High Rock: Feathered evil and temple tasks.
We set off to meet the little Khajiit girl, Dusk, and the ‘priest’ who was with her at about 7:00AM.
A tree had long ago fallen across a ravine. The bridge was quite a distance further so without second thought I crossed using the dead trunk. The Sentinel did not say a word as they followed. I thought how Rigmor would delight in this simply because it would jog childhood memories.
We had to fight quite a few Exile on the way to the meeting place. There is no way Garth could have bribed his way through. Our sense of unease about the man increased.
There campsite was just outside a mine entrance. A mine I was certain would be full of Exile but I did not want to risk a melee with a little girl so close.
I approached the kitten and said, “Good morning Dusk.”
“Hellooo! You came to meet us! We were waiting up here in the cold and now I have a runny nose.”
“I think you may be upside down!”
“I am not!”
“Then why does your nose run and your feet smell?”
One of the best sounds in the world is a child’s laughter. We were gifted with Dusk’s.
“You are silly!”
“Sorry about your runny nose. We got here as quick as we can. Do you have a kerchief?”
“Nah, I just wipe it on my sleeve!”
She then wiped her snot all over her sleeve and said, “Ta da! It’s all gone see!”
“Wow, a magic kitten!”
“Haha! You are really silly! Come on, let’s go meet Lord Gryphon. I don’t like staying here, it’s cold and scary.”
I approached Garth and said, “Let us go, the child is eager to see the bird.”
“By Kyne you made it! What took you so long?”
“We had to fight a lot of Exiles. They did not seem the type to take small bribes. More likely to slit your throat and use Dusk for sport.”
“Enough small talk, we are already late, soon the Gryphon will depart and we may never pay witness to its arrival again!”
“And how do you know this Gryphon’s schedule? What makes you think it is a fleeting visit? When I saw it fly over the Divide nobody seemed surprised. That told me it was a common sight in these parts.”
“It does not matter. Come, come, as you said, the girl grows restless, so do I.”
With that we started the fairly long walk to where the Gryphon was supposed to meet Dusk.
Calder came up to me and whispered, “There is no way they bribed their way through that lot. Plus that mine they were camped out front of, lots of foot prints coming in and out.”
“He is no priest. He is wearing no amulet of any of The Nine. He went on yesterday about how Gryphons were made by Lady Mara which is utter bullshit. He is up to something and he expects us to watch him do it otherwise it would be suicide to bring us.”
“Or if the Gryphon is involved he thinks we would be too weak to object or win a fight.”
“I think Lord Gryphon may soon die under our swords. If he flies The Sentinel can pepper him with dozens of arrows in seconds. Just be on guard.”
Some of the mountains were spectacular.
After a good hour of climbing Dusk got tired of the sedate pace and rushed ahead. I said to Garth, “Aren’t you worried about Dusk meeting the Gryphon without you?”
“No. He might sniff her and stare at her but she will be safe.”
“I am not risking a little girl’s life on your assurance. I do not trust you Garth. This is not right.”
I ran ahead and caught up with Dusk. She was standing on a raised dais and the Gryphon came in to land on a rock ledge in front of her.
As Garth said he would, the bird stared at Dusk and did an occasional sniff with his huge beak.
Eventually Garth caught up and said, “Lord Gryphon, I present to you the Khajiit maiden called Dusk.”
“Yes, let me have a final gander and smell of her, for that which glitters is not always gold. If she smells of corruption like the last then you will know my ire Pilgrim.”
“I apologise again for the last girl. My liege had sullied her and she did not tell me. This time I have checked myself and I promise you, oh so magnificent Gryphon, Dusk is pure!”
Dusk asked the creature, “Want a kiss Lord Gryphon? Want someone to stroke your fur Lord Gryphon?”
When no reply came she turned to Garth and asked, “Can I touch him Garthy?”
He replied, “Farewell, little dove. May Mara welcome your ascent.”
The Gryphon landed in front of Dusk and I leapt between them.
“Serana, zap that piece of shit so he doesn’t move.”
Serana paralysed Garth and I addressed the monster before me,
“You will not touch this girl. Since when do Gryphons eat children and why?”
“There is a desire to shirk this fearsome vessel, from which those of tender flesh and mind can supplant my material cloak so that I may wander as the eaten, for but a moment.”
“You experience their brief life as you digest them?”
“As this motley mixture of irresponsibility and innocence swirls in my belly, their soul exclaims vociferously a life that I can enjoy. My mind wanders within the memories of the girl, I enjoy life. Spectres are drawn against the foreground, friends and family of the tyke; I walk on and collapse into their embrace. Momentarily indolent, I enjoy pleasures imperceptible. Yet the child fades, the earth receives the excreted and I find the haunting ‘real’ beckon again. These eyes are then centred to gander upon a dying world once more.”
“You think Nirn is dying? It is far from it! It is alive and the wonderful, creative, and infinitely variable mortal lives make it a pleasure to observe with anything above the rudimentary idiocy of a Gryphon.
This child offered you real love. She radiated wonder and warmth towards what she thought was a noble being worthy of praise and affection.
You are indeed of low intelligence to believe your brief travels amongst the memories of dead children can compare to the love of even a single one. You could have children visit here and talk to you and groom you and experience their lives through their voices, stories and affection. You could have watched them play and interact and learn what compassion and friendship is. You could have discovered how wonderful life and this world are by pondering the infinite questions their enquiring minds ask.
Instead you think your life is worth more than theirs. That you have some sort of right to kill those I am sworn to protect. That you can justify ending beauty with terror.
Demanding virgin female children is the final indication of you complete ignorance of what corruption is. If somebody has forced themselves upon a child they can’t possibly leave a stain on that child’s soul as they know not what the adult is asking for or has no choice in the matter.
Even if their immoral act somehow transferred 100% of the adult’s foulness, it would be but a tiny percentage of your own.
I am going to kill you and send your soul to the darkest reaches of the void.”
“Thou dare to sully this regal image with caustic rhetoric! Will this be the day you have chosen to slip from corporeality?”
“Do you even have the slightest idea to whom you speak? I am Dragonborn and Champion of The Divine. I have fought Gods and killed many creatures infinitely more powerful than you. I am what regal is and does. Whilst you sit preening your feathers I am gathering more experiences and love than your puny mind can imagine. Just shut up and die you boring piece of shit!”
