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    Sorceress Supreme!
    Katrina got barely any sleep, despite the knowledge she'd be paying for it during the day's march. As they set out, she was even more foul-tempered and on edge than usual. A short time after they'd left the village of Karthwasten behind, Solun warned of the the Forsown presence. Katrina's experiences with the savage Reachmen had been blessedly few, but from the stories she'd heard, a group like this one would be a tempting target indeed. Strangely, she saw none. That bothered her a little, but what bothered her more was the sickening...thing on the wall of the inn. She made her way to where Solun was, stepping close enough so that there was little chance they'd be overheard. "We need to talk about what happened last night."


    forum hobo
    The night gave Unkmarog the rest he very much needed. But the next day dawned too soon, and so the handsome orc had some difficulty waking up. He blinked his weary eyes a few times to get used to the daylight and smacked his lips to get rid of the uncomfortable, dry taste in his mouth.
    "...Already?" Unk scratched his neck and eventually got up from his bed. Slightly annoyed by the fact Solun told them to set out at first light, the orc didn't waste too much time getting dressed up as he tried to gather his thoughts. He grabbed his orcish bow and sword and joined the others.

    The journey to Markarth was peaceful enough, at least for Unkmarog. Occasionally taking a sip from his flask and minding his surroundings. His random burps became a familiar (and annoying) sound within the group.
    "Anyone else find the lack of screaming savages strange?" Tavir asked. Unk looked around and lifted his eyebrow.
    "Umm... Now that you mentioned it..." he replied. "The Forsworn or other local crazy people have caused a lot of trouble around these parts."
    "Stay sharp. Just because we can't see them, doesn't mean we aren't there," the former legionnaire said. The orc nodded, agreeing with him.
    Unkmarog noticed that Katrina got closer to Solun. He couldn't hear what she was speaking about, but he only heard her last words "last night". He was about to ask her to satisfy his curiosity, but eventually decided not to.
    "Maybe she's thinking how handsome I was last night," the tipsy orc thought and smirked to himself.


    Fight for the lost
    As the remaining villagers of Karthwasten departed their home and made for the city of stone, Thoras lingered near the rear of the procession. His nimble fingers danced along the haft of his glaive, and as the last of his companions, including the unconscious imperial, left the village behind, he fell in with them. Not before he cast a suspicious glance back over his shoulder. Of course, he saw nothing, besides empty buildings that seemed to watch them leave with a forlorn-sort of resignation. "Blasted fool," he growled, not sure what he was expecting to see.

    Putting the village to his back, he caught up with the group, glaive resting easily against one shoulder. His eyes lingered on the breton and their imperial leader. Something had happened last night. Something that had shaken both of them, badly. Solun mentioned the threat of Forsworn, and the nord who'd picked a fight with Alice mentioned they died like anyone else. "I may be mistaken, my nord comrade, but I think the concern is we would die just as easily, were we caught in an ambush."


    Well-Known Member
    The caravan of tired, paranoid villagers and dysfunctional group of adventurers walked through the rocky hills and deep ravines of the Reach. They brought what they could carry, or shove onto the horse-drawn cart. Very few of them looked back towards Karthwasten, and those that did seemed more relieved than reluctant. As morning turned to noon, then afternoon, and there was still no sign of the Forsworn, Solun began to suspect something was off. It wasn't like them to neglect such an easy target. There were way too many villagers for their group to protect.

    As the City of Stone finally came into sight, there were relieved exclamations and sighs from the people they were escorting. The woman, Katrina, approached Solun. "We need to talk about what happened last night."

    "We will," Solun assured her, the image of the sigil flashing into his mind once again. Along with the voice that had spoken to him, and only him. He fought against a shudder that crawled its way up his spine. "But not now. Once we have these people settled."

    The group approached the bronze gates of Markarth, under the ram's head banner. Four guards stood before the doors, wearing the dark green and scale armour of their hold. Two of the men exchanged glances, and a third said something Solun was too far away to hear. The fourth man gestured for them to approach. "What's your business, imperial?" The guardsman demanded, his gaze sweeping over the mixed group.

    "These people are from Karthwasten. They are in need of refuge. My companions and I are working for the king. We'll need a place to rest and some supplies."

    The guard looked over the group again, then nodded. "I'm sure we can...accommodate you. Don't worry," the guard's upper lip twitched in something that almost looked like a smirk. "Markarth is the safest city in the Reach." At his signal, the gates were swung open, granting them access. "The girl in the cart- she's not looking so great." The same guard called after them. "Make sure you take her to the hall of Arkay."

    Solun waved a hand in acknowledgement, then turned to the others.
    "Let's head to the Silver Blood inn. We need to discuss our next move." To the priest that was looking after Alice. "Take her to the hall. Then meet us back at the inn."


    Well-Known Member
    Beren and those few villagers that had remained to help made their way through the narrow, carved streets of Markarth. The priest knew he should have felt at ease, now they were in a city, and one with a reputation for security, at that. But he didn't. Perhaps it was the nearly dead woman still in his care, perhaps it was the odd demeanor of the guards outside. Something made the fine hairs at the back of his neck stand up, and he didn't much care for it. 'The hall,' Beren told himself, 'just get to the hall and all will be well.'

    The hall of Arkay wasn't exactly easy to find. Beren and his assistants had to stop twice to ask locals for directions. When they did finally arrive, Beren's heart sank. The entryway to the hall was nearly overgrown by vines, and the steps leading up to them were filthy. The villagers of Karthwasten shuffled their feet and muttered nervously amongst one another. Beren wanted to tell them to get a hold of themselves, but instead he turned to them. "May Arkay bless you, my friends. Go now and return to your families. You've done quite enough."

    "Are ye sure, priest?" One of the villagers, a sturdy young man who was amongst the first to offer his help. "Maybe we ought to stay, just in case." He nodded towards the ill-maintained door.

    "This is a hall of Arkay. No matter it's appearance, I'm sure no evil will befall myself or Alice inside." Beren said with his most reassuring smile, wishing he could shake his own doubts.

    The young man seemed less than confident, but slowly nodded. "As ye say, priest. Good fortune to ye." Then he and his companions carefully set the bier at the base of the stairs, and retraced their steps. Beren watched them go for a moment, before walking up the steps, and pounding on the metal door of the hall. Several long moments passed, in which Beren began reconsidering the wisdom of coming to the hall in the first place, when the door began to open.

