Arodel blinked, but the world was a blur. She didn’t mind.
In fact, it was a reassuring, almost welcome feeling, just like the familiar throbbing pain in her head. Her limbs were a little number than usual, sure, but what of it? No two hangovers were the same, after all; the last couple of months had taught her as much. She thought it nothing but the ordinary nuisances that liked to greet her in the aftermath of a night out at the Parchment and Horn.
Forcing her eyes open one more time she caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a typical Bosmeri home. From the perspective of the fur-hemmed cot she was resting on the sprawling room looked like the inside of a giant drop-shaped seed, furnished with a handful of simple tables, racks and shelves overflowing with all manner of strange-looking paraphernalia. The amber-hued windows betrayed nothing of the world outside.
Hmpf. That’s new. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.
With a heavy sigh Arodel sunk back into the Dreamweaver’s embrace, still oblivious of the unusal circumstances surrounding her sojourn at this seemingly unremarkable abode.
In the barren wastelands of her mind, a seed of doubt took root.
No matter how hard she tried, Arodel couldn’t recall ever reaching Marbruk on her way to the apothecary, let alone ordering something from Eldumoril that evening. She vaguely remembered passing Bramblebreach at sunset, when …
Feeling a twinge of panic the Altmer tried to get up, but her legs wouldn’t obey. A hoarse yelp escaped her lips when she discovered that she was completely paralysed. Every frantic and ultimately futile attempt to move was nipped in the bud by waves of excruciating pain rolling over her. The stale, coppery taste of blood lingered in her dry mouth, and every inch of her body felt swollen and sore.
This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t safe. This wasn’t a morning where she could quietly slip away from whoever’s house she spent the night in, nicking breakfast on her way out.
“Oh, you’re awake.”
The sudden disturbance made Arodel flinch – and subsequently groan – in surprise. She forced herself to breathe steadily, then gathered enough strength to turn her head in the direction of the anonymous voice, even though she was convinced her neck could snap at any moment. A diminutive Bosmer boy was standing in the middle of the circular room, smiling broadly at the incapacitated mage as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. How long had he been there?
“I didn’t expect you to wake up until at least tomorrow, given how badly you’re injured. Good to know you’re regaining your strength already!”
Arodel’s mind was spinning, desperately trying to make sense of this mess, but she was too upset to focus. Oh, why couldn’t she just vanish into thin air?
“You’ve been attacked. I found you on the way home and took you in – and not a minute too soon, I might add. You looked bad. Still do, to be honest.”
Tsk. This is absurd.
For a moment, Arodel was convinced that this was just another one of many vivid nightmares. The strange house, the pain, the inability to speak and move – it had everything a frightening journey to Vaermina’s sphere had to have in order to ruin one’s hopes of getting a good night’s sleep. But when she pryed her eyes open once more the boy was still there, still staring at her, probably still insisting that her aching body had indeed been mangled and that it was him she owed her life to. She searched his face for a sign of malice or guile, but was disappointed. Instead she found something that resembled heartfelt sympathy and worry, albeit mixed with something different. Guilt, perhaps?
Arodel cautiously allowed herself to relax again. Kept in perspective it was just the next unsurprising step of her life going to hell in a handbasket. Someone, somewhere must have taken a liking to seeing her suffer, she was sure of it.
The boy tilted his head.
„Don’t push yourself too hard now. Go back to sleep. There will be enough time to answer your questions when you can sit up again. You have plenty, no doubt.“
Sleep sure sounded tempting to Arodel’s ears. What could possibly go wrong? She either was asleep already or wouldn’t be able to flee anyhow, no matter the young Bosmer’s intentions. Darkness loomed at the fringes of her consciousness, and eventually she yielded to its beckoning.
The days dragged on and so did the nights, but the genuine nightmares had only just begun.