We had a quick breakfast then left the Hunter’s Lodge at about 8:30 AM.
We decided to exit the Skaal Village via its back gate. This would allow us to approach Tel Mithryn from a different angle and see parts of Solstheim I was yet to visit.
To our surprise, we came across a group of Nords living in tents.
Two of them were arguing as we approached them.
- Bujold: It won’t be that easy to get rid of the Rieklings, Kuvar.
- Kuvar: I never said it would be, Bujold. But either way, we have to try. Whether we succeed or not, it’ll stir up some of the old blood in this crowd.
- Bujold: I’m not going to lead them to their deaths if they aren’t ready.
- Kuvar: Then train them. What are we doing here? We should either get used to staying here or be preparing to take the hall. You’re having us do neither, and I can’t stomach it.
- Bujold: Your stomach isn’t my problem. We’ll act when I say we do and not before.
- Kuvar: Well, you’d better say something. And soon.
- Wulf: Good morning. I am Commander Valdr.
- Bujold: What are Imperial troops doing here?
- Wulf: Well, right this minute, we are standing and scratching our heads. We did not expect to see Nords living in tents here. Are you planning on establishing a colony?
- Kuvar: If my wife had her way, we would be making a village instead of retaking Thirsk Hall. You must have seen it in your travels?
- Inigo: We did notice it last time we were near here but have never visited it.
- Wulf: I have heard of it. The Nerevarine was the leader of Thirsk Hall before going to Akavir.
- Bujold: I have no intention of making a village here!
- Jordis: Did I hear right? Were you were kicked out of Thirsk Hall by Riekling?
- Bujold: Too much mead and stories. Too few battles. We grew a little too comfortable up there.
- Kuvar: There were many of them. Nobody could have known…
- Bujold: None of that matters. I’m going to go down as ‘Bujold the Unworthy’ because of that rabble.
- Jordis: Your people look well-armed and armoured. Perhaps all they need is a hero to follow into battle. You could retake your home.
- Bujold: Heroes are in short supply around here, and foreigners in Imperial armour are not about to inspire anybody.
- Inigo: How about The Dragonborn? Would he inspire you?
- Kuvar: Valdr… as in General Valdr?
- Wulf: Commander Valdr when wearing this uniform.
- Bujold: Commander Valdr, are you offering to help?
- Wulf: Your people do not have to seek battles to make themselves warriors. If we help them take back Thirsk Hall, they will realise they have the skills and courage to defend what is rightfully theirs. They will never be dislodged so easily ever again.
- Bujold: Okay, let me see if I can rouse these layabouts to fight again.
Bujold called out, “Hey, you lazy milk drinkers, get over here!”
They were moving a bit sluggish, so I thought I would hurry them along with the Thu’um.
“YOU HEARD BUJOLD! GET YOUR ARSES OVER HERE!”
Bujold stared at me and then gasped as her people hurried to us.
I whispered to her, “Go ahead, Bujold. You have their attention.”
Bujold cleared her throat then said, “I know you are all starting to settle in here, and keep up the fat lives you got used to up in the hall. But look here, these outsiders have more fire than any of you.”
I said, without the Thu’um, “A person fighting for what is right and just and for their home is a far better warrior than a thief and invader. Let us help you prove that by joining you in retaking Thirsk Hall.”
One of the villagers called out, “Was that the Thu’um you just used?”
“Yes, I am The Dragonborn.”
As one, Bujold’s people grabbed their weapons and ran towards their home. We followed them for two reasons. The first is that taking back Thirsk Hall was the right thing to do. The second reason we followed them is we had no idea where it was!
It was soon apparent that they were not the most skilled warriors. But they had tremendous courage and fought for their home. They were doing well against the many Riekling but seemed afraid of the Durzog.
I called out, “Those doglike creatures are called Durzog. They look mean but are no tougher than wolves!”
One of the Durzog felt insulted and leapt for my throat!
I cut it down and watched as Kharjo helped some locals take down the last Durzog.
As soon as the last enemy outside fell to our attack, we entered Thirsk Hall.
A Durzog inside decided it liked us better than the Riekling and aided our assault.
I cut down the Riekling chief.
I then approached the last three Riekling. One of them was killed by badly thrown spears from his comrade!
More spears thrown by fellow Riekling slammed into the back of another. I finished him with Lightening.
I killed the last Riekling. Silence followed.
The friendly Durzog lay down like a calm house dog.
The Riekling had made a throne for their chief.
I asked, “Is anybody hurt? Urdr and I are healers.”
There were a few scratches and bite marks, but a Riekling spear had skewered nobody. I found that very surprising.
“You have all fought well and taken back your home. If you found glory in what we just did, then a lesson has been wasted. Feel proud of your courage and recognise the love for your home, family, and friends gave strength to your sword arms. Seeking battles to hone combat skills is not glorious but the pursuit of idiocy!”
I said to Bujold, “Remind them of what they can accomplish if anybody threatens your home in the future.”
“That was almost… exhilarating. How are you feeling?”
“Sickened by more slaughter.”
“Oh, that is not the spirit I need from my second.”
“Second for what?”
“If we’re going to take up residence in Thirsk Hall once more, I need to get the blessing of Hrothmund again.”
“Hrothmund the Red?”
“Yes, the founder of Thirsk Mead Hall. I need a witness, a second, that can vouch that he approved of my leadership.”
“Where do we have to go?”
I looked at my map of Solstheim. It meant travelling close to Benkongerike, where we had just come from the night before.
“It is a long trip, but we will accompany you there out of curiosity more than anything else.”
“Well, let’s not waste time talking about it, then!”
By retracing our previous night’s steps, we arrived at Benkongerike and then Hrothmund’s Barrow without incident.
- Wulf: I don’t know why Hrothmund’s Barrow is so far from the place he founded, but here we are.
- Jordis: Getting here is a test of valour and, due to the probability of hostile encounters, sometimes a test of martial skills.
- Inigo: I am missing something. Why break away from the Skaal?
- Bujold: Hrothmund brought a group of warriors away from the soft life of the Skaal. To learn the wilderness and feel the sting of cold and steel.
- Urdr: What a crock of…
- Wulf: Urdr, think before you talk.
