A Thalmor Sonata - Taltheron

Nirn, Tamriel, Alinor; 5E654

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Taltheron tried his best to ignore the voices spouting in his ears, focusing on the text before him. It was first era at least, he could tell by the yellowing of the pages, and the mytho-phraseology. Clearly it had been redacted from a far older form but the elegance of Nordic poetry had not been lessened by the scribe’s tampering. For not the first time he remembered the biting cold of Skyrim and felt a twinge of nostalgia in his heart. Thoughtlessly he touched his beard. But Alduwae was speaking.

“The real issue,” he said. “Is the complete lack of verisimilitude in their argument. What sort of half-wit goes around praising the Great Deceiver for a world of rotting, half-formed ideologies?”

“You’re giving them far too much credit,” Vultarion said. The Altmer frowned while considering his perfectly polished nails. “You expect an iota of intelligence from a race whose Aad semblio impera is just a bunch of monkey-talk!”

The two of them laughed loudly at that. Taltheron could not help wondering how two well-educated Altmer did not know to be quiet in a library. In their defense there weren’t many people there and the Librarian was busy with the latest propaganda sheet from the Terminex. He supposed if the Librarian took no offense then he should not either. Still…

“Oh come, its not all their fault,” Alduwae rejoined with mock sympathy. “Their breeding is against them. It’s that damnable Tal(OS) virus of theirs, infecting everything from their musculature to their very sub-noumenal thought-registry. But you have to admit that sometimes, despite it all, they come up with some very nearly almost thoroughly worthless rubbish.”

“I’ll admit no such thing!” Vultarion declared. “That Third Empire of Men has produced nothing even coming close to worthless rubbish – that at least could be burned to make way for something better.”

“Like what they tried in Black Marsh last Age.”

“Just so. Instead all that TEM has produced is a festering maggot-slime that not even those…Argonians…” he said this with a shiver. “…could make any use of.”

Taltheron looked up from his book for a moment as if considering this argument. He said, “Of the below they speak, they are confused by it; for under us is only a prologue, and under that still is only a scribe that hasn't written anything yet. As always they forget the above, and condemn themselves and any other who would believe them into this cycle.”

“Well said, brother,” Vultarion spoke, full of gravitas. Taltheron tried not to imply his mirth at the Altmer’s complete lack of comprehension.

“It’s really too bad they can’t be educated,” Alduwae offered.

“Let me tell you something,” Vultarion said. “These humans are just the errata of the Vile Deceiver; moreso, they are his mythopoetic affirmation. They are so inured, so utterly corrupted that it’s barely worth the effort to stomp them for the work it will require to clean our boots.” A sly smile cut his face. “Not that will have need of boots at that point.”

Taltheron turned the page.

“Still,” Alduwae regretted. “Genocide is a long and dirty business.”

“That’s what the Khajiit are for!” Vultarion laughed.

It was a few minutes before either of them could regain their composure.

*

Magnus was deep in the horizon by the time they left the library and purple night was falling fast. Taltheron tucked the tome in his satchel and stretched his arms; the only problem with long periods of reading was the stiffness. He’d need a good walk tonight to feel himself again.

“So where from here, brothers?” Alduwae asked. “I hear there’s a Khajiit troupe at Suthender’s that is not to miss.”

“Gods preserve us!” Vultarion swore, looking into the night sky. “I can’t stand their too-sweet stench. I could use something of Old Alinor tonight, maybe Fulfestra’s?”

“I hear there’s a reading of the Master’s Prolix at Netisandra’s.”

Vultarion turned to Taltheron. “What of you, old man? Anything for you?”

“I think a walk on the docks would be lovely,” he replied. “After that I’m not too picky.”

It was too early to part over disagreement, so they made their way through the streets.

*

Both moons were at half and offering silvery light on the waves by the time they reached the docks.

