Time for more Rei! My head has been real thick lately so I’m sorry if that reflects. Also it’s more of that “writing about boring things we’ve all done” phenomenon. I’m kind of regretting starting this volume, but I guess I’m in it now lol But don’t worry, things are definitely going to get more interesting and less journal-like. I hope.
Rei continued to hang onto the feeling of taking in the dragon’s soul as he and Sabrael jogged back to the city. He felt marginally stronger, and that was nice, but another dragon would mean more strength and another rush of that delicious lust. He knew Sabrael could feel the lingering and fading euphoria within him, and he could feel the worry in response. He’d told him it would be different, but he wasn’t entirely sure how truthful he was. He’d try not to be mean, but while it was arguable that he couldn’t help the way he felt when he took a person’s life, now he didn’t need to make excuses. Akatosh Himself had given him this precious gift.
When they reached the stables, a deafening explosion cracked like thunder and shook the ground. In its wake, he heard the words: “Doh-va-kiin!”
“What was that?” Sabrael squeaked.
In the stables, Baku, Windy, and two other animals flinched and fidgeted in the small paddock.
“I haven’t the foggiest,” Rei answered. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”
They continued on and into the city, proper, trying not to run into people. Hurry or no, however, Rei stopped outside the great doors to Dragonsreach and turned to Sabrael, who was smiling at him uneasily. With one gloved, blood-soaked hand, he gently held his kirin’s chin and bent to kiss him.
“I know it’s lingering, beauty,” he said. “I can’t help it.”
“I know. I can’t help worrying.”
“Are you sure?”
Rei closed his eyes and swallowed, trying to keep the reactionary offense at Sabrael’s questioning from surfacing. It was trauma. “I’m sure, sweetheart. I put you through hell before. I understand.”
“Thank you,” Sabrael said, slipping his arms around Rei’s waist and pulling close. Rei squeezed him tightly before the little daedra pulled away and added, “Dragon blood smells pretty bad.”
“It’s not like the rest of ours, that’s for sure. Come on. Sooner we get this done, the sooner I can get out of this armor and into a bath.”
“You’re back,” Balgruuf greeted them from his throne. “No worse for the wear, I see.”
Rei smirked as he stepped up to the platform.
“So what happened? Was there really a dragon?”
“There was, and it’s slain, but the tower is in ruins, and there’s a number of casualties. Irileth and the others are still assessing the situation.”
“I suppose that’s not surprising, but a lack of surprise won’t make it easier on the widows. Still, I knew I could count on Irileth. I knew I could count on you.”
“Thank you, Jarl,” Rei answered, bowing slightly. “Why me?”
“A feeling,” he said vaguely. “The same feeling tells me there’s something you’re leaving out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you hear that thundering sound?” interrupted a man with a deep voice. Rei turned to see a burly Nord slightly younger than Balgruuf, clad in ornate hide armor approaching. “That was the call of the Greybeards!”
“The Greybeards,” Balgruuf explained, “masters of the Way of the Voice. They live in seclusion high atop the Throat of the World.”
Rei furrowed his brow. “Why would I know anything about that?” he asked.
Sabrael, who had been timidly standing back at the bottom of the steps, stepped forward. “Sir? Rei Ginsei, he absorbed power from the dragon when it died. They say he’s Dragonborn.”
Balgruuf and the other Nord, whose face caused Rei to assume he was of some relation to the Jarl, seemed to completely freeze, barely breathing, with their eyes locked on him.
“How can you be Dragonborn?” the Nord asked. “You’re not even human!”
“Gods forbid,” Rei spat, his sense of belonging suddenly springing back to him in response to the insult. His tail bristled and began to swish expectantly with the anticipation of a confrontation. “I’m Altmeri.”
“You sure don’t look like an elf. Next you’ll tell me that thing behind you is a stunted Kha’jiit who fell into a bucket of paint.”
“What he is doesn’t concern you.”
“Pardon me!” the Nord said dramatically. “Do you want to know what concerns me? A High Elf standing in my brother’s court claiming the dragon blood. What are your thoughts on Talos, long-ears?”
“Talos is a false idol designed to elevate the status of a cruel coward of a man by painting him as the image of civility and justice. The very idea that the Ancestors would bestow upon Tiber Septim godhood is beyond preposterous!”
There was a silence, then, thick and suffocating. Rei was both surprised at his outburst and proud of it. While Sabrael stood back, frozen with fear, Jarl Balgruuf looked at him with mild suspicion, and his brother glared at him with fire in his eyes.
