Her name is Jiana Muse. At least that’s what she called herself as a little girl in the streets of Davon’s Watch. Her real name, as well as much of her childhood, was forgotten, perhaps intentionally. It was a name that sounded genteel, like the nobles who sometimes traveled through town on their way to important business, and who she had always admired from a distance. She’d watch them from the dusty shadows, learning to mimic their mannerisms and vocabulary. That’s why she chose the name for herself. It was like the name of a powerful queen.
Growing up, rejection was a constant companion. At first, from other street urchins who made fun of her Breton accent and grubby appearance. They mockingly called her “your majesty” before seeing how many new bruises they could inflict. Later on, it was the Mages Guild, who grew increasingly concerned with her hunger for increased power and interest in daedric conjuration. By the time she was a young lady, about the age that most women from respectable families were looking to marry, she had made her way to Riften, and had fallen in with a mysterious vampiric cult. She gladly exchanged her natural beauty for the increased power and lifespan of the undead. But even that association was short lived as the other vampires were reluctant to share their deepest and most mysterious secrets with somebody who was so young and new. In a fit of youthful rage, Jiana conjured a daedric scamp to desecrate their sacred hideaway. She was banished immediately with a warning to never return.
But the past was the past, and Jiana tried not to give it much thought. At present, she sat at a corner table in the Anchors Aweigh tavern in Shimmerene. When the borders were opened to outsiders, she’d traveled to Summerset with the hopes of studying under the Psijics to hone her already considerable magic attunement. Psijic powers were highly revered by mages of all kinds, but few who still lived had ever studied with the Order. The reputation of the Altmer and their attention to refinement and detail were also strong considerations in her decision to venture so far from her volcanic homeland. She fixed her jet-black hair into a tight, unobtrusive bun, adorned herself with her most beautiful dress, and was as polite and proper as she knew how to be. But she was once again met with rejection in the temples and streets of Shimmerene. At best, the natives completely ignored her. More often, they looked down their pointed noses with a loud scoff. Altmer who are native to Summerset are intolerant of any outsider, so a Breton carrying obvious signs of vampirism was downright shunned. And despite her incessant questioning of the locals, she found no trace of the mysterious Psijics.
She sat in the corner, contemplating her next move. She closed her eyes and placed her fingertips at her temples, resting her elbows on the cold tabletop in front of her. She sometimes found it necessary to “dial back” her enhanced senses in an attempt to concentrate. Through the fog of tavern and street noise, she heard the sound of leather boots clomping across the tavern floor, stopping at her table. She felt a whiff of air as the stranger sat down across from her. She slowly opened her eyes, half expecting to see an intoxicated townie offering a free beverage. Sometimes they would look past her pale skin and bloodshot eyes if the evening was late enough. Sometimes she would accept their offer in the hopes of later satisfying her real thirst. But this visitor was different. He was Altmer, clad in robes and traveling pouches. Strapped to his back was a large staff. A sorcerer!
Jiana instinctively sat upright, and wondered if she would be able to quickly reach her own staff, if need be. As if sensing her concern, the sorcerer gave a friendly smile and spoke.
“It’s ok. I noticed you from across the room. You look a little lost.”
No doubt, she probably stuck out like a sore thumb in this tavern full of tall, golden-skinned merfolk.
“I’ve got a little job to do and I’m pulling together some people. Nothing illegal, just a hunting trip. Our weary band of travelers needs food. There’s some coin in it for you, if you’re interested”
“Why are you asking me?” Jiana asked distrustfully.
“Because you seem….skilled.” The stranger replied as he lifted his hand slightly off the table, creating a tiny spark of static between his fingers. Jiana looked at her own hand and realized that she must have been doing the same thing while she was rubbing her temples earlier. The power of the storm is sometimes difficult to contain.
“…and lonely” he added.
“I’m never lonely.” She retorted, more curtly than she’d intended.
The stranger lifted an eyebrow, but continued.
“My name is Kash.” He offered his hand for a friendly shake. Jiana properly lifted her hand for a kiss, as she’d seen noble women do. Kash was a little surprised, but he fashioned his mouth into a small grin and carried through with the tradition.
“What are you hunting?” Jiana quizzed.
“It’s a species native to the Isles. Looks kind of like a horse, or a deer. But with feathers.”
Jiana was amused by the request. “You want me to help you kill an indrik?”
“No.” Kash’s eyes grew sober and his tone lowered considerably. All traces of a smile disappeared. “I want you to help us kill THE indrik.”
Jiana and Kash met up with a large group just outside a wooded grove, all of whom were wearing a ring or pendant with a distinctive symbol. Jiana thought it looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place it. Kash called one of the adventurers over for an introduction. A robed Altmer with friendly eyes made his way through the crowd. “Jibbs, this is Jiana. We met at the Anchors Aweigh.” Jiana once again gracefully offered her hand, and Jibbs glanced questioningly over to Kash. Kash pursed his lips and gave a tight nod. Jibbs, intent on moving past this particular social interaction, gave it a quick, awkward kiss. He then turned swiftly back to Kash.
“What were you doing in town?” he scolded his friend.
“No offense, buddy, but I missed the good ale. It’ll be fine, calm down!” Kash answered. He looked back and gave Jiana a little wink as he placed his arm around Jibbs’ shoulders to lead him back to the front of the group.
