The Elder Scrolls Volume One: Unbound - A Fallen Empire

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  • Published: 14 Sep 2017
  • Updated: 19 Sep 2017
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Erende was supposed to be a thief. That's all he ever was. But when a mysterious Guild raids his home and steals a scroll - a scroll of a land Erende had no idea existed - he's thrust into the middle of a deadly fight after a devastating war that wrecked the land of Tamriel. Now, he's part of a mission to find the treasure his scroll holds to save Tamriel - before it's too late.

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7. Chapter Five

 

4E 715

Rain’s Hand

Fredas

 

You cannot escape me, Erende. You cannot outrun me.

I am darkness.

I am death.

 Erende gasped, his throat constricting. Someone placed their hand on his back and painfully turned him to the side. Cold air filled his lungs and the pain grew worse. A burst of pain volleyed through his stomach, his body jerking to the side and forcing him to vomit. As he coughed up phlegm and ash, he felt the violent shots of pain rack though his body. When he was done a small hand holding a small wooden cup of water reached out to him. His shaking hands took it without a question and downed it in one gulp.

 “Careful, you’ll throw up again if you drink too fast.”

 Erende pulled away and breathed. Pulling the mug from his face he saw Khir’schen sitting next to him. They were in a small leather tent, the wind from outside feathered the wings of the tent. Khir’schen was lit with the faint glow of a lantern. Her head was bandaged with an ash covered cloth. Dirt streaked across her cheeks but the paint under her eyes had been freshly applied. It still glittered in the light of the lantern.

 “Khir’schen, you’re alright,” Erende breathed. She nodded.

 “And so are you, you took quite a hit on your side.”

 Khir’schen pointed to his stomach. He looked down to see his shirt had been cut open, and a cloth was tied across his torso. Several spots of blood dotted the bandage.

 “Oh.” He said. Erende was about to sit up, but Khir’schen placed a hand on his chest.

 “Just wait, Erende. You were hurt badly. You need to rest until Orianer or Vala can tend to you properly.”

 Erende blinked. His head was foggy and he wasn’t quite registering what was going on. He just nodded, laying his head back down onto a pillow. Khir’schen smiled, then got up and left the tent. Erende sat up, watching her leave. He saw a slight glimpse of outside through a small opening. The sky was dark. The fabric of tent was thin enough to where he could just make out the faint glow of the moonlight. He heard the distant crackle of a fire. He couldn’t tell if it was a campfire or something else. Erende could smell the smoke on his clothes.

 The tents flaps flew open, and suddenly someone lunged for him. Erende tensed as arms wrapped around his neck and squeezed tightly.

 “Lands ashore, you’re alright,” they said into Erende’s shoulders. Erende sighed.

 “Steffan.”

 Steffan pulled back, his face decorated in a grin.

 “Thank the skies, I thought you died in the carnage.” He said. Erende smiled but it turned into a scowl of pain. The warmth of his blood spread across his abdomen. Steffan crinkled his nose.

 “Are you alright?”

 Erende nodded grimly.

 “I’ll be fine. How are the others?”

 “They’re fine. Bahadur is grateful you saved the horses. Ori and Vala are currently tending to the wounded. I believe Aeria is gathering food with the hunters. Gael is complaining.”

 “So, they’re all okay.”

 Steffan grinned, “yeah, they are. You’re a complete idiot but I guess I do have to thank you for making sure the animals were safe.”

 “It’s what I do.”

 “We’re relocating!”

 The flap of the tent swished open. A disheveled Orianer peered inside. A scowl was already across her lips.

 “If you’re good enough to gossip, you’re good enough to walk. Get out here.”

 Steffan and Erende exchanged a glance before following Ori out of the tent. Outside, there was a large fire pit that burned with several large logs. They watched as other survivors gathered towards it. Standing at the very edge was a man in heavy bronze armor. He was cut and bruised, but he stood straight and tall. Erende noticed Gael sitting on a bedroll near Bahadur. He tapped Steffan and they made their way towards them.

 “Everything okay?”

 Bahadur shrugged.

