Tirdas, 30th Evening Star, 4E 201 & Middas, 31st Evening Star, 4E 201
I headed for my airship at about 6:45 AM. To my surprise, an apprentice class was being conducted that early in the morning!
It was the group of apprentices that had accompanied us to Saarthal. Their skills were quite impressive. J’zargo and the others will soon be Master Mages.
I stepped outside and met Urag in a foul mood.
I said, in the most cheerful voice I could muster, “Thank you for your assistance last night.”
Urag growled, “When you find the bad guys, make them suffer. They cost me precious sleep, and that deserves the worst tortures imaginable.”
“At least you had a few hours. I have had none!”
“If you are expecting sympathy, prepare to be disappointed.”
“What don’t you terrify a couple of apprentices? That will cheer you up!”
“Good luck with your hunting, Arch-Mage.”
Nubaree had set Bostin’s course for Solitude just after 6:00 AM. That left time for me to have breakfast before we teleported and arrived there just after 8:00 AM.
The docking bell tolled, and The Sentinels made their way on deck. When I joined them, I was surprised to see Vittoria Vici waiting for me.
“Lady Vici, welcome aboard my airship.”
“Commander Valdr, this airship is a thing of wonder! I realise you are probably busy at the moment, but may I have a tour of her when time permits?”
“Were you waiting on the dock in the hope of seeing me?”
“I was on my way to the museum when I saw Bostin pop out of nowhere and start to dock. I ran over to watch, and when the boarding plank lowered, it was too much of a temptation.”
“I promise, when time permits, to give you a guided tour and a flight.”
“Wonderful! You will find me at my warehouse most days.”
We left the fascinated noblewoman to wander around the deck. The cabin is magically sealed as well as having the best locks we could buy. I am positive nobody can get inside accidentally or on purpose.
We entered the museum. When asked, a guard told me Auryen was in the library, so that is where we headed.
We found Auryen on the second level.
“Good morning, Auryen. Has the relic hunters’ underground come up with anything?”
“The consensus is you do have a piece of Chim-el Adabal.”
“It glows with light only I can see, and I can sense the two gods when I touch it. Therefore, there was never any doubt in my mind it is a shard of the Red Diamond!”
“It is always prudent to have independent verification.”
“It would have been amusing to hear an explanation of what I experience if they decided I was wrong. Anyway, what else can you tell me.”
“The Guardian’s believe that Dragonfire is needed to repair the Chim-el Adabal and create a new amulet. You also surmised this might be a requirement.”
“Perhaps Byron intended to ask for my assistance with approaching a dragon rather than give me the shard?”
“All of the Guardians are now in Skyrim or headed this way. My sources are certain of that.”
“They might seek The Dragonborn, or they might try their luck with the Greybeards. It would probably be wise to do both. If I were them, I might even consider visiting the College of Winterhold.”
“None of my sources can say for certain if the Guardians are aware of their danger.”
“Byron’s letter indicates they are aware of some imminent threat to Mundus. All of them would be paranoid and careful. If the Morag Tong had been hunting them for very long, they would all be dead, no matter how paranoid. Once they have a writ, they are renowned for employing many sources to track their quarry. I will ask the Greybeards if any Guardian has been in contact and maybe the visit the College. I should have thought of asking when I was there last night. If I find the Guardians, we can secure both them and the shards. They should have just presented themselves to the Penitus Oculatus in Cyrodiil. Unbeknown to the general public, many of them are assassins. It used to be compulsory to do at least one government-sanctioned assassination before a candidate was accepted into the Penitus Oculatus. They know how to place people deep undercover.”
“I am afraid that is all I could discover so far. It isn’t easy without teleports to hop all over the place. When do we get ours installed?
“When the Jarls permit me to set up the portals. Unlike the Terminus Machines that Clockwork Castle uses, the portals will be small and take up little real estate.”
“I am sure High Queen Elisif will twist a few arms for you.”
“What you have found for me is something to work with, so thank you.”
“I will keep seeking information while you visit those fascinating old men.”
“They are mighty but boring old men who have no experience of the real world.”
“That is what makes them fascinating!”
As we exited the library, I saw one of our regular patrons, a young boy named Henry, asking Madras one rapid-fire question after another. Madras looked at me with pleading in his eyes, which was impressive since he wore Dwemer goggles. I tussled Henry’s hair on the way past and smiled at Madras.
I set Bostin’s course for High Hrothgar then sat with The Sentinels for a question-and-answer session. Gregor, through no fault of his own, is very ignorant of the history of The Empire. Many Nords are.
By the time the bell rang to let us know we were docking, Gregor was far more aware of the significance of the Red Diamond and what was at risk.
There was a small campsite next to the entrance stairs of High Hrothgar. That is not unusual. Many pilgrims are not content with walking the 7000 Steps, having a five-minute look at the scenery, then taking their burning thighs back down again.
