The Cat’s Cradle
Stormy and Dervs collaboration
2nd Midyear, 4E208CE, mid-afternoon
As the Breton made her way through the streets once more, alone this time, she took from her satchel an apple - a taste for fruit today it seemed. Alim was on her mind, their meeting today had been quite strange indeed and had left her feeling bothered and bewildered to say the least. It was hard to turn that feeling off. She took a bite of the apple, enjoying the sumptuously sugary taste of it. She surmised that the events of the last few days had taken their toll, the sugar was perking her back up - maybe that’s why she had been presented with an unusually keen sweet tooth all of a sudden.
Eventually she found herself breaking free from the crowds as they all dispersed on their own merry way. She started to hum to the bard’s song to herself, and her pace slowed down. She really had nowhere to go and wanted to find somewhere peacefully quiet to enjoy the winding down of the day - the effervescent violet twilight of Gilane.
The midday breeze caught her skirt and fluttered it against her skin as she strolled along, taking another bite of the fruit, singing the lyrics of the song under her breath to herself with a relaxed smile on her face;
“That Hammerfell sky,
Burns within her eyes,
She looked at me and made me want to catch on fire…”
Something caused the hairs on the back of her neck to stand on end, and she slowed to a wary halt - taking a look around but she could see nothing. Nothing… she thought to herself, before continuing her walk.
”So when I’m all alone tonight,
And I can’t find the words,
When we say goodbye, lover, it hurts…”
Once again, she felt uneasy and her voice tapered off. She took some prudent steps forward, unable to shake the feeling that she was being watched. She felt paranoid but not so much so that would make her call out.
Then it happened. Glass shattered at her feet and a billowing smoke reached her nostrils and she felt someone snatch her tightly from behind, and everything went dark before she had an opportunity to open her mouth to scream.
The apple fell to the ground and rolled to the entrance of the alleyway silently - no more evidence was left behind...
An unknown location in Gilane…
The room was shuttered, with no windows to illuminate the darkness within, not that it would have mattered to Raelynn; a sack had been affixed over her head and her hands were bound behind a chair, which in turn was tied to the legs. Had Raelynn been in another circumstance, she might have appreciated the delicate and talented knotwork that years at sea had afforded Zaveed of Senchal. Both inside the bedroom and on the deck of a ship, it was an underappreciated talent that had served him well.
He sat across from her, at a desk, using the elven dagger that stayed strapped to his back to tidy up his nails and clean them. Without changing his focus, he spoke after a length. “Well, you’ve certainly been conscious for a spell. Your breathing has changed and your posture is more tense. My sincere apologies for the improper accomodations, my dear; you would have not come had I simply asked, much to my disappointment.” he said to the Breton cordially, glancing up to see what the bagged face would do. In the dark, he could see perfectly. Even without the bag, he doubted she’d be able to make out his features. A shame; hard for one to become smitten by the kitten if she could not behold his rugged and handsome features. Oh well, duty demands precaution, he reminded himself.
She was unsure of where she was. She was unsure of how she had found herself here. The only thing she was sure of, was that she shouldn’t be here, and that she wasn’t alone. The last thing she remembered was waving goodbye to Alim, watching him leave. Why didn't she go with him? She tried frantically to move her arms but it only caused her pain and discomfort, the tension in the twine nipped at the delicate skin of her wrists. Whoever had done this - well, it wasn’t their first time. She didn’t want to speak to him - whoever he was, but she would have to. She was frightened. The bag over her head made her breath feel hot and suffocating. She wasn’t going to get into too much of a panic in front of him. She had to remain calm. Her life now depended on every single word that she would utter.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Her tone was sharp and cold - even if the bag did muffle it slightly. She had to be strong. She was alone and at a disadvantage. Why am I here? she thought. Twiddling her thumbs behind her back - in some sense of false hope that moving would loosen her restraints. Is this because of my Father? Is it…. Because of Nblec? She tried to keep each breath steady and quiet. She felt entirely vulnerable, not knowing who was looking at her. Where his eyes were. Where he was, she could only hear him - it sounded like he was in front of her. She had to rely on everything but sight now.
“A mutual acquaintance of ours wishes to speak with you again, it would seem; perhaps to correct the course you’ve set yourself on with your current lot of friends.” he clucked his tongue, setting the knife down on the table with a careless toss, a tease of it being so close, yet so far out of her reach. “Terrorists, murderers, just general sordid sorts that are turning this pretty jewel of a city red. You apparently were quite the actress the day that Nblec Mrazac and his two personal guards were murdered, enough so that more people reported what you looked like than those who grabbed him and slayed his escort detail. Perhaps you could illuminate what it was you hoped to accomplish for me?” he asked.
