Shades of OblivionPrologue- A month prior
Captain Torlan straightened the long overcoat over his chainmail uniform. A few quick sweeps from his hand smoothed the wrinkled cloth gathered on his chest. Buttons and buckles shined to a gloss, and his sharpened sword remained sheathed at his side. His hair was trimmed to a proper length close-cropped to the skull, and a clean shave also reflected the ordered look of a ship's captain. Dimly lit as the narrow hallway was aboard his ship, the Waverunner, he nonetheless wanted to look his best.
And what would it matter? His conscious nagged him, as he approached the cabin door. Its not as though the occupant within cared much for titles or appearances. Hadn't the mer (elf) dealt with the Great Houses of Morrowind, the notorious Televani mages, the very King Helseth himself? Within the cabin was the very hero that had battled a mad god. Rumor had it; he'd been offered a string of titles once Morrowind was freed, some whispered a council seat or the throne as well, to which he refused them all.
There were still appearances, Captain Torlan reasoned, and of course he primped out of habit. He didn't get to his title by skill alone. The aging Redguard had provided just the right bribes, and finally managed to captain his own ship. His efforts had been worth it. Once nothing but a pauper on the street, he now led his own crew. He loved the open sea, and the freedom it offered.
Pausing at the door, he gave a short, decisive rap.
Lord Nerevar…The very word carried the weight of legend and mysticism. The Waverunner's captain had no idea what he expected upon taking the Dark Elven hero aboard, but the friendly, well dressed, and well mannered elf surpassed everything he had heard of the Dark Elves, or Dunmer as they called themselves. There was something very likeable about the Dark Elf, carrying enough charm and grace that one couldn't help but agree to take him to the dangerous realm of the Akivar.
Torlan was glad Lord Nerevar asked nothing more than ship's passage. He'd taken a quest to find some relic and only needed a method to take him close to shore, not to actually dock. This was good. The Redguard had doubts his crew would agree to anything but that with the Akavir's reputation. It was still the lull of plentiful amounts of gold that had them agree to this anyway.
"Yes?" A voice called from beyond the door. "What is it?"
"Its Captain Torlan, sir." Torlan entered, finding the Dunmer looking over a number of maps of the mysterious region known as Akivar. The maps, of course, were incomplete. Few dared go this far, let alone into the lands of the 'snake people'. Too many had never returned, and those that managed to survive had tales of danger that left even the bravest reluctant to go.
The Nerevarine was dressed in a simple tunic of deep blue with breeches of gray and silver. His garb was oddly casual, matching the length of unbound hair that fell past shoulders. Only boots of black guarskin provided any armor. Somehow, Torlan had assumed the hero would be always at the ready. The only other armor he could see was a simple leather cuirass with matching greaves set aside near the bed. Posture was relaxed, as he stood leaning forward to better read in the dim light of lanterns.
"What is it?" The Nerevarine's voice was curious, undemanding. Red eyes the shade of Comberry wine blinked back at him patiently.
"A ship, Lord Nerevar." Captain Torlan announced. He couldn't help but notice the slight wince wrinkling the dusky brow at the title. He'd heard the Nerevarine wasn't particularly fond of the attention his title brought him. Perhaps he was simply bothered a ship was approaching, interrupting his expedition.
"Yes, sir. Off the port bow." Already the Dunmer got to his feet, buckling on his sword. He was taller than most Dark Elves, and lean. Upon first meeting Lord Nerevar, Torlan had wondered if he was in fact the Nerevarine. Surely this Dunmer hardly appeared as a battle-weary champion that had saved Morrowind on more than one occasion. He bore no scars, looked too young, was altogether unassuming to be the reputed hero.
The Redguard took note of a short blade of curved, blue steel. He knew the sword was enchanted, but this was obviously not the famous Keening blade used to kill the god Dagoth. In fact, the only thing upon this person that denoted who he was flickered brightly on his hand; The Moon-and-Star ring. Reputedly, only the reborn Dunmer general of legend could wear such a ring without being killed outright. This and this alone was enough proof and proclamation to who Lord Nerevar was.
"What colors do they fly?" Lord Nerevar asked, already heading towards the deck of the ship. Torlan felt small compared to the taller elf, trying to keep up.
