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Saturday, December 11, 2010

IX - Red Mountain

“Let’s see,” Caius said, stumbling over to his lockbox holding Huleeya’s notes and Progress of Truth. I have your report, and I’ll make copies of these. Give me time to read and digest all this.” He fished in his lockbox and came out with a few drakes, which he tossed across the room to Fen. “In the meantime, I’m promoting you to Journeyman. You’re doing good work. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have new orders for you. Sound good?” Fen nodded and he shooed her out. She started across the river through the darkening twilight towards the Eight Plates, where she had left Julan to go turn in her report.
“Hi, Fen!” Julan’s voice rang out from between the buildings, louder than it should have been, for tonight was Tales and Tallows, and the superstitious were already inside. Julan was hunched by the wall outside of the Eight Plates, clearly drunk. His clothes were dripping wet and he sat shivering slightly in the chill.
“What did you do, Julan?” Fen asked, exasperated, as she hurried forward to help him up. He stumbled and leaned against the wall, giggling weakly.
“I’m all wet, Fen!” he said cheerfully. “Wet, wet, wet.” He laughed much too loudly, and someone down the street slammed their door.
“Come on,” Fen said, supporting Julan’s limp figure and struggling towards the Mages’ Guild.
“You’re so nice to me, Fen!” Julan said giddily, tripping a little. “No one was ever this nice to me! ‘cept Shani.” He giggled again. “Shani was nice, Fen. Like you!”
“Who’s Shani?” Fen asked, puzzled.
“Who?” Julan said, and then he collapsed into a fit of laughter again. Making a mental note to ask Julan about this Shani later, she managed to get him to Ald’ruhn with little incident, though she didn’t bother to help him out of his sopping clothes.
The next morning, they met in the Ald Skar Inn for breakfast, Julan looking downward with dark circles under his eyes.
“I feel like Orcs have been marching across my skull,” he said, rubbing his head. Fen took a sip of her comberry juice, turning the page of the book that sat before her. There was a brief silence in which Julan thoughtfully rubbed his neck before Fen set down her fork.
“Julan, who’s Shani?” Julan’s hand froze on his neck and he looked up at her slowly.
“How do you know that name?” he asked at once.
“You mentioned it while you were drunk last night,” she said simply. Julan groaned and rubbed his eyes.
“Oh Gods....did I? I hope I didn't say anything...embarrassing.” Fen raised one eyebrow expectantly. “Well, if you must know, she’s my ex-girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend?” Fen said, amused. She found it difficult to imagine Julan having a girlfriend.
“I suppose you could say we were childhood sweethearts. We grew up together back when I used to have more contact with the Ahemmusa camp than I do these days. We were teenagers by that time, and you know how it is. Sneaking out at night to meet, hiding from our parents. We thought we were really in love, us against the world, all the usual stuff. Heads in the clouds, really.”
“So what happened?” Julan sighed heavily.
“My mother, that’s what happened. She found out, and told me to break it off with Shani. I yelled, swore, and absolutely refused. We had a huge row, and I left home in a rage. Lived in the mountains for a week – and then the dreams started getting to me. I had a long think about everything, and I realized my mother was right.”  Fen didn’t speak, but Julan went on defensively. “I had responsibilities that I had to fulfill – duties to my people that went beyond my feelings for one person! Shani was distracting me, stopping me from doing what I had to do, because I had started to forget my sacred mission. If I really cared about her, I had to leave her and concentrate on training. Anything else would have hurt her more in the long run.”
“I suppose,” Fen said thoughtfully. “And you haven’t talked to her since then?” Julan shook his head, and suddenly Fen remembered something. “Julan, did Shani’s parents approve of this?” Julan gave a cold laugh.
“Hardly. Her father hates me.”
“I think I’ve met him,” she said slowly. “I’d forgotten, but…the reason I went to Ghostgate was to find you. A man in this inn told me his daughter wanted him to make sure that her friend was okay, but he didn’t like the boy. That’s the whole reason I came.”
