When misrule takes its place at the eight corners of the world
When the Brass Tower walks and Time is reshaped
When the thrice-blessed fail and the Red Tower trembles
When the Dragonborn Ruler loses his throne, and the White Tower falls
When the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding
The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn.
Sundas, 17th Last Seed 4E 201
Celestine walked into my tent, not looking impressed with the world.
“Haven’t you had your morning coffee yet?”
“Did you sleep, Wulf? Because I found it impossible with the farting and snoring, and I am sure wanking, that was going on!”
“Wanking is such a crude term. Self-Loving is the polite terminology.”
“You say that prophecy is only a possible outcome, so why are we here when Akavir was oh so comfortable?”
“You know the answer. In this instance, it is not a prophecy but history. When The Divines asked me to come here, I trusted they had a valid reason. Not only that, The Dragonguard have powerful enemies who constantly seek them, intending to wipe them out. We were not as safe as you think.”
“I know you love archaeology, and it is a good cover, but we could have been killed yesterday!”
“But we weren’t, and I hope you thanked Meeko properly for his warning. Meeko has his uncanny senses, and you, my dear Celestine, are the most impressive Restoration Mage the Psijic have ever seen. I am relying on both of you to keep me healthy. What could go wrong?”
“An ancient Akaviri ruin falling on your head. That is what could go wrong!”
“We all scrambled out in time, and after you and I administered to the injured, no long-term harm came of it all. Today is a new day, and the sun is shining. So, smile!”
“You’re right, as usual. But I miss my silk sheets, feather down pillow and a real bed!”
“And Vayu’s weapon. Oh, I meant weapon practice.”
“Well, if the prophecy comes true, or should I say when Alduin returns, then he and the others will be here to help. Mmm, should I feel guilty hoping that is soon?”
“Well, I have had breakfast, and proud I kept it down. Are you ready for another exciting day of archaeological thrills?”
“Yes, let us get it over with so we can return to Solitude. At least there, I can sleep without a pillow over my head.”
We exited my tent and were immediately greeted by a smiling Karl. The Chief Excavator is perpetually cheerful, which is not what a petulant Breton Mage with sleep deprivation wants the first thing.
- Wulf: Good morning, Karl!
- Karl: And a fine morning to you, Guild Master, Lady Celestine.
- Celestine: What’s so fine about it?
- Wulf: Ignore grumpy knickers.
- Karl: Grumpy knickers is officially ignored, Guild Master.
- Celestine: Then I shall take inventory from yesterday. Oh, look, another pile of useless pottery shards. I shall record that as one pile, and anybody who suggests I count the pieces will get a fireball up their backside!
Karl smiled at Celestine. Everybody knows she is the most kind-hearted of people but a bit irritable on occasions.
- Wulf: I did the rounds earlier, and it seems everybody is fit and healthy except Benjon. He is to remain resting for the day. If he moves out of his tent, except to go to the toilet, you are to order him back!
- Karl: Even without his assistance, we managed to clear the rubble overnight. That means most of us only had three to four hours of sleep.
- Celestine: You lucky, lucky bastards!
- Karl: Beyond one of the doors, there are a lot of odd sounds. It is like someone or something is moving around.
- Wulf: We will send Celestine in first. One stare from her and any violent beings will freeze on the spot.
- Karl: Arginal is waiting for you inside.
- Wulf: Celestine, look at the Plains of Whiterun and let the beauty improve your mood.
- Celestine: I can see at least five carnivores who would find us more palatable than I’jati’s porridge.
- Wulf: But are they not magnificent looking carnivores?
- Celestine: Oh, what a pretty Sabre Cat! I don’t mind at all you ripping my throat out. Go ahead while I admire your magnificence!
- Karl: Lady Celestine, have you finished counting the pottery shards?
Karl chuckled as he moved away.
As we passed by the campfire, I said, “Good morning, I’jati.”
“What is this? No snide remarks from that one about this morning’s porridge?”
“No, I’jati. I admire the culinary skill that produces food even Meeko will not eat.”
“This one has practised the art for many years, Guild Master.”
To Celestine’s horror, we walked past the entrance to the ruins and headed for an area marked as a place of interest.
“Wulf, you are not going to spend ages picking through that rubble, are you?”