“All of you are alike,” the brother said. “I might not support Ulfric’s dishonorable actions, but I’m still a Nord who values our traditions. Empire or not, we don’t need a bunch of snobbish elves making decisions for us as if we’re too stupid to do so on our own.”
“Well, if the shoe fits…”
“Enough, the both of you,” Balgruuf barked. “Hrongar, go find something else to do. Rei Ginsei, come with me.”
“Do I have to stay behind?” Sabrael asked quietly.
“No, of course not. Come.”
Rei let Sabrael take his hand, amused at the way the shaking of both their hands – one out of fear and one out of exhilaration – seemed to cancel each other out. His kirin was afraid of him again, though, and the hurt of that outweighed everything else, even the thrill of telling a self-righteous Nord to his face what he thought of their false god. But he squeezed the small hand, and was happy to feel it squeeze back.
They followed the Jarl silently up the stairs and out a set of large doors at the back of the palace. They stepped out onto a huge porch that extended out and ended in a wide balcony that looked to the north. In the wings, guards practiced combat against dummies and straw targets. Silently, Balgruuf led them all the way to the balcony and stopped at the edge.
“I don’t hold your beliefs and feelings against you, Rei Ginsei,” he said. “Gods know nationalism is one of the things our peoples have in common, but you’ll understand if I ask after your affiliations.”
“I have no stake in your war, Jarl.”
“I’m sure you know of the Thalmor’s presence, though.”
“I am aware, and in the interest of openness I have a close friend among their ranks, but where I’m concerned, I simply love my home and my heritage.”
“I can’t have my city threatened,” Balgruuf said. “I’m not as rabid as my brother in there; while I prefer a united Empire, I understand the need to compromise. I’m sure you’ve noticed our statue of Talos that stands in spite of the Concordat.”
“And the priest who proselytizes in front of it, yes.”
“Right, Heimskr, yes. Most pay him no mind, regardless of how they feel, and that’s my stance, as well. He is a citizen of Whiterun, and my protection extends to him just as anyone else. I cannot have someone from the inside giving out information in an attempt to cause chaos.”
“I understand your concerns, Jarl, but I assure you that, should something befall Whiterun, it will not have been through my doing.”
“I believe you. I doubt many would face a dragon for people they had no care for.”
Rei hadn’t thought about it. He did like Balgruuf a bit, and Irileth he didn’t mind, but he’d simply been listening to Azura’s guidance when he’d agreed to help. “Absolutely not,” he agreed.
“I appreciate your candor, Rei. Thank you for hearing my concerns. But we’ve dallied long enough. You deserve compensation.”
“Thank you, Jarl,” Rei answered, bowing his head.
“I doubt I could pay enough to compensate you for what you’ve done. Back inside there’s a thousand Septims for your work in Bleak Falls and for helping slay the dragon.”
Rei sighed as the part of his mind that had been fretting about finances eased itself.
“More importantly, I wish to grant you the title of Thane. It’s the highest honor I’m able to grant, and it is my honor to grant it.”
“Thane…” Rei repeated. Nordic nobility wasn’t exactly something he dreamed about. Still, if it came with perks…
“It’s an honorary title, mostly,” Balgruuf continued. “But it marks you as a member of my court. You’ll be permitted to purchase property here, if it’s your desire, and I’ll tell the guards myself to quit bothering you, if they were before. I know there’s been talk about you and your friend there.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“Before you go, I urge you to go see the Greybeards. Whatever happened when that dragon died revealed something within you, and the Greybeards heard. To ignore their call would be a grave insult.”
“You don’t know at all what they might want with me?”
“Perhaps to impart to you the Way of the Voice?” Balgruuf mused. “Whatever the case, not just anyone can walk into High Hrothgar. Many climb the Seven Thousand Steps to reach it and to pay tribute, but without invitation, the monks inside do not entertain visitors.”
Rei ran his tongue along the inside of his teeth.
“If honor isn’t enough,” Balgruuf offered, “the climb itself might do you good. I made the climb, myself, once, long ago. High Hrothgar is peaceful and quiet. It gives a man time to think, to clear his mind and gain perspective.”
“That could be nice,” Rei said. “How do I find the Seven Thousand Steps?”
“Make your way to Ivarstead. There’s a bridge that crosses the river and takes you right to their foot.”
Rei bowed a little more deeply than he normally did. “Thank you, Jarl.”
“Of course. Off with you, now. I have a city to run.”
