Falskaar: Shattered dreams.
We left the inn and quietly approached Kunnari’s farm. The others stayed back far enough that Celestine could still see me with Detect Life even though I was invisible. If the culprit could detect heat there was a chance of being discovered but it was slim.
Twenty minutes after midnight the thief came trotting into the farmyard. It was a large white wolf! It grabbed a chicken, shook it a couple of times to kill it then calmly trotted off with it while the rooster protested from a distance and the other hens ran around screaming at him to do something.
Wolves never hunt alone so that was peculiar in itself. Coming this close to town was unusual. Seems like a crystal and mind control to me.
I became visible and the others came running up to me. I whispered and pointed, “White wolf that way!”
Using Detect Life we could keep our distance and follow it quite easily.
Eventually the wolf trotted past its pack and dropped the chicken at the feet of a mage who said, “Well done, it’s a good fat one this time. I bet Vernan didn’t think we would be controlling wolves to guard and get dinner!”
I used Kyne’s Peace Shout and the wolves ignored us.
I trained my bow on the Necromancer and yelled, “Don’t die for nothing. As you can see the power of The Divine is far more than the Daedric Lord’s. Walk away with that lesson learned.”
Instead of choosing life he chose to prepare a spell. He turned and tried to run when he saw me release an ethereal arrow. It thumped into his side taking his life in an instant. The wolves ignored the dead chicken and approached his corpse with anticipation.
It is amazing what a “BOO!” with the Thu’um powering it can do. They scattered and left the dead Necromancer unmolested.
Brother Thorlogh said, “They will just come back and eat him later!”
“I know but I don’t have to see it do I?”
“This place is called Sunken Skull Barrow.”
“Well that sounds like a Necromancer’s wet dream. Let’s go see who is home shall we?”
Immediately we were faced with two pieces of stupid, a lone guard and a portcullis with a pull chain next to it.
The place was crawling with noisy Necromancers. A Dwemer Centurion playing drums could have snuck up on them.
They died wondering who was rude enough to pierce their bodies with magical arrows.
After killing at least half a dozen we came to a doorway behind which I could detect three living beings. I said to the Sentinel, “There are three in there but the walls are too thick for me to tell what they are. Pretty sure the centre one is a person. The other two might be wolves. I will take the centre and you take care of the other two. Do not kill the wolves if they do not attack.”
When I opened the door an Arch-Necromancer was surrounded by a magicka barrier. He tried to command me telepathically.
I yelled, “Oh please. If God’s can’t control me a second rate mage like you has not much hope!”
I drew my sword and did a Whirlwind Sprint Shout. The Arch-Necromancer suddenly found I was behind him. The Sentinel hadn’t even entered the room yet. The wolves ignored me.
The Arch Necromancer turned with spells ready and I cut him down.
His blood now covered the platform he had been standing on.
I retrieved the crystal shard.
The other’s had come walking up to me keeping a wary eye on the wolves as they did so.
Celestine asked, “Some wolves in the caves attacked and some didn’t. Do you have any idea why?”
“Like people they will have different levels of mental resistance. Some wolves might have had their aggression dampened too much and were no longer guarding the Necromancers. Hopefully now I have removed the shard they will return to their normal behaviour after a while and attack any intruder.”
“And he tried to control you?”
“It is the natural progression of somebody experimenting with such magicka, Daedric or otherwise.”
To make sure we had time to get out before the wolves turned hostile I did another Kyne’s Peace Shout. It is useful but not when trying to sneak.
On the dead Arch-Necromancer I found a journal and read out the relevant entries,
“Vernan is incredibly pleased with my latest report. We’ve been using the magic from our fragment to control a wolf. So far we have been able to control him, sending him all the way to Amber Creek, where he kills a chicken then returns it to the cave.
Vernan has asked that we do not harm the local population during our research, but we certainly think a simple chicken now and then is worth it for the greater good of Falskaar and its people.
We must now work to refine our abilities, and better control the magic.”
Brother Thorlogh said, “It seems that Vernan and the Necromancers think they can use the crystal shards for the good of Falskaar.”
“Yes but that is delusional. When I use a Shout such as Kyne’s Peace it is not a form of mind control. It is using the power of The Divine to communicate to the aggressive or potentially aggressive animal that we are not a threat or a meal. It is temporary and would not help another person that arrives on the scene five minutes later. What the magic of this Daedric invention does is make a connection with the victim and constantly overrides the victims struggle to regain control. The wolf who was fetching the chickens did not want to do so. It was compelled to do so! When I used Kyne’s Peace it recognised we were no threat via its own logic and decision making. It was not forced to be friendly.”
“I find it difficult to differentiate the two.”
“Because you have never had your decision making circumvented. You have never had to move your limbs like a puppet on strings. You have never had your normal thought processes circumvented by foreign logic and desires. Something like Kyne’s Peace is a suggestion, not a compulsion.”
Lydia added, “The easiest way for Wulf to make you understand is to suggest you jump off a cliff which you would logically refuse. He could compel you to jump of a cliff and as you walked to the edge your subconscious would try to fight the compulsion but would fail against the stronger will of Wulf. You would slowly walk to your doom while desperately trying not to. Thoughts of loved ones and the basic desire to survive battering against the power of Wulf’s will. Think on that horror and you will understand Wulf’s distaste for such evil.”
I was getting angry at the memory and let it show.
“Rigmor watched me embrace and kiss Morag Sethius as if she was the most desirable woman on Nirn. How do you think Rigmor felt? How do you think I felt? Get it into your head there is a big difference between the magicka and Thu’um I use and that of the Daedric Princes. These foolish Necromancers are falling into the trap of justifying evil in the pursuit of good. Even Brother Arnand will start thinking the same as them!”
“What do you mean?”
“I left the crystal shard with him so he could investigate it. But as he starts to understand the Daedric dweomer he may start to think, like Valen did, of good and moral uses for it.”
“You knew this but left him in such danger anyway? What is so moral about that?”
“If I had carried it till we disposed of Yngvarr we would have started our research on it many days later than we actually accomplished by entrusting it to Brother Arnand. He is a man of faith living in a house of Lord Akatosh so is better protected than these mages. When Vernan was forced to study the shard outside of such protection, in his little hidey hole, he started to go astray. Brother Arnand and you are supposed to be educated men. It is only after travelling with you did I realise how ignorant those of the priory really are. I should not have to warn you or him if you were half as knowledgeable as you make out to be! Question my morals once again and you will find yourself twiddling your thumbs at the priory rather than getting the chance to assist. Understood?”
“We have done the best we can!”
“Bullshit! Your predecessors were knowledgeable but after the Dwemer machines crushed them very little has been done to recover that knowledge. You have sat at the priory living on the reputation of those earlier scholars but not actually doing anything scholarly. Have any of you even bothered visiting the College of Winterhold or the Imperial Library? Ask questions for clarification but do not argue with the answers as you speak from ignorance. You will learn nothing if you refuse to accept that!”
Lydia said, “Wulf, we are tired. Let us head for the airship and get a few hours sleep.”
“Agreed but that is not why I spoke the truth with force!”
We made our way to Nafalilargus without another word being said.
I crawled in next to the sleeping Rigmor and was instantly enveloped in our quiet. My breathing was soon in sync with hers and I welcomed the few hours of sleep I managed.
Just after finishing breakfast Rigmor said, “Lydia and Celestine told me they are concerned how your mood swung quickly yesterday. It is not just the Necromancers or priory that is bothering you is it?”
“These people are naïve. The island was overrun by bandits long before Yngvarr recruited even more. Their supposed scholars are ignorant. They would have no hope against the Aldmeri Dominion or Akaviri. A Daedric Prince is too much for them to handle. I am positive Lord Shor led Vernan to the shards so that we would be here to remove that danger as well. Our willingness to help these people would never be questioned by the Gods. With certainty of such they sent us here.”
“They have always done that and I thought we had both come to accept such manipulation.”
“Not when they fail to provide any idea of their preferred ending. The Divine Task that brought me to Cyrodiil is still not complete and I know not the end they desire. Then we find ourselves here and I do not know what Lord Shor wants as the outcome. I get tired quickly when having to constantly use educated guesses and intuition instead of having a clear game plan before me.”