    A man, seeming younger than Beren, but clearly human, opened it. "Hello-ah. Greetings, brother priest."

    "Greetings. I have a young woman here, who is in need of tending. Help me." He said gruffly. The other priest's eyes widened slightly, and Beren wasn't sure what he saw in the man's eyes, only that it didn't seem very...priestly. Together, they managed to get Alice inside and settled on one of the cots. Beren used the furs and blankets from the bier to cover her. Beren sat in a stool nearby, settled his warhammer within easy reach, and crossed his arms. And waited for a miracle.


    Well-Known Member
    As the procession of villagers and swords for hire entered the city of stone, Sothas eyed the guards warily. Something about their demeanor made the big argonian feel anything but safe. Maybe it was just the lack of Forsworn, or the snide self-satisfied attitude of the guards who welcomed them into Markarth. He glanced at Aylira, and noticed she seemed just as on edge as he was. The dunmer assassin stuck close to him, eyes scanning the faces of passer-by. "Does something feel strange to you?" She muttered.

    "Yes. But I can't put my finger on it."

    "That's a scary thought." The dark elf said, her fingers tightening around the hilt of her khopesh.

    "What is?" Sothas asked.

    "You agreeing with me. We should warn the others."

    The argonian shook his head. "Everyone's already on edge. Let's just keep our eyes open."

    Aylira rolled her eyes, then approached Solun, "Excuse me, your royal leadership, sir. Once we get to the inn, we should have a chat."


    An Excellent Site Member
    The journey to Markarth was quiet and stressful for everyone but most of all for Alice. First off, loading her bier into the ox cart she was transported in wasn't as easy as the villagers of Karthwasten first thought. They'd had plenty of experience moving people who couldn't walk between their village and Markarth. Their silver mines had produced a long and bloody history of accidents, three wars in the space of ten years bled them just as hard as the rest of Skyrim and of course there were the deaths from The Sickness. But most of the people they moved were already dead. Funeral trains of grieving families and loved ones walked the crags and hills of The Reach. Many of the others died along the way and that was almost worse. Not many at all were still alive by the time they got to the City of Stone.

    As such, no one had thought that far ahead in how to make Alice comfortable for her journey. The best idea anyone could come up with was to drag her entire bed off of its frame with her still tucked into it onto a wooden palette, thread poles through the boards so it could be carried, lash it all together and load it into an ox cart four of the villagers pulled themselves. Alice was tightly wrapped in blankets, changed into fresh pajamas and bandages and loaded into the cart and lashed into place. No one was really sure how comfortable it was for her, especially considering how bumpy the road had gotten, but she didn't complain. She never even woke up at all.

    What she did do was constantly whisper to herself in unintelligible Cyrodillic. Occasionally someone could understand her. They kept getting words like "Three blades", "false priest" and "imposter". It was in a wheezing, almost ethereal voice. Some of the villagers were relieved at this since it clearly meant she was alive but most felt their skin crawl. The giant lunk who'd put her in this state had clearly brought her to death's gate but had he driven her mad as well?

    Alice herself was lost to all of this. She was trapped in a dream. A dream she had no idea how to get out of and was powerless to fight against. After she'd said goodbye to her mother and Timeshift and flew through those golden clouds she was alive again. She could feel it in her soul and that soul filled her body. She could even feel one lucid moment from the night before. Beren had changed and bandaged her with the help of some of the villagers and they'd tucked her into bed. She knew she was in trouble and she had no idea how long she'd be able to stay awake so she'd gotten what might be her last words to him out through slurred teeth. "Beren, I'm a follower of Talos and I need his last rites. I have a husband named Julius Marius in Whiterun. Please tell him what happened to me with the scroll of sending in my things." She had no idea how much of that had actually escaped her lips but it sounded like he'd said something reassuring so at least she'd said something.

    Then she was swallowed by darkness again. She thought she might really be dead this time but she could still feel. She felt cold. She could tell she was in her footy pajamas but the room she was in felt cold. The mattress she was on was bare and lumpy like one you'd find in a prison. Her pillow was just as bare and rock hard. The sheet covering her was as thin as a tablecloth and she felt like it was there to bind her instead of warm her. In fact she wasn't lying in this bed at all. She was strapped down in it. Thick leather belts were buckled across her shoulders, waist and wrists and ankles and they were over her sheet. It was there to bind her.

    She shivered as she realized this. Three magelights hovered over the hard iron bed, bathing her in eerie green light in the otherwise dark room. There were rooms and beds like this in the College Asylum, in a reclaimed corner of The Midden, but they were only for patients who couldn't control themselves, only for a short time and always closely watched. They were never this cold or desolate and Alice had only been in one for an hour. But it was a terrifying experience. This room was in her nightmares.

    Three figures appeared over her. Their figures were blurred by the magelight but Alice knew at least two of them. Beren, looking grim and dour. As if this were the most tasteless of tasks he had to do. Liudolf, a sadistic smile across his face, as if he was going to enjoy every second of this. And a third. A woman in priest's robes Alice didn't recognize. Her face seemed kind and benevolent but it was hiding a cold malice that oozed out from her eyes.

    "She's secure." Beren said. "She won't interfere with the treatment."

    "Strapped her down good and tight I did." Liudolf said "Gotta take extra good care of our violent patients!"

    "She won't be violent after today." The woman said. A Breton woman who seemed to radiate cold indifference. Alice was nothing but a skeever under the knife to her. "Her results will be in important step forward, whatever they may be."

    "I thought you said she'd be asleep." Beren said.

    "I said no such thing." The woman said. "She'll be awake for this. In fact, she should be speaking about now."

    "What are you going to do to me?" Alice asked weakly. "Why are you doing this?"

    "I'm going to help you dear." The woman said. "You've got so many painful memories. I'm going to help you forget every one of them." Liudolf slammed down a tray on a table next to the bed. On it were three icepicks of varying lengths and a small iron mallet.

    "What are those three blades?" Alice asked, her heart hammering with fright. "What are you going to do to me? Where's Doctor Paige?"

