Yeah so I know I said Aria, but this is what happened instead! This is a weird-ass chapter, man. Sorry.
Also that little failsafe on the gate puzzle in Ustangrav? I took that out since it’s not entertaining to have it there and also life isn’t a game so if that were a real trial to test the authenticity of someone’s identity/abilities, like, you’d probably die in there if you got stuck and were alone! And I dunno how Delphine supposedly gets in there. I came up with my own thing. My own unsubtle thing. lol
When Rei disappeared into the tomb with the elf with the unsettlingly bright orange eyes, Sabrael took a shuddering breath. He was used to feeling small, but now he found himself among a gaggle of Thalmor soldiers. “Justiciars” they called them. Amidst gleaming gold-colored armor, he felt microscopic, but at least they seemed to be treating him that way, too, as they looked outward at their surroundings. As his breath hitched, he sat down on one of the recently-disused fur pallets, waiting, trying to tell his heart to be still. His little elf-like heart.
It was all made worse by the fact that they were surrounded by shallow water. He knew water would help calm him, maybe take him far enough away from Rei so that he couldn’t feel him (if these Justiciars would let him, in the first place), but a marsh was not a suitable place for a kelpie to play.
He felt the pique, then. He felt the arrogance and the need to prove something.
No, Rei, please, Rei, please try, I love you, please try…
The adrenaline hit him so hard he nearly screamed in terror, and he pulled his knees to his chest to bury his face in them. In a moment one person was dead, or at least Rei had left him, and that gave him some hope. He felt Rei’s pleasure, but he wrote it off as that unavoidable aspect of his being. It would be okay…
Then came the hysteria, and he knew it was no use. It was the quiet kind, which meant it was the scariest. Rei was thinking. Rei was aroused. He was aroused, once again, by unwelcome feelings that weren’t his. Sabrael moved his arms from their place around his knees to wrap around his lower abdomen, hoping between that and his legs’ position, he could hide his unwanted erection.
“Are you alright?” a calm woman’s voice asked him. He looked up to see one of the Justiciars. It was the one Rei had shouted into the stairs.
Sabrael shrank back a little, unsure of what to say or do.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he whimpered.
“Of course you haven’t. You just seem a lot more distressed than I had expected.”
The Justiciar knelt properly in front of him. “Some things just grab me funny, I suppose. I’d like to help, if I can.”
“There’s no help,” Sabrael sniffled. “When you feel every part of somebody, and when you’re two very different people from each other, you tend to hurt each other. Not on purpose. I know he can’t help what he feels deep down, but I wish he didn’t like to hurt people so much. And I wish he wasn’t so determined to join with you. …N-No offense, ma’am.”
The woman smirked just a little and reached over to the satchel at her hip. “I’m Vallinalda, by the way. I’m one of Ondolemar’s lieutenants.”
“He was mean to you.”
“That’s just how he is,” Vallinalda chuckled. She pulled out a small thing wrapped in shiny pink paper. “Here.”
Sabrael hesitated. Vallinalda seemed nice, but trusting her seemed to go against what Rei and Tauryon had both said.
“It’s just candy,” the mer laughed quietly. “It’s my new favorite. Salty licorice. In fact, I’ll have this one, and then you can have another.”
Sabrael watched her unwrap the black candy and pop it into her mouth, upon which she visibly cringed for a moment. As she reached for another, she said around the candy in her mouth, “It takes some getting used to, but if they’re good for anything, these Nords do know how to make a proper, strong candy.”
“Do you not like sweet things?” Sabrael asked, still reluctant to take the candy, although now for entirely different reasons.
“Not really. I like savory and sour things.”
“I dunno if Rei likes sour things very much,” he said as he unwrapped the small confection, “but he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, either.”
Already, the conversation was taking Sabrael’s mind off the hideousness he was feeling from the tomb, but if anything could erase the feeling altogether, it was this “salty licorice”. He’d been expecting the usual sort of salt, but instead it felt like his tongue was on fire and swelling, and nearly as fast as he’d popped it into his mouth, he spat it onto the ground beside him.
“Oh!” he gasped when he realized what he’d done. “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“
“It’s okay,” Vallinalda laughed. “I did say it would take some getting used to.”
Suddenly Sabrael realized he could no longer feel his husband, and he breathed a sigh of relief. It made him feel guilty; he loved feeling Rei’s emotions, and no matter what, he should always want to feel them, but it was so hard when he was like this. It was too much.
Even so, all he wanted was to snuggle into those long arms.
“I hope he comes back soon,” he said.
“He will, Sabrael,” Vallinalda answered. “I’m here in the meantime if you want some company.”
Sabrael smiled weakly. “Can I try another? I wanna see if it’ll last longer.”
Ustengrav was not nearly as populated as Bleak Falls had been, although Rei found he was doing all the work this time. Boring work that he knew wasn’t reflecting well on him. He just couldn’t get into killing undead, and that was all there was to it. It was mostly skeletons, too, making him recall a time in Grahtwood when he swung his sword absently to cut away vines that grew in his path. It wasn’t culturally friendly, but who was going to stop him?
“We really must find some more living people to sic you on,” Ondolemar lamented, having apparently picked up on the issue. “I’ve never been on a more boring assignment in my life.”
“You assigned this to yourself,” Rei reminded him. “And it’s barely even an assignment. You just told Elenwen you wanted to take me for a test run, which I’m not entirely convinced wasn’t just an excuse to ogle my cock.”
“That’s just a perk of the job. Well, would you look at that?”
As they descended a collapsed skywalk, Rei turned in the direction Ondolemar was looking. There was a hole in the ceiling that let in a good amount of sunlight. Enough that a tree and plants were growing unmitigated down below them. It was beautiful, but what was more beautiful was the call. Near the tree, in a shallow pool of water, was another wall. Rei laughed excitedly, and leaped from the ledge where they stood, bracing against the pain in his ankles as he hit bottom from what was a rather formidable height.
“What’s so amazing?” Ondolemar called. “It’s just some old wall with nonsense written on it.”
“It’s a Word Wall! Come down and see.”
Rei ran over to the stone edifice and ran his fingers over it, grinning as he suddenly realized the alphabet was gouged out by claws. Dragon claws. His claws into the wrists of that man. Just like before, out of all the indecipherable words, one stood out: Feim.
