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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6. Chapter Four

 

4E 715

Rain’s Hand

Middas

 

If Isolde wasn’t exceptionally reckless, Erende might’ve been able to fall asleep.

 But no. The demon horse had a taste for the wind, and apparently so did Orianer. As Orianer bucked the reins, Isolde’s legs carried the both of them across the snowy ashen fields, jumping over mounds of ash, rocks, and streaking across the ground in a show for speed. Erende gripped to the saddle for dear life. He couldn’t hear anyone over the rush of wind in his ears, so he just hoped that they were close by. Several times Isolde slowed down into a trot and he hoped that she was done, but once she retained her stamina back they raced off again. They ran for however long, he didn’t know, until Isolde turned into a trot and then, miraculously, stopped. Erende slowly opened his crusted eyes. They had come to stop near a deserted pond with a dead tree, light purple smoke coming from the pond’s surface. Erende breathed heavily.

 “Can you take your hands off me?”

 Erende realized he was pressing himself against Orianer. He recoiled in horror but only ended up falling off the back of Isolde and onto the ground. Orianer groaned.

 “Gods, did I have to be put with you?”

 Erende rubbed his head, glaring at Isolde’s rear end.

 “I didn’t want to be with you either.” He retorted.

 “I can’t wait to get rid of you.” Orianer muttered, pulling on the reins and making Isolde kick up some dust behind her and into Erende’s face. He sputtered.

 “Same, I want to get away from you as soon as possible.”

 “Please do, you have legs!”

 “You have a horse, you go away first!”

 “I will!”

 “Are both of you just going to bicker like children?”

 They turned. Arvak had trotted up to them, Bahadur frowning from his seat on the saddle. Behind him, Vala waved. 

 “Because it’ll get very old soon. And Erende, it’s safe to take the cloth off.” He said. Erende undid the knot behind his head, breathing in cold air as his mouth became free. The first thing he saw besides the ass and the horse’s rear end was that the night had begun to turn into day. The fog was dissipating and the sky was a brilliant ombre of orange, red, blue and purple. The stars overhead had begun to fade. The cool air refreshed his lungs and cooled the sweat on his forehead.

 “I believe we’re out of the Nordic territory,” Vala said as she slipped off Arvak, her boots making the dirt on the ground shift up in small brown clouds. Bahadur nodded.

 “Indeed. Look, there’s the Giant camp,” he pointed towards the tree with the purple pond underneath it. Erende raised a brow.

 “Giant…camp?” He asked. Orianer sighed audibly.

 “It’s in the name; Giant. Camp.” She said. Vala shot her a glare.

 “Hush, they don’t have Giants in Halrain.” She turned to Erende, uncertainty lining her face, “I mean, you don’t, do you?”

 Erende shook his head.

 “No, we don’t. We have regular sized persons, I can assure you.”

 “Well, in that case, look over there,” Vala motioned to what looked like a pile of large bones nestled in the concave surface of a rock. On the ends of them were red-stained rocks tied with rotting leather. Erende didn’t want to know what the stains were from.

 “Giants used to live here, alongside these animals called mammoths. Beautiful creatures, though I’ve never seen one myself.”

 “Then how do you know?”

 Bahadur whistled, “paintings. Stories. Everything is passed down from generation to generation.”

 “Years and years, all gathered around the fire,” Vala smiled, “it’s a good place to wait for the others.”

 “Khir’schen would’ve had to stop a few times to take care of Waylan,” Bahadur replied, “she should be here soon, the last I saw of her she told me to go ahead. We can wait here by the main road.”

 Erende glanced around them. They were surrounded by tall thick trees, their branches heavy with green leaves. No snow was found but it was still cold. They stood on a brick road that was overgrown with foliage. Silence blanketed them.

 “How long have we been traveling?” Erende asked. Vala looked up towards the rising sun, the sky now burning in a fiery explosion of orange and green.

 “I suppose a little over two days,” she looked back towards Erende, “the horses are strong, and can run for up to three days straight as long as their riders supply water and food, and it’s luckily so since stopping to take a break in Nordic territory would have caused us to be poisoned by the fog.”

 “So, this is the horses first break?”

 “Yes, but don’t be alarmed. They were born this way, and it’s perfectly safe for them.”

 Erende nodded. His mind was now dry with questions, so they instead sat in more silence. After another hour, it was beginning to kill him.

 “You have a beautiful daughter, by the way.” Erende said, looking to Bahadur. Bahadur automatically smiled.

 “Thank you. My wife always told me that she looked more like me than her.”

 “How old is she?”

 “Six winters. About to be seven.”

 “That’s wonderful.”
 The small talk was almost painful. He turned to gaze at the trees again in silence.

 “So, nice weather, huh?”

 “Just shut up, Erende,” Orianer muttered.

 “Rude.”

 More silence. Erende tried to lean against Isolde but Orianer kicked him away with her boot. He scowled as he rubbed his head. He instead sat on the damp grass. Bahadur didn’t notice him as he unstrapped a water skin from the saddle and popped the cap. Almost immediately Erende smelled the strong aroma of alcohol. He had filled the skin with ale. After he had swallowed a few mouthfuls, Erende nudged his shoulder.

 “Can I?” He asked while pointing at the skin. Bahadur handed it to him, and he snatched it, filling his mouth with it’s sweet, crisp taste. He wasn’t used to alcohol so only after a sip or two he felt fuzziness in his head, and gave it back to Bahadur.

