Now it’s been Rei’s turn to wait. lol I’m going to start trying to cinch things up since this kind of started getting away. This chapter doesn’t seem like that’s what I’m attempting to do, but it was the best way for me to transition. That said I think it’s an okay chapter!
“It’s been a while since you’ve been able to swim, beauty,” Rei said quietly as they set down their things in the small room they’d rented in the Bee and Barb. It was a bit larger than the room they shared the night before they were married, but it was close enough that he felt more relaxed than he had been.
Sabrael nodded and looked up at him tiredly. And he was painfully exhausted. Rei had felt the decline start a little while back, but now it was beginning to plummet. Rei stroked his hair and leaned down to kiss his head.
“Tauryon?” he said, “Sabrael needs some time in his correct form. We’re going to find a spot somewhere by the lake.”
“Oh! Well just let me-”
“Just me and him. You’ve had me to yourself quite a bit, and it’s been a long time since my husband and I have properly been together.”
“Ah, yes,” Tauryon said, his eyes tinged with disappointment. “I’ll just go for a walk and have a bite. Riften is quite lovely in the evening, with the lanterns and…and everything. Enjoy yourselves.”
Rei returned his kiss hard and ran his fingers through soft auburn hair. Their dynamic had changed a bit since Tauryon’s odd promise of sychophantry. He supposed it was painful, being part of his and Sabrael’s lives in such an intimate way for what at least seemed like a long time, and then told explicitly for the first time that he was to be the odd man out. Rei understood the hurt, but there were priorities.
“I love you,” he said in an effort to reassure his friend. “Just the same as I used to.”
“I know,” Tauryon smiled. “I’ll be fine, don’t you worry.”
Rei smiled back and watched Sabrael embrace him. When he let go, he took his kirin’s hand and left the inn.
The sun was down, and the air was cool and slightly humid. Clouds had been threatening rain for much of the time after they’d reached the foot of the mountain, but apart from some sprinkles, their threats were empty. Sabrael quickly switched from simply holding Rei’s hand to wrapping his arms around his slender waist and clinging. Rei felt the discomfort, like a persistent illness for which there wasn’t much to be done.
“Come on, sweetheart,” he said and picked up the little daedra who eagerly wrapped his arms and legs around his neck and waist for comfort. “I’m so sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?”
“I should have done something about this far earlier.”
“I could have said something,” Sabrael mumbled.
“Why didn’t you?”
“I don’t know. There’s not very many places for a kelpie to swim here, just a lot of shallow streams.”
“Well, we have a lake now, don’t we, my beauty?”
He felt Sabrael’s head rub against his neck as he nodded.
There was a flicker, a strange ebb. It really was like a sort of disease, like one an elderly person might contract and fight against until finally their body got tired, and all at once everything would come tumbling down. As a daedra, Sabrael couldn’t die, but his corporeal form could be damaged to the point of being unable to house his consciousness, and Rei was certain that’s what was happening now. It was painful and terrifying. He held his kirin close and began jogging along the lake shore.
“This is a really bad lake for privacy,” he said, noting that almost any given spot was just close enough to civilization to be a nuisance.
Finally, after jogging for some time and with his arms growing tired, Rei came upon a bridge that crossed the junction between the lake and one of its tributaries. There were no lights, and the fortress only a stone’s throw away was dark. It would have to do. He put Sabrael down, and almost the moment his feet touched the ground, his kirin ripped his clothes off and dissolved into his ephemeral in-between state before re-solidifying into his huge, natural form. Sabrael didn’t immediately plod toward the water, though; he fell to one knee and then over onto his side.
“Sabrael, come on,” Rei said, rushing over to pet his kirin’s soft neck. “Come on, the water’s only a couple feet away.”
“I’m fine, Rei, don’t worry,” Sabrael’s voice echoed in his head. “I’m just very tired. This feels so much better.”
In his worry, Rei hadn’t noticed the feeling of relief come over him. It was like taking off a pair of ill-fitting dress boots, but magnified. He sighed as he felt the comfort of tight muscles suddenly relaxing.
“Didn’t you say you could go to Oblivion to rest?” he asked.
“If I go back there, I can only return to my lagoon,” Sabrael answered tiredly. “Elementals don’t usually have the ability to appear where we want to, even greater ones like us. That’s why it took me so long to find you.”
Rei sighed through his nose.
“Rei, it’s okay,” Sabrael insisted.
“I know. I just remembered back in Clavicus’ illusion, when I thought you had died. Or were going back to the Creatia.”
“I remember. Azura brought me back, though.”
“Yes she did,” Rei said, continuing to stroke Sabrael’s mane.
“Okay. I think I’m feeling up to moving,” he said, arduously pushing himself up. “Wanna swim with me?”
