Tirdas, 30th Hearthfire, 4E 201
to Turdas, 2nd Frostfall, 4E 201
Everybody in the Safe House was relieved to see me more relaxed and smiling. Rigmor was holding her own against Malesam, Sigunn and Freathof. She had made it clear who the Countess is and, therefore, the one to make final decisions after being given advice. That news alone improved my mood tremendously and relieved my worries immeasurably.
Rigmor said that Malesam is quite good at politics and knows Imperial Law quite well. She said Freathof is an elderly gentleman quite content to sit in front of a fire and read dusty scrolls and books. She said that Freathof is how she imagines me in fifty years.
Rigmor suggested something I will have to explore. She said I should gather everybody under one roof and have defined meal times. Each day would be filled with the noise of life, and mealtime discussions would be lively. She used to enjoy that busy atmosphere at Baa’Ren-Dar’s estate and has rediscovered it in Bruma.
My plan for the day was to take Inigo, Vayu, Lydia, and Iona to The College of Winterhold and inquire about Elder Scrolls.
When I came downstairs, Inigo was standing at the exit to our balcony with another Khajiit. She was dressed in the uniform of The Dark Brotherhood.
Inigo explained, “I was enjoying a cup of coffee as I watched the people of Solitude and the sunrise. Then Jo’rassa whispered that I was to be sensible and not attack her. I spat my coffee all over the place. I had better clean that up, or Wujeeta will skin me alive! Anyway, I asked the invisible person who she was. She told me about an important event from my childhood in Riverhold. I then knew who she was, for nobody else would know the details of that event. Jo’rassa appeared before me, then smiled, and memories came flooding back. Jo’rassa is a dear friend and can be trusted. She says she has something important to tell you.”
Jo’rassa smiled at me and did not flinch as I stared into her eyes. She had a pure soul, and I did trust her, despite her uniform.
- Wulf: Okay, Jo’rassa, explain what this is all about.
- Jo’rassa: I am working undercover for The Penitus Oculatus. I have worked for them before and others, including a mutual friend, Emissary Baa’Ren-Dar.
- Wulf: How do you know of my involvement with Baa’Ren-Dar?
- Jo’rassa: I aided him when you were working to thwart The New Order. Making a public hero vanish under everybody’s nose was a neat trick! I suspect I am one of the few people who know The Guardian General and The Dragonborn are the same individuals.
- Wulf: What are you doing for The Penitus Oculatus?
- Jo’rassa: Was doing. My cover is now blown. I was to infiltrate the Dark Brotherhood by becoming an initiate, an apprentice, which I did. I gathered enough information for The Penitus Oculatus agents to attack and wipe out as many assassins as possible in a single raid. They will take time to organise, but you can’t afford to wait, Dragonborn. You must act now or risk assassination!
- Wulf: Why?
- Jo’rassa: Two of their best were sent to kidnap you. If kidnapping wasn’t possible, they were to kill you. You have insulted The Dark Brotherhood by stealing one of their contracts and successfully eliminating the target.
- Wulf: If I did so, it was not intentional. Who was the target?
- Jo’rassa: Grelod the Kind.
- Inigo: Wulf did not kill that mean old hag! A Riften guard tried to arrest her, and Grelod attacked him. The Riften guard killed her!
- Jo’rassa: Astrid, the leader of The Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim, is aware of that, but The Dragonborn still interfered. He spoke to Aventus Aretino, which led to the attempted arrest of Grelod. Astrid was about to send an assassin to speak to Aventus and accept his contract when the news of Grelod’s demise arrived at the Falkreath Sanctuary. According to her, no matter the circumstances, The Dragonborn has stolen the contract.
- Wulf: Why try and kidnap me instead of just killing me?
- Jo’rassa: She wants to recruit you. The Dark Brotherhood are planning something significant and thought you might be able to aid in whatever it is. They had loose tongues about some things, but I have yet to discover their big plan. I decided that information is not as important as warning you. As I said, I have blown my cover doing this.
- Wulf: Why, Jo’rassa, have you decided to warn me?
- Jo’rassa: You are not just the champion of Nords, Dragonborn. Alduin now and many other things in the future endanger all people. I could not sit by while Astrid threatened your life over something petty. What would Aventus have paid? A few hundred septims, perhaps? She has created a rift in The Dark Brotherhood. She is grasping at any chance to prove her right to rule over what remains of that institution.
- Wulf: If there is a rift, who opposes her?
- Jo’rassa: Cicero, The Keeper of The Dark Brotherhood.
- Wulf: Does Cicero wear the clothes of a jester?
- Jo’rassa: Yes, and he is insane. He believes in the old ways of The Dark Brotherhood and dislikes how Astrid accepts contracts without a Listener. A few days ago, he left for places unknown, taking The Night Mother with him. All of the newer members except for me left with him. Astrid heaped praise on me while I resisted the urge to cut her throat.
- Inigo: The last Listener was Alisanne Dupre, and her father killed her in 4E 188. Since then, The Dark Brotherhood have found contracts by word of mouth. Somebody would have heard Aventus doing the ritual and got paid a few coins for telling The Dark Brotherhood.
- Wulf: I helped Cicero get The Night Mother to Falkreath. I convinced a local farmer to fix a broken wheel on his wagon. I found him quite charming, if a bit eccentric.
- Inigo: Jo’rassa, where should we look for the two assassins who are to kidnap or kill The Dragonborn?
- Jo’rassa: Their corpses feed the Skeevers in Solitude’s sewers. They were good assassins, but I am better.
- Wulf: Should I deal with Astrid first and then the Falkreath Sanctuary?
- Jo’rassa: The order matters not, as long as you do it swiftly before they get suspicious and prepare defences.
- Wulf: Who will I find in the sanctuary?
- Jo’rassa: Nazir, a Redguard. He issues the contracts to the members. Babette might not be there as her sympathies leaned towards Cicero. She was turned into a vampire at the age of ten. She is now over three hundred years of age. She kills for fun as well as profit. Her favourite ploy is to get the attention of males who prefer young girls to women to sate their lust. When alone, they find their object of lust is looking for a meal. Many would say she is doing us all a favour.
- Inigo: My friend, would you have trouble killing Babette?
- Wulf: No, for she is not a child, Inigo. She is a predator and murderer. Your parents and some of my friends were assassins. There is a big difference between killing those who mean harm to others and killing those whose only crime is being a rival in business, love or politics. Assassins can be a valuable tool of war and kill for the exact cause as the soldiers. Assassins can be paid murderers and kill for the same profit as mercenaries, as you were a little while.
- Jo’rassa: Inigo? We shall sit and talk, and you will tell me what has happened to yourself and Fergus. I will not judge, but it breaks my heart to hear you resorted to that!
- Inigo: It is a sad tale, but we shall talk Jo’rassa. Let us concentrate on helping my friend for now.
- Jo’rassa: Gabriel is a Dunmer who also showed sympathy for Cicero. However, I think she will be there still. Festus Krex is a Master of Destruction Magicka. He taught at The College of Winterhold for several years and tinkers with spells as he invents new ways to slaughter his assigned targets. Veezara is one of their best. He is a Shadowscale who once served the royalty of Black Marsh. He may be the last living Shadowscale. The last one I think will be there is the most dangerous. His name is Arnbjorn, and he is Astrid’s husband. He was a high-ranking member of The Companions but was expelled because he tended to be overzealous in dispatching enemies. He is a werewolf of enormous strength.
- Wulf: Are you sure he wasn’t expelled from The Companions for helping people without charging a fee?
- Jo’rassa: You are not a fan of The Companions?
- Wulf: They are parasites, and anybody who gushes over Ysgramor is either ignorant or of low morals.
- Jo’rassa: I’ll take that as a no.
- Wulf: Show me where the Falkreath Sanctuary is on my map and tell me what defences I can expect.
- Jo’rassa: I will also mark where the initiation shack is. Astrid should be there.
- Inigo: My friend, don’t you mean what defences we can expect?
- Wulf: No, Inigo. I will make an example of these assassins and give pause to any other group that thinks about targeting me.
- Jo’rassa: Entering their sanctuary and wiping them out solo will send a clear message heard across Nirn. It is an excellent defensive ploy!
I handed Jo’rassa my map, and she promptly marked the location of Falkreath Sanctuary. It is a short walk from Falkreath City. She also marked the location of The Dark Brotherhood’s initiation shack. I remember passing it on the way to Ustengrav to collect The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, or not as it turned out.
- Jo’rassa: There is only one entrance and exit to the sanctuary, which is not the most brilliant idea on their part. The door to the sanctuary has a dweomer that has never been bypassed. Nobody seems to know who placed the dweomer. The door will ask you, ‘What is the music of life?’
- Inigo: A choir with chanting!
- Jo’rassa: You once told me it was my voice.
- Inigo: I remember, Jo’rassa. I remember it all.
