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Unsung

Chapter Text

Amid the foreign and bewilderingly verdant landscape of Gorne, Cyrodiil seemed like a mundane, far-off dream. Whitewashed rocks, pearly and precipitous, lined the edges of the isle like protective teeth rumored to be as treacherous as the fangs of the isle's endemic striped wolf, a decidedly rare sight on Gorne these days given the industrious spirit of those who led hunting competitions, as well as there being a limited amount of space in which the wolves could hide before their presence was inevitably snuffed out. Despite their ailing numbers, these rugged, fierce creatures had been adopted (with no small degree of pride) as one of the symbols unique solely to Sandil House. Despite the glory of the isle's jaws in the daylight, rumor told many a mer had lost his life on account of his foolishness and tarrying too close to those rocks. They were, in Neht’s mind, best admired from afar.

These days, Sandil House found itself wanting for company. Its chief inhabitant was a grim, stately spectre of a mer that was Neht's grandfather, Ranalith Sandil, along with two of his uncle Alveth's young children; twins, a boy-child by the name of Ienas and a girl-child called Lilth. Alveth had officially been named Lord of Gorne, since Ranalith had retired some years before (at least, that is what the public was made to believe, though he'd confided to Neht over a glass of flin that he regularly had to exercise his leverage over the other Indoril councilors for the sake of helping Alveth navigate out of the occasional mishap) meaning that he was often away on business in Mournhold, where he effectively dwelt, leaving the servants (along with Ranalith himself, at times) to tend to the children. They scarcely knew their father, having been robbed of their mother at childbirth--a sentiment not entirely unfamiliar to their cousin.

For Neht, twins’ presence made Sandil House feel a bit more at home. When the sky didn’t see fit to pelt the island with its grey and incessant weepings, the children often played outdoors. However, when the weather made them resign themselves to indoor entertainment, Neht came to enjoy his status as the new favourite toy. He did not protest as they boisterously shambled into his lap, proudly proclaiming in Dunmeris that he was the tallest tree in all of Morrowind before demanding that he regale them with tales of his exploits in Cyrodiil--a place that, having stayed on Gorne for the entirety of their meager years thus far, the twins felt must’ve been quite exotic. Naturally, he failed to mention his less-than-meritorious deeds, not wanting to spoil the mood. They were surprisingly easygoing--not at all what Neht expected from a noblemer’s children. If there were signs of either of the two becoming ill-tempered or quarrelsome, the situation was easily remedied when the two became easily distracted by Neht dangling a pair of toy guars in front of them.

All around him the steady, roseate gleam of the furniture bathed in the lantern light seemed to promise that things might remain peaceful always and otherwise untroubled by the whims of time. The spicy, earthen fragrance of bittergreen occasionally wafted in from the green-tinged stained glass windows, and there was something about that aroma that refreshed Neht's mind, enabling him to renew his assiduity whenever his concentration threatened to wane, as so often it did when he found himself hitting a particularly dull patch whilst reading about his family’s history. Engrossed in these long-ago accounts of his kin’s heroic exploits, Neht could envision the armored feet of his ancestors flying across the ash wastes just as the Daedric script seemed to spill across the page, feeding his otherwise indefatigable curiosity--embellished tales of sword-blades, bloodied and keen, held aloft in glory alongside gilt standards before the promise of a sea of splendours conveyed a far more appetizing account of what Neht somehow knew to be grueling drudgery for those who had actually been present.

Life on Gorne was as the boatman who’d ferried Neht across the water to the island in question had said: peaceful, unchanging. The vast majority of people he encountered on the island had been there for generations--the Sandils included. Initially, Neht had come to the island knowing very little of his family, aside from his name and his mother’s name. Merciful, he'd been told, were the hands of his family as they'd received him; every soul that dwelt on the island behaving as if they were doing Neht an inscrutably generous favor by forgetting his Cyrodilic upbringing, as if it was some sort of crime, and as if he had any control over where and how he'd been born. This sentiment that the Indorils were good for taking him in was not entirely unfamiliar.

Both Neht’s grandsire and the books he’d borrowed from the Sandil chapel library informed him that charity and leadership were defining aspects of House Indoril--and of the Tribunal; the three living gods that held in love both their passive and active vigils over the land, and the welfare of the Dunmer people--or at least, that is what he was told, and what all of the Temple’s maxims either attested or alluded to. For his part, Neht hoped that these three were, as the Temple zealously confirmed, simply doing their job to protect the people. Moreover, he had no reason to doubt it.

Armed with his mother’s signet ring (which was an item of interest all on its own), crested with the ascendant winged sigil, which was the seal of House Indoril, Neht had been advised on one afternoon to read a book on the ring and its history. He had, for his trouble, been allowed to keep the ring, since its sister rested firmly upon the hand of his uncle Alveth in Mournhold.

The book in question was titled “The Hero of the Indoril”, authored by a chap by the name of Elam Indoril. Naturally, the scent of propaganda immediately wafted into Neht’s nostrils as he noted the connection between the name of the author and the title of the book. Nevertheless, this presumptuousness had managed to secure a marginal degree of his interest (which had initially been stone-shallow), so Neht opened the book and began to leaf through its contents with a noncommittal grunt.

