The Sands of Inkseeds, Part 1

  • The City of Inkseeds rose from the desert, shining and decadent. Somehow, it still stood. I crossed through the gate, and the beast knew exactly where to take me: the way worn by beggars and poets. The only place a man of my appetites can find satisfaction. I'm not proud, but then, nobody ever is.


    14th of Sun’s Height, 4E 204


    The world was rocking from one side to another, the extremes of light and shadow intermixing as the palanquin carried by two camels rocked, the silk hanging around it swaying and opening, letting the scorching sunrays in. The palanquin was no wider than a step and as long, its floor covered with pillows. The roof was painted black with stars and moons drawn on the surface and so the woman lying among the pillows kept staring at the fake night sky, even believing it was real in moments of the rocking.


    She was a Redguard, wearing green silk clothes that were mostly transparent, revealing her slim figure of dark skin. Her hair was braided, a golden ring at the end of each braid. The clothes’ colour perfectly matched the colour of her eyes, like the sea of green that was Thorstad jungle.


    Maybe if she was older she would be taking this journey with more stoicism, but as of now she was just plain bored. She missed the halls of Skaven palace and all the young men tripping over each other trying to court her, showing her their fighting prowess and all those things she wasn’t interested in even a bit. Men. They were so simple.


    But they had their uses, which only made her wonder for the thousandth time what she was doing on this boring errand. Any of the Vizier’s sons could do this, but her father insisted it had to be her, that he had to show he was serious. Or maybe it had to do something with that last scandal she caused…


    She pulled away the silk and sighed when she looked out of the palanquin, seeing nothing but sand and rocks all around her, with the fiery ball scorching the land. She fell heavily back among the pillows, pouting in frustration.


    “Captain?” she raised her voice a little. When there was no answer she added much more sharpness into her voice. “Captain!”


    The hooves of a horse thundered closer to the palanquin and she could see a rider through the gaps in silk. Her captain of the house guard wasn’t terrible to look at if she had to be honest with herself. He was tall and strong, his body lean and muscled, like a jaguar. He was wearing a hauberk of steel scales under a bright red tunic. His face was covered by a tagelmust of the same colour wrapped around his helmet and his face, his brown eyes narrowing as he tried to see through the silk. He then quickly averted his gaze, just now remembering his place. “Yes, Lady Torth’kern?”


    “Please, Captain. Lady Torth’kern is my mother. Lady Anweithi will suffice,” she rolled her eyes. Lady Torth’kern. Just that sounds as if I was some kind of matron. “I merely wanted to ask how much longer this is going to take.”


    “We’re not that far from the excavation site. Not more than an hour,” Captain Isluf Khirdun al-T’ostan murmured and she noticed he turned his head around, looking over his shoulder at something behind them. “If everything goes well,” he added in an undertone. But unfortunately for him, Anweithi actually heard that.


    She raised herself up on her elbows and frowned, looking at the shadow behind the silks. “Is something wrong?”


    “I didn’t want to startle you-”


    She narrowed her eyes and angrily pushed the silks aside, glaring at the captain. That surprised him, and he nearly fell off his horse. “Now you’re really forgetting your place, Captain,” she said with a calm voice, but she made sure her eyes were portraying her true emotions quite clearly. “It is not for you to decide what I want to hear or not.”


    “My humble apologies, no shira,” he bowed his head, even using the honorific for nobles. “Forgive me, sun of the day, I just thought…” he paused and bit his lip. “A group of nomads has been trailing us for the past few hours.”


    “Nomads?” she narrowed her eyes, trying to look out of the palanquin, before realizing how stupid would it look. She had to maintain the serenity expected of a noble. “Just warriors? Or do we have their whole camp in their saddles?” Anweithi asked.


    “Only warriors. No more than half a dozen though,” he answered.


    Half a dozen. Anweithi figured that six nomads against a dozen of her house guards should not be that big of a problem. “And that worries you, Captain? There’s twelve of my house guards and twenty other people in this party.”


    “They could be scouts, no shira,” he said with as much humility in his voice as he could muster, she could see that, and also see through that. A weak attempt to not make her look foolish, look as if she didn’t understand the warrior-like world of men. And no, she didn’t understand it, but she was not stupid. But apparently, in the Captain’s thoughts, she was.


    She stared at him, not saying a word, and the captain understood that as an indication that he should continue. “They look like K’aal or Lesah, but that doesn’t make any sense. These tribes never venture to the edge of A’likr.”


    “Maybe they decided not to uphold their side of the treaty and want to wage war on us?” she asked, quite intrigued by the thought. The king of Skaven would surely wouldn’t mind a war with the tribes, especially considering the resources their territories held. And if they provoked him, even her father, the Vizier, wouldn’t be able to convince King Talisaron to follow the path of peace a second time.


    “I doubt that, my lady. The treaties benefit them as much as they do us. As I said, it doesn’t make any sense. I am of a mind they’re not either K’aal or Lesah, which makes it even more of a mystery.”


    Another tribe? Anweithi wondered, letting the silks block the sight of the captain. That certainly is a mystery. In any case it truly was a reason for worry. Her hand instinctively went to her hair, rubbing one braid in between her thumb and forefinger. “Just have my spare horse prepared, captain. If they come charging we will outrun them. The excavation site is not far, as you said. You may carry on,” she waved her hand, mostly for herself since he couldn’t see her.