“The tyke longs for… “
This huge thing in front of me was a giant Thalmor with wings. I could not stand it any longer so drew “The Sword”, used a Slow Time Shout and almost ended its life in seconds.
It managed to lift off and fly away as fast as it could but not before at least half a dozen arrows from The Sentinel thudded into its broken body.
Dusk jumped from the altar and ran crying.
“Serana, you know what to do. You others, go with Serana and block any view of what is about to happen here. The Dovah is going to play with Garth.”
When they were a fare distance away I cast dispel magic and Garth’s paralysis ceased.
He threw punches at me yelling, “How dare you attack one of Mother Mara’s creations? The girl was destined to ascend and now you have condemned her to a life of poverty and misery.”
I allowed my Dovah to come out and Garth soon found himself on the ground with my hands squeezing the life out of him.
“You heard what I told that abomination. I am the Dragonborn and know a lot more about our Gods than you. I was sent here by Mother Mara herself to wipe out the filth poisoning this kingdom. You are part of that filth. You have somehow taken the God of love and family and made her into some bitch that would welcome the sacrifice of children. I think you are really a follower of a Daedric Prince.”
He was starting to pass out so I let him breath. Not because I was hoping he was going to answer my question. I wanted his suffering to last.
“No… I am a true follower of Mother Mara and you blaspheme against her.”
I started squeezing again.
“You are not even wearing her amulet. I was going to ask how many children you have brought up here and if you are the only one but no need. The piles of bones tells me there were way too many for a pathetic fool like you to make all those trips. Does the Gryphon shit on top of the pile to make your life easier or do you have to go looking for the heaps of dung that were once children? How did you get past the Exiles? I bet you brought other children up and handed them to the Exiles for sport. Probably take the rejects back down to them as well. I can see by your face I know your guilt there as well. There will be more than one of you and I will kill them all. I would like to play with you longer but the Emperor banned torture and, since he is I, I can’t really disobey the law. You will enjoy this bit. As you start to black out you will see the void approach. Darker and darker till it is beyond any blackness you have experienced. Your soul will fight to remain and you may blink in and out of consciousness, enjoying lighter shades of grey for brief moments, but eventually it will give up. Then you will be in your new home! You will have an eternity to enjoy the complete lack of light and sound.”
His eyes widened in fear as he recognised the truth I spoke. He made a few futile attempts to escape his fate then life slowly ceased it struggle and his soul joined others condemned to travel the void until pity takes them to another afterlife. Some, like Potema, will never find pity and never leave the void.
I walked up to Dusk and The Sentinel moved away to give us some privacy.
She looked up at me with confusion and sadness across her face and tears streaming.
Dune cried, “What did you doooo? What did you do to Garth???”
“Did Serana tell you what Garth was doing?”
“Yes, they were lies! Please tell me she spoke lies.”
“Sorry Dusk, Serana spoke the truth. It was Garth who told lies. He lied about this Gryphon. I am sure there are real nice ones but this one isn’t. It was going to eat you and Garth did not care as long as the Gryphon was pleased.
“No way! Garth took me from that damn city and away from that damn King. He saved me! Now he is dead!!!”
“That is how a lot of evil works. When you are really miserable, somebody who is not really nice can easily convince you they are nice. They say just the right things to make you want what they promise.”
“How can I trust anybody then? How am I supposed to know if they are fibbing or not? How can I tell if they are just pretending to be nice? I am just a kid. I have no home now do I? I’m lost, all alone. Please, don’t be another one who ends up hurting me. Where can I go? Does anybody care?”
I sang Rigmor’s song,
“There is a small child lost in the dark, in my dreams, she’s still there.
She had fallen down and she waits. Will someone come? Might someone care?
Her heart, she’ll give you, her love be true. Where’s her Dragonborn, to save her, to never let her go.”
Tears came unbidden.
Dusk said, “Sorry I do not have a kerchief to give you but sleeves are good for tears as well.”
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and said, “Ta da! They are all gone see!”
“Only the visible ones are gone. Sometimes you learn to keep them inside because you get beaten for showing how sad you are.”
“What happened to your parents Dusk?”
“They were killed by men in Skyrim for driving our cart through their town. I was too quick and sneaky and kept running till I came to High Rock. Nobody picked on me for being Khajiit here.”
“What happens in Evermore that makes you scared?”
“The King has children presented to him and they are sometimes never seen again. Their ghosts wander Evermore and nobody cares as we are not even noble. He has the right as he is King. The places that are supposed to look after us let him pick and choose. I think it is the only time it was good to be Khajiit. We are not his favourite.”
Tears were now joined by a burning anger.
Dusk asked, “I heard you tell the evil bird you are the Dragonborn. Who was the little girl and did you save her?”
“Have you heard of High Queen Rigmor?”
“Of course I have silly! She is very pretty, even if not Khajiit, and brave and lots of girls want to be like her.”
“She was the little girl alone in the dark. She is now my wife. I am the Emperor.”
“Why cry if the song has a happy ending?”
“Because my friends and I have had to rescue many children lost in the dark. It makes me sad that they were alone and frightened and hurt. It makes me sad you were.”
“You are the Emperor so you could kill the evil King in Evermore!”
“I do not like killing even though I am very good at it. I will have to investigate, that means see if there are witnesses to what you say. Sometimes people are accused of things and they are innocent. If guilty of crimes then I must consider his punishment. It is not a chore I like.”
“Are you going to rescue me Dragonborn?”
“I have two schools for children who have had bad experiences. Nearly 200 children now and more schools will be opened, even in High Rock someday. At those places the children know the adults are good people plus they have each other to tell their stories to. It doesn’t matter if boy or girl, Khajiit, Argonian, man or mer. They are all equal and respect each other and help each other when sad.”
“I could go to one of them?”
“Do you have family, Uncles or Aunties or Grand-sires?”
“Not any that I am comfortable with. Even Khajiit can have bad kittens and they blame it on the moons.”
“If there is nobody you feel comfortable with we will let you into one of our schools. You can stay there and learn lots of things and not have to leave until you are grown up. For now we will put you in the care of the Temple on the Divide. Did your parents teach you about your Gods?”
“Yes and some of them are different than yours. Will that stop me going to your school?”
“Oh no, we teach about all the Gods. The Temple will look after you and if you still want to go to one of our schools after a few days of thinking about it you will be taken there by ship and carriage with soldiers to protect you. Sound good?”
She gave me a huge hug and smiled.