“Feim,” he repeated. It was in his head, just like fus was.
“These are like those words you carved into that necromancer’s wrist,” Ondolemar observed. “What do they say?”
“I don’t know, but that doesn’t matter because one stands out. This one. Feim.”
“And it means…?”
“It means,” he said, taking in the feel and the information, “something ghostly. Transparent?”
“And that’s the only one you can read?”
“Yes, it was like that with the first word I learned. If we happen to run into a dragon on our way to the Greybeards, its soul will tell me everything else I need to know.”
“Well let us hope, then, shall we? Seems a bit useless to just have vague notions of these so-called ‘Words of Power’.”
“Patience is a virtue,” Rei said as he began walking back up to the tomb, proper.
“You’ll pardon me if I hesitate to take lessons in virtue from a man who gets sexually excited killing people in bizarre ways.”
Rei smirked. On an impulse, he turned on his heel, grabbed the Thalmor officer by the collar of his robes and pulled him into a rough, assertive kiss, in the way he would initiate roughhousing with Vile. After a moment of surprise, he felt Ondolemar kiss back.
“And what does it say about you that you get aroused watching a murderer torture his prey?” he breathed.
“It still puts me above the murderer,” the officer answered.
Rei let the necking session go on for only a minute, until Ondolemar drew close enough to begin grinding his hips against him. With a playful sigh, Rei pushed him away and turned to continue up.
“What was that?” Ondolemar protested. “How dare you!”
Rei felt the hand on his shoulder and let himself be spun back around.
“Nobody pushes me away, Demon. Nobody.”
“Is that right?” Rei asked, raising his hands and shoving him back.
Ondolemar raised a hand and Rei soon felt his jaw knocked viciously to the side as the back of the studded leather glove connected.
A small tickle at the corner of his mouth heralded a drop of blood, which he licked away.
“Daylight’s burning,” he smiled, turning back to continue the climb back up to the top.
The back of his tunic was grabbed fiercely and he was pulled backwards so hard, he fell onto his backside. Before he could move, Ondolemar was in front of him, his feet straddling Rei’s legs.
“Now you listen here,” the officer snarled, “let us be clear right now that, until I bring you back to the Embassy, I own you.”
“And let us be clear that I’m not some tame dog you can just kick around when it gets too kippy.”
“You’re not just a dog, you’re a mongrel. A common, mangy cur.”
Rei couldn’t help nearly giggling as he found his feet again.
“You like to poke bee hives,” Ondolemar said as he walked by. “Somehow I doubt you’ve been stung nearly enough.”
“I prefer to just keep to myself, honestly,” Rei said.
“I have trouble imagining a Daedric Prince would have been thrilled by the behavior you’re exhibiting now.”
“The nature of Clavicus’ and my relationship is none of your business.”
“Oh?” Ondolemar said. “I believe it is, at least in some fashion. People who pledge their souls to the Princes tend to do so again if they can manage.”
Rei stopped and squinted his eyes shut as his chest tightened. “Azura is my patron. I give her my servitude in exchange for her having saved my friends from my former master’s machinations.”
“Just your friends?”
“I didn’t deserve salvation.”
“What do you feel you deserved?” Ondolemar asked in an oily voice.
The lump in Rei’s throat just wasn’t going away. “It doesn’t concern you,” he said. “Not you, not the Thalmor, not anyone but myself. So leave it be.”
“Hmph,” Ondolemar huffed, although not without a hint of satisfaction that he was the one who’d ultimately gotten under Rei’s skin. “Just remember that sooner or later the bees will get annoyed.”
Rei swallowed, angry and ashamed that the thought of his old master would make him long for him again. As they walked on, though, they came upon a contraption whose construction was interesting enough to pull his mind away.
Ahead of them was a hallway, divided by a series of metal gates. But prior to the hallway were several carved stones. Ondolemar walked around the stones to the gates, wrapping his fingers around the bars of the first one.
“Well, now what?” he asked.
The stones somewhat reminded Rei of the puzzles in Bleak Falls Barrow, but where those were anchored to pedestals via pivot points and decorated with metal castings of animals, these were simply stuck into the ground in a deliberate way, equal distances apart, staggered on either side of the path they created.
Rei walked up to and knelt in front of the nearest stone, on the inside of the path, and was half-blinded in his left eye by a red light that suddenly glowed. A metallic squeal followed by a loud clatter followed, and Rei looked up just in time to see Ondolemar leap backwards as the gate he’d been holding onto lifted.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
“I think these stones are connected,” Rei said. “Watch.”
He jogged down the line of stones, each one lighting up as he passed, and with each light, a gate rose on its tracks and into the ceiling of the hallway. They fell back into place very quickly, however.
Rei circled back to his starting point.
“You think you can make it past all those gates?” Ondolemar called. “And what am I supposed to do?”
“I thought the Thalmor trained their soldiers,” Rei answered. “I’m sure you can run.”
“I have high arches. Do you know what that’s like? These boots have very little to prevent pronation.”
Rei rolled his eyes. After a few deep breaths through his nose, he set off sprinting as hard as he could. The lights blazed by him, and the gates opened, but they started closing too quickly. Before he could react, he’d run face-first into the fourth gate.
“Fug!” he yelped, holding his nose. “Bara’s bleeding cu-“
“My, my, the mouth on you!” Ondolemar laughed.
“Shuddap! Id’s broggen,” he barked. Blood was pouring through his fingers and running down his throat. It wasn’t a new sensation, far from it, but it was never pleasant. “Ugh. Of all the dings. Led be outta here.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Rud through the stoneds so the gades will oped, idiod.”
“I told you I’m not the running type,” Ondolemar persisted lazily.
“Den just stand in frond of each one and led me true dat way!”
“Only if you apologize.”
“For what?” Rei snapped.
“You called me a name,” Ondolemar answered, taking a glove off to inspect his nails.
Rei let his head loll to one side. “Really?”
“Yes really. Have the centuries away from your people removed your sense of decorum?”
“Loog, I’b sorry I called you ad idiod.”
“See? We can play nice,” Ondolemar smiled sweetly, replacing his glove.
Rei watched him take his time as he strolled to the last of the stones and walk backwards through them.
“Whad are you doing?” Rei shouted. “Walk the odder way so I can get true!”
“Well I presume you want to stop spouting blood out of your face like the fountains in Shimmerene? I can’t heal you if you’re on the other side.”
