THE EMPEROR’S PERIL

Fredas, 10th Frostfall, 4E 201

& Loredas, 11th Frostfall, 4E 201

Yesterday we arranged for Cerys to summon Rigmor at 7:30 AM. The spell worked, and my beloved gave me one more kiss before vanishing.

I gathered my team for the day: Sakiya, Shouken, Omoi and Ishen.

I teleported us to Dragon Bridge, and the rain poured down.

We entered the Penitus Oculatus headquarters, where I came to a startling conclusion. Penitus Oculatus helmets are nailed to your head and stop you from smiling!

We walked over to Commander Maro, who said, “Before we talk, please read this.”

The Commander handed me a letter sealed by the signet ring of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Titus Mede II.

I read it to myself,

“To:

Thane Wulf Welkynd, Hero of Whiterun, Dragonborn, Champion of The Divines and many other titles,

Commander Maro has brought to my attention a suspected plot to assassinate a member of my family and me. The Commander is certain this plot exists, so I have detailed extra guards around my first cousin, Vittoria Vici, and myself. However, history has shown that good assassins bypass the best guards and precautions.

I would like you to investigate this plot and find and end the perpetrators. I ask this not because I think The Divines will aid you or the Penitus Oculatus is inept. I ask this because I think you are the most likely person to succeed in stopping the plans of the Dark Brotherhood. Since my life depends on the competency of those investigating, I naturally wanted the best available.

Commander Maro will provide the details.

Blessings of The Nine. Emperor Titus Mede II.”

I handed the letter to Sakiya, who then handed it to Omoi. When all The Dragonguard had read it, it was passed back to me.

  • Wulf: Commander Maro, did you find evidence of this plot inside the Falkreath Sanctuary?
  • Maro: No. We have another agent inside The Dark Brotherhood posing as an apprentice. Even Jo’rassa did not know of her. She fled with Cicero and others when the schism occurred.
  • Wulf: Jo’rassa said there was something big being planned.
  • Maro: You can’t get much bigger than an Emperor’s assassination.
  • Sakiya: Targeting Vittoria suggests the person or persons hiring The Dark Brotherhood want the Mede dynasty to end.
  • Maro: It would seem so, although His Imperial Highness has never named an Heir Apparent.
  • Wulf: If the intent was to wipe out the Mede dynasty, why stop at Vittoria? Jarl Elisif would also be a target if that were their gripe. I think Vittoria’s line of business is a clue to the hirer.
  • Maro: A competitor to The East Empire Company?
  • Wulf: Possibly. I would guess profit is the motive of the hirer rather than politics. But as I said, that is a guess. Where do we go from here, Commander?
  • Maro: Although they have no proof, the surviving members of The Dark Brotherhood suspect there was and maybe still is a snitch amongst their ranks. Therefore, our agent has had to be even more cautious than Jo’rassa. She is with them in their new headquarters, a disused Sanctuary near Dawnstar. They now have a Listener, but this contract did not come via The Night Mother. The Listener was discovered after the schism and well after the contract was accepted.
  • Wulf: Where do I start?
  • Maro: Our agent will use one of our Dead Drops sometime today. I suggest you return this afternoon and see if we know more.
  • Wulf: Okay, hopefully, I can return here mid-afternoon if not earlier.
  • Shouken: I think we will not be able to pause once we get involved in this, Wulf.
  • Wulf: I agree. Once we start moving on the remnants of The Dark Brotherhood, we will have to do whatever is needed quickly and without pause.
  • Omoi: Whereto now?
  • Wulf: To get to the Imperial Camp, we must walk from the hut where I killed Astrid.

I teleported us to the hut.

I summoned Nafaalilargus and asked him to scout for us.

A while later, Nafaalilargus flew over and said, “There was a battle just ahead. Yesterday was when they fought. I would say one group was camping and were ambushed.”

We studied the battleground.

  • Wulf: As Nafaalilargus suggested, the Morthal guards were camping overnight and ambushed.
  • Shouken: Stormcloaks, enslaved giants, and Dawnstar troops attacked them.
  • Wulf: This was part of the coup to hand Morthal to Ulfric.
  • Sakiya: Even though taken by surprise, it seems the Morthal guards put up a good fight.
  • Wulf: I have seen some brutality in this civil war, but to place people on stakes and burn them? What is the point of that?
  • Omoi: I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Dawnstar troops objected to the attack. The impaling and burning were their punishment and warning to others.
  • Wulf: There is no need for Morthal troops to be out here unless enticed by false information that Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone acted upon.
  • Sakiya: I think the only way we will know the whole story is to take back Morthal.
  • Wulf: Agreed. Let’s continue.