Alduwae and Vultarion continued to speak as Taltheron walked briskly up and down the quays. There was a fine wind tonight, and it tickled the new growth on his shaved head. “How many nights,” he wondered quietly to himself. “Did I stand beneath the stars of Solitude thinking of my fair Alinor, and longing for her warm winds? And now how many nights do I stand beneath the stars of my home, thinking of Skyrim, and longing for its cold, cold winds?” He laughed despite himself. For not the last time he remembered the biting cold of Skyrim and felt a twinge of nostalgia in his heart. He tugged at his beard.



“Why in the name of Dibella do you still wear that gods’-awful thing?” Alduwae asked him, coming up behind. “You’re as like to be taken for a bear…or a Nord!...as for an Altmer. I mean, it’s been…how many centuries?”

Taltheron’s mind spanned the years to the early 4th Era and beheld the Solitude windmill. “Too many,” he said quietly.

“There ought to be a Writ,” Vultarion said. “Against facial hair. It’s too…human.”

Taltheron shrugged non-committaly .

Vultarion stared out into the blackness of the Eltheric Sea. “Just think brothers. Soon our armies will be out there…tens of thousands of us achieving glory, bringing the New World to light. Let us hope we will be fit for the task.” Though he did not know it – could not know it – he was standing in the same spot as Vaaj-na would, more than a century later. In six hundred and fifty-three timelines Vaaj-na would die there, a victim of simulated Void Magnifications. But in more than a million Vultarion would never meet the Khajiit.

Alduwae proudly breathed in the air of Alinor. “Well then, who’s for Netisandra’s?”

“Aye,” agreed Vultarion. “Maybe we can rouse a debate over the Prolix’s fifth Canto: ‘Hoc tempore obsequium amicos, veritas odium parit!’”

“You two go ahead,” Taltheron said. “I’ll just be a minute.”

As they walked away the Altmer stared at the rising moons and considered their light on the undulating waves. He could not help the tempest of emotions within him; Vultarion would have called it a weakness. Closing his eyes he let the warm winds of the Isles wash over him.

“Of the above we speak,” he whispered. “And we are confused by it, for above us is only an ending, and above that still is only a scribe that hasn't written anything yet. As always we forget the ground below us, and condemn ourselves and any other who would believe us into this cycle.

“As for the war we crave…a spear will be thrown soon. Both sides will call for vengeance…and the awful fighting will begin again.”

Taltheron opened his eyes and cast a last glance at the moons before turning, and following his friends.

A Thalmor Sonata – Alduwae

Nirn, Tamriel, Rimmen; 5E802

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I.

“Can you believe this rubbish about The Prognosticator?” Alduwae spat, shaking the Terminex sheet. “Why General Sulindrel tolerates him I have no idea.”

Majda continued kneading the dough gently. She hated when he got in these moods. Long experience had taught her to just remain silent, especially about anything remotely related to politics.

“I mean, the ‘distracted masses’ are just flocking to him! They’re convinced, in all their lack of education, that he’s a prophet. Ridiculous! I swear if he weren’t a Khajiit he’d have been rounded up and shown Thalmor justice by now.”

She had to wonder at that. In the last year the Thalmor had been more than happy to round up anyone they wanted too; the only real factor seemed to be whether or not they adhered to Thalmor orthodoxy or no. Several of her friends, actually…

Alduwae threw the paper down in disgust. “The end can’t come soon enough. Oh, how I weary of this simulacrum of false pretenses! Mark my words, Majda, as soon as those Imperials have been put down, this – all of this – will be a fading memory. And won’t that be better?”

“Yes,” she whispered, barely loud enough to be heard.

He continued to rant for some time but Majda focused on the dough, making small, round loaves and rubbing them with salted butter…and just a hint of moon sugar. Not enough that he would be able to tell – the Eight forfend – but enough to remind her of…better times.

His arms slid through hers, locking around her waist. “I wish I could bring you to the Citadel,” he whispered in her ear, kissing her neck. “I don’t see how you can live in the sweat and piss of this city. So much rabble.” His kissing became more persistent and she knew it signified what he wanted. The yeast would be useless by the time he was done and she would have to start again. Putting the dough down she turned without emotion and submitted herself to his embrace.

