Tes3Mod:Tamriel Rebuilt/How I Became a Monster III
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"Rule the city, my lord?" I interjected. "What do you mean?"
Hlan leaned back in his chair, and his ancient face creased in a child-like grin. "Well I do not mean it literally, of course," he said with a dry cackle that reminded me of rustling papers. "Fear not, young one. I have no lofty ambitions to topple the Emperor and rule in his stead. He can keep his throne and his power - or what is left of it in this day and age. No, it is of a different kind of power that I speak; the power of freedom. The freedom to leave this grave whenever the sun sets and to hunt wherever we wish. To drink our fill every night and never need rely on the thin, tasteless blood of our cattle ever again. Can you imagine how strong we would then become?"
"B-but the Legions, my lord," protested Mir'ar. "They will hunt us down if we grow too bold...if we kill too many. Is there not a delicate balance? To disrupt it?"
"I know of the balance, Mir'ar," Hlan said, slowly, deliberately, and with a tone suggesting that any further interruption would be unwise. "And we are not going to disrupt it at all. There is no need, for there is another way. Think on this, my dear: what if the number of vampires in this city was reduced to a mere quarter of what it is now? Then, would not each remaining vampire be able to increase his kills four-fold without upsetting the balance?"
Mir'ar and I looked at each other, and for the first time in many weeks there was understanding in the place of hostility. Hlan the Black's grand designs were suddenly clear to us.
"As you both know, there are four vampire clans here in the Imperial City. Each hunts its own quarter, and every vampire knows that the penalty for straying but a few inches inside a rival clan's territory is death. It is the way of things. Thus we are confined to our quarter, and forced to take care that we do not over-hunt our grounds. So we each kill once, sometimes twice a week, ever mindful of the balance, and fearful of upsetting it." He directed a pointed look at Mir'ar. "Again, it is the way of things, and has been since long before I crossed the Velothi Mountains and first looked upon this land with mortal eyes. But very soon, all is going to change. And I see in your eyes that you now know what I will ask of you."
"Nothing less than the complete annihilation of our rival clans," Mir'ar said, a poorly masked excitement in her words.
Many hours of the following days and nights were then spent in Hlan's chambers, plotting our ascension to dominance. Hlan had decided that the best strategy would be to somehow hit the main strongholds of each clan in a series of lightning raids within the space of a few days. This would leave only the smaller, tributary lairs dotted around the city, which would then easily fall one by one to our might. Stealth and secrecy would be our allies: our clan was no larger than any of the others and there was no guarantee of success if we chose the path of open war. Conventional attacks would only bring casualties we could ill afford; there were three main lairs to conquer, and even minimal losses in one attack would leave us undermanned for the next. Secrecy was crucial; each clan had to be removed without alerting the others to our designs. Were they to ally against us, everything would fall apart. But Hlan the Black knew this well, and had planned accordingly. As it happened, we were able to wipe out the first two clans without even having to fight.
His first plan was pure genius in its simplicity and effectiveness. In the dead of night, Mir'ar and Calendra stole into the manor of a high-ranking officer of the Legion (a man of considerable influence), and murdered his young daughter, the apple of his eye. Naturally mortified, the officer was quick to act when we sent him details of the vampires who had killed her and where they might be found. The reprisal was swift and brutal, and that night we all drank to the health of our unwitting allies: the Imperial Legion.
The destruction of our second foe required slightly more effort on our part, but in theory was equal in terms of brilliance and ease of enactment. As well as possessing an incredible knowledge of wizardry, Hlan was a proficient alchemist, able to brew tonics with extraordinary properties from the most mundane of vegetables and minerals. For this occasion he concocted a liquid that masked our scents, making us undetectable even to the keen noses of our own kind. This allowed us to venture deep into the territory of our enemies, right to the doorstep of their hideaway. These particular vampires evidently thought themselves above skulking about in tombs and had made their home in a ramshackle tavern in the slums. This night we found them in drunken revelry, and no one noticed when we doused the old wooden building with lamp oil and set it alight. The resulting blaze was spectacular, and the red glow could be seen from all corners of the city.
