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Gopher's Minions

Between the Lines


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It's mid afternoon as you make your way through Talos Plaza where the crowds of the day have thinned to sporadic groups emptying places of business and filling taverns, popping into the shops lining the plaza, or heading home to tend to more private affairs. Visitors glide by, and thieves blend into the crowd to the point where only the residents who know their habitual hunting can mark them out from the mob. The whole of Nirn walks here and there. But all in all, this is as tranquil as the great Imperial City gets.

Imperial_City_-_Talos_Plaza_District.png

You take all of this in as you walk beside your comrades in arms- fellow recruits summoned to the White Gold Tower some time ago for a special mission. You are nearly knocked down in the street, but just as you look around to see who the clumsy oaf was, a wide-eyed Khajiit staggers to his feet and cries "this one will run! It is happening again! Run!" Screams- abruptly cut off- ring out from the Khajiit camp outside the walls of the Imperial City. The Khajiit stares back with longing and horror before breaking away in frantic flight into the crowd. Something about those eyes tell you that this is no bandit raid...

Two years. Two years of civil strife, where Legion fought against Legion, where comrades stood on either sides of the political divide, where good men and women died for the dreams of the greedy.

"As always these power hungry fools think that claiming the Imperial City will mean absolute victory. Fools the lot of them. Tiber Septim's Empire died with the bastard, Martin. It would be best to wipe the slate clean," I mused as he walked under the muggy heat of the mid afternoon sun.

It was an.......interesting experience to walk alongside friends? Comrades? Colleagues? Even amongst the Blades, there were few that could keep pace with myself, yet the ragtag band of alchemists, mages, thieves, and warriors that had practically stormed their way into my life not so long ago, had proven that they could do so. At the very least, I respected the men and women that had gathered in that fateful (I must be getting soft to mention fate) hallway.

The corners of my mouth twitch, as I a wry thought crossed my mind, "The me from the Crisis would be appalled by the me of today." Still, I, being the most experienced and senior of that task force, had a reputation to uphold, I will continue to hold myself and my comrades, yes, that was the right word, to the standards that have kept myself alive even in the darkest of hours. If that meant being seen, what was it the recruits and students were calling me these days......ah, yes, that Glasses Wearing Son of Oblivion, mind that was the nicest one, so be it.

It was then, just as we rounded the corner, and much to my annoyance, the furred mass of a running Khajit just happened to clip my shoulder. I wince ever so slightly. Even then, caught unawares as I was, I managed to steady my footing enough that it was the Khajit that was sent sprawling, not me.

Annoyed.

The coldest glare I could muster was directed at the incoherent and gibbering wreck of a Khajit, and I resumed walking, leaving the Khajit to eat dust without a backwards glance. Still, old habits die hard and my sharp ears, enhanced with magic as if it was second nature to myself, picked up what little was discernible from the Khajit's speech.

"This one will run! It is happening again! Run!"

Then the screams began. Initiate composition alteration. Prepare material restoration.

They stopped. And everything dissolve to blurs, as Altered and Restored muscles powered my explosive sprint forward.

Damm, I did not bring Late-Autumn Rain.

It is a scary thing when one thinks back over the last two years, time had woven itself into flowing adventures that where shared with some of the bravest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

To say that I got on well with each of these members would not be true, I respect them and even admire them, but they truly are a skilled bunch.

The taverns had begun to fill as the people of the Imperial City left their places of work. We were walking through the Talos Plaza enjoying the company and comradery that we had created over the last couple years.

Glancing around I saw Aerinir smirking to himself, “always in deep thought, at least it’s a happy one this time” I thought to myself. I had never been a big fan of Aerinir, but his skill and magical abilities where vital over the last few years.

Just as I turned my head back on route I was tackled by a mass of fur. Realising it was a Khajiit, I tried to push it off me, but he just looked at me and said

"This one will run! It is happening again! Run!”

He rose quickly and leaped away before I could respond.

“What is going on?” I called out to the others, Aerinir had carried on ahead. Standing, I withdrew my short sword wishing I had my shield.

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The Khajiit's limbs were sluggish with panic. He clumsily staggered down the street, charging headlong into anyone unfortunate enough to wander into his path. More than once, he doubled back when met with obstacles of carts and vendors. He made little progress in his frenzied flight. Someone in the crowd muttered a comment about skooma while a sympathetic soul asked for a doctor.

Aerinir had turned his attention to the cut off-screams from the Khajiit camp outside of the city's walls. The city gate itself was nearby, open not to impede the thin flow of traffic into and out of the Imperial City before the great doors would be closed for the night. More people were now traveling out than in, looking mildly interested in the short-lived disturbance. Travelers craned their necks in curiosity but kept their steady forward pace. Beside the gates, two heavily armored Imperial guards stood at ease beside the arched passage. On the other side, another pair stretched their legs casually and engaged in a murmured conversation.

Breath in.

Possible hostiles contacts, numbers and armaments unknown. Civilian population unknown, unlikely to be an asset.

Load sequence seven and sequence twenty.

Civilians presence mitigates area affecting spells. Compensate with close quarters arsenal.

Deploy sequence twenty-nine, Burst.

Legion presence negligible. Limited to unblooded recruits and ceremonial guards.

Breath out.

Hurtling headlong into combat both narrowed and widened my perception, but hurtling into it, propelled not by physical exertion but by the explosive, directed expulsion of magicka, forces tunnel vision. An experimental concept for sure, but with lives on the line, such concerns mattered little, even when any mistake might shred my legs beyond any repair. Still, I blew by indolent city guards, reaching out to grasp the short, broad bladed swords that is standard issue amongst the Legion ranks. They might not be the honed, killing weapon that Late-Autumn Rain is, but they are serviceable weapons, even if their owners were mere guards.

Gritting my teeth and ignoring the sharp, shooting pains wracking my overstressed body, I pushed onwards, barely slowing as I weaved (clumsily I admit, control was difficult at such a rapid pace) past startled travelers and visitors to the Imperial City, honing in on the now ominously silent Khajit camp, reaching out with my senses to hopefully glean anything through the din of my approach.

I had been following the road for days now. It was a road commonly used by the trade caravans to and from Elseweyr. I had left the city of Orcrest 5 days ago, on horseback.

Now I was on foot, since my horse broke his leg scaling down a steep hill and I had to put it down. Now, finally, I had my destination in sight.

I crested the last hill and sighed: ''Ah, the Imperial City... I've missed this place.''

A stroke of sunlight made the White Gold Tower look like a flaming sword rising out of the bowels of Nirn. I was standing there looking at this beautifull sight when I heard it: Screams.

The screams came from the Khajiit camp just outside the city gates. I tried to see what it was that had people crying out in terror, but I couldn't see.

I drew my sword. A sulfurous smell arose from the blade, as blue flames made a little dance on it. It was a fine blade, one I had taken from my uncle's armory before I left. I called it Ariela.

With my free hand I took of my cloak and stuffed it in one of my wide pockets. I twitched my fingers and the tingling sound of a restoration spell was heard.

Now fully prepared, I ran down the hill towards the camp.

Before I could reach the bottom of the hill I saw what appeared to be a High Elf sprinting out of the gate with otherwordly speed.

I slowed my pace to see what would happen next...

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Most of the Khajiit one meets in Cyrodiil are citizens, shopkeepers, farmers and students attracted to the City by its University. But outside of the city, for the last week, was a shabby collection of temporary huts put up by a different class of Khajiit. The residents of the City tried their best to ignore them completely, except perhaps for either the odd harsh word and scornful look. In truth, their way of pretending the people there did not even exist said it all. Other residents of the city were more benevolent or curious. There always seemed to be one or two citizens stopping to talk to the nomads.

A spellsword and a battlemage, Faelar and Aerinir, rushed with the instincts of warriors to the scene. The screams left in their wake a truly eerie silence.

When you arrive at the camp, you find half a dozen tents made of poles and animal skins. These are clustered around a still burning fire pit. The ground is littered with the implements of daily life: a cooking pot still full of half-cooked stew, silverware and cups. The flap of a large tent at the far end of the camp had been rolled and tied back. It now flaps open roughly in the breeze. The hollow sound of the flap, and the crackling of the fire are the only sounds.

Jhoz Ma’Darr felt stunned momentarily by the sudden chaos around her. She was dimly aware of screaming and Aerinir taking off towards the city gate. Ja’Dakh pressed his massive gray-striped body against her, nearly pushing her to the ground. A deep growl from her Senche-Brother brought her mind back into focus and her reflexes suddenly kicked in. She cast a quick invisibility spell before jumping nimbly onto Ja’Dakh’s back.

“Follow the Spell-Elf, Ja.” She ordered the large Khajiit, wrapping her arms around his neck so as not to pull any of his fur. She felt the mass of muscles under her tense as Ja’Dakh crouched and leaped over the crowd, crossing the distance to the gate in giant bounds, Jhoz clinging on as tightly as she could.

They soon arrived at the Khajjit camp, but all was quiet. In fact there was absolutely no one around. All signs pointed to very hasty evacuation as all of the food and other items were just scattered around. Jhoz could smell the ashes from the fire left burning and the strange scent of something she couldn't quite place…

Close enough, stealth would be a weapon......for now.

Release sequence twenty nine in three.....two......one.

I went from a full tilt sprint to a standstill, snapping from motion to rest in but a single heartbeat. Even having used sequence three, Fortify, the toll, Burst exacted on my body was still devastating. It took all I had to move from speed to subterfuge, as I moved to enter the Khajit camp, even then I was trembling, both from the pain and drain from utilising Burst. Still I have a tried and tested spell for such occasions.

Evidently, Burst is too inefficient in its current state.

Deploy sequence seven, Regrowth.

I hissed underbreath, biting back a scream as my body forcibly rewrote itself, every fiber of my being felt as if it was on fire, as I poured a near quarter of my reserves into the spell. The process was as quick as it was excruciating, and in the time it took me to step forward, I had restored myself to fighting condition, albeit feeling drained. Gathering myself, I forged onward only to find a still lit cooking fire, empty tents and most disturbingly no Khajits, dead or otherwise in sight.

I see Ja'Dakh have arrived, good, at least they were not that slow. And where Ja'Dakh is, Jhoz is definitely near him cloaked. Both were likely to be using their superior senses.

No signs of a struggle. No undead. Trap? Likely.

Still, I signaled in the invisible Jhoz's general direction, and braced myself for an inevitable sensory overload. Sense was a double edged sword, sure in theory it enhanced my senses beyond even that of the vaunted Beastfolk, but I am a Mer, such intense sensations beyond my norm would typically leave me incapacitated, and knowing that I would typically limit the extent of the enhancement, but seeing as I was not alone, I could afford to do so.

"In theory," I noted dryly.

Deploy sequence twenty, Sense.

Instantly, my world expanded.

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A fresh breeze cleared the air from the earthy and strong smell of the campfire. The keen Khajiit noses twitched as the second smell became clearer and more familiar. The camp was not as deserted as it seemed at first glance. The sent of mists and scales, faint- somewhere around the far end of the camp.

Aerinir, casting a spell to enhance his own perceptions likewise picked up the presence of an Argonian somewhere near the far end of the camp. He could sense no movement, but the extremely faint sound of breathing- and the absence of the tell-tale stench of decay- told him this Argonian was still alive.

I slowly rose to my feet as my companions ignored my question and bounded off towards to Khajiit camp. Jhoz had cloaked herself and leapt onto Ja’Dokh’s back, taking in a deep breath I set off after them. Ja’Dakh was quick, I’d not seen someone run that fast in quite some time.

As I drew closer to the Khajiit camp I began to take in my surroundings. The fires were still burning, some had food still cooking while others had stools placed around them. The tents stood empty of life with the odd opening flapping in the breeze.

