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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4. Chapter Two

 

 

 

4E 715

Morning Star

Turdas


Mother might have been a warrior once, but she still prided herself on hosting.

 As the four intruders sat at the table, bounded together with thick cords of rope, they sipped from bowls of leftover soup Erende had for dinner just that night. He wondered how Mother had the ability to tend to their intruders when they had tried to kill both of them as she wrapped a bandage around the hand of the archer he had cut. Without his face being buried in her assets or an arrow being flung at him, he was able to notice her features. She had pointed ears on an oval face, and tawny skin with dark brown irises that matched her short hair. She was different, everything about her was so unfamiliar.

 “There, does that feel better?” Mother asked. The woman nodded solemnly.

 “Yes. Thank you, ma’am.”

 “Of course, it is my pleasure. And, I apologize for my son hitting you in the chest.” Mother said as she refilled one of the bowls with more soup, “Erende, say you’re sorry.”

 He turned his neck so quickly that if he had gone any faster he might have broken it.

 “What?” He asked, his voice raising. Mother glared at him.

 “Apologize.”

 “What? No, Mother! They broke into our home! I was trying to defend myself!”

 “Defending yourself does not mean you can throw your head willy-nilly into another woman’s chest!”

 “I think there is a valid exception when she’s trying to kill me!”

 “Apologize.”

 Erende could see no way with arguing with her. She stared him down as he groaned, turning to the woman who he had hit.

 “I apologize for head-butting you in the chest, do you forgive me? There. I apologized.” Erende huffed. The woman just muttered under her breath, but Mother seemed satisfied. She gathered the now-empty bowls and dumped them in an iron pail full of water.

 “Now that we’ve got that settled, I will now ask you four to tell me why you are here.” She said, wiping her hands on her nightgown as she sat next to Erende. The four exchanged looks amongst themselves. They started to debate, mouthing words and expressions. After a moment, Mother cleared her throat.

 “Who would like to begin?” She asked.

 One of the intruders, a russet, reddish-brownish skinned woman with golden colored irises, stood up. Her thick brown hair was tied into two messy braids that hung over her shoulders, her cheeks had two streaks of white paint that were horizontally painted and one streak on her lips. She wore a plain bastian shirt with a leather belt that held a pouch and a sheath with a large steel sword. Baggy black trousers were tucked into short black boots with bronze buckles, and her red cape hung low to the ground. Her entire appearance reminded Erende of the sailors his father had frequently worked with.

 “My name is Khir’schen, and this is Bahadur,” she said in a heavy accent, her words clipped, and pointed towards a burly man with grey eyes. Hundreds of tiny red nicks covered his face and a long, red beard tied in several knots hung from his chin. He wore simple iron armor with the red cape tied around his thick neck. He nodded as a greeting.

 “This is Vala,” the young girl who could not have been more than fifteen waved to them from under the rope. Her blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail, her skin light, and an ugly cut ran down the right side of her face. Her right eye was closed shut with the scar running over it. Her only eye was a crystal blue that sparkled, as if it didn’t acknowledge the scar.

 “And finally, this is Aeria,” Khir’schen said. It was the name of the woman who Erende had fought. She scowled at him.

 “We are the Red Vale Guild, hired professional mercenaries for different contracts and jobs – “

 “Oh,” Mother interrupted, nodding to Erende, “he is also a mercenary of sorts. He does contracts too. Do you know each other?”

 Erende eyed Khir’schen. He had been right with them being a mercenary. That’s why he had seen them at the tavern. But, he had never heard of them before, nor had he ever seen anyone like them. They weren’t from Halrain – their accents differentiated from each other and sounded nothing like Halrainian.

 “Obviously not professionals since a retired solider slash cook and her son were able to take you down, and, no, we don’t know each other, Mother.” He sneered. Khir’schen frowned.

 “We haven’t been in business for very long, so excuse us for not being prepared to fight a moronic thief who can’t function for the sake of his own ar-”

 “Listen,” Aeria interjected, her smile straining, “we appreciate you not killing us and tending to our wounds, as well as feeding us, but we have been hired to retrieve a precious scroll for our client that we believe is in your possession. If you hand it to us, we will leave.”

 Erende’s face screwed up. A scroll? Which scroll - the one Walks gave him with the map? Who would want that scroll, it was useless. He saw the eagerness in their eyes, opposite of his confusion.

 Then his mind clicked.

 Tamriel.

 They knew.

 “I believe I know what you’re talking about,” Erende stated. Immediately he saw their faces perk up. Standing from his seat he swiftly moved towards his bed. He reached under the frame and pulled out the leather pack, opening it up and taking out the scroll. He unrolled it out for them to see. The map glowed orange in the firelight. Khir’schens face expressed her relief.

 “Yes, gods, thank you, we – “

 “Wait,” Erende stopped her, “do you really think that I am just going to hand it over to you?” He asked. Khir’schen closed her mouth, her eyes narrowing.

 “That was part of the plan, yes.” Vala said, “though I’m guessing the whole plan thing isn’t working the way we had hoped?”

 “Obviously not,” Erende winked. Aeria struggled against the binds, growing frustrated.

 “What do you want?” She snapped. Erende glanced to Mother, who was just as confused as the mercenaries. He rolled the scroll back up.

 “Listen, I’ve been told that this scroll is a treasure map, yes?”

 “We don’t know,” Bahadur interjected, “we were hired to retrieve it, no other questions were asked about the contract.”

 “Well, you should have asked, because this is a map leading to an island named Tamriel. On that island, somewhere, is a load of treasure. I wanted to go out in search of it, but I have never seen or heard of this land before, and I do not know where it is.”

 At the mention of the name, the mercenaries glanced at one another. Khir’schen tightened her mouth into a thin line.

 “We know where it is.” She muttered, “it is our home.”

 Erende grinned. He was right.

 “If that’s true, then how do you speak our language so flawlessly?” Mother interrupted before he could say anything. Vala tugged one of her arms free from behind her back, and, still wedged against the rope, stuck out her hand and faced her palm upwards. Slowly, a small, purple ball of smoke exuded from her skin.

 “Arcane translator. We might not be from here, and we might not know your language, but using this we are able to understand what you say, and the translator, well, translates our words so you may understand,” Vala explained.

