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Where by a Friend a Friend Was Slain

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The moment Nerevar opens the door to the Heart Chamber he feels the thrumming of the otherworldly heart beat again. A sound that fills the body with its erratic pattern. Hypnotizing like drums during a ritualistic dance yet much more subtle. He needs a moment to collect himself, to turn his attention away from this frantic beat. He tries to remember if it was already this hard when he left the room hours ago - but he can't. Slight doubt creeps into his mind about the decision to keep the Tools. Should he really have listened? But he and the Tribunal have an agreement on the matter now; he won't go back on it.

Voryn kneels close to the Heart, his back to the door, and stares at something on the floor in front of him, presumably the Tools – although Nerevar can't see them from his position at the entrance. Nerevar wonders briefly why his friend seems so intently focused on them, but dismisses the thought. “Voryn,” he calls out, “I have returned. Were there any troubles during your watch?”

Voryn turns around to them slowly, and Nerevar is startled by the almost feverish glint in his eyes. "No one has attempted to take the Tools," he says so calmly that it sounds strangely detached. Nerevar feels a tingle of worry, suddenly concerned for his friend. What, if the strange magic of the Heart has done something to him? "Voryn, are you all right?" he asks with urgency.

"Certainly. What gives you the idea that I might not be all right?" there is a sharp tone to Voryn's voice that makes the apparent lightness of the reply ring false.

"How should I not worry? You spent hours in the presence of a power so great and terrible that I wouldn't know how to describe it. And you seem… tense." Nerevar throws a quick sideward glance at the tribunes before returning his attention to Voryn; they have been oddly silent so far. They are still standing at the entryway, staring at the Heart in dazed awe. The Heart of Lorkhan, the god who devised the test of the Arena – it is only natural to feel awe at its sight. And yet Nerevar gets the impression that they all should not spend any more time in its presence than absolutely necessary. It's as if it draws all thought and will towards itself. He could swear that it hadn't been as bad when he left Voryn to guard it. Or had he just not noticed…?

Voryn's answer interrupts his train of thought: "It is indeed a dangerous power. But you worry needlessly. Did you not trust me to handle it when you left me to guard the Tools and the Heart? Don't doubt me now."

"I don't," Nerevar asserts, and yet he has to convince himself. He trusts Voryn, perhaps more than anyone else. He tells himself that it's only natural that Voryn seems on edge as it is a delicate situation. Nevertheless Nerevar can't shake the feeling that his friend isn't telling him everything. He continues anyway: "And I thank you for guarding the Heart and the Tools in my absence. I have taken council and come to the conclusion that we should keep them for the time being. Sotha Sil shall investigate if we have to fear more danger from Kagrenac's deeds and if the Tools might be necessary in unmaking any of his foul works. Now give them to me so we can bring them to a secure location away from here."

"What?!" Voryn flares up with sudden vehemence. "I can't! My lord, don't ask that of me!"

For a moment Nerevar is so startled that he's struck speechless by this reaction.

"The Hortator has given you an order, Lord Dagoth!" Almalexia says sharply. "And you like all of us owe him your obedience!"

"I beg you, my lord! Don't make such a grave mistake!" Voryn continues, ignoring Almalexia's comment entirely. All his focus lies on the Hortator, and Nerevar suddenly feels the urge to break eye contact though he has never before felt uncomfortable under Voryn’s gaze despite the almost hypnotizing intensity of his eyes. But now there is something in them that burns too bright to look at (Nerevar refuses to acknowledge that it might be madness). "No one knows the works of Kagrenac as well as I do. No one understands their danger like me! I cannot in good conscience let anyone lay hand on them – least of all Lord Sotha who has no care or consideration in his pursuit of knowledge and would betray you for his projects without doubt! No, they are mine to guard and guard them I will!"

"You're going too far!" Nerevar snaps. "I'm tasked to lead Resdayn, by rights the Tools should be mine! …Mine to decide about." Abruptly he stops talking and a chill runs down his back despite the sweltering heat. He hasn't meant to say that. The Tools shouldn't be anyone's! They are cursed – and Azura herself has tasked him to put a stop to Kagrenac's foul sorcery. He has only agreed to keeping the Tools so they can find out if there is more danger lurking and if so how to ward it off – not so that he can claim them. And yet the thought has suddenly been there and slipped past his tongue before he could notice. He has covered for the mistake quickly – maybe even quickly enough to fool the others (though he doubts it, all of them tend to be very observant) – but that a thought so foreign to his thinking has made its way into his mind at all can only mean one thing: He has sorely underestimated the dangerous influence of the magic in this room even after all that he has witnessed this day.

