The Sea Meets the Darkness
A Hank and Dervish Collab
Afternoon, 9th of Midyear, 4E208
Somewhere in Gilane, Hammerfell
It had been sloppy carnage, an attack based on desperation and an overconfidence that tended to come from either fanatics or those who would not grow old enough to have experience. To Zaveed, those were often the same people. He walked among the skirmish site, local garrison forces having long gathered the bodies of Dominion soldiers and insurgents alike, the latter of which were reputed to have died to a man, although a few claims of one or two escaping into the streets made the rounds. More often than not, they were simply tales conjured up by the wild imaginations of ordinary people who loved a good gossip and folk tale, the thought of some danger lurking in the streets that sent shivers down their spines without any real sense of risk.
The Khajiit felt a growing sense of loathing towards the crowds, with their vacant, gawking eyes. They were creating a spectacle out of what was very nearly an attempt on his sister’s life, a sister he hadn’t seen for over six years, and even then, briefly. The fact she was here and now felt like an impossible coincidence, but Sevari was certain, and given everything that’s happened since he came marching back into Zaveed’s life, the privateer was all but certain that the divines were mocking him by giving him the two things he wanted most in life, but keeping them so far away they might as well been the moons.
No sense being rueful, you have work to do. he reminded himself, and so began an hour of questioning the guards stationed in the area and questioning witnesses. Enough of them seemed to confirm that a Khajiit with a greatsword and an important looking Altmer managed to escape with two of their men, and it seemed they headed to the Northeast section of the city. It wasn’t much, but it was something to go off of.
There were tens of thousands of people in Gilane and countless buildings and places to hide, it was going to be an impossible task, but it would only remain that way if he gave up when he was this close. If anything, Zaveed of Senchal was remarkably talented at tracking people down. It was only a matter of changing his tactics for terrorists to someone he actually cared for.
That took away far too many options.
And so, heading in the direction provided, he set off, trying to comb his memories for habits his sister and himself had shared to survive Senchal’s streets so many years ago and hoped that Dominion indoctrination didn’t take away the part of Marassa that Zaveed would recognize.
Word of the attack against the Dominion envoy had reached Gregor as well; the innkeeper had been slipped an extra few septims to keep the Imperial apprised of any major disturbances in the city, and this qualified. He knew the Dwemer would undoubtedly investigate, and who better to send than their auxiliaries that could blend into the crowds? There was a chance that Zaveed would be there, or someone that worked with him, and despite the fact that it was broad daylight, Gregor gathered his equipment and set out through the labyrinthine underbelly of Gilane towards the scene of the attack. He did not tell Raelynn where he was going and had spun up some excuse of recovering some of his belongings from the hotel. There was no time to lose. If he was to ever find the elusive agent that had captured her not just once, but twice, he had to follow up every lead and he did not want her to worry or, worse, follow him. His path took him through the back alleys and narrow paths that he knew the city guard didn’t patrol, and when he did have to cross a street, he made sure to wait until nobody was looking his way.
Halfway there, he stopped dead in his tracks and instinctively reached for his weapons as soon as he saw the Khajiit on the other end of the alley. Why? Something about him set Gregor on edge immediately. The look in his eyes, the tension on his body -- there was a cruelty to him, a depth of malice that Gregor had seen before, but only very rarely. Could it be? Perhaps this Khajiit was just one of the Dominion’s agents, or nobody at all. He wanted to let go of the pommel of his claymore and apologize for his overreaction; until proven otherwise they were only two private citizens walking through the alleys of Gilane, after all, but something stopped him. Finely honed instincts told him that he was in danger.
“My, my… isn’t this a surprise? I must admit I am less prepared for this occasion than I would have preferred, but I can still give you a proper greeting.” Zaveed said from the alleyway, stepping closer, his posture loose, hands on the axes, but an underlying tension to his musculature. He stared at Gregor with a predator’s eyes, feeling a tinge of resentment that one of his quarry should happen to stumble into him in such a way when he was hunting for something much more personal. This would distract from that, but it would do much to soothe his frustrations. After all, one of the terrorists who had been responsible for trying to kill Marassa stood right before him, and this time, there would be no games.
“I’ve been looking for you, Gregor. Raelynn told me so much about you, and I quite enjoyed my time with her. A sweet girl, truly magnificent, surely you agree?” The Khajiit said, his smooth voice filled with an underlying maelstrom of malice and venom. His eyes narrowed and a cruel grin crossed his countenance, his claws tapping against the Dwemeri alloy of his axes. “Ah yes, and here you are, one in the same. Imagine my embarrassment if I had the wrong man, but forgive me for saying, a bearded Imperial man in dark garb and a fucking claymore paint quite the distinctive profile. She played her part; here you are, out of your hole, seething with rage. Nothing incentivizes a man quite like reminding him how impotent he is at protecting the one thing he actually cares about.” Zaveed stepped closer yet, the tapping growing louder. “Or maybe you wished to compliment me on my work?”
