I was instantly bombarded with questions upon exiting the cave.
- Lydia: Where is Urag?
- Wulf: He is talking to Septimus for a while before rowing him to the fishing village.
- Iona: Will the Moth Priests be able to help him?
- Wulf: They probably have more expertise on what inflicts Septimus than anybody else in Tamriel.
- Iona: So, the answer is maybe, but it is his best hope.
- Wulf: That’s right.
- Jordis: Why would reading an Elder Scroll send some people insane?
- Wulf: The theory is the reader learns something contrary to what they thought they knew. Up is down, and red is blue. Their entire belief system is shattered.
- Jordis: Were you in danger when you read that Elder Scroll?
- Wulf: I don’t know. The study of Elder Scrolls is a speciality of the Moth Priests and the Priests of Julianos in the Imperial City. They might be able to tell me if I ever get around to asking them.
- Celestine: Did Hermaeus Mora make an appearance?
- Wulf: Yes, but Septimus denied him and laughed when Mora could not harm him.
- Lydia: What is next?
- Wulf: We look for the first of the missing students. He is an Argonian named Ilas-Tei. He is experimenting with the Calm spell from the Illusion school. He thinks he can improve upon it. Since it is one of the oldest spells known, that is a bold claim. He paid some street urchins to capture a few Skeever for his experiments. He set up base on the shore west of the College where another Talos shrine sits unmolested by our Thalmor friends.
We moved the College’s boat into the water and climbed aboard. This time Lydia helped me row.
About forty-five minutes later, we dragged the boat onto shore then walked to Talos’s shrine.
We encountered one angry Skeever who I fried with Lightening.
The only evidence of Ilas-Tei was a blood smear. Nearby were three dead Skeever, apparently killed by something rather large, and three scrolls. Two of the scrolls were Calm. The other was Fury.
- Wulf: I guess he cast Fury on the Skeevers and then couldn’t calm them.
- Celestine: But something else has taken him away. Something bigger.
- Lydia: The Skeevers were all set to have a dinner party, and something stole their dinner!
- Wulf: Let us head back to Winterhold and collect our horses. The other three Apprentices are a fair distance apart.
Celestine and Iona wanted a turn at rowing. They were not so enthusiastic by the time we reached the fishing village.
- Celestine: That was not as easy as you made it look.
- Iona: How would Urag do by himself?
- Wulf: You forget he is an Orsimer. I doubt one skinny, insane mage would have slowed him down much. You two had five armoured people aboard, so you did very well.
- Lydia: Who is next?
- Wulf: Twins. Rundi and Borvir. They think they can improve mead by using frost magic to chill it for a certain amount of time. They hope to turn something average into a beverage to compete with Honningbrew.
- Lydia: Nords?
- Wulf: How on Nirn did you guess that?
We collected our horses and headed east to where other students said the twins had been experimenting.
We spotted one body and dismounted to have a closer look.
I said, “Careful. Frost Runes surround him.”
I discharged each rune with Lightening.
Then we Inspected the body.
- Wulf: Celestine, how do you think he died?
- Celestine: I would say he froze from the inside.
- Wulf: That is what I think, as well.
- Lydia: He froze some Mead then drank it?
- Wulf: I don’t know how he managed to freeze his insides. That is one possibility.
- Celestine: The staff next to him casts Ice Spikes. That would have made anything he used it on far colder than his fledgeling Destruction skill. He might simply have miscalculated.
- Iona: Death by mead. That is probably Nord enough to get into Sovngarde.
- Wulf: Is it Rundi or Borvir? And where is his twin? I was told they are hardly ever apart.
- Lydia: Let’s look around. He might have been seeking help and found trouble himself.
We rode around for a bit then heard a commotion from a place called Journeyman’s Nook.
We leapt off our horses and rushed inside.
A group of bandits were closing in on what looked like a pilgrim. They were accusing her of hiding gold and threatened to skewer her like they had the other mage.
A full-strength Unrelenting Force killed many outright.
The Sentinels rushed past me and quickly dispatched the injured.
Amongst the dead was the other twin.
I approached the pilgrim.
- Wulf: What is your name?
- Kianna: Kianna. And yours is?
- Wulf: Arch-Mage Valdr of the College of Winterhold.
- Kianna: So Borvir was one of yours. I had assumed Borvir would be more than enough protection against the occasional bandit.
- Celestine: Why would you think that?
