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Tales of The Elder Scrolls: Chapter One

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Evan's eyes flashed darkly in the half-light. He opened his mouth to respond but closed it a moment later. He followed Vardan up the stairs. On the third floor, he uncorked and swallowed Vardan's potion. He paused a moment, allowing the alchemy to do its work, and saw the vague silhouettes of living bodies slowly fade across his eyesight.

Then he froze. Grabbing Vardan by his sleeve he whispered urgently. "The prize. Held in a room at the end of this hall? Supposed to be heavily guarded?"

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Vardan tore himself free with a disdainful grimace, but managed to keep cool, "At least four," he replied tersely, then patted his vest and smiled devilishly at the tell-tale clinking that issued. He visibly relaxed, as if remembering his own plan were enough to shrug off this miasma of belligerence. "I came prepared; the summoning will only last a few moments, but that's all Jake should need." Silently asking confirmation on this, he peered past Evan at the safe cracker.

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Jacob, saw Vardan's look and nodded. He took out the potion he had been given and downed it quickly. "Ready," he said, "just get me to the prize so we can get out of here." And keep it safe from them, he added mentally, not sure who they were, but knowing he had to get the prize before they did.

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 "Stop!" Evan hissed. "Four guards! At least? Over there?!" He jabbed a finger toward the east. "They're dead. I see two people, tall, probably Elves. At the lock right now!" He practically howled this last sentence, before sprinting down the passage. He nervously checked his knives as he ran.

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 'Here,' muttered Elchendor, coming to a halt in front of a small room, door barred. 'Unquestionably. It is in here.' The effects of his potion had begun to wane, as his arms fought through their last moments of invisibility. But that hardly mattered now.

The stony passage ahead led to King Istlod's chambers in all their grandiose; and yet there was not a soul in sight. They had been impeccable in their timing. The housecarl would be below, struggling against his own bloodlust. The guards were either oblivious to their presence, or under the merciless influence of the artifact. And thus, the door was unguarded. But the King's door was not the one that interested Elchendor; the one in front of him was far more fascinating.

The wood was crisp and aged, but Elchendor could feel the artifact on the other side... it bled horror into the air like the screams of a child. Let us be reacquainted, thought Elchendor. There is still so much to learn from you...

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Caelindir's desire to unbind the secrets of the golden handle was inverse to the fortitude of his potion. For the sake of virtue he elected not to follow his black-wrought ilk into the chamber, and glued himself with a tight lip to the plan. So smoothly it had gone, all that remained was to do the deed and undo the venture they had made, sailing off the rock to Alinor.

"Sly." He peeled his eyes to look at Elchendor in seriousness. "Take care of it as you will, but hold a moment. I wish to take the King while he is under the spell, an homage to Played for Kings." Caelindir lost himself in the narrative, full and as crammed with tale as a bard's kuilt. This was a once in a lifetime experience, once in twenty even, and he did not want to waste it.

The elf slicked his hair, and pulled himself back, the last of the spell draining from his fingertips. He felt something strange, and realized he heard footsteps. Caelindir whirled, magic making itself material in his hand. He said nothing to Elchendor but turned all his attention and focus to the attacker. That was an advantage to being an elf, you had time. Time to practice.

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Evan's first knife hurtled from the darkness of the corridor and landed with a thud in the wall behind Caelindir. The elf dodged easily, stepping neatly into the trajectory of the second knife, which carved a deep trench in the flesh of his upper arm before joining its fellow in the woodwork.

Then Evan appeared. He did not so much run as gyrate, leaping from shadow to shadow, wall to wall, never holding still, never moving in the same direction for more than a moment. A dagger was in each hand, a cold fire in his eyes. His lips twisted in fury as he approached the Altmer, but he made no sound.

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Vardan cursed loudly and withdrew the small reliquary from his vest, where he struck it against the cold edifice of the wall, causing the seal to shatter. "I don't know what'll happen now, but it prob'ly won't last nearly as long as we'd need it to!" he shouted to Jake, "So crack that lock and stay close to me!" the half-elf clapped his old friend on the shoulder, "And whatever you do, don't get between it and them!"

From the broken case, he removed an aged sliver of paper, upon which was wrote a word in a language not meant for mortal tongues....

Somewhere, outside of time.

