Jump to content

Civil War Aftermath: Origins


Recommended Posts

Civil War Aftermath: Origins

 

 

Summary: Pretty much what it sounds like. Post background stories here. Things before the events of Civil War Aftermath Chapter 1. They can be short, long, big, small....I'm not picky :wink:

 

Have fun :) -ColonelKillaBee

It's always nice when your writing gets reinforced by the canon after you come up with it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Rebec Red Snow

 

 

 

Rebec Red-Eye

aboard the Harpy, Sea of Ghosts

three months before the Battle of Pale Pass

"Hold water!" Rebec called down from the steering.

She waited and felt the ship slow as the oarsmen all held their oars at their armpits flat in the water to brake.  Turning her head, Rebec listened for any sign that the imperial vessel was still following.  There was fog, so she knew they couldn't see her.¨

Standing from her place at the steering, Rebec raised her voice loud.  "WE DRINK TO OUR YOUTH, TO THE DAYS COME AND GONE..." There where cheers and whistles from the crew.  "FOR THE AGE OF OPPRESSION IS NOW NEARLY DONE." The admiral paused and heard shouting off in the distance, not far.

Sitting back down at her place, she waited until the shouting was practically right behind them, then called the order. "Set to!  Row, gods damn you!" Afterward, she laughed loudly, a battle laugh, and gave out a loud whoop.  The imperials had been searching for her.  They'd be sorry they found her.¨

Mazoga Thorn-Orc, her first mate, came up near and watched her, waiting for orders.  Her face was grim, but the orc knew the drill. They were close to the iceberg. They all could smell it, even though it was almost entirely submerged. Rebec could feel it in her feet, the looming mass that drew closer with every oar stroke. She didn't know how she did it. Some said it was a gift of the gods, others that she had the benefit of her ancestors' experience somehow.  She just knew what the water wanted her to do.

"STARBOARD LIFT OARS, LARBOARD HEAVE TO!¨

She turned the keel to match the rowing actions. There was a shuffle and creak and instantly the ship made a sharp left turn. Rebec gave the order to lift oars and let the ship's momentum carry them forward. Then she held her breath, as she always did at this moment, wondering if this time she had waited too long.¨

When she felt they were clear, she ordered oars in once more and straightened the ship's course. Mazoga strode away, down the stairs, calling for the oarsmen to heave to. They were clear, but if somehow the imperial vessel didn't get caught in their trap, they'd have to flee.

Out a ways, Rebec called for a halt and then stood to listen, bracing on the ship rail. She had begun to think the imperials might have given up the chase when she heard the sharp, groaning crack of a ship hull meeting a hidden island of ice. There were shouts, and not long after there were screams.  Her own crew erupted into cheers, and Rebec turned to smile back at them.  Another imperial galley wouldn't be making the journey home.¨

Mazoga came up at her elbow. "Shall I set out the dinghy, captain?¨

"Wait." Rebec and the orc exchanged a glance. They didn't have room for a whole galley crew of prisoners. The imperial vessel was doomed, but it would take time before it listed and the sea swallowed it. If their small boat approached while there were many men in the water, it could be overwhelmed. They might still save a few, especially if there were Nords. The Sea of Ghosts would take the others. It was a harsh reality, but this was war, and the imperials had chosen to come here. Mazoga was as much a warrior as any of her people, and she made no objection. When there was nothing but the sound of Kyne's breath and the waves, Rebec gave the order for the dinghy to set out.

It would be a while before they returned. They would pick through the wreckage, salvage any prisoners and booty that was afloat, and try to identify the vessel for the paper-pushers back home. While Rebec waited, she sat leaning against the ship rail and let her mind wander. The naval war was going well, better than she had hoped. It had been an exhilarating time for her. She had never before felt so useful. People esteemed her. They sought out her opinion. She would never admit it to anyone, but Rebec found this immensely satisfying. It was something her father might be proud of. She hadn't asked him yet, but she hoped it was so.

None of it would ever have happened but for one man. Idly Rebec wondered where Baldur Red-Snow was then. He'd been made general, she heard, and was in Whiterun for a time. She had thought about writing to him before dismissing it as a ridiculous notion. What would she even say? The last she had seen of him had been in Solitude, at a strategy meeting, just after Ulfric had ordered her release. Baldur's manner had been professional, polite. It was expected. She was the first who'd say just because they had bedded down together one night didn't mean a thing.

Shivering, Rebec drew her seacloak around her. The image of the general's face as he stood over Ulfric's charts, expression stern, changed to her memory of the same face as it loomed over her in the bed at Neugrad. He had just shagged her senseless, but when he was done, he lingered, smiling down at her with a boyish shyness. At the time, it had astounded her.  Remembering it now made her stomach quiver suddenly.  He was a good man. She wanted him again, Rebec realized. Chances that she would get him were slim.  Even if she returned to Falkreath, he would probably not be interested. A man like him wouldn't go for a woman like her.  Not for more than a bit of fun.

Yet on the trip back to Solitude, she thought she had caught him looking at her once or twice.  It was probably his nether regions talking to him, Rebec thought.  But what if...

Just as Rebec was about to spin the fantasy, she was stirred out of her thoughts by the sound of the dinghy returning. The other crew members helped lift up the captured goods and a handful of prisoners. These were lashed to the rail and left to shiver. They would probably not make it until the ship put into Solitude the next morning, yet they were still the lucky ones.

Rebec walked along, looking down at the prisoners' faces. Most were barely more than boys. One of them appeared better off than the others. He was dark haired, with the broad, handsome features of a Nord.

"What's your name?" she asked, crouching down on her haunches in front of him.

He gave her an unfriendly glare, which Rebec didn't hold against him.  "Hjarn Helm-Hand."

"Well, Hjarn. How does it feel, knowing that you're a traitor to your own people?"

The glare turned fierce a moment, then relented. His voice was quiet. "I'm from Anvil. There was no work. The Thalmor don't like Nords, so the merchant captains won't hire. Then I got conscripted. At least my wife and children can eat.¨

This reply quieted Rebec, too. Soberly she said, "Then welcome to Skyrim. I'm Rebec Red-Eye, admiral here. I'll see that you're treated fairly. Tell the guards in Solitude I said so." The man nodded silently.

After that, Mazoga came up and said she'd take the keel so she could get some rest. Rebec didn't argue with her. She had trained Mazoga herself, and the orc was as capable a sailor as anyone Rebec knew.

In her cabin belowdecks, Rebec stripped down to woolens and buried herself in the furs, but sleep wouldn't come. The image she'd had earlier of Baldur Red-Snow returned. He was smiling at her like that again, reaching to kiss her.

The rock of the ship on a wave brought Rebec out of her fantasy, and she realized that she had gathered the bedding in her arms like an embrace. There was a throb in her thighs, but it was the ache in her throat that she felt most keenly. She'd never been able to go without a man for very long, but this felt different. For one thing, she was older now. The physical urges weren't as intense, but there was something deeper. I just miss Toki, she thought, feeling a little desperate. Lonely. The realization hit her hard. One thing Rebec had always been determined to do was to go her own way. Occasional loneliness was part of the price for that. Now, she was so lonely. She wanted... Rebec didn't know what she wanted. There was just an ache that wouldn't be chased away by diversions or by ordering herself to stop feeling.

Still, there was nothing to do but try to forget this Stormcloak general. Nothing could come of it. Out of sentimentality or some overly Nord sense of honor she had made him a promise of help, but she could worm out of it, plead the naval war keeping her away. Then if she ever saw him again, he would no doubt have moved on to some other woman, a town girl or one of the Stormcloak officers. That would be just as well. Burying her face in the furs, Rebec thought she  even believed it.

 

 

 

 

Magdela Bathory- character intro

 

 

4E201
Skingrad
Shortly after the assassination of Titus Mede II

Maggie stood in front of her father’s desk, feeling as small as she had there as a child. Darius had not seen in her in over five years, but he barely looked up from his papers when she entered.

“I can get you a seat on the Elder Council, nothing more. Even that is not easy these days. Damned Nibenese think they own everything, to say nothing of the Thalmor.”

“The Thalmor are useful to us, and more open to our approaches than you realize, Father. As for a seat on the Elder Council, I don't need one. I’ve got my own ways of seeing to our interests.”

The Count lifted his hawk gaze at her. “I’m well aware of your ways. They’re dangerous. They expose us too much. Or did you not learn your lesson the last time?”

Maggie gave a little smile. It was not really exposure that her father worried about, but that popular acclaim gave her a measure of power that he couldn't control. “I'll be more careful than last time. Could we discuss it later? I’m tired from my journey and I need to look in on Mother as well.”

Darius dismissed her with a wave, and Maggie walked out, fighting to keep the anger down. I’m going to outlive you all, she thought bitterly.  It would be no mean feat.

Anna Bathory was in her bed surrounded by pillows and her enormous old housecat. She wasn’t really ill, of course, but loved to pretend she was. It gave her more reason to harass her bevy of personal servants and force sympathy out of them. One of these, a young woman Maggie recognized, was sitting at the bedside reading to the countess.

“I’ve returned, Mother.  Hello Leni.” Maggie touched the maid’s cheek, smiling at her. The maid smiled back. Her eyes were glazed, expression wan. She was a favorite, then.

Anna fluttered a hand out towards her daughter. “Come here, darling.  Let me kiss you.” She was still a beautiful woman, the plumpness in her body and face not unattractive, but she smelled of the half-dead flowers that were rotting in her room. The countess insisted on them being cut for her, and afterward couldn’t bear to part with them. Maggie leaned down to receive the kiss, then quickly stepped back.

“So tell me the news, Mother. What have I missed?”

As her mother launched into a long narration of all the gossip from Bruma to Leyawiin, Maggie wandered over to the desk and glanced at the stack of letters. Darius Bathory was Count of Skingrad, but Anna had a dynasty of her own, made up of a network of mostly female correspondents from across the old empire. It was her mother’s letter writing that had taught Maggie the power in words, not just in titles and wealth. The contents also helped supplied material for her books.

There would be no end to Anna’s narration, so when Maggie had heard enough she simply interrupted to excuse herself. She needed to wash and change, and she was expecting company. When the young stable hand who took her horse had heard Maggie's whispered invitation to come to her room that night, he'd been dumbstruck, as though unable to believe his luck.

Maggie had walked away before hearing if he would accept. She knew that he would.
 

Imperial City
Two months later

Julia Crescius eagerly took the manuscript from Maggie’s hand and sat down with her spectacles to read it. As she reached the bottom of the first page, the middle-aged woman's expression had soured.

Sons of Skyrim? By the Eight, Maggie, you just returned from the gods-forsaken south. Where are the steamy jungles and coral beaches?”

“Skyrim is where the action is now. That’s what is on everyone’s mind. Even if they’d never go there, they want to imagine themselves in the thick of it.  And I didn't want to write about a jungle while I was stewing in the middle of one."

Julia was flipping pages, reading ahead. “You have the empire losing the war.”

“Aren't we? I'd say it's all but settled now, with the emperor gone."

“Be that as it may, reminding people will ruffle feathers.” The agent caught Maggie’s look, then they both laughed. A lot of coin had been generated from the controversies over Bathory novels.

“An imperial victory, that is what people think they want to read," Maggie explained, her voice animated. "I’m going to make them see the romance of an independent Skyrim, flaunting its barbaric freedom to a decadent south. The fierce, rugged Nord, subdued by no army but tamed by a lover’s hand, trembling at her very touch..."

Julia’s expression changed again, the older woman latching on to the picture and letting her own imagination carry it on. “Alright,” she said finally.  “When can you have it done? It’s been a year and a half since Affairs of the Justiciar came out, and we could all use a some gold in our purses. The bribes you have to pay these days, it's criminal."

“I've almost finished. I need to settle some things with the house, then I’ll get back to work on it.” Maggie gathered her cloak, preparing to go.

Julia peered out over her spectacles. “Are you sure about that schedule? I heard you got an invitation to dine with the emperor tomorrow night. You might be busy.”

“My, my. News does travel fast.”

“Pet, this may look like a great city, but it’s a tiny village if you know the right people. Tell me, Maggie, when are you going to get yourself a real lover?”

“I’ve got plenty of lovers.”

“Yes, of course. They wake up thinking it was the best night of their lives, only they can’t remember a thing that happened, and for a few days afterward they’re a little tired, a little under the weather. Soon the poor fools might forget they were ever with you. All they know is that they worship the ground you walk on.” Julia stopped, putting down the page she had been holding. “I’m not talking about that kind of lover.”

Maggie sighed. “Sofia is the one who was given permission to marry, you know that. I would never choose such a dreary existence.”

“Divines, who said anything about marriage? A beau, Maggie. Someone who cares about you. That isn’t forbidden, you know, not if you’re careful. I can arrange some introductions.”

Maggie was already at the door when Julia called after her. “Don’t tell me you aren’t lonely, Magdela. I think you might be the loneliest person in this city.”

Let’s hope there's at least one other of those, Maggie thought as she let the door close behind her.


Imperial Palace
Just after the Battle at Pale Pass

“You didn’t attend us at the garden party yesterday,” Amaund Motierre pouted. He was sprawled back on his bed, head propped on his arms. Maggie felt his eyes on her.  She was giving him a good view of her back.

“Excellency, I am a working woman, not idle like your other courtiers. And I must be careful not to draw the empress’ jealousy.”

Motierre snorted in disgust. “Who cares what Venusa thinks. She hasn’t given me any more sons. I’m thinking of locking her up, what would you say to that?”

“Your will, Excellency,” Maggie demurred. Venusa was the daughter of the Count of Anvil, and Motierre’s second and current wife. As such she was competition, but Maggie had nothing particular against her. They had been friendly towards each other in past years, and the young empress made no real objection to a courtesan's increasing draw on her husband’s attentions. In fact, she seemed relieved. Maggie had come to understand why. Even being locked up might be a relief.

Half turning, she asked, “What of the princess? When does she return from Skyrim?”

“Never, probably." The emperor laughed. “Skyrim has enough heathens to keep her busy for a long while, and they’ll likely kill her eventually. One less problem for me.”  His voice turned suspicious. “Why? What do you care for the little sow?”

“Only curious, sire. I haven’t seen Her Highness since she was a child. She must be very brave.”

Motierre made a bored noise, then returned to pouting. “Come here, my little lotus flower. What are you doing looking at those dusty old shelves?”

Maggie had been inspecting a curio cabinet filled with gifts from foreign ambassadors, and would just as soon have stayed there. Nevertheless she approached the bed slowly, walking around the canopy posts so that the emperor could see her, then not see her, and then see her again. Her shift was made of sea silk from Alinor, fabulously rare. Even the Altmer at the ball that night had gaped in envy. The fabric was so light that Maggie felt she was already naked. It was a pale cream color but had a marvelous quality with light, as well, tricking the eye to see soft coral and green as she moved. The front panels crisscrossed low between her breasts, and the back drape stopped just short of the rise of her backside.

The emperor caught her hand when she drew near the bed and pulled her to him. “I’m surrounded by idiots and traitors, and even you are cool towards me. Have I not given you what every woman in the empire would kill to have?”

“You are very good to me, Excellency. I don’t deserve it.”

“No, you don’t. I’ve got an empire to run and rebellious provinces to subdue, I don't have the time to chase you down every time I want you.” Motierre seemed hurt. He laid his head down against Maggie’s shoulder, and she cradled him like a sick child.

“I’m here now, my emperor,” Maggie whispered, kissing his temple. “I’m yours.”

“Yes, you are.” Despite his complaints, the emperor's tone was meek. His hand moved towards her breast, playing at the edge of the fabric.

Maggie prepared herself calmly. She might use magic on other lovers, but the protective wards in the palace limited that, and with Motierre she had to be very careful.  He did not even like her to heal herself, at least until he was satisfied. Maggie had soon learned why his other mistresses fled him. A normal woman could not long have endured his affection. Tonight he seemed subdued, however, even gentle. Perhaps she would only have to master the disgust. That, she had learned to cope with long ago, training her body to respond to it as if it were pleasure.

Motierre’s hand wormed its way under the fabric of her gown and he groped at her for a moment, grunting softly. Voice trembling with excitement. he whispered, “Go get my razor.”

So, not a gentle night after all.  It would be a shame about the sea silk.

 

 

 

Magdela Bathory- The Screamers

 

Maggie

Imperial City

afternoon

Maggie sat at the desk in her house, flipping through her journals.  Her father might take away her publisher and printing press, but he couldn't stop her from writing. Even if he destroyed every quill and piece of paper or parchment in Cyrodiil, she would still be able to write stories in her head. She would write another book. No publisher would survive the Order's onslaught, but she would find a way to get it out to the public, even if she had to give it away. Maggie felt that if she didn't do this, she would die.  She would want to die.

Thus, she was flipping through the journals of her years in the south, looking for story ideas.  Her eyes fell on a name, Gedras Whatever had become of that creature? He wouldn't be happy about the Thalmor being chased out of Cyrodiil back to his hunting grounds. She would have to ask Skjari how progress on the Tower Scrolls was coming, and see if her little rat had tried checking in there.

Maggie thought back to the day she had met him. In her exile in the lands of southern Tamriel, Maggie's Dominion contacts had become useful to set up a series of missions against upstart vampire clans that had been using the empire's weakness to encroach on territory where they didn't belong. Accompanied by ten nightblade guards, she had elected to go herself on an especially dangerous mission, sensing that something more than just mass murder of the Order's enemies might come from it.

***
"How much further, Taeren?"


"Not long, not long."  The once-Bosmer was stunted even for his kind, a loathsome creature, almost feral.  His skin had deep wrinkles and his eyes were unnatural, glowing red.  Normally Maggie would have shunned such company, but they were beyond civilization now, in the deep forests of Valenwood, and this lonely worm knew the area.


"He's been saying that for half an hour," Maggie muttered to her nightblade companions.  


The land began to slope up, and ahead Maggie could see the ruins of a deserted tree village.  Old wooden platforms and shacks were built on the sturdy limbs.  After the ravages of the faction fighting that had led to the Dominion takeover, many villages such as this were left full of ghosts, literal and figurative.


From that direction came a loud, bone-chilling shriek.  It didn't sound like a ghost, but neither did it sound like an animal.


The Bosmer guide had stopped in his tracks.  "Screamers," he breathed, obviously terrified.


"Screamers?" Maggie demanded.  "What are those?"


"Imga vampires."

"You said there were only Keerilth."  The Keerilth were bad enough. Mist vampires, they were called. When attacked, they could vaporize into mist and re-appear a short distance away. These had been moving north, into the Nibenay basin, taking over Order territory. If the Valenwood clans were uniting, however, then this was more than just a vampire turf war. It could become a real war, with Cyrodiil's populace at its mercy. That would rouse the hunters.


"Screamers, very bad!" Taeren was whimpering. A moment later he darted into the brush and disappeared from sight.


This was not going as planned. Not at all. Maggie turned to the head nightblade. "We only need the Keerilth leader, remember that. It need not be a massacre. When he's dead, we can leave. Or we'll talk to him first, if he's willing."


According to Maggie's information, the clan's elder had died or gone feral fifty years before, giving an opportunity for a younger vampire named Gedras.  He had been imprisoned by the Thalmor, who cut off the tops of his ears as torture and to mock him for what they considered mixed blood.  Another vampire had turned him while in prison, and with the new powers he was able to escape.


"Watch the trees," she said to the nightblade, then cast invisibility and levitated off the ground.  She wouldn't be able to hold both spells for long, but hopefully long enough for the "screamer" scouts to be eliminated.


What followed was a slaughter.  The reason for Taeren's horror soon became apparent to her. The Imga vampires had razor-sharp talons and fangs the size of Maggie's hand.  They also had incredible strength even by vampire standards, and were merciless.  As Maggie's guard contingent dwindled, she was forced to reveal herself and use her remaining magicka to rally them and weaken the bleeding Imga.


The largest of them, seeing her casting, turned and came hurtling towards her. Maggie drew her sword with one hand and with the other cast telekinesis on the blood-drenched nightmare. Vampires were immune to paralysis, but she could at least keep him suspended for a time. Enough time for her to step forward and drive her sword through the creature's open maw. With her other hand she gathered magicka, then intensified the telekinesis spell, sending the ape hurtling backwards into a tree. He hit it with a crunch, and slid slowly downward, streaking the bole with red.


Then an unnatural calm settled over the forest.  Maggie rejoined her remaining guards, who were even paler than normal.


"Regrettable."  Glancing around the forest, Maggie felt menace even from the trees.  Maybe especially from the trees.  "We're here for Gedras," she said aloud, guessing that the vampire leader had other ways of hearing that didn't require the tops of his ears.  "We only want to talk."
 
There was a thick silence, then the air between Maggie and her guards appeared to fog.  A Bosmer materialized, with stringy dark hair and the telltale cropped ears.  His voice dripped with spite.  "You don't appear interested in talking. What do you want, Cyrodiil?"


"Less of this." Maggie gestured around to the bodies littered on the forest floor.  "Your friends left us little choice."


Gedras' hostile expression lightened, and his lips quirked in a smile. "Not my friends. You did me a favor. Those screamers were starting to act like they were in charge. That's the only reason we're talking."


"Then let us do each other more favors. I was sent to kill you, but you seem a reasonable sort. I would prefer to work out a less permanent solution to our problem."


"Why should I care about your problems?"


"Didn't I just say that I was sent to kill you?  Even if I didn't succeed, there would be others eventually. You are moving into territory that belongs to the Order."


"I piss on the Order! The Thalmor are hunting us. Since they're not at war with Cyrodiil any longer, they're getting better at it. I don't want your precious lands. I just need to be able to move, and your border is an inconvenience."


Maggie raised a brow. "Raise the ire of the Order Vampyrum and you'll have rather more than inconvenience to deal with. But, I see your point.  You are not seeking to claim territory permanently then?"


Gedras looked disgusted.  "This is my forest.  If I had a choice, I wouldn't leave it."


"Very well. You need flexibility to move across our borders when the Thalmor are on your tail. I will grant it, but in exchange I need something from you. Information. I want to know everything you know and can find out about Thalmor movements in Valenwood and eastern Elsweyr."


"Cats not part of the deal. Hate cats. Fur in my mouth, moon sugar in the blood, pfeh!"


Maggie smiled at this unique vampire problem.  "I thought you wanted room to maneuver? If the Thalmor learn your patterns, they will get you sooner or later. Range out further and you have a better chance. The grasslands are wild now, there are few guards who dare travel there. As for prey, the Khajiit allow some travelers. Smugglers and the like.  Be creative."


The Bosmer appeared to consider this, rubbing at one half-missing ear.  "You would never leave this forest alive, but I'm feeling generous, too, and I've got enough troubles from the south. Alright, deal. Now get out and stay out. No more Order hunters."

"Keep up your end of the bargain and I'll see to it."  Maggie took out some paper and wrote a few lines on it. "There are your dead drop locations in the Nibenay. Check in at least once every few months or I'll assume you're going back on our deal. This..." She drew out a small scroll case from her pack, and opened it up to reveal a scroll shimmering with magicka. "This is for emergencies only. Massive troop movements, that sort of thing. This will go to the Mede emperor's court wizard, not to me.  Write your message on the scroll and include this code." She showed him some gibberish numbers and letters on a piece of paper included with the scroll.  "The moth paper will do the rest. You might get instructions back, as well. Obey them if you can, but it's not material to our deal."


The Bosmer appeared disgusted at all this, but he was obviously intelligent and understood it.  "You're lucky I hate Thalmor more than imperials."

"You're lucky I dislike murder as a means of solving problems. Remember, Gedras. Though you're aiding the Order and the empire, it was I who spared your life."


"Hmph.  That goes both ways.  What's your name, Cyrodiil?"


"Magdela Bathory, at your service."


"The novelist?"


Maggie laughed. "If I had known you were a fan, I'd have brought a signed copy as down payment for your assistance."


"Don't bother," the Bosmer replied dismissively. "I don't read that kind of trash. Are we done here?"


"I hope that we're only beginning."


***
Gedras' story of torture and escape from Thalmor prison would make the good beginnings of a story, Maggie thought.  Of course, in the book he couldn't be a vampire. She had had enough trouble over that sort of thing. And he would have to be an imperial Bosmer. Imperials had a hard time with a story where they were not the heroes in some form.


Maggie began jotting down ideas, but was soon interrupted by one of her guards. "My lady, a message came for you. Your brother is waiting for you in the palace courtyard."


Jem.  His presence in the city could only mean one thing. "I'll be right there, thank you." Maggie then spent an hour writing down story ideas.  Her father's lap dog could wait.

 

 

 

 

Magdela Bathory- Courtesan in Training

 

Maggie

Imperial Palace

morning

When Maggie entered the palace's outer court, she met the ghoulish figure of Gervais, her brother's valet. Wordlessly he handed a note to her and brushed past. She cast a baleful glance back at him and opened the letter.

Mags,
Send some money. Off the books, as it were. I know you've got some. At least 4000s. Very important. Gervais will be back to get it. I know you won't fail me.
Yours,
Jem


Gervais could hang, and so could Jem, before either would get a septim out of her. It wasn't the first such request. Jem had probably been gambling or spending on whores beyond his allowance and wanted to pay the debts before their father caught on. He had the idea that she was rolling in cash from her books, though he ought to know Darius kept track of every gold flake.

Distracted, Maggie nearly ran straight into another figure walking across the foyer. He caught her elbow and started to snap at her, then stopped and laughed. "Magdela! Good to see you, girl. Lovely as ever."

Nearly before she recognized him, Rufus Imbrex was leaning in to give her a light peck on the lips.

"Sir Rufus. What brings you to the palace?"

"PO business. Dodgy mess, this, with the royal spymaster gone." Imbrex was knight of some sort, and in the past thirty or so years had been a middle officer of the Penitus Oculatus. He was also an elder member of the Order and one of her father's oldest associates.

"Yes. A sad affair."

"Sad? We're well rid of him, I'd say. Why, did you know him? I had heard you were occupied with the court mage these days."

Maggie's smile was wan. "I knew Lorgar a little. I tried to counsel him as best I could, but he was never suited for this life."

"Not like you, eh." He leaned in. "Aren't you tired of all this, Magdela? You know my wife is gone these three years. If you want out, tell me. I'll talk to Darius and make it happen. You and I, we would go places."

They would to to Oblivion before Darius would agree to such a match. Despite the long family friendship, there was no advantage in it. Nor did she believe that Rufus was really interested in a wife. He had hit a ceiling in the Oculatus, and believed her palace connections might break it for him. Even an elder member of the Order like him occasionally needed a hand up when it came to public stature. He would also help his standing in the Order by such an arrangement.

With a polite laugh, she replied, "I'll think about it. Let me know if I can help some way with Lorgar. Good day, Rufus."

Without a look back, Maggie went on toward her quarters. She tried to write, sketching out the outline of the new book, but found her mind wandering. Remembering the encounter with Imbrex, she thought back to an occasion some two centuries before when he had been a guest at their Jeralls keep.

Guests were few at the isolated fortress, since not even many in the Order knew of its whereabouts or even its existence. For a gregarious fourteen year-old Magdela, dinner guests were a special treat. She wasn't allowed to speak much, and her mind always ran with questions, but eagerly she would listen to all the adults' conversation. Imbrex was a building official in Anvil then, and knew a great deal of news from all over Tamriel, which was still reeling from the effects of the Oblivion Crisis.

After dinner, Maggie snuck back downstairs and listened in as her father and the dinner guest talked together quietly in an alcove.

"I thought of Samuel for this," Darius was saying, "But you did me a service, and I trust you with it."

"It's too much, Darius. I don't deserve this great honor.:

There was a silence and Maggie guessed that the man was getting one of her father's looks that could silence an unbound dremora.  He didn't like to be gainsaid, even out of false humility. Darius' voice was even. "I know you won't disappoint me."  That was the end of discussion.

Maggie started as she realized they were done and she was about to be caught listening, but then her father called her name. How did he always know?

Darius didn't seem angry, however, and his voice was uncharacteristically gentle.  "Magdela, I have a task for you. You recall what we discussed recently about your future, about how you can help this family.  It is time to begin your training. I want you to go upstairs and put on something nice, then I want you to join Lord Imbrex in his chambers. You will spend the night with him."

She blinked once, then nodded. When Darius turned to leave, she spoke up. "Should I fall in love with him?"

He looked back. "What was that?"

"Do you want me to fall in love with him?"

Her father seemed startled at the question. He hesitated, then stepped forward and took her face gently in his hands. "Magdela, I am the only man to whom you will ever owe any loyalty or affection. Do you understand?" At her relieved nod, he said, "Go on now. Don't be afraid, he won't hurt you."

Maggie did as she was told. She spent the next three nights in the man's room, learning how to please him, how to apply everything she had been reading about. Above all she was surprised to see the effect she could have on him. There was a strange delight in the realization of such power. Apart from that, she felt little.

Before the fourth night, Darius visited her and handed her a vial. "I want you to put this into Lord Imbrex's wine. Don't let him see you do it, and don't drink any of it yourself, not even a sip. When he falls asleep, leave and return to your chambers."

"Will it hurt him?"

"It will kill him." Darius watched her carefully. Maggie took the vial, looked at it a moment, then lifted her eyes and nodded. He smiled. "That's my girl."

That night, Maggie watched when Imbrex drank from the poisoned cup. He had her undress for him, but before he was finished, he fell aside on the bed and appeared to sleep. She returned to her room.

Maggie was still sitting on her bed the next morning when Jem came to find her. "Come on, sleepyhead, we've got riding lessons. What's wrong with you?" When she didn't answer, he stepped forward and punched her hard in the arm. "Get moving. I'll even let you win the race this time." She made no reply and didn't move, and eventually her brother gave up.

Later that morning when Maggie finally went downstairs, she was startled to see her father standing with Lord Imbrex in the foyer. Both men laughed when they saw her horrified expression.

"She performed beautifully, Darius." Imbrex hesitated, then added with pointed tone, "In every respect. Congratulations."

"Thank you, Rufus. I'll see you out."

"I know the way. Until next time." Imbrex looked back, and smiled at Maggie. "Goodbye, Magdela. Thank you for a lovely time."

Sitting in her palace study two centuries later, remembering the incident, Maggie suddenly realized what her father had said. It was supposed to be Samuel. She pondered that a while, then put it out of her mind and returned to her writing.

Now as then, Maggie felt nothing.

 

Edited by Celan
  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

Gracchus Ceno- Hunting a Deserter

 

Gracchus, ten years before the events in Skyrim

The snow and ash fell heavily on the boat, as the Northern Maiden rode the waves towards the city of Raven Rock. In the distance, the giant wall, called the Bulwark, stood mightily over the city, protecting its denizens from an ash tsunami. The deck heaved and rolled underneath Gracchus' shin high black leather boots. The cold, snow filled wind whipped his black, fur trimmed coat around. The grizzled Legate was accompanied by his longtime friend, Pilus Rato, who wore similar clothing. At the rudder, the captain, a older Nord fellow struggled against the might of the ocean, but the waves eased up as the Maiden pulled into the docks.

A male Dunmer stood waiting to greet the new arrivals, but Gracchus silently produced a sheet of paper and thrust it into the man's hands. The Dunmer sputtered, shaking his head.

"We don't want your kind here," he said spitefully, "but I suppose we have little choice. Go about your business, and be quick."

The letter was signed by the Emperor himself, asking to allow the two battlemages access to the island, on condition they caused no trouble.

Gracchus smirked, walking past the two Bonemold clad Redoran guards who stood on either side of the docks end. The snow, gray and ashen, fell heavily, coating his hood and cloak in a layer of filth. People went about their daily rituals as usual. A blacksmith hammered away, a merchant peddled her wares, a farmer tilled his soil. A few fancied a glance at the unknown pair, but many simply ignored the ripple in their little pond, content to go on as if it didn't exist. Gracchus located a cornerclub, The Retching Netch and hurried down the stairs. Pilus followed closely behind, never saying a word. Several patrons eyed the strangers wearily as the odd couple walked up to the counter.

An Orc in the corner snorted sarcastically, while a mercenary in full Chitin continued his reading, not bothering to remove his helmet. The Dunmer behind the counter looked up from his cleaning, stowing the rag away under the counter as he addressed his customers, in a raspy, smokey voice.

"Welcome to the Retching Netch conrnerclub, outlander. What can I get you? We have the finest suja-"

Gracchus cut in, producing a large bag of septims from the cloak.

"One room, that's all. Unless you've heard of someone, a man by the name of Regulus. Have any information regarding him?" Gracchus asked, pulling out another septum pouch, albeit much smaller than the first.

The Dunmer looked first at the large pouch, which he took and put in a strongbox he promptly locked. His eyes then drifted to the smaller pouch, which he eyed like a wolf watching its prey.

His gaze never leaving the pouch, he said, "I...he came through about a week ago. Got a room, bought some supplies, then left."

Gracchus listened intently, eyebrows raising when the Dunmer mentioned Regulus left.

"Do you know where he was headed?" Pilus asked, knowing that's what the next course of action was.

"Not a clue," the bar owner said, "but, he did hire that sellsword, Sero over there, to be his guide."

The Dunmer pointed at the Chitin clad man in the corner, the one who was reading.

"Thank you," Gracchus said, and left the pouch on the counter as he walked away.

The two battlemages walked across the club, when the Orc suddenly stood up, blocking their path.

"The name's Mogrul, and if you have any busine-glurgh!"

Gracchus' gauntleted right hand shot up and wrapped its finger around the Orc's throat, lifting his boots off the ground. He knew this Orc's type. Loan shark, weasel, hired others to do the dirty work while he blackmailed and bribed his way out of trouble, as such making him a powerful figure.

"I will have no need for you, your business, or your bodyguard, unless that business involves putting you both in the ground," he seethed. It was obvious, to someone who knew him like Pilus, that Gracchus was not his usual self.

The armored hand released its grasp, and Mogrul dropped to one knee on the ground. His voice shook, and watered as he spoke.

"I-I'll call the guards, y-you c-can't do this to me," Mogrul said, although there was no conviction in his voice.

He may have the power to call the guards, but fear overrode all in this case. The piercing green eyes of the aggressive battlemage scared him more than anything ever had.

Even his bodyguard stood speechless, but had he made a move Pilus had a paralysis spell waiting in his hand. Both he and Gracchus moved over to the mercenary's table, pulling out two chairs and taking a seat.

"What do you know of Regulus?" the Legate asked.

The mercenary closed his book and set it aside. He'd quit reading around the time he'd first heard the outlanders mention his most recent employer's name anyway.

"I know plenty. For starters, I know that you just paid Geldis for the very same information."

Gracchus chuckled, relaxing a little.

"What's your usual rate, how much does it cost to hire the services of...whoever you are. The name is Gracchus, I'd figured you'd probably want to know that before you told my yours."

"Teldryn Sero!" He did a mock bow, while remaining seated. "Best with a blade on this ash dump of a rock, and I'll swing that blade for you for five hundred septims up front. Another hundred if we leave Solsteim, and fifty for each passing day, and I expect meals when appropriate."

Gracchus reached his gauntleted hand back in his coat, pulling out the largest pouch yet. With a plop, it fell on the table, opening a little to spill a few coins out on the table.

"One thousand. Now tell me everything you know about Regulus, and if you would, I would like you to take us where you took him."

Sero reached forward and picked one of the coins from the table and began rolling it between his knuckles.

"Now we're talking. Regulus was an Imperial, blonde hair, brown eyes. Had a big scar that ran straight all the way down his face. Didn't talk much though. He didn't seem the type. Preferred to mutter to himself, not that that's rare among my clients. He was a battlemage, and not a bad one, I might add. Had no trouble doing in some ash spawn we ran into. I could go more into that, but I think you're most interested in where he went, am I correct? Of course I am! I escorted our friend Regulus to a mead hall in the wilds to the northeast. It's called Thirsk. If we set out tomorrow morning, I can have you there by dusk."

"Every bit deserving of this money, this man," Pilus said with a chuckle.

Gracchus just nodded, and stood with an outreached hand, prepared for a shake.

"It seems we have an accord then. We'll set off tomorrow," he said coldly, very matter of fact.

Teldryn looked from Gracchus to Pilus. Then back to Gracchus again. "Better get well rested." he said. "Solstheim's wilds are not those of Cyrodiil."

Gracchus solemnly nodded, and left, head hanging in sadness at the task he was preparing for. Pilus smiled nervously before following his friend to the rented bedroom.

********

Both slept fitfully, if at all, and the next morning they awoke early to meet Teldryn back in the dining area of the club for breakfast. Gracchus and Pilus took the same seats they held the previous day, while a dreadful bowl of ash yam and boar meat stew sat in front of them.

Teldryn sat helmet less, his red eyes and black Mohawk not the most striking features, as his red face tattoo stole the show.

"So," Gracchus began in between mouthfuls, "what can we expect in the wilderness between here and Thirsk?"

Teldryn glanced up at Gracchus from his own breakfast.

"Good morning to you too." he said sarcastically. His tone quickly became all business however, when he answered Gracchus's question.

"Well, since you were smart, and listened when I suggested we wait until morning, we've already successfully evaded one of the biggest threats; werebears that is. But now, what we CAN expect, is a full day's hike. Most of it will be through the ashen lands that the bulwark prevents Raven Rock from becoming like.

Ash hoppers are common, but they won't be a problem unless you're especially careless. Jumping spiders occasionally pop up as well. Again, not a problem for smart men like us. You are smart men right? Doesn't matter, you've got me.

Now, what we are gonna have to really watch out for are the Reavers and the Ash Spawn. Reaver clans have gotten fierce in the wilds as of late, and they aren't the type of bandit to try and make demands. They'll kill you on sight and leave your naked corpse for the hoppers. Luckily, unless they're hunting or raiding, they tend to stick close to their camps. I know where those are, and we will be avoiding them unless you say otherwise. As for the Ash Spawn... Not much I can tell you. The damn things come from below, so there's not much to do in the way of anticipating or avoiding. They die like the rest've us though. So all I can say on them is to make use of that sword you've got there."

Teldryn stopped for a moment to take a drink of whatever it was his mug was filled with before continuing.

"Once we cut north, and get into the trees and snow of the still living lands, we'll be getting close. Only a couple hours from that point. Not much to worry about up there beyond the cold and an odd bear or odder troll. Reikling clans don't come near Thirsk, and werebears don't hunt in the day. It should be smooth sailing to the mead hall once we're away from the ash."

He smiled at the two, one eyebrow up. "You two are smart. You actually listened through all that without interrupting. So, do you have any more questions before we head out?"

"No," Gracchus said, "and we're ready to leaves as soon as you are."

He was in a bad mood once again, and didn't care for small talk.

Pilus just stirred his bowl slowly, eating a spoonful every now and again, but otherwise uninterested in the stew.

The mercenary nodded. Cheerful bunch. "Well, alright then." He dropped a few coins on the table, and picked up his helmet from where it sat on the floor. After putting it on, he turned to his employers. "The earlier we leave, the better."

"Agreed," Gracchus gruffly said.

Pilus nodded his assent.

"Lets get a move on, I want to get this done and get off this frozen rock," he said jokingly.

At that last part he hugged his cloak on a little tighter, letting the soft fur heat trap in his body heat.

"Let's." Teldryn Sero turned and lead the group out of the establishment and through the streets of Raven Rock. As they passed some of the larger buildings near the docks, he pointed a particular one.

"That right there is Morvayn Manor. Home of Lleril Morvayn. He's in charge here in Raven Rock. He's a good man, if somewhat short handed."

Ahead was the bulwark; a massive wall made of volcanic stone that the Redoran used to keep Red Mountain's ash from overtaking the city. There was a small tunnel that ran beneath it which lead out of the city and almost immediately into the wilds of Solstheim. "Okay, a fun fact for you two:" Sero said as they made their way through the tunnel. "There are very few roads on Solstheim. None on the path we're taking. So I hope you don't mind those shiny boots of yours getting a little extra travel worn. May have a hard time polishing the ash stains outta there by the time we're done with our little journey."

Once they'd come up on the other side of the tunnel, Sero's words were proven true. The three stood in thick ash that their boots sank into, and if there was a path from the city, it was not exposed at the moment. Immediately to the left was a long cliffside that stretched far to the south, and about forty or so meters to the right was the beach, stretching even farther in the same direction.

"So if you can't tell yet, we're going to be going south a bit. Just a few minutes. There's a slope up ahead that we can use to get up the cliff."

Gracchus sank deep into the ash, a grimace of disgust crossed his face.

"I assume we won't be walking through this shit for long? Being so far north, snow has to fall, correct?"

"Here?" The mercenary laughed. "The only thing that falls in these parts is ash. We won't see a wink of snow until late this afternoon."

Pilus grumbled, saying, "Well this trip just got worse, and I didn't think it could."

Gracchus pulled his boot out of the ash, shaking it off before placing it back in again, stepping into the thick volcanic debris again.

"Lets get a move on then. A lot of ground to cover, and not a lot of time to do it."

Sero nodded and lead the way. The ash was thick along the beach from years of piling up against the cliffside, and didn't let up much as they headed south. Fortunately, it wasn't even a half an hour before they came upon the slope the mercenary had mentioned. It wasn't so steep that any of them had trouble climbing up, and once they were atop the cliffs, the wilds of Solstheim could be seen stretching out in all directions before them.

To the south, it looked to be a barren wasteland. Clouds of ash, kicked up by the ocean winds prevented them from being able to see as far as the beach, but the great Red Mountain stood high above it all. Even from here, across miles of water and land, the massive volvano was an impressive sight. It had been almost two hundred years since the Red Year, and yet ash still constantly spewed from it.

Farther north on the island, snow-covered mountains could be made out. Not as tall as those found in the Jerrals. Not even close, but they still were by far the largest landmarks on Solstheim.

Teldryn Sero nodded toward the northeast. "Not a lot of humans on the island. And the ones here live about as far from us Dunmer as possible." He began to lead them off into the wastes. It was littered with dead trees and ash dunes. There wasn't much else of note for as far as one could see. "There used to be several forts down here, a ways south of our path, but the ash got to all of 'em. Now, all but Raven Rock and Tel Mithryn is dead or home to Reavers."

Gracchus snapped out of his sadness for a few seconds when Teldryn mentioned the Dunmer mages.

"What do you know of Tel Mithryn? Have you ever been there personally?"

Gracchus was obviously interested, being a magic user. He was always looking to enhance his powers, or just learn something new. His curiosity overrode his anguish, fortunately, and it took his mind off the task ahead of him.

"You'll be hard-pressed to find an place on Solstheim that I haven't been to at some point or another. Tel Mithryn itself is a marvel. A massive mushroom tower that Master Neloth somehow grew straight out of the ash, surrounded by a small forest of similar, but much smaller fungi. The magics encountered there are unlike any other you're likely to see within a dozen lifetimes. It's truly a sight to behold."

Gracchus stared off into the distance, not even sure which direction the giant mushroom tower was. He was deep in thought, thinking of hat he could learn from a master wizard.

"It...sounds wonderful, both magically and physically so."

Pilus saw how Gracchus became distracted at the thought of Tel Mithryn, and hurriedly asked, "What other kinds of places are here on Solstheim?"

"Other kinds? Well there's the Skaal village, way at the far end of the island, past Thirsk. They're welcoming enough, too bad all of their warmth doesn't do much against to battle the bitter cold they live in. I'm not sure how they it that year-round. Other than that, the only other civilized place you'll find up north is our destination, Thirsk. Though, I use the term "civilized" lightly."

Gracchus chuckled a little, the wonder of Tel Mithryn lightening his mood.

"What is Thirsk exactly? I've heard it called the Solsetheim counterpart to the Companions, but that doesn't seem quite accurate."

Pilus grinned slightly at Gracchus' mood improving. He hated seeing his friend like that, but it was part of the job.

"It isn't the same. Thirsk is a mead hall that doubles as a hunting lodge. While technically any honorable warrior can become a member, or even the chieftan, it's rare that one isn't a Nord. I've been to Thirsk my share of times. Good mead and good company. With the destruction in the south, they double as a safe haven for any wanderers passing through."

"Sounds more like a tavern if you ask me," Pilus said, "one I hope we find Regulus at."

"If he's not there, I'm sure someone ca-"

Sero cut off abruptly and crouched down, quickly darting for one of the ash dunes. While he did this, he waved his hand back at Gracchus and Pilus, signaling for them to get low and do the same.

Gracious crouched down low, as did Pilus, and both quickly crawled behind the ash dune that Teldryn took cover by.

"What's going on?" Gracchus asked, his voice with a frantic tone.

Although he was used to battle, he feared what awaited the group in the ash wastes.

Teldryn slowly brought his head over the cover of the dune. He pointed south, off into the distance. Maybe thirty meters away, masked by the flurry of ash blowing around them, the shapes of several humanoid figures could just be made out.

"Reaver raiding party." Despite the distance and the wind blowing the ash, he spoke with a whisper. "Can't see them all now, but there are at least ten of 'em. If I'm right, this lot is from a camp to the north. We'll wait for them to pass, then move on quickly."

Gracchus nodded, and Pilus lowered his voice to speak as he peeked over the dune as well.

"Good idea. I'm sure we could take them but its risky. Better to just sneak by."

They knew the chances of all three surviving if they attacked weren't that great, even with the element of surprise.

None of them spoke as the Reavers passed by. All three men had seen their share of battles, and knew that sometimes it was wiser to avoid them all together if possible. As the raiders closed the distance, the trio could more clearly make out seven Dunmer men and four women. All were well equipped and carrying a surplus of loot. Wherever they were returning from, it was clearly a successful venture. At their closest, the Reavers managed to get within ten meters of the Imperals, and small details on them, what kinds of weapons they carried, who carried the best loot, even a missing hand, could be made out. Four of them, including the one with the missing hand, were arguing over their shares of the spoils. It escalated quickly, and there, just a stone's throw away, four weapons were drawn. By the end of their feud, the band consisted of two fewer Reavers. The other seven in the party barely seemed to care about what happened, and when the fighting was over and the corpses were picked clean, the remaining nine Reavers continued north.

Once the band had finally passed their hiding place behind the ash dune, all three men waited several minutes to give them time to disappear from sight into the ash clouds again, then a couple more just to be safe.

Teldryn was the first to speak. "Charming lot eh?"

Gracchus' heart beat thunderously in his chest as it always did in anticipation of battle, although by the time the Reavers had disappeared he was his usual calm self.

"Very. Although I'm sure the two recently deceased ones wouldn't agree," he said sarcastically.

"We better get a move on, before they return," Pilus said.

Teldryn nodded and stood up. "Let's be off then."

They continued east for several hours uninterrupted. There was little to see, beyond the top of an abandoned Imperial fort in the distant south. Teldryn told Gracchus that it was now inhabitted by a large pack of Reavers. The most excitement they encountered during this time was a single encounter with a half dozen ash hoppers. The group dispatched them easily enough, and around early afternoon, Teldryn stopped the group for the first time since they'd seen the Reavers.

"We're making good time." he told them. "We'll definitely make it to Thirsk before dark. In fact, we'll be out of the ash and into the snow within an hour. That said, this last bit is every bit as dangerous as the rest. We got lucky, and managed to not stir up any ash spawn today, but there are still some Reaver camps, and raiding parties about. We can't let our guard down just yet."

Pilus nodded, well aware that the trip was far from over.

"Yep, lucky is definitely what I'd call us. Walking hours across an ashen wasteland, while almost being seen by roving bandits and attacked by giant crickets, he said with a chuckle.

Gracchus hugged his coat over his shoulders in anticipation of the snow.

"It makes me cold just thinking about it," he said flatly.

"Indeed." answered Sero, as they continued on. "By the time we're in Thirsk, that massive hearth of theirs will be a welcome sight."

Another hour passed, and sure enough, the ash began to gradually thin out, allowing for little blades of the island's stout northern grass to poke through. The dead trees now made way for the living, and much of the gray gave way to green. Within several more minutes, all three men could feel the burn in their calves as the treck slowly, almost unnoticeably, began going uphill.

By the time the abandoned Dwemer ruin was in sight, the ash was all but gone, replaced by a light snow covering. There were no more vision-restricting clouds, and the sky seemed notably bluer.

"See this ruin here?" said Sero. "It is a good place to stop for a meal to hold us over to Thirsk. Don't worry, it's empty. Stopped here with our Regulus friend just the other day."

"Seems safe, or comparatively safe for a Dwemer ruin," Pilus said.

The group walked over and sat on the steps of the ruin, which were hard and cold to the touch.

Gracchus sat down, conjuring up orbs of orange light in his hands and ran them over the back of his legs to soothe the slight soreness from the trek. Pilus, seeing how relieving it was, did the same.

Gracchus opened his pack and room out some salted beef, and unwrapped a piece of bread, both of which he began eating.

"How much longer," he asked their guide in between bites.

The Dunmer didn't use any spells like Gracchus or Pilus, but he did take a swig from a flask that emitted an odd smell. It seemed to be a potion of some kind.

"If we can keep up at the pace we've been going, without running into any complications, we can reach Thirsk in a little over an hour."

"Perfect, that'll give us plenty of time to-"

Gracchus' words were cut off, and an arrow pierced the bag sitting next to him. As the group turned, Gracchus could see a group of around twelve or thirteen Reavers headed straight for them. Gracchus and Pilus readied themselves, both conjuring up balls of flames in their hands. Pilus went for the two separate fireballs, while Gracchus dual cast one with both hands.

Gracchus heard the sound of a spell being cast, and when he turned his head slightly, he saw that Teldryn was gone, completely vanished.

Gracchus, shocked, lowered his hands. Pilus turned to him and did the same, and the Reavers surrounded them on all sides.

"Well well, what d'we have 'ere?" the obvious leader, a Dunmer with dark purple face paint said.

"Looks like two legion dogs to me," a subordinate answered as he lifted away Pilus' cloak to reveal legion leather armor.

They did the same to Gracchus, and with him there was no mistaking him for a legionnaire either, for he wore the steel Imperial armor with leather skirt, plus his gladius hung sheathed at his side.

"Lets take 'em in to boss, maybe we can get a ransom for 'em," a Nord woman said.

The bandits gathered up the pairs belongings, taking their swords and tying their hands in front with rope.

"'Ey Ulil," one of archers, a red-haired Dunmer woman with a nasty scar on her face stepped forward. "There were def'natly three of 'em when we came. I saw'em when I fired. Wore Dunmer armor, 'e did."

The leader of this party, Ulil, squinted his red eyes at Gracchus and Pilus. [b["Dunmer armor eh? Looks like this lot hired themselves a bad guide. Still, best'f we get movin'."

The next several hours were spent undoing all the progress Gracchus and Pilus had made that afternoon. The path west that they now took was almost a perfect backtrack of the one they had taken heading for Thirsk. Darkness crept up on them during the trek, and any hope of making it to Thirsk during the day was gone. In fact, with the abrupt abandonment from the mercenary, Gracchus and Pilus's chances of finding Regulus at all significantly dropped. The time it would take to find Thirsk blindly would give him plenty of time to learn of their existence on the island and once again slip away. Not that Thirsk was the greatest of the two Imperials' worries at the moment. After three hours of heading southwest, the Reavers began to cut south, and soon they reached what seemed to be a fairly small fort, with ash piling high at the sides.

Gracchus wanted nothing more than to release his pent up anger on all the bandits, but he knew better than to antagonize them. Instead, both he and Pilus were slowly loosening the bonds, until with ease they could slip their hands out. Now all they needed was an opportunity.

"Get a move on!"

One of the Reavers gave Pilus a shove as he guided them down into the old fort. The lighting was poor, with no exposed windows at all, forcing the long halls to rely on torches and braziers to keep from being pitch black. The Reavers lead Gracchus and Pilus carefully through the main level of the fort, then through a hall that was filled with traps, and finally to what was obviously the prison, with several empty cells along the sides.

Gracchus and Pilus were placed in separate cells, directly across from each other. One guard, the female archer, was left to guard while the others left to talk to "de boss" as he was referred to.

Gracchus and Pilus quickly enacted their emergency capture plan. Pilus loudly fell to the ground, pretending to have a seizure. The bandit, in her stupidity, opened the cell. Gracchus conjured a fireball in his free hands and blew the lock off, causing the bandit to quickly turn towards him. Pilus kept up and wrapped his rope around her neck, strangling her.

The bandit's hands frantically grabbed at the rope, blooding her neck as she scratched and clawed. It was futile, in the end, and she fell limp in Pilus' arms. He gently placed her on the ground.

Gracchus, who had been guarding to door, whispered to Pilus.

"Hurry, I heard movement up the stairs."

Pilus and Gracchus stood on either side of the stairs, waiting for the next Reaver to arrive.

"What was that?" A gruff Dunmer voice shouted from a above. The sound of several pairs of feet could be heard clambering down the stairs.

The first man filed in, and ran immediately to the wide open cells. The second did the same, searching frantically while the third just stopped and stared at the body. Both Gracchus and Pilus, hidden in the shadows, waited.

Finally Gracchus gave the signal, and Pilus let an ice spike loose at the first bandit to walk in. Gracchus grabbed the third one from behind, snapping his neck in a quick, practiced motion, and using the body as a shield. The remaining Reaver slung a throwing knife at Gracchus, who maneuvered the dead bandit to take the knife in the chest. Pilus finished off the last one with an ice spike to the chest only moments after the throwing knife left his hand. Gracchus dropped the body, and the death count was now at four.

The battlemages ran up the stairs, reaching a hallway that led to a trap room. Gracchus and Pilus already knew from the walk in that this took was heavily trapped. Tripwires and pressure plates littered the floor. There were holes in the walls that most likely were loaded with poisoned darts, and a large spiked cage door was set against the wall. They would have to tread carefully.

Gracchus stood and stared, thinking over plans in his head while he stroked his goatee. In his mind, the only solution would be to possibly freeze the holes on the sides over, thus taking the darts out of the equation.

"Pilus, focus ice spells at the holes. If we can freeze them over I think we'll be good," he said.

Both the mages trained their icy blasts at the holes, until a thick layer of frost covered the walls from floor to ceiling. It was a taxing maneuver, but as Gracchus stepped on the first pressure plate it proved to be well worth it. A small "ping" sound was made, but the ice held against the poison darts.

Next was the swinging gate trap, which was easily defused by flinging a small fireball at the tripwire. The door swung full speed at the wall, but nothing was in the way. Both Gracchus and Pilus walked by unscathed, and ran up another flight of stairs.

At the top, a long hallway ran perpendicular in either direction, it's torches giving off minimal light at best. The air was cold and musty, and in a few places moss hung down from the ceiling.

"Which way did we come?" Pilus asked.

Gracchus racked his brain, and it came to him easily. Left, back through the main living area and out the door.

"It was left. Remember the spilt brazier?" Gracchus motioned to a large pot like structure, whose contents where spilled on the floor, ash and ember everywhere.

The Imperials slowly walked down the hallway, weary that a bandit might happen upon them at any moment. Soon they saw the corner up ahead, with voices bending around in loud, raucous tones.

"No!" What sounded like a Dunmer man's voice boomed over the rest. It had a tone that resonated with authority, and this was reinforced by how all other voices in the room halted when he spoke.

"I told ya not to take prisoners! What am I gonna do with those two? There ain't any Legion here!"

"One's got fancy armor. We, uh... figured you'd wanna see 'em first. Maybe someone'll come lookin'? We can ransom 'em then."

"I said we don't deal with Legion! Ferris, go tell your archer friend to kill 'em both. Don't mess up that armor though. I may take it myself."

Gracchus and Pilus heard a chair scooting on the ground as someone rose to their feet, and metalic thuds as someone in a heavy pair of boots began to make for the hall. "Alright." It sounded like a Dunmer man, much younger than the leader. The footsteps strode out toward the battlemages.

Gracchus gripped both hands tightly around the end of his rope, waiting for the male Dark Elf to round the corner. Pilus waited with a low power muffle spell, enough to disguise any sounds the elf might make.

The heavy boots grew closer and closer, until one stepped around the corner. The rest of the man followed, and Pilus let loose the spell as Gracchus pounced behind him, digging the rope into his throat.

The Reaver thrashed and kicked, and it was soon apparent the muffle spell wouldn't be enough.

"Eh, what's goin' on back there?" another bandit asked.

Gracchus quickly finished off the choking man, just in time as the next Dunmer rounded the corner. A quick lighting bolt to the chest sent him sprawling and skidding across the floor. Both Gracchus and Pilus sprinted from their cover to two nearby pillars, from which they could safely cast their spells behind.

Several chairs could be heard hitting the floor, and someone cried out, "They killed 'em!"

Pilus peeked around the corner to see six or so Reavers scrabbling behind overturned tables as they sought shelter, and one archer notching an arrow on his bow.

Gracchus saw the same thing, and instantly flung an ice spike at the archer, who managed to dodge it sideways but right into Pilus' lightning bolt, which exploded sending small hits of electricity everywhere, with one Reaver yelping as he too got struck.

The battlemages were coordinated, and with one down only six remained. The leader decided to take charge, and grabbed his large Elven greatsword and charged the pair. Gracchus first blinded him with a frost spell, while Pilus sidestepped the blindly wild swing and punched the exposed face of the bandit, bringing him to a knee. He finished him off with another punch, this one driving the nose bone up into the brain.

The rest of the Reavers weren't discouraged by the falling of their leader in battle, and advanced on the Imperials.

Gracchus turned his frost on the first one, who blocked it with his shield. Gracchus aimed at the feet of the Reaver, who slipped and fell on the slick ice floor. Pilus using the bandit who Gracchus choked's sword, parrying blows while using his left hand to electrocute the enemy with a spark spell. The blue balls of electricity on Pilus' fingers danced across to his enemy, convulsing the Dunmer as he dropped to the floor.

Gracchus had finished off the first of his attackers with a fireball, but in doing to the second bandit swung forcefully downward with his steel sword. Gracchus had no choice but to bring his left forearm up to block it, and the loud "Crack!" accompanied by the instant pain told him it was broken. He grimaced, gritting his teeth and putting all the pent up anger he had at the entire mission into his next attack, conjuring up a storm of frost and ice that froze the Reaver to the wall, cold and dead.

Pilus too, was injured, the last of the attackers slicing his outer calf. It was bleeding but not profusely, and not near as much as the wound caused when Pilus slid his sword deep into the Dunmer's belly. The fight was over, and though both battlemages where injured, their first thoughts where to continue on with the mission.

Suddenly, voices could be heard outside. In the midst of the battle, both men had forgotten that guards would have been posted outside as well, and that they had another group to fight through.

After just a moment of listening however, it was obvious to the Battlemages that whatever the cause of commotion was, it wasn't directed at them. Suddenly, a scream was heard and the door burst open. Through it, screaming his lungs out, was the Nord Reaver from earlier. He was on fire. The man frantically crossed the room, completely ignoring his dead comrades and the two freed Imperials. Next, through the doors came a Flame Atronach, slowly gliding after him. It threw one last fireball at the Reaver, which sent his burning corpse sailing into the far wall.

The Flame Atronatch looked at Gracchus for a moment, head cocked, then turned and whisped back out the room. In that same instant, a man in full chitin armor, wielding a steel longsword in one hand and a ball of fire in the other, stepped past it and in through the doorway.

"Heh," said Teldryn Sero as he looked around the room of corpses. "I guess I'm a little late for tackling these guys."

"Late, we thought you'd up and left us!" Pilus said.

Gracchus smirked, but as he went to grab his sword from a dead bandit, his left arm moved a little, and he almost cried out from the pain.

"What's going on?" Pilus asked.

"Broken, I think. I know some healing spells but I don't know if that'll be enough. Maybe if all three of us cast them at the same time, that might work," Gracchus said, as he sank down in a wooden chair, propping his arm on one of the few not overturned tables.

The orange spell in his hand said he was going to try, and Pilus did the same, his heal other spell replacing the blue electricity in his left hand. Gracchus raised an eyebrow at Teldryn, wondering if he would help.

The Dunmer shrugged. "Sorry, restorarion's not my forte. Best I can do is heal myself. But I do have this, if it helps."

Teldryn reached into a little pouch and pulled out a red bottle.

"Stuff tastes about as pleasant as it smells, but it's pretty strong. Sorry, that's the best I can do." He tossed the bottle to Pilus.

Pilus caught the bottle softly, uncorking it and handing it to Gracchus, who downed it in one large gulp. His face puckered up, but he shook it off and then began casting his healing spell, while Pilus cast his heal other, both concentrated on the left arm. His bones could be heard snapping into place, and where it had swollen up the arm deflated. After about two minutes, Gracchus was able to move it just like normal, although his fingertips were numb and he had trouble grasping anything.

"Thanks," he said to both Pilus and Teldryn, "so what do we do next?"

"Well..." Teldryn looked around the room of corpses. One of the dead Reavers stuck out to him, and he made his way across the room and knelt down beside his corpse. When he stood back up, he was holding a fine-looking elven sword. He took off his own steel one and buckled the new weapon's scabbard in its place. "You two are still calling the shots, but I don't intend to let this stuff go to waste."

"Lets search for supplies and any loot we can find, then we can go off towards Thirsk," Pilus said.

Gracchus stood, and nodded. "Sounds good, lets get to work."

Gracchus rummaged around the kitchen, finding some salted Horker, beef, and loaves of fairly fresh bread. That along, with some mead, he shoved in his bag, which was hanging on a hook near the fireplace.

Pilus was looking over the bodies, taking what little money they had before moving on to the living quarters, where he found some books and more money.

The big haul was in the leader's room, which they all gathered together in. Lifting up the lid of the chest, Gracchus pulled out a rather large bag of septims, a Nordic sword that glowed a soft, yet fierce red, plus some potions and scrolls.

"Quite the haul. You should take the sword, Sero, you've been under payed thus far, and have been more than worth it," Gracchus said.

Teldryn looked up from where he was knelt over another corpse. A new pack was on his back, along with a shiny Imperial-made shield he'd looted. Several gold necklesses had been hurriedly tucked under his armor.

"That's enchanted." he said as he rose to his feet and crossed the room. "Should fetch a good price." he gladly took the sword and fastened it to his new pack under his shield.

"Now, if we're done here, we should probably decide now what's next. It's dark out, and that means dangerous traveling, and thanks to these fellas, we've got some hours ahead of us. Would you rather wait here for the night, or push on to Thirsk? The former is safer, but I don't know how long your Regulus friend is planning to stay there. It's not an inn. They won't harbor him forever."

"We better get their as soon as possible. We can't afford to chase him across Tamriel anymore, so lets pack up and move out," Gracchus commanded.

He gathered up his pack, which he'd stored some of the potions and scrolls in, and lifted it up and placed it over his fur cloak.

They headed out. The path leading up to where they'd met was already clear thanks to Sero, and several bodies, some charred and some bloody, laid scattered around in their path.

Upon leaving the fort, they found night on Solstheim to be considerably brighter than night in Cyrodiil, or most anywhere else for that matter. Auroras of various colors danced across the sky, casting green and yellow and blue tones of light into the ashen wastes. It reflected off the blowing ash, giving everything an odd and unique color scheme.

"It's beautiful. Even better than the auroras in Skyrim. Amazing," Gracchus said in awe.

"It is," Pilus said, equally in awe of the natural beauty.

The blank stare of Teldryn's helmet made discerning what he thought of the auroras impossible. "Come on, we've still got quite the walk before we get to see Thirsk... or even see snow, for that matter."

The trio didn't waste any time in heading off. They may have dealt with a band of Reavers, but they were by no means in the clear. Many more still lived in these parts, and knew them even better than Sero did. They moved quickly and quietly, with few words shared during the journey. Hours passed, though it felt like it only took a fraction of the time the original walk had, and before they knew it, they could once again see the northern mountain peaks as the ash in the air grew thinner.

"Finally," Gracchus muttered.

All relief was quickly interrupted, however, when a nearby mound of ash stirred, a red eyes head breaking through the surface. Next came a hand, followed by another holding a volcanic rock club. Another head broke the surface, followed by another, until three ash spawn stood above the mound, swords and clubs in hand.

Gracchus stood at the ready, sword drawn and ice spell in hand. Pilus copied his friend, and both dropped their packs to increase their maneuverability.

"How do we take these things out Teldryn?" Gracchus asked, his voice even in the face of danger.

Teldryn's new elven sword, along with the Nordic one Gracchus had given him, was already drawn. "About the same way as the lot in the fo-"

He was cut off by an ashen hand sprouting out of the ground and immediately grabbing his leg. He didn't waste any time in jamming his enchanted Nordic sword into the beast's arm, causing a faint magical red mist to drift out of the ground where the ash spawn was still burried, and into Teldryn. The arm released his leg and grabbed the ground, hefting the head and torso out along with it. The mercenary stabbed his elven sword right through the thing's temple, and the beast immediately crumpled into a pile of ash.

"Like that!" he said to Gracchus, before lowering the cloth from his mouth so he could spit on the ash of the creature that had startled him so.

"Got it," Gracchus said with a smirk, and cat an ice spike right at the first beast's leg, causing it to stumble. A quick swing of the sword decapitated the ash monster, leaving it headless and dead.

Pilus blocked his monster's blow, then sent an ice spike into its chest from point blank range, then finished it off with a downward thrust into its collarbone and through it's chest.

That meant one left for the three of them, but the monster didn't seem dismayed by the odds. It swung violently at Pilus, while swinging his fist at Gracchus. The group moved in, blocking and cutting until the creature was nothing but ash in the cold mountain wind.

"Those were...something," Pilus said.

Teldryn didn't seem too proud of their victory. "We were lucky that these decided to pop up where they did. I've lost several employers because they didn't see an ash spawn when it came up right beneath them. Damn things are like flies. I'm surprised it took so long to encounter some."

He looked north. "Well, we'll be out of the ash within an hour. They won't be a problem after that."

"Good. Lets go before any more can appear," Gracchus said, but waited for Teldryn to lead the way.

They traveled for another few miles, once again feeling that familiar strain in the ankles as the elevation gradually began to rise. They passed up the Dwemer ruin the Reavers had met then at before, none of them in the mood to even speak on what had happened there. Eventually, the ash was totally gone, replaced by green grass, and then, just a little further on, a blanket of snow. Trees grew more and more common until it became a full-blown forest. Northern Solstheim wasn't like most other lands. Up here, everything was untouched. No men or elves had come and cut down the trees. No one had come and hunted the wildlife. What little the men and mer of the island did was not enough to threaten the ecosystem, and were it not for the Red Year, Solstheim would a paradise for whatever god or goddess of nature you believed in to do with as they pleased.

The natural beauty of the land was deceptive, however, as Teldryn saw fit to remind Gracchus and Pilus. There were bears, wolves, trolls, and worse that stalked the woods at night, and they'd have to be as careful now as they had been in the ash-covered south.

They were lucky, however, and ran into none of these things during the several hours it took to reach Thirsk. They saw the lights before they saw the hall. Deep through the trees, several bright orange and yellow lights emitted through closed windows, and within minutes of walking through the woods, the large mead hall was clearly visible.

Gracchus ordered them to stop, then kneeled in the snow.

"Here's the plan," he said as he drew a rectangle in the snow, then drew an "X" on either side and one at the entrance.

"I'll walk in, flush him out. You two hide around on either side, try and paralyze him if possible. Two of the scrolls I found were paralysis scrolls, so use those," he pulled them out of the bag and placed them on the ground.

"Any questions?" Gracchus asked.

Teldryn shook his head as he picked up one of the scrolls. The mercenary had gotten them as far as Thirsk, and he was already annoyed with the major setback they'd met earlier. Now, he was ready to get this job over with.

"Go time," Pilus said, picking up his scroll and moving around to the left side of the hall, while Teldryn took the right.

Gracchus left his pack with Pilus then walked into the mead hall. His nostrils were instantly assaulted by the smell of meat and mead, mixing with the strong piney smell of the hall itself. The fire burning in the center contributed its smokey aroma, altogether making a very pleasant smell.

Around the room sat several of the hall's residents. One of them, a Nord woman, approached him.

"Who are ya?" she said with a heavy accent.

"Legate Gracchus Ceno, looking for a man named Regulus," he responded.

"In the corner. We were about to kick 'em anyway. Glad you get to deal with 'em," she said.

Gracchus approached Regulus tentatively, and sat down across from him. Uncorking a bottle of mead, he took a swig, allowing the beverage to linger in mouth a little to savor the taste.

"How's Solstheim treating you?" Gracchus asked.

The Battlemage looked up from his drink, and gave Gracchus a hard look that suggested that he'd been expecting this encounter for a while now. He certainly hadn't done himself many favors since they'd last seen one another. The man's blue eyes were sullen, as if he'd not slept well in a long time. Regulus's once short brown hair now fell down near his shoulders, and was dark and matted as if he hadn't bathed in a long while, and where he'd once been clean-shaven, he now sported a thick beard that was equally dirty. Were it not for the worn out legion armor under his cloak, this man would never have been taken for a soldier.

"About as well as one would suspect, I suppose." Regulus muttered in response, before taking long drink of his ale. "It's damn cold."

"That it is," Gracchus said.

Gracchus took another drink, finishing off the mead.

"Why'd you do it?" he asked suddenly, jumping right to the elephant in the room.

Regulus tried to laugh, but it just ended up sounding more like a bark. "Legate Gracchus Ceno, killed scores of elves in the Battle of Red Ring, and has lead dozens of men to victories and deaths since, and he asks me why I left. Like I'm something important." Regulus coughed a few times, then spit the result into an empty mead bottle that he'd left on the table.

"You know damn well why I left, Legate. Brelin was like a brother to me, and Bolar. And Fralki and, Tivus, an Dornan! All of them are dead now, under YOUR leadership!" The volume of Regulus's voice slowly rose. "You know what the Legion did? They sent Bolar's armor to his family, and they buried Tivus in some big graveyard somewhere he's never been, as if that kind of thing helps. The Emperor doesn't give a shit about them, and never will. Our General neither. And personally, I don't think that you are any different."

He quickly took another drink of his ale.

"A sad consequence of leadership. I've lost many of friends as well, but it's something you fight through. You can't let it get to you. You have to live with it, and honor their sacrifice. You think this is what Bolar would've wanted, or Fralki?" Gracchus said calmly, trying to not get angry.

"Bolar and Fralki are dead, and so are all the others. We don't know what they'd want." Regulus shook his head. "Surely you didn't come all this way for me on your own. Where are your men, Legate?"

"Waiting for us outside. Just come quietly, Regulus, we've both already seen too much death, even on this trip," Gracchus said sincerely.

"Or you can leave." Regulus said back to him, every bit as serious as Gracchus. "Say I'm dead and let me stay here. I take it that idea never occurred to you?"

"And when the Thalmor come knocking, once they figure out you know sensitive information? What then?"

"They won't find me. They won't even know who I am unless you tell 'em." Regulus motioned around the room. "These guys are probably going to kick me out any day now. That happens, I'll go elsewhere. Maybe fall in with the Skaal, or go south. There aren't any Dominion or Imperials in Morrowind. I tucked myself up here in the frozen corner of Tamriel, and you still followed me, even though I'm not hurtin' anybody." He took one more drink, finishing his bottle. "Why don't all of you bastards just leave me be?"

"You don't think they'll find you? What about the Bosmer hunter who we killed back in Skyrim, who had this letter on him."

Gracchus pulled out a wrinkled up note, that read as follows.

-E

The man Regulus is in Solstheim. My sources say he left Raven Rock and headed north. After I drop this letter off I will follow him.

-N

"What do you think of this?"

Regulus's eyes went wide, and for the first time, he genuinely looked worried. "That doesn't make any sense! Where did-... Please, I'll go south and disappear in Morrowind. I'll go tonight! You can tell everyone that I resisted and you had to kill me! If the Thalmor are looking for me, then that means going with you will be the end!"

"You think they'll stop looking for you just because I say you're dead? Regulus, coming with me is the only option. Spend a few years in jail, it won't be the worst thing ever. Then we can give you a fake name, change your appearance up and you'll be free."

"No." Regulus looked angry now. "I've heard the stories of how it works. I'll go to your Imperial cell, and within a week the Thalmor will find me. Nobody will say a word about my disappearance."

He stood up from his seat and rested a hand on his hilt. Gracchus may have had no intention of letting the Thalmor find him, but Regulus was not going to buy it. "I know I can't best you, Gracchus, but I am not leaving this island with you."

"So, what? You going to make me kill you? You don't stand a chance Regulus, with my men out there and you know what the outcome will be whether you like it or not."

Now, Regulus's grip tightened on the hilt. He looked around he hall, maybe for an escape. There were none. All eyes had turned to him and Gracchus.

"You're right. I probably won't like the outcome of all this. But I do not have any intention of coming with you."

Regulus drew his sword and pointed the tip at Gracchus. There was a fiery look in his eyes. Regulus knew that this was his only option.

"How about you prove to me that you have honor, Legate? How about we duel, here and now! If I win, your men will allow me to leave."

Gracchus stood slowly, backing up a little as he did. He had honor alright, and wasn't one to back down from a challenge. His eyes were a deep contrast to Regulus', calm and cool, and still green as emeralds.

"Fine, I'll accept your duel, but if you lose you come with me. Lets take this outside."

Regulus briefly looked hopeful, but it faded into determination. He knew that Gracchus was the better fighter, but perhaps his will would be enough. Either way, despite what Gracchus said, he had no intention of going with them. Not alive at least.

Once they were outside, the two faced up. Regulus looked around for the troops Gracchus had mentioned, but all he spotted were Pilus and the Dunmer mercenary who had brought him here. "You..."

Teldryn gave a bored nod. A flicker of green danced around his finger tips. Paralysis magic. "Decide to make this easy then?" he asked.

Regulus ignored the mercenary and turned to Pilus. He recognized the man well enough. He'd been Gracchus's second for as long as Regulus had been part of the unit. Still, despite their low numbers, the three of them could still bring him down with ease, so there was no point in trying to run. He nodded to Gracchus. "Go on, tell them the terms!"

"We're dueling, I win he comes with us, he wins he goes free. No killing, a gentlemen's duel. All spells are available. No outside intervention, during the duel" Gracchus said matter of factly.

"Lets get this over with then," he added.

Gracchus wasn't nervous, but knew he couldn't slack of he wanted to win. Regulus was very capable, and Gracchus needed to focus.

Teldryn mumbled something about a "waste of time" but he didn't make any effort to intervene.

Regulus nodded to Gracchus, agreeing that he was ready to begin. He gripped his steel sword with both hands. Killing was out, so magic would be better saved as a last resort. He slightly crouched, and shifted his weight to his toes, preparing to dodge in any direction if needed, and then he waited there, allowing Gracchus to make the first move.

Gracchus pulled put his sword, gripping it the same as Regulus. He moved from side to side, trying to find his feel in the snow. He decided on a downward swing, which he expected to be parried. He only hoped it would open up a hole in Regulus' defense.

Regulus didn't take the bait, however, and dodged backwards while keeping his sword prepared to block a follow-up swing.

Not as rusty as I'd hoped, Gracchus thought.

He frowned and moved forward, then swung lower this time, hoping a softer swing would allow him to retaliate quicker if Regulus dodged again.

Regulus parried the blow and this time side-stepped around Gracchus before delivering a counter-swing aimed at his torso.

Gracchus blocked, his sword point aiming at the ground, and repulsed the thrust, then took a step forward as he swung up and across to his right.

Regulus hadn't expected Gracchus to move in like that, and barely managed to duck under the swing before making another slash, this one from the left, at the Legate's torso.

Gracchus continued his forward momentum with a roll, so that Regulus' strike hit nothing but air. Coming up from the roll quickly, he spun around with a swing aimed at Regulus' back.

Regulus had little time to react, and the blade sliced across the ribs at his side.

Regulus's left hand went to his side, clutching his wound. It was bleeding, but not too bad. There was a flash of yellow in his free hand as he healed it. All the while, his eyes never left Gracchus. He immediately took the offensive, gripping his sword in both hands as he began to deliver blow after blow towards Gracchus. The Legate blocked and parried them with ease, but Regulus didn't let up.

Gracchus decided he had to improvise a little if he wanted a sure victory, so as he blocked, his off hand slowly conjured up a frost spell. The next time he blocked, he repulsed, and Regulus' back turned to him monetarily, enough time for him to lay down a layer of ice over the snow in between them.

The frost spell did its job. Regulus reared back from the wall of frost. He backed away a bit and poised himself into a defensive stance.

Gracchus took the offensive this time, moving around the wall and swinging left, right, up, down, torso, legs, head, all controlled but very aggressive. Regulus was struggling under the rapidity as power behind each swing, until he hardly noticed he was backing towards the ice.

