Wow, been a while since I've typed that. Well, we've finally made it. Chapter five! Wowzers. I won't bother with excuses on the delay, instead I will explain the plans for this chapter going forward. All of the screenshots for this chapter are done. It took fucking ages. This chapter is seriously gargantuan. These are some of the longest entries I've every posted, some of them will be in multiple parts. I won't try to stick to any schedule though, despite the head start I have. It's just too stressful for me. And by that I mean a 2 week, on the dot schedule. Don't expect Friday, bi-weekly releases. I'm gonna try to do that, to be honest, but I'm not gonna keep making the promise I will and not deliver.
Also, at this point, you've just gotta have read previous chapters. I will still include previously spoilers (though not for this prologue), however there is going to be a lot of exposition and references to past moments that kinda have to be understood. So if you're new here, please start here!
It was cold that day.
The sun was only just beginning to set. Dark, murky water sparkled still, undisturbed by the breezeless air.
It may as well have been a void. A chasm pitch black that could offer only torment or tranquility.
Two gentle hands pulled him from that chasm. They carried him over their shoulder back into a world now just as dark.
Darker than it had ever been.
Val: I found him on the beach.
Val: There was no one else around.
Val speaks deliberately and firm, as if oblivious to his master’s rising temper. He does not even make a twitch as the sound of grinding teeth permeated the room.
Felrunan: And that girl?
Val can hear Felrunan’s lips curl in those words. He glances at Malkor, who had been faking unconsciousness, and responds placidly.
Val: She was not there.
There is a disbelieving scoff. Felrunan keeps his glare glued to the child as he barks out in contempt.
Felrunan: Wake up!
Val watches as Malkor twitches skittishly then scrambles into a sitting position. The boy gulps audibly as he kicks himself towards the headboard, eyes never leaving Felrunan’s cold gaze.
Malkor: F-father, I am sorry… I must have fallen aslee-
Felrunan: Don’t lie to me, boy.
A shallow gasp escapes Malkor as he quickly shuts himself up.
Felrunan: You think I don’t know what you’re up to? Associating yourself with squalor.
Felrunan spits out the final word as if speaking it had a rancid taste.
He ignites a bright blue light in the palm of his hand as swirls of magic begin to coalesce.
Felrunan: How often must I do this to you before you understand? We shall not cast our gaze upon those undeserving. Much less associate with them!
Malkor weakly raises a defensive hand in plea.
Malkor: Father, no! I understand. I do! Please don’t!
Felrunan: Do not humiliate yourself through begging! You will accept this punishment with pride!
Felrunan slams his fist to a close, sending the magical light swirling. Malkor frantically tries to scramble backwards, but suddenly halts as he screams and begins to claw at his own face.
Felrunan: You’ll get your sight back when you learn what it’s used for.
8 years later…
Val: Haha! Remember to watch your footing!
Malkor tumbles over Val’s extended foot. He drops the dulled, stalhrim sword as he desperately extends his hands to catch himself. Both the weapon and his knees crack against the stone floor, the thin fur rug doing little to soften the blow.
Val: Come on! I’m unarmed, this should be easy!
Malkor glares at Val, wincing from the throbbing in his legs and Val’s onslaught of taunts.
Malkor: I don’t need the weapon.
He locks eyes with his mentor and leaps back to his feet. With a swift spin, Malkor redirects himself towards Val and hurls a clenched fist toward his jaw.
Val smirks at the incoming blow and casually steps back, raising a hand of his own. Suddenly Malkor’s fist is locked mid-air, Val’s fingers coiling around its wrist.
Val: It was a good try.
Malkor feels his arm swiftly twist, forcing his knees to buckle. He grunts in pain as he loses his balance and Val’s grip suddenly releases. With eyes wide, Malkor gasps as he watches an open palm rush towards his chest.
Val slam his hand into Malkor, gripping tightly to the padding on his armor. Before he can react, Malkor feels himself being spun around and lifted into the air. He hollers out as Val sends him careening backwards through the air.
