High Rock: Light and dark.
We left the inn, and a very happy innkeeper, at about 7:30AM. The folk of the Bridge were already hard at work making money for their overlords.
There was a background hum. It was a noise barely audible but consistent. Turn my head as much as I liked I could not pinpoint it.
Serana asked, “You hear it to? I see no locals reacting to it and we did not hear it yesterday.”
Argus asked “Hear what?”
It turned out Serana and I were the only ones who could hear it.
“I have only experienced one thing that produced such a sound. They Eye of Magnus. I put it down to the huge amount of magicka it was emitting.”
Serana replied, “Something as powerful as that nearby in who knows whose hands is actually terrifying.”
“It is just speculation for now. Let’s go visit the mage at Sabbat.”
As we headed for the southern exit I could not help but admire some of the beauty of the terrain. The fog following the river at the bottom of a gorge was quite spectacular. It would burn off soon so we were fortunate to glimpse it. Lady Mara’s warning sprung to mind, “… see that which belies its splendour.”
When we reached the south gate two undead attacked us. They were not skeletons but more like mortals who skin had been seared off in fire. They were easily dispatched.
A guard approached and said, “Redguard thieves, bloodthirsty Orcs and now even the dead come for us?! Don’t worry, we’ll find the bastard who did this, and we’ll feed him to the dogs. The souls of Sabbat won’t be at peace till we do.”
“Hasn’t Governor Merosa forbidden any investigation by the guards?”
“That was before the undead approached our gates. She will change her mind after this.”
“Don’t worry, we have volunteered to look into it for her. We are quite experienced at these sorts of things.”
“Typical mercenary scum. Do anything for a gold coin including getting fried alive by mages.”
I took my coin purse out and jingled it.
“It pays more than being a guard. What did you say about Redguards?”
“River pirates, corsairs, brigands, whatever you want to call them have been travelling the waterways and ransacking small villages. Bloody Redguards, they are as bad as the Witchmen for savagery!”
Rayya stood before the guard and whispered, “Not all Redguard are criminals. You are not suggesting otherwise are you?”
“Ah… no miss, of course not. Everybody has their bad eggs so to speak.”
I quickly ushered her along with the rest before some other guard makes a remark that ends up with an international incident involving dead bodies.
I said to Rayya as we walked, “I think these river pirates are just taking advantage of the chaos. If there is one race least likely to fall for the tricks of the Daedric Lords it is yours. Your people’s Yokudan Gods have an enviable following of true believers.”
“They are probably followers of Malooc. That God is always an enemy of the true Ra Gada, the Redguard.”
“And who do you think we are doing this task for?”
“It must be Morwha, the Teat God of course!”
“How come The Divine don’t have a God of breasts? There are plenty of worshippers already!”
Rayya laughed and our mood was lightened for a brief moment. Then we saw Sabbat and our mood soured.
Ulkarin said, “We could see the smoke from the Divide and the smell it carried greeted most who were watching the tragedy. I’m not keen on meeting the mage that holds that type of power.”
“You are standing next to two mages who have far more power than what you witnessed.”
He looked at me, then Serana who had a smile that would convince anybody she was a Saint, then shook his head.
“What do you think Serana?”
“I would say this is an accident. The town has no strategic value. The undead created are weak. You can see them from here just wandering aimlessly amongst the ruins. They have not attacked as a cohesive unit. Those two we just encountered randomly wandered to the gate. They are not under the instructions of an even half competent necromancer.”
I said to the still horrified Ulkarin, “Believe me, Serana knows a lot about Necromancy. I would say second only to her Vampire Lord mother.”
He stared at Serana who flashed a smile. Despite now being mortal her teeth still has some impressive fangs. Ulkarin moved a bit further way from her.
“Serana wants to become a Priestess of Mara. Don’t you think she will be excellent at it?”
Ulkarin looked even more horrified.
We approached the town and spent a few minutes dispatching the undead. They did not attack us all at once which made it abundantly clear they were not under the control of a necromancer.
“Okay, the town is clear. There might be a few wandering the countryside but we don’t have time to hunt them down. Ulkarin, where would the mage hide around here?”
“There is a disused mine at the back of the town. Sabbat was originally made for the miners who worked it. Some major tunnel collapses cost too many lives and it was abandoned.”
“Sounds like fun. Lead the way.”
The gates to the mine were unlocked which probably meant somebody had been this way recently.
Further in more gates designed to keep people out for their own good were also unlocked.
A little further in we found a neat little torture chamber. Not standard equipment in any mine I know of.
We heard shouting and the casting of fire and lightening spells. We rushed to the sound and found a mage in combat with some bandits. We killed the bandits and instead of a thank you the arsehole attacked us. He lasted mere seconds before falling dead in a pool of his own blood.
“I think we found our mage and looks like he is trespassing on somebody else’s territory.”
I searched him and found his journal. I read the relevant passages to the others,
“What would be the best way to carry out this spell? I’m not sure, the others told me to conduct it on living persons. Preferably a village or small settlement, so that we can see the results of the spell and send a warning for anyone that pursues us. Hitting two birds with one stone.
