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Showing content with the highest reputation since 10/16/2016 in all areas

  1. 6 points
    Hail Elders, VIPs, and Allies, Ten years ago I joined the Elder Scrolls community and in the interest of sharing the knowledge I'd gathered I started TES Alliance to be a safe place of creativity, study, and free collaboration. I have never made money here, and I didn't start this to make money, modding and teaching are my passions, I have lead and maintained this site all these years for the sheer love of the craft and our community. Those who have been here from the beginning know me well enough to know I don't often discuss my personal life at length on this forum, but today, the future of TES Alliance is tied to my own and it looks a bit grim at the moment. We received word a few days ago that the man who owns the house we've been renting for years has spontaneously decided to sell, it goes on the market tomorrow. With no notice, we have to scramble to pack up our life here and move. Problem is, my wife's job is the primary source of our rent and we recently started a bankruptcy program to rehabilitate her student loan debt. We did this before the news that we were losing our home so now, we're losing our home, and no one will rent to us. We don't qualify for any home loans or assistance programs because of the bankruptcy; the owner's timing is really the worst it could be. June 1st, we will be homeless, with our two little girls. We are currently running a GoFundMe to raise the money to discharge the bankruptcy and put a down payment on a new home so that the credit issues are no longer a hurdle. If you would like to help you can make a donation or share the link to tell our story, we'd really appreciate it. https://www.gofundme.com/1-new-home-for-2-little-girls I'm sharing the story here because I'm not sure how long we will be in transit or how long I can maintain TESA and her server while trying to keep a roof over our heads any way I can. I will give as much notice as possible before closing the site down if that happens. In the meantime, the TESA team is here to keep things running and as long as our members keep kicking into the servers the site may weather this just fine. I just don't want there to be any surprises. TES Alliance is still my passion, you all have been like family for years. I'm grateful for this time we've had together and if the Nine are willing we will carry on here for many years and many Scrolls to come. Cheers, and Happy Modding!
  2. 6 points
    Just an update here, we signed a lease this morning and we are no longer homeless, officially! We are still fundraising to cover moving costs and to replace the old appliances that are in the place now, they don't work, so if you can help out or just share my fundraiser with your family/friends offline that'd be awesome. I'm really grateful for everyone's support through this For now we're cleaning and painting and trying to make a home out of this diamond in the rough! Almost to the other side of this overhaul
  3. 6 points
    I don't know if everyone else knows but Colonel and Doc paid the bill this time around, and I've got to say I'm very appreciative. This site has been our home for a while now and I'll definitely be keeping a closer eye on things so another shutdown like that doesn't happen. I went ahead and made a donation too to stave off any future troubles. Thanks so much to Doc and Colonel for bringing us back online, cheers to y'all
  4. 5 points

    Version 1.21 FINAL


    Name: Insanity's Improved Armoury Compilation Version: 1.21 FINAL Date: 03/27/2012 Category: Armor Author: InsanitySorrow Source: TES Alliance ================= Requirements: ================= Oblivion 1.2.416 ================= Description: ================= InsanitySorrow has created a large number of high-resolution texture and normal map replacers for stock armor and weapons, compiled two ways for your convenience. The first package is a scripted OMOD that will allow you to install all the textures or choose only specific ones to install. This .omod can only be used or extracted by Oblivion Mod Manager (OBMM). The second package is a .7zip archive that contains the full compilation in one parent folder, so you can manually install the whole thing in the usual drag-and-drop-and-overwrite fashion. The alternate Elven and Glass textures are offered as well, in separate folders. This package is BAIN-friendly. Both packages include all of InsanitySorrow's high-rez armor and weapon retextures to date: Improved Armoury - Amelion Armor Improved Armoury - Arena Champion Improved Armoury - Ayleid Crown Improved