 “Not sure.”

 “It looks like the Captain is going to make an announcement.” Gael said, nodding to the man in the armor. He cleared his throat.

 “Tomorrow morning at dawn break, we will head back into the city and search for any survivors and supplies! From there, we will head to the recovery camp in Whiterun! We’ve already sent them a courier alerting them of what has transpired!”

 Murmurs ruffled through the crowd. Erende looked to the Guild. Each of them had different expressions.

 “The Whiterun recovery camp,” Aeria repeated, “that’s backtracking.”

 “Maybe,” Steffan said, “but what other choice do we have? Didn’t that old lady say she didn’t know that a client was supposed to meet us?”

 “I can hear you,” Gael huffed.

 “Listen,” Khir’schen said, “this camp is destroyed, we have no leads for the scroll, but we have another option, and that is to go to the Whiterun recovery camp. Whether or not the client is there, we don’t know, but at least we will have a safe place to rest and gather our plans together for what we need to do next.” She explained.

 “Wouldn’t hurt, right?” Steffan said, “We can stock up on supplies if we need to.”

 “Sounds perfect,” Khir’schen said, “we go to Whiterun, stock up and plan our next move, agreed?”

 The Guild didn’t say anything. They just exchanged a glance, each of them with a worried expression. Erende didn’t see any risks to it – if anything, they just wouldn’t find the client and maybe him and Steffan could just take the scroll and find the treasure themselves. Either way, they were going to Whiterun.  

 “Agreed.” He said.

 “I guess I agree too,” Steffan muttered. Erende grinned.

 “Who else?” Khir’schen asked. Bahadur sighed.

 “Might as well.”

 “I’ll agree if Aeria agrees!” Vala said.

 “I’ll agree if Ori agrees.” Aeria said with a sly grin. Orianer groaned.

 “Really? I mean really? Me?”

 “Can’t be that bad,” Khir’schen said.

 “It’s going to be bad if they go along,” Ori huffed as she nodded to Steffan and Erende.

 “Look, are you in or not?” Erende said with a roll of his eyes.

 The Guild stared at her. She grimaced.

 “Fine!” Orianer said, throwing up her hands, “fine, but I’m only riding with Aeria and I’m not sitting next to Erende.”
 Erende snorted.

 “Fine by me.”
 “Then it’s settled,” Bahadur said, “we’ll leave at dawn with the others and head to Whiterun. For now, we should get some sleep.”

 “Exactly.” Vala nodded in agreement.

 The Guild had no tents, but they did have their other supplies. Settling near the fire along with several of the survivors, they laid out their fur coats and rolled jackets for pillows, making soft cots for them to lay on. Erende laid down on his coat, spreading out. Warmth soaked into the fur. He sighed. The sky was clear. Barely any smoke was visible. He heard the others slowly drift off into sleep, and the camp succumbed to the silence. He closed his own eyes. This time, he didn’t think of gold.

 And then, he thought of dragons. 

---

 For a moment, he was dead.

 At least, he thought he was.

 Darkness surrounded him. He was eerily reminded of the dream back when they had camped with the Nords. He couldn’t remember any details, nor did he want to as even thinking of it made him shiver with cold sweat. When he blinked, he couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. It made him all the more terrified that someone – or something – would appear before him.

 Then came the light. He was certain he was dead.

 “Erende!”

 For a moment, he feared it was the thing he couldn’t remember, as the voice was echoed and feminine.

 The voice.

 Nephethys?

 No.

 “Erende! Can you hear me?”

 Nightmare. Instead of dark it was light and the light had no walls the voice reverberated as if it was spoken in a cave. It was a cave. He saw an entrance. A dark hole cut into the mountain. He wanted to enter. He had to enter.

 “Erende!”

 His eyes shot open. He stared down a dark hallway made of stone. Blue lit torches flickered, making the shadows dance. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple.

 “Wh…where…” he panted. Confusion overwhelmed him. Was he back at the Nord’s camp in Solitude? How did he get there? When did he get there? He tried to stand only to find his legs were weak and he stumbled.