When we entered High Hrothgar, several of the Greybeards, including Arngeir, were meditating.
We waited patiently for Arngeir to finish before approaching him.
Arngeir said, “Welcome, Dragonborn. I see you are wearing a different uniform. Are you a member of the Penitus Oculatus?”
“Yes, and I have the rank of Commander. The Emperor thought this might help me when investigating matters.”
“No doubt it does. Is it a Penitus Oculatus matter that brings you to High Hrothgar?”
“A Divine Task brings me here. Have you heard of Imperial Cult members who call themselves ‘Guardian’?”
“No, and if memory serves me correctly, the Imperial Cult was a well-armed charitable organisation who worked strictly within the law.”
“These Guardians are not breaking any laws but protect fragments of the Red Diamond. They have voluntarily performed this perilous duty since the end of the Oblivion Crises. Unfortunately, somebody has hired Morag Tong to hunt them down and retrieve the shards. One of the Guardians died at my feet yesterday when ambushed on his way to see me.”
“Why would they come to see us Greybeards?”
“The Guardians want to reconstruct The Amulet of the Kings. They believe, as do I, that Dragonfire is required to repair the Red Diamond.”
“This is very worrying, Dragonborn. A Dark Lord likely seeks the Red Diamond to tear down Martin’s barriers. We would either be enslaved or destroyed.”
“You once told me that some people believe Dragonborn are placed on Nirn by The Divines during times of strife. I can assure you that is the truth. At least in my case, it is. I have saved everybody on Nirn from more threats than Alduin. This problem is another to add to the list if I succeed.”
“You have been forthright with informing the public of your actions, but I assume you have left gaps in your narrative?”
“When events no longer require secrecy, they will be revealed. If you have read my journals up to this point, you will see that nothing is hidden.”
“No, your opinions of certain old men living high on a mountain were straightforward. I am pleased to see The Blades fared worse.”
“Dov speak the truth. You wouldn’t expect less from the Dovahkiin, would you?”
“Not at all. You express in your journals a dislike for inaccurate and incomplete histories of famous people. You are harsh on yourself as well as others. However, your criticism is balanced with praise where it is due.”
“If any of the Guardians appear at your front door, please keep them safe until I can come and see what assistance they need.”
“Perhaps you should investigate the pilgrim camped outside. It is not unusual for pilgrims to use such a camp. I often approach such pilgrims and enquire if they have questions. He is the first that I can recall who didn’t ask a single question. He seemed very nervous, but that is understandable with the rubbish they print about us.”
“Perhaps he is a Guardian and unsure on how to deal with nasty, child-eating Greybeards? I shall talk with him and see what his story is.”
“Kynareth, guide you, Dragonborn.”
“And the blessing of The Divines on certain old men living high on a mountain.”
I made my way to the pilgrim’s camp. After days of sleet, rain, hail and snow, the bright sun on the snow threatened a headache with its glare.
There were two individual tents but only one pilgrim. I retrieved my journal and quill from their magical container and approached.
- Wulf: Good morning, Citizen. I am Commander Valdr of the Penitus Oculatus.
- Argus: I saw you lot get out of that fancy flying ship. The news sheets say it belongs to The Dragonborn.
- Wulf: It belongs to the Penitus Oculatus, and many of us are testing it, not just The Dragonborn. It is a convenient, efficient, and quick way of travel, and I recommend we have more of them built.
- Argus: What can I do for you, Commander Valdr?
- Wulf: Your name would be a good thing. I have to submit all interviews, casual or otherwise, in my reports. Imperial bureaucracy is a strict master that my superiors obey with unswerving loyalty. So a missing name in a report is almost a capital crime, according to the aforementioned superiors.
- Argus: I am Argus Fenneric.
- Wulf: Is that with a double N?
- Argus: Yes, and a C, not a K, at the end.
- Wulf: Thank you. You have no idea how many people think they have the right to refuse to give us their name. I then explain the Penitus Oculatus are like the Thalmor, but we smile more and have better dress sense. They always give their name after that.
- Argus: Ah… okay.
- Wulf: Citizen Fenneric, we are currently investigating a heinous crime on behalf of The Empire. Morag Tong assassins committed a murder most foul within spitting distance of Whiterun’s main gate and in the light of day! Intelligence reports suggest the victim was seeking assistance from dragons or those knowledgeable in dragons. We believe he came from Cyrodiil for that purpose. Logically, I sought the wisdom of The Empire’s ultimate authority on dragons, and the airship made that journey a lot easier on my thighs. Unfortunately, the Greybeards could not assist with my enquiries.
- Argus: What can you tell me about the victim? Perhaps I have seen him on my travels?
I pretended to flick through some notes. A glance at Lydia showed amusement on her face as I do like to go overboard with my acting.