"I think," he says slowly, carefully checking every word he is thinking and saying, "that we should take this discussion outside this chamber, away from the powerful presence of the Heart so we can continue in a reasonable fashion. Let us leave – without the Tools. I feel that there is some power here that may cloud our judgment."

"I don't think," Vivec mutters with a frown, "that Lord Dagoth is still within the reach of reason."

Nerevar wants to disagree with his tribune, but he can't because Voryn exclaims almost as if to proof Vivec's claim: "My lord! You tasked me with guarding the Tools. And I agreed to take that duty upon myself. I won't abandon it now - whether you believe it to be safe or not! To leave them even for one minute would mean to leave them to the hands of thieves! We might bar the door, but how can we know that they won't come in by secret paths or cunning magic?! My lord, do not mistake disobedience for disloyalty. But I cannot do as you ask."

With a sinking feeling Nerevar listens to Voryn's almost manic words. He knows that he cannot continue arguing but has to act – it is one of the most basic lessons of leadership that once an order has been given one must not accept disobedience, lest one loses all power and respect. And he knows that if this were anyone but Voryn most likely he would already have taken action against them. But he knows Voryn (at least he thinks he does) and these words and actions are nothing like him at all. Or rather the lack of reasoning behind them isn't. Nerevar doesn't doubt that Voryn would sooner choose disobedience and face the consequences than endanger a cause that he truly believes in – but here there is no cause. Instead Voryn guards Kagrenac's Tools with the instinctive possessiveness of a dragon protecting its hoard. Considering all Nerevar is more and more convinced that some force – be it the natural influence of the Heart or something of Kagrenac's making or something else altogether – has taken hold of Voryn. Nerevar is acutely aware that he himself has been driven to voice a thought he would never have entertained of his own volition after spending mere minutes within the Heart Chamber. Voryn has just spent hours there – on his orders. Nerevar isn't sure if he could have known better than to give that order, but he is sure that he cannot blame Voryn for the situation they now find themselves in. Still Nerevar must solve it somehow. But he is a warrior and a diplomat, not a mage or mystic; this strange magic and the heart of a god, all of this has been far beyond his skill and understanding from the very beginning. So Nerevar turns to his tribunes for council, hoping that their greater understanding of magic might offer a solution. "Do you know any means to free a mind of outside influence?" he asks in a hushed voice.

Vivec looks from Voryn who stands on the other side of the room eying them suspiciously to Nerevar whose troubled thoughts are clearly showing on his face. "Nerevar, you won't like to hear this: But the temptation of power may corrupt even mer of lesser ambitions than Lord Dagoth. You have to consider the possibility that whatever madness has befallen him is of his own making."

Nerevar angrily dismisses that notion. He wants to ask Vivec if this is just his ridiculous rivalry with Voryn speaking, or if he really doesn't notice the subtle ensnaring power all around them. But this is not the moment for useless arguments, and so instead Nerevar turns towards Almalexia and Sotha Sil, awaiting their answer.

Almalexia remains silent, but Sil brushing his hair back in one of his usual nervous gestures begins to speak, sounding more as if talking to himself: "There are certain rituals for negating powerful illusion magic… of course the mental focal point of the spell would need to be taken into consideration and…"

"Is there anything that can be done now?" Nerevar cuts into his ramblings before the older mer can get fully started.

"At once? Of course not. Such rituals take time to prepare… and I don't think that there is any illusion magic at play anyways, not to mention that a non-cooperative subject wouldn't make the process any easier – even if there were a way to adapt any such ritual to the current situation… which I doubt…"

Lord Sotha's reflections are once more cut short, but this time by Voryn Dagoth: "What is the meaning of this hushed discussion? Nerevar, are you turning on me so readily? Conspiring with your tribunes? I beseech you, my lord: Do not put your trust in them! They are all like snakes in the grass; they speak only the language of deceit and lie in wait to strike you! My claims and my refusals might seem presumptuous to you now - but all I say and all I do is only for the good of Resdayn - and for your good, Nerevar! Think! When have I ever wronged you?"

"What makes you think I would want to turn on you?" Nerevar asks his voice a mix of frustration and desperation. He walks slowly towards Voryn and seeks eye contact no matter how disconcerting it is to see this crazed gleam in them. "Ever since I have returned here you have acted strangely: You disobey my orders but you give no proper reason. You make grave accusations yet you give no proof. That isn't like you at all! Whatever strange notion has taken hold of you – pull yourself together and shake it off! You – you aren't yourself!"