He crashes onto the floor yet again. He grunts as his back throbs from the impact, Val’s lighthearted chucking only making the pain worse.
Val: Haha, we’ll work on it, Malkor. Don’t get too heated.
Val: Something wrong?
Malkor: Something always is.
Val sighs as Malkor stumbles to a stand, avoiding eye contact the whole time.
Val: I get it, man. I do. But don’t take it out on me.
Malkor continues to keep his gaze averted as he crosses his arms ostentatiously.
Malkor: Well there’s no one else to.
Val: Why not your father?
Malkor leers at Val in dubious disbelief.
Malkor: Is that a joke?
Val rolls his eyes.
Val: Why would it be? He’s a piece of shit noble. Not even his constituents like him.
Malkor: You’re one to talk. You’ve worked for him for years! Protecting him, vouching for him!
Malkor: For fuck’s sake, you’re part of the reason he’s still in power!
Malkor: Bodyguard… That bullshit cover won’t work on me. You kill whoever he wants you to!
Malkor: And now you’re egging me on? Does he need a reason to kill me now?
Val ogles Malkor with a twinkle in his eye. He lowers his hand, revealing a sly grin.
Malkor: What? Say something!
A cold and confident stare shuts Malkor up as Val staunchly marches forward. Malkor gulps but holds firm as Val approaches him directly then casually steps to the side. He passes directly beside Malkor and whispers.
Val: No, he doesn’t.
Val: But you already have plenty.
Freshly chopped wood crackles softly in the fireplace as Felrunan quietly flips through the pages in his log. Each item his eyes glaze over is met with a loud sigh. Only occasionally are the sounds of his displeasure interrupted by a long, audible sip of Ashfire mead.
The soft echo of footsteps on the staircase pull his focus away. A smile, or the closest Felrunan could muster of one, crosses his lips as his son enters the room.
Felrunan: Malkor. Thank you for meeting with me. I trust your training with Val went well?
Malkor leans against the stairwell railing, maintaining a fair distance from his father.
Malkor: What do you want?
Malkor narrows his eyes. Feigning interest is nothing new for Felrunan, but as Val’s parting words echo in Malkor’s mind, he can’t help but suspect some sort of set up.
His father tosses his book aside. With a heavy sigh, he stands to his feet.
Felrunan: I’ve worked hard for many years to keep our name in such prestige. I’ve done a lot. Things that I should regret.
Felrunan stops before the fire. The light flickers across his face as he peers deep into the flames.
Felrunan: But my actions have made me colder. And as a result, stronger. I cannot be burdened by apprehension nor interrupted by personal consequence. If I could live forever, I’d be unstoppable.
Malkor eyes his father suspiciously. He can’t remember the last time the two of them had a conversation outside of him being berated or ordered. Yet despite the strangeness of his words, there is no shift in tone. Every one of them is laced with the same sense of frustration and blame.
Felrunan: But my time will come soon enough. It will fall to you to take my place and I realize I have not done right by you to undertake this task.
Malkor shakes his head and sighs. There isn’t a shred of him that believes there is sincerity to his father’s words. Still he feels his shoulders relax as the tightness always gnawing at him in his father’s presence, alleviates.
Malkor: Father, I-
Felrunan: No, son, listen to me. It’s time you take up our family name and continue the legacy. Are you ready?
There’s a pause. Malkor furrows his brow as his father gazes at him with an unreadable expression. Is it hopeful? Apologetic? The man before him exudes the same malicious aura yet behaves completely different. There is the same commanding hubris, the resolute confidence that he will not be opposed. But he still has the gall to ask if Malkor is ready? It’s not a question. It’s a patronizing attempt to offer camaraderie.
Malkor’s jaw tightens.
Malkor: You think so little of me. As if this isn’t explicitly for you? How gullible do you think I am?
Felrunan takes a step back. He cautiously exposes his palms as he responds slowly.
