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Tales of the Elder Scrolls: Chapter Three

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The shorter of the two Argonian contacts yelled something in Jel and pointed at the glittering pile of loot. The warriors gripped their spears and advanced on the upturned cart. Dura’Jah hissed and went to intercept them, gesticulating with one hand while spitting and whistling a string of alien syllables. The Hingali paused but did not lower their weapons. Dura turned around and demanded “Raktuk! My friends want to know what the hell this is all about!"

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"As do I." Aurelius added, with a hint of irritation in his voice. Picking up his hat and brushing himself off with it he walked towards the trollkin laying face-up in the mud. Grabbing him by the collar of his tattered robes he picked him up with one hand and held him up against the side of the toppled wagon. With a snarl he spoke, "Now you're going to tell us what this is all about, or I'll make you tell us. This is the only time I'll say it nicely: What. Is. The. Meaning. Behind. This."

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Aurelius could feel the rumblingss ripple through Raktuk before he heard the growl, low and resonant like a crocodile, causing the matted strands of lank hair framing the creature's face to gradually stand on end. The splintered planks of the cart rattled behind them, echoing the underlying animosity of the little wagon master. This invisible manifestation quickly infected the scattered loot, the vibrations of iron and steel like the menacing chittering of one of the swamps giant insects.

 

With a teeth-baring hiss, the shockwave hammered the Imperial in the gut as forceful and sharp as a knee. Dropping to the ground, Raktuk readied the next attack with a gesture, causing a dagger to rise from the pile and hang in mid air for a moment before sailing end-over-end at the bounty hunter's head.

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The sudden shockwave had knocked him back several feet from where he held Raktuk. When Aurelius looked up he had barely enough time to react to the dagger flying towards him. Dropping quickly into the mud he managed to dodge the spinning blade, but only enough so it missed him by a hair. With that his blood started to boil. Rising up and crouching on all limbs like a wolf ready to strike he snarled; "Alright, now you've pissed me off."

Bringing his right hand back to his mouth he began to whisper into the palm an incantation. Feeling the magicka currents flow into his hand he thrusted it forward palm first and the green glow of the Paralysis spell shot toward the creature.

 

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Dura'Jah swore. Moving to intercept the shouting Hingali tribesmen, he almost missed the runt's magic trick, but when he heard Aurelius' exclamation he turned around to assess the situation. He swore again. As he ran back toward the toppled caravan he yelled something in Jel at the hunters, gesturing desperately. Then he focused on the two outsiders. Aurelius was on all fours and casting some kind of spell. Damn fool humans and their damn fool tempers. "Stop! Dammit, Aurelius, what are you doing? Raktuk! What the hell?" Dura glanced down as a single, thin wave of displaced water rippled silently across the mud of the path. He froze, eyes darting. The Hingali had disappeared. He sniffed the air and suppressed a groan.

"Aurelius! Come with me if you want to live!" The Argonian didn't wait for an answer, instead sprinting for the shadows where the natives had vanished.

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Aurelius heard Dura'Jah's crys, and when he turned towards him he was already heading into the darkness of the swamp. He knew the spell had struck the damnable runt that had betrayed him and ran for his saddlebags that were thrown into the mud between where he is and where Dura'Jah had been. Sprinting with a speed that only Kynareth knows he reached down for the saddlebags, grabbed them, and ran for the shadows where the Argonian disappeared. Let the creatures have him, he thought to himself, they will end his life in a much kinder fashion than I would have.

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Another ripple passed across the mud of the path, lapping at the shattered planks of the cart. In the shadows beneath the underbrush, an irregular cluster of eyes blinked once and slipped back into the mud. There was a very faint slurping noise and then the ground erupted around Raktuk’s prone form. A monstrously outsized pair of jaws yawned impossibly wide above a rising column of scale and chitin. Six multi-jointed limbs flailed wildly as the powerful tail of the mirkstepper propelled its sinuous bulk above the viscous ooze of the marshy path.

 

Dura’Jah threshed through the tangled forest. The tribesmen had departed in a hurry and left a few telltale traces of their passage. The odd broken branch and muddy footprint detailed a faint but sufficient trail.

He was careful to keep an eye on the Marsh, but all was quiet. The mirkstepper’s presence apparently had scared off most of the other predators. After a minute of hard running, Dura allowed himself a moment to pause and assess his situation.

