Imperial Palace, Falkreath Hold, Imperator, Wyrmstooth: Dragons and plots.
Rigmor and I have been parleying in the throne room during the day and enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere of Bruma at night. We have become so accustomed to the airship our poor horses are getting fat from neglect.
We had hardly sat our posteriors down on the thrones for the morning session when Blackwell came striding up with Delphine and the first supplicant of the day,
- Blackwell: Grandmaster Delphine has an update on the Dov issue you asked her to investigate. The gentleman with her is Lurius Liore, Overseer of the East Empire Trading Company’s holdings on the island of Wyrmstooth.
Liore did an awkward bow. He was dressed in finery which was not overly expensive and showing signs of wear.
- Rigmor: Greetings Grandmaster Delphine, Overseer Liore. I am glad I have been catching up on my geography. Like many of the smaller settlements I had never heard of Wyrmstooth till recently. So much trade comes to and from the numerous small islands of the Ghost Sea.
- Liore: Indeed it does and that is what is in danger from at least three dragons that have decided to make Wyrmstooth their home.
- Delphine: The one that Jarl Yngol so eloquently asked to be investigated seems to be one of the Wyrmstooth Dov that has decided to visit the mainland and taken a dislike to Falkreath.
Several days earlier we received a message from Yngol demanding we do something about the “fucking big dragon” scaring his people and burning caravans. He made the point that if we did not hurry Angi would probably get killed trying to “put an arrow up its arse!”
I made a trip to Sky Haven Temple and asked Delphine to send a squad of Blades to investigate. Despite their size a Dovah can be very hard to track and find if it wants to remain hidden. People forget that many of those who followed Alduin were not resurrected by him but had been in hiding for millennia. I could not afford the time to play hide and go seek with one.
While at the Temple I took the opportunity to present Delphine with one of the swords I had recently recovered from Sancre Tor. It is one of the finest weapons I have ever seen and after I placed several dweomer on it there are few to rival its lethality. Scarred and apparently made of stone Delphine might appear to many but the gift of a weapon of the original Dragonguard made her blubber like a baby. She was wearing it proudly as she stood before us.
- Rigmor: But it has not attacked Falkreath? We did send quite a large number of Legionnaires to aid in its defence.
- Liore: No your Majesty. It has been attacking trade caravans but only those of the Company. I think it chose Falkreath Hold simply because it has so many caravans travelling through it.
- Rigmor: I doubt it holds some animosity towards the Company. It seems to me it wants your attention Emperor Septim.
- Wulf: You could be right but surely attacking Falkreath would get my attention quicker?
- Blackwell: If he wants to parley and not be attacked with everything you have then such restrained attacks make sense. It also makes sense if he desired Overseer Liore to visit the mainland.
- Liore: That is my thought precisely. I believe he wants you to know the connection to Wyrmstooth. When reports arrived outlining the attacks on caravans on the mainland the description of the dragon let me know it was one of the three we have had problems with on the island. That is why I came to investigate. As per the directive issued a while ago concerning rogue dragons I first visited The Blades and Grandmaster Delphine decided immediately to travel here.
- Delphine: Your Majesties, if this Dovah wishes to speak to the Dovahsebrom as we suspect then the caravans will continue to be attacked till he can do so.
- Wulf: This all makes sense so I suppose I had better go tinvaak with him. Does Mage Esbern have any idea of the Dovah’s identity?
- Delphine: From the description and the lack of an entry in the Blade’s kill records he believes it is Vulthurkrah who has not been heard from since the Ancient Tongues banished Alduin.
- Wulf: They are no different than mortals. A Dovah obtains some extra power via knowledge or artefact and becomes emboldened. I have no doubt Vulthurkrah is emerging from his hidey hole for this very reason. Unless it makes him as powerful as Alduin he is a fool.
- Rigmor: Overseer, what problems have they caused on Wyrmstooth and what has been done about it?
- Liore: As your Majesties are probably well aware the Great War followed by the Civil War has drained the manpower of the Imperial Legion. There are two forts, Valus and Moonwatch. Fort Valus was created to protect the south-western shipping lane but is now deserted and reputedly the home of powerful necromancers. Fort Moonwatch has a fraction of the Legionnaires it needs to combat the normal marauders and smugglers. Many of the Legionnaires have died while escorting the caravans and protecting the miners when attacked by one or more of these Dragons. Things are so desperate I hired some of the best mercenaries I could find. They arrived on Wyrmstooth full of confidence and bluster but soon vanished never to be heard from again.
- Rigmor: We apologise for the lack of soldiers. We are trying to rectify this but we can’t instantly undo what was done by the previous two Emperors. The last thing we wish to see is the lives and livelihood of citizens dependant on mercenaries. Neither of us have a fondness for their kind.
- Wulf: Delphine, has your squad tracked the Dovah?
- Delphine: They believe he is in the mountains south-east of Falkreath.
- Wulf: There is a Word Wall at Ancient’s Rest. I killed a Dovah there years ago. It is fairly inaccessible and probably where he is based. It is as good place as any to start looking.
- Rigmor: Which Sentinel squad will accompany you?
- Wulf: I will take Celestine and that is all. If the Akaviri use their Red Dragons during the invasion we will need squads of Blades who have at least some experience fighting Dov. I have hand picked the current members of The Blades and like Sentinel squads there is always a mage amongst them. With Delphine, four Blades and Celestine I am confident of my protection.
