Here's my first fanfiction post. It's an Oblivion game runthrough...sort of…that has quickly turned into a massive odyssey for both myself, my OC and everyone who clings on for the ride. Props to David Brasher at Oblivion Nexus for his Fighters Guild mod (lots of perspective there), and plenty of props to the wonderful writers of Elder Scrolls fanfiction for their inspiration.
So, after much ado (a lot, a lot of ado; trust me), I present the first installment of my Wolf of Cyrodiil story, titled Fighter (sorta obvious, but give me my shnazy, proper, preliminary presentation of this titanic, tantalizing, totally tubular tale. I'm the author! I get to get giddy over my the product of my brain).
And thanks to Bethesda for this fantastic game. They own it, not me. I only own my OC. So...let's get started.
Fire and smoke; screaming that echoed in emptiness. She tried to run. Tried to reach them. The dark clung to her like thick mud, dragging at her steps, holding her back. Her home and family burned and she was left straining against the dark, unable to move, unable to reach them. She opened her mouth to scream and the bottom dropped out of the world, sending her plummeting into the blackness.
A leg spasm brought her awake with a jerk and Sharah snatched instinctively for a hilt on her waist. Panic ensued when she grasped at empty air. She choked it down as a reflex. Her heart was pounding and she gasped at the air, unable to take a deep enough breath to calm her terrorized mind. As the nightmare faded she lay back down and curled tight. Just a dream. Just an old dream. One she hadn't had in a long time. But the emotions it dug up were as raw as the day she'd come back to the smoldering wreck that had broken her life apart. Sharah buried her face in her pillow, just breathing until the pounding in her chest lessened.
The comfort of the Guildhall was a blessing after waking up from that. Sharah tucked the blanket beneath her chin and looked across the floor at the other beds on the second level. In the early morning light she could see that most of them were occupied. Her sudden rousing hadn't been loud enough to wake them. Most hadn't been here when she'd gone to sleep. Probably down at the Gray Mare having their usual drinks. It explained the louder than usual snoring. Sharah managed a smile knowing it was their Guild armorer, Sabine Laul, who was the loudest, and not the big Orc sprawled out on the next bed down, who looked only a bit less grumpy when he was asleep with his toothy maw open.
Sharah melted into the mattress for a few seconds longer. But there was no getting back to sleep after that nightmare. She kicked off the blanket and reached for her boots. She'd woken up in this Guildhall before. Spent plenty of time in every Fighters Guildhall in Cyrodiil. But waking up today felt different. Maybe it was because of her latest assignment, the one Modryn Oreyn had given her yesterday. The one he'd sent summons out to every Guildhall in order to be sure she received it. Sharah grinned as she tightened the laces. Six years in the Guild and she never thought the second in command would single her out to work directly under him. Sharah'd get some good-natured flack for it when her guildmates woke up and caught wind. They'd call her Oreyn's assistant. It sounded sort of demeaning but the description was accurate enough. And he said the work was important, so how could she say 'no'?
It wasn't until after her boots were on that Sharah's brain finally caught the call for wakefulness. She needed to change pants. Which meant she had to pull off the boots again. Considering all her guildmates were still asleep, Sharah chanced changing there at the foot of her bed. And being small as she was, Sharah could crouch and just about disappear behind her trunk if she had to. Becoming practically invisible was a skill she'd picked up during her…adventures. Her petite stature helped with that. Her shapely hips and full chest, less so. And the latter made it hell to find pants and cuirasses that fit properly. Still, her body bent to her will, shaped to battle and speed as a mercenary of the Fighters Guild.
In the hall's bathing room she washed her face and pulled a comb through her bed ravaged hair, yanking out the night's knots. Looking in mirrors was always…disconcerting. She could almost see her mother staring out at her: an Imperial from somewhere unimportant with an oval face, soft features, and cloudy green eyes. Her father's Redguard heritage lingered around the raised jawline and in the darkened tint of her skin. She could usually pass for an Imperial with a hearty tan, but Sharah saw the truth before her in every reflective surface.
It was hard to forget her mother's words. "If you just cleaned up yourself a bit more. Wore a dress, maybe some makeup, you'd be one of the prettiest girls in town."
