Sorry for the slowdown, peeps, but things’ll pick up soon enough. Meanwhile, here’s something about Rei and Paarthurnax.
Sex and dirty words early on, but y’know. Don’t read or scroll past!
Rei awakened, shivering violently, soaking wet from the morning frost. The sun wasn’t completely up, yet, and it took him a minute to find his bearings. Everything had been so trying, so much so that he thought he’d seen Barbas. Thought he’d heard Barbas tell him that Vile still loved and wanted him. His head ached, and as he tried to make the decision to ball up more tightly or to get up and warm himself with the people whose love he was supposed to have been craving, something pressed into the side of his chest uncomfortably. He didn’t dare think that what had happened was real, but as he pulled the disturbance out from under him, there it was: the thin whistle made of plain tin.
He thought of blowing it to see if it really was Barbas’ own whistle, but he thought better of it.
With a sigh, he pushed himself up, arms wrapped around his chest, and trudged back towards their camp. He hated the cold so very much, and he was so very tired of it. He’d long developed an arthritis in his fingers from the numerous times they’d been broken over the centuries. That was back when he didn’t have a soul, when the limited movement was just a mild nuisance and when the breaks hadn’t been bad or annoying enough for him to seek his master’s aid. Now, especially, his joints ached viciously and seemed reluctant to fully uncurl.
“Rei Ginsei,” a voice in his head echoed.
“Mistress Azura!” he cried excitedly. “Oh, gods, I’ve needed You!”
“As always,” She said. “You call me ‘mistress’ and yet you would have me always come to your aid while you provide nothing in return.”
Rei felt his heart drop. “But haven’t I been doing what you said? Haven’t I been trying to aid Skyrim?”
“You mewl like a child, and you expect your hand to be held with nothing ever asked of you. What have you done for me? In your travels have you given me thanks for the gift I gave you? Have you preached to others the virtues of the magic of dusk and dawn? Of patience and wisdom?”
“I…I didn’t think-”
“No, Rei Ginsei, you didn’t. And you don’t. Even now you act before you think. You run rampant as a child with negligent parents. And that’s what you are, at the end of the day, isn’t it? It’s what you always have been.”
Rei felt his claws begin sinking into his palms. “And You won’t even show Yourself! Beyond that one time, I never once have seen You.”
“Should it matter?” She asked. “For anyone else I could have simply sent one of my Winged Twilights, but I saw promise in you. I saw a man who would risk everything he had to save his loved ones. I thought surely, this creature, this construct of a flighty, unpredictable Prince, could see the difference between the dark and the light and could appreciate their balance. But you are no better than you were. You are your former master’s child.”
“And what should I have paid You tribute with?” he asked for no reason he could discern.
“Thankfulness,” She answered simply. “In the beginning it was there, and it was why I deigned to offer you my guidance. But I am not a map, I am not your mother, nor am I a fool. In your hand you hold an artifact of the Trickster Prince, given to you by his Arm.”
Rei set his jaw and held the whistle still closer.
“I wash my hands of you, Rei Ginsei. You opted to retain your appearance and your name as a reminder of your folly, but in reality it seems it was your undying fealty to Clavicus Vile. In the face of me, of your friends, of your own husband, you are His, alone, and so shall you always be. I leave you with this warning: Those who inhabit my plane are not a sad group of human savages the likes of which you slew earlier. Be wary of any ‘projects’ he may set you to.”
The emptiness then, as Azura left his mind.
Azura had given him much to think about. Was he still Vile’s Star?
Yes. Yes, he must be.
“Projects” was a very foreboding word, though. Rei still wasn’t entirely sure this wasn’t a trick to get Vile’s power back so that Rei could properly face his demise.
Not that he didn’t deserve it.
He looked at the whistle in his hand, biting his upper lip and raising his hood with his other hand. He looked over his shoulder, and while he was still far enough away that he could neither feel Sabrael’s emotions nor see the camp, he jogged over to a small overhang and leaned against it. Barbas would just have to be upset.
Rei put the tiny mouthpiece to his lips and blew. After a minute there was nothing. He blew again, but still there was nothing. Before he could try again, however-
“What in Oblivion is your problem?” Barbas snapped as he appeared next to him. “Just give me five seconds; I’ve got other things to do than babysit you.”
“I wasn’t sure if it was really- never mind. I need to see Him,” Rei said urgently. His hands were aching with his anxiety. “I don’t care if this is a trick, I just…I need Him. More than anything, please.”
