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DarkRider

Tavern Tales Morrowind: Volume One

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Tavern Tales: Morrowind
Volume One

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Please keep your adds to the Tales to 1,000 words or less! | Say Hello in the OOC thread to join the upcoming game!

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Near the Bitter Coast in Vvardenfel...

In a flash, the normal rhythm of night in the swamp fed wilds erupted with a wash of light and a cracking like thunder under a cloudless sky. A nervous group of Orsimer hunters took to their feet and palmed their weapons; keen eyes searching the sky. To the west of their encampment, small traces of light were drifting to the ground like a million tiny stars falling from heaven. The hunters exchanged uncertain glances, but their leader, a hunter of many seasons and scars called Rutek, motioned them forward.

“Come,” he said quietly, but steadfast as he led his wavering band on toward where the light had been.

Several clicks away the trees parted in the swamp revealing a pitch of dry earth, and a structure that seemed of human build, though none of them who hunted here often, had ever seen it’s like before. Rutek steppes cautiously onto the sodden path leading to the door of the structure, reaching a hand out to touch the lights still floating lazily upon them like ash, vanishing as they connected with his weathered palm.

“Rutek,” one of the younger hunters hissed at him from where the other hunters remained under the cover of the trees, “there’s a odd wind,” he warned, “we should not enter.”

The older Orsimer snorted with a nod, “Aye,” he took a step back, “we should collect the Wise Woman, she can tell us what magic this is.”

The hunters agreed and headed back into the woods, happy to put the mysterious place behind them for now. The wise woman was an exile named Rolfiska living alone in the wilds where she dabbled in herbology and alchemical arts. Very few travelers ever approached her modest hut least of all those of her own race who knew her as an exile, so she was surprised to be awoken in the night by a band of nervous orcs rambling quickly about mystic lights and a strange house in the swamp. Intrigued, Fiska slipped her satchel over her head and palmed her staff before motioning for them to show her what they’d found.

When the wise woman finally stepped onto the path before the mysterious structure, only Rutek fell in step behind her. The two approached slowly and Fiska tilted her head curiously. The thatch roof, dormered windows, and imperial craft were just as her kinsmen had described, but it shimmered ethereally as if it was only a mirage. Rutek reached out a hand to touch one of the posts and it passed through the structure like mist.

“Tis illusion,” Rutek muttered, “only air.”

Fiska tilted her head to one side then the next noting the way the vision seemed to be floating a few inches off the ground, “Not an illusion,” she corrected, “something crossing the way.”

“What way?” the hunter grunted doubtfully.

“The way between this and that,” she answered as she sized up the structure, “I believe we simply have to…knock,” she tapped the door with her staff, stunned that it seemed to meet with a solid form.

Suddenly the illusion was made whole, the structure settled into the sod with a whumph, firelight sprang up in the windows, torches around them lit, and Rutek stumbled backward away through the wooden yard fence, his courage spent. Suddenly a dark elf woman appeared in the yard chopping kindling on a block and a Nordic man came around the corner of the yard leading a sorrel mare by a rope lead.

“Evening miss,” he greeted her as though nothing of magical or extraordinary significance was unfolding, barely acknowledging the hunter retreating back to his brothers in the swamp, “Welcome to the Tavern, need a room? Nip to drink? Head on inside,” he suggested, taking the horse toward a stable Fiska hadn’t even noticed.

Fiska opened the door bravely, too curious to fall back despite the warnings in her mind. The room beyond the door was wide and inviting, wooden tables and chairs were placed around the room in corners both dark and lit. There was a sizable carved bar counter in the center surrounded by food stores and barrels containing a variety of brews. There was no one manning the bar, the tavern seemed empty in fact save for another burly Nord sleeping in a comfortable high-backed chair by the large central fireplace. His snores were deep as though he’d been there for some time, the mug dangling loosely in his hand drained dry, and two large seemingly grey dogs, perhaps mastiffs, were curled around his feet. As Fiska neared, one of the dogs raised an eyelid and growled a warning that turned her away from the Nord and over to the bar.

