Against my better judgment I started working on this last night. I finished it earlier today. I wasn’t going to publish, but I dunno what’s gonna happen in the next few days so I thought I’d just do it. Forcing cheerfulness isn’t doing much for me (it usually does, believe it or not), so I may just go into hiding for a little while seeing as my latest hasn’t generated any bug reports.
Wanted to say (you can skip this if you don’t care, it’s a bunch of depressing personal shit…also this chapter is positive, so don’t get too down!) that while Rei isn’t a self-insert, he is a vector for me to work out my mental issues as well as the exploration of my own experiences within the cycle of abuse. Apart from things which I hope should be obvious *hides skin lampshade*, he has a lot of my issues, though I wouldn’t give him any particular diagnosis. I have bipolar II with rapid cycling. It tends to start slow and snowball until I’m going from depressed to hypomanic back to depressed repeatedly within a very short period of time. It gets tiresome, and it gets scary, and you panic, and you lose your shit. It makes me cry when Rei gets angry because it’s not just anger. It’s terror and helplessness and pain.
Suicide’s a big thing for people with this disorder. A lot of the time it’s impulsive. It just gets to a point where you’re just looking for a way out, any way, immediately. There’s no planning. I’ve been hospitalized six times in four years because that’s how long it’s taken to find a drug cocktail that keeps me stable and how long for my husband to be able to reliably spot the early warning signs (which, thanks to the nature of hypomania, are hard to spot because really all it looks like in the beginning is I’m just being super creative and involved with my hobbies and then I’ll just be tired for a while). But when that cocktail wobbles a bit, there’s always that terror that you’re about to fall off that edge again. And that’s where I am right now, and my recent ability to spruce up and turn out mods so quickly, as well as all this writing (and I’ve composed three songs during this period, as well), hasn’t been so much creative as it has been obsessive and all-consuming, at least in terms of how it feels.
I don’t really know why I spilled all of that to you all. I guess to let you know that we’re out there. We’re not all tragically pretty homicidal maniacs, but we’re out there. And yes, I’ll be okay. The relevant people know my state of being, I’ve got another appointment with the psychiatrist. So don’t worry. Furb just needs to rest a while.
Here’s chapter 15, the next-to-last (probably) chapter of the first “book” of Rei Ginsei’s saga. I’ll see you next time.
Rei swallowed as his stomach tied itself in knots. He looked all around the room, unsure of what, exactly, he expected to see.
“What do you mean, we’re being watched?” Tauryon asked. “Vile is watching us? Is that it?”
“I can’t think of who else would be.”
Tauryon turned his gaze to Callie, who put her bowl down on the end table next to her. “I think it’s time we make a decision, Rei. I hate to say it, but if you won’t commit, well…”
Rei nodded and closed his eyes. “Sabrael?”
“Hold my hand?”
Sabrael smiled and obliged him, and he felt his fingers clasped tightly. Why did this have to be so hard?
“Think of how good it could be,” his kirin said softly. “How long have you just been moving? And I’m not saying this for my sake. Rei, if you want to just go off on your own after this, I would understand.”
“If I did that I’d have nothing left,” he said. “No master, no love. I have no home. What would there be to live for?”
“You can handle the hurt. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, it’s just that after all this time being at Clavicus’ whims you’ve convinced yourself that you’re weaker.”
Rei looked at him, wanting momentarily to argue, but he thought better of it.
“Put it in the Star,” he said. “Rip it out of me, and put it in the Star.”
“Oh, Rei!” Sabrael squealed. “Do you mean it?”
He nodded. “I want to be my own man again. I want to be the partner you need me to be.”
“Well,” Tauryon said. There was a certain resignation in his voice. “Let’s get this underway.”
“Excellent!” Callie said, approaching the bed with the Star. “Now, this is going to be a bit of a delicate-“
“What, oh what, is going on in here?” a high, singsong voice emerged from the common room.
Rei’s chest seized as he watched his master stride slowly into the room.
“Look at all these fine people!” Vile said. “I know you, Little Seahorse, and you! Tauryon, I remember you. It’s too bad you decided not to commit. To think, I could have had two gorgeous little playthings…It would have been twice the trouble in the end, though, I suppose.”
