“In here!” Yelled Aubron over the storm. 

The rain was was coming down in sheets now and the wind was deafening as it howled through the trees; unbelievably, the storm was still continuing to build. As the rain and wind increased, the mighty trees of the ancient forest began to falter and break and both tree and limb began to fall at an alarming rate. It was mostly the older trees that were giving in to the relentless wind and rain, not as supple as the younger trees around them. 

Lightning, like unholy serpents striking out from under the cover of darkness, flashed and rippled across the sky accented by thunder that crashed and boomed all around. It was during one of the brighter flashes that Aubron spotted a cave entrance and quickly bid his companions to hurry. As his companions scampered towards him, a jagged rope of light kissed the ground less than fifty feet away from the cave opening, splitting an ancient pine in the process. They all paused and watched in awe as the tree, silhouetted against the horrific green sky and no less than 3 feet in diameter, shivered momentarily in eerie silence before erupting from within. Shards of wood flew in all directions as the great white pine collapsed and began to fall in the direction of the group. They all dove to the ground, narrowly avoiding the deadly projectiles. Picking himself up, Aubron shouted again, “Quickly!”, his voice filled with renewed urgency. Driven by self preservation and the promise of safety, his two companions got to their feet and sprinted to the cave falling to the floor as they entered.

The cave entrance was fairly small and narrow, and the men were forced to move deeper into the formation before they could spread out. As the storm raged outside the small group huddled in the darkness until a sudden blue-white light filled the cavern. Aubron stood in the middle of the space, having just summoned the ball of light, and asked, “Is everyone alright?”

Aubron Elsinfhaer was a Snow Elf, as were his companions, and as Snow Elves go he was fairly average in appearance. He was tall and thin with an exceedingly pale complexion. He wore his shoulder length white-blond hair in a topknot, and his eyes were ice-blue and so brilliant that they almost seemed to glow of their own accord. They were piercing, and with them Aubron could captivate even the most obstinate of mer and man. It was this gaze that set Aubron apart from others of his kind; that and his oft exceedingly calm demeanor, which he quickly resumed now that they were all safe.

By best estimation, Aubron placed them somewhere near the border of Cyrodiil. South was not exactly the direction that he wanted to go, at least not this far, but Ysgramor and his army gave them little choice.

Aubron and his two companions, Vesstan and Kalantar, were all part of a regiment of elves that were scattered during Ysgramor’s counter attack. Ysgramor’s attack was a direct retaliation of the elves razing of the Nord city of Saarthal. The attack upon the elves was swift and merciless, and few escaped. Aubron, Vesstan, and Kalantar were all that were left of their battalion. 

“What now?” Asked Kalantar.

“We must wait,” replied Aubron calmly as he started looking around the cavern.

“Perhaps now might be a good time to check our gear,” Vesstan commented.

“Yes, an excellent idea,” Aubron agreed. “We also need to see if our lanterns are still in working condition. I don’t know about either of you,” he continued, turning in place to face them as he did, “but I don’t feel like summoning light every waking minute.” Just then, as if to prove his point, the blue-white ball of light that had been clinging to the wall began to fade and within seconds the cave was dark again forcing Aubron to cast another.

“Mine is broken,” said Vesstan with a sigh.

“Can it be mended?” Asked Aubron.

“Yes, I believe so," replied Vesstan.

"How does yours look, Kalan?”  Aubron now addressed Kalantar.

“It seems to be fine, but my flask of oil is missing and the reservoir is only about half full,” replied Kalantar with thinly veiled annoyance in his voice. “The strap holding it to my pack must have broken sometime after that Nord encounter we had this morning. I know I had it yesterday.”

“How it was lost is of no consequence,” commented Aubron casually as he cast another light spell. “The only thing that matters is that it is gone. Fortunately, I have a full flask of oil. Although...” Aubron’s voice trailed off as he dug through his pack, “I do not see my lantern. Oh well, I guess it was on borrowed time anyway,” he said with a shrug, thinking back a week ago to when they had taken refuge in a small abandoned cabin whereby he had found the lantern. His thoughts were brought back to the present quickly, however, when Kalantar lit his lantern and set it between them. Aubron then sat down on the rocky cave floor and began to unpack his things.

“Would you look at this!” Exclaimed Kalantar, holding out his massive sword. Kalantar, or Kalan, as he was often called, was a surly mer and quick to anger. His hair was uncharacteristically dark for an Snow Elf and he preferred to keep it short. He was also noticeably larger in girth, too. And whether his physique dictated his fighting style, or was a result of it, Kalantar preferred to be up close in combat and rarely used spells. His sword was a beautifully crafted piece of glass, heavy and long; smithed by Kalantar himself. As he held it in the lantern’s light soft hues of orange and gold bounced playfully along the shimmering translucent green blade’s edge before being absorbed by the blade, giving it a fire from within that only weapons made of the finest malachite can produce. Unfortunately, along with its stunning beauty, one could also see several chips along its edge.

