Snow Fall

Snow Storm: Act 3

by Hallan Mirayas

"For a Patildor, he learns to properly fear us surprisingly quickly. Remember that fat priest from-"

"Shut up, Pride."

Frozen face-down and trembling on the ground, Drift did not know who spoke in his defense. He couldn't move. His whole body felt numb. Only when the voice spoke again did he recognize it. "Awake, Drift." A gentle hand stroked the back of his neck where Revonos had seized it. "Awake. The storm is past." Revonos laughed, hard and derisive, but Artela scooped up Drift's chin and lifted his head nose to nose with her. "Ignore him. Focus. Here. Me." She stroked his cheek with delicate fingers. "I am your Advocate. If anything can be done to help keep you from him, I will find it. That is what I am here for. Trust in me."

The nature goddess's voice resonated with something deep and primal in Drift's mind, and his tongue flicked out to lick her nose before he could stop himself.

"Isn't that precious?" Pride scoffed, his voice dripping with scorn. "What a precious little mongrel whelp-"

"Pride, come here." Agemnos beckoned his son over, his brow furrowed and his eyes dark. Indicating that Pride should bend down, Agemnos whispered something in his ear, something that drained the color from Pride's face. Without another word, the young daedra hurried to take a respectful and, more importantly, silent position to the right and just behind of his father's throne.

"What did he say?" Dvalin asked, sotto voce.

Dokorath, whose ears could distinguish the cry of a single warrior over the din of battle, replied, "You don't want to know."

Agemnos smirked. "Knowledge is power. Are you done yet, Artela, or must we wait even longer for the beast to be soothed?"

"Is the self-proclaimed master of the slow knife grown impatient?" the goddess rejoined with the speed of a fencer's parry, but her focus did not waver. Her eyes stayed locked on Drift's, and the numbing paralysis slowly faded from his body. "Can you stand now?" she asked, pitching her voice privately so it would not carry. "I know you are afraid, and you have every right to be, but it is important for them to see you on your feet. Can you do that for me?"

Drift nodded jerkily, and Artela helped steady him as he rose, trembling, from the floor. He clutched at what few rags had been left of his clothing, his tail tucked, but he tried to smile when Artela gave him one last pat on the shoulder.

"Esteemed lords and ladies," Artela began, circling the room as she spoke. "Pride is correct when he says that this trial is about whose ethos this mortal more closely follows. But I say this: Whose ethos does he more readily follow when not driven to the point of madness? Yes, he swore a rash Oath. I will not try to deny it. But I will say that he deserves the mercy of this court."

With a snap of her fingers, she took control of the scrying globe, erasing the frozen image of Drift's snarling rage. In its place came image after image of Drift the creator, Drift the builder, Drift the inventor. Revonos immediately slouched back against his throne, arms crossed, and Suspira yawned with boredom when Drift stayed on delivering food after his penance for covering Akkala's mark had passed.

Agemnos made a small gesture with the fingers of one hand, and the scrying globe froze. Artela turned to protest, and Pride flinched as if jolted out of a wandering daydream. "Now?" he asked his father.

"Now," Agemnos replied, reclining back in his throne. He steepled his fingers against smiling lips, a chessmaster making his checkmate move.

"My Lords, I protest!" Artela objected, appealing directly to the golden aura of Lord Kammoloth. "Pride has already had his chance to speak, and Agemnos had recused himself! This is highly improper!"

Without manifesting any physical appearance, the high lord of the aedra nevertheless made his displeasure felt. "Agemnos, you tread dangerously close to a ruling of interference. I suggest you silence yourself for the rest of this trail. Is that understood?"

Schooling a look of chastened humility onto his face, Lord Agemnos bowed his head in obeisance. He'd already done the damage necessary. Now it was up to Pride to make the most of it.

"Explain yourself, Prosecutor, and quickly."

"Am I not entitled a rebuttal?" Pride wheedled. "I'm sure that Lady Artela could have us here for a month singing the praises of this 'virtuous mortal', but-"

"If you say 'some of us have places to go and people to meet', Prosecutor," Ba'al interjected, "I will reject your case."

