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Roleplay: The Crypt of Hearts

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Entry 28: Morndas, 21st of Rain's Hand, 3E 346.

It has been raining for three days.

I arrived late last night at Carrickdown, a wretched little fishing town that, under normal circumstances, is some three weeks journey by foot from Northpoint. My own progress had been slowed by a series of unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which being the sad state of the various roads and footpaths I've traversed. Since my journey began, barely two days have gone by without seeing rain or snow or some mixture of both. The roads have long since turned to sludge.

I spent the night at the Rat's Head Inn, a local pub that caters mostly to travelers and other outsiders, and decided to make it my home base as I attempt to assemble an escort to accompany me in my journey to the Crypt. The Crypt, as far as I have been able to pry from the locals, lies just a few leagues outside town. 

Despite my exhaustion, I've found that my excitement has been difficult to mask. I'm so close! I only hope that the documents I forged from the Guild are ---

"What can I get for you, young master?"

A slender Breton, scarcely past manhood, looked up from where he was writing. His brown eyes stretched wide, but the heavy bags beneath them gave off an impression of desperation rather than surprise.

"Aah...Alto Wine," he said, returning his writing quill to its inkwell with a bit of a shaky hand.

The tavern waitress bowed her head in acknowledgement and scurried off to the bar. Things were beginning to liven up for the evening. From his place by the fire, the Breton could see the tavern door in constant motion as men and women poured in from the street, wringing out their hair and kicking the mud from their boots. The available coat racks were quickly overwhelmed, hence many cloaks found themselves draped over chairs, bar stools, or simply thrown on the ground. It wouldn't be long until the entire floor was a sopping wet mess.

Pulling out his quill again, he tapped it gently against the lip of the inkwell. Then he wrote:

--- convincing enough for my soon-to-be companions. Julianos help me if there is another Guild member or a Lamp in this gods forsaken place. -Y.W.

After looking over what he had written, the young man took a deep breath and blew slowly across the parchment. Apparently satisfied, he closed the leather-bound book in which he had been writing and returned it to the satchel that lay at a lump by his feet. He began to clean off his quill when the waitress returned.

"Here's your wine," she said with a smile, setting a goblet down. "Call me over if you need anything else, dear. Name's Sabina."

"Thank you Sabina," the Breton replied, raising the goblet in half-hearted cheer. 

As Sabina turned away to other customers, Y.W. stared down at his sanguine reflection within the goblet. He looked tired. Timid. Vulnerable. The Breton tipped the goblet to his lips and took a long hard drink. There can be none of that now. He had an adventuring party to gather.

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A lash of thunder cracked outside, wrenching him from his grim rumination. Slowly eased again by the tapping of rain against the window beside him, he leaned over his worn parchment map, illuminated by dim lantern, stroking the distance he'd traveled to this point: from Sentinel, north across the Illiac Bay, and through High Rock to Carrickdown, finally.

He was close now. Closer to reclaiming his brother's stolen soul. He would bring them both peace, and an end to the fiend who sundered them.

But he was parched now. The barmaid was occupied and so, feeling the need to stretch his legs anyway, he made his way to the bar. In passing, the curious sight of an anxious young Breton caught his attention as he collided with a patron, turning away from the counter with three ales in-hand. They were both doused.

"Idiot," the stout Nord roared.

"My apologies, sir. I'll happily reimbur--"

"And what in Oblivion is a Redguard like you doing here," he growled, clasping with his big paws the chest of the Redguard's leather jacket, prying him closer. The drunkard's breath might have killed a lesser man.

The portly Nord groaned in impatience as he shoved the Redguard onto the damp wooden floor, summoning two of his friends--no doubt the others tragically bereft of their ale.

"Get up, you milkdrinker!"

"...as you wish."

He rose, answering their combative stances with his own.

What ensued was flurry of blows--of fists and boots and brows, a chorrus of grunts backed by the hurrahs and jeers of patrons. By the end of it, the Redguard was the last one standing, huffing over his knees. He held out his hand to help up the very Nord who had insulted him, who laughed and accepted.

"You fight well, friend! Seems I owe you the drink, now! Come," he laughed as they helped each other to the bar.

"The choice is yours, my friend. What'll it be?"

"Water, please."

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Therence stooped in out of the rain in time to catch the tail end of some kind of brawl. A sneer of disgust twisted his shadowed face. Nords and Redguards. Hard to say which breed of brute was worse. They were laughing now, sharing drinks over the bar as if old friends. Madmen, all.

