High Rock: Relic Hunting and an Unborn King.
It was about 6:30AM when we left the Imperial Embassy and started walking towards Arnima.
As we crossed one of the bridges I looked over at the statue of Lady Mara.
“Serena, can you see that purple light in the distance, to the left of Mara’s statue?”
“Isn’t that where we are headed today, to find that ring?”
“No, that is more to the right. Let’s have a look at the statue then to the light. Curiosity has got me.”
It was a mystery to me why they had a statue and shrine outside the town walls. The statue was crudely made out of clay and covered with fake gold paint.
The light shining on it a simple illusion spell that looked like it was renewed several times per day.
It showed how poor the kingdom really is. The people are devout followers of Lady Mara but no money can be spared for her statue. It makes no difference to her, there is no need to build lavishly to try and impress The Divine, but I am sure the citizens would like something a bit better.
We crossed the river and the purple light turned out to be some sort of possessed Storm Atronach.
We destroyed it and I started walking back to Arnima
Serana asked, “Why are we going back to town? The ruin with the ring is just over there.”
“I want to talk to Reamonn. Drag him along if we can to find the ring and ask about the whereabouts of the other item they want retrieving.”
“What do you think about his supposed divination abilities?”
“That it is absolute bullshit! You and I know an awful lot about the five schools of magic. The only thing close to doing what he claims was the apparatus of the Dwemer modified by the Synod. Even with the ancient magics of that race the only thing that showed up were the two most powerful sources of magicka on Nirn, The Staff of Magnus and the Eye of Magnus. It did not detect the Giant Welkynd Stone in the ruins here or the one in Pilvi’s city.”
“So you think he knows where these relics are because he has something to do with them being stolen?”
“As that moron said last night, the guards did not see anybody suspicious entering or leaving the temple. Assuming they were actually watching as asked, a priest or Reamonn would not be suspect. They could come and go as they please.”
“Why have them stolen, placed somewhere and lead us to them?”
“Let us play the game and see if we can figure it out. I will not delve too much into how he claims to know the whereabouts of these items. Let him think we believe the bull.”
Reamonn was not in the temple but they told us where we could find him.
He was standing near a house where two of the official psychopaths were burning it down. I wondered how this added to their charred scores.
“Reamonn, what is happening here?”
“Something that needs to be done since the gods do not seem to be lending their divine aid any time soon. At least their suffering is at an end now.”
“I have not even started to tackle the Affliction plague so your presumption about The Divine is out of place. It is obviously something I will look into and I am their ‘divine aid’”
“And what are you going to do? The plague encroaches ever east, and even these drastic measures may fall short of what may come beyond today.”
“Tell me who is researching a cure? I have not heard of anybody. I bet they do not even know who created it.”
“Peryite created it a few years ago. I know because he told me. He created a haven in an old Dwemer Ruin where devout followers who were Afflicted could live without suffering. In other words there must be a way to control it. Unfortunately one of his most trusted followers turned on him and tried to enslave the Afflicted in the sanctuary. Many fled and one told me he was heading back to High Rock, his home.”
“You did not think to stop him?”
Serana stepped in, “No matter his parents and his blessed status from Akatosh, he is not omnipotent. Do not question his judgment in front of us again. You stand here alive today because of his sacrifices and correct judgments. You owe him all you have.”
Reamonn was shocked at the anger displayed and the other Sentinel mirrored it with scowls and body language. They had all seen me have a guilt trip over my encounter with the Affliction and Afflicted.
“Forgive me. It is frustration that speaks. There are those trying to find a cure. Just ask at the temples.”
I asked, “So these people in the house. Have they summarily been sentenced to death like the poor charred souls we see all over this accursed land?”
“They told us of their affliction and asked to be cleansed.”
“Why wasn’t this thought through better? Or is it a matter of funding? Why burn them to death? Why not kill then burn? Use marksman to bring them down cleanly with minimal suffering and then burn? What this is doing is inflicting a cruel death on the innocent and turned it into a game for the poor bastards doing it. I was told the lords fear mages and thus the priests have taken over the production of potions and other healing via the Restoration School. Yet here you have proficient users of the Destruction School becoming psychopaths. And why burn the whole house? The disease is not spread by touching surfaces. The level of incompetence I have seen in my few days here fills me with dread.”
“I do not know who made this edict but since the ‘psychopaths’ have been provided by the crown there is no cost to the lords whose lands need cleansing. So unfortunately you may be right about the funding being the reason for this solution.”
“We have witnessed a Witchmen with the Affliction. I doubt Peryite is in collusion with other Daedric Princes. Some Afflicted may have been instructed to deliberately spread the condition by Namira via her devoted. The ugliness it inflicts on the sufferers would please her dark soul. Some may even volunteer to be Afflicted to gain her approval.”
“Then I beg if you have the chance, aid those seeking a cure.”
“I will. Now I wish to know about your ability to find stolen relics.”
“I first came back to High Rock because the priest requested my skills, Alteration to be exact, familiar with that art?”
I cast Dragonhide on myself which is a master level Alteration spell. I looked at Serana and she got the clue and did the same to herself. He saw how much about the Alteration School we knew.
“I was Arch Mage of the College of Winterhold. I have master level skills in all five schools.”
“Oh, of course, I forget who you are sometimes. I have a technique I have honed. I can scour large tracts of land for things both significant, and relevant, to our interests. Recently my focus has been on one such thing, gauntlets belonging to the blessed and venerated War Knight, Mados. The items have vanished and no one had any answer as to where. Until now of course, with the help of yours truly they have been located.”
“We were told of where to retrieve his ring. By your mode of dress, Skaal furs, the gauntlets are somewhere cold and you think we will go to retrieve them and you wish to accompany us.”
Reamonn looked disturbed and Angus said, “As Serana said, he ain’t omnipatient… or whatever that word was. He don’t read minds either. I asked him once and he said mine was too small to find anyway. He is just a smart arse.”
“His Royal Smart Arse to you peasant”
“Get royally fucked, sir.”
Reamonn shook his head and continued, “The gloves are far to the north, way beyond this kingdom’s grasp. Most strange is how far below the earth my search took me. To the depths of a Dwemer ruin.”
“Wow! That is an amazing ability you have there. If only you could tell us how these things were removed from the temple and how they got to these places and why?”
“My abilities only go so far friend, if I were able to peer into the past then most of our problems would be solved. Alas, we deal with what we’re handed. Yet we can rule out a number of suspects who could hazard that voyage, a start at least.”