The village smelled to be about half a kilometer east. Aurelius was still on his trail, alive and apparently unhurt. He was making a tremendous racket, but was keeping pace admirably. The mirkstepper was nowhere to be seen, heard or smelled. With any luck, the runt would keep it occupied long enough to reach the village proper.

“Aurelius! You are alive? Come on, the village is near, we should be safe there.”

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"Yes, alive and well." Aurelius spoke with some vigor. Navigating his way through the thick, tangled mess after Dura'Jah and the two natives was not easy, but he managed to keep pace with the Argonians well; plus the exercise it provided was invigorating. Not to mention the sounds of the swamp predator behind him proved a great motivator to keep moving forward. Finally he came upon Dura'Jah, who seemed to be taking a breather from the chase. "And if the village is near we shouldn't be wasting anymore time. Who knows when the predator behind us will finish his snack."

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"Good. Come on."

By the time they arrived, the tribe was already disassembling their shelters. The villagers looked up from their work and pointed, muttering angrily among themselves. Dura'Jah ignored them and approached a tall Argonian dressed in an elaborate robe of feather, scale and bark. Black eyes glittered without emotion under jeweled fins as the guide presented his case. Eventually, the chief raised a hand and Dura fell silent. The tall Argonian stepped forward to meet Aurelius. After a moment of silent inspection, he said "We see the one you hunt. He moves through the swamp two days back, he walks the water-road like the Argonian, but he is not one of us. Hist does not touch him, we do not touch him, but we do not want him here. You hunt him, you take him from here. Yes? Very good. He passes our camp by the sunside but turns away. He changes his path and goes back into the dark jungle over there. He goes to Stormhold, but by way of shadows and roots. Dryskins should die taking this path, but he does not. You will hunt him, take him away. He is not good for Argonia."

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Aurelius listened to the chief speak, all the while aware that the whole tribe was watching him and Dura. The children of the village were starting to gather around him, though still keeping their distance, while their parents were still tearing down their homes and communal buildings. "I thank you for the information you have privileged me with," he spoke, dipping his head slightly to show respect, "I will find him. I will go to Stormhold and take him away from your beloved Argonia. May your fields be green and your game plenty." With a final bow of his head he turned to his guide, "Lets depart Dura and discuss our next move."

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Dura bowed to the chieftain and led his companion across the clearing to the north. "Stormhold is about two days yonder. It's going to be hard going, but unless we run into something really nasty, nothing we shouldn't be able to deal with. It'll likely just be more of the same from here on, so stick close, keep your eyes open and don't trust the forest. Got it? You need a break? We're not likely to find a site as comfy as this for awhile, but it's your call."

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"Two days huh?" Aurelius pondered while staring out at the forest ahead of them. Then he felt his spine start to twitch. His mind began to race. Oh shit! He thought to himself. The fight with that bastard kobold put me damn near close to changing! Better hurry! "Yeah lets rest for an hour or two before we set off towards Stormhold." He spoke calmly as he could, given the gravity his situation had quickly become, before sitting  down on the grass underneath him. Reaching into his saddlebag he grabbed another bottle of elixer, popped the cork, and took an easy drink from it. "And I'm sure you're starting to if not already wondering as to why someone like me would be after someone like my unkown target in a place like Argonia instead of letting the lands swallow him whole. If you have any questions feel free to ask them now."

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"Well, I believe you mentioned earlier you'd be inclined to tell me more about your quarry once we got into the Marsh. You said he's carrying a box of some kind, and I'd guess that it holds something pretty important. If you'd be interested in sharing what you know about that, I'd be interested."

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"Ah yes, I did say that." He spoke as he watched the Argonian move to sit cross-legged opposite himself. "What my quarry is carrying in that box could very well be the key to bringing either everlasting peace and prosperity to Tamriel, or her complete and utter annihilation. Inside that box is an orb, and what this orb is is nothing short of mythical. You might know what this orb is, after all it is named after Argonia; or it could be that Argonia is named after it, there is very little information to go by when it comes down to it. So I ask you this: Have you heard of the Eye of Argonia?"

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"They Eye of Argonia!" Dura'Jah was silent for a moment. "Well, that'd explain a thing or two. Damn." He turned two piercing eyes on Aurelius. "How did our quarry get his hands on it? And just how much do you know about the thing?"

