Loredas, 8th Sun’s Dusk, 4E 201
& Sundas, 9th Sun’s Dusk, 4E 201
I looked down at the child’s face. She was of Reachman stock and bore the tattoos of her heritage. Her corpse lay atop that of a Thalmor soldier, the ground covered in blood.
Dozens of dead Thalmor and Skyrim citizens surrounded the little girl and provided the ocean of red. Everything else in the room was a blur as my eyes were drawn to somebody’s daughter of nine or ten years of age.
A noble woman was looking at the little girl. I doubt it was her mother as the child was dressed in well-worn furs of a hunter, whilst the woman wore finery denoting high nobility.
Dragonguard were in the room, but I could not focus on which ones. It was utterly silent, so I did not hear if they spoke.
A Shrine of Talos before a large statue of Father drew my attention, and I approached it.
It was spattered with blood!”
I woke crying and sat upright in bed. Rigmor spoke via our amulets.
“Wulf, who is that little girl?”
“You saw it?”
“I saw the scene through your eyes. What is going on?”
“I don’t know the little girl. Perhaps there is some residual effect from being close to The Skull of Corruption?”
“Dream or premonition?”
“It was not a dream.”
“Our connection via the amulets is getting stronger. Your emotions would have startled me awake even without sharing your vision.”
“Remember, my beloved, premonitions are only possibilities.”
“Sure, but that scenario scares you. You fear you could lose control.”
“There is no use speculating or trying to avoid a possible situation. Remember, my premonition about the girl running through the wheat was slightly different than yours.”
“Meaning, as you said, premonitions are only possibilities. You know children die violent deaths, and you will inevitably face the aftermath.”
“What if I let the little girl down? What then, my beloved?”
“Then I would remind you for the millionth time that you are not omnipotent.”
“And I have told you a billion times not to exaggerate!”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I can’t ignore it. I will visit The Temple of The Divines in Solitude and see if they know where that temple is. A giant statue of Father doesn’t simply appear. It would have taken great effort to construct it.”
“And if they know nothing?”
“Then I will try The Temple of Talos in Windhelm and then The Temple of Mara in Riften and maybe even ask the Sybil in Markarth.”
“You could ask your father.”
“I prefer to try mortals before running off to a god.”
“You can be pedantic sometimes. Join your friends and stuff your face with bacon and eggs!”
“Yes, my Countess. Bacon cures all!”
After a shower and spa, I sat opposite Brother Erandur for the morning meal. I answered many questions and think he will readily adapt to our idiosyncrasies.
I gathered my housecarls and Celestine, who would be today’s squad.
We then teleported to the dig site.
Bashita was talking to Olette when we arrived. Olette ran to Lydia, hugged her and then ran off into the long grass, a spade and roll of toiletry paper in hand.
“Good morning, Bashita. Where are the guild members?”
“They have made a second camp in the valley. Jin is with them.”
“Did you clear that granite column?”
“Yes, early this morning, we removed the final rubble. Kyre was more than impressed by how rapidly our technique worked. The only wildlife I think you will encounter is Ice Wraiths. They seem to have killed the carnivores.”
“We shall remove the Ice Wraiths and see how far we can go. I doubt we are through to the other side.”
“Three of us, plus Meeko, will guard this camp. The dragons and Jin will guard the second camp.”
“Okay. Perhaps today, Olette and I can do the rounds of the Holds like planned.”
“She wants to join them at the second camp. I said I would take her there later.”
“When she returns, tell her to wait here for now.”
We quickly made our way to the valley.
I told Professor Marassi, “We shall now clear the wildlife and scout for progress.”
“Good to hear. Let me know when it is safe to go back in.”
The shadows cast by the mountains reduced the valley’s temperature. A large firepit was a popular location with the guild members.
- Wulf: Good morning, Latoria, Madras and Kyre.
- Madras: Olette said you were busy saving the residents of Dawnstar.
- Wulf: Vaermina’s relic, The Skull of Corruption, was causing mortals within miles to experience night terrors. Some people did not survive their slumber.
- Latoria: Olette also said Mother Cat asked Guild Master to help a priest.
- Wulf: Lady Mara wanted me to assist Brother Erandur. He has since joined my household.
- Latoria: Kreindeinvith was pleased to speak to this one in Ta’agra. Khajiit told him this passage would be much used by Khajiiti traders and might even be on a Moonpath. That made the scaly one laugh, which was like a happy avalanche.
- Wulf: A happy avalanche? But yes, it will be very popular as an alternate route out of Skyrim.
- Latoria: It is much colder in this valley compared to the south side of the pass. Latoria does not like the cold.
- Wulf: If you were desert born, you would be used to the cold.
- Latoria: Yes, but this one was born and raised in the jungles of Elsweyr and did not experience cold until arriving in Skyrim.
- Madras: Stop complaining and buy some furs before our subsequent excavation.
- Latoria: Khajiit was making an observation, not complaining.
- Kyre: These two might have to be sent to their naughty corners, Guild Master.
- Latoria: Goggle head is still sore that one fell for the prank.
- Madras: I still find it hard to get enthused about lots of rocks and dirt. However, we did find some interesting plaques yesterday and a few ancient Nordic weapons.
- Wulf: Kyre, I hear you are impressed with mage excavation techniques.
- Kyre: Indeed, the speed of progress was astounding. The granite cracks followed internal weaknesses that were not visible, making planning impossible. Therefore, there will always be places where slow and steady the old-fashioned way will be required. I am constantly judging how to proceed to maintain structural integrity.
- Wulf: We shall clear the wildlife as rapidly as we can. I can see Madras is keen to get more dirt under his fingernails.
- Madras: It is the dirt that finds its way into cracks made of flesh that annoys me, Guild Master.
- Wulf: You can walk up our pathway and use the ample bathing facilities in Silverpeak Lodge.
- Latoria: Madras helped install the baths and showers. That does mean knowledge of their use is in place.
- Madras: I bathe more often than your fleas!
- Latoria: Latoria is kind and warns them to find high ground before bathing.
I left the two friends to their friendly bickering and walked to Auryen.
“Good morning, Auryen.”
“And a good morning to you, Guild Master.”
“Well, what do you think of the ring and necklace?”
“I found historical references to them. They are, indeed, relics of Jurgen Windcaller.”
“Good. Once our artisans have made replicas, I will give them to The Greybeards.”
“I heard you mention The Skull of Corruption.”
“I can draw a detailed sketch for the artisans. The original was placed somewhere in Aetherius by Lady Mara.”
“That is probably for the best. It is one of the more sinister Daedric relics.”
“I did recover a pristine Mask of Terror.”
“Oh my, they are hard to find in any condition!”
“Are you enjoying the excavation?”
“Well, field research has never suited me, but I’ll manage. There are a great many interesting things to take in. And those Jurgen plaques are fascinating.”
“They are stupid! Somebody took the time to make those emblems but didn’t clear the wildlife from the pass.”
“Oh, yes, there is that anomaly. But I am intrigued by the two that call the place a temple.”
“Jurgen was a Tongue, yet there are no tributes to Kyne. Every single carving is of Alduin slash Akatosh.”
“Yes, like I said, fascinating.”
“Whatever keeps you amused, Ancient One.”
“Very droll. Don’t you have some nasties to remove, Guild Master?”
I laughed as I gathered my squad and headed for the entrance.
We entered and walked rapidly towards the cleared column.
As we walked, I described the premonition to my friends. We stopped to discuss it when we reached where I had killed the three trolls the previous day.
- Lydia: Do you think it is a hidden temple?
- Wulf: I hope not, for there is no need. Neither a shrine, statue or amulet is needed to pray to any of The Nine. They can pray to Father anytime, anyplace.
- Celestine: The Thalmor pay snitches well. Even though they say a Skyrim citizen has to report Talos worshippers, they know that gold bounties ensure some will.
- Wulf: The Thalmor have not removed the shrine I placed in Solitude’s The Temple of The Divines. They have not demanded the removal of Father’s statue in Whiterun or any other Hold. There are statues of Talos dotted all over Skyrim.
- Lydia: But you were attacked by Thalmor when you placed High King Torygg’s warhorn at a shrine.
- Wulf: Yes, and that is why a hidden temple is a bad idea. People would need to be told where it is. Inevitably, the wrong person will obtain that information and sell it to The Thalmor.
- Iona: Perhaps your premonition is showing you that exact outcome?
- Wulf: Maybe, but we are guessing until I find out more.
- Lydia: Olette will understand if you can’t visit the Holds yet.
- Wulf: I will tell her that I will investigate first, and if I don’t find any leads, we will do the visiting.
We could hear wolves, so we proceeded with weapons at the ready.
Unrelenting Force killed the wolves, and we continued.
We came upon trolls killed by Ice Wraiths.
We discovered a rockfall blocking access to the next part of the pass.
Continuing our sweep of the many small caverns led us to another emblem.
I read it to the group.
“Those to your left are made of ice. They do not fear those to your right.”
- Lydia: These emblems are at the top of the stupid scale!
- Wulf: I agree. Why not just give a clear warning? Why not dispose of the dangerous creatures?
- Celestine: Ice Wraiths are not a long-lived species. How many generations have lived here since the emblem was made?
- Wulf: I suppose if their makers were devotees of Jurgen Windcaller’s bullshit, this is as smart as they get.
- Iona: I am sure Auryen et-all will have wet dreams over this historically significant idiocy.
- Wulf: Let us move away before I can no longer resist and reduce it to pebbles.
More trolls had fallen victim to Ice Wraiths. I wondered about the ecosystem. Was it self-sustaining till we came along?
We destroyed over a dozen Ice Wraiths.
When we were sure all creatures had been nullified, we teleported to the valley.
I told Professor Marassi, “All the creatures are dead. A rockfall blocks progress.”
“Good, we will head back in then. Kyre will look and decide if we can utilise the mages to remove the rockfall.’
“I will check your progress tomorrow.”
As the Guild Members headed into the pass, Iona and Jordis conversed with Eriana.
Lydia and Celestine pulled me aside in a planned ambush.
- Celestine: Wulf, we need to talk.
- Wulf: I hope Olette is not too disappointed.
- Celestine: You are trying to digress. I wouldn’t mention the premonition. If you do, I suggest leaving out the dead child bit. Olette is a remarkedly astute young lady and will understand you must follow your instincts.
- Lydia: Olette fears for you, Wulf. Not physically but mentally. She has seen her share of darkness and knows the toll it can take.
- Wulf: Indeed, she has expressed that fear to me. I think she and Rigmor have spoken in depth about my internal battle with my Dovah. Perhaps I am wrong to think I have it under control.
- Celestine: You deride The Way of The Voice, but it has helped Paarthurnax control his base instincts.
- Wulf: In all honesty, Rigmor is the key to control mine. The longer we are apart, the more difficult I find dealing with violence and death.
- Lydia: Unfortunately, you cannot always plan the timing of your tasks.
- Wulf: I can never plan the timing of my tasks. Unless I isolate myself, I inevitably get dragged into chaos.
- Lydia: And that means Rigmor can’t plan her schedule. It can’t be easy running Bruma County!
- Wulf: Millions of people rely on Rigmor. It is a burden she has grown into. We sometimes forget she is still eighteen years of age.
- Celestine: And you are only twenty-two. Rigmor needs to delegate. That would mean expanding the number of advisors she has. Unfortunately, that would create even more of a problem if you were to hide your relationship.
- Wulf: I think it would be manageable if Rigmor restricted her time in the throne room. As a family member, she can legally give proxy control to her mother. She cannot give such control to Malesam or Freathof.
- Lydia: Rigmor worries about burdening Sigunn with such responsibility.
- Wulf: Precisely. Plus, Rigmor being away more often would lead to questions from Freathof and Malesam. We have already asked Sigunn to deceive them occasionally. We could not ask for further deception.
- Celestine: I think you are going to have to trust Malesam.
- Wulf: Bah, this is all hypothetical! At the moment, I am coping, and I know what concerns you.
- Celestine: A dead child, Wulf. If Vaermina were to concoct the worst possible night terror, that would be part of it.
- Wulf: Let us see if my premonition leads anywhere.
- Lydia: You know it will. You also know all of us will help.
- Celestine: And we understand why you are reluctant to speak to Lord Talos.