Rigmor was going to argue but saw on my face I would broker no further discussion on this. Share the rule of The Empire we might but the calls on my personal safety are entirely my own. Fair or not, I have not allowed Rigmor to have the same freedom with her and our child’s safety. They need to survive. I do not!
- Wulf: We will take the airship to a fair distance away from Ancient’s Rest. If Vulthurkrah, or whatever his name is, decides to attack the airship is not the best platform to fight from. We will meet up with The Blades and go by foot from there.
- Liore: If we have to travel to Wyrmstooth I have a fast trade vessel, the Red Wave, waiting at the Solitude Docks.
- Rigmor: I might let our Emperor dictate his own personal security escort but I am going to advise him in the strongest possible terms not to use a trader. What do you say dearest?
- Wulf: High Queen Rigmor is correct. A trader is not what you want to rely on to stay afloat if attacked by a Dovah. If we are to travel to Wyrmstooth we will leave from The Imperial Docks aboard Imperator. It may take a day longer but it will get us there. I will use Nafalilargus to return when I am sure all aggressive Dov have been dealt with.
- Blackwell: I will have one of the guards request Celestine to meet you at the airship. I will escort the Grandmaster and Overseer to Nafalilargus myself.
- Wulf: Agreed and dismissed.
As Blackwell escorted the two out of the throne room I kissed Rigmor and we said our simple goodbye.
Both of us know trouble can be announced by Blackwell at any time so we have come to terms with me having to rush off at a moment’s notice. I will constantly be stepping into danger and there is never a promise I will come back from it. I no longer make such a promise and our parting words are short and sweet. The confidence we exude hides the anxiety we feel to all but those closest to us. They know the pain and fear we endure each time. They help us cope.
I tried not to concentrate on my beloved’s inner turmoil as I walked towards the airship. In a way the knowledge of its existence will make it so much harder to do what may be required in the future. We may need to send thousands of troops to fight a war away from their loved ones. Myriads of people like Rigmor waiting at home for their loved one to return. I just hope when we do so it is for the right reasons.
When I arrived at Nafalilargus I asked Brelyna to ether us to Falkreath. I would then fly it till we found the Blades squad. From there we would walk to Ancient’s Rest.
We had two hours to spare while the ether jump was being enacted so I decided to study what books we had aboard on Wyrmstooth. Before that I asked Delphine which Blades were in the squad tracking the Dovah.
There is Athir the Redguard. Like Amon of Rihad he too was once Alik’r who turned to mercenary work after the Great War. The Blades are a chance to use his skills to aid others rather than for coin.
Daenlit is a Bosmer marksman of exceptional skill. General Tullius let me know of her when she was jailed for some minor thefts. The guarantee of three good meals a day and a roof over her head sealed the deal to join The Blades.
Shargam is an Orsimer berserker from Narzulbur. He showed interest in joining The Sentinel but I did not think his skill level, or intelligence, was high enough. When I mentioned he might get to fight dragons he leapt at the chance to join The Blades.
Lastly is Elmera. She was thrown out of the College of Winterhold well before I joined. Apparently their fairly lenient opinion on Necromancy only goes so far. I believe her skills in the other Schools of magicka will be an asset to The Blades.
As with The Sentinel I spent time placing powerful dweomers on their armour and weapons. They were not up to the skill level of my chosen guards but were certainly well above average.
When we arrived in Falkreath in two hours the Overseer was overwhelmed with the possibilities a fleet of such airships would present. He was crestfallen when I mentioned the scarcity of its power source.
About half an hour later we found The Blades camp and dropped anchor.
I am so used to a squad of four it was almost like an army when I addressed the six that would accompany me.
“Nobody is to attack the Dovah unless it attacks first or I do. If it speaks in the Dragon tongue I will translate after so do not ask when I am in parley.”
We made our way without incident and soon stood before a narrow cave entrance.
“We have to go through Bonechill Passage to get to Ancient’s Rest. The biggest danger in there last time I visited was the huge drop into the abyss either side of a narrow bridge. Maybe a troll or two and some wild animals have claimed it as home but there should be nothing to hinder us.”
Apart from the glare on the ice the passage provided little challenge.
We emerged at the bottom of steps leading to the Word Wall. Unlike my visit years before there were no Bone Lords to challenge us.
We made our way to the top and a large Dovah awaited us.
“Kendov bahlaan vukein. Finally warriors worthy of combat walk before me. I was beginning to think your champions were all cowards, keizaal.”
“Drem Yol Lok. I find it customary to know the name of my brethren before tinvaak.”
“You are krill, indeed brave, to claim Dov as your zeymah. I am Vulthurkrah.”
“I am a son of Bormahu no less than you are! You will also find I am more than just than a hero of keizaal. You would be wise to speak with respect before I end you here and now.”
“Vahrukiv togaat krongrah Dovahkiin. This one surprises me with its Dovah sos. I have heard…rumours.”
“I am Dovahsebrom, not just Dovahkiin! You look forward to defeating me and have heard rumours? Surprised by my Dovah blood? What about my soul! What about the fact I defeated Alduin? You are mey, a fool. Even in the deepest hole on Nirn you would have felt his demise at my hands. Speak what needs to be said as I tire of you already.”
