Morndas, 1st Hearthfire, 4E 201
I hadn’t broken my fast or even said good morning to anybody before Silah popped out of the ether.
“Wulf, Odahviing is back in Skyrim with fourteen Dov he found in Hammerfell. A few of them are attacking Solitude!”
“I will tell all Sentinels and Dragonguard to head there. I don’t want you, Nahfahlaar or Valminoor to help. The defenders will attack any dragon they see, and they do not know we have dragon allies.”
“Is this the start of their offensive?”
“I don’t think they have the numbers, especially if you and the others bring down a few. However, I doubt Solitude will be their only target. Alduin was content to sacrifice allies to spread fear and chaos during The Dragon War.”
“The Jarls aren’t prepared for this.”
“Do what you can, Wulf.”
Silah vanished, and I ran around the living area, issuing orders. Each squad of four included at least one mage who could teleport and summon. It did not take long before we were spread all over Solitude.
I teleported some of the Ka’Po’Tun into Castle Dour’s courtyard. We quickly ascertained that four dragons were attacking.
I conducted a quick inspection of how the guards and Legionnaires were fairing. They were bunched together, making them vulnerable to area-of-effect attacks.
I used my Thu’um, and my voice echoed around Solitude.
“GUARDS AND LEGIONNAIRES, THIS IS THANE WELKYND, THE DRAGONBORN. DO NOT CLUSTER! SPREAD OUT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. IF A DRAGON LANDS ON THE GROUND, ATTACK ITS FLANKS.”
When the dragons realised that I was there, I became their target. Therefore, I stayed in Castle Dour’s courtyard, as no civilian housing was nearby.
My Thu’um was not focused enough, so I used Thunderbolts as my primary weapon. One Thunderbolt from me is usually enough to kill an armoured mortal opponent, so I was inflicting heavy damage on the dragons.
Such was the intensity of spell and arrow barrages that a landed dragon risked severe damage in seconds.
The first dragon we killed was Yolmuthahvoth (Fire Storm Ruler).
A Solitude guardsman approached me and said a dragon was trying to break into The Blue Palace. Jarl Elisif would be deep underground and out of harm’s way, but still, it was not a polite thing to do!
I ran through the city and confronted Vuzsahrotnaal (Blood Darkness Hunter), who did the usual Dov boasting about the strength of his Thu’um. I didn’t bother replying but leapt on his head. My katana then penetrated his eye and entered his brain. That ended Vuzsahrotnaal’s boasting.
Another dragon fell to the defenders as I returned to Castle Dour’s courtyard. His name was Naanlaazvoshul (Champion Flame Slayer).
Yet another dragon, named Vokulrothgaar (Shadow Sun Champion), came crashing to the ground as I approached the courtyard.
Four dragons had fallen, yet three still attacked. It seemed another two had joined the fray since we arrived.
Civilians added to our effort but were particularly vulnerable.
The surviving dragons retreated. The concentration of firepower from The Sentinels and Dragonguard was too much.
I quickly looked at the damage and casualties as my friends started aiding the wounded and help put out fires.
I returned to Aurane, and over the next two hours, most of my friends returned. Almost fifty guards and legionnaires were killed. About the same number of civilians also died. Considering the intensity of the attack and the many residents, they were remarkably low numbers. They could easily have hit the thousands.
None of my friends was severely injured, but some looked haunted by what they witnessed.
- Lydia: Wulf, they would still be fighting if we hadn’t arrived. Much of the city would have been destroyed.
- Wulf: It would have been worse if the dragons didn’t start targeting me.
- P’Sua: I didn’t hear you use a Shout.
- Wulf: I can’t focus The Voice well enough to be effective against Dov. I needed to do the maximum damage I could, and the Thunderbolt spell was the best choice.
- Khao: Like in Akavir, civilians were willing to die defending their homes.
- Wulf: Yes, and a couple of them paid with their life. I was pleased and surprised at how empty the streets became. Most citizens wisely left the defence to us and Solitude’s garrison.
- P’Sua: The garrison took your advice and dispersed, which saved more lives.
- Wulf: Dragons are opportunists, and massed enemies are tempting targets.
- Lydia: This scenario is what you feared, Wulf.
- Wulf: The offensive by Alduin was expected, and Odahviing’s visit to Hammerfell provided enough dragons for it to start this early. As I have told others, this is not another Dragon War but a resumption of the original.
- P’Sua: Silah is here, Wulf.
I walked over to Silah, wondering what city or town was next on Alduin’s list.
I asked, “Where are they now?”
“Dragon Bridge and Windhelm.”
“I will take a squad to Dragon Bridge. There is a large contingent of Penitus Oculatus there who should pose a threat to the dragons. The rest of The Sentinels and Dragonguard can help Windhelm.”
“You bloodied Alduin’s nose in Solitude, Wulf. They can’t keep this offensive going for long.”
Silah vanished, and I quickly issued orders.
We came out of the ether to a scene of panic and chaos. Three dragons were attacking the town. Dead lay scattered, including a girl child, and some guards had been ensorceled. Constant lightning made it challenging to see.
I used Heat Vision to see where the living were in-between the blinding flashes.
Then I used a Clear Sky Shout, and the storm rapidly dissipated.
A dragon landed near the foot of the famous bridge. It vanished as Celestine, and I ran towards it.
I used my Thu’um and advised, “THIS IS THANE WELKYND, THE DRAGONBORN. ONE OF THE DRAGONS IS AN ETHER DRAGON, AND HE IS THE GREATEST DANGER. IF YOU WATCH CLOSELY, YOU WILL SEE A RIPPLE EFFECT WHEN HE PASSES OVERHEAD. SHOOT AT THE RIPPLE!”
Everybody did as I suggested, and Krinlorhaanvah (Elder Spirit King) was severely injured. He landed heavily, knocking some of us over with his downdraught and ground shake.
I quickly got back on my feet and attacked Krinlorhaanvah with a flurry of sword strokes. He died, and I immediately turned my attention to the remaining dragons.
The other dragons were weak. They flew overhead in formation but did minor damage with their combined Thu’um.
Kromkopaazlok (Storm Sky Crusher) issued a challenge and landed before me.
He didn’t last long.
While I tackled Kromkopaazlok, the town defenders badly injured Lokhulgrimaar (Frost Destroyer Dov), who had landed on the inn’s roof.
When I ran towards him, the dragon used an Ice Form Shout on me and looked puzzled when it had zero effect.
Lokhulgrimaar lifted into the air, but his brief time as a stationary target proved fatal.
He crashed to the ground. I easily outpaced everybody and quickly reached Lokhulgrimaar.
I soon cut him down, and the fighting was over.
The people of Dragon Bridge emerged. Many guards and Penitus Oculatus died but had provided invaluable assistance in the town’s defence. We helped with the injured and put out a couple of small fires. People started grieving over the slain, including the deceased child’s mother. Her wails of anguish tore at my soul, and I wept with her.
Silah said Odahviing had returned to Skyrim with fourteen dragons recruited in Hammerfell. I had seen seven dragons slain, but their origins were unknown. I had no idea how many dragons were in Skyrim supporting Alduin.
Silah flew overhead and said, “The fighting continues in Windhelm. A single dragon is attacking Rorikstead.”
We had done what we could in Dragon Bridge, so we immediately teleported into Rorikstead.
The dragon, Multhunrothkaan (Thunder Storm King), had been attacking outlying farms. When he saw us materialise, we became his targets.
A young girl ran past, and I said, “Get inside. It is not safe!”
She yelled back, “Not until I get Varge under cover! The stables aren’t far!”
The determined look on her face touched my heart. She was old enough to choose, so I let her be.
Guards and civilians were being turned to ash by the lightning bolts. I knew the Shout, and it is called Storm Call. It is indiscriminate in its killing.
I Shouted Clear Skies, and the storm dissipated.
Multhunrothkaan landed in front of me and wasted time with threats and boasts.
I rapidly ended his life.
I was relieved to see the girl and Varge had survived. There were a few minor injuries and half a dozen deaths, but Rorikstead had escaped significant damage.
I didn’t know if Delphine had arranged my pass to the Thalmor Embassy’s party. I returned to Aurane to see if Erandur had finished aiding Delphine and find out who I was to meet.
When we appeared in the palace, a Dragonguard sentry told me Master Mage Sulinus had some critical information.
I found Sulinus indulging in his favourite pastime. He likes to read obscure tomes on unrelated matters when not teaching the children. He was reading a treatise on Kagouti mating habits. The more abstract the subject, the more attractive it was to Sulinus.
Sulinus saw me and said, “Master Erandur was here. When told of the attack on Windhelm, he decided he would join the others there. He said he would leave your invitation and contact information in your room.”
“Thank you, Master Sulinus.”
“How is it out there, Lord Welkynd?”
“The dragons are causing a lot of damage, but the casualties are not as high as they could have been. The citizens, guards and Jarls were not prepared for this, Master Sulinus. Still, the bravery shown by all gives me heart. I grieve for those lost and must move fast to prevent more deaths.”
I quickly made my way to my room and read the information left by Erandur. If I hurried, I would make it to the party a bit late, but not overly so.
I placed my armour into a chest.
I willed myself into my Aetherius Room and approached my old field armour. I had worn it for years on Akavir, and it was superb quality.
I decided to use a smaller shield, a buckler, instead of the large round shield. The large shield was useful when facing lines of archers. However, the large shield was too cumbersome when fighting a melee in a confined space.
I placed my weapons and supplies into a nearby crate, then returned to my room in Aurane.
I transformed into Slurps-the-Swamp and then donned my party attire.
Inigo knocked, and I told him to enter.
He approached and then circled me twice.
I told him, “Yes, Inigo, as I told you and the squad, I would be an Argonian. Only a very skilled mage could detect the dweomer, and only if they were looking for it. A casual glance will never reveal that I am anything but an Argonian.”
“That is an amazing spell, my friend.”
“Indeed, it is, and thankfully not many people outside the Psijic Order know it.”
“Yes, I can imagine assassins would enjoy such a deception. An Argonian enters and makes sure many see and hear him. A few people die, and the Argonian gets blamed, while the assassin escapes all suspicion.”
“It is easier to sound like an Argonian because the throat and mouth are correctly shaped. Still, it is a strange tongue in my mouth, and the many sharp teeth are a distraction. Plus, I have no idea how to stop knocking things over with my tail.”
“Yes, it is not as sleek and flexible as a Khajiiti tail. Hopefully, you will not have to be Slurps-the-Swamp for long.”
Inigo gathered the squad, and after several minutes of questions about my transformation, I explained the plan. I was to meet a Bosmer called Malborn inside The Winking Skeever in Solitude. He works as a servant in the embassy. The Thalmor killed his family, and he now seeks revenge. However, he is meek and not suited to undercover work. One of my staff at Windstad Manor, Engar, was told by Erandur to have the carriage ready for me, as he would drive me to the embassy. Once at the party, I am to cause a distraction, enabling Malborn to lead me further into the embassy. From there, I will search for clues about Blades hiding in Skyrim.
Celestine was an undercover operative for many years. She inspected my invitation and said it was genuine and wouldn’t arouse suspicion.
