Predator Becomes Prey
A Dunmer was sleeping in the forest, despite that it was nearly sunrise. After the ordeal he had just went through he was entitled to a bit of rest... Too bad the nearest town was miles away... Still, he had not let that bother him.
In the distance a snapping of a twig could be heard. The Dunmer's ear twitched. Ever since he had been attacked by that assassin from the Dark Brotherhood, he had honed his reflexes and stayed extra alert, ESPECIALLY when he slept. Whoever it was... They were good. He heard a familiar voice beginning to chant. He then leapt into the air, barely missing the gigantic ball of fire that was incinerating the area that he had slept at just moments before.
The initial explosion missed. The shockwave from it was the real killer. I was flung back into a nearby tree. Fortunately, my armor is light weight and flexible and VERY durable. In My line of work, it has to be. I looked over at the small crater. My helmet was irreparably damaged... Oh well... That's what I get for going cheap with my purchases, but cheap armor is better than none...
Focus. I need to get my head in the game.
I dodge and I roll out of the way of a second ball of fire. Damn... Whoever this is, is playing for keeps.
I'm sore all over. I'm not entirely sure if it's from last night's events or recent injuries... probably recent ones. Though my armor is durable, I think a few bones are cracked. Already though, I can feel my magic well up inside of me, already correcting the damage done. Snapping bones back into place, pulling ligaments tight, mending the tears in the muscle. I'm such a natural healer. Perhaps I should have taken that as my calling instead. But then I'd be bored all the time... I have too much of a warriors spirit. After all, why else would a Freelancer like me join up with the Redorans in my spare time?
I'm on my feet now. But the smell of ozone is strong in the air... I can feel it coming... I duck as a bolt of lightening crackles and sears the air above me. Wordlessly, I conjure a dagger into my hands and dive behind a boulder.
Whoever this is, he's powerful. Perhaps even more than I am. I may be a natural at healing, but I've extensively studied all forms of magic. Even alchemy. Too bad my potions were incinerated by this would be assassin. I wonder who it could be? We're not in a House War with the Telvanni, or at least not one in this area and certainly not one that I'm involved in, and the Mage Guild rarely goes out of their way to kill off people like me, after all, I only go after those who practice the Dark Arts. I do them a favor by taking care of their dirty laundry.
"Arcturas, come out and play!" shouted a voice.
Damn... I know this guy. Well, at least I should. The Imperial Legion at Fort Moonmoth hired me as extra muscle a while back when I was first getting started here in Morrowind. Tal Halkum and I had become pretty good friends during that quest. We had raided one of the nearby Dwemer Ruins in hopes of breaking up a pretty big smuggling ring. Apparently, it was being run by a pretty powerful Necromancer. That's where Tal and I had come in. The Legionnaires were to do most of the fighting, but it was up to us to take out the big man. Tal was an up and coming initiate of the Mage's Guild in Balmora and I was a freelancer who was just making a name for himself as a Witch-hunter. It's obvious we survived, and we've encountered each other a few times since, both as allies and foes.
Still... I can't figure out why he's coming after me now. Even if he took up the Dark Arts that I so despise, I don't think I would just kill him out right, even if he was my mark. No, something else is wrong here.
The boulder I was leaning against is blown to bits.
Damn... I spent too much time thinking about things that once were instead of paying attention to what really matters... Keeping myself alive. I can feel my magic reacting again, but Tal is smart. He knows my strengths, as well as many of my weaknesses, not that I have many, he just knows me well enough to exploit them. He won't just sit back and let me heal. The Necromancer did that, and look where he's at. Six feet under and worm food. All because he underestimated me. People think because I am skilled with a blade and prefer hand-to-hand combat that I am totally useless when it comes to offensive and defensive magic. Too bad Tal won't underestimate me like that.
I stumble to my feet. I hope to put as much distance between us as possible. But I can't even tell where he is. He's too fast, too silent. He's much, much more powerful than the last time we met. But then, so am I... So what's wrong?
Just when I thought I lost him, he materializes out of nowhere in front of me. Someone has certainly learned new tricks.
"Going somewhere?" he asks me.