He shed his hood, revealing a set of aging Breton features. He cast his hard blue eyes about the wretched tavern, lighting finally upon a twitchy young lad who looked as out of place as Therence felt.

Another wayfarer came blundering in out of the storm and almost sent him reeling. He bit back the curse on his lips and, turning his back on the fool, picked his way through the crowded hall toward the boy and his wine.

"Are you the scholar, then?" he muttered as he took a seat, uninvited. "I've heard rumors of some damn fool hoping to lead an expedition to the Crypt. If that's you, I figure you might have use for a witch hunter."

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"Ju-Journeyman of the Mage's Guild, actually," the young student said, "I'm here on official business from the Guild.  And yes, you heard rightly. I intend on entering the Crypt of Hearts and am in need of an escort."

Pausing, the young man eyed his new guest furtively over another swig of his wine. A witch hunter. Such men were reliable folk to have along on expeditions to potentially undead-infested crypts, as they were often armed with poisons to silence necromancers and charms to banish summoned wights. He also knew that witch hunters were often hired by the Guild to track down and kill rogue members. This sent a shiver down the Breton's back. Under ever so slightly different circumstances, they could be mortal enemies.

"I'd gladly have you on," he said, returning an empty goblet to the table. "There is no payment up front - the Guild doesn't want this particular expedition appearing on the treasury rolls - but you're free to keep a share of all the spoils taken in."

 

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Therence's ears perked up at the name of the Guild. This could be his chance! An end to - how many months now? - of demeaning himself with mercenary work. Played properly, this kid could be his ticket back to the good life, to the way things were...

A twisted smile found its way onto his lips. "I see you're out of wine." His surly demeanor was gone, replaced by an almost alarmingly convivial air of comradery. Raising a hand for the waitress, he continued. "Let's not talk about shares. I'm sure there will be plenty of time to work that out later, but it will be a pleasure to assist a fellow Guildsman. More wine for my friend," he pronounced as the waitress approached. Without sparing her another glance, he held out a hand for his new friend to shake. " My name is Therence. Tell me about your studies! What's your interest in the Crypt?"

It was true that his name was Therence and that he had, indeed, once been an agent of the Mages Guild. He was even sincere in his interest for what business the Guild might have with the Crypt of Hearts.

What he neglected to mention were the circumstances of his expulsion from the Evermor chapter, almost five years past.

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It so happened that Hjerm had a cousin whose best friend's brother-in-law once courted a maiden from Hammerfell--Aliya perhaps was her name? From what he'd heard, she was quite the saucy gal. Hjerm never met her, of course, as he'd never cared to venture far from Carrickdown. His family had lived here for four generations, ever since they fled Markarth; a right mess that was, a terrible misundersta--

"--intend on entering the Crypt of Hearts and am in need of an escort."

The words pierced the combined sounds of the tavern, its laughter and chatter--they struck dead the sounds of the storm outside. They even rendered the drunken Nord's rant inaudible. The Redguard turned his head, his eyes falling again upon that edgy young Breton.

The boy? Unbelievable! Has he any idea about the Cult?

"--hauled more fish this year than anyone else in this town could in their entire li--"

"--I thank you for the drink, friends. It's time I took my leave of you."

"Oh," Hjerm paused. "Of course! Surely you didn't come here just to scrap with some old men," he wheezed with a laugh. "Say, Redguard, we never got your name!"

"Omekh. Now peace to you, brothers."

"Mm," Hjerm sipped. "Omekh, give my regards to Alama when you see her!"

The Redguard opened his mouth to say more than a few things.

Never mind.

"...of course, Hjerm." A pat on Hjerm's shoulder as he turned away. "Of course."

Omekh approached the table where the the young man sat. He was with another, older Breton now. The traveled Redguard knew his type: a sellsword of some kind, likely a mage.

The boy really is serious...

The elder Breton was speaking:

"...me about your studies! What's your interest in the Crypt?"

"Yes," Omekh said, pulling up a chair from a table beside them. His movements were stern. "What business does a boy have with necromancers?"

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A very short and even more sleek Bosmer woman walked down the stairs, struggling to carry a quite heavy -it seemed so, because it was not big -leather bag. Her black, long hair was tied into a neat ponytail; the Wood Elf had a simple, quite worn-out leather armour and a green cloak with a hood, slightly bleached in the sun. Ah, how good it feels to finish another contract. I should just stop letting anyone pay me with gems or jewelry, because I won't carry that stuff back home, by Y'ffre, Cayliss thought.