- Jo’rassa: When we have our long talk, Inigo, it may be that I remember things differently than you?
- Inigo: Ouch!
- Wulf: Meanwhile, what answer do I need to give the door, Jo’rassa?
- Jo’rassa: The answer is, ‘Silence, my brother.’
- Wulf: I am guessing they never hired bards or had children!
- Jo’rassa: Astrid will be waiting for you in their initiation shack.
- Inigo: My friend, what are you going to do?
- Wulf: Inigo, do you trust Jo’rassa?
- Inigo: Absolutely. She has always been of better morals than I.
- Jo’rassa: Dragonborn, Inigo feels guilt because he blames himself for troubles between my sire and me. He may be answering such due to that guilt.
- Inigo: No, Jo’rassa! I would not say such a thing if it placed my friend in harm’s way!
- Wulf: I trust Inigo on this, Jo’rassa. I ask that you remain in this Safe House until we return. If I am unsuccessful, you will be The Dark Brotherhood’s next target. I ask this for your protection and for no other reason.
- Jo’rassa: It is a sensible and acceptable precaution. I shall do as you ask, Dragonborn.
Vayu had been listening to the conversation and said, “Wulf, I will let the others know of Jo’rassa. Collect your squad for the day, and I will join you soon.”
I said, “Come, Inigo, you are with me again today. I want to visit Proudspire as I have not spoken to Olette for a few days.”
Inigo kept glimpsing at Jo’rassa as we exited the Safe House, and she looked his way several times. Both would quickly look away if they met the other’s eyes. There is a history between the two that seems unresolved.
The weather was overcast and dreary, which matched Inigo’s mood.
I said, “Inigo, we need to have a long talk about many things. However, we must concentrate on Alduin for the moment. The Dark Brotherhood is yet another delay in solving that problem.”
“I agree, my friend, but know this. I broke Jo’rassa’s heart, and I cannot ever forgive myself.”
“Her honorific is ‘Jo’. That is usually reserved for female mages, scholars and physicians.”
“It is also given to those deemed graceful. Jo’rassa is certainly that in all things. She was Ma’rassa till I almost ruined her life.”
“Were you her first lover?”
“Yes, we were both virgins. But I am a blue Khajiit, and even in civilised Riverhold, some Khajiiti regarded me as a product of bad moons. Jo’rassa’s father was one of them. With Khajiiti, virginity is not as valued as in some societies. However, losing it to me was considered a disgrace by her father. He confronted Jo’rassa with the question, and she answered him truthfully. She was thrown out of her home, my friend. Soon after, I left her to pursue adventures with Fergus. It was not lust but love. A love I have not found since, and I did not realise its value at the time.”
“Did you promise to return to her?”
“Yes, like I promised my parents that we would return one day. You know the story.”
“Sit and have that talk with her, Inigo. Honesty and truthfulness can heal many wounds.”
“And that is why we also need to talk, my friend.”
Silah flew overhead and said, “A dragon approaches, Wulf, and he is one of the most powerful. His name is Nahagliiv, and he has already destroyed most of Rorikstead, according to Lord Akatosh. It was the first populated place he saw after Alduin restored him. He enjoys killing, but Nafaalilargus and I will stop him sating his desire on Solitude!”
“What type of Dovah is he?”
“A rare Sun Dovah. Beware when you land the killing blow, for he will expire in an explosion of Dragonfire.”
The bells of Solitude started to toll. The streets were pretty empty this early morning, mainly because of the heavy rain. Those who could fight, including my friends, ran outside to defend Solitude. None combatants fled indoors.
Silah and Nafaalilargus harassed Nahagliiv and did not allow him to target buildings or people.
Nafaalilargus used Dragonfire on Nahagliiv, and he screamed. I would have thought a Sun Dragon would be immune. It seems my dragonlore is still incomplete.
Try as he might, Nahagliiv could not hit Silah with his Dragonfire. It was no idle boast when she claimed to be more manoeuvrable than male Dov.
My spell of choice when fighting dragons in flight is Thunderbolt. It is effective against all Dov except for some Storm Dragons. It does tremendous physical damage and depletes the Magicka reserves of spell casting Dov.
Nahagliiv screamed as I hit him with Thunderbolt simultaneously with Silah’s Dragonfire. The speed at which she passed, turned and burnt him was impressive!
Nafaalilargus looked at me and growled. Then he said, “Nahagliiv should have stayed buried. Burning a wooden town full of unarmed mortals is the best he can do!”
I tried not to imagine what Nahagliiv may have done to Rorikstead and its people. I tried hard not to think I might have prevented it if I was quicker in finding what was needed to stop Alduin.
Many mages were using fireballs. However, they were not the same as Dragonfire and did minor damage. Those who knew the spells turned to shock and ice.
Armed citizens of Solitude and many visitors stood and fought against Nahagliiv. I even saw children fire their bows though their arrows would bounce off Nahagliiv’s hide.
Every time Nahagliiv tried to strafe Solitude, my Dov allies would dissuade him with their thundering Thu’um.
If Nahagliiv did manage to perch somewhere, he found himself peppered by arrows and Ice Spears. I would add to his misery with Dragonfire. On more than one occasion, my Dragonfire would be quickly followed by that of Silah or Nafaalilargus. Not once did I see our enemy use his Thu’um on the buildings or people of Solitude!
Nahagliiv was most vulnerable when launching into the air. He was not yet fast or manoeuvrable enough to avoid my Dov ally’s Thu’um.
My Dragonfire was far more potent than even days before. Whenever Nahagliiv presented his belly, I made him roar in pain.
The Legionnaires had learnt their lessons from the previous dragon attack on Solitude. They spaced themselves, thereby providing a less attractive target to the aggressor.
Nahagliiv could not win, yet his battle lust did not let him retreat. He was like a mortal berserker.
Eventually, he crashed into the courtyard of Castle Dour. I used The Voice and said, “RUN AWAY FROM THE DRAGON OR DIE! LEAVE HIM TO ME!”
There is no way the Legionnaires who stayed to fight did not hear me. The Legionnaires that continued to fight at close quarters died.
Nahagliiv reared up and covered me in Dragonfire. Legionnaires behind me screamed and went silent.
Silah’s minion appeared beside me as I hit Nahagliiv across the snout with rapid strokes of my katana.
I leapt upon Nahagliiv’s head, and he desperately tried to shake me lose.
I decided Nahagliiv’s skull was too much even for my sword, so I found his brain through his eye socket.
I leapt off, and the last act of the dying Dovah was to cover the courtyard in Dragonfire. More Legionnaires screamed and died.
I absorbed Nahagliiv’s soul and felt my usual disgust at the process.
Nafaalilargus landed and said, “Dovahkiin, we did our best. The only ones to die were those in this courtyard. I am sorry for their loss.”
“The people of Solitude have seen the courage of Nafaalilargus and Silah. Nobody could expect more than what you achieved today. I thank you on their behalf, Proud Jewel of the Imperial Crown.”
I checked the fallen Legionnaires to see if any clung to life. None of them did.
The curious came to gawk at the dragon carcass and whisper about The Dragonborn. My contribution and that of my friends were minuscule compared to my Dov allies.
I walked over to Captain Aldis.
I said, “Your men have learned fast, Captain Aldis. Not once did I see them cluster.”
“Dragonborn, I would never have believed dragon allies would fight for Solitude!”
“The large red one is Nafaalilargus. He is the dragon of The Empire’s symbol. He was a friend of Tiber Septim and is a Legionnaire. He helped save everybody on Nirn when he defended Elsweyr against a dragon invasion. Tell all who will listen that a dragon can be an ally. They are not the evil, mindless beasts spoken about by the ignorant.”
“All those who witnessed what happened today will spread the word, Dragonborn.”
It did not take long for the streets of Solitude to once again fill with citizens. I said to Vayu, “I will collect the others from Proudspire. Then you and they will accompany me as protection. However, I will eliminate The Dark Brotherhood alone.”
Inigo and I entered Proudspire and saw the last thing we expected. Jordis was talking to a very large and seemingly tame Skeever.
Wujeeta displayed her incredible smile and seemed highly amused when I walked over to her.
“Wulf, his name is Skritch. Celestine checked him and said he is free of disease and has far fewer parasites than a certain blue companion of yours. Olette says he followed her home. Olette neglected to mention the trail of bread, cheese and crackers she dropped behind her while walking.”
Inigo laughed and said, “But my parasites are of nobility and respected leaders of their kind!”
I asked, “Wujeeta, are you okay with Skritch living here?”
“I have no issue with it, Wulf. Skritch is mostly house trained and is teaching Olette responsibility. We have told her Skritch only stays if she cleans up after him, feeds him and ensures he has adequate exercise.”
“How long do Skeever live?”
“I have no idea. Not long if they came within range of my broom in Riften.”
“Where is Olette?”
