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Olen
Well it’s been a while, a long while, since I posted anything. I have been writing, some stuff which was non-TES, a false start which I spent too long fighting… There’s also another ~80k piece which I’ve left on a hard drive in Scotland so I’m taking a hiatus. Anyway I decided I fancied posting something.

This is unplanned and unfinished. I prefer to write all of something with a lot of planning and then post, but this time I thought I’d just let it flow and see what comes. Hopefully it won’t be too unpolished and I intend to make it more episodic so if I do lose interest for a bit it shouldn’t matter so much. The plan is to post one section while I write another, that way any criticisms can be addressed as I go.

Anyway without any more waffle a short intro.

Shades of Ending



1.1 Questioning

The prisoner met Verus’s eye across the scarred table. The watchman swallowed. “It does not look good for you,” his voice was quiet. He knew he should feel disgust, hatred even for what the man had done. But it was tempered. Perhaps it was because the man had more brain than most of the scum they dragged into the Cheydinhal prison. Or perhaps it was because he understood why, though he’d never admit it. Or it could just have been the passing resemblance to his son. Same dark hair and eyes, and not so different features.

Damn he hated this place, the sooner the investigation was over the sooner he could go and see the real thing back in the Imperial City. Not that distraction like this helped.

The prisoner looked back, “I’m fetched aren’t I?”

Verus winced at the tone and nodded. “Ferir,” he said the man’s name, gave him that much respect, “double murder of Imperial guards only leads to the gallows.”

“And it doesn’t matter that it was self defence, that they were trying to kill me? Had already killed my friends. We didn’t attack them.”

“It doesn’t matter. And even if it did you’re guilty of enough else to string you up. Possession with intent to supply – don’t tell me that much skooma was for personal use, our mage says you’re clean anyway. Bootlegging. Smuggling. As little as I like it you had it coming.”

Ferir nodded.

Verus could hardly believe it, they were always full of guar apples. Fake bravado to start with which slowly decayed into pleading. There was fear there certainly, he reeked of it, it was in the way he sat and moved. There was pain too, but mainly Verus thought it was resignation in the prisoner’s voice when he spoke. “Can you at least tell me who you killed?”

“I’m not meant to.” The gaze from the dark eyes flashed fierce like glowdust on a fire. It was the same spark which had cost the lives of two of the Imperial Legionaries who had raided the smugglers cavern, and it caught Verus off guard.

“You have a family.” It was a statement. “The people in that cave were as close to family as I’d found. You come and kill them, and within the next couple of days…” His gaze dipped to the scored boards of the table in the interrogation room. It slid uneasily round the manacles which held him. “I just want to know if any of them lived.”

“The patrol killed five. A two humans, a man and a woman, two khajit and a dunmer male.” If you had better luck you’d have been in that list. Verus didn’t add the thought, its truth was too bitter.

The eyes screwed closed. “The dunmer, what colour was his hair?”

“Red.” Verus watched Ferir deflate. His eyes shut and he thumped his wrists against the table, the chain which held them didn’t allow space for it to make more than a dull thud. He muttered something Verus didn’t catch, and decided not to press.

When Ferir finally opened his eyes again they were bloodshot. “Have you got what you want now?” There was anger in his voice, but also sadness, enough to suppress the flames, if not entirely quench them. “You know someone got away, you’ve got our contacts. I’m in pain, several of my closest friends are dead. Have you done enough?”

Verus frowned, it wasn’t something he was used to. Lines about choosing this fate when he chose crime seemed flimsy, paper props for the tragicomedy which passed as justice in this town. Ferir hadn’t lied about the pain either, the man was a mass of bruises. The legionaries had worked him over, and who could blame them? He wasn’t the only one to lose friends. Occasionally his hands would sneak towards the lower ribs on one side only to be rudely stopped by the chain.

Not that they’d waste healing on a condemned prisoner. You should have died in that cave. Verus shook his head, trying to dislodge the malaise which had built. He stood, this was too discomfiting. For a moment he struggled for words, then gave up and offered Ferir a single nod before leaving.
haute ecole rider
Yay, you're writing and posting again! biggrin.gif

So you're going to try a more organic way of writing? Already I'm intrigued by the scene you've set to want to see where you take us.

The despair of the prisoner was quite infectious. I've often thought about the bandits one encounters in the game - why are there so many of them? What is wrong with this society that it breeds bandits like bottleflies on a corpse? It seems to me that you are going to address at least some aspect of the seedier side of Cyrodiil. And in the power vacuum following the end of the Main Quest, I am really interested to see where this story leads you and us.
SubRosa
It is good to see you back and writing again Olen! This certainly looks like a dark, grim tale. Then again, it would seem strange to see you write characters who were shiny happy people! wink.gif

It is hard to really say much so early, but you certainly painted a gritty picture with the cop's interview of the prisoner. You captured Verus' sense of not so much apathy, but perhaps protective dissociation, gained by seeing so much of the worst people have to offer. On both sides of the law.

Ferir (I keep thinking Fenrir) seems an unusual sort, as Verus noted. He does not fit in with the ordinary class of criminal. It makes me wonder who he is, and how he ended up running skooma in a cave.

they were always full of guar apples.
Similar to road apples no doubt! wink.gif
Acadian
Welcome back to writing! And a fine start you have.

Great job of unobtrusively providing some of the 'who/what/when/where/why' in a very gentle manner. For example, this was a clever way of providing a description of Ferir:
'Or it could just have been the passing resemblance to his son. Same dark hair and eyes, and not so different features.'

I'm curious and that, after all, is what an introduction is about. smile.gif
Destri Melarg
Ah, Olen is posting again. This is a sure indicator that things are starting to normalize in Destri’s world! biggrin.gif

As usual your talent for atmosphere puts most to shame. Seeing Ferir through the prism of Veras’ perception gives us a clear picture of the prisoner, without tipping your hand too much. Remind me to steal borrow that technique sometime. As SubRosa said, I find myself wondering just how someone like Ferir winds up languishing in a cell in Cheydinhal.

I’m also eager to see how you like writing without a net. I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with the minor characters that demand that their story be told. You will also run into connections between people, places, and events that even you never saw coming. The flip side is that there will be false starts and chapters that head nowhere. There will also be dry periods in which nothing at all seems to come of your labors. I can only implore you to stick with it. The muses may be fickle, but they do reward persistence.
Olen
Seeing as the last part was rather short, and got quite a few comments.

Haute - I suspect the seedier side of Cyrodiil will be involved, there really is very little plan, a few things I think I'll steer it towards, if nothing else comes up. Essentially I've just made a few characters and set them loose...

Subrosa - believe it or not the last piece was initially a comedy... but I agree, if I wrote about happy people it would end up boring and flat. I'm glad you find Ferir an interesting character, you'll be seeing a lot more of him.

Acadian - thanks, I hope some of the what and where is explained, and more added...

Destri - A comment from the legendary Melarg himself. If my posting makes things normal in your world it must be a mighty strange place. I'm glad using the different pov worked well, it's something I want to play with, indeed my main issue with first person is that you're stuck in one head. Does normal include an update in Interegnum?

1.2 Mirror to the past

Ferir went quietly when the two jailers came for him. They managed a few insults on the way back to his cell but he wasn’t paying attention. Even the stabs of pain from his ribs with every rough movement seemed distant, news from elsewhere. They were dead, all but three of the inhabitants of Sundew Cave. Two really because he didn’t count. He knew they hadn’t got Teemva, the argonian had been away cutting a deal down Leyawin way with a nord captain called Hulgar. It appeared Torvas had escaped, there were a few possibilities but Ferir couldn’t be sure how.

Arvyn hadn’t. They were dumping him onto the mouldy straw in the cell before he even thought it. He hardly noticed. The door clanged shut and he gazed at the wall without seeing. Neither did he hear the muttered conversation behind him. He didn’t care. He’d heard a dunmer shout in the cave, but not seen anything before a mace to the head put him out. But not hard enough. The thought was viciously grim, it hung from the ruins of the hope he’d half sheltered.

Even through the pain another thought lurked in the depths. It was ever present, waiting to bite. What now? It came with a peculiar edge of excitement, of meeting things unknown. He was cut free. It curdled in the pain like cream in vinegar. In that moment he hated that anticipation. He’d lost everything. Sundew Cave was his home, his family. Had been. What now?

Chains, pain and then death. He killed the curdled hope with savage satisfaction. There was no chancing from this one, no last ditch gamble. He couldn’t even run as he had before. He looked round the cell, seeing it now. The dirty secondhand light which filtered down from the high barred windows. The ingrained filth on the floor. It smelt of urine and worse. The next cell was separated by bars. Its occupant, a bear of a man, sat on a stool talking to one of the jailors and another guard in hushed tones. Ferir turned his glance away, their bearing suggested that overhearing would prove painful.

The remnants of the pallet chewed on his bruised back. The irony didn’t escape him; after a life which he’d lived every moment the last day would have no final crescendo. It was outshone by the past’s reflection, there was nothing even to rival the chance that he might dream. He felt the tug of religion, that some god might come and save him, lift him from this pit. He threw the thought aside with disgust, the gods were dead, or wantonly evil. Striking people at their weakest, infecting and spreading. He’d seen enough of the world not to want to have anything to do with any higher power. Certainly none that might save him. There at least he was under no illusion. He was guilty.

It had been easy to assume it wouldn’t be them who were caught. The guard only caught idiots, or those suffering form massive bad luck. It would be fine, a bit of bootlegging lead on to smuggling. And then the realisation that he was a good ‘cook’. Then they were hitting the big stuff. Hell it had been fun, and bad stuff happened to other people right?

So did that make him unlucky or an idiot he wondered.

Both. He thought of Arvyn and rolled to face the wall and shut his eyes.

Sleep took a while to come, but slowly he drifted away from the hushed voices by the next cell and, in spirit at least, escaped the gathering dark.


It was late afternoon, the sun washed red light over the hazy Jerall mountains. The blue peaks marched away to the west climbing towards Skyrim. One day Ferir would go there, but for just now Sundew Cave was home. He sat on a broken log and looked at the old track which away though the stunted birches. A little out of sight it dipped into the valley and past several villages towards Cheydinhal, and beyond that was the world. In the other direction it rapidly diminished, no one passed this way now. Whatever it had once served, drovers perhaps, or the scattered ruins which dotted the mountains, had passed into obscurity.

Ferir looked at the rising slope of the glen behind the cave and smiled. For all he knew it had always been a smugglers trail taking contraband over the obscure passes in better days. Days long gone now, but the birds still sang in the trees’ edge where they gave in to rock and grass. Cyrodiil was tucked away there, and beyond it Nirn, there was more beyond that if it came to it. This was his corner though, away from the law and the rent and the bills which caged society. Here he could up and leave anytime, go cut a deal in some backwater inn, or take a shipment of kitty oil to Kragenmoor. He was free to run.

And because of that he didn’t have to.

The smell of Hrissa’s skooma pipe drifted to his nose. He smiled, even now Ja’lar would be complaining, most likely with a moon cake in hand. She had a cat on her shoulder though, well two including Ja’lar. But supply was no issue with them so where was the problem? He always felt the loss of novelty would be disappointing though and stayed off the stuff in the main. It made it more fun when he did partake, and without care cooking it up all day was a recipe for a massive addiction.

The current batch would need the reflux turned down soon. He glanced out over the hills again and heard the door behind him. Only one person opened the door quite that way, not that he could have described it if asked. Perhaps the skooma could wait, he always said the trick was a long reflux, and he was one of he best ‘cooks’ in the business. Arvyn walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“How’s things?”

Ferir smiled, “Yea, good.”

“You’re not planning on leaving are you?” His rough voice held jest, but there was more there.

“Nah, I like it up here.”

“Good.” Ferir knew the elf would be smiling. “Your batch smells ready.” Arvyn turned to head back inside, Ferir shot one last glance down the track and then followed him in.


The dream wavered, somehow, like a drop of ink landed in its mirror surface. Darkness leached in from the corners, breathing like a monster in the shadow.

