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Unfathomable

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Lady N's picture
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Joined: 06/26/2010

Author - Judiah J. Clark

Find them at JudiahJClark.com


 

Unfathomable
Chapter One: North of North
 

"You ever consider we might not make it? I swear it was all a mistake. Never should of had you talk me into this — stupid, stupid."

"What a remarkable change in attitude," Captain Nelor muttered, more invested in keeping a fire going in her cabin than hearing complaints.

"You know what I woke up to last night?" Her friend Grimund asked in a half-accusatory manner. "Woke up to find three of my toes had turned blue, clearer than a wisp in Frost Fall. If I’d woken up a few minutes later who knows if I’d still have a foot at all."

"You’ve got the three toes still?"

"Well . . . yes," Grimund admitted slowly.

"Then shut up," Captain Nelor barked curtly. She raised a hand toward him, her glove flopping lifelessly down where four fingers should have been.

"Come on, you know what I mean. It’s only going to get worse, and we need to seriously discuss if it’s even worth--"

"It’s worth it," Nelor said before Grimund had finished speaking.

"What about the stories that say Atmora’s desolate. They say it’s completely frozen solid, over and done with. I’ve heard it’s so cold that the snows melt straight through you."

"You want another coat? Take mine."

"You know they say that Vivec went there once. And he found nothing to write home about."
"I’m familiar with the sermon, Grimund. But the time has passed to put faith in stories and tales you’ve heard. If you wanted to change my mind you should have brought that all up back in Solitude."

"You’re not listening, Nelor. I want a real discussion now, not some half-dreamt up concept that we had back before half our crew was dead. What’s even out there? What do you hope to find? What could possibly be worth what we’ve already lost?"

"The birthplace of everything. Fallen ruins of history. And the tombs of the first gods."

"You just want to be the first one to set foot there since the emperor, don’t you?"

"Yeah," Nelor admitted with a laugh.

There was a knock at the cabin door that dispelled a small layer of frost. A short and sturdy Dunmer came waddling in and quickly forced their back to close the door. They took a few short breaths that all fumed into the room and drizzled their way toward the lively fire.

"Captain," the Dunmer said shortly, "there's a minor issue."

"Shor, not another," Grimund cursed.

"It's not that. There's no ice. None for quite a way."

"That's good news, no?" Captain Nelor asked. "Have the other two mages take a break below deck then. No sense blasting fire at open ocean."

"It's just that -- well you should really take a look Captain. We hate to bother you but no one's sure what to make of it. It's almost like a path's been cut out before us, but we’re still definitely headed north."

Nelor tightened multiple layers of scarves around her face and closely pulled her hood down before making her way onto the deck with the others following close behind. Two mages stood waiting near the bow, dreamily debating what the path in the water meant.

"We've been sailing through it?" Nelor asked with a muffled voice that all the crew were forced to carry in the cold.

"Only for a short time," one of the mages answered. "We had no reason at first to think it wasn't natural, but going on this long, it's . . . peculiar"

"And you're certain none of your wild spells burned the ice away?" Grimund pries.

"We'd know if it were us, Nord. With Aelor gone we're the only three who could do something like this. And we've been barely melting the ice fast enough as it is."

Grimund made an odd noise of bewilderment.

Nelor squinted her eyes and focused them on what appeared to be a formation near the horizon. At first she considered it to be an iceberg, but as her ship sped closer and closer, she could see smaller buildings surrounding the spire. And at the base of a large plateau of expansive structures she saw the largest and most complex port she'd ever witnessed.

Their vessel roamed farther and split the nasty fog and snow-wind, revealing even more of the land in front of them. It went far beyond where any of them could see, with docks reaching out to meet the ice that rose up to meet them. The city was gelid, long lost, and haunted. The only color that was granted to it now was the bleak white that snows had to offer, and the soft blues of ices that buried entire villas into the past.

"Jylkurfyk," Nelor gasped raw in the weather. "The fabled port-town. It's real. It's right here in front of us." Were it any warmer Nelor would’ve allowed herself to let out a tear, but the northern bite wouldn't permit it.

It was intrinsically beautiful, but there was a part of the tableau-like scene that didn't fit. In the docks, sat a solitary ship that offered more color than should have been possible. The melted ice stopped where it had docked.

"That's not possible," Grimund exasperated.

"Of course it isn't," Nelor responded.

"They had to have followed us, right?" the Dunmer mage asked.

"Yes, they had to have," Nelor said plainly. "No natives could survive here. The last of the men abandoned this land for a reason. Whoever this is, they just got here. Bring us up near them, arm yourselves in secret if you see fit. We need to have a talk with whoever is on that boat."

They brought their ship in close and docked with the frozen boards of Jylkurfyk. Nelor left first, pulling spikes over her boots so that she wouldn't slip and fall into the waters. Two of the mages and Grimund followed, while the other ten in Nelor's crew stayed to guard their ship.