“She was having a bath and should be finished by now.”
“It is a challenge to get her to bathe?”
“Not at all. On the contrary, it is sometimes a challenge to get her out of the spa.”
I told Iona and Lydia they were to accompany me on the unexpected visits to Falkreath and Morthal.
Before heading downstairs, I called out, “Olette, it is Wulf. Are you decent?”
She replied, “If you mean I ain’t showing me girly bits, then yes, I am decent Cap’n.”
I came downstairs, and a clean Olette emerged from the spa room.
“Olette, I thought you only liked your Skeevers with gravy and vegetables?”
“Them days seem distant now, Cap’n. If Wujeeta keeps stuffing me, I will be able to roll faster than walk!”
“Have you been spending much time at the Safe House?”
“Yeah, and The Bards College and I visited that new Orphanage yesterday. There are a lot of Khajiiti there!”
“Was it strange seeing kittens taller than me?”
“It was strange seeing kittens dressed as mages. And they were tall, which was also interesting.”
“Mages? They can’t be the ones from Ri’saad’s caravans.”
“When they heard your fancy museum was opening soon, they turned up all at once at the orphanage. They think they might learn a lot from that place and had been getting underfoot at that mage college. I told them to take pillows or plenty of coffee when visiting Dragonborn Gallery.”
“You will be surprised how enjoyable it is when you visit my museum.”
“I wouldn’t bet my family jewels on that, Cap’n.”
“I assume you were busy turning the spa water a muddy brown when the dragon attacked.”
“Yeah, but I knew you and the others would take care of it and didn’t need my help.”
“I am sorry I haven’t been able to spend the time with you I promised.”
“From what I heard, you have been a most unpleasant miserable git, so it seems I was lucky!”
“And now I am a pleasant happy git!”
“It must be Rigmor. Only she has that magical power.”
“Yes, The Nine have given us a gift that allows us to talk to each other.”
“The Nine should give you a large castle with comfy chairs and a big bed so you can do more than talk.”
“Sometimes, Olette, I wonder if you are much older than you seem.”
“You grow quickly on the streets of Riften, Cap’n. But I ain’t at the gushy at boys stage yet, so don’t worry.”
“You are a breath of fresh air, young lady. And I think I might grow to like Scritch. He is kind of cute in an ugly way.”
“I will not trade insults as I am outclassed and have no chance of victory!”
“That is good to hear. Maybe you are not as dumb as you look, Cap’n. Come to think of it that would be impossible!”
I laughed and ruffled Olette’s just brushed hair as I passed. I won’t repeat what she said as it would even make a sailor blush.
Vayu had entered Proudspire while I was talking to Olette. I was going to visit Astrid first. She was expecting me, and it would be rude to be late! The team was all together, so I teleported us to Morthal.
I knew where the hut was because Rigmor and the others with us passed by it when we wasted our time retrieving the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. Even remembering the idiocy of Delphine and The Greybeards did not dent my mood. Any thought of Rorikstead threatened to, so I banished those thoughts.
The only encounter we had was with two Chaurus. They were not affected by Kyne’s Peace, so they spit their poison at us.
Unrelenting Force killed them instantly.
We reached the hut, and there was no need for me to instruct my team. They knew why I was determined to do this solo and that I would broker no arguments.
I could see four heat signatures. Three were kneeling and bound. One sat up high. I picked the lock and entered.
Astrid seemed unconcerned that I had arrived unbound and not with her cohorts.
The three bound people were hooded. By the amount of blood spatter behind them, many people had died violent deaths but not by the slitting of the throat.
It seemed most surfaces in the small hut were covered in blood spatter!
I walked over to Astrid. She remained silent.
“I am here as you desired, Astrid. Condolences if my proposed escorts were friends of yours.”
“The important thing is you are here and very much alive. That is more than can be said for old Grelod. Hmm?”
“Unfortunately, children witnessed her demise. Despite what your door thinks, children’s laughter is the music of life.”
“So, they blabbed before they died. I thought they had more backbone than that.”
“Oh, it wasn’t one of them. You have snitches in your ranks.”
“Well, we can both agree the old crone had it coming. It is worthy of celebration that you saved a group of urchins. However, the problem is that the little Aretino boy was looking for The Dark Brotherhood. You know, me and my associates.”
“Really? I thought that outfit your friends wore was some weird fashion trend.”
“Grelod the Kind was, by all rights, a Dark Brotherhood contract. You did not land the killing blow but still stole the kill. Therefore, it is a kill you must repay.”
“Oh, I am sorry, but I am a Thane of several Holds and a General of The Imperial Army. I must obey Imperial Laws, not those of a soon to be an extinct brotherhood of murderers.”
“We are only asking life for a life. We have a contract to eliminate one of the three behind you. Kill one, it doesn’t matter which, and we are even. It is up to you to decide which one.”
“I have killed thousands in combat. I have never murdered and never will. I owe The Dark Brotherhood nothing. Like all parasites, you need to be removed to improve your host’s health. The demise of The Dark Brotherhood at my hands will serve as a warning to all others that I am too costly a target.”
“You won’t leave this shack until somebody dies!”
“Millions of people rely on me to defeat Alduin, and you have the gall to place Dark Brotherhood idiocy above that! What kind of warped sense of importance and selfishness is that? How dare you! Unless you are more powerful than a god, I doubt it will be me who enters The Void.”
I stepped back. Astrid leapt down and, with surprising speed, attacked with a blood-soaked dagger.
The dagger scrapped across my shield with a screech accompanied by sparks.
I killed Astrid with Dragonfire. She started a prayer to Sithis, which soon turned to a scream.
It was only a single Word Fire Breath, so the flames soon vanished. Astrid fell onto her front, so the extent of the burns could not be seen.
I walked over to the three bound and gagged people. I didn’t even bother speaking with them. I cut their bonds then exited the hut.
I gathered my team, and we teleported to the outskirts of Falkreath.
We walked in silence to the entrance of Falkreath Sanctuary. As with the hut, I didn’t need to tell my friends what would occur.
I approached the door. Heavy breathing and a slow, deep heartbeat could be heard. I almost laughed at the cheap theatrics of it all.
A disembodied whisper asked, “What is the music of life?”
I resisted giving Inigo’s answer about a choir with chanting. I whispered in case anybody was listening, “Silence, my brother.”
The door replied, “Welcome home.”
I asked the door, “If we are brothers, how come you look nothing like Father?”
The door creaked open, and I entered. The door creaked shut, and I wondered why nobody bothered to investigate.
After a few seconds, I shrugged my shoulders, drew my bow then stalked my prey. I used no Magicka or Shout to hide. I was determined to use my natural sneakiness to accomplish the task. I didn’t even use Heat Vision. This sneaking was the game the assassins played, and to this audience of one, I wanted to prove I was a better player. I did use Night Vision, but that didn’t allow me any sneaking benefits.
The first assassin I encountered was a large blond-haired Nord. It had to be Arnbjorn.
One arrow killed him, but he made a bit of a grunt before expiring. I was worried others may have heard and did not enter the room and check the body. That could wait.
While searching for my next victim, I noticed a Word Wall with a glowing glyph. It would have to wait till the killing was over.
The next to die was Veezara, the last Shadowscale, maybe.
I heard the unmistakable footsteps of Inigo’s favourite, those of a large Frostbite Spider.
It must have been a pet of some sort. If Olette can have a pet Skeever, murdering scum can have a pet spider. Kyne had inconveniently marked it. If Gabriella was not concentrating on her alchemy, the element of surprise might have been lost.
I killed Gabriella and then the spider.
Nazir the Redguard was next. Angi and Inigo would have been impressed by the accuracy of my long shot.
There were far more beds in the bedrooms than current Assassins in residence. This cleansing was the end of The Dark Brotherhood.
The last to die was Festus Krex, the homicidal mage. He was standing, staring into infinity. I sent him there so he could have a closer look.
I found no other assassin in the sanctuary. I quickly checked the bodies of those I slew and found nothing useful. I would leave a more thorough search of the place to The Penitus Oculatus.
I approached the Word Wall, which tried to teach me ‘krii’, which means kill. It is the first Word of the Marked for Death Shout.
The Word Wall displayed the most idiotic, Nord centric phrase imaginable. In Dovahzul it read, “Nonvul bron dahmaan daar rot do fin fodiiz bormah wah krii ko morokei kein los wah zin geinmaar wah dir ko morokei kein los wah zin pah do keizaal.” The rough Tamrielic translation is, “Noble Nords remember these words of the hoar father: To kill in glorious war is to honour oneself, to die in glorious war is to honour all of Skyrim.”
Only knuckle-dragging empty-headed morons would find a war glorious!
When I made my way outside, Silah asked via telepathy, “Do you have to walk to Dragon’s Bridge from Solitude?”
“Yes, I don’t know that town well enough to teleport there.”