“See?! Look at that! If you would have let me grind the edge at that mill a few days back this never would’ve happened!” Kalantar growled at Aubron.

“Yes, and I’m sure the Nords in the area would never have heard that, or have you forgotten our narrow escape?” Aubron snapped back, uncharacteristically.

Unwilling to concede, Kalantar pressed on, “With a sharp blade, I would been able to cut through them…”

“Yes, and no doubt they would have been perfectly understanding and would’ve given you all the time you needed to finish honing its edge before allowing you to cut them down,” Aubron spat back.

“Stop it!” Said Vesstan sharply, a bit nervous of Aubron’s sudden temper, but more tired of listening the two of them bicker. “Arguing will not improve our situation! I suggest we find a suitable place to set out our bedrolls, make a fire so that our clothes can dry out, and then begin thinking of what to do next.

“If you are correct, Aubron, we are dangerously close to Cyrodiil, which means we have Colovians on one side and Nords on the other. We need to figure out how to proceed without getting ourselves killed by either one. 

“Fortunately, the one thing the storm will do for us,” Vesstan continued, “is all but remove our tracks. Oh, don’t look at me like that, Kalan. You know damned well that these Nords are excellent trackers.”

“What’s your point,” responded Kalantar shortly.

“My point, if you will allow me to continue, is that we have found a fairly safe place here. A place that nobody will be able to track us to. A place that we can hole up for a while and catch our breath. We’ve been on the run for, what, six…” Vesstan paused to think before exclaiming, “No! Eight! Eight weeks now! Eight weeks with no time for repairing arms or armor. Eight weeks since we’ve had more than 3 hours of sleep in row. Eight weeks since we’ve been able to sit down and eat even a meager meal without threat of attack. My point is this: why don’t we take this opportunity to catch up on some badly needed rest.”

Aubron looked down a bit and sighed, and then looking back to Kalantar, said, “he’s right.” Kalantar simply nodded, his now unfocused gaze still directed towards his giant sword. Aubron then set his own blade down and grabbed a small hatchet he had set out moments ago. “I can illuminate my way and find wood near the cave’s entrance if you two want to find a flat spot to make camp.” And with that, Aubron stood up and began walking to the entrance sending a small blue-white ball of light into the gloom as he did.

****
Vesstan meticulously and with great skill, worked on his lantern, casting mending spell after mending spell until it was restored to almost new-like condition. In the meantime, Kalantar clumsily cast his own light spells as he began to explore the cavern. As it turned out, it was much larger than expected and consisted of two levels, as Kalantar discovered when he almost walked off a ledge.

“Son of a bitch!” Exclaimed Kalantar, his voice echoing off the cavern’s stone walls. 

“What is it?!” Vesstan asked with great concern, beginning to stand.

“I damn near stepped off the edge!” He replied.

“The edge? How big is this place? Can you see bottom?” Asked Vesstan while he quickly lit his now functioning lantern.

“It’s pretty big, from what I can tell. Larger than I would’ve expected at any rate. And no I can’t, although my light isn’t very strong,” came Kalantar’s reply. Hurrying over to where Kalantar was, Vesstan held out his lantern, which helped enough to at least see the floor of the next level below. “Looks about twelve feet. Not too bad.”

“Far enough to break something when you hit if you don’t know,” said Kalantar, looking at Vesstan. “Come on, we need to find somewhere we can call home,” he continued. 

After another ten minutes, the two came to an agreement on parcel of space that would work well for the three of them. There was a sturdy root coming out of the stone over head that was perfect for hanging  a lantern on and helped maximize its light. With enough light from the hanging lantern they were able to put the other one out and conserve oil. They were just finishing up a ring of stones for a fire pit when Aubron returned, dragging a cloak full of wood and branches behind him.

“Ah, this is good,” he said approvingly. “Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we have an abundant supply of wood, the bad news is that we are trapped in here.”

“How do you mean?” Kalantar asked, a twinge of ire in his voice.

“You know that big pine that was coming down on us? Well, it seems to have actually come down on us. That is, it’s fallen over the entrance, and guessing from the completeness of the blockage, several others have as well. The opening is completely blocked.”

“But it’s just wood, we can chop our way out, or incinerate it with magic,” Vesstan replied and then asked, “Can you tell if it’s still storming out?”

“First, considering the size of the trees here, it’ll take us a solid week to get through the timber using our small hatchet. Secondly, I would strongly advise against trying to burn it. This cavern would fill up with smoke and suffocate us long before we had a chance to escape.”