“Who do you think you are, barging in here like this?” Tauryon demanded.
“Do you really not know? Does he not know, Rei Ginsei?”
Rei only sighed, looking down in shame. For the first time, he could really feel it, the separate and distinct pull. It wasn’t the nebulous need he’d thought it was. It was a tether.
“What have you done to my Rei Ginsei?” Vile asked. His voice was low now, and dangerous.
“They’ve done nothing, Clavicus,” Rei said, maddeningly unable to find his proper voice. “Leave them alone.”
Vile straightened up properly and looked at him, head cocked. “You know, my love, I felt these fluctuations in my power, which is what brought me here. I thought to myself, ‘Of course he’s not thinking of deserting you, Clavicus, surely this must be the work of others. Surely this must be the work of a certain seahorse.’ And now, now that I’ve gone out of my way on this rescue mission, you tell me you’re in on this?”
Rei opened his mouth, but nothing would come out. He felt himself actually shaking.
“Yes, Clavicus!” he managed to shout. “Yes, I’m in on it!”
Vile walked toward the bed. Callie curled up in the chair, her eyes wide as the Prince drew closer.
“You know, I knew this would happen. For all your promises and pretty words, I knew you’d betray me. The very instant that seahorse showed up at my door, I should have throttled it, myself!”
Rei felt Sabrael’s terror and tried to ease his own.
“But no! No, I wanted it to be your idea. I wanted to wait. I wanted to let you feel what I had to offer you. And here I stand, seeing that blasted elemental clinging to you, and you allowing it!”
“I allow it because he deserves to feel safe!” Rei shot back, feeling his nerve returning in earnest.
“The mighty Rei Ginsei suddenly cares about keeping someone else safe, does he? These other two, do they know of the atrocities you’ve committed? Do they think you’re somehow able to be changed? This fine mer – lady, gentleman – has obliterated towns. Towns! Women, children, and all without a second thought!”
“I don’t want to be that, anymore!”
“Oh, of course not,” Vile cooed. “How selfish of me to assume that you’d wish to continue service to a master who gave you license to do anything you wanted, who gave you anything you wanted, who kept you safe and told you you were perfect!”
“Maybe that’s not what I need,” Rei said. “You took my soul to keep me compliant, and I think that’s why you coddle me, too. You don’t love me, not the way Sabrael does. And that’s his name, by the way, not ‘Little Seahorse’.”
“Well pardon me! Which one of you bound him?”
“That was me,” Tauryon said, fearlessly stepping forward.
“Why would I do that?”
“Such nerve!” Vile spat. “You would do it because Clavicus Vile told you to do it, and any sane person knows that when Clavicus Vile tells them to do something, they do it or face the consequences.”
“You know some call you the child god. I never gave it much thought, but I’m starting to see why.”
Rei clenched his jaw and began pulling against the magic ligatures, hoping in vain he could break them before-
“How dare you?” Vile growled. In one swift motion, he grabbed Tauryon by the throat and lifted him the few inches off the ground he needed to look him directly in the eye. “I refuse to believe my darling Rei Ginsei made these decisions on his own. You broke him! All three of you! And you have the audacity-“
“Stop it, Clavicus!” Rei shouted. “Put him down. Your quarrel is with me, and me alone.”
“Rei Ginsei,” he said sweetly, lowering the old mer and roughly shoving him away and against the wardrobe. Tauryon gripped his throat as he coughed, and Sabrael ran to his side. “You know this isn’t what you want. Don’t you feel that power?”
“I’m just a toy to you,” he said. “I love you, and it hurts more than anything to be doing this to you, but I don’t want to be a toy anymore. Sabrael might not let me do anything I want, but that’s only because he wants me to be a better person. Someone worthy of his love. It’ll take work for me to reach that point. Actual work, not indulgences disguised as work.”
Vile narrowed his eyes.”You,” he said, turning his gaze to Callie, still balled up in the chair and whimpering. “You’re not just any old mage, are you?”
“Out with it!”
“I don’t guess so.”
“Don’t you?” Vile asked. “I saw you and your merry band discussing ways to mutilate my creation. Not just anyone can perform the magic you were discussing.”