“Just think of how chaotic it will be when the invasion commences. We are going to spend years preparing and will most probably find that preparation insufficient in some areas. Your educated guesses and intuition will compensate for such things and help us win .Together we will decide when we have done all we can for these people. Just continue till that ending becomes clear.”
“I know all this and Lydia and Serana are the second best on Nirn at patiently pointing out I know it.”
“So I am the best at pointing out the obvious to you?”
“I was thinking of Meeko at number one but you are in the top ten.”
Rigmor laughed and that ensured my mood would be much better for part of the day anyway.
I kissed her on the cheek goodbye and said, “If you do not hear anything from Casius I suggest you head back to the Imperial City and see if our spies have anything to say about the matter.”
Rigmor replied, “I will be in this cabin all day looking at copies of the different historical agreements between The Empire and other countries. So if Casius does turn up I will be easy to find. Just tell me when you don’t need the airship for a few hours and I will go see if BRD’s or Blackwell’s network have found anything useful.”
“I would hate to see the number of supplicants who wish to speak to either of us and not Blackwell.”
“They will be all yours when we get back to Cyrodiil my dearest Wulf.”
“Can’t I just stay here and play with Daedric Princes?”
As I climbed the ladder to the deck I was accompanied by more laughter.
For a change the fog and mist were gone and we enjoyed our quick walk to the farm in sunshine.
I approached Kunnari and told him, “A wolf was controlled by some Necromancers. It was stealing your chickens and taking them back to them.”
“Wolves and Necromancers you say? How odd. We try and try but this land…it only ever seems to get worse.”
“Yngvarr’s family will never again try and take the throne. We have virtually eliminated the bandits and will soon get rid of all the Necromancers. I would not give up on Falskaar yet.”
“It is our home so we will never give up.”
We headed back to Amber Creek and entered the inn.
Rurik approached me and asked, “When can we have those lessons you promised?”
“I am sorry but I have so many things to do. I tell you what, is there any song you would like to learn and I can send you the manuscript!”
“I have been collecting the old bard songs of Falskaar but there is one that has been too dangerous for me to get.”
“What is it called and where is it?”
“I believe it is in the Ruins of Holmr and is called ‘The Wanderin’ Bard’”
“I know where that place is. We shall have a look for you since I can’t sit down and give you lessons.”
“While you are still doing things for us Falskaar people there is something wrong at the hot springs we used to enjoy till recently. Ask Klara about it.”
We found Klara in one of the back rooms, “Rurik says there is something wrong with the hot springs. Can you tell me what?”
“Lots of us used to enjoy spending time at the hot springs but lately nobody goes there much. Something is off, it feels so…dreadful.”
“Please explain the feeling if you can.”
“It’s hard to explain. You go there and simply feel dread and misery. It is so bad you want nothing more than to leave and get away. It only started recently but I haven’t a clue what could be causing it. The springs are something this town has enjoyed for a long time and it would be wonderful to be able to visit them once more.”
“I have a good idea what it might be. We shall go have a look.”
“Thank you so much.”
“Being the bartender you hear the gossip. Is there anything else unusual happening?”
“Audmund says his cattle keep running off. That is a rather odd problem if you ask me.”
“That certainly is. I suppose we had better talk to him.”
“It must be wonderful to get to all these places quickly in that airship!”
“That was a wedding gift from a Khajiit Emissary. It has been one of the most useful things I could imagine.”
It was not a long walk to the hot spring. As we walked I said to Brother Thorlogh, “Forgive me for my mood earlier. There is no excuse for my abruptness.”
“You only told the truth Majesty. You can be forceful in your delivery but it is always the truth. I cannot imagine the pressure you and Queen Rigmor are under. It would be petulant for me to take offence.”
“Still, it was not ideal.”
Celestine said, “Most of us would have locked ourselves in a dark room rather than face the decisions you and Rigmor do on a daily basis. Maybe we need to find something for your Dovah to play with?”
Thorlogh looked startled and asked, “You have a pet dragon?”
I explained, “No Brother Thorlogh, I am the Dovah. My dragon blood and soul is the pitiless, sarcastic, violent half of me. What you normally see is my mortal half. It took a while to control the Dov half and sometimes I let it loose to relieve the pressure. It does not mean I kill more enemies than I normally would. It just means I might not be happy with a silent and quick kill. Dov are by nature violent and dominating. They are also pitiless.”
“It sounds like something I don’t want to see.”
“It can be confronting. When we rescued King Agnar’s family I let it loose and those who stood in my way died in terror. But only when out of sight of Wilhard. He had trouble enough with the normal violence he witnessed.”
“Do you think the wandering cattle and the hot springs are clues to our crystal hunt?”
“Yes. The feeling at the hot spring would be Necromancers using the shard to make people leave so they can study it without interference. But like the rest of them they are not very bright. Instead of scaring away those hunting the shards it has attracted us!”
“And the cattle would be more mind control experiments?”
“Yes, I am pretty sure. So we may soon have all the crystal shards.”
“Then we take on a Daedric Prince?”
“I do not know. We will have to wait and see.”
After reaching the hot springs we stood still and quiet to see if we could detect the dread and misery.
After a while Brother Thorlogh said, “There is something here but my logic tells me not to be silly and to ignore it.”
“That is the advantage of an analytical mind. You knew what to expect and we have discussed a probable cause. So you know there is nothing here to actually hurt you.”
Iona quipped, “This is where some horrible monster leaps out of the hot springs and bites one of us in half.”
I answered, “Don’t worry Iona. We are all wearing armour. It would not break its teeth on us when there is a nice juicy prior in his robe.”
Brother Thorlogh shook his head then said, “You are all weird. Anyway, there is a cave at the bottom of the waterfall. It is probably a good place to look for the Necromancers.”
I looked over the waterfall then yelled, “Come on Thorlogh. Where is your sense of adventure?”
He looked shocked as we all dived into the river below.
We had to wait for him to make his way down a path to reach the cave. When he arrived I said, “Same deal with the others. We shall go quiet and kill as many as we can without them even seeing us.”
We entered and could hear talking in the distance.
The body of a citizen with his throat cut was sprawled on the floor. I gave the hand signal to The Sentinel indicating no mercy. They had crossed the line.
The first two Necromancers we encountered were busy chatting away.
They both died without noticing the ethereal arrows heading their way or the marksman that fired them.
A couple more Necromancers came strolling into the chamber. They noticed the bodies but died before noticing us.
A bit further on the unmistakable sounds of Dwemer machinery could be heard and their architecture appeared.
At the entrance to the Dwemer ruins I signalled there was a single person behind the door.
A Necromancer was busy dissecting a skeever and didn’t bother turning when the door opened.
He died silently and we continued further in.
We cleared a chamber with four other Necromancers in seconds with arrow and lightening.
I looked around and loudly exclaimed, “How stupid do you have to be?”
Jordis looked where I was staring and said, “About as stupid as a Necromancer on Falskaar!”
Brother Thorlogh walked over and after a while said, “I give up. What is stupid?”
“What kind of ruins are we in Brother Thorlogh?” I asked him.
“What is in front of me?”
“It is just a normal wooden bookcase by the looks of it.”
“The Dwemer did not use wooden bookcases. Look at how wide it is and how recessed it is into the rock face.”
He looked closer then exclaimed, “A hidden doorway!”
“They should have at least put some books on the shelves! I bet the method of opening it is in plain view!”
Sure enough, above a chest was a pull handle. Not hidden in a corner or behind something but directly above a big chest that would attract the attention of anybody entering the cavern. I pulled and twisted the handle.
The ‘hidden door’ opened with a grinding noise and beyond it was the crystal shard.
Next to the chest was a note which I read out loud,
Go now to the ruins below the springs where the Dwemer once roamed. There is a chamber off to one side. You must cover up the entrance and make it secret. Place the crystal in there while you use it. That way if anything goes wrong, it will not be discovered and we may retrieve it later.
Burn this letter after you read it.”
I moaned, “My brain hurts just thinking of this level of stupid.”
The same type of platform we had seen at the other places was present.
I walked up and took the crystal shard.
I said to Brother Thorlogh, “One to go. I think we will go recover the bard’s songbook first. I would also like to drop the necklace off if it is complete.”