“If you have a bazillion questions you can ask Serana. She used to be one of my headmasters but now protects me as she is a very excellent wizard.”
Dusk went running up to Serana and asked, “Are you really a wizard? Can you turn me invisible?”
I went and inspected the Gryphon site.
There were many piles of septim and other currencies. I gathered them all and put them in a separate bag than my money. The coins will be a gift to the Temple.
Piles of bodies, both sentient and animal, were left in rotting piles. Normally such a selection would attract many different animals interested in a free meal. They were untouched except by rot. It seems that Gryphon, or at least this one, scare even large predators such as wolf and bear.
Letting the thing eat children was not good enough for some. Cutting the throats of fellow citizens for the imaginary luck and good fortune gifted by Gryphon was deemed acceptable by some. No wonder the Dark Lords have so much success whispering in their ears.
There were several heaps taller than me of the bones of children. I silently prayed to Lady Mara to give me some light in this darkest of places, this putrid kingdom of Evermore. Then I heard Dusk laugh and realised she already had.
There were some symbols on the altar Dusk has stood upon. I sketched them so I can study them and see if they mean anything. A lot of the history of the region was oral only so I may never find the answer.
We made our way to the Temple and thankfully did not encounter any more Exiles or other enemy. I did not want Dusk to witness the savagery of the Dragonborn.
We entered and I walked up to Fenig who said, “If you have come to chastise me for blasphemy and just being a diplomat then do not bother. Your opinion of us has done the full circle of The Circle.”
“That is not why I am here or why Mother Mara sent me to this most troubled of kingdoms. You know that so let us concentrate on her Divine Task if you want to prove your devotion is greater than your bruised ego. There is a danger here far greater than you know. I am less concerned about false histories than fixing the ills that beset you all.”
“We are already greatly in debt to you and your team. Bruised egos will heal. What can I do for you?”
“I have a young Khajiit girl with me. An orphan cruelly treated by fate and worse by mortals. I need her to stay here for a few days while she decides if she wishes to go to family or one of the Emperor’s schools in Skyrim. I trust that in the house of my Gods she will feel safe and be treated with utmost courtesy. If she wishes to go to one of the schools leave a message at the Imperial Embassy and I will arrange her safe transport.”
“This may set a troublesome precedent. Mara is more than merciful but this temple cannot be made into a hostel for all. We have already seen the consequences of that in Arnima.”
I handed him the very large and heavy sack of coins and said, “I bet this is far more tithe than all the temples of this Kingdom see in a month. Your citizens are happier to donate to a fucking Gryphon than the Temples of The Divines. Not only that, they sacrifice children and other citizens in the false belief the bird has magical powers or is favoured by Mother Mara. This young girl would be bird shit by now if we did not rescue her. So once again, right under the noses of men who profess to serve The Divine, evil is practised out in the open.”
Fenig did not say a word but looked down.
“You will take this money. You will use it to help your citizens. You will take this girl in for a few days and show her respect and compassion.”
“Once again we fail in the eyes of an outsider who does not know the constraints in which we work.”
“Do not dare give me excuses! If I fail to stop this crises Oblivion itself will wreak havoc on the innocent citizens of this land and you and your circle and your nobles will be to blame. Your failures are the reason you have so many poor souls crowding the temple in Arnima.”
“We are now helping with what crises appear on our doorsteps. We have not the resources to tackle the evils in the wild of The Reach. Help us with something and we will show you our commitment.”
“I have been helping the temples as you well know so do not act like you had to beg me or cajole me with your challenge. What do you need?”
“I am in need of sap from a Spriggan Matron and lesser Spriggan. With those and the research by other priests we believe we can concoct some immunity for the pox that spills in from the west. Three measure of the former and four of the latter will suffice for now. I know where such creatures live.”
“If you are lucky there will be no need for us to travel and kill.”
I looked in my apothecary satchel and had most of the amounts required. I called Serana over and with her addition we almost doubled Fenig’s number.
In less than five minutes I handed Fenig far more than he asked for and he said, “This will help the region immensely like all that you and your men have done since arriving. Some more research and we may have some defence against the affliction. Thank you.”
I approached Dusk who was praying in front of a shrine of Akatosh.
“I have to go now Dusk but you are in safe hands.”
“I know silly and was just thanking Alkosh for sending you to help me.”
“Actually it was Mother Mara this time.”
“I can’t pray to a God who is not a cat can I.”
“But Alkosh is a dragon!”
“Only on the outside silly! Inside he is a cat.”
I laughed as I left with The Sentinel for the long journey to Evermore.
We were not delayed by any physical confrontation so arrived at the tunnels leading to Evermore at just on 4:00PM. We were forced to use this less glorified entrance as the main one was sealed to all but a select few and often tasks are required to be performed before admittance allowed. I did not think the uniform of an Imperial General would prevent such demands, only increase the chance.
It was very similar to the Ratway in Riften but a lot longer. It was full of the same assortment of beggars, thieves, smugglers and Skooma addicts. I think our Imperial uniforms ensured we were not targeted by anybody. As it was we emerged into Evermore at about 5:30PM.
I had decided that Radon can wait till tomorrow and that we would deal with The Blade and introduce ourselves to The Bishop. After asking around we eventually found Advisor Vaeser just leaving an outside restaurant.
“Hail Advisor Vaeser, good to see you!”
“You have me at a disadvantage General. I can’t recall your name.”
“General Marcus, I signed the papers transferring you here to replace the moron Emperor Sethius had ruining our reputation with the King.”
Vaeser caught on quickly and resisted the urge to bow or use my honorific.
“Of course I remember you now. I am a bit surprised to see you in this part of The Empire.”
“We have been busy helping with the Redguard pirates, Orc rebels and Witchmen.”
“So the stories filtering back are not so far-fetched after all. What can I do for you General Marcus?”
“We are looking for a hidden Blade. He is being hunted by our Dominion friends still hanging around this country because the High King has been too ill to kick them out.”
“You are head of what is left of their order aren’t you? Give me your map and I will mark the location for you. There are a lot of Exiles around there. They have probably learnt to leave him alone.”
“I was dressed as a mercenary when Justiciar Naruman gave me cause to tie him up and gag him. He threatened to have assassins take me down for being rude and then doubled up when I showed him my Talos amulet. When we searched him we found this.”
I handed Advisor Vaeser the Dominion order to kill both the Blade and him if the chance arises. His face turned red with anger.
