Author: Dunmer Cuss-Word PM
There is no Sovngarde for you when the Mad God calls you, and there is no rest for true heroes. Do you think you can outrun fate when it's written by your enemies? Don't read this if you haven't played much of Skyrim, or if you're not prepared to consult UESPWiki at some point. Reviews are welcome, flames are delicious, and your lamentations are what's best in life.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Drama - Sheogorath & Erandur - Chapters: 7 - Words: 38,781 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 11 - Updated: 01-20-13 - Published: 06-26-12 - id: 8260136
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Eko, Eko Azarak
"… These are no angels of triumph and reconciliation; these are no heralds of serene justice, but the disheveled warriors of a mad vengeance. The world sinks into universal Fury. Victory is neither God's nor the Devil's: it belongs to Madness."
Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization
"We humans, we aren't born with a set purpose, we aren't made for this or that task like you Daedra—and don't let any cleric tell you otherwise, because it's pure sentimental pap. No, it's what we do that makes us who we are; our actions are what give us a definition and a purpose. A priest of Mara, if he does it right, becomes a physical agent of love and mercy. A peasant on a cabbage farm is what he is because he stays with the land and lives by it and tends it all his life, and whether he believes he can do no other thing with his two hands is inconsequential. It's the actions, you see—no one came into this world knowing what they were supposedto be, not even Potema herself. There is no 'supposed' in this case, no matter what anyone's father tells them."
"And what about you? What makes a hero?"
"Killing and ruination—death and destruction and lies. One man's tragedy makes another man's legend. It gets into you like any other drug or idea—it seeps into your mind, into your bones, into your nerves and every fiber of your muscle. It gets into the corners of your eyes—everywhere you see your past and your doom, all of it revolving around a sword in someone's hand. Every single damned day it walks with you; if you aren't perpetrating destruction, then you revisit it. It fills all the cracks of your waking mind, and eventually it pushes out everything else.
"Some people never quit—it becomes their engine, it drives them on and on until they find their end on the tip of someone's sword or a headsman's axe. Others, it breaks them. They are paralyzed by it, their minds always in the heat of battle no matter where their bodies actually stand; or they simply become too tired and burned out to function in civilized society." The hero paused, as though a thought just occurred to her. "No hero is fit for civilized living, to be honest. We're a necessary evil in a lot of ways, but damned if you can make us give it up."
The Mazken tilted her head, and then looked away and bit her knuckle as she thought about this. Most Daedra had at least a passing interest in the people of Nirn, but this one had an obsession to match that of any madman. It reminded the hero of the Mages in Winterhold, and of Farengar—a nice imitation of mortal curiosity.
"What do they call you, hero? Did they name you?"
A silly question, as few mortals lived without names, but it made the Dovahkiin smile. "In life, I was Mirriam Vinius, a Breton of little consequence."
"… And so now Nocturnal essentially owns my Bosmeri arse. Just be glad you're not one of us higher-ups."
"What does that entail?" Mirriam was hunched over with her head resting on her hands, her mouth immersed in ale foam, and her eyes on Thavrin as he told her about how he'd just saved the Thieves' Guild from damnation. "Will you be taken to her realm or something?"
"I'm not sure, actually. I think I'm supposed to become a part of her or something, like I keep existing, but only as a part of the shadows, forever watching as Nocturnal screws around and manipulates the mortal world."
Mirriam scowled. "Sounds boring."
"Yeah, just a little." Thavrin sat back in his chair, his smile fading.
"That means we'd be apart in the afterlife too… I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to end up… erm…"
"In several different places. Yeah, we might've fooled around too much with these Daedra." Thavrin stroked his beard thoughtfully, glancing at the Ring of Namira on his finger, and took another bite of apple. "Hey, maybe if we behave badly enough, we can both join Sanguine in his realms!"
"That'd be nice, but I don't know. Isn't the Dovahkiin supposed to go to Sovngarde or something like that?"
"Nah, that's only for true Nords. You're not nearly tall enough, blonde enough, or… well okay, you have the belligerent part down, but still. No Bretons."
Mirriam snorted, and nearly knocked her flagon over when foam shot up into her nostrils. "Well that's a relief. The place sounds kind of stupid—there's been absolutely no mention of wenches!" She snuffed and wiped at her nose, trying to get the burning sensation out of it.
"Hmmm… then it looks like you're headed for the Dreamsleeve, pal. It's wretched rebirth for you!"