“Okay with me. I am not overly anxious to possibly meet a Daedric Prince!”
We exited the cave and could see Nafalilargus was still anchored at Amber Creek.
Once back at Amber Creek I approached Rangarr and asked, “Is the armour done yet?”
“Yes, here is the armour and the necklace for Henrik. No charge for either.”
“They are both superb. I assume it was a great something or other grandfather that made the armour all those years ago?”
“Yes and I am as proud of it as if I made it myself.”
“And you have made this wonderfully delicate and intricate necklace! A bit different than the ploughs, nails, horseshoes, swords and armour you usually make!”
“I know that is usually the work of jewellers in larger cities but my family has always done both heavy smithing and the finer work. I don’t get to do jewellery as often as I would like.”
“Henrik and Svea will both be pleased. Thank you for your help with these.”
Rangarr nodded and we made our way to Svea’s store.
She broke out into a wonderful smile when I said, “Here is the armour. Rangarr says no charge.”
“Oh how kind of him! There is just one last thing. Can you give this suit to Gabrial? I…I want him to have it.”
“I am a Priest of Mara so will do so with pleasure. I always like to aid young love!”
Svea’s face turned a bright red as I turned and walked out.
Gabrial just happened to be walking past the store when I exited. I went up to him and declared, “Lady Mara means it to be!”
He looked at me suspiciously and asked, “What is meant to be?”
I held up the armour, “Svea wishes you to have this.”
“What is that? The Amber Creek Armour? She got the ring back? But why would she want me to have this…unless…”
Lydia moaned, “Are all Nord men so thick?”
Iona declared, “Khajiit just need a wink!”
Gabrial sighed, “I am not that dumb! You know, I see something in her that I…I haven’t seen in a woman since my wife died. I’ll proudly wear this armour. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. Ask Svea to take a walk to the hot springs since we have just made them safe to visit again. Then thank her! Oh, tell Klara the springs are okay when you see her.”
“But not till after you and Svea have taken a walk together!” added Lydia.
Gabrial grinned and headed for Svea’s store.
We boarded Nafalilargus and flew to the docks.
When we entered Henrik’s warehouse the first thing that I noticed was how empty it looked after his donations to the people of Staalgarde. He broke into a smile when I handed him the necklace then said, “Oh, it’s beautiful. Rangarr has outdone himself again. Thank you, she’ll love this. I know it!”
As he held the necklace up so the sapphire could catch the rays of sun filtering through his window we left.
“Are you really a Priest of Mara?” asked Thorlogh.
“Yes I am. I used to go around doing Lady Mara’s work for a while. She will be pleased at the delivery of the armour and the necklace. They are the sort of simple things her acolytes do all the time.”
It was not a long flight to the Ruins of Holmr.
It was just another Ancient Nord tomb and nothing special about it needs detailing. We made our way through the usual Draugr, simple puzzles and mind numbing boredom till we finally found the songbook sitting on a table. I took a quick look at it and put it in my pack.
Lydia asked, “Aren’t you going to read it to us?”
“No, it is a song and quite well written. I will sing it tonight after we have had supper.”
As it was about 10:00 PM when we exited the ruins we decided to call it a day. We boarded the airship and I changed into clothing then quickly penned some music to go with the song while eating a late supper with my squad.
For the first time in what seemed like ages I took up the role of bard. I sat in a chair and strummed my lute as I sang ‘Ballad of the Bard’,
- The young Bard strummed his lute all night,
- And made the music flow,
- With merry a tune of false delights,
- Of Kings and Queens and woe.
- ‘Oh please, next song,’ said one who watched,
- And so the Bard did start,
- The love affair ‘twixt Jester and
- The trait’rous Queen of hearts.
- The court room held the royalty,
- The Queen, so full of life.
- The king was old and frail and cruel,
- So she was struck with strife.
- The Queen, she watched the Jester act,
- A play of heart and soul.
- The king, he saw the Jester act,
- And boomed, ‘That’s not your role!’
- The Jester now was distraught as
- His passion for the play
- Was too great to forget his mind,
- And act the fool all day.
- The meal was done, the Queen stood up,
- And went to the sad man.
- She told him that she loved his play,
- He smiled; he had a plan.
- The Jester and the Queen, they talked,
- She bid him take a seat.
- He told her his life’s story and
- She thought that he was sweet.
- The Queen looked back, the King was gone,
- She turned around again.
- She asked the Jester if he would
- Like to be more than friends.
- The Jester was confused at this,
- And him the Queen did lead.
- She took him by the hand to bed,
- And then they did the deed.
- “Oh how grotesque,” said one who heard
- The Bard describe the act.
- The Bard said, ‘You’d ne’er done the deed
- And this is surely fact.’
- The whole room burst in laughter and
- The one who heard looked down.
- The Bard strummed on his lute again,
- ‘Now how they got renowned.’
- The Queen played wife during the day,
- But nights she found her love.
- She called the Jester her true King,
- And he called her his dove.
- But one such night, they were in bed,
- A knock came on the door.
- So in the blankets hid the Queen,
- Pretending as a whore.
- The door the Jester answered and
- They looked for his sweet Queen.
- He told them, ‘She is not with me,’
- They said, ‘She’s not been seen.’
- They left at once, the Queen came up,
- She said, ‘That was too close.
- What will we do my Jester dear?
- You’re the one that I love most.’
- ‘We can’t escape this place,’ he said.
- The Jester was no fool.
- ‘We’ll have to kill your husband and,
- I will take over rule.’
- The next night so the lovers did
- A diff’rent kind of deed.
- They snuck into the King’s bedroom,
- For his death they did need.
- The Jester knelt beside the bed,
- And took him by the throat.
- ‘Though this is not my role dear king,
- I’ll soon wear royal coat.’
- The king went white, and drew no breath.
- The Jester was no fool.
- He took the body to the fire,
- And burned the King of cruel.
- The Jester and the Queen snuck out
- And went back to their bed.
- The people thought that Queen killed King,
- And put a bounty on her head.
- The two were found inside their room,
- The guards put on a frown.
- ‘I am your King,’ said the great fool,
- For he donned the King’s crown.
- The guards, they laughed at what they saw,
- The fool and Queen of young.
- They took them to the gallows where
- The lovers would be hung.
- ‘Oh please not she,’ the Jester said,
- As rope bound their two necks.
- ‘No spare us both!’ screamed the young Queen,
- ‘We do not deserve death.’
- ‘But death you’ll have,’ said the hangman,
- ‘As all the trait’rous souls.’
- Both Jester and the Queen would live,
- Had they kept to their roles.
- And so there hung the lovers and
- They faced each other not.
- Both bound in life, apart in death,
- Their life was all for naught.
- For in this life the purpose is
- Not to have only love.
- You must not sin, nor cheat to win,
- To get to God above.
- And thus concludes the love affair,
- A most depressing song.
- Adult’ry is a grievous sin,
- The epitome of wrong.
Rigmor was enthralled and clapped enthusiastically when I finished.
I said to her, “I really do miss living as a bard. It started off as a disguise and a way to listen in on gossip and rumours but then I learned to love the craft.”
Rigmor replied, “That ballad will be a lively conversation starter. Many listeners will side with the lovers finding each other but not the murder. Some will think adultery is wrong no matter the circumstances. Some will think the cruel king deserved to die.”
“The bias will depend on where they live. In Skyrim the woman need not be subservient to a cruel husband and divorce is not unheard of. In Cyrodiil the concept of a loving marriage amongst nobility seemed quaint and both partners were free to have lovers. That of course led to illegitimate offspring who become usurpers thus sparking rebellion and war. In Elsweyr the Khajiit would wonder what the fuss was all about up until the murder.”
I sang a few more songs till I could see my lady was getting tired. We went to bed and talked until once again we fell asleep in each other’s arms and enveloped in our quiet.
Next morning I flew the airship to Audmund’s farm.
Before exiting Rigmor and I agree she should fly back to Cyrodiil and see if our spies have found out why the Thalmor suddenly became interested in Falskaar. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and promised to not antagonise the Daedric Prince too much. She agreed to give the songbook and sheet music to Rurik before departing for home.
We walked up to Audmund who said, “What a magnificent machine! I have seen it flying overhead quite a bit the last few days!”
