Quest 6: The Nursery
Loading Screen… The Divines reside in Aetherius, the heavenly realm outside the mortal plane. Long ago, one of their brethren, Lorkhan betrayed them and was thus killed and banished from the Heavens. He is seen as a heroic warrior by Men, and a devilish trickster by Elves…
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Krest struggled off the mattress, yawning and stretching his arms. His tissues squeaked and moaned. He sat there still, closing his eyes. Two candles flickered across from him against the spade-shaped windowsill. One was orange, a low hue. The other was bright blue, burning fiercely. The second exploded and put itself out while its twin continued to dwindle away, eating peeled wax.
Mustering the strength, he stood forcefully and marched over to the closet on the side. He pulled out some towels, swung them over his shoulder and stepped out of his room into the corridor. The hallway was cramped between the wall and doors to the dormitories of the evacuated priestesses, but the blinds and curtains had been drawn to let sunshine canvas the area. Much more inviting than it had been the previous night. The door to his left opened and out sidled Saadia. Krest let out a sigh of relief. He knocked to rally her attention as she was still rubbing her eyes.
Saadia held a hand to her mouth as she looked back, exhaling a deep chasmal. "Nice to see you're up already. I'm going to the bathhouse. You can shower in the guardhouse."
"Brynjolf's left to his work." She lightly punched his shoulder. "You know, Krest, you would blend right in with the girls with a bit of makeup and a dress."
Krest shook his head, shrugging his towel further onto his trapezius.
Saadia chuckled. "I'm just saying if you needed to pass for a priestess, you could."
After showering, he appeared shortly after at the kitchens. The dining area had a great big hearth and counter at the forefront, which was stocked with a pit to roast animal meats. A singular table ran through the center. Two pixies were already there when he picked up a plate and stacked some breakfast items onto it, along with pouring himself coffee. He took a seat away from the other two.
Krest silently chewed on his food. Saadia didn't mention them... do they tend to maintenance or something? There had been white garters who'd been mending broken areas of Nordenbjorg, so fairies seemed plausible. He studied his looming reflection in the cup of dark coffee, the colour matching his eyes and hair to a tee.
"Did you hear what's going on beneath the city? In the sewers?" One of the fairies buzzed the one across from her.
She shook her head. "What?"
"Rumor has it the Thieves Guild is down there running some sort of skooma den," snarled the other.
His ears twitched at that.
Soon enough he finished and cleaned off his plate in the basin embedded in the wall, heading back out. On his way he bumped into Saadia again, who now looked freshly washed, patting her hair dry with a cloth.
"Run some errands for me will you," Saadia enquired.
Krest rolled his eyes.
Saadia scowled at him. "Don't try to be clever with me."
He hissed at her.
"Dibella, a god, is coming here today. We need to prepare for her communion." Saadia tapped her foot against the pavement. "I want you to fetch the gourmet who will be preparing the feast, J'zargo Chowdru'Mane. A catfolk but supposedly very good at his craft. He's staying in the Silver-Blood Inn at the west end of town near the entrance. You saw him yesterday at the pier."
Krest gave her a 'six' symbol with his fingers.
She patted him on the head. "Now, chop, chop. Get to it."
Doing as told, he proceeded through the crowded city, shaking off the mist and god-rays of cold. Heavy buildings leering at him from every avenue. He heard the whirs of monorail on railways ahead as he walked by less reputable alleyways, vermin scurrying away when they saw the guards.
The Silver-Blood Inn had gleaming gold doors with stained-glass windows, small statuettes of Dibella on each side. He impelled the egress inward, observing the roaring tongues of the fireplace, dodging the inn-keep who wore a Colovian fur-helm and approaching the lonesome Cathay sitting by the hearth. A set of tafl was on the coffee table near them, it reminded Krest of the latrones him and the other Praetorian-Couriers would play in the evening sometimes. Known as chess to the Bretons.
Krest ticked the feline with two of his fingers.
