PROLOGUE – RAYNA'S STORY – Part I

Rayna Llethri didn't want for much growing up as a young Dunmer noblewoman in their native province of Morrowind. The youngest child of House Hlaalu's high-ranking patron and noble knight Gathal Llethri and his wife Elrosa, cousin of Grandmaster Vedam Dren, Rayna spent much of her childhood capering around her waterfront hometown of Suran on the island of Vaardenfel, or enjoying the good life on the Dren Plantation nearby, where her father worked as a senior guard. She was almost always accompanied by her two older brothers, Llaro and Daran, who were very protective and loyal to their younger sister (when they weren't torturing her as older brothers tend to do). She was closest in age to Daran, who was less than two years her senior, and the two of them were inseparable as young children.

The Llethri children remained close throughout their childhood and into adolescence, especially Rayna and Daran. Daran had always been interested in the art of magic, and toward the end of his teenaged years, Rayna missed him terribly when their parents were able to send him to the College of Winterhold to study for two years. As he entered his early twenties, however, Daran became fascinated with the darker side of magic. He had aspirations of becoming a master conjurer, and began experimenting with different spells and enchantments aimed at calling into his service various Daedra – dangerous immortal creatures from another plane, known for their ruthless and deadly destructive abilities. Word around town was that Daran had begun associating with more radical members of the local Mages Guild, and that he had recently been in contact with some truly dubious characters: Necromancers, Gathal called them; mages who lived on the fringes of society, practicing their illegal dark magic in hidden caves and tombs, trying to bring back the dead by reanimating corpses. The family was concerned, and Gathal called his wife and children home to Suran for a serious discussion about these rumors.

When Daran arrived, he vehemently refuted the rumors of his association with necromancers. He had a completely different goal in mind; one that would stun his relatives even more than the idea of violating the sanctity of the dead. Daran Llethri had decided that he would be the first person in the known history of his family to not only see, but actually enter the realm of Oblivion, the very home of the Daedra, and return to their home continent of Tamriel alive. No one knew what to say at first. Finally, Elrosa spoke up and desperately tried to deter her son from undertaking what they all saw as a suicide mission. Gathal agreed, and Llaro chose to side with his parents. Rayna, however, understood her brother's desire to push the boundaries of magic, to do what no other Llethri had done – to make his mark in history.

She enthusiastically sided with her brother, and her approval seemed to further strengthen his determination to go through with his outrageous plot. Not even once did it cross her mind that the results of this endeavor could be tragic. She held the utmost faith in her brother's ability to do whatever he thought possible. As she was the only one of his family who remained on his side, he told her some of the details of his great undertaking. He and his cohorts had discovered an ancient text that told of a way of creating a portal to Oblivion. They had already gathered the necessary items that would allow them to do so, and were planning on going in one at a time, briefly having a look around, and then returning through the same portal. Rayna begged to be allowed to accompany him for this undertaking, but he was adamant that it was not the sort of thing that he would want his little sister to participate in, considering her limited knowledge of magic.

Rayna had been taught the very basics of the magic arts by tutors as a child. She knew a few rudimentary destruction spells, how to light up a dark passage or make a simple health potion or weak poison, but that's about as far as she'd gotten. Most noble offspring were trained in the same way – basic magic, basic survival, basic combat. Had she chosen to pursue a career in the magic arts, she'd have likely been sent to the College of Winterhold in the northern province of Skyrim, as her brother had been, to receive a comprehensive education in the field. Rayna preferred combat to magic, however, and as it was not seen as appropriate for a noblewoman to be involved in this field, she was never formally educated. She often practiced with her father's extensive armory when no one was looking. She had become quite accomplished with both longsword and bow. She often fantasized that there would be an invasion by some army of outlanders, and she would defend her family singlehandedly and be hailed as a heroine. She never really thought she would have the opportunity to do such a thing, but it was entertaining to daydream about it.

