


    And of what Vingalmo had said? An image of the old Archmagister flashed through Äelberon’s mind, in his indigo robes, stroking his long beard in contemplation, always with a certain sadness behind his ancient eyes. There were so many mysteries that he just didn’t understand, but he knew one thing. That the old Blade was a better swordsman than he was and now… Vingalmo was too. It left doubt, and in the back of his mind despair that he may have been used in such a way, that he was no longer the warrior his people and now Skyrim needed him to be, but he couldn’t think on that now. For a gift that is taken away, Äelberon thought, scanning the charred remnants of the tomb a final time with his tired eyes, a new one is given. Even if it is one you hate. He fled from your thu’um. You just have to bloody learn how to use it without bringing all of Oblivion upon yourself and others. He sighed. What a fucking day, he eyed the sleeping Imperial.


    “It is time we finish this, my friend, and for you to get paid,” he mumbled, pushing his hands under Decimus' body. He groaned as the skin on his legs began cracking and he bared his teeth when he tried to lift Decimus. He flexed his muscles, lifting him up by a little and then he released an exhausted sigh, his muscles trembling when he let the Imperial settle to the stone floor again. “Damn it. And you say I am fat?” He muttered, giving Decimus a sound slap to the gut. Not a flinch. He’s out like a light.  He then took Decimus by his wrists and began dragging him towards the stairs leading to Potema's throne. It wasn't very heroic and elegant, but what else could he do? He was taking short breaks to pick up the weapons lying on the ground all over the room and he grimaced when he realized he would have to scour every corner for his Torvallian daggers. “Let's get you up the stairs first, alright?” he murmured as he dragged the Imperial, his legs shaking with exhaustion.


    He was panting by the time he got Decimus to the top and he sat down on the floor, trying to catch his breath, wiping the sweat from his brow, really hating his thu’um when his arse stung like Oblivion. Right in front of him was a throne with a human skull sitting on it. The black holes that were its eye sockets were watching him, almost looking as if they were mocking him. He would swear he saw a purple light flicker in those sockets for a second and he shook his head, furrowing his brow. She wasn't strong enough to fight back now. At least not yet. But one day she would be, and that is why Styrr was required to perform the sanctification. You prepared her for that good and proper, old Mer.


    He reached for the skull, taking it into his hand, and he narrowed his eyes when his mind was freshly assaulted by the rage of a long dead queen and the beauty of his Ebonnayne. The imaginary dagger slashed at his heart again and he swallowed to quell the emotion and the fresh sting to his eyes. She doesn’t exist.  


    “You will die, priest. You will die a painful and slow-”


    “Ah, stuff it, ya old crone!” Äelberon scowled, reaching for a bundle of rotting cloth lying nearby and he wrapped the skull in it, silencing the furious voice of Potema. He looked at Decimus and smiled. “You fucker. Sleeping on the job, eh? Well, let's finish this. Together,” he said. After he retrieved all their weapons, he started dragging Decimus towards the exit, away from the darkness.


    Back to the light.


    His thoughts then turned to Vingalmo.


    And back to the Chase...


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10 Comments   |   Hworra and 9 others like this.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  March 26
    A growl escaped the mer's lips as he felt something in his hand [break] and he quickly retreated,
    “Don’t worry about it, son.” The [Altmer] replied.

    An Aedric Spear? Why doesn't Albee use it more often if he can just javelin i...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A growl escaped the mer's lips as he felt something in his hand [break] and he quickly retreated,
      “Don’t worry about it, son.” The [Altmer] replied.

      An Aedric Spear? Why doesn't Albee use it more often if he can just javelin it through someone's chest?
        ·  March 26
      You'll learn why he doesn't use it more often in Straag.
  • Santa-Pocky-Hah!
    Santa-Pocky-Hah!   ·  September 22, 2017
    Malacath's appearance was... surprising to say the least. I'm still trying to grasp the metaphysical meaning of it all, and by 'grasp' I mean 'getting my mind fucked'. :P
    Vingalmo can turn into a Vampire Lord? Do ALL Volkihar vampires bitten by Hark...  more
    • Shadow Arm
      Shadow Arm
      Malacath's appearance was... surprising to say the least. I'm still trying to grasp the metaphysical meaning of it all, and by 'grasp' I mean 'getting my mind fucked'. :P
      Vingalmo can turn into a Vampire Lord? Do ALL Volkihar vampires bitten by Harkon do that?
        ·  September 22, 2017
      Malacath's appearence was me tying the loose ends of Cursed Tribe when it comes to Decimus. And...I don't want to lie, but I think that everyone turned by Harkon himself are Vamp Lords. But that's more of Lis' area.
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        Shadow Arm
        Shadow Arm
        Shadow Arm
        Malacath's appearence was me tying the loose ends of Cursed Tribe when it comes to Decimus. And...I don't want to lie, but I think that everyone turned by Harkon himself are Vamp Lords. But that's more of Lis' area.
          ·  September 22, 2017
        And lol, if you think it's just by being bitten, Kaiser... :D
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  September 12, 2017
    Hmm. Took me awhile to figure out what to say. Still not sure. It's an almost overwhelming chapter as so much is happening on so many levels. The revelation that ties up loose ends was a genuine surprise, and the future of the mer from Aelberon's dreams h...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Hmm. Took me awhile to figure out what to say. Still not sure. It's an almost overwhelming chapter as so much is happening on so many levels. The revelation that ties up loose ends was a genuine surprise, and the future of the mer from Aelberon's dreams h...  more
        ·  September 12, 2017
      It's one of those chapters that, to me, invite discussion. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask. There are some parts of it that I struggled with the understanding of, as Karver wrote the metaphysical encounter with the Orc-King and the actual bl...  more
  • Hworra
    Hworra   ·  September 10, 2017
    Yes! Excellent duel, Decimus - or Potema with Decimus' skill anyhow - using both of his blades to his advantage, for attacks from multiple angles and simultaneous attack and defence. That's how you're supposed to use two swords, not blocking by crossing t...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Yes! Excellent duel, Decimus - or Potema with Decimus' skill anyhow - using both of his blades to his advantage, for attacks from multiple angles and simultaneous attack and defence. That's how you're supposed to use two swords, not blocking by crossing t...  more
        ·  September 10, 2017
      Vingalmo wanted him to know he was there. :D
      • Hworra
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        Vingalmo wanted him to know he was there. :D
          ·  September 10, 2017
        Ah, for dramatic effect. That makes sense >.<