The seventh chapter in the series. I hope you'll enjoy! Tome One is slowly coming to an end.
Songs of Cinder, Book VII: Embrace of Ashmires
Tedryn lay bloody on the dark floor, Bloodgrass slowly interweaving his cracked cuirass. He spent only a couple of minutes in the Deadlands, but it felt like a damned eternity to him. A pack of Dremora slowly surrounded the ill-fated Dunmer, with the Markynaz approaching him, ready to loot yet another victim of Mehrunes' clutches. Tedryn attempted to raise a hand, hoping to say his last words as his vision was becoming blurry and blinded by his own blood splatters. A thrust of a blade - and the pain paralyzed him, as he saw his own bloodied sword sticking out of his abdomen. He closed his eyes and made a deep breath.
"Ah, we do love playing with you mortals," a distorted voice said, before the half-dead Tedryn heard the footsteps. Another Dremora approached the Markynaz, who watched his prey's last movements.
"A second chance, perhaps?" the lesser Dremora asked.
"You have an insatiable desire for challenge rushing through your veins," Markynaz replied, chuckling, "A second chance seems to be a nice idea if you want to test your mettle. He might fight back once more, give birth to admiration in your soul as a clever rabbit does in a huntsman's one. Otherwise, he will die like a Churl."
"Fall into servitude of the Lord..."
"Later. For now, he may enjoy his second chance. Perhaps."
The trio surfed through the lands, riding towards Sadrith Mora in hopes to find a single intact structure on the way. A few farmhouses were not destroyed by a quick and unforgiving invasion, but the residents were too afraid to speak, only briefly mentioning hordes of Daedra being conjured around the neighborhood. When they finally reached Sadrith Mora, they were amazed by the sight before their eyes: the burnt fungus hardly took after Gateway Inn, the road was pierced by the spikes, and a thin black cloud was hovering above the desolate town. Tel Naga was just a pile of roots, and one would not believe there once was a magnificent Telvanni tower. The charred gate could not withstand a breeze, and fell, opening the passage for the three. Inside, corpses lay on the ground, on the broken rooftops, hung on the roots and by the walls. The dark red soil was sodden with blood. Tel Naga's collapsed stems blocked the road through a ruinous marketplace; the road to the right was clear enough, and Urjorahn went that way, hoping to at least find their house. They witnessed the sight of the nearby Wolverine Hall's watchtower dilapidating, the stones falling on the derelict Imperial buildings. The smoke from the tall columns made it harder to breathe, but they managed to inhale some fresh air coming from the coastal winds. Their home was, not surprisingly, destroyed like the rest of the buildings.
"Hummingtop Manor..." Yen sniffed.
"When did this one name the shack?" Urjorahn did not look upset about losing the house as much as Yen did, "Hummingtop? But why? Why?"
"It was a nice name for a house like this," the Dunmer replied, "Now, we lost all our money, it was in the basement-"
"You didn't move the gold to the tomb?! The Khajiit told you, over and over. Five. Times. One, two, three, four, five! Go clear the rubble, or we'll die with no pleasant ringing in our pockets!"
"Hold on," Llether said calmly, "House Redoran. Their warriors may be the last beacon of hope for Morrowind. We can join their ranks and try to drive off the Daedra."
"Redoran? Them honorable warrior types? What's up with Hlaalu, hmm?" the Khajiit raised his brows.
"Hlaalu is most likely to be dying off. The Empire, whom they welcomed, left them like traitors, to defend their beloved Cyrodiil." Llether looked around, "Can't blame them though, I heard they were hit harder than us."
The trio saw a couple of silhouettes behind the wall of smoke, clad in Bonemold by the looks of them, one pulling his wounded companion.
"Survivors?" Yen gasped.
The two Dunmer emerged from the smoke, the wounded one's cuirass missed one of the pauldrons while the second was mostly unscathed but drenched in blood. They came a bit closer to the trio, but then stopped, the wounded one pulled off his helm and glanced at Urjorahn.