Rei figured there would always be that underlying fear that made his nerves all twinge at once. He just had to remember that this wasn’t an ocean, the weather was calm, and Sabrael had kept him safe the last time. He’d even had fun!
“You can do it. And it would help me feel better.”
Rei nodded and started to undress. He wasn’t sure about the wisdom of swimming with a missing eye. The last couple of times he’d changed the packing, the material being swapped was dry and not terribly discolored. He suspected as long as he took the packing out this time, it would be okay. He knew enough about medicine to know that a wet bandage could be life threatening under the right conditions.
Once he hid his belongings in a shrub, he climbed onto Sabrael’s back. The daedra had flopped out into the water a ways while Rei prepared, so there was no great fanfare while he moved farther out and began to swim slowly.
They were quiet for a while. Rei could feel Sabrael’s stress and tiredness being mitigated by cold, rejuvenating water, but they weren’t disappearing, and there was something else. Something upsetting and sad.
“Remember when you told me that all I’d need to do is ask to leave here?” Sabrael asked in a tiny voice.
A sudden pang of desperate sadness slammed his throat closed, and Sabrael began making sneezing noises. The daedra quickly swam back to shore, and Rei slid off his back to hold the massive head to his. He reached up and began scratching a soft, damp ear. His kirin’s head swayed back and forth as Rei held it before he slumped heavily onto his right flank.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Rei asked urgently.
“Everything,” he whined. “I wanna go home!”
“Home? To your lagoon?”
“Maybe I don’t mean home, I know you can’t go back there with me. But remember what we said? That we could go to Stros M’kai? That maybe there’d be kelpies there?”
“Yes, yes, I do remember,” he answered. “But how long have you felt this way? Surely it didn’t come out of the blue?”
“Everything is so hard,” his kirin’s voice echoed in his head. “I try, I really do! But there’s so much bad and there’s so much to think about and to worry about, and worrying about you is very hard. Kelpies aren’t meant to handle things like this!”
Rei sighed and leaned his forehead against Sabrael’s neck. “What would you have me do?”
A hard sigh followed by an equine grunt caused Sabrael’s neck to rise and fall sharply beneath him.
“Rei, I sometimes wish that I didn’t have your soul in me.”
Rei didn’t know what to say. He lightly grasped a handful of fur and looked down.
“I know how you felt when we first met, when you said my feelings were making you unable to be who you are. I guess I thought that maybe that same feeling I had would be okay, that I could weather it forever for you. Maybe I was too hopeful.”
“I dreamed about you all the time,” Rei said, wiping the tears from his good eye. “I felt like you were key to my happiness. You do make me happy. It’s just difficult sometimes, like you say.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Sabrael said.
He swallowed and felt his kirin’s heart sink.
“What are you not telling me?” he asked quietly. “What’s really brought all this on?”
“I know you’ve been talking to Clavicus. Or at least Barbas.”
Rei tried to keep his stomach from seizing up. “What would give you that idea?”
“Your nervousness now. That dog whistle you just happened to find and then kept.”
“What’s wrong with that? People just sometimes find things fascinating. I do miss Barbas, you know. It just reminded me of him. He was like a brother.”
“So,” Sabrael channeled with a shaking voice, “if I were to take it, and try to break it, I could do it, and I wouldn’t feel any magicka.”
“Why would you break something of mine to prove a point?” he asked. “Why are you doubting me?”
“Because you were in a frenzy killing those people outside the Karthspire, you were mad at me for feeling scared, you went and stayed out all night long, and you came back with that whistle that I know you were trying to hide before Tauryon noticed it.”
Sabrael snorted and laid his head down on the shore.
“Why are you lying? How do I know you haven’t had that thing for weeks?”
“Because I haven’t!” Rei’s insides were aching, his limbs felt numb as his breath quickened. “What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to tell me the truth!” the daedra curled itself into a ball and hid his face in the bend of his tail.
Sabrael’s anguish was unbearable, but Rei had no idea why he couldn’t just admit the truth when he knew he was caught.
“The truth is,” he began slowly, “I don’t know how to explain the truth.”
“Just tell me what I already know, Rei. You’ve been talking to Barbas.”
Rei took a deep breath. “I have.”
Sabrael snorted again. “Why?”
“Because he found me. He found me and gave me that whistle and relayed a message. And that’s all.”
“Do you not know?”
“I need you to say it,” Sabrael said firmly.
“He said that Clavicus misses me and that He loves me.”
“Do you believe that?”
Rei looked down at the mud beneath his feet. It was a valid question. To say Vile had been livid was doing His rage a serious injustice. He’d threatened to keep Rei in a cage. No realm of his own. No ability to come and go. On the other hand, Rei wondered if he’d let himself be brainwashed. Vile certainly seemed to think so. Maybe He was right. He’d seen his master with their toys. Rei wasn’t a toy. Vile loved him so much he created the grandest illusion Rei had ever seen out of fear of losing him. In His pique, though, he created His downfall. Rei had created his downfall.
