The Elder Scrolls Volume One: Unbound - A Fallen Empire

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  • Published: 14 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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9. Chapter Seven

 

 

4E 715

Second Seed

Sundas

 

The fire crackled as spray from the waterfall misted over it.

 Erende picked at the skin of his chicken leg, unable to coax himself into eating it. The Guild rested around the camp fire. They had moved down to the cave and set a camp near the waterfall and Word Wall, where they sat and tried to rest, but feelings of uneasiness hovered over them. The creaking of the bridge as it swayed in the cavern wind poked through Erende’s ears. The slow squeaks of an iron spit almost drowned out the crack of the fire.

 Bahadur tended to half a chicken on a spit and glanced back and forth from the fire to Vala, who sat next to Erende quietly. Aeria laid on a bloodstained sheep skin, a fur coat over her naked body, her back facing the flames. Steffan and Orianer sat next to her, with Steffan kneeling to inspect Orianer’s metal leg. The quiet clanking of metal cut through the silence. Orianer’s hand glowed in a bright golden hue that gently it on Aeria’s head. Erende could see wisps of black magick seeping from her body and into the soil.

 Khir’schen held one brightly golden hued hand above her leg, her scratches that covered her leg slowly disappearing as gold tendrils of magick moved through her skin. She broke a chicken bone with her other hand, sucking the marrow from it and tossing it into the lake behind her. Toro laid at Aeria’s feet, a whole chicken sitting next to him. He didn’t touch it.

 Erende felt his stomach growl but his throat burned with acid. His arm ached as he set the chicken leg down on his plate. The bandage on his arm felt warm as it stained with blood. Vala placed a hand on his shoulder when he grimaced.

 “Are you alright?” She asked softly. Her hair was badly disheveled, her right side of her face had been cut to the point of Khir’schen wrapping a cloth around her. Her singular eye was no longer purple. Its blue hue sparkled in the firelight. He nodded.

 “Fine. You?”

 “Okay, I suppose.”

 She pulled her lips into a thin line, and didn’t say anything else. They could hear faint snoring from Aeria across the popping of the fire. When she stirred, Erende couldn’t help but flinch. Vala squeezed his hand. Khir’schen cracked another bone, eyeing Aeria’s still body.

 “It’s not her fault.”

 The Guild looked to Orianer. She didn’t make eye contact with them, instead staring at her glowing hand. More black wisps secreted from her skin.

 “Don’t blame her, don’t fear her. Y’ffre guides her, and tries to protect her,” she stops, looking around, “but he can’t always protect her from the beast within.”

 Erende gripped his arm, feeling the warmth of his blood seeping through the bandage. When he pulled his hand back, his fingers were red. He clenched his teeth.

 “You knew,” he said, eyes narrowing. Orianer didn’t speak. Erende stood from his spot, yanking his hand away from Vala, “you knew, didn’t you? You knew she was a monster and yet you didn’t tell us?!”

 “We were here before you or him,” Orianer retaliated, clenching her fist and nodding to Steffan, “I had no obligation to tell you anything.”

 “But you had an obligation to tell the Nords, or the rest of the Guild!” Erende fired back, “you could have killed all of us! She could have killed every single one of them, and you would let her!”

 “I did not let her!” Orianer stood up, but her leg cracked and she crumpled to the ground. Steffan gently set her down again, looking over his shoulder in disgust.

 “You don’t know the full story, Erende!” He said, anger fuming under his words. Erende growled low in his throat, causing Toro to stand up.

 “He’s right, Erende,” Toro said, ears laid back and fur twitching, “you don’t know anything.”

 “I know enough!” Erende shouted, “that woman is a monster! She’s a beast, she’s-“

 “Our greatest ally.”

 Erende turned to see Khir’schen glaring at him. Her golden irises burned in the light of the fire. Anger that had been boiling in his blood began to cool into guilt.

 “You are not Erende,” Vala said lightly, making him turn to her, “Erende would never say something like that.”

 “That’s because Erende turns into a fetcher when he’s scared,” Bahadur remarked. Erende breathed, looking down.

 “But he should remember that we are all scared,” Toro said lastly, “and that we all forgive Aeria.”

 “She is not a beast,” Erende murmured, “I…I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

 Khir’schen nodded faintly at him, returning to suck on her bone.

 “We are all afraid right now, Erende, but I promise to you, we’ll be okay.”

 “No, we won’t.”

 The Guild looked to see Aeria had sat up. She clung the blanket to her body, covering the rows of bloodied bandages. Her hands were wrapped in stained cloth, half of her face was under more bandages. She noticed their expressions, and looked down.

