Horator of House Hlaalu
The click of boot against stone was an empty, hollow sound in the fathomless black of his consciousness. Slow steps echoed like a timepiece, tapping off the inevitable confrontation of his greatest fear. The Dark Elf grew all too aware of a foreboding presence drawing ever closer. From his other senses, he tried to discern where he was. There was a damp chill in the air. The scent of sweat, fear, and moist stone was thick. This must be a dungeon. He could feel the shackles bite into his wrists; opening old wounds he had thought had long since healed.
How he came to this place was hazy, as if some half-remembered dream. Saber grasped at memory, like trying to catch fish with bare hands. He couldn't remember much else other than falling asleep at Caius Cosades' old apartment. He had just arrived from the Ashland region, after months of quests and challenges to which time and again he came victorious. After months of living in the land of Morrowind, he had succeeded where so many had failed. The Urshilaku tribe of the Ashlanders had named him Nerevarine, and now he bore the infamous Moon-and-Star ring. His life had fast becoming what bards would later sing in epic stories.
Indisputably, he was now the Incarnate; known as the reborn ancient hero, blessed by Azura, to come and save Morrowind from the evil Sixth House. He was set on the path to fight Dagoth Ur, said to be a mad god living beneath Red Mountain. How was it then, he came to this dark place?
The footsteps stopped too close to be comfortable. It would seem for all he'd accomplished so far, meant little in this dark place. Saber couldn't explain but he knew instinctively who this was, even without seeing his face.
"Nekros…" His voice was loud in this chamber. A throaty, ragged laugh answered him from behind, affirming his suspicions. The damaged throat, ruined by the very wound Saber had inflicted on him in an attempt to kill him almost a lifetime ago…
"How did you know it was me?" The broken voice spoke with amusement, as if playing some marvelous game. Perhaps he was. Nekros always did love his mind games, and toying with others.
"Who else would be tormenting me?" Saber countered, battling to remain stoic and emotionless in the presence of his old master. The master assassin had always had invoked terror in his young apprentice, or struck fear in the heart of just about anyone. Most who had heard the name also would cringe in fear. This was Nekros, Tamriel's most deadly assassin. Reputed for his affinity with pain and death, the monster wore the mantle like a shroud.
This time, Saber realized fears were of unease and distrust of intention. Perhaps because of their recent past history, his dread was not as strangling. Their last meeting was a fierce battle, where Saber lost. Nekros unexpectedly spared his life, leaving him confused and wondering of his objective. The Dunmer reasoned Nekros wouldn't kill him now. At least, so he hoped.
At one time, Nekros had been human, or so Saber could only assume. He'd always viewed the man as a monster but as a boy had never realized the extent of it. Even then, Nekros had used illusion to dupe and trick others into thinking he was human. Now however, the yellow eyes glowed with eternal damnation, and the sharp teeth flashing in a subtle threat when he smiled.
The vampire moved to stand in front of him. He had changed little in the few months since they last met. Long brown hair was drawn back from his angular face to touch between shoulder blades. Eyes of an otherworldly yellow gold, soulless and without pity, considered him with a mocking stare. Saber remembered them being amber brown when he was boy. But then, appearing human had been a trick of magic. He was one of the undead, even back then.
The thin lips drew back in an odd smile of derision, showing off the pointed fangs. "Strange that you would assume this was my doing…"
Saber frowned, not understanding. Who else would chain him up, as he had before? This time, he had no evil minion set to the task of torturing him. "What do you want from me? Why am I here?"
The creature tilted his head slightly, the heavy brows pinched together. "You know what I want, Feryl." He used an old name, an insult really. Saber had many names through his notorious life as a thief and criminal, but his first was what Nekros had named him. Feryl, a word meaning a stray dog in Old Common, had started as an insult, and then became his name. His real name had been lost to him.
"As for why you are here…well," the thin lips resumed its knowing smile. "My attempt at embracing you apparently leaves a strong bond between you and I. I'm in your blood, as you are in mine."