“I don’t…I mean…”
“And you have the Black Star, I see. Is that what you were going to use? You were going to put my vestige into that filthy artifact?”
Callie didn’t say anything.
Vile ran his tongue over his teeth and cut his eyes back over to Rei. “Do forgive me for harping on this, but why are you bound if you’re a willing participant in this conspiracy?”
“Because I wasn’t, at first.”
“I was right, then. They broke you.”
“I’m not broken!” Rei said. He swallowed and thought. “But if it will get you to leave these people alone, I’ll stay with you. You can even take my soul back.”
“No!” Sabrael cried, running back over to the bed. “No, you can’t!”
“I don’t know why I didn’t think this would endanger you all. I can’t let anything else happen, and if this is the only way…”
“You know what?” Vile interjected. “I like this attitude. But let’s make a proper deal, shall we?”
Rei considered. His master was known to renege on his bargains when it suited him, and this situation was bad enough that he had no doubt fairness was at least partially off the table. Still, if it gave him a chance at an out: “What are the terms?”
“Excellent,” Vile grinned.
Without warning, Rei found himself unbound and standing in brilliant sunlight. His vision was perfect, and he felt heavy. Looking down, he saw his hands were clad in gleaming burnished steel plates, and when he raised them, he could see in the distorted reflection his dirty blonde hair and short beard. It dawned on him that he was standing in his mother’s garden. He was Celedaen again, dashing in his plate armor and his gold cloak that wrapped around his neck.
For a moment, he forgot everything and ran as fast as he could to the back of the estate where the stables were. He’d forgotten how oppressive heavy armor could be, and his, in particular, so he was unusually winded by the time he reached the yard. Still, milling about the paddock were his three horses: Ellie, Riversong, and his prized stallion Gambit. He climbed over the fence and ran over to Gambit, reaching out a shaking hand to touch his cheek. A disbelieving laugh worked itself from his chest as tears of happiness welled in his eyes.
“See what could be yours?” a voice echoed in his head, jerking him rudely back into the reality that this was all just an illusion. “I’ll even reverse my changes if you like. Leave you just like this. As you were. Nice and conventionally handsome, if a bit boring.”
“What are the terms of the bargain, Clavicus?” he asked, ignoring the pull of nostalgia.
“Well, it’s them or me, you see. But of course you knew that. I must make you choose, once and for all, and I’d like you to do so in your own unique way. In that wonderfully arrogant way only Celedaen Aedius could manage. Now, bear in mind that if it’s me you choose, I’ll have to keep you on a much tighter leash; you’ve put quite the dent in my trust, Rei Ginsei. I would still keep you happy, though. Give you what you wanted, let you satisfy your need for domination. Much better than anything anyone else would do for you, should you choose them.”
“We’ll see. How am I supposed to choose?”
“You might meet your friends here and there. They won’t know who you are at present, however. Tauryon is just as he was. The seahorse…Sabrael (happy?)…won’t have met you yet. That mage, though, she’s not part of your life at this point in time, so I just put her in some clothes and stuck her somewhere. Finding her will be challenge enough.
“The Black Star is also here on this island. Use it to capture your little chums’ souls to prove your loyalty to me, and I will take you back.”
“The Star can only hold one soul, though,” Rei said, though he wasn’t sure why. He knew what his choice was.
“You’re so very observant, Rei Ginsei!” Vile’s voice crowed. “I suppose that means you’ll have to dispose of them somehow. Well, at least two.”
“Fine. And if I don’t wish to stay with you?”
“If you should decide to choose them, you’ll need to first convince them of their plight, which I’m sure won’t be easy in the cases of Sabrael and Tauryon. The strange and unstable son of Summerset running around telling them that not only is he from the future but that they are, as well, and just don’t know it, will surely seem normal. If you manage that, you should take them to the coast just southwest of Dusk.”
“Dusk? That’s a two-hour ride from here!”
“I could have had you go to Lillandril,” Vile shot back. “Be grateful for what I give you.”
“Forg-” he stopped himself and shook his head. “No. I’m not sorry. Just tell me what happens at the coast.”
“My, you are becoming obnoxiously willful, aren’t you? I won’t tell you what happens there. Not out of spite, of course. I just want it to be a surprise. Off with you, now. You only have two days, which is more than generous.”