Armoury - Blackwater Cuirass Improved Armoury - Blackwater Blade Improved Armoury - Blackwood Improved Armoury - Blades Improved Armoury - Bloodworm Helm Improved Armoury - Chainmail Armor Improved Armoury - Chillrend Improved Armoury - City Guards Improved Armoury - Daedric Armor Improved Armoury - Daedric Bracers Improved Armoury - Daedric Weapons Improved Armoury - Dark Brotherhood Improved Armoury - Debaser Improved Armoury - Dwarven Improved Armoury - Ebony Armor Improved Armoury - Elven Armor Improved Armoury - Golden Elven Improved Armoury - Fur Armor Improved Armoury - Glass Improved Armoury - Dark Green Glass Improved Armoury - Darker Green Glass Improved Armoury - Gray Fox Cowl Improved Armoury - Imperial Dragon Improved Armoury - Imperial Palace Cuirass Improved Armoury - Imperial Watch Improved Armoury - Iron Improved Armoury - Leather Improved Armoury - Legion Improved Armoury - Legion Horseman Helm Improved Armoury - Mithril Armor Improved Armoury - Mythic Dawn Improved Armoury - Orcish Armor Improved Armoury - Pit Leather Improved Armoury - Savior's Hide Improved Armoury - Shield of the Thorn Improved Armoury - Silver Weapons Improved Armoury - Spellbreaker Improved Armoury - Staff of Indarys Improved Armoury - Steel Improved Armoury - Thorn Blade Improved Armoury - Witsplinter Enhanced Normal Maps - Daedric Enhanced Normal Maps - Daedric Artifacts Enhanced Normal Maps - Dwarven Enhanced Normal Maps - Ebony Enhanced Normal Maps - Elven Enhanced Normal Maps - Glass Enhanced Normal Maps - Madness Enhanced Normal Maps - Spellbreaker ================= Installation: ================= BAIN (using the 7zip archive) 1) Move or copy the downloaded archive to your Bash Installers folder, no need to extract first. 2) From the Wyre Bash installers tab, select the archive on the left. Check the boxes on the right for Core Files and any alternate colors you wish to install. 3) Right-click on the archive on the left, and choose Install from the context menu. OMOD (using the .omod) 1) Double-click the .omod file from within Windows Explorer. This will open OBMM and automatically add the .omod to OBMM. 2) Double-click the .omod from within OBMM to begin installation. Follow the prompts to select which content you want to install. Manual (using the 7zip archive) 1) Extract the archive you downloaded to a temporary location. 2) Copy the contents of the "Core Files" folder to your ..Oblivion\Data folder. Click "Yes" to overwrite, if prompted. 3) Repeat step 2 for any of the alternate folders, if desired. Wrye Bash and OBMM both handle ArchiveInvalidation for you, which is required for texture replacers such as this to take effect in-game. If you don't have either of those applications, please consult your internet search engine of choice for other solutions. ================= Un-Installation: ================= BAIN Right-click the archive from the Installers tab and choose Uninstall from the context menu. OMOD Double-click the .omod from within OBMM to de-activate it. Manual Delete the files/folders associated with the mod. ================= Contact: ================= Please contact InsanitySorrow @ TESAlliance with any inquiries. ================= Credits: ================= Thanks to Bethesda for creating Oblivion. ================= Tools Used: ================= Insanity's ReadMe Generator Photoshop
  5. 5 points
    Good episode. I liked how they finally ended the plot of Winterfell. However I think it was brought down by the poor setup in the earlier episodes. It seems like the writers wanted to fool the viewers so much that they made too many leaps of logic for it to happen. I think not showing Arya and Sansa interact when no one was around and maybe show one of them going to visit Bran would have helped. As for Cersei I at first felt like they've ruined her to "Yep, that's Cersei." Jaime seems to be moving forward which is nice to see. Overall I like that they managed to remain consistent with their characters throughout. Also like Doc's theory about Tyrion as that would explain a lot and would mean his look at the end is not a setup for some contrived conflict between him and Jon. Was a little disappointed that Theon didn't return the groin kick as I think that would have been fitting. But as with Jaime at least he's moving forward and may actually achieve something of worth. Was a little disappointed how fast The Wall came down. I had hoped it would be more resilient and that the episode would end with the undead laying siege. It made The Wall feel rather useless and I would have liked an undead siege to see how the White Walkers first plan for getting past The Wall was. The dragon felt too convenient.