The job of a local guide was usually not that well paid, anyone could clearly see that by looking at the state of what Cayliss was wearing, so she was sad that those rich merchants had to leave and did not want a guide this time. Now, her days won't be interesting again and her clients will only want to travel from a village to a village, not to any ruins. Anyway, it was nice to talk to the merchants for the last time and receive a payment. I should probably hide this somewhere... but first, maybe a reward for myself?

The Bosmer approached a table that was near the bar. Noone really cared about the woman, even if jewelry in the bag sometimes made metallic noises when the elf was moving. Most people in town knew that she usually came to the tavern to finish guiding contracts with anyone in one of the rooms upstairs.

"Hey, I see you've got a busy day!" -she said to one of the girls behind the counter. Indeed, the whole tavern was now filled with various smells and chatter, with people who escaped the rain and now totally forgot that the weather was so terrible. Dice thrown on tables rattled, lads laughed at inappropriate jokes, forks, cups and plates clattered. "I'd love some mead and a soup or a stew, if you still have any. I bet all the guests could have emptied your wares, but I hope there's something left for me?"

Cayliss received what she wanted and soon the lean local guide was devouring a huge bowl of something that looked like a soup with a lot of mysterious things floating in it. One could wonder how she found any space inside herself for the whole meal, but she did succeed somehow.

If the Breton boy from the Guild noticed Cayliss, then he could recall that someone, somewehere (his memory was a little clouded in this very moment), told him about a Wood Elf who offered her skills and maps for septims -noone could get lost with that maid.
Anyone who actually lived in Carrickdown probably knew her.

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A fellow Guild member?

The younger Breton's throat went dry. He should have expected this situation with the amount of luck he had lately. But there was no need to stress. The fellow seemed amicable enough. He might not even ask to see the official Guild writ that typically accompanied missions like this. 

Better not to bring it up unless asked.

Suddenly very glad that the witchhunter had called the waitress to fill his goblet, he held out his hand to shake Therence's own. Best to play this straight.

"Name's Yaalon Wicksley. I'm from the Northpoint Chapter. Glad to have you on."

Yaalon took another long gulp from his goblet.

"The Crypt eh? Well - "

"Yes. What business does a boy have with a necromancer?"

The voice belonged to a Redguard. The same Redguard, Yaalon noticed, that had single-handedly took out three burly Nords over at the bar earlier. At the time the young student had made a note to approach the man about joining the party. Their expedition could use a hearty warrior. Still, he didn't like the tone the Redguard had set. For a moment he thought the man wanted to fight. But the question didn't really beckon that sort of outcome.

"Necromancy isn't illegal in the Guild or the Empire," he said tersely. It then occurred to him that a defense of necromancy in front of an Redguard and a witchhunter was... perhaps insensitive. Yaalon took another gulp of wine. 

"In any case," Naalon continued, waving his hand dismissively, "the target of my mission isn't necromancers. We're after the Crypt's archives. If any Necromancers want to interfere, that's their prerogative. What's it to you?"

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Therence's lip curled as he rounded on the interloper. "Yeah, who asked you? This is Mages Guild business, Redguard, and none of your concern." Looking closer, he saw that it was the same brute he had seen brawling with three Nords as he came in. He sneered. "A mighty warrior such as yourself likely wouldn't understand. Archives means records, which means reading. Nothing you'd be interested in."

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"It's hard to tell just which of you is the youngest," Omekh laughed, "with this one leering and jeering as he is."

"I would have no business with the Mage's Guild, especially with apologists of necromancy. But I have journeyed far to this place..."

His eyes softened as they looked nowhere; the more attentive observer might have glimpsed sorrow.

"There is a lich who resides in the Crypt. He has taken something of great value to me."

He blinked hither.

"I have come to slay him. And if you mean to enter the Crypt as well...perhaps we will all benefit from greater numbers."

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As the stranger spoke, Yaalon watched silently and drained the remainder of his second goblet of wine. The man was a striking physical presence, with a full beard and thick dreadlocks framing a wizened face. Yaalon idly wondered if he himself would ever be able to grow that much facial hair. But when the Redguard mentioned a lich, the Journeyman balked. 

A lich. There's a lich with the Crypt? And this man wants to pick a fight with it?