 “I really needed that,” Erende mumbled, rubbing his eyes. Bahadur grinned as he strapped the skin back onto the saddle.

 “I suppose, what’s on your mind, lad?” He asked. Erende leaned against Arvak, and sighed, blowing strands of hair out of his eye. He didn’t know which question to ask first so he just said the first one that came to his mind.

 “Where are we supposed to go?”

 Vala’s voice interrupted, “Cyrodiil.”

 “What is that? Where is that?”

 “Capital of Tamriel, to some people. Others, it’s just another province that died in the war. And it’s far,” Orianer grumbled as she dismounted Isolde, “very, very far.”

 “Wait, but if we’re in Skyrim, then shouldn’t we be close to the border of Cyrodiil? Then it’s not that far.” Erende argued.

“Borders of the provinces have long been destroyed. We cannot count on conventional maps now since most of those cities have been destroyed. There are recovery camps and such that dot the landscape, but those are not permanent either. Bad blood still flows in between races, causing more battles, all for reasons religious, political, personal.”

 “I thought you had said the gods were gone?”

 “Somewhat. There used to be a time when the gods would talk to their followers and mortals every day and answered prayers, but now…” he closed his eyes, “they are silent. Asmund believes they abandoned us during the war. I fear something else has happened that caused their silence.”

 Erende watched as the Nord leaned slowly against Arvak. The horse noticed this and exhaled gently, his deep fluttering breath making Bahadur’s brown hair dance. This seemed to calm him as he smiled softly. Erende patted Arvak’s neck.

 “The war has taken a lot.” Vala murmured. Bahadur didn’t respond. They sat in silence for a while, watching as the sun began its ascent into the sky, warming them enough for them to strip off the fur coats. When the sun reached late morning, they heard distant barking, and the sound of hoofbeats. Turning around they saw Khir’schen riding Waylan in a slow trot. Toro had reverted back to his original height, with Aeria and Steffan walking beside Khir’schen.

“He got tired?” Bahadur called when they approached them. Aeria nodded.

 “Poor thing was trying to keep up with the horses the entire time.” Aeria said as she nuzzled Toro. Steffan greeted Erende with a handshake.

 “How long have you been waiting here?”

 “Only an hour or two, it’s nothing to be worried about.”

 “That’s good.” She huffed as she swung her legs over Waylan and onto the ground.

 “So, which way is Cyrodiil?” Erende asked. Khir’schen unbuckled her own water skin from the saddle. This time, no sweet smell came from it. As she sipped, she thumbed the direction they were facing.

 “We’re on the main road now, all we need to do is head east until we get to the ruins of Whiterun. There should be a recovery camp there where we can rest if need be.”

 “Shouldn’t we take a break now?” Erende whined slightly. Isolde seemed to agree, as she snorted softly and nudged her head with Erende. Khir’schen looked annoyed but Aeria nodded along with them.

 “I agree, let’s rest for an hour or so. Toro is exhausted.”

 “And more importantly, so am I.” Orianer said, earning a jab from Aeria.
 Khir’schen rolled her eyes, “fine, I guess. If we’re going to rest, let’s head over to that area over there,” she gestured towards a small clump of trees, “I’d rather rest in the shade than in the sun.”

 “Understandably.”

 They guided the horses to the shade and set up a small camp. Bahadur tended to the horses as they grazed on the grassy hill, while Erende nibbled on a piece of dried meat from his ration of food and looked around at the others. Aeria and Orianer both laid on the hill under the trees, watching Steffan as he played around with Toro. Khir’schen was some ways off, kneeling in a small creek and using small bits of magick to life the water up and into an extra water skin.

 “Serene when nobody is fighting, isn’t it?” Vala said. Erende turned just as she sat down next to him. She bit into a fat carrot, the crunch rattling through his ears.

 “I guess.”

 “Wanna know something?”
 “Hm?”

 “Rumors have it that some mage is practicing Daedric magick there. We got word from a courier a moon or so ago about a brother tribe settled in the western plain of Cyrodiil that was attacked by a vicious, reptilian creature. They had originally thought that it was an Argonian that had turned to one of the Daedric Princes but once it was killed, it was discovered to be a Daedroth.”

 Erende blinked.

 “Why in hell would I want to know that?”

 “So you can appreciate these moments more,” Vala said with a wave of her hand, “and so when you finally face what true Tamriel is, you know that moments like these are as precious as gold itself., maybe even more.”

  Erende directly doubted that, but he instead pursed his lips, “I see.”

 He looked out towards the plains, his mind bubbling. Her words made him think of something, but he couldn’t exactly remember. He turned back to her with a curious expression.

 “Daedric Princes?”

“Ah, I forgot you weren’t from here,” Vala said with her mouth full. She swallowed, and pointed the carrot at Erende, “back in Halrain, don’t you have good gods and evil gods?”

 Erende shook his head, “no, we don’t. We don’t worship gods at all, but we technically have one patron. Her name is NaTracy, and she is basically the omen of logic. We prefer the scientific base of the world rather than try to simplify it to an unknown being that directs our faiths.”

 Vala blinked, her eyes wide.

 “That’s quite interesting, so you’re almost like the Dwemer?”

 “The what?”

 “Nothing, sorry, anyway,” she swallowed, waving her hand at him, “Daedric Princes are evil, immortal gods who like to torment mortals, as in, they like to send Daedroths after us, and-”

 “You just the gods had disappeared.”