A few nights before, he’d engrossed himself in the seven-part series called “The Poison Song”; a spine-chilling and fictitious account of the ill-fated rebellion posed by House Dagoth survivors sometime after the Battle of Red Mountain. It was filled to the brim with supposition, and when questioned about it, grandfather Ranalith swiftly denounced the majority of the series as apocryphal; pure (and somewhat vile) supposition. The truthful account, he asserted, was that of Elam Indoril, contained in the book that now found itself ‘twixt scarred digits. Ranalith had done well to encourage Neht to read it by promising that he could keep that copy of the book if he wished--and far be it from Neht to refuse, as he was a polite creature by nature (for the most part) and was so seldom given things that some had quietly professed that he wouldn’t know how to refuse a gift if it was offered to him.

Canting his head curiously as he settled in his cushioned chair for a good long read, Neht glided his thumb across the first few passages. He began to recite the words aloud, softly, as was his wont:

“General Indoril Triffith is one of the greatest heroes of that most ancient of clans, House Indoril. House Indoril itself was formed by the amalgamation of several clans under the leadership of Lord Nerevar Indoril and Lady Almalexia….”

Neht paused as a shudder ran through his body. He rose from his chair stiffly, moving as though mechanically prompted to fetch his ink and quill on the other side of the room. Giving the apex of the quill a few cursory dips in the inkwell, Neht smiled absentmindedly as he began to draw thick, blotchy lines through the name Nerevar each and every time he saw it. Normally, he wouldn’t be so swift to deface a book, even one in his keeping, but there was something about that name that bothered him to the core. “Blessed Boethiah and Almighty Azura, what a godsdamned eyesore,” he muttered contemptuously, continuing to read only once he was certain that he’d scribbled the accursed name out enough times.

According to the accounts in this book (and several others), Neht surmised that the majority of the remnants of the "bad house" (whose name had also been conveniently censored from all the material the youth could get his hands on) had been collectively exterminated, having ultimately been deemed to much of a risk to keep around, given that whatever this song was possessed the ability to take control of them, corrupting them and driving them to commit heinous crimes of which many were only vaguely aware. All mentions of this house were carefully swept under the rug of vague, religious euphemisms, making it impossible to tell whether or not its members had truly as villainous as what little tales there were insisted. (There was little source material from which to glean anything to begin with, and since the victors are wont to write history in a manner that paints themselves as exceedingly correct, there was simply no telling. Any and all conflicting accounts that might've originated from the other side were, if they existed, well-hidden indeed.)

After his attentions had migrated to one antiquated book with a red cover (which someone had evidently gone to great lengths to conceal, given that Neht had only managed to find it hidden behind a bevy of other books), he noticed that the inner cover of the book was somewhat loose. Heedless of the unspoken warning resounding in his heart, Neht gently caught the edges of the yellow parchment beneath his hands, peeling it back to reveal at what was hidden beneath. Brittle with age, the parchment tore and fragmented in his hands, causing another piece of folded parchment to fall out. It was evident that the actions of whoever had placed it there were quite deliberate.

He unfolded the folded scrap with great care, not wanting it to fall apart before peering at it. Scrawled somewhat hastily across the surface, somehow not faded enough to prevent it from being ominous in its red-brown color in thick, heavy-handed Daedric script was one word: Vissamu. Beneath that word was a curious illustration that roped in Neht’s fascination more swiftly than the most adept of netchimen with the errant among his herds. At first glance, it appeared to be a bug--a rotund, beetle-looking creature: scarab of some sort? Neht couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that this was not the first time he’d seen it. He tried rotating the paper, as though he believed that looking at the cursed scarab-sigil at a different angle would somehow provide him with a lease on life. It didn’t. The more he gazed at that portentous beetle, the more his eyes were drawn to its center. What was arguably the focal point of that spurned symbol seemed to be a horned, devil-like figure standing, pensive yet untroubled at its core, as though to proudly announce its numinous, crimson presence to the world--or perhaps this existed only in the fancy of a now mildly disgruntled swordsmer.

Needless to say, the evening and its peaceful aura had been hideously spoiled by this vicissitude, made worse still by the realization that it had all been a product of Neht’s own passion and curiosity.

The sudden rattle of a tree branch against a frosted glass windowpane made Neht nearly leap out of his skin before he noticed that the last remnants daylight had since leeched away. Without bothering to divest himself of his robes, Neht found himself slamming the tome shut before facing his bed and sinking into it dutifully, blinking repeatedly as he buried his face in the pillow, as if he believed that his close proximity to its silken, magenta casing might erase that image of that infernal sigil from his mind, though he felt that the beetle had somehow peeled itself from its parchment-and-ink prison and multiplied somewhere beyond his perception, crawling rampantly through all his thoughts thereafter.

The next morning, Neht awoke, exhausted, as if he'd been running for miles nonstop. Peering over the edge of the bed, he noted that his shoes were nearby--not at all where he recalled leaving them, with fresh traces of soil and early dew marking their soles.

Chapter Text

It had taken Neht several minutes to yank himself out from beneath his own grogginess. “Not,” he breathed (in reference to his shoes), “Where I left you!

Peering out of a nearby window, he began to feel encumbered and painfully aware of an overwhelming sense of weariness affixed to his limbs, as though he was stuck once again within the mire surrounding dreary Ildrim (which he’d had to cross long before reaching the boat that had ferried him across the Padomaic Ocean to Gorne.) The sluggishness of Neht’s movements was, as he later decided, markedly unbecoming for a warrior of his prowess--yet in spite of it all, he did finally manage to reach the window. Thankfully, there was nobody around to witness his haphazard shambling.