- Kianna: He said he was a Conjurer from the College of Winterhold. Since that is his corpse you just inspected, I am beginning to doubt that statement’s accuracy.
- Wulf: Did you hire him as a bodyguard?
- Kianna: I found him out here by chance, fighting an ice wraith. I deduced he was a mage, and when he finished off the wraith, I asked him if I could, you know, purchase the teeth.
- Wulf: You are an alchemist?
- Kianna: Yes. I told Borvir that I rely on invisibility potions to survive in the wild. But he insisted he needed the teeth for chilling his mead. Needless to say, I was surprised to find he knew a thing or two about alchemy. More importantly, he had a table. So, I, uh, I followed him home.
- Celestine: Did Borvir mention his brother?
- Kianna: Yes, he said he was nearby conducting some experiments.
- Wulf: They were both Apprentices and should not have been out here by themselves. Now they are both dead. I can’t tell you what to do, but I advise strongly you head north to the main road. It is heavily patrolled and safe. Find your way to one of the cities. A trained alchemist can always find work.
- Kianna: I should be able to scrape together a good lot of coin from the lot you just butchered. So, I will take your advice. By the way, who slaughters a dozen bandits in seconds like I just witnessed?
- Lydia: The Dragonborn.
- Kianna: Oh…
We mounted our horses and headed back to Winterhold.
- Lydia: Where is the last missing Apprentice?
- Wulf: Her name is Yisra. She has been trying to improve the Flame Cloak spell. Once again, a spell that has been around for a very long time, so I am baffled as to why an Apprentice thinks they can achieve something thousands of other mages haven’t. She is supposedly along the coastline between Winterhold and Dawnstar. That is the most accurate location I could get.
- Iona: Yisra is a Redguard name.
- Wulf: Yes, she is from Hammerfell. It is rare to have a student from there.
- Iona: And the odds of finding her alive?
- Wulf: If they have not returned to the College for days, they are most likely dead, injured or captured.
- Celestine: Wulf, something has to be done! Young mages need to be protected from themselves.
- Wulf: We can’t lock them in. We can’t expel them either because they would just continue their reckless behaviour. But I have an idea that may help.
- Celestine: Which is?
- Wulf: We get testimonials from the loved ones and friends of those who lose their lives like this. Make them compulsory reading for every student and test them to ensure they have read and remembered. If they think of the pain they may cause others, perhaps that will temper their eagerness to ignore our warnings.
- Celestine: May I also suggest we have boards that list those killed and maimed. Boards that all mages must pass to and from the dormitories and classrooms.
- Wulf: That is an excellent idea. We shall also have compulsory lectures where the students must listen to the latest unnecessary death detailed. Maybe a few sketches of the corpse or corpses from our best artists?
- Lydia: If you have to take such drastic steps to save young lives, I don’t think anybody would object.
- Celestine: Maybe have the Augur of Dunlain write a lecture or two?
- Wulf: We are trying to prevent them from killing themselves, not give them a reason to do so!
- Lydia: Was he that depressing?
- Wulf: You have no idea!
We exited to the west of Winterhold and came across a Thalmor patrol escorting a prisoner.
I galloped up, jumped off Hashire and confronted the Justiciar.
“Justiciar, you seem to be lost. There is no Thalmor prison or embassy in the direction you are going.”
“I advise you not to interfere.”
“I was only going to offer helpful advice such as, ‘Walk away and live or die where you stand!’”
Before the Justiciar could answer, Lydia yelled, “Bandits. Lots of them heading our way!”
I turned to see a bear had intercepted the bandits. The prisoner ran past with no weapon or armour and his hands unbound.
I aimed carefully so as not to hit the prisoner and did a full-strength Unrelenting Force.
The Sentinels and I then charged and slaughtered the survivors of my Shout.
Several Guard Atronach from Winterhold arrived too late for the fight.
To my utter surprise, the prisoner was still alive.
- Wulf: I take it that blood all over you is not yours? What is your name?
- Harald: Harald Stonearm. Was that the Thu’um?
- Wulf: Yes, it was. I might not look like it in this garb, but I am General Valdr.
- Harald: The Dragonborn! I can tell my children I fought beside The Dragonborn?
- Wulf: You certainly can.
- Lydia: Don’t leave out the part where you charged the enemy with no weapon or armour!
- Harald: You are the one who cut my bonds. Thank you.
- Lydia: Why did the Thalmor arrest you?
- Harald: They came to our farm and demanded food and water. We rushed to comply, but when I bent to place a plate of food on the table, the Justiciar noticed my Amulet of Talos.