“Then please start from the stables. Hashire is upset and blames me.”
“Oh, I haven’t spoken to him since Rigmor crossed the border! I will have a chat with him.”
I told my friends where we were going and teleported us to Solitude’s stables.
Nafaalilargus watched as I spoke to Hashire. He could not hear our telepathic discussion unless we invited him, which we didn’t.
Hashire demanded, “Tell that brute that not everybody finds him adorable. Only my presence stops his usual snacks from running in fright!”
I called up to the Dovah, “Nafaalilargus, please be careful where you land in the future. You have scared the horses.”
He snorted and replied, “Why be scared of me? I haven’t eaten a horse in centuries!”
I was astounded witnessing such a lack of intelligence exhibited by a dragon.
I told Hashire, “Before you start your heart-wrenching story of abandonment, you better think about it in context. I haven’t had much opportunity to chat with anybody since Rigmor crossed the border! My priority has been to save everybody from enslavement and other nasty outcomes!”
“But if you are riding me, we chat while you accomplish your tasks. I bet you chat to your scaly friends when flying around. And may I remind you, I used to be able to fly.”
“I have not flown on Nafaalilargus once. I have not flown on Silah for many days and only once. We have not been riding horses, or privileged unicorns, because speed is of the essence. Teleporting and short walks have been the logical choice.”
“Privileged? Are you suggesting I am spoilt?”
“You are demanding something that all my friends want from me. But they don’t whine like a child denied a sweet before dinner! They don’t individually think of themself as the only ones left out. They don’t blame others for my absence out of jealousy. For the last few days, you were one of the lucky ones. You did not have to put up with my Dovah personality dominating!”
“You are being a bit harsh.”
“No, Hashire, you are being unreasonable. Silah has done nothing to earn your scorn, and she must have tried to talk to you to receive it! Am I correct in assuming she went to that effort?”
“Yes, and I did blame her for your absence, and I am sorry, Wulf. I miss you and your friends and especially Rigmor. She made you happy, which made my world a bit brighter.”
“Hashire, I make this promise to you. When the civil war and Alduin are taken care of, I will ride with my friends to most places, for it is far less hectic and relaxes us between bouts of danger. I have missed your company, and it is okay to feel sad about such an absence. Just don’t blame others for what is not their fault.”
“Where are you going now?”
“We are walking to Dragon Bridge. Most of my friends don’t currently have a horse, or we would ride.”
“Okay, and I will admit, I pursued wild fillies as you suggested at the border for the first few days. Rigmor had left you for an unknown period, and I didn’t seek you out to console you.”
“If that is the worst sin you ever commit, Hashire, you will be sainted by The Divines.”
“Saint Hashire sounds good to me!”
“I have to go now. It will not be ten days before I speak to you again.”
We were halfway to Dragon Bridge when Vayu stopped.
- Wulf: Is there something wrong, Vayu?
- Vayu: Yes, we have walked at least ten miles, and nothing has tried to kill us.
- Inigo: I was thinking the same.
- Lydia: Maybe the Kalpa has ended, and nobody told us?
- Wulf: This road has always been one of the safer ones. We passed a Hjaalmarch Militia squad a few minutes ago. Their patrols are respected by both sides of the Civil War and feared by bandits.
A few minutes later, a noblewoman and her guard approached.
I said, “Good day.”
The noblewoman replied, “Learn to speak to your superiors only when spoken to first, peasant.”
“Wow, a horse with an arsehole on its back!”
“How dare you!”
Her guard said, “Milady, you speak to a Thane of this Hold. He also happens to be The Dragonborn. Therefore, I advise you to keep a civil tongue.”
I added, “Yeah, what he said!” and gave a loud raspberry.
Everybody but the noblewoman laughed.
Dragon Bridge is a pretty town and was very busy.
We found the Penitus Oculatus headquarters and entered.
Two agents looked up from their card game. Their armour is designed to intimidate and is one of the better designs used by The Empire.
I looked to our left and saw my target. I approached Commander Maro, who looked shocked to see me.
- Maro: To what do I owe the honour of your visit, Dragonborn?
- Wulf: I thought you should know that Astrid is dead.
- Maro: The leader of the Dark Brotherhood? And this is no jest? Ha! This news is a stroke of good fortune. Long have I watched the Dark Brotherhood’s movements… waiting for the time to strike. That time is now! My agents have recently acquired the passphrase to their Sanctuary. It is, ‘Silence, my brother.’ Every assassin in that hole must be put down! You, Dragonborn, have slain their leader. Do this, and you will be rewarded most handsomely! This honour should be yours.
- Wulf: I find no honour in killing and accept no reward for doing my duty, Commander Maro.
- Maro: Oh…umm…
- Wulf: I have already killed all present in their Falkreath Sanctuary.
- Maro: You didn’t kill any Khajiiti, I hope!
- Wulf: Jo’rassa is staying at our Safe House for the time being. She is the one who gave me the passcode to the sanctuary. I was The Dark Brotherhood’s next target. Jo’rassa broke cover to inform me of that fact, and I acted immediately.
- Inigo: Well, you acted as soon as you could after that dragon attack on Solitude.
- Maro: By all I hold holy… Can it be true? Have you actually done it? Today is a great day, my friends! You have all struck a blow against the darkness that will not soon be forgotten!
- Vayu: Not all of us, Commander Maro. Wulf, The Dragonborn, insisted on wiping them out without assistance. He wants it to be a well-publicised warning to all would-be assassins.
- Maro: You entered their sanctuary and killed them all by yourself?
- Wulf: I have killed thousands, Commander Maro. A bunch of assassins was no remarkable feat on my part. But there was no glory in it. As Shaman Vayu said, it was a lesson. There is no better assassin than me, and that is not an idle boast. My vengeance against those who try to harm me or those associated with me will occur swiftly and without mercy.
- Maro: I am sure His Imperial Highness, and the news sheets, will ensure that lesson is heard.
- Wulf: Most of their apprentices, the vampire Barbette and their Keeper, Cicero, were absent. There was a schism in their ranks, and Jo’rassa did not know where the other assassins had fled. I suggest you send agents immediately and scour the place for clues.
- Maro: I will do so immediately, Dragonborn.
- Wulf: If you find their whereabouts, please let me be the one to finish this abhorrent brotherhood of murderers.
- Maro: I pledge you will be given that opportunity.
- Wulf: Thank you, and good day, Commander Maro. Don’t be alarmed when we vanish. We have an appointment in Winterhold.
I turned to my friends and said, “Enjoy the last few seconds of relative warmth. Winterhold is almost as cold as the ethereal plane!”
As we approached the bridge, Inigo pondered, “Where does snow come from, I wonder? My brother said it is dead skin scratched from the arms of the gods. Maybe he was right, but I hope not.”
I laughed and said, “Gods are not massive, corporeal beings, Inigo. They don’t get itchy or have skin to scratch.”
“But others say they have seen you speak to gods.”
“Gods often use avatars, illusionary beings, when speaking to mortals. To view the true form of any god can cause insanity. Lord Talos is an exception as he once had a corporeal body.”
“You can hug your father?”
“Oh, you noticed that slip of the tongue in High Hrothgar.”
Lydia and Iona both gasped at the revelation.
I said, “We shall discuss this later. It is not something to be talked about outside. It is essential that as few people as possible know of this. And yes, Inigo, I can hug my father when in Aetherius.”
Vayu added, “And please, none of you should treat Wulf differently. That would be wrong and unfair to him. That information does not change who he is!”
We approached Faralda, who said, “Cross the bridge at your own peril! The way is dangerous, and the gate will not open. You shall not gain entry!”
I replied, “It is not that dangerous since I paid for the repairs, Master Faralda.”
“Oh, my apologies Master Wulf. You look different than last time you passed this way. You weren’t even an apprentice then! The Arch-Mage bored us all to tears with his repetitive accounts of your demonstrated spells.”
“Is Master Urag on the campus?”
“Yes, and he rarely misses a day of chewing out apprentices.”
“This is only a brief visit, Master Faralda. When time permits and things stop trying to enslave everybody, kill everybody or destroy Nirn, I shall be pleased to share my knowledge with The College of Winterhold. Till then, Divine blessings.”
Iona asked, “Why did you pay to repair this bridge?”
“The College and Jarl had been bickering for ages over whose responsibility it was to pay for the repairs. In the meantime, people were falling to their deaths. It was no great financial burden, Iona, and I could not ignore the problem when I read about it.”
As we entered the College and headed for the Arcanaeum, I warned the group, “Do not eat anything in the library. Do not touch the books. Do not talk loudly. If needed, fart quietly.”
We entered the Arcanaeum and approached the desk.
- Wulf: Good day, Master Urag.
- Urag: You are now in the Arcanaeum, of which I am in charge. It might as well be my own little plane of Oblivion. Disrupt my Arcanaeum, and I will have you torn apart by angry Atronachs. Now, do you require assistance?
