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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3. Chapter One 4E 697

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

4E 697

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…plink…

…plink...

…plink…

 The sound of the water splashing into a puddle on the floor echoed throughout her head. She grimaced, closing her eyes tightly as she tried to get comfortable, but the iron cuffs dug sharply into her wrists. The warmth of her blood trickled down her arm and soaked into the fabric she wore.

 It was not that she didn’t mind being chained to a wall, it was more of the fact that she had not gotten the chance to finish dissecting her own body. Yes, she had known the price of necromancy, and, yes, she had known that if the guards had found her out she would have been most likely be killed, but she wanted to know things; her insatiable curiosity about death far outweighed her fear of it. She wanted to experiment with her own hands instead of watching her masters and tutors show her the safest way possible. She liked danger. She liked risk. She wanted to see if she could, though she never stopped to think if she should. In fact, she was probably her own demise.

 Either way, she was dead.

 How she had exactly died, she couldn’t quite remember. She did, however, remember that after anchoring her own spirit into a different plane of magickal existence and attaching a few conscious strings to her body, she could, more or less, pick up a few embalming tools and cut into her stomach without feeling pain to remove her dinner of spoiled clams. It was truly a work of health and magick. She was incredibly impressed with herself.

 Then came the searing pain and darkness, and she blacked out. It was a few moments later that she had woken up, back in her body, chained to a moldy brick wall, in what seemed like an abandoned well. She didn’t remember ever coming here, nor did she have an explanation as to why she was cuffed. She had a sense that where she was wasn’t…well, that it wasn't real. It just felt artificial. She could feel it, almost smell it. A sinister presence suffused the air. She could feel the air in the cell sizzle with a dark energy.

 She was angry and confused. The sharp flashes of pain that shot through her abdomen where she had cut herself open didn’t help to improve her mood. Her tunic was saturated with her blood and her stomach throbbed painfully with every beat of her wretched heart. Her wounds were still open and exposed as she didn't get the chance to properly stitch herself back together.

 Oh well, she thought, there is never any use in wishing what I could have done when something else has already been done…I think.

 She waited, bound, for what seemed like an eternity. Her perception of time was hopelessly warped and she couldn't tell if that was from the pain, or if it was from something... else. Other than the fact that she was at the bottom of a well, she still didn’t have much of a clue as to where she was. The only thing she could see from her little prison was a burning sky above her, and although the clouds looked as if they were on fire, the air was freezing and unnaturally still. The frigid rain that was falling felt like icy needles piercing her skin.

“Askarath…”

 She snapped her head up in surprise. The word seemed to echo in her mind. Or was it echoing in reality? Again, she couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't.

 “Askarath, my darling…”

 Like a silken thread, the elegant voice wove itself through her ears and eyes and into her mind, where it wrapped itself tightly around her thoughts. Were they her thoughts? She just wasn't sure anymore.

 “Askarath…”

 That was her.

 That was her name.

 She knew this voice.

 “Askarath.”

 “Yes, mother. I’m listening.”

***********

Crunch.

Crunch.

Crunch.

 His boots sunk deep enough into the thick blanket of snow that his calves were beginning to numb from the cold. The wooden logs in his arms felt heavy with snow. Although he had lived in Halrain longer than he could remember, the storms that passed through were always difficult for him to handle. He trudged on, blinking rapidly as the icy wind started to seal his eyes shut.

 A wave of relief swamped him when he found the light of the lantern breaking through the white winds, flickering gently. Then, the cabin slowly started to come into view. He began to walk faster. His boots left the crunch of snow and onto the wooden steps of his home, creaking loudly under his weight. He struggled to open the door before tumbling inside, heat hitting his face. The door slammed with a loud BANG, and he quickly bolted it shut. He panted. His mouth felt as if it was stuffed with cotton and ice, his skin was raw and red. The warm air swirled in his frosted lungs. It made his chest hurt. When he turned from the door, he saw the dying flames of the fire licking at the bricks of the chimney.

 He brushed off his boots, letting the snow gather on the floor, then set his leather pack on the ground. The logs from his arms tumbled into the hearth. Sparks were sent fluttering into the air around him. Basking in the warmth of the flames, he removed his heavy coat and set it next to the pack. The ice that had blanketed it began to melt. His hand scraped the dried, snowy flecks of dirt from a tangle of dirty blonde locks hanging down from his chin. He rubbed his hands together, his blood slowly returning to his frozen fingers.

