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  1. 5 points
    The Duel "This place... it feels... strange. It has a familiarity that I've never known. Not to this degree. Is this what people mean when they say they feel 'At home'? I've never known this feeling before. Well, perhaps when I'm killing. But this place... I feel it. Coursing through my very being. I used to go by the name 'Morihaus' jokingly. Child of Kyne. It was meaningless to most Imperials. They just called me a mad bull. Didn't recognize the nobleness of it. Neither did I. But here? Now? At The Throat of the World? I not only believe it to be true. I know it. I felt something tick inside my head the moment I made it up here. Like something in my head just... aligned itself properly. Like things are starting to make sense. My purpose in life. I am here to show you, show all of you that I am your rightful leader. Don't you see? Look at your history. The wars, the strife, the beautiful violence. The strong rule. That's all this all is. The Arena. A fight to be at the top of the world. So isn't it appropriate that we'd do battle here? For the honor of leading our people against elvenkind as we've always done? For the honor of killing the enemy in the name of mighty Shor? I've never been a god fearing man, but now I see... this is the ultimate prize. This is why I've been so obsessed with your blood. Your father, Baldur. He was the only man alive that's ever bested me. And then you killed him... or so I thought. But after this, after I've beaten you, he'll have to come to me. And then I, Brund, will finally prove that I am the best! No one is greater than I! I am the champion of man! And unfortunately for you, Baldur... there can be only one champion. So... my rival. My shield brother. Are you ready to die?" As the greybeards took their place around the peak of the mountain, crouching on their knees in a large open circle, Baldur took his place before Brund, listening to his every word. Baldur could see Veleda beside Arngeir as well. Figures, he thought. If he died, even if her life was in danger, at least she could take pleasure in seeing his own life end first. Baldur looked to the skies where Paarthurnax flew on high. It was strange, Brund didn't seem the least bit curious about it, didn't think to ask what a dragon was doing here or why the Greybeards didn't react to it. Masser and Secunda along with all the stars of Aetherius were also present, watching the spectacle below them with all the interest and wonder that the mortals often gave them when gawking from below. Baldur finally rested his eyes on his target. The man who killed his son. Daric never did anything but try his hardest to be something he was not. And in the end, he'd accomplished that goal through death. Such was the way of Nords. He supposed that if it were someone else's son, he would think, "The boy is old enough to follow his own path. He knew what he was doing." But it wasn't someone else's son, it was his. A boy he'd trained, and taken care of, worried over and loved. A boy that looked up to him, mimicked him and listened to his every word. Well, perhaps not his every word. Especially not recently. And now, after pushing him away, after taking him for granted, Brund Hammer-Fang forever robbed him of ever seeing him again. "I want to know why," said Baldur as he raised his axes. "Why are you doing all of this? What the ****, have I done to you besides treat you as my equal? Tell me?!" "What have you done? Did you not hear me, Baldur? You thought you were better than me! You and your father both! And for that, you will die! You, and your entire bloodline!" proclaimed Brund. "I swear it! Even if I die today I'll find a way to destroy you!" Brund let out a roar so great that the snowfall ceased, blown away from the peak of the mountain as if fleeing Brund's power. The ground around them began to shake and rumble, as if it too was seeking to flee. Amongst all of this, Baldur stood firm. His eyes were locked on Brund and they never left, even as the ground threatened to topple him. Brund continued to roar, displaying his might to the entire world. And with how great the volume of his voice was, Baldur didn't doubt that the entire world could hear him. "Come on, my king!" cried Brund as he tossed aside his troll helm, replacing it with the fabled Jagged Crown. "Show me what you can do!" Baldur thought of the blood on Brund's hammer, and his threat to wipe out his entire family as well. He thought of the first time he and Rebec found one another, the way they'd fucked as though they'd done so in countless lifetimes before. The blood they'd spilled together both on the battlefield and in childbirth. And the tears they spilled in shared fears and heartache. And Ragna. His daughter who by now he should've been on the way to see if not for the monster that stood in his way. All of this, the passion, the fear and pain mixed within him, fueling his rage. He knew that Brund was forcing him into a situation where for once, he did not have the upper hand. And he didn't care. No one, not an elf, not an Imperial, not even his father had caused him this much sorrow and grief. And only now did he finally truly understand how Rebec must've felt the day she'd lost Jala. The tears swelled in his eyes, bursting forth once more like water from newly melted icecaps. Slow at first before gaining more and more strength, just as Brund seemed to be as time went on and his yelling continued. He seemed completely unperturbed by Baldur's pain and what he'd done. Didn't seem to understand the gravity of it. How could he? "I'm going to do my best to make you suffer. I'll tear you apart by the fabric of your very being, down to the smallest level. And even then you'd not feel the way I feel. And for that, I curse you! Even in death, I curse you to suffer until it equates to what I feel now! Brund Hammer-Fang, I hate you!!" With that declaration, Baldur gave his own battlecry. At first, Brund had heard nothing at all, but a slight ringing noise. Then the ringing grew louder, and louder, until he realized that what he was hearing was so intense that his ears could not register it... Moments later after his ears adjusted, and he could finally pick up the sharp screeching, Brund panicked, grabbing his head as blood leaked from his earlobe. His vision was blurred and his balance once again thrown off. By the time Baldur was done, Brund was seeing double. So when Baldur cried, "Yol, TOOR!" sending a fireball where he stood, Brund could do nothing but wait until it was close before sending a mound of snow and earth hurtling towards it to protect himself. As the two thu'ums collided, clouds gathered in the sky, blocking the view of the stars and the moons. As if Kyne herself did not wish for the spectacle of her children's death to be seen by those faithless cowards that fled, or her dead husband who made their deaths a part of his purpose. The Greybeards sat still as stone through it all, chanting to their gods for a worthy outcome. The duel for the seat, had finally begun. *** With every shout Brund sent against him, Baldur could feel the intensity of his hatred, like a dense fog thickening more and more, threatening to swallow him up forever. His own hatred acted like a beacon, keeping him above it all as fire and stone clashed. The explosions sent bits of rock flying everywhere, occasionally peppering his cheek. "Fus, Gol... STRUNMAH!" This time Brund did not send earth directly at Baldur. Instead, Alfr Vega raised high above his head before it came crashing down, smashing the earth and sending a wave of snow and rock in Baldur's direction. It was too quick for Baldur to avoid by running. Instead, he used his thu'um to propel himself and jump over it. This was a mistake. Brund remembered from the battle of Windhelm that Baldur was fond of this. The minute Baldur launched himself in the air, Brund leaped for him, seeking to cleave him in two as Baldur fell. Their weapons met, as all he could do was try and block his attack. He was lucky not to be disarmed as Brund swatted him away like a fly, cutting him at his hip. The wound was shallow, but Brund was the first to draw blood. Baldur recovered quickly after his body was done ragdolling through the snow. Quickly enough to dodge Brund's follow up with a downward strike from his ancient Nord pendulum. It followed Baldur as he continued rolling away, screeching against the ice and rock. He stopped, brought his axe down on the weapon and attempted to yank it from Brund's grasp. Brund slapped his axe out of the way, but Baldur brought the other down as well, catching the wooden poll in his axe's undergroove. Up on his feet now, Baldur used the opportunity to try and take Brund's head off. Brund had to let go of Alfr Vega to avoid it, though Baldur managed to cut his cheek and nose. With his freed hands, Brund punched Baldur in the gut so hard his feet left the ground, leaving him winded and gasping for air. With a mighty roar, Brund grabbed his hammer from its sling and once again swung downwards, once again forcing Baldur to parry. He had Baldur pinned now, and was leaning close enough that he could smell his breath. "This is familiar isn't it? Remember. Solitude? Our wager? Daric was fighting my student. Funny, that. You look just like him now. Pathetic. Weak. Hehehehehahahaha!" "I remember winning that wager." "Well allow me to correct history!" said Brund. Baldur got a real close look at the blood on his hammer as its spikes inched nearer and nearer to his eyes. Before that could happen, Baldur let loose Yol Toor Shul, forcing Brund away. He followed up with a fireball that sent Brund flying on his back, but before Baldur could capitalize, Brund shouted boulder after boulder at him as he pounded the ground with his feet. Baldur dodged what he could, but had to use his thu'um to destroy what got too close. All the while trying to keep his balance. Something else was distracting him as well. Brund's chest began emitting a low green light... Suddenly, Brund let out another roar and before Baldur knew it, he disappeared entirely... Before he could realize what happened, an explosion of earth beneath his feet shot him six eight feet off the ground before Brund smothered him with as much earth as his thu'um could muster. The ground was hard, and cold. He was working extra hard to perform, but even so it was proving overwhelming for Baldur. As he stood atop of him, Brund said, "This looks like a good place to bury you, eh Red-Snow!?" For a minute, Brund almost thought he'd killed him right then and there. But then steam began to rise from beneath his feet, and the snow began to glow... He jumped away just in time as flame burst forth in a hellish display. Baldur's arm shot out afterwards, and then another. Before he even climbed out fully, Baldur shot his thu'um in Brund's direction once again. And again. And again. He didn't stop until he could feel burning in his throat. Brund timed the moments between his shouts to send his own thu'um at him, but before it hit him, Baldur's Yol Toor Shul sent a boulder flying straight into Brund's chest. He could do nothing but try to stop it with his bare hands. And he did. In fact, he caught the thing! Or rather, it caught him, hurtling away until Brund went flying into Paarthurnax's word wall. Baldur paced slowly, taking the time to breathe, recover his stamina. Meanwhile Brund was climbing out of a pile of rubble. The word wall stood right where it was however. "Yol Toor Shul!" cried Baldur, just as Brund once again disappeared underground. The Thu'um missed him entirely, leaving behind its three words bright against the stone slab just as it had once for the Dragonborn of legend. Baldur hopped around on his feet, feeling Brund burrow beneath him, albeit rather slowly. Even so, he could never be too sure of where exactly he was. "I have to wonder if you were smart enough to pick High Hrothgar knowing my thu'um would be difficult to use here in this hard terrain. No matter, you're still gonna die!" said Brund, his voice loud enough to echo through the ground. Eventually Baldur found himself falling below ground level, revealing the tunneling Brund had just done. Baldur and Brund clashed once again, their struggle unseen by those above ground. Before too long, fire began bursting through the cracks before both he and Baldur were launched up to the surface from the fiery explosion. They both landed heavily on their backs, not moving. Exhausted. "For ****'s sake. Just die already!" said Brund as he slowly stood. "You first," said Baldur. "I'm already dead!" said Brund with a big open mouthed smile, as he struggled to catch his breath. "It's your turn now!" Brund stretched open his arms and began chanting in the dragon language. Earth and snow gathered above his head, growing in size before Baldur at an alarming rate. While this went on, Brund's chest began to glow even brighter. Baldur was dumbfounded. How on Nirn did Brund gain such strength? Was this the gods punishing him? "Haha! Now you see don't you? I am a god!" Baldur attempted to thu'um him down, but Brund used the earth to protect him, raising up a barrier around him while whatever he was preparing grew more and more. "Now's the time to try it Baldur... either this works, or he's gonna crush me to bits...." Taking several deep breaths, Baldur waved his arms once more in the Greybeard way before finding himself on his knees in meditation. He silenced his mind as best he could, ignoring the rock and rubble flying past him to Brund's great rock. Ignoring the rumbling of the ground beneath them. Ignoring all but the void of his inner thoughts. "Tiiiiiiinvaak. Onikaaaaaan.... UTH!" The earth continued to shake and rattle, giving into the artificial gravity Brund seemed to be creating above his head. Even Baldur was feeling its pull, his hair whipping in the wind, blinding his sight and extinguishing the flame. Even as the ground began to give away beneath him, pulled towards the sky, Baldur stood firm. Eyes closed in concentration. "FUNT. SAHLO. Failure. Weak." Brand heard Baldur's words echoing in his head.... Brund, who was laughing hysterically from the rush of his own power began to sweat and groan in agony as he felt Baldur's thu'um once again. His neck veins were fit to burst from all the strain, his teeth rattled and gritted as they clenched. You are too weak, you know I'm right. Even as you are now, you will fail. Just as you always have. Let go of your burden. It is too heavy for you. The laws of Nirn demand it be released. Let it fall. Be free of this great effort and give in to your true nature. That of the failure. All of this conflict is the direct result of someone trying to deny what they are. Don't resist my logic. It is ironclad. "**** YOU, RED-SNOW! I WILL WIN! I-" Brund fell to a knee as he held his hands to the sky. Even the ground beneath him was buckling from the weight. What was effortless before now demanded a level of concentration he could not accomplish, certainly not with Baldur bombarding his defenses with fireballs, which were now beginning to give in as well. "****...****....**** **** **** **** ****! ******* minstrel!!" Brund was resisting far longer than Baldur had expected. Perhaps it was because he'd been exposed to it before. Anticipated it. In any case, Baldur continued taunting him, feeding off of Brund's insecurities and doubt. If his grudge was so powerful against he and his father, seemingly for thinking they were better, then Brund's insecurities must've been just as great, despite the confidence. And Baldur knew that, because the same was true for himself. And even so, Brund still held firm. The two cried out under the strain of mental effort, their voices mixing and clashing in the air, amplifying one another until the air was heavy from it. Snow and rock shook free on the lower levels of High Hrothgar, the trolls and wolves running desperately to find shelter. "Hahahahaha! I told you, I would not fail!" said Brund. Triumphant in his victory over whatever Baldur was attempting to do to his head. The great rock above him began to lower as Brund got ready for his final assault. Baldur fell to his knees, unsure of what to do next. The perspiration on his brow was thick, his body exhausted and his throat so sore it was getting difficult to breathe. There was nothing left to do... "No. By the gods it can't end like this... I don't accept it!" said Baldur. "Accept it or not, you're still gonna die you piece of sh-" Before Brund could finish, both he and Baldur heard a great crack, followed by bits of rock and snow falling on Brund's head. Brund looked up with a look on his face that Baldur had never seen on him before... fear. At that very moment, the great buildup of earth the size of several taverns that Brund created gave away, falling right on top of him before he could take even a single step out of its way. The mass behind it was abnormal, even for that much earth, knocking Baldur to the ground as soon as it made contact. No one could survive that, surely, he thought. Not even a mountain of a man like Brund... "Who am I kidding," said Baldur, half covered in snow from the impact. He wouldn't be satisfied until he saw Brund's body dead before him. He stood to his feet, leg muscles tensing from the effort. His body was weary, but not broken. His spirit, still strong. Defiant. Brund would attempt to change that. Brund could not be seen, but he could be heard. His same draconic chanting echoed all around him, and the earth vibrated, danced as though it were music. It was as though it were alive. Before he knew it, the loose snow and rock took the shape of two creatures Baldur could only assume were atronachs of Brund's own creation, spinning around glowing green cores that had their own gravitational pulls, the same as what Brund had tried to create earlier. Against these, Baldur had no defense. His thu'um failed him, and he could not dodge their blows for much longer. One grabbed his arm, as did the other, and attempted to pull the High-King apart, literally limb from limb. Baldur could do nothing but resist, and to try his thu'um once more... But would Brund hear it? So far underground? It wasn't worth risking the loss of energy. Instead Baldur mustered what energy he had left, shouting Yol, Toor at the creature on his left. The fireball hit the spinning rocks, but the core remained in tact. But it was enough to free an arm. Before he could shout again, the other formed what looked like a fist made of stone and sent the Nord flying into the dirt, where Brund burst from, grabbing his leg. Brund came up yelling like a wounded animal, covered in scratches, bruises and blood. His armor had ceased to cover his left arm and the top of his chest. Enough that Baldur could see the steel fused into his chest where the green light had been shining from, albeit far dimmer than before. Brund swung Baldur around like a ragdoll before attempting to slam him face first. "Yol Toor Shul!" cried Baldur, keeping himself from having his skull smashed. At the same time he kicked himself free from Brund's grasp, punching him twice, so hard that teeth and blood flew from his mouth. Brund caught the next punch, and attempted to deliver his own, but Baldur caught it as well. Their hands locked as the two attempted to overpower one another fruitlessly, their voices once again shaking the air around them. Brund ended the contest with a swift knee to Baldur's gut before running towards his back. He had Baldur lifted from his feet as his arm locked around his neck, slowly chocking the life from him. "I wish your wife were here to see this... to see you for the bitch you are. Go to sleep, little bitch. Go to sleep..." said Brund. Baldur did not sleep. Instead he pulled at Brund's arm until he could speak, and used the brief opportunity to shout. The power of his thu'um propelled both he and Brund back, sending Brund crashing backwards into the ground. As Brund was recovering, Baldur attempted to crawl away and reach his axe.. Just as his fingers wrapped around the fine Skyforge Steel hilt, Baldur felt Brund's hands on him, pulling him away. Baldur turned to his back and kicked him in his groin, then chin as he rolled away. "YOL, TOOR SHUL!" "FUS, GOL, STRUNMAH!" Snow and rock collided with a stream of flame, propelling fragments at dangerous velocity from the fantastic collision that brightened the night sky. The intensity of the heat mingled with the cold air, darkening the clouds above until thunder from their shouts was not the only present. Neither could maintain this level of power for long, and the shouting soon ceased. But when it had, Brund was no longer there. "Surprise, you *****," said Brund as he burst through the ground once again, lifting Baldur in the air by his neck. Brund wasn't smiling however, as he eyed his surroundings. Nothing but rock and snow, and Greybeards. And Veleda... but that was too risky. "It's too bad I have to end this now, but I burned far more energy than I expected thanks to you. Even if I win this duel, I might die before I even reach the bottom of this mountain. You bring this on yourself, though I take great pleasure, in doing it. Goodbye, Baldur." “Fus Gol Strunmah, Dinok Wuth Zah, Zaami! Fus Gol Strunmah, Dinok Wuth Zah, Zaami!” Baldur let out a cry that couldn't have been matched by any man no matter what the torture as he felt his life force literally being eroded away from his body. It was as though every cell were slowly being stabbed... his hair began to turn dull, his skin, greyed. His beard had even grown as though the years had suddenly finally caught up to him. His wails had the same effect as they'd had before, worse even, but Brund was too close to victory. No way would he stop now. Never. It was almost sad, he thought. Seeing his rival so strong, so proud now whither away into nothing. But everybody dies. He watched as the process continued its wretched work, feeling his power slowly return to him, his wounds tingling, burning as they began to heal. Baldur was still struggling. How cute, he thought. He even attempted to mouth the words. "Go on, say it Baldur. Try!" "Yol. Toor. Shul," said Baldur, who now appeared to be approaching his early fifties and was still climbing. His thu'um was pathetic! Laughable! Little flames danced from his mouth like leaves blown away by a mighty wind. Brund laughed in his face at the pathetic display as his hands dropped to his side and he gave in to Brund's might. "This is how you avenge your son? Your elf? Do you know how slow his death was? The way he cried for you as I was ripping out his lungs? You know what I'll do to Rebec in your absence? And this is all the fight you can muster? Look at you! Dying like a little bitch! Like- AHHHH!" Those would be Brund's last words, ever. Those pathetic little flames Brund laughed at were the same flames Baldur used to summon to perform his candle trick. They were all he could summon in his weakened state. But instead of candles, they found the tips of his fingers, and the tips of his fingers found Brund's throat. They squeezed, and squeezed, burning through his flesh until Baldur's hand had a hold of his throat so strong Brund could not remove it. Brund let go of Baldur and Baldur slammed his head into the ground as he continued to squeeze. Brund had suddenly found himself without his thu'um. Permanently. However, his ridiculous strength still remained, and he demonstrated this by punching Baldur again in the gut so hard he coughed blood while Brund scurried away. The sound of his gurgling attempts to speak was enough to turn Baldur's stomach. But not enough to prevent him from finishing what he'd set out to do. He had no idea what Brund had done to him, but he could still lift his axe. And Brund could still brandish his hammer. They ran towards one another, Brund with revitalized vigor, but without his thu'um. Baldur without vigor, but the will to live. He put his training to work, letting his instincts and muscle memory move his body instead of his present mind. His years of fighting read Brund's body language, letting him know how to avoid his swings. He calmed his mind, ignoring the hatred that Brund so easily summoned in him. Just like on the battlefield with countless enemies before, this was when Baldur was most dangerous. Brund grew more and more frustrated as the old man before him continued avoiding his swings, taking light strikes at his legs and arms where he could. But Baldur was losing ground, being pushed towards the peak of the mountain, being forced upwards where he'd have nowhere left to go, but into his hammer. The two fought and climbed. Brund's hammer nearly caught him square in the face, sending pebbles nearly into his eyes as Baldur moved his head out the way and as rock was pulverized by Brund's hammer. The spikes scraped off his plated shoulders as he continued his ascent from his enemy. He was slower, but used Yol to position Brund where he needed to, swinging his axe exactly where Brund moved to avoid the flame, and the skyforge steel caught him first in his head, knocking the Jagged Crown from his ugly mug, then right in the chest, creating a wound diagonally across and exposing the source of the light at the top... Baldur's eyes widened at what he'd seen. "Is that... what have you done to yourself?!" Brund answered him with more gurgled words and swings from his hammer. As the two approached a ledge near the very height of the mountain, Brund began smashing his hammer again and again into the ground. His strength was not nearly as great as it was before, but the damage from the earlier battle had done its work. Both their battle and the Dragonborn's with Alduin had weakened the foundations of the earth they stood on. And by the time Brund was done, the rocky ledge they stood on finally gave away. And as it fell, so did they, crashing onto the edge of the peak beneath them, and the weight of the rock also causing the stone below to give away as well. The end result, Baldur and Brund were falling off the side of High Hrothgar, with nothing but the bit of mountain under them keeping them from being splattered against the mountainside. Brund may not have been able to speak, but seeing the fear in Baldur's eyes was enough to make him laugh, even despite the great pain. Even as they fell, bouncing and sliding off the surface of the mountain, Brund still tried to kill his rival. Baldur was clinging to the rock and to what remained of his life when Brund's Hammer-Fang went straight into his arm, leaving it hanging useless at his side. Brund wrenched it free and was about to bring it down again for another swing when Baldur jumped up and cried, "Yol Toor Shul!" This time Brund had nowhere to go, his whole body covered from head to toe, burning him as bright as the effigy of King Olaf in Solitude in the night air. Brund lost his footing then as their bit of rock ramped off of another beneath them, sending them up in the air in a free fall as the rock's greater weight slowly pulled it away from their grasp. This was just like in Hammerfell when the harpies had nabbed he and Menel, Baldur realized. That memory pained him almost as much as knowing that he was most surely going to die. But if he was going to die, he was going to kill Brund first. He had one more shout in him, and he used that last shout to propel himself straight into Brund who was getting further and further away from him. He speared himself straight at his middle, and even now as they were falling to their deaths, an avalanche beneath them, waiting to put them in their icy tomb, Brund still would not give in. Baldur had a hard time of it with only one good arm, but he clawed and bit, even taking off one of Brund's fingers until the defiant minstrel found his target. His hand shot deep into Brund's cavity, forcing his hand between the gap above the infused steel plate and the rest of his flesh. Brund grabbed Baldur's shoulders, refusing to let go, even as Baldur once again bit him, ripping flesh from his neck. If he could still speak, he'd probably say, "Stop biting me you fu***** cu**!" But he could not, nor could he adequately grip Baldur with missing fingers as his boot pushed against his chest. "I'll see you in Sovngarde, you son of a whore. And I'll beat you there too, for all of eternity." "Noooo!" cried Brund as best he could, but there was nothing he could do. Baldur wrenched his heart free from his chest, and the release of energy and the explosion that followed did the rest. A heartless Brund was shot away like a rock in a sling, falling into the side of the Throat of the World, with Baldur not too far behind him. As Baldur neared the same fate, the ground growing closer, his vision began to fail him, and the dark of night soon grew until there was nothing to be seen at all. Not even the powerful glow of the briarheart in his hand as its spiky outer casing pierced his hand. Tears trailed behind him as he thought of the wife and child he was leaving behind. "You know... I never wanted to go away But what am I supposed to say? Rebec... I beg you. Please, forgive me. I love you so much, and I always will.... Forgive me..." The last thing he saw before his vision disappeared completely, was a giant hawk rushing past him like that of his dream. The power of its flapping wings, and the dive towards the ground nearly sent him spinning downwards. And from below, the great and terrible open mouth of a snake, swallowing him whole. "Pruzah, Ashen One... Well done."