Closing my eyes I took in a new breath, a fresh breeze blew over me and the smell changed a little. I was not sure what it was, but it didn’t smell pleasant. I looked across at the two Khajiit and Aerinir. I was sure they’d have a better idea.

I had come close to the camp when I saw a giant cat leap forward out of the gates. I only caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared into the camp, but that was enough.

From my days in Elsweyr I knew what it was. It was a Senche. I knew I would probably be unable to defeat him up close, so I casted an extra Ebonflesh spell.

When I reached the outskirts of the camp I was thrown of by the strange smell. I carefully made my way past the tents untill I reached the clearing in the middle of the camp.

Across the clearing I saw the Senche. He had noticed me aswell. A deep growl arose from his throat. Then I saw the Altmer, standing by the fire.

His face looked like he was being tortured. Preparing for a possible fight I secured my grip on my blade. The warm sensation of the healing spell in my hand comforted me a little.

Slowly, but with a steady pace and Ariela firmly in my hand I walked onto the clearing. I noticed the Elf freeze. He heard me.

Across the clearing the Senche got ready to leap forward.

I knew I had to break the silence, or I would be torn apart by the Senche and the now clearly alerted High Elf.

I never had any trouble speaking, but now I felt somewhat scared to break the silence.

'No need for hostility my friends, I came here because I heard screaming. I assume you came for the same.' My voice sounded firm, despite my tension.

I once again firmly gripped my sword and waited for a response, good or bad.

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The tent flap was drawn back by a scaly hand. The Argonian stepped out, blinking drowsily. He was stooping and languid in his movements which was odd for the normally graceful Argonian race. His body was covered by a loose-fitting tunic of dark blue, faded in patches and tied with a simple cord around the waist where a single pocket bulged slightly. On his head flopped a matching blue hat like an old fashioned Breton sleeping cap. White stars and moons littered its surface. His green scales shone with flecks of orange and erupted with bright orange feathers behind his ears.

After an awkward moment, he notices you. His eyes widen marginally. "Whoa man!" he drones. "I erect the spine of welcoming, man!" He attempts to bow but wobbles too much to pull it off. "Where is everybody?" He staggers back slightly and looks around the empty camp. His eyes don't seem to be behaving themselves as he cranes his head around at odd angles to force them to focus. Another pause as he assumes a somewhat thoughtful aspect. "Oh. Right. I guess they bugged out again. It's a bad trip, you know what a mean? Yeah. Just chillax man, I'll tell you everything, man... Guys... My name's Sees-All-Things.

This lady comes by today, heard about my mystical tours, right? But she didn't want her fortune told, like the others. She was looking for someone. She had a purpose, yeah? She said his name was Mel-something. A Breton; looked kinda like a Breton, you know? Breton-y. Anyway, she wanted info about some other Breton. And that Breton was on some quest or something- it was like... quests upon quests, man..." He laughs a little too long.

"So she took the tour, but... I don't know how to bring her back."

Meanwhile... elsewhere [not Elswyr]...

Two men meet in a forest clearing. The light is dim and hazy, but the whole forest is unnaturally lit as if by lamps. The ground rolls gently into the distance, almost level and barren of cover except for a cluster of plants and bushes crowding around fallen logs of enormous size. The standing trees are likewise, both thin and great, reach almost impossibly high blocking out the sky except in rare clearings such as this. That sky, also dark, is smeared with stars and flickering flames of pink and blue. The air feels comfortable but tense, as before a rain storm. It feels like it has always been almost-raining here since the creation of Nirn.

All around the forest stretches out. To the south the view darkens considerably, growing less colourful. There appears to be a hillock or at least a dark shape in that direction. To the south-east a sudden fog rolls in the distance and despite the temperate air of the clearing, the grasses in the distance appear slightly frosted and moist.

Before the two men approach each other, they realize, almost at the same instant, that there is something in their hands. They look down.

@[uSER=18]Orangejuicegod[/uSER] sees 9 cards in his hand:

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Lnq1CoV.jpg472UaQ2.jpgUotZW3o.jpg

djjyUGT.jpgIn6gnWX.jpgEsoU2pu.jpg

@[uSER=31]Shiroi_gaijin[/uSER] sees 9 cards also:

wkwwGAk.jpg2WkP1LP.jpg28VoENr.jpg

6owsrwj.jpg0nhAod8.jpg8hwGb9W.jpg

IhVxOT1.jpgqbZGGOw.jpgp6cRxDs.jpg

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How long have it been walking? Wait, first things first: where am I? Think. Crossed into Bruma, check. Went West, aiming for Hammerfell, check... Then... Nothing... And fog. *deep sigh* Well, in the words of Sinks-Like-A-Brick, my old one armed Argonian friend in Riften, "Never swim into cloudy water at sundown." So we walk away from the shadowy patch there....

Oh, goodie. I'm not alone. Delightful. Skinny, tall (well, taller than me). Must be one of those knife - eared finger wagglers. Nocturnal has abandoned me in deed.

And where'd these gods damned tarot cards come from? Did I drink my way through another carnival?

Guess I should at least pretend to be nice to goldenrod over there... Shit.

This doesn't look like Valenwood, or at least where I was there. Too much mist. Never seen these trees either. If I could ask Arienne about them. She has a knack for tre....

*looks around and sees a figure, assuming a pose of readiness, noticing the cards during a hand movement*

Hmm... when did these get here? Either this is an elaborate trick or this... Nord, I think, is in the same boat. Confused Nords are rarely a good thing. Auri-El, keep me sane. Might as well see what these blasted cards are before they become important... I've never heard of half these things. Hidden Truth... Tell me I don't have to work something out alongside a Nord. Blasted man will likely go mad half way. Carnival is just screaming Daedric to me, like whatever's causing that light. At least I can mop up the mess left here from those gates. With or without that Nord.

Great he's decided to come closer. Interesting, not instantly drawing his weapon...

Well, he's seen me. Probably hanging spells as we speak. If I screw this up, he'll probably torch, light me up like Saturalia lanterns...maybe ice block....that wouldn't be so bad. Supposedly you get really drowsy when you freeze to dea...No. Not messing this up.

Shor's bones, I hope he's not Thalmor.

He's probably Thalmor. This is so going to end badly. It's okay, be polite. Ish. Okay, fine, just no racial slurs...

Here goes...

"Ho, there! You, the golden Skeever. Where in Molag's balls are we?" Shit, that was wrong. And people wonder why I don't speak often.

It's definitely going to be lightening. I really hate magic.

He's glaring. Judging me, probably, measuring look, eyes keep darting to the sword. If he's Thalmor, he's going to recognise the Akaviri blade...Did I get here with an resist potions? No. And I can never remember which nasty ingredient I can eat for a quick boost...Wait, i've still got my money, right...Yeah, bandoleer weighs enough.

Deep breath, and hope it's over quickly...

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Molag's balls? Golden skeever? Typical Nord. Doesn't know how to behave in front of an Altmer.

"Lost are you, Nord?"

*Observes armour and weapons, taking particular attention to the sword*

That's an odd blade. Definitely not Nordic, or Altmer in design. It seems familiar though, like I should know it. I'd better keep an eye on him until I work this out. Might as well make use him though. He seems like he's lived rough before and could be of assistance. Keeping track of him could prove useful in the end too.

*notices cards in hand and gestures at them, subtly putting own cards away, leaving a free hand*

"Come closer, let me see those. Where did you get them?"

*keeps a close eye on Bryndon's hands, especially his sword hand*

*sighs with relief* Bless you, Nocturnal. You've not abandoned me after all.

He definitely looked at the sword, seemed like he recognised it...and didn't immediately incinerate me. Either he's not Thalmor, or he's more interested in figuring out what's going on. Acceptable.

I approach with more confidence now (it's mostly an act). I figure, winds of Oblivion, if anyone is going to know about these cards, it'll be the slant. So why not let him take a look. I'm happier not having any more magic on my person than the...

Shit, the amulet...the book...If goldie's Thalmor, he might recognise them. If NOT, maybe he can tell me what they do...I'll keep them quiet for now, use them as insurance.

"Yeah, sorry, Goldie. You're not fooling anyone. You're as lost as I am. But here, probably make more sense to you than I."

So I hand over the cards, "Though I will say that Courtesan card has more than a passing resemblance to an old flame of mine. Bosmer lass, flexible, kinky...wild. Only two eyes, unlike the card. Still...jaw line is about right..."

As he takes the cards, I notice an AWFULLY pretty ring on his hand. Old, well worn, looks like there used to be deep etching. Quality work, really. Probably an heirloom. Now, I'm sentimental, and usually leave people's heirlooms alone. Usually. But I'm thinking that ring of his might need to go missing some night. Don't look at me that way, I'll give it back. Just...borrow it. Watch him sweat.

Anyways, while brighteyes is looking at the cards, I start taking a closer look at the forest around me. It seems off, and not just because of the light. Yeah, that's weird, but...I dunno. So I start looking for animal tracks, droppings, damaged bark from antlers or bear claws. I mean, at this point, I'd even accept that weird crusty stain from chaurus poison.

Is it just me, or are the trees too regular? I have a bad feeling about this. Maybe I'll try to cut back on harassing bag-o-sticks for a while. Let him focus on figuring out where we are...

And maybe I can get back to...what was it...

OH! I remember what I was doing now!

[*narration fairy drifts by*]

As Bryndon takes a closer look at their surroundings, he notices that there's a soft, intermittent rustling noise quite close to the ground in the direction of the rolling mist. It's so irregular, he almost decides he didn't hear anything at all- maybe just some branches rubbing together. But, no, it's definitely something moving around in there. It sounds small-ish, slow.

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Great. This Nord is a bit sharper than the rest. Working out I'm lost too... Probably means that blade does show something. Got to keep a close eye on him.

*takes cards and peruses them, taking note of The Demon's Lantern*

Well if these cards are in any way relevant, this one would explain this light. Looks as if there are lanterns just out of sight. This theatre card reminds me of... *pulls out own cards again and flick through*... yes, The Carnival. This has got to mean daedra, presuming the cards are of any use at all. Probably not. But, still...

*continues to observe cards, oblivious to rustling. Suddenly takes a breath in, as if having an idea*

Hmm... Inquisitor... could that be me? My instructors were keen to teach me to force the truth out from others. In which case, do I have something that describes this Nord? Winged Serpent? Paladin? No. ... Juggler?

In Telendil's hand, The Demon's Lantern card gradually becomes blindingly bright like a flare and is gone. A moment later, the rolling fog to the south east seemed to fall, like a dropped curtain floating slowly to the earth. It remains like a soft blanket, and pools in the dips of the revealed fen. A path is now visible leading out of the clearing to a bridge over a marshy reed-filled lake. Although the fog had dispersed somewhat, it's still a little difficult to see what is in the distance but you can see that the bridge ends at an island in the lake. Above the waters, coloured orbs of light float and bob drowsily.

When the fog dispersed, you noticed the rustling noise Bryndon heard. In addition, you catch a glimpse of a shuffling, rounded shape about two feet tall just as it retreats further into the fen.

Well, that's something you don't see every day, even with mages. Daedra, then.

Out of old, hard earned habit, I was splitting my attention toward the three problems at hand: 1. How did I get from Hammerfell to the City (that part was still missing); 2. Make sure the elf doesn't do anything too shifty (vain hope); 3. What was that beastie I just saw skuttle off... It was about the right size to be a skeever...but too slow. And something about the way the mist cleared with with the card tells me not to expect NORMAL here.

What if it's more than one daedric lord? Dagon's tricky enough, but probably still licking his wounds; not enough weird for Sheogorath...Dammit! To many unknowns. Maybe I can pry some info from Goldielocks here...

I already know he's not going to be forthcoming. I figure, though, I can make some assumptions.