He wouldn't notice until it was too late. Regulus managed to parry or block every blow, but by the time he felt the cold on his back, there was nothing he could do. One more powerful strike from Gracchus forced him back another step, and directly into the wall. Instantly, the icy white frost shot up his legs and chilled his bones to the core. Regulus felt the chill creep up his arm and numb every joint. He had no control when hand slipped and released the sword.

Regulus had no time to pick it up, and no time to worry about the pain of the cold. He only had time to hop backwards to avoid a sweep at his torso from Gracchus's blade. He used a healing spell to undo the internal damage caused by the frost spell, but now he was unarmed, and his only weapon available was magic. He balled his fists, causing flames to form around them, then sent two streams of fire in Gracchus's direction.

Gracchus dropped his sword, and threw up the largest ward he could conjure in one hand, then a lightning spell in the other. The sparks danced across the air to Regulus, draining his magicka reserves and numbing his every limb. The fire onslaught continued for a few seconds, until the flames puttered out and Regulus was left without sword nor magic. Gracchus picked up his sword and approached the defeated man.

"Time to surrender, Regulus."

From the look in Regulus's eyes, Gracchus could tell that surrender was still far from his mind. Regulus quickly backed off, looking around him for anything he could use as a weapon. He grabbed a fallen tree branch, about the same length as a sword and swung it at Gracchus's head. When the Legate's sword caught it, the sword instantly cleaved it in two, and went straight into his arm, forcing out a gush of red.

Once again, Regulus backed off, clutching his injured arm with no magicka left to heal it. He threw the useless remaining half branch at Gracchus, but missed, then picked up a rock, the look in his eyes now downright feral. "I am NOT going with you!" he screamed, raising the rock to throw it as well.

And there he stood, arm still raised to throw the rock. A small aurora of green light, signifying a paralysis spell surrounded Regulus for a moment, and then he collapsed face first into the snow, still in the position he'd been standing in.

Teldryn Sero still stood near the hall, arms crossed.

"Sorry, but that was getting a bit ridiculous."

Pilus burst into laughter, lightening the mood even more.

Gracchus even chanced a smile, then broke out a healing spell to stop Regulus' bleeding.

"Thanks Sero. For everything," Gracchus said.

The legate pulled out a piece of rope, tying both Regulus' hands and feet. Grabbing another fallen branch, he inserted it between the tied hands and feet, so that Regulus hung off the branch. Gracchus and Pilus lifted him on their shoulders, then turned to Sero.

"Lets see if we can find some rest here, then we'll set off in the morning," Gracchus said.

The people at Thirsk grudgingly let them stay, but only for a night. In the morning, the weary group set off, and made sure to constantly keep and eye on Regulus. After traveling safely for several hours, they finally reached Raven Rock. They dropped Regulus off at the Bulwark jail, then easily fell asleep at the Retching Netch.

In the morning, the group gathered together by the docks, ready to leave.

"Looks like its time we go our separate ways," Gracchus said to the mercenary.

Teldryn, not wearing his helmet for a change, gave a half-smile and a nod.

"Shame." He twirled a septim between his knuckles. "You two were good employers. You ever need mercenary work done on the mainland, remember that I'm always looking for a chance to get off this ash-covered rock."

"There's always a legion spot for you if you want it," Pilus said.

"Skilled battlemages are in short supply, especially ones that are fun to be around as well," Gracchus added.

He was worn out, but happy to be getting of the island and back home.

"And work for Legion pay?" Now the mercenary laughed. "Can't say that's an offer I'll be considering. Still, it's good to know that my charms aren't going to waste."

Behind them, the captain of the Northern Maiden fidgeted and grumbled, which both Gracchus and Pilus noticed.

"We'll be off then. Goodbye, Teldryn," Gracchus said and stuck out his hand.

Teldryn hesitated for a moment, then took Gracchus's hand and shook it. Then did the same with Pilus. He wordlessly nodded to each of them then turned and headed back toward the town square. He still had some loot to sell after all.

Gracchus and Pilus, along with their prisoner, boarded the ship, which set sail south for Skyrim.

Even with all they'd experienced on the island, both men would miss it, and it's wilderness feel that few places in Tamriel still held.

 

The Unification of High Rock

 

The Unification of High Rock

By The Imperial Historical Society

The Oblivion Crisis left many societies reeling, not least of which the already tumultuous Bretons of High Rock. With the legion’s presence diminished because Cyrodiil’s dire situation, that left the nobility to take care of the Daedric menace. Oblivion Gates spawned at Daggerfall, Wayrest, and Orsinium. Queen Elysana of Wayrest, with her Orcish neighbors as allies, handily defeated the Daedric creatures. King Gothryd, married to Princess Aubk-i of Sentinel, along with the forces of Camlorn who were united under the marriage of Lady Kelmena to Prince Camaron, slew their attackers as well.

And so peace reigned among these kings and queens, if only for a short while. Small, inconsequential skirmishes over borders resulted in little changes in territory, but did shift the balance of one major alliance. When Orcish raiders sacked a keep owned by an ally of Queen Elysana, she broke off their alliance with the green mountain men. It seemed as though King Gortwog gro-Nagorm’s heir wasn’t the political genius of his father. Seeing a rare opportunity to crush them, Elysana sought the aid of Daggerfall, and by extension Sentinel and Camlorn, through the marriages of king and prince. The city-state of the Orcs was sacked and raided by the combined Breton and Redguard forces, with few survivors. Even though the brutes had proven fearsome foes in the past, even their walls of iron could not stop the attack. Gortwog’s heir, the dunce that he was, tried a last ditch effort at peace, only to be shot down by dozens of arrows when he bore no white flag.

The armies dispersed, while in Cyrodiil the Empire began it’s collapse. Black Marsh, Elsweyr, and Morrowind left, and King Gothryd began plotting secession. He was no friend to the Empire, a major difference between he and his late father, and sought freedom from the high taxes Cyrodiil imposed. Queen Elysana, meanwhile, was busy marrying her daughter to the Gaerhart families’ heir, Damien Gaerhart. Rare was the opportunity to undermine her largest rival, and even in the waning years of her life, Elysana was no fool. She wrote the newly crowned Emperor, Titus Mede, who was desperate to keep the Empire intact. Together, they formulated a plan in which they would oust Gothryd and replace him with the aforementioned Gaerhart family.

Sentinel and Camlorn had to be won over, or at least taken out of the picture. The Adrard family, long Barons under Camlorn, used men funneled to them by Elysana to incite unrest among the peasants. They rode the wave of discord to the Lordship of Camlorn, supported all the while by Wayrest and the Empire. Nearly overnight, Gothryd found himself short an ally, and became wary of all his most trusted advisors, even going to far as to alienate his wife, Queen Aubk-i. Her brother ruled Sentinel as Governor, and the two were close enough that he learned of the cold shoulder she received from her husband.

Around this time, both Prince Camoran and his wife fell suspiciously ill. They died within days, much to the grief the Aubki-i. Gothryd, however, was chasing ghosts, so caught up with the situation in Camlorn and the advisors he thought betrayed him that he found little time to grieve, or comfort his wife. The marriage was already on shaky rocks after one of Gothryd’s bastards attempted to usurp the Duke of the island of Betony, using his royal blood as his right to rule. That too was engineered by Elsyana, or so the rumors say. Thus, Aubki-i left, running home to Sentinel. This left Gothryd without both Camlorn and Sentinel, heirless and friendless.

Rather than risk open war, Elysana and the Gaerharts wormed their way slowly into Daggerfall, buying an ally here, blackmailing one there, until when Gothryd died, Damien Gaerhart and Elysana’s heir Elyna became Lord and Lady Gaerhart of Daggerfall. Emperor Mede then crowned Elysana Queen Regent, and the title of King Regent passed along to Damien Gaerhart shortly thereafter, when Elysana finally passed away in the Fourth Era, year thirty-five, at age eighty four.

But the unification was not yet complete. Evermor, Northpoint, Shornhelm, Farrun, and Jehanna all still resisted. King Regent Gaerhart was much like his deceased mother-in-law, in that he was well versed politically. As was his wife Elyna, and together they slowly corralled the rebellious kingdoms. Evermor was won over first, marrying Elyna’s younger sister, Lady Elorya, to Varnis, the son of the Lord of Evermor. Next came Shornhelm, and like Camlorn, usurpation was the means. The Estermont family, lower nobles, united with the feared Black-Heart clan of the Wrothgarians, and together they overthrew the Lord of Shornhelm. They then sought the alliance, as means to strengthen themselves against their longtime rivals, Northpoint.

Northpoint was ruled, then as now, by the ancient Traven family, which has the distinction as the longest tenured noble family in all of High Rock, dating back to the early second era. A testament to both the tenacity of the frozen Northpointmen, and the short tenure most families have sitting a throne. Lord Traven was a prudent man, and saw the coming war that he knew he could not win. Yet he amassed his armies, and convinced Farrun and Jehanna to join him. Unbeknownst to the Lord of Farrun, who was the staunchest anti-Imperialist, it was a well-maneuvered trap by Lord Traven and the Lord Laelippe of Jehanna. They then presented the head of the Lord of Farrun on a platter to King Regent Gaerhart, and all three cities were peacefully accepted, while Traven and Laelippe were duly compensated for their treachery.

And so the whole of High Rock fell under the rule of the Empire, in the First Century of the Fourth Era, year forty-three. Titus Mede, a known military genius, had proved his political acumen as well. His trust in Lady Elysana and her heirs proved well placed. Thus, High Rock remained part of the dwindling Empire, with King Regent Damien Gaerhart ruling from Daggerfall, where the seat of power remains to this day.

 

The Heroes of High Rock

 

The Heroes of High Rock

By Soran de Tulune, Cleric of the School of Julianos

Unlike the heroes of Skyrim and Cyrodiil, High Rock’s legendary figures are not widely known, and many are totally unknown outside their ancestral home. It is a shame, for like the other provinces of the Empire, High Rock boasts an impressive array of individuals whose exploits shaped the course of history. This book, then, serves as a guide to the most famous Breton heroes, in the hopes that their names might become more widely known, and that a new generation of Bretons will come to understand the mark our people have left on history, and be inspired to make their own marks as well.

The oldest Breton hero, Voernet the Sage, is one who little is known about, and most of what we do know comes from secondhand reports. His history and lineage is lost to us, and only a few of his exploits have made it down through recorded history. What is known is that, in 1E 20, he visited the isle Artaeum, home of the Psijic Order. They invited him into their ranks, and his book on the Psijics offered the first, and arguably best, look at the mysterious order and the “Elder Way” that they follow. Though unconfirmed by any source, oral history states Voernet was a member of a mysterious group himself, the Druids of Galen, also followers of the “Old Ways,” and the knowledge shared between he and the Psijics allowed him access few since have achieved. Tales also say the Psijics gifted him a staff as a parting gift, and though rumors appear every so often of someone wielding this Staff of the Sage, it has never come to the attention of High Rock’s scholarly bodies.

Arguably the most well known Breton hero is Sir Eleidon, the pinnacle of Breton chivalry and knighthood. Though like Voernet, little personal information has made it through the tides of time. We do know that he was contemporary with the Alessian Order and the Direnni Hegemony, and various tales tell of him fighting against one side or the other, but there is no consensus on what battles he might have participated in. Given his chivalrous nature, it is entirely possible he fought against both groups. We do know that he was a holy knight, probably of Stendarr, and undertook many a heroic quest. His most famous exploit was to free a kidnapped baron’s daughter from a murderous warlord. Some speculate he rescued the maiden from Warlord Thulgeg, who led an army of Orcs and goblins against the Bangkorai Garrison in 1E 874, but given the number of tales of his fighting for or against the Direnni and Alessians, most scholars place his life closer to 1E 480. For rescuing the maiden Sir Eleidon was awarded a large tower shield known as Eleidon’s Ward, an artifact last seen in Morrowind in 3E 427 that heals wounds almost as soon as they appear.

Captain Yric Flowdys was a grand adventurer, explorer, and sailor who mapped the inlets and bays of High Rock’s northern coastline and founded the city of Northpoint in 1E 800. Eventually, he took the name Dorell in honor of the Dore Elard heights on which he built a keep, as he settled in his newly founded city and became one of the first merchant princes in High Rock. Within his lifetime, the enterprising captain saw Northpoint go from a few docks to the bustling port it is today, all under his wise and steady hand. He is also thought to have seen the far shores of what is left of Yokuda and visited the Coral Kingdoms of Thras and the continent of Pyandonea, home of the Maormer. Though it is thought to be impossible to sail to Pyandonea due to a magical protective mist, legend says Captain Flowdys possessed an enchanted spyglass, and only the future was ever obscured to him.

Saint Pelin was a humble beadle of Stendarr at the Bangkorai Garrison when, in 1E 1029, King Styriche’s Gray Host of vampires and werewolves sought to invade High Rock. First he prayed to Stendarr for aid, and then he tended the wounded soldiers. Finally, when hope seemed lost and the gates of the garrison were about to give way, he threw himself from the battlements and into the hungry maws of the vampires. The bloodsuckers halted their assault to drink the seemingly never ending blood of the martyr, allowing Breton forces enough time to reinforce the gates and hold back the foul forces. He is one of the great saints of Stendarr, and the most selfless of High Rock’s heroes.

When the Bangkorai Garrison still stood, Baroness Falinne Guimard defended it against the Alessian Empire in 1E 2305. That victory over the Alessian Empire is still celebrated to this day as ‘Sovereignty Day’ in High Rock. A member of the now defunct but then thriving Guimard family, Baroness Falinne was a fierce warrior, an inspiring leader, and a skillful commander. In 1E 2321, when the War of Righteousness broke out and the Alessian Order tried to retake High Rock, she commanded Evermor’s armies, until finally the Alessian Order was dissolved in 1E 2331. She wielded the Hammer of Bangkorai, inspiring fear in her enemies and destroying the vilest of foes with ease. Though traditionally only those who were commanding the Bangkorai Garrison used the weapon, she took it up once again to face the Alessian Order during the war.

Though she lived almost a thousand years after Baroness Falinne, comparatively little is know about the bard Asirel. For a time, there was even some dispute about whether or not Asirel was a man or a woman, though most scholars have now come to believe it was her penchant for illusions and disguises that caused this confusion. However, Asirel is not a complete mystery, as we know she was one of the founding members of the Scenarist Guild in 2E 381, and that she composed songs and ballads still performed to this day, such as “The Three Lovers” and “The Willow Tree.” We also now believe she was the author of the famous King Edward series of books. It is rumored that she even came to possess the legendary Horn of Summoning, which rallied together the Breton people and ended Nordic control of High Rock. Though the stories we have of Asirel using the horn generally involve charming fierce beasts and causing brutish sellswords to flee.

Arch Paladin Helese Jeanard was not so playful a figure. Following the tumultuous Sixth Century of the Second Era, then Dame Jeanard sought to rid High Rock of pernicious influences. She rid the land of unbound daedra and daedra worshippers, slaughtered vampire clans, hunted werewolves, and purged witch covens. She gained a sizable following of likeminded adventurers, but rather than start a mercenary company to extract pay for doing good deeds as many others would have, in 2E 658 she instead established the Knights Mentor, the martial arm of the School of Julianos. She continued to seek out and destroy evil while also promoting knowledge and driving out ignorance wherever she went. Legend has it that Julianos himself was so impressed that he gifted her a pair of gauntlets, the Hands of Julianos, which allowed her to master Destruction magic and further her goal of wiping out evil in High Rock.  

Giraud Callyn is a controversial figure in Breton history, for more than one reason. Either famous or infamous, he was nonetheless a master nightblade and assassin who killed, among many others, Admiral Vasi Hadrach, Tiber Septim’s trusted naval commander, in 2E 859. Then, in 2E 866, Callyn proceeded to assassinate the Provisional Governor of the Western Reach Titus Alorius. Those two assassinations led many to believe he was the man responsible for King Cuhlecain’s assassination in 2E 854, though there is no confirmation of that. Possibly the most controversial aspect of the man is his heritage. The Empire claims, as do many Reachmen, that Giraud Callyn was Goiridh Caellein, a worshipper of Mehrunes Dagon who wielded a dagger made from an ebony shard, cursed (from the Empire’s point of view) or enchanted (from the Reachmen’s) by Hagravens, so that the wounds it caused resisted restorative magics. Most Bretons see these tales as nothing more than Imperial propaganda that seeks to slander a freedom fighter and true Breton.

Reliana Moret is a much less controversial figure, and in many ways the opposite of Callyn. Rather than sowing discord between people, she sought to bridge it, by traveling throughout High Rock and recording the languages of Centaurs, Spriggans, Nymphs, Harpies, the Giants of High Rock (who speak a slightly different dialect than their Nordic brethren), and Imps. She also produced translated guides for those languages, along with Old Bretic and Old Orcish. She wrote that she was inspired by the publishing of the Encyclopedia Tamrielica in 3E 12 when she was young, and after that spent the rest of her life traveling High Rock and documenting all she could on the various races within, seeing it as a chance to bring some peace and kindness to the land. She was helped in that endeavor when the Centaurs presented her with a cloak spun from the silk of the Gauvadon caterpillars, which she claims protected her from the elements and elemental magics. She called it her Refuge, and many claimed that once she had it, spells could not touch her.

And so I come to the end of this book, hoping that now High Rock’s heroes will take their place alongside those from Skyrim and Cyrodiil in the pantheon of great men and women. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, and I would be remiss if I did not mention such figures as King Emeric, leader of the Daggerfall Covenant, Baron Othrok, who commanded the navy that threw back Camoran Usurper’s forces, or Baron-Captain Olsein Guy Mard, who led the Breton detachment of the All Flags Navy. And I might be turned into a toad if I did not also mention the witch Nulfaga, the most recent figure and a venerated saint among the various witch covens in High Rock. I have heard some claim her cursing of the sorceress Medora Direnni is one of the great feats of witchery. If true, it is indeed a great feat, considering Medora Direnni’s lineage and her own skill, evidenced many times over when she served as King Lysandus’s court sorceress. But I hesitate to mention a witch among these hallowed Breton figures, especially when rumors say her dragon familiar Skakmat was, in fact, an aspect of Peryite.

All of these heroic figures, from Voernet in the First Era to Reliana in the Third, spent their lives serving High Rock and its people. We see their influence to this very day when we travel to a city they founded, listen to a ballad they wrote, or believe in the ideals the embodied. For the heroes of High Rock were noble and remarkable figures, and they should not be forgotten when so much of our history hinged on the choices they made and the lives they changed.

Edited by BTCollins
  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Yornar's beginning

 

The sun stood high in the sky above the pine woods in the valley. The mountains stood firm, reaching towards the sky with their snow clad peaks and wind bringing the cold down into valley that suffered from the heat of the sun. A small boy at the age of 13 felt the cooling wind as he rushed through the forest. The boy had black short hair and simple woolen clothes, pants in brown and the tunic in green and a small leather belt, and he was holding a small bag. He could hear the footsteps behind him and he picked up the pace. Soon he could see a large pile of cut down trees and he ran for it, when he reached the pile of wood he stopped and started catching his breath. The footsteps grew closer behind him, but it didn't matter now. 
      "Unfair! You're bigger than me!" Said a an angry girl's voice behind him. 
      The boy turned around and saw the girl with long brown hair and wore a similar pants and tunic as the boy, but the tunic was light blue. She looked like she was only a couple of years younger than the boy. She appeared rather upset and had her arms crossed. 
      "And still I had the bag to slow me down." The boy said with a sly smile. 
      The girl didn't answer and just stared at him with her childishly angry look. 
      This made the boy to sigh. "Fine, next time we play hide and seek. But lets do what we actually came here for." But the boy couldn't help but to feel defeated as he knew he always lost in that game. Especially against his own sister.
      But this didn't help with dampening her bad mood as she her answer was to stick out her tongue at the boy. But before the boy could even think of a reply, the deep voice a grown man was heard as were they heavy footsteps of one coming from the side. "Stop bickering." The boy looked up and saw the man, he was big and had long brown hair tied up in a ponytail at the back of his head, along with a thick beard that was a shade darker than the the hair. The clothes he wore were almost exactly the same as the boy's, except that his leather belt was sturdier and had a dagger along the left side. "Brothers and sisters should not fight each other. You should help each other instead." He said with a slightly stern voice and look.
      "Yes daddy." The kids said in unison. Then the boy remembered the bag and held it up to his father. "Mommy told us to bring you food."
      The man took the bag and opened it, picked up an apple from it that he took a big bite from and then continued speaking as he shewed. "Now why don't you go play something you're both good at? And you don't have to compete, why don't you go and do something productive; like helping your mom with the shores." 
      This caused the kids to moan in agony. "Come on, lets go see what the others are doing." The girl said as she ran off, the boy soon followed her lead back to the village. The village was small and lied by the river in the bottom of the valley, it wasn't much as there was just a dozen small wooden cabins with straw roofs. The most interesting thing in the village was the local smithy but even that wasn't really something impressive and could barely be called forge. Besides the village was a small farm field were potatoes and grain were grown. It was a quiet village where the only thing that really disturbed the quiet was the local smith hammering by his forge. 
      The two kids  passed a couple of women hanging the laundry to dry in the wind and they were gossiping. But this wasn't the ordinary gossip. "Have you heard what happened with the village to the west." One of the the women said to the other. 
      "Yes I heard from my husband, attacked by an elven raid apparently. They must be really daring to come thins north. I hope they wont come here." She replied, sounding worried. 
      "Hopefully. Pity our king doesn't really do anything about the elves. He just sits on his arse and bickers with the other kings. Last I heard was that he threatened the king to the west with war only because their silver prizes had gone up. What good is silver when elves are killing his people." 
      They didn't stay to hear the rest of the conversation and simply passed by. After a minutes walk through the village they saw three other kids, two girls and one boy playing at the edge of the village with wooden sticks as swords. Dressed in the same pants and tunic as them but in grey. When they approached the other kids stopped and looked at them, the girl to the left had light blonde hair and she seemed to become very shy as they approached. "You mind if we join?" The boy said. 
      "Not at all." The other girl said with a devious smile as she looked at shy girl, she also had light blonde hair but appeared to be barely one year younger than her sister that was now looking down on the ground. "But you'll have to find your own swords, there's some good ones over there." She continued and pointed towards the edge of the forest, near a tree that had been broken in half and now had the top leaning down onto the ground. 
      They only needed to search there for a few second before they both found a stick each they deemed fit for combat. The five kids then played a small duel tournament where you won by getting three hits on the opponents torso. But when the boy in the green tunic went up against the shy girl she barely fought at all, at best one could say that she pretended to fight. All time she was barely looking at him, even when he leaped forward to strike at her. After three hits with almost no effort she excused herself and walked away. "What was that?" The boy asked the others, looking and sounding quite confused. 
      "Isn't it obvious?" His sister answered. "She likes you. And you should do something about it."
      "Like what? I don't know what to do with girls." The boy said in disbelief. 
      "You're never going to get on with one then." The blonde girl that remained said to him in a pompous manner. "You're making my sister look like a milk-sipper." Now she sounded a bit angry. 
      "Lets not start a fight now." The other boy said, he that had barely spoken a word till now. He was oldest of all of them and had blonde hair, but it was darker than his sisters. 
      "But he..." The blonde girl spoke up but was interrupted by her older brother.
      "Enough about that now. It's getting late anyway, lets go home." He didn't sound angry or upset but more tired at having to deal with other's arguments. And he was right as the sun was now settling in the horizon and the stars were peeking forth between the clouds that were getting thicker by the minute. 
      His sister frowned but didn't say a word as she followed her brother back home. The two other siblings remained for a few seconds and watched as the other kids walked off. "But she's right. You should do something about it." The girl said in a-matter-of-fact tone. 
      "But what should I do then. I don't know anything about girls." He said like he was defending himself from prosecution. 
      "Then you'll never get a girl." She sounded slightly disappointed and as she said that she turned towards the village and started walking. 
      The boy followed, not sure what to say so he remained silent as he followed back home. In his thoughtfulness he looked along the road leading outside the village and up a hill into the horizon. On the top of the hill he saw riders, dressed whitish armor and drawn swords. 

 

Minna's death

 

"We should leave today." The redheaded woman said. 

"Just give me another day to gather supplies. The trip will be long and I want to make sure we have enough." He responded. 

"Yornar, you said that yesterday too, and the day before that. This place isn't good for the child."

"I know, I know. I promise that tomorrow we will leave this cursed place and those damn hagravens behind us." 

The room they were standing in was a small with stone walls and a small window with worn wooden shutters at the sides. The sun stood high and the shone through the little hole and lightened up the room. The room itself was rather empty except for a small simple bed with just a little fur and some hay with room for only one and a small desk with a book on it and a chair next to it. Both wore a black hooded robe with the hood down. The woman sat in the bed while Yornar leaned against the wall on the opposite side of room next to the door. The woman was beautiful with red long hair, the man had medium long black hair and a somewhat thin beard. 

The woman got up from the bed and took one step closer to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "And I'll keep you to that promise." 

He smiled and gave her a hug. "I'm sure you will." He then gave her a light kiss before leaving the room. 

Ever since they found out that she was pregnant they had decided it would be best to leave the fort their coven hold up in. But leaving wasn't exactly something that was encouraged. It had all gone downhill since the leaders had gone mad in their quest for power and turned to hagravens. Yornar had spent the last week bribing, persuading and stealing whatever they would need for the trip away from there while she planned the whole trip. This would be the last day he spent in this secluded place. 

He walked down the hallway towards the storage area when he saw the three elves, pale and skin and snobbish look to them, he had never figured out what elves were doing in a place like this, walk past him in a hurry. He caught a glimpse of a dark purple book in the hands of one of them. The symbol was, if he saw right, that of the hagravens' forbidden book. Which contained knowledge that they refused to share with anyone else. It was also shortly after they had found that book which things stared going downhill in the coven. And now the elves had gotten a bit too curious for their own good. Yornar considered going directly to one of the prefects and tell them about what the elves had done. But as much as he hated elves for what they had done to his family and village and all the nightmares that had caused, he didn't want to waste time when he needed to acquire the food and other supplies needed for the trip. The elves would get caught in due time anyway, he thought. 

This day proved to be his lucky day as the prefect guarding the storage was sleeping heavily and he could rather easily, with the help of a simple muffle spell, steal much food and even a second bedroll. All of which he stowed away safely at the backside of the fort near a fallen tree, along with all the other supplies. When the guard had woken up, Yornar had already gotten enough from the storage that he was quite sure that they could make the trip without much problem. 

When he got back to the room he found that she wasn't there. He walked out in the hallways, shouting for her. "Minna! Minna!" He stumbled upon some other coven members in the corridor. "Have you seen Minna?" He asked them. 

"No we haven't." One of them said. "Though we are all to gather in the altar chamber. Apparently someone have tried to steal something precious from the leaders." 

I guess the elves will meet their doom sooner than expected. He thought and followed the others to the altar chamber. Expecting to also find Minna among the others there. But when they reached the chamber he couldn't find her in the crowd and when he looked to the far end of the chamber he saw the three hagravens stand on the elevated plateau at which the altar stood. But besides the hagravens wasn't any of the elves standing but instead Minna. She was naked and from what he could see that her hands were bound behind her back, the stomach looked normal as it was too early for the pregnancy to show. He started almost violently push his way through all the black robed mages towards her. She saw this and looked at him, shaking her head subtly and with sad eyes. Like paralyzed he stopped at her command. He didn't know what to do and when one of the hagravens gave the order for everyone to kneel he still stood like paralyzed for a couple of seconds before also, reluctantly, kneeling himself. One of the hagravens grabbed Minna and led her to the altar where she slowly lied down, not resisting or showing any sign of hesitating as she did. 

The rest of that event would be something that would haunt him for eternity as the hagravens started to channel the spell on her. He could see as her soul was teared from her body and split into three, one piece for each hagraven to devour. He could see as she took her final breath with her empty eyes fixated on him. He wanted to scream, cry, kill, flee and a host of other feelings that just overwhelmed him. But all he did was watch. It felt like hours had passed before the process was done. And when it was the hagraven to the left of the altar lit up her body in fire and ordered one of mages in the front line to clean up the ashes later on. 

Yornar himself considered to take the ashes himself and give her a proper burial, but with what the hagravens had done it wouldn't matter. Instead he decided to seek out the elves. Whom he found at the top of the tallest tower of the fort. The wind was clod and harsh. Towards one side was a tall mountain on which side the fort was located and the other was a pine forest reaching far out. The sun was near the horizon and a few stars started to show up in the sky. The elves was standing near the edge discussing something but they silenced as he approached. 

"You framed her!" He yelled at them in fury. 

The middle elf stepped forth, he had short white hair and average features for an elf, he was like the leader for their little group. "May we did, maybe we didn't. But you can't prove it, now can you? It's your word against ours. And everyone knows you loved her. And everyone knows you hate us elves with a passion. So which word do you think they'll take?" 

He wanted to kill him right there and now, but he knew he wouldn't be able to take on all three of them. He was outmatched. "You killed her!" He yelled. 

The elf continued when he got no answer. "So what? She was just a pathetic, little, filthy human. And so are you. And what are you going to do about it?"

But he just stood there, trying to contain his rage and when the elf didn't get an answer he walked past Yornar, bumping his shoulder hard into his as he did. The other two followed, bumping their shoulders hard against his as well. Though Yornar stayed, trying to calm down. He became standing there for hours as he looked into the horizon where the sun was going down. When all traces of the sun was gone he left the top of the tower. He wouldn't be leaving in the morning, he would stay. 

 

First kill

 

Yornar couldn't believe his luck. The book was in his possession and no one suspected that it was he that had stolen it. He had managed to slip into the hagravens' chambers, steal the book and slip out again without anyone noticing. And he wouldn't be so stupid as to hide in his own room. Instead he had gone to a secluded spot behind the fort to hide the book under a large stone, along with a simple protective spell so that the toil of nature could not touch it. 

The following days he had to lay low as the hagravens went on an ever increasing frantic search for the book and whom might have stolen it. Even Yornar found himself under suspicion and was questioned.
Sitting alone in a chair in an otherwise empty room, surrounded by the three foul matriarchs of the coven. Their smell and very touch of their clawed hands awoke a revulsion in him that he had steel his nerves just to not flinch each time one of them decided to get a bit too close to him. But he simply and adamantly kept throwing accusations and suspicions at the elves. Something the hagravens found to be so typical him that they thought him a waste of time and let him go after what had felt like hours of questioning. 

Weeks passed and the hagravens' search grew both more hopeless and desperate. A couple of people lost their lives, and their souls. While Yornar did not really know any of them, he felt rather sorry and sad for them as he was the indirect cause of their deaths. Eventually though the hagravens' fervent search teetered out and they grew more reclusive. They started locking themselves inside their chambers for hours or even days at a time. 

Yornar seized this opportunity of inactivity in the coven to venture out to study the book whenever he felt secure enough in that he could spend some time away without anyone growing too suspicious. There behind the fort he spent what precious time he could studying the book. 

Dark and forbidden rituals hid inside the pages. Symbols that he only had remote knowledge of and strings of text written with triangular dots and slashes that he could only guess the meanings of. Some of the parts of the book he did understand were revolting enough that he even considered burning the book, or at least those very pages. Then there was the spell he wanted. That he needed. A spell that would let one absorb the magical energies of a black soul to add to one's own well of magicka, as well as to give some reinvigorating side effects. A spell to a devour a person's soul. 
The spell however proved to be a bit more complex than Yornar had initially anticipated. So he had to spend more time with other books and a few people within the coven, learning how to trap and a soul and how to direct it. He had to take it slow enough as to not show any noticeable interest or enthusiasm of what he learnt so as to not awaken any suspicion of what he was actually doing. 

After nearly three months had passed since Minna's death, he felt secure enough in his knowledge of the spell to really try it out. He decided that he couldn't kill someone in the coven without alerting people. Thus he figured that he should instead hunt for an animal for him to practice the spell on. While he knew animals had white souls, he figured the spell would work about just as well, albeit probably with less of an effect. 

Though Yornar was no hunter, he knew of a clearing that deer used to visit and where coven member occasionally waited for something to bring home for dinner. So Yornar simply volunteered to go hunting for food and went to the clearing.
The clearing itself was somewhat large and covered in a green grass field. A mist covered much of the ground and clouds covered most of the sky. Most the trees surrounding it were pine trees and firs, with the occasional spot of birches. Yornar himself sat down by a large oak tree, between two large roots that would provide some cover against the wind as well as hide him from sight of any animals entering the clearing. Then it was just a matter of waiting and patience. Time passed and as the sun slowly began to disappear in the horizon the air grew ever colder. Yornar pulled the black robe closer around himself as best he could to keep his warmth. Soon enough the cold dark covered the land and Yornar was feeling his eyelids grow heavier and heavier. He knew he couldn't hunt in the dark and the only thing he could do was sleep. But thoughts of wolves, trolls and other beasts lurking out there in the dark kept him afraid and awake. Then there was the nightmares he feared he would have to face should he not have a dreamless night. But soon enough, with a silent forest all around him, tiredness overpowered him and forced him asleep. 

Yornar awoke to the sun beginning to rise in the horizon. The air was cold and still. The light mist lingered over the ground, looking almost magical in its contrast against the first rays of light shining upon the grass. There were no animals to see or hear in the clearing. No sound at all to be heard. 
Yornar cast a simple heating spell to help soften up his now rather stiff muscles. He wanted to use it to heat himself up as if having slept in a warm bed, but he knew he had to conserve his magicka for when a deer or other animal might show up. 

The dawn came and it passed on to noon. No animals came to the clearing and Yornar grew ever more hungry. He hadn't really been able to pack any food and he knew that soon enough he would have to return with or without anything to show for it. But the punishment for this type of failure was minimal amount of food for the next month. So even as his stomach began to growl for food, going back was no real alternative. All he could do was wait, and hope his stomach wasn't heard by any deer or other animal that would try to brave the clearing for its fresh and moist grass. 

Soon the day began to pass yet again and Yornar's stomach stopped growling. He grew so used to the hunger for a moment that he barely felt it. With some magic he gathered up what he could of the mist to form enough water in his hands to drink. It was was far from enough to sate his thirst but it still helped him feel just a little bit better. 

Anther cold night passed and Yornar fell into a dreamless sleep, waking again as the first rays of light came at dawn. This time the wind was blowing lightly in the air. Then suddenly he heard a light creak from the other side of the clearing. Yornar froze in place for a second before he slowly turned his head to look in the direction. There he saw what he had been waiting for: a single, lonely deer grazing the grass near the far edge of the clearing. Yornar was so eager for food that he began to conjure up the spell for an ice spike in his right hand. The hand however was shaking from his hunger, and he hoped he could keep it steady enough. As slowly and carefully he could he got up and leaned against the large root of the oak. He charged the spell and fired an ice spike. For a second he thought he would miss the deer before the ice spike managed to embed itself in deer's upper hind leg. The deer panicked and tried to flee, limping as it tried its best to run away. 

Yornar also almost panicked as he saw the deer rush away. He got up to his feet and ran after it faster than he thought he possibly could in his state of exhaustion and hunger. Luckily for him the deer was wounded badly enough that it couldn't quite run far enough that he would lose sight of it for it too long. 

The deer ran behind a small cluster of young firs and Yornar followed after, only to be greeted by the deer lying there on the ground, with both a small part of his ice spike sticking out from under its behind and an arrow sticking out from it's neck. The deer was still twitching slightly in its body movement, hopelessly still thinking it can get up and run away. Yornar felt a bit sorry for the animal, even despite for what he was about to do. Ignoring the arrow or who could have shot it he cast the soul trap spell on the deer and prepared himself to cast the spell to devour its soul once it would finally depart this world. 

"Hey, what in Alduin's fire are you doing to my deer?" Yornar heard someone shout at him from behind. Looking back over his shoulder he saw a simple Nordic man approach him. The man was in his early to mid thirties and had long light brown, or dirty blonde hair tied up in a ponytail behind his head. His beard was untidy and about as full grown as any other self respecting man would have. His clothes were simple grey and brown wool with small leather shoes. In his hand he held a bow and at his side was a dagger and a quiver with only two arrows. 

"Uhm. I am..." Yornar began to speak as he did not know what to tell the man. Saying the truth was about as stupid as saying you're a witch. Both of which would most likely cause fear, suspicion and hostility from the man. Lats of which Yornar needed the most at the moment. 

"Well whatever your doing, get away from my deer!" said the man again as he began to draw his dagger. 

"Hey it's my deer!" Yornar exclaimed. "I hit it it first."

"Yeah, with what? I don't see a bow on you."

Yornar was again unsure of what to tell the man. He had obviously not noticed the part of the ice spike sticking out from under the deer. Nor had he really paid any attention to Yornar's black robe, which made him wonder if normal people outside the coven wore such clothes. Or maybe that this hunter was just stupid. "Just let me have it, I haven't eaten in days." said Yornar, trying to sound sympathetic and exaggerating by just a little. 

"Neither have my family." said the hunter. He was slowly inching closer towards Yornar and the deer with his dagger drawn.

Yornar didn't quite believe him since he knew independent hunters used to roam the forest, as they had the occasional but rather rare run ins with the coven, and by the simple fact that there were no farms or villages nearby. 
The hunter got closer, seemingly so sure in himself that Yornar would relent, seeing as he was just an unarmed man. Yornar was so tired and exhausted now that he was unsure if he had the strength to conjure up the magic fast enough to win a possible fight. So instead he slowly backed away from the deer as the hunter took his place by it, still eyeing Yornar with suspicion. 

"Now go away. This is my deer." said the hunter, sounding a bit more desperate than threatening. 

"Fine." said Yornar as he slowly backed away. But he had no intentions of letting the hunter have the deer. Instead Yornar had an idea. When the hunter was sure enough that Yornar was about to leave and knelt down to retrieve his arrow, Yornar cast the soul trap spell on the man.
"What in th-" the hunter tried to exclaim as he turned to face Yornar just before he was upon the man, with a hand against the hunter's throat and an ice spike piercing his throat and neck. Yornar's and the hunter's eyes met for a second. The hunter's eyes were filled with surprise and chock at first. Then they looked at Yornar with fear and an almost pleading sadness. Yornar stood there frozen, looking into the hunter's eyes with a chock and surprise over what he had done. Seconds passed of what felt like an eternity to Yornar. He was barely able to remember to cast the spell as the hunter passed away and his soul was caught. The feeling Yornar felt was best described as having drunk a powerful stamina, health and magicka potion all at once, but without any of the bitter or stingy aftertaste. As the energy flowed through his body he felt a bit more powerful and awake than he could remember having been. It all culminated in a sense that he for a second could take on the entire world. 
That feeling soon however passed and Yornar was left standing there, holding up the dead body of the hunter in one hand. His strength failed him and his hand began to quake, not being able to bear the hunter for any longer. The body landed on the ground a thud and slight rattle as it landed on the half rotten leaves from last year. Yornar just stood there and watched the body lie there on the ground, with no life and no soul. The first person he had ever killed. 
A host of emotions washed over him; guilt, shame, accomplishment, confusion and regret. It all boiled down into a nausea that made his head begin to spin and his stomach revolt. Taking a few steps back from the scene Yornar fell down to his knees before leaning forward, resting his head against the cold dirt on the ground. All he could focus on was trying not to puke. Whether because of an empty stomach or by whatever will he could muster, he managed to control himself just enough to not start barfing onto the ground.
A few minutes passed, or maybe even an hour, Yornar could not really tell. When he began to feel better he got up from the ground and wiped away some dirt from his forehead. Looking at the dead man he saw that the ice spike had dissipated and lots of blood had begun to flow forth onto the ground from his neck. Yornar fell ill again but nothing he couldn't handle after already having suffered through what he thought would be the worst of it. He tried to ignore the body as he went for the deer and grabbed it by its hind legs. He still felt some of that vigor remain in his body from having devoured the hunter's soul, and he would sue that to pull the deer back to the fort. Hopefully he could get back before nightfall. 
As he dragged the deer slowly through the forest, he couldn't help but to think of that he would have to kill again and take another poor man's soul. And the worst thing was that part of him looked forward to it.

 

The departure

 

Yornar lied in his simple bed. Even if it was late at night and his stomach was for once full, thanks to a warm and fulfilling meal, he could not fall asleep. While it had not been a uncommon issue for him; this time it was different. Usually it was the horrors that had happened to him that he feared would haunt his sleep that kept him awake. This time it was the horror he had caused that kept his mind constantly alert and thinking. 
He could see the hunter's dying eyes in front of him. Part of him even wondered if the hunter would come back to haunt him. But dismissed that idea as he had sent the hunter's soul to a place of no return. So while the hunter could not haunt him, his conscience still did. He was a thief and a poacher. Yornar thought to himself. He would have killed me for that deer or forced me to starve. 
But the hunter wouldn't have eaten his soul. Though Yornar couldn't then help but to wonder if the hunter would have if he could have. Yornar himself felt bad for devouring the man's soul, but not as bad he expected or wanted to feel. What he instead thought of was how good it had felt with the power surging through him. The thing that would bring him closer to achieving his goals. Am I a monster? Yornar thought for not feeling completely bad for what he had done. He knew he would have to kill again and take another person's soul. But he didn't want to become a hungry monster that would kill anyone for power. 
He began to think of who would be his next victim. The elves and the hagravens were still too powerful for him to take on. Each group also guarded their own backs like hawks in case he were to try to pick them off one by one in a sneaky approach. The people he knew he could kill and get away with were the weaker and more isolated members of the coven. People he either knew or were the closest to any form of innocence there could be in this accursed place. People he held no real ill will against. Yornar could not bring himself to even really explore that thought much further for fear of becoming the monster he wished not to be. 
He kept thinking and debating with himself what the next course of action would be. He kept returning to the same answer: leave the coven. It was the best alternative as staying would simply lead to an increasing risk of him getting caught. There were also really no opportunity that he was both able and willing to take to increase his power. 

The night went on and Yornar heard a storm begin to pick up outside. The room's window shutters were closed and Yornar could hear how raindrops and and strong winds battered against the aging wood and poor craftsmanship, barely able to keep out the cold and the wet. Yornar found the rain both annoying and slightly soothing in its drumming. After a while he fell asleep to the thought where he wondered how it would be to sleep a nicer castle for once. 

The following days Yornar spent stealing food from the storage, something he had gotten rather good at after he had done that in preparation for his and Minna's escape, as well as trying to weave the soul devour spell into the soul trap spell. Spending days doing things he should not do and would cost him dearly should he be found out slowly turned Yornar into a paranoid wreck, constantly listening carefully in case someone would walk near his room when he was practicing the spell or looking over his shoulder when he was stealing food. 
When the day finally came when he felt prepared enough he went up just before dawn, took the small leather bag he had filled with food and strapped his fur blanket to, and sneaked out of the fort. He also made sure to pick up the book he had stolen.
He wandered in the dark for a while. Where he did not really know but all he wanted was to put as large a distance between himself and the coven as fast as possible. When the sun finally dawned he could see the sun's light shining somewhere behind him to the left. While Yornar wasn't any good at discerning the cardinal directions from where the sun was in regards to time of year, he knew at least he was heading somewhere in the rough direction of southwest. A direction he did his best to stay on. 

A couple of days passed and Yornar found himself walking through the endless woods, finding only old, half overgrown dirt paths and animal tracks for him to follow on his journey southwest. Eventually on the evening on the third day, which had been somewhat rainy day, he saw light in the far distance of what must have been a campfire. Excitement and a fear grew in his mind as he picked up the pace and headed towards the light. He hadn't really met any other people outside the coven for years. Meeting some normal folks would be refreshing change of company. However assuming that they were decent folk was also an assumption Yornar could not really embrace since he didn't know what kind of people would spend their time around a campfire instead of in their homes. Nothing other than hunters or bandits or elves came to mind of what he could expect to meet. 

Caution won as he slowly began to sneak instead of walk the closer he came to distant fire. From that distance he could make out several people sitting around a fire. Once he was about a hundred yards from the campfire he dropped off his bag against a tree so he could sneak forward unburdened. Hiding in the shadows he approached the camp of about a dozen people sitting around a fire. All of them were Nordic men with rugged clothing, that were mostly grey and various degree of dirty, and scraps of leather armor. By their sides were simple bags of leather, iron axes and a couple of simple, round wooden shields that had seen a lot of use. 

"I'm hungry." Yornar heard one of the men say as he sneaked forth and hid in the shadow of a tree. The man that had spoken was a brown haired man with rugged beard and weary look. 

"I am too." said another man that sat with his back to Yornar. 

"We all are." barked a third man. He was slightly taller than the rest and had cleaner, green and grey clothing and some leather armor that looked like it wasn't a patchwork and instead made with proper craftsmanship. His hair was blonde with a few braids to keep it in place and decently well kept beard. "Just hold out till tomorrow. I'm sure this next village will have some good food."

"Hopefully there will be some pretty women too." said a fourth, a man with wild and dirty long hair and beard. 

"Just don't hog the prettiest one too long like you did last time." said a fifth that Yornar couldn't quite see. 

"She was squirming. It's hard to finish when she's squirming." replied the wild haired man. 

"That's enough about that." said the blonde man with braids. "There'll most likely be pretty women, good food and maybe even some silver and gold waiting for us in the next village. Now stop complaining and get to sleep. I want to be there at dawn. Hjalti, you take the first watch." 

There were some mumbling from a couple of the men as they did the man had ordered. The man with the brown hair and beard stayed up and watched the fire with a bored and slightly annoyed expression. 
Yornar himself sat hidden in the shadows and wondered to himself what he should do. Those men were quite clearly some form of bandits, preying on helpless villagers for a living. Part of Yornar felt like he had stumbled upon almost precisely what he had been searching for: lots of people he would have little qualms about killing. But the benefit of there being many for him to prey upon was also a problem in that they were many that could kill him should he happen to get into a fight. One option was to sneak off and warn the village they intended to attack, but Yornar had no idea were it was and didn't like the idea of stumbling through the pitch black forest without any real sense of direction. Another option was to simply leave and go find some other prey while hoping he wouldn't run into the bandits during the day. An idea that seemed to be the more reasonable one but left him feeling like a coward, as well as squandering an opportunity for the power he needed. He waited and pondered what he would do, occasionally trying to get a good peek at the bandits to see if anyone would for some reason wake up and go his way to relieve himself. 
Time and passed and Yornar saw how the man that had been called Hjalti began to look more and more tired as the fire slowly faded. Yornar himself felt also rather tired but was too tense for being this close to them that he couldn't dare relax enough to fall asleep. Hjalti however seemed to have no such qualms as his eyes more often became shut for longer and longer periods of time. Till at one point they remained shut. Hjalti remained in a seated position however and Yornar wondered if he was really asleep. Slowly Yornar managed to build up the courage to approach as Hjalti remained peacefully still. 
With as quiet steps Yornar could muster with his half decent muffle spell, he slowly approached the bandit's camp. His heart began to beat faster and faster when he was close enough that he was convinced that he would certainly become spotted should any of bandits wake up and look his way. As carefully and quickly Yornar could he approached the first and closest bandit laying there on the ground, using a ragged goat skin as pillow. He was a simple man with dirty brown hair and beard with simple grey clothing. Yornar knelt down close to his head and cast the spells; first the soul trap closely followed by an ice spike through the man's throat and spine. The man only managed to give up a slight gasp. It took a few seconds for his soul to release its grasp on the body only to trapped and devoured by Yornar. The sweet feeling of power surging through him returned, as did memory of killing the hunter and the host of emotions he had felt after killing him. Though they were less impactful this time and Yornar was able to maintain focus. The bandits appeared to be heavy sleepers, or the muffle spell was working better than Yornar had expected. 
Yornar moved on the next bandit and repeated the process. As an malevolent spirit he went from each sleeping man to the next, leaving a trail of corpses with ice spikes sticking up in the air from either their necks or eye sockets. With each death he brought upon them he felt the sweet power from their souls make him stronger and stronger, as did killing them become easier and easier. 
When Yornar had just killed the second to last man he heard the last one move about and then slowly get up. Yornar froze for a second as the man, the same man with blonde hair with braids that had ordered them to sleep, woke up and with sleepy eyes looked towards Yornar, and then towards all his fellow men laying dead with magical ice spikes sticking out of them. There was a clear chock and fear in the man's eyes before he, to Yornar's great surprise, got up and ran into the forest. Yornar darted after him. With almost no light to show what was ahead he stumbled more than ran through the forest after the fleeing man.
They ran for a little while and then Yornar suddenly heard the man yell: "Help! Help me!" Yornar wondered who he was yelling to for a second before seeing what must've been a small village appear in the distance between the trees. The bandit ran into the village and screamed for help on the top of his lungs. A couple of dogs from somewhere in the village began to bark, and soon the slumbering village began to stir. A few men stormed out of the simple wooden houses with cudgels or woodcutting axes at the ready. 

"Who are you?" said one of the village men with a loud and firm voice. 

"You must help me. There's a monster out in the woods. I think it's some kind of wraith. It killed all my friends." the bandit said with half quenched panic and fear. 

Yornar stopped and hid behind a tree, just short of stepping into the village. He heard the people chatter confused and frantically about the possibility of there being a monster in the woods. This confused Yornar as he had expected the panicking bandit to say a mage or witch had killed his friends. Though it had been rather dark when he was spotted and Yornar still had his hood up from when it rained earlier that day. 

The townsfolk kept arguing a bit more about what to do in the light of the news of a murderous monster lurking in the forest, as well as arguing about what to do with the scared man that had run into the village for help. Eventually it was decided that the man could sleep in one of their woodsheds for the night and that a small group of the men were to make quick patrol around to village to check for any monsters. 

Yornar decided it was time to leave and quickly sneaked back into the dark forest again. He stumbled in the vague direction of where he had come from for a few minutes before finally seeing the last glowing embers of the bandit's campfire in the distance to his right. He had almost missed it and he felt both relieved and disturbed when he got back to the field of slaughter. The dead bodies lied there, still and with the ice spikes in them that stood up almost like grave markers. There was a feeling of hollowness in the air. No real feeling of being haunted by the murders he had committed; merely an emptiness of that the men were gone and would never come back. Banished permanently from this world. Yornar didn't know if that was better or worse.
Looking out over the bodies he saw lots of dead men that would never the see the light of day again. Am I monster? he wondered. Those bandit would certainly have killed, raped and pillaged that village the bandit had, ironically, run to for help if he hadn't killed them first. The power had also gotten from their souls felt so good too, and would help him acieve his quest to get of those foul hagravens. It wasn't directly by a huge amount he had increased his magicka well, but it was a very noticeable increase in power for each soul he had devoured. 
They were vermin and scum. They deserved this. he thought to himself. But even if they had deserved it, there was a gnawing doubt in the back of his mind over what he had done. Callously killing them in their sleeps and devouring their souls was not what a hero would do. The more he thought about it, the more he slowly accepted the idea that he might be a monster. A monster would at least never find itself a helpless and scared little victim. 
But what kind of monster will I be?

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The elven colony

 

Southern Skyrim

Orian stood in the watchtower and looked out beyond the fields of wheat and to the great forest that covered much of southern Skyrim. Out in those woods lurked savage barbarians and Orian had to keep an ever watchful eye for any savages that would approach. For many months now no savage had dared to venture close to the village. Orian's marksmanship and keen eyes had made sure no savage human had managed to leave the forest line before finding an arrow in their chest. Though Oran was growing worried of what might be lurking out there in the woods. Two hunters had gone missing in the last month and now Orian suspected the scout he'd sent out to search for them had also gone missing. 

The sun was going down in the horizon and the clouds were forming stripes across the sky. The village Orian stood watch over was beginning to calm down from a long day of work. It was a rather peaceful village, and it had been a long and somewhat difficult task making it so. They had had to clear out the local area as well the nearby logging and hunting grounds from those northern savages. Those that had not been killed or driven off had been taken south to be sold as slaves. With no more nearby human settlements, slave trade had dwindled and the logging and fur trade had instead increased. 

Orian had been worried that their presence would upset the local human kingdom that apparently settled somewhere in this great forest. Though he had heard some rumor from the slaves (through the help of a translator slave) that the kingdom was too busy with some other conflict further north. This suited Orian just fine as that would mean the colony could grow without any pesky interference. 

Suddenly Orian saw a large shadow glide over the ground and the watchtower. Half in panic he drew an arrow from the quiver and nocked it to his bow. He looked to the sky to the west where the sun was going down and saw the outline of a faraway dragon sailing across the sky. Half relieved he saw that the dragon was rather far away and not heading towards the village, and exhaled his breath which he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. 
Dragons were the one thing that really made Orian nervous. They could occasionally be seen flying in the sky but had so far ignored their village completely. Orian had also heard from one of the slaves that the savages had some kind of pious relationship with the dragons. Something he had found to be rather preposterous; that the savages could form any other relationship with the dragons other than that of a hare forms with a fox. The slave had of course been punished for lying. But Orian couldn't help but to worry a bit because of that notion whenever he saw a dragon. 

When the dragon was out of view and the sun had vanished, leaving only a few rays of light still peeking over the horizon, Orian was relieved from his watchful duty by one of his rangers. The ranger wore a similar attire to that of Orian. Green clothing with a pattern of delicate lines twisting like vines around a silver arrow, engraved lather boots and bracers, each adorned with a few small feathers, and a dark green cloak with a hood. Orian's outfit differed just slightly in that his cloak was also adorned with a silver lining and held together by a silver brosch; which held the engraving of a shining star surrounded by a circle of smoothly twisting lines.

Orian walked down the spiral stairs of the watchtower and along the streets towards the inn. Only a few of the streets in the center of the village had been paved with flat stones and the rest of the village streets were covered in compact gravel till they could also be paved. The houses where mostly two stories tall and with softly curved and steeply angled rooftops. The inn and the town hall were three stories tall and the town hall even had a small bell tower to ring in case of an emergency. 

Orian walked inside the inn and was greeted by a pleasant smell of freshly cooked meat and vegetables, along with the sweet smell of Alkanet Liquid Nectar. A human slave girl walked around serving the customers. She wore simple, armless, grey linen dress that only reached down to her knees. Her hair was short and her face was covered by a large burn mark that formed a rather decorative X. 

Orian walked towards one of the smaller tables and sat down in a nice chair, after having put his bow and quiver leaning against the side of the table. It didn't take long before an elf maid came forth and took his order. After some waiting the human slave girl with the facial scars came with his food; it was a simple meal of roasted meat and vegetables, along with a glass of cold Alkanet nectar. The food wasn't the best he had eaten but it was still quite adequate. 
Orian had gotten halfway through his meal when he suddenly heard the town bell begin to toll. The inn grew silent in an instant and Orian barely found the time to feel annoyed over having his meal interrupted before he had taken his bow and quiver to run outside. In the distance he saw a strong orange light and lots smoke rise up to cover the otherwise clear night sky. The wheat fields were on fire. Half furious he hurried to the watchtower where five rangers were awaiting him, excluding the one that was in the watchtower. 
"What happened?" Orian asked the ranger in the watchtower, trying to maintain his calm and dignified demeanor even though he was quite angry for what had just happened. 

"Someone threw fireballs into the fields from the woods. I couldn't quite see who or what it was." responded the ranger in the watchtower and pointed in the direction the fireballs had apparently come from. 

Is there a rogue mage or has the savages learnt how to use magic. Orian wondered for a second. "Get the hounds and regroup at the forest's edge." he ordered before setting off in that direction. The small group of rangers hurried along a small dirt path through the part of the field that the fire had yet spread to. Orian drew and nocked an arrow as he approached the woods. With keen eyes he scanned the forest for any movements, but saw nothing suspicious.
It only took a minute before two of the other rangers caught up the rest of the group with one leashed hound each. With a quick nod Orian gave the go ahead to enter the woods and so they did. As quickly and silently as they could they spread out in a long line and dogs began to sniff the ground for any foreign scent. It a took a minute of combing the woods and Orian was about to think the culprit might have gotten away when one of the dogs made a bark and then began to pull in one direction, deeper into the woods. The group of rangers followed as the hound led the way. It was very dark there in the forest, and the light from the moons and the stars were barely enough to let them see where they put down their feet. 

They gave chase for what seemed like several minutes. The loud bell of the village faded till it could only be barely heard of in the far distance behind them. They kept giving chase till they reached a small river where the hounds stopped just at the edge of the relatively fast running water. It was obvious that the scent had been lost. 
"You two stay with me, the rest give chase across the river." Orian ordered. The rangers obeyed and two of the rangers stayed behind with on of the hounds while rest waded across the river. "Take the hound and search upstream, you follow me downstream." he ordered the remaining rangers. Then he quickly began to run quietly along the river with one ranger in tow. Orian and his fellow ranger kept listening and watching for any movement in the forest, and for tracks in the dirt and mud along the river. But they found nothing more than simple deer tracks and at one point saw an owl fly between the trees.

Orian was almost about to give up when he heard one of ranger cry out something in the distance across the river. The cry was however cut short quite abruptly and Orian and his companion quickly changed course. They waded across the river as fast as they could. The water was somewhat cold and quickly soaked all his his clothing below his waist. Half chilled they reached the other side where they quickly picked up the pace. They ran at full pace for what Orian guessed was at least a minute, though every second felt like it lasted too long and that they might arrive too late. 

They ran until Orian suddenly stumbled upon something and fell to the ground. The other ranger quickly helped Orian up and it was then he saw that he had tripped over one of the other rangers he had sent across the river. The dead male elf had an ice spike protruding from his chest and from the side of his head. Orian couldn't really tell why but the body felt hollow in some way. 
Then they heard fighting just some way deeper into the woods. Orian quickly snapped out of his thoughts about what was wrong with the corpse and hurried in that direction. After they rounded a large oak Orian suddenly found himself staring very closely at a large ice atronach. Luckily for him the atronach was a bit slow to notice him and thus Orian was able to dodge the eventual incoming swing of solid ice by a large margin. He prepared himself to draw and loose an arrow at the daedra when he saw dark figure disappear into the darkness in the corner of his eye. Orian quickly looked that way to see another corpse of a ranger pinned to a tree with an even larger ice spike through the chest. When he returned his attention to the ice atronach he saw that it was already bearing down on him with its massive weight. Thanks to his quick reflexes Orian was able to roll out of the way just inches from being squashed, and then draw and loose an arrow the atronach that buried itself in the daedra's arm. Though it didn't even seem to register the attack as it prepared for another swing at Orian. Then suddenly a small fiery explosion erupted at its back that caused it to stumble a bit, giving Orian just enough time to withdraw to a safer distance. 

The other ranger that had accompanied Orian was standing by the oak was nocking another arrow to the bow, and at the same time imbuing it with magical fire. Orian realized that he should do the same as he drew another arrow. But as the other ranger was about draw the arrow back he was grabbed by the wrist by a dark figure suddenly appearing from behind. The ranger barely managed to turn his head before the dark mage quickly pierced the ranger's neck with an ice spike. 
Orian could barely believe what he was seeing as the dark figure seemingly ripped the ranger's soul directly out of his body and absorbed it. Horrified and almost stunned by disbelief and shock, Orian managed only by instinct draw and lose his fire charged arrow into the atronach that was now charging him. The arrow buried itself in the chest of the atronach that with a fiery explosion that finally brought it down. It fell over and landed only one feet away from where Orian stood. 

Orian then quickly turned his attention to the dark figure that was now rushing towards him. Quickly he drew and loosed another arrow at the assailant, which to his surprise was swatted out of the way by a simply wave of the mage's hand before preparing to cast what looked like another ice spike his way. Orian drew and loosed another arrow, this time imbued with disruptive magic, giving the arrowhead a light blue reflective surface. The arrow pierced the ice spike that was coming towards him and dispersed it midair. The dark figure tried swat away that arrow too but failed and the arrow buried itself in the dark figures upper right arm. With a feeling of victory being within his reach Orian reached for another arrow only to find his quiver empty. 
The attacker was then suddenly upon him with fury, grabbing and ripping away his bow, causing Orian to lose a little balance as he tried to hold on. Several punches and kicks hit Orian and he tried his best defend himself. Half desperately Orian did his best to parry and dodge the attacks that were hailed at him. But as he was about to pull his dagger he felt stinging pain in his thigh. The attacker followed up with a strong push that caused Orian to fall backwards and land hard on his back, losing the grip on his dagger in the process. With one hand he reached for his thigh and felt that an ice spike had lodged itself in his leg. The dark figure was standing above him and was preparing another icy spell. But to both's surprise there came no ice spike or any other spell. It took a second for Orian to realize that the mage had run out of magicka. With a slight feeling of relief and renewed invigoration that he might still win this he tried to reach for his dropped dagger. But the attacker would not have it and stomped on Orian's elbow so hard that a crack was heard. It a took a second for his mind to register the pain but by that time the mage was kicking wildly at him. With his working arm and leg Orian tried to pull himself in a fetal position to protect his head and torso from the attacks. 

The kicks and stomps kept coming and Orian felt himself losing his grip on consciousness. Then suddenly he heard a barking sound in the distance. The kicks stopped and after several seconds Orian dared to look up. The dark mage was gone and he heard the running footsteps of a ranger and a hound approach. The ranger rushed up to Orian with the hound and knelt besides him. 
"Sir? Sir?" the ranger said with a worried tone. "Don't worry, I'll take care of you."

"No... No... Go..." Orian just wanted to tell the man to take the hound and give chase to that damned dark mage but in his beaten and weary state he only managed to mumble those words. 
The ranger didn't seem to really listen and instead began to tend to Orian's wounded leg. Orian tried to speak again but found himself only mumbling again and after that just gave up. With a mixed feeling of relief and defeat he submitted to the care of the ranger applying some simple healing magic as the ice spike was slowly removed.

 

A dark night in the forest

 

Yornar grasped his upper right arm where the arrow was lodged in his flesh as he ran through the starlit woods. He couldn't believe he had gotten so reckless and overconfident. Bandits had become easy prey and the other couple of elves he had hunted earlier had gone down easily enough. His desire to test his mettle had almost costed him his life. It had been a stupid a idea to provoke the elven settlement so directly he told himself. And he had been so stupid for getting so caught up in the killing and devouring that he hadn't really felt his magicka become dry.
Now that the rush of battle had passed the pain of the arrow had become obvious to his mind, and he had too little magicka to properly heal the wound. As he ran though the woods he stumbled every now and then, both from not seeing where he was putting down his feet and from being very exhausted from the fighting. It took a while for him to find and reach the cliff he had made his little camp underneath. It was a pointy rock formation sticking out diagonally from a small hill, surrounded and covered in firs and pine trees; a rather good hiding spot. A bit too good as Yornar had almost missed it in the dark was it not for him recognizing a small clearing just earlier. 

Sitting down on his blanket he tried to tear open the hole in his sleeve for a better look at the wound, but even the slightest movement of the arrow caused a jolt of pain. After several minutes of carefully tearing at the black cloth he could finally get a relatively good look at the wound. Luckily he wasn't bleeding much, at least from what he could feel or see. 
As carefully as Yornar could he gripped the arrow with his shaking left hand, and another wave of pain was sent through his arm as the arrow twitched inside his flesh from the shaking hand. So he let go of the arrow. But he knew he couldn't let the arrow remain inside his arm. A long moment passed as he tried to rest for a bit and gather his strength. Then he gripped the arrow again with his still slightly shaking hand and another sharp jolt of pain was sent through his arm. Though Yornar was determined enough to not let go of the arrow again, yet he could not make himself pull at the arrow. 
Come on. he thought to himself. On 1. 2. 3. "Rrrgh!" he yelped a muffled scream as he tried to pull at the arrow in one quick go. But the pain became too much and he stopped, not even having moved the arrow an inch from its original position. The pain and the feeling of helplessness was so much he wanted to cry. But all he ended up with was pathetic dry sobbing. 
Again! he told himself with some form of confidence. 1. 2. 3. This time he pulled the arrow with all his remaining will and strength. The pain was so great his scream of anguish got stuck in his throat and the only thing he could do was gasp with a low grunt. Finally to his great amazement and disbelief his arm was free from the arrow now being clutched tightly in his hand. Without the arrow the wound began to bleed much more heavily and Yornar used what little magicka he had regained to heal the wound. It managed to stem the bleeding considerably, but the wound remained. 
Not really having any other cloth than what he wore and the blanket he sat on, neither being that clean and both too thick for him to rip apart in his weak state, all he figured he could do at the moment was to simply roll up his right sleeve to the wound and do his best to tie a little knot to make the cloth press against the wound. 
After he was as content as he felt he could be with the improvised bandage Yornar lied down on his blanket and closed his eyes, trying to catch some sleep. But the stinging pain from the wound and a sneaking worry that the elves might be catching up to him kept him awake. 

Hours passed and every time Yornar felt himself slipping from consciousness, the sound of a twig breaking or a slight rustle of the leaves on the ground caused him to immediately become awake and on guard. Every few hours (or what Yornar assumed was every few hours) he tried his best to cast a healing spell. He knew the golden light from the spell could attract enemies or wild animals, but the spell was so weak that the light was dim, and he figured that laying with the right arm against the cliff he could hide most, if not all of the light. 

When the sun finally began to peek over the horizon, Yornar realized he hadn't slept a single minute during the night. At least his arm felt a little better from a night of constant healing. Slowly and drowsily he got up from the blanket and pulled up his right sleeve to get a look at the wound. The wound was closed, but with slightly red skin, and when he pressed lightly against it with a finger, a small wave of pain hit him again. He would have to heal it some more later, but knowing he wouldn't bleed to death any time soon was a comforting relief. 

Yornar ate a meagre breakfast consisting of a half a slice of old bread and smoked venison.  Then after breakfast he packed his stuff (which was nothing more than his blanket and his almost empty water skin along with a small, raggedy leather backpack he had taken from a brigand) and headed northwest, away from the elves. For the time being at least, he told himself. 

For the next several days he wandered without meeting another human or elf. His food ran out and he had to resort to eating what berries, roots and mushrooms he could identify as non-poisonous. And what little meat he could get from a a couple of hares he caught with the ice rune spell. 
One late evening he sat by his campfire, eating some juniper berries and nothing else. Part of him wished some bandits would spot the campfire and come investigate. Yornar figured maybe they could have some proper food. Though he also knew it was a great risk as the plan hinged entirely on him spotting the bandits in time.

When the last light of sun was about to disappear Yornar suddenly heard a small and brief rustle of leaves behind him. It was too brief to have been the wind and Yornar immediately knew it was something sneaking up behind him. Looking over the shoulder with a spell prepared in each hand he at first saw nothing between the dark shadows of the trees. Then at first he saw the outline of a dark figure appear, that approached his little camp quickly and soon became visible as human man wielding a bow with arrow drawn and pointed straight at Yornar. This man didn't look like the bandits Yornar had previously encountered: his clothes were clean and neatly crafted compared to the dirty rags the brigands had worn; a pair of brown pants with leather boots and a green shirt with a hood. A dagger in a clean sheath was attached to the belt. Most notably was the grey colored crest on the mans chest depicting a fox standing on its hind legs. The archer's beard was brown and neatly trimmed.

The man didn't say anything when he stopped just a few feet away from Yornar. Yornar in response had only turned slightly towards the man, fearing that any sudden movements could make him release the arrow. Even if Yornar could take out one arrow without much problem, there was still the possibility that he had friends hiding just out of view. Yornar was also a little surprised and confused to who this man might be. He only knew enough that the crest on the man's chest was supposed to show that he worked for some noble.
"Who are you?" asked Yornar, figuring there would be no harm in asking at least. 

"I'm the head game keeper of this part of the woods. And you're trespassing." said the man in response. 

"I didn't know that." said Yornar with a genuine tone. 

"Uh uh. You're a poacher?" 

"Do I look like a poacher to you?" replied Yornar, sounding a little cockier than he intended. 

"I don't know." said the game keeper with suspicion. 

Yornar then suddenly spotted slight movement in the left corner of his eye. Yornar turned his gaze to get a quick look and saw another man. He was wearing the same type of clothes and looked much younger, not even having enough hair on his chin to call a beard. That boy was also holding a bow with an arrow ready and pointing at Yornar. 

"So you've got me outnumbered. What do you want?"

"To come with us." replied the gamekeeper. 

"To where?" 

"To Thane Hjoris' House. He judges the poachers of his forest." 

"I am not a poacher." Yornar couldn't help but sound rather annoyed. He thought about putting an ice spike int both of these men, but wondered if that might be a bit unjust since they were only guarding their liege's property. Besides, there would undoubtedly be food in the Thane's hall. 

"That's for Hjoris to decide. Now get up and follow. And don't try anything stupid."

"Alright." Yornar decided that whatever awaited him in Hjoris hall, it would most likely be better than wandering around in the forest with little in the ways of food and warmth. 

Then as Yornar got up he reached for his backpack the gamekeeper took a step closer. "You wont need that." Though Yornar ignored the gamekeeper and took the backpack, albeit slowly so the gamekeeper wouldn't think he would get an excuse to shoot. When Yornar had put the bag over his shoulder he simply looked to the gamekeeper. 
"Now follow." he said sternly and put back the arrow in the quiver, before going into the forest. Yornar followed the gamekeeper with the younger man walking behind him. Yornar peeked over his shoulder at the man behind him and saw the boy sternly looking back at him with suspicion and a hand at his dagger. 

"Eyes ahead and keep moving." said the boy, obviously trying but not quite succeeding to sound as stern as the gamekeeper. His voice was just between being dark enough for a man and a squeaky child. For some reason Yornar found that it made the boy's voice annoying to listen to. Regardless Yornar ignored the boy behind him for much of the journey through the dark woods. Instead most of his mind was occupied with the thoughts of a roof, a warm hearth and warm meal that wouldn't leave him hungry.

 

A taste of power

 

They exited the forest into a clearing with a low but rather large hill. On top of the hill was a large house made of wood, but with a what looked like a foundation of rock. The house had an impressive three storeys tall hall as its center and was flanked by two storeys tall long wings on the sides. At the back of the house on its left wing was a tall round tower that had open sides directly under the roof. In the tower was what looked to be an archer leaning against one of the wooden beams holding up the roof. 

The gamekeeper led Yornar towards the simple, yet relatively large double doors leading into the main hall. He opened one of the doors slightly, just enough that one could walk in without a problem. Yornar stopped only for a second to try to get a peek on what awaited him inside but was interrupted immediately by the boy behind him giving him a light shove in the back and saying in that annoying voice of his: "Move."

Yornar considered there for a second to turn around shove an ice spike into the boys gullet. But the thought of having to possibly fight and kill everyone in the house wasn't what he wanted. And even though Yornar found him annoying, he shouldn't condemn him to death for that alone. So Yornar simply stepped into the hall, mumbling a small curse phrase he both hoped the boy would and wouldn't hear. 

The hall itself was rather impressive. It was larger than anything Yornar had seen outside the coven castle and more decorative and warm than anything he had ever seen. In the middle of the hall was a large and long hearth stretching itself along the hall for more than half the hall's length. Over the hearth were two spits evenly spaced out between each other. One of the spits held what looked like the small remains of a once large chunk of meat that was now partially burnt. Around the hearth except on the end towards the doors were tables lined up a few feet from the fire. On the sides were long benches situated and on the far end there were three chairs; the two on the sides were simple and relatively small to the one in the middle that was tall and had a few decorative arts carved into the back and armrests. 

Along the sides of the hall just behind the benches were wooden pillars holding up the building, as well as the balcony situated a bit above halfway up towards the roof. On the pillars on the same height of the balcony were banners with a green background depicting a grey fox standing on its hind legs; just the same as the one the gamekeepers shirt. 

The hearth was the only light source in the room and it was also dim and dying. It left the various corners of the room in such dark that it almost felt foreboding. The only other person in the room, at least that Yornar could see, was a woman that looked to be in her mid thirties sitting in the chair on the left. She wore a colorful dress in red and green, and had the sides of her brown hair neatly braided to keep the rest of it in place. She looked almost to be sleeping the way she sat in the chair, leaning on the armrest with her head hanging down. She held onto a mug that sat on the table in front of her. 

As Yornar stepped inside he felt a small sense of relief over having a roof over his head and the warmth of a fire that wouldn't be sapped away by the next wind that passed by. He even thought about taking the small piece of meat that lingered over the dying fire. He would only need to cut off some of the burnt part but it would most likely taste better than anything he had eaten for days.

The door was shut behind Yornar. In the silence that lay over the room it almost sounded like the door had been slammed shut. But despite the sound of the door closing pervaded any other sound in the hall, it didn't seem to even remotely disturb the woman sitting in the far end. 

"Lady Inga?" the gamekeeper spoke carefully as to not try to wake the rest of the house. The woman didn't respond however. "Lady Inga?" he repeated. 

"What?" the woman suddenly exclaimed loudly, like she didn't care who heard her. Slowly she looked up at the three men by the door with a groggy look to her eyes. 

"We caught this man trespassing in your forest." 

"So? You do know what we do with poachers." Lady Inga said, sounding annoyed. 

"I'm not a poacher." Yornar said defensively before the gamekeeper could reply. 

"Who are you to speak to me like that?" she said with spite and anger. 

"I'm a wanderer. I simply-" Yornar said before he was interrupted. 

"A vagabond, ey? We don't like your kind either." she said with a condescending tone.

"I simply want a place to rest before I can move on." said Yornar, trying his best to be courteous and patient. 

"Well I don't care about you. So begone!" she said loudly. 

The gamekeeper turned around and put his hand on Yornar's shoulder to get him to do the same. Though Yornar refused and simply looked at the small piece of half burnt meat over the fire. His stomach grumbled and hurt from the hunger. "Can I at least get that piece hanging over the fire before I go?" Yornar asked with the most humble tone he could muster given the situation. 

"No." Inga just said sternly. 

"Please." Yornar insisted with a small smile. 

"No. Now begone!" She sounded quite upset and looked quite upset.

"Move it." the gamekeeper ordered Yornar with an uncaring tone and gave Yornar's shoulder a push that forced him to turn half around. Yornar hesitated but then turned around before the gamekeeper could give him a second push. The boy was opening the door and Yornar was about to walk outside when a thought hit him. Why should I beg for scraps of food? After having killed several bandits and even gone up against the elves single handedly Yornar figured he had probably done more than what most warriors ever would achieve in their lifetime. Yet he still acted in ways as the simple village boy he had once been.

As he followed that trail of thought he had stopped right before exiting through the door. The gamekeeper gave Yornar another shove but this time Yornar resisted more fervently. "Move." the gamekeeper ordered more sternly. 

"No. Now move out of my way or I'll set you on fire." Yornar said with a newfound conviction. 

"What?" the gamekeeper said, surprised and confused. 

Yornar turned around and raised his left hand, engulfed in flame. "Move out of my way or I'll set you on fire." The gamekeeper look changed quickly from confused to shock and fear as his eyes were locked on the hand covered in flame. 

"Fa?" Yornar heard the boy behind him say. His annoying voice was worried and scared as well. It also reminded Yornar that he shouldn't stand with his back to a potential attacker and he slowly began to circle around the gamekeeper towards the hearth. 

"Take your witchcraft somewhere else." the gamekeeper said, trying to sound stern but failing and instead coming off as pleading. 

"What are you doing? Who are you?" exclaimed Inga, half terrified and half surprised as she stared Yornar holding up his fiery hand. 

Yornar looked to her, but still kept the gamekeeper within his field of view in case the man would try anything. "I'm a wandering wizard and I demand some basic hospitality." he said sternly. Part of Yornar was telling him that he was doing a mistake antagonizing these people. But another part of him felt really good on how the tables had turned and he was now in power to make demands of the people that had just treated him like trash. 

"Take the piece of meat then." she said. 

Yornar however walked up besides the table on his left and sat down in the middle of the long bench. "No. Now I want full meal. After which I want a room with a soft bed to rest in." He dropped his backpack on the bench besides him. 

"But the servants are asleep." she said, still half in shock. 

"Then wake them. Or cook something yourself. You're a woman." Yornar said, not really caring if he inconvenienced the unwilling hostess. 

Lady Inga clumsily hurried up from her chair and towards a door behind Yornar, screaming for some servants to wake up. Yornar kept an eye on her as she disappeared in the doorway and also an eye on the gamekeeper and his boy in case they tried anything. Those two now simply stood there by the now closed entrance door, both looking like they wished they were somewhere else. 

