Caliir ran through the forested darkness with a rugged swiftness. Every tangled grove of vines, every cluster of tree trunks and every gnarled root was dodged, juked and sidestepped, his feet as silent as they could be while steel-clad in cuffed boots. They were caked in mud and the bright insides of berries, as was the rest of him. His thick dark hair was growing increasingly frizzled and wild with sweat, drooping farther over his squinted eyes. The elf kept his mouth tightly shut to avoid swallowing an insect or any of the other distasteful items that were crashing into his face. Sweat chaffed and prickled his skin beneath his armor. Parts of him stung as his moved, the perspiration seeping into open cuts and abrasions.

"And in the rain…" he groaned in his head.

Cal's teeth ground together behind pursed lips as he prayed silently that the others were advancing with better luck than he.

Bosmer children learn very early how to swiftly navigate a dense forest and Caliir was no exception; he just wished they didn't have to. As far as ancestral advantages went, he was not playing to his strengths. His parents never had fifty-odd pounds of gear to slow them down and rub them raw. Cal hoped he could fight off the soreness in his muscles when it came time to finally draw blades. He also hoped that he was not the last to arrive. If he was to brave the entirety of this bog-like woods, then he would at least return with a few new notches to his breastplate.

The nimble elf vaulted over a massive collapsed tree and put all of his strength into a jump over a small ledge, about eight feet downward to a small river. He did not break stride, rolling over his shoulder upon impact on the far bank and coming up running, silently striding farther into the brush, arms thrusting crisply at his sides, ready to grip his sword once again.

Varinn was growing too old for this kind of work.

The seasoned Nord warrior had no memory of a simple run being so exhausting. He had to halt his partner for a moment to catch his breath, leaning on a tree, his greatsword feeling infinitely heavier than it had ten years ago. He bore the look of his fatigue as well; face splattered in mud, skin dappled with sweat, eyes haggard and armor dirtied beyond recognition. Somewhere a while back he'd also sprained his ankle, a petty but persistent injury he was loath to disclose to his current companion, a young kinsman who couldn't keep a straight face about anything, even if you wagered a sack full of septims on it. Needless to say, the boy gave Varinn a sarcastic pat on the back as he took a knee beside him.

"S'matter, old wolf? The rainfall got you feeling sorry for yourself?" Roki asked. His carefree tone, which was partially touched by their traditional accent, matched his sturdy but youthful face and puppy eyes. His sandy hair, which was modest and feathered, was loosely tied in the back with a leather strip, it and the rest of him just as filthy as Varinn but none of his disdain showing through. That parallel could have described this whole situation perfectly.

Varinn grunted and did his best to effortlessly stand, or at least to make it look effortless, "Kepp talking, youngling..." Roki rose with him and Varinn was about to set out again when a hand on his shoulder plate halted him.

"Just be glad you have a healthy pair of eyes to shepherd you!" Roki said, chuckling.

Varinn looked ahead to see that they were, indeed, standing on the edge of the river, which thundered away about fifty feet below. The bridge that should have led the two inside their destination was retracted, standing up to eclipse the moon, mocking them with its proximity.

The two just stood there a moment, contemplating their options. The river below was barely heard over the storm that did little to make things more comfortable.

Roki made a face like he'd just been told a bad joke, hand rising up to point before turning, "That's not part of the plan, is—"

"No, no it's not," Varinn interjected, kneeling down submissively and wiping his face, "They must have retracted the bridge, anticipated some kind of retaliation."

"I can see a clear path on Cal's side," Roki stated, hands on his hips.

The older Nord sighed and gazed at the looming obelisk of the tower, "Let's hope the elf is as quick thinking as he is on his feet."

Moments later, they had a "solution."

"This had better work, or we're in for a long detour." Varinn warned as he watched Roki knead an orb of flames in his palms, slowly stirring the arcane energies to life for his bidding.

"If it doesn't work then we'll be short a man soon enough." Roki answered grimly without the slightest air of reassurance. He saw the frank look Varinn gave him clearly in the dark.

"Of course it will work," he amended, eying the mechanism that had retracted the bridge, "But don't waste any time getting to the other side."


Varinn rose and steadily drew his greatsword, just the motion being enough to renew his stores. "Just you wait, old girl," he thought, hefting the blade and hunching over, his body rhythmically shifting in preparation.

Roki focused on his target, raised his hand and willed the fireball forward. A tail of vapor snaked its way to the base of the bridge which ignited in a steaming blast of ember and steam, soundless on their end. They waited in silence as the massive obelisk of wood creaked and began to descend.