He couldn’t get back to their room quickly enough, and as soon as he ordered a bath for himself and Sabrael, Rei ran up the stairs and began unstrapping his armor. With every plate removed, the padding beneath lifted from his skin and allowed it to breathe, sending cool relief through him.
“Could you find those ratty cotton pants?” he asked Sabrael. “The ones with the holes. You might have to dig.”
“I don’t mind,” he chirped, dropping to his knees to dig through the larger duffel.
Rei ran his hands over his skin once he was finally naked, wishing he could just lie down. He could, he supposed, but he didn’t think Hulda would appreciate them leaving behind a bed that smelled of old sweat and dragon blood.
“Rei?” Sabrael asked, offering the pants.
“Yes, beauty?” he said, gingerly slipping them on. They would do for the short walk back down to the bathing room.
“I looked at the map before, but I’m not good at remembering stuff like this. If I remember right, though, this is pretty convenient don’t you think?”
“Hm?” he asked, furrowing his brow in confusion, but then he felt Sabrael’s excitement and saw that his eyes were positively sparkling. As he felt his face relax into a wide smile, he said, “It’s all on the way to Riften, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” Sabrael squeaked, throwing himself into Rei’s arms.
“Let’s get ourselves cleaned up, hm? Then, barring something else happening to this cursed city, we can finally pay a visit to the jeweler.”
The joy that Sabrael felt was so sharp Rei felt as if he’d been struck by lightning. It wasn’t terribly pleasant, and he wondered in the back of his mind how people like Sabrael managed to cope, but on the other hand, he was the one who had inspired such powerful happiness.
“Just remember this isn’t the only place in Skyrim. Or in Tamriel. If nothing calls to you here, or even before the big day, we have plenty of time.”
“Good, because I think I’m gonna be picky,” Sabrael grinned.
“As you should,” Rei said as he kissed his kirin’s forehead.
The jewelry stall in Whiterun’s plaza turned out to be a disappointment. Sabrael did have very specific ideas, and Rei found it a bit thrilling. Marriage had never been on his mind in all his life, and as the reality began to sink in, that the love of his life had just shown up, that they were about to make their love official in the eyes of the Divines, he almost felt as if he’d fallen into a dream.
“So what would make a perfect ring, beauty?” he asked as they rode side-by-side. His map pointed to a path up a mountain that would take them right to Ivarstead. He wasn’t looking forward to another mountain pass, but it was preferable to going all the way around the range. The sun was getting low, as it was.
“I feel like I’ll know it when I see it,” he said. “I like pink. And green.”
“What kind of green?”
Rei chuckled. “Peridot, then. For the pink, I think tourmaline.”
“Pink tourmaline is bold and rich. It would match your hair.”
“Then that would be perfect, if it’s not too expensive.”
“We’ll see, sweetheart.”
The path up the mountain switched back and forth sharply. It was snowy, but thankfully there were no storms to make the cold worse. Back and forth they traveled until they came to a point where the snowline ended and a patch of woods stretched straight ahead while the path continued to jackknife down the other side of the mountain. Rei continued forward, through the woods, while Sabrael reluctantly followed.
“Do you hear that?” Sabrael asked. Rei felt his muscles tense with his kirin’s nerves.
Rei pulled Baku to a slow stop and looked through the trees. “What did you hear?”
“I dunno, its was grunting, kind of.”
Rei pulled his bow from around his shoulders and an arrow from his quiver and carefully guided Baku forward and to the right. As much as he did like Sabrael sharing his saddle, being able to access his bow again was welcome. As he moved through the trees, he saw it, the source of Sabrael’s fear: a cave troll chasing some small animal with a comical, flailing run. There was nothing comical about the way they treated other creatures, however.
“What is it?” Sabrael asked behind him.
“Shh,” he hissed.
Rei waited while the troll, having lost its small prey, waddled back to his cave. Even in their casual walk, they exuded aggression. As he waited, Rei closed one eye, then the other, gauging their individual effectiveness in the mildly dim light that filtered through the trees. Both of them were ideal together, and that was perfect. He stretched his shoulders back, moved his bow to the right of Baku’s neck, and carefully drew the bowstring.
Eventually the troll sat back on his haunches, picking at a bone that lay on the floor of his shallow cave. Rei tapped Baku lightly against his sides, and his steed began walking toward the narrow river that separated them. Rei guided him with his knees and spurs, until he was at the perfect angle to see all three of the creature’s eyes.
Without blinking, without breathing, Rei let his arrow fly, hitting the creature’s third eye and sinking deep into its skull.
