No Cymbeline, I’m sorry. But you know how it is by now – something grabs you. This one’s a bit short, but It’s not too bad I don’t think. Rei has to cope with one eye, obnoxious old ladies, and just about every feeling under the sun.
“It’s about time you got here,” Delphine said as they dismounted their horses at the mining settlement situated uncomfortably on the edge of a Forsworn encampment.
Sabrael’s mind was tired. He’d been dealing with Rei’s upset since leaving Whiterun, and despite that horrendous shriek, and the crying, and the attempts at reassurance, he wasn’t much better. The edge was dulled, but he was still deeply angry and desperately upset. Sabrael wished very much that he could take all that away, but if Rei’s devotion to Clavicus Vile had taught him anything, it was that he simply didn’t have the same ability to bring him peace in the way Vile did. It was Tauryon’s arm around him that helped him relax, not his husband’s, and as he looked up, the now deceptively young mer smiled gently.
“We got here as soon as we could,” Rei said irritably. He was at an edge that Sabrael didn’t like to be perched on. “Perhaps you noticed when we first arrived in Riverwood I was injured. Perhaps you have noticed now, that I’m missing an eye. It takes a bit to get used to.”
“Poor baby. I saw worse wounds than that during the War.”
Sabrael drew a sharp breath as pure anger pierced his heart.
“Never mind,” Sabrael interrupted. “We’re here now, what do we do?”
“Well the Forsworn aren’t going to be very amenable to our cause,” Delphine said. “Esbern says the wall that we’re looking for is in that mountain, there, across the river.”
“How are we going to get through?” Sabrael asked.
“We kill them,” Rei said flatly. “Every last one.”
“I suppose I have to admit that he’s right,” Delphine said. “These savages have no regard for anyone outside their little crusade.”
“But we haven’t done anything to them!”
“They don’t care. They claim birthright to this land, and anyone who trespasses is fair game.”
Sabrael swallowed and looked at his husband. With no sun to completely blind him, he’d lowered his hood and stood at the edge of the steep drop that led down into the river valley. It was all coming back, the way he would get so angry and crave violence to ease his mind. He had been trying to quell all that, and as much as Sabrael hated to feel it, when he felt his bloodlust at Ustengrav, he knew it was for fun. Ugly though that was, Rei hadn’t been out of his mind. The anger, though, that’s what made things so much worse. Sabrael thought of that night when he huddled for hours in their tent, shivering and crying, jumping at every little sound, all because Rei had been so furious that he’d left him alone so that Vile could love him and let him do horrid things.
He sniffled and looked up at his lover. “Tauryon?”
“Let him,” he answered simply.
“Stop talking about me!” Rei suddenly barked, causing Sabrael to jump almost five feet in the air.
“We weren’t!” Sabrael protested. “We weren’t, I promise! Tauryon just said I should let you…let you kill those people.”
“Tauryon knows what’s best right now. Come with me, or don’t. Any of you. But regardless of what you do, just stay out of my way.”
Sabrael tried to keep from crying as he watched his love hop off the edge of the hill and descend via a combination of sliding and hauling himself forward like a beast on all fours. It was unnatural and terrifying to see him do it. He couldn’t know for sure, but he suspected that was a holdover from his servitude to Vile, when he was drunk on power and so rabid that it wasn’t just cackling that the hyenas did.
“You’re not gonna leave me, too, are you?” Sabrael asked Tauryon as Delphine helped Esbern down the hill.
“Of course not, little one,” he answered, sitting on the wooden porch of the bunkhouse.
There was only the one guard on duty. He didn’t seem to pay any of them any mind, and even now as the sounds of fighting carried upward, he only kept his leisurely patrol around the area at-large.
Sabrael walked over and joined him glumly, muscles all tight balls of pain. A long arm was around him again, and he felt a firm kiss on his temple.
“Why is he like this?” he asked for the hundredth time. He hoped very much to find some satisfying answer one day.
“Some people are just made certain ways,” Tauryon answered. “This is, for better or worse, the best way that he’s found to ease the pressure of his frustrations.”
Sabrael took a deep breath, mustering up the courage to ask: “Why have you been defending him today?”
“Well just now you didn’t seem like you were very concerned about his killing people for no real reason, and earlier you just wrote off his violence toward Delphine as valiance, something anyone would do. Like I was the one being unreasonable.”
“Sabrael,” Tauryon sighed, “I want Celedaen to be happy. He’s never had a very happy life, and I know that, whatever strife Clavicus Vile caused us, his is probably the worst.”
Sabrael felt his distress shifting into suspicion. “How do you figure that?”