  2. 5 points
    The Moot Of all the Jarls that found their way up to High Hrothgar, none of them stood out more than young Elisif, not even Fenrald, one of the newest of the lot. Aside from her husband to be and Baldur of course, both who were still absent. Her ascent was easy enough, though not as quick as the others and taking her nearly three days. Climbing the 7000 steps wasn't so bad when all the capable warriors before her already cleared the way. She even overheard Vignar bragging about his frost troll kill. His booming raspy voice guided her to the table of the Greybeards where she'd sat only a few years before, with the fabled and terrible Dragonborn of the Stormcloaks. The Greybeards stood like silent sentinels, never speaking but always listening. Even so, remembering the young woman from her last visit greeted her with only a simple gesture, a wave of their arms, opening then closing as their hands were brought back together. "Such gentlemen you are," she commented, even managing to work up a smile. That was even harder than her first climb. After the night she had... Brund was gracious enough to allow her to come alone, claiming he was exhausted and needed his rest. She was not only exhausted but forever scarred. After his appetites were sated, she didn't even recognize her own reflection in her mirror. It was as if a whole winter had come and gone, leaving evidence of its passing on her skin. She knew a night alone with Brund would be trying, but never as trying as that. His smell, the smell of sweat and death. And the air about him... cold... wrong... She tried her best to ignore the memories... Before she stepped into the room where the fate of Skyrim, of Tamriel would once again be decided, there was a lot of chatter, even laughter. But the room grew eerily quiet as she stepped inside with the two Solitude guardsmen accompanying her. Even with two guardsmen, armed to the teeth with sword and shield, bow and arrow, dagger and axe, and her, with her own axe of Solitude, a wolven design with rubies for the eyes, and her thick red dress, golden trimmings and reddish brown wolf fur and ruby studded circlet... All of it seemed to disappear before the gaze of the other Jarls of Skyrim, who clearly detested her presence nearly as much as they did the foreigners that also were counted as guests. She studied the layout. The Jarl of Falkreath sat opposite of... she wasn't actually sure who this man was. He was no Jarl certainly though he seemed vaguely familiar. Looking further she noticed that she did not see Skald the Elder. A stand in perhaps. The Jarl of Morthal sat beside Fenrald, then there was an empty seat, two of them. Those must've been for her and Brund, the "Demon Chieftain of the Reach" as he was so aptly being called. On the far side where she walked past was a seat reserved for Baldur she imagined, as Arngeir himself was standing behind that seat. He greeted her with a smile and a gesture to be seated. He was the only kind face in the whole room thus far. Maven Black-Briar... no, she's far too young to be Maven. She had a daughter, Elisif was sure of this.... Ingun. Elisif heard briefly that the Rift had found a new Jarl in her. She sat next to the seat closest to Baldur's spot. Then there was Vignar, and finally Korir. Behind them all in the back of the room sat Baldur's guests. Prince Roland she recognized immediately, but she avoided eye contact with the Bretons entirely and simply took her seat. The sooner this moot could begin, the better in her mind. She was too lost in thought of her husband to care what the others spoke of. Sorrow and loneliness was heavy in her expression, accentuated by the shadows cast from the braziers of the Greybeards that never went out and thankfully gave more heat than what would be normally possible. In the fire she saw him, Torygg. But she couldn't quite make out his face. All she saw was Ulfric cutting him down. That was the only thing she could see of him now. And soon, even this faded, burned away. Replaced with the image of Brund, smiling with disgusting delight, and sucking his teeth before making her his. She got lost in the visions that the fire showed. Even when the Empress of Cyrodiil herself approached, she did not seem to take notice. Dales Draconus bore herself with...a strangeness. She didn't walk like a lady of the court, more like a predator, panther-like. Her honey hair was loose and out, though she didn't bother to tend to it. She wore a complicated black and red dress done in a Colovian style alongside a chest piece that went with her dress and an armored corset, glowing silver, though she was almost completely bare when it came to jewelry, only wearing her sigit ring...and the amulet that...thing had gifted to her. She had soon come to the revelation only she could see it, so she didn't have to worry about offending the Jarls, for she knew they no doubt disliked symbols of elven gods. She was certainly very striking, and her face was very pretty, but...her blue, chilling eyes, the dark bags that hid underneath her eyes, deathly pale skin, and icy stare certainly marred that beauty. On her belt, she wore a plain silver imperial styled gladius, which she kept on her right side. The young Empress, however was awe struck, though she kept it underneath of a mask of stoicism. What...a lovely creature... Her hair was golden. And her frame lithe. A perfect body. Her eyes were as deep as an oceans. The monarch of the Empire had heard stories of Elisif's beauty, but in person, she was absolutely radiant. She would be perfect, if not for the dark shadow that hung over her. Dales could practically feel it. Perhaps the approach of the Dragon would be less suitable here? Instead, Dales put on a warm smile, dispelling her previous dark look. She said, in a gentle voice, "Jarl Elisif?" Elisif almost jumped, so out of it was she. Quickly gaining her composure she said, "Empress Motierre, right? Or is it Draconus nowadays? It's a pleasure to meet you. Here, have a seat by me until Brund arrives." "The pleasure is mine, milady." Dales said, her voice warm. "Draconus. Please, call me Dales." The small Breton took a seat beside the former high-queen. She'll probably be voting Brund then...She spoke in a friendly, though quiet tone of voice. "I've heard from people about your radiance, though in person, the words can't compare." She complemented her. "I hope the journey up the mountain was pleasant. Me and the future High King's journey was assailed by a blizzard." Good. "I hope you fared well?" she asked. She was blushing a bit from being complimented so strongly and out of the blue. She was sure some of the Jarls overheard, but paid them no mind. "My trip was straightforward, no beasts assaulted me or my guards. Truth be told, I've never seen any. Some claim Kynareth sends them to test pilgrims." "We ran into some kind of beast. Baldur told me it was a yeti, but I asked Arngeir about it, and apparently yetis don't exist!" She lightly chuckled, "I guess it was some kind of ice troll. Nasty beast. Baldur's axe and my flame magic set it straight though!" "What, no thu'um action? Hmph, I'm surprised he doesn't show that off every chance he gets," said Elisif. "I imagine he probably uses it to kill pests, or to dispose of his child's soiled cloth." Elisif chuckled at the thought. "I'm sorry, that was beneath me. I'm not a big fan of your friend, but I harbor no ill feelings towards you, Empress. I mean, Dales." "Isn't foul language beneath the fabled golden lady of Solitude?" Dales gave her a wink, and a slight nudge as she said, "We're both girls, feel free to speak how you want around me milady. Baldur can be a little hard to tolerate with all his horrible singing, but he has a good heart." She grinned. Poor girl… Elisif was taken aback by that, and of course felt for the obvious ploy hook, line, and sinker. "I never thought I'd hear anyone utter the same sentiment. Though there once was a time I enjoyed it, it quickly got old. Aside from that, he helped Ulfric find the woman they'd use to supplant my position and to use their marriage as an excuse to steal my holds wealth for his own. I used to think he was my friend, and understood what I went through. But he was only playing me. Where others see an 'Ash-King' or such rubbish, a great bear of a man, or a cunning fox, all I see is a viper with a forked tongue." "Baldur's a Lord of Cinder. Fire bends to his voice, and he breathed upon the attacking Dominion foes with flame ordained by Kyne. Or so they say." Dales said, keeping the friendly expression, but her voice was a little harder, "Snakes are often known as imperfect dragons, so perhaps a serpent fits him. Though I consider serpents noble animals, they control the rodent population after all, and the Akaviri Potentate were great statesmen, and respected figures of the Imperial Court." "And what would they know anyway when they can't even agree upon Kynareth's name," said Elisif. "I don't care about his thu'um, I saw plenty of Ulfric's to know that magic abilities do not make a man true or righteous like their men would have you believe. They are not the Grey Beards. Only they I trust to wield the thu'um responsibly. That is to say, not at all." She's very bitter towards Baldur. I wonder what he did to her... Dales simply smiled in response, " I agree to an extent. Not about Baldur and the voice, of course, but the sentiment in general, I've seen men immolated by flame spells, and icicles used as pincushions. Magic is simply a tool to be used. For noble reasons or evil reasons." Before she continued, she noticed the wide open door, and the fact a few people were still missing. This gave her a rare opportunity. Dales sat up, saying, "The moot seemingly won't begin for a little while. Care to take a walk with me, milady, down the stone halls? Stretch the legs, before the long discussions begin?" The young Empress offered her gloved hand to the Jarl. Elisif almost took her hand, but then a thought occurred to her... Smiling, Elisif said, "Empress Dales, even here in Skyrim your reputation precedes you. I'm sorry but this is neither the time nor the place. And no offense, but I couldn't be seen by the others walking away alone with the Empress of Cyrodiil, the very one known for aiding the Thalmor once upon a time. I do not hold it against you, but politics are what they are. It would hurt Brund's chances. I've had to grow wise in these last few years. At least a little." "You wound me. If what I think you are accusing me of trying to do, I can assure you, I would never think to do such a thing. " A dark rage filled inside her head, telling the girl to draw her gladius and rip it through her stomach, but she shoved it deep within in her. Dales, skillful not to show it, forced a small smile, "What you've heard about me is no doubt mired in many rumors." Elisif placed her hands on hers, whispering. "Even so, love, rumors are quite dangerous. Rumors, whispers and lies are the reason even men in my own hold believe Baldur is this 'Ash-King'. Rumors can make or break anyone. Even a king. Or queen. Please believe me when I say I truly meant you no offense, but this moot is very important to me. I shall not risk sabotaging my interests. But if you linger in Skyrim afterwards, I'd be happy to entertain you on the way to Solitude, and in the Blue Palace." "I've actually been to Solitude once before." She sat down finally, seeing her offer rejected. Dales honestly felt...somewhat hurt. Was that what she was to foreign royalty? A predator? The Empress...could be a leech, but the prospect of forcing a woman to give her body...felt so disgusting to the Empress, she could barely restrain herself from shaking with anger. The young Empress gazed into the Jarl's eyes, "I was only a girl though. My mother was visiting a friend. And my father was on business.” The Empress closed her eyes, "The only thing I really remember is the sound of the blue waves in the ocean, swishing and swashy, as I looked, from the top of an East Empire Company warehouse. Do you like the ocean, milady?" "Solitude overlooks the sea, but I confess I've never enjoyed it, or being on boats. I always feared one day the strange land formation Solitude was built on would give away to the weight and the sea would swallow the Blue Palace whole... I had quite a few nightmares about it actually. Torygg used to say I was being a silly girl. He wasn't afraid of anything back then..." The thought of Torygg brought her thoughts to her task... "Empress Dales, I fear that Brund may come in at any moment. I am very sorry but I must ask that you not be in his seat any longer. Again, I truly mean no offense, and I promise to make it up to you when this whole ordeal is over. I could use a friend." "Of course. We may be opposed today, but I do hope you know you have someone to talk to." The Empress gave her a warm smile. A genuine one, the dark malice that wanted to take over gone. "If all goes well, I shall take you up on your offer. You shall give me a tour of the blue palace, and all the splendor I have forgotten." Dales got out of her seat, and whispered, "Until another day, my lady." "Hopefully soon," she said genuinely. She thought to speak then to the Bretons, perhaps one last chance to try and persuade Baldur's supporters. But alas, she thought better of it. Embarrassing herself in front of them once was more than enough. These people climbed the 7000 steps to support him. Words alone weren't going to change their minds now. *** As the day pressed on and both Brund and Baldur still had yet to arrive, some of the Jarls began to grow impatient just waiting at the table. It was only minutes after the arrival of Elisif that Fenrald decided that he was going to 'take a walk', though almost an hour later he had yet to return. During that time, Vignar and Ingun got up to go and speak in private as well, promising to remain close in case they were needed. At one point, Korir thought to ask one of the Greybeards if they kept drinks, though Arngeir had told him days ago that they did not. Perhaps he'd hoped that one of the silent ones might've kept a stash of his own. From that point on, he appeared rather sour. Some time later, Ingun returned alone. "Where's the old man?" asked Sorli. "He is in a side chamber just down the hall," she answered. "He found a book to read." "And Fenrald?" Ingun shrugged. "Didn't see him." "Great." Sorli got up and walked out, stopping just to glance back at the Redguards, then the Imperials. "We know who you lot are here for. Something better not have happened to him. For your sake and Baldur's." On that note, she made her exit. The Empress trailed from one part of the room to the next. The Empress was...beginning to worry. She's obviously afraid of Brund. She doesn't want to help him, but she see's no choice. A well meaning girl in way over her head. The Empress sadly smiled to herself. Reminds me of someone. She dispelled thoughts of the fair, golden haired Jarl, and went back to the Moot. She would support Brund, meaning Brund already had two votes. Going by the angry scowls a few of the Jarls were giving her, that might rise soon. Baldur talked too much, but it was his gift. His way of words. Without that tongue, he would be severely handicapped in the coming debates. The Greybeards claim to give him their support, yet they do this. Maybe Badur was right about them. She scanned the room, analysing it. The foreign leaders here would no doubt be an advantage to him, showing how many foreign powers would be at his side, but that was double edged sword. No doubt they resented the mere fact they were here in sacred Nordic ground. Especially her. The young Empress decided to go for a walk. It would do no good worrying about this. She had faith that Baldur could pull it off. If he couldn't...well. There was always option two The Empress walked down the hallways of the ancient Nordic temple. A few minutes later, she spotted someone in a side chamber, reading a large dusty tome. Jarl Vignar Grey-Mane, if she recalled. Him being by himself, meant he might be a little more open to her. Perhaps it was best to see we're he sat in all this. The Empress approached the elderly Jarl, saying in stern, yet no unfriendly voice. These people understood only steel, and iron, "Jarl Greymane?" A moment passed as Vignar found a point where he could stop. "The Songs of the Return. I would not have expected to find the full saga here, of all places." The elderly Jarl of Whiterun looked up and studied her. "The Companions' story is a glorious one, and also violent, bloody. Not something that I'd have thought welcome in the Greybeards' halls of peace." He set the tome aside, leaving it open on the stone window nook. "What do you want, Empress?" "I found a book detailing gory encounters with frost trolls, and other bestiary's of Skyrim a few days ago. I suppose people leave offerings of various literature to the Greybeards. Can't be selective with you're readings when you're so secluded and can't get you're books from someplace else." She said, "Making small talk? I've never had the honor of meeting you, Jarl." She strode into the room. "No, you haven't." Vignar folded his arms. "If it's small talk you want, then there are six other Jarls out there who might be better for it." "Perhaps we started on the wrong foot." Dales said with an apologetic smile, "Dales Draconus, of Cyrodiil." She offered her hand forward. The Jarl did not move. "I'm an honest man, Empress Draconus. But I wouldn't be if I shook a hand that once held a Thalmor pen." Second time now. This is going to be a long day... "Perhaps you forget it was also my hand, that held my blade, that slit my father's throat, and expelled the Dominion from Cyrodiil. And restored the open worship of Talos throughout my lands." She said sharply. "I have not forgotten," he replied solemnly, "which is why I have abided Baldur's decision to invite you here in the first place." She dropped her hand, "I will never forget my past. Nor will many people I can imagine," her cold blue eyes becoming melancholic, "Or the suffering I surely caused with my signature. But the past is the past. I can't change what I did back then. But I can make sure the future is better for the my people. That's all that really matters now. And I think we both surely agree, the Empire, and Whiterun's well-being is tied to if Baldur wins the moot or not." "On that, we do agree," the old man said. "And we are not alone. None of us knew this Brund Hammer-Fang until recently, but what little we've heard has been worrisome. The man surrounds himself with marauders and cutthroats, and Markarth has been troublingly quiet since his last victory against the Forsworn." "Brund was not born into his role of Jarl?" She took a seat beside the old man, "Did he have a previous military record before hand? Baldur...did not have the chance to give me any details of his opponent." "Until recently, Thongvor Silver-Blood was Jarl of the Reach. I do not know how Brund came to inherit his position, but he now controls the wealth of Cidhna Mine so it must have been with Silver-Blood's blessing." Vignar shrugged. "And if he served in the army, word of his exploits never reached me." "That means he controls a large portion of Skyrim's wealth..." She breathed a sigh of disappointment, "A very good incentive to support him. I talked to the Jarl Solitude. For some reason, she intends to support this brute. Do you know any others who will be swayed by the promise of his silver?" "Sorli, no doubt." Vignar's wrinkly frown tightened into a scowl. "To this day I do not know what Ulfric saw in that woman. But aside from her and Elisif, I trust everyone at that table to stand by their convictions. The leaders of Skyrim are not your Elder Council. They will do what they believe to be right by their people." Well at least he's loyal to Baldur. "For all our sakes I hope you are right." She paused. Still looking uncertain, "Baldur is a hero to the common people. He was a war hero in the last invasion, highly favored by Ulfric, adored by the public, and has the backing of multiple foreign powers. To challenge him for the throne, a man you barely know, just makes me feel...wrong. Like we're missing something about this Brund. He's either very stupid, or very confident. Considering he made himself the Jarl of Skyrim's richest hold, i'll go for the later." "Not everyone is as impressed by you foreign powers as you might hope. I understand what Baldur has done here. He summoned you to show that he can, to prove that he alone commands enough respect to make all the kingdoms of man listen and do what he says. We will need that when we march south together against the elves." Vignar sighed. "But it is more complicated than that. I don't know about his brother, but Jarl Skald hates the Empire almost as much as he does the Thalmor. Fenrald might even hate them more. No amount of respect from you will convince them that Baldur should be king. It would not have been enough for me either, had my mind not already been made up." "I warned him my presence here might cause this kind of thing. But he insisted I come." She glumly said, "So by proxy, Fenrald will vote for Brund because Baldur has aligned himself so closely with us. That's a third vote, which dosen't include Brund's own one." She sighed, "Dangerous water. Is there anyone who you know is undecided we might be able to sway to Baldur's cause?" She gripped the invisible amulet of Auriel she wore on her neck. “I'm an old man," answered the Jarl, "and you're a foreign ruler. Convincing the others how to think before we hear them out is not our place." He shook his head. "In fact, I daresay it will do more harm than good. When the moot begins, I will say my piece and argue for it, as will Jarl Baldur. I have faith that his words will be enough to convince anyone who has yet to decide for themselves." "Perhaps you're right, Jarl Greymane. We'll leave it to Baldur's tongue to convince the others to do the right thing. And by the gods, hopefully all will be well." She got out of her seat, "Well, I'll see you at the Moot, Jarl Greymane. Thanks for the information." "Mhmm," Vignar grunted and then he turned away from her to reclaim his book. "Fair winds and all that." Dales stepped out of the room, dark thoughts entering her head. She was...less hopeful now of the chances of Baldur winning. She traced her hands around the gleaming amulet on her neck, and whispered, "If you truly do show me divine favor, Auriel, now is the time to show it!" "Pfft!" Dales looked over to find Jarls Sorli and Fenrald standing a little further into the hall. The two had been speaking quietly, but upon recognizing her, Fenrald made a point to raise his voice. "And speaking of those devils, here's their queen now." He looked equal parts angry and disgusted. "Baldur was wise to bring the moot here, where we cannot shed blood." "Shut up, Fenrald," Sorli muttered. "Save it for the moot." "Oh I'll have plenty more to say there, believe me." "Fenrald was it?" Dales said, a dark look appearing on her face, "Jarl of Falkreath. Threatening the guests of the Grey Beards in these sacred halls? Tsk tsk, do you now know you're own customs? Not that it matters anyways, I'm quite sure you would be dead a second before you drew your blade." "Did you hear that?" The Jarl laughed, though there was no trace of humor in it. He glanced at Sorli, who seemed increasingly uncomfortable. "My people don't flinch as the girl rains fire on our home, and she has the gall to think she's frightening!" Looking back at Dales, he said, "I didn't threaten you, Empress. If I do, it will be much clearer." "No, but you're Jarl surely did, when my old friend Lorgar Grim-Maw sent an arrow in his heart." Dales said, giving him a pleasant smile. The fake amusement drained from Fenrald's face, to be replaced by something stuck between excitement and hatred. "Lorgar Grim-Maw," he repeated back to her. "Perhaps it's a good thing Baldur invited you after all, Imperial, for that is something I never thought I would learn." "I'm glad I could be of some help, by telling you that dog killed him." She said, the smile still on her face, "Now if you'll excuse me good Jarl." She gave him a brief nod, before turning around to face his companion. She said, with a blank expression. "You must be Sorli, a pleasure." "That's right," she answered. "And you're the Empress everyone seems to hate." Before Sorli could say another word, a grimacing Fenrald muttered something and stormed off. "... Especially him." What a freak. And her. I can already tell she's a bitch. Dales kept the forced smile, "Hate is a very strong word. Perhaps, dislike is better? I'm sure you're a very respected Jarl." She said. "As respected as one can become when ruling a backwater hold like Hjaalmarch." Sorli shrugged. "Still, it's not all bad. We understand not to spit in the eyes of potential friends, for instance." "Of course, and are we potential friends, jarl?" Dales asked, "Or are you like the Jarl of Falkreath, who hates imperials with a burning passion." "Hating Imperials was healthy when we were at war," replied the Jarl. "Now? I don't see the point. You're not the ones who want to kill us." Need to be careful around her. If what Vignar said is true, then perhaps she's an opportunist. At the same time, if she's lying she can use my words as ammunition later. "Wise words. We are united against a common foe. Cooperation, I feel, will be the best way to defeat the Dominion in the coming months. Yet I hear you oppose Jarl Red-Snow." Dales asked, crossing her arms. Sorli's eyes narrowed. "Did Black-Briar tell you that? I don't oppose Red-Snow. Got nothing against the man. It just so happens that I've got no reason to love him either. Jarl Brund, on the other hand, has done much to convince me that Skyrim would prosper under his rule." “And what is that, if I may ask? I hear Jarl Brund has control over the wealthiest Hold in Skyrim. Do you worry about Skyrim's economy?" An idea was forming in her head. "Now I know you've been talking to Ingun," she muttered. "Whatever else that snake might've told you, it just so happens that I do care about our economy. And our safety. And I believe that Brund is best for both." **** it fine. Let's do it Dales! The Empress smile grew, "Perhaps we can, speak privately in one of these side chambers?" Dales was uneasy, but when the iron is hot, you need to jump. "I have a...proposition for you, if you're willing to hear me out?" "Oh?" Jarl Sorli's brow arched. "Well then, Empress, lead the way. I would never turn down a potential friend." *** Roland watched the the Jarls mingle and talk amongst themselves, a sense of ease about them that he did not personally feel. The Empress had that same air about her before she left the room, and his grandmother was almost apathetic in her demeanor. It had been Lady Gaerhart who suggested they stick to the periphery of the moot and not hound the Jarls. Roland was hesitant at first, but after seeing the Jarl of Falkreath come storming into the room after an argument with the Empress outside, he realized staying quiet was the wisest choice. Still, he was surprised at his own nerves. The nobles of High Rock did not make him feel like this. He'd grown up around them, though, and knew their false smiles and hidden glares like he knew the back of his hand. The Nords did not care for such tact, and whatever they lacked there they made up for tenfold with confidence. Even the newest Jarls, of Falkreath and Riften, seemed more suited to this moot than he did. It was something about the blunt Nordic manner, and the fact he was atop the world's tallest mountain, an unwanted foreign interloper, that made him feel so out of place. But with the practiced manners that was the culmination of his life's education, he greeted Jarl Korir of Winterhold, who had practically strutted over to the Bretons. "It's nice to meet you, Jarl Korir. I'm Prince Roland, and this is my grandmother, Lady Gaerhart, and our Lord Admiral, Duke Theirry." "Prince?" Jarl Korir looked disappointed. He then nodded to Duke Theirry. "I was just about to ask the man I thought to be your king how tough the climb was on a wooden leg." Duke Theirry flashed a smile and said, "Years at sea have given me a good sense of balance. The seas are much crueler than some icy steps." Lady Gaerhart, leaning over her ornate cane, gave a dismissive wave. "What he meant to say is that the litter they hauled me up here in moved slow enough he hardly climbed a mile a day. At that pace he needn't have any legs." Roland couldn't help but smile at the Duke's expense, but Theirry had the good nature to laugh as well. The Jarl, however, did not seem to appreciate the jest. "It is no small thing to make the climb M'lady, on two legs or ten. Your Admiral has proven stronger than the many who died trying the same." He regarded the wooden leg again. "Much stronger, I'd say." Roland took on a more serious tone and said, "My father knew which men and women to put his faith in. Duke Thierry has proven himself more than worthy of commanding our ships. Making this climb only reinforces that." "Thank you, Your Highness. And thank you, Jarl. Though, in truth, I had hoped to see High Admiral Red-Snow here," Thierry said. "When she and Jarl Red-Snow last visited our waters, they came upon some pirates. I made a concerted effort to rectify that problem, and was hoping I could show her the fruits of that labor." "He means the tattered pirate flags he captured," Lady Gaerhart explained. "Nice ornaments for the tavern in that new town of theirs. And proof High Rock means to carry its weight." "Fine ornaments indeed!" Korir grinned and clasped a large hand on Duke Theirry's shoulder, shaking it. "That is reassuring. It gives me faith that this alliance is not just talk, but something that can truly be done." His smile waned a little. "I must admit, I was not pleased at first to learn that you would be here. Nor those Redguards or Imperials. After I got over it, I found myself eager to meet the man who freed High Rock. Why couldn't your king make it?" Duke Theirry said, "Preparations for our war effort needed his attention." Roland frowned a little at the real reason, the Daedric plague eating away at his family, and said, "And we recently had a vassal who allied with the Thalmor to attempt to remove our family. That needed dealt with as well." "Truly?" The Nord's voice deepened with rage. "What kind of honorless cur would ally with the Thalmor even after they've been thrown back? Bah! The elves have poisoned our countrymen's minds. All the more reason why they must be crushed for good." "You'll find High Rock in agreement," Roland said and gave a small smile. "We look forward to heading south to fight the Thalmor alongside you Nords. Alongside High King Red-Snow. Are we in agreement on that as well?" "Red-Snow's victories do him credit," Korir replied, "But I don't know him, nor Brund neither. You'll find out if we're in agreement when I've heard the Jarls speak and measured their words and deeds myself." "For what my words are worth," Roland said, then put on his best self-depreciating smile. "And I know how little Nords think of us foreigners. But for what my words are worth, I think Skyrim would do well to choose Baldur. I would not think to tell you what is best for your people, but for all our people, we will need a man like Red-Snow leading all of us against the Thalmor." Unlike earlier, Roland felt much more at ease. Maybe it was falling back into the rhythm of politics that he knew so well from High Rock, but now he felt confident, and as if he was not so out of place here as he might've thought. "Well said, Roland! Why, I imagine your father couldn't have put it better." This was High King Joleen, of Hammerfell, sporting the warmest thing he could find before his trip, a large spotted cat fur over his shoulders, and a suit of chainmail over a dark blue doublet. "Sorry for butting in," said his son Jabreel. Running a hand through his long locks, he said, "Father often does this when no one is paying attention to him." "Quiet you," said Jeleen. "We just got bored looking for something good to eat around here is all. Why didn't anyone think to bring some worthy refreshments to a meeting of kings?" "Ha!" Korir's laugh came out as more of a bark. "I'm glad I'm not the only one. Half of Skyrim would give all they own to become a Greybeard, but I think most would take it back upon discovering that this place hasn't got a drop to drink!" The Jarl grinned. "Find me after the moot, Redguard. Whoever wins, we will celebrate Skyrim's new ruler in Ivarstead with meat and mead aplenty!" Korir stated to leave, and then looked back at Roland. "And worry not, Prince. Whether it is Baldur or Brund who bears the mantle of King, trust that the Jarls would not choose either if he lacked the strength to fight elves." With that, the Jarl of Winterhold lumbered off to rejoin his countrymen. "Good to know not all of the pale skins are stiff and grouchy! I was beginning to worry Baldur was the only Nord that knew how to smile! I like that one, what say we accept his invitation, Jabreel?" said Jeleen. "You like anyone that offers you food. It's amazing you haven't been poisoned yet." The Bretons all laughed at the joke, and Roland said, "It's been far too long, King Jeleen and Prince Jabreel. Your new titles suit you rather well, I'd say." "Butcher is the correct title for this one. He's got no sense of subtlety or tact," said Jeleen. "He's just mad that he didn't get to unite all of Hammerfell with the sweet honeysuckle dripping from his tongue. He was sure that he could convince the remaining stubborn kingdoms to fall under his banner. I wasn't." "And so my hot headed son decided to go and assassinate those kings instead. Any of them that opposed me, ruining all the hard work I'd put into diplomacy." "But it did work," added his son. "For now. An alliance built on blood will not last. But hopefully it will last long enough to defeat the elves. You still have much to learn my boy. But still, I am proud of you all the same." The young man tried to hide his smile, concealing it by flipping his dark brown locks. "Besides, assassination does take much subtlety and tact." "And do assassins also subtlety announce to the world their deeds? All of Hammerfell wonder now if you're in cahoots with the Dark Brotherhood, of all people! As do I..." said Jeleen, scratching his hairless chin. "If I were, they'd have already killed me for giving up my cover," said his son dismissively. Roland wasn't sure what to make of this. Nobles in High Rock didn't talk this openly about such tactics. He knew it unlikely one would ever admit to something as mundane as blackmail unless under duress, much less act so nonchalant about assassination. He dismissed those thoughts for now and grinned. "Well, should we ever need someone taken care of, I suppose I now know who to write to." "No, Roland, no you don't. Blasted Ra Gada, their over-confidence will be their undoing. Last thing you need, is an assassin that tells you of his kills. But, then, if Jabreel hadn't, then the last remaining kingdoms might not have been convinced of our strength. I envy these Nords. This moot, their politics. It seems far more simple." "Less bloody, anyway," added Jabreel. "My method was simple. Though, a moot of our own would be nice, if we could ever agree on anything other than we hate elves. Even that isn't always enough." "Their politics, and our own, led us to civil war. Thousands dead so we could achieve some sort of peace. I wonder sometimes if only a few dozen dead would've been the better option," Roland said. "Thankfully, it seems we've settled our problems for now. With my parents' council, I do not expect us to fight an internal war for quite some time." "That reminds me, I wish your father had come. For one we had a bet on which one of us would be assassinated first. I imagine, that I've lost that bet. Of course, perhaps you are right. Less death is preferable, especially when we need as many warm bodies as we can muster for this war. You have your parent's' wisdom, without them anywhere around. I believe the next generation is in good hands. Lady Gaer-" As Jeleen spoke, the very room seemed to be shaking, books in their cases and chairs rattling, followed by three hard knocks coming from High Hrothgar's doors. "What in Aetherius was that?" said Jeleen, he and his son gripping their blades. Roland reacted the same, but Lady Gaerhart placed a hand on his arm to stop him. In a low voice she said, "So, it is true." Speaking so the Redguards could hear, she added, "I believe one contender for the throne has arrived." Brund Hammer-Fang, ex legion Legate, and the Demon Chieftain of the Reach, had arrived. "Where do these damn things even come from?" he said, standing atop the corpse of a frost troll that dwarfed even him. Alfr Vega wasn't suited to cutting their thick hides. His Hammer-Fang was the weapon of choice for such tasks, as the poor thing beneath him found out the hard way. As he freed his weapon, Brund saw several other sets of eyes staring down at him from the rocks above. Hiding. Despite what the Grim Ones in Cyrodiil had claimed, even Frost Trolls knew when they were bested. They watched him still, as day became night, as the icy winds of the Throat of the World attempted to impede his path. And even as Brund walked the steps, wearing the skull of the creature Daric killed, it never occurred to him that the creatures might've felt agitated by the sight. Or perhaps it did, and he just didn't give a ****. It made for a good strong helmet and he wasn't about to give it up. "You fuckers can just keep coming, it makes for good practice!" he cried, shaking the earth around him as he roared, threatening to be swallowed up by mounds of falling snow. Even as they fell, Brund kept stomping his feet, roaring and daring the trolls to face him in combat once more. Boom, boom, boom... if they wouldn't come to him, the earth and snow would come to them. And it had, like oceans of white, a great bride's gown descending on them all from above, knocking them free from their perch. His own path was blocked now, but it mattered not. With a roar from his throat the snow and rock scattered, and Brund continued on his way. "Ugly *****, the lot of you," said Brund as he finished his salted horse meat. It seemed that the mountain was bored of testing him now. The rest of the way was uneventful, and the great vistas of Skyrim from his vantage point seemed lost on him entirely, even as the great bands and ribbons of Aetherius danced across Skyrim's crisp night sky. He felt nothing for it, just as he felt not the cold. He did take the time to read the stone etchings that decorated his path however. Emblem X The Voice is worship; Follow the Inner path; Speak only in True Need. "Get a load of this horse crap," said Brund. "I speak when I please, and see no gods stepping down to smite me. If anything, my voice is certainly a boon from them. I alone dictate my own path. And so it always has been, and so it always will be." He highlighted this point with a butt from his troll skull, leaving a crack forever in the age old tablet. Wasting no further time, Brund knocked on the doors to High Hrothgar, before stepping in himself, not waiting to be greeted. Arngeir and his Greybeards were waiting for him as he entered, but he paid no attention to their presence, instead looking all around within their home, a grin on his ugly mug as he took off his helmet. "Ahhh, at long last!" said Brund. "You've no idea how long I've awaited this meeting." "The sentiment, is shared," said Arngeir with no humor or sweetness in his tone. "Is that all you have to say to me?" he asked. "Hehehe, I am a guest in these halls, but I have not been permitted to enter just yet... I don't want to be rude..." Arngeir bit his lip, and for a time it seemed as though he'd say nothing. Brund cocked his head, licking his bottom lip. "Come now, don't be that way. I've come, in peace." Arngeir refused even still, until his brothers gave him a look. Finally the old man gave in, eyes downcast as he waved his arm in the traditional greeting of the Greybeards. "We recognize you as a guest in these holy halls. High Hrothgar... is open to you." "That's what I was waiting to hear! We're practically brothers now, you and I. Tongues one and all!" Brund highlighted his point by flailing his tongue back and forth in front of Arngeir. Placing a hand on his shoulder, he said, "I pray that you taught him well. He's a violent man, you know. Dangerous letting someone like that go unchecked with the voice." His laughter filled every inch of the room, reverberating from stone to stone, and filling every part of Arngeir's mind. His every step was a transgression, and he felt each step like a stab in his soul. As Brund further explored High Hrothgar, he came across Galmar Stone-Fist himself, nursing a bottle of mead he brought on his own. He remembered from his last visit the lack of good spirits. "You salty old dog. I did not expect to see you..." "Nor I you, Brund. You've come a long way, haven't you?" said Galmar. "Hehehehehe... You can say that. Have you come to accept me as your king?" "The only King I'll ever accept is one bearing the name of Stormcloak," said Galmar, spitting at his feet. "You and I are no longer brothers without that understanding. So piss off, before this gets ugly." Brund knelt down to his eye level. "Who says it hasn't already, eh? If getting fucked by our dead king is a requirement to rule, then Elisif is as much qualified to rule, but you know better than that." "Save it for the moot, Hammer-*****. A rock with Ulfric's seed dribbled upon it is more fit to rule than you, or Red-Snow. Ash-King, Demon Chieftain... MY SACK!" Brund grinned to his old mentor and said, "Perhaps I should've taken the mantle of Bear of Markarth? We all enjoy our titles, don't we. Anyway, you cling to your dead friend. Perhaps I'll have another one for you in the near future..." "Ulfric cared for you. Cared for everyone in Skyrim. He was the perfect king for this land. He loved his brothers and sisters. Loved them all." Brund didn't stop to hear Galmar continue and said under his breath, "And that, was his undoing..." Finally, Brund was amongst all the Jarls of Skyrim. The most powerful and influential people in the entire kingdom. A man like him would feel humbled in their presence, for these men and women would decide the fate for every last Nord from this day on. None of them mattered in the slightest to Brund. Not this black haired bitch he knew nothing about, not Korir, not... whoever the **** that was... Looking around, Brund hadn't seen Skald. Perhaps this man or the girl was a stand in for the old fart. It mattered not. No one wanted to see him shit himself anyway. Another equally old fart he passed by earlier, but he said nothing to him, merely left him to his book. So many unfamiliar faces stared back at him now, like the trolls that dared block his path. All except... "And look, it's Baldur's ragtag group of milkdrinkers. And.. ahhh Elisif," said Brund as he smiled, revealing his yellowed teeth. He approached her, arms raised as though he owned the place. He grabbed her by her hair, and stuck his tongue down her throat, then took his seat beside her, opposite of where Baldur sat, and exactly where the last Dragonborn had once sat the last time Elisif was in these honored halls. The irony did not escape her. She did not look at him, sealing herself away in her mind, where a piece of Torygg still dwelt. This is where she stayed on her night with Ulfric, and her night with Brund. It served her well, but the time for hiding was gone. The moot was about to start. In the recesses of the Greybeards’ outer halls, a dark haired woman stood with hands on the shoulders of a tall, solemn girl. “Stay here. It will be over soon and we’ll go home.” Veleda kissed Sofie on the forehead and left her to her books. The former queen had heard the rumbling and raving, and she knew what it was. The stories had passed along from Reachmen to other ears including hers. With a nod to Galmar, she steeled herself and entered the hall with him, while Sofie crept along behind, unseen. Inside, Veleda met the eyes of each jarl, gave a half nod to the Ra Gada and Bretons and what she surmised was the empress of Cyrodiil. Her black dress, trimmed with sable fur, showed clearly the line of her rounded stomach. She wore an ebony circlet set with amber stones and her cloak bore the embroidery of a Stormcloak bear, but the only other adornment she wore was the sigil of her husband’s house burned into her hand. Her eyes were dark-rimmed and her cheeks reddened from the exertion of the frigid descent from the Time Wound. Veleda’s eyes barely skimmed the figure of Elisif before resting on Brund. That was a long look, too long for politeness. “Jarl Hammer Fang. Brothers. I greet you.” With that the former queen took a seat at the middle of the table next to Galmar, and glanced over at the last empty chair. Dales remained as silent as the crypt as her frosty eyes lingered on the man. A...chill, went down her spine, as she felt...something. It wasn't dark magic, but a feeling of familiarity. This man made her feel the same way as she did in her father's presence. I understand now. Baldur had said little about Brund Hammer-Fang to her, but the she-elfs words rang true. As if a crawling chaos, Dales felt very uncomfortable around him. Her stomach twisted in even more disgust at his treatment of his bride to be. Clarity filled her. This...man, was just like her father. And was just as dangerous to Tamriel as he was. But to her horror, she knew, even as the Empress of Cyrodiil, she could do nothing. It was all in Baldur's hands now. She had done all she could for her friend. Now it was the time to remain silent. The Empress gripped her amulet of Auriel tightly, as she thought, sitting in her chair away from the main group. I've never asked anything from you. I beseech thee, Lord Auriel, protect Baldur. His fate is tied with the fate of Cyrodiil, and all though who dwell within in. The horrible feeling remained within. Until...it was consumed by darkness. Her amulet shone invisible, blue light. A voice whispered in her mind, "Light can be as dangerous as darkness, my knight. But I am here for you, as I promised. I'll always be here for you...." Was Dales now hearing voices? "If things get out of hand. Whisper sweet honey words to me. As the bells tolls, I shall come." The voice snickered, "I am yous. And you are mine." Dales choose not to speak to the voice, as she waited for this accursed gathering to begin. Unsure, if Baldur could beat this darkness. *** By Mother Kyne's Mountains, Her Seas and Glades, sharpen my tongue and quicken my blade, Over the fields, knee deep in snow, guide my hand for the killing blow, Bold and true I stand a Nord, a child of Kyne, a soldier of Shor, And if I die, my soul, don't discard. So that I may see Ragna one day, in Sovngarde. It's been quite the journey, hasn't it? We've been through alot, you and I. And we may still yet. But if not, know that I love you, and I'll miss what we shared. Wish me luck... Paarthurnax watched the yellow haired nord sit for hours on end, first at the time tear itself, and then where Paarthurnax once revealed the words of Yol Toor Shul to the Dragonborn. In truth, Paarthurnax never understood the ways of the Greybeards. The ways of the Joor, their Way of the Voice was not his own. Even so, he gave the man his silence and peace, saving Tiinvaak for another time. Baldur stood finally, when the tremors from below even reached the heights of the Throat of the World. It seemed that the time had finally come for him to leave. "Yol be with you, Ashen One. Breath, and focus." Baldur responded in kind with a smile and a wave of his hands in the traditional Greybeard way and then descended to High Hrothgar. The Moot had finally come. *** "Baldur Red-Snow, and Brund Hammer-Fang, the last Jarls to arrive. They are both finally here, and we may now begin the Moot. Baldur Red-Snow has taken a vow of silence, until the votes have been passed. May the gods be his judge, as well as the Jarls of Skyrim. May your judgement be honest and true." With that, Arngeir sat the fabled Jagged Crown on a pedestal beside the meeting table. "Yol!" said Arngeir, his thu'um lighting the fire at the table's center anew. Worry was all over his aged and weary face. Even he now wondered if what he'd done was the right call. Meeting a man like Brund would do that to you. Brund himself was tickled with amusement. Baldur Red-Snow, unable to speak? The minstrel? It was a dream come true for him. The gods judged true indeed, and they apparently weighed and measured the Ash-King, and found him wanting. He was all smiles until Baldur finally stepped into the room, wearing nothing but the simple robes of the Greybeards themselves, his hair being the only feature that stood out, aside from his stature and height. Somehow silence had granted him an air of authority Brund never thought he had before. He was a silly man more times than not. But now, he was something else. Someone else. His rival and blood enemy from a bygone era. All Brund saw was the face of Ulrin Red-Snow, silent, mocking. And it filled his heart with rage. Their eyes locked, and a low growl escaped Brund's throat. Baldur's own hands locked onto the edge of the stone table right across from him. The table seemed to stir, vibrating from the intensity of Brund's gaze and his growl as he stood. The air about him cold. Elisif felt this cold before, and it was the only thing colder than even the freezing hell that was her heart. The only thing that brought her back was the look in Red-Snow's eyes. His own gaze was as hard as Brund's, though nothing shook on his end at all. What those near him did notice however was the odd rise in temperature, even for the fires lit by the Greybeards. Elisif wiped her brow, no longer feeling Brund's chill, until Arngeir put a hand on Baldur's shoulders. "Please, be seated Jarl Hammer-Fang. Everyone. Let us begin." The Empress felt the heat. Like that of a Dragon. And with it, her valor returned. The young girl's own icy eyes narrowed, as she thought, Come on Baldur. This fucker is nothing. You can win this. I have faith in you. "Fellow Jarls," Vignar Gray-Mane spoke up, his rough voice resonating around the room. "It has been a long journey for all of us, and it is not one made lightly. This place is too damn high up for that..." A few people chuckled, but the Jarl of Whiterun remained serious, and they quickly followed in suit. "So I won't mince words. I came here to pledge my axe to the man who has fought for us, who has led us against our enemies time and time again." He reached to his hip and drew a splendid war-axe of Skyforged steel, and then pointed it at Baldur. "Baldur Red-Snow does not need to speak to earn Whiterun's loyalty. He did that long ago!" Vignar dropped his axe onto the table, where it clattered in front of Baldur. Though its echo had not even died before Jarl Fenrald's voice filled the hall. "Tell me, Vignar, did Red-Snow earn your loyalty when he torched Falkreath's farms, or when he aligned with the ones who destroyed our homes and tried to remove our god?" "After," Vignar answered. "We haven't met, Fenrald, but everyone here who knows me also knows that I've no love for the Empire. But acting on old grievances will get us nowhere. Not when we have a greater enemy in the elven lands." "You call them old grievances, but the way I see it," Fenrald drew his axe and pointed it at Dales, "there stands my greatest enemy." He turned, and tossed the weapon in front of Brund. Brund grabbed the axe before him, eyeing it the way a babe might a new toy. Looking at Baldur, he waved it at him, grinning from ear to ear. Baldur's face remained unchanged. "I thank you, Fenrald for your wise decision. Though, let's get something clear. I intend to usher in a golden age for this land. It will be gold, because there'll be a new skin rug in every home for each Altmer I kill. That, is my first goal. That said, you are correct. I remember Ulfric once telling us, and that includes my comrade there staring at me so hard... to 'Never forget! Never forget!' And I promise all of you..." Pointing a clawed gauntlet finger at Baldur, he said, "Brund never forgets." At those harsh accusations, Dales considered remaining silent, but she felt she couldn't. "I did not know Ulfric Stormcloak. He surely had no love for me, like Jarl Greymane" The Empress said, scratching her chin, "But what I did know was he wanted trade, and close military cooperation with Cyrodiil. You go against that, you go against Ulfric. With an Empire, that wasn't an Empire like the ones before it. At the same token, I doubt if you hate me, you'll even believe my words, so I won't waste them." She paused, "Then hear this. The Dominion marshals its forces while we're on this mountain. They don't care. They'll put us all to the sword. Dislike the Empire all you want, but the real enemy is to the south of Cyrodiil. Humanity needs to be united, not divided." And with that, the Empress fell silent. Baldur eyes her. He wasn't angry, but the Nord's eyes looked...pleading. As if to say, "Be a little more quiet girl!" Dales rolled her eyes, but did a quick, curt nod to him. Brund stood next, noticing Baldur's look. With a sly smile he gave Baldur a look of his own. Looking to the Empress of Cyrodiil directly next, Brund decided to test her temperament. "Speak, when spoken to, carpet licking wench. This is a moot of Nords. You lot, are guests. Act like it." Baldur continued to look at Dales, slowly shaking his head. Dales remained silent, and her face unemotive. Baldur seemed relieved, meanwhile Brund was amused. As he sat back down, Arngeir stood awkwardly, clearing his throat. "The other Jarls have the floor." "The Empress spoke true," declared Ingun Black-Briar. She looked at Fenrald, "We are still recovering from two wars and yes, our homes have suffered -Riften knows what that's like as well as anyone- but we can't afford to look for enemies in the past. We need to focus on rebuilding and preparing for the future." "A future where we ignore those who wronged us," growled Fenrald. "Who only stopped wronging us when we forced them to! I'm not afraid of some elves on the other side of the world. The only time they threatened us was when the Imperials made it possible."