Swallowing that very line, Pride affected an innocent visage that fooled no-one. "I wouldn't dream of it, my lord. But am I not entitled to a rebuttal? If Lady Artela wishes to parade the past before us, then I think we need to see a little more. Whose ethos does this mortal serve? I say Lord Revonos, and I can show you proof."

The two high lords conferred for a moment. "Proceed," Lord Kammoloth ruled, "but do not test our patience. Be brief, Prosecutor, or be gone."

Pride bowed until his head neared his knees. "As you command, my Lords."

The globe swirled as Pride took control of it again, and Lilith leaned forward in interest as a mountainous white snowscape swam into view. "So that's where Crooked Jaw's pack went. Interesting."

"Leave them alone, Lilith," Artela replied, glaring daggers at Agemnos for unveiling her project. "The wars you've involved them in are killing the species. They need a chance to rebuild."

To the surprise of all, the goddess of predation did not argue with her aedra counterpart. "Agreed. I won't have you coddling them, but I can let them get settled in before I test them."

"That sounds like the best deal you're likely to get, Advocate," interceded Lord Ba'al before the two nature goddesses could square off for an argument. "But we digress from the point. Continue, Prosecutor."

Preening with delight, Pride gladly complied. "Due to some small amount of... interference," he purred, dipping a faux-respectful nod to Artela, "only a short portion of this instance can be shown." The mountainous image in the scrying globe shivered, sliding in and out of focus as if it didn't want to be there, and the globe itself began to drip, reverting back to the wine from which it had come. Pride reached out with his leonine paw, flexing his claws as if pinioning the orb between them. It froze in place again, and Pride couldn't resist a taunt. "Where do you think you're going? Did I say you could go?"

"Briefly, Prosecutor," Lord Ba'al warned.

The image zoomed in on a forest in the mouth of a ravine. Trees flashed past as it plunged in among them, to find taurform Drift rearing up in a shoving match with a cave bear. A lightning bolt blasted into the bear's flank, collapsing both legs and dumping the bear against the samoyed taur. What followed next brought wide-eyed interest to nearly every daedra in the room as, after ripping its throat open with his teeth, Drift reduced the bear's dying carcass to a pile of bloody gore, staining the snow red for more than a yard in every direction. The image froze as Drift stabbed his blood-soaked spear-staff through its shattered skull for the fourth time, his face a rictus of fury. "Still think he's better suited to the path of Akkala?" Pride asked, and returned without another word to his father's side.

Akkala looked stricken. Velena had gone pale, as if she might shortly be sick. Through the slits of his visors, Dokorath glared in condemnation at the shivering samoyed, but Artela did not allow the death scene to linger. The instant Pride released control of it, the orb whirled white and blurred as it shifted its view back in time. "If you're going to tell a story, Prosecutor, tell the whole story. Not just what is convenient for you." This time, there was no shivering or wobbling in the scrying orb as Artela showed Drift, a black leopard Keeper, and a young dire wolf survive an avalanche and a fall down a cliff. "Dislocated shoulder. Concussion. Broken ribs," she rattled off, gesturing to the two Keepers as their injuries revealed themselves. The scene wound forward. "Three days awake, in constant pain." The scene wound forward again, and the bear bowled Drift over onto his bad shoulder and started mauling him. "Ambushed, critically injured, exhausted... and protecting his friends," she continued as Drift sawed himself free of tangled loops of rope, then leaped into battle to distract the bear from his companions. The bear and the taur reared up, forepaws lashing out. "And then..." The bear collapsed, and this time the angle clearly showed its head slamming down on the samoyed's injured arm. "You prove my point for me, Pride," Artela concluded, though it gave her no pleasure to do so. "Whose ethos does he more readily follow when not driven to the point of madness? After all he'd gone through to getting to that point-" She snapped her fingers, and the scry shifted to Drift's workshop and the appearance of the hidden sword. "-and to this one, I can see why he might have a mental breakdown! Yes, he made a mistake, and a bad one. But grant him mercy for the circumstances of it. Don't condemn him for his anguish and pain. Let him free."

Artela stepped back, her plea made, and Lord Kammoloth allowed the room to murmur for a few moments before continuing. "Anything further from either of you? No? Very well. Then what do our seers have to say about this one’s future?"

Nocturna refused to answer.  "As with Lord Agemnos, I have a vested interest in this outcome.  I will say nothing."