As predicted, the creature only became enraged, although its movements were now erratic thanks to the projectile lodged in its brain. He was too dangerous to just put down with a sword, so Rei shot two more arrows into him as accurately as he could with the beast flopping about and screaming. The first got another eye, and the second pierced its ribs. After a moment, then, it began to pant and laid down on its side, with one arm trying to prop itself up.
Rei goaded Baku across a shallow point in the river before he dismounted, pulled out one of his swords from its wrappings bundled on Baku’s back, and walked over to nudge the creature over onto its back with his boot to plunge the blade deep into its heart.
“You did that so casually,” Sabrael said as he and Windy crossed the river to join them. “You didn’t feel any bloodthirstiness, though.”
“Animals aren’t worthy of scorn,” Rei said. “Some of them simply need exterminating when you find them if there’s something like a village nearby. They’re aggressive and stupid and that makes them a special kind of dangerous.”
“It’s just interesting, is all. You have pretty specific tastes.”
“Taste has nothing to do with it.”
They goaded their horses back into a walk around the troll’s cave and up a small hill.
A sudden nervousness pinged in his chest, and he felt his kirin’s indecision. “Say what’s on your mind, beauty.”
“Well you said about that troll, that it’s a creature that needs extermination when you see it close to people or else it could be a real problem. There’s probably people who think the same about you.”
“There absolutely are, and I don’t blame them. You recognize danger; you must act appropriately.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“I was never out for their approval, Sabrael. Some fiend runs through and murders as many people as he’s able, stealing their souls all the while; of course they’re going to put me in the same pen as vicious animals needing to be destroyed on sight. After Clavicus the survivors should’ve been glad I couldn’t feel anything or it’s entirely likely they would’ve joined their kin.”
Rei felt a pleasant shiver run through him, and without thinking, he continued: “It’s for the best, I suppose, that I couldn’t feel that enjoyment after given my abilities.”
He felt Sabrael cringe.
“Those days are behind me,” he reminded him.
“I know,” Sabrael answered, “It’s just not something I’ll ever get used to hearing.”
As they crested the hill, they came upon the sleepy logging village of Ivarstead. It was a small place, where the biggest building was the inn and where there were only a couple of permanent houses. By the bridge that Balgruuf must have been talking about were two men, a Bosmer and a Nord, discussing the ability to climb.
“Pardon me,” Rei called. The Nord looked over serenely while the Bosmer was beaming so brightly that Rei was afraid he’d be blinded if the other elf opened his mouth. “Those are the steps to High Hrothgar, yes?”
“That’s them,” The Bosmer said. “The one and only. The…ones and only?”
“Ya don’t look like the kinda fella that’d be lookin’ to meditate,” the Nord said. “Not that we turn away sight-seers of any stripe. Gotta get our money somehow.”
“Indeed,” Rei smiled placidly. “Actually I’m looking to see the Greybeards, specifically.”
“Oh, no one goes to see them,” the Bosmer said.
“They don’t tend to get out much,” The Nord added. “I’ve been delivering food to them for a long while, and even I haven’t seen them.”
“Oh sure. Dried fish, nuts. Pickled vegetables. Things that’ll keep; not like they can keep a garden, you know. Knees aren’t what they used to be, though. As you can see I’ve managed to burn most of the daylight tryin’ to work up the gumption.”
“We can deliver it,” Sabrael chirped. Rei looked over at him curiously. “Can’t we, Rei?”
“I…Yes, I suppose so.”
“Gosh, that’s awfully kind of ya. That gunny sack there next to where Gwilin’s standin’s the delivery. Just outside the monastery is a shrine with a chest in the middle. Just put the bag in the chest, and you’re done. And don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your time when you get back down.”
“Is there a stable?”
“Just down on the other end of town,” the Bosmer called Gwilin offered.
“Thanks. We’ll be back in a moment.”
“Take your time,” the Nord said.
“We’re not taking the horses up?” Sabrael said.
“I don’t know what to expect. I’d rather not take chances with the height and the weather.”
With the horses boarded, Rei pulled on his heavy coat, gloves, and hood. Sabrael simply waited in his thick leather jacket he’d been wearing since they’d taken their baths, enviably warm and excited for the climb.
“Ya ready?” the Nord asked when they got back to the bridge. In their absence, he’d fetched a smaller sack to go with the big gunny sack meant for the monks. “This one is for you two. It’s hungry work getting up there. Just follow the stairs. If ya lose track of ’em, just look for the shrines.”
“Thank you, er…”
“Oh, sorry,” the Nord chuckled. “I’m Klimmek.”
