High Rock: Uncovering the truth.
I was woken by a knocking on the door of my room at the inn.
“Yes, who is it?”
“Kharjo, I have a delivery for you.”
“Okay, give me a couple of minutes and I will be out.”
When I stepped out into the inn’s common room, Kharjo, Brelyna and Onmund were waiting for me.
“Okay, three unexpected faces. What is this about?”
Brelyna handed me a letter,
“My dear husband,
After you left I arranged transport to Bravil for the Primate and guests then made my way to the palace.
I briefed Blackwell on what had transpired in the cathedral. He seems to be getting very good at accepting all this gobblygook.
Since this Divine Task is almost certain to help the Empire he understood immediately why you left in haste for High Rock.
But he thought you made a strategic mistake and I agreed after some discussion.
Lady Mara indicated, as you also assured me when saying goodbye, that diplomacy was the way to resolve the issues you will face.
It is easier to be a diplomat as Imperial General or Emperor. Nobody is going to take a mercenary at his word.
As we were discussing the matter Sethri made a visit and said his mistress told him you needed these things, the armours and weapons.
I thought her seers were blind at the moment because of Table Mountain?
The Sentinel refused to reduce their numbers guarding me to bring the equipment to you. So I asked the three mages who were visiting the Imperial Library. They readily agreed and did not fear trapesing through The Reach.
Sethri said he will send you a letter and that a clue is in it. I have no idea what he was giving you a clue about.
So stay safe and remember we love you.
Signed: Rigmor and the bump.”
I asked the mages to talk to me in my rented room whilst The Sentinel kept people away from the door.
“How did you find us?”
Brelyna answered, “The local news-sheets are full of stories about a group of mercenaries who have done amazing things. So asking your whereabouts soon got us here.”
“And you had no trouble over the mountains?”
Kharjo answered, “I have been on trade caravans that have visited here. I knew the paths. We encountered a few small bandit groups easily dealt with.”
“We will don the Imperial armour and I need you to take the rest of the gear to the Imperial Embassy. Commander Drugo knows who I am. Ask him to store it somewhere very secure. Tell him who owned the golden armour. That will guarantee he will do his utmost to keep it safe.”
They all nodded their heads in agreement.
“Can you also do something else for me while you are in this area? Can you please look at the Direnni Soul Stones? They are teleport devices based on Ayleid Dawn Magic. They are not one hundred percent reliable as I believe the Direnni’s dealings with various Daedric Princes has corrupted nearly everything they did. People apparently vanish never to be seen again or end up a mess of flesh and bone at the destination. It happens very rarely but enough that very few risk using them.”
Onmund replied, “Of course, it will aid in the teleporter project you have us working on.”
“I assume once you have done those two tasks you will be returning to Cyrodiil?”
Kharjo said, “As soon as we can. The College likes us to be near the Queen. You know why.”
“In that case can you please wait outside while I compose a quick letter to her. Tell The Sentinel to don the Imperial gear.”
They all shuffled out of the room and I wrote the following,
“This gobblygook is the most gobblygookest for a long time.
She is still blind but I get the clue. I will talk it over with my crew.
Hope to see you soon.
Love to both of you.”
I entered the common room and handed the letter to Kharjo.
Ten minutes later The Sentinel appeared in uniform and handed their bundles to the mages.
“Okay, you had better get to it. Safe travels.”
The three mages nodded and left.
I walked over to the innkeeper and said, “As you can see we are Imperial soldiers who were working undercover for the Emperor. There is no longer any need to keep secret who we are.”
“I understand General. If you wish to keep spending all of those shiny septims here you are more than welcome.”
We sat and had some breakfast and at about 8:00AM we left the inn.
Once outside I said to my crew, “Azura knows one or more of the other Daedric Princes are involved. On previous occasions she let us know via Sethri who they were. This time she did not give a name.
The relationships between the Daedric Princes is very dynamic. They have ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ but basically they are all about power. Azura could be reduced if one or the others decided she was a snitch and confronted her.
I have my suspicions who it is and I think we should look for confirmation before seeing ol’ Mort. I think that Gryphon wanted us to enter the cave where he had perched when he talked to us. So that is where we will head.
