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Tales of The Elder Scrolls: Chapter One

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OOC: Leaving this here as a placeholder. Extremely busy at the moment, literally impossible for me to do all the things I have to do IRL, much less on the nets. Aiming for monday evening.

 

IC: Caelindir eyed warily the old man as he shuffled along old stone. He extruded a hand towards the box, his lithe tendons straining with a contained nervousness, ready to burst from his flesh. Just this, and they were back on track. Just this, and again a plan could be followed. He picked it up gently, and slid back towards Elchendor, shaking the box about in his direction, and moved towards the door. "Gentlemen." he uttered without meaning.

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Jacob had regained his senses some time ago, and had been laying on the floor trying to avoid attention. When he saw the elf about to leave, prize in hand, the fire that was consuming both he and Evan flared up once more, and he grabbed the dagger Vardan had dropped. With a feral cry of frustration, he threw it, trying to aim for Caelindir's face (though he was hardly the best shot), and followed up by charging the elf empty-handed.

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Evan saw the flicker of distraction across the tall Elf's face and siezed his chance. Another dagger appeared in his hand and he lunged forward, half-frozen joints creaking in pain. With a desperate swipe, he drew his blades across Caelindir's arm.

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For a mer living hundreds of years, the few seconds it took for the dagger to gouge the air next to his face and the criminal to slice at his outstretched arm seemed to exist in less than an instant. The blades ran across the thickened Aldmeri fabric that was supposed to offer protection. Plethoric scores of hairlike fiber snapped audibly, the layers and layers of counter-weave failing to the precise nature of the knife. It broke through and dug flesh, though much less a killing blow than otherwise. With two opponents on him, the elf realized that there was no reason or logic to their action, and that measures had to be taken.

His free hand, which held not the box nor was trenched with blood, ignited the festering green glow into a brilliant white. Once he felt his magicka peak he let loose the spell, and with a quiet, familiar rush of magic through air the world but him had stalled. The breath rasped now from his pale yellow lips. No-one moved, all staring, watching, but motionless. He wrenched his arm, sopping blood, from his assailant's tempered blade. He wanted to raise a hand to seal the wound but the headache pushing at his forehead told him he would not have the will to sum it up. Looking to Elchendor, who was indeed also frozen, to both Caelndir's dismay and comprehension, he opened the box, retrieving the gem pendant inside. Holding it up to Elchendor's face, he nodded once, and stuffed it in his breast. With a final look to his paralyzed enemies he walked out the door and swiftly down the hall, clutching his arm like an eagle clutches a fish.

His footsteps faded into nothing, and the room was all quiet as the stilled combatants lay staring on the floor.

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Angry voices whirled within Evan's head. It gets away! It must not take our stone! Destroy it! The elf's spell bound the old man in space, and the scream of fury and frustration died before it reached his lips. He could feel it tearing at his throat in impotent rage. His frozen larynx strained against the paralysis to no avail. It was too late.

 

Or was it? Deep within the darkest corner of the old rogue's mind a shadow smoother than silk slithered across the screams of the damned souls. It was a sly, satisfied thought that quelled the tempest with a single whispered word.

 

That word was 'poisoned.'

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Elchendor drew breath carefully, as the room returned to reality. It was as though a great presence had passed on; like a storm beating itself away until there was a distraught calm. The flickering image of the Artifact with his compatriot gave the dour Altmer some solace. Even if his own circumstances looked somewhat grim.

His sword has dispersed with the spell, along with the spike of ice he had curled in his fist. So he stood now at the doorway, blood dripping from his neck and arm, and truly realised for the first time this fateful night that the mission may require a very firm and final contribution from him. The three theives had the upper-hand here.

But the King does not.

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The seconds passed in a painful silence punctuated only by the occasional plash of blood upon the floor. Evan's thoughts began to wander. It was one of the strange things he'd found about his mind as he grew older. Given half a chance, it tended to drift over old memories, like a netch wandering through a misted marsh.

He found himself back in Helgen, the starving child of a frightened woman. He heard her frantic warning, saw her running to bar the door as he hid himself inside a barrel too empty of wheat. He heard the crash of splintered wood, saw his mother's death beneath the blades of strange men.

He was in Riften. Ashes were everywhere. The revolution had not been bloodless. Whisps of dust clung to his boots as he walked among the dead and dying. Occasionally, he paused over the body of a friend or mentor.

