Between Tides III: Arodel’s Dream

Two windows shut while otherwhere
The sleeper’s door flung o p e n

The room, it grovelled in despair
Its midst appeared quite broken

The flames, they asked her for a dance
And clutched her hair at any chance

While feasting on her chattels dear
No mercy ever showing here

Down was up and
u ʍ o p s ɐ ʍ d n

That’s how she came to know it

Not even nescience’s writ
Knew anything to slow it

Your senses are as dull as your claws, little one.

The sleeper twisted her neck and three eyes that were one gaped at the intruder. They sat enthroned on a tower of mirrors, idly caressing the antlers adorning their un-head as they spoke.

Drink me. Drink it all up. Every fiber must be bathed in my blessing.

The sleeper obeyed against her will. Her skull cracked wide open, and out poured a vast army of wishes and dreams, gracefully perishing in the midnight breeze.

Happiness is loneliness
Happiness is loneliness

Loneliness is happiness
Lonel

iness i

s happiness

happiness

is lo

neliness

nel

hap

i

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Between Tides II: Wait and See

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.

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Ordinary Bar Scene

Happy Valentine's Day! Is there a better excuse to post embarrassingly unserious brain vomit? Don't think so. 

Screenshot credit: Nimitz

If the Screaming Mermaid was Port Hunding’s beating heart, the moonshine that flowed inside its chambers was the life blood of the people inhabiting them.

From the outside the tavern was a beauty to behold. Its well-maintained facade gleaming in the warm light of the setting sun evoked the kind of serene feeling one might experience when picnicking in the sands of a marvelous beach. But leave it to a gang of unruly Fighters Guild members to defile its interior so much that it could be mistaken for a pocket of Sanguine’s Myriad Realms of Revelry.

“Why are you even still here?”

Arodel eyed her companion suspiciously over the rim of her rum-filled tankard. The two of them had taken up position in a dimly lit corner of the Mermaid and payed more heed to their drinks than to each other, occasionally flicking an unlucky insect or two off the greasy table top. Neither of them was inclined to talk much, especially not with the rest of the stinking rout caterwauling all around them.

Walks-Among-Elves, a heavy infantrist originating from Black Marsh, casually pointed at an especially rambunctious table at the far end of the curved taproom. A remarkable number of lovely young ladies was gathered around an even lovelier Breton lad who clearly didn’t mind the copious amounts of attention he was given.

“Isn’t this the time of the day you usually drag a hapless fellow to the back rooms of whatever shithole you choose to spend your evening in? That one over there looks like your kind of prey.”

Arodel ostentiously scoffed at his snide remark.

“Your words wound me, my revered friend. Do you not know me at all?” she sighed with a pointed roll of her pale eyes.

The reptilian man smirked in response. He certainly knew her well enough. Something would happen this evening, it was merely a question of time.

For a moment both returned their attention to the swill in their mugs, but it didn’t take long for curious Arodel’s gaze to wander off to the raucous would-be harem once again. Jakarn was an average human by all means, yet nobody could deny that there was something captivating about him.

Not that I would ever fall under his spell, Arodel thought and huffed unwittingly. The minute Breton was no match for the towering Altmer woman after all.

“Humans.“

Arodel sighed as she leaned back to stretch her arms.

“They are so…”

She helplessly looked at her Argonian friend, struggling for words.

“… human?”

“Yes, exactly.”

Both chuckled and nodded in agreement, closely followed by the hollow donk of their tankards clanging together.

Walks was about to take another sip of rum, but something in the corner of his eye made him pause mid-movement. He furrowed a brow as he noticed Arodel absently drawing circles into the dust blanketing their table. She seemed to be fixating something in the distance. Half expecting to find Jakarn at the end of her languorous gaze the Argonian sharply drew in air in surprise when he discovered Bashrag gro-Yarug instead.

Lovingly called “Bash” for his tendency to crush opponents with a ferocious strike of his ashen shield, the hulking Wood Orc frequently accompanied Walks-Among-Elves on guild assignments. In that particular moment though he was busy rubbing the face of his poor comrade into a puddle of unidentifiable liquid that had accumulated on their table. The crowd was cheering in between the shrill laughter and lewd remarks.

On the other end of the room, a woman sighed. No matter how hard she tried, it proved impossible for the tipsy elf to tear her eyes away from the hunky Orc fellow. She didn’t know Bashrag very well, but their fleeting encounters in the past had left a lasting impression on the inquisitive mage.