 “These are different gods,” she explained, “the ones that have disappeared are those we call Aedra. They are good, and they are also mortal. A long time ago, when everything was still being created, well, in my religion, several gods decided to give up their magick to create us. The ones that gave up everything for us little guys are Aedra. The Daedra are immortal and evil. They refused to help create us and instead decide to torment us. It is the Aedra that have disappeared, the Daedra are still at large, causing many more tragedies in this fragile time between races.”

 “You also say Princes, they’re all men of royalty?”

 “No. They have no gender and that is just a formality.”

 “Odd.”

 “Very,” Vala continued, “many Daedric Princes have minions and creatures that obey them. Daedroths haven’t been seen in many, many winters, though those who follow the Prince of destruction - Molag Bal, have reported that Daedroths are minions of him, so we can only assume that the mage, or warrior or whoever it is, is worshipping Molag Bal and using his power and minions to destroy the few camps we have left on Tamriel.

 Erende looked out at the landscape before them. If he didn’t know what the others have told him, he would have assumed the land had been uninhabited. The rolling hills were covered with a beautiful array of what, grass, and flowers. There were few ruins and the fog that had been such a problem the other day was nonexistent here. Unlike Solitude, where the war and death seemed to be everywhere, here, it seemed to not have even been touched by man, let alone any so-called ‘gods’.

 “Do you happen to have the map?”

 Erende stared at her. She shrugged.

 “I was just curious. I don’t think Khir’schen has it, and I saw Haldric with it last, so I assumed he gave it to you because you’re a better fighter than us and you’ll be able to protect it better.”

 Erende grinned, “you think so?”

 “No, that’s what Haldric said.”

 Erende rolled his eyes, but produced the scroll anyway. Vala watched as he unraveled it. The light of the sun made the age of the map seem younger, but the stains and the dust still sat on the parchment. Vala gazed over the map for a while, before pointing to the paragraphs of symbols and letters.

 “That’s odd,” she murmured. Erende cocked an eyebrow.

 “What? What is it?”

 She traced the letters, “this…this is Falmer writing,” Vala glanced up to see Erende’s confused expression.

 “It’s an ancient alphabet used only by these monstrous creatures that live below the earth. They’re supposedly the forgotten snow elves, but really they’re just horrible, ugly creatures that kill anyone on sight,” she turned back to the writing, “how curious that their writing should be on here.”

 “Yes,” Erende muttered, “how odd.”

 “We’re ready to leave.”

 The two turned to see Khir’schen standing above them. She smiled, and pointed to where the horses were. Bahadur had packed up the saddles and supplies, Orianer already mounted on Isolde. Steffan was panting, dripping with sweat as Toro bounded around him, growing bigger and bigger with swirls Ori’s magick circling him.

 “When are we leaving, exactly? And what route are we taking?” Vala called from atop Arvak.

 “There are still rumors around the southwest area of Skyrim and Cyrodiil, should we head there?” Orianer asked.

 “No, it is not wise to interfere with those rumors, as either truth or false it could be dangerous.” Bahadur said, “we should head east as originally planned.”

 “Seetheus Annocious, the client, had stated that they wanted to meet in the old war camp near the Imperial City,” Aeria said, patting Toro’s ears, “Orianer and I know how to get there.”

 ‘And it’s where we get to drop you off.” Orianer smirked down at Erende.

 “Sure, whatever, save all of that, let’s stay another hour,” Erende tore his eyes away from the landscape and yawned, stretching his limbs, “I’m so tired.”

 “You had all this time to nap,” Aeria mentioned.

 “He was talking with butter eyes over there.” Orianer said.

 “Shut up. Now, if you’ll kindly be quiet, I want to go to sleep.”

 Vala winked down at him, “by all means, your majesty. We won’t wake you up when it’s time to go.”

 “Ha ha. You’re funny.”

 “That’s the first time anyone’s told me that.”

 “Shut up.”

 Then, he felt the slime of saliva before he tasted it. Erende opened his eyes to see Isoldes long face in his, mouth open in what looked like a grin, drool dribbling from her lips.

 “No time, let’s go!”

Realization hit him.

 “Oh! Oh, no!” Erende cried, vaulting up and wiping mucus from his face and spitting into the grass. The Guild was laughing hysterically as Erende frantically grabbed his water skin, ripping it free from the leather buckle and swishing horse’s saliva from his mouth, spewing it onto the ground.

 “You let her do that?!” He sputtered angrily, rubbing his lips free of slobber.

 Orianer gasped for air, “she knew exactly what she was doing!” She howled. Erende balled his fists as they were practically crying with laughter. It took them a few minutes of trying to calm down, only to burst out again when Erende dunked his head into the stream. Once they were able to steady themselves, Erende had already mounted Isolde and galloped down the dusty road. Orianer huffed.

 “Great, he stole my horse!” She whined. Khir’schen rolled her eyes.

 “Get on Waylan, and let’s go. We have to inform him he is going the wrong way.”

 -----

 The sun was hanging high in the afternoon sky, though it didn’t change the cold nip in the air. Erende felt a shiver go down his spine when a soft breeze crawled down his shirt, and he clutched to Orianer. She had taken back her place on Isolde. The landscape has drastically changed from the shady area they had rested earlier. From the grassy green hills, it was now snowy and oddly cold. Mountains loomed not far in the distance with white-capped tips and grey skies.