“How dare they? They are not even supposed to be here yet think they can still do this sort of crap?”
“He is on his way to the prison in the Imperial City where he will wait for The Emperor to visit and have a talk. He will probably complain about the barbarian General who backhanded him.”
“That is something I would like to see.”
“Be aware that the problems in this region are all tied to a Daedric Prince and that there is a very good chance an Oblivion Gate will open in or near Arnima. I am trying to find a diplomatic solution to the political differences because if they push the a certain lord too far he may trigger the gate. I can’t just kill him as that would do the same thing.”
“Have you spoken to King Sigmayne about this?
“I have been spending time in each town doing local good deeds to gain their trust. I will approach the Bishop as there are some questions about necromancer activity that need answering. If he is like the rest of the Priest Circle he will have other things for me to do. Get on the advisors side in each area and the negotiation should be easier without having to pull rank as it were.”
“It did not take you long to figure out the politics of this place.”
“I am hearing disturbing things about the King.”
“The accusation of his supposed likeness for the young? Nobody has proof so as far as I am concerned it is hearsay and gossip.”
“Have you heard any gossip about the High King?”
“Everybody is convinced that Princess Potema has cursed him or poisoned him.”
“I know you and the new arses on the Imperial thrones have not had much time to make a difference but your assessment of High Rock as it stands.”
“Nobody who judges on facts and not emotions can blame Mede for making the decision to end the Great War when he did. We may have won or lost but provinces were being neglected because he had to centralize on Cyrodiil’s defence. After similar happened during the Oblivion Crises many were asking why be part of The Empire if not guaranteed adequate military support.”
“Everybody is wiser after the facts. Critics often base a lot of complaints centred on what he had no hope of foreseeing.”
“High Rock was probably the most stable and loyal province in the aftermath of the Great War. Yet recent events, specifically a High King who can’t or won’t enforce his claim and laws, has caused fracturing of alliances. Old grudges and hatred and desire for power are ripping it apart.”
“This kingdom is ruled by a nobility of the worst kind. All they seek is to maintain their comfortable lifestyles and they bleed the citizens dry to do so. The massacre of twenty years ago needs to be addressed but even though many deserve to be punished, the Emperor’s hand may be stayed by the looming crises from Akavir.”
“The Emperor and Queen may be forced to compromise but any noble of any province should be smart enough not to earn their wrath. Does he intend to show up anytime soon?”
“Some locals know of his whereabouts. Everybody will in the next day or so as he intends to fight beside their greatest of heroes, Mados.”
“So they have asked you to try and recruit him. Good luck.”
We headed for the temple and along with the others we have visited, it seemed to be the same design and dimensions externally. I like that idea as money is not spent trying to outdo other cities and towns.
The inside was very much concentrated on a central shrine to Lord Akatosh.
We found the Arch-Bishop sitting in quiet contemplation.
“Sorry to disturb you Arch-Bishop. I am General Marcus. My troops and I took care of the mage who destroyed Sabbat. He had paperwork on him indicating he was working with a group of like minded individuals under the control of a master or masters.”
“Did you know we had hired several groups of mercenaries who seemingly came to a sticky end?”
“No, we were not told that. We were dressed as mercenaries at the time and were sneered at for being so. The guards should be glad such people exist otherwise it could be their demise we speak of.”
“The Circle has always found it cheaper to hire such men for the occasional emergency rather than have extra guards sitting around playing cards and dice on public funds.”
“I doubt the necromancer killed the mercenaries. He was not very skilled and the spell he cast on Sabbat was created by a more powerful necromancer. His ineptitude made it far more devastating than intended. He was supposed to create undead but without decay. The mine was full of Exile or bandits and they probably killed any mercenaries sent.”
“Can that be done? Could they create armies of undead that look like you or me?”
“If death is caused by a quick acting poison or disease then it is possible to have perfectly formed undead. The paleness of skin and eyes would make them identifiable. Khajiit or Argonian undead would be harder to identify from a distance and quite frankly, in the fog of war and battle, you would not spend the time second guessing if the nearby figure was dead or alive but swing your weapon regardless. Chaos would ensue. Making large numbers of undead follow orders is not something seen since the Umbriel crises of 4E 49. Then it took the power of Oblivion to do so.”
“Those dark mages and their masters not only inhabit the hidden crannies of the east but also on our very doorstep. Fenig, the Divide’s Priest, made us aware their possible headquarters. ‘Right under our noses’ was his claim. Having a smaller area to investigate we found a correction had to be made. For they exist above and occupy the frozen rubble heap of Spinster’s Peak.”
“What was Spinster’s Peak?”
“When The Empire has sought to partition High Rock to suit their requirements, some kingdoms of yore were dissolved and their respective capitals razed.”
“I assume many objected and lost their lives in battle and execution. The Empire was built on blood and conquest and much of that is hidden in false histories. Please, mark its location on my map and we shall gladly investigate.”
“Knowledge of who you are is known to all in our circle. I agree with all your criticisms as they too were outlined quite clearly in angry correspondence very recently received. I beg your forgiveness but we are not as we once were. I do not sit in this heavy armour for any reason other than to remind myself of how we were. Once we travelled to the dangerous places ourselves and could see corruption without relying on others to tell us. Proactive was the term. Our nobility is what it is and we have managed to become invaluable to them as negotiators and sometimes administrators. We have chosen not to oppose some of their extremes as we believe it better we have some influence rather than none. The machinations of the Daedric Princes has been growing and with it the strife. We have known this but our inability to act upon it has made many pretend it is not happening. If The Divines have sent you to resolve the issue then it is indeed a crisis that needs unity, not division. You will find nothing but co-operation from us.”
“Thank you and be aware the potential is great that we will find at least one Oblivion Gate opening within this kingdom if I cannot resolve some local political rivalry. Is there anything else we can help with whilst here?”
“For some reason I find myself needing to sate a curiosity of mine. I do not think it is relevant to the current crises so feel free to say no.”
“It may indeed be relevant but until I know what ‘it’ is, I cannot say.”
“There is a Dirennian ruin north of this city called Umbasir. It is apparently a vault of unmolested wonder. There would be ineffable wealth in learning if we could divulge in its halls.”