The wise woman stepped behind the bar and instantly felt a strange sense of homecoming. She took up a rag and started wiping down the smooth walnut bar top, taking stock of everything behind the bar.

“Ale if ye please,” the big Nord was suddenly awake and setting his mug on the counter with a thud; dropping a few coins beside it.

Fiska hesitated, “What is this place?”

“The Tavern of course,” the Nord chuckled, “I’m called Grond, this Tavern and I go way back.”

“I’m Fiska,” the wise woman offered as she refilled his drink, seeming to just know what barrel to draw from.

Grond had a twinkle in his eyes over his broad grin, “Looks like the Tavern means for ye to be her new keeper. Sometimes ye find yer tavern and sometimes yer tavern finds ye eh?”

She did understand, "What happens now?"

"Where are we?" he sniffed the air like a hound, "smells like the Bitter Coast," he snorted, starting back toward his chair, "So now we just wait. Sooner or later, those who have need will find their way here to moor," he said cryptically, setting himself down before the fire to enjoy a fresh brew.

 

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The tavern door banged open in a wash of wind and rain. Fiska leaned on the polished wood of the bar for a better look as a dark figure staggered quickly inside and threw the door closed again. The newcomer was a lithe khajiit female dressed in leathers and some sort of fur at her shoulders, a bow slung across the quiver on her back, and a heavy pack she thumped to the floor by the door and left. Fiska scowled at the sopping footprints the khajiit woman trailed across her clean floor and she raised a hand. “No. No. Dry off by the door first or I’ll be mopping up after you for a week!” She stared down the khajiit female’s cool, blue eyes, noting the wide scar across her nose, and leaned back when one feline brow clearly quirked up at her.

“Khajiit is wet and annoyed and must be dry.”

Fiska’s own brows rose. “I’m Fiska and this is my tavern. Do you have a name, cat?”

“This one is P’urza.” P’urza gave the orc a toothy smile. She set her bow and quiver on the bar and crouched.

“No. Oh, no.” Fiska waved her hands. “Don’t you da…” Fiska’s voice trailed off as P’urza vigorously shook her entire body. Water droplets flew in a rain around her. When she finally stopped, the Khajiit’s fur stood up all over her body as though she had been struck by lightning. Fiska wiped her hands over her face, taking the water with them, and smoothed them back through her dark hair while she took a deep breath, calming herself. “Was that necessary?”

P’urza let out a rolling chuckle and began smoothing her fur back down fastidiously. “If you have mop, P’urza will gladly clean for you.” She looked carefully around the taproom, taking in the spacious area, the dark wood, worn tables, and homey fire in the hearth. She stared a moment at the rather large Nord and his sparkling eyes before he looked away with a smile. P’urza ran her claws deftly up her ears, flicking the white tufts at their tips into place, and sat gracefully on one of the tall stools. “The red one told P’urza of this place. She said it is good place of hiding for those who do not want to be found.”

“The red one?” Fiska asked. She went to the back of the bar and pulled out a mop, stalking around to the front and the khajiit. “What’s a red one?”

“Red is her hair.” P’urza frowned. “Or maybe her skin. Bah. You shaveskins all seem the same to Khajiit.” P’urza shrugged. “Could have been her name. P’urza needs place to not be seen; red one says this is place of not-seeing so P’urza comes.” She stood back up and plucked the mop from Fiska’s hands with another smile. “Do you have… something sweet to drink? Sugary perhaps?”

Fiska shook her head distastefully, knowing the khajiit meant moonsugar. “I’ll have none of that in this tavern.” She left P’urza to clean up her own mess and went back behind the bar. “I have a sweet, mulled cider.” She poured a mug from the cask and set it on the bar in front of her. “It’s alcoholic but should be sugary enough for you.”

P’urza finished mopping the water from the floor, set the mop aside, and took her seat again. She picked up the mug with a nod of thanks and took a long drink. She closed her eyes and savored the sweet flavor on her tongue before the bite of the alcohol warmed her throat. She opened her eyes and flicked her claws at Fiska with a smile. “Blessings of the moons upon you for this! It is perfect. Thank you, short tail.”

