Welcome back all! I hope everyone had a good holiday weekend!
Our boys have been continuing their adventure! Time to take a peek and see what’s going on, shall we?
Also this is a very weak chapter and probably the worst thing ever. I apologize, like, a lot. As much as I can. Sorry.
There was a substance that flowed through all of Oblivion: the Chaotic Creatia. When a daedra “died”, it was banished to its original plane and reborn via this substance. It wouldn’t look the same as it had when it was initially banished, and Rei Ginsei wondered if, in the case of sentient daedra like Sabrael, it would lose its former personality, as well. If his kirin died, once he had been remade, would he recall his previous life? Was this even his first incarnation?
Rei shook his head. Existential problems never sat well with him, but after promising his blade to his master should Vile ever wish Sabrael’s death, he couldn’t help wondering. There was no question that he would do it, though the betrayal of one so innocent, and the idea of the ragged hole it would leave in his heart brought tears to his eyes. As much as it pained him to admit it,however, he felt bonded more closely to Vile than to Sabrael, soul or no soul. His master had known him, had taken the time to really see and to appreciate his whims and his methods. They were similar, and close, kindred enough that there need be no forced link to keep them bound.
Vile also was correct in that Rei didn’t have very much in common with Sabrael, at all – that their only obvious commonality was his soul fragment. It was a relief to feel himself validated, to hear from his master that the things he felt and craved were, in fact, right, and that Sabrael’s objections were out of line and based outside of reality. It meant that he could put his foot down and not feel guilty, and if Sabrael didn’t like it, what was he really going to do?
He figured, ultimately, wondering on it all would just cause him headaches and grief. Vile had promised him he wouldn’t ask for him to kill his Sabrael, and, yes, Rei knew he always kept his word. But he also knew that speaking such a statement out loud opened many, many semantic doors, the simplest trick in his master’s book. So there was plenty of reasons to be alert, but in the meantime, regardless of any commonality, he figured that love was love, and that, for as long as he could, Rei would take full advantage of his master’s concession towards his love life.
The mid-morning sun was shining gently into the mountain pass as they rode back the way they had come, Sabrael sitting in the saddle in front of Rei, his happiness filling Rei with warmth enough to make the sun envious.
“You’re thinking awfully hard about something,” Sabrael said after a while.
“There’s a few things I need to mull over,” Rei answered. “I notice you’re pretty content.”
“I had a very nice time. I still can’t believe I got to be part of, well, everything.”
Rei chuckled and leaned forward to press his cheek against his kirin’s.
“And Clavicus turned out to be nicer than I thought.”
“Don’t take that to heart, my beauty. You need to be so very careful where he’s concerned.”
“Because if there’s one thing my master is good at, it’s making the people he loathes think he’s nice.”
“But I like that you love him the way you do. I wouldn’t try and take you away.”
“And you are remarkably odd in feeling that way,” Rei chuckled, “but that doesn’t really matter to him. I am his, and that’s about as far as he’s willing to budge.”
“Maybe I could convince-“
Rei shook his head. “Don’t presume to convince the Prince of Bargains of something he doesn’t want to be convinced of. Look, Sabrael, the only thing you need to know is that should he ever approach you alone, don’t ever buy what he tries to sell you. I can protect you up to a point, but there are limits as to what I can do.”
“It doesn’t bear thinking on, my beauty.”
Sabrael nodded, and Rei was aware that his own hands were shaking as they held Baku’s reins. He squeezed his kirin between his arms and kissed his cheek.
“I wasn’t meaning to frighten you,” he said. “This is just something you need to be aware of.”
They rode a while in silence, though Rei could feel intense disappointment tearing at his insides. He himself had never had problems with shyness. He was often reserved in his youth when it came to everyday interaction, but he had no trouble meeting new people and, after a fashion, befriending them. There was never a need to be liked or included; if he wasn’t, then he wasn’t. It made no difference so long as nobody crossed him.
“I wish he didn’t feel that way,” Sabrael said, finally.
“It would make things a lot easier if he didn’t,” Rei sighed, “but there’s nothing we can do about it. You’re mine, and that’s all that matters. Right?”
Sabrael’s spirit lifted a bit and he leaned back against him. “Absolutely.”
Night had fallen by the time they reached Winterhold City. They had taken a more leisurely pace compared to the one Rei had tried to set before nearly running over Barbas, and with stops for food, rest, and to don warmer attire, the day seemed to have slipped away in no time. But here they were, Baku was boarded, and Rei let Sabrael take his hand as they stepped into the inn.