He was dreaming, good dreams just before waking on a good day. The first crash wove seamlessly into his reverie, but it became confused. There came another. Shouting. The reverie cracked. A scream.

It shattered. He woke disoriented.
What? Another scream, harsh, a dunmer? It was cut off.

“Guards,” a shout. Ja’lar probably. Ferir reached for his axe.

An instant later the curtain to his chamber was torn aside. He rolled up out of bed as an armoured behemoth crashed in. Ferir saw the blood spattered on its blade and armour with terrible clarity. The cold helmet regarded him with a cyclopean slit, the line as dark as death. It bellowed something. Ferir didn’t hear, his heart was pounding, the last webs of sleep burned away.

He threw out a hand and fire leapt from his fingers. It was instinctual, and it was powerful. The invader staggered back. Another scream rang through the halls. Ferir threw himself forward. The blow was wild, driven by surprise and panic, but it was powerful and the fire had done its work. The mail split under the long axe-head and this time he could see the screamer. The axe head pulled free in a torrent of blood and the guard fell. He rose it for a killing blow. Another shout echoed, closer this time. It was Ja’lar and maybe just outside his room.

The axe returned itself to guard without him thinking and he leapt the writhing legionary. Suddenly he was acutely aware that he wore only his bedclothes. There was no time, the fight was now.

The khajit was being pressed hard, he had his ridiculous oversized sword in hand but was otherwise naked. His opponent was taking full advantage, a lightning blow added another cut before the heavy sword could block it. Ferir brought his axe back sideways, it left him open, but he had the guard’s back and needed to break through the imperial armour.

His feet slapped the stone floor. The guard must have heard as he tried to circle round Ja’lar. The khajit took the opportunity to press his attack but it was the wrong move at the wrong time. The guard took it on his shield and turned the momentum driving his own sword through Ja’lar’s unprotected throat.

It was too late for the guard. Ferir realised he was screaming as he brought his axe round. A desperate attempt to block knocked it low so it bit into the armour over the stomach rather than higher on the side. But it was enough, the steel bent and split under the impact which knocked the man from his feet. Blood erupted round the wound and a moment later from his mouth and nostrils.

Then Ferir realised what had prompted Ja’lar’s desperate last move. The shape of another guard was advancing down a side corridor.

The axe was stuck. Ferir glanced at it, but it was no help. When he looked back the guard was running, the mace in his hands held ready. Too late. It was in swing, maybe if he dodged right. He tensed and at the last instant moved with all the explosive force he could muster. Maybe it would miss and then-

Darkness.
haute ecole rider
Okay, let me get a couple of nits out of the way first:

QUOTE
The remnants of the palette chewed on his bruised back.
Did you mean pallet? Palette refers to the flat piece of wood or acrylic used by artists to mix paints, or the range of colors in a scene. On the other hand, pallet refers to the rough wooden construction commonly used to keep crates and other containers off the deck, or to a rough wooden bed that is low on comfort.

The other nit is:
QUOTE
It was late afternoon, the sun washed red light over the hazy Jerrel mountains.
Did you mean Jerall?

Okay, now the good stuff. I really liked the way you set up the depths of despair that Ferir (I'm with SubRosa, I keep reading Fenrir!) felt due to survivor's guilt. At first I thought Arvyn was a good friend, but now I'm beginning to wonder if there's more. Not that I care either way - they were very close, and he'd rather die than live without the other. That's what matters to me. That is the driving force behind Ferir's despair, and I can understand and accept that.

To go from the depths of despair in a dank prison to the heights of the Jeralls in such beautiful surroundings is quite a sudden transition, and it does well to explain further the reason for Ferir's guilt and depression. And to end with a bit of a flashback to how Ferir ended up in jail after killing two guards just makes this whole segment sing, albeit in a funereal dirge. Still, it's beautiful writing, and I for one, am so glad to see you back again.
Black Hand
I like it! I like it! The intro shows us a criminal in his worst moment, and than this update shows us that he's had worse.

Hope you keep up with it. cool.gif
SubRosa
So it looks like Ferir was cooking up meth in the cave. Or skooma at least. It seems that just as you like grim tales, you cannot keep your characters away from the skooma either.

The dark and ugly fight at the end complements the dark and ugly scene in the cell at the beginning. Ferir's almost idyllic memories in between really do seem a like a dream, given the two bookends around it. I expect that he will not see times as happy again in this story, if ever.


nits:
but not seen anything before the a mace to the head put him out
I am not sure whether you want to keep the a or the the here.

the sun washed red light over the hazy Jerrel mountains
Those are the Jerall Mountains.

He rose it for a killing blow.
I believe you were looking for raised here.
Acadian
This followed smoothly on the heels of the previous episode and filled in many gaps, giving us a much better feel for what Ferir is all about and why he is where he is.

Some nice melancholy writing as Ferir expresses despair and provides us a feel for his surroundings. Same in the dream, with the addition of some up close bloodwork with axe and blade.
Grits
I liked seeing Ferir from Verus’s POV first. We get to see his grief and pain without having to immediately wallow in it. I especially enjoyed the glimpse of Cyrodiil law enforcement, with a mage doing toxicology screens.

Interesting that Ferir briefly thought about his loss as a possible beginning, it makes me think this is not his first trip through despair. That thought combined with his musing that he could stay at Sundew because he didn’t have to makes me think that he might love his freedom more than anything else. His grief over his unnamed hopes for Arvyn along with the thought that now he is cut free make me think there was some conflict in Ferir even before the legionary crashed in covered with his friends’ blood. But I might be overthinking this.

I should dismiss the skooma-cooking Ferir as a bad guy who is getting what he deserves, his actions have probably caused more pain to others than he is experiencing. Except now I’m hooked and rooting for him.


King Coin
Ferir was "fetched" as soon a the guards entered the cave. I'm certainly interested how this is going to turn out.
treydog
This is grim and dark and entirely engrossing. It is so great to see you back again and writing what looks to be quite a tale.

I almost hear echoes of "Owl Creek Bridge," but with LOTS more depth.

One quote I wanted to pull out as representative of your way with words:

"Even the stabs of pain from his ribs with every rough movement seemed distant, news from elsewhere."

Welcome back to the Arena, my friend!
Olen
HER - Nits fixed, as ever my utter reliance on spellcheck rears its head. I'm glad the flashback worked, I'm generally not a fan but opening with the raid wouldn't have set to tone I wanted. Survivor's guilt was the term I was looking for, I think you've hit the nail on the head there.

Blackie - glad you like it. There's certainly a good few parts to go yet and it's still flowing.

Subrosa - skooma does seem to appear doesn't it. It makes a good tension point, I also seem to have a knack for living in areas with that sort of thing, probably something to do with looking for the cheapest places. I'm glad you got the dream like feeling of the good memory, apparently I can still write. Fixed all but using 'rose' as the past tense of 'raise', 'raised' sounds odd to me.

Acadian - thanks. Hopefully filling in gaps in Ferir will continue.

Grits - I'm glad you like my version of Cyrodiil. I see the game as a sketch which is necessarily rough on which to add obvious uses for magic. You seem to have worked out quite a bit about Ferir, thanks for sharing, it lets me know I'm getting across what I meant to.

KC - He certainly was. As for where it's headed, well I'm really not sure.

Trey - can't say I've heard of 'Owl Creak Bridge' but I'm glad you're enjoying. And thanks for the welcome back. smile.gif

All - Thanks for all the comments. The next part, I've made a word change you will spot, I hope it's not too jarring but I couldn't think of another way round it.


1.3 The Shadow of Hope

Ferir felt the ground fly up and hit him. He woke with a start and lay curled over for a moment breathing. The sour taste of vomit clung to the back of his mouth. He wasn’t sure if he’d flailed suddenly or not, certainly he felt like he’d just struck something. There was no reaction he could hear and the feeling the dream had left in its wake began to dissipate. He took a deep breath and winced at the stab from his ribs. A stamping boot had done it but he was fairly sure he could heal it, if he could cast a spell that was. He couldn’t manage so much as a flicker, probably it was the irons, but he couldn’t even feel any enchantment.

It didn’t matter. He glanced up at the high window and saw only darkness. With a grunt he rolled over and looked back across the dungeon. A lone torch guttered weakly in the corridor outside, it only served to make more shadows. The man in the next cell was a large dark blot in the gloom. He sat hunched near the door. His stool groaned slightly with every rock of his bulk like the ticking of an inverted pendulum.

Ferir stood. The action extracted a series of pops from his back and he half grinned. Enjoy the small things. They were all he had now. He felt a bit cheated, there should be some sort of marker to make the best of things he’d never know again. Last smile three days gone. Enjoy tomorrow’s walk. He shook the thought away.

Frek. It was heartfelt. It was the only word. He wanted to be angry, but who at? Who was to blame but himself? If only he’d known. Without a target he felt the flicker of rage moulder towards depression.

“Frek!” He shouted it this time and threw a punch at the wall. So what that it barked his knuckles? He didn’t need them. The pain sank in and fuelled the directionless anger. He raised his fist again.

He took a breath and lowered it. The force would have broken his hand and what was the point? He dropped back onto the bed.

What was the point? He could just do their job for them, the chains which dangled from the ceiling would make that easy enough. But he wouldn’t, perhaps the speculation wasn’t so idle but he wouldn’t do their job for them. That would be weak, and somehow it still mattered. Likewise the temptation to curl up in the corner and cry, he’d be damned if even a hint of the desire showed.

“I preferred you when you were asleep,” said the figure in the next cell.

“You won’t have to put up with me long.” Ferir gave a dry snort and felt his lip curl slightly.

The swaying stopped. “You’re right there.”

His tone was strange, not the flat darkness Ferir felt. Well not entirely, there was something else in it. Fear? Hope? Closer to some hideous amalgam of the pair Ferir decided. “What are you in for?”

“Couldn’t be much worse. Killed a guard.”

“I killed two.” The figure didn’t reply. “The guard seem awful friendly given you killed one of them.”

“I didn’t kill one of them,” there was venom in the man’s tone, “I am… was one. It was one of the bastards from the Imperial City I sixed.”

Too much emotion? Not quite, but too controlled. The man didn’t seem about to explode one way or another. Ferir thought he was right anyway, intuitions often were. The hushed conversation. The grotesque hope. “You don’t expect to die tomorrow do you?”

The rocking started again. Back and forth. Near and far. Ferir let it hang in the balance. For a while longer the man swayed. The pendulum’s creaks watched the time. “I don’t know,” he said at length. “You complicate things.”

“The three you were talking to, they might break you out?” The swaying stopped. Ferir continued, “Where would you go then? Out into the wilds? That’ll go well for you, a guard with the death of an Imperial agent on his head? You don’t look much like an outdoorsman.”

“Better chance than if I stay here.”

Ferir heard the fear. He knew how wild the backcountry could be, he knew it well. He paused, was this the time to try? Whoever the man was his accent couldn’t have been more Cheydinhal and he was a guard. Not the brightest one if he thought there was a shred of sanity in his plan. Still at least he had a plan. “You could have a better chance another way.”

The man turned and Ferir saw his silhouette. Short hair just reached cauliflower ears on a head which merged seamlessly into shoulders.

Ferir went on. “I’ve lived in the backcountry for years. I have a few contacts, I know enough of what to watch for.” He held up a hand to forestall any comment and realised that the man, whatever his name was, probably couldn’t see the gesture, “I’m perfect for your… friends too. They can lay the blame with me. It’ll be lost in the charges they’ve already hung on me.”

The rocking returned. Ferir hung on every movement, caustic hope etched through his conscious like rivulets of hot mercury. It filled his mind with the power to break his spirit. Hope like he’d never felt, it made him sick. This mattered. He cared how this went.

The rocking halted, so did Ferir’s breath. “Aye, they might like that. You’re a known mage right, they said they’d had to crack out the black irons.”

“Close enough.” Not exactly a lie, he dabbled, read books but he’d never been schooled in the arcane and it showed. He hardly understood how it worked. But that was a conversation for another time.

“The court will blame you. Since the crisis rogue mages have become the explanation of choice when we haven’t got a clue. The people lap it up.”