Both Varinn and Roki glanced at each other before taking a few cautionary steps back.

"Hope that thing is sturdy..." Varinn thought. Roki gave him the same look he'd received earlier.

It crashed down just a few feet away. They'd expected a deafening report and the scattering of birds, or at least a small landslide. But all they were given, thankfully, was a spray of mud and murky groundwater, re-coating them in a thin layer of earth. Their hair was blasted back and Roki spit a few bits of dirt from his lips. The edge of the bridge was instantly buried several inches into the ground, the storm masking the sound but definitely not the deed.

Retribution was swift on the bandit's end. Several arrows were loosed in their direction, all of them passing harmlessly by the two Nords as they both rushed forward onto the walkway.

The weather was finally on their side, the poor visibility and unpredictable wind deterring the archers' eyes. The rainfall clattered loudly into their thick armor plates like so many pebbles tossed at a statue. Roki set the pace in front of Varinn, erecting a vibrant modified ward spell in front of them. The hostile arrows were easily batted out of the air by the battlemage, the broken shafts spiraling every which way.

There were two archers by Varinn's count, judging from the consistency of their volleys. A tiny shape would appear in the hazy distance and then suddenly another bolt was deflected by the young Nord's enchanted hands. Varinn could see the tendons and muscles in the mage's arm flaring with each swipe.

Varinn balanced his weapon's blade on his right shoulder as he charged headlong. He was ready to slice this entire tower in two. Of course, though, Roki got first strike.

The pine door ahead that would grant them a supposedly hard-won entrance was thrust open and three hulking highwaymen stormed out, just in time for the return volley.

This they had practiced. Roki punched forward and a wicked bolt of lightning shot ahead and caught the first bandit in the chest, sapping his strength, inflicting pain and immobilizing him. Roki kicked him in the chest, sending him off the bridge.

With fluid movement Roki ducked, making way for his friend at his back, who stepped readily in his place, blade already in mid-swing, right as the second bandit became conscious of the situation. Varinn's greatsword cut horizontally through its victim's body like a hot knife through butter. Bone and organ were pierced with equal ease and quickly another body hit the ground and tumbled away, halved. Another warm red spray flew to the side and across Varinn's face, his dark eyes wild and fiery, his blade towering over him.

With one enemy left standing, and sheer momentum carrying Varinn into a full spin, and he beheaded the third member of the welcoming party. They'd made their entrance.

They had little time to inhale or congratulate each other on what was honestly a flashy and impractical maneuver, as what must have been one of the archers appeared at the head of the stairs to Roki's immediate left, bow already drawn. Roki pulled the nearest body in front of him with a grunt. Before he could blink an arrow burst through the dead man's torso, thick blood flying into the mage's face. He squinted and pushed the meat shield aside, focusing a ball of flame into his hands and firing at his attacker, cloaking the archer in flames. It had been female from the sounds of the dying screams. She was ashes and bone in less than five bats of an eye. The smoky fragments of her armor and weapons clattered down the staircase.

Another bandit entered the room across from Roki and he zapped his skull with a lethal bolt of lightning, dropping him like a sack of crops.

"Well done Roki, but I smell more on the floors above us. Find another weapon, a real weapon." Varinn ordered as he entered. He took a moment to shake his face and hair free of moisture, wiping blood from his face.

Roki shushed him, holding up his hand and making a face like he was listening.

"I think Caliir has finally arrived."

"There's stupid, there's 'all-or-nothing,' and then there's this."

Caliir spun after his very generous backtrack and sprinted off to the edge of the steppe.

The second story window was just a few feet lower than his vantage point, and about ten feet out. It looked like a thick wool tarp had been pinned up over it to keep the weather out. He'd have to go through that, and whatever unlucky sod could have been lounging in behind of it.

His steel-cuffed boots were well-fitted but heavy, not suited for this occasion. The rest of his armor chaffed and tore into his skin. His sword, which he'd temporarily slung to his back, beat against him. The rain flooded into his reddening, swollen eyes, eyes which needed to stay wide open for this to even come close to fruition.

In one last stride he reached the edge and jumped.

The wind seemed to halt for just that moment; he thanked the Divines for that. His arms were held close, hands ready. This shouldn't work but somehow he knew it would, but that part of his mind - the one responsible for confidence - was hiding itself away deep in Caliir's subconscious, leaving plenty of room for the fear mongering. As far as he was concerned, he was about to face-plant either the top or the bottom of the window frame and then break his legs after the way down.