    "These go into your head according to its size!" Liudolf sneered. "You get the smallest one Baby Psyrakon!"

    "And Doctor Paige's services to this asylum are no longer required." The woman said. "You are now under my care. I'm Doctor Hemlock and I'm going to help you."

    "Please." Alice begged, tears in her eyes. "Please don't do this. Don't just stab my mind."

    "Don't worry dear." Doctor Hemlock said. "It'll all be over soon."

    "She's ready." Liudolf said. "I promise I'll be gentle." He gloated as he arrested Alice's head between his two meaty palms. Alice was whimpering at this point, completely helpless.

    "There there Alice." Doctor Hemlock soothed in mock compassion. "You're getting an opportunity few people in this world ever do. You're going to become an entirely new person. And you'll never be afraid again."

    Doctor Hemlock pressed the smallest icepick to Alice's right eye socket, right in the middle of her eyebrow. Its cold, pristine tip pressing into it. She raised the iron mallet to her ear, swung it down and hit the icepick home. All Alice heard was a sickening crack before her very soul was split open. She opened her mouth to scream. Scream her very lungs out. But no scream came. No air even came. Just a simple sharp breath of air. Her brain had forgotten how to scream. It absolutely had to and it simply couldn't. Alice was horrified and she could do nothing. Doctor Hemlock did it with her other eye, this crunch of bone even more sickening and still Alice could do nothing. That pick wrenched into her brain. Twisting, jerking, severing her very self. She was powerless to stop it. All she could do was think. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.

    "Stop...stop...stop...stop." Alice muttered. She didn't know it yet but she was back in the real world. In the Temple of Arkay. She had no idea Beren was still watching over her. She had no idea that he'd been able to hear everything she'd said. Dream and reality had merged and she was powerless to stop it. What would happen to her when she woke up?


    Well-Known Member
    The atmosphere did not improve once they were inside the city. Beren and his helpers went off to find the temple of Arkay, while most of the villagers either went to find family or headed to the Silver-Blood inn, like Solun and his companions were. The locals eyed the newcomer with a mix of wariness and something the former soldier couldn't quite place. The stormcloak who'd accompanied them from Karthwasten thanked Solun and the others for their help, then went his own way, to report the strange happenings to his superiors.

    The Silver-Blood inn was not hard to find. The stream of off-duty guardsmen, silver labourers, and warehouse workers coming in and out are somewhat of a giveaway. Solun motioned for his companions to follow. The interior is dimly lit, stinking of smoke, cooking food, and stale ale, with a good number of tables and barstools occupied. Somehow, the proprietor, an older man with stringy greying hair, managed to find enough space for the band of adventurers/sellswords to sit.

    "We'll rest here until Alice is fit to move- if she ever wakes up." He glanced at the stormcloak captain who'd decided to join their ranks. "If possible, try not to start any more fights." He turned to Solas and Aylira. "I'll speak with you in a moment. Until then, get some rest and food for yourselves." Then, with a glance at Katrina, he withdrew to a secluded area and waited for her to make her way to him. He wasn't yet sure how to broach the subject of the sigil on the wall with the others.


    forum hobo
    It's been a few years since Unkmarog's last visit in the City of Stone. Markarth offered sanctuary to the drunk orc when he needed to stay under the radar; he might had incurred the wrath of Mara, the Goddess of Love. Unk has made many mistakes, and marrying an innocent argonian was definitely the worst. She was furious to learn that Unkmarog "accidentally" married her in his drunken stupor, and decided to leave her. Suspecting that either she or priests of Mara would come after him, the orc escaped from Riften to Markarth. A long and arduous journey for sure.

    The handsome orc felt much safer with the group he was in right now. Though, he was not sure if anyone was a servant of Mara, but that didn't matter. He intended to keep his secrets to himself after all. Unk watched Beren as he was taking Alice to the hall of Arkay. For a short moment he was lost in his thoughts once again, until a little girl approached the orc and poked his leg with her tiny finger. It startled him.

    "You stink, mister!" the little girl teased Unkmarog, pointing at his ragged clothes.
    "Get lost, brat," he growled back at her. "Or your mama won't give you a sweetroll."
    "You're stinky!
    "And you're annoying."
    The girl kept making fun of the drunk orc, until he had enough. He abruptly made a scary (and goofy) face and let out a roar.

    "EEEEK! MAMAAAAA!" she ran away, scared. Satisfied, Unk chuckled and took a sip from his flask.

    The group finally made it to the Silver-Blood Inn. Solun told them to get some food and rest until Alice would be in a better condition to move around. Unk was already ordering a drink after taking a seat.


    Active Member
    Tavir stepped into the inn, wrinkling her nose at the stench of unwashed patrons and furniture. 'No worse than most of the places I've been to, I suppose,' she thought as Solun marched to some unclaimed tables and instructed them to get some rest while they good. He also pointedly suggested that they not start anymore fights. The others took their seats, or lounged around nearby. Tavir watched with a mix of amusement and exasperation as one of their newer additions scared off a child who'd remarked on unique...odour. "She's not wrong, you know." Tavir called to him, "you do stink."

    Seeing the breton woman from the night before clinging to Solun like her life depended on it, Tavir's interest was piqued. Before, the woman had looked like she'd seen some pretty horrible things, but she'd kept to herself. Now she and Solun seemed almost inseparable. But something was still off about it. It wasn't that they'd bonded in some way. Or at least, not the pleasant way. Something had them spooked. Something they'd seen in the village? She leaned across the table to address the breton. "What's got your panties all knotted?"


    The trip to the city of stone was almost dull. If he hadn't been as on guard as the rest of the unlikely group, expecting a forsworn address every other step, it might have been a pleasant diversion. Despite what he'd expected, being inside the city made Allessan no more safe than he was out in the wild. The guards were odd , and that was putting it lightly. The gazes of the locals ranged from curious to hostile. Even the inn with its familiar scents and sights, the breton knight still felt ill at ease. Things did not get better when Tavir started taunting the breton woman. The knight extended a calming hand. "I know I'm the newest member of your group, but perhaps now isn't a good time to insult our allies?" He directed the words towards Tavir, but he intended them for the entire group.