“Thank you, Klimmeck,” Rei said with a nod.
“And what are your names?” Gwilin asked cheerily.
“I’m Rei Ginsei, and this is Sabrael.”
“Good to meet you! Hope to see ya back down in one piece!”
“Gwilin!” came the angry screech of a woman. Klimmek disappeared so quickly, Rei wasn’t sure he’d been there, at all.
“Uh-oh,” Gwilin chuckled nervously. “I gotta go, I’ve been dallying a bit longer than Miss Temba likes.”
Rei watched the Bosmer turn heel and run towards the log mill.
“Wow,” Sabrael said. “She only called his name and it scared me. I hope he won’t be in too much trouble.”
“She’s got whips in her bedroom,” Rei said, goading Baku into a trot. “Mark my words.”
Rei laughed quietly as they began crossing the bridge. The big sack was over one shoulder while Sabrael carried the small bag of snacks, and he began to wonder if it wouldn’t have been wiser to just stop at the inn first. But if that Klimmek fellow was planning on making the climb this late and with bad knees, surely a mer still mercifully in his prime would have no trouble.
“I noticed you were feeling something earlier. Like pride, I guess. What were you proud of?”
“Oh,” Rei said, suddenly remembering he’d been wanting to bring it up, himself. “You talked to Klimmek without a single hint of shyness.”
“I did?” Sabrael asked. “I…yeah, I guess I did!”
“You also addressed the Jarl of an entire city, earlier.”
He felt Sabrael’s own pride fill him, and he happily reached back and to the side to pull his kirin close to him.
They walked in pleasant silence up the mountain. It was cold, and, as the sun continued to set, it only got colder, but the air was mercifully still for a good distance. When they got properly higher up, high enough that Rei could see low clouds beneath them, the wind picked up fiercely, and Rei pulled Sabrael close, wishing that the aura he possessed in his natural form carried over into this one. His nose hurt, and through his gloves his fingers began to cramp, no matter how many times he switched the sack from one hand to the other.
“We’re really high up,” Sabrael called over the wind. “I’m actually getting pretty cold.”
“I’m trying not to look down,” Rei admitted. He began to notice that it was harder for him to draw breath. “I don’t know which is worse: the cold or the height.”
“It can’t be too much farther.”
Indeed, as vegetation grew even more sparse and the air was thinning in earnest, a great monastery rose before them. Rei looked up to take it all in. It was all black stone pieced together in simple, stately lines. There were no windows – or, at least, if there were any, there were no lights to make them visible in the deepening twilight.
“Is this it?” Sabrael asked, looking in awe at the structure.
“I don’t know what else it could be,” Rei answered. “Look, there’s the shrine.”
Sabrael hurried ahead and lifted the lid of the huge chest that sat in the center of offered flowers and gold, and Rei heaved the sack into it. When the lid to the chest fell shut, he turned and leaned against it, light-headed.
“Whats in that sack?” he breathed.
Sabrael, whose chest was also moving more slowly and deeply, opened it up. “Bread and a small container of honey. Dried fish…”
Sabrael reached in and handed over a shriveled salmon and picked one out for himself. “Don’t you wanna go inside?”
“I want to not be hungry when I go in there. Right now that’s more important than the cold.”
The salmon wasn’t filling, but it was enough to take the edge off. When Sabrael was finished, Rei took his hand and together they entered the dark monastery. It wasn’t very warm inside, but it was warmer than the outside. Braziers placed here and there provided what little light there was. He didn’t know about Sabrael, but that was fine by him. Everything was perfectly lit, as far as his broken eyes were concerned.
“It seems we have a visitor,” came a voice, echoing through the spacious stone chamber. Looking up, Rei could see the monks descending a short flight of stairs, led by one, in particular. He spoke again: “A Dragonborn appears, at this moment, in the turning of the age.”
“How do you know I’m Dragonborn?” Rei asked, slowly stepping forward to meet him. Sabrael clung to his coat, and this time Rei found he couldn’t blame him as the other monks surrounded them in the center of the room.
“I don’t, I suppose,” the monk said. “Which is why I must ask you to demonstrate your ability. Come, let us taste of your voice.”
“My voice? You mean…”
“Shout at me. Don’t be shy; I assure you we all can take it.”
It was odd being put on the spot, but he closed his eyes and looked for the knowledge again, thinking of that word and its meaning, its power, its force.
The two monks in front of him stumbled backwards, but they were otherwise unfazed.
“So it is you,” the monk who’d spoken before said. “Welcome, Dragonborn, to High Hrothgar.”