“Maybe you are worthy of my norok nir golt. It has been a grave for lesser mortals. In your tongue they call it Wyrmstooth. To the Dov it’s the Brom Lok Strunmah. Yah golz wahlaan. And you will have the battle you seek.”
“Both are my tongue! I seek not to leave the comfort of my home for senseless battle. Tell me why I should not kill you here and now for your insults and ignorance. Test your Thu’um against mine and end this tiresome boasting and supreme stupidity.”
“Let me leave and meet me there or the Dov who remain will destroy all the inhabitants and buildings on Wyrmstooth. Time runs short for my return to prevent this.”
“Then fly coward and feel my Thu’um in full when I arrive. I take no pleasure in killing my brothers but your death will make me smile.”
Vulthurkrah leapt from his perch, climbed steeply then flew swiftly out of sight.
Delphine stated, “It is obvious he hopes his own lair will provide some advantage over you.”
“He is not strong. I doubt he ever encountered the Ancient Tongues who fought beside me in Sovngarde. Each of them was stronger in the Thu’um than he and mighty of blade. No use speculating what he thinks gives him a chance against us in battle. Let us just go and see shall we?”
We quickly made our way to Nafalilargus and I informed the Overseer of our encounter. He protested, “The day extra it will take leaving from the Imperial City rather than Solitude may trigger an attack on the towns. I urge you to reconsider!”
“I do not think it matters when we arrive. He will spot us approaching and torch them in an effort to intimidate us and sow seeds of doubt. If we arrive and find them burnt a day ago then I will have adjudged wrongly. If they are still smouldering with survivors conveniently left behind then it proves he is playing with tactics older than the moons and you risk falling for them. You have been forewarned and I expect understanding if we encounter either scenario. There are at least three Dov on Wyrmstooth. I will not risk them flying out and turning your trader into a funeral pyre for myself and my men. They may still attack Imperator but will die if they do so. Also I doubt your trader will have room for several platoons of Imperial Marines or that we could assemble such a force at short notice in Solitude.”
I quickly walked away and headed for the map room to plot the course to Solitude. I was in no mood to debate my decision further.
I decided to do the ether travel myself. The shorter time of travel I would experience compared to those in the cabin was always a relief when doubts plagued me. It was bad enough I would have to put up with them for at least a day and a half aboard Imperator.
I set the course to the Imperial City with a warning so Blackwell knew we would arrive two hours before we did. On arrival he had already set things in motion and we quickly disembarked the airship and embarked Imperator. Within minutes we were underway.
We encountered some very rough seas on the voyage and none of The Blades were of seafaring stock. They spent many an hour bonding over the rails of the ship as they tried to leave their insides scattered over the Sea of Ghosts.
It was about 6:30 on the morning of the fourth when we first spotted the smoke. The Admiral informed me were just over half an hour from port.
The plan was for my small team to immediately proceed ahead upon docking and would not wait for the several platoons of Imperial Marines that would follow after their inevitably longer disembarkation process.
I assembled the team on deck, pulled the Overseer aside and said to him, “Take a look at the smoke. It is of still burning fires. It is a recent attack and fits in with what I told you before we left Skyrim for the Imperial City Port. Do not fall into despair before the battle has even begun!”
He nodded and stood at the railing with obvious distress on his face. This man cared for the people of Wyrmstooth and being Overseer was more than a wage to him.
I said to The Blades, “Vulthurkrah and the other Dov know we are here. We will proceed in single file and remember to scatter to the opposite side of the person directly in front of you if we are strafed by one or more of them. Do not cluster together if they are attacking from the air. If several of you engage one on the ground and they lift back into the sky you must quickly disperse once again. The dweomers I have placed on your armours will protect you well against the breath weapons of these lesser Dov. It is a mouth full of teeth that should concern you. They are not as quick to strike as a sword but your ability to dodge will decrease with fatigue. You can smash your shield against their snout as you dodge their lunge but that is its only purpose in such a fight. Any attempt to block a Dovah’s head like it was a sword thrust will end in death or broken bones. I will take point.”
As soon as the gangplank was lowered we set off for the nearest town called Stonehollow. Lurius ignored my instructions and ran ahead instead of staying behind me. He was lightly clothed and set a reckless pace.
He rushed through the entrance to an old fort and found himself surrounded by several bandits. The Blades soon engaged his opponents and he rushed off solo towards the burning town.
We quickly slaughtered the vermin.
A small contingent of Legionnaires had been recently overwhelmed by the bandits. I found a letter from their commanding officer which read,
“I shouldn’t need to remind you to be extra vigilant during this time of crisis. Not only do we have those dragons to worry about but I’ve received reports that the marauders are bolstering their presence on the island as well.
It is only a matter of time before they make a bid for Fort Moonwatch and try and gain control of the docks.
While our resources are currently stretched thin I have received word from Solitude that we can expect a large contingent of troops to relieve us soon. This was arranged before the dragons showed their presence as it is a policy of the new Emperor and Queen that no territory of The Empire is to be left undermanned. So be assured that after a well-earned rest our next posting will not be one where professional soldiers of The Empire need fear the bandits and marauders greater numbers.
I handed the letter to Delphine to read and she expressed the same thoughts I had, “Where are the rest of these marauders? If they had large enough numbers to take over this fort then we should have encountered them close to the docks.”
“Perhaps the predators became the prey. Maybe the Dov have decimated them? Let us take a quick look around. I do not like leaving a mystery at my back even if lots of marines will soon follow.”
