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Everything posted by The_Good_Doctor

  1. Never used either of those for my internet.
  2. So since the Fallout RP is going to be starting before long, we decided to do something special. Now as Colonel pointed out in the last thread. we haven't done a lot to flesh out some of the smaller factions in and around the Brotherhood city of Wellstone (where part 1 will predominantly take place). This gave Witch the the idea for us to use the polls as a sort of mini "choose your own adventure" -styled game in which we present a scenario involving one of these factions and give everyone choices for how they would prefer to get through that scenario. This will give us the opportunity to play with them a bit as a group, one at a time, and flesh them out together. I thought that sounded like a blast, myself, so let's see how this works out! Scenario 1: The Queendom of Space World Some info on Soace World
  3. *** The black spikes jutted from the ground like the pincers of some giant subterranean insect that got stuck trying to dig its way to the surface. Boldir had heard tales of the ruined gates to Oblivion, of how they could still be found in the more isolated parts of Tamriel, but this was his first time seeing one with his own eyes. Even now, the ruins stood taller than a house, marring the landscape like a poorly-healed scar. Within those ruins stood two figures of less impressive stature: The foremost was a man, clad in the the heavy steel plate of a Colovian Legionnaire, and wielding a gray shield and longsword. Behind him was the dark elf who could only be Endar Drenim. He leaned against a long wooden staff, watching them approach from beneath his red hood. Mila was nowhere in sight. "Mila!" Boldir called, venturing to the right as the cultists fanned out. "It's Boldir! I'm here!" There came no response from the duo by the gate. Drenim had not even looked his way, so intently was the elf staring at Rythe. The necromancer returned that look with a fiery hatred, and with a voice dripping with false civility, he called out to his foe. "It's incredible what lengths you would go through to prey those who would call you friend, Drenim." "I didn't take you for someone who has friends," the wizard responded. "Don't tell me I hurt your feelings." "No," Rythe snarled. "But you did steal my work, and now you are going to answered for it." "Boldir," Stoit whispered. He turned to find the sellsword holding up a familiar object. His flute. "It was by the spot where they made camp." Boldir's heart was pounding as he took the instrument in his hand. He could feel the blood rising inside him. He pocketed the flute and turned back to the mages, who were were still trading words. "Shut up!" Drenim, Rythe, and everyone else on the plateau were now looking at him. He pointed an accusing finger at the former. "You have my daughter! Where is she?" Drenim raised a brow and turned back to Rythe. "And who is this?" "I'm the man who will kill you if you don't give me what I came for," Boldir promised. "My daughter. She has been calling herself Matilda, and she was here. What did you do with her?" Now Drenim looked puzzled, but it was the Legionnaire who spoke first. "Matilda's parents are dead. She has told us as much." "Boldir," Gwella whispered. "I don't think that man is bewitched." Boldir searched for any signs, but ultimately had no idea what he was even looking for. The soldier seemed normal enough to him. "Enough of this!" Rythe demanded. "We will find your daughter when this is over, Boldir. He has clearly hidden her away for the battle." "That doesn't make any sense," Boldir said, turning toward necromancer. "You told me she was nothing to him." "She is." Ralimar interjected. "Look at me, Boldir." He faced Rythe's younger brother, and immediately scowled when he saw the scroll glowing green in Ralimar's hand. Boldir did not have time to take a step before the parchment flashed and was reduced to ashes. He felt something strange then, an unfamiliar tingle in his bones that blossomed into a terrible headache. "She is." Ralimar said again. "Think about it." The first of Endar's spells ripped through the air faster than any arrow, colliding with Ralimar's ward. The Breton stumbled but caught himself. Still focusing his attention on Boldir, he said, "Why would Drenim have chosen an Oblivion Gate? Littered the ground with these markings? The fetcher was performing a ritual! Rituals involve sacrifice!" Amidst the sensations that were currently piercing his skull, Boldir suddenly felt a raw clarity like none he had ever experienced before. It manifested in the form of the deepest, most intense rage a man could feel, all of it directed at the elven bastard who stood in the ruins. Ralimar was saying something else now, but he barely heard it. Spells were flying, but he ignored them. Disregarding the poisoned dagger at his belt, Boldir turned and barreled toward Drenim with his axe raised. Alongside him charged a black hoard of the undead, screeching as they flew. Drenim's first bolt came as a flash of bright hot lightning, but it bounced harmlessly off of the protections Rythe had imbued him with. The second was a great wave of fire whose heat scorched the ground and brought the nearby wraiths to a screaming halt, but its heat was nothing in comparison to that of the rage that boiled inside him. A girl. She was just a girl! She sold fruit in Whiterun! Drenim was right in front of him now. The devil elf's red eyes were thoughtful and calculating, darting between Boldir and the numerous other foes he had to contend with. The wizard raised his hand and was engulfed by a bright, multicolored light that instantly repelled the encroaching army of wraiths. Not Boldir though. The magicka bit at him as he stepped through it, but he didn't care. Right now, the only thing in the world that mattered was that Endar Drenim died. With a wild roar, he swung at his opponent, only for the coward to vanish moments before his head would have been cleaved from its shoulders. Boldir turned to see where Drenim had gone and ended up face-to-face with the elf's Legionnaire minion. The soldier took a swing at his ribs, but Boldir knocked the blow aside with ease, twisted, and brought his pommel crashing against the Imperial's nose. The follow-through left him facing the spot where Drenim had appeared. The elf was at the edge of the plateau, and had once again surrounded himself with magical shields that were fending off everything that Rythe, his followers, and their summoned undead could throw at him. With a very brief glance at the Legionnaire, Boldir left the man to lay there bleeding. "Boldir!" he heard Gwella scream. The priestess' call came from somewhere behind him. "Not now," he growled as his jog turned into a run. "It's a spell! You're not-" He drowned out her cries with another roar as he hurled himself through the mass of undeath. Drenim turned just in time to spot him tearing past the magical wall. One of the elf's hands flashed a dark purple, while the other sent a blue ball of energy that smacked against Boldir's wards like the kick of a giant. This time he felt the impact. It sent him tumbling back outside the ring. Remember Riften? All the things you went through to save her? All the things that she went through to survive? Boldir stood up and retrieved his axe. He could feel a sticky warm liquid where the scar on his palm had split open again. Fueled by pain and fury, he entered Drenim's circle again and lifted his axe up for the killing strike- -And could not bring it down again. The grip resisting his swing was far, far stronger than his own. Twisting around, Boldir's gaze halted on the gigantic muscle-bound daedra that Rythe had named a "Xivilai". It's right hand gripped the haft of a nasty-looking black battle-axe, and its left hand gripped the shoulder of Boldir's battle-axe. He didn't have time to fight, scream, or resist in any way. He only had time to blink as the massive blue fist wrenched the weapon from his hand and brought it crashing backward into his gut. The armor saved Boldir from what would have surely been a fatal blow, but his feet still left the ground, following the rest of him as he soared several feet through the air, landing painfully in the rocks outside of Drenim's circle. The wind was knocked out of him, and it was all Boldir could do to roll out of the way as his own axe came spinning through the air and buried its head into the dirt where he'd landed. All thoughts and emotions faded now, to be replaced by that blind instinct that told him that he needed to stay alive. Boldir reached for his stuck axe and tried to use it to rise, but was unexpectedly jerked back down by his shoulders. Twisting his neck, Boldir found four sets of yellow eyes staring down at him. He'd forgotten about the gods damned scamps! The little bastards were already starting to climb on top of him, raking their claws against his armor like wild animals fighting for a meal. As he struggled against their numbers, Boldir remained acutely aware that the Xivilai was approaching. "Get off me!" he barked as he threw his fist into one of their flat, ugly faces. The other creatures hissed and growled and only tore at him all the harder. One claw found its way under his helmet and ripped a hot gash between his shoulder and neck. Another two tried to bite at the unprotected spots on his left arm. The worst of them was the one that stood on his chest, trying desperately to get its claws through his helmet's eye slits. After several seconds spent batting at the creatures, Boldir finally managed to grip the top one by its neck, and with a powerful squeeze, snapped its spine to bits. With his vision clear, Boldir was able throw an elbow into another scamp and clear some room for him to get on his knees... only to find himself looking up again into the pale white eyes of Drenim's Xivilai. Its axe was raised to kill, and may very well have done that if not for the arrow that suddenly struck its arm. The daedra jerked back a bit and missed its swing, but otherwise seemed unfazed. That was, until Boldir wrenched his axe out of the earth and drove it into the Xivilai's unprotected right leg. The daedra howled in pain. It was a deep, troll-like sound that seemed echo off itself a dozen times at once. But the fight was hardly over. The creature's skin and muscle was tougher than the pelt of a mammoth, and Boldir's blow, despite being strong, did not cut all that deep. Wrenching his axe free again to prepare for a second swing, Boldir was again assaulted by the relentless litter of scamps. One of them climbed his legs while a second clung to his arm. This threw him off-balance dangerously close to the edge of the plateau. Planting his feet, Boldir grabbed one of the creatures by the scruff of its neck and hurled it off the cliff. He then landed a solid clout on the other's head with the butt of his axe. That bought him a few moments in which he managed to get a picture of what was going on: The Xivilai was lumbering toward him now with the remaining scamps darting around its legs. Beyond that, Drenim's shields were still holding strong against the onslaught of floating wraiths and magical projectiles that Rythe's necromancers were hitting him with. Stoit had plunged through the field of wraiths too, it seemed, because he stood just past the Xivilai, and was already knocking another arrow. Boldir did not get a chance to look for Bremman or Gwella before he had to steel himself again, this time on somewhat 'equal' footing with the daedra, who barely seemed to feel the arrow that thudded into his shoulder from behind. It and the scamps were on Boldir in less than a heartbeat. He dodged a strike from the Xivilai's axe and used the momentum to drive his own into the torso of one of the scamps, splitting the little creature open at its sternum. He followed up by bringing the weapon around at the larger daedra, but was surprised to find that it had matched his speed with a near-identical move and quickly adjusted his aim to catch the daedric axe with his own. He succeeded, barely, and locked the belly of his axe with that of the Xivilai's. A mistake. The daedra was almost two feet taller than him and stronger than any foe he had ever met. It let out a roar and used its weight to drive Boldir to his knees. It then beat his axe from his hands. Another arrow struck the beast's back, but this time it did nothing to slow the assault. He prepared himself for the first strike from that wicked black axe. You can't die yet! Not until you've seen Drenim go first. Boldir snarled and drew his poisoned dagger, driving the pointed edge deep into the Xivilai's thigh before it could ready its strike. At that moment, a scamp grabbed hold of Boldir's hand and sank its teeth into his forearm, right above his gauntlet. He and the Xivilai both screamed in pain, but while Boldir punched at the scamp with his free hand, the Xivilai reared and delivered a powerful backhand that set his helmet ringing and knocked him back to the ground. "Hey!" Stoit's voice seemed to be calling from very far away, but the young Nord that appeared twice in his dazed vision did not look very far. "Over here, you piece of Oblivion filth!" He heard another arrow smack into the daedra. Then two more in rapid succession. Finally, Boldir's vision cleared in time for him to see the creature once more scooping up his axe. It was not meant for him this time, however. He watched in horror as the Xivilai turned with the speed of a sabre cat and hurled his battle axe full tilt in the sellsword's direction. Stoit attempted to move out of the way, but the throw was too quick, too unexpected, and the head of Boldir's axe sank deep into his torso. The sellsword opened his mouth as if trying to speak, but no words came before he collapsed to his knees, and then toppled face-first into the wispy grass. *** "Yes!" Elara let out a loud whoop and threw a fist in the air. "What is it?" asked Matilda from across their little 'refuge', which really just amounted to a normal campsite that Endar had masked with illusion spells the day before. "Master Drenim's Xivilai just took out one of the Nords. The archer." Elara returned her gaze to the crystal ball and watched as the large blue daedroth and its last two scamps stepped up towards the one with all the armor. "We didn't even know they would be there," Matilda replied. "The magic ones are worse, right?" "Master Drenim is holding them. Same as before. But it's the Nords I was worried about. I couldn't believe the way that big one took all of his spells like that. Rythe's men must have spent a lot effort imbuing him with whatever magic it is that shielded him. No matter now, though. He's about to be done for as well." "What about Acivo? How's he doing?" Elara stared into the orb and saw their friend still leaning up against the Oblivion Gate. After taking that nasty blow to the face, he eventually picked himself up and took cover behind one of the big black spikes, completely unaware that the "enemy" priestess had taken cover behind the other. This part still confused Elara, as it seemed that after Rythe's band arrived, they started turning on each other. First one of the necromancers used some scroll on the big Nord, which eventually prompted the priestess to attack him. That would have ended badly for her, if the man in steel armor had not intervened, buying her time to escape past the Oblivion Gate at the cost of his own life. One of Rythe's men had sent wraiths after her, but she drove them off with some kind of light spell. "Acivo is still okay," she finally answered. "He's not behind Master Drenim's wards, but the bad guys don't seem to see him." She looked down again. She was so absorbed in the battle that she had a hard time focusing on a single aspect of it. "Divines... Matilda, you have to see this. Master Drenim just summoned another daedroth. I'm not even sure what it is. It's got clear skin and- oh my! It's using magic against the wraiths. And now it's killed one of Rythe's men! And now it's going straight for Rythe himself! It's-..." Elara's smile faded as she watched the necromancer lord blast Endar's summon to bits. "Nevermind. At least we still have the Xivilai. The big Nord is back on his feet now, but he can't keep going long. He's lost his weapons." Her eyes darted across the battlefield in a strange mix of wonder and fear. Wonder at the display of magical prowess that few peasant girls like herself could have ever dreamed of witnessing. And fear for her friends, and even herself. Endar looked to be holding his own right now, though. He was drawing from the runes that dotted their campsite, and many still remained, but so far only three of his mortal enemies had fallen, and the worst were quickly surrounding him. By now, Rythe had moved into the middle of the plateau with a follower carrying a large bag filled with welkynd stones at his heel. Behind them, the armored man stirred. "Wait! Remember the other one with armor that I told you about?" "Aye..." Matilda said. "It wasn't three minutes ago." "Well I was wrong. He's not dead after all. Maybe he and that priestess will help out some." Elara looked again at the armored warrior. He had marks on his shield and armor, but the tiny view through the crystal ball made it hard to make them out. "Hold on a second..." Are those thorn vines? The man rolled over onto his back, and Elara finally got a better view. Gods be good. They are! "Matilda, I think he's a Knight of the Thorn!" "What?" Elara looked up in time to see the girl look at her with an expression of thorough confusion. Of course, she had looked like that ever since Endar hit her with that ridiculously powerful calming spell of his. The thing had been so potent that its effects were still not finished wearing off, which was probably why Matilda had not yet expressed any interest in sitting down beside her and watching the battle with her own eyes. It was as if she was perfectly content to just have it relayed to her. He'd provided Elara with two scrolls with the same spell imbued in case it needed to be done again, but seeing the effects of this one made Elara hope against hope that she didn't need to. "I said he's a Knight of the Thorn. As in the ones back in Cheydinhal." Matilda picked her stolen staff up off the ground. "You don't think he's here for this, do you?" "I mean... surely not." Elara cast a worried look into the ball. The knight was rising now, or trying to. After taking a few steps, he doubled over and collapsed to the ground. "I wanna see," Matilda said. Her suddenness surprised Elara, and it made her worried that the last calm spell was wearing off and Matilda would force her to use the scrolls. Still, what was she going to do? Tell her 'no'? Elara scooted over on her log and patted the empty space. "Best seat you can get." Matilda came and sat down beside her and looked into the glass. "I see a bunch of lights. And black shadows." "That's the wraiths surrounding Master Drenim's shield. Look beyond that and you'll see-" "The necromancers. Got it. How many are there? Ten? Twelve? And what's- oh, that's the knight." Matilda leaned in really close, and then looked up at her. "That is a Knight of the Thorn! What's he doing-..." Matilda suddenly went silent. She had been a generally quiet girl since Elara had met her, but this seemed different. Her mouth hung open, and her eyes had gone wide with what looked like shock. Before Elara's eyes, Matilda's skin turned pale as snow. "Hey... are you okay?" The girl stood up out of nowhere. "We have to get back up there, now!" A desperate, almost wild expression was writ across her face, and Elara realized that her young friend was on the verge of tears. "It's him, Elara! The Nord! it's B- Boldir!" "Boldir?" Elara had heard that name before. No, she'd met a man who went by it back in the Imperial City. "What are you- No, Matilda. No! You'll get killed up there!" "You don't understand, he's my father! I know it's him, I know it!" "How? His face is hidden." "Under a helmet that he made! I've seen it a thousand times. There ain't any others. And that armor, it's his set! And look at how big he