There was a risk that my presence would invite another attack on Solitude, but I couldn’t send anybody else to meet with Malborn.
We teleported to just inside the gates.
I told my squad, “The Winking Skeever is guaranteed to be busy as many citizens will desire company after the dragon attack. I am unarmed and unarmoured, and you must keep me safe. Some patrons may recognise you and offer drinks or need to talk. Therefore, be civil, but be aware!”
We entered The Winking Skeever, which wasn’t as crowded as expected. However, all the conversations I overheard concerned dragons, the attack on the city, etc.
Erandur had described Malborn, and I soon spotted him. He had managed to claim a table and keep a seat vacant.
I walked over and sat down.
“Ahh, that seat is reserved. I have a friend coming.”
“Malborn? I doubt that is your real name because if they wiped out your family, you are on their list of missed targets.”
“Who are you?”
“A certain innkeeper has arranged for me to attend a party.”
“Really? You’re who she picked? I hope she knows what she’s doing.”
“She didn’t pick me, Malborn. I am her superior, and I know what I am doing. However, I am not so sure about you.”
“Well, here is the deal. I can smuggle some equipment into the embassy for you. Don’t plan on bringing anything else in with you. The Thalmor take security very seriously. I’m ready to go. Give me what you can’t live without, and I’ll get it into the Embassy. The rest is up to you.”
I unsheathed a normal iron dagger and gently placed in on the table.
I said, “That’s it.”
“That is all you want me to smuggle into the embassy?”
“Do you think you could sneak in a full set of plate-armour and a greatsword? No, Malborn, that would not be possible since you mentioned how seriously they take security. That dagger is all I need.”
Malborn went to grab the dagger and yelped when I grabbed his wrist.
I growled, “Touch the handle only. The blade is covered with the deadliest poison on Nirn. One touch and all your organs expand, then pop, one by one. That includes your sexual organs, Malborn. They are usually the first to go bang!”
Malborn looked in wide-eyed horror at the dagger, then, shaking, picked it up by the handle and wrapped a silk handkerchief around the blade.
I laughed and said, “Never use that handkerchief again, Malborn. Hey, there is an idea! Wipe your nose during the party, and as everybody watches you die an entertaining but agonising death, I can sneak out the back!”
Malborn’s eyes narrowed, and he hissed, “Haha. Funny joke.”
“Who said I was joking, Malborn?”
Malborn stood and said, “Okay. I’ll get this inside the Embassy for you. I’ve got to go. I’ll find you at the party, don’t worry.”
“Oh, I am not worried, Malborn. I will kill all who get in my way. You, on the other hand, might want to carry a spare pair of underpants.”
Malborn rushed away. I signalled, and my friends came closer. I then teleported us inside Windstad Manor.
Sonir, one of my two Stewards at Windstad, looked up in alarm as I approached.
I said, “Despite my appearance, Sonir, it is me, Lord Welkynd.”
“Yeah? Then what was my father’s name, and how did he die?”
“He was Drac Sevlon, a Reachman. He was executed by order of Ulfric Stormcloak during The Markarth Incident. His only crime was being born a Reachman. Your mother, Sor, was raped but survived, only to die of consumption three years later.”
Celestine said, “It is Lord Welkynd, Sonir.”
I explained, “I would revert to my normal form, but the hole for my tail makes these trousers breezy.”
Sonir laughed and said, “That sad attempt at humour proves it is you, Lord Welkynd.”
“Is Nobushi here?”
“She was having a late lunch with Anaka and Ogra by the pools.”
We made our way to the pools. Despite the snow and bitterly cold winds, the heated pools are pleasant to bathe in.
Ogra and Anaka recognised Celestine and saluted her as they passed.
Nobushi is the daughter of a free Akaviri noble. She was destined for an arranged marriage, which was a dilemma because she likes females, not males. The two Dragonguard with her are her lovers. Nobushi is only seventeen, but her doting father had paid for classes from top Swordmasters. That meant Nobushi was of expert level with the katana and capable of defending herself. We rescued her when Tsaesci slavers captured her. They were keen to sell her for a good price but didn’t live for long when we intercepted them. Nobushi asked for asylum, and we gave it to her.
All three Akaviri wanted to join us in Skyrim, where they didn’t need to worry about Tsaesci. Windstad is an ideal placement for them.
- Celestine: Nobushi, let me introduce Slurps-the-Swamp.
- Nobushi: It is a pleasure to meet you, Slurps-the-Swamp.
- Wulf: You should tell her, Celestine.
- Celestine: It’s Wulf. He used a fancy Psijic spell to turn himself into an Argonian.
- Nobushi: That is impressive!
- Wulf: Erandur stopped by earlier and told you what was to happen.
- Nobushi: Yes, Engar is ready to go. He might be grumpy after sitting out in the cold waiting for you.
- Wulf: He is a Nord. He should be bare-chested and enjoying this weather.
- Nobushi: Please, I have seen him topless too many times. All that hairiness and muscles. Yuck!
- Lydia: Oh, I might have to spend a few days at Windstad Manor!
- Inigo: Nobushi, I am Inigo. Is Engar blind?
- Nobushi: Ahh, no. Why do you ask?
- Inigo: I am afraid, Lydia, you would waste your time with Engar. His eyes work.
- Lydia: So, it’s a war you want?
- Inigo: Trouncing somebody with my superior wit is a hobby of mine.
- Lydia: This will be fun.
- Wulf: Excuse these two, Nobushi. We have spent most of the day fighting dragons, and I think they both got knocked on the head.
- Celestine: You had better get going, Wulf.
I walked over to Engar and the carriage.
The perpetually grumpy Nord said, “Erandur told me you would be Argonian. Get aboard, and clean up any scales before exiting.”
I climbed aboard the household carriage, and Inigo quipped, “Have fun with The Thalmor, my friend. I hear they throw the best parties. Manacles, thumb screws, whips, and racks of only the highest quality.”
Celestine would teleport the others back to Aurane. All The Sentinels and Dragonguard will remain armed and armoured in case more dragon attacks occur. I wondered how Windhelm weathered their dragon attack. It was nearly all stone, so the buildings should be okay. However, there would be a concentration of troops, and the casualties could be high.
Several hours later, we arrived at the Thalmor Embassy. They had a smaller one in Solitude, but this was the centre of their operations in Skyrim. I didn’t fear an ambush by bandits along the way because passenger carriages were left alone by an unwritten decree. An attack on a carriage would ensure a contingent of soldiers was sent to hunt the guilty. Since they would decide any bandit in the vicinity was to blame, it was wise not to touch the carriages. To do so earned the wrath of authorities and fellow bandits.
I jumped off the carriage and thanked Engar, who would soon return to Windstad Manor. I noticed a well-dressed Redguard sitting on a rock and approached him.
I asked, “Have you forgotten your invite, good sir?”
“Ah! A fellow latecomer to Elenwen’s little soiree. And arriving by carriage, no less! I salute you, sir! I have my pass, and my lateness is due more to getting lost on the way up this god’s forsaken mountain than to any desire to arrive late. I prefer to arrive early. Often the day before the party. So as not to miss out on any of the drinking.”
“I am Slurps-the-Swamp. You are?”
“Razelan, a senior broker with The East Empire Company. I make lots of money for The Thalmor. Otherwise, they would have shortened me by a head long ago.”
“And you are here for the free booze?”
“Well, Slurpy, there’s not enough drinking in the world today, wouldn’t you agree? I was resting briefly, although it was damnably cold out here. I don’t look forward to the trip back down… Perhaps we might share a carriage after the party? I know, I know – we’ve just met. But think, by the time the party ends, we’ll no doubt be fast friends.”
“Maybe, we shall see. Anyway, I am heading indoors before my tail freezes off.”
My sword hand twitched as I approached a Justiciar. It was Justiciar Ondolemar, the head of the Talos hunters in Skyrim. He looked at me with distaste, then turned and headed inside.
I look forward to the day I slaughter him as he has done to so many innocent civilians.
Razelan was not far behind me.
A Thalmor wearing ridiculous glass armour asked, “Do you have your invitation, sir?”
I handed him my invitation. He glanced at it, checked my name on a list and said, “All is in order, sir. Go right in.”
The process reminded me of Lieutenant Hadvar ticking off the condemned prisoner list in Helgen.
As I headed up the stairs, I overheard Razelan’s conversation.
- Razelan: Now then. Here’s my invitation. I don’t have a poisoned dagger strapped to my thigh, et cetera, et cetera.
- Thalmor Soldier: I’m just doing my duty, sir. Everything’s in order. Welcome back, sir.
- Razelan: Yes, yes. Now, am I free to find myself a drink?
- Thalmor Soldier: All is in order, sir. Head right in.
A Thalmor Wizard stared at me as I walked past. He was undoubtedly thinking of his racial superiority over the lizard people. I found this experience harder than I thought, battling my desire to kill every murderer I encountered.
I entered and saw Malborn behind a bar. Elenwen came strolling towards me. She must have sensed my desire to throttle her as she stopped out of reach.
She said, “Welcome. I don’t believe we’ve met. I am Elenwen, the Thalmor Ambassador to Skyrim. And you are…?”
“I am Slurps-the-Swamp, wholesaler of Tamriel’s most popular adult toys. Perhaps you have enjoyed some of my fine products?”
“I highly recommend my biggest seller, the Vibrating Frost Giant Phallus. It might be large, but satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back! Not that anybody has complained. That is because they can’t walk to the retailers to complain. Hahahaha!”
I glanced at Malborn, who had a panicked look on his face. If I didn’t resort to humour, crude as it may be, I might give in to my desire and turn Elenwen into a torch. Malborn finally found his voice.
- Malborn: Madame Ambassador, I’m so sorry to interrupt…
- Elenwen: What is it, Malborn?
- Malborn: It’s just that we’ve run out of the Alto wine. Do I have your permission to uncork the Arenthia red…
- Elenwen: Of course. I’ve told you before not to bother me with such trifles.
- Malborn: Yes, Madame Ambassador.
- Elenwen: My apologies, Slurps-the-Swamp. We’ll have to get better acquainted later. Please, enjoy yourself.
- Wulf: Yes, of course. Perhaps I can send you a wagon loaded with some of my products, and next time we meet, you can tell me about your favourites.
I left Elenwen with mouth agape and had a look around the room.
Justiciar Ondolemar stared at me with his arms crossed. Does he suspect me, an Argonian, of being a Talos worshipper? Most of the Jarls were in attendance, and many worshipped Talos. If I had come as Wulf, remaining uninterrupted would have been difficult. I would have been asked why I was there, about the dragons, etc.
I was surprised some of the Jarls weren’t in their cities coordinating relief efforts. Many had to travel a long way over many days or weeks to attend this party. Few like The Thalmor, but it was best to remain cordial.
I wouldn’t mind eliminating a couple of nobles along with The Thalmor. Thane Erikur was one and was as crooked as a dog’s leg. Jarl Elisif kept him close as he may prove an ally if Ulfric were to win the civil war. I do not doubt that once that threat has been eliminated and Elisif is High Queen, Erikur will be swiftly removed from his position.