“It would be terrible to find someone you have trusted has handed these things over to an enemy. For surely only an enemy could travel such distances in hostile territory.”
He looked a bit pale at the suggestion and said, “Yes, I would feel terrible at such a betrayal.”
“I wasn’t talking about feeling terrible, I was referring to the mood I would be in. My Dovah would rip the person apart.”
“So yes, we will go find the gauntlets and you can accompany us if you wish.”
“But first we have to get the ring from those nearby ruins. Mark the location of the Dwemer ruins on my map and off we go!”
He must have thought we had already retrieved the ring. Now he really could not refuse an extra trip into danger. He marked my map mumbling under his breath.
With that we set off for the ruins with our reluctant guest.
Weak shades came out to greet us as we approached and were easily cut down.
When we got to the front arched entrance Ulkarin intoned, “May all the lost souls of this fort find peace. The Reach will remember what Mados and his men did for us.”
There was another possessed Storm Atronach.
Serena exclaimed, “I have no idea how you can do that. Leaving a permanent possession on an Atronach is a new one to me.”
“There might be a curse over the site that takes no notice of species. That would explain it.”
We found a note written by a soldier from the night of the Orc attack, thirty years prior. I read it out loud,
“The Orcs are relentless, hammering on the town of Raven Spring like wolves to deer. We don’t know how these fanatics managed to become so numerous over the years. They call themselves ‘Orsinium’s Sons” and are a splinter faction from Orsinium.
They have been terrorizing small hamlets all along the Bjoulsae river and any vulnerable settlement that borders the great cliffs. Impaling most but having their fun with the women first. They pillage and rape then move onto the next town, utilizing intimidation and fear to sunder the locals resolve. Using sudden acts through ritual to completely decimate their enemies.
I hear news that such a ritual is being performed deep in the quagmire aimed at this very fort. A gathering of shamans guarded by many footmen. We’ll have to see this imminent doom quelled before we see The Reach fall to these war mongers.
Mados leads the detachment of Imperials and Evermore Guard. The divine armour he wields invokes courage in us all. I swear I could see the face of Mara staring back at me every time I glanced upon it.”
I said, “I do not think Malacath had the power then to aid his followers in such a way. He certainly does not have the power now since he wasted so much on the Oblivion Gate I destroyed a few years ago. The Orcs would not follow another Daedric Prince. I think they are being fooled into believing their new shaman powers came from him. When we destroyed the large Orc outpost a few days ago they had already constructed a large statue of Malacath. Bigger then the nearby one for Lady Mara so a lot of resources went into it.”
Rayya asked, “Would they be so easily fooled?”
“Malacath rarely speaks to them. Their Shamans says he talks through them. It would be easy to fool them with fake Shamans. Do you know what is really disturbing Rayya?”
“The lords of this land quickly banded together to wipe out the serfs yet only the Imperials came to aid when the Orcs threatened. The nobles of this land showing warped values once again. And I bet the exodus of the innocent Orcs is very recent, correct Reamonn?”
“Yes, the rebels have been here for decades but only recently has there been such dread of an imminent massacre that they flee their homes and country. We still do not know where they are going to.”
We stood at the entrance to the fort and I said, “Something is not right. The defenders have so far been very weak. My instincts tell me that should not be the case. So be ready for anything.”
The corridors were similar to many forts built by the Imperial Army. Full of narrow corridors with regular recesses where a person could step aside and allow others to pass.
There was a mist that sometimes gathered in enough concentration to be easily visible. It had no dweomer I could detect.
We were soon wading in water. There were many portcullis blocking tunnels.
We came to a room with rotting floorboards. Underneath was a fast flowing stream.
“Intuition tells me we need to follow that stream. Such intuition in the past led me to leaps off a bridge into such a stream and allowed me to find the last Snow Elves.”
Reamonn exclaimed, “I have seen many Falmer!”
“Snow Elves and they are my friends. Not the monsters the Dwemer turned them into.”
“But the histories say they were wiped out by the Nords.”
“The histories also say there is no more Minotaur or Ayleid or Giant Welkynd Stone. Yet I have seen all of those. Some histories your priests quote are so far from the truth as to be insulting to a true scholar and even blasphemous in places. That is the problem of not getting a wider education outside of the province or country you serve. You have proven valuable to them because you sought education outside of High Rock.”
“Your talk with the priest last night has started some soul searching. You were not gentle but then this is not the time to be. Perhaps rotating with temples in other places is a solution they could adapt.”
“Maybe when these current problems are resolved they can do that. I know the temples in Cyrodiil and Skyrim already do such mentoring.”
I disintegrated the rotten floorboards with fire.
And then leapt into the stream below.
We found ourselves in more corridors but further down and more towards the centre of the fort. There were more portcullis but the means to open them also visible.
Sometimes the controls were remote.
Pull a lever.
And a portcullis some distance away would retract.
We had only encountered Skeever and a few of those week spirit defenders but could hear something grunting and moving.
We turned a corner and there it was. Once again it looked similar to the other skeleton thingies we had fought on previous days. I could tell straight away this one was far more powerful than the one that morphed from the dead Witchmen.
I could sense Daedric spells being used. Even though I could not detect Daedric dweomer on items, the spells taught by the Dark Lord’s have a distinct signature. I recognised this thing was using some of Hermaeus Mora’s favourites.
I was its intended victim and so it pursued me. Being a target never gets any more comfortable to digest no matter how many times it occurs.
The Sentinel surrounded it but it could teleport and it kept doing so.
I yelled, “We are not damaging it. Like the avatar of Namira, it is being protected by a connection to Oblivion. We need to sever the connection.”
They had no choice but to follow where I went as the creature pursued me with rage and murderous intent. The force of its blows were deadly and The Sentinel found themselves being knocked back when defending with their shields. It was casting many different offensive spells designed to harm multiple opponents who got too close. Serana was constantly healing the others and even with the huge amount of magicka reserves she had, it would drain her soon.
It teleported in front of me and knocked me back into an alcove. There has only been a few times where I feared I was outclassed. This was one of them.
A full Relentless Force Shout would bring even a mammoth to its knees. It moved this thing a few feet so I could run past it. That is one fact for the readers of this journal to note in the distant future. Even the best and bravest mortal fighters know when to run.