The emerald-tinted landscape of Gorne seemed once more unchanged, save for the island’s flora. Most of the plants’ leaves were weighed down with water after another copious amount of rainfall. Aching fingers sleepily trailed across the windowsill, stopping short before Neht would suffer his clumsiness claiming the potential casualty in the form of a knocked-down candle. Once he was satisfied that it was indeed raining outside (and not the hallucinated product of a weary mind), Neht doddered back to the bed at a glacial pace before sinking back into the sheets. Normally, his relatives held an unspoken expectation that Neht would rise and take breakfast with them, but he'd managed to scrawl out a note detailing how he was feeling a bit under the weather (which was only a half-lie, anyway. He wouldn't have been able to sleep otherwise.)

Though he was thankful that he'd done so when he woke, Neht recalled neither writing that note nor falling asleep again. This time, he woke feeling a trifle more rested than before with the gentle warmth provided by linear rays from the weak midday sun, which had managed to surmount the clouds' chokehold, streaming insistently through the windows just as the clarity of his thoughts surmounted the grey barrier of grogginess. Their presence meant that Neht didn't need furthering pestering to wake up. He peered over the side of the bed once more, finding that his shoes were undisturbed before his gaze habitually perenigated to the next item of concern--that horrid red book from last night. Habitual perenigation, like so many other things, was nothing new to him.

Neht dressed quickly, armed with the intent of finding out what Vissamu was, despite the dreadful feeling that enveloped him whenever the thought of the word, and of that infernal, beetle-shaped symbol scrawled below it--or, perhaps this tincture of danger is what had garnered his interest in the first place. Since it seemed as if someone had gone to great lengths to conceal the book and the paper detailing Vissamu’s existence, Neht felt morbidly compelled to investigate it. Certainly, the book and its secret had been concealed--but he couldn’t help but feel as though someone had wanted him to find it. Though he’d like to tell himself that he’d been all but wheedled into it by the circumstances, those who knew him well would profess that he could’ve just as easily left the matter alone. 


 For time immemorial, the area around Vissamu was where the forest withered and wept in silence. It was where the wild things of Gorne, hardy and aberrant though they were, did not grow. The residents of Sandil House breathed not a whisper alluding to its existence--not since the early Second Era. Few in number were the elders who knew the truth. They prayed silently, each day, that the red deeds of the past might simply be swept away by the tide of forgetfulness or buried beneath the ebb and flow of life as usual. Even the servants held their silence as if the very whips of their masters hung headlong in their gaze. 

The verdant abundance of life abruptly surrendered to a pervasive and unnatural desolation where the ancient and long-forgotten clanstead of House Dagoth had once stood on Gorne--Gorne, which had once known a far different version of "life as usual."  Perhaps all things that were healthy and good sensed the stifling, oppressive aura of death lingering about the ruined hold of Vissamu, and had made it a point of simply avoiding the place outright (if they were wise.) It could be said, perhaps, that the forest itself was afraid to grow too close the entrance of that ancient, bloody cavern. Dead tree branches struck out in all directions like wicked, withered limbs that longed to point Neht in all the wrong directions as an act of vengeance for the event that had caused their suffering ages ago, each of their twisted trunks faced downward, reverently, to the earth as though kneeling.

Over the past few days, Neht's forays into the dense forest of Gorne (which was nearly a jungle in its own right) surrounding its eponymous village had grown progressively longer, yet it seemed that no matter how deep he went into the forest, the location he sought remained tantalizingly elusive. One afternoon, he fancied that he’d seen a spot where the vegetation faltered, but a few steps more proved him lost and unable to find it again, leaving him to wonder whether or not he’d just imagined the whole thing. The idea of finding the truth being Vissamu--a desire which dogged him day and night--seemed just as lost as he was within all that greenery.

His exploratory efforts were fueled chiefly by his desire not to be cooped up in the village all the time. Though he knew that the library of Sandil House was an easy sanctuary for him, he did not dwell in there overmuch--for books, while interesting, made for somewhat cold friends with which he soon grew bored. The forest seemed to be the only viable alternative, since it was entirely plausible that the forest might lead him to whatever Vissamu was, and the better half of those there who knew where Neht had come from spared no effort to let him know that despite his kin and his newfound status, they turned their noses up at him.

They turned their noses up at Neht. They turned their noses up at him, and they turned their noses up at him and he almost hated them for it. It would've been so easy to hate them, but as they were in ignorance of his situation, Neht gave them forgiveness, which, admittedly, he didn't feel that they deserved. Was his mere existence truly such a crime? He had (as he'd informed each and every one of them) about as much control over the circumstances of his birth as each of them had. They were markedly cross with him for being an outsider, yet equally as cross with him for all the things that made him less of an outsider--and really, there was no winning to be had with these people!

Nevertheless, he weathered each and every cold shoulder, snide remark, and upturned nose with a smile upon his face and his intentions in the form of a dagger concealed behind his back, for it was as an old friend (whose face and name he could not recall) had once said: "A smile to your face, sera, and a dagger to your back,"--all the while subduing a hot, impetuous coalbed within him in the shape of his own nature, which remained lambent with indignant rage, constantly threatening to push him to the point of argument. (He'd been reminded of the quote while reading something eerily similar in a book called The Formalities of Mirth by Serjo Athyn Sarethi of House Redoran--the words uttered by warrior-poet Vivec. Neht found terribly strange that he knew this, for he had absolutely no reason to believe that he knew Vivec whatsoever--rather, that is what he told himself, and what others might tell him in turn if he were to voice such a suspicion to the ears of a House immersed  Tribunal doctrine. (Coincidences of this sort, however, had long ago been extinguished from the lands of Veloth.)