In the darkness Ferir smiled. That sounded like the law’s view on justice, and who was he to argue? They were the strong after all. The smile swept through the worry. Hope still clung like fungus. What if they wouldn’t help him? But if they did… If they did it would be him, his wits and strength pitted against the world again, and as far as Ferir was concerned there was no finer thing. Well not many.

“If we are going to disappear together I’d know your name.”

“Ruben. Ruben Sjorson. You?”

“Ferir.”

“You got no surname?”

“No.” He made sure his tone closed that avenue of conversation.


Time passed marked only by the slow death of the flame in its rusted iron bracket. No longer crawling towards the gallows, but the mingled hope choked the air and glittered like the eye of a spider. Their talk was fitful, mainly grunts. The atmosphere didn’t induce it. They were not well met in prison cells on the eve of rescue or death, and with pressing talk done silence crashed down. Ferir’s mind was stiller, he sat on the pallet, his half closed gaze flickered on the dance of the diminishing flame. The passing storm of the past few days had confused him, he had lost his centre. Perhaps a stiff drink would find it, but it wasn’t an option and he needed his wits.

The flame was little more than a blue glow when light tentatively shone down the corridor. Ferir blinked and returned to the present. Footsteps. More than one person but he couldn’t tell how many. His heart picked up a little. Let this go well, this has to go well. But it didn’t have to. He kept that thought ready, but he hoped it would.

Three men walked past his cell, all wore the knotwork surcoat of the Cheydinhal guard. One Ferir recognised as a jailor carried a bunch of keys.

“Evening Ruben,” said one of the other pair. He was as tall as the man he addressed but much thinner. In the torch light Ferir saw he had the same dirty blond hair.

“Gentlemen,” Ruben nodded back and stood. He said the word as if he’d heard it once and got the wrong idea.

“This is madness,” muttered the third guard, “Look Ruben I like you but it’s going to look damned suspicious for us.”

“It’ll look most suspicious for Arrand, and he’s clean right?”

“Yea we sent him off out the way, he’ll suspect but he wouldn’t tell.” Said the tall one.

“What about him?” the third guard, a dunmer, asked.

“He,” Ruben replied slowly, “Could be the solution to our problems, or your problems at least.”
haute ecole rider
First the nit:
QUOTE
Since the crisis rouge mages have become the explanation of choice when we haven’t got a clue. The people lap it up.”
It looks like the 'u' switched places on Reuben. Rogue is the desired choice in this context - it means ruffians, good-for-nothings, scoundrels. Rouge wouldn't look good on a male Dunmer, let alone a male Nord. I doubt Reuben is a cross-dresser. wink.gif
SubRosa
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge is a classic piece of American literature. I first read it when I was in grade school, and loved it.

Ferir felt the ground fly up and hit him
You know, this is one of the reasons I stopped drinking alcohol... wink.gif If only Ferir were lucky enough to be having the problem for the same reason.

Frek.
I nice way of side-stepping the forum's swear filter. I have found that creating your own curse words works best, like Battlestar Galactica did. Yiddish is also a good source, which is why I have been using dreck lately.

Since the crisis rouge mages have become the explanation of choice when we haven’t got a clue
I thought this was a good post-crisis touch. Ever since the Ayleids, Imperials have not been fond of magic. I am sure the Mythic Dawn and Mehrunes Dagon were a huge reminder of why.

Well, it is not the Emperor and the Blades, but I am sure Ferir is not picky. It looks like Reuben is going to keep his word about breaking him out too. I just love the idea of using Ferir as the fall-guy. Every inside-job like this needs someone to blame, and it is true that he does fit the bill perfectly.


nits:
How was to blame but himself?
I think you wanted Who?
Destri Melarg
Well, I think there are probably more industrious and satisfying ways to break out of prison, but any port in a storm . . .

I think Frek works. Given the setting, almost anything would work if given in context. It’s funny that trey would bring up Owl Creek Bridge. Given your style you would be the perfect person to write an account of Ambrose Bierce’s last days. He went down to Mexico in 1913 to cover the revolution, hooked up with some rebel troops, and promptly disappeared without a trace. It remains one of the great mysteries of 20th century literature.

QUOTE
caustic hope etched through his consciousness like rivulets of hot mercury.

I’m not sure how well this fits into the setting, but I do like the simile.

S.G.M
Acadian
So, Ferir has an uneasy and unlikely alliance! This story is off to a fine start and you have an interesting character. I wish Ferir well as he hopefully makes good on his escape. smile.gif

I will be backing off now. Beyond 'welcome aboard' or 'welcome back' comments, time constraints limit my reading selections to the concept of mutual support. Best wishes!

Grits
Ferir made a good case for Ruben not choking him the minute they’re outside the city. It’s pretty exciting to know that the characters are in charge. The cauliflower-eared, no-neck Ruben sounds like he could be handy in a tussle. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes, but mostly I think I will be savoring the journey.

I am also a fan of made-up swear words.
Olen
HER - nit fixed, silly letters and their orders...

Subrosa - occasionally trying to edit round swearing in the rough draft is impossible, I'm glad frek worked. I could have drawn form another language but it sort of begs the question what makes that okay if English isn't.
I'm glad my vision of post crisis Cyrodiil works for you.

Desri - There are other ways of escaping prison, but with the help of the guards seemed most feasible. I'm not following the game that closely and don't understand why they would provide prisonders with lockpicks blink.gif .
Mercury would fit the setting I'd say, it's been known since pre-history (a Chinese Emperor died after an eternal life potion of mercury and powdered jade turned out not to work so well).

Acadian - thanks for the best wishes, and I completely understand. There's lots of stories I'd love to have time to read here but don't have time for.

Grits - Ruben certainly shuld know how to handle himself. Glad you're enjoying.

1.4 Escape

An eyebrow rose.

Ruben gestured to Ferir and continued. “He’s a known mage.” The nord’s voice took on a mock story telling tone. “He magics the door open and lets me out because I know the castle and the city. We escape and the guard heaps it on him. Andel will take it like a sweetroll, he’s always wanting to blame rouge mages since Farwil got himself killed in that gate.”

“Aye and we lost enough bloody men trying to get him back.”

“Well then it’s time he saved one isn’t it.”

The dunmer nodded, “It’s less risky, if we play it right…” He looked hard at Ruben, “You know what he’s in for?”

He’s the bright one, decided Ferir. He took the chance to answer himself. “Yea, he knows fine,” he said, “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same in my place.”

“I’d never have been in that place,” the dunmer sounded like he’d stood in something unpleasant.

Ferir shrugged, “Perhaps not, but don’t you think a smuggler might be of use in the wilds? Assuming you mean for Ruben to survive.”

“And you’ll help us?” This from the jailor.

Ferir cocked an eyebrow at him. It was the dunmer who spoke, “He doesn’t have much choice.”

“Indeed,” said Ferir, “And running away isn’t exactly arduous.”

The guard frowned. “But there’ll have to be magic.” Ferir stood and walked to the bars of the cell next to the speaker. Their eyes followed him. Two of the guards stepped back, only the dunmer stood his ground. Ferir raised his wrist and brought the iron against the bar with a clack.

The jailor flinched slightly. Idiot, still a necessary one. “You’re the man with the keys. These things aren’t ornamental.”

The dunmer glanced at the jailor. “Jarl,” he addressed the tall man, “Go and grab some gear for them from the store.”

“An axe for me,” Ferir put in.

The dunmer glared a him and he tipped his head. Yes?

“Unlock them, if we’re going to do this I might as well see it done right.”

The jailor didn’t reply as he opened the door to Ruben’s cell and set to work with a finer key on the man’s wrist irons. The former guard was rubbing his wrists as the lock of Ferir’s cell clicked open. He presented his wrists.

The jailor shook his head. “You see a keyhole?” He asked with the cocky tone reserved exclusively for the dull witted when confronted by a mistake.

“Well I’m guessing you can get them off. Enchantment, if that’s what it is, is expensive.”

“Yea, they use magic, you’d need a mage. That way the scum in here can’t fiddle them and start a riot.”

Ferir closed his eyes and sighed. When he opened them he looked at the dunmer who said. “I knew there was something. There’s a file somewhere as I recall, can give you that. We’ll have to do without magic.”

A noise.

The dunmer glanced back up the stairs. His flickering speed belied his nerves. It was the guard, Jarl.

He passed a sack to Ruben, “You should find most of what you need in there. Your sword is in evidence but there’s a similar one. We got the armour off a couple of corpses found on the road, it’s better than nowt.” Unceremoniously he ditched another bag in front of Ferir. “I can’t believe we’re giving you this. I’m not sure what you like but it’s going to do you.”

“Thanks,” muttered Ferir in a tone which didn’t reveal how much he meant it.

“Pull another pair of trousers on and get a cloak around you, we need to move now.” The dunmer glanced around again.

Ferir had barely pulled the cloak, a moth-eaten green thing which smelt of damp, on and they were leaving. The dunmer paused at the door to the barracks. “Jarl, check it out. If it’s fine go on patrol, I’ll see them out the city.” He turn his red gaze on the jailor, the look was like nails, “Set a fire. We need havoc to cover this and make it believable.”

“Where?”

The dunmer’s lips curled back, “Do I look like I give a damn? Just try not to get caught.” Jarl passed through the door and didn’t return. “Move,” the dunmer growled at them, “and for Vivec’s sake be quiet.”

The door led into a slumbering barracks. The detritus of a meal lay scattered on a table. Opposite a stair curved upward to a mezzanine. Rough snores drifted from it. The dunmer walked quickly and quietly across to the main door and pulled it open. Ferir followed. He barely dared to breathe, his complete concentration was focussed on not bumping anything, not tripping.

The air outside was cool. A soft breeze ran its cold nails over the bruises on his face. Ferir allowed himself the ghost of a smile. The moons hung high, the phrase brought an instant’s emotion which fell away like a weight. He wasn’t going to hang. Not this week at least. That was enough, next week was a foreign place.

“Stop.”

Ferir froze. The dunmer had spoken. Ferir followed his gaze and saw a pair of guards patrolling by the outer gate of the main keep.

“Come on, walk, don’t look suspicious. Not to fast or slow. It’s not invisibility but at this time of night in this city it’s as good as.”

The dunmer, Ferir wondered if he’d ever discover his saviour’s name, most likely not he thought, started down the slope which led away from the castle. Ferir relaxed, at first he had to force it but as the edges of calm seeped into his mind it spread like syrup stilling his worry and choking the frantic clockwork of fear.

Walk. Not to fast, not to slow. Don’t glance about. Don’t look like you’re doing this. The final was hardest, but a trained eye could spot someone pretending to be calm. You had to be calm. He could do it, had done it enough times before.

But this was different from the time he’d passed through an unexpected checkpoint with twenty pounds of black-tar moontreacle from Kvatch. That had been a thrill, an almost erotic mixture of adrenaline and calm, to be savoured afterward. This had him scared. He hurt, and anything more than a casual glace would reveal him. The city felt enfolding, a threatening maze of darkness. He glanced back at the dunmer who looked from side to side.

“Don’t look around so much. Trust me I’ve done this a lot.”

He didn’t need to see the dunmer frown. But the guard stopped glancing about like a spooked guar.

“We’d be safer cutting through the old town and out by the East gate,” said Ruben. “Who’s on?”

“Lerar and some new kid.”

“Lerar will be drunk and anyone new will go charging into the Newlands every time there’s a fight.”

“I’m wearing a guard uniform, we’d be noted if we pass through the old town.”

“Which is why you’ll go home now. You owed me one for taking that guy down, but I reckon you’ve paid it back now.”

The dunmer licked his dark lips. Ferir noticed. He also saw the guard’s throat bob as he swallowed. “Good luck. I doubt we’ll meet again on this side.”

“Aye,” Ruben replied, “until then.” He gave a quick nod.

“Whatever you find I hope it’s better.”

