The back-story of Forbidden Love’s antagonists.
4th Era, 181
A warrior’s hand reached out into a sea of ringlets the colour of a drowsy sunset. His fingers gently teased them and moved around to the next shiny tresses of hair. He sighed happily and rested his head on his fist.
“If the sun shines any brighter today, it will blind me.” He said. His deep voice vibrated through the cave, though it was only a murmur.
“It’s raining.” The woman at the other end of the hair dryly pointed out of the cave entrance. She laughed and his face lit up, only to fall into a deeper state of content.
“And that’s it.” He sighed. “I can’t see!” He shielded his face from her smile but it only made her grin wider as she realised his ploy.
“Very funny.” She batted her hand at him as she rose off the rock. Her hair slinked out of his hands and he sighed. This time in regret. “Don’t you have some meeting to attend to?”
He shrugged and wiggled his facial features in indecision. “None that will start without me.”
“Of course not.” His wife laughed. “We didn’t get you all this way for nothing. King of the Reach!” She threw her hands in the air as she announced the title in grand wonder.
“Sariah.” He intoned. “You know we’ve spoken about this, a chieftain holds just as much power–“
“But our king only grows grey as we dwindle like weeds with no rain. As for the other clans? The only thing Jorran has done is mate with a city brat.”
“We have a truce…”
“I didn’t say war him. Just…overtake him.”
“…To never do that.”
“Admit it Akeiton, you were never happy with that agreement.”
The colossal warlord drew to his full height and puffed out his chest as he rolled his shoulders. “It kept his blade from our backs. And ours from his.” With a cocked eyebrow he held out his arm to herd his wife deeper into the cave, where drum beats orchestrated the flickers of firelight on the walls. “Look at the fools who suffer us now. The little army of the Nord who thinks himself worthy of this land. Jorran’s men buffet them before they can think of climbing to our village. It is good to have him at hand.”
“For now.” Sariah grumbled, the stubborn stance on her small and stocky frame made him laugh all the more.
“You really think Jorran would even think of what we’re achieving? Bah, he’s too busy trying to play family man.”
A pitter patter much faster and lighter than that of the drums became prevalent but Sariah was too busy scolding Akeiton with her eyes to turn.
“And you aren’t?” She asked dangerously as the little pitter patters fell silent only to turn into squeals and roars of deep laughter as their daughter leapt into her daddy’s arms and was spun around. Sariah tried not to smile.
“I,” Akeiton began pointedly as he held the wriggling girl in one arm and caught a sword thrown from behind him with the other. “Can multitask.” He finished smugly and hefted his child onto his broad shoulder to frown at the strange sword in his hand.
Sariah rolled her eyes and stepped closer to catch Faey, but instead the sword caught her attention. It wasn’t Forsworn for sure but neither did it look like a Nord weapon from the ruins they built their homes upon. It seemed to be a long bone, charred and blackened with chips so large it was wavy but whittled to a fine point. The fabric that bound half of it was in an equal state of disrepair with frays and holes all over. Though it was a necessity as it held numerous teeth and feathers to the sword. The teeth weren’t the fangs the Forsworn took from vanquished beasts however, they were small and pointed like those you’d find in the beak of a Goose. Some were human but all were as black as night.
It was also as sharp as it looked as Akeiton cursed as soon as he accidentally gripped the teeth instead of the handle. Faey perked up instantly with her mouth in a comical O. The punch Akeiton got in the ribs from Sariah was enough to make him dip to the side, making chubby little hands batter all of his face as they tried to get a grip.
“I thought you’d want to see that.” Said a dark voice. The man who’d thrown the sword stepped forward.
“And what is it, hunter?” Akeiton asked with the authoritarian tone of voice that most men would shrivel at.
“Something best discussed at the council, chief.” The hunter replied with a curt nod and a stray look to Sariah. She rolled her eyes. His name was Jakkal, as Akeiton full well knew. It was hard to forget the identity of their best fighter and confidant.
Akeiton looked back at the sword with a grunt and swung it with a careless skill. The noise it made, like the vibrations of a screech cutting through the air, made him decide to follow his hunter’s advice, for now. He gripped the sword and made towards the hub of the cave, the conference tent everything was built around. As he was going up a slope Faey despondently slid down his arm without a glance from her preoccupied father.