    Sorceress Supreme!
    The gloved fingers of Katrina's hands twitched as she fought down the urge to feed the mouthy khajiit a handulf of lightning. Instead, she sat down across from her. "Have you ever, for a moment, thought about taking this seriously? Lives are at stake, and all you can do is pick fights and make light of the situation. Did you forget what is happening outside these walls? The king of the Stormcloaks called on us to find a solution, not sit in a tavern, drinking and making jokes!" She paused for breath, momentarily taken aback by her own vehemence. The breton knight spoke up, his tone calm and collected. "You should listen to your friend." She said.


    Well-Known Member
    Beren knew he should have gone to meet the others at the inn, as Solun had said. But it felt irresponsible for him to leave Alice with the priest. He knew he should have felt safer than anywhere else, in the temple of his god. But something was off. From the abandoned, neglected appearance of the place, to the way his fellow priest watched him from the corner of his eye, all of it had the former mercenary on edge. He found himself resting his palm against the haft of his warhammer, keeping an eye out for unseen threats.

    It was then that he heard Alice muttering to herself, something about a 'false priest', stabbing, and then the word 'stop' over and over. The war priest leaned over her bed, but he knew there was nothing more he could do. Whatever nightmare gripped her mind, she would have to overcome it on her own. "How long has she been like that?" The other priest asked, from just over his shoulder. 'I didn't hear him approach. I should have.'

    "Since last night," he said, "there was an incident." Something nagged at the back of Beren's mind. "Come, brother. Let us pray to Arkay for her quick recovery."

    The man hesitated for an instant, but it was enough to raise Beren's suspicions even further. "Of...course, brother. Perhaps you'd like to start?"

    The prayer was a simple one, the one that the kindly old priest that had taken him in years ago had taught him. The other priest joined in, but Beren noticed an uncertainty in the man's voice. After they had finished, his host stood up. "Would you care for some wine?"

    "I wouldn't say no." Beren said, feigning friendliness.

    The man was gone for a brief time, before returning with two silver goblets. The liquid in the goblet seemed like wine, but the priest was as likely to drink it as he was to drink horse piss. He lifted the goblet to his lips, and tilted it back, making an effective show of 'drinking'.


    The Devil In The Details
    No sooner had they arrived in the City of Stone, Liudolf all but decided he needed distance between himself and the others. Too many judging eyes and quiet whispers, too much fear and whimpering. They didn't trust his intentions, and now they didn't feel safe under his watch. He'd ignored the Ash-Skin's statement, about the group dying easily. As much as he'd never confess it aloud, one look had made it painfully obvious. There were some true survivors amongst them, the kind that would do anything to stay alive, to keep those they care about alive. Assuming half of them cared about anyone at all.

    He knew the feeling all too well.

    "She started it. I finished it. Excuse me, muh-lord." He mock-saluted Solun, turning his back on him and leaving the tavern.

    Still packed and armored, he walked the jagged and winding streets, taking in the state of Markarth. Something had the people shook, or more likely, they hadn't seen a mountain of a stormcloak who looked like he lost a fight with two bears and a wood-mill. Everywhere he walked, they looked, and he stared back at every silent, cowed passerby. Maybe the Sickness still had them all on edge, in spite of an occupying stormcloak legion, a mess of patrolling guards, and high stone walls built for the ages. Maybe they really were just weak and too scared of their own shadows to hold eye-contact. He might've been able to write it off if a little boy, not six summers old, hadn't stopped to point at him from an adjacent bridge, that same strange expression on his face, before scurrying away.

    He listened to his gut and didn't chase him down. He'd have to find the boy later, in stronger daylight.

    "Don't wash it off." Liudolf snapped, halting the orcish blacksmith in her tracks and earning her scowl. She'd readied a wet rag to clean the many dark blood spatters and dried dirt from the stormcloaks axe, namely the blade itself. It was badly chipped and, she suspected, hadn't been serviced in a long time.

    "There something special about the grime?"

    "There is to me. I just want the edge sharpened. No wiping, spit-shining, or polishing."

    She scoffed, holding up the axe so its blind owner could see the damage he was causing. She ran a rough, calloused finger along the edge. "See these? That happens when you fight all the time and don't get your blade looked at after. Those will grow and spread, weakening the steel. One day you'll make a mighty swing and it'll shatter, then you'll get skewered and cut down like a damn fool. To avoid that, I have to reshape the edge and grind it down, which means it has to be clean, which means no dirt, rust, or blood!"

    Liudolf palmed his forehead, not being in the city a half-hour and already his blood boiled. "Killing's my business, Orc. You mind yours and just use the damn grindstone! Be done with it!"

    She'd wanted to retort, saying that was just like swinging it on a stone floor and praying it broke into a million pieces, but she thought better of it. She shoved the axe against his chest, with surprising strength that sent the massive nord wheeling on his back-foot. He'd wanted to use his "weakened" axe to lop her head off, and looked like he might to do just that, when she stepped aside. She gestured to the wooden grindstone, a smug look on her face. "Do it yourself, Nord. No one's stopping you."

    Liudolf snorted and huffed over to the station, taking a seat on the tiny bench and flustering awkwardly as he positioned himself. After a minute of this, he hesitantly worked the pedals that brought the stone wheel tumbling to life, and smiled on his victory. Positioning the blade straight down and into the racing surface, he brought his axe to rest upon it. At first only a few sparks flew, emboldening his confidence and making him pedal faster, giving the Orc a smug look of his own. Then he heard a terrible and sudden snap, followed by a screech of angry sparks, and like that a whole section of the edge broke off, then another, and another.

    He panicked and let go of the axe, watching it fall and slam and crash on the floor. The edge now looked like a set of broken teeth, with the many large shards scattered about the workshops wooden floor. Some had even fallen through the gaps in the planks and into the river below, evaporating all hope of retrieval. The orc bellowed out a laugh, guessing rightly that the captain had no idea how to service his own weapons, or simply didn't care to learn.

    When she was done mocking him, and he looked red and ready to tear her throat out, she mocked him some more. "Some smith you make! I have some nails that need sharpening, think you could handle that?"

    Liudolf lunged from his seat at her, and she brandished a heavy, curved emerald blade from her back-sheathe, holding it to him with remarkable speed. "Get. Out."

