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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5. Chapter Three

 

4E 715

Rain’s Hand

Morndas

 

Erendre had no idea how much time had passed.

 His cell was dark, and he wasn’t exactly sure if he was awake or not. He could barely remember the difference between sleeping and waking up; the last time he had gotten up was to eat, then went back to sleep. That was it. Several times he had woken up to someone new guarding him. Steffan only came down a few times, and only to check up on him. They talked about everything and nothing, how Steffan was being accepted into the Guild by some of the members. Erende momentarily felt relieved Steffan was being treated at a higher standard than he was. Then, Steffan would leave, and he was alone again.

 Erende groggily sat up in the bed, rubbing his crusty eyes. It didn’t matter how much he slept, fatigue continued to plague him. Erende wished that he had a better cell to sleep in, then changed that wish to not being in a cell. He was just about to stand when the ship suddenly rocked to the side, sending him face-first into the wall. Water sloshed onto the floor, soaking his feet. Erende groaned painfully as he pushed himself away.

 ‘Ah, damn,’ he thought, ‘please don’t be another sea serpent.’

 Reluctantly, he waited until the ship was up right again, but it didn’t move. It was forced to lean to the right. He balanced himself between the floor and the wall. Did it happen to strike something? Land, possibly? He looked to the cell door. No one was guarding him. Still praying that it wouldn’t be a sea serpent, Erende made his way diagonally across the room and out the door. No one was near the holding cells, and he carefully walked down the crooked corridor and up on the levels of the hull. Erende still saw no one, even checking the bedrooms. In one of them, he saw a glitter of scales. The snake skin. It had been used to patched the hole the beast had caused, but whatever the ship had struck cause the skin it partially rupture. Water was beginning to flood the halls. Erende then quickly made his way to the deck. Once he opened the door and stepped into the sunshine, the light immediately blinded him. Erende blinked rapidly. After a moment, he could see the outline of a large…mountain? No. A boulder.

 The ship had collided with a boulder on its left side of the hull, making the entire vessel lean heavily to the right. One of the masts had fallen over, the wood splintering and breaking apart. Gathered around the wreckage was the Guild. The bright red of their capes reflected against the sun. Erende stood next to Steffan and Bahadur, who was helping Vala stay on her feet, about to ask what was happening until he saw Khir’schen standing on the rock. She held the sword in her hand, using the butt to clobber on the rock. Aeria and Orianer were attempting to call Khir’schen down.

 “Tobr’a mluo ZHANG-GAK NUKATKI!” Khir’schen screamed as her sword clashed the boulder. Erende recoiled in surprise. 

 “Damn, is she okay?” He asked, staring at her. Bahadur shrugged.

 “We all woke up when the ship struck the rock. When I came up, everyone was already here.”

 “She seems quite upset,” Steffan winced as Khir’schen smacked her sword into the stone.

 “Quite upset. I think…I think she just called the stone a useless piece of cheese.” Vala said with a smile tugging on her cheeks.  

 For a while, they sat in silence, waiting until she grew tired, and slinked back over to where the Guild stood. She panted and dripped with sweat

 “Are you alright?” Bahadur asked calmly. She sighed, putting her hands to her face and groaning. Erende reached over to pat her shoulder. Oddly, she didn’t move when he touched her.

 “Khir’schen, are you alright?”

She snapped her eyes up to his, and he recoiled. The white paint had been chipped but not fully washed off, her hair disheveled and lips cracked, but still she scared him.

 “I’m fine.”

 He flinched at her tone.

 “You just looked strange, that’s all.”

 “It’s just my face.”

 “It normally doesn’t look that repulsive.”

 He didn’t even mean to say it, but it was out of habit. Erende knew he made a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. Then the words came right back in, along with Khir’s fist.

 “Sorry, sorry, sorry, force of habit,” he said, clutching his jaw, “ow, shit, that hurt.”

 “It was supposed to hurt!” She snapped. Erende was about to retort when Orianer interrupted them.

 “The ship hit this rock, no one was on the helm to notice,” she said leering towards Erende, “why are you out of the cell?”

 “It was unlocked and the ship was at an odd angle and I thought I was going to die in there.”

 Orianer scoffed, “if we wanted you dead, we would have killed you already.”

 “Sure. Believe that,” He said, glancing to Khir’schen. She set her jaw.

He pulled back his hand to check it for blood, but instead, he found it was covered in a black substance. He rubbed it in between his fingers, frowning. It was hard, like rubbing glass and pebbles together.

 “Did you happen to set yourself on fire?” Erende asked. Khir’schen snorted.

 “No.”

 Erende held up his hand to the Guild, showing the black material. Vala squinted.

 “That looks like soot.” She said. Erende nodded.

 “Just what I was thinking.”

 They turned back toward the rock. Dents on the stones surface showed where Khir’schen had struck it with the end of her sword in anger. Erende stepped over the railing and looked closely at the rock. A fine, thin layer of ash had settled on it. The ash had rocks embedded in it, making it grainy. He knew what it was.

 “Volcanic ash,” Steffan muttered before Erende could. They looked up. Out in the distance, Erende spied the faint shadow of a land.

 “Tamriel is close,” Bahadur said with a hard-set face. He looked to Khir’schen.

 “We should make an emergency raft. If we were to dock the ship on land, it would most certainly be stolen,” he said.

 “Aw, I bet a ship on land would be really useful,” Erende joked. The Guild simultaneously shot him a glare. Khir’schen nodded.

 “Good plan, Bahadur.”

 “The snake skin will help,” Vala offered.

 “Yeah,” Aeria agreed, “if we use some of the broken planks from the hull and the snake skin, we can combine them to create a small raft.”

 “Won’t the hull fill with sea water?” Erende asked.

 “No, Vala and I will regulate the amount of water coming in and create a barrier,” Orianer mentioned. She placed a hand on Vala’s shoulder.

 “Do you think you’re strong enough to help with that?”

 “Yeah,” Vala said. She struggled to stand on her feet, steadying herself with Bahadur’s arm.

 “I can do it.”

 Bahadur clapped his hands, “great, come on. Steffan, you can help me load the planks on deck for Vala and Orianer while they make sure the ship doesn’t sink.”

 “Aeria and I will help tie the raft together,” Khir’schen added. As the Guild agreed, Erende waved his hand.

 “Wait, what do I do?” He asked. Khir’schen shrugged.

 “Didn’t you lose your bag? You could look for it.”

 “Shouldn’t you look for it? Isn’t the scroll in the bag too?”

 Khir’schen pulled her belt up. The scroll was tucked inside. She smirked.

