I put on my new Arch-Mage robes then showed The Sentinels.
- Celestine: That is… very colourful…
- Iona: It doesn’t offer much protection!
- Wulf: It has Netch leather under all the tassels and finery. With my usual dweomer, it is more than adequate.
- Jordis: What about that tiny shield? Why use it instead of a full-sized one?
- Wulf: Since I am using light armour, I will take advantage of the extra manoeuvrability. Using a buckler increases manoeuvrability.
- Lydia: The tailor told me your Dovah made her cower in another room!
- Wulf: I apologised to her. She didn’t know what an insult it was to suggest Dragonhide instead of Netch leather.
- Celestine: Oh, that would be like asking me to wear leather made from Mer skin!
- Wulf: I have the skills to make armour and weapons from Dragonbone, Dragon Scales and Dragonhide. But just the thought of it makes my Dovah growl with unrest.
- Lydia: So, what it the plan for today?
- Wulf: First, we take Master Urag to see if he can do something for his friend Septimus.
- Celestine: Will Hermaeus Mora make an appearance?
- Wulf: The Dark Lord wants Septimus dead and to release whatever is in the Dwemer Lockbox. He will come to chat with his ‘Champion’.
- Lydia: Champion of The Divines and four Daedric Princes. Do you think you can make a complete set?
- Wulf: I can’t see myself ever doing something pleasing for Molag Bal and a few others. They can name me what they want, but there is one title that means more than any of them. I am Rigmor’s Guardian.
- Iona: What is planned after rescuing Septimus?
- Wulf: We search for the four missing Apprentices.
- Iona: Did the other mages give enough clues as to their whereabouts?
- Wulf: Some of the younger mages were hesitant to mention the places many go to practice magic outside of the College. I told them we teach the dangers of impatience and expect them to act like intelligent people. I explained we don’t stop them from leaving the College grounds, and individuals are free to kill themselves through stupidity.
- Celestine: Master Urag and yourself have the right idea. Make them take responsibility for their actions and prepare them to accept the consequences.
- Wulf: That method works in the military, and there is no reason to think young mages are immune to common sense if it is shoved down their throats.
- Celestine: So, do we know where to start looking for the missing Apprentices?
- Wulf: A couple of exact locations and a couple of maybes.
- Lydia: Anything else for today?
- Wulf: We will see how we go for time and how we are holding up. The next thing in line to tackle is a half-completed investigation into four dead Apprentices. They perished in The Midden from ‘Conjuration Burns’ before Savos was Arch-Mage.
- Celestine: You would think that possibility would be enough to deter the impatient ones!
- Iona: Conjuration Burns?
- Celestine: If your Conjuration skills are not strong enough for the summoning ritual attempted, you can burn from the inside. Your blood boils, and your skin will bubble. Your eyeballs melt, and you will be found in a contorted state of agony.
- Wulf: No only that, your soul can be dragged into whatever realm the being you are summoning resides. The dead students were trying to summon a powerful Daedra.
- Jordis: So why is it of concern now?
- Wulf: There is a Daedric relic in The Midden the Apprentices used for the ritual. It has never been neutralised.
- Jordis: And after that fun task?
- Wulf: We investigate a door that has suddenly appeared in The Midden.
- Celestine: I love mysteries!
- Jordis: Even ones that might lead to a horrible, terrifying death?
- Celestine: Aren’t you excited? I am!
- Jordis: You are becoming as weird as Wulf.
We stopped by the Hall of Elements to tell Tolfdir where we were going. He was trying to see how long he could hold up a master level ward.
- Wulf: Don’t let me interrupt your experiment, Arch-Mage Tolfdir.
- Tolfdir: I have decided to use Mirabelle’s old title to avoid confusion.
- Wulf: Master Wizard Tolfdir it is then.
- Celestine: It was heart-warming to see even the citizens of Winterhold farewell Mirabelle. I even saw some weep as the carriage carrying her coffin passed them.
- Tolfdir: Yes, she had a way with people. She often spent time amongst the locals doing healing and distributing potions where needed.
- Wulf: The sort of work for which the Mages Guild was once renowned.
- Tolfdir: They could not work miracles during the Oblivion Crises and disbanded soon after.
- Wulf: People forget what mages achieved during the Umbriel Crises.
- Celestine: Perhaps we should dedicate some resources and help the Apothecaries. They have taken up the burden but are limited in what they can achieve.
- Wulf: That is an idea worth pursuing. And I think I know just the place to set up the first store.
- Tolfdir: Bruma. You want more than just Malesam and Master Cerys looking after our ward.
- Wulf: You are a very clever man, Master Wizard.
- Tolfdir: Are you going to Septimus now?
- Wulf: Yes. I won’t put Urag in any danger. Hermaeus Mora cannot harm him.