Sariah’s hand went out for her daughter but Jakkal was already catching and swinging the little girl up to his side with ease. Faey’s eyes lit up at the familiar sight of the skull on Jakkal’s shoulder and began patting it as he held her securely.
“Go with him.” He murmured to Sariah and tilted his head in Akeiton’s direction. “They’ll need you. I’ve got her.”
“Need me?” Sariah uttered back but Jakkal was already disappearing behind a large bonfire, his silhouette danced as he jiggled Faey around in time with the drums. Everyone was enjoying the music in the dank firelit cavern but every few seconds there would be a lapse, a few murmurs and a flicker of a glance towards the war tent. Then there were some Forsworn Sariah didn’t recognise slumping against the stacks of supplies around the place. She glowered and left the mystery of them behind, heading to what was now going to be a show and tell, as well as hearing the usual complaints of their village. It was a little more than that.
Wooden planks bridged the gap between the cavern’s central island and the muddy ditch that hadn’t seen water in decades. The elevation from going over them allowed her to see that over the top of the incline everyone was standing up in the tent. Akeiton’s shoulders blocked her view of anything else. She straightened her back and prepared to take diplomatic control of the situation but stopped the second she found her husband was in a sullen stare-down with the King of the Forsworn.
Madanach had taken dominance of the tent by placing himself in front of Akeiton’s throne. The table with the dagger-peppered map of Skyrim was to their left and all around them were the remaining chieftains of the Reach. Jorran Rudahan, as stern and pallid as ever, stood over the table as he placidly observed Akeiton. Sariah was sure he was inches away from a sneer. Leaning against a tent pole with his arms crossed and trying not to fall asleep was Jorran’s blonde brother-in-law, a former city Noble. She’d never understand how that had come to be without kidnapping being involved. Waiting for his chance to jump into the conversation and put forward his sudden worth was Morain. His first name had faded from all their minds, she just knew that his tribe were unstable good-for-nothing scavengers. Everything the Nords claimed the Forsworn to be.
All of them were soaked to the bone and completely out of breath. The sudden warmth of the village’s fires wasn’t helping their alertness. Madanach may be the elder of the gathering but even he was sagging like a man twice his age. However, all of their eyes still had the crazed adrenaline of battle in them and all were drawn to the sword on the table.
“We have no time for risks, Akeiton!” Madanach was ranting. “The Nords are at our heels every day and I find your men are salvaging her crap?!” He exclaimed and thudded the table in anger, making all the others wince at the rattle of the sword.
“I appear to have missed something, none of us expected to see our King so far from his home when the Nords “hunt” him.” Sariah courteously announced herself with a voice that demanded attention from all of them. As the smallest in the tent she was dwarfed when she went over to look at the sword, but everyone moved back to make space for her. She caught Jorran looking wistfully at her until he caught the dangerous glint in her eye and returned to being reserved and gloomy.
“Neither did he, Sariah, but the bastards have cut us off.” Madanach explained with a hoarse wheeze of a voice that made her teeth grind. “We haven’t stopped running for two days. These three valiantly gave me their men along the way but the Nords have run us into the mountains. This was our closest haven but imagine my shock when we came to safety from the Nords to find this being carted about!” He gestured to the table again but made sure not to slam it this time.
“It was in the hands of a hunter who pushed past us. Apparently he valued it over his King.” Morain sniffed. “Had been scavenging for something like it for weeks, he said.”
Snitch. Thought Sariah. They all squinted at the sword. If they looked hard enough the air around the bone seemed to quivver. “How do you know it’s definitely–“
“Of course it’s hers! You are many things but a fool is not one of them. Neither am I.” Madanach eyed her with a menacing twitch.
“She has fallen, the Nords are running us out of our homes.” Akeiton pointed out, it was taking all he had not to be condescending. “We can use what she left behind against them, it is a power we need!”
Jorran raised his eyebrow and there was a pause before Madanach stepped forward, glaring up at the imposing man.
“Are you trying to bring the tragedy of Uinseann down on us again, Akeiton? It has not yet been a year, for the sake of the Old Ones!” He threw his hands up in the air and paced back to Akeiton’s throne. “Does it not look strangely useless as a sword to you? No clean points to it and yet every chip or bend is specific.” He sighed and hid his face with his hand. “It’s a key. Her key. How many times has it been swung? According to Red Eagle Redoubt, there have been cave openings appearing all over the west banks, around the ruins of Uinseann. How long ago was this found–“
“Twelve days ago, Chief Madanach.” A new voice said from the shadows of the tent entrance. “It took a week for it to get here after it was picked up by Nord hands.”
