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Cari blinked. What’s with all these bright lights? Someone was calling her. Who was that? Leyda? Weren’t we just at school? Is that where we are now?
“Herr Ayalu! I think she’s coming around!”
Cari became aware of a shadow looming over her. What’s Papa doing here? Why am I lying down? Gradually, both sight and sense returned. Cari realized she was in a hospital bed. Papa was looking down at her, while Leyda stood to one side. “Daughter,” Papa said. “What on Nirn is happening to you?”
“I, I don’t know.” Something felt odd. She felt her forehead; she found she was wearing some kind of headband with wires, which led to a metal box with blinking lights. “Did I pass out at school?”
“You can say that again!” said Leyda. “Right in the front of the classroom. It’s lucky Anisa and I were there to catch you, or you might have split your head open.”
“Oh no!” said Cari, mortified. “Everyone saw me?”
Before Leyda could reply, a nurse appeared. “Herr Ayalu, the doctor would like to speak with you,” she said, ushering Papa out of the room.
“Thanks for staying with me,” Cari said to Leyda, after Papa left.
“I was glad to do it. Anisa was here for a while, but she had archery this afternoon.” Anisa was on the school archery team, and a was pretty good shot.
“But that means it’s –“ Cari furrowed her brow.
“Late afternoon,” Leyda said. “You’ve been here a while.”
“Leyda,” said Cari. “What really happened?”
Leyda gathered her thoughts. “It was really strange, Cari. Kind of like last week, your eyes sort of glazed over, and then…” Leyda trailed off.
“Well, you started singing again. A really sad song about a war or something. I didn’t even know you could sing so well.”
“I never could before,” said Cari.
“And then, down you went,” said Leyda. “At first, it looked like you’d stumbled or something, but then you started to fall forward. Anisa got hold of you just in time, and together we sat you down on the floor. Frokken Karl called the medics, and well, here we are.” Leyda paused before continuing. “Cari, is something wrong with you? Something I don’t know about?”
“I don’t think so,” said Cari. “But I don’t know. If I knew, I’d tell you. You know that, don’t you?”
“Of course,” said Leyda. “I just worry sometimes.” Leyda took Cari’s hand and squeezed gently. Papa reappeared at that moment with Aunt Teri behind him, carrying a shopping bag. “Hello, Frokken Teri!” said Leyda.
“Leyda,” said Papa. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you staying with my daughter, but perhaps you should run on home, now. We’ll surely tell you if there’s any news.” Reluctantly, Leyda allowed Aunt Teri to lead her to the door.
“I was just speaking to the doctor when your Auntie arrived,” said Papa. “That headband thing? He said you can take it off for a few minutes if you need to get up, but the nurses will find out if you don’t put it back on. Also, he said you should remain here overnight, and have some tests in the morning.”
“What kind of tests do they mean?” asked Cari uneasily.
“The doctor said something about resonance imaging,” Papa replied. “He said it doesn’t hurt at all –“
“Is that the one where they put you in that tube? Oh, no!” Cari cried.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” said Papa. Cari cringed. She’d heard about that test, and thought it sounded nightmarish.
“Kuya,” said Aunt Teri to her brother, “why don’t you let me take things from here? You should probably go home and rest. Anyway, maybe Cari and I could talk things over, you know, woman to woman.”
Cari liked hearing that. It made her feel grown-up. “Are you sure?” asked Papa reluctantly. “I don’t want to leave if Cari needs me here.”
“Thanks, Papa,” said Cari. “But I’ll be fine here with Aunt Teri. You should get some rest. Like you say, those stores don’t run themselves, you know!”
Papa chuckled and kissed his daughter. And after a few whispered words with his little sister, he hugged her as well, and departed.
After he was gone, Aunt Teri passed Cari the shopping bag. “I went to your house and grabbed your pajamas,” she said. “I thought you might need them.”
“Thank you,” said Cari, peering inside the bag. “I hope you didn’t have to hunt too hard for them.” Putting the bag aside, she said, “Aunt Teri, I’m scared.”
Aunt Teri sat down next to the bed on Cari’s right. “What happened?”
“She was there again.”
“The harpist?” asked Aunt Teri. “You saw her?”
“Not saw, exactly,” Cari answered. “It was more like I was her, like I was seeing and hearing through her. Leyda, Anisa, and I had to read in front of the classroom, and while I was up there, it was as if the rest of the class hated each other. I don’t mean just angry. It was like they were ready to kill, and all I could do was watch. It was awful!”