 "Halvor.”

 He turned to see Eerika standing in the doorway of the bedroom. She smiled as she looked to him, then to a bundle of wool she rocked gently in her arms. Halvor stood from his chair, walking to her. He lightly kissed her forehead before taking the bundle from her arms. As soon as he did, the bundle gave a soft cry. Eerika pulled down one of the folds on the wool to reveal a baby boy. His eyes were large and blue, and he cooed when he saw Halvor standing above him. Halvor grinned as the babe reached up with a fat hand. He grabbed onto one of Halvor’s long locks of hair and yanked.

“Aye, he’s got a strong grip,” Halvor chuckled, prying the babes fingers free and rubbing his chin. Eerika smiled softly.

 “Just like his da.”

 “He’ll grown up to be a fine swordsman. Oh,” he said, nodding his head to the leather bag sitting near the fire, “I brought some potatoes and greens from Kanikir like you wanted. They had no lettuce but plenty of leeks, ripe from the harvest last week." Eerika hung his coat on a nail in the front door. The air whistled in the cracks from the storm outside.

 "That’s fine, lettuce doesn’t fair well this time of year.”

 “Then why did you ask for it?”

 “Because the babe hasn’t tried it yet. He’s had more than his fair share of leeks. By the way, how are they doing? Kanikir, and the rest?”

 "I asked how his wife was, how the kin are doing."

 "And?"

 "Fine, Eerika, perfectly fine. The eldest one got a flu - it'll pass by in time."

 "That doesn't mean everything is fine."

 He grinned, turning to sit on a bench near the fire. He rocked the baby as he watched Eerika take the potatoes from his bag and place them in sacks strewn across the kitchen.

 "You worry too much, woman. I meant nothing exciting happened."

 Eerika wiped her hands on her nightgown. Dirt smudged the white fur.

 "Speaking of exciting..."

 She started, eyeing him as if he might understand. A minute passed.

 "Speaking of exciting?" Halvor asked. He met her gaze with confusion. She huffed.

 "I mean...a name. A name for our child."

 He stopped rocking the baby. For a moment, they did not speak, nor did they look at one another. The fire crackled.

"It's been four days, Halvor. We…don't have much time." Eerika gently began, placing a hand on her husband’s shoulder. His expression was hard and grim as shadows from the fire danced on it.

 "I know."

 Without another word, he reached behind his neck to grasp at something, pulling it back over. He untangled a thin piece of wiry leather from strands of his hair and placed it inside the swaddle. It held a piece of decorative bone, carved into the shape of a winding loop. A small fragment of wood was molded into the bottom half, a thin yarn holding the pieces together. Halvor tucked the pendent deep into the folds on the cloth.

 "Good fortune to you, my boy. My little Erende."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4E 715

Morning Star

Middas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  prison cell was more familiar to Erende than his own home – and for somewhat of a good reason.

 It wasn’t that he was a bad thief. More times than he had been arrested had Erende pulled off a successful heist without being caught. He could swipe a rich man’s coin purse from his belt or a dagger from a woman’s sheath, in the open, with broad daylight, with no one, not even a guard standing two feet away from him, noticing. It was only that he was human and he was prone to at least make some mistakes.

 He scratched his wrist as the wet leather from his armor rubbed against his skin, then thumbed the necklace again. It might not have been the profession his father would be proud of, but the money was good. He was a thief, and other than pick-pocketing a noble on the street, or swindling an elderly idiot of his savings, or, occasionally, someone would pay him to steal something from someone that just happened to be incarcerated, so he would get in trouble on purpose and get into the jail to steal whatever it was that his client needed, but he liked breaking into a house and swiping whatever valuable items were left out, then reselling them on the black market. It was a good, profitable business. He loved doing it. It made him feel like a shadow, like he couldn’t be caught, like he had the world in his hands.

 But, then when he got too cocky, the world decided he should be put in his place.

 Luckily, he had a partner.

 The jingle of keys echoed in the corridor. Erende lifted his head to see a guard unlocking the barred door to his cell. Standing next to him was Steffan, his face grim. The door opened with a creak.

