The first part of this involves sounding, which is the practice of inserting a thin instrument (known as a sound) into the urethra. It’s predominantly a male thing, though female sounding is a thing, too. You can read more about it if your curious. BUT.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T JUST USE THINGS LYING AROUND THE HOUSE HOLY SHIT.
You could seriously injure yourself, and with unsanitary instruments, you risk awful things like UTI’s. UTI’s are not fun, but especially if you’re a dude, I’m told. I know someone for whom this went very wrong, and it was because he was getting bad information and using bad things. He had to be hospitalized three times because of UTI’s brought on by the fact he kept doing stupid shit and wouldn’t admit to his family what he was doing.
DON’T BE THAT KID.
There’s lots of literature out there, if you’re curious, but if you do stupid shit, don’t blame Furb. Furb toldja not to!
Also if you want to skip that altogether just scroll to the first divider after this one. You might miss a tiny bit, but you won’t be lost.
Tauryon took his time, as Celedaen had instructed. When he felt it was prudent to re-enter the inn, he did so and sat back down, waiting. He waited. And waited. After half an hour, or so, he trudged upstairs, stripped down and slipped under the covers of the smaller of the two beds. He didn’t try to sleep, though. He couldn’t. His eyes wouldn’t even shut. When Celedaen and Sabrael finally came upstairs and took their place on the larger bed, he didn’t stir. He’d expected to hear the sounds of their lovemaking, but there weren’t any. What had happened that had caused such turmoil between the three of them?
Was it only Celedaen? His friend had said he’d done well, and even though he knew Celedaen wasn’t given to lying about those sorts of things, he couldn’t help feeling like he’d upset him. Tauryon shifted a bit and tried – really, really tried – to remember how their relationship really had been. Had he been romanticizing things?
No, he didn’t think so.
He remembered Celedaen’s highs, periods during which he was ecstatic and enjoyable to be around, the Celedaen who bought everyone drinks in the tavern (if only to draw attention away from his own drunkenness), who took last-minute trips to the other end of the island and spent his coin on every fine thing he could get his hands on. There were the lows, though, when he would hole up in his bedroom unless something very compelling dragged him out. Lows which sometimes affected his performance in sporting matches. He remembered very clearly the way Celedaen would simply move from one point to the next, his hair unkempt, his beard untrimmed and unruly. There was a period in-between, however, one in which nobody with sense dared approach him. Those periods were ones in which his anger was palpable to all around. He would brawl over anything, doing such damage to those who took him on that it was only by the grace of his family’s stature and history that he was kept free.
It was those periods, oddly enough, that Tauryon loved the most. It seemed when Celedaen was at his most dangerous, the only person who could comfort him was Tauryon. Many nights he’d been awakened by a pebble thrown at his window by the Big Island’s most celebrated and feared citizen. His window, no one else’s. They’d abscond in the night to their hidden shack, and Tauryon would simply let his friend vent. Sometimes it took hours, but that was okay. Those were hours that belonged to him. He was never afraid of Celedaen when everyone else was. He knew he occupied a very special place within that indomitable killer’s heart.
He’d never been shoved aside, though. He knew it; he wasn’t just making up memories. He’d never been afraid before.
Tauryon took a deep breath and quietly slipped out from under the covers. He stood by his lovers’ bed, his hands loose fists over his chest. Sabrael was as deeply asleep as he ever was, on top of the bedclothes to stay cool. Celedaen lay on his back with one arm bent above his head and the other across his solar plexus. He was breathing deeply, but when he lay like that, Tauryon knew he wasn’t sleeping very well. He stood there for a moment, his stomach full of butterflies. Celedaen’s muscles were twitching. It didn’t matter. He finally leaned down and put his hand on Celedaen’s arm.
Before he knew what was happening, he felt his heart stop and his eyes slam shut as he braced himself. How he didn’t scream, he wasn’t sure, but when nothing happened, he opened his eyes and found himself staring at a set of scarred knuckles. As the hand was pulled away, Tauryon let out his breath, relieved.
“Gods, Tauryon, I’m so sorry,” Celedaen panted, moving the hand he’d made into a weapon over his hair.
“Bad dream?” he asked, feeling his hands shaking from nerves.
Normally Celedaen’s uncannily quick reaction times were a source of deep attraction, but now he’d never been so grateful to know a man who could awaken throwing a punch and then wake up enough to pull it just in time.
Celedaen sighed and hung his head, breathing heavily. “It’s today, is all,” he whispered. “I’m wound up. Sorry.”
“Can we talk?”
He rubbed his eyes and nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
Tauryon walked back over to his bed and sat while Celedaen opted for the chair at the writing desk. With a small flourish of his wrist, Tauryon cast a quiet spell over at Sabrael.
“What was that?” Celedaen asked.
“Keep us from waking him, that’s all.”
His friend nodded.
“Celedaen, I know you said not to take your disaffection as disappointment, but I just feel like I’ve let you down, somehow.”
“Because of what happened before then?”
“I suppose so,” he said slowly. “Everything just feels off. It seemed like forever before you came upstairs. You and Sabrael didn’t make love.”
“It’s just been one of those unpleasant evenings. This murdering business wouldn’t have come up if Sabrael hadn’t…well. You understand.”
