Jiana Muse shuffled along the sandy road. Since joining The Reliquary, she had been assigned to shadow an agent who had been present at the indrik hunt, a large redguard named Braxwolf. Braxwolf talked more than Jiana liked, and drank more ale than she preferred. In fact, they were opposites in most ways. Her frail frame and pale skin sizzled under the uncompromising Alik’r Desert sun. Braxwolf’s bald, brown head reflected it nearly as much as his heavy plate armor did, but he did not seem bothered by the heat. Jiana sometimes wondered if this was Jibbs’ and Kash’s idea of a joke – sending a small, quiet vampire into the blazing desert with this chatty tank of a man. But Brax’s sword and shield were second to none and his heart desired only good. Despite their differences, he was the perfect mentor.
Jiana saw it first. Even in the searing sun, her senses were more sharply focused than those of a mortal. She would have thought it a mirage except for the muffled breathing and faint scent of mossy forest undergrowth that she detected. After several steps, Braxwolf stopped short and shaded his eyes. “What do you expect that is?” he wondered out loud. As they continued on, the shape became clearer. It was a bosmer, perched atop a small stone. She was beckoning to them.
“Here you two are, finally!” the bosmer said in a loud, piercing voice that contrasted with her size. She hopped off the rock as she spoke. She was nearly as spritely as the nixad that hovered above her right shoulder.
Braxwolf looked suspicious. He scratched his curly white beard and casually stated: “The moon sugar is plentiful this harvest.” Without hesitating, the bosmer retorted “Indeed! As plentiful as the Alik’r sand.” At the proper coded response, both Braxwolf and the bosmer touched their Reliquary pendant with their left index fingers as the tension melted away.
“I’d received word that you might travel this route.” The bosmer said. “I’ve got bad news. A band of merchants near Bergama was wiped out and robbed.”.
“Bandits?” Braxwolf speculated.
The wood elf shook her tiny head. “Worse. Abah’s Collectors. Five or six of them”. Braxwolf’s eyes narrowed at the mention of the rival gang. “I’ve received orders to intercept the stolen goods, but I’m going to need your help.” she continued. Braxwolf’s grin widened under his beard. Slowly, a soft chuckle escaped his lips. “Of course, my sister! Any chance to crack some Abah skulls!” He bellowed. “I am Braxwolf. And this,” he motioned toward his new apprentice “is Jiana Muse”.
The bosmer gave them a mischievous smile. “Fantastic!” she proclaimed. “I’m Bretta Sylvanna”.
Bretta led them to a tall rock formation overlooking the road leading out of town. The Abah’s Collectors would not be able to unload the stolen merchendise in Baragma. People there would recognize the goods as belonging to the merchants, and would likely alert the city guards. Their only option would be to sell the pillaged loot in a faraway town. That meant traveling this route in search of a suitable market.
The trio deliberated for some time, and It was reluctantly decided that killing the Abah’s Collectors would be the only way to send the message that the murder of innocent merchants would not be tolerated. The strategy for regaining the goods was simple. Braxwolf, being a redguard and least likely to raise suspicion in this land, would stand in the middle of the road and fain trouble, bringing the caravan to a halt. Once the caravan was stopped, Jiana and Bretta would attack from the tall rock formations on either side of the road, Jiana with her spells and Bretta with her bow. When all of the Abah’s Collectors were dead, they would commandeer the caravan of goods.
No sooner had the plan been agreed upon than the caravan came into view: five wagons and at least twenty Collectors.
“Five or six Collectors, eh?” Braxwolf teased Bretta with a raised eyebrow.
Bretta’s mischievous smile returned. “Oh, don’t worry, love! You’re as thick as three, yourself!”
Braxwolf, unsure as to whether he’d just been insulted, hurried down towards the road.
“I guess we’ll both have to attack from this side” Bretta said to Jiana. The caravan had come too quickly. They had not had time to get into the desired position.
Jiana peered at the scene below as Braxwolf came into view. He ran into the road waving his arms frantically. The caravan did slow down, but the contingency of Collectors had not been caught off guard. In his haste, Braxwolf had forgotten to remove his weapon and shield, and the Collectors at the front of the caravan were shouting threatening rhetoric at him. Those in the middle were scanning the rock formations expecting an ambush. Jiana and Bretta ducked behind the rocks and glanced at each other nervously. Instead of taking them by surprise, they had inadvertently alerted the group to their planned attack.
Bretta pieced together a new plan in her mind, but seemed hesitant to share it with Jiana. “Can you distract them?” Bretta asked hastily.