“I told you before we’re not barbarians. Of course I’ll heal you. For a price.”
“Fide,” Rei sighed, and as Ondolemar slowly continued his stroll, Rei stepped through the three gates back into the great hall.
As promised, the officer approached him and reached up, careful to keep his gloved hand away from Rei’s nose. Gold light emanated from the leather-clad palm and wrapped around Rei’s head, and he felt the unpleasant shifting of cartilage that magical healing brought in this particular application.
“Better?” Ondolemar chirped.
Rei took a deep, refreshingly blood-free breath. “Yes, much. Thank you.”
“Oh, my pleasure. We’ll discuss your payment once you get us out of here.”
“If I can figure out a way.”
“Well sprinting certainly didn’t work,” Ondolemar chuckled. “That certainly was a sight.”
“Sprinting,” Rei repeated. “Xarxes’ quill, how could I have forgotten?”
“That you’re not nearly as fast as you-“
“At least I don’t make weak excuses,” Rei spat. “I mean there’s a Shout that lets me move incredibly quickly. I got so caught up in things that do damage, I’d completely forgotten about it, but clearly I’m meant to use it here.”
He backed up again and lined himself up with the hallway. He only knew the one word, and so timing was of the utmost importance. Ondolemar wasn’t likely to heal him if he broke his nose a second time. In his mind he thought of whirlwinds. Strong, fast. He felt wind at his back. Just as before, he sprinted hard towards the hallway, and at about halfway between his starting point and the first gate, he let it loose:
In the blink of an eye, his surroundings had changed, and he turned to see the gates all rise in unison to remain open.
“Well, isn’t that convenient?” Ondolemar’s voice echoed through the hallway. “This Shouting business seems versatile. One moment you’re hurling people into stairs, the next you’re in an entirely different place in the blink of an eye. I mean, any mage with a knowledge of alteration magicka can do that and more quietly, but look at you.”
“Can you do that?” Rei asked, preparing to get even more annoyed.
“Alteration was never my forte outside the basics they make you learn. I mean, where’s the excitement of battle without a little vulnerability? What can it do that good old-fashioned fire can’t?” In a fit of new laughter he continued, “Besides, if I did know that particular spell, I wouldn’t have gotten to see you smash that pretty face into an iron bar.”
Rei snorted and continued further into the tomb where it was properly dark and devoid of the mysteriously glowing torches. It was fine by him.
“Would you slow down?” Ondolemar whined.
“Because I can’t see, you abomination!”
“That’s not very nice,” Rei said. “At least I only called you an idiot.”
“I do so hate this spell,” Ondolemar lamented. “But I’m sure it blinds you well enough.”
Rei squinted as white light flared behind him. When he could focus again, he saw the floor begin to give way into raised, ornate tiles. They’d passed by a set of four during their trek, and Rei knew that at least some would shoot fire if one of them should step on them. Fortunately, their first encounter with these pressure plates involved the corpse of a draugr splayed over them in such a way that it showed them exactly which ones were rigged to fire traps and which were simply dummies. Unfortunately, Rei hadn’t thought to check if there was any sort of indicator.
“I don’t know which ones set off traps,” he admitted.
“Neither do I. I suppose you know what that means?”
“It means I’m sticking to those piles of rubble along the wall for as long as I can, which I’m certain is what you had in mind.”
Along the narrow, curving hallway tiled with traps and decoys, the ceiling had apparently fallen in places, creating islands of safety here and there along the walls. They weren’t huge; Rei had plenty of trouble maintaining balance in his boots that clad long feet. A few steps here, then one long step across the hall to the next rubble pile.
“Give me a hand?” Ondolemar asked behind him. His legs weren’t quite long enough to reach.
Rei sighed and shuffled over some to reach out his hand. When the officer jumped forward, Rei pulled him effortlessly over and held him by the forearm until his balance stabilized.
Ondolemar smirked and leaned forward, burying the fingers of his free hand in Rei’s hair and gripping.
Rei leaned down and received the kiss. “You’re awfully confident I won’t push you again,” he grinned around it.
“Because I think I have you figured out, my Demon.”
“Is that so?”
“Go on, you dumb beast.”
Rei was a bit worried that he was telling the truth. He worried about all the memories that were surfacing. It made him sick thinking about the way he really was trying to reclaim those feelings, to try and cling without clinging. Without Sabrael to help keep him grounded, he felt restless and afloat.
A few more careful steps through the winding hallway brought them to the end of the increasingly-smaller piles of rubble, until their only choice to proceed was to traverse a wide berth of trigger plates between them and a platform, at the back of which was another door.
“What are you waiting for, Demon?” Ondolemar prodded. He was pressed against Rei’s back as they shared a narrow strip of dirt.
“You know I could use my sprint Shout again and let you figure it out,” he answered.
“You wouldn’t dare”
Rei turned and smiled sweetly.
“If you leave me here, Rei Ginsei, I swear to Auri-El, Y’ffre, and everyone in between that I’ll turn you to ash before you stop moving.”
“Come off it,” Rei said, impulsively flicking the tip of his tongue out and licking his companion’s nose. “There’s a way around this.”
“You’re going to be sorry once we get out of here.”
“Mmhm,” Rei said, studying the floor. Ondolemar’s light was making things far more difficult in terms of both brightness and color, but he didn’t think it was worth mentioning.
He noticed the tiles all had patterns in two alternating colors and placed such that confusion in the person trying to cross was very likely to occur. One set was red with a white diamond in the middle, while the other was the inverse. Placed together, it was very easy to mistake one diamond for the other. Still, that was likely the key.
“Red Diamond, Red Diamond,” he found himself singing, “protect us ’til the end…”
“I’m about to just push you out onto that floor,” Ondolemar snapped. “What are you singing that traitorous song for?”
“Because of this,” Rei said, hopping out onto the nearest tile with the red diamond in the middle. As he’d suspected, nothing happened.
“I don’t know if I should praise your cleverness or beat you about the head and shoulders for knowing that obnoxious tune.”
“You really think that’s how I figured it out?” Rei laughed.
“This has nothing to do with the Empire, I just thought of that song when I saw the shape.”
“You mean to tell me you just leapt out onto one of these things because it reminded you of a stupid song nobody sings anymore?”