    She could hear him linger for a moment and then he rode off and Anweithi nodded to herself. She almost expected him to argue with her about leaving all her servants behind, but he seemed to have at least some sense in him, remembering his status and, more importantly, hers. They were all expendable, but she wasn’t. If they failed at their duties, her father would execute them all anyway.

    Captain Isluf kept watching the horizon behind them, his eyes unwillingly leaving the east to look ahead. Sometimes he could see the riders in the distance only for them to disappear behind the rocks. But he still knew they were following them. It worried him. If those nomads were really a scouting party, it was quite possible he and his men were riding into a trap.


    If that was the case...he and his men would lay down their lives for Anweithi Aubfaye Torth’kern. Not because she was worth following, but because it was their duty. And if they failed and still managed to survive, the Vizier would make sure to punish them for that kind of failure. And Isluf didn’t expect anything else.


    A man had to follow someone, someone greater than himself, and to Isluf it wasn’t the spoiled woman in the palanquin or even the King of Skaven. For him it was the Vizier who was worthy of such loyalty and everyone knew that it was only that man holding Skaven together. And if Isluf’s duty was to protect the Vizier’s daughter he would do so, even though he wasn’t particularly happy about it.


    Two of his men came galloping on their horses towards him and he let out a faint sigh of relief when he saw they were still alive and perfectly fine. He was worried he had sent them to their deaths. 


    “Captain,” the riders saluted, and the one on the left - Lathkim probably, it was difficult to tell with tagelmusts covering most of their faces - spoke: “The excavation is just ahead. We have alerted the metat to prepare for Lady Torth’kern’s arrival.” 


    Isluf turned around, glancing at the palanquin before facing Lathkim again, and just now he realized the other rider was a woman. It was the armor and the tagelmust, it was so easy to mistake her for a man. “Not so loud. She would have your skins if you just took her moment of surprise. She wanted to catch the metat unaware.”


    The riders exchanged looks and visibly sagged in their saddles. “Captain, we’re terribly-”


    “Shh!” he hissed, waving his hand. “I won’t tell her anything. Just don’t do anything that I haven’t approved again, for your own sake. But expect the Lady not to be very pleasant when she finds out the metat is expecting her. Maybe he knows anyway, with all his cursed magic. Blasted m’kai,” the captain spat on the ground. “Go have some water and watch the rear. And not a word about this, yes?”


    The saluted and drove away and Isluf sighed. And he also allowed himself to finally relax a little. He had delivered the Vizier’s daughter safely to the destination, he had upheld his duty.


    He glanced over his shoulder, noticing six riders in the distance, just standing and watching.

    A man in indigo and gold robes was standing in front of his exquisite tent, watching the party slowly arrive at the excavation site. All around him were the sounds of pickaxes, shovels and hoes striking the ground as the workers were now working with renewed effort. He was lucky the party’s scouts weren’t especially bright and warned him who was arriving, which gave him the time to order his servants to build another tent for her and also make sure the workers were all digging with more effort. He needed her to see that all this wasn’t just in vain.


    He hoped that the fact he knew about her arrival would throw her off a bit, because he certainly needed any kind of advantage he could scrounge here. He knew that someone would come, he just didn’t expect that damn brat playing a princess. If it was any of her brothers sent here he knew he would be able to convince them to return to the Vizier and put out a good word for him, give him more time.


    But she…


    Toreif Cyrur al-B’ithir knew that the Vizier’s patience had run out, that he required his court metat back in Skaven. And that was why the Vizier had sent her daughter.


    He straightened his robes and rubbed his long braided goatee between his fingers, trying to look as stoic as possible, sighing in the process. One couldn’t run away from the palace’s politics and hide from them in the desert, because apparently they kept following everyone even outside the palace.


    Now the party began ascending the hill on which his tent stood, which allowed him to overlook the excavation site. As of now there still wasn’t much to see, because the work wasn’t going the way he expected. The sand wasn’t so bad, but the rocks were more problematic and in a way Toreif missed the deep Alik’r. It was just sand there.


    The camels with the palanquin stopped, and the riders got off their saddles. The servants suddenly swarmed around the palanquin, preparing a wooden stairs. One leg in wide transparent pantaloons slipped outside the palanquin, closely followed by a second one and then the whole slim and beautiful form of the palace’s she-daemon appeared. She shook with her head, the braids with rings spinning around as if her hair were snakes and Toreif had to force himself not to grimace. Bewitching rhakshasa, he thought to himself as she began walking towards him.


    “Lady Anweithi,” he bowed, putting a smile on his face. “Such a pleasure, sun of the day-”


    “Save it, metat,” she waved her hand, looking as if she was bored. Not shaken by the fact I prepared for her arrival at all. Damn it! “You are going to end this foolishness of yours and return with me to Skaven. By my father’s orders.”


    She doesn’t waste any time. Toreif wished it really was one of her brothers here instead of her. “My lady, but I am so close! This is it, I am certain of it!” he pleaded, almost prepared to fall down on his knees and make a fool out of himself.


    “That is what you said the last two times if I remember correctly,” she flashed him an innocent smile, which only made him doubt if he really should fall on his knees or not. “And my father - the Vizier of the King of Skaven in case you have forgotten - is tired of investing his fortune in your foolish endeavors. He requires the presence of his metat, because, my dear Toreif, if he does not have his metat to advise him on all things magical, then how is he supposed to advise the king on all things magical? Hmm?”