“Alright. Let’s get this over with.”
“Oh, and don’t even think about trapping my vestige in the Star,” Vile added. “Without it, I won’t have the power to maintain this illusion, and if I can’t do that, well, where does one go when they’re neither here nor there? ‘Ta!”
Rei exhaled sharply and looked back at Gambit. His chestnut coat gleamed in the sunlight.
“Undalmo?” he called. “Undalmo, I need you!”
The stable hand appeared on the other side of the fence, his eyes wide with fear and hurt. He didn’t answer, and only stood waiting for his orders. Rei realized this was long after he’d broken his jaw, and he was startled to feel regret wrapping around his heart.
“Undalmo,” he said again as he approached. He really wasn’t that bad-looking. His only crime was being common and expressing his feelings.
The mer braced himself as Rei drew closer, pulling his head down as if hoping to become a turtle.
“I’m sorry,” Rei said. “I did a bad thing, and I hurt you, and I’m sorry.”
Undalmo looked at him skeptically.
“I know it’s too late. I don’t expect forgiveness, but I had to say it.”
Undalmo opened his mouth and tried to speak, but nothing came out, initially, the result of a few years of silence. He cleared his throat and made a second attempt, this time producing a soft, timid voice: “I know I was out of line, Master Celedaen. I was foolish, and I only wanted for your attention.”
“That doesn’t excuse what I did.”
Tears welled in the stable hand’s eyes. Rei drew closer to the fence and held his arms slightly out, wrapping them around Undalmo as he fell into them, shuddering. “Thank you, sir,” he sniffled. “Thank you.”
Rei pulled back and bent slightly to kiss him softly and briefly.
“I still love you.”
“Would that things were different and we could see what would happen,” Rei said, resting an armored hand on a full, soft cheek.
“You mean because of your station.”
“I mean because I’m leaving,” he said. Illusion or not, he didn’t think it fair to lead Undalmo on or tell him outright that he loved someone else. It was a genuine wish, though, to have been kinder, perhaps, and to see where things could have gone with others before he ever met Sabrael.
“Where are you going?”
Undalmo was dismayed, but he carefully slid his arms over Rei’s shoulders and leaned in for another kiss. Rei obliged and returned it, opening his mouth as the stable hand did, stroking the velvety tongue with his. Undalmo put one foot up on the bottom railing of the fence, and Rei stepped back, holding him under the arms as he climbed the rest of the way over, only to have Rei pick him up again and sit him on the top railing. Long legs were around his waist, and he was reminded of the inconvenience of plate cups. It didn’t matter; what little time he had he wished to spend making the person he’d so badly wronged feel good and wanted.
“I love you, Celedaen,” Undalmo said.
“Take yourself out,” Rei whispered.
Without hesitation, Undalmo’s hands plunged down to unbutton his fly while Rei removed his right gauntlet. His was a lovely cock, about average in length with just the right amount of thickness.
“You’ll make someone very happy,” Rei purred as he slid his palm back and forth along the underside, letting his fingertips move over his sac.
“Y-You think so?” Undalmo asked, already shaking.
Undalmo moaned deeply, spreading his knees farther apart. “What can I do for you?” he asked shakily.
“Just enjoy yourself.”
“This is the first time anyone else has touched me.”
“So I’m your first?” Rei asked softly. He began jerking him slowly.
“Uh-huh,” Undalmo answered. He pressed his face into Rei’s neck and squeezed him with his arms. “I’m sorry, Celedaen, I’m…”
“It’s alright, beautiful. Come as hard you can.”
After a few short, pleasantly high whimpers came a soft cry of relief. Rei smiled and squeezed him as he throbbed. His orgasm was long and intense, Rei happily tending to him as it receded, handling him gently, prolonging it, ensuring Undalmo was truly satisfied. When it finally dissipated, his body went limp, and Rei held him, rocking him gently.
“I’m sorry that happened so quickly,” Undalmo said through obvious nerves. “Just feeling you touch me was like so many dreams coming true at once.”
“Don’t apologize,” Rei smiled. “It just means you needed it.”
“Gods, I did. I haven’t even, you know, pulled myself off in ages. It’s not entirely the same when you dream it,” he laughed nervously.