 “But…but why are we just now hearing about Tamriel for the first time?” Mother went on. She stood and snatched the scroll from Erende’s hands, “why is this the first time we are hearing about another land, supposedly one that had been here since Halrain has?”

 “We didn’t know you were not familiar with our land,” Bahadur said, nodding to the scroll,

 “and, in honesty, we did not know of your existence until we were hired for the contract either. It came as a surprise to us.”

 Erende huffed, “then why is this scroll so important? Halrain has been here since the dawn of time, how do we know you are not just lying about some other mystical island that supposedly holds treasure?”

 “We don’t know if it’s a treasure map, if that is what the scroll holds,” said Vala, “we were just hired-”

 “I know, you said that already,” Erende interjected, “I’m saying what reason do we have to believe you are actually from an island we have never heard of and why we should give you this scroll?”

 Silence blanketed them. The Guild glanced amongst themselves, and Erende thumbed the scroll. His patience had begun to wear thin at their excuses, or whatever they were. Mother stood next to him, her face a mixture of wariness and curiosity. Khir’schen finally opened her mouth after a minute of deafening silence.

 “We can’t guarantee you anything, but-”

 “-but we offer you a seat in the Guild.” Vala finished. Erende was taken aback, glancing to Mother then back at Vala, who smiled sweetly. Both Aeria and Khir’schen glared at her.

 “I was going to say we could lead them down to the docks and grab Ori so she can show them maps and or visions of Tamriel, but, yes, let us bring the annoying thief who would probably die the second he steps on Tamriel.” Khir’schen hissed, “he is not coming with us.”

 “I second that.” Aeria said, “you are not a member of our Guild and you will not join us on this mission. This is our job, not yours.”

 “Hey, I kicked your ass with my mom, how have you not died yet?” Erende shot back.

 “You caught me off guard, you planted your face in my breasts!”

 “Yeah, well, you’re welcome!”

 “Enough.”

 Mother stepped between them, holding her hands out.

“Enough, I’m exhausted of this. Erende, I already have to deal with you going off on other contracts and the fear that you won’t return is agonizing. I would hate to think of the fact of you joining with these…these…” she motioned to them with confusion, “what did you call yourself again?”

 “Um, we are the Red Vale Guild,” Bahadur said.

 “Yes, well, these mercs, mercenaries, whatever, in order to find a treasure that may not even be there,” she paused, gazing into Erende’s face. He stood still as her hands cupped under his cheeks, “but, you’re stubborn, you’re moronic, and, omens above, probably the biggest idiot I know-”

 Erende frowned.

 “Please tell me this is going somewhere,” he muttered. Mother sighed.

 “We – you, do not know if they are speaking the truth. If it is better to let them go alone than have you run off with them and end up getting killed, island or no island, it is safer for you to stay with me.”

 “But, Mother-” Erende protested, but she signaled him to stop, and he shut his mouth closed. Mother let go of him, and cut the ropes from the mercenaries, who rubbed red sores along their wrists. She handed them the scroll.

 “Take this. Leave. Do not come back.”

 Khir’schen slowly took it from her. She bowed slightly.

 “Thank you, ma’am. We appreciate this.” She then whistled to the rest of the Guild. They responded by throwing their hoods over their face. Mother opened the front door, and one by one, they disappeared into the darkness of the night.

 Then, Vala was the last to leave. She placed a hand on both Mother and Erende.

 “Thank you for your hospitality, it is not every day your opponent aides you,” she said to Mother before turning to Erende.

 “They might say you cannot go, but I want you to come with us. We are a young Guild, and you obviously know what you are doing. We need someone like you, and I promise, there is gold.”

 Erende felt his ears perk.

 “How much gold?” He asked.

 Vala smiled, nodding her head towards the door,

 “We are stationed at the docks. I hope I will see you there,” she said, throwing on her hood then racing out the door. Erende watched her go before the darkness swallowed her into the night, and then shut the door closed. He looked over to Mother with his eyebrows pinched.

 “You know I love you, but I fear you may have just cost me a heist worthy of a song,” Erende said before sitting on his bed. The wooden frame creaked in response. Mother rubbed her eyes with her withered hands, pinching the bridge of her nose.

 “Erende, you must understand this, with I being your mother,” she said, sighing, “your father was most unpleasant when you first decided to become one of the thieves. While you were of age to make your own decisions, I had to stay home with that anxious man and listen to him gripe and moan about how it was a dangerous profession,” she walked over to him and sat on the bed, placing a hand on his head and brushing away the stray locks of hair. She smelled of berries and smoke, “at the time, I had only thought of you following in my footsteps, just in a slightly different path. A warrior, one who followed the night instead of the Sovereign. But, now, I see that in each day when you leave or when you do not return, I worry. I worry and I fret, I wonder if you’re dead and when the porch creaks under the feet of someone at the door, I always fear it is a courier, bringing me your ashes in a burial urn.”

 Erende could see his reflection in the welling pools of tears in Mother’s eyes. She placed a hand on his face, cupping his cheeks.

 “But…you are a man. I cannot dictate what you will do. You are a thief, and as one, you think like one,” she said, “so, Erende, I ask you; is this scroll something you wish to pursue? Is it something you wish to gamble your life here, in Halrain, for a chance at another world? Tell me this, Erende, and I will step aside as your mother to let you go; is this really something you believe?”

 -

 In all respect, Erende at first didn’t think it was actually living quarters. But when he checked the address again and examined the number plating on the side of the wall, he knew he had the right one. The living quarters were sanctioned off in the lower district of the city, and they were used by others who didn’t have enough coin to spend on larger housings. By the length of the wall in-between each door, Erende could tell that the rooms inside were small.

 As if it wasn’t sad enough.

 He knocked on the wooden door loudly. Several seconds later, the bolt lock scratched as it was opened. Steffan peered from behind the door, bags hanging under his eyes.

 “Erende?” He asked in a husky voice.

 Good, he was up. For once Erende felt as if he truly needed Steffan. He didn’t want to really do this by himself, though he wouldn’t admit it.

 Well, not willingly.

 “What are you doing here? It’s not even dawn yet.” Steffan said sleepily. Erende examined him. His dirty blonde hair was matted in a bed head, his leather armor was wrinkled from him sleeping in it. He looked exhausted.