Wading back through the deluge of green was no easy task, but it was enthralling; something Neht thoroughly enjoyed--until it rained, at least! Then, it was time to head home (home, with the implications of a family, which he found was a delightfully unfamiliar concept) for a piping hot mug of bittergreen-and-apple cider. The cider itself was the stuff of legend as far as Neht and his tastebuds were concerned. Ardently spiced with earthy bittergreen, processed and cooked to the point where it was safe to imbibe, combined the powerful sweetness of a brew composed of pear-like apples endemic to Gorne.

The apples enjoyed their facetiously-awarded nickname of "Gorne apples" (given by Vivec himself, no less) due to their presumed kinsmanship to the gorapple. The sweetness of the brew, though undeniable in its strength and capacity, had a sharpness about that was to be expected with most Dunmer teas (as the cider had been dubbed a 'tea' by the Sandil family.) The apples with which it was crafted, Neht was told, were exported by the crateful and the profits from this endeavor were used to pay the local clergymer and provide for them, as well as funds being sanctioned for the upkeep the small Tribunal Chapel adjacent to Sandil House. According to Grandfather Ranalith, the remainder of the profits were tucked away into the family's pocket for the sake of maintaining a foothold in the Grand Council as well as the Alma Rula.

The way Folvoso brewed it with such care; how she smiled when Neht made him feel that her presence there made the cider that much better. The inviting ginger-brown of her hair somewhat resembled the beverage itself, leading Neht to voice his supposition that perhaps her hair smelled of apples and bittergreen, too, causing the poor girl to grow nervous and blush.

Folvoso looked to be a few years Neht's junior. She was a slave, marked by the magicka-draining bracer that cruelly encumbered her slender left wrist. When looking at her, he felt that he should be made stand between her and every gust of wind, lest it sweep her thin form away--although she was not unhealthily thin, she was svelte in a way that he'd never seen on a mer--at least, not in this lifetime. She was the charge of Samase Larethi, the kitchen-mistress, (fondly nicknamed the “Mistress of Three Meals”) was rumored to be the illegitimate sister of Neht's mother and Ranalith's own daughter. While she was afforded the grace of not being a slave, she too was a live-in servant of sorts.

She was an artful chef (and an absolute fiend to those who dared to barge in before meal-time), priding herself on whipping up the most delicious surprises for each meal. Naturally, both his grandfather and Folvoso had warned Neht against ever asking what's for dinner. It struck Neht as somewhat odd, that his meticulous, compulsively orderly grandsire did not object to each meal being a surprise, as it seemed to Neht that he adored knowing and anticipating all things within his grasp. Perhaps the secret to it all was to anticipate the unknowable.

Nevertheless, with each meal (and really, anything that involved summoning Folvoso), Neht couldn't help but feel immensely sorry for her, gazing at her as if that slave bracer were a blemish on her otherwise immaculate complexion. One evening, it compelled him to sneak into the kitchen and visit her while Samase slept. He tiptoed carefully past Samase, afraid to risk breathing too loudly and risking the incumbent wrath of the Mistress of Three Meals (as she was known for her temper, and the kitchen was of course littered with all sorts of dangerous, sharp cooking utensils) and over to Folvoso.

Armed with both the intent to free her and the key to her slave bracer, which he'd divined the location of and nabbed from its home (being tucked inconspicuously within a hidden compartment in a desk), Neht murmured urgently, "Please wake up. I'm here to free you!"

The slave girl did not even so much as stir, suddenly sitting bolt-upright in bed. Once it clicked that it was indeed young Lord Sandil before her, she rose up and ushered him out of the kitchen quietly. Their conversation began properly in an alcove down the hall, conveniently removed from the immediate sight of anybody who might be walking down the main corridor to the kitchen.

"Listen. I don't want to be free," she hissed in his ear, thin digits unable to completely encircle the muscular bulk of Neht's forearm. "I'm quite happy here. Where would I go, anyways?"

Neht drooped. Being the impetuous creature that he was, he hadn't thought about that--but now that the question was raised, where would she go, hypothetically speaking? Where was there to go on a such a small island where news and discontent traveled with such virulent swiftness? What a fool he was, and what a fool he must look in the eyes this girl. He might've walked away, encumbered with his own discouragement were it not for Folovso's heart being somewhat moved by the notion that a mer having newly found his family might risk their wrath--and the entire island's wrath, for the matter--for the sake of liberating of one slave. Like any other noteworthy Indoril of yore, he meant well, but his passionate well-meanings could just as easily incite disaster.

"I...I see," came his half-hearted response. "There is sense in what you say, but---"

She cut him off. "---But every time you look at my bracer--and you do gawk at it rather often--it fills you with disquiet. That much is plain to see. It is, if I may say, serjo, almost tangible. It upsets my master so, makes him feel as if he is doing something wrong by my being here, but I am here out of choice. Forgive me for interrupting, serjo, and for...drawing conclusions if they are incorrect."

Stunned, Neht took a few steps backward. There came an awkward pause before he was able to produce a response. "I see. You know this...how?"