The elf met the window covering which proved to be several lengths of plywood and blanketing. His forearms guarded his face and his knees folded tight. He crashed through the crude barrier with a nasty sound and hit the floor hard.

He rolled over his shoulder and to his feet on instinct, continuing the charge and propelling him into the first figure he registered. The bandit was completely unprepared and felt all the breath seized from his lungs when Caliir drilled him with a heavy tackle at the waist. Both of them spent a few seconds in the air before crashing down against the wall, the bandit's head slamming against the stone wall.

He swiftly drew his sword and came upright in one motion and found himself face-to-face with the onlookers, who traded faces before charging him.

Caliir's blade was one of pure ebony, infinitely dark and sharpened nearly to the atom. It was light and thin, perfectly suited for his fighting style. It rose up once again for another challenge.

His first attacker was a an Imperial clad in thick fur armor, steel gauntlets guarding his forearms, beyond which there was a heavy iron sword. He made to swing wide and wild, and Cal ducked the strike and kicked him hard in the chest, knocking him to the floor. He pivoted to face another attacker. They were both caught in the gray area between surprise and over-anticipation, and they both showed it by striking in the same fashion. The vastly different blades clashed between the pair, so close that Cal could smell the bandit's breath.

The bandit took the initiative and swiped the two blades the right, putting his blade on top, and sliced upward to the elf's face, but Cal leaned back, the fatal edge passing inches from his chin. Cal swung up himself, his blade finding its mark and gouging the man's throat. The bandit spun to the floor, blood spiraling from his neck.

He spun and blocked a shallow mid-level strike, his blade pointing downward, and the elf lunged forward and drove the pommel into the bandit's face, breaking his nose, then slashed down across his neck. The bandit staggered around, his back to Caliir, one hand clutching his seeping wound, and Cal ran his blade through his torso with a grunt, finishing him off. The elf heard a profane shout and then saw the Imperial man, now armed with a shield, charging him.

Cal knew he couldn't engage this one head-on. The heavy shield bash came swiftly and he ripped his blade from its last victim. He didn't have time to get out of the way and was only able to guard himself. The wedge of wood and metal plowed into him and the bandit ran him back, Cal fighting for every inch of space until his back foot found purchase and he halted. The bandit snarled as he pressed into him, raising his hand ax. Cal freed his sword arm from between them and cracked the man's jaw with the pommel. The bandit from earlier made to join in but Cal jumped and kicked him away, then ducked under the man's shield arm and pressed the edge of his sword to his body. Once he was behind him, he yanked the blade away, slicing the bandit open and rolling him to the floor.

The other marauder recovered and engaged him at once. Cal heard two more coming down the stairs. He held his ground, both hands clutching his weapon, eyes darting back and forth, and muttered a small prayer to himself, more out of spite than faith.

He hadn't noticed how large this last man really was until just now, when he was barreling right at him. He was easily a foot-and-a-half taller than Cal and twice his weight in brawny muscle. A bushy blond beard fastened into two braids covered most of his face and a sloppy mohawk topped his head. His greatsword was already powerful enough to split Caliir like a log; with that man wielding it, it was almost a guarantee.

Cal nimbly ducked the first big swing of iron, and cringed when he almost didn't duck the second. He leaned back to avoid a third strike and then the man stepped forward and swung at Cal's legs. Thinking desperately and rashly, Caliir jumped up in a mad scramble to save his limbs, stepped on the bandit's chest with one foot and kicked him in the side of the head with his other. The Nord staggered while Cal landed flat on his chest and quickly recovered. He met the marauder's seething look with one of his own. "Come on!" the elf shouted fiercely, readying himself.

At that point Roki and Varinn arrived after their assault on the bridge, just as another pair of bandits descended the stairs, soaked from the rain. Varinn turned sideways, blocking the first man with his shoulder and then bringing his greatword's pommel upwards into the bandit's jaw. Then he twisted, severing his opponent at the waist. He took advantage of the momentum and spun again, this time slicing the second warrior across the chest, opening him up and planting him face down in his own viscera.

The bandit chief took advantage of Cal's distraction and rushed him, only to be cut off by Varinn. The hulking nord warrior held his blade sideways and charged the chief against the wall with a vicious war cry. Varinn headbutted him before pulling away. He reared back for a swing and the chief brought up his sword to block, and Varinn simply sliced the blade in half, then beheaded the bandit with another mighty roar.