“I do,” he said finally.
“How can you say that?”
“I just do.”
There was silence while Rei felt his heart squeezed.
“I need you to go, Rei,” he said. “I can’t stand to be around you right now.”
“You lied to me about a very bad thing. I don’t know what else you’ve lied to me about, and I don’t want to know. You had your time to stay out all night, and now it’s my turn.”
As Sabrael flopped back into the water, Rei resisted the urge to shout something hurtful at him. The old unbearable urge to retaliate against the people who left him, for any reason. He got tired of people, not the other way around. But this was his soul bond. A creature he’d longed for, for ages without even really knowing what he was or if he even existed. There were things Rei could never escape, feelings he could never fully shed, and for all of Vile’s pull, he’d loved Sabrael (or the idea of him) first.
By the time he’d reached the city gates again, Rei’s head was pounding and his good eye was stinging from crying. He didn’t know the night guards, but thankfully they knew enough to keep their mouths shut at the sight of a grown man as a sobbing mess. He needed something, anything. He needed to take advantage of Sabrael’s absence, a bane and a blessing in that the hurt he felt could be inflicted on someone else, and Sabrael would never have to know.
Give him some real secrets to wonder about.
He yanked open the inn doors and looked around. There was a Dunmer at the bar jawing about some heroic ancestor while the innkeeper, Keerava, absently nodded her head. Rowdy patrons involved in some drinking game. A racist old Nord shouting obscenities. But then, at a table all alone with a flagon in his hand, was just the man he was looking for.
“Tauryon!” he called, pushing through the patrons to roughly turn an empty chair around to sit in.
“Celedaen? What’s wrong? Where’s Sabrael?”
“Sabrael’s upset with me,” he said. “He said he wanted to be left alone to swim.”
“Upset with you? What for?”
“He doesn’t understand me. He tries, I know, but I can’t help the way I feel.”
Tauryon looked at him curiously. Rei could tell he was, himself, weighing the veracity of what he’d said, but that was okay. If Tauryon was really serious about what he’d said, now was the time to prove it.
“How can I help you, my love?” he asked.
“I need to go back. I need to take this hurt out on someone. Anyone.”
“Tell me what to do.”
His friend’s eyes lit up, and there was youth in his voice. Rei’s heart leapt. There was no one whose wishes he had to consider, no reason to keep his hurt and his anger to himself.
“I want you to help,” he said.
“I mean participate. Do it with me!”
Tauryon was breathing more quickly. He put his mead to one side and leaned close. “Kill with you?”
“It’s one thing on the battlefield or in little legal chambers,” Rei smiled. “It’s another when one simply picks a target and does it in.”
Tauryon’s hands were on either side of his head before he knew it, and he grinned around the kiss his friend pulled him into. Rei ran his fingers through his hair and let one hand slip down to the soft, rounded bulge of doeskin.
“I love when you dress nice and rustic,” Rei whispered.
“Shall I find someone?”
Rei sat up and looked around, running his tongue over one of his fangs. There weren’t very many lookers in the crowd, but the Barb wasn’t the only place in town.
“Have you seen that place just behind this one?” he asked. “Haelga’s Bunkhouse?”
“Is that what that is?” Tauryon asked.
“I’ve heard the proprietor say it’s a place for workers to lay their heads and have a hot meal. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you exactly what that means.”
“Oh, come on. Places like that are dead common for the rabble. How do you know it’s a brothel?”
“The madame certainly makes no real secret of it,” Rei grinned. “I almost think she might be the only place for a man to ‘lay his head’. At least, that’s what she’d like to think.”
“Ugh,” Tauryon shuddered. “So what do you propose?”
“I doubt her assertion is entirely a lie. Plenty of workers here need a place to stay, whore of an owner or not. I propose that either you or I go in and see if we can find someone who isn’t plied by this Haelga’s wiles. Man, woman, doesn’t matter. We lure them away, meet somewhere outside the city and have our fun.”
“People will see us,” Tauryon protested. “I haven’t seen a single other Altmer here, and you hardly blend in with a crowd.”
“Where’s my darling Tauryon?” Rei cooed. “You always figured these things out. Must I?”
“It was one thing back on the Big Island, I mean…”
Rei’s offense was rising. “One must adapt, yes? Didn’t you say you wanted things back to the way they had been?”
“Absolutely, Celedaen, yes, but I just think-”
“Look at me, Tauryon,” he hissed. “I may have been known here and there as some mythical beast, but I still had my fun with single individuals. Clavicus made me this way to challenge me, and I overcame it countless times.”
“Please don’t be upset,” Tauryon cajoled. “You must understand I stopped doing this when you disappeared. I’m a soldier, I haven’t had to do this.”