The Sentinel were doing a stellar job trying to keep it engaged but eventually it would teleport to me. This could not continue. One mistake, one slow raising of a shield or failure to parry, one serious injury with Serana out of magicka, any of these things could bring death to a friend.
In a small reprieve when I was not fighting it off I stumbled upon the ring atop some weird bone altar. I grabbed it just as a huge hand tried to swipe off my head. I knocked the creaturet back with a Shout and ran away again.
I came to a dead end. My only option was to leap into a pit and hoped it led somewhere.
It did. I found the heart of the thing being fed by those pulsating red vines.
I hit the heart with the strongest fire I could make.
The heart exploded and the sounds of battle ceased.
Near where the heart was were instruments and components of the craftsman who made the creature. It seemed we were facing constructs. They were being created using great skills in necromancy. I have encountered such sickening use of magicka skills before. Many innocent people often die as the person playing god experiments and perfects their craft.
Serana walked in, took a quick look around then said, “Mother would be impressed with the skill shown by such a mortal necromancer. Then kill them for bringing such vileness into existence. There are limits that even she will not cross.”
“We have faced four similar looking creatures with differing abilities. Their powers have increased with each one. I have a feeling we are being tested, that I am being tested. Pure speculation but the evidence seems to fit.”
Calder said, “That had to be the best they have. Unless the make the same thing but twenty feet tall.”
“Let’s go fetch the gloves and see how tall the next one is.”
There was a lever next to the blood covered table that dropped a drawbridge.
That led to a door and the outside.
Reamonn looked concerned and I said to him, “If I find we are being led into traps, each of an increased danger, my wrath will be felt in the furthest corner of High Rock.”
We used to the Derinni Soul Stone in town to teleport to The Maw.
I said to all, “It is already 4:00PM. It will take another hour to hike to the Dwemer ruins. They are never easy things to navigate. It may be well into tomorrow before we emerge back into daylight. I do not intend to rest until we are back in town with the two artefacts. We will eat rations while walking. It will be just like being in the Imperial Army. It should be a fun experience for our two Bosmer friends.”
Everybody laughed, except our two Bosmer friends.
As we approached the snowline Reamonn said, “I have never been this far north. Sad to see any form of civility completely vanishes as you trek through this snow and woods.”
Calder said, “Yeah, just like home.”
Argus added, “Almost brings a tear to the eyes seeing a place like Skyrim.”
I remarked to Reamonn, “Those two are ample evidence you are correct.”
At the gates to the Dwemer city I explained, “Most enemies will be metal and mechanical. Arrows are okay but to save your sword edges, club them with the side of the blade. Dwemer ruins and Falmer are a given pair so there will probably be plenty of things you can chop to pieces.”
We entered and Ulkarin whined, “Like a needle in a haystack, in a field of haystacks. Those gauntlets could be anywhere.”
“Just look for the biggest and meanest bad guy and they will be close by.”
“Great. That is just fucking great!”
We came upon Dwemer art which is very much a rarity in my experience. It depicted a Dwemer soldier with a chain attached to its armour. The chain led to a collar around a Falmer’s neck. There was a plaque in their ancient tongue and glyphs.
Reamonn asked, “Can you read that?”
“I have been learning it slowly. I will try.”
“Even in their most degenerated form, the slave has coveted delusion that the master was good and all there is. Without his tutelage; uncertainty, so the slave finally forgoes thought, and accepts fully what pride repressed; Bondage is destiny.
All praxis used by the master hitherto had fostered fear in the slave, greater than the torture of its servitude, that uncertainty is the worst of all prospects. So the master leads with the torch, battling against this great unseen, all the while holding firm to his chain.”
“Indeed Reamonn. Think of the Dwemer as one of your lords and the Falmer as one of your countrymen born into the life of a bonded serf. Think of any differences while we walk and enlighten me if you can. Now imagine a serf pulling back on the chain or trying to remove its collar. Then more see this and decide to join in the resistance. That is when the real barbarity happens. That is when the people you call noble or royal turn around and massacre those who want the freedoms promised by The Divine and enjoyed by other citizens of the Empire. They will pay for those actions of twenty years ago. The current events are one way. My judgement will come after.”
We were attacked by two Wisp Mothers who were soon killed.
Looming above us was a huge statue of a Snow Elf.
Reamonn continued to judge others by standards the Bosmer do not uphold, “By The Divines, what a sight. The Dwemer were a vain society weren’t they? Then again, most elves share the same trait.”
“Do those markings on your face serve any function other than vanity? Do The Divine demand large statues or are the simple shrines sufficient? Huge statues of Gryphon and past heroes adorn the parts of High Rock I have seen so far. That is a statue of a Snow Elf. Obviously the Dwemer still respected the race annihilated by the Nords and whose survivors were now their slaves. Instead of demonstrating more Bosmer ignorance, try reflecting on the lesson I vainly tried to teach you mere minutes ago.”
We finally made our way into the main complex and Reamonn said, “The gauntlets are deeper within this complex, my exercise drew my mind towards a large cavity within the mountains.”
I looked at Serana and she enacted the Nirn wide mime of male masturbation whilst silently mouthing, “His exercise!”
I had a mouthful of rather dry rations so when I tried to suppress a guffaw and failed it exited my mouth in a spray that covered Reamonn’s back.
As he started cleaning the half chewed food off his fur coat I said, “So sorry, it went down the wrong hole. You said you were thinking about a large cavity when exercising?”
Serena did not try and suppress her laughter and others joined in just at the joy of hearing it.
Reamonn, none the wiser that he was the cause of such hilarity, just turned around and kept walking.
We were not far in when we found the first dead Falmer.
Recent clashes between Falmer and Dwemer machines were a common sight.
We came upon a Dwemer sun ball. Apart from providing artificial sunlight they also seemed to have some religious meaning to the lost race.
I warned, “Careful not to touch it because last time I did a pissed off Dovah was summoned!”
We eventually came to a Dwemer lift which took as much further down into the complex.
We came to a room with a locked door that had another Dwemer lift behind it.
There were six tonal locks, three on each side of the room, that acted as the key.
I said, “Okay, a combination of these tonal locks will open the door. It could take all six in the right order or a lesser number. Every time I get it wrong something bad will happen. Looking around the room, I would say some Dwemer automatons will try and kill us.”
I used my bow to shoot the arms of the tonal keys. The first attempt failed on the fourth key and automatons attacked.