The cat-man turned to gaze at him with lime-green irises and twitching whiskers. "Do you mind? J'zargo would like to get started as soon as possible."
Krest followed him out as a few Nords gave them the stink eye.
"Uhm, please forgive J'zargo, but may he borrow your shawl?"
Krest unwrapped his hood from his head, tossing his long hair over his shoulders before handing it to the khajiiti chef. The beastmer accepted it with a trembling of whiskers. He hastily applied the scarf to his scalp as they submerged themselves into the chilly northern climate once more, fog choking the city in clouds of steam. J'zargo looked down, walking close to the wall behind Krest. The latter saw a group of three people, dressed in black leather storm past them and into the inn they had just exited. One of them being Brynjolf Orval.
"He was just here, Bryn!" Shouted the woman of the trio.
At this, J'zargo hustled down some abandoned alleys, gesturing for Krest to keep up.
Krest spared him a knowing glance.
The cook shook his head. "This one does not want to know."
Rummaging past narrowing sectors, side-stepping mice and a few deranged lunatics, clogged gutters, a body floating down a stream, a bolt hole in its neck. Krest peaked around an alcove and saw a gold-armoured figure with very short dark-brown hair facing away from him. Something long and white was coiled on his leg. The person sprinted away, the white thing vanishing…
Wait, was that? Krest squinted through the fog.
About half an hour passed fore' they got back, and the cat set to making the meal straight away. Krest found an empty corner of the temple, an upstairs room with a stream of light shining through a spherical window. Lit with floating orbs that bipolarly jumped from ceiling to floor, table in the middle dipped in and was a map overview of Nirn, with animate clouds and everything, essentially just a miniatured view of the continent of Tamriel. A drawer on the side, cross-referencing scrolls, manuscripts, spell books. Krest put his palm in the brightness. The foreboding tendrils of death, Arkay, coiled his fingers. The thick stem of virus infested his skin, growing deeper into his wrist, rendering it near immobile. Krest took out the tweezers he'd procured from an unused dormitory and sliced an incision over his hand, like obsidian through flesh. He stuck it in deep as blood oozed out. Krest plucked the black seaweed in his palm and pulled it out, skin tearing in its wake. He tossed it aside, breathing heavily, toxins subsiding from his system as color restored in his palm. Next, he found a mirror in the dusty attic and stared at himself.
If they send someone like Pierre Dubois, I'll… I'll kill him. Even though I've never killed anyone before.
Krest watched the swirling grey of the mirror and placed a palm against it. He saw the brief flicker of a man in an iron helmet and studded armor. Himself.
What the fuck was that? Krest read the inscription on the side of the charmed mirror. Glass of Etaf.
He paced around through the upper floor as the creaks of floorboards sounded beneath him. A wide-toothed comb was resting on a shelf. He grabbed the brush and a stool and sat down in front of the mirror again, running the hair comb through his strands. The action cooled his nerves a bit, reminding him of fairytales as a kid.
Reality is often disappointing.
Saadia summoned him into the communal chambers where her and Idrasa were gathered as night fell. He grabbed a broom and started sweeping to distract his spinning mind as Saadia performed the rites. They burned incense and sprinkled holy water and light flowers across the ground. Enchanted ice sculptures were fixed on each corner of the antechamber and singing spriggans serenaded the grounds.
"She's coming." Saadia warned and everyone took a step back, their eyes glued to the midst of the chamber.
A blinding white portal shone, a pair of tattooed, toned legs stepped through it.
The goddess had an athletic physique, striated like a dancer. Her hair was short, a blonde pixie cut. Her eyes clear, brows prominent. She was tall too, an inch or so taller than all three of them. Had she been a denizen of Tamriel, she'd have been called a Nord. Black and red tattoos covered the length of her forearms and biceps. Depicting a variety of things from angel wings to moths to nordic runes, rituals, flowers, hearts, scenery of Aetherius, running down her back all the way to her calves. It was woven in a way that seemed natural and not intrusive.