Ruben had already turned and started towards the tangled mat of alleys, hovels and squats which made up the old town. Ferir gave the nameless dunmer a nod in thanks and followed the other man.
Grits
Old town doesn’t sound like a polished brass and window boxes kind of neighborhood. I hope Ferir looks around a little on his way out the gate. Looking forward to more! goodjob.gif
Destri Melarg
I loved the description of Ferir's ordeal at that checkpoint outside of Kvatch. To quote yourself, you have laid some really nice hooks into this story. I wonder how Ferir and Ruben will fare together in Cyrodiil's wilds (if they can make it past the gate). The tension in this chapter was palpable! What happens next?
SubRosa
he’s always wanting to blame rouge mages since Farwil got himself killed in that gate.”
Could not have happened to a nicer guy! biggrin.gif He was probably killed by the Champion of Cyrodiil, not the Daedra... wink.gif

So Ferir makes his escape! I liked how you compared the thrill of when he sneaked by the guards in Kvatch to the simple dread he felt here. It shows how much higher the stakes are, how bad he really knows things can get now. Now to see if they can slip out of the city, and then make it far enough to evade the inevitable pursuit.


nits:
Perhaps not{,} but don’t you think a smuggler might be of use in the wilds?
I think this would flow better with a comma where I inserted it above.

[I] The final was hardest, but a trained eye could spot someone pretending to be calm. You had to [I]be
This looks like it might have been some left over bbcode.

You owed me one for taking that guy down, but I recon you’ve paid it back now.”
I think you wanted reckon, recon is short for reconnaissance.
King Coin
1.3 - It’s nice to have friends in high places, or to make friends with those with friends.
1.4 – Out! Well, not quite. It’s going well now which makes me nervous about the next episode.
mALX
I just now saw this, Olen! Haven't been getting on the Fan-Fic board much lately and missed all the new stories being posted !! I'll have to catch up on this, so sorry I didn't see it before now!!
Olen
All - Sorry for the delay, RL has become hectic and will remain so for a while but I've scraped enough time to post this.

Grits - No old town isn't that nice. A lot of places I've lived the old bit of town's been the worst.

Destri - thanks for the comment, I'm glad it's working.

Subrosa - agreed on all the nits. I'm glad the description of running a guarded point worked as a counter to trying to escape.

KC - Thanks, I'm not sure I'd describe Ruben as high places but...

mALX - I know what RL can be like. It'll be here if you have time.

1.5 Freedom

The crooked buildings leant like the drunks and junkies who made their unsteady ways on the dark pooled streets beneath. The smell was the same as in a thousand slums in a thousand cities which differed only in colour and culture. The eye watering stench of stale urine lay like broken glass over a tapestry of sewage, decay and the reek of fires. They wove their way through it and into it.

Ferir broke the silence. “You know this area?”

“I know the main ways,” Ruben shot him a look which said be quiet, “but daren’t use them. But we’re as deep as I’d go into the old town.”

A stir in the air, no real breeze could penetrate here, brought the rich smell of a tannery. From a house somewhere nearby a woman was screaming. Other people’s problems. The cardboard filled windows were blind, but they offered scarce privacy. It was just the city, thought Ferir, must be. They made him uncomfortable. You could disappear, but only in plain sight. Much better to put a few miles between yourself and danger.

A man lay unconscious in the gutter of the narrow alley ahead. An ambush? No, the vomit running down his chin and pooling on his chest was too real. Ferir took the opportunity to glance behind while stepping over him. Nothing but shadow. So why the feeling? He ignored it and hurried on between the crowding buildings.

Before he’d been worried about being seen. Perhaps it was still a risk, or would be when they left, but he doubted the guard came into the old town often. The people they passed didn’t look, even those who could walk steadily, perhaps especially those. Something had him on edge though, and he trusted instinct. At worst it made a fool of you. That was a small enough price.

At the next crossroads he drew alongside Ruben and wrinkled his nose at the other man’s smell. Not that he’d be any better. “Are we being followed?” he asked.

“I think so. They’ll spring at the next junction if they do, after that we’re too near the wider streets.”

And you didn’t think to tell me. Ferir said nothing. He eased out the muscles of his chest and back, checked that the pack was loose enough to ditch in a single movement. The axe was there. Too late now. There was no running for the guard, there were plenty of rough shirts in the old town but his was still a style they might recognise. And it failed to cover the irons. He swore inwardly and focussed on his breathing.

When it came it was poorly executed. A man burst from a narrow close. “Drop the freking packs!” he shouted.

“What?” asked Ruben.

What Ferir had taken as shock clearly wasn’t. The mugger had barely opened his mouth when Ruben’s fist hit his jaw. But his mouth was open and the punch was solid. A lightning flick of the guard’s hips and the mugger toppled in the way of the second man in the close.

A noise behind made Ferir turn. Movement. He ducked and lunged towards the source. A bottle whisked past his head and glanced form his ribs sending a shiver of pain through him. He ignored it. He was in close and the bottle was more a liability than a threat. His knee found a groin. The figure didn’t drop but he knew where it was now. The second had more force and got a cry and the man tried to disengage. Ferir didn’t let him and piled in a third with all the force he could. As the figure stumbled back he threw an punch. It was slow but the iron shackle lent it weight. It connected well and the mugger went down. Ferir felt greasy blood between his fingers where the freshly scabbed knuckles opened.

There was another figure. Without thinking he’d kept the first between them. He rose in a fighting stance and tried to hide how much his side bothered him. The figure hung back for a moment then darted forward. The stab was to his throat and fast, he barely avoided it. He lunged for the wrist but it slipped from his bloodied hand before he could grasp it. Another strike followed, he jumped back.

When faced with a knife attack the outside. The lesson rose in his mind. It limited their options, you knew what was coming. Close behind it came another thought. Frek that. Dither and die, how many fools had been killed thinking maybe. Better a stupid action than none. But where was Ruben? He didn’t dare look behind-

Another lunge took advantage of his thoughts. He watched the body not the blade. The tells were earlier and the corners of the eye faster. A string of curses ran through Ferir’s mind. He made a lunge to the left but the figure turned away and tried to stab. It was clumsy. Even so Ferir had to block it hard. His bones met the knife-wielder’s with a stinging impact. He was slowing. Another stab, at his head this time. He avoided it. Then out of nowhere a slash.

Well not nowhere. It started high but it was fast. It slipped through his block and he felt a line of hot pain open across his chest. He staggered back. The figure advanced. Then paused.

Ruben was there, he had a rough club in one hand and circled behind Ferir’s attacker who turned and lunged. Ferir sprung forward, a move of desperation. He grabbed higher up the attacker’s arm and was surprised to find he more or less controlled it. He thumped the side of his head into the attackers jaw ineffectually then sunk his teeth into the nearest flesh. Unwashed sweat and the tang of blood filled his mouth. He didn’t care.

He felt the impact. It was like someone kicking a sack you were sat on, only more. It knocked the wind half from him then he collapsed on top of the mugger.

He panted. There was no movement until a hand grasped his shoulder. “You okay?” asked Ruben.

“Yes,” gasped Ferir, more from habit than thought, “Whoreson caught me one though. Could heal it up if not for these damned irons.”

Ruben grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. “You’ll live, which is more than can be said if the guard catches up with us.”

Ferir nodded. “Lead on. I’ll follow. Just don’t expect me to be much use.”

“No worries. We’re almost there.” Ruben had grabbed Ferir’s pack, he went to pass it across then hoisted over his chest and turned to continue down the alley. Ferir followed.

It joined a larger one about fifty yards further on. There were more people here. There were still the drunks and enough who were smacked out on whatever mixture of honey, salt and gods knew what passed as skooma here. But they were a higher class of social dropouts, Ferir saw the signs. There were less pissed pants, their eyes were less vacant. It might slide but this was recreational, not just habit. There were others too, people on their way to work and a few women working. Ferir looked the other way.

He also noticed that everyone else on the street was doing the same from him. The occasional tentative glance before turning aside. A short way down Ruben ducked into an alley. Ferir followed. The city wall had joined them quite suddenly from the tangled maze and stood to their right.

“The gate is just through here,” Ruben said, “There will only be two guards, and only the foot gate will be open. One guard will be drunk and possibly asleep in the gatehouse. If we’re lucky the other will be with him but you can never be sure with new blood.”

Ferir nodded. So what? It was hard to concentrate now the pain from the wound had got it’s teeth into him and the adrenaline was dissipating.

“If he’s standing guard be ready to run, the Newlands Lodge is next to the gate.” He said it as if that was explanation enough, and it was. The Newslands’ reputation preceded it.

The alley came out down the side of the Newlands, a few crates of empty bottles and a couple of cracked ale casks were piled against the puke stained wall. Ferir hung back in the shadows while Ruben put his head round the corner. Shouts drifted from a window of the Newlands Lodge. It was late, but the time mattered little there, in better days Ferir had appreciated that.

A moment later Ruben drew back. “He’s there, but he’s more interested in the Newlands than in what’s going on at the gate.”

Ferir said nothing. If he tries anything I’m going to try to kill him. It was a simple thought, a fact unburdened. He looked at Ruben. So would you, it might be one thing to kill a Imperial agent and quite another to kill a local, but you still would. It didn’t matter. It was out of his control.

Ruben plucked a bottle from a crate of empties and felt its weight. For a moment it floated before falling back into his palm with a dull thwack. “This’ll attract his attention,” he gave a half smile then hurled the bottle through the window of the Newlands. There was a moment of silence after the vicious shatter of glass then a storm of shouting. A moment later there was another crash. “Move,” said Ruben.

Ferir needed no second telling. He ignored the sharp protest from the wound which still felt like it oozed blood and the deeper, but blunted, ache from his ribs and followed. The gate guard was running for the grimy door from whence issued screams and the murmur of a full blown barfight ramping up. He didn’t see two moth-eaten travellers making their way toward the gate, and likely wouldn’t have given them a second glance.

Ferir’s nerves started to thrum again. It was there, across a small stretch of plaza. The smaller door within the gate called him. A square of wooden boards which led to freedom. He didn’t run, but his pace was brisk behind Ruben. Ten yards. He was in shock. The idea he was to die had only started to stretch enough space in his head to be understood. Now he had a chance. Five yards. This was the stuff of legends, they would hunt, true. He would run, in the distant wild places, his skill against theirs.

It opened on well worn hinges revealing the darkened road ahead. He waited for the shout and wondered if he could still run. But none came. He closed it behind him. The road stretched out ahead, beckoning him to the world. He would vanish, just as he had before and it would be fantastic.

But there was still a way to go that night. “We’ve done it,” he said. Ruben grunted, no doubt lost in thoughts of his own. There was still a way to go, and Ferir did not expect the coming miles to be pleasant.
haute ecole rider
Tell me about RL! Two major projects last week, and two finals this week!

And new classes start Monday. Ah well!

Okay, this story. It continues to be intriguing. I want to learn more about Ferir. I'm still undecided about Ruben, but for now, like Ferir, I'll go along with him.

And are those two moth-eaten travelers going to be significant later on? I wonder . . .

Great description of the flight through the old town and the brawl with a few of the unsavory locals. Wonder if the guard is going to even notice something went down in that part of town.

And yes, there is still quite a few miles to go, and none of it pleasant. huh.gif
Destri Melarg
After that first paragraph remind me to steer clear of the slums of Cheydinhal! You really laid the atmosphere on thick in this chapter. Your version of Cyrodiil continues to be a very dark, forbidding place. I was beginning to think that Ruben had lit out on his own, but Ruben needs Ferir's survival skills and Ferir needs Ruben to get him clear of the city. It will be interesting to see who turns-cloak first.
SubRosa
You certainly have painted us a vile picture of Cheydinhal's Old Town! No wonder the tourist board left that off their pamphlets!

At first I was worried that whoever was following them might be the law. But when you said the ambush was poorly coordinated, it realized it was simply ruffians. Still, a knife is nothing to sneer at, especially when you are unarmed. I think you did an excellent job of showing the danger Ferir was in.

And a clever way of distracting the gate guard by stirring up a ruckus in the dark elf/orc bar.



nits:
The crooked buildings lent like the drunks and junkies
I am thinking you may have wanted leaned there instead. Lent is the past tense of lend (in the non-religious use of the word).