“Have you ever seen a skooma addict, Sabrael?”
“Someone’s asked me that before. No.”
“When you pull an addict from his addiction, it’s a very unpleasant and oftentimes violent situation. Those around to experience it have it hard, but imagine something you rely on so dearly, whether it’s skooma or alcohol or someone that’s filling a void in you is ripped from your grasp. Celedaen did a very admirable thing, and he did it for you. He gave up a centuries-old addiction for love of you.”
“If he loved me, he wouldn’t be doing this,” he shuddered as he felt the hyena start to cackle. “Making me feel this way.”
“He’s suffered a lot over the past few days. It’s not a good thing that he does in response, but it’s the only way he knows how to cope.”
“I still don’t understand how you can encourage it. Those people might be dangerous, but that’s no reason to just run in out of nowhere and start murdering them.”
“Sometimes, Sabrael, there just isn’t an answer,” Tauryon said.
Sabrael took a shuddering breath and nestled into Tauryon’s arms. He squinted his eyes shut against Rei’s ecstasy. He hated that he could tell from emotion exactly what his husband was doing down there. On the spike of a sudden jolt of excitement, he shoved his face into the pit of Tauryon’s arm, clutching the fabric of his shirt and sobbing.
“He doesn’t hate them,” he said almost involuntarily.
“The people he kills,” Sabrael explained. “You probably know already, but I only just noticed that he doesn’t even hate them. He doesn’t feel anything towards them. Not all the time, anyway.”
“He sees them as playthings,” Tauryon said. “It’s really as simple as that.”
“It’s not, though. If you could feel him, you’d know.”
Tauryon sighed and pulled him close, and soon Sabrael felt a warm palm stroking his hair. For the first time since leaving the sea, he really wondered why he hadn’t listened to Phanuel and stayed with their pod. His friend Stadiel had cried. They could have been mates if it hadn’t been for Rei. Sabrael tried to think of cobalt scales and happy times, but it only made him cry harder.
“It’s done,” he said finally, sniffing hard and rubbing his eyes. “They’re all dead.”
“How do you know?”
“Because he’s…well…he’s spent.”
“Come, precious one,” Tauryon said. “Let’s find our way down to the others.”
Sabrael nodded and forced his legs to carry him toward what could only be a terribly bloody scene. The hill was slippery from a recent rain, and while Tauryon gingerly descended on old knee joints, Sabrael took to crawling downwards on his backside. How Rei could have simply plunged down with no fear and without breaking his neck, he couldn’t begin to imagine. As he’d known it would be, though, once he’d reached the bottom of the hill and looked out across the river, it was nothing but the color red and the smell of gore.
Without waiting for Tauryon, Sabrael walked carefully forward, giving in to the pull of morbid curiosity and looking around. The moonlight and scattered torches and campfires were thankfully not enough to see very clearly by, but the things he could see made him retch. People’s insides strewn all over, probably far away from the person they’d come from. A headless one. All of this and without the power once bestowed upon him by a Daedric Prince. Rei stood on a stone platform by the mountain across the river, his swords dangling loosely in his grip. He was coming down. He was satisfied, but Sabrael knew his mind’s eye was opening back up and he would be feeling him soon. He hoped very much that he could mask his fear enough to not upset the hyenas.
Delphine and Esbern were at the foot of the platform, looking up. A towering blue frost daedra stood blankly and obediently by Esbern’s side. Delphine, in particular, seemed to have traded her usual disaffected sneer for a look that betrayed a deep disturbance. She, too, was holding onto her sword, but it seemed more likely that she’d simply forgotten she was holding it. It had its share of blood, but it was nothing to the flesh that clung to Rei’s blades.
“What’s wrong?” Sabrael asked flatly. Rei’s mood was turning, and he took a deep breath against it. It wasn’t pleasant.
“What is he?” Delphine asked slowly. “Really?”
“He’s your Dragonborn.”
Rei’s mood was getting lower as Sabrael ascended the steps, but he wasn’t angry. Sabrael’s steps grew slower and shakier the closer he got.
“Rei?” he said. “It’s okay.”
The clang of gore-encrusted steel hitting the stone floor made him jump, but as soon as Rei turned around, Sabrael rushed to him as he dropped to his knees. Long arms wrapped tightly around his waist, and Rei’s forehead pressed into his belly as it was now his turn to sob uncontrollably.
“Rei, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do this to you!” Sabrael found himself saying. He didn’t know why, though.
“You didn’t,” Rei choked. “Don’t think that. I shouldn’t have given in like that and without any regard. I know it hurts you, and I know that I just threw all of my work up to this point away.”