Rayna woke up late that morning, on the fateful day she would find out she had lost her beloved brother. Nothing seemed amiss at first, until she overheard shouting in the dining room of the family manor. She came downstairs to find Llaro and her parents in a state of panic, her mother pleading through tears at a strange young man in an iridescent dark blue robe to "Please, find a way to save him!"

"I'm sorry," the man replied gravely, "We've tried everything we can think of. I don't know how it happened. We just lost him in there somehow."

"No, no, no…" Elrosa collapsed into her husband's arms, sobbing uncontrollably.

Rayna's heart leapt into her throat. She knew immediately what had happened. She was overcome with hideous guilt and regret over having encouraged Daran to go ahead with his plan. She felt responsible for this – and she knew what she had to do.

When the man in the blue robe left the house, she followed him out into the cobblestone street. He pulled a potion from his satchel and put it to his lips, but Rayna grabbed his arm before he could drink it.

"I need to get my brother back." She told him earnestly.

He looked at her with an expression of pity. "I'm so sorry dear. There's no way to get your brother back. Someone would actually have to go in after him, and chances are they'd be lost as well. We can't risk it."

"Please sera, I will go in after him. It's my fault he did this. I encouraged him. I have to at least try."

"I can't allow you, in good conscience, to do that. Your parents have already lost a son. I will not be liable for the loss of their daughter too."

Rayna pleaded with the man, but he would not relent. He hastily excused himself, downed the recall potion in his hand, and disappeared. She knew she would have to find another way into the realm of Oblivion.

The first thing she did after packing a small knapsack with food, water, and a few basic potions, was to take the stilt strider, a giant, spindly-legged insect used for transportation on Vaardenfel, to the district seat of Balmora, and visit the Mages Guild. She hoped that one of the members there would be able to at least offer her some idea of how to safely enter the realm of Oblivion and return unscathed. Balmora, like Suran, was built of mud bricks and stone. Situated on the River Odai, it was one of the few major cities on the island of Vaardenfel.

Most of the mages had little time or tolerance for this young woman and her tale of woe. They were too busy selling their potions or enchantments to deal with her. But after overhearing her frantic pleas for assistance, a kindly Orcish alchemist took her aside and offered advice. In a hushed voice, she explained that there were two things that could create a portal to Oblivion at will: an extremely powerful mage, or a sentient daedra – a Dremora, to be specific. If a relatively skilled conjurer could bring a Dremora to Mundus, their term for the world of mortals, then she might be able to convince the creature to bring her back to Oblivion. Returning to Tamriel would be a different story, however. Perhaps, offered the alchemist, someone more familiar with conjuring might know a way.

Her hopes renewed, Rayna thanked the Orc woman profusely and raced back to the stilt strider platform, not quite certain what her next move should be. She wracked her brain, trying to think of the most powerful mage she knew. Only her brother came to mind, and his accomplices. And apparently they were not of a mind to assist her. Her only other option was to find a conjurer who would be willing to bring a Dremora to the mortal plane just to allow her to try to bargain with the creature. She knew of an enchanter who operated a shop in Ald'ruhn, in the massive, extinct crustacean's carapace-turned-manor-district where her Llethri cousins lived. She was fairly well acquainted with him, and knew him to be a decent man. If anyone would be willing to help her, it would be him.

After disembarking the stilt strider once again, she flew down the steep ramp and sprinted into the gigantic, somewhat mushroom-shaped chitin structure known as Ald'ruhn Under Skar, deftly navigating the narrow rope-bridge walkways inside as she'd done so many times playing tag in her childhood. The cavernous interior was dimly lit by numerous hanging lamps, and residents and Redoran guards meandered about, often getting in her way. She stopped to catch her breath for a moment outside of the conjurer's shop, and then ducked inside, praying to the gods that he would be there.

The enchanter, an older Dunmer gentleman by the name of Llether Vari, immediately recognized her and quickly realized there was something amiss.