"Fetch that," Mirriam said, perhaps too loudly. "I'll slaughter this whole town in a drunken stupor if that's what it takes—I'll burn it down right now! I'm not shovin' off unless it's to somewhere better, and by the gods, I'm takin' you with me!"
"Well," Thavrin grinned and raised his flagon, and Mirriam did the same, "I think that calls for a self-congratulatory toast."
"Aye," Mirriam barked, and the two blood-brothers stood, ensuring that all of the Bee & Barb patrons were now watching them. "To us, and all the exotic and multifarious ways that we've damned ourselves!"
"To Oblivion with us!" Thavrin smashed his flagon into Mirriam's, ale splashing everywhere.
"Six ways to Sundas, at that! Damned in every faith!"
"Aye!" The merry blasphemers, drinking-arms locked in blissfully profane brotherhood, tipped their heads back and guzzled their lukewarm ale. A drunken fisherman applauded them from the corner. Mirriam and Thavrin were oblivious to the glares of the other patrons, and particularly unmindful of the reproachful way that Brother Maramal cleared his throat.
Talen-Jei was nice enough to let them finish their ale before grabbing their collars and dragging them towards the door. "Out! Both of you out! The nerve of you two… why Keerava didn't toss you fetchers out sooner is a testament to her patience."
"Hey! Who you callin' a fetcher?" Mirriam flung her flagon across the room, nearly clipping Marcurio in the ear.
Thavrin took a seemingly less confrontational tone, as always. "You're pretty strong!" And then with an impish grin he added, "then again so's your mom!"
Mirriam gave him a sideways glance. "What? How was that an insult? That doesn't even make sense! Being strong's a universally accepted virtue."
"Hey, I tried. Being clever is hard!"
"'Clever?' No way. You are not on top of your game t—"
"Out!" Talen-Jei flung them as far as he could, which admittedly wasn't far at all. Thavrin made sure to tell him as much—or would have if the door hadn't slammed shut on them.
Mirriam helped him up and dusted herself off. "Well, looks like we've just about worn out our welcome. Whaddaya say we go restock our potion stash?"
Thavrin straightened his hood and readjusted a few buckles on his Thieves' Guild armor. "Mirriam, it's nearly midnight."
"I know." She winked and pulled out a lockpick. "We'll just have to keep quiet."
The dark-haired young Bosmer shook his head and followed her down the steps toward the drafty alchemist's shop, taking care not to draw the attention of the guards—an easy enough task, since none of them bothered to patrol the lower levels these days. "Gods… You know that Ingun won't be there, right?"
"Oh, shut up." Mirriam brushed her hair back and got to work on the lock. It was open in less than ten seconds. She eased the heavy wooden door open a crack, peeked inside to make sure the front room was empty, and then crept in with Thavrin not far behind her.
"Seriously, you've worn that Amulet of Mara around her for the past three months," Thavrin whispered. "I hope she didn't notice, 'cause otherwise she's going to think something's wrong with you."
"Shut up," Mirriam whispered back, pulling everything off the shelves and into her knapsack.
"Seriously, she'll think you're damaged goods."
"Your mom's damaged goods."
Thavrin was silent for a second, and then he muttered, "See, I should've worked that into the altercation up top. I think that would've struck home."
"Thavrin, I gave that guy three flawless amethysts." Mirriam inspected a cutting of lavender before stuffing it into her pocket. "Don't give him an excuse to get stabbed by us, because then they'd go to waste."
"You don't know. What if he's the Champion of The Rift or something like that?" Thavrin gave Mirriam the signal to wait, snuck around the corner to make sure Elgrim and Halfjorg were still asleep, and then gave her a thumbs-up over the counter. "You just don't know, Mirriam." he was barely audible now as they made their way to the chest where Ingun left her successful potions. "Besides, he's a man in love, and I sort-of-threatened his dame once. Love makes people ridiculously strong, like moms punching bears to save their babies, and other Nord shenanigans."
"Yeah, well madness makes a man strong too, and he'd be crazy to take on the both of us at once." Mirriam rubbed a pinch of horker fat on the hinges of the chest so that they wouldn't creak when she popped it open. "Here, I'm just about at my limit—" Mirriam gasped, clapping her hand over her mouth just in time to stifle it. She and Thavrin froze, waited until Elgrim started snoring again, and then Mirriam lifted a purplish-red bottle out of the chest for Thavrin to see.
His mouth watered. His black eyes grew wide. "By Y'ffre…"
"No shit, Thavrin… Looks like she found out our poison of choice. And look…" Mirriam pulled out a second one, positively radiant with bottled-up joy. "Two of them!" She hissed.