Folvoso chuckled--a rich, syrupy sound. "I know because I know where master Ranalith keeps his journal, and where he stashes my key! He keeps it there, in the same place where it has been for years in case I decide to change my mind and take it. Lately, I’ve come believe that he wants me to take it, but perhaps now that you’ve given me the courage to consider it, I may tell him to his face that I’m happy here. Now,” she added, with the sudden sharpness of a mother scolding her children for being awake at odd hours, "Get you to bed, my lord, and let us not speak another word of this!"

Neht blinked and moved to thank her--to say something, but she had already crept back into the kitchen and into her bedroll, tossing him a bit of a wink before turning her head away. In his mind, he fancied that he could hear her beautiful, warm laughter, playfully chasing him down the corridor, up the stairs and back into his bedroom. There was something exhilarating and most of all, very familiar, in all of it. 


 

The next morning when Folvoso came to assist Samase with serving breakfast, Neht became aware of the tiniest trickle of a connection between them that hadn't existed before--how she gave him a knowing, secretive smile as she laid before him a small, rotund platter of scrib jelly. Breakfast was often a hurried affair at Sandil House, consisting of the four Sandils--Neht, Ranalith and Alveth's children (the girl-child called Lilth and the boy-child named Ienas) with the addition of the steward, Ravos Sorvalith, who, as Neht understood it, was also kin to his grandfather. Suffice it to say that he couldn't recall the specifics of how, and had probably dozed off while reading about them.

The conversation lacked its usual contrived air. It was as if everybody had privately resolved to slow down a bit and enjoy breakfast today--or perhaps this, too, existed only in Neht's fancy. Toward the end of the meal, the conversation had turned toward matters concerning Sandil Tomb, located on the other side of the isle. Though normally well-mannered, the twins offered a few fond statements about how most of the ghosts in there were all their grannies or grandfathers, prompting Grandfather Ranalith to lecture them on the specifics of familial relations, which in turn produced yawns from the twins in unison. Grandfather's lecture waned to silence, for he had concluded that alas, such complexities were wasted on young minds nowadays!

As the conversation climbed through various twists and turns, the kids couldn't help but observe that Uncle Neht seemed to avoid scrib cabbage and other such leafy greens like the Blight whenever they were placed on his plate, leading Ravos to question whether or not Neht truly believed that he could survive on tea, bread, scrib jelly, scuttle and meats alone.

Meanwhile, Neht’s mind remained fixed on the subject of ghosts. A few recollections of last month’s events made him wonder when, exactly, (and for that matter, where and why) had Indoril ancestral spirits collectively convened and picked up their ill-conceived habit of constantly speaking in riddles and seemingly obscure apothegms.

"Do not come any closer," the spirit had warned in a woeful, misty voice, "And 'ware the place where the sins of a bygone era have leave! Where the forest cedes to its grief!"

A fat lot of help that was--but Neht, being who and what he was, knew well the meaning of those words. The Indorils' Ancestral Spirits who'd snubbed Nerevar so long ago for what they professed had been his "inferior status" (in the face of his ascent and on the day of his wedding, no less!) were now markedly fearful that he might choose to reincarnate into one of the main families this time; yet far too proud to humble themselves enough to make that request just a bit more clear and less--well, snobbish.

Neht was feeling rather magnanimous, given their offhanded surrender during the ceremony (entailing, as Grandfather Ranalith had gone to such lengths to express to him, that his relatives formally and ceremonially recognized him as one of their own) and altogether nonplussed by their behavior as a whole, now. Though it had been a source of genuine (although mild) distress so long ago, it now seemed like an insignificant speck of dust misplaced by the wind--although that didn't mean the idea of squeezing in even closer to one of the main families (provided there was a "next time" to be had) was any less appealing.

“'Ware the place where the sins of a bygone era have leave.’

The spirit’s warning loomed long against Neht’s thoughts as he ascended the stairs to his room.

‘Where the forest cedes to its grief.’

Those words cast a long, dark, scarab-shaped shadow over the rest of his week, though despite the spirit’s intentions, it gradually began to blossom into more of an invitation than a warning.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Neht avoided Folvoso as if she were the Blight itself. He couldn't look her squarely in the face without hearing her words--which, if he were younger and not who he was, he might’ve felt that her attitude had spoilt his good intentions. Though he was loath to reflect on the matter as much as he did, she'd been absolutely right when she said that there was nowhere for her to go. Now that he thought about it, Gorne was a relatively small island, and the guards would most assuredly track her down, since there were few places to hide. It didn’t help that news of any sort had a tenency to travel faster than disease in an egg mine.

To make matters worse, before the bi-weekly service in the Sandils' Tribunal chapel, Neht always had to sit down and allow Folvoso to dress him and wrestle with his hair while he tried to pretend that nothing had happened--though thankfully, he'd managed to convince her that after about two decades of doing so, Neht was fully capable of bathing himself, thank you very much. For some reason, he felt rather vulnerable around her, and thus he didn’t particularly care to give either of them a good startling by having them both witness him nude while bathing.

Despite what Neht perceived as a tense relationship between them, Folvoso always picked robes that complimented Neht’s appearance. Each ensemble was typically composed of several layers--the outermost of the lot being the stole, the exterior robes, and the tabards, which were always emblazoned with imagery pertinent to the Tribunal or House Indoril itself. The fabrics generally possessed a teal-and-gold color scheme (or variations thereof--rich navy silk paired with a creamy yellow color, cyan wool with a platinum-colored brocade.) Neht’s favourite happened to be a turquoise silk robe peppered with gleaming silver embroidery that made the whole robe look silver, which he paired with both a dark stole with patterns remiscent of Gorne’s various flora and a teal wool tabard featuring House Indoril’s less-popular bee-shaped sigil, whose popularity had long ago been eclipsed in favour of the Wings and most notably, the Tribunal Hand symbol--which was supposedly a reference to the Hands of Almalexia, reminiscent of the segmentation on the hands of Sotha Sil’s first factotums and an allusion to Vivec’s connection with Black-Hands Mephala.