Rei’s jaw was clamping down, and he pressed his lips together against the sob. “Fine,” he said. “Forget it. I need to leave for a while.”
“Celedaen, wait!” Tauryon said urgently as Rei stood up.
“No. The only person who ever understood me is gone. And Sabrael’s probably going to leave, too.”
“Promise me you’ll come back?”
“I’m sure I’ll have to,” Rei said, “for one reason or another.”
Tauryon’s eyes were shimmering, and he was glad for it.
Rei stormed out of the inn and back out through the gates. He walked quickly around the city wall, opposite from the direction in which Sabrael was moping. When he found a place he felt was appropriately secluded, he pulled the whistle from his pocket and blew. It took a minute, but soon Barbas materialized from nothing.
“I’m starting to regret giving you that thing,” he said. “What now?”
“I know I said this last time, but I can’t bear to be without Him anymore. I need to find a way, any way.”
“So, what, your companions won’t let you have your way again?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Rei said. “I belong with Clavicus.”
“I agree, if only because it’d shut the both of you up,” Barbas sighed. “Look, maybe I can muster up some power of my own, let you come back with me.”
Rei’s heart leapt. “Really? Barbas, I would owe you the world!”
“You already do, ya deviant. Look, just get me a filled soul gem. Any gem, but the stronger the better.”
“I’m sure I could do it now.”
“Oh yeah? Because you know I don’t like being away from Him any more than you do. Even if it’s for different reasons.”
“Just wait, okay? If I’m not back in an hour, you can go.”
“Oh, I can go, huh? You’re giving me permission?”
“Don’t be that way.”
“Just go on and do what you need to do,” Barbas said as he walked over to lie against the side of the city wall.
Rei took a deep breath and walked back into the city and then into the Barb.
“Celedaen?” Tauryon asked with a shaking voice as he walked to meet him. “Celedaen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to question you.”
Rei walked up the stairs to their room, hearing Tauryon’s footfalls behind him.
“Talk to me!”
“And say what?” Rei answered, pivoting on his heel once they’d reached their room. “You say you want things to be as they were, but they can’t. We’ve changed.”
“I just want to make you happy. That’s all I ever wanted.”
“You wanted to steal Sabrael from me,” Rei said. “Do you remember that?”
“I didn’t think you could be saved,” Tauryon answered. “I fell in love with him then, yes, I’ll admit it, but when all was said and done, when you were more like yourself again, I fell for you again.”
“I wanted to share something intimate with you tonight, and all you did was doubt me, like I am stupid enough to, in a small city, waltz into a place, undisguised, and just murder somebody.”
Rei opened one of his satchels and began rummaging through it.
“And Sabrael, too,” he choked. “Maybe you two do belong together.”
“Celedaen, I love you,” Tauryon insisted. “I loved you then, and I love you now. I remember the very day you first spoke to me. We were boys. I loved looking at you. I wished that I was the one who could be paired with you in etiquette classes. You never said a word to anyone that you didn’t have to, but of all the people, the pretty girls who fawned over you, you chose to talk to me.”
Rei grasped the black soul gem he’d been looking for and moved it around in his hand as Tauryon spoke.
“Do you still want to help?” he asked.
“Tell me what to do, Celedaen. Please, and please have patience.”
“Go find someone you find fetching. Find him in the bunkhouse, find him walking the streets, find him by the docks. Only find him, just as you used to, but this time lure him to me.”
“And where will you be?” Tauryon asked.
“Do you remember last time we were here, when I was injured, and you and Sabrael enjoyed each other?”
His friend nodded.
“I just walked by, and that area isn’t lit. Bring him there where I’ll be waiting. The Demon of Summerset can truly roam tonight for the first time in ages, and you will not get in my way, and you will not breathe a word of this to Sabrael, am I clear?”
Rei kissed Tauryon quickly, but there was no love behind it. This was no longer about pleasure. It could’ve been, had Tauryon chosen not to challenge him, but now this was about something more important.
“Now, put your hair up in a knot, wear this scarf. It’s chilly out, isn’t it?”
“The inn may be crowded, but still be as inconspicuous as possible when you leave. Move swiftly, avoid the guards. Do not stop for anything except your target. I will change clothes, and I will follow you after about five minutes. Don’t waste time looking for perfection, Tauryon.”
“I’ll make you happy,” his friend promised.
“I have no doubt. Now go.”
As soon as Tauryon left, Rei set about finding an old outfit he’d hidden in a large knapsack. Black leggings, black blouse, black cloak, and a black wide-brimmed hat. He laid the hat and cloak down on the bed; he couldn’t be seen leaving wearing them. Once he’d dressed, he felt around once more until his fingers moved over the small pommel of a dagger. He smiled and pulled it out, the dagger he’d used those centuries ago to ply Vile’s favor. The subtle sheen of deep purple on the blade showed its enchantment was still strong.