- Wulf: Aha, found it! The official report says he is a member of a group calling themselves ‘Guardians’. Apparently, they are an offshoot of the old Imperial Cult. My orders state that other Guardians might be in Skyrim and in peril. Therefore, my highest priority is to find these Guardians and provide protection. Only then am I to pursue those who hired the Morag Tong.
- Argus: The title of ‘Guardian’ seems familiar. What is the name of the victim?
- Wulf: Byron is his given name. I have not been provided with his last name.
A flicker of recognition crossed Argus’ face at the mention of Byron’s name.
- Wulf: Citizen Fenneric, I can sense some uncertainty. Think logically! Morag Tong do not work out of uniform.
- Lydia: They wouldn’t have the gall to dress as Penitus Oculatus and fly in our airship!
- Wulf: If you are one of the Guardians or know where we can find them, it may save lives, including your own, if you cooperate.
- Argus: Was anything recovered from Byron’s body?
- Wulf: A few coins and a red gem of some sort were retrieved. The gem doesn’t look valuable. More of a keepsake, I think. Have a look.
I retrieved the shard from my journal case. It glowed when I held it between my fingers. I could see a stronger glow emanating from a satchel on the ground behind Argus. After I handed him the shard, the glowing ceased.
Argus looked at it briefly then handed it back. As soon as I touched the shard, the glowing returned. I placed it back in my journal case.
- Wulf: Not very impressive, is it? Worth a few gold pieces, I should think.
- Argus: If you can’t trust the Penitus Oculatus, who can you trust? I am one of those who you seek. I am a Guardian of Akatosh. I can’t express how relieved I am that Byron’s shard has been kept out of enemy hands, but his passing deeply saddens me.
I glanced at Lydia once more. I think she agrees. If this man is a Guardian of Akatosh, I am Inigo’s grandmother. I will act dumb and see if he trips himself up.
- Wulf: Am I missing something. Is the gem valuable?
- Lydia: It must be for somebody to hire Morag Tong! That is obvious, Commander Valdr.
- Wulf: Is somebody seeking a week of guard duty, Inspector?
- Argus: It is part of the Red Diamond. The central gem of The Amulet of Kings. It is priceless!
- Wulf: So, it is a piece of something; therefore, other members of your little group are more than likely carrying other pieces.
- Gregor: Commander, I think you missed the significance of what this gentleman just told you.
- Wulf: Not at all. The shards might be of historical significance, but I doubt they are priceless!
- Lydia: Citizen Fenneric, can you please tell us who your enemy is and why they want the shards?
- Wulf: They are rare relics, and the enemy is most likely a collector of such!
- Argus: No, you are far from the truth, Commander Valdr. We want to reforge The Amulet of Kings. We suspect our enemy are Dunmer Daedra worshippers who do not want that done.
- Wulf: Why do you want to reforge The Amulet of Kings? Why would they object to you doing so?
- Argus: We hope it will solidify Martin Septim’s sacrifice and forever seal Oblivion away from the world. Cutting the Daedra Lords off from this world for eternity doesn’t sit very well with many Dunmer who worship them.
- Wulf: Do you mean people could no longer communicate with them?
- Argus: Yes, that is the idea.
That ignorance proves he is not a Guardian of Akatosh! The Covenant with Saint Alessia prevented the physical manifestation of any god, including all Aedra and Daedra, on the mortal plane. The barrier between Mundus and Oblivion was not created to stop communication between mortals and the Daedric Princes.
- Wulf: Don’t Khajiit also worship some Daedric Princes? Many Imperial citizens legally worship Daedric Princes. I have a liking for Lady Azura. I think there would be many others who would want to stop you. What makes you Dunmer are your enemy?
- Argus: With Morag Tong after us, it was merely a logical assumption.
- Wulf: Why have you come here? You have not asked questions of the Greybeards or sought their protection. They would offer sanctuary to a Guardian of Akatosh, and you would be infinitely safer inside those walls that out here.
Argus was struggling to produce an answer and starting to panic.
- Wulf: Don’t stress. I understand that you are paranoid and frightened. May I ask you to clarify something for me?
- Argus: I can try.
- Wulf: If my memory serves me correctly, the bits of the Red Diamond were kept under constant guard inside the Temple of the One. Is that right?
- Argus: Ah… yes… yes, they were.
- Wulf: After the Thalmor occupied the Imperial City during the Great War, they were discovered missing from the Temple. Everybody assumed the Thalmor had stolen them. See, I am not totally ignorant and do remember some of those boring history lessons!
- Lydia: Thalmor bastards!
- Wulf: Argus, we would like to help you. It is okay if I call you Argus? So, tell me how we can help you.
- Argus: I’ll entrust my fragment to you. They would be insane to attack the Penitus Oculatus! I want to remain here, in the open, and wait for the remaining Guardians.