is!" Matilda started off from the camp, down the half-mile trail that led back to the plateau. "Come with me or don't," she said. "I'm going." "Matilda- You said your parents are dead." "It's Mila. The girl turned and said. "That's what I want you to call me now that he's here. You're my friend, Elara. Please don't try to stop me." Even if the girl was right, the wraiths would murder her before she could even get close to helping Boldir, and that wasn't even to mention the necromancers themselves. And then there was the Xivilai, who when last she'd checked was kicking the man's ass. He'd be dead before they could even arrive. "Matil- err, Mila, stop! STOP!" Mila turned and looked at her, and that look said it all. There would be no convincing her not to go. Elara's heart felt heavy as she reached into her pack and drew out the rune-covered scroll. The green cloud of magicka engulfed Mila like a thick perfume, and with a sweeter voice, Elara commanded, "Please, stop." Mila turned and looked at her again as the mist faded, and gently shook her head. "It didn't work." What? Endar had assured her that the scrolls were every bit as potent as the spell he had cast. She reluctantly reached for the second one and hit Mila with a second round. The girl's walk turned into a jog, and then she was running. "Damn it all!" In her anger, Elara kicked the crystal ball and sent it rolling through the grass. In it, she saw that Boldir. He was still bare-handed yet had somehow managed to kill the last of the scamps and was now dodging a strike from the Xivilai. Looking back up at the girl named Mila, the stewardess knew what she had to do. *** Boldir panted as he dodged another swipe from the big daedra's axe, all too aware that he could not do this forever. Twice, he had attempted to get around the big bastard, to reach the axe that still lay embedded in Stoit's chest. But the Xivilai was quick enough to put down both attempts. Now Boldir was facing the beast with a jagged rock in his hand and blood streaming from his arm. Behind the beast, Drenim summoned a second monster. Some tall, clear monstrosity that took on the necromancers by itself. Boldir did not have time to consider it, however, as another blow soon rained down on him, one that he just barely managed to step away from. The black axe grazed off his pauldron, which alone was enough to stagger him and make his attempt to counter-attack with the rock feeble at best. The sharp piece of stone cut across the Xivilai's chest, but failed to even draw blood. And then something finally went Boldir's way. The daedra planted a foot to prepare a follow-up strike, and wound up stepping on the head of a dead scamp and sliding off-balance just beside the rocky cliff. Boldir didn't waste a moment. Using every fiber of strength and every ounce of his weight, he lunged shoulder-first into the his larger foe. The Xivilai tumbled and lost its footing. That was almost the end of it, but the demon of Oblivion was relentless. As the daedra fell, it caught Boldir's arm in its fist, and soon they were both falling to the ground. The jagged black axe was gone now, having rolled down the steep, rocky slope. This left Boldir laying on top of a pissed-off, but unarmed foe. Their fight became a scramble then. A painful and confusing mess of fists and knees and elbows. Boldir connected his armored knuckles against the Xivilai's jaw and felt something crack. He also landed a kick in what he assumed were the daedra's genitals. The creature's sharpened nails caught him across his arm, ripping clean through the fur padding and leaving a nasty cut. It then managed to get a hand under the rim of his helmet and tear it off. Boldir watched as the Xivilai hurled his oldest possession far off the cliff side, he then raised an arm just in time to block the heavy fist that would have smashed in his face. Boldir reached up with with his free hand and grabbed at the Xivilai's face, digging his fingers into whatever soft spots he could find. It must've worked, because the daedra reared back and grabbed his foot just as he drove it into his chest. The Xivilai let out a roar then. It was a powerful, blood-curdling sound that crossed the brutality of a troll with the desperation of a wounded bear. And then, with Boldir's foot still in its hand, the daedra pushed itself off the edge of the cliff. *** Gwella peeked around the corner of the vile black spike that she'd been driven behind. Rythe and his men had moved past her by now, their attention now focused entirely on Endar Drenim. All besides one. The brother, Ralimar. The Breton was standing in the open now, and hurled an ice spike her way the moment her head came into view. Gwella ducked back to safety just before the spell cascaded into the side of the gate and exploded into thousands of tiny glistening shards. "Come on out, Priestess," the necromancer called in a casual tone. "You're not doing your friends any good back there. Poor Sir Bremman can barely move. And I think Stoit may be dead, but maybe not yet. If you kill me, you can try to heal them." Gwella leaned out and hurled a ball of bright flame at his face, but barely managed to pull back before another spear of ice came soaring her way. "You're going to have to do better than that," Ralimar shouted. "Come out on a count of three and I'll just paralyze you. Maybe when this is all over your group and mine can still work things out. Those of us who survive, at least... One. Two.-" "Why don't you try coming back here?" Gwella challenged. "Because I'm not stupid. You grabbed one of Rythe's stones, and I'm pretty sure it's what you used to make that weird aurora that's holding back my summons. I'm not walking into that." Damn. That was exactly why she wanted the necromancer to come after her. Within the light, she was strong. Her wounds would be healed and her magicka would recover swiftly. But anyone else would burn if they came too close. However, even fueled as it was by a wekynd stone, the spell would not last forever, and Ralimar knew that. Even so, the necromancer clearly wanted to finish this quickly. "I've got an idea," he told her. "Why don't I take this ice spike, and shove it through Sir Bremman's throat?" "No!" Gwella moved to the other side of the spike and lurched around it, sending two streams of fire scorching towards her enemy. Ralimar easily caught the flames on his ward and answered with a bolt of electricity that caught Gwella on the hand and traveled up her arm. She felt her muscles contract, and all brain function momentarily ceased. When Gwella's eyes opened again, she was back behind the Oblivion Gate, smelling of burnt hair and with a bit of drool on her chin. She wiped it off and shouted at the man who'd struck her. "Don't you touch him!" "So I didn't kill you," Ralimar's voice responded. "Pity. That means we'll have to bring Bremman into this after all." "Don't!" Gwella tried again to launch a spell at him, but could not even steal a look around the corner before another lightening bolt blasted past her face. "Don't worry. I've decided not to kill him," the necromancer taunted. "I'm going to make you do it instead." Gwella heard the spell being cast, and dared anther look around the corner. She saw Bremman standing up, seemingly unhurt. The knight scooped up his weapons and turned to Ralimar, who pointed in Gwella's direction. "Your priestess friend has turned against us. She means well, but her efforts will prevent us from saving the girl. You need to stop her." Even though she knew what the necromancer intended, Gwella still gasped when Sir Bremman turned and started striding towards her. She ducked back behind the gate before more spells could be launched . "Don't come any closer!" she warned her friend. "What he's telling you, it's an illusion! They don't care about Mila!" The knight's clanking footsteps drew nearer. "I'm protected, Bremman! If you come near me, you will die!" Her warnings fell on deaf ears. The Knight of the Thorn rounded the corner and locked eyes with her. He's in pain, Gwella saw. He doesn't want to hurt me, but he needs to. Without a hint of caution, Bremman boldly stepped into her protective aurora, and then immediately recoiled as a disgusting sizzling noise emitted from inside his armor. "Stop!" she wailed as the knight tried to approach again with the same results. Gwella could see the knight's strength wavering. The third time he tried to reach her, the pain dropped him to his knees. A fourth attempt would kill him. Stendarr protect me. Gwella dismissed her spell, then she watched with sadness as Bremman used his shield to slowly get back on his feet. The knight was going to come at her again, and she knew that she would have no choice but to run and pray that Ralimar's aim would fail him. But where will I run to? That was something she'd just have to work out on the way. Bremman was coming at her again, and unless Stendarr was going to intervene, there was nothing Gwella could do to hold back the armored knight without killing him. She took a step back, preparing to turn and flee, and then a figure emerged from behind the second black spike and plunged a sword into the back of Bremman's neck. Gwella's mouth fell open in horror as she watched her possessed friend's legs buckle and take him to the ground. Behind him, the Legionnaire wrenched his sword free and looked at her with a face that was sticky with blood. He opened his mouth to speak, "Are you alri-" An electric bolt struck the soldier in his back, throwing him right on top of the knight he'd just slain. There behind him stood Ralimar, a cocky grin spread across his cheeks. "I was wondering where that guy had gone. Now your turn." His first and second spells slammed against her ward. The third shattered it completely, and Gwella was forced to retaliate with another ball of fire. It exploded into the necromancer, engulfing him completely, but when the flames subsided, he stood unharmed with his ward raised like a crystal blue shield. Ralimar stepped forward, and but was caught by surprise when the Legionnaire's fist clamped around his ankle and dragged him, flailing arms and all, to the ground. Gwella watched the two men struggle for a moment, then the soldier got the upper hand and proceeded to launch a series of right jabs into Ralimar's face. When he finally pulled back to reach for his sword, Gwella saw that Ralimar now looked even worse than he did. And yet, even now, the necromancer seemed to be smiling. She then noticed that his bloodied lips were moving. She screamed, "Watch out!" Too late. A sudden darkness engulfed the two men, and out of nowhere, a pair of wraiths grabbed the soldier by his shoulders and wrenched him off of their master. Gwella tried to prepare a spell that would drive the spirits away, but Ralimar acted first, waving his hand as if to backhand her from out of reach. Though he did not make physical contact, Gwella felt a powerful force smack into her back against the Oblivion Gate. As she slumped down, Gwella could see that the wraiths were tearing at the Legionnaire, pulling each arm in an opposite direction. But she had more immediate concerns: Ralimar stood over her now, smiling triumphantly as he prepared another spell. The bolt of lightening flashed brightly, filling their eyes with light. And the next thing Gwella knew, the necromancer lay dead in front of her. Gwella turned and saw a young woman standing near the slope of the plateau. Her forehead was painted, and she was armed with a staff. Is that... "Matilda?!" The freed Legionnaire ran to embrace their savior. It's her! Gwella felt warm tears beginning to form in her eyes. Whether they were from Bremman's death, her own near-death encounter, or the unexpected arrival of the girl she had traveled so far to find, the priestess did not know, but right now it was the last of these things that had her so stunned. By Stendarr, it's really her! "Divines..." Gwella gasped. Had Mila truly aged as much as it seemed? Or was it just the way she carried herself now? This girl, back straight, eyes knowing and alert, she looked nothing like the sad, angry little one Gwella had met in the Imperial City. This was no child. The last time the two of them had spoken, Mila had not thought kindly of her, but when the girl looked at her now, the look she gave bore none of per previous anger. Just surprise. "You're here too?" "Yes," Gwella answered, trying not to choke on her own emotions. "And so is Boldir. We've come a long way to find you." "I know," Mila said sadly. She and the Legionnaire joined Gwella beside the gate. "But why did you come with them? And what was the knight doing here?" She shook her head. "Never mind. We can talk about all that later. I've got to find Boldir." "Hey!" They all turned to find an exhausted-looking Breton woman running up the slope. Like Mila, her forehead spotted a red-painted symbol, and at her side was a bag that had scrolls poking out the top. The woman collapsed to her knees beside them, huffing and puffing. "Sure, don't wait for me or anything." "You were taking too long," Mila said, "and Boldir still needs help." "Last I saw he was fighting Drenim's Xivilai," "He was fighting Endar's Xivilai," the Legionnaire informed them. "It dragged him off the edge of the cliff." "Wonderful. Let's hope it wasn't too steep." The new woman turned to Gwella, "I'm Elara. How are you doing?" "I-" "Bad. Yeah, I know." She redirected her attention to the whole group. "So if we assume that Boldir survived that fall, odds are the Xivilai did as well, meaning he still needs help. Anyone got any ideas for getting past a host of warded necromancers?" Gwella stepped out from behind the gate and scanned the battlefield. Endar was fighting a purely defensive battle, maintaining his wards and traps as Rythe's band kept a steady assault of magic on him. All the while, their army of wraiths surrounded his shields, probing it for weakness, waiting for him to slip up. Though even under attack as he was, the wizard had somehow managed to kill at least four of his assailants. Gwella returned shaking her head. "It won't be easy to reach Boldir or Endar. Not with things like they are." "The necromancers' backs are turned," said Mila. "We can use Elara's invisibility scrolls to sneak past them." Gwella shook her head again. "I've seen what Rythe can do. He'll know when we get too close to his wards, and would kill us in seconds. But I do think there's a way to make him weaker, maybe enough to give Drenim an edge. It's those crystals. The welkynd stones. With just one of them I was able to hold back Rythe's brother and his wraiths. I think he's only able to keep going like he is because he's brought along a whole sack of the things. If I can get those away from him, it might create an opening for Drenim to take advantage of." "Rythe's right in the middle of them," the Legionnaire said, lifting up his shield. "I'll distract them." "Thank you-" "Now hold on a minute," Elara interrupted, looking at Gwella. "I don't know what you can do, but Acivo isn't a mage. This plan will get him killed." "I'll be fine," the Imperial said. "You can use my distraction to slip past and get to Boldir." "You'll need me for that." started Mila. "No." Gwella, Elara, and Acivo said in unison. "Do any of you have a good reason besides that you're protective of me?" Mila asked, "Because I'm young?" She pointed across the battlefield. "Well get in gods damned line! That man out there was fighting for me before any of you even knew I existed. Back when I actually needed it." "He came all this way just to save you," Gwella said. "Do you think he wants it to be in vain?" "I don't care," Mila answered. "Boldir would die for me in an instant, which means his wants are stupid. Look, you ain't gonna stop me from helping him, so quit trying." "We're not gonna win this," Elara sighed. "It seems we aren't." Gwella agreed. She did not like it, but the choice was not ultimately hers to make. Instead of fighting, she gave Mila a conceding nod. The girl was brave; there was no doubting that. "Alright," Elara said, "Well we should at least work out the best way to go about this. The scrolls will keep us hidden until we get close to the wards Rythe put up. She turned to Gwella and handed her a pair of scrolls. "You and Acivo take these and get as close to Rythe as you can. Don't waste any time going after the crystals. It's like you said, if you give Rythe time to react, it's over." She turned to the brave girl beside her. "You ready, Mila?" "Aye." "Alright," Elara handed Mila a scroll and led her along one side of the gate. Gwella and Acivo positioned themselves along the other. "Let's go." One-by-one, they used their scrolls to turn invisible. And Gwella's all-too-brief reunion with Mila had reached its end. "You're name is Acivo, right?" she whispered to the patch of nothing beside her. "That's right," the Legionnaire muttered back. "It was a pleasure, almost getting killed with you." "You saved me," she said, deciding not to tell the man that it was her friend he had killed. "Thank you. Now let's go. I'll watch your footsteps in the grass. Kill the one in the back, and I'll go for Rythe's bag... Once I have it, you have to run. They'll kill you if you don't." "I know." The Legionnaire's feet pressed down the thin grass, moving slowly but surely in the direction she had told him to head. Gwella followed cautiously, always making sure to peak up at Rythe to make sure the necromancer's back was still turned. They closed the distance quickly, and soon Gwella saw Acivo's footprints come to a halt just outside of the sparky blue field that swirled around their foes. The cultists were spread out, forming a crescent around Drenim's own shield. But that larger area no doubt meant that the wards were more difficult to maintain. Surely removing Rythe's source of magicka would grant Drenim the chance he needed to strike at them... right? It's too late to doubt, she thought, as she saw Acivo's grass move again. Suddenly, a broad-shouldered, heavy-armored Imperial soldier appeared out of nowhere, and his sword struck true as its edge cut deep into the first necromancer's shoulder. "FOR THE EMPIRE!" Acivo bellowed, and then he turned and slashed yet another of the vile figures across the chest. He raised his shield then as half a dozen spells came flying in his direction. That was when Gwella turned and started sprinting. Rythe was ahead. Fifteen yards. Ten. He stood in front of Drenim, hands raised for some spell, while the acolyte behind him held up the bag of crystals like an obedient slave. She gripped the "slave's" neck with hands of fire, and ripped the sack from his hands as he went drown screaming. "What in all the realms-" Rythe turned, and his red eyes lit up with fury when they met Gwella's own. "You!" Clutching the crystals with her right hand, she raised a ward with her left, and was surprised when it not only held strong against Rythe's blast of red magic, but actually reflected it back in his direction, forcing the necromancer lord to catch it on a ward of his own. The necromancer smiled then. As cruel a smile as she had ever seen. "You stupid holy bitch." He took a step forward. "You mean to use my crystals against me. My work. MINE!" He lifted a hand, and the sack started to vibrate in her arms. "You can draw from them," he said, "But you could never use them like me. You don't understand. You never learned!" She started to run, casting another ward that she drew from the power inside the bag. "You're just like Drenim!" The necromancer shouted. "A fetcher! A thieving s'wit! And you will end up the same!" His next spell crashed against her ward so hard that Gwella was flung to her knees. But she still clutched at the bag. "My work is wasted on you," growled the elf. When she looked up, he was standing right above her, alongside two of his cultists. "I'll take that," said a new voice that came at the exact same time as a bright flash of light. There, between Gwella and Rythe stood Endar Drenim, regarding them both with complete and utter nonchalance. It was only for a moment however, as Drenim then proceeded to shove Rythe away with a spell, take the sack from Gwella's hand, and vanish