For the second attempt I deliberately started with the two keys not used in the first attempt. It failed at the fourth key and stronger automatons attacked.
“Okay, it looks like a 4 tonal key combination and we get no indication we are wrong till the fourth key is activated. If the automatons get stronger each time then after those two huge ones get activated there should be no more.”
Sure enough we exhausted the store of automatons that were in suspension waiting to mercilessly kill the idiots who did not know the combination.
Eventually the four keys were turned in the right combination and the door to the Dwemer lift opened.
It took us to a familiar sight.
All the others were gasping and commenting about the strange vista before them. Serana asked, “Is this Blackreach?”
“Yes and no. Blackreach was the large city where the Dovah was summoned. But that term is now used to indicate this underground realm. Apparently it is all connected, even if just by Dwemer tunnels, so if you knew the route you could walk all the way to the area we visited in Skyrim.”
Reamonn asked, “You said a city? An abandoned Dwemer city?”
“Not abandoned. Falmer and men and mer coexisted in it. It was fully functional and intact. The men and mer were not slaves or held against their will. It was a society like that of the Witchmen and Bosmer or Forlorn and Nord. Mutual respect allowing their differences to be set aside and a society formed. One day I wish to revisit and try and speak to those who lived with the Falmer. I think they were refugees from the surface who found a better life below. They need not fear self-centred and privileged nobility attacking them and slaughtering them. When met with a threat all joined in the defence and fought side by side. It was confirmation to me that The Divine wish for eternal peace for all mortals is possible.”
We did not go to the surface but stayed on the Dwemer walkways suspended far above.
We came to an Oblivion Gate and a large automaton attacked us. After it was destroyed we approached the gate to inspect it.
In front and no longer functioning was a huge mechanical spider with the face a Dwarf on it.
“Well that is a clue to whose realm this connects to. Namira’s Scuttling Void.”
Calder asked, “Did that automaton destroy this one?”
“I don’t think so. It looks this one was killed by the ballista on top of the ramp. There are levers either side to fire them. They were most likely triggered by the gauntlet thief. That suggests they wanted to go through the gate.”
“Why in Oblivion would they want to go to Oblivion?”
“No idea but if that is where the gauntlets are that is where I go.”
“Don’t you mean us?”
“I have no idea what or who is waiting on the other side. If a Daedric Lord is waiting for me then there is absolutely nothing you lot could do to stop me being killed or captured.”
“We were asked to swear sacred oaths to be your and Rigmor and the unborn tyke’s guardians and you want us to fail in our duties? Unless you order us to stay, we follow. I ask sincerely, please do not order us to stay.”
I looked at The Sentinel and knew what he said was true. If I walk into hell, they regard it as their duty to be beside me. I know what it is like to be a guardian. I have no right to deny them their duty.
“Okay but we have to find a way to open it first. Since we do not have any virgins to sacrifice we had better look for an alternative.”
Calder asked Argus, “Did you finally lose your virginity?”
He replied, “How much money do you spend each month to get rid of those strange rashes on your tiny member?”
Rayya added, “Neither of you have much to boast about compared to even a child Redguard.”
Serana trumped them with, “I think Molag Bal puts any mortal to shame.”
We eventually found another Dwemer lift which took us up to more ramps.
We found a peculiar sight. It looked like any of the thousands of Dwemer heads we had passed except it had a black soul gem stuck in its eye.
“What does that face remind you of?” I asked the group.
Rayya answered, “That creature we fought today. Its eye was missing like that”
I approached it and it said something unintelligible.
“Sorry, if you wish to speak to me you will have to try a different language.”
“It said something else. I recognised it as Cyrodiilic.”
“Close but awkward. Do you know Tamrielic?”
“Translator engaged. W-welcome master, it has been 3782 years since your last log. What tasks would you have me undertake?”
Calder yelled out, “Can you make some mead? Been here almost a week with no mead.”
“P-primitive life form not recognised.”
I glared at Calder and he wisely hid behind Argus.
I asked, “Have you had any visitors besides us lately?”
“Apart from the subjects below, there are no other sentient beings within the facility. I will check for tampering since my time of hibernation.”
It then went through a checklist.
“CENTURIONS… ORIGINAL STRUCTURE REMAINS UNMOLESTED.”
“MICRO-SERVING AUTOMATONS… ORIGINAL STRUCTURE REMAINS UNMOLESTED.”
“INTER PLACE GATE PLATFORM…WARNING! GATE COMPROMISED DURING HIBERNATION… WARNING! BREACH OCCURRED FIVE NIRN CYCLES PRIOR TO CURRENT EVENTS.”
I turned and asked Reamonn, “Were the gauntlets stolen five days ago?”
“That is when it was noticed. It could have been a day or two before that.”
I asked the machine, “Who can operate the gate?”
“Gate mechanics for the portal can only be operated b-by self-aware biological. RELAYING ARCANE FOOTAGE FROM CENTURION.
Biological possessed black item. DISCERNING ITEMS FUNCTION AND AGENTS AGENDA. Item seems to be worn on hand. Agents motive is unknown.”
“Can you open that portal? We need to retrieve that ‘item’”
“Extremely hazardous materials will be encountered through your expedition into Subject Realm #137. Are you sure you want to continue?”
“Is Subject Real #137 the Scuttling Void?”
“Accessing possible meanings… Yes.”
“Yes, open it.”
“A-as you wish M-Master… Power needs to be supplied toward gate platform for operation. F-Find energy director below. B-beware of subjects.”
“How did the biological operate the gate with not enough power?”
“D-drained last reserves.”
“How do I supply the power toward the gate platform?”
“Three valves must be turned.”
We made our way to the ground and were immediately attacked by Falmer.
I taught them how to fly with a Cyclone Shout.
We wandered around trying to find the valves and killing Falmer and Chaurus and Dwemer machines.
We finally found all three. I turned the third and we were ready to return to the talking head thingy.
I approached it and said, “All three valves turned.”
“STEAM HAS REACHED ALL NODES, SUFFICIENT CHARGE FOR GATE APERTURE. NEEDS ACTIVATION AT LOCAL SYSTEM RELAY.
“So we can go visit Namira? What joy that brings to my heart.”
“All systems are primed for your transversal to Subject Realm 137. Activate the gate through accompanied device. May the gods fear the march of enlightenment!”