Voryn shakes his head forcefully. "Oh no, my lord, you truly do not understand. I am very much myself – in fact, I've never been as much myself as I am now."

"Voryn, do you – do you even listen to yourself?! What you say is completely absurd!" Nerevar realizes that he is shouting but he hardly cares. He has the impression that nothing he says truly reaches Voryn. Still he forces himself to lower his voice and continue with more calm than he feels but at the same time with a tone of urgency (almost pleading, not that it would befit his station to be actually pleading): "Voryn, I ask you as your lord – and as your friend: Step away from those Tools. You said yourself that nothing but evil might come from them. Come with me, away from this place. … But if you keep denying me – gods help me! – you’ll force my hand against you!"

Something dark flashes over Voryn’s face. “I see. Their lies have already taken root within you. If betrayal is how you chose to repay faithful service and loyal friendship, so be it. My heart weeps, but I will stand my ground.” The subtle shift in his stance and the faint glint igniting along his pale fingers is all the indication Nerevar needs to know that Voryn will follow through with his declarations.

‘Oh Azura, not another friend,’ is Nerevar’s fervent wish as he reaches for his sword with a reluctance to actually draw it that is almost alien to him. He has fought and killed Dumac earlier this day already. Dumac who has been as dear to him as a brother. But the king of the Dwemer had betrayed him first, and for that he can hate him. Nerevar has no reason to believe that Voryn has done anything but follow orders he himself issued. He has no reason to believe – he won’t believe – that what has befallen Voryn can’t be undone. But Nerevar is a warrior, and where words fail the only answer he knows is violence. Maybe he can drive Voryn away from the Heart or knock him out (he has seen that work against command spells; so it is as good a tactic as any). He will not kill another friend this day, he promises this to himself – but he is filled with dread all the same. It’s in the nature of a sword to kill – using it to do anything else isn’t easy even against an inferior opponent. Voryn is easily his equal. As Nerevar draws Trueflame it is only a cold comfort that the battered blade is devoid of its usual white-hot fire (almost as if the flames have died with the sword’s creator).

He looks to his tribunes for help: “Do you know magic that will disable without killing? And that you still have enough magicka to cast?”

Vivec shakes his head, but it seems to be rather in disapproval than in denial. Almalexia fixes him with a calculating gaze but nods, while Sil tilts his head in a contemplating manner.

Nerevar doesn’t wait for an answer – Voryn hasn’t attacked him yet, but he certainly doesn’t want to be taken by surprise – and most certainly not while he is still at a distance where Voryn’s spells can reach him, and he can’t strike back. Instead Nerevar charges.

Voryn waits for Nerevar to come at him, as if to underline that he considers Nerevar to be the aggressor and challenger in this situation. At the last moment possible he jumps out of the way and retaliates with a furious spell that forces Nerevar to dive to the side so that he cannot press the slight advantage gained by Voryn’s change of position.

The spell hits the floor were a split second ago Nerevar’s feet have been standing, and the durable Dwemer alloy turns from solid to boiling in an instant under the force of the magic. Nerevar is startled by the sheer power behind the attack. Not only is he fairly certain that when he left Voryn had already been running low on magicka, but he is also surprised by the lack of finesse. They have fought many battles together and a considerable number of sparring matches against each other – so Nerevar knows Voryn’s fighting style, and he has never seen him rely this heavily on raw power. Nerevar doesn’t know what to make of that, but it reinforces his impression that Voryn isn’t himself.

Undaunted by the ferocious counterattack Nerevar strikes again. He angles his blade so it won’t hit with its cutting edge – but it doesn’t even come close to touching Voryn, glancing off a powerful magical shield that springs up just in time to catch the blow.

“You can’t fight me by halves, Nerevar!” Voryn’s words sound almost taunting. “You chose enmity.”

Behind him the Heart beats its uneven rhythm. Their fight almost seems like a dance in time to it.