Afterwards she lay on her side for a time, watching him dress. As he made for the door she tried to remember the fresh-faced Altmer she had met five years ago, tried to remember the early days of their relationship. But the memory could no longer inspire emotion, not even pain. There was just…hollowness. She gently touched the curve of her abdomen before rising. The bread was waiting, after all.

II.

“Do you know what’s worst of all?” Vultarion pronounced. “Their damn Imperial philosophers! No, worse – their theologians. By the Eight! I’ve never heard such drivel. That moron who wrote Gods and Worship…”Spirits may even be capable of raising themselves to the level of a God or Goddess.” Auriel preserve us! It’s just the verbal mauris of Lorkhanic sycophants suckling on the teat of atheology. Disgusting!”

Alduwae loved when Vultarion got on his rampages about humans. They were sitting in one of the many lounges in the Citadel, surrounded by Aldmeri dignitaries and officiates. Several were paying close attention to Vultarion’s diatribe and Alduwae made sure they saw he was part of the conversation. These sort of social events could be instrumental in one’s career.

“Oh come now,” he chided his superior. “This is the culture that gave us The Adabal-a and The Song of Pelinal!”

A roar of laughter came from the dignitaries and even Vultarion cracked a smile. “Alduwae you have the most pernicious sense of inclusivity I’ve ever encountered. How could you even soil your mind with that…that…garbage?”

“I never said I soiled my mind with it,” he said innocently. The whole room was looking at him. “Quite the opposite. One has to have something to wipe their arse, don’t they?”

The room exploded and Alduwae leaned back with pleasure.

*

The Market was busy, as it always was this time of evening. Majda supposed she could have come in the morning when the air was cooler, but she enjoyed seeing the people of Rimmen. Older Khaj sat in doorways or at little shops watching the cubs skitter around. Some of them still wore traditional budis – it made her nervous. She supposed at their age there was little the Thalmor could do that Time was not already doing.

Sleeps-with-Deep-Roots was at her stall, calling to passers-by and offering samples of her famous canis root tea. Majda had to smile looking at her; when she was a child she had sworn Sleeps was as old as the Fifth Era, but now…

“Majda!” the Argonian threw her arms wide and shuffled from behind the stall to embrace her. “It’s been so long, I can barely remember when last I saw you!”

“Now, Sleeps” she said. “It was only last week. If you recall I got that bundle of mountain flowers.”

“Still with your Thalmor, I see,” the Argonian reproved her.

“Speech isn’t everything,” she told her, referring to her use of “I” rather than “This one”.

Sleeps dropped it and returned to her stall. “What can I get for you today? I fear I’m all out of mountain flowers.”

Majda told her.

The Argonian stared at her a long while. “Well,” she said at last. “There may be hope for you yet.”

Unconsciously the Khajiit touched her belly and was not sure.

III.

They were well into the second bottle of wine and Alduwae was having trouble seeing straight. They seemed to be in one of the Citadel gardens but for all he could tell they might have been in Moonshadow.

“These…Khajiit,” Vultarion was saying. “What a bunch of uneducated, uninspired, un…what was I saying? Oh yes, rabble. Why they’re almost as bad as the Orcs. And do you believe that human mauris about Trinimac? I mean, no wait, Orcish mauri about Trinimac? I’ve never heard anything so foolish in my life. We ought to wipe them out just for good measure!”

“I thought we already did?” Alduwae honestly could not remember.

Vultarion slapped his shoulder and laughed silently for nearly half a minute before taking a ragged breath. “You know what we ought to do, brother? We ought to put all the Khajiit and humans and those, those lizards in a giant pit…and let them slaughter each other! Can you imagine? What a way to end The Last War! I’ll have to tell the general…”

“Now, brother,” Alduwae admonished him. “Aren’t the Kha-Khajiit mer? I mean that’s why they’re in the Dominion, yes?” A heartbeat later and he could not believe he had corrected Vultarion.