“You can tell me I’m out of place,” his friend said carefully, “but I noticed that you just suddenly seemed to stop mourning Scandalon, and it coincided with your rejuvenation. Perhaps a bit before then, when we fought that dragon in Kynesgrove, but you’ve not mentioned him. It seems like you’ve not even been missing Aicanath, and you’d mentioned him several times.”
“Of course I miss him. Of course I miss Scandalon, too. I…” Tauryon paused and put his face in his hands, burying his fingers in his hair. He didn’t know what to say.
“I think perhaps you’re trying to cover all that by trying to both go back in time and change it in your head. You and I, we’ve both been given a very unique and precious gift. You said as much that one night, that you wanted things to go back, back before everything. The pain. The memories. And you spent ages until you met your husband,” Celedaen said. “And then his death…Tauryon, you and I both are ancient. I don’t know about you, but thirty years ago to me seems only a year or two sometimes.”
“You know, around that time, I remember hearing of an officer’s murder in Elsweyr. There had been word of white hair and tails, and from what I recall there was a farmer not too far from our outpost who was both quite hostile and in possession of white fur. I doubt I need to tell you what happened next.”
Celedaen smirked, confirming exactly what Tauryon now already knew. His upper eyelids seemed perpetually purple, as if he was always in some state of a wasting disease. His eyes – or his remaining one, anyway – were so large and almond-shaped, they could somehow look both welcoming and terrifying. Tauryon watched as a lock of hair fell into his friend’s face.
“Hurt me,” he found himself saying, out of nowhere.
“Hurt you?” Celedaen chuckled wanly. “Why on Nirn would I do that?”
“Because I want you to. Because I know you like it. Because I want to be close.”
Celedaen studied him, and Tauryon held as still as he could, holding his eyes open in the hopes of showing as much of his sincerity as possible.
“I’m not going to leave you,” he said. “And I’m not going to hurt you to prove it to you.”
“Why not?” Tauryon asked, unsure of why he couldn’t leave well enough alone.
“How can you ask something like that of me?”
He wasn’t upset. In fact, he’d never spoken so softly that Tauryon could remember.
“The only person I can say that I hurt as a show of my love was Clavicus, and that was something very different. Beyond that, those that I was violent with were sexual partners who were half a minute from death.”
“Just let me feel your claws, then,” Tauryon asked.
Celedaen moved from his chair and Tauryon closed his eyes as he felt himself laid back down on his bed. His lips were parted by a soft tongue, and he wrapped his arms around his love’s broad chest. He moaned as the pleasant hurt from his balls twisted through his legs and into his toes.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he insisted. “But I’ll make you feel better.”
“Better than usual?” Tauryon asked with a shaking voice. He reached down and began rubbing himself.
Celedaen sat up and reached over to that same old satchel he’d pulled the black soul gem from. From it, he produced a long, very thin, brass tube with a ball on one end. He reached back in and brought out a small vial of oil that he uncorked with his thumb and tipped onto the tube. Tauryon shook with excitement as he watched his love slide the oil up and down the instrument.
“You’re so hard,” his friend sang. “Why would you need anyone else to cause you pain?”
“What are you planning on doing?”
“Nothing that will hurt, darling. This little rod right here is all we’ll need tonight.”
Celedaen knelt by him on the floor and wrapped one arm under Tauryon’s neck. Tauryon sighed and leaned his head against him. He’d just closed his eyes when he felt a pressure at the slit of his cock. It didn’t hurt, but it made him nervous.
“Relax my love,” Celedaen whispered. “I’ve got you. We’re in your hedge maze.”
Tauryon bit his lip and cuddled more closely as the memory of honeysuckle teased his nose and the thin rod pushed into his erection. It felt odd, intense, and almost nerve-wracking before it began to feel utterly blissful. Celedaen slowly moved it in and out, breathing into his ear and biting the lobe. His lower half began to writhe and push, and his moans began to turn into high, desperate cries.
“Rub yourself, beautiful.”
Tauryon eagerly obeyed as his feet began to cramp and his thighs felt like they were melting. He was there, right there on the edge, so close!
“Celedaen,” he cried, “oh, Celedaen move faster!”
The explosion was as strange as it was powerful. He felt his come blocked by the rod, and somehow that was better than anything he’d ever felt. He clawed at Celedaen’s shoulder, thrusting his hips high into the air. He was there again, feeling the sun on his skin while his cock tried to spend itself properly as Celedaen pumped that brass rod faster and faster. Finally, like the expert Tauryon was sure he was, just as he was on the brink again, Celedaen swiftly removed the rod, and began jerking his cock.
He burst hard enough that he felt light-headed, and he felt no fluid to speak of. Even so, he groaned deeply as he throbbed while his lover held him and rubbed him, helping him come down as they kissed deeply.
“Did that take care of some of that worry?” Celedaen asked gently.
Tauryon wasn’t sure, but then again his head wasn’t quite right, yet. “No one would guess how soft you could be,” he said.
Celedaen laughed once, quietly. “Or how softly a knife can be pushed between someone’s ribs.”
“I know I’m very lucky.”
They kissed once more.
“I’m tired,” Celedaen said. “It’s been a stressful evening. Call it a night?”
“Yes, of course,” Tauryon answered, a little disappointed. “Thank you for the relief.”
“Of course, Tauryon. Bear with me a while, though, yeah?”
“Yeah. Good night, my love.”
“Good night,” he smiled, kissing his fingers and turning them to Tauryon as he rose from the bed.