"T-th-the c-cat!" he mumbled.
"Quiet, s'wit!" the second one said, "You. Who are you?"
"We are, uh, bards, traveling musicians from, err, Mournhold." Urjorahn replied, smiling and pointing at his drum, which rested on Limp's saddle.
"You bards picked a bad time to arrive on thrice cursed Vvardenfell. I don't believe you."
"Then why should you ask? We don't look like bards, obviously, n'wah." Yen uttered in anger, his hand about to grip his mace, "You expect help? Or you are here to ask your stupid questions?"
"Easy, easy," the Dunmer grinned, "Twin Lamp."
Yen's facial expression quickly turned into a surprised one.
"D-Da-Dalamus..." the wounded Dunmer coughed.
"Dalamus?" Urjorahn unsheathed his blade, "You? You? Dalamus? That Dalamus Moloth fellow?"
"G-get him-m..." Fadril whispered.
"Fadril! You guy must be Fadril, hmm? Poor old Dalamus cannot venture outside without his lovely brother, eh?"
"What are you talking about, you mad Khajiit?" Yen asked, still surprised.
"After Urjorahn's tail, hmm, huh? Huh? Oww..." the Khajiit looked over his shoulder.
"C-come on-n, D-Dalam-mus-s..."
"Please, be civil," Llether, who remained silent until this time, said.
"Keep your hands to yourself," Dalamus spitted, "Cat."
"Explain what happened here, Dalamus," Llether made a step forward, "You tell us what in Oblivion was that, and we help Fadril."
"Try talking sense into these, the wind cannot crack a rock. The Khajiit may settle with mortals' hash no worse than Merrunz," Urjorahn hissed.
"There is absolutely no need in such petty arguments, especially when we stand before a greater threat than you can imagine."
"I agree with the mage," Dalamus replied, "Tedryn is dead, Fadril. His goal was meaningless. His instructions cruel. We should move on. We just arrived in town when the ruckus started. The sky turned red, people trembled in fear of the... unknown. That was before armies of Daedra were summoned from a gate of sorts. They destroyed and killed everything and everyone on their path. Tedryn hopped into the fiery gate. Fadril was severely injured. I barely made it out alive after the Telvanni closed shut the damn portal. Daedra! I wonder what's next?"
"Dragons?" Urjorahn raised his ears and shrugged.
"Nonsense, son," Llether replied, "We should team up and head to Ald'ruhn. If there are any survivors, we'll help with anything we can."
"You sound like you face the Daedric Forces of Destruction every day, old pal," Yen stated.
"I have seen things worse than that."
The guar carriage now housed a small party of five adventurers, willing to defend their homeland no matter what. This time, Dalamus drove the wagon; Yen healed the heavily breathing Fadril, Llether watched the back of the cart, while Urjorahn was playing the drums, looking around in case the party stumbles upon an Oblivion Gate. Fortunately, no Gates were on their way to Ald'ruhn, only the aggressive Kwama near the abandoned egg mines dotting the landscape along the road. The countryside felt empty to the travelers; Morrowind, a province with a hard past of nearly endless turmoil, now invaded by the trouble from beyond. True, it seemed to be a curse. The wagon occasionally came across the bent signposts, ruins of the Temple's sites, with empty Gates in a shape of an "Oht" standing on them, Ancestral Tombs with their front doors open, and the corpses of those unlucky enough to cross blades with the invaders. Waning Secunda appeared in the sky by the time they reached the ash wastes. Urjorahn stretched himself and yawned, before a red light distracted him. A portal, the same portal in the shape of an "Oht", the Oblivion Gate, just a few metres away from their wagon. The Khajiit shoved Yen and Llether and pointed at the Gate, which was sending a unit of Xivilai to patrol the empty Ashlands. Dalamus turned the guar and slowly rode towards the Xivilai, giving a sign to the others to prepare for a battle. Suddenly, the Gate started to tremble, and a well-armed Dunmer emerged from the fiery portal, accompanied by an Imperial girl in black robes and a dozen of Redoran soldiers, as the Gate exploded in