It took a moment or so before Yornar heard people moving about behind him. Soon enough a young man, even younger than the gamekeeper's son, came running out and towards the hearth with a sizeable slice of meat that he skewered on the empty spit above the fire. After another small moment another boy at about the same age as the previous came walking up to Yornar from his left and placed a wooden mug in front of him and poured some yellowish liquid into it from a jug. The servant left the mug and the jug on the table before hurrying off and disappearing the same way Inga had. 

It felt really strange for Yornar to suddenly have other people he didn't know get and prepare his food. It was something he had never experienced or even imagined that he would actually experience in his lifetime. He quite liked having servants do things for him, yet a small part of him protested and said that he should be able to do these things himself. 

He lifted his mug and inspected the content for a second before taking a small sip. The taste was a little odd and sweet. It was quite tasty and he immediately took another sip. He wanted to drink more but stopped himself so he would still have something to drink for the meal. Soon the servant came back with two wooden platters that he put in front of Yornar. The bigger, empty platter he put directly in front of Yornar and the other smaller platter had a few slices of bread that he put next to the jug. Yornar quickly and hungrily grabbed a slice of the bread. It was a white, fluffy bread. While not directly freshly baked it was still fresher and fluffier than any bread Yornar had ever eaten. Taking a bite he found that the taste wasn't as coarse and even a bit sweeter.

The commotion Yornar had stirred up hadn't gone unnoticed though it seemed. Above him he heard a door open and footsteps on the balcony. "Ulmar, what's going on here?" Yornar heard a man say in a confused tone from above. 

"Thane Hjoris, we found a... wizard in the forest." said the gamekeeper. "He demanded some hospitality."

"A wizard?" Yornar heard from above again and he looked up, but Hjoris wasn't close enough to the railing of the balcony that Yornar could see him. "Where is this wizard?" the man from above said. The gamekeeper simply pointer at where Yornar sat and soon a man appeared at the balcony. He looked to be in his fifties, dark blonde, messy hair hair reaching down to and slightly below his shoulders and a thick beard that looked liked it needed a light trimming. He wore nothing except a pair of brown pants and had quite a few muscles on his arms though also a somewhat sizeable and bulging belly. 

The man looked down at Yornar with pure surprise. Yornar himself stared back with curious and inspecting eyes as he looked for any sign that the Thane might order him thrown out. But Hjoris simply stood there staring at Yornar with surprise that soon turned into disbelief. The Thane then looked to the gamekeeper and Yornar did the same to see what he would say or do. The gamekeeper simply made a slightly painful expression that seemed to say that he was not joking about Yornar being a wizard and the Thane simply looked back at Yornar with continuous disbelief. 

"What's going on?" Yornar heard a low female voice come from behind the Thane. She however didn't get any answer from anyone and Yornar soon saw her appear next to the Thane. She was a young and very pretty and beautiful woman, with a slightly unusual pale skin and long golden hair. She wore a simple beige tunic, just long enough that Yornar couldn't see her private parts. Her figure was rather slender and there was something about her appearance that Yornar felt was a little bit off. Regardless, Yornar could see why this Lady Inga had been sitting in the main hall and being very bitter. Simply looking at her he felt something stir a little in him that he hadn't felt in a very long while. "Who's that?" she asked as she looked curiously at Yornar. 

"That's a... wizard." Thane Hjoris said after a second. 

"A wizard?" She looked to Hjoris and then back at Yornar. "Are you a wizard?" 

"Yes." Yornar simple said. He found rather weird how everyone was so surprised that he knew magic. Though Yornar had after all spent half his life isolated and surrounded by other people that knew and studied magic. Thinking on that made him feel rather ignorant of the the world at large as the only things he knew about it was the things he remembered from his time before the coven, and the few small things he had picked up as rumors within the coven. 

"Can you show me some magic?" she said with a with an almost childish sense of curiosity and wonder. 

"Now don't bother the wizard. I'm sure he's tired and wants his rest." said Hjoris to her in an almost parental tone. "Isn't that right Mr Wizard?" 

"Yes I could use a rest after my meal. You got any room to spare?" Yornar replied. 

"I got a guestroom that is empty at the moment. You can sleep there for the night."

"Thank you." Yornar said with a small, but genuine gratitude. 

"What's going on?" Yornar heard a younger male voice say, coming from the balcony on the other side of the hall. Yornar turned his gaze and there stood a young man in about the same as the gamekeeper's son's age. He looked a bit like Hjoris but without the beard and with brown hair instead of his father's dark blonde. Soon a girl joined the son on the balcony that looked like she was slightly younger the the boy next to her. Then came another little boy, and then a girl and so on till half a dozen young kids stood looking over the railing, and in a couple of cases through it, at Thane Hjoris and at Yornar. 

It seemed like the commotion Yornar had caused had woken the entire family as everyone on the balcony called Thane Hjoris their 'Fa' and they all began asking questions on what was going on and who Yornar was. Yornar listened the best he could but they soon began to talk over each other, which then caused bickering because someone wasn't heard. When Yornar was finally served his steak along with some simple roots and vegetables and a knob of butter he simply stopped listening and turned his attention to his food. The food itself was probably standard for these people but for Yornar it was the best meal he had ever eaten in his life. The steak was bigger and juicier than anything he had gotten, the vegetables bigger and more numerous, the butter melting over the the hot steak was delicious and the drink was sweet and a perfect thing to wash the food down with. 

Yornar was halfway through his meal when noticed movement in the left corner of his field of view. He turned his head to see the pretty woman that had been at the Thane's side sitting a couple of feet away from him on the bench, staring at him with a childlike wonder and expectation. Yornar felt a little annoyed by how she intruded on his meal but after a moment of short reflection he figured a little magic would probably make her happy enough to stop bothering him. With his left hand he summoned the magicka and formed a snowball in the middle of the air. He tossed the snowball in her direction where it exploded into a harmless cloud of snowflakes right on front of her face. Her initial reaction to it all was pure shock, followed by awe and amazement at the snowflakes falling unnaturally slowly in front of her. 

As Yornar was almost done with his meal he heard Lady Inga's voice coming from behind him: "Shoo. Don't bother the wizard." Yornar turned give Inga glance, seeing her come out through the door and seeing the young woman scurry off. "Filthy half breed." Yornar heard Lady Inga mutter rather loudly once the young woman was gone. 

"What?" Yornar said, rather curious on what Inga meant. 

Inga turned towards Yornar. She didn't look pleased at all but still maintained a somewhat courteous tone. "She's a half breed. Her mother was a human and her father an elf."

This knowledge made Yornar think on the girl a bit more for a moment. Then it dawned to him what he had thought was odd about the girl was that she had some elven features in her appearance. Subtle ones that would be impossible to place if one had never seen an elf up close before. This newfound knowledge suddenly made Yornar a little uncomfortable about the girl as he wondered about how she had come to be. 

"When you're done I'll show you to your room." Inga said in a weary voice. Yornar quickly finished the last scraps of his meal, not leaving anything behind, before following Lady Inga to the other side of the hall where they passed through a door and into a small corridor. There were two doors on each side of the corridor and Inga led him to the far right one. The room itself was rather unremarkable as there was a simple, yet large, wooden bed with cloth and animal furs, along with a small chest by the left wall. 

Yornar stepped inside and the door was then shut behind him rather abruptly. He found Lady Inga's demeanor rude but ultimately didn't really care one bit for it. For the first in a very long time Yornar would sleep in a warm and comfortable bed. 

 

Elven slavers

Orian sat on a stool up in the watchtower. It had been a week since the attack. Orian's leg had been healed to a usable condition on the first day, but since they lacked a proper healer in the village it still hurt a little whenever he put the leg under any form of strain. Thus he preferred to sit whenever possible. Same with his arm; the elbow had been healed enough that he could fire his bow, but it hurt to just pull the string.
Their numbers had also been severely reduced. Now it was only Orian and the ranger that had rescued him that was left to protect the village. Everyone else had perished in the forest to that cursed figure. They wasn't enough and would the barbarians attack in any substantial force the town would be overrun. 
Orian and the other ranger (a decent fellow that Orian that everyone called Wyl) took shifts in taking the watch in the watchtower. Orian took the day's watch and Wyl took the night's watch. The city was up in arms over the attack, everyone worried if another would come. People wondered what they would eat when the winter struck now that most of their wheat fields had been torched. A messenger on horse had been sent south to Lord and Lady Celemyon (the benefactors and formal owners of the village colony) with a request for help in the form of more rangers and food for the winter. All they could do now was wait. 
Orian hated the waiting, doing nothing but sitting in the watchtower and looking out the same landscape. If any trouble arose in the village he would not be able to deal with it without leaving his watch. And any time he spent away from the watchtower was only for getting some food or some sleep. 

Orian looked out over the field of now blackened earth where the lush wheat had once been swaying in the wind. The blue sky was clear and the sun stood high. The wind was soft and cooling. Under most other circumstances it would have been a beautiful day to simply relax on. But there was not a moment Orian could feel relaxed. He had to be ever vigilant in his watch. The people depended on him and the sense of safety the watchful eye from the watchtower provided was one of the few things that kept the village unrest in check. 

It looked like it was going to be another uneventful day and for that Orian thanked Auriel. But somewhere in the afternoon Orian glanced something coming in from the south. It looked like a small caravan with about two dozen people. They had three wagons with them, two of which were large, empty iron cages. Orian quickly recognized them as slave catchers. People that searched the outskirts of elven lands for creatures to put a collar around the neck and be then be sold to the slave markets. Ogres and goblins were often the targets but humans were more priced for being somewhat less dimwitted and ugly than most other types of slaves.
Orian knew that the only reason that they had come north for was to catch those humans that lived out in the wild woods. There were no other creature worth enslaving that he knew of up here in the north. Though the slave catchers arrival could hopefully give the village a small reprieve from its current troubles. Maybe the village could sell a few of their slaves for supplies they would need for the winter. Orian had no idea if the slave catchers would be willing to trade but it was a small hope nonetheless. He saw the caravan enter the village and he then returned his gaze towards the forest, continuing to watch for anything suspicious.
Nothing else happened during the day, at least that Orian could see or hear. When the sun began to set in the horizon he only waited for Wyl to arrive and take the night's watch. It took till the sun had disappeared completely beyond the horizon and a clear night sky filled with bright stars had appeared before Wyl finally arrived at the watchtower. Orian had grown impatient and weary of his watch by that time but refrained from scolding Wyl for being late. Wyl quietly took Orian's place in the watchtower and Orian quietly left it and began his usual walk towards the inn. 
Outside the inn Orian saw the three wagons of the slave catchers neatly parked besides each other. There was a guard sitting by the third, normal wagon with a large blanket covering what looked like boxes and barrels of supplies. The guard wore a simple ebony armor that only covered his chest, legs and shoulders. The rest of the armor was of leather. It had the hallmarks of elven craftsmanship but was nothing fancy and in places quite plain. Orian only gave the guard a glance before heading into the inn. 
Inside the inn it was the usual number of people, except for the slave catcher filling up a large number of seats around a few of the larger tables in the corner directly to the left of where Orian had just walked in. Orian gave them a glance and saw all of them wearing the same type of armor as their guard outside by the wagons wore, with various minor differences in the details. Only one stuck out by having a complete set of metal armor instead of having parts of it being purely leather. He was a weathered looking man with short silver hair and a scar running besides his left eye. Orian figured he was their leader. 
Orian turned away his gaze to look for an empty seat when he heard one of slave catchers call: "Ranger! I wish to talk with you." 

Orian turned to look back at the slave catchers and saw their leader waving his hand in a friendly gesture. Orian drew a sigh, weary from a day up in the watchtower and wishing only for a warm meal and a soft bed. He wasn't in the mood to tell the slave catchers about, what he assumed, his knowledge of the local area, but he couldn't exactly refuse people bearing supplies the village could use. With heavy steps he walked up to the armored company. A chair was pulled forth so Orian could take a seat directly opposite of their leader. 
"What do you want to talk about?" Orian tried to sound courteous but he couldn't hide the weariness in his voice. 

"I'm Velarion." said the leader. "You can call me Vel. We wish to hear from someone familiar with the area of where we can find the best human settlements and how to navigate the forest." Velarion paused for a second, looking a little concerned. "I'm also curious on why your people are so gloomy. Don't they like us slave catchers bringing in some business?"

Orian knew the atmosphere in the inn was gloomier than it had been before. It had been so since the attack. Even if it wasn't the new normal yet, Orian didn't register it as anything unusual anymore. "You didn't notice the burnt fields outside of town?" Orian said. 

"Not really." Vel said. "Did a slave drop a torch in them or something?"

"No we were attacked. Someone threw fireballs into the wheat fields."

"Who would throw fireballs into your wheat fields?" Velarion sounded confused and a little concerned. 

"I don't know. I suspect it's some renegade mage. Probably someone who has some grudge with Lord and Lady Celemyon and wishes to see their colony fail. I and my rangers gave chase to the culprit. The mage managed to kill most of my other rangers and I managed to wound the figure, but I was also nearly killed in the process. Now we're only two left to keep the peace." 

"I'm sorry." Velarion said with a courteous sincerity. "I can see how that puts the village on edge." 

"Anyway, I believe the mage is gone. We haven't had an incident in a week now. Though I would advise caution out there in the forest."

"Don't worry we will." Velarion sounded very confident about himself. "Now what do you know about the area?"

"Well I can say that it's very lacking in roads. So you will have some trouble moving your wagons around. Some way further into the forest you will find some old dirt roads the humans used to use. There's a path north-northwest of the village slave catchers before you used to get to those roads. But that was years ago and the path has been somewhat overgrown since. But you should have little trouble finding and traversing it. Once you've reached these dirt roads I suggest you move west or northwest. While I'm not sure what lies beyond, the roads heading in those directions are slightly larger, which should mean more humans further down those roads."

"Thank you for the information."

"You're welcome. Now if you excuse me, I'm rather hungry."

"Oh don't worry." Velarion said. "Hey slave girl! Get over here!" he shouted sternly at the human girl serving the guests. It took a little moment but she was quick to finish up with serving a couple of customers and hurrying over to the table Orian and Velarion sat by. She looked rather nervous and a little scared by the slave catchers. Velarion didn't say anything and simply motioned to Orian.

Orian felt a little annoyed by how loud Velarion had shouted but disregarded any discomfort the slave girl had. "I'll have the usual." he just said casually to the slave girl. She nodded and scurried off rather quickly. 
Another moment passed before with nothing happening or anyone really saying anything. "Any news from the south?" Orian asked, curious to hear what was going on in the more civilized south. It was quite rare that the village got visitors. 

"Nothing really. Some disease has crippled the goblin slave population around Center Isle. Lady Imylwen of Greenhold seeks young human slaves for her rituals and Lord Emerian seeks some strong slaves for the construction of his 'little' mansion near Rivela."

Orian was somewhat annoyed that the only news Velarion shared was regarding the slave trade, even if it was Velarion's job to keep track of such news. "Heard anything from Wenval?" Orian asked, curious about his home city. 

"Wondering how Lord and Lady Celemyon will be able to aid this village? I think they're doing well. They haven't really put out any request for more slaves."

Orian just remained quiet after that. Any more questions about his homeland would surely just be met by more news on who needed more slaves. After a long and rather quiet moment Orian's meal arrived. Orian ate it all rather quickly and hungrily. Then he bid his dinner company farewell and headed out of the inn and towards his home.

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The cold of winter

 

It was an unusually harsh winter. The snow was one feet high and a terrible blizzard was howling out in the night sky. Orian was glad he was sitting in the warm and sheltered space of the inn. The inn was full of people and the hearth had a well fed fire going that kept everyone warm. While the atmosphere in the room wasn't merry, it was at the very least relaxed and positive. Their Lord and Lady had come through for them and four rangers had first been sent to them, bringing a much needed relief to their worry about safety. These rangers also came with word that food would come later after the harvest. And so it did. Three weeks after the harvest a few sacks of wheat and potatoes had arrived by a wagon protected by Wenval guards. The slave catchers hadn't returned at all since they had set out from the village. Orian feared that they had fallen into a barbarian ambush, or even crossed paths with that renegade mage. Or they had simply gotten lost in that great forest, in which case they would also be dead with the arrival of the winter snow. 

Orian didn't mourn their deaths though he thought it a loss for the village. The slave catchers could have brought in some much needed commerce in the form of more slave catchers had their trip been successful. It also made Orian wonder if and when their Lord and Lady would decide to expand their village and maybe start up a new colony up here in the north. He hadn't signed up to be stuck in a village that would forever remain an unsuccessful backwater. But whatever further aid and tools of expansion the Celemyons might have planned would have to wait till spring. The snow made sure that reaching or leaving the village would be very difficult. They were, for both good and ill, isolated from the world. Despite the air of loneliness it left over the village it made Orian feel more comfortable and relaxed about his duties; any attack by barbarians (or renegade mages) would be slim to nonexistent thanks to the weather.  

Orian finished up his meal and thought for a moment to order a second one, not because he was hungry but because he didn't want to leave the pleasant, warm inn for the walk through the snow and the blizzard back to his home. Orian looked out through the window with a distaste in his eyes and wished the blizzard would simply go away. He even thought about staying at the inn for the night, but while their rooms were adequate for a weary traveller, they were small and lacked any hearths of their own. 

I am a Captain of the Ranger Guard, a blizzard shouldn't stop me. he thought. With that he picked up his bow and his grey, woolen winter cloak and headed towards the door. As soon as he opened it he was hit by a harsh wind and a torrent of snow. He immediately thought about doubling down on his decision but he wasn't in the mood to get yelled at for opening the door for no reason and stepped out in the cold and dark winter weather. 

The storm was harsh, and in the darkness and maelstrom of snow it was difficult making out anything beyond a few feet ahead. Luckily for Orian there were several houses that had their hearths going strong and their bright lights shone out through the windows, serving as guiding beacons through the storm. Slowly he trudged his way through the snow and walked down the street towards his home. 

Once he reached his home he opened his door (which went inwards) only for lots of snow to pour into his hallway. Frustrated Orian stepped into his house and did his best to kick the snow out of the way, preferably out of the house, so he could close his door and stop the blizzard from invading.
His home was a simple two storey house with nearly all the comforts an elf of his stature could expect: a kitchen, a sizeable (yet currently empty) pantry, a small guestroom, a large bedroom with a comfortable, double sized bed, a small study and a small storage that would double a slave quarter. Orian had yet to afford a slave to serve him but he figured it was just a matter of time until the village had grown into a proper town and he would be able to get one. 

Tired and longing for his soft bed Orian went up to his bedroom. He put a couple of logs in the hearth that he had in the room and lit it with a simple fire spell. Once the fire had engulfed all of the wood Orian crept down into his bed. Feeling the warmth of the fire reassured him that braving the blizzard had been the right decision. Then he slowly fell asleep, with the sparkling sound of the hearth and the howling winds outside his window fading away. 

****

Orian awoke to the sound of the blizzard still going on outside. Yet it wasn't as strong as it had been the night before. The sun was up, hidden behind the snow and clouds. Yet its light pierced through it all and through the window into Orian's bedroom, waking him up. Drowsily Orian opened his eyes and got up from his bed. He got dressed and equipped before heading out into the now waning storm. With as firm steps as he could muster he headed towards the inn for his breakfast. The town was quiet and no one else walked the streets. Not that strange given that no one would go out into the blizzard should they not have to.

As Orian arrived at the inn he found the windows were rather dark. Something that was odd since he knew the innkeeper hated not having a strong fire going to keep the cold at bay. Orian put his hand on the door and found it unwilling to budge. The cold had frozen some of the hinges and Orian was highly annoyed by it. With more and more force Orian pushed against the door. First he heard a low creak and it budged an inch. Second try gave the same result. The third push the door flung open and Orian stumbled into the inn. What awaited him inside made him wish he was still asleep and that this was just a nightmare. 

Everyone in the inn were dead. Men and women were impaled on ice spikes to the walls and the floors. One table had been broken and had an ice formation on top of it that had multiple spikes protruding in every direction, holding up four impaled elves. A woman was pinned to the wall with an ice spike through the chest. A man had had his arm frozen and shattered in two. It reminded Orian of the deaths he had seen deep within the forest those few months ago. Fear gripped his heart over what had caused it and regret that he hadn't decided to stay at the inn. 

Orian got his bow from his back as quickly as he could and notched an arrow to its string. With careful and silent steps in he walked into the room, ready for just about anything to jump forth and attack him. Suddenly he heard a low noise from behind the counter and Orian instinctively turned his head, pulled the arrow and took aim. Though nothing came forth and no more sound came. Slowly Orian stepped closer towards the counter, giving a quick glance to his left and right in case it was a distraction and he was walking into an ambush. But the room was as still as the grave and the only sound to be heard came from the wind blowing through the doorway behind Orian.

Orian circled around the counter and as soon as he came around he saw the inn's slave girl lying curled up on the floor. She had no visible injury and Orian saw that she was shaking slightly from the cold. It took a while before she even noticed that Orian was standing there, staring at her with a confused look. She looked shocked and terrified.

"What happened here?" Orian asked in a hushed and slightly stern voice as he turned his gaze to look around the inn a second time to see if he could find any trace of the attacker. 

At first he didn't get an answer, she simply lied there on the cold floor. "He... He..." she then mumbled. 

Annoyed and irritated Orian took a few steps closer towards the slave girl. He thought about kicking her but he didn't want to make her scream, lest she could give away his location to the attacker. Instead he knelt besides her, grabbed her shoulder with a hard grip and forced her to turn towards him. "What happened here?" he repeated in a much sterner tone. 

The slave girl looked at him with scared, wide opened eyes and didn't say anything again for another moment. "He..." she then began. "He came into the inn. He wore black clothes. I went to greet him, but then I saw he was a barbarian. He looked at me. Then he threw me out of the way. Then he began to throw ice magic around. I hid, hoping for him to go away. People screamed. It got cold. Then it became silent." The girl sounded and looked like she was about to cry. 

A chill went down Orian's spine. The thought that the savage humans could hold such powerful magic was an ill omen. He figured that the mage was human also the only reason the slave girl was alive. Everyone that lied slain in the inn were elves. Panic hit Orian as he realized that if the human mage wasn't in the inn, then he was surely somewhere else in the village.

Orian pulled the slave girl to her feet, ignoring her whimpering. "You need to go ring the town bell. You understand?" he said. The girl gave a quick and tiny nod. "Now go!" he ordered and gave her a light push towards the door. The slave girl hurried out into the storm, wearing only her simple dress and only a couple thin leather shoes. Orian slowly followed her out of the inn and saw her stumbling through the snow towards the town hall. Orian again notched his arrow to the bow and kept an eye out for any shadow of the mage. 

With quick steps he hurried towards the watchtower. He had a few stern words to whoever had let this happen on their watch. Halfway towards the watchtower he heard the bell begin to toll, its clear sound echoing through the howling winds. When he reached the watchtower he looked up to see who was on guard, but he saw no one. Worry and fear flowed through his mind as he wondered why that was so. Orian ran up the spiral stairs of the watchtower and saw that it was empty. He ran down the stairs to the streets, where he waited and looked around for his rangers to arrive. But no one came. Time passed the bell kept ringing. Soon Orian saw a figure appear in the distance down the street. He drew his arrow and took aim just in case it was this human mage. But when the figure got closer he saw that it held a bow and then that it was one of his rangers approaching. It was Wyl running up towards him, doing his best to traverse the snow. 

"Sir, sir! What's going on? Everyone's dead!" he shouted. 

"What do you mean everyone's dead?" Orian replied once Wyl had gotten close enough that Orian didn't need to shout to be heard. 

"Everyone at the inn is dead. A couple houses have their doors left opened. No one replied when I called inside."

The fear in Orian grew at the thought that this savage had entered people's homes. "There's a barbarian mage running around killing elves." Orian said. 

"What? A human that can use magic?" Wyl said in disbelief. 

"Where are the others?"

"I don't know. They should be here by now. What are we going to do?" Wyl sounded more and more scared. 

"Let me think of something." Orian needed a second to figure a plan of action now that he was slowly accepting that it was the two of them left, yet again. 

"I think we should leave." Wyl said after a few seconds. 

"What? Are you crazy? Abandoning our duty?" Orian said with anger, irritated at Wyl's sudden cowardice. Yet Orian couldn't help but have a slight desire to agree with him. 

"Everyone's dead. What are we here to protect if there's no one to protect? We should get back to Lord and Lady Celemyon with word about what happened here." 

Doubt filled Orian, doubt and shame about possibly abandoning his post. But he knew Wyl had a point, dying in a doomed village wouldn't help anyone. After moment of hard contemplation he reluctantly came around to Wyl's point of view. "We need to get back to the inn, then raid the pantry for supplies and take the horses." 

Wyl only gave a affirmative nod and Orian led the way back to the inn. Once they entered the inn the town bell grew silent. Orian figured the pitiful slave had simply grown tired in the arms. Or the human mage had come to investigate the bell. In which case he would be very close by, and they need to hurry up.

Orian did his best to not look at the bodies on display in the inn as they went towards the doorway behind the counter. There they entered the kitchen and went straight for the pantry at the back of the house. There Orian and Wyl took a sack each and began to fill it whatever they could need: vegetables, dead rabbits, bread and potatoes. Orian also grabbed a cooking pot from the kitchen before the two headed out towards the stables behind the inn. There half a dozen horses awaited them in their sheltered pens. As quickly as they could they saddled two of the strongest horses and attached their sacks of supplies to them. Then they mounted the horses and rode them out onto the cold, windy streets. They trotted past the town hall, which was a quiet building now and then towards the south road. When they exited the village they spurred their horses in a gallop. Orian only gave the city one last glance, seeing it fade into the snow storm behind him.

 

Wintering

 

Yornar had been surprised to find the slave girl, still only wearing that thin dress and shoes, standing there and ringing the bell. She looked terrified when she saw him and froze in place with the rope in hand. The bell stopped ringing. She was standing in a small round room with an empty doorway. That room was placed against the far side wall of what looked like an entrance hall. 

"Why were you doing that?" Yornar asked the young woman, sounding rather annoyed. The woman however just mumbled some words that Yornar couldn't quite hear and when he got closer he heard that she was mumbling elven words. Words that he had no understanding of. "Do you know Nordic?" he asked. The girl said something more in elvish and Yornar simply took that as a no to his question. 

Yornar didn't quite know what to make of this girl. She was shorter than any adult human he had ever seen, yet she was clearly an adult. It made Yornar wonder if she was originally from the south and if humans from there were generally shorter. Or if she had simply been malnourished during her upbringing. Though what he found most notable and siturbing about her was the burn mark scar that covered her face, forming a twisted form of facial decoration. Yornar had stumbled across a few other slaves in the village; a few wore the same type of mark, others did not. Most of those slaves had reacted like she did: by becoming terrified and cowering. One had run out into the storm. Another had even tried to attack Yornar in some misguided attempt at self defense, and then paid the price for such a grave mistake. It was all very confusing to Yornar as he had come expecting the slaves to, if not rejoice, at least be relieved to see their captors die. 

Yornar pushed those thoughts out of his mind and returned his focus to the girl holding the bell rope. He gave her a simple gesture to come towards him, only to get her to leave the rope and so she could not start ringing the bell again. There were still a couple of houses Yornar had yet to search and while they had now been warned, no more ringing could hopefully instill a sense of confusion.

The girl was hesitant but she complied and slowly walked towards him. When she was standing directly in front of him he realized he didn't know if he should simply leave her there or not. The girl was visibly shivering from the cold, so Yornar thought for a second to bring her back to the inn and but her in front the hearth there, but decided against since she had probably left that place because of the mess he had left there. Instead he wondered if there was another hearth to be found in this building, which he figured to be of some importance due to its size despite no one apparently living in it. 
Yornar grabbed the girl by the wrist and dragged her towards a set of stairs on the left side of the hall. She didn't really resist but she was somewhat slow with her feet. After the first set of stairs Yornar arrived in a corridor with doors on the right and left. First door on the left seemed only to lead to some form of balcony with lots of benches and a large room. Behind the first door on the right had only what looked like a small study with a couple of bookshelves and desk with a chair against the window. Second room on the right was some kind of office with a larger desk and a cushioned armchair behind it. Most importantly though it had a hearth on the left wall and some logs stacked besides it. Yornar took a few logs, put it into the barren hearth and lit it with a simple wave of his hand. Then he pulled forth the armchair, put in front of the hearth and brought the girl to it to sit down. She still looked half terrified but now also looked quite confused at him. Regardless she seemed to be a bit relieved by the warmth of the fire in front of her. 

The girl kept staring at him as he walked out of the room and closed the door behind him. He walked down to the entrance hall and left the building. As he did he heard something moving very fast someway down the street. He could not see what it was and the sound disappeared before he could even think about giving chase. Whatever or whoever it had been Yornar figured they had left the village and that the cold was likely to get them before they could make it anywhere. 

Yornar then walked down the streets towards the last houses he had yet to visit. The first one was empty of people. It was also rather barren as there were almost no food anywhere. it had a nice bedroom with a large, soft bed though that Yornar thought about taking a nap in. Yet he refrained from it and simply went on to investigate the last two houses. The first one had vicious elf man that tried to attack Yornar with a kitchen knife. He died the same as the others had. 

The second house was empty, with traces that the residents had taken what they could and left in a hurry. Yornar found traces in the snow of at least two people fleeing out of the village and into the woods. Why they had decided to flee there or where they had intended to go was a mystery to Yornar. 

With the town practically devoid of people, except the few slaves Yornar had stumbled upon and left alive, Yornar headed back towards the inn. He needed to clear out the bodies and make it suitable to live in again. He would have to winter in this village. He had known that when he set out.
Months of training and studying he had prepared himself to attack what he had expected to be a heavily fortified village that would be on constant guard. Only to find that he could almost literally walk into the heart of the village under the cover of a snow storm with no real opposition. It was strange feeling to walk into a room filled with elves and then be able to slaughter them like sheep. There was no great battle he had imagined there to be, just elves scrambling to either cast some pitiful spell or stab him with some cutlery. Though those were few in comparison to those that had tried to flee and hide. It had been hard to feel heroic when killing folk that put up no real resistance. The only thing that spurred him on to continue was the slaves he saw them keep and the memory of the slavers he knew must have come through here. It was a necessary evil he told himself. The elves would fuel his growing power he would need to take on the hagravens and the village would no longer be able to send out slavers against human settlements again. 

He continued to ponder the morality of his actions as he pulled the bodies out of the inn and dumped them just outside the door. He had conjured up a couple of wolfen familiars that then would take over and drag the bodies out of the village by the legs. Even with the hardest part delegated to spirits it was still a chore to clear the inn of bodies. Luckily for Yornar the cold ice of his spells had made sure no blood or guts had stained the floor or walls, which itself was a bonus as he intended to live there. 

After the bodies were gone he went onto removing any broken furniture and dumping it outside the door for the familiars to dispose of. Then moved what furniture was still whole and put them closer to the hearth. Once done with his simple redecorating he went on to inspect the kitchen and pantry more properly this time. It seemed like someone had been through there in a hurry recently, but at least there was still quite a bit of food left that would surely last him the entire winter. With that he went back to the main room of the inn, put a few logs on into the hearth and started the fire. After which he conjured up a third familiar to guard the house while he left. 

The snow storm had subsided now and only the cloudy sky and occasional harsh wind remained. He walked through the streets and out of the village towards the forest. He had left his backpack hidden under some snow behind a tree. It took a some time to find the little mound as the snow storm had more or less wiped out any traces he had left. After having dug up and retrieved his belongings he headed back to the inn. 

When he got back he felt his stomach beginning to growl for food. He thought about looking through the pantry for some easy snack when remembered the girl he had initially met here. Given that she had worked in the inn Yornar figured she would probably be able to cook some food for him. Also figuring he couldn't directly leave her where she was without any food. And maybe he could later gather up all the former slaves in the inn. 
After having put dropped off his backpack behind the counter he went back to the big building he had left the girl in. Yornar found her where he had left her, sitting in front of the fire in the cushioned armchair with her legs held tightly against her body. She simply stared blankly into the fire and kept doing so even after Yornar had entered the room. 

"Hello?" Yornar said to catch her attention. She quickly turned her head towards him and stared at him. Yornar couldn't quite make out if it was fear, confusion, complacency or a mixture of either he saw in her eyes. He had some sympathy for her being in shock over having her life turned upside down, but also irritated he couldn't explain that she would now be better off than before. He gave her the same gesture to follow him as he had done before and she hesitantly left the chair to follow. When they reached the entrance door Yornar realized that she was in no way fit to walk through all the snow in her current clothes. He turned around and while she appeared shocked to have him step so close to her, she didn't resist as he picked her up over his shoulder. She was very light, even more so than Yornar had expected her to be. It made it easier to walk through the snow back to the inn with her not weighting him down that much. 

After they had gotten back at the inn he dropped her off and led her into the kitchen. It took a while with gestures and charades until she finally realized that he wanted her to cook some food. She was reluctant at first but soon enough she had gotten a fire going with Yornar's help and a stew cooking. Yornar left her to her work and headed back into the main room. Today he would settle in at the inn, then tomorrow he would try to contact the other humans he had left in the houses. After that he would simply take each day as it came and survive yet another Skyrim winter.

 

Three hagravens

 

The night sky was clear and Masser was in full shine as he approached the castle he had spent so much of his life in. The forest was silent except the hooves of his horse trampling on the dead leaves laying on the ground. The bushes and leaf trees showed their first signs of green life. The snow was all gone and the soft smell of spring hanged in the air. And with the roads being passable once more he had decided to make the fateful journey north.

The winter had been harsh, but largely uneventful. A few of the slaves had spoken the Nordic tongue and helped him communicate with the rest. They all had been so confused of their newfound freedom that most just kept living in the homes they had lived in with their masters. Yornar also mostly kept to himself, practicing spells and not doing much of anything else. Winters in Skyrim were uneventful by the very nature of one being more or less confined to one's home by the snow during that time. Going outside was generally pointless unless to get firewood or to hunt. 

Once the snow had thawed away enough Yornar had saddled one of the horses behind the inn, told one of the former slaves that understood him that they were free to do whatever they wished with the village, and set then simply left. Only a couple of the former slaves had come to said goodbye and it made Yornar feel distraught. He felt feeling unwelcome and undesired despite, or even because of what he had done. It mattered less and less though as he travelled north. After months of practice, training and enhancement of his powers he had gained a confidence that he was ready. He had his doubts of course, but he didn't want to continue scouring the countryside like a roaming lone wolf looking for easy prey. 

Yornar looked up at Masser, he had to squint a little from the bright light the big moon shone down upon Nirn. He knew what the hagravens would be doing during such a night. It had all began as simple lectures with a few light ceremonial aspects. The three middle aged women sitting on the altar and giving instructions on various concepts of magic. Then the ceremonial parts became more and more prominent till the it was no longer a lecture to students of magic and instead a wicked ritual of power with cultists. The three women had soon thereafter turned themselves into hagravens. It made Yornar sick and angry when thinking of how it had turned out, and sad as he wondered where it had all gone wrong. Not that it would continue to bother him for much longer, no matter what happened. 

The castle appeared above the treetops and soon all of it came into view as he rode into the currently barren fields outside the castle where they grew herbs and food. It wasn't much to live on but it was something. The castle itself was dark and looked almost abandoned from the outside. Some walls had had parts of them fall off from disrepair and yet the entire structure still stood firm and tall as if by sheer force of will it had decided to stand through the ages. 

A feeling of familiarity and foreignness washed over him as he stepped through the makeshift wooden door leading into the entrance hall. It all looked very familiar but still different enough that he couldn't help but feel like he hadn't been there for a lifetime. He had never left the castle for more than a couple of days before and now he had spent almost a year away. The hall was dark. Yornar conjured up a small ball of light and steered his steps down familiar corridors, deeper into the castle. 

Doubt began to seep into his mind with each step. Doubt over whether or not he was powerful enough. Thoughts that he had just come back to die, to be reunited with Minna and to pay for the deaths he had caused and the souls he had cursed. The thought of Minna made realize that she was more the reason he had come back. He had been so focused on getting his vengeance on the hagravens he had nothing to remember her by when he left. Coming back the place gave him a small feeling of coming back to her. 

He arrived at the double doors at the end of a large corridor. He could hear and feel the magic going on in that room. With one final sigh he gathered the last of his determination, put his hands on each door and pushed them open. Inside awaited him what he had expected: every member of the coven was spread out in an even pattern across the room, all with their black robes and hoods up, kneeling and facing towards the altar at the far end where the hagravens were. They were conducting some sort of conjuration and a light blue orb of magic swirled like water above the altar.

Everyone in the room turned their heads to see Yornar standing in the doorway. The hagravens turned to look as well, but they did not stop their conjuration. Yornar took a few steps into the room. No one moved an inch from their positions, yet all kept looking at him with various degrees of confusion and surprise. With ever increasing firmer stride he walked up towards the hagravens that looked at him with their foul eyes and disgustingly ugly faces. 

"It was you that stole-" the hagraven to the left began to say but was interrupted by an ice spike piercing her chest before she could even react. Yornar hated having to listen to their raspy and wicked voices, and he was not about to listen to them now. This moment of his life was going to be as short as he could make it. 

She tried to grasp the icy spear that had gone through her with her left hand and the light of a healing spell was seen in her right hand. She was however cut short by the Yornar giving the ice spell one final command and she was turned into a an ice statue with ice spikes protruding from inside of her at every part of her. Her souled passed to Yornar as he devoured it.

The other two hagravens were in shock and surprise at what had just happened to their sister. The hagraven to the right quickly set upon Yornar, swinging her talons wildly at him. Yornar back stepped just in time to avoid a swipe at his head but one talon cut across his cheek under his right eye. The pain was greater than any other physical pain he had ever experienced. Furious he quickly retaliated with an ice spike through her gullet. The hagraven staggered backward for a second but otherwise didn't seem that affected by the massive chunk of ice she was impaled on. Yornar was about to repeat the process of the first hagraven when the orb of magic hit him and sent him tumbling backwards till he landed on his back. The orb of magic then disappeared, absorbed by the hagraven behind the altar. The other hagraven pulled out the ice spike from her stomach and healed it up as well and as fast she could before going for Yornar with fire in one hand and covering her wound with a healing spell with the other. 

"Filthy little-" she began to say as she sprayed fire over Yornar. Yornar had however gotten up a ward to shield himself from the fire. The fire spell was to him surprisingly weak compared to what he had come to expect. But he was still pinned down to the floor and with the other hagraven preparing some nasty spell Yornar had to think fast. His first thought was just to summon something from under the hagraven. And given how he felt he had no time to come up with a second he thought he cast a spell without reconsidering if it would turn out well for him. 

A dark pit opened up under the feet of the hagraven and skeletal arms arose out of it grab the her by the legs. Surprised she stopped showering Yornar in fire and tried to break lose from the arms now trying to pull her down to the floor. She began to swipe her talons at the arms, severing them and making them dissipate into a dark mist. The hagraven behind the altar sent another blinding spell at Yornar which his ward barely managed to contain. Before she was able cast a second one though Yornar rolled to the side, putting the hagraven occupied with cutting away the last skeletal arms between him and the one at the altar. Once there were only a couple of arms left the hagraven was able to ignore them to return her focus to her foe. Yornar was quick and had gotten up on his feet and charged the hagraven, grasping her throat before she could make an attempt swiping her talons at him. 
Yornar screamed at her with all the fury and might he could muster, which even managed to cause what he thought was a glimpse of fear in her eyes. That glimpse didn't last long though. Neither was her head attached to her shoulders for long as Yornar continued to scream, using his power to increase his strength and pulling force that he was able to rip her head clean from her body. The second hagraven's soul was torn from her body the same instant to be absorbed by Yornar.

The last hagraven was so shocked by the sight that she forgot the spell she was about to cast. "My sisters..." she said with such a sincere sorrow Yornar had never expected to hear from one so foul. It didn't deter him one bit though as he let the head and the body fall to the ground. 

The hagraven's both hands lit up with flame and with an angry and sorrowful screech she cast a torrent of fire at Yornar. He responded with a blizzard of an even greater magnitude that engulfed and contained her flames. Yet he wasn't powerful enough to overcome her magic and kill her. As he noticed that his ice spell was causing frost patches on the wall behind the hagraven he changed his spell to disperse around the the hagraven and instead hit the wall. The hagraven didn't even notice what he was doing and instead focused on pushing her flames closer and closer towards him now that he had left his center defense weakened. The flames never reached him however as her spell casting came to the same abrupt end as her life. Her body was pierced by numerous ice spikes coming out from the wall behind her. Her soul left her body only to be caught by Yornar's thirst for vengeance. And with her died the last of the matrons. 

Tired, weary and drained of nearly all his magicka, Yornar took a couple of steps towards the altar and fell more than sat down on it. The sweat was pouring over his forehead and he wondered for a second if maybe some of those drops running down his face were tears. But he was too tired to feel nor care if that was the case. The only other thing he felt was the wound on his right cheek pulsating with pain. But he was too tired to really care about it that much too now. 

Yornar looked down at his hands, covered in the hagraven blood of the matron he had torn the head off. His hands were shaking and he felt like vomiting from the stench the blood gave off. But by some last force of will he managed to contain himself. After a long, silent moment he looked up and over the other members of the coven and saw them still kneeling in their places. 
"Go back to your rooms." Yornar almost spat at them. He wished to be alone. 

They were hesitant at first but soon enough they were quickly on their feet and swiftly left the room. Yornar lingered there at the altar, dizzy and confused at what had just happened. Did I win? he wondered to himself, not feeling that victorious. Only thing he felt was a sense of relief from that the battle was over. What now? 

The hagravens were dead, the elven village wiped out, their slavers slain and Yornar wondered what was left for him in this world. Slowly he stood up and figured that while he had no idea what to do in the long run, he could at least clean himself up and get some sleep. With uncertain steps he stumbled out of the hall and down through the castle corridors. He climbed up some stairs and walked towards his old room. But as he reached the door and tried to open it he found that it was now locked. He tried to open it a couple of time before he heard someone shout something from inside. Yornar didn't quite hear what words were spoken, or maybe he just didn't bother listening, but he realized that someone else had moved in there in his absence. 

Crestfallen he wandered the hallways aimlessly till a thought hit him: with the hagravens dead, their room must be empty now. With weary steps he slowly made his way towards the south wing were the hagravens made their home. Their room was large and with various forms of primitive enchanting and alchemy stations. Herbs and animal parts lied in jars on a bookshelf and three large beds filled with lush furs lied spread throughout the room. What was most noticeable though was the large mirror hanging above a basin of water hewn into the rock of the castle. The mirror seemed to be of pure silver, clearer than anything he had ever seen. He walked up towards the mirror and looked at the image of himself. It felt like the first time he had ever gotten to see himself. His hair was long and messy, same with his shaggy beard. The wound on his cheek had stopped bleeding but had left every part of his face beneath it covered in blood. 

Yornar dipped his hands in the basin, washing away the hagraven blood before then splashing the water onto his face. Slowly but surely he washed away the blood and the dirt from his face and hair. With a simple healing spell he sealed the wound. But the wound did not close in a neat way it had  always done so many times before Yornar had healed himself. Instead it left a line of uneven, pale tissue. Yornar began to cast the healing spell with even more power but the scar remained. He grew ever more frantic and desperately tried in vain to heal the scar away with the last of his magicka.
When his magicka was dry he looked around the room till he saw some potions on a shelf in the corner of the room. He looked through them till he found a strong magicka potion. It tasted horribly but he felt a large force of magicka rejuvenate within him. He stumbled back to the mirror and tried again to heal away the scar. But it didn't help. He summoned up a dagger of ice in his hand and cut himself across the scar, then healed the wound again. But the scar remained. 

Tears ran down Yornar's face as he slowly came to accept that he would not get rid of the scar. The hagravens would never let him forget them and what they had done to him. The hagravens were gone. But the scars they had left on him remained.

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Awakening to a new era

 

4E 1

There was a disturbance in the void, the black oblivion that was the dreamless sleep. But it wasn't a sleep of rest and recovery, as he felt tired and exhausted as consciousness slowly returned to him. The body felt stiff and the mind blurred. On his chest he felt his sword resting in its sheath. Opening the eyes made little difference to the blackness that covered his view. He pushed the sword to the side and reached up with his hands to the cover of the sarcophagus, and felt as his strength, both magical and physical, failed him as he tried to push it open. So instead of directly pushing it open he slowly began to push it just enough to slide it open instead. A time consuming task as he felt he needed a rest between every inch. After some time he felt an opening beginning to appear in the corner of his stony resting place. No light shone through the hole. After some more struggle with the cover he felt the hole was big enough to crawl through. Seeing nothing but blackness as he emerged and with nothing to hold for support he tumbled over his head and onto the floor where he landed on his back with a loud grunt. 

He waited another moment for the pain and dizziness of the fall to subside before trying to get up. This time he had a better luck getting onto his two feet. He fumbled after the sarcophagus and then down into it where he retrieved his sword. Then fumbled some more as he attempted to attach the sheath to his belt. When that was done he looked around, almost instinctively in hope that there was something to see instead of darkness. Having no sense of direction he slowly began to walk forward with his hands outstretched. Soon he hit a wall which he followed till it turned inward to the passageway he knew was the only way out. He followed it, still holding his hands against the wall for both guidance and support. The blackness ahead subsided as he saw a dim blue light illuminating some of the room ahead. As he entered the room all he saw at first was the spiky tail of the dragon statue, barely visible in the shadow of the rest of the statue. Leaving the shadow of the statue he could finally see the source of the light: The giant blue crystal high up in the roof of the dome shaped room, with swirls like blue flames dancing in slow motion beneath its surface. Reaching out for it he could still feel its presence, like a well lying dormant and untouched; only dripping a small stream of water to keep the plants around it from dying.

Now was the time to open the flow more widely and drink. He walked to the middle of the room and raised both his hands above his head, trying to open up and redirect some of the flow to him. It took what little energy he had left to manipulate the well but soon a stream reached down to him and he felt a slight rejuvenation wash over him. But like a starving man would have trouble to eat, so too he had he trouble holding the magicka flowing to him. It only took a brief moment before he had close the flow or else let it go to waste. 

He looked to the crystal for moment wondering of what had changed during his time in the dreamless sleep. And then when he looked at his hands he noticed the wrinkles covering them. Grabbing a string of his hair he held it in front of his eyes and saw that it was grey, with only a couple of strands barely clinging to its original black color. He let out a sigh and then turned his gaze to the passageway that led out of this underground realm. With a silent command the place began to awake and blue fires appeared along the walls of that passageway, illuminating the way out. Walking down the newly lit path he began to wonder what he would find on the other side. Wondering what state the citadel would be in and how the people there would react to the sealed doors finally opening. Though most of all he wondered if he would be able to get a warm meal. 

The great stone doors stood silent as he approached them. With a wave of his hand the magic awoke in them and they slowly began to open. His mind and heart began to rush as he got more curious, exited and also a bit anxious on what might lie beyond. While also hoping they hadn't walled off the door.

Light began to shine through as the doors parted, so strong it forced him to raise one hand to cover his eyes. A strong wind followed that was so cold it chilled him to the bone. He took a few steps forward into what he expected to be the great hall of the citadel but soon felt the floor slightly uneven. As his eyes got used to the light he lowered his hand. What he saw left him breathless: There was nothing there. The great hall was almost all gone, along with the citadel and the city and everything else. What was left of the great hall now formed a big cave and beyond that was an unending wasteland of ice and snow. Above the wasteland clouds dotted the sky and the sun stood high on its perch. But not even the rays of the sun was enough to bring warmth in this cold realm.

He slowly began to walk again, forward to the edge of the cave. There he noticed that the cave was situated high up along the mountainside. With no obvious way down (apart from jumping), he was stranded there in the cave. But even if he could make his way down that still left the question of where could he go. The wasteland seemed endless and there was no living soul as far as the eye could see. 

He stared into the wasteland for some time, wondering if something may have survived. He conjured up a light heat spell to keep himself from freezing to death as he watched and wondered. Thoughts raced across his mind, examining and weighing his options: to either head back inside and try to sleep again or brave the wasteland in the hope that something yet still remained. Part of him wanted to head back inside and sleep in peace, but awaiting the end to reach him without knowing if there was something out there wasn't a thought he relished. So he decided to head into the unknown to search, even if that meant dying at the hands of the cold land before him.

While his robe wasn't much protection from the weather of the wasteland he still had some power left to keep himself warm. But the first step was to find a way down to the ground.

Climbing proved almost impossible as his physical shape was now that of an old man, and with grips and footholds being a bit too few and far between, he found himself almost about to fall a number of times. When he had gotten two thirds down he felt tired and looked down to the ground, wondering if he could make the jump. He conjured what he could of a levitation spell and jumped before his tired hands lost their grip. The spell dampened the fall and the soft snow helped with the rest. Once he got his head up and out of the snow the journey to the Northwest began. The snow slowed him down as each step sunk deep into the white and cold powder that covered the land. But he was still determined to press onward. 

 

From the icy wastes

 

4E 1, Afternoon

Dawnstar, Windpeak inn

Thorolf watched the almost empty inn with weary eyes as he stirred the pot filled with a thin horker stew. Thorolf was a man in his fifties, with short brown hair and a full beard. Wearing only simple clothes and a small iron axe at his side. His daughter Anya cleaned the floor with a broom. She had long red hair tied up in a ponytail behind her head and wore simple barmaid clothes along with a long dagger at her side. The inn itself wasn't much, it looked like most inns in Skyrim with a big hearth in the middle tables alongside the walls. Business was going a bit slow, as even though the Oblivion gates had been closed about a year ago, there were still groups daedra roaming about and preventing trade caravans from travelling. The mead was running low and Thorolf wondered when and if he would get his next shipment. And if things got worse he had some coin stowed away so he could pay a ship to take Anya to her aunt in Solitude. 

Suddenly the door opened, which surprised Thorolf a bit as it was still too early for the town's workers to have finished their day shifts. The men walking in was dressed top to toe in thick fur armor and Throrolf recognized them as Haskill's mercenary group; part time horker hunters along the coast and part time relic hunters in the frozen wastes. Haskill was the big man in the front of the group, a man with a blonde beard almost as thick as his armor. 

"Here to sell some horker meat? Or are you just here to drink and eat?" 

"A bit of food and drink would be nice. But first: place him by the hearth." he ordered his men as he pointed at the floor next to big hearth. Two of Haskill's men were carrying something that looked like someone wrapped in a fur blanket. They put it down next to where where Haskill had pointed and folded it up and to reveal an old man in a black robe. He was rather tall and had long grey hair and beard. They lifted the man and put him on the floor next to the hearth before rolling up and taking the fur blanket.

"Who's this? And why are you dropping him off in my inn?" Thorolf asked, quite annoyed at the prospect of having someone dumped into his house.

"Found him collapsed in the wastes. Not that far from town. Judging by the tracks in the snow, I would guess he had been walking straight from the middle of the wastes. Also to why I'm dropping him off here. Well..." Haskill swung around his backpack so he now held it in front of him and Thorolf saw a sword in its sheath sticking through it. Haskill grabbed the blade by the sheath and pulled it out of the pack. "Looks nice doesn't it? The old man was carrying this sword. I thought about just taking the sword and leaving him. But it didn't feel right and seeing as we were close to town I figured we could save him and instead take this as our reward. More fair that way."

"So you're robbing old men now Haskill?" Thorolf asked sarcastically.

"It's not really robbing. And he would have been dead if it wasn't for us. And we didn't find any good relics on this trip. And we need the coin."

Thorolf wasn't really going to argue as he understood that times were tough. "But why here?" 

"This is the inn. You take in strangers all the time here."

"But they pay."

"Well do this as a good deed then. Let him stay for a day and if he doesn't pay you after that, then feel free to kick him out."

"Shouldn't you at least pay for his first meal? Seeing as you're taking his expensive sword, it wouldn't be more than fair to give a little in return." 

"Hmmpf, fine." Haskill said as he put the sword back in the backpack and instead fished out the coin pouch out of it and gave Thorolf some Septims. "Here. For both the old man and me and my men. So hurry up and give us some food. I want to be leaving soon."

Thorolf was a bit pleased with himself for managing to squeeze some more coin out of Haskill but didn't show it. He went and fetched the bowls and spoons as Haskill and his men sat down by one of the larger tables. Then he quickly filled up each bowl with the stew and had Anya serve the mercenaries. They ate quickly and left as fast as they had arrived. Now Anya and Thorolf stood by the hearth and watched the old man that at been literally dumped into the house. 

"What should we do if he doesn't wake up?" Anya asked in a low voice.

"I'll go get the guards and they can dump the body somewhere outside of town." and with that they both went back to doing whatever chores they could find.

Later when the town's dock workers and miners were finishing there day shifts, the inn began to fill up. All wanting a warm meal and some cold mead. Throrolf had to drag the old man a bit out of way to the counter or risk having customers trip over him. And so the evening went on as pretty much any other evening. Supplies was running low and Thorolf had even resorted to thinning out the mead with molten snow to make it last longer and help keep it colder. He hadn't told anyone about it though. A few people complained regardless but there were always people complaining about something, mostly it was the stew being too thin. 

Later when it was growing late and the customers were returning to their homes (as well as leaving a bit of a mess), Thorolf heard some noise coming from the old man. It made Thorolf both a little annoyed that he would now have to give them man some of the stew and also a bit relieved as he didn't want to have the guards come and clean up another body. Thorolf filled a bowl with some stew and held it to the old man who was now sitting up on the floor. Looking with confused eyes darting between everything in the inn.

"Here. Eat." Thorolf told the man bluntly.

The old man looked at the stew and then at Thorolf before saying something incomprehensible. But the man didn't reject the stew as he took it began eating with a hunger Thorolf hadn't seen in a man in months.

"So, what's you name?" Thorolf asked, curious to who the old man was.

The man looked up at Thorolf again, as if inspecting him, for moment before saying something in that strange tongue. Thorolf started to feel a little uneasy by the fact that the man didn't speak the common tongue but decided to ignore it as he went back to cleaning up the the inn. Thorolf glanced at the old man now and then and noticed that the man was looking around the tavern as he ate, same inspecting and curious eyes as the man had looked at Thorolf with. When the man was done eating he put the bowl down on the floor next to him. When the man put a hand on his side he seemed to almost panic at what Thorolf assumed was the realization that his sword was gone. 

Then he noticed that the man cast some kind of spell in his hand. This caused Thoralf to freeze for a second. Mages in general was usually an ill omen and especially now after the Oblivion crisis. The only other mage Thorolf knew of was the Jarl's court mage, but at least that old witch kept to herself.

The old man got up and seemed to following something towards the entrance door which the man opened only to be faced by a roaring blizzard and darkness. 

"Hey close the door!" Thorolf yelled.

It took a second for the man to realize that Thorolf was yelling at him and then closed the door. The man then walked to one of the tables and sat down, obviously crestfallen at the discovery that the sword was lost. 

"He's a mage." Anya said in a low voice to her father. "Should we really allow him to stay? I mean what if he attracts the daedra."

"I don't like it as well. But I don't want to try to force him out and risk him burning down the inn. Lets just treat him like any other customer and if he can't pay he'll have to leave to sooner or later." her father said.

"Hmm." was all Anya responded with as she returned to her duties.

The man continued to sit by the table without moving or doing anything, as if he had turned into a statue. And he still sat there as Throrolf  and Anya closed the inn for the day and went to their bedrooms for the night. Thorolf hoped that the man would be gone when he woke up in the morning.

 

A foreign homeland

 

4E 1, Morning

Dawnstar, Windpeak inn

It had been three days since he had awoken in that inn. It all felt so strange for him to see these people: they looked liked his people but they were a bit shorter and something about them felt different different. And the language they spoke sounded both somewhat elven and at the same time he sometimes thought he heard some influence of his own language in their speak. A few times he even thought he recognized a word but wasn't sure if it meant what he thought it meant. 

He didn't quite know where he was, though he recognized the house he stayed in as something akin to an inn. He ventured out of the inn on the days a bit to explore the town but as he did not know where else to go he always returned to the inn, where he spent most of his time contemplating his options and wondering what everything meant. So he sat there in the inn, observing and analysing everything he could. Trying to make sense of things. One thing he quickly noticed was that the innkeeper and the tavern wench gave him unkindly glances. It was obvious that they didn't like him staying. But he also recognized the glint of fear in their eyes as the looked at him. Which to him explained to why they hadn't tried to throw him out yet. Though he still tried his best to stay out of their way and not cause any trouble with them. It also seemed as if they had given him a name of sorts. Something they said whenever he got the feeling they spoke of him whenever they thought he didn't listen. Which he always did, even though he didn't understand what they said, how they said it and their body language was still something that he could get clues from. And he got the distinct feeling they wanted more and more to be rid of him. He was also sure they had begun to notice that he had been stealing stew whenever they weren't paying attention.

This morning a group of people were in the inn. Their leader seemed to be having a bit of a heated discussion with the innkeeper. After a moment they both came up towards him, where he sat on a bench near the end of a table. The other man seemed to have somewhat fancy clothing (compared to everyone else that ever visited the inn) and a steel sword at his side. He was blonde and had short hair and a clean shave. The clean shave was something he couldn't understand. In his days a man without a beard was a man without a manhood. And having a beard meant having some isolation from the cold. So all he could do at first was stare the man's clean jaw in confusion. 

The man in fancy clothes then began to speak, first saying the name he thought they had given him as if seeing if he would react. He then looked to the man's eyes, more acknowledging the fact that he was being talked to than that he was acknowledging the name. The man without a manhood then began to speak in a ridiculously articulated tone which only made it silly to him as that wouldn't make their tongue more understandable. The man then began to gesture: first pointing at the mage, then curling his hands into fists and pretending to do a little fighting with the air and then pointing at himself and lastly he pretended to eat something. 

He wondered the man wanted but guessed that the fancy man either wanted him to fight him or to fight for him and after that he would get something to eat. Seeing as it was either that or stay in the inn and do nothing, he nodded and got up from the bench. The man without manhood then made a gesture which he assumed was meant that he should follow. And so the fancy man went out of the inn and onto the streets of the town, followed suit by his men and the mage. Snow lined the streets and it was rather quiet there, seeing as the noisy docks and the mines lied on the other side of town and could only be heard in the distance. The man led them through the streets to main road leading South out of town. It was also the only real road leading out of town. There on the road was two wagons with horses waiting along with two other men. They looked like the other men that were following the man without manhood, armed and armored. But they didn't look like the town guard so he assumed they were mercenaries and judging by the wagons he also assumed that this was a caravan. The fancy man (who obviously was the merchant leading the caravan) gave some kind of order as he jumped up and took the seat on one of the wagons. Another man did the same and the rest fell into two lines, one at either side of the wagons as they began to move out of town. 

It was a strange feeling he had as he followed behind the last wagon. He had just somehow been hired as a caravan guard in exchange for the possibility of food as payment. And he could only guess on where they were heading. But somehow it was better than staying at the inn and waiting for answers to come to him.

The day went on and nothing happened. The merchant called for a stop when the sun was beginning to touch the horizon. The wagons were placed as a wedge by the side of the road to form protective walls. Two mercenaries gathered firewood and and formed a camp fire between the wagons. When they had finished building the camp fire they began to shout something and pointing at him, making gestures for him to come. He slowly approached and wondered what they wanted. When they began to point at him and then the pile of wood in the fireplace it became obvious. With a slight wave of his hand the wood caught fire and they gave him both a glance of slight approval and of suspicion. The food was cocked and everyone ate as they sat around the fire. Most kept a slight distance from him but they let him sit by the fire as he ate. The food consisted of rabbit and dried vegetables. It wasn't much but it was something to fill the belly with. 

The journey continued without anything eventful happening. Though the constant walking tired him out so much that he began to fall behind. Eventually the caravan got so tired of having to wait for him that they allowed him to ride on the second wagon. With much needed respite he could clear his mind and begin to think. Soon he began to feel presence in the distance. (Having spent centuries with his mind reaching out to dominate others had not left it unchanged, but such was the way with prolonged use of magic that involved a part of oneself.) He tried to identify it but his thoughts and focus was however interrupted when an arrow hit the guard walking on his left side. The mercenary fell down with a scream. Looking to where the arrow had come from he could see the ones that had shot the arrow. Up on the hill among the trees on the caravan's left side he saw them: Bandits wearing patchy leather and fur armor, a couple of them wielding bows, a few wielded crude axes and short swords while the majority of them only had wooden clubs to serve as a weapon. Another shot was fired from the archers but this time it only hit the side of the wagon. The bandits rushed down the side of the hill yelling their battle-cry as they charged. The caravan guards tried to quickly form a unified line to hold against the assault. 

An arrow brushed past his head by an inch and he answered by sending a firebolt that quickly put the archers head on fire. The bandit dropped the bow and began to scream as he first fell down to his knees and tried to hold his head, but that only burnt his hands. Finally he tried to shove the head into the snow where he held it till the screaming stopped and the body became limp. The other archer froze as she looked in horror at her companion's death. Which also distracted her so she didn't see the ice spike that penetrated her skull, bringing her a swift end.

From his position at the wagon he was a little amused at the display the first archer's death had caused. But there was no time to celebrate as the mercenaries and the bandits were now clashing. While the bandits had poorer armor and weapons but they outnumbered the mercenaries two to one.

A load battlecry roared from up the hill again. But this time it was dark and from one person instead of several. Looking up the hill again he could see who, or rather what had made it: a dremora. Up on the hill now stood a dremora in a full suit of daedric armor and wielding a great daedric battleaxe. Alongside the dremora were several scamps, spider daedra and a few other lesser (but still dangerous) daedra. The dremora then led the charge on the already occupied combatants. 

All this was too much for his magic to handle and the man next to him holding the reigns of the horse was paralysed in fear at the sight of the chaotic massacre. And seeing how the merchant in the wagon ahead of them had already begun to flee, he decided to follow that man's actions. He ripped the reigns from the paralysed man and whipped them so the horse began to run. The daedra, bandits and the mercenaries were too occupied with killing each other to follow. And they soon fell out of view in the distance. Though they continued at full speed some more even after they had lost sight of the battle and stopped hearing the screams and the clashing of metal. 

They caught up with the merchant and his wagon on the road. The merchant looked at them with surprise that they had gotten away from the battle alive. The merchant and the man on his wagon exchanged a few words. Then they continued in silence. As it got dark the merchant didn't give any orders to stop. Later when the stars in the night sky was the only thing lighting their way, they saw it in the distance: the lights of a city upon a high cliff. The trees on on the sides of the road began to part as they were replaced by snowy fields. When they got closer he saw that the light on this side of the city came from one tall building instead of several. The rest of the city was hidden behind the tall walls. The road led the to the left of the city and as they followed it he watched the city and wondered. He even thought he saw a familiar sight by the walls, a great statue lit up by the ever burning embers beneath it.

Soon they would be within the safety of the city walls. And he longed for nothing more than a warm meal and some rest. He also hoped that within that city, he might find some answers. A thin hope but a hope nonetheless.

 

A scholar's journal

 

4E 1, 22th of Sun's Dawn

Today I, Ticemius Cosades, renowned nobleman and scholar, made an interesting find. I was visiting a colleague and fellow scholar in Whiterun. I was eating the Jarl's hall when I overheard a couple of the servants talk of a strange man that one of the servant's sister had seen in a local inn. Apparently the man was some kind of mage and couldn't speak the common tongue and instead spoke some kind of language that no one could understand. It piqued my interest enough to inquire them about this man. And so I found my way to this inn. There I only needed to ask the innkeeper and he easily pointed me to the merchant that this mage apparently was accompanying. The merchant was a stingy about letting me see this mage, but when I flashed some coin before his eyes he changed his tune rather quickly. He told me that he had found this man in an inn in Dawnstar, confused and thus easy to persuade to come work for minimum wage. The innkeeper there had told him that the mage had apparently walked straight out of the frozen wastes and then been dropped of at his doorstep. The mage had refused to leave and the innkeeper was then the one to propose that the merchant should convince the mage to join his caravan. The people at the inn had also come to calling the mage "the snow-strider" because the mage had walked out of the frozen lands of Winterhold, like he is some lost spirit that just happened to wander out of the wastes. These nords and their silly superstition and naming habits. The merchant also called this mage "the snow-strider" in lack of a real name. 

When I finally got to meet this mage he proved to be an old nord, rather tall, with grey long hair and a full beard and dressed in a rugged black robe. I introduced myself to the mage and all I got was a blank stare in return. I tried talking with him some more until I finally got a response. It was quite remarkable. I recognized the words from some of my linguistic studies of nordic history. If I'm correct the phrase he said to me loosely translates to "bugger off", to put it mildly. Quite rude but I understand him as he must see us as blabbering strangers. 

I tried to use my limited knowledge of that language to speak with him, trying to tell him that he should follow me. The man seemed to cringe a little at my pronunciation but nonetheless seemed happy to follow me.

I shall finish up my business here in Whiterun then I shall journey home and bring with me this new specimen. I'm quite interested what I might learn from him.

 

4E 1, 2nd of First Seed

I have arrived at my home, the small town of Water's Rest near the Niben Bay and my manor lying on the top of a hill overlooking the two. A lovely place, and I think my research subject think so as well. I had one of the servants show him to the guest room while I went to find my books on the old nordic language and history. I have some theories on who and what he might be. 

So far my theories have been that he 1) Is a vampire that slept out in the frozen wastes of Skyrim. 2) He is a corpse possessed by the ghost of an ancient nord. 

But booth those theories are disproved by the man's great appetite for food. I even managed to check his pulse, although briefly before he pushed me away, and it was like any other man's. I don't quite know what to make of this man. Though I will not rule out the possession angle just yet. He might prove to be a real man under the strong influence of an ancient spirit.

But today I shall let him rest from the journey and tomorrow the real research begins.

 

4E 1, 3rd of First Seed

After the breakfast I began to conduct the tests I had prepared for the snow-strider (I really should come up with a better name for him). I had some sentences in old nordic prepared which I read out to him. They were questions. First I asked about what his name was and all I got was a silence. Then I asked about his age and all he did was shrug. I asked him where he came from and all he said was some ancient word for Skyrim. I asked him to say a few words and he began to speak. It was hard for me to follow as he seems to speak in a dialect different from the ones in my books. Luckily I had an enchanted quill that wrote down every word we spoke but those notes weren't easier to decipher than what I heard. 

We took a break and a little later I continued these tests. This time I mentioned various names of famous nordic historical persons, from Ysgramor to the last kings of the First Era. But all I got was a blank stare followed by saying something in which I could only make out the words "why", "you" and "tell". Interesting as that indicates he has no knowledge of who these people are. 

I followed through with some more tests with little results, apart from him towards the end of the day began to correct my pronunciation and grammar. Which I have to say was, while rather educational, somewhat annoying. 

 

4E 1, 7th of Rain's Hand

I have managed to give my research subject a new name which he has also begun to respond to: Skjari. A bit on the nordic side I have to admit. I took the name from a small story about a man in the First Era who got himself lost in in the Ayleid Empire and fell in love with young Ayleid noblewoman. I definitely think the part about being lost in a foreign empire fits his description. Though I hope his story wont end in the same tragedy.

Though he has also begun to wander around and outside the manor more and more. I need to find a way to occupy him whenever I don't conduct my studies with him.

I have also noticed that he has begun to try to learn the common tongue. Sometimes I see him try to say a simple word or two. I think I will shift most of my time and effort to try to teach him our language. It would make things much easier if I could speak to him without having to resort to old, and sometimes incomplete or inaccurate, texts all the time. 

 

4E 1, 21st of Rain's Hand

Skjari has begun to walk around in town. He hasn't disturbed anyone, at least until recently. I found him in the chapel of Akatosh and he was, in a way, harassing the priestess. He was speaking some kind of language other than the nordic one and he seemed to get annoyed when the priestess didn't give him the reply he wanted. Luckily I arrived and managed to intervene and bring him back to my manor. I wonder what language he spoke to the priestess with. It was something I didn't recognise and that has me even more curious. 

 

4E 1, 29th of Midyear

I've begun hearing reports of people disappearing in town. What's strange about this is that all the people that has disappeared are elves. What stranger still is that Skjari has begun to loose his wrinkles and his hair has begun to turn black. I am almost certain that there is a connection. I think I might have discovered the first piece of the puzzle to who he is and why he knows such an ancient language. And I don't like it what it implicates, but that could also make him invaluable as a research subject. I might have to look into ways to restrain him, but I fear he will stop cooperating with me if I do. I will have to find a way convince him to stop with whatever it is he is doing. 

 

4E 1, 5th of Sun's Height

Skjari looked like he was in his late sixties when he arrived here and now he looks like a man his his mid thirties. I hope the servants doesn't connect him to the elves disappearances. I have to take precautions if they do or I'll risk loosing my research subject. But I think I may have gotten Skjari to stop making elves disappear. I told him that guards were investigating the disappearances and that the culprit would be executed for the crimes. While not entirely true, he can't really ask anyone else about the Imperial legal system. 

I think I've also found something for him to do when I'm not with him. Skjari found my piano yesterday and as a child he began pressing keys to see how the instrument produced the sounds. I managed to stop him however before he began to look under the lid and tinker with the components of the instrument. I taught him a few simple tones and dug up my old piano instructions from when I first learnt how to play: simple depictions of the keys, numbered in what order to press them for the melody. I had already taught him our numerical system so he had no trouble reading those simple diagrams. Though he does seem to lack musical talent as he plays rather stiffly. 

 

4E 1, 7th of Last Seed

I think I am making progress. I haven't heard of any more missing elves and I have given Skjari an old children's book for those who are just beginning to practice reading. We have sessions now and then where he reads out loud from it to me. His pronunciation has a strong nordic accent but I think he is able to distinguish and understand certain words now. 

I have also begun doing some research into the nordic dragon cult to see if he might have some kind of connection with them.

 

4E 1, 11th of Hearthfire

My niece arrived today, a lovely young lady. I decided to try to keep her away from my research subject, I'd rather she did not associate with him. But to my avail she found him practising the piano and decided to help him a little. When I got her away from him and out for a walk she said it was very nice of me to take care of that "mentally ill" man. She's a curious girl and will no doubt become a great scholar just like me. Though I am pleased she did not catch on to my research as I don't want her meddling with it. I will have to schedule activities for her away from the manor while she stays.

 

4E 1, 31st of Frostfall

It took some time for the books about the dragon cult I ordered to arrive. With them I have some understanding of how cult worked and some basic knowledge of the dragon language. I will try to repeat the test I first did with the nordic language, ask some questions, followed by listing the names of a few dragon priests. 

 

4E 1, 32nd of Frostfall

I repeated the tests and my discovery is astonishing. When I spoke the simple phrases in the dragon language he understood what I said. Though he also remarked that what I said was so grammatically wrong that he couldn't make sense of what I said. When I asked him to say something in the dragon tongue he said: "Dahmaan, zu'ul kos ni him aar." Which he then repeated in his nordic tongue as: "Remember, I am not your servant." I take that as a sign he is growing a little impatient with these tests. I have thus decided to a take a small break from the testing. 

 

4E 2, 3rd of Morning Star

Skjari has learnt enough of our common tongue by now that he is having simple conversations with the servants. Though these conversations are often little more than him asking almost childlike questions about the state of the town and how things work in the world. 

I decided to take up the subject of dragon cult again and this time I told him about the dragon wars. He seemed to get quite upset when I told him about the nords' rebellion and genocide against the dragons. Very fascinating as that indicates he might actually have been a member of the dragon cult.

I am starting to develop a new theory about Skjari. Some studies think that dragons are somehow connected to Akatosh, the god of time. So if the dragons had a certain connection with time, the dragon cult could maybe have studied that connection. So my theory is that the dragon cult did something and tried to influence time itself with a spell or a ritual. And Skjari, being some kind of dragon priest of acolyte of the cult, was caught in the spell and was sent forth in time. It's unbelievable, but that would explain how he ended up here without knowing our language or our history. 

 

4E 2, 13th of Second Seed

A colleague of mine (and I use the term loosely), Calanye Silinbinder, visited today. She's a scholar living on a small island Abecean Sea. She's a biologist and she specialises in racial traits and differences between the species of Tamriel. Or more specifically: the races of mer, men and beastfolk. While I'm not one for idle gossip I have heard rumors in certain scholarly circles that not all of her research subjects are ethically procured and that her testing can be cruel: from testing resistances to daedric diseases to forced interbreeding. While none of these rumors have been confirmed to be more than just rumors, I immediately sent a servant to have Skjari keep a low profile. To why she wanted to visit be specifically: she told me she wanted to recruit some of the residents in my town for her study about how Colovian and Nibenese people of Cyrodiil differentiated from each other. And that she hoped that I as a fellow scholar would let her. I told her that she was free to convince whoever she wanted as long as she did not force anyone to come with her. She accepted the deal and went off into the town. 

While I wouldn't consider this something to record here, it did bring to my mind a question about the racial traits of Skjari. He looks pretty much like a nord. But I do not know if he has the same racial traits as present days' nords. It might be something worth investigating in the future, though I doubt he would take kindly to being sent into deep snow in nothing but underwear. Still, there might be ways to trick him to undergo some light testing.

 

4E 2, 7th of Sun's Height

Skjari has managed to become rather independent in his studies to learn the common tongue by now. I have one of the servants, a trusted lad, help him learn how to speak while I have also provided him with books to practice in general. This is good as I have been called upon by one of my colleagues in eastern High Rock about a find she wants me to help her take a look at. So I will be gone for a few months and hopefully Skjari's education will proceed well without me. 

 

4E 2, 21st of Sun's Dusk

Disaster has struck. My research subject has gone missing. The servants said that one day a few weeks ago he simply vanished from the manor. No one has seen him in town either. If he doesn't come back soon I might have to put out a bounty on him. Only about getting information on his whereabouts though, as bounty hunters can't really be trusted to bring back their targets alive. But I will hold off for some time to see if he will return.

 

4E 3, 1st of First Seed

Skjari came back to me today. I had already set a bounty out on information on his whereabouts and it will be a little difficult the rescind that. But nonetheless I now have my research subject back. Though I fear he might have hunted more elves while he was gone as he now looks a few years younger than I remember him. But soon the testing and questioning shall continue. I want to learn everything he knows.

 

4E 3, 5th of First Seed

I fear Skjari may be growing tired of me. I have found him looking at maps over the provinces of Tamriel. I don't want him to disappear on me again and this time I fear he might not be coming back as he has begun to treat me more coldly. I might have to actually look into my old plans to restrain him. I have an acquaintance in the Mages Guild that could help with that. I will also have to look into charm spells to make sure he remains cooperative. 

 

Well those plans didn't go so well, now did it. Skjari thought as he finished reading that entry and then turned the page to see that that was the end of the journal. He tossed the book into the blazing inferno that was Ticemius' burning manor. The scholar and everyone else that had served in the manor was dead and their corpses left to turn to ash in the fire. And all information he had found on himself was now being incinerated along with them.

The stars littered the clear night sky and looked down upon the scene where the townsfolk shouted and hurried with buckets of water in a desperate attempt to put out the fire. On the other side of the manor stood Skjari under a few trees some distance away from the inferno. He watched it burn some more before walking around the tree to where the horse he had stolen waited, saddlebags filled with whatever food and coin he could salvage from the manor before he had set it alight. He mounted his horse and cast a spell so that a path lit up in front of him. He followed it for a while and only stopped to make one last glance on the burning manor. Then he sent the horse galloping into the night as he followed the trail from his spell. Setting out to find what was taken from him. 

  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

To High Rock

 

High Rock

Noon

Skjari looked to the sign at the side of the road. It pointed in the direction he was heading and the word Highpoint was written in big letters on it. The name certainly suited at the road ahead continuously only went up. It wasn't steep but it continued up and up till the lake and the trees in the deepest part of the valley behind him looked more like a pond surrounded by grass. A bit further away alongside the road ran a river down into the valley. The first sight he got of the village was a watermill sitting on the edge of a cliff besides the road, the waterwheel constantly spinning with the forces of the river rushing at it unceasingly. It was also when he reached the watermill that the ground flattened out and stopped going upward. Before him was a small town with lots of wooden houses stretching before him. And beyond the houses was the castle of the town, towering above the houses. 

Skjari cast the clairvoyance spell again and saw the path ahead light up, leading straight into town. The town was rumbling with life, people walking the streets to take care of the day's businesses. They gave Skjari a couple of odd glances but other than that paid him little mind. Though they all gave way for him as he rode his horse through the streets.