- Wulf: And they dragged you away from your family?
- Harald: That woman said I was lucky they did not slaughter them all. She said heretics should be killed before they breed.
- Wulf: Why were they headed towards the coast?
- Harald: I heard one of the guards discussing how much more an able-bodied farmer would fetch at the market. I suspect I was headed for slavery.
- Wulf: Collect what you want from the bodies, then head to Winterhold. Everybody in the patrol is dead, so do not worry about reprisals from the Thalmor.
- Harald: My poor wife. She suffered when I joined the Stormcloaks, and I swore never to leave her side again. How can I thank you for what you have done?
- Wulf: Just be a good father and husband. That is the noblest thing I can imagine.
Harald ran around, searching the bandits and Thalmor.
The Justiciar had three arrows in her. Special arrows. The ones I have had the fletcher in Whiterun make for The Sentinels.
- Wulf: Who shot the Justiciar?
- Iona: Me.
- Lydia: And me.
- Jordis: Me as well!
- Celestine: I was busy trying to save the bear!
- Wulf: Well, it is not amongst the corpses.
- Celestine: He ripped a few bandits apart then ran away satisfied.
We waited for a few minutes so Harald could finish his looting. When he left for Winterhold, he was escorted by the two Atronach.
It was getting dark by the time we found Yisra. The ring of fire surrounding her made it easier in the long grass.
She was charred beyond recognition. Not far in front of here, and unsinged, was a spell tome for Flame Cloak.
- Lydia: We must have just missed saving this one!
- Wulf: Yes, I would say within the last half an hour or so, she cast her modified Flame Cloak.
- Celestine: What a waste!
I put the flames out then we headed back to the College.
I wanted to speak to Phinis Gestor, and we found him enjoying his dinner with some other mages.
“Master Gestor, we have located all four missing Apprentices. All deceased.”
“They are killing themselves like it is the fashionable thing to do. Such promising lives cut short.”
“Master Celestine and I have some ideas on what we can do to stop the trend. We will write up a paper for discussion.”
“Thank you, Arch-Mage. Is it safe to recover their remains?”
“Ask a couple of the College guards to accompany you and another Master Mage or two. Here are their locations. You may have to search for Ilas-Tei. It seems his body was taken by a predator.”
I handed Phinis a map I had marked.
“I will attend to it immediately. Will you be writing the letters to their families?”
“I would prefer it if their lecturers did. I would not be comfortable pretending I knew them.”
“We shall sort it out.”
Urag came walking up to us as Phinis hurried away.
“I overheard. That is six dead mages in less than a week, including two of my closest friends.”
“Sometimes, I think death follows me. I certainly see enough of it.”
“At least we had some success with Septimus. However, may I suggest you never advise others on how to speak with Daedric Princes.”
“I can’t stand liars, braggarts and fools whether mortal, immortal or in-between.”
“That is something we have in common. But you have achieved a lot, so don’t soften up.”
“Not a hope.”
We made our way outside.
- Wulf: If everybody is up to it, I would like to take care of the Daedric relic in The Midden.
- Celestine: It is when you drive us none stop for days that we slow down!
- Wulf: I will take that as a ‘yes’ then.
- Lydia: Can you please describe what we are doing before we enter The Midden.
- Wulf: Many College records were destroyed during The Great Collapse of 4E 122. However, speaking to the oldest mages and reading what I could find, I know what we will face. Have you heard of the Planemeld?
- Celestine: That is when Molag Bal tried to drag Nirn into Coldharbour.
- Wulf: Yes, and the magical constructs he was using were called Dark Anchors. A Dremora named Velehk Sain was tasked with protecting these constructs but was defeated and banished by the Fighter’s Guild.
- Iona: Is that the Pirate King of the Abecean?
- Wulf: That is the one. For some reason, he enjoyed living the life of a pirate on Nirn. He did that for many decades before Planemeld.
- Jordis: A song about him is often used by bards in the taverns near the Solitude Ports.
- Wulf: Which I had not heard till I read it yesterday.
- Lydia: Well, go ahead. Your audience is waiting.