Sammekh, aedra lord of Knowledge, stepped forward in a sweep of his silver-white robe, blue eyes narrowing with intent as he examined the furry mortal still shivering on the trial dais.  He frowned, deepened further into an open scowl, and then he finally looked away with a huff of annoyance.  "My lord, this one's future refuses to resolve itself for me.  If he is taken by Lord Revonos, from that point on, wherever I look, his destiny splits into two paths.  Neither will yield precedence to the other.  It is... most unusual."

"Well then what good are you?" Pride sneered.  "I thought sorting the future into tiny little boxes was-"

"Pride, be silent," Lord Ba'al spoke from the judgement throne.  The voice that issued from him was conversational in tone, but it carried authority like a whiplash. Pride shut his mouth with an audible click of his too-perfect teeth.

"There is more to be said," Lord Kammaloth proclaimed, his words sliding smoothly into the gap caused by Ba'al's command.  "Continue, Lord Sammekh."

The Lord of Knowledge cleared his throat, taking a moment to settle himself before continuing.  "With that caveat known, I will say this..."  He turned to face Lord Revonos directly.  "If your claim is granted, you will chain him to you.  That is certain.  It is also certain that chain will one day be broken."  The aedra lord turned his attention to the whole gathering assembled.  "Let none seek to re-establish that chain, be they daedra, aedra, or mortal being, for I foresee disaster falling upon any who do."

Revonos snorted in derision, sneering even more broadly than had Pride.  "Disaster?  Hah!  Typical aedra lies.  He's mine and I'll do whatever I want-"

"It's true."  Lord Klepnos stepped forward with a gleeful grin.  He sidled up next to Lord Sammekh, who shuddered in disgust and tried to step away.  The Trickster Lord followed step for step, as smoothly as in a choreographed dance, and several chuckles broke out around the chamber at Sammekh's discomfiture.  "Oh do let me tell them, brother," Lord Klepnos wheedled.  "Please, please, please do!"

Visibly fighting to repress the nearly irresistible urge to push Klepnos back, Sammekh snapped, "Fine!  Just get away from me!"  Trailed by the uproarious laughter of nearly every daedra in the room (as well as several of the aedra), the Lord of Knowledge retired to his seat.

Lord Klepnos smiled and spread his hands wide, welcoming the laughter and even holding out a hand toward the departing aedra lord.  "Isn't he great, folks?" he quipped.  "We'll be here all week!"  With his audience left alternately puzzled by the strange line and yet oddly amused by it at the same time, he spiraled in toward Drift.  Literally- rather than walking directly to the manacled mortal, he circled around sideways, drawing closer with each step.  Once, twice, three times he circled the Keeper, his expression shifting with nearly every stride, ranging from wild amusement to thorough revulsion and every possible emotion in between.  Drift recoiled as the Lord of Madness drew near, but Klepnos just stepped in close and draped his arm over the Keeper's shoulders, leaning in with as delighted a grin as any had ever seen on him.

"Relax!" the daedra lord said with an expansive drawl, patting the cringing Keeper on the head with an utterly ineffective gesture of reassurance.  Hooking his arm around Drift's neck, he yanked the Keeper sideways against him, cheek to cheek, and then swept his free hand across to indicate the whole divine assembly.  "You see all of them?" he asked, seizing the canine's jaw to make sure he didn't turn away.  "Do you see them all?" he asked again.

"Klepnos," Ba'al interjected, but the trickster ignored him.

Drift nodded convulsively and Klepnos grinned wider, his face stretching unnaturally to make it fit.  "Let me tell you a secret," he stage-whispered into the canine's ear.  "THEY'RE BORING!"  Drift jerked reflexively away from the shout, but Klepnos yanked him back.  "Boring, boring, boring, the lot of them!"


Putting one hand on each of Drift's shoulders, the daedra lord swiveled Drift around with nearly enough force to spin the dog-man off his feet, looking him over with an almost giddy delight.  "But you!  You are perhaps the most interesting creature I've seen in centuries!"  The pace of the daedra lord's words, already fast, accelerated with breathless abandon.  "So many possibilities- a veritable nexus of them, and so many of them exciting ones-"

"KLEPNOS!" Ba'al thundered from his throne, and the whole room darkened under the influence of his anger.  Every aedra in the room sagged as if made ill by the wave of energy, while every daedra cringed away in fear.  Pride abandoned his dignity entirely and dove for cover behind his father's throne.