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Aurelius couldn't help but laugh a little at how shocked Dura'Jah was. "I figured you knew what it was." Still chuckling out loud. He paused a minute to get himself settled down before he continued. "As for how our quarry got it; I haven't the slightest idea. Now as for what I know about it, there is not a lot to go on. I had spent hours digging into the deepest areas of The Imperial Library just to find out what little there is. And if you've ever been there, you know they have at least one text on every subject they can get. What I found out was from a very old book on magical stones. The book itself was badly damaged but what I could garnish from it is that the Eye of Argonia can act as a palantir and let who-so-ever wielded it see in any location they wanted. But, like I said, the book was badly damaged and I couldn't get anymore information from it other than that. And that's all I know about it."

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"Yeah, well. Your dryskin libraries aren't likely to have much on the Eye of Argonia. It's kind of supposed to be a secret. Maybe it can let a guy see wherever he wants, but that sounds to me more like some bleached scribe's daydream he wrote down after hearing the name and drawing a hasty conclusion or two. If you want to know about the Eye, you'd have to read the Canticles, but those are locked up tight in some An-Xileel arkheiry, and they won't let anyone but the King see them. I used to know a shaman that would sometimes visit Thurnlim. From what he told me, the Eye's a gem of really old ra-shtyy'...eh, Hist...sap, you'd say? They say the Eye's a relic of the first tree. Ah, I'm not really explaining this right. It's harder in Cyrodiilic. But the thing is, it's a hugely important and powerful An-Xileel artifact, and I shudder to think what it could do in the wrong hands." Dura's own eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What does your employer want it for, anyway?

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"So what you're saying is that the Eye might have been a creation of the first Hist tree. So maybe it was given to the first Argonians so they could protect it? Hmmm." Aurelius pondered on the subject before snapping back to the question his guide had asked him. "My employer wishes to use it to reunify Tamriel. You should know him, everyone in the Empire knows him." Flipping a newly struck coin towards Dura. "I have nothing but faith in him. And it."

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Dura caught the septim and turned it over with a scaled thumb. He failed to fully suppress a snort. "Emperors are men just like any others. And even the nice ones make mistakes." He sighed, turning his eyes in the direction of Stormhold. "But don't worry. I'm not the sort to turn around on a job. I'll get you to your mark and safely back to Thurnlim, if I can."

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"That is true, all men, regardless of stature or title, make mistakes." He paused and looked in the direction of Stormhold as well, and let out a sigh of his own. "And I'm hoping this isn't one." After a moment he reached into his saddlebag and withdrew the elixer he opened earlier, took another drink from it, and then replaced it in the bag before standing back up. "Well, I think we've rested long enough. Lets go Dura."

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Two days later, the travelers found themselves at the gates of Stormhold, one of the oldest living cities in Tamriel. Originally built by Ayleid colonists in the First Era, it had passed through centuries of history into the hands of Tiber Septim’s empire. Now it was home to a wide variety of cultures and creeds, sustaining Legionaries, Great Houses, traders, priests and prophets, wizards and theoretical mystics, ancient cults, forgotten traditions and all manner of adventurers, eager to explore the infamous Black Marsh for profit and glory.

Within the gates, Dura’Jah and Aurelius were met by a shock of noise and color. Unspeakably old Ayleid columns were interspersed with austere Imperial stone and mortar, which gave way in turn here and there to unsettling, organic Argonian structures and clay Dunmer huts. Throughout the twisting streets, traders competed for attention from their colorful stalls and tents while cutthroats and thieves preyed on the unwary.

“Stormhold. It’s been too long.” Dura sighed happily, a Mannish mannerism he’d picked up over the years at Thurnlim. “There’s a tavern I know just down the street here. I’m friends with a friend of the barkeeper, and it’s fair to say he’ll know a decent bit about recent comings and goings. There are also a few old Argonian sects which might know something about the…the thing. Stuff like that’s not going to stay secret for long from people like An-Xileel or Baal. It’s a big city, but someone’s bound to have seen something. If you like, we can split up. Might save some time.” On the thoroughfare ahead, the crowd parted for a moment as a brief scuffle broke out and left a richly dressed Hlaalu merchant and his guards lying dead. The crowd surged back, urchins and thieves greedily picking the corpses clean. Dura grinned at his companion. “I trust you can take care of yourself?”