- Poke out your eyes lad, pour lead in your ears
- Those sails portend madness, dark horror and fear
- Abandon your lasses, your ship and your gold
- Blood on the water, Velehk this way comes
- A noose from the rigging, a plank from boards
- Do yourself in, don’t try at crossing swords
- Mercy’s not a shipmate among that heartless horde
- Blood on the water, the Pirate King comes
- Stout Empire Galleon or Swift Elven Skiff
- They every one splinter and just as soon sink
- But only after crew and captain have their fun
- Blood on the water, your days are done
- He’ll tear your gut, and he’ll eat your heart raw
- His eyes gleam red, and his heart will never thaw
- Mark well these words, you quaking babes
- Blood on the water follows Captain Velehk Sain.”
- Lydia: What a charmer!
- Wulf: They never left anybody alive. Even children and the elderly were slaughtered.
- Iona: I thought pirates were into hostages and ransoms.
- Wulf: There are far easier ways to accumulate wealth if you are a powerful Dremora. Evidence suggests piracy was just an amusing way to spread terror and death for Velehk.
- Celestine: Did he remain banished?
- Wulf: No, the next and last sighting of him was in 4E180.
- Celestine: I thought you said the Apprentices died before Savos was Arch-Mage?
- Wulf: I did, didn’t I? It was late last night when I put this all together. That is what I thought at first. Sorry if I made a mistake this morning.
- Lydia: Wulf made a mistake! Imagine that!
- Wulf: NOT ONE THAT COUNTS!
- Lydia: Hey, don’t get defensive!
- Celestine: Lydia, you missed the wink he gave us before saying that.
- Lydia: Ha de ha. How come you can trick me and not the children?
- Wulf: Because you have grown out of that evil, devious stage of your life called childhood.
- Iona: What has Captain Sain got to do with our cooked Apprentices?
- Wulf: It was assumed the students had failed in their summoning ritual. I don’t think they did. I think they intended to summon Velehk and bind him using the Daedric relic.
- Celestine: So, they bound him and then died? Is there any evidence of this?
- Wulf: Each student had a similar ring made, which they wore for months before their deaths. I have the rings as they were left in storage by the original investigator. He was an elderly mage that died not long after the incident.
- Celestine: Do you think these rings were part of the binding ritual?
- Wulf: The Daedric relic is reported to be a hand. It makes sense that somehow the rings were used with the hand. Without the information the Apprentices had, I don’t know what dweomer is involved.
- Jordis: Why did they want to bind him?
- Wulf: That is something we will never know. Maybe they just wanted to stop his killing. Perhaps they thought they could gain promised riches for his release. Velehk never once made a deal with a mortal, so that would not have been smart.
- Celestine: Maybe they just wanted to brag about it.
- Wulf: Whatever the reason, I think we need to end the binding and banish him once more.
- Jordis: Can’t he return one day?
- Wulf: Dremora can only return to Nirn with the assistance of their Daedric Prince. Molag Bal may send him back, but that is an unknown. What is known is that as long as he is bound to a Daedric relic in The Midden, he poses a threat to the College. Other mages may figure out what is down there and try to break the binding. It is better if we do it now.
- Iona: How powerful can Dremora be?
- Wulf: Those who serve Mehrunes Dagon are far more structured, like the Imperial Legion, and some of their officer ranks are very powerful. Those who serve Molag Bal lack discipline and seem to be far weaker. But I doubt any can stand up to me. The Dremora minions of the Jolly Green Giant are similar to Molag’s. I killed dozens when rescuing Rigmor from Oblivion. Speaking of the Countess, wait a minute, please.
“Mum and the others wanted to know why I was so happy yesterday. They were confused because I was exhausted, which is usually accompanied by a foul temper, but I was smiling!”
“If only they knew the depravities the Countess of Bruma inflicted upon this defenceless male.”
“Yeah. You hated every second of it.”
“Anyway, today, we had one win and four losses.”
“You rescued Mora’s puppet, but the Apprentices were dead?”
“Are you finishing for the day or doing something more?”
“The ladies want to continue, so we will visit The Midden and try to solve a couple of mysteries.”
“I don’t know. They are mysteries!”
“You would have some idea!”
“One involves a Dremora. That should be easy. The other involves a door that has appeared in The Midden very recently. I have no idea what is behind the door.”
“I know you will not take stupid risks, so I won’t bother worrying.”
“I won’t wake you unless it is urgent.”
“Talk to me in the morning.”
“Love you, my Dragonborn.”
“Love you too.”
Lydia asked, “How is Rigmor?”
“As happy as a pig in mud.”
“Wait till I tell her that analogy!”
“Let’s enter The Midden a different way, shall we?”
Close to where we stood was a trapdoor leading to The Midden, and we used that.