- Bujold: I know it sounds a little silly. It’s just the way it’s written in the books, and that phrase has always stuck with me.
- Wulf: From what I have seen, the Skaal have far better warriors than Thirsk Hall has produced. But they do not glorify battle and have not lost their religion. Hrothmund sounds like an idiot, and I would happily tell him so. He would challenge me, and it would not prove who was right or wrong when I cut him down.
- Jordis: Bujold, what is going to happen in there?
- Bujold: It is pretty simple. Hrothmund’s axe is in there with him. Anyone who attempts to take hold of it has their spirit judged by Hrothmund himself.
I shook my head in disbelief. They had replaced the religion of the Skaal with primitive idol worship.
- Kharjo: Does that one need to fight the ghost of Hrothmund?
- Bujold: No, no, nothing like that. He doesn’t need to battle us to know us. He always watches over Thirsk Hall and sees us from beyond.
- Urdr: So why would you need to do this approval ritual again? If he sees all, then he knows you led your people to retake the place.
- Bujold: I know that is what he expects me to do.
- Wulf: Well, let’s not keep Hrothmund waiting.
We entered and made our way to the main chamber.
Water automatically lowered when we triggered a dweomer.
- Inigo: A cheap trick to make people think Hrothmund has some supernatural power.
- Wulf: Yes, you have seen it a few times before when travelling with me. It is a simple dweomer that relies on hidden Dwemer pumps to achieve its effect.
- Bujold: This is not Hrothmund’s doing?
- Wulf: No, it is not.
Firepits automatically lighted.
- Bujold: Explain the flames then!
- Wulf: Valves have been opened. Flammable gas is now being fed into those braziers and then set alight by a mechanical creation of sparks. All of it is part of the machinery that controls the pumps.
- Bujold: No magic from above?
- Urdr: We triggered the dweomer on entry. That is the only magic involved.
- Wulf: There is no spirit doing these things. It is mortal ingenuity.
We stood in front of a rock with an ugly looking axe embedded in it.
Bujold said, “All I have to do is take hold of the axe. Nobody has been able to remove it. We just have to touch it.”
Bujold grabbed the axes handle then a voice boomed. More melodrama.
“You seek my blessing for the leadership of Thirsk Hall?”
Bujold replied, “I do. It is I, Bujold. You blessed me in the past, and now I’ve rid the hall of Rieklings and returned it to its rightful owners.”
“And well it is that this had happened. But I have always watched and therefore know that it was your softness that led to your exile. You allowed your fellow warriors to grow weak while the dangers around you mounted.”
“Then… the leadership is not mine?”
“No. Nor is there any among you fit to serve. It is better for a band in the wilderness to have no leader than a poor one.”
I said, “Speak to me, Hrothmund the Red. I am Ysmir, Dragon of the North.”
There was no response. I did not expect there to be.
- Bujold: That was a little embarrassing. I am ashamed, but I guess that was the point.
- Wulf: What are you going to do?
- Bujold: I need to return to Thirsk. No matter what Hrothmund says, we need a leader. And I am still the best person for that.
- Wulf: You would go against Hrothmund’s wishes?
- Bujold: Look what has happened to us so far under his watchful eye. He gave his blessing to all the leaders who brought us to this point.
- Wulf: That is true, and one of them was the Nerevarine. A mighty warrior who declined to seek battle and found no glory in it.
- Bujold: Anyway, Hrothmund is dead, and we’re alive. It’s time to begin a new tradition for Thirsk. And I’m going to do that.
- Wulf: Is that so?
- Bujold: Yes, and all I need is for you to back me up. You don’t even have to lie. Just don’t tell anyone else what you heard here.
I used a hand signal to instruct The Sentinels not to draw their weapons.
- Wulf: You are unworthy and cannot lead Thirsk Hall!
- Bujold: I was afraid you might say that. Well, it looks as though I’ll have to prove my mettle against you now.
Bujold attacked, and I quickly disarmed her then sent her falling onto her backside. She looked up, not with fear but determination. I sheathed my sword and offered her my hand. She took it, and I helped her back onto her feet. Inigo handed Bujold her axe.
- Wulf: You had no hope of defeating me, so why attack me?
- Bujold: If you told the others, we would have had no leadership. I have proven I can lead, and I had to try and stay in that position for my people.
- Wulf: I tested you, and you have proven to be worthy of being the leader of Thirsk Hall.
- Bujold: Huh?
- Wulf: Would The Sentinels like to explain?
- Jordis: You were willing to sacrifice yourself for your people.
- Inigo: You did not seek the approval of Hrothmund as a matter of pride but out of tradition.
- Urdr: You realised that a new way of living and choosing a leader was needed.
- Kharjo: That one realised the false god was not infallible.
- Wulf: You did not ask me to lie, which demonstrates admirable morality.
- Bujold: Commander Valdr, you are not impressed with Hrothmund, are you?
- Wulf: I detest the glorification of violence and don’t like his ideology. Hrothmund has used cheap tricks and sacrificed his soul to influence Thirsk Hall after his death. He is not omnipotent, and you are doing the right thing by breaking from tradition.
- Inigo: Hrothmund might have been a great warrior, but if he wished to live like a Skyrim Nord, why stay on Solstheim?
- Urdr: He dragged your forefathers away from their religion and set himself up as some sort of god!
- Bujold: Will you accompany me back to Thirsk Hall?
- Wulf: Yes, but none of us will enter. We have other tasks that have been delayed. Please wait outside while I examine this place some more.
After The Sentinels and Bujold left, I studied the axe embedded in the rock.
I said, “Hrothmund, you know that Bujold is right. There is far more to living a worthwhile life than seeking and glorifying battle.”
There was no reply, but I did not doubt that the ancient warrior was listening.
I continued, “I think your soul is bound to Mundus by a dweomer on the rock and axe. Let me free your soul so you can move on to your afterlife.”
No answer, but the ease with which the axe separated from the rock confirmed his desire to progress to the next stage of existence.
I exited the Barrow, and we escorted Bujold back to Thirsk Hall without incident.
- Wulf: You have not asked about Hrothmund’s axe.
- Bujold: It is good you do not intend to enter. Trying to explain how the axe can no longer be used to test the right to leadership would bring suspicion and maybe even rebellion.