The Dark Elf cringed at the memory. Nekros had tried to transform him into one of his kind, to 'embrace' him into vampirism. Thankfully, Saber was immune to the blood disease, as well as all disease. His gaining such a gift was from the great wizard Divyth Fyr and a remarkable potion to cure him of a deadly disease known as Corprus. The potion worked, but also gave him immunity to every disease known to man. The elixir also gave him eternal life.
Saber twitched. Eternal…not immortal. The distinction, the wizard had told him, was to illustrate that he was vulnerable by other means. He was still susceptible to blade, drowning, and other means of death, but sickness and age were not one of them.
As to what Nekros wanted was a topic Saber loathed to consider. As his apprentice, the man had practically owned him back in the Imperial City. His plan was to raise the perfect killer, a soulless benefactor to the world's greatest and most deadly assassin known only as Nekros. Nevertheless, plans fail, and Saber had thought he'd killed his master by sliding a blade across his throat. Nekros still bore the scar from that encounter across his throat. Thing was….at that time, he was a vampire. Nothing short of a stake through the heart could kill him.
Bonded or not, this explains nothing of why I am here, or how I came to be here…? "That doesn't answer my question."
The vampire's smile widened, menacing when he leaned forward. Saber drew back, unable to move far due to the rigid chains. "Oh but it does." The creature whispered, "I wish we had more time, but time waits for no man…or mer. You need to wake up."
"What?" The Dark Elf didn't understand what he meant.
"Wake up." The vampire repeated, drawing back lips to show fangs now dripping in blood. "Or you die!'
Saber jerked violently from the bed, falling off the small cot in Caius Cosades' apartment. From his sleep-bleary mind, he scrambled to gain bearings and orientation from the nightmare to reality. He still wore clothing and leather armor, having been too tired to do anything but plop on the narrow bed to sleep. His curved sword was in his hand, yet he had no memory of having unsheathed it.
In a matter of a breath however, he realized he was not alone. A low grunt sounded from behind, alerting to the Ash Ghoul who had somehow managed his way into the house. Startled, the Dunmer jabbed his weapon to the thing's midsection. The creature recoiled, swiping clawed hands to barely miss their mark.
What once had been a Dark Elf male, the thing now had nothing in the way of a face. Where eyes and nose should be there was now a gaping cavity. The beast was one of Dagoth Ur's followers who worshipped him as a god. Converts to the Sixth House Cult were given powers and 'gifts' from their lord, one of which was to be transformed into powerful- albeit disgusting- monsters. The ghoul made a low grunt of dismay, lashing out hands that bore claws.
Saber considered he might still be dreaming, except the thing struck him hard in the chest. Sharpened nails raked four marks across the cuirass, tearing the leather open to rip into flesh. Saber yelled, staggered back, finding anger now fueled his temper.
Ash Ghouls were not much of a threat to him normally, but caught unawares, Saber was at the disadvantage, or rather…had been. Pushing aside his surprise and disorientation, the Dunmer rebounded and struck a viscous and determined assault. Another thrust and the creature slumped dead to the floor.
How the hell did that thing make its way into here? Saber thought, sucking in lungfuls of air. The exertion of panicked fighting left him faltering back against a wall to slide down into a sitting position. He gripped his blade in case the thing might come back to life, or another one of Dagoth's followers showed up.
The Ghostgate supposedly contained the creatures. The monolithic barrier of stone and magic surrounded Red Mountain was to keep the followers of Dagoth Ur trapped and in check. Despite the rumors of the gate slowly deteriorating, the city of Balmora was still far from Red Mountain. This thing would have to walk through the city gates and pass several guards to reach this apartment. How did it make its way here?
Feeling stupid, Saber rubbed his eyes. "Teleportation!" He muttered, "The damned thing teleported straight into this room." He had to give Dagoth Ur credit to send his freakish creation to do his dirty work. The Dunmer also knew that now he'd have to sleep with his eyes open to avoid further attacks.
Growling in frustration, Saber inspected the damage to his armor and spat in disgust. "I'll need to get that repaired." Most likely, he'd have to buy a new one. If nothing he learned from experience was that a fighter kept his equipment in top condition at all times.