As we walked to the ‘local system relay’ I said to Reamonn, “In their efforts to understand the very beings who made Mundus and Nirn their arrogance grew. Each new revelation made their chest swell with pride and they dared to think they uncovered secrets deliberately hidden by the immortals. Their reverence for such beings diminished as they mistakenly thought they would soon know all they knew. Somewhere along the line their confidence caused them to vanish in an instant. Some think the Gods punished them for their insolence. I do not believe such. I think they just played with the most fundamental forces and made a mistake.”
“Can you imagine the Falmer? If that inscription you read is accurate, they would have been like a ship without a rudder.”
“They would have had to adapt quickly or perish. It could not have been a time of joy even though their slave masters were gone.”
We reached the platform and I said, “Everybody ready with weapons and spells. As we can see the gate on this side any minions of Namira can see it on the other side. They may have been surprised when it opened for the first time in over three millennia but now they could be like a cat patiently waiting for the mouse to dare poke its head out of its hole again. They may decide to jump through into this realm for the novelty of killing things on this side. Or their Dark Mistress may order them to do so.”
Rayya added cheerfully, “Or they will wait for us to enter and slaughter us on the other side.”
“Thanks for being the morale booster that you are. Ready?”
They all nodded so I pulled the lever.
The room was filled with a blood red glow as the Oblivion Gate came to life.
Nothing leapt through to eat us so that left the pleasant probability of them waiting on the other side.
“You are not coming Reamonn?”
“I am not brave enough to face Oblivion. Besides, if you do not return or come back inside out or whatever I will happily run screaming back to town and inform everybody of your heroic demise.”
“I would keep the screaming down till you get outside.”
“Good idea. I will pray that The Divines protect their Champion and his friends on this journey.”
I told everybody to stand back as I approached the Oblivion Gate. Serana ignored me and stood beside me.
“Can you hear the whispering?” I asked her.
“Yes, but I can’t make out the words.”
“I heard the same whispers coming out of ol’ Morty. I suspect that with his amulet around his neck he can understand what they are saying. That other lover of spiders and creepy crawlies, Mephala, is very much into whispering. I made her shout in anger once. She doesn’t like me much.”
“Ready when you are Wulf. I do not know if I could do this if Molag Bal was waiting for his lost daughter on the other side.”
“I wouldn’t let you. That is why I needed to confirm what realm we are entering. Just the ugliness of the gate is a clue. She really does not like beauty at all.”
I turned and The Sentinel were ready. What have I done to deserve such loyalty?
“Weapons and spells ready. Let’s go!”
I stepped through and the others were seconds behind me.
There were no nasties waiting for us. Looking around I got the sense this was not an infinite plane.
“I think this is a pocket realm. Isolated and created for a single purpose.”
Ulkarin said, “Can you feel that? The ground, feels like its breathing… I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep again, if we make it out of here that is.”
I looked back at the Oblivion Gate. It was just as ugly on this side.
I had a familiar feeling of being observed and I knew who it was. I looked up and there was Hermaeus Mora.
“Look up everybody. We are being watched.”
Ulkarin exclaimed, “Who or what the fuck is that?”
I then yelled, “Come now Hermaeus, is this the way to treat your champion? At least say hello.”
There was no response so I decided to ignore him.
“Look at that construct in front of us.”
Rayya said, “Looks like a giant Flesh Sculpture. I hope there are no giant Witchmen around here.”
There were very few places we could walk to. Blood surrounded the platforms we stood on and had familiar looking tentacles in it. They were not lashing at us though.
Not far from where we entered there was what first looked like a burnt corpse held in position by chains. On closer inspection I had the feeling it was something gestating but not yet complete. The skin was yet to grow.
Serana said, “It is waiting a soul. It is unborn.”
“What do you mean?”
“I do not fully understand it. It is the impression I get from it. It is a product of necromancy but nothing like I have seen before. It is an abomination.”
Nestled in the crook of its bent arm were the gauntlets. I gently removed them.
“Okay, I have the gauntlets. Let’s get out of here.”
We headed back to the Oblivion Gate and were met by a Demon.
It approached and I did not get the impression it was hostile so when I heard the drawing of weapons I gave the hand signal to sheath them.
“There you are, the one to shatter this crimson cage and grant me freedom!”
“That was not why we came here Demon. Who are you?”
“The liberator, accidental or not, wants a name, a moniker for this transient form. Well, you can call me Ambition. I am what I feel, like any man! I am compelled liberator. Pulled towards my wants with great force, a desire converged upon by gods, lords and men. That want is power! The corpse king rotting atop his spire needs a prince, and who better to take up that venerated role than ambition? Palpable, proximal and personal. It is now possible. From this hideous pit emerges royalty who awaits his throne.”
“Not all desire power Demon. Some of us would gladly give it away in exchange for simplicity and peace. My Gods certainly do not want more than they have. You wish to usurp the ‘corpse king”. Is he not supported by the Dark Gods who imprisoned you?”
“Yes, strip away the artifice and cast away pretension. Forgive my joy liberator, becoming aware of a destiny rewritten has made me giddy, yes it has.”
The Demon was breathing heavy.
“A destiny rewritten is not possible. Whatever you think your new destiny is was always your destiny. You have simply become aware of that fact. Demon, mortal or God, that is a fundamental truth of our existence.”
It stood and I could not read its body language. It was foreign to my senses.
“What is the body in the chains?”
“Take in the child yet conceived behind, it gestates in the wanting womb, the very durance which bore me. Liberator, I wish you would kill this child and remove the final hurdle to my rise. Yet every harm is rendered hollow, aren’t they Mother? You covet your child with such fervour. The child is already named, would you believe that liberator? She has called it ‘Whisper’.”
“Another Dark Lord might object to the stealing of her name. No matter. Do you wish me to kill this thing but believe I would be unable?”
“If only we could inflict death to the dead. To ameliorate that contradiction would cease my struggle. Yet it cannot be.”
“Making a contradiction better is a contradiction in itself. Such a thought would amuse a philosopher for years. If I cannot harm Whisper, is there another that is essential to her plan?”
“Yes, there is another who could be the source of your malice, and anchor to ambition, the bank of remembering; the husk. If you see this husk, this frail pathetic… thing, kill it! Bring it low, tear it to pieces and hunt the remaining scintilla of its vessel. And I will be free, truly free.”
“You have given me much to reflect on. I would also like to remove myself from this womb. The concept sickens me and there in another God watching us.”