The path of the spell ended up leading to the castle. The gates were open and had one guard one each side. Skjari dismounted his horse and thought about asking them where the stables were. But to his frustration the word for stable in the common tongue slipped his mind. After a moment of fruitlessly searching his mind for the word he approached the guards with his horse. 

"Where can I... put my horse?" he asked in a very strong nordic accent. 

The guard looked Skjari up and down, one eyebrow arched high. He looked to his partner, who shook his head. Turning back to the Nord, he said, "You can keep your horse right there. State your business, and we'll decide if you can see the... we'll see if we can let you into the castle."

"I'm here to retrieve my sword. I know it's in there." he said and pointed through the castle gates with his free hand. 

The guard scoffed. "Your sword, eh? Now what is your sword doing in there?"

"I don't know. It was taken from me and somehow it ended up here."

The other guard jumped in. "Oh, right, and my pile of jewels is there too. You're going to have to give us better reason than claims of a stolen sword."

"Mey." the mage mumbled. "Don't you let people in to see the... whoever lives here to settle disputes?" he then said. 

"So you want us to let you into the castle, to confront someone, you don't know who, about this sword you claim is stolen?" the first guard asked.

The second guard said, "We let you in, we have to start letting everyone in. People will start claiming 'this tapestries mine', or 'that chair is mine.' So bugger off."

Skjari had to take a deep breath to calm himself down a little. "So what will get me into the castle?"

"We could arrest you, hehe. Other than that, unless you come back with a real problem, nothing."

"I can set the town on fire. And you. Is that a real problem enough for you?"  Skjari said as he raised his hand, drenched in flame.

One of the guards whistled, causing archers to stir on the battlements. They both drew their swords, while their off hands swirled in teal colored magic, likely wards.
"Look, we don't want any trouble. Put the flames out, and we'll let you talk to the steward," said the first guard."

"Good." he said with a light smile. Then he watched their magic with a slight curiosity and stretched out his hand as he began to try to feel it, manipulate it and drain it. The magic was something he recognized as something of elven origin. Both men looked warily at the mage as he waved his hand slightly at their own magic. They withdrew their magic after a second and sheathed their swords, though the archers on the wall chose not to disperse.

"Well I'll be on my way then. Guard my horse while I'm gone." he said and let go of the reigns as he walked past the guards, through the gates and across the small and rather dull courtyard. Once he had passed the big wooden doors on the other side he finally found himself inside the castle main hall. Two stairs went up along the walls, above a few smaller wooden doors, on both sides and united in the far end as balcony overlooking the hall. A small wooden throne sat at the far end of the hall. A few tapestries hung behind the throne. Three chandeliers hung high up in the roof along the middle way of the hall. 

The hall was rather empty by normal court standards, featuring two guards by the main doors, two at the far end, one by each staircase, and only a steward by the throne. The knights wore steel heavy plate armor, while the steward wore a set of fancy robes, red and gold. He was a rather plain old man, his face scared from youthful blemishes. He was balding, but tried to hide it by combing his hair over. His beard covered a prominent chin, which seemed to jut out rather far. Both hands had three rings on them, his only adornment.

"Who are you?" he asked, with a slight flair for the dramatic, emphasizing each word unnecessarily.

"I'm here for my sword. Made of a light blue metal, long crossguard on which the ends go up along the blade, a dark steel dragon wrapped around the blue metal on the pommel, the blade is smooth and got the word nahkriin engraved in the dragon tongue on it, and the sheath is black leather with somewhat worn out silver inlays." replied Skjari, almost shouted back across the hall.

The steward leaned forward, aiming his right ear towards the strange Nord. When he's finished, the steward said, "I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with said sword. And I do not know why the guards let you in to ask for it, as you won't find it here. So unless you have a real problem, I'm unable to assist you."

Casting the clairvoyance spell, a path lit up on the stairs to his right. "I know its here. I know the magic its imbued with. My spell says its right up those stairs." Skjari pointed where the spell led.

"The baroness' personal chambers? You will find nothing of interest in there, I assure you. Now I must insist that you leave promptly, and do not return henceforth." the steward said, as he began walking across the room towards the mage. The two guards at the end of the hall flanked him on either side.

"Can't I ask her about the sword then?" the mage said as he glanced at the guards.

"No, you may not. She and her brother are quite too busy to be questioned about a sword. I suggest you run along now, Nord."

"You know I'll just keep coming back till I get my sword back, right?"

The steward laughed so hard, he bent over double. "You can try, Nord. Good luck getting past the guards. Now take him outside before I decide he needs a trip to the dungeon."
The six guards in the room did as they were told, moving towards Skjari, though they seemed ill at ease. Something about him, his disregard for all custom and rule, gave him the impression of a dangerous sort.

"I'll be back." he said, rather annoyed. Turning around he used magic as he pushed to fling the big oak doors wide open. He strode across the courtyard and back to the gates where he had left his horse. Seeing the guards he had first met where also standing there, he turned to the first one he had talked to when he had arrived and pointed a finger at him. "You! How do I set up a meeting with the baroness?" he said a commanding voice. 

The guard looked surprised by the mage's presumptuous tone, unsure what to make of it. Finally, he said, "Talk to the steward. But you'd better have some important business, or he likely won't let you. And you might want to speak with the baron, too. Or whatever he is."

"The steward is a fool. So where is this other fella?"

The first guard stroked his chin. "I assume back in the castle. Though likely as far away from his sister as he can get."

"Well I can't really go back into the castle." Skjari paused for a second. "You. You will go into the castle and tell the baron or baroness to come out and speak with me and that's its important." he ordered the guard as he began to fill the air with fear. 

The first guard glanced at the second, who wiped sweat from his brow and nodded his assent at the first. "I suppose I could do that. Which one do you want?"

"The Baroness. She seems to be the one that has the sword."

"I'll be back right quick," the first guard said, then set off to the castle.

Not too long later, though to the second guard it felt like an eternity, the first guard and the baroness returned. She was a slender woman, strikingly so, with little to no shape to her body. She was as tall as the knight, with thick black hair that went to her waist. She wore a pale blue dress, with gold lacing covering the bosom. She wore a silver tiara, which sat lightly on her head.

"I was told this was important, and here before me stands a Nordic savage. What is truly going on here?" she asked, her arms crossed, one slender, bony finger drumming her upper arm.

"I know you have a sword, made in light blue metal. That sword belongs to me. It... is a family heirloom." Skjari replied firmly.

"And what family is that? Clan Lost-Sword, perhaps?" she asked.

"Does it really matter? Can you even hold the sword?"

"To answer that questions would to admit to having your sword. And I don't. Even if I did, why would I hold it? Most things I buy work better as decorative pieces."

"You have it. Otherwise my spell wouldn't have led me to this castle and lead up the stairs to what apparently is your quarters. I am the rightful owner of that sword and I am here to take it back."

"And what spell is that, the false accusation spell? I do not have your sword. So unless you have some proof besides your supposed spells there is nothing more to talk about."

"A clairvoyance spell. I know the magic of my sword and I can track it. If you don't believe me, I can show you that I can find my sword in the that castle."

"That will not be necessary. I have no need of your magic nor of your lies. Now be gone with you."

"I'm not lying. Though I am wondering who you are trying to convince with your lies. We both know that you have it."

"Whatever I may have has been acquired legally. So even if I had this supposed sword, it would be mine and not yours, Nord."

"Is it legal to buy stolen property?"

"What I buy is none of you business," she said. "Now leave or I will have you killed!"

He remained silent for a moment, considering of actually assaulting the castle. But it was too big and a bit too well guarded. "As you wish." he then turned his head to the guard. "Where is the inn and where can I leave my horse?" he asked.

The guard pointed at a two story structure down the main street, the first floor made of stone, the second of wood. It sat at the crossroads in the middle of town. "You'll find lodging there. And they should have a stable for your horse. It'll cost you extra for feed, though."

Skjari grabbed the reigns of the horse and then raised his other hand up to the walls above the gate. "Dur au daar dein." he said in a ominous voice and magic seal lit up above the castle gate for a second. When the light faded, the head of a dragon had been scorched into the stone, looking dreadfully down upon those before the gate. While he didn't have enough power for a real curse, a mark would hopefully be enough to play on their fears.

"I will have my sword back." he said solemnly and then turned around to walk back into town. 

The baroness said something quickly and frantically to a guard, and they both rushed back inside the castle. Meanwhile, a few peasants had stopped their daily chores and errands, all of them looking fixedly at the events playing out at the castle. However, as Skjari approached the inn, they all went back about their duties, albeit casting side-eyed glances at the Nordic stranger as they did. Though the mage ignored the townsfolk as he went to the side of the inn to what appeared to be the entryway into the stables.

"Any room for my horse!" he shouted into the stables. 

A teenage boy appeared, his boots coated in mud and feces. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and said, "We got room. I'll muck out the horseshoes and brush him for a septim. Pay for the lodging inside."

Skjari picked up a septim from the saddlebags and flipped it through the air to the boy who caught it. "Here, make sure to keep him safe." then strapped the saddle off the horse and threw it over the shoulder and left the boy with the horse as he went into the inn. 

It was rather empty, but it was expected for that hour. Walking up he dropped the saddle on the counter. where an elderly woman manned the bar, and she was wiping down the bar when Skjari walked in. "I want a room. I'll pay for two days worth of food, drink and roof."

The old lady grabbed the saddle and plopped it on a barrel behind the counter, then took out a rag and cleaned off the counter. Wiping her hands on her apron, she said: "Upstairs, first one on the left. Ten septims a night'll get you three meals and a bed."

Slightly annoyed, Skjari levitatet the saddle back on to the counter so he could reach into the bag where he stored the coin pouch. "And what does it cost for the same for my horse?" he said as he began counting the coins he pulled out.

The woman narrowed her eyes slightly at the sight of the saddle on the counter again, as she whipped out the cleaning rag again. "Four per night. And the boy'll brush him for a coin. And if you need knew shoes the smithy across the way has them."

"Here." he put down twenty eight septims on the counter, then picked up the saddle and put it back over his shoulder. "I'll drop this off then I want a warm meal." 

"Let me know if you need anything else," she said, leaned down under the counter to then show up with a key which she put in front of Skjari. Then scurried off through a door, which when opened wafted the room with smells of steaming vegetables and searing meats.

Skjari grabbed the key and left the counter and headed up the stairs to the right. Once up there he walked through the first door on the left, unlocked it to find a small room with little more than a simple bed up against the left wall with plain cloth stuffed with straw and a small piece of animal fur for the head. A small but vertically tall window on the wall opposite of the door allowed some sunlight into the room. A small wooden table with a half burned down candle resided beneath the window. 

Skjari dropped down the saddle on the bed and conjured up a freezing trap rune on the floor by the door, seeing as the lock wasn't the sturdiest. He then headed down the stairs again and found a simple table with two chairs by the window, with a decent view of the main road up to the castle. Sitting down he watched the castle through in the distance while waiting for his food, partially hoping to see someone coming to deliver his sword.

 

So close

 

Late morning

Skjari was walking along the main street, little seemed to have changed from the day before in the town. People gave him the usual odd glance but nothing else. As Skjari walked up to the castle gates once more he looked on the mark he had left and began to feel slightly bit at home. It gave the feeling the dragon temple wasn't all gone. But that feeling disappeared when he approached the guards at the gate and saw that they weren't the acolyte guards of the dragons. There were now four guards standing by the gates, and the two from last night were nowhere to be seen.

"Has the baroness changed her mind?" he asked the guards. 

 On of the guards, his hand on the pommel of his sword, answered: "No, and she's not likely to."

"I don't see why she's so stubborn about wanting to keep my sword. A sword that according to her is only used as decoration. Don't you think it would be better to return what was stolen from me so I will leave?" he asked with a genuine curiosity. 

The same guard said, "Listen, Nord, we aren't paid to care about her sword, your sword, who-the-****-evers sword. We're paid to guard, and that's what we're going to do. Personally, I couldn't care less about this sword."

"So is this the only way into the castle?"

The guards laughed, until they settled back down and the guard said, "Yeah, because we'd tell you, wouldn't we? Who do you think we are?"

The gate suddenly swung open, revealing the steward, this time wearing pale yellow robes with inlaid rubies. "Gentlemen, step aside, the Baron wants to talk to this Nord."

The guard said, "Well we have orders from the Baroness to not let him in. And we both know she doesn't care one way or another what her brother thinks."

The steward fumed, the scars on his cheeks burning pink. "I said, let him in. I don't care what other orders you have, just move aside dammit."
The guards did so, reluctantly, each of them casting equally baleful looks at both the steward and Skjari.
"If you'll follow me, sir, I believe the Baron has a way for you to get your sword back," the steward said.

"Hopefully." he said with a distant voice as he watched the guards, thoughts going through his head. Dark ideas were forming and he viewed the guards as a possible fuel source. But then he snapped out of it and walked past the guards to the steward. "Shall we go then?" he said to the yellow robed man. 

"If you'll follow me," the steward said, though his clenched jaw told Skjari he was also not a fan of letting him in. 

They walked into the castle, and took the staircase to the left, down a long hallway, and finally into the Baron's chambers. There were two guards outside the door, but none in the room. The barone was waiting inside, he wore simple clothing compared to the steward, just a red velvet shirt and black pants. He lounged in a chair, popping berries in his mouth.

With a wave of his hand, he said: "Leave us, steward." to which the steward did a quick bow and left just as quickly. "King Gothryd thinks himself exceedingly clever, yet the very day he began paying that man to keep our actions aligned with his own, my sister and I knew. Personally I find it highly amusing the way he and Elysana like to scheme and maneuver against each other. But enough of that. So, you want the sword, eh?"

"Well it is my sword." Skjari answered.

Wagging a juiced stained finger, the Baron said, "And yet you don't have it. My lovely sister does. But I can get it for you, so long as you get something for me. I am my father's first born son, and by rights I should rule. But dear older sister has it in her head that she, being the oldest child, should rule. So if you can find me some dirt on her, you can have the sword."

"You better have a good idea on where to get it then. Cause my patience is running a bit low and I have no desire to be someone's errand boy."

The baron ignored that. "I'm sure her room would be chock full of juicy secrets. I don't know anything specific, though. Maybe a journal or diary? From what I hear you are an adept mage, so I'm sure you can find something on her."

"So her room is the one just across the hall from this one? And I can just walk right in there?"

"It's the other wing. We like to be as far away from each other as possible. And yes, I suppose so. She went off riding somewhere."

"Well then." said Skjari and left the room rather quickly. Once outside the room he made sure the door was properly closed before he cast his spell again, and this time the path that lit up lead to the hallway and surprisingly down the stairs on his right and out the castle doors. He looked over across the hall to the door he assumed was the baroness's room and then back to the castle entrance, wondering which would be the better option to pursue. Though seeing as this was perhaps the only time he would be able to walk around in the castle undisturbed, he quickly walked along the balcony to his right to her room. He felt like a simple thief as he silently cast the spell that unlocked the door.

Inside was a large bedroom; a hearth was embedded in the wall right to right of the wall with an empty weapon plaque above it. In front of the hearth up against the left wall was a large double bed with nicely decorated bedsheets. Two large windows in front of him provided a gorgeous view over a small valley and some mountains in the distance and a big desk with a chair stood on front of directly under the window on the right. Bookshelves filled with books and other smaller decorative trinkets covered most of the wall to the right. And an unlit chandelier hanged in the middle of the room above a carpet woven in old bretonic fashion. 

Skjari quickly went for the drawers of the big desk and began rummaging through them methodically one by one. He found some papers that he assumed was about some economical things but decided to ignore them as he couldn't quite see how and if they could provide the compromising information that he sought. When he found a couple of books he read half a page of the first one to find it filled with nothing but a smutty story, so indecent he was even surprised that such things were put to the written language. Tossing the book aside he opened the second one to find that it might actually be some kind of journal or dairy of the the baroness, as the letters was both handwritten (as opposed to the first book that had clearly been made by a press) and that the page he read detailed some of what appeared to be the daily dealings in Highpoint. 

He put the journal on the desk and then tried his best place everything back to where it had been before taking the book and leaving the room. To make sure he covered his tracks he also used a spell that relocked the door. Then he quickly went back to the baron's room on the other side of the hall. Inside he found the baron still in his chair, looking somewhat bored. Skjari tossed the book in an arc through the air at the baron, who caught it more with his chest than his hands.

"Does this work?" said Skjari, trying to hide the impatient undertone in his voice.

The baron flipped through the pages, his excited expression quickly giving way to another bout of boredom. "This is all you could find? It's so long! How am I supposed to find anything in here? Go find something else if you want your sword."

"Put some bloody effort into it." said Skjari, no longer trying to hid his impatience. 

"Don't backtalk me, Nord. If you want your sword, you'll go back and find something useful."

"And what if that book is the only thing that is useful?"

The Baron stroked his chin. "In that case, you don't get the sword. I asked for information, not a giant book to sift through."

"Well then, I'll take the book back to her room in that case." Skjari held out his hand, waiting to get back the book.

The Baron tossed it to Skjari. "If you don't find something better than that, don't bother coming back."

Skjari caught the book and left the room again. The baron wasn't likely to be helpful, he thought as he went back to, unlocked and entered the baroness's room for a second time. He left the journal on the desk and began to go through the books in the bookshelves. After going having had a look on all the books (only to find that they were little more than simple novels, history books and manuals on different court manners and hunting for nobles) that he sat down in the chair by the desk and began to think. He waved his hand at the door and heard as the gears signalled that the door was now locked and then picked up the journal and began to read, with small invisibility spell ready in case someone decided to enter. So whether he would find any interesting information or the baroness would come back before that, he would have a opportunity to get his sword back.

Some time later when he had reached about fifty pages in, a letter dropped out of the book. It must have been tightly tucked between the pages. He reached down and picked it up and folded it open. What was inside was rather odd, a short talk about a secret meeting in the woods of the nearby valley. Unsure if this would be enough he looked over the letter again to see if there was anything else but found nothing. Though it could still be something he thought as he put down the book and went towards the door. Slightly annoyed of having to unlock and relock it again as he went out and back to the baron's room with the letter.

"Does this work?" he said with an impatient voice as he held out the letter to the baron. 

The baron quickly scanned the letter, his eyes lighting up and lips twisting into a grin. "I believe so. But you took much too long, and tried to use that horrible book as dirt. And so my generosity has passed, and you will not be seeing your sword any time soon. Now shoo, I must figure out what to do with this letter."

"Much too valuable? Get the guards?" Skjari said in a slight disbelief, but not any real surprise, as he subtly cast his magic; the lock turned in the door behind before it slowly began to freeze over, and a muffle spell lied down over the room like a blanket. "Where is my sword? And why does your sister insist on keeping it from me?"

"What're you doing? Unlock the door! Guards!" the Baron said.

"Pitiful fool." said Skjari in a low voice as he took a few quick steps towards the nobleman. The nobleman did some flailing with his arms and legs in attempt to keep the mage at bay. But Skjari wasn't deterred and quickly reached out and grabbed the nobleman's throat so hard he stopped his flailing and only looked at Skjari with fear filled eyes. "Sos fah dur. Sos fah dov." said Skjari in a melodic way. The braon began to slowly bleed from the eyes and nose. Soon he also began to try to cough up some blood, but Skjari's grip forced him to instead to slowly choke on it. "Sos fent nahkip dur. Ahrk bahlok fah pogaan." he then continued. He threw the nobleman down onto the floor. More wounds opened and blood began to pour onto the floor. But instead of forming a puddle it flowed like small rivers across the stones to form a big rune around the man. 

Displeased with the turn of events Skjari sidestepped the rune as unlocked the door and opened it just enough to slip out before closing it it again. The two guards on the outside were too bored that they didn't notice Skjari being extra careful about how he left the room. Quickly he walked back to the baroness's room and went through the same procedure as last time as he unlocked, entered and locked the door again. He sat down in the chair at the desk again. Determined to wait for the baroness to arrive.

The sound of a key fiddling in the lock was heard, along with several people talking. The Baroness walked in, flanked by a pair of heavily clad knights. At her side was the most curious site likely seen by Skjari in many years. A sabertooth tiger, striped in black and orange, prowled beside her, slinking low to the ground. While the Baroness did not immediately register Skjari's appearance, the cat took notice, and emitted a low, guttural growl. One of the knights, the guard captain judging by his more ornate and fanciful armor, inlaid with silver and gold and jewels, drew his sword.

The Baroness, taking a half step backward, said, "What are you doing here?"

"I was invited by your brother." Skjari replied calmly, glancing at the big cat and the guards but for the most part had his eyes fixed on the baroness. 

"And where is my brother? This is most certainly not his room," she said, narrowing her eyes as she crossed her arms across her chest.

"He thought you needed some company." Skjari chuckled a little. "Though you should go take this with him if you have a problem with who he invites."

She waved a guard off, who left to confront her brother. She and the guard captain stayed. "You are here for your sword, I suppose."

"Why else would I be?"

The Baroness rolled her eyes. "Maybe you enjoy harassing us. Who knows."
The guard came back, his face visibly pale. He leaned forward and whispered in the Baroness' ear. "Ah, so I see you have done me a service in ending my brother. Pity I wasn't here, it sounds wonderfully violent. What did he do, pray tell."

"He promised me the sword. But then he didn't want to deliver."

"I see. Well, I won't be making the same mistake he did. Captain, fetch the sword," the Baroness ordered.
The knight returned a few moments later, gripping the sword by its sheath. Evidently the enchantment on it made holding it nearly impossible, unless the user wanted frostbite. He walked over to Skjari and held it out, though was none too pleased.
"Are you satisfied now, Nord? If so, leave with the utmost haste. I dare say I cannot stand to look at you much longer."

Skjari however didn't pay the captain or the baroness much mind, too focused on the sword. Grabbing the sword by the sheath with his left hand and on the hilt with his right hand, he slowly pulled the sword out of the sheath. It felt like he had been reunited with a part of himself. "Nahkriin." he said in a low voice as he read the inscription engraved on the blade. Then he quickly sheathed the blade and got up so he could put attach it to his belt.

"Well if you would so kindly stop blocking the exit." he said with a more courteous tone.

The Baroness did so. Her eyes traced the movement of Skjari as Skjari walked past them and out the door. On his way down the stairs he some old man, short white hair and muttonchops, wearing a a grey and green robe with gold and red embroidery. Skjari didn't pay him any attention as he quickly strode down the stairs. 

The old man came to a stop before the baroness, who said "Glad to see you back, Lywel."

That was the last thing Skjari heard before a few seconds later he felt magic in the air, followed by his defences being stripped away and then before he could blink, his body became stiff and refused to obey the commands of his mind. His rigid body fell to the floor with a thud, while the baroness smiled gleefully from atop the walkway from which she watched. Across the hall, she noticed the steward entering her brother's room, but even the thought of that weasel in her midst didn't impede her joy at seeing the barbaric mage put down.

"Take him to the dungeon, Sir Stoine," she commanded the guard captain. "And Lywel, ensure he cannot escape the cell. I want it more heavily warded than a Wayrestian bank."

 

A journey in chains

 

Highpoint, Castle dungeon

It was black and all Skjari could feel was the cold stone floor beneath him and the rune inscribed shackles around his wrists. He had lost track of time, trying to use his magic so much that it caused the runes to glow and the steel to grow hot and burn his skin. When magic had failed he had tried brute force, pulling at the chain and shackles till it hurt so much they grew numb. Now he waited in the darkness. The only light he saw was when a guard opened the door, holding in hand a torch and the other a wooden tray with a meagre meal. It was also then he could see the dried blood and burn marks on his wrists around the shackles.

The shackles themselves were tied together by a one foot chain. And that chain was locked with another chain that was anchored in the floor of the middle of the room. It was just long enough that Skjari could stand, slightly hunched over. But standing was a waste of energy and so Skjari remained either seated or lying down. 

Almost all that passed through his mind was plans to escape, possible spells he could use on the shackles and guards routines he could exploit. The only other thought he had was vengeance. Vengeance on the baroness and all within the castle that had imprisoned him and left him to rot. 

Keys fumbled in the lock, and the heavy door swung slowly open. A thickset guard held another wooden tray, replacing the empty one from last night. It had a hard biscuit, some mushy stew, and a cup of water.

Looking at Skjari through a mass of tangled black hair, the guard said: "You got the steward with that little blood trap of yours. And a couple of ours. Baroness none too pleased. I expect this'll be the last meal you see for a while." He then spat in the mush, and chucked as he left, locking the door back behind him.

Skjari mumbled a draconic phrase as he tried to cast another spell. The runes lit up and emitted feint light that he used to guide his hands to the food. It was draining but he didn't want to fumble and tip over the cup of water like last time. Once done with the food he tried to lie down and sleep. It was hard as the stone floor was both cold and uncomfortable. And it wasn't soon before he lost track of time again as his mind began to wander. 

A few days later, or at least that was how much time he thought had passed, the door opened in the late afternoon, revealing a bloodstained, heavily clad knight with his sword drawn. Behind him stood two others, both their swords drawn as well.
"Nord, on your feet. The King wants to see you," the first knight said.

Skjari stood up, as much as the chain allowed him to. Remaining silent he only gave the knights a weathered and somewhat confused look in reply. The knight took out a key and unlocked the shackles from the floor. But he kept hold of the chain, and pushed Skjari out into the hallway before him.

With one guard behind him, and two on either side, Skjari was marched up into the main hall. Though no bodies lay on the floor, several bloodstains were easily visible. On the throne sat a man in a lustrous purple tunic and cape a red dragon snaking its way down the front. He had a stern face, with thick brown hair, though it wasn't very long. Kneeled before him was the baroness, her hands shackled behind her back. Beside the throne stood a man with deep black hair and sharp features.

King Gothryd looked up from his conversation with the Baroness. "Ah, this must be the Nord I've heard so much about. Well, you'll be pleased to know you are released from the baroness' dungeons. Unfortunately, you'll be in mine."

"You're the king?" Skjari asked curiously, wondering if the ancient laws still stood. 

Gothryd stroked his weathered chin. "Yes, and I have been for near forty years. Yet never have I seen a feud like this. Over a sword? Inconceivable."

"It is my sword." replied Skjari, determined and head held high.

"Was it worth killing several men and getting imprisoned over? I think not," Gothryd said. As Skjari was brought forward, in front of the throne was carpet. On closer inspection, he could see it had black and orange stripes and bump that proved to be a head. It was the baroness's pet, which probably explained her muffled sobs. 

"That sword is worth the blood of a thousand men. And I will have it returned to me."

"No, you won't. In fact it is long gone by now. I sold the damn thing, seeing as it caused so many issues. The baroness proved her unwillingness to deal with murder in her own court, so I will deal with it. You and her are to come back to Daggerfall to face justice, while Sir Vette here," he motioned to the black haired, lithe knight, "will henceforth be baron Vette. I trust he will be more loyal than the former baroness."

"You. Sold. My. Sword?" said Skjari, disbelief and anger filling his voice.

"Don't you see, it's better this way. You're too attached, it's better to just let it go. No need to anger yourself Nord, it's long gone by now."

"Then I'll find it again."

Gothryd smiled. "It'll be hard to do that once we sever your head. But you can keep your delusional dreams if you wish. Now, it's time we be off. Guards, put these two in the wagon, and ready my horse."

The knights yanked the Baroness up, two others grabbed Skjari and yanked him along. They were led out of the castle and through the courtyard. Patches of blood visible on the ground but no bodies in sight. Outside the gate, the two prisoners were pulled up on the wagon and their chains fashioned to it, while everyone mounted up.

"So what is that so called 'king' doing here?" said Skjari to the baroness as the wagon began to move.

The Baroness looked up, her eyes filled with malice. Her right eye was bruised, purple and yellow, swollen shut. "He thought I killed the steward. He was his man, spying on us or something. I knew, but frankly didn't care. Until he and his knights showed up, killing my men and taking the castle over."

"Didn't he say I killed the steward?"

"He figured that out after the fact. But he's the king, so he doesn't care. And he knows how little I liked my brother, so he thinks I'm complicit in it."

"Well I don't think I need to remind you that this would never have happened if you had given me my sword in the first place."

The Baroness didn't deign to reply, though it was clear to her Skjari was right. Skjari then also remained silent as they passed through town. The townsfolk were watching them all like it was some form of parade. But Skjari didn't pay them any attention as he instead focused on where his chain was attached: half of an iron ring attached to the floor of the wagon. The wagon driver was just out of reach but even if he was it wouldn't have mattered if the reigns was out of reach. 

As much as he hated it he leaned forward towards the former baroness and whispered: "Do you know if there's any magical key for disabling these shackles?"

"A spell? I suppose if you knew one you could. But I don't, and if you're asking I suppose you don't either," she said, her eyes focused on the passing countryside.

"I know spells that could break them, if I wasn't in them. Do you know magic?"

Her fingers danced in flames as she conjured a fire spell, and said, "Nothing too complicated. But every noble has at least a cursory knowledge of magic."

"Are you ready to learn? I might be able to teach you some basics."

Her mouth opened, but before she could speak, the driver turned around and said, "No talking, prisoners. Next one to speak gets their tongue cut out."

"Tonight." whispered Skjari, so low it might as well just been him moving his lips. Then he leaned back and tried to lie down as comfortably as he could on the bench he was seated on. Getting any sleep proved to be impossible but he managed to relax enough to get some rest. 

That night they camped along a creek, beneath a grove of tall oak trees, just a short distance from the road. The king's tent was erected by closer to the creek, while the prisoner wagon was parked beneath the trees. Several guards patrolled the perimeter, but were looking for threats from the road, not from the Baroness and Skjari. However, the wagon driver slept on his bench, whistling softly with each exhale.
"What's your plan?" the Baroness whispered, casting glances at the sleeping driver as she did.

"I'm going to try to teach you a spell that will break or at least weaken the wards on these shackles. So I can then use my magic to break the chains." replied Skjari.

"Let's try it. We're both dead anyway unless we do," she said.

And so Skjari began his best to explain what he could. The baroness seemed surprisingly eager to learn, but also surprisingly inept. The magic Skjari wanted to teach was quite different and he found himself trying to understand what she knew more than he spent actually teaching her. They continued until they could see the faint light of the sun scare away the stars in the horizon. Both of them were then so tired that they quite quickly fell asleep in the wagon. Skjari woke up briefly once the wagon began to move again but then quickly fell consciousness once he had gotten used to light bumping on the road. They continued again that night and made at least a little progress. She managed to cast a spell that weakened the wards ever so slightly before they had to go to sleep again. 

But they were only able to sleep half that day before the wagon driver woke them up and wondered suspiciously why they were now suddenly spending the days sleeping. After a second of thinking Skjari said that the two had decided to have fun before they met their end, and thus spent most of the nights quietly having sex. It was quite the stretch and Skjari knew it. But it was more believable than saying that they had philosophical debates or were gambling through the nights.

The baroness hesitated for a few seconds, just staring, before she quickly nodded and confirmed Skjari's statement. The driver looked at them for a few seconds and Skjari began to wonder if the driver was onto their escape plans. Then he chuckled and made a joke about how the approach of death had made the baroness into a lowly whore. The baroness looked none too pleased about that but she didn't protest as she was now allowed to go back to sleep. Skjari went back to sleep as well.

And so they continued as the journey went on, practising magic by night and sleeping by day. Each night making a little bit of progress. Though it proved that was all for naught, however, as the final sunrise showed the port city of Daggerfall looming in the distance. By midday, they had arrived. The tall towers of the castle loomed above the bustling city, with dragon banners atop them flapping in the wind. Ships sailed in and out of harbor, while street side magicians, jesters, and bards filled the street with merriment. Skjari and the baroness felt none of it, however, as they saw their plans crumbling away into dust.

A contingent of knights met the king outside the gate, and he left the prisoners to a handful of guards. In desperation, the baroness mustered all she could to cast the spell, but it failed miserably, only serving to drain her magicka. With that, they were ushered off to their cells, to await the king's judgment.

Skjari began to plan a new escape nonetheless. Now not being chained to a floor or a wall he could roam freely inside his cell. The only thing restraining him was the shackles. He watched the guards and tried to memorize their routines. Poking them a little to see what they reacted at. And so he decided that that night he would make a last attempt at escaping. He only needed to wait till darkness had fallen over the city and the guards had begun to yawn. 

That evening though the prison began to move as half a dozen extra guards poured into the corridor of cells where they were kept. All prisoners were dragged out of their cells to be lined up against the wall. Soon an Altmer woman stepped through the door and into the corridor. She was wearing something akin to modest merchant clothes, with some green embroidery in elvish fashion. She had long black hair tied neatly in a ponytail behind her head and her skin was smooth and rather pale. 

She walked forward to the first man in line, a skinny and dirty man in rags, inspected him for a moment before saying: "Pathetic." and she moved on to the next man. There she inspected him as well and pinched the man's arm muscles for a bit. "I'll take him. Put him with the others." 

"What? Where are you taking me?" the man asked rather surprised as two guards grabbed him and began to drag him off. But he got no answer and the tension in the air grew. 

The Altmer continued the procedure on the rest of the prisoners. Two more were dragged off by the guards at her command. By the time the Altmer woman had reached the baroness, she was just within reach of Skjari and his blood had by then reached the boiling point. He quickly took a step forward, but was however quickly forced back in line by a sword against his throat before he could even raise his fist halfway up. The Altmer woman barely seemed to have noticed as she now inspected the baroness. 

"You don't really look like the rest of the lowlife here." the Altmer woman then said.

"I'm not," the Baroness responded. "I am a noble woman, wrongly imprisoned. Take me from this place and I can promise you riches and titles and land, whatever you want. I don't belong with the rest of these scum."

"And how many generations back does your nobility go?"

"Six. We were knights before that, and gained the barony when we saved Highpoint from raiders."

"Much interbreeding with the older noble families?"

The Baroness racked her brain, before nearly shouting, "Yes! My three greats grandfather married a Traven cousin, and my great grandmother married someone from Evermor, whose name I cannot recall, but he was of very old blood."

The Altmer woman betrayed a small smile for a second at the baroness's eagerness. "I'll take her too." she said to the guards before turning back to the baroness. "Now just follow the guards out the door."

"Thank you," the Baroness said, bowing. "I promise you won't regret this."

The baroness was then escorted out of there instead of being dragged out like the rest had been. The Altmer woman then went on to the last man in the line: Skjari. Skjari himself just watched the woman, feeling like he should say something insulting and threatening. But as his eyes darted between the woman and the guard holding the sword tip against his throat he decided to instead remain quiet. 

The woman began to examine him as she had done with the others. When she reached out squeeze his upper arm muscles he had to strain to not let his thoughts of vengeance get the better of him. He closed his eyes and hoped it would be over as fast as possible. The Altmer then grabbed his wrists to examine the shackles and his hands. Then she put her hand at his jaw and pulled lightly. "Open up." she said when Skjari refused to open his mouth. Though the sword pressing harder against his throat made him slowly obey. The Altmer woman then summon a light orb that shone so bright that Skjari tried to shut his eyes even harder. When she was done inspecting the inside of his mouth she slammed it shut so hard the teeth clattered. "I'll take him." she said after a moment of silence. 

Skjari opened his eyes only to see the woman begin to walk towards the door she had come from. A guard grabbed the chain between his shackles and pulled while the other poked the sword harder against his throat as encouragement to follow. The sword now cut slightly into the skin and a Skjari could feel the cold steel burn at his throat. Reluctantly he followed as he was dragged out of the corridor. The other prisoners were forced back into their cells. And so they went, walking through the winding corridors of the dungeon. Eventually they got to a big room, the entrance hall of the dungeon. There about one and a half dozen prisoners awaited, split into two about equally large groups; one female and one male only group. 

Skjari was pushed into the male group. Everyone except the guards and the Altmer woman seemed to be confused about what was going on. 

"Alright, listen up!" the guardsman that looked to be the warden of the dungeon yelled at them. "You will now follow us. And if anyone tries to run we'll cut you down. Is that understood?" 

"Where are you taking us?" one nervous woman asked.

"To my home." the Altmer woman spoke up. "I'm going to give you a second chance."

"She paid a lot of good money to take you sorry louts off our hands. So get moving!" the warden shouted at them.

The two groups reluctantly began to move as the Altmer woman led them out of the dungeon. The guards around them herded them like cattle through the dark and empty streets. Skjari thought about making a run for it, and if he could tackle a guard on the way he might be able to get his hands on a sword to defend himself with. Such an opportunity however didn't present itself as all the guards had their weapons drawn whenever Skjari deviated the slightest from the group, they pointed their swords at him and told him to get back in line. And so they continued along the streets. 

One thing Skjari noticed was that they were always walking slightly downhill and he wondered where this woman's home was. Soon they arrived at the docks. The black sea stretched out into the horizon and it was so quiet that he could hear the ships' lowly creak and the calm waves clash with them and the piers. It all gave way to an eerie atmosphere as the prisoners were herded along one pier to the boat docked the furthest out. The boat the approached was long and rather slim. Dark green and blue painted carvings covered the hull. 

The guards stopped at the gangway onto the ship and told the prisoners to keep moving. Skjari was the last one among them, refusing to cross the bridge. A guard poked his sword tip hard in the back of Skjari but that only made him step on step onto the gangway. The Altmer woman that waited up on the ship saw this and walked down the gangway towards Skjari. He saw this as his chance to escape and possibly drown the elf. But as she got close she put her hand on Skjari's cheek and before he could even attempt the tackle he felt like his mind was pushed away and something else took control of his body. The woman took a step back and walked back onto the ship, now with Skjari obediently following. He tried to force his body to turn around, to stop, but to no avail. 

He followed her down under deck and down a couple of stairs before she stopped before an open hatch leading down into what was apparently the cargo hold. She opened it with magic from a wave of her hand and Skjari were now forced to walk down into the darkness. A few faces of the men starred up at him as he walked down the final stairs. Once he reached the floor, the hatch closed behind him and he was left in darkness.

 

A faraway land

Skjari 

Abecean Sea

The voyage across the sea lasted days. How many he did not know exactly. The only sense of time he had was when the food arrived. It was also the only time the lantern hanging in the roof was refilled and relit, to allow everyone in the hold to eat without tripping over each other. But people still tripped over each other as they tried to get as much food as possible before everyone else. Which in turn led to fighting and two of the men getting killed in the brawl. Skjari however waited out the fighting and took what little food he could the first day. Then when everyone had gone to sleep, Skjari crept forth in the dim and dying light of the lantern and silently strangled the two biggest offenders to the fighting. Then arranged their bodies against the wall like if they were still asleep. 

The following day he managed to force some organization on how the food was split up. He of course gave himself a larger portion than everyone else, which only one protested about. But a few punches and one snapped neck later everyone else agreed upon Skjari's arrangement. With five less mouths to feed there would be enough for everyone anyway.

Skjari spent most of the time in a corner of the hold, it was also where he slept with his back against where the two walls met, to make sure that no one could sneak up on him from behind. It was also the most comfortable place to be whenever he felt he was getting a bit seasick. From there he watched everyone. Everyone in the hold was men, most were Bretons but there were two other Nords and one Redguard. With the Nords dead along with three Bretons, they were now a little more than half a dozen. 

The women that had been brought were kept in the hold next to them. That was at least what Skjari thought as he thought he sometimes heard a female yell on the other side of the wall when he rested his head against it. But the yell was always so low and so short he wondered if he was just imagining it. 

But on the tenth or eleventh day (one of the men even claimed it was the twelfth) the hatch was opened and a stern male voice ordered them to climb out of there and form a line. Skjari was reluctant and was the last one to walk up the stairs and out of the hold. They walked in a straight line, with two guards in golden armor leading in the front and two in the back, through a couple of corridors and up a few stairs till they finally came up on deck. The sunlight was so bright it forced Skjari to close his eyes. And the fresh salty air was sweetness on his lungs compared to the damp air he had had to breathe in the hold. 

But he could enjoy the clear sky and fresh air for long before he was pushed forward by one of the guards behind him. That however made him so angry he was almost about to turn around and leap onto them. But he instead took a deep breath and began to look around to get an overview of his surroundings. What he saw that they were now docked in some town, the design of the houses suggested at an Altmer town. Elegant, symmetrical and almost sea-like whirls decorated the façade of most of the buildings. The rooftops had an elegant curve to them as well. The sea stretched out on all other sides but some distance out at sea a wall of fog blocked the view. It was like the clouds had decided to form a circle around this place and deny them sight beyond that circle. 

Now as Skjari walked the gangplank down to the docks he could see that the women had already been lined up. Seeing as the women now numbered more than the men, it was apparent that they had suffered few, if at all any deaths. The docks themselves were quite quiet and the only other ships were on the other side of the harbour. Only a few elves could be seen in the distance, either working on those ships or walking in the streets of the city.

The men lined up along side the women and Skjari could see the rather pale and black haired Altmer woman (with another Altmer woman in finer clothing standing besides holding a green parasol with golden swirls to rotect them both from the blinding sun) that had brought them there watch them with a slight displeased look to her. Having lost her cargo must have been frustrating and it made Skjari slightly regret that he hadn't killed off the rest of the men only to annoy her. But she didn't seem to dwell on it as she now proceeded inspect them one by one, like she had done in the prison when she first acquired them. But now she instead of saying: "I'll take him", she said: "to" and then something Skjari assumed was an elven name. And right after she said that the person was led by a guard away from the docks to five enclosed wagons that were parked near the docks. Skjari was the last one in line and thus the last one to be inspected and sent off. 

"To assistant Erranil." she said and a guard grabbed the chain between the shackles to lead him to the wagons. Though Skjari had a different idea and instead quickly reached forward and grabbed the wrist of the elf and pulled him out of balance. As the golden elf began to stumble, Skjari sidestepped him and grabbed and drew the guard's sword. He managed to give the stumbling guard a quick slice at the throat which caused the elf hold the wound in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding before finally stumbling off the pier and into the water. The woman holding the parasol gave up a scream while Skjari continued by making a quick lunge forward in an attempt to stab the black haired Altmer woman. Though she saw it coming and sidestepped it with almost unnatural speed and then put her right hand on Skjari's cheek. Skjari once again lost control over his body as he froze in place. The woman signalled with her left hand for the guards to hold as they were now about to attack Skjari with weapons and magic. 

"You're an odd one." she said with a soft voice. "Now go to the wagons and take the one on the left." Skjari's body dropped the sword, slowly turned around and then began to walk towards the wagons. 

The wagon he got into was made of some sort of wood. It had walls, a roof, two doors and two benches along the sides. Bars formed a a circle in the walls and doors around the entire wagon slightly below head height, allowing them to look out in all directions except directly up and down. They were three people in the wagon, two women and Skjari. And luck would have it that one of the women was the baronesses. 

The baroness had seen his little escape attempt, and was evidently none too please. Her shackle-less hands rubbed at her temples, her lips thin and pursed. "Why must you always make trouble? I'm sure Lady Calanye would've allowed me to take you as my guard, had you not sliced that man's throat. She was greatly sympathetic to my cause when we spoke, and said I must only need help her with a few expirements before she would release me."

Skjari tried to reply but found himself unable to still fully control his body as he just managed to slightly open his mouth and utter a low "Aeh". 

The baroness smiled playfully. "Oh yes, that little spell. Maybe in your silence you'll think about what you've done. On the mean time, be on your best behavior, and I may be able to get you out of here. Gods know you owe me for not executing you on the spot when you so rudely helped my brother. You can pay off that debt by being my guard."

Skjari tried to ignore the baroness, and instead turned his gaze to the other woman. She was also a Breton with short dark brown hair tied up behind her head and wore what looked like slightly torn up apprentice robes. She looked to be rather young and had a dark bruise over her left cheek. She didn't say anything and averted her eyes when Skjari looked at her. 

The streets were eerily quiet. The streets were pretty much empty except for the guarded wagons passing through them. Skjari saw only two other Altmer pass by the wagons. In the distance a roar of cheers and other noise were heard. By now he had gotten enough control back over his body that he could lean and peer through the bars in an attempt to get a look on what lied ahead. The cheers and noise got louder and he thought he could peer another type of building ahead. It had a different and slightly curved walls compared to the rest of the buildings and Skjari could make a simple guess on what it was: an arena. 

"Did she mention anything about where the tests would be held?" Skjari now managed to say.

The baroness looked puzzled. "The experiments? No, I don't believe she did. But I imagine it'll be a plush place of some sort. Well, for me anyway."

"You sure?" he said as the cheers and noise was became louder, but still remained muffled by the walls of the building. Suddenly a cry of pain cut through it all only to disappear as fast as it had come. 

"I'm sure some of those peasants are meant for whatever that is, but certainly not I, and probably not you," the baroness said.

Skjari did not reply and instead waited, and watched the wagons ahead to see if any of them stopped. But the trail of wagons continued along the left side of the arena. They could hear the crowd grow quiet as some kind of announcer announced the next battle with a loud voice. He couldn't make out all the exact words but he could make out that someone would be fighting outnumbered. Soon the cheers began again. Though by now they had made it halfway around the arena and now veered off down a street. The noise of the arena now began to fade into the distance. Skjari heard a sigh of relief to find that it came from the mage apprentice, who also looked paler than before. The baroness didn't look paler than usual and in fact looked rather unaffected. 

He began to examine the wagon they were in. The doors were barred and locked on the outside so the inside was smooth and had no locking mechanism. The bars around the wagon were thick but Skjari was sure that if he could get into a good position, he could maybe kick out a few. Or if he could get his chains around them, he could maybe slowly saw his way through. But both options would take time and effort. Two things he either didn't have or wanted to save for later. 

They exited the city and came out on a green field. Skjari began to look around a bit more through the bars and saw that up a hill behind him was tower wedges forming a long wall around the hill. And towering above the wedges was a a mansion so tall and majestic it looked more like a castle. It's walls made of fine polished marble, big windows in various shapes covered the sides of the building that together formed a sun with beams flowing like rain towards the ground. The sun itself reflected of the building so well that it became painful to look at it for too long. 

"We're not going to the palace?" the baroness said chocked. Her eyes squinting from the sunlight's reflection as she looked longingly at the luxurious building. Though Skjari didn't bother to reply and the mage girl remained silent as ever.

On the other side of the wagon the green fields stretched out till it either reached the coast, that went in a curve till it disappear behind the terrain instead of reaching into the horizon, or grew into a forest. Ahead of the the road trailed onward towards some mountains (that were relatively low compared to those in Skyrim). Forests covered some of the roots of the mountains but their path ahead was clear and had little more than tall grass and one some rocks cover the sides of the road. Later when the mountains got closer he could make out the passage the road went through. It was a gorge with such straight and tall walls it looked like the mountain had one day simply decided to split into two. 

The sun was on it's way down as they entered the gorge and faded away as they got deeper. Soon the the sun was completely gone and no sunlight shone upon them. Now the only light they had was that of now lit lanterns that hanged from a rod on the front left corner of the wagons. It became also noticeably colder the deeper they went. 

Some times later they left the gorge behind and arrived in a valley surrounded by the mountain range. The valley was large and almost perfectly round. Green and yellow fields covered pretty much all of the land between the mountains and a third of it was farmland. Timber houses dotted the fields and in the far distance a form of fort could be seen. The fort was built at the root of the mountain and had long stretching walls around it. The fort didn't exactly tower over the valley and was actually quite short in it's height and was instead rather broad. 

The other wagons continued on the road down into the valley while theirs turned right up along a different path. They now travelled upwards towards what looked like to be several buildings forming a small town along the mountain side, overlooking the valley. They arrived in a square, surrounded by buildings three storages tall, with a simple round fountain in the middle with water streaming continuously from it. The wagon parked besides the fountain and soon the door was unlocked and an orc along with an overly large cat man stood there, each at one side of the wagon. They both wore a full set of simple leather armor and short sword. 

"Get out." the Orc ordered in a plain voice. 

The baroness exited in a huff, her face puckered as if she'd just eaten a lemon. "What is this? I was promised an accommodating abode, not this stable smelling shanty town."

The mage girl followed suit and that left only Skjari sitting in the wagon, watching and measuring the two supposed guards. It wasn't until the big cat man bared the claws and was about to climb into the wagon to pull him out that Skjari stood up from the bench and calmly walked out of the wagon, still giving the guards glances.

A rather short Altmer woman greeted Skjari with a disapproving scowl. She was still taller than most humans, but on the lower end for Altmer, and was heavy set as well. She wore simple mage robes, a light blue with silver accents, and carried in her hand a small whip, though it was tucked back under her arm. The guards stood beside her, while another assistant peered over her shoulder.

"I hope you do not make a habit of dragging your feet, Nord, or otherwise his claws will be the least of your worries. Take them to their rooms, and ensure this one," she pointed the nine-tailed whip at Skjari, "behaves. I do not like the look in his eyes. Perhaps he would do well to remember we could always take one, and see how his demeanor changes."

"Yes Erranil." the guards said.

The other assistant, an Altmer man with short silvery hair combed backward and wore white clothing that was still in the usual elven elegant design but was more plain than the other assistant's, slunk forth and looked at the new arrivals. It was obvious that he tried to hold a grin like a small child, which just made him look a bit silly. He stepped forth and grabbed Skjari's chains to lift up and look at the shackles. 
"Fascinating." he said in a voice that managed to be both slippery and chirpy. Then he moved onto the mage girl and gave her a quick glance over. "Hmm." was all he said and he then moved onto the baroness that looked her over from top to bottom. "Do you ever eat anything?" he asked with the curiosity of a child.

The baroness placed her hand over her chest, in a theatric gesture of shock, and emphasized it even more by sweeping her hair out of her face. "Of course I do. I am a noblewoman, and have access to better food than you can dream of. Now I demand to know the meaning of this. Where is Lady Calayne?"

"Quiet woman," Erranil said. Her own hair was perfectly manicured, pulled back on a righ ponytail with not a single blonde hair out of place. "You are not a noblewoman, you are nothing. The only escape from this island is your death, and even that will likely be painful."

The baroness had a real look of fear on her face, as tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. She blinked them back however, and said, "Aren't you a pleasant bitch?"

All that got her was a slap across the face, and thankfully for her, with Erranil's hand and not the nine-tailed leather whip. The Altmer woman judged she needn't say more and that her message was clear.

"Well she'll get extra fat portions of food. She could use a healthy dose of fat." said the other assistant as he pinched the baroness's upper arm.

The baroness recoiled from the pinch, doubly so after the slap. It didn't help, and she squirmed in the slight sting of the condescending Altmer.
"We'll have fun with her, I'm sure. Maybe we can see just what makes her noble. Her blood? Her brain?" Erranil asked smiling for the first time.

"We'll see. We should get instructions from Miss Silinbinder tonight or tomorrow morning." the white dressed Altmer turned around, but instead of leaving he continued to turn a whole circle. "We almost forgot. Protocol." he then clapped his hands and yelled: "Scribe!"

A Breton walked forward, his expression blank, while a parchment and quill floated in the air next to him. He looked at the three new subjects, examining them each in turn. He addressed Skjari first: "Name, age, race, if you will."

"My name is the Witch-king, I'm over five thousand years old and I'm a human." he replied a with a straight face.

The Breton waved and hand and the quill wrote out Nord, 30s. He then looked expectantly at Erranil, who raised her whip and with a quick and elegant flick of her wrist lashed it at Skjari's face. Before he could properly react, a small cut from the whip ran across his left cheek. 
"What is your name?"

Slowly began Skjari began to chuckle. Oh the irony. he thought. "My name is Skjari, I'm 29 years old and I'm a Nord." he then replied while he tried to not break out into open laughter.

The Breton waved, marking out the 30s and replacing it with 29, and added in Skjari.
"Name, age, race," he asked the quiet female Breton, who stood between Skjari and the baroness.

"Lielle, 19, Breton." she said quietly.

The telekinetically controlled quill wrote her answers down, and finally it was the baroness' turn.

She answered, "Baroness Carolanna Matreinace. Age 33, Breton noblewoman."

The scribe said, "That should do it." He rolled up the scroll and handed it to Erranil, then left back into the village.

Erranil turned to the guards, and said: "Now you may escort them away."

"This way!" the Orc ordered in his uncaring voice. The Orc guard led them towards one of the larger buildings, a large house with a door in the middle and symmetrical windows placed in a perfect grid along the façade. Through the door was a small hallway that lead straight forward to where it split up into two hallways, one to the right and one to the left, and a stairway leading up and down in the front. Down each hallway were doors evenly placed one each side. Each door was sturdy and had a little shutter at heads height that could be slid open. There was also signs hanging on a nail at each of the doors. Skjari slowed down to try to see what any of them read and saw that each sign was just a combination of a letter and then a number; "C 8" could be read on one followed by "C 9" on the next door. Slowing down to inspect the interior was not liked by the big cat man that interrupted it by pushing Skjari forward and snarling at him. 

The house was eerily quiet. The Orc led them up to the second floor, where a set of identical hallways as the previous floor could be found. They walked down the hallway to the left towards the end. There the Orc fumbled a little to get out the keyring and then fumbled some more to get the right key to open the door he stood in front of. "C 17" the sign on the door read.

"You. Inside." he almost barked and pointed at the Breton girl who then hesitantly walked into the door. The orc shut the door and locked behind her. He then continued to the next door and fumbled with the keyring again before finally opening it. "You. Inside." he said again and pointed at the baroness.

Carolanna complied, though she made an extra effort to walk into her room with her chin held high. "Lady Calanye will hear about this," she said.

The orc ignored her and shut and locked the door and moved on to the next one. Once the Orc had opened that door he pointed his finger at Skjari. "You. Inside." he repeated yet again. 

Skjari stood and decided to peek inside before walking inside, but was quickly pushed forward by the cat man when he didn't immediately obey. Skjari stumbled into the room and the door was shut and locked before he could regain his balance. The room itself was rather clean and reminded more of an inn than a dungeon cell. The only real furniture was a bed up against the left wall, a bed with proper bedclothes and a pillow. Other that there was a window that overlooked the square they had just been in, it was large enough to give a decent enough view over the town and some of the valley beyond that. However the window was also barred by thick steel bars placed in a grid fashion. The only other thing of note in the room was a small wooden square cube in the corner of the right wall near the door. The top of the cube was a lid and when Skjari opened it he saw a small bottomless pit with a foul stench that indicated what the cube was for. He shut the lid and went over to the window and began to examine the bars. The steel bars were built into the wall and too thick for any man to bend. 

Another prospect was going through the door. The hinges of the door was on the outside and there were no locks nor handles as well on this side of the door. After having given the door a few charged kicks at where the lock would be, he could safely assume that the door wouldn't open without a key. That left the walls, floor and roof. So he began to knock on each object and listen to hear if anything had a weak point. But he found none. The sun was now gone and the only thing that kept him from fumbling in complete darkness was the little light from the street lanterns outside that shone through the window. Tired and slightly disheartened he crept into bed. Hoping that the next day would be more fruitful. 

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Initial tests

 

Skjari awoke to hearing movement outside his door. Through the gap at the bottom of the door a food tray slid into the room. Then whoever was outside didn't seem to notice that or care that the hatch was missing, and simply moved onto the next door. Skjari got up and looked over the food. It was quite the meal compared to what he had gotten earlier: a chicken leg, a salad, two slices of bread and a big jug of water. And to his surprise none of it was stale. But after he eaten a few bites he began to notice a strange after taste and that the food was beginning to affect his magical energies. He stopped eating and began to ponder why they would poison his food like this when he had his shackles. And the only conclusion that made sense to him was that they would remove his shackles. That left him hesitant to finishing the meal. But as the stomach growled and hurt after more food, he just gave up a hollow chuckle at his stomach's protests before tearing into the meal again. There were after all other ways to regenerate magicka. 

A bit later a dull voice shouted in the corridor outside: "Put out your plates! Put out your plates!" Skjari could hear as the other people slid their trays out into the hallway. Skjari kept the bone leftover of the chicken leg and tossed it in under the bed before he slid his tray out through the gap. 

Someone scooped up the plates, and then disappeared back down the hallway. Several minutes later, Skjari heard more footsteps, though it was obvious there was a group as opposed to one person.

The Orc and Khajit guards escorted Erranil, which unlocked the door to Skjari's room. She was dressed much the same as yesterday, though her robes were now brown and tan, but still in the same style. "Out you come, Nord. We have some questions to ask."

Skjari got up from the floor, but didn't reply. The Khajit moved in, claws bared, and enticed Skjari to move out into the hallway. The cat and Orc escorted him into another room, where the guards attached his shackles to a table. Across from the table sat the Breton scribe, who magically commanded the quill from yesterday.

Erranil stood behind him, arms crossed over her large body. "Now, we have some questions for you. I'd prefer you answer honestly, I do not want to have to coerce you."

"Define 'honestly'." Skjari replied with a little chuckle and a stupid little smile. 

She ignored him, and began the line of questioning: "Who were your parents, and were they magically inclined?"

"Not really. They run small shop in Winterhold, selling stuff to the college."

The scribe penned the answer, as Erranil next asked, "And did you attend the college?"

"To some extent, yes."

"To what extent?"

"I tried to spend as much time there as the parents could afford and allow. But the times I spent there was rather irregular."

"Was that the extent of your magical training?"

"Rather adept."

"And yet you warranted those shackles while others didn't. So I'll ask again: what was the extent of your magical training?"

"It's all about perspective. I can rather advanced magic, but I wouldn't consider myself a master."

Erranil looked displeased at the answer. "Did you do all your training at the college or continue it afterwards?"

"I do magic whenever I feel like it. So you can say I didn't stop afterwards."

Erranil squinted at him, scrutinizing as a butcher does a cut of meat. "Why were you in the king's dungeons?"

"I killed someone over a disagreement."

"That's a broad generalization. Be more specific."

"I had struck a deal with him. But when he refused to pay up, I killed him. It was quite a mess."

Erranil seemed to know who the man was, as she whispered something to the scribe and he wrote it down. "Why were you in High Rock?"

"To retrieve an item of mine."

Erranil moved over and placed a hand on Skjari's shoulder, delivering a painful shock which made Skjari twitch a little. As she walked away, she said, "Now, I trust you will be more forthcoming with your answers. I have no time for your vagueness. Answer more thoroughly or you end up eating your fingers like the last non-compliant subject."

"My sword was stolen and I tracked it to High Rock. But what does it matter to you? It's lost now anyway."

"A person's motivations say a lot about them. But I do think that is the final question about your history. What birth sign were you born under?"

"The mage."

"What is your field of emphasis?"

"Emfasis?" Skjari said confused, trying to not revert back to his old nordic way of pronouncing. He had heard the word before but Erranil wouldn't wait for him as he tried to remember. Assuming in the context of his birth sign, he quickly followed up with the first thing that came to mind: "It's alteration."

The Altmer's eyebrows raised. "Your most common spell?"

"Armor spell."

"Hmm." Erranil motioned to the guards, who detached his chains from the table. They hoisted him up, and set him on his feet. "Now for the tests. Come."

Erranil walked out of the room and the guards pulled Skjari along. She led them down the stairs till they reached the bottom level. Though even though they were underground it didn't look like a basement, but instead like a study; the room was filled bookshelves and desks, all littered with books, scrolls and papers. Various tools and instruments were also scattered throughout the room, some looked to be of a magical nature while most seemed to be simply mechanical and a few were even of both. 

Though what was odd about the room was that the study seemed to only take up half of it. The other half of the room was plain and empty, with only a few magically charged lanterns high up on the walls to keep that half well lit up. Two large desk formed almost like a wall towards that half the room and had a gap in between to allow for passage. 

Erranil placed Skjari in the strange non study end, as she sat at the desk. Skjari was then left standing there in the empty half of the room while Erranil inspected him with her cold, calculating eyes. Then, she raised her hands, and began to drain him dry of magicka. The spell had a noticeable affect on him, as he seemed to sag in his posture slightly. Once done, she scowled at him, as she concluded he had more magicka than most human mages, and was certainly not simply adept.
"You are certainly not an adept. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"As I said: It's all about perspective. I don't know what standards you have for magic."

"Lower for a Nord, but you exceed most Bretons I know, and even Altmer. You cannot be only 29. Now stop lying and tell the truth."

"Well I told you what you would believe. The truth is that I'm more around double that age."

"How is it you look so young? It cannot be illusion, your magicka is drained."

"Alteration."

"A face sculptor? Or by your own hand?"

"My own. And it's more about preserving than changing."

"Remove his shackles." ordered Erranil and gave a light wave with her left hand. The Orc came forth towards Skjari, roughly grabbed his wrist and then practically rammed the key into the shackle. A magic pulse was felt going through the steel around the wrist and the ward began to wane. The Orc then repeated the process on the other shackle. For the first time in a long time Skjari could feel the freedom to use his magic again. Although his lack of magicka prevented him from casting any spells. 

Erranil then picked up a small bottle with a blue liquid from behind the desk. She levitated it carefully down onto the floor right in front of her desk. "Now I want to see some spell casting." she declared. A low and almost melodic tone was heard. Like water a translucent wall formed, cutting off the empty space Skjari stood in from the rest of the room.

Skjari heard a mechanical sound from his right and turned to see that a square part of the wall, near the floor, go into the wall and then slide to the side. Inside was a steel grate and behind that was the glittering eyes of a beast. Skjari guessed from the outline and the low snarling that it was some kind of skeever. 

"Do you give all your guests this kind of welcome?" said Skjari.

"Just the liars," she responded, her voice slightly muffled from the magical wall, as the skeever bounded into the light with a gnashing of sharp teeth.

As the grate slowly began to lift he quickly grabbed the bottle, uncorked it and drank it in one gulp. The skeever was quick to slip through once the grate was only two thirds on its way up. It rushed quickly towards Skjari with eyes crazed with hunger. Though Skjari managed to cast a simple armor spell before the little rodent tried to bury its teeth into his leg. He could feel the the teeth managing to cut into the skin just enough to cause a little bleeding. Bending down he grabbed the neck of the skeever with both hands. He wanted it to look like he was strangling the rat while he instead was draining every drop of energy and life out of the rodent to convert into magicka. Soon the lifeless body of the rodent fell to the floor when he released it from his hands. 

"You let him bite you. And I thought alteration was your strength." Erranil said, ever the skeptic.

"Because I could trust my armor spell to protect me. And there wasn't enough magicka in that potion for any real offensive spells."

Erranil squinted at Skjari, but then moved off to set up the next test. She grabbed a small bladed knife, sharpening it on a stone and then handed it to the Khajit, who took it and a small vial into the stone room section, after Erranil deactivated the magical wall. The Khajit grabbed Skjari's arm and slowly drew the blade a few inches down the length of his forearm. Using the vial, he collected the dark blood, but left without bandaging the wound.
"I hope you know a restoration spell," Erranil said.

"Do I get another magicka potion for that? Or shall I bleed all over your floor?"

"If you should need it. Have you not regenerated it by now?"

Skjari squinted a little at her mockery. "Is there a point to your question?"

Erranil didn't answer, but watched the blood well on the Nord's arm. It began to drip to the floor, so she finally tossed him a small bottle of blue liquid.
"Use it wisely."

Skjari almost dropped the bottle as he fumbled with his hand on his wounded arm when he caught it. After also gulping that one down in one go, he quickly sealed the wound on his arm. 

Erranil sent the ward wall up again, as she looked over a list of other experiments. Finding none to her liking, she said, "Put the shackles back on him."

The wall lowered again, and this time the Orc moved in. He grabbed Skjari's wrists and locked on, and then looked expectantly at Erranil.
"Back to his room. The test are finished, for now." She then left, leaving the lackeys to finish up.

The Orc and cat man brought Skjari back up the stairs and to his cell. The Orc opened the door and the big cat pushed Skjari inside. The door was shut hard and locked behind and him. 

Instead of standing up Skjari crawled to the bed and reached under it for the chicken bone. It wasn't much but it was quite solid. With one hand he put one end of the bone against the edge on the shackle on his other wrist. Slowly and carefully, to not break the bone, he began to grind it sharper and sharper. 

 

The escape

 

Skjari

Morning

Skjari awoke to the same sound as the day before; that of the food being distributed. Soon a tray full of food slipped into his room. The food looked to as rich and satiating as the meals of the last day, but likely just as poisoning too. Looking at the food he pondered on whether he should eat it. Feeling that he still had some strength from yesterday he dumped the food down the hole of the cubic box. When the trays were being collected, Skjari slid the now empty tray out from the room. 

He bent down and picked up the now sharpened chicken bone from under the bed, then tucked it tightly in under the belt on his left side. All he could do now was sit and wait.

It wasn't until midday that Erranil arrived, with the same two guards in tow. She looked happier than usual, and had two large tomes tucked under her arm.
"Come." she said. "We have much to get through today."

"Hmm." mumbled Skjari. Though he obeyed, he got up and walked slowly out of the cell.

The Khajit and Orc forcibly grabbed him, lifting him off the floor and carrying him between them. Erranil followed behind, and soon the group came to the same basement room, where Skjari was placed behind the magical wall on the far side.
Erranil took her place behind a desk, opening both tomes and using her finger to find her place in the first. "Today, mental tests. First question: What would you do if you came across an abandoned child in the forest?"

At first Skjari just gave a confused look. "Probably bring it back to its parents." he then said.

Erranil looked down at the book, and then looked up again. "What would you do if you found a man lying beside the road, injured, and he offered to pay you to help him?"

"Accept the offer."

"You help him, but he doesn't have the coin to pay you after all. What do you do?"

"Slap him hard for lying, but otherwise moves on."

"A drunkard tries to pick a fight with you. He's obviously inebriated, but is brandishing a broken bottle. What do you do?"

"Try to calm things down."

"What do you do when you catch an elf picking your pocket?"

"Deliver him to the guards."

"Your answers are surprisingly mild mannered for a man that attempted a break out and killed two people on the boat."

"Because your questions are about when I'm not having to worry about dying."

Erranil motioned turned to the guards and said, "Time for the box. Take him a table as well." She then lowered the magical shield as the guards moved in with a table. On top of it they sat a small wooden cube, which they promptly broke apart into several pieces. Erranil produced an hourglass, and said, "Put the cube back together as quickly as possible. You may start." She then raised the magical wall, and cast her piercing gaze on Skjari.

Skjari began by examining the pieces, little rectangular block in various sizes. Putting it together would obviously take some thought, or blind luck. As he began to put pieces together to see if they fit into the shape of the cube he made sure to take extra long time, as well as making a few repeated mistakes. Making a few confused and frustrated looks whenever he made those mistakes would probably also help make him seem a bit daft. When he felt he had drawn out the time long enough, he built up the half of the cube he had figured out and the rest of the pieces fell almost naturally into place after that. 

Erranil lowered the wall, and the Orc and Khajit moved in and took away the table and cube. She raised the wall, and then produced three cups and a single ball. She placed the ball under the middle cup, and the began shifting them around.
"Keep your eye on the ball, and when I stop, tell me which cup it's under." she switched them and moved them, until finally she stopped. "Which cup?"

"That one." he said and pointed at the left cup. Pointing at the wrong one would be an obvious lie at the current pace.

Erranil lifted the cup, and revealed the ball. "Good. Again." Erranil shuffled faster this time. "Where is the ball?" she said. 

Skjari pointed at the cup he had followed. Erranil lifted to reveal the ball yet again. and it repeated, faster and faster till Skjari thought he had been good enough to now warrant more suspicion and then wilfully picked the middle cup at random. 

She lifted up the middle cup, revealing nothing but air. "It was the right cup." Erranil stood up, a wave of her hand lowering the wall. "Take him back to his cell."

Leaving, she cast a suspicious glance at Skjari as she turned to ascend the stairs, but left without saying another word.

The cat then walked behind Skjari and pushed him forward as the Orc led the way back to his cell. When they reached the second floor he put his right arm around his stomach to fake being ill. And as he did he carefully reached his hands for the sharpened bone under the belt. The cat behind him didn't care however and was about to push him again. Skjari then spun around when he felt the paw on his back, grabbing and pulling the arm of the Khajiit with his left hand  to get the guard off balance, and then drive the shiv into the catman's throat. However the big Khajiit didn't seem to care that he had just gotten stabbed in the throat. He got an angry look and tried claw at Skjari. Jumping out of the way of the claws, Skjari bumped into the Orc who had just turned around to see what was going on. The Khajiit took one step forward, only to start gurgle and fall to one knee and then ripping the shiv out of the throat and fall over, gasping for air. 

The Orc didn't care much for his colleague as he was quick to try to grab Skjari. A struggle broke out and both tried to force the other with pure strength. Skjari tried to hold the Orc from drawing his sword while the Orc tried to keep Skjari from grabbing his throat. So it continued, slowly, as a test of endurance and strength. And the Orc was winning. Skjari gave a hard knee kick to the crotch of the Orc, only to find that it had no effect other than making the Orc give a low sinister laugh. Skjari's endurance was running low and so he made one last desperate act to win: he released the the hand of the Orc and jumped up on and as he did he then wrapped the chain of the shackles around the neck of the green man. The Orc fell staggered from the weight of the Nord jumping upon him but did not fall. With his hand free to draw his sword the Orc now lacked the free space to draw it as Skjari stood too close, holding the Orc close by pulling at the chains to strangle him. The Orc tensed his neck muscles but in the end slowly lost his breath and faded from consciousness and then life itself.

The Orc's leather helmet came off as Skjari tried to remove the chains from around the neck, revealing a bald head with a large circle scar around the top. With the chain around the neck gone, the Orc's dead body then dropped to the floor and Skjari soon followed as he more or less fell rather than sat down from exhaustion. His body began to shake as the adrenaline left him and he was now wishing he hadn't skipped that breakfast. But not knowing if he had any time to spare he was quick to begin to search the dead guards' pockets to see if they had the keys to his shackles.

First he found the large keyring for all the keys to the cells, then he finally found the key that he recognized from the yesterday. With shaking hands he struggled a little to get the key into the locks. Once the shackles were gone he could feel the sense of freedom again. Scar tissue now remained from his previous struggles with the shackles, but they did not bother him as he could remove it later. 

Getting up on his feet he retrieved the large keyring and searched for the right key. Luckily the keys were numbered after the doors so it wasn't difficult to find the right key. With the key he fumbled a bit more to get it into the lock of the door, but when he got it unlocked he opened the door to where the baroness had been stowed away.

The baroness was huddled on her bed, up against the wall. When the door opened, her eyes closed, and she held together them tight.
"No, please, leave me alone!"

"Be quiet and help me pull these bodies." growled Skjari. Then he turned around and grabbed the wrists of the catman and began to pull. 

The baroness hesitated, but finally got up and began pulling the Orc into her room. She struggled, though, and had to have help to finish getting him inside.

Once both bodies were piled on each other in the room, Skjari quickly turned and grabbed the Carolanna's throat, pressing her up against the wall. He put his other hand over her mouth to prevent her from speaking. He thought about strangling her then and there and devour her soul but stopped himself when he got the idea that she might prove useful. 

Draining her body of energies that he could turn into magicka, which he then used to burn a circle of runes into the skin around her neck. She screamed but because of Skjari's hand, no one heard her. The pain from the spell caused tears to flow from her eyes .

"You're now my servant. My slave. You will do what I say, when I say it. And if you don't, you'll lose your head. Do you understand?" said Skjari in a low and menacing voice. 

Finally, after no more tears flowed, she slowly nodded.

"Good." he said and let go of her. "Now lock the room and throw the keyring in through the meal hatch while I go look ahead. Meet me at the entrance door." he order and then handed her the large keyring and left the room.

The corridor was strangely quiet. No one else in their cells seemed to have noticed tumult that had happened. Or maybe they had and just didn't bother to react. As he began to descend the stairs he was careful with each step to make sure the wooden floor didn't creak under his weight. Once down on the ground floor he peeked down each corridor on his sides, but found nothing but emptiness and the cell doors lining both sides. 

With quick steps he approached the exit door. There he carefully tried the door handle to his slight relief that the door was unlocked. While he could have used his magic to unlock the door, he didn't want to waste what magicka he had at the moment.

He carefully opened the door every so slightly and peeked outside. What he saw was parts of the square, along with a guard patrolling on the street in the distance. No noise was heard from directly outside the door so he dared to open it a little more. Now he could see most of the the square and there were no one there. He plotted the best route to escape by and then closed to the door, waiting for his new servant.

Carolanna arrived moments later. She averted her eyes to the floor, and massaged her throat with a hand as she said: "I did what you asked."

"Now keep your head down, be light on your feet and follow me closely. And close the door carefully." he said and then opened the door to peek if the coast was still clear. The guard in the distance was now gone and the square remained empty. He opened the door more and slipped out. Keeping his head low he dashed alongside the wall of the building, beneath the windows, till the building's end where a narrow alley formed between it and the next building. He had to walk sideways to squeeze through but he managed, and the the alley became wider the further he went. 

On the other side was the outskirts of the town. There was nothing but a rocky slope with some grass growing here and there. The slope grew quickly to become the side of the mountain, which towered above them like a stern giant that was almost leaning in over them.

The baroness was just a few feet behind. As they walked beneath the windows, crouching, they stopped  and crouched even lower when they heard a someone through the nearby window ahead. "So how went today's tests?" said a male slippery voice, which unmistakeably belonged to the male assistant that had greeted them at their arrival.

Erranil answered, her voice tinged with annoyance. "Fine. I grow more disappointed each day with the Nord. His alteration skills seemed impressive at first, but he can only pass the most basic tests."

Wood was heard scrapping the floor, as Erranil pulled out a chair and sat down. Liquid poured into a glass, and she drank it with a sigh. "Skingrad...third era, 430? Yes, had to be. A good vintage, and rare now."

"Drinking on the job now, are we?" the other assistant chuckled lightly. "You think he's faking it?"

There was a pause, long enough for Skjari and Carolanna to feel anxious about what was happening, before Erranil said, "It's a distinct possibility. A probability, I'd say. But he hasn't been interesting as far as results go, that's for certain. A pity, I was hoping he'd do something other than be exceptionally mediocre. I'd rather we just send him to the arena and be done with him. He does seem capable of killing, after all."

"And if he becomes champion of the arena, we can take him back for further testing." there was a short pause. "And anything interesting about the other mage?"

"The Breton? Yes, she's quite intelligent. Not as magically skilled as I'd hoped, but she's young, and likely would've mastered some field or another. Physically weak though, as I discovered she has some disease of the heart. She was unable to complete the physical tests, and nearly died. Not that it matters, as I'm done testing her."

"Weak heart ey? Hmm... Shall we infect her with vampirism and see if it kills her before she turns?"

"That would be fine. I doubt she makes it more than a few minutes without dying, though."

"Well it could help us understand how vampirism affects the heart during the turning stage."

"I'll let you handle that. I'm more interested in seeing how the Ataxia affects the noblewoman. Her plush lifestyle left no room for natural immunities. I doubt she lasts much longer without a cure."

"You really think she's so weak that it will kill her?"

"Not normally, no. But some of the other tests, such as the physical tests, likely weakened her. She was not strong to begin with. But she could pull through. I hope she does, I'd like to test her to see if her noble blood grants her any increased or decreased magical resistance."

"Better make sure she survives then. I doubt Miss Silinbinder would like if one of our rarer test subjects died so fast."

"I'll give her the cure tonight. She should be fine after that, though I'll probably hold off on tests for a day afterwards."

"And try to not give her any permanent damage. I would like to send her off for breeding once you're done with her. I hear those nobles are so keen their 'blue blood', I wonder if there's anything to it."

"She'll be fine. Some nobles families pride themselves on valour. We can try to use the arena champion to breed some fighters from her."

"Who happens to be an Orc right now." the man said with a sickening glee, and Skjari could hear the nausea of the former baroness behind him. "Though have you found anything interesting about her? Apart from this sickness test I mean."

"Not especially. No notable skills, no unique attributes. Rather dull, in all honesty. Though I imagine she had some political acumen. Not enough, apparently, considering her present circumstances."

"How much of a pure blood noble is she? I remember reading something about her being descendant of knights that became nobles."

"As pure as possible, or so she says."

"I wonder if she's so boring because she's got too little or too much noble blood. Or maybe she's the exception to the rule."

"Or she may just be an uninteresting individual. Regardless, I better go check up on her." For a few moments, Skjari and the baroness heard the sound of glass objects clinking together. When it stopped, Erranil said, "Finally. I thought I asked you to organize these potions."

"But they are organized. They're organized in the alphabetical and the amount of each ingredient each potion consists of."

"Redo it. I can't find anything in there." The door shut after a few moments, Erranil having left the room.