Arodel was a fool for having judged that particular book by its cover, for Bashrag was more than a pile of muscles ready to pounce. He intrigued her with his unexpected foresight, prudence and wit, valuing a good discussion just as much as a proper combative challenge. No amount of self-restraint would have been enough to stop her heart from skipping a beat whenever Bashrag entered her field of view.

Mother and father would tear me limb from limb if they knew, and enjoy it as well, she thought.

Menelion would probably just die laughing.

Not that Arodel cared about the judgement of her opinionated kin; she was well used to being the oddball of the family. Arbitrary rules had always struck her as exceptionally dull. Still, none of her idiosyncrasies would have rattled her elders’ cage more than falling for a Wood Orc of all creatures.

Was that why she was so attracted to him? To ruffle some feathers? Perhaps, but there was more to it than the thrill of childish rebellion. Whenever Arodel considered Bashrag the world seemed to pause for just a heartbeat, as if to allow her to take in every detail of his magnificent existence. Another wistful sigh escaped her lips.

“Let me get this straight.”

The sound of a familiar voice nearby forcefully tore her from her light-headed contemplations.

He doesn’t interest you…”

Walks-Among-Elves nodded his chin in Jakarn’s direction.

“… but this one does?”

It was that moment when Arodel realized how unsubtly she must have been staring at Bashrag and she felt blood rushing to her face immediately. In a knee-jerk reaction she buried it in her hands, swallowing her half-hearted protest in the process.

Walks pensively scratched his chin with one of his impressively long claws. “What a lucky coincidence…” he muttered under his breath, but the elf didn’t listen anyway.

“You know, come to think of it – didn’t you finally accept my year-long pleas to join the Fighters Guild only after meeting Bashrag for the first time back in Eastmarch when we were cleaning out that nasty cave of vampires?”

Astute observation, she thought to herself. On the outside though the Altmer mage responded with a resolute shake of her flushed head.

“You’re seeing things.“ she stated matter-of-factly.

“Indeed I do. Like how your knees start shaking every time he flexes one of those remarkable biceps.”

Can you shut up now?

Much to her dismay, shutting up was not on Walks’ agenda this evening. In a matter of seconds Arodel’s red-hot face turned pasty white as she helplessly watched him turn around, one hand cupped around his mouth, to call to Bashrag’s table.

“Hey, Bash!” he yelled.

Arodel felt like someone coated her guts with iron.

“Why don’t you guys come over here, huh? The more, the merrier! We even have some of the good stuff left!”

The truth was that their liquor was neither expensive nor plentiful, but no-one would care at this late hour anyway. Fortunately for her the noisy shuffling of chairs being moved drowned out Arodel’s embarrassed whimpering. So much for keeping a low profile and wistfully sighing from a distance.

Are they really coming over? What should I do? What should I say? Is my hair okay? What if…?

Frantically she ran her fingers through the milk-coloured thicket growing on her scalp, creating an even greater mess than there was before. No matter though, her immediate urge to do something about her rather unkempt appearance was satisfied at least. Together with the confident posture she assumed, legs crossed and head resting casually upon one hand, she would made it look like a deliberate choice. Or so she thought.

One by one the fellows heaved to their feet, dragging themselves in the direction of the wildly gesturing Argonian, some more tottering than others. Bashrag, to no one’s surprise, was walking at the forefront of the boisterous gang. Arodel’s heart first plunged into her stomach, then almost disintegrated from beating so madly when he unexpectedly locked eyes with her.

„Walks, you shouldn’t have -!“ she snarled through clenched teeth, but Walks quickly covered her mouth with a scaly hand of his.

„Ssh. Relax, just for once, would you?“

Relax? Arodel was about to burst into a fit of rage over Walk’s seemingly reckless behaviour, but mustered enough restraint to put a bridle on her tongue. No use in making even more of an ass out of herself than she already did by letting her guard down like that. Agitated she followed the group crossing the room with her eyes before greeting Bashrag with a faint smile as he groaningly settled into the chair to her right.

How strange, she thought. Never before have I felt a shyness like this, or an urge to impress anyone. Quite the contrary, actually. What is different this time?

By the time everyone had taken a seat the young mage had composed herself enough to engage in casual conversations again. As evening dragged on the inebriated warriors sought to surpass each other with stories about glorious deeds and unthinkably fearsome monsters. Even though they barely talked to each other Arodel couldn’t help but notice Bashrag’s hand brushing against hers in a seemingly casual, unintentional manner every once in a while. Neither could Walks, and the knowing smirk returned to his inky reptilian face. Arodel, fed up with his smug demeanor, waved him nearer.

“Enough, spit it out now. What do you know what I don’t know, huh?” she hissed.