He closed his eyes, hoping Barbas was right. He raised his right hand, and he slid the carefully preserved edge across the palm. It wasn’t as sharp as it ought to have been, but it cut well enough to draw blood and cause a deep, throbbing ache. How he’d missed this. He closed his fingers into a fist and put it to his chest, letting his blood drop onto his clothes.
Rei took a deep breath and straightened up. He fastened the sheath to the back of his belt, backwards, so that the dagger was inside his waistband and pressing against his back, hidden. He folded the cloak loosely and draped it over the crook of his elbow, and as for the hat, he simply took it gently by the crown and held it to his side. After rolling his head and shoulders, he descended the stairs into the noisy tavern and, assessing the patrons’ locations and the brightness of the lanterns, slipped out the front door.
A guard was patrolling, heading towards the door from around the north inn wall. Slipping on his hat, Rei stepped out of the lantern light and into the darkness as he spun the cloak around his shoulders. He swiftly moved from the road and around to the back of the row of houses, slinking behind the fenced-off gardens until he reached the dark place by the graveyard where Sabrael had yanked him down to the ground and set his ribs off in a vicious ache. He set his jaw as he waited.
“You know I charge by the half hour,” he heard a fey, falsetto voice growing near. “That counts travel.”
“I assure you, sweet girl, I have more than enough to have you tonight and all of tomorrow,” Tauryon’s voice answered.
Rei looked over as two shadowy figures rounded the corner of the house wall. His good eye told him everything. The young man Tauryon had brought almost matched his height, a Nord with lovely, somewhat feminine features and dressed in a rather fetching blue dress. Blonde hair flopped into eyes that knew he was worth every septim he charged, and scarlet lips pouted naturally over a slight overbite.
“Alright, so what can I do for you?” he drawled, hitching a hip and putting his hand on it. “I’ve never been with such a handsome high elf before.”
“Well, I was wondering if you might entertain another,” Tauryon said.
“Sure. It’ll cost ya extra, though.”
“Oh that’s quite alright,” Rei said, stepping out of this shadows and into a place where just enough light from a street lantern made it through the gap between the house and the graveyard’s mausoleum. “As my friend says, we can more than afford you.”
The young man jumped. “What’s with the black? I get not wanting to be caught, but don’t you think you’re being just a bit dramatic?”
“It’s a quirk of mine,” Rei smiled. “Tauryon, I’ll let you start.”
Tauryon smiled and pressed his lips to the boy’s mouth. Dutifully, he unlaced the fly of Tauryon’s leggings and began playing with his cock.
“Think you might give it a suck?”
The whore did his job, praising his client’s cock and moaning to feign lust. Tauryon didn’t get quite the thrill out of this that Rei did, and so Rei helpfully took his own tool out and began to masturbate in front of his friend. He could see him go suddenly weak in the knees, he moved his hands to work his balls.
“Oh, gods,” Tauryon gasped. “You treat my cock so well…”
Rei watched, continuing to pull himself, as Tauryon finally grabbed the back of the boy’s head and began to fuck his mouth. It took a moment, but finally Tauryon bit his lip against his ecstatic cry, making sure he spent himself entirely down the whore’s throat.
The boy coughed when he was let go. “Liked that, huh?” he asked.
“Oh, it was exquisite,” Tauryon said. “I’m sure other things you do are just as exquisite. Celedaen?”
“It’s been a while since I’ve really fucked a nice fair lady,” Rei answered. “Think you can handle this?”
“Um,” the boy said. “You both say money is no object, right? Because…”
“Oh yes, and please don’t worry about how I handle. You’ll come so hard you’ll see the gods themselves.”
“I guess in that case…”
Rei took him, roughly pulled his skirt up, and bent him so that he was leaning against the wall. He spit on his hand to cover his rod, and then sucked two fingers and pressed them against the boy’s entrance.
“Oh no, is that-”
“Just my fingers, dear one, making sure you’re good and ready.”
Rei prepped him as he often did with others, hooking his fingers just so to rub against that lovely spot towards the front.
“Oh fuck!” the boy gasped after only a few seconds’ massage. “Oh, gods, oh fuck, oh…”
“Well someone’s ready, aren’t they?”
“Nobody’s worked me like…like…ohhh…”
“What a good little fop,” Rei cooed, reaching around to continue milking the throbbing, straining cock.
He wanted to continue his play a bit longer, but time was closing in. Rei reached back for his dagger. “You still owe me that fuck, you know,” he said.
“After that, I’ll let you do anything,” he panted.
“Good,” Rei whispered.
With his right hand, he held the boy at his hips, and with his left he made a cursory movement to align his cock. As he pressed, he slipped his dagger from its sheath.
“I hope you know you’re quite beautiful,” he breathed into the boy’s ear.