“You poor thing, why not?
“Well, it’s seemed a bit empty and chore-like for a while. Not to pile on or anything.”
“No, I deserve it. I’m so sorry, Undalmo.”
“I’m so glad to hear those words,” he said as he pushed himself up. “Do you really have to go?”
“I’m afraid so. But take it from me, there’s plenty of mer far better than I who won’t injure you and only apologize for it years later. We have this moment, you and I, and it’ll last centuries, through new loves and through hard times.”
“But I do need your help.”
“Are my parents home?”
Undalmo looked confused. “Your father’s in Skywatch visiting your aunt, you know that. You had a very loud argument because you wouldn’t take the boat with him over.”
“Oh. Oh, yes, right. Sorry, I took a hit to the head during training,” he lied. He figured training was why he was wearing his heavy armor, anyway. “I guess I’m still recovering.”
“Oh no! Will you be alright?”
“I’ll be fine, Undalmo, don’t worry. I guess Mother’s…” he strained his brain to remember how things worked. If he had been in training, then, “…in the parlor with her tatting group?”
“I assume so.”
“Okay. I want you to saddle Gambit for me, if you would. Pack some wheat for mash and…I’m sorry, my head and all, do we have apples or carrots?”
“Apples won’t be for a few more weeks,” Undalmo answered. “I know Gambit prefers them, but seasons are what they are.”
“Carrots then. Meet me at the lamp post by the road when you’re done. I’ll try not to be long.”
Undalmo nodded. “Celedaen?” he called as Rei climbed over the fence.
“I won’t say a word. About this or what we did.”
Rei smiled, kissed his fingers and turned his palm to face the stable hand who blushed as he smiled back.
He jogged toward the mansion, eager to get into something lighter and quieter. As soon as he opened the front door, however, he heard the brief sound of women chattering followed by an abrupt silence.
“Celedaen?” his mother called. “Celedaen, is that you? Don’t think you can sneak by here.”
“Y-Yes, Mother, it’s me,” Rei answered stepping forward so that he could see into the sunbathed parlor where middle-aged Altmer women sat about in their casual finery with their crochet hooks. A cheese plate sat on the coffee table, surrounded by glasses of wine in various stages of emptiness. They all looked at him, some curiously, some with distaste, one or two even with desire.
“How many times have I told you not to come through that door in your armor? Especially when I’m entertaining.”
“I-I’m sorry,” he said, surprised at how easily he fell back into his submissive role. “I must have forgotten.”
“Yes, that’s what you always say,” his mother sighed. “It scuffs up the floor, you get mud everywhere, and you smell like you’ve not bathed in a fortnight.”
“I know, Mother, I’m sorry.”
“Go back out, come in the scullery door, and take the servants’ stairs to your room. I shouldn’t have to tell you that, either. You’re twenty-four years old, Celedaen, and sometimes I wonder if you’re not really five.”
“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” he said. “I just forgot.”
Rei took a deep breath and obeyed, quietly shutting the door behind him. An idea struck him, and he slunk as best he could over to the open parlor window to eavesdrop.
“-so hard on him, Lili,” the high, pinched voice of Lady Astonwy floated out on the breeze. “I can’t even remember the last time he did that. Not while we’ve been here, anyway.”
“You have no idea how much it bothers me,” his mother replied. “He’s been participating in sport of all kind for going on seventeen years and there’s no reason for him to forget even once at this point.”
“Oh, but you know how he is,” one woman whose voice he didn’t recognize argued. It was dreamy and airy. “All brooding and quiet. I might forget where I was going, too, if I were thinking that much.”
“You’d forget where you were going if you thought about anything but your destination,” another woman said, to a chorus of giggles.
“My point still stands,” the dreamy woman said indignantly. “We all forget things sometimes.”
“I suppose I might have been a bit harsh,” his mother conceded. “It just seems like he’s always got a lot on his mind these days.”
“Well you know the rumors,” another woman said in a hushed tone.
“Nonsense,” Lili said. “Slanderous, vicious lies. I do hope he’s not taking those to heart.”
“It’d make me nervous if people were saying such things about me,” Dreamy Voice said. “I wouldn’t blame him one bit if he’s been distracted.”