Another lunge too advantage of his thoughts.
I think that knife lopped off your 'k' in took.

The Newslands’ reputation preceded it.
And it looks like Walter Cronkite turned the inn into a news station. nono.gif

He didn’t dun,
I think you meant he didn't run?
Grits
I took the two moth-eaten travelers to be Ferir and Ruben with their packs and cast-off clothing. That was a great tussle in old town, I’m sure I enjoyed it more than Ferir did. I liked Ferir’s thought in the alley beside Newlands, that he would still kill Ruben if necessary. One fight does not make them BFFs.
Olen
Haute - I think you might remain undecided about the characters for quite a while yet. I avoid moral black and whites, grey is more fun. I doubt the guard would notice, or care if they did.

Destri - I've always seen Cyrodiil as quite a dark place. Slums everywhere, a large guild of devil worshiping murderers working more or less unchallenged, various unpleasant cults, wilds infested with mad wizards and bandits... To produce that its going to have to be pretty grim in the cities too.

SubRosa - agreed on all nits, as ever. I *do* proofread, three times normally after redrafting. There will be more of Cyrodiil's underbelly.

Grits - The travellers were indeed Ferir and Ruben, and no they don't like each other. What happens there is yet to be seen (indeed I haven't written that far ahead).

1.6 Waking to the Wilds

Ruben woke with a sore back. He opened his eyes to a listless predawn light revealing the twisted branches of the half-fallen tree they’d collapsed under. Not long ago judging by the bone weariness which suffused his limbs and sat like bilge water in his muscles. At least it hadn’t rained. Wet clothes were misery and he’d still not opened his pack, he’d been too tired.

Through the exhaustion other emotions swirled. He was alive, he might even continue to be so. For better or worse, he thought and glared at the mouldering leaves he’d slept on. But he was an outlaw. It didn’t fit somehow. The him shaped hole in his ego rejected the term and shied away.

Brrp. Brrp. Brrp. The sound had been going since he’d woken and he only then heard it. Perhaps it had woken him. He pushed himself so he was sitting up and saw the man he’d escaped with. Had that been wise? Perhaps not, double murder on top of smuggling and skooma: the scum had the works. He also claimed to know the wilds though, and Ruben had heard enough stories never to want to go backcountry. For good or ill he was stuck with the dour man.

He’d called himself Ferir. Ruben was fairly certain of this, though it was hard to tell where the reality of the previous night ended and his nightmares began. The young man sat with his back to Ruben, his rough shirt hung oddly and a couple dark curls of tattooing showed between its collar and his short black hair. His right elbow moved back and forward rhythmically, with every push there was another rough sound. Puzzled Ruben stood and approached.

“Good morning,” he said.

The noise stopped. “Morning at least.” Ferir didn’t turn. Ruben walked round the log the other man sat on and saw why his shirt hung oddly; the front was tattered. Ferir met his gaze and as he did Ruben noticed his dark eyes were red and puffy. “The cloth had stuck to the wound, I’ve cleaned it but it needs healing.”

That explained the shirt, but not the eyes. Ruben decided not to ask, partly because something about Ferir unsettled him slightly and partly because he didn’t care. It wasn’t his business anyway. “Where do we find a healer out here?”

A dry smile curled on Ferir’s mouth but didn’t touch the rest of his features. “We don’t. I can do the magic, but not with these things on.” He tapped the file he was holding against the dark metal of the mage iron. The head of a rivet on one side was diminished. “I found a cairn bolete and this area’s thick with lavender. The mixture should stop the infection spreading but I’d need some better apparatus to do more.”

A bloody alchemist too. Who is this guy? Ruben pulled back the bloodstained tatters and looked at the wound across the Ferir’s chest. It had sliced into one muscle a little, that was going to hurt, likewise where it ran over the sternum. Otherwise it was shallow, but Ruben didn’t like the way the tanned flesh had puffed up red around it.

“Where are we?”

The rasping restarted. “Somewhere near Harlun’s Watch I think. You should know this area better than I do.”

“Never really left the city much, except once when I went to the Imperial City.”

Ferir shook his head, “Harlun is a large farming village, we’ll pass it soon I suspect. We’re not far south of the main road, I followed it long enough that our backtrail will be lost to traffic then made into the wood.”

Ruben nodded and pretended to understand. He didn’t know which questions to ask. How would they eat when the food in the packs ran out? Where were they going? What did they need? He knew going into the village, especially this close to Cheydinhal this soon would be foolish.

“What’s the plan?” he opted for.

“Disappear. They’ll search hard for a week. Give it a month and it will be a cold case and no one will care.” Ferir paused. He turned his attention back to the file and seemed to have finished but then continued, “If you mean today then I need to get these off. I won’t get far enough without healing, and you wouldn’t get that far without me.”

Ruben said nothing.

The rasping noise continued. “Is there something I can use as a lever. I don’t want to break the file but this might bend off now.”

The bag was heavy. It contained most of the standard kit Ruben had expected: a tarpaulin, supplies, a pot, a knife and some clothes. As ever the thing he was looking for was at the bottom, a small waxed cotton bag with a flint, and more importantly, steel in it. The steel bar was chipped, but thick enough to be strong and if it got bent who cared?

“This do?”

Ferir turned and nodded, “I’ll give it a try.” He put the file down and Ruben threw the steel. It was deftly plucked from the air. He pushed it along side his wrist and pulled ineffectively.

Ruben stood and advanced on him. “Want me to try?”

“Think you can do better?”

“Yes.” He was going to leave it at that but could sense Ferir’s irritation. “I’m stronger than you and have a better angle.” It was a simple fact. He grabbed the iron and sat down before Ferir could protest. “Tell me if it hurts.” He gripped the steel in one hand and the wrist iron in the other and levered up.

Ferir grunted and his arm tensed but he said nothing. Ruben pulled harder pulling with his back, the thin remains of the rivet bent, he pulled harder and got another grunt. Then the rivet burst and the hinge fell away. The iron landed on the ground, an incomplete black circle.

The sound Ferir made was more than a grunt, he rubbed where the skin had twisted away like damp paper under the steel’s pressure. “That hurt. A lot.”

“Can you cast?”

Ruben stepped hastily back as Ferir raised his right hand. A look of immense concentration twisted into effort, like someone with a full bladder trying to lift a heavy object. Nothing. He raised his left, blood dribbled from the fresh wound. The same look, except this time Ruben saw a dull glow run up it like an aura. It converged in his closed fingers then scattered white light. Ferir lowered the hand and rubbed the wound on his wrist. It no longer bled and looked a day scabbed.

“The bracer is absorbing it I think. It’s not efficient and I’m rubbish at casting left handed, but yes I can a bit.”

Ruben didn’t understand magic, all he knew was that mages were best avoided, at least the guild controlled them. Wild ones were a different matter.

Ferir was shaking his head, “It’ll take a long time though at the rate I can. Longer than we can afford.”

“If you hate casting with your left had why attack that iron first?”

“I could use my right hand.”

Was that the hint of a smile on Ferir’s face? Ruben decided to ignore it and sat quiet.

Ferir shook his head again, “Look it’s awkward, can you help, it would be quicker.” His voice dropped towards the end.

Ruben nodded and picked up the file. “That one?” He scraped it over the top of a rivet which was already marked.

“Yes,” said Ferir and allowed his arm to be manoeuvred.

Ruben worked with the filed for a time before either spoke again. When he did Ruben’s thoughts escaped almost by surprise. “So what really happened?”

“The Imperial Guard came,” Ferir muttered it, “we were guilty as they come, but I don’t know who tipped them off. They killed my friends, well one wasn’t there and another escaped I think. I got a couple of lucky hits in then got knocked out.”

“And they took you back to Cheydinhal?” Ruben was surprised.

“You don’t think I wouldn’t have rather died there than been hung? They spent the return trip beating the hell out of me. The officer only warned them off after he had to use a healing potion.”

“Damn.” Having exposed the surface of the sore Ruben wasn’t sure he wanted to break the silence.

But Ferir did for him. “You’d have done the same.” There was no accusation, he could just as well have been commenting on the weather.

For a moment Ruben thought it a comment on the brutality of the guard, both Imperial and local, but then he wondered if Ferir meant the killing. Either way, he thought. Either way he has a point. He continued filing. Eventually the rhythmic tedium pushed his curiosity past unease again, “Did you smuggle much?”

“We made skooma, well I did.” Ferir seemed glad of the subject change, and the distraction. “The stuff I cooked sold high, warm-sands they called it. Hrissa’s idea, she shifted it. As much as I could make, and with the kit we had that was gallons a day if I could be bothered and we had the sugar.”

Ruben said nothing. There was something dreadful about the pride Ferir had in his work. In the guard they heard about stuff, and warm-sands was bad news. It was strong, true, and because of that adulterated. But occasionally some would hit the streets pure. Last time that happened four people were dead before word got around.

Ferir must have sensed his feelings. The young man shrugged, momentarily throwing the file off track. “I was good at it,” he said as if that was explanation enough. Perhaps it was.
haute ecole rider
I'll leave the occasional nit for someone else this time.

I really want to comment on where you're going with this story. After your last one, I fully expected another story full of greys rather than black and white. It's just the sort of story I love - one where I can't decide who's the hero and who's the villain, and settle for calling 'em by the more mundane terms protagonist and antagonist. The moral quandaries you put forth are wonderful, and the characters all the more real for it. I firmly believe that each and every one of us is capable of pure evil, and, just as equally, of pure good. I see that quite well in your characters.

The fact that Ruben is mildly conflicted about traveling with a Dunmer convict rings true; also that he seemed mildly bothered by Ferir's description of the guards' actions against his friends. To me, that smacks of a man capable of good, and unaware of the harm his own actions can cause, simply because he never considered the prisoners as living, breathing beings like himself.

The apparent lack of emotion on Ferir's part also hits home - he's been through a lot and is busy rebuilding the hard shell he needs to wear to survive. His focus on survival bodes well for him. The fact that Ruben is helping him indicates that Ruben isn't insensitive to Ferir's situation, as well as his own. After all, this soft city boy has no chance of surviving out in the wilds, where Ferir is most at home far from civilization.

The fact that the two of them have decided to cooperate with each other to their mutual benefit is reasonable. I wonder whether that will change once circumstances change, or if this mutual cooperation will turn into a deeper friendship. It is not unlikely to me, and I look forward to seeing where this story takes us. smile.gif
SubRosa
I've always seen Cyrodiil as quite a dark place.
Given the stories of your's that I have read, I'd say you see everywhere a quite a dark place! biggrin.gif

The him shaped hole in his ego
I love this phrase!

It was interesting to see things from Ruben's pov now. His unease around Ferir - not only due to him being a mage, but especially because of being a cutthroat skooma runner - makes perfect sense. Ruben's not used to being on the other side of the law, or making alliances with those who are. It all shows so clearly in this segment. His musings on the dangers of a pure drug were also excellent to read, and really show the differences between him and Ferir. Where Ruben sees it as the poison it is, Ferir only feels pride in its creation.
Grits
I loved seeing Ferir from Ruben’s POV, just his reddened eyes said a lot. An uneasy partnership, for now. I hope Ruben has thought of a way to make himself useful once he gets that right bracer off. I’d hate to see Ferir just slip off into the trees. Watching these two come to grips with their situations and each other is too enjoyable.
Zalphon
"He only warned them off after he had to use a healing potion" That seems like something the Imperial Legion would do (nice, squeaky clean, and shiny to the public eye...not so much behind closed doors.)

Very well done.
Destri Melarg
QUOTE(Olen @ Aug 31 2011, 02:46 PM) *

Ruben woke with a sore back. He opened his eyes to a listless predawn light revealing the twisted branches of the half-fallen tree they’d collapsed under. Not long ago judging by the bone weariness which suffused his limbs and sat like bilge water in his muscles. At least it hadn’t rained. Wet clothes were misery and he’d still not opened his pack, he’d been too tired.