"Sap! Praise the child!"
Elgrim snorted. Halfjorg turned over and muttered. Mirriam and Thavrin nearly jumped out of their boots.
Five minutes (and one trip to Marise's food stall) later, the two of them were safely outside the city walls and well on their way to the best midnight picnic ever. Then, two frostbite spiders attacked. Mirriam caught a wad of venom right in the face, and as she was wiping it off one of the overgrown arachnids leapt at her, its spiky pink mandibles snapping viciously. "Thavrin!" Mirriam backed away and pulled out her trusty Dawnbreaker, secretly glad she'd relented to that nagging Daedra a week ago. "I could use a little backup!" Her vision was still blurry. She could still see shapes, and she took a swing at the writhing bluish-white one in front of her.
"In a minute, gotta stave this one off!" Thavrin unleashed a poison-tipped arrow from his bow, pulling out another before the first one lodged itself into the carapace between the other, farther-off spider's eyes.
As her vision finally cleared, Mirriam was nearly bowled over by her assailant. She swung her sword down on it, slashing at those oversized fangs. The spider reared up on its four hind legs and, as it came down, found itself impaled on Dawnbreaker and engulfed in flames. Mirriam grabbed it by the head and pulled it further down the blade for good measure. "Never mind, I got it."
"Yeah, same here." Thavrin slung his bow over his shoulder and watched Mirriam wipe the spider guts off of her blade. "You know, it's like everything is getting weaker—or maybe we're getting stronger."
"Don't worry, I'm sure they'll come up with something new to stomp us into the ground. Maybe we should go take on the Aldmeri Dominion all by our lonesome, eh?"
Thavrin rolled his eyes, though it was hard to tell when he did that in any lighting. "Okay, maybe our collective ego will just swell until it suffocates everyone in Tamriel."
"So either way they win?"
Mirriam had harvested the last of the frostbite venom into leftover bottles when Thavrin spotted a familiar caravan of Khajiit. He waved to them and they, mindful of one of their best customers, hailed him in response.
"We thought we smelled blood in the air!" Kharjo shouted.
"Blood and seared slaughterfish!" Thavrin shouted back.
"And pie!" Mirriam added. She ran up and tackled Kharjo, who pulled her into a headlock and laughed. "We have all this food and no one to eat it with!"
Ahkari sniffed at her and her ears perked up. "It seems you have more than food, traveler."
"Yep." Mirriam pulled out her bottle of sleeping tree sap; she was in just enough of a good mood to share. "Do you guys have any tea? I take mine with syrup."
"Don't forget the sweet rolls!" Thavrin held up a sack of foods, both pilfered and honestly acquired. "We have those too, and spiced wine from Solitude—"
Ahkari was salivating by now. "By the Moons… Dro'marash! Get a fire started! We'll take a break here."
The first to go were the pastries. That Khajiit sweet-tooth never failed to amaze Mirriam; she'd always assumed that they'd prefer fish to an apple pie. Thavrin laid claim to all the red apples (never the green ones), his defense being that apples couldn't even grow in Valenwood. "The climate's all wrong, see? So there's no way I'm breaking my people's contract with Y'ffre. If I was, I would've known it long ago."
Mirriam still wasn't allowed to tell Faendal about his apple habit, though. "You know, I can't remember that ever being a problem when we were kids. We ate vegetables like crazy—Mom always made you eat tomatoes, too…"
"Even though she knew I hated them, yeah." Thavrin poured some boiling water into the beat-up metal teapot, tossed in a large pinch of tea leaves, and closed the lid.
Mirriam poured the entire first bottle of sleeping tree sap into everyone else's cups, and ran out just before getting to hers. "Well damn."
"Just open up the second one," Thavrin said.
Mirriam thought about it, and then realized she was pretty tired. This cup would be all she needed that night, and it was almost time to harvest some more from that giant camp anyway; the others could have the rest of the bottle. "Alright." She pulled the cork out with her teeth and lined the bottom of her tankard with a finger of the fragrant sap, and then held the tankard out to Thavrin, who poured some tea over it.
Things did not turn out as planned.
Before she could scoop out the dregs with her finger, Mirriam began to feel funny. She felt like her throat was coated in sealing wax, like it was closing up on her. This wasn't supposed to happen. She looked up at the night sky, and saw that the stars were smeared and dyed purple. This was normal. Her breath seized; it was harder to pull the air in. This wasn't supposed to happen. The grass looked like woven straw, like a green mat. It swam in place before her eyes. This wasn't supposed to happen. She could feel the world rotating, slowly, imperceptible to all except her, hopping back a few paces when it caught her looking. This wasn't supposed to happen.