- Inigo: Do you know how many Atronachs my friend, the legendary Dragonborn, has slain recently?
- Wulf: I will admit, you do bare some Resemblance to Malacath, but he was much taller, and The Ash Pit looked a bit different than this place.
- Urag: My apologies, Dragonborn That was the standard spiel I give new visitors to my library.
- Wulf: Please refer to my title here whilst I am in this institution. I am Master Wulf.
- Urag: Of course, Master Wulf. How can I assist?
- Wulf: I am seeking an Elder Scroll. For reasons I cannot divulge, I can’t visit the Imperial City and White-Gold Tower. I need access to one within Skyrim. Can you assist or direct me to somebody who can?
- Urag: That is an item we lack, and unfortunately, Septimus Signus has not been in residence for some time.
- Wulf: Have you read his book, ‘Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls?’ Even drunk, I could make no sense of it!
- Urag: He talks the same as he writes, but he is Nirn’s foremost expert on the nature of Elder Scrolls.
- Wulf: Does he have permanent residence here?
- Urag: Yes, but he has been gone for a long while. Too long.
- Wulf: Where did he go?
- Urag: North from here, in the ice fields. He discovered a Dwemer artefact and has been studying it for years. We send him supplies occasionally, and I can mark on a map where his field station is.
- Wulf: Why would an Elder Scroll scholar be fascinated with Dwemer archaeology?
- Urag: You will have to ask him. He has been reluctant to tell us why.
- Wulf: Please, Master Urag, can you mark on my map his approximate location.
- Urag: Yes, but I must warn you, the last time I spoke to him, he was a bit…let’s say eccentric. That was years ago.
- Wulf: It is probably wise that only one of us approach him.
- Urag: An appropriate caution when dealing with Master Mages of questionable sanity.
- Inigo: Wulf doesn’t mind a crowd.
- Lydia: His weirdness comes from drops on the head, not insanity.
- Urag: Master Wulf, are these friends or should I summon those Atronachs now?
- Wulf: Leave them be, Master Urag. They have their uses.
- Urag: Such as?
- Wulf: They provide other targets for enemies I face.
Urag chuckled as he marked my map and handed it back.
A nearby apprentice asked, “Are you laughing, Master Urag?”
He answered, “I will be when I set your underwear alight! Now be quiet in my library!”
As we left the Arcanaeum, Lydia whispered, “He is like a grumpy old man or Orsimer in his case.”
I replied, “Master Urag gro-Sub is over six hundred years of age.”
“Well, that explains it. All those centuries of practising grumpy. However, you have perfected the art in just twenty-two years.”
“I can set underwear alight as well.”
“That might be a useful spell in Winterhold. Brrr!”
We made our way to the shore of The Sea of Ghosts.
- Inigo: How are we crossing the ice?
- Wulf: We are not. I am.
- Inigo: Okay then, how are you crossing the ice?
- Wulf: I could fly on one of the dragons, walk on top of the water, Blink across or swim. However, I think I shall summon Hashire and ride him under the water. That way, we won’t be spotted by any enemies.
- Inigo: Under the water?
- Vayu: You have to remember, Inigo, that Hashire is not a horse. He is a unicorn.
- Inigo: He looks like a horse.
- Vayu: That’s because Hashire wants to look like a horse.
I summoned Hashire.
I asked him telepathically, “How about a ride. Under the ice?”
“That is a bad pun.”
“I bow to your expertise concerning bad puns.”
I mounted Hashire and then said so all could hear, “Inigo doesn’t believe you are a unicorn.”
Hashire stared at Inigo and then telepathed to everybody, “Do you know of a horse that can talk in your mind, Inigo. I had difficulty locating yours, and the echoes in your head are disturbing.”
Everybody laughed, including Iona, who had never had Hashire talk in her mind before.
As it turned out, there were only a few places where the water was deep enough to dive. Still, it was good to ride Hashire again.
My head came out of the water not far from Septimus’ dig site. Nafaalilargus swooped low and said, “Dovahkiin, many goblins have decided they don’t like you. Don’t worry. Silah and I will deal with them. You can keep riding lunch to wherever.”
As Nafaalilargus flew off to roast some goblins, Hashire asked, “Did that scaly boofhead call me lunch?”
“Yes, I said boofhead.”
“He wouldn’t eat you, Hashire. He prefers mammoths and wild boar.”
“I don’t think me and him will get along.”
“Have you tried talking to him?”
“I was joking about finding Inigo’s mind. I am not when referring to Nafaalilargus. It is a wonder he remembers his name!”
“He might not be the brightest, but he is very loyal and a friend to mortals. He likes us almost as much as he likes gold.”
“Like the dragons in children’s storybooks? Does he sit on a pile of treasure he will never spend?”
“He doesn’t just sit on his piles of coins. He rolls around in them pretending to bathe.”
“That proves my theory. Weirdness is like a magnet, and you are a huge lodestone.”
“I just rode a unicorn underwater. Guess who the unicorn was?”
“That is not weirdness but a talent.”
“Okay, if that is how you want to deal with your total strangeness.”
“You know, I don’t think I missed you at all. Feel free not to speak to me again for ten days.”
We arrived at Septimus’ outpost, and I dismounted.
I watched for a few seconds to ensure the dragons had the goblin problem under control.
Nafaalilargus flew over and trumpeted, “I love the smell of burning goblin in the morning! But this is evening, so I don’t like it as much right now.”
I just shook my head and entered the outpost.
As soon as I entered a narrow tunnel, I could hear metaphysical gobblygook being spoken by somebody to themselves.
There was a ramp leading down to some excavations. An elderly mage was walking in seemingly random patterns as he talked.
He said to himself, “Dig, Dwemer, in the beyond. I’ll know your lost unknown and rise to your depths. When the top-level was built, no more could be placed. It was and is the maximal apex.”
A large Dwemer contraption had been chipped out of the ice. If one man did the work, it would have taken months, if not years.
I made my way down the ramp. The mage waited for me to approach. He was wearing Master of Conjuration robes and was of Imperial stock.
I said, “Hello, my name is Wulf. I am looking for information on Elder Scrolls. Can you help me?”
“Elder Scrolls. Indeed. The Empire. They absconded with them. Or so they think. The ones they saw. The ones they thought they saw. I know of one. Forgotten. Sequestered. But I cannot go to it, not poor Septimus, for I… I have arisen beyond its grasp.”
“Are you okay? Maybe you bumped your head or have eaten funny mushrooms? Not a Skooma addict, perchance? Maybe you have a venereal disease and were too ashamed to have it treated?”
“Oh, I am well. I will be well. Well, to be within the will inside the walls.”
“Uncle Sheo would love you! Anyway, where is this sequestered Elder Scroll?”
“Here. Well, here as in the plane. Mundus. Tamriel. Nearby, relatively speaking. On the cosmological scale, it is all nearby.”
“Good. No quick trip to Oblivion then. Where on Nirn will I find the scroll?”
“I could tell you, but as one block raises another, perhaps ourselves could help each.”
“Why can’t anybody ever say, ‘Here you go, Wulf, just what you need with no strings attached since you are trying to save my life or freedom.’ But alas, I must ask, what do you need me to do?”
“You see this masterwork of the Dwemer. Deep inside their greatest knowings. Septimus is clever among men, but he is but an idiot child compared to the dullest of the Dwemer.”
“They were so smart they disappeared up their rectums!”
“Lucky then, they left behind their own way of reading the Elder Scrolls. In the depths of Blackreach, one yet lies. Have you heard of Blackreach? ‘Cast upon where Dwemer cities slept, the yearning spire hidden leanings kept.’”
“I have heard of Blackreach. It is where they mined Aetherium, and it connects the four major Dwemer cities of Skyrim. Do you know of an entrance? What is this spire?”
“The hidden keep. Tower Mzark. Alftand. The point of puncture, of first entry, of the tapping. Delve to its limits, and Blackreach lies just beyond. But not all can enter there. Only Septimus knows the hidden key to loosen the lock to jump beneath the deathly rock.”
“You sound as if from inbred stock!”
Septimus just stared at me. There was an uncanny resemblance to Sheogorath in that stare.
I asked, “Alftand is not far from here. How do I get in?”
“Two things I have for you. Two shapes. One edged. One round. The round one, for tuning. Dwemer music is soft and subtle and needed to open their cleverest gates.”
“The round one is a key to a Tonal Lock.”
“The edged lexicon for inscribing. To us, a hunk of metal. To the Dwemer, a full library of knowings. But…empty.”
“There must be a transcription machine for the lexicon. Where is it?”
“Find Mzark and its sky-dome. The machinations will read the Scroll and lay the lore upon the cube.”
“This transcription machine is how the Dwemer read Elder Scrolls without danger.”
“To glimpse the world inside an Elder Scroll can damage the eyes.”