We started to check the corpses and Daenlit soon found a bloodied note,
“On behalf of the Baywater Bandits I am writing to propose a temporary truce with the Blackfist Marauders.
Our enemy is common. The Thalmor!
Their recent illegal incursion into Wyrmstooth affects both of us as well as an insult to The Empire that is still our home despite our professions. We have both suffered many casualties at their hands.
I am also concerned about your plans to take Fort Moonwatch. That is rather rash and I doubt The Empire under its new leadership will simply turn a blind eye to such a thing. Perhaps it would be better if we united to take Belonir’s Borg? My scouts tell me a coven of witches currently hold the fort. Its location makes it ideal for keeping an eye on incoming ship.
Skagarack the Unyielding.”
I grumbled loudly. “This island is a cesspool of bandits, pirates and the fucking Thalmor. What are those parasites doing here? They always turn up when The Empire presence is at its weakest. They are in for a shock when the marines spread out.”
I sent Daenlit back with the messages we had found and an order for the Admiral. He is to circumnavigate the island and board any Thalmor vessel inside our national waters. All force necessary is approved. It is up to his discretion what to do with the ships and crews. The young Bosmer is swift of feet and would soon re-join us.
Mudcrabs and other annoyances decided to commit suicide so we were delayed even further making our way to the main town.
It was a mess and I had an instant flash back to Alduin and Helgen. He would have razed the town to the ground but the damage and horror here was evident enough and more than these simple people should have to endure. My Dovah was raging inside. This was not a demonstration of skill in battle. This was not even brave.
Lurius stood forlornly in the middle of the town. As I approached he exclaimed, “I know you warned me Majesty but by The Divines what a disaster. They never stood a chance! I can’t even begin to imagine how the mining settlement is going to recover from this.”
“You offered these people transport from Wyrmstooth to the mainland till the Dov were taken care of. They all refused. Every single one of them remained. Why is that?”
“This is their home.”
“So there is your answer on how they will recover. The burnt buildings are replaceable. That is not what makes this their home. I see Khajiit, Dunmer, Orsimer, Bosmer and Nords amongst the dead and injured. They have found a community here that obviously does not discriminate. That is why this is their home and why they will rebuild. There has been remarkable recovery in the Kingdom of Evermore after a level of destruction even I had not seen before. The rebuild of Helgen is almost complete. This place will be no different. Let us see what we can do for the injured. The marines will be here soon and they can help look for anybody trapped.”
I approached a Khajiit caravan guard and two traders.
By his clothing I guessed which one was the owner, “Ahziss assume jer vara the honourable caravan owner?” (I assume you are the honourable caravan owner?).
“Jat, va ja’shavi-dar. Ahziss ko mafas ali greet jer bo some things inseve shay ali naba broken an others oh in’ jaadi felor places.” (Yes, I am Ja’Shavi-Dar. I would stand to greet you but some things inside seem to be broken and others not in their right places.)
I cast a healing spell on Ja’Shavi-Dar but urged him to remain seated while we spoke.
“Va emperor wulf septim. Do jer mind if ahzirr use tamrielic? ahziss ti’agra vaba rather hit an miss!” (I am Emperor Wulf Septim. Do you mind if we use Tamrielic? My Ti’agra is rather hit and miss!)
“It was kind of you to use Ti’agra. My mind was not well enough to translate.”
“I have found that to be the case when people are badly injured. As you can see there are another two mages attending to the injured. So may I ask some quick questions?”
“All Khajiit know you as a friend. How can I help?”
“When did the attack occur?”
“Not long ago, just before the sun began to rise. The dragon burned the town and scattered its folks before returning to the mountains?”
“So there was only one dragon involved?”
“Yes, the largest of the three. It has blue spines and a purple tint at the front of its wings. This one thinks it may have been a calculated attack.”
“Indeed it was Ja’Shavi-Dar. You are very astute in your observation. But the Dovah will pay with his life. That is a promise.”
I walked over to the guard who Celestine had already healed. She said, “Greetings Emperor. I am Ajira and do not know what is more surprising. To survive the dragons on the mainland only to get attacked on Wyrmstooth when one thought that danger was over or the shock at seeing the most powerful person in all of Tamriel talk to and heal my friend Ja’Shavi-Dar.”
“There will always be rogue Dov. It is very difficult for them to overcome their natural desire to dominate. Some fail and give in to their baser instincts. What is your assessment of the attack Ajira?”
“The local guards and the few Legionnaires didn’t stand a chance against the monster. They were dispatched first and then the settlement was quickly engulfed in flames. The lucky ones managed to escape into the wilderness but most were eaten or burned to cinders. It is not a good way to leave this world.”
‘No, it is not pleasant to witness either. I still have nightmares of Helgen from years ago. I have come to Wyrmstooth to kill the rogue Dov.”
“Through the smoke this one could see it return to the mountains across the steam pools from where it came. Perhaps that is where it is roosting? We would be most pleased if you seek it out and put it to the sword.”
I knelt and spoke to the youngest of the Khajiit. Celestine said, “I have healed Shomara but as usual shock has set in.”
“Do not worry about this one. Worry about those who fled into the forests and have yet to return. If the dragons do not eat them, surely the things that crawl in the wilderness will.”