A bit of loud mumbling was heard followed by the sound of the bottles of the potions being moved. Now sure that they could sneak by the window unnoticed, they quickly continued to sneak by. They began to pick up pace as the time was off the essence. Sneaking past on the backside of the little town they soon found themselves on the ledge of a cliff. To their left was the town, blocked off by a house that was built to the edge of the cliff. To their right was the mountain, steep and impossible to climb. Stretched out before them was the valley, people could be seen working the fields of the farms and a few guards patrolled the dirt roads that formed a web throughout the valley. Nearer to the cliff they were standing on, a small clearing, dotted with furnaces and piles of earth and rocks, was half embedded into the mountainside. Even though the entrance into the mountain was hidden behind the rocks, it was clear that it was a mine as the people that worked down there were carrying shovels and pickaxes, and some pushed carts filled with rocks. A big Nord in the simple leather guard uniform stood in the middle of the clearing and waved a whip around whenever he thought someone was slacking. 

Skjari looked down the cliff and judged the height. It was too far to jump, while a jump wouldn't likely kill directly it would certainly leave a few broken bones. But the cliff was luckily rocky enough that climbing wouldn't be too much of a hassle. 

"I hope you can climb." he said as he quickly began his descent. 

The baroness hesitated, casting a glance over her shoulder as the guards in the village began scrambling about. Looking down, at the cliff below, she slowly began to climb. Her dress made movement limited, and it was slow going. Several times she nearly fell, but managed to hang on. But her hands were bleeding profusely, and her arms ached like they were on fire.

Skjari reached the ground first and sprinted ahead a little, hiding between the tall rocks as he approached the mining site. When he reached the outskirt of the clearing he got a better view over it all. There were no way of passing through the clearing without getting seen, and the only other alternative was to head out onto the road leading to the mine and into the open of the valley. He sneaked a bit closer to the mining area and hid behind a rock he peeked out onto the workers and Nord still lashing the whip around. 

He decided he would need to question one of the workers so he "psst" at a few of those nearby. A bit louder each time when he didn't get any response, in hoping that one of them would come and investigate. 

A woman, Nibenese judging by her olive skin and green tattoos across her neck, stopped and turned towards Skjari. Seeing him skulking there, she moved towards him, looking over her shoulder to make sure she went unseen.

"Who are you?" she asked, once she was hidden as well.

"What does it look like? I'm someone who is trying to escape."

The woman glared at him, but then looked past him as the baroness stumbled into view, making far too much noise. The Nibenese woman hissed, causing Carolanna to stop in her tracks.
"What's your plan then?" the Imperial asked.

"Find another way other than the deep gorge that leads to the city. Does this mine lead to the other side of the mountain?"

"I can lead you through. Try to blend in as a miner."

"I can try. My clothes don't help though, hers especialy." he pointed at Carolanna.

"We'd need a distraction then, draw the guards away so we can get in the mine. Once there we should be fine."

"How many guards are there? I could only see that man with a whip."

"There's another across, over by the road. And one inside the mine, but he'll come out if there's trouble."

"So distract the whipper, then kill the other inside the mine. Wont the other workers react and sound the alarm when they see us?"

"The workers... no, I don't think so. They'll probably want to escape as well."

Skjari closed his hand, so the others wouldn't see, conjured up a little creep and threw it out into the clearing. There it landed on the ground, tumbled a little and then began to crawl quickly across the clearing towards the workers on the other side.

"So why haven't people escaped if the mine goes through the mountain?"

"Guards on the other side. We'll have to deal with them when we get there."

"How many?"

"I don't know. Several, I assume."

"We'll deal with that then." said Skjari. 

A second later a cry of fear was heard, followed by the whipper yelling: "Hey! Get back to work you maggot!" and sounds of the whip lashing. 

Skjari quickly peeked forth from behind the rock to see one of the workers lying on the ground, twitching and desperately trying to get at the little creep crawling under his rags. The Nord had now gone over to the fallen worker and tried to whip the man into work again. 

Skjari took the opportunity and sprinted across the clearing towards the mine with the two women in tow. The other workers were mostly paying attention to the worker who had just fallen over. Some looked to Skjari and his two followers for a second, but all remained silent. 

The baroness and the Nibenese woman followed closely behind, as the bright intensity of the sun slowly faded to flickering torchlight. Several workers swung away with pick axes, and gave them curious glances, but said nothing.
The Nibnese woman moved to the front of the group, and lead the trio through the tunnels. The first fork they came to, she took them right, followed by a long straight tunnel, which ended in three branches. They followed the left one, now long removed from seeing any workers or signs of life.
"How'd you escape?" the guide asked.

"Was being moved to my cell. There I stabbed one guard with a sharpened chicken bone in the throat and strangled the other with the chains of my shackles."

"And her? Who is she?" she asked, lowering her voice.

"She's the one who got me into this mess."

"If it's her fault you're here then why free her?"

"Depends on what you consider free. Now she has to follow me around and follow my orders."

The Nibenese woman looked backed at Carolanna and the runes around her neck, her glance wary and nervous. "That's not going to happen to me, right?"

"Not unless you give me reason to."

"Trust me, I won't."

They went on and Skjari could feel the air becoming more damp and slightly harder to breathe as they went deeper and deeper. "So how far is it?" he then said. 

"Still a good ways. We're almost halfway there."

"Horse theft. Then I got chosen to come here."

So they continued through the mine. Skjari wondered how much commotion would be stirred up in the valley now that Erranil would have found that they had escaped. If their escape had caused any commotion, it certainly wasn't heard in the mine. It was quiet, apart from the sound of pickaxes hitting the rock. Only light that was came from lanterns and torches that had been placed evenly throughout the mine. The tunnel they walked through branched off a few times but their guide continued on, certain on which way was correct. Skjari's height now also became a problem as he had to crouch a little now and then to avoid hitting the head.

After some more walking he could hear a grumble coming from his stomach which reminded him that hadn't eaten and the ache that had tried to block out in his mind. His mind began to wander towards food. However those thoughts were quickly interrupted by a gruff voice yelling in front of them: "You there! Get back to work!" 

Skjari leaned slightly to the side to watch over the Nibenese woman's shoulder to see an Orc guard standing further into the tunnel, with a torch in one hand and a whip in the other. 

The Nibenese woman approached the guard, her face twisted in discomfort. "Where're the buckets at? I really have to use the bathroom."

"Do it in a corner." snarled the guard. 

"Move to the side." said Skjari, slightly annoyed at the woman standing in the way. 

She gave Skjari a disdainful look before moving off to the side, letting him pass. And as soon she did, the Orc only managed to give Skjari one look before an ice spike pierced his left eye and protruded through the skull so the tip stuck out in the back of the head. The Orc's body first became stiff and then turned limb as it fell backwards and landed on the ground with a loud thud. The nearby miners stopped their work to look up in disbelief on what had just happened. 

"Now shall we move on?" said Skjari, calm but slightly impatient. 

"Lets." the Imperial said, leading the way once again. Two right turns, and a left lead to a gradually sloping, straight corridor, which showed a bright light at the end. "Now, there's bound to be some guards. I'll let you take care of them."

Skjari looked over his shoulder at Carolanna, "You, Skinny, go ahead and see how many there are." he ordered. Though the nickname 'Skinny' was only because he couldn't quite recall her real name. 

She hesitated, but as her hand raised to feel the raised rune on her neck, she relented, and marched into the sunlight above. What she saw was three guards, one directly next to the exit, another cracking a whip, and another taking a break beneath a tree.

The one with the whip, a Breton, turned to her and lashed out with the whip, cracking it near her face.

"What're you doing? Get back to work," he said, though as he looked at her, the realization came she wasn't a miner. "Who are you?"

She stuttered, unsure what to say, and looked back at the mine entrance, hoping help would appear. None immediately did, so she said, "I got lost."

The man whipped her, and pointed toward the mine. "Get back in there and start mining."

Carolanna traced the lash across her cheek, feeling the blood well up on the fresh cut. She ducked her head and disappeared back into the mine, where she walked up to Skjari. "There are three guards."

"Armed and armored like the rest?" he asked. 

"Yes."

Skjari could then hear his stomach growl and feel it ache again. He looked around for something to regain some energy and his eyes landed on a dark elf that was swinging the pickaxe and giving the three curious glances, like did everyone else in the mine that had them within view. Quickly striding up to the grey skinned man that with nervous red eyes looked at Skjari. Before the elf could properly react, Skjari grabbed his throat with one hand the pickaxe with the other, to make sure he wasn't going to get hit by it, and began to drain his victim. A moment later the dead body of the elf fell down like a it was an empty husk. 

Slightly rejuvenated, Skjari returned to the two women. "Can you fight?" he asked the Nibenese woman, as if he was asking about the weather.

She recoiled a step, but then stopped and picked up the pickaxe. "W-well enough, I suppose. Though from the looks of things it doesn't seem you need my help."

"Hmm." was all Skjari muttered and then walked towards the exit of the mine. When he saw the first guard near the entrance, he quickly did away with him as he did with the previous: an ice spike through the skull. Though this time Skjari had accompanied the ice spike with another spell and as the guard fell o the ground, he landed on all fours instead of landing flat forward. Then with dead eyes filled with a faint light blue glow, the guard for up on his feet, drew his short sword and charged the guard wielding the whip. 

Skjari looked for his next target and saw that the guard under the tree had drawn his weapon and was now charging Skjari. Skjari sent an ice spike for that guard as well but this man was smart enough to dodge. The frozen missile brushed past the guard shoulder, ripping off the shoulder pad and knocking the guard off balance a bit. The second ice spike landed in area between the chest and the stomach, piercing through the leather armor and cutting deep. Though that only made the guard stagger slightly in his charge as he seemed unable to feel pain and continued his charge. The third ice spike landed in his chest and did as much to stop him as the previous one. 

When the guard was upon Skjari with weapon held high, Skjari ducked and sidestepped under the swing as well as setting one foot out to trip the guard. The man fell and landed on all fours. But before he could attempt to get up, Skjari stomped the man hard on his back, pushing him onto the ground as well as driving the ice spikes deeper into his body. Skjari then grabbed the guards neck, trying to leech out any energies before they faded with the man's life. 

The Nibenese woman assisted the controlled guard in taking out the whip guard. The possessed guard caught the brunt of the first few whip lashing, as the whip guard attempted to draw his sword. By the time he did, though, the woman was upon him, and with a high swing drove the pick into his skull.

With the opposition taken care of, Skjari now walked forward to get a better view of the surrounding area. This end of the mine was standing upon a high hillside. Beneath them stretched a lush field of grass. From the mining sight lead two dirt roads down to the left of the hill toward two big, simple wooden houses. Beyond the grass field stretched a miles wide forest and beyond that forest was the sea, reaching and covering all corners of the horizon.

His mind drew a blank as to what to do next and kept looking from left to right for any possibilities. "Hey, woman!" he yelled at the Nibenese. "What do you know about this area?"

"Nothing, really. Never gone beyond the houses. Anyone that has tried was caught up to and killed quickly."

He looked around again. If his sense of direction hadn't failed him, if they headed along the mountains to the right, they would eventually see the elven town. Though that would require them to pass through the forest that crept up along the roots of the mountains. And he did not know what lurked between those trees. Though the forest surrounded them so unless they were to turn back through the mine, there would be no other way forward than through the forest. 

So far, Skjari could see only three options: One was that he travelled along the mountains towards the port town. Though once there it would be difficult getting to the harbor and aboard a ship, especially now that there would probably be raised awareness with their escape. Second option was to go in and hide into the woods till they were assumed dead and wait for an opportunity to get into the town. Third was a mad alternative that involved whipping the miners into a fighting force to assault the town and force their way to the harbor. An alternative that brought with it a number of risks.

There was also a fourth option. Which didn't directly involve escaping the island. It was to hide, to recuperate and then when the elves had dropped their guard: to hunt them for power. 

While he didn't want to admit it to himself, the fourth alternative was the most attractive. He hadn't fed in a while on a soul in a long while. And even he could have done it with the dark elf he killed he was still paranoid about people knowing. But he could feel a hunger, not the one he had for food, but for the rejuvenating power of someone's deepest essence. 

"What do you think about hiding the forest?" asked Skjari after several minutes of thought.

She pondered than, staring off at the forest surrounding their position. "I suppose it could work. Don't see we have a choice."

"And what will the other miners do?" he said, watching the people that were now mostly looking around or wandering, unsure of what to do. A few even kept working, although at a slower pace than before. Though a couple where already on their way into the woods. 

"Whatever they want. Some might join us, we did just free them after all."

"Well lets go see if those houses contain any food." he said and then began to walk down the dirt road towards the houses. 

The Nibenese woman followed behind him, pickaxe still in hand, and Carolanna took up the rear.

The first house they entered proved to be some kind of barrack with two storied beds lined up symmetrically along both walls. A quick search proved that there was nothing but the beds and their simple bed sheets. Skjari pulled the sheets of four of the beds and tossed them on Carolanna to carry. 

The second house proved more promising as the interior looked more like a large dining hall with two long tables with benches lined through the middle of the building. Though this time there were another door at the far end. Though the door was locked but a simple unlock spell changed that. Inside they were met with a sight that looked like the cross between a kitchen and an alchemical laboratory. Boxes of bread and food lined some of the shelves while herbs and meat hanged from the roof. Vials in various colors also lined some of the shelves and there were jars filled with strange reagents Skjari couldn't identify. There was an stove with a pile of wood besides and in a corner was something closer to an alchemy lab with oddly shaped vials and tubes in glass. 

"Grab as much food as you can carry." said Skjari as he began to pick down the meat.

Carolanna grabbed some of the dried herbs and plants hanging from the ceiling, and then began grabbing bread. The Nibenese woman joined her, and gave the Baroness a sympathetic look, but moved on as soon as she filled her arms.
"Any bags you can find?" the Imperial asked.

"Not that I can see. Though you can use the bedsheets. Though try to use the clean side for the inside. If there is a clean side." replied Skjari.

She then went back Carolanna, and together the began filling the sheet bags with bread, some fruits, and any other food they could find. They soon had two of the bed sheet bags filled, with each woman slinging one over their shoulder to carry it.
"I think that's it." the Nibenese woman said.

"Good." he said shortly, busy tying together the small meat hooks with some string he had found. Then took one of the remaining sheets and wrapped it around the bundle of meat. "Now we'll have to get more sheets." he mumbled grudgingly. He then walked back to the barrack and ripped off the sheets of two more beds. After which he returned to the women awaiting outside. Up the hill near the mining site was now a few people beginning to walk in their direction. Skjari didn't know if they were going thank him or try to take their food, but he didn't intend to stay and find out. 

"Lets hurry into the woods." he said.

The women followed. "Any place in particular we're headed?" the Nibenese woman asked.

"Somewhere safe where they can't find us." he replied. All he could hope was that such a place in the forest even existed.

 

A strange forest

 

The forest didn't have that much undergrowth as Skjari had expected. A thin layer of grass covered the ground but it was struggling to get through the dirt and old rotten leaves of the trees. Though here and there thorny bushes grew between the trees and obstructed the path forward. The trees themselves looked like a slightly odd mixture of oak and birch, with its robust trunk and branches with a white and silver grey bark along with clusters of leaves hanging like green shrouds. 

The Imperial miner walked up to Skjari, carefully picking her way past the prickly bushes. Behind them trailed around ten other miners, though they kept their distance from the man they called, in hushed whispers: the Witch. Beside Skjari walked Carolanna, who looked ragged and sullen. Though she looked better now after Skjari had cast that spell to cure her of that disease the elves had infected her with.
The miner caught up to the master and servant, giving Carolanna a brief, pitying look. "I never got a chance to introduce myself. I'm Narina."

"I'm called Skjari." he replied, still looking ahead for what they might find. 

"Nice to meet you, Skjari. So, uh, you have a plan here?" Narina asked.

"I'm thinking on a few. Though all of them has finding a safe place to camp as the first step."

Narina was quiet for a while, as the group slowly picked their way through the dense forest. Eventually, she turned to Skjari again. "You don't sleep much, do you?"

"What makes you think that?"

"I don't either. Always been a light sleeper at best. You were gone when I woke up." she said.

"I just wake early sometimes."

"Wake early huh?" Narina said, her expression sceptical. "Where I come from, we call that sneaking out. But who knows what you northerners do."

"I sleep badly in this forest. And when you wake and have a hard time returning to sleep and see the sun rise in the horizon, you could as well get up and go for a walk."

"I know what you mean. Something about the forest unsettles me." she said, glancing around at the rustling trees.

Suddenly a rustling was heard in the grass and what at first looked like a small fluffy ball came running out from behind a tree. It stopped in front of them for a second, which Skjari time enough to see that it was some kind of strange bird. Its body was completely round and fluffy and it had a small head with a long, thin, pointy and slightly curved beak. It gave them a quick glance before running off into the woods again. 

"Not exactly what I'd find unsettling though." Skjari said jokingly. 

Narina chuckled. "No, I wouldn't either. That thing was rather cute, actually."

They walked on for a while. The trees became sparser and the ground became sandier. Soon rocks and bushes took the place of the trees. The grass that grew out of the sand was courser and taller. Ahead and above the grass in the distance he saw what looked like a large sand pit. When they reached it, Skjari stopped and stretched out his hand to signal for the rest to stop. The pit itself was cone shaped and at least ten yards in diameter and about as deep. Beyond the sand pit was just a field of the tall grass growing out of the sand and a couple of more pits. Past that was the horizon and what he assumed was the sea. 

"Guess there's no point in going this way." Skjari said. "Lets head back to the forest."

"What is it?" Narina asked, leaning over the edge to get a better look. She jumped back, though, when Carolanna knocked a rock into the pit.

"Just a bunch of sand. And I think that the coast is just beyond this field. Being near the coast would be bad if they send a ship to search the shores." Skjari glanced down the sand pit. When the rock hit the bottom of the pit and the sand stirred a little, but then it quickly calmed down as if nothing had happened.

"Should we stay in the forest near the field? That way we can see if they do come from the coast," Narina said.

"Lets do that. And tell the others to search for food. I'll give little, or less of what we already have to anyone that doesn't show anything to contribute."

Narina relayed the commands, and the other miners trudged off in groups of two or three. She then adjusted the sheet holding the food, which she'd formed into a backpack of sorts. Carolanna held one as well, though she seemed not to notice it.

Skjari walked back to the woods with the two others in tow. There he put down his sack next to a tree along with the extra sheets he had brought. 

"Lets try to create a shelter." he said. "Find some long stick sticks or branches."

Carolanna and Narina went separate directions while Skjari stayed to keep an eye on the food. Both women made their way to trees, trying to find dead branches that they could easily break off. Several times, the trees proved tougher than expected, and Carolanna had to put her whole weight onto the branch to snap it off. Narina, meanwhile, was able to use her pickaxe to chop away at the branches that wouldn't break under strength alone. The both eventually came back to the campsite, each dragging a bundle of branches about as tall as themselves, if not longer.

"Try to do as I do now." He said and took almost most of Carolanna's branches. Then went to one of the trees and examined the soil by poking in it with a stick, trying to find firm but not hard piece of earth. Once he had found a suitable spot he began to ram the thick end the branches into ground two at a time, with a few in between, near the tree. Then he tried twine the tips of the branches together.
It all proved harder than Skjari had remembered. Though it had been a long time since he had done this. And even then it had only been with pinetrees. Though after some struggle he managed to put together a robust, though not pretty, shelter of the branches that partially leaned against the tree for support.

"I hope it doesn't rain," Narina said, poking her fingers between the gaps of the 'roof'.

"Yeah. There needs to be a layer on top of this." he replied before turning his head to the former baroness. "Skinny, go get the leafy end of some branches."

Carolanna ducked her head and wandered back into the forest, returning several moments later with a wide selection of leafy branches, everything from pines to oaks to even some fern like plants.

Skjari took the leafy branches and formed a second layer of his shelter. It was a bit fiddly work. When that was done he took two of the extra blankets and formed a simple bed inside.
The finished shelter looked like a tall pile of leaves with a small hole on the side. Skjari then took the food sacks, placed them next to his shelter and covered them up as good as he could with the few branches that Carolanna had left.

Carolanna and Narina then went about building their own shelters. Narina's took about twice as long as Skjari's, and it seemed slightly unstable, but she eventually got it figured out. The former noblewoman, however, struggled. No matter how hard she tried, hers fell apart every few minutes. Narina eventually helped her, and together they formed an even more rudimentary version of Skjari's lean-to. But Carolanna thanked Narina, smiling for the first time since they'd travelled together.

The hours went by and Skjari sat at the entrance of his shelter, thinking about his plans. When he got hungry he ate a piece of dried meat, some bread along with some water he had picked up from the river using his magic; forming a small, clear sphere of water that he drank from. 

Later when the sun was closing in on the horizon a three miners came back. Two of them were carrying the third that had his arms and legs close to his torso and was twitching stiffly. 

"Help!" said one of the miners carrying the stiff man. "We were trying to catch one of those ball birds and he got pecked in his hand. Then a bit later he fell down and became like this."

Narina moved over to look at the injured man., standing beside Skjari. "What should we do?"

"I don't know. Depends on the strength of the poison." Skjari replied callously.

"Can't you heal him?" one of the miners asked. 

Narina looked on, her gaze shifting from the miner to Skjari as if expecting something.

"As I said: Depends on how powerful the poison is. I don't know much about curing poison and usually just try to purge and heal with pure force of magic. So..." Skjari then stopped when the miner seized his twitched. 

The miner holding the man put his hand over the mouth. "He's not breathing."

"Ah, well. Dump his body somewhere far away from here." said Skjari. 

"How can you be so uncaring?" said the miner, seeming to hold back from crying.

"Why should I care?" 

To that the miner had no answer. He just stared blankly for a second before averting his eyes from Skjari's cold gaze. 

Narina looked at the dead man, who now lay on top of rotting leave and crushed plants. Her mouth formed a small circle, as if she couldn't believe what had just happened. Without another word, she turned and left, walking into the forest by herself. Her eyes never made contact with Skjari's. Carolanna turned, and nearly followed her, but something must have held her back, for she hung her head and stayed in the camp.

"Now get that body out of here before it attracts beasts." ordered Skjari. 

The miners were silent for a second. "No. Give us some time to mourn." said the miner that had spoken up against Skjari.

"Fine. You'll have till dawn. When I wake up the body is to be gone." 

To that the miner didn't reply and simply lowered his gaze. Skjari ignored them and went back to his shelter and sat down to wait. More of the ones that had left came back as time went on. A few came carrying different kinds of fruits, berries or even mushrooms, though the rest came empty handed. And at the end of the day one group was missing. Most made the simply assumption that they had gone astray and a few decided that they would go out to search for them the next day. 

Skjari ordered that they prove they food they brought was safe to eat before he would share any of his supplies. The fruit proved to safe to eat, at least for the moment. One of the mushrooms caused the miner that tried to throw up and another almost fell dead on the spot from one of the berries. The ones that brought the fruit got some bread. But they were required to keep the fruit and eat it for the moment to make sure it didn't have any long term effect. 

Narina proved distant the next day, hardly speaking a word to Skjari, and kept some food from the bags in her own shelter. She demonstrated to the others how to make the crude huts, and soon the little section of forest looked almost like a village. The miners, though, kept their distance from Skjari, going to him only for food, should their foraging prove fruitful.
Eventually, though, Narina came to Skjari, and asked in a rather cold manner, "What's your plan?"

"Only way off the island, that I know of, is the ships in the harbour." he said thoughtfully.

"You have a plan to get one of those ships?" she asked.

"The only way on is to either sneak aboard with the cargo or take the ship by force and force the crew to sail. Though getting to the harbour without alerting the town guard is going to be a problem. A distraction is needed."

"What's your plan for a distraction, then?"

"I'm not sure yet."

Narina pursed her lips and crossed her arms. "Sounds like you don't have much of a plan, then."

"Not a complete one. Yet."

Narina stood there for a while, arms crossed and lips pressed tightly together. Her eyes never wavered from Skjari's, and finally she said, "What was that earlier. Why didn't you help him?"

"Who?" he said and looked at her confused. "Ah. I figured he was close enough to death that I would just have delayed the inevitable. Besides, we now have one less mouth to share with."

"And the rest of the miners now despise you. Unless you expect to take the town by yourself, you'll need their help," Narina said.

"Maybe, maybe not. Though if I would need their help. They will help me. Because I'm the only chance you people have to get off this island. Unless you wish to stay here in the forest?"

Her lips pressed so tightly together that is appeared as though they might burst. She stared at Skjari, then turned on her foot and left back, walking into her little hut.

Skjari almost laughed at the display Narina put on. But in the end he did not care much. He was not even sure if he needed them. The only scenario he could see needing them for was if he was to seize one of those ships by force as opposed to sneak aboard into the cargo hold. And if it never came to that they would likely be nothing more than a hindrance and a burden to be left behind. 

He remained seated, deep in thought for some time. And after some thinking he decided that he wouldn't get much done by remaining where he was. "Skinny!" he then yelled to call his servant.

Carolanna looked up, and upon remembering her new nickname walked over slowly. She didn't say anything, but waited with downcast eyes and sagging shoulders for her orders.

Skjari looked at her for a second and thought of how much he had broken her. From a proud and arrogant baroness to a submissive slave. Then thought about breaking her independence some more.

"Get down on your knees and open your mouth." he ordered.

Carolanna's eyes widened, but she slowly obeyed, lowering herself to her knees on the leaves on the ground. She wrenched her mouth open, but flashed her teeth as she did.

Skjari picked up an half eaten apple he had at his side, got up and then rammed it into her mouth and patted her on the head. "Good girl." he said, then grabbed her hair, pulled her head backwards forcefully and leaned down to whisper in her ear: "Though the fact that you even obeyed that order shows how much of a slave you are. I own you now, body and mind." he paused for a second as he let go of her hair and straightened his back. Looking down on Carolanna, he could see that she was ready to cry as she looked back at him with pleading eyes. "And now make sure the food doesn't dwindle and that there's no trouble while I'm gone." and with that said he walked past her and left the camp. 

 

Back to the valley

The mine proved to be abandoned and even partially collapsed as some supports were missing. A few places Skjari even had to crawl and dig a little to make it through, hoping that the tunnel wouldn't collapse any more while he squeezed through the tiny holes. At some points it even got claustrophobic when he found himself slightly stuck and could barely move his arms and legs. 

When the mine began to open up he found himself walking into the twilight of dawn. A few guards stood near the mine but none faced to see Skjari slowly sneaking out of it and behind the rocky cliffs of the mountainside near the mine. Tired and weary he found a quiet spot in the shadow behind a large cliff to fall asleep.

There he would rest and await nightfall. Once night came he would explore the valley and try to learn what it held in store. 

***

Skjari was sneaking along the outer wall of the fort in the valley. Guards with torches and bows patrolled above. Behind him in a small offshoot of the valley, slightly hidden behind the mountains, was a small and quiet village, enclosed by a tall wall with sharpened spikes on top. Skjari had scouted the outside there and found little of interest and no way inside outside of levitating himself over. Now he was on his way to search the fort in the same way.

When he got close to the gate, the portcullis begin to lift and he could see the light of torches on its way out. Skjari pressed himself tighter to the wall and strengthened his spells that kept him almost impossible to see in the dark. 

Out of the gate came six guards, two carrying torches. All of them were facing they valley, so even when the guards torches shone some light on him, making him slightly visible, none of them saw him. Skjari began to make his way past them when he heard a voice from above call out to the group on the road. Skjari instinctively jumped into the shadows of the archway. The voices of guards began to speak but he their voices was drowned by the chain mechanism of the portcullis getting lowered again. Skjari could only watch as he was slowly locked inside. 

With no other way to go than inside he walked through the long, dark archway that stretched under thick wall. When he exited the archway he found himself in a small, desolate courtyard. In front of him the fort stretchered out before him. It wasn't very tall, but very wide. On both his sides were additional walls that segmented off the rest of courtyard and connected the outer wall with the core of the fort. There were no stairs leading up on the walls and the only ways from the courtyard was into the fort or out through the gate. With one blocked off he headed for the only way left open to him. 

He slowly and carefully open up on of the big wooden doors into the fort. Inside he found a grand hall. It did not match the outside of the fort at all. Four sculpted pillars with red draperies hanging around them stood in each segment of the room. In the other side of the hall were two stairs that started near the same middle spot and then arched out on the way up and then met at the top into a hallway. Red carpets covered the floor and formed squares around the pillars. Delicate candle holders lit up the entirety of the room. The hall looked more to belong in a palace than a fort. 

Skjari closed the door behind and slowly walked into the room, having a hard time believing what he saw. Though he had little time to look at all the details when he heard the faint sound of the portcullis being raised again. He ran behind one of the pillars so that it stood between him and entrance door. Soon the door opened and he hearda couple of people walk inside. Their footsteps were light so they couldn't be guards. Then he heard someone come walking down the stairs and he had to angle himself with the pillar so he couldn't be spotted from that direction as well.

"Lady Calayne, what a pleasure it is to have you visit. I hope the trip was uneventful." Skjari heard from the person coming down the stairs. And from what Skjari could make out, he suspected the voice belonged to an Altmer man, likely the assistant who ran the fort.

"Rather. The seas bore me. And how is our pursuit for knowledge going?" said the familiar female voice.

"Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. The third batch from the current stock is nearing birthing time. And the newest stock has been impregnated, and should soon be under way." the assistant said.

"Take a few of the newer ones and put them on a diet spiked with distilled potions to resist disease. I want to see if the prolonged exposure will give a permanent effect on the children."

"Of course, excellent idea. As for the transplants, we've had varying levels of success, but no subject has yet survived longer than a week, and none has regained primary body functions. The host tends to reject the new brain in almost all instances, unfortunately."

"What was the most common denominator for those that survived longest? And what did you find from the dissection of the brains after death?"

"Physical fitness or magical ability. Those whose bodies were able to handle the trauma survived. As did those with natural magical affinity, which doubtless lent itself to better internal healing."

"Hmm. I'll have a closer look on the notes and sketches from the dissections then. After that I will visit the subjects for an inspection." she ordered. 

"Yes, of course Lady Calayne. If you'll follow me this way." the assistant walked up the stairs, with the the others in tow, back the way he came.

Skjari waited for them the footsteps to fade away before he walked to one of the side doors. Seeing as the outer wall lacked stairs but was connected with the fort, there was bound to be some way from the room he was in to the wall. As he carefully opened the wooden door he peeked inside to see if any guards were on the other side. 

All he saw was a hallway, on the slightly less fancier side than the entrance hall. But it still had smooth floor, walls and roof along with designed candlesticks to light up the hallway. No guards or anything else were to see in the hallway. So he, as quietly as he could, slipped into the hallway and closed the door behind him. 

The corridor was eerily quiet as Skjari walked through it. He cast a brief detection spell and saw lots of people lit up throughout the fort, most in a sitting or sleeping position. Casting the spell too often or for too long would however leave him drained. Deciding to conserve his energies he only gave everything a quick glance to make sure none were walking his direction before he let the spell go.

At the end of the hallway he spotted a couple of stairs leading up. And as he made his way through the hallway, he passed two other hallways on his left, both lined with doors and leading deeper into the fort. Though Skjari had his mind set on the stairs as it was up the wall he wanted to reach. 

When he reached the stairs he suddenly heard footsteps coming down from above. Seeing nowhere to hide Skjari turned around and made his way as fast and as quietly he could to the last hallway he had passed. There his options were to either make his way to the end of that hallway and around the corner or get through one of the door. With the footsteps getting, in a brief sense of desperation he tried to first door on his right and to his luck it was unlocked, allowing him to slip inside. 

Inside was to his great surprise and even slight shock a naked woman half lying and half sitting in some strange, padded chair in the middle of the cubicle room. Her hands were tied with leather shackles above her head that hung down from the roof. The armrests stretched far out diagonally to the sides and had her legs tied to them with leather straps. The woman looked to be young and somewhat average imperial with short brown hair. She was totally laid bare for the world to see.

Though the woman herself didn't seem to notice Skjari as he walked in. Her eyes were distant and lacked focus. Her mouth was half open and saliva was dripping from it. Apart from that the woman had an expression of being somewhat aroused. 

Skjari could at first only stare, in surprise and confusion, at her and the strange contraption she sat in. Then he carefully waved at the woman to see if she would react. But as expected she didn't even as much as blink at him. 

Turning his attention back the footsteps outside, he could hear them turning down this hallway. His heart began to pump faster and faster as the footsteps got closer. But then the sound passed the door and began to fade as they disappeared the down the hallway. Slowly he opened the door again and peeked out to see that the guard was now a long way away and not looking his direction. Skjari slipped out and closed the door before heading back to the stairs. 

The stairs did one turn before Skjari found himself in another identical corridor as below, this one also being connected with two others but not on Skjari's right. The stairs went up further but Skjari thought he might reach the wall from this floor and thus began to make his way down the new hallway. As he glanced down the first hallway on his right as he passed it he saw something that caught his eye and made him stop in his tracks. At the end of the hallway was an open entrance to some larger room. Up against the faraway wall Skjari could see some sort of magical glow. The glow was dark green and came from a small spot in a strange and almost morbid steel contraption with many arms and claws. Skjari recognized the glow as coming from some sort of power source. Curiosity and a desire to take that power for his own made him turn down that corridor towards the glow. 

Once he reached the room he saw that it was rather large. A few desks and bookshelves covered the walls, the contraption itself lied on a desk right on front of him. Though what stood out the most was the people hung up in a line along the wall on his right. Steel shackles around their wrists held their arms above them while shackles around their ankles kept them grounded to the floor and their bodies outstretched. All of them were sickly pale and some even looked dead if not for limited attempt at movement. Most had shredded and torn clothing. Though none seemed to aware of their surroundings. 

One of the people Skjari recognized as the young mage he travelled with in the caged carriage from the docks. She gave off slight movement, not noticeable beyond the chains to her feet moving a little. 

Skjari then turned his attention back to steel contraption and the power within it. Walking closer he could feel its power more clearly. He stretched out his hand towards the spot where green light came from. And as he was about to touch it the thing came to life; the arms closed themselves around his lower arm and the claws buried into his flesh. Panic began to gripped him as he was now stuck to the thing and he had fight the urge to scream from the pain. At first he tried to tug a little with his arm but the thing didn't let go. Some kind of magic flowed through his arm for a brief second. Then as suddenly as it had gripped him, it let go. The claws withdrew from his flesh and steel arms went back to their previous positions. 

Apart from the bleeding wounds, which Skjari could quickly seal, the device left no impact on the arm nor him. Skjari backed away from the magical device. Hearing a faint moaning from the people on his side, Skjari looked to see a couple moving their heads as if slowly waking up. Not wanting to get spotted, he quickly made his way out of the room and back the hallway. 

Once back in the hallway he continued forth till he found a door on his left. Which according to the mental map he had formed and estimated in his mind would lead to the wall. This estimate proved true as when he peeked outside the door he saw the pathway of the wall that connected the fort with the outer wall. Guards patrolled the outer wall with their torches and bows. On both sides of the wall he was now standing on was an enclosed courtyard shrouded in darkness. Neither having any form of conventional exit or entrance like stairs or a door. A low growl could be heard from area below him on his right. But it was too dark to see what it came from. 

Skjari looked to the outer wall and observed the guards patrolling it. The brutes looked to focused on simply walking back and forth on the wall rather than keeping an eye out. So right when one guard passed the pathway Skjari stood on without noticing him, Skjari cast a spell to muffle his sounds and ran. Forward to the outer wall and past the guard which now had his back to Skjari. And as Skjari reached the edge of the wall he leapt. Out into the darkness and even though he tried his best to predict how far he was from the ground he couldn't see and use a levitation spell to dampen the landing, he still hit the ground hard enough that he tumbled forward. 

He stayed down on the ground a bit, listening to hear if any of the guards had noticed. Though no sound of an alarm came and all the could be heard was the wind in the air and the footsteps of guards on the wall. Slowly Skjari got up from the ground and made his way back in the valley. 

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Slave rebellion

 

The first two nights Skjari spent learning the paths and corners of the valley. He slept behind some cliffs and trees near the mountains during the day. During the night he sneaked through the valley with illusion and shadow magic, looting the houses he identified as dining halls (that all housed the same mix of alchemy lab and kitchen behind a locked door) and picking off lonely guards on patrol. 

So far he hadn't been able to get at anything except these guards. The slaves, or test subjects, were all locked into their respective barracks at sundown. Leaving only guards out at night. The brutes were tough, but their lack of proper armor and magic made them easy targets now that Skjari had his magicka. 

The patrols consisted of guards walking around in groups of one or two. Skjari picked off a few of those groups and the third night in the valley they were travelling in groups of three. It made it trickier but with simple distractions a few met their demise at his hands that night as well. The following night there were fewer but bigger patrols. Though the guards were fearless, they were daft and fell for the same tricks as the previous night. Now on the fourth night they were clearly running out of brutes as the rather empty and silent roads now proved. 

Skjari hoped that they would soon be forced to bring in guards from the elven town. Even thought it would certainly make things more risky and dangerous. 

This night no stars nor moons were seen on the cloudy sky, leaving the valley covered in complete darkness. Only the light from the windows of certain houses, lanterns hanging outside them and the torches carried by the patrolling guards lit up little dots around the valley. One such light went out when Skjari snuffed out the torch of a patrol. The last guard he just killed and devoured the soul of fell lifeless to ground. The "taste" of these guards were however unsatisfying, as if eating something spoiled. Whatever had been done to them clearly left them broken in more than one way. 

He cloaked himself again and made his way towards one of the dining halls he had plundered the last night. Though as he closed in on the dining hall he passed by one of the farmers' barracks and stopped when he thought he heard movement from inside. The sound was brief but loud enough to make him surprised. He looked around to see if any guards were nearby that might have heard. When the surroundings proved quiet as well, he was about to move on when he heard a sound from inside the barrack again. 

Curious he approached the door and put his ear against the door. Inside, several people talked in hushed tones, before they all died down. The creaking of wooden floorboards said someone had stood.

"Look at all you, cowering in your chairs." The voice belonged to a man, probably a Redguard judging by the accent, who seemed impassioned with his cause. "Don't you see, this is our best chance to escape? They are fewer guards than ever, and they've only just begun pulling new ones from us slaves. Now is the only chance."

Someone else spoke, an Imperial man. "But what can we do? We outnumber them, but they have magic, and soldiers. We're just miners and farmers."

"I agree with Camas," a straining Nordic woman said. "We have to fight, need to. Otherwise we may as well kill ourselves and be done with it. But unless you lot want to be slaves, let's do something about it."

"If you're so set on doing this, I presume you have a plan." said another man in a bitter tone.

"We need weapons. Hoes and pickaxes will only take us so far. We need to take the guards weapons," Camas, the first man, said. "My plan is we use the things we have and take out the guards here, and take their weapons. Then we move from barrack to barrack, freeing the others."

"So you're plan is that we just attack, then hope that we survive long enough for the others to think that joining us is a good idea?"

"Yes. It's the only chance we have. What we'll do is have someone fake an injury, draw the guards attention. Then we'll spring on the guards, and take them out. Unless there are any other ideas?" Camas asked.

"I have one." said a man, sounding rather young. "Can't we try to contact the others? I mean to get them to join us and rise up at the same time we do."

"How do we get in contact with them? The guards will notice if anyone leaves." the Nordic woman said.

"The crops are tall enough for me and a few others to sneak through. If we're careful that is. We should at least be able to contact the other farms nearby."

"You can leave tomorrow morning. Tell them we'll attack the next day, around evening. The other guards won't discover anything until the next morning, and we'll all be gone by then." Camas said.

"Though where are we supposed to go? They said we're on an island." said another man. 

"We'll have to take the port town." a previously unheard person said.

"Right," Camas replied. "But that comes later. First we take these farms, and then we can move on."

"Provided we survive the nights." said another voice, gruff and old. "Do anyone even know why the guards have disappearing? I think its one of those freaks. Escaped from the fort, and now out hunting for blood."

"So long as they don't attack us, I see no reason to fear them. They've only attacked guards so far, and freed those miners. We should be cautious, yes, but not afraid." Camas said.

"I don't think the miners were freed. They must have run away in fear when that thing was busy with the guards. Probably a vampire. I know they have some up at the fort. And a few werewolves too. Along with other abominations." said the old man, getting more frantic as he spoke.

"Stop your rambling old man. You're scaring people." the Nord woman said. "If we just stick to the plan, we'll be fine."

"You can believe what you want. But I'll stay here, ready to lock the door when abominations come."

Skjari pulled away as he decided he had heard enough. He deemed their plans rash and doomed to fail, if not in the valley then outside it. But they could still be useful, he only had to make sure their plans were partially successful. 

He went on to the dining hall and the food he had gone there for in the first place. Ate a piece of bread, an apple and some dried meat. Then left to go back to where he had left the corpses of his last victims. There he found that the corpses was inspected by an elven guard in dull silvery armor, along with two regular brutes for guards keeping watch. 

Skjari hopes had come to fruition, but he also realized that his previous tricks wouldn't work now. And he could only guess which of his more advanced tricks would work. 

When the two guards looked in another directions he took the opportunity and ran at them. With his footsteps silenced they couldn't hear him. The brutes only saw him when it was too late and both had an ice spike protruding through their necks. The elf only managed to get up on his feet and turn around before Skjari jumped on him, grabbing his throat and tackling the elf to the ground. Both strangling and draining the elf, he slowly emptied the life out of him. The elf tried to resist, but in the end couldn't do more than flail the arms some and form some worthless sparks at the fingertips. And when the last drops of life released the bounds that kept the soul in its vessel, Skjari was ready to catch it and hungrily devour it. 

Skjari got up to his feet again and looked around and listened to see if anyone had spotted him in his rash ambush. To his relief the road was quiet and none came. He put out the torch that one of the guards had been carrying that now lied on the ground with a quick wave of his hand. Then he proceeded to strip the guards of the weapons. With all four short swords in his arms he went back to the barracks he had eavesdropped. He placed the weapons carefully in front of the door and then went out into the valley to see if there were any more weapons he could scavenge. 

The hunt proved rather fruitless however. With most guards staying in or near the fort and town (where Skjari dared not risk approach) and few patrols and short patrols outside those areas, Skjari only managed to take out two more guards and deliver two more swords. 

With a small pile of six swords he figured it would have to do. The sky was already growing a little less and he wanted to head back to his hiding spot before dawn. He cast a simple unlock spell on the door and then knocked. But he didn't intend to meet them, so he cast his spells and hid behind the corner of building. He considered leaving but he would need to relock the door once they had taken the weapons, or the guards would notice something off when they would come in the morning to unlock.

Hushed tones talked for several moments after Skjari's knock, until Camas answered the door. Je peered out into the dark night, searching for whomever had knocked. The night was pitch black, though, and he could see nothing. His gaze finally rested on the swords, which he took in his arms and shuffled into the barrack with. More whispering followed, until Skjari could faintly hear the floorboards being pried up, and the swords hidden beneath them.

After a couple of minutes of waiting he sneaked back to the door and locked it quickly. He then made his way back to his hiding place, consisting of only a blanket hidden behind a few cliffs and hard to spot rune in case anyone tried to approach. It wasn't the most comfortable bed, even with leaves and grass stuffed under the blanket. He cast a small spell to keep the sun out and then lied down and tried to get some sleep.

***

It was two days since the meeting, the day of the rebellion. Camas and the other farmers sprang their trap then, having previously taken advantage of the lack of guards to hide the swords in the wheat fields.

Camas sprung their trap, by drawing the first sword and charging the closest guard. He was a large Nordic man, carrying a cudgel in his hand. The Nord tried to stop the blade, but the club was knocked from his hand. Camas swung the shortstops which cut deep into the Nord's exposed stomach, spilling the man's entrails. The guard still went after the Redguard, though, so Camas drove the blade straight into the man's skull, ending the guard for good.

The other farmers also did the same, those few with swords drew them as well while the others had to make do with sickles and hoes. Half of the guards nearby the farms were overwhelmed rather quickly. Though despite being attacked by superior numbers a few guards still managed to wound or kill a few of the farmers. One of the guards managed to kill one farmer by stabbing him in the neck and wound another in the stomach, all while having a sickle stuck in the throat, before collapsing. 

A few Altmer in fancy clothing appeared here and there from houses throughout the valley. A couple of them tried to join the fighting by flinging electric bolts at the slaves. Most of them however tried to make it for the safety of the fort or the village at either end of the valley.

When the rest of the guards noticed how badly outnumbered they were, they actually retreated back to the town in an attempt to regroup. The Nord woman, who turned out to be a slightly older woman than most in the group, yelled out: "Don't let them escape!"

Camas, coming behind her, said: "Follow Grerid, kill the guards!"

The guards however proved slightly faster and managed to reach the road just outside of town and meet up with the rest of the guards there before the rebels. With the high ground they now stood a chance to to at least hold against the number of rebels. 

The Nordic woman, Grerid, gave a ferocious battle cry, charging up the hill with the ranks of slaves following her. Camas, sprinting his hardest, charged as well, urging forward the freed slaves.

"Don't give up! Fight for your freedom!" Camas yelled.

Though their charge proved to be devastating to themselves. The fearless brutes stood with their weapons ready and as soon as the first rebels got close enough, almost all quickly fell at the blades the guards swung almost in unison. The Nordic woman being the first to die. A sword cut so deep into her skull it got stuck on the blade. Not that it bothered the the wielder that much that then shook off the dead woman's body by hitting Camas with it, causing him to be knocked backwards from the impact. That probably saved his life however as he was also pushed out of reach from the brutes' swords.

A few of the slaves recoiled at the sight of the bloodshed, but most just kept pressing on; spurred by their anger, desperation and mob mentality. And as the charging slaves bitterly attacked their oppressors, from behind the guards appeared the Altmer mage Erranil. She surveyed the battlefield, her lips twisting into a sneer. But as she watched, the guard's wall began crumbling. The sheer number of slaves were overwhelming, and Erranil had had enough.

"Retreat! Leave the scum to the village, if they want it that bad." She then conjured up an ice atronach, which ran forward to attack the slaves. The guards meanwhile ran back, following Erranil's lead as she ran into the gorge with what remained of her colleagues.

The ice atronach managed to give the elves and their brutes some breathing room. The rebels tried to take it down as they had with the guards. But the heavy frame and flailing solid arms of the icy beast resulted in quite a few getting knocked down, or if they got unlucky: knocked in the head so hard they they might not get up ever again. Soon though the atronach fell to the overwhelming numbers as the guards had. Leaving a bit of an eery silence in the air. Only broken by the the heavy yet fading footsteps of the slaves' previous masters echoing out of the gorge. 

Camas came to the front of the group of slaves, stopping briefly to inspect his dead comrade Grerid. He was breathing heavily, but had a smile stretching from ear to ear.
"We've won this battle, but the war is just beginning. I want you to get some rest, and tomorrow we'll will begin freeing all the other slaves on this island. And then we will set sail for the mainland!"
Camas pulled aside two of the other slaves, who were presumably the other leaders. One was an Imperial, tanned dark with long black hair. The other was a Dunmer, a woman, with half her head shaved, the other half long and fiery red.
"Cetonius, I want you to organize a group of scouts. We need eyes on the valley, roads, and other barracks. Evesa, you'll be in charge of the guards. I want eyes watching over the village at all times."
The two lieutenants then dispersed into the crowd of slaves, finding members for their assigned task forces. Camas meanwhile grabbed a few slaves and went to help the wounded, moving them back into the barracks.

 

Culling

 

The sun was on its way down in the horizon. But in the valley it could as well be night as the mountains blocked out the days last sunlight. The only sign of the sun still being up was the orange tint on the sky above the western mountains. The stars and Secunda was visible in the night sky though its bigger sibling was dark.

The rebels' leader, the Redguard Camas, was walking along the road from the small siege camp the rebels had set up outside the fort, to the small village at the other end of the valley. The light of the stars and moon being just enough for the redguard to see where he was going. Skjari watched the man from the shadow of a cliff on lower mountainside. Normally it would be considered unwise to walk alone in the dark. Though the rebels practically owned the valley at this point. 

Skjari watched the man a little more before he quietly made his way down to the road to intercept the man. He waited in in the shadows besides the road. His hood was up the veil with it as well. Part of Skjari wondered if the veil was necessary; a person without a face was hard to trust, though without a face the man would have to pay more attention to his words. And he needed him to listen to him about the defences he had seen the elves set up on the other side of the gorge. It also suited the entrance he would make. 

So when Camas walked past him, not noticing him at all in the shadows, Skjari took a step towards the road so he stood just at its edge. "Is it wise to walk alone in the dark?" he then said. 

Camas spun toward the voice, but the darting of his eyes meant he hadn't yet found Skjari in the darkness. "Who's there?" he asked. He then drew his sword, which was clearly not an instinctive reaction.

Slightly annoyed Skjari took a few more steps onto the road and slightly closer to the Redguard, hoping that the rebel could at least spot the movement while the his eyes adjusted themselves to the dark.

"I do hope you wont be this blind when you enter the gorge. It will just as dark in there."

Camas looked at Skjari as he came into sight, albeit barely. "How do you know about the gorge? Are you a spy for the elves?"

"I'm a pretty poor spy then. Though I am here to say is that on the other side of the gorge is a wooden barricade being built."

Camas lowered his sword a little. "Why're you telling me this?"

"Same reason I gave you those swords after killing all those guards."

"Why do you want to help us? Who are you?"

"Just listen. If you want to get past the barricade you'll need ladders. Ladders about one and a half man long. Though if you also hope to reach the barricade alive with these ladders, you'll need shields. You'll have to make big wooden shields that require two hands to hold. Cover these shields with leather or animal hides to make them resistant to fire. Do you understand?"

"Ladders, shields, leather. Yes, I think I got it all. But what about after we leave the valley?"

"Attack the town. What else?"

Camas lowered his sword all the way, the point nearly in the dirt. "I meant, what awaits us outside the valley? Most of us haven't left here since we've arrived."

"Well if none of you can remember; beyond the mountains is a large meadow. So if get past the barricade you'll have a long walk before you reach the town. So don't expect to take the town by surprise."

"Right, the meadow. Thank you, stranger."

"And on the dawn on the fourth day from now, I'll try to create a distraction. So you got three days to prepare."

Camas nodded at Skjari, then sheathed his sword and continued down the road. He looked back once, but for only a moment. Soon, he disappeared into the darkness.

What a sad fool. Skjari thought. Though the man had nothing but a fool's hope to go on, seeing as the other only option was to wait in the valley for the elves to organize an attack of their own. 

Skjari waited a little before he walked the dark road back towards the partially collapsed mine. 

****

As Skjari approached the forest camp it was eerily silent. When he saw that a few of the shelters were mangled he began to worry a little. "Hello?" he shouted, though not too loud, as he cast a detection spell and turned his head around to see if anything nearby was alive. Nothing nearby seemed to be in any way alive.

"Who's there? Skjari?" Narina asked, in the tree above Carolanna's flattened shelter. "Are they gone?"

"Who is gone?" said Skjari as he looked up at her, slightly surprised. "And what are you doing up there?"

"The monsters." she said, barely audible. "They ate the others."

"Everyone else?" he asked, even more surprised.

Narina's voice steadied. "No, not all. Some fled, into the forest. And one group ran toward the sand, I think."

"Is anyone else alive then?"

"I don't know, I haven't tried to find anyone." she said.

"So it's only you here? None has returned?"

"No, not that I've seen, but-"

Narina was cut off when out of the bushes came two miners. A Redguard woman stepped forward, sheathing her bloodied pickaxe. The Dunmer behind her carried one of the sheet bags used to hold their food.
"Where's Carolanna?" the woman asked.

"Who?" Skjari asked, trying to remember where he had heard that name before. 

"The noblewoman, the skinny one. She sent us to get to food back." the woman said. She looked around at the destroyed camp, and her brow furrowed. "What happened?"

"I don't really know. Narina up here says monsters attacked." he said and pointed at her up in the tree with his thumb. 

"The food? Who took the food?" Narina asked.

The Redguard woman said: "When you were off foraging, about seven others grabbed the three food bags from his hut and took off. When Carolanna noticed, she sent us after them. We found a pair of them, dying, so I finished them off and we brought back the food. Guess whatever tore them apart came here too."

"Great. So everyone else is dead. And now taking a ship by force is not an option." said Skjari.

"But where's Carolanna?" Narina asked.

"If she isn't here, she's dead."

The only answer was Narina scuffling to climb down the tree, which she managed to do without falling. One the ground, she got a better look at the destroyed camp, and the group of just four. It was a sobering sight indeed.
The Redguard woman, asked, "Now what?"

"I can probably only sneak one of you aboard with me. The other two will have to wait and try to sneak onto another ship. If there isn't another ship however..." Skjari let the others fill in the rest of the sentence. 

"Listen here, we're not going to be left b-," the man carrying the food bag started, but was stopped short when his throat was ripped out. From the bushes sprang a short, stocky creature, similar to a wolf but with a shorter brown muzzle and more powerful hind legs.

The man gurgled as he fell, while three more of the creatures came from the forest and into the camp. One of them ripped the food bag to shreds, hunting for something inside, while the beast that killed the many began eating his soft belly. The other two growled and circled the three remaining humans, who formed a defensive circle in the middle of the camp. Both Narina and the Redguard woman had pickaxes out, ready to fight.

Skjari let his left hand get covered in blazing fire, which caused the beasts to shy back at the sight of the flames. With the beasts in slight shock over the sudden appearance of flames he seized the moment to immediately put down one of the beasts with an ice spike from the other hand. The other two stopped their feast, and began warily watching Skjari. The miner and Narina went after the other monster, both viciously swinging their pickaxes until it limped back into the forest, none of the blows able to bring it down. That left the other two, who had their attention focused on Skjari.

He lashed his fiery hand in a wide arc at the beasts, shooting out sparks at them as he did. The animals recoiled a little again and as before, Skjari sent an ice spike at one of the beasts. This time though it tried to dodge. But it wasn't fast enough and the icy projectile buried itself into the rear leg of the animal.
The other beast took advantage of Skjari focusing on the other and charged. Skjari raised his fiery hand to protect himself when he saw the animal leap into the air at him. In explosion of flame, the creature was knocked back as well as leaving Skjari stumbling backward a little from the force. The beast tumbled around on the ground, trying to extinguish the flame that had caught the hairs on its head. Whimpering the beast then ran off into the woods, followed by the slower beast that still had some ice stuck in the leg.

The Redguard woman and Narina lowered their pickaxes. They both looked to Skjari as if waiting for him to say something. Then after a moment of awkward silence the Redguard woman said: "I think you should pick me to go with you."

Narina looked at her with chock in her eyes. "Why? I helped him through the mine and fight the guards there."

The Redguard woman ingored Narina and took a few steps closer to Skjari. Dropping her pickaxe she brought her hands up under her breasts in an attempt to make them more voluptuous. "Forget her. I'm sure you'd much more want to bring me off this island."

Narina had the look of just being betrayed but hesitated to do anything. She now stood behind the woman, and slowly raised the tool above her head. When she brought it down, the force of the blow and depth of the wound took the pickaxe from her hand, and the Redguard woman fell flat on her face with the pickaxe protruding from her head.

Narina fell backwards and landed on her butt. There she sobbed for several minutes, hiding her head in her hands. Eventually, she ran out of tears, and when she lifted her face it was puffy and pink. She reached down and grabbed the other woman's pickaxe, sliding it in her belt.

"So I guess you didn't want to be left behind." said Skjari after another half a minute of awkward silence.

The look Narina gave him could have scared off the creatures had they returned. She ignored the question and began picking through the food bag, finding most of it still relatively intact and edible. The hole in the bag wouldn't be a problem if held upright, so she did just that and brought it back into the camp.
"If you're going to be like that, maybe I should do to you what I did to Carolanna."

"Worked out real well for you last time, did it?" she said. "Let's just leave before those things return."

"Worked out rather well. Till they ate her. But yeah. Lets go." he said and began walk back the way he came. Narina looked back at the camp, carefully hoisted the food bag, and trudged out after Skjari.

 

Escaping the island

The early evening on the third day, Skjari and Narina exited the forest and could see a large meadow with rolling hills stretched out before them. The city lied beyond the meadow, hidden behind the hills.

"We'll have to approach the town from from close to the shore in the cover of dark. There you'll wait and keep an eye out till I get back." said Skjari.

"We may need more food, we're nearly out. A few more days I suspect." Narina said.

"We'll have to find more on the ship."

"What's your plan for when we get there?" She motioned to the hills, in the direction of town.

"I'll try to set fire to the big mansion. That'll serve as a first distraction."

"What's the second?"

"If we're lucky, an angry mob from the valley behind the mountains."

"We can hope." Narina said, looking off towards the mountains to her right.

"Hmm." was all Skjari mumbled as he made his way down towards the coast as the day's last light disappeared beyond the mountains. 

Once the dark came creeping over the grassland, the town came into view and was like a small beacon of light in the distance. They began to crouch and walk more slowly as they got closer and closer to the town. Soon they were just a hundred yards from the town and the rocky coast. One street from this side of town led directly to the harbour as they could see a little bit of it's piers and a ship docked there through it. 

Skjari stopped and sat down. "We'll wait here for another hour or two. Then I'll go to the mansion while you stay here and wait."

"What happens if you get into trouble?" Narina asked, walking over from where she'd stashed the white food bag, behind some boulders.

Skjari placed his hand over the ground in front of him. A large rune surrounded by a circle of smaller runes formed in a dark blue glow on the ground. "If they do, I'll probably be able to recall to this location. Don't sit or stand on the rune while I'm gone."

"I won't." Narina said. She looked off toward the ocean, her eyes not meeting Skjari's. "So who were you, before this?"

Skjari sat down on a small rock in the grass. "Something akin to a lost wanderer."

"You have someone you're trying to get back to?" she said and also sat down. 

"More like something. Take back what was taken from me. And if the old fool that took it from me hasn't died before that. I'll pay him a visit."

"What'd he take?"

"My sword."

"What makes it so special?"

"It was custom made for me. It is very valuable. And... some of the metal in the blade comes from a little medallion of someone once dear to me."

"I hope you get it back." Narina said, and gave Skjari a brief but soft smile.

"Hmm." he paused for a second. "And what will you do when you get back?"

"Won't steal horses, I can guarantee that. I'm not sure, I never thought I'd leave this place." Narina said.

"You can find work in a mine. You probably got the skills for it now."

"If the gods never allow my to see the inside of a mine again, I'll give them everything I own." Narina said.

"Which as of now isn't much. You can probably find work as a farmhand. If you can read and write maybe there may be some work in the cities. If nothing else there's always the brothel, though I would recommend staying away from it."

Narina gave a short laugh. "I plan on staying very far away, trust me." She sat in silence for several moments, before asking, "What's Skyrim like? I've always wanted to go, to see the snow and the mountains."

"Cold, if you arrive in any season apart from the summer. Though the mountains are beautiful. It really is something special to be standing on a field of warm grass and look up on those giants that still has the peaks covered in snow."

"It sounds beautiful." Narina said. "What about the real giants? I've heard they can lift whole trees from the ground, and swing them like clubs."

"A medium sized pine tree with not too deep roots is something a giant can pull up. Haven't seen the uprooting part myself though."

Narina smiled at that, but a yawn soon replaced it. "I'm going to try and get some rest. Wake me when the time comes." She then moved off back behind the rocks where she hid the food, and laid down, using the bag as a pillow.

Skjari remained where he was. He wanted to try take a nap as well, but he couldn't risk oversleeping. The night sky above him was cloudy and only a few stars could been seen. The town and sea was quiet. Sometimes Skjari could catch a glimpse of a guard patrolling the streets in the city. A few times Skjari could see an elf through a window. But as time passed, the lights in the windows began to go out one by one. 

Then Skjari saw an naked elf man appear in the window facing his way. While it was hard to see at this distance, Skjari could make out a big grin on the elf's face. The grin made Skjari want to send an ice spike at him through the window. Another naked elf man appeared in the window and gave the first one a kiss on the lips. Feeling slightly disgusted at what he had seen Skjari turned his gaze away. 

Later Skjari began to feel himself slipping away from consciousness. The only thing that kept him awake was gnawing fear in the back of his head of what awaited him in the land of dreams. Determined to not fall asleep yet he stood up. He gazed towards the horizon to see if the dawn was closing in. But the sky remained dark and he lost track of time. 

Slowly he began to make his way around the town towards the big mansion. The mansion stood there tall with white marble walls and lights shining through the windows made the sun that the windows formed seem almost magical. The hedges formed a square wall around the mansion were thick and tall. A couple of guards stood at the gate that was made of polished steel that formed an intrinsic pattern of thorny vines. 

Staying in the shadow on the far end of the hedge he conjured up the spell which slowly lifted him up in the air. Slowly he levitated over the hedge and once past it, he let the spell go and fell to the ground where he landed with a small thud. 

Crouching he sneaked towards the entrance of the mansion. Up some marble stairs were large, wooden double doors covered in carvings of thorny vines in the same style as the steel gate. He put his hand on the handle and to his luck and relief found the door unlocked. Slowly he opened the door and peeked inside to see if anyone was there. When he was sure no one was there he opened the door a little more and slipped inside. 

The entrance hall was tall with a giant crystal chandelier hanging from the middle of the roof; each crystal in the shape of a leaf or a delicate flower. The floor and walls were of marble. The floor being covered in the middle by a large, blood red carpet. The walls having carved, wooden trimmings with paintings of high elves in the process of examining various dissected bodies or body parts. A wide stair went up from the middle of the room to a tall archway leading to another large and decorated room. There was one open doorway on the wall to his right, one to his left and two on the faraway wall on sides. 

Skjari wanted to cast a brief detection spell but was suspicious that it might trigger something. He heard a few voice from the stairs. So slowly he made his way towards the right doorway on the other side of the room. Through a hallway he found himself in another room with windows giving a nice view over a garden that was on the backside of the mansion. The walls of the room was covered in shelves. On some of the shelves were books with plain leather covers. On the rest of the shelves were skulls; each skull was neatly placed with even spaces between them and a small wooden sign in front of each with the race, gender and some deed that the person was part of: "Breton - Female - Successfully mated with an Orc", "Argonian - Male - Drowned in sealed container of water", "Nord - Male - Survived brain surgery" and so on. 

There were another door on the right. Skjari opened and peeked through as before. Past the door was a very fancy lounge, with couches and chairs clad in the fluffiest pillows, small tables of glass with legs like water holding up a sun. Large windows covered two of the wall and gave an ample view of the garden. A round and red carpet covered the middle of the room. 

Skjari left the door open and went back to pick up as many books as he could carry, then brought them into the lounge and placed them on the couch, and repeated till he had a tall pile of books on the couch. He then began moving some of the chairs and stack them against the couch with the books. When everything was stacked together in a big pile he conjured up fire in his hands and set the books aflame. The fire was a little slow at first but then spread quickly and engulfed the books and the furniture. 

Suddenly he heard a door open behind him. He turned to see the elf Calanye standing in the doorway with her hand still on the door handle. She looked very surprised and even a bit chocked. She also wore the same simple yet elegant outfit she always seemed to wear. Her eyes darted between Skjari and the fire, back and forth. 

"You certainly are an interesting one." she said with a surprisingly calm voice.

"If I got be something, why not be interesting?" he replied, trying to bide his time as he slowly moved towards the windows while constantly keeping an eye on her and also try to put the flames between the two.

"And you're burning my research." She raised her hands and a cold, ice mist formed around them.

"I just wanted something flammable. Your books just happened to be at hand." 

"Good thing there are copies in the fort. Once I take the valley back I will make more. By the way, did you help them?" She began to spray the fire with a stream of frost. 

"I did." Skjari sent a lightning bolt towards her, but she managed to block it with a ward. Skjari then followed up with a fireball flying past her, through the open doorway and into the room where it exploded. 

"Stop that!" hissed Calanye loudly, casting a lightning bolt at Skjari. Luckily he manage to side step it, but only barely. 

"Why should I?" shouted Skjari. Then he sent another fireball to the doorway. Though this time Calanye intercepted it; caught it mid-air with her magic and quickly quelled its flames till it was no more.

"I'll dissect you alive if you don't!" 

"As opposed you doing it while I'm dead? You'll have to catch me first!" Skjari said the last sentence in an almost juvenile tone. Then he turned around, cast an armor spell and jumped towards the window. He landed and rolled onto some flower planted right beneath the window. he got quickly back up on his feet and ran along the house. When he was outside another room he cast a couple of fireballs through its windows. Suddenly Skjari felt pain hit his left shoulder and a chock go through his body. Some of his magicka evaporated, and he turned to see that Calanye had now followed him through the window.

She sent another lightning bolt at him. Skjari saw it this time and threw himself to the side and rolled away to avoid the third lighting. 

"You give up now, I'll give you a good life. Food, comfort, women. All of that!" she yelled at him.

Skjari didn't believe her. Even if he did he wouldn't want to live a life among the elves. So he mustered the last of his magicka and cast the recall spell. Right when he cast it he saw another lightning strike, this time coming straight for his face. Then everything went black. 

He could still feel that he lied on grass with face down. Putting his hands down he pushed himself up and spat out some grass that had gotten into his mouth. He then slowly raised his head to look around and saw the town and that the mansion and flames were gone (at least half the town away). The town began to stir as a loud bell began to ring somewhere in there. 

Narina rushed over, pickaxe in her hand. "Did it work?"

"See for yourself. I think the flames should be visible soon." said Skjari between heavy breaths. The shoulder still hurt and he had no magicka left to heal it, so all he could do was hold his hand over the pain in a vain attempt to make it go away.

"I don't-" she started, but was cut off when a tower of flames sprouted from the mansion. "Oh."

"Now keep down. The harbor will be the closest place for them to fetch water. So we'll have to wait for the attack."

Narina nodded, and moved away from the village, back toward the rocks. Skjari changed to a seated position, still holding his hand over the pain. The town was now awake and people where running out on the streets to see what was going on. At first there was panic, then people began to organize and carry buckets of water from the harbor through the city to the mansion. Skjari could only catch a few glimpses of people running with the buckets through the streets from where he was. 

Now all he could do was wait. If everything went according to plan: the guards at the barricade up at the gorge would think that the rebels had found another way out of the valley and attacked the town in the cover of night, and they would send men to help. And the fire would be quelled in time of the attack which would mean no more people running to the docks for water. If none of that went according to plan his only hope was that the rebels would break through the barricade regardless and attract enough attention when they would march on the town. 

Time passed and the fire remained. Skjari began to feel a sting of anxiety as he began to ponder everything that could go wrong. When he saw the first light of the sun shine faintly through the mist (that seemed to surround the island like an ever present shell far out at sea) beginning to crawl over the water's edge in the horizon, he grew impatient and even more wary. Slowly he sneaked away from the town and up a small hill to get a better view of the mountains, and the gorge in particular. He could barely see the barricade in distance. It was like a tiny makeshift anthill of wood and the guards where the ants standing on and around it.

If they had sent any people to investigate or help with the fire, they had already gone into town as they were nowhere to be seen on the road between the gorge and the town. Their numbers at the barricade seemed to be at the moment few enough to give the rebels decent chance to get over, provided they had followed his instructions. 

Right when Skjari thought about giving up his watch, lest he be spotted on the hill as the sun's light came, the tiny ants all lined up on the top on their wooden structure. It took a while but then more people came crawling up on the barricade. They fought the guards and then a bit later swarmed the barricade with sheer numbers. 

Skjari made his way back to Narina. "They're coming." he said. "We'll have to wait for the town to respond. The docks will hopefully be cleared when they do."

"What if they're not?" Narina asked, her voice sounding shallow and anxious.

"I don't know. I'll think of something. Right now we'll have to wait and see."

"We've done that a lot." Narina said, mostly to herself.

"Hmm." mumbled Skjari. The town itself was still trying to put out the fire. As time passed, the fire died began to die down and only smoke was now visible instead. The town became a bit calmer but the bell was still tolling. 

"Come on, time to go." said Skjari and got up. 

Narina got up as well, and fetched the food bag. "I'm ready now."

Skjari led them into the city. He followed the street that which he could see the docks at the end of. When he heard activity at the docks he slowed down, then walked forth near the building and peeked around the corner. Narina remained behind him with one hand holding the bag and one hand resting at the pickaxe in her belt. 

At the docks where still a few elves trying to fill containers with water and loading them up on a wagon. A couple of elves stood near the water and lowered and raised buckets and amphorae into the water, then a couple of other elves took them and loaded them onto the wagon.

They waited till the elves had filled the wagon and driven off. Slowly they then left their little hiding spot and walked into the harbor. There were two ships waiting by the piers. One further off had a few sailors on deck looking nervously into the city. The other was closer to them and was so quiet and still that it seemed to be almost deserted. 

Skjari picked up pace and led them towards the quiet ship. Luckily the sailors on the other ship were to busy looking into the town to notice them sneaking aboard. Once on board Skjari walked towards the captains cabin. Seeing as the rest of the ship seemed deserted, he made the assumption that the cabin would be as well.

He tried to open the door but found it locked. "Alduin's fire." he mumbled in the old Nordic tongue. A small unlock spell managed to open the door and Skjari hurried inside. To his relief the cabin was empty and Narina followed closely behind. Once both were inside he closed the door behind them.

The cabin proved larger than he had expected. At the far end of the cabin, that was the stern, stretched a wide glass window across the entire wall. Under the window was in the left corner stretched a long, wide and quite comfortably looking bed. The bed had three large pillows that were as soft as the rest and the bedsheets were blue with silver inlay. To the right of the bed was a large desk with several drawers on both sides and a small wooden chair with so thin legs that it was a miracle that anyone could sit on it. On the wall to their left stood a tall wardrobe and on their left was a small chest. On the floor lied a oval carpet with a depiction of a sea serpent wrestling a ship. 

Narina looked around with widened eyes, the trappings of luxury totally unknown to the denizens of the island, and to someone who was a petty thief before. She went and laid on the bed, stretching out like a starfish atop the satin sheets. A sigh escaped her smiling lips.

"Now when the captains comes in here we need to capture him." said Skjari. He began to feel a little worried about the ship seeming so abandoned. The crew was certainly somewhere in town. And Skjari hoped that enough of them would be able to make it back to the ship.

"Whatever you say." Narina answered, not moving from the bed.

"Well if you want to lie there, could you do me the favor and remove those clothes and throw them under the bed? At least that should serve as a distraction when he walks in."

"I'm sure I'd be doing you more than just one favor." Narina said, and made no move to undress.

"When the captain comes I need you to not look like an escaped miner that crawled out of a forest. I need you to look like someone that can't be easily identified as a threat. And I haven't slept in one day and one night. I'm too tired to get excited." and saying that made Skjari realize how little he had slept. He couldn't help but to let out a long drawn yawn at the thought. "So remove your clothes. And comb your hair, it looks like a bird's nest."

"Who's to say he even fancies me? Maybe you're the one who should be undressing." Narina said.

"Well lets try to find out then." said Skjari and walked over to the wardrobe and flung it open. 

Narina rose quite quickly, and began going through a set of drawers before Skjari could. She pulled out an something, and turned to Skjari. "Uh, I think we're both wrong," she said, letting the dress unfold.

"Ehmm." was all Skjari could say at first in response. Then he drew a small sigh. "Maybe you weren't entirely wrong. Unless we find something to suggest otherwise, then I'll play decoy."

Narina smirked playfully. "Hop up on the bed, big man."

"I said unless." He began to look through the wardrobe. Though he did not know what he was looking for. All he could hope was that he would know it when he saw it. But the search turned up only more clothes fit for a woman. And a delicate comb, that looked like it was made of polished crystal, along with a mirror and a few hairpins of silver.
Drawing a sigh of defeat, Skjari undid his belt, pull off his robe, removed the boots and took off the pants. Once done undressing he kicked his clothes in under the bed. Then he borrowed the comb and combed his hair and even his beard a little bit, so he looked like he hadn't slept in the wilderness for a week.
"Enjoying the view?" he said as he turned to Narina, revealing everything the old Nordic breed had to offer.

She couldn't help but chuckle, but held her hand up showing she didn't mean any offense. "This whole thing is so ridiculous, isn't it? Our escape hinges on who can best distract a boat captain with their naked body."

"Though what do you think our chances of success are?" he said as he lied down in the soft bed, putting both hands behind his head as he rested it against the pillows.

"Depends on if the captain likes Nords, I suppose," Narina said, moving the desk's chair and then taking a seat in it so that she would be behind the door whenever someone entered.

"Yes. That is true. Though I am asking for a woman's perspective."

"Oh, um." Narina blushed, a crimson streak that started at her neck and worked its way to her cheeks. "I think the captain will be sufficiently surprised. Regardless of her preferences."

"Good enough I suppose. Just don't wait too long to knock her out. And don't miss."

"I won't." Narina said.

They waited for some time. Then suddenly they heard movement from outside.
"Get this ship moving! I don't want to be here when those slaves overrun the town!" they heard a female voice yell.
More noise came and soon they felt the ship slowly beginning to move. Skjari looked out the window and saw the town come into view as the ship turned out to open sea.

"We're leaving. How do you feel?" said Skjari, still looking at the town.

Narina smiled, her eyes tracking the town as the distance grew. "Perfect."

"Did I ever ask you how long you were on that island?"

Without taking her eyes off the island, Narina traced the curve of her green neck tattoos. "Fifteen years. And now I'm going home."

"And where is home now?"

"A little village on the eastern side of the Niben. Cropsford. Though that was before I stole a horse. Not sure how." Narina said.

"How old where you when you stole that horse? You don't look that old."

"Sixteen. Young and stupid, and because of it I ended up here."

"Got any family?"

"Some cousins. I lived with them when I... when I took their horse."

"I'm guessing there is a story about why you did it."

"It was stupid teenage rebellion, was all. My cousins wanted to teach me a lesson, but the prison guard was corrupt. And when I wouldn't... do things for him, he sold me."

"Fifteen years. How much of that was spent in the mine?"

"I've been mining since I got here. Though we didn't live in the mines. Small victories, I suppose."

"I'm a bit surprised you didn't end up in the fort."

"I made sure I didn't get taken there. No one returning was a good enough deterrent for me."

"How did you get a say in that?" 

"I didn't get pregnant. They only ever took the pregnant women. And the occasional man, though I don't know how they choose them."

"Oh. I found them also impregnating women at the fort. What I mean is that I'm a bit surprised they didn't take a young and probably quite fertile woman there."

"I never saw them taking non-pregnant women. Maybe they were impregnating someone again?"

"I don't think so. I think I remember overhearing them wanting to let an Orc impregnate Carolanna."

Narina grew quiet and she looked like she was thinking of what may have been her fate had she not gone to the mine. Skjari yawned again. The soft bed was like a formal and seductive invitation to leave consciousness. He tried to stay awake but found his eyelids shut every once in a while. Then his stomach began to grumble and he felt weaker as the eventful night began to take its toll. 

"Can you throw me something to eat?" he asked.

Narina rummaged in the bag, pulling out a slightly bruised green apple. She tossed it to Skjari, before digging one out for herself.

The apple landed in the bed besides him when he failed to catch it. He ate quickly and greedily, almost devouring the core in process.
"Got any bread or meat left?" he asked as he tossed the leftovers back to her.

Narina caught the core and throwed it, along with her own, into the crevice between the captain's chest and the wall. She then fished around in the bag, pulling out a chunk of salted beef about the size of her hand. She tossed that over to Skjari as well.
"Sorry, no bread. It either got eaten or moldy."

This time Skjari managed to catch. The meat wasn't very tasty. Using a simple heat spell made it warm to eat at least. Once done eating, he drew a sigh and leaned back onto the pillow. Part of him wished the elf captain would come soon as he didn't want to struggle to stay awake for much longer. 

Time passed and Skjari looked out the window. The island was gone from view and in the far distance was a thick fog. He tried to remember how long his first trip to the island had taken in an attempt to estimate how long this voyage would take. 

Some hours later he heard someone put a key into the lock on the door, attempting to unlock the already unlocked door. There was a brief silence following the key turning but not unlocking sound was made. The door opened slowly and in the doorway stood captain. Her clothes were elegantly tailored to fit her body's every curve like a glove, and were so decorated with silver and color that they bordered onto pompous. She had white hair tied up behind her head by a handful of smaller braids. Her skin was soft and dark yellow in contrast to her hair. To Skjari her face looked like most Altmer, but had a slightly less snobbish and uptight look to her eyes. She did however look very surprised at Skjari lying in her bed. 