“Or the mind. I think you read one too many of them!”
“The Dwemer found a loophole, as they always do. To focus the knowledge away and inside without harm. Place the lexicon into their contraption and focus the knowings into it. When it brims with glow, bring it back, and Septimus can read once more.”
“You hope the knowledge contained will let you operate this Dwemer machinery.”
“Ooooh, an observant one. The Dwemer Lockbox. Look upon it and wonder. Inside is the heart. The heart of a god. The heart of you. And me. But it was hidden away. Not by the Dwarves, you see. They were already gone. Someone else. Unseen. Unknown. Found the heart, and with a flair for the ironical, used Dwarven trickery to lock it away. The scroll will give the deep vision needed to open it. For not even the strongest machinations of the Dwemer can hold off the all-sight given by an Elder Scroll.”
Septimus handed me a sphere and a lexicon.
“You think Lorkhan’s Heart resides in the lockbox?”
“Yes, the ice entombs the heart. It was the bane of Kagrenac and Dagoth Ur. To harness it is to know the fundaments. The Dwemer lockbox hides it from me. The Elder Scroll gives insight deeper than the deep ones, though. To bring about the opening.”
“How do you know Lorkhan’s Heart is within?”
“My Lord, the Daedric Prince of the unknown, Hermaeus Mora, told me. I thought there were no secrets left to know. Until I first spoke to him. He asks a price to work his will, such as a few murders, some dissent spread and a plague or two. For the secrets, I can endure. In time, he brought me here to the box. But he won’t reveal how to open it. Maddening.”
“You have killed, and spread plague in the pursuit of what you think is in the lockbox. Do you think Hermaeus Mora would allow you to possess something as powerful as Lorkhan’s Heart?”
What I didn’t say is I would not allow it. I will have to reread the histories. But I doubt very much it is in the lockbox. The Nerevarine disposed of it.
Septimus did not answer my question. His mind was fixated on one thing. I think he is simply a tool to be manipulated by Hermaeus Mora.
I exited the outpost and teleported to Winterhold’s stables.
I summoned Hashire, who told me to go away as he chatted to a young mare.
I moved away and summoned my friends.
- Inigo: Woah, one can get dizzy with all this summoning here and there!
- Vayu: Did Septimus know where to get an Elder Scroll?
- Wulf: Yes, even though he is nuttier than a fruitcake.
- Lydia: Another strange saying from the Land of Wulf, also known as Weirdo Land.
- Wulf: Septimus is a few sheep short in the top paddock.
- Lydia: Huh?
- Wulf: He likes Apple Cabbage Stew.
- Iona: That’s crazy! The poor man.
- Lydia: Hey!
- Vayu: Where did Uncle Sheo’s prize specimen say we can obtain one.
- Wulf: Alftand. It is a decent walk across the snowfields from here. From Alftand, we can enter Blackreach and search for The Tower of Mzark. There is an Elder Scroll in there and a transcribing machine. The Dwemer would transcribe Elder Scrolls onto lexicons and avoid going blind or insane.
- Inigo: What makes you go blind or insane?
- Vayu: Reading Elder Scrolls can make you go blind or insane. Most Moth Priests, who look after the Elder Scrolls in The White-Gold Tower, end up blind.
- Inigo: My mother said reading certain illustrated books would make me blind.
- Wulf: That habit can also lead to hairy palms.
- Lydia: Inigo! You pervert!
- Inigo: Seriously, my friend, won’t you be risking your eyes and sanity at the Time-Wound?
- Wulf: I am not reading the Elder Scroll, Inigo. When I unroll the Elder Scroll, its Dweomer will make a conduit to the time when the Ancient Tongues used their Elder Scroll to cast Alduin into the timestream.
- Vayu: Wulf will then use his ability to ethereal travel and send his spirit back through time to observe the fight with Alduin. Hopefully, he will hear Unrelenting Force being used and learn it that way.
- Inigo: How do we know the Elder Scroll in Blackreach, whatever that is, is the same one they used back then?
- Wulf: It doesn’t have to be. However, if The Elder Scrolls wanted me to find that same one, it would now be the one we find in Blackreach, even if it wasn’t before.
- Vayu: Elder Scrolls change their contents to answer the question being asked. Since Wulf is not asking a question, any Elder Scroll will suffice, and its contents are irrelevant.
- Wulf: I am now convinced. The gods are all Skooma addicts. Every single one of them!
- Iona: Lydia, were they speaking Tamrielic?
- Lydia: Yes, but a lot of gobblygook was included. Just nod your head as if you understand. That is what I do.
- Iona: Does that help?
- Lydia: If you do it hard enough and long enough, it makes you dizzy, which helps.
- Iona: Ah, sage advice!
- Inigo: What enemies can we expect?
- Wulf: Alftand will be full of Dwemer automatons and Falmer. Blackreach will be full of Falmer. However, when we visited Langley, I saw two Dwemer Mechanical Dragons perched atop Alftand. They can be very powerful or very weak and everything in-between. We won’t know their strength until they engage us. We may have to deal with them.
- Vayu: We are also likely to encounter enemies as we cross the snowfields.
- Wulf: Let’s go!
- Vayu: Wait! You will transcribe the Elder Scroll onto a lexicon, but we don’t need to know its contents. Therefore, I assume Septimus does. What question does he want to be answered?
- Wulf: He is trying to open a Dwemer Lockbox. He thinks the Elder Scroll will tell him how. He thinks the lockbox contains The Heart of Lorkhan.
- Vayu: Fuck!
- Wulf: I doubt it does, but Septimus can’t do anything without the transcribed lexicon. Therefore, the lockbox’s contents are not of concern at the moment.
- Vayu: Why does he think it contains the heart?
- Wulf: Hermaeus Mora told him. But the Dark Lord can lie, as can all gods. You can fully trust them only when you make them bound to a verbal contract. Even then, you must be careful of the wording.
- Lydia: Is that the artefact that made mortals into gods?
- Wulf: Yes, Lydia, it created The Tribunal. It also powered the Numidium. Lorkhan’s Heart must remain hidden from mortals.
- Inigo: Please, can we get moving? Icicles are forming on my whiskers and other vital parts of my anatomy!
Not far out of Winterhold, we encountered a conflict between rival goblin tribes. One side was summoning giant spiders, which Inigo longed to squish.
The trouble with goblins is they forget rival tribes and gang up on people who stumble upon their skirmishes. Therefore, we had no choice but to eliminate them.
Several bears joined our side. I made sure they were healed when the final goblin fell.
Nafaalilargus called out, “Dovahkiin, Azura is not impressed with her champion. She has turned her back on you!”
The Dovah laughed, and I think he was unaware that nobody else did.
We came across an area with a large bear population. Lydia asked, “What do all those bears eat?”
I replied, “Barely anything.”
My friends chatted and decided that Nafaalilargus was funnier than me by unanimous vote.
A pack of Wolves was determined to bring a young bear cub down.
Lydia pleaded, “Wulf, we have to do something!”
“No, we don’t. We have no right to deny the wolves their meal.”
Silah said, “You do when they are rabid!”
We saved the bear from the rabid wolves. The bear then helped us defeat a pack of Frostbite Spiders.
Not far from those skirmishes, Silah warned, “Aggressive Spriggans in the valley!”
Since we needed to use the valley, we could not avoid the Spriggans.
I yelled, “Leave the ensorceled goat alone. It will leave us once the Spriggans are dead.”
Spriggans are combustible, so it didn’t survive long when Silah covered a Spriggan Matron in Dragonfire.
We eliminated the Spriggans, and the goat wandered away.
As we climbed up the steep slope leading from the valley to Alftand, Silah warned, “Dwemer abomination ahead!”
Inigo asked, “Silah won’t call them dragons, will she?”
“No, because they truly are abominations. They may have souls of dragons, but the Dwemer altered them so much they have no free will. All they do is protect what Dwemer structures from which they emerge. They have no emotions or sense of self. They are mindless abominations.”
We rushed up the hill to tackle the abomination.
It summoned a Dwemer Centurion.
Then it summoned a Dwemer Spectre.
I took care of the Centurion.
Then I had to fend off the abomination.
Iona and Inigo dispatched the Dwemer Spectre.
I was keeping my eye on the abomination, so when it summoned another Centurion, Iona and Inigo dispatched that.
Nafaalilargus and Silah damaged the abomination in flight. It crashed to the ground, and I quickly ended it.
I then absorbed the corrupted soul, and its taint made me nauseous.
Curiosity would not let me ignore the Dwemer Port used for their ethereal travel orbs.
I looked over the edge, and Dwemer machinery repeated a cycle it had been doing nonstop since Dwemer created it.
I was fascinated by the control pedestal.
- Inigo: This may be interesting, but an Elder Scroll is waiting somewhere deep below us. I can almost smell it.