“We will do what we can Shomara. You and the other Khajiit need to rest. There are many Imperial Marines on their way to help lift the heavy things off those who may be trapped and to put out the fires.”
“You will find us busy when you return for that is how we will forget what we saw for a while.”
As Celestine and the others moved around the small town helping and healing I set up the beacon and summoned Nafalilargus. The three Master Mages aboard will provide much aid whilst we chase down the coward that did this.
I could see the first of the marines entering the town so gathered my crew together and explained, “The marines have arrived and I have summoned the airship. We have done what we can and must continue the pursuit immediately before Vulthurkrah decides to attack another large group of civilians.”
Lurius asked, “Do you think he is hiding in Wyrmstooth Barrow?”
“Duaanjunaar was its original name and yes, if a Dov cannot find somewhere high to hide then a Draugr infested cavern deep underground will do. Those children’s stories involving dark caves and dragons with hordes of treasure are based on truth.”
“How far down do you think?”
“Apparently Wyrmstooth Barrow leads to what the locals call Dimfrost. I believe that is just another part of what the Nords on the mainland call Blackreach. It is a huge underground world full of marvels and many Dwemer ruins of the like not seen on the surface. It is also crawling with Falmer. He could have his lair somewhere in Dimfrost. I have encountered other Dov who have lived in Blackreach since the Dragon Wars. If Vulthurkrah is in Dimfrost then that is a very long way down.”
Lurius pleaded, ‘I wish to come for at least while into the Barrow. I need to know you have a chance to get to and kill this monster. If not I will ask your permission to evacuate the island if they are willing or not.”
“Let us discuss that if it is an option later on. Come if you wish but you must stay behind me. There are two other dragons as well as who knows what else out there. The fleeing townspeople and the corpses already left by the Dov will have attracted predators.”
We headed out of Stonehollow and I was instantly reminded of something I had read on the voyage over. When the Red Mountain last erupted a combination of weather and winds made a large number of fungus spores arrive and land on Wyrmstooth. So dotted amongst the flora familiar to Skyrim were the giant mushrooms of Morrowind.
It was wet and miserable as we trotted towards the barrow at a more reasonable pace than the rush from the docks. Lurius explained, “People come to this island seeking to make a fortune from the rich ore veins. What they don’t realize is how tough mining really is. Many leave not much better off than when they first came. As a result this island is littered withhold mine shafts left to decay. Tombstones and shattered dreams.”
I replied, “Yet there are generations of mining families who seemingly enjoy the harsh existence. The lack of such families in greater numbers has made The Empire rely too much on convict labour. Perhaps it is time we started to pay a higher price for the ore and to reduce the monopolies such as the Silver Blood family use to exploit their workers.”
A few minutes later we turned a corner and saw what Ajira called “steam pools”. A destroyed caravan told of a recent attack by one or more Dov.
The Blades were taught the same hand signals I used with The Sentinel. I silently told them to be alert for a dragon attack.
The Khajiit caravan guard had his arms bitten off at the elbows. The other corpses were too charred to recognise their species but the boxes told me this was an East Empire caravan, not a Khajiit one.
I knelt to touch the dead Khajiit and announced, “He is stiff and cold. This was not from this morning. Let us…”
There was an almighty roar as a Dovah emerged from the boiling waters. This caught The Blades by surprise as they had been looking skyward for possible attacks.
The Dovah spotted Lurius ahead and by himself before I did. He leapt towards the Overseer with the intent to land hard and knock him over with the impact.
That left him vulnerable and I hit him with the strongest Unrelenting Force Shout I could. He continued towards Lurius bleeding and enraged. As I rushed forward The Blades started peppering him with arrows.
He was still fixated on Lurius and waddled towards him intent on killing his chosen prey. I ran up and almost decapitated him with a single swing of ‘The Sword’.
As I stood absorbing his soul other Dov sprang from the steaming waters and attacked with a roar.
Amongst the bones of his fallen comrade we fought until I leapt back to let The Blades have their first kill.
They worked well as a team and fittingly it was Delphine who faced the Dovah in my place and landed the killing blows.
But it does not matter who does the killing blow. It is I who has the unpleasant task of absorbing the soul of a being who should be immortal but is now lost to The Void for all eternity.
Lurius could see the fury on my face. It was fed by my Dovah half whose anger fed on his scorn for kin who needlessly die from stupidity. I suppressed the anger and was overcome by the sadness I inevitably feel when dealing death to Dov.
Even if The Blades and Lurius did not understand my melancholy at kills they wished to celebrate they were wise enough to keep quiet as we walked towards the barrow. Celestine knew and simply put her hand on my shoulder and nodded when I looked at her.
I did not take much notice of the landscape until I saw a Shrine to Talos. The others gave me room as I knelt and silently prayed to my father for the killing of Dov to end somehow.
When we finally saw the steps leading into the barrow I had a flashback to Bleak Falls Barrow of years earlier and I warned, “It looks deserted but I guarantee there are bandits hiding being the columns.”
As predicted they sprang their ‘surprise’ on us only to be slaughtered in short order.
We stood before the doors to the barrow and they signified a Dovah or a Dragon Priest resided within.
I turned to Delphine and asked, “What do the doors tell you?”
“Even without Esbern present I can hear his condescending lecturing voice telling me how obvious it is. This is the home of a Dovah.”
“It does not mean we are going to find him so easy though. He could still be miles away and deep below.
