Yeah I told you this would be the next thing. lol The dragon in this chapter was inspired by one added by Deadly Dragons. It’s a fun mod, you should try it! Also pair it with Diverse Dragons for extra pretty.
Anyway, this a bit longer than I would have preferred. I’m sorry!
Sabrael bit his lip in an effort to keep quiet as his arches cramped from curling his toes so hard. His hands were buried in soft, white hair as Rei teased him with his lips and tongue. It felt wonderful and frustrating all at once, and he didn’t think he’d ever lasted so long with Rei paying attention to him like this.
The evening had been nice. He’d felt a twinge of Rei’s obscene pleasure while he was doing whatever it was he was supposed to have been doing, but it didn’t last long, and it wasn’t unbearable, which meant he probably hadn’t hurt anyone. At least not badly. When Rei joined them, he could really enjoy himself. He saw his husband and their lover together and felt like he could die, their elegance was so overwhelming. Tauryon in his dress uniform, Rei all clad in black and plum. They stood together, mingling easily, these two towering, impossibly lean mer that he loved more than anything else.
Of course, he wasn’t left out. Rei put his hand on his outside shoulder as they walked, meeting people while Tauryon engaged with more important guests. He’d tried every sweet thing there was, from more of those delicious sugared chestnuts, to something they called “moth silk candy” which looked like delicate cocoons filled with nuts. He and Rei got quite a bit of attention, though, being so unusual. It was disconcerting, but he resisted the urge to hide and instead held on to the bolstering feelings of Rei’s natural confidence and directed soothing feelings.
And now, with Tauryon so exhausted that he began snoring almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, he and Rei moved to the private study to be alone together.
“Oh, Rei,” he moaned quietly. “Oh, please, please, I’m so very close! I need to come!”
His love had been holding back for what seemed like ages, but on his command, Sabrael felt Rei’s mouth on him properly and felt Rei’s shiver as he finally grabbed himself. It didn’t take his husband long. After only a few excruciating seconds, he felt the vibrations of Rei’s deep, repetitive moans and the explosion of his ecstasy. Instantly Sabrael forced Rei’s head down on him as he exploded, twitching so hard that he felt the head of his cock brush against the roof of Rei’s mouth.
Sabrael finally fell against the back of the chair, panting. For once he didn’t have another left in him, and he giggled at the heady feeling of relief. Rei crawled up to kiss him, and he pressed his knees against his slim waist.
“That was amazing,” he sighed.
“I came so hard it almost hurt,” Rei chuckled.
“I love you, Rei.”
“I love you, Sabrael. This was a wonderful few days, wasn’t it? A proper roof over our head with no rowdy tavern patrons to contend with, and Tauryon off at the embassy so that you and I could have all the time we wanted…”
Sabrael giggled. It was relaxing to feel his husband so calm and so happy. He couldn’t remember him ever feeling this way to such a deep extent. They kissed one last time, slowly, in the way Sabrael liked best, with only their lips save swift, rare moments when their tongues would meet. What a nice way to spend the last night of their reprieve. If he could stave off the apprehension of what might lay before them, all would be well.
The next morning started before sunrise, although Rei and Tauryon seemed to have been up long before they had awakened him. Unaril had baked a large, cake-like thing filled with apples in an iron skillet, and, along with a couple of pieces of bacon, Sabrael enjoyed a glass of plain milk that was so thick it was almost cream. If there was one reason besides Rei to live on land, he thought, it was the food. Fish would always be his favorite, but between bacon, sweets, and milk, he thought he could live perfectly happily without it, if he had to.
“So why are we going back to Riverwood?” he asked.
“Celedaen thinks it would be wiser to check in with Delphine than to head straight to Riften, and I agree.”
“We’re not out to capture this man Esbern,” Rei said. “If he’s been holed up in one place for this long with the Thieves Guild protecting him – assuming that is, in fact, the case – it means he’s properly paranoid and at least a little wiser than Delphine. My presence aside, I’m sure he wouldn’t be terribly welcoming of an obvious Altmer.”
“We figure that Delphine likely knows this man,” Tauryon picked up. “We couldn’t ask her before since she’d wonder how we know of him. If we frame it as a situation where the Thalmor were looking for him, specifically – and we are; apart from his existing status as a criminal, he is the Blades loremaster and would prove valuable on the dragon issue – and that we uncovered this information in a clandestine way, she might give us a bit more information.”
Sabrael looked back and forth between his husband and lover, fork still in hand, the tip of his tongue resting in the tight space between two molars.
“We’ve discussed this, Sabrael,” Rei said.
“I know,” he answered and sighed. “He’s a Blade, and Blades are bad. I just worry this will end up in a hurtful way.”
“It may or it may not,” Tauryon said. “It’s up to him and it’s up to Delphine. It is not our goal to cause them harm.”
Sabrael had hoped all these semantic games would have ended with the ordeal with Vile, but it seemed to be the way things were on land.
“Don’t worry, beauty, please?” Rei said. “Nothing will happen to them unless they put us into a situation where we’ll need to defend ourselves.”
He nodded and looked back at his plate while the other two resumed talking amongst themselves. He didn’t have much of an appetite anymore; the more he heard about their plans, the sketchier everything seemed. He could trust them, though. Rei wasn’t consumed by eagerness and hadn’t been, to any real extent, since Kynesgrove. Then again, they had just taken a short holiday, and one which started with his love needing to take care of him. Now they were setting out again, and there was no telling what would happen.
At the moment, though, Rei was content, smiling easily and laughing with his friend. There was a sort of serious air about him, too, similar to the times when money was being exchanged. Business.
What they were talking about was business.
The hyenas were at bay. It was only business.
As the sun began to peek over the horizon, they set off and down the increasingly familiar road that would take them through Dragonbridge and then through snow until there was suddenly no snow. Sabrael had perked up since breakfast, although he found he wasn’t very thrilled anymore to take trips with Windy. He wondered if someday he and Rei could just ride. That would be nice. For now, however, it was the same dead trees, the same birds, the same rocks.
“I hope we don’t have to stay in Riverwood too long,” Sabrael said. “I’m kinda bored with this part of Skyrim.”
Tauryon chuckled. “You speak from the heart of every Altmer, my dear,” he said. “There are parts of this province that are quite beautiful, but unless you’re a Justiciar, most of what you see is Solitude and snow. Always snow.”
“I know you must miss Alinor very much.”
“She is my home, and if you’ll pardon me, she is a love I hold so dear that I would shed blood to see her returned to glory and taken back from the hands of those heretics.”
“I know those words are strong, little one, but I know you understand that every moment I am away from her is a pain in my heart. Were it not for my loyalty and conviction, I would not be here in her name, and I could not call her my true home.”
“I do understand,” Sabrael said, his throat tight from sympathy. “I’ve thought about it before, but I really don’t know what I would do if something like this were to happen to our pod.”
“It doesn’t bear to dwell,” Tauryon smiled. “We all three of us have each other, and we all three know our home and the way we sometimes pine for her.”
Sabrael smiled. They did have each other. And maybe he would finally feel such a violent need for retribution if his brother and his friends were taken and his lagoon and their breeding grounds were stolen. By whom and for what, he hadn’t the foggiest, but he’d learned pretty quickly that mortals loved land, and some mortals would go to great lengths and harm many in their path to take it, to say nothing of those mortals who would capture Kelpies if given the chance. He shook his head to chase away those awful thoughts.
