In 582 of the second era, Cumberland Square bustled with activity. Located at the easterly end of Wayrest Boulevard, the district boasted the largest, wealthiest marketplace in all of High Rock. Trade in Tamriel had brought in goods from the four corners of the continent, and so it was no surprise to see items both local and exotic amongst the merchant stalls.
After all, it was common knowledge that if you were looking for something, you could probably find it in Cumberland Square.
It was one such stall that Kainen had found himself leaving that afternoon. He was clad in layers of dark leathers and cloths, however he didn’t seem too out of place amongst the other market patrons. His garments were weathered, and dirt from the road caked his knee high boots. A rather dull looking rapier hung on his left hip, and on his right sat an angular dagger, Breton-forged by the looks of it.
“Our supplies dwindle! Our trade routes are shut down! Our people suffer!” a uniformed man shouted. “Heed the words of your King, and support the Daggerfall Covenant!”
More war propaganda, Kainen laughed to himself. For the past three years the world had been on edge. Pacts had been made, covenants had been created, and age-old adversaries had forged unlikely alliances, all because beasts from another realm had begun to appear. It was said that some arcane catastrophe had caused it all.
Mages called it the Soulburst.
Kainen didn’t care.
After ten years of service, Kainen had had enough of war, of the political infighting over who would rule the Ruby Throne. Armies had been vying for supremacy for millennia, and no covenant, no matter how strong, was going to keep that from happening. Provinces would rise and fall for centuries to come; he was certain of it.
Kainen blindly reached into the satchel at his side and grabbed a stick of canis root, the very item that he’d come to purchase. It was a simple ingredient, used in the brewing of most beverages. He, however, chewed it to deal with the withdrawal symptoms he could feel even now creeping into his brain. He was addicted, he knew, to the art of Siphon magic. There was something about drawing on a person’s very essence that was extremely satisfying, and who wouldn’t agree with him? It made him stronger. It made him faster. It even healed his wounds. Prolonged use had made him nearly dependent on it, however. Chewing the canis root helped, but he still felt himself clenching his fists and grinding his teeth from time to time, a conscious effort to meet the physical demands his withdrawals commanded of him. It was a method Kainen was willing to tolerate. After all, draining people using controversial magic wasn’t acceptable behavior in the city.
Especially if one was trying to remain unnoticed.
A warm hearth and a collection of drunken patrons awaited him as he pushed open the door to the nearest inn. The barkeep, a burly man with large, meaty hands, gave him a welcoming nod. “Trust you found what you needed, Mr. Cain?” he asked more than stated.
Kainen forced a smile at the mention of his false name, Dorian Cain. “Yes,” was the only answer he offered before heading to his rented room upstairs.
The trek to his room wasn’t a long one. The Inn itself only had two floors, and only two rooms lined the walls on either side, with his room being the fifth at the end of the hall. He had chosen that room precisely because of its location within the building. Should the patrons downstairs prove to be enemies, or the occupants of the rooms adjacent to him turn out to be agents on the hunt, his room was the only one with a window.
He retrieved the room key from underneath his wristguard and slit it into the lock, listening carefully for the tell-tale click as the metal teeth pushed each tumbler into place. It was something he had been practicing for a very long time, listening to those tumblers. Each click was one step closer to success, one step closer to victory. Picking a lock could award a man with the greatest treasures, or grant him freedom from the darkest cells, he knew. It was a skill that had both saved and rewarded Kainen countless times, and he definitely didn’t regret its acquisition.
When he pushed open the wooden door, a sparsely furnished room greeted him. The afternoon sun fought its way through faded white curtains covering the window on his left. A simple cot lay against the opposite wall, and an empty bottle of cheap brandy lay in the corner, seemingly discarded haphazardly.
Kainen ran a hand through his close-cropped hair and tossed his satchel onto the bed. Scratching at the dark stubble on his unshaven face, he reached up to unclasp the black cloak that hung behind him. Wind buffeted against the outside wall, and squeezed its way through the opening in the window in the form of a faint whistling sound.
A window Kainen knew that he had closed.
A flicker of a shadow played on the wall in front of him and Kainen reflexively brought his hand up. He caught the garrote just in time, hardly seeing it as it descended over his head. Razor sharp wire began to tear through his leather glove as the assailant behind him yanked the handles in opposite directions. The two became a tangled mess, and Kainen ran the assassin backwards into the wall behind them, knocking the wind out of the attacker in a forced gasp.
Kainen’s free hand yanked his dagger from its scabbard and stabbed behind him, a desperate move aiming for his opponent’s ribcage. His foe wasn’t heavily armored from what he could tell, and so he assumed that the area had a strong chance of being exposed.
In a moment of panic, the assassin let go of the garrote and grabbed Kainen’s forearm as it arced back to strike, negating the attack and following up with a brutal right knee to his rib cage.
Kainen grunted through clenched teeth as he staggered to his left, crashing against the wall in the corner of the room. He fell to one knee, wincing in pain as he nursed a cracked rib.
The assassin smiled underneath his dark cowl and drew a curved, cruel-looking blade. With Kainen’s backside exposed, he surged forward with a vicious, downward stab.
He was met with an empty bottle of cheap brandy, arcing in towards his skull.
Kainen’s tumble to the corner of the room had been a feint, and he had waited in that kneeling position until the last possible moment. Just as the assassin’s blade was coming down, Kainen’s muscles had worked in unison, springing to life in an improvised attack. The assassin’s smile turned to immediate shock as Kainen smashed the empty bottle against the side of his head, sending shards of dark glass exploding across the room.