  3. 5 points
    Kyne's Watch “Admiral Red Snow.” Rebec looked up from her ledgers. She had rented an office at the Kyne’s Watch customs office, out of which she ran her commercial shipping business. Before her was a golden-robed priestess, the one she had brawled with in a grudge match back in Whiterun. “Danica. What are you doing here?” “I heard about your project here. The town. Should I not come to see a settlement devoted to Kynareth?” “Don’t know anyone by that name. You might try Solitude.” The priestess laughed. “Let’s not start that fight again. I can still feel your left hook on my jaw on rainy nights. By whatever name, the goddess can be proud of such a thriving town made in her honor. There’s something missing, however.” “A whorehouse. Yes, I know. I hear it all the time, and you wouldn’t believe the things people say to my mother-in-law when Baldur’s not around to hear.” “A temple! There’s not even a shrine to the town’s namesake. I’m here to change that.” Danica produced a burlap sack, out of which grew a small sapling tree. “This will be the first step. We need a town square in which to plant the Gildergreen tree. I have some Elder sap left, heavily diluted, but it should get the tree growing even in your sandy soil and salt air.” Rebec sat back in her chair. She was about to call the whole thing a fool’s errand, but there had actually been talk about the village needing a square. Kyne’s Watch had sprawled haphazardly out from the harbor and fort. The Stormcloak builders had done a decent job of keeping structures orderly and storm-hardy, but the town still didn’t feel like a town so much as a jumble of longhouses. A temple would also bring in money from gullible pilgrims. “Alright. Let’s go talk to Ysana. She’s the mayor, so she gets the final say.” *** Some houses had to be moved and land leveled, but a week later, there was already the semblance of a market square. They had decided to lay it out on the far side of the existing town, so that visitors had to travel past the inn and shops to get to it, and so that the town could grow past it on the other side. Some benches had been set out, and Danica’s sapling stood at the center in a raised bed frame. “It looks pathetic,” Rebec said to Mazoga, who sat next to her on one of the new benches. “How is Kyne supposed to be honored by that? She doesn’t grow trees, she rips them up. This Kynareth is some elven impostor.” “It’s a tree. It’s not going to turn anybody elven or weak.” Rebec shot her a look. “You never know.” The orc rolled her eyes. She was nursing a bottle of mead, but had no opinion on gods or goddesses, so Rebec sighed and went on, “I’m the one who’s pathetic. Baldur is off saving Tamriel or some shit. I’m stuck here like this toothpick of a tree. It’s not that I don’t like being a mother...” “So don’t.” “Too late for that. Can’t keep my hands off Baldur, gods help me.” “I mean, don’t get stuck here. Come out sailing with us. Bring Ragna. She ought to be learning anyway. Or let’s go somewhere else. There was a place I meant to tell you about, up in the mountains, Volskygge. I sheltered there one night during the Trials. It was a dragon priest temple, I think, but the Dragonborn killed the priest’s ghost. Now there are just a few shufflers and skeevers to worry about, but there’s a wall in there that has something to do with a shout. You’re a Tongue now, right? So maybe you can learn something from the wall?” Rebec thought that dubious, but this sounded like a harmless enough adventure, so the next morning she, Mazoga and a few of their crew set off into the mountains to seek out the temple. Ragna stayed behind in her grandmother’s care, with a Nord wetnurse they occasionally hired when she was busy. The women took point and behind them trailed Bjol Waverunner and Sidano, the Black Wisp's Khajiit assassin. As they walked, Rebec glanced over at her former first mate. “You’re wearing the Nordic Carved today. Normally see you in the Stormcloak captain gear still.” “The others can sink like a stone if they want, when we’re sailing. I don’t plan to. But I can’t deny this stuff is good gear on land.” Like all the Grim Ones, Mazoga had earned the heavily enchanted suit after surviving her Trials. She had taken to keeping her hair permanently in thick plaits that could fit under a helmet and didn’t need to be combed. Her other souvenirs were frostbite and wound scars that made her look grim indeed. Orc or not, no one questioned her right to be captain of Skyrim’s flagship and a member of Baldur’s elite any longer. Not to her face, certainly. Bjol Waverunner came up alongside them. "You heard what they're saying about the moot, cap? Jarl Brund Hammerfang is going to challenge Baldur's claim." Rebec had indeed heard, and the thought of it made her blood run cold. There was the challenge that came from clever talk and politics, and there was the kind of challenge by which Ulfric had claimed the throne, and by which Baldur was now claiming it, though that fact wasn't known. Rebec had seen enough of Brund to know he wasn't likely to back down at a lot of talk by what he considered lesser men. "You're not to bring it up with Ysana, clear? She's got a lot on her mind already." "I'm no fool. That would put her right out of the mood." "Uh huh. Priorities." The temple reared up above them as they turned a corner in the path. Some shambling skeletons drew Rebec back to her own task. They were easily dispatched. Inside, Mazoga lit torches and passed them around. The place smelled of blood upon blood. Rebec continued in, pushing open the inner doors, then turned around to wait for the others. As she did, she noticed Bjol stepping up onto the side platform to inspect a chair. “FUS!” Waverunner flew back against the far wall at Rebec’s shout and came up cursing, but he wasn’t so angry when she pointed out the pressure plate he had been about to step on. “Right,” she declared. “The ancestors left some presents for tourists. Everyone keep a sharp eye on the floor, for blood and squiggly lines. Sidano, best keep your tail tucked in.” The group maneuvered more traps, helpfully marked out for them by the rotting corpses of adventurers and bandits who had come before. There was a puzzle room that Mazoga and Rebec managed to work through together, Rebec cursing all the while about how much time the ancient Nords had on their hands. At least the small barrier had seemed to keep out most of the rabble, because there were more artifacts in the next rooms. This slowed them down as they paused to search. Rebec turned off into a side chamber, and was stopped short as she was bathed in a greenish light and a chill like a foggy night on the Sea of Ghosts. An ethereal female figure hovered before the far wall inscribed with totems. Around it danced two glowing orbs, the mother's sentinel wisps. As the ghost woman turned Rebec lifted her axe to throw, but she stopped herself since the wisp mother only regarded her with curiosity rather than alarm. It glided nearer, and reached out a hand slowly towards the amulet on Rebec’s chest. Glancing down, Rebec saw that her Kyne totem was glowing. Instinctively she clutched at it and stepped back to keep the thing from touching her. The wisp mother hovered, face expressionless. At least it didn't shriek like the sea harpy for which Rebec's ships were named, but otherwise she appeared similar. Like the harpy, she was flanked by globes of spectral green fire that danced and swooped. One of them passed Rebec and glided out of the chamber. Rebec was brought out of her stunned silence as she realized what was about to happen. "Maz, don’t attack it!” It was too late. There was shouting, then wisp mother let out an angry hiss. She turned on Rebec, who dove behind a pillar just as a blast of frost magic sliced through the air towards her. Before the wisp mother could let out another, she was out and charging at it, both axes swinging. The shade tried to glide back but was prevented by the wall behind her, so she slid around Rebec's side. As she prepared another frost blast, the admiral likewise turned and did a quick roll right under the witch’s legless body, coming up behind her and slashing again. Mazoga and the others came rushing in to join the attack, and then chaos broke loose. A half dozen identical shades appeared, one right next to Rebec. They were more easily put down than their mother, but by the time Rebec had killed one another took its place. Even as a Nord, her joints were aching from their chill attacks. When she noticed one of the shades slipping through a back door out of the chamber, she gave chase, shouting “Oh no you don’t!” It was the original wisp mother, weakened but far from dead. She turned when she heard Rebec’s pursuit, preparing to attack. Wisps careened out towards Rebec’s face, seeking to blind and harass her. “Fus RO!” The thu’um was directed not at the wisp mother herself, but at the ancient hanging braziers that still burned above her head. They swung wildly and then their chains snapped, dropping onto the wisp mother and spilling out their dragon fire crystals. There was an unearthly, wailing scream and the wisp mother disappeared into green smoke, her wisps dropping with a thud. The sore and weary adventurers recouped back in the hall with a bottle of healing potion they passed around. Mazoga was better off than most due to her enchanted armor, but still had some chill burns. As Rebec put salve on them, she kept her voice low so only the orc could hear. “That thing. Before you all attacked her wisp, the mother wasn’t hostile to me. I thought those were always hostile. She reached out for my amulet. It reminded me of..." "The harpy. She wasn't hostile, either." “I don't understand what it means." After a pause Mazoga answered, “You know what some of the crew used to say? They’d see you out there looking at the thing as it followed us, and sometimes it looked like you were talking to her, or she to you. After Jala, they thought... well...” Rebec started at her daughter's name, then frowned. “The wisp mothers are just ghosts of women taken by frost. What does that have to do with Jala?" “One story is that wisp mothers are ghosts of women wailing for their dead children. You know how sailors are. A couple left the crew because of it. I didn’t have the heart to tell you the real reason they left.” Rebec's eyes burned with fury. “What do they call the ghosts of sailors wailing for their shriveled balls?” Even hours later after they made camp, Rebec was muttering to herself, irked by what Mazoga had told her and by the wisp mother’s behavior. Unable to sleep, she got up and took a torch, going into the side hall. She half expected to see the wisp mother again, and almost hoped she would, but the chamber was empty. Rebec approached the wall the wisp mother had been facing. It was a frieze of ritual totems such as one always found in the old Nord temples and tombs. Rebec’s eyes rested on the Kyne totem. Her eyes widened when she noticed the two globes that seemed to float next to the goddess’ head... Women bound in fog and frost for all time, testing those who ventured too far into sea or frozen waste. If you lived, you got to sail or fight on. If you died at Kyne's hand, did the goddess extract another form of service? Favored of Kyne, people called Rebec. She shook a fist at the winged carving. “Spare me your favors, you soggy bitch. You been trying to kill me for years. I’m still here, and when I die I'm going to Sovngarde." The next day, the party made it into the vast hall that used to be the dragon priest’s lair. The crypt was empty, though the blue-eyed corpses of the priest and his deathlord minions were still there, robbed of their most valuable trinkets. Rebec then stepped up to the word wall. She waited, then Mazoga asked, "Anything happening?" "My feet are sore, that's what's happening. I have no idea what this giant chicken scratch means." "Let's make a copy. Maybe Baldur can read it, or we'll find a book." *** A few days later, Rebec and Mazoga met for a midday meal at the inn. Ragna lay sleeping on a chair next to her mother, wrapped in furs and unperturbed at the ruckus around her. Danica Pure-Spring entered, carrying a bundle on her back, and crossed over to them. “So, admiral. What do you think of my Gildergreen?” “A very impressive twig. Still don’t see what it has to do with Kyne.” “Maybe you will, someday. She will show you.” “She’s been showing me a quite a lot, and I don’t appreciate it.” The priestess smiled. “The lady’s blessings are sometimes strange. I didn’t appreciate having to tend so many war dead, but it made me a better healer. You will be a better warrior for having a spiritual purpose.” “I haven’t got any such thing and I’ll thank you not to talk such rot if you’re going to eat with us. Sit and tell me what’s going on in Whiterun. Do you hear any news of Carlotta or Mila Iron-Brow?” Danica’s face darkened as she sat. “I actually did hear a rumor. Apparently Carlotta died in the fighting down there. There’s no word about Mila, but they say Boldir escaped to Cyrodiil. Your husband sent a company of Grim Ones after him, to bring him back to face justice.” Rebec let out a string of muttered curses. “This is all wrong somehow. Boldir wouldn’t just murder a whole town.” A thought nagged at her. How many towns would Baldur raze if he thought it could save her and Ragna? Or to avenge their deaths? Danica spoke up again. “It will soon be time for me to go back to Whiterun myself. The Stormcloak builders will make a temple on the mountain above the town, but there's one more task the lady set out for me. A temple is no good without a priestess.” Rebec nodded blankly, her thoughts still caught up with worrying what had become of Mila. It took a moment for Danica’s words to register, and to notice that the priestess was looking intently at her. “Now see here. You asking for another beatdown? I want none of this.” The priestess chuckled. "I asked around the town about who would be suited, and I only heard one name. You’re Kyne’s favored, they hear you shouting in the mountains. The builders said the plot I chose for the temple was already set aside for a new home for you and Baldur. In the old days, a temple of Kyne used to be the priestess' home. You see, I know a bit about the old ways, too. Maybe you’re right that Kynareth wants her other aspects to be known in this time. You already have plenty of healers at the fort. The people here want to know their goddess will fight for them.” Rebec glanced at Mazoga helplessly, but the orc just lifted her eyebrows and shrugged, grinning. “I’m going to war with Baldur. If he ever gets home.” “By then another may step up to the task.” “I have no idea how to be a priestess!” “I’ll stay for a few weeks longer. We’ll hold a festival to celebrate the new temple’s founding, and ask the goddess’ blessing on the moot of jarls. You can begin your duties then. Oh, and I brought you something. Forged by Eorlund Grey-Mane from the rarest dragonscale.” The priestess produced a ceremonial breastplate and a midnight blue robe. Rebec held up the breastplate and saw that it was inscribed with the same totem she had seen in Volskygge, the winged woman flanked by orbs. Sighing, she rested the piece back down. “The bitch can’t kill me, but she’s sure enough getting her revenge.”
  4. 4 points
    I GET HOME FRIDAYYYYYY!!! (For Holiday Block Leave then it's back to Benning for another 3 months)
  5. 4 points
    I think my favorite recent development is Witch using anime gifs to get Balrog to look at pms Speaking of, Czar, I’ll respond later today. Finishing up my last final today so after that I’ll be free to get some writing done that isn’t essay driven.
  6. 4 points
    Balro: "I love Rusian because it immerses you into the setting!" Doc: "I prefer English so I can understand everything better." Colonel: "I want Russian so I can listen to pixel woman cuss at me in Russian when I watch virtual sex"
  7. 4 points
    "Cleaver-Land" has got to be one of my favorite plays on a prewar name that I've seen. That's so perfect. As for the rest, I don't think there's a problem or need for an edit. You never said that he was in a desert. And Autumn in Missouri can fluctuate between pleasant and brutal. If someone is limping for miles in a full kit while wounded on a warm day, the extreme humidity in the area (particularly before a storm) will most likely kill him -or get damn close, as you depicted well. Sinbad is a very, very tough bastard, or he probably wouldn't have made it at all. Not having water isn't an issue either. People get lost in the woods and die of dehydration within miles of fresh water in the real world. Even if the rivers and streams of the area aren't particularly radioactive, Sinbad is a nomad from far away who doesn't know where they are. It would be very dangerous to stray from the road to search for one in his condition.
  8. 4 points
    Skyrim On a normal morning, Jarl Ingun Black-Briar would have taken her place in the new longhouse and given answer to the the dozens of requests and disputes that arose every day in her recovering hold. But this was not a normal morning. Soon, Skyrim would have a new ruler, and it was the duty of the Jarls to decide who that would be. Ingun sat in her chair that they called a throne, turning an axe over in her hands again and again as she pondered on this. "Are you ready, my Jarl?" She took one last look at the fine steel war axe, freshly forged by Balimund and adorned with interlacing carvings that came together to form a wolf in honor of Mother Mara. It was the new Axe of Riften, both a symbol and an exceptionally well-crafted weapon. In all her years, Ingun had never once needed to carry a blade. Even in her darker days when working for Maven, her sins had been committed at the alchemist's table with a mortar in one hand and a pestle in the other. Things were different now. Dishonesty and poison were not the weapons of a true Nord, and that was what she needed to be when sitting among the mighty Jarls. "Yes," she said to Arnath as she stood and sheathed the axe at her hip. "Have they finished preparing the horses?" "They have. Your escort awaits you by the front gate." "Good." The pale light of the early dawn spilled through the windows, painting the floorboards a dull gray. They had decided some time ago to leave early while the city still slept, for the last thing they wanted was fanfare as their new Jarl departed for the first time since her appointment. The journey would be long and hopefully dull, but at least the Jarl of the Rift would not need to leave her own hold. She looked forward to seeing Ivarstead firsthand. Word was that the town had grown since Riften's fall, as many of the refugees decided to make new lives for themselves there. No doubt the place would be particularly active in the coming weeks as the most powerful men and women in all of Skyrim passed through with their escorts. Ingun dismissed her Housecarl and donned a thick fur cloak. Spring was warmer in the Rift than most of Skyrim, but somehow she doubted that the Throat of the World recognized seasons. Next, she crossed over to the back room where she and Sovi lived. Her ward was dressed and ready, and sat in the corner reading some book with the help of a night eye potion. Ingun had not intended to take the Dunmer child on such a long journey, but she hadn't the heart to say 'no' when it became clear how much she wanted to join. "Come, Sovi. It's time." The little girl smiled and stashed the book into her pack along with a doll and her Mara totem, and then they departed together in good spirits. The escort consisted of twenty men, all Nords who were as familiar with the Rift as she was with an alchemy table. Between them and Stormcloaks from Eastmarch patrolling the roads further north, the old fears of bandits or Thalmor were about as present as those of a dragon attack. The hold was safer than it had been since Riften's fall, and it was the perfect time to attend a Moot. *** Every day at noon, trees and sun worked together to stage a shadow show for Falkreath's dead. On one soldier's grave, a snow whale drifted lazily up and down with the wind. On another, a man with stunted legs swung his axe at a hunchbacked monster twice his size. Jarl Fenrald's favorite today was on the headstone of a woman named Tekla, which displayed the uncommonly vivid image of a dragon getting crushed again and again by a falling rock. It made for one of the rare moments that he allowed himself to smile in this place. Tekla. He remembered her. She had been the steward of Jarl Dengeir, served him faithfully until they were both murdered by Imperial assassins. Just one sad story among thousands that had plagued Falkreath during that terrible war. Skyrim had won, sure enough, and grown stronger from their victory, but it had been done at the expense of his home. In just one month, the massive graveyard that they were famous for had grown so much that they'd needed to add a new section to make room. The loss of life was a travesty, but people always died in war. Falkreath understood this better than anyone. But death was not the only misfortune they suffered. General Baldur Red-Snow had ordered his men to burn every crop found south of Lake Ilinata. It slowed the Imperials, sure, but when the war was over and Ulfric's troops pulled out, it also left the city's battered population with nothing to eat. Every coin in Falreath's coffers had gone towards food, which meant there was little to spend on repairing their city or even paying those who tried to help. Dengeir's replacement Lod died of some illness that he was either too stubborn or two poor to get a cure for, and Lod's replacement Metne had been so hated that the people threw her out in under a year. Falkreath had bled for Skyrim. Suffered for it. They did this because they were Nords who loved their land and would gladly seek Sovngarde early for it if asked. But now it seemed as though the rest of the world had forgotten why this had been necessary, forgotten who's doing it was in the first place. It was the damned Imperials. He would not forget, and nor would his people. They would remember for the sake of the dead. Jarl Fenrald's smile waned, and he decided that he'd spent long enough paying his respects. With a final prayer to the gods and the dead, he turned and rejoined the world of the living. Falkreath City had always been quiet as far as holdfasts go, and today it was even more so than usual. A thick fog meant that most children were indoors and those who worked were slower and more careful with everything they did. The Jarl even caught himself falling for the spell a bit as he realized how lazily he was making his way back to the longhouse. He stepped through those big wooden doors (freshly cut to replace the ones that had been destroyed by an Imperial fireball) and found his hall empty save for a single guest. His Thane, Hunrik. Who had taken up residence in an empty mill beside the lake. "My Jarl." Fenrald nodded for him to continue, and he produced a letter. "I was to remind you, the date Jarl Baldur sent for you approaches." "I know." As if I could have forgotten. Fenrald took the letter and looked it over once again. When he had first gotten word that the next moot was to take place a High Hrothgar, he had thought it some joke. The idea that he of all people was being summoned to make the climb like Talos himself was beyond unbelievable. That he would see the Greybeards, walk the seven thousand steps... all because he loved his home enough to say the words that everyone else had been thinking. Now, he was being asked to come and say them again to the most powerful Nords in Skyrim. He knew where he stood, which Jarl would be the best king. The one who would give his people the blood that they deserved. Hunrik stood there a little awkwardly, looking around as he did. "The longhouse is, um... peaceful." "It's empty." Fenrald replied. "My people have more productive things to do than stand around guarding their Jarl or whispering in his ear." "Do you no longer keep court?" "Of course I do. If I need of advice, I'll go to them ask for it. Until then, they're busy." "Uhh, right." He stood there a few moments longer and then asked, "So when will you leave?" "Soon. How does your mill run when you are here?" "My wife and sons manage the workers well enough." "Good. Then I shall leave tomorrow, while you manage things here until I return." The Thane looked dumbstruck. "Wait, what? I-" "Have been given an order. I will make sure you have everything that you need. Run Falkreath as you have run your mill and you will do fine." Fenrald turned and retired to his quarters. He hadn't planned to leave for a few days still, but Hunrik's arrival was a convenience he could not pass up on. He could already feel his heartbeat quicken as the excitement gripped his chest. I'm going to the Throat of the World! He thought back to the shadows on Tekla's grave. And Skyrim will finally remember what happened in Falkreath. *** At almost eighty years old and frailer than a draugr, most of Dawnstar quietly believed that Jarl Skald the Elder had seen his last winter. The days that he could manage to sit his throne for more than a few hours were rare, and the ones when he could walk its streets and speak with its people were gone completely. It seemed as though Skald the Elder embodied his name more and more every day. And so it came as a surprise to everyone when the summons for the moot arrived, and he declared that he himself would become Skyrim's next High King. The first reaction was that these were the ravings of his senile mind. And so afterwards, the court mage Madena brewed a potion to relax his mind and help him rest so that he may be sharper come morning. However, when he awoke he made the same declaration with even more conviction than the first time. As the weeks went by, it became more and more apparent that this was not only happening, but that it was one of the few things left in the world that mattered to the old man. In his eyes, the two major 'claimants' Baldur Red-Snow and Brund Hammer-fist were both unworthy of the title. They were too young and too inexperienced, and unlike him they both held the insane notion that they could do things differently than Ulfric Stormcloak had and that it would be an improvement. And so Skald made a promise to anyone who would listen: No man loved Ulfric more greatly than he did, and no High King would rule the way Ulfric had but him. It was so absurd that even Skald's own guardsmen joked behind his back. Nearly all of Dawnstar did. To them, he was the grumpy old man who considered himself a hero and believed that giants were conspiring to take the Nords' land. The one who drooled on himself, and struggled to make the journey from his bed to his throne without assistance, all while going on about how Skyrim would prosper under his rule. That would be his legacy to them. It made Vrage sick. It was true that he had never been close to his older half brother. Skald been in the Jarl's chair for twenty years before he'd even been born, and had been none too pleased when their merchant mother remarried and had a second child. They had grown up in separate homes and separate worlds. It wasn't until Skald learned that he could not have children that the Jarl decided to acknowledge Vrage and make him his heir. By then they were both grown men, and hadn't spoken two words to each other in their entire lives. Even so, Vrage knew Skald better than most. He knew how greatly their mother's death had upset him, and how little he'd had in the way of guidance growing up as Jarl. The people he surrounded himself with now: Madena, Jod, even Bulfrek- they were good folk, but their Jarl had been a boy in a man's body long before they were born. He had their pity, but they could not understand him. At times it felt as though no one could. "You look sad. What's wrong, Love?" Vrage looked up as he laced his fur boots. His wife Jytte was watching him with a look of concern. "I was thinking about Skald," he answered as he pulled the laces tight. "I'm going to have to speak with him again before I leave." "Do you want me to come with you?" "Thanks, but not this time." He gave Jytte a kiss, threw on his cloak, and trudged outside into the snow. Even in the Spring, Dawnstar was rarely spared from a the stuff. And so far, the place still felt more or less the same as it had during the Winter. Not that you would hear someone from the Pale complain. The people of this land were as hard and strong as the Atmorans they'd descended from. To them, the cold was a friend who their beards thick and their enemies at bay. As much a part of life as the sun and the stars. And so even on this particularly cold day, Dawnstar was bustling with activity. The docks were loud with the sound of shouting crews, teams of returning hunters dragged in fallen horkers on their sleds, boatbuilders were hard at work constructing longships for the upcoming war, and smoke wafted across the cliffside from dozens of smelters. Vrage greeted everyone he passed, in part because he wanted to, but also perhaps because he wasn't in a great hurry to reach the longhouse. Even so, it was not long before he found himself at the entrance to the White Hall. Vrage sighed, watching his breath crystalize as he did. And then he steeled himself and entered. The warmth from the hearth hit him immediately, as did a foul smell. The throne was empty, which meant Skald could only be in one place. "There you are." Madena called to him from the left side loft, where she let go of the railing to come down and greet him. "Have you come to say goodbye?" "Aye." Vrage looked over to his elder brother's room. The door was closed, but he could hear voices on the other side. "How is he?" "You know the answer to that." The Breton mage shook her head. "Forgive the smell... it's-" "His shit. I know." The future High King of Skyrim, everyone. "I'm leaving today. But first I'd say a few words. Just in case." "Of course. Understand though, that this is not one of his better days." It's been a long time since Skald has had a good day. He went over to Skald's quarters and gently pushed the door open. Inside, he found his brother, blanket to his neck, arguing as Bulfrek tried to get him to drink. "I don't want any, you damned oaf. Go away! Your Jarl commands it!" Skald's eyes darted over to Vrage, and his lips twisted into a smile. "Brother! Come, come." He looked at his servant again. "I said to leave, fool!" Vrage gave Bulfrek a nod, and the man took his leave. After the door closed, he went over to the bedside. "I'm leaving today, Skald." "Leaving?" The old man's eyes stared, uncomprehending. "You cannot leave. You must defend the city while I am away for the moot." It was as Vrage had feared. "We've talked about this. I'm the one who will go to the moot. You cannot make the climb in your condition." "Condition? Bah!" A line of drool ran down Skald's fuzzy chin after he spat the last word. "The only thing wrong in my hall is that my damnable servant would rather bring me tea than mead." "It's medicine. Probably a potion. You need rest brother. You cannot climb the tallest mountain in the world as you are right now. You asked me to represent you at the moot, remember? It's why I'm leaving. You gave me your axe." He pulled back his cloak so his brother could see the weapon. Skald's eyes went wide. "My axe!" He smiled stupidly. "It is good that you have it, brother, for I feel quite unwell. I would have you go to the moot in my stead. Represent me as the next High King of Skyrim!" He turned and looked up at the ceiling. "I will do right by our homeland, you will see. Mighty Talos himself will be proud." "Of course you will." Vrage frowned. "You will make sure I win, will you not?" "I will do all that I can." His brother frowned and made a 'harrumph' sound. "It will have to do. You have always been dependable. When Ulfric called for action you were among the first here to join his cause. That's when I knew you were true." The two brothers sat in silence for several minutes, and then finally Skald turned and looked at Vrage. "You are all dressed up, brother. I hope you do not intend to leave? I have need of you here." A pang of sadness struck him, and Vrage could only respond by putting a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I won't be gone long, I promise you. Goodbye brother. Soon Skyrim will have a new High King." Skald the Elder's eyes lit up. "King, yes. I cannot wait to go to this moot! Soon, I shall be king!" *** At almost eighty years old yet still spry and sharp of wit, it seemed as though Vignar Gray-Mane still had a good few winters left in him. And so it came as no surprise to anyone when he decided that he would be climbing the seven thousand steps to attend the moot in person. He certainly did not need to. His brother, niece and nephew, -even a few Companions- had all volunteered to go in his stead, but Vignar would have none of it. It was "not the Nord way" he told them all, and when they cited instances in the past of Jarls not attending, he laughed and said "Well it's not my way." And so when the day came at last, Vignar descended from Dragonsreach with the vigor of a man half his age, but not before throwing a great feast in his own hall. There had been bards, magicians, a trained bear, and enough food and mead to sate everyone five times over. The guests included his family and friends, most of the Companions, and members from nearly all of Whiterun's most prominent families. It had been a clever move on the Jarl's part, planned long in advance to please everyone at once before his departure and leave the city in good spirits while he was away. Hopefully, this would make anyone who might've taken advantage of his absence think twice. Not that Vignar was all that worried. Whiterun was stronger than ever, and his clan were more than capable of managing things in his absence. In truth, the only fear at all came from the same place as usual: Clan Battle-Born. If anything, the feast was more to make certain that the rest of the city would take his family's side if those traitors tried something. They hadn't done so since the war, but ever since Idolaf Battle-Born's execution a couple years back, their disdain for Vignar and his family had strong and loudly expressed. That single fear seemed for nothing when Vignar made his way through the city, flanked by Olfina and a contingent of guards. The people he passed cheered and wished him safe travels, thanking him for the great time and joking about how they were still feeling the effects of so much mead. A gathering stood around Heimskr as he prayed for Talos to grant them strength, and the priests from the Temple of Kynareth asked the goddess to keep the skies clear for their journey. All in all, the Jarl was leaving the Jewel of Skyrim as healthy and pleased as he could ever remember it being. The brightness of the day proved even brighter when a breathless courier found them just outside the city gates with a letter to Olfina from her brother Thorald. "He's in the City of Chorrol," she told him as they mounted up. "He says that they've narrowed the search." "Good." Vignar was pleased to hear it. The traitor who'd burned Riften had been a trusted friend, once. He