just as abruptly as he had appeared. Rythe and his friends spun around, searching in every direction. Drenim's shield of wards had vanished, and the dozens of wraiths probing it had taken to the skies in search. Gwella saw where the body of Avico lay dead not far from where he had revealed himself, and she now saw Elara and Mila standing still as stones by the plateau's edge. Everything was quiet. Until one of the cultists spotted Drenim. "At the gate!" Gwella looked back to the place she had used to hide just as Drenim was stepping into view. The army of wraiths swarmed him again, and like before, he cast his circle of protection before they could close the gap. He followed with the bubble of wards against Rythe's magic. This time, Gwella saw a brightly glowing stone hovering by the wizard's side. Rythe and his men immediately launched a barrage of spells at the shield, but they were no doubt even less effective than before. "Don't think I forgot about you!" the necromancer yelled over his shoulder. Gwella launched a fireball at him, but he didn't even need to raise his hands to catch it. His passive wards were enough. "And don't think I missed those fools sneaking by us either. I take it one of them was the girl you've been looking for?" Taking just a moment to look back and flash her an evil grin, Rythe pursed his lips and let out a long, low whistle. The wraiths heard their master's call, and about a third of them suddenly broke away from the crowd surrounding Drenim. They split into two groups: One headed for Elara and Mila, and one coming straight at Gwella, "If everything else goes wrong today," Rythe said, "I will take some solace in the knowledge that you suffered too." Gwella lifted her hands, readied her spells, and said a prayer to Stendarr. And then the wraiths bore down on her. *** After what seemed like days, the sharp pain in Boldir's head began to dull, and he was finally able to make himself roll over... which abruptly sent his weight downward. He fell again, crunching his bad arm against the rocks and began to slide. "Oh damn it all! He tried grabbing for something to cling to, but all his fingers found were dirt and loose pebbles that tumbled down with him. His armor carved through the earth like a metal sled, yanking up grass and mud and every little rock in its path and distributing all of it up into Boldir's face, hair, and even inside his clothes. He must have been cut a hundred times by the little shards of stone, and that wasn't the worst of it. His final attempt to stop or slow his plummet led to his left pauldron rebounding off of the rock and sending him rolling. At that point, Boldir lost all concept of direction. Up, down, left, and right became interchangeable, and the only semblance of order that remained was which part of his body he'd get to feel painfully crashing into the next rock. It finally ended with Boldir on his stomach near the base of the plateau, a solid thirty yards away from where he had initially landed. His bruised eyes were caked with mud. Or was it blood? He wiped the stuff away without even thinking to check. "Get up. Come on, get up." Boldir groaned and rolled onto his back, wincing as he did. Ten yards up the slope stood Carlotta. She looked happy to see him, but there was an urgency in her expression. "You have to get up, Love. Or he'll get you." "Who will get me?" he asked, struggling to remember why he was even down here. "The monster." At that very moment, Carlotta turned into a great blue beast, bare-chested, with a thousand bloody cuts and the hilt of a knife still sticking out of its thigh. The Xivilai let out a roar. "Oh gods... Please give me a damned break." With every ounce of strength left in him, Boldir pushed against the pain and climbed to his knees. His left ankle protested so harshly that he could barely place it on the ground without crying out, but he knew right now that pain would be the least of his worries when the daedra reached him. Already, the horned creature was using an arm wrapped in black cloth to steady itself as it slid on its feet the rest of the way down the cliff. When its feet were planted, the Xivilai stood there for a moment, its white eyes regarding Boldir with what seemed like fascination, perhaps even admiration... or maybe it was just looking for wounds to exploit. Boldir didn't have time to tell before the thing was once again clambering through the dust and sliding pebbles in his direction. Okay Boldir, you're hurt. Not dead. You're weaponless. Not defenseless. That bastard is no better off! You can do this. Just push a little more and Mila will finally be safe. It was the last thought that brought Boldir to a full stand. He met the creature head-on and drove his metal foot into its bloody shin, grappling with its massive arms. He could not overpower the creature. Nor could he outmaneuver it. But he did have his armor. Battered as it was, the Nordic plate stood strong against the Xivilai's powerful elbows and fists, and it gave him the opportunity to get his hands on the big thing's face. He wrestled with it, back and forth as they slumped and rolled against the slope, choking and clawing and bleeding all over, until finally Boldir's thumb found an eye socket and pressed down until the squishy white orb had been filled with red. The daedra howled and jerked away, causing Boldir to fall back, sucking in air as the pain of his injuries jolted him from a million different points. When the Xivilai locked eyes with him again, one of them was hardly an eye at all, for all the damage he had done. The creature came at him again. This time with the upper hand, it managed to get in close, so close he could smell the blood on its breath, and then the daedra did something Boldir had never experienced before. Not from this end at least. It reared back its head and rammed its skull against his own. The colors Boldir saw were blinding. They were a thousand tiny shards of Aetherius, all spinning around his vision like torchbugs during a Falkreath summer. In his muddled state of half-consciousness, he could just make out a phantom at the top of the cliff. A woman with Mila's voice. "Boldir!" Boldir smiled at his name on her lips, knowing that this dream was the closest he would ever come to hearing his daughter again. "Hang on!" A bright light flashed, cutting through all the others, and he felt the daedra's hands let go of him. "Boldir! Can you hear me?! Boldir!" Oh gods... Boldir's eyes focused in, and he realized that this was no dream. Far above him, the woman still stood. Mila. "Mila!" As the Xivilai descended on Boldir again, he surprised it by delivering a powerful fist into its bad eye, and then another in the good one. The creature, realizing he was back in the fight, managed to block the third strike and once more tried to grabble with him. "Hit it again!" Boldir shouted. "Mila! Again!" "I can't!" The girl shouted. Gods, did she sound older! "I might hit you!" "Then throw down my axe!" He yelled back. "Or-" Mila screamed. "NO!" Boldir pushed back the Xivilai just long enough to look up and see his daughter looking over her shoulder. "Mila, whatever it is, run! Do you hear me? Run!" The beast then tried to grab his face the way he'd done to it, but Boldir did not let that happen. He caught it by the wrist and bent out of the way, using the movement to flip the two of them around and force its back against the slope. He then glanced up to see someone else at the top now, standing beside his daughter. The woman was launching streams of fire at some unseeable enemy. Drenim! I'll KILL him! Boldir threw an elbow into the Xivilai's jaw. The creature moved to get up, but he beat it back down, once, then twice. At last his enemy was too hurt to defend itself, and so he launched into a frenzy. He started by hitting it with his bloody left fist, then his bloody right one. Then left. Then right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Boldir's throat rumbled as he screamed Kyne's cry in the dying beast's face. When at last, there was little left to recognize, Boldir looked down at the dagger lodged in the Xivilai's hip. It had been poisoned for Drenim. Hopefully some of that still remained, but if not, well... He gave the hilt a hard tug, wrenching it free of the bone it had been stuck in, and then used it to slit his enemy's throat. The daedra died gurgling on its own dark blood. When Boldir looked up, Mila and her friend were nowhere to be seen. He started to climb. *** The dead face's mouth hung open wider than any mortal jaw would permit. It's pale green skin sagged low, drooping beneath the hollow eyes like sacks of pudding. The creature hovered before Elara, bony hands widespread as its face moved closer to hers, that massive mouth emitting a foul, dead odor into her nostrils that made Elara's eyes water. It wants me dead. was all she could think. Elara had never felt a terror so horrible in her life. She lifted her burning hands between herself and the creature. They trembled violently, but she could barely tell. The wraith screamed. It was a terrible sound, and Elara was immediately gripped by another wave of terror. It was unnatural, the way the creature's shriek seemed to fall through her ears and straight to her heart, tightening and coiling around it. It hurt. Her shaking hands barely able to remain raised, Elara glanced at Mila, who looked to be in as much pain as she was. The girl's staff flashed and sent a bolt of lightening searing through the thing's black chest, destroying it only for two more to take its place. The gloom wraiths swarmed them, going down like flies to their fire and lightening, but never stopping. Eventually, Mila's staff fell from her hands, and the girl herself dropped to her knees, eyes wide with terror as the thing's bony white hand touched her forehead. Elara could not bear to see it. She turned away from the ones attacking her and launched a jet of flame into the one above her friend. She then mustered up every last ounce of willpower inside her and overcame the horrible trance their magic was locking her in. The wraiths floating around Mila curled back against her flames, even as the ones behind her closed in tighter. Elara stepped above Mila's body and screamed, unleashing fire in all directions until the spark in her was extinguished, and she was defenseless. Elara knew things were pretty grim, but that was okay, right? She had done all she could. And now it seemed as though things were turning in Master Drenim's favor. Maybe he could save her. That wizard could do anything. Even now, a great blood-red light was flashing above the wizard's head. Yeah, Elara thought as the wraiths' magic killed her, I'll be fine. *** The moment to prepare your offense is the moment the enemy becomes vulnerable to attack. -These words had belonged to Zurin Arctus as he won Tiber Septim's wars for him. Of all the rules for war magic that the great Battlemage had written, Endar found it to be the most applicable to his current situation. Had Rythe's stones provided him a greater edge than anticipated? Certainly. And had the Nordic brutes been an unexpected surprised? Most definitely. But as usual, patience and cleverness were now set to prevail. That was the problem with wizards like Rythe. He was too passionate. Too prone to be ruled by fury and anger. A foe like that was bound to slip up eventually. And so long as a smart wizard stays alert, he could capitalize on that every time. Endar was under no delusions. The priestess had granted this particular opening. But there would have been another, no doubt. Not that it mattered. He had the stones now. He had his wards. His enemies were weakened. He was ready bring this to its end. The dark mass of undeath his foes had summoned swarmed his protection circle, probing the ring of energy for any sort of weakness they could exploit. Their transparent green faces were old and decrepit, made more ancient in death than any number of years could have made them in life. Their thin hands simmered and glowed with magicka, making it clear that these were powerful beings long before their enslavement. He closed his eyes and forced his mind to refocus on the task at hand. And when he opened his mouth, his voice emerged as a detached boom, every word feeding energy into the incantation. "From fifty fathers... Frozen in slavepast," "...Rip from the wraithloom! "... Sunder the lifeweave! "... Lock tight in earthgrip! "... Hold firm in gravefast!" And so came the hard part. As the final words of the verse left the wizard's lips, his mind went deep into that place that was not here, but nor was it quite there either. To the place of understanding. He could see it now. Beyond the limen: The Padomaic chaos that was Oblivion and her realms beyond counting. He had been right to choose this place for his field of battle, for time had not healed the scar between realms. He ripped at the scar now, tearing it open long enough for his words to be heard, and above him, a great red light cast its gaze upon the battlefield. The red was brief, for it soon changed green, then purple, then yellow, then some color mortals could not comprehend, and then blue. That was where it stopped, and it was into this blue portal that the wraiths were drawn, screeching and screaming, leering, crying, and even laughing. Their noise was brief and terrible, and then Endar let the gate slam shut behind them, and the plateau grew deathly silent. Endar took in his surroundings. Rythe and his five or so remaining cultists were not looking so confident now. Apparently defeating Legionnaires and holy women was easier than taking on one of the greatest wizards of the age. Based on their expressions, the necromancers did not expect the task to be easier now that they had lost their army of undead. Two of them, an Imperial man and Orsimer woman, both turned and immediately ran for the hills. Endar let them, knowing that the Xivilai and his scamps would be able to hunt them down with ease. He took a step forward, and was immediately bombarded with more spells from Rythe and his loyal few men. Of course, with the welkynd stones floating behind him, Endar barely even needed to concern himself with the drain of maintaining more powerful wards. Yes, Rythe. Go ahead and attack. You're only draining yourself. The necromancer must have realized this, because he stopped casting and began to back away. "It is too late for that," Endar said. He was about to summon a few daedra to rip the acolytes apart, but then decided against it. Too messy. Too likely to get Rythe killed before he was ready. Instead, he settled for launching a torrent of the basic elemental magics from Apotheosis at the tall one on the right. The acolyte's ward shattered, and his body simultaneously froze and burned, but not before the lightening had already destroyed his heart. For the next two, he altered the properties of their blood to make it acidic, a particularly painful and gruesome way to die, but also messy. Which was why Endar preferred to save it for when he really wanted to frighten his enemies. Now only Rythe remained. Even now, hatred filled the necromancer's eyes, but it was melded with fear. Good. That's what I want to see. "You know, you were right," Endar said as his wards caught an ice spike as a window might catch a fly. "I stole from you. I stole work that would have taken me decades to accomplish on my own. Perhaps centuries. Now, with your help, I will be finished within the year. New heights will be reached, and it will be thanks to you. How does that make you feel?" Rythe stepped back and launched more spells in his direction, each one as harmless as the last. "You're a fraud!" Endar shrugged. "I aim to take my work in a different direction than you did yours. A more ambitious direction. And when the kingdoms of man have been saved as a result, nobody will even want to ask how I learned what I did. They won't care." "Molag Bal curse you, Fetcher," Rythe spat. "Had the same happened to you, your response would have been no different than mine." Endar gave him a curious look. "Of course it would have been different. I wouldn't have failed. Do you remember the Principles of House Telvanni?" Rythe's eyes widened, and he fell to his knees. "The powerful... define the standards of virtue." "Correct. I am more powerful than you, Rythe. This could have ended in a multitude of ways, but none of them were in your favor. Even if you had somehow bested me, I was fully prepared to escape. Did you know that? Do you think the Oblivion Gate was just for stealing away your wraiths and bringing forth a few allies? I littered this plateau with spells, wards, traps, curses. I barely used half of them." Endar produced a smooth, jet black crystal from his pouch. "You never stood a chance." Rythe looked past him, back at the gate. "Wait! Not yet-" "No. This is over." He cast his first spell, draining his foe's remaining lifeforce to feed his own. "I sent your wraiths to the Soul Cairn. With that in mind, die knowing that your fate will be worse than theirs." As Rythe obliged him, Endar cast the second spell, ripping out the necromancer's soul and trapping it in his gem. He would deal with it later, but now it was time to tend to clean up and deal with the aftermath. Bodies littered the plateau, but among them only two still lived: The unconscious priestess, and someone near the edge. Not one of the necromancers, though. It almost looked like... "Elara, what are you doing up here? I told you to stay with the girl." His stewardess did not answer. Unconscious. Typical. He started toward her, past the ruined Oblivion Gate, only for some funny sensation to explode against his right shoulder. "Pain?" Endar felt like a fool for uttering the word out loud, but for some reason it was all he could think to say. It took him a moment to understand why he was staggering forward, falling onto his hands and feet just in front of the gate. There was something in his back. Something solid and sharp... He started to speak, but no words came out. The sensation was spreading throughout his body, flooding his thoughts, assaulting them. Endar reached back and pulled the dagger out of his shoulder, and turned to find that its wielder had been none other than the large armored Nord from before. Alive? The Nord was hurt. Badly. No longer wearing a helmet, his face was bruised, swollen, and bleeding. What pieces of his armor remained were dented and chipped. He was coated in mud and what looked like his own blood mixed with that of a daedroth. He had been leaning against the gate, but as he pushed himself off, he came after Endar with a limp. Even so, it was faster than he could move right now. Endar tried to scramble to his feet, but then the pain bit him harder than anything he had felt in a century. He wanted to respond to this! To paralyze this brutish fool before burning him to a crisp for good this time. Then he would heal his back, heal his friend, and leave this place. He wanted all of this, but to his shock and horror, Endar could not muster up the power to do any of it. It was one final curse from Rythe Orealo. He had been silenced. The huge, broken Nord followed him slowly, all the hatred of Mehrunes Dagon in his eyes. Not once in this era had anything frightened Endar as this Nord did now. Frantically, he clambered backwards and hugged the gate, all too aware of the trail of blood that he left behind. Concentrate, he told himself. Concentrate! You are a Master Wizard! You cannot die here, like this! There is too much left to do! The Nord knelt down and picked up a battle-axe. A daedric battle-axe. The one that had belonged to the Xivilai. Endar closed his eyes. He could still see the plateau in his head, so he closed them tighter, focusing deeper. His mind's eye wandered beyond this world as it had before. He needed an escape, and he found one. *** Boldir stared at the dark elf with nothing but disgust. "It's too late to pray now, Mage." He drove his new axe into Drenim's chest with a sickening crunch. The wizard's eyes opened then, and he gasped for breath. Then the world around them fell apart. The skies were ripped to shreds; the earth opened into nothingness... and Oblivion took them.