Only Kammaloth remained unaffected, and a golden wash of his own power brought the room back into order.  "Continue, Lord Klepnos," he said, his words echoing majestically in the marble hall.  "You were meaning to speak of a peril should this mortal be re-chained."

Lord Klepnos, who had gone white as paper under the focus of Lord Ba'al's ire, straightened his green tunic with a nervous brushing of his trembling hands.  "R-right, right.  My apologies.  I got carried away.  Yes, carried away," he rambled half under his breath.  Taking a moment more to compose himself, he cleared his throat self-consciously and started again in a more normal tone.  "Right.  Peril.  Disaster.  Yes.  Ahem."

Turning on his heel, he circled in a few steps towards Lord Revonos, who scowled in open scorn at his approach.  Lord Klepnos didn't seem to mind: indeed, the closer he got, the more broadly he smiled.  "I almost hope that you do re-chain him, cousin.  I have never seen a destiny repeat itself in so many possible futures.  Here, I'll keep this nice and simple, just to be sure you understand."  Klepnos' conspiratorial grin re-established itself as he swept around behind Revonos' throne, leaning down on the far side for another stage-whisper and emphasizing each word in turn.

"He.  Will.  Kill.  You."

A murmur of shock and protest rumbled through the courtroom, but Lord Klepnos wasn't finished.  He spun away and advanced on Drift, circling around him once more with a look of rapturous delight.  "But whether anyone chains you or not, you will -still- be entertaining!  You will be called the Chaos Bringer and Sunderer of Prophecy, for you are the bane of all prophets: a variable that was not foreseen!  Wherever you go, you will bring change and upheaval on every scale."  The Trickster Lord pinched the samoyed's cheek and tweaked it playfully, gleefully.  "Oh, I almost wish you were mine!"  With that, he sashayed back to his seat, humming to himself.

"Well, that was unsettling," Lord Dvalin grumbled from his throne of clouds.  Nervous laughter echoed back from both sides of the room.

Lord Kammoloth cleared his throat to draw everyone's attention back to matters at hand.  "If there are no further statements to be made, Lord Ba'al and I shall deliberate on this matter for the evening.  See to it that the mortal is well cared-for."

Alexastra floated in the void. No sound, no light, no sensation at all, not even from her own body. Nothing but her own thoughts. They were not happy ones.

It was not the first time she had been trapped in a soul gem. That time had not been pleasant, either, but this was far worse. She had, as best as she could tell, saved her beloved from Agemnos' clutches... only to see him thrown into the hands of Revonos. Had Nocturna betrayed her? How could this have happened? What could she do now?

Once again, she tested the confines of her prison. If the gem was flawed, she had learned ways to exploit that, ways to escape. If Linafex had procured the gem from some source other than Lord Agemnos, there was a slim chance... but no. Her jail was secure, and she almost wept. She would have to wait until someone released her. It could be days, it could be eons. It could be never.

No. She pushed that despairing thought away, unwilling to accept such a catastrophe. She refused to believe that she would be so forgotten. The economics of the Hells insisted that she would eventually be freed. Neither Lord Agemnos nor Lady Nocturna were given to wasting useful resources and, if Lord Agemnos still managed somehow to win their bet, he would never settle for such a tame torture as eternal isolation. No. This would only be temporary.

So be it. She had resources available even here, in the featureless void. With a thought, she channeled her talent with illusions into generating a world in her own mind, letting the image of it form around her. A body, clothes, a table, a room, and beyond... Producing a small metal top from a pocket she hadn't had a moment before, she set it spinning on the table, willing it to continue for as long as the illusion lasted. She was not about to become lost in her own illusions. Every outcome she could think of, she would plan and prepare and train for. When she got loose, she would be ready.

And then not even Ba'al himself would stop her.

Drift looked around, jaw dropping open in disbelief as aedra and daedra alike filed out of the room, the two on the high thrones simply vanishing from view in the same manner that they had arrived. He was left alone. "Wait! What's happening?" he asked when he could finally get his tongue to move. "Where are you going? Don't leave me here-"

The doors shut with a boom.