was proud that his nephew would be the one to bring him to justice. It seemed fitting. "Perhaps we will learn in the Rift what that whole damned mess was even about. But enough about that. I am pleased that your brother is well. He brings us all honor by wearing that armor." "Do you think there will be Grim Ones in Ivarstead? With so many Jarls in one place, it seems only wise that Baldur Red-Snow bring his best to keep order." "I should think so. Baldur has acted like a king since the day Ulfric named him General. Forming alliances, strengthening our army, fighting our enemies. He knows what he's doing better than any of us. His own people believe that the gods themselves sent him." "Surely you don't, though." "I know Baldur. He did not seem like Wulfharth reborn when we last met. As I recall, the man once stole a cow just so he could win a game of tag." Olfina laughed. "And did he win?" "I don't know," Vignar answered. He settled into his saddle for the long journey ahead. "I'll ask him that when I see him. And many other things. Whether he is a gift from the gods or just more clever than most, all can agree that our future High King is an interesting man." *** Having grown up in the drab and colorless marshes of Hjaalmarch, Jarl Sorli the Builder found that the Rift's eternally autumn forests were much more to her liking, even more so than Eastmarch's hot springs and Whiterun's vast tundras had been. Of all the holds to call my own, Ulfric had to go and give me the one best known for fog and mud. It wasn't entirely unfair, of course. After all, Hjaalmarch was her home, and Morthal had been the last hold capital to be secured before the push into Solitude. Still, she felt that after proving how excellent of a job she could do, it wouldn't have killed the man to offer her Riften once the position became open. It probably slipped his mind. That made as much sense to Sorli as anything. After all, it was said that the people of Riften had been forced to choose their own Jarl after months of not having one. No doubt Ulfric had simply been too busy to give them that sort of attention. To her it was rather unfortunate what had happened here. Such a beautiful and mighty hold, first reduced to ashes and banditry, and then forced to turn to some young mead seller for guidance. Everyone in Skyrim knew who the Black-Briars were of course, but it wasn't until the death of Maven that anyone heard the name 'Ingun'. Apparently she was a last living relative. Considering that and the fact that it had taken many months for her to gain power, Sorli felt that it was unlikely this Ingun was much more than an upstart who was chosen for her money. She won't last long. Real leadership comes from experience. That was why she had been given Morthal, when so many others could have been chosen instead. Sorli and her two dozen guardsmen had left early enough to travel at a comfortable pace, camping early every night and sleeping even further into the morning than they might have at home. Most of them, herself included, did not leave Morthal often, and now they relished in the chance to enjoy this different scenery. Wilderness was not all that they found in their travels. They also met Eastmarch soldiers patrolling the roads, and travelers heading south with supplies for the city of Riften. At one point they came across a procession of merchants from Shor's Stone who were also bound for Ivarstead, and decided to travel together. Eventually, their larger group came upon a small group of Stormcloaks set up at a point along the road. One of the soldiers stood and blocked their way as they approached, forcing Sorli to reign in her horse. She scowled at the man. "Do you know who you speak to, soldier? I am Jarl Sorli of Morthal." "I know, my Jarl. I served with your husband in the Reach. Don't worry, we're not stopping anyone from passing. Captain put us here to warn travelers headed to Ivarstead. There's something dangerous about a mile up the road. We're not sure what it is, but it's killed all the trees." Sorli shared a glance with the captain of her guard, a Nord named Benalf. He shrugged, and so she turned back to the Stormcloak. "You haven't seen this creature for yourself?" "Nobody has. Jarl Ingun's got her people looking into it." "I'm sure she does. Is that all?" "It is. Just make sure your men keep their swords handy." Sorli laughed and rode past the man. "Keep your swords handy, he says," she said back to her men. "He must not know that in Hjaalmarch we breakfast on creatures that would make the ones here tremble in fear." The soldiers laughed at her joke. Indeed, the Drajkmyr Marsh was well known for the monsters that inhabited it. Even Morthal itself was known on occasion to attract vampires, werewolves, and any other beast that could blend in. The result was a population who were paranoid, but not easily scared. Especially not by tales of monsters. Although, when they came upon the dead trees, Sorli did feel a little unnerved. The many-colored Rift had been so beautiful up till now, and the sudden change into a black and twisted landscape came as quite a shock. Even the grass had withered and died, and whatever birds or squirrels might've lived here had fled. Even for them, it was unnerving. Ingun Black-Briar's soldiers were not far. They came upon their encampment just off the side of the road. There were over a dozen soldiers, but also a few citizens, including a Dunmer child who was sitting by a fire with a doll in her hand. The two groups met courteously, but upon realizing who Sorli was, one of the citizens approached. "So you're from Morthal? Do any of your men know what to make of this?" She shook her head. "Most of the trees back home are dead anyway. That doesn't give us much to go by." "Well the hole's not far. What if we took you to see it?" "Hole? The Stormcloak didn't mention a hole. She turned to Benalf. "What do you say? We are early." "Might as well." They were led a little ways into the woods, where they met a group of five more guards and a well-dressed woman, all standing around what was indeed a giant hole in the ground. Their escort introduced them. "Jarl Ingun," said the man. "This is Jarl Sorli of Morthal. Her man here might know something more about all this." The mead merchant Jarl's dark eyes widened a bit at the news. "It is an honor," she said to Sorli. "I did not expect another Jarl to come here so soon, let alone offer aid." "Yes, well maybe you'll learn to act less surprised in the future." She motioned to Benalf. "What do you make of this?" "Well it ain't a chaurus, that's for damn sure. Or a frostbite spider." "We know what did it," said one of Ingun's men. "We just don't know what it is." He pointed to a pair of pale white corpses a few yards off to the side that Sorli had missed before. "We dragged those two outa the tunnel. They were right at the edge." "Those?" The guard captain laughed. "Those are Falmer. I know a Falmer hole when I see one. They didn't do this neither." "Falmer?" said the Rift soldier. "You mean the Snow Elves? They're a myth. Been dead for thousands of years. These beasts've gotta be some sort of goblin or something." "Hah! If Falmer are a myth, then call me Benalf Myth-Slayer. Trust me, lad, they're real." "Did you send anyone down there?" Sorli asked. "Yes," Ingun answered. "Two of my men went. They found more of those... things. All dead. The tunnel just keeps on going. They said it eventually opened into a larger cave where there were strange glowing mushrooms. They brought me a sample if you want to see." "No need," Benalf said. "Don't know nothing about mushrooms 'cept that I don't like the taste. Whatever you've got here, it ain't nothing I've seen before. Tunnel like that, if I didn't know better I'd say you've got yourself a dragon who likes to burrow." "Dragons fly," said Ingun's man. "They don't burrow." "That's why I said I know better, fool. Got no idea what did this, but it's killing Falmer so you oughta thank it. Pesky bastards, those things." "It's also killing part of my forest," answered Ingun. "But it seems we've learned all we can here. I'll hire someone to look into this after the moot." She turned to Sorli. "Ivarstead is only a few days further. How would you like to travel together?" Sorli shrugged. "Might as well." As they made their way back to the campsite, she decided to ask, "So who do you intend to support, eh? It'd be good to know where the Jarls stand." "I've never met any of the claimants," answered the young woman. "But I-" "I will back Brund. Skyrim needs a strong economy, wouldn't you agree? We'd be wise to stand with the leader who controls the most wealth." "How much of that wealth will make it to Morthal?" "A lot, if we're friends." She cast a sideways grin at Ingun. "And I hear Riften could use some good silver these days as well. Something to think about." *** Jarl Korir shook his head in disgust as he watch a man from the Riften camp walk about Ivarstead hand-in-hand with a red-eyed elven child. Disgraceful. He did not hate elves, of course, but this was man's sacred ground and they had no place here. He spat and turned away, pushing the affront from his mind so he could focus on more important matters, like finding a place to drink! What had once been a quiet little village had grown substantially over the last year due to refugees, but with the long-planned moot fast approaching, travelers from all over Skyrim and even beyond had come here to take advantage of the traffic. Aside from the Jarls' own tents, those grim Stormcloak soldiers patrolled the streets, and merchants from everywhere stood beside wagons laden with goods that could not be found outside their homes. Certainly not in Winterhold. Korir walked through the merchant's ranks now, past a group of Bretons who wore colorful robes and peddled silks from their homeland, then a man from Whiterun who had a collection of weapons that had supposedly been wielded by fallen Harbingers of the Companions. Korir almost stopped at wagon from Solitude when the woman asked him to try her spiced wine, but decided at last that he would prefer some mead. For that, he was directed to Vilemyr Inn. The place was packed, of course. Men and women from every hold filled the tables and crowded the bar, where servants worked frantically to keep everyone pleased. In one corner, two bards sang a ballad about High King Hoag to the enchantment of everyone who sat around them. "Jarl Korir!" He glanced over to one of the tables, and found none other than Vrage of Dawnstar waving him over. He grinned as the man and his soldiers scooted over to make room for him on their bench. Vrage waved for one of the tavern maids. "You there! A mead for this man!" They clasped hands as Korir took his seat. "How goes it, friend? Are they calling you 'Jarl' yet or do you still have to pretend like it's not you?" "Funny." Vrage shook his head. "I am not the Jarl, and hopefully will not be for some time. Skald lives, and has his sights for making Dawnstar our next capital." Korir's eyes widened. "You're serious? Skald? No offense, but your brother never struck me as the sort to be a High King." "Nor anyone else, but it is so. He claims that he will follow in Ulfric's footsteps in all things. I've come to represent him." "You mean he's not here himself?" Korir studied Vrage's eyes. Surely the man was joking. No Jarl could hope to send his brother to fight his battles and still expect to be named High King of all Skyrim. Yet as he looked, he saw no sign of jest in his friend's expression. "Well..." One of the tavern's servants interrupted to put a mug of mead in his hands. Finally. He thanked her and took a swig, then gave Vrage a shrug. "Best of fortunes to Skald the Elder." They drank together, and spent some time catching up. Eventually, their conversation came to the moot itself, and the climb before it. Apparently, most of the Jarls had already either made the climb or departed recently enough that they would be in the middle of it now. Vignar Gray-Mane was still in the village and would be embarking tomorrow, which surprised Korir, considering the man was at least as old as Skald. Vrage himself had come early in the hopes of meeting either Baldur or Brund before things got started. Sadly, Baldur had been even earlier and Brund had yet to arrive. In the end, the two men decided that they would make the climb together. They were both traditionalists, and had no intention of bringing guards or advisors to assist, and so the company would be welcome during the long venture upward. "Two Nords of the Old Holds, climbing the Throat of the World together," Korir said, well into his mead by then. He then raised his mug. "To the future of Skyrim!" *** "You got yer axe handy?" "I do, Falk. I told you, I have everything." "I know, I know. It's just... are you sure you didn't forget something my lady?" "Falk, contrary to popular belief I am not stupid. I know you're stalling, silly man." Falk wanted to smile, at least for her sake. But he couldn't. Not even when Jarl Elisif placed her hand on his cheek, scratching his namesake playfully. "I'll be fine." "No you won't, not with that beast they call a man. You can't marry him, please! If you do this... I'll..." "You'll what Falk?" "I'll resign! I'll leave!" Elisif hesitated. Her husband had already abandoned her, killed by the hand of Ulfric Stormcloak. Then Baldur, who she once thought kind and thoughtful abandoned their friendship out of the blue. Alone she thought he even cared for her once. Longed for his distraction, his conversation. Anything to be rid of her thoughts of having wedded her husband's killer. But around his brothers, or Ulfric himself, he changed. Maybe it was just an act? Or perhaps pity. And now Falk was leaving her too. Just as well. No she didn't mean that. She might've mistaken Baldur's kindness and pity for more, but Falk, that was something... different. Falk reminded her of an older, and stronger Torygg. Perhaps that is why she felt guilty of having been with him. Unlike Ulfric, and more than likely unlike Brund Hammer-Fang in the near future, she enjoyed giving herself to Falk. And that was her biggest betrayal to his name yet. "I am doing this, Falk. So if you must abandon me too, then so be it. But I AM going to reclaim Solitude's capital status. That is the least I can do now for my dead husband. I have to try at least." "And what will Torygg say when you see him after you too are dead? Huh? What will you tell him after you've wedded again, and this time a bigger brute than Ulfric?" "I won't be seeing Torygg, ever again. Despite what people say, Torygg died with this axe in his hand. He died a true Nord, and surely dwells in Sovngarde. I on the other hand, am a coward. Goodbye, Falk." Falk waited until Elisif's guard closed the palace doors behind them, closing off the light of the outside world and also the light of his life. When she was gone, he said, "Goodbye, Jarl Elisif." Elisif spent the whole trip in her carriage crying to herself, a hand clenched on her chest. Solitude may have been warm more times than not, but her heart felt nothing but the coldest highest peaks of that icy land. When Elisif and her company of Nords finally made it to Ivarstead, they found that most of the Jarls and their entourage had already made it. And many people that she did not expect, though she full well should have. There were the exotic dark men from Hammerfell, the respectable Bretons of High Rock, with banners of their new king's family symbol upon them, and even the Imperial Legion in all their splendor of red and gold. Oh how she missed the safe feeling she felt when she saw them. And yet even now that feeling escaped her. But even so her heart and mind were open with delight. These men and women were not there for her. They were there for her enemy. But that did not mean she couldn't indulge in the company of possible new friends and acquaintances! It would be so much fun! It- "Elisif, my new wife to be. Was your trip a hard one, my love? Hehehehehehe..." She didn't even have to turn to know who addressed her. Brund strolled out of his tent as though he were waiting behind the flap the entire time just to catch her off guard when she arrived. Brund gave her men the signal to leave, and at first they almost refused. But when they saw that Elisif did not react, they did as they were told, with much hesitation and doubt. But none dared challenge Brund. His hand fell on her shoulder, and he beckoned her to his bed. With a fistfull of her hair as he practically dragged her inside. "I am not your dead husband. I'll have to break you in. Tonight you share a bed with a REAL Nord!"
  9. 3 points
    A new thread for everyone. If you’re not a mutant.
  10. 3 points
    My family has tickets for The Last Jedi after my graduation ceremony on Friday. Movie doesn’t start until 10:45 pm but I’m so excited to watch it.
  11. 3 points
    This is kind of in developer-ease but I guess it's cool to get confirmation that Obsidian is making another RPG, this one obviously with some publisher backing which could be a good or bad thing. http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2017/12/14/take-two-announces-new-publishing-label-private-division.aspx?utm_content=bufferd6bea&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
  12. 3 points
    This made me want to kill some elves. And maybe some khajiit, because who can tell the difference anyway am I right? -Pelinal Whitestrake
  13. 3 points
    Imagine intros to the Elder Scrolls Total War game, picture a Nordic intro video in the same vain as the old Rome Total War Greek faction intro. "Men could rule the world, the Atmorans did. They took a army to the far south, there was nothing left to conquer; the world was theirs. But the Atmorans are dead, their Empires are gone and so we live in evil days. The free men of Skyrim have turned against each other instead of their proper enemies, those who envy all the Nords have done. Shor must weep, if the dead weep. I would weep in his place but I would also hope." "The world turns, what was may come again. The gods still spin the web of men's lives, so now perhaps the gods wish Nords to be great again. Perhaps a new Ysmir will take up the sword, bring order where there is chaos, remake the world of men into a better plan...perhaps."
  14. 3 points
    I would settle for Bethesda adopting Obsidian's values about RPGs so that we get a really good, deep Fallout game. But that's probably not going to happen, either.
  15. 3 points
    I found this video on the likelyhood on why there's no new Obsidian Fallout.
  16. 3 points
    Glad to have you back, blood thirst and all, lol. Argonian hentai, Deathclaw edition.
  17. 3 points
    You're damn right I'm fuckin bloodthirsty, terrorists, Taliban, Koreans! I don't care! But my orders (for right now, They might change with my recycle) are for a non-deployable unit. FUCKIN GAYYYY (I speak infantry now, so please excuse anything that's a little strange, I forget what's normal around here and what's not)
  18. 3 points
    I might give it a go then. You know, this time next year, when I've finally finished the Witcher 3
  19. 3 points
    You'll find out soon enough. If Colonel and Doc ever finish the moot coversation that is
  20. 3 points
  21. 3 points
  22. 3 points
    I don't play multiplayer, period. How are they not related? You have to grind in order to be able to compete with the Asian kid who spends 20 hours a day gaming. Or else buy their microtransaction bullshit. And even if you don't access the MP element, the presence of it affects the design parameters of the base game. How much you want to bet that we're not getting this game until 2019 because they have to build and test a multiplayer system? Every one of those zots is wasted. There are enough MP games out there, they should leave the good single player franchises alone. On the other hand, if it's a completely separate card game or arena, I won't care, just as I ignored the Witcher arena and the separate Gwent game.
  23. 3 points
    The Moot: Part 2 "Aye," said Jarl Korir. "If the Thalmor are a danger to Cyrodiil, then it would make sense for the Empress to want us on her side against them. That doesn't mean that we should share in her fears." "Have you already forgotten what happened to Windhelm?" Ingun asked. "To Ulfric? The Thalmor are a threat to everyone, not just Cyrodiil." Others nodded in agreement, but Fenrald held strong. "I remember stories about a ship made of sunlight leading a fleet to assault the city. I also remember that they were defeated that same day. Skyrim's enemies have tried to take her from us since the days of Ysgramor's sons. And they have always failed. The only time in four eras that elves have ruled us was when our leaders became cowardly enough to rely on Cyrodiil." "I do not think that Jarl Baldur intends for us to rely on Cyrodiil." Jarl Skald's brother, the man called Vrage, spoke up. "Granted, it is hard to know for certain, given his decision to remain silent." Baldur smiled at that, apparently amused by it all, when he probably should've been worried. "Perhaps he thinks himself a Greybeard," said Brund, annoyed by this. "Perhaps he should stay up here then. Leave the fighting to me." "Perhaps he thinks you'll win this for him with your jokes," stated Vrage. "Tell us, Jarl Brund, what do you offer Skyrim besides "skin rugs" and a promise that you never forget? Right now, it seems that Fenrald knows something that I don't. Do you intend to maintain the alliance with Cyrodiil if you are named High King?" "Firstly..." Brund chucked something at Arngeir of all people. Surprisingly the old man was quick enough to catch it. It was a pouch full of coin. Silver coins to be exact. Arngeir considered throwing it back but thought better of it. "I appreciate this generous donation to High Hrothgar and accept it graciously," said Arngeir. "Thank the Forsworn slaves I have working extra hard to fund this little war of ours," said Brund. "And secondly, yes. I don't disagree with Baldur's bringing the Imps to heel. In fact, I applaud your little dog trick, Red-Snow. But you should've let your pets stay home. You left your wife, after all. But this alliance came at too easy a cost on part of the Imperials." Baldur's eyebrows raised before biting his lip. He was also gripping Vignar's axe like it was the only thing keeping him in his seat. "Your silver didn't help Riften when bandits reduced it to ashes," Ingun said to Brund. "When our people were scattered and homeless, our lands plagued by bandits and the Thalmor, it was Jarl Baldur who sent aid. He defended us in our time of need, even just after his own city was attacked and none would have blamed him for ignoring us. It wasn't his obligation, it was his choice." She drew her own axe now, and placed it on the table beside Baldur's clenched fist. "For that, the Rift will stand behind Baldur Red-Snow." She gave Baldur a smile. "And I pledge my axe to him till the day Sovngarde greets us." "Jarl Baldur's defense of the Rift said a lot," stated Korir. "But Jarl Brund makes a good point as well. I sympathize with Falkreath every bit as much as I do the Rift. We bled for the Imperials, and our reward was that damned concordat and more war. In the end, the cost for it all was too easy." His face softened, "But what's done is done... Vrage, where do you stand?" "You know damned well that I stand here in place of my brother," replied Vrage. "Dawnstar's axe remains with Dawnstar. Unless I learn that Jarl Skald stopped breathing during my journey here, I maintain his claim to the throne." Every one of the Jarls laughed at that, none louder than Brund. Even Baldur closed his eyes and seemed to try and stifle the chuckles. At last, of all people, it was Galmar Stone-Fist who interrupted the laughter. "I'm no Jarl, but were I, I'd sooner drop my axe before Elisif. At least she can swing it." He glanced at Ulfric's first wife. "Ehhhh, on second thought, maybe not..." Elisif showed fire in her eyes for the first time that night. She moved to stand and speak, but felt Brund's glare on her without even meeting his eyes. When she leaned back, Brund said, "I'm not the only Jarl that likes his jokes it seems. Let's be serious. We know which Jarls this moot is for..." "Aye," agreed Vrage, "I think we do." He turned and looked to the foreigners. First to Roland, then Jeleen, and lastly Dales. "You came here at Baldur's behest, not to seat a puppet as has happened before, but to show that you are willing to allow Skyrim to lead your alliance if Baldur is at its helm. Why?" "I thought better of you," Fenrald said. "Is there a Nord in this room that can take a shit without asking foreigners for their opinion?" Vrage ignored him and nodded to Roland. "You first, Prince. Why does High Rock support an alliance led by this man?" Roland, seated against the wall, stood and looked over the Nords seated at the table. "I am here on behalf of my parents, who have their own reasons for supporting Baldur. But their reasons are not mine. I support him because of what the citizens of Windhelm said about him and his valiant defense of mankind's first city. I support him because I saw the dead Thalmor hanging from the trees in the Rift. And I support him because it was his meetings, with the Redguards and my late grandfather King Gaerhart, that forged this alliance. To stand not only against the Thalmor, but against Cyrodiil. If we are to defeat the Thalmor, we will need a mind as sharp and an arm as strong as his leading us. And that is why High Rock supports Jarl Red-Snow." Prince Roland nodded at Baldur and sat back down. "Baldur Red-Snow wasn't the only one defending mankind's first city," said Brund. "It was my thu'um that allowed us to reach the Sunbirds, and cause them to rout. Alas, this was not as well known. Because the minstrel here has a talent for... theatrics. But in any case, it doesn't matter. Ingun brought up that Baldur went off to defend the Rift not out of obligation, but that's not necessarily true... You lot have faulty memories it seems. It was his so called brother that burned down Riften in the first place, allowing the Thalmor a safe haven to retreat to. Of course he defended your home, he felt guilty! So maybe you shouldn't be so quick to smile for him and pledge your allegiance." Turning to Roland, he said, "And you shouldn't be so quick to speak on matters you know nothing about. You might've seen the bodies, but it was I that helped make them." A few seconds passed as the Jarls waited for the Prince to respond, but he made no effort to do so, seemingly knowing better than to insert himself into their debate. At last, it was Vignar who broke the silence. "Baldur is not responsible for the burning of Riften. The man behind it it was one of my own. He was kinless, and not tied to Windhelm or Kyne's Watch in any way. If anyone at this table deserves blame for his actions, it is I." "And if anyone has the right to place that blame, it is I," said Ingun. She looked at Brund. "Baldur owed us nothing, and if guilt is what drove him to aid us then so be it. This only proves that he is not a heartless ruler." Baldur didn't seem to hear the words of the Jarls, or even care. The second Brund started talking about Boldir was the second that he stood to his feet. "What, Red-Snow? Got something to say? No? Well too bad," said Brund, visibly annoyed. He had to bite his lip to fight his urge to strangle him right then and there, and the Black-Briar bitch too. And the old man. In fact, blood was trickling from his bottom lip as he and Baldur locked eyes. "Baldur might not have anything to say, but I do," said Jeleen. "Father..." "Hush, Jabreel. I am a High King myself. I'll not wait my turn to speak like some dog. Hear me, Nords of Skyrim. I have earned the right to speak at this moot and say my piece, by right of blood spilled together by your side. Does anyone here challenge this claim?" Everyone looked at Brund and Fenrald, though while the former still glared at Baldur, the latter frowned. "I kept silent while the Imperial girl pratted out more words than two of the claimants, and now you think I'll challenge the right of a man whose people fought beside me? Damn you all." He shook his head and faced Jeleen. "If any Jarl has a problem with you speaking, then they have a problem with me as well." "Good!" said Jeleen, grinning from ear to ear with his hands clasped to his gut. He had to pause a moment... he wasn't expecting the Jarls to let him talk without at least a grumble. Clearing his throat several times, he said, "This moot is a formality, isn't it? Fair enough, I don't know this Brund, I didn't have the chance to meet Veleda here in person, and when I met the Red-Snows, she was not yet Queen anyway. But by your gods, Nords, this isn't even hard. Baldur Red-Snow and his wife, they are the ones that earned my trust. I sent them on what seemed like a lost cause, a false hope. A doomed mission. You think you Nords are stubborn, try the Alik'r, or any deep desert war chieftain of Hammerfell. Not only did they manage to convince the Alik'r to ally with me, they also somehow managed to get them to hate their chieftain afterwards... he hated this man so much he attempted to kill him at a negotiating table, and failed. After that the Red-Snows marched back into my palace with most of Hammerfell promised to me on a silver platter..." Jeleen seemed to be playing the moment back in his mind. "He risked his life to make this work. He and his wife. As a warrior, not just some soft handed politician. He even impressed the current Alik'r chieftain with how quickly he dispatched the former. And this isn't just an alliance to fight elves, but any foreign power that wishes to ruin our hard earned independence. Or otherwise, I'd not be sitting next to the likes of... her." Jeleen pointed behind him at Dales. "Rather, she'd be missing a head instead and I'd be going home with a trophy. Fenrald. I respect your stance, I do. I myself was disappointed when I heard the Nords allied with the Imperials instead of doing what we sent our Ra Gada to do. Kill them to the last man and woman. But, even I admit this is better. Falkreath has suffered, true. But the alternative could be elves telling you directly when you can piss and shit, or borrowing your wife on weeks end directly, instead of indirectly through weak southerners. And I can tell you one thing. That man you stand with? Would have never gained our support to defend Falkreath." Brund shook his head the entire time Jeleen spoke, but he let him finish. Even he did not wish to show him disrespect. "You have no idea how many elves, countless amounts of elves I killed defending your home in the Great War, Redguard. You wound and dishonor me with your words." "And I thank you for your hand in defending it," said Jeleen, frowning. "But I know a king when I see one, versus a common butcher. It's what I've been trying to explain to my son. A King must be a warrior and diplomat both, or that King will bring only war to his kingdom and nothing else." "I've heard enough," stated Vrage. Turning to Baldur, he said, "I do not know what kind of man you are, but from all these words from royals and esteemed Jarls, it seems clear that you are the only man to lead this alliance, and that is what Skyrim needs right now." "Agreed," Korir said. "I do not believe that we are as threatened by the elves as these foreigners would have us believe, but if we are to march against them regardless, then I would have our king be the one who is at the head of it all. Besides, the Old Holds have always stood together on such matters. I'll not be the one to break the tradition." The two men drew their axes, and as they tossed them onto the pile, Jarl Sorli stood and did the same, saying, "A High King with ties to so many rulers can only bring fortune to Skyrim." She glanced at Dales and retook her seat. "Sorry, Brund." "It seems the Moot has chosen it's champion." Dales gave a self satisfied, and as she would say, "shit-eating grin", just as she said with faux politeness, "It's seems, my good JARL Brund, that the gods have ordained you to follow Baldur Red-Snow again, as you always have." Elisif seemed more upset than Brund did at that moment, fighting back tears whilst Brund feigning anger soon gave in to smirking slightly. Though now it was his turn to grip his weapon, so hard in fact that the creak of the wood and steel under his grasp was audible. Before anyone could say another word however, Galmar Stone-Fist stood, slamming his own steel hammer into the table before him. "I've had enough of the lot of you." "You take issue with our decision?" Vrage asked. "You're damned right I do," said Galmar. "Not an ounce of loyalty between the lot of you! Ulfric Stormcloak is not dead, he lives on in the child of Veleda Fire-Hand! She is the rightful Queen of Skyrim! Not Baldur, and certainly not Brund either! Both of you, fighting over his legacy like wolves surrounding an elk carcass. It's despicable. And you..." Galmar pointed a finger at Baldur. "Before his body was even cold claiming his wife's seat? Screw you, Red-Snow. You were there the day we all decided she was the perfect candidate. You know damn well Ulfric desires her to rule in his stead. We all did! Now you claim to be Wulfharth's incarnate to steal the seat. And you!" Galmar pointed to Arngeir. "You and these 'holy men', you help him do it? Ulfric was your student first! You were a father to him! Screw you the most!" Arngeir was quiet for the majority of the moot, and truly surprised at the direction it had gone without Baldur having even echoed a word. But now his face was not of shock or surprise, but woe. "What the gods reveal to us has nothing to do with us. I have not interfered or claimed anything, I've only allowed the gods to show favor by judgement of the Jarls, without the influence of even Baldur's speech." "Oh stuff it! Show some gods damned loyalty! Baldur didn't need to speak anyway when he had this lot to do it for him! We are supposed to be better than Imperials and Bretons. From where I stand, none of you are any different." "I too was the rightful Queen of Skyrim, Galmar. You didn't have any problem replacing me then. Why now should this be any different?" said Elisif, smiling plainly at his anger. "Because unlike Veleda Fire-Hand, you are nothing but a cowardly whore, letting yourself be used in such a way..." Galmar was eying Brund now, who again only smiled and licked his lips. Bursting out of her seat, Elisif said, "I am NOT a whore! I still serve Torygg in my heart! I still serve Solitude! I-." Elisif sat back down, trying to hold her tongue, and tears as best she could. "I am doing the best I can in his absence. Someone must see that Solitude's wealth be returned to Solitude." "Whatever," said Galmar, dismissing her entirely. "Veleda, please," he said. "Show them why we believed in you." The former queen of Skyrim stood up. "Brothers. None of you greeted me, nor have you asked my opinion, which is why I have held it until you each had your say. I am no longer a jarl, and a Moot is for the jarls. For the jarls." At this Veleda gave Baldur a withering glance. "Yet I do have something to say, if you will permit me. Many here today have held forth about what Ulfric would do or what he