Felrunan: Son, I know I have not been the best father to you. It’s too late to fix that. But it’s not too late to reforge this fragile family.
Felrunan: This is a chance to repair what we’ve broken. Together our name can be one feared for generations.
Malkor clenches his fist.
Malkor: You mean what you’ve broken! There is nothing to repair anymore, thanks to you!
Felrunan’s eye starts to twitch. His lips purse as his nostrils flare.
Felrunan: I’ve broken nothing! Look around you! I’ve done more for this family than my father, and his father! We’re more powerful than we’ve ever been!
Malkor: Power? What power is so easily snatched away by the lack of my cooperation!
Felrunan’s breath begin to deepen. As he peers into Malkor’s equally furious glare, his brow starts to twitch. Through growling teeth, he raises his hand. A dancing flicker of magical energy materializes, threatening his son.
Felrunan: Must I teach you another lesson, child?
A fury ignites in Malkor’s eyes.
Malkor: You would dare threaten me with that torment again?
Felrunan:: I won’t do anything else you force me to! You have t-
Felrunan cuts off as Malkor suddenly screams out.
Malkor: I’ll fucking kill you!
Malkor’s coiled fist breaks into his father’s jaw. A deafening snap bellows loudly in the room as Felrunan tumbles backwards.
His head cracks against the stone floor and immediately strikes it a second time as Malkor pounces atop him, slamming his hands around his father’s neck.
Malkor: You want to torture me you piece of shit!?
Felrunan: Gah… Ack!
Malkor: You want to manipulate me! Abuse me! Control me!
Malkor: Shut the fuck up! Shut!
Felrunan: Ack! P-ple-
Felrunan’s body gives out, flopping against the floor lifelessly. Short, raspy breaths struggle past his lips. Blood trickles from his nose as a deep, purple blotch starts to swell around his squinted eye.
Malkor frantically scurries off his father’s body, eyes wide.
His aggressive panting drowns out his father’s desperate inhales. Each strained breath fumbling in and out like grating sandpaper.
Malkor stares at himself, then back to his father, his brows furrowed yet eyes wide. He notices his heart hammering inside him. Suddenly his panting begins to pick up to match the pace of his beating heart. He races to clutch his chest, yet before the panic sets in, he feels a soft tap on his shoulder.
Val: Go on. Take it.
Val: The honor is yours.
Candlehearth hall settles down for another dreary night in Windhelm. Faint chatter softly echoes from upstairs as guests try to make their last sips of ale last late into the night. Below, a single courtesan sits at the closed bar. She drags her finger in circles on the counter, reminiscing over more profitable nights.
Voice: Are you available?
She turns to the gruff voice, adorning a practiced smile.
Cassandra: I sure am.
Cassandra: Though it’s quite late already, handsome. I think y-
A large sack sails through the air. As it plops onto the counter, a serenade of coins jingle from inside.
Voice: That will cover it.
Malkor: I have the room on the left.
* * *
Cassandra meanders into the room her patron ushered her inside. She sways towards the bed, slowly slipping off the straps to her dress. As it tumbles to the floor, she turns to give a scripted wink only to pause when she realizes her tease has garnered no attention.
Cassandra: Is everything okay?
The man softly shut the door immediately after they had both entered, but to Cassandra’s surprise, still leans against it. He slightly turns his head, keeping his body pressed to the door, and speaks with a voice contradictory to before; soft, yet with a slight tremble.
Malkor: I have a request.
Cassandra suppresses a sigh. This isn’t her first time entertaining someone like this, though it seems to be his. She forces an endearing smile.
Cassandra: For you? Anything at all.
She notices his shoulder’s tense slightly.
Malkor: I want to call you Cass.
A wave of relief washes over her. In her experience, requests are debaucherous or taboo, sometimes even sinister. But a shortening of her name? It didn’t need to be requested at all.
Cassandra lays herself onto the bed with a flirtatious grin.
Cassandra: You can call me whatever you want, handsome. Is there anything I should call you?