  4. (Continued) Carlotta, Mila, Maul (Colonelkillabee) Carlotta could only watch in horror as countless arrows turned her sister into a human pincushion. So many, that when she fell, those that went through propped her body up like some grotesque, bloody doll. "Back!" She screamed, "Mila, back into the sewers!" She quickly backed into the tunnel so that the archers to the sides could not get an angle on her, and then turned to run. To her horror, Garthar and Molgrom were clashing swords with four men who now blocked their escape. Where did they come from? She unsheathed her own dagger and took a step in their direction. Wait, where's Mila? In answer, the thug in the back let out a scream and fell to his knees, and then the man beside him did the same. This bought Garthar and Molgrom the relief they needed to defeat their own opponents, and then finish off the downed ones behind them. Mila stood at the back of the fray, having somehow gotten behind the four thugs. Her dagger gleamed with red. "Go! GO!" She shouted, sprinting toward her daughter. "We'll hide in the sewer!" Garthar hurried alongside them. Carlotta looked over her shoulder as she ran to see Molgrom still near the entrance. He had turned, no longer facing them, but instead the open sewer gate, which even now, she could see armed figures coming through. She didn't call after him. Molgrom had made his choice. He would die, but maybe it would buy them a few precious moments. They raced down the tunnel, this time not taking the drawbridge to the Flagon, but instead going down into the winding maze of sewers below. ~~~ "ARCHERS!" At the sound of Maul yelling for them at the top of his lungs, the approaching guards quickly stood aside to make way for the volley of arrows that shot through the sewer's entrance. Molgrom didn't stand a chance, but the strong willed man still stood, if weakly. His sword felt as though it weighed a ton as it dropped to the floor, but still, he stood. Maul came marching forward then, his newly acquired armor gleaming in the moonlight. He didn't stop to exchange words. He only pushed the man over before ordering the rest of his men into the sewers. Right over poor Molgrom. ~~~ "How many were there?" Garthar asked Carlotta as they ran. She had been the only one besides Vex to get a good look. "I don't know." she said, already beginning to feel the strain of running with lots of weight on her back take its toll. "Too many to count." The three of them rounded a bend into a familiar-looking passageway. "Have we already been here?" Carlotta asked, worried. She could hear the clamor of guards and thugs behind them. "No." Garthar assured her. Though he didn't look entirely positive. He led them through a dark hall that ended in a crossroads. There was a passage left, and a passage forward, each leading down a different sewer tunnel. This place is a maze. thought Carlotta. Hopefully it could throw off it at least split up their pursuers. Garthar started for the passage left. "Wait." she said, shrugging off her pack of provisions. She tossed it as far as she could down the forward tunnel. Maybe that will throw them off some. Garthar nodded in approval of the idea and continued on. Carlotta and Mila followed close by his side. ~~~ Maul's dead eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and hazed with anger as they darted around the dark back end of Riften that as he said, he always came back to. The anger and rage from meeting dead end after dead end when looking for them before was only made worse from the thought that these people were the reason that the sewer's awful stench once again assaulted his nostrils. He took point when the sewer passage way split up into three, but he was prepared. He sent a score of men in each direction, with him leading the middle charge. His advance could be heard by the scrape of Grimsever upon the stone wall, so that the ice that it emitted would leave a path to show where he and his men had already walked. "Stop your pointless running and make this easy for the both of us! Do so now and I'll spare the child! Make me angry and you'll all suffer." Maul barked out commands and bargains the entire way, his harsh voice echoing throughout the tunnels of Riften's bowels. ~~~ Maul's cold voice echoed from the distant tunnels behind them, but to Carlotta's relief, it sounded like he had taken a wrong turn at some point. Everything he shouted was distant and distorted. "What's he saying?" Mila asked as they ran. "I don't know," Carlotta answered, "but it doesn't matter. We can't let them catch us. How far are we Garthar?" "From the Flagon? I think we're getting close." "What do you mean 'you think'? You people live down here!" "Not down here!" the large thief's unease showed clearly. "I always took the drawbridge or the crypt exit." "Crypt exit? Is that where we're going?" "If we're lucky. Still don't know how I'm gonna get you past all the guild. I'll try my best." Carlotta realized that the thief very likely had no intention of doing that at all. He hadn't been seen. If he could slip away back among his guildmates, He and Mila would no longer be his problem. "Make sure you do." she said, as they came up on a closed door at the end of the passage. "Because we're in this together now." And if you try anything, your name will be the one I give up. Garthar seemed to understand. His eyes widened, and for a moment, he looked like little more than a child to Carlotta. A child who knew he was in way over his head. Breathing deeply, he opened the door. "Have you seen a woman and her daughter? And at least one thief with them?" Ahead was a small room with two exits. One led up a flight of stairs, and the other down another passage. In the corner, on a dirty bedroll, sat an old looking man in rags. He looked up at the pair of guards questioning him with a terrified expression. When the fleeing trio entered, his eyes widened and he pointed at them. Garthar wasted no time, rushing forward, he slashed one of the unprepared guards across the neck with his sword. The second was not so easily caught off-guard, and quickly slashed out with his own axe. Garthar dodged out of the way and caught the swing with his blade, hooking it under the axe head and locking their weapons together. The guard let go of his axe with his left hand and threw a punch at his cheek, knocking Garthar to he ground and disarming him. The thuggish guard smirked as he stepped forward, beginning to raise his axe for a killing blow. But by then, Carlotta was upon him, driving her dagger into his ribcage again and again and again, until her arm was covered in blood and the guard was no longer standing. Gods... That was too easy. Garthar looked impressed as he got back to his feet. "First time?" Still a little dazed, Carlotta nodded. She didn't even want to look and see how Mila responded to what she'd just seen. "Let's just keep-" "HERE!" the man in rags shouted into the tunnels. Carlotta had already forgotten about him. "They're OVER HE-" His screams were cut short by Garthar's sword in his throat. "They'd have heard that. Come on." He started up the stairs as the body collapsed. "The Flagon is higher, so we should be on the right path." ~~~ Heavy footsteps came closer from behind him as Maul stared at the ground in front of him. The guard came panting, thanking the gods that Maul left a path on the wall with his sword. "Sir, we found this pack, but nothing else. W-" The guard just then noticed the dead bodies on the ground in front of Maul. "We're getting closer. I know where they are. Take the men back. I'll take five with me the rest of the way. The rest go around back through the city. If the wife becomes too much trouble, then kill her. I'd prefer her alive though. But the daughter, she's the biggest target. Don't kill her no matter what." ~~~ "Look! Light!" Mila sprinted ahead of Carlotta and Garthar when she saw the moonlight pouring down into an upcoming chamber. The two of them hurried after her, only to see how disappointed the girl looked when she realized that the well above them from which the light came was far out of reach and too smooth to climb besides. It emptied into a little round patch of moss and flowers. A lunar moth fluttered above their heads. It was a tauntingly beautiful little patch of life contrasting the gloomy dark tunnels. Carlotta wasn't sure if this sight made her hopeful or slightly disheartened. Somehow, it seemed a bit of both. "Don't worry." Garthar said, "I know this spot. The guild is just ahead." Sure enough, they soon reached a corridor where the wall torches were lit and various signs of inhabitants showed. There was a wooden table with some old book and an empty plate sitting on it. There was a door at the far end, and a carving beside it. It depicted a diamond with a circle inside it. The mark was familiar to Carlotta, but she couldn't determine where from. Garthar led them through, into the familiar underground tavern: The Ragged Flagon. It stood more crowded than the previous times Carlotta had snuck through with Vex and Cynric. Then, there had only been the barkeep and a couple of patrons. Now, as they cautiously approached, she noticed the barkeep's large, dark brown-haired Nord bouncer yelling at someone in a corner, and quite a few thieves and lowlife patrons sat at various tables. A Redguard woman stood up beside some crates at the central platform, above the pool of water that filled the middle of the circular room. She seemed to be doing business with a Dunmer. Even a blacksmith was hammering iron at the far corner of the room. These people were all criminals of some sort or another. Thieves, thugs, fences, and fugitives alike flocked to the literal underground bar when the hour grew late. How are we supposed to convince any of these people to help us? Garthar seemed to know who best to talk to, as he led them around the right of the pool, straight into the heart of the group. She could feel plenty of cruel eyes on them as they passed. It almost made her jump when Mila's quivering fingers clutched at hers. Carlotta held her frightened daughter's hand and walked alongside her. They would stick near Garthar and he would do the talking. That's all it would take. Her greatest fear was of the door behind them. Any moment it could burst open and Maul could march in with his men. She cast the thoughts away along with any fear she may have shown. Mila's shaking reminded her that she needed to be strong. They approached a Wood Elf man with a bow on his back and wearing the same dark guild armor that Vex wore. The resemblance was not lost to Mila, as became clear when Carlotta felt the girl's grip tighten when the elf looked up at them and smiled with a hint of humor. "Well, well, Garthar," said the elf "I'd been wondering where you got off to. Sapphire was looking for you when last we spoke." He turned his slender, jet-black eyes on Carlotta and Mila. "Your companions... They aren't who I think they are. Are they?" Garthar's initial pause was answer enough. "...Look Niruin, we need to get through the Cistern. These two aren't with the guild, but they are no threat. Believe me, it's an emergency." He grabbed Carlotta's arm and gently led her past his apparent superior. "We're going now. Okay?" "Wait!" Conversations halted and eyes turned as the large bouncer crossed the room, eyes boring into Carlotta. "These two aren't going anywhere." Garthar's fists balled, but he held composure. "Dirge, lis-" "Shut up! My brother wrote for me to keep an eye out for..." he stepped closer, resting a hand on the pommel of his war axe and still eyeing Carlotta. "A pretty woman," he paced in front of them, stopping in front of Mila. "a young girl," he looked up again, but at Garthar. "And any traitors found with them." "Watch it, Dirge." Garthar said slowly. "Not everyone here has the same definition of traitor as Maul." Dirge snarled and drew his axe, prompting Garthar to draw his own blade in turn. The two stood eyeing one another. Everyone else watched in dangerous silence. "It doesn't matter what everyone here thinks. So, where is Vex? Has she decided to cut it and run?" "She's dead." Mila said angrily. Her grip on Carlotta's hand growing even tighter. "Maul killed her!" That brought a commotion from the spectators. "Vex was no traitor!" someone shouted. "Let them past!" Said another. "How can you know?" came a woman's voice. "Mercer seemed loyal and did the same!" A dozen more voices began arguing and shouting, and even a few more weapons could be heard sliding from their sheaths. Through it all, Dirge held fast. "You were right." he said, before briefly looking over their shoulders. A wicked smile crossed his lips. "But it doesn't matter." he swung his axe, meeting Garthar's sword with a loud metallic 'clang'. Carlotta pulled Mila a few feet back to clear her of the immediate threat, then looked back to see what Dirge had looked at. She groaned. At the entrance, stood a large man in a full suit of Nordic armor. Boldir's armor, she realized, but the wearer was the farthest thing from her husband. He and five men in Riften guard armor were entering the room, and even now making their way toward her. "Come on!" She nearly dragged Mila after her as she sprinted past the fighting men, the elf, and all others in the room, straight to the back of the tavern. There was only one door. The same one Vex had snuck her through before. Carlotta had thought there would be another, perhaps to lead to a larger HQ, or at least another section of the guild hideout. If this "crypt exit" existed, it would have to be this way. "No!" she heard someone shout from the chaos behind them. "Don't go that way!" Maybe it was Garthar, or one of the others trying to help. Or maybe it was Dirge attempting to halt their escape. She prayed for the latter as she opened the door and led Mila into the darkness beyond. ~~~ Maul came marching into the Ragged Flagon like Numidium himself. Heavy footed, deliberate and bent on destruction. He didn't say a word, but he didn't need to. Everyone knew what his presence there meant. He noticed where his targets went and was a little disappointed that they didn't make it further. He wanted to see the hope lost from their pretty faces when they saw he had the outside exits sealed off. After signalling for his men to stand at the door Carlotta lead Mila through, Maul yelled, "Brother! A word." Dirge heard the call, and appeared disappointed, as he was winning his fight. Garthar paused when he noticed that everyone in the room had halted their fighting upon Maul's commands. Capitalizing on this, Dirge delivered a heavy blow with his axe handle to the thief's forehead, knocking him unconscious to the ground. He met Maul halfway as he approached. Looking around the room at all the eyes on him, Maul finally rested his cold glare on Dirge. "Good job, brother. I knew I could count on you to stay loyal. Do me a favor; point out everyone here who raised blades in protection of those two in the Vault. Do it as best you can." As Maul had suspected, Dirge did not look so pleased with this command. Garthar and Vex had been direct traitors, and very openly in the end. But the rest had only stuck up for the memory of their friend. All of this, Maul knew, but their treachery could not simply be forgiven, and Dirge was the one who stood most loyal to their true masters. "It was... Uhh..." Dirge's eyes went all across the room, stopping on this guildmate and that. He was good for stopping an active traitor, but Dirge had lived half his life among these people. Asking him to rat on them was no small matter. Finally, his eyes rested on one and he nodded. "I know that one of them was-" A flying dagger took Dirge in the arm, cutting him short and staggering him back. Another bounced off of Maul's own armor, doing no damage. At that moment, the sound of various weapons being drawn echoed throughout the large room. Maul raised his hand at the sound of swords being drawn, then yelled at the top of his voice, "No! Stop. There's no need. Lower your weapons. I think this demonstration is the perfect way to show the problem we now have. You all know how important Maven is to this guild. I don't need to explain it to you. But Maven isn't the only one that these people have betrayed. Vex...Garthar..." Maul suddenly turned and put his eyes on another guild member. "Viper the Fleet... yea, I saw you throw the daggers. These guild members were planning to run away and never turn back, leaving all of you behind to fend for yourselves. And for what? To help people that murdered a member of Maven's family? Maven has been nothing but good to all of you. It's because of her that your purses are fat and you remain free from prison. Remember that now as I ask for you all to bring forth any traitors like Viper. Unless, you want to go back to the old days not too long ago when your stolen goods could barely pay for bread and water. I remember those days. I was one of you, after all." No one could see Maul's expression beneath the helmet, but there was some satisfaction there as he noticed Niruin slowly adjust his bow so that it now aimed at Viper. The elf had tried to be inconspicuous about it, as the previous target had been none other than Maul himself. Fortunate for him that he had, because he did not likely know that the tip of the ex-bandit Thrynn's sword was waiting inches behind his neck. Another thief, this one newer blood, slowly lowered his own shortsword, and another followed in suit. "Have you all forgotten the last ten days? Who is it that you think we would have had to fend for ourselves against?!" Viper raised his hands defensively when he saw that he did not have the backing he'd expected. "It