But his superior was laughing so hard he had fallen into a bush. Alduwae helped him out and set him on a bench. “Alduwae!” Vultarion exclaimed. “I never knew you had such a sense of humor! Gods, we’ve got to promote you. Mer!”

Alduwae just started at him.

“And they’re so…so…hairy. I don’t see how you can rut one of them. I mean…the hair!”

A strange feeling was piercing Alduwae’s chest, one he could not quite remember. “Well,” he tried to sound confidant. “She’s very talented in belly-magic.” The feeling intensified.

“Well, alright,” Vultarion said. “Maybe I’ll have a go at her then.” He tried to stand and failed. “Maybe tomorrow.”

Alduwae sat with him a long time, lost in alcohol and the memory of a feeling he had forgotten.

*

She was mixing the red tea when Alduwae stumbled through the door.

He was rank with the scent of alcohol, and looked like he had spent the evening wrestling with shrubbery. She guided him to the table, unsure what to say. There was still hot water in the pot so she made him tea but he was snoring when she sat it down in front of him.

She looked at the cup she had prepared for herself. It was no different than the dozen she had made over the last five years; a simple tool, a woman’s protection. And yet something felt…

“No!” Alduwae exclaimed. “I won’t let you!”

Majda turned to find him flailing into the air, eyes wide with…she wasn’t sure what. She went to him, spoke to him soothingly. After a few moments he seemed to calm down, looked at her through blurry eyes. “Majda?” he asked her.

“Yes?” she could hear the fear in her voice. What was wrong with him?

“Thank the gods,” he said. “I thought…I thought…” Suddenly his hands were cradling his face and he was crying – no, sobbing. Majda stared at him in confusion. She stroked his shoulders lovingly.

“I can’t,” he mumbled through his hands. “How could he…just…why?”

She took him in her arms, running her fingers through his hair, shushed him like a child. She could feel her pulse racing. “What is it, my love?” she whispered, surprised at the tenderness in her voice.

He threw his arms around her and buried his head in her. Long minutes passed as he wept. “I’m sorry,” he said at last. “That was…unmanly of me.” She could feel the shame in him.

Kneeling down she took his face in her hands and turned his eyes towards her’s. “What is it?”

“Nothing. I think…I think I drank a little too much. Would you mind if I stayed here tonight? I just…want to make sure you’re okay.”

A spike a fear stole through her, but the years had prepared her for this. “Of course,” her voice was hollow, like her heart.

As he moved to the bedroom he said, “Do you ever think…do you ever think we’re, we’ve…” The words stuck in his throat. “Are we on the right side?”

She could not move. She could not speak. Five years of speeches and condescension and ranting filled her mind. With all her soul she wanted to yell “No” but in the end she could only whisper, “Yes.”

Alduwae collapsed into bed as Majda poured the red tea into her chamber pot.

IV.

She woke during the night to find his arm encircling her, his fingers laced through her own.

It was…unusual. For nearly three years he had shared her bed only if he had interests other than sleep. They had not slept together since…at least since his last promotion. Majda was unsure how to feel. A part of her longed to lay back, feel his warmth, his comfort; part of her feared it would only wake him and spur his use of her. He would leave and this moment would pass. She held to his hand tightly. She felt as though something had opened its eyes inside her, was looking around in bewilderment; an emotion she had not felt in a long time. It felt like…memory? She closed her eyes, leaned back.

They were standing on a bridge, one spanning any hundred or Rimmen’s canals. The water flowing beneath them was crystal clear, and the slight wind rippled the surface. He was beside her, clasping her hand. He looked younger.

“Do you remember how it was,” he asked her. “Before?”

“I think,” she said, awe-struck at the absence of fear. “That I do. Sometimes.”

“I want to,” he confessed.