“It’s alright, beauty,” Rei said from his other side.
He looked up to see his husband smiling gently. Love and understanding and gentleness wrapped him up, and he wondered at the acrobatics he’d need to employ to leap from Windy’s saddle and into Rei’s arms. It was probably as useless as wondering on those other things. At least this thought exercise was fun.
When they once more reached Riverwood, Sabrael shivered reflexively and grabbed Rei’s hand as soon as they were both dismounted, letting go for just long enough to let him tie their animals to the hitching rail before grabbing it again.
“It’s alright, beauty,” Rei said. “You’ll be with us, and you’ll be safe.”
He felt the truth and the security from Rei’s emotions, but they didn’t do much to change anything. He hadn’t thought about this, how being in this place would affect him, if at all, but it was horrible, and his heart raced as his breath began to speed uncontrollably. It was the panic he felt from Rei in Kynesgrove, but on a much grander scale. He dropped Rei’s hand in favor of hugging himself, and when Rei tried to bring him close, but his concern and his comfort were unfortunately smothered by the unfortunately reflected panic, and Sabrael jerked back and away.
“Sabrael, it’s alright,” Rei said. “It’s just me here and Tauryon. Nobody else. You’re okay, just breathe.”
“No,” he answered quickly. “No, it’s not okay. I need out, there’s too much!”
“Little one-” Tauryon began. His voice sounded far away and tinny, like he was in a well.
“No! No, no, no, I need out!”
Without thinking, Sabrael turned on his heel and began running back the way they had come, banging into the horses as he did. He hadn’t thought about the fact that it would only take Rei about five seconds to catch up, and ten to cut him off. Sabrael tried to run around him, but his feet slipped, and he fell. He pushed himself up with his scraped palms and hugged his knees to himself as he cried.
“Sweetheart,” Rei said, taking a deep breath. Rei’s empathetic panic was subsiding, disrupting the loop, and Sabrael took his own deep breath. “Come on, let’s get out of the road.
Sabrael let himself be picked up and carried into the grass. He put his arms around Rei’s neck and hid his face in it as he continued to cry. He felt himself sway gently as Rei rocked him, and it was soothing.
“I’ve never felt so scared,” he sobbed. “I’m sorry, Rei, I-I don’t know what happened. I just remembered Vallinalda, and I was right in that spot where she cast that spell on me, and…”
“It’s alright,” he said. “I’ve got you.”
“Oh, good, you caught him,” he heard Tauryon behind him. A warm hand was on his back, and he jumped. “I’m sorry, Sabrael, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I know. It’s okay. Why did she have to do that?” he moaned.
“I don’t know. I should have sent her back to her headquarters as soon as I got here, but I didn’t think she would have taken an interest in either of you, let alone react the way she did this time.”
“I don’t wanna go back there. Please don’t make me.”
“You don’t have to, beauty,” Rei said before kissing the top of his head. “Tauryon will stay with you here, okay? I’ll do what we came here to do, and I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
Sabrael nodded. “Please be quick.”
Rei kissed him once more and let him down gently. Sabrael held his hand until he was far enough away that their fingers could no longer touch. He sat down in the grass with his legs crossed, watching his love cover the ground back to the inn in no time with those long legs. In some ways it seemed he was more handsome from the back, more obvious the way he carried himself. Tauryon lowered himself to the ground with some difficulty, and Sabrael was instantly drawn to him like a magnet, cuddling with him, hoping that maybe he could burrow into him somehow so that he wouldn’t even have to see that town.
Rei stepped into the inn, blinking as his left eye adjusted. Delphine was by the bar, nattering at the bartender who, Rei had guessed by now, wasn’t bothered as much as he had just learned to tune out.
Poor bastard, he thought. I hope he doesn’t have to fuck her, too.
“Good, you’re here,” Delphine said as Rei approached, “and wasting no time. That’s what I like about you. No boyfriend?”
Rei laughed once and smiled. “No, no boyfriend. No husband. Just me, this time.”
“Alright, well, come on. I need to know what happened.”
Rei followed her into the bedroom and down the secret staircase.
“So. You made it out okay, which is good. Was Malborn any help?”
The smile crossed his face before he could stop it. “Oh, yes, absolutely. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
“Excellent. I can always count on him. Any information on the dragons?”
“The Thalmor know as much as you and I,” he said.
“But, we learned that they are looking for another Blade in the hopes of getting answers.”
Delphine’s eyes lit up. “Another Blade? Who?”
“Do you know the name Esbern?”
“Esbern?” she gasped. “Yes, yes I do! Gods above, I thought the Thalmor would have gotten him ages ago! That crazy old man. He was the archivist, knows everything there is to know about the Blades and about the history of dragons. It’s no wonder they’d be looking for him. We all thought he was crazy about the dragons coming back… I guess we should have listened.”
“It seems they have leads which point to Riften,” Rei said. “Would that make sense?”
Delphine looked down as she thought, her eyes darting back and forth. “Riften…Yes, of course. I’d wager he’s down in the Ratway.”
“The sewers, basically. The Thieves Guild hang out there.”
“Why would he be with the Thieves Guild?” Rei asked.
“I didn’t say he was,” Delphine almost snapped. “There’s more to the Ratways than just them. Do some snooping around, ask some questions. I bet you’ll find him.”
Rei narrowed his eyes.
“Look, if I could go, I would, but if the Thalmor have their eyes on Riften, I’m sure they wouldn’t argue with a two-fer. Besides, I don’t know any more than you do.”
“Alright,” he said, nodding. “Back in a few days, hopefully with good news.”
“Good. Oh, and because I doubt he’ll just welcome you with open arms, ask him to remember the thirtieth of Frostfall. He’ll know.”
Rei was hoping for a little more to go on, but a second opinion was good to have, anyway. He exited the inn and moved to untie the horses in order to bring them to his loves so that Sabrael wouldn’t have to come back. Before he could do anything with Baku’s reins, though, they all three began stamping and shuffling about uncomfortably.
“What’s wrong, baby boy?” Rei asked, keeping a hand on his animal’s cheek. “There’s nothing-”
A loud screech rent the air, and Rei snapped his head up to see a dragon circling overhead and descending on the town. As Baku began to rear and pull at the hitching post, Rei managed to yank his bow and quiver from one of the rolls on his back. He looked around for a good spot, free of panicked townsfolk and guards. There were watchtowers and walkways that ran across the tops of the arches at either end of the main road, but they were covered. Still…
He sprinted over to one of the walkways and climbed up, then, leaning over the rail, he reached up and dug his claws into the soft pine shingles. It was awkward, but he had the build and the strength. He hopped his feet up to rest on the rail, which caused him to lean back, and with every ounce of his strength, he managed to leverage his body out, up, and over the edge of the roof. His feet now planted, he ran to the peak and scanned the uncomfortably bright sky.
The dragon was much closer, now, close enough that it could open its mouth to shout. It wasn’t fire that came from it, though. It wasn’t frost, either. When the dragon opened his mouth, the air became distorted, and enormous pulses of sound issued from its throat. Those it had caught with its sonic onslaught held their ears and fell to their knees. Some vomited. Still others were knocked unconscious. Rei hoped Tauryon had taken Sabrael somewhere safe. Somehow this was far more terrifying than fire.