"The Imperial dragon, sir."
As they stepped foot upon the scattered deck, the men and women of his crew immediately straightened. The Dark Elves among them made gestures of reverence, saluting the warrior of their homeland, while others respectfully gave him room to walk to the bow. Lord Nerevar didn't take notice. Perhaps he took it for granted, or perhaps he was too intent on the ship just taking shape amid the early dawn mists of the sea.
Torlan found concern on his face, his own unease sparking to alarm. "What is it, Lord Nerevar?"
The elf looked grim, glaring out to the approaching ship. "It's my experience, captain, to always suspect trouble." He turned slightly, relaxing the tension in his face with a slight smile in regards to Torlan. "Especially from the Imperials. Why would a ship follow us out here of all places?" The question was rhetorical, "It means they want me to carry out some particularly dangerous quest that no one else can do."
What could possibly be more dangerous than entering the lands of Akivar? "Shall we allow them aboard, sir?"
The Neveravine glared back out to sea, eyeing with suspicion to the ship rapidly gaining speed on the high winds. "I suppose we have little choice." He turned back to return to his assigned cabin. "Tell me when they get here."
The ship, as it turned out, had come from Ebonheart bearing the colors of the Imperial Legion. Torlan found, however, a mix of races amid the crew. Not that was particularly unusual, but the first thing that alerted to trouble was a woman in full Bonemold armor, a Dunmer woman with dark red hair bound to a topknot looked back with a stern and serious expression. She appeared to be their leader.
Torlan had not stayed in the Legion for long. He baulked at the rules, and disliked the way the soldiers pushed others around. Even in the short time, however, he knew enough that a person leading Imperial soldiers was to wear Imperial armor at all times. They prided themselves on being men and women of the Empire. This woman seemed to be from one of Morrowind Great Houses.
"Get Lord Nerevar…and quickly." Torlan muttered to one of his crew as he watched the other ship throw mooring hooks to steady the two ships together. Planks were set between the decks for people to walk across, and it seemed in Torlan's experience, too many were boarding at one time. He eyed their uniforms, their stance, and the challenging stares he received from the soldiers. The thought occurred to him the Imperials might assume he was a smuggler, and sought to investigate the hold. In his lifetime, he had played the part of smuggler on occasion, but not this time. They'd find nothing but legal goods.
The woman approached with determined stride, armor rattling. "You are captain of the Waverunner?" She demanded, leaving little doubt that she expected a quick answer. She continued at his nod. "I am Dilvene Venim of House Redoran and I am here to speak with the Nerevarine."
He never found Dunmer woman particularly attractive. Dunmer by their race had red eyes, from shades of pink to her blood hue. Skin was a pale dust to deep stormy gray, often marred by tattoo or deliberate scars. The Nerevarine was one of the rare charismatic dark elves, graced with exceedingly good looks. He was clearly not born to Morrowind, however. He had no scars or tattoos. Even this woman had a mark upon her hand that denoted her clan. Her face stared back with thin lips, narrow eyes, and a permanent scowl. Perhaps it was the glare that stole any semblance of good looks.
Torlan was not familiar with the politics of Morrowind, but even he had heard of the Venim name. There was Duke Venim, ruler of the province of Vvardenfell, with the name running amok through many of the Houses. Was she a relative? He opened his mouth to speak, but heard the footsteps behind him, realizing Lord Nerevar had approached.
"Ah…" The Nerevarine smiled, the expression never reaching his eyes. Hair was now bound away from his face, and Torlan realized he'd donned his leather armor and now carried his sword across his back. "So good to see you again, Muthsera Dilvene."
The woman's eyes of brilliant red narrowed dangerously, and Captain Torlan realized how she was seething hatred towards him. By the Nerevarine's manner, he wasn't surprised by her reaction. "I am here on business, Lord Nerevar." Her chin lifted. "May we discuss the matter privately?"
"Let me guess," Came the dry response, "Something must be retrieved, escorted, or perhaps stolen?"
"I have no use for a thief!" The woman spat angrily. Her anger was abrupt and irate. Her hand strayed to the axe at her hip. "Murderer perhaps, but not a thief!"