She winks as the man begins to undress. He hastily tosses the clothes aside and marches to join her on the bed.
During his approach, she blatantly traces her eyes up and down his body. As she moves them up, her gaze locks with his.
Malkor: No need.
Malkor: You won’t remember my name anyway.
The accusation comes across as a clear jab to her profession, yet before Cassandra can interject, she’s slowly pushed down onto the bed.
The clear impatience from him proves there is no worth in arguing. With another practiced smile, she puts the words behind her and begins what hopefully won’t end up being a long night.
Find someone. Gain their trust. Bring them to the pillar of sacrifice. Then let your blade enter them deeply, so the waters of their heart wash over you. If your will is strong enough, she will arrive. The lord of Plots, Deceiver of Nations, Devourer of Trinimac, Queen of Shadows, Goddess of Destruction, He-Who-Destroys and She-Who-Erases will judge your will, your worth, and your fate.
Malkor stares blankly at Cassandra. Her eyes rest closed as her chest rises and falls slowly in a fragile peace. She will awake and soon after it will shatter.
Perhaps this won’t count. He brought her here unconscious. It just didn’t seem possible to convince someone to follow him here. As soon as they’d see the towering monument to Boethiah, whoever Malkor coaxed along would flee. And that’s assuming they’d wander up a small mountain in the snow with him to begin with.
But the trick is to gain their trust. And he did that. Right? She believed everything Malkor wanted her to and did it all too.
Cass. No. Cassandra now. That muse is over. But does it have to be? That was only part of a fantasy. There’s a chance for another right here.
Cassandra’s eyes flutter open, delicately at first, like a butterfly. Then erratically, like a drowning butterfly, flapping it’s wings in a pool of water.
Cassandra: Huh? What? Where am I?
Her panicked eyes fall onto Malkor’s masked face.
Cassandra: Who are you? What’s going on?
Malkor ogles her in silence. Each passing second the horror sets in on her face. Every beat of silence a hammer of her heart. He feels himself start to smile as the agony expands beyond her expression.
Cassandra: Please! Let me go! Help!
She starts to struggle. Veins bulge in her arms and legs as she pleads with them to move against the binding magic of the pillar. But they don’t. Fragile, soaked wings, fighting the sinking pull of death.
Malkor raises his sword.
Malkor: Goodbye, Cass.
Cassandra: No! No!
Val: Well done, back there.
Malkor and Val stand side by side, overlooking the vast land below them and gazing at the staggering mountains in the distance. They’d always meet here together, everyday for almost a year now. It was Malkor’s outlet, his opportunity to express his emotions and problems since fleeing home.
Val was the one to insisted they have the daily talks. According to him, the purpose is to make up for a lost fatherhood. Malkor was reluctant at first, as well as doubtful. A father isn’t something that can just be recovered, especially in a place like this. The role of fatherhood implies a family, and a Boethian cult did not seem capable of fulfilling such a thing.
Over time though, all of those doubts vanished. Malkor found a strong support in Val and even in the cult. The murder and sacrifice were something to get used to, but the bonds created ended up too durable to break. Malkor wasn’t ever really sure what family was, but this seems close enough.
Val: That’s something I wish I could experience. The trepidation unknowing if it worked or not… Did you feel it at all?
Malkor glances at Val, perplexed.
Malkor: Wait… I thought everyone here had to perform that ritual? You never did?
Val shakes his head.
Val: I didn’t have to. I was born into this. At 10 years of age, mother found me and gifted me this life. Have I not told you this story?
Malkor: Yeah, you have. I just figured this ritual was done by everyone.
Val bobs his head with a shrug.
Val: For the most part, yes. It’s to test whether mother thinks you are worthy. Truth be told, you probably didn’t need to do it. You weren’t a random selection, Malkor. She wanted me to find you.
Malkor: So… I didn’t have to kill her?
Malkor trails off as his gaze falls to his feet.
Val: No. Er, yes. I mean you still had to perform the ritual and all. Just-
Val cuts off as Malkor sits on the ground, holding his head in his hands.