Without further thought, he nocked an arrow, drew a bead on the monster as it banked to make another pass, and let loose. The arrow caught it in the neck. It was a good start, but naturally that drew the beast’s attention to him, and it interrupted its original path to land heavily on the roof of the walkway. Rei nearly lost his balance, but as he righted himself, he wasted no more time and fired another arrow that pierced its throat, eliciting a screech that meant he’d apparently not actually hit anything significant. But there was a pause – the guards below had finally recovered enough to join the fray, and Rei took the opportunity to run toward the watchtower itself and haul himself up onto that roof. It was beyond dangerous, considering what that thing could do, but it gave him a better advantage without his swords.
The dragon turned its head to the guards and let loose its booming, crippling shout, not unlike the spell Tauryon had directed at him in order to subdue him, except at least Tauryon’s was just directed air and didn’t emit blasts of sound strong enough to cause deafness and sickness. The guards fell, one or two of them with their hands over their chests. Rei shot another arrow and put out its eye. Another in its neck. The dragon was getting weaker, but not so weak that it couldn’t shout at Rei.
This was many times worse than what Tauryon had done. He felt the sound in his jaw, felt the ringing in his ears before the shout was even finished, and before he realized it, his feet lost their grip, and he began sliding off the watchtower roof. He fell – dizzy, nauseated, and confused – but managed to sink his claws once again into pine. As he started to haul himself up, unsure if he’d be able to stand, even then, the dragon shouted again and knocked him off the tower and onto his back. He felt the ground shake as the dragon dropped down from the roof of the gate.
“Aus fahliil,” the dragon said in a low, gutteral voice. “You let your gift languish. Your weapons may blind me, but your hopes of defeating Alduin are in vain. Unslaad daanik!”
Rei struggled to catch his breath. The dragon’s voice was only barely audible through the ringing in his ears, but he knew that he had just been a momentary plaything. It hadn’t used its full power. And of course he wasn’t letting his gift languish! All he knew was vuld, fus and ro, and the latter two hadn’t done much against Sahloknir. The Greybeards were supposed to have taught him the third word! If he made it through this, words would need to be exchanged.
He pushed himself up onto his elbows, just in time to see the dragon opening its mouth. Throwing everything he had into it, he rolled to the right, behind the tower, gritting his teeth in pain and wondering now where his weapon went. People were one thing, fighting a dragon bare-handed seemed like a phenomenally bad idea. He heard the dragon screech, and he managed to push himself up and look around the wall. What guards remained volleyed arrows at him, and through it all was an onslaught of freezing spikes.
“I die for the sake of Alduin!” the beast cried as his legs gave out. “He is All, and we…and we shall thrive…once…once…”
Rei watched as the creature laid its head down. A final ice spike came screaming from down the road and pierced the dragon through the bottom of his jaw, properly reaching its brain, it seemed, as its shallow breathing stopped instantly and for good. The soul escaped and Rei felt it fill him. Something clicked in his mind. Knowledge. But he could tend to that later. For now he was still trying to catch his breath. He gripped the tree trunk that served as one of the tower’s supports, dug his claws in as far as they would go, and slowly pulled himself up.
“Rei!” he heard Sabrael’s voice. “Rei, I saw you fall! Are you okay?”
“You came back,” he gasped.
“I had to. I don’t like it here, I want to get out as soon as we can, but I couldn’t let you get hurt! I couldn’t just stay back while you were fighting a dragon.”
He leaned against the wall. His sides hurt when he tried to take the deep breath his lungs were yearning for. It was a particular pain he knew well.
“Celedaen?” Tauryon said, jogging over to be with them. “I can’t run as fast as your young man can, or I’d have been right behind him.”
“That’s alright,” Rei chuckled. “Oww.”
“You were hurt badly?”
“Broken ribs, that’s all. Help me get to the horses.”
Tauryon hurried over and put Rei’s arm over his shoulders, and Sabrael took his hand. The panic was building again and Rei squeezed, trying to send soothing thoughts through the pain and through Sabrael’s distress.
“Just a little bit longer,” he assured him.
Once they reached their animals, amidst people rushing to help those others who were injured, Rei found the satchel he normally carried on his belt and dug out one of his larger bottles of healing potion. It wasn’t that big, but his inability to take a deep breath caused him to take the draught in three swallows. Almost instantly he felt his breathing deepen and his ribs start to mend. That was good. It meant they were only fractured, and he wouldn’t need a proper healer.
“You’re not going to wrap it?” Tauryon asked.
Rei shook his head. “I’ve found it’s just as good to let the potion do its work while being able to breathe properly.”
“I can’t bend or pick you up right now, beauty, but we can go now. You’ve done so very well.”
Sabrael offered him a terrified sort of smile, but Rei was happy to feel a little confidence peek through the anxiety.
“Come on, my loves. Riften calls.”
It took some work getting onto Baku. The effort caused Rei’s chest muscles to tighten. The potion may have been working, but he’d be tender for a while. It wasn’t long ago when he could just go home and have Vile “fix” him completely. Fix him, then kiss him, then…
He shook his head.
After they left the town, Sabrael was quick to recover. His breathing slowed, and Rei felt relief finally set in.
“Rei?” Sabrael asked.
“You’re feeling a little frisky. It wasn’t the dragon’s death, was it?”
Rei cleared his throat, having momentarily forgotten that Sabrael would have felt the twinge of arousal at the thought of his old master. “Just one of those passing erections,” he said. “You know fighting dragons doesn’t give me the same thrill.”
Sabrael smiled mischievously.
“When we get to Riften, don’t you worry,” he winked.
The same two guards were on gate-keeping duty, as it happened. When the trio handed their animals over to the stable hand, Rei offered a sweet smile to the one who had given him trouble the last time.
“How’s that visitor tax working out?” he asked. “Are the city’s coffers overflowing?”
“Get in there,” the guard snapped. “I’m in no mood.”
“Sorry to hear it’s not working. But, if you insist…”
He took Sabrael’s hand as they walked through the opening gate.
“What was that all about?” Tauryon asked.
“Little bastard tried to extort money from me last time.”
“I’m surprised he’s not at least maimed.”
“Rei wanted to,” Sabrael interjected. “But he didn’t, for me. He did spit at him…but he didn’t fight.”
“Good man,” Tauryon said, sliding his arm around Rei’s waist.
He didn’t think they’d ever walked like this before, all three of them linked together. He supposed it was an unspoken agreement. People might make the assumption that they were all involved with each other, but they weren’t going to explicitly make it known, especially not in Solitude where Tauryon was a known entity, and one whose sexual proclivities might reflect poorly. But, Rei supposed, if they were all going to be open about it, it may as well be in Riften, the seat of shady dealings in Skyrim. He certainly wasn’t going to argue, though, and he put his arm around his friend’s shoulders and kissed his cheek before biting the side of his ear.
“Mm. I suppose you’re going to make us wait?”
“I’ll bet we can find a place to have some fun,” Rei smiled. He felt Sabrael take his hand and use it to slip under his arm.
“There’s a little path that goes behind the temple,” he offered. “I saw it when we got married.”
“Is that right?” Rei asked.
“I wonder if maybe there’s someplace, you know, quiet?”