I’ve settled on a small hamlet called Sabbat, no one suspects a thing. This really is a first because every other time I’ve tried something similar to this, some scoundrel always sniffs me out and goes hollering at the guard. The elder talks of the abandoned mine at the end of the scaffolding across this cliff, deemed unsafe because of previous collapses and shaky supports.
I have found my way into the mine and I think this will be a good place to conduct my affairs.
Alright, I altered the spell slightly from the Master’s intent, I hope he doesn’t mind. The spell now has a larger area of effect. Imagine being one of the first necromancers to make living subjects essentially as mindless and obedient as those reanimated corpses. More motor functions and more complex tasks they could perform. Maybe I’ll get lucky and strike a couple of women with it.
Catastrophe! I don’t know what to do…
I can’t return to the others, they’ll tear me apart. The spell tore through the hamlet, searing the flesh of all that were in the way. I could hear the screams for days from this mine. Fortunately they were still obedient, but not anywhere near the sophistication we hoped. I’ve left them at my flank, I hope I can mine enough ore to hopefully bribe one of those guards. I know many of them need just a few septim to turn the other way.”
Serana was livid and said, “What an arrogant, ignorant fool he was. Does he think the part ‘necro’ in necromancy is a misnomer? The magicka we use for such spells needs dead subjects. He was attempting mass mind control and even I can only do that for a short time and not using the necromantic arts!”
“I can do it to however many I wish using my Thu’um, some magic of the Skaal and a Shout invented by Hermaeus Mora. Another Dragonborn was well on his way to controlling everybody on Solstheim before I stopped him. I can control Dovah the same way. To control something so is to make it a slave. It goes against everything The Divine wish for mortals and Lord Akatosh for his children. It is knowledge I have sworn never to pass on.”
I looked at the dead bandits.
“These are typical low life scum. This mine is probably crawling with them. Like the Redguard pirates they have seen the chaos and have moved in to take advantage. We will wipe them out before we leave but let us analyse what we know so far.”
Argus replied, “It sounds like we have more than one ‘leader’ of the bad guys.”
“The Briarheart said a King would have his towers, followers etcetera because the Dark Mother assures it. Of all the Daedric Princes I know they listen to, Namira fits the description best and is the one that gives Hagraven their powers. Namira and I are not the best of friends after I wiped out a nest of her cannibal followers in Skyrim.
Pure speculation but the mysterious entities who watched the massacre at Munstor could be who this dead idiot was referring to as ‘the others’. He referred to ‘the Master’ but that doesn’t mean only one exists. Having encountered so many necromancer circles in my travels it is impossible to say who their leader might be or even if they are Daedric worshippers or just lusting after power.
The Orcs would be following Malacath. I don’t think any other God even gets a look in. However it may be they are convinced it is Malacath directing them when in fact it is somebody or something impersonating him. If it is Malacath he is another who dislikes me immensely after I stopped him becoming a living God-King.”
Argus replied, “You know how to make interesting enemies!”
Serana said, “We still do not know enough. Let’s get rid of these bandits.”
“Serana is right. After that we will go to Arnima and talk to Jackos. If we have a chance we might visit the beggars as well.”
The place was crawling with dozens of bandits. It was a surprise they had not clashed with the mage before now. We swept through them with ease and Ulkarin was proving to be quite handy with both bow and the huge two handed axe he carried.
We encountered a fight between Orcs, their trained wolves and Evermorin Scouts. We leapt in and quickly dispatched the bad buys.
I asked one of the scouts, “Hunting Orcs or just stumbled on them?”
“Keeping the Kingdom safe, and if that means clearing the land of their ilk, then yeah, we are hunting them I suppose. Thanks for the help. You’d do best to keep your wits about you out here, danger isn’t that hard to find.”
A bit further on we came across a burning village. There was no sign of bad guys or survivors so we moved on.
We had to pass through a little farming village called Forlorn. What an apt name it was.
Ulkarin said, “Never fancied field work myself, too dull. But when you haven’t the courage to take up the sword, what else can you do but take up the rake.”
“Do not underestimate the bravery of these farmers and labourers. They are fierce when protecting their homes and family as I have witnessed on many occasions. Not everybody has the skill to survive as a soldier or mercenary. It has naught all to do with courage. I doubt you would last a day tilling fields.”
As we passed through we witnessed the plight of the serf. This is the conversation between Arnimain Guard and farmer.
- Serf: The taxes sir, they are too great for what we produce. Could you be so merciful to have the Lord hear of this? We will not slacken if his lordship is generous.
- Guard: That coin is going to a better cause, for the realm and the Gods appointed Lord so that this land doesn’t descend into chaos. Are you so selfish to forgo our welfare just for another loaf of bread?
- Serf: Sir, forgive me for what I speak, but the people starve and anger simmers, whispers of dissent are heard from those most in need. We cannot face more disorder in these trying times!
- Guard: And if those whispers become loud enough that I happen to hear them we will be seeing more heads adorn the pikes. There is only one way to reason with rebellious scum, and it is not with mercy.
As the guard moved away I approached the farmer. I opened my purse and handed him a small fortune in Septims.