    That question was a trap and he came to the conclusion he was defeated the moment she arrived. He couldn’t defy the Vizier’s wishes, and doing so would invoke only his wrath. But what he needed was just a little bit of time. He murmured a silent prayer to HoonDing to make way for his plans. “I will do as the Vizier commands, no shira,” he bowed. “But it will take some time to disband the excavation, the workers have to be paid, the indentured servants have to be given other work-”


    She raised her hand and he bit his tongue. She was just a child to him, nothing more, and he deserved more respect as sanctioned metat. He has been walking this land for more than sixty years and he knew he would be for another, and no other person could ever get under his skin as she did.


    “Do not bother me with the details, metat. I will be in my tent, resting after the tiresome journey here.”


    Tiresome? You have been laying your arse in the palaquin all the way! was what he wanted to say, but instead he just bowed, pointing towards her tent. He hoped that everything would be up to her standards, but part of him was thrilled it would not. Getting under her skin at least somehow was something.


    “We will leave in three days, Toreif,” she raised her hand, showing him three fingers as if he was an imbecile unable to count. “There will be no stalling, no excuses and if you aren’t ready on the third day’s morning I’ll have my house guards drag you even against your will.”


    I would like to see you try, little rakhshasa, he thought, looking at her house guard. Twelve men, armed to the teeth, and yet he was still confident they would be helpless against him if he decided to resist. But what good would that do? Angering the Vizier was not a wise thing. “I understand-”


    A scream from the excavation interrupted him, closely followed by...something. It was impossible to describe. It was as if a tidal wave had swept over him. He was still left standing, but everything suddenly drowned. It was as if something just reached into him and…


    Took away all his senses.

    She narrowed her eyes at the metat who looked pale as death and looked around. The scream that came from the site wasn’t a scream from an injury or an accident. That was a scream of terror. She was about to ask Toreif if this was some kind of distraction, but before she even opened her mouth the metat was already running down the hill, lifting his robes and she raised her eyebrows.


    As far as she could remember she had never seen the old Redguard running. Never.


    She growled and decided she would find out what was all this nonsense about. If he was playing with her she would have him whipped, metat or not. She slowly started after him, making sure she remained calm on the outside, her house guard closely following her every step.


    As she walked down the hill she was given a view of the excavation site itself, of the ants that were the workers labouring in the dust, digging into the ground. There were ditches everywhere, surrounded by stakes and ropes, but for what reason she had no clue and frankly she wasn’t even interested in that. Digging was below her status and the knowledge about it was even lower.


    The metat was heading towards a cluster of workers standing in a circle around something she couldn’t see. The metat was yelling something and the people began making way for him and Anweithi increased her pace, quickly using the gap to follow Toreif. The circle began closing and her house guards were forced to start pushing the workers and their dirty hands away from her.


    She saw Toreif climb down into a ditch and she decided that she was above climbing into some hole in the earth. Instead she decided to stand at the edge. The first thing she noticed was a dead body on the ground. One of the workers.


    The second thing she noticed was an Orc leaning over the body, an Orc in a grey leather vest, his arms bare, revealing his telling green skin.


    The third thing she noticed was something in the ditch’s wall, some kind of crimson mineral, maybe ruby, but she was hardly an expert. It was glistening in front of her eyes, and she narrowed her eyes when, for a second, she thought she saw it...shift. But when she blinked it all seemed like a mirage, and she cursed herself for not bringing anything to protect her head from the scorching sun.


    She couldn’t help but shake her head. Orcs? Rubies? What in the name of Morwha is going on here?


    “What happened here?” the metat raised his voice, looking at the Orc and then raising his head towards the workers standing around the ditch. “What is all this?”


    Nobody answered him, almost as if they were afraid to speak out loud, but Anweithi could hear them whispering among themselves, the most common word she heard being nukatki.


    A curse.


    The Orc kept staring at his hands, as if he was expecting blood on them, but there was no such thing. There wasn’t a single drop of blood and the body seemed to lack any wounds, which made Anweithi frown. And what is that ugly Orgun doing in here?


    The metat walked towards the strange mineral, extending his arm and it was when the Orc suddenly lifted his head. “No touch!” he growled with very poor Ragudi. “Blood,” he said, pointing at the mineral. “Bad.”


    Anweithi snorted. Blood… Ha! The infamous Orcish superstitions! They see a ruby geode and they immediately think it is blood. Tobr'a bharakasha! Useless beast, stupid greenskin. Toreif looked at her after hearing her snort and she challenged him with her eyes, to go and touch the mineral. She was quite curious what would happen.


    The metat frowned and reached for the mineral, only to stop at last second. It was as if some kind of self-preservation instinct told the old snake to change his mind and believe some stupid Orc’s superstitious nonsense. Instead he shoved the Orc aside into the dust, checking on the body. The greenskin bared his tusks when he ended up on his arse, throwing up his arms as if he really believed that being pushed into the dirt was some kind of injustice. Stupid Orc. Dirt is where you all belong, she thought.


    Toreif hands checked the dead man’s throat and suddenly lifted his head, his eyes wide and honing on Anweithi. He opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but then he just rubbed his braided goatee and straightened. “Get this body into my tent,” he ordered the workers.