We entered to a cavern full of carnage and a closed portcullis at the far end. There was a pedestal with a vertical slot similar to others I had encountered before.
“It looks like two rival groups fought here. This pedestal is to unlock the portcullis. Something needs to be inserted into this vertical slot and since it is not in there and the portcullis is closed it is logically somewhere else.”
I knelt and searched the corpse with the expensive armour slumped next to the pedestal. Predictably he had a journal. The relevant entry read,
“I don’t know how long that old fart has been down here. He certainly looks like and odd fellow but I’m not one to hold it against him. Said he’s been studying the Draugr, using them to develop some fancy spell that allows him to control their movements. Sounds like a power that could come in handy for our next raid.
What really got my attention was when he said he might be able to modify the spell to control anything, not just the dust walkers but living people too! A power like that…I can’t even begin to fathom what we could accomplish! What ‘I’ could accomplish. If what he says is true then I can’t leave until I get my hands on that spell. So we struck a deal. We don’t send in more of our buddies to harass him and in return he transcribes that spell for us when he’s done.
I’ve taken that old Nordic sword we found deeper down. Its name is ‘Goreduster’ and it fits in a slot to open and close the gate at the front entrance. The sword itself resurrects anything it kills so is powerful. But still pales compared to the spell the wizard is working on. I just hope he finishes before I end up looking like he does.
We have been gathering the loot at an old shipwreck near the mining settlement. Once we have cleared the place out we’ll meet at the docks and have it transported to Skyrim. Hopefully this contraband is still worth something if we can’t find what the boss is looking for.”
Looking through the bars of the portcullis the barrow looked typically Nordic.
I handed the journal to Celestine to read and she in turn handed it to Elmera.
I asked Lurius, “Do you know of any shipwrecks near Stonehollow suitable as a base for bandits?”
“There is just the one high up enough from the tides. I can lead you there. Why?”
“The portcullis is lowered and a particular sword is needed to open it. If we are lucky the survivors of this battle are the scum who live in that shipwreck and they still have the sword.”
Elmera handed me back the journal with an angry look on her face.
“You think you know this old Necromancer?” I asked her.
“It sounds like the work of Alberthor. He fled The Empire when his work became too radical even for the most ambitious of those practising odd magicks. It was some of his earlier works that led to my fascination with necromancy. He has been missing for many decades.”
“What he is working on can’t be allowed to be completed. But we are not here for that purpose. I will decide what to do about him later.”
We followed Lurius out of the barrow and along some winding trails to the coast.
We cautiously approached the shipwreck but there were no signs of anybody being home.
I entered the broken hull and in amongst other goods taken from the barrow I found Goreduster. When I held it I detected dweomer for soul capturing and resurrection.
Along the trail we had just come along we heard the distinctive explosions of fireballs. We ran to the bow of the ship and saw two bandit outfits in battle.
I cleared what I could from a distance with my own fireballs.
The Blades rushed the beach and took care of the others.
We made our way back to the barrow without incident.
I inserted Goreduster into the pedestal and the portcullis lifted as expected.
We had hardly stepped beyond it when challenged by the aged necromancer.
“What is this, more vagrants? Did I not tell you already that you’ll get what you want? By Shor’s bones, I need more time! Wait, you are not of those cut-throat smugglers are you? Explain yourselves before I immolate you all in hellfire!”
By way of introduction I used the smallest Unrelenting Force Shout and sent him flying.
The Blades and Celestine thought that was hilarious but Lurius worriedly asked, “You could have killed him! What were you thinking?”
“He is not some kind old man Lurius and he made a threat to your Emperor. But he was not in danger of such a small fall. Anybody that fragile would not survive living in a Draugr infested barrow such as this.”
We approached where the necromancer had landed in a cloud of dust and he soon got to his feet.
Shargam approached him menacingly, “The Emperor is in a bad mood and that makes me pissed off. The fall might not have broken your bones but I bet I can. Introduce yourself nice and polite like okay?”
“The Emperor is using The Blades as guards again after you failed so miserably at it in the past? You couldn’t even get espionage right!”
Shargam took a step forward whilst crackling his knuckles.
“Okay. I rarely have visitors so you must forgive my manners. I am Mage Alberthor. I welcome you to my laboratory Emperor Septim, and friends.”
Elmera hissed behind me and I quietened her with a hand signal.
“And greetings to you Mage Alberthor. The Blades are not my bodyguards. They are accompanying me to help take care of some criminal Dov who have been terrorising the island. I believe one of them may be hiding in Dimfrost. I assume these Nordic ruins lead to an entrance into that underground realm?”
“The rabble plundering these ruins of their riches mentioned how dragons were jeopardizing their shipments. This island is the caldera of an ancient volcano and the barrow itself is built into the mountains. I know of a way deeper down, through these ruins, into the magma chamber. That will likely give passage to Dimfrost and your prey.”
“Can you lead us to the magma chamber?”
“I could but there is one slight dilemma…”
“Of course there is.”
“Follow me and I’ll show you.”
We followed Alberthor through a few corridors and rooms. I noticed an open journal on a table and discretely picked it up and read it whilst the others went ahead with the old mage,
“Of course I wasn’t being serious when I told that group of bandits I’d transcribe a spell for them. I just said that so they’d leave me be and my work alone. I should have flambéed them when I had the chance. Well, maybe I’ll reconsider the decision once I properly attune my spell and have no further need for test subjects.