“I don’t know about that, this place is pretty big, Aubron,” Kalantar responded. “There’s another level down, about 20 feet that way,” he said, pointing to his right. “And we don’t even know how high this ceiling is.”

“Hmm. No matter. I still don’t think we want to send up a smoke signal for any nearby Nords to investigate. Oh, and yes, by the way, even though the way is blocked, it is still plenty obvious that the storm outside is in full force.” Aubron sighed heavily, “I’m tired and hungry and I really can’t think clearly right now. Let’s get a fire going and dry out. Vesstan, are you able to magic the water out of this wood before we ignite it? I need to lie down,” continued Aubron, rubbing his brow, “I’m not feeling well.”

Vesstan glanced at Kalantar with a worried look, but as Kalantar didn’t seem phased, he continued as Aubron had asked and it wasn’t long before a crackling fire was burning. With a fire finally going they were able to set up a makeshift rack to dry off their clothes, as well as arrange their bedrolls. And then, with camp complete, the three of them had a brief meal before falling fast asleep.

Their sleep was troubled, however, as visions of Ysgramor’s terrible axe haunted them. Unable to free themselves from the horrible dream, each of the three elves lie there on the ground tossing and turning as they watched their kin perish, helpless in their stupor to do anything about it. As elf after elf were slaughtered, the vision of Ysgramor grew more and more grotesque and his laughter mocked them with each fallen mer. “Stop me if you can!” He laughed, his voice deep, cold, and otherworldly. His image seemed to blur as he moved faster than is possible for any mortal man or mer, slaying elves in a torrent of leaps and spins. One axe whirred all about, then there were two, then three, then four. Four axes, each held in a god-like hand, cutting down all who opposed him. Just then smoke and fire burst forth and wreathed the Nordic hero like some sort of hellish cocoon; Vesstan and Kalantar both sat bolt upright sweating and panting. They stared at one another for a moment, not fully comprehending who the other was in the dwindling fire light. But as the fog of the nightmare lifted, they both quickly looked towards Aubron, who was still trapped by the dream.

Aubron shook violently as the dream continued to torture him. Vesstan and Kalantar quickly grabbed him and held him fast so that he would not harm himself, trying to wake him in the process. But even as the convulsions diminished, he would not wake, and then his eyes opened and tears started to stream down from the corners, over his cheeks, and to the ground. Fear-struck, the two elves could only watch in horror as blood began to mix with the tears and Aubron started to froth at the mouth. Thinking quickly, Kalantar tipped Aubron’s head to the side to prevent him from choking on his own saliva. Then, as if a fire being doused with water, Aubron’s body went limp, and his breathing slowed, and his eyes closed once again. The nightmare was gone, and Aubron lie there quiet, finally able to rest, or so it seemed.

“We must get out of here!” Exclaimed Kalantar, his voice full of dread.

“How?” Asked Vesstan, “you heard Aubron, the entrance is blocked.”

“Then we must find another way,” Kalantar replied.

“But, how…”

“I don’t know!” Yelled Kalantar. “But this place is full of darkness, we must get out!” Vesstan could only nod in agreement.

***
The two elves began to quickly pack up their belongings and within minutes were ready to leave. “Kalan, he won’t wake.”

“Then shake him!” Replied Kalantar.

“I have!” Cried Vesstan, worry and fear gripping each word. Then, looking up to Kalantar, his face lined with anguish, he said again, “he won’t wake. We can’t leave him, Kalan. What do we do?”

Kalantar thought for a moment and then replied, “We will carry him to the lower level. There is that downward slope just over there that we can use. Then we look for a way out. Once we find one, we come back for him. You write up a note in case he wakes while we’re gone.”

“Kalan,” Vesstan began, “you want to leave him here? But..”

“We have not choice, Vesstan!” Kalantar interrupted angrily. “We cannot carry him, and we accomplish nothing by staying here. Are you proposing that we should split up so that he is not left alone? Do you really think that wise?”

Vesstan opened his mouth, but made no sound, and then said meekly, “No. No, you are right. I..I’ll write a note.”

“Good. I’ll carry him to the lower level so that if he grows violent in his sleep again, at least there is no risk of him rolling off the edge.” Then, with a grunt, Kalantar picked up Aubron, “let’s hope there is a way out below.”

Once below, Kalantar set Aubron down and called out, “are you able to grab his things?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Vesstan answered.

Soon the two companions had Aubron relocated to the lower part of the chamber and began to search the cavern for any promise of escape. After several minutes, the two elves came upon an opening in the rock. It was big enough to enter without issue, but it would be difficult to fight in should the need arise. Need or not, however, as there seemed to be no other options, the two elves cautiously entered into the inky blackness of the tunnel.