 “Always keep your valuables handy. Good luck.”

 Erende grumbled as he trudged down into the hull. He was starting to really hate the Guild. Maybe more than he should have.

 It took longer than he had initially thought. Erende had found the pack nestled in the corner of the kitchen, buried under iron cast pots and pans. It was moldy and damp with sea water. He had no idea how it had gotten down here, but he was grateful it didn’t get lost. When he finally got back up on deck, Khir’schen and Aeria were close to being finished. Despite the weather warming a little bit there was still ice, and they had to make some adjustment to make sure the boat wouldn’t end up being cut through.

 “There,” Aeria said, wiping her hands on her cape, “we’re done.”

 The raft was a mish-mash of wooden planks and snake skin tied together. Bahadur had already tested it, carefully climbing on it. He gave a nod, beckoning them to join him.

 “Everyone, climb on.” Khir’schen called. One by one they stepped onto the raft. It was unsteadied, and Erende hated the feeling of the skin rolling with the waves, but the water stayed under them and the skin was more than adequate at making sure the water didn’t soak through the bottom. Once everyone was on board, they pushed off, sailing slowly out from the ship. They didn’t talk much as they raft made its way towards land.

 “You doing okay?” He asked. Erende shrugged, holding the bag close to his chest.

 “Yeah, I guess so,” he murmured. He shot a look to Steffan. He had a new scar across his cheek. Blonde stubble was beginning to form.

 “Hey.”

 Steffan looked to him, and Erende swallowed.

 “I’m sorry for dragging you along,” he said quietly, “The gold is too good to pass up.”

 Steffan rubbed Erende’s hair.

 “It’s alright, you’re stupid. As your partner, I need to look out for you, no matter how stupid and greedy you can get.”

 Erende returned the smile, then frowned.

 “Stupid?”

 “Very.”

 “You’re rude.”

 Steffan shrugged, but a smile continued to tug at his lips. Erende slowly brushed down his hair.

 “How long is it to the mainland?”

 “Not far, hopefully. The others mentioned maybe an hour or two before we reach land.”

 Luckily for Erende, Tamriel was actually closer than they expected. It was about an hour before they could see a haze of reddish colors that drifted over the land, the air growing colder as they neared it. Erende squinted. The colors reminded him of a bush fire, and the smoke that they created was dense. Already he felt his throat itch, and he coughed. Steffan tapped him on the shoulder.

 “What is it?” Erende asked as he turned to face Steffan. Steffan was staring towards the water, his eyes crinkled.

 “Look, doesn’t…doesn’t that look like ash?”

 Erende followed his gaze. The surface was covered with a layer of black and brown, muddy rocks and specks of what did look like ash. Steffan dipped his hand in, and pulled it back out slowly. Dark, wet clusters stuck to his skin. He rubbed them in between his fingers. His nails started to stain black.

 Ash.

 “Here.” Vala elbowed Erende, handing him two pieces of ripped cloth. He took them, noticing the others had tied to cloth around their mouth.

 “Put this on, it’ll protect you from the air,” she informed, tying her own cloth across her face. Erende and Steffan shared a glance, and looked to the island. Smog covered the sky in brownish, reddish waves that became darker the closer they got. The air was becoming harder to breathe. Erende quickly tied his cloth on, and he noticed the water was black with layered ash. The raft navigated through plates of ice and pillars of stone, the fog making their eyes water so it was difficult to see even a few feet in front of them. As soon as the boat hit the shore, they found themselves gazing into the pits of a frozen hell.

 Or at least, that’s what Erende thought.

 The ground was covered in dust and ashen snow, the soil underneath was pure black. When Steffan stepped into the water with his boot, he immediately yanked it back out only to find it caked with slick, dark mud. The red fog was thicker, their eyes now flooding with tears and they began coughing violently. Farther off into the distance, they saw a giant stone formation next to a large mountain. The shape of it and the shadow of large rocks covered with snow below in the water made Erende think of a stone arch that had been destroyed. A large windmill sunken in the water with icicles hanging from the fans slowly turned in the fog.

 “Welcome to Tamriel, everyone.” Khir’schen announced, her voice muffled by the cloth as she stepped into the mud, “beautiful, isn’t it?”

 “What the hell happened here?” Erende mumbled softly.

 “A war. That’s what happened.” Vala said, refusing to look at him.

 Erende was about to ask another question but Steffan nudged him, shaking his head. Khir’schen and Bahadur pulled the raft onto the shore, using the mud and chunks of ice as an anchor. The Guild carefully stepped out onto the dirt, mud sticking to the soles of their boots.

 “Where are we going from here?” Steffan asked.

 “To our camp, headquarters, home, whatever you want to call it,” Aeria said, making sure her bow was strapped securely to her chest.

 “How far is it from here?” Erende said.
 “Not far. We just have to pass Solitude, following the Karth River and once we find the old farmhouse, our cave will be near there.”

 Erende must’ve had an odd look on his face without realizing it, for Orianer shoved him out of the way with a scowl as she stepped from the boat.

 “What, did you think we chose to have a cave? Did you think we had our choice between a castle or a smelly, dirty, water-logged cavern?” She asked, rolling her eyes, “gods, Khir’schen, why did we let them come along?”

  “Because throwing them overboard is against Bahadur’s morals.” She replied. Steffan grimaced.

 “Hush now, we’ve got some ways to go,” Bahadur called over his shoulder. He tilted a large rod over to Orianer. She placed her hands over it, and after a moment, a fire burst into life. Erende blinked as flickers of lights began to reach out across the ground, making the shadows look darker. Khir’schens face looked menacing as the torch shown on her face.

 “Let’s move.”

 They started making their way through the snow. Erende hung in the back with Steffan, shivering as the sun descended behind the thick red clouds and plunged the land into darkness. He tried to focus on the light of the torch. After it seemed a year or so of trudging, he was broken from his trance when Steffan grabbed his arm. He turned to see Steffan, his face hardened grimly.

 “What?” Erende asked. Steffan looked over towards a small patch of dark soil. Erende squinted as the torchlight began to retreat. Then, a flicker, and Erende saw the remnants of a broken skull. A shard of an iron helmet lay next to it. Erende breathed, his lungs burning with icy air.

 “Bahadur?”

 They both turned to see Bahadur had stopped walking. Instead, he stared into the darkness, the firelight flickering in the wind.

 “Bahadur.” Khir’schen said again, gently shaking his shoulder, “what is wrong?”