- Wulf: I have questions that need answers, and he won’t give them. I find it difficult to speak to him about anything else whilst those questions permeate my thoughts.
- Lydia: You are Wulf, and it doesn’t matter how you came to be the person you are.
- Wulf: If there was a clear winner in the nature versus nurture debate, I might agree.
- Celestine: If Tiber Septim made decisions you deem unethical, do you have a right to judge him harshly? He managed to unite many countries under one banner, often through diplomacy. He might have planned his ascension with The Divines to strengthen Mundus. That added strength is the basis of Thalmor hatred.
- Wulf: Don’t you think I have had this debate with myself countless times? If Father told me what he did, I could hear his reasoning and then make an informed judgement. Instead, I wonder who he is and what I am.
- Celestine: Would Saint Alessia fall in love with somebody of questionable morals?
- Wulf: Mother allowed Pelinal Whitestrake to rampage in his madness. Many of the Mer who fell to his insanity were innocents. He even killed many Khajiiti simply because he thought they were Mer. Mother was not opposed to collateral damage to obtain her goal.
- Celestine: And once again, you must judge according to circumstance and not from a moral platform guaranteed to find offence.
- Lydia: Give your parents the same understanding you gave Miraak, Brother Erandur and many others.
- Wulf: Sometimes, I feel like a recalcitrant teenager who refuses to listen to parental advice.
- Celestine: Unfortunately, we can’t send you to your room or withhold your stipend.
- Wulf: If Inigo were here, he would be worse than you two. I can only imagine the stress his parents experienced trying to teach him wisdom. He has learnt from them the art of nagging.
- Celestine: I think Wulf just accused us of nagging!
- Lydia: Lucky we love him, or that might be deemed offensive.
- Celestine: We must allow for his tender years.
- Wulf: Come on, let’s tell Olette what is happening.
We teleported to the base camp.
The others gave Olette and me some privacy.
“Cap’n, I can read your body language and face. Something else is going to delay our visits to the Holds.”
“It might be nothing, but I had a premonition that The Thalmor killed many Talos worshippers. I have to investigate.”
“Yes, of course, you do. We shall visit the Holds whenever. I can handle that, Cap’n. Did you think I would be upset?”
“No, I knew you would understand.”
“Then it is something in the premonition that worries you, and you think it would worry me.”
“Ahh, Olette, you figure things out so quickly it is scary.”
“My instincts were honed on the streets of Riften. You know that.”
“In my premonition, I saw the body of a young girl around your age, surrounded by many corpses of Thalmor and Skyrim citizens. I do not know the circumstances of her death.”
“Yet you automatically feel guilt for a death you haven’t yet seen.”
“Guilt would be in abundance if I could have prevented her death. However, that is something I can handle. The subsequent melancholy would eventually fade.”
“But you fear a rage that you can’t handle.”
“Rigmor told me that even when your Dovah was at the fore, your compassion made you cry when she told you of her family’s arrest, Ragnar’s death and her enslavement. You will always be Wulf, even when enraged.”
“A Wulf capable of violence without pity.”
“Rigmor did not need a Dovah to take control of her when she slaughtered all those people in Bruma’s Dominion Embassy.”
“Rigmor told you about that?”
“Rigmor used it as an example of what mortals can do when fighting the darkness. She told me she had tried to get that lesson into your thick head.”
“That sounds like my Rigmor.”
“Please, Cap’n, don’t be afraid of who you are or judge yourself harshly.”
“I am talking to a famous ancient guru sitting on top of a mountain, not my adopted child.”
“And as I have said before, I am still a child.”
“If I ruffle your hair as I say goodbye, you won’t bite me, will you?”
“I can’t promise. I am a bit like a housecat who offers their belly for a rub when it comes to hair ruffling.”
I took the safer option and hugged Olette tight before gathering The Dragonguard and teleporting us inside Proudspire Manor.
Lydia asked, “How did Olette take the news?”
“I sometimes see an adult, not the young girl I once knew.”
“She hasn’t changed, Wulf. But in Solitude, she could be a child. You need more children in Silverpeak Lodge.”
“It is one of those plans that has been put on hold.”
“The Dragonguard can handle some problems without you, Wulf. Delegate and do the things you want to do.”
“I know, Lydia, and will try to do so.”
The streets of Solitude were surprisingly quiet.
However, there was still an abundance of children playing in the streets.
We entered The Temple of The Divines and were immediately greeted by Priestess Freir.
“Blessings of The Nine upon you. Can I help you, Wulf?”
“Yes, Priestess Freir, I wonder if you know of any hidden temples where Talos worshippers congregate.”
“There is one that has emerged only recently. Priestess Silana may be of some help. She discovered one of our regular attendees placing notices concerning the temple at Talos’ shrine.”
“Thank you. I shall speak to Priestess Silana.”
“Wulf, have you heard anything about missing Priests of Talos?”
“No. Who is missing and how long?”
“We have several travelling priests and priestesses who wander Skyrim encouraging those who are scared of Thalmor interference to continue their worship of Talos. The Temple of Talos in Windhelm has the same. There are also Priests and Priestesses of Talos in many villages and Holds who conduct sermons in defiance of The White Gold Concordat. Heimskr in Whiterun is one I am sure you are familiar with.”
“And some of these Talos clergy have vanished?”
“Yes, quite a few. We assume The Thalmor gathered them in a series of covert raids. We have found no witnesses to their arrests, and there are no reports of Thalmor exiting Holds and villages with detained clergy. My husband has travelled to Windhelm to speak to High Priest Lortheim about the problem.”
“Over how long a period did the disappearances occur?”
“From what we can gather, in less than a fortnight, over two dozen Priests and Priestesses of Talos have gone missing.”
“Nobody within the temples has vanished?”
“No, only those vulnerable outside of the temples.”
“Are you concerned for High Priest Rorlund?”
“A little. Rorlund travels with several Legionnaires and a writ of passage from High Queen Elisif. Even The Thalmor, if they are behind this, would not risk the diplomatic fallout of arresting my husband. Well, that is what I tell myself.”
“Do we know if other provinces have the same issue?”
“It takes weeks for correspondence to travel to and from the temples in Cyrodiil and High Rock. Therefore, we don’t know how widespread the problem is.”
“Okay, I shall make enquiries.”
“Do you think the hidden temple and missing clergy are related?”
“I don’t have enough information to make that judgement.”
“Okay. I wonder why The Divines have not asked you to investigate.”
“They might be unaware of the problem. Remember, they are not omnipotent. However, they would listen to a prayer for help. That would make them aware.”
“I was hesitant to do so, but as the numbers of reported missing increase, it seems a prudent next step.”
“I can assure you, if The Divines think there is a problem, they will not hesitate to contact me.”
Priestess Freir’s usual smile was missing as I walked toward Priestess Silana.
The young priestess is full of compassion. She was deep in prayer, and it took several seconds before she realised we were there. I think she would be more suited as a dedicated Priestess of Kynareth.
She turned and looked somewhat embarrassed.
- Silana: Oh, sorry Wulf. How long have you been standing there?
- Wulf: Relax, Silana. I would not interfere with somebody’s prayers, even if I had to twiddle my thumbs for hours. We have only been waiting a few seconds.
- Silana: Can I assist you in any way?
- Wulf: Priestess Frier said you might know something about a hidden Temple of Talos.
- Silana: Indeed, a regular attendee of ours, Sulvkum Jargeldson, placed several of these notes next to Talos’ shrine.
Silana handed me a note which I read out loud, “If you seek to fill the void, then go to Widow’s Watch, where we mourn the death of the divine.”
- Celestine: What a gift for The Thalmor!
- Wulf: Priestess Silana, did you advise Sulvkum how unwise this is?
- Silana: Yes, and I asked him why he thought a secret temple was needed. He said the Priests and Priestesses of Talos were vanishing, and he feared I and the others in this temple would be next. He thought the only way to be safe was to use the hidden temple.
- Lydia: They are gathering in one spot, away from the eyes of the general population. That is the opposite of safe.
- Wulf: Do you know the clergy at Widow’s Watch?
- Silana: There is only one Priestess of Talos in attendance, an Altmer named Arilwaen. I have sent a message to one of our agents in The White-Gold Tower for confirmation of her status. Our records were once kept in The Great Temple of Talos in Bruma but were wisely moved and hidden when The White-Gold Concordat was enacted. Even new clergy have their records delivered to the tower.
- Wulf: I am sure the Countess of Bruma desires to restore the chapel’s name. However, that would not be politically wise at this time.
- Celestine: Did Sulvkum say where else he placed the notes?
- Silana: He placed some inside the Shrine of Talos in Markarth. He also paid the manager of The Silver-Blood Inn to distribute them. He said several people are distributing the notes around Skyrim.
- Iona: This is insane! It sounds like a poorly thought-out plot by The Thalmor. Who would fall for such idiocy?
- Wulf: People whose Priest or Priestess of Talos has mysteriously disappeared. I would not call them idiots, Iona. They are ordinary people who want to worship The Ninth Divine under the guidance of the clergy.
- Iona: I apologise for my hasty words.
- Jordis: If this is a Thalmor plot, they would know devotees of Talos would walk into the trap.
- Celestine: Priestess Silana, was Widow’s Watch a place of worship in the past?
- Silana: I looked in our records where every consecrated shrine of The Divines is listed. Widow’s Watch is an ancient watchtower used extensively during The Great War. A large field hospital was erected nearby where wounded from the war were treated. It would have been better to call it a hospice, for few sent there survived. That is how the watchtower got its name. Imperial troops built a Shrine of Talos within the tower’s basement to cater for those treating and visiting the wounded.
- Wulf: I really must have a look through this temple’s library when I get the chance.
- Silana: Do you think the missing clergy and this hidden temple are part of a plot?
- Wulf: Well, it sounds likely, but I need to investigate further.
- Silana: The Thalmor take the local clergy and allow the creation of this hidden temple for what purpose? Do they intend to arrest a large number of worshippers?
- Wulf: Anything I say would be speculative. As I said, I need to investigate further. Widow’s Watch is marked on my map. It is close to Fort Hraggstad and won’t take us long to get there.
- Silana: Wulf, if you see Sulvkum, please try and talk some sense into him.
- Wulf: I will Priestess Silana.
- Celestine: We are about to vanish, Priestess Silana. Don’t be startled or worried.
- Silana: Thank you for the warning, Celestine. The first time I saw Wulf do it, I almost wet myself!
People are also startled when we suddenly appear out of the ether. That is why I usually teleport into my houses or the outskirts of villages and cities. We appeared in the middle of Fort Hraggstad, and many Legionnaires drew their weapons. Then a captain recognised me, and they laughed as they sheathed their weapons.
The captain said, “General Welkynd, be careful. Many upset bandits want their fort returned. I have no idea where they are breeding, but they attack our patrols and die regularly.”
I thanked the captain for the warning, and we exited the fort. We did not have to go far before meeting some displaced bandits attacking a patrol. One of them was rude and shot Celestine in the back. Luckily, her kimono provides far more protection than full-plate armour.
Celestine offered choice swear words to the gods before she started making the rude bandits regret their error.
We soon disposed of a dozen bandits but not before a Legionnaire was severely wounded. I cast Grand Healing on him and then Celestine.
The Legion Patrol continued on their journey home. We continued towards Widow’s Watch.
When we arrived at the watchtower, we discovered an unlocked trapdoor we assumed led to the basement and temple. I placed a Mark in case we had to return later.
We opened the trapdoor and climbed down a ladder. Where they expected a table with a small Shrine of Talos, my friends were astounded to find a large temple. It was what I saw in my premonition. There was a nine-foot-tall statue of Father and many pews. The current congregation was small and nowhere near the number of dead civilians I saw in my premonition. To my relief, there were no children present.
Priestess Arilwaen was kneeling before the shrine and must have heard us enter. A suspicious person would think her sermon was aimed directly at me.
She intoned, “They say when Talos is removed, the dragon will be unbound. Gone will be the world of mortals and the curse of linear time. Thousands of worlds will spill across the ether, vast and weightless. All that ever is and never was will be brought to a state of infinite harmony. But there are other, softer voices. Tiny little murmurs you have to strain to hear. They ask, ‘What is the price of this pursuit?’”
When we were almost upon her, she stood and turned to face us. I noticed I was at the precise location where I saw the dead child in my premonition. She stared at me and said, “They are the voices I beg you to hear. For when we gain our divinity, we lose ourselves.”
