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The Priest and the Pimp

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Lord Vivec hovered neurotically in his meditation chamber, leaning on one knee and tapping his face with the hand that held it. He had designed it—the chamber’s brown, rounded stone walls decorated in scenes of his victories, the small caveats filled with incense smelling like the world outside of time, and the trinkets that any thief would risk his life to have—to calm him. Yet even as the memories of times long gone and the gentle hum of his own magic filled the room, he couldn’t relax. A small pool of water, constantly flowing from ALMSIVI knows where filled the room with a comfortable heat. Yet his own endless machinations weighed heavy on his mind, heating the room further from their sheer intensity, turning it closer to a sauna.

He knew, in his heart, that his long-living enemy had finally been defeated. Oh, how his chest squeezed tight as he felt Lorkhan's heart disappear to places not even he could reach--agony of a tear through his very soul. A moment of freedom from his long gone bitterness, and its almost immediate return at the thought of what had been lost. The cheers of the citizens, as he delivered his long awaited speech, filled him until he was calm once more, but that too had faded. So he found himself in his chambers once more, pondering the peculiarities of life.

His servants, who had long since become accustomed to serving a living god, tread around his chamber with naught but worried glances shared between them. The unfortunate ones who had to face their god dared not look upon him; their eyes trained at the ground and their actions short. Without even seeing them, as the god had grown accustomed to seeing without seeing, he could tell all these things. He too, could see them swarming in the kitchen, careful enough to not knock over the divine spices. Their pupils shrunken and their hands clammy as they attempted to set his table. If he had still been mortal, he might have scolded them for whatever little mishap happened to happen. But he was above that.

The downward twitch in his lips could not have followed another servant entering his private chamber, the door creaking like it had a hundred times before. His ears, though not delectably, swiveled around to listen to the shaking servant replace his incense. His tapping finger began to scratch at his cheek, and if it was any sharper or his skin any less immune to them, he might have broken the skin. It was not for the fumbling servant, of course, who had the gall to drop his favorite candles. No, he was far above targeting the fool and ordering him to be in charge of cleaning the bathrooms. Far, far above such a thing.

Only when the trembling elf left with another ever-so-calming creak did Vivec release a long and arduous sigh from his holy lips. At last, he gave up on trying to search for some hidden way to calm his heart and opened his eyes to the soft lighting. It stung his eyes for a moment, before it dulled down to the usual boring warmth. He exhaled raggedly again, realizing that in some small way, he had hoped to stumble upon the answer upon waking from his trance. Yet he knew that he had never entered such a thing in the first place, making it pointless to even entertain the idea.

Already bored with his pointless inner ramblings, Vivec dared to gaze upon the portraits of his old triumphs. The Ruddy Man, City-Face, Lie Rock, all of them looking at himself in painted form, terrified of their ends. At least, that’s how he remembered it. The ever-present march of time had a habit of degrading one’s memory. Mutra, though worn from his many years of peace, still sat enclosed behind a glass case in his bedchambers. He could still feel the blood of his children on the holy spear, the pain in his heart, and the stony eyes that saw the creatures fall one by one before him.

As his eyes scanned over the brown scratches in the rock, cradled in a small inward shelf as if it would preserve the memory, his eyes fell on a rather simple depiction. When he was still all gold, and the world had not yet held him in such high regard, and when things were simple. He had instructed the painter on every painful detail of the piece, even the ones he could barely recall himself. He had specifically ordered it to be painted in full color, and every shade he had decided on. He couldn’t let anyone ruin even a single detail. That had been shortly after his ascension, the picture an anchor to remain of the man he used to be. And in its small frame, shielded by glass, it would remain as such.

It was simply himself, Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and… Vivec drew his eyes away, focusing on the great scenes of conquest once more. He knew what he had avoided looking at, he knew it better than any other. He knew him better than anyone, he should say. The red of his hair, the shine of his skin, the serious expression he had once sought to sway seemed to be drilled into his head now. His name, as ancient that it was and as much he had tried to forget it, ran across his mind like an autumn breeze over a field with its dark promise. He tried not to think of how Nerevar’s thin mouth would have crinkled down, his gaze turning to steel at the thing Vivec had become. His own brow furrowed at the mere image, casting it aside before he could contemplate it.