 Erende followed his eyes. In front of them was the rubble of a great, blue stone tower. The stone ruins were covered in ash and ice. Skeletons littered the ground around and underneath the ruins, old, rusty armor glittering in the light. A flash of gold caught Erende’s eye. He took a few steps towards the ruins, kneeling down in a patch of snow and wiping it away with his palm.

 “Shit!” He said, jumping away. He had uncovered a helmet, like the one before, only this time it cradled the head of a man. His eyes were open, iced over and staring at Erende, his skin white and blue.

“We need to leave,” Orianer said, grabbing Bahadur by the arm and marching away from the ruins. Bahadur pressed a hand to his forehead.

 “Yes, yes, I’m sorry. Yes, we should keep moving.”

 They passed the ruins, Erende watching as the darkness enveloped it. Silence hovered over the guild as they continued onwards. Erende didn’t speak. If he did, he was afraid of what he might say. Instead he focused on staring at the footprints left behind by the Guild. It helped him take his mind off of the blue eyes of the dead man.

 It was about an hour later again before they came upon what looked to be an old farmhouse. Erende only knew this because Orianer had stopped walking, pointed and said “there’s the old farmhouse.” He was tempted to thank her for her observation but before he could, he saw a burly man step out from the shadows and into the torch light. He had long gray hair hanging from his head, and wore several layers of cloth on an old white shirt tucked into gray pants hanging down to thick, iron-toed boots. He pushed a set of copper goggles from his face, exposing bright blue eyes circled in a fine line of red dust. Standing next to him was a younger man with unkempt red hair, who scowled when he spotted Erende. For a moment, they watched one another. The man opened his arms. Erende quickly grasped the handle of his dagger.

 Then, to his surprise, Khir’schen rushed into his arms, hugging him fiercely. The man laughed heartily as he hugged her back. He began speaking in a different language, taking her by the shoulders. They began talking for some time, the Guild each greeting the man and his red-headed companion. Erende heard the tone of the man’s voice turn into questioning. At that, Khir’schen turned to reveal the scroll tucked in her belt. The man seemed happy as he hugged her again.

 Then, he spied both Erende and Steffan standing awkwardly off into the corner. They both had no idea what the others were talking about – the Guild had switched from the Halrainian language to another language neither of them understood. The man motioned for them to come closer. Erende glanced to Steffan, who shrugged.

 “Go,” he whispered, nodding his head. Erende widened his eyes.

 “But…but what if this an ambush or something?” He replied.

 “They wouldn’t have taken us all this way to kill us.”

 “You don’t know that!”

 The man seemed to ask him a question again. Erende blinked. He had no idea what he was saying, and still grasped the dagger in his hand. Khir’schen noticed this, and waved to Vala. She walked up to them, placing her palms flat against their ears.

 “You might feel a slight pinch,” she warned. Before he could protest, Erende felt a searing heat for just a moment, and immediately after she removed her hands. He gripped his head as it rang loudly.

 “There, is that better?” Khir’schen asked. Erende rubbed his temple, nodding.

 “Yeah, I guess-”

 “Great!” The man boomed. “Now, who are you?”

 Erende furrowed his eyebrows, looking from Khir’schen to Vala.

 “Wait, what did you do?”

 “All she did was use the arcane translator, Erende, you know this,” Khir’schen said, then turned to the man, “these are our new recruits, I suppose. Erende, Steffan, meet Chief Haldric, leader of the Nords and the Red Vale Guild.”

 The red-haired man cleared his throat obnoxiously. Khir’schen huffed.

 “And this is Asmund.”

 “They jumped on our ship and decided to join our mission for the scroll,” Aeria added, folding her arms, “maybe now we’ll have to adopt them into the Guild, or throw them to the wolves.” She threw a look to Erende.

 “I still kicked your ass, and your breast.” He retorted. Aeria flushed red in the flames, her fists balling. Bahadur cleared his throat.

 “Yes, well-”

 “Kicked…your ass and breast?” Asmund interrupted with a twitching smile. Aeria snarled.

 “He violated me! That is the only reason why he was able to best me!”

 “That, and being awesome,” Erende said with a wink towards Steffan, who just shoved him away. Chief Haldric pressed a hand against his forehead

 “How many times do I tell you all to practice your skills?” He responded in a tired voice, “and hush, Aeria, fighting is a way of surviving, I’m sure whatever he had to do was necessary in-”

 “It wasn’t!”

 “Hush. This Guild has only been established for so long. Your skills are not yet evolved, so I am not surprised this man was able to take you down. You all still need to learn what truly makes a Guild.” His words made the Guild lower their eyes to the ground in shame. Haldric sighed, looking over to Erende and Steffan. They stifled their giggles long enough to let the Chief bow to them.

 “I apologize for this; come, guests, you must be tired. We will show you the home of the Nords.”

 Haldric and Asmund led them down a winding path from the farmhouse and towards a large cliff-like formation of rocks. At the base of the cliff, Haldric approached a boulder smeared with red and black ash. He turned to Orianer.

 “After you,” he said.

 Orianer lifted her hands, exposing a yellow orb of magick in her palm. She slowly engulfed the boulder with the yellow before guiding it to the side, exposing the entrance to a large cave.

 “Hurry, inside, before the fog seeps in.” Haldric ushered. They rushed in, and Orianer closed the entrance.

 Inside, the Guild began to remove their cloths, red dust scattering across the floor. As Erende removed his own, he was almost immediately hit with the strong aroma of fire and ale.

 A small girl came streaking from inside the cave, giggling hysterically as she ran into Bahadur’s arms. Her black hair braid bounced as he picked her up. Erende widened his eyes.

 A daughter?

 “Hello, Sofia.” Khir’schen cooed. The little girl squealed when Khir’schen tickled her belly. Just then, Erende heard barking echoing off the walls. Aeria’s eye lit up.

 “Toro!”

 Aeria knelt down, and opened her arms as a huge dog, one the size of Erende himself, bounded for her, tongue waving in the wind. It looked like a hybrid of some sort, its snout was slim and ears pointed like a fox, but the body was built such as a war hound, its coat the color of grey smoke and its eyes reminded him of two little juniper berries. It practically hurled itself into her arms. Erende was momentarily frightened that this enormous dog would crush Aeria, but she only giggled and rub his ears.

“It’s good to see you too, boy, I missed you,” Aeria said, her voice muffled as she buried her face in Toro’s coat.

  “We are lucky to find this sanctuary when we did. Solitude was close to falling when we were able to take cover in here,” Haldric said as he led them through an enormous maze of tunnels and caverns, “the Red Vale Guild came shortly after, and we took them in even though we were suspicious. Most of those who happen upon Solitude die from the poisonous fog, but they were smart enough to protect themselves with the cloth.” His light tone did not comfort Erende, who worriedly looked at Khir’schen. She only smiled. 