  6. 5 points
  7. 5 points
    Nah. I'm a Davos fan books and show. I just like his character, his background, his actions, his beliefs. He's an all-round good guy without being a Mary Sue. Not to mention that GoT is so full of badasses and antiheroes that those have become saturated markets. I like Davos so much because he manages to be likable while moving away from those a bit. Honest, sensible, and good is a rare combination in this show. You'll have a hard time finding many others who have consistently been all three (maybe Sam). Reminds me of Ned if he'd been born as a commoner. He does the right thing no matter what, even if it means defying his beloved king or losing his own life, and he has a positive influence on literally everybody he interacts with. All the while, he's the one of the most loyal dudes in Westeros.
  8. 5 points
    I have already tried to turn balrog away from his heretical and wicked spelling ways. But alas it was to no avail. At least I managed to bring you redemption.
  9. 5 points
    Just paid 75 but apparently it won't show up til 3-5 days. PayPal sucks.
  10. 5 points
    Here's my new dog. Picked her up today.
  11. 5 points
    I'm not able to help financially right now but I shared the gofundme page on my Facebook page. I'm sure I have friends who are in a better position to help than I am currently. Best of luck my friend.
  12. 5 points
    Freshly graduated! We outty five hunnit. Hope y'all are having a great night. I'm gonna go get plastered.
  13. 5 points
    i'm out of school and throwing rent at my credit cards... but as soon as i get hired, i'll pitch in what i can
  14. 5 points
    Endar Endar's head was still spinning when he returned to Tamriel. In fact, he was so lost in his thoughts that he did not react in time to slow the five foot drop that awaited him. He plummeted to the earth like the Ministry of Truth itself, landing so hard on his side that he actually bounced on the rock. "Dun nchow!" Slowly, painfully, Endar stood up and cast a healing spell, all the while continuing to swear in the tongue of his people. At least the cursed wound is gone, he thought, looking down at the thin gray scar that stretched across his chest and down his right side. Clavicus Vile had kept his end of the bargain, and as far as Endar could tell, there had been no hidden agenda or downsides. His soul was still his, and he had lost nothing but time. And at the low price of just one girl's soul. He scowled, annoyed with himself for getting attached to someone he'd only known for a short time. It's not my fault she insisted on joining me. Besides, she never stopped asking those incessant questions. I'm well rid of her. Elara, on the other hand, was a rather tragic loss. Not since he left Morrowind had one of Endar's servants lasted more than an entire year and learned how to read and copy his notes. She had been one of a kind, and certainly deserved a better death than the one Rythe had given her. No, Elara was a star-eyed halfwit who voluntarily got in over her head and died for it. That's what happens to fools who aren't careful. The Legionnaire was no different, whatever in the blazes his name was. Gathering his shredded robes in front of his chest, Endar looked around. He wasn't lost, thank the gods. Vile had returned him to the plateau where the battle had taken place, though it was different now. The grass seemed a little greener, and the air, somewhat warmer. The corpses were still scattered around the ruined Oblivion Gate, though they were far from fresh as they'd been before. Most of the necromancers' flesh was either rotted black or gone altogether, consumed by what seemed to have been trolls. Apparently, Clavicus Vile had kept him a lot longer than it had felt. Unfortunately, Apotheosis was nowhere to be found, which led Endar to release yet another string of curses. He had spent a fortune on that staff, and was not keen on the idea that some imbecile was probably out in the world right now, most likely utilizing a fraction of its potential. All the welkynd stones Rythe had brought were missing as well, but at least he could mitigate that loss by creating his own. And I still have the journal, he thought. It was the one bit of good that could be salvaged from this situation. The book, and all the other belongings he'd brought for the trip, was safely stored away in a place that most mortals would find rather difficult to reach without first knowing that it existed. So why did he feel so uneasy? "Fingers of the Mountain," Endar said. "Bring it to me. I want to see it." He finished the spell, and a Dremora servant appeared in front of him, holding