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Hew's Bane

Author: 
Naryu Virian

I landed on Hew’s Bane covertly, via Shark’s Teeth Grotto.

By then, the Secretives had to know I was after all of them, so the Hew’s Bane land gate and Abah’s Landing docks might be watched. Because Captain Shalug the Shark owed me a favor, I hitched a ride in on one of her buccaneer sloops. Shalug may be an Orc pirate, but she’s always played fair with me.

Tlera Verano

The aforementioned personage has been marked for execution in accordance with the lawful tradition and practice of the Morag Tong.

Hew’s Bane is mostly just a big pimple on Hammerfell’s arse, with the exception of the town of Abah’s Landing, an “open port”—that is, a place where merchants will buy cargo of questionable origin.

Abah’s Landing was the last known destination of my sixth target, Tlera Verano—yes, that Tlera Verano, the daughter of Grandmaster Rythe Verano—as you know only too well, eh, Skull? Exalted Master Tlera, the Morag Tong’s chief … accountant.

What the vehk, even an assassin’s league needs bean-counters, right? Especially when the beans are mortal lives. And it wouldn’t do to underestimate her: Tlera’s wits were as sharp as my blades, and she had a memory like mine, though for figures and fees. She’d be right at home in the counting-houses of the shady merchants of Abah’s Landing.

Disguised as a Redguard laborer, blades tucked away, I swaggered in through the desert gate past an oblivious guard and made my way to a tavern, the Serpent and Senche.

They had imported sujamma, but I was undercover, so I got qishr and took it out onto the deck overlooking the harbor. The Grandmaster had explained that the Seven Secretives were planning to employ their “contributions” to take over the Tong in a coordinated coup and then use the mysterious Simulacrum Rubric to transform it into more than a mere league of assassins. The Tong had been suppressed for assassinating heads of state; the Rubric would make it possible not just to kill them, but to undetectably replace them.

The Secretives wanted to subvert the very nature of the Tong. But now, with five of the seven dead at my hands, their conspiracy was surely a failure. Did I really need to go on killing them? Well, yes. A Writ is a Writ. I live by the traditions of the Morag Tong, Skull, and rogues who would betray those traditions had to die. Preferably somewhere well out of sight of the guards of Abah’s Watch—they looked like tough sons of s’wits. Best not to tangle with them.

So: where to find Tlera Verano? Her skills and access to money meant she could consort with this town’s wealthy merchants—but Tlera had always preferred the company of lowlifes. Time once again to find the local Outlaws Refuge. However, I couldn’t count on bribing a cutpurse to show me the way—Tlera would have warned the crooks that she was a fugitive, and they’d be wary of bounty hunters.

Still, the back alleys were the place to start, so I waited till dark and took a stroll through the criminal quarter—where I got nothing but shrugs and suspicion.

Finally a treasure hunter, down on his luck, took a couple of drakes and told me that if I was looking for thieves, tonight I’d find them at Prince Hew’s.

It was easy to see why: Hubalajad’s Palace was hosting a swanky soirée, thronged with high-society types wearing their wealth around their wrists and necks. I estimated that as many as a third of the servants working the party were thieves awaiting opportunities for robbery. I glided up to one who looked timid, showed him my necklace, and said, “You shouldn’t have tried to steal this, light-fingers, because now I’ll have to turn you over to the guards. Unless you tell me how to get into the Outlaws Refuge.”

I must have seemed intimidating because the poor f’lah broke down immediately and told me, not just about the Refuge, but about a hidden lair within it belonging to a “Thieves Guild.” I smiled and gave him a drake, and within a quarter hour I was inside the guild’s underground Thieves Den. Just the place for Tlera. I quickly found the back room where she’d set up shop—but it seemed someone else had found her first. Because there, with a dagger hilt sticking out of her back, was Tlera Verano.

Or so it appeared. After kicking over an antique urn and cursing a blue streak for a solid minute, I took a deep breath and examined the body—and found that the color at the root of the corpse’s hair didn’t match Tlera’s. This was a double, impersonating Tlera in death. However, there was no mistaking Tlera’s handwriting in the journal on the desk: “Notes on the Aurbical Abacus.”

I flipped through it quickly: research into an ancient Redguard relic, some sort of magical calculating device. Well, sure—that’s just the sort of thing Tlera would kill for. I took it and strolled to the exit.

