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CHAPTERS (I) (II) (III) (IV) (V) (VI) (VII)

Chasing Shadows is released, and that means more action, and half of the first tome is finished. I hope you'll enjoy, and tell me what you think!

Songs of Cinder, Book V: Chasing Shadows

Book06a

"The slave pens must be ready once the deal with Camonna Tong is made. A cavern underneath Sadrith Mora is the perfect place. Clear all the rubble and cut off the roots hanging on the ceiling and along the passageways. The caravan is scheduled to arrive in town by 25th of Frostfall, make sure every slave is delivered, especially the tailless one." Urjorahn could not read the rest of the letter as words were erased to the point of being unreadable. He turned his back to Athys, who was leaning on the wooden table opposite of the prison cell's door.

"Khajiit is waiting for explanations." Urjorahn said.

"So am I," Athys replied, his look changing to an angry one, "I guess Gothren himself wanted me to end up here. Or was it Neloth? Speak, cat."

"Urjorahn only needs to know where the note is from. He is deeply sorry for your, err, current state, but the shadows are tricky, no? Mortals should keep their both eyes open when dealing with high ranks. The angry Dunmer surely would not want any more trouble, hmm?"

"I don't know who the sender is myself. Now get off my back."

"No Moon Sugar, but perhaps Urjorahn may sweeten your sentence, mortal. In exchange for information. Win-win right here, Khajiit assures you."

The Spellwright shrugged.

"This one won't have any troubles with having your arse held too tight by the guards, and Urjorahn will walk away a happier Khajiit."

"Well, nearly a moon ago the n'wah told me to meet him by some ancestral tomb in the Ashlands. Give me a few minutes, cat..." Athys sat on the disheveled bed, placing the lantern closer so that his face was seen better, "I think it belonged to Veleth family. Yes, Veleth Ancestral Tomb. Due west of the Ghostfence, off the beaten path down the ashen hills, sitting on a dune. He told me that I'll be his eyes in Sadrith Mora, and handed me a purse of gold. I bet Lord High Magus himself wouldn't reward you any better."

"So, Urjorahn senses some connection between this, an invisible thread that envelops the events. This one has been interested in the tailless Khajiit, hmm?"

"Yes. I guess it is you, cat."

"Warm sands then, mortal. Urjorahn thanks this one for assistance. You'll notice that your, uh, time in the prisons will get better in no time. And try not to get yourself in any of these schemes, trust the Khajiit. No good comes out of the shadows, a wrong step aside and one may never see the light of day, mortal." Urjorahn turned and slowly went towards the large round door, holding his sword's scabbard.

"Soon, filthy Magisters will see Athys Falen break free again." The Spellwright chuckled, raising his arms.

"Break free? No, the Khajiit only had arranged a few furnishings for the cell. Urjorahn wants the poor Dunmer to relax and get comfortable. As comfortable as possible, hmm?" the Khajiit smiled as Athys quite literally growled in bewilderment.

The next few days were spent on packing bags and further training in swordplay and arcane arts, as Yen and Urjorahn prepared for the forthcoming trip to the Ashlands. They set off in the early morning, after the guar saddles were fastened and a new varnished carriage was attached, full of knapsacks, chests, a couple of packed bedrolls and a tent. Yen was driving through the plains, while Urjorahn played the drums in the carriage, humming a tune softly to the beat and lifting his companion's spirit, who held his mace's handle steady in case the travelers stumble upon unwanted passers. The closer they were to to the ash wastes, the more scathecraw and ash scatters were along and on the stone road, and the Red Mountain's peak was seen more clearly in spite of the clouds of ash that cloaked the volcano. The air was getting more bitter, and it was harder to breathe. Yen did come across a few twisted, ashen zombies, believing them to be victims of the dead and gone Blight. After a few swings that kept the foul beasts away from the carriage, and pricking the mounts forward, the two managed to escape, riding along the stone obelisks and down the hills. Urjorahn only managed to get a few glances at the Temple banners that were hanging by the signposts and above the Ghostfence's wide passageway. Soon, a crypt's pillars were seen standing by the ash dunes; Veleth Ancestral Tomb's entrance was nearly buried by the continuous ash storms, but the front door itself was quite clean, and there was little ash, as if someone swept it no more than an hour ago. After getting out of the carriage and leaving the guar by the entrance, Urjorahn pushed the old door. A narrow coridor, poorly lit and engulfed in ash, was before him, as he proceeded down into the tomb, Yen watching his back and holding a lantern.