We entered the Arcanaeum and approached Urag.
- Wulf: Are you ready, Master Urag?
- Urag: Do you know how long it had been since I did any fieldwork?
- Celestine: I am sure Master Signus will benefit from your presence.
- Urag: If I didn’t think so, I would not leave my books. And don’t expect me to row!
- Wulf: I will row so that you can relax and enjoy the view.
- Urag: What view? Ice and snow! I can look out the windows and see ice and snow whenever the fancy takes me, which is never.
- Jordis: Why does Master Urag remind me of my old drill sergeant?
- Urag: Does he feed rude recruits to angry Atronachs?
- Jordis: Ahh, no.
- Urag: Then he is nothing like me.
- Wulf: Maybe I should let Master Urag speak to the Dark Lord.
- Iona: Mora probably needs a new librarian after you killed all those Seekers.
- Urag: Millions of books and no Apprentices drooling on them? I could do worse.
- Celestine: Do you think Septimus was made insane by Mora or beforehand.
- Wulf: Let me quote from ‘Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls.’ Remember, he wrote this while still a member of the College’s faculty.
“Imagine living beneath the waves with a strong-sighted blessing of most excellent fabric. Holding the fabric over your gills, you would begin to breathe-drink its warp and weft. Though the plant matter fibres imbue your soul, the wretched plankton would pollute the cloth until it stank to heavens of prophecy. This is one manner in which the Scrolls first came to pass, but are we the sea, or the breather, or the fabric? Or are we the breath itself?”
- Iona: That is one large pile of mumbo jumbo.
- Wulf: Septimus visited the White-Gold Tower and managed to start reading an Elder Scroll before the Moth Priests could stop him. Most people go blind. He went insane.
- Urag: Yes, he returned to the College, wrote that book and showed far more interest in Dwemer archaeology than previously. Do you think Mora took advantage of his condition and steered him to the Dwemer Lockbox?
- Wulf: I think Mora called in favours from mortals who wished access to Apocrypha. They would have given Septimus the location.
- Urag: Septimus was very elusive about where he was going and why. Let’s see if you are right.
We exited the College and made our way across the bridge.
- Lydia: Master Urag, why has the bridge never been repaired?
- Urag: It is our first lesson in caution and a constant one. Even if they successfully cross a thousand times, overconfidence in a snowstorm could mean their doom.
- Lydia: That seems a bit drastic.
- Urag: There are far worse fates than plunging to your death if you are not cautious with magic.
- Celestine: Conjuration Burns for one. We discussed those earlier.
- Wulf: The Augur of Dunlain seemed a right miserable bastard. I bet he wishes he had heeded the warning.
- Urag: And then there is me. I used to be a jolly fellow invited to all the College parties.
- Lydia: Oh, what spell went wrong?
- Urag: Not a spell. I got like this from too many people asking too many stupid questions.
- Wulf: Careful Master Urag. You almost regressed to a jolly state.
- Urag: Not a hope.
We made our way to the fishing village. While some of us enjoyed the walk in the fresh air and took in the vista, Urag swore he would strangle Septimus for making him leave his nice warm Arcanaeum.
We reached the docks and the College’s rowboat.
“I will do the rowing. Arrange yourselves evenly and carefully.”
I did not find the rowing arduous, and we would have made better time if I did not have the skirt the ever-changing ice flows.
After just over an hour of me rowing and Urag grumbling, we pulled the boat onto shore near the entrance to Septimus’ cave.
- Wulf: Sentinels, please wait out here. Septimus may panic if we all encroach on his territory at once.
- Iona: How dangerous is this?
- Wulf: There is nothing we can do against the avatar of a Dark Lord, but he can do nothing to harm us.
- Lydia: Storn, the Shaman of the Skaal, opened a Black Book and submitted to the mind probe of Hermaeus Mora. The tentacles from that place drag you through the portal and into Apocrypha. Those tentacles killed Storn. But for that to happen, Storn had to accept Mora into his mind.
- Wulf: I had never read of Hermaeus Mora doing such a thing. I was unprepared for this random violence, and that cost a good man his life.
- Urag: We do not know what is hidden inside the Dwemer Lockbox. There could be something far more dangerous than the Dark Lord’s avatar waiting for us.
- Jordis: Like an ancient cauldron full of Apple Cabbage Stew!
- Urag: Nobody is that evil!
- Lydia: Master Neloth likes it, which proves Telvanni Wizards are smarter than College Master Mages.
- Urag: Not strong on logic, are you?
- Lydia: No, but I am not too bad with my sword.
- Urag: Yes, it is too bad that you are not Orsimer. Many a Chieftain would find such a Swordmaiden irresistible.
- Wulf: Master Urag, you have shocked Lydia into silence. You must teach me the spell!