On my way out, I did take the opportunity to pay a bit more attention to this so-called Thieves Guild. Imagine, mere robbers organizing themselves like the Morag Tong or the Fighters Guild! Seems like overthinking it. Still, they had some sweet gear. Given her taste for crooks, I wondered if Tlera wasn’t thinking about changing her allegiance.

Back at the Serpent and Senche, I spent some time studying her journal. It related what she’d been able to discover about the legend of the Aurbical Abacus, a relic created by the ancient Yokudans to track the movements of the moons, constellations, and planets and calculate the exact turn of the seasons. It detected the directional origin of star-magicka, or “varliance,” and stored it as data.

It was created by distilling the knowledge and wisdom of twenty generations of the priest-wizards of Zeht, the Yokudan god of agriculture, civil law, and mathematics. And here’s the kicker: it could predict the weather.

If the Secretives, through their remade Morag Tong, sought political power, the value of weather prediction was obvious: think how useful it would be to know, for example, when the crops were going to fail.

But Tlera’s journal hinted that the powers of the Aurbical Abacus might not be limited to calculation—that it could not only predict the weather but actually influence it on a continental scale. Climate control! Yeah, Tlera would be willing to kill more than just a body double to get hold of something like that. The journal explained how her research led her to believe that when Yokuda sank, the Zeht Priesthood brought the Abacus here, to Hew’s Bane, where, unused, it had been absorbing and storing varliance for centuries.

Khorshira, the Priestess of Zeht who was guardian of the Abacus, was a sister-in-law to Prince Hubalajad, the founder of Abah’s Landing, and Tlera thought the device might have been buried with her when she died. But all mention of the Hubalajad family tomb had been erased from the histories, so Tlera had had to come personally to Hew’s Bane to track it down. Which poses a question, Skull.

Tlera had clearly gone to a great deal of trouble to counterfeit her own murder. So why had she left this journal where I could find it? I turned it round and round in my mind like a Dwarven puzzle box, and there was only one way it made sense: the double was meant to throw off others, not me. She knew I’d see through it and had left the journal to draw me on—into a trap. And I had no choice but to walk into it.

A few more drakes bought me the information that the old Hubalajad family tomb was up near the Great Inland Gate, but the site was now known as Bahraha’s Gloom, shunned and abandoned due to its association with necromancy. Redguards hate necromancy. We Dunmer are wary of it, but in moderation—say, binding a few ghosts to guard an ancestral tomb—it has its uses. The Redguard necromancers who infested Bahraha’s Gloom had been total fetchers, so horrible that they’d been sealed up inside the tomb.

And what do you get when you seal up necromancers in a tomb complex? You figure it out. What I figured was that I was going to have to pass as Ra Gada walking dead, so inside Bahraha’s Gloom, the first thing I did was plunder the sarcophagus of an ancient Zeht Priestess and don her tattered regalia, wings and all. The place was crawling with undead, but dressed as I was, they hardly looked at me. Though I didn’t let them see me if I could help it.

Next question: where would this Abacus be hidden? The crypt was cluttered with coffers. Was it Tlera’s plan to have me find it for her? Or was she already here, waiting to ambush me?

I crept around until I found a door with Zeht and some other Yokudan god on it. That seemed like a good bet. It led me into a whole hidden section of the tomb complex.

The halls were haunted by silent, sand-faced revenants I was careful to avoid. The corridors led me to a grand catafalque with a graven legend that was nearly effaced, but I could still read one word: “Khorshira.” I gingerly touched the coffin’s lid—and it slammed open in my face as out of it, howling, burst a terrifying Mournful Aegis, its four iron gauntlets reaching to grasp me. “About time, flat-head!” cried Tlera from behind me. “Now the spirit will slay you and disappear, and I shall have the Abacus!”

But as the Aegis laid its cold, cold hands upon me, the Sigil of Zeht on my borrowed robe suddenly glowed with warmth, and the undead Ra Gada recoiled. Its helm swiveled toward Tlera, and with a hideous howl it was upon her, tearing and rending with all four hands. Tlera shrieked horribly, looking at me in hopeless appeal. And maybe I could have helped her—but I didn’t. I watched until the end as the thing did its terrible work. Then it turned to me, bowed, and vanished.

Within the coffin I found the Aurbical Abacus, a pretty thing, all Glass gears and ivory pistons, suffused with the blue glow of star-magic. I held it a moment, admiring it—and then smashed it to flinders on the floor.