Malkor: That’s two now… Dead. And it’s my fault.
Val: I understand. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Malkor groans and shakes his head.
Malkor: No. No, it is an easy thing to do. More so, it’s… it’s… rejuvenating.
Malkor hears Val take a seat beside him and clutches his head tightly. His grip trembles as he forces himself from looking Val in the eye, afraid of both approval and rejection.
Val: Relax, man. It’s not killing that rejuvenates you, it’s control. Killing your father was a big step for you. It gave you your life back. And this girl? I heard what you called her.
Malkor grimaces as he pushes himself further away.
Val: It’s okay to feel guilty. There is no meaning in a worthless kill. You got something out of those murders; you grew a tiny bit with each one. Everyone here has gone through a similar situation.
Val: Even me. In fact, I’ll be doing so very soon.
Malkor relaxes. He takes a deep breath and straightens up, looking worriedly at Val.
Malkor: What do you mean?
Val’s nurturing tone slips away.
Val: We are on the verge of a changing world. Six years from now, we will be fighting to create that change. But other prophets will stand in the way.
Val: I have to find them, and kill them, before they can do the same to me. I’m sorry, Malkor. This means I have to leave for some time.
The two stand as Val continues, Malkor listening in thought collecting silence.
Val: You can fill in for me while I’m gone, okay? Don’t worry, Nevrenu will help you.
Val: You’re strong, Malkor. I’ll see you soon.
Cultist 1: Come on! I’ll cut you down before you even get close!
Cultist 2: Ha! You can try, worm!
Malkor: You sure these two are worth evaluating?
Nevrenu: No. But it’s not like their death’s will be a loss to us. Might as well give them a chance.
A year has passed since Val’s departure. It did not take long to realize how impactful his leadership was on the cult. Nevrenu may have been the second in command, but to the other cultists, that just meant first in command was available.
The first week was a bloody squabble as cultists literally fought their way into control of the cult. Even those loyal to Val, and subsequently Nevrenu, were compelled to vie for the position by the blade. There were surprisingly few who actually died during this, though few made it through unscathed.
It became clear that there wouldn’t be a settlement until someone took the crown. So Nevrenu stepped up to claim the title herself. The few cultists who opposed her were succinctly cut down. From there, to everyone’s surprise, she named Malkor her second in command, stating it was Val’s wishes.
Malkor did not step into the role with ease. The first few months were filled with disrespect and ignorance from other cultists. It was something he grew sick of rapidly. His tenacity and temper were quick to rise and started to be expressed through demands of obedience and threats of order. In a cult of betrayal and blood, his fearless and abrasive leadership style garnered respect from each member. Before long, most were seeing him as the de facto leader, a reputation that Nevrenu never bothered to correct.
Malkor: I’m not sure I agree. Numbers aren’t our strength, it’s skill. We should only bother with those who possess it.
Nevrenu: If we had enough skilled fighters to make up for the lack of numbers, I’d agree. But we’re much too few. We only have 5 years. We should take every chance we get.
Malkor: Fine. But I still thi-
Cultist: Nevrenu! Malkor!
A cultist charges up the hill and into the camp. She leaps up the stairs and drops to a kneel, skidding across the snow-covered stone.
Malkor: What’s going on?
The cultist doesn’t stop to catch her breath, speaking through heavy pants.
Cultist: It’s Val, sir.
Nevrenu sucks in a breath, quickly glancing between the cultist and Malkor.
Nevrenu: What? What about him?
Malkor’s eyes go wide. He had sent multiple cultists out across Skyrim months ago, anxious about Val’s return.
Malkor: Did you find him? Is he safe?
The cultist locks eyes with Malkor. With furrowed brows, she slowly shakes her head.
Cultist: No, sir…
Malkor tightens his jaw. The sudden apprehension vanishes as a wave of fury washes over him.
Hag: A sacrament to our Lord, a testament to our strength. We are not the hunted, child of deceit.