    Yet nobody moved. Superstitious fools were even afraid to climb down the ladder.


    “Now!” the metat raised his voice. “Or I will have you all whipped, you lazy worms! Do not forget for a second who is feeding you and paying you, ungrateful dogs!”


    The circle of people around the ditch twitched, as if every man and woman had been slapped. Then they began moving, carefully climbing down the ladder, whispering among themselves as they approached the body, trying to stay as far away from the red mineral as possible.


    “What is this?” she heard Toreif murmur as he walked towards the ditch’s wall, right next to the mineral and he dusted off sand and dirt from something. She narrowed her eyes when she noticed a worked stone protruding from the dirt, a stone with old yoku letters carved into it.




    “It is… Yoku,” the metat gasped in surprise.


    No, damn it!


    “‘I crossed through the gate,’” Toreif was reading the ancient language, “‘and the beast knew exactly where to take me.’” He paused and looked up, looking straight at Anweithi and he grinned. He grinned and she wanted to wipe that grin away with a very large stone. “We found it. Dura-igra. City of Inkseeds.”

    Captain Isluf followed Lady Anweithi as she stormed out of her tent, being done with waiting for the metat to finish his examination. She was outright furious, Isluf could see that, because the winds certainly weren’t blowing her way this time. The cursed m’kai just got his perfect excuse to continue with the excavation and her father wouldn’t be happy about that.


    The long lost city of Dura-igra. It was nothing than a mere legend to Isluf, an old Yoku city being swallowed by the desert over night - at least that’s what his mother kept saying to him before he went to bed as a child. It was a warning for him, to behave, otherwise the rhakshasi would come for him and wear his skin. Or sometimes it was an efreet coming for him, burning his flesh off. His mother made sure he didn’t sleep soundly in the night…


    So there was something buried deep inside him that was stirring with anxiety. He heard the workers whispering about the curse and if this really was the lost city… It worried him. He didn’t want to really believe it, being more comfortable with blaming the green bharakasha for the death of the worker. It was what the Orcs were born to. Killing and slaughtering innocent people - but even he had to admit that whatever killed the man didn’t leave any kind of wounds and Orcs weren’t that ingenious.


    He followed Anweithi towards the metat’s tent and she walked right to the entrance. The guards in front of it - looking like mere mercenaries - seemed they were about to stop her, but then they thought better. Or maybe they noticed Isluf’s hand on the hilt of his pulwar.


    She stomped into the tent, Isluf right behind her. The tent’s interior was much more humble than he expected from a metat, it was also less vile than he expected. There were no human skulls and bones hanging from the poles holding the tent, no strange ingredients or a boiling cauldron full of virgin’s tears and limbs of babies.


    Just a simple bedroll, an alchemy station near the wall right next to enchanting table - which was giving Isluf the shivers - and a table in the middle of the tent. It seemed as if someone had removed all the furniture from the tent and turned it into some kind of field laboratory. Right on the table laid the body of the dead worker, with the metat leaning over it.


    “This does not seem like you are packing, metat,” Lady Anweithi stated angrily, but the m’kai seemed to barely notice her. “I thought I was clear about-”


    “Yes, yes, clear,” the metat murmured as he moved towards the dead man’s head, opening his eyelids and staring into his eyes. “Most clear. But that was before this,” he pointed at the body absently. “And the proof that Dura-igra is real. I have found it, no shira, finally at last. You can return to your father and tell him I have found it and I am about to uncover its mystery and secrets.”


    Isluf could see her narrow her eyes, a wrinkle appearing on her forehead - the same wrinkle that always heralded an angry tirade. But to his surprise she took a deep breath, that ominous wrinkle disappearing. “You will not get rid of me so easily, dear Toreif,” she flashed an innocent smile, but it was the words that finally got the attention of the metat. “Oh, you thought I would leave? No, metat, I will stay here and make sure this really is what you promised my father.”


    “But the excavation is no place for a no shira-”


    “Nonsense,” she waved her hand dismissively. “Though the corpse is quite unsettling. Could you at least remove it when we talk?”


    “It is not a corpse.”


    What? Isluf stared at the body, which definitely seemed dead to him, and he could see that Lady Anweithi was as confused as he was.


    “I think I can recognize a dead body, metat.”


    “I am sure you can, no shira,” Toreif bowed his head, but his tone indicated some other meaning. “But this man here. He is not dead.” He tapped on the worker’s chest. “He is still breathing, his heart is beating. It is just… This man’s will, his…” he paused, looking for the right word. “His consciousness is simply gone. That thing that makes each of us… us, it is just gone. I would theorize that his soul left his body and what we see here is a mere shell, slowly… dying without what keeps it alive.”


    Isluf stared at the metat, the notion of a body without a soul terrifying him to his core. This whole thing reeked of necromancy, for weren’t the necromancers known for stealing innocent people’s souls to fuel their dark rituals, using the dead bodies as their reanimated servants? For all Isluf understood they could be watching one such undead servant right on the table. His hand gripped the handle of his pulwar more tightly and the metat noticed that, chuckling.


    “No reason to worry, Captain. I can assure you this man will not walk anywhere, let alone harm your ward.”


    “I hope you won’t get offended if I don’t take you on your word, m’kai,” Isluf gritted through his teeth.