“Actually, you see these tiles here form a path. I decided it was a safe bet that they wouldn’t roast my sorry arse. You’re the one who decided I’d made some arcane connection that wouldn’t have applied here, in the first place.”
“You are beautiful and infuriating, and you’re making my head hurt,” Ondolemar sighed. “Go on. I’m not moving until you’re across.”
Rei casually stepped from one tile to the next, leaping finally onto the platform and turning to bow theatrically to the mer that stood across the way.
“Well, come on,” he called. “Clearly it’s safe.”
“I suppose that depends on your definition of ‘safe’.”
He cringed as he heard the faint buzzing and light footfalls of many legs. He drew his swords as he turned and met two of one of Tamriel’s many species of uncomfortably large spiders. One drew back, and Rei leapt to the side as it lunged at the place he used to be. He repeated the action as the other tried its luck, and without too much trouble, they were both dispatched with each of his swords impaling their heads.
A shiver ran through his body, and he rubbed his arms. He noticed, however, that Ondolemar was still frozen where he stood, this time with genuine terror in his eyes. He barely had time to look up before he felt the crushing mass of a giant spider like the one he and Sabrael had found in Bleak Falls collapse onto him, pinning him to the floor.
Rei didn’t like spiders at the best of times, but he’d grown more-or-less accustomed to them in his travels. He always tried his best to never touch one directly, however, and he certainly had never had one fall on him. Stiff, somewhat sticky hairs brushed against his bare arms, and as he turned his head to look up, he saw the drooling mandibles up close. He wanted to scream, but his voice was lost, and he supposed it was nothing but instinct that made him scrabble backwards out of the way of the sharp, dripping fangs as they plunged downward.
In his panic, he moved this way and that, only to be met with legs. Legs and legs, nothing but legs and fangs out to puncture his flesh. Finally, he made his way out from under the creature, suddenly aware the had had no swords. A cursory glance around showed that he’d dropped them on the other side of the platform when the giant spider landed on him. A cursory glance also showed him that he’d allowed himself to be backed into a corner.
It infuriated him, the inaction of the mage that still stood on the other side of the room, but on the other hand…
The spider lunged at him, and he dove underneath it, scrambling to his feet and running back towards the tile floor. Nimbly he hopped from one red diamond to the other, and, just as he’d hoped, the spider followed blindly, triggering every white-diamond square its heavy legs touched and sending jets of flame up and onto its body.
The creature screeched, but continued to follow Rei as fast as it could. Rei found a place that he could climb up to and perch upon, and he held his nose and gagged at the smell of burning spider hair. Thankfully the spider lacked what Rei would have called common sense, and it simply scraped its legs against the wall as it slowly burned and slumped down, caught in jets of flame forever.
Or, Rei supposed, until their fuel source ran out.
He swallowed and leaned his head against the wall. So few things made his heart race, and he wondered if he might not actually die from the terror.
“Demon?” he heard Ondolemar call in an oddly quiet voice. “Rei Ginsei?”
Rei looked over and saw the mer stepping carefully on the red tiles. He was pale.
“I’m up here, above the fire.”
“Gods almighty,” he breathed. “I thought for sure you were done for.”
“No thanks to you,” Rei said, standing as best he could on his perch. Taking a long breath through his nose, he closed his eyes.
“Wuld!” he shouted, and in a moment he was leaning with his hands against the far wall, just balanced on a pile of rubble.
“You can hardly blame me,” Ondolemar protested. “You saw the size of that thing.”
“All you had to do was hurl a spell at it.”
“Really, if I had done that I wouldn’t have gotten to see you in a real bind. All day it’s been you just cutting things down like you were mowing a field.”
“That’s certainly convenient. Better than admitting one’s cowardice, though, I suppose.”
“What did you call me?” Ondolemar barked, hesitantly following Rei’s trail as he leaped across the safe tiles two and three at a time.
“I didn’t call you anything,” Rei said. “I said that if one were a coward, the excuse that they were simply assessing my skill would be a convenient one. You really shouldn’t be so defensive.”
“There’s certainly no question as to whom your master was.”
“I know you find me terribly charming,” Rei said as he gathered his swords and looked all around the platform for other eight-legged horrors. “It’s alright to say so; I won’t tell.”
Ondolemar smirked and approached him. He gently grabbed Rei’s crotch, and leaned in for a kiss.
Rei moaned quietly, but it quickly turned into a yelp as his balls were squeezed. At the same time, sharp tendrils of odd, long-dormant pleasure curled his toes.
“You would do well to watch that line you tread, Demon. And while I’m at it, if you ever lick my nose like that again, I will kill you, find someone to resurrect you, and then I’ll kill you again.”
Rei shuddered. Sabrael would never do something like this for him, and nor would he ask him to. There were things best kept from his kirin. His preference for being choked, his taste for pain from the proper person, in the proper setting.
“I won’t, Ondolemar, I promise,” he sighed.
“Absolutely?” his companion crooned, tightening his grip only the slightest bit.
Rei moaned. “Yes, absolutely. No arrogance. No flippant licking.”
Ondolemar chuckled quietly, releasing his hold and cupping Rei’s face. “I know just the thing for you.”
“You what?” Rei breathed, wincing against the lingering pain.
“Payment for services rendered. For healing your poor broken nose. By the way, please don’t hate me too much, but I wasn’t paying the closest attention. I hope you won’t mind a little crookedness.”
“Not like it was perfectly straight, before. Come on, I’m sure we’re close to getting out of this place.”
“I do hope so. If we have to set up camp, I’d rather it not be in a place where people are likely to come looking for missing comrades.”
Rei walked up to the hallway and swallowed. His testicles ached deeply, so much that he felt feverish in the absence of the sudden pleasure given while they were actively squeezed, and the door was blocked by thick webs. The last thing he needed to see were more spiders. Luckily, a few slashes with his swords revealed a simple little chamber with tables on either side, and just ahead, another iron gate, its trigger thankfully visible on the wall beside it. Still, he took a deep breath. It was clearly the inner sanctum that lay beyond, and if Bleak Falls was any indicator, that meant something foul.
He rummaged in his satchel for a potion.
“What do you need that for?” Ondolemar asked.
“To walk straight,” he cringed.
“You seemed to like having them squeezed?”