 “No…we won’t. Askarath did…did something to me. I haven’t turned into…that…since I made the pledge.”

 She sniffed. Orianer quietly placed her hand on her leg, but Aeria twitched. For a moment, Erende could see a hurt look flicker across Ori’s face, then it disappeared as she hardened.

 “Askarath used black magick on you, no one could have saved you from that.” She said, “Not Y’ffre, not Akatosh or Auri-El.”

 Aeria looked to her, eyes watering.

 “But…”

 “No, Aeria.” Ori’s voice was hard, but clipped, as if she was forcing the words to come out of her throat, “no one. You had no control.”

 Realization gleamed in her eyes, but faded almost immediately when she saw the numerous wounds on the Guild. Sobs echoed in her throat.

 “It was for protection! I promise you!” She cried, clutching the blanket with white knuckles, Toro desperately pushing it aside to get to her, “I did it to protect them, I thought I had banished it when I gave my heart to Y’ffre. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It was the War, and the ambush, and I had to protect them! Kill me if you must! Kill me if you must!-”

 “Aeria!

 Ori grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her violently. Her eyes bore into hers, tears cascading down Aeria’s face as her breathing racked her body. She struggled in his grasp.

 “Aeria, look at me.” She said, “look at me.”

 She met her eyes, body shaking, sweat dotting her forehead. Erende watched as her chest began to slow with her breathing. Ori slowly lifted one of her hands, petting her hair in gentle strokes.

 “You’re okay, Aeria. We are not going to kill you. You’re okay.”

 Aeria burst into sobs, laying on the ground. Toro immediately placed himself near her, licking her forehead as she continued to cry. Orianer stroked her head.

 “It’s not your fault, Aeria,” she said again, “it’s not your fault.”

 The Guild watched in silence as Ori held her in her arms. Erende pinched his eyes, sitting back down near the fire. He felt Vala’s hand grab his, her thumb stroking his palm. Khir’schen stared down at the ground, and Bahadur clenched his jaw. As Aeria’s sniffling returned to silence, she sighed, breathing in slowly.

 “It was during the War.” Aeria began. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand, eyes bloodshot. Steffan pulled his lips into a thin line.

 “Aeria, you don’t have to-”

 “Yes, I do.” She interrupted. She pulled the blanket to cover her bandage-ridden torso, and breathed.

 “I…I’m sorry. I-I panicked. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say those things,” she looked up at the rest of them. Vala tightened her grip on Erende when Aeria’s eyes focused on them. Her irises where natural brown. He swallowed.

 “You’re cursed…aren’t you?”

 Aeria looked to him, and slowly nodded.

 “I was…I was born in the middle of the war. My village was a small one, high in the trees of Valenwood…” she spoke softly and stared into the licking flames of the fire. Erende held his breath as her eyes reflected the orange tongues.

 “My father was forced by the Dominion to fight on the front lines. They said he would fight for the glory of Valenwood and the glory of Auri-El. He tried to refuse, as doing so would be treason against Y’ffre, our true god, and when he did, they…they took him anyways. Overnight. We didn’t know until the next morning,” She swallowed, “I woke to the sound of my mother crying, and the screams of my siblings. Our father defended us from the animals of the forest and from the angry soldiers that stormed our village. I was the eldest, so when my father was taken, my mother decided to become our protector, and I took on the roles of making sure we would stay alive.”

 “One afternoon, we had descended from the trees to harvest our hunts. I was with the hunters and went to go check on one of our traps, one that I had made from bone and resin. As I made my way through the brush, something peculiar caught my eye. A white stag. It was caught in the trap, it’s leg bitten by the fangs of the bone. It could not escape, as the resin I had used to make it was strong enough to keep this animal in my trap.”

 The fire danced. Erende could practically see the white stag in the flames.

 “I approached the beast, taking with me my dagger to slit its throat. It wasn’t the first time I had killed, but it was the first time I had seen a beast like this. Before I could raise the tip to its skin, it bowed its mighty head before me, and said ‘wait.’…so I waited. And it began to glow, and it began to grow, and I found myself staring into the eyes of this mystic beast. It said my name, and it said the name of my home, and immediately I knew this was not what I thought it had been. The beast gave me his name – Hircine. It was a Daedric lord that I had captured in my trap. He gave me an ultimatum. I could become part of his pack. He knew my struggles and the danger my family is in. He gave me a way to protect them in ways that my meager self couldn’t. Or, we could part ways, and Y’ffre would know I had let go a Daedric Prince and he would punish me. So…I took the deal. We shared our blood. And that day, when the elves came to take away my mother to breed more warriors, I found out the truth of the so-called protection. I had taken blood of a beast, and thus, I became a beast myself. Once I saw my hands turn into claws, I blacked out. In the next moment, I had awoken in our home…covered in blood. My mother cried and cradled me. When I told her what I had done, she kissed me. I knew what I did was for the greater good of my family, for the greater well-being. They made sure no one, no one at the village or the armies, would find out the beast that roamed the forests and killed the intruders was me, and for six years, I became their protector.”