 “Your bail was paid - again,” the guard scowled under his helmet. Erende stepped out of the cell, stretching his arms as they popped. His shoes left wet prints across the stone floor.  

 “Yeah, some people tend to like me enough to not want me in that cramped cell for too long,” he said with a grin. The guard rolled his eyes and led the two from the cell area to the guard barracks. Erende made a beeline for a wooden chest sitting in the corner of the barracks, waiting impatiently for one of the guards to unlock it with a rusty metal key. When it opened, he couldn’t help but smile when he saw his coin purse was still intact. He grabbed it with both hands and shoved it into his pocket. He could feel some water slosh in the purse. As he recovered the rest of his things from the chest, Steffan rubbed his face.

 “So, let me get this straight-”

 “-and before you do, let me tell you it wasn’t as bad as last time, I swear.”

 Steffan stared at him, his mouth gaping open.

 “You jumped into the bay, and you’re telling me it’s not as bad as last time?! It’s worse than last time!” He sputtered.

 “No, it’s not,” Erende said, “last time I had to hide in a fish barrel. I smelled like trout for days afterwards, couldn’t get the stench out of my clothes. And you know why I did it? Because I didn’t want to get caught!”

 “I would think that since you proclaim yourself to be this great thief and escapist, you wouldn’t have gotten caught if you didn’t jump into the bay, and yet you did after you hurled yourself from the roof of a building – not to mention that building was the chief guard barracks?! What did you think would happen?”

“I wouldn’t get caught.”

 Steffan gritted his teeth, grinding his palms into his eyes. The irritation was visible across his blotchy red cheeks.

 “You’re an idiot, you know that?”

 “You insult me too much.” Erende said as he strapped his belt on. Steffan rolled his eyes and picked up Erende’s wooden tankard strap from the chest. He toyed with the stone pendent hanging off it.

 “I don’t care, didn’t I tell you not to take the contract? You could’ve killed yourself, damn fool.”

 “I don’t know, I guess.”

 “Don’t give me that, I told you that I didn’t want you taking the contract.”

  “Then why’d you ask me if you did?” Erende grabbed his bag, slamming the chest shut, “and I didn’t get killed, did I?”

 “Shut up,” Steffan muttered, “and here, this strap is still wet, idiot.”

 Erende took the strap from him, tying it back onto his belt as they started walking down towards the two brass doors of the barracks.

 “You’re still a hardass as ever.”

 “You’re still an idiot.”

 “You’ve said that more than once.”

 “Because I want you to understand how much of an idiot you are.”

 “Four times.”
 “Idiot.”

 “Five. You’re very rude.”

 One of the guards standing near the large brass door unbolted the locks, the clicking of the metal echoing throughout the corridor. As the doors opened, icy winter air hit their faces. The sun was already dipping into the horizon, lighting the sky on fire. The barracks overlooked the center square of Havinna, the port city of Halrain. Erende looked towards the marketplace, noticing the roofs were blanketed in snow. He could see the icy stone path that led from the marketplace down towards the docks. Ships were stalled in the harbor, the natural rock formation circling the fjord holding three lighthouses that burned bright with signaling fires. Near the docks was The Pig Snout tavern, his regular contract spot. Already, Erende could hear the loud music carry over the homes and buildings of the city.

 “I don’t even know why I agreed to work with you. You act like a child.” Steffan muttered. Erende pursed his lips.

 “In truth, I don’t know either.”

 “Oh, lands ashore, really? Then why did you ask?”

 “Hey, if I knew you would act as if you’re my da I wouldn’t have asked ya,” Erende said as he began walking down the stone stairs towards the docks, “and so, are you coming, pops?”

 “No. I’m done. You’re on your own this time.” Steffan stated, folding his arms. His face was stone but Erende saw the doubt in his eyes, and smiled.

 “Alright, your choice. See you on the next contract.” He said with a salute, and bounded down the stairs.

 “I said I’m done, Erende! I’m not going to bail you out again!”

 “Noted!”

 “I’m serious!”

 “Got it!”

 “Come back here! I’m serious!”

 “No!”

 “Erende!”