Torlan fought the urge to retreat from the heated exchange. Her outburst erupted from barely contained anger. He looked back at Lord Nerevar who had grown still and sharp as stone.
"Still holding grudges, Dilvene?"
"Grudges?" She gasped in shock. She was barely able to hide her raw anger, "You murdered my father!"
"He challenged me to a duel, fought in front of the whole populace of the City of Vivec." Nerevar's voice never left its calm, but somehow the tone and become sharp as a razor's edge. "It was Bolvyn's choice to duel to the death."
"For honor!" Her outburst carried grief still ragged. "He had heard you were a thief and a spy! To House Redoran, you will always be as such."
"You forgot Hortator." He pointed out, folding arms across his chest. "And I know for a fact, not all of House Redoran supports your hatred of me."
"He couldn't let an n'wah be Hortator to our House! And I am now on the Redoran council-" She started, straightening and stiffening. "It's only a matter of time before the n'wah are driven out, as they should be."
To this, the Nerevarine lifted his hand to silence her, turning slightly away. "So be glad I'm off to Akavir. Isn't that why this quest was suggested in the first place? To get rid of me? With any luck, I wont return."
Her lips drew back into a sneer. "Of that I'm certain!" Her hand lifted suddenly, motioning to the men behind her to attack. From the other ship, a swarm of mercenaries spewed from below deck adding to the numbers of sailors dressed as Imperial soldiers. The whole thing was nothing more than a ruse! Torlan had barely enough time to draw his own weapon before watching in horror as the woman simultaneously threw a spell at the Nerevarine.
Time slowed as the Redguard managed to block an axe from cleaving his head in two. He let his body fall back, to gain a firmer foothold on the deck. He watched Lord Nerevar be thrown back from the blast of magic, nearly casting him overboard before catching the edge of a sail. In one fluid motion, the Dunmer swung back on deck drawing his weapon with flowing grace.
The Redoran woman shrieked in rage, throwing another unknown spell, while two robed mages emerged from her ship to engage in the battle. The Redguard captain recognized the two Dunmer in robes as Televani. By reputation alone made Torlan want to call for a retreat. There was no place to run, no place to hide. They brought out their arsenal from afar, safe on board their ship as they threw hellfire and death. Staffs they bore crackled with potent spells, sending blast after blast of shock and flame.
Torlan knew the battle wouldn't last long. His men were not warriors, were not prepared for a full blown attack from mercenaries let alone mages. Sailors did not wear armor, and only a handful knew any spells. Odds against him, he continued to defend his ship, Flames had caught the sails on fire, even some of his crew.
Torlan tried not to think of his crew who'd fallen into the ocean, or were laying in their own blood upon the deck. The scant handful left had managed to fight their way to Torlan's side, whereby they crowd together for protection, but even then, they knew their end was soon upon them.
Lord Nerevar was standing on his own, however, leaving Torlan in awe. He'd never seen such a graceful style of blade against so many foes. The movements flowed into one another, with the blade catching, deflecting, and slicing in a wild dance of pure death. Even surrounded, the hero managed to keep his attackers at bay, taking them out one by one. The mer could surely take on an army all by himself, the Redguard noted, watching the elf kick a large Orc overboard while exchanging blows with two fighters.
He was clearly working his way towards the Redoran woman. She stood closer to the gangplanks, but not before she dispatched three of the Waverunner's crew without a thought. From the grave look in her face, she knew he was coming for her. What struck Torlan as odd, however, was that she seemed pleased by this. Surely, she was no match for him-?
Amid the blood and fire, the woman retreated towards the mages. She moved across the gangplanks to her own deck, a strange smile on her mouth. "Justice is finally served." She retorted across the distance. "You will pay for your crimes!"
"So much for Redoran honor!" The Nerevarine spat back at her.
Another odd smile, and the Dunmer woman motioned a signal to the mages. At first Torlan suspected a rain of fire would end their lives right then and there, but the magic was entirely directed towards the single Dunmer now on the deck of the Waverunner. Only the mercenaries surrounding them held them back from his aid.