Sharah snorted and splashed water up upon her face, scrubbing vigorously. Sharah's mother wouldn't have particularly approved of the battle scars that were scattered across her skin. But the life of an adventurer tended to do that and it had been Sharah's calling, no matter her parents' opinions.
At least there weren't too many. That had to count for something. It wasn't like she charged into situations without thinking. She crept into them instead, quiet, careful, observant.
Another scoff. Father wouldn't have approved of that one, even from her brother. And he hadn't wanted Sharah to take up the sword at all. She was her mother's daughter, after all, so what authority could he wield on her fate?
Sharah sighed, leaning over the basin. Her hair fell forward, dirty brown, even clean, and hanging an inch or so off her shoulders. Hm. It was getting a bit long, actually. It was near time to hack it back to an unobtrusive length.
No matter the hints mother had dropped, no matter her father's hesitant warnings about Sharah taking up the sword, she'd wanted her own adventure. Craved it. Been inspired by the stories of her father's youth. Stories he probably assumed she'd taken as excitement enough, rather than the wetting of her appetite for the world. Sharah's resemblance to her mother misled him. Father hadn't realized—or perhaps refused to realize—just how much of his heritage he'd really passed on to her. How much she'd wanted to be like him, out in the world, weapon in hand, discovering.
Sharah paused, staring once again at the face in the mirror. But then, that craving had been the cause of her misfortune. A fact brought back into the light by that dream…
Sharah shook the lingering memories away and went back to her bed. She finished things by strapping a shortsword of blue glass to her hip and lashing a second, black, almost crystalline longsword to her back. Most would think one or the other would be enough. They didn't know what that longsword was. And Sharah wasn't trusting it out of her sight for any reason. Not yet. Otherwise garbed for the day, she finished by fastening a leather strap bearing her Fighters Guild patch to its familiar place around her bicep. Today the patch was that of a Guild Protector: a single bare arm wielding a sword. Oreyn's new assignment for her included a promotion. She'd worn the mark of her membership almost religiously since the moment she joined up. It represented a large part of her life and the physical symbol of her belonging was worth more than she could say.
Outside, the morning air was crisp and clean. The sun hadn't yet risen to chase away the thin haze that coiled about the houses and the great oak tree that stood in the plaza before her. Sharah remained on the porch of the hall, breathing deep and casting the last of the nightmare away. Her guildmates wouldn't be up quite yet, so she had some time to herself. Perhaps she should wander the town, get her bearings properly. Especially if she was to be based here more permanently.
The guard must have just changed because Sharah didn't see any late night yawns breaking their faces. Good of the Captain to schedule the change before most of the populous hit the streets. Street lamps were just getting doused and Sharah heard the early birds take to the sky from the forest beyond the walls. Chorrol really was a beautiful city. Sharah was glad it was the first one she landed in after making it to Cyrodiil from Hammerfell. Nice, charming, peaceful. If she'd dropped into Leyawiin first, Sharah probably would have bolted for Skyrim or Morrowind first chance she got. Well, as long as she was stuck serving in a single city, it might as well be in Chorrol.
Guards bid her a good morning when they passed while Sharah skirted the buildings to walk the length of the city walls. The thing what worried her about this new assignment wasn't that she'd be assigned to complete the more difficult contracts that came up, nor that she'd be trusted to handle Guild matters that the local leaders couldn't manage, and with Oreyn's authority. It was that she wouldn't have the same freedom she was used to. The freedom to leave when she wanted, travel where she wanted, go where she wanted.
Her entire time in Cyrodiil had been based around that freedom. The 'itch', her father called it. Azzan in Anvil had called it the Ra Gada Urge. But whatever it was, she had it bad. A common affliction among Redguards, it drove them to travel and adventure and seek out the new and unexpected. And it didn't go away until they found what they were out looking for…whatever that was. At least as her father had told it. Azzan's 'itch' had been satisfied when he was assigned to oversee the Anvil Fighters Guild chapter. Sharah's father's 'itch' vanished when he met her mother. Her 'itch'…it didn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Sharah just hoped it wouldn't start chafing here in Chorrol.