“And I’d ask you to do it again if we had time to waste, but liking the pain doesn’t make it not exist. Besides, if there’s something in there we…I…have to fight, I’d rather not have to do it with smashed balls and a hard-on.”
“If you go without now, I’ll heal them myself after.”
“You’ll touch me while you do?”
“Of course!” Ondolemar grinned. “You seemed properly contrite, and I do value contrition.”
Rei looked askance at his companion and pulled the chain to open the gate. A set of stairs led down to a straight stone path, flanked on either side by dark, still water. At the far end was an ornate sarcophagus carved from white stone. This had to be what they were looking for.
But as soon as they stepped out onto the landing, before even descending the stairs, a rumbling echoed through the chamber, and the floor shook. Debris rained from the ceiling.
“What did you do?” Ondolemar shouted, covering his head with his hands.
“I opened the gate! What was I-“
A deafening rush joined the quaking, and as Rei looked back out into the room, he saw six sculpted dragon heads – three on each side – rise from the water and slowly rotate to look down on the path. Once they stopped, all was silent again, apart from the stray drips of water that fell from the towering statues.
The two mer looked at their new surroundings suspiciously as they descended the stairs. Rei didn’t have to be told he was going to be limping ahead, so he said nothing when he noticed Ondolemar hold back as they approached the statues. He looked up and around and saw nothing indicating a rigged trap. No jets in the dragons’ mouths to spew flame or poison. No holes for spikes or darts.
“I think it’s safe,” Rei called back.
He waited until his companion had caught up, and together they approached the coffin.
“Those are daedric letters on that sarcophagus,” Ondolemar observed.
“It says ‘Windcaller’. This is what we were looking for.”
“Yes, but why? I thought this was just some Nord; why would he have had his name carved out in daedric letters?”
“Why does anyone do anything?” Rei sighed. “Look, there’s something in that hand there, on the lid.”
He limped up the steps to the coffin and saw that it was a neatly-folded piece of parchment. Recent parchment. Perfectly dry, nice and sturdy in his fingers. Already he felt his chest tightening, and shortly after he opened it, he threw it on the ground.
“Who did this?!” he shouted. “All of that and this is what I find?”
“So dramatic,” Ondolemar drawled as he bent down to pick up the paper. “All it says is that the person who took the horn has something important to say and that they’ll give you the horn as soon as they say their piece.”
“I want to know how they got past that gate puzzle,” Rei said. “I want to know how they knew I’d be here. I don’t like being set up, Ondolemar, and that’s certainly what this feels like.”
“First of all, calm down. Second of all, I’d be willing to bet that if we continue on through that hall we’ll find out how they got in here. Third, they addressed it to ‘The Dragonborn’ not ‘Rei Ginsei’, so probably they knew you’d be here because they heard of your presence as Dragonborn and were familiar enough with the Greybeards’ silly rituals that they knew to get here posthaste.”
That made more sense than some personal conspiracy, and that only made Rei angrier. The relentless ache wasn’t helping. “So. Riverwood, did it say?”
“Indeed. The attic room of the inn there.”
“Well, there is no attic room in that inn, as far as I saw the once or twice I’d been in, so it’s either the innkeeper or someone she’s in bed with. Literally or figuratively.”
“You say that as if it’s suppose to mean something,” Ondolemar said.
Rei shook his head. “I just don’t like her. She’s suspicious and nosy, and based on her voice I’m certain she’s the one I saw when I first got into all this nonsense. She was hiding her face and speaking with Whiterun’s court wizard about the dragon burial mounds.”
“You don’t say?”
“Does it mean something now?”
“There are many, many people wondering about these dragons, Rei Ginsei. They’ve allegedly been cropping up for a while but seem to be appearing with greater frequency; the Legion reports at least two sightings. I don’t know about anyone else’s theories, but the Thalmor have our own.”
Rei nodded. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I don’t like seeing you limp,” Ondolemar said as Rei hobbled to the door leading out of the chamber. “In multiple senses of the word.”
Rei turned and let his face be cradled in one of the younger mer’s hands while the other cupped and rubbed him carefully.
“See?” he said. “I keep my promises.”
Rei felt his knees go weak as the healing worked through him. He wasn’t hard, and yet he was twitching, and a different sort of warmth bathed him.
“Ohh…” he moaned as powerful magicka filled him and gentle fingers worked him
“That’s a good boy,” Ondolemar smiled. “Enjoy it now.”
Rei didn’t know what that meant, and he didn’t ask. As long as his companion kept rubbing him and filling him with healing magicka, he didn’t care. He didn’t know how long he stood there, kissing Ondolemar deeply and longingly, and wrapped in a cycle of climax, but it seemed forever before it finally became too much and he pulled his hips away, continuing to twitch enough that he held himself in an attempt to purge all the lingering ecstasy.
“We need to get out of here,” Ondolemar said quietly. “You keep making me hard, and I’m losing my patience.”
They walked in silence through a long, winding passage. Save Ondolemar’s magelight, it was completely dark, just a natural tunnel in the rock. Rei ventured to slip one arm around his companion’s waist to rub the hardness beneath the black uniform.
“There’s our thief’s means of ingress,” Ondolemar remarked as they reached the end of the tunnel.
A doorway stood wide open, and rubble littered the ground around it. Someone had managed to get their hands on some concoction involving fire salts, it looked like, and blown the door to pieces.
“You mean to tell me that we could’ve just gone through this tunnel the back way and skipped all this headache?” Rei asked.
“I suppose so, but it’s still fairly well-hidden, wouldn’t you say?”
Indeed, the room it led into was dark and filled with shelves and urns. If one wasn’t the type to sift through every bit of miscellany while their torch burned down, the door would have been easily overlooked, intact or not.
Still, Rei was grateful that it led right back into the first hallway – the hallway in which he’d pulled himself off for Ondolemar’s enjoyment, he thought with a shiver – and it was only a matter of a few flights of stairs to reach the exit.
The afternoon sunlight was extremely painful to Rei’s eyes, but he patiently waited for the more delicate left one to adjust. As he was waiting, he saw Sabrael’s dim silhouette in his right eye, hopping down from the steps and into the cairn to throw himself into Rei’s arms.
“Oh, beauty, I’m so glad to see you,” Rei said, catching him and squeezing him tightly.
“Rei, I was so worried, and…and I felt you earlier, and I was so scared, and-“
“Shh, sweetheart,” Rei soothed. “I’m sorry for what I did. It was wrong, I know, but I just couldn’t help myself.”