The very terms for the garb had been adapted, to the letter, from the Ordinators' liturgical vestments (although naturally, a noblemer's arnith was not entirely comparable to an Ordinator's): the arnith or  "underbelt" held and secured by decorative metal pins, the duleso (a stole, which was most often satin, silk or wool if the day was particularly cold), the felassani (breeches--although for what Neht deemed to be no good reason whatsoever; this particular make of garb was illegal for anybody else to wear unless they were of House Indoril), the llananor (or tabard emblazoned with a House's symbol--which all noblemer generally wore in some form.) This assortment of attire lacked the rope-braided nosa belt on the exterior and its decorative gold neleviso fastening. Sometimes, a less-triangular equivalent of the patterned rathith fabric hung over the front of one's groin atop their armor (most often dyed some sort of blue.) On occasion, Neht ventured to don violet, which paired evenly with the pallor present in the complexions of most mainland Dunmer who had long dwelled away from the tumultuous shadow of Red Mountain. It was within the Sandils that his trait was most pronounced, with some even going so far as to compare them to the extinct Kothringi of Black Marsh.

As it happened, blue just about any of its forms was the official color of House Indoril and was thus frequently worn by the inhabitants of Sandil House--which was fine by Neht, since it happened to be his favourite color anyway. He didn't much mind the finery he was made to don, provided that it was paired with a pair of pauldrons and armor beneath. Nobody in the family could convince him not to wear his Chuzei bonemold armor which had been custom-fitted to suit his figure along with his robe. He towered over his peers, so producing anything that Neht could actually wear generally required some degree of custom-fitting. The unique make of Chuzei bonemold worn by the Sandils of Gorne was something closer to heavy armor than light or medium, but that suited Neht just fine. After all, he knew that it was it was better to be prepared than to risk getting a dagger in one’s back.

The evenings before the service were the evenings during which Neht suffered the most. After anywhere from three to six hours of pulling, pinching, grabbing and poking, a spectacular arrangement of hair ornaments sat--along with Neht's hair--piled proudly atop his scalp into what he supposed was the most superfluous, unnecessary hairstyle ever to grace a mer's head. He found himself suppressing a smirk whenever villagers actually took the initiative to compliment him on it between sermons, as if they believed it was genuinely attractive.

He'd been informed that this was high fashion among Indoril nobles, and that even the Hlaalu noblemer (who were notorious for their profoundly ostentatious updos and over-ornamentation) would grow positively green with envy--but to Neht, it looked like a sundry pile of hairpins attempting to coexist with a cluster of white snails, white snakes, while rope and white kwama foragers nesting on his head--and it was one that always cost him a good night's sleep, because to preserve such a master-craft of coiffuring, one was required to sacrifice his pillow for a wooden block that evening. “Our hair shall be perfect but our eyes shall be red” was apparently the hidden credo of any fashionable, self-respecting Dunmer noble. It was rather easy to tell who his relatives were in the chapel. They were all dressed in ornate robes while toting needlessly elaborate hairstyles.

Neht's hair possessed a thick, dense and hardy texture. It was fairly resistant to breakage, although, as Folvoso remarked, his scalp was remarkably sensitive--meaning that each run of the comb through his hair was nothing short of absolute torture. Additional ornaments made of “faux hair” derived from the mane a specific breed of guar (which was generally wild due to being notoriously difficult to tame), bleached and dyed to match Neht's hair color (since it was outright illegal to lay hands on a white guar, mane or not, for religious reasons.) Thankfully, Neht possessed more hair than most, lessening the need for these strange additional hairpieces. Neht was utterly convinced that the lengthier hairpins from which small chains attached to gilded, tag-shaped baubles were attached (often engraved with words such as "Justice", "Honor", "Beauty" or "Respect") would've made for a remarkably effective method of securing a stray cat's attention. When bored, he found himself half-wanting to give those dangling accessories a swat or two, himself!

Ultimately, he couldn’t see the point in getting all done up--that is to say, in Neht’s case, suffering--if he only had to sit there for a few hours, pretending to be interested in dull religious scripture only to have a casual (but decidedly sumptuous) luncheon with his cousins thereafter. 


 

During one of these luncheons, Neht found himself feeling rather sore about the subject (though he daren’t show it) when Folvoso galvanized the awkwardness of the situation by the way she looked at him while lying the meal out on the table. Chasm-like eyes fixed on him, producing an inscrutable, roving stare which made it impossible to tell whether or not she was thanking him, sympathizing with him or giving him a judgmental glower--since each one of these things were equals within the realm of plausibility. The conversation at the table seemed to linger for eternity, in unison with her stare--or perhaps it was all because Neht felt that she was looking at him even long after she'd left the room. Neht did his utmost to appear nonchalant without realizing that he was gripping his spoon so tightly that it bent.

Unfortunately for Neht, the bending of silverware was an action that warranted having instant scrutiny cast upon him, given the detail-oriented nature observed by all noble families who claimed proper kinship to House Indoril--which was not diminished in the slightest by the fact that Sandil House was something of a retirement home; a clanstead renowned for its peaceful, relaxed environment.

