A.D.W.D. Chapter 21: Shadows and Dust





    As you will it, so it shall be.




    …amari  …Amari  …Amari! Wake up! Stay with me!”


    Each shout was a jolt, raising Amari further from an abyss as dark as the Void. Slowly the world came into focus around her. The three images shaking her merged into one with a face half tan, half a mottled purple and black. One side twisted in worry, the other immobile with swelling.


    “You look like shit.” Amari rasped. It felt as if all the water had been burnt from her body. Every muscle cramped and her head felt as if it would explode at any second.


    Trebonde laughed in relief and collapsed back onto his haunches, “You’re one to talk.”


    The corners of her mouth tilted up, “I do feel like shit.”


    Trebonde nodded in agreement while he gingerly rubbed the smashed side of his face. “I think something broke.”


    Amari carefully propped herself upright and reached a hand towards his face. She tried to summon her healing magic, but her power only flickered across her fingertips. It felt as if she was trying to push more water into an already full bucket. Her burnt-out nerves flared in protest and she collapsed gasping.


    Trebonde closed a hand about hers. “No, don’t. You shouldn’t be – we  shouldn’t be alive right now.”


    The memories came rushing back: Logrolf, the Nameless One, Molag Bal, Boethiah, the shrine… her mother. Now there was only a quiet piece in the depths of the cursed house. It would be easy to believe everything was only a horrid dream, except that the crater in the center of the room gave proof to the reality. A ray of dawn’s light slipped through a break in the ceiling, highlighting the aftermath.


    Amari felt the calloused hand drift apart from her own and looked up to see Trebonde already stepping away. He bent to retrieve the Mace of Molag Bal from the shrine’s scattered dust. Held aloft in the light, it shone with an unnatural power. Twisted and barbed, the ebony metal was a tool designed to inflict only agony. Veins of green coursed throughout, lighting the visage of the artifact’s two grinning skulls. They had fed well; they were pleased.


    “What are you going to do with that?” Amari croaked with a shudder.


    I have never felt so much power as what is contained within this vessel,” Trebonde whispered with a cold glint before continuing in his usual lilt, “I imagine it’ll be worth a fortune! We’ll sell it, and then live as kings in some land far away from all this.” 


    Away from this; nothing sounded better to Amari.


    “Sell? To who?”


    “I have a contact in Winterhold with a special interest in the otherworldly.” He wrapped the mace in a bundle, then tied it across his back. “Let’s leave this place, the sooner the City of Silver and Blood is behind us, the better.”


    Amari couldn’t agree more, nor could Scuttles. The beam of surface light briefly cut out, shrouding the room in darkness. From the black two orbs of purple fire emerged and skittered across the cavern ceiling. Trebonde jumped back with start and the squirrel stopped to hiss at him before dropping into Amari’s lap.


    “Scuttles!” She held the familiar before her. The creatia from the skull rune - Va Moraistarn her mother’s words echoed - had stained the bones black and the runes flickered in dim busts from its wounded side.


    Amari turned to Trebonde, “How long –” she paused to wet her mouth to no avail, then continued with a swelling tongue, “— was I out.”


    He shrugged, “Twenty minutes?”


    Twenty minutes, plus the battle before the essence of their soul had been pouring from those broken runes. She wrapped the squirrel in her cheesecloth necklace and began to ease the familiar back into hibernation, but she felt resistance, a since of urgency.


    “What did you see?” She asked and reached through her link to the familiar’s mind:


    Ascending a tunnel to the light. Hunger burns, limbs weaken, vision blurs. Light expands to a sky surrounded by trees of stone. Tall Ones nesting within stir and rise. Each sealing much needed food inside. Memories of teeth and claw; hoard and gnaw; these no longer sustain. Drinks of light clouding life retain what earthly means could longer. Standing the Tall Ones are strong, but resting are not.


    A feast within reach, but another came sooner: a specter of hungry maw. These wraiths are known; these wraiths are weak. Claws alight and with a single leap, the shade is no more; strength returns.


    Noise. Outside. “…Reach …to… Forsworn!” A spirit ascends. Tall ones gather. Chaos roils; resting ones rise. Hide; to the shadows. To a shadow that smiles back. To a shadow that offers food, too much, it burns. The shadow is a lie. Run.


    Amari gasped at the revelation. Trebonde questioned her with a look. She pointed up and rasped, “Boethiah… riot.”


    He aimed his ear towards the crevice in the ceiling and sure enough, distant yelling could be heard. “We can’t stay here any longer; we also need to get water before you collapse.  I’m not going to carry you again, not after last time.”