Txihn wedged his sword into the ground for one final time before a flash of white flame ignited itself on the tips of his fingers. The flame crept up his arm and began to work its way across his chest, lapping at the smile that flickered across his face as the last of it dissipated into the void. The white flame lingered a moment longer before clapping itself extinguished, leaving only a thin vapor of smoke where Txihn once stood. His sword, his black prize, remained, though it's inner power was now sapped. A few hundred years of Nothing would do Txihn some good. To start fresh, cleansed by the Void of all thought, and be reborn again.

The gout of black flame scorched the stone floor before them, and for a moment the air violently shuddered, shedding all heat and light. Vardan overcame the wave of nausea that had rushed into him, and stared awestruck at the creature he had brought from the pit of Hell. "K-Kill the elves!" he shrieked and pointed, not recognizing his own voice. He remembered, at the last moment, to be more specific, "Don't hurt the old man!"

The Dremora returned it's own burning gaze and snarled in ferocious contempt at the command, orbs of liquid hate swirling with bemusement and then brightening with understanding before dimming again under the burden of the invisible oath between summoner and summoned. It turned, ebon plates scraping and clanking as an engine of destruction, and stalked forward with Vardan and Jacob in tow.

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"Mara have mercy," Jacob muttered quietly as the beast materialized. He was aware of Daedric summoning, like a peasant is aware there is a King somewhere, who in some way rules him, but being faced with it in real life was terrifying. All Jacob could do was grip is roll of tools and follow behind. The terror of the Daedra had temporarily cleansed his mind of the artifact's influence, and Jacob found himself afraid for his son. Please be alright, he thought, please say I didn't send him to die...

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This cannot be. The dour Altmer clenched his fist. He felt cold creep up his arm, as ice curled beneath his gloved fingers, concentrating and tightening. He clenched his jaw, as he watched the figures fill the corridor. 

But they were no guardsmen. They were three, and a metal-clad demon baring a wicked blade. Who in Oblivion are these fools? thought Elchendor, his heart at race. He looked into their eyes. They bore expressions he had seen before. The expression he'd seen often that night. The same hungry, gluttonous, ferverous gaze the guards had held as the artifact took them. They are not guards... are they? But look at them! thought Elchendor. How can this be possible...

But they had come too far. He turned to Caelindir with a solemn look. We shall have to improvise.

He took a single step forward. 'So. These are the King's fabled housecarls. Two old men with brittle bones, a...' He stared at the half-breed, curling his lip. '... joke of creation, and a puppet you do not even hold the strings for. I remain unimpressed. And now you shall all have to die.' With that, he threw forth his fist, a jagged spike of ice bristling through the air towards the demon...

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Evan seized the opportunity to strike. As Elchendor raised his arm to cast the bolt of ice, the old thief ducked and rolled and somehow reappeared directly behind the elf's shoulder. For the briefest of moments, Elchendor could hear the old man whispering something indiscernible just on the edge of hearing. Then Evan struck.

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The blow caught Elchendor blunt in the neck, his face barely given time to submit surprise. He grunted grimly as he spun away from the force, staggering until he faced his assailant. There was something unnervingly different about this old coot.

The agent turned towards him, ever conscious of the others advance towards his exposed back. Regaining his focus, ice once again tensed in the open palm of his left hand, while he raised his right ceremoniously into the air. With one arm still raised, he thrust his palm forward. The ice had no edge to it this time; it was instead a boundless rush, dominating the space in front of him, and mercilessly bellowing towards Evan...

 

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 Evan hissed and dropped to a crouch as the blast of ice swept over him. He staggered and clumsily rolled away from the elf as he tried to escape the freezing wind. He tried to rise and fell as his joints groaned and cracked. Incapable of returning to the fight, he scuttled backwards away from the fray, praying that his poisons and comrades would do their jobs.

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The shard shattered against scorch-colored mail as thick as a finger is long, leaving a fist-sized crater in the monster's armor, but otherwise doing nothing to hinder or injure Txihn. As inexorably as a landslide, the scowling Dremora moved forward with his pair of thieves close behind.

Inching closer, footstep by footstep, until at last--"Now!" Vardan shouted, dragging Jake around their black guardian and into the artifact chamber. Behind them, Txihn drew his weapon.