Before he got an answer, Rei dug the blade into one side of the smooth, white throat and dragged it across, cutting deep enough to slice sinew and pierce the windpipe. The boy hadn’t had time to scream, and now all he could to was rasp in a wet, bubbly gurgle. Rei looked up at Masser, wanting to enjoy the show, but instead waiting for it to end so that he could capture that soul and go find Barbas.
Finally, his victim did stop trying to breathe, and Rei watched with relief as the pale wisp of his soul filled the gem he’d placed in his pocket.
“I thought you would enjoy this more,” Tauryon said.
“I think our earlier exchange tempered it,” Rei lied. “I need to go for a walk, I think.”
“A walk? What about this one?”
“What about him? I’m sure you didn’t just pick a whore for no reason.”
“We can’t just leave him.”
“Sure we can. He’s just a low-life. If we start killing more, then we’ll worry about it. But for now, nobody’s going to miss or fuss over a ladyboy, are they?”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I am,” Rei said. “Now, we need to go, and we need to go separate ways. Do what you will, but don’t go straight back to the inn. I’ll go for a wander outside the city.”
“Did I do well?”
Rei laughed quietly. “Yes, my love. You did well. Don’t take my disaffection as disappointment in you. The mood wasn’t right, that’s all.”
Tauryon smiled, and they kissed. Rei made sure it was a more substantial one than earlier. “I’ll be back soon.”
Rei slunk quietly behind the houses toward the front gate, grimacing as he scrubbed his fingers with a handkerchief, until he found a spot in the wall with a few broken stones. Nimbly he climbed up and lifted himself over, landing hard on the other side. He looked all over, wondering where his old cohort had gotten to, or if he’d just left.
“Barbas,” Rei hissed. “Barbas, please be here, I’ve got a soul.”
“So ya do,” he heard the dog behind him. “Lemme see.”
Rei presented the black gem.
“Ooh, a human soul, and everything. I should be able to do something with this, but don’t get your hopes up, alright? I’ll be right back.”
Rei felt suddenly exposed with Barbas gone. He looked back and forth, worried he’d see Sabrael or Tauryon. His heart was racing, his stomach felt painfully hollow. He hugged himself tightly, like the skooma addicts he’d seen through the ages. He was so close. So close to the only one who knew him properly.
“Alright, Rei Ginsei, here’s the deal,” Barbas said behind him again, making him jump as his heart stopped from fright.
“What is it? Will it work?” he asked almost frantically.
“Probably. You’re not part of us anymore, see, and in Clavicus’ current state, He can’t really entertain guests. If He could, you’d be there now. So this soul in here, we can try and use it as a conduit, a bridge to get you into Oblivion, and then into our plane.”
“And then,” Rei added, “then I could stay?”
“Didn’t ya hear me just say ya ain’t a part of us?” Barbas snapped. “People and things outside Clavicus’ scope are transient, at best, because His plane is falling apart. D’ya understand?”
“I’m sorry, Barbas, I’ll take whatever I can get. Thank you.”
“That’s right, ‘thank you’,” the dog snorted. “Now hold onto the gem fragment on my collar. Don’t let go, ya hear me? If ya let go and get stuck in-between planes, you’re gonna have a long time to think about whatcha did.”
Rei knelt on the ground, and wrapped his hand around a chunk of the gem he’d just filled. Wisps of the fragmented soul wound around his hand, and he closed his eyes, finding himself thanking that prostitute for giving him this chance. What that handsome young man got in return, Rei couldn’t imagine, but he didn’t really care to, in any case.
Without warning, his stomach dropped, and he almost lost his grip on the gem fragment. He looked around, expecting to see something similar to what he’d seen in Azura’s Star, but instead of crystalline structures, he was surrounded by black with what he could only assume were the trapped spirits of various mortals roiling around him. Some had odd, stretched faces, others had long, reaching arms. It made him ill to see them, not out of sympathy, but because it reminded him of his old terror of death, the thing he’d sought Vile out for, to begin with. Immortality by birthright held no importance to Celedaen Aedeus, but the idea of his own demise was too much.
As suddenly as it began, Rei’s feet suddenly hit solid ground, his momentum causing him to roll forward a ways. As he pushed himself up, he looked around.
“Where is this?” he asked.
“Don’t recognize it, do ya?” Barbas answered. “Hard to believe this was your home not six months ago.”
“My home,” he repeated soundlessly.
The perpetual twilight was now a deep darkness. He saw the trees of the jungle, but they no longer stretched toward an endless beach; instead only a few feet in, he saw the very ground falling apart, dissolving into nothingness.
“Mirage?” he called softly before puckering his lips to make his call.
“He’s gone, Rei Ginsei,” Barbas said. There was real sadness in his voice, and that was somehow more upsetting than his pet’s demise. “This is all He can do outside His actual plane. Y’know I tell Him it’s no good for Him to waste His energy this way. Anyway, being that this is why He’s at it, you should go see Him. He’s over that hill, on what’s left of that gazebo you two liked.”