“You were showing off.”
There was a deep disappointment in Sabrael’s voice that made Rei’s heart sink. “You could feel that?”
“Well, not exactly, but I felt things that contribute.”
Rei loosened his embrace and looked down and away. He didn’t know what to say anymore.
“Don’t cry, Rei,” Sabrael said. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. I made you hurt. I didn’t even try for you.”
“It was a slip.”
Rei glanced over at Ondolemar who was casually standing a short distance away, clearly eavesdropping. “Would you mind?” he asked.
“Me?” the officer answered. “Oh, many pardons. I was just caught up in the joy of fresh air. Of course you and your little bond there can have your privacy.”
Rei smirked dryly as he watched Ondolemar take his time ascending the stairs.
“It wasn’t a slip, Sabrael,” he said quietly. “It was a deliberate action.”
“Even if it was, I forgive you, Rei. You know I do.”
“I can’t keep hurting you, Sabrael. Look, you need to go back to Solitude and stay with Tauryon until I get back.”
“Because the hurt isn’t going to stop, and it’s not always going to be because of something I’ve done.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ondolemar has a sexual interest in me.”
“You have sexual interest in him,” Sabrael said. “I don’t mind.”
“Men like Ondolemar and me, we like pain and we like inflicting it.”
“You…you like pain?”
“I do in some situations, yes, very much, but that’s not the point. The point is that Ondolemar is going to want me to himself, he’s going to try to keep us apart, and he’s going to make me hurt, and I’m sure you’re going to be a bargaining chip in whatever game he plays.”
“He’s going to hurt you to hurt me?”
Rei nodded. He felt the new, stubborn confidence start to give way to fear.
“You wouldn’t let him, right?”
“I can try my best,” Rei said, “but that might not be enough. With him it’s not just about joining the Thalmor or seeing what I can do. With him it’s about power and the ability to take control over someone who doesn’t just lay down. There will be situations where resistance will make things much worse.”
Sabrael swallowed and wrapped his arms tightly around Rei’s waist, pressing his head against his chest.
“I want you with me always,” he continued, “but you understand why I’m asking you now to please go home to Tauryon.”
“You’re my husband,” Sabrael said after a long moment of silence. “You’re the only being I’ve ever loved this way, and my bond with you proves it. Your joy is mine, and your sadness, and your pain. If you hurt, even if you like it, I will hurt with you. That’s how much I love you and want to be with you.”
Rei closed his eyes and put a hand over his kirin’s head. “There’s no convincing you?”
“Even though Tauryon told you to listen to what I say?”
“I love Tauryon, but he’s not my mate. If it comes down to leaving you with someone who could do you real harm, I don’t care about what he says.”
Rei bent and kissed his kirin deeply. “No matter what, you are the most important thing to me.”
Sabrael smiled and hugged him more tightly.
“Come along, Demon,” he heard Ondolemar call from outside. “We’re headed to Morthal for a late lunch.”
Rei picked Sabrael up and perched him on his hip, happy to feel love again as his kirin nestled close while he carried him up the stairs and out of the cairn. No chaos, no impulse. It was calm. He tried not to worry about collateral damage, not just now, not while Sabrael was coming down from one worry already.
Lunch in Morthal was an awkwardly quiet affair. Sabrael was nervous, and though he had no way to feel them, Rei knew without having to be told that the other patrons were unsettled by the sudden appearance of the Thalmor. If it bothered Ondolemar or his soldiers, none of them showed it, although the former held clear disdain for the rustic cuisine. Or perhaps he was simply lost in thought. He had one of those faces that just simply looked displeased.
“Rei Ginsei,” he said suddenly. “Are you quite finished?”
“Come with me. Your bond stays here.”
Rei turned to Sabrael and kissed him. “I’ll be right back, okay? Be strong. Be prepared.”
Sabrael swallowed and nodded.
Rei obediently followed Ondolemar to the back of the inn where the door to the bath was.
“I ordered this when I ordered my meal,” the officer said. “I’m glad it seems they’re quick. I figured we could both use a bath after our excursion.”
It did sound nice, although it had disingenuity written all over it, but being watched as he undressed was never something he could argue with. Long fingers moved over his abdomen, warm palms slid over his sides, thumbs slid over his pelvis.
“I could get used to this,” Ondolemar smiled. “Is this the way you always were, build-wise?”
“You mean before Clavicus? More or less. He might have made me a bit narrower in the hips, but I’ve always been very tall. I’ve always been on the wiry end.”
“You’re awfully sleek, Demon, and I like that,” he said as he began unbuckling his belt. “Why did he do all this?”
“I said earlier it’s none of your concern.”
Ondolemar locked eyes with him, searching. Rei returned the gaze as he was wont to do, but his emotions had been up and down all day, and he found it difficult to assert himself effectively. He felt the cords in his neck strain slightly as he tried to keep his jaw still.
“Oh,” Ondolemar said facetiously. “So I have made the Demon cry. I wondered if you were going to earlier, but I suppose you needed just a little extra push.”
Rei sighed and viciously wiped off the faithless tear that had given him away. “Why does it matter?”
“As I told you before, it’s good to know where one’s loyalties lie. It doesn’t hurt to know what it takes to make a grown man cry, either. And apparently, for you, crushing your balls gives you a thrill, but talking about your old master reduces you to tears as if I’d taken your favorite toy away.”
Rei felt his lip curl, and, without thinking, he grabbed Ondolemar’s shoulders and threw him against the stone wall. “Don’t pretend to know what this feels like, you piece of trash! You could only dream of sharing power with the beauty and strength of Clavicus Vile.”
Ondolemar winced as he flexed his shoulders. “And yet you betrayed him!”
Rei didn’t know how to respond. His breathing sped and caught in his throat.
“That’s how it happened, isn’t it? Or was it the other way around? Did he get tired of you, Demon? Did he cast you aside?”
“Shut up!” Rei sobbed. “I loved him! He loved me!”
“Well, now, one of those statements is a lie, Rei Ginsei. Perhaps they both are!”