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Jacob stumbled into the chamber behind Vardan. His eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the gloom. Tuning out the sounds of battle, Jacob unrolled his tool kit and took a step toward the chest, sitting so innocently on it's table. He licked his lips, knelt before it, and got to work. He could tell immediately it was a finely-crafted lock, as befits a king. "This might take a minute, Vardan," he said, "so watch my back."

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The old man fell. The Altmer would have enjoyed nothing more than to negotiate the throbbing pain of his neck to the old man himself, but one had to prioritise. His other adversaries were at work and the Dremora was almost upon him. It's armour was considerable; a lesser being would be crushed to dust by the bulk of it. And behind the horror, Elchendor could see the half-breed and the human scuttling towards the artifact chamber.

'They have come to claim it...' he said solemnly. 'I shall deal with their little demon. Caelindir, you must destroy the interlopers before they tamper with it.'

And finally, in the elf's right hand, the air shimmered violently. With a screech, a blade descended from nothing, binding itself in his hand. Violet energy flamed upon its edge. The dremora's eyes were an intimidation on it's own- furnace eyes of centuries rage. Elchendor raised his sword, and the demon its own. Unnatural steel on steel echoed through the Palace.

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The blood and pain were insignificant, a glowing hand to his shoulder sealing the wound up as quickly as it had been made. The world slowed and things started to happen at once, a summon, a blow. Caelindir heard his name, knew what it meant, and his focus returned. A quick hissing noise and an illusive gesture and Caelindir fuzzed, moving through the thick Daedric armor and the wall behind it, the dremora's blade slicing through Oblivion rather than his flesh. It was not a spell he enjoyed using and this was not a situation he enjoyed being in, but there was no time to anger himself upon the ways the plan had just gone wrong.

 

The King's treasury was appreciable, though the mystical piles of shimmer that thieves seemed to often think extant were not so. It was a chamber with many locked cells of iron bars, likely enchanted, behind which were racks with strongboxes and chests, suits of enchanted armor and arms to seal a king's power and reputation. It occurred to Caelindir that perhaps, once, this room had been used in a more sinister role,  The location of the artefact, contrary to the thieves' belief, was not in the bold-sitting box upon the table, but somewhere among the thirty or so chests, already put away. Caelindir knew which,  but dared not to look for fear the two fools in the centre of the room would take note. On the far side of the room a dark stain ran down the wall and into the back and out the chest of one of the stationed postmen, another sat slumped in the corner, a sword idly dangling from a barely-living hand. His chest rose and fell and his arm was broken.

The only concern were the two before him. In his hands he prepared actors for their cue, waiting for the effect of the ethereal to dissipate.

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Evan struggled to his feet, his joints screaming their complaints as the effects of the elf's magic sapped his strength. Grinding his teeth, he lurched toward the treasury. Quickly scanning the area for a box bearing the symbol he had studied for so long, he called out to Jacob. "There! In the corner. Black box with spiderweb..." He moaned. "Pattern."

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"No!" Caelindir screamed, though none could hear him. He ran towards the strongbox and extended an arm to cast, the ether beginning to dissipate. He felt himself reform from the void and his magical essence came back in force. In front of the iron bars a barrier of fire ignited itself along the floor. Contempt left his eyes as he stared towards the two thieves, arms bent and spells ready.

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Jacob stood from the chest he had been working on. A decoy, he realized now. He silently thanked Evan for his insight. But now a new problem presented itself. The elf wizard, clearly ready to defend the chest. Jacob stood still, unsure of how to react. The barrier of fire, the elf with the glint of magic in his eyes. These were not things Jacob was accustomed too. He was half ready to give it up for a loss, and leave this cursed castle. He would find his son, and they would have this one story to tell each other, one adventure for them to remember fondly around the fire.

 

And adventure ending in failure, a now familiar voice echoed in his head, a father who ran away...

 

Jacob gritted his teeth. He had the presence of mind to stash his tools safely away in his vest, and he withdrew his dagger with the same hand.

 

"You're standing between me and mine, elf. Best move."

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"Rrraagh!" Vardan hurled himself at Caelindir, tackling the elf about the waist, while at the same time the Dremora lunged for the other spell-caster. As Vardan struggled with his opponent, Txihn gripped Elchendor's collar and flung him to the opposite end of the hall and against the wall. The demon twisted ponderously under the weight of its thick shell, then leveled it's blade, and thrusted....

"The lock!" The half-elf roared at his comrade, knowing Caelindir wouldn't stay down any longer. "Grr--hurry!"