He wasn’t sure why he liked that gesture so much, but it comforted him more than any other thing that had happened. He vaguely thought of work, of what was going on in Winterhold, but he found he didn’t much care.
They reached Winterhold as evening was falling and just as a snowstorm was blowing in from the sea. Rei huddled into his coat and his furs, counting every hoofbeat until they reached the stables outside the Frozen Hearth Inn. Tauryon had been wisely withdrawn; Rei had worried that taking care of him sexually would exacerbate the new, clingy behavior he’d begun to exhibit. Sabrael, too, had been quieter than usual, which didn’t surprise him one bit. If one’s response to finding out one’s husband was not just lying with his old lover but intended to continue doing so, blatantly, was to say “things would work out”, one was knowingly lying to oneself. He continued to hold a look of pained hope, and the feeling of strained optimism was wearing on him. It hurt him. Too much.
“How come it seems every time you come in here, you’ve brought one more with you?” the innkeeper snapped as they walked in.
“It’s extra coin, Dagur, don’t worry about it,” Rei answered.
“At least this one looks normal.”
“Dagur, this is Tauryon, Tauryon, Dagur. He’s been kind enough to take care of Sabrael and me.”
“How d’you do?” Tauryon nodded.
They were still peeling off their outer layers and knocking snow off their boots when a door opened and closed.
“Dagur you’re running low on soap, just so you-” Rei looked up as soon as Nelecar looked over. A look of resignation replaced the one of genial conversation on his long face. “Oh, it’s you.”
“It’s me,” he repeated, not feeling up to being charming. “I need to speak with you, if you’re able.”
“Now you leave Nelacar alone,” Dagur scolded. “If for no other reason than I can’t afford to buy new bedclothes every time someone comes and bleeds all over ’em.”
“Celedaen?” Tauryon asked. “What’s gone on here?”
“Nothing you’d be surprised about. I’m sure Sabrael would be happy to fill you in, anyway.”
“I’m able,” Nelacar answered. He looked rather nice with his blonde hair falling, damp, down his back. “But yes, what Dagur said. There’ll be no messing about with daedric artifacts and bleeding, will there?”
“No,” Rei said. “I just have some questions, and you’re the only one I know to ask.”
“Alright. Come on, then.”
“Rei?” Sabrael asked. “Is this because of…you know?”
He swallowed and ran a hand over his husband’s head. “I love you,” he said truthfully.
Sabrael smiled and swallowed, as well, nodding.
“I’ll be back. Don’t wait for me if you’re hungry.”
He followed Nelacar into his room and moved to sit in a chair in the corner as the mer closed the door.
“That’s a rather handsome patch,” Nelacar said, catching Rei by surprise. He hadn’t expected any attention that wouldn’t have been judgmental.
“Thank you,” he answered. “Had it done in Riften. Leatherworker there’s a bit cold, you know, but she does very good work.”
“May I ask what happened?”
“Nothing grand. Got into one too many fights and took two too many potions.”
Nelacar smirked slightly. “What can I do for you, Rei Ginsei?”
“I need to get to Moonshadow.”
“What?! Now you told me that-”
“Calm down,” Rei interrupted. “I’m not asking you to get me there. I just need information on how, and I thought that perhaps with your research into soul gems in connection to Azura’s, in particular…”
“So why do you need to go there? What does your master want?”
“He doesn’t want it. I do,” Rei took a deep breath. “I’m going against His wishes asking this, but you would be doing such good.”
“I don’t have His vestige anymore. I’m no different from you now apart from appearance. That would be one thing, but He doesn’t have it, either. Azura does, and I think that she must have it on her plane, based on her threats.”
Nelacar squinted his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “I’m still not following. Why doesn’t he want you to retrieve it?”
“He doesn’t want to lose me. He made me promise last time I was with Him that I’d forget all this, but I told him flatly I wouldn’t.”
“And I’m the only person you knew, hm? Couldn’t go looking for books? The College is right there.”
“I”m nearly blind in this eye, Nelacar,” he snapped. “Right now you’re barely more than a blur. I can’t read text unless I’m in someone’s closet, and from what I’ve seen librarians don’t typically take kindly. And there is one other person, better suited than you, if I’m honest, but she wouldn’t help me.”
A sudden laugh bubbled up from Rei’s chest. “Because she’s the one who helped me remove the vestige in the first place!”
He couldn’t help it. A quiet sob shook his chest, and he propped his elbows on his knees to hold his head.
“I don’t know much, Rei Ginsei,” Nelacar said. There was sympathy in his voice. “It was my understanding that it’s completely inaccessible from Nirn, anyway. But I might know someone, too. I’ll even write the letter.”
“Oh?” Rei said hopefully. “Who is it?”
“Foremost daedra expert. Calenya Thilinor.”
Rei’s heart sank as quickly as it had risen. “Does she go by ‘Callie’, by any chance?”
“Yes, how do you-oh. She was the other one. I suppose that’s the problem with notoriety.”
“Right. Thank you for trying, though.”
“Sure,” Nelacar said as Rei slumped back in the rough wooden chair. “Forgive me for saying, but could he be telling you not to go to get you to try harder?”
“You’re asking why I believe He’d rather be without that part of his vestige.”
“I won’t say I’m going into this with bright eyes,” Rei said. “I know that it’s entirely likely He’s trying to goad me on so that He can be whole and destroy me properly.”