“Please accept this gift from Mother Mara. Be wise in how you distribute and display the coin so as not to attract the attention of the leeches. I hope it will tide you all over till the Gods remove the vermin who prey on the devout.”
The farmer said not a word but his gratitude was written on his face.
As we continued to walk I silently prayed to The Divine to give me strength so I do not just start eliminating the vermin myself.
We were not challenged when approaching the gates to Arnima. A guard banged on them and they were opened for us. I suppose we looked wealthy enough that we might bring coin to the city.
First thing I noticed was a statue of Talos in the distance. Above that was a larger statue of a Gryphon. Curiosity got me and I was about to head for the shrines when I heard a familiar voice in a desperate plea with two Arnimain Guards.
- Toel: You can’t keep it all, that’s my earnings for the season. Listen, I can treat you lads to a round at the Inn if you just let me take back half my stuff. A good compromise, right boys?
- Guard 1: It’s always Evermore, never us that you care about. Why is that Toel? Gold more important than blood huh? And nah, we’re keeping the whole lot of it.
- Guard 2: Besides, the Inn stopped selling quality ale a good while ago, nothing but piss pints now.
- Guard 1: Ha, too right! Been ages since we’ve had a good drink. Could probably buy a whole fortnight worth of rum on your behalf Toel. Those ponces at Evermore will have to wait for their next batch of fancy jewellery.
- Guard 2: Hear hear, now we’re a generous lot, so your horse and whatever rags your wrapped in are all yours. This is only temporary so don’t feel too glum.
- Guard 1: Yeah, bugger off before we get ol’ Morty involved.
- Toel: Word spreads lads so don’t be surprised when us men of coin stop appearing.
As Toel was heading for the gates I tapped him on the shoulders and he turned to me looking about as glum as I have ever seen somebody.
“I heard all of that.”
“They’ve got this racket going where they take our goods for ‘inspection’ but in reality they’re just pinching whatever they find that can fetch a good price. I will be lucky to get any items back from that shipment.”
“I will have a word with them.”
“I do really need my goods, but I know they’ll give me hell if they find out I’m causing more of a hassle than I’ve done in the past.”
Serana told him, “Marcus here has negotiated with Kings, tyrants and even Gods and got the better deal. I once saw him reduce a Khajiit trader to tears with his ruthless haggling.”
“Really? Alright then but please don’t tell them it was me who sent you.”
“Do not fret Toel. I know what I am doing. Wait just outside the gates. This will not take long.”
Once Toel was through the gates and they closed I approached one of the Arnimain Guards who had taken his goods.
“Hey, that merchant looked distraught over this cart. I’m sure you’re just keeping it here temporarily right?”
“What are you, his lover? We’re just assessing any items that may be sold as munitions for our enemies. The rest of it may be distributed to the people of Arnima to help their suffering. We’re doing a good thing here.”
“I have friends in the Council. They are discussing ol’ Morty and the illegal practices he allows his guards to get away with. Word is he may be forcefully removed from office. Some of them Council members are the ponces waiting for this batch of fancy jewellery. Some for themselves to feed their ego. Some to loosen the clothing of their favourite squeeze if you take my meaning. Imagine if members of the Council miss out on a night of boot knocking because you took this man’s goods. That could very well be the point at which they vote to remove your boss and if he goes so does your cushy job.”
“What Succubus did you have to kill for that magic tongue? Alright, tell Toel to grab his stuff. Gods know this town doesn’t need more enemies or scrutiny from the Council.”
I headed out the gate and Toel was sitting on a fence looking miserable.
“I managed to get the guard to see reason and he is willing to reunite you with your goods. If we were not in a hurry I might have talked him into giving you compensation for wasting your time.”
“You really did? You have all put your neck on the line for me several times and the only thing I can offer is a bunch of rusty coins. I feel like I owe you something more.”
“Keep you coins Toel. If you wait here for a little while I will return with a message for Merosa. I would deliver it myself but I doubt I could resist her ample charms and would need to ravish her in the middle of the temple. Okay in Dibella temples, frowned upon in our Mother’s temples.”
“If she is your type I know some lonely Hagraven. I will wait my friend but don’t keep me waiting too long though. I am feeling famished from all the travelling.”
We headed back into the town and I made a beeline for the statue of Talos. It was ancient and its fine craftsmanship ruined by the elements. It was still in place when it could easily have been removed. I wonder if ol’ Morty had told the Thalmor where to shove the concordat.
We had no idea where to find Jackos and most of the populace did not even bother answering us when asking for his whereabouts.
We saw one young man, a father of children, executed for stealing bread to feed his family. Apparently the Lord decided that was his bread and so an insult to himself.
Eventually a resident pointed to a man standing near a well when asked about Jackos.
I approached him and asked, “Arnima fallen on hard times?”
“Never seen you before, so I’ll hazard a guess you’re new. The sheer state this town must be in for a newcomer to first remark on its poverty.”
“It was the guards treating serfs like slaves and taking so much in tax they couldn’t even feed themselves, other guards trying to steal a complete months’ worth of goods from an honest merchant and the execution of a father and husband for stealing a loaf of bread that provided the clues.”