We were not far away from the Imperial camp when Nafaalilargus warned, “A Bone Dragon is attacking the Imperial sentries!”

Ishen asked, “What in Talos’ name is a Bone Dragon.”

Nafaalilargus replied, “One of my brethren who has dabbled in necromancy. His name is Ausluvnah.”

I laughed and said, “Suffer Tear Fury is not a friendly name!”

Ausluvnah summoned some high-level Draugr and caused fireballs to fall from the sky.

I hit him with Dragonrend and Blinked to where he landed.

Ausluvnah seemed more resistant to Dragonrend. I think that was due to his expertise in necromancy and dealing with mortality. So he lifted into the air even as I Blinked to his location.

Nafaalilargus covered Ausluvnah in Dragonfire.

I used Dragonrend again.

As soon as Ausluvnah landed, I used Dragonrend once more.

I then ran and started slashing into him as well as using Dragonfire.

Ausluvnah was defeated, but he killed five Legionnaires and a passing Argonian trader.

The argonian traders guards looked bewildered.

I said to them, “Take the trader with you to the nearest town. Do not leave him out here.”

We entered the camp and the command tent.

  • Wulf: Legate Rikke, you lost five soldiers to the dragon attack.
  • Rikke: Lucky you turned up just in time.
  • Wulf: I get the feeling the attack was timed to distract me.
  • Sakiya: The dragon was hoping Wulf would spend too much effort defending mortals.
  • Rikke: I see. That would give the dragon a chance to defeat the General.
  • Omoi: The dragon had no hope against The Dragonborn, The Dragonguard and Nafaalilargus. It was foolish of it to think otherwise.
  • Rikke: I will send a detail to collect the bodies.
  • Wulf: We came across a battleground on the way here. Morthal guards were ambushed by Dawnstar Guards, Stormcloaks and a couple of enslaved giants. Both sides suffered many casualties.
  • Rikke: That would explain why our scouts report few defenders in Dawnstar and all are Stormcloaks.
  • Wulf: Jarl Skald has surrounded himself with Great War veterans. There are likely far more defenders than is apparent.
  • Rikke: Hiding in the houses and other buildings?
  • Sakiya: They will exit the buildings as soon as we attack.
  • Wulf: I doubt we will find Jarl Skald hiding during the battle. He will fight alongside his soldiers. I am unsure about his housecarl, Jod. He was a proud Legionnaire during The Great War and is known, along with most of Dawnstar’s citizens, to oppose Skald’s support of Ulfric.
  • Rikke: Brina Merilis will be the new Jarl.
  • Wulf: She was a well-respected officer during The Great War.
  • Rikke: Brina is very popular with the citizens of Dawnstar.
  • Wulf: I don’t think we need to worry about anything else in this Hold. We shall attack Dawnstar immediately.

Rikke started barking orders, and the Legionnaires assembled for the attack.

I said to Nafaalilargus, “You are not to engage the enemy, Nafaalilargus. However, please scout ahead and make sure there are no surprises.”

As Nafaalilargus flew ahead, we marched rapidly towards Dawnstar. We had to pace ourselves to allow the Legionnaires to get there in a reasonable time and still be able to fight.

A Khajiiti caravan was parked in its usual spot. They knew not to get involved, but still, they looked on with immense interest.

I used my Thu’um and said, “PEOPLE OF DAWNSTAR, THIS IS THE DRAGONBORN. PLEASE, DO NOT ENGAGE THE TRAITORS WHO DENY THEIR EMPEROR AND THE DIVINES. WE SHALL CLEAR THE BLASPHEMING SCUM WITHOUT HURTING YOUR CITY. LONG LIVE THE EMPIRE!”

With a roar, we entered Dawnstar, and, as expected, it was a slaughter.

Jod and Skald exited their keep and were soon surrounded by Dragonguard and Legionnaires.

I used my Thu’um, “SKALD AND JOD, CEASE FIGHTING THIS SECOND OR I SWEAR ON THE DIVINES, I WILL CUT YOU DOWN!”

Skald said, “We surrender. The capital is yours. If you pledge no harm will come of my people, I turn the seat of power over to you.”