He wondered sometimes if he even remembered how it went back then, as the dragon of time had writhed until the details were no longer relevant. But such things were for scholars and mad priests to debate, not him. For no matter what happened, his heart was heavy enough to fill in the gaps for him. For a god unable to feel like a man, he knew that the feeling in his chest must have been guilt.

Guilt, he had told himself time and time again, was what had gripped his ever-beating heart when he had heard whispers of his return. Guilt was what had him staring over the beaten down and rusted armor of his own friend, stroking its once pristine skin in the vain hope its prestige would reappear. Guilt was what had his breath quickening when he had a panicked worshiper tell him, in detail, of his long-gone-friend’s new appearance. Guilt was what he felt when he pondered keeping the nerevarine in his palace a moment more, whether in the time outside of time to instruct them that much more in the use of wraithguard, or to discuss just one more detail of their—his past. Yes, guilt was what Vivec felt over Nerevar’s second coming.

He recalled, too, fear, though hushed and muddled, coursing through his veins at the suggestion of the coming of the nerevarine. Long, long before the real being had come into existence. The dark promise of the Queen of the Night Sky left Vivec shivering in his bed many a time. He had expected himself, in those days, to be swift and merciless when the prophesized killer finally appeared. In those days, though, his mortality and all the echoes of emotions had stayed with him. Now he was nearing a state of purity, not bound by emotions or the flesh he once had. Now he was nothing but curious to meet his doom. Had he said he felt guilt? That might have been it. Or curiosity. Or perhaps…

Vivec scowled, his rarely used face muscles feeling near to breaking, as foolish thoughts filled his mind. Ones that no amount of slipping into his godhood or stilling his mind could cure. If he was truly the evolution of Mephala, something he believed more and more as his rule went on, then his once still web had been overrun with such insects when whispers of the nerevarine started up again. Insects as numerous and as repulsive as the dung of nix hounds. Insects that pried at his duty-bound mind, whispering hearsay challenging his resolve and his meditative indifference that would have gotten any other but himself executed. Insects that crawled beneath the comfort of his skin and into the deepest parts of him with their disgusting pincers and—

Vivec paused, placing a gentle yet course hand upon his chest, feeling in his skin and in his veins his pounding heart. It was only then too that he noticed the ragged breaths that echoed cacophonically around his chamber, bouncing off the gilded walls in such a way that the whole room sensed to have become cramped. The scents became too much, their rich fumes filling his lungs and infecting his whole body. In the space between his closing eyelids the dark etchings climbed off the walls and grabbed at Vivec, clinging to him with childish cries and grabbing at secret parts of him even he wouldn’t care to touch. His pounding heart and his boiling blood wasn’t enough to stop the phantom hands that pulled on his neck to benumb his entire body in an agonizing, familiar comfort.

Vivec’s ankles fought against him as if they weren’t there as he ran to the small pool, his feet beating hard against the stone. He slammed down into a godless prayer, then dunked his head into the warm basin. His bruised knees came close to slipping as waves of his outburst flowed onto the floor. The suffocating fumes and the sweet water slithered into his mouth as he asked breathlessly for air. He hunched over the small pool, spitting up demons and memories as agonizingly as they had came upon him. His muscles slowly, achingly unclenched, and he found himself slumping onto his heels with unyielding breaths.

When the waters finally stilled, though the constant stream made it turbulent, his own thrashed face stared back at him. In the soft light, and with his returning senses, he could have almost believed he was Vehk again. A mortal who had gotten so unimaginably lucky it seemed like a divine lie that he had cast upon himself, a reckless child that killed for money yet had stolen the world. In the excited waters, he gazed back at a sad man, all alone in an alley, that missed his dear friend; one that had been left in an echoing, lonely darkness—and had snuffed out the light himself.