- Wulf: I can assign some Inspectors to stand guard if you wish.
- Argus: As you said, we are paranoid and frightened. If they see too many people out in the open, the other Guardians might turn around and leave.
Argus retrieved his shard from the satchel, and when he handed it to me, it glowed when I held it, just like the other one. When I opened my journal case, a strong red glow emanated from inside. I placed the second shard inside my journal case then closed it. Argus’ excuse for staying outside in the snow was pathetic, but at least he tried.
- Wulf: How many shards are there?
- Argus: There are five in total.
- Wulf: I noticed you have another tent set up.
- Argus: There was another Guardian who should have been here by now. She is the only one whose travel plans I know.
- Wulf: Give us the details, and we will look for her.
- Argus: Her name is Ezra. She was going to enter Skyrim from Cyrodiil via Pale Pass.
- Wulf: An avalanche occurred a few months ago that completely blocked Pale Pass. It was terrible timing as it prevented us from supplying Falkreath during the Civil War. However, there are smuggler routes.
- Argus: Ezra was going to use one of the smuggler’s routes. The exit is a small cave west of the old border gates and is called ‘Pale Cave’. Be careful. That place is treacherous.
- Wulf: I know of it. It is used mainly by legitimate traffic since the end of the Civil War. We shall leave as soon as I plot the course. Don’t worry, Argus. We shall find Ezra.
Once inside Bostin’s cabin, Lydia made herself a large hot coffee. I am not sure if she needed to warm herself up or is addicted to it. The bitter-tasting drink was introduced into Skyrim from Hammerfell a couple of months ago. Since then, some people can’t seem to function without at least one coffee before midday!
I asked her, “What is your opinion on Argus?”
“A real Guardian of Akatosh would know where the shards were kept and the purpose of the barrier. He had no answer as to why he hadn’t spoken to the Greybeards. I don’t think he is Morag Tong as he has entrusted his shard to us. It is a real shard, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is real. Argus thought we were getting suspicious and tried to convince us he is legitimate by handing over the shard. He hopes to recover the shard somehow later.”
“What are you going to do?”
“When he was recovering his shard from the satchel, I noticed some books inside. I think I might borrow them.”
“You can pick locks like a veteran thief. Stealing books from a satchel only feet away from somebody suggests you have a full repertoire of thieving skills.”
“I do, as would many members of Penitus Oculatus. But I have the advantage of going partially ethereal. With an Invisibility Potion or spell, I would leave footprints in the snow. Being partially in the ether lets me approach with no sound or footprints.”
“Well then, go and steal. I expect you to arrest yourself later!”
I used my Thu’um to go ethereal, then existed Bostin. Argus was staring at the airship. I don’t think he will relax till he sees it depart. I didn’t tell him it will be two hours before it vanishes.
The constant wind whistling through the rocks of the mountain muffled any sounds I made. I quietly undid the flap on the satchel and peered inside. One book was The Lusty Argonian Maid Volume One. The other was a small notebook, ideal for keeping a journal. I briefly looked at the first page. It was Argus’ journal!
I took my ill-gotten booty back to Bostin.
I wanted to read and absorb its contents before talking to The Sentinels. When I sat at my desk and opened the journal, a letter fell out. I decided to read the journal first,
“It seems like years have passed chasing these fools around the northern territory, though it’s only been a few months. Chasing down these silly shards had better be well worth it in the end.
Ezra and I were lucky enough to have come across two of the parts before reaching Skyrim. First, I managed to track down that book worm from the arcane university, Delonius Calver, before he could manage to reach the college of Winterhold and took his shard, Ezra, finding her quarry at some Inn in Bruma before crossing into Skyrim.
However, when I got here, it seems my luck ran out as news came in that the Morag Tong managed to find the setting and were well fortified in some old Nordic ruin called Raven’s Rest. They were also quick on the trail of some Breton named Byron, who has a shard. Unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn’t find him. He is likely already dead.
Then there was the final guardian. He is an Orc named Ulgarg, quite the slippery swine, laying low in the western reaches. I tracked him down and could have sworn that I had him cornered, but he eluded me twice. Perhaps when Ezra finally makes it out of Pale Pass, we can manage to get to him, then we just have to figure out how to weasel the setting away from the ash bastards. I hope that whatever treasure she is on about in the dungeon beneath Fort Pale Pass is worth it.
I suppose I will just have to wait for her. I hope she gets here soon! High Hrothgar has a nice view, but I’m freezing my balls off.”
I then read the letter,
“Argus, I am pleased with your overall progress, but if you choose to double-cross the Morag Tong and it gets back to them, I will do nothing to protect you. It’s a fool’s errand, and they will have no mercy whatsoever.
That said, I don’t honestly care what means people choose to use in the end. I will pay whoever provides me with the shards as requested, no questions asked.