Since luck was an ill-tempered mistress that seemed to have it out for Neht, Grandfather Ranalith, of course, proved to be no exception, immediately taking note his tense-looking, white-knuckled grandson clutching a bent, misshapen spoon. A hushed pall of concern blanketed those present, compounding Neht's guilt toward having interrupted the relaxed, nonchalant atmosphere. His presence, it seemed, had a habit of being indubitably interlinked to some sort of unwelcome disruption. When asked if he was alright, Neht immediately donned a smile, which he paired with the good old lie--that he was fine, and then pairing that lie with an apology for bending the silverware before promptly excusing himself, much to everybody’s confusion.

Neht spent the remainder of the afternoon tucked out of sight (and hopefully, out of mind) on the side of the manor’s roof that faced away from the village--and subsequently, away from anyone who might be seeking him. At present, he wasn't feeling particularly sociable. Some old, forgotten part of him basked in how delightfully unfamiliar it was to be able to avoid people on a whim, without fear of consequence or the guilt that came with shirking his duties. Moreover, he abhorred the idea of answering a slew of questions as to how he’d gotten up there in the first place.

Perhaps on account of his size and robust physique, people seldom believed him when he said that he'd honed his jumping skills over many moons (and having fallen from many a tree.) There was a copious supply of trees dotting the Nibenay Basin, and Neht liked to believe that he’d fallen out of each and every one of them. Nobody believed they were in their right mind, witnessing such a large mer launching himself off his feet, sailing through the air with same nonchalant ease of a falling leaf caught in the breeze. In fact, Neht had frightened off one of his old guildmates once they'd caught a glimpse of him hovering from rooftop to rooftop in Cheydinhal. Rooftops were, as he recalled telling someone in a previous life, the best seating that was on the house rather than in it.

Later, much to Neht’s chagrin, he caught wind that Folvoso was looking for him. In his mind, he did his utmost to discredit that theory, but to little avail when he spied her out in the courtyard, shifting her gaze about in the hopes that her surroundings might suddenly produce him. Once she was satisfied that Neht wasn't brooding somewhere within the courtyard, Folvoso's shoulders grew lax with--disappointment? No, perhaps he was reading into it too much--and her figure promptly disappeared beneath the rim of the pagoda-style roof, presumably heading indoors.

The remainder of the week was a blur for Neht, with each day rolling slowly like the underbelly of the great and unconcerned time-drake himself. Initially, change had remained an unrealistic threat, and might've seemed like a joke until its veiled form drew closer and closer, placing its feet where Neht could almost anticipate its presence (most especially when he found himself scrying for the presence of far-off laughter somewhere within the breeze.)

Neht possessed the appearance of someone else entirely--as no Sandil had ever been born with spidersilk-white hair--but he struck Ranalith as being wise and somewhat dark-spirited like his mother, Daynila, of whom Neht seldom asked. The best (and most useful, in Neht's opinion) things to learn about his mother were from things she'd left behind, like a delicate, scrib-shaped powder jar of porcelain painted with an expensive lacquer containing traces of ebony. The color of it almost suited him, for the Dunmer who had lived on Gorne for generations generally possessed more pallid, lavender-tinged complexions, perhaps due in part to their distance from Red Mountain (as those who dwelt in its shadow often often sported nuanced, ashborn complexions and ruby-red eyes in addition to the fact that the isle of Gorne had the highest amount of rainfall in all of Morrowind. The faint, moonstone-like glimmer of their skins seemed to make them a sort of inverted parody of their Chimer counterparts, or perhaps it was simply a wonderful, vestigial remnant leftover from their ancestors. There existed no real difference between these Dunmer as a whole in terms of physiology, aside from a few cosmetic nuances.) It only took a bit of the white powder (which smelled of horn lilies, which was allegedly one ofAlmalexia's favourite fragrances) from the flat, guar-shaped jar to make it a perfect match.

A glance at Neht could easily lead one to assume that he was the sort of fellow who wouldn't know what perfume was, even if you’d shoved an entire encyclopedia about it under his nose--and perhaps one might venture to say that such a mer would never deign to use makeup of any sort (particularly stuff belonging to his dead mother), but the circumstances demanded it. He didn't feel like explaining why an outlander had a mark indicative of a long-dead legendary hero (although he wasn't feeling very legendary these days), and given what he'd read about recent events and Temple politics, Neht couldn't imagine what might happen to him if it were to be discovered. Even in Cyrodiil, Neht had always gone to great lengths to conceal the sigil on his forehead, which served as an uncharacteristically indiscreet reminder from Azura of who he really was.

To Neht's advantage, there had only been one group that seemed to believe that he was a figure of prophetic import. A priest from a rather sizable cult to Boethiah, centered around the warrior-prince's shrine, had come seeking Neht exactly three months before his birthday (which, thanks to the letter written by his mother, he knew to be "right on the cusp of Gauntlet and Serpent's Dance," although he had no idea how old he was), proclaiming that he was the one they sought. Initially, he hadn't thought much of it, having found himself rather close to refusing their invitation to join them outright--but ultimately, his mind was changed when an offer of competition was posed. Naturally, he accompanied them, only to have his comfort zone immediately invaded when the cultists collectively wiped the powder from his brow, proclaiming him "the one." As it happened, his birthday was on the same day it had been in his first life, and he'd been born under the same sign.