The third lair was a crypt, much like our own. By this stage some of our stronger vampires were itching for a plain old fight. Morran in particular was keen to demonstrate his capacity as a military commander, so Hlan allowed him to organize and lead an attack. Stealth and deception had done their work, now was the time for brute force. The entire clan was readied for battle, we even called upon those who dwelt in other parts of our quarter of the city yet still acknowledged Hlan as their lord. Only the great leader himself stayed behind, stating he was "too old for such things". A mighty host of vampiric warriors, we must have been a spectacle indeed as we swept across the city under the full moon, silently leaping from rooftop to rooftop far above the oblivious city guard. Ironically, the journey took longer than the fight itself. They had smelled us coming and hastily organized a resistance, but we fell upon them with such force that the defenders were swept away like tears in the rain. We flooded into the crypt, rushed through the passageways in a torrent of blood, and killed them all. Each vampire did his or her part, but the victory was Morran's - a full third of those killed must have fallen to his claymore. I fought at his side, and watching him reminded me of the workers on my old estate cutting grain in the fields. Such was the ease with which he felled them.
Once it was over we all spent a long moment in silence, looking upon our gruesome handiwork. With this victory, we were now the dominant clan in Cyrodiil. From now on, whenever night fell, we ruled the city. New hunting grounds were open to us, and the restriction to one kill a week was a thing of the past. The implications left us speechless. It was Mir'ar who ended the silence with a cheer, and before long the entire crypt filled with a triumphant roar. But it had not come without cost - Vornus and Claudio had died the true death, along with several new-bloods. One of the few times I ever saw Elise smile was when I returned from the battle and told of her abuser's end.
All day and night were then spent in celebration. We had brought home the cattle of the enemy as our plunder, and there was blood for all. The slaves were given wine to drink themselves into a stupor, and we vampires fed from them and became intoxicated ourselves. Every chin dripped red, and spirits were high. It was an hour before sunrise that a slave called me away from the festivities with the message that Hlan wished for an audience. Our master had not taken part in the celebration, though none but I seemed to think it strange.
A burning smell met my nostrils as I entered his chamber, and I found him bent over his alchemy table, watching a strange liquid bubble furiously in his retort. Not looking up, he motioned for me to approach, before pouring the solution into a beaker. He then sprinkled a pinch of crystalline granules from his mortar and pestle into the mix, causing the liquid to churn even more violently than before. With a satisfied smile, he set the beaker on the table and at last met my curious gaze.
"It is the cure, my friend," he said, his eyes gleaming.
"The cure, Master?"
My own eyes widened, and I looked upon the now calm liquid with awe. "Then it exists. Where did you learn of this? When?"
"Of course it exists. Why, this is but one of several. And I have known of it for many years. A thousand, to be exact. The recipe was passed down to me by my master when he named me as his successor. It is a tradition of our clan that when a master wishes to retire, he may take the cure and live out the rest of his days as a mortal. The knowledge of its concoction is then given to the heir, so he or she may do the same when the time comes. As far as I know, it is a custom unique to our clan alone. In most vampiric societies the master is whoever killed the last one, by honorable duel or murder, but we have always done things differently. Though in time this clan might have adopted that practice... she has waited long for me to step down. You know of whom I speak."
"I do not understand, Master. We are eternal. Why should a vampire lord ever wish to retire, when he could potentially rule his clan until the end of time?"
"No, you do not understand." Hlan laughed, amusedly, not unkindly. "In some ways we are eternal, yes. Unless killed, a vampire can exist forever if he wills it. Our body will never age, our limbs will never tire, and time will not scathe us. Alas, the mind is not also spared from those things. I have lived the lives of twenty men, my friend. Two thousand years! Is it any wonder that I now grow bored with this existence, such as it is?"
"But your grand vision...it has become reality. You are the Night Lord of Cyrodiil."