Before speaking to The Sentinels, I needed some information from Rigmor.
“Rigmor, my love. Can you speak?”
“Yes, I am just packing for my trip to the Imperial City.”
“Has there been a murder in one of your inns recently?”
“Yes, an Imperial Priest of Akatosh called Adantus Mantar was murdered four days ago.”
“Ezra is the murderer’s name, and I am going to bring her to justice.”
“Is this related to your Divine Task?”
“Yes. She has at least one of the shards.”
“Taken from the corpse of the Priest?”
“It seems so.”
“Kill her for me!”
“What can you tell me about the murder and Ezra.”
“Colin is the innkeeper of the Tap&Tack. He has been a friend of my families since before I was born. Colin has never seen much violence, so he was horrified to find the Priest with a big hole in his chest and blood all over the place. He told me this morning that he is having nightmares.”
“What was the murder weapon?”
“I have seen similar damage many times before when travelling with you. I would say Ezra used an Ice Spear spell.”
“She is a mage?”
“From the descriptions I have had from various people, she is a Telvanni Wizard.”
“She should kiss my feet when I find her!”
“Master Neloth sent me a letter of remorse and accepted all blame for what occurred. He says Talvas has been released from his apprenticeship and will arrive at the College soon. He also asked if I would reconsider his offer. According to Neloth, I have the arrogance and intelligence to make an excellent Master Wizard. So I accepted his offer as it might be a handy title at some stage.”
“Just another for your collection.”
“How long was Priest Mantar in Bruma?”
“Colin said he arrived in the middle of the night exhausted and barely able to make it upstairs to his room. Less than an hour later, shouting from the Priest’s room could be heard. Ezra shoved Colin out of the way on the stairs as he went to investigate. Poor Colin could hardly express to me what he found. It wasn’t just the violence that has disturbed him. He can’t understand why somebody would do that to an elderly Priest of Akatosh.”
“Well, you can tell him Priest Mantar died a hero. As much as any warrior on a battlefield.”
“Ezra had a head start, but my guards were on horseback. They tracked her to the entrance of Pale Pass. They then had to dismount and track her on foot as best they could. They are Guards, not scouts, and soon lost her in the many narrow trails that wind through that part of the mountains.”
“The smuggler trail Sethri told us about, and we used, is now patrolled heavily on both sides of the border. But that is not the only reason Ezra chose Pale Pass instead. She is seeking some relic in the ruins of Fort Pale Pass. Since she is yet to emerge in Skyrim, I assume Ezra is still in Pale Pass somewhere and most likely in that abandoned fort.”
“She might be delayed by the Stormcloaks.”
“While my guards were searching for Ezra, they stumbled on a camp with hundreds of Stormcloaks. They came rushing back to tell me, and I immediately informed the Emperor. This morning three platoons of Legionnaires needed to cross Bruma. The Legate in charge asked my permission which I duly granted. They entered Pale Pass a few hours ago and plane to rescue the small garrison of Fort Pale Pass and wipe out the Stormcloaks.”
“Are they trying to clear a new way through the pass?”
“Yes. The Emperor has engineers working on reopening Pale Pass. To help prevent Falkreath from being isolated in any future conflicts, other engineers are preparing the ancient fort for a permanent garrison.”
“Does the Emperor think the Stormcloaks intend to occupy Fort Pale Pass?”
“I suggested to him that is the only reason why a large number of Stormcloaks would be there. He agreed. I think the Stormcloaks hoped to overwhelm the small garrison before anybody knew they were there. It was fortunate my guards spotted them. The reopening of Pale Pass is critical for Bruma. The avalanche has also impacted our ability to trade with Skyrim.”
“Ezra probably thought she could sneak in and retrieve whatever artefact she is hunting. I am curious as to what it may be. The last permanent occupants of Fort Pale Pass were the Akaviri.”
“And she had walked into a war zone.”
“Depending on where the artefact is, a lot of fighting could be a hindrance or a help.”
“If you have to hunt for her in Fort Pale Pass, won’t you be entering Cyrodiil?”
“If The Divines don’t want me to enter that isolated part of Cyrodiil, they had better let me know. Logically I can’t see it causing an issue. I am not walking through a city or town!”
“What are you going to do if faced by hundreds of Stormcloaks?”
“I will kill how many and for however long it takes to remove them. If hundreds have to die by my sword, then so be it. They have had months to stop their idiocy. I will call the avatar of Shor to fight by my side. That should make them question their choices before their death.”
“You know why I ask.”
“It will not be like Solstheim!”
“Let your Dovah take over if it will ease the pain. Do that voluntarily, and it won’t be like Solstheim.”
“If they cower before me and I hesitate to kill, I might call on my Dovah.”