The assailant reeled backward from the blow, reflexively reaching up to touch the wound. Shards of glass pinned his hood’s dark cloth to the side of his head like some macabre expression of art. Kainen only smiled at the image, and drew his primary weapon. As the old rapier left its scabbard, it began to hum with a faint, red-black glow, speaking of some sinister enchantment.
The assassin roared in anger just then, charging forward and drawing a second, equally cruel-looking blade as he did. For three minutes the two combatants were locked together in a flurry of blades. Rapier and dagger clashed against twin swords and the pang of steel against steel sounded throughout the small room.
The patrons downstairs might have heard the metallic song of combat, had they not been at the height of their merrymaking.
The two combatants came apart for what was to be a single moment of reprieve, gasping for air. Each had traded equal blows, and likewise nursed several injuries. Backed against the window, the assassin now favored his left hand, since an awkward pommel collision had broken two fingers on his right, and he knew that Kainen’s rapier must have more than a bit of magic about it. Everywhere that blade had touched him felt weak, like the old metal was feeding on his strength. He knew there to be some strange truth to that thought, for the blade now shone with a polished gleam, as if it had been newly hammered and oiled at a blacksmith’s forge.
Kainen had fared no better in the chaos. His vision had begun to blur on his left side from when a well-placed elbow had caught him in the side of his head, and blood flowed freely from several lacerations as those twin blades had weaved their deadly dance.
Determination took over and Kainen began the battle anew, sprinting forward with equal ferocity. Speed was his ally here and so he closed the distance fast, feinting high with his rapier and following through low with his angular dagger, an attack meant to impale his opponent through the stomach.
The assassin saw the hastened feint for what it was, and opted for a sweeping parry to deflect the real attack. He was just about to twist his wrists and begin his blade dance once more when he realized that Kainen’s dagger thrust was a feint as well. In fact, he had dropped the dagger.
Kainen wasn’t attacking.
Kainen was bull rushing him.
Kainen was bull rushing him right out the two-story window.
The window exploded in a shower of broken pieces, sending bits of wooden debris and shards of glass chasing after the two tangled warriors. They struggled against one another for but a few brief moments before crashing into the cobblestone streets below. Blood began to seep into the crevices between the stones, and from the pile of bodies Kainen struggled to his feet, shaking terribly. The assassin had fared far worse though, for Kainen had gotten on top of him in their descent and sent him face first into the stony surface. If there was any life left in him, Kainen didn’t see it.
“Murder!” one woman screamed after overcoming the shock of the situation. One moment she had been tending to her cart, and the next she had seen two men falling through the air to land in a bloody heap before her. She sucked in panicked breaths in large gasps, clenching wads of her apron in sheer terror as she continued her cry “Murder!”.
Kainen tugged his hood low over his face and cut down an alleyway, sheathing his rapier and slipping his opponent’s weapon into a loop in his belt as he went. With the degree to which he was favoring his right leg any onlookers might think he merely had a rock in his boot, so subtle was the difference. In truth however, Kainen’s body was wracked with pain. His breath came in pained gasps, and his left eye had swollen shut. Blood trickled down his pinky finger from at least three different lacerations on his right arm, and he knew one of his leg bones to be fractured. Each step brought waves of white hot agony, and while he wanted to scream he dared not draw attention.
Not with the possibility of other agents about.
Large crowds began to form as the woman’s echoing cries brought business in Cumberland Square to a halt. Though he weaved through them with a practiced grace, he knew that he couldn’t keep it up for long. Regardless of whatever mental willpower he harnessed, his physical self would give in soon.
He managed to lose himself in the alleyways throughout the city, and when he finally felt that he had traveled a safe enough distance away from the scene, Kainen limped forward towards the nearest building. With a shaking hand, he reached out and steadied himself against the wall, relieving the pressure on his fractured limb if only briefly. His leg throbbed with swollen fury, and that iron-like taste of blood sat in the back of his throat. Without even noticing it, he found himself leaning into the building’s wooden exterior, and when his head began to spin he slid down to the ground below. Breathing became an extremely laborsome task, and blackness began to encroach on what remained of his vision.
Ironically enough, the scent of baked goods assaulted his nostrils, letting him forget about the taste of his own crimson lifeblood if only for a few moments. Kainen laughed at the irony of it all. How terrible would it be if death tempted him with lavender dumplings and sweet rolls right before claiming his soul? To let him smell those treats but spirit him away before he could eat them would be a cruel fate indeed. He supposed it was comical after all, and entertained the thought of Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, having a hand in his death.
No, not death, he thought to himself. I will not die today. Someone had sent that man to kill him. To what point and purpose, Kainen could only guess. He had made many enemies over the years as a Nightblade of High Rock, however a good deal of time had passed since he’d left the Crown’s employ. Enemy provinces surely had new threats to deal with, and he doubted that the ruling council of Wayrest had sent an assassin after him, regardless of how rocky his departure had been. There was something deeper to all of this, he knew, and he intended to find out what it was.
“Spare a gold coin, sir?” a voice beside him asked.
Kainen turned to see a poverty-stricken man sitting next to him, tattered rags of cloth hanging off of his skeletal frame. His face was gaunt, and his skin seemingly stretched paper thin over his bones. He was a helpless man, frail and weak.
I will not die today.
With all the strength he could muster, Kainen ripped off his glove and grasped the side of the old man’s head, willing his dark magic to do its work.