“I take it you are Audmund? Glad to meet you and yes, it is rather magnificent.”
“Audmund it is Majesty. What can I do for you?”
“I was told you are having a problem with cattle going missing.”
“Yes indeed! Lately my cows have made a nasty habit of disappearing randomly.”
“Did you track them down?”
“It took forever the first time but I eventually found them in a cave far to the north. Then they went missing again and I found them in the same cave.”
“Did you see anything unusual in the cave?”
“Yes, some kind of crystal on a dais. The several times it has occurred I just got my cattle and left quickly. However this time it’s more serious.”
“Let me guess, the cave was full of Necromancers.”
“Yes it was. So you have some idea of what is going on then?”
“Yes we do and you are lucky to be alive. These Necromancers have proven to be violent each time we have encountered them. Where is this cave?”
“It is called Warmth’s Edge Caverns, far to the north, past the Hjorgunnar’s cabin.”
I looked at my map and said, “I see where it is. It got its name because it is on the edge of the frozen hold. We shall have a look for you.”
“There is only one cow missing this time. Just free her and she should start heading back home. There is no need to escort her as she knows to stay on the roads.”
“I will have to take care of the crystal first. You are also lucky you did not touch it. It belongs to a Daedric Prince.”
“Well I am glad my common sense won over my curiosity then!”
“How did you find them the first time?”
“I was lucky enough that a merchant saw them wandering on the road by the border of the two forests. He reported them heading north. The Hjorgunnar brothers were kind enough to help me search a few places and we found them in the cave. Each time after that I’ve simply checked the same cave.”
“The Necromancers are practising using the powers of the crystal. They are calling your cattle as an experiment. Don’t worry, your cow will soon return safely.”
We made our way to the cave. The Necromancers let us know they were in attendance with several blood covered cairns.
We stood at the entrance and I said, “I am bored with sneaking. Let’s just go in and kill them quickly shall we?”
We did exactly that. Spell and arrow brought every one of them down within seconds of being seen by us.
In less than ten minutes we had killed all the Necromancers and I retrieved the crystal shard.
On the deceased Arch-Necromancer was a journal. As per usual I read out the relevant passages,
“We have gained the ability from the crystal fragment to draw in nearby life. The only stipulation is that we seem to only be able to draw in the cattle from a nearby farmstead. I hope that we can broaden our control with practice.
We have been careful to spot the farmer when he comes looking for his cattle so that we may hide. We believe that he does not know of our involvement. Vernan has urged us not harm anyone, but if he gets too close we will have no choice.
In the meanwhile we continue to play with the magic, unlocking its secrets. Great things are almost upon us and the land of Falskaar.”
“I am absolutely convinced that Vaermina is the creator of the artefact and is influencing the Necromancers.”
“By whispering to them?” asked Thorlogh.
“I call it whispering but it is more like somebody yelling in your ear! Vaermina works a bit different. Normal mortals, even those without any magicka at all, can find themselves in her plane of Oblivion called Quagmire. It can happen when dreaming but the dreamer will not remember unless they have trained their mind to do so. That is where she can give suggestions much stronger than the normal whispering of the Dark Lords. She will implant an idea and make it seem reasonable and upon waking the puppet will act upon that idea. Mostly she will simply set the dreamer off into a nightmare or even a pleasant dream simply to steal their memories.”
“You said you can train to remember your dreams?”
“Yes, a lot of mages do so. They solve many problems by recognising they are dreaming and take it over. It is like freeing the brain of anything but pure problem solving thought.”
“Can you do it?”
“I can but don’t. I have trained myself to recognise a dream from an alternate timeline. But I would never try and control a dream as that would inevitably attract Vaermina and we are not the best of friends.”
“What do people say who remember talking to her?”
“That nothing else in their lifetime will ever scare them as much. Not a pleasant experience apparently.”
“And we might encounter her?”
“If you get dragged into her realm you may. Just do as I say and we will minimise that chance.”
In a small cavern near the entrance we found Audmund’s cow. When I released her from the pen she happily trotted outside and headed for home.
We jogged past her and made it back to the farm long before she would arrive. I walked up to Audmund and said, “You cow is inbound. I have removed the crystal so you should have no more problems. As I said it was Necromancers experimenting. We took care of them as well.”
“Grand! I’m glad that won’t be happening anymore. I can’t thank you enough!”
“Not a problem. Glad to have helped”
Audmund’s wife called out, “Majesty, if you don’t mind there is something you might be able to help me with.”
I walked over and said, “Certainly. What is your name?”
“I am Helena.”
“Good to meet you Helena. What do you need help with?”
“I make clothing which I then sell to Amber Creek. Normally I get shipments of cloth and other fabrics of high quality imported all the way from Cyrodiil.”
“And you think something has happened to your latest shipment?”
“Yes, it was with a caravan travelling from Borvald to Amber Creek. It never arrived.”
“I found quite a lot of high quality fabrics in a bandit stronghold. Perhaps that is your missing shipment?”
“Nobody else I know of on Falskaar imports it.”
“Well it is aboard my airship. I will leave it with Lady Jalma and you can pick it up from her next time you visit Amber Creek.”
“Thank you so very much!”
“My pleasure I assure you. Have a good day and may The Divines bless you.”
We started making our way to Bailun Priory and I studied a couple of the crystals as we went. Although I carried them all in the same large bag they were wrapped individually in cloth and placed in leather string bags.
Brother Thorlogh asked, “Why keep them so well wrapped up?”
“I don’t think anything powerful is needed to combine them and make a single crystal. I believe you simply have to put them close to each other with nothing between them.”
“I suppose that is a reasonable analogy. I have seen such before with other fragmented artefacts.”
We discussed other artefacts I had found and their properties as we walked.
We had barely walked into sight of the priory when Brother Arnand came running up to me,
- Arnand: Did you get them? Did you get all of the other shards?
- Wulf: Yes. We found the other four and I have them with me.
- Arnand: Great work! I hope it was not too difficult for you. I apologize for not having a way to find them more easily.
- Wulf: It did not take long when we had the time to track them down. Remember we had a war to win first!
- Arnand: Can I have them? I need to check them!
- Wulf: No. The barrier has been removed on them all so they are too dangerous for you to handle. Please pass me the one you have.
- Arnand: No? Why should you have them? I have had this one for days and it has done no harm!
- Wulf: When combined they will create a portal to a pocket realm. Separately their magic still has influence on the minds and thoughts of those that handle them. Such is the way of Vaermina.
- Arnand: But we must reunite them into one solid crystal! That is the only way we can control the magic and prevent anything bad coming of this.
- Wulf: Think hard and long Brother Arnand. Why do you think that is a good idea? Why did the mages of old, who were undoubtedly more learned than you, divide the crystal into five shards?
- Arnand: I just know that is what we have to do!
- Wulf: Did you study the crystal outside the confines of the priory building?
- Arnand: No.
- Wulf: Did you wake up in a sweat on one or more occasions?
- Arnand: Yes, but what has that got to do with anything?
- Wulf: You think it is a good idea to let the shards combine into one crystal because Vaermina told you so while you were dreaming.
Brother Arnand went to object but I could see the doubts starting to creep in.
- Wulf: I have spoken to Vaermina. I have conversed with many of the Gods and been in Oblivion several times. My experience with such matter exceeds any other mortal on Nirn. I am telling you that combining the shards is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Do you still doubt my judgement?
- Arnand: I don’t understand. I have nothing to base my assumption on but it is strong. Will giving you the shard I have remove this conflict?
- Wulf: Not by itself. You have to fight the wrong thought processes yourself. It is a matter of willpower.
- Thorlogh: Hand him the crystal Brother Arnand. Nether you or I are equipped to deal with a Daedric Prince and their tricks.
Brother Arnand reached into his tunic and handed the shard to me with shaking hands. I wrapped it in cloth then placed it in a small leather bag. Then I placed it in the large leather bag with the others.
- Arnand: I remember the logic that sounds convincing. I thought that while they are fragmented the effects of the crystal may bleed out of the Daedric planes of Oblivion and into Mundus. That Vaermina intentionally made them to do so hoping to spread nightmares across the land.