“Now, I told you the last time, stranger, I’d tolerate you,” the innkeeper said nearly the second they stepped through the door, “I never said I wanted to see you back, let alone bringing more of your daedra friends in with you.”
“We’re only looking for Nelacar, sir,” Rei said with no small amount of annoyance. He felt Sabrael’s hands grasp his overcoat at the hips as he shrunk back. “Is he in?”
“How do you know he’ll want to see you? You left him banged-up last time you were here.”
“I assumed that I’d ask. Besides, I didn’t do anything he didn’t beg me to.”
The innkeeper screwed up his face in disgust before walking over to knock on his permanent resident’s door.
Nelacar soon poked his head out of the door, and, after a short exchange with the innkeeper, looked up at Rei with a trepidatious smile. “It’s, um, good to see you again, Rei Ginsei. I hope you won’t mind me saying I’m not up for much more than a social call.”
“Don’t flatter yourself too much, my dear. I doubt there are many people for whom I’d travel to these wastes just to get my rocks off.”
“Oh. Well, come in, then. Come in.”
Rei carefully unhooked his kirin from off his coat and gently nudged him into Nelacar’s room ahead of himself. “Nelacar is alright, my beauty,” he whispered. “Please calm down.”
“Who is that?” Nelacar asked as he closed the door behind them.
“This is Sabrael. He’s my soul bond.”
“Really?” Nelacar said, drawing closer to Sabrael and bending to properly study him. “I’ve read all about the mechanics, but I’ve never seen an actual example in person.”
“We’re only partial. You likely won’t find anything of real interest.”
“I see. Still, I suppose you can read each other’s thoughts?”
Rei shook his head. “We feel each other’s emotions, and right now you’re scaring him half to death, ogling him like he’s a fungus, and it’s not doing much for me, either.”
“Oh, sorry. And sorry to you, too, Sabrael.”
Sabrael nodded, clutching his hands. “It’s okay.”
“Judging by your fascination, though, I’m guessing you know more about soul gems than just the tale of one Dunmer’s folly?”
Nelacar sighed and leaned his head back. “So I suppose you did find it, after all?”
Rei once again produced the linen-wrapped Star from his satchel and handed it to the mage.
“I’m not entirely sure how this is even being held together,” Nelacar said. “It’s nearly shattered.”
Rei decided to take a look, himself, and was surprised to see that its state of disrepair had grown exponentially worse since he’d initially found it. “I’ve been perfectly careful transporting this,” he said. “How did it get so bad in such a short time?”
“It was broken when you found it, though, I presume?”
“Yes, it all makes sense now. He’s in there, but his experiments destabilized the crystalline matrix, causing it to deteriorate. Those individuals who’ve gone missing over the years were undoubtedly taken to ‘feed’ the Star and keep it from collapsing.”
“Is there any way to fix it?” Rei asked.
“Maybe. It’d be entirely experimental.”
“I’m a risk-taker.”
Nelacar looked up from the artifact and looked askance at him. “Why do you want it fixed?”
“Why does it matter to you?”
“Because it seems prudent to ask before potentially aiding a daedra and, probably, his Prince in some unsavory plot.”
“You had no problem telling me where to find it.”
“To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting you to actually succeed in finding it. I might have also been, erm, slightly distracted.”
Rei smirked. Sabrael’s nerves were subsiding a bit, and he reached over to stroke his hair without looking away from the mage. “Well, if I must distract you again…”
“That won’t be necessary,” Nelacar said quickly. “No offense, obviously, Rei Ginsei, you’re very attractive for a thing with…with a tail…but you know it took me a few days to recover from last time. You understand.”
“Suit yourself. Even so, your only request was to keep it from Azura, which we are. But if you must know, my master and I simply wish to antagonize her.”
Rei bowed his head slightly.
Nelacar took a deep breath. “I don’t like daedra. I don’t wish to tangentially be responsible for the harm daedra may do.”
“I assure you, my dear mage, mortals are not our target.”
“Are you playing word games?” Nelacar asked. “I do remember which prince it is you work for, you know.”
“If Rei says something, that’s what he means,” Sabrael interjected suddenly.
Rei choked on a fit of laughter at the endearing fit of defensiveness from his little kirin, delivered in a way as close to ferociousness as Rei figured he could ever get. Luckily, he managed to swallow it well enough, and, smiling triumphantly at Nelacar, gestured towards Sabrael.