“One way to find out. What do you think, Tauryon?”
His friend took a moment to think.
“We don’t have to. We can always rent a room.”
“Well. I figure if I could masturbate to you in the hedge maze where anyone could come along, including my parents, why not try it all together?”
Rei grinned as his cock throbbed inside his thin deerhide leggings. He knew people could see, and that was fine. He even winked at a few women who stopped to clearly take a better look. When a Dunmer man stole a glance, he moved his arm from Sabrael’s shoulder to conspicuously adjust himself.
“Rei, we need to hurry,” Sabrael said, running ahead. Rei wasn’t too far off, either, between the exhibitionism and Sabrael’s spiking need.
Rei looked over at Tauryon and smiled. “He’s right, you know. If I don’t have your mouth on me soon, I’ll go crazy.”
“Just not too fast. These old bones haven’t quite caught up with the rest of me.”
“You’re looking much more rejuvenated, by the way.”
“And soon my face will properly match.”
Rei didn’t entirely know what that meant, but it could wait. They jogged lightly after Sabrael, who’d run behind the temple.
“What is it with me and graveyards?” Rei asked as he caught sight of Sabrael beckoning them from behind a brick structure that enshrined a single stone coffin.
“Never mind,” Rei said, continuing to follow his kirin.
The place that he chose wasn’t any more or less conspicuous than the wide-open cemetery in Whiterun. He could see the gardens of the townhomes whose doors lined the street on the opposite side, but if they kept to the shadows and kept relatively quiet…
Rei felt his hand taken and jerked downwards, causing him to lose his balance, twisting mid-fall to land on his backside. Intense pain exploded in his chest on the impact, and it was all he could do to stifle his cry.
“Auri-El, Xarxes, and Trinimac,” he gasped. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Oh, Rei, I forgot, I’m so sorry!” Sabrael said, dropping to his knees with his hands over his mouth.
Rei squinted his eyes shut and tried to breathe slowly through grit teeth. He felt bad for snapping that way, but, good gods, that pain.
“I’m sorry…” he said again.
“It’s alright, Sabrael,” he managed. “You were being playful, I know. It’s fine.”
He held out an arm, and Sabrael eagerly nestled into it. He held his forehead in his other hand.
“Is there anything I can do?” Tauryon offered.
“Just a shock, that’s all. I hope you’ll both understand when I say I’m not feeling very amorous at the moment.”
“No, no, that’s perfectly understandable.”
“Not in an active way, anyway.”
Tauryon looked at him askance.
“Well,” Rei said, “darling Sabrael is still worked up. Aren’t you, beauty?”
Sabrael blushed. “Maybe a little.”
“If you two would like to have some fun together, far be it from me to say no.”
“Shall we put on a show?” Tauryon smirked, already loosening his belt.
“If you want. Maybe you could pretend I’m not here. Act like you’re all alone and enjoying each other.”
Sabrael’s mood lightened, and he kissed Rei’s cheek. Rei had, of course, watched them make love, but always in the context of their group. He’d sometimes thought of what it was like when they’d lain together that first time while he was entreating support from his master. People behaved differently when they were alone, whether it be general behavior or lovemaking. He realized he was already tainting the situation, but he’d take it.
Tauryon held out his arms and Sabrael got up, only to fall into them. “Do you remember what you said to me, little one?” he asked. “That first time?”
Rei sighed at Sabrael’s soft desire.
“I asked if you would love me, even if it was just that once.”
“And look at us now – Celedaen. You. Me. So in love.”
“And it’s just you and me this time.”
Rei leaned back against the wall of the stone coffin’s shrine, smiling. His legs were crossed, and he rubbed the crease where thigh and pelvis met, close enough to his balls to feel nice, but not so close that he could feel them directly. This was going to be nice and hopefully slow, and he was glad he wasn’t going to be part of the main attraction. He was sure it wouldn’t have been pleasant, anyway, with all the moving he’d be doing.
Tauryon had lowered himself to his knees to better reach Sabrael’s lips, and they kissed slowly. Sabrael had chosen a frock to wear that day, and Rei bit his lip as his friend’s hand slid up his husband’s skirt. He moaned as Sabrael felt Tauryon’s hand slide over his cock, hidden by fine cotton underwear. He watched Tauryon smile around their kiss, watched his arm move as his hidden hand massaged Sabrael gently.
There was the peak, it was in earshot. Rei closed his eyes, breathing gingerly as he continued to rub himself.
“Oh, Tauryon, harder!” Sabrael cried far too loudly.
Rei opened his eyes in time to see that Tauryon’s arm was moving more quickly and deliberately, with his other wrapped tightly around Sabrael’s back as they kissed. Tauryon had let himself out, and Rei grunted at the sight of the lovely tool, harder than he thought he’d ever seen it. So hard, in fact, that even from where he was sitting, he could see the familiar clear fluid leaking from the slit.
Rei nearly ripped his pants in his effort to free himself. Sabrael was moaning around Tauryon’s kiss and clinging to him desperately. Rei felt the pulse of his kirin’s lust with every stroke of his lover’s hand. By the time his cock was free, Sabrael reached his ecstasy, and just as soon as he gripped himself, Rei melted as pleasure enveloped him, coaxing jet after jet of come from his sac, painting his chin and his tunic. It didn’t matter; it was probably dark down in the Ratway if it was anything like it sounded.
He sighed deeply, forming a ring around his member with his thumb and forefinger and tugging gently as he came down.
“There you go, precious,” Tauryon smiled, moving his hand up to cradle Sabrael’s head as the little daedra panted.
He wasn’t entirely finished, and Rei shuddered on every stray twitch.
“What can I do for you?” Sabrael asked.
“What would you like to do?”
Rei felt a sudden bout of bashfulness, and he smiled.
“I’d like it if you could come on me.”
“Is that so?” Tauryon smiled. “You wouldn’t prefer real pearls?”
Sabrael laughed. “I like yours better.”
“Well let’s see what we can do about that.”
Rei grinned at their exchange, happy that his kirin could feel so safe and so open with Tauryon.
He watched as his two lovers took new positions: Sabrael on his knees so that he could play with Tauryon’s cock with his mouth and hands, Tauryon carefully bending at the knees to accommodate him. Sabrael’s arousal was rising again, but Rei’s vision began to grow fuzzy around the edges and sounds seemed to disappear entirely. Sabrael always felt safe around Tauryon, even when Tauryon said upsetting things…
Sabrael never asked Tauryon to change. Tauryon had done things just as bad as he had ever done – and enjoyed it – but all Sabrael told him was that he could look past it. That he could look past it and still love him.
The rational part of Rei’s mind told him emphatically that their situations were different. Sabrael hadn’t sworn his life to Tauryon. Sabrael didn’t share part of Tauryon’s soul. When Tauryon did or felt something “bad” Sabrael couldn’t feel it and suffer for it. Really, that was the key. Sabrael could disagree with something all day long, but if that something he disagreed with was needling at his own mind through someone else’s feelings, it could hurt in an uncommonly real way.
The thought had been planted, though. He wasn’t jealous, but the apparent double standard rubbed him wrong.
“Rei?” a voice broke through his haze, and he realized he was being shoved gently and a wave of fear was flooding his mind. “Rei, what’s wrong? Rei Ginsei!”