The trio stood there in the damp room, surveying their doings. Blood was thickly pooling on the floor and all three of them were covered in it. Now, Cal was actually eager to venture back out into the storm.

"Phew! Nothing like a battle to get your blood moving!" Roki said breathlessly but excitedly. Being a practitioner of magic, he didn't have as many opportunities to put his swordsmanship to the test like Caliir or Varinn, but when he did Roki always cherished the moment.

"The only thing better than labor…" Cal started with a grin as he began to pat down each of the freshly-slain corpses, "…is the fruit of that labor." Varinn just shook his head.

"You're starting to sound like a cat there, elf," the Nord joked.

Roki began pilfering through the various shelves and cabinets, most likely looking for potions or assorted ingredients or whatever it was that spellcasters found valuable, Cal didn't know. He was a mercenary, he saw value in the simple things; jewelry, rare stones, questionably-brewed poultices, and of course, coin.

"So many possibilities," Roki always thought when the time for looting came. No lord's wage could ever feel as deserved as the spoils of a battle; he had earned these Jarrin roots and mountain flowers, he'd shed blood for these cod scales and frost salts.

His personal apothecary satchel was stuffed by this point so now he was just squirreling away any item he found interesting into his rucksack. He was in the process of perfecting a new remedy for partial numbness should he find any Blisterwort toadstools, and should he find anyone willing to partake of a "trial batch." That, and a little herb for the pipe never hurt anyone, but such an amenity was scarce in this country.

"Two minutes Roki, then we leave." Varinn said. Material fancies were lost on him.

"Agreed. The last thing I need right now is a cold." Cal added.

Roki looked over his shoulder after cramming two handfuls of Fly Amanita and Elve's Ear into his pack, "Cal, you're a wood elf. And besides, any ailment you run the very slight risk of picking up can be cured effortlessly by yours truly."

"Well, I don't want that, either." Cal mumbled matter-of-factly. So far, he'd hardly managed to fill one pocket with gold and was in an increasingly sour mood– Twenty septims, to be exact. "Pathetic, broke vermin," he thought with scorn; how was he to make a living if he could hardly buy food and drink? Repairs alone would run him more than this whole outfit had put together. "Leave it to us to knock over the poorest vandals in the Reach."

Varinn sensed his disdain, "Amren looks an honest man and the bounty he offered will be more than enough to sate your appetite. In the meantime, help me find this damn sword." He finished with an aggravated tone.

"Oh right, we came here for a reason, didn't we?" Cal griped as he joined Varinn on the stairs.

Roki halted. "I'll just, you know, keep watch here, yeah?" Roki asserted, eyes batting briefly to the other cupboards and chests that had yet to be ransacked.

Varinn smiled sarcastically, "You are doing a splendid job." He turned, "Come-come, elf."

"This sword of his had better be made of solid Dwemer gold and adorned with emeralds, with a handle bound in stallion's mane..." Cal muttered to no one in particular as he marched up the stairs.

Roki remained on the second level, scurrying here and there for this and that. He could hear his comrades upstairs stomping around, turning over beds and tables and knocking down shelves and cabinets trying to find Amren's fabled weapon. If his memory served him, Amren's bounty was hovering somewhere around four-hundred septims. That meant a hundred for each of them, and another hundred to keep between them.

"One-hundred septims," he thought as he pilfered through the drawers of a dresser, "Just enough to get excited but meek enough to stay reasonable."

He had been thinking about blowing half- if not all- of his payment at a local cauldron, but after today's haul he had no need to. He wasn't much a drinker either, unless on occasion, and tonight's work had been nothing special and warranted no fireside merrymaking, so the tavern was out of the question as well. There was always the general store, but nothing had really caught his eye in there as of late and he wasn't one to empty his purse on pure impulse.

He could always just save the money, he supposed.

Upstairs, after coming as close to literally turning a room upside down as they could manage, Varinn and Caliir had been unsuccessful in their search for Armen's stolen property. They'd left no bed unturned and no box unopened. Anywhere you could have hidden something of value had been scoured– Everything but the gaudy throw rug on the floor.

In their hurried looting they'd trampled the once-pristine piece of décor to the point where it was more muddy brown than any other color. Regardless, they had few other places to look and they wouldn't return with the knowledge that they hadn't exhausted every possibility.

The rug was quite thick and admittedly heavy. The two warriors each took a side and prepared to lift the waterlogged cloth.