- Wulf: Hrothmund’s soul has moved on. That should be celebrated. By the time the next respective leader visits the Barrow, I hope you have proved yourself a worthy leader. The absence of the axe will show the old way was wrong.
- Bujold: You are a remarkable group of people. I am glad to have met you.
- Inigo: Yes, it is about time some statues were erected to honour us.
- Jordis: It would take the sculptor years to carve all those fleas that cover you!
- Urdr: I am sure birds would love to crap all over a statue of a Khajiit!
- Inigo: I do not chase birds!
- Kharjo: This one thinks spiders from all over Nirn would visit so they could shit upon a statue of the blue one.
- Bujold: On second thoughts. Replace remarkable with strange.
- Urdr: Thank you! That is one of the kindest things anybody has ever said about us.
Bujold shook her head as she headed inside.
We headed to Tel Mithryn. Along the way, we passed skeletons from the Dragon War.
Three Ash Spawn were approaching Tel Mithryn. They attacked us on sight. After killing them, I collected some ashes for Neloth.
We had not approached Tel Mithryn from this direction before, so it was the first time that we saw the nearby cemetery.
- Inigo: I can see burials as well as cairns for ashes.
- Wulf: Some Dunmer prefer burial to cremation, plus many races are living on this island.
- Kharjo: This one can see an Ash Spawn amongst the graves.
- Wulf: It is too far away to be a danger to Tel Mithryn.
Drovas was sitting outside.
- Wulf: We just killed three Ash Spawn headed this way.
- Drovas: More of them? Master Neloth and Talvas have been rushing out and destroying them for days now.
- Wulf: It sounds like they have been sent here, like the ones sent to Raven Rock.
- Inigo: I can’t imagine who could hold a grudge against Master Neloth!
- Drovas: If you have a few hours, I can read out a list.
- Inigo: It was sarcasm.
- Drovas: Who is this Sarcasm person, and why do they hate Master Neloth?
- Wulf: Why is there a cemetery so far from Raven Rock?
- Drovas: Oh, that is Tel Mithryn’s cemetery. Its occupants are the deceased servants and apprentices of Master Neloth.
- Wulf: Did you take my advice on the canis root tea.
- Drovas: Yes. Master Neloth complained that the cup of tea I brought him was terrible. He seemed shocked when I asked what I had done wrong then claimed it was too watered down.
- Jordis: So, you came down, warmed it up again, then took the same cup of tea back to him?
- Drovas: Yes. Master Neloth took a sip then said it was much better, and maybe there is hope for me after all.
- Wulf: Ha, I told you that would work!
- Urdr: Don’t let him catch you fooling him. He might turn you into a frog.
- Drovas: He wouldn’t do that! Would he?
- Urdr: I asked one of his previous stewards. Do you know what she told me?
- Drovas: No. What did she say?
- Urdr: Ribbet. Ribbet.
- Drovas: I am starting to dislike mages.
- Wulf: Oh, your friends, Mogrul and Slitter, said to say hello. They said I inherited your debt. Now I owe them one thousand gold pieces since it was my fault you ended up under Master Neloth’s protection.
- Drovas: I am so sorry. Maybe you can pay them, and I can slowly pay you back?
- Wulf: No need. They will soon be sent to Morrowind to work in penal mines for a few decades.
- Inigo: Mogrul was responsible for many crimes. Commander Valdr tricked a confession out of him.
- Drovas: Thank you! I will stay with Master Neloth even though the threat is gone. He is not so bad once you get used to him.
We made our way inside.
- Wulf: Master Neloth, I have a sample of Ash Spawn ash for you.
- Neloth: I take it you cut the creature down. The ash is useless when Talvas and I blast them with Lightning spells.
- Wulf: Yes, we cut them down. There were three of them heading for Tel Mithryn.
- Neloth: There are too many coincidences. There must be someone behind all of my recent troubles.
- Wulf: I imagine you have many enemies.
- Neloth: Yes, legions of them back in Morrowind. However, in this case, I have reason to believe it is someone in Solstheim.
- Inigo: What makes you think you are under attack?
- Neloth: Ash Spawn keep appearing. One night, a part of my tower mysteriously withered. I am certain Verona was ambushed and did not simply stumble upon the Ash Spawn.
- Wulf: That is ample evidence somebody is out to get you. I am willing to help track them down.
- Neloth: I want you to kill them!
- Wulf: I am not an assassin! If I find them, they will be given a chance to tell their side of the story. I will decide what to do based on their reasons and crimes.
- Neloth: Okay, first we must identify the culprit.
Neloth walked over to an Arcane Enchanter then placed a dweomer onto a ring. He then handed the ring to me.
- Neloth: I’ve enchanted that ring to find the source of the attacks.
- Wulf: How does it work? I don’t recognise the dweomer.
- Neloth: I enchanted the ring with a bit of the ash you just gave me. It will follow the magical link back to its summoner.
- Wulf: Assuming they are summoned, but I don’t think I need it.
- Neloth: You think you know who it may be?
- Wulf: You experimented with implanting a Heartstone and did not obtain the expected results. That is why you wanted the information about the Briarhearts.
- Neloth: Yes, and?
- Wulf: I assume the volunteer for the experiment was somebody who lived here. Possibly an apprentice?
- Neloth: Yes, her name was Ildari Sarothril.
- Wulf: You assume she died because you didn’t know about the three knots.
- Neloth: I didn’t know that at the time of her death. I was at a loss as to the cause.
- Wulf: Was she buried or cremated?
- Neloth: Ildari was buried in the nearby cemetery.
- Urdr: It looks like your speculation was correct, Commander Valdr.
- Neloth: What are you suggesting?
- Wulf: We will go and confirm our suspicions.
We made our way to the small cemetery and took care of the solitary Ash Spawn we saw earlier.
Ildari’s sarcophagus had her name on it.
When I slid the lid across, it was empty except for a staff and Heartstone.
We quickly returned to tell Neloth.
- Neloth: I’ve pried open another of Hermaeus Mora’s secrets.
- Wulf: Just mark my map, and I will obtain the Black Book when I can.
- Neloth: I will need your map of Skyrim.