For now I suppose I can tolerate their presence but one I’m done I’m blasting them all to Oblivion…literally if I can get that planar transfiguration spell working. My genius knows no bounds…occasionally.
While on the topic the latest test subject involved in the mind-control experiment suffered from what I suspect was a rather unfortunate miscalculation on my behalf. I don’t know exactly what happened to him but I suspect I accidentally transferred the Draugr’s mind into his rather than vice versa. He began frothing at the mouth shortly after I performed the transfer but most remarkably, despite having bound him with a simple paralysis spell, he managed to break free. Luckily for me his movements seemed limited to walking repeatedly against the wall seemingly oblivious to it.
But I have more pressing matters. I suspect the Thalmor have somehow caught wind of my presence. How they discovered my location escapes me entirely. Maybe some form of divination perhaps? I can’t think of anyone skilled enough in their ranks. Certainly the bandits here think I’m just a crazy old wizard not that I would deny such a claim. Perhaps it is now a more accurate summation than a past persona I once clung to. Regardless, to turn the situation to my favour and to test the latest advancements of my mind control spell, I sent a group of Draugr out to his encampment within the glaciers. The look on his face! It is marvellous how fear contorts one’s facial physique.
Luckily there’s no shortage of Draugr here. Whoever this temple was constructed for was likely a notable figure in Nordic history. However, I haven’t the time to concern myself with such trivialities.
In order to prevent more louts falling down the magma chamber I have hidden the rusty claw key to the Dwemer Puzzle Door. It appears to have been recently stolen once again. I suppose I should stop hiding it in the pantry and choose a more suitable location. Perhaps I could try a pocket plane? They end up more food for the Falmer I suppose.
But I digress. I do suspect something is afoot. Why the sudden surge of misfits and adventurers? Some sort of uprising maybe? Certainly The Empire isn’t one to shy away from grave robbing expeditions but who am I to frown upon such endeavours? I suppose the bandits did me a favour by closing the gate at the entrance. Maybe now I’ll be able to enjoy some peace and quiet again though at this rate I find it highly unlikely such solitude will last for very long.”
The old mage uses live ‘volunteers’ and is wanted by the Thalmor. I will worry about those facts after we have dealt with the cowardly Dovah. I will have to pretend ignorance of his research. I left his journal where it was and quickly caught up with the rest of them.
Alberthor stood before a closed portcullis. Behind the portcullis was a Draugr staring at us.
I asked, “Your dilemma is a closed portcullis? And what is with the Draugr?”
“This? Oh, this is…how shall I say it…part of my experiment. I’ve been researching the Draugr here for quite some time now. It’s a bit of a silly story really. While testing a new spell that I had been ‘hastily’ working on, no thanks to these boneheads, I…err…had a bit of an accident. I must admit, I’m still working out the kinks of the spell myself. It’s not entirely ready, in case you didn’t realise.”
I hand signalled Shargam who took the hint and proved to be a good actor. He growled and stepped towards Alberthor. I dramatically put my arm out to stop him and urged, “Patience Shargam! I am sure he will get to the point eventually without you breaking his fingers.”
Alberthor stared at the intimidating Orsimer and quickly got to the point.
“The spell I’ve been working on allows me, well anyone really, to control the Draugr to some degree at least. That Draugr must’ve accidentally pushed a switch somewhere ahead of us, subsequently closing this gate. I was preparing this one for my next attempt. Good that you showed up just now. There’s a little something I’ve wanted to try.”
“But you need a volunteer to transfer their mind to that of the Draugr.”
“How did you…”
“I was once the Arch Mage of the College of Winterhold and am probably as strong in Magicka as any you have met before. Plus you told the bandits what you were up to.”
Celestine quickly protested, “There is no way you will do this Wulf! I mean your Majesty!”
I turned to her and said, “Relax Celestine; it would not work on me anyway.”
I turned back to Alberthor who looked puzzled.
“I assume you must prepare the recipient Draugr beforehand by removing any vestiges of their basic motivations and instincts thereby leaving behind a husk like that one behind you.”
“Only via Necromantic arts does the creature still appear sentient. People think the Draugr are undead but it is not that simple. All of them were functionaries serving a Dragon Priest in some capacity. The eternal afterlife promised the Dragon Priests by their Dov overlords was achievable only by those functionaries contributing most of their life-force to a Dragon Priest who died. The Dragon Priest became a form of lich. The functionaries rewarded their own eternal after life in the form of Draugr. On rare occasions Draugr have been observed praying and paying homage at the sarcophagus containing the remains of a Dragon Priest. True undead, such as the skeletons and ghosts often encountered in the same locations as Draugr, are truly mindless and driven by an instinctive hatred for anything living. If you are careful and show no sign of grave robbing or intent to grave rob you can walk unharmed amongst the Draugr. They are not entirely mindless but you have made this one so.”
“But it is a small sacrifice if I can get a positive result out of this experiment. I can finally finish the spell and even expand on it further!”
Celestine asked her question with disgust unhidden, “You mean controlling living creatures such as dogs, cats, mammoths, man, mer, Argonian and Khajiit?”
“Why yes. Some control at least and only for a short time.”
“I would debate the ethics with you at length another time but there are lives at stake and we must move forward. If you had to prepare another Draugr I would refuse to take this path but since this one has already been violated it is a lesser evil to utilise it than let more citizens die in Dragonfire and terror. However, as I said, your spell will not work on me.”