Little road dust, which means he was lodged somewhere recently, cut of his clothing and the ring indicates wealth, and the distinct lack of feces on his shoes says it probably wasn't an inn. Embassy? Maybe. He seems like the type. Embassy means he’s probably Thalmor. Damn. Okay, moving on, what else? No furs, nor fur shed on his clothes, which means temperate…Imperial city…he was there when I was…

Deep breath. Concentrate…pine, mud…THERE, incense…

“You went to visit Sees-All-Things…you’re looking for the Breton!”

Damn, I really need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

And what WAS that creature?

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*covers eyes with arm, dropping a few of the cards* "GYAH!!! ... ... That settles it then. Daedra… Or someone with a despicable sense of humour"

*looks around* Let’s see… heavy mist and fen. Might be a follower of… Molag Bal? No. Too much life. Sheogorath? Hmm… Sounds like some of the descriptions of his realm. Though I’ve heard it described both like this and as being radiant. Vermina? Well it certainly seems to suit the name of Quagmire. And the fog suggests…

What was that? Tell me it’s not a baby Ogrim. I faced enough of those before. Though I’ve never seen a young daedra, or even seen accounts of them…

*Notes the direction it was travelling in and starts looking at bridge to pick out any information, but is cut off before noticing much*

“How do you know of that lizard? You think it has something to do with this?”

This Nord is definitely up to something. So he’s after a Breton too? Probably owes him mead money, though he’s being too secretive about it. Either way, if it’s the same Breton, he will not get in my way. That blade may be a problem though. It’s too well made to be quickly affected by weapon degradation spells, and I doubt he’s easily be parted with it.

The stonework of the bridge is weathered but aside from decorative trim lying here and there in the tall grasses, remains completely intact despite its obvious age. Its foundations are curiously laid further into the shoreline than one would expect, giving the impression that the bridge has seen the contraction of the lake through many years of silting up- or of some other landscape altering event.

Telendil can no longer hear the rustling noise. As Telendil questions Bryndon they both sense, more than see, a change. Neither of you are casting shadows. In their place are quilted streamers stitched onto your boots. Small grey and brown feathers liter the ground. Immediately behind you, you see a large owl dragging a knapsack behind a tree.

Oh, good. As if it wasn’t weird enough.

“Hey, elf,” I say, my tone serious, “as much fun as I’m sure we’d have picking each other slowing apart with racial bigotry, magic, and steel…maybe we should put a hold on it. Also, I’m good enough with my bow hunting, if my prey is large and slow moving, but do you think you can zap that owl? The knapsack maybe…relevant to our interests.”

The whole place feels ALMOST familiar, like dream from childhood or a bad batch of skooma.

And old.

I let Goldie decide how to deal with the owl, I’d probably miss a shot, and continue to analyse my surroundings. Lake has been retracting for years; that much is obvious. The plants growing under the bridge aren’t water plants. It’s grass, flowers, I see a couple of smaller shrubs coming out.

None of those grow well with too much water…what HAPPENED here?

The streamers on my feet instead of shadows make me more inclined to think it’s Sheogorath or Sanguine, though without more naked, drunken women of low moral standards, it’s more likely Sheogorath. Still, “there are more things in Oblivion and Nirn, Horatius,” right?

I think back on the cards. The Demon’s Lantern flared and cleared the fog, but not with my touch, but the elf’s. I wonder if his cards would have an effect in my hands. I might as well find out. If he’ll let me see them.

“Bard’s college,” I say, surprising myself as much as him. “I was hired by the Bard’s College in Solitude. I guess I look like the kind of guy you ask to do stupid shit for money, so they commissioned me. I, well…*sigh* that’s a long story.”

VERY long, and unpleasant.

My family is...well, we get wanderlust. Every one of us gets it. So, I’m trekking through Hammerfell, avoiding Thalmor because of this little locket and book (journal) that I, well, liberated, from the hands of one very rude Thalmor agent in Falkreath. I stop in at Dragonstar to provision up, thinking I’ll head off Highrock on the next boat I can catch, when I see a familiar face. Member of the Thieves Guild, Thornar or some such, said my cousin left a message for me. This is, of course, bad news. See, this cousin of mine is a Bard, full fledge wandering wastrel. Artsy type. Walks with a permanent limp because I broke his left shin when we were kids because he wrote an…unflattering song about me that he sang to Elsa, the smith’s daughter. Anyways, Bron and I (yes, the “B” name thing is a family tradition, and stupid one) don’t precisely get on. Mostly because I still have fond dreams of filling his trousers with angry bees and lighting his hair on fire. But, we don’t ever say no to family, since we rarely cross paths. So I go meet him. A job he says, it’ll pay well, and it’s in Cyrodill, so we don’t have to see each other for long. What the hell? Money AND avoid him, I’ll take it. He gives me a note, sealed with the Headmaster of the College’s signet, and walks away. Doesn’t look back…I like him a little more than I used to for that.

Anyways, more of that later, I think the elf’s come to a conclusion…

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"I'm not sure killing this owl is a good thing to do at the moment. Remember, one of your cards depicted one. I feel it would be... ill advised to end it. So long as we part it from the knapsack..."

Seems like keeping the bag in place should do the job. As soon as the owl notices it can't move, it should try to get the knapsack off itself *attempts to freeze the bottom of the knapsack to the floor, avoiding doing the same to the owl*

The cards..! *looks at the floor to find the dropped ones, noticing the streamers* Streamers and bag-wearing owls... definitely sounds more like Sheogorath. I've never heard of him using cards like these, though he is an unpredictable one. Right. Seems like I've got all of them. *starts counting the cards, while listening about the Bard's College link*

The owl card on the ground glows, flashes, and is gone.

As Telendil's spell connects to the knapsack, the owl releases it and begins frantically waving its wings around. From its beak falls a sewing needle. A spool of thread drops from under a wing. "Oh gosh!" cries the owl. "I don't want any trouble! I don't know what came over me! Such pretty shadows..." It hoots, sounding like a demented whimper. It hunches and compulsively kneads the ground with its talons. "Take them back, and take my tokens too! I know it was wrong- but can't a bird get a break now and then?" It looks back and forth between the two men.

"Good job, Slant! But, for the record, I ASSUMED you had enough control to stun the owl, not kill him. Can't say whether learning otherwise fills me with confidence...or pure dread. Anyways, come here, my feathered friend" I extend my arm. "Owl meat tastes terrible, so I'd rather you just tell us what's going on. And I'd like my shadow back. You can keep the elf's; he's too dim to leave much of a shadow anyways."

I offer the kleptomaniacal Strigiforme a bit meat I had packed away in my bandoleer, VERY careful not to show which pouch it came from (no one wants a grabby bird of prey, much less a chatty one...which reminds me of that same Bosmer ladyfriend...).

On a lark, and because I thought it would be funny, as the owl mounted my wrist, I grabbed the Inquisitor card, lick it, and stick it to the elf's forehead.

"That going to make you disappear? Or maybe speak clearly for once, brighteyes?!"

I figure I'll probable be disappointed on both counts, but it's good for a laugh.

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Assumed I had the enough control to stun the owl... blasted Nord could have worded 'zap that owl' to suggest that. Trying to claim something like that. Though he does seem more wary of me. While pleasing, it may make my task more difficult...

"I'd rather have my shadow back as well. I presume whatever you were going to do with them would not be good for either of us... or at least I will assume so until I know where we are"

*turns round to have the card thrust against face. Ripping it back off in a swift motion to reveal a face of pure irritation* "Thank you for returning that..."

Must have grabbed it when I was dropped the cards. Nord's got quick fingers, I'll give him that. If only the Thalmor had more mer with those skills. Barging in rarely works unless we've been watching them. And now he's feeding the owl... well that's more food to get later on then. *Looks around to search for things that could be hunted, but focussing on whatever the Nord and owl say*

Bryndon has acquired an owl. The Inquisitor card comes away from Telendil's face with a moist snap but remains inert.

"I see. Yes," the owl looks sad, for an owl and sighs. "They would have looked splendid in my nest, too. Ah well. One must take the rough with the smooth." The owl hops down from Bryndon's wrist, and proceeds to waddle around. It roots around in knapsack. Shadows immediately seep out of the open flap. The owl shuffles over to its dropped needle and thread which it had dropped in its panic. It sits down at Bryndon's heels and begins picking at the streamers which abruptly fall off. It then steadily proceeds to sew Bryndon's shadow back on. There's no physical sensation attached to this action whatsoever.

"It's been so long since mortals passed this way," it says conversationally. "And there's nothing I like more than a mortal's shadow. Of course, I promise not to take yours again. In fact, I could stop taking shadows any time I want! Yes, anytime." As the owl finishes sewing Bryndon's shadow, it cautiously does the same at Telendil's feet. When it's finished, it clutches the knapsack with one of its talons and peers inside. "What's this? Not empty? Oh, yes! That's right! There was another. Short woman, I think. Pretty small shadow... Still, beggars can't be choosers." It tosses its needle and thread into the knapsack. "I remember now: very curious person. She asked question after question after question. If you ask me, she forgot which side of the page she was on."

"This woman... what did she look like?... ... other than being short. And while we've got you talking, where is this place?"

Anything I can get from this owl would be of use in this place. Whoever this woman is, she must still be here. Unless she never noticed her shadow being taken or there's something else here...

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The owl nonchalantly resumes its perch on Bryndon's arm. "I'm not very good at human faces. She said she was a bard, I think. If any mortal could get here on purpose, it would probably be a bard or a con man. Anyway, she didn't really understand what she was getting into. I probably shouldn't be saying anything but then if I'm known for anything, it's compulsive nest-lining. And being rash. That's the relevant one- being rash; lining my nest isn't really relevant to your question. Sorry, what were we talking about?" It preens its feathers thoughtfully for a moment.

"Oh, right! Where are you? There was, and was not, in the oldness of time a family who lived up in Rivenspire, in High Rock. They were stupidly fond of the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora. He has a face like a bird's breakfast. Me, I'd have preferred Sheogorath but there's no accounting for taste. And it would be hypocritical for me to blame them; they emulated their lord's knowledge hoard. Any scrap of datum, no matter how small, all for them and them alone. Never to be whispered to an outsider, even in the direst of circumstances when a clue would have saved a life. In time, they all died out until there remained only a child named Sonnorae. Barren, she knew she would be the last of her petty lineage to walk Nirn. She continued to consume and hoard until she was very old indeed. Only one thing could finally shake her compulsion: the realization that all of that hoard would one day either be for nothing, or worse still... found and shared after her death. Old Wormy-Face sympathized not with her, but the sheer horror of such a hoard being released freely to the people of Nirn. To spare himself the discomfort of such an event, he sheared a sliver from Apocrypha- his personal plane of Oblivion- to create this place and anchored it to an artefact belonging to Sonnorae: a Fortuna deck." He gives a little nod to the cards. "Sonnorae is perhaps the greatest and worst bard Nirn has ever produced. I speak from authority, as one of her creations."

"And that woman, yes she was trying to find Sonnorae. It's all rather pointless now, but she feared the deck would empower her to become a new Daedric Prince. In a sense, she is... This is a Plane of Oblivion in its own right, if a little cramped. But there's no chance of her becoming a Daedric Prince. Not now, anyway."

And here I thought things were going better...A sliver of Oblivion. Delightful. Shaved off of Apocrypha.

I begin surveying my surroundings. There has to be some indication of our next step. I'm thinking the hill to the south will provide a decent overview. The hard part is, do I trust this elf, even for a little while? We're in the same kettle of fish now, but if he gets the upper hand...or have I unnerved him enough that he'll want to keep an eye on me? I guess, if he does screw me over and leave me here, I'll just make a bargain with some daedric prince to get out. Wouldn't be the first time I've bargained...best not think about that...