First, let us present ourselves as the heroes that killed the mage. We might as well start getting more appreciation for the Imperial Army. Soon they will figure out we are the mercenaries who helped with the Redguard and Orcs. That will make Commander Drugo happy.”
Asking around we learned the name of the man who handles the rewards and found him near the temple.
“Excuse me, are you Entemon?”
“Yes General, what can I do for you?”
“Did the guards tell you of a group of mercenaries who were going to take care of the mage who destroyed Sabbat?”
“Yes, and since the undead were completely destroyed we assumed they were successful. From their description and what is written in the news sheets it seems they helped wipe out the Redguard pirates as well as the Orc rebels. Rumour is rife about who they might be and many consider it impossible for them to have done all of that in a few days.”
“That was us. We were working undercover on behalf of the Emperor and Queen. They had heard of the strife in The Reach and High Rock and sent us to investigate.”
“You certainly fit the description; a tall Bosmer, a female Redguard, a very young sorcerer, two ugly Nords and a grizzled veteran.”
That description was met with laughter and grumbling.
I held my amulet of Talos in my hand and said, “I swear on Talos that was us.”
“Good enough for me. Talos worship is once again freely permitted thanks to the previous Emperor. You would not risk the wrath of The Divines with a false oath.”
“So no need to reward us but are there other things you would like us to look into?”
“I would first advise you to seek out the Bishop in the temple at Evermore. He may have information on who the mage was working for.”
“We shall do that.”
“There is also a werebear within a cave not too far from here. Such a beast is not welcome.”
“I have a good friend who is a werewolf. Not all are killers. We shall have a look.”
“Also, not a problem as such, but this was placed on the notice board where I pin my outstanding tasks. Since it was not one of mine I took it down. It may be of interest. I would rather the Imperial Army have their hands on ‘inordinate power’ than some mercenary or enemy.”
He handed me a note which read,
“There lies a site both profound and blessed, which brings worshippers both wretched and benign.
It kisses the clouds, yet sleeps just beneath the snowy spine to the north. Here exists the grounds where ancient rituals were performed for those distant gods, and where they acknowledged.
The gods still linger, however their influence is fleeting. Reach them in the west, bring them tribute; inordinate power is on offer.”
There was a crude map but good enough for me to pinpoint the place on mine.
I handed the note to Serana who read it and said, “Sounds like we could easily offend one God or another. So of course you will want to check it out.”
“You know me well.”
As the others read it we started walking towards the cave.
When we arrived a short time later we stood in front of the entrance for only a brief moment before entering into the unknown.
I could hear the unmistakeable sounds of clunking and grinding bones. Animated skeletons would not make good assassins.
When we came upon the first one we could also hear a melee not much further in. It seems the bony ones and the Witchmen are not getting along.
We despatched a few and soon found the melee.
Serana said, “I think another idiot with not enough skill has been playing necromancer.”
It didn’t really matter, Witchmen and skeleton perished to our blades and magicka.
We came to a winding path that led to some ruins. In the water surrounding the ruins several dead Witchmen were floating. I recognised the architecture.
I told the others, “Ayleid ruins. I can see dead Witchmen but no skeletons so maybe we have an ally down there.”
Calder, being the optimistic type, said, “Or something really big with gnashing teeth that will try and kill us too.”
We made our way down the winding path and into the water unmolested. However I could see some glowing red spirits in the distance.
There also appeared to be a transparent red outline of an Oblivion Gate.
I asked Serana and she said, “I just think it is an optical illusion.”
We were attacked by two types of spirit, red Ayleid and blue Slaves. I recognised Ayleid from my meeting with Pilvi and ancient artworks. I recognised the slaves as they wore the similar shackles to those I found in Allie’s hut.
Some of the architecture was identical to what I saw in Pilvi’s city.
We could hear crying and screams. It sounded like more than one person in anguish and all females. A red glow could be seen from where they emanated.
A Witchmen camp indicated they had been here for some time. It was also apparent that the spirits had killed them. There was one left standing in front of a doorway. I approached with weapon sheathed in case it wished to talk.