“Zaveed,” Gregor said softly, as much to himself as to the Khajiit, and drew his claymore from its sheath. The alleyway was narrower than he would have liked for the size of his weapon, but his skill with the longsword left something to be desired. He felt more comfortable this way. He inhaled slowly, trying to control his heartbeat and the simmering wrath that threatened to burst through the surface. He had no idea how good of a fighter Zaveed was, but the sight of the twin pair of axes did nothing to reassure Gregor. It was imperative that he remained calm. But this was him, Raelynn’s tormentor, the monster that had seen her unhinged and terrified, the beast that had carved up his sweetheart, and sheer good fortune now brought them face to face. This was his chance to make good on his promise to her.
It was obvious that the Khajiit wanted a conversation. Gregor wasn’t interested. He only wanted revenge. He dashed forward, mustering all the explosive speed his body could muster, and angled his claymore for a well-practiced thrust that would skewer Zaveed like a kebab if it connected.
The axes were out of their hoops in a flash, the bull charge telegraphed so far in advance Zaveed felt he could have been half asleep and still had time to sidestep and redirect the sword with his left axe while punching towards Gregor’s chest with his right axe held just beneath the head, clanging off of the armour beneath the heavy cloak as Gregor’s momentum slowed, giving the Khajiit a chance to land a hard kick to the Imperial’s flank.
“Look at that thing, you treat it like a spear, maybe if you actually took advantage of its weight… oh, right. You can’t, can you? Pesky walls, always getting in the way.” The Khajiit taunted, readjusting his blades with a flourish. Closing the distance, he bought one blade down into a cleave towards Gregor’s neck, an obvious but dangerous attack meant to occupy the sword as the spiked end of the other axe made for Gregor’s arm.
Gregor knew immediately that he was outmatched. He saw what Zaveed was doing with the two-pronged attack but did not have the skill necessary to avoid falling into the Khajiit’s trap; he deflected the axe that came for his neck with the flat of his claymore’s blade and sucked his teeth as the other axe’s spike grazed his arm. He twisted his body away as fast as he could after saving his head, sparing the flesh of his arm the worst of the spike. Zaveed was right. The walls were problematic. Buying himself time and space, Gregor turned the momentum of his pirouette into a kick and backed away a few feet, brandishing the claymore in an upright position. Even if the walls reduced his horizontal reach, there was no ceiling. He wanted to go on the offensive, but--
The kick connected, hitting Zaveed in the hip and forcing him to back peddle a few steps to retain his stance, but the effect had worked; it bought Gregor a bit more space to work with. Still, it wasn’t enough to keep him at bay for long; soon the Khajiit descended upon Gregor again, a flurry of axe blows coming from different angles as the nimble fighter’s footwork resembled more of a boxer than a berserker, weaving in and out at different angles and always keeping the claymore occupied as he struck shallow blows, often grazing the armour and occasionally tasting flesh. When he had an opening, Zaveed slammed his shoulder into Gregor’s chest and drove him into a wall, his axes coming down in a cross that Gregor managed to catch as it became a contest of strength and will to see who could drive their blades further.
“You will die here, gutted in this alley. And next time, I will not let her leave.” Zaveed snarled between gritted teeth. The mirth in his expression was gone, just a lust for battle and to dismantle the foolish man before him who was keeping him from his personal mission.
That did it. Gregor angled his claymore so that Zaveed’s axes slid off to one side as a terrible wrath came over his face, and his left hand suddenly shot up to Zaveed’s throat. His rage gave him strength and his fingers dug deep into his enemy’s windpipe, pulling Zaveed closer, and instead of saying something -- he was beyond speech -- Gregor looked at him wide-eyed and insane, murder in his gaze, jaw clenched and nostrils flared. The Pale Reaper had come.
Even if Zaveed wanted to, no sound could escape his throat, the deathgrip was far too tight; Gregor was incredibly strong, that much was certain. However, it also left the Imperial exposed himself, and in a controlled, but desperate move, Zaveed drove the spike of his axe into Gregor’s flank, burying it deep. The sudden pain of the axe loosened the grip; the other axe was brought down over the forearm, the hook of the underside of the blade pulling Gregor’s arm down enough that the Khajiit brought his head smashing into Gregor’s forehead, prompting the man to release him.