"Welcome," an eerie elderly voice whispered, echoing in the hallways. Urjorahn looked about: nothing except the ash and the offerings in wooden bowls.

"Come, come. Deeper," the voice echoed once more, "Deeper the tomb."

Dark figures appeared on the other end of a chamber, emitting black and red smoke and a strange sound that echoed the way the voice did. Yen blinked, and the corpses emerged from the ash, giving out the same smoke and howling silently. The dark dwellers turned to Urjorahn and Yen, who were showing some signs of fear but were still ready for a fight. The figures disappeared in a reddish portal, leaving the dirty work to the reanimated ash, as the corpses advanced to the tomb's guests, with rotten weapons held in their ashen hands. Yen cried, holding his mace aloft above his chest, and delivered the first and deadly blow before a stream of flames followed his swing from behind, incinerating the foes. After a few incantations, Urjorahn could not manage the flow of magicka, as the supply was running dry, and he unsheathed his blade, sticking to the shadows cast by the pillars and columns of the chamber. The ashen corpse's strike was evaded and blocked by Yen, who in turn stepped aside to let the Khajiit thrust a blade from above, as the latter managed to climb up to the ceiling. The fight ended after the last clash of swords, with the adventurers emerging victorious, standing by the still burning ash piles. The massive door in front of them opened itself, with the fire pits along the hallway igniting one by one, providing enough light for the guests.

"Impressive," the voice echoed once more, "Proceed. Further."

Urjorahn took the lead, Yen following right behind him, as the thin clouds and mist of black smoke were swirling on the floor and by the walls. Soon, they could see a sealed door in the end of the coridor; the seal was inscribed with Daedric lettering, the outlines similar to those that were haunting Urjorahn's dreams. For some unholy reason, he knew how to open the door, and he approached the seal.

"Ah, but this is very familiar to Urjorahn. Almost suspiciously so. A few more letters need to be added for the puzzle to be complete, as with the picture: more details born on the canvas, and the the portal is conjured beyond the scenery. But the Khajiit needs a charcoal. Yen, Yen, give the charcoal."

"By Vivec, I don't think this is a good idea, Urjorahn." Yen replied, handing his companion a piece of charcoal with a hint of unwillingness.

The Khajiit scribbled a few letters on the bottom left piece of the seal: Oht, Hefhed, Xayah, Lyr, Yahkem, and Oht again. The seal's outlines started glowing with red light, and Urjorahn stepped back to witness the round door open, pieces moving in circular directions and ash showering from the lit cracks. A half-collapsed chamber was beyond the the door, a Velothi tower standing at the center. The two went down the the ramp but could not come close to the tower, as if an invisible barrier was preventing them from approaching.

"Greetings, Urjorahn," the voice echoed.

"May this one introduce himself? Khajiit does not like talking to strangers."

"I know what led you here," the voice replied, "I am Velar. Velar Veleth. The one who purchased you, yes. But the target appeared to be as elusive... as me! I appreciate your moves, serjo. You move closer to your goal, eliminating pawns on your way with little to no effort! I know what happened to Athys Falen, and I admire your tactics. However, it is high time for you to die, as only one player will be a victor in this game. Fare thee well, young fools." the voice laughed, with the echoes heard in every corner of the chamber. A red light emerged from the tower's top, ascending through the hole above, before it was no more, and the adventurers could see a clear night sky. Few more corpses went out of the adjacent hallways buried in the ash, before the two managed to defeat them in a lengthy battle of steel and spells.

"Velar?" Yen looked amazed, "The Defiler? Himself? He must have been dead for decades..."