It didn’t. Instead it transformed into something. Not quite sure what.
We cut it down and then tried to find the prisoners.
After a good look around Serana said, “They are phantoms. They may have been real people once but only the sounds of their anguish now remains. It was probably music to the Ayleid who lived here.”
“They forsook their Gods and were seduced by the Daedric Princes. Still no sign of which one this lot worshipped.”
We stood in front of the door and I advised everybody to have weapons at the ready.
We entered and my lamp hardly penetrated the darkness so I cast Magelight. In front of us was a familiar altar.
“Not a surprise. Of all the Daedric Princes the Reachmen worshipped, Namira was the most likely to be behind the Witchmen. I have no idea if she knows I wiped out her cannibal club in Skyrim but if so she will be mighty pissed off at me.”
Argus asked, “Apart from Azura, is there a single one who does not want to bite your head off?”
“Well, I am champion of Boethia, Meridia, Mephala and Hermaeus Mora. Of those only three hate me. Sheogorath invited me to tea so seemed tolerant if not a friend. Vaermina detests me after I destroyed her artefact with the help of Lady Mara. Molag Bal threatened to drink blood from my skull and that was before I hit him with a mace. Peryite might remember me as the mortal who told him to stick his demand for help. Malacath, the Jolly Green Giant, is not a fan after I rescued his virgin sacrifice, destroyed his armies, told him to his face to shove the bribe he offered and destroyed his Sigil Stone and Oblivion Gate. The others I have not met yet.”
Argus just shook his head.
The altar was unusual as there were actually two, back to back.
“Anybody have any ideas why there would be two altars like this?”
Serana answered, “Pure speculation Wulf but I would say they were transferring something between whatever was lucky enough to be on the slabs.”
“Not a pleasant idea but kind of makes morbid sense.”
“Well, I kind of know morbid, a little.”
We all laughed. Not the evil cackling laugh of whatever deranged people or things used these altars. The type of genuine belly laugh probably never heard in this chamber before.
In one corner were burnt corpses and protruding from them were eyes that followed us.
“Ah, hello, is that you Hermaeus? You look so much slimmer without all those tentacles!”
Serana asked, “Do you think it is him?”
“Don’t know. Kind of creepy though! Not good for us if these two are actually co-operating.”
“She does hate pretty things and loves the grotesque. Maybe they are knocking boots. Eight at a time with her in spider form and him using a few tentacles.”
“You sure Dibella is not your calling?”
“And they can change gender at will. Probably be both at once if they so wished. Imagine the possibilities!”
At the end of the room were metal bars preventing access to a natural corridor beyond. Even with Magelight nothing could be seen of any interest.
On either side of the room were portals similar to those used by the Snow Elves in the Hidden Valley.
I asked Serana, “Do these feel the same as the Soul Stone teleports of the Derinni?”
She stood in front of one and concentrated. After a while she said, “No, the dweomer is subtly different.”
“That is what I thought. Well, we could stand around debating ether to step through or not or just… “
Ulkarin shook his head and declared, “All of you are insane! Can I renegotiate my weekly fee? Make it 5000 per week?”
“No. Just close your eyes and think of Mother Mara!”
I then stepped into one of the portals.
And found myself in a small cottage. The others, including a grumbling Ulkarin, soon followed.
He looked around and exclaimed, “Lovely, just lovely!”
We had seen similar crimson vines in several places, including the altar room we just left. The ones in this small cottage covered the floor and roof and walls and were pulsating. Some type of viscous liquid would move for a while, seem to stall, then pump again as if to a heartbeat.
It felt was if we were being watched but there were none of those creepy eyes from the altar room. The only other occupant was a naked man hanging by the neck. He was quite dead.
Cobwebs suggested the cottage had not been used for some time but the hanging corpse was fresh.
A trapdoor acted as the gateway back to the altar room.
I stood in front of the door and said, “Let’s see what is outside. Ready weapons in case.”
It turned out to be quite a picturesque spot. The pretty view only spoilt by a translucent red malevolent spirit of some type.
It appeared to be an injured man, not a mer. It has a bandage over one eye. At a guess I would say the armour was 1st Era in vintage.