Rogue necromancers were one thing, but a lich was truly dangerous. You'd have to be half-mad to pick a fight with one. Still, the prospect of being attacked by a lich shook him, and Yaalon called Sabina over for another drink to calm his nerves. He waited for her to fill his goblet and leave before he spoke.

"We're not interested in risking the party to pursue vengeance on your account, Redguard. But... if there is a lich about..." 

At this thought he stole another sip of Alto.

"...then we could use any extra hand we can muster."

He turned his gaze back to the witchhunter Therence.

"I saw this man handle three burly Nords earlier. He's got the talent."

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Therence frowned. He'd killed three liches in his career at the Guild, but each one had cost him dearly. It might be nice to have someone to soak up the damage for once. Still... The brute would be useless if he fell to the first specter summoned by the damned thing. "Three drunken louts is one thing. A powerful undead spellcaster is quite another. Do you even know how to fight a spirit? Besides, this is the first I've heard of any lich in the area." His eyes narrowed suddenly. "Who are you, anyway? If you so despise the magical arts, then how have you come to know so much of the Crypt?"

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"My name is Omekh Rezir. My city of Sentinel was set upon by a cult of necromancers, as you may have heard. In the night, they scourged the city, wresting as many souls as they could."

"For many Redguard, to strike the dead is...profane. This is why they attacked us; so many felt unable to defend themselves. Among the taken...was my brother."

Omekh's fist tightened.

"It was this tradition that bade me stand by as I watched his abduction..." The words were bitter.

"Once they'd had their fill of us, the cult fled, but not before I could cut one down. Before I took his life, I...encouraged him to tell me where they were headed, and whom they served. In the weeks since, my travels have yielded much knowledge of the undead: the applications of silver, for instance." He placed his hand around the grip of his scimitar.

"I do not know the purpose of their raids, only that Sentinel was not the first afflicted. If your archives are valuable enough for you to risk death, however, they may be after the same thing. It matters little to me. I will aid you, but my own intent is clear."

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The Bosmer finished her lunch and noticed that even the tavern cheer and other noises did not completely dampen the sound of thunder and heavy rain on the roof. She could stay for a while longer here, why risk going out and getting soaking wet? This was a very lovely place and she noticed some people she did not see sitting together in the tavern recently.

Cayliss looked in their direction for a while, intrigued. There was nothing new about travelers visiting this town from time to time, but maybe they were up to something fascinating? Maybe they needed a guide?

The elf could not hear what they were talking about, but clearly the discussion was not boring. The Bretons seemed to understand eachother, but they were not friends, and the Redguard was a determined guy. Ah, how she liked to observe people.

"Oh, that meal was delicious! Thank you." -Cayliss said, when the maid took the dirty dishes. Now, time to look closer at the interesting individuals, because they might need a guide, and Cayliss always needed coin. The three men certainly did not hear her steps, because she was a slim Bosmer, but the metallic noises inside her bag could have gotten their attention.

"I'm sorry if I'm interrupting something important, but could I ask whether you need someone who would help you find certain places? I'm a humble guide who knows every tree, every rabbit hole and every stone in this land. I can show you the way for coin." -she said, smiling politely and looking at each of the possible future clients, not sure if any of them is the leader.

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Therence had just opened his mouth to speak when a small elven woman interjected with an insincere apology and unsolicited offer. He glared at her. "Yes, you are interrupting something important, and no, we don't need any more hangers-on, thank you very much." Back to the young mage, he continued as if the latest intruder was not there. "As I was saying... before I was so rudely interrupted... twice... You mentioned the archives beneath the Crypt of Hearts. I was hoping you would show me your writ, young Yaalon. I'd like to know exactly what it is the Guild is after down there." In truth, he simply longed to hold a real, certified document of the Guild, once more, just to feel in some small way as though the last few years had not happened. He proffered a hand with a smile, his eyes perhaps just a touch too bright.

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Yaalon held up a steady hand to quiet the table. The tawny-haired young Breton's cheeks had become quite pinkish, and a avid observer would note that his third goblet of wine had been completely emptied. Feeling pleasantly warm and fully confident, he spoke with all the authority he could muster:

"I've got all the necessary Guild paperwork and am fully authorized for this mission. Our own agreement on splitting the loot equally is between us though. The Mage's Guild expects me to make my own way."

