Knowing the sewers were bad enough in his own world, he dreaded what a medieval one would be like. Sure enough, it was rank, slimy, and cavernous like any good sewer should be.
Already finding himself within a large central area, James readied his scissors in one hand as he went through the nearest passageway, directly to his right around the corner.
Sometimes it helped to think like a thief. A normal person running would immediately run to the passageway directly opposite the ladder, to put as much distance as possible between him and the pursuer.
A thief, wanting to confuse his pursuer, would take the lesser-seen path. The only inhabitants so far seemed to be rats and mud crabs, all of them hostile and wanting to claw and bite at his feet.
He easily disposed of any nuisances with a good stab or cut of the scissors, chuckling at the wonderful sound of a mud crab's shell being cracked open between his blades.
A large riverway flowed beneath the Elven Gardens before him, sluicing a most horrendous effluence that he cursed his good sense of smell for. On the other side of the river were two passages.
Taking his intuition leaning towards his stronger hand, James went to the one on his right, crossing the river over a small stone bridge whilst avoiding rats and crabs scuttling within the septic water.
Another larger room lead him at first to a dead end, until he espied a ladder built into the wall, leading upwards. Taking his chances, he climbed softly up towards a grating, gently opening it to find himself within somebody's house.
He didn't expect to end up within somebody's basement, with barrels and chests of small pittances all around him. Nevertheless, the raptor gently sneaked his way along to the upper floors of the house, up a set of stone stairs.
It seemed to be a rather standard place, a place he couldn't imagine a thief to be living in. The cellar door he came out of was underneath a stone staircase, and he could see some spartan chairs, a table and a couple of barrels hoisted up on supports.
He was almost dissuaded to go back, but he soon saw something.
A dagger, pointing straight at his right eye, barely out of his vision within the bareness of candle light.
"Who are you?" Questioned the wielder. "And how did you get into my house?"
"Don't move, thief! Or I will make you pay for breaking into my house, somehow!"
"I'm not a thief! I was following a thief!"
"Yeah, really. Someone stole my stuff, and I chased him through the sewers."
"Well that's all fine and dandy but that doesn't give you the right to come into people's homes like this!"
"You do realise there's a sewer grate in your basement right?"
"Wha-of course I know!"
"Then why the hell did you ask how I got into your house?"
"There's more than one way to break into a place. You won't find your satchel here lizard so I shall kindly ask you to leave."
"Wait what satchel?!"
"The satchel you said you..."
The dagger began to wobble upon a terrible realisation. James grinned with all of his teeth in a mixture of glee and anger.
"I never said anything about a satchel."
With a sudden lunge, he grabbed the dagger-wielding arm and twisted it hard, making the wielder cry out before throwing him against the stone stairs, slamming his lower back into a sidetable. It was a human, one of several kinds in this world, a dark-skinned elf with a somewhat-bruised face, wearing brown clothes.
"Now," threatened the raptor. "What did you do with my satchel?"
"I-i-i don't know anything about a satchel, I just assumed-"
"DON'T you fucking lie to me, I saw you run all the way back here to your li'l hidey hole you little shit."
"Impossible! Even if I were a thief, which I am not, you could NEVER have seen me!"
"Really? How did you get those bruises then?"
"I got in a fight at a bar, if you must know."
"Sure it wasn't a fight at a hotel room, thief?"
"Oh come off it already!"
"Well you shoulda been a better thief so you couldn't be seen."
"You can't have seen-"
"I mean jeez it was so easy to find you, only one place you had to go, your footprints and all-"
"I LEFT NO TRACE, YOU JUST GOT LUCKY!"
The elf gasped and covered his mouth, much to the raptor's widening grin at the successful bruise to his foe's ego.
He headbutted the elf hard before throwing him down to the floor, piling onto him with his hand on his throat.
"WHERE is my fucking SATCHEL?!"
"It's upstairs alright?! Just take it and go!"
"Ohhhh I don't think so...you steal from me, you get fucked up."
"You wouldn't want to do that lizard."
"I have many friends...who will gladly hunt you down if you do so."
"Hah, other thieves?"
"I say nothing...all I say now, is the Watch can't touch me. I'm careful, private-like. Don't like people following me. Sure, it makes some people nervous, seeing me sneak around. Too bad. I'm good at it."