He cut his eyes over to Sabrael and felt his throat close. He was chewing his thumb claw.
“Rei, talk to me! What’s wrong? Why are you so angry? It hurts…”
He took a shuddering breath and put himself away. “It’s nothing, beauty,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry, my mind got away from me.”
“What do you mean by that?” Tauryon asked.
Rei felt his tail bristle, and he swallowed, trying to keep everything calm. “I mean I had a thought, and it went somewhere it shouldn’t have.”
Tauryon nodded slowly and offered his hand to help Rei up.
“You don’t believe me,” Rei said, brushing grass and dirt from his pants.
“Celedaen, please let’s not start this…”
“I know that look, Tauryon, don’t think I don’t.”
“The look you had when I was with Clavicus!” Rei sniffed. “You think I’m dangerous!”
Tauryon closed his eyes and shook his head as he put his hands up. “Celedaen, when all is said and done, you are one of the most dangerous people I know, and that’s a fact. That’s how the stars decided you should be, and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t find some aspects of that attractive. All I know is that right now, Sabrael nearly bit my cock off because you suddenly felt this surge of anger.”
Rei licked his lips and suddenly became reacquainted with the fear he’d brushed aside in his pique. He looked over to see Sabrael standing with his hands up by his face, his pretty violet eyes shimmering.
“Sabrael,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. I really am.”
“You don’t have to say what you were thinking about if you don’t want to,” his kirin said. “I just want to know that you’re okay. Or if there’s something I can do to help.”
“No, beauty. No…I just had a bad thought. I had a bad thought, and it took hold.”
Sabrael nodded and stepped forward to offer a tentative hug. Rei pulled him close, feeling his muscles relax, the hairs on his tail smooth out. “You still love me, don’t you?”
“Of course, Rei,” Sabrael answered through his tears. “Don’t you feel it?”
He nodded and pressed his kirin’s head against his solar plexus. “I do feel it. I just needed to hear it. I’m sorry I ruined your fun.”
“It’s okay. Things happen.”
“Quite right,” Tauryon said. “Celedaen, I only want for your happiness, just as I always have. If my being here-”
“Don’t,” Rei interrupted. “I don’t want to let you go again.”
Tauryon’s hand was behind his head and pulled him down so that their foreheads rested against each other.
“It’s been a long day, and we’ve barely eaten,” Tauryon said, “and that’s rarely good for a person’s mood. Let’s stop at the inn, have a late lunch, take some time to relax before we continue. Fair enough?”
Rei nodded. “Fair enough.”
Taking some proper time out helped some. Rei held Sabrael in his lap as they ate and laughed and enjoyed themselves. His mind was still restless, though, and he tried very hard to keep it quiet. He wished that perhaps Azura would visit him and grant him some modicum of wisdom. He wasn’t well-versed enough in Her particular rituals to summon Her to him. He’d been having thoughts and dreams about Vile, and he seemed to be hiding his feelings of guilt well enough from Sabrael. He wondered if maybe something got left behind somehow that still linked him to his old master, and that’s why he was starting to pine so.
Tauryon had mentioned the stars, and he had to stifle a snort. As with so many other highborn families, his parents didn’t “fall in love”; they were very meticulously chosen for each other in accordance with the positioning of the stars. They hated each other. It wasn’t uncommon for unions of that sort to be unhappy, but Rei learned his parents, in particular, harbored a nearly tangible vitriol. If anyone had read the stars at the time of his conception or birth, he had no idea. If they had, he wondered, what would they have seen? Surely someone saw. But he was born to a couple who had had so much trouble conceiving that by the time they had managed, they were both well into middle age. Any sign from the stars was a good one if it meant someone to carry on their blood.
“Daylight is burning, my dears,” Tauryon said finally. “Let’s find our way to this hideout. Celedaen, you and Sabrael are to go first. I don’t want it to be made immediately clear that we’re all connected.”
“Wait,” Rei said. “You’ve mentioned this friend of yours here and things involving your looks. What is this?”
“Well, I was hoping to be a bit more quiet about it. There’s a woman I know, a Bosmer named Galathil, who’s wound up here via some unfortunate incidents. She’s a face sculptor.”
“A face sculptor?” Rei repeated incredulously. “She’s down there because she ruined someone’s face, isn’t she?”
“I like your face!” Sabrael interrupted. “Why do you wanna change it?”
Tauryon rolled his eyes. “All I’m looking to do is rid myself of a few of these wrinkles. Get myself back to where I was when I first started my regimen.”
“When was that?”
“I was eighty-two, eighty-three. It was a good look, I think. Some gentle crows’ feet here, a smile line there…”
Rei couldn’t help laughing. “Tauryon, I love your face.”
“Look,” he smiled, “I’m feeling young, I’m with two young men – why shouldn’t I look the way I feel if the option presents itself?”
“Fair enough,” Rei said. “How do you know her, anyway? You’re talking like you’ve never had work done.”
“I haven’t. But I know plenty who have.”
“Elenwen’s had her eyes touched up more than once,” he answered conspiratorially. “But you didn’t hear that from me. There’s others you wouldn’t know, but none have gone for anything quite as drastic as what I’m out to accomplish.”
“Oh, Tauryon, be careful!” Sabrael pleaded. “We’ll love you no matter what, but what if she hurts you?”
“I appreciate your concern, little one, but I’ll be fine. I promise. If I didn’t know her I wouldn’t be thinking of it.”
“Alright, well,” Rei interjected, “this is going nowhere. Sabrael and I will attempt to find this Esbern. We’ll meet back up here.”
Sabrael leaped off Rei’s lap and hugged Tauryon tightly. “Be okay, please?”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
Rei leaned down and kissed his friend’s lips. “I won’t lie; I’m pretty curious.”
They had to ask around a little to find out how to get to the Ratway, but that was fine. Rei was feeling better. They were finally pointed to a stairway on the outside ring of the circular city that led down to the lower level, right next to the rather stale canal. They crossed back over to the inner ring where an iron gate rested slightly ajar – a half-hearted warning to the unwary that now was their last chance to turn around.
Sabrael was already getting nervous, and Rei took his hand as they stepped through the low doorway and through the wooden door that would lead them into the sewers.
“It’s okay, beauty. Just stay close, and be very quiet. I’ll only fight to protect you, okay?”
His kirin nodded quickly. “Do you think we’ll really run into that much trouble?”
“Better safe than sorry,” he answered, deftly unsheathing the dagger on his hip, then replacing it with a cocky flourish.
They weren’t five feet into the tunnel before they heard the faint echo of voices. The owners of the voices had a conspiratorial timbre to their sound, and so Rei stopped and looked around. It was times like these in which he appreciated his lack of need for a torch. His good eye landed on a stone archway that looked like a door, and he took Sabrael’s hand and strode over to it. It was a dead end, a dry aqueduct whose path was closed to them by a metal grate. That being the case, Rei put out an arm to hold his kirin back and listened.
“…skin us alive if they found out we’re doing this,” the first voice said.
“You’re always such a baby,” the second one sneered. “I’ve gotten us this far, haven’t I?”
“We’re livin’ in a sewer! You said we’d have a house as big as the Black-Briars’ by now.”
“Your job is to bash people’s heads in, Hewnon,” the first snapped. “I’m the brains; you’re the brawn, and the brawn never tells the brain what to do.”