“That Camorin family is behind it,” Lili said. Rei furrowed his brow. “Celedaen’s the favorite for knighthood, and they can’t stand that their ill-bred urchin, that Tauryon of theirs, is nowhere near him. I mean, you saw the last tournament. My Celedaen ran circles around Tauryon, although I do wish he’d work on his aim. The archery portion was far too close.”
“What are you talking about, his grouping was superb. Tauryon’s was much more erratic.”
“It was much too far to the left, and you know it. What’s the point of getting one thing right if you can’t get everything right? It betrays a lack of discipline. In any case, Loraene Camorin and I haven’t gotten on for the better part of a century, and I have no doubt that she would try to sabotage my boy’s chances.”
Rei stepped away from the window and continued to the side of the house where the scullery door was. He’d of course known of his mother’s dispute with Tauryon’s mother, but he never knew she blamed her for the suspicions surrounding him. He wondered if Tauryon and his family had to personally contend with her paranoia after he left. If they did, he had the grace to not say anything, although he would have every right to.
He hurried to the door and up the narrow, closed-in staircase to the second floor where he opened the equally narrow, artfully hidden door which was only a few feet from his room. Quickly he began undoing the latches and buckles holding the plates of his armor together, shedding them so that he could pull off the padding, finally allowing his skin to breathe. He raised his arm to his nose, then lifted it to smell his armpit. He didn’t think he smelled too bad, but then again he hadn’t actually been training. It was just his mother grousing.
He got dressed and found his big knapsack, the one he used to carry extra clothes and the soul gems he used on his sprees, and squeezed in his leather armor and some everyday clothes. On the dresser was an ornate rack bearing two beautiful glass swords. Rei smiled as he looked at them, his first set of really nice weapons. He’d had to leave them behind. Their harness lay next to them, and he buckled it around his shoulders and chest and fixed the swords to his back.
After grabbing a purse of gold coins and fastening it to his belt, Rei stole from his room and silently descended the stairs, carefully avoiding the parlor doorway where the women had changed their topic to one about somebody’s mysterious pregnancy while their husband was overseas. Out a side door he slipped, and ran down the dirt path leading from the mansion to the main road where Undalmo was obediently waiting with Gambit.
“You’re wonderful, Undalmo,” he said. “Thank you.”
“I’ll miss you, Celedaen,” he answered. “And I’ll never forget you, though for a different reason now.”
Rei offered a melancholy smile and pulled him close for one last kiss. It lingered a while until a bright voice cut through the moment.
“What’s all this?” Tauryon asked as he and his horse walked up to meet them. He was smiling brilliantly, and his hair, not yet worn by age, was a rich flame in the sun. “Celedaen, are you dying?”
Rei looked back at Undalmo, whose cheeks were bright red. “Never mind him,” he said.
Undalmo nodded and swallowed. “Is this goodbye?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Goodbye, then, I guess. I love you!”
Rei kissed him swiftly. “Goodbye, beautiful. There’ll be someone better, you’ll see.”
Undalmo smiled and bowed his head slightly before backing away to watch the departure from a distance.
“That may very well have been the strangest thing I have ever seen,” Tauryon said.
“Oh, thank the gods I didn’t have to search for you. What you just saw will seem like nothing after hearing what I have to tell you,” he said, fastening his knapsack to the saddle and mounting up. “Come on.”
“Why the swords? You’re not thinking to…you know…not in daylight? Not with your weapons in full view? Where’s your dagger?”
“No, nothing like that. Let’s go to the shack, and I’ll tell you everything. I don’t want to risk being overheard.”
There was a dilapidated structure in the forest a decent jog from either man’s village. Neither of them knew the story behind it; it was just there. The wood it was built from was gray and rotten, ivy and vines more or less served as its support structure with how tightly they strangled the beams and joints. They had to watch for snakes and spiders, but it was a small price to pay for the privacy they often needed.
“So what’s going on?” Tauryon asked. “What’s got you calling the stable hand ‘beautiful’?”
“I’m…” Rei began, suddenly unsure of what he was going to say. “I’m not who you think I am. I mean, I am, but I’m Celedaen from, well, from the future.”
“You’re not very good at jokes, Celedaen.”
“It’s not a joke. I know it sounds insane, but would you hear me out?”