Barbas sighed and Rei could see the softening of his canine features. “Look, I told Him what ya told me to tell Him, and to say He was relieved is an understatement. I mean, there’s Clavicus Vile playing tricks, and there’s Clavicus Vile in a state of despondency. I told ya we’re workin’ on a way to getcha there, but it’s difficult.”
Rei nodded. “I’m sorry I called you back so soon.”
“I get it, I get it. But, ah, if I might be allowed my own opinion?”
“Before any of this happens – if it happens – you have a good long think about what’s in that tent of yours. That seahorse, what’s his name? Sabrael. You made a dangerous Prince pretty angry over that guy. Clavicus might want you back, but I’m just sayin’ that Sabrael must be pretty important to ya if you went to those lengths.”
Rei swallowed. If there was one thing that Barbas was, it was candid. He had to be in order to keep his master in check, among other things. He did what he was told, but he was no bootlick. If Barbas was telling Rei to take a step back and evaluate his feelings, it was probably good advice.
“Look, I know what your answer’s gonna be if it comes up, alright? I just wanted to give you somethin’ extra to think about.”
“Now get back to your harem,” he answered. “See if you can go more’n a day without usin’ that thing. ONCE. You hear me? Blow that thing twice again nobody’s gonna be seein’ anybody.”
Rei laughed quietly and raised a hand.
He walked back towards camp again, this time making actual headway, and this time getting close enough to feel Sabrael. Naturally there was a deep worry, and it made him feel awful. But there was a reluctance, too, reluctance mixed with frustration and upset. Tauryon was trying to take his mind off things, and it just wasn’t going to happen. Sabrael was wanting to, was trying to, but…
“Beauty?” he called as he neared the tent. “Sabrael, I’m here, beauty!”
His heart leapt, and he laughed a bit.
“Rei, you’re back!” Sabrael answered, clumsily bursting from the tent flap and running, naked, into Rei’s arms. “Please don’t do that again, Rei, please!”
“I’m so sorry. I really didn’t intend to stay out so long, I just…My mind was so tired I just laid down and slept without thinking.”
Sabrael sniffed and stepped back a little. “You’re worried.”
Rei had already lied in a big way, but this was important. If he didn’t say anything about this and something were to happen to them, how could he claim to care for either of his loves?
“Celedaen!” Tauryon called, stepping gingerly out of the tent. He’d opted to put pants on, but, unlike their enviably cold-adapted companion, he was rubbing his arms vigorously. “We were worried to death about you.”
“I know, my darling, I’m sorry. But let’s get back inside, the sun’s hurting my eye now and I’m freezing. I have something important to tell you both.”
Sabrael’s worry caught him in the chest, and he kissed his kirin’s forehead before guiding him back to the structure of birch and furs.
“What’s wrong?” Sabrael asked.
“Azura has abandoned me,” he said. “I doubt it extends to you two, but as far as I am concerned, to Her I am dead.”
“What does that mean?” Tauryon asked. “Are you in danger? How do you know this?”
“I don’t think I am. Not in any direct danger, anyway. I know this because She told me.”
“I don’t understand, Rei. Why would She do this all of a sudden? I thought you were Her champion?”
“I was an injured bird She’d taken under Her wing, and I failed to appreciate what She did for me. For us.”
“I don’t guess I noticed,” Sabrael said.
“If I’m fully honest,” Rei said slowly, “Azura feels that I’m still an aspect of Clavicus. Or that I wish I still was.”
His heart hurt, and he knew why.
“I’ve felt that way, too,” Sabrael said quietly.
“What do you feel, exactly?” he asked timidly.
“I know you miss him. You miss him a whole lot. And I-” he took a deep breath “-I know that you love him very deeply.”
Rei sighed and swallowed and leaned his forehead in his hand.
“It’s okay, Rei.”
“No, beauty, it’s not.”
“You love Tauryon, don’t you? I know I do.”
“Sabrael, you know that it’s not the same. My love for you and my love for Clavicus both run deep. The problem is, it can’t be that way.”
A silence descended. Tauryon was looking intently at an indeterminate point just to the side of Rei. Sabrael, apart from his emotions, looked at him with those huge, violet eyes so full of terror that Rei almost felt the need to scream.
“Are you saying you don’t want to be with me anymore?” Sabrael asked.
“Oh, gods, no! Oh, sweetheart, Sabrael, no! Not ever!”
Sabrael clambered over the furs and linens and Rei gathered him tightly in his arms. He leaned his cheek against the top of his kirin’s head and held it close with one of his hands.
“I wish so badly that I could sort these feelings. I wish I could be who you need me to be. Always, not just when my moods are stable. I know deep down I should have drowned that day. I know you still have feelings for…I guess another kelpie. Maybe you should have been with them.”