When close enough, I scanned Arilwaen’s soul. It was devoid of darkness. What stood before me was an Altmer opposed to The Thalmor’s impossible plan. She was not part of their plot if there is one.
Lydia whispered, “There are several Stormcloaks in here!” I nodded, for I had noticed them as well.
- Wulf: Priestess Arilwaen, I am…
- Arilwaen: You are Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divines. Your friends are some of the famous Dragonguard. You have been another voice, not one of the whispers, but the loudest one on Nirn that defends Lord Talos against blasphemy. As such, you are more than welcome within this temple.
- Wulf: Please, Priestess, tell me how you think removing the worship of Talos will end linear time.
- Celestine: Wulf, are you going to discuss metaphysics or get on with the task?
- Wulf: Both.
- Celestine: This could be a long day!
- Arilwaen: When you see Talos standing over the serpent, it is uncoiled. That represents linear time. Removing Talos would allow Lorkhan to swim freely.
- Wulf: That is a different interpretation of The Thalmor idiocy. However, I am not here to discuss the impossibility of zero-summing Lord Talos but the danger this pursuit of theirs presents to all Talos worshippers, including those you foolishly gather here.
- Arilwaen: Do you agree that Thalmor opposition to Talos has nothing to do with his divine status?
- Wulf: There is much evidence for Lord Talos’ divinity. Only by suppressing history can The Thalmor hope to convince people of their claim. On a recent visit to their embassy, I collected a few dossiers. They have proven to be fascinating reading. They had one on my museum in Solitude stating they would demand the removal of anything supporting Lord Talos’ divine status. If they entered and tried, they would find little enthusiasm for that idea from the authorities and swords at their throats. One thing they can’t hide is the healing of diseases that, like the shrines of the other eight Divines, is accomplished by a Shrine of Talos. But yes, I know their reasons for opposing Talos, and they know he is a Divine.
- Arilwaen: I would be interested in hearing your interpretation of Lord Talos and the serpent.
- Wulf: Perhaps when we have time and accompanied by wine and cheese. That is always the best accompaniment to such complex discussions.
- Arilwaen: Your companion mentioned a task.
- Wulf: We shall get to that in time. Celestine has lived hundreds of years and can afford to be patient for a few minutes.
- Celestine: I will set alight to your underwear if you dare call me old!
- Wulf: I was going to use the term ancient. Is my underwear safe?
- Arilwaen: You undoubtedly have questions. Please, feel free to ask them.
- Wulf: Priestess Arilwaen, do not be upset if I correct misconceptions.
- Arilwaen: I suspect you know more about Lord Talos than any other mortal, so I can’t logically be angry at any corrections you make. They would aid my understanding of the god I worship.
- Wulf: Why are you gathering Lord Talos devotees here?
- Arilwaen: I shepherd pilgrims here so they can pray to Talos and give him strength.
- Wulf: You don’t require a statue, amulet, shrine or temple to pray to any of The Nine. Consecrated temples and shrines allow the power of The Divines to interact with mortals. That is why the only place a Sybil can communicate with Lady Dibella is within a Temple of Dibella. That is why the Priests and Priestesses of Lady Mara only receive instruction from within her temples. Temples provide a place of refuge and comfort, another advantage over private, solo prayers. As long as a single mortal remembers Lord Talos, his strength will never waver. A billion worshippers will not make him stronger than a single worshipper. A single person remembering his existence would maintain his current strength. That is why The Thalmor plan will never work. To remove all traces of Talos, they must think of him. Hence, he cannot be zero-summed.
- Lydia: Wulf told the people of Windhelm that Lord Talos exists within our hearts. He did that when flying atop a huge dragon, and all the news sheets reported it.
- Arilwaen: Wulf, you would know that the metaphysics of The Divines is not discussed during our training. We are left to pursue such knowledge if we desire it.
- Wulf: Many versions of Tiber Septim’s life and ascension are in print. The metaphysics of his ascension will be beyond mortal comprehension and anything written is speculation. The Thalmor plan to remove Talos from existence is speculation turned into a fruitless endeavour. All they have accomplished is the deaths and incarceration of innocents. The Dominion would be far better using their resources for the betterment of their citizens, not the persecution of Talos worshippers.
- Arilwaen: You claim to speak to him. Have you asked for a valid version of his life and ascension?
- Wulf: I speak to him often, but his ascension is a banned topic. Please, let us leave that discussion for another time.
- Arilwaen: Explain the danger you mentioned.
- Wulf: I suspect the disappearance of Talos’ clergy is part of a plot to increase the number of visitors to this temple so a single raid can eliminate many ‘heretics’.
- Arilwaen: What do you know of the missing clergy?
- Wulf: I know they have vanished without witnesses to their fates.
- Arilwaen: Thalmor Wizards have trapped their souls in Black Soul Gems. Their mortal bodies are reduced to ash and swept away.
- Celestine: That would explain the lack of witnesses.
- Arilwaen: When a spirit is confined to a soul gem, its connection to Aetherius is severed. That weakens Talos and the snake coils.
- Wulf: Priest Arilwaen, you are still theorising that Talos’ power is proportional to the number of his worshippers. That is categorically incorrect!
- Celestine: There will be a far more logical reason for soul-trapping them.
- Wulf: By soul-trapping the clergy, they deny them an afterlife in Aetherius. It does not weaken Talos more than killing them, as his power is independent of the number of worshippers. It is vindictive. Cruelty is the most likely reason for such barbarism.
- Celestine: Priestess Arilwaen, do you know what happens when Black Soul Gems are used to enchant an item?
- Arilwaen: I assume the soul is destroyed and will be unavailable next Kalpa.
- Wulf: No, that is not what happens. A soul has two components, Life Force and consciousness. The Life Force within soul gems is the energy used when enchanting. The consciousness is the part of the soul that travels to an individual’s afterlife, whether in Aetherius, Oblivion or The Void.
- Celestine: If a Black Soul Gem is used for enchanting, the consciousness of the mortal will be forever trapped in a realm of Oblivion called The Soul Cairn. For instance, a Nord who was soul trapped could never enter Sovngarde.
- Wulf: Soul-trapping clergy denies them the chance to share Aetherius with loved ones and their gods!
- Lydia: Can souls be safely removed from Black Soul Gems?
- Wulf: I don’t know. If that can be done, it is beyond my knowledge of necromancy.
- Arilwaen: You are right, and what The Thalmor have done to the clergy is vindictive. However, my brother believes he can safely extract their souls from the gems.
- Celestine: Vayu could do it. There is also a thaumaturge in Morthal who can do it. His name is Falion, and he was once the Conjuration Master at The College of Winterhold. Although the college allows necromancy to be practised and taught, it does not allow Black Soul Gems to be used. Falion insisted on using them in his experiments and would not explain why. After all, a Grand Soul Gem provides the same amount of Life Force without mortals being sentenced to The Soul Cairn. He was thrown out of college, and I only recently visited him. I know why he uses Black Soul Gems, but I understand the need to keep that purpose a secret.
- Wulf: Okay, I will accept that the souls can be rescued. However, we don’t have the Black Soul Gems.
- Arilwaen: My brother will find out where they are.
- Wulf: Please, Priestess Arilwaen, tell us why your brother, who I assume is Altmer, would aid Talos worshippers.
- Arilwaen: Telthar is my brother’s real name, although he has assumed another’s identity to ingratiate himself within Thalmor ranks. A Thalmor Wizard named Sinnian Silinthar, who looked remarkedly similar to Telthar, conveniently met an unfortunate accident.
- Celestine: Such tragedy!
- Wulf: Is this sympathy for Talos worshippers a family affair?
- Arilwaen: Our father undermined The Thalmor’s plans for Talos. We didn’t learn of his activities until he disappeared. We assume he was arrested and executed for his audacity. When I remember the fables he told us and how they shaped our ideology, I believe he groomed us to be his successors. I left my homeland, and while learning about Talos, I became spiritually involved with The Ninth Divine. Telthar, on the other hand, remained in our homeland and developed the arrogance and detachment synonymous with Thalmor Wizards. He has fooled the hierarchy thus far. He never drops his adopted personae. I believe he uses it as a shield against his role’s stress and strong emotions.
- Wulf: How many people are distributing the invitation to Window’s Watch?
- Arilwaen: We have half a dozen brave volunteers. All but one has returned and then left for their home. By reporting in, we know they accomplished their objective and are safe. The only one we are waiting for is Sulvkum Jargeldson. He is overdue.
- Wulf: I know he tried to leave notes in The Temple of The Divines in Solitude. We can’t afford the time to remove all the distributed notes from the various holds, but I think we should visit Markarth and see if Sulvkum reached there and also retrieve his notes. That will at least stop some people from coming here and hopefully ease your concern for his safety.
- Celestine: We can’t leave this place unprotected.
- Arilwaen: We have Stormcloak guards.
- Wulf: I can see three of them. They could not stop a platoon of Thalmor.
- Arilwaen: What makes you think an entire platoon would be sent here?
- Wulf: I don’t know why they send so many. However, I know they do. Trust me on this.
- Arilwaen: Telthar would warn us of such a thing.
- Lydia: Not if they are playing him. The Thalmor may know all about your brother and your activities.
- Arilwaen: Oh! Well, what do we do?
- Wulf: Do you know when your brother might tell us the location of the Black Soul Gems?
- Arilwaen: Soon, he hopes, but there is no guarantee when.
- Wulf: Okay then, another squad of Dragonguard will help protect this temple while this squad and I visit Markarth. It will not take long to get there, retrieve the notes and head back. We should return before two hours are up. If The Thalmor have spies watching the comings and goings of this temple, they will not know of the extra Dragonguard I summon. They will not know we have left for Markarth.
- Arilwaen: Perhaps I should turn back any new pilgrims?
- Celestine: We don’t know if The Thalmor have patrols in the area ready to arrest pilgrims. If they make it here, they are better off remaining under our protection. This place has only one entrance and is easily defended.
- Arilwaen: Have I inadvertently doomed the people I am trying to aid?
- Wulf: You acted out of genuine concern. Therefore no blame can be applied, no matter the outcome.
A Stormcloak asked, “Dragonborn, can we please talk?”
We walked over to a woman sitting on a front pew. She was not wearing boots.
- Wulf: Your name is?
- Froa: I did have another name once, but I didn’t like my father, so now I am Froa Bear-Foot. I did consider calling myself Froa Childrapistsdottier.
- Lydia: Bare, as in naked?
- Froa: No, you pervert! Bear because I grow my toenails long. Some say they scratch like a bear’s claws.
- Wulf: Are you a Stormcloak, or did you find that uniform, minus boots, on a corpse?
- Froa: Oh, I was a Stormcloak. It was a family tradition. My mother gave birth to me the day Haakon Iron-Fist marched on Karthwasten.
- Wulf: During Ulfric’s campaign to retake The Reach from The Reachman?
- Froa: Yes, and now Haakon rots in The Bloodworks, but he committed no crime.
- Wulf: Following orders can be used to excuse even the atrocities committed during that campaign as long as genuine remorse is demonstrated. Has Haakon shown any remorse?
- Froa: No. He thinks The Foresworn and their sympathisers deserved their fate.
- Wulf: And that is why he rots in The Bloodworks. I can imagine Ulfric saying, ‘Oh, there were atrocities? Tut, tut, I am sorry such animals fought under my banner. I can assure you that I never issued such orders.’ Ulfric used men like Haakon as scapegoats.
- Froa: You are probably right.
- Wulf: Are you no longer a Stormcloak because they have been made outlaws?
- Froa: No, I quit long before then. When Ulfric wanted us to fight other Nords, many of who I knew worshipped Talos, I left and tried to become a priestess.
- Wulf: I take it that ambition did not come to fruition.
- Froa: If you mean with those fancy words that I failed miserably, then yeah. But, lucky for me, I met Arilwaen. She is much better at preaching than I would ever be.
- Lydia: How did you two find each other?
- Froa: Ha, now that’s a story. I was trying to kill Arilwaen. Well, maybe not kill her, but scare her out of Windhelm.
- Lydia: Arilwaen is not a member of The Thalmor and would not have been wearing their uniform. Therefore, I assume it was pure racism that made her a target.