"Not good enough for me fuckhead."
A gutpunch knocked the wind out of the elf with a wheezing cough.
"The watch can't touch you but I sure fucking can, you and any of your pals who even THINK of trying to steal from me."
"What do YOU know about us?"
"I know plenty of your tricks, and I've done them better than you guys too."
"Yeah. Firstly did you steal from me wearing those shoes?"
He took off one shoe forcefully, feeling its thickness and tut-tutting patronisingly.
"Thick leather, bad mistake. Leather creaks, especially if it's thick. A good thief either goes barefeet for better grip, or wears special thin-soled shoes. You thought because everyone wears this, nobody would hear it?"
The elf was clearly insulted by such scrutiny and fought back with:
"So you've done a little pickpocketing, big whoop, you're not a true thief like I am."
"Who's getting the beating of a lifetime from the guy he tried to steal from."
"Purely luck, nothing more."
"Suuuuure...you're curious about what tipped me off, aren't you?"
"Hah, thought so. I'll let you figure that one out. Now...my satchel please."
Escorting the thief upstairs, James soon saw the thief's open-squared bedroom with a silken green bed, a dresser, chairs and a desk. With some restraints on his arms and the scissors neatly poking his back, the thief handed over James' satchel from a large wooden chest on a table.
The raptor checked his satchel, finding all of his items still within. Satisfied, he released the elf from his hold and pushed him to his bed.
"Pleasure doing business with you."
"Hmph, Argonians like you have been nothing but trouble this week."
"Indeed. First the beggar who wouldn't leave me be. Then there's you, and that crazy lunatic with his silly stone."
"Yeah yeah-wait, what lunatic?"
"Ohhh some Argonian came up to me ranting about a piece of a stone he desperately wanted to trade off, I don't even think Fathis would be interested in such a tacky thing-"
"Do you still have it?"
"This stone thing, don't you still have it?"
"Well...I took it off his hands, for a price, normally I would not do so as I am not a fence but-"
"I need that piece."
"Because I need it to save someone."
"Oh come off it, how can a worthless little piece of orb possibly-"
James snarled and grabbed the elf once more, slamming him against the wall.
"Do you want to make this a fucking habit?"
"All you need to know, is that I need it, and someone's life is in danger if I don't have it. Now...give. Me. The stone."
"F-fine fine, it's junk anyway, I have no use for such a thing."
The thief brushed himself off and retrieved the piece of orb from a set of drawers. It looked perfectly worthless, a blackened yet unnaturally smooth piece of an orb, broken open like burnt bread.
"There, you have everything, NOW will you leave my house?"
"Gladly. Did this Argonian guy tell you anything else?"
"Only that he walked through hell to take this to his master, some cultist hogwash I care little for. Now, please leave."
With that, the raptor exited the house the same way he came in, through the sewers and back. On his way back to the boarding house, he informed the guards that he had managed to find and retrieve his satchel but the thief got away.
With that, he slept off the rest of the night, much more content, despite his pondering gaze over the unusual artifact. What was it truly? He was hoping it was a sigil stone that Tar-Meena mentioned, but if it wasn't, then he was back to square one.
What worried him more was the fact that Dar-Ma potentially had one of the pieces. If the mad ranting of a crazed cultist was true, she could be in great danger. And James panicked profusely upon such a thought. He was feeling like a jinx at this point.
The next morning, James used the last of his money to buy some food and a carriage back to Chorrol for faster travel. He found it unusual that he was on a carriage being driven by horses, non-anthro ones particularly. He had seen such creatures back in Glenn's world, but it was still strange to him.
The morning was not as sunny as he expected. In fact it was turning overcast, which soothed him somewhat despite the potential portent of rain. Managing to reach Chorrol without any trouble, he quickly entered Northern Goods and Trade sometime in the afternoon.
The older voice of Seed-Neeus was present as she appeared at the stairs, hands clasped politely.
"Oh, hello again sir James."
"How was the Imperial City?"
"Uhhh quite entertaining, listen I need to ask something about your stock."
"Oh? Do you require something?"
He pulled out the part of the orb. It didn't even glint in the light. The most anti-shiny thing he had ever seen.