As the waters calmed, and the red-and-blue of his eyes came back into focused yet dulled, he corrected himself. If he wasn’t still sucking in the sickeningly sweet air he would have scoffed at his out of control mind. He could almost believe that Sheogorath himself had infiltrated his weakened head. Really, insects on his web? Etchings that reached out and fondled him? The cold, cruel hands? He must have been in a deeper trance than he had suspected. He was a god—a living god—with powers beyond political or physical; the kind of being that mortals could only hope to sway.

Vivec assured himself that such a petty string of thoughts would not make their way into his mind again as he slowly levitated back into his usual posture. The golden bulb at the top of the chamber let out a harmonious clang as a servant opened the creaky door just a little too quickly. The servant, a young Dunmer man, almost slammed the door again to avoid the wash of tension that came from Vivec ever so slowly hovering back down from the ceiling. His arms were startlingly steely, his hands nearly snapping under his godly strength. He waited for something, anything from the god; a small movement, a word, him to simply turn around. But he received no such grace.

The servant flinched from the words coming out of his mouth, “My Lord, I… apologize for my abrupt entry.” The Dumner swore, just for a second, that a muscle in the hermaphrodite’s neck twitch, “I would not wish to interrupt your most holy of times, your most silent of moments—”

“Get on with it,” Vivec mumbled under his breath, his knuckles cracking as he balls his fists.

The servant saw Mara for a moment—do you know how stressed you have to be to see someone else’s god?—as he sputtered out an explanation, “The nerevarine is here to see you, my lord.” He flinched once more as another clang echoed through the chamber.

Chapter Text

The thud of your boots echoed across the vast expanse of sculpted rock before escaping into the open air. Despite the way that the monotonous sound knocked around your head, dislodging a few brain cells as it went, you were thankful for the lack of dusty winds constantly screeching in your ear. The sound was far better than the churring and moaning of the silt striders. The two days it took you to get from Ghostgate to Ald’ruhn to wherever the hell else almost made you wish you were fighting cult members again. You were grateful that the ground was solid —the ground slipping out from under your feet straight into your boots got old after a while.

The fact that no one tried to attack you, or cast a spell on you, or infect you, or attempt to eat you was a god-send. People seemed to be unable to avoid bumping into you in the streets. The scent of an entire city’s worth of waste material may have been slipping from the water right into your nose, but it beats corpus and ash. You did appreciate the city’s grid layout--the off-putting level of regulation aside, you were happy to see signs of civilization again. Dwarven ruins do have a habit of wearing someone down after being all but forced to explore them for weeks.

You turned a corner, expecting to finally see the temple, but instead got an eyeful of another damned compound. Blood rushed to your face, tinting your vision red for long enough that you found yourself already walking away. You could just see the smug face of the gondolier as you passed him. That infuriating knowing look that he had surely given countless tourists before you. You could do it yourself; giving it to him would be like throwing the money and your pride straight into the bay.

Every path in the city looked the same. Every building looked the same. Everything in this godforsaken city looked the exact same . There were virtually no differences between any building or street or sign. The sun crept into your eyes. You were starving. You were tired. You haven’t seen a bed in days . You almost let yourself scream at a woman passing by, but managed to force yourself into an entrance to collect yourself.

You yanked out a horrifically crinkled note from some random-ass pocket you had it stuffed in. The now mangled seal reminded you that it was a letter. You hadn’t expected to receive a single piece of mail for yourself, as you had yet to see a single courier yet on the hellish island. As the main form of postage appeared to be delivering a speech through a complete stranger, you figured there wasn’t any mail on Vvardenfell.

When you left Ghostgate, you were still under the impression that they didn’t do mail. A bag-of-harsh-straw-bouncing-along-a-road-at-a-startling-velocity sound froze you to the ground. Through the ruddy winds, you saw no horses or carts, but a single figure emerging from the distance. The iron grip on your sheath loosened as you made out a robe trimmed to above the knee. You could only stare in awe as the old dunmer came to a stop in front of you, hacking out dust.