 The tribe had devised a mapping system in the cavern, finding their way with paint smeared on the walls as well as torches hanging in giant bone chandeliers and placed in rusty iron holdings on the walls. They were guided to a large room, where an enormous table sat an entire Nordic tribe, the Guild, and Steffan and Erende. That wasn’t the thing that surprised him – what made him almost faint was the pig that lay dead on top of the table. It was so huge that it almost covered the entire width. Erende didn’t even have to stretch his arm to touch it. He could stick out his tongue and taste the sweaty grease.

 They were seated down, Haldric at the front of the table with the Guild sitting next to him. As the Nords cut off large sections of the animal, Erende pushed his plate away from him.

 “Why don’t you eat?” Vala asked, swallowing as she pointed to his plate.

 “What, you have no taste for fine boar?” He asked.

 Erende and Steffan both shook their heads.

 “No, it’s not that, your…uh, your…” Steffan’s voice faded. Haldric chuckled.

 “Chief Haldric, or Chief, or Haldric, either one works, aye?”

 Steffan grinned weakly, “aye.”

 Erende poked the belly of the beast. It jiggled, liquidized fat slowly trickling down from one of the intensions.

“Well, Chief, this is a mighty fine meal,” Erende said, “we’ve just never seen a pig- “

 “Boar,” Asmund interrupted, who sat farther down the table, “these mighty beasts are boars.”

 Erende blinked.

 “Well, we’ve never seen a boar quite this size, at least I’ve never have, have you, Steffan?”

 Steffan didn’t respond. He was silently feeding more large hound dogs under the table. Across from him, Bahadur sat, tending to Sofia, the little girl, who played with a straw doll. She smiled when he fed her a piece of pork. She looked exactly like him, right down to her little crooked nose.

 “Khir’schen, where is your cape?” One Nordic woman asked. Khir’schens gaze flickered to Erende’s.

 “We…ran into some trouble on our trip here.”

 “I see, well, shall I make you another one?”

 “I suppose. If you want to.”

 “Oh!” Chief Haldric boomed, wiping his mouth of grease with a napkin, “That reminds me, Erende, Steffan.”

 “Yes?” Erende replied warily.

 “Who are you, and why have you interrupted the mission my Guild was sent on?” Haldric asked. Erende glanced to Steffan, who just shrugged in response.

 “In all honesty, Chief,” Steffan started, “…it was Erende’s idea.”

 Haldric turned to Erende, who mouthed a few obscenities at Steffan.

 “So, it was your idea?”

 “Well, yeah, kinda, I guess. I mean, they,” he motioned to the Guild, “broke into my home and stole my scroll that was gifted to me.”

 “Well, we needed it for our contract,” Orianer snapped, “our mission is more than a hundred times more important for us to have the scroll than for it to gather dust in your backpack.”

 “It wasn’t going to gather dust!” Erende argued, standing up from the table to glare at Ori.

 “Really? Did you even know what Tamriel was before we intervened?”

 “I would have been able to find out!”

 “Oh, I doubt that.”

 “Hey, I owned more than half of this Guild with my mother in my own home.”

 “Your mother is a better fighter than you.”

 “She should be! She was a warrior! And she’s better than you!”

 “Look,” Steffan interrupted, “we’re here now, why don’t-“

 “You go back to Halrain, yes, that sounds nice.” Aeria smirked, “you should do that.”

 “Lands ashore, all of you are so rude.” Erende growled.

 Vala put down her fork, “excuse you, am I not the nicest one here?”

 “You put a flaming hand to my throat!”

 “It was just to scare you!”

 “I say to have them taken back to Halrain,” Orianer stated.

 “Agreed, why do they still get to ride our coattails?”

 “We’re not riding your coattails!”

 “You sure as hell rode our ship!”

 “You stole my scroll!”

 “You jeopardized our mission!”
 “ENOUGH!” Haldric’s fist slammed down onto the table, his chair falling to the floor with a crack! as he stood. They quieted. Haldric eyes were hard as he scanned over them.

 “All of you are acting like complete children, and only Sofia is allowed to exhibit that kind of behavior!”

 Bahadur held Sofia close to his chest as Haldric rubbed his face, the red in his cheeks draining. 

 “Now, then, as our guests, Erende and Steffan deserve to be regarded as such. Show some respect, Guild. And you,” he turned his attention to Erende and Steffan, “you two are to show the Guild some respect as well. They have worked hard to be what they have become.”

 Khir’schen sighed.

 “I apologize, Chief. We are still a little high-strung from the trip.”

 “That is no excuse,” Haldric said, sitting back down into his chair, “I expect better behavior from all of you by the end of the evening.”

 They all grew quiet, the sound of utensils clinking against the plate and chewing filled Erende’s ears. Haldric was right, it was obvious that none of them seemed to get along. Bahadur looked to be the only one who at least tolerated them. He had said noting throughout the ordeal, only playing and distracting Sofia with food and her doll. Erende then remembered the ruins from where they had come from. Bahadur seemed to be struck by the tower in the rubble, seeing as how he didn’t speak nor did he move.

 “Chief?”

 His voice was the only one that had spoken out, so naturally he had all attention of the Nords and the Guild on him.

 “When we walked here…” he started, “we had come across these ruins. It was an unfamiliar sight for us, and it just made us more curious as to how…as to how why the air is red, the fog stays, you live here, in a cave, and there are ruins and ash that litter the ground.” He looked up. The Nords had stopped eating, with most of the Guild looking down at their plates. Even Haldric looked hesitant to answer.

 Then Bahadur cleared his throat.

 “The War of The Dark, lad. The War of The Dark.”

 The Chief nodded solemnly.

 “I suppose you want to know the whole story?” He asked. Erende nodded.

 “Then come to the fire, and we will tell you what we know.”

 Deeper into the cave they came upon a great stone chamber, a rotunda that held a fire pit in the very middle. Nords sat on rocks and boulders for chairs, and they created a circle around the fire, it’s warm blazing tongues illuminating them behind their fur coats and armor. Khir’schen and Bahadur, with Sofia in his arms, stood next to the Chief. Haldric held a bowl full of what seemed to be sand. He pinched a little in his fingers, and tossed it into the fire.

 Swirling smoke transformed into images of swords and arrows, the flames curling into figures that clashed in battle. The little girl in Bahadur’s arms reached out with her hands, and Toro, who knelt at Aeria’s feet, tried to bite a little cloud of smoke.