Elisif seemed content to remain aloof. She did no politicking and knew that the support amongst the Jarls was already decided. If an individual Jarl supported Ulfric’s claim, it was too late to change their mind. To them, Elisif represented The Empire. Elisif was Emperor Titus Mede II’s niece via some illegitimacy, but the blood connection was there. I doubt His Imperial Majesty would dare break convention and name her as Heir Presumptive.
There was some talk about the dragon attacks, but I could sense the Jarls were being careful. They did not want to mention casualties or damage to opponents in the civil war.
I walked over to Razelan and said, “Razelan, Thane Erikur is wearing the same outfit as you. I would sack your tailor, but only after giving him a good thrashing.”
“I am too thirsty to care.”
“Then why have you not attended the bar or asked the waitress for a drink?”
“I can have as much to drink as I like. However, Elenwen told the staff I should not be served alcohol.”
“I know The Thalmor have a reputation for barbarism, but that depravity is beyond words! I shall rectify this injustice immediately!”
As I walked towards the waitress, many guests openly stared at me. I was new to them, and no doubt they measured me regarding political gain. Who is he? Whose side is he on? Should I be concerned about him?
I said to the waitress, “That drink tray looks mighty heavy. Perhaps I can lighten the load somewhat.”
“Haha. Indeed, you can, sir. These goblets are full of the finest Colovian Brandy.”
“Then I shall take two goblets because talking bullshit created quite a thirst.”
I took two goblets off the tray and weaved through the crowd. Once again, I was subjected to stares and could imagine some attendees’ shallow and selfish thoughts.
I handed a goblet to Razelan and said, “Here, I have one to sake your thirst and another for you to consume slowly, as Colovian Brandy deserves time on the palate.”
Razelan eagerly gulped down the first goblet. He then took a sip of the second goblet and sighed.
He said, “You are a rarity, a generous soul amongst a gathering of pinch-pennies and lick-spittles! If there’s anything I can ever do for you, do not hesitate to call upon me!”
“Well, Razelan, my generosity was not entirely charitable. I need a noisy distraction, and you seem just the fellow to create one for me.”
“It just so happens you’ve come to the right person. You could say that causing a scene is a speciality of mine. Stand back and behold my handiwork.”
Razelan walked to the centre of the room, and there was instant silence. It seems that Razelan is indeed a specialist in causing a scene, and the crowd watch with eager anticipation.
As I made my way slowly towards Malborn, I found myself smiling at Razelan’s performance.
- Razelan: Attention, everyone. Could I have your attention, please? I have an announcement to make! I propose a toast to Elenwen, our Mistress!
- Elenwen: Razelan, what are you doing?
- Razelan: I speak figuratively, of course. Nothing could be more unlikely than someone wanting Elenwen in their bed.
- Elenwen: Ugh.
- Razelan: Although… most of you are already in bed with her! But again… I speak figuratively, of course!
Just as I reached Malborn behind the bar, some guards converged on Razelan and grabbed him by the arms.
- Razelan: Fine. Fine. Take your hands off me. I’ll be a good boy now.
- Elenwen: You are important, Razelan. But I warn you. My patience is running out!
- Razelan: Well, I wouldn’t want to offend our Thalmor overlords, would I?
- Elenwen: Stick him on a carriage and tell the driver to bill the embassy.
- Razelan: Hey, before I go, can someone bring me a drink, quick?
Malborn whispered, “Let’s go, let’s go! Before anyone notices us.”
I followed Malborn through one door, which I closed behind me. He stopped before another door and turned to me.
He explained, “So far, so good. Let’s hope nobody saw us slip out. We need to pass through the kitchen. Your dagger is hidden in the larder. Just stay close and let me do any talking. Follow me.”
I appreciated the risk Malborn was taking and was surprised at how calm he seemed. Perhaps I underestimated him?
A Khajiiti servant watched us as we approached the larder.
When Malborn opened the larder door, she objected.
- Tsavani: Who comes, Malborn? You know I don’t like strange smells in my kitchen.
- Malborn: This guest is feeling ill. Leave the poor wretch be.
- Tsavani: A guest in the kitchen is against the rules!
- Malborn: Rules, is it, Tsavani? I didn’t realize that eating Moon Sugar was permitted. Perhaps I should ask the Ambassador?
- Tsavani: Tss! Get out of here. I saw nothing.
We entered the larder, and Malborn locked the door from inside.
He said, “Your dagger is in that chest. When you exit through that other door, you will be in the heart of the embassy. I’ll lock that door behind you, or the patrols might notice something’s wrong.”
I told him, “Do not shit your trousers or scream, Malborn.”
“Why would I do that?”
I willed myself into my Aetherius Room, then removed my party clothes. I changed back into Ningheim form and donned my old armour. I retrieved my weapons and other necessary items from the chest and the buckler I intended to use.
The armour was ancient and gifted to me by Swordmaster Kifa-xheras, one of the three Tsaesci Dragonguard who escorted me from Roscrea to their ship and then Akavir.
I could alter the flow of time in the room. When I returned to Nirn, I appeared in front of Malborn less than two seconds after I had left.
Despite my warning, he shrieked and cowered.
I said, “It’s okay, Malborn. I won’t tell you my name, but I was disguised as Slurps-the-Swamp. The dagger I handed you in Solitude is harmless. I made up the story about the poison so you wouldn’t ask too many questions.”
Malborn stood and asked, “How can you look like an Argonian so convincingly when you are a Khajiiti?”
“Oh, I forgot about the dweomer on my mask. It did not make me look like an Argonian. That was a spell I cast. I am not a Khajiiti, Malborn. My mask is hiding my race from you. Another person who sees me may think I am a Redguard, and another swear I was a Dunmer.”
“This is fascinating, but I had better return to the party.”
I crouched down and crept through the door. Malborn quickly locked it behind me.
Two Thalmor were happily chatting away. They were not worried about an intruder because nobody would be that stupid.
I killed the first, then the second when he tried to run away.
Their deaths were noisy, so a Thalmor Wizard came to investigate.
He saw me but too late. My arrow hit him in the groin, and the various destruction dweomer on the arrow killed him.
I used Heat Vision and couldn’t see anybody else in this part of the embassy. I had studied the floorplan of the place and knew that most of the senior Thalmor lived in what they called ‘Elenwen’s Solar.’ I would have to sneak past dozens of elite guards to reach that.
I looked through several rooms, and the only thing of use I found was a Thalmor doll. Gladys had chewed through most of her supply, so I took it. Nobody taught Gladys to hate Thalmor. It was instinctive.
Before exiting, I cast Shroudwalk. It is superior to a normal Invisibility spell as I can perform many tasks before I am visible once more. Just opening a door with the standard Invisibility spell makes it dissipate.
I exited and did a quick inspection of the grounds. There were two dozen Thalmor patrolling the area. Several times today, we had been subjected to Storm Call, a Shout popular amongst dragons. Now it was my turn to employ it.
I looked upwards, and my Thu’um echoed as I Shouted Storm Call.
The sky immediately became a rolling mass of storm clouds.
Then the lightning started to strike, each bolt hitting one or more Thalmor.
Within a minute, the two dozen Thalmor guarding Elenwen’s Solar were dead. The guards at the front of the embassy also died. The carriages awaiting the guests were further away, on the road, so they were safe from the tempest.
Three dozen Thalmor died, and those inside would be oblivious. All that anybody inside heard was a violent thunderstorm.
Was it murder? The Thalmor didn’t have a chance to defend themselves. Their killer wasn’t in immediate danger, so it couldn’t be called self-defence. It was an assassination of those who openly hunted and killed innocent civilians whose only crime was Talos worship. By killing Thalmor, I save innocent lives. Therefore, as my purpose on Nirn is to protect mortal lives, it is justified, and I don’t care what others label it.
Somebody may stumble upon the corpses, so I moved quickly.
I opened the solar door and entered, allowing a cold gust of wind to enter. Who I assume was supposed to be a front door sentry had their back to it and didn’t bother turning around.
I shot them in the back, and they quietly fell to their knees and then face-planted.
I listened to a conversation between a snitch called Gissur and Third Emissary Rulindil. Rulindil is a Thalmor Wizard and the chief torturer in Skyrim. He is somebody I am keen to remove from the current Kalpa.
- Gissur: But I need that money. I earned it! I have my expenses, you know.
- Rulindil: Silence! Do not presume, Gissur. You are most useful, but do not presume. We have more informants who are less offensive.
- Gissur: But no one else has brought you such valuable information, have they?
There was silence from Rulindil. It seems he was hesitant to hand Gissur his just reward. No matter. I will soon rectify that. I knocked an arrow and aimed at Gissur’s back.
- Gissur: Etienne has talked, hasn’t he? He knows where that old man you’re looking for is, he told me himself.
- Rulindil: You’ll get your money when he’s told the rest of his story, as agreed.
- Gissur: So, he has talked! I knew it!
- Rulindil: Everyone talks in the end. Now, I have work to do. Leave me to it if you want to see the rest of your payment.
- Gissur: I could help you. He’d talk to me. He trusts me.
- Rulindil: You’d like to come downstairs with me, is that it, Gissur? Shall we loosen his bonds and put you in a cell together? You can ask him anything you like and see how he answers.
- Gissur: No! Ahh… I’ll wait outside.
- Rulindil: That would probably be best. Now get out!
I released the arrow, and Gissur died.
Rulindil was a Wizard. If he had half a brain, he would have summoned an Atronach or Dremora. Instead, he walked around to inspect Gissur and died.
Both bodies still twitched as I approached them.
I searched Gissur and found the following note.
“Description of target:
Race is unknown. He is described as very tall, tanned complexion and a neat beard. He wears distinctive black and gold armour, reminiscent of the outlawed Blades.
He is believed to go by various names, including Lord Welkynd, Wulf, and that imaginary hero, Dragonborn. He is suspected to be a Blades sympathiser and is likely to seek information regarding an individual called Esbern and The Ratway.
Do not approach. Inform your assigned contact immediately if spotted.”
I wonder how many snitches they paid to gather that information.
I searched Rulindil, and there was nothing of use on him except for a set of keys.
Under Rulindil’s desk were various notes and letters. They were all useless except for one which read,
“First Emissary Elenwen,
We anticipate a breakthrough in uncovering the party or power behind the dragon resurrection phenomenon. An informant has identified a possible lead, whom we have brought back to the Embassy for a full interrogation. The subject is obstinate but, by all indications, is holding back the information we seek. I have authorized Intermediate Manual Uncoiling. I do not expect more will be necessary unless you feel time presses.
I know you prefer to be present for the final questioning, so I will inform you immediately when the subject is fully receptive.
In the meantime, if you wish to audit our technique, your expertise is welcome, as always. I have placed the prisoner in the cell closest to your office stairs for your convenience.
–Rulindil, 3rd Em.”
Manual uncoiling involves a small incision being made into the victim’s stomach. A hook is then used to drag out part of their intestine. That is then slowly pulled, dragging more of the intestine out. Even if the victim tells the executioner what they want to hear, they will inevitably die from infection unless a Restoration Mage helps them soon after.
The Ratway is a maze-like system of tunnels under Riften. It will save time if Etienne is alive and knows where Esbern is hiding. We don’t want to wander around for hours dealing with Skooma addicts and worse. Time is of the essence, for the longer we take, the more likely other cities or towns will be attacked.