The mage pursed his lips and furrowed his brow thoughtfully, looking from Rei, to Sabrael, and back.
“Besides,” Rei said, “as I said before, you had no problem pointing me in its direction, in the first place. Confidence in my ability to retrieve it is basically irrelevant. You knew what I was and whom I worked for.”
Nelacar sighed, mouth slightly open as he hooked his tongue behind the molars on the upper right of his mouth.
“There are also means of convincing a man beyond appealing to his sexuality.”
“Point taken. Fine. But you won’t be reckless? Mortals aren’t your target and you’re not just simply saying that to excuse tangential casualties?”
“We’re after Azura,” he answered simply.
“I suppose that’s as close as I’m going to get,” Nelacar said. He walked to the back of his desk and began rummaging through piles of books and scrolls.
Sabrael put a hand on Rei’s arm, and he looked over to see his kirin gesturing towards himself. Rei leaned down and offered his ear.
“You don’t really think people are going to get hurt, do you?” Sabrael whispered.
“Shh,” he breathed.
The knot in Sabrael’s throat bobbed as he swallowed and nodded. Rei tried to actively channel reassurance to him, and it seemed to work, as Sabrael’s muscles visibly relaxed and calm began to replace nervousness.
“Here we are,” Nelacar announced, laying a thick tome on his desk.
Rei watched patiently as pages were turned and noises of discovery escaped Nelacar’s throat.
“Well, I’m not sure how this is going to work out,” he said finally. “I’m going to need to put your soul into the Star.”
“You can’t take his soul; he just got it back!” Sabrael protested.
“Got it back?”
“Never mind,” Rei said, waving his hands as if to clear the rising din. “How is trapping my soul going to fix anything?”
“Well, it’s not just your soul. It’s your consciousness, too.”
“But doesn’t that mean he’ll be dead?” Sabrael asked, his panic rising again. “If Rei dies, I lose his soul fragment!”
“No one’s going to die,” Rei said, rolling his eyes.
“Ideally not. I’ll have to keep a small tether to your body here on Nirn,” Nelacar said. “It’ll be my job to ensure you don’t get lost in the Star forever, but you’ll need to be quick. Get in there, take care of Varen, and then I’ll pull you back when I know he’s no longer inhabiting it.”
“Rei, no,” Sabrael whined.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“This is scary. Scarier than when I left you in that fortress.”
“I’ll be fine,” Rei insisted, lifting Sabrael’s chin and kissing his lips.
“It’s just, when you’re in charge of yourself it’s one thing. I don’t trust this person with your soul!”
“Is there going to be nothing I do that doesn’t incite some form of panic in you, Sabrael?”
“No! I mean yes…I don’t know…”
Rei squinted his eyes and rubbed his temples.
“Look,” Nelacar interjected, “if it helps you feel any better, I’ve seen what happens when a daedric prince is crossed. I’m also not the sort to play hero. My interest here is to wash my hands of this business once and for all.”
“So you’re not going to be careless about it?”
“I direct you back to my statement regarding crossed princes.”
Rei studied Sabrael with one eyebrow slightly raised. His apprehension was only slightly fading. Finally, he asked, “Does that help, Sabrael?”
“I guess so. But it doesn’t really matter what I think, does it? You’re gonna do it anyway, if that’s what you wanna do.”
“We’ll discuss this later. Right now, I’d like to get this done and stop wasting this admirably pragmatic elf’s time.”
“Well done,” Nelacar said. “You might want to take off your outer things unless lying down in them is comfortable.”
“I assume I’ll have to fight in there?” Rei said, suddenly aware of an important aspect of the procedure. “I don’t know that my weapons would cross over with me if I were to get them, would they?”
“I wouldn’t think so. What’s going into the Star is the representation of yourself as perceived by your own subconsciousness.”
“By that logic, if I perceive myself as never without my swords…”
“Look, Rei,” Nelacar sighed, “I’ve never been inside a soul gem, myself. This is entirely new to me. I’d say be prepared to use your magic, if you have it, or your fists.”
Rei continued taking off his outer wear before laying down on the low bed, angled just so to accommodate his tail.
“Ready?” Nelacar asked. “This may sting a little.”
“Been here before,” Rei said, closing his eyes.
“Never mind, just do what you have to do.”