    “Captain!” Lady Anweithi snapped at him and he immediately bowed his head. “Manners,” she waved with her forefinger in front of his eyes. “So what could cause this, Toreif?” she turned back to the metat, eyeing the body curiously. “Was it the mineral as the abah Orgun said? Or could the beast do it?”


    The Orgun. Right after they returned to the top of the hill where metat’s tent was Isluf used the moment to talk with the hired guards, ask them about the greenskin. He didn’t trust him. Apparently he wasn’t the only one, the beast not being very popular among the Raga in the excavation site. They told Isluf the Orgun had showed up a month back in Jierrin’s Rise where the metat was hiring workers and guards, and up to this day no one understood why the foreman hired the beast.


    “While it would be easy to point fingers, my guards managed to find witnesses of what happened. The witnesses claimed the Orc told them to dig at that spot and I have to admit I find that very curious, but when they uncovered the red mineral, the man here,” he pointed at the body on the table, “touched it and then literally fell seemingly lifeless on the ground. And they all would swear they could hear some kind of pounding or...beating and it was only then the Orc showed up.”


    “And have they questioned the bharakhasha?” Lady Anweithi tilted her head.


    The metat nodded to that, but then he grimaced. “Though getting information out of him is somewhat difficult, his Ragudi is very poor and he does not speak Tamrielic.”


    That got Isluf’s attention. The Orc from the looks didn’t seem like one of the barbarians from the Dragontail Mountains, his attire and weaponry had the look of more civilized lands. Especially the throwing knives and the flail made of black steel. That combined with his grey leather vest, the strange pauldron that looked like a mask of some sort and an ancient looking vambrace on his left hand indicated he was a mercenary, treasure hunter even.


    “Maybe he is just pretending he does not speak Tamrielic,” Anweithi voiced Isluf’s thoughts.


    “That thought has crossed my mind, yes,” the metat nodded once more. “But I decided to let it slide for the moment, having these more pressing issues. I had to reorganize the workers to focus on the spot that we just dig up. There is a lot of work to be done, lot of digging.” He then flashed a provocative smile at Lady Anweithi, as if he was challenging her. “I hope your tent is up to your standards, no shira. If you are set on staying than you should get comfortable. Excavations do not span a few days.”


    Metat speaks truth here. We’ll be staying here for a while. He could see very well how happy Lady Anweithi was about that prospect… Isluf expected she would become unbearable very soon, mostly just because she was bound to get bored sooner than later. And woe betide those who crossed her path in one of her moods.


    But Isluf’s job at least got easier. The excavation was much safer than travelling through barren land, so Lady Anweithi was very safe here. That meant that Isluf could focus on other things.


    Like watching the Orgun very closely for example

    17th of Sun’s Height, 4E 204


    Three days passed and the workers uncovered more of the structure that was initially found. It was revealed to be one of the floors of an old Yokudan tower. Isluf heard the metat say that the tower was most likely broken in half and that size pretty much took Isluf’s breath away. How deep in the ground was the whole city?


    In digging out the tower they had also uncovered more veins of that cursed mineral and there were few incidents of the workers touching them, ending up the same as the first one. It seemed as if the mineral was growing through the tower, its sharp edges burrowing through the stone and sand alike. All that made the workers even more restless, constantly murmuring something about a curse and so it wasn’t any surprise that the metat found several of the workers missing.


    Cowards, the m’kai called them, foolish and blind simpletons running away from something much bigger than their simple minds. Isluf would agree with him on that, if there wasn’t that tiny detail of no one seeing the workers leave - according to their friends all their belongings were left behind, including their rations. Nobody would brave the desert without taking at least some water with them, so the workers leaving didn’t make sense to Isluf.


    There was something going on in the excavation site, there was something off, and Isluf wasn’t sure if he was the only one noticing that or not, because neither the metat or Lady Anweithi spoke about it. Maybe they thought it was above him, none of his concern, but truth be told if there was some kind of danger to Lady Anweithi, it was his concern.


    He reached the edge of the excavation site, nothing but sand and rocks stretching as far as his eyes could see, with one dot in the distance, grey and green amongst the sea of sand. The Orc had been walking around the excavation site since morning, stopping at an unremarkable spot in the east, seemingly smoking a pipe. It seemed he was measuring distances and time, but for what reason Isluf had no idea and that was eating him. He knew the Orgun was up to something, he just couldn’t figure out what.


    The captain then heard the thundering of hooves behind him and he turned around, noticing the metat riding towards him with a spare horse. Isluf moved aside and the metat stopped the horses right next to him, looking down with a smile. “Good afternoon, Captain. I see you have taken interest in the Orgun’s activities too. Have you managed to figure out what he’s actually doing?”


    The bharakhasha in the distance suddenly got on his feet and began walking away from the excavation site, taking exact same long steps.


    “I saw him walk around the site, measuring distances from certain points in all directions,” Isluf murmured, narrowing his eyes at the Orgun in the distance. “And then waiting. So he’s measuring distances and time, but for what reason I dare not to guess.”


    “Very observant, Captain,” the old man nodded in approval. “It seems he is doing precisely that. But the question is why, am I right? It is almost as if the Orc has figured out something we have not, and I find it infuriating. It seems we have no other option but to talk with him and pry that information out of him.”