    Amari nodded and put Scuttles back to sleep with a stern warning, Don’t eat the tall ones! …unless they start it.


    Trebonde still ended up all but carrying her as she struggled up the steps. At the door they donned cloaks and entered the fray. The clamor outside hit Amari like sledgehammer and she burrowed into Trebonde’s side against the pain. Blind and deaf, she let him guide her through the mob. One of the city-folk fanned the flames from atop a merchant stall in the plaza. Below him the bodies of a young woman and a Forsworn grew cold.


    “Good people of Markarth! How many innocents must die before we act! This beautiful woman butchered in the streets, for what! For the ‘Reach’? No, for Silver! Yesterday our blessed priestesses revealed the Forsworn King was under their tender care! Have we seen his head yet?”


    “NO!” The mob roared back.


    All eyes were on the speaker, including the guards trying to push their way through the mob. Trebonde leaned Amari against the city walls and whispered, “Stay here, it seems they left their stalls unattended.”


    He flashed a grin then ran between the market stalls stuffing a sack with produce and meats. Amari pressed her throbbing head against the cool stone and tried not to black out. The speaker’s voiced pierced the fog threatening to swallow her consciousness:


     “They say the temple is lying! Would our priestess lie to us?”




    “Would the Silver-Blood scum?”




    “You know this yet do nothing? This is why our dreams are plagued at night! Why we wake so tired. It’s the Divines! Cursing us for us for our idealness—“


    A guard broke through the mob and reached for the instigator. “That’s enough right there citizen! There are no Forsworn. You’re coming with me.”


    The rebel swung his leg in a kick that nearly tore off the guard’s head. “He’s one of them! Bought and owned by the Silver-Bloods! Even he defames our priestesses; accusing them of false tongues. I’m tired of their deceit! Their tyranny! Are you?”




    “Then let the streets run red with Silver-Blood!”




    Amari felt something grab her arm and jolted awake.


    “Time to go!” Trebonde hissed and drug her out of the city gates as the guards left their post to face the mob. She cast a final look behind her and saw the mob rushing into a line of guards. Steel met, blood flowed, and the air was filled with screams of rage and death. The speaker’s shadow moved of its own accord to face Amari; its face split into a smile and once more Amari saw into the gates of Oblivion. Then the city gates slammed shut and with it the chaos of the city.


    Trebonde and Amari stumbled past the outlying farms and didn’t stop until they reached the stream cutting the line of the hold’s border. Both collapsed into the water and drank to bursting with the sounds of horns and rioting echoing in the distance.


    Never had water ever tasted so good in her life. Amari couldn’t get enough. She knelt in the middle and let the water rush over her and straight into her mouth. Even after her stomach could hold no more, she continued to splash handfuls of water into mouth only to have it run back out. More than a few splashes later, she realized what she was doing and started to laugh. A few chuckles at first, then uncontrollably. Everything pouring out once and soon Trebonde was laughing with her, but then the laughs turned to sobs.


    Trebode waded through the water and set a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t look up, but took comfort in the gesture.


    “It’s this stream. This will be the fourth time I’ve crossed it. Each time I am someone new, but it never changes! Listen.”


    Surrounded by water, the horn blares and cries of insurrection were muted. Their world was reduced to only the stream’s bubbling flow; serene. 


    “The first time it protected me from the wraiths; the second, I wanted to kill it, I hated how happy it sounded; the third, I wanted it to kill me. I tried to kill myself Trebonde! I just wanted it to all end…”


    He exhaled and collapsed into the water next to her. He pulled he head to his shoulder and patted her hair while she let it all out. Eventually no more tears would come and Trebonde spoke:


    “Each time I took a new name, I thought I was killing my old self. Reborn anew, free of my past, my sins, but no, He showed me for the fool I was. One by one he seized my names, showing the weakness held within each, until finally I lay prostrate under His will with my soul bare. Nameless, I bore his judgment. When you came back, I was broken. I would have done his bidding without thought. Coming back was the stupidest thing you could have done, but I’m glad you did.”


    She smiled up at him, “Sorry, but I was going to leave you. Right over there.”


    She laughed at his expression. They had collapsed south of the bridge, so she pointed upstream to the bank north of it.


    “I see it now. That was where the priest charmed me. I didn’t even feel it, but I should have known. I had even just seen him cast an illusion spell…”


    Trebonde nodded, “Illusionists are a subtle type. They make you want to believe them. The Waterfront vampires used it often, but I’d grown lax in watching for the signs here. So, the fourth crossing, how do feel now?”