“Fiska.” Fiska sniffed, though she appreciated the khajiit’s pleasure in the cider. “Not ‘short tail’.”

“This one meant no offense.” P’urza smiled and sipped her cider, looking around the tavern again. “P’urza has been this way through the Bitter Coast but never does she recall this place. How is it Khajiit is not seeing this tavern before?”

Fiska gave a shrug of her own and a smile. “Only just found it myself.” She wiped the last few droplets of water from the bar. “It just sort of appeared here.” She gave a wondering shake of her head. “And it seems to like me.”

“Hmm.” P’urza turned on her stool to look more closely at the interior. “Curious.” She lifted her nose, sniffing the air and tasted many scents; dog and nord, orc, the acrid tang of the murmuring fire, and another, crisper scent underneath it all that both gave her pause and made her feel safe. “Powerful magicks in this place, P’urza thinks.” She turned back to Fiska, ignoring the huffed laugh she heard from the Nord man behind her. “This one would like a room, please.”

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I could hear the shrieks and squeals of bats as I crossed the skys of Vvardenfell. I still think it was a poor choice to come here, the land is simply too hot. However this is where the relic is supposed to be located. Damn Telvanni, always toying with things they shouldn't. I suddenly feel heavy as the ancient power wears off.

"Damn it." Was all I could say just before I enter a free fall, lucky me. I spot a small pond which I aim my falling body towards just before I crash, I hit the pond, skip across the surface. And land face first in a mud puddle. I think it's mud. I pray it's mud.

"Excellent work Jaxius, way to stick the landing." Luckilly it's raining and I'm able to use the rain and the pond to wash myself.

"Allright, lets find the relic and get out of here." I stand up and check the compass to see it's pulse had changed direction. "That doesn't make sense." The compass was designed to hone in on any strong magicka signature which would allow me to find it. however the compass was pointing back the other way. I turned and began walking towards the signature only to collide with a wall. I looked up in confusion. "Sheogorath must be mocking me, or Sanguine." I say this because I was looking at a tavern of Nordic build, in the middle of Vvardenfell, and it was giving off a stong magical pulse. I put away the compass and pushed open the door to enter, the first thing I saw was an Orsimer behing the bar and a sleeping Nord in a corner with a Khajit heading to her room.

"Welcome stranger. What can I get you?" The Orc asked.

"A pint." I say as a joke, only for the Orc to pull up a vial of red life.

"It said this is what you needed, just don't feed on the guests and we'll be fine." I was shocked. I take the vial and hand over 20 gold a quick sniff of the contents confirms my suspicions. Blood, specifically Bosmer blood, I could allready smell the rich forestry taste. "You gonna drink that?" The Orc asked me. I smiled and chugged the contents of the vial.

"What is this place?" I asked.

"This is my tavern, I'm Fiska." The Orc responded.

"Jaxius." Was all I replied. "Tell me Fiska, why is their magic here, and why is it so strong?"

"I couldn't answer that question even if I wanted to Jaxius, why are you asking? You a mage?"

"No no no not a mage, I'm a relic hunter. I have been on the trail of a vampiric relic for the past twenty years when my compass brought me to Morrowind. I found the relic was sold to a Telvanni and I'm trying to retrieve it before they...." I paused. "Well lets just say I hope they don't break the relic."

"Here here. so what's this about a compass." Fiska asked. I smiled and pulled out the ivory and gold compass, my most prized possession, besides my sword, and open it up. the pulse is going haywire. "It tracks magicka signitures." I nodded and put the compass away.

"And it brought me here." I sighed. "Do you hace a room?" Fiska smiled and produced a key and I headed to my new quarters to figure out what went wrong with this damn thing.

 

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In the high north of Solstheim…

Finwëdwyn Caranthir crouched low to the snow and passed his palm over the ever shifting surface, watching the subtle changes in light as his shadow drifted over unseen traces of footprints left in the ice. This mark was more clever than most, her footfalls light, crossing on stone where she could to avoid leaving tracks. Only a few feet ahead he picked up her trail again. She’d had a mount waiting for her among the trees, the horse’s heavy steps would be easier to follow.