“That ties in with what Red Eagle Redoubt reported.” Madanach sighed, not needing to check who his informant was.
“Better our hands than the Nords’.” Akeiton growled.
“And why wasn’t it taken to another village, hm?” Asked Morain. “Last I saw a map, the village of Rhiadach wasn’t the closest to the ruins of Uinseann.”
Akeiton turned on him instantly. “Compared to what? Yours, Morain? It’s been so long since you raised a sword for us nobody can remember where your village is!”
“I was thinking of our king’s village for a start. Even Sean’s is closer than yours!”
Sean moved for the first time since Sariah had entered and raised his hand. “Ah, no, we wouldn’t have taken anything like this in the first place.”
“Madanach’s redoubt is blocked off by militia, Morain.” Jorran quietly reminded him and let his head fall back in exasperation when he got only glowers in return.
Madanach was like a tightly wound Dwemer ballista about to fire on them all when a high-pitched squeal came from outside. They didn’t have a chance to turn around before the source of it shot in like an arrow with cinnamon hair bobbing behind her.
“I found you!” Faey giggled and weaved in and out of her bewildered father’s legs before doing the same to her mother. She played peekaboo with everyone’s stunned glances before clambering up onto the table. “Ooh.” She said as she clamped eyes on the fascinatingly detailed object in the centre of it.
“No! Faey, don’t touch tha–” Sariah cried just as a chubby hand clasped around the bone of the supposed sword on the table. Jorran swept up the child with reactions quicker than any of them but it was a fraction of a second too late. As she began to cry, the sword dropped out of the little girl’s hands with a clatter that echoed down their spines. Jorran checked her palms with the concern of all their eyes upon them. Other than a few grazes from the serrated edges she was fine, but the sword didn’t stop vibrating. Sean could only cope with it for a few moments before stomping over and throwing his cloak over it. His walk back to the tent pole was a little meeker once the frustration had left him. All of them tried not to show how relieved the silence made them.
“As you can see, this needs to be dealt with.” Said Madanach.
“I’m sorry, I could have sworn she was asleep.” Jakkal shook his head as he went forward to take Faey from Jorran. Madanach’s voice stopped him in his tracks.
“What’s this? A fresh face?” He asked.
“Our best hunter, plus the only one who knows how to handle this child when her father is away.” Akeiton explained.
His name is Jakkal. Sariah sighed inwardly and reached out to take her daughter from Jorran instead. Faey made the leap herself when she saw her mother and wrapped her arms around Sariah’s waist as far as they could go. Sariah held her tightly to soothe the sobs that shook her little body. She wasn’t sure what to say to him as thanks but Jorran nodded at her regardless.
Jakkal shrugged as an explanation. “I had siblings.”
“Had?” Madanach asked.
“Had.” Jakkal reaffirmed, ending the conversation with one word.
“Ah. Well, a young man who knows both the sword and your village? Good. He will go into the caves to find their source. Now, who will go with him? Jorran? You are tied to this village by truce after all.”
Sariah immediately tensed as all camaraderie between fellow parents dissipated. She would not let Jorran’s hands near their sword.
He relieved her concerns instantly. “I’m afraid I’ve been away from my people too long already. I have a son to think of, my wife is sick.”
“And? Can’t the Hagravens heal her?” Madanach asked, the shirking of duties not sitting well with his patience.
“They unsettle her still. What scares her scares the child.”
“Ah, the Breton noblewoman. Well, you have my hopes for her health. She must get used to our lives eventually.”
Jorran inclined his head towards him and before Morain or Sean could be made to fumble for excuses, Sariah stepped forward. “I will go with him, it is our village’s responsibility.” She could practically feel Akeiton’s smug look of approval.
Madanach’s eyebrows raised momentarily. “If that’s what you want. I hope Akeiton can manage without both of his best warriors,” he chuckled and turned to Akeiton. “The Nords will eventually follow our trail here, you will have a fight.”
“Finally. Our axes were getting rusty.” Akeiton sneered.