“Just remember our love and talk to me if you need to. Lady Mara gifted these rings to help both of us deal with our burdens.”
“There are other complications that I will discuss with you later.”
“I love you, my Dragonborn.”
“And I love you.”
The information in Argus’ journal will allow me to find all of the shards and the amulet setting. I have decided to hunt down Ezra before anything else. I was trying to convince myself it was the logical thing. But, truthfully, I wanted to help wipe out the Stormcloaks.
I set Bostin’s course for Falkreath.
I then handed Argus’ journal and his letter to Lydia.
She said, “I know that look. Is there something in the journal that has upset you?”
“No, that journal is a goldmine. I wonder why people write down all their thoughts and plans in personal journals?”
“Even your sarcasm is muted. So what is the problem?”
“We are heading for Pale Pass. You will see from the Journal that Argus killed one or maybe two shard bearers. One of his accomplices is a Telvanni Wizard called Ezra. She murdered one of the shard bearers in Rigmor’s favourite inn. We are hunting her first but are likely walking into the largest battle in Tamriel since the New Order invasion.”
“Who is fighting?”
“It sounds like the last of the Stormcloaks have gathered in Pale Pass to capture an Akaviri fort the Emperor has had refurbished. Rigmor told me a large contingent of Legionnaires had entered Pale Pass to confront them.”
“I have no doubt Rigmor gave you the same advice. Let your Dovah do the killing if need be. When you let him take over, you can still regain control when you want. If your Dovah forcefully takes over, it will be like Solstheim. You won’t know what happened till he decides to return control to you. If that happens, you will worry about what you did.”
“We will see. If we are lucky, the fighting will be over before we get there. There is also a letter inside the journal. Argus and Ezra have gone rogue. The person who wants the shards signed it as ‘O’. It is unclear if ‘O’ was the one who hired the assassins or is working against those who did. So there might be two enemy groups willing to kill to get their hands on the shards.”
“We will sort it all out one step at a time.”
“I don’t want to have a long discussion about this with the rest of The Sentinels. I need to sleep for the two hours it will take to get to Falkreath.”
“I will pass the journal and letter around, and then we will discuss it amongst ourselves.”
“Thank you, Lydia. I know you haven’t had time off since Clockwork Castle. You were just unlucky to be in the squad on duty when this Divine Task started.”
“None of us are going to complain about that. Our burdens are nothing compared to yours.”
I went into my room and collapsed on my bed. I was asleep in seconds.
I was awakened by the docking bell then made my way outside. The weather was fine over Falkreath. I knew where Pass Cave was as I had researched possible ways into Cyrodiil months earlier. It was the route I had chosen till Sethri assured us his smuggler’s route was superior.
I decided to anchor Bostin outside of the Thalmor prison we had visited on one occasion. I wasn’t in the mood to see if anybody was at home.
It was a steep climb to Pass Cave.
I turned to The Sentinels and said, “When I researched this place, the biggest threat a huge breed of troll. It should not take us long to come out the other side.”
We saw no trolls but fought plenty of Ice Wraiths.
We entered a large cavern that served as home for an enormous Frost Atronach.
Arrows didn’t slow it down. When it got close, Rayya attacked with her scimitar.
After watching Rayya knock a few chips off the Atronach, Gregor ran over to help. He smashed the Atronach to pieces with a mighty swing of his hammer.
He looked so pleased with himself that I didn’t point out that Rayya had fractured the ice before his hammer shattered it.
More Ice Wraiths came out to play.
We reached the exit. The sounds of battle were loud and constant.
I told The Sentinels, “Worry about yourselves out there. I will do what I need to do, and don’t expect you to keep up with me. Show no mercy to the Stormcloaks. The time for that ended the moment I killed their traitorous leader, and they chose to keep wearing their rebel uniforms.”
As soon as we exited the cave, a group of Stormcloaks attacked.
I used my Thu’um to summon Shor’s avatar.
Then I started my culling of the traitors.
I used the full strength of my Thu’um so all in the valley would hear me.
“I AM DRAGONBORN AND CHAMPION OF THE DIVINES. SHOR FIGHTS BESIDE ME, AND TOGETHER WE WILL DELIVER DIVINE WRATH. IF I SEE A WEAPON IN YOUR HAND, YOU WILL DIE. BEGGING FOR MERCY WILL NOT SAVE YOU. ABANDON YOUR WEAPONS BEFORE I SEE YOU!”
I let my words echo for a few seconds. In that time, Shor’s avatar swept aside half a dozen Stormcloaks like a scythe through wheat.
I used Whirlwind Sprint to join Shor’s avatar and continue the cull.
I was saddened by how many young Nords I cut down next to grizzled veterans. I could not fathom the number of people willing to fight for a cause not supported by Talos or Shor. Ulfric realised his folly when I met him in Sovngarde. Will he lecture these fools on their folly for all eternity?