She explained her dilemma as Llether listened patiently. Finally, he put a hand on her shoulder and began to explain the reality of such a proposition. He told her that although he could conjure a Dremora for her if she wished, or give her a scroll that would allow her to do so herself, he had never heard of a conjured daedra being able to create a portal to Oblivion. Rayna begged him to try anyway. The enchanter searched his shelves and handed her a rolled parchment scroll. She untied the twine and opened the scroll, carefully reciting the words written in Daedric on the yellowed parchment. She could barely pronounce them, and she had no idea what any of them actually meant. Presently, a dark mist formed before her eyes, and out of the mist, a form clad in glittering, jagged black and red armor materialized. The creature was terrifying to behold. He was as tall as an Altmer but much more muscular. Behind the helm she could see the dark, mottled flesh and glowing red-orange eyes glaring through her, bared teeth blackened and rotten, and a foul stench of brimstone mixed with burnt flesh wafted to her nostrils. For a moment, she was speechless with horror at the very sight of this monster.

"What do you want, mortal?" the creature roared in a voice befitting its appearance, full of hissing fury and resonant tonal echoes evocative of a raging inferno.

Stunned, Rayna staggered back a few steps before mustering the courage to speak. "I would like to come with you, back to Oblivion." She announced, trying to sound as assertive as she could in the face of this demonic, nightmare creature.

"You cannot come back with me, foolish mortal! Spare me your nonsense!" The dremora thundered.

"But you must, please. My brother is lost in Oblivion and I have to bring him back."

"Impossible!"

"You know my people respect, and even worship your kind," Rayna reminded the creature as politely as she could.

"As you should, mortal." The dremora hissed.

"Is there nothing you can do to help at all?" Rayna persisted, gaining confidence.

"There is nothing I can do, as I am not here in the flesh, but only in spirit. My flesh remains in the Deadlands with my true master. If there is nothing else you wish of me, I shall return to him presently." Everything the creature said sounded like an angry curse.

"No... That was all." Rayna shook her head, and the dremora was enveloped once again in a dark mist before disappearing altogether. She slumped against the shop's counter, filled with a sense of hopelessness.

Llether gave her a reassuring pat on the back.

"Now what am I supposed to do?" She sighed dejectedly.

After a moment of pondering, Llether spoke up. "You might want to make a trip to Sadrith Mora, or Tel Aruhn, or one of those places. The Telvanni have powerful wizards, and I've heard rumors that at least a few of them have been able to travel to Oblivion and back. I don't know if the rumors are true, but it might be worth a try."

Rayna thanked him and headed back outside. It was getting late. The setting sun along with the wind-blown dust from Red Mountain, Vaardenfel's massive central volcano, cast an eerie yellowish-beige light over the town's buildings, most of which were constructed in the typical Redoran style, from the shells of gigantic extinct insects. The whole town looked to be the same drab, ochre color. In the distance, a cliff racer screamed piercingly. She was exhausted, and she just wanted to get back home to Suran to rest and plot her next move, but she knew that as long as her brother remained in Oblivion, the chances of finding him alive lessened with each passing second. The lands of the Telvanni were mostly only accessible either by boat, or by Mages "Guild Guide" teleportation. She hurried to the Mages Guild and mustered up the modest fee for teleportation to Sadrith Mora.

In a matter of seconds, Rayna found herself standing in the Imperial stone fort known as Wolverine Hall, which was located just to the south of the actual city of Sadrith Mora. Upon exiting, she could see the twisted mushroom structures that comprised most Telvanni settlements. The Telvanni were the most aloof and independent of the Great Houses of Morrowind. They mostly kept to themselves and stayed out of the business of the other houses, unlike her House Hlaalu, which was much more involved in the politics of the land. Rayna had traveled to the Telvanni holdings before, and was always impressed at the beauty of the mushroom structures, but she was wary around the Telvanni themselves. She had heard many things about them, not all very positive.