"-alone." He paused a moment, jaw hanging slightly open. What on earth had possessed him to say that? Now was his best chance to get out of this crazy place! Whirling away from the doors, he prised at the heavy collar around his neck, trying to find a clasp, trying to squeeze his head out of it. Then he reached for the chains attached to it... and froze. Just thinking about laying a hand on that black iron, the black iron that had burned with fire, twisted his gut with nausea and fear. He would try the silver chain first. If he could get -that- worked out of the floor, then maybe... maybe he'd be able to try the black. Work now, panic later, came the old adage, but it rang hollow this time. Fear-taste turned his mouth copper, but he tried to ignore it while he pulled on the chain.

He might as well have tried to uproot a mountain. Its end buried deep in the floor, the chain didn't budge, and his feet slipped on a puddle of his own blood and vomit. Polished marble proved treacherously slippery for wet paws, and it wasn't long before he landed chin-first on the floor, hands entangled in the chains beneath him. Stars of pain danced in his eyes, then cleared away... to reveal three pairs of slippered feet standing before his nose.

The feet appeared attached to three women in long silver dresses: one black-haired, one white, one blonde as daylight. All looked to be in their early twenties. Drift didn't believe it for a moment. Not here, not after the beings he'd already encountered. "Who are you?"

"We are the Caretakers of Sanctuary," replied the black-haired woman, banishing with a graceful gesture the mess Drift had made of the floor. "I am Luna."

"We are sworn to neutrality. You will not be harmed," continued the blond, lifting Drift to his feet without any seeming effort. "I am Phoebe."

"We have been instructed to see to your care while your Judgement is deliberated," finished the white-maned girl, reaching out to touch the chains bound to Drift's heavy collar. "I am Selene."

Drift's eyes widened as the silver and black chains faded into a ghostly transparency, vanishing into apparent nothingness halfway to the floor. "What did-"

"Your bonds are unbroken," intoned Luna, circling to Drift's left.

"But you are granted temporary parole and respite," Phoebe spoke, circling to Drift's right.

"We will take you to a place where you may refresh yourself," proclaimed Selene. She stayed where she was, and the three of them raised their hands in a circle around Drift. And then, quite suddenly, they were elsewhere.

Revonos slammed Pride against the wall by his shirt collar. "What do you mean, I might not win?" he roared. "It's obvious!"

His feet dangling two full feet off the ground, Pride couldn't quite maintain his father's famous sang froid. Prying fruitlessly at Revonos' iron grip, the daedra noble gasped, "'S'not what I said! I said- ow! Put me down, you maniac- ow!!" Eventually, even Pride deduced that struggling with and insulting the Lord of Rage wasn't going to be a successful strategy, and he went still. "Ahem. I beg your pardon. If you desire my clarification and assistance, I must respectfully request that you put me down. At a convenient time. Preferably soon. Ish. Please."

Growling, Revonos shook Pride a few more times to make sure he had really stopped resisting, then dropped him with a sulking scowl. "All right, you scrawny pipsqueak. Tell me what you really meant, and stop talking like you're still in the courtroom. I'm not stupid, and I won't let a jumped-up little scrub like you talk down to me. Clear?"

"Indubit-" Pride checked himself. "Very clear. Crystal clear, even. As clear as-" A steely glare from Revonos stopped him again. Pride took a deep breath and decided to try a different approach: flattery. "Your lordship, most fearsome of warriors, if your humble servant unin- that is, accidentally implied that you might l- that you might.... be less than successful in your right and worthy claim on that idiot fool of a mortal," Pride began, drooping his head in penitent obeisance, "then I must abjectly beg your forgiveness for misspeaking. That was far from my intent.

Pride's delivery grew smoother as he warmed to his work. Sliding off to the side, he plucked a golden goblet of ambrosia from a nearby servant's platter and offered it, gesturing with his free hand to an opulent, sumptuously upholstered chair nearby. "Please, refresh yourself, milord, while I correct my misspeaking."

Revonos eyed both drink and chair distrustfully for a few moments, recognizing he was being managed, but decided to go along with it. "Correct yourself quickly," he snapped as he sat, taking a large gulp from the goblet. "You have until I finish my drink, or I'll embed this in your skull."