As the two continued their spat, Jiana took note of the rest of the adventurers. These were no mere bandits. Their weapons and armor, from provinces throughout Tamriel, were of the highest quality. She had never witnessed such a mix of races traveling under a single banner. And that signet. What did it mean? The Dark Brotherhood? Thieves Guild? No, she was familiar with those. This was something altogether different.
A loud crack from within the woods pulled her back into focus, and weapons from all around were unsheathed as the band of travelers jumped to the ready. Jiana peered into the thicket, and caught her first glimpse of him. He was without a doubt the biggest indrik she had ever seen. So large and legendary that the locals had named him: Caanerin. He stood tall enough to reach fruit on the highest branches of the tallest trees. His antlers were the size of mammoth tusks. His brightly colored feathers would have stood out anywhere else on the continent, but were the perfect camouflage for the flowered landscape of Summerset. His snort startled Jiana, and she had to slowly stoop to the ground to retrieve her staff.
The other travelers looked around quietly for what seemed like minutes, wondering if it was time to strike. Jibbs and Kash kept their eyes trained on Caanerin. The indrik raised his head as he caught their scent, and after a brief pause, bolted head-on in the direction of the troop. Jibbs and Kash raised their staves in the air and the entire crew gave out a thunderous yell and charged to battle. Jiana quickly conjured up a minor daedra or two, a practice that is generally frowned upon throughout Tamriel. She hoped that in this hectic situation, nobody would notice. But her confidence returned when she realized that Jibbs and Kash were both fighting alongside a volatile familiar of their own! The band of fighters were skilled, but the indrik was incensed. He leapt this way and that, bucking and causing the very fires of oblivion to flare up wherever his hooves made contact with the ground. Jiana tried summoning lightning but it only served to anger Caanerin further. When he had bloodied the innermost warriors, he would teleport to the outer edges of the ring and attempt to impale whoever was unlucky enough to be near his antlers.
Heat from the waves of flame blasted Jiana in the face. She tried to cast spells but was interrupted with every stomp of the indrik’s hooves by her instinctive vampiric fear of fire. She began to wonder why an accomplished band of adventurers would risk their lives against such a formidable foe for a mere slab of meat. Her constant repositioning on the battlefield had rendered her largely ineffective. She had not been prepared for a challenge of this magnitude.
It was obvious to Jiana that the fight was not going well. Caanerin was battered. His flanks showed crimson patches where feathers used to be. But the mighty group of adventurers was faring even worse. If the tide didn’t turn soon, not only would Caanerin escape, but there would be no survivors to write the sad songs of this tragic tale. Jiana’s instinct was to turn and run. She was near the opening of the grove. She could easily turn to vampiric mist form and sneak away. If she escaped now, she could leave Summerset forever, start over again in another land. Then she caught a glimpse of Jibbs and Kash, fighting side by side, seemingly to the bitter end. She saw an Argonain mage, staff in one hand, propping up a Dunmer fighter with the other. She saw a burly Redguard with a shield jump in front of a fallen Khajiit comrade. Was this kind of love and loyalty normal among companions? Not in any of Jiana’s experiences. “Survival of the fittest” was the only mantra she’d ever known. But this group was somehow different. No, she couldn’t leave them. She had to help them. She had an idea.
In her earliest days with the Mages Guild, Jiana had studied healing spells. This was before her hunger for power and respect had steered her towards a more destructive form of magic. She racked her brain, attempting to remember even the most basic spell from a childhood she’d tried to forget. She closed her eyes. The world around her quieted. Time slowed. In the dark silence of her mind, the words appeared before her in the form of glowing orange runes. She raised her staff high, and her voice overcame its usual meekness to thunder out the command for healing springs! The area of battle, which was darkened by summoned storm clouds, suddenly illuminated with a fiery flash of light. The yellow glow continued in ever-waning pulses. Wounds were healed, bones were mended and voices began to shout once more. The indrik looked confused as fighters that he’d previously bested were on their feet again.
Somehow sensing where the magic had originated, Caanerin locked eyes with Jiana, and teleported himself out of the middle of the fight and toward the opening of the wood, landing between her and the rest of the group. She pointed her staff in his direction and electricity shot from its head. This only served to slow his charge as he ran closer and closer. As the indrik neared the spot where Jiana was standing, he lowered his head to strike…but instead collapsed in a heap at her feet. Her heart beating loudly, she looked past his hulking corpse to the shocked expressions of the warriors beyond. It was only then that she realized that she’d unwittingly turned her entire aura to lightning form, and was translucently spitting sparks in all directions, burning anything within a close proximity. As the electricity slowly subsided, Jiana brushed back a few singed strands of hair, straightened her back, resumed her duchess posture and cleared her throat. The crowd erupted in cheers.
Kash walked up to Jiana slowly, and extended his hand once again. Only this time, he was offering a pendant bearing the insignia of The Reliquary. She took it and gazed at it, somewhat bewildered. After a few seconds, she realized that this job had been more than merely a hunt for food. It was a test. Of combat prowess, yes, but also of bravery, loyalty, and character. Somehow her finest qualities had emerged during the worst of circumstances. Jibbs patted her on the shoulder with a wide grin.
“Welcome to the family”
She looked around her and was met with many more smiles and nods.
“A family.” she repeated to herself quietly.
Her entire life, Jiana had tried to claim respect through power and study. Perhaps this – a family – was the one thing she’d really wanted all along.