 Aeria swallowed, turning to Ori. She stretched out her metal leg. Valves popped and small billows of steam wafted into the air. Ori grimaced.

 “It wasn’t until when Ori came to the village that I found that this gift Hircine had bestowed upon me, this token, it wasn’t as great as he made it to be. When Ori came to the village, she had been a war nurse in the war, and she came broken. Bloodied. No one would help her as she was Altmer and we hated the Altmer. It was my mother and her good heart that decided to care for her. When I saw her, lying on the table, I realized that being the beast was not the way to do this.”

 Ori pulled her leg from Steffan, tucking it under her.

 “I pleaded to Y’ffre. He was angry. Angry that I had betrayed my protector and my patron, angry that I broke our laws in never changing form into a beastly animal. But Y’ffre took me back, on the condition I would never use this power and that I leave the following of Hircine. And I did. In order to make sure I never betrayed the deal, he created Toro.”

 Toro nudged her hand, laying his head and her lamp and whimpering slightly. She stroked his ears.

 “In truth, Toro is a dremora. He is a what we know as a familiar, but he has more power as he was once a servant of Hircine, before he was saved by Y’ffre. He was gifted to me by Y’ffre at the first change of my form. He is my companion and my protector, and helps me when I am in danger of such change.”

 Silence hung over them. Aeria breathed rhythmically, closing her eyes as the fire warmed her face.

 “I’m sorry. Askarath…she did something to me to bring back that black magick. I-I don’t know what.”

 “It’s okay, Aeria,” Toro murmured, patting her hand with his paw, “it wasn’t your fault. That thing that was beside her, Molag Bal, it’s his.”

 “I would say so,” Khir’schen commented, “Molag Bal is one hell of a god.”

 “He’s a Daedric Prince, Lord of Domination, Destruction, Enslavement. If he is using Askarath as his minion or his Champion, then that would explain why she was able to use that high level of magick.” Vala said. Steffan scratched his chin, smearing black oil and copper dust on his skin.

 “Sounds like he has some hefty skills,” he said, “but why did Askarath need Vala, and send us on that ridiculous quest to get a stone we didn’t need? And why did they try to force Aeria to take on a beast form?”

 “She needed me to summon Molag Bal,” Vala interjected. She opened her palm, exposing a red ball of condensed magick. It fizzled for a moment, then disintegrated into vapor. She shook it off.

 “I can’t remember much, but she needed my summoning powers to help bring that apparition of Molag Bal here. I’m not strong enough to bring a physical form.”

 “But I would have been,” Orianer argued, “why didn’t she try to use me?”

 “According to her I’m easily ‘persuaded’.” Vala rolled her eyes.

 Erende widened his eyes, “that’s why your eyes were purple. She had you under a spell.”

 “More like a curse,” Vala huffed.

 “And even though Molag Bal was not in his true form, he still was immensely powerful,” Bahadur said, “it is why he and Askarath were able to force the power within Aeria to come forth. She was blessed by a Daedric Prince, and thus a Daedric Prince could bring back some of that black magick.”

 “I didn’t hurt any of you that badly, did I?” Aeria asked softly. Erende pulled on the ends of his bandages. Specks of dried blood fluttered from the cloth and onto the floor. Pain coursed through his veins.

 “No, of course not,” Vala said, “this isn’t from you, this is from Askarath.”

 Aeria turned to Bahadur and Erende, who both tried to hide their bandages from view.

 “No, you didn’t hurt us either.” Bahadur insisted. Aeria eyed him before looking to Erende. He refused to meet her gaze.

 “Erende.”

 “I’m fine.”

 “Erende, what is the bandage on your arm for?”

 “Khir’schen stabbed me.”

 “I did not!” Khir’schen snapped. Erende rolled his eyes.

 “Really?”

 “Erende. Tell me.”

 “Aeria, it’s not that bad.” Erende replied, tugging his leather sleeve over the bandage. Aeria struggled to stand up. The blanket fell from her shoulders, and she saw her body covered in bloody cloths. So much of it covered her skin it looked as if she was a walking bandage.