I handed my map of Skyrim over, then Neloth marked it and handed it back.
- Wulf: It may be some time if ever I retrieve that Black Book.
- Urdr: Where is it?
- Wulf: Scourg Barrow. Home of the King of Worms. Not only is it high in the Jerall Mountains, but it is also almost certainly the home of very powerful and numerous Necromancers. Recovering a Black Book from there is not worth the risk.
I handed Neloth the Heartstone we found in the sarcophagus.
- Wulf: Ildari is most likely the one attacking you. You left that Heartstone with her corpse. There is no longer a corpse!
- Neloth: Ildari? Then it was my fault. I was considering replacing my heart with a Heartstone. Fortunately, Ildari offered to let me operate on her first. It was quite annoying when she died. Of course, we now know about the three knots.
- Wulf: She was not as dead as you thought or has been resurrected by the power of the Heartstone.
- Neloth: Most likely, the Heartstone kept her right at the edge of life and death.
- Inigo: Master Neloth, do you know where Ildari would take refuge?
- Neloth: No, but I might be able to find out. Let me do divination.
Neloth walked away to give himself room for his performance. The divination could be done with a whisper and slight hand movements, but Neloth’s ego wanted to awe us lesser beings.
Neloth chanted, “I call upon the powers of the sun, moons and stars. Ildari Sarothril, reveal yourself!”
In a deep baritone, Neloth then said, “SHE LIVES! SEEK HER IN HIGHPOINT TOWER.”
I had a look at my map of Solstheim and Highpoint Tower was shown.
- Neloth: So, Ildari does live after all. She thought she could hide from me, but she can’t!
- Wulf: Yes, it was impressive divination, but we could have done without the dramatics.
- Neloth: She is holed up in Highpoint Tower.
- Urdr: Um…we heard that, and Commander Valdr has already found it on his map.
- Neloth: Go and rip that thrice-cursed Heartstone from her chest!
- Wulf: If you want murder done, go and do it yourself!
- Neloth: I don’t have time to go traipsing all over Solstheim.
- Wulf: We will go and find Ildari but not because she has a grudge against you.
- Inigo: She may have caused the deaths of many people, not just Varona.
- Wulf: I have the feeling the blame for those deaths is going to be all yours, Master Neloth!
- Neloth: Why? What has happened?
- Wulf: Think about what the Ash Spawn did recently. Use that supposedly superior intellect of yours and figure it out yourself.
- Urdr: If we weren’t here, would you have ordered Talvas to deal with Ildari? Even if he had no hope against her?
- Neloth: Of course. Be sure to bring back an amusing story of how Ildari died.
- Inigo: Well, we won’t be ripping the Heartstone from her chest since that was in the sarcophagus!
- Wulf: I don’t think I will be bringing back an amusing story. However, I might return with the Redoran Guard to arrest you.
- Urdr: That would be amusing.
The Sentinels could see my tolerance for Neloth’s ways had run out. I was in a foul mood that did not diminish on the walk to Highpoint Tower.
We entered the tower then Inigo said, “My friend, you make enemies angry so they will make mistakes. You need to calm down, or you too may make a mistake.”
“It is not just Neloth. Death follows me. I am knee-deep in it all the time, whether of my making or somebody else’s. I need a long break from all of this and just be normal for a while. I want to spend more time playing with the children than cleaning gore off my armour and weapons! I want to just relax with Rigmor and talk about the beauty she sees in the world.”
“I can’t imagine the burden you carry. But to enjoy those things, you must survive first.”
“Yes, Inigo, you are right. I can’t afford to make mistakes. But I can’t become a mindless killer either.”
“This trip to Solstheim has compressed a lot of killing into a short period. Things will be better when we get back home.”
“Maybe. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Not far into the complex, I found the first of Ildari’s journals. I read the relevant section to The Sentinels.
“The fools have taken me in. They are weak, pathetic people who are intent on looting this ancient fortress with their crude mining. Niyya is pleasant enough. I may choose to spare her when the time comes.
I’m still weak from Neloth’s betrayal. He promised me power and glory but failed to mention the constant pain. And the voices. By the three, I would do anything not to hear the voices.
When my strength returns, I will have my vengeance upon my former master. I can feel the power of the heart stone beating inside me. I need to find a way to tap into its power. Then he shall pay in blood and fire and ash.”
- Wulf: Voices in her head and constant pain. No wonder she is nuttier than a fruitcake!
- Jordis: Nuttier than a what?
- Wulf: She has a few sheep loose in the top paddock.
- Inigo: Umm…
- Wulf: No wonder she is insane!
- Urdr: It must be true about Wulf being dropped on his head!
- Wulf: Urdr, it hurts my brain thinking down to your level.
- Inigo: It is good to see sarcasm has replaced anger.
- Wulf: Fleabag, I would have to remove my brains altogether to think down to your level!
- Inigo: Much better!
- Wulf: It seems innocent miners are more victims of Neloth’s experiment.
- Urdr: And the only thing Ildari is guilty of is craving more power and trusting Neloth. When she volunteered for the experiment, she did not know it would harm others.
- Wulf: You are learning!
- Urdr: Neloth promised her diamonds and gave her coal.
- Wulf: That is a good colloquialism. I will store that one away for use in the future.
- Kharjo: This is another example of mages causing harm when seeking knowledge.
- Wulf: Precisely.
- Urdr: It is why we have rules about such experimentation at the College.
- Wulf: Hopefully, we are not too late to save some of the miners.
We came across a room full of red and white spiders.
- Inigo: Spider squishing time!
- Wulf: Wait! These are not ordinary spiders. Do you see the red pulsating egg sacks?
- Urdr: I wish I hadn’t!
- Wulf: Watch what happens.
I hit the egg sacks with Chain Lightning, and more red spiders appeared.
I yelled, “The red ones will jump at you and explode. The white ones can freeze you with their bite!”
I disposed of several spiders with another Chain Lightning spell then The Sentinels destroyed the rest.
There were many Soul Gem traps and a few Ash Spawn as we progressed. Lightening took care of both as we encountered them.
I disposed of the occasional ward with Unrelenting Force.