out the ancient, tattered tome. "Is there anything else, Master?" "No, nothing," he replied, snatching the book from the daedroth's hands. He waved dismissively. "Go away." The Dremora vanished with a bow, and Endar opened the book just to see that its contents still existed. They did. Well, that's one good thing, at least. And it's the most important one of all. He muttered his spell and sent the tome back to the safety of the hidden slice of Oblivion. Now it is time to finally go and make use of it. He lifted his hands and cast the recall spell that was to take him back to Cloud Top, only to find that it would not work. It was as if the mark had been removed, or was somehow being interfered with. "Of course." Swearing even more (by now, he barely registered that he was doing this), Endar made his way down the plateau on foot. A staff would be nice, he thought bitterly. Or a horse. I wonder what happened to ours. Or Rythe's for that matter. Probably eaten by trolls. Endar wasn't certain why, but he was really starting to hate trolls. It was strange. They weren't likely the ones responsible for his stolen staff, missing crystals, or any of the other misfortunes that had befallen him, but he found his mind illogically deeming the beasts guilty by association. It was not a concept that he relished, this emotion-driven lack of logic, but try as he might to be view trolls impartially, he simply couldn't. There was this negative spark that his mind linked with them now that simply refused to go away. It was a shame, because he had once been rather fond of the hulking shaggy beasts. This region of the Colovian Highlands was not well-known for being particularly exciting or lively. In most directions, a traveler could only see rocks and grass. If they were lucky, they might spot a boar or a goat. If they were unlucky, it would be bears, trolls, or ogres. Endar was neither lucky nor unlucky, because he did not detect any of these things. For him it was just rocks and grass. When nightfall drew near, Endar instinctively found a nice raised position to make camp, and lit a balefire, only to realize that this was not necessary. All the camping he had done since leaving the Imperial City had been for the sake of his companions. Scowling, Endar extinguished the green flames and continued his trek in spite of the darkness. The night was quiet and uneventful. He did nothing but walk and mutter spells, trying to ignore the accusing glares of Masser and Secunda. Obviously, the moons were in no way actually judging him, but like with the trolls, Endar could not shake the strange feeling of negativity that was now unfairly tied to them. He knew why, of course. It was the damned Skyrim girl and her damned lunar dagger. She had asked him numerous questions about the moons during the trip between Cloud Top and the Oblivion Gate: The very path he walked now. Well if the girl's spirit wanted to hold him in judgement, then fine. But he would not allow the moons to make him feel guilty over a decision that he'd been forced to make. Clavicus Vile had said it best: Endar's decision hadn't been based on emotions or morality. It was strictly pragmatic, as all great decisions should be. "How very un-mortal of you. I like it." That was what the daedric prince had said. He'd meant it as a compliment. And rightly so. Magnus was on the rise again when Endar finally reached the base of Cloud Top. Its golden light painted the rocky countryside in vibrant shades of orange and green facing east, and left dark shadowed patterns facing west. The 'mountain' itself was still shaded from the sun on the side that Endar approached from, and remained so as he followed the little trail for his ascent. He was less than halfway up when he first voices coming from above. Endar stopped, cast a spell, and listened. "-tomorrow, I think he said." "Good. We had mutton all last week and mutton all this week. I couldn't have done another week of mutton. I'd rather eat Yarf." "HA! He'd certainly last you. Bloody wood elf reminds me of this fat little dog my wife brought home. Thing never stopped eating." Endar rolled his eyes and continued his climb. Whoever these idiots were, they did not sound particularly dangerous. He knew that there were sixteen of them (plus horses) well before he reached the top. Of course, that was little cause for worry, as he'd laid a recall mark lower down just in case there was an emergency. When he did finally arrive at the old ruin, Endar found it surrounded by little red candles and littered with large tents and campfires (he realized that he would have seen their smoke hours ago had it not been nighttime). Sitting