    Amari reflected on that a minute before responding, “I want to be the stream.  How does it wind through this nightmare and never change who it is?”


    “I don’t know that and I don’t know why the gods have taken such an interest in you, but I’ll tell you this:” He stood up proudly with water raining from his clothes. “I shall bestow upon you all my knowledge and help you ‘obtain’ what few scraps I do not know. We got played hard this time; let’s return the favor!”


    Amari laughed as Trebonde helped hoist her up. “And how do you plan to do that?”


    “Because that is as I will it!”


    “Then so it shall be.”


    Thundering hooves broke through their moment. A cloud of dust billowed behind the rider as he spurred his horse into a gallop away from the hold. As the rider grew closer, the ram horned sigil and green of the Markarth guards came into view. He had lost his helm and blood flowed freely from his brow. The two parties traded a confused glance, then he disappeared down the path leading east.


    Trebonde stroked his beard that had started growing in. “It must be going badly if the city is sending couriers. Come on, let’s put some more distance between us and it.”


    They sloshed out of the stream and followed the courier’s trail at a much slower pace.


    “Where’s Winterhold?” Amari asked.


    “All the way on the other side of the country and a bit north.”


    “That far! It’ll take forever to get there! Don’t you know someone closer? Should we even sell something like that artifact? Can’t we destroy it?”


    “So many questions,” he feigned exasperation, “Very few have the resources to buy it and won’t execute us for having it. As for destroying it, no mortal weapon can harm a Daedric artifact, so unless you want to summon a Prince again…”


    Amari glanced behind her to the city. She could only imagine how much blood now ran in the gutters. She shuddered. No, she did not want to go through that again.


    “Don’t worry; they’re a bunch of reclusive book worms up there. We let them have it and they’ll spend the next few centuries studying it in some musty room. I can’t think of a safer place to hide it away.”


    “Bookworms, magic…” Threads of memory slowly connected, “There’s a college in Skyrim; is that where we’re going!”


    Trebonde grinned at her enthusiasm. “Yep. According to them, they are the best in all matters arcane and dedicated to all pursuits of knowledge.”


    Amari double-timed her pace. When she saw Trebonde wasn’t keeping up, she spun to start jogging backwards and called out, “What are you waiting for! Let’s hurry!”


    He shook his head and trotted after her. They kept that pace, following the road as it bent north to follow the river for nearly an hour before collapsing.


    “Karthewasten has to be over the next rise!” Amari panted.


    Trebonde laughed, also panting, “We barely passed the halfway mark.”


    Amari groaned, “How is that even possible? It didn’t seem this far the other way!”


    “Speak for yourself,” He growled back, he still keenly remembered having to haul her over his shoulder the whole journey. “Let’s make camp in the mountains here.”


    Amari nodded. It wasn’t even noon yet, but both were exhausted. They hiked off the road and into the mountains until the found a rock bluff out of sight they could hunker under.


    “See if you can set up a fire ring, I’ll go gather some wood.” Trebonde tasked Amari and she numbly nodded now that her enthusiasm had been curbed by fatigue.


    Trebonde returned with a large bundle of branches in his arms to find Amari sitting in the middle of a circle of rocks. He dropped the wood and cast a questioning look at her.


    “What? I didn’t want to move.” Amari said, then picked up a branch. She inspected the mashed and torn ends and returned the same look.


    Trebonde hefted the Mace of Molag Bal and defended himself, “Hey, this thing sucks at chopping wood! Now get out of there; you’d make terrible kindling!”


    Amari rolled out of the circle. “You used that to chop wood!? I think that’s a first in history…”


    “Yeah, yeah, I’m a real pioneer,” He muttered as he started sorting the branches, then called out:


    “Mind prepping some of that food? Hold the poison.”


    “Not funny…”


    He grinned, “Maybe a little?”


    Amari’s stern face cracked, “maybe a little.”


    She spilled the contents from Trebonde’s stolen larder. Her mouth immediately started to water at the spread of fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, wrapped meats, and a few handfuls of jewelry. That was until she took stock of the rest of their supplies, which was nothing.


    “Umm, we don’t have any pots or pans to cook with.”


    Trebonde was now glaring at a stack of unlit kindling. “Or flint.”


    Amari lit up, literally. She extended her hand to shoot a gout of flame at the kindling, only to have a sputtering fire spark out. She doubled her efforts and with a furrowed brow, she managed to force enough of the Aetherius through her body’s resistance to start the kindling.