Heat Vision showed this part of the embassy to be empty. I walked to the room next to Rulindil’s, where his keys opened the locked drawers and cabinets. In one cupboard, I found a pile of dossiers. Many familiar people had earned an entry, and I would read the majority of them when somewhere safer. However, three dossiers caught my attention, and I immediately read them.
The first dossier was on my friend, the curator of my museum, Auryen.
Description: Curator of Legacy of the Dragonborn museum.
Race and Gender: Altmer male.
Age: Unknown (possibly over 500).
Background: Morellus is a recent immigrant to Skyrim. He came to the attention of our agents in Solitude with his acquisition of the abandoned Macnarian Hall, previously a temple of Talos, the Ninth Divine.
Morellus is currently in the process of renovating the hall into a museum for historical artefacts.
Operational Notes: Observe but do not engage. Ensure no heretical artefacts get smuggled into the museum.”
The Thalmor suppress far more than Talos worship and would regard many items on display as heretical. If they tried to remove any, they would meet armed resistance. If they cried to Jarl Elisif, she would tell them to shove it. In a more ladylike manner, of course. The idea that we smuggle anything is idiotic. Smuggling means bypassing legal checks. We do not have to seek approval from any authority for what we choose to display!
The next dossier I read was Delphine’s.
“Status: Active (Capture or Kill), High Priority, Emissary Level Approval
Description: Female, Breton, mid-50s
Background: Delphine was a high-priority target during The First War for operational and political reasons. She was directly involved in several of the most damaging operations attributed to The Blades within the Dominion. She had been slated for the initial purge but was recalled to Cyrodiil just before the outbreak of hostilities. During the war, she evaded three attempts on her life, in one case killing an entire assassination team. Since then, we have only indirect evidence of her movements, as she has proven extremely alert to our surveillance. She should be considered very dangerous! No move against her should be made without overwhelming force and the most careful preparation.
Operational Notes: She is believed to be working actively against us within Skyrim, although we have no location on her. She is assumed to be working alone, as no other Blades are known to be active in Skyrim, and she has in the past avoided contact with other fugitive Blades for her security (one of the reasons she has so far evaded elimination). Her continued existence is an insult to all of us. Any information on her whereabouts or activities should be immediately forwarded to the Third Emissary.”
The first thing that struck me was the reference to The First War. Everybody suspects that The Dominion will eventually renew hostilities. However, it is one thing to suspect and another to find proof of their intention. They would find a far more prepared and formidable opponent the second time. Part of the problem at the beginning of The Great War was how spread out The Empire’s forces were. They are now only required to defend three provinces in more significant numbers.
It is impressive that Delphine wiped out an entire Thalmor assassination squad. They are not amateurs and were responsible for eliminating many high-ranking military targets, including more senior Blades.
If Delphine is an insult, most Thalmor would collapse frothing at the mouth if they discovered who lives in my various properties. Eventually, I hope to have the outlaw status of Blades revoked. His Imperial Majesty will owe them and me much after we eliminate Alduin.
Ulfric Stormcloak’s was the third dossier I read.
“Status: Asset (uncooperative), Dormant, Emissary Level Approval
Description: Jarl of Windhelm, leader of the Stormcloak rebellion, Imperial Legion veteran
Ulfric first came to our attention during The First War against The Empire. He was taken as a prisoner of war during the campaign for The White-Gold Tower. Under interrogation, we learned of his potential value as the son of the Jarl of Windhelm, and he was assigned as an asset to the interrogator, who is now First Emissary Elenwen.
Ulfric was made to believe that information obtained during his interrogation was crucial in capturing the Imperial City, and then he was allowed to escape. The city had fallen before he had broken. After the war, contact was established, and he has proven his worth as an asset. The so-called Markarth Incident was particularly valuable from the point of view of our strategic goals in Skyrim, although it resulted in Ulfric becoming generally uncooperative to direct contact.
Direct contact remains a possibility under extreme circumstances. However, in general, the asset should be considered dormant. We should remain hands-off as long as the civil war proceeds in indecisiveness.
The incident at Helgen is an example where an exception had to be made. Ulfric’s death would have dramatically increased the chance of an Imperial victory and thus harmed our overall position in Skyrim. The coincidental intervention of the dragon at Helgen is still under scrutiny. The obvious conclusion is that whoever is behind the dragons is also interested in continuing the war, but we should not assume that their goals align with our own. However, a Stormcloak victory must be avoided, so even indirect aid to the Stormcloaks must be carefully managed.”
Ulfric’s dossier confirmed the suspicions expressed by General Tullius in Helgen. He was not my priority at this moment. However, one day he will be, and I will expose him for what he is. I will make his name reviled by all free-thinking citizens. Ulfric will have loyal followers who may choose to die with him. I will give them one chance to abandon him, that is all.
I had to continue with my mission and will decide what to do about Ulfric later. I placed the dossiers in my Journal Case.
One of Rulindil’s keys unlocked the door to the prison and torture chamber.
Its layout was identical to the one where I witnessed Rigmor’s whipping. I could see a Bosmer prisoner in shackles. I assumed it was Etienne and was relieved to see they had not yet uncoiled his insides.
I silently descended the steps, then killed the only guard.
One of Rulindil’s keys opened the cell door.
I approached the prisoner and asked, “Is your name Etienne?”
Without looking at me, Etienne said, “You know I am. I have told you countless times that I don’t know anything more about it.”
I removed my mask and said, “I am not here to torture you, Etienne.”
I unlocked his manacles, and he fell to the floor.
I cast Grand Healing on Etienne, who then stood and looked at his wrists and ankles in disbelief. He then felt all over his body and pressed hard against his ribs.
I laughed and said, “All your broken bones, bruises, and internal injuries are gone, Etienne. It as if The Thalmor had not been tickling you for days.”
Etienne stared and me, then asked, “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am Lord Welkynd, The Dragonborn. I want to kill every Thalmor in Skyrim, but alas, I have other priorities at the moment. I must stop the dragons who have attacked many cities and towns while you have entertained Third Emissary Rulindil.”
“They kept asking about somebody called Esbern. From their description, it may be the old man The Thieves Guild is protecting. From what I can gather, The Thalmor think he may know something about the dragons.”
“You are a member of The Thieves Guild and know more than that, Etienne. If you value the lives of innocents, you will tell me where to find him. He is a Blade, and I provide a sanctuary for them. He may also have information crucial to resolving the dragon problem.”
“How can I trust you? You could be an agent for The Thalmor, hoping to trick me with smooth words and kindness.”
“I killed about forty Thalmor, including Rulindil and the snitch responsible for your capture and torture. His name was Gissur. I assume he was a fellow thief.”
“That bastard! How many coins did he get, I wonder? He is dead, you say?”
“Yep. Here, read this report on you.”
I handed Etienne the letter from Rulindil to Elenwen.
When he finished, he stood with a stunned look. I held out my hand, and he shakily handed back the letter.
I asked, “From your reaction, I take it you know what uncoiling is?”
“Yes, it is the most barbaric of tortures, yet The Thalmor boast how civilised they are.”
“I am sure we could find Empire torturers very proficient in the method, Etienne.”
“Yes, most likely.”
“How about you look for a way out while I search this place? That will give you time to decide if I am a Thalmor plant or The Dragonborn.”
“Yeah, sure, okay. I’ve seen the guards use a trapdoor to dispose of bodies. It must lead somewhere.”
“Well, you can decide you don’t trust me and run or wait at the trapdoor for me. I will be invisible but still here. The Thalmor will eventually discover their dead and search for me.”
I cast Shroudwalk, and Etienne swore. After I exited the cell, Etienne moved to the trapdoor.
There was only one chest in the room, and I expected it to be full of torture equipment. Surprisingly, it contained more dossiers, including Esbern’s, which I quickly read.
“Status: Fugitive (Capture Only), Highest Priority, Emissary Level Approval
Description: Male, Nord, late 70s
Background: Esbern was one of The Blades’ loremasters before The First War Against the Empire. He was not a field agent but is believed to have been behind some of the most damaging operations by The Blades during the pre-war years, including the Falinesti Incident and the breach of the Blue River Prison. His file had remained dormant for many years in the erroneous belief that he was unlikely to pose a threat due to his advanced age and lack of field experience. This was an inexcusable error by my predecessor, who has been called to Alinor for punishment and re-education.
I remind all operational levels that no Blades agent should be considered low priority! All are to be found, and justice exacted upon them!
Operational Notes: As we are still in the dark about the cause and meaning of the return of the dragons, I have made capturing Esbern our top priority, as he is known to be one of the experts in the dragonlore of The Blades. Regrettably, we have yet to match their expertise on dragons derived from their Akaviri origins. It is far superior to ours, which remains largely theoretical. The archives of Cloud Ruler Temple were the primary repository of the oldest Blades lore and were largely destroyed during the siege. Great effort has been made to reconstruct what was lost. However, it is now apparent that most of the records related to dragons were removed or destroyed before our attack. Thus, Esbern remains our best opportunity to learn how and why the dragons have returned. It cannot be ruled out that The Blades themselves are somehow connected to the dragons’ return.
We have recently obtained reliable information that Esbern is still alive and hiding somewhere in Riften. Interrogation of a possible eyewitness is ongoing. We must proceed carefully to avoid Esbern becoming alerted to his danger. If he is indeed in Riften, he must not be allowed to flee.”
The Thalmor are thicker than two planks and denser than lead bricks!
A voice called down from the balcony, “Listen up, spy! You’re trapped in here, and we have your accomplice. Surrender immediately, or you both die!”
As I approached to rescue Malborn, he whined, “Don’t bother. I’m dead already!”
The Thalmor soldier said, “Silence, traitor!”
I cut two Thalmor down, covering Malborn in the arterial spray.
He looked around and said, “First, you’re an Argonian. Then you’re a Khajiiti and now invisible. The Thalmor will be hunting me for the rest of my life. I hope it was worth it!”
I made myself visible and approached the ungrateful, whiney little annoyance.
“This is me, Malborn, no disguise this time. I am Wulf Welkynd, Champion of The Divines and The Dragonborn. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people lost their lives and homes to dragons today. I am trying to stop that slaughter and destruction from continuing. So tell me, Malborn, was risking your life worthwhile if that goal is achieved?”
“You have done well and should be proud of yourself, but your whining does you no justice. I doubt many Thalmor remain alive in the embassy, but let’s get out of here before I have to slaughter more of them. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the exercise, but time is of the essence. There is a way out through a trapdoor, so follow me.”
Etienne was waiting for me at the trapdoor.
I asked, “Do you trust me now, Etienne? Or was slaughtering those Thalmor part of a cunning plan?”
Malborn said, “I don’t know who you are, Etienne, but Wulf has killed dozens of Thalmor tonight, so you had better make up your mind before he has to fight more of them!”
“Okay. If I had something to write on, I could draw you a map to Esbern. The Thieves Guild supplies him with food and necessities for a reasonable fee. He is under our protection as long as he has the coin.”
I opened my Journal Case and brought out a portable writing desk, a wad of blank paper and my endless quill. I set up the table as my audience stared with disbelief.