"How did you get in here?" she said and took a step into the room, the door still between her and Narina. 

"The door was unlocked." said Skjari calmly and gave her a curious look. 

"Did Fairwen send you here?" she said. Her eyes looking at his sword as much as his face. 

Skjari hesitated for a second before simply saying: "Yeah."

"Well I wont say no to a gift." she said with a small smile. Then she closed the door without taking her eyes off him, inspecting him from top to toe, as she slowly walked towards him.

Narina moved quickly, bringing the flat of the pickaxe down hard on the back of the woman's head, whose limp body then crumpled to the floor.
"Should be restrain her?" she said.

"You find something to bind her hands and feet with while I drain her magicka." he said, then got out of the bed and put a hand on the captain's back to begin draining.

The options were slim, but Narina found a belt, and then used a shirt she ripped apart. "That should hold, I think. We'll probably need to gag her though."

"Yes you do that. I'll take a nap. Wake me if there is something." Skjari then lied back down in the bed. Feeling the softness of the bed again, he closed his eyes and slowly slipped from the waking world. 

***

"Skjari. Skjari. Wake up. The captain's moving. Wake up."

"Ja, ja." mumbled Skjari, so into his sleep that he forgot to speak the common tongue. He opened his eyes to see that outside the window was the night sky, clear of clouds and full of stars and a crescent Masser with no Secunda. Inside the cabin was only a candle on the desk that lit up the room. 

Skjari sat up and watched the the captain begin to stir where she lied on the floor. Then he remembered and put his hand towards her to drain whatever magicka she had regenerated. It a little while but then the captain realized she was tied and gagged. She began to thrash wildly at first, but when she saw Skjari sitting in her bed and Narina stand besides her with the pickaxe ready, she calmed down. 

Skjari cast a muffle spell over the cabin and then leaned forward to pull the gag down from the elf's mouth. "Where are we heading?" he asked.

"To Lillandril. Closest harbor." she spat out.

"We need to get to Daggerfall." said Skjari.

"Good luck with that. Even if you could convince me, we'd die of thirst long before we get there. We left in a hurry, so we couldn't stock up on food and fresh water."

"How do we know she's telling the truth?" Narina asked.

"We don't." said Skjari. His eyes were distant and mind was deep in thought. 

"Nope, you can't. Not here anyway. I could show you the empty water barrels." replied the captain.

"I bet you'd like us to leave the room, wouldn't you?" Narina said, scowling at the captain.

"Yes, I do like that. The fact yet remains: We barely have enough water to make it to Lillandril."

"What should we do?" Narina asked Skjari.

"We could try to sneak out to see if she's telling the truth. If she tells the truth or we simply accept what she says, we could dock at Lillandril and resupply before forcing captain here to sail elsewhere."

"I can watch her, if you want to go look." Narina said, making sure the captain could see her pickaxe.

"Where are the water barrels?" asked Skjari. 

"Just take the first stairs below deck. They're tied to the floor right behind those stairs." replied the captain. 

"Any watchmen?"

"One should be one at the bow, looking out at the sea for other ships. And then there's my helmsman that should be above us, steering the ship."

Casting a quick detection spell he could see that there was someone above them. He pulled his clothes out from under the bed and got dressed. Slowly he opened the door and sneaked outside. The deck was rather dark, with only the stars and moon to give light. The sound of the sea clashing against the lowly creaking wood of the ship was all that could be heard. 

Skjari cast his spells, the same he had used to sneak around in the valley, and walked forward to the stairs of the ship. Down the stairs was more dark. Snoring echoed from somewhere on the ship. Skjari tried to ignore the annoying sound as he walked around the stairs to the nine barrels that had been placed in a square grid rack. Grabbing a mug from a small nearby box he tried to tab some water from each barrel. All but one proved empty. After drinking some of his thirst away he put the mug back. Then he returned to above and back into the captain's cabin. 

"One barrel of water." he said. "Do you have a map?" he asked the captain. 

"Top drawer on the left." she said and looked to the desk. 

Skjari gave Narina a nod. And she went to the desk and pulled open the drawer. She had to shuffle through some papers, but found the rolled up map eventually. She brought it over, and unrolled it for Skjari on the floor between him and the captain. The map was over the Abecean Sea and the islands and coastlines within it. 

"Where are we?" he asked. 

"I'd love to point it out for you, but my hands are a little tied up." 

"Untie her. For the moment." 

Narina untied her, but stood behind her with her pickaxe at the ready. "Don't try anything."

The captain ignored Narina and drew a small circle at the western edge of the map, far west and slightly north of Summerset. There was nothing but water there. "We should be around here. Three or four days from Lillandril if the wind is favourable. Four or five if it's not. And I reckon we'll run out of water on the fourth."

"Great. Tie her again." said Skjari.

After Narina finished tying the captain's hands together, she asked, "How many crew are on board? And do we have to worry about them coming in here?"

"A dozen, me included. Barely enough to handle this ship. They wont come in unless asked. Though when I don't go out to help sail or eat, they'll undoubtedly come to check up on me." said the captain.

"You'll tell them your sick. Also to bring food on a plate." Skjari ordered.

"Yeah, sure. Now will you allow me to sleep in my bed."

"No." said Skjari. Then put his hand on her head and cast a spell to make her fall asleep. The elf left the waking world and fell from her seated position onto the floor. 

"I'm worried. She's being too forthcoming," Narina said, going back to her chair behind the door.

"I know. I'm guessing she thinks we're going to get caught in Lillandril. Though why Lillandril then? If they follow Imperial law in Summerset, what is the worst they can do? Throw us in prison a for a few weeks for assault?" said Skjari, hoping that what he'd read about the basics of Imperial law in the provinces was true.

"I'm not going back to prison. Not after the last time," Narina said. "And, those mages were Altmer, just like they'll be in Lillandril. They might be her friends for all we know."

"Probably. Best way may be to sneak off the ship in the dead of night once we've docked and find some human trading ship."

"Hmm. Anyway, I'll take the bed." he said and began to remove all his clothes for a second time.

"I'll take first watch. I'll wake you in a few hours." Narina said.

"Good." he said as he crawled in under the covers of the bed. The days to come would be tense and he knew they couldn't drop their guard. The thoughts on that made it hard. So he remained awake, thinking on the possible outcomes and possible solutions. 

When Narina came to wake him for his watch he had not gotten a moments sleep. All he did was put his pants, then sat down on the chair and stared out the window on the night sky. Not even giving Narina a real glance as she undressed and crept into bed. The night proved to be very long. 

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hist dream

The earth was soft to the touch as he lied upon it. Slowly he opened his eyes and looked up. Above him he could see the bulging tree trunk of a large Hist tree. The golden sap ran like little rivers down along the bark. He could feel it's presence stronger than ever before in any waking state and he knew he had to get up. As he moved his hands to push himself upwards he saw the scales of his hands were almost like bark. It was such an odd thing, yet something that felt so natural, like his scales had always been like that. 
As he slowly got up he reached for the weapon he knew he had left besides him. A large mace made from a boulder hewn to have obtuse triangular spots to give the weapon more impact on the swing. The handle holding the boulder was made from wood and bronze. It was a large two handed weapon yet lifting it was surprisingly easy, even with only one hand.

With weapon in hand and standing on both feet he looked around and saw thousands of Argonians lying on the ground around him. All having their scales in similar bark like form as his. Yet he was the only one awake. It didn't matter though as he had somewhere to be. Carefully to not step on anyone he made his way towards the end of the small clearing they were in. Most other Argonians looked so small as he walked past them, yet some looked to be his size; with sturdy spines sticking out along their backs and tails. 

The further away from the Hist tree he went, the fewer and further apart did the other Argonians lie. Soon enough he had left them all behind as he walked into the marshes. He didn't know how far he walked or for how long. He walked till he knew he arrived where he was supposed to be. The place he now stood at didn't look that peculiar or that different from most other marshes in Black Marsh. There were trees standing upon a small web of their own roots and no dry ground for as far as the eye could see. It was almost completely quiet. The only thing that dared to interrupt the silence was the occasional insect flying past him or a frog croaking. 

Time lost meaning as he simply stood there holding his mace in both hands, staring off into the distance. The sun went down, then up and then down again. He could hear, even feel and sometimes see in the corner of his eye as other Argonians joined him in his simple watch. Then when the first rays of the sun was about to rise over the far horizon he heard a crackle of wood. It was small and barely noticeable at first. But soon it grew louder and louder. One of the trees a several yards to the right in front of him fell over as a black stone shard came up from under it. Another came up from the water a bit further to the left. Together they formed spiky pillars of black stone that grew towards the sky with unprecedented speed. Then they made a sharp turn towards each other and merged in the middle, forming a giant empty doorway. It did not remain empty for long however as soon after the giant archway was complete a red glow filled it. And out of that red glow came men in black spiky armor. 

He tightened his grip of his mace as he slowly began to walk towards the host of black armored men walking out of the giant portal. All the other Argonians around followed him as he approached the portal. He picked up his speed from a brisk walk to an outright charge. When he was a few feet from the armored men he bellowed a great roar as he swung his mace sideways at them. The men were half his height and he swatted half a dozen of them away like dry grass. He swung the mace again, and again. Each time crushing or send flying several armored men. They could barely even reach him and even then were only able to give him light pokes of their weapons. 

It didn't take long before the armored men began to slowly back away and retreat back into the portal. That did not stop him from swinging his mace and fighting tirelessly towards the portal. With a speed even he found surprising he managed to smash a path down the middle of the armored men until he reached the portal. Without hesitation he stepped through it, continuously swinging his mace at whatever could be waiting on the other side. 

On the other side awaited him a barren, dark land with rivers of red, glowing sludge in the distance. Directly in front of him stood a host of armored men, far larger than he could really count. And above them all in the far distance loomed a great dark tower.
Despite that he could not see the armored men's faces, he could tell from their body language that they were very surprised to see him. That surprise was however short lived as he proceed to crush several of them with his mace. This time they retaliated with more vigor and determination. Even reaching him from his flanks were they took repeated stabs and slashes at him. Yet their attacks felt more like annoying insect bites and there was no pain from any of them. 

Then for the first time he was forced on the defensive as they slowly began to surround him and pick away at him. But that then changed as more of his kin came through the portal. Together they pushed the army of armored men back. He swung his mace harder and harder as he smashed away front row after front row. Then as he raised his mace for another swing he saw an orb of fire fly towards him, hitting the handle of the mace and shattering it into useless shards and splinters. An armored man stepped forward and thrust his sword into his larger opponent's chest. It didn't go deep however and in response he grabbed the head of the little armored man and tore it right off. He then looked for the one that had thrown that fireball. It took a second to make anything out in the chaos around him but then he saw the mage; a grey, dark skinned man with horns sticking out from his head and red glowing eyes, wearing only a loincloth with a strange pattern. The mage was standing on a cliff over a river of red sludge, near the back of the enemy army. His hands were engulfed in flame as he threw fireballs at the Argonians. That did little to really stop them though as even engulfed in flame, those that didn't outright die kept fighting like it was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. 
Angry at the mage for shattering his mace he picked up the boulder that remained and threw it at the mage. But the boulder was blasted to pieces by another fireball. Even more enraged he charged the mage with all the strength he could still muster. He tackled and swiped his way through lines after lines of armored men, feeling how they desperately tried to swing their swords at him and even how some of them jumped on and grabbed him in order to slow him down. By the time he got to the cliff the mage was standing on he was heavily weighed down by the number of armored men clamoring all over him. Yet he still managed to reach the mage, although barely. As he was just a couple of feet from the mage he was blasted in his face with fire, blinding him as he tried to do one last lunge forward. The next thing he was able to see was the red, glowing sludge rushing up towards him. He hit it with a smack and he felt how the armored men that had still helt onto him lost their grip. For the first time in what felt like an eternity he felt tired. Slowly he sank into the warm sludge, feeling no pain or discomfort. Soon enough the bright red turned black. 

In this black void he felt a looming presence all around him, cradling him. It was soothing and calming. It felt like he as asleep and awake at the same time. Each moment feeling like both an eternity and barely the blink of an eye. 
Then suddenly he felt something poke him in his chest. He wanted to ignore and simply linger in the comfortable void. But then he was poked again, and again. Annoyed and irritated he felt how everything around was fleeting away from him. Slowly he opened his eyes to see a wooden staff poking him in the chest. He looked up to see the familiar sight of Sleeps-With-Trees wearing the upper skull of a crocodile over his face and his hooked spear which he was currently using the non-pointy end for poking him with. 
"Wakie, wakie Stalks." he said. "Are you trying to take my name?" 

"Uhm, what?" muttered Stalks sleepily. He had no memory of falling asleep and as he looked up behind himself he saw the large Hist tree of the tribe loom above him and he realized he was sleeping against one of its roots. 

"Come on up with you. Your mother is looking for you." said the shaman. 

Stalks-Deep-Waters stumbled drowsily up on his feet and began to slowly walk towards the village, the dream still lingering in his mind.

  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

A new journey

 

Yornar awoke to a light headache. The air smelled something strange and the bed felt odd. It was when he slowly opened his eyes and saw the large room filled with strange alchemical reagents and odd trinkets that may or may not contain magic that he remembered where he was and what he had done. Yornar figured the smell was simply the smell of hagraven or the whatever odors the alchemical stuff gave off, or a mixture of both. Examining the bed as he sat up he saw a few feathers that had crept forth from under the bed furs. The realization of what in the bed that had felt odd (and what he had slept upon) made him feel uneasy. 

Sitting there surrounded by an eerie feeling of having slept in a tomb Yornar wondered where he should go and what he should do next. Living among the remains of the hagravens held no appeal, so staying was not really an option. He could head for the city that he knew lied somewhere to the west; go where he and Minna had originally planned to go. Yet that felt only like a reminder of what could have been. Another option was heading south and killing elves till he himself fell in battle, like the tragic heroes of the stories from his youth. Whatever he would decide to do, Yornar at least figured he could make some preparations for his journey. 

Getting out of bed, Yornar began to search through hagravens' belongings (although it was probably his now by right of conquest) for anything useful. He looked through the alchemical things, though only briefly as he had no talent for alchemy, and took whatever magicka and healing potions he could find. For the trinkets he took anything he could identify as either having a useful enchantment or for looking valuable enough that he thought he could sell it for a reasonable price. As he searched among the various trinkets and junk of a small chest by one of the beds he found an amulet; it was round and as large as his palm, made from some odd, ice blue, cold metal and depicting some kind of butterfly on one side and an odd looking flower on the other. Yornar immediately recognized it as Minna's. The first time he had seen it had been the first time she had taken off the robe in front of him. He remembered how it had hanged on a leather strap between her breasts. Slowly, as he looked at the amulet and began to sink into memories, anger and distraught began to well within him. In the end he wanted to just throw the amulet away and never think about it again. But Yornar couldn't bring himself to do it. Instead he stared at it, unsure whether to let go or hold on. Then he simply stuffed it down into the bag with the other trinkets, telling himself it could fetch a good price. Though he had his doubts he would ever sell it. 

Once done rummaging through the hagravens' old stuff Yornar had managed to pack two whole bags (of decent size) with trinkets and potions. He took one last look at the mirror on the wall and wondered if he could pack it as well, seeing as it was probably made of pure, polished silver. But as he looked into the mirror he also saw himself; his hair and beard scruffy and wild, like wild man from the depths of the forest. Seeing his own visage and finding it somewhat appalling Yornar figured he might as well put the mirror to some use before he would try to pry it off the wall. 

With a simple spell Yornar began to cut his hair and beard. He wouldn't dare trying anything fancy and only cut the hair down so it only reached his shoulders, and gave his beard a trim just enough that it looked even. After some cutting with the spell Yornar found himself looking like a civilized and presentable man. It wasn't much but for Yornar it felt like a first step towards a better life. 

After his little self given hair cut Yornar set himself to take the mirror off the wall. A task that proved more difficult than he had anticipated. There were nothing visible holding the mirror and it was like it had been glued to the wall by magic. Yornar was afraid to damage the mirror and so it took a while for him to carefully figure out a way to remove it. After a few dispell spells hadn't done anything, Yornar grew impatient enough that he simply decided to use his power to tear apart the wall around the mirror. That did the trick and he then also found out that it had been little hooks on the backside of the mirror that had been stuck into the wall that had made it so hard to remove it. 

Yornar wrapped the mirror in thick linen cloth, packed it and then headed out of the room. A great relief washed over Yornar when he stepped outside of the room and began to walk down the hallways. When Yornar opened the great door out of the castle he was met by sunshine. He had to close and avert his eyes at first before they got used to bright light. The sky was calm with only a few stripes of clouds. For a moment he thought it might not be that bad of a day. That however changed when he spotted a dozen other coven members standing by his horse having what looked and sounded like a heated discussion. 

"Why should you get the horse?" Yornar heard one rather upset man say as he got closer.

"Why should any of you get my horse?" said Yornar loudly, with a calm yet stern tone. 

The entire group turned to face Yornar at the same time. Everyone suddenly looking rather nervous. "You're leaving?" said another man in the front, a man with dark blonde hair and light beard. His name was something with a Thor or Thur, but Yornar couldn't really be bothered to remember properly. 

"Yes I am. And I hope nothing is missing from the bags. Or you will all end up like the old hags," said Yornar. Last thing he wanted was one of them finding the book. A book that he now considered burning. 

"We haven't rummaged through your bags," said a woman (that he barely recognized) very unconvincingly with a hint of fear to her voice. As she said that Yornar thought he heard and saw someone at the back of the small crowd putting something back into one of the saddle bags. It was however the bag on the side of the horse that didn't contain the book, so Yornar felt a bit relieved and not inclined enough to carry out his threat.

Yornar walked forward towards the horse and the group of mages parted to make way for him. He checked the bags while also giving regular looks over his shoulder at the others that were now looking at him. What are they waiting for? he wondered  to himself as to why they hadn't scurried off yet. When he found everything to be in the bags, and especially the book to be untouched at the bottom of its bag (though a silver goblet was now somewhat misplaced), Yornar felt content enough to not scold or punish them for looking through his stuff. 
"Why are you still here?" said Yornar after a moment when he felt their presence was getting irritating. 

"Where are you going?" one of them simply asked. 

"I'm not sure. South or west, or something in between," replied Yornar. 

"The elves headed south," said young man. He somehow looked and sounded guilty of something and his speech didn't differ much from a child trying to shift blame. 

"What elves?" said Yornar at first a little confused, thinking he had effectively killed every elf north of the mountains. But then he remember those three damned elves that had started it all. He wondered how he could have forgotten about them. Yet his hatred for those three elves had blurred together with his hatred for the rest of elvenkind. A hatred and thirst for vengeance he had spent the last year slaking with blood. Yornar still felt a desire for vengeance against those three elves, yet it didn't burn as bright as had done before the massacre of that village and the hagravens. "When did they leave?" Yornar then asked before anyone could answer his first question. 

"Two weeks ago," the same man young man. 

Yornar felt irritated that he had somehow managed to miss the elves on his journey north. He also hoped they hadn't made for south of the mountains. "Goodbye," said Yornar as he climbed atop the horse. 

"You're just going to leave us?" exclaimed a woman. 

"Yes," replied Yornar. 

"Do you know of any place we could go?"

Yornar thought for a second to sarcastically ask them why any of them wouldn't want to stay. Though he had too much of an understanding of why anyone would want to leave to want to mock it. Truthfully he didn't know of a place where they could go, or be welcome. He didn't really know where the city was, and he doubted heavily any number of witches from the deep woods would be getting any pleasant or even non-hostile welcome. For a second he even felt sympathetic for their situation. Yet he still considered none of them his responsibility. Then he was struck by an idea. Even if they were not his responsibility, they could still perhaps be of use. 
"Well I happen to know of a village down south that is in need of some new inhabitants," said Yornar. 

 

Before the Lord and the Lady

 

Orian stood before the Lord and Lady Celemyon in the throne room. The hall itself was grand with a sharply arched roof high above them. Pillars, decorated with delicate carvings of flowery vines, held up the roof and long banners with emerald green background with several smoothly intertwined lines running along the edges, framing the exquisite silver arrow that was the symbol of the Celemyons. The hall itself was made of imported marble of highest quality and glistened in the sunshine that came in through the tall windows that lined the upper half of the walls on both sides of hall. And all around the hall stood various nobles of lesser houses that always held the Celemyons company and vied for even the slightest of attention. 

The two thrones at the far end stood on an elevated platform surrounded by a circular stair with eight steps. Both thrones were made of marble and were equally impressive, but differed in theme; the Lord's throne had a gold covered, swirling sun at the top of his throne with a crystal in the middle that glowed in a bright, golden light. The rest of the throne was carved as if made of liquid sunlight streaming from the sun atop it. The lady's throne was carved as if it was made up of delicate vines that sprouted stars instead of flowers with small crystals that glowed in a silver light. 

The Lord and Lady wore complimentary silk clothes in emerald green and silver, tight fitting around the torso to show off their well sculpted bodies (that most likely had been sculpted), and more free flowing around the forearms and lower legs. Lord Celemyon tried to look calm, but Orian saw in his eyes that the great man was displeased. Lady Celemyon however managed to look calm but her inquisitive eyes made Orian even more uncomfortable than the Lord's displeased look. 

"Is that all?" said Lord Celemyon.

"Yes," said Orian as he lowered his gaze, doing his best to look humble instead of ashamed. 

"Entire village gets slaughtered by... something," said Lady Celemyon, her voice dripping with venom. "And you don't even dare to stay to see what it is. Instead you fled, abandoning your duty, your charge without as much as a fight." 

"The village was already lost," said Orian in the most humble and dignified tone he could muster. "I had to flee so I could bring word back about what had happened."

"I'll not hear any of your excuses," said Lady Celemyon.

"You know the punishment for abandoning one's duty," said Lord Celemyon. "But I feel generous today."

"Send me back. Give me a second chance," said Orian, his fear and desperation coming through his voice more than he liked. 

"We will," said Lord Celemyon. 

"Thank you," said Orian with a badly hidden relief. "I will lead-"

"You will not lead anything," interrupted Lord Celemyon  with a stern voice.

"You failed to lead the defense of your charge the last time," said Lady Celemyon with a slight mocking tone. "We'll have someone more capable lead the retaking of our lands. And the hunt for this... thing that defeated you."

"You're hereby demoted to the lowest rank among the rangers," said Lord Celemyon. "You will have no authority over anyone. Not even the slaves. And perhaps after a few decades of service in the north, we will pardon your offense."

"Thank you. You are the most kind and forgiving," said Orian, even though he hated almost every word coming out of his mouth. He was now almost on par with the slaves. A great shame and dishonor that hurt more than any physical wound he had ever received. 

Lady Celemyon's lips curved upwards in small smile, though Orian couldn't tell if she was mocking or indulging his words. Her husband however only looked a bit relieved. He leaned back in his throne before saying: "Now leave."

"Thank you," said Orian again, this time with a low bow while slowly walking backwards. Then as Orian turned away from his Lord and Lady he caught a glimpse of the courtiers that all looked upon him with a mixture of contempt, disgust and curiosity. With quick steps Orian left the hall. It was a great relief for him to get away from all those unkind eyes. Yet he knew it was still far from over. He wondered who he would get to serve under. But in the end it wouldn't matter that much. The only thing that mattered was that he needed a chance to redeem himself. He would bring the responsible to justice and claim great lands and wealth for his Lord and Lady. Only then would he get the recognition he felt he deserved. 

 

The cabin and the wraith

 

The forest was calm and quiet around them. The sky had only a few dots of clouds and the sun was beginning to set in the horizon. The wind was soft and refreshingly cool. But it brought little comfort to the ragtag group of survivors that made their way through the woods. They were what remained of mages that had tried to start anew in the elven village. Their number was barely a bit more than a dozen, not even a third of what they started out with. Desperate and confused they simply wandered forward, to where none knew, only that it was away from the elven forces. 

With one arm around the neck of a fellow mage named Harald, Yornar limped forward the best he could. The arrow stuck in his thigh hurt but he had gotten so used to the pain that he barely registered it anymore. At least it was a relatively harmless wound and no artery had been wounded. Not like another mage that had been hit in the shoulder and bled to death an hour ago. Without enough magicka to heal her and for fear of the elves catching up with them they had simply left her behind. The fear and the desperation was all too familiar to Yornar. He hated himself for letting happen again, even though there was nothing he could have done. The elves had come in a well organized and too large a force. None except Yornar had had any experience with battle, and his experience did not extend to open battle or defending a settlement. It had not even been a battle but instead a desperate escape with the mages mostly only protecting themselves as best they could. Only a few even cast any spells in retaliation, though few managed to even really hit anything. Yornar had been the most successful among those and that had only made him a bigger target and was why he was currently limping forward with no magicka to properly heal himself. 

None said anything on their entire journey. No questions about where they were heading or what was going to happen to them. They only stuck together for unspoken agreement that each and everyone of them would likely die on their own. Though Yornar knew that agreement was frail and that if they were attacked they would scatter like dandelion seeds to the wind. 

After much wandering they stumbled upon a small cabin among the trees. It looked like it had been abandoned for a few years and judging by some of the stuff lying outside it had been a small hunting lodge. It wasn't much but it would at least provide some cover for the night, most importantly hide the light of any fire of theirs. Not that they would need a fire for more than light. It wasn't that cold outside and they had no food for them to cook. There was no well or stream nearby that they could see but they knew one must be nearby as no one builds a house too far from a water source. But it was of little comfort for empty bellies and as such no one bothered to go look for it. 

The door was ajar and the inside of the cabin was oddly untouched. There was a small wooden table in the middle with two stools on opposite ends. On the table was a couple of platters and mugs. There was some sludge form of dirt on the platters that might once have been food. The mugs were however empty. The roof had a few holes in it and spiderweb covered more than a couple of corners. There was a bed in the far right corner with an animal fur on top of it, but the fur had long since become dry and stiff, more fit for bugs that did their best to eat holes in it. In the middle on the far side wall of the cabin was a small hearth that was filled with ash and soot. A layer of dust and dirt covered much of everything inside the cabin.

Harald led Yornar into the cabin so Yornar could sit down on the bed. The arrow made it impossible to sit straight and instead Yornar had to sit slightly sideways so it wouldn't touch the bed. 
"Just give me a moment. I can handle this. Done it before," said Yornar with a strained voice. "You people should go look for food. Can't wander forever on empty stomachs."

"Alright, we'll give you some room then," replied Harald before he turned to the rest of the mages that did their best to fit into the small cabin. "Come on people, get out there and put as many trap runes as you can. With some luck we'll have something to eat come morn."

Everyone except Yornar began to shuffle out of the cabin and soon enough Yornar was alone. He waited a listened a bit to everyone leaving and then scattering into the woods, hoping no one would run into the elves or get lost. But Yornar knew there was nothing he could do about that and instead shifted his focus to the more hurting matter of the arrow in his leg. With one hand he conjured up and prepared a healing spell while he grabbed the arrow with other. He braced himself and counted to three, then pulled as hard and quick as he could. He ripped the arrow out of his flesh, which caused him to squeal painfully, before quickly applying the healing magic. The spell was soothing and after a while his leg even felt whole, although the pain still lingered. 

Slowly Yornar stood up and tried to walk around the table in the cabin to test his leg. It hurt a bit extra every time he shifted his weight to the leg, but it felt he could still walk without any real problem, and hopefully run if it ever came to it. After his little walk Yornar began to look around the cabin for anything that might be useful. On the inside he found just nothing but an old, half rusted dagger and a fishing pole that had a line he wouldn't trust to hold even smallest of fishes. On the outside he found a small shed on the back of the house where old and half rotten pieces of firewood sat neatly stacked on top of each other. 

Yornar picked out the best and least rotten pieces and brought them inside. He cleaned out the hearth with some magic before placing a couple of pieces in it and the rest next to it. Though he decided to wait with lighting the fire till after the others had come back and instead used his magic to clear the dust and dirt on the floor. When that was done he simply sat down on a stool and waited for the others to return. Time passed and nothing happened. Yornar did not know how much time had passed when his eyelids began to grow heavy as he began to long for sleep. Yet he fought to stay awake to at least wait to see if the others would find their way back. Eventually though he decided to at least rest his eyes and head for a little on the table with his arms as a pillow. 

He remained like that in a state of half sleep for what felt like seconds, or maybe minutes. Then suddenly he felt a chill in the air and an unnatural and eerie sound that sounded almost like how a strong wind does when passing by one's ears. Yornar recoiled upwards from the table, almost falling backwards from his seat. He opened his eyes to see a skull with a loose and tilted jaw floated in the hair in front of him, opposite of the table. It bore a translucent shroud that covered the scalp and slowly wavered in the air behind and below it. With dead and hollow eyes it looked straight at Yornar. 

Fear and a sense of futility gripped Yornar as he locked eye contact with the wraith. He wanted to conjure up a spell to banish this creature. But he didn't know what spells would be effective and he felt if he cast wrong spell first he wouldn't get a chance to try out a second. So instead he simply sat there as if frozen. His mind tried to rush through the spells he knew but was continuously distracted by a fear and wonder of what the wraith might do. Then he managed to break eye contact with the wraith so he could see the door to the side behind it. He wondered maybe he could escape instead. But almost as soon as he had broken the eye contact the wraith lowered its jaw even more than should have been physically possible and let out deafening shriek. Yornar covered his ears in pain with his hands and recoiled in fear and shock so much so he fell down from the stool. Feeling he could do little else he closed his eyes and simply hoped the ghost would go away. 

"Yornar!" he then heard in the distance from outside the door. The shriek ceased. Yornar opened his eyes and the wraith was gone. Soon the door opened and Harald walked in with a couple of other mages in tow. "What are you doing on the floor?" said Harald, looking a bit puzzled. 

"You heard it?" asked Yornar, doing his best to hide his fear. 

"Heard what?" Harald now looked even more puzzled. 

"I guess I just fell asleep and had a nightmare," said Yornar as he got up. He doubted his own words but it felt somehow more plausible than the others not hearing the shriek. "Cleaned out the floor so we could sleep on it. Also prepared for a fire in the hearth. Though I suppose you didn't manage to catch anything."

"No we didn't," replied Harald. "The other might have though. Hopefully they will be back soon."

"Yeah, let's hope so." Yornar put the stool he had fallen down from back and sat down on it. Harald went up to the hearth and with a wave of the hand a flame ignited the logs. Soon enough they had a nice and cozy fire going. And after that the rest of the group trickled into the cabin one by one. All of them had made it back. A few of them even brought some berries. It wasn't enough for everyone or even a few to still their hunger. Yornar passed on the the berries with the excuse that they should have it more than him, though the truth was that he wasn't really hungry anymore. The memory of the wraith still lingered in his mind. He wondered if it had really been a dream, and whether or not he should tell anyone about it. In the end he decided against it, figuring he shouldn't bother and scare the others unnecessarily. Instead he opted to take the night's watch. This time he managed to stay awake much more easily. The night's hours grew long and Yornar passed the time by thinking and pondering; on what he should do, on what he could do, about the supposed ghost and the elves. Ideas were formed and discarded. Then when he got the silly thought of somehow sending the wraith against the elves he got an idea. 

 

Harald's doubts

"You still want to fight the elves?" said Harald in disbelief. He couldn't believe the Yornar in front of him was the same man that had left them over a year ago. The Yornar he remembered was somewhat shy man that followed that girl Minna around. Harald also remembered Minna as a beautiful and sweet girl, but also that she was manipulative and could be outright abusive in the way she ordered Yornar around. That her death had sent him on such a journey that had changed him so much and caused him to stir up powers beyond any of their control Harald found to be baffling. 

"Yes," replied Yornar. "But I got an idea. I know we can't take on the elves in an open battle."

"We're not warriors." interrupted Harald. He hated saying it as it was like admitting cowardice and indirect renouncement of Sovngarde. But it was the truth as the only one among them that had actually fought in any type of battle was Yornar. 

"You know how cast spells that can kill."

"We've only used that for hunting at the most."

"The elves are not going to stop at retaking their village. They will expand and continue to raze and enslave our villages and towns."

"Look, I understand how you must feel after what happened to your village but-"

"I am not going to let the elves win." Yornar's voice and expression became stern and angry. 

Harald drew a small sigh. He knew he wouldn't be able to steer Yornar away from his quest. Part of Harald wanted to tell Yornar if he wanted to throw his life away against the elves then he was free to do so. But the problem was that Yornar was the closest they had to a protector and leader, not for being a competent one as his first major decision had led them to a slaughter, but for currently being the only one that everyone could look to in case they ran into trouble. 
"What is your plan then?" said Harald. 

"I got an idea for a spell that will stun all the elves in an area. Allowing you to run in put ice spikes into their necks while they're down."

"But you don't got an actual spell?"

"No. I'll need some time to properly construct it."

"And what do you suggest we do while you... figure out this spell?"

"What you wanted us to do: avoid the elves."

Harald felt some relief at hearing that he wasn't going to get them killed, at least not yet. "So where are we? Where are we going?"

"I don't know where we are exactly," said Yornar with a shrug. "But I do know if we head northwest we should eventually find a road that leads to civilization."

At least that's something, thought Harald. "Well I gonna go check on the others," he then said. Harald got up from the chair and left the little house. A few of the others were just outside the house preparing a couple of rabbits and a skeever. The rest was probably either still checking the rest of their traps or trying to find water. They were quite disorganized and no one knew what everyone was doing. 

"How's his wound?" asked a young man with dark blonde hair and scraggy beard. 

"What?" responded Harald before remembering that Yornar had been wounded the day before. Something he had almost forgotten as Yornar had managed to heal up the wound without any real problem and seemed to be back to normal. "Oh, he's fine. Anyway he says he knows a place where we could head. Or at least a road that might lead to someplace."

"Well that's reassuring," said another man sarcastically. 

"As long as it doesn't lead back to the elves I'm happy," said a woman with messy brown hair. 

"Well..." began Harald as he wondered how he should word his next sentence. "He still wants to fight the elves. Claims he has an idea for a spell that could allow us to take them on."

"He's joking, right?" said the woman in disbelief. "He already dragged us to one slaughter. Now he wants to drag us into another?"

"It was only a slaughter because you people can't fight." Harald turned around at the sound of his voice to see Yornar coming out of the cottage towards them. Everyone suddenly grew quiet when they heard and saw him. Even though no one feared him the same they had done the matrons, Yornar having slain the matrons had obviously made everyone wary of upsetting him. "The elves are not going to stop at retaking their town. Whichever village or town we seek shelter in will be hit by the elves eventually. If you want to run and cower than you are free to leave when we find the road." Everyone continued to be silent, either out of fear from speaking against or an actual shame of being a coward. After another moment of silence Yornar said: "But as long as you wish to stay with me you will have to learn how to fight."

With that said Yornar went back to the cottage and everyone still remained quiet. Harald was at least somewhat grateful that Yornar would allow people to leave. Though as he himself began to wonder where he should go once they've found the road he realized he had nowhere to go. He didn't quite know where his family was at nor did he for a second believe that they would accept him back. The more Harald thought about it the more he began to believe fighting the elves might not be the worst idea. If they won they would be hailed as heroes. If they lost it would at least give him a chance at reaching Sovngarde and meet some of his ancestors. Harald looked at the others and wondered if they had the same thoughts, or if he was a fool for having them. 

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

A Thane and his King

 

Ragnar entered the King's hall and immediately hated the sight. The once grand hall was now a cesspit of debauchery and depravity. The King sat on his grand throne, a single piece of wood covered in carvings of wolves, bears, axes, swords and shields. Ragnar found the King the least offensive person in the room, but certainly the most pathetic. Light blonde hair and beard, strong features that had once looked proud but now weary and anxious. He clothes fit for his position with a thick bear fur on his shoulder. On top of his head sat golden crown with similar decoration as his throne. But the King was sitting slightly hunched as if trying to not get noticed he sat eating a nicely roasted steak.

To his immediate left sat his whore of a wife. She was beautiful with a curvy body that her tight dress didn't do much to hide it. Golden hair and a warm smile constantly on her lips. Ragnar hated her. She was the reason the King was so weak and pathetic that no one took him seriously anymore. She dripped venomous lies into the King's ear to keep him passive so she could sleep with other men and in general do whatever she wanted. And if anyone called her out on it, that person would soon found themselves rather unwelcome in the hall. 

At a table to the King's right sat the bastard that was supposed to be prince and heir of the crown. A brat that didn't even look like the man that was supposed to be his father, with sharp facial features and wavy, dark brown hair. In his lap sat a young and buxom wench and around at the table sat his friends that were more like rowdy thugs than honorable warriors. The bunch was probably bragging about how great they were for getting away with bullying decent folk. 

With firm steps Ragnar walked up towards the King, ignoring all the glances from the degenerates around him, and especially those from the Crown Prince's table. The Queen gave him a warm and welcoming smile, but her eyes said he wasn't welcome at all, and for Ragnar that feeling was mutual. But the King's face instead shone with bright and friendly smile when he saw Ragnar. 

"Ragnar, my old friend. What brings you here?" said the King as if he'd not seen him for years. 

"Trouble in the east my Jarl," said Ragnar. "Elves from the south are invading and an upstart warlord has risen in my lands."

"You don't got enough competence or courage to deal with a little bandit?" asked Queen with a veiled mocking tone and smile. 

"This warlord and quite a few followers of his are witches. Not some simple bunch of bandits."

"Witches?" exclaimed the King in surprise. "Shouldn't the Dragons Priests help deal with them then?" asked the King. 

"I've informed them, but so far they've done nothing."

"They're probably expecting you to be able to beat them," said the Prince. 

"Have you even tried to fight them?" asked the Queen.

"No, I-" Ragnar tried to say before getting interrupted by the Prince. 

"So how do you know they're truly witches and not some bandits playing some tricks?" asked the Queen. 

"I got word from-" Ragnar tried to say before the Queen interrupted him. 

"But you haven't seen them yourself?"

"No..." 

"So the first thing you do is run here for help?" said the Prince. "How pathetic. I bet me and my boys can beat these bandits easily. I even bet I can beat this 'witch-king'," he said the term as if it was a mockery, "with one hand tied behind my back." 

"Do you think you can beat the elves too?" asked Ragnar. 

The Prince frowned at Ragnar. "Yes, I can," he replied with great confidence, bordering to arrogance. 

Ragnar turned to the King. "Then I'll have the men to deal with these threats?"

"Yes, you'll have your reinforcement," replied the King, almost appearing proud and confident for once. "And my son will lead them."

Ragnar hated the thought of having to travel and deal with the little brat Prince, but by the look of how displeased and silently furious the Queen was at the decision of sending her little boy into battle at least made the thought bearable. "Thank you, my Jarl." Ragnar then turned to the Prince. "I'll depart in two days."

"Don't worry. Me and my men will be ready by then," said the Prince, sounding more cocky than confident about his ability to lead. 

And with that Ragnar gave a courtesy salute to the King before taking his leave from the great hall. Hopefully the brat wouldn't ruin it all and get them all killed. Or get himself killed so his mother would make Ragnar's life a living hell. But if the brat survived, Ragnar was sure he'd never hear the end of how the Prince had 'saved' him. Whichever way Ragnar looked at it, it somehow felt like he was drawing the short straw. 

 

Beginning of an ascension

 

They were getting too many. At first there had only been those wanting revenge on the elves and those wishing to protect their home. Now more people were arriving, seeking glory and wealth. Yornar didn't give anyone a wage and the corpses of the elves they've slain didn't have much in terms of valuables. Unless you counted the arms and armor that were of better quality than whatever human armaments one could hope to scrounge at the edge of the kingdom. 

Yornar himself had incorporated lots of pieces of elven armor into his attire. Along with the sword of an elven captain. It had all painted black however as the elven armor was too bright and shiny for their nightly raids. The other mages that had chosen to remain had done the same to their outfits. 

But managing this makeshift warband was becoming a real hassle. Food was always an issue and the elves had begun to protect their larders more heavily. Some of the more rowdy warriors were also disturbing him in some way. Sometimes fights would start over minute things. A couple of the men had started to bother the women. Even if they had come to regret it rather quickly, Yornar considered on making the genders segregated. Then there were a few that made makeshift necklaces from string and elven ears. The whole thing was disgusting but Yornar tolerated it under the condition that anything that began to rot was thrown away. Yornar didn't care about such silly things as carrying around so called proof of his deeds. No one dared question his accomplishments. No one really dared question him at all outside of his mages. Apart from that one big, obnoxious fella with a big axe that thought he should be in charge. He didn't even get Sovngarde. 

Then there was the issue of space and shelter. Their hiding place was a form of mix between a gorge and a cavern. It was larger than all other caves in the area, but by now it was beginning to feel small and cramped. Relocation was inevitable, but to where he did not know. Further into the kingdom was a possibility but that meant giving ground to the elves as well as possible conflict with whoever owned the land he would be treading on. The elves controlled the pass but walking over the mountains in the hope to strike them in their own land was an option. An extremely risky one though. 

Yornar could go back to the town to the northwest and meet with Tinvaak and see if he could connect him with the rest of the Dragon Temple. A dragon would be very useful to have. Although he had no idea what it would require to court and recruit a dragon to his cause. The only thing he was somewhat sure of was that he lacked the resources for it. 

With a heavy sigh Yornar stopped looking at the makeshift map painted on the stone floor and leaned back against the cave wall. He needed some rest and way to clear his mind. But that had to wait as someone from the entrance shouted his name. With an even heavier sigh he got up and walked towards the entrance. 

"What is it?" shouted Yornar when he got closer to the entrance. 

"An army is coming towards us!"

"How did the elves-"

"It's not the elves."

"What? Then who..." Yornar went silent as he tried to deduce who would have an army to march against him with. The local nobles had left him alone. The nobles further into the kingdom had so far not bothered themselves with border disputes. They hadn't before. But then there was the possibility that the King had finally assembled an army to meet the elves. In which they were probably coming to him to get his help in defeating them. As that seemed the most likely option Yornar got a good feeling about this army coming towards them. Though he was still a little wary he decided it would probably be for the best to walk out and meet them. 

Yornar gathered his mages and some warriors to go out and meet them. Like a snake the company trailed along the small forest path towards where the army was. It didn't take long till the front of the army came into view. The front of the army was only ten men wide, but it stretched so far into the forest that Yornar could not see its end. In the front of the army were two men on horses. Both looked to be nobles by the quality of their clothes and armor. The one on the right looked older and restrained while the one on the left looked younger and impatient.

The two riders stopped and the older man made a sign for the army to halt as well. Yornar stopped about a dozen yards away from them. At first there was only silence as the two parties looked at each others with a mix of confusion and surprise. 

"Hello!" shouted Yornar at them in an as friendly tone he could muster. "What brings you here?" 

"We're here to-" the older man began before getting cut off  by the younger rider. 

"I'm looking for this witch-king of the local bandits. I was told he and his thugs were hiding out here. Are you him?"

"What? We're no bandits," exclaimed Yornar. 

"You look like bandits."

Yornar looked down on his attire. It was true that it was a bit torn and dirty in places. But he still liked to think it was better than what some simple bandit would wear. "But we're not-"

"Shut up!" screamed the younger rider in anger and spite. "You are hiding out here like bandits. You dress like bandits. And you wallow in the dirt like bandits. You are obviously bandits."

Yornar was stunned by the attitude and conviction of this man. No words came out his mouth and he only looked at the rider wondering if this was some kind of bad joke. "We fight the elves. We don't attack the common folk," said Yornar after a silent moment of having gathered his composure. 

"Really?" the man looked a mixture of surprised and smug. "Then maybe I can show you mercy. If you kneel before me and swear me fealty."

I'll not kneel before anyone again! thought Yornar as he remember the hagravens. But he managed to restrain himself enough to not scream out those words at this man. "Who are you to demand that I kneel?" 

"I am Crown Prince Sigvar, son and heir of King Rikvar," the man said, looking a bit insulted at the question. 

"And why did you decide to repel the elves now? They've been-"

"Shut up!" screamed Prince Sigvar. "You don't have the right to question me or my family. We're the-"

"You're a coward!" yelled Yornar at the Prince. Everyone suddenly looked very shocked and surprised at Yornar for daring to interrupt the Prince. "You, like your father, are a pathetic coward. Incompetent at protecting your own kingdom. It's your fault the elves have managed to burn down villages unopposed."

Prince Sigvar's face was almost entirely red and looked almost like it was about to burst from his fury. "How dare you-"

"Then come and face me! Fight me like a man!" Yornar drew his sword and pointed it at Sigvar. 

Prince Sigvar began to dismount his horse. The rider next to him said something but the Prince seemed to ignore it as he took his sword and shield that were strapped to the saddle. "I'll kill you! You little witch!" he yelled back before charging.

Yornar quickly cast a fireball at the man, which he caught with his shield that dissipated the fire into nothing as runes on the shield began to glow. He cast a lightning bolt that has much effect as the fireball against the shield. Stress began to fill his mind. While Yornar wielded a sword, he barely knew how to swing it. He couldn't let the Prince get too close. Trying another tactic he cast an ice spell on the ground in front of the Prince that created a patch of ice. Sigvar tried to jump over it, but as he did Yornar lifted his left hand in command and a huge ice spike shot up from patch, impaling the Prince midair. Through his nether regions and up through his torso till the point came out at his neck. 

The Prince's army and his fellow rider looked on in shock and horror at the display. Walking past the still twitching body of Prince Sigvar, Yornar stretched out his arms as if to welcome anyone else to come at him. "Anyone else that wish to challenge me?" he yelled at the army. There was no answer. "Anyone wish to dispute my right to lead?" The army now looked both surprised and confused. The other man on the horse looked like he was about to say something but stopped short of opening his mouth. "Then by right of might and conquest I am now in command. Follow me and you'll have loot and riches. Blood and glory aplenty. All from killing the elves." That clearly managed to peek some interest among the soldiers. "But disobey me and you will end up like this weakling." Yornar gestured to the impaled Prince. 

Although no clear answer came from anyone in the army. The fact that no one protested was at least a start. 

 

A mother's loss

 

The grove was quiet and peaceful. The grass was soft to the touch and the wind perfectly soothing. The sky had a soft blue color and there were only a few clouds sweeping gently across it. Queen Vaela looked up at them and thought one of them looked like a fat fish with a tilted tail fin. 

"Look at that one," she said and pointed at the cloud. "I've heard there's fish that looks like that in the north. I think they're called wheles, or whales, or something like that."

Her lover that lied besides her tried to spot exactly which cloud she was pointing at. "I don't see it," he said after a long moment. 

"It's gone now," she said slightly annoyed. "And how are you supposed to protect me if you can't even spot a cloud that's pointed out to you?" She moved her fingers playfully along his muscular chest. 

"That's not fair. I'm trained to spot daggers, not clouds."

"You can't even come up with good excuses. Why do I even keep you around?" she said mischievously and gave him a playful kiss. 

"Oh, I think you know why," he said with a sly smile. 

"I believe I do." She climbed atop him and prepared herself for another round but stopped herself when she suddenly heard the great horn bellow repeatedly from the city. Vaela quickly got up and looked around to see if anyone was nearby. When she was sure they were alone she hurried to her clothes. He however stayed on the ground and looked very annoyed. "Hurry and get dresses," she ordered him with a stern tone. 

"What the heck is going on?" he said before getting up and donning his armor as quickly as he could. As the royal bodyguard he had an exquisitely crafted carved steel set with fur trimmings and a bear head atop its helmet.  

She didn't bother to give him a reply and barely waited for him to get all his armor on before hurrying back to the city. Even while half running at a brisk pace it took them several minutes to reach the city's main gate. Like much of the city's buildings the walls and towers were made of wood but with a stone base. It was still a very impressive and tall defensive structure and just above and beyond one could see the royal keep atop its hill. The guards at the gate looked to be somewhat bewildered but straightened up as soon as they saw the Queen. 

"My Queen, I..." one of the guards said with a painful expression. 

"What is going on?" asked Vaela with a confused look. 

"A rider came with news from the east. Your son is... dead." The guard averted his eyes down to the ground. 

No, no, no! her mind screamed as she felt herself loose balance and begin to fall. Luckily her bodyguard quickly caught her before she reached the ground. She heard him say something but it was like the world became blurry and unclear. She could barely make out any sounds or sights. She could not believe it. She refused to believe it. Her precious son could not be dead. Surely the messenger was mistaken in some way. 

She released herself from her bodyguard's support and tried to take a few steps, only for her legs to falter again and her to be caught by her bodyguard again. She hated the embarrassment of the Queen being seen not being able to stand on her own two legs. After another moment of regaining her senses and her balance she was finally able to walk on her own. With quick steps she made her way through the city. The citizens were in half disarray as some people were confused as to what was going on while others hurried about gossiping and spreading the news. All of them grew eerily quiet and withdrew when they spotted the Queen walking along the main street. 

When Vaela reached the royal hall she barged in, pushing a few people out of the way in a rough manner as she forced herself to the center of the room. The hall was filled with people, all of them standing except the King who sat on his throne with a look of sadness and despair. Her husband barely managed to look up to see his wife approach. 

"What happened? Who did it?" screamed the Queen out at no one in particular. 

A man to the King's right stepped forth. He looked tired and was wearing slightly dirty soldier's clothing. "This witch leading the bandits did it. He taunted your son into a duel."

"Were you there?" she asked him with an almost accusative tone. 

"I was. But-"

"Why didn't you or anyone else kill the witch before he could kill my son?"

"Your son charged in without giving the order for the rest of us to attack. And the witch killed him so quickly-"

"Shut up!" screamed Vaela. "I should have you executed for failing to protect my son, your Crown Prince." There was a moment of silence as the Queen gathered her composure and everyone waited with bated breaths for her next words. "Did you at least kill this witch?"

"No." The man averted his eyes. "He demanded leadership of the army by right of conquest. He also promised them gold and glory in fighting the elves."

"So the army has turned traitors. Along with this Thane Ragnar I presume?" 

"Thane Ragnar joined him, yes. But not all of the army joined the witch. Some deserted under the cover of dark and are heading back as we speak."

"Are Ragnar and the witch also marching their way here?"

"I don't know. We left so quickly we don't know what their plans are. I assume they plan to fight the elves."

"So let them. While they weaken themselves fighting the elves we gather our strength here."

"I've already called the Thanes and their men," said the King. Vaela was a little pleasantly surprised to hear that her husband had for once managed to make a decent decision on his own. But then she grew pale at his next word, "With them I will march out and slay this witch that murdered our son, confront my old friend Ragnar, reclaim my army and defeat the elves myself."

"What?" exclaimed Vaela. "You should remain here. This witch will surely try to kill you as he did our son. Send a trusted Thane to command in your stead. My brother-"

"I'm sorry my love," the King said, interrupting the Queen to everyone's big surprise and shock. "But I must avenge our son."

Fool. You big lovable fool, thought Vaela with a heavy heart. She could see he wasn't going to change his mind. At least not in the hall in front of everyone. Instead she decided to wait with that and for him in the bedchambers. While he proved more resilient than she'd ever really experienced him as, it only took a couple of nights before she finally managed to convince him to stay and send her brother in his stead in command of the army. But one issue the King would not budge on was that Ragnar would be given a chance to redeem himself if he switched sides and turned over the witch. Vaela had however grown tired of this Ragnar. Her brother would simply have to make sure Ragnar would not get any redemption. 

 

Choosing treason 

 

Ragnar looked at the witch with curiosity. He had expected someone more monstrous and tyrannical from the man that had demanded power and obedience from having slain the Prince. But the man was instead mostly quiet and reserved, staring at scribbled makeshift maps on the ground. Apparently Yornar was his name. Not a common name but still rather unremarkable. 

Then suddenly Yornar looked up and saw Ragnar looking at him, locking eye contact with curious, inquisitive steel grey eyes. Both looked at each other like it was a battle over who would look away first. Ragnar refused to look down like some kind of slave or servant averting his eyes from his master. Yornar however kept looking at Ragnar like he was expecting him to speak. 

"You don't seem that disturbed at losing your Prince," said the witch after a long moment of silence. 

The memory of the Prince's twitching body impaled on that spike of ice was a bit too much to think of and Ragnar found himself unwittingly looking away. When he realized what he had just done he felt a sense of defeat and cowardice before returning his gaze to Yornar. "He wasn't my Prince. He was a bastard that had no right to the throne." At seeing Yornar looking even more curious Ragnar drew a small sigh. "The Queen went to bed with other men."

"And the King didn't know?"

"The Queen has turned him into a fool that everyone laughs at and has him twisted around her little finger," said Ragnar with unrestrained spite. "But I doubt even he'd stand for having a bastard not of his blood as heir."

Yornar didn't say anything for another moment and only looked back at his map before returning to Ragnar. "And you're fine with me taking your King's army?"

"If your words are true and you only intend to use the army against the elves, I don't think anyone will mind. I think even the King wouldn't mind too much as long as his kingdom is protected." Ragnar didn't believe those words. All he wanted was for Yornar to not try to march on the King, as well help defeat the elves. While he was in a sense grateful for being rid of the nuisance that had been the Prince, he had no real belief this witch would be that much better leader in the face of the elven invaders. Not that he could do anything about it. Despite all his skill in combat he didn't believe he could take on Yornar's magic in a duel. Running away was an option but a too cowardly and dishonorably one at that. At least the witch had shown some promise in that he had been able to survive against the elves for so long. But Ragnar figured he would have to fight Yornar at some point, provided they both survived the fight against the elves. 

Over the next few weeks they began to clash with the elves. Ragnar wanted to march on the invaders with an unbreakable shield wall in a surprise attack. Yornar however decided that their strategy would be to organize the army into small units for overly complicated and coordinated night raids. Not even using all of their forces at any given time. It was a slow strategy that didn't bring much in the way of glory or wealth. It felt more like stalling than winning. 

Then there were the witches. They ran into battle with hoods up, faces masked in darkness and a spell that made a loud screeching sound that stunned everyone else around them. A wicked scare tactic, that according to a rumor, the witch Yornar had come up with after an encounter with a wraith in a haunted cottage. Sounded like superstitious nonsense. But how the witches managed to walk in and out of combat seemingly unscathed time and time again could be nothing less than witchcraft. 

With time it all really began to vex Ragnar. To the point where he considered leaving and heading back to the capital to seek reconciliation with the King and gather the other Thanes and drive out the invaders properly. But then one day a man came riding into the camp they had set up atop a forested hill with steep cliffs on the southern side. It was clear from the colors and crest that he was a warrior of another Thane from the west. Though Ragnar couldn't quite place the crest as he had never bothered much with the western lands. 

"I seek Thane Ragnar!" he declared loudly. 

Ragnar stood up and walked towards the man. "I am Thane Ragnar."

"I've come with a message." The man looked around with wary eyes that lingered quite a bit on the small group of witches nearby playing with magic in their hands. He got so distracted by that that he didn't continue. 

"Well then spit it out," said Ragnar impatiently. 

The man snapped back to Ragnar. "The King has gathered the Thanes in an army and sent them to deal with the invaders and the witch that slew his son. Despite you having joined the murderer in treason, the King wishes to offer you a chance at redemption; slay the witch that murdered the Prince and deliver his head to Thane Varg, at our camp to the northwest within two days."

"Thane Varg? Isn't the King leading his own army?"

"No. He sent his brother-in-law to lead in his stead."

That little bitch, thought Ragnar. No doubt in his mind that the Queen was behind this. "Go back and tell Thane Varg that if he wants something then he will have to come here and ask for it himself."

"I don't think-"

"Just do it!" barked Ragnar at the man. 

"As you wish." The man looked a bit insulted but also afraid enough to not say anything more. Then he left the camp quietly. 

Ragnar tried to pretend that nothing had happened and went back to where he had sat. Soon enough the rest of the camp went back to whatever they had been doing before the messenger had arrived as well. No one said anything to Ragnar and he said nothing to anyone. Not even Yornar came forward to say anything about it all. Which bother Ragnar more than anything. 

That night he made sure to sleep a bit away from Yornar and his witches. Luckily the night passed quietly and without any ruckus. At morning though Ragnar found out why; Yornar, his witches and nearly all the men he had forced into service had left during the night. The ones he had left behind seemed to only have stayed because Yornar had either forgotten about them or mistaken them for Ragnar's men during the departure. A couple of them told Ragnar that Yornar had said he was heading southeast towards the root of the eastern mountains. Which probably meant Yornar would try to find a way around the elves for some reason. A journey that would take at least a couple of days.

Then it dawned on Ragnar that it meant he would not be able to catch up with Yornar and get back to Thane Varg within the required time. If he were to go after Yornar he was essentially throwing in his lot with the witch. Which was probably Yornar's plan. The other option was to approach Thane Varg empty handed and hope he would listen to reason, which being of the Queen's ilk would be unlikely. 

Ragnar ordered the remaining forces to pack up. They would follow Yornar southeast. Maybe Ragnar would get lucky again and the witch would kill another of the Queen's kin. 

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
  • Like 1

Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Twins Play Hide and Seek

 

4th Era 176
The Reach- Karthwasten


The snows above the eastern Reach came down on Karthwasten in a gentle flurry, and as the flakes came together on the ground, so too did the children of the village. This gathering would likely be their last one of the year, for according to the elders winter would soon render the cliffs too dangerous for play.

Of all the children, Asgen Tyne came the most prepared. The wooden sword strapped to his back was freshly carved, and carefully secured to his belt was a sack full of smooth pebbles, carefully chosen and tested for throwability. He was certain that hiders and seekers alike would fear him. Beside Asgen was his sister Faida, looking much less assuming. She had nothing but the clothes on her back to show she had prepared for the game at all. 

Counting the twins, there were five of them in total so far, Airic the Mighty, at eleven years of age he was the oldest of them. His weapon of choice was one of his father's long walking sticks, which he liked to wield as if it were a staff. The youngest was swift little Fiacra, who could outrun any of the other children when she really wanted to. She brought along a pouch of snowberries, which she enjoyed sneaking down her opponents' shirts from behind and then crushing them, which left bright red stains on the victims' skin. Next came Rorik the Nervous. He was the best hider of them all, but also the worst seeker. Rorik was the only Nordling in Karthwasten besides the twins, so naturally his weapon of choice was a dull-edged shovel, the closest he could come to mimicking a battle-axe.

The five of them were not all the children of Karthwasten. Many were too young, 'too old' (milk-drinkers), or too boring to join in. But there were at least another six or seven that the small huddle still expected to arrive. In the meantime, they displayed their weapons proudly, showing off the new work they'd done to make them appear more genuine, all the while boasting of how they would soon be named the new 'Chieftain' of their little pack. It was a position that commanded much respect, for whoever held it had the power to change the titles of any of the other children to whatever he pleased. That was why Airic, the current Chieftain, was called 'The Mighty'. It was also why Rorik had the unfortunate name of 'The Nervous', Faida had the long-running title of 'The Snow Elf', and Asgen, much to his chagrin, had spent the last month being forced to answer to 'Lump-Head'.

But all that was about to change. Asgen had spent much of that time training, looking for new hiding places and ambush sights, and memorizing all the places his foes might decide to run to. He would win this time. He was certain of it.
Next to him, Faida was much less concerned with winning or becoming the Chieftain. That role, while privileged, was a dangerous one to fill. It made you a target, and rare was it that one of the Chieftains managed to get usurped without earning a series of new bruises. No, Faida was more than content to remain, as she always did, undiscovered. In the rare events that a seeker came near her, she was usually more than capable of evading them without bothering to ambush. Though right now, she couldn't help but feel a little jealous of the other kids. All of them spoke so proudly of their weapons and tools, and it made her feel a little left out. And so she decided to change that. "I'm gonna run back inside and grab something." the Nord girl said quietly.

"You already know magic." replied Airic the Mighty. "You wizard types can turn invisible, see through walls, and make people do what you say. I think you've already got enough."

"I ain't a wizard." Faida stated. It was a point she'd been forced to reiterate to Airic at virtually every time the boy blinked in her direction. "Casting a spell don't make you a wizard, stupid."

"And besides" Asgen said, stepping in for his sister. "You saw what happened. That was one time, and Faida couldn't do it again if she wanted to. Come on, Faida."

Airic didn't seem happy as the twins started back home, but he didn't say anything either. For all his power as the Chieftain and oldest of their group besides, he knew that the Tynes were more popular than he was, just as he knew that Asgen had spent a lot of time preparing for this day. It would be unwise to make an enemy of either of them.
As they turned away, the twins snuck each other a knowing glance. But neither said a word walking away... at least not until the door to their home was shut behind them. "But really," Asgen said, "I better not catch you turnin' invisible out there."

"Maybe I will, maybe I won't." Faida stuck out her tongue at him. She was bluffing, of course. The girl did not know how to turn invisible, and Asgen knew it. She gave him a mischievous grin. "Come on. I want to get a paint brush so when you win, we can paint our names on Airic's face!"

Their parents were in the kitchen, arguing about something. They'd been doing a lot of that lately. From what Faida had gathered, something happened in Markarth earlier in the year, and now some of the more wild Reachmen were fighting with some of the Nords from the east... or something like that. Apparently the Imperials were involved too, but she didn't really know anything about them anyway. All that she knew was that Ma wanted to stay in the Reach, and Fa wanted to take them to some faraway place called Riften.
Their father, Crein Tyne, had his back to the door, and didn't seem to hear the twins' approach, or else he'd have stopped talking like he usually tried to do. "... their homeland, I know." Fa was saying, "But they're not good guys. They're savages. Radicals. And now that they're here, it's only a matter of time before the Bear comes looking for them."

Ma's eyes narrowed when she saw Faida's quiet approach. "Crein-"

"No, I don't wanna be here, don't want my children to be here, when the war finds its way to Karthwasten. I've accepted a lot already. Accepted... well you know... I changed everything about my life for you and the twins. Is it really so ridiculous to want to prote-"

"Crein!" Ma motioned to the doorway. "You should run along, children." she said. "This talk is not for your ears."

"Faida wants to borrow some paint." Asgen blurted. "And a brush. It's for a game we're about to play."

Their mother narrowed her gaze, watching them like a raven, peeking into their souls to make sure that their intentions for this paint would not come back to bite her in the backside. Even for little things like this, it terrified the siblings when she stared at them like that, the way her bright blue eyes seemed to grow dark and pierce their very thoughts. The twins were good liars. They got it from their father, and like him they were known across the village for a certain mischievousness. But if there was one person whom neither they nor their father could ever lie to, ever, it was their Ma. Finally, after she'd stripped them down with her eyes and peeled away any sins that may be hiding, she consented. "You know where it is, Faida. Go on and get what you'll need." as the twins turned and hurried for the staircase, she called out again. "Asgen, your sister can manage this on her own. You go on and wait outside. And don't talk to anyone you don't recognize. "

"Alright Ma." Asgen understood his Ma's desire not to let him into her study, but the order not to speak to strangers was a strange one, though he dared not disobey. Without spending any longer thinking about it than it took to reach the door, Asgen Lump-Head went back outside to meet his friends.

Faida, meanwhile was already upstairs, pushing open the door of her mother's study. It was a strange room, different from all the others in their house by more reasons than the little girl could count. There were books everywhere, some closed and shelved, others open and scattered about, but those were the most ordinary thing inside. The far wall was dominated by a long, thin table that was pitch black save for the glowing blue and red runes that ran around the corners. At the back was a strange horned skull upon which balanced a dim glass orb that glowed a murky green. Ma called it her enchanting table, and said that she used it for crafting the magical trinkets that she used around the house. Across from it was the equally strange 'alchemist bench' upon which sat all manner of glass tubes and bottles, at least one of which was almost always filled with some strange bubbling concoction. Apparently these things were not uncommon in larger cities and places like the 'College' -a sort of school- in the city of Winter Home. But Faida was certain that they were one-of-a-kind in her little world of Karthwasten. Besides all the trinkets were a thousand other things that could only be found in this room: Feathers, hearts, totems, bottled eyeballs, ground up mushrooms and strange humming roots, and of course the bones carved with runes that she couldn't read... yet. 
Unlike her brother, Faida loved the study. It was scary of course, but that only made it all the more fascinating! And after many times of being caught inside and many punishments as well, the girl's mother finally reached a point where she allowed her to enter it, so long as she did not touch anything...

... besides the paintbrush. Today. It was honestly newly broken ground that Ma was letting her do this alone. Hopefully soon she would start letting her daughter read some of the books as well. Proud to even have this opportunity, Faida boldly entered the room as if it was her own. But as she strode over to the desk where Ma kept most of her supplies, an object on the enchanting table caught the girl's eye. It was gray and dusty, as if it had been there for a long time, but she was certain that it hadn't been there only days prior..
She knew she shouldn't, but something inside Faida compelled her to turn away from the desk and investigate this new trinket. A closer look revealed it to be a small bone amulet, carved with runes that seemed somehow different from the ones on the many other charms decorating the study. Faida couldn't place her finger on why, but for some reason, the bone seemed to call out to her. It was wanting her to, no, it was forcing her to pick it up. Before Faida had time to even give two thoughts, the little round bone charm was dangling from her neck, and she was on her way back downstairs. Faida wasn't sure why she did what she did, but she returned to the front door with neither paint nor a brush. She had taken enough.

"Did yind what you need?" her mother called out from the kitchen.

"Yes ma'am." Faida tucked the charm beneath her shirt. She felt truly wicked at that point, as if some evil spirit had possessed her, made her do something she would never normally do, but there was no turning back now. The girl bolted out the door and to join her brother and friends.

"Took ya long enough." Airic said the moment she was back. Nine boys and girls of the Reach were now gathered around him. "We've been waiting for you to start."

"What did you bring, Faida?" asked Rorik. "Asgen won't tell us."

"I couldn't find anything." she answered at once. "It's alright."

Asgen looked at his sister suspiciously. The others might not pick it up, but he could always tell when she was lying. Their father said it was because twins share as close a connection as two people can. But Asgen was pretty sure it was just because they were so often together. Regardless, the boy decided to keep quiet now, just as he always did when it came to his sister. If Faida didn't want to say what she had done, that meant it probably wasn't any of the others' business. He'd just get her to tell him later.

"Alright," Airic held up his fist for all to see. In it were eleven pieces of straw, all sticking out an equal distance. "You all know how it goes. Pick the short stick and you're it." Asgen went first, then Faida, Fiacra, Rorik, and all the rest. Airic kept the last one remaining. When they held them up to measure, it was Asgen's that turned out to be the shortest. "You can go ahead and start counting." Airic told him, as if he didn't know how to play the game. "Don't peek. And be sure to count slo-"

"ONE." Asgen said loudly. He waited just long enough to see Airic's face before closing his eyes tightly. "You started running yet, Airic?"
His only response was a frenzy of hurried footsteps as the village kids scrambled to get away from him. Asgen couldn't help but take a break to laugh. "Two," he continued. "Three. Four. Five. Six. You all far away yet?! Seven. Eight. You better not make this too easy! Nine. Ten!" Asgen opened his eyes. "Prepared or not, here I come!"

The first direction his eyes traveled to was the mine tunnel. Every time they played, without fail, someone always went for the mines. They were dark, had lots of crevices and crossroads, and children weren't usually allowed inside except to work. These things made it the perfect place to go, or they had, until every one of them outgrew their fears of the dark. Then it became the most obvious hiding spot in Karthwasten, and a completely unsatisfying place to find someone. Asgen never went for the mines as a hider or as a seeker. He enjoyed the challenges found elsewhere.
I bet Faida went to the mines. Just because she knows I won't. It didn't matter to Asgen. It was Airic who he wanted to catch the most... Not that he would give any of the others a chance if he saw them.

He wandered the streets a bit, keeping his eyes peeled for any small people hiding in or behind something. Actually, even the big people were worth keeping an eye on. The last time they played, little Yffrit, a mongrel boy of Asgen's age but a good three inches shorter, actually paid a gold piece to one of the miners to let him ride on his back while he walked past the seeker, who, coincidentally enough, had been Asgen that time as well. Before he could've reacted, the boy got in his sneak attack by dropping off the man's back and pelting him with acorns. 
The Nord child rubbed his forehead at the memory. Little Yffrit could throw a lot better than one would think, and for the longest time, Asgen had sported the bruises to prove it. This was also why Airic had so cruelly dubbed him 'Lump-Head' at the end of the game.

This time though, Asgen would be ready. He would be alert. There were a lot of adults out and about today, far more than usual. But Asgen made sure to get a good look at each one before passing. The other children knew him to be the sword boy. It's why a lot of them preferred to throw things at him instead of attacking up close. But they didn't know about the rocks he had brought this time. Faida's not the only one who gets to have secrets. 

Asgen leapt out of the way as a large man stormed past him, seemingly without giving any cares about the fact that he had almost trampled a child. "Hey-..." Something compelled Asgen to stop before yelling at the man. Karthwasten was typically a small and friendly village. People from here were usually kind to one another, but one look made it clear that this man was not from here. He was tattooed all across the face and arms, and his head was shaved bald. Asgen had never seen him in his life. Shaking his head, the Nord child continued his hunt.
"Hey Fiacra," he called out, "if I catch you in a tree again, I'm gonna change your name from 'the Swift' to 'the Bird'!"
Asgen kept walking. He did not expect an answer, of course. He just enjoyed throwing out taunts.

"Hey kid," Asgen spun around, hand reaching back for his wooden sword. The man speaking wasn't a cover though, at least as far as the child could tell. He was, however, another outsider. This one wore his hair in braids, and was holding up a dented iron shield. His smile seemed friendly enough, but the way it was surrounded by black paint patterns across his lower face made Asgen uneasy. "Do you know which way it is to a blacksmith?"
Asgen didn't want to speak to the stranger. He couldn't. But he did extend an arm and point off toward the mine, where old Maitach worked the forge just outside. The strange man nodded. "Thank you. Don't worry kid. Everything will be okay."

Why did he say that? Asgen turned away from the man and started to walk more quickly than before. Get back into it. He told himself. Airic won't be in the middle of the road. The boy traveled across the village, trying to ignore the increasingly large number of outsiders who he realized were arriving even now. Some chatted with other villagers like they were family. Others stood off by themselves and stared out over the distant cliffsides. Many of them wore strange pelt clothing, and necklaces made of bones or feathers like something of Ma's. Most notably, almost all of them were armed.
Asgen shook his head and whispered. "Focus." He was the seeker! He had an important job to do! Someone probably went up above the mines. Lots of places to hide back there. Asgen turned and left behind the strange sight of a crowd in his quiet little village. 

Past the mines the mountain grew rockier, and much less even, and the threat of an ambush from his friends and kin was all too real. Asgen kept his wooden sword drawn now, not taking any chances. He also palmed one of the little stones in his left hand. This'll leave a mark for you milk-drinkers.
No one was safe when they played their hide-and-seek, because when the seeker reached 'ten' all rules were off. His Ma had healed many a child's cuts and bruises as a result of this game. It was war, or as close to it as they were like to get at their age. And the little Nords, Bretons, and mongrels loved it.

"Come on out, Airic." Asgen shouted as he moved cautiously through the rocky cliffs. "Or is it you hiding out here Rorik? Finally deciding to play outside the mines with the true Nords?" He chuckled. Both Asgen's father and his Nordic mother hated it when he talked about 'true Nords' and 'milk-drinkers'. But it wasn't his fault that every other Nord in the village insisted that this was how he should talk. He loved his mother, but even at seven years old, Asgen knew that she was not what most Nords were like.
"Yffrit! You could be hiding behind a pebble and I wouldn't see you! There's no way you aren't up here right now!"

Asgen heard a giggle. It was short and quiet, but it was enough. Better yet, the boy knew who it belonged to. "Won't be shoving any berries down my shirt, Fiacra." he whispered to himself. It only took him seconds to spot the girl. Her forehead wasn't even all the way hidden behind the rock she used for cover. Asgen almost felt bad as he crept up on her. Of everyone in their group of friends, Fiacra was easily the kindest. If not for his sister, she'd have been his best friend in Karthwasten, easily.

But rules were rules. Asgen decided then and there that he would only give her a little thrashing. And he wouldn't use the rocks. She probably wouldn't even bruise too badly. 
He lifted his sword, and suddenly, Fiacra sprung out of hiding with a surprisingly fierce look on her face. "Airic, get him!"

"Huh?"

Asgen spun round, wide-eyed, as the older boy appeared from behind another big rock not four feet away. The Chieftain was immediately on him with his walking stick. Asgen couldn't react fast enough to avoid getting his legs swept out from under him, or to stop the sharp crack against his right shoulder.
"Haha!" Fiacra cried out. "We gooot you! We gooot you!"

Asgen winced against a second blow from the stick, this one to his left arm. At least they were going light on the penalty strikes so far. "Yeah, you did." he muttered after the wind came back to him. "When did it become allowed for the hiders to team up?"

Airic shrugged. "Never really came up. But as the Chieftain, I'll allow it." He made Asgen cry out by hitting him with the staff one last time, knocking it against the his hip hard enough to guarantee a nasty bruise. After that though, Airic the Mighty extended a hand to help him up. "I really whopped you with that last one. Want to use the stick to walk home?"

Asgen shook his head and grinned. Smiling, he always found, was one of the best ways to hold back tears of pain. Second only to laughing. "I'm okay. You'll be needing it yourself after I-"

He stopped talking mid-sentence as his friend and Chieftain suddenly seemed to sprout what looked like a long, thin stick from his chestAiric locked eyes with Asgen for a moment, obviously confused, and then the older boy collapsed to the ground, the feathers of an arrow protruding out of his back. Fiacra screamed. Asgen dropped his sword and pouch.

He couldn't recall when he started running, or what happened to Fiacra immediately after. All that the boy could remember was the rush of wind through his hair as he bolted down the rocky slopes faster than he ever had in his life. 
More arrows whiffed past him. Asgen didn't see them, but he could hear. The arrows' song was a low whistle that resonated on the evening breeze, slicing through the air with little more difficulty than they would slice through him if he stopped moving. He heard other things as well. Screams in the village, and the pounding of steel meeting steel. All his life, Asgen had wanted to see a battle. But this was not how it was supposed to be. Battles were supposed to be somewhere else, far away from home, from his friends, his, home, his... FAIDA! He couldn't leave town without Faida.

***
 

Down in the mines, Faida Tyne lurked in the shadows, keeping silent as a mouse while a group of miners clambered by, pushing along a cartload of iron ore. Asgen hated it when she hid down here. He thought it was boring and too easy. But she disagreed. Down here where children weren't allowed, you didn't just hide from one seeker. You hid from everyone.
Plus, the many shadows allowed her more mobility in these tight quarters than the others had in the world above. Even now she was able to creep closer to the entrance without much worry of being caught. Every footstep down here that wasn't hers would echo through the caves.
They didn't say anything about a muffle spell. she thought, proud of herself and her increasing level of skill. Okay, so she only really knew four spells, and this was the most advanced one by far. But she had read about others, in the study while Ma slept, and she knew that some of them weren't much more difficult than the muffle. They just required different sorts of concentration. They needed to come from different places, as a children's tome had told her. She would meditate on them as she had the four she knew. How hard can it be?

"Look out!" Faida's heart leapt into her throat when there came a sudden cascade of shouts and heavy footsteps from higher up, near the mine's entrance. It sounded like chaos up there. People were yelling, rocks were tumbling, and metal was ringing against metal. For a single, horrifying moment, Faida thought that there had been a cave-in, but she dismissed that idea quickly enough. The shouting was fading into the distance, and the footsteps were already growing fewer and fewer... and then they just stopped. All but for one set. Just one, heavy and metallic. And it was marching down into the mine straight in her direction.

Frantic, Faida scrambled into the darkest shadow she could and flattened herself inside it. She held her breath as the footsteps grew louder, closer. And then, very suddenly, a shape moved into her little section of the darkness. He was tall, very tall. And wearing a shiny, fur-lined suit of metal that faintly reflected the orange light of a distant torch. His face was old and bearded, and in his hands was a massive axe that had black liquid dripping from its head.
The girl couldn't stop herself in time. She let out a terrified gasp, and then immediately clamped her hands over her mouth, certain that she had just alerted the whole of the Reach to her presence.

The big man stopped and slowly turned his head, and at at that moment she could swear he was looking right at her. The two of them stood there in complete and utter silence, neither moving, Faida not breathing. In the dark it was impossible to make out the man's eyes, but the child was certain that he had found her, that his hesitation was only to contemplate whether to kill her with his axe or his gigantic hands. But then, after what felt like minutes, he simply shrugged, turned his head, and kept on walking. Faida waited until the heavy sound of his boots had taken him far deeper into the mine before she dared to breathe again. Shortly after that, of course, she found herself climbing, moving up the steep mine shaft on all fours as quickly yet carefully as she could possibly manage.