Hag: We are the hunters, and you are the prey.
Hag: And now a sacrifice.
Hag: Witness to the child of Hircine!
Malkor stalks through the shadows of the dark, damp cavern. His cultist led him deep into the southern forests of Skyrim. Sequestered at the top of a small ridge, obscured by a blanket of thick fog and dying trees, was the cave to the Glenmoril Wyrd. According to his cultist, this was the home of a coven of Hags devoted to the worship of Hircine. And apparently Val had been captured within.
Hag: Death clings to him, I cannot keep it’s grasp weak for much longer.
Malkor ordered the cultist to wait outside. There was no chance they could fight through a Hag’s coven. This had to be done covertly. And for that, he had to go alone.
Hag: It’s time, child.
Malkor inches closer to the barrier in front of him as he peers across the pond. He narrows his eyes at the girl holding her knees to her chest, entirely naked except for some chains. Her body shakes and her eyes remain averted from the scene before her. Malkor quickly scans the rest of the room, noticing two forsworn standing inattentive next to the tent.
Each of them keeping their eyes turned away from the girl and instead at Val, defenseless and unmoving.
They’re not guarding him, there’s clearly no need. No. They’re not watching Val attentively, they’re purposefully averting their eyes. It’s something about that girl. She’s important somehow yet being entirely dismissed by them.
The Hag turns with a hiss, her taloned fingers clawing at the air. Malkor takes the opportunity and quickly scurries down the path, pausing to take cover behind a stone or pillar every few feet.
Hag: Are you going to continue to wallow?
Hag: You’re weak. Killing this prophet will cleanse you.
The girl skittishly raises a trembling hand.
Taeyva: P-please… I can’t. He’s done nothing to me.
With a screeching hiss, the Hag flexes her talons and screeches at the girl.
Hag: He seeks your death, fool! He will reap the power Hircine has given you! Don’t let it go to waste!
Malkor cautiously rounds the corner, slowly drawing his sword from his scabbard.
Hag: You are broken. You must kill him or all the power you’ve been given is for naught!
Attention snaps from the girl and onto Malkor as he ventures from the shadows.
Malkor: What power is so easily lost by her noncooperation?
The forsworn share a confused glance then reach for their weapons. Immediately the Hag raises a hand and coughs out a sinister chuckle.
Hag: A servant of his, I see. You’re too late. His life is a broken thread, only resewn to be cut again. There is no saving him.
Malkor takes a decisive step forward.
Malkor: I’m not leaving without him.
The Hag groans then glances down at the girl still trembling at her feet. A malicious grin begins to creep across her lips.
Hag: Then you shall test our prophet’s worth.
A fearful gasp escapes the girl. Her eyes go wide as she shakes her trembling head.
Taeyva: You know I can’t… I-
She’s immediately interrupted as the Hag wraps her clawed hands around her arm and heaves her to her feet. The Hag barks at her as the girl stumbles forward.
Hag: I don’t care! Kill him!
The girl gulps as she straightens up. She extends her arms slightly to summon radiating magical light in her hands.
Malkor doesn’t move as the girl’s trembling ramps up. Fearful eyes lock onto his as she mouths silent pleas.
This will not be a fight. Something holds this girl back, but even if not, there is no will left in her. Malkor sighs. This is a lost child, trapped behind a destiny she hasn’t learned to escape from, yet clearly craves to. There is devoid in her eyes; an endless stare that peers right through him. She yearns for that escape.
And he can give it to her.
Malkor suddenly snaps forward, raising his sword above him and launching his body through the air in a choreographed motion.
This attack is obvious and readable. A sparring dummy could dodge it if it tried. If this girl wants to die, now is her chance.
He watches her body lock up; her hands clutched at her sides still maintaining the threat of magic. A threat he knows won’t be fulfilled.
As he nears the peak of his leap, he begins to carve his blade towards her. As the threat of the blow nears, her blank stare vanishes. Her pupils dilate and her knees unbuckle. The girl tumbles forward in a desperate attempt to save her life as the blade narrowly soars by her.