“We will explore the ruins but be aware. The Direnni traded with Daedric Lords and there is one who would happily exchange knowledge but his price would not be gold or treasure. If I find Hermaeus Mora is involved and he seeks immoral exchange I will have the Vigilants of Stendarr visit and destroy his ability to bargain. I know him well and he has been observing me since I have arrived in High Rock. Even within the Oblivion realm of another Daedric Prince.”
“None of us in The Circle have any direct experience of the Dark Lords. I am not going to lie and say we could resist the temptation of hidden knowledge. It would be wise to remove the temptation.”
All three tasks were a fair distance from the city. I decided to deal with the Direnni ruins first.
We approached the hamlet of Karthgran Vale and found it burnt and looted by a band of Exile. They attacked us and died. We found the charred bodies of the families who lived there piled high. They were victims of the senseless slaughter that seemed to be the norm in this accursed land.
I did not expect to encounter Orsimer rebels at the ruin. They had been there for some time as scaffolding and other structures indicated. They attacked us on sight.
A Cyclone Shout sent many high into the air only to land with a cacophony of screams, expelled air and broken bones. Some died there and then. The others fell to our swords as they struggled to recover from their short flight.
We stood before the door and I stated, “Our circle priests seem keen on the idea Witchmen are somehow attracted to old Direnni ruins. Yet this place seems relative intact and no indication of Witchmen activity. Did the Orcs drive them off? No because I doubt any Witchmen have been here and if there are Orcs inside I will be surprised. Something has kept this place relatively intact for millennia and if it is Hermaeus Mora protecting a source of knowledge it could be a very unpleasant place.”
We stepped through the door and there he was.
“Another purveyor of the perverse? No… I know you mortal! Welcome my Champion. Still in pursuit of knowledge I see. And you are now a king amongst the mortals. Well done. Come then, descend into this decrepit ruin and find the most indelible truths!”
“If this is a trick and I find anything to do with Namira I will destroy more than one temple of yours.”
“Come now, have I ever plotted against you or your mortal realm? I merely observe her plan by invitation as it is knowledge I gather and crave. The demise of mortals would make my collection worthless as there would be no entities to barter with.”
“And you would not divulge to your Champion what her ultimate plan is?”
“You know the games we play amongst ourselves. I would not want to face an angry Namira! Plus I gave my word which is binding as you also know.”
“Obviously we are not the first to visit.”
“All have perished before you but they were not after knowledge. They sought treasure and would forever doom mortals to eternal stagnation through their greed. It would be an unending night for the mind.”
“You are not the sole source of knowledge. I bet there is much in mortal libraries you do not have in yours. But I agree that knowledge should not be lost to the greed of some. So quiet and let us see what is here.”
When his avatar faded I was astonished to find the symbol of Auri-El was behind him.
“Now that is the very last thing I expected to find in a Direnni building!”
Ulkarin said, “Perhaps some of the Ayleid still loyal to the Aedra joined the Direnni here?”
“Or some Direnni had dumped their Daedric obsession? It will be intriguing to find out.”
I was surprised to find corrupted Giant Welkynd Stones. I could not see or sense any great use of magicka nearby.
The only beings we encountered were spirits of Direnni scholars. They would be so intent on an experiment or book we could be fairly close before they detected us. Then they became instantly hostile and were powerful mages. They would certainly have meant the death for the average grave robber.
One spirit we came across was different.
As we observed it from a distance Serana whispered to me, “I do not think those Welkynd Stones power that shield directly. I think that spirit is a guardian and it acts as a conduit for the energy required to maintain the shield.”
“So if a suitably qualified entity requested permission to pass the shield it would drop it.”
“Yes, but I doubt if we are ‘suitably qualified’.”
Serana was correct and when approached it attacked and we had to destroy it.
The shield dropped.
It had been protecting a staff. When I picked it up its dweomer was known to me.
“The Staff if Indarys we recovered in Elsweyr had by far the most devastating Chain Lightening dweomer I have experienced. This one has a Lightening dweomer of even greater power. It may only zap one enemy at a time but that enemy would be disintegrated on most occasions.”
Will O’ Wisp flew close by and we seemed to attract more as we explored. They were not hostile so we let them be.
We could see another magicka shield in the distance and moved towards it.
This time a Direnni spirit was inside the force field. It could harm us but nothing we did harmed it. Then I pointed the new staff at the shield and let loose a devastating lightning bolt at our assailant. It penetrated the barrier and still had enough energy to destroy the spirit.
The shield did not drop.
“Okay, I am going to take a wild guess here. I am going to hit the Welkynd Stones with the bolt from this staff. There is a set of stairs behind this barrier so it is logical this is the key to get to them.”
I hit the first Welkynd stone and it seemed to go transparent.
I said, “I think it will only be down for a while.”
I zapped the second, the barrier came down and we had access to the stairs. They led to another doorway.
Upon opening it we were met by the spirit of a Direnni mage. Not an automaton like the others but one that maintained its sentience.
I approached him and he said, “Another fool added to the repertoire of idiocy. Let me guess, you followed the words of those floating eyes that lured you down here.”
“The Direnni, a race of mer so idiotic they did not learn from the fate of the Ayleid and thought they could deal with the Daedric Lords and get the better of their bargaining. However, it was not the merchants of that race who were the stupidest. Their mages were known to make the most idiotic comments towards beings whose power dwarfed theirs many times over.”
“A fool that bites I see. My name is Erinium and you are?”
“Wulf and I am no fool! Hermaeus Mora did not lure me down here. I came to investigate this place and see if there was anything here to help me stop the opening of an Oblivion Gate.”
“So you know that Dark Lord then?”
“I am his mortal champion but no devotee of his kind. I am a Son of Akatosh and am here on behalf of Lady Mara.”
“You are Dovahkiin? It will be interesting to see if you succeed where other mental midgets have failed. On the far side of this room lies a device that can enable the contraption in the centre. I would love to see, just once, someone activate it and manage to make it through the portal without being disintegrated by the ensuing seekers.”
“Not very smart are you? The device will create a portal to Apocrypha. I will enter Hermaeus’ plane via the portal. That is easy, walking through a portal. The test is if I make it through Oblivion and return via the portal. The Seekers do not disintegrate trespassers; they simply return them to the mortal plane. Since I have traversed Apocrypha many times in the recent past I doubt I will have any problem returning. So if you have finished with this pissing contest I will proceed.”
The ‘device’ was a Dwemer lock box. The Direnni looked astonished when I simply hit the lockbox with a blast from my new staff and a portal opened.