Rei trudged quickly through the sand, mindlessly letting his tears come, until he crested the hill. There was no sea anymore, no waves to soothe him, and, indeed, no shore for them to land on as the sand simply seemed to fade away. He looked to the left, and there was their pavilion. There were no more chests or signs that two lovers had ever been there, except the bed, the only thing that seemed to have remained whole. On it was a long, limp form whose back was to Rei.
“Clavicus?” he called, starting to run towards the structure. “Clavicus, I’m so sorry!”
Vile laboriously rolled over and pushed himself up onto his forearm. “Rei Ginsei!”
Rei dropped to his knees by the low bed and looked into the familiar caprine eyes. They were dull, but the flame in them still glowed. His lips pulled into a smile Rei had missed, one of happiness and real joy.
“Did Barbas bring you here?” he asked.
“Yes. I gathered a black soul for him. It worked.”
“I knew that mutt was good for something,” Vile chuckled softly. “Oh, but my dearest creation! Let me hold you.”
Rei didn’t hesitate to clamber up onto the bed and into his old master’s arms. He draped his outside leg over Vile’s hip and pressed as closely as he could. “I’m so sorry,” he said again. “You were right. You were always right. I hurt you. I hurt you worse than-”
“Enough. I should have been more nurturing. You were struggling, and I should have taken all that away, myself. And that blasted Azura! They got into your head.”
“They did,” Rei said. “I don’t know how I was so weak with you a part of me.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Vile sighed. “I’ve got you back, at least for a time. They’ve broken you.”
Rei nodded as Vile’s thumb traced the outer edge of his empty eye socket.
“I wish I had the strength to fix it.”
“I’m sure I deserve the damage.”
Rei ran his fingers through tangled, deep brown curls and felt the most profound relief as his old master returned his kiss.
“I never thought I’d hold you again, my jewel,” Vile said.
“This is where I belong,” Rei sobbed softly. “With you. I was so weak. And now, I try to do what they want. I try to be who they want me to be. I pledged to try and save the world for them, but in the end all they do is judge me. Sabrael does, anyway.”
“Save the world?”
“Dragons have come back to Skyrim. I’m supposed to be the one to stop them.”
“Well, I suppose that is important,” Vile said, moving his claws lightly over Rei’s scalp. “It doesn’t surprise me one bit the Seahorse doesn’t appreciate your efforts. What of Tauryon?”
“He wants things to go back to the way they were before you made me yours.”
“I was right, Rei Ginsei,” he lamented. “Trying to brainwash you, both of them.”
“I still have Azura’s Star,” Rei said.
“Do you think it would be possible to use it to access Moonshadow? Surely she has your vestige there.”
Vile’s brow furrowed and his face fell. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Didn’t you threaten war?”
“When I had strength enough to wage one. You are but one creature, missing the piece of me that gave you your power. Moonshadow is much different from my realm. I never had nor needed an army, given all that I could do. I’m not able anymore. I can at least subsist without that part of my vestige, but if I were to lose you forever, I would be the one Prince who’d manage to die.”
Rei cuddled closer. “I have to try. Whether you let me have that piece of your vestige back or not, I can’t bear to think of you wasting away here.”
“Enough of this, please,” Vile begged. “Just be close to me.”
Rei met his lips and moved a hand over one of the large, spiraled horns. They lay together that way, weeping on a dark, deteriorating plane.
“You need to go to your plane,” Rei said. “You should rest in your room away from this death.”
“I suppose now there’s no need to stay here. Now that I know you can come back. That you want to.”
“Every chance I get. I have to lay low, at least until this dragon business is settled. I’d as soon let Nirn and all of Mundus come to an end, but for now I need a place to stay.”
“You have Barbas’ whistle,” Vile said.
“I do. I’m already driving him mad,” Rei chuckled.
“Good. Promise me that you won’t go seeking out Moonshadow.”
Vile sighed and pushed himself into a sitting position. Rei drew close and let himself be held.
“I have to try. I want my master to be whole.”
Vile twisted his head and leaned it down to rest on Rei’s. He closed his eyes, finally feeling like he could rest, until a pain began in his stomach.
“What’s wrong?” Vile asked.
“I don’t know,” Rei grunted, wrapping his arms around his stomach.
“Your time here is over, it seems, I don’t have the power to work against the decay. Please come back to me soon. I’ll send Barbas when I can, in the meantime.”
Rei nodded against the pain. It happened feet-first, ripped through the planes of Oblivion until once more he found himself standing just where he was when Barbas sent him through the first time. The sky indicated he hadn’t been away for very long, and it certainly didn’t feel long enough. Rei closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying hard to cling to Vile’s scent, to imagine the feeling of Vile’s embrace into reality.