She didn't notice that the others were watching her until she stood up; Mirriam dusted her pants off, trying to assure them that everything was fine. "I'm going to go lay down now." She took one step, and then fell through the earth.
The descent was slow, and she landed astride the back of a bear. It ran through the trees, ignorant of her presence. She gripped the long hair of its back in her calloused fingers, and she found that the descent to the middle of the forest was smooth. Her hair unbraided itself and flew behind her, floated like she was underwater. She realized that she could still breathe, and that her fingers felt cold and tingly. Behind her she could hear the cries of her friends, the ones she left behind. Thavrin, the traders, Kharjo; Erandur whispered her name with his mouth full of his blood, with his hands over his pierced heart, a heart like a burning ember. She felt its hot rays on her back, but she could not look upon him. Benor's sad eyes burned brightest, and tongues of flame lashed at her neck. Lydia's tortured voice flew forth from charred lungs, and it tore through Mirriam's armor and stabbed her shoulder blades. Mirriam squeezed her eyes shut, but the tears escaped and floated up like bubbles of oil in the water. A small, choked sob tripped out of her mouth.
Branches lashed out at her as they rode down into the valley. The voices of those she left behind grew in number, only to fade as the green sun rose and set in a fuchsia sky. Blue night covered all, covens of fireflies convened in the leaves. The center of the forest drew near; the most ancient tree in the forest came into her vision, soft and serene, its branches filled with light.
From the corner of her eye she saw a bandit in the shadows. He swung his arm and pitched a rock at her head, and before she could dodge it struck her temple. The bear dissolved into a school of river betty and swam away into the thickening night air. Mirriam gasped; boiling water filled her throat, only to evaporate into burning steam as it reached her lungs. She sank down into the soft ground, which billowed up like silt in a riverbed.
Mirriam sat up, clutching the side of her head. A cloud of blood floated from the wound, and she felt dizzy. The water threatened to crush her puny frame at this depth. She looked around for the one who threw the rock, and she heard him laughing, the sound of it echoing through the valley and bouncing off of the walls of her mind. He sat on a boulder, grinning from ear to ear; this was no bandit. It was the night sky in the shape of a man, a man-shaped window to the red and violet cosmos. He drew near, and the night sky faded, gave way to human flesh. He caught the fear in her eyes before she could hide it, and he laughed all the louder. The world itself was benighted, and his eyes were like lamps of burning, alien fury. There was no mirth in that laughter, and those white eyes held no love.
"Well, well, well," he snarled, stooping down to straighten her shirt collar. "It's a small world, isn't it?"
The Mad God didn't let her finish. He grabbed her by the shirt and swung her around as if she was a small child, slamming her back against the boulder. Sparks flew from the corners of her vision, and her brain didn't quite know which to process first—the bone-jarring pain of her unprotected skull striking stone, or the sensation of having the wind knocked out of her in the most violent way possible. Her vision blurred, doubled, quadrupled. Only one thing loomed whole and focused in her sight, and it terrified her in a way that her eyes and conscious mind could not decode. She couldn't kick, couldn't use her arms, couldn't even squirm; Mirriam was too busy trying in vain to draw breath while gazing into the white abyss that was Sheogorath's wrathful gaze.
Those blind eyes were ever upon her, unwavering, unblinking. "And you've been so busy, haven't you? Why, we haven't had any time to catch up! I hear your name everywhere I go, too; you must be doing something important, eh? Good on you, my dear!"
His ecstatic tones only made him more terrifying; in the back of her mind, Mirriam knew that his excitement was inversely proportional to how pleased he actually was with her. The Mad God was not in a cheerful mood, and the story of how he'd invented music kept reciting itself in her head. Mirriam opened her mouth, and after a moment she managed to whisper, "what do you want with me?"
Sheogorath laughed, still holding her fast to the face of that stone. "Oh, you cut-up! Always jokin' around, laughin' it up with your little friend, never realizin' that the rest of the world isn't laughing with you," he finished with a bestial growl. It was at this time that Mirriam realized that he had some nice fangs, clean and neat and ready to make tearing her soft throat out that much easier. "Tell me, do you think you can outrun fate? Mmm?" His mouth twitched, and his lips curled into a rabid snarl as he slammed her into the stone again. He shouted, "Do you think you can outrun it when it's written by your enemies?"
Mirriam was too scared to even wipe his spittle off her face. She prayed to Mara that he wasn't expecting an actual answer from her, because even if she knew what to say, she wasn't sure she'd have the guts to say it.