- Wulf: She had a very powerful artefact that did that. It was called the Skull of Corruption. She tried to recruit me by offering it as a bribe to kill a Priest of Mara. I told her to shove it and we called upon the power of Lady Mara to destroy it. Needless to say she is not a friend of mine. These shards do not have the power you describe. They do allow limited telepathic abilities that the other Necromancers were experimenting with. Only when recombined into a single gem would the artefact rival the power of the one destroyed.
- Thorlogh: So where do we go to confront Vernan?
- Wulf: In his journal he mentions Volkrund Keep. Hopefully Yngvarr’s mob killed most of the Necromancers who were there when searching for the five keys. More than likely Vernan is in a part they did not search so we can expect strong opposition I think.
- Arnand: Would they attack us? Vernan goes on about using the artefact for the good of Falskaar.
- Thorlogh: We had to fight them each time and every one of them thought they could use the crystal shards for good.
- Wulf: They are like you Brother Arnand. They believe in what they say one hundred percent even though it is blatantly untrue.
We made our way to the keep and I was surprised to find no sentries. We stood at the front door and I commanded, “Thorlogh and Arnand listen and do as I say! Do not get ahead of me. Do not answer Vaermina if she speaks to you. Do not expect the Necromancers, including Vernan, to be friendly. Do not touch any levers, button, pull chains or doors. If you don’t think you can obey those simple rules say so now.”
Thorlogh answered, “After seeing you and The Sentinel in action it would be foolish to disobey. So I agree.”
I stared at Brother Arnand till he eventually broke eye contact. Then he muttered, “Okay. I will accept your guidance.”
Lydia warned him, “You had better or you will most probably die if Vaermina gets her hands on the complete artefact!”
Brother Arnand was not yet finished and challenged me, “Is it not dangerous to take the five shards in there? If you just want to stop the Necromancers why not put them somewhere safe?”
“There is nowhere safe to store them on Falskaar. My airship is temporarily gone. I could go to my pocket realm but then I would have to travel back through Sancre Tor, Skyrim and then get back here. That would take hours and I would have to do it solo. If there is some apparatus to fuse the shards then maybe I can use it to destroy them. So I will trust my instincts and take them with me. You have no valid options so I suggest we just enter and end Vaermina’s game.”
I did not wait for a reply. I entered Volkrund Keep with the Sentinel close behind.
We crouched and kept silent. Nothing could be heard.
We did not encounter a single Necromancer. It appeared Yngvarr’s men had cleared them out. In a room was a locked door with a lever nearby to open it. I warned Brother Arnand not to touch it but he did and got shocked for his trouble.
I whispered in anger, “Tell me one good reason not to escort you back outside Brother Arnand! You are not only a danger to yourself but the rest of us as well.”
I removed the dweomer on the lever and said, “Now try.”
The door’s lock clicked. I said, “Yngvarr’s men most likely never got through this door. I would take the protection on the lever as a sign Vernan is at home.”
We entered along narrow corridor. The roof was arched which should have provided enough strength to withstand millennia. But somebody had added crossbeams at some stage. It didn’t seem sensible to me but then again a lot of things in these old crypts and dungeons don’t.
We were part way down the corridor when Brother Armand ran in front of me and halted. He faced me demanding, “You must give me the crystals!”
Brother Thorlogh walked up and tried to reason with him, “Brother Armand. It is obvious you are not yourself. Please come with me now for your own safety. We will wait outside and leave these capable people to deal with the situation.”
I could see Brother Armand wrestling with the compulsion placed upon him. There was nothing I could do to help him within his own mind. His will had to overcome it.
Vaermina then attacked my mind!
I automatically shuttered my memories and blocked other parts from her disgusting presence.
“So we meet again plaything of the filthy Divine. Give the crystal shards to Brother Armand. Vaermina commands you!”
“We have played this game before and you were much stronger then. Still you surprise me with the strength of your presence. Perhaps the shards are too close even if covered by cloth and leather.”
“Give him the crystals or you will regret it mortal!”
I unhooked the bag of crystals then said to The Sentinel, “Vaermina is playing mind games. I think it is best if we each carry one crystal shard each.”
The all gathered close as I started to open the bag.
Vaermina laughed and said, “Fool. Feel my wrath!”
The Dark Lord used all the strength she could muster through the shards in an attempt to penetrate my mind barriers. I was temporarily staggered by its force but it was still nowhere near enough to penetrate them.
My eyesight was blurred and my ears were ringing when a tremendous cracking sound vibrated through the ancient ruins. Several crossbeams above us splintered. Tons of ancient masonry and earth rained down. Vernan had sprung a trap!
Three of The Sentinel jumped clear and stood beside the two members of the priory. They expected Celestine and I to be beside them and looked at us in horror when we were not.
I was still dizzy and recovering from the mental attack when the petite mage shoved me with all her might. I flew forward and sprawled face first on the ground.
Celestine managed to take one step forward before being crushed by falling debris.
The noise stopped and I regained my full senses. I leapt to my feet and looked where Celestine lay curled up and dying.
As I ran to her I yelled. “Listen to me Celestine. You are not going to die on me. That is an order from your Emperor. Do you hear me? You are not allowed to die! Please don’t die!”
I knelt and used my magicka to scan her injuries. It would take all the skill I had to save her. I quickly took off Ragnar’s ring and put on my “Masters” ring to boost my Restoration.
Her eyes were starting to close and The Void was preparing to embrace her.
I cast the best healing spell I could muster but instead of her whole body I concentrated on her head first. That brought her to full consciousness which also brought realisation of her other injuries.
This gentle soul who had healed so many others and saved my life on several occasions screamed. It was pitiful and heart breaking!
My Dovah came to the fore and made me focus.
“No time to cry Wulf. Fix the rest of her! Cry later.” it demanded.
I concentrated on the rest of her body and once again put every ounce of magicka and talent I had into a healing spell.
I stared at her and she smiled. We stood, embraced and I cried.
No words were needed. The Sentinel and I had each other’s backs.
In typical Celestine fashion she asked quietly, “Where is Brother Armand?”
Brother Thorlogh replied, “He snatched the bag out of Wulf’s hand and has run up the corridor. I did not think it wise to pursue him alone. I don’t think any of us cared what he did while you were lying there Celestine.”
I addressed them all, “This is why Vaermina is one of the most dangerous of the Daedric Princes. In a dream Vernan would have been instructed to set up this trap. In a dream Brother Armand would have been told where to stop us. I don’t think she thought I would survive but fortune still favoured her when he managed to get the bag of crystals and run while we were distracted. It is far more effective than the suggestions the other Dark Lords rely on. It is not just a case of free will with her. It is matter of having the willpower to overcome her compulsion. Hard to do when you don’t even realise that your thoughts are not your own.”
Christine said, “I am okay my Emperor. Let us go and see what is happening and put an end to this.”
Not far up the corridor it turned to the right. We found Brother Armand kneeling before an open gate. Along the walls on either side were blowholes where poison darts could be launched.
I stood in front of him and asked calmly, “What happened here Brother Armand?”
He bowed his head and pleaded, “Please, I did not want this to happen. It is not how it was supposed to happen!”
“No. She would have made you believe I would hand you the crystals. She would have left off the whole collapsing roof part. You are not under her control enough for her compulsion to overcome your morals. Murder would have been too much.”
“But I still took the bag of crystals while your companion lay dying. Please forgive me!”
“Listen to me Brother Armand. I took the risk and left the crystal shard with you for all that time. I took the risk and carried all five shards into this place. I do not expect you to overcome a compulsion you did not even know existed. It was my error that left you vulnerable. It was my error that almost cost Christine her life. I am not infallible and the situation if far from lost. You carry no blame so there is nothing to forgive. Just tell us what happened.”
“I grabbed the bag of crystals and ran as fast as I could. The gate was not locked. When I opened it darts hit me with a mild poison. As I fell to my knees Vernan walked up to me and took the bag out of my hands.”
“What did he say?”
“In a mocking voice he said, ‘What a pleasant surprise, you’ve come to visit. And you have brought me a present! All five dream crystals with their protections removed. Thank you so very much.’”
“Could you speak back?” I asked.
“Yes, I told him to leave them be as they were too dangerous. He replied with more mockery.”