Bringing up the satchel that laid between his feet, he laid it on his lap. A clinking of glass, dull ringing of metal, and the soft patter of something akin to stones could be heard. To fetch the Mage's Guild documents, however, he delved into a side pocket and pulled out a small hardback volume titled Imperial Charter of the Mage's Guild in immaculate gold lettering.

"For those of you who haven't worked for the Guild before," Yaalon began, glancing casually at the Redguard, "this is the Imperial Charter - proof of our legal status to operate across the Empire."

Yaalon set the charter down upon the table and opened it to reveal two letters sealed by wax stamped with the Mage's Guild official brand, a stylized eye which gazed back at the viewer with an expression of keen disinterest, and the Guild's motto impressed in an arcane language around the edge.

"And these are the documents concerning this mission especially. This is a letter affirming my identity as a Journeyman of the Mage's Guild," he said, holding up the first. "And this is the writ where the Mage's Guild authorizes my mission." 

Yaalon pushed both letters onto the table. Perhaps it was his state of slight inebriation, but the young man was considerably more confident now in his handiwork. Being unable to steal one, he had to forge the seal by having a wooden one carved in its likeness. He had thought the carver had done a shoddy job of it, with some of the curves of the script being too sharp and jagged around the edges. But now, slightly melted and pressed within the book for a period of a few weeks, it looked downright authentic. 

"Have a gander at them if you'd like," he said nonchalantly. Turning towards the slender Bosmer woman who had just approached the table, Yaalon eyed her up and down. She reminded him of a Guildmate he knew back at Northpoint, although her dark hair wasn't tied back with quite the severity. She also looked considerably more affable. 

"Forgive my associate for his rudeness," said Yaalon, unconsciously ruffling his hair. "I believe I have heard of you. We are indeed in need of a guide. Someone who can lead us to the Crypt without incident. What is your fare?"
 

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She wanted to back off after someone told her a guide was not necessary. Let them do their business, whatever it is, and go look for other clients. But then that young Breton apologized and... by the Green Pact, Y'ffre and the Earth Bones, was he talking about the Crypt of Hearts?!

"The Crypt... of Hearts?" Cayliss asked, uncertain if he was talking about that place. Everyone could hear the excitement in her voice. The Bosmer stopped walking away and almost jumped back to the table where Yaalon's group was gathering.

"The fare... a hundred and fifty septims will do, if you want to be guided inside as well. I accept coin, jewelry, potions, really any items that would cost that many septims. Anything. I heard there is an undead being, perhaps more than one being... I could ask you to pay more, aye, but I... I want to see the Crypt again. I cannot do that alone."

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Therence gave Yaalon another tight smile as he swept up the two documents. Then he paused, and weighed them vaguely in his hand. Something felt off.

He looked closer, ignoring the she-elf's excitable jabber. Yes, there, in the Guild's crest... Wasn't that a Lyr where it should have been Ayem? But no, on even closer examination it was clear that the wax had simply been distorted by the wear of travel.

As he cracked the seal, though, he knew that his initial hesitation had not derived from the seal at all. There was a feeling that he still could not place, but as he considered the document in his hands his frown deepened. He shot Yaalon a puzzled glance before scanning the writ's words. Genealogical records... All the usual legal nonsense... What was...?

The enchantment! He hadn't even noticed his shoulders tensing up, but now he allowed them to relax. He had been on edge because the writ didn't have that faint crackle of enchantment that was typical of official Guild documents. But that was alright, wasn't it? His smile returned. Now that he had identified and interpreted the source of his misgivings, he looked up in time for the elf to finish her sales pitch.

"...I want to see the Crypt again. I cannot do that alone."

Therence rolled his eyes. "What, you too? What is this, a convention for suicides and madmer?" Raising his thin, gravelly voice, he spread one arm sarcastically to a group of passersby and called "Anyone else for the Crypt of Hearts? Last call for a slow, painful death in the dark!" He returned to Yaalon and shared a scornful smile. He tapped the writ with the back of his fingers. "You had me worried with this for a moment. The watermark spell, you know. But there are plenty of good reasons why it might have run out, aren't there?" He raised one eyebrow, waiting for the Journeyman's reply.

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The outburst sent a jolt of anger through Omekh. 

Has this ass no guile? Who knows who could be listening?

With a begrudged sigh, Omekh softened his face towards the Bosmer woman. Genial though she may have seemed, it occurred to him that anyone determined enough to not only find and enter the crypt, but return--with an apparent eagerness to revisit, no less--must not to be taken lightly. Still, even in so few words, he found her levity refreshing. He stood to greet her.

