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A Study in Ebony

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"But what is the lesson of the Crypt of Hearts?" Falanu Dren asked, gazing up at the other mer.

They were outside the gates of Mournhold, perched on the boulders above the Undaunted Enclave. Ostensibly, they were celebrating -- another mission to the Crypt completed, this time at the behest of the dour Bosmer below them. Both their companions, the Imperial and Falanu's wife Brelyna, had already drifted off to find merchants and winehouses.

Falanu, though, found it hard to celebrate with the smell of ash and bonemeal still clinging to her. She was unsure if the nightblade -- Ravyn, of House Sedrethi, Spellwright of Great House Telvanni, Scholar of Ayleid culture, and whatever other ridiculous things he was styling himself these days -- felt the same, but he lingered, too.

"Lesson?" Ravyn said, and the corner of his mouth quirked up. "You think this is some pillow book of phallic jokes by your warrior poet, meant to make the ignorant feel smart?"

Falanu felt her face burn. "Lord Vivec is your warrior poet, too."

"Er. Of course," he said, his tone too light, his visage bearing a full-on smirk. He'd already made it abundantly clear how he felt about the Three, blessed be Their names; she was just surprised he dared malign them in Ayem's own holy city.

And yet... she stopped short of finding an Ordinator. She had no desire to spend the rest of the night explaining Ravyn's eccentricity to the Temple, and how she was Absolutely Not Involved in Any of It.

Instead she looked towards the Temple mount, took a deep breath, and began again. "I... struggle with my feelings about that place."

He waited for her to continue. When she did not answer for some time, he prompted, "You and Brelyna were eager enough to show your devotion, at Nerien'eth's shrine. As was our right."

Falanu looked down at her hands. "Yes. Of course. The Spinner wished him destroyed, and we obliged. But I mean... before we arrived -- what Nerien'eth did. What Mephala's gift led him to do."

"The Ebony Blade is a powerful weapon," he said, stroking the intricate curlicues of his beard. "It's intended to be wielded by the passionate and powerful. Nerien'eth was weak and contemptible. It had the effect the Spinner desired it to have."

She gave a bitter laugh. "You would say that." If there was any Daedric prince Sera Sedrethi revered above all others, it was Boethiah, who valued powerful servants. Mephala, though, played a subtler game. "I should agree. I do agree! But... I feel for Alanwe." She said the final words in a rush of breath, aware of the weakness it was.

"Hmm. You see yourself reflected in her, yes?" His red eyes were hooded, with mirth or disdain, she knew not. "You would rather be Rulanir?"

He said it, she knew, to needle her -- in their first visit to the Crypt, she had gaped at the sight of Rulanir's tormented shade, his ghostly hands scrabbling at the blade that impaled him for all eternity.

"No!" Falanu blurted out. Then, quieter, she added. "In all things, I'd rather be the one wielding the blade. But..." She made a fist, as if trying to grasp the elusive sentiment. That doesn't mean the blade doesn't feel.

He gave an approving smile. "There's some hope for you, then. 'I am alive because that one is dead,'" he quoted. "If you want a lesson, that's the one to take."

But that was Boethiah's proving, not Mephala's. Enraged, Falanu flung a pebble at a passing adventurer. It bounced off the woman's armor uselessly. "I don't understand! What was even the point? To ruin an adventuring school? To torment some poor couple? Surely the Webspinner has better things to do."

He made a disapproving cluck. "She has all the power your beloved Divines squandered on creation, and it amuses her to pluck the strands of mortal lives. She does not beggar explanation."

"They are not my beloved Divines," she grumbled, though it wasn't even to the point. He was belittling her kinship with Great House Hlaalu, as he always did, and this would end the way their conversations always ended.

He was true to form, then, when he said, "Forgive me, then. But I thought as an Imperial bootlicker, you might favor some gentler et'Ada."

"Crazy wizard," she murmured, falling easily into their comfortable sniping.

"Mage-lord," he corrected her.

"Crazy mage-lord, as you will." She grinned as she said it, so at least the banter had improved her mood.

Ravyn picked at the lichen on the rock. "Falanu," he began.

That made her look up. He never used her given name. Not in that serious tone, anyway. It worried her, nearly. "Yes?"

"Is there any reasoning of Mephala's that could satisfy you?" He paused, seeming to consider his words. "If there were, could you worship a god you could fathom? Believe me when I say: you will never be happy with the sorts of lessons found in Vivec's volumes of nonsense. It is not in your nature, any more than it is to worship the Divines."

She should have been offended by that -- her hero's word, belittled. She should have said, I will define my own nature.

But she knew he was right.

"Our history has better lessons. Saint Veloth, the flight from Summerset, the founding of the Houses, the veneration of the good Daedra. It will teach you that we are a hard people -- as hard as ebony, the petrified blood of Lorkhan." He set a finger to her chest, right above her heart. "You have the blood of the et'Ada in you. Don't just wield the blade. Draw first blood."

She read earnestness in her mentor's eyes, wide and deep in a face paled by noxiphilic sanguivoria.

Mentor? Ravyn Sedrethi was Telvanni, yes. Heretic, undoubtedly. He wasn't even trained in harnessing Meridia's light, and they had only adventured together for a fortnight. He had a ridiculous beard.

But the word felt right.

Not that she would ever tell him so.