“Stadiel,” Sabrael answered.
Rei felt the unease, and he supposed it was a little eerie how lately he’d been able to associate emotions with memories he couldn’t know.
“What’s that in your pocket?” Tauryon asked.
“My pocket?’ Rei repeated, looking down. Barbas’ whistle was sticking out from the shallow jacket pocket he’d placed it in. “Oh. It’s a dog whistle I found out there. Some hunter dropped it, I suppose.”
“Hunter of necessity,” Tauryon scoffed, to Rei’s relief. “If my father’s whistle had been so cheap he’d have been laughed out of his hunting parties.”
“Right,” Rei laughed quietly.
“I don’t have feelings for Stadiel,” Sabrael said. It was steadily said and accompanied by calm, so Rei was at least confident he wasn’t being appeased. “Not the way I do you. Maybe we’d have been mates if I’d stayed, but, the fact I would leave him and everyone should say enough.”
“I wasn’t jealous, beauty,” Rei assured him.
“I know. But sometimes it’s nice to hear things like that.”
“Yes, my love.”
“I will do everything I can to help wean you away from that Prince,” Tauryon said. “I don’t think we realized just how hard it would be.”
Rei licked his lips and looked down. Thankfully he felt Sabrael pull himself closer.
“I love you no matter what, okay?” he said.
“Just come closer,” Rei said quietly.
Their lips met in a way that seemed to have been forever ago. All at once he got hard and felt the vibrations of Sabrael’s moan. The rustle of their bedclothes heralded Tauryon getting close and biting his earlobe before sliding his tongue up the edge to the very apex. Rei sighed and fumbled with his belt and fly as he gently pulled Sabrael’s cock with his free hand. As soon as he pulled himself out, he felt Tauryon’s hand push his aside to start pleasuring him and Sabrael both.
As Sabrael moved to kiss Tauryon’s neck and Tauryon took his place to kiss Rei’s mouth, he asked: “Remember when you used to masturbate in front of me?”
Rei almost giggled as he slid his fingers through auburn hair. “I do. I might come thinking about it.”
Tauryon grinned around their kiss.
“You played with yourself?” Sabrael asked, astonished. “In front of him? When?”
“When we were young men,” Tauryon said. “He was so hard one day describing…describing something that had happened, he actually excused himself, he said, to relieve himself. Well, I, knowingly risking life and limb, told him I wasn’t an idiot – you know as well as I what it looks like – and if he needed to pull himself, why didn’t he do it right there with me watching. I mean, don’t interrupt a good story, and all.”
“I loved showing off for you,” Rei said, moving his hand over his hardness and squeezing his balls.
Sabrael moaned deeply and rubbed up against him. “Did you join in?”
“Heavens, no!” Tauryon laughed. “Everything on Celedaen’s terms. Oh, but I was dying to suck him, every time! And he was such a tease. I don’t mean any offense, my love-”
“Of course not.”
“-but Celedaen, as you might remember, wasn’t the rather skinny type he is now. Back then he was still a bit wiry, but he had enough flesh on him that his muscles were nice and soft-looking. He would undo his shirt as far as he could, and I could have fainted if I’d only been allowed a touch.”
“I would’ve let you,” Rei said, pushing his hips up. Wonderful, thought-erasing tingling slithered through his thighs.
“Well I know that, now. But honestly, I doubt I would change a thing.”
“Even so, not many people would get to, and even now, there’s only one man I’d want to fuck me at one end, and only one man I’d want to fuck the other.”
“Oh Rei,” Sabrael sighed before falling over himself to find the bottle of oil. Rei drew a sharp breath through his teeth as his cock throbbed with his husband’s.
“Have I ever told you how lovely your cock is?” he asked his kirin.
“No, but I can feel it,” he grinned, positioning himself between Rei’s legs.
It was a strange shape they formed. Sabrael worked his way inside, doing what he almost never did and lifted Rei’s legs onto his shoulders. It earned him just that little bit of extra depth, and even if it was still not quite enough to reach that one particular spot, he could feel the joy and the ecstasy of his lover and that was enough to cause his own tool to strain hard in search of good and proper relief.
With Sabrael more-or-less upright, then, Tauryon straddled Rei’s chest and angled his cock downwards, with his back to Sabrael. Rei raised his head and took him into his mouth, rubbing his tongue over the head and savoring the taste of salt. Tauryon’s moan made him tense up. His abdomen began to burn as he lifted his shoulders to wrap his arms around his oldest friend while he sucked him hard and passionately. He was only vaguely aware that when Sabrael had established a good and proper rhythm, the little kelpie wrapped his arms around Tauryon’s chest and kissed him hard.