“I’m going to check the entrance. Be right back.”
Rei drew back into the alcove, pushing Sabrael back with his arm as he did. Sabrael was even more afraid, and he tried to mitigate the fear as much to calm his husband as to quell the empathetic shaking of his hands. These two were dangerous, undoubtedly. Rei took his arm away and put a hand up before moving his finger to his lips. He was getting excited. He had to stop. A clean cut. That’s all he needed. A clean cut. No theatrics. No smelling the blood. No reveling.
He saw the light of a torch drawing nearer, and he halfway closed his left eye to avoid being too blinded. He pushed Sabrael back further as he backed up, getting as far away from the torchlight’s radius as he could. The man stopped suspiciously and looked around. Rei kept perfectly still as he squinted his eyes into the alcove’s darkness. Sabrael was doing an admirable job, and he tried to send encouraging feelings.
Finally the man moved on, and Rei drew his dagger. In a few deft, silent strides, he caught up with the man. He clapped a hand over his mouth, stifling the man’s surprised yelp, and in one single motion, sliced his throat right open, digging in to cut the windpipe, high enough to catch the arteries so he could see the glorious spray. He shuddered pleasantly as he let the man drop but caught himself.
It wasn’t right. What he was doing wasn’t right. He needed to keep himself. For Sabrael.
“Drahff?” Hewnon called. “Drahff, are you alright? I heard something.”
Waiting in the shadows took too much time. The thrill was nice. He could make it quick and still enjoy the thrill just a little bit. Yes.
Just as silently as he had sneaked up on the one called Drahff, he sprinted down the hall to the small room where one of them had rested a torch in a wall sconce. He could see Hewnon and saw that he’d raised an old, rusty mace in preparation for whatever lay down the hallway.
Rei leapt into the room, saw the surprise in his prey’s – his target’s – eyes and plunged the dagger as far as it would go into the side of the Nord’s thick neck. Hewnon was wearing odd hide armor which left his sides exposed, and Rei couldn’t have asked for anything more. As Hewnon dropped his weapon and clutched at his throat, Rei slammed his weapon between two ribs, and again one space down, and again. He switched the dagger to his left hand and did the same to Hewnon’s right side.
The Nord was dying quickly; Sabrael could appreciate that, couldn’t he? Rei laughed under his breath and through bared fangs at the fear and confusion in Hewnon’s eyes as he dropped to the ground. It wasn’t his best work. He had managed the urge to do more, though. He hadn’t noticed the ache in his sides in his eagerness, and when it made itself known, he wrapped his free arm around himself as he giggled quietly.
“Rei?” he heard Sabrael call timidly. “Is it safe?”
“You lost yourself,” he said.
“They died quickly,” Rei argued. “Just like those bandits at Bleak Falls, remember? I got hard then, too, but I didn’t torture anyone.”
“I-I know, Rei. I’m sorry.”
Rei cast a sullen glance at his kirin as he sheathed his dagger. “Come on.”
The doorway leading from the room led to a platform with nothing leading directly to or from it. Rei saw a raised drawbridge on the other side, but that obviously did them no good. The only option was to hop down. Carefully he kneeled and turned to lower himself to the floor below. It wasn’t far, but a drop would make his sides hurt worse than his sprinting and hard breathing did. On the other hand, between this and all the lifting in Riverwood, he was sure his arms would be frozen at his sides the next day.
Rei turned and reached up as Sabrael sat on the edge and leaned forward so that he could lower him down. And that did make his ribs complain as he tightened his core to compensate for the extra weight.
“I really am sorry.”
Rei sighed and looked down at his kirin.
“I know you’re annoyed. I know you tried. I know it could’ve been a lot worse.”
“I didn’t try very hard,” he granted. “Everything’s fine, beauty, alright?”
He felt Sabrael relax as he saw him nod.
“Now stay close, it’ll only get darker, looks like.”
They wandered for what seemed a long time. For the most part it was quiet; their only other obstacle was an unnervingly aggressive man who’d apparently been living in the darkness so long that Rei didn’t have much of an advantage as a punch was thrown in his direction. Apart from having to dodge further punches while the stars in his right eye stopped flashing, the scuffle was short, Rei’s acuity with a dagger proving a bit more effective than the pugilist’s wild punches.
The amount of movement exacerbated his pain, though. He took another small dose of a healing potion, which helped a bit, but, as he did in his youth, he decided to let things linger for a while. Pain, even outside of a sexual context, had its uses. The persistent discomfort bred frustration, which in turn bred aggression. If they ever managed to find this alleged tavern, he would be ready to intimidate a few people into giving him what he wanted.
“Rei?” Sabrael asked again as they found their way into a room that was actually lit. A stairway to their right led down towards a wooden door.
“What is it, beauty?”
“Can you take another potion, please? The pain’s making you feel mean, and it hurts.”
“Can you manage to hold on for just a little while?” he asked. “I need this.”
“…Okay. But please be quick?”
He hopped down the short flight of stairs and hoped as hard as he could that this would mark the end of this stupid maze. When they entered, Rei recoiled at the strong smell of mold, fish, and damp. The room was circular as the city above it, with a pool of fetid water taking up most of the space. He saw Sabrael clap his hands over his nose and mouth and rubbed his back. Across the pool that reflected a sickly yellow light from what sunlight penetrated a grate above it, was what looked like a tavern. It was certainly more populous than any other place they’d seen, and as they approached, they came upon a big, blonde Nord, just as Tauryon had described to him early that morning.
“Are you Dirge?” Rei asked.
“What’s it to you?” he spat.
“I’m told you might be able to help me.”
“Sure. I’ll help you find your way out of here. This place isn’t for you or that other thing hiding behind your legs.”
“Oh, I’m not looking to stay here, don’t worry,” Rei said. There it was, the nice, pain-induced combativeness. “If I wanted to drink piss I wouldn’t need to come down here to do it.”
“You better watch your mouth. I ain’t afraid of any daedra, and I don’t gotta take their guff.”
“Then hear my question, and you won’t get any guff.”
Dirge narrowed his eyes, and Rei only smiled.
“Alright. What do you wanna know?”
“I’m looking for someone named Esbern. He’s very old, and I’ve been informed that it’s likely he’s down here somewhere, being protected by the Thieves Guild.”
“That ain’t none of your business, daedra,” Dirge answered.
“It is, though. You see, he’s an old friend, and the Thalmor are after him. They’ve been tipped off the same as I have that he’s down here, and I’m looking to get to him before they do.”
Dirge turned his head and spit into the pool. “That’s a nice story and all, but I think you should go.”
“I’m not leaving until I get what I want, and I think you have exactly what that is.”
“If you wanna get rough, I’ll get rough.”
“Rei, no,” he heard Sabrael whimper.
“Listen to your bitch, daedra. I’ll-”
The anticipation and the aggression that had been building exploded at the sound of that man calling Sabrael a bitch, and he let fly a punch with his left hand that connected with Dirge’s cheekbone.
“So that’s how it has to be, huh?” Dirge growled.
“Call him a bitch one more time, you bastard.”
“I don’t gotta. You’re both a couple of Marys.”
This time Rei caught him under the chin with a hook, and this time Dirge wasn’t as surprised. He lunged at Rei and knocked him onto his back, punching him in the same eye as the crazy man in the dark room. His chest was on fire, but the adrenaline was going. He was vaguely aware of the patrons that had gathered round to watch, all of them cheering for their man Dirge.