“Come on now, Elf,” the Legion Captain Eron barked from his saddle, “bloody snow. I’m freezing to death. I thought you said this ranger knew how to track,” he grumbled to the sergeant beside him.

Sergeant Macen shrugged, “The men say he can find anything, anywhere, even trails long dead.”

The captain snorted doubtfully, “This had better be worth the gold we paid is all I can say. If we don’t retrieve the package that devil woman snitched we’ll all hang for it.”

Fin sighed listening to them argue as he drew Rabbit closer by the reins held in his hand. The little mare nudged his shoulder and he brushed the lightly falling snow from her face before pulling himself back up in the saddle.

“What say you Fin? We have a target?” Macen called, pulling his own horse’s head up.

The wood elf nodded once, “There is a trail, this way, we should move quickly,” he said, pushing Rabbit into a swift canter.

He leaned low over her neck, keeping his eye on the tracks and any traces in the underbrush the other horse may have left as they made their way into thicker woods. There was no way to overtake their quarry quietly, the legionnaires thundered behind him like a coming storm.

Suddenly a form darted onto the path just ahead of them in a spray of loose snow. It was a cloaked woman, set atop a black and white dappled gelding, red hair flying in the wind like a flag. She must have been camping nearby and heard their approach, like a bird flushed from its hiding place. Her mount was galloping at speed to save his rider from the enemy and Fin pushed Rabbit to pick up the pace, hearing the soldiers drawing swords and kicking their horses into the fray. The woman was deft in her saddle, weaving between the trees effortlessly. After only a mile, Fin glanced over his shoulder and saw their path and pace had separated several of the soldiers off the chase.

By her surety, the woman knew the terrain well, and Fin started to sense she was leading them somewhere. She turned her horse sharply down into the ravine of a river long dried, filled with snow and rock. As she passed under a fallen tree she reached out with a small knife and cut a line. A branch swung just over his head, but Fin was sitting so low to Rabbit it passed over him and struck the first two soldiers following him. Once he cleared the log, he drove Rabbit up out of the ravine to ride alongside, keeping pace with the red haired woman from above. Another of the soldiers lost his balance and fell from his mount attempting to follow Fin, but the three remaining managed to escape the ravine and any other traps the thief had laying in wait on that course.

“Gods they have a ranger with them,” the woman hissed to her mount, “come on boy, let’s see how they do with heights,” she turned him up out the other side of the ravine and up a narrow goat pass which led into the tree lined hills. The snow picked up, growing thicker and falling faster. She hated the cold, but in the moment her adrenaline was keeping her warm enough. As she reached the top of the first hill she could see the elven ranger still leading the Legion riders, a distinctly Ayleid lantern on his saddle glowed with the iridescent light of a welkynd stone, giving them a guide through the heavy snow. She sighed, she had hoped the brewing blizzard would have scared them off, but these seemed more determined than imperial soldiers she’d encountered before. She pressed further up the goat pass, “Time to disappear, Savior.”

At the top of the next rise the path ended on a cliff face and the only way forward was a narrow wooden bridge the Nords had suspended for herding goats across to the other meadow. It was the sort of crossing that would give most horses pause, but the little gelding and his lithe rider trotted across in a practiced ballet; Savior’s hooves almost tapping out a cadence. On the other side, the path resumed and the red haired woman laughed, her mount tossing his head playfully, both certain the chase was over as they vanished into the snowfall.

As they reached the height of the path the soldiers had overtaken Fin, charging in for the arrest, and as the two lead horses reached the bridge they reared up in terror, haphazardly leapt in the air as if trying against their own nature to obey but falling back against the snow. One crushed his rider, scrambled to his feet, bucking and screaming as he ran passed Fin heading down the path. The other knocked his rider out cold against a tree before wandering and bucking into the safety of a clearing; Macen was slumped over in his saddle limply. Only Captain Eron managed to pull his horse to a stop in time to avoid being thrown.

