Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer: Fragment I
By Solis Aduro
"Only three," Matius protested. Three was barely a scouting party, much less a suitable expedition force. "I was promised nine at minimum."
Tana put her feet up on her desk loudly. "Best I could do, Matius. Your name doesn't hold the weight it used to."
Matius knew it was true, but this was the first time one of his own friends had said as much. He noticed how cold Tana had become toward him since he told her he intended to continue his mission. Ten years gone he had been at the head of an Imperial-sanctioned excursion to properly chart the province of Black Marsh. The borders had been defined well enough, but information about the heart of the swamp was scarce and unverifiable. Even the established description disseminated by the Empire to citizens was a stitched together narrative from numerous questionable accounts.
The venture was considered a failure. His crew had dwindled one by one as the expedition stretched on, either through death or desertion. Tana had been the only one to stay with him, but she contracted a disease that made her delirious and unable to remember the last days of their journey.
And so, when Matius had returned to the college speaking of lost cities and ancient civilizations, he found himself against a wall of skepticism with no other witness to verify his claims. His relationship with Tana was never the same after that. The marsh had changed both of them, and the aftermath had not been easy either. He had hoped they could mend old wounds and return together, but Tana had flatly refused him saying she would never return to Black Marsh. She did offer to help him put together a crew, and Matius knew he should be grateful that anyone would help him at all.
"At least tell me they're seasoned." He had to hope for that, if little else.
"You're in luck," Tana said, glancing over some papers. "Well, assuming you can get along with a High Elf. She's a battlemage, so I'm sure you'll find a way. Salara is her name. Never heard of her."
Matius raised a brow. He would be pleased to have such a skilled companion, but something told him to be wary. "Why would a battlemage join me?"
Tana shrugged. "It isn't a sanctioned mission as far as I can tell. My contacts don't know anything about her either. Maybe she wants to go for her own reasons. We can't exactly be particular in this case."
Matius nodded. He would have to keep an eye on this Elf. "And the others?"
"Riffen, a runaway slave. He's a young Nord, but eager. You know how important that will be. Before you argue, he can read and write, and has some skill in hunting and foraging. He survived on his own this long, after all. Give him a chance."
An extra pair of hands was never bad, and the crew would be small enough that the young man couldn't get in the way. Still, Matius felt bad knowing how hard the journey would be on someone unprepared for it. "And the third? You still haven't mentioned a guide. We won't get anywhere without a willing Argonian. You remember that much at least." Matius regretted saying that, but Tana ignored it.
"River-Gills," she said. "An experienced Argonian guide, just like you asked for. And with only one catch."
"There's a catch?" Matius sighed. "You offered him the sum I promised?"
"I did. Try to let me finish." Tana paused, seemingly just to make him wait. "River-Gills will take you part way, at which point he promises to introduce you to someone who can get you where you want to go in half the time."
A sensible person would walk away from this, Matius thought, but he knew he couldn't. He had waited a decade for another chance, slim as it might be. Matius had heard there were more secretive tribes in the swamp that knew hidden paths, and the idea of making safe contact with them was enticing enough to embolden him.
"Very well," Matius said. "Thank you, Tana." He turned to leave, but stopped short of the door. "Is there truly nothing I can say to make you come with me? It should be the both of us."
"I told you. I wouldn't return to Black Marsh for all the gold in all the known worlds, Matius. And I wish there was something I could say to make you stay."
|Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer|
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