Sabrael did love Tauryon very much, and the feeling shivered all through Rei’s body. And he loved them. He did.
“Celedaen,” Tauryon gasped. “Celedaen use your tongue more, there…there!”
Rei eagerly pulled his shoulders further from the ground, holding his friend more tightly in his arms to keep from giving in to his very loudly protesting abdominal muscles. Oh, but it was worth it! He rubbed his tongue over and over a particular spot under the head of Tauryon’s cock, and every gasp it coaxed from the other mer’s mouth was sweet music.
Sharp tingles shot down his right leg as he felt Sabrael’s fingers reach down to caress the sleek indentation at his hips. His cock throbbed, he was so close…
…but then he was fucking himself with one of his toys while a lithe, olive-skinned creature fucked his face. The hand on the back of his head had claws, the buttocks he was grasping with his free hand were wonderfully round and muscular and soft, and the voices of ecstasy around him became one, melodic, playful voice, praising him and petting him…
He came so hard his stomach muscles seized and cramped viciously, a lovely mixture of pain and transcendental ecstasy. He was, perhaps for the first time, immensely glad his mouth was busy, since he knew very well the name perched on his lips.
“Oh, Rei!” Sabrael cried. “By the tides!”
He moaned harder around Tauryon’s cock as his own twitched erratically as he shared his kirin’s orgasm. It took just a bit longer, but soon Tauryon’s sweet moans picked up speed, and Rei felt his face smashed hard against his friend’s pubic mound as the bitter taste of his come coated the back of his throat.
“Well that was new, wasn’t it?” Tauryon asked, moving to lie by Rei’s left side. “You suck me so well, Celedaen.”
“Happy to oblige,” he said, kissing his lover’s lips. “My stomach muscles might need a rest for a while, though.”
Sabrael collapsed into Rei’s right arm and snuggled closely. “Was that the hardest we’ve ever come together?” he asked.
“It’s up there,” Rei smiled, wondering if it should ever come to light that what had made him come was that sudden, unbidden thought of intimacy with Vile. What would even happen?
“So I suppose it’s back to the Rift, hm?” he asked, trying to change the subject in his head.
“And up that blasted mountain,” Tauryon sighed.
“You don’t have to come with me, if you don’t want to,” Rei said. At least one of them had the luxury.
“Oh, I’m just griping. You know I won’t leave your side.”
There was a strange pang in his gut, something like suspicion. Rei looked over as Sabrael snuggled more closely and pressed his face into Rei’s neck. He stroked his kirin’s hair and kissed him. He had no idea why he would feel such things about a man he also loved, but it was important that Sabrael knew that Rei was his. Tauryon might be a mutual love, but that was all he was. So he sent all the love and reassurance that he could, and felt a loosening of his muscles in return.
They set out much too late. Even at a canter, they didn’t even reach the inn at the crossroads separating the Reach, Falkreath Hold, and Whiterun Hold until after noon. They ate a quick and late lunch, fed and watered their animals, and set back off. Rei wasn’t sure why this was such an important thing, important enough that he was pushing harder than he would have otherwise. Part of it, he imagined, was that he was hoping to get to Riften sooner rather than later. It would be a while before he could stop packing the socket, but surely there would be a covering that was a bit more striking than cloth bandages wrapped clumsily around his head and packing down his hair. He’d not seen himself in a mirror since the incident, but he imagined that, even with Sabrael taking great care not to make him look silly, there was only so much that could be done.
Maybe a glass eye? He’d seen a few in his time. Maybe he would just face the truth as it was and have a patch made.
“You’re kinda sad,” Sabrael observed after a lengthy silence as they rode past Whiterun City.
“Just thinking about this hole in my head,” he chuckled glumly.
“I think you should get a patch.”
“Why’s that?” he asked, smiling as it seemed perhaps this strange new telepathy was affecting Sabrael, too.
“I dunno. You like looking intimidating,” Sabrael said. “You like people not knowing things. It seems like a patch would kind of help that.”
“I have to agree,” Tauryon said. “I can’t imagine a glass eye on you. People say good ones are more expensive and a sign of luxury, but every one that I’ve seen only makes a man wall-eyed.”
Rei laughed. “I guess we can’t have that.”
“I’m sure we can find a leatherworker somewhere. Find something a bit more durable for a man of your nature.”
How could he be thinking of going back to his Prince with a husband and a friend so devoted? He couldn’t answer, but he was.