Well, duh! I think to myself, I'm not just going to let you kill me now am I?
"You really didn't think you were going to get away did you, or were you trying to formulate a plan to kill me?"
My breathing is becoming more normal and my senses are returning. Almost immediately I notice something isn't right. Something is definitely off.
With quickness that would surprise even the swiftest and most nimble Khajiit, I lunge at him.
Somehow, he dodges and my conjured blade misses its mark completely. He grabs my arm with incredible strength. He's much too strong.
Now I am most definitely certain something is wrong. No human, especially one of Imperial birth, is this strong. I look at him with unmasked surprise, but he merely smirks before tossing me as if I was a filthy rag into yet another tree.
I refuse to scream out in pain, but I do let a few grunts escape. No mistaking it now. Bones aren't just cracked, they're broken. I call on my magic, but even my superior healing has it's limits.
This battle wouldn't be anywhere near as difficult if I hadn't taken on that Vampire Lord last night. Foolish, I know... Why would anyone take on a Vampire, much less a Lord, at night when they are strongest? Let's just call that my warrior spirit. Or sheer stupidity, take your pick.
My magic manages to take care of my most serious injuries, but it's beginning to fail me. So this is how it ends... Alone, in the middle of the forest, killed by one whom I came to think of as a friend.
I look up at my former friend and that's when I realize what's wrong.
He's pale, and his eyes have a dead, reddish glare to them. He's strong, incredibly so. You'd be hard pressed to find Orcs THAT strong. He's fast and silent. The fact that he escapes my notice, and I am oddly perceptive for an elf, should have told me right from the start what had happened.
He's like me. We both have a sort of profound hatred for the Dark Arts and those we consider as 'Dark' Creatures. This includes zombies, Daedra, skeletons and Vampires, their WILLING followers and the fools that worship them.
It's the worst nightmare for people such as us. A fate worse than death. He was turned. He is one of them, one of the very creatures we hunted and killed with ruthless efficiency. He had been turned and in turn found me.
Why? I can only think of a few reasons as I meet my own fate. One, he knows I am perhaps the biggest threat to his kind and decided that he would do his upmost to see me destroyed, or turned. Whichever ensured his survival. Or two, he came to die. Knowing I am among the best Witch-hunters in all of Morrowind, he sought me out so that I may kill him.
But, he couldn't just let me do it. No, he has too much honor for that. If he did, he'd might as well kill himself. No, he wants to go out like people like us only do. In battle. It's going to end in one of three ways, and two of them end in my own honorable death, though one sees me return in a pitiful half-life as a thing of Darkness that I despise. The third option ends in the death of an old friend. Damn... Fate is too cruel sometimes...
I can take solace in one thing, however. It will be sunrise soon. Hopefully, I can stall just long enough so that I will have time to recover and give my friend the release he so longs for.
I struggle to stand, but my knees give out on me. He must have hit me harder than I thought. It's bad enough when a normal person is turned, but when a Mage of his caliber goes down, the amount of damage he can do is staggering.
"Having trouble, Arcturas?" he asks me.
"Piss off!" I hiss at him. I struggle to my feet again, and this time I remain standing. I notice the conjured dagger in my hand has dissolved back into nothingness and the rest of my weapons were either destroyed or left at my make-shift campsite. Even a Dark Elf, with our superior strength to humans, couldn't hope to take one in hand-to-hand combat when they've been turned.
Plus, he was totally fresh, the only fatigue he had probably experienced was traveling all the way from his coven to here, casually attacking any bandits along the way as way of sustaining himself for our battle. Meanwhile, I was taking on over a dozen of his kind and doing my best to free their slaves before they're used as food or worse.
"Such language..." he said, shaking his head. "I'd have thought by now you'd have learned some manners, but perhaps I was wrong about you... Tsk, tsk..."
Friend or not, he was really beginning to get on my nerves... Not that my current condition helped any... I was trapped and there was nothing I could do. Broken bones, torn muscles and on top of all that, my magic was failing and fatigue was setting in.
"I used to think as you do. That our kind was nothing but filthy abominations. But now I have been enlightened. Behold the power I wield at my finger tips, the power that could be yours!" he exclaimed.