Oreyn said she'd be answering to him. That she'd have to clear all departures from the city with him, just in case something came up and she was needed immediately. Even a day strolling in the woods would have to get his approval. So, itch or no, she was stuck in Chorrol. Better get used to it, like a good soldier. Damn, she hoped a contract came up soon. The walls were already starting to look enclosing.
Sharah skirted the Chapel of Stendarr, passing through the graveyard and back out to the street just as a familiar face came out of the chapel doors. "Guilbert. Good morning," she called.
The man started at her voice, as surprised as she was to see someone else out this early. And when he saw who, a slight blush rose to his cheeks. "Sharah, uh…good morning."
Sharah motioned to the bottle in his hands. "Something from the priests?"
Guilbert Jemane glanced down at what he held, like he'd just realized its presence. "Oh. For my brother. Reynald went…a little overboard last night."
Sharah smiled sympathetically. "Still?"
Guilbert began to wring the bottle's neck. "Well…yes. But he is improving."
Sharah replied, "Good. I'm glad. He's lucky to have you to look out for him."
The Jemane family had been torn apart when the twins were very young. Their parents had borne them away from danger, each to a different city, with each believing the other two to have perished. The two brothers were all that remained of their family now. One of Sharah's first good deeds in Cyrodiil had led to their being reunited. Guilbert had traveled all the way from Cheydinhal, uprooting the life he'd made, in order to find his brother again. His twin, Reynald, had grown up alone and turned into the town drunk of Chorrol. Guilbert's presence kept him somewhat out of trouble at least.
Guilbert cleared his throat. "So…how long are you in town?"
Sharah shrugged. "Indefinitely. I have a new assignment, so it looks like I'll be based here for a while. You'll be seeing me around more often, I think."
The Imperial looked almost hopeful. "Really? Well, I'll…look forward to that." He glanced down at the bottle again. "I should get this to Reynald. Perhaps, we'll talk later?"
Sharah nodded with a smile. "Certainly. Good day to you." Guilbert at once tried to nod and bow, finally hurrying off toward home, casting the occasional glance back at her. Sharah waved after him, a little worried about his nervousness. Hopefully he wasn't that way around his clients. Nervous merchants didn't get far.
She turned to stroll down the road toward the shops. Nothing would be open yet today, but on the other side of the district was the Gray Mare. Emfrid, the proprietor, might have something cooking by this hour. And it would be a lot better than anything Sharah's guildmates would put together.
Past the shops and the city statue, Sharah found the building she was looking for. The Gray Mare was…not pretty on the outside. It was the cheapest place in town, in fact. But it was also the best place to drink socially and it was run by a woman with the biggest heart Sharah had ever met. Emfrid was awake when Sharah walked in the door. There was still evidence of last night's festivities. Sharah suspected the chair with the missing leg had been Kurz's, but she wouldn't speculate.
"Morning, Emfrid," Sharah said.
The Nord woman behind the counter smiled broadly when she saw the speaker. "Sharah! You are back. It's so good to see you again."
Sharah was still taken aback by Emfrid's friendliness toward her. She'd been immensely kind when Sharah had first stumbled in here six years ago, meek as a field mouse, utterly on her own and with no idea of what came next in her life. Emfrid had taken it on herself to be Sharah's first friend in Cyrodiil. It did more good than Sharah could really say. And even after absences spanning months, Emfrid still acted like they saw each other every day.
Emfrid came around the counter and, after a heartfelt embrace, ushered Sharah into a stool at the bar. "I'm so glad you're back. Can I get you something to eat? Or drink? I heard you were back in town, but you didn't come by. I knew it was only a matter of time, though."
Sharah sat down and prepared to succumb to the woman's ministering. "I'm sorry about that. I went straight to the Guildhall and by the time Oreyn was done with my interview, it was late enough I just went to bed."
Emfrid poured Sharah a cup of milk and put a hot bowl of cereal in front of her. "Oh, was it anything serious?"
Sharah shook her head. "No. I…think I've been promoted. I'm working directly under Oreyn now."
"That's wonderful!" Emfrid exclaimed.