--

 Erende never had very high expectations for the bar. As soon as he opened the door to The Pig Snout, his eyes immediately landed on a rowdy drunk, singing at the top of his lungs as he stood on a table before slipping on his own vomit and falling to the floor. The air was heavy with the scent of beer, salt water, and sweat as loud music of a lute played over the bar chatter. A bartender in a tight blouse leaned across the bar, her assets almost bursting from her bodice as she offered a drunk sailor another round of ale. To Erende, it was the third most familiar scene in his life. He felt odd comfort in the drunk atmosphere, and made his way through the crowd of hooting farmers and sailors. Once he made his way to the back of the tavern, he scanned the mass of bodies until he spotted a scaly tail flickering in between raised mugs of ale. Erende made a beeline for it.  

 “There,” Erende said as he approached the table, turning his leather bag upside down so coins and gems spilled across the wood, “what can I buy with this?”

 Walks, an old, wrinkled lizard with pale green scales that glittered in the torchlight and slanted yellow eyes, picked up on of the gems with a long claw, holding it close to his face. After a moment, his mouth turned in an ugly serpentine grin.

 “Very good, lad, very good. I’m sure the Captain of the Guard didn’t mind your presence as much as the Sovereign did?”

 Erende slid into the chair across from the lizard.

 “Well, when the tea got cold and the biscuits ran out, she had become a tad bit irritable.”

 “I heard you tried to escape into the bay harbor?”

 “Yeah, last minute decision when the Sovereign decided to chase me herself with her umbrella in tow.”

 “Didn’t even think ahead, did you?”

 Erende smirked, “I still brought it, didn’t I?”

 “Yes, yes, well, you’ve earned a look into my inventory.” he hissed, swiping his claw across the table and scraped the coins into his purse. Erende watched as Walks shuffled under the table for a moment before pulling out a large roll of hardened leather. Erende noticed the scales on the leather were similar to those that armored Walks. The lizard unhooked three bronze locks on it then unrolled it, exposing jewelry, small items of armor like gloves and leather wrist bands, and several different types of weapons, ranging from simple iron to steel to ebony and other unique metals Erende wasn’t familiar with. His eyes immediately caught a bronze and orange dagger tucked into one of the leather pockets. It was gorgeous, the colors molding with one another in a metallic rainbow that flamed in the light of the tavern.

 “How much credit do I have?” He asked, ogling the dagger.

 “Not enough for that, I can assure you.” Walks said, taking the bronze dagger and inserting it into his pocket, out of view from Erende. He frowned.

 “Fine,” Erende said with a sigh, turning towards the others. Numerous weapons winked back at him. Daggers and short swords dug themselves into the leather. Some of the gloves were sizzling with magick. Then, after a minute of looking them over, another dagger caught his eye. A black dagger, ebony. The blade was carved with intricate designs, the handle molded for a better grip by the user. Erende picked it up, holding it delicately in his hands. A soft reflection from one of the torches shone on the blade.

 “That’s pure ebony,” Walks mentioned, “carved by a good blacksmith friend of mine, the ebony is a very rare metal in this part of Halrain…it’ll take most of your credit.”

 Erende took out his old weapon from his sheath, a worn iron dagger with a bent blade, and slid the ebony one into its place. It fit perfectly. Walks flicked his tongue, locking the roll of leather back up.

 “What happened to your last dagger?”

 “A couple of guards didn’t like the idea of me having a weapon in a prison cell- and promptly threw mine into the waste basket.”

 “Ah, I see.”

 “It’s unfortunate that they don’t trust me,” Erende said.

 “Unfortunate indeed,” Walks sipped a cup of ale, his mouth parting to reveal dozens of serrated teeth. Erende wondered if they were sharper than the dagger.

 “Are you ready for a next contract?” He asked. Erende tsked.

 “Steffan is against another contract. He had stated he was done today but I don’t believe him.”

 “I believed he had already quit?”

 “He had threatened, but never has acted on his word.”

 “But does it not earn you both coin?”

 “Yes. I think he just doesn’t like the fact his job is to bail me out of jail.”

 “You do seem to be apprehended by the guards quite a bit.”

 “Only when I’m being paid for it.”

 Walks’ eyes brightened.

 “Ah, that reminds me. Speaking of being paid…” Walks said. Erende lifted his eyebrows, watching Walks as he pulled a scroll from a pouch hanging off his chair. He set it down in front of Erende. A stain of red dots was splattered across the paper. They were bright red.