“Look at the three herbivores. Surely they bring a smile to your face?”
I happily spent thirty minutes carefully recovering more pottery shards from an ancient refuse pile. Celestine stood silently with the occasional tapping of the foot, the only sign of her presence.
Eventually, we headed for the ruin’s entrance. I stopped to admire one of the worn carvings.
“Celestine, I wonder what Lady Kynareth thinks of this depiction of her?”
“I don’t think she would be half as excited as you.”
“Can you see how it resembles the totemic carvings of the ancient Nords? That suggests a mingling of the cultures and dates this site as post-Reman Cyrodiil.”
“Yes, Wulf, and that makes it only slightly less boring than a Nord totemic carving.”
We climbed the steps to the ruin’s entrance.
Faded upon the door was the Akaviri symbol for Dragonborn. The ruins had stood unmolested since the first Akaviri invasion as nobody could enter. A couple of days earlier, I pretended to look for a hidden mechanism and discreetly placed some of my blood upon the door. When a loud click was heard, I announced, “Aha, not so hard when you know what to look for!” My charade fooled those with us. More senior members of The Explorers Guild would have been suspicious. It was a risk, as my identity must remain hidden till Alduin shows up.
We entered and approached Arginal.
- Wulf: Good morning, Arginal. Karl said the rubble in front of the doorway had been cleared.
- Arginal: Yes, Guild Master, and I have managed to find and release the locking mechanism on the door. However, as soon as I did so, movement sounds commenced from whatever lays behind it. Therefore, I thought it best to wait for your arrival before proceeding further.
- Celestine: Valdr, and I believe this was once a small outpost made into the burial tomb of a revered Akaviri.
- Wulf: Many honoured Akaviri were interred with a voluntary honour guard, much like the Dragon Priests had followers who become Draugr.
- Arginal: But they will not be Draugr?
- Wulf: No, they will be some other form of undead. Maybe a mixture of types.
- Arginal: But no vampires?
- Wulf: No vampires. They were the province of the Daedra worshipping Akaviri, such as the Tsaesci. This place is full of carvings honouring Lady Kynareth, so I doubt the entombed are devout worshippers of a Dark Lord.
- Celestine: The honour guard would have lived until age, starvation, or disease took their life. The living would have mingled with the undead until all were deceased. Then they all rested until you woke them.
- Wulf: Let’s have a look. Perhaps the undead will greet us with open arms and hugs?
We approached the door, and Heat-Vision let me know nothing living was behind it.
We entered and quickly despatched half a dozen Skeletal Warriors.
I looked at Meeko and said, “Well done with that last leap of yours!”
“Yes, I know we have to watch out for them resurrecting themselves.”
Arginal gasped, “Resurrecting themselves?”
“Yes, Arginal. Many Skeletal Warriors will reassemble themselves and continue their attack. It can be quite fascinating to watch!”
“Yes, well, I will watch from over there if you don’t mind.”
I had a good look around while Meeko kept an eye on the skeletons.
Next to a dusty and cobweb-covered throne, I found a superbly crafted shield.
On weapons racks and wielded by the undead were equally as well-made Katana and Dai-Katana.
Down some stairs was another locked door. I quickly inspected it.
I then said to Arginal, “I believe this door has a remote unlocking mechanism. I will look in the obvious place for the release lever. The Akaviri were as predictable as the ancient Nords when it comes to such things.”
The obvious place was behind the throne. And there, I found a twist handle to unlock the door. Even from where I was, I heard the locking mechanism release.
I returned to the door and warned, “Get ready. The guards inside this room will be considerably stronger.”
Celestine cast some protective wards on us.
I entered, then remarked, “A bust of Reman Cyrodiil just pivoted upwards to give us entry. I can see another on the opposite side.”
We entered a small square chamber where Reman Cyrodiil’s head dominated all four walls. The one behind us closed.
The undead were, as predicted, stronger. Still, they proved no match for our combination of spell, sword and gnashing Meeko teeth.
I inspected each bust then announced, “Only two of them will pivot. The one we entered and that opposite it. When I remove this artefact, which I am sure Auryen will have wet dreams over, I suspect the honoured dead will greet us.”
I picked up the artefact and was confident it was made from Meteoric Iron. Its value incalculable.
As expected, the removal of the artefact triggered the pivoting of the bust.