Saber was a thief by chosen profession, not a warrior. Though trained by one of the best swordsmen in all of Tamriel, the Dunmer preferred the challenge of stealth. The skills of covertness taught by Nekros were perfect in placing him in the thieves' guild of the Imperial City. Once transported to Morrowind not a few months prior, the same abilities made an easy ticket to the Thieves' Guild here as well. Much as he was good with a blade, he preferred to avoid confrontation whenever he could.
Peeling off the damaged armor, Saber grimaced at the stinging pain. Blood had soaked the ruined shirt beneath, and coated his chest in gore. It was just his luck when the door opened and a lovely young Breton woman stared gaping at him, finding him bloodied with a body at his feet. Marvelous eyes of green widened in surprise, and she immediately dropped to his side to inspect the damage.
Behind her, a familiar Bosmer thief stood in the open doorway. He carried the same look of shock. Arathor, from the Thieves' Guild preferred the respectfully safe distance near the door. His dark eyes shied from the bloodied corpse, having the wood elf find something…anything to look at besides the mess before him.
"I can't leave you alone for a second!" Eiryn chided him. Gentle hands prodded him without causing further pain. He was amazed at how easily she came to understand how dangerous his life was, how easily she assimilated to his life and simply accepted one adventure after another without surprise. He smiled, while drinking in the very presence of the lovely woman by his side.
He'd met her a few month's prior where he'd gone to lose himself into the Ascadian Isles. He wasn't happy to hear the Emperor of Tamriel had released him from prison to play the fool of his plan. Saber was to become the Incarnate, except the spymaster at the time, Caius Cosades, had believed (as he did) they were to only appear to be the Incarnate.
Saber could still remember the surprise and elation he felt when she first entered his room. He'd spent nearly a week with the 'ladies' of the Earthly Delights, but this woman's natural beauty had their loveliness pale in comparison. Eiryn was sent as messenger from Caius Cosades, spymaster of the Blades. You'd never guess the woman was an agent in the Blades' Guild, but her job was simple; find Saber and deliver a message. To this day, he had no idea what impression he had upon the woman, but she later stayed the night…a memorable, breathtaking night.
"What are you smiling at?" Eiryn asked him, pausing in her inspection to see his crooked grin. Her curved mouth twisted in an attempt to not grin back at him. Most likely, she knew damned well what he was thinking. She had that 'woman's instinct".
He leaned back against the adobe wall, "I love it when you tend to me."
Her eyes rolled dramatically, as she placed her hands carefully over the wound. "Be still….and quiet." Her skills in healing hardly required him to be silent, but he knew she used this as an excuse to shut him up.
He watched her eyes close, and breathing deepen. A little crease formed between graceful brows as she concentrated on the spell. A warm glow emitted from hands to bathe his chest in healing. The blood stopped, the wounds sealed, and only the smallest of lines remained. Now all she needed to do is learn a bit of smithing so she can easily fix his armor, and life would be perfect.
Once finished, she brushed a lock a chestnut curl from her eyes that escaped the long braid draped down her back to touch nearly the small of her back. "Now explain to me how you managed to get attacked here of all places?"
Saber gaped, "Are you implying this is my fault?" He motioned to the body on the floor, still leaking blood on the stone tiles.
"You do seem to find trouble wherever you go." Arathor pointed out, ever helpful. The wood elf held a parchment out to him, as if validating his concerns. Dark eyes turned grim.
Upon seeing the words on the sheaf of paper, Saber's humor had all but disappeared. Reading out loud only served to bring the trouble into harsh reality for him.
"The outlaw named, Saber, stated trade of Thief, lately called Incarnate and Nerevarine, now is shown to the investigating Ordinators and Magistrates of this of this district,…-" Saber gaped as eyes perused the formality of the decree. How did they find out? News travels fast here in Vvardenfell. "This outlaw's claims are false. The prophecies this outlaw cites are discredited. The dishonest character and base purposes of the outlaw in perpetrating this hoax are now made clear to all observers. Saber is sought for various crimes by Ordinators and town guards. Report all encounters with this outlaw to the proper authorities-"
He looked up at both of them, and recognized why their severe expression. "You must be kidding?"
Eiryn sat back on her heels. "Seems you're now a heretic, wanted by the Temple."