“I do not need to pledge the safety of The Pale’s citizens. It is you who have endangered them. We are here to remove that danger. Sheath your weapons. This warning is your last!”

Jod and Skald sheathed their weapons.

I used my Thu’um once more, “JARL SKALD HAS SURRENDERED. STORMCLOAKS, CEASE FIGHTING OR DIE NEEDLESSLY. THE BATTLE IS LOST!”

I ordered, “Dragonguard, take Jod’s and Skald’s weapons. Kill any Stormcloaks that show aggression!”

The sounds of battle quickly ceased. Forlorn Stormcloaks made their way to the keep.

  • Skald: Go. Tell your commanders you have won. My family and my men will be gone before they arrive.
  • Wulf: You do not dictate terms, Skald. I am a General of The Legion and hereby place you under arrest. You and your fellow traitors will be taken to Solitude and housed in suitable accommodation for the duration of this blasphemous insurgency.
  • Jod: I warned you, Jarl Skald, that you were wrong to side with Ulfric.
  • Skald: I had my reasons.
  • Jod: Stupidity was your only reason! First, you claimed that the only reason dragons are attacking is because Talos is angry with us for turning our backs on him. And that as soon as we drive the Empire out of Skyrim, the dragons will vanish. Here before you stands The Dragonborn. He solved the dragon problem and is supporting The Empire. You failed to explain that discrepancy to me, my Jarl!
  • Wulf: Nobody has turned their backs on Talos. That is a lie that Ulfric used to convince idiots to follow him.
  • Jod: Jarl Skald also said The Stormcloaks are destined to win this fight because Talos is with them. And that when you fight under a Divine’s blessing, victory is assured. He completely ignored that you are the Champion of The Divines, and no religious leader has said Talos had sided with Ulfric.
  • Wulf: Stop calling him Jarl, for he is not one but merely a traitor. We were fighting under The Nine’s blessing, not just that of Talos.
  • Sakiya: We did not encounter a single city guard, Skald. Why would that be?
  • Jod: Yes, Skald, what happened to our guards?
  • Skald: They were killed in a cowardly ambush, no doubt.
  • Wulf: Yes, most of them were. However, they, along with Stormcloaks and enslaved giants, were the cowardly ambushers. Who did they ambush, Skald?
  • Skald: Empire loving Morthal slime!
  • Wulf: Skald, I tire of talking to you. You are a traitor. Your actions have contributed to the death of many Talos worshippers on both sides of this war. You are slime, and if it were up to me, you would be executed for your crimes.

I used my Thu’um again, “ALL STORMCLOAKS ARE TO HAVE THEIR HANDS BOUND FOR TRANSPORT. THAT INCLUDES SKALD. THEY HAVE PROVEN UNTRUSTWORTHY AND WILL BE TREATED ACCORDINGLY. LONG LIVE EMPEROR TITUS MEDE II!”

Skald protested, “You can’t treat me like this!”

“I can and will. Send a letter of protest to His Imperial Majesty if you so desire.”

Jod laughed. Skald looked shocked as his hands were bound.

As soon as Legate Rikke arrived, I left her in charge. Then we teleported to Castle Dour and made our way to General Tullius.

  • Wulf: General Tullius, The Pale is ours. We suffered no losses capturing Dawnstar. Skald and his cronies are in custody, and Legate Rikke is in charge.
  • Tullius: Taking The Pale gives us another port and puts us within striking distance of Windhelm. That should make Ulfric a bit more cautious, eh?
  • Sakiya: If Ulfric doesn’t see his doom by now, he never will.
  • Tullius: General, did you meet with Commander Maro?
  • Wulf: Yes, Emperor Titus Mede II is in danger. I will meet again with the Commander later today. In the meantime, which Hold is your next target?
  • Tullius: There is not much up there, but if we can regain Winterhold, our proximity to Windhelm should keep Ulfric wary.
  • Omoi: Wary? As Sakiya said, he never will if he hasn’t seen his doom yet.
  • Wulf: Where is the Winterhold camp?

General Tullius pointed to a place on the map that was relatively easy to reach.