at the outskirts were two men, a skinny Imperial and a bearded Redguard, armored in steel and with their weapons laying behind them. They sprung to their feet at his approach, arming themselves as they did. Endar cleared his throat. "I take it you're the ones who deactivated my mark." That only seemed to confuse them. "State your business, Stranger," the Imperial barked. "My business is to construct defenses against Aldmeri super weapons," Endar replied. "What's yours?" The two men shared a look, then the same one spoke again. "We're studying these ruins." Endar noticed other men and women now emerging from their tents. Most of them were still in their sleeping clothes, but a few had taken the time to throw on some armor. All of them were armed. "You don't look like scholars." "They're not," said a voice from somewhere deeper in the camp. The warriors began to part, making way for a middle-aged Breton, still dressed in his night robe. "That would be me." He came to the front, smiling as if they were friends. "Dunard Moorsley. I'm a mage with the Synod." His eyes ran up and down Endar, lingering momentarily on the wide tear in his robes. "To whom do we owe the pleasure?" "Endar Drenim." He frowned at the man. "I do not like being scrutinized." "Well you are a stranger who approached our camp at the break of dawn," said Moorsley. "I think at least a little scrutiny is in order. Now what is this business you speak of with Aldmeri -what was it?- super weapons?" "That's right." Endar crossed his arms. "I was contracted by the High General to help with the war effort, so the lot of you can clear on out of my campsite." "Your campsite?" One of the warriors snorted. "Hush," the Breton commanded. His expression toward Endar remained unchanged. "If what you say is true, then we are all in service to the Empire, and there is no need for hostility. But I need to know for certain that it is indeed true." "Pfft. I will not be tested by the likes of you." Endar scowled. "If you don't believe me, then scamper on down to the Imperial City and ask the Emperor yourself. Or don't. I don't care what you think, so long as you are willing to leave me to work in peace." "Is this guy serious?" one of the warriors said. "You want us to tie him up, Dunard?" asked another. 'Endar,' a familiar voice spoke calmly into his mind. 'Just go along with the mage. You and I need to speak.' Endar did not show it, but he was genuinely startled. His eyes darted around the campsite, scanning each and every body. There were the Imperial and Redguard who'd been on watch. There was a Dunmer woman. There was a fat little Bosmer. Some more Imperials. A couple Nords... and there she was: the Altmer, with her perfect skin and bright golden eyes. She stood among them, dressed in plain robes and with her brown hair unceremoniously tied back, looking every bit the part of the underpaid mercenary. 'What are you doing here, Psijic?' 'I will explain later. Just humor Dunard. These aren't bad people. There is no need to kill them.' His scowl deepened. The monk could not have possibly known what he had done in Oblivion, but that did not lessen the sting of what she had said. 'Give me some credit.' "Well?" one of the warriors barked at him. "What's it gonna be then?" "What is what going to be?" "You deaf as well as stupid?" the man shouted back. "Be quiet, Felwart," Dunard ordered. He looked back at Endar. "My friends are losing their patience, and now so am I. You can either go back the way you came, or you can submit yourself to questioning. We cannot risk a Thalmor spy making away with our discoveries." Endar's eyes never left the Psijic. "Fine. I'll answer your damned questions," he then muttered, "Wouldn't want anyone here who doesn't belong." "Excellent." The Breton motioned for Endar to follow him. "Please, join me in my tent." Endar made his way through the crowd of watchful guards. It required a conscious effort on his part to remain composed and not to further indignifiy himself by appearing angrier than he'd already proven to be. These people couldn't possibly be worth his anger. Dunard Moorsley's tent was spacious. It had an actual bed, an oak work desk, an enchanting table, and several racks that contained magical tools which Endar knew were designed primarily for concealment and detection. "I take it your presence here is not public knowledge?" "It rarely is." Moorsley smiled and tapped the long metal rod that he no doubt used to light the candles that surrounded the camp. "You know your instruments." "Of course I do. I'd imagine every fool apprentice in the Arcane University knows what they are." "But you are no fool