"Do you have something like this?"
"No...not at all...wait a minute..."
She gently took it from James and thumbed over it with a growing curiosity.
"This is the same thing Dar-Ma had."
"Why yes. She can be such a romanticist, she imagined it was a piece of some ancient treasure and kept it on her, fashioned it into a pendant even."
"I never saw that."
"She doesn't always wear it, unless she's feeling particularly wistful. Actually, I don't suppose you've met her while coming here?"
"Nope I haven't...why, is she okay?"
"She's been gone since yesterday morning. Normally I would not worry about a young girl like her, but she promised she would come straight back from Skingrad after her delivery."
The eyes of a fretting mother did not lie. James started to panic at what could have happened to her. And since Dar-Ma had a piece of the stone, he had no other option.
"Why don't I go find her for you?"
"I need to ask her about this stone thing, so I think I should go find her. Do you know which way she went?"
She brought out a rolled-up map of Cyrodiil, pointing out a road towards the east, then one towards the south.
"She went along the Black Road, then southwards to the Gold Road."
"Dammit, I just came from there...she must be along the Gold Road then. I'll find her miss Seed-Neeus."
"Please do. You can take one of the horses at the stable outside, tell them it's an urgent request from Seed-Neeus."
"But...I can't ride a horse!"
"You can't?! ...AH, have one of the guards accompany you, tell them what has happened."
"Alright, thanks. I'll be back soon!"
With desperation singing in his heart, he approached one of the town guards to explain the situation. Taking the matter seriously, a guard escorted him out of the town towards the Gold Road, the raptor riding at the rear.
Passing swiftly past the Imperial City and towards the southwest, James took some time to get used to being on a horse, the strange undulating motions making him slightly nervous. But not as nervous as he was for Dar-Ma.
His fears however became much worse than he expected when he arrived on the scene of a strange incident. Halfway along the Gold Road, was a most terrifying sight.
James believed in Hell as much as anyone else did, the fear of it being put into his youth to make him behave. He wasn't afraid of the fire, or the brimstone, even if it made him an orphan. It was the eternity that scared him the most. Endless torment while awake.
But the fire swirling within an enormous portal, wreathed in a most infernal brimstone, terrified him to his very soul.
The guard was shaking beside him despite his stern face. The very air around the portal changed. Blood-red skies replaced what had been grey and overcast. Fields that were once green now paled with the colour of ash. Trees shook nearby within the abysmal wind of the netherworld.
"Wh-wh-what is that?" asked the raptor softly.
"Oblivion. No greater place of damnation exists but here."
"B-but that doesn't mean Dar-Ma's here right!?"
"Not necessarily...it could have appeared after she passed through here. I will make inquiries at Skingrad an-...what is that?"
In the middle of a copse, nestling among trees, was a white shadow gently peeking out. They eventually made it out to be a horse. James' eyes widened with realisation.
"No...that can't be her horse."
"I don't know...Blossom?"
James gently got off of the guard's horse and gently approached the white horse. At first it was rather panicked and shaken, but from enough of a distance, he could see a name tag upon the horse's bridle. Blossom.
"It's her horse."
"It's her horse! She must have been kidnapped!"
"Are you sure of that citizen?"
"She'd never leave her horse behind, she loves this horse!"
"Calm down." The guard stayed on his horse with a stern tone. "Panic will not help her. Bring the horse to me, and we will escort her home."
"But what about Dar-Ma?!"
"We cannot do anything for her, if she has been taken into Oblivion."
"Do NOT argue with me citizen! You intend to walk into hell itself, for a maiden? Two lives will be lost instead of one."
"Instead of one?! You already gave up on her!?"
"No! She might not have fallen into their infernal grasp. Whatever you decide is up to you. What do you wish to do now?"
"I...I don't know."
"Then allow me to make a decision."
The guard brought Blossom over by her bridle, ordering the two horses together to travel back to Chorrol by his hand. James however was rooted with both fear and anxiety twisting in his gut.
"Are you coming?"
"...I can't leave her."
"Then you shall surely die, should you travel within. I am obligated to stop you."
"...I'll go to Skingrad."