He walked over to the wall and fell onto the grass with his back pressed against it. So much had happened, and none of it had happened cleanly. He’d been with partners – however short-lived – who liked to hang onto upsets until he least suspected them. He never thought his Sabrael would have been one of them. If he’d just admitted his guilt instead of insisting that white was black…then what? As for Tauryon, maybe it was time for him to go home. Tell the Thalmor it just wasn’t working out. And it wasn’t; at least that wasn’t a lie. He didn’t like seeing an otherwise strong and independent man be so cowed. Asking if he did well.
His pain suddenly intensified, and he curled up against it.
He looked over with some dismay to see Sabrael walking towards him. He tried to weather his kirin’s hurt and straightened his back to look the other way.
“Rei, please,” he said. “I know you’re hurting. We both are.”
“Sabrael, I think it would be best if you just went back to Oblivion and reunited with your family in Summerset. I’m not good for you. You made that very clear.”
“I didn’t say that. I’m just hurt you lied about such a bad thing, and that you were doing it to begin with.”
Rei sighed and leaned his head back. “What do you want from me?” he asked.
“Nothing realistic,” Sabrael answered quietly.
“Stability? This always comes up and I always ruin it, no matter how hard I try.”
He felt himself start to cry again as Sabrael sat next to him to cuddle. “I’ve always tried to protect you-”
“And you’ve always done a good job!”
“But that can’t be all this is based on,” he said. “Against my better judgment, I’m going to tell you right now that I am going to keep corresponding with Clavicus. I don’t care. You can’t rip someone’s wings off and expect them to forget that they were there. I’m sorry I lied, Sabrael, but this is the truth. I love you, too, gods know that I do, and I want you to be with me, but I can’t expect you to share.”
“How can you say that so casually?” Sabrael asked with a quaking voice. “We’re married! On land that means something important. I’m supposed to just accept that I’m…I’m…some…placeholder?”
“No, Sabrael, of course not! I don’t know how to handle this. You, Tauryon, Clavicus…it’s too much! I don’t know what to do! And it hurts, can you not feel that? I’ve never had-”
“You’ve had months to get used to your soul, Rei,” Sabrael said sharply. “If that’s still an excuse for you, then maybe you need to figure out why. This isn’t like Tauryon. You want to keep on with a Prince who wanted to kill me.”
“Sabrael, please, I’m sorry, I can’t help how I feel!”
“I think most people teach themselves how to handle their feelings, unwanted or not.”
Rei drew his knees up and propped his elbows on them to bury his head. There was his confusion, his sadness, Sabrael’s sadness, and Sabrael’s anger all churning inside his head.
“You said you don’t want anything realistic from me,” he said, “so, then, what do you want to happen?”
“I dunno, Rei. This anger and uncertainty hurts me a lot. And those are my feelings, not yours. I feel like if I stay, I’ll be doing myself a disservice. There’s a kelpie back home, remember? Stadiel. We’d be happy to be together. He doesn’t get upset or-”
“Wait,” Rei interrupted. “After you highroad me about Clavicus, you have the gall to tell me that you could leave me right now and take up with this Stadiel as soon as you hit the water? You told me you could have been mates as if it were a simple ‘anything is possible’ scenario.”
“I mean, I…” Sabrael stammered, “I guess…Maybe I used the wrong words.”
“Oh? And what if I had hand-waved everything I said with, ‘Maybe I used the wrong words’? Would Rei Ginsei magically get a pass?”
“Okay, Rei, stop. I get it. I’m sorry.”
Rei sighed. “So what do we do, now?”
“I know you love me,” Sabrael said. “And I love you. You’re doing all this dragon stuff because you want me and Tauryon around. Lotsa people wouldn’t ’cause it’s hard. I won’t lie and say that I’m okay with you talking to Barbas and Clavicus, but I can at least understand why you want to, and I do honestly trust you to keep me safe.”
“Yeah. Things might be kinda weird for a while, though. I think we ripped off some things we didn’t mean to.”
“Why would you compromise your feelings about Clavicus?”
Sabrael looked down at the ground as he pulled blades of grass. “Because you’ll keep me safe,” he said again. “I guess that’s all I have. I want to be with you too much, even if I got angry tonight.”
“That’s not a good reason to be with someone, Sabrael.”
“Do you really want me to go?”
Rei looked over at his kirin sadly. “No. I think it would be the wiser thing to do, though.”
“I’m not going,” he said. “That’s my decision.”
Rei opened his arms and let Sabrael climb into his lap. He absently pressed his lips to his kirin’s head and hoped that the feeling of exhaustion and emptiness wasn’t too easy for Sabrael to feel. Tomorrow the eye patch he’d ordered made would be ready, and then they would need to head north as soon as possible. Hopefully the Mage’s College would know something about an Elder Scroll.
And hopefully, someone else might know something about Moonshadow.