I said to the others, “This part of Oblivion is fairly benign. The two species that inhabit it, Seeker and Lurker, are not a danger to me. You will not be allowed to follow so do not try. He only allows unaccompanied mortals into his realm. You may get injured if you ignore that fact.”
I stepped into the portal and was instantly transported to Apocrypha.
Like the part of the Scuttling Void we had entered when looking for the gauntlets, this seemed to be a pocket realm and not the entire Apocrypha.
I started exploring and found a pedestal that appeared to once contain fire. I lit it with my new staff.
A bridge then rolled out across a chasm and I could walk out to a platform.
Hermaeus appeared and said, “To place my assistant here you must seek and read two texts. They describe his creation to his banishment. Upon reading them my assistant will be free to return.”
“This assistant dealt with the Direnni and traded knowledge I assume.”
“Yes and it takes a lot less effort to have him here than for me to appear like this.”
“I also assume I can’t leave unless I fulfil this requirement anyway.”
“That is why you are my Champion. You catch on so quickly. You could let my seekers zap you back but who knows what that may do to you in the long term.”
I knew very well it would probably be something unpleasant. I was curious anyway and upon returning to Nirn I could figure out what to do if I found things unacceptable.
So another tedious walk through Apocrypha was the result with the same boring encounters and puzzles and stretchy corridors etcetera.
I found the first book and read it. If it imparted any knowledge I do not remember it.
I found the second and it was the same. No knowledge given as far as I remember.
I made my way back to the platform and a large avatar resembling a giant seeker was waiting for me.
I asked “Do you have a name?”
“The Direnni tongue translated to yours suits me. Call me Ven, The Eater Of Dreams.”
“And you know who I am?”
“Yes, I am allowed to have his memories.”
“So how does this all work? What did the Direnni exchange?”
“Our loyal Champion followed the breadcrumbs to the source from more than mere curiosity. You wish to secure knowledge not for its sake alone but to aid others. It is a noble cause that means nothing to us. The compendium of knowledge that surrounds you is not free to peruse. I implore you, take up this offer. Reclaim the soul of that Direnni mage you’ve consorted with and the torrent of anthologies and studies you see around you will be at your disposal.”
“This was never explained to in Solstheim as you knew I would not have agreed to the deal we struck. I asked the Skaal shaman, Storn Crag-Strider, to share his people’s secrets not knowing you had to consume his soul for him to do so. Likewise he reluctantly volunteered to do so not knowing it was his doom. It was still murder and you will still pay for it as I swore you would.”
“Let us speak of this current bargain. Perhaps your simplistic moral stance is more flexible now.”
“What information does his soul contain? What information do you offer that would aid my people?”
“I know you are now a king and have to deal with many whose motives are not clear. The affairs of mortals may seem incomprehensible when you are one and time to make decisions is short. But here we gain insight, thus a new lens in which the web of egos becomes clear.”
I knew I would probably never use a shout or spell that probes the mind of another. It is no better than rape as far as I am concerned. It would demonstrate little or no value placed on the sanctity of another individuals mind or body. I could have the knowledge but never use it such as with the Bend Will Shout.
Ven continued, “As for my desire for that particular soul? All entities capable of cognition, however basic, have fundamental needs. For you and most mortals they encompass food, water and copulation. For us our greatest need is knowledge. We are consumed by a ravaging hunger that needs knowledge to satiate. The Direnni mage is keeping a secret from us, much like the Skaal had, that is too tempting to avert our gaze from. So again, I implore you, retrieve his soul.”
“Tell me this. If he was where I stand at this moment, would you seize and destroy him like you did with the shaman?”
“I cannot. The Black Book was a gateway that allowed a physical solution to my needs. If he stood where you are it would be torture as it would be a much desired thing just beyond our reach.”
“Those who seek a bargain would be in no physical danger. However you would test their moral fibre with tempting great knowledge for a soul. You know of this Direnni because of his proximity to the portal. What of people distant. If just any soul is not worth anything in a bargain then how do you start a negotiation?”
“Devoted followers open themselves to inspection during many visits to our temples and shrines. Their knowledge, and therefore souls, we could place a value on. Random souls sometimes contain knowledge of value but more often do not. Our standard bargain with the Direnni was five such souls for the right to access our anthologies.”
“I appreciate you have not tried to compare my use of dragon souls to what you do with mortal souls. A devotee of Molag Bal once angered me doing so as the inaccuracy in comparison was obvious. I will go and think on your offer as my new responsibilities may require an adjustment of morality on my part.”
I headed away from the platform and towards the portal. To my surprise Erinium was waiting for me inside Apocrypha.
I said to him, “As you can see I am free to leave the realm with both sanity and limbs in place.”
“But you have struck a bargain have you not?”
“Yes, he wishes me to collect your soul which would require destroying you. Something I would not do even if your arrogance makes me want to. Plus I saw the emblem of Lord Akatosh at the entrance. Perhaps not all who dwell within are enamoured by these Daedric Princes. Perhaps they do my Lord’s bidding.”
“I cannot be enamoured of those who led to our downfall. You arriving here is a sign that the fight against their whispers continues.”
“I can just exit with bargain unfulfilled. But I sense you have another plan.”
“I know the inherent fallacy of trying to outsmart an omnipresent prince within his own realm, but those very flames you lit that are behind us, they grant us such a chance.”
“He is not omnipotent, none of them are. However he is very good at snooping. His chosen appearance to us with myriad eyes is a deliberate reminder. This other form he presents here is more pleasing to our senses. We could exit the portal and speak in Mundus but unless within a sanctified Temple of other Gods we could not be sure of secrecy. So you must be convinced we can talk here and now with impunity.”
“Yes, the flames and others I have dispersed in this realm and outside of it act as liminal barriers. Where we currently stand is a blind spot to this esoteric entity.”
“The logic of that seems solid however liminal barriers and bridges are not an area of any expertise on my part. Assuming you are wise enough to fear these entities and therefore cautious I will trust this blind spot exists.”
“Any civilisation that makes bargains with the Daedric Lords must hide information that can give them an edge in negotiation. We Direnni became very good at doing so.”
“Why can you not just tell your secret. Why is the soul required?”
“For knowledge to have value it authenticity must be assured. One’s soul does not lie therefore the only reliable proof of authenticity.”
“What if you were fooled or misled and your absolute certainty of a truth is wrong?”