The next morning found him once more standing at the foot of the Greybeards’ mountain. The air down here was cooler than it was the last time, and Rei could only imagine what it was like at the monastery’s soaring height.
“Are you sure you want to come with me?” he asked.
“Of course,” Tauryon answered. “The arthritis won’t be pleased, but I’m not beholden to these old joints.”
Rei smiled and kissed him before taking Sabrael’s hand, and they began their second trek upward, the first half of what would make it their second entire trip. Like the first, it was mostly quiet, but unlike the first, Rei had the luxury of not worrying about the unrequited love of what had turned out to be a madwoman. He could appreciate the cleaner nature of the air. Unfortunately he needed Sabrael to mostly lead him; his hood kept the seemingly increasing brightness of the sun at bay, but it didn’t do much for the dazzling nature of the snow.
Eventually the monastery towered before them – the monastery in which Rei had learned that he was some form of incarnation of Ysgramor. Tauryon’s words had comforted him, but the doubt began to nag at his mind as they opened the doors and stepped into merciful dimness.
“Rei Ginsei,” he heard Arngeir call. The old man was descending the steps towards the doors which led to the training grounds. “You’ve returned. Have you found peace with the knowledge of your identity?”
“More or less,” he said. “I’d rather not speak of it.”
“As is your right. What brings you to us, Dragonborn?”
“I need to learn a shout. A shout to defeat Alduin. It’s what felled him the first time.”
“A shout?” Arngeir repeated. “How did you come to this conclusion.”
“It’s depicted on Alduin’s Wall.”
“I should have known. The Blades have found you, and they’ve begun poisoning your mind.”
Rei was far from pleased at the notions the people he was dealing with were having about him and his free will. “So Delphine said about you,” he said rather sharply. “Tell me why the Blades are bad, to balance out what they told me about you.”
“A fair demand. The Blades claim to serve the Dragonborn, but they never have, and they never will. Their goal has always been needless violence, and in you they see an excuse and a weapon.”
“That I can believe,” Rei said. He shuddered pleasantly as he thought of his slaughter at the Karthspire and their fright. “Cowards.”
“Cowards, indeed, and fools. Now, this shout, what is it?”
“I don’t know. The ancient Tongues used it on Alduin. Could you teach me?”
“Why?” Rei asked.
“Because I don’t know it,” Arngeir said simply. “And you have no business knowing it.”
“No business? Alduin’s coming back and he’ll destroy the world! How can you tell me I have no business knowing something I – the Dragonborn – need to defeat him?”
Arngeir stepped close and looked up at Rei’s face. “Have you thought that perhaps we’re not meant to survive? You and the Blades may say he was defeated once before, but was he, really?”
“We don’t exist in a void!” Rei snapped. “If he’s meant to end the world, it will end regardless of what I do! I understand and appreciate your adherence to peace, but there’s a time for battle, and if I do nothing and let my family die, what kind of a man would I be?”
“You’re operating on information given to you by people who revel in death!” Arngeir returned. “They can’t be trust-”
“I am no one’s puppet!”
“Of course not, Rei Ginsei, but-”
“I have lived four hundred and twenty-three years on this plane,” he interrupted. “I know violence. I know it because I was violence. …Because I am. I have exterminated villages and murdered innocents indiscriminately all throughout Tamriel, and the vast majority of a camp of Forsworn fell to my blade not two nights ago. What Delphine and Esbern are, are nothing. Everything else aside, they don’t deserve to breathe my air.
“With that said, I am trying, every day, to put that behind me, for the sake of my husband over there. This quest – at one point it could be said it was in honor of Azura for Her mercy, but She left me. And if it weren’t for Sabrael, for Tauryon, I wouldn’t be here now trying to save a world I had no interest in not so long ago.”
“I suppose that properly explains your appearance,” Arngeir said stonily. “Whom did you work for? Molag Bal? Mehrunes Dagon?”
“Clavicus Vile,” he answered. “I was His aspect of power.”
A tense silence descended, with Rei looking down at the ancient man, and the man looking warily up at him.
“Sir?” Sabrael’s voice cut through. “What Rei says is true. He is trying to be peaceful. It’s not been very long for him, though. He slips. But he’s not who he was anymore.”
Rei tried to stifle the feelings of guilt that stabbed into his gut.
“Can you help him, sir? Please?”
Arngeir studied Sabrael as Rei put an arm around his shoulders. He felt his little kirin’s arms wrap around his waist.
“None of us here know this shout,” Arngeir explained again, more gently. “Whatever the Tongues used, it was not fit for reuse. The only one who could have any idea is our master.”
“Your master?” Rei asked. “I thought it was just you four.”
