Disclaimer: I obviously don't own Oblivion. Bethesda Game Studios does, and as one of their loyal followers and forum members, I would never dare claim ownership of any of their works.

City of Shadows

Chapter Twenty-four

"Okay, so run that by me one more time. What do you want us to do?"

The bandaged man looked at him oddly, as if he had just said something extremely stupid. Who knows, maybe I did?

Needless to say, the stranger's exclamation had caused everyone to react in their own special way. Julius had, as he always did when pressured, fainted. Nak had just stared and then let out a long hiss. And Marquis? He had been left speechless as he mind ground to a halt, trying to process what had just happened.

"I said, you're going to find the source of the mist and destroy."

"Right. Of course. Sure we are. I'm not going to ask why, since that's sort of obvious and all. Instead, I want to know how exactly you plan on having us do this."

The man gave him that look again, and Marquis unconsciously took a step back, cowed. "That's not really my problem. I'm just here to send you in the right direction."

Despite the man's eyes, which were still drilling a hole through him, this was a bit more than Marquis was willing to handle. "So you're just going to send us on our merry way, with no clue what to do, no idea where to do it, and with the only reason being that you said so? Are you insane?"

"Possibly. But then, what is insanity, truly? For that matter, what is sanity? And who gets to decide which is which? Perhaps I am sane and you are insane. It's all a matter of perspective really. So in that respect, either everyone is insane, or no one is. Does that answer your question?" the man responded in a lecturing tone.

Before Marquis could even properly grasp what had just been said, Nakuma decided to speak for him. "Well, from my perspective, you're nuts."

"Ah, touché, my rival."

The Argonian's eye twitched at that, and impressive feat for a lizard. Rival?

Julius, who had been unconscious for that entire exchange, finally began to stir. "Ugh... I just had the strangest nightmare. I could have sworn..."

He trailed off as he looked up at his surroundings, and upon realizing where he was, let out an exhausted sigh and fell backwards once more, his head bouncing off the ground. "Excuse me, but could you please tell me where I am?"

Marquis stared at the man he had so affectionately nicknamed "that useless idiot" in slight surprise. Why hadn't he thought to ask that?

The bandaged man laughed, though to Marquis it sounded more like a sickly cough. "I forgot to mention that, did I? You're in the Arcane University. Or rather its remnants."

Julius promptly shot to his feet at that. "What! T-t-t-he University? The most dangerous place in the entire city? The place no one had entered in... Well... Forever? Where the only exit is the Arboretum?"

The man nodded, and Julius rubbed his temples in thought as he wondered what God he had offended to get him in this mess. Marquis could swear he heard him quietly sobbing, but for once the drunk didn't fault him. The Arcane University. There were so many stories about the place, and none of them good.

The strange man turned to the Breton once more, and started speaking again, ignoring the Imperial who suddenly felt like screaming. "By the way, I do know where you should go. Or at least the general area."

"Oh? And where might that be?" Marquis asked, what little genuine curiosity he had being overwhelmed by a sudden sense of dread that he only got when Julius was about to drag him off on some potentially fatal trip."

"Why, White-Gold Tower of course."

After hearing this, Julius promptly fainted again, with Marquis joining him this time out of sheer shock. Nakuma just looked at them. "I had no idea they were that tired."

The bandaged man blinked.

Sven brought his sword forward in a wide arc, managing to keep the trolls at bay while he backed up. He noted absently that if he kept moving backwards, he'd eventually be up against the city wall, but that thought was overridden by his burning desire to not be eaten.

Lyra, however, seemed to be thriving on the opportunity to kill things. Sven actually cringed as she plunged her sword through the head of a nearby troll while laughing maniacally. Even the trolls seemed somewhat wary of her, as they refused to get in striking distance after that, which only served to infuriate the woman. Sed, for his part, was moving through the trolls with unnatural speed, slashing here and there with his daggers. Sven noticed that he had yet to receive so much as a scratch while he had already taken a gash to his left arm.

Despite the fact that they had been fighting for less than five minutes, Sven was already breathing hard, which he supposed was just more evidence of his old age. Lyra was only slightly winded, while Sed didn't appear affected at all. Sven cursed him in his head, since he didn't have enough breath to properly form an insult.

Even though they had managed to kill nearly a dozen of the monsters, there were still more of them coming out of the jungle, and it wasn't long until Lyra found herself shoulder to shoulder with Sven, with their backs to the wall. Sed was nowhere in sight, and Sven found himself hoping the vampire was on the bottom of a pile of trolls somewhere. Lyra, for her part, was somewhat disappointed. If the vampire was going to get killed, she at least wanted to watch. Neither of them seemed to consider that they were in a position of imminent death themselves.

"You know, there's rather a lot of them."

"Not chickening out on me now, are you old man?"

"And if I were, what exactly do you suppose I would do? Run? My back's to a wall. Beg for mercy? Like these things are even smart enough to understand what I'm saying."

Lyra ignored the growl from the closest troll as she responded. "Yeah, they are pretty stupid, aren't they. Coming at us in large numbers like this, just for a meal? You'd think there'd be easier things out there for them to hunt, which wouldn't kill them in the process, but I guess these things don't have brains big enough to realize that."

The growling only increased as the conversation went on. "Especially with that vampire. What on Nirn would possess them to go after him? I'd bet he tastes horrible, being dead and all."

"Just further shows their idiocy."

The growls quickly turned to roars as the trolls rushed the pair all at once. Sven's eyes widened as he realized there was no way to fend them all off, even with Lyra there. Just as it started to sink in that he might actually die to something as simplistic as a feral troll when he had gone through so much already, a much louder roar sounded over the others, and something came flying through the air to land in front of them, its tail twirling to crush nearly a dozen of the things at once.

Lyra and Sven stared in shock as a familiar figure on the back gave a slight wave to them. "Now this is what I'd call a dynamic entry."

Sven finally realized what Daniel the vampire was riding, completely ignoring what he had said. It was the same giant lizard thing that had attacked them earlier. "You have to be kidding me. That's cheating!"

Lyra stared at him incredulously. "Are you complaining that he brought something to kill all the trolls with? Seriously?"

"But... But... That shouldn't be possible. That thing's a wild animal, and he shouldn't be able to ride it anyway with nothing to hold on to, and... And... You know what? I give up. Call me when the carnage is over."

With that, he plopped down on the ground, ignoring the lizard that was now tearing the trolls apart. Lyra watched on from her position, wishing she had a snack. She thought it was a very good show.

A/N: Just for those that may be interested, any fans of the show Evangelion, or even anyone that's just seen it in passing, should check out the fic Nobody Dies by Gregg Landsman. It's by far one of the most entertaining things I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Yay for advertising!