  • Wulf: I think we should take Fort Fellhammer first thing. That will make our camp in Winterhold much safer.
  • Tullius: Legate Casius Varon and that mysterious Guardian General captured Fort Dunstad last month.
  • Wulf: I hope Casius is far out to sea right now. It would break his heart to see men who fought beside him killing each other.
  • Tullius: Is that why Casius and Yngol Storm-Blade danced around each other and never had a deadly fight?
  • Wulf: Both thought their side was right, but not with enough conviction to kill friends.
  • Tullius: That reluctance has been a problem for us. Some soldiers seem determined to defend The Empire until they see familiar faces opposing them across the battlefield. Court Marshalling them is counterproductive. Instead, we should place them in noncombat roles instead of wasting them due to a moral decision.
  • Wulf: The problem is that they weaken the force they are a part of. It would be better for all concerned if they could object to combat before they are on the front line and still contribute to the effort.
  • Sakiya: We saw how some Stormcloaks treat those who have moral qualms.
  • Wulf: We came upon the aftermath of a battle where Morthal guards were ambushed by Dawnstar guards, Stormcloaks and enslaved giants. Soldiers were placed on stakes and burnt.
  • Tullius: And you think they were Ulfric’s soldiers who refused to fight?
  • Wulf: That is our assumption.
  • Tullius: Brina Merilis will be an excellent Jarl. She climbed through Legion ranks in parallel with me. If she hadn’t retired, it could well be her you speak to around this table.
  • Wulf: We shall take Fort Fellhammer, then check with Commander Maro. We might not reach the Winterhold camp for a day or two, depending on his obtained information.
  • Tullius: Understood.

We teleported to Fort Dunstad.

Then I summoned Nafaalilargus.

He asked, “What are we doing now, Dovahkiin?”

“We are taking Fort Fellhammer.”

“There were no Stormcloak troops last time I flew over, but the bandit numbers were large.”

“Feel free to fry them when we attack.”

“Many civilians are gathered on the road that passes the fort. I think they are being asked to pay a toll.”

“Then we shall volunteer to pay it for them.”

Nafaalilargus laughed.

We were not far from Fort Dunstad when someone with a greatsword ran toward me. I signalled The Dragonguard to let him be. I wanted to see what he planned to do. I drew my sword as a precaution.

The person was of Imperial stock and looked non too pleased to see me.

He growled, “E had plans. You killed my men, took my fort and ruined those plans.”

“I have no idea who ‘E’ is, so I don’t give a toss about his plans. As for the slime that killed that family in Fort Dunstad, I had hoped we had slaughtered them all.”

The idiot swung his heavy and slow elven greatsword, which I knocked aside.

Then I cut across him twice, and he dropped dead.

I searched him and found the following note, which I read to The Dragonguard.

“We have found some Stormcloaks around the fort, but we won’t go away. There is a plan, you know.

We are waiting for you and your men.

E.”

  • Sakiya: When did you take Fort Dunstad.
  • Wulf: The 2nd of Hearthfire.
  • Sakiya: This person has waited for you to show up since then?
  • Wulf: I don’t know. But obviously, he was upset with Casius and me chopping up his men.
  • Sakiya: Lydia told us about how upset Rigmor was with the murdered family and how you blamed Ulfric.
  • Wulf: Lydia wasn’t with us that day, but she and Rigmor talked a lot.
  • Sakiya: Rigmor seemed to bond with Lydia more than the rest of us guarding her at Angi’s and the farm.
  • Wulf: That is due to Rigmor’s empathy. Once she learnt of Lydia losing Bjorn, she wanted to comfort her.
  • Omoi: Why did you blame Ulfric?
  • Wulf: The garrison abandoned Fort Dunstad when the locals started believing Ulfric’s lies and became hostile. The murdered family did not abandon their inn. Instead, they waited for The Empire’s soldiers to return or Stormcloaks to take up residence.
  • Omoi: Oh, and bandits took over instead of either army!
  • Wulf: I had no answer for Rigmor when she asked why the bandits murdered the family. It was a mother, father and girl about Olette’s age. I thought in a way that the bandits had been kinder than some. There was no evidence of rape.
  • Shouken: I wonder what plans this E person has?
  • Wulf: There is no use speculating. If E becomes a problem, we will deal with it.

We continued towards Fort Fellhammer and came upon a group of merchants and pilgrims who couldn’t proceed due to a toll being extorted by the fort’s occupants.

As we passed the bandits’ messenger, I quickly cut him down.

We entered the fort, and a bandit demanded, “What are you doing here? All tolls are to be paid to Geljof. Now leave before we fill you full of arrows!”

I replied, “Sorry, Geljof had an accident. My sword entered his back and came out of his chest. Very nasty it was!”

“Who are you?”

For a reply, I used a full-strength Unrelenting Force Shout.