 “Long ago, back when the fourth era was just beginning, there was a war, The Great War, they called it, between the Septim Empire and The Aldemeri Dominion.” Haldric spoke. The images cast shadows of elves and humans fighting to the death. Neither Steffan or Erende spoke.

 “They fought because the Elves believed our great land belonged to them. They believed they were descended from gods, and thus, they had a right to the land, and so began the war. But, it was not great. Many, many lives on both sides were lost, solider and innocent civilians alike. When the damage became too great, the numbers too high, the Empire was forced to try and stop it. In order to the bloodshed, they signed what was known as the White-Gold Concordat. It was a victory for both side. The Empire, who stopped the loss of lives, and The Dominion, who believed they had won over the Empire.”

 The scene shifts into a farming land. A farmer is tending to their livestock, spreading seeds along the ground until three elven soldiers approach, and tackle the farmer, bagging their head and dragging them away. This time, Bahadur spoke.

 “Others in the Empire, such as the once great province of Skyrim, thought it was a tremendous loss, for it banned the worship of a great heroic Nord whom had ascended to god-hood and founded the Empire. His name was Talos. Once the Empire signed the Concordat, they agreed that they would stop the worship of Talos, and the Dominion had freedom to capture and take away those who still worshipped him.”

 Battles again showed in the fire, but this time between two armies of men, not men and elves.

 “More deaths came, and a civil war in Skyrim ensued after a man named Ulfric Stormcloak killed their ruler, their High King Torygg, using the power of what is known as the Thu’um.”

 Erende lifted his eyebrows.

 “A…Thumb?”

 “A Thu’um,” Khir’schen corrected, resting her arms on her sword, “it is an ancient and powerful shout, used in Dragon language. Anyone can learn to Shout, but it takes years of practicing. Only the Dragonborn, a person who is born with the blood and soul of a dragon, can learn instantaneously. But Ulfric was not Dragonborn, and he only used his Shout to murder and kill.”

 “A rebel group named The Stormcloaks fought against the Empire’s Legion,” Haldric said, stepping around the fire and tossing grains into the burning pit, “their conflicts weakened the bond between province and Empire. As the civil war raged on, taking lives within the Empire, the Dominion boiled, preparing for the worst.”

 Bodies of ash littered a field in the flames of the fire. The battle carried on, making more and more of the figures in the smoke collapse into ash. The Chief stepped forward, sprinkling more sand into the fire.

 “They attacked in the night. Hundreds of soldiers from both sides of the war were killed by the ambush. Neither of us were ready for such an attack, but we faced disastrous consequences. We lost track of time, for the elves created magick that burned the sun for our sky and created a haze so thick it choked the eyes and throats of those who had no protection. The Khajiit, cat-like creatures whom we shared our land with for many years, turned on us and joined forces with the Dominion. Years of battling followed, with the Empire and Dominion fighting over land, races began hating one another, bigotry was rampant, areas that soon became barren grounds of the dead and the wounded. Provinces lost their borders, maps became useless, entire cities were destroyed overnight. We do not know what has happened to the others, such as Cyrodiil, Valenwood, High Rock, or even Hammerfell, as everything we know has been obliterated. We are the last of the Nords in Skyrim for all we know. And for all we know, we are the last ones to take kindness towards a race different from ourselves, or make friends with those who were once our enemy. But, we all must survive during this time. Borders can be rebuilt, but that lives that were lost can never be replaced.”

 The fire blazed, and the scene was gone. Erende saw the Chief stare into the flames.

 “We had hope, once. When Khir’schen led her few companions here, we had hope that maybe we would be able to rebuild at least one part of our once great land. For our protection, the Guild also brings in gold for us to use. We are slowly rebuilding, as we are the only ones left here. The ruins of Solitude are but of a fraction of the damage to our beloved land of Skyrim. We will not leave, for she needs us to stay and tend to her as she struggles to breathe.”

 The cavern is quiet. The Nords are somber, motionless as they gaze at the embers, and Erende could only hear the winds pounding on the walls outside. Khir’schen took in a breath.

 “The Guild is here to help. We were created to help. After we, me and Vala, found this, we were taken in by Bahadur, and for that, we can never repay for his kindness. He nurtured us through the effects of the fog, especially when Vala…”

 Vala looked down, her fingers softly grazing the scar on her eye. Khir’schen cleared her throat.

 “After that, we travelled all around, and recruited the Aeria and Orianer after finding them in Valenwood. Bigotry had been rooted deep in all of us, but we have been able to perceiver and create a friendship that most would consider idiotic. I guess history repeats itself, and now we have you to recruit.” She finished. Steffan and Erende exchanged a glance.

 “But…but what will you all do, with the war and all of these results?” Steffan asked quietly, his voice bouncing in the emptiness. Asmund’s expression was grim and his mouth creased in a scowl.

 “We will do what the Nords are born to do – survive.”

 “But why don’t you all move somewhere where there is food, and water, shelter and a better land?” Erende said, turning to Haldric, “you found us, you found Halrain. Why don’t you gather your people and send them on a ship towards our homeland? We will take care of you, and there is plenty of land.” Haldric, too, frowned when he asked.

 “This is our land. This has always been our land. We stay here under the guidance of the Nine and we shall do our part to keep Skyrim healthy.”

 “Halrain is as unfamiliar to use as Tamriel is to you,” Khir’schen said, “we had no indication that your land even existed before this mission. While we were working the details with Haldric, he produced to us a small map. It was thin, and light, but on it, it showed the passage to a land named Halrain. We cross referenced hundreds, if not thousands, of different maps, all from what was left of the libraries. We found nothing.”

 “It was a tiny dot compared to Tamriel or the other land masses that lived in our sea,” Bahadur chuckled, “we were obviously skeptical, but when we sailed and found that Halrain did, in fact, exist, we proceeded with our mission. It was almost an impossible task for us to comprehend at first, finding a scroll in the middle of an unknown kingdom on an island that did not seem possible to exist, but we found the scroll, and along with it, you. I suppose the gods have a new plan set for you.”

 “The Gods have not guided us here!” Asmund suddenly shouted, rising from his chair and facing the Chief, “the Gods have not done anything! Don’t you see that they have abandoned us?!” He cried. His loud voiced bounced off the walls and the child Bahadur held began to cry. The Chief tightened his lips.

 “We are alone! The Gods are gone, they have abandoned us! They no longer hear us or choose not to hear our prayers to them! They do not answer their followers, and what, what are we supposed to believe? We are alone! We have no Gods! We- “

 “That’s enough, Asmund!” Haldric bellowed, taking a threatening step towards him. Erende noticed the others surrounding them had their hands hovering over their sheaths. He thought that if he didn’t do anything, things might get out of hand. The tension between Haldric and Asmund was already thick enough to be cut with a boar knife.