 “I was given this as payment for a good dagger of mine. The buyer who gifted it to me said it was a map towards a huge amount of treasure, though he hadn’t been able to find it.”

 Erende snorted, “I didn’t know you took any exchanges like that?”

 Walks grinned.

 “I don’t.”

 He unraveled the scroll. It was dirty, dust swirled in the air when Walks smoothed out the parchment. It was indeed a map, but nothing like Erende had seen before. The outline of the land was not of Halrain, but of another continent named Tamriel. He only knew this as the name was written in faded ink on the top half of the parchment. A line crossing across several squiggly borders of what he presumed to be provinces or territories were drawn across the map, with unfamiliar words labeling several distinct places. The line came to an end in the middle of the continent. Black dotted lines with X markings were strewn across the paper, reminding Erende of old toy treasure maps. A compass rose that was painted in the lower left-hand corner, alongside paragraphs of odd letters and symbols. It’s faded features looked like nothing Erende had ever seen. In fact, Erende didn’t recognize anything.

 “What…what is this?” He asked, dragging his fingers lightly across the parchment. Walks pushed it closer to him.

 “Supposedly it is a map for treasure, for gold unlike the things we have ever seen,” his claw pointed to the compass rose, “this is a land named Tamriel. It’s somewhere down south, past the mining islands and past the border for Halrain. Now, Erende, think of it as a reward for all the contracts you’ve been able to successfully complete.”

 Erende breathed in deeply.

 “You just don’t want it, do you?”

 “It’s completely worthless to me.”

 “I assumed.”

 Walks grinned as Erende rolled up the scroll and stuffed it into his bag.

 “I think if there was any chance for real treasure, you wouldn’t gift it to me.” Erende jested.

 “Yes, well, you can sell it as a gag gift or give it to a child to play pirates with, I don’t care what you do with it. It’s worthless to me. Burn it for all I care.”

 Suddenly, Walks froze. His eyes gazed over Erende’s shoulder. His bile-colored irises flickered between him and whatever was behind his head. Erende tensed. Walks brought the ale back to his lips.

“It seems we’ve got visitors.” He whispered.

 Erende forced his rigid muscles to glance behind him. A figure with a red hood covering their face was sitting at the bar. A mercenary, Erende guessed from the sword strapped to their belt that supported a symbol carved into the holster that he didn’t recognize. They seemed almost normal, except for an itching feeling Erende had just from looking at the symbol. They must have sensed Erende had noticed them, for one looked over and stared directly at Erende. Their face was covered with a black mask. Two purple dots took the place where their eyes would be. A violent shiver ran down his spine and he sat up. His fingers curled around the handle of his dagger. This wasn’t the first time someone had sent a merc after him, but he would’ve remembered what he had done to piss them off. The symbol was too unfamiliar for him to assume it was an assassination attempt.

 “Do you know of them?” Walks asked silently, lips tightening, “what did you do?”

 Erende shook his head.

 “No. I don’t think so. I don’t know.” He said, resisting the urge to look behind him again. Walks pressed his mouth in a thin line.

 “Well, then I presume it is someone who has taken an interest in you.”

 Erende knelt his head and looked over his shoulder. Another red-hooded figure with a bow strung around their back had entered the tavern. As they made their way towards the bar, Erende spotted the same symbol carved into the sword holster on the figures leather quiver. There was no doubt – it was a guild. Walks looked to him with the same realization.

 “A piece of advice, boy - back door. Run.”

 Erende didn’t hesitate. Standing from his chair he cut through the crowd towards the back door. Once he was outside, he bolted up the steps where he had come from. The sun had set quickly, throwing the island into the darkness of the night. His eyes adjusted to the shadows, and, running as quickly as he could, weaving through the city alley ways, raced home.

-

 The cabin sat on a hill outside of the city walls. It was a sad, sore sight – the wooden logs used to build his home were crumbling and decaying from the weather. The roof sagged under the weight of the snow and ice from winter storms. Erende’s boots crunched through the frosted grass and creaked on the wooden floorboards to the front door. The sweet smell of cherries wafted in the air as he opened the door.