Upon a throne sat the spirit of an Akaviri general. I stopped using Night-Vision to get a more detailed look at his face.
I bowed and asked in Akaviri, “Ancient one, it seems you have awaited my arrival?”
“I am General Xile of The Dragonguard. It is my duty to inform you that The World Eater approaches this time and place. Now my duty is done, I ask we cross swords, and if you are as skilled as you seem, I will be sent to my afterlife with honour.”
“I thank you for your service, General Xile.”
I saluted the General, who attacked with all the skill he possessed. Katana are superior to standard swords in many ways. Their speed is unmatched, and although conventional swords do more damage per blow, katana can strike more times in a given period, with the sum of damage being greater.
The katana I wielded once belonged to Grandmaster Yru, the Tsaesci Swordmaster who took from the small island of Roscrea I had called home. He gifted it to me after I defeated him in a spar for the first time.
General Xile seemed proud that he could make me work for the inevitable killing blow. But come it did, and I silently farewelled his vanishing soul with another salute.
The entrance bust lifted.
- Arginal: Never before have I seen such skill with a sword!
- Wulf: The Tsaesci Swordmasters are better.
- Celestine: Stop the humility, Valdr. You surpassed your teachers long ago.
- Wulf: Arginal, our time here is over. I don’t think you will find anything else within this place. We shall return to Auryen with the artefact and inform him of our conclusions.
- Arginal: I could understand little of what the spirit said. Who was he, and why was he here?
- Wulf: I am sorry, Arginal, but your condition of employment states that some knowledge will remain the province of myself and Celestine. I can assure you that all will be made public when the need for secrecy is over.
- Arginal: I am sorry.
- Wulf: No, Arginal, it is I who is sorry. I hate keeping secrets from those I trust. But there is much at stake.
- Celestine: Valdr is not exaggerating, Arginal. The fate of many relies on secrecy.
- Arginal: Well then, we shall spend another couple of days cleaning up the mess and head to Orsinium.
- Wulf: I will be resealing this place as soon as we exit. It will not be left to the mercy of graverobbers.
- Celestine: Even though archaeologists are glorified grave robbers?
- Wulf: We do it with respect and pursue knowledge, not riches.
- Celestine: I know, Valdr. Relax!
- Meeko: Woof!
- Wulf: Arginal, we shall be here for another few minutes. I wish to aid General Xile on his trip to Aetherius.
- Arginal: That was his name?
- Wulf: Yes, and it is a name steeped in honour. He was with those defeated at Pale Pass by Reman Cyrodiil and one of the first to swear allegiance to him.
- Arginal: Very well. I will inform Karl that we are done here apart from some clean-up outside.
Once Arginal left the room, Celestine relaxed a bit more. It can be difficult to remember my alias, Valdr Welkynd when you have been used to Wulf Septim for many years. Valdr is my real name, but I prefer Wulf. Welkynd was my mother’s nickname for me. Valdr Welkynd is Ayleidoon for Wolf Starchild.
I stood over General Xile’s remains, and with head bowed, I intoned.
“Behold, Faithful Of The Divines, The Beauty Of Your Transformation.
Do Not Fear The Journey But Rejoice As The Gate Opens.
Enter Aetherius With Joy In Your Heart And A Smile On Your Face.
The Gate Opens For All Mortals.
Not Riches Nor Rank Nor Power Can Deny This Return To Aetherius.
As You Approach The Gate, Aetherius Will Approach You.
Do Not Turn From The Gate As That Is To Reject Your New Life.
Walk Without Fear And With Dignity Through The Gate.
Welcome Your Transformation.
You Need Not Fear Losing Your Way, For He Will Guide You To Your Reward.
Your Body Will Decay.
Your Soul Will Remain Safe Behind The Gate.
Once The Gate Closes, You May Never Return.
This Is Arkay’s Law.”
We exited the ruins, and I resealed the door by removing all remnants of my blood. Suddenly, the camp came under attack.
We rushed over and found a single combatant was keeping Arginal and Karl busy. The other workers were not skilled with weapons and had wisely made themselves scarce.
I cut the assailant down. Nothing indicated who he was or why he decided to attack the camp.
- Karl: Well, that was interesting.
- Wulf: Just a random madman. No harm done.
I held up the artefact.