"As introductions seem to be lost on my friends here, I will introduce myself. My name is Omekh," he said, with a slight bow of his head. "And I can pay my part, as I'm sure the Brothers Pompous can pay theirs. Please--"

He pulled another chair to their table, inviting her to sit as he seated himself.

"You said you've been to the Crypt before. What can you tell me about it, Miss...?"

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"So all of you have an interest in the Crypt?" she asked after Therence's sarcastic words. Usually, travelers would be more secretive when they were going to go to such places, but whatever. That was not her own problem.

"It's up to you when you pay, I'm going with you so it's not like we won't be seeing eachother for a long time. We will be together when our contract begins and ends, yes? The Crypt, hmmm. It's a terrible place for the living, you can feel the chill of death in your heart when you are there. And it's full of undead who endlessly walk the halls and corridors. But I must tell you that it's also full of wonders." Cayliss glanced at Omekh and the others but she seemed a bit absent, recalling what she encountered in the vast and cold dungeon. These were not happy memories.

"Various scripts that either ended up there in an unknown way or someone did not want them to be discovered and put them in there. Mysterious artifacts on skeletons of fallen heroes, either lying mistreated on the stone floor or walking as well. Things that were lost so long ago that noone knows they exist. Oh, I could talk about them for hours. I left one wonder in there. And... villagers talk of a powerful lich that now reigns in the darkness of the Crypt. He was always there, I know it. I saw his grave a long time ago and it was peaceful. What woke him from endless slumber? Noone can tell. I remember a piece of parchment with notes that said that the Great Aengoth tried to complete a ritual when he was alive, and failed. This resulted in a violent death. Who knows, maybe it's him?"

The Bosmer ordered a whole flagon of ale, before she continued. Alcohol was needed in such serious talks. When she resumed, her voice was a bit more uncertain and quiet.

"I'm a bit anxious and not sure if I can talk to you about all of this. My friend, Beleric, who was also a guide was hired recently by a team of shadowy people to lead them to the Crypt of Hearts. He did not return. I found his things on the way to the ruins and I'm certain he is dead. That death did not happen inside the Crypt. I might be stupid to sign a contract with another group that wants to get there, but why not? You seem to be a nice bunch of guys."

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"You had me worried with this for a moment. The watermark spell, you know. But there are plenty of good reasons why it might have run out, aren't there?"

Watermark spell

The words hit Yaalon like a northerly sweeping inland from the Sea of Ghosts. He had just been despairing over the fact that he'd be giving up the last of his coin purse in pursuit of this mission when the experienced Breton's words ripped him back to reality. To what was really at stake.

watermarkspellwatermarkspellwatermarkspell

The Alto Wine had betrayed him at last. Normally quick witted, much to the admiration of his teachers, he could turn a conversation on a dime and spin a convincing lie. But the clarity of his thought was wavering. Yaalon furtively lifted the goblet to his lips to give them something to do, but the goblet was dry and his thirst went unquenched.

"Y-yeah, of course," said Yaalon lamely after a moment's pause. He set down the goblet with a hollow clop. "Weak enchantments wear off as easily as they go...undetected."

Yaalon frowned. It just occurred to him that it would have been better to play along. Feign ignorance and wonder at the missing enchantment alongside Therence. Then it'd be a mystery. The usual political plotting of the Guild. Nothing to see here. But it was too late for that. Or was it?

Yaalon met the penetrating gaze of the witchhunter with a serious and knowing look. He mouthed "I'll explain later" and then turned his attention to the Bosmer woman, who was giving a vivid description of the Crypt. Once she had finished, he threw his coin purse on the table. 

"I can pay your one-hundred-and-fifty Septims," he said.

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Therence's subtle smile turned sour at the sight of the coinpurse. He recalled the Journeyman's words, not half an hour prior; no payment up front, eh? But no matter. The pay for his last job hadn't yet run dry, and this job promised more than a couple hundred gold coins at the end. He placed both hands on the table with a thump and stood up.

"Well then. If we're doing this, we should probably get ready." He tilted a perfunctory nod toward the elf. "I trust you know what you're doing? Then make yourself useful and go fetch us whatever food and supplies you think we'll need for an expedition to the Crypt's archives and back." He gave Yaalon another long look, but then turned away, saying to the Redguard: "And you'll probably want to do whatever it is you people do before a fight. I've got some business of my own to take care of, but I'll meet up with you again on the road out of town. Tomorrow, shall we say, at noon?"