Rei drew back his fist, but as soon as he let loose, the air in front of Ondolemar became shimmery, as if he were looking through a wall of water, and as his fist connected, he felt nearly every bone in his hand shatter. Before he could pull back, a ball of green flame flew from Ondolemar’s free hand and collided with Rei’s chest and spread relentlessly and unceasingly all over his naked body. A scream worked its way from his throat, but the flames found their way into his mouth and stifled it. He felt his skin peeling and his eyes swelling, every nerve in his body shrieking in unspeakable agony. Blindly he stumbled around the room, flailing his arms against his melting skin until he bumped into something.
Rei fell in, barking his shin against the edge as he entered the wrong way. Quickly he turned and rolled until the flames were out, and as he looked over the edge, barely able to see anymore and shaking, he saw the blurry form of Ondolemar striding over and crouching by the tub.
“I can heal all this, you know,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve figured by now it’s one of my specialties. But only if you promise to play nice.”
Rei only panted and let himself slide down into the water which was still far too warm to be soothing. This was the worst he’d ever been injured. He’d been hit with firebolts before, although never while he was naked. This one was different, on top of it all. It clung to the skin instead of dissipating like normal orange fire. He would have been happy to ask for death, the pain was so great, but he couldn’t leave Sabrael.
“Time’s ticking, Demon! The flames might be out, but you’re what we in the military call ‘mortally wounded’.”
“I’ll play nice,” he rasped quietly.
“I’m sorry, what?”
Rei coughed painfully. His throat had been burned, but he tried again to be louder. “I’ll play nice, Ondolemar. I promise.”
“Good boy. I can tell you’re sincere.”
For the third time, he felt pleasant warmth, and he closed his eyes against the golden light. It took longer than the other two times, but it made sense, he supposed. Still, the officer worked, occasionally stroking his hair soothingly.
“Better?” he asked eventually.
Rei nodded. His throat felt whole again, his lungs were strong, and his skin felt like it was once more intact. Dark golden hands helped him to turn so that he could lounge properly on his back. He felt lips caress his right ear and teeth clamp onto the gold hoop in his lobe to pull gently.
“I’m terribly sorry it had to come to that,” Ondolemar said. “But there are lines, Demon, that we shouldn’t cross.”
Rei only sighed as those deadly mage’s hands slid over his chest from behind.
“I do have to admit that I might be just a touch jealous of the devotion you still seem to have for your old master.”
It was nonsense, all of it. Rei turned his head away and said nothing.
“But you are beautiful, Rei Ginsei,” he continued. The praise mixed with the use of his proper name made Rei’s throat slam shut. “And I’ve never had one at my disposal as clever and eager and strong as you.”
“You want me to call you master,” he said.
“Anyone can call me master. I want to be your master. I want you to myself. I want you to do nothing without my approval.”
Rei took a shuddering breath. He was so tired, and he was still shaking from the trauma. “What if I say no?”
“It’s going to be a very long journey, and there’s no guarantee the party will make it back with its full manifest.”
“I’ll call you master, Ondolemar,” he said automatically, knowing full well who’d be missing, and it wasn’t him. “And…And I’ll do what you ask of me.”
“Brilliant,” the younger mer said, finishing undressing before climbing into the tub on top of Rei. Platinum blonde hair cascaded from his forehead and into the water. “I know just how to get started.”
Rei returned the kiss planted on his lips and went through the motions of being positioned in a small space. Ondolemar was wonderfully slow and gentle, but Rei knew from the times he’d done it himself, that it was only a means of appeasement. Ondolemar had hurt him badly, and, healing or not, trust had to be regained. Still, Rei held him close and closed his eyes as he was taken, taking what comfort he could in the carefully toned arms.
“I am sorry, you know,” Ondolemar said.
“Don’t,” Rei answered. There was only so much nonsense he could take.
“The fire must have taken a toll, hm?”
“You feel wonderful,” he said truthfully, “but yes, I’m too exhausted and hurt.”
“Poor thing,” Ondolemar cooed in a mock-pout. “I have to say the feeling regarding the first point is mutual, though. It’s clear from the fit you’re the one who’s normally on top.”
Rei laughed weakly and returned his new master’s kiss, happy enough to be wrapped in arms that could be construed as loving, if he squinted just right.
“Yes, Rei Ginsei,” Ondolemar gasped finally. “Yes, precious.”
Rei pulled him close as he felt Ondolemar’s tool pulse hard inside him. He came long and he came hard, and Rei held him just as he would have Vile. Sighing deeply, he leaned his head against Ondolemar’s.
“That was sublime,” Ondolemar moaned as he finished. “They’ll have to pry you from me. I’ll make sure you can come next time, don’t worry. But, to be fair, you have had seven already today.”
“Between you and Sabrael I don’t think I’ll ever have a dry spell again.”
“Ah yes, Sabrael. Funny you should mention him.”
“Well I am the jealous type, as I’ve said,” Ondolemar explained. “We’ll have to find a way to mete out our usage of you, won’t we?”
“He’s my husband, Ondolemar-“
“And he’ll be ensured plenty of attention from you, don’t worry! Let’s get properly cleaned up and then Master Ondolemar will show you how we share our toys.”
Rei needed help out of the tub and toweling off and getting dressed. He felt like he was made entirely of lead. When he moved to tie up his pants, however, Ondolemar stopped him.
“Ah-ah-ah,” he chided. “Remember we needed to discuss sharing?”
“Why do I need my dick out for that?”
“You probably know, despite having gone the base route of the physical combatant, that mages tend to specialize in one school and then pick and choose from the others. I’ve mastered and continue to improve upon three! Restoration, as you’ve repeatedly seen, destruction, as you unfortunately experienced, and conjuration, which has granted me all sorts of fun tricks. Tricks like this one-“
Rei caught a sharp breath as Ondolemar snapped his fingers towards his hips. With wide eyes he watched as near-invisible ethereal matter wrapped around his genitals. He knew what it was – Vile kept several physical, terribly ornate ones that he wished he could have worn while he was able to appreciate them.
“You conjured a cock cage?” Rei asked.
“Oh, my, yes,” Ondolemar actually giggled. “Far more convenient than the physical, you know, and, well, even clever little Demons like you could never manage to get it off.”
Rei ventured to grasp himself, and indeed was met with something that may as well have been metal.
“And I know the tricks. The nature of the shape will let you take care of life’s…necessities…in a clean manner, but there’s no way to play with yourself, so don’t think you’re going to be clever about that, either. If I must share you, then only I may get you hard, and only I may take you out to play.”
