Tales from Cyrodiil: A Dark Beginning
Author's notes: This story is set shortly after the main quest events on Oblivion. Since the chronology of other quests is variable, I've assumed I can arrange them as I choose with regard to whether or not the player character/Hero of Kvatch has performed them. Thus, the author begs the reader to assume that the Hero of Kvatch was an upstanding individual who never joined the Brotherhood and consequently never performed the Purification quest.
And one more small point: It is possible to drown while playing a vampire in the game. I've thrown this out in favor of the belief that vampires do not breathe, except when speaking, because it makes more sense given the game's apparent conviction that vampires are Undead. I may also include spells or magical items that are only found in mods.
Much love to all those who read my Warcraft fic, and I hope you enjoy this one as well.
"Halt. Halt, I said. Quit running away, curse you!"
The Cheydinhal city guard pounded down the silent street, firing arrow after arrow at the hooded and cloaked figure in front of him. He was a direct-thinking man, so it did not occur to him that the arrows might have something to do with the uncooperative attitude of the criminal. Besides, the streamers of white steam that trailed behind the fleeing felon gave him to understand that he was in pursuit of a vampire, who was not going to stop no matter what, because the sun was coming up.
"Halt!" he shouted again. He was falling behind, because the vampire was not wearing armor, and was consequently able to run much faster. This was the guard's reasoning, at least. It was entirely probably that the horrible agony of the flesh being scorched from its bones was also playing a role. In any case, he did not see what happened when the creature turned a sharp right at an abandoned house and charged frantically toward its back lawn. He got there just in time to see the lid of the well slam closed.
The guard approached cautiously, arrow nocked and bow drawn so tight the string sang. Nothing moved. The purple-flowered bushes that crowded the house waved in a soft breeze. The guard edged slowly up to the well, then kicked the lid back with one foot. A broken lock dropped to the ground. A lock? On a dry well, on an empty house? Belatedly, the guard looked again at the house. Wait... He was close to the east gate, which meant...
"Divines," the guard muttered. He put up his bow, but he drew his short sword and looked around him carefully as he closed the lid and gently replaced the broken lock in as normal a position as possible. He'd been told about this house, he had. Besides, he had a wife to support, and who was going to take care of Bendelyn if he went down a dry well after a monster and got himself killed? No, much better to go right along with the Count's stated policy anent this particular house and its environs, namely, leave it the Oblivion alone and let the Divines look after it.
Besides, if the vampire wasn't already ashes, it would have to come out sometime.
The vampire, meanwhile, had dived down the well looking for a quiet place to die. Its burns were agonizing, it was nearly starving, and it knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it could not bring itself to feed on a sleeping person. Not after the first time, which had been awful beyond belief. Perhaps, if it waited long enough, the pain would stop and everything would just go away.
This was its plan, at least. But then it hit the bottom of the well, and rolled, and kept on rolling through a hole in the stone wall. It was a little surprised to find itself in a cool, dim room with tapestries on the walls and rugs on the floor, but it did not give this much thought. It dove under the nearest bench, collapsed onto its side, and waited for death.
Death, as it happens, is known to be fickle in such cases. What materialized for this particular vampire was not the Grim Reaper. It was a pair of boots.
They were big boots. Very big boots, the vampire thought, just before one edged forward and nudged its limp hand. The vampire became aware that, while it would be perfectly happy to die at this moment, being stomped into dust was very low on its preferred list of ways for that to happen. This particular pair seemed to be of dwarven make, dark with a pattern of swirling gold, and whoever would bother to have a set of antiques modified to fit a frame so huge was not someone the vampire wished to annoy. Consequently, it lay perfectly still.
A moment later, a face entered its field of view. It was a very large, square face, in keeping with the boots, and evidently belonged to an Orc. (Even in the vampire's present mental state, the apple-green skin and the big tusked underteeth were excellent clues.) Old-gold eyes surveyed the creature impassively. Then a gauntlet-clad hand shot out, seized the vampire by the shoulder, and hauled it out into the torchlight. A booming voice inquired of the room at large:
"All right, whose idea was this?"