Tauryon opened his arms expectantly, and Rei told him everything, from the summoning, to Sabrael finding him, and finally to his being brought back here.
“So you’re a daedra named, what, ‘Rei Ginsei’, I’m really an old man who has no recollection of any of this somehow, and furthermore, the world’s going to end in two days?”
Rei shook his head. “I know, I wish I had some concrete way to prove it right now.”
Tauryon looked at him with no small amount of concern.
“Look, what’s the worst-case scenario? You help me out, nothing happens, you find out I’m crazy, and you haul me in.”
“Honestly the worst-case scenario is if what you’re saying is the truth.”
“Only if I don’t have your help.”
Tauryon pursed his lips thoughtfully.
“Here! If I can find Sabrael, would that convince you?”
“Celedaen, you’ve told me about that thing a hundred times. It was a hallucination, you even think so yourself!”
“It wasn’t! I know he’s real now. Please, Tauryon, do this one thing for me and if I’m wrong, you can tell the whole of Nirn that I’m crazy and have me locked away.”
“Well…I suppose there’s nothing to lose.”
“Great! Thank you! Come on, we need to go back to my estate. Sabrael lives near the lagoon just to the east.”
The men mounted back up and goaded their steeds into a gallop. When Rei saw a narrow path beaten into the dirt, he left the road and followed it until he got to the coast. This actually put him to the east of the lagoon, so he turned west and continued on until he found it, the shallow body of water separated from the sea by a barrier reef.
Rei dismounted and walked as close to the water as he dared. He had no idea what to do. Sabrael had said that he spent most of his time actually out in the sea and only came into the lagoon itself at night to look at the moons.
“Well?” asked Tauryon.
“I don’t know… Sabrael!” he yelled through his hands cupped around his mouth. “Sabrael, it’s me! It’s Celedaen! I know who you are!”
They stood for a while, watching nothing but waves lazily crashing into the reef.
“Maybe I’m too far away,” he said, feeling panic take hold.
“Maybe you’re on land and he’s underwater.”
Rei snapped his head around and saw his friend jump slightly back, fear flashing in his eyes. Looking back to the sea, he tried and tried to work out a plan that didn’t involve getting closer to the water, but he couldn’t think of one.
“He’s not real, Celedaen,” Tauryon insisted.
“Shut up! He is! I need to get closer so he can feel that I’m near.”
“You’re really starting to worry me,” Tauryon said. “I said I’d go along with this, but maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe you need help now.”
“No! Just…Damn it!”
Rei yanked his boots off, tore off his harness and swords, and rolled the cuffs of his pants up as far as he could. The water in the lagoon was still enough, and it wasn’t very deep. He could do this. Taking a deep breath, he ran into the water, slowing only when it was deep enough to cause resistance. Over and over he called for his kirin, to no response. He recalled what happened near Solitude and wondered if he wasn’t just very deep.
Before he realized it, he was waist-deep with wet cheeks. How was he supposed to find a sea creature when he couldn’t swim?
“Celedaen!” Tauryon was calling from shore. “Please come back! You’re worrying me and ruining your clothes.”
Rei looked back out over the water and shut his eyes tightly. Then there was a twinge in his heart. Curiosity…shyness…excitement…love!
“He’s here!” he shouted back to shore. “He’s coming, Tauryon! You’ll see!”
The feelings grew stronger and stronger, and finally he saw it, a dark form moving in a serpentine wave just below the surface. Finally, a safe distance away from the reef, an equine head broke the surface.
“Sabrael!” he cried.
“You know my name?” he heard Sabrael’s voice in his head.
“I know everything about you!”
“And you love me?” he asked, his voice almost squeaking with happiness.
“More than anything in the world!”
The head disappeared below the water, and Rei’s heart stopped. “No!” he cried. “No, no, please don’t-“
An explosion of water to his left nearly caused him to yelp in fright, but soon he saw it was his kirin leaping gracefully over the reef to be with him. He waded over and threw his arms around the large, muscular neck and kissed his cheek. Sabrael responded by bumping him with his muzzle.
“I’m so glad I found you,” Rei said.
“I don’t even know what to say. How do you know about me? Weren’t you unconscious?”