- Froa: I was taught that all Elves are our enemies from birth. If you ever visited Windhelm when Ulfric was Jarl, you would have experienced this whole ‘Skyrim is for the Nords!’ nonsense.
- Celestine: So, how did you plan to frighten Arilwaen?
- Froa: I followed her through a door. I ignored which one. When I saw her kneeling before an altar, I took my chance. I wrestled her to the ground and put my axe to her neck. Then I noticed her amulet and to which shrine she was praying.
- Celestine: What are your thoughts on Mer now?
- Froa: What is it with the fancy word for Elves? Anyway, I’m glad I met her. If nothing else, it’s good to know that not all knife-ears are murdering heathens.
- Wulf: If you keep using derogatory terms, even in jest, we will have a problem, Froa.
- Froa: Woah! Okay, I am sorry for my backward ways.
- Wulf: Most Altmer are no different than a Nord in morality or desire for peace. The same for Dunmer and other Mer.
- Froa: Maybe, but it sure doesn’t seem that way.
- Jordis: Did it take time to build trust between you and Priestess Arilwaen?
- Froa: Not really. Working with Arilwaen gave me a chance to kill Thalmor.
- Jordis: There is more to it than that. Priestess Arilwaen is a good person, even if you can’t admit that about a Mer.
- Froa: Yes, she is a good person. There, I said it, and I mean it.
- Wulf: Do you know the two Stormcloaks in the temple?
- Froa: I never met them till they volunteered to act as guards. One took your advice, Dragonborn, and abandoned Ulfric to his fate. The other only did so after Windhelm was captured. They needed armour if they were to be guards. They had no money, so wear their Stormcloak armour. They are devoted to Talos and can be trusted
- Wulf: Have you met Telthar?
- Froa: I have met him twice, and that is enough. However, I won’t talk ill of Arilwaen’s kin.
- Lydia: Okay, I can’t wait any longer and must ask. Why, Froa, are you not wearing boots?
- Froa: I like the touch of the ground under my feet.
- Lydia: Yes, that is especially enjoyable when stepping on cowpats or the entrails of fallen enemies.
- Froa: It is good to meet somebody who understands.
- Wulf: Okay, let me organise some more Dragonguard and then we will be on our way.
I summoned Vayu and filled him in on the situation. He summoned three other Dragonguard and then discussed matters with Arilwaen.
Before leaving, I said hello to the Stormcloaks.
“I would like to thank you for providing protection.”
“I didn’t know how I would feel if I met you, Dragonborn. It is difficult to ignore that you and The Dragonguard slaughtered many close friends and family. But now you are in front of me, and I can appreciate who you are and accept that you were protecting Lord Talos from Ulfric’s blasphemy. Ulfric asked us to kill other Talos worshippers, and because of you, I don’t have that stain on my soul. Therefore, I thank you.”
“Llewrkmar Scar-Song. Formerly Captain Llewrkmar Scar-Song of The Stormcloaks.”
“And your friend over there?”
“Hefrad Fair-Blood. I wouldn’t talk to him. He is salty that you walked through The Battle for Windhelm like a stroll in the park. On the other hand, he found it to be the hoariest battle he has ever fought in.”
“He survived and did not die for Ulfric’s ambition. That should put a smile on his face.”
“When Ulfric died, he was happy to drop his weapon. Especially when the Legion officer who captured him was his neighbour and boyhood friend. Some of us will take a bit longer to come to terms with the reality of who we blindly followed.”
“Well, former Captain Llewrkmar Scar-Song, I thank you once more for helping guard this temple.”
I walked over to Hefrad and said, “I would like to thank you for helping guard this temple.”
All I got was an icy stare and a non-committal grunt.
After speaking to the Stormcloaks, we teleported to Markarth’s stables.
Lydia’s horse seemed to be chatting with a dog. She went over and patted her mount, then rejoined us. I will ask Nafaalilargus if he can suggest another area for our horses to graze. The agistment fees for dozens of horses spread over Skyrim are not cheap.
Iona asked, “Wulf, have you ever been inside Markarth’s gates?”
“I haven’t, as this place has never appealed to me. Plus, it has a reputation as a centre of corruption. Far more so than Riften.”
“You might not like all the Dwemer architecture.”
“More than likely. Therefore, if I fall asleep walking to Talos’ Shrine, you will know why.”
“Do you know where the shrine is?”
“I have memorised the maps of each Hold capital.”
“Oh, of course. That was silly of me to ask such an ignorant question.”
“Wow! Have you been practising your sarcasm?”
“I have been getting lessons from an eleven-year-old master of the craft.”
As we entered Markarth, I wondered if the city’s reputation was fair or biased. My answer was delivered within seconds.
A would-be assassin drew his dagger many feet away from his intended victim.
I drew my sword, Blinked over to him and killed him with a single sword thrust. His last words were, “I die for my people!”
Celestine checked the assassin’s target.
A guard yelled, “Everyone is to stay back! The Markarth City Guard has this all under control. There are no Forsworn here!”
Ignoring the guard, I searched the corpse. There was nothing to tell me who he was. He did not have the tribal tattoos or piercings of a Forsworn.
I turned to the woman he had been stalking and asked, “Are you alright?”
“By the gods, that man nearly killed me. You saved my life. Thank you. I was going to bring this to my sister, but I think you should have it.”
The woman offered me a silver pendant, I said. “Give it to your sister, for I serve The Divines and need no reward for saving a life. The guard seems to think this man is Forsworn. If he is Forsworn, he has gone to extremes to hide that fact. Why would he want to kill you?”
“I don’t have any idea. I was just shopping for a pendant for my sister back in the Imperial City.”
“You have a Bruma accent, so I hope this is not your first experience of Skyrim hospitality. Have you had any interactions with the Forsworn?”
She was surprised when I picked her accent. She had been trying to hide it, but I think the shock of being targeted by an assassin made her mask slip a little. She lied and said, “I’ve heard of them. Something about the men who live in the hills and attack caravans.”
“Are you sure? Forsworn assassins are not common, and I doubt they randomly pick tourists from Bruma as their target.”
She knew I did not believe her, but she made a show for the audience. She said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know anymore. I’m just visiting here from Cyrodiil.”
“Of course. Well, I hope the rest of your visit is less stressful. Blessings of The Nine.”
I turned to a jeweller who said, “He… he tried to kill Margret. Right in front of me.”
“Do you know Margret?”
“She is such a nice woman. She comes by every day looking for jewellery for her family in Cyrodiil. Is it because she is noble?”
“I doubt it. Maybe if the assassin is Forsworn, he randomly chose Magret. His intent might have been to spread some terror with a random murder.”
“That’s it! Why else would anyone want to kill her? It doesn’t make any sense.”
A butcher said, “Did you see that madman? A Forsworn agent. Here in the city!”
“Have you seen him before?”
“I think he worked down at the smelter. A lot of labourers there are sympathetic to the Forsworn. They promise people they’ll kill off all the Nords that rule over The Reach. They are nothing but murderers and saboteurs.”
“No, you ignorant oaf, they are displaced people unfairly treated by the invaders of their lands.”
The Markarth City Guard, who told everybody there wasn’t any Forsworn in the city, came up and said, “We’ll handle things from here. Move along.”
“You said there are no Forsworn in Markarth, but that is a lie, isn’t it? He didn’t say he was one, but you suspect he is Forsworn and want to hide that fact.”
“I said you should move along. The Forsworn are just a bunch of madmen. We have everything under control. Stay out of it.”
“You have everything under control? If it were not for me, a visitor to this city would now be dead. Does that sound like you have things under control?”
“Stay out of it!”
“Witnessing an attempted assassination and killing the assassin makes all of this none of my business.”
“That’s right. It isn’t.”
“I have urgent business at the moment. However, when time permits, I will return and not stay out of it. I will ask questions as a Thane of Markarth. But even if not a Thane, a General of The Imperial Army has the right and duty to investigate a possible insurrection. So, little guard, will you dare stand in my way when I return?”
An Orsimer guard warned his colleague, “You are speaking to General Wulf Welkynd, The Dragonborn. I suggest you show some respect before he throttles you.”
The guard replied, “You should keep your nose out of it, Maknnag!”
I sighed, then growled, “I hate corruption! In Markarth, I believe the Silver Bloods are the source of much corruption within this Hold. Warn your colleagues that they will earn my wrath if I find they receive payments from the Silver Bloods. My wrath is a terrible thing to behold, little guard!”
I walked towards the mouthy guard, who scrambled out of my way. We could hear much laughter, including hearty guffaws from Maknnag, as we headed for the inn.
I looked at the inn’s sign and quipped, “I wonder if the public privies are called The Silver Blood Shithouse?”
Just as we entered the inn, a Thalmor Justiciar tried to shove past me on his way out. When he found he couldn’t budge me, he swore in Aldmeris. I moved aside and replied, in Aldmeris, “Your mother must be so proud of your eloquence and manners!”
The Justiciar wisely said no more and left the inn as we approached the barkeep.
- Wulf: Good afternoon. Are you Kleppr?
- Kleppr: Yes, Dragonborn, I am Kleppr, the henpecked husband of Frabbi.
- Wulf: Did somebody recently pay you to distribute some notes?
- Kleppr: If you mean Sulvkum, then yes. But I will tell you something because we all owe you and The Dragonguard a great debt.
- Wulf: What is it you want to divulge, Barkeep Kleppr?
- Kleppr: Sulvkum paid me well to hand out the twelve notes he left with me. When Justiciar Taulanar asked about them, I thought I was headed for some dim, dark, Thalmor prison. But he assured me that The Dominion understands the craving for gold. I decided to be honest and tell him I had handed a dozen of the notes to various people. He then gave me twenty more notes and a bag of septims to distribute them.
- Celestine: It sounds like Markarth’s corruption is following you today, Wulf.
- Kleppr: Judge me if you want, but you have not heard Frabbi whine about her good-for-nothing husband. Only handing her gold gives me relief from her nagging. But as soon as she has spent it on the umpteenth pair of shoes or the latest fashion, it is time for more nagging.
- Celestine: Divorce is cheap.
- Kleppr: The Dark Brotherhood were cheaper, but your friend removed that option.
- Wulf: I am sorry for the inconvenience.
- Kleppr: Dragonborn, The Thalmor know all about what I assume is a temple of Talos.
- Lydia: And they probably dispensed with Sulvkum.
- Wulf: Please hand me the notes Wizard Taulanar gave you.
- Kleppr: Okay. If he asks, I will tell him I handed them out.
- Wulf: He won’t be able to ask!
- Kleppr: Oh!
Kleppr retrieved the notes from under his bar and handed them to me.
I turned them to ash with Magicka, rushed out of the inn, and headed for Talos’ Shrine. The Dragonguard ran to keep pace. It still took more than half an hour to make our way.
We entered the shrine and found some of Sulvkum’s notes. I turned them to ash.
Justiciar Taulanar entered and sauntered down the steps with typical Thalmor arrogance.
He stood in front of me, ignorant of who I was and seemingly oblivious to the armed women surrounding him.
- Taulanar: Citizen, did you just retrieve a note from that shrine?
- Wulf: I collected them all plus the twenty you just gave Kleppr. Are you here to pray to Talos?
- Taulanar: It is immoral to worship a Man and also illegal. A faithful Imperial citizen would know that.
- Lydia: And a town idiot with half a brain would recognise The Dragonborn.
- Wulf: What have you done with Sulvkum?
- Taulanar: Don’t worry, he will live as long as somebody purchases him. That is a much better fate than the heretics in that illegal temple will enjoy.
- Celestine: Have you heard enough, Wulf?
- Wulf: More than enough.
Quiet, petite Celestine cast Thunderbolt at Justiciar Taulanar’s head. He screamed and then dropped dead at my feet. I searched his corpse and found orders written on Skyrim Thalmor Embassy letterhead. I read them to my friends.
Dominion First Emissary Elenwen recently uncovered information about a cult of Talos worshippers operating on the northern shore.
Fortuitously, this discovery coincided with our gathering of heretical priests and priestesses. That task has been far more successful than I estimated when suggesting the plan to First Emissary Elenwen. She is most pleased.
I say fortuitous as the absence of local heretical leaders has led to this cult scattering notes across Skyrim. These notes alert people of their presence and tell them where their headquarters are! Searching the northern shore could have taken months, but we quickly located the hidden temple thanks to the notes. It is within Widow’s Watch, an old Nord watchtower.