 Erende didn’t really have an idea of where they were exactly, but he knew that they were on the very southern border of Skyrim. They had followed a small road that surrounded a mountain Bahadur had called Monahven when it’s shadow first towered over them.

 “Or Throat of The World, if you prefer a more mystical name.” Vala said, looking at it when they slowly rode past, “the Greybeards used to live up there. Taught the Dragonborn all they needed to know. Pretty cool place, I have it on my bucket list.”

 Erende thought the name fit. It was huge, to the point he couldn’t see even the top. They continued toward the southern border, leaving Monahven behind them and approached the mountain range that cut Skyrim off from Cyrodiil.

 “So, what’s the plan?” Erende asked after an hour of silence. Orianer sat in front of him. She didn’t face him when she responded.

 “What do you mean?”

 “I mean, how are we getting from here to Cyrodiil with, you know, the mountains?”

 Orianer audibly groaned, hanging her head before looking at Erende. Her expression was that of usual annoyance.

 “There’s a mountain pass we’re going to take, the Pale Pass.”

 Aeria, who had been riding next to them, shook her head the second Khir’schen said it.

 “No, not that pass. We’ll need to find a different one.”

 Khir’schen crinkled her eyebrow.

 “What do you mean? The map says right here that-”

 “We can’t go through the Pale Pass.”

 “Why not?”

 “It’s not there anymore.”

 Silence. Khir’schen tugged Waylan’s reins to face her, her face of disbelief.

 “Not there? How can an entire mountain pass not be there?” She asked. Aeria just looked at her. Her expression was grim. Erende understood.

 “The war takes a lot of things.” He said quietly.

 Aeria nodded again, “we’ll need to find the White Path, that’s southwest of here. That’s the only pass I know that isn’t destroyed.”

 “I thought Bahadur said we shouldn’t go southwest because of the rumors?” Erende questioned. Bahadur turned Arvak to the right, kicking his side gently to get him moving. He took the lantern from Khir’schen.

 “I did.”

 As Bahadur took the lead, Khir’schen and Erende shared a worried glance, and followed him.

 The air turned colder the closer they got to the range. The fur coats they wore wasn’t enough. Soon they were shivering from the chill. Snow had begun to fall and piled on them. Erende had to frequently brush off the flakes that gathered on his shoulders. He was used to the cold, although he still wished for a fire. He wondered how long they had been traveling already. They had left Solitude a few hours before dawn, but when he looked up to the sky for the sun, he only saw a plume of grey clouds.

 “What’s that?”

Steffan’s voice carried over the wind. Turning, Erende saw through the frenzy of white a blob of shadows. For a moment, he feared another monster, that was until Bahadur held out his hand to stop them. One shadow broke off from the group and approached them. The light from the lantern illuminated a furry, feline face, emerald green eyes reflecting the light.

 “Do you have any food?” They asked in a hoarse voice. Bahadur shook his head, and the feline scoffed, muttering under their breath as they continued on in the snow, barefoot. Erende watched them go with surprise.

 “What was that?” He asked. Then he saw the blob of shadows morph under the light of the lantern. All of them were felines.

 “Khajiit.” Orianer whispered. Families of the cats were huddled together; some individuals were hunched over as they carried huge backpacks. Others brought wagons that were pulled by someone else. Isolde neighed, startled as a young kitten scratched her leg, mewling. A mother rushed over and picked up the kit before running back into the shadows.

 “What’s happening?” Erende looked to Bahadur, “what is going on?”
 “They chose the wrong side,” was all he muttered, tightening his grip on Arvak’s reins. Vala placed a small hand on his arm.

 Khir’schen snapped her reins, “come on,” she said, riding ahead, “they’re coming from the entrance of the White Path.”

 Nobody said anything else, and Orianer nudged Isolde forward. They cut through the crowd of Khajiit, ignoring curses and protests against them. The wind was getting stronger the deeper they cut through the pass. The flurry of snow began to turn into a full blizzard, the icy wind cutting into their faces like knives. Halfway into the pass, they saw camps of Khajiit huddled together. Ice caked them.

 “We can’t get through!” Steffan shouted against the storm, “it’s too crowded!”

 “We need to find someplace to camp for the night!” Khir’schen called.

 They looked along the sides of White Walk to find some sort of cave or crevice big enough for them and the horses. Several times when one of them might’ve found one they were either crowded with shivering Khajiits or barely big enough for even one of them to fit. It wasn’t until they broke away from the Khajiit camps did Bahadur find an opening.

 “Over there!” He yelled, pointing to a thick fissure in the ice wall. Vala quickly ducked in, and after a moment held out her hand with a thumbs up. Excitedly, they began kicking out some of the ice and snow to make the hole wider. Once it was big enough, the Guild led the horses inside the cave.

 The inside was bigger than the last few holes they had found. Intense blue colors molded in with the pure white of the now, almost making the cave illuminate itself. The ice crystal ceiling sparkled as the lanterns flame reflected off it. The horses seemed comfortable in the cave, and as they settled in Aeria used the lantern to create a small fire in a lone dirt patch. The blizzard outside whistled in the cracks of the cave opening. Erende warmed his hands near the flickering tongues, his breath still visible in the air. Bahadur’s beard was coated in snow, some of it melting and dripping onto the floor. Khir’schen sneezed, and Vala sniffled. He remembered the state of the Khajiit outside, their fur matted with frost and shivering violently. What did Bahadur mean when he had said they hadn’t fulfilled their part of the deal?