Malkor squints at her dubiously, surprised at the outcome. But he doesn’t waste the opportunity. As the girl tumbles behind him, Malkor twists on his heel, hurling his other foot into her back.
The blow forces her into the ground. As soon as she lands, Malkor drops to one knee, holding his blade threateningly above her neck.
Malkor: Now, unless you want to lose your Prophet, I suggest doing as I say.
The two forsworn and the Hag freeze. The forsworn each glancing around in bewilderment while the Hag glowers at Malkor.
Malkor: If I catch any of you move an inch, I’ll cut her throat. Then I’ll do the same to each of you afterwards!
Malkor: I’m going to assume we’re in agreement because I don’t want to hear you speak either.
Malkor glances at each of them one by one. The two forsworn nod their heads in understanding. The Hag on the other hand no longer focus on him. He tracks her gaze to below his sword and takes it as a queue to move.
Malkor slowly stands, keeping his sword extended towards the girl. He takes cautious steps towards the altar, pausing after each to scan the expressions of his adversaries. Eventually he makes it close enough to heave Val’s body over his shoulder.
Malkor: Alright then.
Malkor begins to slowly back out of the room, keeping a close distance to the girl as long as possible. He keeps his eyes trained on the Hag, but soon notices she has lost all interest in him. As he rounds the corner to the exit, he quickly turns and marches out at a hurried pace as the Hag’s final words echo down the cave tunnels.
Hag: You failure.
Taeyva: I’m s-sorry… I couldn’t… I…
Hag: I don’t care.
Hag: You are no prophet of Hircine. You cannot fulfill your destiny.
Hag: Hircine made a mistake with you. You are nothing more than a waste of time.
Hag: I will no longer train you, wretched girl.
Hag: Leave. And never return.
Nevrenu: I had my suspicions…
Nevrenu: He should have returned months ago.
Nevrenu: I’m sorry, Malkor.
The pillar of sacrifice casts its faint blue light across the corpse of Malkor’s oldest friend. A final ritual in parting.
Malkor does not respond to Nevrenu. He maintains a long silence as the two of them offer silent goodbyes. A lost life is often dull in Boethiah’s cult, but a loss like this cannot be reconciled so easily.
A long sigh slips from Malkor as he fails to speak his farewells out loud. He comprehends the finality of this moment. Expressing it aloud is how to reconcile life changing moments. That’s what Val always taught him.
But at this moment, words don’t need to be spoken. Sometimes emotional words only have to be said for others. And right now, neither of them need to hear those words.
Malkor stands up. There is no point in clinging to this sadness himself; it will forever do so without his help.
Malkor: What now?
Nevrenu holds a long stare at Val’s body before forcing her head away. She takes a deep breath before opening her firmly closed eyes. As she expels the breath, the emotion seems to flee as well as she reequips her same cold, serious expression.
Nevrenu: We continue. His death doesn’t stop the world from changing. We still have to prepare.
Malkor scoffs. He can’t blame Nevrenu for her assertive disposition. Of course she had always been close to Val, but that closeness could never compare to that of her and her duty to Boethiah.
Malkor: But how? We don’t have a prophet anymore. We don’t have allies; we don’t have numbers. We can’t make up for all this in just 5 years.
Nevrenu: You’re right. It’s just not feasible to eliminate the opposition now, nor will we be able to mend older allegiances. We are alone, which is exactly what we want our foes to believe.
Malkor raises an eyebrow skeptically as Nevrenu continues.
Nevrenu: Word will spread of Val’s death. We won’t be seen as a threat, but that won’t remove the target from our backs. When the war begins, we will be seen as an easy elimination. We can maintain that guise while we grow in the shadows.
Malkor: How can we do that? Even potential worshippers will be hesitant to join our weakened ranks. You were right, we need numbers now. But I don’t see how that’s possible.