"And you would be right to do so, oh mighty one," Pride soothed, "but stay your wrath for just a few moments and I think you will find it worth the wait." Pulling over a relatively plain ottoman, Pride seated himself to subtly place his head lower than Revonos', and folded his hands in his lap. "You, of all people, know that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy."

Revonos took another large gulp, belched, and scowled. "Get on with it."

Pride hurried on. "I believe your case is certain, as far as claiming him is concerned, no matter the mitigating circu- ahem. You will surely claim him. However, there is some precedent that you might not be able to -keep- him, at least not indefinitely."

The goblet creaked a warning in Revonos' fist, starting to deform in his tightening grip.

"I say this only as a warning," Pride blurted, willing his face to turn a bit pale for his client's benefit. "Not as a sure thing, but just as a distant possibility. I would not want you to be caught off- to be surprised unexpectedly if a time limit were set on your ownership."

Revonos scowled, but then sighed and took another long gulp from his drink. "I remember," he grumbled, and a bit of the tension slipped from Pride's shoulders.

"Truly, you are wise, my lord. Have you considered what you might do if such a decision occurs?" Revonos wound up to hurl the goblet at Pride's head for asking such an idiot question, but Pride beat him to it with a hasty addition. "I mean no offense, oh most powerful and dreaded Lord Revonos, but I've had a thought that I think you might find amusing, if you would be willing to accept suggestions from such a lowly creature as myself. Free of charge, even."

"Free of charge, huh?" Revonos snorted. "Your father would choke you and save me the trouble." The daedra lord finished his drink and crumpled the goblet into a metal ball with one fist, eyeing Pride's forehead as if already imagining what damage it might do. "All right. One chance to impress me, kid. Make it count."

Pride smiled. Now was his chance. Now was his opportunity to make that mortal suffer for his earlier humiliation in the courtroom. Leaning forward and dropping his voice into a conspiratorial whisper, Pride said, "Give him everything he asked for. Power beyond reckoning, beyond controlling. Forge him into a living weapon... and then let him loose. Just imagine the potential for chaos and destruction... Imagine how much suffering you'll cause, and how distracted Akkala will be trying to untangle the mess. If you must give him back, make him a poisoned gift."

Revonos sat back in his chair, the seed of an idea sinking into fertile soil, and a smile slowly spread across his craggy face. "...I like your style, kid," he said finally, tossing the crumpled goblet over his shoulder and breaking into a malicious grin. He laughed, loud and raucous, then rose and slapped Pride on the back hard enough to nearly unseat him. "I know just how to do it, too." Snatching up two goblets of ambrosia, he handed one off to the young daedra noble, and then guzzled the other down in one triumphant swig. "Stop by my arenas sometime: I'll make sure you get the best seat in the house... after mine, of course."

Pride smiled over the lip of his own goblet, savoring the sweetness of success. "Of course."

The room in which Drift and the three sisters materialized was lushly carpeted in red and lit by firelight. A steaming bath had been drawn in an ivory-and-gold tub by the blazing stone hearth, and a platter of food by a palatial four-poster bed. "Here, you may wash, eat, and rest, as you choose," Luna began as the three moved back into a line facing the samoyed.

Forestalling Drift's incredulous gape, Phoebe raised a warding hand. "We do not say whether or not you will find yourself able to enjoy them as you normally would..."

"...Only that, should you fall into the power of the Lord of Rage, it may be quite some time before another such chance presents itself," advised Selene. "You would be wise to take it while you can."

The three sisters bowed and took their leave, by the door this time. Drift didn't hear a lock click, but who knew what other measures these beings might invoke? Eyeing all three options of bath, food, and bed in equal disbelief, he then looked to the window. It opened easily enough. Daring only a quick glance around, lest he be spotted, he quickly gauged the distance to the ground and decided he might have a chance... with a little help. The bed linens worked nicely, once he tied one end to a bedpost. Casting the other end of the bedsheet rope out the window, he started to climb down the wall... and finally took a real look at his surroundings.