- Karl: Oh, would you look a that. I haven’t seen anything quite like it before.
- Wulf: It has not seen the light of day since the first Akaviri invasion, but I bet Auryen recognises it on sight.
- Karl: I am sure it will fetch quite a price from a buyer.
- Celestine: Karl, we are wealthy enough. Valdr and I are not doing this for profit but for the benefit of public education. Hence the great big museum we are building!
- Karl: Yes, of course, Auryen would not part with it if it has historical value.
- Wulf: Auryen still wants you to visit Orsinium?
- Karl: He hasn’t told us otherwise, so yes, that is our next destination.
- Celestine: Just be careful in High Rock. The politics are complicated, especially as you travel through The Reach to get to Orsinium.
- Karl: Believe me, Lady Celestine, Auryen has lectured us plenty on proper etiquette and the tangled knots of High Rock politics.
- Celestine: Well, good luck and a safe trip.
Karl moved off, barking orders like a Sergeant Major, as he was during The Great War.
Celestine asked, “Where are we zapping to?”
“Where the Khajiit caravan usually parks itself.”
“Yes, Meeko, I shall summon you immediately.”
Celestine cast her spell and vanished. I soon followed.
As soon as I materialised, I summoned Meeko. The Khajiit did not even blink an eye when we appeared out of the ether. After a month of seeing us do so, the phenomenon was no longer worth noticing. We avoid teleporting into the middle of a city or town. That does cause a mixture of fear, suspicion and fascination.
We listened in on a conversation.
“Mahrima, this one thinks that Khajiit should curry favour with the soldiers.”
“The soldiers, J’mhad? From which side, the Stormcloaks or The Imperials?”
“Both. One or the other is bound to win the war eventually. Why not curry favour now so that the victor will look upon us kindly?”
“Hah, you have the foresight of a Khajiit in a sandstorm. If we offer a discount to both sides, the winners will persecute us for helping the losers.”
“Hmm, I had not thought of it that way.”
We approached the caravan leader.
- Wulf: Mahrima is wise, Ma’dran. But both are mistaken if they think Khajiit will still trade in Skyrim if Ulfric rules.
- Ma’dran: Yes, Valdr, that is why Ri’saad has ordered no discounts, even when one or the other side orders in bulk. Neutral Khajiit have a better chance of surviving long enough to cross the border if the King Slayer wins.
- Celestine: He will not win, Ma’dran. Due to tensions elsewhere, General Tullius only has a fraction of the troops he could usually call upon. But, if need be, an extra Legion or two would be sent to end the problem quickly.
- Ma’dran: This one does not miss Elsweyr as others do. I was a young orphan from Corinthe when I stowed aboard a ship and found myself on the streets of Solitude. I thank Azura that Ri’saad found me and taught me this trade. Skyrim is now home, so I hope the King Slayer’s head is soon removed, and we can get back to normal.
- Celestine: Ri’saad is a remarkable person. Many Khajiit owe him a great debt.
- Ma’dran: That is true, Lady Celestine. Do you miss High Rock?
- Celestine: Not the politics, Ma’dran. I was expected to marry for political gain, and I did not desire that at all. But Evermore is pretty and the people warm, even the Reachmen if you show respect. Instead, I have found a life that allows me freedom to help those in need, much as Ri’saad has done.
- Ma’dran: Perhaps the Moonpaths and other trading routes will re-open in High Rock one day. That would be cause for joy amongst the Khajiiti.
- Celestine: Anything that wrests the monopoly from the current traders would bring joy to the people of High Rock.
- Wulf: Alas, Ma’dran, we have no gems to trade today. But it is always a pleasure to speak to you and the others. Until we meet again, may Azura watch over you.
There is usually quite a bit of foot traffic entering and leaving Solitude. We don’t directly teleport into the safehouse as many beneficial rumours can be heard amongst the pilgrims and others travelling the roads. Today, there were none. I would have asked Ma’dran why the road was deserted if I had noticed before.
When we entered, the answer was depressing. A rare public execution was underway, and the self-righteous mingled with the curious as the victim awaited his fate. I cannot understand why Jarl Elisif has allowed such a spectacle.
A young girl pleaded to her father, “Daddy, they can’t hurt Uncle Roggvir. Tell them he didn’t do it.”