"Is that why you sought me out? To turn me?" I asked in an even voice, doing my best to not let my rage do my thinking for me.
"If possible, yes. But no... The Council Elders of my coven have decided you've become a threat to us and our way of life, as I had been before the Master turned me. They feel that you should be dealt with, whether you live as one of us, or die as one of them, it does not matter," Tal explained.
"Then I choose death. To become what I despise is much worse than death," I spat. I could feel my magic returning, but it wasn't enough.
"You say that now. I said as much when I faced the Master," Tal told me, remembering, "I was foolish then. I did not realize the power that came with my new found immortality."
"Power isn't everything. Even if it isn't me, someone will come. Someone more powerful than either of us will come and he will not hesitate in destroying you," I said stubbornly. I wasn't about to give in yet, not enough of my magic had returned and daylight was still a ways off. I had only one option... Escape. Live to fight another day. But, even if I activated my emergency Temple Ring, he was still too close.
"Let him come, let them all come!" Tal said defiantly, "I will face them all, and I will crush them!"
NOW! I thrust my hand forward and let out a huge fireball of my own. The fact that I lashed out as I had caught Tal by surprise. He summoned a shield around him just barely in time see me activate my ring and teleport to safety.
I took a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing the look on his face as he slowly faded from view...
SHIT! I stumbled and collapsed. I could see that I was successful in making it all the way to Gnisis. It was still early morning so not many people were out and about yet. Hopefully, either the town guards would see me or maybe my magic would return.
Fat chance in THAT happening though. The fireball took with it the last of my strength. I could hear people off in the distance as I slowly faded out into a black void of nothingness...
Ouch... How much did I drink last night, I asked myself as I slowly regained consciousness. My head felt as if it had been trampled by an entire herd of Guar.
"Arcturas... Are you alright?" another voice I knew. This one filled with concern. Slowly I went over all the events I last remembered so I could figure out how I came to be where ever it was that I had ended up.
"Captain, stand back and let me check him over," said a Dunmer, female, as far as I could tell. I could feel a rush of energy flow through me. It was very exhilarating. "Here, Arcturas, drink up," I heard as the feeling went away and a flask put to my lips.
Yuck! Disgusting, vile things, potions. Whoever made this one was a very mediocre brewer at best. A complete amateur. Then again, I am quite advanced in Alchemy, most Witch-hunters could barely brew weak healing and fatigue potions, let alone complex restorative droughts that healed both the mind and the body. So I should be thankful that this person could at least do this disgusting brew half right.
A rush of memories came flooding back. The Ancestral Tomb... Vampires... Rest... Ambush... Tal Halkum... Escape... Damn... I really wished I had been partying... Oh well, being attacked by a Vampire Mage who used to be my closest and most trusted friend is much more exciting to talk about than getting totally smashed and ending up an some strange plump Nord woman's house that I don't even remember meeting, let alone have the urge to sleep with...
That is a story for another time however...
FOCUS! That's right, someone is trying to get my attention. Slowly, I open my eyes. I'm in the Temple infirmary, and at my bed side another close friend. Captain Darius. Head of the Fort Darius Imperial Legion Garrison in Gnisis. Shaking the cobwebs from my head I look at him blankly.
"So, Arcturas, mind telling us how you got here in such a condition?" he asked, concern and worry in his voice. As it should be considering we too have worked together. Well, not the Captain and I, but I have pulled a few jobs out of here for the Legion and the Imperial Cult, so my reputation precedes me. "I haven't seen you this messed up in a long time. Not even that Daedra Overlord messed you up this bad."
He'd be surprised at the damage it actually did do to me, but I won't elaborate on that now. After all, I'm an amazing healer, why spill my secrets?
"I was pulling an all nighter..." I began, but he cut me off.
"Vampire Hunting again?" He said shaking his head with a hint of amusement in his voice, he knew me too well. The concern was still there however. "I was aware of a small Tomb not too far from here where they were beginning to gather, but I wasn't aware of any high caliber Vamps being so close to the city."
"There wasn't," I replied, "Took care of them easily enough, though after facing so many of those bastards, the Vampire Lord was a bit of a challenge."