Before I get into the chapter itself I just wanted to comment on the subtle brilliance of this first paragraph. The repetition of the water motif, starting with the description of the listless (which is a synonym for languid, which in itself is close to liquid) predawn light, followed by the ‘bilge water’ suffusing Ruben’s tired muscles, and then ending with his rumination on the misery of wet clothing. Wow! salute.gif

Not only are you writing this in third person this time, but you are planning to switch POV’s as well. It was a little jarring to see the story through Ruben’s eyes at first, but that has more to do with my expectation than with anything you did in the writing.

I especially enjoyed Ruben’s realization that if put in the same circumstance, whether as guard or smuggler, he probably would have behaved as Ferir pointed out. I detect a certain degree of empathy within Ruben. I wonder now if that is echoed in Ferir.
Olen
RL has been rather hectic of late but I have another update. Can't promise that they will be particularly regular but this piece isn't strictly dead, more just semi-dormant. For individual responses:

Haute - I'm glad the characters are working for you, and the morality. I've never been particularly convinced by good and bad, most people are working for what they think is good (even the power hungry lunatics generally want to change the world in a way they see as better). I have a few plans for them but not that many, this piece is largely character driven, it makes writing it quite a lot of fun.
One thing I'd mention is that Ruben isn't travelling with a dunmer, Ferir is human. This may become relevant at some point - is there anything on how long different races live?

SubRosa - I've been playing with changes of PoV, the last piece I wrote had multiple PoVs in different arcs and didn't work for me (it ran aground at the 60k mark). This time I'm sticking with one arc but hopping between characters. Perhaps not the most standard format, but then this is the internet so I'll do what I want.

Grits - Yes I wanted to put two rather incompatible characters together. There will be more.

Zalph - Thanks for the comment. I'm glad my view of law enforcement in Cyrodiil works for you.

Destri - Now you point it out I do seem to use water motifs. I'm glad it worked, though I'm not sure it was entirely deliberate.
And yes I'm keeping within a unit but switching PoVs. As much as I like the immediacy of first person for character interactions (which is what this piece grew from) third is better. I still don't know how you manage so many characters though blink.gif

All - the question about how long races live was directed at everyone. Also apologies again for the slow rate of this piece, RL is busy.

Recap: So far Ferir, a smuggler and skooma maker, has had the base of operations he worked from stormed and the other's there killed (with a couple of exceptions). He wound up injured in Cheydinhal jail for killing two guards during the raid with a fireball being involved. In my version of Cyrodiil they use 'black irons' to prevent mages from casting in jail, these are a problem for him. Before they executed him he ran with Ruben, an ex-guard who was also in jail for killing a Guard from the IC whose contacts within the Cheydinhal guard got them out. We join them in the wilds.

1.7 Freedom's Call

The fever headache had built in dark waves. They crashed over him bringing nausea in their wake. Ferir glared at the food. He knew he should eat but he didn't want to. Ruben was clearly struggling, the result of too many drakes spent in the tavern and too much of what exercise he got aimed at strength. Even so they'd made good enough time before breaking for what was too late to be lunch - though Ferir doubted you could have afternoon tea sat on a rock in the middle of nowhere wearing clothes turned stiff with dried blood. Still the cooler air under the tree had quieted the roar in his head to a dull pound he could just think over.

The second iron had to come off soon. The idea of beginning the afternoon's walk again slithered from his mind, but it was his to suggest. Not a chance. But neither did he want to ask Ruben to do what he should be able to do himself. Using the file would eat time, though he wasn't sure if that might be a good thing.

Did they have time now, he wondered. They were a long way off the beaten track, it was over an hour since he’d seen the last evidence of habitation. Healed they might make the Reed River by the following evening, he doubted anyone would follow them as far as the eastern shore, and by then they’d be back in country he knew.

He glanced to his pack. His intention had been to recommence the journey, that evening would be soon enough to see to the iron but the thought of the pack on his sore ribs made his fingers curl. Instead he reached in and grabbed the file. He needed healing, and that meant being able to cast a spell.

After a time the sound of his ineffectual progress against the iron drew Ruben’s attention. The man stood with a long groan. “You want a help with that.” Ferir wasn't sure if it was a question.

“If you want,” he said and tempered the words with a shrug.

Ruben took the file. “How’d the other one go so quickly?”

Ferir stretched his fingers, the work made his hand cramp. “It was damaged, probably the smith struck it wrong.”

“You’re not in any condition to get much further, I might not know the country but I know people.” There was a blade of black humour in his tone. “Aye I know them well. I’ll see to this and you’ll tell me how you came by it.”

“What?”

“How a smuggler ended up a mage, or was it the other way round?”

“Neither,” Ferir said with a half smile, “I’d not say I was a smuggler, it was just work. But I’m even less a mage, if you think I’m Oruntur you’re wrong.”

“So why’d they crack out the black irons. Need the castle mage to open and close them and Ulene can be a guar about it, bloody dark elves are all the same.”

Ferir tensed involuntarily. Whoreson, how much else don’t you like? How in hell had he ended lumped with this moron? He took a breath, the same moron who was trying to free him so he could heal. He would keep the peace, that was insult enough in itself.

Ruben must have sense some of his thoughts, though not the root. “I’m curious, that’s all.”

“I killed two pigs, a fireball was involved.” There was a certain pleasance in the way Ruben tensed at the term.

“You must know some magic?”

Ferir gave a half shrug, as much as he could while keeping his hand still. “I picked up some, we had some books, the odd lesson here and there. It's just a bit of fire, and I can heal.”

“But learning magic is really expensive. That’s why only the rich have it, and the guild and at least they control it unlike the damned altmer nobles.”

“I had money. The skooma was profitable. I’m rubbish at destruction really and I learnt my restoration from a healer I helped.”

“A priest?”

“A witch.”

Ruben was silent for a moment. “Oh,” he said. “You know you can’t trust those.”

Here we go. Ferir waited for it.

“Only last week Jarand, one of our foresters came in saying he’d run across daedra in the woods well east of Cheydinhal, they hushed it but I overheard his initial report. Fair state he was in too. It was the mages who opened those damned gates in the crisis. We lost a lot of good men," he paused long enough to gulp a breath before the rant continued, "oblivion the Empire’s never recovered, I wonder if it will.” Ruben sounded like the idea saddened him, Ferir supposed it took all sorts. “And they do darker things, witches, daedra worshippers, sorcerers. You must have come across them.”

“There are places to avoid if that’s what you mean,” said Ferir.

Ruben went quiet, the file continued its passage back and forth across the rivet, grinding the proud head into obscurity. “One of my early assignments, the first which went backcountry outside the city.” He paused again. “Mages are all the same, they all mess around with things they shouldn’t. Some do it by accident, most don’t.”

Ferir wondered if he was exempt but didn’t much care.

“We went out to Fort Scinia, we’d had reports of problems there. Who the hell wanted Cheydinhal to deal with a problem that far into the wilds I don’t know. There was talk of garrisoning it again, sometimes I wonder…” Ruben broke off and took a slow breath. “Mages, and corpses walking around. Zombies like things from stories, or nightmares. They ambushed us, only I survived.”

Ferir nodded and let the slow rasp of the file fill the silence. “And you never went backcountry again?”

Ruben nodded.

“Avoid the deep places. If you want a home choose a cave over a mine and a mine over a ruin. Stay clear of the forts of old and better to lie down in a grave than enter anything older.” It wasn’t exact, but Ferir remembered the gist of the words of an old forester he’d met years before.

There was no reply but the hypnotic sound of the file.

They both sat with their thoughts. Ruben with whatever distant memories he’d dredged, and Ferir doubted he’d heard half of it. Nor did he care, his thoughts had returned to the foothills of the Valus mountains and he high pastures beyond. To Sundew Cave. Was it chance which led his feet east?

Returning there would be insane. Really? They’d expect him there, but he needed to see it. To see what he’d lost. Would looking on the bloated bodies of those he’d called friends really help? To be certain. To be certain, to know that the old legionary had spoken true, that those who he thought were dead were. Could he face the smashed ruins of his life so easily?

Yes. He sighed, his eyes flickered closed as he did and pressed a frown on his mouth. He already felt what he’d gained. As much as he tried to hide from it the sense of freedom repaired glowed in his mind. The world was laid bare before him, for now he was pushed, but soon he would be blind for choice. Could he look on the shattered glassware, the broken barrels and burnt crates and empty coffers which had represented his achievement? Yes, without a second thought he'd burn them himself for the freedom. The thought forced its way into his head like a snake, but the worst part writhed within it like a devouring worm. It was thought before he could stop it. Would he look on the corpses? All but one.

The idea was barely formed before he smashed it to pieces. But had he not dreamed of such? What am I? Who am I? Ferir shivered.

“Pass me the steel.” Ruben's voice dragged him back to the present. He blinked and saw the other man looking at him. “You alright?”

“Yes. Fine.” Ferir shook his head and pulled the steel from the pack.

Ruben took it and Ferir braced for its bite. It pressed into his skin. He felt Ruben apply more pressure. It got sore. Very sore. He bit in a cry. The cry pushed forward. Just before it could escape the iron gave a metallic screech and twisted apart. The hateful thing fell to the loamy ground.

Ferir met Ruben’s eye and smiled. He rubbed the reddened skin where he steel had pressed it and then raised his hand. Ruben scuttled back as a flow of white energy rose up it and burst from his palm showering him. He felt the cold splash and instantly felt a little better. He went to again and stopped, he wouldn’t be able to heal it all, he had a will to him, enough people had told him that, but it didn’t take long before he just couldn’t pull any more magic from within. What needed it most?

The internal stuff. He’d got away with it but he wasn't even sure how bad that was and it was hurting more. That was sensible, but almost immediately he knew he wouldn’t. It could wait, they might be a little late to the river but the wound across his chest had time against it. If he’d got it immediately it would have been nigh on invisible, but a day left to mild infection and the inexpert machinations of nature was another matter. The sooner he got it the less it would show. Not that he didn’t see it for what it was.

Vanity. But where was the shame in that? He pulled off the filthy and torn shirt and put his hands over the long wound. It was a tight line under them, hot and angry. He reached for his magic. His mind followed the tricks he’d been taught, flowing in tracks worn by a thousand cuts and burns earned cooking up khajit juice. It was a thin line of power burning through the centre of his mind, a hot filament of power rushing ever skyward. He reached into it and drew, shaping the raw energy balancing it like a carnival plate spinner and letting it run from his fingers. He was at every point in the process. The burning face of the source and the cool shower from his fingers were one. Not just together but the same place and thing, all points at once as time stopped. Only then did the true healing start.

He reached through his fingers into the wound. He felt the first pockets of pus where the lavender had been spread thin. Tiny things for the moment, dwarfed by the hot anger of the surrounding flesh. He felt the coarse scarring which already formed across the rift in the skin. He manipulated, squeezing, diminishing and killing the poison, ultimately an act of destruction, while simultaneously reknittng the skin, the blood vessels in it, opening some, joining others. They laid new tissue down at an unnatural rate while he made sure it was smooth and controlled. The drew the wound shut.

Then time began to knock. The white force he was using slowed, he could no longer quite kill the pockets of matter, nor stop the growth going as it pleased. The concentration became hard. The process which made the healing balm faltered and as soon as he thought of it it was too much and the whole fell apart leaving him blinking in the late afternoon sun.

The wound was much diminished. Only the deep sections remained, and they looked better, not so much healed, for it was cleaner than that, closer to mended. The next session would finish them when he’d rested. Other sections of the wound were almost invisible, though some had left a puckered whitish pink line, especially where the pus had been worst. Ferir frowned. It would go or it wouldn’t, time would tell and the spell had spread enough that he felt better elsewhere.

His frown deepened when he looked at the shirt. With the clean feel of the magic, he’d heard some people describe it as minty, it looked foul, even if he was in need of a wash. He slung the blood stained thing over the back of his pack and stood. The casting was tiring, but he felt better for it. Psychologically as well as physically, now he was improving things as well as just running. He glanced at the black iron where it lay. However little he liked it leaving the other had been a mistake, he wanted nothing certain on the trail so he put it in his bag.