“Governor Rourken,” she began without skipping a beat. She knew very little about being on this side of an interrogation - but she knew enough. She would tell him only part of the truth. She would craft a story for him and play to him that way. She had no choice as she was once again reminded of the imminent danger as she heard metal hit wood. A dagger. “I was at the parade, you’re right. I remember that I fainted from the heat. I’d been here but a day - I’m not accustomed to this weather,” she softened her voice, her tone changed to that of a woman recalling an event as opposed to a woman crafting a cunning lie. “I’ve lived in Skyrim for many years - it’s positively baltic up there. Even now I feel as though I might faint at a given moment… What are you trying to say? Who is Nblec Mrazac?”
The figure got up from the chair, a different blade in his hand, and he walked about the table until he was behind her. Suddenly Raelynn’s hands were free, although still somewhat tangled among the ropes as he ran the back of his hand along her cheek, delicately, returning to his seat with measured strides.
She gasped as she felt the restraints cut away and instinctively she stretched her hands to ease the pain that they were feeling - the rope being cut allowed the blood flow to continue properly and she breathed a sigh of relief, her lower lip still quivering. He was behind her now, his presence was powerful, but then it would be - he had her in the palm of his hands.
“For someone claiming to be so frail of constitution, there’s nary a bead of sweat upon your brow or from your glands; your scent is fragrant, and not of your body fighting to regulate itself. For a woman who fainted, you were mighty sprightly as you had vanished from the scene as soon as the two guards were slain in cold blood. Perhaps you would like a reminder of who your friend was?” he asked.
Reaching over, he took Raelynn’s hand into his own, ever so gently, as if it was a caress from a lover. Then from his other hand came a thin nail that he pressed just under her own. “The funny thing about bodies and torture, they leave so many clues behind.” he said gently, holding her hand all the while. “Tell me, did he scream, did he beg? What will you do, I wonder.”
As the sensation of pressure under her nail began she flinched. Fear rendered her unable to move in her seat at all. Her toes curled in horror over the soles of her sandals. Everything about this situation was making her recoil. The way that he spoke about her scent unnerved her too, it reminded her of Sora’s words. This stranger was a Khajiit alright, they were seemingly obsessed with smells. “Please,” she said feebly in barely a whisper, “I don't know anything. I ran because I was embarrassed, wouldn't you?” She sped up her breaths now that he was in front of her - if he was paying such close attention to her body, she would give him something to notice.
“I was being hyperbolic… I… Can you blame me? I've been drugged and dragged here - I don't know where I am, who you are -- stop touching me!” She was agitated now, the lack of visuals, the heat under the bag, the pressure under her nails as she felt one of them crack. She didn't want to break - not this soon. She couldn't. She would protect the others, She would protect Gregor. “Just let me go; this exercise is useless.”
“Useless?” Zaveed scoffed in turn, a rumble of a laugh escaping from his throat. “Oh, Raelynn, my dear; nothing I’ve done has ever been useless. In fact, your paramour was quite resistant to my… charms.” he left enough of a pause to let her imagination wander. “But eventually, he succumbed, just like dearly departed Mrazac. What did you learn from him? Did he beg to be let go, like you are now? For you to let him see his family once more? He was quite a family man, you know; this city was his home, and he loved it. Myself? I couldn’t care less for his fate, just another body discarded like spoiled meat. It takes quite a bit to make me feel alive, but this? This does nothing for me.” He said, suddenly pulling the nail free and setting it aside.
“Tell me, my dear; do you have family? Who would grieve the most to find you discarded in this room, alone and drenched in your own piss and shit? What could you possibly find worth enduring torture and death for?” Zaveed asked, suddenly up from his seat and walking around the table. Placing his hand over Raelynn’s, he whispered into her ear, almost like a lover. “I’ve done this so many times, I’m bored of it.” it came like a breath, and suddenly, his claws dug into the back of the Breton’s hand, burrowing themselves in her soft flesh.
“What would it bring you to kill me? I don't know anything. I have no paramour, Gods I wish I did! Maybe if I did I wouldn't be here and would be elsewhere… Please stop this, I have nothing to give you.” She thought of Gregor. Surely he couldn't have been here - but then she hadn't seen him today, she'd been with Alim. The things they had said to each other. If today was her last day, she was regretful of what she had done. She hadn't seen Gregor. No, he wouldn't succumb to anything, his resolve for his own mission wouldn't allow it and so she sat comfortably knowing that this Khajiit was lying. If he had captured Gregor…? Her captor would be the one to succumb to him. She winced as his claws burrowed into her. She wanted to cry out in pain, but that would likely satisfy him. She didn't know whether he was trying to seduce the truth out of her, or bleed it out. “I have nothing for you, please let me go. I haven't seen your face… I won't tell a soul, please.” She purposefully evaded speaking of Nblec for now, no matter how hard he tried to weasel the answers out of her. Complete denial was the only path she would go down. To tell him anything else would lead her into dangerous territory, put her at risk of saying the wrong thing...