“Who or what are you?”
“Foolish simian maggot, the worms venture beyond their burrows and seek rot. I am her avatar, dreadful mistress.”
“So she can hear me? Good! I am Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divine. I have destroyed the plans of many of the Dreadful Lords. Even you felt the power of The Nine when I destroyed your cannibal cult in Skyrim. Did it disturb you when the followers of Arkay then demolished your altar with more Divine power? You are no more powerful than Molag Bal, Hermaeus Mora or the other’s I have defeated. If simian maggot is the best you can come up with I am underwhelmed.”
“You are powerful we know. Does this maggot seeks employ? Ascend to a herald of our blighted legion? Harvest the heads of your creators and liaison with me once again. We speak in maggot tongue, take your women and sever their heads. Return to have her eye gaze upon your flesh, the queen of worms waits. We wait.”
“Nah, I think I will stick with the High Queen of Cyrodiil. Much prettier and she doesn’t eat our dinner guests. Her head stays where it is. As for my creators, they are Gods and I would find it difficult to sever their heads. As for liaising with you again, this once is enough unless you wish to offer your surrender and apologies. Once again a Daedric Prince seeks to command me and once again I exercise my mortal free will and say, ‘Nice of you to offer me a position in your legion but no thanks. Now fuck off!’”
“What is the worm’s intention? Conflict? We are not agents of brute force, we bring you rot, and you will come to see the ill of your choice.”
“No, I will come to see yet another Daedric Prince defeated by mortals who do not fall for its foul whispers and promises. You are all the same and you all fail. You have no power over us unless we invite you inside. There are far more who say no than yes. That is your eternal nemesis. Love and loyalty conquers greed and false promises every time. The power of The Nine is infinitely more powerful than one of you. How pathetic that none of you ever has another of your kind to fight beside you. By the way, am I worm or maggot? One is the young form of a creature that metamorphoses into an adult form to which it bears little or no resemblance. The other is a creature that does not change shape from birth to death. Perhaps you should read a bit more?”
I turned to the others and said, “No matter how foul this avatar is, do not strike it for it cannot be defeated. It draws its power from Oblivion itself via those crimson vines.”
We entered the cottage and then through the trapdoor.
“Do not say a word any of you. I know what I am doing and this is not a place to discus tactics. Angry enemies are more likely to make mistakes. Have faith there is method in my madness. You would not be alive today if there was not.”
I looked and got nods of agreement.
“Alright everybody let’s try the other portal. I liked the first place but a bit more room would be nice. Near the coast would be ideal.”
I stepped through and had to duck the swords of a pissed off Witchmen. I blasted him with lightening and the others joined me.
Calder remarked, “I can’t see any beach!”
We cut a path through many Witchmen and then a Hagraven started casting destruction spells at us. It was soon peppered by arrows and was dead in seconds. It was of a type I had not encountered before. It has a far more birdlike head and a beak instead of the ugly old hag head.
I looked up and the valley was covered by a red shield of some sort.
“Look up Serana. I think we have found the source of the annoying hum.”
Serana stared at the barrier and said, “It can’t be Daedric. I can sense some sort of Dweomer. Like a strong Ward spell.”
“I feel the same thing. It probably protects the inhabitants inside it. The hum is the sound of the shield consuming magicka. Maybe this is the only place the Witchmen feel relatively safe.”
There was a well that seemed to be the source of the barrier.
Fog moved in illogical directions. We could feel no wind yet it rolled in many directions at once.
We headed towards some sort of wooden tower when a creature like I had never seen before came running at me.
I cut it down and Rayya joked, “Don’t cry Argus. She didn’t really love you.”
We got closer to the wooden structure and I had no idea what it was used for.
Even really close none of us had the slightest idea.
We came to a Dwemer gate that was locked and could not be picked. We could see nothing beyond it except more swirling fog.
Along a path and in the distance we could see a thick concentration of webs.
“Serana, I will give you five guesses. What Daedric Prince would conceal a doorway or cave behind thick webs?”
“Umm… High Queen Elisif the Fair?”
Argus exclaimed, “I did not know she was one of them!”
He wondered why we laughed as we walked towards the webs.