The first thing she did was to check in at the local inn and tavern. She bought a guide to the city and spoke to the innkeeper, who seemed distracted and wasn't much help. As she sat at the bar, sipping her pint of matze, she swore she heard someone call out her name. She whipped her head around one way and then the other, her long auburn locks becoming stuck across her face in the process. As she tried to brush them away, she heard her name again. This time, the voice was right in front of her and when she looked up, her eyes met the soft, rosy gaze of another young Dunmer, a man about her age, who looked vaguely familiar.

"Rayna?" He repeated, "Rayna Llethri?"

"Yes…?" She answered, wracking her distracted brain to recall who he was.

"Wow, it's been ages! How have you been?" He asked excitedly, going in for a hug.

Rayna was mortified. She knew she remembered him from somewhere, but for the life of her she couldn't think of his name. He was a rather nice looking young man, too, which made it that much more embarrassing.

He stepped back and looked at her for a moment. "You don't remember me, do you?" He asked with a good-natured and knowing grin.

Rayna shook her head bashfully. "I mean, I do, but..."

The young man laughed. "It's alright – I'm Sevyn Aryon. We used to play together when we were kids, back when I lived in Suran. Now I'm a hireling in House Telvanni. How about that?"

The memories came rushing back. Yes, Sevyn! They ran around together as children. He looked a lot different now that he was all grown up. He'd been one of Daran's closest friends… Oh, poor Daran. Her heart sank. She had to tell him about Daran. Maybe he'd know of a way to save his old childhood buddy.

Sevyn started to say something else, but Rayna cut him off. "Sevyn, you're not going to believe what happened to my brother. He's trapped in Oblivion, Daran is, and I'm so scared. That's why I'm here, to try to find a way to get him back." Rayna blurted out, wondering if she'd said too much, too soon.

Sevyn looked puzzled for a moment, as if he half-expected her to burst out laughing and tell him she was only joking. When she remained silent, his expression changed abruptly to one of concern. "Wow. How in Nirn did that happen?"

"We don't know for sure. His mage buddies were planning to travel to Oblivion and then come back, you know, just to see if it could be done. I guess he was the first to go in, and he never came back. They said they tried everything they could think of to retrieve him, but nothing worked. He's still in there, as far as we know …Hopefully he's managed to stay alive."

"That's… crazy. I'm so sorry." Sevyn replied softly.

"Do you know of anyone who might be able to help me get him back?" Rayna felt a little guilty for pumping him for information so soon after their reunion. She knew it was rude, but all she could think about was saving her brother. She didn't have time for pleasantries.

"Well, actually… I'm in pretty good with some of the wizards around here. I've even had personal meetings with House Father Neloth before. Maybe we can ask around and see if anyone has any ideas."

"Yes, let's." She agreed, trying to seem cheerful in spite of her worries.

They wandered through the streets, between meandering rows of giant, twisted mushroom structures that housed the shops and the residents of the town.

"I hear your papa's a House Father now," Sevyn said, leading her to one of the organic spiral staircases that led up to the enchanter's shop.

"He is. So why didn't you just join House Hlaalu?" She asked, smiling up at him. He had the nicest eyes. They radiated kindness.

"I don't know… I wound up over here and I liked it I guess. I get along well with the Telvanni. There aren't so many rules and hang ups as you find with the other houses. No offense to your papa, of course."

"No, I know what you're saying. They get so involved in the drama of it all. I don't want any part of it," she agreed.

The enchanter, unfortunately, wasn't of much help. They headed for the main tower, Tel Fyr, and Sevyn started asking around there. The tower was a massive, tangled stand of giant mushrooms among vine-like tendrils, twisting and curling up into the sky. Rayna hadn't brought any levitation potions, so they were limited to the ground floors of the tower. But Sevyn ran into a friend of his, a young wizard by the name of Olvys, who was more than happy to investigate her case. He consulted several volumes on the subject while Rayna and Sevyn waited, reminiscing about their childhood adventures.