Her father replied, “Svari, you have to go home, right now. Go home and stay there till your mother comes.”
Svari took one more look at her uncle and ran away sobbing.
I knew of Roggvir’s crime. He had aided Ulfric in his escape after he murdered High King Torygg. His trial was fair, and he never denied the charges. The sentence was appropriate, but public executions are rarely about justice.
I made my way to the front of the crowd.
Captain Aldis announced, “Roggvir. You helped Ulfric Stormcloak escape this city after he murdered High King Torygg. By opening the gates for Ulfric, you betrayed the people of Solitude.”
Roggvir stepped forward to speak. A spectator yelled, “He doesn’t deserve to speak!”
I used a tiny bit of Thu’um to denounce, “Quiet! He has every right to address the accusations one last time!”
Roggvir said, in a clear voice free of fear, “There was no murder! Ulfric challenged Torygg and beat the High King in fair combat. Such is our way! Such is the ancient custom of Skyrim and all Nords.”
I replied, “No, Roggvir. The discarded and ancient custom was a fair fight with no magic or Thu’um to be used and only after the challenger announced his attention beforehand. Under the pretence of friendship, Ulfric came before High King Torygg and made an illegal challenge. Then, a veteran of many wars and an accomplished warrior cheated and used the Thu’um to defeat the young and unbloodied King. That was murder, Roggvir, and Ulfric will not morn your death.”
I spoke not to upset Roggvir but to warn any Stormcloak sympathisers amongst the crowd. Ulfric is a murderer, and his war has nothing to do with defending the worship of Father.
Roggvir knelt before the block. Captain Aldis pushed him forward with his foot until the victim lay his head in position.
Roggvir whispered, “On this day, I go to Sovngarde.”
Captain Aldis nodded, and the headsman’s axe did its bloody deed.
I turned to the crowd and said, “Roggvir was wrong, but he was willing to die for his belief. Before you judge him too harshly, ask yourself if you would have the courage to do likewise.”
I walked away quickly with Meeko and a visibly upset Celestine in tow.
I made a detour to a small bookstore. The proprietor has an uncanny ability to find rare volumes for me to purchase.
“Greetings, Listens-To-Letters. I find myself in need of interesting reading material. What have you got for me?”
“I have a pristine, first edition copy of Annals of the Dragonguard.”
“I already own one of those.”
“Yes, but not signed by Brother Annulus himself and once gifted to a Hammerfell Prince.”
“Interesting. What else?”
“Both volumes of The Nightingales by Gallus Desidenius. Not quite pristine but the best I have seen in some time.”
“Okay, how much for the three?”
“To my favourite customer, a mere one thousand septim.”
“I won’t even haggle, my scaly friend. That is a fair price.”
“I have learned to offer the fair price first up. It saves time when dealing with somebody as stubborn as you.”
I sorted through my gem bag and handed Listens-To-Letters three excellent rubies.
“They will fetch at least eleven-hundred septims. Don’t let Ma’dran offer you any less.”
“Ahh, it is always a pleasure dealing with somebody so rich, they cheat themselves.”
The vibrancy of Solitude had returned. People walked the streets as if the atrocity at the front gate had not occurred minutes before.
To my surprise, Svari came running past with some other children. I hope they have cleared away Roggvir’s corpse with the same efficiency shown when creating it.
I will have to have another discussion with Auryen about the fake dragon skulls adorning the entrance to the museum. I find them to be rather tasteless.
Auryen greeted us as soon as we entered the museum.
- Auryen: Ah, good day to you Guild Master, Lady Celestine.
- Meeko: Woof?
- Auryen: Oh, of course. I wish you a good day as well, Meeko.
- Meeko: Woof!
- Auryen: I trust you are all faring well? How goes the excavation?
- Wulf: Apart from part of the ceiling caving in on us yesterday, all went well.
- Auryen: Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that. I trust nobody was seriously hurt?
- Celestine: Valdr and I had to go some minor spell weaving, but all are okay.
- Auryen: That is good to hear.
- Wulf: The excavation is over, and I have resealed the site. It used to be an outpost for General Xile and The Dragonguard. He was assigned as the Akaviri representative to Whiterun and was one of the generals who first pledged allegiance to Reman Cyrodiil.