We stood in front of it and I said, “Okay, start hacking your way through. Do not stop or you will get stuck. Let’s go.”
We hacked and slashed at the tougher than usual web till we found ourselves in a small cavern with even more webs to cut through.
A few more webs later and we were in some larger caverns with various bodies around the place including Witchmen and emancipated corpses wrapped in web.
Also a few Bosmer here and there.
We came to a deep cavern with winding walkways along the edges. Looking down I could see something familiar. I had encountered one in Pilvi’s city.
“Down below is the source of the energy used to maintain that barrier. One of the most sought after relics of the Ayleid people. Starlight captured in a crystal and a source of almost unlimited magicka. It is a product of the lost Dawn Magic. It is a Great Welkynd Stone. It glows blue so is safe to approach. If it was red it would defend itself and turn you into a glowing pile of ash. History says the last one was used by Martin Septim to destroy the Great Sigil Stone and was itself destroyed in the process. History is wrong as I have now seen two.”
We travelled down the walkways till we stood in front of it.
“This one seems tainted. It should be bright blue. This purple/pink hue, it is like somebody mixed red and blue paint.”
Near the Welkynd was a barrier. It was similar to the one protecting the doorway to Pilvi’s city. There was no convenient Blood Seal for me to remove it.
We continued and found an exit that led to a narrow ledge. The sky had tinges of red but that was just a result of the approaching sunset.
The only way down was to plunge into the river below.
Ulkarin looked down and whined, “Oh come on! Seriously?”
I replied, “Where’s your sense of adventure?
I jumped and hoped I had not overestimated the water’s depth or they would be embarrassing last words for a supposed hero.
One the way down I also realised I had put a water breathing dweomer on all our armours at the time of manufacture. Except for Ulkarin we couldn’t drown so it did not matter if we sunk like people wearing very heavy metal armour, which we were. Oops!
The river was fast flowing and after a while was only waste deep. Ulkarin managed to get his head above the water and bounced past at a good speed as his arse dragged along the bottom. Lucky he is so tall!
We eventually climbed up an embankment and I looked back at the ledge we leapt from.
“That is definitely higher than the one on Roscrea! Eat your heart out Rigmor!”
The others looked at me as if I had finally cracked.
Above the ledge we had leapt off was a walkway and it appeared some Witchmen were battling Afflicted.
We got closer and although tempted I did not blow them off the walkway with a Shout or throw some fireballs. There could be thousands of Witchmen in the connecting cave system so it was not a good idea to kick the anthill.
We moved into the valley and saw a Witchmen who did not look well. We snuck up and observed him fight a pack of wolves.
He was Afflicted!
We killed him and the wolves and climbed to the top of the tower which seemed to be his home.
Once there we discovered another sculpture that at first seemed like a simple savage totem. Then it occurred to me that perhaps these were something else.
“I don’t think these are simple totems. I believe they are trying to emulate the Flesh Sculptor art of the Daedric worshipping Ayleid.”
Rayya said, “I knew some Ayleid were evil but this is barbaric. So much so that those we call savages are emulating what was supposed to be this advanced race of mer.”
“This is not the worst they did Rayya. Come to think of it I think we have encountered another hobby of theirs call Gut Gardens. Seemingly random piles of offal but apparently there is some form to it that appealed to the Ayleid. Another fun hobby of theirs, and they used to fill arenas with keen spectators, was Tiger Sport. They used to set children alight and bet on who would run the furthest or last the longest or cry the loudest. Pilvi made reference to it. Ayleid and guests cheering on and laughing as the beautiful innocence died for their amusement. It is no wonder my Lord Akatosh turned against them and gave my mother the tools needed to overthrow them.”
We found a Direnni Soul Stone and were instantly teleported to Arnima.
As we approached the Lord’s residence we came across a scene of depravity. An Orsimer girl was shackled to a cross and a little man was cutting her repeatedly. He was doing a running commentary on how tough her skin was. How she must be a demon as she did not cry out in pain. He invited some civilians watching to have a turn. Several drew knives and advanced towards her. This was within sight of my father’s shrine.
I had two choices.