“You go over first Elf,” he growled at Fin as if the ranger were to blame for their foul luck.

Fin eyed the bridge for a moment, patted Rabbit’s neck, then slid out of the saddle, taking her by the reins and leading her onto the pass. The mare snorted nervously as she stumbled a bit to meet hoof to wood, her ears pricked to and fro, but she followed her Fin across the narrow bridge bravely. When they reached the other side, Eron dismounted and led his horse across in turn, the heavy bay seemed encouraged by Rabbit’s successful crossing. Back in the saddle they resumed their pursuit, riding hard to make up lost time, and heading back down into the valley.

As they caught up to the thief at the bottom of the hill, rocky crags around them on all sides of a path that was only slightly wider than before, she was waiting, still seated on her horse but facing them. Eron pulled his horse to a stop suspiciously.

“What is she waiting for?”

“Us,” Fin answered simply, but his attention wasn’t on the thief. He scanned their surroundings and patted Rabbit again when she whinnied softly. Her feet danced beneath him even though he had brought her to a stop; something was making her nervous. Fin took a deep breath, the cold biting his lungs, but he caught the scent of death on the wind, “we must not linger here.”

Eron frowned, “That witch has brought down or scattered all of my men, I’m not riding into another one of her bloody traps. You go on then if you’re so sure.”

Before Fin could respond the legion captain and his mount both cried out, their voices smothered by the roaring of an ice troll as they were thrown off the trail. Rabbit reared up, almost throwing Fin, and forcing him to stand in the stirrups to stay with her.

“RIDE!” the woman shouted as Fin turned his mare’s head and kicked her into a gallop toward the waiting thief.

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Red leaned forward in her saddle while her shout echoed up the narrow path. Part of her wanted to turn Savior and use the distraction. She could escape cleanly with no one the wiser for where she had gone. Yet, as the icy Solstheim winds bit into her leathers, she knew she wasn't going to leave the ranger to the ice troll's mercies.

"Sithis take me. I'm a fool." Red kicked her heels into Savior's sides, goading him back up the trail. "Come on, boy." She watched the ranger coming torward her at a full gallop, though his head was angled back to look at the troll even then bearing down on him. The beast was fast. "Faster. Ride faster damn you." she muttered. She turned her head, letting the wind blow her crimson hair from her face and pulled Savior to a dancing stop in the center of the trail. "Keep going!" Red shouted to the ranger as he neared. "Don't stop!"
Red drew the Dread Blade from the sheath along her spine. The odd, black metal glinted in the muted daylight as she turned Savior to the side. She pulled her left hand into a loose fist and a flame flickered to life behind her fingers, slowly growing as she concentrated. Ice trolls feared little but fire was always useful; she only hoped she would have enough time to make it strong enough to do any good.


Fin and Rabbit drew abreast of the lady thief and he saw flames flickering in her off hand. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "Ride!"


"We'll never make it!" Red shook her head, focusing on the magic. "Stop talking now."


At that moment, the ice troll let out a mighty roar with its prey so close to its claws. The sound echoed, building in volume in the narrow pass and was soon joined by a rumble that quickly grew to a roar.


Red extended her left hand toward the troll as it drew closer, ready to release the magic into its chest. Savior suddenly danced sideways beneath her and nearly unseated her. "Hey!" She looked down at him and then jerked her head up, hearing the new sound, and saw a wall of white coming down from the hill above them. "Avalanche!" She flung her left hand out toward the troll and let the magic go. Flames roared out in a ball the size of her head. It flew the few, short feet to the beast before hitting its body and spreading along its fur in a rush, making the beast scream. She pulled Savior around, heading after the ranger but they had run out of time.


Fin's eyes widened as he saw the mountain of snow coming for them. He swallowed his panic and drew hard on Rabbit's reins; drawing her toward the side of the pass and the only cover there was. "Thief! Here!" He shouted. He looked and saw the bright flash of the woman's hair atop her dappled horse as they followed. The sound became deafening as he forced Rabbit in against the rocky wall and slid from her back. The thief was there a moment later and Fin frowned as she all but fell from her saddle to crumple into the snow.