I handed the quill to Etienne and said, “Start drawing. It doesn’t have to be the work of an artist.”
“Ahh, I will need some ink.”
“No, you won’t. Go ahead. I will keep a lookout for Thalmor. I will see them before they enter this room.”
“You know, Wulf, I believe you could.”
Etienne drew an excellent map and was kind enough to mark some traps for me.
Five minutes later, I had stored the equipment and map away, and we were ready to leave the most fun party I have attended in years.
I unlocked the trapdoor, and we climbed down.
I said, “Stay behind me. There is a troll ahead.”
It wasn’t long before we encountered the troll who bellowed a challenge.
I leapt down and said, “No, Malborn is mine! He doesn’t love you anymore!”
The jealous troll charged, and I cut it down.
As Etienne and Malborn approached me, I was delighted to find another of Barenziah’s gems next to a dead mage.
I turned and was amused to find Malborn staring at me.
I asked, “Yes, Malborn. Can I do something for you?”
“You are the strangest person I have ever met.”
“Strange is walking through the mind of an insane and long-dead emperor. That was strange but interesting.”
We made our way to the exit, and before I could say a word, Malborn ran towards Solitude.
I turned to Etienne, who said, “You didn’t have to help me, Wulf. So, thanks.”
“I did have to help you, Etienne. I would never leave somebody a prisoner of The Thalmor. Not only that, my Divine given task is to help the mortals of Nirn. You happen to be one of them!”
“Malborn was right, and you are quite strange.”
“Maybe, but I make excellent Elsweyr Chowder.”
Etienne shook his head and laughed.
I observed, “We should have grabbed a weapon or two for you.”
“No, I will be okay. If I can’t get to Riften without getting into a fight, I don’t deserve to be a guild member.”
“Well then, good luck.”
Etienne trotted away, and his skill was evident by his silence. Even in the dim light, he placed his feet so as not to snap twigs or cause more noise than necessary. I was impressed.
As I contemplated what to do next, the sound of battle came from my left.
I used Night Vision as I ran to the commotion and saw some Legionnaires badly outnumbered by Stormcloaks. I summoned my squad.
I wasn’t going to watch honest soldiers killed by rebels. By killing all the Stormcloaks, it became clear what side I supported in the civil war. Up to that moment, I had remained out of the conflict.
Some Thalmor from the embassy also came to play, and I could see Malborn surrounded by them. They wanted to capture him. Otherwise, he would already be dead. We ran to his aid.
As the last Thalmor died, three Miraak Morons attacked.
Unrelenting Force killed one. My katana finished the other two.
Malborn was a distant figure running at a most impressive speed. He would have to rely on himself.
- Inigo: Well, my friend, was the party fun?
- Wulf: I killed a few dozen Thalmor.
- Inigo: Woah! Make sure I get an invite next time!
- Celestine: These were Miraak Morons?
- Wulf: Yep. I don’t know where to stick Miraak in the queue. Should I eliminate him before or after I eliminate Ulfric?
- Celestine: Dragons first.
- Wulf: Celestine, do you know a Blade called Esbern?
- Celestine: Yes, he planned some of my assignments. He was a clever man and a bit of a historian.
- Wulf: The Thalmor are after him. He is hiding in The Ratway in Riften.
- Celestine: He is alive! He must be in his seventies!
- Wulf: Yes, only a hundred and fifty years younger than you!
- Celestine: You know what I mean. He is a Nord, not a long-lived Mer.
- Lydia: Are we heading for Riften now?
- Wulf: If Esbern is half as paranoid as Delphine, he might not cooperate.
- Celestine: He only met me once, and I was disguised. I received my orders at drop points except for that one occasion.
- Wulf: Then I think we need to speak to Delphine first. If she knows him, she may be able to tell us something to convince him we are allies.
- Kharjo: Wulf, Vayu and the others returned from Windhelm.
- Celestine: They were exhausted. Four dragons attacked. Three were slain, and the fourth was severely injured. There were few civilian casualties, as amassed Stormcloak troops in a tent city proved a more lucrative target to the dragons. When they turned their attention to Windhelm, the civilians were relatively safe in basements and other underground facilities.
- Kharjo: The battle took many hours. Vayu says if Ulfric were planning an offensive, those plans would be delayed for a long time.
- Lydia: The Ka’Po’Tun had heard how some Nords were xenophobic but were shocked to what extent. As they battled to save Stormcloak soldiers, heal the wounded and defend the city, racist taunts were directed at them. Some wounded Stormcloaks refused aid from Khao, believing him to be a Khajiiti.
- Wulf: The racist Nords are the product of their upbringing. It will take a lot of effort to change their views, but even as they threw those taunts and insults, they saw the compassion and courage of other races. That will have an impact.
- Inigo: You killed some Stormcloaks.
- Wulf: The Legionnaires were severely outnumbered. They didn’t stay around after Thalmor came running from the embassy.
- Lydia: I am sure they would like to have thanked you and joined you in Thalmor culling.
- Wulf: They would have their orders, Lydia.
- Lydia: Yes, and I was one of them, so know those orders would be obeyed, no matter their desire.
- Wulf: Legionnaires are trained to think for themselves, but orders are orders.
- Lydia: Duh!
- Wulf: Oh, you have been Oletted!
- Lydia: Oletted?
- Celestine: You have picked up on Olette’s colloquialisms.
- Lydia: Is that what it means, Cap’n?
- Wulf: Let’s head for Riverwood before more Thalmor visit, if any are left.
We materialised on the outskirts of Riverwood, and a guardsman said, “If you had been a minute earlier, Thane, I wouldn’t have wolf guts all over my sword.”
“I would have watched and assessed your performance, Guardsman.”
“Ha, you sound like Irileth.”
“But I am not as pretty.”
Many locals inside The Sleeping Giant stared at us and knew who we were. Nobody tried to speak to us. I think the speed we traversed the room was enough of a clue.
We entered Delphine’s not-so-secret room.
- Delphine: You made it out alive, at least. Did you learn anything useful?
- Wulf: I know the Thalmor have no clue about dragons.
- Delphine: Really? That seems hard to believe. Are you sure about that?
- Wulf: No, Delphine. I am an idiot and even forget my name sometimes. Lucky for me, my mummy has embroidered it into my underwear.
- Delphine: I apologise, Wulf.
- Wulf: The Thalmor are searching for an elderly Blade called Esbern.
- Delphine: Esbern is alive? That crazy old man. I thought the Thalmor must have got him years ago. It figures the Thalmor would be on his trail if they were trying to find out what’s happening with the dragons.
- Celestine: He used to arrange my missions, but I only met him once. We are worried he may be too paranoid and refuse to cooperate.
- Delphine: And you are?
- Celestine: Celestine, codename Princess. I was a deep undercover agent for years before and during The Great War. I am now a Dragonlord of The Dragonguard.
- Delphine: The High Rock princess? We have all heard of your exploits, Celestine.
- Celestine: We can chat about old times another day, Delphine. Wulf thought you might know Esbern, and his hunch seems correct. Right now, we need to know how to convince Esbern we are not Thalmor agents.
- Delphine: When not in the field, I helped him plan many missions, probably some that you undertook. I never knew the names of the agents assigned to a mission.
- Celestine: Did you have a codeword or passphrase?
- Delphine: Ask Esbern what he did on the 30th of Frostfall.
- Wulf: The day The Great War started in 4E 171.
- Delphine: Yes. Esbern should reply, ‘I counted one hundred heads.’ You reply, ‘From whence did they come?’ His counter is, ‘They were a gift from Alinor.’
- Celestine: Did Esbern count the heads?
- Delphine: Yes. Emperor Titus Mede II wanted to know the names of every agent killed in Summerset and Valenwood. Esbern and a few other Blades managed to name all one hundred. Their names are recorded on a Roll of Honour, buried deep in some archives. Perhaps one day, they will receive the public honours they deserve.
- Wulf: That was a grim task on a terrible day.
- Delphine: Indeed it was, shaping Esbern’s perspective on the world.
- Wulf: The Thalmor suspect that The Blades might have something to do with the dragons returning.
- Delphine: They are clueless, aren’t they?
- Wulf: They have snitches looking for me. I haven’t kept a low profile, but they are convinced The Dragonborn is a figment of Nordic imagination. They have no idea of the reality of the situation. Even they can’t claim The Dragon War never happened. Perhaps they will realise what is happening when news of today’s attacks reaches them.
- Celestine: The Ancient Tongues were Nords, Wulf. So, it is inevitable The Thalmor will deny the banishment of Alduin happened or somehow claim it as their victory.
- Wulf: I know where Esbern is. He is hiding in the Ratway under Riften. We shall head there now.
- Delphine: Talk to Brynjolf. He’s… well-connected and a good starting point.
- Wulf: That last person I want to speak to is that crook. I rescued another member of The Thieves Guild from the embassy. He has drawn me a map.
- Delphine: What happened? Is Malborn okay? Did you have to kill any Thalmor?
- Wulf: I will give you a detailed debrief another time. To sum it up, I killed dozens of Thalmor. Malborn made it out alive and was last seen running towards Solitude.
Nahfahlaar called for me via telepathy. We could hear his wingbeats as he hovered over Riverwood.
“Wulf, Vayu said you might be in the Thalmor Embassy or Riverwood. The Thalmor Embassy looked like an anthill that had been kicked over, and many corpses lay around, so I knew you had been there. Are you here?”
“Yes, Nahfahlaar, what is the problem?”
“Riften is under attack, and so is Dawnstar.”
“Okay, I was heading for Riften anyway. Therefore, I will take a couple of squads there. The one that is with me, plus the Ka’Po’Tun. The others should go to Dawnstar.”
“Okay, Vayu is waiting outside the portal for your orders. Shall the Dov get involved?”
“No, Nahfahlaar. We still haven’t had time to introduce the concept of allied dragons. You are proving invaluable as scouts.”
“Understood. I will tell Vayu the plan.”
Nahfahlaar’s wingbeats vanished, and I said, “That was Nahfahlaar. Riften is under attack, and so is Dawnstar. We shall tackle Riften.”
Delphine asked, “Do you want me to come?”
“No, Delphine. You do not have the protections I have placed on my friends’ armours. Stay here, for if Alduin’s offensive keeps its momentum, Riverwood might be attacked at any moment. You could save lives by working beside the guards.”
“That is a sobering thought.”
We teleported into Riften, and I summoned the Ka’Po’Tun. Four dragons were attacking, and the city was ablaze.
I used Clear Skies to neutralise a couple of Shouts. That cleared the air enough for us to access the damage and take stock of our opponents.
The few seconds of respite were shattered as two dragons strafed Riften’s market and set it ablaze.
The two squads with me soon brought down one of the dragons. His name was Fodunhaasvok (Rage Sun Dragon).
A few civilians were on the streets, trying to assist. They soon realised the level of peril they were in and sought cover.
A dragon would Shout, and rocks or lightning would fall. I would use Clear Skies to counter, and so the pattern continued.
After three dragons died, the last one fled. It was time to aid the injured and douse the fires.