"So, Goldie, looks like we have ourselves a conundrum. I'm inclined to trust you far enough to at least find our missing Bardic Breton, so long as you don't try to screw me over. We can decide where this goes once we've found her. If you're willing to do the same, I'm going to go up yon hill to get a lay of the land. You use that gilded tongue of yours to wheedle some more details out of our dear loquacious feathered friend here. Somehow, I suspect you'll get more answers than I."

And so, without waiting for his response, I take my pretend choice away and head south.

May the Nine guard my ass, and Nocturnal guard my luck.

This may be a huge mistake....

[Meanwhile... back in the abandoned Khajiit camp...]

'No need for hostility my friends, I came here because I heard screaming. I assume you came for the same.'

Ja’Dokh faced the dark-hair Breton, the hair along his spine on end and his hackles up. A deep snarl started in his throat and Jhoz could feel his muscles tense and bunch under her as the big cat got ready to pounce. Knowing that her litter-mate had a tendency to jump into battle before thinking Jhoz touched his forehead with her hand and cast a quick Calm spell on him. Ja’ instantly relaxed, his snarl fading out into a soft purr.

“Hush, my brother.” She whispered gently before sliding off his back in one graceful movement, landing silently on soft paws. Her invisibility spell expired as she stepped out from Ja’Dokh’s shadow and took a few steps towards the Breton-man, her arms slightly extended and forward, showing her unarmed nature even as she mentally prepared to cast Bound Sword should this encounter turn sour.

Before anything more could be said the nearby tent flap pulled back to reveal a sleeping-looking Marsh-lizard. The Argonian smelt of incense and sickly-sweet herbs, making Jhoz’s whiskers twitch. Jhoz noticed that his eyes seemed out of focus and his movement were clumsy and lazy… much like a sugar tooth would act while coming down from a Skooma high. She couldn't smell any Skooma, or the distinct sent of Moonsugar, but she was some ways away so it was possible the scent just hadn't reached her yet and this Marsh-lizard was simply chasing moon beams.

“Whoa man! I erect the spine of welcoming, man!”

Behind her, Ja’Dokh turned towards this new voice. The Calm spell was still in effect so the huge gray Khajiit simply gazed lazily at the Argonian, yawning widely and laid down, closing his golden eyes but keeping his tufted ears focused on the conversation.

The lazy-eyed lizard started to babble something about bad trips and mystical tours. Jhoz listened curiously, unable to keep from smiling at the ridiculous nature of this encounter. It seem obvious to her that the Argonian was high and so most, if not all, of what he was saying could be complete nonsense. The bit about the Breton seemed like it might be about a real person but it was so hard to tell. Most important to Jhoz, however, was the comment about “everybody”.

“But where are Khajiit, Marsh-friend?” She asked, gesturing around the empty campsite. “Jhoz does not understand why tent-homes have been left and camp-fire burning with no one to tend them.”

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The muscles in my cheek twitched as I suppressed the inexplicable urge to lash out irrationally at the obviously high Argonian, as the clinical part of my mind took note of the Argnonian's intoxicated state.

Possible intoxicants? Alcohol, moon sugar, hist sap. Worse, could be foreign magic. Dangerous to magically clear without prior diagnosis. Damn, Safia would have been able to clear his system out with a single potion.

Instead, I took the opportunity to take stock of my surroundings.

Three friendlies, combat strength considerable...... Revise, one friendly calmed, limited combat capability unless spell is released.

One civilian, intoxicated, currently speaking with Jhoz.

One unknown, preliminary probes indicate significant magical capability, combined with loose, light clothing and relatively narrow blade profile, indicates a fencing background. Threat level likely high, continue observation.

".......Jhoz does not understand why tent-homes have been left and camp-fire burning with no one to tend them."

Making sure to keep the Breton spell-fencer well in sight, I tuck my borrowed short swords to my side, and moved up to Braydon. Keeping my voice low, I spoke, "Stay on guard, whoever did this might still be here. Watch the Breton, I trust him less than that Argonian is capable of coherent speech right now", even as magickally enhanced senses still reached out, now focused on probing the area for the tell-tale wisps of magicks.

Still even without any traces left behind, there is still the Argonian we can interrogate.

With that in mind, I paused in my search and spoke once again, "Jhoz, see if you can identify the intoxicant keeping the Argonian useless. Keep him talking if you cannot and see if you can drag more out of his muddled faculties. And for Auriel's sake, release the calm spell on Ja'Dokh, I'll need him on guard while I try to make sense of what happened here."

Looking around the camp again I couldn’t see any real threat, everything seemed calm and the only thing missing was the Khajiit themselves. I began to slide my sword back into its sheath.

Looking across from where I was standing I noticed that a person was entering the camp. I couldn’t see what race he was, it had never been a strong point of mine. I noticed that Ja’Dakh was getting tense but he soon calmed down, must have been Jhoz with a calming spell.

The stranger spoke up “No need for hostility my friends, I came here because I heard screaming. I assume you came for the same.” I wish I could believe him, somehow I knew that whether he was friend or foe, hostility was just around the corner.

Before I could extend my greetings to him I noticed an Argonian stepping out of a tent, my sword slid into place in its sheath but my hand remained on its handle. This Argonian was high, it was plain to see by the way he staggered towards us, the things he said to us also showed that he had no clue as to what had been happening. He claimed his name was Sees-All-Things, I was a little surprised he remembered his own name. He told us about some Breton who took a tour or something.

Jhoz had been talking to the Argonian “…, Marsh-friend?” but I noticed that Aerinir was had approached and was standing by my side just as Jhoz finished talking to the Argonian. ".......Jhoz does not understand why tent-homes have been left and camp-fire burning with no one to tend them."

My eyes never left the Argonian and new comer, keeping his voice down he spoke to me.

“Stay on guard, whoever did this might still be here. Watch the Breton, I trust him less than that Argonian is capable of coherent speech right now".

Aerinir then proceeded to talk the Jhoz, asking her to keep on with the Argonian, as well as asking her to release Ja’Dokh. All I could think about is that we may need him.

The giant feline across the clearing relaxed as an agile looking Khajiit girl appeared next to him. I was pretty sure she was a Cathay, but I started doubting myself when I looked at her length.

She took a few steps in my direction with her arms slightly forward, showing me she was unarmed. As a sign of goodwill I lowered my blade and let the spell in my hand die out.

I was about to say something that would put her at ease, but at that moment an Argonian stepped out of the tent.

As the Khajiit girl started talking to the intoxicated reptilian, I noticed the Altmer talking to a new arrival in the camp. The Imperial nodded, glancing my way.

The High Elf then proceeded to talk to the Khajiit. Apparantly he asked her to lift the Senche's Calm spell (since that had to be what calmed him).

''Bet they know each other, all of them. Mr. Tall-'n-Yellow over there is most likely in charge. I probably shouldn't call him that, it's a tad racist.''

Across the clearing I say the Senche get back on it's feet, looking from the Argonian to me and back.

''Great, if this goes bad, I'll have to deal with four enemies, one of which is a cat the size of a warhorse. The Divines must really hate my guts. Shame really, that Khajiit girl looks kinda cute.''

I flexed my muscles a bit, leading to a snarl from the Senche and a frown from the Elf.

''they really don't trust me do they? Better put my sword in its scabbard, really don't want to tangle with these guys.''

As I put my sword away I listened carefully to what the Argonian had to said to the Khajiit.

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While speaking to Jhoz, Aerinir attunes his senses to read the magickal traces in the area. The general area of the camp reads almost neutral, but for a telltale residue suggesting recent but dissipated activity. It was unlike that of the usual post-magery battle shrapnel which felt to his senses like a mild static electric field. It seemed more like the dispelling of a Daedric summoning cast; a drawing into Oblivion. Turning his attention to the particularity that was Sees-All-Things the seemingly intoxicated Argonian with the tidy though eccentric appearance. Coursing around him, Aerinir senses the unmistakable feeling of a strong, directed compulsion. It's as if he can see strings tightly wound around the Argonian being manipulated by an unseen puppetmaster. Mind-control.

Instinct kicking in, Aerinir prepares to take action. Before he can fully turn away from Jhoz, the Argonian's trembling hand reaches out from his pocket in a casual gesture. The hand extends, the curled fingers relax and rectangles tumble from his palm. A wind rushes down from above the camp and the all-too familiar snap and howl of Oblivion fills the air. Faster and faster, the little rectangles are thrown tumbling through the storm like leaves until one by one they come to rest.

The storm dies back as abruptly as it rose. Rubbing the grit out of your eyes, you see the City walls, the tents all gone. The Argonian lies prone on the grass of a strange forest. Your attention is drawn immediately to the incongruous sight of a volcano jutting up out of a nearby meadow. Jutting out of it on all sides and at odd angles are brazen pipes of all sizes. They look almost like buttresses of a ruined cathedral propping up the volcano.

There are cards in your hands.

Aerinir has:

B0o2VyH.jpggFrZAum.jpgPV80zuT.jpg

n1tdmZu.jpge40hN2M.jpgo4wjC7Z.jpg

iMEOzz4.jpg38B4DFw.jpgTu08WEw.jpg

Braydon has:

z1RE7I2.jpgWeQXrJp.jpg5ZvilO5.jpg

4cwwOT5.jpgPWEb3Nt.jpgbvKPWlb.jpg

3dTIE3P.jpgCGhl8gn.jpgBZRoDG1.jpg

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[Narration fairy peeks around a tree] Meanwhile...

The owl hopped down from Bryndon's wrist as he strikes out toward the southern hill. The trees continue to be regularly placed and free of undergrowth almost until the foot of the low rising hill. As Bryndon approaches, he sees that the brown colour seen from a distance is the result of thick briars winding along the slopes. He could reach the top of the hill without much difficulty, and in a matter of minutes if he were in a hurry. The hill itself seems ordinary enough and likely a natural feature of the rolling forest floor but the briars, on closer inspection reveal regular patterns to their placement. Bryndon can discern that the slopes are covered in the overgrowth of an ornamental garden. Leading straight to the top of the hill, as well as around its diameter are the muddy remains of gravel paths in concentric rings. The trees continue up the slopes but in far fewer numbers. The branches interlace like a broad nest or a network above.

Being a perceptive lad, Bryndon catches a strange noise that sounds like the bending of sturdy branches. After a moment, he can just make out a voice.

"Begone, you stupid grovelling thing! I have better things to do than be your nursemaid! You hear me? Clear off!"

If Bryndon looks around to see where the voice is coming from, he also notices that the briars are growing, reaching out and running along the ground toward the voice. They bend as if seeking or in worship to the top of the hill and surge up into the air like reaching hands.

"I said, clear. off!"

A few days earlier...

The flames jumped side to side. The sounds of the pyre were quite intoxicating in a macabre way. Edin couldn't help but focus on his mothers feverish words as she took her last breaths before passing to the other side.

“Khajiit... run...happening again....Talos...Edin...friends...run”

The Priestess had assured Edin that his mothers dying words were just delirious ravings brought on by the brainrot disease she had been unable to cure. Yet he knew in his gut that there was much more to it. If only he wasn't seperated from the rest of the team, he laughed at that. “Since when did our bunch of misfits gel into a team?” he thought to himself.

A team indeed though, Edin wished one of the mages were here especially Aerinir. They were never going to crack open a bottle of mead together but when it came down to being serious they were on the same page. At least in Edins mind.

The last two years since that fateful meeting in the hall had turned Edin into an acomplished Ranger. No longer a novice with good training, he had the experience and that experience told him that there was strange magicks at work. But he was no mage, so determining whether his mother had been privy to anything pertinant as she crossed the divides between realms was way above his talents. Still he was heading back to Imperial city in the morning to catch up to the others his last few weeks away from the team dealing with his family tragedy was over and he was keen to get back to anything productive.

He pet Alkie as he retrieved his journal from his backpack on the floor, skimming through the pages until he came to the rendezvous imformation.

Imperial City Talos Plaza.