The loudmouth bandit dropped dead. One of the other bandits flew high.

As Nafaalilargus flew over, he said, “I don’t think that one will enjoy his landing!”

In seconds we slaughtered the two dozen bandits outside the fort.

One of the pilgrims we saw earlier had followed us to into fort and joined the melee.

I asked her, “Where did you get the Komodo and straw hat?”

“From Akavir. By the way, I am Kud-Ei.”

“My apologies Kud-Ei. I am…”

“Wulf and these are The Dragonguard. I make it a habit to know the politics of the country I am visiting.”

“Are you on a religious pilgrimage?”

“No. I write travel guides, although I don’t think many will purchase the one on Akavir.”

“I have seen several people, Khajiiti mainly, wearing similar Komodo.”

“Yes, they are my colleagues. We travel independently for a while and then meet again to compare and compile notes.”

“It has been a pleasure to meet you, Kud-Ei. Now, if you don’t mind, we have to clear the vermin inside the fort.”

We entered the fort’s rich iron mine and quickly eliminated the few bandits hiding inside.

The rest of the fort was empty except for the officer’s headquarters.

Heat-Vision showed a lone figure, who I assumed to be the bandit leader, sitting at a desk.

I put my sword away and retrieved my musket from my journal case. It was not a foreign weapon to The Dragonguard as they had seen it used to devastating effect in Akavir by Tsaesci forces.

I aimed at the bandit leader and fired.

We entered the room to examine the damage.

  • Ishen: It is hard to tell, but I think he was once an Orsimer.
  • Omoi: When did you add the explosion? It is a bit brutal!
  • Wulf: A while ago. I am slowly perfecting the design. I can load a lot faster than the original Akaviri version.
  • Omoi: They never were a match for opposing longbows because of their reload time. Even crossbows are faster to reload.
  • Wulf: The projectile’s speed is much faster than any bow or crossbow. That makes it a superior weapon for long-distance kills.
  • Ishen: As long as your first shot does enough damage.
  • Wulf: Precisely, hence the addition of the explosion, which also annoys those standing close to the target.
  • Ishen: The manufacture and storage of Black Powder is also a problem.
  • Wulf: I am sure if such weapons became common, reasonably safe solutions would be found.
  • Omoi: Do you want such deadly weapons to become common?
  • Wulf: No, but if I can gain expertise in them before encountering an enemy equipped with them, I have more chance of surviving.
  • Omoi: I don’t suppose your test subjects ever complain.
  • Wulf: They die quickly.
  • Ishen: Yes, it is much better than an arrow to the belly.
  • Omoi: I have heard that an arrow to the knee is the scariest thing a Nord fears.
  • Wulf: What about an inn or tavern running out of mead?
  • Omoi: Okay, it is the second scariest thing a Nord fears.

We stepped outside and then teleported inside the Penitus Oculatus headquarters.