“Our master, Paarthurnax, lives at the very peak of this mountain. He speaks to us only rarely, and only rarely do we visit him.”
“If he can help, then he needs to see him,” Tauryon said, stepping up behind him.
“He wasn’t ready, and he’s still not ready,” Arngeir said, sighing in a mixture of resignation and frustration. “But I suppose certain events have forced my hand in this matter. We will help you reach Paarthurnax, Rei Ginsei. Your husband, your friend, they must remain here. Only the initiated may speak with our master, and ideally the most enlightened, but I suppose concessions must be made once in a while.”
“Rei?” Sabrael said. He was scared.
“I’ll be alright, sweetheart,” he said, planting a firm kiss on his lips. “And Tauryon will be right here.”
“Absolutely. Here, darling,” Tauryon said, offering his coat and scarf. “You’ll want these if you’re climbing higher.”
“Are you sure?” Rei asked.
Rei hugged him and kissed him, then kissed Sabrael once more.
“Come, Rei Ginsei. Best to get this over with.”
Rei looked towards the courtyard doors and saw the other three monks heading towards them. He managed somehow to get Tauryon’s thick civilian coat over his and wrapped the scarf around his throat. This would be almost perfect. Tauryon was wonderful.
He followed Arngeir out into the courtyard and the searing sunlight, pulling his hood up and over his eye as best as he could. There was a sort of shrine to his right that he hadn’t noticed on his first visit. It consisted of a blazing fire pit that melted any snow that threatened to accumulate on its ornate, circular base. The monks took places around it solemnly.
“Over there, Rei Ginsei,” Arngeir instructed, and he obediently took his place on the circle. “Behind you is the path to Paarthurnax. It is fraught with danger. It is much narrower than the Seven Thousand Steps. Further, it is perpetually clouded in a mist that will drain your life force.”
A quick glance over his shoulder indeed showed him a tall archway, beyond which was not much more than a thick, grey fog.
“Only someone properly in tune with the Way of the Voice will complete their journey.”
Rei swallowed. He was most certainly not in tune with the Way and had, in fact, completely forgotten about it since he’d gone to retrieve the Horn of its founder. He couldn’t feel Sabrael, and he was glad. His kirin already didn’t want him to go; if he knew any of this, he’d never calm down.
“So I have to traverse this fog…and hope that I make it?”
“We will give you aid in the form of a shout. Stand aside, please.”
Rei stepped back as Arngeir stepped forward and breathed three words into the stone before him:
They were warm words and bright, bright in the way he used to be able to enjoy. And open! The first felt open and clean…
“Now. I shall grant you my understanding of this, the shout called Clear Skies. It is the last gift given to you by the Greybeards. Use it well, and may you find what you need.”
“Thank you,” he said before he felt warm power and understanding envelop him.
“It’s my shout,” he smiled.
“Sky, Spring, Summer. The three things I love the most.”
“May it prove a good sign,” Arngeir bowed slightly.
Rei turned and walked up towards the archway and the swirling fog behind it. The closer he got, the more painful it was. His veins ached and his muscles cramped. This what Arngeir must have been describing. Effortlessly those wonderful words sprang from his throat…
“Lok vah koor!”
…and suddenly the path before him was perfectly clear and his body had recovered. He figured it was likely the fog would reform, and there was more ahead, so he’d have to keep moving. Keep moving and think on Jurgen Windcaller’s message. A message of peace that, on the surface, he could agree with, but on a personal level was nothing worth giving a second thought to. He had to give it that second thought, though. He had to. Why, he couldn’t say. It certainly didn’t seem to have any bearing on his labor. It’s just what Arngeir had told him. It was what some ephemeral drive was telling him. His thoughts of Sabrael, perhaps. The idea that he could make his husband properly proud, for once.
The path itself was, indeed, treacherous. Rotting rope bridges spanned deep crevasses. Ice wraiths lay in wait. The wind was strong this high and buffeted him from the side, freezing him even through two coats and his warm clothes. The farther he went, the more rapidly the fog would return, and more than once he would find himself curling up in agony before the shout could escape his lips. To top it off, it seemed the air was different. Breathing was growing more difficult, and his chest was aching only enough to be uncomfortable.
Finally, at the very top, was another archway, and when he stepped through, he saw no more fog. What lay before him was uncannily clear air, yet more uncomfortably dazzling snow, and a word wall, upon which perched a light green dragon who seemed to be serenely studying him. Rei reached for his swords to simply rid the world of the beast, but he thought better. Something resonated in him; this creature was posing no threat to him. Although that didn’t do much to explain the absence of another Greybeard and the lack of a shelter.