“What in the name of Oblivion” his Mothers words rang through his head again “Talos, Edin, Friends, Run” the uneasy fealing in the pit of his stomach was even stronger now. “Alkie, Follow”

He took off for the nearest carriage two years ago the journey took Edin weeks, with the money for a carriage it would be mere days.

Upon reaching the city, Edin couldn't see anything out of the ordinary maybe the bad feeling in his gut was nothing more than just that. Nipping into a few shops in the market district before heading to the Talos district his morning was going fine. It was when he reached the gates to the Talos district that he was struck by the doors almost flying of off their hinges and the crowd barging past him. As his eyes reajusted from the knock to the head he thought he heard a distinctly feline voice cry out “this one will run! It is happening again! Run!” then quickly silenced screams from the direction of the Khajiit camp he passed outside the city on his way in.

As he regained his senses Edin looked up and didn't spot any of his comrades “Like Luna moths to a flame” he thought as he started running in the direction of the Khajiit camp.

Jhoz knew without a doubt that they had, somehow, been transported to a plane of Oblivion. The trees and grass, while appearing rather mundane, smelt completely alien to her sensitive nose. Also she could no longer feel the familiar, gentle, pull of Masser and Secunda. It was a strange feeling… like suddenly not being able to feel your own heartbeat. I made her feel uncomfortable and strangely hollow.

She exchanged a glance with Ja’Dokh and could tell by the agitated look in his eyes and the angry lashing of his tufted tail that he was feeling strange and uncomfortable as well. She wasn’t sure WHICH plane of Oblivion they were currently on but this surely was not Nirn. The Calm spell she had placed on Ja’Dokh had faded some time during their transportation and the Senche’s hackles were back up. As he couldn’t immediately see any obvious danger he began to stalk around the border of the small clearing they had appeared in, a low growl in his throat, his eyes searching for any movement in the trees around them.

Jhoz looked around as well and noticed a nearby meadow with a mountain protruding from it, the top seeming to be on fire but slow moving almost liquid fire. The fire-mountain was also covered by many metal tubes of varying sizes sticking in all directions. Jhoz suddenly remembered stories she had read about Morrowind and the Red Mountain which was supposed to be a massive mountain that would sometimes explode and spew liquid-fire, called lava, and ash. This mountain seemed to resemble that tale but had to be much, much, smaller as the Red Mountain was said to take up the whole island, as big as the Tenmor Forest, and this mountain could fit in the meadow. In fact it seemed very out of place in this meadow in the middle of the impossible-forest, almost as though it had been dropped there on accident.

The Argonian was lying not too far off, apparently unconscious. Jhoz stepped to him and checked to make sure he was still breathing. This was when she first noticed the stack of cards clutched in her hand. She was confused by how they got there, and quickly glanced through them, her confusion growing with each card.

There were nine cards, each with a colorfully painted image depicting nine different phrases. “The Desert” caught her eye as is both seemed to have an image of a Senche-raht Khajiit and the white sand-dunes of her home-land. Most of the other cards seemed to make little sense and in fact appeared to be completely random. The general message did not seem very positive with natural disasters like “The Cyclone” and “The Eclipse” and other unfortunate encounters like “The Beating” and “The Betrayal” which sent a shiver down her spine.

The cards did remind her of a Journeyer she once knew who studied under her Clan-mother for a while when she was an apprentice. The Cathay-raht Journeyer had particular interest in seeing into the future and had a small deck of cards he had claimed could be used to Divine. Jhoz thought the ‘readings’ the Journeyer gave usually seemed too vague and coincidental to really be any sort of insight into the unknown. It didn’t help that the Journeyer was haughty and pretentious, always pretended to have foreseen events while they were happening and was generally unbearable. These cards weren’t the same size or material and the pictures were obviously created by a different artist but she guessed the idea was similar.

Jhoz tucked the cards into her belt-pouch, being careful not to bend them, and continued to check the still unconscious lizard’s breathing. When she was pretty sure the Argonian was not dead she stood up and whistled to catch her litter-mate’s attention.

“Ja’!” Jhoz called to the still pacing Secunda. “Keep an eye on our scale-friend here. Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere and let us know if he wakes. “

Ja’Dokh stalked over to the inert Argonian and laid down, his massive paws stretched out across the lizard’s legs and his huge furry head settled down on his paws. He kept his golden eyes fixed on See-All-Things’ throat, watching it rise and fall with each breath. Ja’ seemed calmer and more focused with a job to do, only the agitated thrashing of the tip of his tail betrayed his anxiety.

Jhoz felt secure that her brother would keep the lizard from possibly escaping as she had a lot of questions for him still. She stepped over to where Aerinir stood, she could see some cards in his hand that seemed to be a part of the same deck.

“So, Elf-friend…” She said quietly, nodding to the pipe covered fire-mountain and then at cards in his hand. “Jhoz does not think we are in Cyrodiil anymore… Or Nirn... Or even Mundus for that matter.”

She greatly hoped her well-educated Altmer friend had some more insights because she was feeling completely lost.

(Sorry this got a little bit looong… O__O)

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"I said, clear. off!"

Well, that's rude. Someone sounds like they've a long day and a good bottle of dark ale...and why is the briarwood suddenly so animated...?

The hill afforded little enough in detail. Except the obviously peculiar behaviour of the local flora. It was odd enough that it looked like the remains of a courtyard maze I once got lost in, while shopping at this manour in High...Rock...

Well, dramora shit.

I crouch low, balancing my weight between my feet, slightly back. In a slow, controlled motion, I pull my helm off my belt strap and very carefully slide it over my head, thankful again for that game of dice that covered the cost of that orc-smith attaching ebony maille and padding inside the helm. (I'd spent weeks practicing quickly putting the thrice-damned thing on my head, packing for easy "equipping" took some learning).

Breathe in, deep, hold, out. Nothing but the breath, nothing but the blade draw smooth weight back-tip-eyes-steadysmoothbreathe...

I don't really need the mantra anymore. I started training with the sword before I could speak in full sentences. I don't usually have time to even make it through. But I used it this time, in part because I was uncomfortable in the environment, in part because it kept me more aware and less likely to kill without observing. That IS after all a downside to being that practiced in single strike kills: the "oops" factor. Contrary to popular belief, Akaviri longswords are no faster or sharper than the common straight, double edged swords used in Tamriel. In fact, they're a bit heavier than most, balanced toward the blade rather than the hilt. The reality is, straight swords are easier to fight with, and to fight VERY WELL with. Where swords like mine really shine most is in the long cuts, and, in my family's school, the subtlety of movement. We specialise in just barely not being hit, and using those tiny spaces to either slowly bleed out our opponent, systematically dismember them, or, if we're lucky and they're poorly armoured, removing their head. The trick is being very observant, very good, and willing to slide your way up a blade that may be a politician's honesty's width from your throat. It becomes instinctive, automatic; much like the way I piss people off. So, I used the mantra to distract myself some. By keeping myself just this much more present kept me from achieving the absolute state of no-mind that allowed my family's school of swordsmanship the lightening fast draws, strikes, and minimalistic parries that so baffle the people we kill. Briefly...before they meet Tsun face to face.

A passing curiosity caught the edges of my awareness: Do people who die in Oblivion go to Sovengard?

Doesn't matter to me. I think Nocturnal, Molag Bal, Boethia, and Clavicus Vile are STILL casting lots on which one gets me first....

Damn I hate daedric princes.

And magic.

And my flask of honeyjack is empty, and the alto wine in my second wine skin is not going to be nearly strong enough to deal with this crap.

And why does this slice of hell suddenly feel crowded?

What was the dull thud....

Breathe....

The Argonian stirs. He opens his eyes and notes his changed circumstances- both the forest and the fury restraints- with surprise. He sighs, rolls his head back into the grass. "Man, the mud is deep now..." Without prompting, except perhaps the implicit threat of the Khajiit pinning him down presently, he attempts to explain his situation. You learn about how this is a demi-plane of Aprocrypha, about Sonnorae and the cards.

"I must have walked across Tamriel by the time you... freed me. I used to use the cards to hustle a bit, like everyone else I met on the road. I had pretty good luck with conning a few locals out of a couple of septims but no biggies. They were mostly just town folk wanting a little excitement. Sometimes I'd use the cards to give them some entertainment. I'd listen to their stories about whatever and then tell 'em it would all turn out okay even if they'd pulled one of the bad ones. I lost my deck, though- I don't know if it slipped out of my pack on the road or someone pinched it.

I was up in Rivenspire. There was this old place; I didn't see anything wrong with it. Looked like one of those old farm houses that you could mistake for a small castle. The other folk said no one lived there when I asked if the people were the sort to show some generosity. That surprised me, it looked in good shape- like really good. So I went up there. But the folks were right, the place was silent. I decided it wouldn't hurt to make myself at home for a time. You can probably guess what happened next. I guess it was my fault for poking around in Sonnorae's things, but being her slave wasn't a fair punishment... Yeah. She was in my mind, man. I saw it all, but I didn't want to- I erect the spine of honesty. She steered me around, and whenever I got near enough, she'd reach out through those cards and snatch them up. All those people... Sometimes just dudes travelling the road like me, other times, some of my clients. All those Khajiit folk today." He sadly closes his eyes.

[One forceful translocation later.......]

Reassessing current conditions.

All previous actors are still in play, save for unconscious Argonian.

Sudden change in surroundings and remnants of Daedra banishment spellwork at campsite indicate one conclusion. Oblivion.

Exact realm is of yet unknown, surroundings do not match descriptions of any known Planes.

Course of action? Regroup and consolidate resources.

"Not to self, update Phalanx Ward matrices to prevent forceful translocations, transdimensional or otherwise," I huffed under breath, pausing to brush away the little dust that had settled on my robes, not my normal attire, during our involuntary entry into this realm, and in doing so I notice the inexplicable presence of several cards held in my right hand.

The corners of my mouth slip into an ever familiar frown, as I leaf through the assortment of nine cards, "Twin. Bear. Avalance. Waxworks. Wanderer. Vision. Uprising. Unicorn. Tyrant. Curious, I recall seeing such divination cards being bandied about by Breton fortune tellers and self-proclaimed seers in High Rock years ago," while idly noting that Jhoz and Ja'Dokh were both quick to recover, with the latter heeding his sister's request of guarding the Argonian, and the former moving to approach myself with twice the number of cards in hand, "Hopefully Jhoz has a better grasp of where we are, Daedra much less alternate planes of existences are not my strong suit."

“So, Elf-friend…," Jhoz paused, dipping her feline head at the metalwork riddled volcano and the cards I was inspecting, "Jhoz does not think we are in Cyrodiil anymore… Or Nirn... Or even Mundus for that matter."

For the second time today, the muscles in my cheek twitched as I tried and failed to withhold a most uncharacteristic snort. Even so, I quickly reigned in my mirth, and spoke, making sure that my tone was as deadpan as possible, "Congratulations student Jhoz, you have just stated the obvious."

It was then the Argonian regained consciousness and began to resignedly divulge all he knew of our current predicament, drawing my undivided attention and likely the others as well. The more I listened, the more I learned, the more pronounce my growing migraine.

Throb……

“Great, just great. We are trapped in a splintered piece of Apocrypha, ruled by not a Daedric Prince, which, mind we have at least some inkling of how to deal with, but rather a likely obscure individual with delusions of grandeur of some sort,” I muttered out loud, “Worse, I am certainly not operating at full combat capacity, much like the rest of our sorry party here,” I gesture disgustedly at the university robes that I am wearing and at the short stabbing Legion swords tucked at my waist, “We have no idea how this Oblivion Plane works, much less have the supplies to survive in this realm for long,” I paused for a moment to crack my fingers, “No worse than what we have been through in the past.”

“Well?! What are you all waiting for? Gather round, we have an Oblivion Plane to escape.”