    Liudolf stood there for Shor knows how long, chest heaving, sweat beading, and eyes filled with rage. When he realized his position, he started to calm down and slowly collected himself and his broken axe, leaving the open-porched shop as stiff as a board and hot with embarrasment. He felt the hard impacts as the metal shards rained down around him.

    "Don't forget your steel!" He kept walking, not bothering to look back and refusing to satisfy anyone with a saddened look. He walked until he'd gotten tired, and sat on a stone bench, just shy of the Temple of Arkay. Combing slashed fingers through his short blonde hair, occasionally glancing at his mess of an axe. He chuckled bitterly to himself, reasoning that it at least looked more wicked now and surely would leave messier wounds in its wake. Either way, he wouldn't be taking it back to the smithy, that bald, tusked savage had no room for respect. He'd settle on renaming it, yes. Griever's Reach didn't seem to fit now, no, something more.. jagged.

    "Hey!" He looked over, his careful naming scheme interrupted by a passing trio of patrolling stormcloak officers. A younger, lithe man approached, a corporal by his colors, a suspicious look on his face while his hand rested on his sword's hilt. For a terrible moment that nearly overwhelmed him, Liudolf actually considered killing the lot of them here in the open street, disregarding the dozen customs and laws he'd break to end what might've been another public shaming.

    The corporal targeted him with a gloved finger. "You're Captain Agerssen, right? The missing fingers and, uh," He gestured to his own neck, indicating the rope-scar Liudolf had. "This. Kinda gives you away."

    "Yea.. Need something?"

    "Ah, apologies, brother." He extended a hand, which Liudolf took after rising to his full height. "Corporal Geirkum Engmahrsen, Thirteenth stormcloak legion, commanded under Colonel Wuukus Blackthorn. And you, sir.. look like oblivion's plops, no offense. Your axe looks like its seen better years.. Well, I'd hate to see the other guy."

    Liudolf glanced back at the temple, and nodded. "Me too." He snapped out of it, realizing he was being held up in the street, and had places to be that weren't the middle of the street. "Wait-- Did you need something, or is this just some kind of welcome party?"

    "Well, it's blind luck is what it is. Command has been trying to reach you, sir, for some weeks now. Heard your party would make due for Markarth and to keep an eye out for you. They need to discuss a private matter."

    "What? What private matter--?"

    "You're being recalled." He leaned in, lowering his voice. "It's about your case, the massacre in Eastmarch? Your men--?"

    "I know about my own damn case! Shor's Blood!" He barked, causing Geirkum to lean back and the others to perk up. "It was all squared away and they took their damn time doing it, so what the hells do they want with it now?"

    "I couldn't tell you, sir, I don't have all the details. All I know is they're revisiting it, and they need you to suspend any active service and check in, effective immediately. You'll have to come with us, Captain." He gestured to the Understone Keep, stepping aside to allow him clear passage up the way.

    Liudolf sighed heavily, knowing all too well there was no getting out of it this time, no more chances. Today was it. He glanced back at the temple one last time, a long silence following. Time for that later, if there would be a later. With a begrudgingly complacent nod, he followed the escort up the cobbled street, soon falling under the shadow of the stone mountain of a keep.
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    Fight for the lost
    Tholas picked a seat beside the khajiit, stretching out his legs, far to the other side of the table. The tavern was like so many others he'd been to in his years of adventuring. Their 'leader' Solun, went about issuing instructions to the others. It did not take long before the khajiit woman, Tavir, started poking fun at the breton that had almost blasted her with magic. The dunmer was about to suggest not antagonizing her when the newcomer of their group, a breton man, suggested they not quarrel. "An excellent point, my young friend." He glanced towards the breton woman. "Not that your point is any less valid. But we must make the most of the time we have. Before we save the world, that is." He said with a chuckle.


    An Excellent Site Member
    “And we’re done.”

    Dr. Hemlock’s icepick was slick with cerebrospinal fluid as she placed it back on her tray. Liudolf let go of Alice’s head now that the treatment was complete and the Breton doctor’s sinister instrument was no longer needed. “Anything else you need from me doctor?” he asked. “Simply to help me return our patient to her room. Doctor Hemlock said. “Excellent work Mr. Agersson. You have a promising career in psychosurgery to hold a patient that steady.”

    “I can think of no greater compliment doctor.” Liudolf said as he unlocked the wheels of Alice’s bed and grabbed its railing in preparation to move her. “Let’s go Psyrakon. I’d see you’ll feel better soon but…”

    Alice said nothing. She knew she should fight and shout and protest but she had no desire to. She knew she should feel frightened or angry or disgusted at what this mad doctor had just done to her but she didn’t feel any of those things. She felt absolutely nothing. She had the will to do absolutely nothing. All she wanted to do was lie quietly in bed as she was wheeled back to her room. She knew she was in a dangerous situation but it didn’t seem to matter at all to her. What had Doctor Hemlock’s lobotomy done to her?

    After she was returned to her room Alice was unstrapped from her bed, allowed to sit up and brought a meal of watery vegetable soup and stale bread. The meal’s poor quality didn’t matter at all to her, she was just happy to eat, even though it was late at night. As she did so Doctor Hemlock sat with her and asked her a series of questions about what she could remember, what she understood and how she felt. Could she remember her name? Did she remember where she was? Could she name the days of the week? How did she feel? They were a standard set of awareness question Doctor Paige had asked her after a dozen treatments. None of them involved digging into Alice’s brain of course but she gave satisfactory answers to all of them. The only answer she felt was strange was what kind of thoughts she was having at the moment. She wasn’t really having any. When Doctor Hemlock asked her to elaborate she explained that she wasn’t really thinking about anything. She felt fine, she wasn’t upset at all, her mind was just completely quiet. Never in her life had that happened before. Even in her calmest moments and deepest meditations Alice was always thinking about something. And of course the whispers of her visions were always there but even these were gone. That should have concerned her greatly but she barely shrugged when she mentioned it. As if it were no more than something she forgot to get at Whiterun’s market and could easily pick up tomorrow.

    Doctor Hemlock seemed very pleased at this last part. She gave Alice a beaming smile and declared her treatment a complete success. Alice was happy to hear that, wondering why she was so frightened beforehand. She then asked if she could go back to bed, for she was suddenly very tired. Doctor Hemlock gave her permission to do so and even helped her get tucked in. As soon as she and Liudolf left her room Alice fell right asleep, certain in Hemlock’s world that she’d never be afraid again.