Not what I was expecting. Krest figured she'd be a stereotypical blond with a dress or something.
They all bowed, head to floor, noting the layer of water over the squared center with a few lily pads and lotus flowers drifting across it.
"Resume," Dibella sighed in a lilting, mature tone.
"Lady Dibella," Saadia uttered, her eyes magnified.
Dibella smiled. Her red lips curling up. "Saadia, it's nice to finally see you face-to-face. You too, Idrasa. Is that the idiot who lost our detainee? I told Akatosh to not just cast him out." She flicked her gaze towards Krest. "Slave, here."
Krest arose, his eyes fixed on a point behind Dibella, goosebumps searing over his arms and legs.
"What happened to the prisoner? You were the one moving him, yes?" Dibella tucked her arms. "Speak!"
A lump crammed in his esophagus.
"He's mute, miss," Idrasa chipped in.
Dibella strode back to Saadia, clutching her forehead. Krest recognized the agitation, his superiors had worn it often.
"We will do away with him if you want. But the prisoner beat him and escaped." Saadia lift her chin.
"What deranged moron thought sending a child to transport a man excised from the heavens was a good idea?" Dibella chewed on her lower lip. "No, Akatosh will want this er, boy, to stay around as a witness. Kill him if he does anything stupid though. He can run errands or clean for now, I guess."
Dibella came back to the center of the chamber. Krest slumped against the wall into a seated position. Idrasa frantically ushered him to stand up while Dibella wasn't looking. He took the cue and rose quickly again.
Dibella inclined her head. "Now, I have come here to tell you that in two days' time, Akatosh, and my current beau, Tsun, will be coming here. There is a situation we wish to explain that for the time being should be kept secret. Involving the prisoner."
"Why not just appear directly to a chapel of Akatosh? Why did they send you here?" Saadia asked.
"The temples of the other Divines are frequented too often. My temple was chosen due to the fact not many wish to come here. It is more of something personal that my worshippers keep. Regardless, for the time being, I'd ask you close the temple to any and all public services. Do not let word get out of my presence here." Dibella brandished her revealing robes off the ground in a sweeping motion. "The prisoner will steer clear if he catches wind."
The edges of Saadia's mouth crinkled. "So, Tsun huh?"
Dibella smirked playfully, giving the Sybil a wink.
"Anyhow, you've down well, Saadia. I am proud of you and Idrasa." The Divine nodded at her subjects. "And what was the slave's name again?"
"Krest," Idrasa was terse, almost as if rehearsed.
"Krulst?" Dibella mistranslated. "Very well. Let's go eat and then you two can show me where I'll be resting my head. Though uhm, Krum, was it? I'd prefer to discuss with my priestesses in private, so eat elsewhere."
Krest nodded and walked away to his quarters. I'll just avoid Dibella. She's a god, she shouldn't have to suffer the presence of a worthless person like me.
He was alone in his quarters, sitting on his bed and thinking to himself, the door propped open and Saadia snuck in, closing it behind her.
"More firebrand than you expected?" Saadia blew her nose on a rag.
Krest drew his hand over the circles under his eyes.
Saadia's smile downturned. "Payment, for your work today." She dropped a coin purse in his lap. "I figured I'd give an advance on your allowance, since you're in desperate need."
He set the gold aside, bowing his chin.
Some painkillers for these headaches would be nice.
Saadia wished him goodnight and shut the door tight as she departed. Krest shuffled under his sheets, hugging a pillow, and letting himself slip into Vaermina's domain…
A winged serpent with four legs flew in massive winding circles, clutching the wheel of Aurbis, struggling to crack the Lorkhanic creation. It broke and millions of ehlnofeic spirits flew out in rejoice towards the heavens.
Then he was laying in some sort of giant blanket. Like a baby inside a crib.
Krest stood up. This place was not Nirn but instead some giant nursery. There was only one moon in the sky, crescent shaped and glowing white. The groundcover was all duvet and plush day lilies and pink carnations blooming out of the stitches. Void of shrubbery and scrublands like Tamriel. His insides were hollowing, matching the abyssal cavity that taunted him. His elbow refused to relax or let him stretch his bicep-joint.