While it does encourage dissidence, the cult may also be a blessing, particularly if several high-level targets are brought to the same location. Also, investigations of the cult have uncovered a second-generation traitor in our ranks. He deserves the same fate as his father, but that pleasure will have to wait. We can and will use him to set our trap. When he realises that he inadvertently aided in the destruction of this cult, he will probably welcome death.
Frankly, considering how easy it will be to dispose of dozens of heretics, hopefully, some of so-called Skyrim nobility, I’m ashamed we didn’t think of it first.
Your part in this endeavour is to ensure an abundant supply of notes in Markarth. Please meet me in my quarters in Understone Keep, and I will give you further details.
Justiciar Ondolemar on behalf of First Emissary Elenwen.”
Celestine gasped and exclaimed, “Wulf, your premonition!”
“We have only been away for just over an hour.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“Yes, but Vayu and the other Dragonguard could hold an army at bay forever when guarding a single point of entry. Still, I will Recall to the Mark I left, and we shall quickly evacuate the temple.”
I recalled to the Mark. Vayu stood atop the trapdoor, and I realised we were too late.
I have known Vayu for years, and his attempt to sound matter-of-fact failed to hide his sorrow. Celestine also saw through the façade and wanted to hug her beloved. She would have to wait as Vayu needed to explain what happened to me.
- Vayu: Wulf, please, as a friend, I ask you not to enter the temple.
- Wulf: Sorry, Vayu, I must see what has happened, and you must explain in detail how it happened.
- Vayu: The sight will cause you much pain.
- Wulf: You are concerned about my pain but worried about my anger. I cannot avoid my responsibilities out of fear, Vayu.
- Celestine: Vayu, Wulf must eventually accept that he cannot prevent every death of an innocent. Whatever the horrors inside, they will aid his journey towards that acceptance.
- Wulf: My compassion will never lesson, but I cannot let sorrow fuel my anger. I must ensure I can determine what revenge is and what justice is.
- Vayu: Then enter and gaze upon the darkness that will challenge your faith. Mortal emotions will make you question why The Nine let it happen. Logic and knowledge provide the answer, but will you listen to them?
- Wulf: Speculation won’t answer that question.
- Celestine: Just remember, Wulf, that many people love you and can help with the burden.
I contacted Rigmor via our amulets.
“My beloved, can you talk?”
“I excused myself from the throne room and headed for my bedroom a while ago. I didn’t need to tell Mum what was happening. She just nodded and took my place. I could feel your tension increasing, and then a few minutes ago, fear enveloped you.”
“My premonition has come to fruition. I am about to find out how close it is to what I foresaw.”
“How did it happen? Were you too late to stop it?”
“I left Vayu and other Dragonguard to guard the place. There were only a few pilgrims and no child amongst them when I left. There is only one entry point, a ladder, so I have no idea how they entered in large numbers. I will look, and then Vayu will tell me what occurred.”
“Do you have to look? Can’t you just hear Vayu’s account of what happened?”
“No, I need the visual memories of what happened. It will help me measure my response when I deal with the perpetrators.”
“Who was responsible?”
“Elenwen. Her orders set this in motion.”
“She was responsible for the civil war as well.”
“Emissary Elenwen has a lot of death and suffering for which to answer. She will soon learn otherwise if she thinks her position makes her untouchable.”
“Don’t do something that forces Emperor Mede to take action against you!”
“Don’t worry, Rigmor. I know how to kill discretely. Mede was never shy to use Blade assassins and won’t lose sleep over the death of these Thalmor butchers. As with my last visit to the embassy, there will be suspicion but no witnesses.”
“There is a growing list. For instance, Justiciar Ondolemar in Markarth has to die. I am telling you I intend to kill before I see the carnage. I don’t want anybody thinking I have lost control of my Dovah.”
“Your eyes tell us when control is in question.”
“When I last prayed to Lady Kynareth, she taught me a unique Shout. Only I could use it, as it relies on the combination of Ningheim and Dragonborn blessings. If need be, I can transform similar to a werewolf. Call it a Weredragon if you wish. In that form, I would be almost invulnerable and unrecognisable. I would not use weapons but tear, bite, crush and Shout as I slaughter with impunity, tremendous speed and unmatched violence.”
“Has that Shout contributed to you questioning who you are?”
“I did not tell you about this Shout as I never intend to use it. I will not be my Dovah if I do. However, I will be terrible to behold, and if a large number of Thalmor are to die, it could be the ultimate weapon of The Divines that executes them. I would not be a berserker or dragon in a killing rage but something far worse. I will be the unstoppable monster from their childhood nightmares.”
“Wulf, you didn’t answer my question.”
“We have discussed my identity issue at length and on several occasions. Learning this new Shout hasn’t contributed to it. I know how and why the Shout works, as that knowledge was given to me by Lady Kynareth. The problem of identity remains because Father withholds knowledge. He won’t tell me what he did to ascend, and Mother is not around to ask. I promise you that whatever I witness and hear inside this temple will not cause my Dovah to come to the fore. I haven’t needed him for a long time. Without hiding behind that persona, I can kill without guilt and in whatever numbers are needed. I can do so without becoming a monster of nightmares.”
“You will only use that Shout if necessary?”
“I do not intend to use it. I mentioned it because I want you to know I kill as Wulf, not as anything else. Perhaps Wulf is monster enough?”
“Please, don’t be stubborn and talk to your friends and me if necessary.”
“Okay. I need to go and deal with this. I love you, Rigmor.”
“And I love you, my Dragonborn.”
I opened the trapdoor, climbed down, and started to descend some stairs. I had to look down and be careful not to slip on the blood and entrails.
I asked, “Vayu, where is the child?”
“Up the front, next to Priestess Arilwaen.”
I walked quickly to the front with Vayu accompanying me. My friends stopped and gasped as they witnessed the carnage. Then they held each other and wept as Vayu’s squad joined them, knowing too well the shock their friends were experiencing.
I soon found the little girl of my premonition.
“Was she in prayer, Vayu?”
“Yes. Jorae is her name, and she was killed in the middle of her prayers.”
Arilwaen had been stabbed in her abdomen.
I looked around and saw the noble lady of my premonition. This time she didn’t survive and wore a different dress.
I asked Vayu, “There are many more dead than I can see, isn’t there?”
“Yes, we have started to store the bodies in another room as we felt wrong leaving them in the blood and excrement and offal. We have separated The Thalmor from the pilgrims, but all have been treated with respect. I left the Priestess and child in place because I knew, despite my reservations, you would want to see how and where they died.”
Blood covered the base of the altar, as I foresaw. I looked up at Father and asked, “How many scenes like this did you witness? How did you cope?”
I told Vayu, “Please, come away from the others and tell me what happened.”
We moved to a corner, and Vayu narrated his tale.
“There was a steady stream of pilgrims. About forty minutes after you left, I counted thirty-two and no children. We were alert, and Llewrkmar, the ex-Stormcloak captain, was standing sentry outside. We decided it was best he does that so our presence would remain unknown to any watchers.”
“I would have done the same.”
“Just after I finished counting the pilgrims, Llewrkmar entered the temple with a Justiciar and the child, Jorae. She is the daughter of Llewrkmar. I assume her mother was a Reachman.
The Justiciar held a knife to Jorae’s throat and warned us not to do anything rash, or the girl would die. He introduced himself as Justiciar Ondolemar.
Ondolemar looked around and noticed The Dragonguard. Llewrkmar went to lunge at him, but Ondolemar sneered and stared. He cut slightly into Jorae’s throat to draw blood and make her scream in pain. Llewrkmar stopped moving forward and whispered to Jorae. I did not catch what he said, but Jorae stood straight, didn’t cry or complain, and nodded.
Ondolemar ordered all weapons to be dropped to the ground and for everyone to step away from them. The Dragonguard, Stormcloaks and a few pilgrims divested themselves of weapons. A clatter of metal on the floor echoed in the silence. A steady stream of Thalmor had followed Ondolemar into the temple, and they spread around the room and confiscated the weapons.
Llewrkmar silently mouthed, ‘Sorry!’ over and over as he stared at Priestess Arilwaen. At that stage, I guessed Jorae was his daughter and that The Thalmor held his family hostage. It seemed he knew what The Thalmor planned and was complicit in its execution.
When we were disarmed, Ondolemar started lecturing us about how Talos couldn’t be a god. It was the typical rubbish they sprout, and thanks to the sneers and stares he received, he knew nobody believed a word he said.
Jorae confidently and loudly said, ‘Let me prove Talos’ divinity. Let me approach the shrine.’
Ondolemar laughed, shoved her forward and then walked behind her to the front of the shrine. Jorae knelt and prayed silently. After a couple of minutes, Ondolemar got impatient and snarled, ‘Where is the proof of Talos’ divinity? Do you think he is going to save you?’
Jorae replied, ‘I am not asking him to save us, Justiciar. I am unafraid as my mother awaits me in Aetherius, and there, I will meet Lord Talos and spend eternity in the Divine Presence of The Nine. Prayers give me comfort, and the proof of Talos’ divinity is kneeling in front of you.’
Llewrkmar screamed, ‘Uaira is dead? You bastard!’ Two large Thalmor soldiers held Llewrkmar in place by his arms as Ondolemar turned and walked towards him.
Ondolemar yelled, ‘Watch, little heretic, and let’s test your love for the fake god.’
Jorae stood, turned, and said, ‘Yes, Father, they killed Mother when she resisted their rape. They thought it would be amusing to display their depravity in front of me.’
Llewrkmar started to weep, and Ondolemar announced, ‘Talos did not save your slut of a mother. Neither will that false god save your father. Only begging for forgiveness will save him. After all, your parents gave you no choice in the matter, so forgiveness is possible.’
Jorae replied, ‘Lord Talos, please forgive this Justiciar. After all, his superiors gave him no choice in the matter, so forgiveness is possible. He knows you are The Ninth Divine and is afraid.’
Ondolemar snarled and slit Llewrkmar’s throat. The Thalmor soldiers let go, and Jorae’s father fell to his knees, blood forming a pool around him. He tried to speak but couldn’t. He reached out for his daughter, then his eyes turned up, and he fell forward, dead.
Ondolemar laughed and asked, ‘Where is the mighty Talos?’
Jorae turned towards the altar and knelt in prayer once more.
Ondolemar walked towards Jorae, bloodied knife in hand. Priestess Arilwaen stood between them and said, ‘Tell the Justiciar where Talos is, little one. It is our duty and privilege to speak of the love of The Nine to all who want to hear.’
Jorae said, while still kneeling in prayer, ‘Lord Talos is in our hearts.’
‘And what of your parents?’
‘Lord Arkay welcomed Father to Aetherius, where Mother and others greeted him. The hatred displayed here is not forgotten but irrelevant when measured against the love surrounding them. The love of those who died before them, and that of The Nine.’
Priestess Arilwaen looked at Ondolemar with pity and said, ‘Have you not learned by now? Few people who have accepted Talos into their hearts will ever denounce or stop worshipping him. I know how hard The Thalmor have tried and how many devotees have resisted torture, execution of loved ones and enslavement. Very few have renounced Talos and agreed with the lies you spread. You will never achieve your aim and die as linear time ticks away, reminding you of a wasted life.’
Ondolemar smiled and walked a few feet away. The animal then rapidly turned and threw his knife, which embedded itself to its hilt in Jorae’s back. She fell backwards, her lifeless eyes staring, and chaos followed.
Ondolemar yelled, ‘Kill them all and retrieve my knife. It was a present from my wife.’
I summoned a Bound Sword and a Dragon Priest. Seiko used her unarmed combat skills to dispose of several Thalmor quickly. Daenlyn had difficulty surviving until Kharjo demonstrated why Khajiiti claws are to be feared and shredded the bard’s opponents. Soon we were all armed and rapidly dispensing with the Thalmor. Froa had also retrieved a sword and was tearing through the enemy as quickly as us. But there were too many Thalmor, and we could not save most of the pilgrims. We decided to save as many as possible, allowing Justiciar Ondolemar to escape. He ran once he saw his troops falling to our fury.