"Great." The Dunmer spat in disgust. He'd been called many things in his life, but a heretic hadn't been one of them. This was something new.
"We saw two Ordinators at the South Wall looking for you." Arathor told him, moving to take a seat. He cautiously moved around the body, grimacing as he did so. "Of course, you know the guild will protect you if they can."
Saber rubbed his face, still unnerved by the attack….now this! "I suppose I can't pay off the price on my head this time?"
"This time?" Eiryn echoed with a scowl.
He waved her off, not wanting to discuss past crimes. She knew he was a thief, but for the most part, he told her nothing of his doings. She'd only lecture him, no doubt.
The Bosmer shook his head. Earrings jingled at the action, with the sharp features of face tight in disgust at the scene before him. "I'm afraid not. This is Temple business. But I can tell you that Balmora isn't what you call zealous over the temple. They are more freethinking than those near the city of Vivec, and friendly towards the Empire. I doubt anyone will turn you in around here."
"Great." Saber grunted. "That's a huge comfort."
"And the ghoul?" Eiryn prompted him to stay on course.
Saber tossed the parchment aside, considering if tearing the paper to shred would make him feel any better. "Dagoth Ur." He told her. Speaking the 'devil's' name was explanation enough for the young scout. She knew the course of his destiny was the inevitable confrontation with the mad god. Arathor, however, was a bit muddled on the subject.
Naturally, he'd heard who Dagoth Ur was. Who didn't? The beast had single-handedly held the land of Morrowind in a tight grip of fear and terror. Spreading his cult to almost every corner of Vvardenfell, Dagoth had spread the disease known as Corprus. This quarantined the land of the dark elves from the rest of Tamriel. Fear of the deadly disease struck the hearts of everyone. The disease did not discriminate.
If not corprus, then the members of the Sixth House threatened anyone not of native Dunmer. Even then, those who opposed or threatened the Sixth House fell under their ire.
"How is it that Saber is targeted by the Sixth House?" Arathor asked.
Because I'm the reincarnated hero of Indoril Nerevar, the very general who struck the fatal blow of Dagoth several lifetimes ago, and meant to destroy him for all time. Saber decided a more reasonable answer was better for the Bosmer to handle. "I just have that way about me."
Despite himself, Arathor laughed throwing his head back. The bangles in his ears jingled with mirth. "Well you do seem to manage to invoke the wrath of all the wrong people."
Eiryn cast a questioning look to the Dark Elf, who tried to feign innocence with wide eyes and a shrug. He could see her wondering what Arathor was talking about, and who the 'wrong people' were. She knew only a few of the misadventures the thief shared with her. Most instances worked out, but Saber knew luck played a larger part of this. Perhaps his luck was finally running out.
"Isn't this going to make things more difficult for him to become Horator?" Eiryn asked the Bosmer.
"Good point." Saber agreed. "What house will give me the title of Horator if I'm an outlaw?"
"Heretic." Arathor corrected him, and then tapped a finger along his jaw in thought. "Well I admit its not going to be easy, but not for the reasons you think." He continued at the combined stares of perplexity directed at him. "You see, the Great Houses are constantly looking out for their own ends. I doubt they'd care what the Temple thought of you, not when they have their own considerations to think about. If you're taking on Dagoth Ur, I would say some council members will give their votes regardless of what you are. Others can be bribed."
"Bribes…" Saber spat in disgust. He'd underestimated the politics here in Morrowind. The Great Houses used the Morag Tong assassin's guild as a legal means to kill one another, while others simply undermined or outright killed House members. Gold was also a viable means of seeking answers to problems, and every level of society was rife with hands held out in expectation. This quest was getting costly, not to mention frustrating.
"No doubt many of the council members will also have their own quests for you to perform before giving a vote." Arathor added. "I would start with House Hlaalu. They welcome foreigners as it is."
Saber sighed, "I guess I have my work cut out for me."
From the author: Well here it is, the next installment of the Chronicles of Saber. Please leave reviews. I've wanted the story to also stand on its own, as well as being a continuation of Saber and Eiryn's adventures. For those of you not familiar with my other stories, check out my profile to read them.