 “My son…”

 He froze. At the end of the hallway stood a man. He was aged, his head balding and a white beard hanging from his chin. He was dressed in regal robes that almost seemed to glow over the blue torchlight. To Erende’s surprise, a dragon’s head protruded from the man’s neck. Its scales were a glorious ruby red, the underbelly golden. Four horns stuck out from its head. It looked alive but inanimate as the man spoke.
 “My son,” he repeated, his voice echoing, “I have come to warn you.”

 Erende’s mouth gaped at the figure before him.

 “Who…who are you?” He asked. The man did not respond to his question, only stepping forward to cup Erende’s face in his hands.

 “Beware of the flames, my boy.” He said, “Beware of the flames, as the light can be .

 “Take caution in the road you choose, for even if your fate sets the timeline, you have the will to change it.”

 Erende looked into the man’s greying eyes, searching them for something, anything. He didn’t understand what he was saying, or even what was going on. Before he could ask the man again, he felt a breeze. The wind blew the man and the hallway away like it was dust, leaving a black hole. As the man’s hands left his face, Erende fell, falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

 “Change time.”

 “Erende!”

 His eyes popped open. This time, he saw the tops of trees as they basked in the early morning light. Orianer and Toro were standing over him. The dog’s tongue licked away the small bead of sweat that trickled down his cheek. Orianer, seeing that he was awake, frowned, and walked away.

 “He’s up!”

 Erende groaned as he sat up, rubbing the bridge of his eyes. He heard the crunch of grass under someone’s boot, and then skin as hands cupped his face. Erende saw Khir’schen kneeling in front of him. Her eyes were furrowed as she twisted his head this way and that.

 “Are you alright?” She asked him. He blinked.

 “Yeah, bad dream,” he croaked.

 “Oh. I’m sorry. Isolde?”

 “Don’t be, and no. Something else. Don’t worry about it.”

 When his vision cleared, he saw that the camp had mostly been packed up, backpacks and leather satchels strapped onto the horses’ saddles. Aeria and Bahadur were filling up the water skins while Steffan and Vala checked the buckles on the backpacks. A pang of pain hit his chest when he didn’t see Isolde.

 “We’re just about to head out, you’re the only one we’re waiting on.” Khir’schen said. She offered her hand to Erende to help him up. He took it.

 “I’m surprised you didn’t leave without me.” He said, brushing the pain off.

 “We thought about it. Orianer definitely wanted too but no one listens to her.” She ginned, “Bahadur was the one that made us wait. He had said you haven’t gotten enough rest lately, so we should wait until you woke up naturally.”

 “I’m guessing Ori got impatient.”

 “You guessed right.”

 “Hey!” Steffan called from beside Waylan, who Vala mounted, “is he up yet? Can we go?”

 “Yes, I’m up!” Erende called back. Steffan pumped his fist in the air.

 “Alright, let’s go.”

  Erende saw that there were still several groups of survivors resting in the camp. As he walked over to where the Guild was, he thumbed over to them.

 “I thought we were all supposed to go together?” He said. Khir’schen tightened her belt. Erende noticed the rip had been patched.

 “Others who woke up earlier left with some of the other guards.” She explained, tucking the scroll back into its original place in her belt, “we’ll be leaving without the guards help.”

 “Oh.”

 Once they were packed up and ready, they started heading out of the forest. Erende walked next to Arvak, whom Vala rode. She had fallen asleep quickly as soon as she climbed onto the saddle. No one talked the while as they walked out. Erende took the time to try and remember his dream. Surprisingly, this time, he did remember it. The hallway, the blue torches, the old man. He remembered everything.

 So, what had the man been trying to tell him?

 He shook his head. He needed to get the dream out of his mind. That’s all it was.

 A dream.

 Still, he jogged ahead until he caught up with Bahadur. He was talking with Khir’schen, but he stopped once Erende tugged his sleeve. 

 “Everything alright? We’ve barely be on the rode five minutes, though I wouldn’t put it past Ori to complain for a break.” Khir’schen huffed, and Bahadur chuckled. Erende shrugged.