“You slipped!” Sabrael said quickly, desperate to make his love feel better after he, himself, had to endure Rei’s violence. “That’s all. Tauryon said-”
“I know you were wondering why you left home.”
Sabrael felt his stomach drop and a deep chill run through his bones. “H-How could you know that?”
Rei looked up at him with a profound despair. “I don’t guess I do,” he said, “but I felt the regret. What else could you have to regret that way?”
“I was trying to think of happy things. My family. My friends. I guess in the midst of everything else it turned into a wish.”
Rei sighed and moved so that his cheek was resting against Sabrael’s stomach. Sabrael saw the streak of dark red on his jacket that smeared with the movement. He knew there were going to be spotty red handprints on his back. It made him shudder, but he put his hands over Rei’s head and pulled it close. The sorrow and the regret were very real and very painful, and Sabrael only closed his eyes and tried to mingle his own reassuring feelings to ease both of their discomfort.
“I’ll take you home.”
“Rei, I don’t wanna go home.”
“You belong there,” Rei insisted. “With your family who loves you the way you need to be loved.”
“Stop,” he said. “Now’s not the time, okay? You’re my family, and I love you, and I know you love me. Come on.”
Sabrael helped Rei to his feet and looked up at the long face that looked down, in kind. He was breathing slowly, but his exhalations were hard. “I know you love me, Sabrael. I just wish I knew why.”
Sabrael felt his muscles relax, and he embraced his husband tightly. “Sometimes there aren’t answers.”
“Is everything okay?” Tauryon’s voice said behind him.
Rei nodded and sniffed, and Sabrael cuddled him more closely for just one more moment.
“What just happened right now?” Delphine asked. Esbern was behind her on the steps, but his daedra had vanished.
“Killing like that takes a lot out of me,” Rei lied. Sabrael glanced over at him as he gathered his swords, wiping them unceremoniously onto his pants. “I needed to decompress, that’s all.”
“Right. Well. There’s the entrance. Let’s see if Esbern’s books have some substance to them.”
They all stepped into the narrow crevice that led into the side of the mountain, where they paused only momentarily for Esbern to light Delphine’s torch with a flicker of mage fire. Sabrael held onto Rei’s hand, ready for something, anything, to jump out at them from the shadows. He tried to tell himself that there was no need to worry, but in everyone’s collective state of distress and bewilderment, it seemed things could go sideways very easily. Slowly, the cave began to transition into something crafted by man. Here and there bits of rubble lay on the ground, and, when he saw a juniper tree growing in a shallow pile of dirt, he looked up to see stars glittering above them.
“Is there any way we can do without that thing?” Rei asked suddenly. His worry was being rapidly supplanted by his usual impatience, and Sabrael swallowed.
“It hurts my eye. I can’t see.”
“Well, we can’t see without it,” Delphine argued.
“There’s a hole in the ceiling and both moons are perfectly full. I know you can’t see as well as I can, but don’t act like you can’t see, at all.”
“He’s right,” Tauryon said. “It looks like there’s a decent amount to be seen here, and it’s best we sacrifice some of our vision to grant him relief and the ability to look around. After all, isn’t this place sacred to the Blades, and, by extension, and perhaps most of all, Rei Ginsei?”
“Fine,” Delphine conceded sullenly, upending the torch and burying the flame in a pile of dirt.
The torch’s absence actually did seem to help even the others. Without its concentrated presence, Sabrael could see more clearly around them, even if detail had been lost.
“Well you were right,” Delphine said. “We can see, and what we can see is that we’re trapped on this platform.”
“How does one get trapped on a platform they got onto by stairs?” Rei sneered. “Anyway, there’s a bridge.”
“I’ might not have your sight, but I’m not blind, Rei. There is no bridge.”
“Look over to your right, you dumb bint. What do you call that thing on a hinge?”
“Rei,” Sabrael said quietly as he squeezed his hand.
Rei’s mind was as tired as his own from the wide spectrum of moods they’d traversed over the last day. He was still feeling shame from his murder spree, he was still feeling resentment over the loss of his eye, he was still annoyed beyond all reason at the Breton they’d had the misfortune of meeting. Sabrael knew this was the culmination of it all. It hurt him inside, apart from Rei’s hurt, creating one of those awful loops, he didn’t know if he could handle much more animosity.
“I’m sorry, beauty,” he said quickly, squeezing back.
“That’s all well and good,” Delphine said, “but it doesn’t really do us much good up there, does it?”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time here, it’s that Nords really hate puzzles. I’m sure this is just some dead end and nobody was ever meant to get in or out.”