would want, even the leader of Cyrodiil, who had better held her tongue on the subject. I believe I can speak to that subject." She turned to address the foreigners. "First to our guests. Ulfric and I would have gladly welcomed any one of you in our hall, but I do not gladly see you here now, in our holy place and at a moot. Your very presence taints whatever decision comes out of this assembly, leaves it open to challenge. Yet that fault is not yours. Prince Roland, I was glad to meet your father. My daughter, Ulfric’s appointed heir, has followed his rise with great interest. Noble Ra Gada, you showed all of us the way, and you came to Skyrim’s aid in Falkreath though we had not come to yours in Hegathe, to our shame. Dales Draconus, if Cyrodiil is ready to help allay the grievous harm your country did to ours, if you've put aside your faithless ways, then I'm happy to fight alongside the legion once again. Please give my regards to High General Gracchus. I betrayed his trust, but I relied on his example in battle after battle for Skyrim’s freedom." "I did not know Ulfric as long as many in this room, but I knew his mind at the end. We spent many days and nights talking about the kind of Skyrim that we hoped to build. I knew his plans, and his fears." Veleda paused, looking around the room at the faces before her. For a moment they swam, and she could imagine that one of them belonged to her husband. It was not wholly an illusion. He looked down on her from Sovngarde now. One day she would have to answer to him for what she did, and what she did not do. Placing a hand on her stomach, she went on, "I accepted the honor of being Ulfric's queen for the sake of Skyrim’s future. Yet we are not imperials. A High King or Queen earns that right not because of title or inheritance, but because of deeds. Sofie knows it, and it's what I'll teach our child who will never meet his great father. For this reason, I make no claim now to Skyrim’s throne." She held out her hand to keep Galmar from coming out of his seat, and went on before his sputtering could form words, or before she could lose her nerve. "Jarl Brund Hammer Fang." Veleda turned to him. "In one year you managed to achieve a peace in the Reach that neither the empire nor the kings of Skyrim ever could. Perhaps someday you’ll share with us in greater detail how you managed to accomplish what others before you could not, and how you managed to become jarl. For now, you have allowed us confidence that the Reachmen will not take advantage of another war. We all owe you a debt of gratitude." "Baldur Red-Snow. You sit on a seat that has belonged to the family of Ulfric Stormcloak for generations. You usurped his title, his lands, and you use his name and seal. As Galmar rightly charged, you did all this before his body was even cold and before I or my daughter could return to make any claim. I cannot say that Ulfric would have approved of the way in which you took his seat." She took a breath, then went on, "Yet I do not think he would have disapproved of the jarls’ choice. You had Ulfric's trust. He relied upon you time and again not only for the might, but the cunning that a High King of Skyrim requires. Skyrim cannot afford a war of succession while the Dominion threat looms. You are the one Ulfric would want to take up his seat and his cause, for the sake of all our children." Veleda removed a sword from her belt and held it up. "The sword of Queen Freydis, Ulfric’s bride gift to me." Fire-Hand had no vote, so she didn’t add the sword to the pile of axes in front of Baldur, but did place it on the table in front of her, with the point towards him. Leaning on it, the former queen gripped the hilt so hard it turned her knuckles white, and her eyes burned as she held Baldur’s. Make it mean something. Brund raised out of his seat so quickly that it fell to the floor behind him. And these were stone chairs. Arngeir grimaced at the destruction of their property, between Brund and Galmar both, the latter of which was bowing his head in defeat. Brund on the other hand still held defiant. "I think it's time I-," "ENOUGH." It was Baldur who finally spoke, also standing once again before slamming his hands on the pile of axes before him. Every Jarl's eyes were on him, stunned silent by the sudden sound of his voice. "The moot is over. I am High King of Skyrim. Now I will speak, and you will listen." Brund did not like that at all, and evidently neither did Elisif. "This isn't over yet, Baldur Red-Snow!" "You're damned right it isn't!" cried Brund. "Tiiiiinvaak! Onikaan.... UTH!" When Baldur's thu'um left his throat, Brund's clenched hands went straight to his head, as if trying to block out Baldur's words. "Get out of my head, you *****! What is the meaning of this?!" "I said I will speak, and you will listen. Jarls of Skyrim, can you understand my words?" The Jarls were clearly shaken. Most of them had never witnessed the thu'um in person, and those who had did not expect it now, not from the man who'd spent so long in silence. At last, it was not a Jarl, but Vrage who spoke, his voice stricken with awe. "Aye, my king. We can understand you." Fresh from her false declaration, Veleda's eyes narrowed at the thu'um and Baldur's question. She had spoken her piece, however, and kept silent now. Taking her seat, she laid a hand on the sword and seemed unmoved by anything further going on around her. From the entrance, Sofie still peered in, watching the proceedings. Dales was clearly surprised, but not frightened even if she couldn't understand him. Her cocky smile, turned into a full, sadistic, grimace, as she felt a tinge of pleasure. Her efforts hadn't been in vain, and she was sure now, her faith had been well placed. Baldur would be high king, and all would be well. She, however, knew it was a time to be silent, and let the Nordic tongue speak. Baldur met Veleda's eyes first. He felt her hate more clearly than any other sensation he felt now. As if that sword pointing at him were running him through worse than her glare. He knew that was the point. He was speaking as the High King now... that realization hadn't dawned on him fully, the idea that this was really happening. That he'd be the one to follow in Ulfric's footsteps. As Baldur spoke, Elisif sobbed, the sound of the thu'um and the memories of Torygg's death and the realization that she failed yet again too much for her to handle. Brund was beginning to recover, so Baldur began quickly. "First of all, Veleda's words leave me humbled, truly. She has proven to be one of the strongest women I've ever met. And for that, I request here today that should I die in battle, or my time as king comes to an end, that Veleda Fire-Hand be made my successor. I have no desire to rob the Stormcloak line of their birthright. I sought to be king and took action so quickly out of necessity. And I will continue to. Of course, it is not the obligation of the Jarls to honor such a request, but let it be known regardless. Now..." Baldur turned to Falkreath and Solitude's Jarls respectively. "You do not have the information that I have on the dominion, so I do not blame you for not fearing the possibility of elven rule in these lands. You will soon be made aware, for I would have our Jarls fight by my side if they are willing. The old grudges, pettiness and spitefulness, they end here. The elves attacked our home in the heart of our land, and for that, we will march. And we will not stop until we've returned the favor tenfold. I am not telling you to forgive the Imperials, but you will work with them. The Elves have reclaimed their power of old, and the Nords will be at the helm to send them back where they belong. No one will stand in the way of our victory. My children and yours will be safe from elven influence, or all of Skyrim will go hand in hand to Sovngarde trying. Am I clear?" "Yes," said Vignar and Ingun. "Aye," said Korir and Vrage. Sorli the Builder nodded, and Fenrald remained silent, but made no effort to argue. "That goes for you too, Elisif and Brund," said Baldur. "Even you must admit this is a more pressing issue than whatever it is between you, and I." "Whatever it is between you, and I?" said Brund. His face was red and he was perspiring but was otherwise fine. He raised his hammer, and showed it to him, the blood of troll and Breton still caked between and around its steel spikes. "What you and I have is a blood feud. Know whose blood this is?" Baldur couldn't breathe, and gave no response. His heart was pounding so powerfully he thought it might cease to beat entirely. He felt as though the spikes had pierced his chest right then and there. "Yes... you understand now, don't you?" said Brund, smiling. "Holy ground, High-King. Remember what the Grey-Beards taught you!" "B-Bru-.." Baldur's eyes were wild with hate, swimming in tears. The heat from before returned as his mouth began to form the words... "Baldur, don't!" said Arngeir. "ZUN HAAL VIIK." The words themselves weren't spoken loudly, but the echo reverberated off the hall's high ceiling. In an instant Brund's weapon was torn from his hands and flung against the wall behind him, falling with a thunk. Veleda followed up her disarm shout with a warning. "Respect the Moot's decision, Jarl Hammer Fang. Respect these halls. Or you will be made to." "Insolent bitch, know your place!" said Brund, punching the table and leaving cracks in the stone. The thu'um from her caught him off guard... how many did Ulfric train in his absence... "It is you who have forgotten your place, Hammer-Fang!" Vignar said in a raised voice. "Stay out of this, all of you! Brund, tell me whose blood that is!" said Baldur. "I'll tell you, soon enough," said Brund, clenching his fist repeatedly to combat the throbbing from Veleda's shout. "Elisif. Give me my hammer." Elisif wiped her face, but stayed in her place, unsure of what to do. Things were beginning to get out of hand, and she was unsure how much further she could stand to go... "Stay where you are, Elisif," said Baldur. "Unless you'd like to be charged with treason as well." "Oho that's rich!" said Brund with a knowing smile. "Do as I said, bitch! Or end up like your dead husband!" For that, Elisif finally ceased her sniveling, slowly getting up and inching towards Brund's weapon and namesake. "How far. How far will you go to drive Torygg's name through the dirt?" said Baldur. His shout had worn off now, and Elisif seemed as though she could think clearly again. She continued her path... "Tinvaak Onikaan Uth!" said Baldur, following with a command. "Diin!" She froze in place. Diin. Freeze. Stop. She heard the words clearly, and obeyed. She didn't feel forced to listen. She wanted to stop. To simply do nothing. She missed the days when that's all she had to do. Watch Torygg work and be there by his side, his loving support. But he was dead, and she had to pick up the slack. Shaking her head until it was clear, Elisif kept moving. "I am not dragging his name through the dirt. You lot have already done that." "You miss him. I understand. But what you are doing here? Helping him? And for what, because I hurt your feelings? Because of some misguided feeling of saving Solitude? You wish to save Solitude, then cease this... desperation and go home. Prepare your people for war and stop being such a coward," said Baldur. "I AM NOT A COWARD!" "DREH NII!" said Baldur. "Prove it..." said Elisif, as if acknowledging his words. "How do I do that..." "Do as I said before," said Baldur. "Stop this. Stop putting Skyrim at risk for your sorrow. Prepare your hold, or go see Torygg. As you should have, long ago." Elisif didn't say anything to that. For a time she simply stood in place. "Hahahahaha, what can I say, she is indeed a coward," said Brund. "But I knew this. Hurry up and give me my weapon already." She obeyed. It was heavier than she expected, but she managed to heft the thing up over her shoulders as she made her way over to her master. Baldur shook his head in disgust as she continued her display of shame. Grinning, Brund held his hand out, waiting for his weapon. It never came. Instead, he heard a loud clang as Elisif dropped his Hammer-Fang and instead grabbed the Axe of Falkreath that Brund knocked to the ground earlier with his punch to the table. She grabbed a fist full of his mohawk, yanking him down to her level until he was sitting, then brought the fine steel axe down in one strike towards his vulnerable and scarred neck, as though it were a guide telling her where to strike him. "Elisif!" Vignar barked. "What are you doing you witless bitch?!" roared Fenrald. A choir of voices rang out as the leaders of Skyrim attempted to talk her down, but Elisif ignored them all. He's right. I am a coward. And I'm putting Solitude and all of Skyrim at danger out of sorrow for Torygg. But no more. "Prove it? Fine, I'll prove it! For Sovngarde!" She cried as the axe came down. She could still hear Baldur's words echoing through her mind, bouncing around inside her skull... Brund grabbed her hand at only the last moment, feeling the fine edge at his neck. As he grappled with her, Elisif drew a dagger and attempted to gouge his eyes out. Before that could happen, Brund's head came up, hitting her in the jaw before he lifted her up and slammed her on the table before Fenrald. "Elisif, for attempting to kill the future High-King of Skyrim, I sentence you to death. How do you plead?" She only let out a weak whimper. "Heh." "Tiid!" cried Arngeir, dashing for Brund as fast he could. By now, even the other Jarls had risen to stop him. But it was far too late for that. Without anymore words and before the Greybeards or anyone could intervene, Brund brought the same hand down into her sternum, killing the young Jarl Elisif the Fair instantly. "You're next, Red-Snow! I challenge you by my right as Jarl to duel for the seat of High King!" Baldur's face was wrought with confusion. One minute Elisif was there, the same desperate and stupid girl he'd always known. The next, she simply wasn't there at all. Now, Brund was pointing a finger at him and challenging him for a seat he only just now earned. That much wasn't surprising. Somehow he knew it would come to this. Shaking his head, Baldur took a deep breath to calm himself. Brund was taunting him, trying to get him worked up. The blood on his hammer could've been from anyone, anything. "This is madness!" said Jeleen. "Refuse!" "He won't," said Brund, laughing at his futile plea. "A man is measured by the quality of his enemies. And my biggest enemy is a true Nord. He won't say no. He can't. Not even Torygg refused Ulfric..." "I refuse," said Baldur. "What??? Excuse me?" cried Brund. "You heard me. I refuse. I am already king, and the king doesn't have to accept a challenge. If the Jarls today think I am weak by turning down this pissing contest, then so be it," said Baldur. "We need every able bodied Nord to defeat the elves, especially our tongues! Don't you see that, you fool? Fight by my side like we did in Windhelm and lets finish this fight!" Brund was beside himself. The disappointment was all over his face. "No. I don't accept this. I DON'T ACCEPT THIS!" Arngeir seemed relieved and smiled at this. It seemed some of his teachings were getting into that thick Nordic skull after all. Bringing the Jagged Crown over, Arngeir said, "Unless anyone wishes to contest this decision..." "I do obviously!" said Brund, stomping the ground and knocking the crown in the air. He easily snatched it out of the air over Arngeir's head and grabbed his hammer once more. "If he wants this crown, he'll have to take it from my cold dead hands! You stupid coward, I killed your son! I killed him, and I killed your elven servant too! He died slow, slow and painful by the very same means you introduced to us in Falkreath. Knowing this, do you still refuse me, coward? Fight me, Red-Snow, FIGHT ME!" At that Baldur finally lost it. The cry that escaped him was like that of a dying animal, and made all the worse because he was trying to contain it. The sound was already deafening, let alone in the confines of the stone room. Even Brund held his ears as Baldur's shrieking filled them, affecting his balance. Tears poured from his eyes freely as he ripped off his robe, revealing the refurbished ancient Nordic armor gifted to him by Eorlund Greymane, then grabbed his axe pledged to him by Vignar, and the axe of Riften pledged to him by Ingun respectively. "YOL!" His thu'um flowed from his mouth like a fountain, gathering in his hands. As he baptized himself beneath the flame, his hair caught fire, gathering at the top of his head. "Shor's bones!" Korir exclaimed, and he wasn't the only one. Nearly every Jarl in the room stood in awe of their new king and his crown of flames. But at that moment, only one of them had Baldur's attention. "I used to consider you a shield brother. But what you've done... I can never forgive. You can't take the crown from me, it was never yours to give. But if you wish to die here atop this mountain alongside Elisif, then so be it!!" Farewell my golden lady of Solitude. May you find your dear husband in the afterlife, and your spirit be at peace in Sovngarde. "Legionary Commesitati!" Dales jumped out of her chair, her face wrought with hate and rage. Her hands glowing frost, as she spat, summoning forth a large spear of ice. Her three bodyguards, in perfect sync, drew forth their blades; imperial steel being brought out in the first time in High Hrothgar in the history of the now-free province, as they made their way to their Empress. Dales screamed at the top of her small lungs, "Give the word High King Red-Snow, and we'll help you ********* this prick!" The Bretons stood from their chairs, glowing with arcane protective energy. They backed into the corner with magic ready at their fingertips, but not attempting to interfere, their weapons stayed sheathed. Jeleen and his son both drew their blades as well. "First and only time I've ever agreed with the Imp. Let us help you kill him, Baldur, he's guilty of treason!" said Jeleen. "Now is the time for the leaders of the alliance to stand down, and leave," said Baldur. His tone low and lined with malice. "No one is to lay a hand on him. He is mine, and mine alone. BEGONE! All of you!" "Baldur, please. Not here. Not in our home, not with the Jarls present!" said Arngeir. "If you must, both of you hold this duel atop the Throat of the World. There is to be no more death within these halls, I beg you!" "FINE!" said Baldur. "Fine by me too," said Brund. "I care not where, so long as no one interferes. Certainly not weak milkdrinkers. Your time will come soon enough. First Baldur, then the elves. And then, you." Brund stepped past the Jarls, and then Baldur, who was still looking at Elisif's dead body. He placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "Don't keep me waiting too long, Ash-King. It's cold outside." "Not for long," said Baldur. Brund chuckled, and removed his hand from his shoulder as he left High Hrothgar and awaited their fate. As soon as he left, Dales rushed over to her nordic friend, her hair trailing behind her, "Baldur, you can't fight him! He...feels wrong. So cold. Whatever he is, he's seeped in dark magic. Real dark shit. You're thu'um may not be able to overwhelm him! He'll ******* slaughter you!" Her fists clenched with hate, "Thing is Baldur. I know him. I know his type. It's like a phantom. It ain't just about your pride and even ******* Skyrim. If he becomes king, the Empire is ******* next. And if we're sandwiched between the elves and Skyrim under Brund, we're fucked. We gotta butcher him! "The High King has accepted Brund's challenge," Vignar said to Dales. His tone had become grim, reflecting the expressions of every Jarl in the room. "For better or worse, this must be settled in the old way." "Aye," Korir agreed. "This is his fight, not yours." "We don't take Brund's threats against us lightly," Roland said, dropping his magic and stepping forward. "But we won't intercede, if that is what the Jarls wish. Good luck, High King Red-Snow." Dales icy eyes closed, as she leaned it, avoiding the flaming hair, and whispered A true lord of Cinder. "Are you sure you can win this Baldur? Tamriel is relying on you. This isn't just Skyrim on the line." Baldur nodded. "I do not know the ways of your land, but in this one, we take care of personal matters ourselves. And this just got very personal for me. Aside from that, as Veleda rightly said, my inviting you here was a gamble. On one hand it was a strong hand played to win the seat. On the other, there are some that might think this moot compromised. So how well do you think it'll go if all learn I accepted the help of the Imperials or Redguards for a duel for the throne? Even if my people did not care, I would not have it! He killed my boy!" cried Baldur. "And for that, my hands and mine alone will rob him of life. That is final. This isn't about Nord pride. This is vengeance. This duel, this war. All of it. And that is why I'll win, regardless of his strength. I'm going to show him how I got my namesake. So if anyone has anything to say to me, now is the time." A small smile appeared on her lips, "Kill the bastard then. Take sweet vengeance, and once we've felled the Dominion, and the Thalmor ruined, i'll drink from that same cup. May the gods, Imperial, Redguard, Nord, Beast and even Elf be with you, red-snow." Baldur nodded and waved his arms downwards before bringing his hands back together. "Thank you for the notion Dales. But I'd ask the gods sit this one out for once. These fine axes pledged to me are all I'll need today." Dales chuckled, as she took a step back, and waited beside her bodyguards. Veleda had stared a while at the lifeless body of Elisif, not so Fair any longer, with a defensive spell ready in her own hand. All she wanted was to get her daughter out of here, but in showing up at this Moot, she had left behind a life of hiding and had gotten involved. She didn't realize until then, however, that Sofie had seen everything. The girl had been peeking in at the door, but entered then, going to her mother's side. "Mama, let me come with you. I want to watch the duel." Veleda hesitated, was about to scold, but only nodded once. Her children, Ulfric Stormcloak's children, could never lead the soft lives of nobles. They were all involved. Out of the corner of her eye, the battlemage noticed Baldur in cozy discussion with the so-called empress. Shaking her head, she wondered again what she had done in not trying to expose him. It was too late now. Or maybe the Lady of this mountain would take it into her own hands, now. Dales icy blue eyes went from her Nordic friend, down to the pale corpse of the lovely lady of Solitude. Dales mind blotted out the horrible injuries she had suffered, and painted her over. She was still...so gorgeous. Life ends...isn't it beautiful. It's almost...tragic? Sorrow had finally consumed her. Killed her even Brund swung the hammer, but the woman had charged forward, and fallen. It was suicide in a way. She had taken her own life..just like Dales had wanted too. The Jarl was so similar to her, yet so different. It was funny. She barely knew her...but she knew her. My sweet Empress. Always so selfish. All you wanted was her flesh, and you pretend to understand her. Tsk tsk. My knight... Dales blocked out the voice in the back of her head. Galmar walked up to Elisif's corpse past Dales, not addressing her at all. He spat, and said, "Good riddance. Was long overdue." Continuing on past Veleda and the Jarls, he stood next to the man with the burning hair, regarding him. Galmar's eyes traveled up and down, unsure of what to make of him. The man before him was far different from the minstrel he knew. But then, perhaps he wasn't. "Baldur the Unkindled indeed," he said, this time without sarcasm. "I'll see you when the war starts," he said as he walked past to the hallway, awaiting Veleda. "Aye," was all Baldur said in response. Roland turned to the assembled Jarls and foreign dignitaries. "Given Brund's threats and the dissatisfaction our presence brings, we will be making our way down to Ivarstead as soon as possible. Rest assured, we plan on fighting with Skyrim no matter who is High King, but I would hope those assembled recognize we are your allies and not the enemy, even if Brund does not. Thank you for inviting us, High King Red-Snow." "It was my pleasure," said Baldur. As Lady Gaerhart passed, Baldur said, "I'm terribly sorry you had to be exposed to such a brute. I promise you, we Nords are better than what Brund just demonstrated." "From what I've seen today, I know that to be true. But I hope for the sake of all of us that you succeed," Lady Gaerhart said, a grim look on her face. With that the Bretons gave a slight bow of their heads and left the hall. "Baldur," Vignar started, before correcting himself, "My king." He stood watching him just like all the other Jarls. Though where the others appeared either grim or angry, the old man's expression had gone sad. "I knew of your daughter, but never a son. I am sorry for your loss." "May he drink forever in the Hall of Valor," said Korir, to which many of the others muttered their agreements. Baldur thought briefly to correct them on his racial status... and that pained him almost as much as knowing he got him killed in the first place. "He died a true Nord," said Baldur. "Any man would be proud to have had such a son. His sister will know of him, even if only in song and story." Now it was Baldur's turn to look grim. "Tsun willing, she will hear those songs and stories from the lips of her father," Vignar said with a resolute nod. "Aye," Fenrald agreed. "For what it is worth, after all of that, I do regret my decision to support the man. If you kill him, I ask that you come find me. There is much that still needs to be discussed." "Fine," said Baldur. He wasn't sure what Fenrald had to discuss with him but it was the last thing on his mind. "And for what it's worth, I didn't disagree with what you said entirely, anyway." Preparing to leave, he said, "I'll see you all when this is over. And on the chance that I don't, tell my wife... tell her... tell her they were all out of Juniper berries. And leave it at that." Baldur didn't give them a chance to ask questions. The way he saw it, if after all of this, all that he'd done and put her through he went and died at the hands of Brund, he didn't deserve to be remembered. It would be best if she'd forgotten about him entirely and got on with her life. For Ragna's sake and hers. Veleda followed the Bretons out, leading Sofie. She found Galmar and faced him, almost sheepish. "I know it isn't what you wanted, but for this reason it couldn't have been me. What would you do if it were me facing the duel? You can rest easy knowing you were true to Ulfric to the end. Now go, Galmar. We'll be alright. You have a war to prepare for." Galmar seemed distracted when Veleda started. He put a hand on little Sofie's head, then on Veleda's stomach. "I'm not going anywhere. And in any case, Arngeir just told me we have to stay, in case of avalanches from this damn duel of theirs... I don't know what I'd do if you were challenged. I just... Brund wouldn't try and kill you... would he?" When he collected his thoughts, he said, "I am old, Fire-Hand. This kingdom, it's up to the new generation to protect now. I have no say in what direction you lot go now. What's done, is done. As for being true to Ulfric, well, I don't think I was. Perhaps you were right in the end. Being true to Ulfric means doing what it takes to preserve his legacy. To preserve Skyrim. I support whatever decision you make, because I know you serve that purpose to the end. You have a wisdom I myself do not possess." "Flattery." Veleda tried to smile, though it didn't reach her eyes. "That's right, this will be a thu'um duel, which mean non-Tongues would have a hard time at it." She expected Sofie to protest, but the girl just slumped a little and nodded. "Stay here and try not to wear Galmar out with questions no one can answer." The battlemage had a few of those herself. Galmar looked to Sofie and said, "I never had children of my own. Well, that I know of. It's too late for that now, but if I survive this war, perhaps I can help you raise them. Like a grandpa or something. I need something else to fight for." Vulnerable as she was, Veleda could hardly refuse. She was still a Thalmor target, and the Grim Ones no longer guarded her. In truth she had never felt more alone, and her voice was thick as she replied, "We would be grateful. I hope to find or build a house in Winterhold village. Faralda will let me do some training at the College, and there's no end of enchanting work which is good pay." She glanced over at the jarls milling out of the hall. They appeared dazed, likely from the thu'um. Briefly she wondered who Brund had meant, about Baldur's son, but realized she didn't care. "Alright. I'd best make that climb again. Good thing I can warm myself. Stay here and get some rest, Sofie. Thank you, Galmar." "Mmhm," he said, unsure of if he'd done anything worthy of being thanked for. "Be careful up there if you're set on going." *** As Baldur and Arngeir made the climb, in awkward silence, Arngeir regarded Baldur warily, albeit with softer eyes than before. Baldur noticed but hadn't said anything up until he could no longer concentrate on his own thoughts. "What is it, Arngeir," said Baldur. "Hoping I die so that Ulfric can be avenged?" Arngeir didn't say anything for a time, instead watching the winds of Kyne blowing ferociously against the mountain's peak. The others had already let Brund up... he was waiting for them at that very moment. Perhaps the winds were warning them all to turn back. Finally Arngeir said, "Then who would pay for all the damages of my home?" Baldur would've laughed in other circumstances. Instead, he regarded Arngeir once more, unsure of what to make of his new disposition towards him. "Was Brund's display so bad that you forgot who I am and what I've done? In any case, Brund has the silver to likely remake this place five times over." "I will never accept that silver," said Arngeir. "It wreaks of blood and death." "As does all coin," said Baldur. "Yes, well. I haven't forgotten. And like I said, I'll never forgive you for it. But it isn't my place to. The gods might." "And how is that," said Baldur. "Would I have to start preaching the good word? Perhaps going around Skyrim promoting peace and shouting at the sky for favor?" "Well, you don't need to be a missionary, but you could try staying here," said Arngeir. Baldur stopped in his tracks, placing an arm before him. "Hold it. Are you asking me to become a Greybeard?" "Is that so strange? You obviously have the talent. There's no doubt about that. And though you haven't mastered Tiinvaak Onikaan Uth, you've become proficient in its use. Perhaps too much so." Baldur's confusion only worsened. "How's that?" "Baldur. The thu'um is not like ordinary magic. It is deeply personal. How one lives their life, their outlook, all of these things can affect a word and give it new meaning. So too can it manipulate its affects on others. When you carelessly use a word on the unaffiliated, the results are wildly varied. Especially with a shout like this." Baldur thought back on the first time Arngeir used the shout on him. He'd lost his ability to speak Tamrielic. But he saw the wisdom in it. The reasoning. When he used it on Brund and the other Jarls... the affects, well... he didn't quite understand them. "I don't get it," said Baldur. "When you used it on me, I couldn't speak. When I used it however, Brund could speak, albeit with difficulty. And the Jarls could understand my words, but I don't know that my guests could. They seemed confused. And then Elisif..." "You could speak just fine," said Arngeir. "You were the one preventing yourself from speaking. You didn't want to. Don't you see? This shout, it can't force anyone to do anything. It can only bridge the gap between one's own way of seeing things, and another. It forces the tongue's enemy into their own personal paradigm. From there, whether a person is easily persuaded or not is entirely up to their own strength of will. How impressionable they are also plays a role. You, Baldur for example, are naturally more impressionable than your average Nord. Being a learned man, a scholar." "Ha!" said Baldur, not sure if this were an insult or a compliment. "Well, what about the Jarls? What does that say of them? And why could they only understand me?" "Because they are Nords. They're culturally more open to trying to understand and learn the ways of the thu'um. You may even say spiritually. And your voice isn't strong enough to open that bridge to outsiders. At least not yet. And this is the point I am making. The young Elisif... what you said to her. Do you realize what you've done?" "What I've done?!" said Baldur. "Did you see what I saw? Are you suggesting I killed her?" "No," said Arngeir. "I'm suggesting that you convinced her to commit suicide. She was already on the verge of doing that herself, I could see that clearly. Feel it when she repeated your words. And I got the feeling that she was very impressionable indeed. Wielding the thu'um like that to get your points across, then telling her to 'prove it'? To go see her dead husband?" "Oh," said Baldur. "I think I understand now." "Well good!" said Arngeir. "I should hope so. Baldur, I taught you this thu'um for one reason and one reason only. To counter the violent nature of your first thu'um. Yol Toor Shul. Tinvaak Onikaan Uth was a shout developed by our leader, Paarthurnax, and with it he not only helped to save mankind, he also managed to suppress his own violent nature. This shout if used properly can do the same for you!" Baldur crossed his arms as his eyes narrowed at him. "Well don't get the wrong idea. Elisif, the way she was carrying on was pathetic. In the end she proved herself a true Nord after all. If I helped with that, then good. And it sounds to me like you're trying to suppress me, in general. You ask me to stay here with you to what, make up for my sins? To repent like your old dragon? OR because you fear what I've learned and how I can use it?" "Don't you?" asked Arngeir. "Just look to Brund. Given enough time, you can easily end up like that. Any Nord could. Do you really blame me for fearing the power of the Thu'um, in the hands of careless Tongues? Of course I fear what you've learned, I'm the one that taught you. And Ulfric too, and look how that turned out. You indirectly and now directly, are my responsibility. Whether you agree, or not." Baldur once again after so many of their debates didn't have anything to say. His brow wrinkled and he rubbed his beard while Arngeir walked on without him. This pleased Arngeir. At least he was contemplating his words. And Baldur was indeed contemplating them, although currently not about Arngeir's last point. No, Baldur was doing what he did best. Plotting. Calculating. And wondering now how he could pervert a pacifist shout for battle. "Guess there's nothing left to do but give it a go on the battlefield. Brund, I hope you're ready. Because when this is over, you'll be sending a message to Daric for me on your way to Sovngarde."