Somewhere through the elf’s ragged breaths he told of his grand heritage and life-long service to the temple. He told you with pride of his place as the oldest temple delivery boy, and a recounting of his many, many trips. He also took the time to happily inform you that he was in excellent shape for his age. At some point--you had tagged out--he handed you a letter. He, with far fewer words, let you know about a meeting with Vivec over dinner. After thanking him you watched the man disappear back into the storm with a cloud of dust trailing him. At least you didn’t need to escort him back.

Begrudgingly, you stuck the well-worn note into an easier pocket, just in case you needed it. It wouldn’t be the first time that a presumably useless item would be stupidly useful down the line. You wiped your brow, your skin weeping from the weight of all your other useless crap. It wouldn’t be a completely unreasonable assumption to say that you may have a hoarding problem.

“Bless be you, Nerevarine!” a random Dunmer shouted, “The skies over Red Mountain are clear once again! Oh, how can I thank you, great hero?”

“Not screaming into small, contained places would be a hell of a start,” you grunted as you cupped your ears.

“O-oh…”

“But--thank you,” you clambered to face the dejected man, “kind sir.” You lick your dry lips as his face goes back to the awe-inspired look he had. “It would be a great help if you could tell me where the palace is?”

His eyes lit up in awe before you could even get out your last word. He pointed a shaky hand that your eyes followed. There stood the palace, grandiose and practically right in front of you. You took a sharp breath and pushed a good deal of money into the man’s hands. You stomped off in a huff before you could see him collapse to the ground out of star-struck fluster. You did quickly go back to prop him up on his feet before you got too far, though.

With your armor clunking and rattling like a bag of kitchenware on a cart, you approached the palace with a sort of deterministic grumpiness. You side-eyed the guards as you walked past with a peculiar mix of sympathy and disdain. Upon seeing you, one of them went into their respective door. The thought that perhaps you’re about to be arrested did put a little more speed in your steps.

Vivec’s palace--the temple compound--the crown jewel of Vivec City. The statues leading up to it were beautifully made, if not a little too generous with Lord Vivec. Even though your ability to care about aesthetics was absolutely torn out of you by all the daedric ruins you’d had to explore, the detailing on the large arch way really was something to behold. Although the rumor that the fountains had gold running through them was almost certainly nonsense, they did look gorgeous. All in all, Vivec was certainly a try-hard.

The relief of finally arriving did little to calm your nerves as you started into the fine wood. You could turn back now, you had done it before. A few more days to get yourself prepared, perhaps. You could just hop onto another silt strider, and be back to your home. You could be drinking with the folk at the local tavern, and tell them all about your grand adventures. You could be surrounded by cheering fans, praising you endlessly for your good deeds. They’d be showering you in great gifts and money. Every one of them chanting: “hail the nerevarine!”

You knocked on the door.

The world went dark and then far too bright as a voice rang out, “Welcome, Great Nerevarine, to the palace of V--oh! By the Three!”

“I think you… I think you bruised my nose,” you wheezed out as your head tried to stop swirling.

“I am-oh, I’m so sorry Nerevarine!” the man sputtered as he helped you to your feet. “Someone had informed me that you were on your way, and I had thought that you had not yet made it to the door.”

You merely patted him on the shoulder, your words stuck in your throat for the time being. As he helped you inside the palace, you took a good look at him. He was clearly a dunmer, black hair, grey skin, red eyes, really no mistaking it. He was short for a dark elf, but he had better posture than you ever could. A lanky kid, it was pretty obvious the man had quite a heavy reliance on magic to the detriment of his already petty muscles. His hair was stuck up in chunks, forming a funny kind of brush shape.

“What’s your name?” you asked as he went to close the door.

He jumped a bit, but quickly straightened himself up and bowed, “Delven, at your service, nerevarine. I’m a new recruit of the temple, and I am here to help you get ready for dinner.”

“Ah, well, thank you, Delven,” you smiled at him awkwardly, “can we make our way to dinner, now?” He paused mid-bow, which you weren’t going to comment on until he remained in the same pose for half a minute. You cleared your throat, “Delven? I said, can we make our way to dinner now?”

The elf went back into a bow, “I must apologize, but you are not ready for dinner yet.”

You blinked, “But… I’m quite hungry.”