“If you’d just come to your senses…” Nerevar dodges another spell, this one as overpowered as the first. At this rate he thinks he could keep evading until Voryn runs out of magicka. He might be powerful but even he shouldn’t be able to uphold such a barrage for more than a minute. Of course to outlast Voryn Nerevar has to survive his onslaught first. It would be much easier if he would let battle instinct take over – but he can’t since he knows that the moment he did he would stop remembering that his enemy is really his friend. Once again he attempts to strike at Voryn; once again the sword is repelled easily. Voryn moves his hands in a wide gesture, and deadly energy fans out in front of him, forcing Nerevar to jump backwards. It seems that even with his attacks as unstrategic and almost frenzied as they are Voryn is a very dangerous opponent. Nerevar glances over his shoulder towards his tribunes, who seem to be waiting as if undecided about their course of action. “What’s keeping you? Attack!” he shouts – there is no time to dwell on their odd reluctance.

“Four against one? So that’s how you want to play this? Very well!” Almost as if Voryn’s biting words have been a shouted command the door of the chamber opens and more people pour into the room. Nerevar has to focus on his own fight, but from what he can make out from the corner of his eye he is fairly certain that Voryn’s brothers have just joined the fray, engaging the tribunes in a vicious battle. Almalexia calls for guards, and even more people rush through the door.

With growing desperation Nerevar realizes that if any of Voryn’s brothers would die in this fight Voryn would seek bloody vengeance even if he would come to his senses. Somehow Nerevar has to end this battle – no, he will end this battle before the chance for peace is lost. It’s not in his nature to accept the possibility of failure. And certainly not now.

But against his predictions Voryn somehow continues his onslaught of sheer magical force with unbroken intensity, and only Nerevar’s most powerful sword strikes seem to have even a chance of breaking through Voryn’s nigh-impenetrable shield spell.

Almost against Nerevar’s will, the Tools still lying on the ground behind Voryn catch his eye. If he could reach them… maybe pushing them into the lava would break the force affecting Voryn… or he could take them and withdraw, somehow, and learn their powers – only to break them, of course…

A ripple in the air and a sudden wave of scorching heat alert Nerevar to the next spell heading his way. He barely dodges, and it still grazes his shoulder sending lances of pain and weakness through his body, so intense that it almost makes him loose his footing. Nerevar curses his dangerously straying thoughts while he tries to regain his stance.

Already Voryn is moving his fingers in the sequence for his next attack, clearly intending to catch Nerevar off-balance.

From the other side of the room an agonized scream tears through all other battle noises. Nerevar is almost certain that it is the voice of one of the Dagoth brothers.

Magical energies still gathering between his fingers Voryn's eyes dart towards the other fight. A mix of pain and fury flashes over his face.

Nerevar doesn't hesitate, and throws all his remaining power behind his next blow. Voryn's attention returns to him in time to react. Seeing that the sword swings hard enough to pass through his shield he tries to twist out of the way, but it isn't enough. All he manages is to turn so that it isn't the blunt side of the blade aimed at him anymore, but the point. The sword strikes true.

Voryn's hands stop in their preparation to haul yet another of his deadly spells at Nerevar to clutch at the blood spouting wound in his torso instead. Nerevar, too, has frozen in his motions staring with dawning horror at Trueflame producing from his friend's chest. He only starts moving again to catch Voryn and lower him to the floor as his legs give way under him. The movements are intuitive as is Nerevar's care not to worsen the injury by moving the weapon. His mind is still in the stupor of shock. His mouth shouts for help although Nerevar has killed enough people, has seen enough people die to know with just one glance that no amount of skill in restoration would be enough to save Voryn. And staring in his friend's anguished disbelieving face that already bears the pallor of death Nerevar's thoughts finally catch up with the situation. "I'm sorry", he chokes out. The guilt and the pain are so intense that it almost feels as if he, too, has been run through with a blade. He wants to curse his treacherous hands which have so readily disobeyed his mind and killed a friend most dear to his heart. He wants to plead with all the gods in the Aurbis that one might take pity on him and let him take back this one sword strike. He would give anything to undo his own deed. (But even in this shaken state he knows better than to actually voice this, for those spirits who are known to listen to such pleas would only grant them in a cursed and twisted way). All that's left for him is watching his friend slip away while he clutches him in his arms in a futile gesture as if trying to keep him with him. "Oh, Voryn, I would ask your forgiveness. But I know I don't deserve it. I'm sorry."

Caught up in his grieve Nerevar barely notices how Almalexia walks over to him and lays a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, too", she says softly, and with her free hand she plunges a dagger through a gap in his armor plates and deep into his back. "If it is any consolation to you: we will strife to continue all the good you did for Resdayn."

The last thing Voryn sees with dying eyes is Nerevar slumping over him, dead, betrayed by his own wife. So they lie there looking just as if they died together and not one of them by the hand of the other.