The Crimson Dirks, V5

Author (in-game): Gathers-the-Coin

Erwan was convinced the ring was cursed.

At first, the proof came in small doses. There were bad streaks at the card table, sudden pain in her tooth, and stale bottles of mead. Soon, the proof took on a larger, more dangerous form. Her blade would miss its mark. Potions would cure too slowly. Or she’d step on a rune that her barbarian companion, Skjol, had no business skipping over.

Then there was the greater proof, the instances that threatened their livelihood. There was the coin drying up, new guard patrols at the usual haunts, and word that the East Empire Company had taken notice of their works. All told it augured a slow, tumbling march toward the end of the Crimson Dirks.

Knowing this, a smart person might’ve cast it out; tossed the foul ring into the heart of Illiac Bay and let the waves ferry it to forgotten shores. A wise person might’ve taken it a step further, destroying the artifact and its ill-fated magic, so that no person, past or present, would ever come to harm.

Erwan, of course, decided to wear it around her neck.

With regard to the ring’s nature, she told only the barbarian. Her brother Edward would refuse to believe her. The others would demand she get rid of it, in whatever manner best fit their inclinations. Skjol, on the other hand, would neither object nor disapprove.

Whenever she confided in him, Skjol would simply stare at her blankly and let out a guttural snort before chewing on the nearest piece of meat. Skjol, after all, was not just a barbarian, but one who wore that label like a badge, or an honor bestowed upon him by the High King. Of words he knew few, and when he wrote them down, rarely did he put them in the right order. The only thng that spared him from further ignominy was the fact he couldn’t speak.

As the story goes, the leader of the Crimson Dirks, Tyra Blood-Fire, found him in a cage with his tongue removed, and upon freeing him gained his axe. To this day it was never clear if Skjol was loyal to her or the crew, or whether that distinction had any meaning to him. If Tyra asked him to back Erwan on a job, he would do so without question, and absorb whatever secrets, insults, and curses the Breton decided to fling in his general direction.

That theory would be tested the moment she stepped on that rune.

Earlier that week, they had received a tip. A new crew had set up a smuggler’s operation in one of the old ruins outside the capital. It was supposed to be a simple task. They were to meet with the clan leaders, flex their muscle, and come home with new members or a percentage of the take. It all would’ve gone according to script, Erwan thought, had the ring not been cursed.

“This is all your fault,” she said to no one in particular, while glaring at her disobedient hands. Moments earlier, the Breton had awoken to the sound of chanting – a low and ominous moan floating through the chamber. The rune had blurred her sight, but it was the haunting refrain that seemed to dull her focus, unable to cast a spell.

Regardless, it was clear their captors were more than smugglers. Erwan didn’t need to see the source of the chanting to know it was bad business, no matter how long Skjol mindlessly pointed in that direction.

“Well, at least it isn’t cannibals,” Erwan sneered, “although you being a choking hazard might’ve worked in our favor.”

Skjol wasn’t the brightest Nord, but he knew when he was being insulted. In a past life, he would’ve simply crushed Erwan’s skull and taken a nap. Moreover, cages were nothing new to him, and Erwan’s noisy jests were to him, signs of panic. But he had sworn a vow to protect the charges of the one they called Blood-Fire, and so rather than kill the Breton for looking at him oddly, Skjol continued to point, much to Erwan’s confusion.

The shrine behind her was Daedric in origin – large, twisted and barbed, its stems ugly and misshapen. Blood dripped from its ebony thorns, spilling past the cage and down the stone steps like shifting roots. At the base of the steps stood robed cultists, lost in their supplication, flanked by guards dressed in Daedric armor and mail. Despite an open roof, the air in the ruins was thick and noxious, and the shrine seemed to throb in the blood moon’s light.

As the light shone on the altar, the cultist chants began to turn more vehement and forceful. The voices continued to rise, louder and louder, until one of the guards broke from his stance, climbing the steps toward the cage. Seeing this, Erwan bared her teeth and snarled at him like an animal, but he continued his approach undeterred. As the chants hit a crescendo, Erwan could no longer hear her own thoughts, seeing nothing save the cold, black gauntlet split through the bars and reach for her neck.

With a thrust the guard grabbed her by the head and slammed her into the bars, drawing his weapon with his other hand. With spit bubbling from her mouth and her body pressed against the iron, Erwan screamed at Skjol every manner of insult she could contrive. But the oaf continued to sit in place, his finger still extended, even as the cultists’ chant drummed against their ears. Only now the finger was pointed to the ground, tracing a circle.

Erwan looked down and saw the ring, glowing hotly on her chest.

Skjol didn’t need to tell her what to do next. She wrung herself free of the guard’s grasp, and not knowing what would happen, placed the ring on her finger.

The chanting stopped. And in its place, the shrill cry of weapons drawn from their scabbards. The Daedric warrior turned his attention to the cultists, but it was too late. Erwan’s spell of hysteria had taken hold, her focus restored by the power of the ring. One by one the cultists turned on each other, their rage driven by hers. And when the clangs of metal faded and the screams turned to silence, Erwan collapsed, having exhausted all of herself and the ring.

As the hours passed into the day, Erwan lay there on the floor of her cage, letting the sun splash through the bars. Skjol snored softly in his corner, shifting on occasion to scratch himself. Outside, ravens picked at the flesh of the dead, sharpening their beaks on the bones and paying no mind to the living.

The others would come looking for them eventually, and fetch M’Sharra to pick the lock. But for now Erwan was content as she was. She held the ring up against the sky, circling the area where the moon once stood. Perhaps she had made a mistake, and the ring wasn’t cursed after all.

But Erwan still held out hope.

Scroll to Top