“I do apologize for that too, but you are not following the dress code.” He interrupted himself, “unless you have something suitable in your pack?”

You felt your blood pressure rise, “What do you mean by ‘dress code’?”

“A dress code is a system of rules governing how one dresses-”

“I know what a dress code is!” You pull at your rapidly heating armor, “Sorry, but, what dress code?”

Delven finally stood up from his bow with his brows slightly furrowed, “The dress code outlined in the letter.” He folded his arms not unlike a scolding parent, “I cannot imagine you are here without receiving our postage.”

You sucked in a breath and pulled out the letter. Wouldn’t need it your ass, why did you always have to put shit like this off? You tore it open and skimmed the fine script. Something about dinner, Vivec, your own room, yada yada… Ah, here. “Lord Vivec has requested that you would wear dinner-appropriate clothing to show your humility towards him.”

Sweat dripped off your nose, “I… had assumed armor counted.”

Delven harrumphed, “Unfortunately no, it does not.” He spun on his heel towards one of the doorways, “Luckily, we do have a selection for you to try out, please follow me.”

You stuffed the note into your pocket as you stumbled after the annoyed elf. You let your eyes wander over the gentle carvings in the walls. A subtle pattern to be sure, yet so much more elegant than the blank spaces you’d seen in most homes. Lavish furniture dotted the rooms you passed by without so much as a word from Delven. Artwork of quality your battle-scarred hands couldn’t dream of creating hung sporadically from the walls, depicting figures you’d heard of only in myths. It’s not like you needed a castle to rest your head, but damn, you didn’t think you’d mind.

Delven ushered you into a room, gently pushing aside the foreign-looking curtain. The room, like the rest of the architecture in Vvardenfell, was stone. Through the criss-crossing strings of drying clothing, you could see complicated red and gold patterns wherever the walls met one another. The room smelled of freshly washed clothing, but you also picked up the faint odor of dirtied garments as well. A sort of wavy stone separator divided the room, making up the back of the dual benches on their side of it. Classically Vivec City-style fountains of flowing water poured into washing basins built right into the ground.

You grunted as you cracked your tired back, “Even the laundry rooms here are fancy.”

Delven chuckled, “Yes, isn’t it wonderful?”

“Seems a bit much to me.”

He tensed up, and the sting of a cruel word shot through you. You screwed your mouth shut and busied yourself with dropping your bag. You withheld a groan as the absurd weight was finally removed from your shoulders. As to not cause more of a fuss, you removed your armor before the lanky dunmer had to remind you of it. Your bag truly wasn’t designed to hold as much crap as you had burdened it with, yet it allowed the armor to rest within it.

A cough drew your attention to Delven, and the flurry of dust drew a cough from you, “What on Nirn is that?”

“These,” he said in as dignified a manner as one could manage while they’re choking, “are the clothes Lord Vivec has deemed suitable to wear in his presence.”

You waved the erant dust particles away from your face, “Does he only accept attire as old as him?”

Delven scoffed as he brushed past you, “You should be grateful Lord Vivec allowed enough leeway for you to not bring your own.” The man hauled your bag onto his shoulders, “Please, do come out when you are ready, Lord Vivec is waiting.”

You almost had the nerve to point out that this was Vivec’s fault, but you kept your mouth shut. A line of clothing followed you as you shucked them off one by one. You were naked by the time you reached the closet, save for your undergarments. As expected, the clothing inside was ancient to say the least. The last time you had seen clothing like that was in a history book. Despite that, they were very well taken care of, a pleasant scent of soap coming off them.

You picked out the first piece that caught your eye, since you were done with waiting at this point. The shoulders were a bit too broad for you, and the hips just a bit too small. Overall though, much better than having Vivec get on your ass about not following his request or something. Or being naked. It did make you look a bit more formal, and the colors did look nice on you. You nodded to yourself and headed for the curtain.

“Delven? I put it on,” you announced as you pulled back the curtain, “I’m ready for dinner.”

“Greetings, Nerevarine,” the split god’s voice rumbled, “it’s pleasant to see you.”