 He opened his mouth to ask, but the red of Bahadur’s nose and his frozen beard convinced him otherwise. Instead, he smoothed out a fur coat and laid down, burying his face within the fur. He tried to push the image of the kits with snow glued to their whiskers, and closed his eyes. He wished it wouldn’t be long before they found the client. He couldn’t wait to find the treasure. Countless coins. Immeasurable gems.

 Just a little while longer.

------

 The morning had come, and with it, a new cold front. When they woke, they found the storm had passed, and so had the Khajiit. The entire pass was clear, no evidence left behind as to indicate that anyone had been there.

 “What happened? Where are they?” Vala asked as she stepped from the cave. Erende blinked, his eyes adjusting to the morning sun.

 “They must’ve moved,” he said.

 “They have quite a few strides ahead of them,” Khir’schen interjected, shoving Erende’s pack into his arms, “they packed quickly and left before we noticed. Let’s try to do the same in case anyone else is left here.”

Warily, they moved quickly, packing their things and heading south to the camp. They decided to not ride the animals as the steep slope of the other side of the mountain would be dangerous.

 At least, that was what Orianer had said.

 “The camp is stationed on the old ruins of Bruma, a Cyrodiilic city. Although the mountain range bordering Cyrodiil and Skyrim is covered in snow, the land beyond it is warmer, but not their hearts.” Orianer said as they traveled through the remaining length of the pass.

 “What do you mean by that?” Steffan asked. Orianer grimaced.

 “Did you learn nothing while at the base?”
 “I learned that a giant pig is a boar,” Erende grinned. Orianer just glared at him.

 “Not that, you imbecile. I mean the fact that no one wants to see an Altmer here. Ever since the war, they’ve become so narrow-minded they’ll kill me on sight.” She said. Erende and Steffan exchanged a surprised glance. Orianer sighed.

 “People assume my race is to blame for everything, for everyone that has died. If they see me, they’ll kill me.”

 Erende frowned.

 “But…but that’s so…”

 “Unfair? Yes, but I have been having to do this since I found Aeria. They’re not as rude towards wood elves as they are with my kind. It’s ridiculous.”

 She sighed.

 “But at least it means that she’s safe. I’d rather take the wrath of racism than have her face it.”

 Orianer turned to see Erende’s pitiful expression. She rolled her eyes.

 “With that being said, I’m putting on my hood. If you tell anyone what I just told you, I’ll deny it, and kill you.”

 On the other side of the pass was the edge of a forest. Snow dotted the ground but as they continued south, it melted away to reveal the black ashen ground. The trees they passed were bare and dead, looking entirely different from the landscape where they had rested. Erende stopped at a small flower blooming from the ash.

 “The recovery camp was set up for those who had survived the worst of the war,” He heard Aeria say as she led them through the ash-covered plains, “most of those who live in the camp are veterans.”

 “So, were either of you in the war?” Steffan asked. Aeria shook her head.

 “No. I had a family to take care of in Valenwood.”

 “And I was an innocent civilian,” Orianer said, but Aeria shot her a look.

 “In Valenwood,” she started again, “I did my best to tend to them and avoid the war. After it ended, or at least I hope it has now ended, I traveled here due to mercenary work. I only used it as a title, that is until the Guild found us.” She grunted as she climbed up onto a rock, wiping her hands free of soot on her tunic. Toro barked.

 “The camp is right down there.” She said, “we’ll leave the horses at the stable.”

Erende climbed next to her. The camp she pointed to was just outside the thick forest. It looked like a normal settlement from where they were, a large assortment of tents crowded together and crumbling buildings surrounded by a wall. He could see light plumes of smoke coming from several fires. Erende saw that there seemed to be a line near the gate of the camp.

 “What is that?” He motioned to the line. Aeria glanced at it.

 “Regulation into the camp. Like I had said earlier, Colovian is the only recovery camp in the entire northern section of Cyrodiil. People come from all over to get food and water and protection.” She said. Erende gazed at the line. From where he was he couldn’t make out details but he did see the crowded wagons and bundles of families waiting to enter. He gripped the flower in his pocket, feeling the velvety petals against his thumb.

 “I hope they get the things they need.” He murmured. Aeria breathed in.

 “I, as well.”

 “Not me.”

 They turned to see Ori frowning from underneath her hood. Aeria’s shoulder drooped.

 “Really?”

 They continued down a slope of a hill towards the camp, carefully guiding the horses past rocks and slippery ash slides.

 “Hey,” Steffan pulled Erende to the side by the elbow, waiting as the others walked down until they were alone.

 “I need to talk to you about something,” he said. Erende lifted an eyebrow.

 “Alright, what is it?”
 “Do you really think going on with this is a good idea?” Steffan whispered, glancing at the retreating group. Erende saw his eyes were filled with doubt.

 “What idea?”
 “This. All this. Joining this group to get a scroll and find treasure, why is this a good idea?”

 “Because it’s my scroll,” Erende quipped, “there’s treasure on the scroll that they stole so I want it. Think of the GOLD, Steffan!”

 “I am thinking of the gold but I am also thinking of our lives! We don’t even know what we’re doing!”

 “Fine, what’s your plan then?”

 “My original plan was to follow your plan!”