“Really.” It was not a question, but rather a statement, said in an irritated tone. Julan picked at the kwama egg on his plate. “Fen, I don’t know anything about you.
“What?” she said, much too quickly.
“How did you come to Morrowind? I mean, you’re obviously an outlander. Where are you from?” Panicking suddenly, Fen sent her goblet flying in her haste to grab it and it hit an old Breton man in the back of the head.
“I’m…um…not an outlander, actually.”
“You’re not?”
“No.” Fen desperately wanted to tell Julan who she was, to trust him, to trust anyone. But she knew it was too risky, that she couldn’t place the fact of her identity in a single person, as much as she wanted to. “I grew up in Mournhold. I came here to…earn money for my family.”
“Your family needs money? I always assumed you were well off. You carry yourself like the nobles in the cities.”
“I – er – I was born into a wealthy family. My grandfather opened an ebony mine. But we were losing money, so they asked me to come here.” She could tell from his expression that Julan did not believe her story in the slightest, but was relieved that he let it go rather than dwell on the subject.
“So,” he said, picking up a fork and twiddling it around the table. “I’ve been thinking.” Fen looked up at him.
“Thinking what?”
“I mean…we’ve been training. And I’m getting really good at that shock spell you taught me. I killed that cliff racer in one shot the other day.” He dropped the fork and looked up at her, his face set. “I think I’m ready, Fen. To go back to Red Mountain and perform my sacred mission.”
“Already?” Fen said it before she could stop herself, and Julan’s face fell. “I mean…Julan, why don’t you just tell me what it is? What if it’s too soon?”
“It’s not too soon,” he said firmly. “And I am ready. I know it.”
“And the sacred mission?”
“I can’t tell you, Fen.” She had braced herself for this response, but it irritated her all the same.
“Maybe I can help you if you do tell me.”
“You can’t! No one can help me!” Silence fell in the bar and a few people looked around and Julan, who grew red. “It has to be done by me,” he said in a furtive whisper as the voices in the room picked up again.
“So you’re leaving now?”
“Well…I was hoping you would come with me. I mean, you’ve been my trainer for all this time.”
“So you want me to come with you on this mission I don’t even know anything about?” Julan hesitated.
“Yes.” Fen sighed.
“Fine. But I expect you to tell me what it is before we get there.”
“Great!” Julan said, his face brightening. “So, can we go today? You haven’t got anything else planned, have you?” Fen knew Caius had told her to come back today…but he couldn’t have anything that pressing for her. Besides, if she didn’t agree to go, Julan would run off to Red Mountain on his own. And that would be a disaster, she thought to herself.
“Sure, Julan. We’ll go today.”
Julan seemed to grow more and more nervous during their walk to Ghostgate. He flinched whenever a cliffracer flew overhead and nearly cut off Fen’s arm trying to kill a rat.
“Calm down,” Fen said soothingly, grabbing his wrist and carefully guiding his jinkblade away from her. “You’ll give yourself a heart attack.”
“I’m fine,” Julan said, sheathing his sword and rubbing his neck. “I’m completely fine.” Fen patted his shoulder reassuringly and they continued on their way for another hour, reaching the Ghostfence by noon.
“Okay,” Julan said, striding forward quickly and pressing the triangular button that raised the first gate. “Okay. Let’s go.” As they stepped into the tunnel, the wind started to pick up, and when they came out on the other side of Ghostfence, they skies had turned scarlet and clouds of ash billowed in every direction. Fen tied the headscarf Gildan had given her around her nose and mouth and put up the hood of her robe as Julan squinted towards the sloping path that led up the mountain.
“Okay,” he shouted over the wind. “Right. We’re here. This is it.” He stuck his hand out to Fen as if he wanted her to shake it. “Thanks for everything. I hope I’ll see you again someday.” Fen looked from his hand to his face in disbelief and yanked the scarf around her mouth down.
“Wait a minute. Just what are you planning on doing here?”
“I…” Julan dropped his hand. “I can’t tell you.”