We entered a room with three locked cells. Skeletons occupied two of the cells, and a few more were scattered on the floor. A woman occupied the remaining cell. “Help! Please, help me!” she pleaded.
I picked the lock and opened the door. Inigo passed her a water bottle, and she drank thirstily then handed it back.
- Niyya: Thank you for rescuing me.
- Wulf: Is your name Niyya?
- Niyya: Yes, how did you know?
- Wulf: Ildari mentioned you in her journal.
- Niyya: That evil witch was going to kill me soon, I just know it.
- Wulf: Are you the last of the miners?
- Niyya: Yes. We were digging in these mines when she found us. She was hurt so bad. We took pity on her and nursed her back to health.
- Inigo: Then she turned on you.
- Niyya: Yes, she attacked us in the middle of the night. Those of us that didn’t die were made prisoners.
- Urdr: She has experimented on the others?
- Niyya: Experiments and dark magics.
- Wulf: Ildari said she would keep you for last.
- Niyya: I don’t know if that is a blessing or a curse. The things I saw and heard! If you find her, don’t make her death quick!
- Wulf: What will you do now?
- Niyya: Leave this place and head for Raven Rock. Then leave for the mainland on the first available boat.
I handed Niyya a dagger and some gems.
- Niyya: Who are you? I prayed for rescue but never imagined Imperial soldiers would be the ones to do so.
- Wulf: I am Commander Valdr.
- Jordis: We are members of the Penitus Oculatus.
- Niyya: I must go now. I can’t stay here any longer.
- Wulf: Blessings of The Divines, Niyya. May you find peace amongst loved ones.
Niyya ran. On a table was another of Ildari’s journals. I read aloud the relevant sections.
“I am stronger now. The heart stone kept me alive after Neloth’s butchery. I can feel the bones in the ash calling to me. I can call back to them too. With the Heartstone, I can bind the spirits to bone and ash and raise a servant to do my bidding.
Tonight, I will seize control. These miners and fortune seekers are pawns of Neloth. I can feel them staring at me. I’m sure they are sending him messages, reporting on my every move. The only ones I can trust are the voices. They’ve never lied to me. They’ve shown me that these fools plan to betray me, just like Neloth.
When they are all asleep, I will raise my ash spawn. Their brute of a leader will die first. I can see the lust in his heart. He may act all kind and generous, but I know what he wants, what they all want. They want the heart stone.
I’ll keep a few prisoners as I need test subjects for my experiments. There is more that the Heartstone can do. I just need to try out a few ideas.”
- Wulf: The souls of the dead that have not found their way to the afterlife can be full of hatred for the living.
- Urdr: They poisoned her mind. They have made her paranoid enough to kill and experiment with their enemies, the living.
- Wulf: Ildari hovered between Mundus and the afterlife. She was vulnerable to the whisperings of the lost souls.
- Inigo: Didn’t you spend days in the same in-between place?
- Wulf: Azura protected me. Ildari had no such protector.
- Jordis: Is there any way to help Ildari?
- Wulf: I don’t think so. I doubt she will give us a chance anyway.
- Kharjo: That one does not want to have to kill her.
- Wulf: She is already dead. Neloth ripped her heart out and replaced it with a Heartstone, but the operation killed her.
- Urdr: But the Heartstone was left in her sarcophagus?
- Wulf: Yes, but the power of Lorkhan’s Heart brought her back to life. She is undead.
- Urdr: Neloth said she lived.
- Wulf: His divination searched for her soul. That is still on this plane. Powerful some of his skills might be, but Neloth’s knowledge is lacking in many areas.
- Urdr: That display he put on was no better than a magician in a sideshow. The same sort of trickery Hrothmund used.
- Jordis: Bright lights and ominous voice to convince the observer that great powers are afoot.
- Wulf: He is a product of centuries of Morrowind politics and traditions of House Telvanni.
- Inigo: It seems certain that Ildari was behind General Carius’ resurrection.
- Wulf: Do not be surprised if she wears the same sort of harness with Heartstone he had.
- Urdr: What are you going to do about Neloth?
- Wulf: There are many things to consider. What may seem justice could serve chaos. I will have to think about the matter further.
We passed several sapphire geodes. They would have made a good profit for the miners even if they found nothing else.
We eventually found Ildari standing on a platform above a cavern. She had set up three soul gems to transmit energy onto a sarcophagus.
She said, “You’ve gone far enough. Neloth is a fool to think he could send some low lives to finish me off.”
“Neloth did not send us, and my power dwarves yours by far. Let us try and help you, Ildari. Your soul can still be saved.”
“Liar! Watch what I can do!”
The power of the Heartstone leapt from soul gem to soul gem then focused on the sarcophagus. From it emerged a new form of Atronach. An Ash Atronach.
I said to The Sentinels, “She is beyond help and I do not fancy chasing her!”
I cast Telekinesis and dragged the screaming Ildari to me.
Sentinel arrows hit her mid-flight, and Urdr set her alight with Inferno. Ildari should have been dead before landing. Instead, she cried out in pain.
As The Sentinels disposed of several Ash Spawn and the Ash Atronach, I decided I had no choice.
I lifted Ildari by the collar. As predicted, she had a Heartstone embedded in a harness. Wizards do not wear armour, so she could not have it embedded in a breastplate like General Carius.
I grabbed hold of the Heartstone and ripped it away. Ildari briefly screamed as fire and electricity coursed through her.
I dropped her corpse to the ground. Blood spurted from the old wound in her chest even though she had no heart to pump it. It was one of the most disturbing things I had ever witnessed.
Inigo came up to me and could see I was disturbed.
“My friend, you had no choice. She was not going to believe a word you said.”
“But why me, Inigo? I came to this Island on a Divine Task. I should have left once that was completed. Then I would not have had to continue killing. I would not have had to witness what I just did.”
“You could not leave when asked for help. You could not leave Black Books that might doom others. You protect others and pay a steep price for doing so. That is who you are, and even though you speak of free will, you could never step aside and let harm come to mortals.”
“No, I couldn’t. But neither can I keep carrying this burden. There has to be a better way.”
“Then ask your gods. They want you to do these things and must know of the pain it causes you.”
“Ildari was hoping to conduct a running fight. I was not going to allow her to do that.”