“Oh Cari,” said Aunt Teri. “I’m so sorry! I had no idea.”
“None of this is your fault, Aunt Teri, but I don’t seem to have any control over it, either. What does this Näktergal even want with me?” Cari said, sniffling. “That is, if she’s even real. ‘Help me,’ she says. Help her what? And why me, anyway?”
“Maybe you’re the only one listening.”
“But what do I have to do with her? I’m not even a Nord,” argued Cari. “I’m Dunmer, through and through.”
“Cari, none of us is through-and-through anything. Not you, not me, not Uncle Adrian, not Anisa, and not Leyda.” Aunt Teri looked stern. “I heard enough of that nonsense in school: Who’s more pure? Who can trace their lineage back furthest? I’ll bet you’ve heard it, too.”
Cari nodded. She had, of course. She hated to admit it, but she’d probably participated in it once or twice. “Even so,” she said, “what am I supposed to do?”
“Baby, I wish I knew. But if you’ve really found out who it is that’s putting you through this, maybe you’re near the end of it.”
“Maybe. I just wish I had more control over what’s happening,” said Cari.
At that moment, an orderly appeared pushing the dinner cart. Cari, who hadn’t eaten since early morning, realized she was ravenous, and wasted no time getting through her meal. After supper, she excused herself to the restroom and wiggled into her pajamas. Crawling back into her bed, she said, “Aunt Teri, will you stay with me?”
“Of course, Baby, that’s why I came here. I’ll just sleep over there,” Aunt Teri replied, pointing to the recliner to Cari’s left, near the door.
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain lately. It’s really embarrassing.”
“Cari, don’t worry. You’ll get through this, you’ll see. Maybe you should try to get some rest, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so,” said Cari, pulling up the covers. Her supper, while not terribly tasty, made her somewhat drowsy, and as she chatted with her aunt, she felt herself drifting off to sleep.
When she woke up, the room was dark. Outside of the normal nighttime rumbling of the city, all was quiet. Looking to her left, she saw Aunt Terri dozing in the recliner, a blanket draped over her. To her right was a window, the curtains pulled about halfway back. Streetlights and traffic created odd, roving patterns on the ceiling and walls. Bands of light moved around the room, stopping here and there, switching directions. Sometimes they’d move left, sometimes right, depending on the passing vehicles.
Until one began moving independently, slowly evolving in front of her, assuming a vaguely human form.
Cari was petrified. “What do you want with me?” she wanted to scream, but sitting on her bed, she made not a sound.
Help me, Cari heard in her mind.
“Help you? Help you what?”
Not forget. Again, Cari heard this plainly, but somehow knew she was the only one who could. Looking left, she saw Aunt Teri still sleeping soundly on the recliner. Don’t let them forget!
“Forget what?” said Cari in her mind. “What shouldn’t we forget?” But the figure was already receding, blending in with the lights cast by the traffic outside.
Outside. Somehow, Cari understood she was supposed to follow Näktergal, wherever she was going, but how? She certainly couldn’t walk out the door; even if Aunt Teri didn’t wake up, the nurses would spot her instantly. The window? How high up was she? Removing the headband, she crept slowly to the window. She was on the first floor; the ground floor being sunk slightly into the earth. The drop from her window was maybe half again Cari’s height, ending in a row of forsythia. The window was an older type – it actually opened wide enough to allow her through.
Cari stepped quietly back to her bed and replaced the headband. If she was going to follow Näktergal, she’d have to move quickly and decisively. Where were her clothes? She didn’t know, and didn’t want to poke around in the dark looking for them. Her shoes? Oh, there they were, under the nightstand. Her school flats: they would have to do, though she would have been happier with her sneakers. Quietly, she slipped them on over her bare feet. She took a deep breath, pulled off the headband a final time, and crawled through the window. She hung from the ledge for a few long seconds before letting herself drop into the bushes below. Regaining her breath, she set out quickly into the night.
Five minutes later, the night nurse burst into the room and flipped on the lights, startling awake Aunt Teri, who joined in the nurse’s panic.
Cari, of course, was unaware of the pandemonium she had caused. She had no idea where she was headed; she just obeyed an urge to follow, presumably wherever Näktergal led her. She crept across the hospital auto park and turned right, up Sjukhusgaten. She tried to avoid the streetlamps. Somehow she knew she must not be spotted.
