The Inner Demon

 
Previously: Morthal

A bottle of warm mead and a plate of shockingly well-seasoned boar meat later, Indrathel was finally relaxed.

Morthal might be a backwater village, but it was a cozy backwater village where everyone knew everyone else and genuinely enjoyed their company...even the horrifically tone-deaf, gritty-voiced Orc bard.

She decided to take a turn about the tavern, circling the firepit for warmth while casually eavesdropping. After staying at two Thalmor installations and visiting the Blue Palace, Indrathel was delighted to be in a room full of regular people. Her hollow memories recalled no time in which she'd visited a regular tavern and rubbed shoulders with wanderers and villagers. Nevertheless, this felt real, this felt right, even if she couldn't explain why.

To her surprise, Lord Aslfur, the Jarl's husband was in the tavern at this late hour. He was enjoying a tankard of mead with a comely woman who looked like the much younger version of his wife, much to Indrathel's amusement.

"My lord," Indrathel greeted in subtle amusement, her left eyebrow raised.

"Commander," he nodded.

Their exchanged intrigued the young woman. "Commander?"

"Indrathel is a member of the Thalmor," Aslfur explained. "This is Alva," he introduced. "She moved to Morthal a few weeks ago."

Indrathel finally turned her full attention to the young woman. Her brow furrowed almost right away when she noticed how scantily dressed Alva was, which was odd considering Morthal's weather.

Harlot? she briefly wondered. "Do you work in this tavern?" she asked aloud suddenly, wondering where Alva had been when Jonna was sweeping and serving while Benor was getting her bath ready.

"Oh, no," Alva laughed. "No, I'm just a patron. Moorside's really the only place to be after dark."

"So I gathered," Indrathel murmured absently. There was something...off about this woman and she couldn't put her finger on it. Alva was obviously carefree with her smile and laughter, but her eyes...her eyes were the coldest shade of hazel Indrathel had ever seen.

She inhaled deeply and finally realized what was wrong. Though Alva's face glowed with lively cheer, her body reeked of death.



Vampire, Indrathel inwardly gasped. Every muscle in her body tensed when Aslfur excused himself to go pay his tab, leaving the two women alone.

"You're a pretty one," Alva said, but her sultry voice, like her pretty eyes, was devoid of anything genuine. "Even for Thalmor," she added, looking Indrathel up and down.

"What brings you to Morthal?" Indrathel asked, trying to keep her voice from tightening.

"Bought a house for a song," Alva casually shrugged. "You'll find everything is cheap in Morthal."

"Odd place to buy a home during a war," Indrathel noted.

"No one's coming to Morthal," Alva snorted. "Too bleak, even by Skyrim standards. The people here work so hard, and they never allow themselves a moment of fun. Gathering plants, picking mushrooms, brewing potions. It all gets so dreary after a while." She chuckled softly, as if to herself. "This town needs something exciting to happen."

Indrathel's jaw tightened. "Got any family out there?"

"None living," Alva shrugged, casting her eyes down into her tankard. "What about you?" she asked, coyly looking back up with one of her chilly smiles. "You look like you've got some...interesting parentage."

"All dead," Indrathel replied flatly. Guess we have that in common, she didn't add.

"Well," Alva mused, "if you don't have anything or anyone to go back to, take my advice: Morthal is an excellent place to disappear."

***


"My lord Aslfur!"

The fur-clad nobleman turned around as Indrathel caught up with him just outside the inn. "Commander," he blinked, surprised.

"That woman," she began, "Alva--"

"Look," Aslfur said lowly, wearily, "it's not what you think. I try to spend time with all of my citizens, and it just so happens that Alva flirts with everyone."

"This isn't about your obviously tenuous nature of your marriage, my lord," Indrathel told him bluntly. "The way I understand it, your kind take mistresses all the time--and I don't care. This is about the fact that woman in there is a vampire."

Aslfur's eyes widened, his weariness fading into incredulity.

"She is wielding a powerful glamour," Indrathel continued. "The only reason I figured her out was her smell. It's the same hideous smell as those things that attacked the fort where I was stationed."

A sound escaped the steward, a cross between a snort and a guffaw. "I realize we're nothing but lowly, unwashed peasants to you, Commander--"

"Not you," she interrupted irritably. "You smell like a normal human. Granted, that's not great, but at least you're alive. That woman--" she pointed towards the tavern, "--is undead, and I need to speak to the Jarl at once."

"It's late," he replied tersely. "You can tell my wife over breakfast tomorrow. I'm sure it'll give her a good laugh. Good night, Indrathel," Aslfur shut her down, before turning to leave.

***

Indrathel reentered the inn, her good mood permanently ruined. She figured it was best to go take her bath and let things lie for the night; after all, Alva had been in town for weeks already. If she had been killing people, there would've been an uproar by now.

The vampire was talking to Benor now, and of course, he was enjoying the attention. Indrathel walked past them slowly, her brown eyes shooting daggers at the blissfully unaware pair.

"I'm bored, Benor. Nobody wants to have any fun with me."

"If you leave that kinslayer Hroggar, I would be happy to keep your company."

Weren't you just flirting with me a moment ago? Indrathel twitched. She didn't know which bothered her more, the fact he'd forgotten her so quickly or the idea of him cozying up to a member of the undead.

Both were extremely annoying.

"Hroggar doesn't have to know if we sit together," Alva grinned wickedly. Her voice was so honeyed. "Or drink together. I doubt he would even care."

"You tempt me mightily, Alva. But I won't cuckhold another man, even a murderer like Hroggar."

Seriously? If Indrathel rolled her eyes back any further, they were likely to get stuck. "Tempt me mightily"? "Cuckhold"? Outside of a bard's tale, who even talks like that anymore?

He didn't switch up his language like that for me, Indrathel scowled. She glanced down at her clothes. Is the robes? It's the Thalmor robes, isn't it? I bet they're a real boner-shrinker.

The bath she'd paid him for was lukewarm now, but she took it any, scrubbing her skin raw with jerky movements, trying to salvage what was left of this disastrous night. She tried to tell herself she was understandably upset, vampire and all, but after a while, she had to admit was really bothering her.

Alva was young (or at least, appeared to be), and beautiful, and openly flirtatious. Not once had anyone mention where she originally came from, what she did for a living, or how she could afford a house. Granted, it was a house in Morthal, but it was still a house.

Once again, everyone is a sucker for a pretty face. They didn't ask the hard questions because they didn't want to. They wanted her pay them attention, to stroke their egos (among other things), and make them forget the grim realities of their existences, if only for a night.

The Nords--and humans in general--had their standards of beauty. The Altmeri had theirs as well.

I may be pretty, Indrathel sulked in her bathwater, staring into space, but where do I fit in?

Once more, she found herself wondering if this was to be her life, always on the outside, struggling to find her place in the world. She had come to Morthal expecting to face her demons, but she hadn't realized there'd be so many, or that they'd be so loud.

What is it about this place?

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