"Whose idea was what, Brother?" said a voice that might conceivably belong to an Argonian. The vampire had no intention of moving its eyes far enough to check. The Orc's grip on its charred shoulder hurt intensely, as he was now holding it above the floor with its feet dangling, but it suspected more painful surprises could easily be in store.
"Somebody bringing their work home and not telling me?" the Orc went on. "'Cause I thought that was against the rules, and if it's not I want to know."
"It is against the rules," said the Argonian voice. "I am certain Ocheeva would have told me if it were otherwise." A clawed finger poked at the vampire's shoulder, dislodging black flakes of ash. "Eugh. I think perhaps someone is playing a joke on you, my friend."
"Lousy joke," said the Orc. "Even Telaendril couldn't come up with this one. I put my shield down for five seconds and I come back and I find this under the bench. That's pretty quick work, even for her."
"I would not underestimate her potential for spite," said the Argonian voice. "But Telaendril has been gone for some four days, and I am sure I would know if she were back. Perhaps it is some summoning project of M'raaj-Dar's."
"I hear this," said an irritable voice, and the face of a tawny Khajiit with flattened ears hovered into the vampire's view. "And it is nonsense. Why should this one go about summoning charred corpses? For my own amusement? Attribute such ridiculous motives to an Imperial, perhaps." The face disappeared, and a twitching tail came and went as the Khajiit stalked back out of view.
"Marie wouldn't know how," said the Orc. "She never was very interested in magic."
"Perhaps not," said the Argonian. "But perhaps it was not Antoinetta he meant. We are prone to forget it given his... Condition, but Vicente is an Imperial also."
"Oh." The Orc surveyed the vampire in ruminative silence. "But what would Valtieri want it for?"
"I am sure I do not know," said the Argonian. "Nor wish to do so. If you will excuse me, Brother, I have nearly finished this chapter." The sound of pages turning heralded the Argonian's departure.
The Orc stared at the vampire for a moment. The vampire did its best to remain perfectly still and not look at all like something that should be thrown to the ground and repeatedly stepped on. Somewhere in the background, a set of dragging footsteps went past, then trailed into silence.
Finally the Orc shrugged, turned, and strode off down a hallway. The vampire was treated to a very fast-moving view of stone walls, decorated with the occasional hanging or torch bracket. Then they came to a set of heavy doors. The Orc reached out and jerked one open without pause, then slammed it shut behind him. The echo was muffled in the underground chamber, but it was still loud enough that the vampire had to quell an impulse to wince. Now still seemed like a very bad time to point out that it was still animate.
"Does this belong to you?" the Orc said.
"I beg your pardon?" said a mild voice.
"I found it under the bench by my shield," said the Orc. "Just lying there."
The owner of the second voice walked silently into the vampire's field of view, revealing himself to be a smallish Imperial. His hair was brown, and his clothes were dark. A gold medallion flashed brightly on his white, white skin. His face was thin and drawn to the point of being cadaverous, and the spider's nest of thin lines around his eyes did nothing to dispel that impression.
"You disturbed my rest for this?" he said.
"Nobody else knows where it came from," the Orc said. He did not sound at all intimidated, though the vampire resisted an urge to shrink away. Valtieri stood and inspected it closely, as though he had found a curious insect. His eyes were almost as red as a Dunmer's. In a Human face, the effect was disturbing.
"Gogron," said Vicente Valtieri. "This bench was not, by any chance, the one located near the shaft of the well?"
"That's the one," said Gogron.
"Then I think you will find that this creature does not, in fact, belong to anyone, and that someone ought to go and replace the lock on that lid."
A ruminative silence followed.
"You mean it just tore the lock off?" the Orc said. "I couldn't break that lock with my bare hands. Well, unless I was mad about something. That's why we put it on there."
"You are not a vampire crazed with fear and the agony of direct sunlight," said Valtieri. "Beside which I observe that this one has not fed for some days, which no doubt explains both the burns it has suffered and its capacity for hysterical strength. Any more than a few moments' exposure would incinerate it to the point of leaving behind only ashes. Believe me." The man smiled, showing pointed teeth. "I would know."