I reached the Stormcloak catapults and staging area well ahead of any Legionnaires. One or two Sentinels were nearby, but I never looked around to see who. Instead, I continued my slaughter without pause and then waded into the Stormcloak reserves.
Shor’s Thu’um was constant, which allowed me always to know where his avatar was. Whenever he came into vision, he was killing Stormcloaks at a rate equal to mine. It was carnage.
Some Stormcloaks started to run from me. I had warned them to drop their weapon before I saw them. I showed no mercy to those who ran or begged for mercy if I had seen them with a weapon. I did not need my Dovah to do what was just.
The Legionnaires suffered many losses before The Sentinels, and I joined the battle. They were outnumbered and unprepared for the ferocity of the rebels. Nobody could honestly say they predicted this final stand, and it was by far the deadliest battle of the entire Civil War. I will ask Rigmor, but I would not be surprised if her guards’ estimate of Thalmor numbers were ignored.
Some Stormcloaks went berserk. Wounds that should have killed or immobilised them were ignored.
Decapitation was the quickest way to stop them. I left many headless corpses in my wake.
Organised resistance ceased after almost three hours of systematic slaughter. It took another hour to eliminate the Stormcloaks that resorted to small unit tactics. They would snipe and take down a Legionnaire or two before being overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
Eventually, the sounds of battle ceased. Instead, the valley now echoed with the cries of the wounded and dying.
In the end, only a small percentage of the enemy threw down their weapons and pleaded for mercy. Legionnaires warned them to kneel with their hands on their head if they wished to live.
As I stood staring at the ancient fort, The Sentinels caught up with me. Shor’s avatar returned to Sovngarde.
As we headed for the entrance to the fort, I asked several Legionnaires if they had seen a Dunmer mage. They directed me to what they called the West Tower. It was being used as a storeroom and did not lead to the rest of the fort. When last seen, Ezra was entering it.
We were also informed some Stormcloaks had managed to enter the fort. However, we were assured they would be well outnumbered by the Legionnaires awaiting them, and therefore no need for us to rush and help.
I said to The Sentinels, “I will take care of Ezra. She killed a Priest of Akatosh, and that makes it personal.” They understood and remained on alert just outside the West Tower’s entrance.
I cleaned my sword and sheathed it. However, I was covered in blood and gore as I entered the tower.
Ezra was at the bottom of the tower and cornered like a rat.
She saw me then demanded, “Hold on, stay right there!”
I stopped and watched Ezra’s eyes widen as she saw the evidence of my handiwork. Some viscera slid off my armour and hit the floor with a suitably disturbing splat.
I had nothing to say to her. My Dovah had remained silent during the battle and did not urge me to kill the innocent-looking young mage. Being Dunmer, she could have been several hundred years old for all I knew.
Ezra screamed, “Oh no, you’re one of… THEM! Get away from me!”
A half-strength Unrelenting Force smashed Ezra against the wall. She bounced off at an angle and into what sounded like crates.
I was surprised to hear a sword being drawn. It clattered to the floor as I stepped around the corner.
Ezra lay dead in a widening pool of blood.
I searched her and retrieved a shard and an old key.
I exited the tower then made my way to the main fort entrance. The Sentinels followed in silence.
As soon as we entered, we were attacked.
We helped the Legionnaires to cleanse the ancient fortress of the last of Ulfric’s faithful.
I cornered three berserkers in a room and decapitated them. I stood staring at the pools of blood and silently told my gods, “Is this good enough for you? Has my training paid off? I no longer question my role. I am your executioner.” I then used Magicka to remove the signs of battle from myself and my armour.
Several officers tried to approach me, but Lydia intercepted them. After a minute or two, I left the bloodied room and searched for the door that Ezra’s key would open.
It fitted a gate leading to the fort’s dungeon.
We walked down a flight of stairs then Gregor grabbed me on the shoulder. I turned to face him.
He said, “Your Sentinels also killed many today as was needed. That is all I have to say.”
I replied, “I no longer question what I am and feel no guilt. The Stromcloaks deaths were added to my collection of memories, and I don’t think that will ever change.”
I turned back around and started to search for the relic.
The basement served as both a prison and Hall of the Dead.
Gregor and I stopped in front of a solid wall. It was out of place.
Gregor asked, “Why is there a wall here surrounded by burial alcoves? I noticed there was a solid wall on the other side as well.”
“That is a good question. I have another for you.”
I asked, “What is this costly glazed pot doing here? It is not for holding ashes, and we have seen no other grave goods.”
I moved the pot out of the way and revealed a pull chain.
I pulled the chain, and the solid wall slid into the roof.
I entered the room. On the back wall was a stone mural of Kyne. A shield was on a pedestal before it. Akavir script surrounded both.
When I approached the shield, the room was briefly lit by a bright red flash.