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Meanwhile, at the foot of a briar-covered hill...

As the shouting continued, the briar continued to reach up toward the canopy of trees, falling well short of reaching them. Here and there, long stems unfolded patchwork pennants. Bryndon can see that they are pointing to a green and brown clothed figure balanced nimbly on the broad branches above the hill. It's wearing a cape and has what looks like a strangely plumed helm in white, covering its head. The figure leans down to the briars and pennants.

"You're not impressing me! You're just a creepy fan, and you're not impressing me! I'm through with this place! I'm gone, do you hear me?! I don't need your--" The figure abruptly stops and looks around it. Bryndon catches a glimpse of something short and metallic at the figure's waist. The briar waves its branches and then dejectedly dies back down. The figure crouches defensively and begins slowly moving along the branches, scanning the ground below.

Watching the Breton while keeping an eye on the Argonian meant I took little notice of what else was going on around me. While listening to what Aerinir had to say to Jhoz, the Argonians hand came out of his pocket. His hand began to extend while his fingers relaxed. “He is using magic” I thought to myself, instantly my guard was raised. Before I could usher a word of warning rectangles began tumbling from his palm.

The wind seemed to pick up as I continued to watch the Argonian, the Breton having slipped from mind. I suddenly realised that I’d seen this before, an Oblivion plane was being opened. Somehow this felt different, it was as if I was being transported into the Oblivion plane.

Dust had blown into my eyes temporarily blinding me, while wiping away the dirt and clearing my eyes I was stunned at what I saw. “This is just great”, I mumbled to myself. We were not in Cyrodiil anymore, that much was clear, but where in the hell of Oblivion… “Oblivion, this has to be where we are, but what plane of Oblivion is the question.” I’d never been here or ever wanted to visit a plane of Oblivion. Looks like I have no choice now.

Before long I realised that I was holding something, “what the”, seeing that both Aerinir and Jhoz seemed to be carrying the same sort of cards as well I made my way towards them while taking a look at my own. I mumbled to myself as I went through the pack of cards “The Trumpet, The Survivor, The Rabbit Prince, The Queen Mother, The Publican, The Mute Hag, The Mountain Man, The Midwife, and The Marriage.” None of these made any sense to me.

As I approached my companions Jhoz was finished off a question “… Or even Mundus for that matter." Looking at Aerinir I could see that he was trying very hard not to make light of the question, "Congratulations student Jhoz, you have just stated the obvious."

At that moment the Argonian regained his consciousness, he proceeded to tell us about how he had been mind controlled or something. I stopped concentrating on the Argonian, only picking up odd pieces here and there, so I could take a better look at my surroundings.

Aerinir caught my attention when he began muttering to himself again. “… Gather round, we have an Oblivion Plane to escape.”

Turning my attention back to Aerinir I kept glancing around, something was making me uneasy. I just didn't know what it was.

As the noise of the portal faded away I looked around. ''Oh joy... Oblivion.'' I noticed the others, standing a couple of meters away.

I heard the Altmer say: ''Congratulations student Jhoz, you have just stated the obvious.''

''Well that isn't very nice... He should get that stick out his- Meh, nevermind.''

I looked around to get an idea of the surroundings. I noticed the Argonian, face down on the ground with the Senche on his legs. I couldn't help but laugh a little.

When I looked down to check if my sword was still where it was supposed to be, I noticed the cards.

''What? How did these get here? I used to play with these as a child!''

My brother and I used to play with these cards when we where kids. We got them from an old lady that we used to do chores for.

We didn't know how to use them so we made up our own games. I recognized most of the cards, but there where a few that I had never seen before.

I recognized the Locksmith and the Liar, the Keep, the Joke, the Forge and the Emty Throne, but I couldn't place the others.

I walked over towards the others, to see if they could make sense out of this, but then I noticed the Elf and the Khajiit girl (Who's name I assumed to be Jhoz) also looking at their cards.

Just when I wanted to ask about it the Argonian started rambling about this being a splinter plane of Apocrypha, the realm of Hermaeus Mora.

I thought to myself: ''Seems like we are in for a fun time then.''

I heard the Altmer say ''Gather round, we have an Oblivion Plane to escape.''

I was about to ask who put him in charge, but then I realised he would probably rip me to pieces if I did, judging by the look on his face.

As I made my way towards him, I strangely felt like something was creeping up on me...

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Jhoz was well used to the Altmer’s snippy, irritable, nature and so didn’t take offense at his rather rude, terse reply. She listened intently to the Argonian’s tale of Sonnorae and this rather unique slice of Oblivion. The Daedra had always been a source of fascination for Jhoz and she had studied rather extensively both the different Daedra Princes and their Planes of Oblivion as well as the art of Conjuration.

The story Sees-All-Things told was incredible and, as far as she was aware, completely unique. Never had she heard of a Daedra Prince creating a personal plane of Oblivion for a particular mortal follower. While it was true that Hermaeus Mora was one on the most mysterious and difficult to understand of the Princes, giving a slice of his closely guarded home Plane away seemed out of character. This place also did not seem to resemble the accounts of Apocrypha that Jhoz had read.

‘Well’, she mused to herself, ‘I suppose that the Plane would in fact change to mirror the current ‘Lord’. From everything I’ve read it seems like the different Planes seem to be molded by the Prince in charge of them and if Ol’ Hermorah allowed this Sonnorae to control this sliver then it would have altered to match her personal psyche.’

She took out her cards and looked back through them, this new information made them far more interesting. The Argonian had said that Hermaeus Mora had ‘anchored’ this special Plane to the Fortuna Deck, of which she now held nine cards of. Did this mean that the cards were in fact elements OF the Plane, bound in card from? Was it possible to even control aspects of the Plane with the card associated with it? Most of the cards she held were things she wouldn’t want to encounter… if this theory was correct… She felt for sure that the cards held great power and should be handled with care. She gentle placed them back in her belt pouch.

Aerinir was quickly trying to take charge of the bewildered group in his usual abrupt, irritable manner. Jhoz listened patiently as he complained about the situation, though he brought up a good point about supplies. Jhoz certainly did not bring food, other than the small bag of sweet Honey-Moon candies she always kept with her. Khajiit were well known to have a rather strong sweet-tooth and Jhoz was a prime example of that. ‘Speaking of which…’ She tucked into her belt pouch and pulled out her candy bag, taking stock of how many Honey-Moon balls she had left and popping one in her mouth. She sucked happily on the hard honey and Moonsugar sweet, the taste both calming in its familiarity and invigorating. As the Moonsugar absorbed into her system her senses seemed to sharpen and her head started to clear. That strange, hollow feeling she had seemed to fill slightly, though she still could feel the absence of the Twin Moons deeply. As she started to slip the candy bag back into her pouch she heard a sharp, complaining growl coming from Ja’Dokh, still lying on the legs of the inert Marsh-Lizard.

“Apologies, my Brother.” She said with a laugh, pulling out another Honey-Moon ball and offering it to Ja’. The big Senche raised his head and stretched out his neck a bit, licking the candy out of her hand with his long, rough, tongue.

“Well.” Jhoz addressed the rest of the group, tucking her candies in her pouch, again being careful of the Fortuna Cards. “The Spell-Elf is correct that we need to find a means of escape, however Khajiit feels that it is also our duty to try and find the other unfortunates that have been trapped in this Plane with us. Jhoz knows that the Khajjit brothers and sisters must also be released… as well as any others who have been stolen by this Sonnorae.”

This made Jhoz think a bit about WHY exactly they had been taken. If Sees-All-Things was being truthful, and was being controlled by Sonnorae, it seemed as though she was reasonable for her friends and the other Khajiit’s being sucked into her Plane. For what purpose? Why them? What did this would-be-Prince have planned for them?

Jhoz turned to look at the Argonian laying on the grass. “Seeing-Lizard…” She kept her voice calm and light-hearted, hoping to influence the Argonian to trust them enough to give the information they required and to maybe help them, if needed. “How long has Sonnorae been controlling your mind and how many people has she taken through you? Do you know what could she possibly want with us?”

Edin ran for the nearest legion barracks he knew they were built into the wall, he wanted the height advantage to survey the scene.

As he approached a Legionaire spotted him and called out.

"Stop right there" Edin turned to face her "oh it's you"

"I need to get to the roof does your barracks have access" Edin shot back

"Of course, be on your way citizen access is on the third floor"

"Thank you"

Three floors later Edin popped the roof hatch he looked down to Alkie an motioned for his pet to wait on the walls exterior then watched the hound take off under orders. Turning his attention to the Imperial City exterior wall he noticed at least one extra story of height before the walkway.

One quick breath then he sprang into action leaping six feet up the wall before grabbing a handhold and carrying on, another ten feet and he reached the walkway.

Crouching down at the edge Edin reached for his bow and a detect life potion. Hoping the combination of height and alchemy would give him some answers.

By hair of Molag's back...*sigh* No a threat so far, but I'd better get concealed. Whatever that flash was, I'd better be wary. In this place, unidentified is deadly.

So I did what every self respecting...purveyor of questionable wealth...would do: I hid. While I would have rather have removed my helm, for the moment I wasn't convinced I wouldn't need it soon, and it would take too long to fold the maille up right for quick redeployment. I pulled my cloak up high and knotted it around my waist to keep it from dragging the ground, pulling a fold of it up and over the helm to reduce the shine, then carefully made my way out of this oddly dressed character's line of sight. Don't ask me how I knew his (her? no way of telling from here) line of sight; spend enough years dodging arrows in the forests around Riften, you get a feel for it. Anyways, I needed to know more. I pulled out a small scrap of parchment and, with a small stick of charcoal I keep for just such emergencies, jotted out a brief explanation for Goldie...

I really should at least find out his name...still, slant's a slant, right?

I pinned the note to a tree directly facing where I left the elf and the owl.

I wonder how they're conversation is going, something tells me that elf could drag the life story out of a brick wall, not to mention a gregarious owl.

I also don't like that I'm becoming strangely okay with this....

So I set off following the figure through the trees. Every few trees, I'd leave a blaze: peeled back bark here, indicating the direction I was heading, pile of small stones,charcoal on a larger rock, trying (possibly in vain) to leave a trail either I could return by, or that T.O.G. (Tall, overbearing Goldielocks) could follow if needed. It's times like these that I'm glad I was so specific about how my armour fit. People thing heavy plate is always noisy, but this ancient Nordic stuff has so many great adjustment points that it's like a second skin; after that, it's skill, patience, and awareness of your own body and it's placement in space. This grey medic once told me they called it "kinesthetic awareness" and "proprioceptsion" when he was studying in Cyrodill. Whatever, I just know where all my bits are, and how to to bump them against each other when trying to be quiet. Fun game to play, to disappear mid conversation (and absconding with their purse) while wearing heavy armour: the mark begins to doubt their sanity. Plus, I tend to disguise it by walking heavily if I'm not on the prowl.

Which I was at the moment.

Bryndon Dust-shod, you are in a dangerous place looking for an, essentially, daedric artifact tied to the existence of the sliver of Oblivion you're IN. Kindly spend less time in your own head and focus on the task at hand. Thank you.

Stop nagging.

Let me clear this up: I don't hear voices, I'm not going mad. I just have to chastise myself from time to time for letting my attention wander. So, I do so in the voice of that old friend of mine, Sinks-Like-a-Rock, who learned sailing as...involuntary crew...on board a noble's ship. Instead of the weird pidgin that sailors and galley slaves usually pick up, his "employer" insisted that they all be clearly spoken and at least somewhat educated. So he was an Argonian who spoke like an Altmer.

BRYNDON YOU PENULTIMATE FOOL, FOCUS!

Back to work...damn, where'd (s)he go?!