  24. 3 points
    It's been 200 hundred years. The nukes used in Fallout weren't even that powerful to scorch the earth in that large area. They were actually purposefully weaker to cause more damage through, well, nuclear fallout which in a more powerful nuke would have been launched up into the atmosphere and stayed there until it became pretty much harmless. Which also the radiation left by the bombs would be by now. Any radiation that exist currently would have to come from nuclear waste and damaged power plants.
  25. 3 points
    Morning Krojun awoke to the feeling Lilly's body closely pressed up against his. She was sleeping peacefully and Krojun thought about doing the same. But looking up towards the window he saw that the rays of sunlight peeking forth around the sides from behind the curtains were too strong. It was morning already and he couldn't dawdle too much, even though it felt like the soft bed and Lilly begged him to stay for a little longer. Slowly and carefully Krojun crept out of bed as to not wake Lilly. He got dressed in some simple clothing (for a monarch) that was both comfortable and easy to move in. As he went back to pick up Nahkriin from besides the bed he looked back at Lilly lying in the bed, her upper half partially exposed. With both Maggie and Raine gone she was now the only woman that remained by his side. It hadn't taken much thought to figure out that Lilly was somehow behind Raine's disappearance, nor had it taken much pressure before Lilly told him the truth. Part of Krojun admired Lilly's ambition and ability to act, but part of him was displeased that she had gotten rid of Raine behind his back. But it didn't matter as much as her promise that she would be with no man besides him. Lilly's bosom was also the best place to drown out his memories of Maggie. Memories that more often than not led to him wondering what she was up to that in turn led to thoughts that filled him with wrath. It was better to forget. Despite it all he still liked and missed Maggie. But she was gone and Lilly remained, promising what Maggie had not. Though Krojun had his doubts about Lilly keeping her promise. Doubts he hoped he would figure out a way to dispell. He pulled the cover up for Lilly and gave her a kiss on the cheek before taking his sword and strapping it to his belt. Right before he was about to open the door and leave he remembered Karsh. Quietly he walked across the room and slunk in behind the curtains and opened the window just enough for the raven that was waiting outside to get in. Karsh had nothing interesting to report on, so Krojun left the room while Karsh stayed to keep an eye on Lilly, both for own safety (especially after what had happened Lilly in the Waterfront) and for her promise. After having eaten breakfast in his office and reading a few simple letters from a few nobles Krojun steered his way towards the High General's office. The invasion was about to start and Gracchus had said he'd be heading out soon. Krojun wanted to see make sure everything was in order for the departure and settle some matters before the general left. Krojun entered Gracchus' office to see the High General seated behind his desk, pouring over reports while dictating a letter to a scribe. The General wore his gold chestplate with the red dragon in the center, while a red cape hung from his shoulders. A golden full helm with a red plume sat on the desk beside him, next to his saber. He finished dictating the letter as Krojun entered, signed it, then ordered the scribe away and offered the Emperor a seat. "Your majesty," Gracchus said, rising briefly from his seat to bow his head. "How are things going?" asked Krojun before taking the seat opposite of Gracchus. "Busy," Gracchus said. "That letter is going to General Bical's Third Legion. Since the Nords took care of the Thalmor in Skyrim, I'm moving one of the recruit legions, General Fork-Beard's Eighth, to guard Bruma. That frees up the Third to head south to the border. The recruit legions can continue to train and keep an eye on our flanks in Bruma and Cheydinhal." "Anything the Legion needs?" "For the Nords and Redguards and Bretons to hurry. Once the raiding starts, it won't be long until the Khajiit or the Thalmor try and meet us in open battle. Our defenses in Valenwood will hold, but I worry about an army raiding along the Niben." "You should be able to move your Legion to intercept such an army. Should the scouts do their work. And if we take or destroy Riverhold and Rimmen they wont have a jumping off point for a counter attack into our lands." "General K'avar and Renoit are capable, but by all reports the Dominion improved the walls of Rimmen and Riverhold. We can keep any army from leaving the cities, but I'm not sure we'll be able to take them with one legion apiece." "We got war machines. Throw shit and rot or fire over the walls and I'm sure the cities will crumble." "We will. But our legions amassing at the border has not gone unnoticed. The cities will undoubtedly have full food stores so that we have to waste men besieging them or taking them. Not to mention we don't yet have a good idea about how many mages the Dominion might have stationed in the cities to help resist our bombardment. The cities will eventually fall, of course. But it's hard to say how long they'll hold." "True. Just make sure to keep a constant pressure with the war machines. Day and night. Especially night. We both know how easy it is to cast magic when one hasn't slept." "I will make sure the generals know," Gracchus said. "Is there anything else you want me to relay to them?" "Pillaged valuables shall be sent back to the Imperial City. Each soldier with more than three years of service will then get an equal share of half of the spoils." "I'll get that message sent to the generals to tell their men," Gracchus said. "That reminds me. We have enough wagons for our initial operations, but we might need to invest in making or buying some more. We don't have much intelligence on the state of the roads in Elsweyr, and if the Dominion has damaged them, we'll likely need replacement wheels. Not to mention we'll have breakdowns once we move into the badlands and deserts of the interior. Having a steady supply will keep our armies moving and prevent any breakdowns in supplies. Animals to pull the wagons will also be necessary." "I'll do what I can. Maybe the Legion engineers can help with that." Krojun paused for a second. "Speaking of which: I was thinking of gathering up the best of the Legion engineers to start an academy." "That's a good idea. I can recommend some of the engineers that built our war machines. Though we need to be careful not to pull them all off the front lines. We'll need some of them to rebuild and reinforce as our armies push forward." "Then we'll have them train more. With a bit of luck they'll maybe also come up with some invention that'll make things easier as well." "We can hope. Magically, they'll always outclass us, but I do think we can secure a technological advantage. Where should I send these engineers?" "To the city. There's some abandoned parts in the Talos Plaza and Market District I think should have suitable buildings for an academy." "They'll be here by the end of the week. I'll lend the academy my chief engineer to help get it set up, but I'll also warn him to keep his things packed. If Rimmen or Riverhold falls, or an army enters our lands, I'll need him to help direct repairs." "Of course. Though you said the first two will take time and I expect you to make sure the last one doesn't happen." "I want to leave room for the unexpected, or in the case I'm wrong about the strength of the cities' defenses. But you're right, in that I shouldn't need him for a while." Gracchus wrote a few notes down on a scroll and looked back up when he finished. "If you don't mind my asking, what do you personally plan to do once the war starts? You don't strike me as the type to stay here in the city." "Go where I'm needed the most. Though truth be told I am not yet sure where that might be or what it may entail." "Your magic will be useful wherever you go, I'm sure. And a leader making an appearance on the battlefield always has a morale lifting effect, which might be a more important contribution than any magic you use. Not doubting your skills, of course." "Sadly I doubt my magic will help much with getting the governing and bureaucratic elements in order." "Have you had any trouble with the counts, countesses, or Elder Councilors?" "Just the Elder Council taking some liberties." Krojun said the last word with a slight annoyance. He especially remembered how they had tried to fill one of the currently empty seats with the imbecile that was the chancellors cousin without his approval. The decision had been vetoed almost instantly when he had found out. "Anything I should be concerned about?" "They did try to sneak a decision past me about them gaining the power to elect Legion officers." "That would've caused some problems," Gracchus said. "I would've thought with the Bretons kicked off the council it'd be more favorable to throne. Though I suppose the Colovians and Nibenese can unite in wanting more control over the Legion." "I get the sense they want a little more control over almost everything. So I'm going to stay here till I can be sure nothing bad will happen should I leave for too long." "When you are ready to visit the front lines, let me know and I'll make the necessary preparations need my end." "I'll keep that in mind. Also when will you depart?" "I had planned on this afternoon, but only if I get these orders sent. And I'm expecting an update on the Third Legion's location, so I won't leave until that arrives, though I should receive it today. Any further delay and I'd have questions for General Bical." "You can have the message redirected. You'll depart the latest tomorrow morning," said Krojun before getting up from the chair. "As you wish," Gracchus said. He rose as well and dipped his head again. "Good luck here in the city, Emperor Draconus." Krojun gave a small nod before leaving the room. Next visit was to High Admiral Tacitus, whom he expected to be at the docks. But he still made a quick stop by his office to make sure. The Grand Admiral's office seemed oddly neat and tidy, like if it had been cleaned and not used, which wasn't that surprising at all. Leaving the palace in official capacity was always a hassle as an entourage of guards had to be arranged. At least the guards were quick on their feet and it didn't take long before a company of ten heavily armored guards were ready to accompany the Emperor. Their company was more for show and to make sure the common folk would give way to the Emperor. Krojun didn't expect them to be useful in a defense against an attack that would pose a threat. But they could still be useful as meat shields that could serve as a (hopefully) useful delaying tactic. The walk to the Waterfront was rather uneventful. The docks were always a buzz with ships, sailors and dock workers going around. But despite all the commotion it was clear when one looked to the rather scarce and empty edges of the docks that the place had once been a much more busy and lively place. Which was understandable as few merchant ships could even reach Leyawiin from the other friendly provinces. It didn't take long to find the Admiral's flagship as it was the grandest ship at the docks as well as the one with the most soldiers around it. He approached the guards at the gangway to the ship and asked for the High Admiral. They directed him to the hold, where Krojun found the High Admiral busy coordinating the final loading of some supplies. The hold was dark and muggy, the few lanterns not providing much light. The High Admiral was easily identifiable, though, as the Dwarven metal fist that served as his left hand slightly glowed in the near darkness. Tacitus turned towards the new entrants into the hold but only glanced momentarily in their direction before barking out a few more orders to the sailors tying down barrels and crates. That took a few minutes and only after it was done did he turn to face the Emperor. He nodded in his version of a bow and said, "Emperor." "How are things going?" said Krojun. "The Western Fleet is scouting as close to Falinesti as it can, and ensuring nothing slips through to Anvil," Tacitus said. "The Eastern Fleet in Leyawiin is preparing for the raid on Senchal. Once we get to Leyawiin, we'll be setting course for there a couple days later." "I trust you've kept the target of the raid a relative secret." "The few who know anything think we'll be capturing Corsair's Refuge to serve as a base to lock down the Topal Sea," Tacitus said. He grinned and added, "I don't want a loose-lipped captain spoiling this." "Good." Krojun made a gesture with his hand as he conjured forth the scroll for changing the weather from his home. "Here. It will take about six hours to reach full effect and will after that last about a whole day and night." Tacitus grabbed it, but he had an obvious wary look on his face. "What'll it do?" Krojun couldn't believe Tacitus had already forgotten and did his best to hide a frustrated look. "It will conjure a thick mist that will cover the area around you in about twenty miles radius. Should also follow whoever activated the scroll, albeit slowly." "Good. I was worried it'd conjure up a storm, which would only be a pain in the ass," Tacitus said. "You think this will protect us from a sunbird attack?" "No. It'll only make it much harder to find and hit anything. Magic can still be used to detect lifeforms. But not tell if it's friend or foe. And such magic becomes more draining when looking at further distances. So keep your distance or try hiding among the cats." "You got any other last minute instructions?" "Not for surviving the raid. Though feel free to kidnap any important people and hold them for ransom." "Ransom? You want to give back the important prisoners we take?" "Wars aren't cheap. Ransoms can be a good alternative income for funding." "And giving the enemy back their leaders can only help them," Tacitus said. "And I'm not in the business of helping the Thalmor. I say we kill them and be done with it. See if the Thalmor can replace their leader." "If they are incompetent or misinformed giving them back may be a good move. But I said you are free to kidnap important people, and that includes enemy nobles, for ransom, not that you are required to." "What about the city itself? How far should we go?" "Pillage as much and as far as you can. But make sure to not get caught up too much for too long." "We won't. I wouldn't want to miss the rest of the war." "I bet the Dominion wants that though," said Krojun half jokingly. "Also don't forget to steal any good ships you can find." "We'll try not to burn them all," Tacitus said with his crooked-toothed smile. "Though, sinking a few in the harbor and closing it off would hamper their navy going forward. Something I'll have to consider." "You do that. Anything else you might need from me?" "This scroll should be enough." "Good. I'll leave you to it then," said Krojun before turning to leave. The journey back to the palace was quite uneventful the first half of the way. That was until the Emperor and his entourage saw a bunch of wagons blocking the main street ahead. At first Krojun figured some merchants or transporters had messed up somehow. But the streets were rather empty and there were no merchants of laborers around to explain the wagons. Krojun grew weary and suspicious of an ambush. So he poured more power into the wards he always had placed around him and began to glance to the side for anything suspicious. The guards were visibly also getting a little suspicious about the situation but they didn't say anything yet. Krojun then cast a detection spell and began to look around. As if on cue when he saw them through the walls, the windows on the second floors of several buildings around them burst open. Arrows and magic missiles began flying towards them, most aimed directly at Krojun. Their attack however had little effect though as the magic was blocked and the arrows deflected by his wards. The palace guards quickly formed a circle and managed to survive the onslaught thanks to their thick shields and armor. Though one guard got unlucky when an arrow found its mark in his neck. Then one guard shouted something that Krojun couldn't quite make out as a fireball dissipated right before reaching his head. He only needed to make a quick look around though to see that about a dozen other attackers had appeared behind them from the alleys. They were wearing some kind of full plate, silver like armor with swords in one hand and spells in the other. They royal entourage was clearly outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Krojun quickly cast an armor spell just in case. But it was hard to focus on anything when arrows and bolts of magic kept pestering him too close for his liking. He put his hands together to charge a shield spell and when he released a half spherical bubble with an icy tint formed around him and his guards. The spells and arrows from the attackers bounced harmlessly off the shield, but that didn't seem dissuade them from continuing their attacks in attempt to break through. Instead their attacks became more and more fierce. The spellswords on the street charged. The magical barrier didn't even slow them down and only managed to cover their armor with a thin layer of harmless frost. The guards around Krojun went from forming a full circle to an arch to better face the new attackers. Krojun drew his sword and prepared himself to face the attackers when he heard a woman call out from behind him. He turned to see a young and rather pretty, blonde Imperial woman standing by an open door further down the street and closer to the blockade. She was waving and shouting "Your Highness! Your Highness!" in a frantic voice and waving at him to come as if to have him seek shelter in her house. Despite her probably only wanting to help she was only an annoying distraction and Krojun instead returned to face the attackers that were assailing his guards. One spellsword had managed to wound a guard and rushed through the breach to attack the Emperor. At that moment something snapped inside of him. He disregarded his rule of being conservative with his magicka and raised his left hand towards the spellsword. With a powerful spell he took control of the metal in the attacker's armor and the spellsword stopped as if frozen. Turning his hand upwards like he was holding a bowl he then quickly closed the hand into a fist. The armor of the spellsword imploded and the body under it burst like a ripe melon. The burst of blood and sight of the mangled corpse falling to the already blood soaked ground was oddly satisfying. Krojung then turned his attention to the attackers in the houses. He charged and cast a firespell that blew away the wall on the second floor of one of the buildings, scorching the attackers to cinder as well as half of the rest of the room that was now laid bare to the outside. The next building on the other side of the street he cast a spell upon that created a spreading ice that formed sharp ice spears that quickly searched its way along the wall to the buildings next to it and in through the windows to impale the attackers. Then he heard the woman's voice call out to him again, but this time she was closer. Krojun turned to see her jogging towards him with a worried look. "Your Highness! You should take cover," she said as she approached him. She was annoying and Krojun wanted to shout at her to get back in her house. When she got close enough he instead reached to push her away and yelled, "Begone!" in a stern voice. Very lucky that he did though as when she got close she quickly drew a dagger from her sleeve and proceeded to try to stab Krojun in the chest. But due to his attempt to push her back she instead cut right into his left arm. The dagger somehow ignored his armor spell like it didn't exist and cut open a large and deep wound along almost the whole arm. Reacting almost only on instinct Krojun raised his sword and stabbed her in the chest in retaliation, sending a large ice spike into her that sent her flying several feet backwards. She landed on her back, motionless and with the large ice spike sticking out from her chest. The pain was great but Krojun somehow barely felt it. Blood was flowing forth at a disturbing rate and he dropped Nahkriin so he could heal the wound with his his functional hand. The blood stopped flowing forth and instead some of it began to flow back into the wound. The sound of fighting disappeared so suddenly it felt as jarring as running at high speed right into a stone wall. Glancing around Krojun saw that the battle had ended. His guards were still standing in a curved line formation, turning their heads as they frantically looked for another ambush. Only one other guard had died to the spellswords but also one spellsword had been slain by the guards. At least they served the function as meat shield admirably. "You alright your Highness?" said the captain. He looked a little worried but also a bit scared when he looked at Krojun. Krojun didn't say anything and simply returned an annoyed glare before returning his focus to healing his arm. Even though the major damage was quickly healed it took a little while to get the spasms to stop and to get back full control over the limb. When he was done he picked up Nahkriin but didn't sheath it. "We'll hurry back to the palace. Inform some guards on the way to clean up the corpses and bring them to Lady Quentas for examining. Also pick up that dagger and give it to her as well," Krojun ordered the men and pointed at the dead blonde woman with the ice spike in her chest. He also noticed his voice was sterner and angrier than usual. The captain simply nodded and said, "Yes, sir," before barking at a man to pick up the dagger. After that Krojun blasted away one of the wagons in the blockade and they made haste for the safety of the palace.
  26. 3 points
    Rebec sat staring morosely at the bare trees before her, on a hillside overlooking Kyne’s Watch and the sea. On a moss patch nearby, Ragna was watching Stuhnir chase his tail, her bright baby laughter like clear music. She had Baldur’s pipes, that was for sure. It was not this noise that had distracted her from her practice, however, rather the puffing and cursing of a lone figure on the rocks below. The path up to this remote place was well marked, but obviously not to elf eyes. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, the short, fat figure stumbled into her clearing. “Sweet Y’ffre's bosom,” he wheezed, bent over and leaning on his fryse hag staff. The elf looked past Rebec to the mountainside covered with scarred, barren trees, and his eyes widened. “Taken up lumberjacking?” “In a manner of speaking. What do you want, Menel?” The Bosmer held up a finger to tell her to wait, gasping for more oxygen. Finally he managed, “Veleda sent me. We’re going to this meet... moot... thing, and she wants an audience with you and Baldur before it begins.” “An 'audience'? Then you’ve got another climb ahead of you. Baldur’s in High Hrothgar, last I heard. Tell the quee... tell Veleda she’d better climb up and set you some of that recall nonsense at the top. You and mountains don’t seem to get along.” “You have no idea.” Menel held up his injured hand and wiggled the remaining fingers on it. He had lost the others to frostbite on a climb over the Jeralls, fleeing Thalmor pursuit. “You aren’t going? We just assumed. You’re likely to be queen now, after all.” Rebec’s face reddened more than usual, her scowl deepening. “That’s not settled far as I know, and anyway it doesn’t matter. Baldur can prance around as king if he wants to. Has nothing to do with me.” Menel scratched at his sweat-plastered temple. “Who wouldn’t want to be queen? I'm in dire need of a foot massage right now, but as queen you could just order me to give you one." “Would you?” “No. That is..." He'd always been a fan of a lovely pair of feet. An image of Baldur's face appeared in his mind. "No. Not a chance." “There you have it.” Rebec sighed and stretched her legs out. Meanwhile Ragna toddled over towards the Bosmer. He was about to pick her up when a thought seized Rebec, and she stood to quickly grab the baby up in her own arms. “If that’s all, you can climb back down now. I need to practice.” “Practice what?” Rebec walked away and dropped Ragna back on her moss pad with her snow fox babysitter. Turning back to Menel, she said, “I’ll show you.” She strode out to the ledge front, her back to him. “Fus...Ro DAH!” A shock wave reverberated out, blasting at the already flattened tangle of trees and bending the ones that still stood. Moments later an unearthly mimicry resounded back, shearing off branches in its wake, the power of the thu’um strong enough to do damage even in an echo. Ragna giggled and pointed, more delighted by her mother’s shout than even her beloved fox. When the echoes had settled, Rebec reached down for a small stone, tossed it into the air and hit it with a quick and potent FUS. The stone shot forward, splitting a sapling in two and landing with a loud “thock” in a larger trunk behind it. “Impressive! Your thu'um appears to be more powerful than any telekinesis I've seen. Can you launch larger projectiles? A boulder, say?" “Stand out here at the end of this shelf and we'll try it on you.” Menel chuckled nervously. “No, thank you. I’ll take your word for it.” “You saw what Ulfric could do when he wanted to cut a path. Bodies of men flying through the air like they were Ragna’s dolls. They say he could break city walls.” The mention of Skyrim’s late king dropped like lead. Both were silent a moment. “Yes, well. I suppose I’ll leave you to it. Any message to send to Veleda? Or to Baldur, for that matter, since I guess we’ll be seeing him before you do.” “You tell Veleda, it’s best she not come around. That’s all.” The Bosmer was finally at a loss for words, not expecting that. He glanced at Ragna, an expression of sadness passing over his face, then turned to go. “Wait! I do want to send Baldur a message.” After she'd passed on her message, Menel disappeared in a puff of magic dust, and Rebec went to her daughter. Ragna lay on her back, her legs straight up in the air, grabbing at her fur boots. “Oh no you don’t, sweet cheeks. I know you’re trying to get those off and even for a Nordling it’s too cold up here to run around in toeses.” She stood Ragna up, holding her upright on wobbly legs and inspecting her. It worried Rebec when she remembered that Baldur had put an Orkey amulet on her during the birth. No Nord in her right mind would let Old Knocker attend a birth. The stamina enchantment had probably saved both their lives, Rebec couldn’t deny that, but at what price? Though Ysana disagreed, Rebec worried that Ragna shoulder be taller by now. What if she stayed a baby her whole life and never grew? That wouldn’t be so bad. Rebec shook off that thought. It wasn’t right, and now there was all this business about Baldur being an Ash King. Wulfharth’s was a terrible fate, and no Nord should be so familiar with fire. It could lead to nothing good. The fact that her own father had perished in fire during the same battle that put Baldur on this path seemed proof of that fact, and a terrible omen besides. Then there was the news that Boldir had burned Riften to the ground. Boldir! Lately she had started having nightmares of the Harpy burning again. Nothing made sense any longer. What have you gotten us into, Baldur? Are you going somewhere we can’t follow? Ragna burbled happily and reached for Rebec’s chest. A chip off the Red Snow block there, too. “Alright, little bard. About time we got you off the teat, but that can wait a little longer. After your lunch, we’ll go home and see what ships have docked today.” *** "You've gotten better at staying quiet. Alas, I wish that was not the case. I do so miss our two sided conversations," said Paarthurnax. "This reminds me of the time I thought Jurgen had frozen to death. I was giving my lesson on the fundamental difference between the thu'um, and magic of man and elf. A topic I am most passionate about. You see, technically, the two are not that different at all. Man use their hands more than anything. Elves too, though not always. But their hands, the bond between a mortal and their tools, it has always been that their power lies there. They shape reality rigidly, with their hands. We of the Dov have no such appendage, as I'm sure you're aware. We merely have our mouths, and we shape reality with it. With our voice. The fundamental difference here is, that the voice comes from within our very spirit and reverberates through the air, the ground, all of reality. Magic of mortals comes indirectly from within. It must first exit through your hands, and so you do not as easily connect with the power from within yourself." Baldur looked to his hands, opening and closing them as though contemplating the dragon's words. Or was he simply humoring him? In any case Paarthurnax continued, not at all discouraged. "However, the power that you can manifest, is more easily manipulated, because of your two hands. You are the stream that can go left, right, south, and even into another stream. We are the source. The Ocean, the snow atop the mountain. Our possibilities are numerous while yours are limited both by your being and your imaginings. That is my theory, anyway. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself here. Jurgen, he fell over in a slump, while sitting just as you are. I thought him dead. But after the careful application of Las Yah Nir, I was able to see that he was not frozen to death, but merely sleeping. Amusing, no?" By now Baldur learned to tune out the old Dov and focus his mind on his own thoughts. Paarthurnax was a wealth of information, but the damned dragon always had something to say, and was far more interested in speaking than teaching him anything. Even with tuning out the old dragon however, Baldur still could not concentrate. His thoughts wandered home, to his child. He wondered how big she was now in the time he was away from her, and how much more time this war would rob from him. Being atop this mountain, Baldur could almost see the appeal of staying there, away from the world's affairs. If he thought it possible, he might've attempted the same feat. Maybe he and Rebec could have found some far away island to settle, maybe stumble across the only bit of hospitable land left in Atmora that there was, if there was any. Or the strange lands of Roscrea even. Somewhere far away where he wouldn't have to hear Ulfric's name anymore. Or feel the pain of his deed. If he could have any wish, right now, it would be to speak to Ulfric just one more time. Surely, if his father could reach him here, drag him into Oblivion itself, the gods could manage to let his spirit visit him. Assuming that this wasn't just a dream he had after all. Paarthurnax hadn't even recalled seeing Ulrin. If he could hear Ulfric now.. Just once, even if just to hear him yell, curse him. Threaten, anything. Even if but in anger, all he wanted was to hear him call his name once more... Baldur sighed deeply, covered in snowflakes and frost as he sat on his knees. "Baldur." Baldur turned his head in bewilderment. He was so deep in thought that he heard Ulfric's voice, when in reality it was his widow. Veleda. The once-queen stood with a fire spell alight in one hand. She regarded Baldur, and the flame bloomed slightly, and shook. There was a long moment where the air was charged as before a duel. The moment finally broke, and Veleda's eyes lifted to the dragon. Her mouth opens, but otherwise her reaction is carefully controlled. "Drem yol lok," she says finally, calling up a phrase that had become more well known since the dragonborn appeared. The old Dov regarded her with a burst of flame above his head, stretching his wings with delight. "Dream Yol Lok! Greetings! So many visitors as of late, it seems. And I feel power resonating from your tongue. Have you come seeking my tutelage as well? What is your name?" "Veleda," said Baldur. "Rek Bo Wah Tinvaak Voth Zu'u." Paarthurnax's brows sunk, and his wings fell a bit as well. "Zu'u Koraav. I understand. He is under my training at the moment. If you wish to speak with him, you'll need a translator. I am at your service." Baldur stood to his feet, brushing the snow from his robes. He didn't have much to say to Veleda at the moment anyway, but would hear her out regardless. Her mouth registered a grim smile, briefly. "Tutelage. Or hiding?" The confusion on his face was plain. He didn't know the word for explain but luckily didn't need to. Puzzled, Paarthurnax butted in. "Hiding?" Veleda turned to the dragon. "Honored dov, you might not know me, but I know of you. My husband spoke of you to me with affection and respect. I see you keep other sorts of company now. I won't trouble you long. What I would say to Baldur is not for other ears, even yours." Paarthurnax bowed his head, looked between the two mortals, then took flight. "I'll go stretch my wings. I hope to speak more with you someday, and of the husband of which you speak." The rush of wind from the dragon's winds tore at Veleda's dark hair beneath her gold and amber circlet. As she regarded Baldur, the words she mentioned seemed not to come. Finally she said, "Well? Are you really bound somehow to draconic?" Baldur's eyes shifted downwards, then met with hers again, but said nothing. She uttered a small, harsh laugh. "I see. Then let me speak. I saw Rebec recently, or rather Menel did. She warned me to stay away, and wouldn't let him near your daughter. I had wondered if you told her. Now I have my answer." The color was rising in her cheeks, and it wasn't just the piercing cold. "How do you live with yourselves?" There was another silence. Finally Veleda said, "I, too, have a daughter. One who now cries out in her sleep because she's dreaming that she'll be orphaned and a beggar again. Of all the reasons I have to hate you, Baldur, for this I will never forgive you. But there is more." Beneath her heavy sable cloak, Veleda wore an ebony chain shirt. As she parted the cloak's folds, not even the mail could obscure the rise in her stomach. Baldur's gaze turned from solemn, to fierce instantly. There was no hiding the realization. Neither the pregnancy, or that somehow, she knew. That wasn't nearly as much of a surprise as her pregnancy was, however. He looked into her eyes once more. "You're with child." "Yes. We were trying, in case he died in battle. How naive we were, worried only about battle wounds or Thalmor assassins." Veleda was nearly shaking now, only her legion training keeping her face impassive. "I came here to remind you that I once was an assassin, too. Rebec is not the only one who will protect her baby. If you make one move to harm me or my children, you'll learn what I can do." "Do you have any idea why I did what I did? Or, why I haven't made a move to kill you?" asked Baldur, sidestepping the warning, but not out of bravado. Baldur took a step closer to her. Her words cut deeper than the coldest of High Hrothgar's winds, and it showed. "I'm aware nothing I have to say will change your mind about me or what I've done. I won't give an excuse. You deserve better than that. I did what I did in pure selfishness, but