 “That’s a terrible plan and you don’t have a better one so why are you arguing with me?”

 “Erende! Steffan! Haul your asses!”

 They turned to see Khir’schen down below, waving her hand to them. Steffan shoved Erende out of the way.

 “I don’t know why I’m your partner, I don’t know why I help you.”

 “Because you love me.”

 “No, I don’t.”

 Erende groaned, his shoulders dropping as he faced Steffan.

 “Look, Steffan, how about a deal?”

 “Oh, lads ashore.”

 “No, just listen. I’m going to join the client, this Seetheus Annocious, whoever it might be, and I’m not changing my mind about that. If you don’t’ want to join me, then fine. I’ll give you some gold to have the Guild take you back to Halrain. If you want to join me, then I’d be more than happy to have you with me.”

 Steffan tucked in his lips, his eyebrows knitting together. Erende placed a hand on his arm.

 “Just think about it.”

 They reached the bottom, and there they found the makeshift stable. It was leaning to one side, wood sticking out in every direction with nails crooked and rusted. Bahadur wrinkled his nose at the sight of it.

 “I had forgotten about this. It looks just like a pile of wood nailed together,” he said when they approached it. A man leaning against one of the columns grimaced at them.

 “Look, horses don’t need no fancy house, they only need something to keep the ash off.” He drawled. Erende could see Isolde roll her lip in disgust. He scratched her ear.

 “No worries girl, we’re going in and coming right back out, promise.” He said. The man rolled his eyes.

 “Take yer things from the saddle. I only take care of the horses, not the belongings.”

 They led the horses into the stables, unbuckling some the sacks from the saddles. Khir’schen stroked Waylan’s mane as he nuzzled against her. Vala stroking Arvaks mane. Erende didn’t notice that the others were watching him. He was busy tying the flower he had picked to Isolde’s mane. Orianer tapped her foot impatiently outside the stable.

 “Come on, I want to get going instead of watching Erende here play dress-up with a pony.”

 “You’re just jealous because Isolde likes me more than you,” Erende quipped.

 Orianer frowned, turned on her heel and headed toward the camp. Aeria smiled to him, and they followed Orianer up the path. Leading up to the front of the city was a very long line of people, each of them looking exhausted and disheveled. A putrid smell hung in the air.

 “Welcome, everyone, to Colovian Army and Civilian Recovery Camp!” Aeria said sarcastically, stretching her arms out.

 “Wow, long line for a somewhat shitty city?” Steffan muttered when they came closer. “Do you think it’ll be a while before we get in?”

 Aeria didn’t reply. Instead, she wagged a finger at them. They watched as she cut through the line and into the front. Some of the people in line protested behind them while others stayed silent. Erende could feel their judgmental stares in the back of his head. He wanted to turn around and go back to the end of the line, but Khir’schen saw his guilt and shoved him forward.

 “They’ll get in, right now, we’re more important.” She mumbled. Erende disagreed with her, though they were already at the front. He set his jaw.

 The decaying brass gate was attached to a wall, reminding Erende of the wall in Halrain. Similar to that, two guards were standing at the front, their armor mismatched and obviously scavenged.

 “Halt. Identification please.” One said to Aeria, ignoring the fact she had walked ahead of the line. She dug in her pocket, and handed them a small slip of paper. The guard eyed it. When he was satisfied, he looked behind her at the other six. Erende smiled.

 “They with you?”

 “Obviously.”

 “Any identification?”

 “No.”

 “Anyone who can vouge for them that is not you?”

 “No.”

 “Then they’re not allowed inside. Next!”

 Erende wasn’t surprised. With a camp like this, it was fair that they would have some sort of slip like Aeria to get in. He turned to leave only to have Bahadur place a hand on his shoulder and whirl him around again. Aeria didn’t move.

 “Listen,” she forcefully said, her words like hard honey, “we need to get inside. I could give less of a damn about your rules, but I can tell you that these people are not going to usurp your utopia, or whatever. We’re going in.”

 She stepped once, and the guard pulled his sword from his sheath. The line hushed.

 “I don’t care, elf, without proper identification, I can’t allow you inside.”

 Just then, the other guard intervened, steeping between them and lowering the sword in the first guards hand.

 “Hey, we can’t create a disturbance, Kal.” He said to him. The guard named Kal snarled.

 “When they try to enter my city without a-”

 “It’s not your city. Let them through.”

  Kal grumbled, and sheathed his sword. As they walked past him, Erende heard him faintly mutter “stupid little elf.”

 Aeria crushed her elbow into his stomach, sending him to the ground. The armor ripped apart, his metal cuirass tearing from the leather pauldron. They scattered in the ash. Without another word Aeria walked through the gate and inside the camp.

 “Wow,” Steffan said, poking the guard with his boot.

 The line behind them whispered excitedly. The guard smiled at Aeria.

 “You’re allowed inside,” he said. Aeria bowed her head.

 “Thank you, Gassius. You’re always a tremendous help.”

 Steffan seemed to tense at her kind words to the guard. As the other guards tried to control the line, Gassius guided them into the city, and closed the gate behind them. Inside, Erende saw what looked to be a marketplace. Vendors on the side of the streets shouted their goods, ranging from armor and weapons to produce and alchemy items. Others were nestled in blankets or furs blackened from the ash. He could see others with red stained bandages wrapped around various parts of their body. The stench of decay was stronger in here, making his eyes water. They weaved through the mass of people, hanging onto each other as to not get lost. Toro yipped loudly alongside Steffan to create a path and others moved out of the way. He led them from the street and into an alleyway. A few baggy eyes of homeless men stared them down when they passed. Erende felt Orianer grab onto his sleeve.