    The next four days saw Alice settle into a routine. After Doctor Hemlock woke her up and questioned her she would have breakfast, bathe and practice her drawing and tracing. After lunch she would read and after dinner Doctor Hemlock would question her again, asking her about her day and what she felt she’d accomplished. Alice would answer as thoroughly as she could while keeping herself succinct andthen write an extended version of her account in a journal left to her. Then, after some more reading she went to bed. It was an easy, comfortable existence. She got to stay in her footie pajamas all day, read as much as she wanted, draw and write at her leisure and was fed very generous meals. And through it all not a soul bothered her but Doctor Hemlock, Beren and Liudolf. It was a perfect introvert holiday and Alice didn’t worry about a thing through all of it.

    That’s how she concluded that she was dreaming.

    It had taken her three days to realize this but once she did the signs were obvious. Things had gone far too well for her in here. She’d spent more than six months in the College of Winterhold’s asylum recovering from three years’ worth of mental anguish. And while she’d had plenty of quiet, comfortable days none of them were completely free of burden or interruption. Family and friends came to check on her constantly, other patients she’d befriended came to bother her, she was brought to and from treatments with frustrating regularity and the asylum staff were so darn FUSSY! Doctor Paige, Doctor Orimus, Master Wizard Tolfdir and any of a dozen nurses and orderlies would check on her constantly about one thing or another and often about the same thing when someone didn’t communicate. There was one day where four different staff members asked Alice if she wanted to go for a walk outside and expressed concern that she wasn’t getting enough sun or fresh air. She became so frustrated that she shouted at the fifth poor soul that people died when they went outside and it wasn’t safe. Then she casted an arcane lock on her door after slamming it shut so no one else could come in. She and Doctor Paige had to have a long talk that night before dinner about how she couldn’t lash out at people just because she was frustrated and how she was certainly raised better than that. After having the same conversation with her father and Julius Alice was determined to change her ways.

    In this asylum Alice wasn’t subject to anything like that. No interruptions except for food, medication and routine questioning. No mental anguish of any kind. And no people other than three who performed her “surgery”. And none of this actually made her upset. Simply preoccupied. That was something else that tipped her off that this was a dream. Lobotomies in the real world were dubious at best and lethal at worst. Hers had worked perfectly. That was simply too good to be true. There’s a reason Doctor Paige had never performed one and had dismissed a doctor that did. Then there was Hemlock’s helpers. Beren and Liudolf had been very important figures in her life of late and their presence made it obvious as soon as Alice could think clearly. So, Alice was stuck in a dream. She didn’t know what to do about that yet but she knew the perfect people to help her with that. And just because she was trapped in sleep didn’t mean she couldn’t talk to them. As Timeshift mad helped her understand, this was her head.

    As soon as she put her mind to it her door opened and Doctor Paige and Julius walked in, both their faces beaming with smiles. The tall, pale-skinned Altmer doctor that had done so much to repair Alice’s mind beamed at her with triumphant pride and pulled her patient in a tight hug. Then her Jules, the small, pale man only a few inches taller than her, her husband that she loved more than anything, rose her up to her tiptoes and gave her a long, passionate kiss.

    “You did it love.” He said in his calm, gentle voice that always made her feel safe. “We knew you’d figure it out. I spent plenty of time being distressed over what would happen if you didn’t but I at least believe you’d figure it out.”

    “Thank you for never losing faith in me love.” Alice replied, her emotions still as shallow as all the others since the lobotomy but her resolved undiminished now that she had hope. “You know how much I need you. And you know how grateful I’d be able to act if my brain hadn’t been cracked open.”

    “That’s going to change as soon as you wake up dear.” Doctor Paige said, smiling at her remarkable patient. “I assume you’ve figured out you’re still dreaming.”

    “Yes ma’am.” Alice said, placing her hands behind her back in respect for her doctor. “Once I put together one or two things it became obvious. Doctor Hemlock may have taken my emotions but my reason seems undiminished. I wonder if I can still feel pain.”

    “Honestly, it’s anyone’s guess with a lobotomy.” Doctor Paige said. “That’s why I never did them.”

    “And despite mine I still appreciate that.” Alice said. “The only thing I’m still contemplating, other than how to wake up, is Doctor Hemlock. I’ve never seen her before but she’s clearly the villain here. I have no idea who she is but I don’t have to tell you that there are a great many spells that let you influence or even control someone’s dreams. This isn’t just a dream is it Doctor. This is a vision too.”

    “That’s correct Alice.” Doctor Paige said. “You’ve always been a clever girl. You are indeed having a vision and your husband and I are the part of your mind that’s been trying to help you realize that. This room, the operating theatre you were in, Beren and Liudolf, they’re obvious images from your mind used to construct this dream. But I’m afraid Hemlock’s very much outside both. We’re not sure exactly what she wants but she’s after you personally and she may be after other members of your current adventuring band as well. She’s here in Markarth and one of her confederates has replace the priest who runs the Temple of Arkay. The Temple of Arkay you’re currently sleeping in.”

    Alice frowned at that. “I was worried it might be something like that. I assume the real Beren’s been able to take care of me.”

    “He’s been watching over you, yes.” Julius said. “We’re not sure how long but from the condition you’re still in it’s probably been a few days. He doesn’t know about Hemlock but he knows about the imposter priest and has been appropriately suspicious. You’ve actually tried to wake up and talk to him a couple of times but haven’t had much success. Your last clear speech was in Karthwasten when you told him about me. You haven’t been able to do more than mumble a little more than usual and raise your head a little.”

    “I’ve been mumbling?” Alice asked.

    “You’ve been talking in your sleep.” Doctor Paige said. “Doomsaying really. The villagers from Karthwasten likely think you mad but considering what’s happened to you no one would hold that against you.”

    “Well, that’s inconvenient but not surprising.” Alice said, irritated by her lack of irritation. “This lack of emotional depth is highly irregular. I’m going to have to ask Hemlock about that when I find her. After I kill Liudolf.”

    “You don’t wanna kill Liudolf.” Julius muttered. “That’d make you no better than him and you don’t want to get thrown out of the army you helped build.”