“I know this is hard Brother Arnand but try and tell us precisely what he said. Even within mockery there may be a clue to his intent and mental state.”
“He said, ‘There you go again! ‘Be patient Vernan.’, ‘Go slowly Vernan.’ You are an absolute bore! You will never discover anything if you are not willing to take risks. The poison will wear off soon enough. Follow me if you wish or goodbye for now. I really don’t care.’”
I offered Brother Arnand my hand and he gripped it hard as I helped him back to his feet. Celestine cast a healing spell on him and he was instantly more alert and his strength returned.
He looked at her and asked, “How? Even in my confused state I could swear you would have died.”
She answered, “We look after each other. Wulf did well to bring me back. It might take a while to get rid of all the gravel and pebbles in my armour though.”
We all laughed which a few minutes earlier seemed something reserved for the far future.
I said, “If we do not get to Vernan quick enough he is dead. But he is so far gone he was willing to commit murder, the same as his followers, in the pursuit of knowledge. So let’s be extra careful. I have already blundered and been outmanoeuvred but I doubt Vaermina has anything left in her book of tricks. Let’s go put an end to this.”
We proceeded through the open gate and into a room where the furniture appeared to be floating. I warned, “Do not be fooled by what you see. We are entering pockets of illusion spun by Vernan whose abilities are now enhanced by the five shards. I have a feeling his time in Mundus will be dictated by how long it takes the shards to meld into a single gem.”
The next illusion was of a young Vernan speaking to his mother. By the surroundings and their clothing they were living in poverty. He said to her, “But I’m still hungry. I’ll go get some more. I’m not afraid!”
As the illusion faded Brother Thorlogh asked, “What purpose do these memories serve?”
I replied, “Vaermina thrives on stealing memories. What she does with them is conjecture. Some say she replays them, especially nightmares, for her own amusement. I assume these illusions are simply a by-product of the memories replaying in his mind while close to the artefact.”
The next illusion showed him being banished by Brother Armand.
A bit further along the corridor the memory played out before us showed him witnessing a vicious brawl, probably in a tavern by the furniture and mugs on tables. I said, “I see no value in this memory to Vaermina. It seems he is dreaming at random. If any of you have been in a fever you would know how random they can be.”
We passed more floating objects and a giant spider. All were random illusions created by a disturbed mind.
We crossed a large cavern which was completely real. There were no illusions within.
At the exit to the cavern I warned, “I can sense Oblivion and since I can’t recognise the plane I can only assume it is the pocket plane created by the artefact. I have not been to Quagmire but I doubt it is that.”
The next illusion was pure nightmare. It seemed Vernan was a passenger on a doomed ship.
The uniform of the captain suggested it was an Imperial vessel. A crewman reported the ship was being hit by rogue waves as a storm intensified.
The captain and crew fell when a huge wave hit the ship.
They got to their feet and ran to try and save the vessel and the souls aboard.
Vernan and the other passengers were busy trying to repair leaks that seemed to be multiplying despite their efforts.
The illusionary captain yelled, “We’re going down! Abandon ship!”
Then the illusions faded and I said, “Vaermina probably adores that little nightmare! How terrifying for the young Vernan would that have been?”
Brother Thorlogh said, “We never knew. He never mentioned such a tragedy.”
I growled, “He probably suppressed the memories. It took that bitch to drag them back to the surface.”
The room after that was the lair of Vernan. He stood behind a barrier that would probably block any spell. I doubt it would protect against my Thu’um. But I did not want to harm Vernan. There was still a chance to wrest him back from her clutches.
I used my Thu’um so my voice would echo and hopefully make sure he listened even if only subconsciously.
“Listen to me Vernan for I am Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divine. You know not what you do. Your will is not strong enough to control The Dream Crystal. Vaermina will not let you keep it. Your followers were just tools used by her to remove the barriers on each shard. They are all dead as the evil inherent in the crystals corrupted them and they attacked us. Every single one of them dead! You will be next. Stop the shards joining now before it is too late!”
“You lie. Look at what I have created with barely a thought!”
“You have created second rate illusions of random memories. Make something real. Produce a bar of gold or a large diamond. Show me your power and prove me a liar.”
“I am only getting started. Do you not see what this kind of power could be used for?”
“All of your dead followers thought the dream crystals could be used for good yet they killed citizens and attacked us without provocation. Why would one of the most evil Daedric Princes make something that could be used for the betterment of mortals? She is at war with the Gods you worship! Just think Vernan. Use your logic. Try before you end up in her clutches. She will make you relive all of your nightmares over and over for amusement. Think Vernan! Think!”
“They ban the study of Necromancy without knowing its beauty and power. Let me show you what I can do without the crystal!”
Very powerful Draugr appeared but I concentrated on Vernan at first. Sure in the knowledge The Sentinel could take care of them. I had to find a way to save the man.
A few seconds later a desperate plea for help from Brother Thorlogh made me turn around.
Three of The Sentinel were frozen. Thorlogh and Armand stood no chance against the Draugr. I had no choice but to forget Vernan for a moment and enter the fight.
I unfroze The Sentinel and in no time we cut down the best Vernan could throw at us.
I turned back to the man I was desperate to save.
“Behold the power of The Divines. Do not forsake them for a lesser power. Think Vernan. Use your logic!”
“I will just have to show you the true power of the crystals! Behold!”
“GET OUT NOW! THE CRYSTAL IS WHOLE! HE CANNOT CONTROL IT! GET OUT NOW!”
I did not need to look behind me to know they obeyed.
Then the indescribable feel of revulsion that accompanies the invasion of your mind by pure evil returned and Vaermina spoke.
“That slut Mara may have destroyed my Skull of Corruption but I will not allow the same to happen to my Dream Crystal. All it cost was a few pathetic mortal souls to make it whole again. Now all I need do is find the right kind of mortal to wield it in my name. Pity you survived. I would have loved to get one up on Molag.”
Vernan screamed in abject terror. Vaermina had finally revealed herself to him. Then the pitiful pleading began.
“No please Dark Mistress I beg you. Divines save me. I thought I could help Falskaar. Doesn’t that count for something? Wait, I want to stay here. I do not like the look of that horrid place. Mercy…”
Vernan started to scream once again as he was dragged into the Dream Crystal. The Dream Crystal itself started to fade into its own pocket realm.
Vernan’s screams did not leave the mortal plane as quickly as his soul did. After he was no longer in Mundus the tail end of his pitiful cry could still be heard echoing in the now empty chamber.
The others returned while I was standing there in thought. I was trying to decide whether we had won or lost when the ignorance of Brother Arnand tipped the scales. He approached and said, “That is what happens when you play with such powerful magic! I assume he is in Oblivion now. We may finally rest knowing that Vernan is no more and that the crystals are gone.”
“Finally rest? Vernan was not evil but now he is in the clutches of a vicious Daedric Prince who detests our very existence and will torture him for eternity. An immensely powerful and evil artefact will be returned to Mundus once Vaermina chooses a suitably corrupt mortal as her champion. All of this because you threw him out of the priory rather than practice the Ten Commandments of the Nine Divines. The crystal shard corrupted you as well. You are no better than him. Finally rest? I don’t think so!”
Brother Thorlogh literally dragged Brother Arnand away from me and warned him, “You are a fool if you think this was a victory. Contemplate on what Wulf said before you open your mouth again. Let us wait outside and out of his sight before his Dovah makes an appearance.”
All The Sentinel but Celestine followed them. She barred the exit.
“You wish to say something Celestine?”
“I have never been that close to death before. I could feel The Void closing in but was not scared for I knew it was just a path on the way to something beautiful, magnificent and wondrous. It called to me Wulf and the voices it used were those of my ancestors and deceased friends and family. I was ready to walk towards it and accept my death. Then I heard your pleas. I remembered the love you and Rigmor and The Sentinel share freely and fully. I remembered the task you and my Queen face in the years ahead. I chose to return and you helped me with more Restorative skill than I could ever hope to achieve. You are always on about free will so remember this fact. I chose to push you instead of running and I chose to return! So if you try and treat me different I will remind you of your hypocrisy. I would have died doing what any of The Sentinel would choose to do if it resulted in saving you or Rigmor or Kintyra. It is the very reason you have us by your side through these boring crypts and ruins. It is the reason we have all given up a normal life. Do you understand Majesty?”