Across from them one of the markets was setting up. She recognized Sleeps-with-Deep-Roots among the merchants. “Why can’t I remember?” he asked her, squeezing her hand. “Why is it so hard?”

A harsh tang touched the breeze. She shifted to see where it was coming from.

“Maybe,” he was saying. “Maybe remembering means…on some level…” he struggled with the word. “Admitting…”

Her body jerked as she recognized the tang as smoke.

*

She woke to screams and rushed to the door.

The streets were filled with fleeing Khajiit. From where she stood she could see a dark cloud pouring from the Citadel. She did not need to have anyone to tell her to know what had happened.

“The Prognosticator,” she whispered.

*

Alduwae was up, dressing himself and speaking as though she were one of his soldiers. “They’ll have attacked at the changing of the guard, which means the postern gates are undefended. We’ll need to get reinforcements there.” He checked his dagger and made for the door.

She stood in his way. “Don’t go.” There was no longer any fear; only resolve.

Alduwae looked at her as though she were mad. “What are you doing? Get out of the way, the Citadel is under attack!”

“Let it go, my love. Let it all go.”

His face was incredulous as he side-stepped her. “I don’t know what’s gotten in to you this morning…”

She grabbed his hand, laced her fingers through his and forced him to look at her. “If you leave, I won’t be here when you come back. I won’t live like this anymore.”

“What…? This isn’t the time…of course you’ll be here.”

“I won’t. I won’t watch them destroy us anymore. You asked me last night and I answered in fear. Do you remember? Do you remember what you asked me?”

Alduwae’s face fell, lines of confusion contorting his face. She knew that he remembered.

“Come with me, my love,” she said. She felt his hand tighten, loosen, tighten again.

Outside there were Elven voices shouting orders, and Khajiiti screams when those orders were not followed. She risked a glance and saw a band of soldiers run past. She looked back to him.

He was looking directly at her. He looked younger. “We’ll need to hurry.”

They packed the little she had.

*

They had just left the house when Yaldunir found them; him and his dozen Altmeri guards.

“Gods, Alduwae!” he cursed. “What are you doing here? You’re needed at the Citadel, don’t you know what’s happened?” He looked with disgust at Majda. “This isn’t the time for a rut.”

She knew there was no way they could escape them all. Alduwae turned, shoving his malachite dagger in her hand. “Lock the door. I’ll return as soon as I can.” Hope flickered briefly behind his eyes.

“I’ll wait,” she said, voice cracking.

She watched him go.

V.

Just as Magnus had crested the walls of Rimmen, the Prognosticator and his followers attacked the Citadel. The Altmeri guards were completely overwhelmed by the storm of a thousand raging Khajiit wielding everything from rakes, to swords, to their claws. They came without any sense of self-preservations – most were not wearing armor – and hurled themselves against the Thalmor in an ecstatic bloodlust. Some recited poetry as they tore the Elves apart.

The prophet himself led the fight. A Suthay-raht, he was dressed in a patchwork of leather armor – not all of it from traditional sources. He had woven Altmer scalps into his own hair and wherever he went his followers chanted, “The Mane! The Mane!” His giant halberd trailed blood behind him like a crimson epistle.

“No longer!” he yelled to his people. “No more will we allow the Elves to send our sons, daughters, and children to die upon Imperial blades while they sit drinking tea in their tents and discussing theology. The time has come to enact! The time has come to mantle our gods! And we begin by murdering them! Let your blades drink et’Adic blood! Let your claws tear Anuic flesh! We will show them what it means to ascend!”

When the Thalmor Ambassador heard of the revolt, he laughed. He could not imagine the “cats” being so foolish. Unperturbed he dispatched battlemages to tear apart the rebels. What he was not expecting was the band of Alfiq darting along the walls casting their own spells. To say the battlemages were shocked when their own atronachs turned on them would be an understatement. The Ambassador took the threat more seriously after that.

It was then the prophet released his senches.