 It was as if time had stopped within the wooden walls of his home. A fireplace sat in the middle of the living room, a blackened brick chimney surrounding it and protruding through the roof. A cooking pot bubbled on the fire, making the copper cover bounce. Old fur skins hung on the walls, shadows dancing on them with the flame light, and a wooden bed laid under the skins. A table with a bench sat near the fireplace, and next to it, the doorway to the main bedroom. Erende bolted the door, his anxiety wearing off as the sharp sound of the metal lock clicked, then set his pack onto the bed. 

 “Mother? Mother, where are you?” Erende called. His voice bounced off the cabin walls. No response. Wary of the pot on the fire, he walked over to it, taking the lid off and releasing a cloud of steam into the air. Erende recoiled as the smell hit him.

 “Oh, dear lands,” he moaned, peering closer to the boiling liquid. An odd concoction of cherries, onions, black berries and carrots floated in a dark broth. He sniffed. It was beginning to burn. Taking a cloth, he grabbed the handle to remove it, but the heat seared into his hand.

 “N’ah eddme’gi!” Erende cursed, flinging the pot onto the ground and spilling the broth across the floor.

 “Erende! Watch your language!”

 Erende squealed. He whipped around to see his mother standing in the doorway of the bedroom. Her grey eyes were narrowed, flicking between him and the floor.

 “You know better than to curse at home, and what in islands above are you doing?” She scolded. Erende nodded his head over to the spilled pot on the table.

“What are you doing, alchemy?! That thing was about to explode until I took it off the fire!” He cried as his mother blew on the smoldering black puddle. Her mouth tightened in a frown when she poked the chunky mixture.

 “It was dinner, Erende. It was supposed to be boiling.”

 “Well, I didn’t know that.”

 “Obviously, child. Help me clean this up.”

 Erende sighed, pressing a towel against his hand, “fine.”

 When the last of the mixture was mopped, Mother tossed a red stained rag into the washing bin, rinsing her hands free of the muck.

 “Now, let me see that burn of yours,” she said. Erende held his palm out to her without hesitation, and she began to pat it down with a cold towel. Erende stared at the licking tongues on logs of wood. Silence, except for the crackle of fire and the whistling of wind outside, hung over them. It was broken when Mother chuckled softly.

 “Thinking hard?” She asked. Erende looked at her.

 “What?”

 “Your hand,” she nodded her head to his other hand. He realized that he had been thumbing the necklace around his neck.

 “I’m fine.”

 She nodded her head, looking back at his hand. Erende gazed at her. She had few wrinkles along her face, but it didn’t show her age. The grey of her hair shined in the firelight along with few strands of black. Back when Father’s friends used to visit them often, Erende was often told he looked a lot like Mother, with his button nose, thick black hair and pale skin, but his blue eyes had come straight from his da. Erende only knew that as Mother would never let him forget it.

 The fire crackled. Suddenly, the corner of his eye caught a flash of movement out of the windows near the roof. He blinked. He could have sworn he saw a quick flicker of red outside. He squinted at the windows, straining to see through the ice-covered glass.

 “Why do you look like that?”

 Erende looked to see Mother furrowing her brows.

 “What?”

 “Your face. You made a weird face.”

 “It’s just my face?”

 “It doesn’t normally look that repulsive.”

 He frowned.

 “Thanks, mother.”

 She chuckled, patting his hand before wrapping it with a white bandage.

 “I’m joking.”

 “You always are, Mother,” he said with a wink, “listen, I’m going to check outside for something.” He started to stand up, only to have her tug him back down.

 “No, you’re not. Last time you went outside you were put in jail.”

 “I saw something from the window, Mother.”

 “It was a rabbit, then. Sit down.”

 “The roof window.”

 “Flying rabbits.”

 Erende groaned.

 “Mother, I am just going to check. Whatever was out there might be gone by now, but at least let me check.”

Mother pursed her lips, tying the bandage tightly around his burn.

 “Fine. Come right back in when you realize what an idiot you are.” She huffed, standing from her seat. Erende tucked the bandage under his sleeve.

 “Why is everyone being rude to me today? That’s the sixth time someone had called me that.”

 “Because you are an idiot.”

 “Seventh,” he grumbled as he opened the door and walked outside. It was chilly, the cold biting into his skin. The window where he was certain he had seen the red was covered in snow and ice. He couldn’t even see the fire light from inside. Erende frowned. That red was maybe just a part of his imagination. He was still a little tense from the tavern, but if – or, when - they saw that he was gone, why did they follow him? Wary, he went back inside, this time locking the door and laying a wooden beam to bar it shut. Mother stood over the fireplace, chopping more vegetables into the pot. The leg of a chicken stuck out from under the lid. She glanced at him as he sat on the bench.