Finally, Olvys came over and interrupted their ruminating. "Listen," he said, looking from one of them to the other, "This is not something I can do for you. And I don't actually know anyone powerful enough to do it, to be honest. The only way I can think of that you might be able to do this is to find a daedroth, one tied to the mortal plane. One who is actually here, in the flesh – not a summon or anything like that – and ask it to help you. I don't know how this will go. Dremoras tend to be pretty hard to bargain with. But it's the only way. I'm sorry I couldn't come up with something better."

"No, it's alright. Really. I appreciate your help," Rayna assured him.

Sevyn thanked his friend and the two of them wandered back outside.

"So what the hell are we going to do?" Sevyn muttered, kicking at an invisible object with the toes of his boots.

"I don't know. What do you mean, 'we', anyway? I'm the one who encouraged Daran to do this. This is my fault. You're not accountable in any way."

"You think I'm going to let my best mate be lost in Oblivion and not at least try to help? No way. I'm with you on this, we're going to get him back one way or another."

Rayna was taken aback by his willingness to help her. She wasn't sure what to think.

"Um, I know they keep saying stuff about dremoras," she said, avoiding the thoughts she was having about Sevyn and his unexpected compassion, "What about a scamp? There's that one in Caldera – you know, the one who's like a merchant? I bet he can help us."

"Creeper! Yea, I didn't even think of that! You're a genius, I'm telling you." He put his arm around Rayna's shoulders and pulled her in close. She instinctively leaned her head on his chest. He felt warm and solid under his clothes. "We should get some rest first," he suggested, "You're welcome to stay with me. Do your parents know where you are?"

"No, that's the thing. I didn't tell them where I was going or what I had in mind. They would have tried to stop me. And time is of the essence, as they say… If we're going to do this, we need to do it now. The longer Daran stays in Oblivion, the less of a chance he's going to be alive when I find him… If I find him…"

"Okay, I understand. We will head for Caldera now. Do they have a Guild Guide?"

"Yes, they do."

The two rushed back to Wolverine Hall to be transported directly to Caldera.

"Ahhh, gotta love Guild Guides," Sevyn sighed, taking her hand as they left the Mages' Guild in the small, Imperial town of Caldera. The residents who were still awake at such a late hour eyed the couple suspiciously.

"Creeper's in that old manor with all the orcs, right?"

"Yes, that one…" Rayna pointed to a three-story, wood framed building on the other side of the street. "I hope he's awake."

"Do daedra sleep?" Sevyn pondered aloud. "I mean, they're immortal, right? I don't think they do…"

"I don't know. Do they eat?"

Sevyn chuckled. "Probably only as some kind of vengeance against their enemies. Like, 'I'll feast on your entrails!', you know, that sort of thing."

Rayna giggled. "That sounds about right."

Creeper the scamp was hiding out on the top floor of the mansion, surrounded by his peculiar assortment of wares. He assumed that the two Dark Elves were looking to buy or sell something, and encouraged them to have a look at his selection.

"Actually, we're here to ask you something else… this might seem a bit odd…" Sevyn began.

"Odd is good! Creeper likes odd. Breaks up the boredom." The scrawny, crouching creature replied. He was monkey-like in appearance and stance, but hairless, with long, pointed ears and sharp teeth. He wore only a small, tattered loincloth. His ribcage could be seen through the pasty, sallow skin.

"Well you'll like this then. We need you to open a portal to Oblivion for us. You think you can do that?"

"Oh no, noooo… Creeper cannot help you. If he could open a portal to Oblivion, do you think he would stay here? Working so hard, selling things to silly mortals all day? No, sir. Not a chance! You need a dremora. A kynval. Yes, a kynval can open this portal for you… Maybe. If you ask verrrrry nicely." Creeper chuckled at his own perceived wittiness.

"Where in Nirn are we going to find a dremora though?" Rayna demanded, trying to hide the panic in her voice.

"Hmm… Daedric ruins. But that could be dangerous. Oh yes - Creeper hears they have one in a temple somewhere. Never been there, only heard."

"Where?"

"Not sure, only heard of him. A dremora… he's there to… guard something."

"Maar Gan!" Sevyn blurted out, "He's in the temple in Maar Gan!"