Jiana nodded as she closed her eyes and tried to picture the rock formation on the far side of the roadway. Above it, clouds began to gather in the otherwise clear desert sky. As Jiana whipped her staff downward, a bolt of liquid lightning spat out of the menacing storm clouds. As the group of Collectors turned towards the unexpected sound, Bretta lept up and loosed an arrow from her bow that found its way into the back of the closest enemy. On the sprint, she fired two more that also found their mark. Jiana stepped out from behind the rocks just in time to see Bretta, in full stride, drop down to all fours. But instead of slowing down, her speed increased! By the time she reached the edge of the caravan, Bretta had fully morphed into her lycanthropic state.
“A werewolf!” Jiana gasped.
The shouts coming from the valley changed into screams of pure terror. Braxwolf took advantage of the confusion to draw his sword and affix his shield. As Bretta attacked from the side, Braxwolf drove himself through the Collectors near the front of the caravan, knocking several down as if they were bowling pins. Some of the more cowardly attempted to escape back towards Bargama, but each one received a zap of lightning from the head of Jiana’s staff. That is, until Jiana felt the steel of a dagger touch against her throat. Curses! A Collectors scout must have heard the commotion and decided to double-back. She had been too focused on the battle to take note of him.
Braxwolf’s curved blade swished this way and that in a flurry of sparks and steel. Bretta desperately flailed her powerful claws, sinking them deep into anybody who got too close. Though they fought valiantly, against such a great number of foes they had no room to let down their guard for even a second, and it was beginning to fatigue them. Jiana’s magic lightning had suddenly ceased, allowing the Collectors to concentrate fully on the struggle at hand. They forced Braxwolf and Bretta into the center of a circle of blades and axes. Bretta snarled fiercely but her movement was hampered by several wounds. Braxwolf began having difficulty shielding and parrying blows from all directions. From the rock above, Jiana watched helplessly as the echoing, distant voice of her captor ordered her to her knees. Then, with a single, sudden movement, Braxwolf raised his hand skyward and a blinding beam of templar light shot from his palm into the heavens. The circle of Collectors fell backwards, stunned, which was all the advantage that he and Bretta needed to counter attack a blinded foe.
At the flash, Jiana’s captor flinched. Jiana quickly lifted the base of her staff and drove it backward into his abdomen with as much strength as she could muster. He fell back into the sand, his dagger lost to the dark of the storm. Jiana turned slowly and seemed to grow taller as she approached the scout. The wind blew harder, pulling some of Jiana’s hair out of it’s usual bun and whipping it around her small, porcelain-like face. Her red eyes came alive with fire. The scout tried to crawl backwards as the blood drained from his face. She loosened her fingers and her staff tumbled to the ground. Before the scout could react, she was on him, planting her teeth firmly into the base of his neck. His piercing screams were drowned out by the echoing shouts and curses of the remaining Collectors in the valley below.
“That was messy.” Bretta exclaimed as she surveyed the valley. The crimson sand had already begun to blow away in the stiff desert wind. “So messy.” She was bothered, almost apologetic, that she had been forced into werewolf form by the botched plan.
“What do we do with all these goods?” Braxwolf asked. “The merchants who own them are dead. Should we use the funds to rebuild the Reliquary treasury?”
“No.” Bretta said quickly. “Jibbs and Kash were very clear that the money from these goods was not to be mixed with that of The Reliquary or it’s agents.”
“Then, what?” he puzzled.
After a long pause, Jiana spoke up softly. “I might know of a good place for it.”
It was dark in the Davon’s Watch orphanage. An elderly housemother busied herself by tidying up as the children slept. The wind howled outside and found its way through the drafty planks so that the single candle attempting to light the entire room flickered constantly. One particular gust startled the woman enough that she spun around to catch a glimpse of a figure, or at least a shadow of a figure, standing in the middle of the room. Covered by a dark cloak, a pair of red eyes peered out from within a deep hood. Those eyes, while the wrong color, seemed vaguely familiar.
“Jiana, is that you?” the woman whispered with surprise.
The eyes in the hood darted towards the woman, and slowly softened as if a grin were forming underneath. Then they snapped shut and the figure vanished. Swallowing hard and overcoming her fear, the housemother crept to the spot where the figure had been. As she approached the center of the room, she noticed an object that hadn’t been there just minutes before. She reached down towards the table and lifted up a bag the size of a giant’s fist. It was heavy, and adorned with the symbol of an eyeball crying a single drop of blood. Her old hands shook, and her spirits rose with every jingle made by the unexpected gift.