A twenty-foot fall to land flat on his back drove the wind from his lungs, but it barely registered compared to the enormity of the spectacle rising into the sky above him. A castle fortress towered into the sky, its grand architecture effortlessly dwarfing Metamor, and it gleamed with the rainbow iridescence of mother-of-pearl, colors ever-shifting. And, although the ground on which he'd landed felt warm and temperate, and he could smell grass and flowers and orchards in abundance, roiling stormclouds raced in a solid cylinder as far up as his eye could see. The mother of all blizzards wrapped itself around this incredible, impossible building and its environs.

Where? How? Drift shook himself and focused on remembering how to breathe. It didn't matter what this place was. The only thing that mattered was getting away and-

"You really need to watch that first step. It's a long one."

If Drift could have screamed, he would have. The green-clothed crazy one- what was his name? Clepnos? leaned against the wall right next to Drift's feet, as if he'd been waiting there for Drift to fall.

"I was. See-r of the future, remember?"

"How-" Drift wheezed.

"In another reality, you pushed a mattress out first, in case this happened." Klepnos shrugged without uncrossing his arms. "Oh, well, can't win 'em all. At least you didn't land on the spiked rails. Wait, those aren't here... never mind. Go ahead, run off now. I won't stop you."

Drift staggered to his feet, deciding to take his chance before the daedra changed his mind. First hobbling, then jogging, then running, Drift hit a full sprint as he neared the cloud wall. Whatever the storm was, he-

The chains attached to his collar, forgotten in their faded state, snapped suddenly taut and his collar slammed backward into his throat. Checked mid-stride at a full sprint, Drift's feet went out from under him and he slammed to the ground. Something cracked, and the samoyed's body went numb from the neck down.

That was where Klepnos found him a half-minute later. Stooping, the daedra lord patted the paralyzed, suffocating samoyed with blasé unconcern, ignoring the wide, panicked eyes. "Not a bad attempt, but I told you this would happen. No, wait... that was another time. Wasn't it?" Darkness started to close on Drift's vision as the daedra rambled, and the Lord of Madness frowned. "Oh, stop complaining- you'll be fine. You are much too entertaining for me to let you die of a silly broken neck. Back to your room, little boy." He snapped his fingers.

The three sisters bowed and took their leave, and Drift collapsed in a shivering heap on the red carpeted floor. Firelight illuminated his shaking hand as he felt his neck, undamaged, unchoked, only the lingering memory of pain and terror. Did that really just-

Something tapped on the window. When Drift turned to look, Klepnos was sitting on the ledge, smiling. With a jaunty wave, he vanished.

Drift spent the rest of the evening in a corner, curled into as tight a ball as he could manage.

In spite of his best efforts, Drift eventually fell asleep, and he dreamed of Alexis in his arms. "Survive," she said. "That is all the advice I can give you. Do not trust to hope. A sliver of hope in a sea of despair will draw Revonos like iron to a lodestone." She stroked his cheek, her eyes full of sorrow. "If you must hope, hide it well. Bury it deep out of sight, or he will use it against you."

Morning finally came, and Drift woke to find himself chained in the courtroom again. Again the aedra and daedra filed in, this time in silence, and the two judges appeared in their twin flashes of light and dark. "Edward Snow," Lord Kammoloth intoned. "Our deliberations are concluded. Now stand and hear your judgement."

Drift stood on wobbly legs, shaking with fear under the gaze of the assembled aedra and daedra. His hands clenched together around faint hope. Please, Eli, please...

"It is the decision of this court," continued Lord Ba'al, "that this mortal, Edward Snow, showed no signs of compulsion in making his Oath to Revonos. It was done of his own free will. His Oath to Revonos therefore supersedes his earlier Oath to Akkala, and it is Revonos' right to claim him as he intends."

The Lord of Rage grinned as Akkala's silver chain to Drift's collar snapped, her mark on Drift's jaw dimming to black. The collar shifted from half iron and half silver to heavy black iron emblazoned with the Sundered Shield of Revonos. He started to rise, the other end of the iron chain materializing in his hand.

"Hold, Revonos," Kammoloth commanded and, begrudgingly, the dark lord paused. "Though we found no direct compulsion, the evidence of entrapment and the madness of trauma are unmistakable, and the foretelling of our seers all point to an eventual severing of your control." Pride and Revonos shared a glance, anticipating what was coming next. "It is therefore the decision of this court that this mortal shall be rendered to you until such time as that severance occurs, or a thousand years have passed, whichever is earlier, at which point his duties revert to their prior owner."