“That’s enough, you two,” Esbern’s old voice barked. “Look here. If these were snakes, you both would’ve been bitten.”
Sabrael flinched as he felt Rei’s surprise.
“And with the way things have been going, they’d probably have bitten you to death before you stopped squabbling and noticed them.”
Sabrael looked with Rei over to the far end of the platform where three small pillars sat. They reminded him of the puzzle he and Rei had come across in Bleak Falls Barrow, but if there was any sort of answer key around, it was too dark for him to make it out.
“There are carvings on here,” Esbern said. “My eyes aren’t what they used to be, however, and they’ve been worn quite smooth. Rei Ginsei, if you could find it in you to be of some assistance-”
“I killed most of those Forsworn for you! How dare-”
“Rei Ginsei, please!” Esbern said quickly. “I only meant that if you could kindly leave Delphine be, would you lend me your eyes?”
Rei sighed, and Sabrael leaned his head against his arm. A small wave of thankfulness filled his heart.
“You want me to tell you what carvings there are, I suppose?”
“If you would.”
Rei stepped towards the stones and looked all around them. “They’ve all got the same three carvings each. This one, it, er…”
“I thought you said you could see,” Delphine sniped.
“I’m sorry, are you an expert on Akaviri carvings?”
“Rei, stop it,” Sabrael begged. “She’s just doing it to bother you.”
“Some might do well to remember what happens to people who bother me.”
Sabrael sighed wearily and gratefully snuggled into Tauryon’s embrace as he felt his arm slide around him.
“I don’t know how to describe this one, is all. There’s a bird-like thing, with its wings out. It’s flying over a flower? A tortoise shell? I…I don’t really know.”
Rei looked down and purposefully avoided looking at anyone. Sabrael felt his frustration, and at least this time could he grant some real sympathy. Rei felt he was failing at something simple. It was that old, old feeling that really nestled deep in the pit of his stomach.
“Well it’s a good thing we put the torch out.”
“Be quiet,” Esbern said.
It’s about time, Sabrael found himself thinking.
“Rei Ginsei, what you describe is similar to a few symbols that I know. I wonder, if you would, just take my hand and move my finger directly over the design.”
Rei’s dim silhouette paused a moment before reaching out. Sabrael pulled himself closer to Tauryon as he watched the long, spidery hand, palm up, take the old, gnarled hand that was feeling around this way and that. The quiet was a bit unsettling. Still, Rei kneeled by the pillar and moved the old man’s index finger over the exact shape in a way the softened grooves wouldn’t be able to afford on their own and without guidance.
“Ah!” Esbern gasped. “This one is the symbol for ‘king’. The bird you described is the crown. You see how the ‘wings’ turn up?”
“Oh,” Rei answered. “I guess so. Yes, that makes sense.”
Sabrael felt a little giggle bubble up from his chest.
“Now the next one.”
Rei moved to the next pillar, whose worn relief was more easily accessible.
“This one is ‘warrior’,” Esbern explained.
“It’s like a rather large person, and I guess those are blades at the bottom.”
“Good, good. Quite so! Now, one more, correct?”
“Yes,” Rei said, guiding the old man over and moving his finger over the carving. “I think this one’s been worn more. It’s kind of like two serpents, I suppose. They form a heart shape of sorts, and at the bottom, in the middle, there’s an arrow that points downward where the two tails meet.”
“Thank you, Rei Ginsei. It was indeed much more worn than the others. What you describe is the symbol for ‘Dragonborn’.”
“For me,” Rei said. Sabrael felt his hands start to shake nervously. “For all these centuries there’s been a symbol for me.”
“Well, For the Dragonborn,” Delphine corrected. “Surely you don’t think you’re the only one?”
“I know the title’s been ceremonial more than a descriptor for quite a number of years.”
“Let’s not continue this line,” Tauryon said. Sabrael breathed with relief that he was finally saying something concerning Rei’s behavior. “We don’t have all night.”
“Indeed,” Esbern agreed. “We must find a way to get that bridge down.”
Nobody said anything for a while. Sabrael certainly couldn’t divine what combination of symbols would drop the bridge, but an idea struck him. “Rei, are the ‘Dragonborn’ symbols all worn down like the other one?”
A little surge of happiness and pride filled him as he watched his love quickly check the other two pillars. “Yes, those two in particular are worn down much more then the others. You don’t think the combination is simply the same symbol three times over?”
“It’s worth a try,” Sabrael said eagerly. “Even if it isn’t the solution, we’ll have a starting point, right?”