 “Me neither, but I have a question,” his eyes darted to Khir’schen, “for Bahadur.”

 “Okay.” Khir’schen said. Erende cleared his throat.

 “Alone? Khir’schen?”

 She sighed, shooting a glare at them before turning on her heel and walking towards the back. Once she was gone, Bahadur looked to Erende.

 “I doubt I’ll be able to help that much, but I’ll be willing to try my best. What’s on your mind, lad?”

   Erende sighed, “last night, I had a dream. It wasn’t like the nightmare I had when we were at the camp – “

 “Since you did not wake up screaming – “

 “Yeah, whatever. You bully me too often.”

 “Take it as a compliment, I show you the same respect I do to a friend.”

 Erende stifled a grin. He Bahadur was only lightly joking, but he had an important thing to ask. He pushed the comment to the side of his mind

 “Thanks, but anyway, in this dream, I saw a cave entrance, and in the cave, was a corridor lit with blue torches. A man, bald and with a white beard in robes, stood in front of me. The oddest thing was that there was a dragon’s head that grew from the same neck.”

 Bahadur’s eyes widened, though he said nothing to interrupt.

 “He called me his son, and warned me about the changing of fates?” He looked down, “I don’t know what this means. I am only telling you this because…well, because I don’t know what it means.”

 Bahadur scratched his beard. His eyebrows were furrowed and his mouth was drawn into a tight line. Erende waited for a moment.

 “You know,” Bahadur started, “you had just described Akatosh. That is what truly puzzles me, for no one else has seen or heard from him.”

 Erende crinkled his forehead. Akatosh? He didn’t know who that was at all, but the look on Bahadur’s face gave him chills.

 “Might I ask who Akatosh is?” Erende inquired. Bahadur tightened his lips in a tight line.

 “My god, my patron, my father. Akatosh is the god of time. He is the king of gods and he is the god whom every race worships in one form or another. He is also one of the gods who have disappeared.” Bahadur explained. Erende looked down. His feet pressed prints into the dirt.

 “Oh, I see.”

 “Is this the first you’ve heard of Akatosh?”

 “Yes.”

 “Your dream was an omen. A fortune. A warning.”

 “A warning of what?”

 Bahadur breathed in deeply.

 “A warning of something to come, but I am not sure what. What else happened?”

 “That’s it. But…I don’t know. A cave.”

 “A cave?”
 “Yes. There was an image of a cave entrance, a crevice surrounded by blue lights. I don’t know whether or not we need to go there or…”

 He trailed off. Bahadur was silent. Then, he grabbed Erende’s shoulder.

 “We shall look for the entrance. If it was part of your omen, we must be open to these ideas.” He said. Erende nodded, and Bahadur’s hand left his shoulder.

 As the sun drifted from its early morning perch on the horizon to the low hanging of dusk, Erende walked silently. He had left Bahadur’s side and walked next to the end of the Guild, where Aeria and Toro trotted. Isolde limped next to him, and he slowly patted her mane.

 Night came quickly. Erende had been trapped in his thoughts throughout the day. He couldn’t be blamed; he had been searching for the cave entrance along the walls of the mountains, but he had seen nothing. They came closer upon the White Pass with Erende having no luck finding the cave.

 That is, until, Bahadur pointed out a crevice in the side of the mountain. They had just approached the path up to the pass.

 “Hold, Erende.” He called. Erende jogged over to where he was. One look at the entrance sent a wave of chills down his spine. A blue light softly glowed around the edges of the entrance. Outside of the entrance was a campsite, complete with a cooking pot hanging over the blazing campfire, two bed rolls next to the fire and a barrel of food with a lantern on top beside them

 That was it.

 That was the entrance.

 He was sure of it.

 He nodded. Bahadur smiled, and turned to the others.

 “We shall camp here for the night.”
 The Guild looked uncertain.

 “Are you sure?” Aeria said with a raised eyebrow, “I mean, it’ll only take about another hour to climb up the mountain to the pass, and we can camp in the old crevice we made in the ice, and it looks like someone is already in here” she said. Bahadur shook his head.