First choice was forget who I am and walk away and leaving the girl to her fate. That would be the practical solution of one who can accept collateral damage.
Second choice was to intervene as an Imperial General and risk an armed confrontation. That would be the solution of one who values all mortal life.
There was no contest.
I walked up to the little man and said, “As members of the Penitus Oculatus it is our sworn duty to uphold the laws of the Imperial Empire. Put down you knife immediately or I will be forced to kill you in defence of the young woman.”
“The Lord said I can have my fun. It is only a stinking Orc. Go away.”
I said to The Sentinel, “I will warn him once more. If he disobeys I will execute the law. If those knights try to intervene, cut them down. Any civilian that tries to intervene, cripple them and we shall pass judgement later.”
The Sentinel drew their weapons. The civilians stepped back. The knights did not move.
“Drop the knife now! This is your last chance.”
“Fuck off! I am only having some fun!”
He swung the knife towards the prisoner so I plunged “The Sword” through his midsection.
The knights did not move.
“Rayya, Serana, her clothing is over there. Get her down, get her dressed and heal her.”
The rest of us stood with our weapons drawn. The knights did not move.
Once dressed and healed I approached her.
“I am so sorry that they did this to you. What is your name?”
“Arinya is my name. Did you see, they did not make me cry! I am stronger than them.”
“Yes you are. Follow me and I will ensure you are protected by the temple Priests. They will help you. Where do you live?”
“I was leaving High Rock with my family. We were hard workers. Dad was a blacksmith. Then he got scared and said we have to leave. I did as I was told even though I did not believe him when he said there were Manmer who would kill us just for being Orsimer. I have many Manmer friends. We played together as children.”
“And your family was stopped from leaving? Where are they now?”
“The guards stopped us near the border. Said all Orcs are suspected of helping those rebels. Dad objected and they cut him down. They started dragging me away and when Mother tried to stop them they killed her too. Then they raped me. Asking how it felt and that it was revenge for what the rebels did to good honest Bosmer women. I had never mated with anybody before. They laughed when I bled but were upset I did not cry in pain. Said it spoiled their fun. They dragged me here and handed me over to the one you killed. Said I was not as tough as I thought and that Skinner would teach me.”
I looked around at the people watching. The crowd had grown as this was more exciting than the ‘Skinner’s’ normal routine.
I yelled, “These walls are supposed to divide civilised from savage. They have failed miserably. You are all guilty of ignoring the teachings of your Gods. I can understand meekness and reluctant acceptance when you see such barbarity and feel helpless to do stop it. But you left your homes to deliberately watch the torture and death of an innocent. It a free choice you all made. It is sickening. You are no better than the Witchmen.”
We formed a cordon around Arinya and started escorting her to the temple. Not a single denial did I hear from the crowd.
As we walked to the temple I asked Arinya, “Where was your father taking you to?”
“You are not of my race. I cannot tell you that.”
“Can you find your own way there?”
“Yes, but how do I get to the border? They would wait for me.”
“We shall ask the priests to give you escort.”
As soon as we entered the temple a priest took charge of Arinya. When I described what happened it was agreed that she would have protection to the border. I left the temple with barely controlled rage.
We stood at the entrance to Mortifayne’s keep.
“This man is supposedly insane. I think there is more to it than that simple explanation. No doubt some toady has already reported on the incident with Skinner. If he is smart he will recognise the authority we have to stop breaches of Imperial law. Since one of the first edicts the Queen and I issued was the complete ban on torture throughout the Empire he knows he has no ground to object to our actions. To imply he has the right to allow such breaches as the local lord is tantamount to rejecting the Empire and therefore Imperial protection. I doubt he would want that. Whatever happens, do not draw a weapon unless I draw mine.”
As we entered the throne room a person who appeared to be a cook of chef was leaving. Unusually for such a domestic he was carrying a knife. Not the type used for cooking. The type used for stabbing and gutting other people. He checked us over and dismissed us with disdain.
Almost as disturbing as him was the torture rack he walked past.
I approached Mortifayne and said, “Greetings your highness. I believe something was stolen of yours?”
“So the Imperials who murder my men want to gain favour. Do you think finding what is lost would erase your insult?”