“Who are you?” Rei asked.
“I am Arngeir. I speak for the Greybeards. And you are…?”
“You aren’t what I had imagined would answer our call.”
“I’m sure I’m not,” Rei answered, “for many reasons. Do the others not speak?”
“They have mastered the Voice so thoroughly that for them to speak would cause certain injury or death to those unattuned to its power.”
Rei felt an excitement bubble up from his chest. “That can happen?”
“With many years of practice and meditation. Although, that is how we master Shouts. As Dragonborn, you have an inborn ability to pick up words and understanding as if they were your own language.”
“Would you teach me?”
“That is why we summoned you, Rei Ginsei,” Arngeir said. “If you are willing to learn, we are willing to teach you and help shape your path going forward.”
“Yes, Master,” Rei said quickly. “I’m willing.”
“Excellent. Consider these first lessons trials. Once you have completed them, High Hrothgar will be open to you, and all the knowledge contained herein. To begin, you have learned one word, but it’s only the first of a complete Shout.”
“Oh, yes,” Arngeir said. “Each Shout – each Thu’um – is made up of three Words of Power, each one in succession more powerful than the last. You have learned the word ‘fus‘, already, the first word in what we call ‘Unrelenting Force’. It means, in Tamrielic, ‘force’, and it is followed by ‘ro‘, which is ‘balance’. When combined, your Thu’um is more powerful.”
“Ro,” Rei repeated. It didn’t have the same, pounding quality that fus did. “I don’t feel anything.”
“Even the Dragonborn needs some modicum of study,” Arngeir chuckled. “But first, it might be wise for your companion here to step away for a while.”
“W-Why?” Sabrael asked. He had a little ways to go, Rei thought. Speaking up to an amiable person in a comfortable place was one thing, being asked to step away in a dark and somewhat imposing place was something else.
“We shall try to keep our voices to a whisper, but even that can be traumatic…whether you’re mortal or not.”
“You’ll be okay, beauty,” Rei said.
“Absolutely. I’m sure you’re rather chilled from the outdoors, besides. If you just go down that hall there, there’s a fire in the grate and some things to eat, if you’re hungry.”
Sabrael took a deep breath and looked at Rei.
“You’ll be okay,” he repeated, brushing back windblown turquoise hair and bending to kiss his kirin’s forehead.
Sabrael mustered a smile and nodded before hugging Rei tightly and leaving for the hallway Arngeir indicated.
“It’s always hard to predict, but I wasn’t expecting a collective of monks to be so nonchalant regarding our appearance,” Rei said as they waited for his love to achieve a safe distance.
“The Way of the Voice teaches peace,” Arngeir answered. “Acceptance is another thing entirely. On that point, I don’t know what exactly you are, but I do know that you, yourself, can’t be daedric, and your companion, whether he is or isn’t, is clearly not the aggressive sort.”
“No. My own appearance comes from servitude to a Daedric Prince, but that is behind me, and I am simply Altmeri once more.”
“Ah. It takes a certain strength of will to be able to flee from that sort of servitude.”
Rei bowed his head. He was hoping things would move along.
“As I was saying, you must study and take in the essence of a word before you can channel that essence into your Thu’um. For those like us, this requires weeks, months, sometimes years of study, but for you, Dragonborn…Well. Master Einarth?”
Rei looked over as one of the wizened monks approached him. He did indeed speak in what was clearly supposed to be a whisper, but even so, Rei felt the ground beneath him vibrate.
…drifted from Einarth’s lips, and as soon as it hit the ground, letters like the ones on the wall in Bleak Falls Barrow appeared, edges smouldering as if they had been burned into the stone.
There it was, the call. Rei dropped to one knee and ran his fingers over the odd strokes that formed the letters. He felt it, just as he had fus. When he’d read fus, he felt a push more than he could properly vocalize it. This time, even knowing the meaning already, he felt physically centered and ready more than he mentally understood the spoken equivalent.
“Ro,” he said finally. It was a little like Aldmeris, or at least in the way it fell off his own tongue. It was native.
“Aha,” Arngeir said. “I can see it in your eyes. You feel it.”
“What now?” Rei asked. “I couldn’t use or understand fus until I slew a dragon and it gave me its soul.”
“Fortunately, Rei Ginsei, we are able to grant this understanding to you, ourselves. Master Einarth, if you would?”
Rei turned to properly face the monk who had drawn closer. Just as when the dragon died, he found himself engulfed in light, though unlike the dragon’s passing, he felt no surge of power. It was knowledge, plain and simple, images and abstractions racing through his brain, twisting things this way and that until he knew everything he needed to know.