Rei actually did feel a little aroused at the thought, mostly because he was certain Sabrael would have him writhing in ecstasy in-
“Sabrael!” he shouted suddenly.
“What about him?”
“The fire, I didn’t even think…Oh gods, please…”
Rei burst out of the bathing room, clumsily tying his fly, to find that there were only three Justiciars still sitting around a table and no sign of Sabrael.
“Where is he?” he shouted. “Sabrael, where is he???”
“Thing had some sort of fit,” one of the soldiers said. “Vallinalda took him outside.”
Fear propelled his tired body across the room and through the door.
“Sabrael!” he called. “Sabrael I can feel you! Don’t be afraid, everything’s alright!”
“I’m over here,” called a shaky voice.
Rei turned and saw Sabrael and the Justiciar called Vallinalda sitting on the walkway leading to a burned-out house. Sabrael was shirtless and a blanket was wrapped around his shoulders.
“You almost died,” Sabrael said. “I felt your soul fading. It was so awful, and before that I felt like I was burning up, like all my skin was on fire. Vallinalda – her – she got me out here and into the water to help me cool off.”
“I’m so sorry, beauty,” Rei said, dropping to his knees.
“This wasn’t for…” Sabrael cast a quick glance over at the Justiciar (who, Rei noticed, was politely minding her business) before continuing, “…for fun, was it?”
“No, beauty. No. This was not anything like that. I lost my temper, and I paid for it. You paid for it.”
Sabrael climbed into Rei’s arms, and he fell back to properly hold him.
“I keep failing you as a protector.”
“How could you have known, if it was like what you said?”
“I could have told you that you were going back to Solitude whether you liked it or not.”
“I’d never go. Not ever.”
Rei sighed heavily and tucked his kirin’s head under his chin. How could half a day feel like three months?
“Vallinalda, is it?” he asked, looking up at the Justiciar. She was really very pretty, raven hair tied into a bun, sharp features betraying an old, meticulously maintained bloodline.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Thank you for looking after him. You’ve no idea what that means after all that’s gone on.”
“My pleasure,” she smiled, a gesture that showed more in her dark green eyes than in the curvature of her thin lips.
“And, er, sorry for knocking you about.”
“Just doing my duty as proscribed by our dear commander.”
“She’s been very nice to me, Rei,” Sabrael said. “The others aren’t very nice, or at least they don’t care, but Vallinalda made sure I was happy while you were in that tomb, and, well, she helped me just now.”
“I’m glad, sweetheart.”
“There’s things I need to think about. Things you and I need to discuss sooner rather than later.”
Sabrael leaned in close and lowered his voice to just above a whisper, “Does it have to do with that hard thing I feel? I mean. The hard thing that isn’t usually what I’m after.”
Rei laughed tiredly. “Well that’s part of it, yes. Go on back inside. I’d like a word with Vallinalda.”
“Don’t be long,” Sabrael said, hugging him tightly and kissing him.
Standing back up was an ordeal, enough of one that Vallinalda offered a hand. Gladly he took it and let himself be helped back to his feet.
“He got you, didn’t he?” she asked in the casual way only a woman in her position could manage. “With his fire.”
“Fireball to the chest.”
“Mara’s mercy, you must have really rubbed him the wrong way. I’ve seen that thing work. Nasty business. Won’t tell anyone how it’s done, either, which I suppose is for the best.”
“He does it often?”
“He’ll singe a Justiciar with everyday fire now and again for being thick, but he’ll only use the green stuff on people who’ve really made him angry. Certain prisoners. Certain soldiers. He healed you good and proper, though. A boy I went to the Academy with caught it in the face for talking back. He lived, but only just. Ondolemar made sure not to heal the skin. I’m sure you know that after a while, scars that are deep enough can’t be properly healed.”
Rei knew he ought to have been feeling revulsion, but instead he only wanted to see it happen to someone else.
“Well, suffice it to say I’ve learned my lesson,” he said, “but at the risk of ignoring it entirely, did you know about his fascination with me?”
“It wasn’t exactly a secret, if that’s what you mean. He was most fascinated with your bloodlines, wondering if he could tie your behavior to this family or that. Honestly, I think he was curious to see if you shared a common ancestor, as he seems to think you both share the same streak of cruelty.”
Rei laughed once.
“He’s…strange,” Vallinalda said, “but you’ll get used to him.”
“I can handle him. Sabrael can’t, and Ondolemar wants to monopolize my time. You had no obligation to watch after him, and you have none now. I’m not asking you to keep an eye on him at all times, but if you could just now and then make sure he’s feeling alright when I’m not around, I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Please, it’s a pleasure. He’s very fun to talk to, and that’s not something you get a lot of out in the field. Don’t worry about your husband, Rei Ginsei. When you’re with Ondolemar, I’ll keep Sabrael company.”
“Thank you, Vallinalda,” he said. “Really. If there’s ever anything I can do, please ask.”
She nodded serenely.
“Rei Ginsei!” Ondolemar shouted from the inn’s porch. He was fully dressed, and his hair was once more tied into its high, partial ponytail, although it hung lank as it was still damp. It somehow fit that he’d not leave the bath in any state of undress, even if he were incensed at a servant. “Get over here this instant!”
Rei obeyed and stepped up to the porch to stand in front of his new master.
“Get inside, Lieutenant. Gather the others. We’re leaving.”
“Yes, Commander,” Vallinalda acknowledged. She saluted before disappearing into the inn.
“I’m sorry, Master,” Rei said quickly. “But he could feel me burning. I had to make sure he was alright.”
“Did your old master tolerate this behavior?”
“Clavicus kept my leash very loose.”
“That explains a lot. Don’t you do that again, Demon. I have more magicka in my being than your tragically deprived mind can fathom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not precious. The next time you’re punished, there may not be healing after.”
Rei nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry, what?”
“I’m sorry, Master,” he sighed.
“That’s better,” Ondolemar smiled. “I know you only acted out of love. But when you’re in my hands, your love is towards me, as mine is towards you.”
“I love you, Master,” he said, knowing that was the best way to end all this and smooth everything over.
“You lovely thing,” Ondolemar said, running his fingers through Rei’s awkwardly drying hair. “You’ll learn, yet.”
Rei returned the kiss awarded to him and moaned quietly as arousal met its new barrier.