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In Cold Blood

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In the courtyard of Proudspire Manor, a straw man becomes acquainted with the point of a training foil. It hits him relentlessly, impaling him countless times on it's blunted edge, though each strike lands far off from the target painted on his chest. At the end of the foil, a young woman huffs, her breath visible in the cool air. As she recovers from her lunge, falcon glides towards her, landing on her shoulder. It ruffles it's feathers dismissively at her frustration, and she lunges again. The falcon takes into the air, only to land once more as she recovers. They repeat this until the girl grows tired, laying her foil to rest with the others.


 


The falcon did not belong to her originally; it was her father's. In this later years, the man had taken up falconry, as his adventures were over, and he was bored. There were fruits to her father's labor, however. In his relentless treasure-seeking, he was able to gather enough coin to purchase a manor in Solitude, where he raised his family. 


 


Elyndriel was her name. His first, and only child. She was such a willowy thing, barely fitting in her father's bulky shadow. She listened to her father's stories, dreaming of being an adventurer like him one day. As Elyndriel grew, her father continued his attempts at falconry. It seemed the rowdy bird had not taken to his training, and became more of a companion to the young girl. Elyndriel gave it the name "Mudcrab", because it's talons reminded her for mudcrab claws. Not as graceful as one would imagine, but it was fitting. Years passed the family by, as their leisurely life in Solitude continued. When Elyndriel had just finished growing, her father had given in to illness, losing his life.


 


The Breton woman turned away from the courtyard. Most of her was concealed by a hooded, furred cloak, and a woolen scarf. Her eyes were visible, shining hazel in the dull evening. She was wearing a grey dress the ended just before her boots began. She stepped out of the courtyard, quickly making her way towards The Winking Skeever, the local inn. Thoughts of warm mead made her feel warmer already. She stopped at the entrance, and Mudcrab launched itself off of her shoulder, flying back towards the manor.


 


After she entered the Inn, Elyndriel pulled down her hood and her scarf, releasing her long, light-brown hair, which pooled down her back and in front of her chest. She smiled as the warmth of hearth reached her, soothing her flushed  and frost-bitten cheeks.


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"Bah, nonsense. You've clearly been having too much of that filthy skooma stuff," a heavy-set, grey-haired man scoffed as he quaffed from his flagon of mead. "The Dragons of old, returning to Skyrim? Even Hralki the Liar had the sense to make up stuff that made sense!" He guffawed, and pounded the table with his hand, causing it to rattle and the other patrons of the Winking Skeever to glare at him in annoyance.

"But it's real!" The other man protested. "I saw one flying through the clouds; this big, black scaly beast, all spikes and scales and great flapping wings! By Shor, are you saying I shouldn't believe what I saw with my own eyes?!"

"Just think about this reasonably for a moment, won't you?" the first man said. "Have you seen the size of those bones up in Dragonsreach before? How much do you think those would weigh?"

"A few tons, maybe?" the other man ventured.

"Exactly!" the big man crowed triumphantly. "You know what else is that large? Mammoths. Ever seen a mammoth go much faster than a trot? You can't possibly expect something like that to even run, let alone fly. Ergo, the best explanation for what you've been seeing is too much of the old skooma." He jabbed a finger at the other man. "Go on, prove me wrong, milk drinker."

"Why, you-" the other man screamed, raising his fists to strike the big man -- and promptly took a fist straight to the face. He staggered, his face now contorted into a vicious scowl, and then recovered, raising his arms to a guard and taking a swing at his opponent, who guffawed and bobbed out of the way of the punch, before throwing a series of jabs. Then, feinting out of the way of another clumsy, looping punch, the big man struck his challenger with a hook straight to the face, and his opponent tottered, his gaze going glassy and unfocused, before collapsing in a heap to the ground.

"Milk drinker," the big man grunted, prodding his fallen challenger with his foot, and raising his fist in the air, to the sounds of raucous cheering from the other patrons.

His name was Sanger Rock-crusher, son of a miner from Stonehills turned sellsword, and this was what he lived for -- the thrill of the fight, the glory of a worthy opponent laid low. Admittedly, hanging around in bars and punching out weak-kneed milk-drinkers with too much bravado and too little sense was starting to get stale -- he needed a real challenge. Perhaps what he needed was a jaunt out into the countryside to find a real enemy to kill -- a great bear or a saber cat, perhaps. At least wild beasts could put up a proper fight.

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The nord bartender had a saucy swing to her hip, one hand perched on it, a displeased frown on her face, "Look, orc, I got nothing else. The flyers come from the Jarl, I hand 'em out, they don't tell me no more." The orc in question frowned - of course, the orsimer almost always looked like they were frowning, so she looked down right vicious now. The nord woman wasn't impressed though, she'd seen bigger and nastier than the oddly short female orc before her now. 

 

The orsimer woman clenched the flyer in her hand, it told her only of a group of bandits, it said nothing of how many there were, or of what they'd done, only that the Jarl wanted them gone. She hated Solitude, the people here were all around snootier, and this bartender proved to be no better. With a sigh, which sounded more like a growl, she messily folded the flyer and shoved it into her pack before turning away just in time to watch the brawl that took place. The nord woman was obviously displeased with this as she bolted from around her bar screaming at the two males to take it outside - they ignored her of course and continued lunging at each other. Ondine had no intentions of interfering, and so she leaned against the bar to watch the show. 