Nevrenu: No, we both were. Our members here need to be more skilled. But we also need an army.
Nevrenu: I know it’s a lot to request of you… But I’m no recruiter. Could you-
Cultist: Malkor! Nevrenu!
A cultist urgently charges up the stairs, eyes wide.
Cultist: We’re being attacked! It’s some naked girl, but she’s has bears with her! I-
Malkor clenches his jaw. Perhaps he made a mistake letting her live. He glares at the cultist and shouts.
Malkor: Get down there then! But leave the girl to me.
* * *
Cultist: Oh, fuck me…
The sacellum alights in screaming and blood as cultists charge in to fend off the invading bears. As more cultists plunge down the steps, Malkor and Nevrenu pause to watch the carnage from the monument’s ridge.
Nevrenu: So tell me again, why did you let her live?
Malkor groans. He does not want to be chastised again for this, but he isn’t going to admit to making a possible mistake.
Malkor: She’s a wild card; a prophet with no home. I believe we can use her later on.
Nevrenu chuckles, a response that earns an ignorant scoff from Malkor.
Nevrenu: Ambitious. Do what you want with her, I won’t stop you.
Malkor: I plan to.
Cultist: Fuck! Stay back, beast!
Cultist: Take this!
The bears slowly begin to rip through the cultists fragile defenses. Ferocious snarls and bellowing roars begin to drown out cultist battle cries. As the balance tips between each side, Malkor wades through the carnage, his attention set on the instigator trembling angrily down the path.
Nevrenu follows a long distance away, watching Malkor with curiosity while simultaneously keeping an eye on her underlings. If things begin to look desperate, she’ll jump in. But for now this is a rare opportunity to train and weed out the weak links.
Malkor easily saunters past the bears as he defiantly approaches the girl he met earlier. She stands resolute in the middle of the path, yet her trembling never ceases. She’s nothing more than child, putting on a fake display of confidence.
Malkor: You should not have come here, girl.
He catches the moonlight reflecting off fresh tears sliding down her cheek.
Taeyva: You humiliated me! I’m ruined now… I’m a failure because of you!
Malkor narrows his eyes as he slows his approach. The girl’s shoulder’s heave up and down as her lips tremble, but she shows no signs of retreating.
Malkor: I gave you an out. A killing blow to end this suffering you so clearly despise. But I did not humiliate you.
The girl’s fists tighten. Even the battle erupting behind him doesn’t suppress the sound of her raspy, sniffled breaths.
Taeyva: You can never understand… I could never take that out. No matter how much I want to.
Malkor: Then why did you come here?
Malkor takes another cautious step forward, as if approaching a wounded wolf. It can’t hope to survive on it’s own without its pack. A lone wolf is no proud hunter. It’s lonely, dying prey.
The girl doesn’t respond. Her gaze leaves Malkor as her eyes dart around in a panic.
Taeyva: I… I…
As her guard drops, Malkor surges forward. She gasps as she attempts to retreat but is choked off as Malkor firmly wraps his hands around her neck.
Malkor: I don’t know why I spared you.
Malkor: Maybe because you refused to kill my friend. Maybe I pity you. Or maybe you’re just not worth the effort.
Her heartbeat hammers against Malkor’s grip on her neck. She tries to gulp but is choked as Malkor tightens his grip.
Malkor: It doesn’t matter why. I did it and you’re squandering it.
Blood rushes into his grip and his fist begins to tighten. The girl sputters a desperate gasp as her eyes grow wide in horror. Malkor watches the dread set in with each passing moment as the life starts to drain from her eyes.
They start to flutter. Suddenly her raised brows clench as her expression shifts from dread to fury. Her jaw tightens as she reveals clenched teeth. She bellows out a persevering scream as she defiantly kicks out. Malkor smirks and releases his grip, tossing her away from him as her kick goes nowhere.
She crashes into the snow, panting.
Malkor: Take your bears and go.
Malkor: If you ever stand in my way again…
Malkor: I will kill you.
To be continued...
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