    “Ha hah! Nice trick!” Trebonde exclaimed.


    Amari collapsed and sobbed, “Why can’t I cast?”


    “You just did…”


    “But it should have been easy! I’m broken…”


    Trebonde rubbed the stump of his wrist at a loss. “Maybe you’re just tired.”


    “I’ve been tired before.”


    “Tired from channeling a God and destroying a Daedric Shrine?”


    “Well no…”


    “Then don’t worry about it ‘til morning.”


    Trebonde tossed her a tomato, ending the conversation. She bit into the fruit and savored the juices as they ran down her chin, but how could she ‘not worry about it’? She felt crippled without magic. She watched as Trebonde fed the flickering flames to a fire with his one hand. How did he cope? He actually was crippled. Cope or die; was that all it came down to? Amari stared into the growing flames; well she wasn’t dead. She felt the fire on her face, the sun on her back, and the crisp mountain breeze; she was still alive! And safe. For the first time in days, she felt the tension leave her shoulders.  Fatigue rushed through her with a warm shudder and her eyelids grew heavy.


    “Eat first.”


    Amari startled awake. She swore she had only blinked, but Trebonde was now pulling the Daedric mace from the fire. Strips of cooked meat hung from the spikes and sliced apples and onion rings were caramelized on top of the flanges. He bit off a dangling strip of meat and waved the mace in front of Amari. She tentatively took a piece of meat and her fingers brushed the black metal. It was only warm to the touch, but she felt a jolt of power.


    “Is it alright to eat off of this? The faces are scowling now too.”


    Trebonde peered closer at the demonic skulls engraved into the artifact. The metal had indeed morphed from a savage grin to a look of fury.


    “That is… disturbing. So these artifacts really are alive; it doesn’t look very happy.” He held the mace up to face one of the skulls, “What? You don’t want to work for your keep? Well I may not be the champion you wanted, but I’m the one you deserve.”


    Amari giggled and then dug into the food. Hunger overcame any doubts. “What type of meat is this?”


    Trebonde looked at the wrapper, “Long Pork.”


    “I don’t remember seeing any pigs.”


    “Maybe there were more farms down that path that forked before the entrance.” They both shrugged and continued eating in silence for some time.


    Trebonde cleared his throat. “So how did you escape that shrine and what is that?”


    He pointed with an apple slice at the bones wrapped in Amari’s necklace. She reflexively grabbed the pouch and a barrier split through the easy atmosphere.


    “Sorry, it’s too soon.” Trebonde apologized.


    Amari closed her eyes and exhaled. When she opened them, she spoke with a conviction that startled Trebonde.


    “No. If I hide from it, He wins.”


    She removed her necklace and unfolded the cheese cloth before her. She traced the runes of the stained black bones the sack contained lovingly with her finger.


    “He’s my familiar; we’re bound in mind and soul. Everything he sees, I see; everything he feels, I feel. Long ago my mother carved these runes into the bones to protect us; now he’s the only thing I have left from that life. Binding Scuttles was an accident, but now I see that even then she knew the world I’d opened myself to. In the end, she sacrificed herself to protect me from it…”


    Trebonde shifted uncomfortably. “Sorry, I know she-“


    “Was killed by your clan of bandits? That was before you joined and she’d lost her soul long before then.” Her eyes turned cold. “Doesn’t matter anymore; they’re all dead now.”


    Trebonde wondered when the first time his eyes turned like that was, but he couldn’t remember anymore. Amari lifted the skull and looked at the spiraled rune.


    “Do you know what Va Moriastarn means?”


    Trebonde shook his head, puzzled. “No, but it sounds like one of the Mer languages. Where’d you hear that?”


    “I don’t know what happened at the shrine, but when this rune woke and I saw her… my mother. That’s what she called it.”


    “How? Her spirit is still here?” Trebonde shot a glance over his shoulder. True, her murder was before his time, but the thought of her vengeful spirit on the loose still terrified him. He had never believed the crazy stories the veterans of that battle whispered: lighting the forest on fire with a glace, summoning hordes of demons to possess the dead, wielding destruction as if one of the Daedra, even thralling her own husband’s corpse to use as a shield. But after surviving everything with her daughter and seeing the weapon she had turned a bloody squirrel into, those stories could be true…


    “No… she’s in Oblivion, Apocrypha.” Amari murmured.