 

Before long the one male prove his superiority and knocked out the other male, his body stumbling towards Ondine who simply stepped to the side before he collapsed his head thumping painfully against the bar, the stool, and then the ground. "Damn it!" The bartender grumbled in frustration giving the opposing male a death glare before wandering into the back calling out for someone else. 

 

Ondine stepped over the unconscious body and looked up at the other male, "Proud of yourself? You knocked out a drunk old man for being... a drunk old man." She scoffed and took a seat at the table they'd just occupied, laying out the flyer to go over the details again - the little that she had. There was a rough map labeling the cave as being 'Wolfskull Cave.' There was a half empty flagon of mead probably belonging to the now unconscious male - Ondine downed the rest of it. 

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Elyndriel's ears twitched at the word mention of dragons. She had only seen the beasts in her imagination, and in books; crudely drawn in charcoal on withering pages. so much was left to the imagination anyway. Elyndriel had never dreamed of real, live dragons roaming Skyrim. It seemed far-fetched, she thought. She meant to ask the man more about what he had seen, but in seconds he was unconscious on the ground. She pushed past the boisterous crowd, kneeling down to assist him, but a disgruntled call from the bartender told her that it would be taken care of.

 

Elyndriel looked up, finding the man who had served the punch hovering over them. An orsimer woman quipped at him, and she couldn't help but grin. With a glance between the two, Elyndriel braced a hand on her leg, standing up. But just as she stood, a tremor rippled through the tavern, sweeping her back off her feet and onto the ground. Patrons throughout the bar stood up, shouting in confusion as stools and bottles were knocked over, crashing to the ground. Elyndriel held her head, looking around in disbelief as most of the Inn began piling out into the street.

 

A piece of paper fell from a table close to her, landing in her lap. Elyndriel stood up once more, dusting herself off and turning her attention to it. It was a flyer, addressed from the Jarl. It was void of much information, other than that there would be a reward to those who cleared out Wolfskull Cave. She grinned to herself. Maybe Elyndriel did have a purpose for wandering into the Inn, after all.

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Sanger spotted the flyer too -- it read that there would be a reward to those who could clear out Wolfskull Cave. Well, there's a good deal, or my name isn't Sanger Rock-Crusher. It's a perfect trifecta -- recognition from the Jarl, a good fight, and sweet, sweet dosh. I'm totally game.

 

However, one did not simply gallivant off to adventure -- being a lone wanderer seemed like a suicidal proposition in these uncertain times, what with all the money-grubbing bandits and terrifying wild animals that lurked the wilderness of Skyrim. Haafingar was relatively tame, at least when compared to the Forsworn-riddled mountains of the Reach or the haunted swamps of Hjaalmarch, but even still, tales abounded of strange, terrifying dangers in the night, from mundane threats like wolves to terrifying monsters pulled straight from the old sagas, from Draugr to Wispmothers. Even a warrior like Sanger understood prudence -- besides, going in a group would mean additional hands to carry out all the fabulous treasure that surely awaited them within the cave. 

 

He emptied his flagon, slamming it down on the counter top to attract attention. Then, he raised his voice, declaring, "Are there any among you who's got enough backbone to clear out Wolfskull Cave with me? You're all proud Nords here; surely you can't be afraid of a little darkness, can you?!"

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The lone Breton mans slightly-pointed ears perked up in curiosity, as he heard the commotion coming from the unfamiliar tavern. He contemplates ignoring it and moving on, but the growling in his stomach reminds him what he had been seeking out anyway. He let out a sigh, the chilled autumn air cutting quickly through his cloak and hood. He reluctantly stepped into the light of the tavern, ears immediately driven wild with the sounds of boisterous patrons, drinking songs and the silent cursing of a disgruntled bartender. "Certainly an eclectic crowd, tonight." he thought to himself as he pushed past the noise, towards the counter.

 

He approached the bartender, about to order before hearing the bellowing, gravelly voice of an old Nord adventurer, a few chairs to his left. He listens to the man, and raises an eyebrow, remembering the lightness of his coin pouch and emptiness of his stomach. Besides, Edwyn always was one for a little adventure. He sits on a stool, leaning against the bar as the man finishes his "speech". His curiosity piqued, he lazily raises his hand. "I'll join you." he says nothing more, turning his attention back to the bartender, simply happy that the mans voice had silenced the commotion of the rest of the tavern.

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With Elyndriel's cloak removed, her robes were fully visible. It was obvious that she was a mage, as her robes flickered blue with an enchantment.

 

"Are there any among you who's got enough backbone to clear out Wolfskull Cave with me? You're all proud Nords here; surely you can't be afraid of a little darkness, can you?!"

 

She found some amusement in how well the vehement voice fit the man's appearance. She had seen many Nords like him, great and heavy-set, always swinging a stick of some kind. Elyndriel could never understand how they dealt with the cold so well. Thick skin, she supposed, but she envied it, as she still felt the cold's sting on her cheeks.

 

The mage rose from her seat, careful not to further rouse the unconscious man adjacent to her. She paused as another man, who's quiet presence was unknown to her before, raised a lazy hand and accepted the challenge. "A little darkness is no matter-- when you can conjure light." She crowed, nodding them. "I'll join you."

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