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The hand that wasn't underneath the half-bred's body slapped downwards onto his back and glowed red, causing the most intense pain imaginable. Too bad his assailant didn't know it was imaginary. Caelindir's face contracted into a slew of melted caramel as Vardan loosened his grip. Rolling off of the writhing man and towards the one running for the safe, green crawled along his arm, and, reaching his extended fingertip, was swiped sideways. Blinding light erupted in a violent shriek, filling the room.

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Jacob screamed in agony, his eyes seemingly on fire. He dropped his dagger and writhed on the floor, unaware of how much time passed in this state. His only thoughts were for Richard, and for the box. Somehow, the two became conflated, and he knew that if he wanted to see his son again, if he ever wanted to be a good father, he needed that chest and what it contained.

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The parry was almost late, but compensated in elegance. The two blades embraced for a moment like lost lovers in the air, before the elf lanced the edge away from him with cruel scrape. The dremora grunted, but did not falter. Wearily, Elchendor got to his feet, preparing for another onslaught.

He considered using this reprieve to run, but grudgingly banished the notion. When the Dominion is one Artifact richer and Skyrim one King poorer. Then we leave.

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Jacob and Vardan were down, probably unconscious. Evan saw the elf dart toward the horrific box. All physical pain and weakness forgotten, he lost himself to the the Daedra's torrent of angry whispers. His legs crooked beneath him and launched him forward. In mid-flight he drew the secret dagger he reserved for occasions in which instant lethality was required. A small bead of poison dripped from its glinting tip and hissed gently against the floor.

 

The elf must have sensed something because he flinched away and Evan's poisoned blade slashed through empty space instead of Caelindir's neck. The old man dropped into a crouch and circled the ageless elf. Come on, come to me, he thought. Let me give you just one cut.

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Vardan lay sprawled on the floor, rubbing the back of his neck and shaking his head to clear the sense-numbing effects of the magic. In the hall where battle still raged, but before a final blow could be struck, the Dremora fell to one knee and roared, before being consumed by the black flames of Oblivion.

As the moment of confusion passed, the thief sat up, realizing their last line of defense between the Thalmor and themselves had literally just evaporated, and frowned. "Aw, shit."

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As the last slither of flame spent itself on the midnight air, Elchendor righted himself and walked slowly towards the chamber door, grunting in pain. Despite his trials, the elf's face could have been carved of stone; unamused, undaunted, but resolute in his mission. 

'Impressive puppet,' he muttered, his blade alight with unworldly magic. 'But you are at the Thalmor's mercy now, I'm afraid. I shall give you scamps a choice. Bare your necks and kneel, and I shall grant you a painless end.' The agent approached them wearily. A trickle of blood twisted from his neck, dropping to the floor. '...Or resist and die, alone, numb and shivering to your grave...' His left hand twisted once more, ice crumpling itself in his bloodied fist. 'The choice is yours.'

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Caelindir made mirror of his opponent. It was plain by the viscous fluid that coated the Man's dagger that the blade was poisoned. Unfortunately, the school of Illusion had no way to hide the effects of a mind-wrenchingly painful poisonous death, if he could even cast a spell to save him. It was far too dangerous to fight him. Guiled words slipped from his mouth.

"Our goals do not overlap, fetcher. The treasures in this room would allow for you so much more than the one we are after." Crackled energy rested subtly on his fingertips, a most powerful and difficult spell which would end the battle on his terms, one way or another. He glanced back at Elchendor by the doorway, ensuring he was no enemy and silently conveying him a message, before finishing. "It is of no consequence to you. Let us have it."

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Evan ignored the half-elf. "Not a fool. Mephala has me. Need to finish the job. Need to give it to her priest." Evan continued to circle warily, watching the Elf's fingers carefully. His eyes darted toward Vardan's leering face. He hissed at the Altmer "You want it? Let you have it. After my job is done."

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Vardan let his knife clatter on the stone. He grinned in spite of his raw, screaming nerves, and tried once more to appeal to reason, "Evan, c'mon, is it really worth it?" He grimaced and rubbed the back of his skull, the swelling of his brain practically palpable, "We're outmatched. I'm not ready to go back in a tomb yet, old man; are you?"

His smile faltered as he watched the words slip through Evan's ears, not a single one sticking.