After the fighting, I summoned another squad of Dragonguard. We treated the wounded, and all surviving pilgrims were teleported to Solitude, one at a time. Legionnaires will arrive in a few hours, along with Priests and Priestesses of Arkay.
That is what happened, Wulf.”
“Priestess Arilwaen was killed in the melee and not before?”
“Yes, Seiko tried to reach her but was too late.”
“When did Telthar arrive?”
“About ten minutes after the slaughter. He was lucky Froa survived and recognised him. Otherwise, I would have gladly throttled him.”
“What was demonstrated here was faith, Vayu. We must tell people how a young girl never lost faith in The Nine.”
“I will talk to Telthar and decide from there. Please, move Jorae and her father to the alcove. Place them together. It is sentimental but will help ease my grief.”
“Okay, but I warn you, Telthar seems heartless, but he is grieving.”
“Did Ondolemar get his dagger back?”
“No, I have it.”
“Please give it to me. I will return it to its owner.”
Vayu had a grim smile as he handed me Ondolemar’s dagger. He knew I intended to repay The Thalmor in blood.
Froa was sitting amongst corpses and ashes in front of the altar.
I said, “You fought bravely, Froa. It was not possible to save them all.”
“I have heard tales of The Dragonguard. I was almost skewered several times as I stared at them in wonder as they cut down the enemy. I know we did as well as anybody could, Dragonborn. I shall be okay but need to morn Arilwaen. I find strength in the faith demonstrated by the young girl.”
“Okay, I will talk to Telthar now and decide what to do next.”
Telthar acted the arrogant Thalmor Wizard, but his soul was as pure as his sister’s.
“I am sorry for your loss, Telthar.”
“It is a risk we both decided to take. We were not forced to travel this perilous road.”
“It is okay to drop the façade and morn.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. If someone is dead, what purpose does grief serve?”
“I don’t have time to answer your rhetorical question. You know the purpose of grief and will dive into it with enthusiasm once alone.”
“Yes, time is progressing, which is the root cause of this whole mess. What we need to do is concentrate on finding the Black Soul Gems. I came here to warn my sister that my initial information was wrong.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I sent one of our go-betweens, who is now headless in the corner, to tell Arilwaen that the Black Soul Gems were aboard a ship moored at Northwatch Keep. I did warn that there was an eighty per cent chance it was a trap. I overheard further conversations that convinced me that it was undeniably a trap, and I now know the true location of the Black Soul Gems.”
“They knew about you, Telthar. The Thalmor did not think they would have to deal with The Dragonguard and me. So yes, the original information would have been a trap. Any trap would have backfired horribly.”
“How do you know they have discovered me?”
“Here, read these orders that I recovered from the corpse of Justiciar Taulanar.”
I handed the orders to Telthar, whose arrogance decreased somewhat as he realised his cover was blown.
I help my hand out and said, “Can you pass that back, please? It is evidence.”
A shaking Telthar handed the orders to me.
I remarked, “You look a bit pale, Telthar. Do you realise how close to being arrested you were?”
“I am not afraid of dying, Dragonborn. But I don’t relish how long I would linger as The Thalmor exacted revenge upon me. They don’t like traitors.”
“Where do you think the Black Soul Gems are?”
“Falmer recently sacked a Thalmor caravan near a cave to the southeast. The official manifest indicated it was a normal, meaningless supply caravan filled with perishable goods. However, upon hearing of its demise, my superiors demonstrated considerable consternation.”
“Therefore, you surmise it also carried the soul gems.”
“Yes. I came here to deliver this news to my sister. The smell of death before I even opened the trapdoor told me I was too late.”
“There are many caves to the southeast, most of which are populated by Falmer. Can you be more precise on which cave it might be?”
“Chillwind Depths is the name I heard mentioned.”
I looked on my map, and Chillwind Depths was on it.
I remarked, “Falmer are not thorough when ransacking corpses and wagons. Are you sure the soul gems are in those caves?”
“A Thalmor patrol searched the dead and wagons and did not locate the soul gems. A larger force was detached to search the caves. Expect resistance from both Falmer and Thalmor.”
“It is the only lead we have. Therefore, I will take a squad of Dragonguard and enter the caves.”
“Did you kill Justiciar Taulanar?”
“Yes, and he is the first of many to pay the price for this atrocity. When the news sheets report this massacre and the bloody retaliation, far more citizens will openly worship Talos. It will have the opposite effect The Thalmor hoped to achieve. The Dominion will find Emperor Titus Mede II far bolder now the civil war has ended. The Empire lost fewer soldiers and less equipment than The Thalmor had hoped when they backed Ulfric. I doubt that legalising Talos worship would immediately start another war with The Dominion. That war is inevitable but years away.”
“Not all devotees were killed, Dragonborn. Some of those captured, including the note placer in Markarth, will be shipped offshore and sold to slave traders.”
“How embarrassing if he were to tell the news sheets of his intended fate.”
“Indeed, and you will find him in Northwatch Keep.”
“I will rescue him after we retrieve the soul gems and release the trapped souls.”
“It seems I will have to find a new profession, name and hiding place.”
“A steep price, along with losing your sister and father to the cause. Why aid Talos worship, as you are not a devotee?”
“The Thalmor motives are understandable. They see Talos as a child who pulled the string that unravelled the thread of existence. Thus, the thread must be recoiled like a spool of yarn to knit space and time as The Eight see fit. One might argue their goals are rather noble. If anyone is the villain in this tale, it would certainly be us.”
“It is obvious that you have never spoken to one of The Nine or your gods. The Divines aided Talos in his endeavour to become their Ninth! They welcomed him as his presence strengthened the structure left fragile by the expulsion of Lorkhan. The Eight and other et-Ada, including those in the Aldmeri Pantheon, decided the natural laws of Mundus and Nirn at Convention. It was their joint decision to impose linear time. Trying to remove Talos and linear time is working against what the gods desire of space and time, not restoring it! To regard Talos as a child is the ultimate demonstration of Thalmor arrogance! You speak from ignorance, and your suggestion that we are the villains is so stupid I have no adjectives to describe it. It is apparent you aid Man for selfish reasons.”
“Yes, they are rather selfish. Assimilation into the ether is not something I prefer. The world is more interesting as a puzzle to be solved rather than a known answer.”
“Why do you think The Divines introduced linear time?”
“Please, no religious sermon, thank you.”
“Shut the fuck up and listen! The gods floated through the Aurbis and were bored. That is why Lorkhan convinced some et-Ada to create Mundus and Nirn. Now The Nine envy the living we do in our lifespans. We are not static and complacent but endeavour to accomplish targets in our allotted time. Linear time gives us something against which to measure our progress. It gives us motivation and a sense of achievement. It makes us who we are. And if you think being immortal would give you all the answers, you again demonstrate your ignorance. The Nine did not make the Aurbis and are subject to its natural laws. There are many things the gods do not know.”
“You have given me much to ponder. I no longer have to think and act like The Thalmor. Therefore, I can discover the truth. I suggest you make haste and find the soul gems. Then I will release the entrapped souls, Dragonborn.”
“Discuss your plan for soul release with Vayu. If he agrees, I will let you try. Otherwise, I will keep them till I find a mage who can safely do the extraction.”
“There is no guarantee my incantation will work, but I have an incentive to try, Dragonborn. One of the Thalmor Wizards soul-trapped Arilwaen during the melee. Vayu recovered The Black Soul Gem and handed it to me upon learning who I am.”
“Then I know you will try your hardest, for you loved your sister dearly, as did many of the pilgrims who met her.”
As I gathered my team, Froa said, “I will stay and help with the bodies. Will I be able to view the ceremony to release the souls?”
“Of course. Do not be surprised if a particular one lingers to say farewell.”
“Priestess Arilwaen could do that?”
“Yes, if she wills it so. There could also be souls that need assistance to cross over to Aetherius. I can aid them with that.”
“I heard your harsh words towards Telthar. Perhaps he will decide to learn more about The Divines as his sister did.”
“He probably will, as he no longer has to pretend to be Thalmor. Truly serving The Divines takes a lot of effort, as you know, after your endeavours to become a priestess. Telthar would first have to learn humility.”
“Yes, and that would be a considerable hurdle.”
“The Thalmor will pay a steep price for this, Froa.”
I walked over to Celestine and Jordis.
- Wulf: The Black Soul Gems might be in a cave system occupied by Falmer. We shall have a look for them there.
- Celestine: Are you okay, Wulf?
- Wulf: Do my eyes look okay? I was worried, like you all were, that I would be enraged by the killing of a child. I am, but I no longer need my Dovah to exact justice. I will kill the guilty for this, not my Dovah.
- Jordis: You don’t have to do that alone, Wulf.
- Wulf: Yes, I do. There is little danger to me and even less danger of being recognised. I will do it quietly and without being detected.
- Celestine: But how many do you plan to kill?
- Wulf: Every Thalmor inside their Embassy and Headquarters as well as Markarth and Northwatch Keep.
- Celestine: Including Elenwen?
- Wulf: Maybe I will think of something special for her. Perhaps a lesson in what she is trying to extinguish is enough.
I then gathered Lydia and Iona. I made it clear I was not interested in further discussions about my mood or mental state.
I briefly contacted Rigmor.
“My beloved, we will search for some Black Soul Gems. If we find them, we shall try and release the entrapped souls of Talos Priests and Priestesses.”
“How bad was it, Wulf?”
“Vayu removed many of the bodies. He left much of the carnage so I could fully understand what had occurred. The young girl’s name is Jorae. She died while praying to Talos and deserves to be sainted for what she did.”
“You will have to tell me her story when you can, my Guardian.”
“What do you sense through our amulets?”
“You are calm and determined with a seething anger you are suppressing.”
“I intend to kill dozens of Thalmor in retaliation, no Dovah required. It is not rage but justice that motivates me, Rigmor.”
“Then you will be nothing like Pelinal Whitestrake.”
“No, not yet.”
“Sorry, I am just a bit tired, Rigmor. I will speak to you later.”
“You had better, Dragonbum!”
I teleported us to one of the Stormcloak campsites. Others were now using it.
Nobody was present, but I found a journal and read the last entry to my friends.
“Something is unsettling about these caravan attacks. I suspected bandits, but the remains we saw were torn apart. Yet no mere animal could coordinate an attack on a full-sized merchant train. And wolves don’t take prisoners.
We’ve found a trail leading up into the hills. We’ll camp at the abandoned Stormcloak camp for the night, then set out at dawn. Whatever murdered those people will never do it again!”
- Celestine: Vigilantes or mercenaries or what?
- Wulf: I have no idea. There are no weapons here, so they must have either set out for the hills or been ambushed.
- Lydia: The fire is cold.
- Jordis: Falmer might attack the occasional caravan, but they don’t render people limb from limb. They sometimes take prisoners.
- Wulf: There is a rumour of new species of undead in this area and the snowfields. It is a hybrid vampire and werewolf.
- Lydia: Okay, would they take prisoners even if such things exist?
- Wulf: Not prisoners, Lydia. Cattle.
- Celestine: Some vampire clans kidnap people and keep them in their larder. Logically, the hybrids might do the same.
- Wulf: And the dismemberment of bodies is not unknown when werewolves attack.
- Iona: I am sure we will have plenty of warning before such beasts attack us.
- Lydia: I can guarantee lots of screaming if they do!
It was a short walk to Chillwind Depths.
And it did not take long before we encountered Falmer.
Not far into the cave complex, we came across a corpse. The deceased looked like a prospector who foolishly camped in Falmer territory.
We heard Aldmeri being spoken, so we knew Thalmor were ahead.
We walked into a cavern full of Thalmor, and I asked, “Yoohoo, would you like to buy one of my Talos amulets?”
They attacked, so we killed them and some ensorceled spiders.
Searching the bodies produced no Black Soul Gems, so we continued our trek through the caves.
We quickly despatched a dozen Falmer and spiders as we searched for the soul gems.
Then we came upon Thalmor killed by the Falmer. They didn’t have the soul gems upon them.
Dozens more spiders and Falmer died before we found more dead Thalmor.
Again, there were no soul gems on the corpses, so we continued.
Not much further, we came upon a melee between Thalmor and Falmer. Although entertaining to watch, we decided to intervene and speed up the process by killing both sides.
A Falmer victim lay on a table.
I found the pouch full of Black Soul Gems on a Thalmor Wizard I had slain.