 “If we rest here, we will have more strength to climb the mountain. Come, the horses are tired as well.”

 They didn’t protest again as the Guild entered the crevice. The horses were tied to a small stone pillar outside the entrance.

 Erende was first, and he didn’t object. He carefully made his way through the small opening. It was damp, and tight. He struggled to climb through. Few times he considered turning around, and so did the others by how much they were complaining.

 “Is this even a cave?” Orianer grumbled, her voice bouncing off the close walls.

 “Maybe?” Erende responded.

 Finally, the opening expanded, and Erende popped out, landing on the floor and on his face. He groaned, looking up. Darkness enveloped him.

 Just like the dream.

 “Why is it so dark?” He heard Khir’schen mutter as she popped out of the opening behind him. One by one the group came through. He waited until he could hear all of their voices in the cave.

 “Everyone here?”

 “Yes.”

 “Yep.”
 “Uh huh.”

 “Regrettably.”

 “Great, now follow me.”

 He put his hands out and a felt a damp stone wall of the cave. He took a careful step forward. Then another. Then another. Then another. He followed the wall, pressing his hand against the stone. After a few winding twists and turns, a small, dim light began to appear. He smiled, walking faster towards it. The light grew brighter and brighter until Erende came into view of a huge cavern. Torches, not blue, lit the entire room. Statues of beasts surrounded them with a black chandelier hung from the ceiling. Long dining tables dotted the ground with large, round pots, some of them broken with shards of the pot scattering the ground. Bones jutted from the dirt. Everything seemed unlike his dream, and he didn’t even see the old man. Who he did see, though, was someone completely different.

 In the middle, standing over a table with bubbling mixtures, stood a dark-skinned man. His rust-colored hair was pulled into a tight ponytail and he wore a simple leather armor outfit, though Erende couldn’t see anything else except his back. An iron mace hung from his belt. The man didn’t seem to notice the Guild, pounding away at a mortar and pestle while humming a small tune.

 Erende slowly stepped forward into the chamber. His shoes squished on the wet stone. An odd colored stain on the floor made him wrinkle his nose. Behind him, he heard the others stand from the opening in the crevice. Khir’schen walked slowly beside him. Her eyebrows were furrowed.

 “A…Dunmer…?” She whispered. Toro growled low in his throat, and Aeria shushed him. That small sound echoed in the cavern, and caught the man’s attention. He stopped, turning his head to them. A smile pulled at his lips. Two dark red eyes glowed in the light.

 “Visitors!” He cried cheerfully. Erende recoiled in surprise. His voice wasn’t at all masculine – it was high pitched and almost shrieking, like rubbing the serrated end of two knives together.

 The man bounded down the steps and greeted the Guild with a giant grin. His pointed ears wiggled, and Erende noticed that two leather straps crossed over his chest and held a small silver plate with the letter A etched into the metal. His hands gripped Erende’s, shaking wildly.

 “Welcome, welcome! I have been waiting for someone to visit me for quite some time!” He said, moving onto Khir’schen, who held back her hand with narrowed eyes. The elf just shrugged and turned to the others, shaking each of their hands with enthusiasm. Toro still growled at the elf when he came closer to Aeria, his tail bushed and his hackles rising.

“Oh,” Orianer replied with a sneer as he took ahold of her hand, “I didn’t know trolls still inhabited caves like this.”

 “We apologize for intruding,” Aeria said with a quick glare to Orianer, stepping back towards the crevice entrance, “we’ll be leaving now.”

 The elf waved her back.

 “No, no, no, it’s perfect that you arrived at this time! How fabulous, a family reunion! Come in! Come in!” He beckoned. Erende smiled with a sense of uneasiness.

 “No, we’re going to go,” he said. He had no idea that someone was already occupying the cave, and it certainly wasn’t the man he had seen from his dream. He realized how big of a mistake he had made by coming here. Erende saw it on Bahadur’s face. As they made their way back towards the exit, the elf quickly shot an arcane bolt of blue towards the floor, trapping their feet in freezing ice. They gasped, turning to look at the elf. He gleamed.