Indeed, it was just like before, and he was surprised at how unchanged his memory had been. A raging, stinging fire ran through his veins as some ineffable weight began to leave him. This time, the weight was heavier, and this time, there was no recovery needed. As if watching a play with inhumanly quick stagehands, his surroundings changed in the blink of an eye. No longer was he lying down in Nelacar’s cozy and cluttered room in the Frozen Hearth, but instead he found himself surrounded by shimmering, fuzzy blue light.
As he reoriented himself he saw that the blur was made up of shimmering hexagonal pillars. They fit neatly and tightly together, except in places where they had begun to separate. Some, in fact, had separated so badly that they were now just floating islands. It occurred to Rei that these were what crystals were comprised of, and the separations were the cracks in Azura’s Star. Not only was he inside, but he had shrunk enough to be using bits of the gem’s structure as stepping stones.
And then he realized he was naked. If he had to fight something, he would have preferred at least something at his crotch, but Nelacar did say this was his own perception of himself, not the perception of preparedness. Thinking on that, however, he noticed he was taller, that his muscles were slightly larger and more well-defined. His claws and his fangs were longer and sharper, his feet were elongated with strong arches, and his quadriceps were wound like heavy springs.
But, somehow, it took him a moment longer to realize his eyesight was much, much worse. It made sense, he supposed. If someone had asked him to describe his body it would have been on par with this, but his eyes, Vile’s idea of adding some sport to his hunting, were ever a source of consternation and, now, self-consciousness. Initially he had thought the fuzziness and the shimmering auras around the pillars were the normal result of the crystalline surfaces reflecting whatever light filled the gem, but when he held his hand out, it wasn’t much more than a shapeless, flesh-colored mass.
He closed his left eye, which helped a bit, but the light was too dim for the difference to be helpful in any meaningful way. Still, though he knew no good would come of it, he switched eyes, only to be met with screaming whiteness. The near-constant pain in his left eye had been more or less blunted through the years, but this was almost too much, and he wondered if he shouldn’t just keep it closed, anyway.
Time was burning, though. Carefully he took a step forward, looking for movement. It seemed the place he had landed formed a path, and that path seemed to zig and zag, creating plenty of blind corners.
“My, my, it appears my disciples have sent me a fresh soul,” a voice said. It was everywhere, in Rei’s head and all over the Star. “It’s about time. I was starting to get hungry.”
“Your disciples are dead, Malyn,” Rei called back. “I’m here to give you the same treatment.”
“Kill me? I’ve spat in the eyes of daedric lords! What could you hope to do?”
“I am the aspect of Clavicus Vile called Soul Devourer! No soul has yet escaped me, and some mad Dunmer’s isn’t going to be the first!”
“By all means, give it your best!” Malyn called.
There was a shadow of movement between two corners, and Rei moved back and crouched, trying not to blink. There was no cover here, nowhere for him to easily get the drop on anything that might be approaching, but still he waited, legs coiled under himself, ready to spring.
The sources of the movement showed themselves in short order: two muddy, black figures with protrusions coming from their heads and streaks of red here and there on what he assumed were their armor. They weren’t Malyn, that much was certain, and Rei guessed that they weren’t simple daedra, either. He thought it likely they were dremora, possibly the last beings he’d ever want to face in the nude and half-blind.
As they charged, he sprang from his position, pouncing on and toppling one of his assailants so that, once he’d dodged the other’s sword, he could leap onto its back, grabbing its horns to give him better leverage as he attempted to break its neck. The creature was much stronger than he’d anticipated, however, and every attempt he made to twist its head or yank it back was met with equal and opposite force, all while the creature struggled to rid itself of its assailant.
Meanwhile, the creature he’d knocked down had regained its footing, and before he could look to see what was happening, the searing pain of daedric steel pierced his side.
Sabrael sat on a chair with his hands between his knees, chewing his lip and watching his love’s form. His tail had been twitching, a serpentine, almost calming motion that started at the base and rippled down to the tip like a thick, fluffy ribbon. Then his upper lip joined in.
“He’s okay,” the mage called Nelacar said.
“How do you know?”
“I still have his tether. And I’ll hang onto it as best I can. I promise.”
Sabrael nodded, feeling his eyes sting.
“Can I lay next to him?” he asked timidly.
Nelacar nodded and smiled gently. “Of course.”
Sabrael smiled back, as much as he felt he could, and wiggled underneath Rei Ginsei’s arm, pressing back in an effort to convince himself Rei was just asleep.