I counted thirty-four Black Soul Gems, and for the first time in ages, my Dovah voiced an opinion.
“Kill every single Thalmor bastard you can, Wulf. This vindictiveness is an act of war!”
“I already decided to do that before recovering the soul gems. Their crimes are unforgivable, and they must be punished.”
“Good. You have learned.”
I turned to my companions.
- Wulf: We have the soul gems. Thirty-four Talos clergy were removed from Skyrim by this slime!
- Lydia: Arilwaen makes thirty-five.
- Celestine: We shall send them to Aetherius, Wulf. The Thalmor will not deny them their afterlife.
- Wulf: Although the people don’t need clergy to pray to Talos, their absence will be sorely felt. I must ensure that The Thalmor will think twice before interfering with replacements.
- Iona: Vayu said that forty-eight Thalmor lost their lives in the melee. How many do you think are at the embassy and headquarters?
- Wulf: I don’t know from where they drew those troops. There are usually that many at the embassy. There are only a dozen at their headquarters, while fifty or so at Northwatch Keep. Justiciar Ondolemar only has two guards with him. That was all Jarl Igmund would allow within his keep.
- Iona: Ondolemar may have more now that his plans have turned sour.
- Wulf: It doesn’t matter. I will deal with whatever numbers I find.
- Celestine: Once you provide evidence to the news sheets, the political fallout will be massive. The diplomatic squabbles will drown out any accusations of you being the assassin. If you rescue some of those who distributed the notes, the news of slave trading will add to the mess.
- Lydia: Can you imagine The Thalmor trying to arrest Wulf or Mede ever pressing charges? If they thought The Stormcloaks were a problem, they would have people revolting in every province of The Empire.
- Wulf: I would rather die than let that happen, Lydia.
- Lydia: Do you think your martyrdom would stop the revolt? No, Mede would never agree to your arrest; therefore, you would be free to defend yourself from illegal arrest.
- Wulf: These are hypotheticals with speculation added. We have an immediate problem so let us return to Widow’s Watch.
- Celestine: Before we do, one thing has been bothering me.
- Wulf: The coordination needed to arrest many Priests and Priestesses in such a short period suggests in-depth planning. Why didn’t Telthar get wind of it?
- Celestine: Exactly!
- Wulf: The planning would have been done at the highest levels. Telthar, as a Thalmor Wizard, is not of the highest rank. Only Justiciars would have been involved in that planning. Telthar relied on gossip and overheard conversations more than access to high-level plans.
- Celestine: Did you scan his soul?
- Wulf: Yes, and despite his adopted personae, he is a good person that we can trust.
- Iona: Seemingly, he is a bit ignorant by the loud corrections we heard.
- Wulf: He listened to Thalmor doctrine so often he started to believe it. Anyway, let us see what can be done for the soul-trapped.
We teleported to the exterior of Widow’s Watch, and Vayu was waiting for us.
- Vayu: Do you have the Black Soul Gems?
- Wulf: Thirty-four of them. I hope that is all they soul-trapped.
- Vayu: Telthar said the number was mid-thirties, so it sounds like you recovered all of them.
- Celestine: Did you discuss the ritual with Telthar?
- Vayu: Yes. His wording will seem a bit Mer oriented, but the invocation should work. It is the nonverbal part that is the most important. A large amount of Magicka needs to be used, and Telthar has enough. Some of the released souls may be confused.
- Wulf: Arkay’s Rights will send them on their way.
- Vayu: I will remain here and await the Legionnaires and Arkay clergy. The best place to release the souls is somewhere calm and devoid of sentient life. Telthar has chosen the nearby seashore. He waits for you down the path a short way.
- Wulf: If I haven’t made it clear, Vayu, you did as I would have done if faced with a Justiciar holding a knife to a child’s throat. Even if I suspected the depravity of Ondolemar, I would not have made the first move and started the slaughter.
- Vayu: I know, Wulf. And you know that logic does not remove guilt.
- Wulf: That is why you are fortunate to be surrounded by friends and an annoying princess that loves you.
- Vayu: That annoying princess is staring daggers at you.
- Wulf: She won’t kill me. I haven’t paid this month’s stipend yet.
Vayu chuckled as we turned and sought Telthar.
We descended a steep path and found Telthar standing out in the open with a lit torch.
- Telthar: You’ve returned. Did you find the soul gems?
- Wulf: Yes, thirty-four of them.
- Telthar: The Thalmor have been busy.
- Celestine: They must have gathered a list of Talos clergy over many months.
- Telthar: Indeed, and I heard not a peep about it.
- Wulf: I take it this temple was here for months before the clergy were hunted down?
- Telthar: Yes, but Arilwaen only ever hosted a few pilgrims. Of course, she expected that to change after the clergy culling.
- Lydia: Was the culling done to entice pilgrims to gather here?
- Telthar: I don’t think so. The orders Wulf showed me suggest this was a hastily planned action as a bonus to the culling. Justiciar Ondolemar was not highly regarded, but his ego never allowed that realisation. Being left in Markarth with only two support personnel should have been a big clue about his worth. The raid on the temple might have paid dividends if The Dragonguard were not left to guard it.
- Wulf: Why wait for us out here, Telthar? You had no idea how long we would be gone. Without teleportation, we would have been gone for several days.
- Telthar: But I knew you had teleportation, and standing here allows me to serve as a deterrent to any pilgrims seeking shelter.
- Wulf: It would be better if pilgrims spoke to Vayu and were told what had occurred. Otherwise, they may try and return.
- Telthar: I assume that all of Tamriel will soon know what happened here.
- Wulf: Yes, and The Thalmor will never try such a thing again. The price will be too high.
- Telthar: I will not ask for details on your plans, Dragonborn. That way, if I get captured, I can honestly say I didn’t know, in between the screams and begging for mercy.
- Wulf: Where is Froa? She wanted to witness the release of the souls.
- Telthar: She is standing watch on the shoreline. The fewer living people around us, the better the chances of success.
- Celestine: We could stay here if necessary.
- Telthar: No, I will need protection. The incantation can attract beings that hunt souls. We will not number too many and should release the souls before The Thalmor have an opportunity to reclaim them.
- Wulf: They will have no idea we recovered them unless they question the Falmer, and they are not the most talkative witnesses, especially the dead ones. Plus, I could summon a couple of dozen Dragonguard, and The Thalmor don’t have an army at their disposal.
- Telthar: Yes, there was great consternation among The Thalmor when you wiped out Ulfric’s army at Whiterun.
- Wulf: Lead the way, Telthar.
We followed Telthar to the beach, but a melee halted our progress.
As we got closer to the fighting, I said to Lydia, “Start screaming. Vigilants and fighting those hybrids I mentioned!”
Three Vigilants were left. I could see the corpses of four more scattered around.
The hybrids were nine feet tall and looked like gargoyles.
We cut them down.
I studied one of the corpses.
I then spoke to the Vigilant leader.
“Vigilant, what are those things?”
“The ones who just decimated my squad are called Perfect Blood Hybrids. There are several types, and these are the strongest.”
“I have never heard of them till recently.”
“A cult discovered an ancient method that allows them to transform into these beasts. The cultists look normal but transform in seconds. That is how we were caught unawares. We asked two civilians why they were skulking around this part of the shoreline in the middle of the night. They transformed and started to kill us. We stood no chance.”
“Then it is fortunate we came upon the melee. I am sorry you lost so many.”
“I have heard that you, The Dragonborn, disapprove of what we do. Still, as you say, we were fortunate you aided us.”
“Where is the cult based?”
“We believe it is in the snowfields somewhere, but that is a large area to search.”
“What will you do now?”
“I will stand guard over our dead and the beasts. The other two Vigilants will return with a recovery party in a few hours. The dead will be interred, and the beasts dissected as we need to know how to combat them.”
“Blessings of The Divines, Vigilant.”
“Stendarr be with you, Dragonborn and Dragonguard.”
We could see torchlight in the distance and headed that way, assuming it was Froa and Telthar.
As we walked, Lydia asked, “Wulf, will you help the Vigilants deal with the cult?”
“I have intended to visit and speak to their leaders for some time. In particular, I seek ways to weaken Molag Bal. However, if they ask for help dealing with other Daedric problems, I shall do so.”
“Would the cultists be devotees of Molag Bal or Hircine?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps the Unicorns might provide the answer to that. I am sure they encountered all sorts of Hircine minions while trying to survive The Great Hunt.”
Froa and Telthar held the torches. As we approached, Froa handed a Black Soul Gem to Telthar.
- Froa: Such a tiny thing. It fitted into the palm of my hand. Yet you say it contains Priestess Arilwaen’s soul.
- Telthar: I am afraid so.
- Wulf: Souls have no size, Froa. They are energy, like lightning, and the Soul Gem is a crystal that can hold that energy.
- Froa: And Telthar can set Arilwaen free? Can he set all of them free?
- Telthar: I am confident I can, Froa.
- Froa: Then Arilwaen won’t have to go to Sovngarde alone!
- Telthar: I’m afraid I don’t understand. Are Mer allowed in Sovngarde?
- Froa: You’re doing it again. Just shut up and try not to ruin the moment.
- Wulf: Froa, Telthar has every right to be confused. Sovngarde is not restricted to Man. Many species fight for Skyrim and The Empire. If Sovngarde is any individual’s choice for their afterlife, they will be welcomed. However, I doubt Priestess Arilwaen would choose Sovngarde over the rest of Aetherius. She was a person of peace, not battle, and would find Sovngarde very tedious.
- Lydia: The outside was nice, but I never got to see inside The Hall of Valour.
- Froa: Woah! Have you been to Sovngarde?
- Jordis: Yes, she has, and so have I.
- Celestine: And me as well, and I am Breton.
- Wulf: Don’t forget Inigo, my Khajiiti friend, also accompanied us there.
- Lydia: Yeah, he was banned from Windhelm but welcomed in Sovngarde. I guess Lord Shor disapproved of Ulfric’s racism.
- Wulf: Froa, my friends, the Dragonguard, helped me defeat Alduin at The Throat of The Word. Only a few could accompany me to Sovngarde, where we defeated Alduin again.
- Froa: Well, I am no longer having Ulfric’s lies fed to me and will slowly learn the truth. That is why I will miss Priestess Arilwaen. She was the first to open my eyes.
- Telthar: Ahem. I suppose all that’s left to do now is proceed.
- Wulf: Not until we thank you for your assistance fighting the Perfect Blood Hybrids.
- Froa: The what?
- Lydia: Down the beach a bit. Nine-foot-tall crosses between a vampire and a werewolf. They were slaughtering a group of heavily armoured Vigilants of Stendarr.
- Froa: And I was standing here, outlined by my torch!
- Wulf: They would have most likely, well probably, left you alone. I heard they only eat people who wear boots.
- Froa: Ha de ha.
- Telthar: I saw you were quickly taking care of the beasts, so I hurried here to ensure my friend Froa was safe.
- Froa: We believe you because somebody wearing a Thalmor uniform could not lie.
- Wulf: Come on then, let us help the souls.
Telthar placed the gems in neat rows on the ground.
- Telthar: This is a very delicate procedure. Fracturing the gems could easily damage the souls inside.
- Wulf: No, that is wrong. Fracturing a gem would release the Life Force of the entrapped soul. The consciousness of the entrapped soul would then be condemned to The Soul Cairn till at least the end of this Kalpa. Perhaps for eternity. Their preferred afterlife denied them.
- Froa: You, Dragonborn, have managed to sound more doom and gloom than Telthar.
- Wulf: It is better for the truth to be known, Froa.
- Froa: I trust Telthar will do his best.
- Telthar: Why wouldn’t I try…oh, never mind.
- Froa: Are you sure you know what you are doing? How will we know if it worked?
- Telthar: Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is what pious mortals call ‘relying on faith.’
- Froa: Then I pray The Nine are with you.
- Wulf: I will know if it is successful, Froa. I have an affinity with souls. That is one of the blessings given to me by The Nine.
- Froa: Why do I get the impression there is more to The Dragonborn than being a Dragonborn?
- Lydia: Because that is obvious! DUH!
- Telthar: Ahem!
- Wulf: Okay, silence while Telthar does the incantation. No talking, burping, farting or hiccupping. If you are going to keel over with a heart attack, do it silently.