Pulling his claws free, he grabbed Raelynn roughly by the chin, smearing it with her own blood; his disposition changed to something decidedly darker. He chuckled ruefully, his tone much more manic. “You call your life nothing? It’s all I want at this point, and if it is the only gift you have to give me this day, so be it. I will do this again, and again, and again, until there are no more bodies left to harvest from your friends, and believe me; we know who they are.” He released her, sitting on the table next to her, by the dagger. “Please, please, please.” he said, his pitch high and mocking. “Your begging is nauseating, if you expect to find compassion from me, perhaps you should have started with compliance. I want you to tell your little friends who I am, what comes for them. It’s a game, you see; will the cat find the mice first, or will they find him? What remains to be seen is if you are going to be around to continue playing this game, or if this will be where you die. I draw your blood, and you still continue like you have nothing to lose… you’re far more resilient than your bloody sob story of being too weak for this climate would suggest.”
Pulling a rag from his belt, he delicately began to clean his bloodied claws. “You may proceed to give me something, anything, of importance, and perhaps I will permit you to play the game I have set. If you do not, well, that dagger will be tasting an artery, and I will watch you fade like so many others. At this juncture, you waste my time, and you are of no importance to me. The Governor wishes you to be delivered alive, yes, but I assume that is what the fucking Poncy Man requested of you for your victim. It’s such a shame accidents happen; you terrorists are so fanatical you’d rather fight to the death than graciously accept her hospitality. It’s such a tragic, senseless tragedy, it wounds my very soul.” He remarked, his voice oozing with sarcastic sentiment.
All she could think about was how to get out of here without saying anything to him that implicate anyone. The Governor already knew that it was them - but Raelynn wouldn't be the one who would say something that confirmed it. That determination, it kept her going. Her heart was racing now in her chest - she could feel it against her ribcage. Should she choose silence? Or should she choose to speak. “You paint me as a terrorist. You're just a hired thug, a fucking creature. The highest bidder was it?” it wasn't often that the lady would curse, so when she would, she would spit the words with venom. This occasion was no different. “Who is it that orders you around to scare little girls? I wonder… Who pulls your strings?” Beneath the bag she smirked. “The Governor will not be the only one upset at my death. I'm powerful in my own right, if something terrible should happen to me it won't be long until someone else is being tortured for information. Such a vicious cycle.”
Raelynn could feel the blood pouring from her right hand where his claws had been siezing the flesh there. It felt hot and stung, she could feel that it was already swelling. “There is more than one way to skin a cat you see, I wonder what your price is…” It was a bold maneuver to attempt, and she was sure to pepper her tone with just the right amount of sweetness, she knew that hired thugs were loyal to only one master. Gold.
He leaned in closer to her, grinning broadly. “Everyone in this fucking city could die and I would not lose a moment’s sleep. Something terrible will happen to you, my dear; the only question of how many of the few people you give a shit about are you willing to throw away in your feeble bit of defiance, I wonder?” he picked up the dagger, and pulling Raelynn’s hair back roughly until she was staring up at the ceiling through canvas, the sharp blade bit into her pale flesh. “My price to spare your life is for you to tell me a tale that satisfies me here, and now. Choose your next words carefully, my dear; I’m one yawn from opening your throat and letting your spoiled pompous ass bleed out upon this room. Surely you’ve noticed that coppery stench that’s soaked into the wood and tile? They were once people like you who decided my time was less valuable than their lives.”
He hadn’t taken her offer. He’s ignored it completely, this was a man hell bent on getting what he wanted. What choice did she have now? He had her pulled so far back by her hair that she could barely breath, his blade pressing firmly against her throat in such a way that any movement from her would cause it to puncture further - dangerously so. She couldn't move, she was held there with such force it prevented anything. She had no choice now; “I’ll talk. I’ll tell you something.” It fell from her mouth like a sob. “Just… May I have some water, please?” She stayed completely still, her body stiffened - paralysed. A tear rolled down her cheek and onto her neck. “I don’t want to die here by you…” her voice was little more than a breath now. “You don’t need to hold me like this, I… I can’t fight you. Please just let go and I’ll talk now.”