Sharah nodded. "Yeah. He said I'd be sent on the tough contracts around Cyrodiil, and I'd be handling some Guild matters when local leaders weren't enough. But it means I can't just go where I want anymore. I'll be staying here in Chorrol until he gives me my tasks, and then back here after."
Emfrid paused and looked suddenly thoughtful. "Really? Do you know when?"
"When I'll get my first job from him? Not really. It'll depend on how the Guild's doing and what kind of contracts we're getting. I'll just have to get used to being in one place. But at least you'll see me here more often."
"Hm, well maybe it will give you a chance to lay down some roots. Get…more than acquainted with some people," Emfrid said, with a little smile.
Sharah wasn't sure she wanted to have this conversation with the woman, and dug up a distracting topic in a hurry. "Have you already seen to Bittneld today?"
Emfrid blushed, and touched a fresh morning glory that was tucked into her hair, "Yes. He was in early. He's such a poet. He told me 'the sun doesn't brighten the sky like your smile'. Oh! He said it better." Sharah shoved another spoon of cereal into her mouth to stop herself from grinning. Bittneld the Cursebringer, fearsome Nordic Captain of the Chorrol guard, turned poet for the Gray Mare's Emfrid.
Sharah vied for something else, before the proprietor gushed all over the counter. "And I hope my guildmates didn't cause too much trouble last night."
Emfrid glanced over at the broken chair. "Nothing a little wood sap and binding can't fix. I have to thank you again."
"For talking to Bittneld for me. It was very sweet of you. I would never have had the courage myself."
Sharah put on the face of pure innocence. "I haven't the faintest idea what you mean."
Emfrid nudged her, "Fine, keep your secrets. But Bittneld and I both know who to thank for bringing us together."
Sharah turned her face to her breakfast to hide the tell-tale expression. She didn't ask for recognition for the things she did. She just did them. Usually for no other reason than that someone should, and no one had. Which was just frustrating, most of the time. However, do enough of those and people tended to notice. Maybe it was a willing nature. Maybe it was a soft heart. But she had her reasons. And remembering how many people Sharah's helped over the years, she figured it was always worth it. Besides, what was one long postponed conversation or a cave dive if it did someone good in the long run?
The recognition, on the other hand, she could do without all together. Yes, it was nice to get a thank you, some coin or some tips on how to handle her shield. But beyond that, Sharah would rather her name be kept out of mainstream gossip. Ha! As if what she wanted mattered. She couldn't even avoid gaining a name after all her wanderings and activities. Sharah the Wolf. Stupid nickname. Something her guildmates doubtless came up with. And by the time she first heard it, the name had spread too far for her to snuff it out or even track it to the source. Sharah the Wolf. Catchy. Damn it!
Her only consolidation was that it was better than some. One of her guildmates in Anvil was called Sten the Ugly. He told her he'd just gotten tired of beating people up for calling him that. And he had more reason to fight his name than she did. So, for all that she hardly felt like a wolf in any way, she was stuck with the name.
Sharah got back to the Guildhall after the sun had risen. Sabine and Lashana were nursing pounding heads in the dining room when she arrived. Sharah grinned upon her entrance. "Did you all have fun last night?"
Lashana glared at her. "Not so loud, Wolf. Ow!"
Sharah grimaced on reflex at the name. Cargas was steaming some natural remedy on the stove. She really was a natural healer and didn't take to drinking as much as the others.
Cargas asked, "So, out wandering the countryside?"
Sharah replied, came over to the table. "No, just a walk."
Lashana grinned despite her pain. "Ooo, the walking Wolf. Scary." The Redguard knew how resistant Sharah had been to the name and felt the need to tease her every chance she got. Sharah took it in stride after a while. But this time she strolled casually around behind the woman with a wicked grin. Then leaned down quickly and let out as wolfish a howl as she could manage right in the purebred Redguard's ear. Lashana and Sabine winced and wrapped their hands about their ears with groans, which set Sharah off cackling.
Cargas glared at her. "Be nice. And if you won't, at least go get me some Somalius Frond. I'm nearly out." Sharah acquiesced and left her guildmates to their headaches.