“Don’t give me that!” Fen said fiercely. “Don’t expect me to leave you here with no explanation!”
“Why do you care, anyway?” Julan retorted, crossing his arms.
“I’m just worried you might get yourself killed!”
“Your concern is touching,” Julan snapped sarcastically. “But I’m ready for this.”
Ready for what?” Fen shouted, throwing her arms up.
“You’re not going to let this drop until I tell you, are you?!”
“No, I’m not!” For a moment, they simply glared at one another. Then Julan’s shoulders sagged.
“Fine. But you have to swear yourself to secrecy.”
“I swear,” Fen said automatically.
“Well…I’m going to Dagoth Ur.”
What?” Fen exclaimed. “Why?!”
“To enter his citadel, hunt him down, and kill him.”
“Julan!” Fen said in disbelief. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“You have no idea who you’re talking to!” Julan shouted back at her.
“I’m talking to an idiot Ashlander who needed saving from clannfears not too long ago!”
“Think what you like!” Julan yelled as the wind picked up. “But I’m going up there! Are you coming or not?”
“Oh, I’m coming!” Fen shouted indignantly. “Preferably to talk you out of it before you get yourself slaughtered!”
“Ha!” He retorted, turning away. “It’s an easy journey – straight up to the top!” And with that, he started walking. Fuming, Fen pulled the scarf around her mouth again and followed him, pressing against the ash pouring down from the peak of the mountain. They walked for about ten minutes without meeting anything when Julan suddenly stopped dead and turned to look at her.
“What did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Oh,” Julan said, looking puzzled. “I thought…nevermind.” He started walking again, more firmly this time. A diseased rat stumbled across their path, and Fen killed it with a simple fire spell. The rat had barely fallen when Julan turned sharply again.
“Look, I can’t hear you when you whisper like that.”
“I didn’t say anything that time either!”
“Don’t tease me, alright?” Julan snapped. “I’m trying to concentrate.”
“I didn’t –” Fen started, but Julan had already kept walking. As they came up to a cluster of rocks, they saw a tall figure standing a few paces away. It looked like it could have been a man, but it was terribly deformed, with one enormous swollen arm and a lump on its back. Before Fen could speak, it turned and she saw its face, covered in raw sores and scabs and crusted with dried blood and leaking thick yellow pus. The thing gave a low roar and started to hobble towards them, dragging its one lame leg behind it. Julan wordlessly cast the shock spell Fen had taught him and the thing fell dead.
“Good, Julan,” Fen said, looking up at him. But he just turned away and continued walking. They had barely gone ten paces when he stopped again and whipped around to face her, his face twisted in rage.
“Doing what? I’m not doing anything!”
“If you’re trying to make me paranoid, it’s not working!” Julan roared. “Just stop it, okay?”
“You’re making yourself paranoid –”
SHUT UP!” Julan turned and started jogging up the hill so that Fen had to nearly sprint to keep up with him.
Shut up!” he shouted again, stopping and pulling at his hair. “Stop talking, I’m not listening to you!” Fen touched his shoulder and he slapped her hand away. “Get away from me!” he screamed. “Get out of my head!
“Julan!” Fen tried to shout, but his voice overtook hers.
“No! I am NOT...get OUT! Stop it, you s’wit! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”
“Julan, listen to me!” Fen cried, seizing his shoulders and shaking him. He shoved her away and she fell, hard, on the rocky path.
I am Indoril Nerevar Reborn!” Julan shouted as Fen scrambled to her feet. “You – will not…” And, quite suddenly, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed where he stood in the swirling dust.
“Julan!” Fen shouted, pulling the scarf away from her mouth and going to kneel by him. “Julan!” She grabbed his face, shook him roughly. “Help!” she cried, standing up and looking around. There had to be someone. “Help! Someone please help us!” She sprinted as far away from Julan as she dared, then back again. Ash filled her mouth and she fell to her knees, coughing, her eyes watering. “Help –” But her eyes were filling, and she was chocking on ash, and Julan was dead, and the whole world was spinning around her…
Then everything was dark.

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