    “Darn it, you’re right.” Alice said, unable to lie to her love and annoyed that he knew her soul like no one else. “Tempting though. But I suppose that’s unimportant at the moment. Clearly I need to wake up so I can warn Beren and the others about what I’ve seen. And so I can start to recover in earnest. But what should I do afterwards?”

    “Find out who Beren’s imposter priest is, where Hemlock is and what they want in Markarth.” Doctor Paige said. “Use your scroll of sending to contact our real selves. We’ll find a way to help you.”

    “I’ve already sent you a few messages.” Julius said. “You know how I am when you don’t pick up.”

    “I know.” Alice said with a weak smile. “My Jules will never stop caring about me. In the meantime I suppose I’d better get to it. How do I wake up?”

    “That’s for you to figure out I’m afraid.” Doctor Paige said. Her ponytail of long red hair moved to one side as she smiled and her deep green eyes lit with satisfaction as she saw Alice had an answer.

    “I have an idea about that.” Alice said. “It’s gruesome, and it’s only because I’m dreaming that it’ll work. But it’ll work.”

    “What do you need from us?” Doctor Paige asked.

    “A hairpin.” Alice said.

    Doctor Paige pulled one from her dress pocket and Alice laid out the details. Both Doctor Paige and Julius looked at Alice in wide-eyed surprise when she was done but they couldn’t argue with the effectiveness. “You know Alice,” Doctor Paige said “normally I’d be very concerned about a plan like that but under the circumstances…”

    “Yeah.” Julius agreed. “So when you wake up you might not want to tell me about that. I don’t have a better idea so all I can say is…good luck.”

    With that the two hugged Alice and let her get to work. This would be over soon and they wanted her to be ready. She bid them farewell and looked forward to the moment when she could feel something stronger than curiosity. The rest of her day passed much like the last four. Just before dinner Doctor Hemlock and Liudolf came as usual, Shackled Alice’s wrists to her bedframe by a chain and began their usual questions. They were in for a big surprise.

    “So how was your day Alice?” Doctor Hemlock asked, a polite smile on her face.

    “Not too bad.” Alice said, wrapping her shackled hands into one of her quilts and balling up the lot onto her lap. “A little dull but I had an interesting revelation.”

    “Oh?” she asked. “What would that be.”

    “That I’ve been dreaming this whole time and that I can leave whenever I want.” Alice stated matter-of-factley. Liudolf’s eyes widened with surprise but Doctor Hemlock seemed completely unfazed.

    “Very good Alice.” Doctor Hemlock said with a satisfied smile. “You are dreaming. I was wondering if you’d figure that out and I’m impressed by your plan with your husband and Doctor Paige. But you don’t really think you can escape do you? Even with their help?”

    “Of course I can.” Alice said, shrugging. “You and I both know the spell you have over my real world self won’t let them in and you just wanted to see what I had planned. But the truth is Doctor Hemlock I lied to them. I had to for this to work. But I’d be happy to explain what I’m really up to.”

    “I’m interested to hear this.” Doctor Hemlock said chuckling. “Pray tell, how are you going to escape this room let alone your dream?”

    “Well,” Alice started. “First I’m gonna use a force blast to knock you back. Then, when you’re on your butt with your head spinning I’m going to grab Liudolf’s lobotomy pick and stab him in the head through the chin. Then I’m going to stab you in the neck before you can land a spell on me and then I’m going to gut myself like a fish. Then, as we’re both dying, I’m gonna gloat a little. And promise to come find you in the real world once I’m better.”

    “And what makes you think you’re going to do all that?” Doctor Hemlock asked, taking the lobotomy pick in one hand and readying a calm spell in the other.

    “You know my shackles?” Alice asked.

    “Mhmm.” Doctor Hemlock said in affirmative.

    Alice put aside her blanket, revealing both shackles undone in one hand and the hairpin in another. She gave an evil smile. “I picked them.”

    Doctor Hemlock was fast but Alice was faster. As the calm spell raced towards her head she moved it at the last half second, literally saving herself by a hair’s breadth. A green blast of force leapt from her hands like a ray of light, staggering the doctor until she fell right on her butt. Her pick fell out of her hand and Alice jumped up to grab it. Liudolf lunged at her with a syringe of drugs but he was just as slow here as in the real world. And this time Alice was here to kill. She dodged his clumsy stab and jammed the pick right into his brain, coming in through the bottom of his mouth with a sickening crunch and a geyser of blood. His face looked utterly shocked as he breathed his last.

    “That’s for killing me you son of a bitch.” Alice hissed. “Next time, make sure I stay dead.”

    She rounded onto Hemlock as she readied another spell, but she was so shocked she couldn’t concentrate. Alice easily overtook her in three steps and lunged at her, stabbing her in the neck. Her face was just as shocked but her eyes seemed to open even wider as Alice brought the pick close to her stomach and stabbed herself, ripping her abdomen open and staining her footy pajamas and the floor forever with her blood and lunch. Her look was one of pure satisfaction as she fell to the floor. Both women were now dying and staring into each other’s eyes.

    “How…” Doctor Hemlock wheezed.

    “It’s…my…head.” Alice wheezed back. “No matter…what you do.”

    “You’re…still….mine.”Hemlock gasped.

    “We’ll see…about that.” Alice whispered. Both women died after another minute but only so they could meet in the real world. Hemlock was furious that she had failed, wherever she was, and Alice was finally free.

    Her eyes opened for the first time in five days. She’d been conscious for a handful of minutes during that time but she’d never been able to open them before or communicate properly, despite Beren’s best efforts. Now though she was here and she was really alive again. She felt terrible. Her head and left eye were swollen and wrapped in bandages, her ribs were bandaged tightly, her left knee was soft and tender in its own bandages and her entire left side felt like one giant bruise. She didn’t know what time it was but from the quiet of the stone room she was in and the single lit lantern by the door out of four that could be lit it was probably the middle of the night. She needed to contact Jules and Doctor Paige as soon as possible and someone had put her pack right next to her left side. All that was between her and it was a nightstand. She tried to reach for it but was dismayed when she couldn’t. It was too far, which means she’d have to get up when she knew she didn’t have the strength for that. Looking at her left arm also showed her that she was in her white footy pajamas with black skulls. Someone had changed her into them which means someone had rifled through her stuff, likely looking for letters to next of kin or some other contact information. She immediately felt embarrassed at her own weakness and at everyone seeing her silly PJ’s but that couldn’t be helped now. She had to try and get up. It was important.