 “It doesn’t matter to us if you believe the Gods are still here or not,” Khir’schen quickly intervened, stepping between the Nords.

 “We are here nonetheless.”

 The two glared at each other, and Erende worried that they might go at each other’s throat, even with Khir’schen in the middle. For a minute, they said nothing. Then, Bahadur placed a hand on the Chief’s shoulder.

 “Asmund, leave.” He said sternly.

 Asmund gritted his teeth but turned and stomped his way out of the cavern. Haldric stared as he left.

 “He’s always been hard headed when it has come to the Gods,” He murmured, “in fact, ever since the end of the War it had seemed he had reverted back into his days as a lad.”

 Bahadur patted his back.

 “As it has with quite a few people.”

 Haldric sighed, before looking to Erende.

 “Khir’schen was correct when she mentioned that we are here. Now that you have travelled from your land, what have you been planning to do?”

 Erende exchanged a look with Steffan. Neither of them really knew. They had assumed they would be going with the Guild to find whatever treasure the scroll happened to hold.

 “We had expected to travel with the Guild in order to find the treasure, Chief.” Steffan mentioned. Haldric nodded.

 “I see. You do realize the Guild are mercenaries, hired to retrieve items?”

 “Yes, we understand that.”

 “Then you should be informed that we will not be looking for the treasure,” Aeria said as she stood from one of the stone chairs, Toro standing beside her, “we are to deliver the scroll to our client, who paid us to have it.”

  “Then we will join your client,” Erende stated. Steffan shot him a look, and Erende ignored it.

 “It is my scroll, and it is my right to have some of the treasure.”

 Khir’schen looked as if she was about to argue, but Haldric lifted a hand to stop her.

 “I agree, Erende.” He said. He then addressed his attention to the Guild, most of them looking upset at Haldric’s words.

 “You will leave tomorrow morning. Khir’schen, I will inform you of where the client has requested to meet. Bahadur, you will show Erende and Steffan to the guest bedrooms,” he smiled down at Erende, “be warned, the hay is a little rough.”

 Bahadur led them out of the rotunda, without goodbyes, into several winding hallways before approaching a large dug-out area. Inside were the bedrooms, though Erende couldn’t tell the difference between them and the holding cell back on the ship. There was a pile of hay that was used for the bed, and that was it. Only a small torch flickered in the corner.

 “Every night, we have a light out time, and you are required to extinguish any candles, torches, and magick. There will be one light outside your door for navigation around your room.” Bahadur informed, “if you need the bathroom, water, food, take the torch with you. If you wake up and the torch isn’t there, someone is using it, understand?” Erende saluted jestingly.

 “Got it.”

 “Good,” Bahadur said, and left the room. As Erende closed the door, the lights that lined the hallway dimmed. He heard Bahadur shout, “LIGHTS OUT.”

 His room became dark, with the exception of a torch just outside his curtain. Erende navigated with his hands to find his bed. When he felt the straws of hay, he sighed, and set his bag under his head for a pillow. He already missed his warm, soft, comfortable bed back at home. How long had it been since he had left? Was Mother doing well? She was used to being alone for a while, but he didn’t know how long he would be gone. Erende reached inside his pack, rummaging around until his fingers touched the feel of cold metal. He pulled out his compass. The bronze was dimly lit by the torchlight. He hoped that once they were on the road it wouldn’t be long before they found the client. Erende gazed into the darkness, dreaming of huge piles of gold and other treasures.

 He hoped the scroll was something that could lead them something big.

 He really, really hoped.

 ----

“Erende.”

 The room was dark. Was he awake? He didn’t remember if had lit a candle or not before he went to bed, but as he stood up from the pile of hay, he couldn’t see the flicker of the torch under the curtain. Didn’t Bahadur leave one torch outside their rooms? Was someone using it?

 Erende stepped carefully across the stone floor, walking with his arms extended until he could feel the cloth of the curtain. When he opened the door, he found nothing. Khir’schens room, along with all the others, were gone, leaving a wide empty area. A little way away from his room was a wooden pole, a lantern hanging from it. It swayed gently, even with no wind. Erende slowly walked to it. As he got closer, a figure began to form from the shadows on the floor.

 A deep purple smoke erupted from the lantern. Darkness flooded Erende’s vision and he covered his eyes. Silence.

 “Why look away? Are we not beautiful?”

 Erende moved his hands from his face. Standing before him he saw a woman, clad in dark mage robes. The lantern was gone, only an illuminating presence from underneath her robes let him see. Her black hair was slicked back, skin grey like a corpse, but her eyes, flaming in blue and purple, bore right through him. A shiver erupted in his spine. He found no words to speak. The woman seemed to find this amusing, as her slick lips twitched in a smirk.

 “You seem surprised.” She said, her voice weaving in his head like silk. Erende breathed in shakily.

 “Who are you?” He asked. The woman placed a hand on her chest in mock offense.

 “Who are we, my child. Who are we?” She asked, “who are we? You don’t have any indication of us?”

 We? Erende shook his head slowly, confusion swirling in his mind. She frowned, sighing.

 “As someone who does not come from this land we would not expect you to know our names, but it is still insulting.”

 The woman shoved her face in close to him, exposing melting black teeth as she smiled.

 “We are Nephethys. We are the one that rules the mind, the thoughts, the dreams, the consciousness. We control your waking sleep, we invoke betrayal and lies, we are the spider that creates the chaos for the fly,” she hissed. Erende shuddered, and Nephethys leaned away. Her robes moved, slithering about of their own accord as she stood still.

 “Why do you say ‘we’?” Erende asked slowly, eyeing her robes. Nephethys stared through him, her eyes wide.

 “Because we, Nephethys, are the embodiment of the Daedra. We are the bonded soul of the Princes, for we have discovered conjoining our powers makes us more powerful.” She seethed, insanity lighting her eyes as she stepped around Erende. Spiders crawled down from her neck and onto her back. He swallowed.

 “Daedra…? What is that? What are Princes?”

 Nephethys scowled.

 “Idiot child, the Princes are the most powerful beings in the universe. We are the ancient order of magick, we control the lives of mortals, and in return for not destroying their pathetic lives, our followers bear our names and our messages across their bodies and present it all to Tamriel!” She proclaimed, raising her hands upwards. Erende bit his lip.

 “O..kay. Quick question – if you guys are, like, the Lords of All That Is Known, how come I haven’t heard of you?”