  • Maro: I wish you wouldn’t do that. My nerves are on edge as it is!
  • Wulf: Would you prefer people to see us entering and leaving these headquarters?
  • Maro: Point taken.
  • Wulf: Is there any progress?
  • Maro: Our agent had made a run for it. She most believe they suspect her and that her life is in great danger. You need to do two things. The first is to eliminate the agent they sent to meet with the client who wants His Imperial Majesty killed. He is inside Embershard Mine, waiting for further instructions. Our agent said in her last Dead Drop that he will have entered the mine with no information on the meeting location or name of the client. If he is not in Embershard Mine, he has received the information and is headed for the meeting with the client.
  • Sakiya: The assassins are rather paranoid now, aren’t they?
  • Wulf: I have always wanted an excuse to wipe out that nest of scum in Embershard Mine. They make the roads from Whiterun and Helgen to Riverwood hazardous.
  • Maro: After eliminating that assassin, you need to rescue our agent. She will be at our pre-designated haven, The Moorside Inn if she is still alive.
  • Wulf: That will be a solo mission since Morthal is now Stormcloak controlled. What is your agent’s name?
  • Maro: Alesla Ingmikdottir is her real name. She is known as Gislena Crow by The Dark Brotherhood. She must be kept alive as she may have vital information.
  • Wulf: She must be kept alive as an Imperial soldier stranded in enemy territory.
  • Maro: Yes, I did not mean to devalue her life.
  • Wulf: How safe is Alesla in The Moorside Inn?
  • Maro: Jonna, the innkeeper, is a Redguard loyal to The Empire. She knows The Empire is the only thing keeping The Dominion from Tamriel. Plus, we pay her a reasonable fee for local gossip, probably more than her inn earns. Too bad she didn’t get news of the Morthal coup before it happened!
  • Wulf: Is there a sign and countersign?
  • Maro: Yes, there is. Ask a question about mead, as in the drink. She will reply that the best mead is in Cyrodiil. You answer, ‘Yes, at The Foaming Flask.’
  • Wulf: Once we eliminate the assassin in Embershard Mine, they might suspect we are onto them and maybe go quiet. Let’s hope Alesla has information that allows us to continue our investigation.
  • Ishen: I assume we have the passphrase for their Dawnstar Sanctuary. Why don’t we attack that?
  • Wulf: After I wiped out their Falkreath Sanctuary, I doubt they are keeping all their eggs in one basket.
  • Maro: Their two senior members are rarely in the Dawnstar Sanctuary. We must eliminate them to stop the threat to our Emperor and his cousin.
  • Ishen: I get it. We don’t want them to run and hide somewhere unknown to other assassins. Like we Blades didn’t know where to find other Blades. Before attacking the sanctuary, we need to know where the two senior assassins are.
  • Wulf: Cicero has survived the destruction of several Sanctuaries. However, he now has the burden of being The Keeper. He can’t lug The Night Mother all over Skyrim and expect not to be found. Unlike Babette, his choice of hiding spots probably doesn’t include undead-infested tombs. I think he will be the easiest to find and eliminate.
  • Maro: Do you think Babette could reassemble The Dark Brotherhood if necessary?
  • Wulf: Without a Listener, Keeper and The Night Mother? No, she couldn’t.
  • Sakiya: Therefore, if we find where both Cicero and Babette are, we take down The Keeper first.
  • Wulf: It makes no difference if we can eliminate both within hours. There is too much speculation and not enough information at the moment to make such a choice.
  • Maro: How goes the war?
  • Wulf: We captured Dawnstar this morning. The opposition has been weak. Ulfric placed all his hopes on the taking of Whiterun, and the coups will only delay his demise by a day or two.
  • Maro: I hope we have The Dark Brotherhood in its death throws soon.

We teleported to Riverwood’s entrance, and I summoned Nafaalilargus, who scouted ahead as we approached Embershard Mine.

I eliminated several bandit sentries with Unrelenting Force.

Nafaalilargus roasted another couple.

We entered the mine and didn’t bother with stealth.

The Khajiiti assassin was earning his keep while with the bandits. He seemed oblivious to The Voice echoing throughout the mine.

I killed the assassin, and he had nothing of use on him.

We eliminated the rest of the bandits and exited the mine.

Sakiya teleported The Dragonguard to the Safe House. I cast Shroudwalk and teleported to Morthal’s entrance.

I went to Moorside Inn and followed Falion, the local mage, inside. That prevented a suspicious opening and closing of the entrance door.

It didn’t take long to find Alesla.

Still invisible, I whispered, “Is the mead served here any good?”

Alesla turned and, to her credit, did not panic at the disembodied voice. She replied, “Yes, but the best mead is in Cyrodiil.”

“Yes, at The Foaming Flask.”

“Thank goodness. Do you have anything handy to make me invisible on our trip to Dragon Bridge?”

“I have something even better. I am about to take your hand and place it on my shoulder. Leave it there, and don’t ask why. The quicker we leave, the better.”

“Ahh, okay. That doesn’t sound weird or anything.”

I placed Alesla’s hand on my shoulder and said, “Hold your breath!”

“Weird. Just weird.”

“Hold it!”

“Okay!”

As soon as Alesla held her breath, I teleported us inside the Penitus Oculatus headquarters.

A lone Dark Brotherhood assassin suddenly appeared, and Commander Maro drew his sword. A Penitus Oculatus agent drew his sword and approached Alesla. She was too shocked to say anything.

I used my Thu’um and said, “HOLD IT! MY FAULT AS I FORGOT I WAS INVISIBLE!”

I made myself visible and told Commander Maro, “It is Alesla!”

Commander Maro ordered his man to stand down, and we approached the frightened young woman.