“All within a few minutes of arriving I bet. If you’re willing to stay longer, then you’ll come to witness that some of us still retain our civility. Don’t judge a book by its cover they say. I wish that were completely true in our case.”
“I hear this maybe the Lord’s doing.”
“And I hear you can get your tongue cut off for having your words stray so close to treason.”
“Believe me, there is no chance of that ever happening.”
“Is that so? Well there’s no point scaring off another visitor and I should applaud you for that intuition. Many who have come to stay in this tragic town only bemoan the people, instead of looking to who governs them.”
“Somebody I know on the Bridge feels the same and was wondering if you needed help.”
“Got ourselves a spy? Could find yourself at the end of a rope, if you’re lucky.”
“Once again, there is no chance of that ever happening. I have been sent by Mother Mara herself to help the people of this region. Some jumped up little Lord is not something likely to scare me.”
“Are you some raving religious lunatic?”
“Our mutual friend asked the same in the middle of the temple. She believes me.”
“Then it appears the Gods can even smell the corruption. I know who you’re talking of, tell her a helping hand is more than welcome. She will get the gist. Before I forget myself as someone of meagre authority, take this letter as well. The seal is meant to keep prying fingers out so she’ll know if you start sticking your nose in.”
“On Mother Mara’s name I pledge it will not be tampered with by me or my companions.”
“Just make sure you get back to her safely. If you ever feel compromised, make sure to leave no trace of that letter. Else all the blood that follows will be on your hands, not mine.”
“What is the deal with these Witchmen?”
“Isn’t that the question on everyone’s lips? Abandon any hope of reasoning with these savages. Trying to understand them will earn you a dung-covered arrow in the gut. They damn wiped out nigh eight tenths of the men I’ve sent up their way, all felled by either maddening sorcery or toxic weaponry. The other two tenths? Returned either missing limbs or part of their sanity.”
“You heard right, like their brains were knocked clean out of their skulls. Raving mad, regurgitating the same strange words that those fanatics vomit up from their black lungs. Ever wondered how a force this destructive and incoherent can keep their numbers up? It’s not because they breed like rabbits, though that definitely plays a role, it’s mainly because our very own defect from all over the kingdom.”
“The same type of defects the genius Lords of this land sent to Munstor in their idiotic attempt to subvert that lawful protest? Let me guess, the type those poor citizens of The Empire rejected were welcomed with open arms by the Witchmen.”
“Yes and do you have a reason why they would want to join the Witchmen and why they would be accepted amongst their ranks? I’ve burnt myself out in the past trying to conjure one. Seems the dark prose gets lodged between their ears, messes with their thoughts.”
“A suppressed person who sees no way out of their living nightmare is vulnerable to any suggestion of possible escape. The right whispers in the ear. Some lies about friends and family living the good life. Add a bit of dark magic to enhance the promise and decrease the doubts and they will march barefooted over lava to get to the promised paradise.
Twenty years ago the Reachmen genuinely offered hope and it would have worked if not for the unlawful butchery inflicted by your Lords.
Now I fear the women are walking into a life of forced breeding and the men killed, used as slaves or turned into soldiers via dark arts.”
“You sound as if you have seen such in the past.”
“I have seen the foulest things mortals and immortals can enact. This is nothing new.”
“I can detect no untruth in what you say.”
Serana said, “This is the most truthful man I have ever met and believe me when I say I am very much older than I look. He says he was sent by a God. It was more than one and he is trying, as he always has, to find a solution to problems with minimal bloodshed. But if violence is needed he will bring the wrath of those Gods down upon any who stand in the way of helping the most important thing, the average mortals who simply want to live a normal life.”
I said, “Thank you Serana but belief in me or my cause is not necessary from this man. I have a feeling he might provide some of the solution.”
Jackos looked at Serana and gave a nod of his head. People tend to believe her simply because she seems to have this aura of truth about her. It is a great tool for a future Priestess of Mara to possess.
I asked him, “What do you do with those who return so damaged?”
“It makes them violent, bitter and unpredictable. We’ve made it an unspoken law to exile those affected by this mind poison rather than take them in. Rehabilitation has proven futile. A cold measure. And cold begets cold, with the whole land freezing in its misery.”
“I have a theory that these damaged people saw through the lies and when faced with the horror and reality their mind chose insanity as an escape. Imagine being promised all you ever wanted and the curtain pulls aside to reveal an existence even worse than what you ran away from?”
“And they are sent back to cause further chaos rather then killed or enslaved!”
“That is what I think, yes. I do not judge you on the solution of exile as it is obvious you have tried your best. You are using what resources you have to protect the undamaged. It is no different than turning away carriers of a plague. It is practicality over conscience. It takes bravery and not a cold heart to do such a thing.”
“It was not so hard a decision for some whose heart was already frozen.”
“I can imagine not. I assume spies and snitches have stopped anything being done about ol’ Mort already.”
“Guards have been executed for calling him that. Yes, plans have a tendency for being outed upon leaving your lips here. We’ve got ears all around town, eager to earn an extra septim for themselves by getting on the lord’s good side.”
“Plus you have other Lords who will re-enact the massacre of Munstor if they see any threat of a peasant rebellion.”