 Perfect.

 “Steffan, we need to leave right now.”

 “What…? Why?”

 “Apples are raining from the sky and NaTracy walks the streets.”

 Steffan blinked at him slowly.

 “If you don’t have a good reason, I’m going back to bed.” He said, starting to close the door. Erende placed his hand against it.

 “Well, I do have a good reason.”

 “And that would be…?”

 “Let’s just say I got a contract.”
 His eyes widened as the words sunk in.

 “No, no, no. No, ERENDE.” He said before trying to close the door. Erende lunged and shoved his foot in-between the door and the wall. He winced as Steffan tried to slam it shut.

 “Steffan, wait, hear me out – “

 “No, Erende, I don’t want to take part in whatever shit you’re doing – “

 “But there’s treasure, think of the-”

 “I don’t care.”

 “Think of the gold, mass amount of gold-”

 “No, Erende, I don’t care about money, I care about my life!”

 “But I care about money and you care about me, right?”

 “Not really!”

 “But we’re brothers!”

 “Not by blood!”

 “By choice, it’s better than blood!”

 “No!”

 “Please!”
 “No!”

 “Please, I can’t do this without you!”

 Steffan halted. Erende felt the pressure release his foot after a moment. He peeked out from the opening.

 “I’m sorry, what was that?” He asked. Erende grinded his teeth. Now he regretted saying that.

 “Please.” He forcefully pushed out.

 “Please, what?”

 “Please, I need help.”

 “Please, you need help what?”

 “Please I need your help because we’re partners and I can’t do it without you.”

 “Please you need my help because we’re partners and you –”

 “STEFFAN.”

  Steffan sighed slightly, opening the door. Erende watched him fold his arms.

 “Fine, Erende. Fine. I’ll help you, only because I know whatever you’re about to do is going to be stupid and idiotic, and if you were going to get killed, then I might as well help you get killed.”

 Erende grinned.

 “Great! Let’s go.”

 “Fine, just let me pack.”

 “Already taken care of,” Erende said, holding up the bag.

 “Can I change?”

 Erende looked up and down Steffan’s attire. He wore a simple leather armor set that was worn beyond it’s years, and now being used as a nighttime wear. A jacket hung over his shoulders to protect him from the cold. It was not suitable armor, nor would it help if they happened to find themselves in a brawl.

 “No.”

 Steffan blinked.

 “I’m changing anyway. I’m probably going to get killed as soon as I step away from my door.”

 “Now you’re just being pessimistic.”

 Steffan rolled his eyes, and beckoned Erende inside. As he shut the door behind him, Erende couldn’t help but notice the size of the room. It was…incredibly small.

 “Eight years, and I’ve never set foot in your house until now. I wonder why.” Erende whistled, as Steffan walked into a room adjacent from the room they were in, “well, I always thought you earned more than your share of coin to get a place better than this.”

 “I don’t know why I never invited you, your charm is irresistible.” Steffan called.

 “I think you’re jealous.”

 “And I think you’ve earned enough to buy a better set of clothes.”

 Erende looked down. He wore a long black leather shirt with several buckles stitched diagonally across his chest for adjustment, with thick pieces of leather strapped to his shoulders for protection. His trousers were baggy and the brown coloring was beginning to fade, making the holes in the fabric more prominent. His boots were in the same condition.

 “My outfit is fine, and if you don’t like it I’ll just buy a new one.”

 “New one’s cost too much.”

 “For you, coin-counter.”

 “It’s called saving so I don’t spend it all on items I don’t need – and the term is penny-pinching.”

 “Well, whatever. I just made up a new phrase,” he snapped his thumbs, grinning, “I guess you could say I coined the phrase.”

 “…you continue to surprise me with your idiocy.”

 “Seven.”

 After a few moments, Steffan emerged from the room in a similar outfit. He adjusted his jacket over his new attire, and forced a smile.

 “Alright, let’s go.”

  They covered their faces with clothes as the icy winter wind their faces as they stepped from Steffans home and closed the door behind them. Erende nodded, and the two headed down towards the docks. He could smell the salt on the air from the ocean as they drew closer.

 “Now, long story short, mercenaries attacked me and stole something of mine, so now we’re going to follow them so we can get in on the action.” He explained. Steffan yawned.

 “So now we’re going to try and take back whatever they took?”

 “Actually, no. We’re hitching a ride with them.”

 Erende smiled, while Steffan rubbed his face.

 “What do you mean, hitching a ride?” He asked.

 “I mean what I mean,” Erende replied, “we’re getting on a ship.”

 Steffan stared at him, bewilderment struck across his face. Then his droopy eyes rolled again, and he sighed.

 “Death awaits me.”

 “Too late to change your mind!” Erende called as they streaked across the empty square and towards the docks. The two made their way down to the harbor, where they slowed down their pace. They ducked behind several wooden creates near the docking post. The moonlight reflected off of the walls of the Palace. Steffan tapped his shoulder.

 “So, where did you actually jump from?” He whispered. Erende frowned.

 “None of your concern…” he glanced back to him, “…second floor, fourth window to your right. Now, any questions?”

 “Yes, since I had agreed way too soon to this,” Steffan whispered, “explain further what I just got myself into.”

 “Do I have to, since I just explained it?”

 “If you want my help.”

 “Just look for suspicious looking characters in red hoods.”

 “There are tons of suspicious characters.”

 “Well, look for the ones in red hoods, it’s not the difficult.”

 They peeked around the crates at the dock. Several ships bobbed up and down in the waters. Lamps lined down to the end of the pier, and they could see a few guards patrolling the area. After a minute, Steffan tapped Erende’s shoulder. He pointed once he caught his attention.

 “Them?”

 Erende turned. Far off to the left of the pier were the four mercenaries, along with a fifth one. They discussed something quietly in front of a large ship, the name The Black Maiden painted in bold letters across the front of the hull. He knew that ship. It belonged to an old captain that was friends with Halvor.

 Which meant they didn’t have a ship.

 They were going to steal one.

 “Them.”

 “Great,” Steffan muttered as he adjusted his position, “what’s the plan? Where do we go from here? Do you even have an idea of what we are doing?”