Without waiting for a reply, he gave a slight, mocking bow to his companions, and turned away for the door.

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She looked at the purse and at Yaalon. "Thanks, you're the rare client who pays first. Anyway, you won't be dissapointed, because I will repay you for this kindness -as your friend suggests, I will buy supplies. I will get food rations, and we can also hunt on our way so that we have even more for the time when we will enter the Crypt. I'll get us eight torches, too. If I understand well, you guys are mages, so you can give us additional light when we need it. And I will purchase three good health potions, in case your healing spells or skills fail, that happens even to experts. That's what I can get you for the septims you gave me, if I want to keep a few for myself as well." the talkative Bosmer summed everything up, frowning when she had to do any maths in her head.

All the calculations were a job for the Dwemer, not her, she thought. Of course, if anyone suggested less torches and more potions, she'd change the list of items to buy, because the clients decide what they want. The torches were cheap, but the good potions were expensive.

"Let's meet at noon at the crossroads just outside Carrickdown." Cayliss said and she meant a place just 100 meters away from the border of the town, where two poorly kept paths met. The Bosmer sketched a small map with her finger in the dust on the table to make sure everyone knew where to go.

If noone had anything important to say, she left the tavern to hide the payment from the merchants in her tiny house. Cayliss had little time to look for a better place. It was a bit late already, some shops were closed. The Bosmer and others should go shopping in the morning, just before the meeting time. Noon was not an early hour. When she came home, the Wood Elf spent the evening packing her things for the next day: the coins from Yaalon, a quiver of arrows (20 arrows), a bow, an old map of the whole region, a skin of fermented milk (an awful Bosmer type of alcohol that was loved only by the Bosmer, really), a skin of water and a flint for making fireplaces on the way. All the other necessary things were the ones she was going to buy in the morning.

When dawn came, she was recalling the cold walls of the dungeon. There was a detailed map of it in the elf's head, but she couldn't say what exactly they were going to encounter. A lot of sands of the Alik'r shifted, a lot of water ran into the Iliac Bay, since she last saw the ominous skull at the top of the tomb's entrance.

Morning was very pleasant. The storm was long gone and sun was shining brightly, birds were singing, and the air was fresh as always after heavy rain.

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There Yaalon and Omekh sat, silent and preoccupied with thoughts. Around them, the tavern's bustle crept quieter; the moons were high and the storm had stopped. The Redguard stared blankly at the table, where the elf had traced their meeting place. He mused: suddenly he was no longer on his own in this; Omekh had eased into the notion that he would fight, and likely die alone in his pursuit. And while his company may not have pleased his tastes, he was grateful. He sighed, rejoining the world around him. Omekh stood and turned to Yaalon, who was clearly affected by his wine. The Redguard still found it impressive that the boy could hold his liquor this far.

"Here."

He drew fifty septims from his purse and, sliding them to Yaalon, said,

"It was a generous thing of you, but you needn't pay for me." His words were warm; Omekh truly appreciated the gesture.

But now he leaned in close, his voice deep, hushed. "I don't know who you are, or what it is you have to hide, but my heart tells me you aren't a threat." His hand was around the grip of his sword.

"But I've been wrong before."

Omekh turned away, stepping to the bar to rent a room for the night.

In his room, he prepared, praying to Tu'whacca before rising to practice sword stances. He meditated, shifting his wrists and feet, embodying his Book of Circles as he sang low, drifting his blade through the air: an extension of him. 

He did not sleep well.

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Yaalon awoke early the next morning, itching from the woolen blankets but otherwise well rested. He lay in bed for a few moments, allowing himself to wake up gradually. The Breton could see that the room was choked in dust as small particles of debris churned and billowed in the narrow streams of sunlight which shined furtively through cracks in the heavy wooden shutters. The rain had stopped.

Thank Kynareth.

Pushing aside the covers, Yaalon put himself upright, cleared the sand from his eyes, gave a loud yawn and got to his feet. Without bothering to dress himself, he strode to the window and pulled the shutters open to release the rogue sunlight across the oppressive darkness of the room. The sunlight was blissfully warm on his bare skin, but it was accompanied by a gust of cool air which sent a involuntary shiver across his body. Yaalon bore it for a moment as he took a deep breath. 