Back in the plaza Sharah realized she'd have to go outside the city to gather the frond. It was plentiful in the local wilderness, but Oreyn had expressly forbid her from leaving the city without his say so. Sharah groaned. She wouldn't be leaving the city for long but she wasn't about to disobey a direct order. In the Fighters Guild, that was an unwritten rule: don't tick off the Guild-second…ever. The mer was tough and everybody knew it. But he hadn't been in the Guildhall. The only other place she could figure to find him was at his house. But she didn't know where that was.
After asking a few locals and a couple of guards, Sharah was directed to Oreyn's home. Over in the little back district. And as she caught first sight from the street, Sharah was brought up short. It was…small. Very small. Sharah owned a pathetic little one room shack on the Waterfront, the poorest district in any city she'd ever seen, and Oreyn's house was only twice that size…maybe. He was the second in command of the Fighters Guild which spanned all of Cyrodiil. What was he doing living here? Vilena Donton, the current head of the Guild, lived in a moderately sized mansion about as large as the entire Guildhall, and all Oreyn got was an oversized shack? How did that make any sense?
Sharah swallowed and knocked on the door. Maybe he was just a humble man. Not everyone needed a huge house. Sharah grinned. So said the woman who owned the largest manor in Anvil.
The door swung open and Sharah immediately blushed when Modryn Oreyn answered the door in nothing but a pair of pants. Oh, damn. She should have waited in the hall.
Standing at six foot something, Oreyn was an imposing figure. His lean build was none the less muscular and strong, which meant it would probably hurt when he started training her. His normally jutting dark mohawk was drooping somewhat from whatever he'd been doing. His blue gray skin was indicative of most Dunmer, or Dark Elves as they were commonly known. It was hard to tell his age, not only because she had yet to figure out the relative age and aging differences between men and mer, but because the creases of his face were made more numerous by the harsh experiences of his life. He also possessed the red eyes which most found unsettling when focused upon them. It didn't help that Oreyn settled his on Sharah with a scowl which, though almost a constant expression on Oreyn's face, none-the-less continued to intimidate her.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
The heat in Sharah's face intensified. "Uh, sorry, sir. I was just looking for permission to leave the city. Cargas needs more Somalius Frond and I was going to go…gather…it…"
His scowl deepened. "So what the hell are you doing at my home?"
Sharah looked at her feet. "You said I couldn't leave the city without your consent. So I came to ask. I'm sorry, sir. I am intruding. I apologize. Won't happen again. I'll just go back to the hall and wait there. Sorry, sir."
"Sharah!" he barked before she got more than three steps down the street. Sharah froze and turned back to stand at attention, focused on looking him straight in the face for fear of being caught staring at the very bare chest of her superior. Why was she so stupidly modest about this? Oreyn leaned against the doorframe and growled, "You came asking permission to go plant gathering?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
He shook his head. "When I told you to ask permission to leave the city, I meant on any lengthy excursion. Not some mile long hike."
Sharah felt the blush come back. "Oh…I…I just didn't want to disobey orders."
Oreyn sighed. "Go get the damn plant. But I want you back in the Guildhall as soon as possible. I've got an assignment for you the minute you get back."
Sharah nodded, "Yes, sir," and bolted up the street. Ok, she was never…EVER...doing that again. Sharah was excessively modest when it came to people and their clothes. It was incredibly stupid how embarrassed she got when someone…anyone was missing one of the significant articles of clothing. And she was never going to tell anyone she'd seen Oreyn with his shirt off. And, with any luck, she and the Guild-second would never speak of this again.
Out on the road she felt better. Outside city walls and such. Sharah recalled passing a cluster of the fronds every time she went by Weynon Priory. Sharah was gathering the leaves when she saw the Odiil brothers coming up the road. They spotted her about the same time and hailed her.
Sharah waved back and trotted out to the road. "Morning. How's the farm?" Sharah had helped the brothers defend their farm from a marauding goblin band when she'd arrived in Chorrol for the first time. A defense that had gotten her the attention of the Fighters Guild.
Rallus Odiil hefted the pack on his shoulder. "Last harvest before the new year. And no goblins in sight."
Antus, intense as always, added, "Because they don't dare!"