“I assume a being such as he would know so much about so many things he could deduce such a mistake. He would still gain valuable knowledge even it is was only the fact of our mistake.”
“I also assume that any personal knowledge is a power within itself. Reluctance to reduce that power by sharing it with such an entity is understandable.”
“Secrets are a currency and power of their own. Even beyond our temporal state this affair still maintains its salience.”
“What do you propose?”
“A counterfeit soul that is so like the real the prince will not know the difference.”
“But it must contain some unknown knowledge that is confirmed real by the soul itself. If you have such skill as to create this thing it is both fascinating and disturbing.”
“It is indeed a dark thing we taught ourselves to do. In the long run that sort of knowledge and all we gained from the Daedric Princes did not lead to enlightenment or a vast empire that lasted. Here, take this gem and sate that curious God’s appetite.”
“Be wise enough to stay in a liminal shadow whilst I do this. It would be rather embarrassing if I present your soul and he detects you spirit still present.”
I took the fake gem and headed back to Ven.
“That most arrogant of mer has been taken care of. Here is the soul gem. I hope this was worth my time.”
“That worth is contingent on what you need. It is not a spell or Shout that I will provide as part of our bargain. You need to ask a question about an individual. Then I will be able to glean knowledge that would prove impossible to retrieve within your world. This would enable you to find new avenues across the labyrinth of relationships that make sentient societies. A possibility of stopping impeding tragedies. Remember that the standard bargain is five black soul gems per question unless a single one of suitable value is agreed to.”
“It is as I thought. This deal is heavily biased towards you. If I asked the motivation or honesty of an individual you could only surmise. I already have enough advisors with the habit of presenting such things as fact. You would not dare risk telling me information that allows for the preparation against or even the stopping of the plans of the other Dark Lords. It is such a worthless deal I will not even ask the question you now owe me.”
As I walked out of his realm and into Mundus I was furious with myself. I had thought I would receive a skill I did not possess and even if I never intended to use such it would add to my possible options.
The Sentinel watched the portal like hawks and had surrounded Erinium when he emerged without me. I do not think they needed to tell him of the consequences of me not emerging soon.
When I did they took up guard positions while I talked to the spirit.
“Well that worked but the deal was biased to such an extent I did not press for payment. It is a mystery to me why the Khajiit do not worship him as the ‘God of Biased Bargaining’ or similar.”
“Even at the height of the Direnni Hegemony, achieved through strategic bargaining and diplomacy rather than sword and shields, it was rare for us to negotiate an even trade deal with his kind.”
“Are all your people gone?”
“In a sense they are. Pure bred Direnni no longer roam the mortal realm. But we live on as part of the mixture that is the Bosmer. A large part of that mixture is also Ayleid. And you are right we did not believe we would fall as they did.”
“Your dead, are all their souls lost to the Daedric Lords?”
“Most I would say. Others learned to reject them and worship less ‘evil’ Gods. It was easier to do when you are already standing on a mountain of wealth and their dark whispers are not as appealing.”
“Why have you maintained your presence here? Are you afraid your soul is lost?”
“I put the symbol of Auri-El at the entrance. The example set by Al-Esh and the glory of Auri-El inspired me to reject all of the teachings of the Daedric Lords. For most the resistance against the Alessian Order’s invasion was purely a matter of survival. For many of us it was a spiritual war. They had committed the most obscene blasphemy by using her name but rejecting her teachings.”
“Did you know King Laloriaran Dynar?”
“I knew him well and regarded him as a dear friend. He worshipped Meridia, not the most evil of the Dark Lords but not exactly an Azura either. He understood what had allowed Al-Esh to triumph and why Auri-El had turned his back on the Ayleid. Although he stuck with Meridia as his principle deity he welcomed the fact that many Ayleid had adopted the new pantheon of Al-Esh. As a matter of fact most who fled to our lands were not Daedric followers.
Such was the reversal of Al-Esh’s teachings the Empire that replaced hers prosecuted mer and rejected her pantheon.
The Last King was a mighty leader and tactician and led our troops in the crushing defeat of those blasphemers and racists. It was not surprising Molag Bal imprisoned him for millennia as he became a pawn in the eternal dispute with Meridia. It was not surprising when a combination of man and mer, mage and warrior, rescued him from Coldharbour with the assistance of his mistress, Meridia. It was not surprising he gave his life to deny Molag Bal’s umpteenth plan to dominate Nirn. What is surprising are the histories believed by the very Bosmer descended from those who proudly fought by his side.”
“It is a symptom of the gradual eroding of their society. They pay lip service to the Commands of their Gods and outwardly appear devout. Inwardly the politics of greed and noble entitlement has turned them into ineffectual protection against the whispers of the Daedric Princes.”
“You said you were looking for information to prevent the opening of an Oblivion Gate. Have they failed to such an extent that is possible? Did they learn nothing from what they called the Oblivion Crises?”
“No, and Namira is close to making her presence felt on Nirn. I know of many occasions mortal heroes have had to step in and prevent a Daedric Prince making the leap across Martin’s barrier. The Bosmer are not alone in providing an environment where such is possible.”
“And are you one of those heroes?”
“It is my duty so yes. Hero is not a term I like.”
“Your duty as Dovahkiin it might be but others of your kind have failed to do their duty or have gone overboard with zeal doing it.”
“I believe my parents taught me a better way even if father did not exactly practice what he preached. Both wielded great power. One rarely used extreme measures although her chosen champion did. The other was ruthless but he left behind a peace that lasted longer than any other since man and mer emerged and displaced the Khajiit in Tamriel.”
“You speak of Gods yet you are mortal.”
“Saint Alessia and the ninth Divine, Talos, are my parents.”
“Then you fight for all mortals and I wish you well.”
“Why have you remained here if not in fear of the final destination of your soul?”
“I had wanted to govern over this city by myself even in my corporeal form. There is a sense of comfort knowing you are alone. However complete isolation can drive any mad. I persevere because this pernicious Daedric Prince so gluttonous for knowledge needs to be overseen and repelled. I do not know the possible consequences of his avatar being allowed to return.”
“I like to preserve knowledge but my gut feeling says he will cause chaos and death as greed corrupts those seeking it from him. I will discuss it with the leaders of my faith, not the pretend priests of this kingdom. It may be that the Vigilants of Stendarr will soon dismantle his gateway at my request.”
