Aela sat angrily into the chair, shifting its feet upon the floor and making the hard, scraping sound of wood against wood. Several heads turned briefly her direction, then away.
"Why are we here?" She ask the deeply hooded man moving to sit opposite her.
"You're here because your jarl and your harbinger have kindly requested your compliance."
"You know what I mean."
The man cocked his head to the left slightly, silently shifting the weight of the hood over his scalp. It was a subtle, well-practiced gesture. "You don't care for the mead here?"
Aela's pale skin flushed pink with irritation. "You're wasting my time. Why must we conduct this... interrogation here?"
"This isn't an interrogation, Huntress. I simply need to know what happened. Jorrvaskr does not allow the sort of privacy we can enjoy at an establishment such as this. Besides, it's just a brief walk down the hill." he replied.
Aela did not reply, and toyed her fingers along the grain of the hearty oaken table they sat with. The Bannered Mare was as dimly lit as anywhere in the mighty mead-hall she dwelled in, but the arrangement of the tables and the use of lighting provided an ambience of closeness that she was unaccustomed to. It clearly made her uncomfortable. This was a place for intimacy, for quiet conversation, the complete opposite of the raucous, drunken song-sharing she would find at home. She lightly rested her mug upon the table. It was a brief act of gentleness that her shieldbrothers in Jorrvaskr would claim her incapable of, but it still failed to have its intended effect. She brushed aside a strand of fiery hair and rubbed her left temple in irritation.
The hooded man was finished watching her stall. "So?"
Aela sighed. "Where do I start?"
"Start from the beginning. Where did you meet Shul?"
"I think we met out in the field, west of Honningbrew."
"...And he just stood there, while I swallowed the fist of a hill giant."
"How did a giant get involved?"
"He had wandered in from the northwest, probably probably chased in by bandits. The brothers and I took the job to clear him off the farmland there. We had expected to just drive him away, but he stood his ground. We fought. He died. We didn't."
"And Shul just watching..." The man continued.
"He tried a few arrows, but they missed. He wasn't as much of a crack shot in those days. Not before I got my hands on him, that is." she smilled predatorially.
"So you did have a hand in his training?"
"We all did. By Ysmir, even Athis had a few things to teach him."
"He is a quick student then, I take it?"
Aela mused for a moment before responding. "No. Not more than any other orc. Just stubborn. He didn't ever stop. For what seemed like months, we trained and all trained and worked him. There was never enough time in the day for him, so he'd train during the small hours of the morning. It was no small wonder when word came around that he had slain a dragon."
"And you believe there's truth to that rumor?"
"That the dragons have returned? Of course I do. I've seen one here in Whiterun. It set fire to much of the Wind district before the guard drove it off. I hear Shul ended up killing that one too."
"I see. So you trained him. Then what?"
"And... that's it. There is nothing else to say about it."
"What about your gift?"
"Of what do you speak? My skill with a bow is unmatched throughout the hold, but I'd hardly..."
"You know what I'm talking about." he interrupted.
"No. I don't."
"Listen, I understand your desire for discretion but..."
Aela slammed her fist against the hardwood table "No you listen, you sniveling goat tick! I'm only here because the old man thought we should help Shul. You convinced him you were on our side in all this. I'm not going to going to betray a shieldbrother to a mewling runt like you just because you wave your imperial insignia around like some sort of battleaxe."
The room was quiet for several seconds, and the hooded man became aware of the several sets of eyes fixed on his companion. He kept his as voice low as a threat.
"I know what you are. You, Kodlak, Skjor, the brothers. I know what you all are. I'm not here about that. I don't care about that. I need to know what happened when you offered your gift to him."
Aela turned away, with uncharactistic distress playing on her face. "He looked at me. He looked at Skjor. Then he walked away."
"And that's it?"
"So these accusations of Shul being a vampire..."
"It's all a mammoth load. What kind of vampire stares at a pool of blood and walks away?"
One that wants to stay as a vampire, the shrouded man mused. "I see."
Leaning up against the Whiterun western watchtower, Darcen pulled his hood back and shook dirty brown curls of hair loose of the ponytail he had kept them in.
After six months of chasing the Dragonborn, Darcen was starting to come to an understanding of him. His name, Shul, was probably a pseudonym. The orc had come directly from Orsinium after news of the civiil war broke. He apparently had a habit of showing up where conflict burned the hottest, then moving on when it subsided. As a land wreathed in the fires of war since the elder times, Skyrim clearly had much to attract such an individual. Shul preyed on conflict, feeding on any battle, any victory he could claim. He seemed to not care what he fed upon - the cruel instruction of defeat, the flesh of wild beasts, the blood of men or mer, even the eternal souls of dragonkind.
The watchtower was not the site of his latest battle, but it was one of the most critical. Here, it was revealed that he bore the soul of a dragon, and became a glimmer of hope for repelling their return. However, what sort of hope lies in a dominator who consumes all that opposes him? That was the same problem they currently faced with Alduin, the World-Eater. The goal had been to array these two unstoppable forces against each other, to trade the unknown evil for that which was well known.
Aela had given Darcen a rough time of things back at the inn, but even still he was not prepared for the sights here. The task was taking its toll from him. The corpse of one unfortunate guardsman still lay rotting half-beneath the massive parapet stone that had fallen upon him. The rest of the bodies of the guard that had been killed during the melee had either been retrieved for burial or wholly consumed by dragonfire. Still, in the afternoon sun, the stench of burning flesh lingered on the air, knotting his stomach. The product of Shul's work was as disturbing as the violence with which he wrought it.
Kicking over a half-empty leather helmet, the Imperial noted a single blue flower petal on the ground, a few steps away. Bending over to examine it, Darcen smiled. The petal was large, and hemmed by deep indigo and violet colors - it was a blossom easily recognized by even the most casual of alchemists: Deathbell. Deathbell was not known to grow naturally in the open plains of Whiterun hold. Someone else had brough it. Guards didn't have much reason for a poison plant as potent as this, but the Dragonborn might. It was a small thing, but it was a lead.
Folding the petal into a white kerchief before turning back to Whiterun, Darcen began to formulate his plan. First to the Jarl's court wizard, then to the local apothecary - Arcadia. If neither could identify the source, he knew of a certain Khajiit in Riften who might.