Red panted, trying to catch her breath. She had felt her strength leave her along with the magic and while she had expected it, she had hoped to be racing to safety on Savior's back afterward. "Not good," she gasped.


Fin grabbed hold of the thief's shoulders and dragged her into the lee of the wall and hunched above her as the snow slammed into the trail. "Stay down!" He yelled but he couldn't hear his voice over the roaring of the snow. He risked a glance up and saw the thief's horse drop to his knees and lean into the wall with his muzzle resting against her bowed head. He ducked back down, feeling something hard glance off his temple and threw an arm up to protect himself.


The sound seemed to go on forever but finally it dwindled into uneasy silence. Red coughed and raised her head cautiously, bumping it against the chest of her ranger pursuer. "We lived?"


Fin let out a raspy laugh and settled back on his knees to take stock. "So it seems. Rabbit?" He smiled, finding his horse trembling against the wall of the trail but whole. "Where's our troll?"


Red straightened with effort, resting a hand on Savior's head when he huffed at her. "Hopefully, burned and buried." She ran a hand through her hair, dislodging snow as she tried to stand and her legs wobbled.


"Here." Fin caught her arm and braced her against the wall. "Are you well?"


"That spell takes a toll." Red gave him a crooked grin and brushed more snow from Savior's hide when he scrambled back to stand beside her. He blew out a heavy breath into her face before butting her in the chest hard enough to knock her back a step. "Well it was hardly my fault! Talk to the troll!"


Fin let out a soft laugh, in spite of the situation, and stepped away from her. The trail had been blocked on either side of them. The snow piled across the gulley twenty feet deep and he knew he would have to find another way back to the legion, assuming they could manage to dig themselves out. He debated whether he could subdue the thief right then and recover the stolen merchandise when a large hump of snow at the base of the near end of the avalanche moved. "Oh, no. Thief?"


"Red," she said and rescued her long knife from the snow. Red gave it a swing to clear the blade and moved up beside him. "Call me Red. That's Savior," she said, nodding to her horse. "I truly hoped we could get away without a fight."


Fin nodded. He pulled his bow off his shoulder and knocked an arrow quickly while the troll emerged from the snow with another roar. The hair on the front of its body had been singed clean off in a long, black swath and the wind carried the smell of burning flesh to them. "I'll try to hobble him from back here."


"Try not to hit me." Red sighed, moving closer to the beast before it could get its bearings. "Bloody snow put my flames out before they could do any real damage." She looked over her shoulder to Savior and flicked her fingers at him. "Get the mare and stay back, boy."


Fin's eyes widened in surprise when the gelding obediently caught Rabbit's reins in his teeth and pulled her with him as far away as the avalanche would allow. He turned back, sighting his arrow at the troll and felt a smile crease his face. "Danger makes strange bed-fellows, thief."


Red laughed as the troll lumbered toward her with blood in its eyes.

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Without further hesitation Fin loosed his first arrow, the daedric steel boring deep into the troll’s hide near its neck and knocking it back a step but not arresting its charge. The beast roared leaning into its massive forearms to speed up.

Red braced herself and called over her shoulder, “That’s no good.”

“I see,” Fin muttered as he nocked two arrows together and loosed them after the charging beast landing them deep in the beast’s chest. He nocked two more and loosed them, driving them right into the beast’s skull. This time it stumbled but it reached out to take Red down with it. The lady thief waited until the last moment before ducking under its reaching claws and sliced her blade upward across its exposed belly as she moved aside. The troll finally fell, groaned and exhaled its last snoring breath as it came to a rest in the snow. Blood seeped out from around the body and Red returned her blade to its sheathe before tucking a stray hair back behind her ear.

“Well that was dramatic,” she sighed as the ranger approached to retrieve his arrows, “I suppose this is the part where I have to fight you for my freedom?”