“Your every inflection will be heard from here to the dying light, your image burned for my future dreams. We will meet again liberator, and I will be pleased to see you. The worm will conquer the mountain as they say!”
“Not a maggot? I get confused which one I am.”
The Demon’s breath was laboured.
“Ha ha. Everything that is ugly, everything that is weak, will all be burned away. And you will join me in this growth, where I had gone from scum to royalty, you will go from nomad to nobility. Then, me and you, will destroy the Dark Mother together! Goodness and beauty will prevail!”
“Goodness will not prevail if mortals are harmed. If they are what you consider weak we will be opposed. I have all the nobility I can stomach. I look forward to the day I can unburden myself of its manacles and chains.”
“Farewell intrepid friend, may we divulge on the last axiom when our paths cross again.”
The Demon ran through the Oblivion Gate and I looked up and said, “Did you takes note Hermaeus? It is rare to see co-operation between your kind. What were you promised, a rare edition of The Lusty Argonian Maid?”
Ulkarin said, “Most of that was way over my head. But I did hear the word womb.”
“You are standing in Namira’s womb. The squishy feeling underfoot and the breathing! Take the wonder in, what an experience!”
Ulkarin went pale and looked around in horror.
Serana said, “Well then, we had better exit via the birth canal then.”
Ulkarin looked at the Oblivion Gate and I can only imagine the thoughts in his head as his face showed revulsion, horror and fear in equal parts.
Argus asked, “Umm, speaking of such. Who thought the Demon’s mouth looked like, umm, you know.”
Serana said, “I don’t know. Does anybody else know? You will have to make yourself clearer Argus.”
He replied, “You know, ladies parts.”
Serana said, “A cunny? I think you have been without female company too long. Perhaps Calder can take you to one of the local brothels. His frequent user discounts probably apply in High Rock as well.”
All this was being said whilst we headed for the exit from Oblivion. It was an expression of relief after the tension that built upon entering.
We exited and I approached Reamonn looked terrified and I asked him, “You saw something I take it?”
“Bloody Ma-, almost took her name in vane! What in all hells was that?”
“It was a Demon, freshly birthed from the pulsating womb of Namira. Apparently we are destined to be good friends.”
“It was definitely something, Demon or not it was downright sinister looking regardless. I had feared the worse for you.”
“As trips to Oblivion go, that was a walk in the park, or womb.”
“I’ve not the courage to face such a beast my friend. I hid behind the manifold contraptions, eager to see that Demon gone.”
“It was not hostile and we had an interesting talk. Let us get you back home.”
“You spoke with it? What did it say?”
“It spoke of its needs and its wants.”
“The priests advise those haunted by accursed spirits to shield their ears as one can easily find themselves ravelled in their plots”
“Sometimes I need to pretend to be interested in their scheming and plans. At all times I have my Divine purpose and the love of my wife to guide me and keep me safe from entanglement. As for the priests, people would not need to shield their ears if they were allowed to live according to Ten Commandments of The Nine.”
“You seem to retain you sanity. Not even the temptations of Oblivion can sway you.”
“You have no idea of what deals they have tempted me with. The scary part is that Daedric Princes do not equivocate when discussing such offers and their very nature prevents them from reneging on a deal verbally agreed. Even our Demon friend made an offer of sorts that sounds great, but I have yet to read the fine print.”
“This had been an enthralling experience friend. It has been fraught with perils and terrors yet exciting nonetheless. However, we have got what we came for! We do have it don’t we?”
I held up the gauntlets.
“And on that note, we should make our ways for the relative safety down south.”
“Before we move out, why do you think the gauntlets were moved here?”
“No clue, this meddling with Mados’ apparel seems irrational, although we have noticed a trend of them being left near creatures that are notably hideous.”
“Yesterday I said it appeared each time a more powerful creature opposed us. There was no such creature thing this time. Somebody wants me to visit these places. What if they want me to see and do things either to educate myself or further their agenda or both? What do you think of that theory?”
“I, I don’t know. The theft of these relics had apparently stopped since we locked away Mados’ remaining gear. That leads me to believe that the thief isn’t as powerful as we were lead to believe. But its motives are still unclear.”
“Maybe the thefts have stopped because the thief has led me to all the places he or she wanted.”
“I don’t know.”
I smiled at him and he knew I suspected he was the thief. All I had to do is figure out who he is working for.
It was just after noon when we exited the Dwemer ruins. About an hour later we were back in Arnima and Reamonn headed to the temple. I told him we would be there soon.
I intended to discuss my concerns with Serana but before I had the chance a young Khajiit girl approached me and exclaimed, “I choose you!”
“Excuse me young lady. What is your name and what have you chosen me for?”
“Oh, my name is Dusk. Garth told me I can choose a protector if I agree to come up with him to see the big bird! And so I choose you!”
“Nice to meet you Dusk. Tell me is the big bird a Gryphon or a very large chicken?”
“Lord Gryphon, but a very large chicken sound interesting as well.”
“Why choose me?”
“People say you are a strong fighter and the Imperials are supposed to help. You can protect us from anything that comes at us when we see Lord Gryphon.”
“Why do you want to see Lord Gryphon?”
“Haven’t you seen him? He has finally come back after all these years to give us good luck! And Garth said I can be the first to meet him!”
“Is it safe for you to get so close to Lord Gryphon?”
“Garth says so. Come on, will you join us? Please, don’t be a little chicken!”
“Let me speak to your carer first.”
“He is not my carer! I can handle myself! Garth said he’s going to bring me back to Evermore if we don’t go see Lord Gryphon. Please, anywhere but Evermore again.”
“What is wrong with Evermore?”
“I am not allowed to say. Please speak to Garth.”
I approached Garth and he immediately made my skin crawl. I asked him, “Are you Garth?”
“Are you stupid? I just saw the girl point me out.”
“You’re taking this girl to see a Gryphon? Is that safe?”
“Bah, the audacity of you! Do you greet every stranger with suspicion?”
“Only those who lure young girls out of home to show them a Gryphon. So I ask again, is it safe for the girl to be close to a Gryphon?”
“Not only do you question my morals, you sully our revered guardian! Fortune favours you for I am a man of faith, not a man of blood. If I was a more zealous soul then you’d have faced judgement for that slight.”
“You scare me. Such a mighty warrior I wonder why you need my puny assistance with this task.”
“Let’s not speak of this any longer as I can only stomach so much indiscretion. Will the mighty Imperial Army help a little girl fulfil her wish or should I hire a common sell sword?”