“Yes, there is a larger fear among the royalty in this province for uppity peasants than mad tyrants. We don’t want to be setting any precedents with our unruliness now.”
“All of this could be averted by a strong High King. His illness is not natural but is not caused by the dark forces in this province. If he cannot act to bring these murderers to task, as the Lords here are, then the Emperor may intervene. He would not be gentle on what you call Royalty. Their unlawful actions twenty years ago have allowed the evil you face today to get a foothold in this province. Their continuous treatment of citizens as revenue raisers for their lavish lifestyle has provided the eager ears for the dark whispers. Their concentration on the petty political games of their ilk has made them blind to the real dangers to their rule.”
“So you shoot down my last forlorn hope and we might not have the time to wait for this lord to pass and a more just ruler to reign.”
“Sorry but it is best we all face the reality. The Gods would not send me here to solve local politics.”
“No, I do not suppose they would.”
“Take advantage of our presence. Is there anything you need help with?”
“We have a job at hand that needs more swords. If you haven’t noticed, we civilized folks in our civilized gatherings are but an enclave to all the scum that lie in wait, just a stone’s throw from our gates. Our closest neighbours happen to be those feral folk dejected from the Kingdom’s settlements, making the wilds their home.”
“Have they turned to banditry?”
“Yes but we call them Exiles, same thing just different legal repercussions if they ever return to where they were booted. The punishment here is death; Mortifayne decreed it so. Even the family of Exiles can expect the same harsh treatment if they’re ever found to be consorting with their criminal kin.”
“That is both illegal and immoral. Ignoring that otherwise I will go into lecture mode again, what exactly do you want us to do?”
“Well, we needed some scouts to oversee any contraband smuggling or corruption within our ranks. Weed out those who may be dealing with the delinquents. The Exiles don’t pose the same threat as all the other villains in The Reach but they sure break cohesion here in the Kingdom. We have always had a problem with our guard; doped up and turning a blind eye to their duties. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between our own and those rats who supply them.”
“Guards perform their duties according to the morality of their task. Immoral tasks, immoral guards. Ah, lecturing again. Tell me where you need us before I bore you to death.”
“Here, give us your map, I’ll dot the area that our scouts use as a vantage point. You can gander at the whole camp on this humble knoll. Just make sure you are discreet with this venture. These Exiles may be dumb but they ain’t blind.”
“Is there anything else while we are here?”
“We are on edge for any attacks on our walls and for good reason. We had a Witchmen raid not long ago and we barely held them back. More bodies at the gate to deal with them would be appreciated. If you hear the horns blowing whilst scouting, then turn tail and get back here in haste. Seems that every time I ponder about a raid it happens, misfortune runs through the land like our water.”
“Speaking of which, have you had problems with the Redguard Corsairs?”
“Like all Redguard they are thieves. Oh, pardon my temper. I know better from my travels that they are not all plunderers and pirates. But only because not every Red owns a boat.”
Rayya growled and I put an arm out to stop her reaching Jackos.
“Racism is one of the leading causes of conflict on Nirn and not a thing approved by the Gods. I know many an honourable Redguard and my father in law is one of the most revered warriors in the history of The Empire. Not only was he honoured for thrashing the Dominion in many battles during the Great War. He was equally honoured for defending the Redguards against the attempted Thalmor genocide after the war.”
“I beg your pardons. I did not mean to question the honour of your people young lady. When the only dealings you have with a people are negative then what is written in history seems fictional or about a different race. Here I am going on about my own people being Exiles and other unsavoury types and throw barbs at yours. That is not who I am.”
I looked at Rayya and she nodded and stepped back.
“You are fortunate as Rayya accepts your apology. If not she would have castrated you, with her teeth.”
“Okay then, because I wish to have more children sometime in the future, lets called them raiders. Well these raiders swarmed our southern mines, right in the heart of that storm which brought the rivers crashing to our walls. Canon had levelled The Bog and we soon saw the rats feed among the rubble.”
“So they use black power weapons?”
“Yes, but not the more sophisticated ones and certainly not the small portable ones. Those are not owned by the Redguard criminals. They have been most diligent in not allowing that to happen. The easiest way is to make them very expensive. Criminals would rather spend their ill-gotten gains on other things.”
“I assume the few mages I have seen since being here are insufficient to counter these weapons effectively?”
“Our mages try hard and they help but they find it very taxing and have to rest whilst the machines need no great mental effort by their operators and can remain in a fight indefinitely.”
“Yes, each mage has the ability to store a certain amount of magicka. Each spell uses a percentage of magicka. If a mage exhausts his reserves it can take many hours to recover. What you have standing near you are two of the most powerful mortal mages currently alive. I have found very few to match my strength and Serana is not far behind.”
“Next you are going to tell me you can fight with that axe as well.”
“On Mother Mara’s honour, I have killed over 3000 mortals in combat using weapons and other skills including magicka.”
“What are you, hundreds of years old?”
“The first I remember killing was less than three and a half years ago.”
“I assume your friends here are also established killers.”
“Some of the best I have ever seen.”
“And today, when I am feeling the lowest, you guys just walk up and offer your services?”