"So how come it's not ashes?" said Gogron.
"Because it is not dead," said Vicente Valtieri.
What happened then was not at all what the vampire expected.
"Huh," said the Orc, and swung the vampire around to look at it face-to-face. "Been playing it
close to the vest, have you?"
"Are you going to kill me?" the vampire said. Its voice came out as a thin croak.
"If so, I urge you to do it elsewhere," said Vicente Valtieri. "I am an old man, I need my rest, and dust on my belongings annoys me intensely."
"Old man," said the Orc, and snorted. "Right. Thanks, Brother."
He carried the vampire back out the door and closed it behind him. Then he strode back to the bench, removed his shield with his free hand, and plumped the creature down onto it with the other. Orc and vampire surveyed each other in silence for a moment.
"I ought to just kill you," said Gogron.
"Yes," said the vampire.
"I mean, you know where the Sanctuary is, and you're not part of the Brotherhood. Lucien'll probably have an apoplexy if he finds out you've been in here."
"Who?" said the vampire, but the Orc did not seem to be listening.
"But Vicente is always saying Sithis likes vampires," Gogron said. "Creatures of the night and all that."
"Really?" said the vampire, dimly beginning to remember references it had heard to the Dark Brotherhood and the Dark God.
"You ever kill anybody?" said Gogron.
"Yes," said the vampire.
"Think you could do it?"
"I suppose so," said the vampire.
"I guess if I'm wrong, I can always kill you later," the Orc reasoned.
"I'm sure you could," said the vampire.
"So." The Orc sat down on the bench beside the vampire. "What's it going to take for you to live? Assuming you don't want to go on looking like a cinder?"
The vampire looked away.
"Oh," said Gogron. "That. No, blood's not a problem, not here. I'm Gogron gro-Bolmog, by the way. You have a name?"
"Dree," said the vampire.
"Hm." Dree listened to the clank of a pair of gauntlets being set down on the floor. "All right, Dree. Here you go."
Gogron held out one green wrist. It was thicker than Dree's neck. At least one of the dark veins under the surface was as big as the vampire's little finger. The creature was reminded, very abruptly, that it had been very many days and it was very, very thirsty.
"Are you sure?" said Dree.
"I look to you like somebody who is not sure about things?" said the Orc.
"All right," said Dree. The vampire wrapped both small hands around the proferred arm, lowered its head, and fastened its sharp teeth around the largest vein it could see. And drank. The taste was as awful as Dree remembered, like drinking hot rust, but it was thirsty enough not to care. The pain receded, gradually ebbing away as strength returned. All that was burnt began to heal. It was slow at first, then quicker, because life never returned faster than when you took it from someone else -
Dree let go abruptly of the Orc's arm, sitting stiffly on the bench. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Gogron dabbed at the punctures with a rag, then wrapped the fabric a couple of careless turns around his wrist. "Mosquito bites hurt worse than that. And you'll explode like a balloon before you get enough to cause trouble for somebody my size. Don't take it as a standing invite, though. I wake up and see you standing by my bed, I will smash you like a bug before you can say Sithis. Understood?"
"Yes," said Dree, licking her teeth. She wondered, now that her capacity for thought was starting to come back, why there was a skeleton in armor limping around the room. Every so often it disappeared behind one of the two stone support pillars, only to come clanking back. It seemed to be holding a silver mace, though its breastplate and boots were rusty steel.
"So you're a Bosmer," said Gogron gro-Bolmog. "And you're a girl. Or something like, anyhow. How old are you?"
"Eighteen and three quarters," said Dree.
"Hm. Well, I guess Antoinetta was younger than that when Lucien first dragged her in here. So Dree'd be short for something-dree-el?"
"Vilendriel," said the vampire. "I like Dree better."
"I can see why," said Gogron. "Well, I'm not going to ask why you jumped down our well. If you want, you can tell me later. First we're going to go talk to Ocheeva."
"Who?" said the vampire Dree.