'If there was anything I hate more than ash storms, I haven't found it yet.'

Ilnur Maren brought his pack guar to a halt and stared sullenly into the building storm. It wasn't dangerous just yet, but the ash had begun to swirl about him and the previously clear blue sky was showing an ominous ochre tint that spoke of trouble to come.

The Dunmer sighed, then spat a wad of ash out onto the ground. He would have to find shelter, and soon. His small trader's tent wasn't enough to protect both him and his pack guar. The creature was not only his livelihood; it was his friend.

"Just a little further," he told it, scratching its neck affectionately before patting its large, rounded head. "Think I might see a cave just a little ways from here." He tugged on the creature's harness, and it obediently followed him down the path.

Sure enough, just around the path's bend a pile of rocks nearly concealed a small cave opening. A dim reddish light spilled out, making the darkening foyada just a little brighter.

The wind began to get that peculiar whistling note that it had when an ash storm was coming, and there seemed to be even more ash and grit in the air around them. "Come on, let's--" he began, but the pack guar suddenly made a squealing sort of grunt and sat back on its hind legs.

"What--this is no time to start fooling around!" Ilnur gave a firm tug on the creature's harness, but it wouldn't move in the the direction of the cave. "Come on!" He pulled again, but the creature still would not move.

Ilnur took off his cap and scratched his whitish hair. The guar had never disobeyed him before, even in such dubious undertakings as swimming across a river or climbing a hillside where cliff racers were known to nest.

"You picked a damned fine time to be stubborn, you fetcher," he grumbled at it. "I hate to do this, but I'm going in there without you. I guess I can use that cure blight potion on you after the storm if you get sick, but Vivec knows I'd rather not have to." If the guar understood anything its keeper said, it gave no sign. It merely continued to look at him through mild yellow-brown eyes.

Ilnur sighed again. "I'm going inside. I'll see you when it's done." He patted the beast on its broad back, then sighed deeply. Reluctantly, he turned on his heel and ducked into the crimson-lit cave.

"Holy Vivec...what kind of place is this?"

The red glow Ilnur saw came from dozens and dozens of red and black candles, placed in ornate patterns all around the cave's entrance. He took off his cap and scratched his head again. Most candles he'd seen--even in the Tribunal temples when he'd gone to services--had flames that burned with the normal hue.

A slight sussurus of sound reached his ears. At first, Ilnur thought it was the wind outside, making its way over the rocks and dead trees in the foyada outside. But the more he listened--felt compelled to listen--the more he realized it was voices, like a hundred dreamers whispering in their sleep.

An icy finger caressed his spine. He'd heard rumors--any trader worth his saltrice listened to stories in the corner clubs--of dark places where horrible monsters gathered and worshipped a power more horrible than even the darkest Daedra Lord. He thought perhaps he had found one such place.

But the storm...the storm was howling at its highest pitch now, and to be outside would be to court a different sort of death.

Ilnur was still deliberating which was the greater evil--a cave full of vile cultists or an ash storm full of blight and woe--when something stepped out into the corridor ahead of him.

Once, it had been a Dunmer, much like himself, perhaps. Now it was a horror the likes of which Ilnur had never seen. Hairless and naked except for a ragged loincloth, it looked to have once been a male.

The creature's attire was not what held Ilnur's attention. As it moved closer, Ilnur could see that from upper lip to just above the eyebrows, the creature's head was entirely hollow and faceless.

His last thought before his mind mercifully left him was 'How can it see me? In the Vivec's name, how can it see me?'

He fell to the ground in a mindless heap, and was dead even as the thing began to feed.


I don't often write horror. In fact, this is the first anything I've written in forever... I don't know that ash zombies would actually eat someone, but it felt right in this case.