Deep inside the ratways. A young half-elf stood at his side. The others were jeering, calling the boy a monster, a freak. Evan defended the lad. Called them all fools and damned them to Oblivion.

Anvil was in flames. He searched desperately for Betha in the ruins and panicked crowds. Suddenly, he saw her face. She called for help. He reached for her hand, but was swept away by the mob.

Then he was back in the Ragged Flagon. Evan and Vardan stood before the Guild. Loot had been missing from the vault. Vardan looked bewildered. Evan looked at his protege, struggled to determine whether the confusion was genuine. Questioned for the first time his friend's loyalty.

Elsweyr. An ancient Khajiiti tomb. He felt the cold stone wall against his slumped back. He wanted to go back. Vardan helped him up. Convinced him to press on.

Evan remembered the fury and fear with which he had fought. Exhausted, betrayed, trapped, he sat in utter darkness. The only sounds were his ragged breathing and the steady dripping of his blood.

There was a splash as the elf's wound spilled another drop. Evan's thoughts returned to the present with a painful jolt. He could feel sensation returning to his limbs. He cleared his mind of useless memories and turned his attention to the coming battle.

The moment the spell disappated, he lunged for the wounded elf.

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Jacob could feel the spell breaking, at last. From his position on the floor, he could see that Evan had broken free already, and was moving to engage the injured elf. A moment later, a tingling sensation signalled the return of control to his limbs, and Jacob slowly stood on shaky legs. He immediately backpedalled away from the door and the elf.

 

The weary man had no desire to get into another fight. By now the artifact's hold on him was weakening, either because it had chosen to focus it's grasp on Evan, or because Jacob's concerns for his family were driving the influence away. The washed-up thief considered how reckless he had been this night, and cursed his weak will.

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Vardan considered in three breaths between his dethawing whether to stay with his fellows or follow the other. Neither he nor Jacob were in any mood for a fracas, but the old man was likely to kill himself or all of them in his fury.

He made his choice, whistled sharply, and tossed a milky vial to Jake before tackling Evan, struggling to tangle him in a lock. "Stop!" He roared, "Now! Everyone, just--be cool!"

Locking eyes with the Thalmor, he spoke quickly, "You\'ve been poisoned; you wanna live? I wanna live, so let\'s set some terms."

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Evan struggled to break free. The darkness had returned. "Damn you, dirty halfling! Treacherous filth!" His eyes met the elf\'s. There seemed a leering glow behind his pupils, calling a defiant, doomful challenge to the wounded Altmer. "Kill!" His ancient muscles strained against Vardan\'s elven strength. His face was contorted by anger, fear and pain. He lunged forward like a dog trying to escape its chain as he cried the word once again in a voice heavy with despair. "Kill!"

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The half-elf frowned, and for a moment considered giving Evan a good cuffing, but thought better of it; giving the old man a concussion at this point might just kill him. He grunted as the back of Evan\'s head collided with his jaw, and in a flash of rage he wrestled the deranged thief onto the floor. Fighting the urges that were now pounding in his own brain like tribal drums, Vardan pinned Evan under himself.

"Jake! You gotta lock us in!" Vardan was pleading more than demanding. He could feel the cold slither up his spine and under his skull, feel the bloodthirsty gnawing and the tendrils of malice hooking their tooth-lined cups into his gray matter. "Lock me an\' Evan in here, and you run, get out!" He wailed at the emptiness filling him, felt himself not caring about the score anymore, his will to redemption finally crumbling, "Find your boy and go!"

Madness flashed in Vardan\'s eyes when they met Jacob\'s a final time, and the half-elf stopped begging.

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\\\'You brought this on yourself...\\\' spluttered a strained voice.

The half-elf and the thief paused in their struggle for a moment, and turned towards the speaker. 

Elchendor had somehow managed to stand once more, his crooked figure illuminated by slithers of moon from the cracked roof. 

His once-golden face was scarred, his wounds were seeping, his blood was smeared down his neck in a horrifying swath. But that hardy mattered.

What mattered was the tempest that had tensed in his palm.

He seemed to choke it within his grasp as it gathered. Ugly light spat from his fists, making flitting shadows of Vardan and the pinned Evan against the dark walls. 

Silence fell.

\\\'I am not sorry.\\\'

And the storm was unleashed. It cackled through the dark, towards the two old friends, still grappled together in their madness...

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...And hit the old man square in the chest.