“Very true. Alright.”
Rei returned to the first pillar. It was much smaller than the ones Sabrael remembered, but he could see how that one particular design could get so worn. It would have been very easy, especially when the pillars would have been in more regular use, to simply lay hands on the correct side and haul the pillar around to the proper angle. Then, when it was time to shuffle them back, it was possible that the symbol would have then been pushed more than the others.
Rei stood after aligning the last symbol, but nothing seemed to happen. Sabrael shared his husband’s disappointment. He supposed it was just a bit too-
A loud, terrifying groan echoed through the caverns, and before Sabrael had time to react, he felt hands on his shoulders pulling him to the side, as he watched the great stone bridge fall from its upright position, only to crash against the side of the platform. Sabrael reflexively clung to the person who’d pulled him back, and smiled when he felt gently toned abdominal muscles against his cheek through warm fabric.
“Alright, well,” Delphine announced once the dust had settled, “since we’re not allowed the luxury of a torch, perhaps the Dragonborn should be our eyes?”
Rei let go of Sabrael’s shoulders, pushing by everyone else, and led the way across the bridge. Sabrael wished that Rei had just let them light the torch; it was growing so dark that it was almost painful to his eyes. Still, he held onto Tauryon’s arm, and Tauryon held him back. They walked and walked, slowly and carefully, as Sabrael could see the vague outline of his husband’s shape moving confidently forward and growing distant.
“I’m sorry I’m not moving very fast,” Sabrael whispered.
“No need to apologize. None of us can see any better.”
“I wish a torch didn’t have to be what they fight over.”
“Celedaen and Delphine both have unreasonable senses of pride,” Tauryon said. “His nerves are worn and the torch is just what he latched onto.”
“That doesn’t help me see better,” he sighed.
Embarrassment and sorrow nestled in his core.
Finally they walked into a room that had a hole in the ceiling like the one with the bridge, and Sabrael was able to see again, somewhat. The floor they had stepped onto was clean stone tile, and at the front of the room was a huge face with eyes lacking irises or pupils. It was carved into the stone wall, staring at nothing, with no expression, and it gave Sabrael the chills.
“Who is that?” he asked timidly.
“That,” Esbern answered quickly and authoritatively, “is the visage of Reman Cyrodiil, the third Dragonborn. It was his grandson that permitted the carving of Alduin’s wall, and, presumably, that’s when his likeness was carved, as well.”
“So what do we do?” Rei asked, wandering around and taking in his surroundings. “Where’s the wall?”
“Look beneath your feet, Rei Ginsei,” Esbern said. “Those concentric circles form what the Akaviri called a blood seal.”
Rei stepped back and looked down. “They want my blood,” he said.
“That’s the idea. Just a healthy drop of your blood in the center, and, ideally, our path will be made clear.”
“What if it’s not?” Tauryon asked. “You would have my love mutilate himself for some old magic that may or may not be effective anymore?”
Sabrael drew back a little at Tauryon’s description of Rei as his love, but he supposed his own reaction wasn’t too different.
“I’ve bled more for less,” Rei said. “If we must, then we must.”
Sabrael felt his muscles tensing as Rei slipped his dagger from its sheath on his back, dreading the feeling. If it were him, he’d have held the dagger, shaking, completely unsure of what to cut, let alone where he would gather the courage. In half a second, though, he gasped, and a deep sense of relief and pleasure enveloped him. He opened his eyes and saw that his husband had slashed the palm of his hand. It was too dark to see anything specific, but it must have been deep, because with one downwards flick of his wrist, a sizable, dark silhouette flew from Rei’s fist and onto the ground below him.
A glow emanated from the ground, then, right where Rei had unceremoniously flung his life force, and Sabrael felt himself be pushed back by Tauryon’s arm. The ground shook and the walls began to shed dust, pebbles, and outright chunks of rock.
“Rei, get back!” Sabrael called. “Come on, we need to go!”
The great stone face of Reman Cyrodiil began to shake and raise itself on a hinge, revealing nothing but darkness behind it. When the quaking subsided, everyone stood and stared into the void.
“It’s a door,” Rei said. “Two sets.”
“Can we light the torch again?” Delphine asked. “I’ll grant your respect as the Dragonborn, but I feel that Esbern and I should be allowed to see the temple built for the Blades.”
“Fine,” Rei sighed grudgingly as he wrapped his hand in a bandage he kept in his medical satchel. “I suppose I did manage outside. On the walkways.”