Sharah grinned. "Mind if I walk back to town with you?"
Rallus shook his head. "Not at all. You still carry father's blade, I see. How is it serving?"
Sharah laid her hand on the blue glass shortsword's hilt. "Chillrend's been as sturdy as I could ask for."
The three of them continued chatting up until they reached the city gates. Rallus bid her farewell, saying, "You're always welcome in our home. I hope you know that."
Sharah curled a lock of hair behind her ear. "Thanks. But I wouldn't want to intrude."
Rallus touched her shoulder. "There's no chance of that. You carry our father's blade. You're practically family."
Sharah smiled at the sentiment and made for the Guildhall. She really did make a lot of friends, didn't she? Farmers, shopkeepers, guards, thieves, vampire hunters, mages. She was on a first name basis with a Countess, and had been offered a position on the guard in three separate cities. But the Fighters Guild always called her back. It was the first place she went to in any town, it was where she slept, ate, socialized. She didn't consider them family, exactly. But they were the closest thing she'd gotten since the deaths of her parents and brother.
Sharah dropped the bundle of fronds in Cargas's hands before going to find Oreyn. He was in the basement wielding his mace against the wooden dummy. Thankfully, his iron cuirass was on. The less she saw of his, or anyone's skin, the better. But even so, Sharah could see his powerful muscles swelling as he struck the dummy into a rabid dance against its chains. The display made Sharah hesitate a little out of self-consciousness. She really disliked her size sometimes. While most of her guildmates saw their muscles inflate through training and battle, her's seemed resistant to growth of any kind. Not to say she was weak. Her muscles were as hard as anyone's, but they didn't grow. Her nickname didn't help with the self-consciousness either. While her size proved advantageous in her preferred method of stealth, but how did anyone really associate her with 'Wolf'?
She leaned against the rail to watch, not wanting to disturb the Guild-second during his training session. She'd never really seen the mer in action before. He was fast and strong. She could see how he'd made it so far in the Fighters Guild, and how he'd lived long enough to hold the position. She took the opportunity to observe and learn from his movements. How to pivot to apply maximum damage. How to use the recoil of a blow to one's advantage. Even if she didn't use a mace, this was still educational. Sharah was so engrossed in the lesson she barely registered when his movement brought her into his vision. She did notice when he stopped and fixed his red eyes on her, which subsequently froze her on the spot. "About time," he said, "Get down here!"
Sharah darted around the rail and stood at attention on the mat. "You said you had an assignment, sir?"
"Yes, but first I want to see you with that," Oreyn jerked his head to the blade on her back.
Sharah started. "Sir?"
Oreyn scowled. "All my reports say you favor that ice enchanted shortsword. But you carry that longsword now. I want to see if you can use it before I send you out on assignment."
Sharah hesitated. This hesitation had less to do with a potential bout with Oreyn and more to do with the blade itself. It wasn't that she couldn't handle the weight and range. She'd trained with it on her own often enough. It was just…she hadn't used it on an opponent before. Or at least against an opponent she didn't want to kill.
But Oreyn wasn't to be deterred. "Well?"
Sharah laid Chillrend aside and pulled the black longsword off her back. She shouldn't be doing this. She shouldn't chance something happening here with him. But how was she supposed to explain what happened with the blade? Sharah made a point to take a firm mental grip on the sword before falling into the ready position.
Oreyn lifted his mace. "Begin."
At the first contact, the soul within the blade woke up. Sharah bore her mind down on it, even as she raised it to block again. The ringing of the strike sent the sword's song of consciousness into her mind. It realized it was unsheathed, it knew it was hungry, and that there was a living soul within reach.
The sword sang again. Sharah found herself locked in a battle on two fronts: one with the mer before her, the other against the thing in her hands. The tendrils of the soul within the sword clawed at her mind, trying to take hold of her very being. Of their own accord, her arms lifted to block again and then attacked. The attack was driven by a hunger not her own. The blade dug itself into her mind, driving her to satisfy its insatiable appetite. The fight with Oreyn became background noise as she struggled with the soul. Her need and its need began to merge. The blade knew its hunger. It must be fed, and she would be the one to feed it.