When I retrieved the third shard from Ezra, I was still covered in gore. I did not want to open my journal case, so I placed the shard in my gem bag. The red flash came from the shard in the gem bag.
I picked up the shield then turned to The Sentinels.
- Wulf: Who knows the story of Reman Cyrodiil and the Akaviri?
- Lydia: Their final battles occurred here, in Pale Pass.
- Wulf: This fort was the headquarters of the Akaviri during their campaign in Pale Pass. The Akaviri invaded Tamriel not to conquer but to find a Dragonborn. They heard Reman use the Thu’um in battle and immediately surrendered, for they had their Dragonborn. Thus, Reman never had to attack or lay siege to this fort.
- Lydia: The Akaviri then fought beside Reman and helped him create a new empire.
- Wulf: Narina Carvain was the Countess of Bruma during the Oblivion Crises. She was a renowned scholar on the Akaviri and an avid collector of their relics. Just before the Oblivion Crises, she funded an expedition tasked to find this fort. When the expedition found it, they discovered much damage caused by landslide, not battle. They spent months excavating this place yet never discovered this shield.
- Rayya: It looks like it was placed there as a sort of shrine.
- Wulf: Yes, it is a shrine to a man revered by the Akaviri. The stone mural is of Kyne, who gifted mortals the Thu’um. The writing on the walls and floor are in Akaviri script. The shield belonged to Reman Cyrodiil, a Dragonborn. The shards reacted to the shield when I approached it, but none of you would have seen the red flash.
- Lydia: The shield had been in that room since the Akaviri invasion, yet nobody else discovered the pull chain?
- Gregor: If I were the suspicious type, I would suggest The Divines have something to do with that. An avalanche almost demolishes a fort, yet a fragile ceramic pot remains intact on a shelf where it shouldn’t be. Coincidentally, the pot hides the pull chain needed to open a concealed door and reveal the shield.
- Wulf: Welcome to my world, Gregor.
- Nubaree: Why can’t your gods just send a courier with a convenient map?
- Wulf: I have a portable beacon with me. We are far enough away from Silverpeak Lodge that it should work. I will summon Bostin, and while we wait for her to ether to us, we can help with the wounded.
- Nubaree: I bet the Stormcloaks will still call me names even when I save their lives or limbs.
- Wulf: Just stick out that beautiful blue tongue of yours and raspberry.
I placed the portable beacon then summoned Bostin. Nubaree and I saved many lives with our Restoration spells. The other Sentinels were very good at treating and binding lesser wounds. It was more than three hours later before we finished.
Once aboard Bostin, I set course for Windhelm. The Morag Tong nest in Raven’s Nest was our next objective.
I advised The Sentinels to get some sleep.
Before I retired to bed, I contacted Rigmor.
“You have been patient, my love.”
“I know you killed a lot of Stormcloaks, but at no time did you seem upset. So I waited for you to decide when you were ready to talk about it.”
“One of them, a Nord girl of fifteen or sixteen summers, was the two-thousandth face and battle death at my hands automatically added to my memory. She showed no fear when I approached and attacked me with little skill. She was probably brainwashed and believed in the glory of battle. She should have been fending off the advances of young men, not facing The Divines’ killing machine. She received no more mercy from me than the most heinous and evil of creatures would. She looked surprised when I parried her axe and buried my sword to its hilt in her stomach. A few seconds later, I was killing face number two thousand and one. He was an aged Stormcloak officer and most likely a hero during the Great War. He probably fought beside us against the New Order. He lasted no longer than the young girl, but he had lived his life when he fell to my sword. These were the types of thoughts I had as I killed. There was no hesitation, guilt or mercy. My Dovah had no reason to stir during those many hours of battle. I have finally come to terms with what is expected of me.”
“I can be with you right now! They can shove their new year celebrations.”
“There is no need. I am okay. I just need to get some sleep before we attack a Morag Tong hideout.”
“Then sleep, My Dragonborn.”
I lay down, and sleep soon arrived, accompanied by a familiar dream. I stood with my arms open wide as a little girl ran to me. Her hair was full of wheat, and her laughter was loud and full of life. A puppy chased her and its exited barks mingled with the child’s laughter. The resulting cacophony was a celebration of life. I looked over at our simple farmhouse, where Rigmor sat on the veranda with a cold drink in her hand. Two other drinks awaited the girl and me on the table next to her. A bowl of water set out for the dog.
There was a new addition to this familiar dream. Standing behind Rigmor was Talos. Leaning against him and smiling in my direction was a stunningly beautiful woman. Her face tugged at my memories. She smiled and waved at me, and the dream faded.
When the docking bell rang, I awoke with a sense of determination. What I was doing was for the preservation of families like the one in my dream. I will kill all who threaten that ideal no matter what the end tally may be.