    Isluf looked up at the metat and then at the spare horse. “We?” he raised his eyebrows.


    “Well, of course. I am of a mind that you are just as interested in what he is doing as I am, Captain, so why not talk to him together? Maybe we will have more luck than my hired guards,” the m’kai explained with a smile on his face, as if he was talking with a child, Isluf even expected the metat to pat him on his head.


    He was glad he didn’t though, because then the old man would find himself missing a hand.


    His thought probably projected on his face because the metat’s smile disappeared, replaced by a frown. The captain bit his tongue and reminded himself that the metat was still a station above him, being the Vizier’s katib. “Very well,” Isluf murmured, walking towards the spare horse and climbed into the saddle. They prodded the horses into a trot, starting after the Orc.


    Isluf could see the Orgun climbing up a slope towards some kind of rock formation, wisps of smoke raising from his position and Isluf shook his head. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Orc was smoking moon sugar or, even worse, skooma. If that was the case Isluf would have to have a serious talk with the metat about the kind of mercenaries he was hiring as guards. They couldn’t be trusted, and thus could be a possible danger to Lady Anweithi, whom Isluf was supposed to protect.


    They were approximately halfway to the Orc when the metat suddenly pulled on the reins of his horse, forcing the animal to an abrupt stop. Isluf frowned and turned his horse around, walking it slowly towards the old man.


    The metat was sitting in his saddle, watching his hands with a confused look, and Isluf noticed there were tiny flames dancing at the tips of the m’kai’s fingertips. Toreif glanced over his shoulder towards the excavation site and then back at his hands. He then looked up, glaring at the captain, who stopped, cautiously measuring the metat.


    “How far are we from the excavation, Captain?” Toreif asked, as he turned the horse around and made the animal walk several steps back towards the excavation site. “Give me your best guess.”


    Isluf raised his eyebrows, not sure what was the metat about, but he looked towards the site, narrowing his eyes as he was trying to measure the distance. “One hundred steps, give or take,” he said after a moment, as he followed the m’kai, throwing a glance over his shoulder, making sure the Orgun was still in his line of sight.


    The metat suddenly stopped, the flames on his fingers abruptly vanishing and he frowned. He once again turned the horse around and steered it in the Orc’s direction. Then his fingertips lit up with flames once more. “Most curious,” the metat murmured. “It is a local phenomenon. Now I know why was the Orc measuring distances and time,” he looked up, noticing Isluf’s confused look. “Let’s move on, Captain. We have questions for the Orc. Questions and more questions.”


    Isluf shook his head when the metat steered the horse past him and increased his pace. Magic nonsense, he thought, not understanding anything. What local phenomenon? Phenomenon of what? he wondered as the metat made his horse switch from a trot to a gallop and Isluf silently cursed. It wasn’t wise to pressure the horses to such paces in this kind of weather. There wasn’t a single cloud on the sky, the sun unopposed to scorch the land with its fiery attention, and that could tire the horses more than anything.


    The Orc seemed to be waiting for them at the rock formation - which consisted of five stone columns shaped by the desert wind, protruding from the ground like fingers of a giant - wisps of smoke escaping his mouth, his red eyes watching them with curiosity. Isluf focused on the black tattoo on the Orgun’s face, the shape of it indicating it was some kind of tribal mark. That meant the bharakhasha was born into a tribe, not among the civilized people, which told Isluf to be more careful around the beast. The tribal ones were nothing more than savages, after all.


    They stopped their horses few steps away from the Orc, who was sitting on the ground, hiding in the shade of a large boulder. He just raised his eyebrows, not saying anything and Isluf gritted his teeth. The Orgun looked awfully too much as if he knew something they didn’t, and that irritated the captain to no end.


    “You make me curious, Orc” the metat spoke before Isluf could, speaking in Tamrielic. The Orc tilted his head to that and the metat clicked with his tongue. “First you tell my workers where to dig, then you are the first one standing above the first body, and now I see you figuring out something I would not expect beasts like you could even be capable of comprehending. So I cannot help but wonder. Who are you?”


    The greenskin shrugged, still not saying anything, and Isluf bared his teeth, his hand resting on his pulwar. “Answer, beast,” he growled in Tamrielic too. “There’s no point in pretending you don’t understand anymore.”


    “How far is it?” the m’kai followed with another answer. “Is it expanding?”


    Still no answer, only that smug grin.


    “Is it expanding?!” the old man raised his voice, showing clear signs of frustration. But it seemed that the Orc found it funny, his grin becoming even more prominent, revealing his tusks in their full ugliness. The beast wasn’t about to answer. He was just playing with them, and Isluf had had enough of it. He gripped the handle of his pulwar and began drawing it out.


    “Yes,” the Orc suddenly said and the captain paused, narrowing his eyes. It seemed that the flash of Skaven steel was all it took to make the beast talk.


    “Yes? How much?”


    “Half a step every hour,” the beast nodded, his guttural accent irritating Isluf’s ears. “At first. Now it’s a step every hour.”


    “How far?”


    “One hundred eleven and a half steps.”


    “What in Tu’whaca’s name are you talking about?” Isluf growled, getting their attention. “Stop talking in riddles and explain.”


    The Orc raised his eyebrows and then snorted. “Matey. If I told ya, ya’d piss yer fancy pants so much ya’d never get the stains off them.”