  • Wulf: Sorry about that, Alesla.
  • Alesla: What the hell just happened, and who are you?
  • Wulf: I am Wulf, The Dragonborn. We teleported, and the dark and cold was the ethereal plane.
  • Alesla: Well, that is a tale to tell my grandchildren. That is if I ever stop being undercover long enough to have a real-life, nab a husband, and so on.
  • Wulf: We have eliminated the assassin in Embershard Mine, so we need to move quickly.
  • Maro: It is good to have you back, Alesla, but a friendlier chat must wait. Do you know where Cicero and Babette are?
  • Alesla: Cicero is with some bandits at Snowpoint Beacon. Babette is amongst the undead, vampires and necromancers at Shriekwind Bastion. And before you ask, Commander Maro, I have no idea who the client is or where he is to meet with an assassin.
  • Wulf: Did Astrid arrange this contract?
  • Alesla: Yes. There was a rumour that she wanted to recruit you to be the assassin.
  • Wulf: She did and why she thought I would agree to that is a mystery.
  • Alesla: I know she was trying to prove herself after the arrival of Cicero. He was undermining her authority. She looked at this contract as a way to prove who should lead The Dark Brotherhood.
  • Maro: A desperate gamble on Astrid’s part.
  • Wulf: I will gather a team of Dragonguard and head for Snowpoint Beacon. I had better ask Jo’rassa to be part of the squad.
  • Maro: Alesla, you knew Jo’rassa as Zava. She was another agent.
  • Alesla: I had no idea! Well, I suppose that was the idea. We got along quite well. I am glad she is alive.
  • Maro: Jo’rassa was a free agent and has now joined The Dragonguard.
  • Alesla: I can see the appeal of never doing undercover work again. It is not good for the nerves!
  • Wulf: How was your cover blown?
  • Alesla: I don’t know if it was. I know they started asking each apprentice many questions at odd times to trip us up. For example, they would suddenly ask questions in the middle of sparring or wake you in the middle of the night to ask them.
  • Maro: The information about Cicero and Babette was too crucial to trust to a dead drop.
  • Alesla: I agree, and that was the final deciding factor on my decision to run.
  • Maro: Alesla did not let us know she was compromised via a dead drop. She marked a particular tree near the sanctuary entrance.
  • Wulf: What is the passphrase for Dawnstar Sanctuary?
  • Alesla: The door will ask, ‘What is life’s greatest illusion?’ The passphrase is, ‘Innocence, my brother.’
  • Wulf: Well, I am glad to have brought you home safely, Alesla, and I will return with good news in a few hours. Snowpoint Beacon should be easy, while Shriekwind Bastion will be more formidable. I will hunt Babette first.

I teleported to the Safe House and gathered my team of Celestine, Inigo, Kharjo, Jo’rassa and Daenlyn, and then I quickly explained our mission.

  • Wulf: We are hunting two senior members of The Dark Brotherhood. Cicero, The Keeper, and Babette, a vampire child. Cicero is hiding in Snowpoint Beacon. Babette is hiding in Shriekwind Bastion.
  • Inigo: We should all be snoring and dreaming, my friend. Revisiting Snowpoint Beacon is not appealing.
  • Jo’rassa: Speak for yourself! Ending The Dark Brotherhood is worth losing some beauty sleep, even though you could do with lots of that.
  • Kharjo: Khajiit thinks you two are like rabbits when given a chance. Your insults are like an old married couple.
  • Daenlyn: Like rabbits?
  • Celestine: Why do you think there are so many baby rabbits, Daenlyn?
  • Daenlyn: Oh, I see. Well, that is understandable in a new relationship.
  • Jo’rassa: A rekindled relationship. Inigo used me and abandoned me, didn’t you, my dear?
  • Inigo: We have discussed that at length, and I thought we came to an understanding.
  • Jo’rassa: We did, my dear Inigo. But I like to see you squirm. It is highly entertaining!
  • Wulf: If you bunnies have finished, I would like to get going. We will be dispensing with Babette first.
  • Celestine: How are we getting to Shriekwind Bastion?
  • Wulf: I will teleport us to the entrance of Falkreath Sanctuary, which is now a Penitus Oculatus outpost. We shall walk to Shriekwind Bastion from there.
  • Inigo: That place has an odd name!
  • Daenlyn: The first vampire was a Nedic maiden named Lamae Beolfag. She became Lamae Bal after Molag Bal raped her to make her a Daughter of Coldharbour. The virginal Lamae screamed in terror and pain. Folklore claims her screams still haunt parts of Tamriel. One such place is Shriekwind Bastion.
  • Inigo: Wow, Wulf always takes us to the most excellent places!
  • Wulf: No stealth when we get inside. Heat-Vision is useless when hunting vampires, anyway.
  • Celestine: It is always amusing when vampires realise their Blood-Magic does not affect you.
  • Wulf: They have the same stunned expression as mages when I laugh off their best spell.