“Now.” He snarled, pulling her hair more roughly. “Speak now, or perish.”
She yelped in pain as he pulled back on her once more, would she sell someone out? Who would it be. The quiet and menacing Altmer? Jaraleet? It could even be Brynja -- the new Orc arrival? She would not be missed. No. She couldn't, to name any of them would bring the heat to their entire group and operation. She had to divert the heat from them. It was the only way to keep Gregor's secret safe, and to continue to protect Calen, Alim… even Judena.She would not bend to his will. He only had to think that she had.
There was nobody else she knew - but wait, the Redguard, her father’s bodyguard. She had been seen leaving the cultural centre with him already. She knew he was capable in his skills should he be ambushed. To sell him out would buy her time, time to give the warning. If her captor let her live. And it was as her father had said - he was sworn to the Hawkfords. This seemed like such a time for him to swear in; “There is a man, a Redguard. Zhaib!” she said through sobs, weeping as only a woman could. “A shady fellow he is too, loosen your grip and I shall tell you more.” Her body shuddered, and her thighs twitched under the strain of his hold.
As if obliging, the blade was lifted from her throat, and Zaveed’s hand ran gingerly down the back of Raelynn’s neck before resting upon her shoulder. “Continue.” he spoke softly.
“You have to understand. I’m just a healer - this warrants protection and for me to be assigned a bodyguard - sometimes more than one. Zhaib is my bodyguard in Gilane, my family have wealth and they don’t like me to travel alone.” The feeling of his hand on her shoulder made her skin crawl but she didn’t show it - instead she leant against it in faux affection, her next words becoming more hushed. “He asked me to be there to do the distraction - you were right, it was an act. I didn’t know what for - I promise. I shouldn’t have done it, but my family trusts Zhaib and I trust my family. What was I to do? I ran back to my lodgings after that. I made use of the crowds. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to lie to you…”
“Of course you did, you just weren’t as brave as you thought you were. There is no shame in that; no one truly wishes to die when someone else could do it for them.” Zaveed replied. “Perhaps you might enlighten me as to what your family’s interests in this city is, then? Why are they caught up in the capture and interrogation of Dwemeri officials?”
“They just care about me, they’re simple folk who want to know that I’m not getting into situations like you have me in right now. They would have told me if they were plotting something, I swear it. Whatever has motivated Zhaib to do this has been an outside influence. I’ve been caught up in it. I’m sorry.” She was trembling in her seat, so much so that her teeth chattered as she spoke, her back was arched just so that each breath she took caused her chest to rise up and down under his eyes. She was using her body now to buy time.
“And finally, through so many lies, some truth. Was that so difficult?” he purred softly, stroking Raelynn’s cheek with the back of his hand. “I will be paying this Zhaib a visit, and from there, the remainder of your family in this city. I imagine their words will be just as enlightening.” he said quickly, standing up suddenly and sliding the dagger back into its scabbard. “You’ve purchased your life at the cost of theirs, but whatever should I do with you?” he pondered aloud, looking down at the pretty girl whose face he could not see.
“My family are in High Rock, you won't find them here… What will you do to Zhaib? What will happen to him?” She stopped her shaking, or at least tried to. Although it was gone from her neck, she could still feel where it had been. Another tear fell from her cheek and landed on her chest. “You have the power here, not me. I've told you what I know, can't I leave now?” She let a tone of defeat roll off her tongue, with any luck he would take pity on her now and that would be it.
“Oh, I’m sure. But do not worry, I seldom know what I will do until the eve is upon me. Being spontaneous is the spice of life, is it not?” he asked cordially. He returned to the original side of the table he’d first risen from. Scooping up the nail he’d threatened Raelynn with before between two fingers, he placed his hand over hers once more reassuringly. “You’ve left all too much to my imagination, and spoke little of consequence. Still, I am not without my mercy. You are so strong willed, I admire you. I’d wish we’d met under more pleasant circumstances; we could have been good for one another.” Zaveed said quietly. The air fell silent between them.
The silence was broken by a sudden thud as the Khajiit brought down a hammer that had been sitting unannounced down upon the nail between his fingers directly into Raelynn’s hand, breaking through the other side and into the table. For good measure, he struck it again, further burying it into the wood. Tossing the tool aside carelessly, he leaned forward to caress the Breton’s face once more. “Until next time, my dear. I hope you find your voice. Do not go anywhere; my associates will be around shortly.” he cooed, releasing her suddenly before stepping away from the table and walking towards the door, which opened silently before closing gently behind him, as if not to wake the occupants of the house.