“No insult intended. We simply did our duty as directed by our regents. Why would it be an insult to execute a man who was illegally torturing and murdering another citizen in front of a shrine of Talos? Such blasphemy and total disregard for the Empire’s laws cannot go unpunished. After all, ‘The Empire is law. The law is sacred.’ Do you not agree?”
“I see. Well in that case the criminal scum was justly punished and I am shocked to hear of such a thing in my town.”
“I am sure you are. The three heads on spikes over your front door? Not an uncommon thing to do. It serves to remind citizens of the consequences of breaking laws with a known corporal punishment penalty.”
“So it does.”
“You must be relieved we removed those Redguard pirates from your waterways? No need to thank us, just doing our duty.”
“I was told some mercenary slime assisted. Not soldiers.”
“We were undercover and looking for signs of Thalmor interference in your kingdom. As we are no longer undercover you may assume we found what we were looking for. We have their leader imprisoned but who knows how many spies they have around here?”
“Why would they interfere with me?”
“It was nothing personal but just part of a plan to destabilise the whole of High Rock. We took out the Orc rebels yesterday and found circumstantial evidence they were involved there as well.”
“Why did Drugo and his men not find this out?”
“He has many young recruits who do not have the training of the Penitus Oculatus.”
“Very well, if you think you can do better than the mercenaries I have already sent you can assist. Just two days ago my guard butchered a small group of Witchmen just outside the city walls. It was the first time in a while that they’ve come this close. They butchered all but one that left for the hills deep within the valley. And by ‘coincidence’ a necklace of mine went missing.”
“They infiltrated your home? How disturbing! Is this amulet valuable or of sentimental value or both?”
“This amulet is what keeps this town safe!”
“Then it must have a mighty dweomer indeed. A relic of great value then! Witchmen do not care for wealth. Why do you think they stole it?”
“Is it not enough that you know what is needed? Do you wish for an education on these untamed scum?”
“It would increase our chances for success if we knew their motivation.”
Mortifayne’s voice suddenly turned to a whisper. The menacing arrogance replaced by fear. His inner demons free of the restraint provided by the amulet.
“They’ve stole if for something far more sinister than I can dream of in most haunting nightmares.”
He quickly looked around and his paranoia was clear. He continued, “There are spectres of evil clawing at this town, hungering for the day that these walls fall and we all are feasted upon by something most ugly.”
The debate in his head was obvious as he said, “Stop, no… I shall not speak any further! I’ve understood the cost of hope. It is my burden to bear.”
“Can you tell me what is so special about the amulet so I may recognise it easier?”
“What is so special about your life? This amulet is worth a dozen Imperial generals. The material that made this pendant is worth more than all this town’s scum. Is it not evidence enough that I have three fresh heads outside my manor as testament to that fact?”
“What if one of the mercenaries has already found it and decided to keep it or sell it?
“I would hope you find them so they beg for my forgiveness or endure a wretched death.”
“On that rack before you?”
“Yes, no… no… that would be wrong would it not.”
“They managed to infiltrate your very home. Would you like us to look for security flaws? We do not need to enter locked rooms. Just a quick wander through and see if our trained eyes can detect any areas of vulnerability?”
“Yes, yes, that would be good. I forbid you to enter what is locked!”
“Of course your highness and I swear not to enter a room with a locked door.”
We left the throne room and the others knew not to ask anything till clear of the building.
Two guards were walking down the corridor towards us and I turned and said to Calder, “Now be careful of all these valuable vases and things. We know how clumsy you can be.”
I walked with full force into the guards who both fell to the floor in an entangled heap of armour and limbs.
“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry, let me help you up.”
I reached down and grabbed one guard by the waist and gave a mighty heave, lifted him bodily from the ground and fell backwards so he landed on top of me.
“Oh, I am making it worse aren’t I.”
The guard angrily extracted himself from my arms and stood upright. His friend was behind him and both were brushing down their uniform and scowling at me.
I tossed them a few septim and said, “I hope that pays for the cleaning. Umm, perhaps you had better not let ol’ Monty see you so grubby?”