 “Better?” She asked. He sighed.

 “Better.”

 Mother tossed in the rest of the carrots from the chopping board and placed the lid on top of the pot. Erende saw the steam whistling from an opening on the lid.

 “Are you making dinner again?”

“No, I’m summoning the god of death with a proper, healthy meal that he probably doesn’t get very often.”

 “I was just asking a question.”

 “It was a stupid question.”

 “Thanks. I love you too.”

 “Who doesn’t?”
 She smirked over her shoulder as Erende rolled his eyes.

 “You know I’m only jesting. Oh, that reminds me. How is Steffan doing?” She asked. Her hand stirred the pot with a wooden spoon. Erende followed the slow, steady circles.

 “He’s doing fine. He doesn’t like the work we do that much so I often hear him complain.”

 “I would complain too if I had to work with you every day.”

 He scoffed at her comment. Tearing his gaze away from the hypnotic stirring, he instead gathered the soup bowls from the cabinet. Steam billowed into the air when Mother removed the lid. The strong scent of onions and chicken wafted into the air.

 “If a guard decides to track you down for all the mess you put them through, I think I’ll feed them this when they arrest you.” She said.

 “I’ll tell them you poisoned it.”

 “This was your da’s favorite recipe, why would I poison such a memento?”

 “Because you love your son too much to let him be taken away.”

 “Debatable.”

 They smiled at one another, sitting down at the table. Neither of them talked much as they ate. Once they were done, Erende washed out the bowls with warm water in a bucket while Mother stoked the fire with a stick. He watched as she broke the stick in half, and used one half to tip the logs and the other to stoke the coals. He was tempted to offer an actual fire iron, but every time he had, she would give him a glare and state a stick was just as fine.

 Even in their similarities, they were vastly different. Erende had always had an eye for gold, while Mother only wanted what was needed. He could never understand that, though he didn’t really want to. Gold was always one of the most important things to him; it fueled his job, it gave him food, it gave him fame, notability in the twisted black-market scene. He didn’t understand why Mother never felt the same.

 Erende turned to his bed. The leather pack was slouched against the headframe. Upon seeing it he remembered the scroll. Placing another log in the fire so it grew brighter, he unbuckled the pocket of the bag, searching for the scroll. His fingers touched the rough parchment. Dust and dirt were sent into the air as he pulled it out.

 He still wasn’t quite sure why Walks had gifted the scroll to him. He had said it was completely worthless, but why was it worthless? When he unrolled it, the map stared back at him. The line drawn across the continent was dark in the light of the fire. Erende didn’t know this island at all. Tamriel. He had never heard of the name before nor had seen anything similar to it on any other map. Did Walks think it was a hoax? If it was, did he already try to do a background check?

 Curious, he walked to the cabinet, pulling a drawer out from the bottom portion. He rummaged through bits and odds, looking through numerous maps that his da had saved over the years. Halvor had been a sailor, so Erende had seen many, many maps drawn by him or others to help them sail the right way. But none of the ones in the drawer were that similar to the scroll. Frustrated, he shoved the drawer closed.

 He was always one for coin, that was a given. The scroll had a probability for holding the key to a vast amount of wealth. It quickened his heart just to think about it. But, if he couldn’t find out where Tamriel was located, he couldn’t find the treasure. Or maybe it just didn’t exist at all. That was logical. The red stains on the map clarified that Walks didn’t believe the scroll held any value either, and he probably found out the map was just a fraud.

 Erende rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighing. It wouldn’t hurt to resell it at one of the pawn shops in the early morning. It could fetch a coin or two, or he could pass it off as a legit treasure map. He didn’t care. He wanted the gold, and he would definitely get gold by selling this.

 He shoved the scroll back into his bag, kicking it under his bed frame before climbing under the fur blanket. Laying on his back he stared at the roof. Together, the whistling of the wind in the cracks and the soft crackle of fire turned into a lullaby. Slowly, his lids drooped closed, and he fell asleep.

 Unfortunately, for not that long.