"Lord Nerevar-!" Torlan meant to shout a warning, but even as the words escaped his throat, he saw the spell hit the elf hard. Color and light enveloped him in a tight grip, forcing him on his knees. He gave a shout of surprise as he tried to form a counter spell or perhaps dispel the magic entirely. It was hopeless as the mages threw everything they had to the single fighter. As one spell faded, another would replace it. Wave upon wave of magic took a dire toll. He was failing…
No…they can't just kill him! Torlan gave the shout to attack, to somehow defend the Nerevarine as best they could. Knowing their time was coming to an end anyway, each gave a blood curdling shout of defiance as they rushed as a group to the mages. Captain Torlan went for the Redoran woman, his own sword raised as they swarmed forward.
His last thought was that no one would know the end of the Nerevarine, and his last sight was her genuine smile as she ran him through.
Saber roused slowly, and in slow motion. Everything felt sluggish, even words directed at him seemed to be spoken through a hazy fog. Disoriented, the Nerevarine found even opening his eyes had become a feat of near impossibility. He considered he might have had too much to drink, that Eiryn, the one true love of his life and lifetime companion, was going to, once again, lecture him on his bad habits.
"He wakens." A male voice spoke softly, almost echoing in the hollow space of consciousness Saber felt. Something touched his face, forcing his head up. "Wake up!"
Anger cleared his fuddled senses enough to open eyes to glare at whoever had captured him. He half expected his old nemesis, Nekros, before him. So often had he dreamed of his old master, a vampire and assassin to return to torment him. This time, however, the Dunmer looking down at him was one he'd never met before. The older elf was passionless, unmoved as he made certain their prisoner was conscious.
The room he was in was dark, with the smell of salt and fish. The creaking of wood narrowed down his guess at where he was. A ship? Memories floated through mire, reminding him barely of what had transpired. The Waverunner..! Senses sharpened further now out of desperation. He jerked his head up and felt cold. A quick assessment told him he'd been stripped to nothing but a loincloth. To his horror, he stared at a pile of hair that had been shaved from his head.
Damned bitch! Hands were bound, but he knew if he touched his head, he'd find they shaved him bald. Immediately he assured it would grow back. Not that he was a particularly vain mer, but Eiryn often told him how she liked his look. Dilvene wanted him humiliated, no doubt.
"Where is my ship?" He managed to growl, trying to hide how being stripped had affected him. They had tied him securely to a chair, with arms behind him, even his legs bound tightly to where he sat. He suspected if he was determined enough, he might be able to break the seams of wood, but the sight of two armed guards forced him to remain where he was.
"Gone." A woman's voice cut through the darkness, coming from behind. He tried to crane his neck to see her, knowing he'd find Dilvene at the heart of this mess. "Your crew? Also gone." She stepped forward into the light having lost her armor. Now she wore the bright red silks of her station. The cloth was lined in gold thread and ribbon, snug at the waist and puffed at the sleeve. The hair fell in waves about her shoulders, somehow unable to soften her hardened features. A smile widened her thin lips. She leaned forward almost within reach. "You're the only thing left. You missed watching the Waverunner drift beneath the waves."
Saber scowled back at her, sickened that the woman would go so far as to kill a shipload of men and women who had nothing to do with this. A thousand ways to kill her flashed through his mind, mostly of methods that would entail pain and agony for what she'd done. Insults and threats seemed pointless, so he simply remained silent, offering her nothing.
Dilvene was unmoved, too caught up with her prize of catching him. "Captain Torlan screamed before he died." She watched for reaction and found none. "And it wasn't quick."
"So you spared me long enough to tell me this?" It was all he could do to keep his voice steady. "Is the plan to torture me to death?'
A sudden and genuine laugh burst from the Dunmer woman. "Death?" She sounded aghast at the idea, despite having just slaughtered a crew of nearly fifteen men and women. The smile faded as suddenly as it shone. "Death is too good for the likes of you. There is no honor in killing you."
Saber gaped, "Honor? You dare speak to me of honor? This is about revenge you bitch-"
Her hand shot out, punching him in the face. Knuckles hit against his cheekbone, exploding pain and silencing him. free hand snatched up a dagger from the table next to them, laying the sharp edge against his throat. Her body almost trembled in rage, eyes flashing heat as spoke. "You're lucky I don't have your tongue cut out of your head." She snarled. "And I still might." He felt her apply just enough pressure to cause pain. "You'll have no use for your tongue where you'll be going."