“Shall we test your new knowledge?” Arngeir asked.
“Yes,” Rei answered. “Yes, I’d like that.”
“Stand over there. The other three monks are going to project likenesses of themselves into the center of the floor. When each one appears, use fus and ro combined to force them away.”
It was Einarth again who went first, and in hushed tones uttered a shout that caused an ethereal duplicate of himself to appear before him.
Rei closed his eyes, letting the words take form in his core. It wasn’t what he was expecting. He’d expected two percussive syllables to escape his lips, but instead, fus seemed static, as if it was gathering…force…before letting ro carry that force to the ghostly projection that turned into a puff of smoke. It would have been a bit of a disappointment were it not for the decorative pottery on the opposite wall that was sent flying and shattered violently against the walls and floor.
“I’m, er,” Rei cleared his throat. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen or I would’ve stood facing away.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Arngeir said, waving a hand. “Things, that’s all they are. Two more.”
Rei centered himself again, and twice more he forced away the magic decoys. Without anymore pottery to destroy, he couldn’t really gauge his strength, but it certainly became easier in just those two extra tries.
“Excellent,” Arngeir said. “We’ve all heard stories of the powers of Dragonborn, but to see it in person is simply remarkable.”
“Thank you. But what of the third word?”
“In time. We cannot teach you every shout, of course. Learning is something one must take an active role in, but should you make it through these trials, the third word of Unrelenting Force shall be our gift to you.”
“So what’s my next trial?”
“That awaits you in the courtyard. Follow Master Borri.”
Rei looked over as another monk bowed. Obediently and eagerly he followed the old man. After his brush with Hrongar, after the awe the soldiers had been in, he’d thought back on his conversations with Tauryon, and he wondered for a moment if the issue he’d taken with joining the Thalmor’s military machine was because he genuinely felt a lack of kinship, or was it because he didn’t think he’d be properly feared?
As it was, the knowledge that this gift could outright kill people with the right amount of training and study made him properly excited, but he was sure it could lend itself to better, more drawn-out things. He knew he belonged with his people, appearances be damned, and this was the way he could properly re-integrate.
Night had fallen while Rei began his lessons, and the air was bitterly cold when he stepped out into the sprawling courtyard. He quickly pulled his hood back up and stood, already miserable, in front of the monk called Borri, who put up a hand, gesturing for Rei to step back.
Quickly he did as he was told, eager to get this done and get back inside.
Just as Einarth had done, as the others gathered around them, Borri whispered a word towards the ground, where it took on its illusory form of scorched earth and burning edges.
“Wuld,” Rei repeated, kneeling by the letters. It felt like buffeting winds and the storms that would blow in and drown the keys off the island during the late summer.
“You have just learned the word for ‘whirlwind’,” Arngeir said. “It is the first word in the Whirlwind Sprint shout.”
Rei wrapped his arms around himself and nodded, trying to not make it obvious how hard his teeth were chattering amongst these monks who, even more than Sabrael, seemed perfectly content out here in the brutal wind.
“Master Borri, grant the Dragonborn understanding.”
Sterile, unremarkable light enveloped him again, bringing with it more information than the word alone could impart.
“Come, Rei Ginsei. We shall put your learning to the test, once more, and, should you pass (and I have no doubt you will), you will be tasked with your final trial.”
Rei followed, trying not to overtake the monks who were all casually walking towards a large gate. When they reached it, one stopped by a stone pillar while Borri and Einarth continued to the gate, itself.
“This shout can be a bit startling, if you’re not sure what to expect,” Arngeir explained. “That’s why I shall have Master Wulfgar demonstrate.”
Rei watched as Wulfgar assumed a ready pose. Borri, who was standing by the gate, uttered an unknown word and the gate swung open. Before the gate reached its full range of motion, however, Wulfgar, on the wings of three rather fierce-sounding words, blazed through it, long before it had the time to close again.
“Rei?” Arngeir beckoned.
“How can I do that?” he asked. “I only know the one word.”
“You can do it. Just focus on the meaning. See it in your mind. You may not go as far as Master Wulfgar, but with focus and breath, you will make it through the gate before it closes.”
Rei took a deep breath and stood by Arngeir, forcing his arms down and his back straight, trying to ignore the cold.
“When you’re ready, Master Borri!” Arngeir called.
Rei felt like he was back on the fairgrounds during a tournament, waiting for the signal to begin a timed marksmanship event, something he hadn’t felt in centuries. Worse, even, since at least when timed archery was introduced to him, he’d already established the skill.