“You’re not afraid?”
“No. It would be as much as I deserve. I don’t think He is, though. I know him extremely well, and his Arm, Barbas, doesn’t lend himself toward subterfuge.”
Nelacar sighed quietly and tapped his fingers on the small table between them. “So what’s his investment in you, then?”
“You were born on the Isles, weren’t you?” he asked.
“Just outside Alinor City.”
“So then you know of the canah birds?”
“My grandmother had one as a pet,” Nelacar smiled. “She sang such beautiful songs.”
“Did you know they mate for life? Every now and again a male will take up with a new female, but generally speaking, when one bird dies, the other isn’t far behind. It’s cliche, I realize, but my decision to serve Clavicus Vile wasn’t an arbitrary one, and yet somehow it wasn’t very purposeful. I knew Him as my master long before I summoned Him, I longed for Him as one would a lover.
“When I regained my soul, we could share each other in a way we couldn’t for hundreds of years. We found in each other our mate, our reasons for being, but it happened all wrong. It was the wrong time. Certain…circumstances got in the way. I was told by others He didn’t love me, and I let myself believe it. I ruined everything. Clavicus can’t die, but even beyond His missing piece, He withers. He doesn’t speak in the way he used to. Meanwhile, here on Nirn, I’m set to a task at which I have no choice but to succeed, but every day without Him gets harder and harder. If I thought I could drink poison and be with Him forever, I would without hesitation.”
“Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if the love of my life walked through that door,” Nelacar said after a moment. “But I hear and read things like that and I have to say I’d be perfectly happy keeping my bed mostly to myself.”
Rei chuckled through a handkerchief he used to dab at his nose. “I never thought my life would be so full of regrets, and not even the things I’m supposed to regret. I’m part of folklore in places. I’m a monster for the killing and the massacre, but somehow I think what I’ve done to that little daedra in there is far more monstrous. I tried to make him go when he found me. The emotions were too strong. They hurt. So many times I tried to make him go, but he wouldn’t leave.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Nelacar asked quietly.
“It just started and I couldn’t stop,” he sniffled. “I don’t know what I am, Nelacar.”
“Well, you’re Rei Ginsei. You’re the daedric Altmer who came in here apropos of nothing one evening and had your way with me several times and left me rather bruised in places.”
Rei glanced over and allowed a small smile when he saw Nelacar was being humorous.
“You know I did rather like it. Parts of it.”
“Are you coming on to me?”
“I could be convinced.”
“I can’t with him in there,” Rei said with some amount of disappointment. Someone who would like it properly rough would be nice for a much-needed and intense release.
“I got the impression you two were. You know. Open.”
“We are, but he feels what I feel. If you catch my meaning.”
“Ah, right. The bond.”
“Anyway, thank you for your help.”
“Maybe try asking Phinis Gestor up at the College. I don’t know that his studies involve the specifics you need, but it’s worth an ask.”
Rei nodded. He had no intention of doing so. He’d do what he’d been doing and just seek out Barbas’ counsel. As he rose, he grasped Nelacar’s right forearm, and accepted the short kiss he was given on the corner of his mouth. When he stepped out into the tavern, he ordered a bath and the strongest alcohol Dagur had to offer. It was cheap and smelled of lye, but it would serve its purpose.
“Rei, I’m sorry you’re so sad,” Sabrael said as Rei took a seat and let his kirin crawl into his lap. Tauryon stayed where he sat, looking down with rheumy eyes as he, too, clutched a tatty mug of strong drink.
“Why are you sorry, beauty?” he asked. He pulled Sabrael close and kissed his head strongly.
“I shouldn’t have said anything last night.”
“And what would that have gotten us?” Rei answered. “What would it have gotten us if I hadn’t said what I did?”
Sabrael didn’t say anything.
“Go take a bath if you like. I need to speak with Tauryon.”
His kirin looked at him nervously and Rei swallowed against those nerves.
He nodded, kissed Rei’s cheek, and slid off his lap to wait while the bath was being filled.
“Sabrael?” he said.
“I love you. You know that, right?”
“I do,” the little daedra said with a small smile. “I feel it all the time. I love you, too.”
Rei smiled as Sabrael went to gather his toiletries.
“Come outside with me,” he told Tauryon.
His friend closed his eyes and sucked in his lips before downing the rest of his drink in one pull. He rose from his seat as he winced, and they began bundling back up.
“I know what you’re going to say, Celedaen,” Tauryon said before Rei could say anything. “You told me you wouldn’t leave, but I’ve felt it.”
“Do you resent me?”
There was a pause while Tauryon thought. “No. I really don’t. I know who you are, I know how you are. You’re a beast, and you always were, and I loved you for every ounce of it. I still do. But a beast likes to roam, and that’s what you’ve done.”
“Things just aren’t working,” Rei said. “I can’t be who you need. I can’t be who Sabrael needs. I miss who I was, and I hate what I do to him. As for you, I’ve come to believe that you’ve forgotten why you’re even out here, and it’s not supposed to be because of me. It was all a bad idea, wasn’t it? A mess from the start.”
“I’ll admit we haven’t been as expedient as-”
“Stop, Tauryon,” Rei said. “I’m no soldier, but if you’re out gallivanting around under what is honestly a thin premise, I can’t imagine your superiors would be pleased.”
Tauryon nodded. “I’ve been thinking of that. I’ve been thinking on it, and I’m just not sure how I feel anymore.”