“You must take that thing and destroy it.” Madanach hissed to Sariah. “Hide it if you must, I don’t care. But never let me hear of anything like this seeing daylight again.” His crazed eyes were a little too close to hers, she could feel the spittle spray from his thinning lips.
“You won’t.” Sariah vowed. She didn’t move back.
“And us?” Asked Sean who was restlessly fussing with his furs now that the drowsiness had been shaken out of him.
“We will stay here the night, the fact that it’s underground has shaken the scentless dogs. In the morning we go our separate ways, hopefully the Nords will be so confused at the different trails they won’t know which one to pick.” He let out a bitter chortle.
Akeiton spoke only after suffering several hinting glares from Sariah. “If you need more men we could–“
“No. No. Numbers will not change what comes next.” He sighed. “I expect you all to have your people prepared by sunrise. That includes you, Akeiton.” He strode towards the entrance of the tent as their business concluded but lingered in the arch of it. “You are all family men, but the people of the Reach are going extinct.” All of them were waiting for him to continue but he only shook his head and left.
After some shrugs, Morain and Sean also left to find some sleeping space for them and their men in Akeiton’s village. Sariah was still frozen, staring curiously at the space Madanach had almost broken down in.
“Do you want me to…” Jorran asked when he saw her hesitate with the dozing child in her arms.
Akeiton intruded before she could get her bearings. “I think I can take my own daughter to bed, Jorran.”
The dark-haired chief of the south raised his hands in relent. The little girl was not easily pried from her warm position in her mother’s arms, however. Not without plenty of grumbles. She soon settled in Akeiton’s large hands though and they were the next out of the tent, leaving only Sariah and Jorran. Jakkal seemed to have disappeared sometime during the proceedings. It didn’t surprise her.
“Are you going to take that?” Jorran asked.
Sariah nodded, shaking herself from the thoughts she was lost in and focused on the sword under the cloak they were both looking at. She didn’t remember turning to face it. Hoping for a less disturbing sight, she turned to Jorran and smirked.
“Is it your wife or your son that is responsible for those extra circles under your eyes?”
Jorran chuckled. “Neither, I hope.” All light-heartedness faded from his voice as his eyes caught the section of the Reach on the table’s map. All the villages that had fallen in the Uinseann tragedy were marked off in blood. There was too much. “First we lose Markarth, then Thorall betrayed us and now the hunters are hunted. He was right, if this doesn’t end soon the Forsworn will be a thing of the past.”
“Don’t tell me fatherhood has destroyed all the fight in you! I thought it was supposed to make you want to punch things more, it did with Akeiton.” She muttered.
Jorran snorted. “If there’s a way, I don’t doubt you will find it, Sariah.” He then clapped her on the shoulder as he would a comrade before leaving her alone with the sword.
For a few moments she stared at it as you would at a spider, wondering if the slight movement of the cloak was her imagination or not. Eventually she grabbed it all in one movement and was out of the tent before her brain could register it.
The spot Faey had occupied as she’d rested against her still felt cold.
A hulking figure was awaiting her at the firepit before the bridge. “Not eager to let any of the others have the sword?” Akeiton smirked, warming both of his hands over the fire.
“Not when we worked so hard to get it.” Sariah replied and looked around his childless body. “Where is… Oh.” She saw Faey being sleepily walked away by the first person Akeiton had come across and she sighed.
“So, a key… If Madanach is right, who knows what it will unlock?” Akeiton mused.
“Better than your expectations of an enchanted sword?” Sariah asked lightly.
“Oh, I’m imagining it will yield far more than that.” He grinned and looked eagerly to the object hanging by her side, then to the fire. “The old king won’t be a problem, he can’t even shake off Nords anymore.” He shook his head. “You should go before he thinks of holding you to anything more ridiculous though, or realises that all he did was direct you to the key’s lock.”
“You’ll be alright down here? One night isn’t a lot of time to prepare for a battle.”
“They’re Nords, Sariah.” He chuckled. “Even if they are led by Ulfric himself, I long to tear out his throat. Of course I trust you can make Jakkal see our position. The man’s been loyal to a fault since his first hunt.”
“He has.” She said and began to move away from the fire. “But Nords or no, keep the archers at the top of the tower. I swear, if they have one more gamble with the warriors, they’ll tear the village apart!”
He snorted and expressed his acknowledgement with a raise of his chin. Before she could fully turn away he seized her wrist and pulled her close to him.