He refused to give her a damned thing. "And where would that be?"
"Back from whence you came, fetcher!" Dilvene's voice developed an ominous tone.
Saber had no idea what she was talking about. The woman was more than happy to explain. "Where criminals belong." She continued, laying the blade against his cheek now throbbing from her hitting him. The steel felt cool against the pain. "Thieves….murderers…."
"Prison?" Was she insane? Well, that much was obvious, but he wasn't sure to laugh at the idea or worry she was indeed crazy.
"I am your judge." Dilvene continued, her face hardened. "And jury. You are charged, Lord Nerevar, with the murder of my father, Bolyn Venim of House Redoran. You will finally pay for all your crimes!"
"And how are you going to pull this off?" Saber asked, trying to think how she'd managed to explain she was bringing the Nerevarine, Hortator, and renown hero to prison for a murder that was a formal duel to the death.
Drawing back, Dilvene had herself under control once again. She placed the knife aside. "I spent six years planning for this." She told him slowly, relishing the moment. "I had to have enough magic, enough fighters to take you down. House Redoran has never been the same since my father's death, since you-" She glared once more to him. "became Hortator. I couldn't challenge you. No one heard my plea for rightful vengeance. All I had left was my honor."
Saber clenched his jaw, not revealing he'd felt she never considered to have honor in the first place. "And prison?" He goaded her to finish her plan.
"And not just any prison." She smiled, "But the Imperial prison. As I've said, you will go back to whence you came."
She can't honestly be that stupid? He thought to himself.
A light chuckle responded to the obvious doubt he had in his face. "All they will see is a Dunmer prisoner, charged with murder." She explained. "I'm hereby stripping you of your titles of Hortator, and Nerevarine."
"By what right-?" He stopped when he saw she had his ring. The Moon-and-Star glowed in the dim light set in a small box on the table before him, next to the Manos blade, his daggers, and all the other weapons and armor he owned. Obviously, no one had tried on his ring, and he was curious how in Oblivion they removed the ring without being killed. Ah yes, the mages. They must had found some way to remove it.
The Moon-and-Star however was what proved he was the Nerevarine. Saber scowled. Surely she must be aware that no one in Cyrodil would believe he was nothing but a thief and murderer. He's explain to them, directing them to whoever he needed to verify who he was.
"I can see your confusion." The Dunmer woman stated with glee. "So I will explain it to you, not that you'll remember…"
The first stirrings of unease began. I won't remember?
"You won't remember anything." She continued relentlessly. Her red stare bore into his own, using words to cut into his soul. "You won't remember who you are, where you came from, or even what you did."
Saber felt his breathing quicken, knowing she was serious. Thoughts of Eiryn brought him grief. She'll never know what happened to me. "And this serves what purpose..?" Part of him wanted to plead his case, to try to get it through her thick skull that her father had challenged the duel. He had to accept if he was to become Hortator. If he hadn't, he couldn't fulfill the prophecies laid out by Azura, to defeat Dagoth Ur. Surely, after six years, she must know this?
"Because you'll be executed." Came the harsh reality of her answer. "Morrowind will be rid of you, and I will know that your death was done honorably. Justice will be served."
Saber felt his teeth might break from grinding teeth. He'd fought gods and won, dealt single-handed with the Dark Brotherhood, fulfilled countless, near-impossible quests, and this snip of a woman has decided to take her revenge out of some misguided outlet for her grief? "You best hope I never remember…" He warned her, boring a glare into her own. "Because I swear I will rip your throat out if I ever find you-"
Dilvene tilted her head raking eyes over her prisoner, and a self-satisfied look spread once more over her face. "We should begin." She announced to her guards.
Note: This story has been rattling in my head ever since I started playing Oblivion. The thought occurred to me how Oblivion starts with a person in prison, and not knowing how s/he got there. I began thinking, what if this was none other than the Nerevarine himself? I know the Prologue is a bit longer than I wanted, but the information was essential to setting up the rest of the story. Feedback is much appreciated.