I teleported us to the entrance of Falkreath Sanctuary and used Night-Vision.

The sentry on duty did not see us materialise but heard us.

I said, “Don’t be alarmed. It is The Dragonborn and Dragonguard.

He replied, “Thank Kynareth for that! I was about to shriek and probably soil myself.”

“How are you enjoying your new premises.”

“It is better since we removed the corpses, shrines, torture equipment and victim trophies.”

I summoned Nafaalilargus, who commenced scouting duties again.

As we closed in on Shriekwind Bastion, Nafaalilargus said, “There are plenty of enemy sentries. This fight will be fun!”

What followed was a long-distance battle of spell, arrow and Thu’um.

We reached the entrance and entered.

We encountered and eliminated dozens of vampires, their thralls, Necromancers, Skeletal Warriors and Skeletal Mages.

We entered a corridor, and Babette stood, unafraid. I signalled The Dragonguard, and we sheathed our weapons.

I stepped closer to Babette and studied her soul. There was no sign of the little girl she once was.

Babette smiled and said, “I’m just a little girl! The Dark Brotherhood killed my mama and papa, taking me captive! Please, please help me! Rather convincing, don’t you think? But you know I’m no longer a little girl. I was once, of course. Three hundred years ago. Vampirism tends to keep one remarkably… fresh.”

“You are not going to fight for your life?”

“Unlike Astrid, I did some research on you. My best survival chance is not to fight back and offer myself as a prisoner.”

“I have no compulsion to kill somebody simply for what they are. But I am Ningheim. Do you know what that means?”

“You can read the soul of others amongst other things. So, what is your judgement?”

“I am surprised you know that.”

“I managed to fit in a lot of reading between contracts.”

“I judge that your soul is as dark as any I have encountered, and there is no hope of redemption. Do you still believe in Sithis?”

“For more than two hundred years, I would have lain down my life for the Unholy Matron. But then Astrid became my matron. Cicero and the new Listener have shown me my errors, so I am Sithis’ and the Unholy Matron’s once more.”

“But Sithis cannot claim your soul. Sithis can’t claim anybody’s soul. It is a strange religion where no afterlife with your deity is on offer.”

“Molag Bal owns my soul, and I hope he looks upon me with favour. But death is our reward, Dragonborn, even if mine is slightly delayed.”

“The Void is a boring place, Babette. Coldharbour is not bad as Molag Bal has replicated much of what he once enjoyed on Nirn. He has even dragged entire towns and villages there.”

“I will soon find out, and to tell the truth, I am weary of this forced disguise. I was ten when the vampire took me. Old enough to start dreaming of marriage and children, and those normal things denied me. I also had years of childhood play and innocence stolen. Perhaps if I were a bit older, I might have chosen to be a kinder vampire who learns to live amongst mortals. But I was a ten-year-old with a child’s temper that was denied what she wanted and forced to do something she hated. Once I started down the dark path, it became my substitute for my lost childhood dreams and innocence. I convinced myself I enjoyed it and no longer yearned for what was stolen. Too late, I realised I had deceived myself. I took pride in removing many males who also stole children’s dreams to sate their lust. I was trying to convince myself that some murders were justifiable. I never understood why so many mortals said sorry in their final moments. At least that is another mystery solved. Now I know that everybody has regrets when their time on the mortal plane is ending, so in that sense, I am like the mortals I fed upon.”

“I take no pleasure in ending lives, Babette. But I must protect the innocent from those who would harm them.”

“I understand, Dragonborn. I know you cannot let me exist, for I am beyond redemption.”

I drew my sword and looked into Babette’s eyes. I never knew vampires could cry till that moment.

I plunged my sword into her chest, and her soul fled her body.

I turned Babette’s corpse over. What lay there was the little girl of three hundred years ago. I felt compelled to perform Arkay’s Rights but didn’t. Her soul was either in The Void or Coldharbour and was beyond Lord Arkay’s protection. That was one of the aims of Molag Bal. He wanted to torment Lord Arkay.

I did not want to discuss what happened and signalled The Dragonguard to follow.

We encountered more enemies as we sought the exit I knew existed. There were three entrances into Shriekwind Bastion.