 Erende rolled his eyes, “don’t worry, I have a plan.”

 “Is it a good one?”
 “I said I have a plan.”

 Steffan watched Erende as he slowly made his way over towards the red hooded Guild, ducking behind numerous crates and boxes. Once he was close enough, he beckoned Steffan to follow him.

 “So, what else?” Steffan murmured when he reached to where Erende was hiding. He put a finger to his lips.

 “Now, we wait.”

 As soon as the words left his mouth, the Guild boarded the ship, pulling the plank in after them. The ropes that helped hold the ship on the dock were loosened, and the ship began to rock out into the bay. Steffan was about to ask Erende what they should do, but his creased brows and perched lips told him that he didn’t know.

 “Erende! What were we supposed to do?” He whispered harshly. Erende shrugged.

 “I don’t know, I had planned to get onto the ship but it’s already sailing away and – “

 “This is why you tell me the plan before I blindly follow you!”
 “It’s not my fault you followed me!”

 “You know, what?! Fine, you want to get on the ship, we’re getting on the damn ship!” Steffan said, standing up and hoisting Erende in his arms. Erende was startled, struggling in Steffan’s grip.

 “What are you doing?!” He asked. Steffan didn’t respond. He was about to smack him, but he saw Steffan had stepped back quite some ways from where they had been hiding. It wasn’t until he had broken into a sprint that Erende realized what he was doing.

 “STEFFAN, WAIT, DON’T – “

 Steffan vaulted off the pier, and Erende screamed. He screamed louder as Steffan let go of him mid-air, and Erende smacked the side of the ship, almost splattering on the hull. Steffan landed next to him.

“Grab onto the side!” Steffan shouted. The ice made it more difficult as they raked their fingers to try and find a good enough grip. Erende’s nails dug into the barnacles. Dangling from the ship, He panted heavily.

 “That was your plan?!” He cried.

 “Oh, like you had any better ideas!” Steffan snapped back.
 “I would have thought of something better than that!”

 “My plan was to follow your apparently well thought out plan but you didn’t have one so I came up with one!”

 “Oh you-“

 “Hey!”

 The two looked up. Standing over the fence lining of the deck was Aeria. She looked down at both of them with sheer shock plastered across her face.

 “Good god, what the f-”

 “GUARDS!” Someone hollered on the deck.

 Erende looked over his shoulder just as the patrolling guards waved their torches frantically in the air. They called out to the watch towers on the island. Shouting carried over the waves, and warning fires blazed up. Aeria cursed, leaving the two on the side of the ship. Seconds later, a rope was thrown down to them. Steffan climbed up first, then Erende. Khir’schen was the first person he saw as he hauled himself over the railing. Before he could say anything, she slapped him.

 “Fetcher! You complete fetcher!” She screamed, “do you realize what you and your n’wah of a partner did?!”

 Erende opened his mouth again but the sirens from the watchtowers were triggered, sending waves of guards down to the docks. Khir’schen turned her attention to the numerous ropes on the deck. Bahadur and Vala both struggled to untie multiple knots and set the sails free.

 “We were attempting to leave without causing a disturbance, but no, you had to ruin it, didn’t you?” Aeria barked, coiling the rope Erende had climbed around a hook, “you couldn’t just leave us the hell alone!” Erende balled his fists.

 “You were attempting to leave by stealing a ship?! That itself is going to cause a disturbance!”

 “We were successful until you decided to jump onto the side of our ship!”

 “We had no choice!”

 “You had a choice to leave our ship alone!”

 “It’s not your ship!

 An explosion of water flung them off balance. The Black Maiden heaved as waves rolled under the hull.  

 “What the hell was that?!” Steffan called as they up righted. Khir’schen tightened her grip, her knuckles turning white.

 “They’re launching fireballs!” She screamed. Erende turned to see a flaming ball of fire being flung through the night sky.

 “Get down!” He screamed.

This time, it smacked into the water mere inches from the ship, sending another violent wave of water and ice.

 “How close are we to the lighthouses?!” Vala yelled. Bahadur was at the wheel, steering as best he could. Ahead of them were the two lighthouses. They were still dark. Erende didn’t know why they were dark, but he didn’t care. Whatever plan they had come up with had them getting out of the bay area with the ship. He didn’t know if it was possible for them to. If the lighthouses were notified, they could close the bay gate, and lock them in.

 Water rained on the deck as another projectile smacked into the ocean, and Erende covered his head with his bag. He couldn’t hear anything except the sizzle of water and the shouting of the crew on deck.

 “We’re almost there!”

 “Hold the sails!”
 “We’re not going to make it!”

 “Another fireball!”

 The ship leaped into the air as the fireball caused the ocean to swell, sending The Black Maiden sailing through the sky. Erende grabbed a hold of the fencing of the deck.

 “Vala! Ori!” He heard Bahadur roar over the wave, “positions! Get ready to hold her in the air!”

 Erende had no idea what that meant. He braced himself for impact when the ship came back down to the sea, but nothing happened. He waited a few more seconds. Nothing. He slowly opened his eyes, only to see a pair of two women standing near the stern of the ship. For each of them, a greenish-blue mist erupted from her hands and outlined the ship. It was now flying over the water, far away from Halrain and speeding out of the bay where Erende could see nothing but ice and darkness. The ship hit a bump in the water, making him stumble. He grabbed ahold of the wooden fence along the deck with one hand while the other gripped the leather pack tightly.

 “Steffan!” He called. His voice was almost immediately lost to the wind. He didn’t know where Steffan was. The aura around the women grew brighter. He crept closer, the icy air stinging his face.

 “We need to slow down!”

 No answer. The wind became like knives slicing in the air.

 “Slow down!”

 He had no idea whether or not he heard him or if the pair grew tired, but once he saw the blur of the lighthouses whip by, the ship halted, tossing Erende face-first onto the floor. The glow around the ship dimmed. It was now out in the open ocean, gently sailing. Erende lifted his head. The two women had collapsed. 

 “Oh no,” he breathed, crawling forward to them. He recognized one of them as Vala. Her eyes were closed and her hair was disheveled. He put his ear to her mouth.