“You really love him,” Nelacar mused.
“We love each other.”
“I mean, you just seem so, well, soft, compared to him.”
Sabrael shrugged. “He can be mean, sometimes, like all of us.”
“All I know is between the two of you I’m wondering if I went into the wrong line of study.”
Sabrael laughed once, quietly.
Suddenly Rei began to cough. Just as Sabrael looked over, a gout of blood gushed from his love’s mouth, and a wine-colored stain began to spread across his white linen shirt.
“Rei!” Sabrael shrieked. “Rei, what’s wrong, what’s happening, what do we do?”
“I can’t heal him while I’m holding his tether!” Nelacar said. “I wasn’t prepared for this, can you heal?”
“No! But…Rei has potions!”
“Well that’s not ideal, but it’ll have to do. Quickly!”
“What’s going on in here?” the innkeeper asked, opening the door. “My wife’s trying to sl- …What in Talos’ name is this?”
“It’s fine, Dagur,” Nelacar said, waving a hand dismissively.
“There’s blood everywhere!”
“We don’t have time right now. Could you sit him up and rest him against the wall?”
“I…oh, um…sure, yes.,” the innkeeper said, stepping quickly across the room.
Sabrael dove into the pile of Rei Ginsei’s belongings that had been shed before he laid down and dug until he found the pouch he always carried on his belt. Before he had ventured into Ilinalta’s Deep, Sabrael had seen him place a few potions in that pouch. Once he found it, he grabbed a couple of the bottles with the familiar phoenix symbol on the labels and scrabbled back over to the bed where Dagur was just getting Rei’s body propped up.
“We have to be careful doing this to an unconscious person,” Nelacar said, “but we have no choice, I suppose. Now, Dagur, keep his head upright, but tilted only just enough for Sabrael to administer the potion.”
Dagur nodded and obeyed.
“Now, pour it slowly, Sabrael. Dagur, work his throat to try and keep him from choking.”
Sabrael fumbled with the cork, growing more panicked each time his hand slipped, but, finally, it popped free, and he carefully poured the red liquid into his love’s mouth. Rei did choke a bit initially, but Dagur followed Nelacar’s instructions, and he quieted, and he continued to breathe.
“He’s okay, Sabrael,” Nelacar said. “He’s okay.”
Rei fell off the back of the dremora whose neck he’d been aiming to snap, his side burning and blood running from his mouth. He may have been invincible, as his master had said, but the survival instinct was strong. It was probably a good thing now more than ever, he thought; somehow he didn’t think he’d be seeing Vile’s throne if he were to meet his end in here.
The two dremora bore down, and as vitality slipped away, Rei managed to dodge the blades as they were plunged downwards in attempts to properly run him through and have done with. Adrenaline pumped through him, but this was the bad sort of rush. This was adrenaline borne of pure fear and helplessness, the sort he’d last felt when he was swept to sea. He had only rarely lost his weapons during a fight, but without a soul, fear wasn’t an issue which got in the way, and even so, in those occasions, he had his armor, there were escape routes, and his opponents weren’t the upper echelon of the lesser daedra.
To top everything off, he was bleeding out. To die in here meant he would never again see Sabrael, never again be close to his master. To die in here, so soon after everything had begun to fall into place around him and before he had even had a chance to really try, filled him with a furious disappointment in himself, enough that he threw everything he had into surviving, even if it simply meant making his assailants work for it.
Suddenly, on the wings of his anger and his determination, he felt his strength returning. The darkening ring around his vision receded, and soon enough he was on his feet. Rei never bought into any hocus pocus involving the power of thoughts affecting ability, but he wasn’t about to argue.
It occurred to him that he wasn’t going to topple the two dremora in his current state. It also occurred to him that he had no idea how long this passage was or how many more obstacles lay ahead. What he was mostly sure of, however, was that a single mage was much easier to take on, and that those dremora were almost certainly not native.
In a second Rei acted on his gambit and sprinted past the daedra. All at once fear was replaced with joy and exhilaration. The exaggerated perception of his arches, so high and strong, made his stride wonderfully springy, long, and quick. The surface of the pillars beneath him weren’t terribly slick, but they weren’t ideal for barefoot running. More than once, he felt the wind of one of his pursuers’ swords as they slashed at him when he rounded a corner. It was the only time they could catch up, and each time sent a thrill through him as he let his feet slide outwards while he dropped to his hands, using his claws to haul himself forward again.
