PROLOGUE – RAYNA'S STORY – Part 3

Rayna knew that the chances of finding anything in this godforsaken land that would be more likely to help her than slaughter her were slim to none. She started to creep back down the tunnel to have a look around, hoping to find that the dremoras had, in fact, left. As soon as she moved away from the rocks, whatever was behind them groaned desperately and made another attempt to free itself. She rushed back over to the rock pile. "Shhh," she put her finger to her lips, knowing quite well that this creature probably had no idea what that meant. "I'm not leaving you. I'm just checking to see if the dremoras are gone." She whispered. The unseen creature was silent as if in compliance. Rayna crept back to the entrance of the tunnel. She couldn't see anything alive in either direction. She figured there were likely at least a few dremoras still in the area, however, and probably other dangerous daedra as well - including the trapped thing that now waited quietly for her return.

When she returned to the rock pile, she pressed her face close to the rocks in an attempt to see what was trapped there, as well as to determine if it would lash out at the very sight of her. She could hear the creature's strained respiration. It sounded like the breathing of something enormous.

"Do you need help?" She whispered in the direction of the sounds.

"…Help…" the creature gasped in a deep, growling baritone. It didn't sound like the voice of a dremora at all. No demonic rage, no creepy tonal echoes – just a very, very deep voice, full of pain and a hint of panic.

"Are you going to kill me if I let you out?" Rayna asked, feeling a bit silly. Obviously if it intended to kill her, it probably wasn't going to come out and say so.

"No kill... Help…" the voice responded.

"Alright. I'll help you. And maybe you can help me." Rayna began cautiously removing the rocks, one by one. She knew that if she wasn't careful, she could set off another rock slide, possibly killing herself and the creature as well. It suddenly struggled again and she had to admonish it.

"I know you're hurt. I know you want to get out of here. But you have to stay still, okay? Just stay still for me."

The creature quietly obeyed.

It took Rayna hours to remove most of the rocks. As she got down to the final layer, she uncovered a gigantic, battered, grey-blue hand, its claw-like nails broken off and bleeding from scraping at the rocks. It was attached to an equally imposing arm, tattooed with bands of red symbols that glowed like pools of lava. Without thinking, Rayna reached out and grasped the hand. It was warm. The hand closed weakly, completely enveloping hers.

"It's okay – I've almost got you out," She whispered, gently clasping the giant fingers in her own tiny ones. The creature emitted an audible sigh.

Painstakingly, Rayna removed the last few rocks, leaving one large boulder which pinned the creature's head and upper body to the floor, obscuring its face and torso. The creature, or whatever it was, apparently wore nothing but a blood-red kilt, which was decorated around the waist with sharply pointed pieces of grey metal. Its feet were bare and huge, even in comparison with the rest of its massive frame. Around its ankles were tattoos which matched the ones on its arms.

Rayna put her hands to her cheeks and took a deep breath. How would she be able to remove the boulder without crushing herself or further injuring this thing? And what would she find underneath? Was it a bloody mess? Or would it jump up and devour her? For some reason, she felt that whatever it was, it didn't intend to harm her.

She got behind the boulder and tried with all of her remaining strength to move it, but it wouldn't even budge. The creature writhed and groaned feebly with pain. Suddenly, Rayna remembered she'd packed a strength potion in her knapsack. She pulled it out and swallowed a few gulps. Taking a deep breath, she positioned herself again behind the boulder and shoved it as hard as she could. As she pushed, the creature managed to bend one arm and give a final effort which sent the rock tumbling down the tunnel.

Rayna was taken aback by what lay at her feet. It was like nothing she'd ever seen or even heard of. The creature looked rather like a massively oversized Dark Elf, with black, spiky hair and sharply pointed ears. Even the skin tone was similar. But unlike Rayna's kin, this thing had two large, backswept horns growing from its forehead, and long, sharp canine teeth which protruded slightly from its mouth on the top and bottom.

"Wow... What are you?" She whispered, more to herself than the creature.

"I…" the creature panted, struggling to prop himself up on one elbow, "…am Xivilai."

"Xivilai, I've never heard of you. Are you the only one?" Rayna picked up her knapsack without taking her eyes off the creature and began digging around for the health potion she knew was in there somewhere.

"No. We are many."

"Is that your name, Xivilai? Or is that… your race?"

"It is our race. I am the Xivilai Aerath."

Rayna nodded, handing the creature a vial. "Here. This is a health potion," she explained.

The creature took the potion. It looked minute in his huge grasp. He sniffed it, then downed it in one sip. "What is your race, little mortal?" He asked, returning the empty bottle.

"I'm a Dunmer. From Morrowind. My name is Rayna Llethri." She reflexively examined the container and then cast it aside.

"Ah. Rayna the Dunmer... What are you doing here?"

Rayna's eyes met the Xivilai's hollow, probing gaze. Behind the yellowish glow, she could see the faint outlines of his irises and pupils, but everything was just varying shades of pale yellow.

"I came to rescue my brother. He was – is – a mage, and he made a portal into Oblivion and never came back."

"That was foolish," Aerath replied matter-of-factly.

"Yes, it was. And I foolishly encouraged him. So I came here to try to find him, and now I'm trapped too. I know it was terribly stupid. I know he's probably already dead, and I'll probably die here as well. I wish I'd tried to stop him, like the rest of my family. This is all my fault." Rayna choked back tears.

The Xivilai stared at her for a moment. "I believe it may have been the will of the Prince that you found me and saved this life, and I am inclined to return the favor… if I can."

"Would you?" Rayna pleaded, trying to blink away the tears that stung her eyes.

"I will try."

"Thank you, muthsera," Rayna replied softly. She felt a compulsion to jump into the giant creature's arms and embrace him for giving her a ray of hope, but she fought it for fear he'd take some sort of offense.

"Stay here," the Xivilai ordered her suddenly, struggling to his feet. He was still stiff and bruised from his ordeal in spite of the health potion he'd taken. Presently, he brought his hands up and then down the front of his body, casting some sort of restoration spell which left him almost completely healed. He crept as quietly as he could, being so massive and heavy, to the entrance of the tunnel and then disappeared around the corner. Moments later he returned. "The dremora are still hunting you, little mortal. I cannot hide you from them. We must wait here until they have left the caverns."

Rayna nodded obediently.

He sat back down beside her, leaning against the rock wall. "Are you alright? Do you feel you may …die soon?" Aerath inquired, studying her intently, an unnatural look of concern replacing the normally gruff expression on his face.

"No, I'm okay. I have food and water, enough for a few days at least. As long as no one kills me, I should be fine," she replied, puzzled at his question.

"Alright then. I know that your kind are very fragile, and only live once… It must be a terrible thing for you."

"It's scary sometimes. But when you live with it every day, I suppose you get used to it," Rayna tried to explain.

"You mortals are very brave. That is admirable." The Xivilai declared.

"Thank you, muthsera." She replied humbly, suppressing a smile. What an odd conversation, and an even odder conversational partner to be having it with. Who would have thought any mortal could ever find themselves in such a situation, much less herself? No one in Nirn would ever believe her if she tried to tell them about this, that was certain.