Then something else appeared. Something that ceased all meaningless muttering. Dibella.
Crystalline irises, with black dots for pupils, a cruel grin. Krest swallowed and backed away from her. But he blinked and she wrapped her arms around his chest from behind. It felt constrictive, as if the goddess was about to choke the life out of his weakened frame. A presence-aura-strength that was plainly dangerous-abnormal-inhuman. The arms crushing steel around Krest, eliciting hiccups from his diaphragm.
"Hmmm," she purred in a breathy whisper, her eyes veiny and all-consuming. Her grip tightened, making it hard for Krest to breathe. "I'm starving."
Krest cried, feeling pathetic and weak as he tried to pull away and failed.
A wind sauntered, icy and melting once. Her forearms threatening to crack his ribcage. She was dragging her nose over his throat and collarbone, sniffing like a blood starved lion. "More than enough." Every time she spoke, her words repeated, echoing into his eardrums, siren-like chanting. "Awe," she cooed, curling into a smirk. "You want me to feed you?" The way the last two words were said seemed terribly demeaning. "So weak, Kitten." Krest's arms arched but she squeezed him, forcing his previously stiff bicep to slacken, inhaling in his hair from behind him. Krest's feet lifted off the ground, dangling over the blanketed-grounds akin to a hung corpse as she hugged him.
The smirk on her grew, becoming rather creepy. Dibella nuzzled against his neck next, and he shivered. Her tongue, long and thin, came out and licked a vertical, moist strip on the side of his jaw. Krest jerked his head to the side but was being held firmly and couldn't move. He squirmed, trying to escape the sensation. Then, spinning him around, Dibella placed her forehead against his, her eyes sadistically mocking him. She cooed soothingly, puckering her lips. Dibella was smiling like a Cheshire cat out of the Shivering Isles. She grasped his jaw in a painful grip with her fingernails, burrowing them into him. Now he couldn't do much more than occasionally moan in agony. It was like a blade was peeling the surface of his chin. He could feel her nails digging into his jawbone beneath his skin.
"A good mother always looks after her baby," she crowed as the outer edges of her eyelids drew downward romantically.
Krest whimpered, simpering as a few water droplets escaped the corners of his view, streaming down his cheeks. He whined in pain when she hugged him tighter, tucking his head beneath her chin until he passed out from lack of air.
"You're mine now."
Krest hit solid floor, agonizing in the skull ringing as his eyes pared open. He was alone. The door was locked, no sign of anyone being there. It had just been a twisted, sick sort of nightmare.
It was just a dream. It means nothing. Don't get your hopes up, he told himself.
It was that train of thought that led him to the underground city of Nchuand-Zel the following morning. He had fortunately been able to avoid Dibella for the duration of his cleaning duties and slipped out when Saadia dismissed him.
Krest mulled over the dream as the eerie walkway of underground catacombs passed him by on either side. Frozen corpses embalmed in ledges in the walls, enchanted Draugr attending to them with oil and offerings. Their glowing blue and red eyes soulless and bright. He progressed through the bowels of the building as guards rambled about some death cult who worshipped the dragon, Konahrik causing trouble down here.
Located beneath Nordenbjörg, in the sewer-way was a dwarven ruin the remnants of the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood had taken refuge in, the fence where less reputable members of society dwelled; a skooma den called the Ragged Flagon. Krest took a seat in the dimly lit corner pub. Fumes of smoke and narcotics wafted through the air. The environment was of Dwemer make, a counter at the front and closed off from the rest of the Guild and Brotherhood's hideout, deeper in Nchuand-Zel. In a side room, attendants were ingesting vile substances, snorting moon-sugar and gambling. Krest saw Dark Brotherhood, Thieves Guild, and even Hörme bandits loitering around. The dwemeri brass framework glowed with regality, contrasting with the rest of the locale.