“I have never seen you drag an enemy towards you before.”
“It was a spell, not the Thu’um, and I rarely use it.”
“Let us see what she has left behind. There may be evidence of her involvement with General Carius.”
“Let me search Ildari first.”
I recovered another journal from her body and read the relevant sections to The Sentinels.
“These warrens are well suited to me. I can plot my vengeance undisturbed. I’ve created many Ash Spawn and summoned Atronachs to do my bidding. Yet I know it isn’t enough. Neloth is a wily old wizard. I need more power.
I’m out of test subjects, except for Niyya. I saved her for last. She pretended to be my friend when I first came here. But now I know the truth. The voices have told me all about her lies and betrayal. She works with Neloth to bring me down! I’ve saved a unique experiment just for her, but it will take quite a while to complete.
I can’t attack Neloth directly as he is too powerful, but I can make his life uncomfortable. I’ve killed his steward and withered his home. Maybe I should poison his precious tea. I’ll need a more capable servant for that. The Ash Spawn are too clumsy for such delicate work.”
The sarcophagus was empty. The Ash Atronach was not very powerful. Ildari never had enough power to confront Neloth.
As we made our way through the rest of the complex, we found Ildari’s living quarters. On a table was another journal. This one proved she was responsible for General Carius. Once again, The Sentinels listened to the relevant sections.
It’s been almost a month since unearthing the crypt at Fort Frostmoth, and I haven’t seen a single spark of life in the general’s remains. Grafting the Heartstone to the subject is proving much more complicated than I originally anticipated. I’ve used almost every method I can think of, and still, there’s no sign of reanimation. At this rate, it could be years before I make any progress… which is time that I just can’t afford right now. If my vengeance is to come to fruition, I need results. If not, I may need to resort to more dramatic measures.
It finally appears that I’m making some progress. After my latest experiment, General Carius’s eyes briefly opened, and he moved his arms. It lasted for less than a few moments, but it’s the first sign of progress I’ve seen since I arrived here. A few of my assistants insisted that I imagined things. They must have been working for Neloth and won’t be bothering anyone ever again.
General Carius awoke fully today. He bolted upright after my incantations and began staggering around like a blind man. He seemed to ignore my commands… in fact, hearing my voice seemed to increase his hostility. I was able to remove the Heartstone before he became violent, but this isn’t a result that I expected. Even though he can be awakened, I feel as though the real work has just begun.
The general is still unable or unwilling to listen to my commands. He’s acting increasingly paranoid and appears to have his own free will. He’s convinced that I am a ‘spy’ or the ‘enemy’, and I’ve had to restrain him to prevent him from outright attacking me. This situation is becoming intolerable. I’m beginning to wonder if someone with a Heartstone can be commanded at all. If my experiments with General Carius fail, I may have to resort to self-experimentation… something I’ve been avoiding for a long time.”
- Wulf: It seems she had some helpers. Probably necromancers.
- Inigo: And they died for their efforts.
- Urdr: More deaths due to Neloth’s failed experiment.
- Jordis: The voices made General Carius paranoid as well. It seems the dead are effective at whispering conspiracies.
- Wulf: I don’t suppose a resurrected person is mentally stable in the first place. It would not take much to push them into insanity. Paranoia is the most useful for the undead to use in their vengeance.
- Kharjo: Did the magic of the Moon Beast, Lorkhaj, contribute to the insanity?
- Wulf: I don’t think so. There is nothing in the histories that points to such a phenomenon. Some turned insane and homicidal with their lust for the power of Lorkhan’s Heart. But there is nothing inherently evil about its dweomer. No matter what some Aldmeri think, Lorkhan was not evil.
- Inigo: When last we visited, most of the Ash Spawn we destroyed would have once been Imperial soldiers.
- Wulf: Yes, and now their souls are lost. Another thing to add to Neloth’s tally.
We encountered a few Ash Spawn on the way to finding Ildari. We had to fight far more after her death.
We came to Ildari’s bedroom. There was a skull on her bed. Not as comforting as a stuffed toy!
Her décor was not pleasant.
We finally made our way outside and headed for Tel Mithryn.
We had not gone far when three dragons attacked us.
Where they attacked was next to a large camp of bandits.
The following account is not from my memory. It is what The Sentinels who witnessed my behaviour told me. It is what Rigmor said about our conversation.
I made the first dragon land with Dragonrend.
I killed the dragon, and as I absorbed its soul, many bandits attacked me. I went berserk. I was yelling in Dovahzul and cut down dozens of bandits while snarling and laughing. The Sentinels had never seen me kill so quickly and with such brutality.
Only after all the bandits died did I turn my attention back to the remaining dragons.
I continued to yell in Dovahzul and hacked into the dragons even as I absorbed their souls.
The Sentinels tried to calm me down but feared I would turn on them. They were frightened of me!
It took Rigmor’s pleading to bring me back. The following is how she related the experience to me.
“I was sitting talking to Mum and Cerys after dinner when I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and anger from you. I gasped in shock and quickly made an excuse, then ran from the table to my bedroom. I locked the doors to my room. That was the first time I have ever done that!
As Cerys and Mum frantically knocked on one of the doors, begging for me to let them in, I tried my hardest to get through to you.
I said, ‘WULF! PLEASE, WULF, WHAT IS WRONG? TALK TO ME!’
You did not reply in Tamrielic, but Dovahzul!
I did not understand what you were saying. However, the emotions expressed matched those I felt via the ring, great sadness and anger.
I told you I loved you and that everything would be okay and many other things to try and get my Wulf back. You had become a dragon, and I could not find your mortal self.
I remembered when I asked you how to say, ‘I love you!’ in Dovahzul. You explained that dragons have no word for love. You then gave me an approximation of what those three words would be. I tried them.
‘Zu’u love hi!’
I said those three words with all the love and tenderness I could. They worked!”
My mortal self clawed his way back. Inigo was standing in front of me. The other Sentinels seemed to be deliberately keeping their distance. They had a haunted look in their eyes.
I said to Rigmor, “I love you.”
I could tell she was crying uncontrollably and was mystified as to why.
“Rigmor, what has upset you so?”
“You had become a dragon. It took our love to bring Wulf the mortal back to me. I was so scared!”