The thought alone made Sharah balk. No. NO!
The fire of the battle and that hunger was doused in an icy clarity. The tendrils recoiled and then sought her again. But this time she was ready for it. With the deep strength of her mind now awake and clear, Sharah took hold of the blade's soul and throttled it. The spirit screamed and battled, but she commanded that battle to go elsewhere. No longer would this sword bend its wielders to do as it wished. This time, the black crystal blade was forced to fight for the one whose hand was on the hilt. This time, the wielder would be the master. With her mind's battle won, the physical fight took center stage.
Oreyn was unaware of what had nearly occurred. Together, she and the blade struck at him. The soul had the experience of a thousand battles, but not with this wielder and not in this way. The two of them had never been to this place before and they were not ready to work as they now did. In the first attempted maneuver, the crystal blade was knocked from her hands. Sharah took an iron clad shoulder to the chest and toppled to the ground, coughing.
She didn't try to stand immediately but lay unmoving on the mats, just breathing. Suffice to say, that had been intense. She'd nearly been overwhelmed by the soul inside that blade. If she'd been taken, Sharah would have ended up another slave to its hunger for souls to feed upon. But now she knew she could command it. She'd have to be careful. She'd have to practice, now that she knew how it felt and knew what to do. But that soul would work for her, teach her to fight, and would do her bidding. And only on occasion would she allow it to feed on the souls of the defeated. But that would be her call, not its.
Oreyn was actually breathing harder than when they started, "Not bad. I'm guessing you've never used the Dreugh's Tail Strike before. Try learning something properly before using it in combat. It'll keep you alive." His stinging comment didn't faze her too much. It was good advice, and she certainly deserved berating for pulling out the sword in the first place.
Oreyn turned on his heel and strode over to retrieve her crystal blade from where it had landed. Sharah's heart leapt. "Don't touch it!"
Oreyn paused and rounded on her, eyes hard. Sharah glared right back until she realized how she'd sounded. She'd sounded like Oreyn when he gave orders. She dropped her eyes, scrambled up, taking the precious seconds to bury the burst of fiery spirit and wrap back up in the comfortable layers of humility and subordinance.
She rushed over and snatched up the sword, shoving it into the sheath. "Sorry, sir. The sword is…It has a mind of its own. Better if no one else touches it." She could see he wasn't about to let that shabby explanation slide. Sharah sighed and offered him the hilt. "Put the back of your hand close. But don't actually touch it." She knew how enticing the first touch was.
Oreyn eyed her, but did as she asked. Sharah felt the blade hum to life, reaching out for a wielder who was more malleable then she. A reach that she allowed, to a certain extent. Oreyn's hand came within an inch of the hilt and his eyes widened as he felt the malevolent aura of the blade. Sharah locked down on the soul quickly before its hunger could infect him, saying, "The blade is a soul stealer. It likes to take control of the one holding it. Turns them into a puppet bent entirely toward killing people and feeding the sword their souls. It's called Umbra."
"Umbra?" Sharah asked.
"Yeah, that's Umbra," Barbas said, "As in shadow, darkness. Also means being or ghost. Right on both counts, really. But more to the point, it's bad news. Really bad news." The dog shaped servant to a Daedric Prince whimpered as it edged away from the blade on the ground and the dead Bosmer woman who had been its wielder. The dog looked at her. "Umbra is the sword. Always was."
Sharah looked at the dead mer. "But then why was she calling herself Umbra?"
"The sword does bad stuff to your head. I mean, just look at her. She was once a nice little Bosmer girl. Now she's trying to kill you and steal your soul. You think that's normal?"
The dog, Barbas, backed toward the door. "Look, let's just go. Let it lie. You touch it and the same thing'll happen to you. Let Clavicus Vile find someone else to bring it back. You've done the hard part anyway, killing her."
Sharah couldn't really bring herself to leave any job half finished. One of her faults. Against the dog's advice, she knelt down and carefully reached for the blade. She felt it hum, reaching out to take a new wielder. The moment she closed her hand around it there was a shock. She felt an undeniable hunger from the blade itself. Umbra demanding to be fed the soul of another. Sharah took a grip on the blade and fought down the urge like swallowing a bad piece of meat. Umbra struggled but then subsided under the weight of Sharah's mind. It felt like she was flexing a muscle in her head that coaxed the blade into a sort of sleepy trance.