“Regardless, your place isn’t here. I love you. I do, very much, but as I said, nothing will ever be the way it was, no matter how much we talk about hypotheticals.”
“What am I going to do?”
Rei put his hand behind his friend’s head and kissed his tears. “You’re going to be Tauryon, just like always. The clever mage, the dashing highborn.”
Tauryon didn’t return Rei’s forced smile, but only closed his eyes.
“You’ll take care of Sabrael?”
“Of course. That precious boy is all I’ll have left.”
“It’ll do him good to be away from me. Just like you said.”
“Don’t say that.”
“You said you have a colleague here,” Rei continued. “I don’t know what kind of colleague he is, but, lest you return empty handed, tell your colleague or write a letter: Watch Skyhaven Temple. The Blades will be recruiting.”
“How do you know?”
“If they die, so does their order. Delphine is going to try everything she can to shore up numbers. Kill them both now or wait and massacre everyone they bring in as a message.”
“Yes. In light of everything I suppose I shall just return to the embassy.”
Suddenly Tauryon’s arms were around his neck and his face was buried in the hollow of his throat. Rei held him as he cried.
“Am I not allowed happiness?” Tauryon whimpered.
“Just remember when you hated me,” Rei said.
“You were right. Our time has passed. That won’t help the pain.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Tauryon shook his head. “I love you so much, Celedaen.”
“And I love you.”
After a few moments of silence, Tauryon asked, “I suppose you’ll be leaving without telling him?”
“I don’t want to, but I won’t be able to let go if I don’t. While he’s in the bath, I want to gather my things back up. I’m not leaving my duty behind, though. It’s not too late. I’ll see what I can find out at the College. After that, I’m leaving here and camping.”
“What should I tell him?”
“Tell him the truth,” Rei said. “It’s not working. Tell him he deserves happiness and he deserves better than me, whether that’s you, someone else, or another kelpie. Tell him that I love him dearly and that hasn’t changed. It won’t change. Most of all emphasize that it’s not his fault. Will you do that?”
Tauryon nodded. “Yes, of course. Is there nothing I can do to convince you to stay?”
“I was meant to wander, I was meant to hunt, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Rei found himself climbing up to the gates of the Mages College, huddled against the wind, blinking his eye against the snow. It was dark save the magefire that burned above, and he was happy that, if even for a little while, that he could see perfectly and without the pain of torch- and lantern light. His heart was heavy, but the lack of sacrifice was still liberating. Realness was putting cracks in the ever-growing casing.
A bright ball of magelight greeted him when he reached the top, however, and he recoiled in pain just after registering the silhouette of a mage dressed head-to-toe in furs.
“Halt,” a female voice called over the wind. “Who are you, why are you here?”
“I am called Rei Ginsei. Is this the Mages College?”
“It is. It’s my unfortunate duty to take shifts guarding its entrance. Again, I ask: Why are you here?”
“I have questions about Elder Scrolls. I was told the librarian may have some information?”
“Elder Scrolls, you say?” the woman said. “Well. I can’t let anyone in who isn’t affiliated in some way with one of the schools of magicka. The…citizenry…you know…”
“I haven’t cast a spell in the better part of three hundred years!” he protested as he shivered violently. “What if I told you I was Dragonborn?”
“Is that so?”
Rei assumed there was some form of warming spell aiding the mage’s heavy robes allowing her conversational (if loud) cadence. It certainly wasn’t aiding him in any way.
“I suppose one could consider such abilities a form of magicka. Prove it.”
Rei put out a hand and pushed her to one side. He closed his eyes, envisioned the word, and in a moment a gout of flame erupted from his mouth.
“Proof enough?” he asked.
“I should say,” was the answer. “Go through the gate. The mage fire will lead you to the courtyard. Straight ahead into the main building, first door to your right. It’s getting late, but Urag gro-Shub should still be messing about in the Arcanaeum.”
Rei pushed past and ran against the wind down the zig-zagging ramparts with wells of blue flame marking distances. There were a couple of people in the courtyard, bundled up and hurrying to some door or another. Rei ran to the large doors of the main building as instructed and nearly crushed himself between them in his rush to get out of the bitter wind. It wasn’t terribly warm inside, but he was at least able to lower his hood.
The Arcanaeum was reached via a square staircase that led down from the upper floor. Unlike the upper floor that had been nice and dim, this room was filled with firelight. It made things blurry and dark, but Rei saw something moving that could be a person bearing the name “Urag”.
“I beg your pardon,” he called quietly, holding his fingers out just slightly to make sure he didn’t bump into the tables that pockmarked the library floor.
“Who are you?” a gruff voice answered. “Ya don’t look like a student. I don’t like strangers in my Arcanaeum.”
“You must be Urag.”
“Yeah, and this is my cozy little piece of Mundus, so watch yourself.”
Rei closed his eye and mustered every ounce of patience he could. “Please, sir, I’m looking for information on Elder Scrolls. I was told I might have some luck here.”
“I don’t suppose you have one?”
“Of course not! Even if we did, what makes you think I’d let you put your grubby paws all over it?”
“Just please help me, if you can? I’ve had a very trying few days. I’ve just left my husband. Please.”
“Alright. Just hang on and don’t touch anything.”
Rei wondered what use a library one wasn’t allowed to browse could have as Urag began walking around the shelves, picking out a few books.