This was a good omen, he thought light-heartedly, but there was one thing he needed to do before meeting up with the others outside of Carrickdown today. The young Breton returned to his bedside and knelt down, pulling out his travel bag from beneath his bed. Shuffling around within, he pulled out a piece of white chalk, which he used to begin drawing a circle on the dusty floor.

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Ervesa Saren awoke calmly, stretching herself as she yawned, getting up and opening the blinds of her room, delighting in the blissful sunlight coming through her room's window in the Rat's Head Inn, something that her homeland of Morrowind often missed, sadly.

She got ready to appear among the general public before walking out of her room, heading downstairs to the bar as she took a seat at an empty table, one of many as it was still quite early in the morning and few patrons lingered about.

Sabina, the polite waitress of the inn, approached her, her eyes reflecting a tired woman who regularly didn't get much sleep, understandable considering her job.

"What may I get you, ma'am?"

"Hmm, I'll get a loaf of bread with cinnamon grape jelly and some jasmine tea, please."

"As you wish, ma'am."

As Ervesa waited, was served, and consumed her food, she pondered her current situation. As she worked as a missionary for the Tribunal Temple of Morrowind, attracting foreign Dunmer to embrace their native culture and worship the Three, she, of course, needed money to support her work. The Temple had sent a courier to finance her, but word had reached that the poor man disappeared in the mountain passes of Skyrim. The Nords, of course, would say the Falmer are responsible, but Ervesa was skeptical about that.

Regardless, her work in Carrickdown was nearly over, as she had served most Dunmer in the small fishing town, indeed getting some to revoke their life as fishermer to make a great journey back to their homeland, akin to Prophet Velothi and the Chimer, possibly hampering the town's fishing economy, in retrospect. Regardless, now she was nearly broke, and she knew she had to resort to work to keep her afloat until the Temple could finance her successfully. She thought of financing her healing services, but that would contradict the show of kindness that she's supposed to do in the Temple's name, so she had to find something else to do. She probably wouldn't find well-paying work in such a small hamlet, so she had to rely on passer-bys and adventurers.

She waited inside the tavern, at her table - if there were any adventurers around here, they'd have to sleep at this inn, so if they needed a healer for their ventures, she would gladly serve them... for a price.

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It seemed like he had just closed his eyes before the incessant chitter of birds sounded from the trees near to the inn, clawing him from what might have been rest. After a prayer to Tu'whacca, Omekh groaned as he rose; he was sore from his brawl with the Nords last night.

Very sore.

Having equipped himself, he limped to the staircase leading down. A few steps down, he underestimated just how very sore he was, losing his footing and falling the rest of the way down.

Gods, this used to be so much easier.

Sabine hurried over to help him up.

"Seems Hjerm and his friends still have it after all," she smirked, helping him over to the bar. He chuckled abashedly.

He lowered himself onto the stool with a grunt.

"Water, right?" She was already pouring him some.

"Thank you, madam."

"Madam," she laughed. "Been some time since anyone called me that."

"You ought to hear it every day, madam. You are kind and beautiful--"

"You are paying for the drink."

"Mm," he sipped.

"Tell me, madam," this had her smirking again, "this village is no Sentinel, but perhaps you have an apothecary just the same? I'm out of healing herbs and I've a journey ahead of me."

 

 

 

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Ervesa had witnessed the limping Redguard fall from the staircase, and she approached him as he sat down and poured a drink.

She had noticed how the injured man had said something about a journey ahead of him, but before that, she would do what she does best.

"Good morning Redguard, I'm Ervesa Saren, a Dunmer healer in service of the Tribunal Temple, Morrowind's native religion. Do you mind if I help you? I'd hazard a guess that you've seen better days."

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The voice was soft, serene.

"You would guess right," Omekh turned his head to find it belonged to a dark elf woman.

"...Ervesa Saren."

He strained to meet her hand in greeting.

"And I wouldn't mind your help at all, provided you don't try to convert me." He was smiling.

Only a few years ago, he'd have turned down the help of a healer, especially from an elf. He'd been raised to distrust both magics and mer. But all that felt like so long ago. He was different now, disgraced by his traditions, but wiser all the same.

His pride also happened to be in shambles at the moment.

 

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Ervesa complied to Omekh's request for a handshake, and she was momentarily surprised by the firm handshake the Redguard did, even if he was injured.

"It would be most wise if you did convert, but I wouldn't expect that of you. I'm only here to convert fellow Dunmer. Now, can you tell me what happened to you before you fell off the staircase? You were limping."