 “My name’s Flames McMace-Hands. Please don’t leave until I’ve taken proper care of you.”

 The Guild each exchanged a disbelieving look. Erende was more than shocked – to him, it seemed this elf was a little more on the insane side than he liked. Orianer must have also seen it, for she blasted the ice with a fireball expelled from her hand, cracking the ice and allowing them to break free. As they stepped out of the prison, Flames motioned for them to follow him.

 “Come on, come, have dinner with me. I can make cabbage stew without any ingredients.”

 “No, really, that’s okay -” Khir’schen started, but Flames ignored her as he trotted to one of the long tables. He placed his hands together to conserve a ball of greenish light before expelling it out onto the table. Eight bowls of stew appeared on the table, steam slowly rising from them. Erende heard Vala breath out an audible ‘wow’. Steffan nodded his approval, but Aeria snatched his sleeve when he took a step towards the table.

 “Flames…” Aeria said with a scrunched forehead.

 “McMace-Hands,” Flames bowed, “Arcane Master Magician, very handsome dark elf, at your service.”

 “Mc…Mace-Hands, then,” Aeria cleared her throat, “we would love to stay and eat-”

 “Then stay and eat!”

 “-but we really must be going. We have to get over the White Pass tomorrow in order to reach our, uh, destination on time.”

 “Can we not stay for hot food?” Vala inquired, smiling to Flames, “his use of arcane magick is incredibly impressive. I haven’t been able to serve a proper meal made entirely out of magick myself.”

 Flames chuckled “well, it is very easy. First, you must concentrate on the dish you want to create, but a meat dish requires any dead animal, preferably with the body still intact, learned that the hard way, and-”

 “I agree that the meal is impressive,” Orianer said loudly, yawning, “but Aeria is right. We must be going. Others will say it’s been a pleasure, but I will be truthful and say it has not.”

 She pivoted on her heel to leave once more, with the others awkwardly following her. Erende turned away from Flames, almost reluctant to leave. Then, Flames started to chuckle.

 “How about a quick job for me, hm?”

 Erende’s ears perked. A job?

 “What do you mean by a job, elf?” Bahadur asked suspiciously, turning around. Flames just grinned.

 “Have you noticed where we are? I mean, yes, a cave, but did you notice anything else?”

 Erende didn’t understand what the elf was saying. He saw the pillars of giant snakes carved into the rock, the flickering torches, the pots and the tables. It seemed as if it was just a cave Flames had morphed into his home.

 “It looks like…” Vala trailed off, glancing to Khir’schen and Flames. Flames nudged her to go on with a smile.

 “Like what?”

 “Like…like one of those Nordic ruins.”

 Bahadur raised his eyebrow when she said it, but didn’t say anything. To Erende, he couldn’t tell if she was right or wrong. He knew nothing about the Nords and really didn’t pay attention all that much when they were in the camp. However, his question was answered when Flames clapped his hands excitedly.

 “Yes! Yes, my little blind girl, yes! This is an ancient Nordic ruin back from the First Era! See here,” he approached one of the walls on the far end of the cavern decorated with drawings of snakes.

 “Watch closely.”

 He placed his hands together. A yellow light began to glow in his palms. When the light began to erupt over his fingertips, he lifted up his hands, and slammed down onto the floor. Thousands of cracks bursting with the light broke through the floor and towards the door. The cracks crawled up the wall, breaking through the snakes. The carvings exploded into hundreds of pieces if stone. After the dust cleared, Erende uncovered his face. A long, unlit hallway stared back at him from behind the destroyed wall.

 “Look!” Flames squealed, “isn’t it amazing?”

 The Guild gaped with open mouths. Khir’schen elbowed Bahadur, leaning in to him.

 “Is any of this true?” Erende heard her whisper. Bahadur furrowed his eyebrows.

 “I’m…I’m not sure, in all honesty. I spent my life learning about the war, not First Era Nordic burial caves.”