Slow. She was breathing. He sighed. They were out of the bay. The lighthouses were behind them. Whatever magick they did worked. Looking down at Vala’s palms, he saw wisps of blue coming from them. Erende grazed her skin with a finger, jerking it back. They were searing hot. He wasn’t surprised. He had never seen that kind of magick before but whatever it was, it was incredibly powerful. Erende was even startled she was alive. He stripped off his own jacket and nestled her inside the fur so as the wind would not make her cold.

 “Move, move!” Khir’schen said as she shoved him away. He toppled over onto the deck.

 Steffan’s face appeared, looking down at him.

 “Steffan, you’re alright,” Erende breathed. Steffan nodded.

 “Same to you,” he said as he helped him stand again. They watched as Khir’schen picked up an unconscious Vala in her arms. The other woman had her arm around Aeria’s shoulder. She stumbled on her feet.

 “Everyone, inside the hull.” Khir’schen said, tightening her grip on Vala when she looked over at Erende and Steffan, “now.”

 They exchanged a worried glance before following her down under the deck. It was the same temperature as inside as it was outside. When door opened, the first thing he saw was his breath and a storage room with a set of stairs. The shovels, hoes, buckets, blankets, instruments were scattered across the floor. The captain that had run this ship hadn’t emptied it out. Years of dust gathered in a layer like a grey blanket. He could smell the age in the air.

 Down and to the right of those stairs was a somewhat decent furnished bedroom. The others forced Erende and Steffan away from the room as Khir’schen slowly set Vala on the dusty bedding. In the kitchen area, Bahadur motioned for the two to sit down. Erende recognized Aeria and Bahadur, but the third woman, one similar in features to Aeria with pointed ears and almond-shaped yellow eyes and blonde hair laying gracefully across her shoulders, was not familiar and was not one of the ones who had broken into his home. What especially surprised him though, was her leg.

 It was bronze, the metal plating stapled with various bolts along the side. Several types of other wires and contraptions lined all the way down the mechanism to her foot, which was just a shaped blocked of gold metal. When she adjusted her weight, small gas valves opened and released a puff of steam with several gears moving to accommodate her movement. It was an entire limb made out of pure metal. He looked up to see her glaring towards him.

 “So, who are you?” Erende asked. The woman scowled down at him.

 “Orianer. And you’re the little s’wit who almost jeopardized our contract, aren’t you?”

 “Guilty. What’s with the leg?”

 “It’s my leg.”

 “Obviously, I just mean-”

 “It’s a leg.”

 “Yes, you said that, but it’s-“

 “My leg.”

 Erende huffed. She glared at him with her sharp green eyes.

 “Never mind.”

 After a moment, Khir’schen entered the room. Her gaze was hardened and cold when she saw Erende. She stood next to Aeria and Orianer, folding her arms. His eyes were drawn to his scroll, tucked tightly into her belt.

 “Alright,” she started, “what in good Sakatkal’s name did you think that it would be a good idea to jump onto the side of our ship and hitch a ride with us back to Tamriel?”

 Erende started to smile but stopped when Khir’schen threw him an icy glare. He pointed to Steffan.

 “It was actually his idea.” He said. Steffan hung his head when their glare turned to him.

 “Yeah, actually.” He mumbled sheepishly. Khir’schen sighed, squeezing the bridge of her nose.

 “Listen, fine, whatever, whoever idea it was, I don’t care. Problem is that we’re already on course back home, so we’re going to have to take you with us.” She muttered.

 “That was your plan anyway, wasn’t it?” Aeria added. Erende slowly nodded.

 “Why did you want to come with us anyway? Because of you, you alerted the authorities and caused Vala to pass out!” Orianer shouted, slamming her hands on the table. Erende narrowed his eyes at her.

 “The plan wouldn’t have worked! You had the plan to steal a giant ass ship, did you think nobody was going to notice it was gone from the dock?! And Vala, for your glorious information, invited us to come along!”

 “Vala isn’t that stupid to invite you, you half-assed, milk drinking idiot! And for your information, s’wit, Vala and I have magick on our side. We were going to make it transparent – “

 “BRILLIANT IDEA, they would see you walking on air and wouldn’t ask any damn questions about why five people in red hoods were floating in midair.”

 Orianer’s face twisted in anger.

 “You’re such a snowback bastard you – “

 “Enough!” Khir’schen shouted. Orianer shut her mouth hard enough for her teeth to crack. Erende grimaced.

 “This is just a complete shit-fest right now. Bahadur, can you take them to the sleeping quarters and lock them in whatever room you find? I don’t want to see their faces for the rest of this trip,” Khir’schen said with a wave of her hand.

 Bahadur bowed his head. Without a word, he grabbed Steffan and Erende and led them away from the kitchen. Erende shot a scowl to Khir’schen, and she turned away from him. Silence engulfed them as they made their way deeper into the bowels of the ship. The further they got, the darker it seemed to be. Per to Khir’schens request, Bahadur opened the door to the first bedroom they came across. It was stationed in a dark area of the bowels. The door wailed as it opened.

 “I’m not going to lock you in, as that would be cruel. I will not treat you like animals,” Bahadur said, letting them walk inside the darkened room, “instead, I would advise you to stay in here for the remainder of the night. Khir’schen may be better come morning. Sleep usually helps her.”

 With that, Bahadur shut the door. The room was thrown into utter darkness, with no windows or lanterns. A moment later, he heard the quick scratch of a match. A small flame appeared. Then, a candle flickered to life, casting odd shadows on Steffans face as he held it up. Shadows danced on two hay piles and a chair adjacent from a table. Water dripped rhythmically from the ceiling onto a puddle on the wooden floor. Black mold climbed on the walls.

 “I can’t believe I let you drag me into this mess.”

 Erende looked back over. Steffan was staring at the candle, his lips drawn into a tight line.

 “I can’t believe I agreed so quickly without knowing all the details, am I honestly that stupid?” He continued, his voice echoing in the room. Erende didn’t respond. What could he say? He didn’t think any of this would actually happen. Bringing someone like Steffan into this would just make it worse. He wasn’t familiar with the world that Erende lived in every day. He was just his friend, his best friend, and a civilian with morals.

 As far as Erende knew.

 Steffan sighed.