“As I said, I am here at the request of the Gods. If you prayed, they heard you.”
“We have always had to be careful when approaching these river rats. But with and your friends along, we could finally flush them out.”
“Let us see what the day brings. Let me get this letter to our friend. Then we shall scout and see what we can find for you.”
As we made our way to the gates Argus asked, “You could read that letter and they would not have a clue would they?”
“I could but I won’t and you know why.”
“You gave your word.”
“And I would be nothing but a hypocrite if I broke my word. Plus this letter obviously introduces a third party into the mix. I do not want too many threads and alliances complicating the matter. One thing at a time and then maybe I can guess right. All of you are still alive today because my hunches have been right. Now I am going to put somebody in danger and that is never easy.”
We exited the gate and Tole was still sitting there, looking hungry.
“Sorry we got delayed a little. I have a sealed letter here for Merosa. Before you agree to take it you must be aware that some may have spied my talk with another in there and want this letter badly. It can mean all out civil war if the wrong people read it. Get it to her as quick as you can. Be careful not to tamper with the seal as even accidental damage could get you executed. Be prepared to destroy it if waylaid. Do not just do this out of a sense of owing us anything. It is too dangerous a task to pay for the little we have done for you.”
“What a mouthful! I love this country and if the letter helps fix its ills I will take the chance for that reason alone. Hand it over. I will ride my horse and hope my wagon is still intact when I get back.”
I handed him the letter and he leapt on his horse. It had no saddle but a bridle and he laughed as he rode off at a gallop. He yelled back, ‘The fastest courier in Evermore and his trusty steed ride again!”
Calder asked the others, “It is just me or do you guys think Marcus seems to have uncanny luck?”
Serana answered, “He has the luck of the Gods. Ask him to show you the coin his father gave him. It was blessed by him.”
Calder pointed upwards and stammered, “You…You… You mean him?”
As we headed for the lookout we saw two mages burning some civilians to death. They seemed to be wearing some official uniforms so we did not attack them outright.
I approached one and asked, “Why have you just burnt these civilians to death?”
“Death is the only cure for what ails them.”
“Are they Exiles?”
“No, they are not Exiles. These people suffer from some horrid disease. They can spew all over you and then you get it.”
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Do they call themselves The Afflicted?”
“Yes and it is our duty to roam the countryside and cure them. Don’t worry, they hardly feel a thing. Fire is the great, what is the word, panacea for all the ills in The Reach.”
“I know of this disease. I thought it was contained to a small part of Skyrim. How wrong I was.”
“The only thing we can do now is not let it spread, besides, you get used to this lifestyle after a couple of weeks. It makes it much easier now we keep a scoreboard. I think I now have the highest number of charred bodies this week. Always good to have such competitions to keep the moral up don’t you think?”
“Death reduced to a game and I could have stopped it.”
“I am sure you tried. Anyway, can’t chat longer or my friend may get to the next lot before me. He is only a couple of charring behind.”
With that he hurried to catch up to his friend and they laughed about the dance the young woman who was still smouldering on the ground behind me did when on fire.
I sat on the ground and just stared at the charred bodies and tried not to weep.
Serana sat close and asked, “Tell me Wulf. What do you think you have done wrong? Tell me so I can talk some sense into you.”
“Not all my encounters with Daedric Princes were Divine Quests. My wide ranging travels ensured I would encounter them in other ways. An Afflicted told me he was fleeing Skyrim and returning to High Rock to escape persecution. He told me a Khajiit called Kesh could tell me more. Thinking it was some disease I might be able to help with I found this Kesh. He turned out to be a devotee of Pyrite. He told me his lord had a problem to do with the Afflicted and that I could speak to him via breathing in the fumes of a poison I could brew.
I have no hesitation doing the work demanded by a Daedric Prince if I can see benefit to the mortals of Nirn. I let them know I am doing it of my own free will and to cut the, ‘You shall do as I demand mortal!” bullshit. Thus I have done tasks for Hermaeus Mora, Azura, Boethia and Meridia.
Peryite said he created the Afflicted plague and infected several towns as a gift to Mundus. Typical warped sense of righteousness demonstrated by many of the Daedric Princes. He said the only survivors who did not suffer were those who worshipped him. He had asked one of his mortal lackeys, some Bosmer mage whose name I cannot remember, to gather them together and lead them to an ancient Dwemer ruin where they could live in peace under Pyrite’s protection. Instead, as so very often happens with trusted mortals and their Daedric Lords, the mortal rebelled.”
“Yes, you might say I know something about that.”
“This mage decided he could fool these devotees of Pyrite into doing his bidding. Become his personal army as it were. Pyrite wanted me to kill the mage for his insolence. I refused. I could see nothing in it but the advancement of Pyrite’s power-base.
Perhaps I should have taken the task. I could have killed all the followers and then maybe they might not have returned home and be burnt to death by state sanctioned psychopaths. Maybe I could have prevented others being infected. Maybe this mage is part of those behind the problems here and is sending his personal army to seed more chaos.”