*

Alduawe arrived at the Citadel as the Thalmor lines broke. He watched in amazement as Altmer troops retreated before the towering senches and their spear-wielding riders. Scooping up a moonstone blade from a fallen Elf he looked to Yaldunir but the Bosmer was leading a group of archers along the wall. He was considering his own retreat when a scream from behind turned him.

The Ohmes-raht was charging with a blood-smeared axe and Alduwae had a heart-beat to raise his sword and parry the blow. The force nearly broke his arm and he narrowly avoided the back-hand fist the Khajiit used as a follow-through. Moving away Alduwae summoned a spirit-wolf to buy himself time, only to have it evaporate instantly. His eye briefly caught the image of a house-cat staring at him from the battlements right before a Bosmeri arrow sent it to its fate. Light glared on the Khajiit’s axe as he came in for another attack.

Alduwae had never worn his armor in-city and knew that a single blow would end his life. But he was light on his feet and able to weave between the Ohmes’ blows, offering the occasional stab in response. At one point he threw a firebolt but the Khajiit merely deflected it with his axe; this struck Alduwae as profoundly unfair.

The critical moment came when Alduwae realized he was tiring. His skin was slick with sweat and it was becoming more difficult to dodge the Khajiit’s attacks. He could see a killing-satisfaction in the feline eyes. There was a roar coming from the Citadel, a swell in the chaos of battle, but neither looked to see its source. Alduwae decided there was only one course of action, and dodging an overhead slash, charged his opponent. He struck with every ounce of strength he had; he struck with all his frustration, fear, and the growing hate for all he had become. He struck a granite wall like a pebble thrown by a child. Crumpling to the ground, the Altmer’s vision blurred.

The Khajiit laughed as he raised the axe to finish him.

*

The streets had become quieter, so that when her door was smashed-in Majda jumped at the sound. She watched from darkness of the bedroom as an Altmer searched the kitchen. His robes were speckled with blood. Her hand reached down to where she had tied Alduwae’s blade under her dress, and unlatched the sheath’s strap.

“Where are you?” the Altmer sang out. “Your latest rut has been telling me stories, like a good little boy should. He won’t be coming back for you, not in this life anyway. So why don’t you come out, kitten, to your new master?”

Majda felt a shock of the old fear, the ingrained fear, spike down her spine. She touched the hilt of the blade…and moved into the deepest shadows of the room.

“I know you’re here. If you make me find you it won’t be nearly as enjoyable…for you. But then…I like it when the kittens resist.” He paused and considered the door to the bedroom. “Perhaps you’d like to know how he died, hmm?” Stepping into the dark room she watched him draw his dagger.

“I watched Alduwae get chopped into an infinitude of visceral pieces, like a nice meat porridge. The Khajiit that killed him licked him up like he was starving. I could have killed the Khaj, certainly, but why leave your rutter’s mess in the street, when an animal is so willing to clean it up?” She could feel, if not see, the smile on his lips. “It’s all you are, really: animals. Animals that believe they are mer, but really are no better than Orcs. Or men. You’re just the mauris we’re using to burn away the old world before we crush you beneath our boot. Normally I wouldn’t sully myself with filth like you, but…we’re going to burn the city anyway, so…why not?”

She knew what he was trying to do. She did not know when she had drawn the dagger.

“Come now, kitten. Let’s see what you can offer me before you die.”

He did not hear her rise from her hiding spot, but he felt her blade run across his back.

VI.

The Thalmor ranks broke and the outer bailey of the Citadel fell into general slaughter as they retreated. Khajiit were roaring in glee as they tore the slower-moving soldiers in pieces, filling the air with a crimson mist. But The Prognosticator was in their midst and soon ordered them through the gates into the inner bailey to what he thought would be his victory.

What waited him did not immediately register.