 When Toro stopped at a wooden door, and scratched at it, Gassius turned to them.

 “Got you home safe,” he said with a wink to Aeria. She pushed him aside without so much as a thank you.

 “I didn’t know you had a spouse?” Bahadur jested as Gassius left. Aeria pounded on the door.

 “No. Shut up.”

 Erende heard the scrape of a lock coming undone. Excitement almost flooded him. The door creaked open, revealing a round faced woman with big brown eyes and pale skin. She puckered her lips when she saw the six others behind Aeria.

 “Really?” She said in an irritated voice. Erende felt his body slump in disappointment.

 This was the client?

 Aeria shrugged. Sighing loudly, the woman opened the door all the way to let them in. They walked into the dark, and once the door close Erende couldn’t see anything. Then, a match struck. A fire roared to life. The light lit up the entire room, revealing two beds, a small cooking pot, a fur blanket on the floor and rations of produce in sacks that leaned against one of the corners.

 “You live here?” Erende was astonished.  The woman who had opened the door sneered at him.

 “I doubt you live in a castle by the way you dress yourself.”

 She moved near the fireplace, the outline of her figure brightening. She was tall and thin, her hair a simple bob. She wore clothes that might’ve once been royal attire by some degree, but life in the slum had stained them with dirt and ash.

 “Gael here is a little crusty old woman, so, please, take anything she says to heart.” Aeria said as she sat down near the fire, Toro laying his head on her lap. They settled down onto the floor near the fire, warming themselves from the cold. Orianer removed her hood, Khir’schen settling down on a mat and Vala sat next to Gael. The smell was not as bad as it was outside. Erende breathed in a little better.

 “So, who are these people?” Gael asked once they got comfortable. Khir’schen nodded to Erende and Steffan.

 “These two are the idiots who tried to hitchhike on our mission, crashed our ship, stole the scroll, delayed us, etc.” She said.

 Orianer scoffed, “yes, yes, let’s tell her the non-important stuff first. While we’re at it, are we going to exchange life stories? Share a cup of tea? Invite the guards inside so they can see that a High Elf is in their midst? Can’t we just get the client and get this over with?”

 Gael rolled her eyes.

 “Your sob story doesn’t excuse your shit personality.”

 Erende slapped a hand over his mouth to keep him from laughing out loud. Orianer gritted her teeth.

 “You’re a rude old woman.”

 “You’re a rude old elf.” Gael cracked.

 Before Orianer’s face could implode with anger, Aeria stepped between them.

 “Enough,” she snapped, facing Ori, “remember why we are here, Ori. Maintain yourself.”

 “Exactly, why ARE you here?” Gael asked in her chair. Vala poked the fire with a stick.

 “We agreed with a client, Seetheus Annocious, to meet here for a scroll.” She explained, “and after we exchange the scroll and get our money, we’ll trade Erende and Steffan with him.”

 “And we get our gold,” Erende grinned.

 “Yes, whatever, but I was not directly informed anyone was supposed to be meeting here,” Gael said, “So I have no client.”

 “Didn’t anyone come in?” Aeria asked with a confused look on her face. Gael shook her head.

 “No, I don’t particularly bring just anyone into my home.”

 “You brought us into your home,” Vala said with a smile. Gael turned to her.

 “Yes, and I regret it.”

 Aeria stood from her place, reaching over to Gael and handing her the scroll. The old woman took it in her hands, unrolling it. Her eyes scanned the parchment.

 “I suppose this is what the client wanted? Just another map of Tamriel?” Gael asked. Aeria shrugged.

 “He paid us quite a bit of coin to retrieve it, a little over 50,000 in coins and supplies.”

 “And he is not here?” Gael said with a look of surprise, “how odd. That’s quite a bit of money to give for an item then not come to take it.”

 Bahadur sighed, “I suppose, but-”

 Suddenly an explosion tore open the room. The roof was torn off, debris raining over them. Erende covered himself with his arms as dust coated him. Screams echoed in the air. When he lifted his arms away, pushy bricks and chunks of dirt off of him, he saw that the room had been obliterated. The walls were knocked down, bricks laying everywhere under the rubble. The roof was gone, exposing a sky of dust. A fireball whisked by, slamming into a nearby building. Another explosion. He saw hordes of women and men screaming, running from the front gate as Khajiit in mismatched armor rushed inside, killing anyone who was in their way. Guards around the city began fighting off the swarm.

 “Gael! Gael!”

 Erende turned to see Vala bent over the body of the old woman. Blood seeped from her head. She had been hit by the falling roof. Orianer grabbed Vala by her elbow.

 “It’s the Khajiit! The city is under attack, we need to leave!” She screamed, hoisting Vala up, who ripped her arm away again and kneeled down to Gael.

 “She’s still breathing, someone help me carry her!”

 Erende tried to stand, but his legs were shaky. He saw Bahadur under the rubble, coughing out dust. Steffan was already digging him out.

 “Where is everyone?” Erende called. Voice echoed to him.

 “Khir’schen?”

 “Here! I’m alright!”

 “Aeria!”

 “Here with Toro, but he’s hurt!”

 “I have Vala!”