Finally, at the end of it all, was a throne, upon which sat a dark, blurry figure. Malyn bolted to his feet when he saw Rei barrel in, yelling excitedly, followed by his two guardians, and without stopping to wonder, fired bolt after bolt of flame. Rei’s sight, being what it was, made dodging the magic more than a little difficult. Fuzzy orange balls just floated towards him in indistinct distance or direction. His flesh was singed, and he could smell his hair burning, but he kept on until he could leap onto his target.
He launched himself forward, grabbing Malyn’s throat with both hands and knocking him back, smashing the back of his head against the edge of the crystal throne as he fell. Rei felt the soft give as his skull smashed, and blood pooled on the floor, but he was only unconscious. The dremora were bearing down, and while Rei’s urges were telling him to drag things out, he had to force himself to murder the mage as quickly as possible. Over and over, he slammed Malyn’s head against the floor, his hands wrapped around the scrawny, aged neck, thumbs digging into the hollow of his throat. Rei felt the trachea collapse, but the mage wasn’t dying fast enough.
One of the dremora was on him, its blade pulled back. On nothing but reflex, Rei rolled to the side, pulling Malyn over on top of him. He hadn’t fully realized what he had done, and with a gasp of horror, he shoved the limp body upwards to catch the brunt of the blade, sucking his stomach in as far as he could. The burn of daedric steel kissed his flesh once more, but this time it was only a minor wound.
This time, it was the dremora’s own undoing. Malyn, already suffering a fractured skull and suffocating from a crushed trachea, couldn’t bear much more trauma. It took a bit, but by the time the daedra pried the body from its sword, it and its partner had been banished back to whichever plane they called home in order to be reborn.
Rei fell back onto the floor, panting and laughing from the exhilaration. He smelled blood and fire. He smelled success.
His chest constricted, and all of a sudden he felt like he was being pulled inside out.Just as before, in the blink of an eye, he snapped into consciousness, sitting up, in Nelacar’s bed. Before anything else could happen, Sabrael was straddling his knees and kissing him, hard. Rei grinned and kissed back, pulling his kirin against him. He’d more or less forgotten his surroundings, and kissing turned to necking in short order, with one hand sliding over Sabrael’s buttocks and between his legs to caress him through his trousers.
As Sabrael moaned, there was a gruff coughing, and he was yanked back down to reality where Nelacar was looking awkwardly down at the floor, and the innkeeper was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. He was pleased to see that, after dealing with the blurriness inside the Star, his vision seemed almost perfect by comparison.
“So you came through alright?” he asked. Rei thought maybe he heard actual concern in his voice.
“It certainly seems that way,” Rei answered, wrapping his arms around his kirin who had settled for simply leaning against him with his face pressed into his neck. “Nelacar, I owe you in a very big way.”
“Oh, well, it was nothing, really. Worth it to get this all behind me…and mostly I don’t think it’s wise to make requests of an agent of the Prince of Bargains.”
Rei chuckled. “I don’t grant wishes, so you’re safe. This is a personal offer.”
“I might be interested in taking a closer look at your soul bond,” Nelacar ventured. “If you and your partner there were ever willing.”
“What do you say, my beauty?” Rei asked, pulling his head back to see his kirin’s face.
“I’d be okay with it,” Sabrael smiled.
“Excellent. Meanwhile, I believe this belongs to you.”
Rei took the Star from the mage’s hands and marveled at its beauty. Without a sentient soul inside summoning daedra, the gem had repaired itself and gleamed in all its dark glory. It was now, true and proper, the Black Star.
“Amazing,” he breathed. “But how do I know it won’t break again?”
“The power was being drained by Malyn’s presence. Any other soul will be benign, and it will function, now, as any black soul gem. Congratulations, Rei, you’ve successfully altered a daedric artifact and lived. Even if it was only barely.”
“Yes, ‘barely’,” the innkeeper interjected. “If we’re all done with reunions, you owe me for the bedclothes and the mattress.”
Rei furrowed his brow and looked around. There was blood everywhere, and his favorite shirt was completely ruined. “There were dremora in there. One of them ran me through…”
“Oh, Rei, it was awful!” Sabrael said. “I was so afraid you were gonna die!”
“It was a close call,” Nelacar agreed. “Luckily Sabrael remembered your potions. Even luckier still, he and Dagur managed to administer one without choking you to death.”