Telthar stared at me, shook his head then proceeded with the ritual.
He knelt and put his hands in the air. The usual pleading posture is not necessary, but it sometimes seems appropriate.
“I call upon thee, Spirits of Nirn, from here to the realms beyond Mundus!
No longer are you bound to the chains of Nirn! Return to the realm from which all life flows!
Rise, sons and daughters of Talos! Free yourself from this mortal coil so that you may join him in Aetherius!”
All of the souls were successfully released from their crystal prisons. A few were lost and wandered to the shore.
Arilwaen decided to linger and say goodbye.
- Froa: By The Divines! Arilwaen, is that you?
- Arilwaen: Indeed, Froa, it is me.
- Froa: Wow! Like wow!
- Arilwaen: Greetings, Brother. You should be proud as you have aided the return of these souls to Aetherius.
- Telthar: At least I managed that. All those years undercover, and I missed the plot that killed you.
- Arilwaen: With death comes wisdom and knowledge. I know what I say is true, so promise me you will not blame yourself when no blame is deserved.
- Telthar: If that is your desire, Sister, I shall try my best.
- Arilwaen: It is not just my desire but that of our parents and Lord Akatosh.
- Telthar: Froa will agree that the people you should thank are The Dragonborn and Dragonguard.
- Froa: A day for miracles. I agree with Telthar!
Arilwaen laughed, then turned to me.
- Arilwaen: I know who you are, Wulf. However, I understand the need to keep the secret for now. The Nine love you and your friends, and the mortals of Nirn owe you all debts beyond measure.
- Wulf: Our duty is to protect the mortals of all races and countries. Today was another small part of the never-ending task.
- Arilwaen: Lord Talos said you would want to know of Jorae. She was greeted by her family, as have I and all the souls of the clergy. That is, all except for those who stand by the shore.
- Wulf: We expected a few lost souls. I will direct them to Lord Arkay, and he will help them enter Aetherius.
- Arilwaen: All of this must be too spiritual for you, Brother.
- Telthar: It seems I need to find new employment. Perhaps I should head for one of the more prominent temples in Cyrodiil and see about becoming a novice.
- Arilwaen: They are not used to their novices being several hundred years of age, but any of The Temples of The Nine would gladly take you.
- Wulf: We just aided a Priest of Vaermina who became a Priest of Mara at several hundred years of age. That is a more considerable transformation from a pretend Thalmor to whatever calling you choose.
- Froa: It isn’t an easy path, Telthar. Arrogance won’t get you anywhere.
- Telthar: At least wearing boots will give me a better start than you, Froa.
- Arilwaen: Can we please have silence while Wulf invokes Arkay’s Rights?
I looked over at the spirits who stared across the Sea of Ghosts.
I explained, “Most spirits cannot cross water. That is why many people have their sarcophagus surrounded by water, in case their spirit wants to wander, or evil spirits try to interfere. These lost spirits are keen to return to their place of death but do not know how to get there. They would end up wandering this part of the coast till claimed by time or those who prey on such souls. Arkay’s Rights will allow them to see the entrance to Aetherius, and Lord Arkay will beckon them to their afterlife. This ritual also protects souls from necromancy.”
The spirits were distant, so I used the Thu’um so they would hear my voice over the crashing waves, grunts of Horkers and cries of seagulls.
- Behold, faithful of the divines, the beauty of your transformation.
- Do not fear the journey but rejoice as the gate opens.
- Enter Aetherius with joy in your heart and a smile on your face.
- The gate opens for all mortals.
- Not riches nor rank nor power can deny this return to Aetherius.
- As you approach the gate, Aetherius will approach you.
- Do not turn from the gate, as that is to reject your new life.
- Walk without fear and with dignity through the gate.
- Welcome your transformation.
- You need not fear losing your way, for he will guide you to your reward.
- Your body will decay.
- Your soul will remain safe behind the gate.
- Once the gate closes, you may never return.
- This is Arkay’s Law.
All of the spirits vanished, as, like all The Divines, Lord Arkay can do infinite tasks at once. He would have welcomed each individual as if they had his undivided attention.
- Arilwaen: It is done, and Lord Arkay extends his thanks.
- Wulf: It is a pity we never had that discussion over wine and cheese.
- Arilwaen: Indeed, but I am now at an advantage. I see the errors of my assumptions now and could easily debate Lord Talos with you.
- Wulf: Yes, you are at an advantage. You now know more about Lord Talos than he has divulged to me.
- Arilwaen: I was going to deny that, but I see it is accurate and why this is so. I am sorry, Wulf, for I know it causes you grief, and so does Lord Talos.
- Wulf: It is as it is.
- Arilwaen: Perhaps one day, we can share the wine and cheese amongst the stars and debate other subjects requiring deep thought.
- Wulf: The Divines have an extensive wine cellar, and their cheese platters are to die for!
- Lydia: Even the dead have to suffer Wulf’s puns!
- Arilwaen: Brother, let yourself morn for that is the nature of things. You know my soul is saved but will miss my company, and your mind will recoil over future experiences lost. Hold our love in your heart, and I will be with you always.
- Telthar: I am the last of our line, Arilwaen. I am to face this world alone for the first time, and I am frightened.
- Arilwaen: Find your purpose, and you will never be alone, for others of like will travel the path with you.
- Telthar: A few hours ago, I would have dismissed that as religious nonsense.
- Arilwaen: But now you have seen that The Nine are full of compassion and need help protecting their beloved mortals.
- Telthar: Yes, and The Thalmor would forget their unobtainable goal if they would only open their eyes.
- Arilwaen: Farewell, all. Mother is eager to show me around. We will probably end up at some giant heavenly bazaar looking at shoes for millennia.
- Telthar: Send a pair of boots down for Froa.
Arilwaen faded along with her laughter, and I turned to the others.
- Froa: Did that really happen? Was it…was it really her?
- Telthar: I doubt it was anyone else. It is far more difficult to impersonate someone from the other side.
- Froa: Good times or bad, you never change Telthar. I’m almost afraid to ask, but where will you go next?
- Telthar: As I told Arilwaen, I will head for Cyrodiil and decide which temple deserves me as an acolyte.
- Wulf: I would help you, but I don’t know the location of all the Daedric temples.
- Telthar: Perhaps The Thalmor should eradicate all bad pun makers? Anyway, I want to continue Arilwaen and Father’s work but take a different approach. The Thalmor regard Lord Talos as a separate entity and an intrusion on The Eight. They have never asked a Divine for their opinion on this. Perhaps from now on, the best solution is to make The Thalmor see the truth, and if they refuse, let the citizens of The Dominion know what harm they do in their name.
- Wulf: That is a valid, if perilous and long-term approach to the problem.
- Telthar: An advantage of being Mer is we have a long time to achieve long-term goals, Dragonborn. Starting with a more accurate understanding of The Nine is the first step, hence my willingness to become an acolyte.
- Froa: What about you, Wulf? What will you do now?
- Wulf: The Thalmor need to be taught that such butchery comes with a steep price. What I did to the last Stormcloaks will be repeated without prior warning.
- Froa: Oh! In that case, I want you to take me with you. You helped us, so it is only right I return the favour.
- Wulf: This part of the journey I walk alone, Froa. However, there is room for you amongst The Dragonguard if you wish to be scrutinised and prodded by Vayu. He has the final say on who can become a Dragonguard.
- Froa: Do you think I have what it takes?
- Wulf: I am a good judge of people, Froa. You have abundant compassion, and Vayu told me what you did during the melee. So yes, I think you have what it takes.
- Froa: Woah, then I’m in! When does the prodding start?
- Celestine: Vayu, my fiancé, will start his selection process in two days. In the meantime, you can live amongst us and decide if our group of misfits is something you could handle long-term.
- Froa: That big, Redguard brute is your fiancé? Lucky lady!
- Lydia: I think you will fit in perfectly with the eclectic bunch of weirdoes collectively known as The Dragonguard.
- Wulf: Celestine, please take Froa to Silverpeak Lodge. Then you can return and help Vayu if you so desire.
- Celestine: Will do.
- Wulf: Telthar, I wish you well and please, let us know when you find a new home. Whatever you do, stay away from The Thalmor. You will be arrested if they see you.
- Telthar: I know. Besides, I think Thalmor establishments might be unhealthy for those who wear this uniform shortly.
- Wulf: Very unhealthy.
- Lydia: Wulf…
- Wulf: Yes, I know, be careful. Aren’t I always?
- Lydia: No.
- Celestine: Not that I can remember.
- Iona: This is a trick question, isn’t it?
- Jordis: Maybe he was careful once, and that caused a Dragon Break?
I cast Shadow Walk and laughed as Froa asked, “Is Wulf taken?”
She jumped when I said, “I am still here, Froa. And the answer is yes. My beloved is the best wielder of greatswords I have ever seen. Many who face her are twain in two.”
“Oh, ah, I had better get a list of unattached men and women so I can remain in one piece.”
I teleported just inside the entrance of Markarth.
I walked through the streets of Markarth at a far more leisurely pace than earlier and had time to look around. To me, the city lacked warmth. There was no colour or contrast. Dwemer ascetics are mundane and boring. Bland sums up Markarth to perfection. Perhaps they should rename it to Bland?
I entered Understone Keep and immediately thought it should be called Underwhelming Keep.
I made my way to the private rooms, following Faleen, Jarl Igmund’s infamously grumpy Redguard housecarl.
She turned right into her room, and I continued to the end of the corridor.
To the left were the private rooms of Legate Emmanuel Admand. He is a Breton, and although a competent commander, he lacks the critical understanding of Nord or Reachman. Both are savages to his way of thinking. I only met him once and felt like punching him in the nose.
To the right was the spacious accommodation of Justiciar Ondolemar and his guards. It must irritate Jarl Igmund no end having Thalmor living in his keep.
I decided to use Ondolemar’s dagger for the kills. It still had the blood of Jorae and her father on it.
I entered the guard’s bedroom.
I slit the throat of the first guard. The body jerked in a single death throw, and my hand over the guard’s mouth muffled the startled yelp.
I repeated the process with the second guard.
I decided to search for any helpful correspondence but found nothing.
Heat-Vision showed no other guards were in this part of the keep.
I entered a spa room, and it sickened me. The Thalmor need to relax after a hard day of slaughtering Nord peasants.
I exited the spa and entered the next room down. It was Ondolemar’s room.
I walked over, knelt, and placed my hand over his mouth. The point of his dagger dug into the bottom of his jaw.
Ondolemar’s eye sprung open, looked into mine, and panic took over. He struggled but had no hope of breaking my grip. He grabbed my arms but could not budge them. After half a minute of futile struggling, he stopped moving and stared at me.
I said, in a normal voice, “Justiciar Ondolemar, I am returning your dagger. That is the point you feel under your chin. It was careless of you to leave it embedded in the back of Jorae, the little girl. What would your wife, imminently your widow, say if she knew you lost the present she gave you?”
I slowly pushed Ondolemar’s dagger up through his mouth and into his brain. He screamed into my hand and thrashed about but finally went still. I left the dagger embedded. Perhaps they will give it to his widow.
I searched Ondolemar and recovered a dossier on Thonar Silver-Blood. I cleaned the blood off my hands with Magicka, then read the dossier.
“Status: Passive, Emissary Level Approval
Description: Male, Nord, 50s
Background: Thonar Silver-Blood runs the most prominent clan in Markarth, namely the Silver-Blood Family. He owns most of the property in Markarth, including Cidhna Mine, a significant source of Silver.
Reports point out that Thongvor was involved in the Markarth Incident and has been in contact with Madanach, ‘The King in Rags’, the leader of the Forsworn Rebellion.
Operational Notes: Our agents in Markarth, namely Justiciar Ondolemar, are currently actively monitoring the Silver-Bloods. Do not interfere with their ongoing investigation until further notice.”
Thonar and his brother Thongvor are Ulfric apologists. I don’t need a premonition to know I shall clash with the Silver-Bloods sooner than later.
I climbed the stairs to the second level of Ondolemar’s quarters.
A single locked door opened to a room full of stolen loot. Property taken from Talos worshippers was piled in barrels and chests. Crude traps protected the hoard.
I did not want people to think that the deaths of Ondolemar and his guards were part of a robbery. Therefore, I closed the door and teleported to Widow’s Watch.