The Argonian snickered complacently.

“Many things, my dear Arodel, many things. But you will find out soon enough, trust me.”

And just as he finished that sentence Arodel was suddenly pulled up from her seat on one arm. What came next caught her completely off guard.

“Care to talk a walk with me?”

Between Tides I: Valenwood’s Shadows

A few days earlier …

Nightfall was Arodel’s favourite time of day – not just because Magnus’ last warm rays graced the Valenwood’s foliage with their golden light so artfully, sending a myriad of brilliant speckles dancing all over the lush thicket, but also because of the promise it harboured: the promise of sleep, the only meaningful antidote against the emptiness that was eating away at her substance in every waking moment.

Arodel was headed to Marbruk, where an affluent apothecary was waiting for the herbs safely tucked away in one of the saddle bags. The amicable Khajiit was willing to part with enough of her money to ensure the battered altmer woman a graciously light-headed evening at the Parchment & Horn. It’s become a habit for her to induce sleep rather than to wait for it to occur naturally, and what would be better suited to serve as a catalyst than Eldumoril’s home made honey rum.

The brewer was quite the handsome altmer fellow by Arodel’s standards, and he was surely part of the reason why she kept coming back to look for jobs in this particular establishment. Or maybe she just enjoyed the drinks. But as Eldumoril liked to say: “Mead from meat, wine from grapes… by the end of the night it all tastes the same”, and Arodel was inclined to agree.

Maybe I even get enough to pay for a proper meal this time, the woman thought. In any case she wasn’t picky; whatever could keep her body going was fine. The only thing that mattered was the booze to knock her out at the end of an arduous day.

“Relax, Wolf, no rush. Let’s enjoy the scenery a little longer” Arodel muttered as they trudged along the trail that connected Bramblebreach with Marbruk, and she gave the ashen dire wolf who carried her a soft pat on his massive head. Thankful to be able to rest her legs for a while she produced a piece of jerky from the pouch sitting atop the remodelled horse saddle and chucked it in the general direction of his muzzle. Wolf gracefully caught it between his finger-long incisors and swallowed it whole without slowing down even a little. “Good boy” she whispered and patted him once more.

Getting jobs done to make ends meet was considerably simplified by Wolf’s ability to cover great distances much better than Arodel’s legs ever could, but even the unmatched stamina of her four-legged partner paled in comparison to the invaluable company he provided. Hopefully he would never run away. The thought alone was unsettling.

She threw back her head and took a deep breath. The air smelled spicy after the shower of rain that came down upon Greenshade earlier, and the buzzing and wailing of the wildlife around her temporarily drowned out the gloomy thoughts that so persistently lurked in the corners of her consciousness.

It was an unfortunate moment to be abstracted. The shadows behind the trees grew long and untethered themselves from the motionless giants. Three pairs of eyes secretly peeked through the wind-swept canopy and soundlessly followed Arodel down the beaten path. So enraptured was she by the manifold sensations of the Valenwood that the shadows started chuckling and whispering to each other, teeth gnashing and claws grinding. They grew impatient, eager to lay their hands upon the oblivious prey.

Ew. Altmer. They smell.

And this one carries her nose so high like only their ghastly child-queen would otherwise.

But do they reek bad enough not to be eaten?

No. No, definitely not. I get the eyes. 

And I get the fingers!

Get her, get her, quick! Kill the pest that defiles our lands!

Death to the trespassers!

The silhouettes started twisting and turning wildly, outgrowing their vaguely merish forms into something more suitable for the hunt that lay ahead of them. Snarling they pressed onward, traversing the brake as gracefully as a herd of deer, but their razor-sharp claws augured ill for the unsuspecting altmer woman.

The world went black before even Wolf could sense the Houndsmen coming.

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Between Tides: Prologue

Why?

The world was turning upside down and her mind with it – a violent spin driven by agony inside and out. She was lost, broken, falling; knowing that soon she would painfully crash back into reality, but she wasn’t ready for it yet.

So many lies and so many listeners.

The half-truth was that she wasn’t quite as guilty as her tormentors made her out to be, and yet it was enough to strip her of everything necessary to hold her fragile being in place. Thus, she fell apart, piece by piece, memory by memory.

It hurts!

The curse pulsed through her veins relentlessly, reminding her of what was at stake – that she needed to push forward, lest it would consume her alive.

Nevertheless her consciousness fell back into soft darkness’ embrace, allowing ignorance to ward her against the feeling of a thousand needles stabbing away at her flesh for just a heartbeat.

Reality would come back knocking on the door soon enough.

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