“Ready to continue. The country gets more interesting soon. Hillier so we should be able to find a stream to camp by because I’d welcome a wash.”

Ruben grunted. He seemed surprised. With his back turned Ferir grinned and led the way.
SubRosa
bloody dark elves are all the same.
I loved this. She probably even asks everyone if the worship the Nine perhaps? And what good it ever did them? wink.gif

An interesting discussion about how Ferir learned to use magic. Not to mention how widespread the use of magic is, and a common Cyrodiilan's thoughts about it. Given what the Ayleids did to them, I have always pictured the Imperials as being more than little fearful and distrustful of magic. It is an elvish thing after all, so not only dangerous, but corrupt. That Ruben would blame the Oblivion Crisis on magicians was very believable.

A wonderful description of Ferir's use of magic to heal himself at the end as well. Now all he needs is a bath.




nits:
his thoughts had returned to the foothills of the Velas mountains
I am sure you meant Valus Mountains.


The world was laid bare before him, for now he was pushed, but soon it would he would be blind for choice.
Take a look at the end of this sentence, I think you had some leftovers of a previous edit jumbled in there.

McBadgere
QUOTE
“Avoid the deep places. If you want a home choose a cave over a mine and a mine over a ruin. Stay clear of the forts of old and better to lie down in a grave than enter anything older.”


Oh hell yeah...I'm a sucker for a good quote...

Love that...Really enjoyed the section about the healing...Well thought out...Brilliant...

Nice one... biggrin.gif ...
Grits
I don’t have a lore answer for life spans, but I do remember one argument that I read somewhere and liked. The opinion was that magicka is responsible for slowing the age process, and roughly elves live longer than humans. Bretons were the shortest-lived human race, due to their resistance to magicka. Altmer were the longest of the mer. Not really an answer, just something to think about.

I’m so glad to see an update to read, re-read, and savor. Ruben and Ferir have been popping into my mind for the last two months, semi-dormant or not. tongue.gif
SubRosa
I forgot you asked. Lifespans depend on the game. Bethesda changes it every time, mainly to make the elves live shorter and shorter lifespans. Barenziah is 500 years old and this is how she looked in Daggerfall. Doesn't look a day over 30. A game later and she suddenly became a Methuselah. By Oblivion all the elves in the game (though not necessarily in the lore) have the same 60-70 years as an ordinary human. Varel Morvayn says as much when you talk to him. "Been here thirty years, and I expect I'll last another ten or so." So it seems like he expects to be a working adult for 40 years, and then die of old age. When you look at the elves in the game, you will see the same basic spread of young, middle-aged, and old as you do with the round-ears. Where if they lived for centuries, they ought to almost all look like they are 20 or 30. I imagine in Skyrim elves live maybe a decade or two at the most. By Elder Scrolls 6 they will have to age backwards somehow.

So basically as usual Bethesda cannot make up their minds. So make them as long-lived as you want them to be. I tend to go with an average lifespan of at least 300 years for most elves living an active, but somewhat strenuous life. Working on a farm, etc... I tack on another century or so for someone living an easy life with good nutrition, like a noble, scribe, mages guild member, etc... And another century for Altmer, who are infamous for their eugenics.
haute ecole rider
What a delight to meet Ruben and Ferir again. I really enjoyed this bit, especially as they were talking about magic and the aftereffects of the crisis on the empire.

One thing I noticed: you mentioned puss in relation to Ferir's wound. Puss (two 'esses') refers to a kitty cat. Pus refers to the disgusting foul fluid produced by certain infections. I believe you meant the latter, not that a little purr-motor was residing in Ferir's chest causing him trouble.
Olen
SubRosa - Magic is likely to play a big part in this. I see it as having greater potential than waving your hands and something happening, but with more complex things becoming very rapidly more difficult. It should keep things more balanced while allowing me a bit more freedom. For lifespans that was about what I was working on. The lore is completely jumbled with dunmer lifespans covering two orders of magnitude (70 years for Morvayn and 4000 for Divayth Fyr).

Nit's are picked and one bath coming right up...

McBadgere - Glad you enjoyed. This will continue... slowly.

Grits - It's good to have so many readers still interested. The magic idea is a nice one, it fits with the Telvanni mages living for so long too so I might well hijack it to some extent.

Haute - I see the crisis having lasting effects well beyond he immediate. Houses are relatively simple to rebuild but something that large is going to leave a mark on the way a society thinks which won't fade for decades and probably never completely, especially as there is unlikely to be anyone particularly encouraging reconciliation.

Nit fixed... if English spelling was systematic my life would be easier...

All - In the last part Ferir managed to escape his black irons and so could do magic again. Some more of their past emerged. He healed and they continued east. This next part is the final instalment of the first chapter.


1.8 Fresh Water

The waters of the Reed River were quick and cool, fresh from their mountain headwaters. Ferir lay back against the rush and watched as the sun crept over the high peaks of the Valus mountains. New mountains, at least if the books were to be believed, they were sharp with spires untamed by the grinding wheel of time. He relished the tight chill of the water and half shivered. Repeated healing sessions the previous night had more or less mended his wounds. There was still the achy hangover which only time, or a fabulous talent far beyond his, could shift, but the water helped there.

He’d known people who thought the streams and forests of Cyrodiil were alive. Aedra, nymphs, spirits - the names varied but as he immersed his head in the soothing roar he could half believe them. Not that it mattered. Who cared? It might be fun to see one, in much the same way it was nice to watch the deer lek in the autumn, but people seemed to get so obsessive about them.

His feet curled for purchase on the smooth stones as he stood and splashed water in his face. He cupped another handful and drank it. That was one of the best things about it up here, the water was potable. At least it was upstream of where he’d washed. The sun broke through the trees and a ray reached down over his back to the shore. The eastern shore, would they be followed this far? Maybe, but not found. The area was huge and inhospitable, particularly to the law.

He stood naked in the blue morning sun, a stronger shiver ran though him. A towel would be nice. The packs lacked certain things. Damn it, while I’m at wishing a hackle-lo, mug of klah and flask of Mímisbrunnr would be nice. Or at least a beer.

For all that the packs contained what was necessary to survive they lacked what was needed to live. Instead they were weighed down with rubbish - who needed tent poles? Certainly they were useful, but for the weight a tree would do.

“You going to sun yourself all day like a lizard?”

Ferir stretched up extracting a crunch from somewhere in his back and turned. “We’re east of the Reed, this is real back country. Do you know who’s in control here?”

“Cheydinhal county ends there,” Ruben grunted as he sat stiffly up, his blanket still pulled around him, and pointed at the opposite shore “So any guard, or fighter’s guild member gods preserve us.”

Ferir gave him a half smile. “Really, I’d have been more inclined to say no one.” He walked back towards his pack and regarded the clothes there with distaste. He hadn’t been the first person to be issued the prison ones, and the standard issue guard kit smelt as bad as it looked. Ruben groaned as he stood. He’d struggled at the end of the previous day. Ferir had let him, not because he particularly disliked the man but when energy ran out pride could carry someone further than sympathy. As he’d guessed Ruben’s had been sufficient. “Should be easier today,” he said.

“Thank the nine for that. Why?”

“We’ve been going a couple of days,” Ferir shrugged, “unless you’ve got blisters it gets easier. And it’s not such a long day, we need supplies, and I want to be fresh in case dreck goes down when we buy them.”

“There’s no towns out here though…”

“Heard of Carbo? He was a legend, people still come and go through his camp.”

"I've heard of a Carbo, near legend in the legion. Served out in Vvardenfell in the blight."

"Not him. A smuggler turned bandit turned kingpin. He's dead but his camp isn't."

“Outlaws?”

“So are we,” Ferir pointed out.

Ruben frowned.

They set off soon after. Ferir was tempted to stay by the river for a little longer but a breakfast of hardtack was as well eaten on the move. They stayed close to the river anyway, it was months since he’d been there but he could remember the area well enough. Verdant forest sprawled to the waterside. There were trout in the river, if you could be bothered fishing, or knew a particularly powerful lightning spell. He’d only seen that done once, most mages powerful enough either had servants to buy fish for them or lived in remote castles, usually ruined and always with a tower. In spite of what they claimed Ferir had a feeling there was only so much boiling quicksilver that could still be considered healthy.

It was one of the reasons he’d never learnt more, that and the guild and it’s damned rules. Gone were the days where it controlled all trade in magic, and hence almost all mages. The weakened Empire helped, it was easier to set up a black market when there were few patrols but the real cause had been internal. It had bent under pressure and outlawed necromancy.

Ferir didn’t really see the problem, yes it was an interesting area no doubt, but there were others. If you’d spent your life pursuing it then you would be annoyed, but if you’d spent your life cutting up corpses and making them walk then you were crazy. Perhaps their definition was too broad but that begged more questions. Why necromancy? He’d only met two, both buying supplies fortunately, but they smelt weird, lived alone and in his opinion needed a stiff drink and a better hobby. And possibly a night out in Bravil.

It was the conjurers and daedra fanciers who posed the threat. It was they who had caused the crisis, and who had a force to unite them. They also practised in every guildhall in Tamriel as far as he knew. It was suspicious, but then so was so much when seen as an outsider. Presumably those who lived with it were just too close, like trying to look at your own eyelashes.

The walk along the river passed that way. He was lost in his thoughts, what should he do next? The first couple of times it stung, but he swept that away, it was a valid question. Save grieving for when there was time, and at the cave. That loomed on the horizon. He could learn more magic, or alchemy anyway. Though there was the axe, or maybe a bow. The idea appealed but from his limited experience it was best left. Too unreliable unless you were very good, and what could one do that a fireball couldn’t?

Tributaries joined the river as they went south. It grew, but the hilly country remained untamed and soon they walked by a crashing torrent. Ferir knew that it slowed as the hills ended, this was more a section of rapid than anything, but the roaring sound was like a physical presence within his head. The cold spray smelt slightly peaty and the churning white sinew of the water left its glory undimmed. It crashed down a steep section, not a waterfall, but close, and at the bottom stood the soom drukpa, three granite ovoids. Two were a good twenty feet across with the third lying under them a little longer. The waters surged against them.

There were all sorts of stories told about the soom drukpa, or the tres angeli, or three sisters, depending on who you asked. He always used the eastern name for no better reason than it was the first he’d heard. To the Argonians, who’d once lived even this far into Cyrodiil, they were the eggs of dragons. If they laid eggs like that Ferir was glad they were extinct, if they’d ever been real. Other legends spoke of gods, or aedra. The only credible one was that Sheogorath was behind them. The resemblance certain people, mainly imperials with too much of a fixation with the nine, or those in need of a good night in Bravil, saw supported the involvement of the god of madness.

Whatever they were was unimportant, they were the landmark he found Carbo’s Camp by. Turn away from the river, breast the ridge and it was in a deep gouge in the landscape which dwarfed the small stream which ran through the camp. He turned away from the river and started inland. Ruben followed, and glanced around uneasily. Ferir carried on into the bush ignoring Ruben’s confusion.

Why? The question came unbidden, though not wholly unexpected. Ruben was a bit of an oaf, but was he really? A few badly placed comments, but plenty of people were like that. He had been a guard, and Ferir was willing to bet that whatever went down was worse than they done him for. But he’d known enough criminals. Was it because he owed Ruben one, a large one? But he was paying, had paid probably.

“We’re headed for Carbo’s Camp.”

The former lawman stopped. He mouthed in shock for a moment before he managed to speak. “But that’s a bandit place, outlaws, smugglers, vagabonds… I didn't realise you were serious.”

“We need supplies, and to hear what the word on the wind is.”

“But they’re bandits.”