When she emerged from the tunnel, Faida found herself liking upon a horrifying, twisted version of the world she had lived in only minutes prior. Screams and clashing weapons echoed across the village, and a the vile smells of blood and human waste filled the air. Men and women were being cut down by the dozens, and the combatants? Nords, like the one from the mine. They moved from house to house, dragging out residents before putting them to the axe. Sometimes they didn't even take the time for that. They just tossed torches onto the thatch roofs and let the fire do their work for them. There were plenty of people out in the street trying to fight back, but even she could see that it was a losing battle. 

Asgen! I've gotta find Asgen! Then Ma. She'll know what to do.

The girl took a deep, panicked breath and steeled herself to dash across the open street, where she could lose any pursuers among the houses if it came to that. She counted to three and then... froze up. You can do this. You have to do this. They'll find you here!
She took another breath. This time it was more controlled than before. "One..." she mouthed. "Two..." THREE

Faida launched from the mouth of the cave like a hawk taking flight. She was not as fast as her brother, Airic, or Fiacra, but she could still outrun most of the other kids in the village, and at that moment, she was running faster than she ever had in her life. There was a Nord directly ahead, too busy fighting some fur-clad stranger to pay her mind as she darted past. She soon passed another one to her left as he butchered yet another stranger.

She was halfway to the houses when a familiar voice called out to her. "Faida!?" It was so loud and terrifying that she couldn't help but slow down to focus on it. In the middle of the battlefield stood Rorik. Or something like him at least. The figure was completely gray, it's skin and eyes hollow as if they were made of dirty glass. At the figure's feat was the body of the boy she'd known him to be. Faida couldn't help herself. She whimpered. "Oh... Oh no, what- what are... what are you-"

"What's happening, Faida?!" cried the ghost of her friend. "I'm scared!"

"Child!"

Faida shrieked, realizing that one of the big Nords was angrily glaring at her from only a few feet away. The man wasn't coming at her yet, but the blood coating his axe made it plain what he could do. "Get away!" she screamed at him before turning back to the ghost. "Get him!"

Of course, the girl hadn't had a clue that Rorik would actually obey, and she certainly didn't understand why, but at the time she did not care. What mattered was that he did. The Nord looked confused for a moment, but as he took his first step in her direction, the hollow form of her friend drifted at him, mouth open, hands outstretched. Rorik was crying, and he looked like he was in some sort of pain. But that didn't stop him from wrapping his hands around the Nordic man's neck.
The Nord's eyes began to bulge, and he looked at the wraith as if seeing it for the first time. He tried to scream, but nothing came out. Not that it would have mattered, all sound seemed to melt away in place of a single, high-pitched shriek that emmited from Rorik's throat as he did the deed. For all the all the man's size and strength, he was not able to stop the dead boy from choking the life out of him.
Even more terrified and confused than before, Faida turned and once again started to run.

***

Across the village, Asgen's head was spinning. His palms were covered with sweat and he was breathing so hard that it hurt. The worst part though were the tears. Why won't they stop?! The salty water flowed freely from his eyes, stinging as it ran down his cheeks. And he could not bring himself to grin or laugh them away. Asgen had watched his friend die, which would have been horrible enough if that had been the end of it. But it wasn't long before others were joining him in death, and soon there were more bodies than Asgen could even count. What was happening? Who were these people? He had not done anything to them!
He had tried to reach the mines to look for Faida, but that stretch was impossible to cross without being seen. And now Asgen could only hide between these two houses at the edge of town, and listen and watch as the people of his village died horribly while the newcomers and the Nords fought and killed one another. Though even that was pretty one-sided. The newcomers, with all their war paint and rusty iron weapons seemed to be no match for the massive metal-clad Nords.
Smoke was streaming into the sky and across the cliffs now as someone set fire to Old Ulanwe's hunting lodge, where Little Yffrit had grown up. And Asgen watched with horror as a shirtless Nord hurled another torch into the window of his and Faida's own bedroom. He screamed the first word that came to his mind. "Fa!"

He shouldn't have done that. Immediately, the same Nord who had thrown the torch turned his steely gaze on Asgen. The man's eyes shined bright against the fire, revealing pupils that seemed unnaturally wide, almost to the point of filling the entire eye. There was something wrong in there, something terrifying. The man grinned hungrily, looked to the skies, and howled, loud and low, like a wolf. And then he was coming, bloody war axe in hand. 

They boy turned and started to run, but the grown Nord was faster. Asgen had had barely reached the end of the alley when a hand grabbed his tunic and effortlessly tossed him into the side of the house. He struck the wooden wall and slumped to the grass. The child's chest was tight, the wind knocked from him for the second time that day. He could only groan in pain as the man stepped in front of him and raised his weapon to kill.
The blow never came. In the very next moment that it should have, a second person collided with the Nord. It took Asgen a few blinks to clear his vision and a few seconds to comprehend what was happening: One of the outsiders, a mongrel-looking woman wearing pelts and covered in war paint was tangled up with the Nord, slashing at him with a thick stone dagger. She must have been half the Nord's height, but she held onto him all the same, her arm punching in and out furiously as she hacked away at the shirtless man.

Asgen would have thanked his savior, but to his astonishment, the Nord wasn't dead yet. In fact, he seemed to barely even feel the blows. After getting his chest carved up like a fresh slab of venison, the big man managed to get ahold of the woman of the Reach and slam her against the house opposite Asgen, knocking the dagger from her hand. She kicked and screamed and bit at him until she was well and truly pinned down. That's when the Nord lifted his axe and buried it in her skull.

Asgen knew what the Nord meant to do next. Frantic, he crawled up behind the big man and picked up the outsider's stone dagger. The boy had only seconds before the Nord turned around, and when he did, Asgen planted the fat little blade deep into his heart. It punched through the Nord's flesh with sickening ease, but the child did not stop there. He yanked the dagger out and drove it in again, and again, and again until he was following the man to the ground. The adult's messed up eyes weren't scary anymore. In fact, they just looked confused, like Airic's had. When Asgen finally wrenched his weapon out that final time, those big eyes had closed altogether.

The young boy staggered back. There was blood everywhere: on the grass, on the walls, on the dead man, on him. He wanted to run, or find his parents and sister, or kill the attackers... Be he only stood there. Why couldn't he do any of these things?

"Asgen!?" Faida looked in horror at her brother and the dagger in his hand, both covered in red. He was quivering like a sick pup, and when his eyes met hers, she could see the fear in them. It probably matched the fear in her own. "We need to hide!" She hurried to put a hand on Asgen's back and led him further back where the grass was taller and they could lay low.
There, between the two houses, the twins huddled together like two corpses, watching in horror as these strange people killed everyone in sight. The Reachmen who fought back had all but lost, and now the Nords walked the streets, taking on the few remaining challengers one-by-one with ease. Faida could feel her brother shaking beside her, hear the ragged breaths that matched her own. She wrapped an arm around him and gently caressed her brother's head.
"Sh-sh-sh-shhhh" she whispered, trying to keep control of her own sobs. "We need to stay quiet. Just... just pretend we're still playing hide and seek."

Asgen never stopped shaking, but the sobbing did relent, as did her own. The twins kept their silence as the afternoon rolled by and the bodies were dragged off to be burned. To Asgen, the deaths alone were the worst part, but it was different for Faida. She had seen Rorik's body, and then his ghost... or whatever that had been, as it killed a grown man with ease. That look on its face... it had been scared. It had not wanted to obey her, and yet it had done so without question... There were more of them out here. Faida was certain of it. She did not see them as she had seen her friend, but by some strange feeling that she could not have hoped to explain at the time, Faida knew that the lost dead lingered in Karthwasten.

And so, scared of two different sorts of death, the twins hid between those houses until the sun was low. The Nords came and went, seemingly in no hurry to leave the village without first ransacking it for any food and drink they could find. Occasionally, one of them would wander close. When that happened, the twins would become deathly still. At one point, a pair of them even came to the alley's edge to collect the corpses that had been left behind. By the mercy of the old gods, they were never found.

More hours passed, but it was not until the moons were high and neither twin had seen a Nord in hours that Asgen finally had worked up the courage to crawl out of their little alley for better look at the village. Near the center was a great smoldering pyre. The boy was young, but not too young to know what was in it. He felt so sick that he immediately turned onto his side and wretched, though his belly was too empty for anything to come up.
When Faida came forward and saw what he had, her eyes filled with tears.

They began to rise when, out of nowhere, a pair of hands wrapped around each of their mouths. Had the man's hold on them not been strong, the siblings might have both leaped a foot into the air and screamed, instead, it was only their hearts that did the leaping. The figure whispered, "Shhhh," and when he turned them around, Asgen and Faida Tyne found themselves staring face-to-face with their own father.

Relief washed over both of them, though it was a disquieted relief. Crein Tyne was not an easily frightened man, and the twins had never seen him look scared the way he did now. When he removed his hands from their mouths, Faida immediately blurted, "Where is Ma?"

Their father shook his head sadly. "We have to leave, Faida." he whispered, "Ma... Ma's not... she's not-" His voice trailed off for a moment, as if he couldn't find the words. "She's gone." He said at last.

"What?" Faida looked at him, shocked. "How do you know? What happened?"

"I-"

"Where is she now?" the girl cried. "I want to see her."

"She's... Listen. We have to leave. We never should have stayed in the Reach knowing what we did. It's not safe. I'm taking you out of here. To Riften, maybe. Or Windhelm. You'd like it there, I promise."

"I'm not leaving until we see Ma!" Faida demanded.

"Shhh!" Their father put a finger to his lips. "Some of them might still be out there. We need to leave. Trust me."

"Faida." Her brother looked at her with reddened eyes. The dirt on his cheeks was caked with dried blood and tears. "We need to go with Fa."

"No!" She began to rise. "Ma is stronger than all these Nords put together. Where is she?"

Now Asgen realized what his sister was saying. She didn't believe their mother to be dead. He stood up next to her, staring at his father, who looked at them both desperately. 

"Where is she?" Faida asked again, this time louder.

Their father's eyes darted around and then he finally sighed. "You're right, child. She lives. Or she did when I saw her last. She saved me. Used magic to remove me from the village. But I don't know where she is now, and it doesn't matter. What matters is getting you two out of this place."

"You were gonna leave Ma?!" Their father looked taken aback by how angry Faida suddenly was. "You lied to us!

"We'll wait for her somewhere else. She can protect herself until then. Better than we can."

"Did you tell her where we'll go? Will she be able to find us?" Faida asked

"Maybe."

"Maybe? You're still lying! You plan to leave her for good. Why should we go with you?!"

"Hush Faida, they'll hear you!" he hissed. "You'll come with me because I'm your father and I can't let you stay here to die. You two are my only priority now! And I'll drag you out of here if I must!"

Faida still didn't move, and so he reached out and took her by the wrist. That was a mistake. Before father or daughter knew what was going on, Asgen's stone dagger, still streaked with Nordic blood, was at Crein's throat. There was a wild look in the boy's eyes, so foreign there that even his twin sister could not read what he might do next. Asgen stared, unblinking, at his Fa, and for a moment, Faida feared that he might actually kill the man who had raised them. But after several moments, Asgen breathed the words, "Let go of her."

Crein Tyne did as his son commanded, and gave them both a saddened look. "Asgen," he whispered, "Faida... Please. We need to leave."

"We're gonna find Ma." Faida said, tears returning to her eyes, "And you- you milk-drinking craven... You go to Riften without us."

There was power behind her words, power Faida had never felt before, but she knew it was there. She couldn't tell if Asgen noticed it, or even if her father did, but she knew that when Crein Tyne turned around and walked off into the darkness, it wasn't because he wanted to. Not entirely, at least. She had robbed him of that choice just as she had robbed Rorik.
The girl sniffed as Crein marched into the darkness. Ma saved him, and he wanted to just leave her anyway. Perhaps she would regret this later, but at that moment, Faida was too angry to even consider calling for him to return.

Unaware of the magic his sister had just wielded, Asgen watched their father leave in stunned silence. He just walked off... Damn him! I didn't want to scare him! He made me do it! The boy might have cried again if there had been any tears left to shed. "I can't believe that just happened." He muttered. "I just... I only wanted to..." He looked at his sister. "Did you mean that? Did you want him to leave?"
A nod was the only response he got. It wasn't much, but in a strange way it actually made Asgen feel a little better. Just a little. It was his sister who had been there for him through the worst of it, not their parents. Maybe they didn't need them. Maybe he could protect Faida, support her. And she, him. They always had in the past. Why would that change now?

"Come on." He said to his sister. "Let's go look for Ma."

  • Like 1

It's always nice when your writing gets reinforced by the canon after you come up with it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Twins Dance With a Lord

 

4th Era 181
The Reach


At the age of seven, Asgen Tyne killed his first man. At the age of twelve, he killed his first deer.
The young hunter was smiling ear-to-ear as he approached his wounded prize. He and the other Bittermouth hunters had been tracking the giant stag relentlessly for almost three days. It was twice as clever as any game the boy had hunted, and much, much larger. According to Horothma, it was 'Gulibeg', one of the aspects of Lord Hircine, sent to test their clan's prowess. The old hag had never actually seen the deer with her own eyes, but Asgen supposed that as Matriarch, she just knew these sort of things.

The stag made a loud sound that seemed to be somewhere between a whine and a grunt. Its wide antlers thudded against the earth as its head jerked around wildly, which only drove the arrow deeper into its side. "Shhh," Asgen breathed. "Hush now. You'll be back in the Hunting Grounds soon." He waited for the beast's strength to fade and its movements slow, and then he crept closer with his bone dagger in hand and plunged the jagged blade into its heart. It was at that moment he let all of his excitement erupt at once. He threw his head back and let out his loudest, most fierce victory howl. The sound echoed throughout the valley, alerting every man and beast within that a new hunter had been born.

"AROOOOO!" Asgen bellowed again and again, laughing with joy and excitement. It had been five years since the massacre at Karthwasten. Five years since the Bittermouths had taken him and Faida into their clan, and yet he had never once felt welcome. His Nordic blood saw to that. But this... this would change things. It had to! By felling this 'Gulibeg', he must have won the god's favor, or something like that. He had finally proven himself.

"There you are." Asgen turned to see Walfild emerging from the brush behind him. The big huntsman's face was painted with a black skull with red around the mouth, just like Asgen. "You've startled every creature in the valley with your shouting. What is the meaning-"

There it was: The look Asgen had been longing to see. Walfild's eyes landed on the great stag's corpse and widened beneath a raised brow. The Reachman looked from the deer to Asgen, and then back again. "A good kill. It will help feed the clan."

More figures emerged from the brush then. Dimvak, Nakka, and that milk-drinker Ubba. It was his face Asgen wanted to see the most when it was revealed what he had accomplished. "What's happened?" Nakka asked, concern evident in her eyes. "We heard you yelling."

"Howling." Asgen grinned at his elders. "Over my fresh kill," he scooted aside to grant them a better view of the stag. "I did it! I killed Gulibeg!"

Dimvak's brow narrowed. Nakka's jaw dropped. And Ubba, well, Asgen would take Ubba's look of utter disbelief to his grave. However, Walfild was the lead huntsman, and it was his approval that Asgen sought most of all. He turned to the Reachman, whose face was as grim as ever. "As I said, it was a good kill. But this is not Gulibeg."

"Wh- What?" Asgen felt all of his hopes suddenly come crashing down on him like a bank of loose snow. "No no I was there when the deer was first spotted. I saw him with my own eyes. This is the same deer. I know it-"

His protests earned him a powerful backhand. Asgen had known that they would, but his anticipation did not keep the blow from knocking him to the ground, nor did it lessen the sting across his cheek. Walfild looked down at him, showing no more signs of anger than he had of happiness. "It will still help feed the clan. Return it to the camp to be skinned and butchered."

Asgen rubbed his cheek as he looked back at the massive kill. "It's twice your size and camp is miles away. I can't do it alone."

"You are a hunter now, and this is your kill. You must take it."

With that, Walfild turned and left him to it. Asgen watched Dimvak and a disappointed-looking Nakka fall in behind him. Ubba remained, and Asgen did not need to meet the boy's eyes to know that they were mocking him, just as he did not need to ask for help to know that he would not get it. For that reason, he decided to ignore Ubba entirely and get started on moving his kill. He grabbed the stag by its massive antlers and gave a mighty tug, wrenching its head in the direction he needed to travel.

"So tell me, Nord? How stupid are you?"

"Shut up, Ubba." Asgen grunted, straining every muscle in his body to drag the bleeding carcass from the tangled brush it had fallen in.

"No, because I really need to get this straight in my head. Did you really think that you would bring down an aspect of one of our gods?"

"They're my gods too." Asgen stumbled back as one of the deer's hooves broke free of whatever roots had been holding onto it. He turned around to find the older Reach boy to be standing right in front of him. "And besides, it's more than you managed to kill."

Like with Walfild, Asgen expected Ubba to try and hit him. Unlike with Walfild, he wasn't going to meekly take it. Ubba's hand bounced painfully off Asgen's forehead. Then the young Nord balled his fists and attacked.

 

***

 

The clans of the Reach are among the most diverse peoples in the world. Some of them are simple hunter-gatherers who do their best to avoid contact with others. Some are fierce warrior clans who live raid by bloody raid. Some boast powerful shamans who can speak to their gods the way a man speaks to a woman. In her five years among them, Faida had learned that the Bittermouths were something of a mix. They were nomads, aye, and decent hunters. But they also had a tendency for warfare, and shamans that could be downright terrifying. Of course, their true power came from Horothma. Without the hagraven, they'd have been wiped out by one of their dozen rival clans years ago, that is if the Nords or Bretons did not get to them first. It was she who taught their shamans the rituals of their gods, and who raised the Briarhearts to defend them. Faida had watched alongside her twin brother as Horothma saved their entire clan from attacks that by all rights should have meant their end. The Bittermouths feared their Matron, but they also admired her.

"We move soon," the ancient hag croaked at the shamans and witchmen. The lot of them sat around the largest bonfire in their camp. Faida's own fire was small and pathetic in comparison, but it was enough to suit the lone Nord girl. With Asgen out hunting, these last few nights had been spent alone and in silence. It had prompted Faida relocate close to the heart of camp where she could at least pretend to be a part of things by listening in on the elders' conversations.
Horothma went on, "Come too far west. Yessss, much too far. Bretons near. Knights. Mages. Lords. Cages. Yessss, we move east and north. Back to Skyrim. Away from nasty Bretons with their thornflower flags."

"You're talking about Evermor, great Mother?" one of the witchmen asked. "We are many miles from there, still. And they are not nearly as aggressive as the Nords of Markarth."

"Nords of old, Nords of cold. Nords by war, taken hold..." the hag rambled. "Enemy shall fight enemy, and we shall not be seen. We move soon. So I will it." The old crone pointed a claw at one of her two briarhearts. "Hershak, come. The Serpent commands the sky tonight. We shall consummate this decision beneath his gaze."

From what little Faida had seen of them, briahearts were creatures without fear... except when it came to Horothma. She saw in the light of the fire as the huge Reachman's eyes went wide and his nostrils flared. Yet he still rose at his matron's command, and followed her to the rocky hill at the heart of their camp where he would spend the rest of the night satisfying their leader's carnal desires.

The other elders departed to their tents, probably glad that they had not been chosen for the consummation, themselves. It was not unheard of for Horothma to take two or even three of her followers when she saw fit to. Fortunately for her, it was always the males. And fortunately for Asgen, it was always Reachman males. Faida could not imagine what manner of pain the Matron inflicted on them, but the sounds they made were so awful, so animalistic... No, she was glad to be spared that possibility, at least.
Of course, being the only Bittermouth of Nordic blood besides her brother created its own problems. For instance, none of the shamans were willing to mentor her, despite the fact that she'd known more from her mother's teachings than any of their own children. Everything Faida learned since then, she had learned alone and in secret. Asgen was more than happy to help, of course. He had a knack for finding ingredients in the wilderness (or sometimes from the packs of other clansmen) that she could use to mimic the rituals she had witnessed. And occasionally he even managed to snag rabbits or squirrels for her to drain. But without proper knowledge of how exactly to use these things, Faida could not progress much. At this rate, she knew that she would never be a true shaman of the old gods, much less become as great as her mother had been.

As the figures around the bonfires settled, and Horothma's bird-like screeches melded with Hershak's exasperated grunts, Faida turned onto her side and pulled the small bone charm amulet from beneath her furs. The thing was light as if from a bird, but dark and hard as stone. In all these years, she had never asked the shamans what the carvings meant for fear that one of them might take it from her. "I will be powerful like them," she whispered to the charm. "So I will it."
She fell asleep with those words on her lips.

Faida's dreams took her across many crags and hills, deep into the wilderness of the Western Reach. She was sitting on a rock beside a shallow creek, hurting all over and weeping from pain and exhaustion, but also from something else: A different kind of hurt. After several minutes, she wiped away the tears and stood up, turning to face the stag she'd been so proud to kill. Gripping it by its antlers, Faida stepped into the freezing water and used every ounce of strength in her body to drag the deer across. It hurt her side when she pulled, but she could not lose the stag. She would rather die.

Faida awoke at the sound of voices. The huntsmen were returning. She grinned and sat up, excited to see Asgen again. Grim Walfild came by first and walked straight to Horothma's nest. He was the only person aside from briarhearts who could get away with doing that. Next came Nakka and that ugly Dimvak, who found their own places beside a fire. After them was Ubba. The young hunter entered the camp more slowly than the others, with a fat black eye and wearing the nastiest of expressions. He did not look Faida's way as he walked by.
"Ubba," she called, to which he clearly ignored. Scowling, Faida got up and followed the boy to his tent. "Ubba! Where is Asgen?"

"How should I know?" the boy snapped. "I ain't his keeper. The boy barely knows the Reach. Probably got lost."

"Lost?!"

The horror must have been evident on her face, because Ubba rolled his eyes. "What'd you expect, Nord? That you and your brother would be able to get by out here the same way as the rest of us?" A droplet of blood dripped out of Ubba's nose and landed on his hand, which for some reason made him even angrier. "Get away from my tent."

Faida returned to the little pile of ash that had been her fire. She couldn't believe that Asgen had gotten lost. She wouldn't. More likely he was just further out than the others, and was making his way back now. Aye, that was more likely. He had always been the adventurous one. He'll be back any minute.

Eventually, any minute became any hour, and unable to sleep, Faida grew more and more worried. Her thoughts kept returning to that dream about the stag, of how alone it had made her feel. Was that how Asgen felt, now? An ludicrous, uncomfortable thought came over her. Is that where Asgen is now?
It felt so impossible, so insane to even consider, and yet somehow possible. Their milk-drinker Pa had always said that they had a special connection, and as much as they liked to joke that it wasn't the case, the twins knew that he was right in a way. No one in their lives mattered but them and them alone. That was what they decided after Karthwasten, and that was how things had been ever since.
Faida stood up. She had never seen the creek in her dream, but at the time, the path she'd been dragging the deer in had felt so familiar. As foolish as it felt, Faida just started to walk.

The rocky hills of the Reach were dressed in a thin blanket of snow. It offered up clear footprints of the huntsmen who had made it back. She was able to follow these in a pretty straight line for a long while, but eventually the snow became mud and mixed into the cracks between rocks, forcing Faida to march through the hills in what she hoped was the right general direction. This went on for hours, taking her up and down slope after slope, until finally, as the moons shined bright and the Serpent became faint, Faida heard the sound of rushing water. She grinned. "That's it, that has to be it!" 

Ignoring the obvious dangers, Faida ran across the rocky crags, weaving between boulders bigger than houses, ducking under juniper bushes and thorn-covered vines, until at last she came upon the running stream. Her heart sank. This wasn't what she had seen. This stream was deeper and wider than the one from her dream, and it rushed far faster. "But water leads to more water," she said out loud. The question was whether she should follow it down, or up. Faida closed her eyes and prayed to the old gods for an answer. When she opened them again, she spotted a single gray slaughterfish fighting against the current, trying its hardest to swim up the stream. "Huh." Faida pulled out her amulet and kissed it. "If this is real, I swear that I'll learn what the runes mean."

She tucked away the charm and followed the the twisting stream up. The way left blisters on her feet and bruises on her hands and knees from the many times that she slipped and fell, but Faida pressed on. Morning eventually came. By that point the exhausted girl was moving on instinct alone. She was no longer confident that her 'sign' had been anything more than a dumb fish being dumb, but she did know that she would never find her way back to the camp on her own. She needed to be right. The only alternative was to be lost. And so she fought her need for sleep and continued. By midday, Faida was hungry and completely demoralized, and by afternoon, her belly ached, and she figured that she was more likely to die out here than Asgen was. When evening came around, however, Faida's efforts were finally rewarded with a branch in the stream. To the left, it continued to run wide and strong, but to the right it was thinner and weaker. She picked the right path and followed it. Within an hour of what would be dark, the starving child spotted something that filled her with energy. It was the spot! She ran along the little creek to a bed of mud and stone. There across from her was the very same rock she had dreamed of sitting on, and beneath her feet was a faint trail of disturbed mud. She knelt closer, casting a dim candlelight spell, and grinned widely upon spotting a tuff of brown hair that had been torn off by the rocks. Faida turned in the direction that 'she' had been dragging the deer and started off with renewed vigor.

More time passed. The moons heralded the return of the night, reminding Faida of how long it had been since she'd last eaten. That didn't matter, though. She was close now. The trail had gone higher into the mountains, eventually entering the snow and becoming very easy to follow without the aid of magic. She ran through the Reach at an excited jog, and stopped just shy of a steep slope that was about a foot shorter than she was. There at its base, a boy slept with his head against the belly of a massive deer carcass.
"Asgen!"

When Asgen opened his eyes, he thought briefly that he was still in a dream. "Faida?" He quickly ran an arm over his nose to wipe away any snot that might have dried there. "What are you doing here?!"

"The other hunters came back, and..." She shut up and ran forward to embrace her brother in the most furious hug she'd ever given.

"Ow!" Asgen recoiled.

"Sorry." Faida pulled back, looking her brother up and down. His eyes were both bruised, and his left cheek was swollen. There was also dried blood around his lip. "What happened to you?"

"I- uh, I fell down a slope. I think my ribs are bruised. Or something."

"Don't lie to me. You know you can't lie to me."

Asgen sighed and leaned back against the slope. "It was Ubba." Before his sister could interject, he quickly added, "But I got him good, too. Think I broken his nose."

Faida didn't want to smile, but her brother's willful grin forced it out of her. "Good. Maybe he'll remember that next time. But why are you out here by yourself? Where did the deer come from?"

"The Hunting Grounds," Asgen said. He saw the puzzlement of his sister and continued, "This is Gulibeg. The one we've been tracking. I know because I saw it myself! I killed it and Walfild wants me to bring it back."

"I don't want to upset you, but if it was Gulibeg, wouldn't they have helped you? The clan would've been celebrating when I left. Not sleeping."

"Storihbeg can skin the clan and freeze their guts for all I care."

"Asgen!"

"What? This is Gulibeg. I was with the hunters when they spotted it the first time, and I saw the look in Walfild's eyes after I brought it down. They just can't stand the idea that it was me who killed it." Asgen's breath came out staggered and angry. "I hate the Nords as much as any of them. I hate them more. But they still act like we're outsiders. Like we're the ones who invaded Markarth."

Faida hugged Asgen, more gently this time. And she cast a healing spell as she did, touching a hand to his injured ribs. "I believe you, Brother. About Gulibeg."

"It's not our fault Ma was a Nord," he continued, burying his face against his sister's shoulder. "Why are they punishing us for it? Why take us in at all if this is how it has to be?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I don't. But it doesn't matter, Asgen. Understand? It doesn't matter. We're here. We've got each other. I'm going to help you get this deer back to the camp, and we'll make sure to get the best cuts from it ourselves. Sound good?"

Asgen blinked. "That sounds great." He and Faida hoisted the stag together, him by the antlers, and her by the hind legs. With their combined strength, the twins were just able to shove it up the slope. "I'm sorry about all that," Asgen said when they were finished. "I can't believe I got so upset about something so stupid."

"Are you kidding?" Faida laughed, "If I killed an aspect of Hircine and wasn't given credit for it, I'd have been mad too. Ubba is lucky that he got off as easy as he did."

"Heh, well in truth I think I lost that fight. I got him good, but I think he got me even better... And more," he said, tenderly touching his bruised eye. "Those bruises on my ribs were from him kicking me where I laid." Asgen saw the anger flash across his sister's face and quickly added, "Don't go getting any revenge for me. I'll think of something myself when I'm ready. I'll make it extra nasty, don't you worry."

That made Faida smile. "You better. And you also better not do it when I'm not around to see it."

"And miss out on your reaction? Never."

The Tynes shared a laugh, and Asgen shared his last few juniper berries. Then they found a nice spot to get the sleep that each of them very badly needed.
The next day was easier for both of them. Asgen knew the way back to camp, and dragging the massive stag was much easier for two people than it had been for him alone. Though it was still a grueling trek, and more than once Faida found herself reflecting on how impressive it was that her brother had gotten so far on his own before she'd found him. It took them most of the day, but come afternoon, the smokes of their camp were visible in the near distance.

Some of the Bittermouths stopped what they were doing to watch the twins drag the deer in. Many of them were speaking lowly amongst themselves. To his own pride, Asgen heard the name 'Gulibeg' mentioned more than once. They dragged the great beast all the way to the great pyre, and dropped it in front of the elders who sat there.

"That took a while," Ubba exclaimed from outside his tent nearby. A shaman must have seen to his face, because all signs of his fight with Asgen had been erased. "Did the hunter need his sister's help getting through the woods?" A few of the other Reachmen laughed at that.

Asgen ignored them and turned to Walfild. "I've brought it to be skinned and butchered. As you said, this should help the clan."

"So I said and so it is," the huntsman agreed. "Nakka, Yaffild! Take care of this beast before age makes it worthless."

The Bittermouths grunted as they lifted the stag and carried it away. Asgen watched them go and then turned back to Walfild. "I want first pick of the meat for Faida and me."

"That is fair," the Reachman grunted. "It is your kill."

"Aye, it is" Faida said. "We'll take the heart."

"What?" Asgen and Walfild said in unison. Her brother looked confused, but she could see a hint of worry in the older huntsman's eyes.

"We want the heart," Faida said again. "As you said, it was Asgen's kill. He could have left it behind or kept the whole thing to himself if he'd wanted. But he brought it back to feed the clan. You just said that he is entitled to this much."

"What do you need a heart for, Nord?" Ubba asked, "I'm sure that somewhere deep down you've got one of your own. It might be frozen, but-"

"Shut up, Ubba," Walfild commanded. He looked Faida up and down. "Well? What does a child want with the heart of a stag?"

"If it's just some old stag, then what does it matter?" Faida asked. "The heart is worth little next to the meat, and its no one's loss but ours."

"Would the hunter not prefer to have a more worthy cut?" Walfild asked, turning to her brother.

Asgen was still staring at Faida. He now saw where she was going with this. "No, I think I'd like to take the heart."

Walfild glanced past them. The twins followed his gaze to see that it had landed on the Matriarch herself. Horothma was looking down at them from atop her little hill, flanked by a briarheart. The crone stared at them long and hard, her dark bird-like eyes piercing their souls. It was the first time either sibling had felt her gaze, and not since Karthwasten had they seen something so utterly terrifying. "Two hearts young," her ancient voice croaked, "One heart great. Feed the children their desires. We dance with a lord, tonight."

Walfild only stood there, no less confused than the twins. "You want me to..."

"Give the Nords the heart," the hagraven screeched, and then she turned and sauntered back to her nest.

"Yes, Matron," the huntsman said at once. He turned to Asgen and Faida, the latter of whom was suddenly feeling very nervous. "You heard her. The heart is yours." He paused, and then added in a low voice, "Do not waste this."

That evening, there was a different air about the camp than usual. The afternoon had been consumed with talk of moving back east, back to the lands of the hated Nords. There was also talk of a civil war, of elves and gods, of a faction called 'the Forsworn', and a King in Rags. In the midst of it all, Asgen and Faida sat together by their fire with the cold heart of a dead stag on the rocks before them. There was an open wound where Asgen had plunged his knife. "Whatever you need, Sis." he now promised. "Whatever you need, I will get."

"You already did that," she reminded him, motioning to the heart. "The rest is up to me."

"But don't you need, I don't know, some components? Ingredients? Flowers? Blood and bones?"

"I don't know," she said, playing with her amulet. "Maybe. Or maybe the heart is enough. There is no use in just going out and getting everything we can think of in the hopes that it might be needed." She frowned. "Let's just try not talking. I need to concentrate."

"Alright." Asgen hushed up. Do what you do, Sister. Whatever 'she did' might've been was completely lost to Asgen. As far as he could tell, she was just sitting there looking at the heart, sometimes touching it, sometimes muttering words under her breath, and sometimes trying those things with her eyes closed. He distracted himself by using his bone dagger to carve crude pictures into the rocky earth. Close to nightfall, he found that the boredom was too much, and he ventured to speak. "Have you found anything?"

"Damnit, Asgen!" Faida's eyes snapped open and she scowled. "I was this close!"

"Really?"

She sighed. "No, probably not. I don't have a damned clue what I am doing. Maybe you were right. Rituals usually do involve lots of components. And this ain't just any ritual. This is the heart of Gulibeg."

The twins heard one of the Bittermouths snort as she walked by. Clearly most people here did not share their belief. Asgen ignored it and asked, "Well have you tried talking to Hircine directly?"

"Of course."

"And his other aspects?"

"Yes. Nothing is working."

"Well what are you saying? Maybe I can help."

"No offense, Asgen, but you don't even speak the old tongue, or know anything about magic, let alone performing rituals."

"You can perform the ritual. I just want to help. Besides, this is Hircine we're talking about. Don't you think he might be interested in the hunter that killed his aspect?"

"That's... a good point, actually. Okay, let's try something different." Faida scooted closer to Asgen so that they faced each other and the fire was just to their left. She then took the heart and placed it between them. "Hold my hands."
Asgen took her hands.
"Now pray with me. Silently or aloud. Share the details of your kill. Of the worthiness of your hunt."

"It was a good kill," Asgen said, closing his eyes to match his sister. "Walfild said as much, but I already knew that. We tracked your great stag for days, through woods, streams, cliffs, and finally the valley. I found a trail and followed it until it was gone. And then I waited. I tried hard to be patient. And then this Gulibeg appeared, and, well, I took out my bow and shot him in the lung. After his moving slowed, I stabbed him in the heart. This heart."

"Proof of cleverness," Faida proclaimed.

"It was a good kill," Asgen said again.

"Proof of patience and skill."

"Isn't that what you want? What you're all about?"

"Grant blessings to your huntsmen."

"I mean, I saw it. I know what I did!"

"Grant blessings to your Champion!"

"It was a good gods damned kill!"

By now, everyone in the clan had gathered to watch with amusement as the Nordic kids shouted blindly at a dead animal's heart. But when Faida released her brother's hands and tossed that heart into the fire, that amusement turned to shock, for the flames suddenly jumped higher than Horothma's hill.

"We summon you, Lord Hircine," Faida cried out. She clutched her amulet with one hand and took Asgen's hand with the other. "We summon you!"

The Tynes called, and Hircine answered. The Bittermouths danced with a lord that night, and it was thanks to two young Nords.

7D68F2DA-F63D-479E-9DEB-C6102D2F77F2.thumb.png.fc7fac7ec66697fc5653fd77a83cb0ab.png

  • Like 2

It's always nice when your writing gets reinforced by the canon after you come up with it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Adventures of Baldur

by Baldur Red-Snow

Chapters 1-4

 

 

Author's Note: The characters in this story are real characters. I either got their point of view by asking them later on at some point about certain events and what they were thinking, or I pieced it together with the best of my ability, guessing on how they would react. I write this now, not truly knowing the purpose. I'm not famous or infamous enough to publish a life story work. All the talk of my past with my wife made me feel like putting it to paper I suppose. Especially after speaking about my father. So if I could pick a reason for writing this, I'd say it would be for my child or future children. I don't know what the history books will tell of Baldur Red-Snow. Perhaps nothing. But if there is something, this work will help show what I'm really like, outside of the one or two sentences of pure horker shit that it is likely to be. So this is for you, kids. And my lovely wife. Talos guide you all.

 

 

Wretched is the man who walks in wake of decadent me,

Woe is what you find in war, no honor to be mentioned,

Yet still they walk this wicked path, searching endlessly,

Men drowned and drenched in blood and armed with not but good intentions.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

If the Madgod Sheogorath could pick a favorite hold in Skyrim, it would either be Solitude for the insanity that it has been known to house, or Falkreath. For Falkreath had the most frequent stormy days out of any other hold, always raining, always wet and dreary. At least near the main town. This suited the animal life well enough. Always plenty of water around even when not by Lake Ilinalta. Two baby deer were now taking full advantage of this in the midst of this typical Falkreath afternoon as they sat happily drinking from a medium sized puddle of water along with their mother. They had been traveling around the hold searching for food together, but unfortunately for them, they were not the only ones. Not too far from their location lay in hiding a pack of five wolves in some bushes nearby. Two of them were seriously hurt from a farmer who defended his livestock from the hungry canines with a pitchfork. The group as a whole haven't eaten in four days due to a rival pack taking over their hunting grounds. But now they found a new hunting ground and they needed to establish it as theirs. Unfortunately for this happy family of deer, they were to be among the first to sate their ravenous hunger.

 

The deer sat unsuspecting and there was no wind to carry the scent of the wolves nearby. The thunder and rain covered any sounds the deer may have normally picked up as the animals slowly began their approach, stealthily moving forward as they prepared to pounce and sink their fangs and fill their salivating mouths. Finally the creatures could wait no more. The wolves snarled as the hair rose from the back of their necks and their fangs cruelly bared themselves outward as the canines launched themselves towards their prey. The deer were taken completely by surprise...as were the wolves. No sooner did they leap towards the deer than they were suddenly frozen in their tracks. No longer were they concerned with their hunger or the taste of blood in their mouths. Their mind was completely serene. Peaceful. Calm. Suddenly a small figure dropped out of a tree and walked up to the deer. It was a Bosmer in hide armor barely covering his chest with criss crossing leather straps and a small shoulder covering. All over his face was black tribal paint patterns along with a horizontal scar that went over his nose. He had small beady black eyes and a flat orange mohawk with a ponytail at the end. He carried on his back a quiver of thirty steel arrows and a hunter's bow. He walked around with no shoes on as well, preferring to feel the earth between his toes. He looked to be in his early twenties but despite that appeared to be a hardened fighter. For an elf. Especially for a bosmer.

 

The bosmer was staring into the eyes of the grateful deer now, petting its head as the animal licked him on the cheek in gratitude. Maori, as the bosmer was named, smiled as it did, sensing gratitude from the beast which was remarkable from something that wasn't intelligent enough to feel an emotion like gratitude in the first place. At least that's what he figured.

 

And considering that fact, you shouldn't be able to feel betrayal either. And thus I feel no guilt in return.

 

With that thought in mind, Maori whipped out an arrow from his quiver and stabbed the deer in the eye quickly, sending it deep enough to pierce the brain, ending her life quickly. After the deer went limp, Maori picked it up and and put it over his back to carry away. This proved to be a hard task for a mer of his stature, considering he was about one hundred twenty five pounds soaking wet, while the deer herself was one hundred twenty. But he muscled through it, being used to carrying large game. Looking back, Maori watched the baby deer, still drinking from the now bloodied pool of water as the wolves nearby still sat around feeling peaceful.

 

"You snooze you lose. At least I left you something, however." Maori turned back around now, making his way back to his small camp for the night with dinner in tow. He didn't flinch at the sound of the wolves snapping out of their tranquil state. Not even when they gleefully seized the baby deer. That was simply the way of life. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. A life he was used to living in Valenwood. The eaten part being much more literal than an outsider would expect.

 

***

 

It was a rare day indeed this morning in Falkreath, as for once, Kyne, or Kynareth to Maori, wasn't weeping on this part of Skyrim. In fact, this day was even brighter than one in Solitude. Yet no day to Maori was a bright day, regardless of the weather. The mer being oblivious to the beauty of the day made his way to what some considered the most miserable part of the city and to others the most merry. Depending on whether you consider a place where people forget their sorrows happy, or sad because it's simply a trick until they sober up. Maori being a pessimist tended to go with the latter. When Maori walked in Dead Man's Drink, one of Falkreath's taverns, he was greeted with the sound of a young lad who clearly went with the former. He was a young dark blonde nord with long girly hair and a light rather short beard, fairly muscular for his age, which seemed to be about mid twenties, but clearly he had never seen battle for a single day in his life from the looks of him. He was singing a most annoyingly happy upbeat song to a flute tune played by a fellow bard equally as annoying and up beat. Even though most of the song's contents seemed depressing, the bard still sang the entire tune as if it was not, which only made it more annoying to Maori. He was rather odd looking in appearance for a bard, being fully decked out in leather scaled armor with a goat skin on his left shoulder with the horns still attacked. He also had an imperial sword strapped to his side and a steel axe on his other side. The imperial dragon symbol on it appeared to be burned out, however. The bosmer figured he was simply handed these down from his parents, since he didn't look like he could actually use the weapons. Maori took a seat as he waited, trying to block out the song as he did.

 

There once was a wizard, who sat in his tower,

Surrounded by a blizzard, summoned from his power,

He ruled over these nords, who he daily made run and cower,

In fear they offered their women, for the evil mage to deflower,

 

He sat up in his magical home, screwing all of these maids,

Killing any who tried to save them with their nordic raids,

This wizard was a mer...unto their terrible shame,

Their lives were made miserable, but to him it was just a game,

 

One day the wizard came to town terrorizing once more,

Daring one to challenge him and be sent away to Shor,

None opened their mouths, for they all feared cold death's door,

So instead they bowed their heads and offered him another whore,

 

This woman was so fair of skin, brown headed and breasts so fine,

A voice so sweet like honey, and she had the beauty of Kyne,

She was in love, in love!...her hand bound already in marriage,

But it mattered not to all around as they stuck her on his carriage,

 

Her husband would not stand for it, he challenged all who could hear,

"What kind of nords are you? Not true, not these men who bow in fear!

Is there not any who will stand with me? To save my love from the mage?"

No man stepped forward to him, so off he went in rage.

 

The man grabbed his axe and shield, and to the tower he ran,

But before he reached the blizzard, he was interrupted by a man,

This man was old and sickly, his skin terribly diseased,

"Halt young warrior, I can help!" Said the man as his breath freezed,

 

"How can you help me? You are frail and weak."

"And to that wizard, so are you, his power has reached it's peak,

Defeat you cannot hope for him if magic you do not wield,

But I can render his magic useless with this magic shield,

 

But this weapon comes with a price, you must do this for me,

Agree to spread my disease to others and your wife will be free!

I will give you the power...to spread bile in a shower,

Agree to this then save your miss, now off are you to that tower!"

 

The warrior took the shield from him, agreed then off he went,

The blizzard had taken its tole on him and then his spirit bent,

He raised his bronze shield to block the snow and to his great surprise,

A ward burst from the front of he and shined before his eyes!

 

With this protection then did he make his way to the mage,

Armed with a mighty weapon, his town would dawn a new age,

With axe in hand as well, he made his way up the long stairs,

He burst down the long tower doors and raised the mage's hair,

 

"Who stands there at my broken door? I offer no room and board,

Now stand aside, my word you abide, so I can sheathe my sword!"

"Hands off and away from my woman! Look away from her chest!

I've come to take whats mine, for combat is what I know best!"

 

"You pale skinned monkey, come to me so I can take your life!

Then I shall raise you from the dead so you can see me with your wife!"

With that the mage summoned fire, in his hands it was magically tamed,

The heat spread through the room from him as he cast his mighty flame!

The wizard laughed in triumph as he figured he roasted the man,

But his mighty shield that he did wield left him alive where he did stand,

 

The wizard stood in disbelief as he saw he wasn't defeated,

The nord summoned a ward and the mer could not come to believe it,

With axe in hand he charged, and blocked the flame once again,

The nord had reenacted the history of mer and men,

 

The mer lay dead and the wife was saved, "No longer a slave!", she said,
He saved his wife from violation, then screwed her on the mer's bed,

The hero released the other girls and walked back to the village,

And in their joy the nords marched off to the lands to the east to pillage,

 

The old man came back and told him to keep the shield but he had to pay,

So now the warrior bellowed out bile with a shout when he went in the fray,

A powerful tongue this man was made and the devils he made diseased,

If they lived through the battle, they spread this sick home, and the old man was quite pleased,

 

The nord was known as the Plague of the North as his fame increased,

No man was mighty enough to beat him, no man no mer and no beast,

He would kill you now or perhaps later on, either way on your flesh crows would feast,

The old man's brothers always said he was weak, tell that to the mer of the east!

 

Finally the song was over to Maori's relief, but it was short lived, as some fat drunk nord demanded an encore from him, as did a redheaded young tart in a green tavern wench outfit that was rather tight fitting and low cut. The woman walked up to the nord with a tankard of mead and the nord burried his face in her breasts, spilling some of the mead as he did from her hands. Maori hoped he'd leave his face there, but shortly after, he continued with the tale once again. Maori was about to go and try to shut the pretty boy nord up, but finally he saw what he was looking for come bursting through the front doors. Mercenaries. They were all nords donned in steel or plate armor with black sashes around their chest. Their uniform he figured. Maori waited for them to take their seats before he approached them. The nord leader was a large large man, slighty chubby but clearly covered in muscle despite this. He wore steel greaves, boots and gauntlets, but no chest piece. Just the black sash diagonally over his chest. The nord looked suspiciously at the elf, as most nords seemed to do in Skyrim, and knitted his brow before Maori spoke.

 

"Excuse me, warriors of Skyrim. I have come to seek your ai-"

 

"Let me stop you there, elf. We will not help you." said the nord as he raised his hand.

 

"Why not?" said Maori angrily in a voice loud enough to make even these mercenaries look taken aback.

 

"Your gear, your appearance in general. I can tell you can't afford us. We are famous mercenaries. We are the Black Mongrels. We charge highly. Too highly for the likes of you."

 

"I need the help of a mercenary band to rescue a woman from a group of bandits. I've got three hundred gold. Is this not enough for your service?"

 

"Ha! No. Not even for a single target, let alone rescuing a woman from a whole bandit gang. Three hundred gold would get you the help of one merc, and not a famous one." Maori's expression looked defeated, but not for too long.

 

"Then who? Do you know of any that I can hire?" The nord outstretched his arm and pointed a finger in the direction of all the merriment and music. "What, that guy in the corner behind the bard? He seems okay, but he's a bit old. Still, it's better t-"

 

"No, moron. The bard." Maori couldn't hide the disbelief in his face as he turned to look at the young lad again. Maori would have laughed if he was one to do so. Which he was not.

 

"Surely. Surely. Surely you jest, Nord. Him?" The nord smirked briefly before he replied.

 

"I know, I know. You look tougher than he does. But apparently he's better than he looks. I heard he managed to kill a frost troll on his last mission. By himself. He's all you got. We ran out all the other mercenaries in town but him. We're still waiting to see if he's worth keeping or not. We've been meaning to ask him to join us. Perhaps if you hire him and he does good work with you, he can join us." Maori was pissed at this point. He still felt like he was at the end of a bad joke, but this was all he had to work with. Maori took his seat again and stared at the man for a while with his head rested on his hands.

 

A tavern waitress tried to approach him to ask if he wanted a drink, but Maori rudely shooed her off with a wave of his hand, leaving him to himself to contemplate in his corner in the dark. He sat there watching the nord sing. The more he smiled, the more Maori frowned. He made up his mind finally. He would skip town and try his luck elsewhere. Perhaps I can find work. Then I can save up and...no. No I can't wait that long, damnit! I need to rescue her now. Maori slammed his hand on the table in frustration. He had an idea however. If he was to pay good coin on this minstrel, he had to test him first. Maori walked back over to the man in the corner he thought was the merc the other nords were talking about, then sat down next to him as his young black haired wife got up to get more drinks.

 

"Psst, nord. Is that your wife?" The nord frowned at him like the others did as well before he spoke.

 

"Aye, who wants to know?" Maori smiled briefly before returning to his natural frown.

 

"You sure? I saw that bard over there getting awfully friendly with her earlier."

 

The nord burst up from the table sending it crashing to the floor as he loudly proclaimed, "What?!? How friendly?"

 

"The kind that would make you blush in polite company." said Maori in a matter of fact tone. This was all he needed to start a fight. The old grey haired nord charged straight for the young bard bellowing out obscenities and spraying spittle as he did. Maori despite his mood managed to laugh at the sight, being absolutely sure that the annoying bard would soon be silenced. At least temporarily. As soon as the old nord got within striking range however, the bard sent his foot flying towards his face, laying him out in an instant. Unfortunately for him, but luckily for Maori, the old nord had friends.

 

"Hey! You can't do that to Skjormir!"

 

"Aww shit...." said the bard as four men charged his position. The bard picked up a chair as the four men circled him slowly. "Hey! Why aren't you guards stopping this?" said the bard in an accent clearly not from around here. The guards started laughing ominously at the boy's apparently stupid question.

 

"This is Skyrim, boy! It's just a friendly brawl. Welcome to your homeland." The young lad cursed at first but to Maori's surprise, the boy actually smiled.

 

"Well if that's the way it has to be then come, cowards!" As soon as he said this, the nords charged the bard at once. The bard put the chair down surprisingly and used it to jump over one of the nords. The man however grabbed his legs, making him hang over his back, but the bard grabbed a hold of his trousers from behind and pulled himself over his back and flipped onto the floor. His hands still had a hold of his trousers as he sat on the floor looking opposite from the man, and he pulled the man backwards over his head, sending the back of his skull falling straight onto the floor. The man lay in front of the bard on the ground, clearly dazed but not out yet. At least not until he punched him in the face, sending him to bed.

 

Before the others could grab him, the bard got up and grabbed another chair and sent it flying into the gut of the next man, then he swung it upwards into his jaw as he was bent over, then he finally brought it down over his skull and kicked him backwards into his friend who instinctively grabbed him before he fell. As he did, the bard once again put the chair down, then he backed up a bit and ran forward, using the chair to launch himself up again. As he went flying through the air, he sent his feet forward and kicked his legs straight into the nord's face before landing on both of them. The people in the tavern all stood gawking in disbelief. Including Maori. Especially Maori. The nord got up triumphantly with his fists raised in the air.

 

"I may be from Bruma but I'm still a true nord,

Master of the hammer the axe and the sword!

Don't let my looks fool you I swear they're for show,

Never again challenge B-"

 

Maori unleashed a roar of laughter as the last Nord he forgot about grabbed his neck from behind, silencing him as he lifted him up off his feet to choke slam. But the bard quickly acted, wrapping his legs around the large man's arms as he tried to break free from his iron clasp on his neck. He could not, however, so instead he sent his feet flying into the man's face, forcing him to let go of the bard as he recoiled. When the bard dropped to the floor, he sent his foot flying into the nord's crotch, then his face after he bent over. The bard then quickly stood up and pulled him by his shirt, making his face hit his forhead once, twice, three times before he let the man go and dropped him to the floor. Heavy of breath, the Bard spoke once more.

 

"Like I was saying...hehhh, hehhhh, Never again challenge Baldur...hehh....Red-Snow." The onlookers burst out with cheers at the young man's victory. The Red-Head came back now with another tankard of mead for the man of the hour. After the nord downed it's contents, Baldur picked the woman up off her feet and carried her to his room. Maori was wide eyed, staring at the defeated men in complete disbelief at the final results. "Looks like I found the right man after all."

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Narri, the red-head woman was now dressing herself while Baldur lay in a bed in the tavern. It didn't take long for her to do so, seeing as how all she had on was the her dress. Baldur lay under the sheets, staring up at the ceiling, not even caring to watch the show Narri was putting on for him as she slowly put back on her dress, occasionally looking behind her to see if he was watching. Narri crawled back on him over the sheets and tried to kiss him, but he turned away from it. Narri grew frustrated with him and slapped him across the face before grabbing his cheeks with her left hand. "Stupid man. Why do you treat me this way? What have I done wrong to you that you can't even give me a kiss?" Baldur looked at her, but did not see her despite her teasing by sliding off one of her straps off of her arm.

 

"I don't treat you any way. You're not my woman. You bring me drinks and I take them. I walk to my room and you follow." Narri dropped the second strap now, letting the coverings on her breasts drop again for him to see, yet Baldur still did not see her.

 

"What are you thinking about, Baldur?" asked Narri as she lay next to him, resting her head on his arm to listen.

 

"Nothing, Narri." This was a lie. Baldur was thinking about why the old nord had randomly attacked him. He noticed an elf watching him in the tavern, but there were many people watching him in the tavern. But when the nord attacked him, the same elf was sitting next to him. What could that mean? Anything? Nothing? Just a coincidence, probably. Still. It is strange.

 

Narri's afterglow was clearly showing and was the sole reason as to why she put up with Baldur's dismissive attitude. It hurt her, but at the same time drew her to him more. She could tell there was a reason behind it and she wanted to find out what it was. But Baldur had no plans of ever telling her. Or anyone for that matter. Baldur saw women as fire. Pretty to look at, arguably necessary in life, but let them get too close and you'll get burned. This idea was instilled in him from his father since he was a boy, whether he wanted it to be or not. Narri closed her eyes and started settling in, which set off warning signs for Baldur. "Narri, you know I don't like anyone sleeping in my bed." Baldur was once again lying through his teeth. He longed for companionship. Not necessarily from Narri, but someone. Narri ignored his words and drew nearer to him.

 

"Sing me a song, Baldur." Baldur finally got up from the bed now, since Narri would not on her own. He started putting on his loincloth now as well as his scaled armor to Narri's dismay.

 

"You know my rate. Same as everyone else who wants to hear a song." Narri rose up from the bed and furiously threw the sheets to the wall, knocking over a bottle of mead from a table as she did.

 

"**** you, Red-Snow!"

 

Baldur gave her a smile as if nothing was amiss and replied, "But you just did, silly woman." Narri did not appreciate this at all and stormed off to the door as she pulled her dress straps back up.

 

"To Oblivion with you! Maybe if I find somone else to bed, you'll learn to appreciate me more!" With that, Narri stormed off into the tavern causing a scene, but the people already knew as Baldur did.

 

"She'll be back. She always comes back." The words were almost regretful rather than reassuring. Baldur wasn't the type to hurt friends like this, which only pained him further when he did. He really did feel sorry for Narri, but it couldn't be helped. Fire was hot and he was on the verge of getting too close. Baldur let out a heavy sigh as he sat back on his bed, alone once more. "What are you doing, Baldur?" he said in his head. Shortly after, Baldur suddenly heard a knock on his door. Baldur thinking it was Narri ignored the first few knocks before finally relenting and opening it up. "Narri, listen. This isn't g-...Who are you?" Before him stood a small wood elf donned in hide armor, no boots, and face covered in black tribal markings and a scar over his nose bridge.

 

"I am Maori, Nord. I'm in need of your services." Baldur scratched his head for a second before speaking.

 

"You, you're that mer from before I saw watching me. Were you behind that old man trying to attack me?" Maori took out a sack of three hundred gold and waved it in front of Baldur's face, which required him to stretch his arm almost all the way up.

 

"Aye, that I was. I had to m-." Baldur interrupted his speech by suddenly grabbing Maori by the neck and lifting him off his feet and placing his imperial sword to his neck. Maori instinctively pulled out an arrow and placed it in front of Baldur's eye. "Let...me....go!" said Maori as best as he could while being choked. Baldur reluctantly complied and dropped the mer onto his feet, leaving him coughing and gasping for air as he sheathed his sword. "As I was saying, I needed to see if you really were a mercenary and if so, were you worth my time."

 

"You could have simply asked." said Baldur. Maori closed his eyes and shook his head before looking back at Baldur.

 

"No. You don't exactly look or act the part. And I can't afford any **** ups. Someone very important to me needs to be rescued.

 

"And who is that?" asked Baldur.

 

"My sister. My family was recently caught in a Thalmor purging and we fled. My mother, father, two older sisters and three older brothers...all of their children...all of them were killed. Singed by fire or jolted by Thalmor lightning." Maori despite his pauses in speech showed nothing but anger in his beady black eyes and a burning desire for revenge. It was clear to Baldur that he had a while to mourn their losses already. "My sister and I managed to escape. Didn't even have time to eat them for the funeral. Anyway w-"

 

"Gah, ****! What did you just say?" said Baldur, clearly completely taken aback by what Maori said. He said it in such a manor that Baldur could instinctively tell Maori wasn't kidding.

 

"Ah yes, not many Nords would know of our custom. Let's not worry about that. Anyway, my sister and I managed to flee Valenwood and we made our way to what we considered was the safest place in Tamriel to hide from the Thalmor. We were wrong. The Thalmor apparently worked a deal with some bandits and they ambushed us. They're getting paid to capture and return any Bosmer they find that fled here from Valenwood. We apparently weren't the only ones with the idea." Baldur who had gripped his throat to stop from gagging shook his head and walked back into his room and very reluctantly beckoned him to follow. Then he took a seat in a chair by the table where Narri threw his sheets. Baldur picked up the bottle of mead she knocked over and offered it to Maori, who refused. Baldur shrugged and popped the cork with his teeth, then he drank one fourth of its contents before he spoke.

 

"So, I take it that means you didn't hear about what happened in Markarth?" Maori shook his head before continuing.

 

"No, not at the time. We had no idea the Thalmor managed to weasel their way here into Skyrim of all places as well. Since they are here, then I suppose we should try our luck in Morrowind or Hammerfell. If I can rescue my sister. Which brings me to why I need you. Those bandits almost killed me and left me for dead, but they took my sister. I need your help rescuing her before they send her to the Thalmor." Baldur stood up from his chair now and finished drinking the rest of the mead.

 

"So you mean to tell me, that you want me to help you rescue your sister from a gang of bandits? Bandits who are involved with the Thalmor? Are you serious? How did you even find all this information out? And how long ago was this?" Maori closed his eyes and let out a long long sigh filled with anxiety and stress.

 

"Yes, that is what I am asking. This was a week or so ago. I had my gut slashed but it wasn't too deep. I managed to heal it myself before there was infection or too much loss of blood. I found out the info from the bandits. They thought I was dead and were talking while..." Maori still had the arrow he pulled on Baldur from earlier in his hands and he was now pressing it into his palm from anger. "...while they were all taking turns raping my sister. I want their heads. And I want the Thalmor's heads as well if they come. But the most important thing is that I save my sister and what ever is left of her mind. All I have is three hundred gold...I realize this isn't even close to the price one would need to cover a mission like this. But it's all I've got and so are you. Will you not help me? Will your nord sense of honor not lead you to my cause?" Baldur couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was always sheltered in Bruma, away from the harsh realities of life. What the mer had told him was beyond disgusting and disturbing. And it angered him to his very core.

 

"This is a bad idea. If word gets out that I interfered with Thalmor operations...."

 

"I already thought of that. The Thalmor don't know who you are and neither do most people in Skyrim. Seeing as how you're not a famous mercenary. So they shouldn't be able to track you as long as we are careful."

 

"You should know that I am rather new at this. I've never even killed a man before." This left Maori speechless for a while and wide eyed, if you could call it that with how small they were.

 

"But how are you able to fight so well?" said Maori.

 

"My father is in the Legion. He taught me a few tricks. But those were just tavern drunks. Don't be too impressed."

 

"Well, I heard you killed a frost troll. So that's something." said Maori. Baldur's face looked like he was grimacing as he scratched his head.

 

"Well....."

 

"Oh come on, you didn't kill the frost troll?" asked Maori.

 

"Well, no not exactly. My target was a fierce orc bandit leader who apparently lost her group from mutiny. She was camping up by Windhelm and when I challenged her, I noticed a troll was hiding in a pile of snow nearby. She did not notice however. So I lured her in to me and when she walked by, the frost troll reared it's ugly....everything and pounced on her. That was my first contract. She looked like a troll though. Does that count?"

 

"Oh dear Y'ffre..." said Maori as he facepalmed himself. "Still, it shows you have brains, so that's still something. Will you take the job or not? Take my hand before I change my mind, please!" Baldur looked at the Bosmer's small but rough hands, shaking as he kept his other hand on his face still from the earlier facepalm. He knew this was a stupid stupid idea and he had no idea on how to even begin with the mission, but he figured Maori would at the very least have a place to start from. And he needed something to get his mind off of Narri. Besides that, Baldur had come to Skyrim for adventure and to leave from under his father anyway. This was an adventure if he ever saw one. And it may even lead to some Thalmor killing. Then there was his chance to kill some evil bandit sons of *******. Not the greatest reasons maybe, but to a Nord it was more than enough. Truth be told, Maori had him at 'Killing Thalmor'. Baldur stared at the mer's hands for a few seconds longer before he finally took it to shake.

 

"Fine. You have a deal. So...where do we start?" asked Baldur. Maori cracked a small smile, glad to at least be getting things going even if things still seemed hopeless.

 

"Come on, we have some walking to do. I'll explain everything on the way." As Baldur and Maori made their way through the tavern, Baldur saw Narri sitting at a table nearby the door with three tankards to herself. All of them were empty. Baldur felt too guilty and his resolve wavered. Against his better judgement, Baldur pulled Narri's hair and forced her head back and gave her a long passionate kiss, the one she had been longing for from him this whole time. She didn't know that this was a break up kiss, however. Neither did Baldur truth be told. Narri watched as Baldur made his way out the door and called out to him to stop.

 

"Wait, are you coming back?" asked Narri.

 

"Yea, I'll be back soon. Promise." said Baldur. He didn't know it at the time, but he wouldn't see Narri for another thirteen years from this day. And by then he'd have already been taken.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Her: "Why certainly not my very kind sir! I'm just here to clean your bed chambers!

I couldn't ever hope to rise the bread loaf of all of these hungry eyed strangers!

I'd never fit all this bread loaf in my oven! So much work I could hardly stand!

Him: Oh my lovely argonian maid, you can do it just come use your hands,

It's rather quite simple my cute scaly dimple, in fact mine is starting to rise!

You're up for the challenge I can see it in your eyes, now come dear and come earn your prize...."

 

"Red-Snow.....shut....up." Maori was starting to lose his patience. He already explained to Baldur that happy cheery songs pissed him off and he didn't want to hear them, especially from the man he was counting on to help kill things. Baldur took it as a challenge to his skills however, sadly for Maori. Baldur would not be silenced. Not until he heard enjoyment from the little bosmer. He had sang the entire way from Falkreath all the way to the North of High Hrothgar, where they were now walking on a trail that started to now reach the north east part of the large mountainside. And to Maori's great dismay, he was still....singing.

 

Her: "Oh my what is this? What is this you've procured? Is this what I think? What I've feared?

Him: That it is, Lift's-Her-Tail, Now come drink some ale, then come sit and polish my spear,

Her: This work is too much for the hands of one maiden, to make me do all this is a crime!

All of this will take me a while, maybe hours! Him: Plenty of time my sweet....plenty of time...."

 

"RED-SNOW! SHUT...THE....****....UP! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!!!!" Maori was hopping up and down, each time raising up to Baldur's eye level before stomping down on the ground. Baldur couldn't contain himself as he held his ribs from laughter.

 

"Hahahahaha! Why so angry, mer? Surely you can't hate my singing that much?" asked Baldur, knowing full well what the answer would be.

 

"I can and I do. Y'ffre, how many gods damned songs do you know? Haven't you ran out yet?"

 

"I ran out sometime around when we passed Whiterun." Maori who had started his walk again after the first outburst stopped in his tracks.

 

"What....did....you say?" Baldur looked at him puzzlingly, not seeing what it was that he did wrong.

 

"I said I ran out sometime around Whiterun. I've been making this other stuff up as I went." Maori repeatedly slammed his forehead into the palm of his hands.

 

"I've been waiting all this damn time for you to run out, only for you to continue by making up more?"

 

"Well...yea." said Baldur. "What self respecting Bard can't make up more songs on the fly?"

 

"Just....just please shut up." said Maori in a defeated and weary tone. "We're approaching the bandit fort anyway." Baldur grabbed the little mer's shoulders and signaled him to stop. Once he did, Baldur took a seat and waited for him to do the same. They were on a steep trail, so when they sat, their bodies were tilted downwards, threatening to send them rolling any second. Baldur gave a sigh after breathing in deeply to relax his nerves.

 

"Okay, Maori. What's the plan?" Maori started scratching the bald part of his head around his orange mohawk as he thought to himself.

 

"Well, I was sorta just thinking we'd...you know. Kill them?" said Maori.

 

"Just..kill t-, that's it? You don't have a plan? You had me walk all the way here just to find out that you have no plan?" Maori stood up now which just barely put himself a head over Baldur.

 

"Well, yea! That's what I hired you for!" Baldur shook his head at him in disapproval.

 

"You don't know anything, do you? Mercs are more for bolstering armies and protecting people on their travels for coin, not going around making plans! Ugh, well this is just great."

 

"Damn it, Red-Snow, this is your land! You know it's people and its environment better than I do! You have to be the leader." Baldur sighed and cursed his luck when Maori said "leader". Leading was the last thing he wanted to do, even if it was just leading one Bosmer. Not when the failure could be blamed on himself. He made it a point not to take burdens on himself in his life, preferring to remain care free now that he could without his father looming over him.

 

"****, fine! Here's what I think. You and I pretty much look like bandits with our attire. So, why don't we try and infiltrate their group by trying to get recruited?"

 

"...Okay, I suppose that could work. Okay, lets give it a try. I don't think I like the idea of just walking up to them though." said Maori.

 

"Don't worry so much, mer. We'll be fine." Baldur gave Maori such a childlike carefree smile, that for the first time he actually thought they could pull this off. He had such a confidence about him, even while he was complaining about leading, that he wondered if it were not all just an act.

 

"Okay then, Red-Snow. Let's do this." Maori and Baldur nodded at each other confidently, then arose from their spots and marched on to the bandit fort. The fort itself was very simple looking. It had a full wall with battlements and an iron gate at the front. On the inside, there was a square building with some stone steps on the side that led to an upper separate part of the building that Baldur guessed was their leader's bed chambers. They didn't know it, but the inside of the fort was much larger, having been built mostly underground. The fort was deceptively simple. Baldur noticed the bandits on the wall, and they him. Their response was to shoot an arrow near his foot to cease his walking.

 

"That's close enough! State your business!" said an orc bandit.

 

"Me and my friend here have come to join your ranks!" said Baldur as he picked the arrow up and placed it in Maori's quiver. The orc called out and yelled for the gates to be open. Baldur and Maori stepped in to observe. First thing Baldur noticed was two nord bandits going to town in a tent by the center building in the fort. The other thing was the atmosphere of the place. It was hard for Baldur to put his finger on it, but the best way he could put it was the place had a feel of degeneracy that could actually be felt. The people here were lowlives. Not even five minutes in their fort and he could tell. Something about how they looked and spoke.

 

"The **** are you looking at, snowflake?" said another orc bandit as he made his way to the very same tent he observed earlier. Baldur ignored it and continued walking in with Maori behind him. Maori suddenly had a horrible realization that caused him to grab Baldur's arm.

 

"Psst! Red-Snow! We forgot! They might recognize my face!" Baldur quickly pulled his arm away so that no one would notice their whispering.

 

"Keep moving! Don't worry, to others, all you bosmer look the same anyway. I doubt they'll remember you."

 

"You racist son of a-" Baldur interrupted him with an elbow to what was supposed to be his gut, but ended up hitting Maori in the neck due to his height, as what appeared to be their leader approached them. The leader was a fair haired nord woman in full plated armor minus the helmet. Her weapon of choice was a warhammer. Her hair was black and her face appeared to have some age to it, late thirties, but despite that she was rather beautiful. Not at all what Baldur expected to see.

 

"Hello, I am Jenna Salted-Wounds. Leader of these men and women. I hear you wish to...join us." Jenna was sizing up the pair before her. The boy in front of her she didn't see much use for. Perhaps she would have some fun with him later on when she was bored, but as a fighter, she wasn't very sure of him. And the mer...."Haven't I seen that bosmer somewhere? Bah, they all look the same to me." she said in her head. Baldur saw her eyes wander over to Maori, and the pair both grew nervous until the woman spoke again. "What's wrong with your friend?" Jenna cast her finger to Maori who was coughing from the elbow he took to the neck. Baldur walked up to block her view of Maori.

 

"Oh, he's just got, uh, a cold. The rattles or something." Baldur boldly stepped forward and stared directly into the eyes of Jenna to distract her and keep her mind off of Maori. "My name is Baldur Red-Snow, my lady. And unlike my little elf friend here, I am both a lover...as well as a fighter. A very, very, very generous...lover..." Baldur stared intently into Jenna's eyes, and to Maori's disbelief Jenna actually started to blush as Baldur brushed his hand over the older woman's cheek. Baldur brought his face closer to her as she did the same. Suddenly, Jenna fiercely pushed Baldur away from her and started growing suspicious.

 

"Back the **** up, lover boy. I say when the screwing starts. Don't think that you can just charm your way into this gang. Make a move like that again, and I'll be wearing your member on a necklace around my neck!" Baldur was starting to grow a little nervous until he noticed that Jenna was still blushing.

 

"I don't expect any special treatment, Salted-Wounds. Me and my friend here will earn our way in if that is what is required. But..." Baldur took another step forward to Jenna, who now drew her hammer and placed it before her. Baldur put his hand on the head of it and gently pushed it out of the way. "Surely me having to earn my way in doesn't mean we can't simply have a little fun?" Baldur started slowly walking closer and closer to Jenna whose face seemed angry, but her flushed cheeks betrayed her other base feelings.

 

"Wow, Red-Snow...you pull this off and we'll be in the gang in no t-" Maori's thoughts were suddenly cut off.

 

"Jenna, wait! That one, I've seen him before! We all have! He's the wood elf we ambushed a little while back! He was traveling with our latest prisoner!" Baldur who was mere inches away from locking lips with Jenna Salted-Wounds suddenly turned three shades paler. Both he and Maori looked up to see who it was that recognized who he was.

 

"Aw shit, a bosmer!" said both Baldur and Maori. "Run!"

 

"Close the gates! Don't let them get away!" said Jenna, who was still blushing bright red, but now from the embarrassment being played in front of her men. The bandits let out a war horn blow to alert the fort, but Baldur and Maori were already out of there before they could surround them and before the gates could lock on them. Baldur and Maori ran further ahead up the trail to get away, dodging arrows from behind as they did. While panting and breathing heavily,

 

Baldur said, "Well, look on the bright side! At least we know how many men they have!" Maori raised an eyebrow and looked behind them to see about seventy men running after them. He regretted doing so.

 

"DAMMIT RED-S-"

 

"Shut it, and keep running! Hey, lets go over there!" Baldur kept running and darted to the right through the woods. Baldur got slapped by a few low hanging branches a few times while Maori expertly ran through like he had been living in the woods his whole life. Mainly because he had been living in the woods his whole life. Baldur after about ten minutes of running finally stopped to take a breather and rest his legs, as did Maori. "You think we lost them?" As if on cue, an arrow whizzed right past Baldur's shoulder from behind them and they were greeted with the sounds of angry bandits from behind once more. Baldur and Maori cursed simultaneously and kept on running until they heard the familiar sounds of rushing water. "Great! Keep going Maori! We'll lose them in the...in the..." When Baldur and Maori ran out of the woods, their eyes were greeted with a beautiful, yet treacherous sight. A rather large waterfall with a cliff that had a large tree hanging over the drop horizontally from one end to the other. Maori shook his head vigorously showing his refusal.

 

"No. No, no, no. We are NOT crossing that tree!"

 

"Maori, we don't have a choice, they're coming!" Without further ado, Baldur grabbed Maori's arm and pulled him towards the makeshift bridge and slowly began their crossing. At first, they started walking with their hands extended out for balance, but Maori and Baldur soon realized the tree was wide enough to walk normally, and Maori grew even more comfortable since it was on a tree. "See Maori? This ain't so bad."

 

"Hey! There they are!" Suddenly the group of bandits came bursting out of the woods behind them......and in front of them. The bandits had groups on both sides of the cliff and the others apparently heard all the commotion on top of the war horn, and immediately made their way over. The two quickly drew their weapons, Maori cursing all the while.

 

"******* Red-Snow, just shut the hell up, please! Fate loves making you a liar it seems." The bandits wasted no time in charging the two on the tree. Maori drew three arrows at a time and made sure to pick off all the bandits with bows first. There was only a handful, so he took them out rather quickly. Baldur was fighting with a bald imperial man in scaled armor like himself. This was the first real battle Baldur had been in. The Imperial charged Baldur with a sword and shield in an attempt to knock him right off the tree, but Baldur simply sidestepped him and kicked to his left in the Imperial's side, sending him falling down towards the waterfall. His screams sent shivers down Baldur's spine the entire time until finally he heard them no more. He didn't have time to wonder if the man was dead or not, however.

 

Two bandits, this time an orc and a wood elf rushed him. The wood elf had a sword and shield, while the orc carried a warhammer. More bandits followed behind them as well, but Baldur quickly dispatched the first two by using his axe to pull down the Bosmer's shield and impale him through the neck, then he used the Bosmer's body to block a hammer swing. He quickly followed up with a jab to the orc's eye with his blade before booting him off the log. Maori was running out of arrows now, and all he had left was two in his hands. Baldur and Maori fought back to back as the bandits closed in from both sides. A nord man in fur armor charged Maori with a battle axe, but Maori charged him as well.

 

The nord made a mighty swing, but Maori rolled under it. When he did, Maori sent one of the arrows in his hand into the nord's knee, but before he could react to the pain, he yanked it back out and sent the same arrow through his eye. Baldur was starting to feel a bit sick now from killing his first, second, third, fourth and fifth man so suddenly and so quickly. The smell of shit and various bits of gore on his blade was getting to him after he impaled a nord bandit that left his guard open when he parried his longsword. But the wave of bandits just kept coming, giving him no time to worry about having killed someone.

 

Maori saw that he missed an archer, and ducked at the last second when he launched an arrow at him, only to hear Baldur's screams as the arrow lodged iself in his arm where his armor was exposed. Maori quickly yanked out the arrow, causing Baldur to cry out once again, then Maori notched the arrow to his bow and expertly shot the arrow right back at the attacker, sending it right into the Imperial bandit's throat. Baldur was now struggling with an orc axe wielder when he called back to Maori.

 

"We can't last much longer, elf! Time for plan B!"

 

"What the hell is plan B?" Baldur who's left eye was shut from the sting of sweat let out a nervous laugh.

 

"Don't ask. It'll make it easier."

 

"Wha, AHHHHHHHHHH!" Baldur quickly kicked Maori off the log into the water below, hoping for the best from the gods and that their luck would pull through. Once he did, Baldur ducked under the orc's axe swing to his head while simultaneously sheathing his weapons. Once he did, Baldur bolted forward and grabbed the orc in a bear hug, staring into his fierce eyes as he said "Victory...or Sovngarde!" With that, Baldur forced the orc to jump down below into the watery grave with him, exchanging headbutts and punches the whole way down as they went.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

"Were...am-" Maori's words were interrupted with fits of coughing up water. When his lungs were fully cleared and he opened his eyes, his vision was met with a pool of blood and Baldur's big gigantic body, in relation to Maori that is, laying half submerged in water on the side of the stream they drifted into from the river up ahead and the waterfall. Maori cursed and flipped Baldur over, trying to see what was causing the bleeding. Luckily, He saw no broken bones or gashes from rocks or anything from within the water. All he had was the hole in his right arm from the arrow that hit him earlier. The blood loss he had was rather scant, for an arrow wound. The rest of the blood was coming from a nearby orc not to far away from him. His wounds weren't from the fall either. Looking at his face, Maori could see that the orc's left cheek was chewed off, and his eyes were gouged..."Holy Molag's ball, and he called me a cannibal. Well...am, but...never mind."

 

Maori checked Red-Snow's wound and cast a decent healing spell over it and the rest of his body. After five minutes or so, eventually the wound was fully closed. Shortly after, Baldur came to as well. He too woke up with a fit of coughing as he started to recover. Seeing Maori's small familiar figure come into focus before him and the noon sun up high blazing in his face, Baldur squinted his eyes and said, "Am I dead? What's an elf doing in Sovngarde?" Maori was about to laugh until he remembered that they failed. "Get up, Red-Snow. We still have work t-".