 “Are there any other burial caves that you know about?” Steffan peeped from behind Aeria.

 “No, not exactly, though there are a few we prepared for the bodies from the war…”

 “I know you’re all very confused!” Flames interjected, causing them to suddenly shut their mouths, “but I assure you, this is real. Behind that wall was – is – that hallway, and that hallway leads down into what I like to call The Unknown Dark Abyss of Darkness.”

 Erende and Steffan shared a glance.

 “Uh, The Unknown Dark Abyss?” Steffan repeated.

 “Of Darkness. Quite.” Flames beamed.

 “I see. Why such the…unique name?”

 “Well,” Flames said, clasping his hands together, “you see, when I first came to the cave, it wasn’t like this. The entrance was much bigger, much wider, and much cozier, but during the war, people tried to get in, you know, pesky farmers and families, so I killed them and closed the crevice. When I did that, it apparently triggered something magickal in here and that hallway opened up when a wall ended up being destroyed. I haven’t gone in for the fear of not being able to get back out, so I placed a magickal wall that is complete opaque but I could walk through it if I wished.”

 “If you could walk through it, why did you blow it up?” Vala asked. Flames’ grin widened.

 “I like to watch things explode.”

 “Yes, alright,” Aeria intervened, stepping forward to address Flames. Toro followed at her heels, his back arched in an aggressive manner.

 “Listen, Flames, first off, what is the job? Second, why do you want us to stay, keep you company?”

 Flames motioned towards the hallway. The darkness seemed to be a void. Erende felt a shiver run down his spine. The void was almost familiar to him somehow. It wasn’t in his dream but he sensed he had seen something – or rather felt this void before.

 “To answer your question, my darling little wood elf, I first came to this cave in search of a magickal artifact. Alas, I am afraid of the dark and would rather not travel into The Unknown Da-”

 “Yes, okay, but what if we agree to the job?” Erende asked as he stepped towards Flames, “what is the payment? What are we looking for? What-”

 Steffan elbowed him hard in the side.

 “We’re not taking the job, we’re leaving.”

 “Ah, but you’re forgetting one important thing.”

 The Guild turned to Flames. Khir’schen opened her mouth to question him, but suddenly, the cavern began to shake. Rocks fell from the ceiling, and the pillars began to crumble. They lost their balance, and they covered their ears as the deafening sound of scraping rocks echoed throughout the cavern. They watched in horror as the crevice from which they hand come from closed. Flames stood away from them, his hands flushed red and his face donning a small smile.

 “What did you do?” Aeria seethed through her teeth, “you trapped us?!”

 Flames shrugged.

 “I’ll let you out when you complete the job. Doesn’t that sound good?”

 Khir’schen stood up, her hands balled into tight fists. Vala grabbed her arms to hold her back.

 “N’wah nadeem esta cono fate!” She spat. Flames didn’t seem bothered by her language, only approaching the hallway again and snapping his fingers. This time, torches lit themselves down the darkness. They were all blue.

 “There is rumored to be a dragon stone at the end of this passage way,” Flames said, his smile gone and his voice no longer holding that charm of happiness, but instead sounded completely serious.

 “Retrieve it for me, and I will free you.”

The Guild looked towards the hallway. They didn’t have a choice. They had to take the deal.

 “Fine.” Khir’schen snapped, “we’ll do the damn job.”

 Flames replaced his seriousness with a light smile, clapping excitedly.

 “Perfect!” He squealed. Just then, Vala stepped to Flames.

 “Um, if I may ask of you,” she questioned in a small voice, “if I may be able to stay with you and you can show me some of your magickal talents? I mean, we’re already stuck here, so why not make the most of it?”

 The Guild stared at her in astonishment. Vala blinked innocently.

 “What?” She asked.

 Erende wasn’t astonished she had immediately asked to stay with the dark elf. What he was surprised about, was that her good eye, the one that wasn’t covered in a milk film, was purple. Her iris was a deep purple. He couldn’t remember if her eye had always been that color or if it had been blue, but he had just now noticed it, though he said nothing as she gazed longingly at Flames. Flames cackled, slapping his knee. He waked over and pulled Vala in close to him, shaking her shoulders.