I laughed and said, “That was by far the longest stream of words I have ever heard you utter!”
“Do you understand? Or do I have to get Rigmor to explain it in more colourful terms?”
“I understand Celestine. It is hard to accept sometimes but I understand.”
“And you were wise not to thank me for doing my duty and saving your life. If you had done so I might even have used a swear word or two!”
We laughed together and made for the exit.
When we joined the others Brother Thorlogh asked, “What do you wish to do now Majesty?”
“I want to show you and Brother Armand something in Vizemundsted. It is something that should make a future full of wonder and possibilities and not doom and gloom.”
“Lead on then. It is about time our order stepped back into those halls.”
As we started the walk to Vizemundsted I looked up at the myriad stars and the familiar murmuring suggestive of voices assailed me.
I muttered, “When do I learn to accept defeat mother? I don’t think father ever taught me that. He never did lose did he?”
Lydia was walking beside me and said, “I don’t think you will ever stop doubting yourself. As I have said to you before, you are not omnipotent. You are not blessed with foresight. You had better gain the wisdom to accept those two facts and then you will understand defeat. Accepting defeat comes from the relief you will feel when you stop blaming yourself.”
“Why should I take advice from somebody who thinks apple cabbage stew is a good thing?”
“Because! That is a good enough reason for you!”
We made it to the steps of Vizemundsted without drama or encounter. As we climbed the steps to the lift Brother Thorlogh asked, “Have you destroyed the Dwemer guardians?”
“All that came across our path. Their might be a few Spiderbots here and there but certainly no Centurions or Tonal Architects.”
We all piled onto the lift platform and I pulled the lever.
We stood silently and no automatons could be heard.
We entered the central chamber and I explained what the machinery was that dominated the room.
- Wulf: This is a Dwemer Oculory. I have seen one similar in Mzulft near Windhelm in Skyrim. I believe the scholars who worked here used it to store the transcripts of books on what are called lexicons. The machine could then display the contents of a stored book, including diagrams, by projecting it against a flat surface. So if this mechanism was restored and lexicons recovered from the rubble much of their knowledge could be recovered even if the paper versions of the books have been destroyed.
- Arnand: That is but wishful thinking. We don’t have the knowledge or skills to rebuild such a thing!
- Wulf: But I have people working for me who do! We have recently built a Dwemer Planetarium and that contains many times the number of parts as this. In addition to those renowned Dwemer scholars I have access to the knowledge of the Synod who spent years studying and repairing the one in Mzulft.
- Thorlogh: What if they deem it irreparable?
- Wulf: Then the emphasis becomes the recovery of lexicons which could then be used on the working machine in Mzulft. I have recovered lexicons from many ruins and they are virtually indestructible.
- Thorlogh: Could we work beside these foreign scholars?
- Wulf: These ruins belong to Falskaar. All knowledge recovered would remain the property of Falskaar. Any profits made from the printing and distribution of this knowledge would go into the coffers of this kingdom. So of course you would be working beside them.
- Arnand: Just the removal of rubble and doing so safely could require years of work.
- Wulf: You have many people in the priory. You could hire miners from overseas to help and maybe become citizens. I am no entrepreneur but I am sure you could get together with your King and others and achieve this.
- Arnand: Do you think we would get a return on such an investment?
- Wulf: Knowledge itself is more precious than the grandest jewel and there is much knowledge on Falskaar to be recovered. Who were the ancient Nords who lived here prior to your people’s arrival? Why did Lord Shor regard them so highly he protected them with his avatar? The scholars who lived in these ruins were many in number and this was virtually another Borvald or Amber Creek in size.
- Celestine: My Emperor has just dragged you out of the despair of today and given you a promise of a better tomorrow. Not all questions can or should be answered by him. Take the seed of an idea he has given you and plant it and nurture it yourselves. Be the custodians of Falskaar’s knowledge like your order is supposed to be.
- Lydia: Wulf, what has happened to Celestine?
- Wulf: It seems having tons of rocks and dirt dropped on your head makes your mouth work overtime.
- Celestine: Why don’t you get f…f…far away Wulf!
- Wulf: My new goal in life is to get Celestine to swear!
- Arnand: You are all weird. Has anybody ever told you that?
- Wulf: Many times. But do as Celestine said. Think on what we have said and do not waste the opportunity to restore your order to what it was. Let us head back to Amber Creek. I am eager to see if Queen Rigmor has returned with some news of our Thalmor friends.
- Celestine: I am eager to get the tiny pebbles out of my armour. You have no idea where they have found a home!
It was just after 1:00AM when we arrived in Amber Creek. I was pleased to see Nafalilargus at anchor. Brother Arnand and Brother Thorlogh said their goodbyes and headed to Bailun Priory.
We entered the airship’s cabin and the Skyrim Squad wearily made their way to their bunks.
Calder and Serana were doing the current watch.
I walked up to Serana and asked, “Did Rigmor find out anything useful?”
“Yes. Count Leyawiin is ghosting the Dominion fleet to make sure they do not double back towards Falskaar. He had sent one of his smaller and faster ships to Dawnstar with a message that was couriered to the Imperial City. The Thalmor were showing interest in a port that Yngvarr was using in the frozen hold. They landed a small party to inspect it. The Count sent a larger detachment of Imperial Marines to keep them company. When the Thalmor left the marines returned to the fleet. One of them had found a map with known routes across the ice and snow. There are plenty of passages to the warmer holds that have been discovered over the centuries.”
“So that is how Yngvarr managed to get so many mercenaries into Falskaar without raising an alarm. Did Casius express any opinion on what their interest in Falskaar is?”
“No but BRD’s spy network let Blackwell know what it is. The Altmer have spent considerable effort over the millennia making dweomers that allow the scrying of Lord Shor’s, Lorkhan’s, presence in Mundus possible. That Dovah, Shor’s avatar, had been active for a while before you arrived through the portal. It was that which attracted the fleet, not your presence.”
“They intercepted some of Yngvarr’s army fleeing after his defeat didn’t they?”
“Yes so Rigmor, Blackwell and Malesam all believe the Thalmor would now be aware of how Yngvarr managed to get within touching distance of the Heart of the Gods.”
“They would trample over the people of Falskaar to get to such a connection to the God they despise. We cannot let them do that to these people. We cannot let them corrupt such a powerful artefact.”
“The King has requested a meeting later this morning to discuss what the best way forward for his country might be. I suggest you get some sleep Wulf as you must be at your most diplomatic.”
“Are you suggesting I get grumpy when I am tired?”
“Only when you are awake my Emperor.”
“Please do me a favour when you get a chance. Celestine almost died. She experienced something profound and I know she would benefit from talking it over with the wisest person I know. She is a mage like us and her mind will be full of questions that can’t be answered by reading a book. Not only are you wise you know more about the afterlife than I do.”
“Her transition into death would have been more pleasant that what I experienced but I know more than most about it all. It is major gobblygook! Of course I will speak to her. She is like everybody’s little sister even though she is the second oldest after me.”
I entered our bedroom and my eyes instantly fell on my beloved. She was sleeping on top of the sheets and blankets as she always does when the temperature allows.
One again I applied my expertise at undressing quietly which is hard to do when you are wearing armour! I wrapped my arms about her, smelt her hair and revelled in our quiet. Sleep came quickly.
By the time we had washed away the grime, had breakfast and got spruced up in our finest it was almost 11:00 AM. That was the time Rigmor had agreed to meet King Agnar and Lady Jalma in their home.
A good deal of the preparation time was spent with Lydia doing Rigmor’s hair. It was darkened and fluffed up a bit. Unlike our first meeting we were going in with our finery on show. I would be wearing enough jewellery to buy Falskaar and have change left over. Rigmor was wearing one of her many tiara.
This meeting was not an introduction. It was a negotiation and the relative power of the two participating parties needed to be emphasised.
We entered their home and as per last time there was no meet and greet at the doorway. They had also altered their diplomatic stance by not having King Agnar sit at the head of the table. It was empty if I wished to sit in it. We left it vacant and sat opposite them at the table.
The opening moves had been made and I waited for King Agnar to continue. He shocked me to say the least!