 Erende woke to the loud creak of the floorboards next to his bed. He had moved in his sleep to where he faced the cabin wall, and could only see the shadows of the fire. For a moment, he assumed Mother had woken up for a cup of water. He could see her shadow on the fur skins. It moved slowly, deliberately. He was about to get up to join her until three other shadows appeared, startling him.

 “Are you sure it is here?” A female voice whispered. It was too thin to be his mothers, and had somewhat of an accent under her tone, making her words sound clipped and harsh. Another female voice popped up.

 “Yes, I am sure. The man with the lizard had shoved it into a pack – a leather pack.” This time the voice sounded almost haughty.

 “But are you sure?” A third, quiet female voice asked.

 “Well, it isn’t here.” A guttural sigh echoed from a man.

 “Hush, keep looking.” The first female voice snapped. Erende watched as their shadows floated across the wall as they continued searching. One of the shadows headed down towards his feet, looking under the bed. A flash of red caught his eye. The red hooded figures. It had to be them by what he had overheard. His hand slowly creeped down to his belt, careful to not disturb the blanket over him. His fingers barely brushed the handle of his dagger before he heard a piercing war cry followed by a loud clash of steel. He whirled around, only to see his mother in her nightgown pressing a steel greatsword against the sword of one of the intruders who laid on the floor. The intruder shoved her off, threw their legs into the air and vaulted themselves up. The other three drew their weapons.

 “When you break into someone’s home, you really shouldn’t make much noise,” Mother said with a cocky grin, “you’ll wake someone up.”

 “Oh, no, ma’am, we weren’t-” the third female voice Erende had heard started, but it was cut off as Mother swung the greatsword again. The figure ducked, drawing two small axes from their sheath and swiping them across Mother’s ankles. She jumped, narrowly avoiding her feet being sliced off. An arrow swished past her head. Erende saw the figure with the bow standing close to his bed. Unsheathing his dagger, he grabbed the figure by the waist, throwing them down onto the bed and using the hood to smother their face.

 Inside, he was freaking out just the tiniest bit. He wasn’t skilled at hand-to-hand combat or even melee. He was a thief, not a warrior. He relied on the shadows rather than a knife. His fighting skills reflected this, as the figure was able to kick him in the groin.

 Erende yelped, letting go of the figure’s hood and kneeling on the floor, holding his crotch as pain swept through him. The hood fell off the figure, revealing the face of a young woman. She jumped off the bed and tackled Erende, who couldn’t think of anything else except the pain that terrorized him. The dagger fell from his hands and onto the floor where it skidded near the fire. The woman mounted him and pulled an arrow from their sheath, drawing it into the bow. The tip of it was pointed for Erende’s eye. Immediately he moved his head to the side, the arrow whistling mere centimeters past him, clipping his ear and lodging itself into the floor.

 The woman attempted to bash his face in with the limb of the bow. Erende dodged repeatedly. Fear was beginning to take a hold of him. He could hear Mother struggle against the other three intruders. He scanned the room, looking for something to help him. He caught the glow of his dagger sitting near the fire place. It was so close he could almost reach it. Erende quickly devised a plan.

 When the woman lifted the bow again to strike, he used his head to butt her in the chest, her breast cushioning the blow so it only startled her and took her off guard. As she lost her balance and fell to the side, Erende pushed her off. He grabbed the dagger just as she righted herself and snatched his foot.

 “Did…did you just hit me in the breast?!” She cried, pulling him towards her. A corner of his mouth quirked up.

 “Maybe.”

 “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

 He just shrugged.

 “Quite a lot, truthfully.”

 His plan had somewhat worked. Boiling with anger, the woman raised her bow over his face. He used his dagger to cut open the back of her dominant hand, making her drop her weapon. She cursed in pain. As blood dripped on the floor, she seethed through her lips.

 “By the Gods, I’ll kill you!” She said. Erende froze. She probably could, and would.

 “Unlikely.”

 The two stopped, startled. They turned to see Mother tying the three other intruders together with rope. The woman Erende had been fighting panted, staring at her companions. Mother held up the bundle of rope in her hand.

 “Now, before I drag you four down to the guard barracks, you are each going to explain why the hell you thought it would be a good idea to break into my home, trash it and then terrorize us,” she said, eyeing the hooded figures, “and no worries, you have time to talk. We’re only just getting started.”

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