 “Making the most of it, eh? Well, I can always make time to teach others my craft. Of course! However long it shall take them will be your class time.”

 Vala faced the others with a smile eerily similar to that of Flames’.

 “Take as long as possible!” She said.

 Suddenly, before they could protest, the Guild felt themselves being thrown to the ground and moved. They looked to see Flames holding his hands engulfed in a gold light. That same gold light surrounded them and was pushing them towards the hallway. As they fell into a heap at the entrance, Flames waved his fingers to them.

 “Good luck, Red Vale, you’ll need it! Oh, and Erende, watch out for those precious jewels.” He said, “remember, the Guardian stone! That is what I want. Now, Vala, first lesson! Watch this!”

 Using his magick, he created a wall behind them like the one he had destroyed, and when it shut, they found themselves trapped in the hallway. The Guild stood on wobbly feet. Khir’schen was up first along with Toro, and she hit the stone wall with her fist, then her sword while Toro scratched and barked at it.

 “I don’t understand, I thought he had said we could have just walked through!” She shouted, banging the stone. Aeria took her by the elbow.

 “He must be smarter than to just make a wall where we could walk out.” She said. Khir’schen sighed.

 “I suppose.”

 “In any matter,” Bahadur said as he brushed dust off himself, “we have now been forced into an arrangement. Let us go down into the depths and retrieve whatever such artifact may be down there.”

 “But what if he is lying? What if there isn’t a treasure down here?” Steffan asked, holding Erende up with one arm. Bahadur shrugged.

 “Then we’re trapped in here and we’ll die,” Orianer shouted. She was already walking down the hallway, holding a blue torch in front of her.

 “Or we find an exit. But we’re not going to know unless we haul our asses.”

 Khir’schen looked to the others. Erende saw the worry in her eyes.

 “She’s right, we-”

 “Damn right I’m right!”

 “-we must go. If we don’t find the artifact, we’re bound to find some sort of opening.”

 “And if not, we’ll make one,” Aeria grinned. Khir’schen mirrored her.

 “Exactly. Let’s get going then. I don’t like the idea of Vala being with that dark elf for too long.”

 “Speaking of which, did you see her eye?” Erende asked as he limped next to Steffan. The others shook their heads.

 “What, her blind eye?” Aeria asked, “that’s rude, Erende.”

 “No,” he said, “I mean the other one - her good eye.”

 “What about it?”

 “Did you see it’s color?”
 “I think we were all more focused on the fact that an insane dark elf trapped us in his lair of doom,” Ori muttered.

 “No, no, no, look, what color is her eye?”

 “Blue? I think?” Khir’schen answered, then shrugged, “I’m not sure, I never payed attention.”

 “Obviously, but whatever color it was, it wasn’t purple, right?”

 The Guild glanced at the other. None of them knew.

 “I assume not, I would have remembered unique coloring such as that.” Bahadur said. Erende frowned.

 “Well, her eye was purple, and I don’t even remember it being purple.”

 “So?”

 “So, back in Halrain, a discolored eye usually means enchantment, or that means someone has been overtaken by a large assessment of magick.” Erende said. He turned to Steffan, raising his eyebrows.

 “Right?”

 Steffan nodded slowly.

 “I mean, yeah, but it’s only a folk tale, Erende. Discolored eyes came from an old wives’ tale then turned into a bedtime story – do you really think she’s been possessed?”

 Erende shrugged.

 “I’d like to think that she is – we know what she did was not her own actions, right? She would never trap us in here like that. Whatever it might be, we’re dealing with something bigger than an insane dark elf. There’s more to him than meets the eye.”

 Erende grinned.

 “Get it?”

 The others just frowned at him. Steffan pushed him off his shoulder and let him fall to the ground.

 “Oh, come on! That was funny!”

 “Shut up, Erende. Let’s go, we’ve got a long way to get out of this hellhole.”

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