"One, two, three–" Varinn counted and they raised the rug together.

Then all the chaos of Oblivion broke loose.

Upon lifting the blanket they were rewarded with a series of mechanical sounds that most certainly did not fit the moment. There was no golden/jewel-encrusted sword. Instead they were met with a series of jury-rigged mechanisms that seemed to extend down to the floor. And they found a rune.

Caliir had no time to say a word. Varinn had no time to issue an order. At that one heart-lurching moment they isolated themselves and acted purely on instinct, thinking only for themselves. When the going gets tough, self-preservation shines brightest.

Caliir reacted first. His hands left his end of the rug and he dashed backward, grabbing the edge of the nearby bed frame – praying that the bedding would remain in place for no more than a few seconds – and erected it in front of him, whereas Varinn twisted and scrunched down, throwing the rug over his body. Both warriors made it about two-thirds of the way through their maneuvers when the rune activated.

The rune had been red, meaning fire. Suddenly a furious blaze filled the space around them, flashing brightly and exploding in every direction. The heat that washed over the pair was second only to the lack of oxygen and monumental shockwave that tore through their defenses. Caliir's bedding was instantly incinerated and the wood frame was blasted apart, throwing him against the wall behind him in a haze of splintered, blackened lumber. Varinn was pushed only a few feet but the blanket over him caught fire, stinging at his armor plates and cooking the skin underneath. To complete the picture of chaos, the cacophony of noise was deafening, as everything that could break did break, and in spectacular fashion.

One level down, Roki was met with a different surprise before the rune went off. He heard a mechanical sound, too rough to be Dwarven but to uniform to be a common construct like a door or draw bridge or anything that would make any sense. He whipped his head around, eyes wide, and saw what looked like two dead rabbits fall down from the ceiling. His knowledge alerted him and he looked down, seeing a bright red symbol suddenly emblazon itself on the floor.

His breath caught in his throat and he rushed to the window and dove out. The blast of fire launched him from his spot in the air and flinging into the night. A brief but intense ward spell was all that stopped him from being incinerated.

Roki felt himself impact the cliff face just outside and he started desperately grabbing for a handhold. He found one, which quickly broke away, forcing him to scramble for another as he fell another several feet. Finally, his hand found purchase on a hard, sturdy root growing from within the dirt shelf. Though his ears were ringing, he could still hear his own frenzied gasps for air.

Inside the tower, as Varinn struggled to one knee, he felt a hand on his back and a brief increase in weight. Then, he saw that one last bandit had vaulted over him and dashed back the way they'd come, down the stairs. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the speedy individual was carrying two sheaths across his back; it would seem they had found Amren's precious sword.

There was no letting him get away, no muttering "we tried" upon return to Whiterun. Sure, things had taken a slight turn for the worst, but such was to be expectedl; a journey with no setbacks isn't a journey at all.

Varinn brushed the tuffs of brunt hair from his head and spun on his heel, snatching up his blade.

"Cal, on your feet! There's one last bastard making a run for it with our prize!"

The Bosmer shakily got upright. He stumbled and fell against the stone, clutching his side. Varinn smelled his mer blood. Not enough of it to cause worry but, then again, he'd lost enough of his own to resist the shock. Caliir was smaller than he, he had less to lose.

Cal pushed himself off the stone, awkwardly skipping forward past Varinn, and proceeded to hop down the stairs, using the banister for support, grunting viciously through his teeth.

"Cal, regroup with Roki!" the Nord yelled down the steps as he propped himself up on his greatsword, "Head him off before he reaches the tree line!" Caliir yelled something in acknowledgment.

One floor below, the Bosmer lost coordination and tumbled headlong down the last few stairs. He felt a hot, aching pain shoot through his jaw and right elbow and he tasted more copper. He fought through it, refusing to yield to anything less than fatal. He'd tasted his own blood before and he'd taken heavier hits. Once he was on his feet, his vigor was unchanged.

As for "fatal," the wooden spike in his side was becoming a nuisance. It was a splinter eating away at his insides. It stung, it shifted with his weight; the blood that seeped around it stung at his other scrapes and abrasions beneath his armor, and despite all of that he knew he couldn't remove it. He was no healer, but he was almost certain that something busy had been punctured down there and any breach would have caused bleeding that he wasn't prepared to deal with right now.

Cal limp-hopped over to the ratty tapestry hung on the wall and yanked it all down. He tore a length of it away and slipped it under his chassis, wrapping it tight around his abdomen, just above the wound. That, with any luck, should slow the bleeding.

