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It's All In A File

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Prelude

It was paperwork that doomed him.

Fitting, perhaps. Ondolemar had always loathed it.

As a young mer, the academy tutors had shaken their heads at his abysmal test results on such topics as philosophy, linguistics and the finer points of magical theory. To such questions as, “What is the nature of magic?”, and “Why does the essence of an alchemy reagent change with the environment of growth?” his answer (internally) had always been that did, and that since it did, finding out what did what when was a lot more important than why and (externally) that it was the will of Auri-El. His mother had given him long talks about family, heritage and duty. His father, a sterner mer, had threatened to annex him from the family registry if all he could amount to was a social disgrace, but the fact remained that Ondolemar was no scholar.

He'd coped. He was a superior mer, after all, and in his veins ran some of the most golden blood in Alinor. The test answers he could not steal from his teachers, he bought. The answers he could not buy from his teachers, he bullied or bribed his classmates into providing for him. While they studied “Aedra and Daedra,” he ditched his classes entirely to attend secret meetings with the Thalmor in an age when the Septims still ruled the empire and the Thalmor were dismissed as a faction of dangerous extremists.

A lack of scholarly insight, Ondolemar had found, was no barrier to mastery of the more practical arcane arts. A skilled agent, diligent and dedicated in his faith and his commitment to the advancement and purity of the Altmer race, it was only natural he'd climbed quickly through the ranks, once the Thalmor influence had spread widely enough to possess them.

Still, inevitably, each climb in rank was accompanied by more paperwork.

Reports from spies that needed to be summarised and passed on. Reports on worshipers of the Daedra. Suspected worshipers of the Daedra. Suspected worshipers of Talos… Supplies. Foresworn activity. The rising influence of the Thieves Guild…

The Dominion liked receiving reports entirely too much.

Not, of course, that Ondolemar would dream of telling them so.

And so, two days before the lot of them were due, he'd diligently settled himself into the mind-numbing task of writing them. It was not his fault that he'd spent the last three days prior to this on a stake-out near the not-so-secret shrine of Talos, recording the names of all who went inside and absolutely not putting off his paperwork until the last possible moment of possible completion. It's not his fault that he muffled the door so that he wouldn't keep getting distracted from his writing by yet another complaint by that Talos-loving Silver-Blood who seemed to have made Understone Keep a second home, and whom he was convinced should have been carted off to Northwatch Keep decades ago.

It was not his fault that Kaiya, who loathed this Auri-El forsaken pit as much as he did, and who he knew was hoping he'd put in a word for her and get her transferred back to Alinor, had stoked the fire up so warmly and left a bearskin rug on top of the hard, cold stone bench he usually sat on to write.

It might be his fault that he'd given both Kaiya and Sariel, his guards, the same evening off, but surely Auri-El ought to have been merciful when Ondolemar's logic had merely been that at least one Thalmor in Markarth deserved to be having a hot meal and some Alinor wine instead of wrestling with bleary eyes and cramped fingers over obstinate, coded paperwork which seemed, illogically, to spawn errors at a rate exponentially proportionate to the number of times one tried to correct them?

He had not meant to fall asleep.

Surely, surely, that mitigated his guilt in this.

Surely his Lord could spare a moment or two to help a distant descendant?

But Auri-El, it seemed, did not share in this belief, because the first thing he felt-- wakened by the sudden cooling of the room, and then, stirred to alertness far too slowly by the distant shouting-- was rough hands slamming his head into the stone table in front of him, once, twice, while two more Nords-- unworthy wretches-- held his hands down, trapping them open against the table, preventing him from employing the powerful, destructive spells for which he instinctively reached.

“Do you know who I am?” he snarled, or meant to, only his face was slammed into the table again and his words came out more like, “Mm mm whmm mm?”

Someone laughed.

If he survived this, he fully intended to eviscerate them.

Another slam.

If he lived, he also vowed, mentally, to hunt down whoever set the fashion for solid stone furniture in Markarth.

Even if it was a Dwemer, he, Ondolemar, would hunt them down to wherever their wretched race had vanished, and have them carted off to Northwatch Keep to be killed again.

“The Thalmor will--,” another slam. His treacherous mind wavered. Darkness threatened him. Uselessly, desperately, he struggled against the humiliation. Dead at his desk, killed by mere unranked Stormcloak soldiers because he fell asleep while filing reports for Elenwen.

His last, dim thought was a hope that his guards did not come back for him.

He wanted no witnesses to this.

This was such an undignified way to die.