Sabrael trotted over and wrapped his arms around his husband’s middle. Rei was upset. He, himself, was upset. Rei’s mind was a mess again, like it was on fire and everything had started bleeding together. But as Sabrael pushed his face into his love’s side, he tried to send all the love he could to help quell those flames. It seemed to work. A calmness broke through, even if it was only a bit, and a muscular arm was around him. The bandage was already almost completely soaked through, and he shuddered, but it seemed to ease his upset as much as Sabrael’s love, and so he held onto him more tightly.
With the torch lit, Delphine and Esbern walked toward the opening in the wall, where Sabrael could just see the beginning of a set of steps.
“Rei?” Delphine said. “You’re the Dragonborn. You should go first.”
Suspicion flared and made Sabrael’s hands shake.
Rei smoothed his hair and leaned down. Sabrael received his kiss, and found himself saying, “You know I love you, right?”
“Of course I do, beauty. It’s the strongest thing I can feel, and the entire reason I keep going.”
A sudden sob shook him as he continued to hold onto him.
“Let me go do this, now,” Rei said. “The sooner it’s done, the sooner we can rest.”
Sabrael nodded and reluctantly let his husband slide from his grip.
Up the stairs he walked, two at a time, until he reached the towering doors. It took some effort; years of neglect had caused the stone to shift, jamming the doors in their frames. With a little extra effort, though, Rei was able to push one of the doors open, eliciting an unsettling groan from its hinges and a loud, protesting scrape as it slid along the stone floor.
“What’s in there?” Tauryon called.
“Stairs,” Rei answered flatly. “Stairs and stairs.”
“Stairs or no, what’s at the end is what we’re interested in,” Esbern said. “Hopefully.”
Rei looked ruefully over at the old man and began to trudge up the stairs alone while Sabrael fell in line with the others who needed the light.
“This might be the fifth mood swing since…you know…” Sabrael whispered forlornly to Tauryon.
“It’s bad, then.”
Sabrael nodded. Rei was walking far ahead while Delphine attempted to light long-disused braziers and Esbern admired the bas relief along the walls.
“It’s my fault.”
“Now why in all of Mundus would you say that?” Tauryon asked.
“You know what killing like that is to him. He was hoping to feel better, and, at the end of it all, he only felt shame for hurting me.”
“Perhaps sometimes concessions have to be made. Perhaps if you gave him some room, hm?”
Sabrael looked up at his lover curiously. Was he being unreasonable?
“Some room to just hurt people?”
“It’s best we just move along for now,” Tauryon said dismissively.
The stairways were short, and when they came upon the great hall at the end, the torchlight wasn’t nearly enough to take in everything around them. What Sabrael could see was that it seemed like a bunch of people had just left all of a sudden. The big table in the middle still had dishes on it, with overturned cups and with the dust of what had once been food, he was sure. A couple of sturdier bones had survived, though, and his lip curled in revulsion.
“There it is!” Esbern cried, rushing up a ramp where a huge carving sat overlooking the hall. “Delphine, quick, quick! Light the braziers, bring me the torch!”
Delphine hurried to do as she was asked, and Rei joined them both, lifting his hood, while Sabrael stayed back with Tauryon.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Esbern said. “Perhaps the finest, most untouched example of Akaviri art known to mankind!”
“We’re not here for an art lesson,” Delphine snapped. “Just tell us what those…those scribblings mean.”
Sabrael, of all the unfair things he’d ever heard from that Breton, thought that might have been the most. He couldn’t see terribly well from where he stood, but between the braziers and the torch, he could see very intricate designs carved delicately into the stone. He really couldn’t tell what they were, but they were beautiful, nonetheless, and absolutely weren’t worth such a dismissive attitude.
“Patience, Delphine,” Esbern pleaded. “The Akaviri were not a straightforward people when it came to their storytelling. Everything they told were couched in obscure symbols and metaphor.”
“Well that’s your plane of expertise,” Delphine sulked.
“Don’t you know the Prophecy? All this time, Delphine, and you still refuse to learn? Look, the centerpiece of the mural is Alduin falling. You see his head here, his body curving here.”
“And those are people around him,” Rei observed.
“The ancient Tongues, men gifted by Kyne the language of dragons. It seems that what brought about Alduin’s fall was a shout. See, this symbol here, emanating from their mouths and assaulting Alduin’s body.”
“A shout, huh?” Delphine said. “What kind of shout?”
“It doesn’t say.”
“Well you’re the Dragonborn, what about you?”
“What about me? If I knew a shout that could destroy Akataosh’s first born, we probably wouldn’t be looking to find out what it was. Can you imagine?”