When they neared the other ship, Nelor noticed a fuzzy light in the otherwise barren city. There was a tavern, from what Nelor could tell, near the port. Half of it was covered with an ice that swept up its sides, but the door was melted back to life.

"Guard the ship," Nelor commanded, "and make sure no one sneaks off this one to surprise us."
Grimund shifted with his large war-axe and looked worried despite only his eyes showing beneath his clothing. "We're not going to leave you alone, Nelor."

"You are. And you will guard our ship. There's no reason to believe these aren't fellow explorers who just hadn't had the chance to meet with us. Still, if there's the slight possibility that they have something nefarious in mind, I want you be the one to stop them." Nelor ordered this and carefully made her way to the tavern. "Besides, it seems they only want to have a drink."

Inside the tavern, Nelor saw the warmth of but a few candles. Past a collection of tables enveloped by mounds of ice sat an Altmer at a long counter. He had a hood that didn't cover nearly enough of his face, a wide grin that didn't suit the climate, gray hair and half a look to back it up.

"Come, Captain," The Altmer sang out. "Would you like a drink? A drink to celebrate my discovery?"
Begrudgingly, Nelor stumbled over the snow mounds and approached the counter. The Altmer noticed the captain had nowhere to sit, apologized, and blasted a high-chair with fire.

"There we are, Captain Nelor is it? Take a seat, make yourself comfortable."

Nelor played along. She didn't like the situation one bit, but the Altmer seemed to be alone and she wasn’t scared of him.

The Altmer pulled out a bottle from inside his long coat and beamed a smile. "It's a white wine from Alinor," he said. "At least I think it's from Alinor. I don't know the specifics, but I hear it's good. Would you like some?"

Nelor nodded slightly. The Altmer poured half the bottle into two frozen mugs on the counter. He slid one over to Nelor and she picked it up with her left glove, which froze to it instantly.
"Have you heard of me?" The Altmer asked.

"I’ve not even met you," Nelor replied.

He smirked at that and apologized, "Ah, right, where are my courtesies? I'm Deldarian Elter, captain of that ship and the other, really I switch so frequently I couldn't say anymore."

Nelor paused and mulled the name over inher head. "You’re a pirate from the west, aren't you? A pirate with a terrible name."

"It’s a good name, I think," Deldarian countered. "I mean, I ought to think so, I came up with it. As for a pirate, well that's just a crass term for an opportunist. Yes, I feel that's what I am, an explorer, an opportunist, and an idealist."

"If you're looking to rob us you're not going to find much, pirate. Half our men died just getting up here, what little resources we have left are barely enough to allow us to research inland."

"Rob you?" Deldarian asked, offended by the suggestion. "No, I don't mean to rob you, Captain. Did you think we followed you all the way up here for days on end just to take some gold? We have plenty."

"Good," Nelor exhorted, "then I suggest you take your crew and part before we butcher you."

Deldarian's smile only grew wider. "Your crew? Well, I'm afraid you don't have a crew to command anymore. When we leave here they'll already be tied up in your boat. I'd use mine, but yours is so much more advanced. Just so very cutting-edge. I mean, enchanted wood? That's brilliant. I took a note from that and did the same with my coat." He waves a hand in front of his face and adds, "Warm as an Alit in heat under here."

"Why should I believe you?"

"You really don't need to believe me. You'll see soon enough, if you play this kindly."

"Why? You won't have much luck selling us into slavery."

"In Tamriel? No, I don't think there'd be any buyers for your crew. But I have plans that are bigger than your expedition north. I want to touch the corners of the world, and to do that, I need bodies. Specifically, bodies full of blood, I hear in that in The East there's immortal, blood-sucking vampire-snakes. And a cargo of blood-bags, well I think in exchange they'd be willing to grant me passage. For some time."

"So be it," Nelor said grimly. "Have it your way, pirate." Nelor didn't believe a word that came from the pirate’s mouth, she had no reason to. As far as she cared, Deldarian's crew already attacked her’s and died at the edge of Grimund's axe. So, she had no trouble bringing the pirate out of the tavern to face his similar fate. She got up from the stool, dragging the frozen mug that didn't seem to want to be dropped.

"I intend to," Deldarian bit coldly. He waited for the captain to turn and start to walk out. "But a thought occurred while I was pursuing your ship all these cold nights. It’d hardly do to have your crew be hopeful that none of them will die on our voyage." His voice grew louder as he followed behind Nelor. "Keeping the captain alive, well, that just won’t do will it?"

Captain Nelor turned, but before she could face Deldarian she felt a blade enter her ribs and rip out through her chest. She felt a bitter wind rush in between every small inch of space her furs now had to offer as the blade’s frost quickly turned her insides purple.

"Besides," Deldarian Elter said, "your soul’s of better use to keep me warm. It really is awfully cold up here."

Lady N's picture
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Joined: 06/26/2010

This piece was written for our 20th anniversary fan art contest! It is strictly property of its original creator - you may not modify, publish, or redistribute it without explicit permission from the artist.