He squinted his eyes closed against the unpleasantness and took a deep breath through his nose (or, as deeply as he could manage). When he heard Borri utter that strange word again and he opened his eyes to see the gate doors opening, he concentrated his understanding and his feeling, just as he had done with Unrelenting Force. In the blink of an eye – nearly, it seemed, before the word had even had time to make it past his lips – cold wind blew past him as colors blurred into each other until, just as suddenly, he came to a stop in time to hear the gate close behind him.
A breathless laugh shook his chest as he looked behind him. For one brief, glorious moment, he was like the wind.
“I am the wind,” he said softly as he grinned to himself.
“Truly remarkable,” Arngeir said again as Rei jogged back to him. “But your next task shall truly test your mettle.”
“Tell me,” he said quickly.
“You must travel to the ancient fane of Ustengrav, in the swamps of Hjaalmarch. Interred there is the body of the founder of our order, and in his tomb is his precious artifact: The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. Retrieve this horn and return to us, and your initiation will be complete.”
Rei wasn’t thrilled to be sent into another tomb, and he was certain he wasn’t just going to stroll in and stroll back out, but power was the reward. Power was worth it. In his head, he was planning an itinerary.
“I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ll bring the horn.”
“We’ll see, won’t we? Do you have any questions, Rei Ginsei?”
“Right now? No. But forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, but it’s late, and I’m not very tolerant of the cold. You wouldn’t have a free bed or two?”
“Yes, of course we can accommodate you and your companion for the night. Our beds aren’t what most on the outside would consider comfortable, but you are welcome to what we have.”
“Thank you, Master Arngeir,” Rei said, bowing slightly.
When he finally stepped back into the monastery, Sabrael came running and threw himself into his arms.
“Rei, I missed you!” he said. “I didn’t know where you’d gone! I heard it’d gone quiet and I couldn’t find you anywhere!”
“Beauty,” Rei answered, picking him up so that Sabrael’s legs could wrap around his waist. “Sweetheart, you know I would never leave you alone. We only had to step out for one more trial, that’s all. Could you not feel me?”
“Well, yes, I could, but…you know…I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” he said. “This was an uncomfortable situation for you, I know. I should have told you, first.”
Sabrael wrapped his arms tightly around his neck and leaned his head against it. “I love you, Rei,” he whispered. “Thank you for being so understanding lately.”
“I’m trying,” he said. Between the giddiness of new strength and his kirin’s adoration, Rei suddenly hoped very hard that whatever bed there happened to be was one that would let them be intimate.
Sabrael sighed as he shared Rei’s feeling and pulled back so that he could kiss him. Rei kissed back, his surroundings forgotten.
“If I might intervene,” Arngeir’s voice pierced the haze, “I’ll show you your beds.”
“My apologies,” Rei said, carefully letting Sabrael back down to the ground. “We’re getting married soon. We’re both a bit excited.”
“Ah, I see. Congratulations to you both, in that case. Come along, now.”
Rei and Sabrael followed the old monk into a room with several stone beds lining opposite walls. One of the other monks was busy laying down fresh fur pallets on two disused ones.
“There is stew, if you’re hungry,” Arngeir said. “We’d just finished eating when you came along, but it should still be warm.”
“That’s wonderful, thank you,” Rei said.
“Yes, sir, thank you,” Sabrael said. When they were alone he said, “I wish we hadn’t climbed up so late.”
“I know, beauty, I’m sorry.”
“No, no! I’m not blaming you. It’s just, you know…”
“I know, sweet boy,” Rei cooed as he sat at the foot of his borrowed bed. “Come here.”
“Just come here,” Rei insisted. “We can just be close for a while.”
Sabrael walked over and straddled Rei’s legs. Rei kissed him and ran his thumb over his cheek.
“So what did you do outside?”
“Learned a new word, learned what my last trial is.”
“Another gods-forsaken tomb in Hjaalmarch.”
“We passed through it traveling to Solitude,” Rei said. “The swamp land.”
“But we’ll go to Riften tomorrow, don’t you worry.”
“I’m not worried,” Sabrael smiled. “Maybe we could visit Tauryon, though? Since we’ll be going west?”
“Miss him already?” Rei chuckled. “I was thinking the same.”
“Yay! You know, strange as it sounds, maybe this dragon stuff is what you needed. Azura’s been good for you.”
“Yes She has,” Rei agreed, running his hand up and down the side of his kirin’s thigh. “Great things are going to happen. I know it.”