“Then I would happily join those who have ascended. I am sure of my place. I suggest you take the corridor to the right and the exit at the end. It tells a story of how the Dwemer lockbox came to be the key to that part of Oblivion.”
“Farewell and may The Divine unite you with family and friend. Be assured I will try all I can to make your homeland free of the hatred and poverty that has allowed Namira to get her foothold.”
We took the corridor as suggested and came upon the story of Auri-El battling Ven. He was controlling the lockbox.
His faithful were battling to get him closer to his adversary.
Ven was cowering against the might of Auri-El.
Calder asked, “This is symbolic as Akatosh could not battle him directly after the barrier was in place.”
“Yes, I think it tells the story of how the faith of the people eventually won but it was not easy.”
We had no encounters on the way to the necromancer lair.
Once there, several of them defended it vigorously and died quickly.
A familiar smell assailed my nostrils even though the door was still closed.
“Smells like a Sload. That would make sense. It seems another parasite has landed in High Rock to take advantage of the chaos and add their own.”
We entered and saw an elaborate bone sculpture. Witchmen were also involved it seemed.
We slaughtered a few necromancers and undead on the way to the main chamber.
The Sload roared and attacked and I happily plunged “The Sword” into his mouth and out the back of his ugly head.
As he collapsed lifeless to the floor Calder said, “Sorry about your mother Argus. At least you will remember her every time you look in the mirror.”
Argus replied, “Just like I remember you every time I take a dump.”
There was one last visit before we headed back to Evermore. The tower The Blade hid in was populated by Exile. We had to kill many before reaching the front door.
Many more Exile died as we hacked and slashed our way up the stairs. The Blade occupied the top floor and several dead Exile were in piles as a warning to stay away.
When he saw us he issued a challenge, “If you are after the bounty you will only find my blade in your belly!”
“Relax Aerurrus Catiel. Listen and know who I am.”
I used the Thu’um to amplify my voice and said, “I AM DRAGONBORN AND YOU ARE SWORN TO MY SERVICE!”
As the echo of my voice receded he said, “Then I also address my liege, Wulf Septim the first. I cannot express my relief of finally seeing a friendly face your Majesty.”
I started to approach him and he yelled, “NO CLOSER MAJESTY! I AM AFFLICTED!”
“I am sorry to hear that. Take heart the priests are working on a cure that does not involve incineration.”
“Then I hope it arrives soon as it is not a pleasant thing to endure. How did you know where to find me?”
“Advisor Vaeser told me where he thought you were.”
“What about the Thalmor hunting me?”
“The Justiciar is on his way to the Imperial City to answer to me for several crimes. I do not think he will ever be going home.”
“That is good. I will pray for a cure as I wish to join Delphine and help rebuild The Blades. Have you met any others on your travels.”
“Trish. She is a most remarkable person and has been a good friend to my wife. She is somewhere in High Rock as we speak. I hope she stays away from this nightmare.”
“I think I know her. Is she a young Orc girl with a mouth and skill to back it up?”
“Not as young as you think and yes, both mouth sword are formidable weapons.”
“So no others. This is truly the end of the order then?”
“Not the end but a rebirth. There will be new members and a new purpose that will aid us in the upcoming Akavir conflict.”
“Then I doubly hope to survive. It would be good to have purpose again.”
“Once a cure is found I will make sure a squad from the embassy delivers it to you. Farewell for now Aerurrus.”
It was 7:00PM when we headed back to Evermore. We had been constantly active for over thirty six hours and fatigue was evident in all of us.
When we entered Evermore we encountered street urchins living with shades of dead children. Both living and dead stared at us with suspicion and fear and would not reply to questions asked.
Serana saw how this affected me and said, “Wulf, you are exhausted and we must deal with the Mados heir tomorrow. These children are in danger from Namira as well. Let us save this kingdom first, then we can find those who have hurt the children.”
We went to the temple and the Arch-Bishop hurried over to hear our tale.
“We have returned from Umbasir.”
I then proceeded to give him a detailed account of what occurred.
“That was an immense journey! I have recorded every detail for future reference and to be entered into the histories.”
“Speaking of histories Arch-Bishop, the Direnni mage confirmed the real history of the Last Ayleid King. It would be interesting to trace the false histories those in your circle have believed and spread. At their root you will find remnants of the Alessian Order. Believers of that blasphemy even millennia after it was wiped out. I am concerned what other falsehoods have been adopted and spread because of your isolation from the rest of the academia. I suggest you strongly consider some young priests be sent to receive education in Cyrodiil.”
“It is more than a little disturbing. Your advice is sound.”
“I forbid any member of your circle or any citizen at all to approach the avatar of Hermaeus Mora. No matter how strong you believe your faith is, nothing prepares you for the temptations of the Daedric Princes. I will decide what to do with it after conferring with leaders of the faith in Cyrodiil. More than likely Vigilants will be sent to dismantle the portal”
“I will make that order known.”
“The necromancers were led by a Sload. He along with every other necromancer at the tower was slaughtered. It disturbs me that he is the second of his kind I have encountered in recent weeks.”
“I will have to receive counsel from the Priests of Daggerfall. This particular subject lies beyond my purview.”
“There seemed to be a large amount of alchemy equipment and supplies within Spinster’s Peak. I believe they could aid you in the research for an Affliction cure.”
“Thank the Divines. After all the setbacks and wasted lives we may finally make progress using such resources. Maybe develop a cure soon? Wishful I know, but it remains our only hope to stall this deathly disease gripping The Reach.”
“It is not wishful Arch-Bishop. Anything created by a Daedric Prince can be countered by men of faith banding together in effort and thought.”
“If we but had a fraction of your absolute faith we would no longer despair our efforts are in vain.”
We found Vaeser in an inn and informed him of Aerurrus’ health and decision. He was both upset and relieved as expected.
The inn was large and we booked rooms for the night. We ate a hearty meal and headed for sleep earlier than normal.
I said to Serana, “We will talk to Rados first thing in the morning. Then we will collect my armour from the embassy. The Emperor’s crown on the head of a Dovah is to be seen and will be feared by our foes. They will tremble at its approach. The people will cheer. When Mados appears beside me they will dare to wish once again.”
I retired to my room and wrote these journal entries.
I was doing what I could to prevent the bitch from Oblivion enacting the final part of her plan. No matter how much we have pushed ourselves, I had the dread feeling we were too late.
I know not what time I fell asleep.