He rolled up a small paper provided in a nearby glass bowl and snorted some joy snow, popping in a set of virtual insets to jig his brain. The cyber-reality sucked away pain and problems, heightening senses mixed with the drugs. After a while of canoeing the interspersed logs of trivial accounts, connected libraries of information vaster than what was available to his cyborg brain. Scratching in real-time, he moved the ice-net and pulled up any information on the Divine, Dibella Y'ffre. Skimming what was available. The conflicting accounts arose in the fact the men called her Dibella, and elves named her Y'ffre. It seemed that originally, she'd been forced to side with Lorkhan before joining Akatosh along with Kyne, Tsun, and Stuhn. He removed the set, inhaling the dimness of the real world once more. The net café held several others, surfing the virtual subspace like him.
A few rooms down there was music playing and a crowd of people dancing and engaging in acts of depravity. How is dancing around like a bunch of animals supposed to be fun?
Krest did a double take. The violet-eyed individual was alone in a far corner of the room, a tankard of mead beside him.
The shining gold armor he wore glistened brightly inside the darkness. The man didn't seem to care about the stares he was pulling. Not really thinking through what he was doing, Krest stood up and trailed over to the former inmate. Upon closer inspection, he realized the mysterious Nord was in his mid-thirties to forties, physically muscular with a short brunette undercut and a chinstrap beard that melded in with the rest of his sharply profiled visage.
Despite all the creepiness, there was a rugged, masculine handsomeness to the bearded Nord.
Krest hid behind a shade-ridden pole, examining the cat-striped pupils of the man.
A deep scar ran over his throat. He was rendered mute, just like Krest. His violet eyeballs unnerved Krest immensely, sending slithers of panic down his spine. A barkeep appeared around the corner, a raggedy looking Nord. "Mister Early-Beard, the girls are ready for you."
Early-Beard? Krest glanced down and saw papers littered on the desk the Sun Prisoner was sitting at. That is how he must be communicating.
'Early-Beard' rose, rubbing a hand over his crotch. The Northerner smiled that creepy smile again, shrugged and stepped off, his body swaggering as he did. What was doubly odd was that a white snake protruded from his tailbone. He'd grown a tail that was a snake somehow.
Filthy fuckin' womanizer.
Krest shuffled through the notes the former had written.
I would like a cup of mead and some slave girls with a private room, was penciled on the page.
Krest clenched his teeth to his lip, blood squirreling out.
The next note merely said, Hjalti Early-Beard.
He glanced over and saw a headline on the back of a newspaper.
Wulfharth's Mansion Raided, Sun-Prisoner Spotted! Speculation Arises.
By Scribe, Juliek Ismendium, 22 nd of Last Seed, 4E 22.
The ancient mansion of Ysmir Wulfharth, one of Skyrim's ancient kings was broken into and robbed in Hrothgar on the night of the twentieth. The odd part is no one since Wulfharth himself has been able to access the mansion due to the blood seal on the door. Though sources say the Sun Prisoner was seen exiting with a bag of gold and other valuables shortly after his escape at the hands of the Praetorian-Courier, Krest Armilius, who has also been missing, though witnesses place him in Nordenbjorg. Wulfharth's mansion, said to be where he ruled from and the site of where he burned and hung Alessian priests. Many believe Wulfharth to be Lorkhan incarnate, and news about the Sun Prisoner's striking similarities have spread, leading many a superstitious Nord to make the same conclusion about this inmate. This would explain how the prisoner was able to access the house but not why he's here. After all, Lorkhan is dead, right? Thus far, the mysterious High King at the seat in Hrothgar has declined to comment about the situation.
In other news however, Elisif Istlod was found in Hrothgar after her carriage went missing following her testimony against Ulfric, but rather more excitedly Elisif has announced she is pregnant! Who the father is however remains unknown, but some have pointed to her late husband Torygg, or even scandalously Ulfric or her steward, Falk Firebeard!
