Aronis is lost. This doesn’t seem so bad at first, because he’s lost in Mournhold and there’s so much to do, so much to see! But that gets old once he realizes that he doesn’t know where his ata is, and that? That’s a problem because his ata knows the way home and he doesn’t and…
It’s fine, he stubbornly tells himself. But it’s never fine when his ata keeps telling himself that and it’s not fine now, no matter how much Aronis wants to believe it is. So Aronis tugs at the sleeves of his shirt nervously, and tries to think.
Where was the last place he saw his ata?
He’s… not sure.
That’s probably bad. But it’s fine! He’ll find his ata eventually. And if not? He’ll get to see lots of Mournhold while doing it. There’s really no downside. With this in mind, Aronis marches off in the direction of the Temple, because his ata hadn’t wanted to go there and maybe he’d even get to see Mother Morrowind!
(Twelve years of age and full of resumed confidence, Aronis walks right past the crowd surrounding two Hands of Almalexia and a murdered mer.)
“I need Mother Morrowind’s help,” Drethys tells the Hand standing guard in the Mournhold Temple. “Please, I—“
“What do you desire Lady Almalexia’s help with?”
Drethys swallows anxiously. “I—it’s complicated, but… it’s my son. He’s missing, and I fear he might be…”
Whatever she feared he might be, it’s quickly cut off by the opening of the door to the inner sanctum. Another Hand exits, closing the door behind her too quickly to see inside. Not that Drethys was trying to see inside, but maybe, maybe she could have caught Mother Morrowind’s eye…
“Lady Almalexia will see you now,” the second Hand says. Drethys thinks she’s not talking to her at first, but unless there’s someone she can’t see standing in front of her…
“Oh,” Drethys says numbly. Her feet move almost of their own accord, carrying her inside. She hears the Hands discussing something behind her, but doesn’t pay enough attention to know what it is.
(If she had, she would have heard the second give the first a nearly perfect description of her son and a very specific location.)
“Spare a few coins for an old mer?”
“M’sorry, sera,” Aronis says, “I don’t have anything to give. Doesn’t… doesn’t Mother Morrowind take care of everyone here?”
The old mer laughs, and laughs, and laughs. Uneasily, Aronis begins to laugh with him.
“That’s rich, kid. Mother Morrowind only cares about her own people.”
Aronis… doesn’t like this mer anymore. He takes a step back, but even as he does he asks, “Isn’t all of Morrowind her people?”
“Ha! Not anymore. These days, she only cares about herself, about staying in power no matter what. Maybe she never cared for anyone but herself. She doesn’t care about me, kid, and chances are she doesn’t care about you.”
“You’re wrong,” Aronis insists. “Mother Morrowind loves me, and if she doesn’t love you it’s because you’re a… you’re a s’wit.”
It’s the worst word he can think of. And yet the old mer just keeps on laughing.
“I like you, kid,” he says eventually. “You’re Ano’s spawn, aren’t you?”
Aronis frowns. “That’s my ata’s name, yes. Why?”
“Well, I was supposed to dispose of him and his kid. But? I like you. So, I’ll let you meet my god.”
“Your… god?” Aronis takes another step back, and then another. “I—no. I don’t want to. I’m going to leave now.”
“No, I don’t think you will.” From behind him, a hand clamps over his mouth and an arm holds him fast. He struggles, but it’s no use. He can’t even scream when the old mer stands, pulls off the scarf covering his head, and a third eye blinks back at him.
“Indarys Drethys,” Almalexia greets, serene and graceful as always and levitating crosslegged a solid meter above the ground. “I have been expecting you.”
“Mother Morrowind,” Drethys says in return. “I—it’s been a long time.”
Lady Almalexia nods. “It has. When last we spoke, you were seeking advice on becoming a adventurer. I believe that went well for you?”
Drethys smiles, despite herself. “Had some good times, bad times. I do have a son now! He’s… that’s actually the problem.”
Almalexia raises an eyebrow, and Drethys quickly amends, “My son isn’t the problem, obviously, he’s a sweet little merlet.”
“I… would hope you weren’t saying your son was the problem.”
“Three help me, of course not. He’s missing. His… father took him while I was away. I tracked them both to Mournhold, and found Ano had already been killed. There’s… no sign of my son.”
Almalexia nods. Of course she already knows all this, she’s Mother Morrowind, but Drethys appreciates her listening.
“I know where Aronis is,” Almalexia says. “However, the problem is not where he is. The problem is who he is with.”
“The people who killed Ano,” Drethys concludes. “Him, I could care less about. But my son? I won’t let them take him from me too.”
Almalexia nods, and gestures to the Hands still in the room. “Leave us,” she says, and Drethys’ heart skips a couple beats. Only once they are alone does Almalexia ask, “You have a weapon?”
Drethys pats the sheath of her longsword in response.
Drethys blinks, and suddenly Almalexia bears what can only be Hopesfire, burning a brilliant blue.
“I will personally assist you in the rescue of your son,” Almalexia continues, “because I too have business with the individuals that have taken him. However, in exchange, I ask that you mention this to no one, and perhaps settle down somewhere. I hear Vivec is nice this time of year. For now, let us not waste any more time.”
Drethys barely has time to draw her sword before their surroundings shift to somewhere else entirely.
A brilliant flash of golden light fills the cavern, blinding the monster holding him. Aronis takes the opportunity to kick him in the shin and break free. Unfortunately, he’s roughly dragged back upwards within seconds, and something cold and sharp is pressed against the back of his neck. Unintentionally, he lets out a whimper, right before he sees who’s arrived.
His alma smiles sadly. Her sword’s in her hand, but she doesn’t move. She can’t, some part of him realizes. It’s because of the old mer turned monster he should have just walked past.
“We have no business with you, warrior,” the old mer says. His voice has turned low, and scratchy, like his throat’s been torn out. And maybe it has. He has a third eye after all and there’s no way that’s normal.
“You have my son,” his alma says tersely. “Give him back.”
The old mer sighs. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, unless you wish to join us.”
“I will do no such thing—!”
“Then you will die by the hand of the Sixth H—urgk!”
The old mer falls backwards. Aronis falls forwards, scrambles to his alma who drops her sword and takes him in her arms as he sobs.
By the time he blinks back the last of his tears, it’s all over. There had been a small army of creatures all blighted and claimed by the Sixth House, but now there’s no one. If he had looked up a little sooner, he perhaps would have witnessed Almalexia personally interrogating the last remaining one on the location of something called Keening before giving up and gutting them.
As it is, he does see Almalexia, Mother Morrowind herself, levitating serenely over the carnage and smiling at mother and son.
“Are either of you hurt?” Mother Morrowind asks.
His alma has to answer for him, because his words don’t work for long enough to say yes. Maybe hers don’t either, because she just nods.
“Thank you,” his alma says. Her shoulders are shaking slightly. “Thank you.”
Indarys Aronis is almost thirteen when he decides he's going to be a Hand of Almalexia someday.