the same red light, leaving only the ruins behind. The Redoran army charged into battle, slaying Xivilai with ease as the Daedra did not expect an attack from behind, when the party jumped out of the wagon and into the blaze, another Oblivion Gate opening right behind them. Dremora fell out of the Gate, advancing to deliver an unexpected strike as the Redoran soldiers did. The dark night sky was illuminated by the light of the Gate, the gouts and streams of flames that flew in every direction, and the blasts of magicka. Several Xivilai met their end at the tip of Urjorahn's bloodstained shortsword, as he was overwhelmed with thoughts of fighting in the midst of carnage and the feeling of a bond between him and the unholy assailants. The ensued fight raised swirls of dust and ash that was fluttering with every strike of a blade and the fall of defeated combatants. The Redoran lost nearly half of its troops, but in the end, the mortals finished the battle victorious, yet weakened. The Dunmer, who turned out to be one of the Redoran Masters, lowered his sword arm and placed his once shiny shield on his back, about to greet and grate those who aided him in battle.
"We owe you a drink, huh?" the Master smiled, "Hlormaren Redoran, at your service. Your element of surprise and little remorse for the foul creatures are impressive."
"I'm Callonia," the Imperial lass said, before reaching out to Hlormaren and pointing at House Telvanni's crest on the Khajiit's scarf.
"Telvanni, eh? Your House decided to stay away from the troubles of its own homeland. Hlaalu is weak, and the whole burden is on our shoulders."
"Affairs of Telvanni have nothing to do with our own concerns," Llether exclaimed.
"We're going to need building up quite an army if we are to stop Mehrunes Dagon, now," Dalamus added, handing an open, half-empty bottle of sujamma to his wounded brother.
"Ald'ruhn still stands," Callonia replied, "There, the last unit of our House is situated. A few more volunteers signed up to defend Vvardenfell. From there, we will travel south to Balmora. I hope it is not sacked yet."
Now, the number of travelers increased to ten, united by a single purpose: to drive out the Daedra. Urjorahn, Yen and Llether were now part of something bigger than they could have imagined, as the fate of the District was in their hands. As they wage war against the Prince of Destruction, Velar casts his soul snare and strenghtens himself while slumbering in the dark waters of his realm, waiting for a perfect time to strike.
The party set up camp by the road just north of Balmora at the early break of dawn that shone upon the town's watchtowers, seen behind the hills. The Redoran soldiers took the roles of guards, interchanging every couple of hours while everyone slept in the tents. Everyone except Fadril and Dalamus.
"Ever wondered what happened to Brenur plantation?" Fadril asked, easing the pain with a cup of sujamma.
"Burned to the ground? Abandoned? Overrun by the Argonian slaves? Who knows."
"I agree with your opinion about Tedryn, but his goal had a meaning nonetheless. Remember about the tailless one."
Sunlight broke through the tent's fabric, and the brothers' faces were not shrouded anymore.
"Tedryn only wished to get rid of him... The tailless is a nuisance, he said..." Dalamus replied.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I have a strange feeling about the sod. Like his presence on Vvardenfell is no mere coincidence, you know. And the words of Tedryn... Thinking about who the cat is gives me the chills!"
"Hate to admit, but I'm glad the slippery bastard is finally dead. High time to cut our connections with, err, friends from Camonna Tong. They are as nasty as Brenur."
"I always wanted to live a more peaceful life as a stablemaster. Tending the steeds, that sort of thing."
"Well, I look for something more... fascinating!" Fadril laughed, "Something that makes one's blood boil is my thing for sure! By the way, Dalamus?"
The Dunmer turned his head to him, sleepy and gaping.
"What about the tailless? Should we, you know, uh, tell him about that crap?"