Fin shook his head with a shrug as he slipped his bow back over his shoulder, “I was paid to find you, I did my part. Your freedom is up to the Legion and…” he looked around, “they don’t seem to be here.”

She nodded, “Fair enough….thanks.” she sized up the snow piled around them, “Now how do we get out of here?”

The wood elf looked around for a moment as the horses returned to their sides, “There, we can cut through the wood over that ridge, it should be low enough for the horses to climb.”

Red pulled herself up into Savior’s saddle, “Let’s pray this snowfall doesn’t get any worse.”

---

Escaping the ridge lined goat path proved easy but the woods were overgrown and there was no clear road to follow. As the hours flew by the sky was growing darker and there was no sign nor marker to lead the pair out of the wilderness. Though the sun must have still been hanging on the horizon, the snow was falling so heavily it was like being shrouded in a premature nightfall. Rabbit’s breaths were coming in heavy snorts and her footing was slowed by the fresh snow slipping under her hooves. The Ayleid lantern on her saddle surrounded them in a blue green glow that seemed to be holding back the darkness that would otherwise swallow them. He looked over his shoulder, immediately sorry as his face was turned into the wind and snow quickly gathered in his hood, but his companion had grown quiet.

Behind them Savior was following steadfastly, so close Fin could almost reach out and touch him, but Red was slumped over in the saddle motionlessly. Her cloak was drawn up over her head, her face buried against her mount, and her back was covered with heavy snow. They would be buried if they didn’t find shelter.

In times of crisis, the wilderness had often come to his aid in unexpected ways, and as Fin turned his attention forward again he said a silent prayer his ancestors would send help to bring them safely out of the cold. Suddenly an eerie golden light appeared in the trees, cutting through the snow, it blinked out then reappeared a moment later lower to the ground, then again appearing closer to Rabbit’s face where it hung for a moment swirling and ebbing, causing the mare the whinny shortly in surprise.

“A wisp,” Fin smiled, using his gift to connect to the creature, “we need shelter. Do you know the way?”

The wisp rose and flashed a few times quickly as if answering and then flew ahead leaving a golden spray of sparks trailing behind it. Finn nudged Rabbit to follow, the little mare speeding up to an awkward canter on such unsteady ground. Following the wisp it cut through the trees along a path long buried in the snow they never would have seen, but after traveling a mile or so more lights appeared in the trees ahead. These were fire lights and as they drew closer the wisp disappeared and Fin broke through the woods and into a clearing where a heavily carved Nordling inn was standing stoically against the storm. The yard was lined with lanterns on posts which lit the way to a large stable just behind the main building.

Fin slid from his saddle, grabbing the reins of both horses and dragged them into the shelter of the outbuilding. The temperature immediately climbed twenty degrees and Red groaned as she came to life under her cloak. Fin unclipped the cloak from her neck and drew it off of her, knocking several pounds of snow onto the ground.

Red raised her head, feeling a welcome warmth radiating off a nearby lantern, “Did we die?”

Fin nodded earnestly with a grin, “Yes, come see.”

She chortled, sitting up in the saddle and watched as the wood elf led Rabbit into one of the empty stalls and started to remove her tack and his gear. They were in the middle of the high woods, she had never seen a place like this in these wilds before and part of her was reserved. But after seeing Fin’s ease and trusting his instincts she soon climbed down and settled Savior in a neighboring stall, slipping him some sugar cubes from her pocket in gratitude.

When the horses were settled the two companions collected their gear and made their way back into the snow toward the inn’s heavy wooden door. It was slightly frozen in the joints and it yawned with a crack as they pushed it opened together, warmth and light enveloping them and drawing them in. As the doors closed behind them it was as though they had been teleported into a dream. A hearty fire was crackling, the aromas of various brews, stews, and pies filled their senses and the terrible winter cold was left behind them.

“So…” Red ventured, “we DID die out there?”

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Red stared around her in surprise, her eyes wide, letting her pack fall to the floor with a thump. “But this…” Her voice trailed off when a familiar khajiiti female came down the stairs into the taproom. “P’urza?”