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Braydon and Faelar take a closer look at their surroundings. The volcano before them lies to the east. Forest spreads out evenly in all other directions except for the distant south-east where a cool blue haze settles on the horizon where it is visible through the trees. The volcano itself is clearly active but does not appear to be soon to erupt- which could be misleading, of course. The ground feels stable underfoot, and while the caldera glows above, there are no lava flows visible from this side. Puffs of black smoke and white steam occasionally puff from the brazen pipes. Running straight up the front of the volcano is a set of wide steps cut directly into the rock. They appear to lead up to a platform, likewise cut into the rock near the top. They can just make out what looks like buildings on the platform.

The Argonian opens his eyes at Jhoz' mellow interrogation. "How many people did she take?" He sighs. "I... think I blocked that out, man. It's too hard to think about. But I can tell you why. Things didn't go as planned, yeah? Her hoard of stories made this place what it is. She didn't realise what it means to let your imagination run wild like *this*. Be careful what you wish for, yeah? She wanted to be a Daedric Lord herself. Ha! Her stories created... people. Things. And they were not happy, nope. Some of them began to conspire against her, yeah? She thought if she could bring people through into her plane, someone might be able to go back *out* of it- she might find a way to get back out of it."

*************************

In the Imperial City, Edin surveyed the area beyond the city walls from his perch above the barracks. His detect life potion revealed a blur of life forces below among the travelers which had entered the city. He could see likewise his comrades below talking to an Argonian. The tents of the Khajiit revealed nothing more than a skeever making its cautious away around the back, sniffing curiously at the cords.

*************************

Bryndon's quarry vanished from the branches- literally stepped out of existence there - and reappeared on the forest floor directly below. It was as if the figure had stepped into an invisible passage. This was, despite appearances, a good thing for Bryndon as the figure spent no more than a moment or two looking around before remarking that "it was probably just the wind." On the contrary, the figure was now close enough for Bryndon to get a much better look at what he was dealing with.

It was, in fact, a man... sort of. It was a man with the head of a rabbit; so, it wasn't a funny looking helm after all. He? It? Was also wearing a crown. His voice, much clearer than it was at a distance, was so slightly irritating in the way that privileged and arrogant people tend to be. He made a flourish of placing a broken sword into its scabbard, and petulantly jabbed the ground with the toe of one boot. "It was probably just you, trying to distract me. It won't work... I'm still going, you know?"

Sweets. Sweets. Honey-Moon Sweets.

I let out an exasperated sigh into my palm, trying to focus on the questioning even as the rebellious part of my mind, the one weakened by a headsplitting migraine and the strain of my shoulder wound, ran rampant with insensible rants about the ridiculousness of sweet eating Khajits in a plane of Oblivion.

FOCUS.

"......the Khajjit brothers and sisters must also be released… as well as any others who have been stolen by this Sonnorae."

My frown deepens at Jhoz's statement, "Our survival must come first regardless of any innocents that may still be alive.......or sane.......or in a single piece. Now that we have arrived here once, I can simply use the residual energies that mark any visitors to an Oblivion Plane to construct a stable, controllable way back here for further rescue operations." I held my tongue on this point, it would do me little good to antagonise both Braydon and Jhoz on this sensitive matter, "The cold truth is, if we cannot survive here, civilians have next to no chance at all at staying alive."

"........Things didn't go as planned, yeah?"

Arching an eyebrow, I stared incredulously at the Argonian, "Understatement of the era." What he mentioned next however, did draw my full undivided attention.

".......Her hoard of stories made this place what it is. She didn't realise what it means to let your imagination run wild like *this*. Be careful what you wish for, yeah? She wanted to be a Daedric Lord herself. Ha!......"

Unknown hostiles present.

Numbers unknown.

Capabilities unknown.

Threat level maximum, likely non-combative in nature seeing the lack of overt environmental damage.

Still cannot overestimate abilities, engaging Daedra......, no personal familiars of a pseudo-Daedric Prince in their home-realm is suicidal without preparation.

".......she might find a way to get back out of it."

Watching Jhoz "interrogating" the Argonian was an exercise in both frustration and admiration. The young Khajit Mage (young by Altmer standards), was by far the more amiable and sociable of the Blades Operatives here. Jhoz relied largely on the "Good Guard" approach, using a laid back attitude and relatively soft touch to coax information out of recalcitrant individuals. While this would be ineffective against the usual visitors to the Blade's Interrogation Division, the results she yielded from civilians was undeniably superior to what little patience I would have for reticent, shell shocked victims.

Quickly picking apart the new intelligence given by the Argonian, I came to a sudden realisation, a leap in deductive logic that had a reasonable chance of being correct. Motioning for both the Breton and Braydon to turn their attention from our surroundings, I cut off the interrogation, and began speaking, "These Things that are hunting Sonnorae," I pause to reveal my cards to the Argonian, "Are they by any chance related to these?"

In Aerinir's hand the Uprising card flashes blindingly bright and then vanishes.
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Glancing around I was able to finally take note of my surroundings, although I almost wish I couldn’t. To the east lay a volcano, to me it looked like it was ready to burst, but then I was not an expert on natural disasters. What surrounded the volcano was forest, no matter where I looked I saw forest until I noticed is the distant south-east a blue haze.

Jhoz had continued “interrogating” the Argonian, although interrogation was a loose term. She really was a gentle soul, well until she was provoked. Having been deep in thought I missed the most of the questioning but did catch the last part.

“Do you know what could she possibly want with us?”, and interesting question I thought, if only I knew who this ‘she’ was.

Turning back to Aerinir about to speak he spoke out, "The cold truth is, if we cannot survive here, civilians have next to no chance at all at staying alive."

Holding onto my words I continued to listen, when the Argonian had finally finished and before Jhoz could respond with any more questions Aerinir began speaking again.

"These Things that are hunting Sonnorae, Are they by any chance related to these?". One of the cards, I’m unsure as to which one, suddenly started flashing a blinding light. Having turned away to avoid such a brightness I turned back to find that the card had vanished, assuming he had dropped the card I spoke out.

“I agree with Jhoz, we cannot leave any civilians that may have been unfortunate enough to find themselves stuck in this place. I have no desire to remain here any longer than I have already, but WE are duty bound to do what we can to rescue as many people as we can.”

After I got a good look at my surroundings I was possibly even more worried than I was before. This place looked harsh and unforgiving, and the volcano looked worryingly unstable.

I started thinking of ways to get out of here, but could not think of any, which annoyed me ever so slightly. I would have to rely on one of the others to come up with a solution, which probably meant following orders, and I was not that keen on that.

Jhoz was still patiently questioning the Argonian and the Elf was throwing some questions in there as well.

I saw him holding up the cards while he said: "These Things that are hunting Sonnorae, Are they by any chance related to these?"

Suddenly one of the cards flashed brightly, so bright I had to turn away from it. As I looked again the card had vanished.

The Imperial said: “I agree with Jhoz, we cannot leave any civilians that may have been unfortunate enough to find themselves stuck in this place. I have no desire to remain here any longer than I have already, but WE are duty bound to do what we can to rescue as many people as we can.”

I weighed my words carefully as I spoke: "I agree with the Imperial. I don't know you, and I do not know yet if I can trust you, but we are in the same boat here. I ask you all this, if we get out of here without saving anyone who could be trapped in here with us, would you be able to live with yourself? If you could, you should start to question yourself, and think about who you really are. If you are like me, and you can't, you stick together and try to find others in here, whilst thinking of a way to get out." As I looked around I saw a mixture of emotions, but the Elf did not seem very happy with my speech, so I had to calm him a bit.

"You obviously all know each other, and have probably known each other for a long time. I am not trying to drive a wedge between any of you, and I would be happy to follow anyone with the knowledge to get out, but I ask you all this: Are you prepared to do what it takes to rescue every single soul in this place?"

The terrible feeling in Edins gut was back, for the chaos he had just seen and heard in the Talos Plaza was not echoed by the serenity of the scene below. There did not appear to be anything wrong apart from the mass of hurried citizens and an underpopulated Khajiit camp. Which was precisely why it 'felt' wrong.

Examining the walkway he noticed a small bundle of rope near the nearest guard post, a wry smile pursed his lips, retrieving the rope quickly he fashioned himself a rappeling system and fastened one end to the wall. Looking over the edge he realised it wouldn't reach the floor but would get him closer before continuing by hands. He got into position and began decending.

Forty seconds later he was two thirds of the way back down the wall but also at the end of his tether. He couldn't survive a straight drop without at least picking up an injury so continued by hand for another ten feet then dropped before rolling into a crouch.

Looking back up at the camp Edin motioned Alkie to follow knowing the hound was mere feet behind him already, continuing his movement from a sneaking position he advanced on the camp slowly rounding a corner to where the detect life potion had shown his teams positions.

“What in Oblivion” Edin stood back up straight, strode into the centre of the camp and scratched his head. “where are they” he realised he was asking a question out loud to his hound. Alkie was busy sniffing the cords where the skeever had been.

Confused Edin began a systematic search of the tents.

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On a hill, covered in poor manner briars and brambles, stood a rabbit headed...individual, and a scruffy Nord chap of larcenous proclivities.

Said Nord also has a bit of a dilemma: do I stand up and greet (take my chances with) this grumpy lagomorph, or do I try to get away.

Well, here goes nothing.

I stand, keeping my hands near (though not threateningly so) my hilt, step around from behind the tree, and

"Hello there. Everything alright? I seem to be a tad lost and, well, could use a bit of guidance."

Nocturnal be my luck....

And where the hells is Goldilocks and that owl?

".......WE are duty bound to do what we can to rescue as many people as we can."

DUTY.

".......would you be able to live with yourself...... Are you prepared to do what it takes to rescue every single soul in this place?"

LIVE.

Ba-dump.......

The sound of my heart beat is deafening in the following silence.

Ba-dump.......

I recall the living horrors that I have witnessed.

DEATH. SLAUGHTER. MURDER.

The men and women who had fallen for me, for a better world, brilliant lights gone before their time.

The Lancer of Wind wielding the Blood Crimson Spear, holding back the inexorable horde.

The Witch of Ages calling forth a Rain of Light, falling with her beloved, together in death.

The Raging Destroyer shielding his master, his ward, his daughter from the Horrors of the World.

The Nameless Fencer, the last guardian of the steps, unsurpassed in the Dance of Swords.

The loved ones that perished, because of my weakness, my DUTY to the faceless masses, who spit on their sacrifices.

Incoherent outrage turned to burning anger, and burning anger turned to cold fury.

I stilled, unnaturally so, fingers clenched into trembling fists, as I directed the iciest glare I could at first Braydon and last the Breton. Then, in the midst of deathly silence, I spoke, tone cold, harsh and utterly and irrevocably devoid of humour, tinged slightly with manic hysteria and no small amount of bitterness.

"Quiet, you naive children," I turn to Braydon,"Do not speak of duty to me, boy. I have upheld mine before you've even picked up the sword, and will continue to do so even after you've long turned to dust," I pause to take a breath and continue, " I have made many sacrifices, and many more have been done for myself, Hard choices are a norm not a rarity in our line of work, and I have made far too many for duty, for honour, for the Empire," I forge on despite the painful memories that have been dredged up, " Do you know what I have learned boy? Hard choices and sacrifices for the Greater Good do not keep you warm at night, and I suppose I envy you in that regard," I keep my gaze inscrutable, "The chains of command is something that you've not taken up despite your status as a Blade, despite your affinity with the common soldier. It is my hope that you will never face a Crystal Tower as it is my fear that if you do, you will break."

I turn to the Breton, mien hardening once more, " My name Aerinir Stormbinder, Optio of the 7th Imperial Legion, Acting Commander of the 1st Independent Contubernium, loyal subject of the Cyrodilic Empire," I pause allowing my words to sink in, "You asked whether or not I would be able to live with myself if I let those civilians to perish. This is my answer."