I did not do it for the sake of the throne. Your child will be as safe as mine is. I loved Ulfric. I love you. And I love that child in your belly." Veleda's composure broke slightly, her eyes swimming as she caught a sudden breath. But she took a step away and held out a hand at her side to stop him. Looking out over the mountainside shrouded in killing fog and the expanse of Skyrim below them, she spoke in a quieter tone, though still bitter. "I don't care why. The end is still the same. You want to be my king, so advise me. What do I do now? I have no family, no home. I'm not even a soldier any longer. How do I bear this child when all my thoughts are of death and vengeance? I keep thinking of the story of Dalk, who cut his way out of his mother's womb. Perhaps that will be Ulfric's legacy." Baldur's own eyes began to swim, but he didnt hide it. The tears fell slow over his ice battered cheeks, slow enough that they almost froze before meeting his beard. "His legacy, thanks to you will be far more pleasant. And I swear on my own child's life, this won't be for nothing. You know why we hand picked you out of the hundreds of other possible candidates? You really think the others wanted to give a Mage a chance at first? No, that was my doing. And they agreed, we picked you because we could see your strength of character, of will. That's all we ever heard about when we asked about you. That and your compassion to those around you that you lead. You were described as the perfect Skyrim mother, without ever having seen the example. You are the perfect Queen." Baldur stepped closer again, and said, "I have no illusions. I am not half the man Ulfric was, whatever others might say. They are grieved and in fear, so they imagine what they will of me to fill his shoes for this war. Skyrim needs the Stormcloaks. They were meant to rule, the only ones who should ever rule. I do not know if what I've done was right. Regardless of my intent. I speak now, because I understand enough of this thu'um that Arngeir's tricks no longer hold my tongue, but I will not speak during this moot. If the gods wish me to be king, then I will be king without saying a word. But if not, then you must be Queen. I meant it when I said I'll step down and make way for you, but I MUST have my way in Valenwood. And if Brund wins...." Baldur's fists clenched so hard that the frost covering them audibly crunched. "He can't be allowed to rule. You ask me what I advise. Survive. Live. Be patient, and see that this child is strong. Take the throne when the time comes, and one day, if I live long enough to see the child's 18th winter, I'll tell them personally what I've done." "So you would force the gods' hands by robbing Skyrim of a great king, then call it their judgment. I am supposed to trust you that you don't intend to clear out other obstacles to your plan? Ulfric trusted you, and we see where that got him." Veleda let out a frustrated sigh. After a pause, she went on, "Are you working together with Boldir Iron Brow? Was Riften part of this plan of yours?" Baldur's expression turned hard again. "I haven't spoken to Boldir since we were in Whiterun. Not directly. I don't know what happened with Riften. That wasn't my doing. But you're right, this is my doing. This moot, Ulfric's death. Not the gods. Not the Daedra..." Baldur took a glance down at his hand. "Just mine. My wife, she had nothing to do with this. In fact, she may even hate me for what I did. I don't blame her. But she doesn't need to understand, or love me. So long as she and that child live, and Skyrim can have peace, I'm willing to sacrifice anything." "And you think only you can bring that peace?" Veleda gave a harsh laugh. "By the gods, you do have some stones." She shook her head, and after a moment said, "You are right about one thing, this Brund is dangerous. When I was on the run after Ulfric's death, in the Reach, Menel got close once. He describes an unnatural air around the man, something magical. The elf is flighty, but I trust his judgment in magical matters. Elisif thinks she can tame him, I hear. Wouldn't she be delighted to know that it was not the Thalmor but a Stormcloak who killed Ulfric and seeks to usurp his throne?" "I don't care what that girl thinks. What she's doing now is the equivalent of a lame animal that refuses to die. It's pathetic. And as for this peace, well, if you have any ideas other than an all out slug fest with the Dominion, then you should have shared them with us all sooner, and spared me the sin." Baldur turned from her, exposing his back. "I won't deny the arrogance. But arrogance doesn't prove me wrong. No one has any big plans to bring down the Thalmor. And I'm not going to wait around for someone to think of something different. I don't care about being right or wrong. I know I'm a bastard. All I care about now, is winning. Brund is something else but at the very least, that's something even he understands." "I take it that Ulfric disagreed with your plan, and so he had to die. Just like that. Now you've taken on the mantle of Wulfharth to convince people you're the gods' chosen. It's a good show, Baldur. You must not be too confident of its success, though, since you dragged the girl empress all the way up here to support your claim." "Would you believe me if I told you that wasn't entirely intentional? Nevermind, I'm sure I know the answer," said Baldur. "I killed my friend and king, just like that, as you put it, for the mere chance to run things my way. You really think I'd leave anything else to half measures? Yes, I took advantage of a strange situation. The Dragonborn is missing, Ulfric is dead, but now our people will have their Wulfharth. And yes, I dragged the Empress here, but not just her. The King of Hammerfell and High Rock too. Even Ulfric didn't trust the likes of Skald the Elder, or the late Law-Bringer to make the right choice. I won't make that mistake either." He paused a moment, turning back to face her again. Reflecting. "I guess I don't completely trust the gods either, when I think about it, or I wouldn't have tried to stack things in my favor in such a way. My silence at the moot still serves a purpose though. Sometimes the best way to make a man see the light, is to let it dawn on them on their own accord. If I wasn't confident enough in this, I would have simply denied your accusation when I don't even know how you know what you know. And I wouldn't have killed my King. Though, even so, you did deserve to know the truth. I can't deny you that. I owe you that much." "At the very least." Her expression is still hateful, the rings under her eyes making it more pronounced. She had aged in the previous months, more lines etched into her face. It was obvious that not only Sofie had not slept well. "Ulfric didn't trust the jarls, but he didn't ask the emperor's leave to be king, either. We fought for freedom from the empire's say-so at the moot, and now what have you done? But perhaps your ambition goes further than just Skyrim, and the empress ought to fear for her position, too." "You're a smart woman, Veleda. You know that there's a difference here. Skyrim's at the center of Tamriel's circle of influence. They aren't here to pick a King, they're here to pick a general for the most important war of our time. Skyrim's freedom is assured. The more important Skyrim is to Tamriel, the more safe we are. This moot is just getting them used to us again, to the idea of Skyrim taking an important role in everyone's future again, like the old days. That is what Ulfric wanted, to see Skyrim at the head of this war. As for Dales Draconis, she has nothing to worry about from me. I don't need to be Emperor to have my way in this war, and I couldn't be if I wanted to, which I don't. I can just imagine Rebec's reaction now. No, as long as Cyrodiil keeps its focus on the South, she is safe." "A moot is for the jarls. For Skyrim. Hammerfell, Cyrodiil, they have no say in who will be king and should not be involved. Of course I am not a jarl myself. I wouldn't be here at all except Galmar insisted. Still, the jarls should know that Ulfric's blood lives on. You do what you must, Baldur. He would have died for his people gladly, instead his death was meaningless. It's up to you to make it worth something." She turned back down the path, snow crunching under feet. Turning back, she said, "Rebec sent a message for you." Veleda paused, trying to remember the exact words. "'Tell Baldur that after he's done with his gods-blasted moot nonsense, to pick up some juniper berries on his way home. For the mead.' Apparently Ivarstead's got the best since Helgen was destroyed." The once-queen gave a grim little smile, perhaps remembering better times. "Home." Baldur let his lips fold into a smile despite it all. Somehow it was good to hear her call it such. That it was still home for him. That he was welcome. He gave Veleda a soft nod and refrained from thanking her. He knew it wouldn't be appropriate or well received. "I know you don't think it, but I'll respect Ulfric's wishes for this land. And if I don't, you'll be able to set things straight yourself. I won't fail. Even if I have to come back into this world bloodied and beaten, I'll claw myself back into Tamriel and send the Thalmor out the same way. Bet." Veleda only nodded once. "Look to Brund and to Galmar. Kingslaying has a way of coming back around, Baldur." The fire spell bloomed in her hand again, fog swirling around her as she used it to warm the air on her descent. "Goodbye," he said to himself, mostly. He didn't know what she meant about looking to Brund, and Galmar. Brund was Brund. Somehow, someway Baldur knew he was going to try something. He didn't know how, surely he didn't think himself strong enough to pull off a coup in the presence of the Greybeards. And Galmar... Baldur hadn't seen Galmar since before Ulfric's death. Somehow he didn't expect him to stick around to advise. In any event, one thing was certain. What she said about Kingslaying certainly was true. He only need look to Ulfric to know that. Some time had passed since Baldur heard Veleda's footsteps fade away in the hard winds of High Hrothgar. As Baldur sat... "She's a wise woman, that one. You'd do well to listen to her, Baldur." This time it was Arngeir who would wake him from his thoughts. "There's no need to keep up pretenses. I heard the conversation. I know well that you can now speak. Well done. But our terms are the same. You will not speak until the moot is finished. Until someone is crowned king. Or, queen." Arngeir smiled at this. Baldur frowned. Both from his having eavesdropped somehow, and the implication of his smile. "You'd like that, wouldn't you old man. So much for staying out of our affairs." "It was you who brought this to us, Ash-King. You want my support, it will come with terms." "But why?" asked Baldur. "Why hinder me so? Why not just deny me any support at all if you hate me so?" "Because, Baldur. If the world is to have the thu'um once more, we would see that they are not lead down the same path again. Not by you, not by Brund. Which reminds me, I must warn you, violence within High Hrothgar will not be tolerated." Baldur's frown turned into a scowl. Was that a threat.. or perhaps, something else... "What direction the world turns is not the business of one who hides from it!" said Baldur. "How I choose to use my gift is none of your concern." "Oh but it is! For it was our student who taught you, who you killed maliciously! The thu'um is for-" "The worship of the gods? Hah!" "Tread carefully, 'Wulfharth'. You of all people should know to speak with more reverence for the gods, especially in this place." "My. Name. Is. Baldur. And hear me, **** the gods." Arngeir's eyes bulged, and his tongue failed him. At least for a time. His brow folded with more layers than a horker loaf. "How dare you!" "Sod off!" "Do not raise your voice to ME!" Both Nords stubborn in their ways shouted the words at the same time... "Tinvaak Onikaan Uth!" The air was heavy with their rage and dangerous intent. "Baldur Red-Snow!" "Ahh, so you DO know my name! Good! Now know this as well, old man. I did what I did out of LOVE. For my wife, for my children. For my brother. And I will not sit here listening to you questioning my decision when you could NEVER understand my motives. Have you ever even been with a woman? Have you ever even killed with another? Understood the bond that blood can make between two strangers? The gods did not give us this gift to sit atop a mountain and hide from the world. Yelling at the skies in their name." "Oh, so now you speak for the gods?" said Arngeir. "Do you? Because that is what you do when you tell me how to use my gift. It is not your place to tell me." Arngeir settled some, taking a breath. His eyes looked down, falling with his head. It was the first time Baldur ever thought Arngeir looked defeated. But the moment was brief. "In the little time that humanity has had the thu'um, it has been used for war, murder. Betrayal. You tell me that this is the will of the gods?" Arngeir shook his head in disgust. "You say you did this out of love. Did you not love Ulfric? Was he not your brother as well? I have not had a wife, though I have laid with a woman, long ago. Too long to remember what love for one felt like. And not long enough to have had children of my own. But Ulfric, as much of a disappointment as his leaving us was, was the closest thing to a son that I've ever had. And you, you killed him." And now it was Baldur's turn to have his voice fail him. The look in his eyes was pure agony. It was an entirely different look from what he was used to seeing in Baldur's eyes. Arrogance, rebelliousness, defiance. Now all he saw was pain and self doubt. On a whim, Arngeir grabbed Baldur's arm, pushing back the cloak to reveal his skin. "Yol." The flames danced over it like light shining through a newly disturbed surface of water. Baldur seemed uninterested at first but soon pulled his arm away. He'd almost forgotten what the sensation felt like entirely, but Arngeir's thu'um brought him back to those agonizing moments after the Thalmor attack. When his skin began to attack him with the sensation of burning all at once. "Your thu'um. It is intriguing. It feeds off of your internal struggles, your conflict. Your power waxes and wanes depending on whatever emotion you are feeling at the time. Your self doubt, I can almost taste it as my thu'um raked across your skin. It's clear your feelings about Ulfric and the decision you made, are genuine." "I don't give a damn whether you believed me or not," said Baldur. As he spoke, the burns got worse. Seeing him flinch, Arngeir said, "You're lying. You might not care what I think, but you need someone to believe your words. Perhaps because even you doubt them. You've broken the hold my thu'um had over you, which could only happen when you were ready to have broken it. It only had a hold on you because you allowed it to. That this has changed shows me that you've given yourself truthfully to our teachings, or at least attempted to. So, I do believe that your intentions were out of a misguided feeling of love. Or perhaps, fear of loss. It doesn't make up for what you did, but at least I know your tongue is not forked. Entirely." Arngeir spoke quickly before Baldur could interrupt him. "You've sat atop High Hrothgar a while now. Surely you've sensed it..." "Brund you mean," said Baldur. "Aye, I've sensed it. His thu'um. It's like... a storm coming for us. It feels wrong somehow. Heavy with... hatred. But it's... specific somehow. As though I have felt it before. In his eyes." Arngeir frowned. "What in the blazes did you do to him?" Baldur shrugged. "I promoted him." Arngeir's face twisted. "I don't understand." "In truth, I do not really understand Brund. I know he seeks power, and what I granted him was not enough. He craves more, but to what end, I have no idea. I don't even know if my assessment is true. All I know is that when I last felt his thu'um, it felt like he was nearly in front of me. Like I could feel his gaze on me. And I saw hatred in his eyes, then remembered I saw that look before." "Well Red-Snow, you better search deep and long inside yourself and find the answer soon. Because Brund soon will be in front of you. He is in the Rift." "So close," said Baldur. "Already? But Daric and Maori... they've not reached me yet. Surely they would have before him." "I don't know of whom you speak, but if they were close to you, I hope that they didn't come in contact with him." "Brund knows Daric," said Baldur. "I sent him to see what Brund was up to. He's a boy and knows the land well. I'm sure he's fine." "Baldur, I hope for your sake that isn't the case. If what you said about him is true... that his hatred could be pointed to you..." Baldur interrupted him. "I said I saw hatred in his eyes. I don't know that it was pointed to me. Why should it be? I've not dealt him any great slight. And now he's on equal ground with me. Perhaps he would kill me if I stood in the way of his becoming king, but..." "Are you sure that's all this is Baldur? Think, and think fast. The time soon approaches when you'll face him, and if your thu'um is clouded with self doubt and pain, I fear you will not be ready for what might come in the near future. And like it or not, it seems the gods have decided to lay the path of humanity and the thu'um on the shoulders of Ulfric's possible predecessors." Arngeir strained to speak after that, though it certainly wasn't the strain of his shout. Both Baldur and his respective thu'ums had settled. It was clear that Arngeir's had opened another train of thought in Baldur's mind, but Arngeir was surprised to see that he was opened to his as well. "Baldur. You felt it too, didn't you. His thu'um, his bloodlust. What it might mean.... and his power. It's greater than I'd expected. Your tongue is sharper now but if it is dulled by your self doubt and inner conflict, you cannot hope to stand against him." "I cannot hope to stand against him at all, seeing how you've forbidden me from taking action if need be. And it's more likely that Brund came across Thalmor in the Rift. That's all." "Forbidden? I was unaware that it was within my power to forbid you of anything. I made it very clear. There will be no violence, in High Hrothgar. Make of that what you will." Arngeir began to walk away, leaving Baldur with his puzzled expression and his fearful thoughts. He stopped, then turned around once more. "This Brund. I refuse to believe that he is who the gods intend to lead humanity's rejoining with Kyne's gift. At least with you I feel something. Pain, remorse, guilt. A conscience. From Brund, I feel nothing but cold emptiness as dark as the void. You created this problem, gave him this opportunity. Correct your mistake, Baldur." "How am I to do that when I cannot even speak in my defense at this moot?" "There are other ways to speak without using your tongue. If you are intended by the gods to walk this path, then I know your actions will have others speak for you. After that, well. It's not for a man retired from the world to say how to use your thu'um. But be well prepared. The Jarls are coming, and soon." Baldur didn't know what to say to that. It's not at all what he'd expected of Arngeir. It worried him, that Brund could leave the Greybeards so worried. And if they were worried... *** Brund stood beneath the foot of the Throat of the World for what seemed to be an age. He heard Baldur's thu'um... felt it... Brund was sure of it. "So Baldur. This is it. Are you ready for me? Because I'm damn sure ready for you..." Brund rested a hand on his gut, looking at his newly bloodied hammer-fang. "I'm almost sorry it has to end this way, you know. You're a worthy adversary. But alas, you're the son of Ulrin Red-Snow. And so, you will die, like your boy. Hmm? Of course I won't spare him. I'm not that sentimental. And once I'm done with him, I'm gonna put a baby in his wife, just to show how little I care for him, you watch. Doubt me do you? Well I'll show you, Priest. Hmm? You say someone's nearby?" Brund's eyes darted around the forest, sniffing the air like a dog. "That smell... is it... yes... it's elf..." If he could see his grin, the elf in question would have grown sick from the sight of it. As it happened though, the Thalmor Overseer could see nothing as he clung to his treebranch of choice, cloaked spell wearing off by the second. And with each step Brund took, sniffing him out, the earth shook, compromising his grip... Just when it seemed that he could hold on no longer, Brund finally gave up his search. "I've got bigger concerns. Death will soon find you, coward, believe me. I've felt your presence before. I know you're spying on me... Don't let me find you, or what the Valenwood rat got will look like the soft gentle fricking of a virgin's weak ****." And with that, Brund dismissed the mysterious elf entirely. "Time to claim my crown." When Brund was finally gone, disappearing on the path to Ivarstead, the High Overseer allowed his spell to dissipate fully, lowering himself to the ground with his magic. Only when his feet met the ground did he also lower his load. He was carrying something in a sack, a sack that dripped slightly with dark crimson. He cast a spell of muffle on the sack before having it follow behind him. Or floating more like. On his belt he carried a Nordic blade of fine make, with the intended owner's name carved into the blade, and two books, one of which he was actively reading. The first, a book on the fundamentals of casting fire bolts. The other, "The Advantages and Practicality of Alteration: Armor Spells". "That was a close call. Of all the Nords I've seen, that man is by far the most deranged. Guess we'll have to wait and see how things play out with the Nords and their silly moot before I can claim him and return to Alinor. For the sake of my mission and Tamriel, I truly hope it's you that wins, Baldur Red-Snow."
  27. 2 points
    OMG I got tickets for the Last Jedi (pre ordered them two weeks ago) premier at my local movie theatre at 945 tonight! SO EXCITED!
  28. 2 points
    I’m sure they won’t, they were adamant on TES being the story of Tamriel specifically, though who knows when they get a hankering for money. I For one would love to see an Akaviri invasion though. Attack of the snake weaboos
  29. 2 points
  30. 2 points
    Other than that it’s not too bad really. Did most of it with the motherboard instructions and Youtube.
  31. 2 points
  32. 2 points
  33. 2 points
    It's all Chinese to me too Can't wait. Playing FNV and watching Star Wars are the two biggest things on my list to do when I get home. Gonna be lit when I can do it on a new computer, which I've been dreaming of for a couple years
  34. 2 points
    As long as it doesn't happen in the morning or before noon. Seeing as how I've established that Garret is a night person and has a weird sleep cycle.
  35. 2 points
  36. 2 points
    Nothing major. Mainly just can't wait to get home and see Star Wars, write, play FNV, and sleep. Holy **** I can't wait to sleep.
  37. 2 points
  38. 2 points
    You’re right about that. https://www.snopes.com/portugal-net-neutrality/ I think the general idea is the same, though, and while it’s not a totally accurate example, the idea that an ISP could cut up and package the internet is scary and something I’d like to avoid. As far as protecting small businesses go, I’m more worried about this stuff than up and coming ISPs.
  39. 2 points
    Glad you like it! Alot of people call it Norse Silent Hill, and I agree with them. You decided to deal with Valravn? There's a...really disturbing scene that's coming up. I adore Senua's design too.
  40. 2 points
    And I'm the same way when I see Google, Facebook, Twitter, and generally globalist factions pushing for something. I don't trust Comcast either, but at least in this case I can explicitly see how they could benefit from this without needing to look behind any curtains. Same can't be said for the folks I mentioned, who by rights shouldn't be affected at all. I mean, it's pretty damn obvious how rigged things are when there are SubReddits with less than 100 subscribers in total where posts about keeping Net Neutrality get over 30,000 upvotes. Yep. Totally legit. No one powerful with an agenda over here. Hopefully this change will make it so you actually have a choice some day. Holy shit. I'm gonna say it again Colonel, thanks for the warning!
  41. 2 points
  42. 2 points
    Christ, warn me next time you're about to link me to Indian Man Ass plz
  43. 2 points
    I know gush alot by From's art, but I don't know anyone else who does Lycantopres so uniquely , horrifying and badass. Just ******* damn. They look more like corrupted wolf spirits. They really outdid themselves with Bloodborne.
  44. 2 points
    Maybe the main "foe" of the game is going to be a Great Old one tied to darkness? Like Moridaan the Defiled The boney tool you see in the trailer is most certainly a trick weapon though. And it's established that only Hunters who have gone off the deep end, or have have just given into despair utilize weapons forged from Great Old One bones, who is a forbidden technique (It would be the equivalent of sawing off Cthlhu's arm and hacking him to death with it). Maybe we're playing a veteran hunter whose gone ******* bananas?
  45. 2 points
    Not a chance. Bethesda did a bit about "saving single player gaming" and announced a 50% sale on their current titles for this weekend, that's it. This is basically the Japanese Game Awards. Other than Wolfenstein winning best action game.
  46. 2 points
    Imagine if Theodore riding with the finest Breton retinue was instantly cut down by Wimperial peasants in rags.
  47. 2 points
    Tech Scribe What a pointless waste of time. Having to oversee a Mr. Handy paint the metal skeleton that was the radio tower could have been handled by pretty much any scribe with the bare minimum of knowledge in robotics. Guess that was the punishment for having hacked and changed the password of his superior. Garret could only sigh in frustration as he looked on the robot slowly ascend the tower as it painted. Around him was a few Brotherhood soldiers to protect him as there was apparently a new mandate that Brotherhood personal travel in groups. It all made Garret slightly uneasy and partly wished to be back behind the Fort's walls. At least he had Cody by his side whose metal shell would hopefully provide an adequate cover in case of an attack. Occasionally, a passerby would stopped to watch the robot hover high above their heads and paint the tower a dull red. Eventually a woman with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, wearing a white hat connected to a hood, arrived and stood at the base of the tower. She looked up at the robot slowly spraying the tower's metal bars. Without taking her eyes off the Mr. Handy, she said to Garret, "Did you have to custom make the paint sprayer or did you retrofit it's flame attachment to spray paint instead?" "What?" was all Garret could say as he was taken aback by the surprise of a stranger asking such odd questions. She seemed to ignore his question and continue talking, practically to herself at this point. “I imagine the nozzle that sprays the flamethrower liquid, butane? propane?, could be pretty easily changed to spray paint instead. It might require a different pressure or nozzle shape, and possibly a filter. But it could be done. If not an old paint gun nozzle could be grafted onto the Mister Handy, if you could find one undamaged.” The guards started to give them both, though mostly her, sideways glances. Garret only returned a slightly confused look and made a spinning motion against his head with his index finger. His left one so she hopefully wouldn't quite see what he was doing. She evidently didn’t, as there was no noticeable reaction from her. Instead she simply watched the robot continue painting the tower for a few more moments, until from behind her and the guards a voice cries out. “Kim!” a man said, and approached the group. He was about six foot tall with dark skin. He had on black framed eye glasses on and red baseball cap. His coiled black hair stuck out the back of the cap, and at his side flopped a brown shoulder bag. To the blonde woman, he said, “Kim, what’re you doing?” He then turned and looked at the Brotherhood soldiers and asked, “She’s not in trouble, is she?” "I think we may have to arrest her for lollygagging," said Garret in a calm voice. When he saw the concerned expression on the man, he simply chuckled and said, "I'm joking. I'm pretty sure there is no law against lollygagging. Not that we'd be the ones to enforce it anyway." ”We’re new here, so forgive our ignorance. I thought you Brotherhood folks were the law around here,” the ballcap wearing man said, his face relaxing a bit. "The Brotherhood sets and enforces the base laws. Then there's local laws and enforcement. Don't know much about the latter apart from that guns in general aren't allowed in the city." “Good to know,” the man muttered, and looked back to the woman. She seemed to have ignored the conversation entirely, but she did finally look away from the robot painting the tower, this time glancing briefly at Garret before looking at Cody. She asked, “Is that one yours?” "Yes. How so?" said Garret. "I don't know that I've seen one quite like him. How is he different than the typical Mister Handy?" she asked. "I was created for industrial and mechanical work," said Cody. "And am equipped with..." and then Cody began to give a long list of functions presented in a very commercialized manner. To Garret it was like listening to someone talk enthusiastically about their grocery list. The girl however seemed to take a great deal of interest in it so Garret kept himself from shutting Cody up. Though only because he didn't want to be that rude. When Cody was finished, and after having listened diligently, she said, “Fascinating. Is it common for Brotherhood...engineers,” she raised an eyebrow in an inquisitive manner, “to have robotic assistants?” "Some do, some don't. Most got a Junior Scribe as an assistant," said Garret. For the first time he also bothered to give the woman a proper look and noticed the Pip-Boy at her arm. Garret remembered what he'd learned about the vaults and their wicked social experiments, and wondered what she'd been through and if that was why she was so odd. Though he decided against mentioning anything about it. Figuring her time in the vault might be a delicate matter. She seemed to catch his glance at the Pip-Boy, and she raised it to give him a better view. "Have you seen one before? Would you like to look at it?" The man with her started to say something, but evidently decided against it as Kim offered her arm closer to Garret so he could get a better look at the Pip-Boy. He gave it a slightly closer look. A bit battered but otherwise not much different from the Pip Boys some of the higher ranking Paladin's and Scribes had. "Yeah, I've seen a Pip-Boy before. Got some nice functionalities but not something I'd consider that advanced." "I find it handy," she said. "The map function and the built in geiger counter are very useful when traveling, though probably not so much just in the lab." The man cocked his head slightly and asked, "From what we've heard your group has most of the advanced tech around. That right?" "Pretty much," said Garret and couldn't help but to glance at his left hand. If he'd been born anywhere else he would have been a real cripple. A life he didn't even want to try to imagine. "I don't know of anyone else that got anywhere near the level we got." When Garret glanced at his left hand, the woman's eyes followed his. When he looked back up at her, hers were wide in surprise. "Is that robotic? I always imagined it was possible but I've never seen one myself." The man with her gave a low whistle. "Y'all really do have some advanced tech." "Yeah, it's robotic." Garret held up his left hand and moved his fingers a bit to show of its dexterity. "Feels like wearing a thick glove while also being half numb. And you only got some touch on the inside of the hand." He showed the rubber on the palm and inside of his fingers that had various tiny pressure sensors underneath. "But it's better than nothing." "Yeah, I imagine so," the man with the red cap said. "Are those common around here? Or among your group, at least?" "Not that common at all. I only know of a couple others besides me. Our surgeons are good enough that losing a limb is rare. Though while I do not know for certain, I'm pretty sure we don't give them out to whomever." "Was the biomechanic technology something y'all developed, or does it come from old tech?" the man asked. "I'm a doctor myself, and I've dealt with enough limbs to know getting any feeling in the nerves couldn't have been easy." "Built on old tech. As are a lot of things. I think I remember much of the tech for this arm comes from some old Rhea Corp tech." Kim's eyes flicked from the robot painting the tower to the other Mr. Handy and then to Garret's arm. She had a broad smile on her face. "I can't believe a place like this exists. It's remarkable." The man with her gave a slight nod. "Yeah. Well, we probably ought to be getting back to the others, Kim. They wanted to check out some of the shops near the river." "F*ck the Brotherhood!" someone a bit further away suddenly shouted from nowhere. Garret turned his head and saw a brick flying towards his guards, barely missing one's head. Garret couldn't tell who had shouted and thrown, but neither did the Knights as they began to shout at and manhandle the folk from where it had come from. Garret began to feel a little nervous as he began to wonder if this was just the start of another attack. Looking up at the robot painting the tower he saw that it had still a couple of meters left. But by the look of how his guards were beginning to arrest people, he wasn't going to insist on staying. Too bad as he wasn't so keen on returning to finish the work. "Cody, get the painter down," he ordered before sighing nervously. Kim and the man with her were stepping back away from Garret and the scuffle. Kim said to Garret, "We should probably go." They didn't leave entirely, though, just pulling themselves outside the center of the area where the Knights were arresting and throwing to the ground the offending citizens. There they joined the slowly gathering crowd surrounding the Brotherhood soldiers. "Stay back and disperse!" shouted the Senior Knight. "Nothing to see. Move along." The crowd did retreat some, but the spectacle of the soldiers arresting possible rebels was too irresistible, and the people continued to watch. When one of the arrested tried to resist the handcuffs and was slammed into the cracked payment, many in the crowd let out a cheer. Someone even spat on one man laying on the ground. Eventually, more Brotherhood soldiers arrived and did disperse the crowd, and only then did Kim and her companion leave. What an odd pair, he thought only for a second. The man had been rather boring but the girl, while weird, was at least refreshingly enthusiastic. But those thoughts were pushed out of mind as he turned his focus to the Senior Knight and his orders on what would happen next.
  48. 2 points
    Is it me or does dovah ****** look sad. As if he knows he’s being prettied up to get fucked by Nintendo and whatever VR company makes those.