Evan\'s mouth dropped in surprise. The blood lifted from his vision. Time seemed to slow. He shivered as he truly felt for the first time that night the deathly cold of the Skyrim midwinter. He coughed and closed his eyes.

Then he slid out of Vardan\'s arms onto the floor.

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Jacob screamed. It was not a very manly thing to do, and he was glad his son wasn\'t there to hear it. The vial Vardan had tossed him slid from his fingers to shatter on the ground, it\'s contents pooling in the cracks of the stone. And Jacob ran. He barreled past the elf, stumbling against a wall in his weariness. He thought of his son\'s face, his wife\'s embrace, and he somehow found the strength to sprint faster. He tore through the corridors, leaving the room with the elf and Vardan behind.

 

He had hoped reason would prevail. Vardan would have covinced the elf, he was good at convincing people, and they would have all walked away unharmed. Then the elf had-No, he didn\'t want to think of it. He followed the path they had taken on their way in, and soon he found himself at the gates. Jacob stepped out of the castle, and felt a burden fall from his shoulders. He sighed, and then he leaned against the nearest wall and sobbed.

 

After several minutes of that, he sniffed his tears away and stood up. He took one last look back at the castle, and for a moment felt deep regret at leaving Vardan to his fate. He had always liked Vardan. But it had been the half-elf\'s own idea to leave them locked in there with the elf, and Jacob convinced himself that he had been right to run; it\'s what Vardan had wanted, after all.

 

He turned away from the castle, and set out to find his son. He would take the boy in his arms, no matter how much he protested, and Jacob would sit before the fire that night and regal him with all the stories the old thief could conjure up, not a one of them involving Richard\'s dear old dad. Jacob realized that was fine by him, and he smiled.

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The chamber once again fell to its state of grim silence. The gaunt Altmer still stood, one gloved hand grasping the wall for support, the other clutching his arm. He stared solemnly. Stared at the old and weathered body, dead on the floor. Stared at the half-elf. Elchendor clenched his jaw in fresh pain.

\\\\\\\'...Poisoned...\\\\\\\' muttered Elchendor. At this crucial stage. The King was soon to be dead, the Artifact was soon to release the Palace from it\\\'s unholy thrall. And Elchendor could not afford to remain here when that happened.

 Caelindir will not return for me, he realised dourly. The mission would come first. Agents such as Elchendor were easily expendable to the Thalmor, if it met the demands of the Dominion. His own preservation relied solely on himself now. But he could not act, not while the old man\\\\\\\'s parting gift chewed away at him within his own blood.

And if he was captured... Chains. Questions. The headsman\\\\\\\'s axe. \\\\\\\'I will not die in this corpse of a country,\\\\\\\' he grunted, wincing as he advanced towards Vardan.

\\\\\\\'You will tell me the antidote,\\\\\\\' he muttered, not lacking for conviction. \\\\\\\'You shall not be leaving until I have it, half-breed. And believe me... you do not want to be here... when the guards recover. Not if you value your head.\\\\\\\'

YH
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He chuckled bitterly and gestured at the film of liquid and broken glass, the remains of the vial Jacob had dropped in his panicked departure. He had intended to barter the antivenin, but with Evan now dead it hardly mattered. Vardan\'s life as he knew it was over, whether or not he survived the night.

He scooted away from the old man and leaned against the wall, sapped of strength and will, "Looks like we\'re both doomed, Thalmor."

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'...That cannot be. I cannot... I will not...' stammered Elchendor. But he realised it was true. In the cruelest of ironies, he had quite literally killed himself. 

And he could hear it clearly now. The rush of boots, bearing down on the stairs in hastened beats. How much blood is a King worth to these savages? wondered Elchendor. One Altmer, at least, he supposed. Elchendor's fate was sealed. All because of a scrawny thief, an old man and a mockery of creation, working at the whim of an Artifact he thought they'd controlled.

'It did not need to bother indoctrinating us,' he muttered aimlessly, staring at the puddle of liquid that might have spared him. 'It made pawns of us all the same.'

The morose Altmer sunk down to sit on the cold floor, resigned. Bitter. He only hoped that the poison proved fatal and killed him quickly. If not...

Chains. Questions. And a headsmans axe.

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A gnarled staff tapped fitfully against the cold stone of the Blue Palace. It's bearer shuffled through silent corridors and and bloodied stairwells until she found herself outside the King's royal chambers. Two bodyguards floated in pools of blood beneath a splintered doorframe. The old woman allowed herself a small smile as she stepped through the carnage and into the room beyond.

