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Investigator Vale: Retinue of Shambles, Part 3


Investigator Vale tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the High Elf to finish translating the sheet of parchment she removed from the old book shop. Zaraki gave her a look, but she ignored him and tapped even more furiously.

Galaadil, Assistant Sapiarch of Daedric Studies, leaned back and rubbed his eyes. "You were right to bring this to me, Agent Za—"

"Please, my friend," Zaraki interrupted, noticing how Vale raised an eyebrow when Galaadil addressed him, "we're all friends here. There's no need to be so formal. Just call me Zaraki. Or Zar, if you prefer. But you were saying ..."

"The names are prominent members of High Elf society, each linked to a specific location in Summerset," Galaadil explained. "As for the Daedric symbols, they revere three different Daedric Princes and refer to powerful relics I assume are somehow related to the people and places. It's really quite fascinating! Where did you say you got this?"

"We didn't," Vale said, scooping up the parchment as she turned to leave.

"Where are you going in such a rush, pretty lady?" Zaraki asked as he stood to accompany her.

"I don't think a simple Khajiit clothier would care about my business," Vale said lightly, "but I wouldn't turn down the help of Agent Zaraki-dar of the Queen's Ears."

"What? Who said—? This one isn't—," Zar sputtered. Then he said quietly, "When did you figure it out?"

"Really, Zar?" Vale teased. "The tales of Zaraki-dar, Ear of the Queen, have reached even High Rock's less-than-civilized shores. I knew it was you the moment I laid eyes on your tawny, furry, well-rounded ... head. Well, maybe the second moment. Now let's go stop the Retinue of Shambles."

"People always tell Zar how much they appreciate his furry, well-rounded ... head," Zaraki mused as he hurried to catch up with Investigator Vale.

As they walked side-by-side, they didn't see the tiny spider clinging to the back of Vale's long coat.

* * *
Vale and Zaraki-dar made their way cautiously into the coral forest outside Shimmerene as dusk began to creep across the sky. The dense collection of petrified coral created a strange, labyrinthine landscape along the island's eastern shore. Clues on the parchment sheet had led them here. A few steps into the area and they could hear ominous chanting echoing off the coral protrusions closing in around them. The unknown words had a sharp edge to them that made Vale's skin crawl and Zaraki's fur stand on end.

They walked deeper into the coral maze, eyes alert and searching. Flickering firelight danced behind one of the coral pillars, so Vale proceeded in that direction. Zaraki rested a paw on her shoulder, silently urging caution. She nodded and peered around the pillar.

In a clearing at the center of the coral forest, the High Elf wearing the Mephala medallion they encountered in the old book shop stood before an abstract yet disturbingly asymmetrical three-sided shrine that bore Daedric symbols associated with three different Princes. She gazed into the fires burning in the three braziers as she chanted the same phrase over and over. Behind her, the air shimmered and glowed with a strange, unnatural light. Something was coming! Before Vale could act, a tiny spider scurried off her back and rushed toward the cultist, growing larger until it was about the size of a cat when it climbed onto her shoulder.

"You're just in time," the High Elf said with obvious disdain. "You can be the first of the lesser races to experience the majesty and power of the Altmer reborn!"

"Hey, Zaraki-dar," Vale asked, "you have any idea what this overblown, pointed-eared, Daedra-loving idiot is talking about?"

"Not a clue, pretty lady," Zar replied. "This one doesn't like the looks of that shrine, though. Zar does not believe it is strictly legal."

"Well, then," Vale said, and she took two steps forward and kicked the makeshift shrine with her heavy leather boot. It shattered, scattering the three small braziers and extinguishing two of the three small fires.

The cultist screamed in rage as the glow behind her faded and the air stopped shimmering. She drew a long, curved dagger from her robe as the spider on her shoulder reared up and clacked its mandibles.

"None of that Daedric nonsense from you," Zaraki-dar said as he drew his own sword and stepped in front of Vale. "By order of the Queen, this one accepts your surrender!"

With that, a dozen Dominion soldiers rushed into the clearing to surround the cultist, each brandishing a weapon. The cultist and the spider looked around, then she dropped her dagger and the spider settled back down.

"This isn't over, cat," the High Elf cultist spat.

"Oh, I think it is," Vale countered cheerfully, "at least as far as you're concerned."

* * *
Vale leaned back against her pillow, looking up into the dark room above the inn. "Do you think there are more of them out there, Zar?"

Zaraki-dar, one hand holding up his head as the other stroked Vale's naked thigh. "There are always more, pretty lady. That's why the queen keeps me around."

"Well, then, I won't worry about it right now. I'd much rather have another go at your tawny, furry...

Zar kissed her, cutting off Vale's words. She returned the favor.