For three grueling months, Neht lived on the rough, enduring combat training and sleeping conditions that were fit to make Veloth wince--until finally, the day came. Neht found himself thrust into a portal, mowing down each of Boet-Hi-Ah's champions in the Tournament of Ten Bloods. Then, the prince herself appeared before him, answering a flurry of questions with only the ghost of a smile, then by assuming his likeness and assuring him that his identity was something that he must find and prove to himself in order to define it, and that as his own weapon, his will was all that was the case--or perhaps it had all been a dream.

When he woke before the statue, he found that curiously enough, its countenance had changed to that of a male holding a katana-like sword rather than a female aspect wielding an axe, and that the area was remarkably quiet and lacking in cultists. As it turned out, the uncomfortably bulky thing beneath him was a winged labrys, presumably daedric in origin, although it was unlike any daedric axe he’d ever seen (there happened to be a few in the various shops around Cyrodiil, although as far as Neht was concerned they were incalculably expensive.) Admittedly, he’d expected something a bit more straightforward from Boethiah, but perhaps he should’ve known better to anticipate anything helpful or straightforward from a daedra lord. Due to the cacophony of vindictive whispers in his head when he wielded it, the labrys was consigned to spend most of its time on Gorne beneath its current master's bed, wrapped in an exquisite, ceremonial shroud, for Neht had great care for borrowed things.)

In the present, however, he waged a bitter war of attrition against his own curiosity against the resounding warning in his heart, which told him that seeking Vissamu would cause only harm--and, per his preternatural ability to prognosticate events in the near future (although vaguely), he knew that somehow, it would all end with his departure from Gorne--but where most knew a warning and heeded it well, Nerevar had a habit of mistaking it for some sort of invitation by nature.

When he went to go looking for it among his possessions, Neht found that the eerie red tome detailing Vissamu's existence had conveniently gone missing. He didn't want to report the issue and raise the alarm. Now, Neht had nothing to go on, except the creeping feeling that he knew who had taken it--although he didn’t intend to confront the culprit.

The only person who ever cleaned Neht's room--let alone entered it on a regular basis--was Folvoso.

 


 
Neht’s search for Vissamu eventually consumed him, just as large, flowering mushroom-ferns consumed the isle of Gorne in its entirety. Being occupied with his search was, in its own way, a form of solace. It prevented him from dwelling on the incident with Folvoso, which had a nasty habit of replaying itself over and over again in his mind, and it didn’t require him interacting with the villagers, who seemed to like Neht’s hair, rather than the mer to which it belonged.

After weeks of searching and dogged persistence, Neht found what he sought. Tucked behind a particularly nasty-looking section of scraggly, greying, thorned plants was what looked to be an old wooden door nestled amid a clump of large, precariously-positioned mossy boulders. He could’ve sworn that he'd passed that particular section of withered undergrowth no less than a hundred times and seen nothing behind it. Moreover, there seemed nothing particularly suspicious about it.

It was as though the place had made a conscious decision to reveal itself to him. Upon the surface of the door was a worn etching of that thrice-cursed scarab-sigil with long, jagged slash-marks that gave Neht the feeling that whoever had made them would’ve liked to have slashed the Sixth House out of existence with it. Neht scorned its image--but not because of the House by which it was represented, nor was he perturbed overmuch by the curious recollections he had about that this particular variety beetle was indigenous to the volcanic regions of Red Mountain, where it had thrived for years beyond reckoning prior to the fall of the Sixth House, who cherished the beetles as the first and only clan to have found a myriad of uses for the odd, carrion-eating creatures.

What bothered Neht about the sigil was that when he looked at it, he could recall perfectly the scarabs’ appearance--which was something cross between tiny lady-birds of Valenwood (which he’d seen illustrations of and read about in a book, though the Dagoth-scarabs were much larger), a shalk and a scarab; their glimmering carapaces emulating the appearance of rubies flecked with ebony. So too was he upset by the frightful headaches and how sickeningly compelled he was to stare at it, losing track of time after finding himself suddenly unable to look away. If he closed his eyes, Neht could see a particular mer standing perfectly still, lips crested into a small, somewhat secretive smile as the scintillating shells of the swarm clustered against the somber-colored silk of his robe, making it seem as if the very fabric itself were composed entirely of large, excited rubies.

All references to the Sixth House were tucked away and out of sight; carefully guised to seem like something else or swept beneath the rugs of obscurity and euphemism, as if the whole world supposed that Neht was a child whose presence demanded the subsequent tucking-away of dangerous and potentially interesting toys. (Somewhere, though, he’d managed to read a scrap about how the cursed sigil-scarabs of Red Mountain had long ago faced their extinction at the hands of Vivec and his Buoyant Armigers.) It was also profoundly disturbing to know that the books on the subject of himself and of the Sixth House, though undoubtedly biased (since, in his own words, there seldom comes a day in which the guar writes the history after it is gored by the kagouti), seemed to far know more then he did. As he was now, Neht  knew who he was and spurned it, for reasons he could not explain--though he knew not what ‘being himself’ entailed.

What little he’d gleaned from the few paragraphs of the Thirty-Six Lessons of Vivec (or at least, as much of it as he was able to stomach at the time without his thoughts walking in circles) along with other literature promoted by the Temple hadn’t been particularly helpful.

Howbeit, all the trapdoor metaphors and hidden-away meanings in the world now found themselves hard-pressed to stop Nerevar's inexorable advance toward trouble.