- Wulf: Sorry, the field rations I ate always produce unfortunate emissions.
- Inigo: We have been going for a long time without rest, my friend.
- Wulf: I know. But I have to take brief breaks and think about other things. That is an order from Rigmor.
- Vayu: Inigo, lately, part of Wulf’s problem is that he has starved his natural curiosity. He concentrated entirely on whatever task he was doing. That is not good for the soul.
- Inigo: Yes, Mr Dragonfly, you did tell me that, and I ignored you.
- Vayu: Doesn’t Mr Dragonfly ever worry about his jar getting smashed?
- Inigo: Shh! Ah, too late! Now Mr Dragonfly is terrified his jar will get smashed!
- Iona: Lydia, I don’t think normal ever happens!
- Lydia: This is normal when travelling with Wulf.
Remains of an expedition were scattered near the entrance to Alftand. In one hut, I found a journal called ‘Expedition Manifest’. I read the relevant section to the group.
“We’ve managed to secure the site and hold off any others who may try to steal our discoveries so far, especially those from the College of Winterhold, who seem to think the glory of exploring every ruin should be theirs alone.
The crew for our expedition is as follows:
- Sulla Trebatius (myself) – Expedition leader
- Umana – my constant companion and bodyguard
- Valie – a mage not associated with Winterhold (took some time to find)
- Endrast – a fellow explorer of some local renown
- Yag – a great brute of a woman, hired to keep the rest of the labour in check
- J’darr and J’zhar – two Khajiit brothers, hired as labour
We need a couple more labourers. Getting through the ice is proving difficult.
We’ve set up shelter and scouted the area. The small ruins on the lower plateau of the glacier don’t seem connected to the main structure, and we haven’t managed to find a way into the tower parapet we’ve found here. Yag mentioned spotting a fissure in the glacial wall that may lead into the ruins, so we will try to find a way to get down there with the gear. It looks like a storm is coming.”
Several charred bodies were scattered around the expedition’s camp.
I said, “A real dragon killed them, as the Dwemer abominations use shock-based attacks, not fire. It seems Alduin’s allies are attacking even small targets. The other night I found a dragon had destroyed a lookout that Rigmor and I enjoyed.”
Inigo replied, “But there were more named in the journal than lie dead. They may have found a way in?”
“Well, there is some newish looking scaffolding. Let’s try that!”
The scaffolding led to the fissure mentioned in the journal.
The fissure led to the inside of Alftand.
It was not long before we found the journal of the expedition leader, Sulla Trebatius. I read it aloud,
“We tried to get through the glacier at the top, but we couldn’t find any way into that tower parapet. Yag spotted a fissure in the glacial wall, and construction of a catwalk was finished just in time for a storm to hit. At first, we thought to wait it out, but it has only gotten worse. A shift in the glacier took out several of the new labourers.
I ordered everyone to quickly move as much of the supplies as possible into the fissure, and we managed to get most of it. One of the hands decided he wouldn’t listen and tried to make it out through the storm but got blown off the catwalk by the wind.
It looks like we are well and truly stuck in here. But for all that, I feel even more driven that I should be the one to uncover the mysteries of this ruin. I’m tired of all the credit for my work going to the Mages or the Legion. My name will go down in the history books for this discovery.”
- Wulf: If we come across Sulla Trebatius and he is a Legion deserter, he will discover my sword in his belly.
- Lydia: My sword will be next to yours!
- Iona: I hope there is room for three swords!
- Inigo: On a lighter, less violent note, I wondered where an Elder Scroll would hide. I think it would choose somewhere warmer than this place.
- Iona: You are talking like Elder Scrolls can think.
- Vayu: They are sentient as many powerful artefacts are.
- Inigo: Yes, the infamous Ring of Khajiiti will abandon its wearer if used for illegal activity. How would it know what was illegal if it couldn’t think?
- Wulf: Don’t forget, Iona, I recently entered a pocket plane of Oblivion belonging to a sentient sword.
- Iona: I am nodding my head vigorously. When does the dizziness happen, Lydia?
- Inigo: Lydia’s natural state is dizzy. Therefore she wouldn’t know.
- Iona: Should I keep nodding my head or yell like weirdoes surround me?
- Lydia: Relax, Iona. Weirdness is not contagious.
- Iona: Your unnatural love of Apple Cabbage Stew contradicts you, dear Lydia.
- Lydia: I liked Apple Cabbage Stew before I met any of them!
- Iona: Oh, that is so sad. Was it a birth defect?
Signs of violence, including substantial bloodstains, suggested that even at the beginning of their travels through Alftand, something didn’t like them and attacked.
I commented, “I can’t see any arrows, so I doubt the assailants were Falmer.”
Vayu suggested, “It was probably Dwemer Automatons and Spectres.”
“Would they remove the dead?”
“Good point. Well, we won’t solve the mystery by standing still.”
Some blood stains led from the scene of battle. They could be from a survivor staggering along or bodies dripping blood as they were carried away.
Inigo stopped when the voice of J’darr, one of the Khajiit brothers, echoed through the ice passages and reached us.
J’darr said, “Where is it? I know you were trying to keep it for yourself, J’zhar… You always try to keep it to yourself!”
Inigo cringed at what he was hearing. Ghosts of his past had come to haunt him.
After a few seconds, J’darr continued, “No! There’s got to be more Skooma… Shut up! Shut up! Don’t lie to me, J’zhar! You hid it! You always try and steal it from me!”
When it was apparent J’darr had no more ranting to do, I looked at Inigo. He looked into my eyes and then nodded. He was ready to continue.
As we moved further into the Dwemer ruins, the amount of ice lessened. It was not surprising when we encountered our first Dwemer Automaton.
It was a Dwemer Spider, and Inigo rushed over to kill it. I beat him to it with a spell.
The spider exploded, emitting a lot of electricity. Inigo yelped, “OW!” and received no sympathy, just laughter.
The reason for the lessening ice was visible. The Dwemer conduits were active, and steam travelled through them at temperatures enough to make metal glow.
We found automatons not destroyed by us. We guessed that some of the expedition team had survived.
We encountered as many Spectres as automatons. I am sure that is an unusual ratio.
- Vayu: A living Dwemer was once discovered in Morrowind. Can you imagine being the last surviving member of your race?
- Wulf: His name was Yagrum Bogan. He authored an excellent book called Tamrielic Lore. He was infected with Corprus and moved around on Dwemer spider legs.
- Lydia: What is Corprus?
- Vayu: It was a disease created by the Dark Lord, Dagoth Ur. It was carried on Ashstorms in Morrowind and was incurable. It would turn all of those inflicted insane. The time to insanity was random. When insane, the afflicted were far stronger and mindlessly violent. Corprus so deformed some that they were not manoeuvrable enough to catch victims and inflict the violence they craved. That made them even more violent if a victim came within their grasp.
- Wulf: The danger with fighting those with Corprus was the chance to catch the disease. Many who avoided being infected from the Ashstorms were infected when defending homes and family.
- Vayu: There was a whole lot of religious mumbo jumbo involved. It is fascinating history and worth reading about when you get the chance.
- Lydia: I think I will avoid giving myself nightmares, thanks.
- Inigo: We had better remove all the mirrors in the Safe House and Proudspire Manor!
- Lydia: One of these days, Inigo, it will be smack, right in the kisser!
- Wulf: Whilst the fate of Yagrum Bogan is sad, The Dwemer were architects of their downfall. Consider the Snow Elves instead. The Nord’s genocide involved many isolated pockets of Snow Elves who probably thought they were the last survivors of their race. The last adults, maybe warriors but most likely not, would fight the Nord Berserkers and inevitably lose. Then the children, old people and other none combatants were summarily slaughtered in a bloodbath considered honourable and just. That is real sadness, and I wish I were there to turn the tide on Ysgramor and his butchers!
- Iona: I was only ever taught the glory of Ysgramor and his followers. Children were chastised if they questioned the morality of that slaughter.
- Wulf: Unless children are told the truth, history will repeat. That is why I was keen to open Dragonborn Gallery.
We were getting tired of automatons leaping out at us from pipes as we passed by. The mechanical nature of automatons meant they generated heat. Therefore, I decided to use Heat Vision to warn us.
We came upon a research station of the expedition. There was a bedroll on the floor and bloodstains leading away. On a table were dissected Dwarven Spiders and research notes written by Valie, the expedition’s mage. I read them to the group,
“If only Umana would have left one of these Dwarven machine creatures intact for me to study. The fact that they almost killed those Khajiit brothers in the middle of the night doesn’t mean we couldn’t have found a way to disable one. We dragged some stuff in front of the pipes they came out of to stop them from coming back.
They are simply fascinating! It is just as Calcelmo described in Dwarves, v2. Their appearance does, in fact, resemble that of an arachnid. I had thought that to be an embellishment given by his source. The inclusion of the soul gem into the design of the apparatus is quite remarkable. It could explain the focus for the lightning that he describes.