Krest turned over the newspaper. He had heard the name, Hjalti, before somewhere, he just couldn't remember where.
"Krest?" He looked up and saw Saadia. "What are you doing here? Are you all right?" Saadia looked down at his newspaper. "You heard, huh? I wonder who got Elisif pregnant."
Krest pointed warily in the direction of Hjalti.
"Come on, we'll get you out of here." Saadia pulled Krest up. "Dibella has to know if the inmate is here."
Krest stole a few bottles of skooma and pills on his way out of the outlaws' refuge.
We'll have to tell Dibella. I can't apprehend Hjalti now though, he's too strong and I don't want the Dark Brotherhood's attention on me either.
"If that man escapes the city, who knows how long it will take to track him down. Dibella and Akatosh need to arrest him here on the mortal plane, where he's weaker."
Krest gave her a narrowed stare.
"You want to know why I was there? Well, Brynjolf… uh works down there."
They arrived at the opening to the city, bright white structures assaulting their sight as clouds flushed the grounds with rivers, teaming with tendrils of life as it cleaned the city. "Krest, I'll meet up with you later."
Krest waved goodbye and walked through the city and up a tower that had no guards posted in it. Skulking alongside the wall, he sat down, throwing his legs over the side, and enjoying the view of the white-marble countryside. The wonderfully hued lake beneath roiling and splashing as it emptied out into the misty sea. Krest grabbed a bottle of skooma and downed it, pleasuring in the taste and feeling it provided. He sat there, undisturbed, occasionally taking a painkiller as his imagination bored onto a fixed point in the great villa's picture. The sugary drink was a good palate cleanser.
He didn't know how long he sat there, just staring as his mind experienced the elation.
Liquid welled in the corners of his eyes, but he erased it clean.
Fuck this stupid shit.
Something stirred his insides, and he threw up, sending puke down into the abyssal wells below. He stood back up, swaying as he left the battlement and tarried down derelict lanes, towards the temple. On his way he passed a group of shady men, who eyed him, tightening hands. They pursued him in his drunken stupor down sunset-lit allies. It didn't take long for them to surround him, pushing him back and forth in between hurled threats.
One grabbed him by the hair and covered his mouth, breathing down his neck. Krest tried to move the brute's big, hairy arm but the hooligan just tossed it aside like it was nothing. "A lost little lamb, all out 'ere on your own. Bet you got' sum gold, then Deebo can have ya; he likes boys who look like girls."
The Nord pinning Krest was smashed into a side window. His blood staining the glass. His friends thrown aside like ragdolls. Deebo's neck snapped. Krest rubbed his eyes. Some sort of savior turned to him and pulled off their cloak, revealing short gold hair and eyes with a signature curve to them.
"Obnoxious brat." Dibella gesticulated to the night sky lit by a fiery aurora. She shook her head, a palm plastered to her brow. "You have a crossbow and a sword inside your arms. USE THEM."
Half high, half shocked, Krest stood there, unsure what to do.
Dibella crossed her arms and clenched her strong jaw. "Saadia said the man was in the sewers, so I went looking for him, but he already escaped somewhere thanks to you, man." Dibella squinted around, levitating a few feet off the ground.
Krest played with the ends of his tresses, suppressing his pounding heartbeat.
Dibella landed back down. "Whatever. Akatosh wishes to discuss tomorrow at the meeting. I expect you to be there, Kruger or whatever your name was. See ya."
She stalked off; her head held high. He watched her stroll away, skooma still swirling in his system.
Krest was unsure.
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A/N: Another chapter so soon as a treat. So, some clarification. Nordenbjorg is basically a giant version of Solitude if it were made by the Snow Elves like in the forgotten vale with elements of Markarth too. Though it is closer in size to a real city upgraded with steam/cyber stuff and in the same location as Solitude but bigger cuz my Skyrim is around the size of Kazakhstan with around a million people. Of course, there is no Great War or anything like that in this version of Skyrim.
Next Episode: Gods Among Men