- Auryen: Your knowledge of The Dragonguard exceeds mine.
- Celestine: Please, Auryen, do not compliment him. His ego barely fits in here as it is.
- Auryen: You jest, Lady Celestine. Valdr is one of the humblest people I know.
- Wulf: What can you tell me about this?
I handed Auryen the artefact, and his eyes lit up.
- Auryen: Oh, this is a lovely piece, isn’t it!
- Wulf: I believe it is made from Meteoric Iron.
- Auryen: Yes, it is Meteoric Iron surrounding a talon of the tiger dragon of Ka’ Po Tun.
- Wulf: That is a talon of Tosh Raka? He is the largest dragon in existence, so why so small?
- Auryen: As with many things, there is the myth and the reality. I will put it on display with the myth and my usual warning of its flaws.
- Wulf: Let us hope the Tsaesci and Ka’ Po Tun war continues for many more centuries.
- Celestine: Yes, Tosh Raka is keen to destroy The Empire.
- Wulf: What is next, Auryen?
- Auryen: Jarl Elisif has been nagging me for a name for this place.
- Wulf: I think an ideal name will present itself shortly, Auryen.
- Auryen: Sometimes, you make it difficult for me to adhere to the none probing agreement, Guild Master.
- Celestine: One day, all will become clear, Auryen.
- Auryen: Yes, and I suspect the truth will be rather staggering.
- Wulf: So, apart from dealing with a nagging Jarl, what is next?
- Auryen: Master Borgoth in Helgen has a rare artefact he wishes to sell. Since we have dealt with him fairly in the recent past, he has agreed to hold it for a few days until you can go and retrieve it. I think his patience may be fleeting, so it would be best if you could make that your priority.
- Wulf: We shall head there first thing in the morning.
- Celestine: I intend to soak in the spa then go out and enjoy some real food from the marketplace.
- Auryen: In the meantime, I will chase up some rumours. When you return with the piece from Helgen, I am sure I can keep you busy for some time.
- Wulf: Then I bid you good evening, Auryen. We should return from Helgen well before midday.
Celestine and I headed for the safehouse. Once inside, I changed into a Kimono. Celestine headed for the spa bath.
I stood on one of the safehouse balconies and observed Solitude for some time. The people of the great city seemed oblivious to the civil war. If thing go awry, they will find large burning stones randomly tossed over the walls and crushing both people and buildings without care. Ulfric Stormcloak would feel no qualms.
Worst still, dragons may come swooping and breathing Dragonfire upon the people and their city. Celestine and I will do all we can to prevent that from happening.
When I reentered the safehouse, Celestine came out of her room wearing a new kimono, precisely like all her others.
“Are you off to the market now?”
“Yes, Wulf. I crave the simple foods of the Solitude vendors.”
“The Empire symbols on your kimono’s will cause issues if we have to enter Stormcloak territory.”
“I will not hide my allegiance. As with most Blades, my service in The Great War is unknown, but I am still proud of what I accomplished and proud of The Empire.”
“When Alduin appears, the wise thing to do would be to call a truce and protect the people. We will see if your pride in The Empire is earned.”
“I know we have discussed this many times, but it still amazes me. Surely some scholars have recognised all the omens of The Dragonborn Prophesy have been fulfilled?”
“People fail to comprehend that the prophecy was written after the events. It is not predicting the omens but recalling historical events leading to Alduin’s return.”
“You have Sight. Have you not seen Alduin’s return?”
“You know my Sight is untrained and unpredictable. I regard it a curse, not a boon. But no, I have not seen Alduin’s return. Why are we rehashing old conversations?”
“Because I am nervous, Wulf.”
“Go out and enjoy the sights and sounds, and food, of Solitude. Take fleabag with you.”
“Yes, he deserves some relaxation as well.”
“I will be in my room reading until sleep beckons. Enjoy yourself, Celestine.”
I walked up to Meeko and said, “Behave yourself, Meeko. No stealing from the food vendors!”
“Yes, you can play chasey with the children if they wish. But be careful you don’t bowl anybody over!”
Meeko jumped around with excitement and dashed outside as soon as Celestine opened the door.
I sat in my room and wrote my journal. I then started reading from the piles of books scattered around the room until my eyelids felt like lead.
I crawled into bed.
I know not what time I fell asleep.