Zaveed coughed and wheezed, forcing himself to stand by driving his axe into the ground and raising to his feet, wiping spittle from his muzzle with the back of his arm. A feral grin bared his teeth as the arm returned to his sides, the axes hanging low and ready. “That’s more like it.”
With a growl, Zaveed took off at Gregor again, this time the weight of his blows came crashing down like a hammer striking an anvil, his momentum leading to heavy strikes and slashes that would certainly maim if they connected. A nasty cut bit into Gregor’s support arm, and the other axe hooked behind the crossguard of the sword, and with a savage kick to the gut, Zaveed pried the sword from Gregor’s hand, sending it scattering across the cobblestone behind him.
“So weak, so pathetic. You let me lead you like a bull by its nose ring, and the wound that is Raelynn was just so easy to rip and tear into; just who the fuck did you think you were dealing with?” Zaveed snarled, stepping closer, his axe twirling in hand to fling Gregor’s blood free of it. “One by one, you will all die. How do you think they’ll stand, these friends of yours, now their leader is gone and their healer is a despondent mess? Take comfort in knowing that you won’t be around to witness their suffering. All the pity.”
With that, he brought his axe down overhead and prepared to deliver the killing blow. “Death is too good for you, fool.”
The axe descended.
Like a flash of mercury, Gregor’s longsword came up to meet it. He deflected the coup de grace and stumbled backwards to his feet. The injuries that Zaveed had inflicted on him in a matter of seconds -- Gregor had seen a dozen men crumble in his position, yielding to their opponent and begging for mercy. But not him. He would never. Raelynn’s face flashed in his mind’s eye, the way she looked at him when they were alone, and he grit his teeth as he raised his free hand. The pain was almost unbearable. Magic coalesced in his palm and a stream of crimson light drained out of Zaveed and into Gregor. Almost immediately, relief was visible on his face and he straightened up, strength flowing back into his limbs as his wounds knit themselves back together. A healer would have to look at them later, if he made it out of this alive, but it was enough to stem the bleeding and keep him in the fight.
Shit, Gregor was a mage. The armour and the sword had made profiling him easy, albeit inaccurate. The drain health spell came unexpectedly after the sword deflected the blow, and Zaveed stumbled backwards, feeling his vitality weaken and a wave of nausea hit him. A torrent of vomit erupted from Zaveed’s mouth, who turned to grin at the feisty Imperial. “Do you always suck a man dry on the first date?” he mocked, steadying himself even though he felt somewhat faint, but regaining his senses.
“Shut up,” Gregor spat, his longsword in his right hand and a shimmering ward in the other. He attacked, the silver blade bursting into flames as he slashed at Zaveed, the air resistance triggering its enchantment, and he raised the ward to defend against the inevitable counter-attack.
Fire didn’t scare Zaveed, he’d known the pyromancer known as Felicia Hargrave for years and nearly been torched by her as many times, so the sword that was likely going to lose its integrity from the enchantment did little to deter the Khajiit. He allowed Gregor to get on the offensive, a flurry of flaming thrusts and swipes deflected and parried by the two axes that were so ingrained his his muscle memory, it was almost a game. A few times, the flames scorched at his bare arms, but minor burns didn’t bother Zaveed all that much; he’d endured so much worse.
Suddenly, his right axe pulled the sword across Gregor’s chest and a balled fist smashed Gregor across the face, stumbling the man as the axes slide down to rest upon the top of Zaveed’s hands as he began to pummel into Gregor’s chest, arms, and attempts at the face with precision blows that would keep the Imperial on the defensive. Ward and sword alike kept an admirable job at warding off most of the attacks, but the axes could still hook limbs and weapons out of the way to allow the other to make purchase, and Zaveed was much faster. An axe landed down into Gregor’s collarbone like a woodcutting axe, biting deep through bone and tissue, and it brought the men face to face.
“I tire of this. Enough games.” Zaveed snarled, putting his weight into the weapon to have it bite deeper.
The pain was immediate and excruciating, and the sound of bone being crushed beneath the axe was enough to churn Gregor’s stomach. He gasped and nearly dropped the longsword with trembling fingers; the ward extinguished, his concentration broken. Zaveed was simply better, there was no denying it. Gregor could not do this alone. He had never resorted to his darkest powers inside a city before and he knew the risks were immense, but it was obvious that Zaveed was going to kill him within the next few seconds if he did not act. The strain was so great that tears sprang in his eyes, but he summoned his iron will and managed to prepare another spell. A flash of purple light appeared behind Zaveed.