The other three Sentinels discussed how Lydia would look with a couple of tusks and a green tinge as she stood fuming.
Urag and I entered the cave and observed Septimus for a while. He was walking in random patterns muttering incomprehensible mumbo jumbo to himself. Exactly as I had left him weeks earlier.
Urag said, “That is not the intelligent, thoughtful man I befriended.”
We made our way down then Urag deliberately stood in front of Septimus. At first, I thought there would be a collision, but the insane mage finally noticed his old friend and stopped suddenly.
- Septimus: Urag? Are you here to steal my discovery? I won’t let you!
- Urag: Can you see who is with me? It is the Arch-Mage. We have come to observe your triumph so we can write it into the histories of the College.
- Septimus: Arch-Mage? That is the man I sent to collect the Elder Scroll and bring me blood. He is not Savos!
- Urag: Savos died a few days ago. The Dragonborn is the new Arch-Mage. He has promised us we can learn about the Thu’um with his help. Wouldn’t you like that opportunity?
- Septimus: But I have to retrieve the Heart of Lorkhan! I promised my lord. He has been so helpful.
- Wulf: The Heart of Lorkhan is not inside that lockbox. The Nerevarine destroyed it when he confronted Dagoth Ur. Do you think the Gardener of Men would entrust a relic that can turn a mortal into a god to you?
- Urag: The Arch-Mage knows Hermaeus Mora well and has been named his champion. The Dark Lord wants you to die once the lockbox is opened. You are to be discarded as no longer useful.
- Septimus: Then I am doomed for I must open the lockbox, and the Arch-Mage must slay me as ordered by our master.
- Wulf: You do not have to open the lockbox, and I will not kill you. You have free will. You can walk out of here right now, and there is nothing Mora can do to stop you.
- Septimus: No, I need to see what is in the lockbox. I need to!
- Wulf: I have the blood you need. If you open the lockbox and it does not contain the Heart of Lorkhan, will you believe us?
- Septimus: But I have done things. Terrible things. Why help me?
- Urag: The Septimus Signus I know is a kind and wise man who instilled the yearning for scholarly knowledge in many young mages. He was beginning to become preeminent in the field of Dwemer artefacts. His crime was to read an Elder Scroll without the necessary precautions. The same sad story of so many of our mages where the desire for knowledge overrides caution. That good man is still there. All you have to do is let us help him emerge from this fog that Hermaeus Mora has used in his desire for knowledge.
- Septimus: If the lockbox does not contain what my lord says, then that will be proof of your claims. Yes?
- Wulf: If I give you the blood, you must be strong. At first, you must not speak to Hermaeus Mora, but you must listen to his words when he speaks to me. He will condemn himself.
- Septimus: But I cannot hear his words when he speaks in your head!
- Wulf: He can’t speak in my head, for I will not let him. He must talk aloud. You will see and hear him.
- Urag: Trust the Arch-Mage. He is the most honest man you will ever meet and truly desires for you to survive. We want you to return to the College as a free man, not a slave to insanity and the poison words of a Dark Lord.
I handed Septimus the vial of mixed Mer blood.
He said, “I can almost… hear them. I feel their life energy. Come, I will inject the mixture.”
Septimus injected the blood mixture then approached the Dwemer Lockbox.
It opened slowly, and inside was of the fourth dimension. In other words, it was larger on the inside than the outside. A tunnel led to an internal chamber.
I quickly walked ahead of Septimus and Urag. If there was danger, I wanted to face it before they stumbled into it. There was no Heart of Lorkhan. There was a book whose binding was made by Hermaeus Mora but written by one of The Divines.
Urag wisely put himself between the book and Septimus.
- Septimus: What is this… it’s… it’s just a book?! I can see it. The world beyond burns in my mind. It’s marvellous…
- Urag: There are six mortal skins of different races used to make the cover. There is only one book that I know of with such a cover.
- Wulf: It is the Oghma Infinium. A book by Xarxes, the scribe of Auri-El. Better known in these parts as Arkay, the God of the Cycle of Birth and Death.
- Urag: Isn’t he also related to Orkey and Malacath?
- Wulf: Like many things related to the gods, all possibilities are probably right at the same time, no matter how contradictory.
- Urag: Didn’t Hermaeus Mora give Xarxes the knowledge inscribed in the book?
- Wulf: That is what some histories, and probably Mora himself, claim. That may be true if the Dark Lord saw some benefit from the exchange. His passion is knowledge, not power. But Arkay’s apotheosis was granted by Lady Mara, no matter if he was initially a mortal or an original spirit created at the beginning of this Kalpa. He is one of The Nine, and therefore I have no fear of something created by him, even if part of it is Mora’s handiwork.
A voice boomed, “Kill Septimus. His usefulness is at an end!”