is Maul who has hounded us without relent! And it was not Maven that dug us from our misfortunes! We did that ourselves! We don't need masters!" Most of the members looked uneasy after he said this, especially those who had drawn their weapons. Niruin, however, was still trying to sell that he had always been an unwaveringly loyal ally, and looked to Maul for permission to prove it. "Let me kill him, brother." Dirge growled as he came back to Maul's side clutching his bleeding arm. Maul decided then to take off his helmet. He wasn't the greatest at persuasion or speeches, but he was learning. He didn't yet give Niruin the signal until he truly needed to. "It was me hounding you, barking at your heels, true. But if I hadn't done that, Maven would have done a lot worse to you if she thought the guild was too compromised to be trusted any longer. Trusting this to me, to a fellow member, that was her showing mercy. After Viper is taken care of, this will all finally be over. Anyone else who was disloyal, your acceptance of his punishment will be considered your forgiveness. Then we can all go back to doing what we do best. Making gold." "He is NOT a fellow member!" Viper shouted desperately. The fear in his eyes made it clear that he knew the situation was direly against him. "And we do not owe the Black-Briars our loyalty! These recent days are proof that they dictate us beyond simple partnership. They kill us when it suits them for Talos's sake!" "They also keep the guards from flushing this place out!" Dirge added irritably. He was clearly itching to go and bury his axe in the thief's head. Viper's hopeless glances around the room only showed him what Maul wanted him to see. Nobody was going to raise a weapon to help him. Even those who agreed with what he said were not fool enough to attempt it at this point. They would only die alongside him. Maul nodded to Niruin then after placing on his new helmet. He had to, or he wouldn't be able to hide his grin otherwise. He knew his brother wanted the kill, clearly, but having his brother do it would only make things worse for Dirge as well as himself, since it would look as though he used his relationship to manipulate him. "Sorry, Viper. Disloyalty to the guild and to Maven can't be taken lightly. Looks like you should have taken to your namesake and ran with the other snakes." "I am no sn-" Viper the Fleet didn't get to finish his sentence, as a steel point piercing cleanly through his throat made him the third thief to fall to arrows tonight. He briefly dropped to his knees, gurgling blood down his chin and onto his clothes, and then collapsed face-first to the floor. Dirge looked angry to have his revenge robbed, but he said nothing. As usual, he would remain a loyal brother. "Your other... convicts," said Niruin, "the ones that came in with Garthar. They made for the Vaults. Possibly even the Warrens if they could find the way." Maul gave his brother a strong shake on his back in apology and to say thank you. He moved to the crowd without saying another word to the back where the Vaults were. As he passed Niruin, he clasped the elf's shoulder suddenly with a heavy gauntlet covered hand and while not looking at him said in a low menacing voice, "You're forgiven," before continuing on with his four men behind him. ~~~ The tunnels beyond the Ragged Flagon were even darker and more confusing than those before. Carlotta knew them no better than she knew Oblivion itself, but was no fool. She knew in her heart that she had made a grievous mistake coming back here. Whatever secret exit Garthar had referred to was long behind them by now. The thief had made it sound close, most likely somewhere in the Flagon itself. These tunnels were no escape to the outside world. They were where people came to avoid it. These tunnels were where lowlifes and outcasts of only the most hated sort came to live out their days when no one else would have them. Even as they passed from one dark room to the next, taking every confusing turn at random, Carlotta could see signs of life. One of the earlier rooms had contained a ragged bedroll, and the embers of a campfire still glowed in the center of the room. More than once, she heard footsteps. Not the heavy metal boots of Maul and his thugs, but the quick and quiet 'pitter patter' of someone running in soft boots or even bare feet. It wasn't constant or consistent. Sometimes it could be heard in tunnels ahead, and sometimes behind. But the inhabitants of these tunnels seemed to have no desire to be seen.That's fine, thought Carlotta, just as long as they keep their distance. As she and Mila rounded a corner from a small room and into a dark hall, Carlotta spotted a fairly well-lit chamber ahead. There were other paths she could take, but none promised anything more than more empty dark rooms and damp passages. At least this one stood out. With Mila's hand held in her left hand, and the red-stained steel dagger tightly clenched in her right, Carlotta edged lightly forward, trying to make as little noise as possible. When they reached the lit room, she was disappointed to find that it was none other than the one her sister had brought them to hide in earlier that night. "Hey," said Mila, "this is the-" "I know." she said, looking around carefully. Something was wrong here, but she couldn't quite place it. Mila gasped, "Didn't we put the lights out when we left?" That was it! Carlotta cast a nervous glance at the doorway to the little room she and Mila had spent most of their time in as Vex and the others had planned their escape. These tunnels were not guild turf. It was very possible that someone had waited for them to leave to take back this little corner of the Vaults to sleep in. Taking one step back, then a second, Carlotta said, "Let's not go through here. There were plenty of other passages to-" Her heart stopped as her back bumped against something warm, something breathing. "Hello!" whispered a cold, quiet voice into her ear. Carlotta spun around, pushing Mila behind her. She held out her dagger towards a tall, slender Nord man with the palest skin and most malicious smile she had ever seen. His eyes went up and down over her, looking almost hungry. The man was barefoot, and his shirt was ripped to the point that almost as much skin was exposed as covered. "Just what exactly do you plan on doing with that?" he asked, stepping forward, and holding up a blade of his own. It was steel, and bore the Empire's insignia of the dragon on it. "Why don't you just drop that poker of yours? The little one too. We won't be needing those for what comes next." He flicked his tongue across his lips, in a manner that looked a cross between some reptile and a starving man looking upon a feast. Carlotta could barely control her breathing. How had this man snuck up on them so quietly? "L- let us pass." she said, trying and failing to sound unphased. "Well aren't you brave? Pretty too. Not a lotta women like you down here." The white in the man's eyes was bloodshot, and there was definitely a certain, terrifying insanity in them. "I'm not gonna say it again. Weapons. Down." Carlotta could no longer feel Mila behind her, but she could hear her daughter's own staggered breathing to her back. Her presence was a constant reminder that giving up right now was not an option. There was no telling what this man might do to them given the chance. She gripped her dagger even more tightly and backed up a few steps, back into the lit room. "Come any closer, and I'll..." she forced her expression to harden. "I'll kill you." The man only smiled and flicked his tongue again, following until he stood in the empty doorframe. "You're dangerous, woman, but not enough for this place." In a quick, fluid motion the man flicked his sword, knocking the dagger from her hand, and then there was a moment of chaos. One that Carlotta could barely follow. She could hear Mila shouting out, and there was a blur of movement causing the man looked momentarily caught off-guard. Mila was in front of her, and the girl's dagger had somehow ended up in the man's right forearm. "Little bitch!" The Nord threw a wild elbow that struck Mila in the forehead, sending her to the ground on her back. He let out a ferocious scream and, dagger still in his arm, stabbed his Imperial blade straight at Carlotta. She tried to move, but the man was too fast. Carlotta saw Mila's horrified eyes looking up at her from the floor as the cold steel bit into her stomach. She then fell to her knees, taking the sword with her. "Now for you!" The crazed Nord cried out, pulling the dagger from his arm and tossing it aside. "You and I are gonna put on a show for mommy!" Carlotta's vision was slowly blurring, and she could only hear the sound of a struggle while her eyes slowly tried to close against her will. She groaned and reached out, finding nothing. "Don't..." And then the sound of struggling stopped. Along with the cries of pain or anger. All she could hear was the chilling, high-pitched whistle of the wind. We're underground. Carlotta thought, Why am I hearing the wind? The sound grew louder, and she realized that it was not the wind that she heard, but an actual whistle. Their attacker must have heard it as well, as she forced her eyes halfway open just in time to see him running off down the hall he had followed them from. Soon after, Mila was looking down on her. The girl's eyes were teary and red, and she looked terrified. "I'm sorry." she was saying. "I thought he was swinging at you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry!" There was a pause in which all she could hear was weeping, and then Carlotta felt a sharp pain in her stomach. The shortsword was being pulled out of her. "Stop..." she managed to breath. Mila was shaking her head furiously, and continued to pull. The girl didn't understand. Carlotta spoke again through gritted teeth."Stop pulling it- Ahh!... so fast." She let out another cry and brought her hands to the wound. "Do it slowly!" Carlotta muttered what words she could remember from her old book, and her hands began to glow a bright gold. Now, Mila understood what she meant, and her expression changed from scared to hopeful. It hurt like all of Oblivion, and there was no shortage of crying out, but Mila continued to pull the blade out slowly and carefully, and the healing magic slowly repaired the areas it had touched. When the sword was finally out, Carlotta pressed both hands against the bloody wound and held them there, letting the magic run from her hands to the cut. The wound was not fully healed when the gold fizzed out. She needed a minute to replenish her magicka. Then came the whistling again. It was closer this time, echoing from somewhere back in the dark tunnels. Now, it was clearly accompanied by heavy, metallic footsteps. Oh no. It pained Carlotta to stand, but she somehow managed. Mila retrieved the daggers and handed hers back to her. Carlotta's bloody hand felt weak now, and she had a hard time holding the weapon with any real strength. "We need to hide." she said, and leading her daughter through the room more slowly than before, and into yet another dark passage of the Ratways. Behind them, they could hear the chilling whistles bounce throughout the dark maze of tunnels, and what seemed like deliberately slow footsteps accompanied the tune almost at the same beat. Carlotta felt dizzy, and the warm blood against her skin told her that she needed to find a place where she could finish the healing, or risk collapsing and leaving Mila to fend for herself. A couple of passages and rooms later, they entered another chamber. It seemed to be of similar size to the one they'd been attacked in, but it was hard to tell. The room was pitch dark, and the far walls could not even be seen. Carlotta made sure Mila was holding onto her sleeve as she felt her way along the wall, until she hit something wooden. It seemed to be some kind of furniture. Feeling around it some more, Carlotta realized that it was a wardrobe. She found the handle and opened the door. After taking a moment to feel around inside, she decided that it was empty, and then whispered to Mila. "Climb in. We'll hide in here." Her daughter obeyed, and they both climbed up into the large piece of furniture, before closing the doors. Blackness was all they could see for several moments, and then the entire inside lit up a bright gold as she set to finishing her healing work. Mila watched through teary eyes. Poor girl. She blames herself. "Look at me," Carlotta said, causing Mila's eyes to lift and meet her's. "We will be okay. Alright?" "I attacked the man." Mila sobbed, ignoring what she had said. "I made him stab you. I thought he was trying to hurt you!" "I know." Carlotta said, biting her lip as the magic touched at her tender flesh. "You did the right thing, sweetie. He was going to hurt me. You too. You stopped him." "The man chasing us stopped him." Mila said. "He was above me before he heard him." Carlotta didn't want to think about what that sick man may have wanted from them, but it did not matter now. He was gone and they still had their original threat to deal with. "He was a lot bigger than you, but you stalled him. You scared him and confused him. He may not have run if you hadn't done what you'd done." That made Mila brighten up somewhat. The girl wiped her eyes and nodded, just as Carlotta felt the outermost layer of her wound seal up. The magical glow faded, and they were once again left in the darkness, the only sound a steady rhythmic whistle echoing through the tunnels. Who is there whistling in my dark womb, bringing folks within this tomb, A child, a caretaker, carelessly hidden, and now they've gone and created their prison, Clang! Clang! Seductive wail, like the sky breath against a sail, Metal automaton, flashing bright! Please don't find me in the night..... Clang...clang...crackle... "Stay back..." said Maul whispering to his men. "Guard the entrance." As they nodded, the ironclad hunter slowly pounded is way into the darkness of the room, his feet meeting heavily and slowly against the stone floor beneath him. The man couldn't see a thing, so he took out his sword and a dagger from his blade belt and clashed them together, sending elemental ice from it and illuminating a small portion of the room each time he did. Maul thought he saw a shape at the corner of his left eye, but then he heard something stir in front of him... He turned sharply, then ceased banging Grimsever, taking pause for a long time. More steps came, then there was some more whistling, made only the more sorrowful in pitch from the helmet around him and the thin slit from which the sound escaped. "I know you're in here, my little pups." Another crackle and flash of bluish light came from his blade. "Come to Maul." Another flash. "Or die like dogs." Maul heard another sound, something like scurrying in front of him and he instinctively made a grab for whoever it was. The person was small, frail, and smelled every bit as bad as their surroundings. Maul had the person, a woman from the sounds of it pinned to the wall by her neck, then scraped the point of his sword next to her head to make ice form next to her and glow to reveal her face. "A toothless hag. Hello, hag. Did you see any visitors in your lovely abode?" "Cling, clang! Bang! Dwarven construct, abduct! Abdu-" There was silence then for a time, before the sound of Maul wrenching Grimsever from the old woman's flesh filled the room some time later. The ripping of her muscles and innards while her bones scraped at his blade was made all the more grotesque from the echoing of it within the closed walls. And then the whistling began anew before fading in the distance. Then all was quiet. ~~~ As one part of the tunnels grew quieter, the next would gradually give way to Maul's tune. As it entered their room, suddenly louder than ever, Carlotta and Mila grew as still as stones. He had reached them. It was all Carlotta could do to stifle her own desire to shout out or to burst from the wardrobe and just run. Even if she didn't have Mila to worry about, that would never work. The dark halls would serve as her grave if Maul did not catch her himself. His heavy footsteps, so tantalizingly slow, could be heard under the equally taunting tune the man whistled. He isn't the least bit worried. Carlotta realized with fright. This was a game to Maul, one that he had no doubt that he would win. The footsteps and whistles continued. Rather than passing by and fading out into another tunnel, it remained steady, not leaving the dark room. Does he know? Has he found us? Mila was shaking, or perhaps they both were. Carlotta couldn't tell, but the sound of every heartbeat in her chest seemed as though it wanted to give them away. thud thud Maul's whistling crossed the room. The sound of it traveling everywhere, but the source moving from one spot to the next. After several seconds of traveling, it began growing louder, and closer. His tune even seemed to be speeding up. thud thud Carlotta wanted to rip out her heart and cast it away. The damned beating of it must've been echoing as loud as Maul. thud thud The whistling stopped. thud thud The footsteps stopped. thud thud He was right in front of the wardrobe. thud thud thud thud Carlotta held her dagger tightly, hoping that her daughter was ready for what might come next. Slowly, she brought her hand to the wardrobe door. thud thud "One..." she but breathed the word, so quietly that even Mila could not have heard it beside her. "Two..." thud thud thud Suddenly, the whistling started up again, and Maul's footsteps, slow and deliberate as ever, gradually carried it away from the wardrobe, then