The Wrathman stepped forth from the portal. It was a towering, skeletal, undead warrior, ethereal energy swirling around its limbs and dark plate armor covering it from head to toe. Two bright, soulless eyes, infinite like stars, stared out from beneath a grim, horned helmet and in its hands was a dragonbone battleaxe large enough to split a bear in half. It raised its weapon overhead and brought it down on Zaveed -- it was a blow that he would undoubtedly not survive.
“What in Mundus…” Zaveed managed when he caught the pale glow off of Gregor’s skin and the sound of something behind him. The hulking undead monstrosity towered over the Khajiit and bared down on him with lethal intent. He was forced to release his axe, still buried in Gregor, and he managed to jump and roll out of the way in time to avoid being cleaved in two. Sliding his remaining axe back in its hoop, Zaveed drew the two pistols from his chest harness and took aim at both targets, gritting his teeth wided-eyed as he pulled the trigger; the deafening report of the discharge of soul gem energy to propel the iron bearing at both of his targets causing his ears to pull back in pain as the sound echoed off of the walls.
Gregor yanked the axe out of his collarbone and he almost fainted, leaning heavily against one of the alley’s walls. He wanted to drain Zaveed’s vitality again to restore himself but he could barely see through the agony. Instead, he swiftly placed his free hand on the grievous wound and enveloped it in the golden glow of Restoration magic, trusting the Wrathman to buy himself enough time for this. The broken bone was beyond his skill to heal, but much like before he could at least mend the skin. He looked up and made to move back into position precisely when Zaveed fired his Dwemeri pistols -- the bullet grazed his upper arm and he flinched, once again beset by pain. It felt like he had been burned. The Wrathman was hit square in the chest and Gregor watched with wide eyes, unsure of what would happen next.
It growled and seemed unfazed. Gregor exhaled a shuddering breath in relief. Now it was time to turn the tables. He threw Zaveed’s axe behind him and bent over to pick up his claymore; luck would have it that their deadly dance through the alley had brought him back to his favored weapon. Zaveed was trapped between himself and the Wrathman, and master and servant moved in to attack simultaneously.
The pistols went back in their hoops and Zaveed’s hands went for the remaining weapons on his person, his axe and the elven dagger at the small of his back. He was pressured on both sides, fighting with two vastly different weapons. The claymore was back in hand, and it took all of Zaveed’s strength to keep that monstrosity at bay while avoiding being run through by the heavy sword. The Wrathman beared down on him, swinging the axe without much finesse, but the dagger bit and tore into whatever was holding the undead together without much success, and he knew that he’d have to kill the master to free himself of the creature.
For the first time in a long while, Zaveed felt the panic in his heart that his life might actually be in danger, and he might lose.
“Damn you all!” He snarled, turning suddenly against Gregor and pressing the attack, hoping the monster at his back would hesitate to do anything that would endanger its master. The axe kept the greatsword at bay as the knife went in for slashing at vulnerable areas… but he was getting tired. His attacks were slower and less precise. He needed a moment to breathe, but neither of his foes would afford him a chance.
He needed his axe back.
Tossing his knife into a reverse grip, Zaveed made a plunge for Gregor’s neck, knowing the man would likely throw his weight out of the way, and he shoved him aside, scrambling to pick up the weapon he’d had discarded. It was stupidly risky; his back was exposed to both of his foes. It was a risk he needed to take, the battle was not going in his favour, despite how badly he had tore into Gregor already.
An overwhelming, exhilarating sensation came over Gregor when he saw the fear in Zaveed’s eyes and despite himself, despite his exhaustion and despite the fact that the Khajiit fought on like a man possessed, the Pale Reaper laughed when Zaveed dove for his axe. It was a cruel, terrible peal and it was followed by a gurgling, blood-curdling noise; the Wrathman was laughing too. Gregor mustered all the remaining strength he had left and flew after Zaveed, mentally directing the Wrathman to do the same. As the Khajiit’s fingers grasped around the hilt of his second axe, Gregor’s claymore, the blade arcing with lightning, drove into his back and dug in deep. On the other side of Zaveed, the Wrathman swung his battleaxe with hideous strength and struck Zaveed in the chest, the dragonbone edge splitting his armor and tasting blood.
The pain was excruciating, but the shock of it all kept anything but a surprised gasp from slipping through Zaveed’s lips as his trembling hands caught sight of the blood that coated his chest crimson; the axe had slashed through his armour and exposed his chest. An unbearable pain came from his back and his muscles were tensed up from the electrical current that was running through his body; it simply refused to respond. He was on his knees, at the mercy of a man without any, and tears began to well up in his eyes; there was nothing else his body could do as he waited for death.