"That I am. But I feel nothing." The ancient elf gave a hefty sigh, and sank into his grand oak chair. Before me there was no "Night Lord", but a tired old mer who had cheated fate for too long and could run no further. "My 'vision' was no more than a last-ditch attempt to bring new amusement to a wearying mind. I thought it would revive my failing will, but it has not. Men and elves are simply not meant to live this long. I see now that there is method in the madness of the gods. That fate is not cruel at all, and that age and death are gifts, not punishments. But as vampires we deny ourselves those gifts, unnaturally clinging to life far longer than we ought, and for what" Living forever seems attractive indeed to a mortal, but what is the reality? We live in a tomb, caged until sunset, when we come out of our hiding places to feed on the living like parasites. You say you do not understand, but you will in time. You will come to realize what it truly is to be a vampire. We are parasites. To the rest of the world we are killers...monsters...animals. Even I, Night Lord of Cyrodiil," his smile was sardonic as he uttered his newly given title, "am nothing but a beastmaster. Listen to them," he sneered, pausing to hear the drunken laughter that echoed down the hall. "What honor is there in being the master of that rabble?"
"I see now that I made a grave error all those centuries ago," Hlan continued. "Willfully I let the vampire's bite go untreated, and willfully I fell into darkness. Lured by dreams of power and immortality, I embraced the curse. Yes, I got everything I ever wanted...or thought I wanted. But now, as I sit here in my old age, I think of what I have missed, and what I have denied myself. I realize how much I miss the ability to feel...love, fear, joy and sadness. The warmth of the glorious sun on my face. Oh how I miss the sun...two thousand years since I last watched it rise! I can scarcely recall what it was like." He smiled, sadly, but with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. "So I have made up my mind. I will take the cure, and you will replace me as master of the clan. As Night Lord of Cyrodiil."
I knew it was coming. Through the whole speech I waited for those words, yet I still questioned them when they came. "Why not Mir'ar? She has desired it longer than I."
"That she has. But I would not trust her to lead flies to a corpse, let alone my clan. Foolish girl...she should have known that if I had deemed her a suitable successor I would have named her as such long before now. I have looked to my retirement for many years, but until your arrival I saw no shoulders fit to take my burden. All this past year I have groomed you to replace me...surely you can see that?"
"And what of Morran? He is a proven leader."
"Morran is a soldier. He may have no equal when it comes to leading men into battle, but those are not the skills required to rule a vampire clan. Besides, he would not wish for my post. However he will make an excellent second-in-command, should you need one. He respects you and will be a loyal lieutenant."
Hlan stood, returned to his alchemy table (soon to be mine), and poured the precious cure into a flask. Slipping it into a leather satchel, he slung the strap across his shoulder, and wrapped a great burgundy cloak about his skeletal frame. "The sun will rise soon, and I will not miss it for the world. The formula for the cure is on a parchment between volumes six and seven of the Atmoran Prophecies. Good luck to you, Master. May you enjoy the seat of power more than I did."
"Farewell, Hlan." It was all I could muster.
With that same grandfatherly smile he had welcomed me with at our first meeting, Hlan the Black surrendered his mantle to me and returned to the land of the living.
I watched him leave, then sat in the old chair, laying my arms across the rests as though it were a throne - in a way I suppose it was. Then it all began to sink in. This was it. A year ago, I was an outcast from the Mages Guild, wandering the streets of the Imperial City in a state of despair. Now I was a vampire lord...the only vampire lord in the entire city. But did I celebrate? Did I rush out to declare my ascension to my new subjects? Did I so much as open a bottle of wine? No, I did none of those things. I will not lie to you, reader, and say that this was not what I wanted, and nor will I say that it was unexpected. I knew Hlan was grooming me as his apprentice, and the notion that I would some day lead the clan had always thrilled me. But Hlan's final speech shook me to my very core. His words gnawed at me, and made me question even my place in the world. Was I parasite or predator? Royalty, or ringleader? I cannot say how many hours I sat in Hlan's old chair, wallowing in melancholy, and wrestling with my own notions of who I was and what I wanted in life. It was well past nightfall when I was interrupted by the intrusion of the last person I wanted to see: Mir'ar.
When she saw me sitting in that chair, she knew at once what had transpired. Her beautiful face twisted to a grotesque mask of horror, envy and hatred. An'kha, her feline lover, was with her, though she seemed more frightened of Mir'ar's reaction than anything else. "You son of a two-drake whore," the wood elf hissed.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, mother," I retorted.
"For a hundred years I have waited to sit in that chair," she continued, ignoring my counter. "Only to be usurped by a new-blood? I should have killed you that night in the tavern! That seat should be mine! It will be mine!" With a scream, she drew a silver dagger and leapt towards me. Behind her, An'kha did the same.