from the room. As she had hoped, it slowly began to distance itself from them into some other part of the Ratway. Mila let out a little sound that could've been a cross between a yelp and a cheer. Even inside the wardrobe, she covered her mouth for it, further muffling the sounds. Carlotta felt prepared to do the same. She exhaled deeply, having just realized that she'd been holding her breath for a very long time. she couldn't hold it in any longer. "Oh my goodness..." she said, breathing heavy. She relaxed her grip on the dagger. "I thought," Mila started, equally shaky, "I thought for sure he- he'd..." "He didn't." Carlotta said. Hollow as it was, this felt like a victory of sorts. Their enemy had failed to defeat them, at least for now. "Do you think this is what Pa felt like back when he defeated Imperials?" Mila asked, apparently of the same mind. "Perhaps," Carlotta hoped not. There was little joy in this victory, only relief. "but winning a battle is not winning a war. Maul headed on deeper. Let's try our best to double back. Maybe the entrance isn't guarded." she doubted it. Maul had been alone, after all. But if only one man, not in Skyrim's best armor, stood waiting, perhaps she could deal with him as she had the one who had attacked Garthar. They had to try. She slowly opened the wardrobe door and climbed out. "Let's go." ~~~ Thud....thud....thud... a slow and deliberate heartbeat was what Maul possessed. As slow and deliberate as his own footsteps. He was as cool as the damp wet passageways he traversed. As cool as the frost melded within his stolen blade. He'd find them. It was just a matter of time. And he had plenty. If death was a being, then he must have felt the way Maul did almost constantly. He contemplated that back in the room with the crazy old woman as her blood clung to his blade frozen. He stared into the darkness silently for a time and realized that even he was simply an inevitable victim with death's dogs biting at his heel. Good thing he was a Nord. Oh how unjust a universe they lived in where one such as himself could go to such a wondrous place... And with a truth like that, a truth born of a world with such uncaring gods making the rules, why should he ever feel shame or guilt for what only came natural? Not just to him, but the gods themselves. Even history of Tamriel has shown time and time again that the good suffer while the bad prosper. As if the universe wanted men and women like him to run it. Men and women like Ulfric Stormcloak. Or Maven. Snapping out of his thoughts and finding himself back out of the dark room with his men, Maul said, "Keep searching. If it goes on for too much longer, we'll seal off all the exits. Starve them out if we have to. But it won't come to that. I'm certain." ~~~ Backtracking proved more difficult than Carlotta had anticipated. What she thought had been the right way ended in dead end after dead end. They had made it back to the lit room, where fresh blood was still wet on the floor, but going any further proved difficult. On the bright side, the sound of Maul was gone, as was that of the man who had attacked them earlier. Carlotta wished now than ever for her sister. If Vex had slowed down, if she hadn't gotten herself killed, they could have avoided Maul for weeks down here. Wishing for the impossible only made Carlotta feel gloomier, because then she thought of Boldir, and how with him, they would not have needed to hide in the wardrobe. Maul never would have been the threat he was. She knew where Boldir was. They just needed to get out of the tunnels. A thought struck Carlotta. Vex had said that there was no escape from the city down here, but she said nothing of escapes to other parts of the city. Already, they had seen a well. Perhaps there were more things of that nature in the dark halls. Not stopping, they continued their search. More than once, finding themselves in the same rooms they had been in previously, or facing turns they had seen before. Carlotta wasn't sure how much time had passed without a word before she heard the shouting. "HERE!" it was a voice of unmistakable joy, but it sounded wicked and hate-filled. She knew the owner. It was the same man who had been after them before. The one who had stabbed her. Carlotta turned back, but could see him nowhere. His voice echoed behind them. He's following us! she realized. Trying to lure Maul our way! "They're down this tunnel! Yes yes yes, they are! Hehehehaha! Follow my voice!" "Come on!" She once again grabbed Mila's hand and began running. They took countless twists and turns without slowing. But now she could hear the unhinged man's footsteps behind them, keeping his distance seemingly on purpose. He wasn't going to disappear. They needed to find some sort of exit, and soon. "Down the tunnel!" The man practically sang, his voice ringing through the entire Ratway "Down the tunnel, right right left. I KNOW you hear me killer! There be two pretty ladies in here for you! Hurry up or I might take the little one myself! Ha!" A few moments passed with the man giving chase before suddenly he ran smack into something solid in the middle of the hall. After he recovered and got up, he saw a huge metal man staring him down between dark slits that reminded him of the dark narrow passageways that he lived in, concealing killers just like his did. "Killer's here. Now. That last little comment. Tell me why they stuck you in here, will you?" The dirty man looked Maul up and down with an expression the bordered on terrified. He had not hoped to end up confronting him face to face, it seemed. "They- uh... nobody did. I make my own choices." The sound of two pairs of footsteps traveled away from where they stood. "They are going that way." the man said, pointing in their direction and easing away from Maul, all the while fidgeting his fingers. "Thought you... Hehe..." His tongue flicked out like a snake's, running across his lips in a flash before disappearing again between yellow teeth, "thought you'd want to know." Maul lifted his head as if looking at someone behind him, then nodded. When the man looked behind him, Maul's goons came out of the shadows and grabbed him from behind. Maul turned around and continued where the man told him to go. "Make sure he can't go after little ones anymore boys. Oh, and thanks for the information, friend." "Wait wait wait!" As he set off, Maul could hear the man being thrown to the ground behind him, followed by a heavy strike, presumably to his groin. "Aeeeeeiiii!" ~~~ The most intense screams of pain Carlotta had ever heard rang out behind them. It sounded as though their two pursuers had met, and that the weaker man had found more than he'd bargained for. Carlotta tried not to take pleasure in the man getting what he deserved, but a pinch of satisfaction was there nonetheless. No matter what was happening to him now, the man was likely getting off easier than he deserved. The crossroads and confusing paths seemed to lessen as they ran, forming a fairly straight shot with only a very few chances to veer off. They went straight, then left, then right, then left again. Up a flight of steps and then- "Look!" Mila's voice sounded nearly choked on excitement as they came up a flight of steps and saw a light ahead. Not the orange glow of a torch, but the dim blueish light that could only mean a clear night sky. Carlotta felt a boost of hope as she and Mila raced on through the dark hall, the light growing larger and larger. "Yes!... Yes!" The next bend revealed the light source. The old and broken stones of the sewers had collapsed in this spot, and given way to the dirt and growth of the world above. Through all of that was a hole, just large enough for them to fit through. "Come on Mila... I'll boost you up, then you reach down to help me." "Okay." Mila sheathed her dagger and came to her side. "I'm ready." A familiar voice from behind them called out and said, "Climbing up to Aetherius, little Magnus? What, not having fun down in the dirt anymore?" Carlotta glanced back, only to see Maul himself, clad head to toe in her husband's armor, casually making his way toward them. He had gained on them far more quickly than she had thought possible. Carlotta didn't take the time to do more than glance. There wasn't time for the both of them to escape. There was barely even time for Mila. "Go!" she shouted, clapping her hands together. "But-" "Climb!" She could not meet her daughter's eyes, but she felt the girl's boot in her hands. Hearing Maul approaching, Carlotta used every bit of energy she had left to lift Mila high. The girl jumped as she was raised, and the last thing Carlotta saw was her daughter's fingers latching around the roots above. She smiled, and then something struck the back of her head. She slumped unconscious to the ground. The young girl was all that remained now, but she was above even Maul's reach. It didn't matter though. Even from below, Maul could see the girl's grip on the roots was not going to be enough. Mila was clambering and grasping desperately, but the earth was loose and broken, and everything she grabbed broke up and pulled free. There she was, not even a foot away from her freedom, but the gods would not have it. With one final and desperate grasp, the girl's hand slipped between the dirt and roots, and she fell, landing hard on her back just beside her sleeping mother. "Uugh..." the girl painfully moaned. She was looking up at him now, meeting his eyes with unmistakable hatred. Her dirty fingers were trying to pull something free from her belt. A dagger. As it eased from its sheath, he saw that the blade glowed bright, magical white. His eyes flashed with wonderment at the exquisite little shard of metal, and he quickly disarmed her with a strong slap to her hand from his own enchanted weapon, making her drop the blade. Just as quickly, he grabbed little Mila by the back of her tunic and lifted her off the ground, watching her for a time as she struggled. The girl tried to kick and claw, but she was winded from the fall and exhausted from the running, and there was little energy left in her. After a long moment's pause, he finally acted, and ceased her struggling with a knock to the skull from the front of his helmeted head. Maul unceremoniously threw the girl over his shoulder, and then went to retrieve the mother. The girls had made an impressive attempt, but nobody escapes the Black-Briars in their own city. Nobody.
  5. The Colovian Highlands "There were more than a dozen of them, judging by the horses. Probably about fifteen or sixteen. I'm sorry... I didn't get a very good look. Picked up my pace the moment I realized who it was in that village." Elara looked exhausted. She had ridden hard through the night in order to reach them by morning. "They could be here in two days if they really take their time." "They won't," Endar responded. "Rythe knows that I'm expecting him. I do not believe that he will allow me any more time to prepare than he can help, which is why we cannot waste that which we have. Did you obtain a map?" "Yes." She removed a large rolled up parchment from her satchel and spread it open across Cloud Top's stoney floor. "There are a few ruined gates in the area." She tapped one spot north-northwest of Chorrol that had been marked with the traditional 'Oht' symbol of the daedric alphabet. "This one's the closest. In fact, we passed it on the way here." "But we would have to get past Rythe just to reach it," Acivo said, kneeling down next to her for a better look. "Right. But there is another one to the west of here. Even without stopping, it will take us the whole day to reach." "It will have to serve," said Endar. He rolled the map back up and stuffed it into his own bag. "Everyone pack your things," he turned and looked over at the Skyrim girl, who had been trying to listen from the edge of the ruin, where he had tasked her with using melted snow to scrub their cookware. "You too. I doubt that staff of yours will do much good against Rythe's people, but it could at least find some use against the undead that they'll summon." "You cannot mean for Matilda to fight," Acivo said, frowning. "It is not a part of my plan, no. But I cannot help it if the girl has plans of her own," the wizard shot the girl another glance. She was staring back at him with an expression that was difficult to read. "She has a tendency not to listen." The Legionnaire clearly did not like it, and when Endar looked to Elara, it was obvious that she did not either. "If it means so much to you, talk to her yourselves. I will not waste words on the effort." He led them to the horses. "But do so on the way. Wasting time is even worse than wasting words." *** "Wait, so that's Cloud Top?" Stoit regarded the snow-tipped 'mountain' with obvious disappointment. "It's a hill." He turned to Ralimar. "You lot lived next to the Valus Range. How in Shor's name could you refer to this elf pecker of a rock as a proper mountain?" "You're not serious, are you?" Ralimar shook his head. "Just because you've got the Jeralls to set a standard doesn't mean that all mountains must be as high. Cloud Top stretches well above the rest of this land. That makes it a mountain." "Well by that rule, the White Gold Tower is a mountain too," interjected one of the necromancer acolytes. "And Ada-Mantia. And Red Mountain. And-" "Red Mountain is a mountain you dolt. It's in the bloody name." "That's just whoever named it being clever. Red Mountain is a volcano. There's a difference." "Hold on," Stoit said, "I agree about Cloud Top, but do you really think that volcanos ain't-" "Will you shut up?" Rythe turned in his saddle to flash the three of them a fiery gaze. "I cannot hear myself think over the raw stupidity." The leader of the necromancers turned back around and brought his horse closer to Boldir's. "They will be expecting us. Keep close to me, so I can apply the wards at the opportune moment." Boldir nodded. "Just remember our deal." "The girl will not be harmed," Rythe said. "You have my word." It was the word of a snake, but right now, it was the best Boldir could hope for. It took them the whole morning and half the afternoon to reach the base of the mountain. By the end of the journey, Boldir could see that the others were growing anxious. The chatter between them was gone, and it seemed that every member of the group wore a mask of solemness. Rythe brought them to a stop not far from the twisting path that led upwards. "Alright everybody, it's time for us to be cautious. Ralimar, do you have the stones?" "Yes, brother." The Breton held up a burlap sack that glowed dimly from within. "Good. Have your spells ready. Especially wards." After saying that, the necromancer produced a blue crystal that shined like a star, and clutched it as he muttered some words. Suddenly, a black, misty shadow formed in front of their group, and from it emerged three wraiths, cloaked in robes that seemed to be made of that same darkness. Wordless and soundless, the undead took flight like birds and disappeared up the hillside. The group waited a few minutes in complete silence, until the wraiths returned and hovered close to their master before vanishing. "They found no one," Rythe told the group. "I don't like it. We must proceed upward with caution." And so they did. Leaving behind their horses, Rythe led the group up the hill on foot. It was a worrisome trek. Every step brought them closer to the trap that they all were expecting, but had no idea how to anticipate. The best the necromancers could do was keep their eyes up while also keeping careful track of their footing. One missed rune trap could lead to death for many of them. It wasn't until the path straightened back out, however, that any such threats revealed themselves. "Drenim must really think he's very clever," Rythe said to the group as he stopped and knelt just short of the old ruin. "There is an enchantment starting here that seems to encircle the ruin. I do believe it is meant to warn him of our arrival. No doubt so he can allow whatever creature he has marked to appear in our midst." Boldir followed the old elf's eyes as he scanned the area, and finally spotted the faintly glimmering circle of runes that had been carved into a nearby tree. "Priestess, deactivate that, will you?" Rythe said, motioning to Gwella and then pointing toward the tree. Boldir nodded to Gwella as she headed off with glowing hands to dispel whatever trap had been laid for them. "That's strange," the priestess said when she got there. "I can't see any-" Whatever she was saying was interrupted by the loud *crack* that boomed in the center of their group. Boldir felt something akin to a powerful wind shove him from behind, and out the corner of his eyes, he could see Stoit and some others being thrown to their knees as well. He used his axe to stand back up and quickly pivoted to face this new threat head-on, only to find himself face-to-face not with a dark elf mage, but a tall, muscle-bound creature with a dark face tattooed in red and horns sprouting out of his long dark mane. He wore black armor that was covered in runes, and clutched a scroll in his right hand. Of their group, only Rythe and Ralimar's wards had prevented them from falling, and now both brothers were preparing spells of their own. First, the Dunmer summoned two black skeletons, armored in translucent chitin and holding wicked looking curved longswords. The Breton mimicked this by conjuring up a pair of wraiths similar to the ones who had scaled the mountain. All of these undead descended on the creature, who casually held up the scroll, which turned to ash in his hands as it released a wave of energy that blasted all of