“Sariah…” He murmured, bending his head down so his lips were barely hovering over hers.
Her eyes lit up with an excitement she wasn’t used to. “Mmm?”
Akeiton grabbed her closer and commandeered her mouth by vigorously pressing his onto hers like a brand. “Don’t leave anything behind in those caves.” He smiled and she immediately admonished herself for hoping he’d have said anything else.
“Of course not.” She thinly smiled back and span away to stride over the bridge. As soon as she was in shadow her face fell to echo the cold disappointment she felt. When she emerged into the moonlight on the other side, her face showed nothing.
All around the cave it was guaranteed that wherever there was a source of heat there would be at least three bedrolls around it. The four chieftains had apparently brought all their fighters with them. For now they were forced to share floor space in a cave that usually held no more than thirty. Sariah didn’t even want to think of how cramped the tents were, and from the sounds of it there had already been some negotiations.
She stopped at a three-way crossroads near the centre of the cave. Stacks of crates and wooden fences that were barely standing blocked it from the river that once was. A lantern hung from a pole topped with a goat’s head, the horns pointing down the paths it didn’t face.
Her search for a grim warrior barely out of his teens amongst all the others did not last long. He was behind her as soon as she turned away.
“We’re heading out? I expected another meeting of scowling and poetry.” Jakkal was leaning against one of the crate stacks and picking at the teeth of his sword.
“How did you know that?” Sariah asked as she tried not to appear startled.
“You have a face of stone. Again.”
She raised a thick eyebrow at him until he elaborated.
He snorted and pushed himself off of the crate stack. “It means you’re going to do something about what caused it, or destroy something.” He pointed to the bundle she carried and began to walk down the west-facing path. “With that we do both.”
Sariah jolted forward to try to outpace him. “I had come to think I was not so easy to predict.” She challenged him.
“Not many pay attention.” Was his glib response. When he saw her face fall with a glance back towards the council tent he let the bite of guilt slow his pace down to hers. Their jaunt didn’t last for long. The exit to the plains was illuminated at the highest point of the cave floor by the cold, waning light that flooded in from outside. Before that there was a dip in the altitude of the floor, at its centre was the biggest gathering of people Sariah had seen that night. The crowd opened to let Akeiton through before they could move to get a clearer indication of what it was. In the time it took for him to get there from a different path to the one Sariah and Jakkal were at the top of, they had a clear sight of what had the villagers fixated. A man had collapsed and lay among the pallets that surrounded a firepit. His eyes stared at the ceiling and were open impossibly wide like a bug’s. His mouth blurred in rapid movements no one had a chance of understanding, but all that came out were strangled cries.
“What’s happened here?” Akeiton bellowed as he bustled through.
“It was Jorran’s men, Chief!” One meddling woman cried but she was quickly silenced by those around her before she started a fight.
“H-he just collapsed! Right in front of me!” Uttered the man closest to the body. “He was fine…”
“Who is that?” Sariah whispered to Jakkal. They inched down the slope as Akeiton was now blocking their view of the man. Not before the two saw him spasm to his death though.
“That was the man who found the sword.” Said Jakkal. He sounded so vacant in his horror that she turned to look at him. Both of his eyes, green and amber, were as wide as the dead man’s and his rich skin had taken a pallor similar to her own porcelain one. “The man who held it for two weeks.” He said it just as the crowd came to the same assumption and the other chiefs began to arrive on the scene.
Sariah wasn’t given enough time to process it before Jakkal snatched the sword out of her hand and pulled her down the slope with the other.
“Wait!” She called out as the sudden hurtling movement took all the breath out of her. “What are you–“
As they got closer, people started screaming. The body was vibrating.
“Where is the sword, Akeiton?!” Madanach demanded with eyes as crazed as the panic around them.
“They already left.” Said Akeiton. As Sariah and Jakkal barrelled through to where the crowd was too thin to hide them, he stepped further back. “Go! Go, now!” He frantically whispered as he blocked Madanach’s view of their fleeing. Briefly through the crook of his arm Sariah saw the body close up. The man’s eyes were still as blue as they once were, but they no longer had any pupils. Horror tremored through her body but Jakkal was still not giving her time to think as his thunderous pace carried them through to the end of the cave. There was nobody to hide them as they ran up the incline but most were too preoccupied to look. The burning of human flesh filled their nostrils as they left. It was the only solution the villagers had been able to come to.