Drift backed away, looking around in wild panic. None of the aedra would meet his pleading gaze. All of them, every one of them, looked away. "A thou- a thousand years?" he whispered, his throat choking on anything louder. "How-"

"You will not age during your punishment, Edward Snow," continued the High Lord, his voice stern, but edged with pity. "Nor will Lord Revonos be allowed to cause your permanent death. You have, however, made one of the most all-encompassing Oaths I have ever heard sworn, and I do not envy the trials you will be made to endure."

"A thousand... Please..." Drift's legs gave way. He buckled to his knees, hands on the ground, head hanging. Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani...

Revonos grinned, pulling the chain from the ground and forcing his prey's head to lift. "No more begging to them, Carcarak. You beg to -me-."

Drift shook his head, terrified beyond words, yet he tried to hold onto what little scrap of dignity he had left.  It didn’t last.  Fire lashed down the chain into his body and he screamed.  "Lesson one, dog," Revonos snarled at the samoyed, who sobbed in fear.  Revonos backhanded him across the muzzle to shut him up.  "You do what I tell you to, when I tell you to do it.  Now beg!"

Words poured from the samoyed's mouth like a torrent.  "Please!  Please, no!  Let me go!  Please!"

"Good boy.  Now..."  Revonos smiled as the dog's bones started crunching.  "Scream."  And Drift obeyed.


Misha tried and failed to will his face into an expression of stone as he, Caroline, and Madog looked over the ruin Drift had left of his forge and his workshop. Shattered dreams lay all around him: shards of fabric, metal, paper, and wood, lingering memories of a terrified scream. Misha closed his eyes and tried not to think about it. He'd lost so many friends over the years... so many taken far before their time... when would it end? Would Metamor ever really know peace? Would he?

Caroline's hand slid into his, and Madog pressed his metal side against Misha's leg. "You don't have to do this," Caroline offered. "Madog and I can handle it."

"No," Misha sighed, opening his eyes again. "I promised him I'd see to his things if something happened to him." Steeling himself, he kissed Caroline on the cheek and stroked Madog between the ears. "Come on... we've got a lot of work to do."

When did I get so old? Weariness dragged at the fox, the aches of bruises and strained muscle slowing him down as he started picking up wreckage, setting what was salvageable on the table next to Drift's family Canticles. He paused to brush his fingers across the book, drawing solace from-

Shattered manacles dipped into a pool... and were drawn out as a gleaming sword.

What? Misha froze, his hand still on the old leather book. What was-

"Mama, no!" Madog's yelp distracted Misha, and the vision sank away into the back of his mind. He turned to see Madog pulling Caroline back from lighting the forge, scraps of old and ravaged paper piled up for tinder.

"What is it, Madog?" the fox asked, and Madog flew to the hearth to retrieve a particularly old and yellowed strip from the pile. Dashing over to the table, the mechanical fox set it in the 'keep' pile on top of the Canticles, next to Misha's hand.

"It special!" Madog exclaimed. "Got a secret!"

"A secret?" Caroline asked as she approached, rubbing her tailtip where Madog had bitten her.

"Very old secret, Mama," the metal fox replied, eyeing the blank, featureless paper with an expression of wonder. "Been hiding for years and years. Secret big as the world..."

Chained to Revonos' throne, an enormous dire wolf panted in the Sixth Hell. His first fight had started mere moments after his arrival, and he lay beaten and bloodied on the red sandstone floor. His foreleg ached where it had been ripped out of its socket and shattered. Once the fight was over and he had earned a kick in the ribs for losing, Revonos had jammed the limb back into place and healed it. The restoration had been just as brutal and painful as the rending. Carcarak's gaze flicked to every shadow, trying to keep track of all the eyes sizing him up. Whispered arguments over who would be next to try the lord's newest prize erupted into scuffles and fights of their own, then died down to more watching.

And all the while, deep inside the beast's mind, a hidden corner fixed on his last memory of Metamor: a fox-man's determined face. A mantra of madness repeated itself over and over: Must stay alive.  Misha will find me. He -will- find me.

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