"I'll go to Skingrad and ask about her...if i find out she has gone in there...I...I can't do anything else."
"A wise decision. Some people may admire a quixotic youth, but in the end foolishness shall not be ignored for long."
With that, the guard left James be to his own devices, trusting in the resignation of an ill-equipped citizen, standing before the portal to hell. He had no intention of leaving this place, as far as he suspected. But the more he gazed into the abyss, the more he balked with fear in his heart.
As he stared into the fiery hellgate, framed within crooked horns of brimstone like the eyelashes of a demon's stare, his mind ran with two options. Despite all he had done before, he was terrified of what lied beyond the portal. He did not even dare approach it.
He had faced pirates, aliens, thieves and murderers, but they were all at the least mortal. The one demon he knew he had slain was but a maniacal child, wielding the weapon he now possessed. But this was different.
This was Hell itself. Or at the very least something very similar.
His courage faded, swallowed within that burning gaze, and he knew that he had the opportunity to run and continue his adventure. The way everyone talked about Oblivion, he imagined it to be an impossible task to survive in it.
He searched around for any clues to confirm his validation for not needing to go in, keeping away from the portal. Unfortunately, it was made only worse when he discovered something closer to the gate.
A scrap of cloth, clearly torn by something. He could have dismissed it as someone else's, except for the fact he knew it was Dar-Ma's scent. That tender scent from Northern Goods and Trade, the same homely scent as her mother's.
"Wh...what do I do?" He asked the searing sulphurous wind. "I can't do this...I can't. I'm not...I'm not Glenn."
As he stared towards the bleeding-red sky, he debated within himself.
He could keep up his travels, disappear from Cyrodiil, hoping this chosen one that he heard had been saving the land would come along to clean it up. The very same one who saved Dar-Ma from Hackdirt possibly. It looked like the kind of world where there would always be a hero to save someone.
He could just leave. Nobody would notice. Nobody but Dar-Ma.
He turned and tried to walk away from the gate, the warmth of hellfire soon encouraging him to run, as the hellish dimension mocked him with howling screams that chilled him to his very soul.
As he ran far enough, the shivering of his soul was replaced by a pain dwelling deep within his heart. He tried to ignore it, burning hard inside him until it rose up through his spine, appearing in his mind as a name. Her name.
She was a sweet girl, a wonderful girl that he had barely known for more than a few weeks.
He did not love her, not in that way at least, but he could see her face. Her beautiful face. He could imagine her cheeks streaked with bloody tears praying for someone to save her, either the chosen one or even that strange argonian she had found soaked and unconscious in the rain. The one she saved from shivering to death.
Yet he could leave. It was only one girl. Who would miss her? He would. Her mother would. It was still one girl from a town where everyone knew everyone. Shame grew within him as he condemned himself, struggling to fight the cowardice he called self-preservation.
"I...I can't...it'd be like killing her. B-but I can't! I can't DO this! I'm just someone who got lost! I'm not built for this shit! If I can't even...no...no shut up! This has nothing to do with her, not anymore! That wasn't your fault dammit! This isn't about her! It's about...me? ...n-no."
He wouldn't even have to tell anyone, and nobody would know but him. And her. He could imagine her last moments, that tearful plea in her broken raspy voice for someone to rescue her.
A voice that perhaps shared the same words as Daisy, the tiniest whisper pleading to know where James was. With guilt finally twisting his gut, he stopped running, bending over with tears in his eyes. Torn between a suicidal rescue or a safe escape. Ten minutes later, he turned around and sighed angrily at himself.
"Fffffuck. I can't do this. ...goddamnit, I'm gonna die doing this but I can't leave her. Fine...j-just fine. I'm gonna die, she's gonna die, everyone's gonna be fucking dead anyway because I can't go back home because I'm too STUPID to know whether to run away or walk into a fucking portal to HELL! ...j-just everyone. Hhhhh...alright...alright then, fine. Hold on Dar-Ma."
With another sigh, he unsheathed his scissors and braced himself to charge into Oblivion.
"Here comes your knight in shining armour."
Closing his eyes, he started running and did not stop, not even when the howls of torturous vapours clawed hotly at his skull. He felt a blinding light envelop him, as his feet landed upon dry deadened soil.