“Greetings,” the dragon said in a voice so low that Rei could feel it in his jaw. “I have been expecting you.”
“Expecting me?” Rei repeated. “I’m looking for the master of the Greybeards. Paarthurnax.”
“I am he, Dovahkiin. Before we continue, I wish to commune with another dovah.”
“I’m no dovah,” Rei said. The dragon before him exuded quietness. It was soothing.
“You possess the soul of one, and that makes you kin.”
Rei stumbled back as Paarthrunax flapped his enormous wings, lifting himself from the wall and landing heavily in front of it. Rei noticed that there was nothing there. He hadn’t noticed that there was no inherent pull, the thrumming and pounding in his head. With his wing, Paarthurnax pushed Rei farther back. The membrane was strange and leathery, and he smelled a bit…odd. Otherworldly. It made sense, he guessed. Dragons were beings of time and were not of any particular plane. Vile was immortal, but He wasn’t born of the literal passage of time.
When the wing was removed, Rei looked over in time to see Paarthurnax drop his jaw and breathe a blinding jet of fire onto the wall. As Rei lowered his arm from his eye, he saw that the flame had burned a word into the curved stone.
“Go, Dovahkiin,” Paarthurnax goaded. “Study the word. Take it into your being.”
Rei obeyed. The word, delivered with such power, continued burning in the stone. It was just the one, but it called, and when he placed his hand on it, he felt everything he considered Himself. There was power and passion and predation. Love, violence…
“Yol,” he said.
“You learn quickly,” Paarthurnax said. “Come to me, Dovahkiin, so that I might share with you a dragon’s understanding.”
As the Greybeards had, he somehow magically shared understanding of the word. This time, though, it wasn’t just magic. He felt a small surge of strength; Paarthurnax had shared an actual piece of his soul.
“Now shout to me!” the dragon ordered.
“You want me to breathe fire onto you?”
“Protocol must be observed at the meeting of two dovah. Let us share this greeting, and then we may discuss why you have come to visit me atop my strunmah.”
The word “strunmah” struck Rei as oddly familiar. Context told him what it meant, of course, but it felt more profound than simple base reasoning. Still, he was being treated as a dragon, and he needed to live up to it, even if he only had the one word of this shout.
Flames engulfed Paarthurnax’s face before dancing gracefully down his skull before disappearing when they reached his neck.
“Yes!” Paarthurnax laughed. “Oh, it’s wonderful to speak with another dovah. It has been so long.”
“So I really am one of you,” Rei mused.
He wasn’t sure, but it seemed like the great beast actually smiled. Paarthurnax’s head was low so that Rei could see him properly, and he took a breath when he looked into one of those great eyes and found he was losing himself in endless stars and galaxies.
“Be careful,” the dragon chuckled. “You may be kin, but you are not timeless as we are.”
“I tried to be,” he said.
“So I see; your soul is old for joor – a mortal. What are you called?”
“I am Rei Ginsei. People call me Rei, if you’d rather.”
“I like the way ‘Rei Ginsei’ rolls off my tongue,” Paarthurnax said, “and so I think I shall use that. But here we simply make tinvaak, and while I am grateful for your presence, I know that is not what you have come here for.”
“I’m sure you know of Alduin’s return?”
“I do, and I know of my brethren’s resurrections.”
“They say I’m the only one who can defeat him, and it seems the only way for me to do that is with a shout used by the ancient Tongues. Arngeir says he doesn’t know it, but he suggested that you might.”
“I know of the shout,” Paarthurnax said. “But I cannot know it. No dovah can. It was created by men for the singular purpose of destroying a dragon. To attempt to comprehend this shout would drive us mad.”
Rei bit his lip, catching it with his fang and drawing blood which he absently licked away. “Then how am I supposed to defeat him?”
“Are you supposed to defeat him? Perhaps he can’t be; if he could, he wouldn’t be back here, and you wouldn’t be seeking to…defeat….him.”
Rei hadn’t thought of that. “Are you saying all we can do is delay the inevitable?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps it is finally time for this age to end.”
“That’s what Arngeir said,” Rei answered. “I don’t accept that.”
“No?” Paarthurnax asked. He wasn’t confrontational, he wasn’t argumentative. He was simply asking questions, and Rei appreciated it. Someone, finally, was treating him like a grown man. “The universe is bigger than you are, Rei Ginsei. Who are you to say the next age should not be born, that its egg shouldn’t be allowed to hatch?”