“I’ll tell you everything, but would you mind meeting my friend Tauryon? I know you’re shy.”
“I don’t know…”
“What do you feel from me?” he asked again, smiling as he stroked the soft wet fur.
“So much love,” he said. “And relief, and I don’t know if there’s a word, but it makes me feel safe.”
“I’ll be your protector,” Rei said. “If you want me to be.”
“I know this is strange happening all at once, and I understand if you’re not entirely trusting of me.”
“You said you know all about me. Like what?”
“I know you like this,” he answered, reaching over to scratch a velvety ear.
“Ohhhhhh,” his kirin moaned. “I do like that. It’s so hard to scratch.”
“I know that you have four purple horns in your other form, with long turquoise hair and huge blue eyes.”
Rei felt a slight spike in Sabrael’s wariness, and he supposed it was a bit too far to have gone.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I got swept up in my excitement.”
“That’s okay,” Sabrael said with a nervous giggle. “Can you just tell me how you know all this out here? No offense, or anything, I just feel safer with the reef just right here.”
“Absolutely. Tauryon can wait.”
By the time he was finished telling the tale a second time, Rei felt he might have a future as a storyteller.
“So you’re here now trying to save me in your time?” Sabrael asked.
“Essentially. I understand if you don’t believe me.”
“Of course I believe you.”
“I can feel you, remember?” Sabrael giggled. His tail flopped around and splashed in the water. “I’d know if you were telling stories. It’s just unreal because I never thought you’d be the one to find me. And I never thought I’d be brave enough to go looking for you.”
“I’m glad you did,” Rei said. “I don’t want to think about what I’d be missing if I stayed here and you never worked up the nerve.”
“Oh, Rei,” he sighed, nudging him with the side of his head. “You do prefer Rei now, right?”
“I’m more used to it than Celedaen.”
All at once, the beast before him dissolved into a nearly-invisible mist and reformed as his incongruously small humanoid form. Rei lifted him up and felt his kirin’s legs wrap around him. He looked into his eyes and almost melted. It seemed so long since he’d held him, and as they kissed he tried to make sure Sabrael felt every ounce of love and passion he had to give.
“I don’t know if I should meet your friend,” Sabrael said as they pulled away. He was blushing.
“Ah,” Rei said, registering the hardness pressing against him. “You can transform back.”
“He really doesn’t want to see me in my natural form when I’m like this,” Sabrael actually laughed.
“Right, probably not. How about I carry you?”
“Okay,” he giggled, hugging Rei’s neck tightly.
“I thought you weren’t coming back,” Tauryon said as Rei completed his trek to the shore.
It was a lot more difficult carrying someone with water fighting against his legs, and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep carrying him.
“So it’s true, then. That’s Sabrael.”
“He is,” Rei smiled as he saw Sabrael’s cheeks redden again as he pressed into him as if trying to burrow away. “It’s alright, my beauty.”
“I suppose this means it’s all true.”
“It is, Tauryon, I swear it. And I’m sorry.”
“What’s our next step, then?”
“We have to find Callie.”
“Where would she be?”
“I don’t know,” Rei answered. “Vile said he didn’t know what to do with her so he just ‘stuck her somewhere’.”
“Did she live here, too?” Sabrael asked. “When she was young, I mean. In…In her time?”
“I don’t know,” Rei said. “Tauryon would if Vile had let him retain his knowledge, but as far as I know we have nothing really to go on.”
“I’d say we should split up,” Tauryon suggested, “but with less than a day-and-a-half to go, even if one of us did find her, we’d have to find each other over again.”
“Sabrael, I’m sorry, but I can’t keep holding you.”
“That’s fine,” Sabrael said. “It’s all, um, down now.”
“Oh, I see, you were just using me as a lift.”
Sabrael giggled and Rei kissed him happily before placing him down on the ground. He saw Tauryon eye him approvingly and smirked, taking no small amount of pride in pulling his kirin close as pale arms wrapped around his waist.
“Remarkable,” Tauryon said. “To see a sea monster to begin with, and then to see you so madly in love. You really aren’t Celedaen, are you? Not as I know him. Knew him, I guess.”
“I am Rei Ginsei,” he said. “And that is my burden to bear.”