“Here’s what I’ve got,” Urag said, walking to the front desk and laying two books on it. “It’s not much, but better than none at all.”
“Many thanks. Would you mind moving that lamp?” Rei asked. “As you can see, my right eye isn’t the only one that’s broken.”
Urag obliged, and in the much dimmer light, Rei could just make out the titles of the books: Effects of the Elder Scrolls, and Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls.
Rei opened the first and leaned in close. It was relatively short, as he skimmed the pages he took away rather unsettling things. Apparently those who had read the Scrolls could go blind, and many of them went insane. He closed it and moved it aside. When he opened the other, he wondered if the author had suffered what the Scrolls were supposed to do. He squinted to see if he was reading incorrectly. He dwelt on words to make sure he was comprehending them. But no matter what he did, his brain just could not form proper, meaningful sentences.
“This one is…” he began, looking for his own words. “How is this allowed binding?”
“Ah, yes,” Urag said with a note of amusement. “Those are the words of Septimus Signus, an expert on the Elder Scrolls.”
Rei wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of speaking to that particular author.
“He left here a few years ago. Haven’t heard from him since.”
“Do you know where he might have gone?” Rei asked.
“I heard tell he was camped out in the ice fields,” Urag answered, to Rei’s annoyance. “Sounds like him, if I’m honest.”
“Can’t think of any other place?”
” ‘Fraid not.”
Rei ran his fingers through his hair. “Alright then. Thanks.”
Sabrael felt the absence of Rei’s emotions while he was rinsing off. He was certain it was just because he had walked just far enough from the inn, but that didn’t stop his hands cramping from nervousness. He got out of the narrow tub and dried off, feeling his chest tighten harder and harder. The feeling wasn’t coming back. It had been minutes and minutes, but it wasn’t coming back.
“Rei?” he called as he burst from the bathing room. Tauryon was sitting in a chair with his head in one hand. “Tauryon? Where’s Rei?”
“Rei’s not here, little one,” Tauryon said.
“W-What do you mean?”
“He’s gone. He left.”
Sabrael’s heart suddenly sped painfully in his chest.
“No,” he said. “No, Rei wouldn’t do that!”
He ran out into the snowstorm in only a tunic and his skivvies, sobbing as he put his hand over his eyes to shield them from the snow.
“Rei!” he cried. “Rei Ginsei! Where are you? Oh, Rei, please come back! Please don’t leave me! Where are you???”
No matter which way he ran, he couldn’t feel anything. His tears were freezing on his face, but he only barely felt the cold. When a hand landed on his shoulder, he spun hopefully, forgetting about emotions, only to see Tauryon.
“He’s not coming back,” the old mer said. “Come. I know you’re resistant to cold, but you’ll catch your death in only those clothes.”
Sabrael choked on a sob and resisted Tauryon’s gentle tug before giving in and letting himself be pulled back into the inn.
“Why did he leave?” he asked. “Why, why, why?”
“He said it wasn’t working. He said he wasn’t any good for you, that you should find someone worthy.”
“I thought he was worthy,” Sabrael sniffled. “He was trying to fix himself.”
“I don’t think he could be fixed, Sabrael,” Tauryon said.
“Some people can’t be. Some people are the way they are, and there’s nothing to fix, no matter what everyone else thinks of those attributes. And Celedaen,” Sabrael hugged him as he, too, started to cry. “Celedaen’s an abomination. He was born under stars I don’t think mer were meant to be, and he was chosen by a Daedric Prince as a consort. His lust. His violence. It’s who he is.”
“It’s all my fault,” Sabrael moaned as he walked to their room and sat heavily on the bed. “If I hadn’t said what I did yesterday, he’d probably still be here.”
“No, sweet boy,” Tauryon said, sitting beside him. “This isn’t your fault. Celedaen loves you so very much. He thinks he’s doing you good. And he said himself that this isn’t your fault.”
Sabrael let himself be pulled close, and he gratefully snuggled into the embrace.
“I’m not going to defend his decision. He’s done more damage than good, but that’s always been his way.”
Sabrael clutched Tauryon’s shirt and cried even harder into it. “What do I do? I can’t live without him, it hurts too much! I’d rather be strapped to his back while he murdered a village than feel this hurt.”
“I know. I know.”
His heart was hurting so much that he began to wonder if a “broken heart” was a literal description. “Broken” didn’t begin to describe his.
“I spent. So long. Trying to find him,” he choked. “So long, leaving my family, my friends, and it’s not even been a year. How can he not care about that?”
“I don’t know.”
“I wanna die,” Sabrael mewled. Every part of him hurt.
“Shh, darling, don’t talk that way,” Tauryon said in as soothing a voice as he could muster.
Sabrael felt Tauryon’s chest shudder beneath his head.
“I do, though. If I die, I’ll go the place of rebirth, and none of this will have happened. I’ll hatch as another kelpie, brand-new and happy. No more Rei. No more loneliness”
“But then who will I hold?”
Suddenly all of Sabrael’s muscles felt weak and heavy. He didn’t feel like being comforting. He respected Tauryon’s friendship with Rei, but Rei wasn’t his husband.
“What do I do then?” he asked, evading Tauryon’s rationalization. “How do you know he’s not coming back? How do you know he’s not just…taking a long walk?”
“There’s a snowstorm outside,” Tauryon said softly.