  49. 2 points
    The Entrepreneur South Union The radio had warned Josey that bad weather was coming. He'd taken a couple Rad-X tablets and worn his raincoat to prepare, but even then, he felt that Layder's radio updates had understated the severity of the storm. The wind whipped between the buildings like a living entity, hellbent on catching anyone who dared to walk the streets that day, and on its back rode the rain, which seemed to leap into Josey's face from the front despite his hood. He was in South Union again, just west of the old hospital near the community border. The buildings in this part of town were large and plain, mostly made of concrete and red brick, and more often than not in various states of disrepair. Unlike Wellstone, South Union received no aid from the Brotherhood in rebuilding or maintaining what they had, and with the smaller population, their own efforts were often not enough to save the largest structures. As a result, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the weaker ones collapsed. In fact, some already had. No telling who's living in the rubble, Josey thought as he passed by one such structure and noticed the orange glow of a cooking fire beyond one of the broken windows. Whoever it was, at least they were sheltered from the rain. Unfortunately, these sorts of conditions rarely deterred the criminals and predators in places like this. In fact, with the streets mostly empty, Josey had a feeling that they were the types most likely to be out and about. It was why he had opted to pick up his gun at the Wellstone checkpoint. It was a plain enough 9mm M9FS Beretta, prewar but still operational. At least he hoped. Josey had only fired it a few times, and never at an actual person. Even after everything, his mother had been plainly worried when he'd told her that he would be carrying it. "What if they think you're after them?" Haley Thatch had implored him to wonder. "What if this 'Simon' person sees it and decides you're a threat?" "C'mon Ma," he said back, "everyone carries a gun in the Union. You know that." And then he smiled like he always did when he wanted to make her feel at ease, make her think he had everything under control. "And besides, he's against the Brotherhood too. I'll be his best friend in five minutes." Josey was a little more worried than he made it sound, of course, but in his experience, the best way to fit in somewhere was to pretend that you genuinely belong there. Caution is important, but if you doubt yourself too much, you'll never achieve anything. It was crazy, actually, how far a few words and a little confidence could carry someone. It had worked in part, at least. Haley relaxed a bit when he said it, but the concern was still in her eyes. "If this really is the man who placed those bombs, I don't want to think about him being your friend." "He won't be. Not really. But for now, we need fighters. People who can go after the Brotherhood without it being traced back to us, people we don't mind losing. Simon might not last a week, but it's better him than Dad." When Josey's siblings found out what he was up to, they'd appeared in his room that morning locked and loaded, ready to have his back. Before that, Josey hadn't even known that either of them had guns inside the city. "If you're going to meet with these bombers, then so are we," Eli had said. Usually, he was the quiet one, content to let anyone else in the family do the talking instead, and preferring to spend a long time thinking about a problem before tackling it. But it wasn't so that morning. That morning, he'd stood in Josey's room with a pistol in his hand and a determined look in his eyes that said he was ready to kill if he needed to. As for Aly, well, anything that made Eli feel this strongly would've gone double for her. She stood by the boy on everything. Together, Josey's younger siblings actually seemed even more resolute about the whole thing than he was, because he knew that their feelings were completely genuine. Still, it would be a cold day in Hell when he let them get involved in something as dangerous as this. Gregory might be willing to use them that way, but he wouldn't. They were angry when he said no of course, even when he explained that Haley would need them more, that he wasn't going to be in any real danger, and that he would have better things for them to do before long. Eli scowled and went downstairs to open the shop, and Aly spent another twenty minutes trying to change Josey's mind before finally giving up. Even then, he'd gone one last time to their mother to make sure that she kept them from sneaking after him. Now, walking down the empty street, getting pelted and deafened by rain that he prayed wouldn't make him sick, Josey was all the gladder that they had stayed behind. As if the storm wasn't bad enough, South Union could be a dangerous place on days like this. And he didn't want to know what would happen if he approached Simon's front door with two armed youngsters in tow. Hell, even coming alone was a risk. Don't be afraid, he told himself. You've dealt with worse. Rounding the corner of the hospital, Josey saw the lone bookstore amidst several other crumbling buildings. It was big. Three stories, and made of concrete that was covered almost entirely by ivy. The windows were boarded up, and the wooden double door at the front was closed, but as he approached, Josey made out flickers of light beyond some of the cracks. He walked up the steps, mustered up all of his boldness, and knocked hard on the door. Josey waited a while, but there was no answer. The rain continued to cascade into him, and the wind carried the late autumn chill straight through his waterproof coat. He knocked again, and again, got no answer. Josey sighed, knowing that he was taking a big risk, and then pushed the door open just a crack. "I'm coming in. Don't. Shoot." There was no response, so Josey held his open hands through the door first, so anyone inside could see that he wasn't a threat, and then he entered the building. It was a large place, covered in shadows and filled with shelves and piles of garbage and Old World debris that had been picked apart by centuries' worth of scavengers. Taking his first step, Josey was immediately aware of how loudly his wet boots squeaked on the floor tiles. It was the only sound he could hear besides the hammering of rain outside. The store seemed empty. Seemed. He knew better. Someone had cooked in here recently. He could smell the charred meat. He took another squeaky step. "Anybody home? Someone left the stove on." Josey heard something then: A whisper to his left followed by a flicker of movement. Then a heavy set of footsteps bounded past him to his right. Josey spun, catching a glimpse of a man disappearing behind a shelf. "Hey you!" He started towards the man, only to get blindsided from behind and forced face-first into one of the bookshelves. He felt something prod his back, something sharp that made the hairs on his neck stand up. "Hands on your head," a voice said in a low whisper. "Yeah, alright." Josey obeyed and the man patted him down, first taking his gun, then his knife, then his bag and raincoat. While this went on, Josey could hear more people approaching from all around them. When he was done, the man took a step back and said that Josey could put his hands down, then ordered him to slowly turn around. He obliged, and turned to find that he was good and surrounded. The guy who had taken his gun now pointed it at him. Josey counted five others, four men and a woman, their features somewhat obscured by the shadowed room. Trying his best to appear at ease, Josey grinned. "It'd make my day if one of you happened to be Taylor Simon." A few heads turned to a lean fellow with messy blonde hair and a thick goatee. "That would be me. And who are you, huh? Wellstone's worst bounty hunter?" "Why would you think that? Is there a bounty on your head?" Simon's brow deepened further. "No. But I can think of some folks who'd like to see me dead." The rebel crossed his arms. "If you're not here to kill me, then what do you want?" "I want your help," Josey started. "I know it was you who attacked the Brotherhood." That was a mistake. He knew it from the looks the rebels exchanged right before the one with the gun slammed him back against the bookshelf. "Tie his hands," Simon ordered. "And search him again!" Josey did not resist. While several pairs of hands alternated between holding and patting him down, Simon drew in close, his blue eyes staring intently into Josey's own. This close, Josey could tell there was something off about them, something that made them seem carnal, animalistic. They were the eyes of a creature who would eat its own young to survive. "Who the hell are you?" the creature growled. "Josiah Thatch." He knew that his life hinged on whether or not this man believed what he said. "My father is Gregory Thatch. We have an offer for you." "Spit it out then." If Simon gave a damn about the name, he hid it well. "We'd like to form a partnership..." Josey winced as the guy holding him tied a chord around his wrists and then pulled it much tighter than necessary, making him grit his teeth. "You know? Work together." Simon shook his head. "Tried working with others before. They weren't all that serious." "Well I am. Tell your friend to open the bag." Simon nodded to the searcher, who opened his pack and pulled out the wadded plastic bag inside. "What the-" The searcher pulled out a lock of dark hair, still attached to the skin it had grown from. "Aw, shit-" "They were Brotherhood," Josey interrupted. "Check the bag again, you'll find the holotags. Think we're serious now?" For the first time, Simon cracked a smile, just before he snatched the scalp from his subordinate's hands and held it up for his friends to see. "We got ourselves a fuckin' Zark! See that, Ben? Ady? That is some tribal shit right there." He tossed the scalps back at his man and locked eyes with Josey again. "Okay, Josiah Thatch, you're serious. But also a stranger, and that just ain't gonna do. If you wanna partner up with me, we'll have to get acquainted." "I agree," he answered. "Where do you wanna start?" "We'll get to that," Simon said. The man seemed to study him for a bit, and then he nodded. "Take him to the guest room." The same hands from before grabbed Josey and urged him deeper into the store. Josey resisted. "Wait, don't you want to talk?" "In a bit," said Simon as an unnerving smile stretched across his lips. "I gotta have a chat with my crew first." Then his subordinate put a hand on Josey's shoulder and guided him all the way to the back of the building, to the "guest room" which actually just turned out to be an empty room with some chairs and ruined books. The thug didn't say a word, he just used Josey's pistol to motion for him to enter the room, and then locked the metal door behind him. Josey walked a few steps and then fell onto his knees beside one of the chairs, letting out a heavy sigh of relief. He was acutely aware that his heart was racing a mile a minute, and that the moisture stinging his eyes was sweat, not rain. The General had warned him that Simon was crazy and he'd been right. No normal person responded to human scalps with a fuckin' grin. Bastard looked like he was getting off. Josey wasn't sure what he should've expected from a guy who set off bombs in the middle of the city. Are these really the people we want to be tied to? He wondered if his father had smiled like that when he'd claimed the scalps in the first place, or his uncle. Surely not. They were lots of things: cold, brutal, even hateful. But they were not evil. They do what they do because they're at war, he reminded himself. The Brotherhood never stops. By the time the door opened again, Josey had recollected himself. He was brought upstairs to an Old World office, where the rebel boss waited along with a dark-bearded man who wore body armor and had a rifle slung over his back. Simon watched him with the same eyes before, still grinning like a predator who enjoyed his role a little too much. "Sorry for making you wait. I wanted to toss a few ideas around with my people before getting them into something the weren't ready for." Josey's eyes darted to the bearded guy's rifle. "That something ain't just a talk, is it?" Something flashed in those eyes. "No, Thatch, I got more in mind than that." He reached into a coat pocket and pulled out one of the BoS scalps. "You said that you and your people took these. Well, I wanna know what was going on in your head when you took a knife to theirs. And I wanna know first-hand." Holy shit. "Well that's why I came here," he said, keeping his demeanor calm. "The plan is to make the Brotherhood scared. We need more people like us out in the streets, taking the fight to them. I'm putting a bounty out for scalps and holotags." "Bounty? Shit, and I was gonna do it for free." Simon stuffed the thing back into his pocket. "I'll play your ballgame, Thatch, because I like where it could go. But I ain't got the patience to wait for it to start, you follow? That's why me'n you are gonna go do some warming up tonight." "I'm here to spread the word, Simon. I don't have time to-" "Don't lie to me, Thatch. We're friends now, remember? So far, you've shown me that you have access to holotags and scalps. Doesn't mean that you killed for them. I wanna see for myself that you're the badass that you say you are... And then we can be partners." Shit! Shit! Shit! ... "Fine." Simon's face lit up. Shit! "What do you have in mind?" "I'll tell you on the way," said the rebel, who was already up and moving to the door. "Come on." Simon led Josey back down through the bookstore. The rest of his crew had already geared up and were waiting for them near the door. Every one of them wore a coat and had various pieces of equipment that showed they meant business. Rifles, pistols, knives, bandoliers, even some grenades. The big guy who had taken Josey's pistol came up and gave it back along with the rest of his things. The woman gave Josey a Rad-X tablet, and instructed him to let her know if he started feeling sick out there. "Alright, friends," Simon said, his hunters' grin as large as ever. "Let's hunt." *** Hey there Wellstone, hope you've been stocking up on the Rad-X, 'cause those green clouds down south ain't gonna bring the kind of rain you wanna drink. Keep your head down and your geiger counter handy, and maybe even use the time to let loose, just a little bit. Here's Glenn Miller to help you with In the Mood. The song crackled through the radio's speakers from behind the terrified girl. She had looked to be in a good mood when she answered the door, but that changed right quick when she found Josey and Simon instead of the BoS soldier she had been expecting. The rebel boss held a finger to his lips and a gun to her head before motioning for her to let them in. "Nice place," Simon said. His eyes traveled from the couches to the lamps to the television set. They stopped on Josey as he was reaching for the radio to turn it off. "Hey now, leave that on! Nobody sets the mood like Miller." Turning to the woman, Simon put on his "friendly" face and told her to take a seat on the couch. She did. "You got taste, sweetheart. Too bad it don't extend to who you ****." The poor girl was sobbing by now. Frightened beyond belief, she babbled some words that Josey had a hard time making out. Something about her dad and her job. Simon shushed her. "I don't care about all that. I'm just interested in the yellow-headed fella who comes down here every couple of nights. Look at me, alright? Look at me." He used the gun to motion between them. When she looked up there was snot running from her nose and red in her eyes. She was not attractive when she cried, not like she'd been when she answered the door. Simon spoke slowly. "Is your boyfriend coming here tonight? It's very important that you tell the truth." She didn't answer. Just broke into more tears. Simon turned to Josey with a frustrated look that said A little help here? Josey stepped forward and kneeled down in front of her. He tugged the stolen holotag out of his jacket and held it in her face. "You see this? You ever heard of Barnaky's Inquisitors?" The woman's look said that she had, so he continued, letting the holotag fall back into his shirt. "Then you know what we're capable of and I'd suggest you cooperate. Your boyfriend is a wanted traitor." The lie came so easily that it sounded true. And the woman's fear was suddenly injected with shock. "He- he's... what did- what did he do?" "Aided enemies of the Brotherhood," Josey said, letting his face fall naturally into a scowl. "We're gonna catch this piece of shit, and you're gonna help us. Otherwise, you'll be guilty too." Though she still sobbed, the girl did give a faint, almost helpless nod. Josey wondered if she would've helped her BoS boyfriend if he'd actually been a rebel and she'd actually had a chance. "Good. Now tell me, is he coming here tonight?" She nodded again. Had she been in a clearer state of mind, she might have wondered why neither of them used the soldier's name. As it was, Josey reckoned questioning their authenticity was the last thing on her mind. "He-He comes when his shift ends. I-It's usually before m-m-midnight." Simon shared a look with him, impressed, and then said, "I'm gonna wait upstairs and keep an eye out. Signal you when I see him coming." He smiled at the girl. "Keep my friend company, will ya?" She didn't answer, just sniffled a little and gave a half-hearted nod. When Simon was gone, Josey took a seat across from her, pistol still raised. Like earlier, his heart was racing, his blood pumping so fast that it felt like a vein might explode. All of this felt surreal, like he wasn't really there, and the vile man with the gun to an innocent woman was some character in a movie that Josiah Thatch was watching from some place far away. All the while, he totally kept his cool. Immersed himself in the role until he truly seemed like the 'badass outlaw' that they needed to believe existed. Now that he was alone, with nobody watching him but a frightened and helpless girl barely younger than himself, it started to feel like a little much. Josey slowly relaxed himself, just a bit. He let the 'bad cop' scowl fade, and lowered his gun so that it rested in his lap. The girl noticed this, and seemed to slowly ease up a little herself. After spending a few minutes of working up the courage, she asked him. "What are you going to do to him?" "He's an enemy," Josey said. "He'll be treated like one." There. No lying required.' "I just don't understand," she said. "Edgar loved the Brotherhood. He lived for them. Since we were kids." She shook her head. "What if you're mistaken?" "We're not," was all Josey said, bluntly as he could. Some more time passed in silence, and then he asked her. "What's your name, miss?" "Kelly Ivy," she answered. "And where are you from?" "The Lost Lands. Place called Pertle Springs. We came west when I was a child." Small world. Josey knew of Pertle Springs. It was raider territory back when his family lived in that region. He wanted to ask if that was why Kelly's family decided to leave, but thought better of it. He couldn't appear to be too interested. At least not in her. "What can you tell me about Edgar?" "What do you mean? He's one of yours. Don't you already know everything?" "I want to hear it from you." Kelly sniffed again and nodded. "I told you, he lived for the Brotherhood." She gave a weak chuckle. "The man can't go an hour without talking about lasers and that fancy suit of his. The day he became a Paladin and got his own power armor, I thought he was gonna cry." Paladin. Oh shit. The hair on Josey's neck stood up, and a cold chill ran down his spine. Did Simon know we were trapping a damned Paladin?! He couldn't help himself. He cast a sideways glance at the window, as if the very mention of Paladin Edgar's rank would summon him into the night. This wasn't just a soldier they were after. It was an experienced killer. The kind of man who had BoS quartermasters at the beck and call. What have I gotten into? "He hasn't done anything strange lately?" he asked, trying to play the conversation out and hide his own distress. "Associated with anyone you didn't know?" "Not at all," she replied. "Are you sure that he did something wrong? How do you know?" "That's classified," he lied. It seemed like the kind of thing an Inquisitor would say. "All you need to know is that he's dangerous and we're going to stop him." An hour passed, or close to it at least, and then Simon appeared at the top of the stairwell. "He's coming. Get ready." Josey gave Kelly a nod. "I'm going to hide behind the kitchen door. Invite him in and get his back to me. I promise, you won't be hurt if you cooperate." "And don't you dare tip him off," Simon said. With that, the two of them got into position while Kelly collected herself and tried to appear calm. Soon after, there was a knock, followed by the creaking of the door opening. Through the crack he'd left himself, Josey could make out a tall, muscular man with straw-blond hair and a thick beard over a handsome face. At his belt was a mean-looking plasma pistol that would've cost anyone else a fortune. Edgar had let himself in, and wasted no time going over to Kelly, who he looked at now with concern. "Baby, what's wrong?" he asked. It pained Josey how sympathetic the man sounded. It was the way he wished that he could've spoken to her. But the sentiment didn't last very long, as Edgar's look of worry turned to one of alarm. "Has something happened?" The Paladin's eyes looked past her, as if his soldier's instincts were informing him of the danger that awaited. Edgar wasn't the only one with instincts. Upon seeing that the man was suspicious, Josey's body took over, and without even taking a second to think it through, he stepped out of the kitchen with his pistol raised. "Hands in the air!" The Paladin's hands did not go in the air. In fact, they did the opposite. The right one dropped to the plasma pistol at an alarming speed as Edgar pivoted to face Josey. From there, everything happened so fast, it felt like a blur: Kelly screamed. Edgar locked eyes with Josey. The plasma pistol started to come up. Simon bolted down the stairs. The plasma pistol pointed at Josey. Josey squeezed his trigger. He squeezed it again, and again, and again. The ringing that followed drowned out all other noise. But with his eyes, Josey could see the Paladin stumble backwards and fall to the ground. He could see streaks of blood cascade over the furniture. He saw Kelly turn to run, only for more red streaks to explode from her back as Simon's muzzle flashed. When it was over, the room was filled with the uniquely pungent scent of burnt gunpowder that outlaws and soldiers knew all too well. To Josey's left, Simon walked forward with that wild look in his eyes. Ahead of him laid the bodies of the two unfortunate lovers. Kelly had fallen face-first, her five blistering wounds dotted across her back. Edgar was on his side, and as Josey approached, he realized that the man somehow still breathing. Simon turned to say something, but his ears were still ringing so hard that it only came out as a deep echo, like when someone shouts underwater. The rebel boss closed the distance to Edgar with a wicked-looking knife in his hand. Before Josey's eyes, he plunged it into the living man's scalp and started carving. When he was done, Simon turned to Josey with a sickeningly delighted grin and waved the bloody trophy in his face. "He was alive, you ****," Josey said. But Simon's ears must have been ringing just as loudly, as the rebel boss didn't seem to hear him. It didn't matter for long, though, because Simon then turned and planted the knife deep into Edgar's neck. The breathing motion stopped shortly after. In all the chaos, Josey hadn't noticed that the rest of the crew had moved in. The bearded guy with the body armor, Ben, came and put an arm on Simon, speaking to him very closely. The boss nodded, and motioned for Josey to hurry. The message was clear enough: They needed to leave now. Before someone responded to the gunshots. *** The house was well behind them when the ringing finally let up enough for Josey to understand what people were saying. Of course, by then the irradiated downpour was muffling them in its stead. With the thunder and other conditions, Simon doubted that anyone would bother to check on what might've been a shooting. After all, such things were common in South Union. Against the Brotherhood, though... And a Paladin no less. When word of this got out, there would be an uproar. For his part, Simon was still ecstatic. Twice already, he had clapped Josey on the shoulder and congratulated him, saying things like "I knew you were the real deal!" or "A Paladin. A fuckin' Paladin!" He had bragged on Josey to the others as well, telling them of how he'd had that woman in tears, eating from the palm of his hand. Josey did not feel victorious. He felt sick. Kelly was not Brotherhood. She had even helped them. Though Simon swore that she'd tipped Edgar off. "How else could he have been so alert?" the rebel had said. Josey wasn't so sure, but he kept quiet. At this point, he was one with his role. He had to be now, or Kelly's death was for nothing. We need men like this, he told himself. It's the only way to bring down the Brotherhood. They were his thoughts, but he heard them in his father's voice. According to Simon, they were not done yet. According to him, it could not have been an accident that Josey strolled onto their doorstep on the same night as this storm. "This is a gift from the gods!" the wild rebel declared. What gods he spoke of, Josey did not know. But he hoped everyone's sakes that they weren't real. Simon went on to say that on a night like this, responses to everything would be slow, and so it was the perfect night to really make their statement loud and clear. Josey wanted to protest, to go home to his family and pretend like he did not know what was going to happen, but for some reason, he simply nodded to the news. He was a rebel now. A true one like his father. He needed to see this through. The band of outlaws left South Union and traveled west, keeping well south of Pennway until they reached the Kansas River. "Ever since the bucket heads got here in force, patrols have stepped up all over," Simon told him. Josey, of course, already knew this, but he let the man talk. "We've dodged the one in this area a few times on our trips to Junker Town. Y'see, they've always got a guy in power armor." Josey was already shaking his head. "We ain't got the firepower to take on someone in power armor," he said. "It ain't worth the risk." "That's where you're wrong, Thatch." Simon held up the plasma defender that he'd looted from Edgar. "We got this, some grenades, and best of all: the element of surprise." Before Josey could explain why that was still seriously pushing it, the rebel barked out orders to his group, "There will be six of the fuckers! Aim for everyone who ain't in power armor. Don't even bother with him until the others are down." He looked Josey in the eyes, all serious now, like he'd been when they met. "If you're right, we'll just kill all his friends and lose him in the storm and rubble. If you're wrong, then that's two Paladins in one night. You guys paying extra for higher ranking scalps?" He laughed and did not wait for an answer. "Everyone get in position." Although they were not in Wellstone proper, this area was still very much part of Old World Kansas City. The ruins were scattered and scared. The only evidence that it had been touched in the last two hundred years was the cleared road that that led west to what Josey knew would be a ferry service across the river. Since it was outside the city, the Brotherhood had to run patrols through or risk letting the wasteland creep up on their walls. The area wasn't pretty, but it was perfect for an ambush. Josey, Simon, and the woman (whose name turned out to be Cynthia) took up positions amidst a fallen antenna tower, high enough in the rubble that they had a vantage point over the road. Ben (who turned out to be Simon's second in command), took the others and spread them out along the opposite side, each positioning themselves atop or around some ruined truck or house. And then, with heir hoods pulled low, they waited in the rain. It was around 3:00 AM when the flashlights appeared behind seven bodies in total. Simon had been right. One of them wore power armor. The others marched in standard combat garb. For the occasion, the rebels had allowed him to borrow some foam earplugs and a scoped R91 assault rifle, which he used now to put a bead on the closest target. The rain and darkness made it impossible to make out features, but he didn't need to know what they looked like to put a bullet in their chest. Center of mass. That's what the Brotherhood had taught him. "You ready Thatch?" Simon said. His voice was hushed, but still loud enough to hear against the rain. Josey nodded. "Cyn?" He assumed that Cynthia nodded in turn, but refused to take his scope off of the man he'd trained it on. "Heh. Alright then. Fire at will." Simon's rifle went off the instant he finished the phrase. Several more shots followed in rapid succession. Josey kept his reticle centered on the guy he'd marked, and then squeezed off a single shot. The man staggered, and Josey fired several more times, repositioning his rifle between shots. After the fourth, he was certain that his mark was dead and so he switched his rifle to full-auto and began firing bursts into the cluster of startled soldiers. When reflecting on the moment later, Josey would find himself a little surprised by how unprepared the patrol was for an ambush. Despite it being their job to defend the area, those men and women weren't even able to defend themselves. All it took was a storm and they became so worthless that they might as well have remained at home. One-by-one, the bodies dropped. All but the hulking steel figure at their helm, who took a knee behind some rocks and started sending laser fire into the night as bullets plinked off of his metal suit. "Keep firing!" Simon yelled. Josey looked up just long enough to see the plasma weapon in his hands. "I'm killing this bitch!" "Don't," Josey tried to shout. But like in the house, his words literally fell on deaf ears. Simon eased his way down through the rubble, taking care to stay behind the big Paladin. After a point, Josey lost sight of him, but then found him again when a brilliant green light flashed out into the night and hurled at great speed into the soldier's back. Through his scope, Josey saw the armored man hunch over as if in pain. But then, as he'd feared, the figure rose again and spun around. Two more green lights flashed out. The first one struck the Paladin on the shoulder and the second one soared over his head. The soldier raised his rifle then, and started spraying lasers on Simon's location. They blasted into the twisted metal that he hid behind, leaving superheated orange glows in their wake. "Damnit!" Josey cursed, reloaded, and aimed for the Paladin's head. The first shot or two of every burst connected, which no doubt distracted the Paladin something fierce, but the power armor saved him from taking any real damage. "Grenades!" he shouted, hoping that some of the rebels could hear him. "Hit him with grenades!" The shootout continued for several seconds, and then the ground and rubble beneath the Paladin's feet exploded into the air once, then again a few seconds later. The soldier stumbled and lost his weapon. But as he rose, he drew a laser pistol and started wading into the rubble, tearing apart the ruined metal in his effort to reach Simon. Josey knew that if the rebel boss died, he would lose all of his progress and have to start over from scratch. And so, stupidly, he started moving forward. Cynthia hollered at him, "Are you crazy?" Obviously! In the heat of the moment, he flashed her his middle finger and started running. By the time he was close enough to make out the details on the Paladin's armor, the metal man was mere yards away from Simon, who was so pinned down that he couldn't move an inch. Josey laid down prone so that only his head and gun would be visible, and then he started firing full-auto into the Paladin, trying to aim for the joints That did it. The monster of a man turned and returned fire with his laser pistol. The red hot blasts of concentrated light seared through the air around Josey's head, burned the ground near him. He aimed for the power helmet's eyes. They were shielded, of course, but that didn't mean it would be easy to see with 5.56 bullets smashing against the visor. The Paladin took a step toward him, and then another. And then, just as Josey ran out of ammo, he stopped close enough to have an easy shot. Instead, the night lit up with green as plasma tore across his back. Once, twice, three times. The Paladin fell to his knees, the smell of heat and metal rising from his body in fumes. Simon appeared behind him, and fired between the power armored shoulders until he was out of ammo. By that point, the soldier was flat on the ground, the back of his armor having practically melted on top of him. Josey waited a few seconds, in utter shock of what he'd just done. How close he'd come to dying for a third time that night. And then his wits returned, and he scrambled over to their fallen foe and slipped his fingers under the helmet until they found the release mechanism. It clicked, and Josey yanked the helmet off and tossed it aside. The figure underneath was a bald guy with tribal tattoos along the right side of his face. His eyes were glazed over, as though the pain of remaining fully conscious was more than he could handle. Simon approached, his eyes wide. "Did you just rush this shitbag?" "Didn't you?" "Yeah, but... shit man." The crazy in Simon's eyes was no longer there. It had been replaced by something much more raw. Vulnerable. He's afraid. The rebel boss slowly reached for his knife, and then nodded to Josey. "You and me? We're cool. I'm gonna tell it to everyone I know. See if I can get more folks to do what we done tonight." He turned and shouted to his crew. "Y'all hear that? We're with the Thatches now! Tomorrow I want all of you in the streets, spreadin' the word!" He held out his hand, and Josey shook it. Both of them were shaking. "Now," Simon said, "let's get our scalps and get outa here." *** It was almost noon the next day when Josey staggered home wet and with whiskey on his breath. His family were terrified, but he promised he'd explain everything later. He needed sleep. Even drunk, he knew that it was a lie. There was no way in hell that he was gonna tell them what he'd done that night.
  50. 2 points
    Lost Lands Ruined Highway Sinbad could hardly stand his consistent jolts of pain coursing up his wounds, shrapnel embedded in his person was bad enough but the flagellation at his own hands while proper would be the death of him he was sure. Whatever adrenaline he once bore had been ebbing away throughout the night, each self inflicted lash at his dear friend's side peeked it and yet now he felt the consequences. An endless stretch of cracked asphalt far as the eye could see, neglected by working folks long since perished in fire's fury. A fury what was left of the old movement faced the night before, ghosts and demons shimmering like the sun scorched roads. With shock and thanks to the gods for survival transitioning into a terrible sorrow, his folk, his kin they lost their way and even in life so too did Sinbad. Limping about the endless roads sowed doubt into Sinbad, it was devoid of anything, neither wreckage nor animals of any kind, the sun betraying all with it's blistering heat was Sinbad's only company. Did he truly survive? Was he not killed by the demons, is this not Santonsoft's realm? Devoid of anything holy and pure, were there anything the absolute opposite of Panasonica he would picture this in it's fullest. Turning aback with hopes of abandoning this horrid realm, perhaps to the holy sites in the far east was instantly snatched away with the road once behind him vanished. Leaving hard packed clay with the faintest of footprints embedded on the surface, time had lost it's meaning. The sane man understands and admits approaching ailments, for this Sinbad was certain he began the decent into deliriousness. His flask long since dry, the clay brought only lies of distant lakes beckoning the foolish to become lost in it's dunes, this road may have been the path to the Tech-Underworld but to chase these false hopes would become lost for eternity. Even the winds, radioactive as they may be wished for his death, he received no respite. At the brink of his limits Sinbad shamefully used his own laser rifle to brace himslf, to ease the pressure on his legs. The butt of his stock pressed up his armpit while the barrel cursed him with each plant into the ground. With the turning of dusk marking the only sane measurement of time he found his lips cracked as the roads he walked on, his mouth dry as the packed clay. The coming of night replaced one extreme with another, ungodly heat pulled away by the magnet-currents only to bring forth unfathomable cold. In the early hours of the night only able to keep warm within his sweaty banding by removing his gloves, and gas mask, placing his forehead, cheeks and hands to the still sweltering asphalt bringing about some small comfort. Yet even this had faded away into the night. Keeping a slow pace of which Sinbad couldn't speed up anyhow given his injuries helped maintain a steady exertion of stamina, however his state of being did catch up. Able to take it no longer he laid himself down on the edge of the road, curled up in a ball and lulled into a rather uncomfortable rest. The unforgiving sun would not be the thing to awaken Sinbad, without any track of time and withering away like some pitiful animal when the sounds of thunder echoed across the land it snapped him into attention; weapon at the ready. Without any light pollution the moon illuminated at a considerable level, yet Sinbad didn't need any moon to witness the source of his alarms. Just on the horizon lay a sickly green haze high within the sky, what should have been cumulonimbus clouds a hundred times too distant and dark to see lit up the distance, how he wished to be back on the cool banks of the Cleaver-Land. The voices of Be'alza-Gates whispered to him from the techless land, whispering of a quick way to the Eternal Assembly Lines in the form of a single trigger pull. With the acolyte unable to sway Sinbad it was Satonsoft who spoke in thunder and storm, the radstorm ever slowly continued it's path right in his direction. Unable to turn back and outrun the amalgamation of Santonsoft sent to carve out the last heart of the Reavers, he could only continue forward straight through the monstrosity. This road was his only hope of salvation, it was two lies, two paradoxes but still his only hope. By the time Sinbad saw the downpour of it's deadly rain, a sheet of greenish specks and lines falling to the earth it was nearly upon him. He had weathered countless of these in his lifetime, yet the entire camp took cover within the tents, turning all water barrels down and even the pitiful slaves had a tarp thrown over them. But now to face a storm like this without cover, without advanced hazmat suits long since left behind in holy sites out east odds stacked five to one this would be the end. It first came with a sense of goosebumps all about his body when the bouts of foul wind greeted Sinbad, accompanied by droplets. The rain itself at the moment was nothing to be concerned about, bouncing off his poncho. But the goosebumps quickly turned to itching as the winds pierced his kit as if it was nothing, itching turned to stinging, as the winds turned to daggers burning into his flesh it picked up in it's intensity further. Unable to stand any longer against the forces, Sinbad was thrown to the ground whimpering against the storm's fury. Crawling as nails dug itself across his body, armor disgustingly sizzling as the highly radioactive rain now poured against him in gallons. It all became a green blur through his goggles, senses caught between mind numbing and aflame. Unable to even scream biting so hard against his teeth, it was all Sinbad could manage not to snap straight through his tongue. He had not a single RadX pill to filter his systems, it wasn't an hour in and he knew in his heart this storm would leave him dead or cooked alive or gods forbid afflicted as a Ghoul. Futilely crawling across on his belly clawing at the ground with such fervor it eventually tore holes in the tips of his gloves, terrible visions showed themselves to Sinbad in the storm, Prophet Tesla laying slain next to the Holy Coil, faces of shimmering demons claiming the souls of his fellow Reavers and all sorts of horrors. Far too out of his mind to grasp these were illusions his mind conjured up. Once again time lost all meaning here, he couldn't fathom how long he's suffered within. Seconds, minutes, hours? The booming thunder and flashes around him dulled his senses further. Only once his hands came across something sticking upright out of the ground, whatever it was being obscured by the storm. His hands were numb to even tell if it was metal or otherwise, unable to go any further Sinbad never releasing his grip curled up in a fetal position, shivering and ever weathering the elements. He would perish long before the storm ended should it continue throughout the night, against whatever he clinged onto would mark the final resting place. Or so it would have been, it was gradual at first and in his condition he didn't notice. The slight lessening of the downpour marked by a receding intensity of it's ungodly winds, in time the blinding green haze began to lessen as well. In doing so Sinbad wearily reared his head up and while being rewarded with terrible stinging across his neck, the very object he clinged so dearly was quite literally a sign from the gods. It was a medium sized pole with some scrap haphazardly welded onto it, rusted words barely comprehensible etched into it. 'Wellstone, Seven miles northwest.' With his strength leaving him, unable to even keep his head lifted up it dropped against the pole. The last thing he witnessed before slipping into either exhaustion or a lingering death was the silhouette just making itself visible from the lessening haze, tall structures mixed with light just below the horizon.