"Then what is out there now that did this to you?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Vampire," I answered curtly, I didn't want to go into too much detail with the healers around, the Temple tended to get a little overzealous with their Witch-hunts and Demon exterminations. Captain Darius seemed to get the point and let the matter drop.
"Is it still nearby?" he asked.
"Can't be sure, but he is definitely at the top of my priority list," I told him.
"Well, since it seems you've lost most of your gear, the Legion will compensate you if you work with us in eradicating the abomination," he said in a completely business like matter.
"Not necessary," I replied. "I'll work with you, but I'll do this one for free. It's personal this time."
Captain Darius hid his surprise well. He simply nodded, knowing I'd tell him once the healers declared me fit to leave.
"I'll have to make a quick trip down to Seyda Neen to get some more gold to repair and replace what was lost, as well as brew some more potions."
"No need, we've already repaired the gear you did have and I've taken the liberty of replenishing some of the potions we were aware that you carried. I'm sure if we spoke with the cult priests, they'll allow you to make some of your more personal brews," Darius said reassuringly, "The shop owners will probably give you a hefty discount once news gets around that a rogue vampire is out and about."
"Arcturas, you're free to leave, but don't overdo it," said the healer. As I suspected the healer was a Dunmer female, but her face was kind, no trace of the typical harsh scowl that could often be found on the face of our kind. Life at the Temple had been very gracious to her.
Captain Darius and I walked from the Temple to the Macadeus Tradehouse. "So, what's going on?" he asked casually. If anything could be said about him, he definitely cared for the people of Gnisis, even that mad Telvanni wizard who lived in the tower that refused to pay the Imperial Taxes. He was an eccentric old man, but I liked him all the same. I am not sure if I had gone in there to kill him, as I originally planned, that I would have succeeded.
Back to the matter at hand...
"Tal Halkum," I simply said.
"That Mage out of Balmora?" he looked at me questioningly. Like me, Tal had gotten himself quite the reputation. Too bad he was one of them now. Our battles with and against each other were the stuff of legend. The next one would be the final one. May the loser rest in peace.
"Apparently, he had went after much bigger game a few nights back," I explained, "He hated the Dark Arts and those associated with it equally as much as I. He's one of them now." My insides hardened. Tal was a good man, he didn't deserve the hand fate had dealt him. Captain Darius remained silent.
After all, when the Daedra Overlord had slaughtered his followers, breaking free of his bonds of servitude and began summoning a few more of his own kind to our realm, Tal was one of the first to respond. He had come all the way from Malag Mor to take on the Daedra Overlord and his minions, against the orders of his own Guild. While the Mage's Guild in Balmora demoted him for his insolence and disrespect of authority, the Imperial Legion at Fort Darius had heralded him as a hero.
While the Mage's Guild and the Imperial Legion were on friendly terms, they weren't exactly allies. For Tal to go against his own superiors to save just a few more lives of the Imperial Legionnaires spoke volumes to the people of Gnisis and more importantly to Captain Darius. Like Arcturas, Tal Halkum had Captain Darius' upmost respect. Respect that Imperial Legionnaires, Freelancers, Redoran Warriors, Imperial Cultists, and even Temple Ordinators went out of their way to get.
"We're covering the costs of whatever it is you need," said Darius after a few moments of silence. The hatred in his voice was clear to those who knew him well. "I'm going to send a group of no less than eight of my best Legionnaires with you."
My head snapped back to the captain. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He only had a small garrison here, and he was far too undermanned as it was.
"He does not deserve this," he explained, "I am going to do my upmost to ensure that you succeed and help our friend when he needs us most."
I nodded. I couldn't help but remember that those were exactly my thoughts when I had faced him in the woods.
Tal, old friend. Watch out, because I'm coming for you...
A/N: I hope you all liked this one. This story was a bit of an experiment with this particular writing style. I had been reading the Wolverine comics for a while and I liked how you could always see what Wolverine was thinking during every bit of the action and that's what I tried to recreate here. This fic will stay one-shot. However, if I get a good enough response to this fic, the Adventures of the Dunmer Freelancer, Arcturas are far from over. Please read and review.