Septimus exclaimed with sadness, “The Dark Lord lied, and you have told the truth!”
“Wait for us in your cave. We will talk with you soon.”
Septimus started to walk down the entrance tunnel, then yelled, “He blocks my exit!”
“Keep walking, Septimus. He can’t harm you here.”
“I see now that I face an illusion. The liar is speaking to me in my head. Urging me to fight for the book. He says it will teach me the secrets of the gods.”
“Just like he told you that the lockbox contained the Heart of Lorkhan. He wants you to die and knows I could kill you in a heartbeat.”
Septimus said confidently, “I reject you and your lies, Hermaeus Mora!”
A few seconds later, we heard Septimus laugh. Then he said, “I walked through him, yet I still live!”
I placed my hand over the book and could sense no portal. I could feel Mora’s taint, but the presence of Arkay was also strong.
“Come to me, Arkay, for without you, there is neither breath nor beginning, nor can any man live, love, or learn without the spark of your spirit.”
I lifted the book then opened it.
There was some writing in Daedric and some in Ehlnofex. It was not what was written that would bestow the most significant knowledge. It was the symbols and diagrams that contained the mysteries. One diagram showed how the et-Ada created Mundus and Nirn from the endless void. The other diagram was of the Wheel. The symbolic representation of Aurbis and the various planes within. Many texts deal with the metaphorical concepts represented within that simple diagram.
I closed the book and placed it back on its pedestal. I said to Urag, “I learned nothing from it at first glance. However, I believe there is valuable knowledge within and it will be a boon to the College. Like many of the other artefacts we collect, it must be locked away in our pocket realm.”
“Some say that once all knowledge has been retrieved, it will find its way to Oblivion and Hermaeus Mora.”
“The pocket plane is in Aetherius. I doubt any dweomer is going to transport it from that plane to Oblivion!”
“I will leave that… what is your word?”
“I will leave that gobblygook to others.”
“Let’s go speak to our tentacled friend.”
I approached Hermaeus Mora’s avatar.
“Greetings, my Champion.”
“Call me what you want. I do not serve you.”
“Who do you think brought Septimus here? Who do you think protected you on your journey to open the lockbox and unleash my knowledge on this world? Your free will is an illusion. Whether you acknowledge me or not is your business. But I will be in your mind.”
“Stop your lies! Even The Nine do not protect me because they, like you, have no real power on this plane. You were incapable of protecting yourself against Miraak, and he lived in your realm of Oblivion! He stole Seekers and other minions of yours from under your very nose! Do you have a nose? The fact is you needed me to protect you!”
Urag whispered, “You are berating a god as I do to Apprentices. If I live through this, it will keep me amused for centuries!”
I continued, “Why are you forced to speak like this and not in my mind like other mortals? You are not in my head and never will be! Free will is no illusion but a reality. That is why Meridia and other Dark Lords despise it. They cannot have it but covet it.”
“Why save Septimus? Would you like a list of what he has done in my service?”
“We will restore his life to compensate for the one you took without need. Septimus is insane, and you have always manipulated such mortals. We will fix his mind. Accompanying that cure will be enough guilt that no other punishment is required or justified.”
“Now you have my Oghma Infinium. It contains the knowledge of the ages as revealed to Xarxes, my loyal servant.”
“I have no doubt Xarxes dealt with you. But it would have been knowledge exchanged for knowledge. You claim all who seek knowledge are your servants. It is what you are and what you believe. It is not necessarily the truth.”
“Now the book is in your hands. Let us work wonders together…”
Mora’s avatar faded. I picked up the Oghma Infinium then we joined Septimus in his cave.
- Urag: I will stay and talk to Septimus alone for a while.
- Wulf: Is the Moth Priest still in Winterhold?
- Urag: He will be waiting for me in the large inn of the fishing village.
- Wulf: Large is an understatement!
- Urag: He and his Legionnaire escort will take Septimus back to Cyrodiil. If there is any group of people who can help Septimus overcome this insanity, it is the Moth Priests.
- Septimus: Why would they help me? It was my fault. They warned me, and I did not listen!
- Wulf: You have been lucid for some time since we have been here. You are showing signs of guilt, which means you are well on your way to recovery. The Moth Priests want to help because they understand the sacrifices we make for knowledge and truth. Many of them go blind or insane.
- Urag: They can help you, Septimus. I ask that you try and remember our friendship and trust me. Is it not fortuitous a Moth Priest visiting the College and Winterhold at this precise moment?
- Septimus: I would like to get back to my studies. I will trust you.
- Wulf: Urag, we are going to search for the missing Apprentices. I hope to see you back amongst your books later.
- Urag: Do not worry. Septimus is no danger but can’t you leave one of The Sentinels to do the rowing?
I laughed as I made my way outside.