The night was chillier than she expected. Clad only in her pajamas, Cari began to feel the cold acutely. When she finally emerged on Västerportgate, she noticed the neighborhood was extremely dark. The streetlamps seemed to be out, and it was difficult to make out the buildings around her. Still, she kept trudging uphill along Västerportgate, which she knew led to Solitude’s historic area.
Needless to say, Cari was frightened. She knew that once she was caught (which was a certainty), she would be in deep trouble. She could hardly argue the point. Papa would be beside himself, the doctors and nurses would be angry and confused, and Aunt Teri – would she ever forgive Cari for sneaking out on her like that? But following this wave of fear was something worse. As she walked in the dark, she was gradually enveloped in deep despair. She couldn’t understand it, but somehow, she felt she’d failed catastrophically.
This feeling grew worse as she continued uphill, until she began to doubt her own future. I’m a fool, she thought. A naïve fool to think I could make them stop fighting! When she sang to the Imperial officers, they treated her with haughty contempt. Singing in front of the Thalmor embassy earned her sneers from the guards and a slap across the face from Lady Elenwen herself. What’s more, she’d barely escaped from the Stormcloak camp with her life! Sure, maybe a few people had listened to her, but not nearly enough. And now there was a price on her head. Deserting soldiers told her there was a reward for her capture, and she even saw a sign posted in Dragonbridge announcing that the Thalmor would pay handsomely for her, dead or alive.
She couldn’t stop the fighting. It was hopeless. Where could she go now? The Bard’s College – where she’d learned, where she’d charmed and impressed her teachers? It was the only place she could think of. They would hide her there, if she could only manage to slip back into Solitude, eluding the people she was sure were looking for her.
This isn’t me! Cari thought. I’m Cari Ayalu, not Näktergal! She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. Why can’t you leave me alone? But she continued uphill through the inky night just the same. Finally, shivering and footsore, she reached the western gate of Solitude, overseen by a single guard clad in chainmail. How shall I pass through? she wondered. Shall I beg? Shall I sing to him? She reached beneath her cloak where she concealed her harp.
She needn’t have wondered. “You’re Näktergal,” the guard said. “Our officers call you a traitor, but you have spoken rightly. You may pass, and if anyone asks, I never saw you.” Opening the gate a crack, the guard ushered her through.
Once inside, she stuck to the shadows, eluding the night watch, avoiding contact with anyone. Cari tried to shake herself out of this nightmare, but it was no use. What are you doing to me? Where are you taking me? I’m just a schoolgirl! What she could see of the city looked exactly like what she’d seen a few days earlier: no parkland, no museum, just the shadows of buildings all the way down to the Blue Palace. Minutes later, she reached her destination, the Bard’s College, dark and sleeping like the rest of the city. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked, and she was able to enter. Inside, lamps placed here and there allowed her to make out the staircase leading to the basement. Taking one of the lamps, she descended, and found the place abandoned. Where was everyone? Creeping to a corner of the basement, she lifted a trap door, and descended one more flight. The sub-basement was used only for storage; people seldom came down there. Perhaps I can hide here, she thought. Now alone, she dragged a chair close to one of the enormous pilings that supported the ancient structure and sat down. Overcome by despair, she tuned her harp for a final song:
Alas for you, Skyrim my homeland,
The flower of our memory
Consumed by the fires of hatred
Desolation and death wait for thee!
The glare from a bull’s-eye lantern blinded her. “You made it very easy for us to find you, Näktergal the Traitor,” a voice said. “All we had to do was wait for you to come home. And now you shall meet a traitor’s fate.”
Cari was shaken back to the present by the beam from an electric torch. She could vaguely make out the forms of police officers in the background. One of them said, “Young lady, you’re in big trouble!”
A note about the illustrations: The pictures of Cari and the other characters are screenshots taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The shots were then manipulated using Paint.net, and occasionally grafted into photos from my personal collection. The following user mods were used for this story:
- Cari, her schoolmates, and Aunt Teri were created using the Young Nord race, which is part of Enhanced Character Edit by the ECE Team. Also used were Better Females by Bella, and UNP Blessed Body by Blessed Redux Project Team
- Cari’s and other characters’ outfits (not all of them featured in this installment) come from the following mods:
- Hair styles are from KS Hairdos – Renewal by Kalilies and Stealthic
- Poses, when used are from Skyrim’s internal poses (an interesting article can be found here) or from Pretty Motion Collection by DualSun
- The “green screen” mod used for creating transparent backgrounds is Green Screen Chroma Key Room by MGBeach