Oddly enough, it doesn’t appear to be the main power source for the apparatus. Perhaps some sort of harmonic resonance with the energies contained in the soul gem to bring heat to a small boiler? Too early to say conclusively. That does raise the question of where they get the liquid for the boiler, however.
Huh, that was strange. I thought I just saw something moving beyond the barred door. It looked vaguely humanoid. I wonder if it could be an undiscovered automaton? I’m going to move my bedroll down here to see if I can catch another glimpse of it. This is all so exciting!”
I said to my colleagues, “I don’t think Valie was a victim of the Dwemer machines. I think the ‘vaguely humanoid’ thing she saw was a Falmer. Not the majestic Mer race but their twisted form created by the Dwemer when the Snow Elves sought refuge from Nord genocide. They still infest their old homes as the automatons do.”
Alftand was becoming very warm yet what appeared to be small icicles were abundant. I explained they were mineral deposits and stalactites, not icicles.
A dropped torch was another clue that some expedition members had survived the attack on their camp.
Broken pipes resulted in us entering another section of Alftand encrusted by ice.
We heard a fight. By the Khajiiti curses being used, we guessed it was J’darr fighting an automaton.
We came upon several destroyed Dwemer Spiders.
Heat Vision showed a Khajiit kneeling, and we assumed it would be J’darr.
When we turned the corner, J’darr was leaning over the bloody corpse of J’zhar, his brother. He noticed us and waved a woodcutter’s axe while saying, “What? Who is this, Brother? Another of the smooth skins looking for food? But this one wasn’t trapped with us….”
J’darr snarled and ran at me, intent on treating me as wood that needs splintering!
A casual backhand slice removed J’darr’s head.
Red hot pipes made the brother’s camp pleasantly warm.
Next to J’zhar was another woodcutter’s axe. It was covered in the blood of J’zhar, for his brother’s insane need for Skooma resulted in fratricide.
In a satchel near J’zhar were many empty Skooma bottles. Also nearby was J’zhar’s journal, part of which I read to the group.
“This one is at his wit’s end. I signed J’darr and myself up for this expedition to get him clean of the Skooma. I brought a small supply to try to bring him down slowly, but the storm has trapped us in the glacier for weeks.
The others have not yet caught on that one with fur should not shake so much from the cold, but I’ve run out of the little Skooma I brought, and J’darr is getting pretty bad. He’s started hallucinating creatures coming out of the ice and the ruins. The others are starting to think he may be behind Valie’s disappearance, but I know he would never do something like that.”
Inigo said with grief threatening to overcome him, “J’darr was another Skooma addled moron. These brothers are making me remember things I would rather forget. Can you give me a few minutes alone, my friend?”
“Of course, Inigo.”
We moved away, and Inigo lay the brothers side by side. He then whispered a traditional Khajiiti burial prayer over them. It was the first time I had seen Inigo do anything remotely religious. When he rejoined us, his face showed a sadness that wrenched our hearts. A sad Inigo was something new and foreign. We are used to the light-hearted Inigo.
A bit further on from the brothers, we discovered another journal. This one belonged to Umana and read,
“It’s been about a week since Valie went missing, and now Endrast is gone. We found blood leading over to the barred off doorway. Sulla seems to think they found a way through and are trying to cut him out of the discovery.
He keeps saying that we need to press on. We’ve managed to break through into another section of the ruins, an ‘Animonculory’, where the dwarves would produce their automatons.
We learned the hard way that the metal creatures are still alive, and it hasn’t improved Yag’s mood. She holds that the Khajiit brothers aren’t involved with the disappearances and has been keeping a stern eye on Sulla.
The rations have all but run out, and we will have to decide soon whether to brave the storm or try to push further into the ruins. I don’t know if the echoes of screams I’ve heard in my sleep are those of our missing comrades or my nightmares.”
I said, “I don’t recall any great storm near Winterhold lately. And how would they know it was there unless they kept returning to the entrance?”
Iona replied, “I was thinking the same thing. Nords are highly resistant to the cold, so they could easily survive once they traverse the wooden pathway. A storm like they describe would be all over the news sheets. Anything is better than starving to death.”
“It is also strange how ignorant they are of Falmer living in Dwemer ruins. They populate nearly every single one!”
“Perhaps some of them did know and kept it quiet. Sulla and Umana might not have told the others because they needed people for the expedition.”
We approached an area where several automatons hid in the pipework and on balconies.
We soon destroyed them.
I asked the group, “How come the expedition members didn’t get attacked?”
Lydia replied, “They didn’t have Inigo with them.”
Inigo laughed, which was a welcome mood change.
Lydia was fascinated by a metal rod going up and down.
She asked, “What is the purpose of those things?”
Vayu replied, “They are valves. When the pressure in a pipe reaches a certain level, the valve will rise, release some steam, and relieve the pressure. The release of the steam is the hissing sound you hear each time they pop up.”
We were walking along a narrow corridor when I suddenly stopped, and everyone piled into the back of the proceeding person.
Lydia asked, “Inigo, are you pleased to see me or is that a metal pipe in your trousers?”
“Ahh, no, over my dead body, Lydia.”
“Whatever makes you happy, my furry friend.”
“Please, I am rarely scared, but the thought of you naked terrifies me.”
I interjected and asked, “Does anybody know why I have stopped?”
Inigo replied, “I can smell something, a gas of some sort.”
My Dragonfire touched the gas, and flames whooshed down the corridor and around a corner. The gas had filled a considerable length of the corridor.
Iona asked, “Wulf, does it hurt breathing fire like that?”
“Only from the other end, Iona.”
We were destroying dozens of automatons and Spectres. How did the survivors get past what we killed?
We came to a room where we had to jump over horizontal valves.
A few minutes later, we found the first evidence of Falmer habitation.
We followed some bloodstains to a small alcove.
There we found the body of one of the unnamed workers hired by the expedition.
A large pool of Dwemer oil posed a hazard, so I cleared it with Fire Breath.
We found some gelatinous piles of eggs.
Iona asked, “Yuck. What are those disgusting things?”
Lydia replied, “Chaurus Eggs. They are delicious with the right salad and wine. Argonian like to eat them raw. I like mine boiled.”
Everybody stared at Lydia, who shrugged her shoulders and said, “You never know unless you give it a go!”
I lowered a portcullis that allowed access to a spiral ramp. The ramp led downwards at a steep angle, which we wanted because Blackreach is in that direction.
The first half of the spiral ramp was populated by Spectres and automatons.
We found the body of Yag, the Orsimer warrior. Investigation showed the only way to get to her and the next part of the ramp was to drop thirty feet off a ledge. Dweomer on our armours made that perfectly safe, but Lydia was too scared even though four of us were unharmed. We let her build the courage by herself. She had no choice but to leap, and we knew she would.
Yag had jumped without any protective Dweomer. Although Falmer weapons were found near her, the fall killed her.
We moved away from Yag, and Lydia finally leapt.
Lydia caught up.
She said, “I am sorry, Wulf. I don’t know why I suddenly lost faith in the magic on my armour, but….”
“Shh…Lydia. You don’t owe anybody an apology. As the journals show, this strange place’s atmosphere is enough to make anybody jumpy, or not jumpy.”
This half of the downward ramp was infested with Falmer.
After fighting our way to the bottom of the ramp, we entered the Falmer living area, and dozens of Falmer attacked.
Inigo said, “These Falmer are quite tough, my friend!”
“Yes, it often takes more than one arrow to bring them down. Many Falmer survive Unrelenting Force when other species wouldn’t.”
We encountered more pools of Dwemer oil which I used Dragonfire on.
The Falmer were coming at us in numbers and slowing us down.
One unfortunate Falmer’s head got stuck in a fence when hit with Unrelenting Force. Inigo said he was using his bow from the top of some stairs and didn’t mean to shoot the Falmer in the arse.
After the dozens of Falmer were disposed of, we discovered a Dwemer Lift leading upwards. We decided to see where it led.
It led to a portcullis near Valie’s research station.
Two expedition labourers attacked when we used the Dwemer Lift to go back down. We cut them down. We have no idea why they attacked, as they said nothing.
When we moved away from the lift, more Falmer attacked and died.
Not far past that, we discovered the body of Valie. The Falmer had used the lift to bring her to a torture chamber.
Random items from the expedition were laid out on a bench, including clothing.
On a slab were the dissected remains of another person.
Skeletal remains of others were inside a small room used as a prison.
I said, “This is unusual. I can’t recall reading any reports of Falmer doing torture. They will kill and loot, but not this.”
Lydia asked, “Are they eating people?”
“There is a chance. That has been reported but rarely.”
Before reaching another ramp, we encountered a deceased Falmer we had not killed. Somebody else was heading down, and logically it was survivors from the expedition.