Rei managed to coil his legs up and ram his boots into Dirge’s stomach. It was enough to cause the Nord to falter, and, while he gasped for air, Rei quickly managed to wriggle out from under him and slam his elbow into the back of Dirge’s head as he started to push himself up and proceeded to kick him hard in the ribs. That didn’t accomplish a whole lot except to give Dirge the ability to grab him by the ankle and pull his foot out from under him. He screamed as his own ribs loudly protested their treatment and in perfect harmony with the people shouting their encouragement to his opponent.
Dirge came back down, and Rei narrowly missed the fist that was aimed towards his face. His hands darted up, then, and grabbed Dirge by the ears, twisting. It was the Nord’s turn to scream, this time, and Rei cackled as he got up, pushing Dirge up and back.
“I’ll rip these off, if you want me to,” he grinned. “Please say you want me to.”
“Go to hell, faggot!”
Rei twisted harder as Dirge grabbed his forearms. Without Vile’s strength, it was harder to hold on, but he managed. Dirge put up an admirable resistance, though. After that first initial scream of surprise, he only bared his teeth as he fought against both Rei’s strength and the pain. The tavern patrons were all jeering, now, hurling every insult they could at Rei. It only fed his growing excitement.
“It’s my fight, now,” he breathed, baring his own teeth properly, “and I can do so much worse.”
“I’ll make you wish you were never born if you don’t let me go!”
“I’m feeling skin tearing, Dirge,” he sang. The sleeves of his shirt were ripping with the vehemence of Dirge’s struggling. His chest hurt worse than anything.
“Then do it!” Dirge sneered with a shaking voice. “You don’t have the guts.”
“Let’s see about that.”
Rei dug the claws of his ring and little fingers into the tender flesh behind Dirge’s ears, and the Nord cried out through clenched teeth. His hands were clamped around Rei’s forearms, pulling, setting Rei slightly off balance. Then, shuddering with anticipation, Rei violently spun his hands forward, messily tearing the cartilage from the sides of Dirge’s head. They weren’t his whole ears, but they were enough. Dirge screamed as Rei tossed the ears into the pool before kneeling in front of the tavern’s bouncer.
“Are you gonna talk like a good boy?” Rei asked.
“Fuck you,” Dirge answered. His whole body was shaking, his hands held his head on either side, but he wasn’t crying as Rei had hoped.
A flagon suddenly whizzed by his head. In his excitement, he’d momentarily forgotten about the onlookers, and now that their champion had been maimed, they weren’t too pleased. Another flagon was thrown, and he ducked, but then a bottle hit him against the side of his head without shattering. Then came food and utensils – anything that was lying about, apparently.
“Cut it out,” Dirge barked. “This is my fight, and I don’t need you drunk arseholes doing it for me!”
Rei rubbed his head. “Honorable,” he said. “The legendary True Nord, I suppose.”
“Yeah?” Dirge asked. There was genuine excitement in his eyes, the eyes of a man who’d completely forgotten that there was blood pouring down the sides of his head. “I think so, too.”
“Oh, absolutely!” Rei nodded. “I’m honored, in fact, and very ashamed of the tactics I used.”
“Well…I probably woulda done ’em too.”
“I’m asking if we can put this nonsense behind us.”
“Oh. I…I guess so. No tricks?”
“No tricks,” Rei said, offering his hand.
He braced himself against Dirge’s considerable weight as he helped him up.
“You know, um. I don’t guess it would hurt anything if I did tell you something.”
“Whatever you give me would be most appreciated. As I said, I’m only concerned for a friend.”
Dirge nodded. “There’s an old man – I dunno his name – down in the warrens. I’ve heard he’s locked up good. Maybe that’s the guy you’re lookin’ for.”
“Where are the warrens?”
“Go into that room there,” Dirge pointed to an archway by the bar. Rei could just see it through the disappointed, dispersing patrons. “There’s a door. It’s unlocked. No one’s gonna stop ya. It’s a pretty creepy place. Fulla creepy people, too.”
“I very much appreciate it, Dirge,” Rei said, offering his right hand. “Sorry about your ears.”
“Ahh, it’s alright. I don’t have any real battle scars, so I suppose you did me a favor.”
Rei bowed his head slightly before taking Sabrael’s hand and starting towards the indicated room.
“Oh, and that one, the little one?” Dirge called.
Sabrael, whose fear and sudden confusion had slammed into Rei as soon as things deescalated, looked timidly over. “Yes?” he answered quietly.
“Sorry I called you a bitch.”
“It’s okay,” he answered.
Once the door was closed behind them, Rei leaned against a stone wall and nearly fell onto the floor, moaning through grit teeth and panting with short, shallow breaths. Affected stoicism was his favorite ability, but this time it came at a very real cost. He fumbled with his satchel and downed three small vials of potion. The pain subsided, but he was still exhausted from the effort, and he only closed his eyes, picking his feelings of relief out of the mass that was Sabrael’s.
“Rei?” he sniffled.
“What just happened?”
“I saw an out, and I took it. I wasn’t going to weather that fight if we’d continued.”
“You don’t have to fight people who call me names,” he said.
“I’m not going to let some gutter trash call my husband a bitch. Or a faggot. Or a Mary. Or a ponce. Or whatever slur they happen to favor.”
“I don’t even know what a bitch is, Rei. Why does it matter?”
Rei sighed. “Because it’s an ugly word. A bitch is a female dog. When you call a person someone’s bitch, you’re saying that they’re the ones who take it, because in a lot of people’s minds, if you’re a man, it’s fine to do the fucking but not so fine to be the one who’s fucked. And that’s nonsense.”
“That is a pretty awful thing to say,” Sabrael granted. “Even so, I’m glad you knew when to stop. I’m glad you could make up. You didn’t even really get all that excited.”
“The pain was a bit more than I’ve had to deal with, historically, and I’m sorry I made you deal with that. I’m very sorry, Sabrael.”
“It’s okay,” he said, sitting on the floor next to him and wrapping his arms gently around his waist. “I trusted you knew what you were doing.”
“That’s as may be, but that’s really no excuse. Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah. I guess you are, too.”
Rei nodded. “Let’s go, beauty. If I sit here much longer, I’ll doze off.”
The warrens were much darker than the sewers; at least the sewers had grates every now and then that let natural light in. They were truly underground, now, and so Rei told Sabrael to lightly hold his tail. He trusted his kirin to not clamp down on it if he needed to move quickly. Down stairs, around and around in circles, looking through bars in the doors to empty cells. Finally they came to a door, and Rei opened it to find a whole new room with different cells. As they entered, he heard signs of life, the first being the hoarse voice of a woman who’d sequestered herself.
“Go away!” she cried. “Go away! Go away!”
Somehow Rei didn’t think she was talking to them. He’d been silent in opening the doors, and even Sabrael’s footsteps were admirably muffled. That didn’t mean anything, of course, but there was something in the way she said it.
“Book. Bucket. Stone… No. No, no, no,” she continued. “Stone. Inkpot. Book.”
“Rei,” Sabrael whispered. He was nervous.
“She’s unwell, beauty,” he whispered back. “Pay her no mind.”