Only when the soul was fully asleep did she dare to lift the blade higher and swing it experimentally. It was heavier than Chillrend, which was fully battered in its sheath from the duel. But given all her training, she was able to handle size of the weapon itself. The real issue, however, was going to be keeping control of her own mind when using it. Sharah detached the sheath from the Bosmer's belt and slid the weapon home.
When she turned for the door, Barbas was sitting looking cockeyed at her. "What?" she demanded.
A dog shrugging was an odd sight. "I've seen worse."
Sharah lashed the sword to the back of her pack. "What will happen if Clavicus Vile gets this sword back?"
Barbas came to his feet. "It'll ruin him. Well, not totally. He's a Daedra and all that. Keep the sword if you want. Looks like you may be able to handle it. But don't give it back to Clavicus. He doesn't know what's good for him sometimes."
Sharah tossed the pack onto her back. "Well, I have to at least go back to the shrine and talk to him. We'll see what happens then."
The dog barked excitedly. "You're actually gonna walk up to Clavicus Vile at his shrine with the sword? But you're not gonna give it to him, right? Right?"
Sharah glared at the dog in exasperation…
"I'm keeping it with me so no one else falls victim. I can handle the soul better than others. So I feel like it's my responsibility. But I'm still getting a handle on using it. Which is why I still favor Chillrend. Just…don't touch it, sir. Please." Sharah looked pleadingly at Oreyn.
The Guild-second gave her an appraising look, as though he were trying to figure out how to handle this new information. Sharah wondered briefly if he was more concerned with the sword, or her. She mentally berated herself for drawing the thing against him in the first place. Knowing the danger, she should have spoken up.
Oreyn finally relaxed his gaze. "I trust you'll stay on top of it, then." Sharah nodded and lashed Umbra to her back. While she buckled Chillrend onto her hip, Oreyn continued, "There's a contract I need you to see to. It involves Bien Amelion of Water's Edge."
Sharah thought a moment. "Water's Edge? That's almost all the way to Leyawiin, right?"
He nodded. "But this contract requires some subtlety. Bien Amelion is badly in debt and wants to sell her grandfather's enchanted cuirass and sword to pay it off. The problem is they're buried in her family tomb which, like most tombs, houses some degree of undead. She can't reach them, so you will."
Sharah shifted uncomfortably. "It sounds a bit like grave robbing, sir."
Oreyn stood straight. "Very nearly. But since it's at the request of a family member, the law does not apply. Public opinion, however, will doubtless be against it. Your task is to complete the contract quietly. Things are bad enough without the Guild being accused of raiding a tomb." Sharah felt there was more to that last sentence just by the way he said it. But he didn't give her time to ask. "We got this contract a week and a half ago. Local Guildhall can't keep secrets for their lives. So I want you to go down there and complete the contract. Keeping it quiet. Understand?"
Sharah nodded. "Absolutely. I can leave within the hour."
Oreyn watched Sharah dash up the stairs to prepare for departure. He saw an incredible improvement since the day he recruited her just over six years ago after she helped the Odiil boys defend their farm from goblins. At the time he'd seen a meek, agitated, farm girl with some talent with a blade. He'd kept an increasingly interested eye on her through the reports he got from the Guildhalls. She wandered more than any other member of the Guild, spent years braving the wilderness and making a name for herself, intentionally or not, throughout the whole of Cyrodiil, and generally growing up. Seeing the grown woman here, she was still a little reserved, but he'd work that out of her over time.
His interest stemmed from the fact that she'd shown flashes of leadership and other qualities that the Guild had in very short supply right now. Qualities the Guild couldn't afford to lose for any reason. Valena's weakened leadership was beginning to show and there were unsettling rumors coming in from both the north and the south. The Guild needed every fiery spirit and fearless fighter they could get. And Sharah certainly qualified there. He expected that the work he was going to assign her would hone what she had and help her get past the shortcomings to take up a position of strength within the Guild. All his experience told him she was up to the task.
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