They angrily brushed past and headed for an exit.
We started to look around the palace and some interesting books seemed to vanish into my magical journal holder.
When we came to a locked door I pulled out a key, unlocked it an entered the adjoining room.
Argus look horrified so I whispered to him, “I unlocked the door. Therefore it was not locked when I entered just as my oath said.”
“Okay then. That is a bit dodgy but where did they key come from?”
“It must have fell into my hands when helping those poor guards I knocked over. Too bad they are not here to help us search these previously locked rooms.”
“I never thought of you a thief till now! You are a sneaky thief!”
Serana laughed and said, “You had better not ask how those books have fallen into his magical journal case then.”
We walked into a few storage rooms before entering a dark chamber with a full set of torture devices and instruments for the enthusiast. In a locked cell was a mixture of burnt and mutilated corpses.
In the centre of the room was a round shaft with blood stains on one side where it appeared bodies had been tipped over the edge.
At the bottom we could see the double altar of Namira.
“Another portal. He probably has live prisoners tossed down to be used on the altars and this portal allows him to view the proceedings.
We heard the distant voices of guards so quickly exited the area and locked the door.
We casually walked outside and headed for the temple.
“There is a missing piece to the puzzle. He said, ‘I’ve understood the cost of hope.’”
Argus said, “So at one stage he fought the despair and something dragged him back into it?”
“Yes and something probably orchestrated by his mistress. I think the sequence was this. He felt great guilt over the slaughter at Munstor twenty years ago. Followers of Namira were there and handed out those amulets. The other lords felt no guilt or remorse and did not succumb to the dark whisperings and melancholy whose affects are amplified by the amulet. They tossed theirs away. Ol’ Mort on the other hand fell into her web and was told that as long as he co-operated the walls of this town would be sufficient to keep away the savages and other evils. Co-operation included periodic acts of random cruelty. This produced the type of chaos and terror that creates more vulnerable candidates for recruitment. What he is doing is basically altruistic in nature. He has accepted the burden of her cruelty and sacrificed the few to save the many. When it looked like he was fighting his way out of the trap they did something to drag him back in. He was probably a more efficient contributor to the chaos after that.”
Serana asked, “Do you think he was promised this would remain a safe haven after Namira achieved her goal which, as you have said many times before, is the same for most Daedric Princes. She wished to breach Martin’s barrier and walk the mortal the plane.”
“He would need that promise, even if empty, to keep his co-operation till the end.”
“Why steal the amulet?”
“That I don’t know. It may be we are very near the end game and the more strife and chaos the quicker this final stage proceeds. Her avatar was far more powerful than any I have encountered from a Daedric Prince and showed to me her current presence on Nirn is substantial.
She is a twisted being and to her a perfect ending would be for Ol’ Mort and his people to suffer the same fate as Munstor. She would be in rapture if the combined forces of High Rock were to slaughter him and his people. If they appeared at his gate demanding he step down he could not. He thinks he is doing what is needed to save his people. She would laugh as it would not have been savages and evil that breached his walls but other mortals in their righteous anger. I think we have to prevent that from happening. That is why Lady Mara emphasised negotiation.”
Rayya asked, “Would the Emperor standing beside Mortifayne in the armour of his father be enough to stop the angry hordes if diplomacy fails? Would they listen to the God’s champion famous for his acts of kindness and known to have bested many Daedric Princes? Would the young Imperial soldiers from the Embassy stand beside him? ”
“I would have no choice but to cut down those who oppose my order as their Emperor and the Champion of The Divine. That may very well be the ultimate chaos that gives her the power to cross the barrier.”
Serana added, “You will do as you think right and we shall follow in your footsteps. There are a million nightmare scenarios I can think of that may break you Wulf. You would still do the right thing according to your unbending wish to protect the mortals of Nirn. You would be like Mortifayne and do the unsavoury to save the people. It is enough for us who love you to fall into despair worrying about it. This place is like one big self-fulfilling fucking prophecy. It has not long ticked past midnight and a new day has started. Let us seek help from those in the temple. Maybe The Divines have spoken to others and they can provide aid to our cause. I once again find myself needing to pray to Lady Mara.”