In the darkness, Rei saw a set of stairs that led to an upper tier of cells, and climbed them with Sabrael in tow. It was odd feeling his tail swish, only to stop on its way down by Sabrael’s hand. It occurred to him that he’d never let anyone hold onto it, before.
Noise emanated from another cell that emitted a weak light. Rei peered through the bars and found a man that was certainly old, but he was dressed in chef’s clothes. That didn’t seem right.
“Oh, my darling!” the man cried. “Would you like to stay for dinner? I love company.”
Rei saw human bones on the floor, and this man was wielding a butcher’s cleaver.
“Don’t be that way! Come in, come in!”
Rei turned and slammed his back against the door as the man reached for the knob. Over and over, the door pushed slightly open, and Rei kept his weight on it to slam it closed. Rather than tangle with another of the Ratway’s deranged denizens, he looked back and forth, wondering if there was something – anything – that could keep this person away from them. Tired, in pain, and without the weapon of surprise, he felt a bit too vulnerable in dealing with an unstable person with a cleaver and no reservations about where it went or what it hit. A black eye from a punch was one thing, after all.
“Come here, sweet one!” the man continued. His voice was taking on an increasingly disturbing air. “Come here, come here, come here! I only want to be friends! To share a meal!”
“Sabrael go look in one of the empty cells. He has a chair in there; maybe there’s one somewhere else.”
“I can’t see!”
Sabrael hugged the wall, his courage fighting with his uncertainty, until he came to a door. He knocked on it. “Hello? Is anybody here?”
“I’m here!” the butcher called. “Come join your friend! We’ll have a wonderful dinner!”
“Sabrael!” he called. “There’s no one in there, just look, please!”
His kirin jumped and opened the door, cautiously disappearing into the room.
Please, please, please, Rei prayed as the butcher redoubled his efforts at pushing the door open.
A loud knock, like an axe on wood, then another, and then the pointed corner of the cleaver caught him in the middle of his back.
“You’re not playing very nice, my dear!”
The knocking again, and Rei flipped so that he was only using his hands and arms to keep the door closed.
“I think I found one!” Sabrael called.
“Then bring it! Quick as you can!”
Sabrael certainly had found a chair, and between its size and the darkness, he was having a remarkable amount of trouble making it back.
“Follow my voice, Sabrael,” he called. “Follow my voice and this crazy man’s voice and the sound of his cleaver trying to bury itself in my body!”
“I’m trying, Rei, I’m trying!” he called back. “I can see the light, but this is really heavy!”
“You’re doing fine, beauty, you’re almost here! Okay lean the chair back so that top bit is under the doorknob.”
After a bit of a struggle, Sabrael managed to get the piece of furniture turned around and positioned in just the way Rei had instructed. Cautiously, Rei took his hands away. The increasingly agitated butcher ranted and continued to wildly swing his weapon, but the chair held the door in place. It would have to do.
“I’m sorry I didn’t move faster,” Sabrael said.
“It’s okay, beauty, don’t worry about it. We were put into a bit of an awkward situation.”
There were a few more unoccupied cells, and then another with a proper fire burning in a grate. This one had an old man in it, too, but this one only sat, staring into the fire.
“Excuse me?” Rei called through the bars.
“You look like them!” the man answered.
“Their skin was gold, though. Their skin was gold, but their blood was red. I knew it would be.”
Rei cocked his head.
“They gave me a medal for it. It had a face on it. It didn’t help.”
“Are you Esbern?”
“I saw the fires all along Lake Rumare! It was beautiful, like stars come to Nirn. Their blood was red.”
Rei drew back, and the man only turned back to the fire, rocking slightly and mumbling to himself.
“Do you think that’s him?” Sabrael whispered.
“No,” Rei said. “No, that’s not him.”
“How do you know?”
“Lake Rumare was the site of several battles during the Great War. He was an Imperial soldier.”
“I imagine he slew a good deal of Altmer and it was the fact that we bleed red just as they do that drove him mad with regret.”
Rei sighed, hoping this would be over soon. He wondered how long face sculpting took and if Tauryon would be done and wondering where they were by the time they found this person. If they found him, at all. At the very end of the walk, though, he saw a solid wooden door that was reinforced several times with iron and steel to the point of redundancy. This one had no bars on the window, but there was a sliding door covering one that was just big enough to see through. If a paranoid old man were living anywhere, it was probably here.
“Did you see something?” Sabrael asked as his tail twitched.
“Yes, come on.”
When they reached the door, Rei bent so that his eyes were aligned with the peephole and knocked. He jumped as the little door snapped open and he was met with rheumy, ice-blue eyes.
“Go away!” the man shouted.
“Esbern?” Rei asked.
“…No! No, I’m not Esbern, and I don’t know anyone by that name. Now go on.”
“Wait, you don’t understand! The dragons are coming back. Delphine sent us.”
“Yes. She told us where we might find you. She said to remember the thirtieth of Frostfall.”
Esbern paused. “I do remember. And Delphine keeps up the fight, does she? After all these years? Alright, come in, come in. Quickly, now.”
The little door snapped closed again, and Rei put his arm around Sabrael’s shoulders while they stood and listened to the sound of countless locks and bars opening and sliding. Finally, the door opened properly and Esbern ushered them inside what was really a nice room. There were rugs on the floor, a roaring fire in the grate, a proper bed, and a desks and shelves overflowing with books and scrolls and parchment paper.
“What are you?” Esbern asked.
“My name is Rei Ginsei. I am an Altmer,” Rei said carefully. “I was a bit touched by a Daedric Prince, which is why I look the way I do. And this is Sabrael. He is a water elemental. A Kelpie.”
“How interesting. But you’re an Altmer, hm?”
“I have no ties to the Thalmor. I fought in no wars, I minded my own business. The reason we are here is because, as I said, the dragons are back, and Delphine said you’re one of the only people that can help us.”
“I told her, and I told everyone else that the prophecies foretold this very thing,” Esbern said. “Alduin would return, and with him comes the end of the world.”
“Alduin,” Rei repeated. “Two of the dragons I’ve slain mentioned that name, and twice I saw a particular dragon that was bigger than the others and black as pitch.”
“Alduin is the World Eater. The first dragon born of Akatosh, banished by the Ancient Nords, only to return to take his revenge and fulfill the promise of his name.”
“So, if the world is ending, what are we supposed to do?”
“The only way we can stop Alduin is if we had someone who was Dragonborn. Without that person, dragons cannot be truly killed, and Alduin will reign supreme. But there hasn’t been a Dragonborn in-”
“Rei’s Dragonborn!” Sabrael chimed in. “That means he can save us, right?”
“So there is hope!” Esbern cried. “Alright. We must get back to Delphine as soon as we can. Just let me gather my things…”
Rei watched as the old man shuffled about, stuffing clothes haphazardly into sacks along with far too many books than Rei thought was practical. He hadn’t thought the dragons’ return meant the actual end of the entire world. The concept made his heart clench. He had more or less accepted his mortality, but he supposed it was only relief that made it seem so minuscule an issue. Now, though, faced with something even immortality couldn’t survive, he felt like panicking. Where would he go? What about Tauryon? Would Sabrael just go back to Oblivion?
“Alright,” Esbern said, handing over a heavy bag of books. “Let’s go. Quickly, now!”