“Whatever the case, we need to find out what it was. And, unless either of you have any recommendations, I’m afraid that leaves us with the Greybeards.”
“What’s wrong with the Greybeards?” Sabrael ventured to ask.
“If they had their way, they’d have your husband there picking flowers and writing lines about peace and happiness.”
“I think you’re exaggerating.”
“Exaggeration or not,” Rei interrupted, “I’m my own man, and I will do as I please. I will ask the Greybeards about this shout, and if they have it, that’s good. If they don’t, I’m sure we’ll manage somehow.”
“Should we stay here overnight?” Tauryon asked as they began walking back towards the door.
“It’s cold and filthy,” Rei answered. “The horses need their tack removed and to be unburdened, besides. We’ll head back to the mining settlement, and from there I’m sure we can find a suitable place to camp.”
“It’s been a long time since we’ve camped,” Sabrael said, feeling suddenly relieved. Rei’s mood was coming back down once more, and hopefully it would stay that way.
Rei had never been one to shirk his duties or to only put half his effort into something, and so, after such a long period of unstable moods, it was more of a chore to set up camp than it otherwise would have been. Where once it had just been something that needed to be done, now it was just a long, unpleasant slog. He donned his hood again when the fire was lit, and while his husband and lover took their meal of vegetable stew, he only sat with them on the ground staring at his fingers.
“You’re restless,” Sabrael said. Poor Sabrael, who’d had to handle his swings without any real scar tissue to damp it.
“My mind’s racing, that’s all. I think I’m going to go for a walk,” he said, standing up and grabbing his bow and quiver from inside the tent. “Maybe hunt something more substantial for breakfast.”
“Celedaen, I wish you wouldn’t,” Tauryon said.
“You said you would allow me my whims, Tauryon. Please allow me this.”
“What do you mean Tauryon said he’d allow-”
“It’s nothing, Sabrael,” he interrupted, trying very hard not to snap or let his annoyance flare too much. “I’ll be back, I promise. Just don’t wait up, and don’t come to find me. Please.”
He wasn’t sure how strong his loves’ promises were going to be, but if they broke, then they broke.
He lowered his hood as he walked away from the camp and out into the darkness that was the scrubby landscape of The Reach. His stomach hurt, his throat was tight. Why did it have to be this way? It was so hard out on his own. Out on his own where no one really understood and where the person he loved had to feel every single bad thing. Every violent urge, every sting of resentment. He meant it: He would absolutely take Sabrael home if he wanted it. And he knew he wanted it, even if he said otherwise. Who could blame him?
What do I want?
He found he couldn’t answer that with any logic. Sabrael wanted a man who wasn’t who he was and who never would be. Tauryon wanted a man from his past who didn’t exist anymore. He thought he was alright, allowing his friend to address him by his old name, but recent events told him that it wasn’t only a matter of habit. That’s just who Tauryon wanted.
It had been months, and still his emotions were sharp like knives. But maybe that’s just how they had always been? Unmanageable, unbearable.
A sharp breath filled his lungs, and he fell to the ground, sobbing, with his knees up to his chest. The crazy thought that he might, as a child, call for his mother flashed through his mind. Did he ever do that? Or was it always just for their Khaji’it housekeeper, Tsajisi. More likely, it was for
“STOP IT!” he cried.
He looked over his shoulder. He knew he was far enough away from his kirin to cause him distress, but he just needed to reassurance that the campfire was nowhere to be seen.
He hugged his knees and rocked back and forth, moaning as he sobbed quietly. He always had to cry, much to everyone else’s chagrin. It started, and he couldn’t stop it until it ran its course. What purpose it served, he didn’t know, except to exacerbate the pain. And it was too much today, and it just wouldn’t stop.
He pulled his dagger from its sheath. There was still blood on it from when he’d sliced his hand open. His hand that he suddenly realized was aching. In the moment, though, it felt so nice. It felt like a valve had just released a pocket of pressure.
It was the first time Sabrael had ever seen him cut himself. It was the first time he’d cut himself since meeting his little kirin. Sabrael didn’t ask about the feeling, and probably didn’t really think to considering the context.
“I want Clavicus,” he said in a tiny, wavering voice. “I want to go home. I’m so sorry.”
“Y’know Clavicus never liked when you did that,” a painfully familiar voice startled Rei out of his motion. He wound up nicking the side of his wrist.
“Barbas?” he asked as a black dog sauntered around from behind him. “I never cut myself when I was with Him.”
“Yeah, but he watched ya all those years you were paying tribute.”
Rei swallowed and ran his forearm under his nose. “What are you doing here? Did He…did He just hear me? Just now?”