I can’t… not yet he thought, pleadingly, to anything that dared listen to a damned man.
It was done. Gregor's breathing came fast and hard and the blood-soaked hands that were still wrapped around the hilt of his claymore shook with the sudden realization. In fact, it took every ounce of willpower he had not to collapse to his knees right now: Zaveed was, without a doubt, the most dangerous enemy that Gregor had ever fought. But instead of sinking low, Gregor rose to his full height, calming his shuddering breaths, as a sick and twisted expression of utter triumph unfolded on his face. He had kept his promise to Raelynn. Here Zaveed was, her demon laid low at Gregor’s hands, just like he said. Zaveed’s words from before rang falsely now: Gregor could protect what was his. There was nothing left but to carry out the Khajiit’s final punishment. He had originally planned to use Zaveed for a much simpler, base purpose, but Gregor had to admit that he was… worthy. Zaveed's soul was drenched in blood; it had to be. Rather than wasting the soul gem on an enchantment, Gregor realized that he would make a very valuable sacrifice. The willpower, tenacity and strength that Zaveed had displayed all but guaranteed it. Gregor let go of his sword with one hand and, with the very last dredges of his magicka, willed one final spell into being.
The soultrap wrapped its ice-cold snare around Zaveed's heart.
It felt like something intangible, yet so very vital, like an organ that encompassed his whole body was being pulled and beginning to tear from his very soul. It was then that Zaveed realized was was happening; he was being soul trapped, and he was powerless to stop it. An overwhelming fear encompassed him, unlike anything he’d ever felt before, and he struggled to fight it, to stay alive, anything to prevent such a cruel and twisted fate from befalling him, but he was weak, and with every heartbeat, he grew fainter.
“No…” he breathed, barely an utterance that faltered like a candle in a strong breeze. He accepted long ago he was never going to have a happy ending to his life, but not like this.
Anything but this.
Gregor smiled. “The long dark is coming,” he whispered forcefully. “I know you can feel it. You almost broke her, you know that? She was good and you broke her so bad I thought she was gone. Nobody does that to me. This is the price. I hope it was worth it.” Suddenly, pain dug into Gregor’s cleaved shoulder, and he noticed the thin hilt of a throwing knife sticking out of it. From the rooftops, a cloaked figure descended, from the billowing snakeskin fabric a short spear was produced, driving through the back of the Wrathman’s skull and riding the undead into the cobblestone. As she stood, the creature began to dematerialize, its bonds to Mundus severed.
The Redguard stood, almost like a pale wraith, staring at Gregor with cold yellow eyes. “Monster.” she said, a statement without malice, a simple utterance of fact. She descended upon him swiftly, past Zaveed, her spear angled for Gregor’s heart.
Too dumbfounded by the interruption to say anything, Gregor stared at the Redguard, eyes wide and slack-jawed. What the hell was this? He was so close. As his overpowering instinct of self-preservation kicked in, Gregor became aware of several things at once. The dagger in his shoulder hurt far more than it should, and the pain quickly escalated into something vile and seething: poison. Simultaneously, something clicked in his head and he saw himself kneeling before the Ideal Master again in the abandoned warehouse with Raelynn by his side.
With unwieldy strength, a huge black steed emerged from a portal that coalesced into being on the far end of the alley. Thinking fast, Gregor pulled his claymore free from Zaveed's flesh and grabbed the reins of the thundering warhorse as it came charging through. Its eyes burned with the same pale, ghostly light as the now-vanquished Wrathman, and its skin clung to the apparition’s hulking frame with fragmented desperation. Gregor could see some of its ribs poking through. With the last of his energy, he swung himself into the saddle of the undead horse and out of the path of the Redguard’s spear. The black rider fled, cloak billowing behind him, bursting out onto the streets of Gilane at full gallop, much to the alarm of the citizenry, and retreated to where he came from. It was his turn to fear for his life. Unyielding venom coursed through his veins and he could feel it, the seething burn of it, seeking his heart. Panic threatened to overtake him. He had to find Raelynn. Only she could save him now.
Nadeen stared at the ghastly apparition taking away her quarry with buried disgust. So Samara cell was harbouring a necromancer… they would all have to be expunged.
But first, there was something she needed to do. She wasn’t a woman without mercy.
“I will end your suffering. Go in peace, Khajiit.” she said, turning to face the dying cat.
The alleyway was empty, with only a splatter of blood and ethereal energy to hint at what had occurred here. Zaveed was gone, and one could only wonder where he could have gone to.