- Agnar: Let me be honest. All of this is well above our heads! Jalma and I would appreciate if you two told us what you think our level of involvement with The Empire should be.
- Wulf: Well that is a bit different but understandable. Are we the first leaders from another country to ever visit Falskaar?
- Agnar: In the 600 years my family has ruled the answer is yes.
- Wulf: And you trust in our judgement?
- Agnar: Implicitly!
- Jalma: Absolutely!
- Rigmor: We discussed the basic pros and cons of the options a few days ago. It might be good for you to expand upon those before giving our verdict on the best choice.
- Wulf: I agree so let me start with the status quo. Your country was losing its population slowly after the war one hundred years ago. That loss accelerated when the end of the Civil War in Skyrim came about. According to Wulf at the docks it accelerated again after Rigmor and I took the Ruby Throne from Sethius. So in a way our success has increased the chance of doom for this wonderful country.
- Agnar: I know some families would never leave. Falskaar is in their blood. But we were losing people to ‘greener pastures’ and now we have just had a good percentage of the remainder wiped out in a single act of treachery.
- Wulf: You were not able to field enough men to patrol all the necessary areas before the war with Yngvarr. For decades bandits have been taking advantage of your unguarded coastline to land and cause havoc. We have killed most of them for you but they will return to the same numbers as they have little to fear. The number of Necromancers was amazing. For these reasons the status quo is not an option.
- Agnar: Agreed.
- Jalma: Agreed.
- Wulf: Abandoning your homeland is absolutely not an option. Why those who lived here in the past left we do not know. What we do know is the stories of the Dunmer, the Redguard and the Atmoran. Establishing a new homeland is a horrendous burden to subject your people to. There are no positives to argue for such a thing.
- Agnar: Agreed.
- Jalma: Agreed.
- Wulf: Joining The Empire does not provide any benefit to your people or small kingdom. Larger nations are a different matter. A percentage of taxes that would normally go into your coffers would come into ours. Your people would be subjected to any conscription that might be deemed necessary in the future. Your rule would be safe under Rigmor and I but what guarantee is there that a future Emperor or Empress would not find it convenient to replace the sitting King of Falskaar. I recently deposed the King of Evermore legally and for very good reasons. But Emperors in the past might have replaced him just as legally simply because they wanted somebody more agreeable to their policies to sit that throne. I advise strongly against joining The Empire.
- Agnar: Surprising to hear but I agree.
- Jalma: Agreed.
- Rigmor: I can imagine Emperors of old watching and pulling their hair out while exclaiming, ‘Wulf is a complete moron. The Empire always needs more territory!’
- Wulf: And their pursuit of such is why we have less territory than what my mother had!
- Agnar: History has shown that to be true. It seems it took till now for another Emperor to realise that.
- Wulf: The next option is a ‘Mutual Protection Pact’. We recently signed one of those with Midwood. It basically says that an act of aggression against one nation is regarded as an act of aggression against both. We do not expect Midwood to send large numbers of troops to help The Empire if we get involved in a war. A token force would be required to comply with the pact. On the other hand we will commit fully to defending Midwood with maximum available resources if they were attacked. To aid in defending Midwood we have sent engineers to supervise the repairs of forts and the installation of improved fortifications for the major cities and towns. These are Imperial Legion experts acting as private contractors so nobody can mistake the fortifications and forts as Imperial assets. They are not, they are Midwood’s!
- Agnar: Rigmor mentioned there are difference between our kingdom and theirs that make that option not as desirable.
- Wulf: Midwood could be in danger when the Akaviri invasion occurs. If we prevented the enemy gaining a foothold in High Rock they would target Midwood. It is close enough to Tamriel to be a suitable staging area to continue their invasion. So a good defence of High Rock would almost ensure an invasion of Midwood. The Aldmeri Dominion currently presents no known danger to Midwood.
- Agnar: And the opposite is true for Falskaar?
- Wulf: Falskaar is too far away from Tamriel to be a useful staging area for the Akaviri. However the Aldmeri Dominion presents a clear and present danger. They would not hesitate crushing any opposition in their desire to obtain the Heart of the Gods. Their hatred for Shor/Lorkhan is deeply embedded in the Thalmor doctrine. That is why they have been sniffing around your island. That is why they illegally landed at Yngvarr’s port in your frozen wastelands. There would be very minor international protests if they were to land, kill any of your citizens who get in their way and steal the Heart of the Gods.
- Jalma: So it appears your advice is we become a Protectorate?
- Wulf: Yes and for the following reasons. You need Borvald rebuilt. We have many skilled engineers and labourers who are just about to complete the rebuild of Helgen. Its destruction by Alduin was on par with what Yngvarr did to Borvald. Along with local labour and expertise quite a large number of people would be employed for an extended period and provide a boost to your economy. How you pay for the rebuild and other things we can discuss in a minute.
- Agnar: That will be interesting!
- Wulf: By proclaiming you a Protectorate we can have Imperial troops stationed on your island at all times and a naval presence in your territorial waters. These troops would be under your command as long as they are only used for the defence of your territory. You could use them to occupy the forts dotted around your island. They could patrol alongside your own guards. They would have Imperial gold to spend on local goods. Any attack on your soil by the Aldmeri Dominion would be regarded as an act of war against The Empire. These are a few of the many benefits to such an agreement.
- Agnar: What cost would we occur and how do you propose afford it?
- Wulf: You would be responsible for paying for the materials used in any construction and repairs and that is all. Your farmers currently have far less people to sell their produce to and many farms in the Falskaar hold are now vacant due to their owners being killed at Borvald. Not only would the Imperial troops have money to spend so would the quartermasters. Local smiths, farmers, miners and so forth would have a ready market for their goods without having to rely so much on the trade to Skyrim.
- Agnar: Do you think a more secure Falskaar would attract immigrants?
- Wulf: Absolutely. Your bandit problems would be over. Necromancers could not reappear in such numbers. But you also have employment to offer. For instance the empty farms and all of those mines we snatched back from the bandits. Your country is also a haven for those sick of the racism that permeates Skyrim. Dunmer and other mer are still treated poorly by the Nords and that will take quite a while to stamp out. A safe Falskaar would be very attractive to them.
- Agnar: Anything else likely to bring in coin and immigrants you might like to mention?
- Wulf: Mammoth Keep could attract a wealthy family especially if you gave them some fancy title like Earl or similar. That keep could easily become a very pretty and prosperous town with its mine and jetty and plenty of excellent potential farmland surrounding it. Pinevale is now clear of bandits and could be rebuilt at the same time as Borvald or earlier. I showed Brother Thorlogh and Brother Armand the potential store of knowledge within the ancient Dwemer ruins throughout Falskaar. Such knowledge has a monetary value as well. The waters around this island are not fished at all. There is great potential to attract fishermen in fair numbers. I could go on but the advantages of becoming a Protectorate are enormous.
- Agnar: Agreed.
- Jalma: Agreed.
- Wulf: First thing we will do is announce you as a Proxy-Protectorate. That will tell the Aldmeri Dominion you are immediately under our protection. Then we shall have the paperwork written up to make you a Protectorate. That will take a while and there may be a bit of correspondence as each party refines the legalities and wording. When it is ready Rigmor and I would like you to visit our home where we can spoil you with a bit of pomp and ceremony for the signing.
- Rigmor: We are far more casual when doing such things. Do not worry about the pomp part!
- Jalma: I would like that Agnar!
- Agnar: Looks like I have to agree with that as well or risk the wrath of my wife.
- Rigmor: Good to see you have him trained Jalma. It can take a lot of effort but it’s worth it in the end.
- Jalma: The trick is making them think they made the decision to do something.
- Wulf: We are doomed Agnar. How about we drown our sorrows with a few meads?
So we retired to the inn where all eight Sentinel joined us as well as the three Master Mages. The children of Amber Creek played with Meeko and Karla outside for hours while the adults participated in drinking contests, good banter, tall tales and a good hour of singing from the Emperor who would rather be a bard.
We arrived in Bruma not long before midnight.
Rigmor and I headed straight for her apartment where I wrote these journals entries before joining her in bed.
Let’s just say we had our own way of celebrating being back home.
I know not what time I fell asleep.