    “Wait Oblivion! That rune took you between planes?” Oh, her mother was only in Oblivion and casually creating Gates after her death. So much better! The power to travel between Planes… the knowledge to do so! He always researched his marks, so Apocrypha, Realm of Forbidden Knowledge, was not a new subject to him.


    The pieces of Amari’s past were starting to fall into place for Trebonde, but so far they only framed the board of a much larger puzzle. If Hermaeus Mora was involved, there was no telling how long they had all already been pawns or how far his web extended. Trebonde looked to his stump that still throbbed with phantom pain, if this was part of Mora’s plan, he’d personally kick that tentaclly mass right in its all-seeing eye!


    “I guess so,” Amari answered indifferently; Trebonde was so caught up in his inner monologue, he almost forgot what he asked, but she curled up next to the fire and, now with a full stomach, fell asleep before he could press any further.


    Trebonde was left to stew in his thoughts instead. Molag Bal had said the Dragonborn was Hermaeus Mora’s champion and it had been that man whom had come for the Black Book.


    Who had told me about the Book, Trebonde wondered. A passing woodland man had dropped a rumor about an ancient ruin. Something about the man’s word struck a chord with Trebonde then and he knew he had to follow the lead. The Dragonborn was known for hiding his treasures in heavily guarded ruins and caves, and it was every treasure hunter’s dream to claim such a cache. Trebonde had thought he struck gold, but what if it had been Fate? Although why would the Prince lead him to the book only to have his champion reclaim it? He drifted off to sleep while the sun was still high in the sky and questions looped in his head.




     A soft scritching sound woke Amari. She blearily opened her eyes to a land lit by the rays of the moons breaking through cloud cover and the dim glow of the fire’s coals. She gasped at the sight of a skeever ruffling through their food stores.


    “The irony is… had He done nothing… the Natural Order would have killed both of you as you slept. Listen.”


    Wolves howled as if on cue.


    “They smell the meat… Foolish to leave it out.”


    Dread filled Amari. Power filled that voice and when the skeever turned its gaze to Amari, she felt the voice reverberate to her soul.


    But my brother, in his rage… has disrespected me.”


    Amari filled her lungs to scream, but in a blink the skeever appeared before her face.


    “Silence!” Her scream caught in her throat.


    The skeever bared its teeth in a snarl.


    “The others think I am weak… but with a single bite… I have brought entire civilizations to ruin!”


    Amari started to ask a question, but swallowed it at the sight of the foaming saliva dripping from the avatar’s teeth.


    “Wise… but you wonder how this concerns you. A servant… First and now His, once mine, comes for you. Hunts you even now. Discarded in the lower realms I found this one. I rebuilt the fallen champion! I gave him new purpose! I will not have Molag Bal take what I created!


    He thinks he bested me, but little does he know the Fallen One will ultimately serve my purpose! I have been gone too long from this land. It has lost its unity; lost its connection with nature. Survive to dawn… and see my Gift spread.”


    The Prince turned tail to leave, then turned back and as if an afterthought, poked Amari above the left breast with a claw. She hissed at the burning sting. 


    “Retribution for my totem’s destruction has been doled. The priest lies slain, yet finds no peace. For that I grant you a boon… for the times to come.


    My faithful are always rewarded.”


    With that, the skeever bounded off Amari’s chest and disappeared into the woods.













7 Comments   |   Felkros likes this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  April 7, 2016
    @LokaCola - Things will start brightening up for her soon, she's almost out of the Daedric crucible, well the first one at least.
    @Lissette - I need to work on making recognizable faces more first, but drawing that old fart would be fun.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  March 31, 2016
    @Exuro - one day I would love you to draw crusty, old Albee. *insert smilie here*
  • LokaCola
    LokaCola   ·  March 31, 2016
    Seems like Amari won't catch a break from the Daedra, can't say I envy her for that.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  March 31, 2016
    Oh you meant the smiley faces, not character faces, haha. Well my comment still stands...
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  March 31, 2016
    @Lissette: Well the Daedra do like collecting interesting mortals and letting a fellow Prince have a more curious collection just won't do! Yes, Tyranus continues to haunt them long after his death.
    @Lyall: Thanks! The main reasons there are no face...  more
  • Lyall
    Lyall   ·  March 31, 2016
    Nice chapter! I wish we still had the faces, but for now, this will have to do
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  March 31, 2016
    Oh lord, do they ALL want a piece of Amari? I was wondering when Mr. Pestilence would come knocking. Worst thing those two did was run into Tyranus.