 “I have Bahadur!” Steffan replied as he removed the last brick, holding an arm for him and letting him lean against him as he emerged from the rubble.

 “Thanks, lad,” Bahadur coughed, his face covered in ash and dust. Khir’schen beckoned towards one of the collapsed walls, the others following behind her.

 “We can get out this way!”

 “Where’s the scroll?” Erende asked. Khir’schen pulled her shirt back to reveal the scroll tucked into her belt.

 “Now, hurry, we don’t have much time. We need to leave.”

 “Thank you for pointing that out,” Orianer snapped back at her.

 “Shut up, we need to get to the forest, there we’ll be safe from whatever is attacking!” Aeria retorted. Erende saw Toro’s legs dangling from her shoulders.

 “Come on! Out this way!”

 They climbed out of the house and into the streets, where Erende could see the full extent of the carnage Fire ate away at the buildings, smoke poured into the air, the sky turning black, bodies littering the streets and above them, guards and citizens fought against hundreds of Khajiit warriors. Arcane magick exploded in the air, lightning sizzling the ground, swords clashing loudly. Erende narrowly avoided a leaping Khajiit as it pounced at him. He moved at the last second only for Orianer to shoot an earthen spike from her hand, tearing into the cat’s face. The cat fell to the ground, and didn’t move again.

 “We won’t be able to get out the front gates!” Khir’schen called behind her as they raced down the city streets, “it’s all blocked!”

 “Then where do we go?” Steffan asked.

 One of the walls guarding the city from the outside was destroyed, the remains smoking. Erende could see the horizon of trees in the distance.

 “There!” He cried. The Guild turned toward the wall, climbing over bricks and stone. They fought off rogue Khajiit, each time the attacks growing more aggressive. Erende unsheathed his dagger from his belt, quickly swiping at any claws or fangs he saw. Blood splattered on his skin and clothes. Once they were over the wall, they started towards the forest. They could already see several other citizens making for the tree line.

 Suddenly one of the Khajiit came flying from the wreckage. It flung its arms wildly, and Erende felt the sting of its claws piercing his side. He cried out in pain, shoving the cat off him. The Khajiit then jumped to Khir’schen, sinking their teeth into her skin and taking her to the ground in a beastly scream. Her belt snapped and flew to the side.

 “Khir’schen!” Erende screamed. Khir’schen struggled as the cat hissed and spat in her face, scratching her. Then, Orianer appeared out of the smoke, raising her bronze leg and kicking the cat off of her. It howled, landing on its back in a thud. Before it could get back up, Orianer mounted it, and stabbed it in the chest. The Khajiit coughed with blood. Erende swiped the scroll from the ground, but hesitated as the cat locked its gaze onto him. His breath was hot, blood that was not his had already streaked down his face. Then the cat’s green eyes dimmed, and its head rolled to the side.

 “Erende! Come on!”

 Khir’schen had gotten up again, holding her belt in one hand and her sword in the other. He panted, hearing the wet shling of the dagger as Orianer pulled it from the cats’ chest, and they continued towards the trees. A neighing in the distance stopped Erende in his tracks. He looked back, but the smoke of the fires and pillows of dust blocked his view. He couldn’t see where the sound was coming from.

 “The horses!” Erende realized, “the horses! We need to go back for the horses!”

 “There’s no time!” Aeria shouted back, “they’re war horses, they can handle themselves!”

 Erende didn’t listen to her. Instead, he broke out from them, dashing back into the fight.

 “Erende!” Someone called. He made his way through the cloud of debris. He felt the heat of fire on his face as he pushed through burning buildings and screaming people. His eyes stung and watered, he smelled only ash, his mouth tasted like dirt. His side throbbed with pain. Erende placed his hand on his wound, pulling back only to see blood drenched his skin. He grimaced. But the whinnying got closer.

 “Arvak! Isolde!” He called, shoving a mangled part of the bronze gate out of the way, “Waylan! Isolde!”

 The stables came into view. He saw the body of the keeper under a pillar of blood-stained wood. The neighing turned into loud nickers. A black coat came into view.

 “Arvak!”

 The horse galloped to him, tossing his head in fear as another explosion rocked the ground. Erende quickly grabbed Arvaks lead.

 “Where are the others, boy?” Erende asked.  

 As if he understood him, Arvak tugged Erende closer to the stall. He pulled him across the pillar and onto a platform. Waylan’s body was trapped underneath the platform. Next to him, Isolde stamped the ground with her hoof, pushing against the platform. Breathing heavily, Erende looked down at Waylan. The platform was lodged underneath another beam, crushing into the horse’s side. His hoof was caught between the beam and platform. He picked up one side of the platform and lifted. A fireball shot past him. The sounds of war echoed all around him. Arvak whinnied. The platform began to move. Erende grunted, lifting it all the way off and throwing it to the side. Arvak immediately knocked the beam aside, and Isolde nudged Waylan to stand. Once standing, the horse limped as he charged towards the tree line. Erende hauled himself on Isolde’s back, tightening his grasp on her hair.

 “Go!” He yelled, and she galloped towards the forest. The sound of the war began to fade behind him as they crashed into the foliage. Erende closed his eyes, feeling the slap of branches on his face. The wound in his side had grown numb. He couldn’t feel his leg. He couldn’t feel his arms. He couldn’t feel anything. The sky began to grow dark. Time began to slow.

 And then he fell.

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