Since we had to pass the new doorway, I quickly stopped and had a look. I could detect nothing unusual about it.
We entered a section of The Midden we had not visited last time and were greeted by several spiders.
Spiders are allergic to Lightening.
So are their webs.
Unrelenting Force disintegrated several Skeletal Warriors.
Lydia asked, “Is your Thu’um stronger than last time I accompanied you?”
“Yes, after my last visit to Kyne’s Shrine. My Unrelenting Force is about four times as strong as when I first learnt it.”
I studied the Daedric relic.
- Wulf: It looks like a gauntlet from Molag Bal’s armour.
- Celestine: Any idea what you have to do?
- Wulf: I guess we place the rings on the fingers and see what happens.
- Lydia: What do we do if Velehk appears?
- Wulf: I have been thinking about that as we walked. I want you four to do nothing.
- Lydia: I think I know why.
- Wulf: Please, tell us your theory.
- Lydia: You said before that it is up to Molag Bal to return Velehk to Nirn.
- Wulf: Yes. That is correct.
- Lydia: So, if you make Molag Bal displeased with Velehk, he may never send him back.
- Wulf: Or it may be a long time before he forgives him. So yes, that is my plan.
- Iona: How will you make Molag Bal upset with Velehk?
- Wulf: Last time, it took the might of the Fighter’s Guild to defeat him. This time it will be a single mortal that beats one of his champions. Not with magic or sword, but with the one thing Molag’s minions have no protection against.
- Celestine: The magic of The Divines. The Thu’um!
- Wulf: Molag will not accept an excuse. How can a single mortal defeat one of his best? He will be pissed off!
- Lydia: You might as well make an enemy of Molag Bal. Add him to your collection.
- Iona: Without even speaking to him. Very impressive!
- Wulf: I think he would have taken notice when I killed all the bloodsuckers in the Bloodlet Throne.
I did a quick walk around the room to check for anything that might be hidden.
I then stood before the hand and tried to place the first ring. I soon discovered that each ring had to be placed on a particular finger.
“Last ring. Remember, let me deal with Velehk.”
I placed the last ring, and then the fingers started to curl.
When the hand made a fist, a portal opened, and Velehk appeared.
I heard Lydia giggling in the background.
I stepped up to the Dremora.
“Where am I? You! Out with it, then.”
“Aye aye Captain Sain. We are beneath the College of Winterhold, Sir. In The Midden, Sir.”
“Ah, I was beginning to think the day would never come. So, you broke the binding spell, did you?”
“No, Captain. I just relieved myself on this here hand, and you appeared. Odd that!”
“It matters little. Their souls are trapped in Oblivion all the same, and here I stay.”
“Sorry to inform you, but your assumption is wrong, Captain. I must return you to where you belong.”
“Where I belong is back aboard my ship, on the Abecean.”
“Playtime over. Where you belong is at the feet of Molag Bal grovelling for forgiveness.”
“You’ve no hope of defeating me, pup. Don’t bother trying. Why not broker a bargain, instead?”
“The Great Captain Velehk Sain offers a mortal a deal for the first time in history. You must sense my power and know I will easily defeat you. I tell you what. I won’t even use a weapon. Imagine explaining that to Bal? Defeated by a single mortal with his hands in his pockets.”
Velehk growled then attacked.
Unrelenting Force smashed him against the wall.
As he slowly got back onto his feet, I walked up to him and said, “You did well. I didn’t think you would last more than one Shout.”
Velehk turned and ran.
“Hey, come back! I haven’t finished playing pirates!”
Another Unrelenting Force smashed him against a far ice wall.
I walked up and watched as his physical body disintegrated. Molag Bal will soon be welcoming him home.
I walked back to The Sentinels.
- Wulf: Lydia, explain to the others what you found so amusing.
- Lydia: Remove the makeup, and he looked identical to Sethri.
- Iona: The Azura priest who helped Rigmor and Wulf?
- Lydia: Yes.
- Wulf: Except Velehk was wearing clothes.
- Lydia: Imagine if he could fart like Sethri!
- Wulf: We would all be dead!
- Celestine: What do we do with the hand?
- Wulf: It can be safely removed now. Maybe I will put it on display in the museum. I will come and collect it soon.
- Celestine: But first, the mystery door. I am so excited!
- Lydia: Can we send Celestine to the Moth Priests as well?
- Iona: I wonder if she too was dropped on her head?
The Sentinels continued to chatter and laugh as we made our way to whatever is beyond the door.