 “You have, fool,” Nephethys snapped, “we have different aspects, Erende of Halrain, we are numerous in numbers and we have aspects in every religion, every pantheon to spread our influence.”

 “Great, now another question – am I asleep?”

 “Yes, did you not hear us when we said we control the dream world?”

 “I did but I’m more concerned with why your robes move.”

 Nephethys did not break away from his gaze. Instead, she lifted up the ends of her robe to expose thousands of snakes. Erende yelped, moving backwards to avoid their flicking tongues as they wormed across the ground. She smiled grotesquely.

 “Afraid?”

 Erende swallowed again. Fear was starting to grip him, but he forced it down.

 “Why are you here?” He asked. Nephethys sighed, whipping her robes back around her.

 “Despite your lack of listening, you’re a smart boy, aren’t you? We would think so, though others don’t really trust you, do they?” She turned away from him. Snakes crawled from under her, and Erende moved farther away.

 “You’re not answering my question.” He muttered, kicking away a snake that had crawled over his foot.

 “I’m getting to it.”

 Nephethys let the fabric of her robe fall through her fingers, the cloth turning into black ash that piled on the floor. Almost like the fire that the Nords had, the ash began to swirl into pictures depicting snakes, bats, and horrible monstrous creatures.

 “You are mortal. You have fears, but not so much of the mundane kind, like creatures of fables and ghosts, no?”

 The ash flowed like a dark river towards Erende. Before he could react, it circled his ankles and hardened instantly into obsidian. He struggled against the binds and Nephethys appeared before him, smiling with her melting teeth. Snakes now had the freedom to roam around his body, hissing and scraping their sharp bellies across his exposed skin on his arms and legs.

 “No, you’re more of a caring man, which is rare now-a-days.” She said. The remaining ash formed into an image of his mother. It was almost like looking into a painting, the picture was sharp and colored, moving on its own accord. It showed his mother, crying, alone in the cabin. She laid in his bed, grasping his pillow. His breath hitched.

 “What do you mean?” Erende seethed through his teeth, “what do you mean?! Don’t you dare touch her!”

 “Oh, I wouldn’t DREAM of it!” Nephethys cackled, stepping closer to him, “but, I do have two other, well, acquaintances, that would be absolutely delighted to do it for me.”

 “Don’t touch her!” He could feel the icy fingers of terror starting to warp his mind. She was winning

 “They relish in the power of enslavement and mortal torture, they love it-“

 “Shut up-“

 “They thrive off it!”

 “Shut up!”

 “Your mother will suffer at their hands, they have no mercy to give!”

 “SHUT UP!”

 “Erende!”

 They both stopped. Neither voice was from them.

 “Erende! Wake up!”

 It was coming from outside his nightmare. The dream was beginning to crumble as he began to wake up, the floor cracking, room shaking like an earthquake. Nephethys growled, and shoved her face in his, their noses just barely touching as her eyes ripped through his mind.

 “Promise me this, son of Halrain, that once you get your precious treasure, you LEAVE Tamriel, and you never come back!” Her breath smelled of death and roses, her eyes beautiful and nightmarish. Erende felt tears cloud his own eyes.

 “I wouldn’t even want to come back.” He snarled.

 “ERENDE!”

 The room began to convulse violently. Nephethys gripped a parchment in her hand, yanking a black quill from her hair.

 “Sign the deal! Sign it!”

 The ash shackles turned to dust, freeing one hand. He snatched the pen from her. He could barely hold it as light began to explode from the cracks on the floor. Nephethys thrusted the parchment in his hand.

 “SIGN IT! NOW!”

 “ERENDE!”

 The floor collapsed underneath them, and Nephethys screamed as they fell through the cracks into a blinding white abyss. Erende closed his eyes.

 Wake up

 “Erende. Erende, wake up, come on.”

 Erende’s eyes snapped opened. Steffan was standing above him, his mouth tightened into a frown as he gripped Erende’s shoulders.

 “Dude,” He said, scanning him, “are you okay?”

 Erende sat up, rubbing his face. His clothes were damp with cold sweat, and his hand felt clammy. His mind was warped as he tried to remember what he had just dreamt about. Only the feeling of terror entered his head. He couldn’t remember anything else.

 Only terror.

 “What happened? We heard you mumbling in your sleep.” Khir’schen said, stepping forward.

 “Yeah,” Vala quipped, “then you started screaming, so we rushed over.”

 Erende struggled to stand from the hay pile, so Steffan circled an arm around his waist and lifted him up.

 “I’m fine,” he said once he placed his feet on the ground, “just…just a bad dream. Can’t really remember it, though.”

 “You smell bad.” He heard Orianer say. Erende looked up with a frown. Standing behind Steffan was the rest of the Guild, including Haldric and Bahadur, who carried Sofia in his arms. Erende’s frown deepened when he saw Ori holding her nose.

 “You don’t smell that pleasant either,” he said.

 “I smell better than you.”

 “Quiet,” Khir’schen snapped, “you almost overslept. We’re about to head out and we need everyone rested and ready.”

 “I’m ready,” Erende said as he brushed off a few strands of hair from his back.

 “Then hurry.” Haldric smiled, “the horses are very impatient.”

 Erende watched as Khir’schen left the room, the Guild following after her. Steffan lingered. Watching him for a moment.

 “You okay?” He asked. Erende rolled his eyes when Steffan picked a strand of hay from his hair.

 “Yes, I’m fine. You don’t need to act like my mom.”

 “I’m not acting like your mom,” Steffan retorted, “if I wanted to act like your mom, I would be senile and armed.”

 Erende narrowed his eyes.

 “Shut up.”

 The two trailed after the Guild. Haldric led them down a series of hallways before entering another rotunda-shaped room, but this time, it was much bigger and much brighter. Inside were horses, all large and bulky creatures that stamped their hooves on the floor. They all stood in makeshift wooden stalls, with a few caretakers using lead to let them walk across the stone floor. Nords tended to the animals by brushing their coats and feeding them from iron pails. On the far-right side of the room was a large patch of grass where several horses grazed. A mage with yellow orbs glowing from his hands stood next to the patch, aiming his hands toward the grass.

 Erende saw that on the left side, two burly guards stood next to a boulder. It was painted with large white stripes, like that on Khir’schens face.

 “These are the stables.” Haldric said. Steffan whistled.

 “It’s…big.”

 “Well, of course,” Vala said with a smile, “it has to hold all 18 horses, plus their food and water.”

 “It was originally supposed to be the armory,” Aeria claimed as she stroked the mane of a silver-coated horse, “but Haldric didn’t think weapons were more important than horses.”

 Haldric curled his lip.