 “Where are my clothes? Why am I covered in bandages?” She asked, turning to view her body. Orianer held up her garb, shredded into pieces. The symbol from her cloak sat on top of the pile. Aeria slowly picked it up.

 “It was destroyed when you…when you…”

 “Yeah,” Aeria said, “I guess I need some new armor. In the meantime, Ori, do you think you could heal us fully?”

 She shook her head, “I healed you as best I could, Aeria. That’s as good as I can do.” Orianer said. Khir’schen stood from her place, popping her elbows and yawning.

 “Well, in that case, we need to get to a recovery camp.” She stated, picking up her roll that she had laid on.

 “But the last one we went to ended up in the middle of a war,” Steffan said, confused. Aeria sighed.

 “Great observation, ever think of becoming a guard? They could really use your intelligence.”

 “Hush now, let’s not get out of hand,” Bahadur stepped in, “we have more important issues to focus on. There’s a recovery camp in the old city of Riften – that’s west from here. They’ll have supplies, and while we are there, we’ll discuss our next move.”
 “You’re right,” Khir’schen said, standing up, “there’s a small college there, Worship Hall. They usually only teach about the gods, but maybe we can get some information on Molag Bal or other Daedric Princes.”

 “Then, if we’re going to do that, we need to find a way out of here,” Steffan muttered, sweeping his hand across, “and remember that Askarath trapped us in by blocking off the only exit.”

 Ori lifted herself from the floor, gritting her teeth as her metal leg popped and groaned. She stretched it out, letting the gears turn and steam pillowing into the air. She pressed against her thigh, a sheet of copper, that clicked and exposed the mechanics underneath. Orianer then removed a small, cylinder-like device from a mesh of cobs and pumps. 

 “It’s not the only way out,” she said, waving the device in front of her face with a grin. Steffan sighed.

 “Ori, I just fixed your leg.”

 “No, you didn’t,” she said as she hobbled over to the other side of the word wall, “you made it worse.”

 “That’s probably because he isn’t a blacksmith.” Erende said, folding his arms. Steffan just rolled his eyes.

 “I was trying to help.”

 “Well, you didn’t. Now shut up.” Ori said over her shoulder before placing her ear against the wall. For a moment, they were silent, watching her as she moved the device towards her head. Suddenly, she lifted it, and stabbed the device into the wall. Half of it was wedged deep within the stone. Vala lifted her eyebrows.

 “What…what are you doing?” She asked. Ori didn’t respond as she backed a few feet away from where she placed the device. She placed her hands together, pressing her palms against one another.

 “Get behind the wall,” she said, her hands turning white. Small whirls of orange magick started to curl around her fingers with small popping sounds, like wood being eaten through in a fireplace.

 “Wait, why?” Steffan asked, “what are you doing?”

 Bahadur grabbed the cuff of his armor and hauled him to the other side of the wall.

 “If the mage says to get behind the wall, you get behind the wall,” he said. Erende followed them, peeking to watch as Ori’s hands grew brighter with orange flames. The sound of crackling fire became louder. Magickal electricity buzzed through the air. The orange ball engulfed her hands; lightning flashed and Erende covered his ears as loud cracks of thunder echoed in the cavern.

 “Alright!” Orianer yelled, “cover your ears, it’s going to be very loud!”

 She held the ball of fiery lighting above her head. A second of silence rang it Erende’s ears. Then, she hurled the ball at the device. Erende’s vision was immediately consumed with blinding white light, and he was flung into the air. He felt heat sear his skin, his ears bursting as the wall exploded. His back hit the surface of the lake first, and his eyes burst open. Water rushed into his nose and through his clothes, chilling his body. His ears rang with the muffled sounds of rocks falling into the lake, bubbles erupting around him. Erende saw the top of the lake above him gleam with light. Pumping his arms, he swam upwards, breaking through the surface. He gasped. Cold air rushed into his lungs. Erende shook his head to rid of the water drops cascading into his eyes. He paddled to keep himself afloat, and blinked as his eyes adjusted. The ceiling of the cavern was gone. Instead blue sky filled with puffy white clouds hung above him. The Word Wall still stood, but the island had been leveled from the explosion and the wall now sat in the water, half of it drowning in the lake. Erende heard several gasps of breath, then splashing. He turned and saw Orianer, Aeria, Toro and Vala struggling in the water. Steffan laid on the edge of the muddy beach, coughing up water. Bahadur hung on a floating piece of wood from the bridge.

 “Excellent, Ori!” He cheered, giving her a thumbs up. From the other side of the lake, Steffan hacked, clearing out his throat.

 “Yes,” he said, wiping his mouth, “we have a way out. Let’s put it to good use.

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