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Aurelius let out an amused grunt. "Of course." He watched as the poor and greedy picked the dead bodies clean. He looked toward the nearby gatewall. The iconic Ayelid marble architecture always did appeal to him, along with the Welkynd and Varla stone accents and flourishes. "Tell you what, you go ask what Argonian sects you can find about the item, anything about it will do. They might grow suspicious if a . . . non-Argonian were to ask about it. And I'll go ask around about my robed friend. We'll meet at the tavern you spoke of in two hours." He turned back to his companion. "What's it called?"

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"The Drunken Mudcrab. Take a left at the fountain just down the road, then your second right. It'll be on the left. Ask for Harvey. Good luck." Dura took off into the crowd. He enjoyed Stormhold. Sights and smells abounded on all sides, and exotic goods and services could be found spilling out from around every corner. No time for that now. Maybe after the job.

He turned down a narrow alleyway and emerged into another bustling plaza. At one end, an ornate Second Era Cyrodiilic monastery jutted above the shops and houses. Dura'Jah approached the great double doors and slipped inside.

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"Got it." Aurelius replied as Dura disappeared into the bustling crowd. Well, he obviously likes this place. He took another moment to examine his surroundings. The mixture of Ayelid, Imperial, Argonian, and Dunmer architecture was certainly an interesting sight to behold. And no wonder. Remembering the Hlaalu merchant he then moved all of his belongings in his saddlebag from the back pouch to the front. Realizing he only had two bottles of his elixer left he decided to take a quick trip to an alchemist. After getting directions from the gate guard he proceded down the busy street and took the first right past the fountain and then he stopped at the second door on the right. "Silver Alembic. Well, here goes everything." Letting out a heavy sigh he opened the Imperial styled door and entered the shop.

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"The Eye of Argonia? What nonsense! Where did you hear such an absurd rumor?" Brother Parson laughed lightly and took another sip of wine.

"Don't try that with me, Parson. What do you know?"

"Listen, old friend, you know as well as I that even if the Eye existed the An-Xileel would never let it out of their sight, haha."

"Which is why I'm asking you how it fell into the hands of some nameless dryskin. I know you lot have fingers in the An-Xileel."

"You also know that I'm not supposed to share classified information with just any guy off the street, right?"

"Come on, Parson, you know me. I'm not just any guy, I'm your friend."

Parson stared into space for a thoughtful moment and lifted the battered tin goblet to his lips. "Look. For old times sake, I'll tell you this much. You didn't hear it from me, understand?"

"Of course."

The monk glanced around and lowered his voice. "Our agents at the Court tell us the Eye's been missing since the Dawn. It was lost at the real Argonia, during some forgotten myth-battle. Thanks to some An-Xileel extratemporal stuff that honestly confuses the hell out of me, it turned up last year somewhere in Oblivion or Aetherius. At least, I think that's what they meant. I'm not so good at the cosmic mumbo jumbo. Yes, the Eye is real. Yes, the An-Xileel are interested in getting it back. No, I don't know why, and I don't want to know. From what I've heard, they're planning something big, but I honestly don't know where your courier fits into all this."

"Parson. Thank you. You know you can always count on me if you ever want anything special brought into Stormhold."

Parson stood up and sighed. "Assuming you survive long enough. Be careful, Dura, I get the feeling this is bigger than you realize."

Dura'jah rose as well, draining his cup of rice wine and grinning. "Don't worry about me, old friend. You forget who I am."

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"You want me to make this?!" Albrecht was shocked at what his latest customer gave him.

"Yes, can you please?" Aurelius asked the now uneasy alchemist.

"Yes I can but. . ." Albrecht hesitated. "But I am missing the key ingredient." Laying the parchment bearing the recipe on the counter in front of him he pointed at the ingredient in question. "Wolfsbane does not grow anywhere near here!"

"That's okay. I have plenty of it." Aurelius reassured the Breton, and reached into his saddlebag and removed three Wolfsbane flowers. "That should be more than enough for what I need."

Albrecht looked dumbfounded at the blue-hewed flowers in the Imperial's hand. Letting out an uneasy sigh he replied, "Okay, I'm not going to ask anymore questions. I'll make you your elixer." Grabbing two of the flowers from Aurelius' hand he took the recipe and moved to the other end of the counter, grabbing a large silver bowl from underneath to arrange and mix the ingredients appropriately.