I looked around me and saw the piles of bodies and the three dragon skeletons. I had felt the despair building slowly over time, and logically I knew the result was me surrendering entirely to my other half. That was the only way to stop the guilt and pain of doing what was necessary.
“I am so sorry, my beloved. I am back now but will have to think about what happened another time. I still have things I need to do here.”
“I had better open the door to Cerys and Mum before they have guards kick it in!”
“Okay. I promise I will talk to you about this later.”
“You had better speak to The Divines as well! If they don’t want to lose you, something needs to be done.”
I said to Inigo, “Whatever happened, we will speak about it later. I need to get off Solstheim and back home as soon as possible. I need to go home.”
“Your Dovah has subsided. That is good. We will speak to you when you are ready to do so.”
It was about an hour before dawn when we reached Tel Mithryn. I did not care if Neloth was in bed or not. He was going to listen to what we had to say.
Neloth was still awake, so I did not have to drag him from his bed.
- Neloth: You’re alive. I hope that bodes ill for Ildari.
- Wulf: She is dead.
- Neloth: Well, well. You have proven to be a more valuable ally than I anticipated. I would like to make you a member of House Telvanni.
- Wulf: I don’t want anything you wish to give to me. You are responsible for dozens of deaths, including Ildari’s!
- Neloth: Explain yourself!
- Wulf: Your experiment left Ildari susceptible to the whisperings of restless souls. Those that have yet to move on to their afterlife. Even if your knowledge of necromancy is poor, you would know such beings hate all mortal life. They cannot accept we still enjoy what they have lost.
- Neloth: Yes, Ildari murdered Varona, and you know I was saddened by that. But what is this about dozens of deaths?
- Wulf: The undead whispers made Ildari paranoid. Any mortal that talked to her would eventually be suspected of plots against her. She was convinced most of them were spies for you. She killed many outright. Others she experimented on in an attempt to improve her powers via a Heartstone. She was also a form of undead. We have both theorised that undead powered by a Heartstone would be considerably more endurable.
- Inigo: Master Neloth, do you remember the many Ash Spawn attacks on Raven Rock?
- Neloth: That was not the work of Ildari. It was some undead General. You lot fixed that problem!
- Wulf: Ildari resurrected General Carius. She used a Heartstone, and his flesh was as fresh as if he was in the prime of his life. The Heartstone did not have to replace his heart. It just had to be close to his body. The Heartstone in the sarcophagus was close to Ildari’s corpse and reanimated her. She needed another one close to her with a particular dweomer to continue existing on this plane.
- Inigo: But General Carius also became paranoid and insane as the undead whispered in his mind. He decided that the Dunmer living in Raven Rock were invaders and sent many Ash Spawn to attack it. Ildari could not and did not control him.
- Wulf: Many Redoran Guard died protecting Raven Rock. We had to kill dozens of Ash Spawn when we attacked General Carius’ stronghold. Each Ash Spawn used the soul of a fallen Imperial soldier. You are responsible for the death of the guards and the loss of all those souls!
- Urdr: In her paranoia, Ildari also killed an unknown number of assistants who helped her create the undead General Carius.
- Wulf: Ildari was in constant pain, and her soul was slipping into The Void. She made it to Highpoint Tower, where a group of miners found her and nursed her to health. Ildari had learned how to summon Ash Spawn, and as soon as she was well enough, she gathered enough of them to kill or capture all of the miners who had helped her.
- Neloth: More deaths. That is not what I intended!
- Wulf: Ildari was desperate. She wanted to empower herself with a Heartstone like she had General Carius. But she also wanted stronger minions to tackle you. She conducted horrific experiments on the miners and killed all but one of them before she made a harness for herself and placed a Heartstone close to her chest. Whatever necromantic dweomer she cast on General Carius and herself was not documented. She was now immortal but still did not have the power to bring you down.
Neloth looked shattered. His remorse was genuine.
- Wulf: I have not criticised you in the past about your experiments or your seeming lack of compassion. But the experiment on Ildari went too far. Like an inexperienced apprentice, you did not consider the possible consequences of your experimental operation of Ildari. Like an inexperienced apprentice, you thought you had the skills to experiment with safety when you did not. Sometimes it is only the mage that gets harmed by a failed experiment. Occasionally the failed experiment causes great harm to others. You have caused much death, suffering and harm by conducting an experiment you were not skilled enough to undertake safely or with enough forethought.
- Neloth: What are you going to do?
- Wulf: If I reported you to Councillor Morvayn, Morrowind’s politics would get involved, and much damage could be done as the Redoran and Telvanni Great Houses squabble over legalities. However, I cannot leave Talvas here. I can tell he is a skilled mage and would benefit from attending the College of Winterhold. However, he is hesitant to leave your service.
- Urdr: You are not teaching him, Master Neloth. You are using him and thwarting his potential.
- Neloth: You have my word. I will send him to the College and provide whatever funds he needs.
- Wulf: I don’t think I will return to Solstheim for quite some time.
- Inigo: Let us hurry to the docks. The favourable tide for departure is in a few hours.
Our walk to Raven Rock was without incident. I think The Sentinels were relieved as they were unsure as to what I would do in battle.
We visited Severin Manner and consumed the new chowder recipe of Kharjo’s. It was enjoyable food, but the conversation was muted.
We left the house then headed for the docks. I booked passage with Gjalund, and we headed for our cabin, completely exhausted.
We all slept the entire voyage. The Sentinels still needed sleep after we arrived in Windhelm.
I booked a carriage to Whiterun.
The Sentinels told me what happened as we bumped and rocked along. After that, they all nodded off, and I spoke to Rigmor. We were all at a loss as to what could be done to help me.
The Sentinels were fully rested by the time we reached Whiterun. Inigo decided to head for Langley’s. The other three walked with me to Silverpeak Inn.
Once again, it was a relief that no encounters ruined our walk home.
When we arrived at Silverpeak Lodge, some of the children descended on me and demanded I play chasey. I spent a good hour forgetting about everything except who was ‘it’.
That night, Olette and I scoffed down our dinner as I had promised to perform some songs with her.
Olette’s skill with all the instruments was impressive. Although still that of a young girl, her voice was showing the potential to be something special as she ages.