 “They’re not., the horses are invaluable. Their perfectly built for this rough terrain, and due to their unique shape of eyes and lungs, the fog doesn’t affect them unless they breath it in for more than six months. I don’t believe weapons can do that.”

 “Hey, to each their own.”

 Haldric refused to say anything else, as he beckoned for Erende and Steffan to follow him. They headed towards the painted boulder. Near it were three horses already stacked with leather bags and what Erende assumed to be supplies; a dark black one with a midnight mane and ashen hair around its enormous hooves, a slightly smaller one dappled white and brown with a red mane, and the last being a three-legged silver with a glossy white mane and white socks extending from the hooves. Two Nords brushed their hair while three others adjusted the several packs that they held. Bahadur let Sofia climb onto the back of the silver one.

 “These are our three most dependable steeds. The black one is named Arvak, after a heroic stallion in one of our old tales. He is the one we use for our slightly larger warriors, as he is extremely durable and our largest steed.” He explained as he stroked the horses muzzle, “he is also my favorite.”

 “The white and brown dapple’s name is Isolde. She’s a feisty one, and a very protective girl, isn’t that right?” Aeria said to Haldric, who just laughed.

 “Yes, she’s my main mare but she hasn’t been out since Waylan here lost his leg. We’ve been able to help him with some magick so he’s able to survive with other three legs.” He said, nodding to the silver one. Erende watched as Khir’schen slowly stoked his nose, shushing him quietly as he gently nudged her with his head. His silvery coat glistened, and he stamped his only back leg.

 “What happened to him?” Steffan asked. Bahadur scratched Arvaks ear.

 “We were ambushed by some Redguards a while back.” He said, his eyes flicking to Khir’schen, who tensed as she strapped her bag onto Waylan.

 “I was riding him while Isolde was being ridden by another warrior,” he continued, “and one of the Redguards must have realized I was Chief, so in order to fell me they targeted him. During battle, they cut off his leg and he toppled, taking me down with him.”

 Erende looked at the horse. He was smaller than the other two but still bulky and strong. The stump of a leg twitched, as if he wanted to move but couldn’t.

 “Why would they do that?” Steffan asked, his fingers brushing through Waylan’s hair. Haldric breathed in.

 “I don’t know, lad. He’s a good horse.”

 “But why hurt him? I understand getting to you, but why hurt an innocent horse? He had done nothing yet they took away his leg.” Erende’s voice started to take on an edge, “why hurt him? It’s barbaric.”

 Haldric placed a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently as he nuzzled Waylan.

 “War will make the innocent guilty, and war will make those who are soft-hearted, quiet. Violence is the only solution that most people can see.”

 Steffan didn’t say anything, only stroking Waylan’s mane. Erende watched Khir’schen as she stared at the horse.

 “Yes, well, it is I who usually rides him.” Khir’schen said after a moment. She was ridged, almost like a statue. Erende didn’t know why.

 Haldric looked to her. Khir’schen didn’t meet his eyes as she unbuckled her bag from Isolde and transferring it to Waylan.

 “I’m guessing Bahadur is going to ride Arvak?” Vala said. Erende heard laughing and turned to find Bahadur already on the black horse, Sofia sitting in one of the Nords arms. His smile stretched across his face.

 “Aye, lass. This is my horse after all.”

 “I call Isolde!” Orianer called.

 “You can’t call horses, it’s unethical.” Steffan shot back. Orianer rolled her eyes as she mounted Isolde.

 “I’ve been here a lot longer than you have, I know what I’m doing.”

 “Sure, whatever.”

 “Does that mean we have to walk?” Vala piped up. Bahadur offered his hand to her. She grabbed it, and he swung her up flawlessly onto Arvak’s back. Vala grinned as she adjusted herself comfortably on the saddle.

 “So, that means we walk.” Erende said with a frown as he motioned to Steffan, Aeria and himself. Orianer shrugged.

 “You get to walk beside Toro, it shouldn’t be that bad.”

 Just as she said it, Toro jumped onto Erende’s leg, almost pushing him over with his weight.

 “Down, dog, down!” He said until Aeria whistled, making Toro trot back over to her.

 “No, you shouldn’t have to walk while they ride,” Haldric said, Erende, mount Isolde with Orianer, Steffan, you’re with Aeria.”

 “Seriously?” Orianer groaned. Erende pursed his lips.

 “I’m not all that excited to be with you either.”

 “Wait,” Steffan said, “what do you mean by Aeria? She doesn’t have a horse.”

 Haldric just smiled. Then they saw that Orianer had her hands up, a red ball of magick pointed straight at Toro. Lassos of red magick spurted from her palms, wrapping around the dog multiple times. Without flinching, the dog grew until he was almost the size of a bear. As Orianer dispelled the magick, Aeria mounted him. Her legs tucked into the folds of his fur, and she lowered her head.

 “Big dog. Runs about as fast as a horse,” she grinned. Erende watched with slight jealousy as Steffan climbed on top of Toro.

 “Come on,” Orianer said as she led Isolde over to him. He looked at her. She was offering a hand to him. Reluctantly, he took it, and she heaved him up onto Isoldes back with a deep huff.

 “You smell, and you’re heavy too,” Orianer said as he adjusted. Erende mimicked her in a higher voice.

 “Mehmeh meh meh meh mehmeh.”

 “Hush!” Haldric interrupted, holding his hands in the air to catch their attention.

 “The fog is still dangerous even in the day,” He said as he distributed several pieces of cloth. Erende took his and tied it around his mouth. The skritch of the boulder scrapping against the wall echoed in his ears. First, the icy air hit him, then he could just a blob of red and smell the ash. His breath felt warm against the cloth. There were few faint outlines of the other Nords as they moved out of the way of the entrance.

 “The horses will guide you out of our territory, but be warned that once you leave, you are at risk of many, many dangers. The client has asked for you to meet them at the Colovian Recovery Camp, at our usual location with Gael. His name is Seetheus Annocious. He’ll be wearing an old badge from the Imperial covenant,” Haldric said, placing a scroll in Erende’s hand, winking softly at him, “be careful, riders, and may the Gods watch over your journey.”

 “Bye bye, daddy!” Erende heard Sofia cry from behind them.

 “Bye bye, Sofia!” Bahadur shouted. Arvak neighed, his hooves pounded the stone floor as he galloped out of the stables. Khir’schen followed closely behind, with Isolde racing after them. Erende took one last look behind him. Haldric waved to him. The boulder was moved back into place, disguising the Nord camp as another ruin. The fog became thicker the further they went, then all he could see was red, and the remains of Solitude disappeared into the dark.

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