“So that’s what happened,” Rei laughed. “All of a sudden I was good as new, with no explanation. I thought maybe it was the power of will.”
“Thank you both,” he said. “And of course I’ll pay for the bed, though I wish I knew how to replace it this moment so Nelacar has a place to sleep.”
“I’ll change the sheets and all. It’ll do for now.”
“You don’t seem as rough as I thought,” the innkeeper said. “Look, pay me for the night if you’re going to stay. I’ll heat up some water for a bath. No charge.”
Rei smiled curiously at the Nord. “Thank you,” he said, “very much.”
Finally, refreshingly clean, Rei lay on his rented bed, with Sabrael nestled close. His eyes were closed, and he sighed as Sabrael idly played with his cock.
“Can we talk?” his kirin asked.
“It’s never a good sign when someone asks if they can talk after they’ve started pulling a man off.”
“It’s nothing bad!”
Rei chuckled and squeezed him close. “It’s a joke, darling. What do you need to talk about?”
“Well, remember when I said that it doesn’t seem to matter what I think when it comes to things you want to do?”
Rei sighed. “The things I do have a purpose. If your reason for having me not do them is just general worry, I’m sorry, but that’s not a good enough reason for me not to.”
“So even if I said you shouldn’t jump off that cliff…”
“Don’t argue in bad faith. It’s not that I’m not interested in what you have to say or how you feel, it’s just that I know what I’m on Nirn to do, and I’m going to do it. If you have information that I don’t, which would pose a serious detriment to what I aim to do, tell me, but vague notions of fear or distrust founded on flimsy premises aren’t things I’m going to fuss over.”
“But you almost died today!” Sabrael protested, moving his hand from Rei’s cock and sliding it up to his chest.
“I almost died because the circumstances were much different than I had been expecting. Your entire argument was that you distrusted Nelacar with my soul, which I knew to be a weak argument.”
A hurt sadness wrenched Rei Ginsei’s heart as Sabrael curled up and cried.
“Why are you crying now?” Rei asked.
“Because it doesn’t seem like you care about my feelings for you. It seems like something’s switched.”
“Sabrael, of course I care about your feelings for me. I understand when you get scared, but I can’t live my life beholden to fear all the time. Regardless of if it’s mine or someone else’s.”
“Would you still be afraid if I were to leave?” Sabrael asked.
“There are few things that would cause me greater pain,” he admitted. “You know this.”
“I do. I never have stopped feeling your love.”
“The more time you spend with me, the more likely it is you’ll see me for what I am. You’ve seen a lot already, but our love is still new. The conventional wisdom has always been that new love covers a multitude of sins.”
“What do you mean?”
Rei took a deep breath. “It means as it wears down we’ll see things in each other we may have a difficult time tolerating.”
“Oh. Well. What then?” Sabrael asked.
“We’ll cross that bridge, my beauty. Please just respect my ability to make my own decisions.”
Rei turned onto his side to face his kirin and began stroking his hair and side. “Have I told you you’re beautiful before?”
Sabrael giggled and blushed. “All the time.”
“I suppose I do,” he smiled gently.
“Have I properly told you that I think you’re gorgeous?”
“Gorgeous,” Rei chuckled. “My, my. I don’t suppose anyone’s told me that.”
“I think Clavicus made you so much prettier,” Sabrael said. “Also I get to hug your tail when you sleep with your back to me.”
“It is nice and warm, isn’t it? Especially without my soul and I would get so cold, I’d wrap it around me.”
“I…I like your eyes, too.”
“Even if they disturb you?”
“You could feel that?”
Rei nodded. “It hurt, I won’t lie, but I don’t blame you.”
“But they’re unusual. I wasn’t disturbed by them, they’re just intimidating. Why are they like that?”
“Well, my right one can only see well in the brightest light. My left can only see in the dark – the darker, the better. Each was enhanced in addition to having their pupils frozen, but their ranges are small. At best, when both are working, things are normalized. But nothing is ever clear. Right now I’m very aware that my left eye is seeing things more clearly than the right, whose vision is very dim.”
“You seem to have adapted.”
“Well enough. I like waking up in the night. That’s when your face is the clearest to me.”
“I wish it could always be night, then,” Sabrael smiled.
“I’m happy just to see you.”
Sabrael kissed him, and Rei returned it, feeling his kirin’s timid desire to take control. With no hesitation, he happily became pliant, and let him do as he would.