“Of course we will. What is the plan?”
“Give me your map and I shall mark where to meet. We will await your arrival at the cliff edge there. Do not dally! We’ve not much time till the Gryphon departs again.”
“I am a General and have responsibilities that I can’t escape. If it is acceptable we will meet you there before noon tomorrow.”
“I suppose that will have to do.”
“Are you not afraid of meeting Exiles of Witchmen on the way to that cliff?”
“No, the path has been cleared. The danger is on the last part.”
“I am not familiar with this Kingdom. I have to ask once again, is the Gryphon safe to approach?”
“Tepid are we? The Gryphon doesn’t entertain itself with the fears of low-born. The Gryphon is only riled through great heresy or treason. Their marble figures found in every city, their presence felt by every loyal subject.”
“Sounds like you worship it?”
“Do not forget it outsider! The Gryphon is second only to the Gods in this land. The Kingdom owes its strength to them, the most divine of Mara’s creations, imbued with her undying generosity. This very Gryphon we are yet to see hasn’t graced our land for near twenty years, having departed after sundering that uprising of heretical peasants.”
“I did not know he participated in that battle?”
“Those savage heathen and those who owe their lord’s all they have attempted a little commune together. It was a heinous sight and a direct violation of divine authority. They say that even wives were shared up there!”
“No, Dibella must have been so ashamed of those nasty people enjoying physical relations!”
“Yes, and eventually our most revered nobility took it upon themselves to end the madness and disseminated great justice upon the wretches.”
“Of course, and the young children they massacred were obviously tainted by the Dark Lords themselves!”
“I see you are a man of faith. May the reach show mercy on you.”
Dune looked over at me and I gave her a nod. She was elated.
Serana came up and said, “He is the sleaziest person we have met so far in High Rock!”
“I could have just taken the girl off his hands and beat him till he told me what is going on. Have I done the right thing letting him take her up there just so I can find the real story behind it all?”
“You do not know if he is the only one doing this. Like Skooma dealers, you can take out the small fry and miss out on taking down the supplier or play along and gather the evidence. And if you keep second guessing yourself I shall write to Rigmor and she can box your ears from Cyrodiil.”
“There is much I want to discuss but let us get the unpleasant business of the priests first.”
We walked into the temple. The priest and Reamonn were waiting for us.
“Here is the ring priest.”
“Our bygone hero should never be without his possessions. I am sure Mados is smiling upon you.”
I did not tell him about the creature encountered. I did not want to talk to him at all. If he started sprouting some bullshit theory I might have shamed myself by punching him out in the middle of a temple. Talos would laugh but the others would give me a stern, “Tut tut! Naughty boy!”
“The missionary and I also retrieved his gauntlets. He can fill you in on the details of both adventures. Now is there anything else you need me for while I am here.”
“Yes, you could not have timed your return more perfectly! Our Lord Mortifayne has been scheduled to meet with an Advisor from the Divide. Merosa dares not attend herself lest our lord bring out her worst. So this small conference will be our opportunity to mount pressure on Mortifayne such that he will forgo his tyranny for a moment thus bringing even further opportunity for reform.”
“This will not help. He is doing what he does for a purpose you are not aware of. Putting extra pressure on him is futile and dangerous. If I was to play my part as Emperor this meeting would not take place. As an Imperial General I will watch and let him know the Empire is watching.”
“You do not trust us with all you know. That is understandable after our recent discussion. It is sufficient you be there as General for the purpose you espoused.”
“When is the meeting?”
“Like I said, your timing is impeccable. If you head for the path to his keep they should gather there anytime soon.”
“I will be there and do not dare lecture me on how to conduct myself. Remember who I am.”
Reamonn started to walk away and I said, “Wait, I wanted to congratulate you. You held your own out there. You knife work was quite impressive for a book worm.”
“Like I said, not a mission without a shiv in my boot.”
“A subtle hint at your real profession. Would I find just jail tattoos or those that identify a particular thieves guild or both?”
“That would’ve been quite a lark in fact! Seriously though, when you find yourself in a place like that, it is wise not to get any permanent mementos.”
“I just killed everybody and escaped a prison nobody had ever escaped from before. Then I came back in the front door and killed the corrupt guards. You do not have to be guilty of a crime to end up incarcerated.”
“No, you do not. What about the city guards? Were they not upset at such action?”
“They were corrupt too. I killed every single one of them. They were all working for a lord who was co-operating with the King of the Forlorn and allowing atrocities to occur for the sake of a few extra septims. I killed the Forlorn King as well.”
“Why tell me this?”
“You need to understand that nobody is safe from my anger if they conspire to stop my work for The Divine. A prison or thieves guild history I can accept. Any sign of working for a Daedric Prince in opposition to The Divine I cannot.”
“That is far-fetched, friend. Just accept that when you are a missionary in The Reach, you have both time and incentive to learn some self-defence.”
“I could make you tell me the truth and you would not even remember doing so. But that is not how I work and never will. Some say it is a weakness in my current position. I say I would not be the man my wife loves if I went down that path. So I will accept you are not telling me something and hope you work towards the same goal.”
“Time will tell. It is a peculiar feeling though, suspecting a person is not what they make out to be. I bet everybody who has met you lately has it.”
I smiled at him and we walked out to the meeting with ol’ Morty.
We stood around for several minutes with an awkward silence punctuated by the odd shuffling of feet or readjustment of weapons.
It was dead on 5:00PM when the priest arrived and the meeting proceeded as I predicted,
- Mortifayne: I see the Imperial’s are here to witness. I hope any report back to the Emperor will contain warnings that not everything is known to all parties.
- Wulf: I will report verbose without my opinion. I swear by Mother Mara that the Emperor will hear an exact account of what is spoken.
- Mortifayne: You have been candid in your dealings with me so I accept you assurance.
- Wulf: Thank you your Highness.
- Mortifayne: Well down to business. What is it advisor? The hag couldn’t speak to me herself?
- Advisor: Governor Merosa had become increasingly distressed following the rumours and supposed activity within this town. And has spoken to the royalty of Evermore. They discussed the claim of this fiefdom, and your position in it. If you do not cease with the disruption of trade, your privileges will be relinquished.
- Mortifayne: Enough! You’ve barked well past your merit. Tell that dog faced shrivelled old bitch that of she meddles any further with this town…
- Priest: Please Mortifayne, consider what you are saying.