They made it around the corner of the Bleakwind Bluff tower before Sariah wrenched herself out of Jakkal’s grip and started to run back to the cave entrance. She’d been following for so long that it took him a moment to register it and dart after her, wrestling her to a halt by wrapping his arms around her waist.
“Faey touched that sword! We have to go back!” She repeated it over and over until he got enough of a grip to hold her still.
“It was for a few seconds!” He grunted as she kicked his shin.
“It was still a touch! We have to go back.” She sobbed and wrestled out of his grasp, even if it was only because he pushed her away. By the time she got her balance back he was standing between her and the entrance, just waiting for her to try to dive past.
“And do what? This sword is what threatens her and I’ll take the chance it’ll kill us if we try to destroy it with normal means.” He held up the bundled sword with disgust and used it to point to the horizon of the Reach over the drop of the cliffs they stood near. “If the caves are what are connected to this, we’ll find whatever causes it at the end of them. That’s usually how these enchanted weapons work, right?” He smirked.
“I wouldn’t know, I leave the fetching to you hunters.” Sariah sighed. “Hey!” She exclaimed when she noticed he was walking up the hill to the Sundered Towers. Her feet skidded down the rocks on the other side but there was little point in her rush. He had become abruptly rigid on the edge of the cliff. When she reached his side, skipping over waist-high grass thrushes, she did exactly the same.
“What is that?” She murmured.
Far below and before them, five dots of blue light brighter than the moon above shined throughout the mountainsides of the Reach. All were connected by a single stream of the same light that unnaturally flowed over the rocky terrain. Jakkal took one more step towards the drop-off point. Her hands instinctively reached out to hold him back from falling and he swung the sword that was still wrapped within the cloak. A blinding flash of light had them falling back with a cry, as well as every other village in earshot. Quick to jump to his feet, the lithe young man pointed to a sixth dot of light that had appeared.
“Our entrance.” Jakkal grumbled and looked down at the dazed Forsworn village below them. They stirred about like a nest of disturbed hornets.
“It’s right next to Blind Cliff Cave. Shouldn’t we tell Sean?”
“It’s the same distance to Kolskeggr Mine, take your pick.” Jakkal sniggered at the landmark between the two locations that was being pointedly ignored.
Sariah joined him in looking down at the distance between them and the mountain that the nearest dot of light resided on. Meanwhile Jakkal had moved his focus to the Karth River.
“No matter which way we go, we’ll need to swim. Unless we pay Karthspire a visit…” Jakkal grinned at her sudden look of repulse and held out his hand to her. “Care to slide down a mountain with me?”
Sariah tugged up the wraps of her thigh-boots as high as they would go and put her hand into his. “Not at all.” She smiled sweetly. It turned into a wicked grin as she tightened her hand around his in a nerve-numbing grip and jumped down to skid down the rocks first. “If you keep up!” She called when she hopped down to the stairs of Red Eagle Redoubt. Nobody noticed two more Forsworn running through their ranks. Rather than go through the actual ruins inside the mountain, when she came to the end of the path Sariah leapt onto the rocks. She prepared to jump down onto the platforms of green grass below but not before a long and nimble hand encased hers.
“You ever thought I wouldn’t?” Jakkal smirked. They clambered down to the river’s bed together.
To anyone from a distance the path up to the space around the Kolskeggr Farmhouse was lit with fireballs that moved forward every few seconds. Sariah was trying to dry her furs after losing her footing on stepping-stones crossing the river while Jakkal just laughed. For the second time she winced back from her own hand and sucked her finger as a gust blew the flames in the wrong direction.
“You won’t have to keep that up much longer if Kyne’s Breath stays this way.” He mused and squinted up into the fierce wind. The air had been completely still a few moments ago.
“It would help if she blew somewhere else.” Sariah muttered, glancing enviably at the warm and dry cloak wrapped around the sword. Jakkal was about to hand it to her when she stopped him. “No no, keep the cloak on it.”
“But I’ve already touched it.”
“No need to do it again.” She reasoned and marched on up the mountain.
Before long they found the source of the blue light. A gaping cave entrance glowed with it while a ghostly trail of light went on to connect with the other orbs they’d seen. At first she thought screams came from the trail but after a few moments it was a barely audible buzz.