Now he had to end this damned bandit.

Roki, still clinging to the rocks just outside, was trying to see through the night's pouring shroud and plan a route to the ground when he saw a figure emerge from the rear door several stories below. At first he thought it was one of his comrades here to belittle his predicament, but such wasn't the case. Instead, the body language was off-putting, the pace differently disciplined, the silhouette of the armor was all wrong. They'd missed one.

The mage let one hand leave his life-preserving ledge and he lit a small flame, flicking it at the cropping of shrubs near the figure. They burst into a small blaze which was immediately set upon by the persistent rain, but amidst the flickering natural light he could tell that this entity was not one of his friends.

The figure recoiled from the small burst of heat and stumbled away. Roki saw his chance to head the bandit off and took it, letting go of the root and sliding down the face.

He hit the ground hard, but didn't feel anything break. A few paces ahead of him was the bandit. Roki started forward but with a degree of difficulty; his legs may not have been broken but they still hurt, and his skin felt hot and he'd used the last of his reserves for spells. Despite that, he willed himself forward until he caught up with the figure, who turned upon hearing the stomps behind him.

Roki, knowing little other recourse, punched the man in the face, almost slipping in the rain and mud. He threw a second wild strike that the bandit blocked and countered with a hook of his own, catching Roki across his jaw. He landed another hard shot to Roki's gut before stepping back and pivoting quickly, and Roki felt the man's boot collide with his temple.

The mage saw white and was knocked flat, and the lone bandit broke into a dead sprint for the woods.

Caliir, with renewed vigor, charged past Roki's slowly squirming form only seconds later, slowing momentarily to make sure his comrade was still breathing. Once he was certain, he took off.

The woodland elf had little trouble catching up to the bandit. The only issues he was given were from his own wounds, and the adrenalin pumping through his veins and the blood rushing in his ears was more than enough to quell the pain. The silhouette he chased down became more and more defined in the solid dark of night and driving rain of summer until he was right on top of him.

He lunged himself onto the bandit's back, grabbing ahold of his furs and trying to ground him. This man was slippery though, and managed to stay on his feet as Cal desperately grappled. His boot heels slid through the earth. He eventually managed to squirm around to face the elf and gave him a quick, painful shot to the midsection. Caliir dropped to one knee and got his hands around both of the bandit's legs, then lifted him up and slammed him down with a wet sound, mud splattering around them.

The bandit held Caliir tight to halt his movement but the elf managed to break the hold and crawl over the man, and dropped a hard punch to the jaw, then another, and then another. His pace was slowing as he threw a fourth and the bandit grabbed his arm, pulling him in close for a hard headbutt. Cal was dazed and barely defended the sudden slice from a knife that the bandit hurriedly pulled from his belt. The blade cut Cal across the face, jerking him back. The two separated and staggered to their feet.

Even in the rain, Caliir could feel warmth running down his face. Both of his eyes seemed to be fine, so he pushed the grisly knowledge of his injury to the back of his mind. He squared up as the man advanced with the dagger. He threw several quick but sloppy strikes with the short blade that Cal dodged one after another, before blocking one and punching the man straight in the chin, then swatted the knife from his hand. He held the back of the man's neck and drove several knee strikes into his face. As the man broke free of the hold Cal grabbed one of the man's swords and, when he was pushed away, unsheathed it. Water leapt from the blade.

Both men slipped slightly in the mud before righting themselves. The bandit drew the second sword.

They met again and traded blows, both of them striking and parrying in equal measure. This man was good, better than Cal had expected for a fleeing thief, but he was growing more and more desperate the longer the fight went on, and soon his form and skill suffered for it.

With one last war cry, barely audible over the torrential rainfall, the bandit swung at Cal. He ducked, got inside and delivered a blow of his own, this one finding the slick of flesh. Caliir came down to one weary knee as the bandit slumped down to a heap beside him, dead in the mud.

All the current pain came steadily back to him as he huffed and puffed through his mouth, water and blood streaming down his dirtied face. He inspected the sword he'd used to end the melee and found it befitting the description given to them by Amren, and he would have chuckled if he had any breath left to do so.

He slowly got to his feet, one hand clutching the sword, the other holding his side. This storm showed no signs of subsiding until at least sunrise, and they were expected back in Whiterun by then.

He had to get back to the tower and give Roki guff about being knocked unconscious.