- Mortifayne: Did I grant you the luxury to interrupt? Address me with my name again and your neck will be kissing the axe.
- Priest: Yes, I am sorry…
- Wulf: Stop priest as that apology is not required. Any attempt to break the rules of parley will be met by my sword and the offender dead or imprisoned. Be that lord, commoner, priest or pretend knight. I say this with the authority of the laws of The Empire. Understood your Highness?
- Mortifayne: Understood, I let my temper get the better of me. As for you Advisor, relay the message to that crone, that if she dares poke her nose within Arnima again, her bridge will fall into the current below.
- Advisor: Understood, I will part with your words so he can hear them.
The meeting finished and I confronted the priest.
“Explain exactly what is happening. If you do not want me to fill these streets with legionnaires, be truthful and concise.”
“It was, as you predicted, an attempt to squeeze blood from a stone. Mortifayne, in all his ‘wisdom’ has deemed it fit to sever ties with our neighbours. Now we wait for Merosa’s response. Be assured it will not be pretty. All these years and our lord has become even more bitter. He’ll never forget what happened all those years ago, was it her death? Or is it the state of this town? Both?”
“It will be a disaster if Evermore steps in or Merosa tries something rash. A Daedric Prince wants desperately for either of those two events to occur. It is the same Daedric Prince who had his wife murdered. If I do not resolve this diplomatically a new King will rule this land. This King will be placed on an unholy throne and will conquer all of High Rock and beyond. Your lord’s excesses will be a thing of fond nostalgia for your people. If you have any loyalty to your liege then pray I succeed as that is the only way his soul can be saved.”
“Reamonn quickly briefed me on what you encountered and that you recovered the gauntlets from Oblivion. He said a Demon emerged from that unholy place. We are playing politics whilst there is far more at stake than trade and territory disputes. We are not looking in the right place for our woes are we?”
“No and I have seen this over and over including the recent events in Cyrodiil that led me to the Ruby Throne. We need to stop this bickering but we also need to improve the outlook for the common people. Give them reason to hope and the power of the Dark Lords lessons.”
“Once again I can only think this is divine providence. You have helped restore Mados’ armour to completeness. Rumours have recently stirred about a descendant of Mados residing not too far from Evermore. He lives in a hamlet called Tebandra.”
“You wish us to approach this man and ask him to wear the armour. To be seen as Mados returned.”
“Yes, the armour still shows its majestic craft after all these years. It is a symbol of hope and Mother Mara’s infinite compassion and love.”
“I suspect it is imbued with strong dweomer only triggered by blood of Mados’ lineage. Like the Amulet of The Kings and other artefacts I have encountered.”
“Correct. The dweomer will be triggered and the ancient runes glow for all to see.”
“How close is his blood to Mados?”
“He is his paternal grandson. His name is Rados and reportedly a large fellow due to his work as a blacksmith.”
“Does he have any martial skill?”
“I do not know but with you and ‘The Sentinel’ by his side he would look like a seasoned warrior. Just him being on a battlefield would increase the moral and effectiveness of the guards and other men at arms.”
“Is there are urgency to this?”
“There is a gathering of Witchmen to the north. They are engaged in some communion. Nothing before had been quite like it.”
“They are preparing for the coming of their promised King. Restlessly waiting for the petty politics of this region to end in enough death and chaos to trigger his return. I must attend to something early tomorrow then I shall see if we can give the people a new Mados.”
“You may question my devotion but it is sincere. I will do what I can with the politics and pray to The Divines for your success.”
I said to The Sentinel, “It is about time for a good hot meal. Let us head for the Embassy and finally put our feet up. Serana, we will need to talk about some of the gobblygook that has occurred.”
We walked to the Embassy with light chatter and the enjoyment of being with friends.
We all sat in the mess and impressed the local garrison with our supernatural ability to make food vanish and mead to disappear even quicker.
Serena and I retired to my room with the other Sentinel preventing any snooping.
“I think I know what the demon was going on about. He wants me to kill ol’ Morty. He is the ‘Husk’ ready to receive the unborn child in that unholy womb.”
“That makes sense but there must be a reason they need to use an existing mortal body rather than impregnate a mortal woman.”
“A pregnancy involving the child of a Daedric Prince may not be viable. Maybe it could never be full term of even anywhere near it.”
“So to have the soul and heritage desired they replace his essence. He is hopeful he will be allowed to die and not suffer the horror of experiencing another soul inhabiting his body and mind.”
“He is also convinced some mercy will be shown to his people if he co-operates. They picked him as the Husk because his personality allowed for easy manipulation. They took advantage of the worst aspects to seed the chaos and hatred that will result in an attempt to replace him.”
“That also distracted others from what was really happening. They concentrate on their political games whilst the plan proceeds unheeded.”
“Divide and conquer. It works for immortals and mortals alike. This is exactly how Molag Bal’s plan almost worked. Morag and her husband started the ball rolling by taking the Ruby Throne and handing out thousands of ex-bandits dressed as soldiers to the Counts. A bit of playing the political game by Morag and the greed of the nobility gave impetus to the chaos that hid her agenda. Exactly the same, petty local politics whilst evil is right under their noses and growing in strength. It is what threatens our ability to defend against the Akaviri. Internal bickering preventing the much stronger defence that unification provides.”
“And they will keep using the same tactics because mortals rarely learn from the past. They always think they can do better than the failures before them. That there was nothing wrong with the plan, just incompetent implementation.”
“So what do we do next? We can’t avoid taking care of the creep and the little girl. That we will have to play by ear as I have no idea what his game is.”
“Nothing good and I know her fear of Evermore will play on your mind. If we find evil within the rulers of that place it will be almost impossible for you to negotiate with them. Your wish for a diplomatic solution may vanish.”
“Mados reborn is a great idea. Let is hope his grandson thinks so as well.”
“You look tired Wulf. Do your journal and get some sleep. Rigmor needs you to return confident you have done as well as you could. Your recent lack of confidence is worrying. Do not second guess yourself. Goodnight Emperor.”
I sat to do my journal and instead found myself reading the books I had pinched from ol’ Morty. Yet another candidate for Namira’s King presented itself in the disturbing details of that ancient history.
I crawled into bed and turned all thoughts of the troubles in High Rock aside. Replaced them with my cherished memories of Rigmor. Every word, touch, smell and emotion stored and ready for use when my mind is so troubled.
I know not what time I fell asleep.