“I…” Rei began. This was indeed what Arngeir had asked, but more elegantly stated. Put this way, maybe he was being the arrogant terror he’d always been. Still, “People – my husband and my dearest friend – would die for my inaction. They might die anyway, but I can’t let it be for a lack of effort. I am not responsible for what may or may not happen to the next age.”
“A fair and respectable point,” Paarthurnax answered, nodding slightly and moving his reptilian “lips” back into that subtle smile. “Do you know why I chose this strunmah – this mountain – as my home?”
“I don’t know. It’s very high up.”
“It is,” the dragon chuckled – a low, nearly inaudible sound. “But that is not why. Where we stand is the Monahven, what you call The Throat of the World. It is here that the Tongues of which you speak felled Alduin. It is also in this place a very special phenomenon exists.”
“Do you see just over there, the way the air seems to shimmer?”
Rei squinted and looked as hard as he could. “I’m sorry, but I can’t, not really. It’s too bright.”
“You will see it soon enough,” Paarthurnax assured him. “When the Tongues brought down Alduin, they had in their possession an Elder Scroll. They used their shout, and they used the Scroll to set him adrift in time.”
“What does that mean?”
“Describing time to joor is difficult, but perhaps it would help to imagine it as a swiftly running river. It has no end, no beginning, and everything that has happened, is happening, and will ever happen is contained in its ripples. For a dragon to be adrift is for that dragon to be lost among ever-moving time, only looking for a place to emerge. When the Tongues used the Scroll, however, it tore time itself, creating the wound here.”
Rei blinked and swallowed, thinking. “So perhaps using the Scroll they used here could…I”m sorry, I don’t know.”
“No need to apologize for humility,” Paarthurnax smiled. “If you used the scroll here, I believe the time-wound would act as a window into the past, quite possibly giving you the information that you need.”
“Where would I even fund such a thing?”
“I’m afraid I would have no idea. Many ages have come and gone since I made this my home; much of what happens below escapes my knowledge.”
“I’m sure I can find someone to ask.”
“Follow your instincts, Rei Ginsei,” Paarthurnax nodded. “I will be here.”
The trip down wasn’t quite as bad as the one up, but he had still more to think about. Had more acrobatics to employ in order to achieve the answer he wanted. He knew it wasn’t something he should be doing, but it was a habit that was hard to quit.
“Rei!” Sabrael shouted in the otherwise quiet monastery Rei caught him and lifted him onto his hip before kissing him hard.
“Shh,” he chuckled.
“I’m sorry,” Sabrael blushed, grinning nonetheless. “You were gone a long time, though! I was getting worried.”
“It was only a few hours, beauty.”
“Well, you know how time can stretch when one worries,” Tauryon said. “How was it?”
“It’s hard to describe. Paarthurnax is a dragon, for one.”
“Oh? Seems a bit underhanded for the Greybeards to send you up there to meet what you thought would be another Nord.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Rei said. “Paarthurnax is very serene. Truly serene, not the way people would use it to describe me. He speaks to me as an equal.”
“You return, Rei Ginsei,” Arngeir said, approaching from the lower level of the atrium. “What did Paarthurnax have to tell you?”
“He knows how I might be able to learn the shout, but I need an Elder Scroll. Do you have any idea as where I might look for one?”
Arngeir scoffed. “I suppose if our master has seen fit to aid you in this-this endeavor, then we must observe his wisdom. As for the Scroll, you might visit the College of Winterhold. They tend to peddle in the sorts of obscenities you seek.”
Rei narrowed his eyes. “I’ll find someone there, then. We’ll be on our way.”
“Safe travels, Dragonborn.”
“Rei?” Sabrael asked as they shut the door behind them. “What did Arngeir mean by ‘obscenities’?”
“Anything that doesn’t fit into his little worldview, beauty.”
“I do hope those at the college can help,” Tauryon said. “We’ve an agent there monitoring the excavation of Saarthal.”
“Saarthal?” Rei repeated.
“Surely you’ve read about Saarthal? The Night of Tears?”
Rei blinked as he thought. “It was the city sacked by the Falmer. The one Ysgramor…”
He shuddered unpleasantly.
“Apologies, dear Celedaen,” Tauryon said. “I didn’t mean to bring all that back up. In any case, we feel there’s something there of importance to the cause.”
“I don’t suppose it would be the Scroll, would it?”
“It might be, we don’t know. But it will be good to catch up, send a message along to Elenwen.”
He felt the cloth of his hood brush his right ear followed by Tauryon’s voice: “We’ll find you more words, my love. And we’ll nab ourselves an Elder Scroll. You’ve been depressed, and things have been slow, but I know good things will happen.”
Rei turned and kissed him as they walked. How weak he was.