As the Aldmer foot-soldiers had distracted the main horde with the outer bailey battle, Bosmer scouts had run the walls killing Alfiq mages. And while the odd Ohmes or Suthay had tried to stop them they were quickly silenced by arrows. When The Prognosticator and his forces passed through the gate they were met by walls lined with archers and rows of Altmer battlemages…and a fair host of Daedra. The Prognosticator had enough sense to turn to retreat, but already additional forces were coming up behind, closing the portcullises and cutting off all escape. Fire, arrows, and spirits fell upon the Khajiit horde; their screams filled the air of Rimmen.

Alduwae staggered in through the outer gate in time to see the massacre. There he saw mer he knew and respected laughing, watching, pointing. They cursed when Khajiit clawed through the gate’s bars begging for release. Some of the Altmer even ran them through or hacked off reaching limbs. Vultarion’s words from the night before floated back to him: “a giant pit…slaughter…”

He could not stop himself when the retching came, and fell on his knees vomiting acid from his empty stomach. There were body parts being thrown among the spectators like some childhood game. Alduwae pushed himself up, nearly fell. As the screams and laughter reached a fevered pitch he walked out into the city streets and made for Majda’s house. The great Khajiit brute lay where he had slain him, the Thalmor blade still immersed in his abdomen. Alduwae left it where it was.

*

The fires had begun, and the citizens of Rimmen were running for the city gates. Thalmor awaited them – entire groups of Justiciars dispensing Aldmer peace and lawfulness.

The door to her house was open. Alduwae rushed in, reaching for a dagger that was not there, and did not understand what greeted him.

Bits of fine cloth, shredded. Furniture broken, utensils, plates, cups, cast about in a chaos of confusion. Spatters of dark liquid, pock-marking the walls, ceiling, floor. A raw, rank odor like an open sewer. There was a leg lying across the bedroom entrance…

The eyes were cold, lifeless. The face lathered in blood. The body torn by a merciless blade.

Alduwae fled into the panicked streets screaming her name even as fire kindled Majda’s house. It lit on a tiny corner, catching on a tuft of thatch, spread along the roof casting sparks. The wood of the walls began blacken; the few windows shattered as the flames pierced the interior. Fire snaked through the house and gently kissed the robes of Vultarion’s savaged corpse. Soon, inferno claimed all.

*

As Magnus set upon Rimmen’s final day, the growing dark settled over the embers of the city. Yaldunir thought it looked a bit like a campfire that had burned down to coals. There were walls of smoke lifting into the air, trailing into the sky. The last group of Justiciars reported that nothing moved within Rimmen’s walls and if anything lived it did not stir. The Thalmor, he supposed, had made their point.

“That should do it,” the healer said, wiping the last of the blood from his wound. Under her magic the skin had knitted itself back together, and though it was a little stiff, he felt almost like he’d never been stabbed.

“Thank you, sister,” he told the Altmer and stood up, straightening his uniform.

The Aldmer army had set up camp outside the walls while the Justiciars finished their work. As he walked back to his tent he ruminated that he would have a fine few of the rebel’s punishment. He just hoped they had the good grace to die quickly and not moan through the night – he had a long journey to take the next morning.

The roads leading to and from Rimmen were lined with six-foot tall stakes and upon each one had been placed a Khajiit. Most of them were alive when they were placed and Yaldunir suspected the Justiciars derived a sort of pleasure from hearing the screams. They were not placed uniformly either – some were pierced back-to-stomach, some anus-to-mouth, others shoulder-to-thigh. It was gruesome, certainly, but it was a potent reminder of how dissent was met by the Aldmer. Yaldunir decided he would take his group of conscripts past the lines in the morning; he felt certain they would be motivational.

His thoughts were interrupted by the surprised cry of an Altmer ahead of him. It was a moment before he recognized Alduwae, caked as his was in blood and soot; but it was indeed him. The Altmer was standing at one of the stakes, looking up at a Khajiit female suspended from thigh-to-shoulder – the amount of blood on the stake testified she had been there some time. As he passed them Alduwae was blubbering incoherently but Yaldunir was sure he heard the Khajiit say, “Too much hate.” Glancing behind he saw Alduwae lace his fingers through her’s while she spoke softly, haltingly to him.