    Isluf frowned, barely understanding every second word of what the Orc said in his strange accent. It was still Tamrielic, but it sounded like something Breton sailors would spew from their mouths.


    The Orc was about to say something, but his face was distorted by some kind of spasm, his head twitching to the side which made him drop the pipe into the sand. “Shit!” the Orc murmured, trying to pick it up with a trembling hand, giving the shaking limb a ridiculous and surprised look. “Shit, shit shit,” he kept mumbling and then looked at the two Redguards, his eyes suddenly bloodshot and crazy.


    “What about the missing workers? You know anything about that?” Toreif asked, but the Orc wasn’t listening, he kept rummaging through his sack looking for something, his movements hectic and almost panic like. He then seemed to find what he was looking for, a small vial with blue liquid and he quickly opened it.


    “The mineral? Blood as you said?” the metat pressed, but Isluf doubted greenskin was even registering their presence.


    The captain had seen such behaviour before, in the skooma dens of Skaven and it made him grimace in disgust. Addicts. He hated them. Weak willed bastards that decided to throw away their ability to think reasonably for an escape from the real world. The Orc brought the vial above his head with his left hand that seemed mostly unaffected by the tremble and Isluf narrowed his eyes when he poured a drop of the blue liquid into each of his eyes. It made Isluf feel disgusted of the Orc even more, because he never saw a drug such as this and there was no telling what it actually did.


    The Orc closed those red eyes of his for a moment and when he opened them again, something flashed behind them, his pupils dilated. But he seemed perfectly aware again.


    “I asked you a question!” Toreif dangerously growled, quite annoyed he was being ignored apparently. Men such as Toreif hated when they weren’t give proper attention and Isluf made a mental note of that fact.


    The Orc just shrugged and Isluf could see that even the metat was losing his patience now. “You tire me, Orc. Answer plainly. What is hiding in the ruins of Dura-igra?”


    The Orgun picked up the pipe in the sand, rose to his feet and pointed with his thumb behind himself. “Why don’t ya ask them?”


    Isluf raised his head to the horizon, narrowing his eyes. A mere hundred steps further to the east was a group of riders standing among the rocks, watching them. They were all dressed in the black garb of the desert tribes, all sitting on the backs of camels and the captain realized they were probably the same nomads that had been trailing them on their way to the excavation site. One of the riders prodded his animal forward and rode towards the trio near the rock formation.


    They watched the rider, closing the distance between them in silence, Isluf pulling his hand away from the pulwar at his waist. He didn’t want to provoke the nomad in any kind and he hoped that the metat or the Orc would be wise enough to do the same. The nomads didn’t attack unless they had a reason for it - usually.


    The rider stopped few steps away from them, his body completely hidden in the black clothes of the desert people, revealing only his dark brown eyes. Isluf could see those eyes darting from him to the metat and then to the Orc, narrowing in the process. “You have not heeded our warning, metat,” the man spoke towards Toreif and Isluf frowned. “Leave this place while you still can.”


    Isluf threw the metat a look. Apparently, the old snake had already had the pleasure of talking with the nomads and he didn’t share that with either Lady Anweithi or Isluf, withholding that information from them. Isluf didn’t understand his reasons and frankly he didn’t even want to. Shouting to halt the sands’ shifting only leaves you hoarse. What mattered now was if the metat was prepared to make amends for that.


    “I do not believe in your nomadic superstitions, abah,” the m’kai snorted, as if calling the nomad ‘filth’ wasn’t enough of an insult. Isluf threw the metat a look, but Toreif seemed completely oblivious to that.


    Luckily the nomad was unphased by that. “Are you so bent on damning the souls of your people, metat? On denying them the Far Shores?” The nomad then shook his head. “Your pride disgusts me. Leave this place while you still can. If not for you, then for all the people you’ve been forcing to dig in the bones of our past.”


    Isluf was about to ask the nomad for more time, but the metat didn’t give him a chance to speak.


    “We are not leaving,” Toreif crossed his arms on his chest and the Orc standing next to his horse snorted, smirking.


    “Are you that selfish, metat? My ancestors buried this place for a reason, and they made sure it stays that way. I implore for the last time. Leave.”


    “What is buried in the city?” the m’kai asked. “What are you protecting?”


    “We are not protecting what is in the ruins.”


    A moment of silence as both Toreif and Isluf pondered the words and then the metat snorted. “Maybe you are right, nomad, maybe there is something dangerous deep under the ground. But maybe there is not and your ancestors were fools who mistook it for something else. I have come too far to turn back now, ominous warnings or not.”


    “Very well,” the nomad nodded and turned his camel around, glancing over his shoulder one last time. “I am sorry, but know that Tu’whacca can at least accept your souls in Far Shores this way.” With that he rode off, leaving Isluf pondering the cryptic - and ominous - sentence. But even that was drowned in the flood of thoughts with murderous intent, the metat being the target.


    “You’ve encountered them before, metat?” he gritted through his teeth, grimacing at the old man. It was always the case with every m’kai, the way they kept their secrets, even if it meant risking other people’s lives. As if dabbling in the cursed arcane arts asn't enough. And that was certainly the case here, because if the nomad’s words were any indication, there was something in the ruins endangering lady Anweithi and all the workers. The nomad certainly believed in his words, Isluf thought, glaring at Toreif.