    She sat herself up but every movement hurt. By the time her feet were out of bed she was in swollen pain and as soon as she stood up she saw stars in her eyes and she collapsed onto the stone floor. She banged her swollen knee onto the wooden floor and bit her lower lip to keep from crying out. She grabbed her pack but it was too heavy to lift. She was panting on her hands and knees, she couldn’t see straight and she couldn’t get back up. She felt like she’d pass out if she stayed here and right next to her bed to boot. There was only one thing for it them.

    “Beren!” She called weakly, her voice hoarse and raw from dryness and underuse. She collapsed on her left side and moaned in pain, laying helpless on the floor. “Beren! Help! I need help! I fell out of bed and I can’t get up! Please, help!”
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    Well-Known Member
    Solun watched the nord storm out of the inn, his expression stony. He'd dealt with unruly subordinates before, but the problem was, the nord wasn't one of his men. None of the group were technically under his command. Not that he wanted the responsibility of leading more people to something that was very likely to their deaths. He noticed that a fight was brewing at the table where he'd left the others. Before he could deal with that, the dunmer woman who seemed to constantly lurk near the armoured argonian, approached him, demanding an explanation. "An explanation. Yes. Come this way," he lead her back to the table where the others. "I think I owe each of you an explanation." He cast a glance towards the door, wondering where Beren had gotten off to. He'd expected the priest to be back by now, but it couldn't be helped. He noted the orc warrior at the bar, and waved for him to come over.

    With a meaningful look at Katrina, he began to speak. "Before we departed Karthwasten, Katrina and I encountered a...I'm not sure what. A symbol of some sort. It spoke to me, it knew things." He paused, realizing he probably sounded mad. Or at least a little unhinged. "That is, whatever placed the sigil there did. I can't speak for what you experienced, Katrina, but I think I can say with confidence, it is much more than a sickness we are up against. I'll understand if any of you want out now." He looked around the table, half expecting the majority of the group to walk out of the Silver Blood right that moment.


    Well-Known Member
    Beren spent the next few days splitting his time between the inn and the temple. Most of it was spent monitoring Alice's condition, which seemed unchanging, save for some jumbled words and sentences that made little sense to him. He began to fear that if she did wake, her mind would be permanently damaged. Between his concerns for the Imperial woman and the news that Solun had dropped on them the first night he'd returned to the Silver-Blood inn, Beren got very little sleep.

    He had just returned to the temple, where the man wearing the robes of a priest of Arkay waited, and was ushered into the antechamber by him. He quickly appraised Beren if the lack of change in Alice's condition. At this point, Beren was not surprised. He was beginning to wonder if he was wasting his time, and if it wouldn't be a mercy for Alice to pass on. So he changed her drawings, checked her wounds weren't infected, and sat with his priestly 'brother' and waited for a small miracle.

    A commotion from the room Alice was sleeping in, followed by cries for help, jolted him to his feet. He rushed to the other room, to see the young woman on her hands and knees on the wooden floor. "Alice!" He knelt down to help her to lean against the stone bed. She looked exhausted, but her eyes were clear. "I didn't hear you wake, I was-" he cut himself short, not wanting to be overheard. "Try to stay awake. I'll get you some water."

    "Oh. She's awoken." The man in priests robes said.

    Beren could have sworn there was a hint of disappointment in his voice.

    "She needs water, and see if you can't scrounge up some bread."

    The man hesitated for a moment, before disappearing. A short time later, he returned with a cup of water and a couple slices of plain bread. Beren intercepted the mug of water, giving it a subtle sniff, before passing it on to Alice. "Drink it slowly."
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    Fight for the lost
    Thoras spent the night after Solun's revelation in quiet, disturbed reflection. He had faced little in the way of Daedra or their mortal proxies. In his experience, they operated alone or in small cells. To think they were behind or connected with the Sickness was disturbing. After the others had gone to bed, he drank the rest of a bottle of wine.

    The next few days went slowly. Markarth's guards were serious, unsmiling figures, who had little patience for mischief. Regardless of how innocent it was. The specter of the Sickness hung over the people of Markarth. During his daily strolls through the city, he rarely came across his companions or the villagers they'd escorted from Karthwasten.

    He assumed they were keeping a low profile due to the usual anti-reachman bias that had existed in the City of Stone for decades. The dunmer sympathized with their situation. He was no stranger to odd, suspicious looks. Yet, perhaps because word of their presence has spread to the guard, they were left in peace. On the fifth day of their stay, Thoras entered the inn, flashed a smile to the innkeeper's daughter, winked at the glaring man, and took a seat at the bar. "A bottle of your best Alto, my fine sir."


    An Excellent Site Member
    Beren wrapped Alice's right arm around his shoulders and slowly lifted. Her feet were unsteady, her body shaky and her head still spinning but she was at least off the floor. Her whole left side felt like a swollen bruise and every breath hurt but it was a little easier than last time. He slowly lowered her back onto her bed, rotated her feet and propped her up in a sitting position. A suprisingly easy achievement considering the bed and its headboard were stone. Alice took a moment to appreciate that she still had an actual mattress and sheets to lay on instead of just a cold slab of rock. That old saying about Markarth was suprisingly literal.

    Once Alice was upright in bed Beren helped her cover up her legs, waited until she stopped panting for breath and then handed her a goblet of water and a couple of slices of bread. The water felt like life itself flowing back into her throat but she took his advise. She clearly hadn't eaten in days and if she didn't take it slow it could come right back up again.

    "Thank you." She breathed, closing her eyes in relief. She muched on the bread, taking it one small bite at at time and just enjoying being alive again. "I feel like Martin Septim after his fight with Mehrunes Dagon." She laid her head down onto her propped up pillows and regarded Beren with fatigue. Her left eye was still a closed black and purple patch but her right was clear and focused. "You would not believe the dreams I've had, and it's really important that I tell you about them. But, first thing's first. How long have I been here?"

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