“Why is that?”
“Go ahead and try it.”
Celestine yelled, ‘Wulf! Do not do this!”
“Relax Celestine. I know it will fail with 100% certainty. This is part of a lesson for our seeker of dark magics.”
Alberthor instructed, “Okay then. Stand still while I cast this. It might tingle…slightly.”
He cast his spell and the protections I had put around my identity to protect against Daedric Princes and other powerful beings blocked the attempt to access it.
Alberthor looked flummoxed and I quickly explained, “Those who have never experienced the helplessness of their mind or body being controlled by another may think this pursuit of knowledge you are on is in some way ethical. Only once have my defences been broken and that took a Daedric Prince, Molag Bal to be precise, using his full power and even then I managed to expel him from my mind. I doubt even he could breach my defences again. On the other hand I could utter two Words of Power and have full control over you Alberthor. Three Words of Power and I can control a Dovah. Evil taught to me by evil. Evil that I saw take control of hundreds of men and mer and other sentient beings. Do you really think you are the first to pursue this wickedness? What you propose is abhorrent and I suggest strongly you pursue other knowledge. But enough of the lecture as we still have this little puzzle to solve.”
I knew Alberthor had a million questions. His pursuit of knowledge overrides any ethics he may have once had. I have seen it, and history has seen it, over and over again. The Daedric Princes love it. They find it easy to whisper in such a person’s ear and get a convert.
Elmera stepped forward and declared, “I will do it. Let him transfer my mind to that Draugr.”
Delphine stepped in front of her, “No Elmera. I will not allow it. It is far too dangerous.”
“More dangerous than standing in front of those angry dragons we fought before? Why is this less my duty than participating in such a battle? I listened to the incantation he used. I understand its principles. I can prepare my mind like his Majesty has but to accept it, not fight it. We can argue over this and risk more lives or just get on with it. Besides, you may be Grandmaster but the leader of The Blades is the Dragonborn. So what does he have to say about it?”
Both women stared at me. The whole room full of people stared at me. I answered, “This is no different than any other risk you must undertake on a mission such as this and is part of Elmera’s duty. I require a mage in both Sentinel and Blades squads not just for healing and destructive magicka. I require them to help deal with the myriad forms of magicka we encounter. So I do not have to say yes or no. It is up to Elmera to do her duty as she sees fit.”
Elmera stepped forward and Alberthor said to her, “Excellent. Just remember to keep going until you find that switch. It’s there…somewhere…I’ll end the spell once the gate is open.”
Elmera smiled at him and I guessed what her plan was. I instructed her, “Please take note of enemy positions and numbers. You might as well use this as a chance to do a bit of scouting for us.”
Elmera stood still while Alberthor cast his spell on her. Suddenly her body went stiff and the Draugr let out a guttural chuckle and inspected itself from top to bottom.
Athir asked, “How do we even know that is Elena and if she still has her own free will?”
The Draugr put up its middle finger in the universal gesture for “Up yours!” then turned and shuffled away to find the switch.
“Can you tell where she is?” I asked Alberthor.
“Yes, I can tell where she is including elevation compared to me. I can’t at this stage override her will and control her. I can control empty husk like it was before.”
“I expect such control has a limited range?”
“Yes but I can feel my control fading long before it does entirely. There are many factors that come into play as to the range possible.”
A few minutes later the portcullis started to rise and Alberthor declared, “She has done it. I can now release the spell.”
Elmera startled him by laughing, “No need old man. I could have ended the spell whenever I wished. I was studying it as I was looking for the switch. A practical purpose for it occurred to me. If we can control one that we have already killed then use it to walk amongst others we may avoid much danger and death by doing so. I will propose such study to the College of Winterhold ethics committee and take their guidance on the matter. Just so you know I left enough of me back here so I could hear every word you said about its range. Thanks for the lesson. It was far more interesting that those boring books of yours I once read.”
As Alberthor stood with his mouth open Elmera walked back to stand amongst her fellow Blades. I could see both admiration and surprise on Delphine’s weathered face.
I asked Alberthor, “I hope you learned something as well. How long till you complete your research if you still intend on pursuing it?”
“Another ten to twenty years at least I should think. I have new things to ponder plus all the existing problems I have already encountered. I will most likely join you later but not in this body of course. I will find an unfortunate you have already terminated I promise you.”
Lurius said, “Emperor, I don’t know what the young mage saw when controlling the Draugr but I suspect you have many battles ahead. I am likely to be more of a hindrance than a help. On the other hand my administrative skills plus my knowledge and respect for the local people can aid the marines with their efforts. So I think I will head back to Stonehollow.”
“I can’t spare an escort to send with you.”
“I realise that but I think we killed just about everything that breaths along the way. If I hurry back the same way I should be safe.”
“Then go with my blessing Lurius. Hopefully when next we meet the island will be free of this nightmare.”
Lurius bowed and left. We were about to enter the depths of the barrow in search of a Dovah that thinks it can defeat me. Who knows what made it think that. One thing I am certain of is that there is far more going on than just the rogue dragons. What are the Thalmor looking for and why do they have an interest in Alberthor? The note on the dead bandit indicates they are also looking for more than the items they have purloined from the barrow. I have a feeling we might be here for a few days after defeating Vulthurkrah sorting it all out.