 “Everything you do is a mistake.” He muttered. Erende watched as he set the candle on the table, and collapsed into one of the hay piles. He didn’t know what to say. His anger had dissolved into remorse. He didn’t know how to make it up. For a while, Erende just watched the candle flicker. Steffan’s snoring soon joined the light drip, drip, drip, of the water. He breathed.

The sounds were beginning to get to him. He stood up, walking towards the door. He placed his hand on the handle, and jiggled it.

 Unlocked.

 Perfect.

 Erende grabbed his bag, and slipped out into the hallway. He made his way past the rooms, the kitchen, and the storage room before letting himself onto the deck. He had forgotten how cold it was until the air pierced his skin. He had forgotten as well that he had given his warm, fur jackets to Vala after she had passed out. Although it was not as icy as when they were flying across the water, the nip still made him shiver. Erende rubbed his arms instead, and sat down at the helm of the ship, leaning his back against the wooden post that held the wheel.

 The night was a serene painting. Stars twinkled in the clear sky. He saw the three familiar moons hanging near them. They looked just as big and bright as they did from either his home or his jail cell. Below on the water’s surface, ice chunks floated softly. He sighed.

 What had he been doing? He was chasing after an idea of a scroll that might have treasure. He had left Mother alone to search for it. This wasn’t his contract. This wasn’t his adventure of some sort that he could go on whenever he pleased. He had purposefully shoved himself in the middle of logic-knows-what.

 And what for?

 The gold, he reminded himself. The piles of glistening, gilded gold. Beautiful gold. He did this for the gold, and taking Steffan along with him was just so that he had help in whatever was happening. He couldn’t do this alone. He needed Steffan. For more than just a partner in strength. 

 Erende unbuckled the front pouch of his pack, and pulled out the scroll. As the night was clear he could see the map a little easier in the dark. Tamriel was southwest of Halrain, according to the map. He didn’t know which way they were going. Luckily, he reached inside his pack again to find his compass. He opened it to see the dial was actually facing southeast. He didn’t exactly know the plan, but he could assume. Assuming is what got him on the ship in the first place.

 Erende jumped up, grabbing the wheel of the ship and with the guidance of the compass, steered the ship towards the horizon. The compass slowly dialed left until it hit southwest. He smiled. Laying down on the deck with the pack as his pillow, he watched the stars.

 “This time, I’m not an idiot.”

-----

“Erende! You idiot!”

 Sea water flooded his mouth and nostrils, making his gag reflex spasm. Erende woke up gagging and coughing up water. As he wiped it away, he saw Vala standing above him, burning with anger.

 Literally.

 Burning.

 Erende scrambled to his feet as Vala held a flaming hand to his throat.

 “What did you do?” She asked furiously, “what did you do?!”

 Erende examined her. She was bent over, her face pale, her milky blue eye watery, and her fiery hand shaking, her other hand holding the compass. Slowly, Erende held his own hands up in surrender.

 “Calm down, Vala, I just changed our direction- “

 “Why?!

 He inhaled carefully. The smell of smoke burned the water in his nose.

 “We weren’t headed to Tamriel, we were headed somewhere else, so I changed our course.”

 Vala panted. Erende took her wrist, lowering it so that the fireball wasn’t in his face. She stumbled, her face as pale as the parchment paper of the scroll and she fell to her knees. Erende stooped to her level. She was weak, too weak to be standing up. The spell she casted hours before still took an incredible toll on her. He needed to bring her back down to the bed so she could rest.

 As soon as he picked her up in his arms, the Black Maiden lurched violently to the side. A wave of sea water and ice drenched the deck, along with Vala and Erende. His first instinct was to throw himself over her as the water doused them. When the ship was upright again, Erende set her down and rushed to the side of the deck. The sky was clear and the sun was high. It was ocean that was in turmoil. Below the water’s surface, a dark shadow slithered around the ship. Erende watched as it dived under the hull. Dread hit him.

 “Get below deck!” Erende cried. Vala tried to stand up, but the shadow crashed into the ship again, this time practically turning it completely over. Vala screamed as she lost her balance and fell into the water. Erende gasped, not taking a moment to think before he dived in after her. Ice swamped his head as he hit the freezing water. The saltiness of the ocean stung his eyes as he opened them, frantically looking for Vala. The dark green shadow of the bottom of the sea and the shadows of the ice was all he could see. That is, until a scaly tail whipped past him. The size of it was almost the width of the ship itself. Erende’s eyes bugged when he saw two glowing red dots appear from the darkness below him.

 Realizing the monster was about to surface, he whipped around, desperate to find Vala. The paleness of her skin stood out in the ocean. She was flailing underneath the ship. The glowing red irises were taunting them as they reached closer and closer. Erende swam as fast as he could over to her. She was in sheer panic, the shock creating adrenaline, and she grabbed onto him as soon as he was close enough. Bubbles started to escape from the corner of Erende’s mouth. Their weight together was almost too heavy for him. The ship was miraculously upright again, but Erende couldn’t find a way to get on deck. Frantic, he tried to swim upwards and watch the approaching monster. They broke the surface, gasping and sputtering for air.

 “Grab onto the barnacles!” Vala cried. Erende followed her, paddling toward them. No matter how old the ship was, the barnacles were stuck so tightly on the hull of the Black Maiden, they were able to pull themselves up. Erende looked down as he left the water. The shadows still circled them.

 “What is that thing?!” Erende screamed.

 “It’s a Sea Serpent!” Khir’schen yelled as she kicked open the door of the hull, unsheathing her sword from the holster of her waist. She grabbed Vala, hurling her on deck. Behind her, Aeria, Orianer, Steffan and Bahadur followed. Steffan lifted Erende from the barnacles.

 “Are you okay?” He asked, patting his back as Erende coughed up water.

 “I’m fine,” Erende replied. He saw Khir’schen at the wheel, face stoic as she tried to turn the ship.

 “We need to get out of these waters!” She called to the Guild.

 They stumbled as the serpent hit them again. Erende heard a sickening crack of wood. He turned and looked down the right side. The hull had been breached.

 “Water is flooding the lower cabins!” He hollered. Khir’schen cursed, handling the wheel with white knuckles.

 “Come and take my place, Erende!”

 “Why?!”

 “Because I need you to!”

 “But-“

 “SHUT UP AND GET THE WHEEL!”