By some miracle, the orphanage was untouched. Priestess Dinya told me there was minimal damage to the temple. Helga’s Bunkhouse was severely damaged, and Helga sobbed as several dead were recovered from the shattered section. Part of The Bee and The Barb’s roof was torn away, but that didn’t stop Keerava from emerging and acting like a Sergeant as she ordered others around and reorganised chaos into a structured response.
Most of Riften’s guards perished. They lay in crumbled heaps or piles of ashes.
Madesi, one of Riften’s traders, came up to me.
He said, “The market can quickly be rebuilt, and most traders, like me, had their goods in, hopefully, fireproof containers. Riften will survive, Thane Welkynd.”
“I know, Madesi. I have great admiration for Riften’s people.”
“You must stop this! News of other attacks has trickled in.”
“We are doing what we can, Madesi. I will not rest till Alduin and his allies are defeated. That I can promise you.”
“I shall return to the temple and help with the injured.”
“Some of my friends will remain to help. I must gather more information that may hasten this nightmare’s end.”
The Ka’Po’Tun remained above to assist the people of Riften. I doubt they would hear a racist word but only gratitude because Ulfric’s influence didn’t travel this far.
I gathered my squad, and we entered The Ratway. Not far in, we overheard a conversation between two idiots.
- Hewnon: I dunno, Drahff. They’d skin us alive if they knew we were doing this.
- Drahff: Why are you always acting like such a big baby, Hewnon? I’ve gotten us this far.
- Hewnon: This far? You said we’d have a house as big as the Black Briars’ by now. We’re livin’ in a sewer!
- Drahff: You worry about bashing people’s heads in, and I’ll worry about the Guild. Okay?
- Hewnon: Okay, okay.
- Drahff: I will check the entrance to the Ratway and be right back.
I stepped into the tunnel, and Hewnon nodded in my direction to indicate company. Drahff turned his head and said, “Hey, you. Stop right there! Empty your pockets or end up as Skeever food.”
I laughed, then used Unrelenting Force. Hewnon died instantly.
I ran to Drahff and said, “I don’t have time for idiots!”
I then lopped his head off, and we continued on our way.
I leapt to a lower level and didn’t pause as I dispensed with a Skeever.
I disarmed a trap, and we entered the next part of The Ratway.
Several Skeevers were in front of us. I noticed pools of oil on the floor and hanging pots of burning pitch.
Unrelenting Force made the pots fall, which shattered, setting alight to the oil. The Skeevers were already dead from the Shout, and fire filled the area with acrid smoke and the unpleasant odour of roasting Skeever.
Inigo said, “When I was addicted to Skooma, that smell would make my mouth water. There was nothing better than Skeever with vegetables!”
I picked a lock on the next door. When I opened it, we saw bear traps covering the floor.
I entered, and a balding, middle-aged, unwashed moron came running towards me, yelling, “Aha, now I have you!”
I ran to meet him and, as was my habit with unarmoured idiots, cut his head off.
The gloves he wore looked unusual. When I touched them, I detected a strong dweomer that increased the damage from a punch. I put them in my Journal Case for Auryen to assess.
According to Etienne’s map, we were close to The Ragged Flagon. It is a famous inn and hangout of The Thieves Guild.
Another local decided to attack me for no discernible reason.
She suffered the same fate as the others.
We entered The Ragged Flagon. Across a round pool of water, we saw a bar and many occupied tables.
I used my Thu’um to address the thieves as we crossed the room.
“I AM THANE WELKYND, THE DRAGONBORN. WHILE YOU HAVE SAT HERE DISCUSSING YOUR NEXT JOBS, RIFTEN WAS ATTACKED BY SEVERAL DRAGONS, AND MUCH DAMAGE WAS DONE. IF I HEAR ANY OF YOU HAVE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION AND LOOTED, I SWEAR ON THE DIVINES THAT I WILL WIPE YOUR GUILD FROM THE FACE OF NIRN.”
As my voice echoed, all eyes watched as we made our way to the exit.
Before opening the door to the rest of The Ratway, I said, “Don’t be surprised if we meet Thalmor. Be careful, as sometimes it is hard to distinguish them from Skeevers.”
Inigo remarked, “My friend, I understand your foul mood. But your ruthlessness is something to behold.”
“It’s efficient. We have hardly had to pause.”
“Yes, it is very efficient!”
We opened the door, and two Thalmor ignored the sound of its squeaky hinges. They stood facing the opposite direction, and I wondered if it was some mental disorder prevalent in our Dominion friends. If you guard a door, it is easier to do so when facing it.
Unrelenting Force killed a Thalmor soldier.
I Blinked over to a Thalmor Wizard and cut him down as he prepared a spell.
Lydia raced down a corridor and cut down a third Thalmor.
When I caught up with her, she growled, “It seems they killed that homeless person. After Alduin, Ulfric and Miraak, can we eliminate The Thalmor?”
“Sure, why not. Just because the entire Empire failed to do so in five years doesn’t mean it won’t be easy peasy!”
“We can at least kill a few.”
“A few hundred? A few thousand?”
“As many as we can, Wulf.”
“I would like nothing better, Lydia.”
The Thalmor I killed with my Thu’um lay in a pool of blood. Splintered bones poked out of his mangled body.
Ko’rassa asked, “Your Thu’um is weak now. Is that right?”
“It is as strong as it will ever be. However, it needs focusing, so more of a Shout’s energy is concentrated on the target.”
“What would happen to people hit by that Shout when you focus better?”
“They will get turned into dust. Some may set alight and then turn into dust.”
We continued, and I was surprised by how few people we encountered. However, each one we met seemed intent on killing me.
One lovely fellow wore a chef’s hat and carried a bloodied axe. When he saw me, he said, “Aha, come here, tasty morsel!”
I killed him with Unrelenting Force.
Ko’rassa said, “I think we have found Esbern. I have seen treasure vault doors less secure than the one behind me.”
Celestine and I approached.
I said, “Esbern, open the door. We need your help.”
I stepped back, and Celestine said, “Slide the cuff port and look, Esbern. We met once in Cloud Ruler Temple. My codename was Princess. You designed many of my missions, sometimes with Delphine’s aid. She is also alive.”
“So, you found Delphine and tortured her. That is how you found me, and here I am, caught like a rat in a trap.”
I explained, “Delphine gave us a passphrase about one hundred heads, but I can’t be bothered. Unless you are deaf, you would have heard my Thu’um seconds ago. I am The Dragonborn, and you are sworn to serve me. Open this door, or I will blow it off its hinges!”
“What’s that, you said? Dragonborn? Then… there is hope after all! You’d better come inside. Quickly now, Thalmor agents have been seen in the Ratway.”
“They are dead, Esbern. But more may come, and I am sick of killing today.”
“Oh, well, wait a minute. The unlocking won’t take long.”
It took a minute for Esbern to unlock his door. The others might have found it amusing as he slid deadbolts and struggled to find the right key for each lock, but my reserve of cheerfulness ran out hours earlier.
At last, he opened the door, and we stepped inside.
- Esbern: Delphine keeps up the fight after all these years. I tried to tell her years ago. I thought she’d have realised it was hopeless by now.
- Inigo: You are a very depressing old man. As my friend said, Thalmor are hanging around, and he would like to hurry.
- Esbern: Yes, yes, Thalmor are here, but so what? The end is upon us. I may as well die here as anywhere else. I’m tired of running.
- Inigo: I am curious as to why the end is upon us. I hope this is an exciting one! There are so many ways it could all end.
- Esbern: Haven’t you figured it out yet? What more must happen before you all wake-up and see what’s happening? Alduin has returned, just like the prophecy said! The dragon from the dawn of time, who devours the souls of the dead! No one can escape his hunger, here or in the afterlife! Alduin will devour all things, and the world will end. Nothing can stop him. I tried to tell them. They wouldn’t listen. Fools. It’s all come true! All I could do was watch our doom approach.
- Wulf: Don’t you think that The Divines would figure it out? Are you smarter than them?
- Esbern: Well, no. But the Liminal Barrier prevents them from aiding us.
- Wulf: Esbern, what is the last line of The Dragonborn Prophecy?
- Esbern: The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn.
- Wulf: Didn’t I tell you a few minutes ago that I am The Dragonborn? That is why you let us in.
- Esbern: What? You’re… can it be true? Dragonborn? Then… then there is hope! The gods have not abandoned us! We must… we must… We must go quickly now. Please take me to Delphine. We have much to discuss.
- Wulf: Get what you need, Esbern. I doubt you will be returning to this place ever again.
- Esbern: Yes, give me… just a moment… I must gather a few things…
Esbern whizzed around, looking in desks, on desks, in crates and other places, as he muttered to himself. We had to hurry out of his way or risk being run over in his haste.
The elderly gentlemen’s running commentary improved even my sour disposition.
“I’ll need this… No, useless trash… where’d I put my Annotated Anuad?”
“One moment, I know time is of the essence, but I mustn’t leave secrets for the Thalmor… there’s one more thing I must bring…”
“Well, I guess that’s good enough… let’s be off…”
- Wulf: Have you ever teleported or used a portal, Esbern?
- Esbern: Such magic has been lost for centuries. I am not that old, young man!
- Celestine: I am!
- Wulf: Delphine lives in Riverwood. She is the innkeeper there. Place your hand on my shoulder, and we shall be there in seconds.
- Celestine: I will soon follow with the others.
- Esbern: The physical contact allows you to teleport an unfamiliar entity. I remember reading the theory decades ago.
- Inigo: I suppose such books might seem interesting when you stare at the same four walls for decades.
- Lydia: Inigo, I noticed you are stuck on the B page of ABCs for Barbarians. Perhaps you should try something easier?
- Inigo: Keep trying, Lydia. You might eventually luck on something amusing.
- Wulf: Ahem!
- Inigo: Ready when you are, my friend.
Esbern placed his hand on my shoulder.
And we soon materialised at the outskirts of Riverwood. I noticed the guard hadn’t moved the wolf!
I didn’t want to discuss the wonders of teleportation, so I said, “Follow me, Esbern. It is not far to Delphine’s.”
The others materialised behind us and then followed close behind.
We entered the inn, and Esbern rushed over to Delphine.
- Esbern: Delphine! I… it’s good to see you. It’s been… a long time.
- Delphine: It’s good to see you, too, Esbern. It’s been too long, old friend. Too long. Well, then. You made it safe and sound. Good. Come on. I have a place we can talk.
- Wulf: It is a super-secret place, Esbern! In a million years, the Thalmor would never look for a sliding door in an empty cupboard!
- Inigo: It is not quite as obvious as Esbern’s vault door in the warrens, but close.
- Celestine: It has been hundreds of years since I read the basic lessons on staying safe while undercover. I am sure one of the golden rules is always to have more than one exit from your hidey-hole.
- Esbern: I will whack you all with my walking stick. You might have to wait till I get one, but whack you, I will.
As we entered Delphine’s super-secret door, I laughed at the Altmer mage sitting and watching the passing menagerie. He just shrugged.
We spread around the room.
- Delphine: Esbern, I assume you know about…
- Esbern: Oh yes! Dragonborn! Indeed, yes.
- Wulf: Delphine, he took my word for it. None of this mindless disbelief!