The tunnel was more or less straight and the floor fairly even. Not far in, however, the tunnel ended. The two looked at each other. “Well, this isn’t what I was hoping for,” Kalantar stated as he looked around the dead end and then up. “There’s a shaft here that looks climbable. So I guess we either climb up or we go back and look around some more and hope that we missed something. What do think, Vesstan? ...Vesstan?”

But Vesstan was nowhere to be seen. “By the gods you’re a coward,” Kalantar grumbled to himself as he prepared to return to the cavern. But as he took his first step back his path was blocked. 

“Ysgramor!? But how?” Kalantar blurted out, stepping back into the dead end. Before him stood Ysgramor, his deadly axe at the ready. With a bit more room in the alcove, Kalantar drew his blade and prepared for the inevitable.

Ysgramor stepped forward and with his mighty axe struck the first blow, but Kalantar had positioned himself well, and easily blocked it. “Is that it?” He growled just before launching his counter attack. With no room for long arching swings Kalantar was reduced to weak slashes and thrusts. No matter, Kalantar was an experienced and skilled bladesman, and his counter was still quick and deadly, but Ysgramor, showing surprisingly quick reflexes for a Nord, spun and parried the attack harmlessly away with the handle of his axe. Then he stepped into Kalantar, past his long blade and thrust the top edge of his axe under Kalantar’s chin. It wasn’t a killing blow, but rather one intended to stun his opponent. Kalantar was too quick, however, and was able to avoid the attack and knock the axe aside with a spinning move of his own. 

Kalantar and Ysgramor had now switched positions, which actually gave Kalantar the advantage with his long blade, and with a quick back step, Kalantar leveled his blade and then, before Ysgramor could get into a defensible position, he stepped in and ran him through. Just then, a faint, low rumble from deep within Mundus could be heard.

Pulling his blade from the lifeless body, Kalantar wiped the sweat from his brow and then looked down upon Ysgramor, ready to spit upon him, but Ysgramor was not there. “No…” he said feebly. “No, no, no, no!” He repeated, his voice increasing in pitch. “Vesstan! NO!” Kalantar dropped his great sword and rushed to his fallen companion’s side. “No,” he said again, “but, you...it was Ysgramor that I fought...Vesstan...how?” Gripped in fear, Kalantar ran out of the tunnel and back to the cavern, leaving his blade behind. 

“Aubron! You’re awake!” Kalantar exclaimed as he came rushing into the large cavern, “come quick! Vesstan…” But Kalantar stopped when he quickly realized that Aubron was not going to follow. 

Standing upon what could be seen as a natural dais of rock in the center of the lower part of the cavern was Aubron. The room was awash in blue-white light and a thin crack of deep purple, barely noticeable, ringed the dais. Aubron spoke.

“My dear friend,” he began, his voice was that of several and it was deep and terrible and full of malice, “you have done well, and we are stronger for your efforts, but it was only the beginning.” Kalantar, now paralyzed with fear, tried to turn and run but in an instant he was enveloped in a gout of flame, conjured by Aubron. He screamed in agony as his flesh began to burn, but it was only a matter of seconds before the last echoes of his screams vanished and his charred lifeless body fell to the ground.

A deep rumble came from below and the thin crack widened slightly.

“The third, what about the third?” Came a terrible voice from the crack. There was a hideous laughter and then another voice spoke, “Watch.”

Just then, Aubron’s body went stiff, his back arched while his head tipped up. Aubron rose slowly from the dais, hovering over it by inches, and then his mouth opened and purple light shot forth. The light’s intensity grew rapidly and then, within seconds, Aubron exploded. So violent was the event that there wasn’t a trace of Aubron’s body to be found. 

Mundus rumbled for a third time. The crack widened slightly.

“But there were only three,” said another terrible voice, “one more is needed.”

“Patience,” came the reply. “Another will come and then the foundation will be complete and the house can be built anew.”

The blue-white light faded and darkness reclaimed the cavern once again, leaving only a purple crack to remain. But soon, it too began to fade and as it did a horrible cacophony of laughter could be heard, trailing off into the unknown, until finally there was only silence.


Epilogue
Outside, the storm came to end and the clouds parted. The forest, glistening in the sunlight, sat quiet for some time before life began to slowly return. A rabbit emerged cautiously from the safety of its burrow, its ears twitching as it surveyed the area. Pausing to look at a large pine that had fallen next to a nearby cave entrance, the small animal took one hop towards it and then stopped and sniffed the air. Spooked by whatever it sensed, it quickly bounded into the woods in the other direction. 

And so the cave remained; silent and undisturbed for centuries. Until one day a house was built nearby…

“Jalsine,” came a man’s voice as he entered the nearby home, “you’ll never believe what I’ve just found…”