That was true. Rei hated the cold and he hated the snow. There were no meditative walks here like there would be in the Rift or in Whiterun.
Sabrael covered his face and pushed himself away from Tauryon to curl up on the bed and cry. His head hurt from the act and from all the thoughts racing through. Was it truly not his fault? Should he have left those months ago when he’d finally found him? Why did he think this would work? What was his pod doing, and did they ever think of him?
“Tauryon?” he asked on a halting inhale.
“Can you find my red bag? There’s an emerald in it. I need it.”
After a moment of rustling, he saw Tauryon’s shadow over him before the old mer knelt beside the bed, offering the raw gem.
“How did you come upon such a huge gemstone?”
“Rei gave it to me,” he explained. “He gave it to me outside Ustengrav, to have something of his to hold onto while I had to wait outside. I was so scared of being left alone with all those soldiers and being unable to feel him, although I don’t know if it would’ve been better to be inside while he and that officer were doing what they were doing.
“He gave it to me and said that he’d be with me if I held it. It’s been in that bag since the river. I didn’t think I’d need it again. I wish his words weren’t just to make me feel better. I wish if I just held onto it hard enough, he’d come back.”
Sabrael gave into a fresh wave of sobs and curled up more tightly into a ball, the emerald clutched to his body. “Come back, Rei, please come back,” he whimpered. “Please, please, please, I’ll be better for you and everything.”
“Dear one,” Tauryon said, sitting back down and wiping a tear away from his eyes. “Nobody should have to change. You didn’t drive him away. He left of his own volition. He left in the hopes that you’ll do better than him.”
Sabrael let Tauryon lie down behind him and nestled against his stomach. His heart ached from loss, but the lack of feeling for so long, and with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be coming back was worse. It was a hole in his being. The fragment of Rei’s soul that he kept to himself was there, but alone it was a puzzle piece with no mate.
“I can’t do this,” he moaned.
“Shh. You can. You fought for so long to have him, Sabrael. You’ve more strength than anyone I know.”
Sabrael sighed with mild annoyance.
“Let’s just try to rest. If you want to, you can come with me back to Solitude. I know I’m not Celedaen. Rei. But I love you, and I want you safe.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said quietly.
The cold was too much for Baku, but Rei couldn’t leave him in the Winterhold stables. Before he could even think about navigating the treacherous ice fields in the Sea of Ghosts, Rei had to make his way back to Windhelm to board him in a place that was reasonably warm. The beast was shivering by the time they arrived, and Rei wasted no time dismounting and removing his burden and his tack. He ordered a warm mash, leaving the saddle blanket in place to avoid the shock of the cold on sweat.
“It’s alright, boy,” he soothed, rubbing Baku’s neck rapidly. “We’ll get you warmed up, and you’ll feel much better by the time I return.”
Baku shook his head, and Rei pulled it down and close so that he could press his cheek against his animal’s. “You’ll be okay, and I’ll be back as soon as I can, alright?”
The horse pushed his head against Rei’s.
“That’s right, baby boy. I promise.”
It was well and truly past midnight by the time Baku was situated, and so Rei decided it was best to stay in Windhelm. He hoped Tauryon would be going straight to Solitude. As soon as he entered the gates, however, he was accosted by a guard.
“What are you doing here? I don’t know you.”
“I’m only here to rest for a short while,” he answered. “After that, I’ll leave.”
“I don’t suppose you’d know anything about a rash of murders?” the guard asked.
“This is the first time I’ve been here. I have no idea what goes on or why I should care.”
“Well, I reckon you should care. Strange lookin’ character just happens to wander into town about the time these murders take place.”
“Then shouldn’t you be paying attention to that instead of bothering people too tired to stand?”
The guard paused. “Don’t you get smart with me, creature. Go on to the inn. If I see you leave before sunrise, we’ll have some trouble.”
Rei simply pushed past the guard and headed to the building whose sign marked its status as an inn and tavern. The guard didn’t know what murder was. As he set his things down in the small room, he began wondering on what he was about to do. On the one hand, it would be odd sleeping alone after all this time, but on the other, it was nice to be finally alone again. He was hard, but he didn’t need help making himself come, and he couldn’t think of a better way to put himself to sleep.
The trip to Windhelm put him much farther south than Winterhold, a frustrating turn of events. After checking to make sure Baku was okay, he kissed his animal’s velvety nose, promised he’d be back, and headed back north on foot, bundled head-to-toe in more layers than he’d ever worn, laden with his camping gear and food and water. His hood was pulled back down to cover his working eye, but still, the most he could do was follow the movement of the sun. The wind buffeted his face and made it hard to progress, but he pressed on, ignoring the sting on the tip of his nose and wondering why he’d bothered covering his face, at all.
Eventually, as the sun was setting, he reached Winterhold again, confident that if Tauryon and Sabrael were nearby they wouldn’t recognize him, bundled up as he was. The ice fields began just to the north of Winterhold, right underneath the College that soared above him on its lofty pedestal of white stone columns. There was a stone hill just before him on a bed of dirt that rose above the shallow water that ran along the coast.
He looked at the water with far more trepidation than usual, but a short leap put him on the dirt mound with the rock. He walked around and felt his stomach drop to the ground. When Urag had said “ice field”, Rei had simply pictured a literal field of ice. What he was presented with now were a series of tiny, disconnected islands of ice floating on top of the water. His earlier trepidation turned to outright terror. He didn’t have his Sabrael to encourage him, and all he saw was a million opportunities to fall into the water to either drown or freeze, whichever came first.