General Sulindrel was at his tent, looking at a map of Cyrodiil and listening to his advisors. The Bosmer stood patiently until he was called upon. “Yes?” the General did not sound tired, though he looked it.

“Report from the Justiciars, sir. The city is cleansed.”

“Good. Make sure they leave a few Daedroth to haunt the ruins. There’s no need for anyone to forget what we’ve done here.”

“Of course, sir. And, sir?”

“What is it Bosmer?”

“There is an officer under your command…Alduwae? I have reason to believe he has been compromised by…an animal affection.”

The General stood up. “Oh?”

“Yes, sir. I do not believe the corruption is deep enough for void ephemerality but he may benefit from re-education.”

General Sulindrel considered him more carefully. “Yaldunir, yes? You were at the Citadel earlier. Your archers killed those house-cats.”

Yaldunir’s chest swelled with pride. “Yes, sir.”

“You are taking conscripts to Alinor, if memory serves. It’s a shame to lose you from the front lines but I suspect there may be a brighter future for you. You have the Intuition.” The General crossed his arms in thought. “I’ll say something to Balmurrion; there may be Justiciar work for you.”

An almost beatific light shown from Yaldunir’s face as he left the tent.

*

The real problem with the Thalmor, Vaaj’na thought, was their lack of courtesy.

Certainly he could understand their perspective. Rimmen had been a Thalmor city since the 4th Era. The war was going fairly well – if you didn’t count the losses in Morrowind, and he supposed having an insane Khajiit anarchist with messianic delusions of grandeur throwing the city into revolt would be upsetting. Especially for General Sulindrel – the Altmer who had led the successful invasion of Anvil, had cleansed Thras, and was even rumored to be leading a force to Skyrim. Such a hero would take such a revolt – really a riot with a bit of megalomania thrown in – very personally. Burning the city made sense, from the General’s perspective. Forcing pliant survivors into service made sense, from the General’s perspective.

But what made no sense to Vaaj-na was why they chained the conscripts up in the hold. It wasn’t like Vaaj-na was going anywhere – it would be weeks before they reached Alinor. And if the Khajiit had intended rebellion…well, he’d already be dead wouldn’t he? If anything the Thalmor should have patted him on the back, given him a great bowl of moon sugar, and a willing female. “Congratulations on being a Thalmor!” they could have said. “Onward to glory! Onward to sugar! And all the skooma you could ever want!” That would have been courteous, to Vaaj-na. But no, he was in the stinking hold of a ship, with sweaty Altmer, whimpering Khajiit, and did not even have a pillow for his head. The Thalmor had so much to learn; if only they had sat at the feet of his Clan Mother, then…

A Bosmer in Thalmor robes appeared at the entrance and roughly dragged an Altmer down the plank and into the hold. He glanced around a moment, noticed the space beside Vaaj-na was empty, and very un-courteously deposited his charge there. The Altmer did not say a word as the Bosmer chained him to the hull. “You’ll feel better soon,” the Bosmer promised him, and made his way out.

“Yes,” Vaaj-na said philosophically. “The problem really is courtesy.” He turned to the Altmer. “Greetings, brother. This one is Vaaj-na and he is pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“A-Alduwae,” the Altmer said weakly.

“This one knows that our current predicament seems grim, but this one sees that we are bound for the Great Jewel. There we will enter into the service of the Beautiful and True. We will build a better world. A far, far better world.” When the Altmer did not respond Vaaj-na said, “This one sees that you are distressed. He understands. And he will help you. It is the least he can do for a brother in the Cause.”

Vaaj-na leaned back and knew what he said was true. In his mind’s eye he traced the Bosmer’s face into Memory, so that he would not forget; just as he remembered the face of every officer who had killed his family, his friends, his city. They were going to build a better world; a far, far better world. Vaaj-na believed every word of it because he had said it – and because Khajiit were the best liars.




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