“That was a happy coincidence,” Barbas said, sitting beside him. “The Master has had me checkin’ in on ya from time to time. Y’know. See how things are goin’. Just this time he finally asked me to appear.”
“Are you here to warn me? He wants me dead, I’m sure. Tell Him He doesn’t even need to try-”
“Easy, kid. Geez. I liked ya better without the emotional crap. He wants to tell you that He’s sorry.”
Rei’s brow knit suspiciously. “Why would he do that?”
“Because he’s sorry. Look, I know what that sounds like, but take it from a guy who’s been with Him longer than people have been on Nirn, He’s sorry.”
“What does He have to be sorry for?”
“That’s not for me to say,” Barbas answered. “You understand. I will say this, though: He loves you, and He misses you more than I’ve seen Him miss anything.”
“Don’t act surprised. Lovesickness is a wretched thing, Rei Ginsei. As a messenger to more lovesick people than you can imagine, there’s nothing more wretched than a lovesick Prince. Ours, anyway. I dunno if Molag Bal’s had any sort of experience.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Rei asked. He’d stopped crying, and in its wake wasn’t much more than exhaustion.
“Because He told me to, don’t ya listen?” Barbas snapped. “That and, well, I don’t like to see Him this way. He’s always on your island. He never comes home, and He can’t maintain that place anymore so it’s just crumbling into Oblivion around Him.”
Rei sighed and pushed his hands through his blood-matted hair. “Are you sure you aren’t just obeying some command to grant a wish?”
“Rei Ginsei, if Clavicus were in any state to grant wishes, He wouldn’t have sent me. I told you it was a coincidence I showed up when I did, and that’s what it was.”
“Well…what can I do?”
“At the moment? Not a lot,” Barbas said.
He nodded and looked at the ground.
“It hurts that I can’t,” he admitted. “I want to be with Him again so badly, Barbas. And even if this is all just one of His tricks, I know I deserve it.”
“He’s been cuddling with your clothes, so I wouldn’t worry too much about tricks,” Barbas said, rolling his eyes.
“Then just tell Him how much I love Him. Please? Tell Him I miss Him.”
“Not a problem. Oh, and one last thing. I gotta new collar.”
Rei turned to look as Barbas raised his chin to reveal a thin whistle tied around his neck by a fiber cord. He cut it with his dagger and held it in front of him.
“Now that’s a dog whistle,” Barbas explained, “but it ain’t just any dog whistle. This one transcends planes and is tuned especially to the ears of your favorite shapeshifting mutt. A gift from our Master to you. If you need anything, you just blow that there, and I’ll drop what I’m doin’ to come to you.”
Rei looked at the whistle and closed his fingers over it before putting it against his chest.
“I wish my clothes weren’t so covered in blood. Is there any chance of seeing Him?”
“It’s possible. We’re workin’ on it. In the meantime, ya got me. But don’t go crazy – hearin’ that thing ain’t exactly a picnic for me, ya got it?”
Rei nodded. “I should get back. But you should know I miss you, too.”
Barbas leaned his head into Rei’s hand as his ear was scratched, but it only lasted a moment before he pulled away. “Alright, alright. I only let you do that because you’re you. As for this missing me business, I’ve been enjoyin’ this quiet without you.”
Rei smiled as Barbas licked his hand before trotting away and fading into the night.
The whistle lay in his bandaged hand, not quite its span. Rei didn’t know if he could manage to use it sparingly, but he didn’t want to annoy Barbas too much. They may have been siblings at one point, but Barbas never let that get in the way of his crankiness.
They were working on it.
What would happen? He would have to face Azura, that much was certain, no matter who was with him. He would have to find Vile’s power again. Dragons. Princes. Loyalties. Love. And Sabrael…
One thing he knew for sure was that as much as he pined dearly for his Prince, he wanted Sabrael more, even if it meant being careful and abstaining from the things that kept him calm. First Tauryon suggesting he should behave the way he used to, and now Barbas come to send Vile’s sorrow; could this be a test? Was this something constructed somehow by Azura? So many wrong paths. And somehow all those wrong paths seemed beautiful and relaxing. Why wouldn’t She come to him? He loved Sabrael. Of course he did.
But he wasn’t a very strong man. He wasn’t strong, and it was all too much.
There were the tears again, the feeling of his chest tearing apart. It was cold, but he lay down in the grass, curled into a ball, and, clutching the whistle to his chest, cried himself to sleep.
Title: Look on Down from the Bridge Artist: Mazzy Star Album: Among My Swan Year: 1996