“And maybe Pyrite is behind them being a problem now. We still do not know enough to guess who or what is behind all of this. Your parents are Gods. You are not. They make mistakes yet you hold yourself to an ideal that they can’t achieve! You explained to Argus not long ago that you have to make educated guesses or hunches all the time and they have been right enough to save us all. In fact they have saved us all many times over!
I heard what Lady Mara said in the Cathedral and that was apparently far more gobblygook than you usually get! So tell me, if you are not omnipotent, if you can’t read the timelines like Lord Akatosh, how were you to know from the information Pyrite gave you what was the right course of action with utter certainty? What evidence do you have that the decision you made has led to the charred corpses behind us? Did you kill the Afflicted who told you about Kesh? No and even if you did, how do you know if he was the only one who escaped the clutches of the mage?
Feel guilty for a while when you know you have made a wrong choice but if you are to help Rigmor govern you need to accept that will happen and move forward.
Do not make things harder by blaming yourself for things you may not have done wrong at all.”
Serana stood and moved over to the others and waited patiently for me to shake off the illogical guilt. Less than a minute later we were on our way and not another word about it was spoken.
The Exiles knew about the observation spot. They had hidden themselves well so despite our best sneaky approach they were upon us in numbers and instantly.
We killed them all quickly and there was nothing useful on them to incriminate any guards.
There were many werewolf heads on spikes around their camp. As I was looking at one of the heads, an Exile who had been hiding behind a primitive tanning rushed at me.
I decapitated him for his effort.
We found nothing in the camp to help identify crook guards but we did find several Hagraven heads enclosed within a spike fence.
I called everybody over and said, “This shows the Exiles have completely rejected the Witchmen. There would be nothing more insulting than to kill their revered Hagraven.”
Calder asked, “That looks like a trap. The amount of blood is way too much for those four heads.”
“Yes, it seems they thought something would be so keen to get to them it would impale itself.”
“Would werewolves do that?”
Argus said, “There are rumours that the leaders of The Companions in Whiterun are werewolves. That they were tricked by some Hagraven during some botched deal with Hircine. They would have cause to hate Hagravens.”
“I never knew that Argus. If true then that is another reason to add to the long list I already have titled, ‘Why I despise the Companions.’”
I continued, “But even in werewolf form they would be intelligent and not blunder into such a trap. Plus they are quite some distance away from here. Even a feral werewolf has the cunning of a wolf. They wouldn’t fall for such a trap either. I think the spikes are to keep the wild animals away from the heads. It can’t be easy collecting them and would be annoying if a coyote or skeever carried them away. All we can say for certain is Exiles do not like Witchmen.”
Just then the horns of Arnima could be heard clearly. We rushed to help defend the town as we had promised.
On the way we encountered a fight between what was probably a Redguard scout and two Witchmen scouts.
We cut them down as we ran past without slowing at all.
We easily defeated the force attacking the town. One type of Redguard fascinated me. He could instantly transport from one spot to another which made him hard to pin down in a fight.
Serana came up to me and said, “It is a crude form of the short teleport I could do as a Vampire Lord. If you noticed he had to sheath his swords each time as the spell he used had movements as part of its invocation. I used to just think. No verbal or movement components.”
“Imagine a Khajiit Master of the Two-Moons Dance having access to that ability. He or she would be almost unstoppable!”
We kept the momentum going and attacked one of the Redguard fortified bases. I realised it was the village we saw burning on our way to Arnima that morning. It was called The Bog. Not as bad a name as Forlorn but close.
The lack of Thu’um was annoying me. I compensated by hurling a relentless stream of fireballs at their defences. The occasional scream let me know they were doing damage.
My friends were carving through the Redguards but those teleporting swordsmen were a hazard.
Once all Redguards in the village were slain Jackos said, “They have looted the entire town and left nothing for us to salvage. Let’s go get back what is ours and avenge all who were slain here.”
We ran to a nearby tower.
Jackos yelled, “No doubt those thieves had holed up here as well. Keep your wits about you. These raiders will lash out when cornered. All inside!”
We were immediately set upon by many Redguards but at first I was distracted by an exquisite statue of Dibella. We carved through those and Jackos and his men were getting tired. The two mages who had started out with us headed back to town after exhausting their magicka. The Sentinel and I were not even sweating. It is not a negative reflection on the Bosmer but showed the difference in fitness required for guard duty versus soldier.
Jackos paused at a doorway and said, “If you need a second to breath, take it now. We are not going to relent against these rats lest they regather. A direct spearhead through their ranks is needed. Alright, break over, off we go!”
He was the first through the door and we quickly followed.
These were mines connected to the towers. Once again we easily carved our way through the raiders.
Jackos announced, “Good, they didn’t trash the mines while they were here. These can soon be reopened. More coin for Raven Spring lads. Rejoice!”
When we exited the mines we were faced with the Redguards major fort.
Jackos yelled, “Behold it boys, the rats nest! Let’s be the fire that ousts this vermin. Give no quarter, we need to show these river scum that The Reach isn’t to be trifled with.”
Jackos surged ahead but I soon passed him and thrust the doors to the compound open with a thundering crash. Somehow we caught the Redguard off guard! Perhaps they thought the mines were impenetrable and were too relaxed. Whatever the reason we slaughtered the scattered resistance.