"Please no silver." Aurelius objected.

The Breton stopped and looked at the Imperial for a good, long minute before giving the universal symbol for okay, replacing the bowl and grabbing an equally sized ceramic one instead.

"There's one more thing." Aurelius added as he pulled out the empty bottles from his pouch and placed them in front of Albrecht. "It needs to be held in these crystal bottles."

Albrecht nodded and proceeded to make the concoction. About thirty minutes later all the bottles were brimming with freshly made elixer. "There." He said with another uneasy sigh. "That's all of it. Is there anything else you need?"

"No, this is all. Thank you." Grabbing the newly filled bottles and putting them in his saddlebag, he then reached into his frock and pulled out a money pouch. "Now what do I owe you for your services?"

"200 septims."

"Very well." Counting out the correct amount of gold he layed them on the counter and turned towards the door.

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The city roared gently just over the high stone wall. Dura stooped and sifted the earth with his hands. The trees in this courtyard weren’t true Hist, not the enormous, powerful things deep in the deadwood, but their spirit was similar. They were the product of meticulous cultivation and cross-pollination on the part of An-Xileel mystics, what Hist they bore was carefully watered down so that the small and insignificant of Black Marsh might worship and drink of their gods without contaminating the holy groves.

Dura’Jah inhaled. He wasn’t supposed to be here. They might even kill him this time. But this is important. He approached a tree and sank his claws into the underhang of a low branch. A slow trickle of fluid oozed forth, a solution of saps, resins and a few precious drops of something more. The lizard let a small pool collect in the hollow of his thumb and drank.

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I sure hope I didn't scare that Breton too badly. Aurelius thought to himself. "Well, time to get to searching." In the many years he spent as a bounty hunter one of the things he learned was if you were looking for someone, and you don't know where he went, ask the beggars. No one gives them a second thought when passing through a town such as Stormhold. And, with enough gold, they can be plentiful fonts of information concerning everything going on in town. Heading back to the main thoroughfare he resumed his search for his quarry. He quickly found one worth talking to: a middle-aged Argonian in tattered clothes, but but with eyes that were keen and alert. Passing through the throng of people looking at the various wares on sale he approached the old lizard.

"A coin for an old beggar?" Asked the weary beggar

"You'll get more than just one a coin if you can give me some info." Aurelius spoke, jingleling another small pouch of money in his hand.

"Info? Yes of course! What is it you want to know?" Adding more than just a tinge of excitment in his voice.

"I'm looking for someone, he's wearing a grey robe with runes along the edges. He is also carrying a box with him. Do you happen to know where he went?"

The Argonian pondered for a minute. "No I haven't seen anyone like that. But I do know someone just came in town who did see the one you seek. I can take you to him if you want."

"Yes, please do."

"Very well, follow me." The old Argonian then turned around and lead the Imperial through a serpentine maze of allyways to a secluded bar built into the town wall. "In that cornerclub there." He said pointing at the bar. "Look for the half-elf, he's the one who saw who you're looking for."

"Thank you." Giving the pouch to the weary old lizard, he made good pace towards the decrepit-looking tavern, catching what sounded like "Shadow hide you" from the beggar. Entering the old pub he scanned the immediate room, and quickly found who the beggar was talking about. Smelled was more like it, for he had the faint stench of Dunmer about him. That and apparently his entry had attracted the half-breed's attention. He made his way towards the table he was sitting at and took the chair across from him. "Hello. I'm Aurelius Vindictus, and I heard you saw someone I'm looking for. But first, may I have your name?"

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The half-elf arched a brow and, sliding his sanguine gaze smoothly around his fellow riff-raff, settled his attention on Aurelius. He smirked and rolled a single, well-weathered coin across his knuckles. "Sorry, my mother told me to never give my name to strangers."

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"You're mother may have said that..." Aurelius gave a pause, "but you're going to do so anyway. Just like she probably told you not to take things from strangers, but you do that anyway too don't you. I know this kid behind me does." And with one swift motion he reached behind him and grabbed a young Dunmer boy by the shirt and held him against the table. Letting out the faintest of growls and glareing eyes like daggers the Imperial held his free hand in front of the child, and the child conceded and handed back a coinpurse from the small of his back. Letting go of the frightened boy he turned his attention back to the hybrid. "Now your name is?"