- Esbern: What’s that?
- Wulf: Even though I could use The Voice, speak Dovahzul, had been called to High Hrothgar by the Greybeards, killed a Dovah who also called me Dovahkiin in front of witnesses, Delphine refused to believe I was Dragonborn.
- Delphine: It was a bit paranoid.
- Wulf: Just a little. But when I read you had survived three assassination attempts, I understood you more. It does not matter. We are together now and can plan Alduin’s demise.
- Delphine: Where did you read that?
- Wulf: Your dossier from the embassy.
- Delphine: You never mentioned you had that.
- Wulf: You never asked.
- Esbern: Well, having a Dragonborn changes everything, of course. There’s no time to lose. We must locate… let me show you. I know I had it somewhere…Give me a moment…
- Wulf: It’s in the left pocket of your robe. It is a rather large book, so hopefully, you can find it.
- Esbern: Ahh, yes, I knew I had it with me.
Esbern placed a good condition volume of Annals of the Dragonguard 2800 – 2879 on the table. Not long ago, I would have liked it for the museum, but the copy High Priestess Akamizu had was pristine.
Delphine looked at me, and I silently mouthed, “Play ignorant!”. She nodded.
- Esbern: We need to visit Sky Haven Temple. It was constructed around one of the main Akaviri military camps in The Reach during their conquest of Skyrim.
- Delphine: Wulf, do you know what he is talking about?
- Wulf: Maybe.
- Esbern: Shush!
- Wulf: Yeah, shush!
- Lydia: I think he meant both of you.
- Celestine: I think he meant everybody.
- Esbern: Can I continue?
- Wulf: Is that rhetorical?
- Esbern: Sky Haven Temple is where they built Alduin’s Wall to set down all their accumulated dragonlore in stone. A hedge against the forgetfulness of centuries. A wise and foresighted policy. Despite the far-reaching fame of Alduin’s Wall at the time, as it was one of the wonders of the ancient world, its location was lost.
- Delphine: Esbern, what are you getting at?
- Wulf: We must visit Sky Haven Temple and look at Alduin’s Wall. Is that correct, Esbern?
- Esbern: Yes. Alduin’s Wall was where the ancient Blades recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return. Part history, part prophecy. Its location had been lost for centuries.
- Wulf: But now we know where it is.
- Delphine: So, you think Alduin’s wall will tell us how to defeat Alduin?
- Esbern: Well, yes, but…there’s no guarantee, of course.
- Wulf: Okay, enough of letting poor Esbern put his foot in his mouth.
- Esbern: Excuse me?
- Wulf: First, in The Ratway, you said, ‘Alduin will devour all things, and the world will end.’ No, he won’t. Alduin is not the one to end a Kalpa unless instructed, and he certainly doesn’t want to end this one. That was never his intention when he waged The Dragon War, which the current crisis continues.
- Celestine: Alduin surrendered to his base Dov instincts and desired to be the overlord of all Dov and mortals.
- Wulf: When he revived Sahloknir, the lesser dragon asked, ‘Alduin, my lord. Has the time come to revive our ancient realm?’ To which Alduin replied, ‘Yes, Sahloknir, my champion.’
- Celestine: Alduin does not have the power to end a Kalpa unless lent to him by Lord Akatosh. If Nirn, and the mortal plane, were destroyed by accident or the deliberate actions of a god, then Alduin would gather the raw materials for use in the next Kalpa. That is what his role as World Eater entails.
- Wulf: Since this is not the first Kalpa, it is apparent that Alduin has performed his duty in the past. Our task is to defeat Alduin, for he cannot be killed, so his soul is returned to Lord Akatosh. Hopefully, after some scolding and redirection, Alduin could be relied upon to perform his duty in the future.
- Esbern: I see. What other errors am I guilty of?
- Wulf: Esbern, you are not being chastised. I am trying to correct your errors so you better understand what we face and why we must do certain things.
- Celestine: Today, Solitude, Dragon Bridge, Rorikstead, Windhelm, Dawnstar and Riften were attacked by dragons. Days ago, Helgen was destroyed by Alduin. Wulf cannot rest until Alduin is defeated, so if he gets angry, live with it!
- Esbern: Okay, I understand. It is, however, a bit of a shock when you find all your research has led to false conclusions.
- Wulf: You have done remarkedly well with limited resources. But let’s not digress. I have visited Sky Haven Temple and searched for the information I need. But we shall visit it with you, Esbern, and see if you have insight or knowledge I lack.
- Esbern: You have seen it? Is it in good condition?
- Wulf: Sky Haven Temple is in remarkable condition because Akaviri Dragonguard Spirits guarded it, and the entrance to the main temple required the blood of a Dragonborn.
- Esbern: There is a Blood Seal?
- Wulf: Yes, attuned to those who can trace their ancestry to Saint Alessia. If I were Reman Cyrodiil, I would have attuned it to a Dragon Soul instead.
- Esbern: But a Dragonborn doesn’t have to be related to Saint Alessia?
- Wulf: Luckily, I am.
- Esbern: But that means…
- Wulf: It means I have a noble right that The Divines and I don’t want to be publicly known. I will have many tasks after Alduin, and being Emperor is not one of them. You are bound by sacred oaths to keep this secret because it threatens me. If I am regarded as a legitimate heir to The Ruby Throne, I will be targeted for assassination by countless nobles playing their pollical games. Therefore, I cannot emphasise the importance of keeping my bloodline secret.
- Delphine: I will keep that oath, Dragonborn.
- Esbern: As will I.
- Wulf: Esbern, Alduin’s wall does not show all the Akaviri accumulated dragonlore. That was not its purpose, and it would be impossible to achieve. I will let you recite your interpretation of the wall once you see it. You may say something or notice something that aids us.
- Celestine: A different set of eyes often notices things missed by your own.
- Esbern: Yes, I understand the concept.
- Wulf: I cannot teleport us into the temple or most of the surrounding infrastructure. The Akaviri placed wards to prevent that possibility. Those wards become inactive when I open the temple via the Blood Seal. Therefore, I will teleport Esbern and me to the caves’ entrance leading to Sky High Temple. I will then summon Celestine, who will, in turn, summon the others. I will summon you, Delphine.
- Delphine: Summon?
- Inigo: You will feel a tugging feeling in your brain. If you don’t resist it, you will know who is summoning you and to where. Accepting the summoning is the same as if Wulf teleported you, except you are alone in that infinite darkness and ultimate cold. You can refuse if you want, which is handy if you are on the privy or in a compromising position with a friend.
- Delphine: You make it sound so pleasant.
- Inigo: Do not worry. You must be in that dark place for many minutes before a god-like being claims your soul.
- Lydia: Inigo became an expert on summoning after a mage pulled his brains out of his nose. It is incredible how it popped out of one nostril and didn’t even touch the sides.
- Inigo: Keep trying, Lydia. That one was only 95% unfunny.
I walked over to Esbern, who knew the drill and placed his hand on my shoulder.
We had barely finished the summoning when Drogathunaarzil (Shadow Death Slayer) attacked.
Alduin had recently revived him, and his Dragon Mound was nearby.
He hovered and said, “Zu’u fen Dovahkiin? Zu’u fen kos daar tol do Yol.” (So, you are Dragonborn? I am keen to test your Thu’um.)
I replied, “Mul na viik fin Fodiiz, Drogathunaarzil. Nu los dii tol, ahrk Alduin nuz bok.” (You should have flown free, Drogathunaarzil. Now you will be lost to time, and Alduin cares not.)
Spells and arrows hit Drogathunaarzil, and he soon regretted his foolish challenge.
He flew away and then tried twice more to harm me.
Drogathunaarzil was severely wounded and landed near his Dragon Mound.
I easily outdistanced everybody as I chased the Dovah.
I stunned him with Unrelenting Force.
Then I finished him with my katana.
After Drogathunaarzil’s soul transferred to me, Esbern said, “That is amazing. You truly are Dragonborn and have absorbed that beast’s power.”
I snarled, “Dragons are not beasts, Esbern! Am I half a beast? They are knowledgeable and sociable beings. I just wiped Drogathunaarzil from existence. He cannot live in a future Kalpa. The process may look amazing, but it is an abomination! And I do not absorb their power! I steal their soul and use it to learn Words and Shouts.”
Esbern looked stunned by the tone of my reply. I didn’t care.
I rushed to the entrance, and Esbern lagged far behind. I impatiently tapped my feet as I waited for him to catch up.
Celestine gave me her disapproving, big sister stare. I had no excuse for my actions. I had to control my emotions as they harmed others without contributing to a solution.
When Esbern finally reached us, wheezing, I used Grand Healing on him.
I said, “I apologise for my mood, Esbern. I do not enjoy killing dragons. Unfortunately, that is the tenth I have killed today. They die for no other cause than Alduin’s ambitions. The penalty for their idiocy is far too harsh.”
We entered the cave, and in his enthusiasm, Esbern walked briskly ahead of me.
I told him, “Remain behind me at all times, Esbern. I think I cleared all the Akaviri Dragonguard Spirits, but if I haven’t, you don’t want to be the one they attack. I know you are fascinated by what we will see, so I will give you plenty of time to examine things and look around.”
From that point on, Esbern followed.
He examined the turning columns as I explained how they lowered the draw bridge.
Esbern was fascinated by the floor tiles and the explanation of how I crossed safely.
Allowing Esbern to dawdle and examine gave me time to improve my temperament. By the time we entered the Blood Seal chamber, I was far less of an arsehole.
Esbern wandered around and said, “Wonderful! Remarkably well preserved, too. Ah… there’s the ‘Blood Seal.’ Another of the lost Akaviri arts. Look here! You see how the ancient Blades revered Reman Cyrodiil. This whole place appears to be a shrine to Reman. He ended the Akaviri invasion under mysterious circumstances, you recall. After the so-called ‘battle’ of Pale Pass, the Akaviri went into his service. That was the foundation stone of the Second Empire.”
Celestine replied, “We may have forgotten to mention, Esbern, but we lived on Akavir and were trained by The Dragonguard. We heard their history from their shamans, and nothing was mysterious about the Akaviri invasion’s end. But even our history books tell the truth. The Akaviri invaded Tamriel in search of a Dragonborn. They knew they had found one when they heard Reman Cyrodiil’s Thu’um. Their purpose was fulfilled, and they swore allegiance to him.”
“You lived on Akavir?”
I explained, “Fourteen Blades, some with families, fled Tamriel after being outlawed. A Tsaesci shaman of The Dragonguard was informed of their imminent arrival by an avatar of Lord Talos. The Dragonguard intercepted the refugee’s vessel and offered sanctuary to its passengers. If that ship had landed on any of the many islands, the refugees would most likely have been enslaved.”
“There are other Blade survivors from The Great War?”
“Yes, but they have remained on Akavir. However, some of their children are now Dragonguard. I brought several dozen with me to Skyrim.”
“Are you Akaviri?”
“No, Esbern. I was born in Roscrea, which the Jarl of Haafingar governs. I wasn’t an Empire Citizen until I purchased a castle near Whiterun. My race has been altered, and now I am Ningheim.”
“You received other blessings on top of Lord Akatosh’s blessing.”