apprentice, are you? Those torn-up robes you wear, they bear daedric script. What does it say?" " 'The powerful define the standards of virtue.' There's not a child in House Telvanni who does not know the phrase." "So you're from House Telvanni, then?" Moorsley leaned forward, his eyes wide. "I've heard that the wizards of House Telvanni are among the greatest in Tamriel." "You heard the truth," Endar said. "You might also know that they have no affiliation with the Aldmeri Dominion." "Nor do they have any with the Empire," Moorsley pointed out. "At least, not to my knowledge." "I'm in Cyrodiil of my own volition. I have a house in the Imperial City, and my own quarters in the White Gold Tower - where I have spent the last year or two conducting most of my research." "I see. You are a long way from the Imperial City. And alone at that. It strikes me as passing strange that Emperor Krojun would send someone as important as yourself so far away without any guards." Endar grimaced. "I am not on some leash that the Emperor can reign in as he pleases. I left on my own when it became apparent that my work required resources outside the capital's disposal, and I shall return when I am content that I have gathered everything I need. Also, I did not leave alone. My servant and a Legion Forester accompanied me, but they died at the hands of a necromancer." "A necromancer? In the Colovian Highlands? Is this necromancer the one who gave you that scar?" Moorsley pointed at Endar's chest. "Essentially," he answered, annoyed at the way the Breton's eyes kept twitching down at it. "There were more than one. A whole band of them, actually. Give me a map and I'll show you exactly where the corpses can be found, about a day from here." "Amazing." Moorsley's shoulders seemed to relax, slightly. "Your journey sounds like quite the story. I would love to hear it." "Are you not interrogating me?" Endar asked, his scowl intensifying. "I am here for a reason, and it's not to regale you with tales like some common bard." "Of course," the scholar said, his pale cheeks reddening. "Forgive me... I suppose I see no reason to believe you have cause to do us harm. I will tell the Fighters that you are clear to come and go as you please." Endar started to rise, and the man spoke again. "I do have one last question, if you will humor me. Are you aware of any magical anomalies at this site late last winter?" It's not winter anymore... Interesting. "No, I am not aware of any." "How unfortunate. I was sent to investigate two successive spikes of magical energy that were detected by my order. I am supposed to send updates back to the Imperial City, but have so far had little to write. Oh well. Perhaps you will discover something I have not." "Of that, I have little doubt." Endar turned and exited the tent, discovering that three of the warriors were standing right beside the flap. Among them was the man who had challenged Endar's intelligence and the quality of his hearing. "So you're clear then," the man said, looking apologetic. "Sorry about what I said back there. 'Bout you being stupid." "Okay," Endar said, walking on past the man. He doubted that a moron such as this one could genuinely offend him if he tried his absolute hardest. The Psijic was waiting beside the broken Ayleid pillar, sharpening a shortsword that Endar presumed was just for show. She looked up as he approached. "I heard your talk with Dunard." "Of course you did." Endar placed a hand on the white stone. The last time he had done this, it had been with the girl. The two of them had each touched the structure with electricity, and in doing so, received a small taste of what the Ayleids had left behind here. Endar had no doubt that those interactions were the energy spikes that the Synod had detected. "And?" "And I am glad to see that you are alive and well. When last we spoke, you were very enthusiastic about conquering the Thalmor's sunbirds. I still hope for you succeed." "It's been a long time since we last spoke," Endar said. "You approached me, named me your 'seliffrnsae', promised to help, and then disappeared without giving so much as your name." "I did not disappear. I left to attend other matters with the intent to return when I was needed. You, on the other hand, did quite literally disappear. I do not know if you understand how rare a thing it is for a member of the Psijic Order to fail in locating someone. What were you doing in Oblivion?" "I had business there of my own. And what are you doing among these... people?" "They are from Chorrol's Fighters Guild," she replied. "In friendlier times, someone from the Synod would have been granted Legion