The scene that met her eyes was exactly as her mistress had promised. The king lay dead, his face twisted with horror and contempt, his skin stained black by some foul magic. Beside him was the lifeless corpse of an Altmer mage. In his hand was still clasped the Hissing Stone.

The crone gently removed the gem from the Thalmor's grip. She brushed it carefully and whispered a crooning chant. With a shocking abruptness, the low sussuration that had pervaded the palace air for the last several hours utterly ceased. The stone gleamed silently within the hag's wrinkled claws.

Satisfied, the priestess of Mephala wound a slow, silent path back to the Solitude Waterfront. She lowered herself into a black rowboat and, as the sun's first rays stretched reluctantly over the horizon, paddled out into the icey sea.

YH
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"I don't think they're coming," He said.

The female looked at the male, who was barely more than a feline-shaped black hole on the wall.

His tail swished in silent agitation, "It's getting light, we should go." His head turned, and in the emptiness two pale lamps shone with moons' light.

"It's not light yet," she said, and examined the exits and windows again. The wind changed and her ears twitched. "Do you hear that?"

He chuffed once, but then was quiet and still. The sound gradually increased in volume; it was a cold and hollow noise, and as the old woman crossed the courtyard, the thieves nocked their arrows. They waited and watched as she entered the building,

"A priest?" She whispered.

"Don't know. I don't like her."

Concern crept into her voice, "Should we go?"

He considered it for a span until she nearly asked if he'd heard her, when he answered, "Not until he comes, or first light." He relaxed his draw, but kept the bolt handy.

They hadn't waited long before the crone reappeared, and she was holding something. The male drew on her again and the female reached out to stop him. He scowled, but didn't make a movement or sound until the witch had left the courtyard.

"Why?" He demanded, hissing like sand over limestone.

"She had no problem taking it, she'll have no problem keeping it."

"I'll have no problem stapling her to the wall."

She held his gaze with hers; she was genuinely fearful, "Is it worth dying for?"

He snorted and slid the arrow back into his quiver. "What will we say?"

"He's the one I'm worried about."

He sucked his teeth, "Case the castle, I'll shadow her. Meet at the inn."

She hesitated, then nodded and hopped down from her perch.

The khajiit followed the priestess as she took her leisurely stroll to the waterfront. He watched her climb into a boat and head out into open water. He took a hunters stance on a tall outcropping, aimed, and then froze as pins of ice erupted down his backbone. She was staring at him, had turned and looked directly at him as soon as he readied to put a barb through her wizened breast. He sheathed the arrow again and ran back to the safety of Solitude's walls.

The Skeever was normally calm and quiet early in the morning, but today the air was thick with baking pastries, burning wood and gossip. The pair of thieves shared the same table they had met with Vardan at just hours ago, the female staring solemnly at the empty seat beside her. The male nibbled on a sugary bun, not at all concerned.

"Do you think he did it?" She wondered, really asking herself as well.

"Don't care." He took a much-too-large bite, hoping she would get the hint that his mouth was otherwise occupied, but she waited patiently for him to slowly chew and swallow.

"I don't think he did," She decided.

He chuffed again and took a smaller bite this time. She waited. She knew it was bothering him that he had lost track of the witch, but no reassuring on her part would help, so she had let it go. He was grateful for that, but sighed, "We are judges now?"

"Would you betray me?" An honest question. It took him a moment to recover from it. He was offended.

"No," he said flatly.

"So, it does matter." She stated with finality. His tail swished again and his ears laid back. She ignored him, "Trust is very important. I trust you." He didn't return her gaze. She reached out and tore a piece off of his roll and popped it into her mouth before continuing, "I think he wanted to be trusted."

He shrugged, examining his breakfast, "Vardan was a clipper."

"He's still one of--" she pushed, but he cut her off.

"Not anymore," he said coolly.

It was her turn to be aggrieved, "Why? If you feel so, why'd you help him?"

He smirked again, "Money."

She gaped accusingly, sitting back as the realization dawned, "You were going to take it from him!"

"Still trust me?" he posed, but didn't wait for a reply. He set a few coins on the table, slid the rest of his bun across the table to her, then rose from his seat and sincerely wished her well. She sat and only stared at his back as he walked out. She had wanted to ask about the old woman, but she didn't want to know anymore.