 Erende hurried over, grabbing the hull from Khir’schen as she raced down to where the rest of the Guild was. Bahadur had safely set Vala back inside the ship before rushing back out, his hands holding a large warhammer. Aeria fired her bow into the face of the beast. It roared, diving under. The ship jolted once again, and they held onto the fence of the deck. As they tried to stabilize themselves, the shadow of the serpent began rising from the ocean. They watched as the green scaly body of the serpent glittered in the sun. It’s blood red eyes opened, and a snarling jaw revealed hundreds of rows of sharp, serrated teeth. The beast roared, sending shivers down their spines.

 The snake charged towards Orianer who deflected its jaws with a magickal shot of ice into its eye. Khir’schen attacked with a quick swipe of her sword. It dodged her, returning to strike at her head.

 Erende was filled with utter anxiety as he attempted to steer away from the serpent and avoid the icebergs. The compass was somewhere, hopefully not lost in the ocean, and he couldn’t look for it as he held the wheel. The Guild was coordinated, with multiple vantage strikes from Aeria and Orianer while Steffan, Khir’schen and Bahadur attacked up close. Erende wanted to join in and fight. He reached down for his dagger, but to his horror, found his sheath empty. He madly searched the deck of the Black Maiden. The bag was nowhere to be found, the compass gone too, but he found his dagger stuck in the fencing along the deck. The handle was lodged in between the bars where Vala had fallen into the sea. Luck had come to him in spades. He tore it from the wood, racing to help as Khir’schen swung her sword wildly at the snake.

 “What are you doing?!” She hollered when she saw him. He stabbed the serpents neck with the blade as it dived for them. It shrieked in anger.

 “I thought I told you to steer the ship!”

 “It looked like you guys needed help!”

 “We don’t need help!” Aeria called as she nocked another arrow.

 “Well it looked like it!”

 “We’ve got this under – “

 “LOOK OUT!”

 Erende vaulted over Aeria and slammed her on the ground as the serpent’s tail whooshed past them, inches from their head. Aeria groaned with his weight on top of her.

 “Gods, I hate you.” She muttered as they stood up.

 “Is this from the breast thing, cause I apologized.”

 “I really hate you.”

 “Noted.”

  The serpent was bleeding and angry. It roared with rage as its tail tried to crush the Guild. The Guild were skilled fighters, but not good enough. Each of them were focused on their attacks alone and were not working together as a Guild would. Even worse, none of them took of that damn cape, except for Khir’schen, who really just ripped it off when the snake used its fangs to pin her down.

 As Erende focused on the neck of the beast, Aeria and Orianer shot at its face, Khir’schen focused on the body, and Steffan and Bahadur hacked away at its tail. The inconsistences with their fighting style was costing them the entire battle. If they didn’t hatch a plan soon, the ship would be destroyed, and they would die.

 Breaking away from the battle, Erende caught his breath, quickly putting together a plan. He was not skilled at fighting, he knew that. How could they kill this thing without one of them accidentally dying?

 “Khir’schen!”

 “What?” She responded as she slit the serpents skin open.

 “Aeria!”

 “What?!”

 “Orianer!”
 “Erende, stop calling our names and tell us what damn thing you – “

 “I have a plan!”

 “Is it a good one?” Steffan shouted above the clamor.

 “I said I had a plan, Steffan, stop doubting me!”

 “Does it involve cutting the snakes head off?” Bahadur chimed.

 “Maybe!”

 Steffan shot a grin to him. Erende made his way down, gathering Aeria, Orianer and Khir’schen together as Steffan and Bahadur defended them.

 “What’s your plan?” Khir’schen asked him. Erende pointed his dagger at the oozing blood from various cuts on the serpent’s neck.

 “I’ve made some lacerations on its neck, but my dagger isn’t long enough to cut the damn things head off.”

 “So, you want me to the dirty work?”

 Erende couldn’t help but smile.

 “Exactly. Aeria, Orianer, you two will need to distract that thing from Khir’schen and I as we try to get closer to it. Aim for the eyes.”

 “Aim for the eyes,” Orianer muttered, “got it. It’s a terrible plan but I fear it’s the only one we have.”

 “Think of it as practice for fighting, remember that I kicked all of your asses back home.”

 “You have to bring that up?”

 “Aeria, just try your best to blind it.”

 “Got that covered,” She grinned, loading her bow.
 Khir’ smirked, and as soon as the serpent lifted its tail again to pummel them, Orianer grabbed its attention by streaking down the deck and up to the hull. The snake followed, hissing and spitting acidic saliva.

 “Come on, you ass-faced bastard!” She cheered, “bring it on!”

 The sea serpent howled. Its massive head plunged down to her, jaws open wide. Before the snake could reach him, Orianer hurled a shard of ice into its face. This time, it embedded into the snake’s eye. It reared up, screeching. As it was temporarily disabled, Bahadur had Steffan climb onto his hand, where he launched him into the air. The momentum gave Steffan enough force to swing his axe down onto the tail, cutting it clean off. The beast was now unbalanced. Its head beginning to sway with the lost weight of the tail. Khir’schen raced up to the hull, climbing on the fence.

 As the serpent opened its jaws in a last effort to bite, she swung her sword across the cuts on the serpent’s neck. The wounds made it easier for the edge of the blade to slice through to meat, and the head was decapitated. Blood spurted violently from the neck. The head fell onto the ship with a deafening BANG. The body, now with head or tail, crashed onto the ship only for the weight to pull it off the deck and into the sea, turning the water red.

 Breathing heavily and covered in gore, Khir’ dropped her sword and fell to her knees. The crew stood in silence, all of them breathing heavily. Erende sighed.

 “Who changed our course?”

 He turned. Khir’schen was gazing at the head of the serpent, blood still seeping from its wound.

 “We were headed towards the White Coast in the Sea of Ghosts, and, judging by that monster, we are now near the edge of the Silver Coast, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen any of those water-dweller Lamias, so let me ask again; who. Changed. Our. Course.”

 Silence. The Guild looked at one another. Erende could see the tightness of their mouths. He could lie. He could not say anything. But when Steffan met his gaze, and Erende saw the knowing in his face, he knew that even if he did do anything, Steffan would tell the truth. It was his moral. Erende sighed.