The barrier vanished, and Urjorahn could enter the tower. They could see a vast library, with the shelves bending under stacks of old tomes, a cozy study and and enchanting workshop near the lectern, ash-covered chests that were once an expensive feature of a nobleman's bedchambers. As Urjorahn dug his way through the library, blowing the dust off the books, he came across a collection that interested him the most; a Scroll of Shadow, telling stories of Azra Nightwielder, the "shadowmage", his feats, his advances in "Shadow Magic". A few letters were laying under the scrolls and tomes, still sealed and thus possibly unread by Velar, whoever he might be.

Urjorahn removed the seals. The sender was Llether Veleth, who happened to be his nephew according to the letters. He begged his uncle to stop fulfilling the foul plan before mentioning "the tailless one" yet again. A thought to summon Llether to his aid went through Yen's mind the moment Urjorahn finished reading all of the letters.

Together, they composed a letter, sitting in a dusty study; Urjorahn wished Velar had done some cleaning since he resided here. Llether's location, the castle of Twilight Hall, rumored to be somewhere between Skyrim and the sandy dunes of Volenfell, was signed at the bottom of every letter Urjorahn read. The two left for nearby Ald'ruhn, the seat of House Redoran, and stayed at the local cornerclub, looking for a courier desperate enough to deliver the message to such a distant land. Luckily, they found one, drinking bottles of mazte by one of the tables near the poorly lit corner. All they had to do is show a fat purse and the letter itself, and the courier was on his way, taking a last sip of mazte. The journey was long, through the ash storms, the unforgiving snow, the twisted landscape of the Reach so alien to the citizen of Ald'ruhn. No more than a year passed, and Llether arrived on Vvardenfell, eager to uncover the mystery of his accursed uncle. The shadowmage went along the silent coridor and into the main chamber, a large satchel resting on his back, scrolls sticking out of it. He went down the ramp, as the two adventurers stood by the tower's entrance, waiting for their guest.

"So, the tailless one... Hmm, Velar is indeed alive, Urjorahn," Llether said after he greeted the two, "And I have some, uh, bad news for you, Khajiit."

Urjorahn made a startled face.

"Velar, my thrice damned uncle, Boethia take him, is your ancestor. That is a complicated story, Urjorahn."

"Khajiit does not understand how screwed up one might be, being a Dunmer, to impregnate a Khajiit, hmm? Perhaps a more romantic backstory might appeal to Urjorahn."

"For now, this is not as important as putting an end to this plague. Velar, the Defiler, he made a pact with the Daedra Prince. Quite a feat, considering that this prince is Hermaeus Mora. Forbidden knowledge is what attracted Velar all his life, and, as you may have seen, beyond death. Velar cheated death itself, by gaining immortality like that of a Daedra. He shaped a rugged, twisted plane within the waters of Oblivion, that's where he and his minions feast upon the souls of the chosen. And you are next."

Urjorahn made a strange sound in his throat.

"I guess you can use every tool at your disposal, Urjorahn. Perhaps I can show you a thing or two about Shadow Magic, huh?" Llether smiled.

Urjorahn proved to be a bery able student, as the art of bending shadows to one's will is no easy task, given that the power of Shadow Magic could rival the capabilities of the Elder Scrolls themselves.

"Stepping through shadows is so far the easiest practice," Llether said, as he translocated from one corner of the chamber to the other in a shadowy portal, "You must understand what flows beyond the place you want to go, inhale it, and send your soul through a barrier that is Mundus. Perceive the shadows. If you can make it once, it'll be a matter of time before this practice will become routine. Understanding of how these shadows work is, however, difficult, but if you're willing to learn, this obstacle shall be no more. Our next lesson is Shadow Siphoning, a practice similar to translocation, but here, a foe's lifeforce acts as the target instead of the place, when you feel it flowing through one's veins, when you feel the soul's power pumping the magicka. Feel your own. "Pierce" the target open and drain the lifeforce. It takes a lot of concentration, you see. Shadows are not merely an absence of light, they are reflections from a different realm, an alternate world. To understand that connection means to understand Shadow Magic."