“I’ve seen troll dens more welcoming.” Sariah remarked.
“Then you haven’t seen many troll dens.” Jakkal replied as he peered into the depths. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we find some. This place is big.”
They leant forward to try to assess whether the entrance went down or straight ahead. Sariah supported herself on the cave wall but both of their footings slipped as soon as they took a step into the darkness.
“Or not?” He amended as they stumbled down into a dank pit that had as much headroom as a prison cell. From what they could tell the cave was all rock and earth rather than metal or wood, before the entrance disappeared behind them.
“Great, now we’re in a dead end.” Sariah remarked.
“Now the key is in the caverns there is no use for it.” Jakkal’s voice drifted through the darkness from somewhere behind her.
“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed. What about that blue light, did you see where that went?”
“Now the key is in the caverns there is no use for it.” He repeated much more deliberately. He didn’t need light to see her scowl. Nonetheless she immediately conjured a fireball to show exactly how unimpressed her expression was and was taken aback to find how close he was to her. In this light the shadows cast onto his smug grin, making his teeth look like fangs. She moved away fairly quickly and they both continued on by casting light on the path ahead with their magic.
Too many fireballs and sparks later Sariah was rubbing her sore and singed wrist. “Don’t you know any light spells?” She complained, completely rhetorically.
A ball of candlelight was released to bob above their heads. She stared blankly at his face. It was twitching so much that he seemed on the brink of laughter.
The tirade he expected was put off for a few steps as the dumbfounded woman continued onward. Jakkal shrugged and followed until she whipped around and spoke venomously.
“And why, just why, did it not occur to you to use those spells when we first fell into the darkness?”
Jakkal pointed at all the scorch marks they’d left along the floor. “These will let us know where we’ve been before.”
“A dead end. A dead end, Jakkal. If we run for our lives we don’t need to be led back to a dead end!”
“Light spells are too obnoxious. They attract everything and don’t stop until it’s too late. Destruction spells, however, scare those things.”
“So now everything beyond the reach of a light spell has heard us and knows we’re dangerous. Fantastic.” She threw her arms up in the air and stomped on through the caves. Jakkal didn’t hear exactly what she was ranting about but it was definitely something derisive about men. It didn’t bother him, but he didn’t cancel his light spell either.
For what seemed like an age, the two continued on through the tunnels. Their range of sight consisted only of the small circle their source of light could illuminate. Beyond that the darkness swirled and engulfed their previous paths until it could reclaim them once more. As expected from a cave there were echoes from many different paths they weren’t aware of. Drips of water, skuttles of insects, patters of feet that neither of them wanted to know what they originated from. Yet these sounds never occurred around them, neither did they ever come close to a source, except for the growl. A low rumble that occurred in brief spurts ever since they started using magelight. By the time Sariah had finally found enough salvage for a torch they had both come to ignore it. Jakkal had taken the lead and seemingly chose the right path every time they came to a crossroads, without stopping once. How right those choices were Sariah couldn’t say, except they never led them to a bottomless pit or a congregation of Falmer.
“How do you know where we’re going?” She asked after the fifth strangely certain decision.
They went through another before he answered. The faint growls following them didn’t help. “I grew up in caves like this. How they work is what I know.”
“So every structure of caves is like this one?” She asked sarcastically. He stayed silent. “Well if you could tell me what’s at the end that would really be–“
“I never found the end.”
Realisation stopped her in her tracks as efficiently as a landslide. “In these caves?” She whispered back to him as she found herself incapable of raising her voice. “Of course, you told me. You were raised in one of the mining villages. You were sent back into them when… These are her caves?”
“I said they were like it. I can’t say anything for certain when I can’t see them properly.”
He was rubbing his neck more and more by the minute.
Sariah shook herself from going down the path of ghost tales her child would listen to. “They would have been noticed by now anyway, caves do all look the same in this light.”
Jakkal took his turn to make them stop and frowned at Sariah’s dismissal. “I don’t know how many times you’ve been to the Lover Stone but this isn’t usually here.”
“Excuse me?” She laughed in outrage. “What exactly are you trying to suggest?”
“That these caves only appeared when…”
“Why would I need to go to an old memory when I have a family? A husband, a child!”
“I wasn’t…” He began but she stormed ahead to the edge of the light and glared at the floor in silence. For now, he let her go.