“Yes, that was done to aid me in my tasks as Champion of The Divines. Once again, Lord Talos used an avatar to inform The Dragonguard of my existence. When I was eighteen, they escorted me from Roscrea to Akavir. I spent four years being trained there in preparation for Alduin’s return. Due to my ability to exist in a pocket plane of Aetherius, I have spent over eight years training but only aged four.”
“There is a lot more to your story, Dragonborn.”
“There is, and maybe I can tell you soon. But right now, we must concentrate on removing Alduin’s menace. Let me open the way.”
I removed my gauntlets and then sliced my palm with a dagger.
This time I dripped a few drops of blood onto the seal rather than place my palm on it. I wanted to see if that method acted as a key.
The Blood Seal glowed, and the giant bust of Ramen Cyrodiil tilted to allow access.
My squad and I entered the temple and waited patiently for Delphine and Esbern to enter and light some brasiers.
Esbern kept getting distracted by the features of the temple. He would wander over and examine something, forgetting why we were there.
After ten minutes, I said, “Esbern, please examine Alduin’s wall. Tell us what you see.”
He replied, “Of course. Not everyone has an appreciation for the artistic wonders of the world. Let me see if I can find the right panel…”
Inigo told Esbern, “My friend, Wulf, owns a huge museum in Solitude and shows much appreciation for the world’s artistic wonders. However, the people currently being killed by attacking dragons do not appreciate the world’s artistic wonders. What they would appreciate is Wulf stopping the dragon attacks.”
Esbern worked his way across Alduin’s wall, giving us his interpretation of what he saw.
He eventually got to the part that counted.
- Esbern: This central panel shows how Alduin was defeated. You see, here he is, falling from the sky. The Nord Tongues, masters of The Voice, are arrayed against him.
- Delphine: So, does it show how they defeated him? Isn’t that why we are here?
- Esbern: Patience, my dear. That Akaviri were not straightforward people. Everything is couched in allegory and mythic symbolism.
- Wulf: It is evident to me what they did.
- Esbern: Yes, yes. You see here what is coming from the mouths of the Nord heroes. That is the Akaviri symbol for ‘Shout.’ But…there’s no way to know what Shout was used.
- Wulf: That is all you can tell from that panel?
- Esbern: Hmm? Oh, yes. The Shout is presumably something somewhat specific to dragons or Alduin himself. Remember, this is where they recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return.
- Wulf: Okay, for a start, that is not the Akaviri symbol for a shout. It is just a representation of Thu’um power leaving the mouths of two of the Ancient Tongues. The only Akaviri symbol on the entire wall is above The Dragonborn on the third panel.
- Esbern: Oh.
- Wulf: The middle Tongue is Felldir the Old. Take a close look. What is he doing, Esbern?
- Esbern: He is Shouting…no, wait, he isn’t. He seems to be talking.
- Wulf: The Ancient Tongues used a Shout called Dragonrend to make Alduin land. He could not be defeated while airborne. But even on the ground, he was too powerful for them. So Felldir used an Elder Scroll to cast Alduin into the timestream. Now Alduin is back, and I need the Dragonrend Shout to defeat Alduin. Have you ever heard of it?
- Esbern: No, but I could only rescue a small part of our library when The Dominion sacked Cloud Ruler Temple. Perhaps amongst the lost dragonlore, there was mention of it.
- Wulf: It was a long shot. However, I am pleased to have rescued you, Esbern, but there is no way either of you can return to Riverwood. I propose this to be your home, and we shall find other hidden Blades and recruit new ones.
- Celestine: You would not be Grandmaster, Delphine. In the absence of the Dragonguard Grandmaster, our Shaman, Vayu, will act in that position.
- Wulf: When we defeat Alduin, there will still be the odd dragon who cannot peacefully coexist with mortals. We will need Blades to bring them to justice. The Blades will not hunt a dragon unless he has broken Imperial Law and used violence against the innocent. You will be barred from this temple if you disagree with those conditions. If you agree with those conditions, this will be your home, and you can help train recruits and plan missions against rogue Dov.
- Delphine: If I prepare the paperwork to gift The Sleeping Giant to Orgnar, will it be delivered to him?
- Wulf: Yes, of course. One of our mages can take it to him.
- Delphine: Then I am content to live here and rebuild The Blades.
- Esbern: I would need a supply of tomes to keep me occupied, Dragonborn.
- Wulf: That is easily arranged.
- Esbern: Then I would be honoured to join forces with Delphine again.
- Delphine: What will you do next, Wulf?
- Wulf: I wasn’t visiting Paarthurnax until I had the Elder Scroll. However, I want to understand more about the Time Wound. So, I shall visit him and risk an attack by Alduin or his allies.
- Esbern: What is this Time Wound?
- Wulf: The Ancient Tongues consulted with Paarthurnax about using an Elder Scroll to cast Alduin into the timestream. He warned them that the consequences were unknown and unpredictable. When Felldir used the Elder Scroll, part of linear time got displaced. It has resulted in a phenomenon at the summit of The Throat of The Word called a Time Wound. I don’t know how I will learn Dragonrend or how another Elder Scroll may be used, but Lord Talos has given me those tasks, so I shall endeavour to do them.
- Celestine: Esbern, you are one of only a handful who realised The Dragonborn Prophecy was fulfilled.
Esbern stared ahead as if in a trance. He whispered, “I had a recurring dream where I found myself standing in a place of great height. It was atop a tower or perhaps a mountain peak. The world was plunged into darkness, the only light on the horizon a flash of brilliance within the clouds that marked the border between worlds. It might have been lightning, but there was no thunder, no rain. A growing sense of dread clawed at my heart as I watched, powerless to move or even to wake up.
The light came again, closer this time, more distinct. It was the colour of dawn and hearth, brilliant orange that seemed to sear the darkness. A sound, too faint at first but growing stronger, echoed in the air. I strained to place it, to understand its meaning, but it eluded me, slipping away like smoke on the wind.
Still, I knew that something terrible was coming and that I needed to find shelter. But in the way of dreams, I was trapped, forced to watch, and wait as the orange glow grew brighter and hotter until it became a wall of flame that filled the sky. The sound was no longer faint or indistinct but a deafening roar, the challenge of an ancient language that I somehow knew I should recognize.
And then, the terrible truth struck me with the force of a hammer blow. The orange light was not a natural phenomenon but a dragon’s fire, not just any dragon, but Alduin, the World Eater, who feasted on the living and the dead alike. At that moment, I knew there was no escape or hope. The dragon was upon me, descending from the sky like a thunderbolt.
Mercifully, I woke up. But even as I tried to shake off the dream, I knew it was more than a nightmare. It was a vision, a warning, a prophecy of a future that was hurtling towards me faster than I could ever imagine.”
- Celestine: Have you ever suffered for foresight, for an infliction it is?
- Esbern: No. Not before then, and I have never had another. I just had that vision appear randomly.
- Wulf: You tried to warn others.
- Esbern: They wouldn’t believe me, and besides, we were struggling against a real, tangible opponent, The Dominion.
- Wulf: And in the years since, you gave up hope.
- Esbern: I became afraid and decided my doom was inevitable. I had built my prison and could tell nobody of the importance of my conclusions or have any way of convincing them I was anything but an old dithering fool.
- Wulf: Now you have purpose again, Esbern. We shall assign mages on rotation to stay here until we have a mage or two who joins The Blades. That way, you and Delphine can travel with little chance of The Thalmor catching you.
- Esbern: I could visit your museum!
- Wulf: Yes, you could, when we open it. That depends on how quickly I can build up the collection. We are close to what we want for the opening.
- Delphine: We are not in the position to find recruits, Wulf.
- Wulf: But we are. Don’t worry. Vayu will vet possible candidates. His shaman skills ensure that no enemy spy will become a Blade. If you will excuse us, we have a mountain to climb.
I teleported us into High Hrothgar.
We found Arngeir contemplating his belly button down a hallway.
He stood when he heard us approach.
“Good evening, Dragonborn.”
“I wish it was, Arngeir. From sunrise this morning, dragons have been attacking the cities and towns of Skyrim. I am about to visit Paarthurnax and study what he calls a Tiid-Ahraan, a Time Wound, that appeared when Alduin returned. You could regard it as a localised Dragon Break.”
“How have the people fared against such terror and devastation?”
“My friends, The Sentinels and Dragonguard, are proving to be very effective dragonslayers. Once they join the battle, the attacking dragons perish or flee quickly. Then my friends can use their skills to help the wounded and put out the fires. We can’t keep up this pace, but neither can Alduin. As far as we know, most dragons used today were recruited by Odahviing from Hammerfell. He can’t replace the slain Dov quickly enough at this time. We must keep ahead of him, or cities and towns might be lost, like Helgen. If Alduin attacks, even we can’t stop him.”
“Why hasn’t Alduin attacked?”
“He is spending most of his time in Sovngarde, consuming the souls generously donated by Ulfric’s grab for power. You must be proud of the only student you have had for a hundred years.”
Celestine said, “Wulf, that was uncalled for.”
“Yes, Celestine, you are right. I apologise, Master Arngeir. Such death and destruction are not conducive to a pleasant disposition.”
“I understand, Dragonborn. We have long contemplated why Ulfric abandoned our ways. The truth is, unless he tells us, we won’t know.”
“Alduin does not know how the Ancient Tongues learnt Dragonrend and may believe I know it. He has sent dragons to kill me, and I think if he senses us near the Time Wound, he will send more.”
“Therefore, you endanger our leader with this visit!”
“If we must fight dragons, Paarthurnax will not get involved. It wouldn’t be a True Need, for we can defeat them without his aid.”
“You are right, and you better understand our beliefs than I thought you had.”
“That is because you continue to underestimate me, Master Arngeir. We shall leave now and hope this time is well spent.”
“Do you know the Clear Skies Shout, Dragonborn?”
“It was one of the over sixty that Lady Kynareth taught me. It has been useful today, as I dissipated many enemy Shouts with it.”
We exited High Hrothgar and crossed its courtyard.
We stood and examined what lay before us. It was a swirling wind created by Lady Kynareth to protect the mountain’s summit, and its resident dragon, from intruders. If it didn’t blow you over the edge to your death, it drained your Lifeforce till you died.
The Clear Skies shout thundered and echoed, and the wind and mist dissipated for a distance.
There wasn’t a regular interval or distance between having to use the Shout. It was strictly on a True Need basis.
Lydia asked, “Why doesn’t the wind harm goats and other animals?”
“Its purpose is to protect the summit and Paarthurnax from intelligent enemies, not dumb animals.”
“So, Inigo could make it to the top unharmed then?”
Everybody chuckled, and Lydia poked her tongue out at Inigo. I knew his revenge could not just bring them even. He would have to surpass this opening gambit.
We enjoyed the views, constantly aware of the long drop next to the narrow path we climbed.
Three dragons attacked, and I used my Thu’um, “Do not engage them. Stick as close to the wall as possible and keep up with me. It is too perilous on these ledges to fight. We shall deal with them at the summit!”
When we reached the summit, I summoned Nahfahlaar, Valminoor and Silah. There were no buildings or civilians to hinder their ability to defend us.