Agile though they were, in their haste the twain failed to take my abilities as a mage into account. With a wave of my hand and a brief incantation, a jet of pure magical energy shot from my fingers and consumed them both. When the smoke had cleared, there was nothing left but a layer of ash spread across the floor, and two twisted daggers, melted by the intense heat. This was not what I had wanted, but that which I had grappled with from dawn till dusk was suddenly clear to me, and I knew what I had to do. Hlan the Black told me I would come to understand in time, but as it happened, the understanding came far sooner than either of us would have expected.
I walked to the far bookshelf and parted volumes six and seven of the Atmoran Prophecies. There it was: the yellowed slip of parchment that was to be my salvation. The ingredients were all there, left over from Hlan's final brew, and after following the clear and simple instructions I held the cure for vampirism in my hands. I know many of you will now wonder what those ingredients were, but I will not give them here. There are some secrets best kept as such for the good of all.
Once the cure was made, I put the parchment back in its place between the volumes. The next master would find it and the tradition would continue. This done, and the cure in a flask tucked safely into my coat pocket, I walked out of the chamber for the last time. But there was still one thing I had to do.
I found Elise on my bed, sound asleep. I sat on the edge and lightly stroked her auburn hair. She always had a wonderful calm about her when sleeping, and one would not have guessed that she was a vampire's blood-slave by looking at her. My touch woke her, and she smiled at me. She sat up, the sheets falling away to reveal her naked body, and thinking it was time for feeding, tilted her head back to offer me her pale neck. I shook my head, and instead gently drew her towards me. We shared a lovers' kiss, and then I broke her neck.
Some of you will no doubt think this act monstrous, but I reasoned that it was the humane thing to do. I could not take her with me, yet nor would I leave her with the clan where I could not protect her. But I knew in my heart that the true Elise had died long ago, and I took comfort in knowing that her broken spirit would be healed of all hurts in the afterlife.
Covering her body with a sheet, I fled the lair without looking back. Once again I found myself on the streets in exile, my future uncertain. But in my pocket was hope, and shortly before daybreak I climbed to the balcony of a manor that commanded a wide view of the eastern horizon. Just as the pink glow of dawn appeared behind the clouds, I drank the potion and was a man again. My mortality restored, I beheld the glorious sun and wept at its beauty.
A full year has now passed since that night. The night I was given the world, and threw it all away. I wish I could tell you that I have lived blissfully ever since, but that would be a lie. Since drinking that vile brew and curing my "disease", my life has become a living hell. For along with the return of my mortality came the return of my conscience, and thus began a ceaseless torment for my untold crimes. I now feel the sorrow and guilt of every life I took, and it overwhelms me. Every time I close my eyes I see the faces of the serving girl, the beggars, the noblewomen, Mir'ar and An'kha, and my beloved Elise. I cannot sleep without suffering horrendous nightmares, made all the worse by the knowledge that they are not dreams at all but memories. The Flin and moon sugar help numb the pain somewhat, but I now find myself addicted to both. I can now see the true benefits of being unable to feel, but there is no going back, nor would I really want to, given the chance. I do not know what became of my clan, though I assume it fell into chaos when the upper echelon dissipated. Perhaps the other clans rose again from the ashes of defeat and the balance of power has been restored, or maybe a strong leader took command and their dominance continues even now. I do not know, and I do not care.
I know there are others: former vampires, cured of the disease and now living "normal" mortal lives. I wonder how they do it. I wonder how they can live with themselves - with the guilt of having caused so much pain and suffering. I wonder if returning to the light was as painful for Hlan as it has been for me. But then, he had many years for which to prepare himself. I did not.
I sit here now in the same room of that same tavern where this all began, writing my memoirs in the dim light of a sputtering candle. My eyes are red from lack of sleep, and my frame is frail and sickly from abuse of narcotics. Tomorrow I plan to throw myself into the waters of Nibenay and end my miserable existence. But I shall die knowing my life and death have not all been for naught. For in committing myself to text, I will now continue to live in the minds of all who read these volumes. I will achieve a different kind of immortality: a nobler kind...a literary kind. It amuses me to think that I will now live forever as the protagonist of a tragic story. The story of how I became a monster.
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