When the children went to bed, I sat outside and tried to quieten my mind.
I stared at the stars, and not for the first time I could hear voices. Not clearly, but like the ebb and flow of conversations in a busy tavern. I could not discern words or phrases, but I knew beings were talking amiably. It was comforting.
I said to Rigmor, “Milady, I need to go pray in Kyne’s Temple. Maybe the gods will give me advice.”
“Do what you feel you need to do, my Dragonborn.”
“I will probably not crawl into bed till the early morning.”
“Our love dragged you back from wherever you went. Remember that!”
“Have Cerys and your mother stopped fussing over you?”
“I had to forcibly argue that I was okay and to leave me alone. When I told them that I was upset because you still hadn’t visited or even wrote, their anger was palpable. They are now more adamant than ever I need to find a suitor to take my mind off ‘that bastard Dragonborn!’”
“I can imagine. ‘Why are you wasting feelings for that womaniser! He doesn’t deserve your love!’”
“You should be proud. You are the only topic that can make Mum swear!”
“I am so tempted to have you with me and smother all of this in our peace. But that will not resolve it. I have to face what happened and think clearly about it.”
“Even The Sentinels were scared of you. That should never happen again!”
“They do not deserve that. Imagine if I did lose control so much that I hurt or even killed a friend. The way they described me is terrifying. A laughing, snarling killing machine.”
“There was so much death in a few days on Solstheim. That must have contributed towards your…?”
“Episode. That is a nice, polite term for it.”
“You are not riding to High Hrothgar, are you?”
“On the back of Odahviing, not Hashire. Maybe he will have some advice to give me.”
“I doubt it. Only another Dragonborn would understand, and they are in short supply.”
“Yeah, I killed the first one I met.”
“Good night, and I hope The Divines do provide some advice.”
“As do I. I love you.”
“Love you too!”
I went inside and informed The Sentinels of where I was going.
Then I exited Silverpeak Lodge and called Odahviing. He is always an impressive sight. He landed with less of a thump than previously. Olette had told him off last time for making a ruckus.
“Dovahkiin, the ancient one says your problem is you bump into trouble.”
“What would Paarthurnax know about my problems?”
“Sometimes, I think he speaks to Bormahu. Joor could also do that long ago.”
“Did he suggest a solution?”
“Travel to where you need to go without bumping into trouble.”
“That is the sort of mumbo jumbo I expect from the Greybeards.”
“He has perfected the art over thousands of years holding tinvaak with himself and the occasional eagle.”
“It is probably more advice than I will get from The Divines if no less cryptic. Can you please take me to High Hrothgar?”
“You wish to visit the Greybeards?”
“They are the last people I would ask about my particular problem. They would lecture me about ‘The Way of the Voice’, and that could lead to murder.”
“Ahh, the temple of Kyne is in there. A wise choice when you are troubled.”
“Did Paarthurnax tell you my problem?”
“He said you are afraid of losing your joor half and becoming Dov entirely.”
“Yes, that is part of it.”
“That would be a terrible thing to happen!”
“Why do you think that?”
“You would think you are a dragon and jump from a cliff expecting to fly. That would not end well for you, Dovahkiin.”
A sound like a small avalanche dislodged some small rocks that came tumbling down The Throat of the World.
“Odahviing, your laughter will wake up the children! It might even bury the house!”
“Then let us depart before Olette grumbles at me! Climb aboard and think about why you have asked to fly to High Hrothgar instead of travelling the roads. There is more than one reason. Maybe you will unravel the ancient one’s mumbo jumbo amongst those reasons.”
“Why can’t immortals just speak plainly?”
“That would make this Kalpa end, don’t you think?”
More avalanche causing laughter as I climbed aboard.
It was an almost vertical climb from Silverpeak Lodge to High Hrothgar. It did not take long for Odahviing to spiral down in front of it so I could jump off him.
Odahviing leapt into the air, and the downdraft from his wings caused vortexes of snow.
As I walked up the steps of High Hrothgar, the stars were murmuring once more.
I said, “Speak up if you want me to understand you! Or do you speak a language I am yet to learn?”
I entered High Hrothgar and was surprised to see Greybeards still meditating at 2:00 AM.
I made my way to the Shrine of Kyne and prayed for an hour. Apart from sore knees, it achieved nothing. I must remember to get some thicker prayer mats!
I went to my bedroom and stood in front of the Shrine of Talos.
I did not even start to pray when a familiar voice said, “Here I am, breaking a verbal agreement once more. Lord Akatosh will end up writing contracts with millions of words covering all possible angles.”
“You are not physically here, so I assume it is only a minor breach.”
“The Nine watch you always. What happened on Solstheim worries us all, but I have to be careful on what advice I give you.”
“Lord Akatosh has already lent his wisdom via Paarthurnax.”
“And then he dared to lecture me! What did he advise?”
“I need to travel where I need to go without bumping into trouble.”
“Suitably obscure. Akatosh likes to make mortals think. What is your interpretation?”
“I travel by foot and horse. Inevitably I encounter enemies and problems that have nothing to do with why I am travelling. I need to get to my destination without the possibility of such encounters.”
“You have been working on rediscovering the old ways of teleports and gateways. But they are not always a suitable form of transport. I can’t tell you what is in your immediate future, as you know. That would jeopardise everything. But I advise you not to deny providing aid to a friend. No matter how far from home you have to travel.”
“That is suitably cryptic.”
“Yes, I am proud of that mumbo jumbo.”
“I appreciate the assistance.”
“One more thing I will strongly advise. Do not concern yourself too much with what you call gobblygook. There is much that mortals will never understand. With death comes some understanding, and with ascension, even more. But what you call gods do not have all the answers. We can be as puzzled as you when faced with the seeming illogic of the universe. Your time is better spent concentrating on what you can unravel and not worrying about what you can’t.”
“I fear surprises. What if an enemy unravels something that I did not, and my ignorance allows harm to come to others?”
“You must accept you can’t protect everybody. You are doing everything we could expect of you and protecting those you can. Now rest and then work on what we have discussed.”
Fatigue hit me. I think Talos had something to do with it.
I know not what time I fell asleep.
I barely remember climbing into bed.