 “It was me.”

 Khir’schen turned. Erende had his hand up, looking down at the wooden floor in shame. He heard the sound of her boots stomping on the floor, coming closer to him. The tip of her boot poked into his vision.

 “I could’ve guessed, huh?” She said bitterly. Her hand collided with his cheek. The pain stung his face. Erende didn’t look at her.

 “It’s my scroll. I should be involved with at least helping.” He muttered, tasting the metallic of his blood beginning to drip into his mouth. Khir’schen scowled.

 “Aeria, take him down into one of the holding cells. Keep an eye on him for the night, we’ll rotate shifts until we get on Tamriel,” Khir’schen snapped, and shoved Erende towards the door.

 “Great job, Erende. Great job.”

 He glared at her before Aeria grabbed him and led him towards the hull. When he passed Steffan, he saw the tiniest smile on his lips. Even as Erende was headed again to jail, for once, he had confessed to something. That fit in with Steffan’s moral. He was proud.

 Aeria dragged Erende from the deck to the lowest area of the ship, grabbing a torch from one of the metal clamps when the darkness began to obscure their vision. In one room, Erende saw Vala in her bed. She was unconscious, sleeping soundly. It didn’t occur to him that he might have been the cause of that.

 In an ironic way, he had to guide her to where the holding cells were through the ship. She seemed to grow angrier when he corrected a wrong turn or opening the wrong door. When they got to the cell, she almost tossed him in, slamming the bar door shut and locking it behind him.

 “What, no thank you?” He asked as he wiped mold from his pants. Green smeared on the grey dye. Aeria glowered at him through the door.

 “You’re a complete fetcher, you know that?” She muttered. Erende laid his arms against the metal bars.

 “You seem angry. Are you still upset about the breast thing?”

 “No.”

 “Are you sure?”
 “Yes.”

 “Because I apologized- “

 “I’m not angry about it!

 Erende held up his hands, and Aeria faced her back to him. He sat on one of the decaying chairs in the holding cell, almost falling as one of the legs snapped under his weight. The air was musty and moist. The cell hadn’t been used in moons, Erende granted. Everything in it was rotting away with dust and water damage.

 “So, where’s my bag?”

 Aeria still had her back to him. She was unmoving, one hand holding the torch, the other on her hip in a stereotypical guard stance.

 “I don’t know. Maybe it’s lost in the sea. I don’t care.”

 Erende frowned.

 “Steffan has it, right?”

 “I said I don’t know.”

 Erende sighed. He saw the metal bar rub against her red cloak, smearing the game green dirt on it. Then, something captured his attention. A small patch of leather was woven into the right top of the cloak. It was a symbol, though nothing Erende had ever seen before. It looked as if it was a tree with woven branches, and a small, teardrop shape cut was nestled in the middle of the trunk. He touched it softly.

 “What is that?” He asked.

 Aeria turned when his finger pressed against the leather patch.

 “By Y’ffre, can you just shut up?” Her eyes were slits in her face. Erende pointed to her cape.

 “That symbol. It’s stitched on your cape. Why?”

 “That’s none of your business.”

 “Well, it kinda is.”

 “No, it’s not.”

 “Aeria, come on. What’s with the symbol? Does it mean you’re part of a clan or something?”

 “Shut up.”

 Erende huffed. He wasn’t going to get any information out of her that way. Instead, when she turned back around, he unsheathed his dagger. Slowly, he began to cut along the stitching of the patch. Slow, deliberate nips. He removed the patch as his dagger snipped the last string of yarn from the cloth. Erende tapped Aeria on the shoulder.

 “Gods, what no- “

She stopped. Erende mockingly waved the patch against the bars.

 “Tell me, and I’ll give it back to you.”

 She looked as if she wanted to punch him in the face. He didn’t blame her. He waved the patch around a little more, taunting her. Aeria leaped at him, reaching through the door, grabbing wildly.

 “Give it to me, Erende!”

 “Tell me.”

 “Erende!”

 “It’s not that hard!”

 Aeria growled, pulling her arm back out. When Erende cockily wagged the patch, she finally sighed in defeat.

 “You’re a child.”

 “I’ve been told. Now, what’s the deal with the patch?”

 Aeria stared at it. He saw a mixture of emotions in her face.

 “It’s the symbol of my village in what’s left of Valenwood. My mother made it for me before I left with the Guild when I was young.”

 “How long have you been in the Guild?”

 “Since I was able to swing a sword above my head. I travelled to Cyrodiil where I met Orianer. Then we met Bahadur and Khir’schen there as they were buying supplies. Valenwood was in a terrible state, and we both didn’t want to live a life of continuous toil just to survive.”

 “Valenwood? What’s Valenwood?”

 “It’s a provi-...it was a province of Tamriel,” Aeria murmured softly, “it’s home to my family and my kind, the Bosmer, or Wood Elves by Imperial standards.” Erende gaze flickered to her pointed ears.

 “Oh. I didn’t know you were an elf.” He said. Aeria had the faintest smile tug on her face.

 “It came to my attention when you didn’t scream at the sight of Orianer.”

 “She’s an elf too? I mean, she has pointy ears as well.”

 “I’m guessing that is how you will identify elves from now on.”

 “Most likely."

 “Well, then, yes, Orianer is what the we call the Altmer, or High Elves by those who don’t know their true name, like Imperials, who all just reduce elves to their color.”

 “And what are Imperials?”

 “Another race. They are not elves, but they do look similar to your kind.”

 “Should I be offended or honored?” Erende joked. Aeria’s face fell into a depressing expression. She snatched the patch quickly out of Erende’s hands, tucking it into one of the pockets on her pants.

 “Depends which side of the war you’re on. Now, stop asking questions. I’m tired.”

 For once Erende obliged. He stepped away from Aeria and leaned against the wall. He looked at her back, the torch making the shadows darker. There was more to the story, more to everything she was saying. He had some many other questions to ask. But the rocking of the ship and Aeria’s harsh manner made him think otherwise.

 Erende closed his eyes. He imagined himself at home, sitting near the fire with Mother, watching her as she cooked dinner. For a moment, he truly believed he wasn’t in the prison cell.

 For that moment, he was home. 

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