Besides, he didn’t know where or how some crazy wizard would make his home out here. It was his only lead, though, and so he thought to venture north. Gingerly he stepped on the first chunk and yanked his foot back as the ice sank. He figured that he could make it to the larger pieces if he was nimble enough to hop from smaller chunk to smaller chunk. A daunting prospect considering how heavy his load made him. Still, he had to try.
He looked ahead and saw the first large piece of ice, one that would likely be able to hold his weight, and he formulated a path. With a deep breath, he began to move quickly over the smaller pieces, feeling his stomach clench every time he felt his foot sink. He’d adopted a sort of awkward run, stepping this way and that until he reached the large chunk of ice. It bobbed a bit, but his boots were hardened leather and oiled. If nothing else, at least his feet weren’t cold.
All around he could only see more ice, except in the distance he thought he could make out the shape of an iceberg, a blurry, dark silhouette that he couldn’t quite be sure wasn’t some form of mirage. Whatever it was, it seemed hopeful, and so he began his treacherous game of hopscotch once more, stopping at every large piece of ice to catch his breath. Finally, after what seemed like ages, with his lungs burning from the cold, he reached the iceberg.
A rowboat floated moored to it, causing Rei to wonder exactly how it got there. But, more importantly, there was a doorway carved into the ice. He opened it to be greeted by a ladder, which he took, hoping it would stay dim, only to reach the bottom to be greeted by a roaring fire. It didn’t seem wise to have a fire blazing with no chimney in a fortress of ice that he been burrowed into, but Rei wasn’t the wizard here.
The wizard that was here didn’t seem to notice he had a visitor and was busy moving here and there, muttering nonsense to himself.
“Pardon me?” Rei asked.
“Oh, a visitor!” the visitor cried. “An apprentice, perhaps? To pass along knowledge before I reach enlightenment!”
“You live down here? How did you-”
“When the top level was built, no more could be placed! It was and is the maximal apex.”
Rei narrowed his eye. “I was told you know about Elder Scrolls? I’m hoping to find one.”
“I know enough to know their fabric,” Septimus claimed. “The weft and warp.”
“Does that mean you have one?”
“Alright,” Rei said, his annoyance only growing. “Do you know where I might find one?”
“Well it’s here. Here as in Mundus. Tamriel. Nearby, even! Of course, on the cosmological scale, everything is nearby.”
“So is it nearby here, where we are? Don’t think I’m above hurting an old man to get what I need.”
“Well there’s no need for violence!” Septimus said. “I have no fear of brutish ones like you. But one block raises another, hm? Do something for me, and I will give you the information you need.”
“And what’s that?” Rei asked.
“You see this masterwork of Dwemer ingenuity,” Septimus answered, producing a gold cube inlaid with strange, geometric inscriptions. “Septimus is most intelligent among men, but is but an idiot child compared to the dullest Dwemer. This cube should contain a flawless reading of an Elder Scroll, a device designed to read without reading! Septimus has figured out the key to their knowledge, but empty it lies.”
“So I suppose you want me to fill it? The device will have the Scroll?”
“Yes, yes! In Blackreach. Do you know Blackreach? Under deep, below the dark, the hidden keep, Tower Mzark!”
“It’s in Mzark?”
“Do your ears not work? I told you! Here,” Septimus said, handing over a tiny ball. “Dwemer music is soft, but it’s needed to open the cleverest of gates. In their ruins there lies those gates. One close, to the south. Alftand stands with Dwemer singing intact. Use the sphere to open the gate, and find the skydome of Mzark. Place the cube in its receptacle, and imbue it with the Scroll’s knowledge!”
Rei was going to do no such thing, but he agreed. He looked properly around the room as best as he could. Potions. Books. A couple of gold statuettes. A purse that could only contain gold. It was against what tenuous moral code he possessed, but money was tight, and it had to come from somewhere, at least for now.
“Go on, now, time flies, and even Septimus is but a mere mortal!”
“Aren’t we all?” Rei smiled before taking a step forward and swiftly snapping the old man’s neck.
He liked to see the terror in his victims’ eyes. He liked tormenting them. But there was a certain satisfaction in seeing a look of confusion simply freeze on their face as their death happened too swiftly for them to notice. He kicked the body aside with his heavy boot and began searching for valuables. The purse was much fuller than he would have expected of an isolated old man, but he certainly wasn’t going to complain. He picked up the statuettes and remembered that he didn’t have Baku, so he put them back down.
What he had was enough, and already his heart was beginning to lighten. He never could have done that with Sabrael nearby. A pleasant shiver overtook him. He’d never been to a Dwemer ruin before in his travels, but he was under the impression they were mostly inhabited by automata and Falmer; things he had no particular interest in slaughtering. Machines couldn’t feel, and from his limited experience with Falmer, it seemed he was doing them a favor, wretched beasts living in darkness. They may have been proper mer at one point, but Rei had no particular sympathy for what they had become, regardless of any circumstances. Nothing worthwhile made its home in the dark.
Night was falling, though, that much he knew, and at least for now he had a warm bed, a fire, and even a couple bottles of wine lying around. Now he could properly appreciate his lonely lifestyle from before. He would deal with these dragons, and along the way he would do whatever he could to face Azura on her own plane.