At one point I almost fell victim to a Tiger. I thought, “What is a Pahmar doing here?” and was about to say hello when it went for my throat. Still felt a bit guilty killing it.
I surged ahead of the rest as I really wanted to kill the Redguard in charge for the slaughter of the townspeople. I expected to find some highly muscled warrior. Instead I found a milk drinker in fancy clothes that died screaming with terror.
There were two women who had been abducted from the town. When the others caught up with me Serana and Rayya immediately took charge of them and slowly got their story out of them.
After five minutes Serana approached and whispered, “They were not raped. They were the leader’s share of the spoils and apparently he had trouble getting his little man to stand to attention. But they have lost everything. Their family, home and all possessions gone, just so scum like this can avoid doing real work for a living.”
Theirs was a story repeatedly endlessly through the ages. And this evil was mortal choice, not the actions or wishes of the Gods.
I went outside the command tent and found Jackos.
“We have two women from the town who were abducted. We were in time to prevent their rape. Here are some gems. Make sure they are looked after and do not end up beggars or prostitutes like happens too often after women suffer such terrible loss and misfortune.”
“I promise I will do that. You and your friends, I have never seen anything like it! We were running to keep up as you lot just carved through them like they weren’t there. My lads were grumbling you weren’t even leaving any crumbs! Our mages gave up half way and you and Serana were casting spell after spell when not carving them to pieces. I have never seen a mage handle a weapon like that!”
“That is what several thousands of years of practice does for a determined mage.”
“Okay, I believe all that God stuff and you killing three thousand odd bad guys but come on, that is a bit of a stretch.”
“She is older than The Empire. She used to be a vampire. In fact she was one of the three most powerful vampires that have ever existed. Now she is mortal and will become a Priestess of Mara. She is a remarkable woman.”
“Are you two, umm, you know.”
“My wife is the best greatsword wielder I have ever witnessed. I remember with glee the several occasions I watched her chop Thalmor in two with a single sweep of her sword. I also love her with all my heart. So there are two good reasons me and Serana are not, umm, you knowing.”
“You and your wife fight side by side?”
“We have led armies to historic victories. She is also blessed and loved by the Gods. We do their work for them. We fight evil whenever it threatens the mortals of Nirn. Do you have family here?”
“No, my family aren’t here. I’ve made sure of that. I sent them off to Daggerfall with the coin I could muster. My children will be learning a trade without the worries that they would have here. My wife is far safer there as well. It tears me daily knowing they’re all so far away but having them here would put a greater burden on my heart.”
“I know too well that feeling Jackos. I was away from my beloved for almost three and a half years. Every day I thought of her constantly. But real love is eternal and your family will greet you with open arms soon. I will be working towards that day for you and all who just want a home, family and honest employment. Something the Gods want you to have. Something denied not by the evil you see around you but the selfishness of nobles who treat you all like slaves.”
“I have seen why you do not fear stating the treasonous truth. Today has been a hell of a day!”
“I assume you are going to leave an unmistakeable message for the Redguard pirates?”
“Oh yes, we are going to make a good fire out of their boats. They will see that message from many miles away. The mines being intact will help us rebuild The Bog once we are sure no more river rats will try their luck. Perhaps those poor women can return to a rebuilt home. Help start the town afresh.”
“It has been a pleasure helping people do something positive about the problems here. Do not let your men think they did not contribute tonight. Their bravery was immense and in reality, it is always better to let somebody else kill, no matter how much you hate the enemy.”
“I could not agree more.”
“Is there anything further we can do to help?”
“Not for me but you might want to speak to Kegor in Evermore. He may have problems need fixing.”
“We will be staying here tonight. So good luck Jackos and may Mother Mara bless you.”
Jackos rushed off to join his men.
Serana and Rayya brought the two timid women out to their escort. A couple of men recognised them and a tearful reunion was had. It was a tiny bit of light that shone in the doom that threatened High Rock. Maybe the light that Lady Mara had promised me.
I told my colleagues we would be staying in the luxury of the command tent for the night. They dragged the milk drinker’s body outside, covered the bloodstain in a luxurious wool carpet and set up some beds they dragged in from other tents.
Argus proved to be a very good cook and made a terrific meal for us.
I fished my coin out and tossed it to Calder. He held it with trembling hands and stared at it. Then he blurted, “How come the Emperor on this coin looks like you?”
“He is probably a Septim.”
“Yes, I know the coin is a septim.”
Calder, repeat after me, “The Emperor on the coin had probably got the last name Septim. The person who tossed me the coin is?”
We spent some time just chatting. I did not want to discuss the day.
Before retiring to write this journal entry I told them all, “Tomorrow we will visit the nearby Imperial Embassy. Depending on who is there I may reveal my identity as it would be good to get some correspondence back home. I have a feeling we are going to be here for some time.”
I wrote this entry and climbed into bed.
I know not what time I fell asleep.
I know it was soon after Serana threw a book and hit the sleeping Argus on the head.
“Hey what was that for?”
“You snoring was enough to wake the dead and believe me, I know a lot about waking the dead.”