 

"Behind you! There's *cough* there's still..." Maori acted quickly at Baldur's words and drew Baldur's axe off his belt. When he looked behind him, he saw that the Imperial man Baldur kicked off the log had managed to survive after all and was now charging Maori with a longsword. The attack was short lived, however as Maori ended his life quickly by throwing Baldur's axe directly into his cranium. Maori looked around and saw a few more bodies in the water with movement. Baldur could hear their groans as he lay. "I'll finish off the rest." said Maori.

 

Baldur didn't hear him however, still feeling the effects of his adrenaline and battle rush from killing for the first time. Baldur scurried forward and yanked out his axe from the Imperial and buried it into the brain of another orc with an arrow in his shoulder. Baldur was grunting in anger as he went madly hacking and slashing at the injured men, occasionally tripping as he went, but not letting himself relent in his temporary blood crazed state. Maori stood by and watched, reminiscing over his first time. It was interesting for him to see how it affected a Nord in comparison to himself. His reaction was guilt, and he didn't want to do it again unless he had to. At first. Baldur's was completely different. Whether or not the son of a bitch felt guilty or not, he seemed to have liked the feeling it gave him, because he clearly wanted more. "Good, because there's more to be had Red-Snow. Much more."

 

Maori watched for a few more minutes, occasionally looking around to see if the bandits would come to follow them, but they did not. It seems that they figured them dead and went back to their fort. Baldur was now punching the life out of a nord instead of finishing him off with his axe. To most people it would have been a savage sight. To Maori however, it was beautiful. It was the birth of a warrior. Finally, the man ceased his breathing and a blood soaked Baldur extended his arms out with his fists clenched while on his knees over the body. Then he let out a long powerful battlecry that was so loud, it sent birds in a nearby tree scattering. It was amazing to Maori that someone so cheery and care free could be so fierce. "So this is a nord, huh? Heh. Impressive."

 

***

 

The sun had now long since left as the unlikely pair of warriors sat by the fire that they erected. Baldur was face deep in some venison that Maori had hunted. Maori suggested that they just eat one of the bodies that was in the water, since Baldur already got them started on the orc. When Baldur's face started matching said orc's complexion, Maori got his answer. Baldur managed to recover some mead bottles from the water as well that he lost from his pack, along with most of his gold. The gold didn't get to him, however. There would always be gold for people like him. Maori gladly took up his offer for mead this time, wishing to forget about what the bandits may be doing now that they knew he had come for his sister. The thought made his chest burn and his stomach twist from the sickening image and memories from the ambush. He wouldn't let tears form in his eyes, however. He would not let his fire be extinguished by tears of self pity. Baldur noticed his expression of anguish, and looked into the fire while smiling.

 

"There once was an old tradition, in the land of men so pale,

The Nords used to go off hunting the great beasts called Snow Whales,

These creatures were here in Skyrim, since the return of man,

Procuring all that meat and blubber was the nord men's plan,

The Snow Whales were so carefree, singing their magic tones,

Hopping round from cloud to cloud up in their cloudy throne!

Oh, but the men of the north had come up, climbing mountains so high,

With spears, ropes and much bravery to bring snow whales from the sky,

But the snow whales had a weapon that they casted from the clouds,

From blow holes they spat joy-snow that covered them like a shroud,

The Nord men became goofy, laughing so hard they held their sides,

They laughed so hard they lost their grip and fell down the mountainside!

This beget more laughing, and camaraderie from the men,

But when the joy-snow faded, their conviction was times ten!

Lining shields with wasabi, or making offensive jokes,

About each other's sons or giving someone's wife a poke!

With burning eyes they'd stay angry to make sure they prevail,

"Tonight our women get their paints and we feast on Snow Whale!"

But these measures all had failed them, from mountains they fell low,

For nothing matched the potency of the Snow Whale's joy-snow,

The Snow Whales were so mighty, a fact they'd clearly shown,

The nords all said, "Lesson learned. Lets leave the whales alone!"

 

Perhaps it was the mead that did it, but Baldur finally got Maori to actually laugh from his singing. Maori was even more surprised than Baldur was.

 

"Hahahaha! Oh, that's good! That's real good, hahaha! Oh man, nothing cheers me up more than the image of a bunch of surly nord warriors falling off the side of a mountain! Hahaha!" Baldur despite the comment on Nords couldn't help but laugh at the image himself.

 

"Yes, well serves them right for trying to kill such cute giant creatures." said Baldur.

 

"Wait, how do you know they're cute?" asked Maori.

 

"Duh, because I've seen one before!" said Baldur as he pulled Maori to him and gave him a noogi." Maori pushed him off and fixed his mohawk back and flattened it out.

 

"Yea...right. I'll believe that wh-"

 

"When whales fly?" said Baldur, mockingly.

 

"As a matter of fact yes, Red-Snow. I've seen some crazy things in Valenwood, but nothing that would make me think that a flying whale exists. You nords and your crazy stories..."

 

"You bosmer and your child-like stature!" said Baldur jokingly. Baldur then stood on his knees, and pretended to be a fellow bosmer. When he spoke as an elf, he used a childlike squeaky voice to mock them. Speaking to Maori, Baldur said "So a bosmer walks up to a nord woman with his pal, right? The first bosmer says, Hey, I want to bed someone. Is this nord woman good looking? Then the bosmer's friend says I don't know, I'll get back to you on that once I'm tall enough to see past her breasts!"

 

"Oh ha, ha Red-Snow. Very funny. Now how about I do a little impression?" asked Maori.

 

"Let's hear it elf." said Baldur.

 

"I pick stuff up and put them daown." said Maori in a heavy Eastern Skyrim accent. Baldur grew confused and scratched his head.

 

"I don't g-"

 

"I pick stuff up and put them daown!" Maori outstretched his arms and now mimicked Baldur's battlecry from earlier, greatly exaggerating it as he did.

 

"Ok, I ge-" Maori quickly interrupted Baldur with his phrase once more.

 

"I pick stuff up and put the daown!" Baldur now stood up from his spot and grabbed Maori, lifting him over his head as he walked back towards the creek.

 

"I pick stuff up...." said Baldur. Maori started kicking and yelling as Baldur held him up like a child.

 

"Wait, Baldur I was just kidding! Wait!"

 

"Hehehe, and put them daown!" Baldur threw Maori face first into the water and was greeted with a loud splash and angry shouts as he kicked around in the water trying to come up for breath.

 

"Ah, screw you Red-Snow!"

 

"Ahahahaha! What can I say? I pick stuff up and put them daown!" Baldur kept on laughing, especially when the little mer came out of the water and shook himself like a dog.

 

"Ok, Baldur that's enough joking. It's time for us to talk business." Baldur gave a sigh as he finally overcame his fits of laughter and his face straightened out.

 

"Yes, we need to find another way to save your sister. Plan A, which by the way would have worked, is now a no go. But that doesn't mean that it still can't work. We just need to reapply it elsewhere..." Maori was sitting by the fire now, hitting the side of his tilted head to get the water out of his ears.

 

"What are you saying, Red-Snow?"

 

"I'm saying that we take the same plan and try it with another bandit gang. Except this time, we work our way to the top and pit both sides against each other. We'll have them fight out a little bandit war, and in the confusion, we go and snag your sister!" Maori started scratching his head, deep in thought. He couldn't think of any other ideas, but that didn't mean this was the best course of action.

 

"I don't know, Red-Snow. You sure this will work?"

 

"Not at all, Maori, but it almost did the first time. Luckily the leader was female, hehehe. As long as you can tell me that you weren't ambushed by any other nearby bandit gangs, I don't see why not."

 

"How do you do that anyway? Sway women like that?" said Maori.

 

"Hmm...." Baldur started rubbing his chin as he looked into the fire. "Tell you what. You teach me how to throw an axe, and I'll teach you how to sway women. Or, at least I'll try." Maori's eyebrow shot up at the proposition.

 

"You don't know how to throw an axe? That's a bit surprising seeing how you handle yours. It comes with the style of wielding two weapons to be able to throw them. Makes you more unpredictable."

 

"Then it's a deal then." Baldur stuck out his hand for Maori to shake.

 

"Deal, Red-Snow."

  • Like 1

"Even the hardest dick must go flaccid." -Colonelkillabee

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Adventures of Baldur

By Baldur Red-Snow

Chapters 5-8

 

Chapter 5

 

"Okay, Red-Snow, pay attention." Baldur and Maori had just started his axe throwing training at the crack of dawn. Baldur was the first to wake up, to Maori's surprise. He had him figured for a late sleeper, which he was. Baldur was simply too excited to learn a new combat skill to let the mer stay asleep. Maori at first was in a sour mood because he spent all night making new arrows for himself since he lost most during the fight, and he only had a few hours of sleep. He was also fresh out of steel arrowheads and he was always anxious when he was out of metal arrowheads.

 

Maori picked a wide and large tree big enough for him to fire some arrows in a horizontal line so that he could hold a small but thick log up on the tree for target practice. Baldur was sitting criss crossed on the ground, ready to absorb everything that Maori had to say. Besides in battle, this was the most serious that Maori had ever seen Baldur. "First, lets take a look at the weapon in question. This of course is your steel axe. While I am not proficient or even decent in the actual use of this weapon, throwing and shooting things is my forte, therefore I do know a little bit about it. But first, lets cover a few basics. First question. What is one of the most important aspects of fighting an opponent when using a close quarters weapon?" Baldur's mind had flashed back to the training lessons his father practically drilled into his mind on a daily basis. One of the very first things he had him do before he even tried to pick up a weapon was to dodge and avoid his swings, but also how to position himself for a perfect spot to counter.

 

At the memory of this, Baldur said "Distance. It's different with every weapon, but distance is one of the most basic aspects of combat one must consider." Maori nodded once in approval.

 

"Correct. I actually should have just said combat in general, but yes. Distance. Archers also have to consider distance obviously and among other things. But all weapons, even close quarter weapons must be used with distance in mind. Now, the reason I bring this up is because distance is very important when throwing an axe, for various reasons. Reason one is simple. Too close, don't throw. Why? Because you can just hit the guy instead of course. Don't do so unless for some reason you can't move. Too far, don't throw. Not unless you have a really good reason to try, but unless you master this skill, don't bother. You'll either miss and lose a perfectly good axe in battle and be killed, or you may knock him unconscious, which is good still, but the chances of it happening aren't good. More than likely you'll just end up pissing them off or embarrassing yourself. Or both. In any event you need to be at an appropriate distance from a target before you can even consider throwing your weapon.

 

Because otherwise it won't kill him and you'll be short a weapon. The other reason is retrieval. Unlike your axe, I have multiple arrows. Retrieving my arrows not only isn't necessary, it also is impractical to attempt. Your axe however won't be getting thrown very far if you're smart, and you can quickly walk up to the target and get it back. If you're especially skilled, you can throw the axe at a charging target and make their body fall back while they're running. This will make them slide to you on their backs, making retrieval a lot easier. If you can't reasonably retrieve your axe, don't throw it unless you carry axes on you especially for throwing. Now that we're done with most of the common sense stuff, lets get into the actual throwing."

 

Maori signaled for Baldur to stand up next to him. Maori was holding his steel axe with the flat of his hand resting under the axe head and his other hand holding the handle. Baldur stayed silent, watching the mer and simply listening, just as he did his father during combat instruction. "Ok, first thing I'll say is this axe isn't the kind of axe one would want to throw for beginners, and as such you'll have some difficulty with it for a while. Reason being is the blade is curved instead of straight like a simple iron axe for instance, not the war ones. Those are curved too. But anyway, can you tell me why this would be an issue?" Baldur remembered once again his father's training, and he told him the different strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of blades.

 

"Curved blades don't get stuck in bone as easy as straight blades. I assume the reason this is bad for throwing an axe is because it needs to stick in it's target to do more damage. Otherwise it will just slide off." Maori once again nodded his head in approval.

 

"Correct Red-Snow. However, this is only the case for beginners. Because beginners are taught to throw soft, so to speak. Meaning they let the weight of the axe drive it into your target rather than the strength behind the throw. Strangely enough, a weakness of this axe due to the way it was crafted will actually help here in your training. It's too top heavy and that shouldn't be, but this will help overcome the curved edge and help drive it in. Another issue that it would have had was that it was secured by a circular stop at the top, which in throwing would be dangerous, as the head would come off at any time. But this axehead is bolted on as well. Also, I see now that the forger of this weapon was at least smart enough not to give you a fat bevel. If you had a curved blade and a fat bevel, then you wouldn't get very far with throwing this weapon because it would almost never stick. But it is very sharp, and has just the right amount of width, almost to being thin. Good. Now, pay attention to how I throw, but pay more attention to my legs."

 

Baldur watched as Maori tapped his right leg, signaling that Baldur should watch that. Maori was right handed clearly as that was the hand he held the axe. He positioned his leg so that the right leg was ahead, and the left leg, the non dominant one, was in the back. "Ok, nord. Again with distance. The longer the handle, the longer it will take to turn in the air. That means the longer the handle, the further you need to be from your target to throw it at him. This is a pretty decent lengthed axe, so you can throw this one further, but it's a tad more tricky to stick consistently. Point the axe at your intended target, pull your arm back, then throw." Maori very easily launched the weapon from his grasp and buried the axe in the log which made a dull satisfying thunk as it hit. "See? simple. The rest is practice. You don't need to put a lot of strength into the throw, just let the momentum from the axe head do the work. Eventually you can put strength in, but only after you mastered the basics. Otherwise the axehead will hit the target in wonky ways. Also, axes are somewhat heavy, so aim up a bit at your intended target, especially if it is further away. Here, try it."

 

Baldur was excited to try, but he took a deep breath to calm his nerves so that he could perform efficiently. Maori walked over and grabbed the axe, but it took him a few tries to yank it out the wood. After Maori gave him the axe, Baldur got into position and placed his legs appropriately and pointed the axe at the log. Finally, Baldur launched the weapon, but when he did, he missed the log and the axe hit the tree and fell down to Nirn. Before Maori could say anything, Baldur ran to get the axe and try again. This time, the axe hit the target, but he hit the log with the top of the axe head. "When that happens, Baldur, it means that you are too far away. Try again."

 

Baldur did as he was told without replying and Maori thought to himself next time he wants to shut Baldur's singing up, he'd just get him training again. Baldur once again gave it another shot, and this time the axe did find its target, and it even stuck in the wood pretty good. "Good job, Red-Snow, good job! Here, follow me." Baldur nodded and walked his way to the log with Maori. "Ok, you hit your target, but you see how the handle is touching the log? It shouldn't be. The handle should be parallel from the target. The fact that it is not means that you were too close this time. Don't worry, as a beginner, the fact that you're at least hitting the target means you are on the fast track to learning this skill. You just need to keep practicing. When you can hit still targets consistently and bury the axe in it effectively, then we'll go on to moving targets. Baldur let out an excited grin, ready to start trying to master this part of axe throwing so that he could move on.

 

"Okay, Maori. Thank you for the instruction. I'll keep practicing." As Maori watched Baldur throw his axe for a handful of hours, eventually Maori spoke up once he saw Baldur was getting good enough to talk to while he practiced. "So, nord. How do you do it?" Baldur looked at the mer in puzzlement briefly before launching his axe at the log again...he missed.

 

"Damn! Do what now?"

 

"You know. Sway women?" said Maori. Baldur let out a small chuckle before he explained, raising his voice as he walked away to get his weapon when he needed to.

 

"It's not very hard actually Maori. It's rather simple. It's all about confidence. All you gotta do is walk around like your name is Ysgramor and that no one can beat you. That comes naturally with knowing how to fight, so you shouldn't have much trouble with that. Now, being in Skyrim, a lot of men already do that. So you have to find a way to make your confidence stick out. Now, some men do that by boasting their skill in war or in bed. I do it by the exact opposite. Not boasting." Maori let out a laugh from the irony.

 

"Not boasting? Mr. "Don't challenge me I'm Baldur Red-Snow"?"

 

"That was after I won a fight. You get into a fight and win, you can boast all you want, and should. Because you earned it and you proved you can back up your boasting. Before that though, if you don't boast and let your body language do the talking, then the rest is easy. Women don't like loud mouths. Also, do the talking with your eyes. Direct eye contact and a subtle smile says a book more than words ever will. It not only tells her what you want, but it also tells her what she wants. Or rather her body does when she sees your look. It also doesn't hurt to look somewhat good, but you're a very fit person, and your warpaint makes you look fierce. You already have a wave of confidence about you. The rest is just luck and some common sense in observation. And it wouldn't kill you to smile."

 

"That's it?" said Maori.

 

"That's it. For instance with Salted-Wounds, I could tell that with her being an older gal, most younger men are probably a bit intimidated by her, not to mention she was a bandit leader and her name was Salted-Wounds for Talos's sake. So a younger guy like myself not only approaching her, but approaching her without fear, directly in her eyes and not being timid about what it was I wanted must have been a refreshing change of pace from what she was used to. She also saw that as a challenge to her authority, which is why she pulled her weapon out on me, but in the end she would have relented. Women aren't much different from men. They want sex just as much as we do. If an attractive woman, or even just a decent woman came looking at you directly in the eye with a hungry stare, would you turn down an approach from her?" Maori watched as Baldur stuck his axe in the log almost to perfection this time as he pictured the situation, and he had to admit what Baldur said made sense.

 

"No, Red-Snow I suppose I wouldn't, although if I was leading men like that bandit leader, I sure wouldn't let my men see me getting swayed like that."

 

"Well, she was a special case. Did you see the rabble that was under her command? I don't mean to brag, but I'm pretty sure I was leagues above the ugly sons of ******* she lead. Imagine if you lead a group of nothing but orcs, and suddenly a normal looking woman comes in, nothing special. I guarantee you'll be drooling over her like she was the last woman on Nirn, especially if you've been stuck with that group for a while and she comes on to you. Now I'm no woman, but if I was I'm sure I'd be much better than a 'normal looking woman'." Maori let out good natured laugh which once again surprised himself. Despite everything, this nord had managed to take his mind off of his predicament and also take away his depression. A part of him hated himself for it because his sister was suffering while he was out here talking about women and laughing, but he knew he had to keep his head on if he was going to save her.

 

"Ok Red-Snow, that's enough practice for today. We need to get moving. There's another group of bandits about a days walk away from here up north. We're going to fort Fellhammer, south of Dawnstar. We can try our luck there." Baldur threw his axe into the log one last time before he turned to Maori and nodded.

 

"Got it. Hey, it's gonna be a bit nippy up there. You're kinda under dressed. Sure you can handle it? You're not a nord, so..."

 

"I can handle anything you can, Red-Snow. Man I can't wait! I've been dying to see some snow ever since I got here!" Baldur's mouth almost dropped at the response, but he kept it shut. He couldn't wait to see the look on his face once his wish came true. Hehehe, you're in for a world of hurt if you haven't even seen snow before, my mer friend. A world of hurt....

 

***********

 

And as Baldur predicted, Maori was in a world of hurt. Baldur laughed the entire way through the cold of Northern Skyrim, watching Maori shake and rattle. Baldur was cold himself, but his armor had furs under it and of course his nord blood helped. On their way to the bandit fort, Maori and Baldur had spotted a Sabre Cat near the road they were taking. He was busy eating the remains of a fresh kill, a deer. Baldur put a hand over Maori's chest and had them back up and hide behind a tree. "Okay, we got lucky. That is a frost Sabre Cat. Those things usually don't show themselves until they're ready to pounce on you and attack. Sneaky as hell. This time, we have the jump on it. So, here's...wait, what are you doing?"

 

"Fur...warmth...m-must...h-h-have..." Maori had had enough of the cold. Baldur may have thought it was hilarious, but if this went on any longer, Maori was going to freeze to death, especially if the wind picked up. He couldn't go on dressed the way he was, especially with no shoes and being as small as he was. Baldur was about to call to him and tell him to get his ass back so they could plan, but Maori shushed him and told him to stand back with a gesture of his hand. Before Baldur could say anything else, a yellowish green light emitted from Maori's body and enveloped the Sabre Cat. Baldur watched in amazement as the Sabre Cat not only didn't attack Maori, but it let him touch it! Maori wasted no time in shoving a steel dagger he had through the beast's head. After it fell, Maori immediately worked to skin the cat for its fur while Baldur stood speechless.

 

"How the hell did you do that, Maori?" Maori looked back at him briefly before looking back at his work.

 

"I'm a Bosmer. We can command animals for a time. Only once a day though. Just about." Baldur was still wide eyed at the sight of the dead sabre cat and from the fresh memory of how easily Maori disposed of the creature.

 

"That's...quite the talent." Once Maori was finally done, he wrapped the large drape of fur over himself, with the cat's head resting over his skull, as if the thing had pounced him from behind. He used its back paws to wrap around his feet as some poorly crafted shoes. The wind did in fact begin to pick up, which made it impractical for Baldur to sing with snow flying in his face and the wind howling so loudly, to Maori's great pleasure. Eventually the two finally found the fort they were looking for, but they decided to take a rest nearby. Baldur found some wood and Maori cast a weak gout of fire from his hands. They would stay there for a little while before they headed into the fort. There wasn't really anywhere good for shelter and neither of them felt safe enough to sleep in that spot. They'd just stay there to warm up for a while before trying their luck. Baldur took the opportunity to practice throwing his axe some more at a tree. He had the targeting down well enough. It was matching the distance up that was giving him some trouble. "So Maori, can I really only effectively throw an axe at a particular distance?"

 

"For now? Yes. Until you get better." Maori was crouched by the fire with his eyes closed, deep in thought to forget about the cold. Every once in a while he'd glance over at Baldur and curse under his breath when he saw how considerably less he was affected by the cold. Before long, Maori grew tired of hearing the thunk of wood on metal and decided to ask a question that had been bugging him. "So, nord. I've been meaning to ask. Those bandits back there. That was the first time you've killed right?" Baldur hesitated to answer for a few seconds but quickly answered before throwing his axe into the tree once again.

 

"Yup. First time." said Baldur. Maori waited for a while, expecting him to say something, but he never did.

 

"So that's it?" Baldur sheathed his axe after retrieving it and sat down by the fire.

 

"That's it, Maori."

 

"So you don't feel anything different? Anything at all?" Maori knew that nords were raised to love battle, but he didn't buy that Baldur wasn't somehow affected by it. Everyone was.

 

"What do you want me to say eh? I killed them before they killed me. I dunno though. For whatever reason I feel...guilt. Or something. I don't know what it is. They were low lives. Some of those men I killed could have been with...you know. So I should feel good. I did feel good. When I lost myself in the water. I don't know what that was, but it felt...good. And a bit frightening. At first it was horrible. No one ever told me how messy killing was. Not just blood but the smell of their piss and shit when they die afterwards. The dung mixed with blood on your blade if you impale them in their gut in the right place. It's disgusting. But the feel of their life slipping away.

 

The feeling you get knowing you did it...the adrenaline...the power...it's a rush. The thing that gets to me the most though...is how easy it is. I thought I'd hesitate, or freeze up. I heard stories about people doing that in battle, but it was so easy. Like squishing a bug. That may be the most frightening part about it. And the most thrilling. The only time I felt so alive is during sex. But this made me feel even more alive. Maybe that's why I went into a frenzy. When I woke up in the stream I thought I was dead. Finishing off those bandits gave me the rush again and I knew I wasn't." Maori had closed his eyes again as Baldur spoke, picturing the first time he had killed another person.

 

"That's an interesting way to put it, Baldur. Better than how I would have explained it. But then again, you're a bard. Putting feelings and emotions to words must come naturally to you. First time I killed someone wasn't quite as dramatic. Thalmor soldier, arrow to the eye. The feeling was there, but it took a while to build up. It's a whole different feeling when you kill a person up close." The two warriors stayed quiet for some time after that, both keeping their thoughts to themselves as they rested by the fire. Maori eventually broke the silence once more, not being used to Baldur being so quiet and strangely finding himself wanting him to speak or sing, or something. He could tell the thought of his first kills affected him a little more than he wanted to admit. Maori guessed it was the pleasure he got from it more than anything.

 

It was one thing to be raised to like killing. It was another to actually do it. As Baldur said. Killing was messy and not at all what people said it would be. In a lot of ways it was both better and worse. That was the most confusing part about it. That something that could feel so wrong could also feel so right. Maori laughed when he remembered how Baldur compared the feeling to sex. In a weird twisted way, he was right. That sense of feeling dirty and good at the same time. That was killing in a nutshell, except there of course was no feeling of guilt. At least for Maori. If he said this to Baldur, he would agree. After a few more hours, the bleakness of the white desert started to grow a bit lighter, and Baldur figured it was morning now. It was hard to tell, as the clouds completely covered the sun, however.

 

"Alright, Maori. This plan isn't really much of a plan, but its all we've got. First, we need to become members of this bandit gang. Then we go from there. Ready?"

 

"Ready to get my ass in doors. Let's go, Baldur."

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

"Okay, Red-Snow. This has to work. Anything we gotta do, we do. Okay?" Maori was getting more and more nervous as they approached the ravaged looking fort before them. Baldur wasn't looking forward to the approach himself. Mixing with the lowest of what Skyrim had to offer wasn't how he planned on spending his time in his homeland beyond sticking a sword in them. But they needed men, and the only way to get them was to try climbing to the top of the pile of shit that was Skyrim's bandits.

 

"Yea, I got it Maori. The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can go back to Falkreath or elsewhere. And the sooner you can go on to greener pastures." Maori looked at Baldur's face and saw the conviction in his eyes. He was readying himself, as was Maori. For what though, they weren't sure. The unlikely duo finally made their approach to the fort and its shaggy walls. To their left was a pile of rubble covered in snow that you could walk over to get past the walls. Directly in front of them was an archway that would normally have a gate, but for some reason it was missing. Inside, Baldur and Maori could see the gang of bandits. It wasn't as many as the crew of bandits they were looking to attack, but it would have to do. Before they moved in, they were of course stopped by a line of archers on the walls ready to pincushion them before they took another step. As they took aim, a set of sharpened logs tied together to make a trap rose up before the entrance from some bandits above pulling on it with rope. It was hidden by the snow, and would have ended anyone who tried getting in without consent. Baldur took note of this, as it meant whoever was their leader wasn't stupid.

 

"Down the trap!" said a voice from inside. It was a male, nord Baldur guessed.

 

Maori elbowed Baldur in his side and said, "Hey, think you can get him into bed, eh?"

 

"Shut up, Maori."

 

"Hey, you did agree to do anything...." Before Baldur could reply, the trap dropped and out walked what Baldur assumed was the leader. He was wearing a full set of steel armor and a steel helmet without the horns and chainmail on it to guard the neck. The man had piercing blue eyes and had thick gaunt features that helped show that he was a well muscled man under all the steel. He was the same height as Baldur, but he was in his forties and appeared larger. Which wasn't just because of the armor. He had a look on him that showed he was a killer. And an intelligent one. Both Baldur and Maori had pits in their stomachs. This would be harder than they thought. The nord man before them carried a steel battle axe with him that he was using now to lean on with his hands on the pommel and the axe head on the ground. He was sizing the pair up before he addressed them.

 

"What do you two want?" said the nord.

 

"We wish to join your group. I am Baldur. This is Maori." The bandit leader continued his pattern of silence. The wind started to pick up, and its mournful whistle only added to the pair's unease. They would have sweated if it were not for the cold. Their faces however remained hard and showed no unease. After what felt like forever, the nord finally spoke.

 

"We're full. Get out." The nord turned to walk away, but Baldur called out to him, which made him stop.

 

"Wait a second, what do you mean you're full? Since when can you have too many men? You only seem to have a score and a half of men anyway."

 

"I only let in people I think I can trust. Or rather, people I know what to expect from. You two, you don't look like bandits. You look suspicious."

 

"Well, you're right about me. I'm not a bandit. I'm a mercenary looking to become a bandit. As is my friend. The Black Mongrels have started taking up all our business. Let us prove ourselves." said Baldur. The man's back was still turned, and he paused once gain for a while. He had heard of the Balck Mongrels, and it was true that they were growing, setting up shop around Skyrim. Eventually, the man started to walk back towards the inside of the fort, carrying his axe in his left hand, giving no further answer. "Hey, are we in or what? Hey!"

 

"You're in. Follow me." When the nord said this, the bandits on the walls withdrew their arrows and started to walk back to their patrols. Baldur looked at Maori, and shrugged, then followed the nord inside.

 

"What do think? We're in the gang? Just like that?" said Maori.

 

"I...guess so? I dunno. The man seems smart. I don't know if it will be that easy or not." Baldur and Maori kept following the man until finally they reached the center of the fortification, and the nord stopped walking, then turned to face them. He still appeared to be sizing them up, staring at them suspiciously. Baldur and Maori kept quiet, waiting to see what he'd do.

 

"From the looks of you, I can see that you're tough. That sabrecat on the mer is an obvious fresh kill. But you need to be more than tough to be a bandit. You need to be ruthless and have no compassion. Bring in the most recent prisoner!" The nord had a kind of voice that carried in the air. He didn't need a war horn or anything to get the men's attention. At his command, two men left and went inside the fort's inner quarters. After a few minutes they came back out with a woman in a cloak. It was a nord woman with wild looking black hair that had leaves and some slightly melted snow in it as well. She was struggling with the two men as they pulled her towards their leader and Baldur, which revealed that she was naked under her cloak. One of the men slapped her with his back hand which sent blood from her mouth to the ground.

 

Afterwards she stopped struggling, and the two dragged her over, leaving a trail in the snow behind her. "Set her down next to this nord, here." Baldur saw her nakedness and his face flashed with anger for a flat second. A flat second that the bandit leader did not miss. "Kill her." the nord leader said colder than the air around them. There was no emotion in it whatsoever. Baldur froze right where he stood. There was another awkward silence as the nord leader watched him. Maori was getting worried and wanted to say something, but he knew he couldn't or else risk further suspicion. "I said, kill her. This one is destined for a worse fate anyway if you don't." At this, the two men, one an orc, the other a nord both started to chuckle at this. The orc started to rub at his crotch as he eyed the girl. The nord woman's face went fierce, and she spat blood at his feet.

 

"Ooh, hehe. I like the fighters..." said the orc. Baldur had a hand on his axe, but quickly removed it.

 

"What's wrong? Too much, boy? This is what being a bandit is. If you can't even end this girl's life, then you don't belong here. Now quit wasting my time and kill her. Now." Baldur's stomach felt like something was burning through it, and his mouth went dry, but somehow he managed to make himself pull out his weapons. Baldur placed his sword under the woman's chin and lifted her face. The woman was crying, but smiling as well. Baldur stared at his hands which started to shake, but he quickly stilled them. This time despite the cold, he did sweat. Maori was watching him wide eyed under his makeshift sabercat hood, thanking Y'ffre that it wasn't him who had to soil his hands this day. Baldur's cold sweat started to drip down his spine right along the cold chill that fell with it. Baldur's eyes were fixed on the woman, but they were out of focus. They had to be, or he never could have gone through with it. This is for her own good. It's either this or she suffers the same fate as Maori's sister.After a few seconds Baldur finally placed his weapons over her shoulders with his arms criss-crossed to deliver the blow.

 

"Come on, coward. Do it. Send me to Sovngarde. Do it...DO IT. DO IT! D-"

 

"Rrrrahhh!" Baldur finally forced himself to act, envisioning his blood frenzy from earlier to help. The woman's head soared up from her body, then fell near Baldur's feet, looking up at him with those sorrowful blue eyes of hers. He stared at it for a while, not registering what it was that he just did. Finally the act caught up to him and his delayed reactions hit him like a mammoth. Baldur couldn't hold in his food, and yacked as he fell to his knees and hands. The woman's blood came forward, soaking the snow beneath him as tears fell from his eyes and his body started to-

 

"I SAID KILL HER!"

 

"Huh?" Baldur looked around and realized that he was daydreaming while his vision was unfocused. His sword was still resting under the girl's chin, and the other bandits had now gathered around them to watch what their leader would do. The man was starting to grow impatient, and Maori saw the grip on his axe tighten. Damn it, Red-Snow. You're gonna get us killed. Looks like I will have to act after all. Maori drew his dagger and approached Baldur from the side.

 

"Stand back Nord. I g-"

 

"No. Wait." said Baldur.

 

"What is the hold up eh?" asked the leader. "I'm losing my p-"

 

"Killing this girl would be a waste. Look at her. I want her for myself." said Baldur. Maori shot Baldur a confused look of disgust at first, but then it switched to worry when he saw what he was doing. The bandits around them started to grumble in protest, as a many of them were looking forward to getting at the girl, which they now were again since her death wasn't definite apparently. Their leader raised his hand for silence, then stayed quiet for a minute, watching him. Baldur stood the girl up, and put on the act of scumbag bandit. He grabbed at the woman and pulled her to him, pulling her hair from her face to get a better look. Then he opened her cloak to reveal her pink hardened nips and started to grin. "Yes, killing her would be a waste. Let me have her."

 

"No! Just kill me instead! J-"

 

"Shut up!" said the leader. He started to chuckle when he saw Baldur's "vice" revealed. "Hahahaha, maybe I can trust you after all. Maybe. If you two survive the initiation, then you can have her. If not, well, then looks like her fate will be worse than death. Begin the initiation!"

Baldur was about to ask what exactly the initiation was, but before he could, the bandits all closed in on him and Maori and separated them from eachother. Afterwards, their weapons were forcibly taken from them and given to the leader, then they were surrounded in a circle of bandits respectively. Baldur spun around wildly, eying all of them to see what exactly would happen. Laughter came from all around him, and by now, he could hear Maori grunt in pain from he other circle. Before much longer, his initiation began.

 

Two large orcs came charging from the crowd at full speed with their fists clenched. Baldur rolled out of the way and threw snow in one's face and simultaneously sent a hard punch to his face, which the orc took rather well and cut Baldur's fist with his tusk when he punched him. The orc laughed it off and started sending jabs at him while he tried to block them. The other orc came as well, but their punches were slow. Baldur after some time realized they weren't trying to avoid him blocking their blows, but rather they were trying to tire his arms by punching through them. And it was working.

 

Baldur waited for his moment, and finally a window opened. Baldur took a half hop backwards from his opponents, and at that moment when they took a large step forward to get back in range, Baldur jumped forward and sent his steel covered boot flying into the nethers of the orc on his left. The orcimer buckled forward in pain and without hesitation, Baldur locked his right arm around his neck and twisted it to the left with all the strength he could muster, snapping it and killing him instantly. When the man fell, the orc to his right jumped towards him and tackled him to the ground, locking his arms around his body so he couldn't move. While on the ground, the orcimer lifted Baldur up off his feet, and began crushing him in his tight grip. Baldur let out a cry with each squeeze, which got more and more hoarse as his air was forced out of him and he was unable to breathe in more.

 

Finally in desperation Baldur shoved his head forward as hard as he could to reach the orc's face, and his instincts took over as he savagely bit off the orcimer's ear like a rabid dog. Baldur spat the ear out on the orc after he fell to the ground in pain, holding his face where his wound was and Baldur turned to walk away in victory, but when he did, four more bandits came out of the crowd. Baldur ran forward and tackled one to the ground and punched him in the neck before getting up to meet the other three. Except now they were six. Baldur desperately fought them off, but more and more men kept piling in until he was overcome with kicks and punches that sent him to the ground. The bandits continued their onslaught, kicking him in the gut and pounding him in his face until he finally he stopped his struggling. When he did, the bandits cleared away from him to give room for their leader. Baldur's face laid to the side in the snow, his face bloodied and bruised. The nord leader grabbed him by his hair and lifted up his head as Baldur coughed up blood.

 

"Welcome to the family, Baldur." said the man as he punched him between the eyes and laid him out. Baldur and Maori succeeded. They were in the bandit gang.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

"Uunnhhh, what the hell happened?" Baldur finally started to awake, but where he was and how much time passed he did not know. The first thing he noticed was a barrel with a small lit lantern on top by the foot of a bed he was laying on. The bed was small, but big enough for him to fit in at least. At the end of the stone room he was in was a steel barred door showing his room used to be a prison cell. The lock on it was melted out however, showing it had since then been re-purposed. That was a relief to see, as he thought he was going to be held prisoner, now that the memories of what happened started to resurface. He was about to touch his swollen face when he heard rattling from the side of him, which caused him to turn quickly from being startled. He winced as he did, as his body was still sore from the beating he took. What caused the noise was the same Nord woman from before, shackled and chained to the wall next to him. "I suppose you're my get well soon gift?" The Nord woman tried to yell at him, but her mouth was gagged, so she started thrashing around instead. She was still naked, except she lacked the cloak now. She was very attractive, probably twenty seven years of age. Fit as well, as if she was a fighter. Baldur got out of his bed slowly, due to the bruises and aches. He slowly approached the woman who was on her knees and carefully removed her gag.

 

"Try it and I'll bite it off." she said with fury in her eyes.

 

"Woa, take it easy. I wasn't going for that. I'm not going to rape you."

 

"Then what was all that talk earlier?"

 

"Obviously to save your life. Killing a defenseless woman isn't in me."

 

"Then why in the hell are you a bandit?" she asked, visibly confused. Baldur didn't say anything for a while, not wanting to reveal anything to her lest it somehow got out to the others. Not that she would tell, but you never could know, he figured.

 

"Did they leave a key?" The woman remembered the laughing orc that brought her here and told her to tell him where it was when he woke up. It was with his armor and weapons on top of an old rotting dresser a few feet to the right of her near the cell door. She hadn't planned on telling him where it was, since she thought he was going to rape her, but she forgot that if he wanted to, he could simply do so with her against the wall. She thanked the Nine then that he was some kind of fool, then gestured with her head to the direction of it. Baldur looked down and noticed his body was in nothing but his loin cloth, and covered in bruises, no wrappings or anything.

 

"Brings back memories." he thought. He was too sore to put the armor on, so he left everything and went for the key off the dresser. After he did, he searched the dresser and was glad to find a white tunic and brown trousers, as well as a comb. There was a bucket of water next to the dresser as well. "For guys that just beat the living shit out of me, they sure are accommodating."

 

"They seem to greatly respect anyone that survives their trial of entrance. There's a reason they only have thirty or so men. Most people don't survive their initiation. And you didn't just survive. You managed to kill some of them, as did your friend."

 

"Maori? He's alive?" The Nord woman shook her head slowly.

 

"Yes, but he was in worse shape than you."

 

"I see. How long was I out?" he asked.

 

"Surprisingly not long. Its night. I didn't expect you to be up until sometime tomorrow. You have a good constitution." she said with a slight smile. Too slight for Baldur to notice.

 

"Comes with being born under the sign of the Lord. Anyway, here." Baldur quickly unlocked the woman's shackles and put the bucket of water by her feet for her to clean off. There was a towel inside it, which she took to clean herself. Baldur could tell she was a bit weak and fatigued herself, possibly from hunger or dehydration, as she greedily drank from the bucket first before she used it for cleaning. "Here's some clothes for you as well. And you should wash your hair."

 

"Can you help with that? I haven't had much food or drink in a while and I'm a bit too tired to comb my hair." Baldur was about to question her on that, but saw how wild her hair was and figured it would be quite the endeavor to do on an empty stomach.

 

"Sure, I don't mind. I didn't get my ass beat by a crowd of bandits or anything." he said before grinning. She too laughed apologetically, but didn't say anything. Baldur saw that they left a pack with some food in it as well by the door and tossed that over to her, in which she wasted no time in devouring the dried meats and goat cheese from inside, almost forgetting to leave some for him. Baldur sat at the edge of the bed while she sat on the floor between his legs facing the wall while he washed her hair with the dampened rag, then moved on to combing, which was easier now that her hair was wet. "So, what is your name anyway?"

 

"Broomhilda Fury-Hand. But you can just call me Hilda."

 

"I'm Baldur Red-Snow. How were you captured, Hilda?"

 

"I'm an adventurer. They ambushed me from the road like they so often do. It was only four of them. A hairy situation, but I've been in them before. These bandits are better trained however. Tough. I think their leader is Legion trained." Baldur's mind froze at that, and his mind wandered back to his father again. His mind went back in time to when he was a boy, and he had his father pinned with his sword in his hand after finally beating him in a training session. Except this was no training session to him, but more like a physical and emotional torture put on by his bitter and drunk heart sick father. Over his mother who he told Baldur had left them to be a Dibellan priestess. He thought of how he tried to get Baldur to kill him, repeating the words 'Do it!' just like Hilda had done earlier that day. The same image was playing through his mind then as he fantasized about actually doing it. Her face was replacing his fathers in this memory, just as his replaced hers earlier when he was supposed to kill her. And just like with his father he lacked the conviction to do it. But it was from two entirely different reasons having nothing to do with one another. Funnily enough, both situations ended with the same outcome. A severe beating.

 

"What makes you think he's Legion trained? Just that they're tough?"

 

"No, normally bandits just come at you willy nilly. These guys came is a shield wall and made sure I couldn't get at them individually. Nords largely learn the concept of a shield wall on their own in basic combat training when young, but the way they fought and the way he commands them screams ex-Legion to me. They're disciplined."

 

"So I see. That'll make things difficult." he said.

 

"Make what difficult?"

 

"Never you mind. Keep eating." Baldur continued combing her hair while he thought of what his next step from here would be. Him being Legion possibly meant that he'd be tougher to kill. He could just challenge him to a duel he supposed, but even if he accepted, the others wouldn't have enough respect for him to follow him. They'd just kill him and take his place. No, he had to stick with the plan and buy their respect first. That...would get tricky. Baldur threw the thought out of his head. It was a problem for another day. For now, he needed to rest.

 

"I suppose this is the part where you expect me to thank you." she said. Baldur looked down as she looked up to meet his look.

 

"No. I'm too beat up for one. And also I'm not one for taking advantage of someone. Right now your life is dependent on me. That doesn't mean you have to do me any favors." Baldur ceased his brushing and got back in his bed under the sheets, turning his head to the wall. Hilda sat in the spot where he was and pulled his shoulder to face her while she held the damp towel. She washed it off in the bucket and ringed it out, then brought it to his face to brush his bruised face.

 

"I didn't mean sex, silly man."

 

"Oh, I see, heh. My mistake." he said while grinning from being slightly embarrassed.

 

"Figures that's the first thing that comes to your mind. But you're a good man. I can tell. Thank you."

 

"Don't mention it." he said, looking at her but not at her in the same manor as he did Narri.

 

"You know there's only one bed in here."

 

"That's where you're wrong." Baldur pointed his finger to a corner in the cell behind them in the dark where a bedroll was rolled up in the corner. She looked slightly put off, but it could have been more for having to sleep in the bedroll rather than being turned down. She got up to settle in now and all was quiet for a while until she spoke up again.

 

"Are you married or something?"

 

"Gods, no. No I'm not. But...No. No I'm not. Why?"

 

"You turned down sharing your bed, that's why. I wasn't offering sex, but that's still not something your average man would do."

 

"Well believe me, normally I wouldn't hesitate, had you offered. But the circums-....no, that's not it either. I don't really even think its taking advantage. Not sure I'd care much if it was as long as you weren't passed out or unwilling. If I'm being honest, I suppose its guilt. Girl back in Falkreath has a thing for me and I've been intimately involved with her. But we're not together. Just bed partners. At least in my head. Sometimes I think about trying to be more, but. I don't know. Just go to sleep." Hilda was going to press further, but decided against it and closed her eyes. A few minutes later they opened again, however.

 

"Baldur?"

 

"Yes?" he said agitatedly.

 

"You know...these men. They'll make you do questionable things. I don't know why you even came here, someone like you I mean. You're gonna have to earn the right to 'keep me'. I can tell, you're no bandit. It's obvious. You may be strong, but they can likely see it too. They'll test you. Are you sure you can handle it?" He didn't answer. "Baldur?"

 

"I can handle it. Now go to sleep."

 

"You know I wouldn't ask you to do such a thing. I'm one innocent person. The only person's life on the line is mine. There's no need to-"

 

"Go to sleep." Your life isn't the only one. And if my plan works, I'll get rid of two bandit clans and save more lives. If I have to sacrifice some lives for that and Maori's sister, then....

 

"Good night Baldur."

 

"Good night, Hilda."

 

***

 

Baldur wasn't surprised when the underground part of the fort started to bustle with activity at something around six in the morning after what Hilda said about him being Legion trained. At least that's what he guessed it was judging from how he felt when he heard a tankard being clanged and banged across his cell door. "Come 'ere, new blood." said the Nord leader. His blue piercing eyes were transfixed on him now, as if they could see inside him. Baldur reluctantly got up and approached the cell door. "So, how was she eh?"

 

"She was good. Didn't put up a fight. I think she liked it." Baldur pointed back to where she was in the room unshackled.

 

"Rather foolish of you to let her stay unshackled you know, boy."

 

"Don't worry, she knew she'd be in a world of hurt if she tried anything."

 

"True. Care if I take a go, eh?" Baldur didn't know how to answer that, and was caught off guard, unsure of what to say.

 

"Hahahaha! I'm just ******* with you boy. But if you want the rights to her, you're gonna have to earn it. You're going on a little raid."

 

"Who are we raiding and who am I going with?"

 

"You're going with your friend the Bosmer, and five others. The target is a band of legionaries transporting some nobles and their belongings. They're headed to Solitude and passen by our neck of the woods."

 

"How would you possibly know about that?"

 

"I have....connections. Lets say. My contact gets a cut of the action and he lets me know about certain Legion activities that can be profitable for me. There's twenty guarding them."

 

"And you're sending us with seven men total?" asked Baldur skeptically.

 

"That's right. My men know how they work. As do you, which is why you'll be leading them."

 

"Wait, what? Why me and how-"

 

"I saw how you fight, and that sword of yours. You were either in the Legion or someone in your family was. Either way, you're leading them and if you fail, its your ass. And hers....Oh, and kill them all. Nobles included. And I mean you kill them." The bandit leader walked off without giving Baldur any time to answer or make an excuse, not that he could make one. Hilda was awake and heard the whole thing, but didn't say anything. She wanted to, but it was hard to tell someone not to kill when your life among other things was on the line. She tried before, but she never exactly said not to. She of course didn't know about Baldur's plan either. Baldur turned to see if she was listening, but when he looked she already closed her eyes.

 

"Let's get this over with." he said and began putting on his scaled armor. When he was ready and left from the underground corridors, he was greeted with the sight of Maori, grumpy looking as ever and bruised all over.

 

"Hey, Red-Snow."

 

"Maori, good to see you're still alive, hehe." Baldur allowed himself to laugh despite their grim business. Besides the nobles, killing Legion soldiers wasn't something he'd take enjoyment in. The civil war had not yet started, and Baldur was no Stormcloak. He still harbored ill will for the Empire and their letting Thalmor in, but not the Legion themselves, even with his father being in it, who he despised. Those feelings would later change once the Stormcloaks would reveal themselves. But for now they were just men doing a job. Innocent men. And he had to kill them. Maori didn't allow himself the same luxury as Baldur had through laughter.

 

"You ready for what we gotta do?"

 

"Are you?" asked Baldur.

 

"Yep. It's these people or my sister. They would be killed whether it was you and me or not. Might as well be us. It's for a good cause. Remember that. We'll get rid of both of these clans and stop them from ever doing this again. You just gotta steel yourself." Baldur hadn't said anything. He knew on paper what he said was true. But in practice...

 

"Alright, fine. Where are we going? And what is this leader's name? I hadn't caught that." asked Baldur

 

"They just call him Boss-Man. They don't know his real name apparently. We're going just North of here before the group gets to Dawnstar. The road we saw on our way here."

 

"Boss-Man, huh? Okay, have the men bring arrows, swords and shields. Nothing else."

 

"Got it." said Maori.

 

"Good, when they're equipped, have them meet me by the gate."

 

"Got it. Have any idea why he's letting you lead so early?"
 

"He said he could tell I knew how Legionnaires worked and that I had Legion training, but I think he's testing me. He knows I'm not the typical bandit type. So I have to reassure him I guess. This will help."

 

"As long as you go through with it, Red-Snow." Baldur was already walking past him as he said this. Maori just shook his head as he watched him go. "You better go through with this. Time to get ******* serious and save my godsdamned sister."

 

***

"Ach, we're caught in a gods damned blizzard!" said a noblewoman.

 

"It's not a blizzard ma'am, it's just a little snow." said a Legion soldier.

 

"Well whatever you call it I don't like it. Who do I have to pay to get a little sunshine around here?"
 

"Us, which is why we're taking you to Solitude. To go somewhere sunny." said the same Legion soldier.

 

"Well I wish we could hurry it up."

 

"Honey, we're going as fast as we can with twenty Legionnaires guarding us. We need the extra protection for all of our belongings." said her husband.

 

"I know, okay I know! I'm just so cold! I don't like it, Manaeus. I don't like it!"

 

"Lucretia, just bare with it, please! Nothing short of Talos himself will change this climate. Now please just go to sleep until we get out from under this snow."

 

"I can't go to sleep because its so damn cold! If only we took the other way through Mark-, why have we stopped! Lets go!" Baldur and his small group of men were hidden on the left and right of the road covered in snow. Maori was up in a thick tree covered in snow filled bristles, with his bow drawn waiting for the signal. Baldur could see two Legion men in the front leading the horse and the other eighteen men behind the nobles on the carriage with their things. Three large chests likely filled with expensive clothes, gold and jewelry. Baldur had the men pointing arrows at the soldiers, waiting to thin their ranks. Maori already stopped the horse using his little animal charm ability. Once Baldur believed his men had their shots lined up, Baldur gave the signal. A bird whistle. When he did, Maori and his two men sent their arrows flying. Maori took out the two Legionnaires by the horse, trying to get it to move. Then he took a second two shotter, dropping two more men. His two bandits dropped another two soldiers, killing one and incapacitating the other. The fourteen remaining soldiers immediately looked in their direction wild eyed, but saw nothing. Then Baldur gave the second whistle, and his three men dropped their targets. By now the noble woman was screaming and clinging to her husband, begging to the gods to save them. The 11 Legion men ran down the road just as Baldur thought to regroup and put up their shield walls so the arrows couldn't hit them. Two of the soldiers grabbed the nobles and carried them to place the two behind their wall.

 

When they did Baldur jumped from cover, as did the men who distracted them with arrow fire so they'd keep up their shields. While they were blind, Baldur hopped on the horse, and made it turn around and start to charge with the cart in tow towards the legion shield wall. By the time they realized what was going on from the galloping and rumble of the cart, three had already been ran over, while Maori and the men picked off who they could as the wall broke, which left six able to fight. "Charge!" called Baldur as loud as he could. He hopped off the horse now, as the six remaining men charged him. Baldur gave out a shrieking battlecry, as did the Nord men behind him, and they charged their position, slaying them all with their swords and shields except the Captain, who was wearing Legion heavy armor. Baldur approached the man who from what he could tell was an Imperial. He didn't say anything or betray any fear. The Noble woman was showing enough fear with her screams for all of the men during the ambush anyway.

 

"Go ahead and kill me, bandit scum. The Legion will come back and look for us." Baldur didn't bother telling him that their remains would be taken away from here and buried far away so they couldn't trace the disappearance on these bandits, and that Boss-Man's contacts would get "reports" on their bandit raid near another bandit fort. It was too cruel. Instead he complied with his wishes and ended his life quickly. It was better than what would have happened if he were not in charge. Bandits had a reputation of killing people slowly when they could. More than likely they would have left him naked and bound in the snow. A very painful and slow death indeed. Baldur walked away from the nobles who were surrounded by the bandit group he commanded to take a breather. Maori knew that was trouble.

 

"Baldur!" he said as he ran after him. "Baldur, wait up! Listen to me. These nobles were dead anyway. If we didn't come their deaths would be a lot worse. The woman may not have even been killed. And you know what that means...." Baldur didn't face him. He just stared off into the distance, watching the snowflakes fall. His face was devoid of any emotion as he looked. "Alright Red-Snow, you're starting to piss me off. You are a mercenary. This is what mercenaries do. It's not all helping King's armies and saving damsels. You gotta do some shady things sometimes, and you accepted my deal. I'm paying you to do whatever it takes and kill whoever it takes to save my ******* sister. You hear me? Remember her? Now quit acting like such a bitch and do what we came here t-" Baldur suddenly drew his axes and tossed one of them in the direction of the nobles. The first one hit the husband straight in the temple of his head.

 

"AAAHHH! AHHHH! AHHH! AAA-" The second one mercifully ended the woman's life next. Baldur waited for someone to interrupt his daydreaming and bring him back to reality where the two were still alive, and he hadn't murdered two innocent civilians, but it hadn't come. And unlike when he murdered Hilda in his daydreaming, he didn't throw up. He didn't react at all and didn't do a thing. Maori tapped him on his shoulder to get his attention, as he was still staring at them. The men had walked off to put the soldier's bodies on the cart to get ready for transport and kill anyone who may still be kicking."

 

"It'll be worth it Baldur. Remember, they would have died anyway, and they would have suffered. What you did was an act of mercy."

 

"Go get my axes and stop talking afterwards." Baldur walked off while bumping his shoulder on the way, almost knocking him over as he did. Maori watched him for a second, hoping that the young Nord would forgive him, but knew he was really asking if he could forgive himself for putting Baldur in this situation. The Nord seemed so happy and carefree before. It pained him to see him this way, but it had to be done. Maori walked over to the corpses now, and removed the weapons. When he saw no one was looking, he removed the imperial man's middle finger and started gnawing on it.

 

"Well, bright side is he's getting better at throwing axes. Guy's a natural." Maori threw the finger bone out in the snow, and put the gold ring that was on it in his pocket. "Better you two than my sister anyway. We're not done yet, Red-Snow so you better steel yourself."

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

I'm a murderer. I've killed in cold blood. Cold. That's what I feel. And no amount of Nord blood in me can make the chill go away. A chill so deep that it freezes the flesh on my bones until it all crumbles off and lays my soul bare. The last time I felt this cold was when my father had me knocked down almost naked in the snow. Alone. Absent from my mother's love and warmth. Raw, bare and exposed. Cold. Just like now. So cold that my soul freezes over. And then he started shaping me with the cruel ice pick of truth (My mother left me to be a whore!). Until finally I was made into an image of his choosing. But then the clouds passed and the sun shined. Allowing me to resist his shaping and be something else. It allowed me to melt and escape this form. And when I did, when I escaped his influence and left, I was shocked to find that my soul had grown flesh again under the ice, and it helped melt my inner spirit into a shifting thing once more with its warmth and I was able to take shape in any form I chose. Except now the clouds have come back, and I have knocked myself down into the snow once more with this deed.

 

Cold. So cold. So cold that my flesh once again freezes and breaks off of my bones, leaving my soul bare and exposed. So cold that my soul freezes over once more. And now I find that my father is here once again chiseling me with the cruel ice pick of truth (You are a murderer!) Until finally I was once again made into an image of his choosing. And now that I finally took this form, a form able to do what it is he intended for me to do, what he groomed me to do (Kill me! Do it! Do it! Kill me, Baldur!) I see that it is not me who is the sculpture, but the sculptor. I look upon the reflection from my frozen and shaped soul and see that I am my father. Doomed to forever chisel my soul in the image he intended of murderer. Of him. For he too is a murderer. A murderer of innocence. And I the innocent. And in that sense, I finally see that I never truly melted. I never escaped. And he succeeded in shaping my spirit a long time ago. And so now, here I stand.

 

The sculptor with the chisel of truth in my hands. And I see that I am a murderer, and so I must kill once again. And one day I shall do what my father intended. Kill him. And in doing so he kills himself. And in doing so I kill myself. Just as he intended. And kill him I shall. Yet he will live on through me. And there lies his victory. He will still be there to shape me back into that form. If only I had a sun to keep my flesh warm and keep my soul from being what the sculptor intended. To pick me up when I am knocked down. But does that someone exist? No. For my mother has proven them to be fickle. Wandering off to warm others while her child lays cold. So cold. So cold that the flesh freezes from my bones, leaving my soul bare. So cold that my soul freezes over. Cold.

 

(Margin note: Turns out that person actually does exist. And thanks to her, I now have two suns. Thank you, Rebec.)

 

Baldur was wide awake in the dark of his room, contemplating what he had just done. His mind was restless and would not let him sleep no matter what he did. The same words kept popping in his mind over and over. Cold. No matter how hard he tried to justify what he did, he couldn't get the image of those nobles out of his head. Hilda had tried talking to him earlier, but he only repeated pieces of his guilt ridden monologue to her, which frightened her greatly. She didn't need to ask what was wrong because she already knew what it was. He went along with Boss-Man's plan. He murdered innocent people, and she thought she knew why. For her. It wasn't so, not completely, but she didn't know, and now she too was guilt ridden. She thought that because of her he had lost his mind. As Baldur began repeating his long internal speech once more, he suddenly felt warmth and weight pushing on top of him. "What are you-"

 

"Shhh...you need to sleep. And I need to thank you."

 

"Warm are you, woman, but fickle is your kind. You will leave, and it will be cold once more. And then the sculptor will come with his chisel." He couldn't see it, but Hilda had a confused and scared look on her face, but she forced herself to ignore his words and go about her task. It finally allowed him to do what he needed most at that moment. Sleep.

 

***

A month had since passed since that day. In that time, Baldur had helped do more raids with the bandits, luckily they were on legionnaires absent of civilians, but this did not make Baldur feel better. It was only easier to do since they could fight back. After all, these were men with wives and families. How it was that the Legion wasn't trying to find out who was doing it, he did not know, but apparently these bandits have been doing this for a while. They attacked three more Legion groups in that time as well as a few newcoming bandit settlements, and they also fended off an enemy raiding group around one of those settlements looking to pick off their score. Baldur and Maori had been influential in their success, having no deaths in any of the engagements. Baldur and Maori had finally gained the respect of the bandit clan. Even the Boss-Man, or so they thought. This scared Baldur because in that time, he had grown to know these men, and even started feeling like he was a part of them. Every day he feared that he would wake up and find that he was truly one of them. It had to end. It was time to execute the plan.

 

Baldur had Maori do some spying around the camp, eavesdropping to listen in on what the word was around the camp to get a better idea of what their chances were of having the men follow them after a duel, or simply starting a mutiny against Boss-Man. After some time, Maori finally came to him with the consensus. Maori met Baldur in a corner of the fort outside so the wind would help keep others from hearing what they were saying. Baldur avoided talking to him for most of their time in the fort ever since the day he killed those nobles. So the meeting like always was awkward. "Maori." he said, devoid of emotion.

 

"Baldur." said Maori in a similar fashion. It was hard for him to feel too bad. The plan was coming together after all, and if it went well, he would soon march on the bandit fort and free his sister. As much as he liked Baldur and felt bad for him, nothing else in the world mattered. Nothing at all. "The news for a mutiny is bad. The men have been doing well under Boss-Man, so that's not going to happen. However, we have a lot of respect from them. If you kill him, they may follow you, but you have to prove to them you can continue their success."

 

"How can I do that?" he asked, still devoid of emotion to the point that it didn't sound like a question.

 

"I don't know. Maybe we could go digging in the boss's personal quarters. Maybe we can find something out." Baldur took a look around until he finally found his imposing body.

 

"Okay, I'll go distract him for a bit just in case, and you go searching in the under corridors for anything we can use."

 

"Got it." said Maori, wasting no further time to talk. Baldur watched him go, and contemplated why he still was here, putting himself through this turmoil. He remembered that all of this would continue with or without him there, but that wasn't what kept him. He had to see it through. Find redemption if he was ever going to be able to move on. He couldn't help but think though that if he never took this job, he would be better off. But he knew, as soon as Maori mentioned he lost his sister, the only person alive that he could call family, he knew. He was doomed to help. Boss-Man was staring off into the white void of the atmosphere as he often did outside when there was nothing else to do. Collecting snow on his body like some kind of statue. Baldur wondered if it was his way of concentrating. To be able to block out the harsh sounds of the wind to hear his thoughts clearly. Such a thing would fall in line with Legion leadership training. One had to be able to do such things when a battle was raging, men were dying and metal clanging. Before Baldur got too close, Boss-Man turned around to face him, half covered in snow.

 

"What is it, boy?"

 

"I was just looking to talk. We haven't talked much in this whole time we've been here." said Baldur.

 

"Really? You don't seem like you want to talk. Perhaps you're not here for that. Perhaps you're looking for something else. Something specific." Baldur who was looking behind him focused his eyes on the man now, genuinely curious.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Ever since you got here, I've found you to be a bit confusing. You're not like the rest of these cutthroats. That much is clear. So why? Why are you here? Why do you subject yourself to things you clearly can't take doing?"

 

"What makes you thi-"

 

"I'm no fool, boy. I've been a warrior for a long time. And in that time I've seen a lot of people. Killed a lot of people. I know how they are, and I can tell what kind of animal they are. I saw the way you looked at that girl when you first saw her." Baldur's eyes shot up in surprise, and worry. "Yes, I see you know what I mean. Those weren't the eyes of lust, but anger. You didn't want to rape that girl. You never did. And you never wanted any of this. So...why are you here?"

 

"...To find myself." Baldur finally said, after a long moment of silence.

 

"Most people enter this life because they already found themselves and realized they didn't belong in society. You were a fool to enter this life when you had another choice."

 

"You're wrong. In the end I would have been lead down a similar path regardless. Because I had a purpose in life set before me by my father and I chose to ignore it. I thought I could escape it, but I couldn't. So now here I am. Fulfilling my purpose as intended. This is after all what I was groomed to do. Murder. And some day I will finally fulfill my purpose. And perhaps then, maybe I can have another choice. Another purpose."

 

"You alright, boy?" said Boss-Man. Baldur hadn't realized it, but he had drifted off into his mind once again, and he hadn't said those words aloud.

 

"Yea, I'm fine. Don't worry about me, I'm fine."

 

"I wasn't." he said before chuckling as he walked off, leaving Baldur to stand there, thinking. Contemplating as the snow gathered on him in the same manor as it did Boss-Man. Like some kind of statue. Or sculpture.

 

***

Maori in the mean time was searching through Boss-Man's private quarters which might as well have been issued directly from the Legion themselves. It was repaired, clean, had two shelves filled with books, a desk, a large fancy red silk covered bed and display cases holding Imperial Officer swords. The doors were locked, but Maori who always kept lockpicks in his hair made short work of them. While he was in, he had made a point to check every last book on the shelves to make sure nothing was hidden behind them. Painstakingly searching through every last page to see if a note would fall out. Nothing did. The dresser had no compartments in them, so there was nothing to search there. Maori had studied Boss-Man's schedule, so he knew that he wouldn't be in for quite some time, so he had time to double check the books before he looked under the bed. Or so he thought.

 

Suddenly, Maori heard a jingling from outside the door and the knob started to turn. It seemed that Boss-Man had changed things up today. "Shit! Well, I had to search the bed anyway." The door flew open as soon as Maori scurried under. And from there, he listened.

 

"Oh, Boss-Man, you're so strong!"

 

"You bet. I noticed you've been avoiding me. Why is that huh? You don't like what daddy's got anymore?"

 

"Oh no, that's not it, Boss-Man, I've just been up to no good. Perhaps...you should punish me..." Maori rolled his eyes from where he was.

 

"I've heard better roleplay from a pregnant cow." Maori said in his head.

 

"Oh you've been bad, have you? Then I guess you do need to be taught a lesson in discipline...." Boss-Man pushed his bed partner to the bed now and began stripping his armor, leaving it in a pile just in front of Maori. From there all that he could hear was squeaking from above him, groaning from the bandit leader, and screaming from the woman. Occasionally, his head would get bumped from the activity above him pressing down as well. It was during this activity that Maori found what he was looking for.

 

"Ahhh!" he said, which made him clap his hands to his mouth. Luckily for him, the woman above him made a similar noise at the same time. When he saw that he wasn't heard, he scooted over to grab at his discovery...Boss-Man's secret journal pages. He flipped through for a while, looking at what mostly was just loot reports and bandit activity until finally he found something interesting:

 

Dear journal,

 

The more I see this Baldur boy in action, the more I am convinced he's not here for bandit work. I have a theory that the Legion finally caught on to what the Thalmor are doing, and sent this boy here to make sure it's true. It's about time I guess. Had to get smart sometime. I need to be careful though, as this boy may be Penitus Oculatus or something. If he is and the Legion finds out what I'm doing, not only will I have them to worry about, but the Thalmor may come and try to kill me before they can get me so they can't prove that they're trying to thin their ranks. So far this has been a sweet operation, and my pockets are lined with the gold of the Empire, but sometimes you just got to know when to pull the plug. And that time is soon. But first, I gotta kill this Red-Snow boy. It may be difficult, since he's gained respect with the men in the short time he's been here, but there's nothing for it. He has to be Oculatus. I'm not the only one who suspects he's not like us. Oculatus would subject themselves to doing these things if the goal was big enough. This is big enough. So I can't take any risks. But how should I do it?

 

"That treacherous son of a bitch! he was working with Thalmor? A Nord? That must have been his contact Baldur mentioned. They're giving away Legion activity so he can kill them and take their supplies...." said Maori in his mind.

 

"Ahh! Ahhhh, oh gods....oh gods...." said the woman slower and slower as the two finished up.

 

"Oh, man. That was good. Now get the hell out of here! I need to do some writing." said Boss-Man.

 

"Shit!" Maori quickly put the journal back into its place and scurried to the back of the bed in the shadows. And just in time too, as Boss-Man had just got down to reach for his book. Maori closed his eyes to avoid having his eyes reflect light from the torches in the room. After Boss-Man grabbed the book, Maori didn't have to wait much longer before he put it back. When he did, Boss-Man quickly put his armor back on and left the room. "Okay, Boss-Man. What did you...Oh no."

 

Dear journal,

 

I know how I'll do it. I'll just shiv him in the neck and go kill that girl. Then I'll throw his body in his bed, call the men and tell them I saw him murdered and say I killed the girl because of it. Simple. I'll do it tonight.

 

"....shit."

"Even the hardest dick must go flaccid." -Colonelkillabee

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Adventures of Baldur

By Baldur Red-Snow

 

Chapter 9-12

 

"Damnit, damnit damnit! What the hell should I do? Red-Snow has no idea...I can't...." Maori was still under the bed after Boss-Man left, staring at the pages of his journal. "I got to warn him, but...if he's by Baldur...no, Baldur will just have to challenge him right then and there. I can't let him kill him! He's my only chance!" Maori quickly scooted out from under the bed and took off. He didn't have much time before Boss-Man made it to Baldur's location, which he knew by now was his cell room. And he was right. Baldur was laying in his bed with Hilda kneeling next to him talking.

 

"Baldur. Baldur?" He now turned his gaze slowly from the ceiling to her.

 

"What's taking Maori so long..." he thought. "Yes, Broomhilda. What is it?"

 

"I think, I think it's time that you finally tell me why you're really here. Now that you're...you know. Not..."

 

"Not crazy anymore you mean." Her brow knit with eyes of worry, and she looked away from him now, but nodded her head.

 

"I wouldn't have...put it that way, but...yea. Is it because of me that you did that? Do you, love...me?" Baldur took the time to look at her, actually look at her now that her eyes were turned from his. He studied her, looking at her skin as he ran his finger over her cheek, through her raven black hair, her narrow facial features that made her look sharp and intelligent. She was very beautiful. Very pretty. But when she turned back to look into his eyes for the first time since he was tasked to kill her, he felt nothing. But to be honest, he hadn't much felt anything beyond guilt and despair since the day he killed those nobles.

 

"Hilda, I am attracted to you. And I care about whether you live or die. I even enjoy having you here. But right now I can't lie to you, I don't feel anything for you beyond that. Maybe friendship. But that's because I haven't tried. My mind is preoccupied. And I wouldn't truly know if I was in love to begin with, as I've never experienced it." Hilda's eyes started watering a little, but she held them in to give Baldur a skeptical look from his last statement. "Perhaps when I'm done with what I need to do, I can try."

 

"Love isn't something that you try to do, it just happens. Often when you least expect it. But still, I'll take you up on that."

 

"Something that just happens, huh? Sounds like a disease. Do you think you love me?" he asked more curious than hoping.

 

"I don't know. I thought I did. Maybe because my life is dependent on you, but I thought I did. I guess I won't know for sure until we're out of this situation and I see the real you. Maybe it is something you can try to do. Like purposefully catching a disease, as you so accurately compared it. What do you really do?" Baldur paused before turning back to the ceiling.

 

"I was a mercenary, sort of. And a traveling bard." Hilda despite herself couldn't help but laugh at this, and she didn't try to. It had been the first time she laughed the whole time she was here.

 

"Hahahaha, really? You?"

 

"Yea, I know. I don't look the type."

 

"Ha, not at all! I would have never guessed you were a bard!" Baldur shot her a fearful and worried look that made her sober up immediately.

 

"What? What's wrong?"

 

"Nothing." he said, letting his face go back to normal. "Nothing, it's just that before all of this, people would have said that about me being a merc, not a bard." That left Hilda and Baldur quiet for a while with nothing to say. The thought of Baldur being some merry minstrel before this was too depressing to comprehend for her.

 

"Why are you doing this? Why the hell is a minstrel mercenary in this place?"

 

Baldur looked at her disappointingly, which perplexed Hilda. Sighing and shaking his head, he said, "I'm on a job. For the elf. I can't say more, but the first step of the job is here. You'll see very soon. You know...you said that you'd wait to see what I was like outside this place. What I was like for real. You ever stop to think this was the real me? I would have never thought I was capable of doing anything I did since I left Falkreath...and well..."

 

"Then that is fine too," she said. "That makes you a man with good intentions."

 

"Good intentions...Heh. I'm sure many atrocities are committed in the name of good intentions. Well it doesn't matter. This will all be ending very soon. The next step starts now. I'm going to see Boss-Man." Hilda got up from her knees as Baldur got up, following him as he walked out of the room. He was walking at a very fast rate, and the sudden burst of action worried her, unaware of what this next step was.

 

"What are you doing? Why do you need to see him, is he the job?" she asked.

 

Baldur said, "No. But he needs to die all the same. I'm going to challenge him to a duel." He made a sharp left, which took him into a large stone hallway. To the left and right of them were other cells with the occasional pile of hay strewn about. Hilda  grabbed Baldur's arm and forced him to stop.

 

"Are you insane? You can't do that!" she said.

 

"Why not?"

 

"He's too strong! I know you are talented in fighting, but you can't beat him. He's a real warrior. Experienced, powerful, ruthless, smart, quick minded. You too are a talented warrior, but not enough. You don't have the years of experience he has, and I have a feeling he was in the Great War! You can't beat an opponent like that one on one with your skill level. And then there's his superior armor as well!" One of the bandits in the cell, an orc in steel armor started to stir at the sound of her voice. When he saw who it was, he started to grin as he got up from his bed and walked to the cell door.

 

"Hehe, hello snowflake...came for some of what daddy's got to...oh. It's you." said the Orc.

 

"Good to see you too, Gralak." said Baldur.

 

The orc said, "What's this I heard about you and the Boss? You about to fight?"

 

"I'm challenging him to a duel." said Baldur as he walked off, shrugging Hilda's hand off of him as he did.

 

"And how exactly do you plan to beat him? You're not strong eno-" Baldur interrupted her and turned around, staring straight into her eyes in a way he never did before, fury faced and angered.

 

"All this ends soon. He will die. His strength will be for naught. He will die, and I will take his place. Now go back to the cell. Now."

 

"I'm not going." she said. Baldur got more frustrated and gripped her arm, but Hilda stared back at him defiantly. She wasn't weak, and she wasn't one to back down. If he wanted her to go back to that cell, he'd have to go back with her. Without saying anything further, Baldur walked away, leaving Hilda to trail behind him stubbornly. They didn't have very far to go down the hallway of course, as Boss-Man too was looking for him, and it was now that Boss-Man turned from his part of the fort into the same hallway.

 

"Baldur. I was just looking for you..." he said. The bandit Chieftain made sure to keep his voice calm and ordinary. He gave away nothing.

 

"Is that so? What about?" said Baldur. Boss-Man stayed quiet when he noticed the girl outside of the cell. It had finally come to this point. Where the girl could walk out of the cell safely as long as she was with Baldur Red-Snow. Baldur noticed he was eying her, and could tell it was what he was thinking. The men had grown to accept and respect him a lot in that short time they were there. But now it was time to end it. To end Red-Snow. This side of the hallway was low in light. The torches were allowed to burn out, so now Baldur couldn't see the shiv in his right hand.

 

"You and I need to talk about the next ambush. This is a big job. It'll take all of our men, and I'll be coming along. I've decided I want to make you my second in command."

 

"Second...second in command?" said Baldur who seemed genuinely surprised. "What would that mean?"

 

"It means you get a title to match the respect that you've earned here rightfully, and you get a bigger percent of the cut." Boss-Man twirled the shiv in his hand as he said this, smiling on the inside at the pun. "Well? You gonna just stand there, or what? Follow me to my office." Boss-Man wasn't expecting Baldur to be out of his cell, but it was no problem. The men weren't around this part of the fort. All he had to do was say Baldur made an attempt on his life. And his men respected Boss-Man enough not to question it anyway. The pay they got made sure of that. Hilda was still worried Baldur was going to challenge him, but seeing Baldur's surprised look made her think otherwise. Now she was worried about something else entirely. What if Baldur took that position and stayed? What if he decided bandit work wasn't such a bad lifestyle after all? Gold and power changes men for the worst a lot of the time.

 

Baldur was thinking that perhaps he could get the Boss-Man to help him, if he was actually going to be made second in command. He walked towards him now, as he pointed his left hand down the hallway, so Baldur would follow. As he got closer now, Baldur continued thinking about the possibilities. He could get better equipment for himself and Maori, tell him about the other larger fort, entice the other men with that thought, being somewhere where it wasn't always cold, easier to get food out in the warm wilds, farther away from a hold, so they didn't have to be so careful...yes, all of that would work. Except...."I would accept your offer. But I came to challenge you to a duel."

 

Suddenly, Boss-Man made his move. But Baldur made his first. Just as the large Nord lifted his hand to stab Baldur in his neck after he walked past the bandit chieftain, Baldur spun around and dashed to his right, sending a kick to Boss-Man's crotch as he did. It happened so quick, that Hilda's body didn't know what to react to first. That the bandit leader just made an attempt on Baldur's life, or that Baldur in turn made one on his and blood was now dripping to the floor from Boss-Man's nethers. It took a few moments, but eventually the large Nord dropped the shiv and fell to his knees, filling the hallway with his screams. "AAAAAAAHHH!!! AHH, AHHHHHHH!!!!!!" Tears were falling from the large man's face as his screams of agony turned to sobbing.

 

At that time, Maori had finally caught up, double timing it now that he heard the screams. "Baldur, don't you ******* die, damnit! Don'y you *******..." Maori skidded as he ran in the hallway, standing frozen behind Baldur as he watched the events unfold. Baldur pulled his foot out from between his legs now, revealing a bloodied sharp piece of iron that was welded to the bottom of his boot. Baldur took out his axe slowly, taking the time to study its edge, testing its sharpness with the tip of his fingers. After Boss-Man's sobbing died down, Baldur placed his axe next to the Nord's neck and lifted off his helmet as Boss-Man held his hands to his privates. He was a bald man, with a gaunt face and large facial features, such as his nose and mouth. He had some scratches on his face that looked like a wolf or sabercat had clawed him.

 

"You know, I've never once seen you without this helmet on. Why is that? Does the helmet help when you murder innocent people? Or does it make it easier when you deal with Thalmor to help hide behind it?" Boss-Man looked up slowly, shaking as he did. Hilda was frozen where she stood, completely surprised herself. As was Maori. All of them were thinking the same thing.

 

"H-how did...you..."

 

"How did I know? Lets just say you're not the only one with a spy." Baldur looked directly at Hilda as he said this. Now it was her turn to drop tears, and Baldur's eyes seemed to see right through her like before, but deeper. Like he could see inside of her. Baldur could see the realization in the man's eyes. It was that moment that he ended his life by separating his head from his body, which splattered blood on him slightly on his body, including his face. "He told you he'd let you go if you spied on me, and he threatened your life if you refused. And if you told me, he'd know, and you'd die. He had visits with you while I was off running ambushes, doing the Thalmor's work." Baldur looked from her shocked face down to the severed head and picked it up in his hands, lo