"A good commander sees numbers, locations, formulae, priorities, costs, and solutions. A bad commander sees people. Our world is dirty, violent, and unpleasant. Our wars more so, but a good commander never, ever lets it become personal," I take a breath, " I am not a good commander."

"....... I will not abandoned you all in this foolish venture. I have duty as you have yours, and mine is too see to my students survival, just as before my teachers have done for me. All I ask is that you heed this.

I let loose a bitter, bitter smile, "Be selfish, if not for those who gave their lives for yours, then for the living that await your return."

Jhoz could almost see the untold horrors reflected in Aerinir’s gray-blue eyes. Though his tone was guarded and brittle with bitterness his eyes spoke to the agony and loss the Altmer had experienced in his war-ridden life. Since she had known him he had spoken very little about his life before joining the Blades and she felt that she know somewhat understood why.

Although she wished that he could come to see her as more of a team member and less his student she was touched by his concern and obligation to her well-being. That didn't make him any less insufferable at times but it did help to reminder her why she continued to seek company with, and listen to, this haughty high-elf. Underneath all the prickle he was a decent being that she respected wholeheartedly.

Braydon and the Breton-man DID make some good points, however, and she could not in good conscious attempt to escape this plane without first learning the fate of her brother Khajiit’s and securing their rescue if possible. She cared for the other unfortunates who had also been stolen into this realm but the bond between Khajiit was nearly as strong as the bond between the Twin Moons. She had come to know the small band that gathered outside the walls of the Imperial City and had developed friendships with many of them. This fight had already become personal.

“While you all speak honestly with your hearts, which is good,” the lithe Khajiit-girl spoke to all, trying to defuse the situation. “Jhoz thinks that what may be called for here is more thinking with the head. If we look at this logically, the goals of freeing ourselves and freeing the others may very well be in-line. I have studied extensively on the realms of Oblivion and the Planes that exist there-in. If this truly is a portion of the Plane-of-Apocrypha given from Hermorah to this Sonnorae and anchored to these cards then it seems to Jhoz like we both have our destiny, and tools to fulfill it, in hand.”

Jhoz gingerly pulled out her cards from her hip pouch and fanned them out for the others to view.

“Jhoz does not pretend to fully understand these marvels of magkica,” She continued, “but that they are of the utmost importance cannot be questioned… It may be that the elements represented in these cards are directly linked to their counter-point here and maybe controllable or influenced by cards each of us hold. Share with all the Fate-Cards you have received so we might gain greater insight to the nature of this Plane and perhaps learn how best to end it… For, indeed if Jhoz is correct in her musing, defeating this Sonnorae, as the acting Prince-of-this-Plane, the Plane itself might lose shape and collapse back into Apocrypha.”

(er... has Faelar actually mentioned his name yet? I can't seem to remember...)

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Bryndon stepped out of cover and addressed the strange lagomorphic aristocrat.

"Hello there. Everything alright? I seem to be a tad lost and, well, could use a bit of guidance."

The figure was startled for a moment but quickly recovered its composure and looked Bryndon over. "Lost, you say? That's self-evident," he sniffed haughtily. His eyes look eager and intense. "Being lost sounds so interesting. Where did you come from? How did you get here? But I am letting my curiosity get the better of me; I forget myself! My name is Brambleson." He sweeps his paw around with a flourish and makes a smart little bow. "You may have heard of me-- what am I saying? Of course you have!"

*********************************************************************************

Edin methodically explores the Khajiit tents. The scene has an eerie calm about it. In each tent, the bric-a-brac of camp life remain in place. Here and there Edin notices more expensive trade goods sitting startlingly unguarded. On closer observation, Edin can clearly see a pattern of disturbance in each: chairs thrown to the side, meals laid out on tables and seemingly thrown to the floor uneaten. Each tent had a 'if it isn't nailed down...' look. It was like a small, extremely focused storm had arisen in each.

Edin finally made his way to the last, largest tent. Edin's husky whined and looked up at his master as they went inside. This tent broke the pattern. Here, there was very little at all, and everything was perfectly tidy. There was no sign of disturbance but also very little sign of the large tent being lived in at all. On the floor was a sleeping roll. A plate, a fork and spoon, a cup. And beside the sleeping roll there was a small wooden box with no apparent lock.

"Do not speak of duty to me, boy. I have upheld mine before you've even picked up the sword, and will continue to do so even after you've long turned to dust… I will not abandoned you all in this foolish venture…"

I felt a twang of guilt as I could see, despite Aerinirs ability to keep a bitter look on his face, that he was hurting from distant memories. I knew a nerve had been struck and despite that guilty feeling I was quietly please with myself, now that I knew Aerinir was with us we’d be stronger for it.

Lost in thought I was brought back to reality when I realised that Jhoz had been speaking, “…Share with all the Fate-Cards you have received so we might gain greater insight to the nature of this Plane and perhaps learn how best to end it…” I had almost forgotten about the cards that I was holding.

An interesting proposal, I’ve never been a magic user, by the Nine I’ve never really been friends with magic users. Much like the distrust that I had with Khajiit, I tried to avoid them. Not at all costs, but they had a way of doing things I’d rather not be involved with. That had over the last few years changed.

I look down at my cards and begin shuffling through them, The Trumpet, The Survivor, The Rabbit Prince, The Queen Mother, The Publican, The Mute Hag, The Mountain Man, The Midwife, and The Marriage. They are strange, and held little meaning to me. Hopefully someone could decipher what they meant.

I extended my hand to Jhoz and offered her the cards I was holding…

"A good commander sees numbers, locations, formulae, priorities, costs, and solutions. A bad commander sees people. Our world is dirty, violent, and unpleasant. Our wars more so, but a good commander never, ever lets it become personal,"

Not good...

"I am not a good commander."

I found myself staring at the Elf, unable to look away. Altough I did not agree fully with what the Elf, apparently named Aerinir, said, I felt the words coming from the very depths of his soul. I'd like to think I have a pretty good judge of character, and Aerinir didn't seem like the kind of person to open up very often, if ever. This was not the time and place to bicker over what the qualities of a good commander where. Right now, we needed to stick together and focus on finding ways to get out. I was pulled back to reality by the voice of Jhoz.

“Jhoz thinks that what may be called for here is more thinking with the head. If we look at this logically, the goals of freeing ourselves and freeing the others may very well be in-line. I have studied extensively on the realms of Oblivion and the Planes that exist there-in. If this truly is a portion of the Plane-of-Apocrypha given from Hermorah to this Sonnorae and anchored to these cards then it seems to Jhoz like we both have our destiny, and tools to fulfill it, in hand.”

I had completely forgotten about the cards. I had recognised some of them from my childhood, but I didn't think of the possibility that they might be our way out.

I realised I was in the company of a very competent group of people, and I thanked the Divines for it.

''My apologies for not introducing myself to you all. I didn't mean to come across as an invasive stranger. So, to set things straight, I am Faelar Merian. Native to the province of High Rock, but without a home or future. Aerinir, it is an honor to meet you. Although I do not know much about you, I can see in your eyes you have been through alot. I will stop there, because you are clearly not one to like flattering. Jhoz, I assume? I caught your name in the conversation. I think you're on to something with those cards. Here are mine.''

I paused for a second

''That leaves you, my friend.'' I said, looking at the Imperial ''I do not believe I know your name. I do know I like your enthusiasm. It's an honor.''

This will go badly. No one this self absorbed likes to be unknown, no matter the circumstances. Can I lie convincingly enough to convince him not to suddenly step through nothing and slit my throat from behind? A bit of truth, a twist of lie, a redirect. I guess this is more a heist with words than a conversation...

Yes, think of it that way. First, the truth.

"I'm terribly sorry, my god sir, but I have not"...and now the twist of lie..."But I am ill traveled, and poorly educated, and (half truth will help here) I scarcely even know the name of the shopkeepers daughter from the next town." Though that's about all I don't know...that was a good night. Well, I say night, if the sun rose during Last Seed that year, I never saw it. Heavy drapes. Back to task..."However, I left my friend just down the hill speaking with an owl. He's far more widely traveled than I am, which means he is CERTAIN to have heard of you. I think you would find him quite interesting indeed."

This fellow doesn't like boring. USE THAT, YOU FOOL!

"As for being lost, it has been a rather interesting day so far. I, of course, use the word 'day' subjectively. I came from, elsewhere. As for how I got her, well my friend, that part is still hazy. I'm looking for someone, that much I know, but I don't recall QUITE who it is, or why. But no matter on that. Would you care to meet my traveling companion down the hill?"

And that, my dear listeners, is when I started praying to every god, Daedra, and even that obscure cult deity they called the orangejuicegod who seems mainly to distribute a sweet, tart drink to new worshippers, that this teleporting rabbit-man from a sliver of Oblivion would follow me to Goldilocks and the owl, and not kill me on the spot.

And also, I was thirsty...

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  • 2 weeks later...

It was a liberating experience, to have spoken thoughts left unspoken for so long. The team that had been assembled that day, myself, Safia, Elisa, Walks-In-Mist, Edin, Braydon, Jhoz, Ja’Dokh, Katrin, and the many others that joined us later on, we were all exceptional individuals, already coming fully into our abilities or bearing the potential to achieve greatness, but we were far from the close knit unit that 1st Contubernium was, I had never spoken of such things before to any of the Blades, it is my burden to bear not theirs.

FOCUS.

Mentally rousing myself from my contemplation, I turned my mind to more pertinent matters.

There will be time to think of the past when I am not trapped in goddammed Oblivion.

".......indeed if Jhoz is correct in her musing, defeating this Sonnorae, as the acting Prince-of-this-Plane, the Plane itself might lose shape and collapse back into Apocrypha."

The dry, wry part of my mind could not resist.

Surely, the collaspe will not kill us, right?

FOCUS!

Paying half a mind to the Spellsword's, Faelar Merian's words, I turned the majority of my attention to Jhoz, handing over the clutch of cards in my hand, before speaking.

"These Fortuna cards are supposedly the sources that empower Sonnorae into a pseudo-Daedric Prince," I paused, running my next statement over in my head once more before speaking, "Hypothesis. Gathering all Fortuna Cards to a single individual, quantity currently unknown, could possibly allow said individual to usurp control of this Plane of Oblivion."

"But, I have 'lost' a card, the Uprising, likely an activation that could pose a threat later, or it could be the source of my recent outburst."

Clinical was good, the routine of observation and forming thought experiments was a comforting task, it gave me time to regain my composure and set my mind to do what it does best - dissect the workings of magick.

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Brambleson, the Rabbit Prince, twitched one corner of his mouth up into a slop-sided grin. "You're from Elswyr? How odd, and new, and wonderfully new!" At his words the briar curled in on itself self-consciously. "I've been waiting a very long time for someone like you. You have already done me an immense service. What do you say--" He turned to stare at a little rounded bump forming on the grass. As he watched, it sprouted a leafy branch flourishing a fan of cards. The prince's eyelids drooped and he sighed. "You're getting really desperate now, aren't you?"

Bryndon recognizes the cards as his portion of Sonnorae's Fortuna deck.

The prince mutters to Bryndon "this place is so pathetically desperate for me to love it, to stay here. It won't understand its own insipid smallness and irrelevance. I want change! I want something to happen! I want to leave!" Brambleson despite being a man-sized rabbit and also evidently royal, looked like nothing so much as a petulant toddler as he degenerated into a stomping fury. It was as brief as it was intense. He sighed again, took off his crown, slicked back his fur and primly replaced his headgear. "Anyway," he flicked a pretend mote of dust from his sleeve. "That's where you come in, my boy. As I was saying, you and I can have an accord. And to demonstrate my good faith, and seeing as you've already helped me, I will do something for you." He whips out a folded and yellowed piece of parchment, dark ink faintly visible from the outside and holds it between his furry fingers. "Show this to any of the Conspirators and they will know that you are under my protection so long as you are in my service."

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