    The metat just waved his hand, as if he was chasing away a mosquito buzzing around his ear. “They are a nuisance, nothing more. Do not let their shortsighted and delusional words shake you, Captain. There is no curse, no lurking evil here. Just a buried city holding knowledge and treasures and maybe one or three of their ancestors’ bones, which is all they are trying to protect, no doubt.”


    The Orgun snorted at that, sneering, but his eyes kept staring into the distance, watching the rider return to his people.


    “What matters is that they believe what they say,” Isluf growled, angry. It was the metat who was shortsighted, not the nomads. The m’kai had decided to ignore a warning and that was a grave mistake. The desert people never wasted their words on nonsense or lies, because the desert never accepted such things. If they said something, they meant it. And so Isluf had to at least consider the possibility of danger - but the metat apparently wouldn’t. “And on top of that, you were even provoking and insulting them and-”


    “Enough!” Toreif thundered. “You are forgetting your place, Captain!”


    Isluf clenched his jaws, but he bowed his head. The metat was right. He was above him and so he should treat him with respect. But there was a part of the Captain that couldn’t help itself, knowing full well that Toreif wasn’t really nobility. He was just a leech, a very clever leech, who had been given privileges by more influential people for all his knowledge and magic. Toreif wasn’t even a commoner like Isluf - he was a peasant by origin, everyone knew that. It was only his position as the Vizier’s katib that put him above Isluf, nothing more. “My apologies, metat,” he murmured.


    “I am of a mind to speak of this to your lady Anweithi - “ the metat started and suddenly stopped, recoiling in the saddle as if he had just been slapped. “What are they doing?” he said with wide eyes and Isluf looked in the direction of the riders.


    He could see them leaving, disappearing behind the horizon, heading east. But they had left one man behind and Isluf noticed that this nomad was wearing a mix of black and white. The nomad got off his saddle and slapped the horse’s back, letting it run as he turned towards Isluf. The man was holding something, its tip glistening in the sun, but it was difficult to recognize what it was from that distance. It looked like a spear to Isluf, or…


    A staff.


    And then something glistened on another dune to the left and Isluf could see another nomad like this one, the one to the right. They just stood there, still as statues, and yet they seemed to move which was nonsen- The sand! It was the sand that was shifting under their feet, whirling as if a powerful wind was blowing from the south.


    “Hunding m’kai,” the metat gasped, his eyes wide.


    High desert sorcerer.


    The wind was picking up, raising the sand from the ground, making it whirl in the air.


    “We should leave now,” Toreif barked and turned around. “Where is that blasted Orgun?!”


    Isluf glanced over his shoulder and he could see the Orc already running towards the excavation site as if someone just lit a straw on fire right behind his arse.


    “What’s happening?” he asked the blasted m’kai as he urged his horse to turn around, but the animal was restless, seemingly scared to death. Isluf had to bury the spurs deeper than he would have liked to get the horse to obey his commands.


    “Run, you fool!” the metat yelled as he started towards the excavation site, forcing the horse to run as if his life depended on it.


    When Isluf looked at the nomads in the distance he came to the conclusion that it really did.






    No shira - noble, honorific

    Metat - wizard

    M´kai - sorcerer, insult

    Nukatki - curse

    Abah - filthy. unclean

    Hunding - High Desert

    Vizier - advisor, counsellor

    Tobr'a - useless

    Made-up words

    Bharakasha - beast

    Orgun - Orc



6 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 7 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  July 17, 2018
    Interesting and exciting! :)Good to see our favorite Orsimer again.  I love how Grulmar always gets to flee in the first place if when something bad is about happen, and those two just stood there for a moment.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  July 6, 2018
    The City of Inkseeds... You know, I always thought the name alludes to Apocrypha since it's all black, murky, and... uh, seedy? Who knew you decided to tackle it, Karves. Since the only mention we get about the City of Inkseeds is from Hidden Twillight, I...  more
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      The City of Inkseeds... You know, I always thought the name alludes to Apocrypha since it's all black, murky, and... uh, seedy? Who knew you decided to tackle it, Karves. Since the only mention we get about the City of Inkseeds is from Hidden Twillight, I...  more
        ·  July 7, 2018
      " The City of Inkseeds rose from the  desert , shining and decadent"

      So far this sentence sort of supports my interpretation of such city in Hammerfell, and yes, it is an interpretation. Sort of. Cause if we have basicaly nothing on th...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 6, 2018
    Very excited to finally read this, Karver. And finally reading from a non-editing standpoint, so I can just enjoy. Not that I don’t enjoy what I edit for you, I do, but it’s a nice break to reading simply for pleasure. Damn, Gru, you don’t go and drop the...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  July 6, 2018
    So finally got around to posting the Hammerfell story I was writing last Camp NaNo in April (I think it was April). So yeah, 3 parts story, set in Hammerfell, which is so damn nice of scenery after Skyrim and Solstheim. Also, big thank you to Harrow for h...  more
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      So finally got around to posting the Hammerfell story I was writing last Camp NaNo in April (I think it was April). So yeah, 3 parts story, set in Hammerfell, which is so damn nice of scenery after Skyrim and Solstheim. Also, big thank you to Harrow for h...  more
        ·  July 6, 2018
      It's not like I did it to get rewarded with lewds or anything...