The Khajiit and the Shadows
I do not know how long I was tortured in Cidhna Mine.
The hours and days and weeks all roll together when there is no sunlight. Nothing to mark the time besides the agony of my claws being yanked free from my paws. After I had been declawed thirteen times by Lothar Burel’s men, I tried to stop counting.
Who wants to mark time by a pain so excruciating that I prayed each time it would kill me somehow?
I wondered about the world above. For all I knew someone had plummeted down from the sky and murdered that Necromancer everyone was so worried about—the one who’d conquered half of Skyrim and plunged it into darkness.
That was a pleasant thought. I don’t like necromancers much.
There were thirty-three Khajiit imprisoned with me in the cave. Most of them had either lost hope, or kept it so far buried beneath their hides that I could not see it.
Renji was different. She clung to rage like a sabre cat clings to a thrashing adult bear: to let go is to die.
There was, of course, a very dangerous side effect to Lothar Burel’s sadism. Every time his men came down and yanked our claws free, they grew back a little longer. A little stronger. A little sharper. When I entered Cidhna mine, my claws were barely longer than a Bosmer’s finger. Sharp enough to mangle flesh, sure. But weak enough to chip against a strong tree. Useless against plate armor.
But now. Gods. Now they were midnight black and longer than steel daggers. I only had a few days to experiment with the fully hardened talons before they were removed, but I found them so strong that I could cut through rock like it was a Skeever’s belly.
All of us had become like that. The most dangerous Khajiit band in history—even the Whispering Fang are not crazy enough to declaw themselves as many times as we had endured.
Too bad none of us would ever feel the sun on our fur again.
Unless I managed to pull the plan off, anyway.
I was taught how to fight and kill by a very dangerous person. Farah Ka’ra, he was called. He is the one who taught me to move like water, attack like lightning, and smother life like a raging fire. I spent almost my entire boyhood by his side—roaming the plains and dunes of Elsweyr, learning his ways. It requires a lot of training to become a killer like Farah, but his guiding principle was extremely simple:
“Little or small, patterns get people killed.” He often said. The old cat never even pissed in the same place twice.
I bring this up for a reason. Lothar Burel’s men carried some kind of magic inside them—that much was clear. I have seen men who can cast Invisibility. That’s not what they were doing. They moved among the shadows—passing from place to place as if the world was filled with thousands of tunnels only they had access to.
It is difficult to overpower a man who walks through shadow like most walk through doorways. Plus, they never appeared from the same shadow twice. In that much, at least, they followed Karah’s teachings.
But not in all ways.
They always took me at the same time—four Khajiit after Renji.
The cats before, between, and after were almost always different, but for some reason that part of the pattern never changed. It took me a long time to notice. I probably never would have realized it if I wasn’t paying extra attention to the times they took Renji—spirited her off out of reach and ripped her claws free before any of us could so much as blink.
Once I knew, it was just a matter of patience.
They usually declawed two or three of us a day. (What passed for days down here, anyway). It took a few weeks for the timing to be just right so that I knew I’d be the last one, and able to stay alert for a prolonged but predictable period of time. I unsheathed my claws and pretended to lay half asleep in a corner. I closed my eyes and listened to the tapping of water. The breathing of Khajiit.
There was a soft and strange noise that always accompanied the bruiser’s appearance—like tearing silk, almost.
When I heard the first tear, I shot up and jammed by claws through the newly-appeared brute’s chest. I felt the slippery wetness as my hand pierced his liver and punctured his stomach. I sliced through his spine like it was a dried branch.
Two others appeared from the shadows a moment after their friend was already dead. One with long black hair, another with red. I shaped my hand into a little scoop when I ripped it free from the first brute and threw a fistful of bile into the black haired one’s face.
Then I cut the redhead’s skull in half with a sideways stroke that cleaned him off just above his ears.
He collapsed with a very surprised look on his face—his hair whirling off to some dark and wet corner of the cave. The black haired man had just managed to wipe the bile free from one eye when I stabbed him through heart.
I figured a man who’d die with liver bile burning his eyes deserved a clean death.
Some of the Khajiit looked up at me, but none of them seemed particularly interested in the triple-murder I’d just committed. There was something about the cave, Lothar, and the declawing that seemed to grind them down. They were like empty husks casts out on a fallow field, most of them.
Not Renji, though.
She stalked over to me, hands bound up with wads of cave moss from her declawing the day before. Eyes burning with the same familiar hate.
“What have you done?” she hissed.
“Something more useful than your endless brooding,” I replied. “Now come on, we have work to do.”