the undead to pieces. "I come in peace, mortals!" the creature shouted in a deep, angry voice that sounded as if it came from within a closed helmet. "I am an envoy." With his axe at the ready, Boldir stepped up next to the two necromancers. By now, the others had collected themselves and were starting to form a circle around the creature, who raised his hands. Boldir looked at Rythe. "What is it?" "A Dremora," the necromancer answered without looking away from the beast. "You are a servant of Endar Drenim?" "That is the name he goes by, yes," the Dremora responded. "He foresaw your coming, and has ordered me to inform you that he wishes to do battle in a more suitable arena." "Why wouldn't he want to fight us here?" Boldir looked around. "He had the high ground." "High ground may mean a lot for a soldier, but magic like ours would render such an advantage moot." Rythe muttered something under his breath, and then announced, "The Dremora conceals no weapons. Daedroth, how far is Drenim from us?" "I cannot say," the creature answered. "I am to give this to the one called Rythe Orealo," it held up a dark metal ring and placed it on the ground." Rythe looked down at the piece of jewelry, but made no move to pick it up. "Can you say what sort of arena he intends to meet me in?" "I cannot." "Well this might be the most strangely obvious trap I've ever seen," Stoit said. "Ask it why there were no tricks left behind for us on the way up here." "I can hear you, mortal," the daedroth said, turning to face the sellsword. "My master wishes to face the one called 'Rythe Orealo' himself." "He probably wanted us to trust the Dremora," Ralimar said. "If we'd lost men getting up here, we would've only seen this as another trap." The Breton looked at his brother. "I think this is honest. He needs to see you dead with his own eyes, to know you won't keep coming for him." "Hmph." Rythe scowled. "Perhaps you're right, but the sellsword is as well. Drenim must intend to catch us unawares at some point." He motioned to one of his acolytes. "Put the ring on." "Alright." She picked the ring up and slid it onto her finger. When she did, the Dremora vanished into Oblivion. After a few moments, the acolyte shrugged and turned back to her master, "I don't- oh..." Her eyes snapped toward the path behind them. "I can see a trail. Like a thin fog. It's leading back down the mountain." "So he's leading us right to him," Rythe said, "No doubt this trail ends in the ambush." The necromancer folded his arms. "Though I see no choice but to follow it. If Drenim is in the highlands, then searching or scrying will do us no good. And if we wait here, he will find out and have all the time in the world to plan an assault of his own." He motioned to the acolyte wearing the ring. "Ilian, you lead the way. Boldir and Ral, you two stay close to me. If anyone gets tired, drink a potion. We're not stopping until nightfall." *** It was nightfall when Endar halted his scrying. "They have stopped to rest. We have until sunrise at least." "What if he's just trying to throw you off?" Acivo asked. He felt a tightness in his chest. As if all his organs were pulling together, trying to merge into one. "Rythe must be cunning enough to know you've been spying on him. After all, we knew when he did it to us." "Rythe has no idea where the trail I have left him ends," Endar replied, "As far as he knows, it could take them another hour or another week to reach us. I do not think he would be fool enough to tiredly stagger through the darkness into a situation that he already knows well enough will end in a trap." Judging by the man's narrowed eyes, Endar could see that the Legionnaire was not fully convinced, so he added, "Regardless, if Rythe somehow is fool enough, then he and his men will still activate my alarms upon their approach, and I will know of their coming with adequate time to prepare." "And what if he evades or disables your wards?" "I have laid many. To discover and disable all of them would take all night for even the most skilled of mages. And for a group his size to evade them would be... unlikely, to say the least. Do not worry, Heartlander. Worrying will only keep you from getting the rest that you need." The Imperial's shoulders relaxed, just a bit, and he motioned to the giant ruined gate whose eerie shadow they had made camp in. At the heart of its jagged black arches, Endar had painted the daedric symbols for his various rituals. "I don't suppose you'll be getting any rest yourself?" "I prefer to keep busy while I rest," Endar answered. "Get some sleep. And tell the others to do the same." As the wizard returned to the ruined Oblivion gate, Acivo made his way across the rocky plateau they had chosen for their ambush site. The dim green flames of their 'campfire' were a comforting vigil in the otherwise dark, cloudy night. The girls sat there now with their backs facing him. For half a moment, Acivo thought of how funny it would be to sneak up and scare them both, but thought against it at the last moment. With Rythe on his way, it would be in poor taste. "What are you two talking about?" Acivo had not meant to scare them, but that did not prevent Elara from yelping or Matilda from jolting to her feet at the sound of his voice, knocking over a bottle of what looked like wine. "By the Divines," the elder of the servants gasped. She was trying to laugh, but the air caught in her throat. "Did you really have to sneak up on us to ask that?" "I didn't mean to sneak," the Legionnaire said, fighting back the improper grin that desperately wanted to form on his lips. At least, not there at the end. "Apologies." "I'll need some time," Elara responded, motioning for him to join them. "How about you, Matilda? You forgive him?" "Only if he admits it was on purpose," the younger girl said. Acivo could not tell if Matilda was bluffing or if she could actually tell he had been sneaking, but he decided to hold his ground regardless. "I don't appreciate this bold accusation, Snowgirl." Matilda's lips twitched. "Apologies." Elara snorted while a chuckling Acivo took his seat. He picked up the bottle labeled 'Shadowbanish' and frowned at its emptiness. "Master Drenim wanted me to tell you both to get some sleep. It probably wouldn't hurt." "Not a chance," Elara said. "We tried that already, and both of us came to the conclusion that there is something about the night before a battle that makes sleeping impossible. Drinking, on the other hand..." she laughed and produced a second bottle, this one still mostly full. "You can have some, but I warn you. Matilda here'll take advantage. She knows this game, see?" "A game, eh?" Acivo looked down and noticed for the first time that a few pebbles and some septims had been arranged on a small log in front of them. "Mind if I play?" "Don't bother. The girl knows some pattern that she won't tell. Wins every time." "We'll see about that." The Legionnaire pulled up his seat, and laid down a gold coin. "How fair is it for me to play sober?" "I ain't drunk neither," Matilda announced. "But it wouldn't matter if I was." Acivo shrugged, and accepted the northern girl's challenge. After explaining the rules to him, she proceeded to beat him with little effort once, then twice, then three times. With each win, her stack of winnings grew higher, and his purse, lighter. "Damnit girl, what am I missing?" "I don't know what you're talking about," Matilda answered with mock innocence. "Maybe you'll play better with more money at stake." "That's a pit I'd rather not fall into," Acivo said with a wave of his hand. He grabbed the wine bottle and took a long swig. The stuff went down burning, but it tasted better than the finest Skingrad vintage, and immediately drove any trace of winter night chill from his body. More peculiar, however, was the way it made his head tingle and his vision brighten, to the point where all the darkness around him could do nothing to hide a detail in the landscape. "Wow..." "That's what I said," Elara smiled. "Master Drenim has these stored... somewhere. He gave me a few bottles tonight. Apparently, they're pretty rare." "I'd imagine so." Acivo took another drink, savoring the taste as the wine seared down his gullet. "Now, if we're not going to sleep, how about we do something that doesn't involve robbing me blind? Matilda, you're from Skyrim. That means somewhere deep down is the blood of a bard. How about it, Snowgirl? Would you sing us a song?" "Pfft." The girl shook her head. "Not on your life, Milk-Drinker." "Ouch." Acivo clutched his side as if wounded. "I ask for music and instead receive a confusing insult. You know I could die tomorrow, having never gotten my last wish." "Should've picked a better last wish," Matilda smiled as she looked into the green flames. "I had an uncle who'd have done it. A great warrior-bard who sang before many battles. Sometimes he even sang as he fought." "That seems like something a Nord would do," Acivo laughed. "Did you ever get to hear him yourself?" "Oh aye. Uncle Baldur came to Whiterun for a time after the last war. He sang for me whenever I asked. And sometimes when I didn't." The girl's smile turned sad. "He wasn't really my uncle. I just called him that because he was best friends with the man who married my mother." "You're lucky. My Ma married a bloody Orc," said Acivo. "Do you have any idea how early an Orc expects his sons -even the ones that weren't really his- to get up for training?" Matilda shook her head. "Really damned early. And you can bet that twelve-year-old me wasn't built to go toe-to-toe with a mountain of green muscle like him. Course, he got fat later in life, and didn't live to see sixty. Ma settled for a nice Argonian fellow after that." The women laughed, and Acivo figured he would let them take or leave his made-up backstory as they pleased. "Anyway, if I'm not getting a song, then I'm going to bed. Some of you magical folks might be surprised to learn that we fighting men actually need sleep in order to function... you really should try to do the same." He saw Matilda and Elara exchange a glance, and then the latter nodded. "Just give us a little more time. This is all very unfamiliar to us. I promise, we'll go to sleep soon." Satisfied enough, Acivo got up and headed off to his bedroll. He could not blame the others for not wanting to go to sleep. Sleeping meant forgoing all the distractions that the night could bring. All the fun little jokes and stories that they could share. All the comforts of being with friends. Sleep would bring about an end to it all, and would quickly thrust him into battle, to that thing he had spent his life training for, yet never come close to actually seeing in his young life. He realized that the tightness in his chest had returned, fiercer than ever. In response, the soldier closed his eyes, whispered a prayer to Talos, and, incredibly, found the sleep that he needed. *** A couple hours after midnight, Boldir's eyes opened to find Sir Bremman shaking him by the shoulder. "Cut that out," he grumbled, pushing the knight's gauntleted hand aside. His slumber had been deep and surprisingly dreamless, the worst kind of sleep to cut short. "What is it?" "Someone is watching us." Bremman whispered back. "The necromancers think it's Drenim." Boldir sat up and got his bearings. Around him, the rest of the party were still in various stages of waking up, themselves. Stoit was waking Gwella, and Rythe stood off to the side with his brother and two of the acolytes. They were staring off into the darkness at something their mage eyes must've been more capable of seeing than his normal ones. The old dark elf's mouth was moving, but Boldir could not make out what he was saying. A spell, maybe? He immediately started putting on his armor. The suit was beaten and worn, each piece sporting numerous scars and even cracks. Hopefully, this would be the last time he had to put it on. Scooping up his helmet and axe, Boldir walked over next to Rythe. "I hear Drenim is watching us." The necromancer put a hand on his forearm and whispered something. Suddenly, the night seemed less dark, and across the rocky hills, a tall shadow glared at them from the distance, unmoving. Boldir frowned. "That's no elf." "No," Rythe agreed. "It's a Dremora, or maybe a Xivilai judging by the size. That's not the only one, just the most dangerous." The necromancer nodded in the direction of the path they'd been following. At first, Boldir saw nothing but rocks and grass, but eventually he noticed the tiny yellow dots atop one of the hills and realized that they came in blinking pairs. "What are they?" "Scamps. They've been watching us since shortly after nightfall. I don't know when the big one arrived, just that it was later." Boldir looked back at the motionless daedric shadow and shuddered. "You think Drenim sent this one when he saw our guard was down?" "What do you mean?" "I mean, he may not have intended to attack us here. Just observe with his weaker minions. When he found that over half our group were going to sleep, he decided to take advantage of it and send a killer." Rythe's face twisted into a sneer. "Well we won't make it so easy for him. Ral?" His Breton brother nodded and used a scroll to summon a pair of floating wraiths, armored in black metal with eyes as red as fresh blood. "Erufid," the necromancer whispered, pointing at the daedroth. The specters glided toward the creature, but it vanished into a black smoke just as they started to draw near. Boldir turned his head to find that the scamps were gone as well. "I think we should keep more men on watch," Boldir said. "I'm done sleeping for the night." "As am I," said Ralimar. "Anyone else?" "I'm staying up too," said Stoit. Bremman and Gwella agreed, and it quickly became apparent that all the acolytes did as well. No one was going to sleep after that. Boldir frowned. Maybe that's what Drenim wants. Not to kill us, just leave us tired. "Master?" The Dunmer turned at his acolyte's call, and then groaned. Following his gaze, Boldir spotted the dark figure again, this time a little further away, but now facing their camp from the opposite side. For a brief moment, Boldir saw fear in Rythe. But it was gone before anyone else had a chance to notice. "Don't let it out of your sight," commanded the necromancer. "If it or anything else approaches, kill it. But do not expend the scrolls or energy unless you must. Martin, bring me one of the stones. I need to clear my head." Boldir watched Rythe remove one of the glowing blue crystals from his bag and hold it in front of him like an infant child. Its vibrant blue glow invaded his normally deep red eyes, and he sat down with it in silence. Turning, Boldir found his companions watching the scene as well, each with a look that expressed varying levels of concern. "Come on," he told them. "We should keep our eyes outside the camp. Not in." Stoit cast one last skeptical glance at Rythe and whispered, "You sure about that?" "I'm sure that if he needs us. These daedra don't. Is there anything you can do about them, Gwella?" "Not from this distance," the priestess answered. "But if one comes close, I'll handle it." The acolytes were already forming a crude circle facing outward, and so the four companions took their places side-by-side on the far end. They were not settled long when Ralimar's angry voice boomed out from the center. "Everyone on your feet. My brother has words to share." Boldir's group and the tired acolytes gathered to listen to Rythe speak. The necromancer still held the big glowing crystal in both hands. "I have decided that remaining here is too dangerous, and stopping was a foolish risk that we did not need to take. Priestess, I understand that you are trained in defending against the denizens of Oblivion." "I am," Gwella said. "Then I give you this," Rythe stepped up to her and handed over the crystal. "It will give you energy. Use it to maintain a ward around us as we travel through the night. My brother and Ilian shall light the way." Gwella looked at the stone with a puzzled expression. "Why can't you fight the daedra? Or one of your thralls?" "Because that would keep me distracted," Rythe answered with a roll of his eyes. "Which is exactly what Drenim wants. And no one else among us is as familiar with the ways of Oblivion as you or I. So stop questioning me and do as I say." It took everything in Boldir not to strike the man for speaking to his friend that way, and he knew that Gwella was probably struggling even more than him. But the consequences of provoking Rythe Orealo were not a lessen that either of them needed to learn twice. And so, with a grim expression, the priestess cast a spell that drew a blue aura around the group. "Stay inside it," Gwella told the necromancers as they started to mount up. She then nodded toward the large black shadow that watched them from the distance. "Unless you want that one to get you." *** While Endar let his minions keep Rythe's party on their toes, the wizard himself spent the night preparing every trick he could come up with. He brewed potions, emptied soul gems, laid out runes, even made deals with a couple lesser lords of Oblivion. But for all his efforts, he could not drive out the feeling that it would not be enough. Endar knew that he was the superior power. Rythe knew it too. Yet the necromancer came anyway, and with help no less. The Nords and knight were likely of no concern, but the Stendarr priestess was a factor he had not anticipated. Not to mention the near limitless pool of energy his foes will have to draw from with the welkynd stones. No, Endar could not risk death over this. Not now. Victory was likely, but he had to take every