Ferir nodded, his upper lip rising a little. “Can’t say I like it, but we haven’t got much choice. Survival comes first. Always.” He paused then resumed walking. Ruben followed behind. “You’ll want to be careful there,” he said, “they won’t like guards. Don’t want you sneaking around, if anyone asks you’re my uncle, enough there will know me, though they might not welcome me…” Not after that last deal… this could be fun.
SubRosa
First off, the title has me thinking of this song.

untamed by the grinding wheel of time.
This was a wonderful description!

and flask of Mímisbrunnr
He may be an outlaw, but Pappy agrees with him on this! biggrin.gif

I liked the little discussion of the two Carbos. It shows the backgrounds of each men so well.

if you’d spent your life cutting up corpses and making them walk then you were crazy
Indeed. Like Ferir thought, there are much better hobbies. Like bathing, and women. Well, the living ones at least. wink.gif

and what could one do that a fireball couldn’t?
Build a lean-to, or a house? wink.gif Or chop up corpses that you can animate later! laugh.gif

Not after that last deal… this could be fun.
Uh oh. This was a delicious tease, promising all sorts of danger ahead!



nits:
most mages powerful enough either had {a} servant to buy fish for them or lived in remote castles
I think you either wanted an {a} where I inserted it above, or a plural servants.

Ruben was a bit a an oaf
I am sure you wanted of there.
Grits
I love every word of this update, even the parts after Ferir puts his clothes on. tongue.gif I keep coming back to read it again.




...more, please? smile.gif
mALX
GAAAAH, you have changed your writing style! As always, your descriptions and attention to detail are exceptional, that goes without saying. Great Write (!!!) - that also goes without saying.

The premise of your story is fascinating, and your characters (as I've come to expect from you) are earthy, interesting, natural, believable. Your writing (as always) is excellent.

The surprising change from your usual writing style just has me stymied, that's all. I meant to reread it from the beginning (again) to get used to this new change, and instead found myself re-reading "Burning Today." (I also re-read "A Final Embrace" while I was over there).

I love your writing, I just came into reading this with expectations for it to be one way and it was another - that is my fault. embarrased.gif
Olen
Sorry all, another delay after an unusually crazy week.

SubRosa - when I was writing hmi wanting some whisky made me think of Mímisbrunnr, so I decided to steal borrow it.

Grits - I'm glad you liked it, and I'm sure there'll be more streams, though not in this chapter I'm afraid (at least not ones you'd want to wash in).

mALX - Yes I changed to third person. There's pros and cons, it's much easier to head hop between sections in third person than first which works better for the group based piece I have in mind here. Equally Ferir is definitely the main and we'll be seeing most of it from his head. I'm glad the characters work for you as they're the point of this piece.

All - In the last part Ferir and Ruben reached the deep backcountry and started towards Carbo's Camp to get supplies. Ferir has misgivings however.



2.1 Carbo's Camp

Carbo’s camp sat like a rotting fruit in the bowl valley. They approached up the stream which ran through it. Ruben noted the grey sludge which lay in its bed and the foul smell and wondered what you could catch from the mingled bandits, smugglers and vagabond scum which had used it. The Cheydinhal guard knew about the place, and could have found it easily enough. There was no point though, the occupants would scatter and men would be lost. Better to keep it out here, the wilds were already dangerous. The guard had better things to deal with.

Except he wasn’t one, not any more. But I’ve always been a guard. The fact was simple, they’d thrown him out, and he’d never be welcome back. Would he be welcome in Cheydinhal again? He shook his head hard in the hopes the thought would leave him alone. He had friends, they’d gotten him out but he doubted even they would want to see him again. Ever. His mind probed the thought like a tongue in a broken tooth.

The beginnings of a path had developed. He forced his attention to the present. Ferir was nervous, he’d even tried to smarten up though Ruben doubted the man would agree. He certainly wouldn’t admit how tense he was, but it was in his movements, years as a guard had taught Ruben to see that. They had also taught caution and the nerves were contagious.

Him, entering Carbo’s fetching Camp. He’d have laughed a week before. Ferir had remained silent on questioning, more so than Ruben had come to expect. Something rattled him, that bothered Ruben.

“They’re watching us,” Ferir said it quietly without turning. “See that tree ahead? Don’t do anything rash. Archers.”

Dreck. Ruben followed in silence and tried not to let his seething mind show.

Ferir was correct. As they approached the clearing, far from natural judging by the rotten stumps, a bosmer stepped out from behind a large beech. He wore a velvet smoking jacket which had seen better days and a hat with an outlandish feather wedged in the brim. Ruben might have laughed but the nord and orc who flanked him left any humour crying behind the nearest tree. They towered over the tree-hugger, each had bodies which looked like a construction team may have been involved. Or at least a damned good alchemist, thought Ruben.

It was a moment before Ferir spoke. He sounded surprised. “Squire Aengoth, a good day.”

“That, Ferir, is for me to decide." The bosmer had the whiny voice of his kind. "There’s been wholly too many stories and too little contact from you.”

“I doubt Relthas would let you decide. Things have happened.”

“We had a deal,” the nord stepped forward threateningly at Aengoth’s words. Ruben cursed inwardly but noticed Ferir didn’t seem bothered.

He nodded, “We did. Things change. I don’t like repeating myself so why don’t you take us to Relthas, let the gentlemen sort this out.” The bosmer had turned an unhealthy colour. Ruben wouldn’t have been surprised to see steam when Ferir gave him a smile.

“When I was in Vvardenfell-“

“Spare me. If you want a drink I’ll be in Tashba’s later, but it appears you want to talk business. Poor show I must say.”

Ruben noticed the mockery of the bosmer’s tone but doubted Aengoth did. Surely it was deliberate. Either way it had the desired effect, the bosmer nodded. “Fine, follow me.”

They did. The trees on the far side of the clearing were just thick enough to obscure the camp, an expanse of tented structures which all looked like they had been temporary long ago with the occasional hut or cabin which looked a little more solid. They were arranged in a hodgepodge of colours, mainly faded and dirtied to shades of brown, and shapes which clustered around cooking fires or the stream. In the centre there was a peculiar building which looked like the lovechild of a privy, grown beyond any sane proportion, and a marquee, with a ship’s rigging thrown in for good measure. It was towards this they headed.

Their path through the mingled dwellings was a tortuous and often olfactory experience. Ruben wasn’t sure he’d ever seen anything quite like it. A pocket of what he assumed to be whores stood smoking outside one tent while the smell of skooma drifted from the next. A dozen musics mingled though the canvas - guitars, drums, lutes and dunmer singing. Unless someone was skinning a cat and had forgotten to kill it first. The effect was similar. Just as suddenly they were passing some scarred and armed men, still wearing battered armour, sharing out clothes and jewellery.

His lawman’s eye, developed by years on the beat, was overwhelmed in a deluge of crime. Drunk and disorderly vied with dealing and in at least two places soliciting. He thought a few counts of conspiring to corrupt public morals wouldn’t go amiss either. But this was Carbo’s Camp, this was where the criminals, the bandits, the nutters and the pushers mixed. The down and out rubbed shoulders with those running, and if the rumours were true no one much cared what from. But the rumours hadn’t held a hundredth part of what he saw. How much pain spread like an infection from this place? How far did it’s groping lines of malignancy reach like mould from a festering peach?

They never got to the central structure, the peculiar bosmer instead led them to a low wooden house. He nodded to the orc who threw the door open with a flourish. The nord stepped in and Aengoth followed.

“Serjo Relthas, I have brought Ferir and his escort.” He swept his hat off and bowed in a clatter of gold chain.

Ruben followed Ferir in and looked around the plain interior. Cheap wall hangings, a few chests and a thick rug by the fire. He could see a large bed through a crooked door opposite. A dunmer, the room’s only occupant, sat in an easy chair in the light of the window smoking a calabash pipe sized like a small incinerator. Otherwise he seemed normal, for the camp and particularly next to Aengoth. He could pass as a minor noble easily.

He surveyed them for a moment and raised an eyebrow, “I should hope not.”

Ferir shook his head. The eyebrow returned to its accustomed position.

“Well done Aegnoth. I have some hot gems I’ve cut a good deal for with the black bows, but I want them checked.”

“My pleasure. Have my shoes come back from the cobbler?” Only then did Ruben notice that the bosmer was barefoot.

“No, I believe the gilt parts are proving tricky. Now I must speak with my guests,” Relthas turned his attention firmly away from Aengoth.

He looked at Ferir for a time, Ruben suppressed the urge to shuffle. The place made him uneasy, and he didn’t know what was going on. Not enough. Then the gaze turned on him. The red eyes were unusually intense, almost penetrating. He held them, but was glad then the dunmer looked back to Ferir.

“I’ve heard disturbing rumours.”

“About?”

“Raj’arn’s company have vanished, I’m not sure what yet. Might be trading with the Commona, or the Altmer. I assume that’s why you didn’t deliver the goods.”

“Supply was part of it.”

“We’ll need compensation obviously." Relthas gave a half shrug, "But I know you well enough that I'd be willing to negotiate another deal.”

“You won’t get either.”

“Really?” Ruben didn’t like the mixture of curiosity and threat in the dunmer’s voice.

“You haven’t heard the latest.”

Relthas made a circle motion with his hand.

“We were shut down. Imperial agents stormed Sundew.”

Supirse flickered over the dunmer’s face. Ruben had the idea that it wasn't often found there. “Damn..." He paused, "I didn't know. What’s the damage?”

“That I know? Total. Except Teemva and maybe Torvas they’re all dead. The cave will be scoured. I’m double murder and jailbreak high on the wanted list. It’s done. We’re done, gone.” It came out in a torrent of words like bile the morning after.

Relthas was silent for a moment, he blinked and put the pipe down. It fell over spilling the smouldering contents, he didn’t seem to notice.

“Arvyn?”

Ferir opened his mouth then shut it and shook his head once. His eyes flickered to the floor.

“Sorry." The dunmer was quiet for a moment. "Look, don’t worry about us troubling you.” He stood and walked over to a chest and pulled out a sack. “I don’t mean to be insensitive but I know you need it. For old times if you must.” Ferir caught it with a clink. “That offer of a job still stands...”

"Cooking for you? The answer's still no, sorry."

Relthas frowned but didn't look surprised. "Think of the cash as an advance then, let me know if you start elsewhere or need a hand. I might be able to help. Anything else you need?"

“Just a drink.”

“You going to Tashba’s?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll let Senril know.”

“Thanks. And thanks for this,” Ferir held up the bag, “and well… everything.”

“That’s fine, if you ever need work you know where I am, oblivion, if you need a chat even. Now if you’ll excuse me a certain khajit needs dealt with.”
McBadgere
Helloo!!...*Waves*...

I like your story...Most excellent...Flows brilliantly...

QUOTE
Ruben might have laughed but the nord and orc who flanked him left any humour crying behind the nearest tree


Lol... laugh.gif ...

Loving it...*Applauds*...

Nice one... biggrin.gif ...

Ooooh...One nit towards the end...

QUOTE
Now if you’ll excuse me a certain khajit needs dealt with.


It makes my eyes ache... biggrin.gif ...Should that be "dealing with"?...Or "to be dealt with"?...
SubRosa
Carbo’s camp sat like a rotting fruit in the bowl valley.
Well now, isn't that nice? wink.gif

The showdown with the trio at the edge of the camp was interesting. As the last episode promised, Ferir clearly has unfinished business with some of the denizens. The camp itself - as befitting of one of your stories - is fetid sore upon the hide of Nirn.

I see Ferir obviously has a lot of history with Relthas as well. This time of the better kind. They seem to have been quite close, considering how quick the Dunmer was to give Ferir that traveling money. Not to mention what seemed like genuine sympathy over the death of Arvyn. Not the kind of things one normally associates with ruthless drug lords.

So next it looks like we are going to the bar, which I imagine is that big dreckhouse in the middle of the camp. And probably a showdown with the Bosmer Basil Rathbone.
haute ecole rider
And so we enter the squalor that is Carbo's Camp.

But where is Carbo? blink.gif wink.gif

Loved the confrontation with the barefoot Bosmer in the dandy's outfit.

One nit (really, the same thing multiple times): It's its when possessive, and it's when contracted from it is.

I really enjoyed seeing this from Ruben's standpoint. It's nice for a change to see a different POV. That's the problem with first-person POV stories.
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