P’urza’s muzzle split in a wide grin. She went to the thief and bobbed her head, wrapping her tail around Red’s left wrist in a show of affection. “Thank you for telling P’urza of this place. It is most comfortable.”

“But…” Red shook her head.

“What is it?” Fin asked and rested a hand on Red’s shoulder as she seemed to sway for a moment.

“This is…” Red gently unwrapped P’urza’s tail from her arm and strode across the taproom to another set of doors. She flicked a glance to the orc woman behind the bar and away before she reached the them.

“You’re tracking snow over my floors, you know.” Fiska said in a long-suffering tone.

Red ignored her for the moment and pulled the doors open. The comforting, damp heat of the Bitter Coast salt marshes met her as she stepped outside and felt her knees threaten to go out from under her. There was the same stable where she had just left her horse, tucked beneath the massive fronds of a great, weeping tree while the deep, bass trumpet of a silt strider carried on the air. She saw the gentle, blue glow of a betty netch bobbing up in the trees beyond the stable, heard the rhythmic huffing of her mate somewhere close by, the lapping of water at the dock she could just spy off to her left, and Savior’s whinny from inside the stable. Red staggered back inside letting the doors fall closed behind her.

Fiska chuckled at the expression on the red-headed woman’s face and slid a mug onto the bar, filled with the dark ale she had the sudden knowledge the woman would prefer. “You’ll be wanting rooms then?”

Fin was but a few feet behind Red and still staring at the closed doors as if they would somehow explain opening half a world away from where they had come in. “That… was Vvardenfel. Yes?”

Red nodded numbly. “Yes.” She went to the bar and picked up the mug Fiska had left her. She took a long drink, set it back down, and began to laugh. “I spent a week on that thrice-blasted supply ship and heaved my guts through that storm, for nothing!” She dropped onto a bar stool and scrubbed a hand over her face. “And all I had to do was cross the damn bar two weeks ago and open the door to get to Solstheim. By the gods…”

Fin took the stool beside hers while his mind reeled with the impossibility. “I don’t understand.”

“Here, Bosmer.” Fiska slid a mug of warm, honeyed meade to him. “Drink before you fall off your stool.”

“Does it go other places?” Fin asked abruptly though his hands curled around the mug, warmth seeping into his fingers from it.

Fiska gave a growling chuckle and shook her head. “Not at the moment.” She gestured vaguely toward the back of the tavern. “There’s other doors back there but they don’t work. I don’t think they’re safe right now.” She shrugged. “Don’t ask me how I know.”

P’urza’s tail curled up so she could catch the tip in her hand. She fluffed it with her claws while she looked at Red. “This one does not understand. You told P’urza to seek this place. Why is Red surprised at it?”

Red chuckled. She took her mug and swallowed the rest of the ale in a rush, letting it warm its way down her throat before she thumped it back onto the bar. “I suppose I shouldn’t be.” She pushed her bright hair out of her face with another laugh and pushed her mug toward Fiska for a refill. “She’s never been exactly normal, this tavern with no name.”

Fin sipped his meade and smiled at the pleasant taste while he took in the warm interior. “This is most interesting.” He took another sip and met Fiska’s steady gaze. “That this place should appear in our moment of need.”

“Don’t look at me.” Fiska harrumphed and rolled her eyes while she slid Red a fresh mug. “I’m going to find the cooks. You’ll be wanting food.” She waved a green hand toward the wide stairs to the upper floor. “You can find your own rooms, I’m sure.”

Red turned on her stool and leaned back against the bar, sipping her ale. “Getting back to Balmora just got a whole lot easier.”

“Your stolen merchandise?” Fin asked and quirked an elegant brow when Red laughed at him.

“Borrowed. I’m returning it after all.” Red took another long drink of the ale, savoring the rich flavor. “Just not to the same person I borrowed it from.” Fin let out an amused snort at that and Red smiled. “So, Bosmer ranger who chases thieves but does not bring them in,” she said with a smirk. “Care to visit rebuilt Balmora with me? It’s worth seeing.”

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