precaution. He waited the last few minutes until dawn, and then picked up his jar of red paint. "Elara! Soldier! Marissa!" Nobody answered his call, so with a roll of his eyes, Endar carefully stepped around his now vast network of interconnected runes and enchantments and made his way over to their camp. The balefire he had lit still burned dim and warm, and around it his 'esteemed' companions slept among several empty bottles of his Shadowbanish wine. I knew that was a bad idea. He tapped the soldier with the butt of Apotheosis. "Wake up." The Imperial jolted to a sitting position with a loud snort, dagger already in hand. "Legion soldier! Get back!" Of course, his shouting was enough to wake Milonna, who was already clambering out of her bedroll on all fours like a startled fox, and Elara, who just looked tired and confused. "Thank you, Soldier." Endar held up the jar of paint. "As I am sure you all know, the barriers between the worlds stand strong in the Fourth Era. My-" "By Julianos, we just woke up," Elara said, rather rudely. "Are the bad guys almost here?" "They draw nearer every moment. Which is why I have constructed a failsafe, should the battle go ill. Now get up and come with me." "Do I have time to piss first?" Endar frowned impatiently. "Be quick about it." After they had done their business and were truly on their feet, the humans followed him at their own groggy paces, the little one rubbing her head in a feeble attempt to drive off the ache he knew she must have felt. When they came around the large black spike left behind from the Oblivion Crisis, the soldier whistled and Elara gasped. "Did you spend the whole night making these?" his stewardess asked, motioning at the hundreds of runes he had painted, cast, or carved into the earth. "Yes. Now all of you line up side-by-side and face me." Endar dipped two fingers in the paint as they did so, and spoke the invocation while painting a red symbol onto each of their foreheads. He finished by marking his own. "In the eyes of Mundus and all realms beyond, we are linked." he told them. "I do not do this lightly." He may have clarified to them further what this meant, but something stopped him. Endar turned and concentrated long enough to confirm the feeling in his bones. Rythe's men had triggered an alarm, which meant they would soon be stumbling all over them. He took a slow breath and was pleased to find that his feeling of nervousness had passed. "The time for preparation has come to an end," he announced. "Elara, take Matilda and leave the plateau. To the spot we discussed." "Yes, Master Drenim." "Wait, what?" Matilda struggled for a moment as the older stewardess tried to guide her away, but immediately relaxed when Endar weaved a calming spell. "We will come for you when it is safe," he told his stewardess. "It will be up to you to keep yourself and the girl out of danger." "You're the one battling necromancers." Elara's voice seemed light-hearted as usual, but her expression was serious. "Thank you. She doesn't need to be a part of this." Endar almost drew back as his stewardess put a hand on arm, but then she smiled, something in that smile stopped him. "I know you don't need luck. Give them hell." And then she turned and guided Matilda away. Endar spent a moment watching the two women leave, feeling something that he thought seemed dangerously close to sentimentalism. What are you, a Nord? the wizard asked himself. Enough of all that. He then turned to the soldier, to the loyal Legionnaire. This would be the first time since the Oblivion Crisis had Endar gone into battle alongside another. "What was your name again?" "Are you kid-" The soldier's perplexed face softened, and he answered, "Acivo Tricer." "Are you sure you do not want to go with them, Acivo?" "It doesn't matter what I want. My orders are to keep you safe." "Well that's good." In the distance, Endar felt another one of his alarms being triggered. "Because without me, they'll probably steal your soul." *** The first streaks of morning light were almost as welcome to the group as the departure of the daedra who had stalked them throughout the night. Though that light brought with it a confirmation that the exhaustion they all felt was warranted. They rode west at a brisk trot. By now, Cloud Top was a distant object, and the earth was steadily turning from green to yellow. There were no more traces of forest, and what trees existed did so in sparse patches that managed to break through the rocky soil. The only other regular vegetation came in the forms of tall, wispy grass and dark thorny bushes that clung close to the ground. Ilian led them from the back of her brown mare. Every now and then, Rythe would ask her if the magical trail she followed had changed at all, to which the weaker necromancer would always answer with a patient 'no'. Otherwise, nobody really spoke. The acolytes were all either too tired or too nervous. Rythe was too focused on the landscape. Gwella seemed weary from maintaining her wards for most of the night, and Bremman and Stoit from not getting any sleep. For his part, Boldir thought that he might've been the healthiest in the group, which suited him just fine. He would need his strength to get past whichever monster decided to stand between him and Mila. Someone would die today. Of that, Boldir was confident. He did not know Endar beyond what Rythe and Bremman had told him, but even if the stories were untrue, the gods themselves could not stop the necromancer from attempting to accomplish what he had traveled this far for. A part of Boldir almost hoped that the necromancer was speaking true. From what Ralimar had told him, turning on Rythe would be a deathtrap, thanks to the 'potions' they had given him. At least if Endar was actually awful, it would be a simple matter to kill him and free Mila. But even now, on what was presumably to be the day of their confrontation, Boldir knew that this was a call he could not make until the choices were in front of him. Whatever it takes to remove her from danger. After that, Oblivion can take both of these wizards. Like that wizard, Boldir kept his eyes trained on the hills. A part of him kept expecting the 'Xivilai' to come back with its scamp pets. Or, better yet, Drenim himself. Boldir had a hard time imagining the figure who was powerful enough to set one as terrible as Rythe on edge. After several hours of riding in silence, Rythe announced to the group, "One of us just triggered an alarm spell. It's possible that this is not the first." "I take it that Drenim can hear these things better than we can?" Stoit asked. "Hear, feel, taste, smell. Who knows?" Rythe shrugged. "But I felt the rune being released. This means that he knows we are coming, but that was obvious. More important is that it means we are close." "I'd say so," Ilian called back from the front of the front of their band. "The trail is starting to shift south. I think it's- it's..." "Spit it out, woman." Rythe called up to her, but at this point, it seemed Ilian was ignoring him. "I can't-" the acolyte gasped. She suddenly let go of her reins and went toppling off her horse. Through the confused mass of horses and necromancers between them, Boldir caught a glimpse of her right hand, and how it now appeared to have turned a nasty shade of black. "Please!" Ilian yelled now. She was on her knees looking desperately at her master. "Make it stop." No one had time to ask what 'it' was before a foul dark liquid erupted from her mouth followed by every other hole in her body, and then finally exploded out of her stomach in a disgustingly horrific display. "Nobody touch her," Rythe ordered. He looked prepared to say more, but paused when he noticed the big black bubble that was building up his dead follower's sticky corpse. After growing larger than a man's head, the blob of gas split away from Ilian's guts and drifted high into the air. Rythe and several of the others cast ward spells over the group, but otherwise nobody did a thing besides watch. More than a few of them flinched when it popped, releasing the cold, raspy message that had been trapped inside. "I can see you." All eyes turned to the hills now, and those who looked south were rewarded with three consecutive lightening bolts cracking into the clear blue sky. They were coming from the far side of a steep plateau. "This is it," Rythe said, his eyes hungry. He produced a vial of... something, and downed the whole thing in one drink. Boldir watched the elf's body shiver for a moment as a strange reflective gleam rolled across his gray skin. After that, the necromancer practically jumped down from his horse and started forward, and all of his acolytes followed. Boldir gave his friends one last look. Stoit looked determined, and Gwella, nervous. Bremman had already donned his helmet and lowered the visor. All of them stood prepared to fight and maybe even die for Mila, and for that they were family to him. "Whatever happens up there, thank you for coming this far," Boldir said. He had never been all that good with words, but those ones needed to be said. "And if I don't make it, take Mila to Kyne's Watch. She has family there." He turned and removed his helmet from his saddle. It was as worn and beaten as the rest of his armor, but remained every bit as strong. Putting it on, Boldir closed his eyes and whispered a simple prayer for strength, then turned and led his companions to the final point on this long journey. "She's waiting for you." Carlotta's voice told him as he marched. "This is it."
  6. Late Winter-some time in the Spring. I want to time it pretty close to the end of our TES chapter. Not trying to make it exact or anything, but it'll probably end up being near enough.
  7. You were the only person I hadn't talked to about their character at all. I freaking love the second half of this.
  8. Maomer. Definitely Maomer. The next game will most likely focus heavily on the Aldmeri Dominion. The sea elves are their ancient enemies, and there is no way that they have ignored the last century and a half of the Altmer gaining power in Tamriel. I have a theory that their inclusion in ESO was meant to introduce them "lightly" to the more casual fanbase so their arrival in the main series doesn't feel completely out of nowhere. I think they're the perfect race to add. They aren't gone like the Dwemer or Snow Eves. They aren't completely detached and weird like the Akaviri or Sload. Seeing one in a setting that takes place a few years after a major invasion (or something) would not be any more out of place than seeing friendly Orcs in Morrowind. Whats more is that they bring something new to the table. They have their own look that's not over-the-top, they have awesome snake/sea-themed architecture and culture that are every bit as unique as the main ten races, and they bring new magics and abilities that would join the existing ones without overpowering them (like the Nords' thu'um, which probably never saw large-scale light of day because a race of tongues is unbalanced). Second choice would be the Imga. I wouldn't play as one, but they just seem so hilarious. Maybe if Bethesda brought them in, people would laugh at them instead of the Bosmer, who in turn could finally get the serious treatment they deserve.
  9. The only shocking thing about this video is that whoever made it was under some strange, misguided impression that Chuck Norris needed the assistance of a chicken army just to kill a measly four thousand milk-drinking Romans.
  10. Everyone's characters. I already know my own stuff, so am most interested in seeing what everyone else goes off and does. Particularly how they choose to interact with the Brotherhood.
  11. That would be sweet. Maybe TES6.
  12. Vanilla Skyrim, obviously.
  13. I'm not too crazy about any of them, tbh. None of them fit the way I typically like to play. I reckon that most major holds, Whiterun especially, do have mounted soldiers. It's just that Bethesda games are notoriously bad when it comes to displaying these kinds of things. Their AI in Skyrim can't even fight from horseback, let alone ride as a unit.
  14. What are your thoughts on the Numidium? Imo it's way weirder than Pelinal, and its weirdness is a major part of two games' stories.
  15. I agree for Kyne/Kynareth. But I think that Mara and Dibella, as shown in Skyrim, are 100% the Nordic versions. Dibella in Cyrodiil is much less raw than Skyrim's sexualized version with it's all-female priesthood/coven and unique practices such as the Sybil of Dibella. And even Mara's head Temple Priestess (a Dunmer) claims that she is the handmaiden of Kyne, which is really the only thing that distinguished her from the other versions to start with.
  16. I think fans tend to severely overestimate the presence of the Eight/Nine Divines worship in Skyrim, while simultaneously underestimating the prominence of the Nordic gods. It's easy to overlook the fact that Shor, even today, is the most revered god in Skyrim by far. Almost all Nords swear by him, and live their lives with the ultimate goal of ending up in Sovngarde. There are no temples or shrines to Shor (or other Dead Gods, Tsun and Stuhn) because Sovngarde is supposed to be his only temple. People don't pray to him because he doesn't care about all that. Shor is honored through blood and might, not prayer or charity. The only gods we see getting lots of fanfare in Skyrim are Talos, Mara, Dibella, and Kynareth. Lots of fans seem to think this means that the Nine dominate the land, but in truth, Mara and Dibella were Nordic Hearth Goddesses long before they were Imperial, and the way they are worshipped in this game is notably different from how they are in Cyrodiil. Kynareth is virtually indistinguishable from Kyne (who also appears a lot), and I suspect the younger name was adopted in Whiterun because it is a diverse hub city and they wished to appeal to outlanders. Talos is a Nordic god. He just came later, but is fully acknowledged as having joined the old pantheon. Arkay is a latecomer as well, and the Nords accept him because he fills a role that was previously not taken in the Nordic pantheon. On the flip side, true Imperial gods have virtually no presence in Skyrim. How many characters worship or even mention Julianos or Stendarr (besides the Vigilants)? Even Akatosh, the chieftain of their pantheon, has almost no presence except in Solitude's Temple of the Nine, which was built specifically for that purpose. That said, I 100% agree with you and Centurion that if the Roscrean Druids, foreigners, are allowed to come into Skyrim and go after people who do not bend to their beliefs, they will face greater opposition than they can handle. Haafingar is the most powerful hold save perhaps for Eastmarch, and it also happens to have a very large population of true Nine worshippers. There would be trouble. What makes this more serious is that the Roscreans beliefs don't even coincide in full with traditional Nordic ones. It's an all-round dangerous idea. Awesome piece. I agree, this is a good choice.
  17. His stuff is hit or miss in my book. Some of it can be way too much. But there's no denying that a lot of the best stuff we've got in TES is thanks to him. Morrowind, for instance.
  18. This one is awesome for sure. It'd have made my list if we knew it was legit dev/MK made or just made by a really talented fan.
  19. The Maomer actually playing a major role in the Aldmeri Dominion storyline was pretty cool. Their magic was unlike any we've seen first-hand in the games. Best part of it was very early on, when they captured and sacrificed enemy Marines to create a massive hurricane and ravage the Dominion fleet.
  20. The Origins of Cyrus (It's a freaking comic!) Interview with Haskill and Dyus (Both major characters from the Shivering Isles. One is Sheogotath's too servant and the other was once Jyggalag's) On the Nords' Totemic Religion (Everything Nord fans wanted in Skyrim) And this one might be a technicality, but all of the info we got about the ways souls can be used in Infernal City and Lord of Souls.
  21. Anyway, Colonel, do you want me to count your vote for the uprising or the seducing? Because that'll really be the deciding factor on which one wins. I think the seducing would be the more humorous outcome for the lore, because it places our hero in a specific location at the start of the RP, rather than him just disappearing.
  22. Right. It's basically a fun Easter Egg in the RP. Lol, these polls are our expanded universe.
  23. None of them will be major historical events. They'll just be things that happen, mostly pretty small scale. So the references wouldn't be like "Remember the servant uprising of 2279! Viva la French Words!" They would instead be more akin to "Hey, remember that time Lady Whatsername's servants burned down her house and ran away? This kinda reminds me of that." The only one that wouldn't get any mention would be choosing to remain a serf. But even that could be referenced loosely by mentioning how one of the noble Ladies likes to obtain her serfs by taking care of people's unplayable debts. The sneaking away could be referenced by something like a wanted poster or some random dialogue where someone mentions how common escaped serfs have been since "that one guy" got away five years ago. Stuff like that.
  24. Fun fact. The Motierre family are actually the third most recurring family in all of TES. After the Septims and the Tharns. They appear in all three Dark Brotherhood questlines and have always worked closely with the Brotherhood. Amaund Motierre is responsible for the death of Titus Mede II. And Balrog's own Empress Dales is a member of this ancient and prominent family.