"Will you keep spittin' in their faces and mockin' them, and expect to get away with it? What drives you, little mortal—is it revenge? Do you hate them for what they did, for what they took from you? Huh?" His broad chest heaved with bestial rage, each breath of it exhaled in her face like sour, atomized hatred, and Mirriam had a sneaking suspicion that he wasn't actually talking about her.
She found a tiny splinter of her old nerve, and swallowed before speaking. "I'm not sure what you're getting at." She regretted opening her mouth the moment those words left, and waited for him to rend her limb from limb. In the morning, three new instruments would be presented to a passing stranger…
This punishment never came, though. He stared at her for what might have been a minute, or five minutes, or an hour—whatever it was, it was too long for Mirriam's comfort. Then, he picked up where he'd left off by jerking her away from the boulder, pulling her close until their noses were nearly touching. He smelled like piss and negligence, like homeless men and the desolate places where they died unnoticed. "Is it pure arrogance?" His voice softened a hair. "Is it hubris writ large, defiance crossed over to delusion? What drives you and that Bosmer child? I'm just dyin' to know, so tell me," he growled, "Before I lose my patience."
Mirriam closed her eyes, breathed in, and breathed out. She thought for a moment, and then opened her eyes, and gave him the only answer she could think of. "Me and Thavrin just want the world to piss off—the Imperials tried to take our heads, the Stormcloaks hate everyone who's not a Nord, and the Thalmor want to kill everything that's not them!" Sheogorath raised an eyebrow, but she continued. "Well, I can't speak for Thavrin, actually. You'd have to ask him yourself."
"Oh don't worry; I spoke to him long ago." And just like that, Sheogorath was in good spirits once again. His smile was too wide and full of sharp white teeth to be called warm, but Mirriam felt his vice-like grip on her shirt relax slightly, and so she relaxed too. "Nice boy, really. Loyal to a fault, not quite right in the head, but his heart's in the right place, I'm sure." That was one hell of an accusation coming from the Mad God, but she said nothing about it.
"I still don't understand why we're having this talk, though. I mean, didn't you go back to your realm?"
Sheogorath's smile was gone. "I'm on a business trip," he said through clenched teeth. "Got a meetin' with a certain armored jackass. Got islands to feed, y'know—and I'll feed 'em with his blood when I catch 'im." Suddenly he flung her away, disgusted by the thought of his quarry. When he pounced on her he was no longer a man but was a sabre cat, its fur black and white and brown like a housecat's, its eyes green and wide. His breath was like fog in the freezing night air as he pinned her to the forest floor. "A lot of folk have their eye on you, but I think I like you best," he said. "Yes, I might just have use for you." He opened his mouth and hissed, white fangs long and gleaming. "All it takes is one bad bottle of sap, and you're all mine." His big paws felt lighter on her chest now, and she could breathe normally. The rays of the two moons swam through his body like he was running water. "I need you intact though. What a shame. Now wake up, girl!"
"Wake up! Mirriam!" Someone was shaking her. Mirriam started, and when she blinked Thavrin was crouched over her, casting a healing spell. "Gods, what am I going to do with you?" The Khajiit caravanners stood around him, watching her with a mixture of concern, amusement, and mild embarrassment.
"Thavrin…" Mirriam's mouth felt dry, like it was full of cotton, and there was a sour taste in it. The healing spell took away her pain, but her neck felt very stiff. "What happened? How long was I gone?"
"'Gone?' Mirriam, you didn't leave. You just fell down this hill and threw up on a tree." What Thavrin pointed to was more of a cliff than a hill in Mirriam's opinion, but she let him continue. "Oh, and you tried to roll back uphill. That happened."
"Yeah." Thavrin scratched his head and then helped Mirriam onto her feet. "You probably shouldn't sleep outdoors tonight, or ever, and frankly I think you owe that tree an apology."
"But you guys didn't see another man here? Or a calico sabre cat?"
Ahkari narrowed her eyes. The other Khajiit exchanged nervous glances. "There are no calico sabre cats in this land or any other, traveler."
"But I just saw one. He had green eyes, big fangs, and weird fur. He was a man first, and then…" Mirriam stopped when she realized how stupid she sounded. "Never mind. Thavrin, let's find somewhere a little flatter to sleep. Think they'll take us in down by Shor's Stone? Or maybe we should go back to Riften. What do you think?"
Thavrin's answer never came. He was too busy watching the Khajiit scurry away as fast as they could without actually running.