A Blink in the Snow
After decapitating the drunken Altmer, I walked back to the Thalmor Embassy.
I could have teleported across that snowy field and saved myself some time, but there was a strange and new kind of comfort to walking. Each footfall felt like stepping out from an enormous and black ocean that had nearly consumed me.
It is strange to think that I once stalked deer and guar beneath the canopies of Vallenwood—naked and wild, allied to the natural ways of the world. I have strayed so far from the feral elf I once was. She is a distant memory, tattooed across my skin so that I can never forget her.
But I am not her. Not anymore. Probably, I never will be again.
The mask felt good pressed against skin—warm and soft and familiar. It gave me a dreadful kind of power—to blink from one place to another in the space of a heartbeat. Anywhere I could see was a place I could be.
All it takes is a twitch of my tattoos, then a rush of inky blackness swallows me up. Spits me out somewhere else. It took a few days of warping around that hidden mountain valley Morlanus drug me to, but I go the hang of it.
By the time I returned to the Embassy Courtyard—which was full of dead men—I felt like a part of this world again. The shift is dangerous—there are terrible creatures lurking within that gloomy deep. Each time I blink, they get a little closer. I do not know what will happen if they catch me, but I know it will not be good.
I kept the mask on, even though I was afraid to use it again for a few hours, at least. Then I yanked open the main door and went inside.
The hall was warm and smelled of lavender incense. The wall sconces were lit, and a fire crackled from further within the building. From looking at that comforting scene, you would never have guessed that I had murdered almost a hundred men just outside, painted the snow red with their blood.
Finding the Thalmor who tried to kill me had not been easy. First, I returned to the place where they had ambushed me with a bamboo needle. From there, I had to cut the sign of three-week old tracks until they led me to the hidden Embassy deep within the mountains of the Reach.
Astrid doesn’t know about this place—if she did I bet she’d have thought twice before setting up our new Sanctuary so that we were practically neighbors with the gold-skinned bastards.
I wandered through the halls and rooms, not really looking for anything specific. The furniture was carved from teak and ash imported from the Summerset Isles. The carpets were woven from glowworm silk and fine wool. Everywhere, there were racks of elven weapons and chests filled with flawless gems.
Say one thing for the Thalmor, say they have money.
Eventually, I found an oak hatch carved into the floor of a small supply room. There was a circular handle made from steel set into the wood. It wasn’t a secret passage, necessarily. Just a subtle one. I heaved at the hatch, stirring up a yawning breath of cold, subterranean air, and went inside.
I am no stranger to torture chambers, and this one had all of the necessary décor: Wooden tables with leather loops for limbs. The rusty metal tools with their hooks and their teeth. Crow cages filled with bones.
I sniffed the air—there was a familiar, sour kind of smell to the air that I couldn’t quite place. I moved further down the long rectangular chamber, which went on for a long ways. I understood now why Thalmor had kept this place a secret, unlike the Solitude Embassy.
This is where they hid their sins.
At the very end of the room, there was a barred oak door with iron studs. The sour smell was stronger here, so I lifted the bar and opened the door.
Then three things happened all at once.
One, I saw Veezara chained spread-eagle to a wall—he had been tortured with a fierce purpose, but he was alive. Two, I smelled three other Dark Brotherhood assassins who were chained to other parts of the wall and were very much not alive.
Three, I heard a blast of lighting being summoned from behind me.
Without thinking, I activated my tattoos and felt the stark touch of the blink consume me. My nose filled with brimstone, my skin went hot and sweaty, and a dark vision of slitted eyes and bony fingers burned against my eyelids.
Then I reappeared behind the Thalmor torturer who had gotten the drop on me. His bolt of lightning sawtoothed across the room and incinerated the oak door in an impressive but ultimately harmless display of power.
I picked up a hooked instrument from a nearby table and buried it in his skull.
There was a crunch and a moan, then the gold-skin fell over dead. I took a long, deep breath and tried to shake off the feeling that insects with an uncountable number of legs were crawling through my skin and muscle and bone.
When that was over, I walked back to the opening of the torture chamber.
“Veezara,” I said, voice muffled by the mask.
He looked up at me. One of his eyes was so swollen I was not sure it did him much good.
“Who…what…” he muttered.
Slowly, I grabbed the mask from underneath the chin and yanked it free. All at once, my burning skin turned cold and clammy. Removing the mask was like picking away a scab—my face felt soft and vulnerable. I set the mask onto a bone-hook I’d attached to the belt on my hip. Then I ran a hand through my wet black hair.
“That’s right,” I said. My voice sounded foreign inside of my own skull. “Looks like they’ve done a number on you.”
He nodded, his reptile face full of pain and torpor. “If you could cut me down and…bring me a glass of water,” Veezara managed to eke out, “I have much to tell you.”
He swallowed painfully, and locked his eyes on me.
“You are being hunted, Narova Black Hair.”