soldiers for protection, but the war draws them south. I joined the guild in the hopes of discovering what happened to you." "And how did you know I was here?" "The Empire's Synod use a Dwarven Oculory to locate traces of old magics. But we Psijics have even older methods. Greater, more precise. I did not know you were here until the human girl interacted with this pillar." She smiled and tapped it with her knuckles. "It wasn't long after that you and her both vanished from this world entirely. Even I could not find you at that point." The monk frowned. "I assume the girl did not survive." "That is correct." "A pity. She might've been the first person to produce such a response from the pillar in centuries. Dunard has spent weeks trying to do the same and has come up with nothing. I have done the same, in private, and yielded some results, but nothing of the extent that you two did. That was a similar form of power to Alinor's own magic of creatia." "Indeed it was," Endar confirmed, turning his mind away from Matilda. "The Ayleids called it the 'Finger of the Mountain'." "Fitting." The monk cocked her head. "But nothing of the sort is written on this pillar. You've found a different source of information, haven't you?" "Yes." Endar looked around the camp, wondering which of these Fighters had the nicest tent. "And for now that's as much as I intend to tell you." "We're not enemies, Endar. I only seek to guide." "And what a splendid job of it you've done so far." He let the sarcasm drip through his words. "By all means, remain in the camp. If I decide that your help is warranted, I will call for you." "Sometimes, that is the best we can hope for. Thank you." She smiled. "And not that you've asked, but my name is Illorwe. The Fighters have taken to calling me 'Lore'." "I think I'll stick to Illorwe." Endar turned and walked off, shaking his head. *** Endar spent most of the day inside his new tent, studying the symbols in Fingers of the Mountain. Much of what had been unclear prior to his interaction with the pillar now seemed so obvious to him. In fact, it was so obvious that it almost felt strange. He had some of the great secrets of the world at his disposal, and now he could not comprehend why they had ever been secrets in the first place. He looked down over the pages at the little blue crystal that was sprouting from the rocky earth. By evening it would be a full-sized welkynd stone, and by tomorrow it would be several times more powerful. This is mine, he thought, his eyes filling with the gem's blue light. For the first time since returning from Vile's realm, Endar felt a sense of relief. Before now, he hadn't really had a chance to put his newfound discoveries to the test. He had not known without a shadow of a doubt that everything he'd been through had not been in vain. But now, he knew. Now, he had the stone to prove it, and he could make more. This was not alteration, as the Synod would call it, or even alchemy. This was pure creatia. The oldest magic of them all. I can improve on this... I can learn to do it faster. Why should I hold myself to the standard of the Ayleids? "Elara!" he barked. He would need to record the rate of growth. Endar waited several moments, and then frowned and hid his book. Right. "Illorwe!" Several more moments passed, and then the Psijic Monk appeared through the flap of his tent. "Yarf says you called m-" Her voice trailed off when she noticed the stone. "That... did you bring that with you?" "Irrelevant. You said you wanted to help me. Well I need a quill." "A quill?" the monk's usually amiable features soured and her cheeks darkened. "Do you take me for a servant? I have offered you the assistance of the most prestigious order of mages in Tamriel, and you answer that by demeaning me?" "Right now, the only assistance that I need is in acquiring a quill. If you won't do it, then send someone else." "I have heard stories of the Telvanni's arrogance, but this..." She took another look at the crystal, scowled, and then stormed off. A couple minutes later, one of the Fighters entered the tent with a black and white feather in his hand. "Lore said you needed this." The man's eyes fell on the stone, and he whistled. "That's a pretty gem. My brother used to wear a ring with one like that on it." "I doubt that," Endar took the writing tool and dismissed the Fighter with a wave of his hand. "Well just holler if you need anything," he answered, "within reason of course. Ain't like most of us've got much to do out here." The man disappeared through the flap, and then immediately poked his head back in. "Oh, and we've got mutton if you're hungry." His face became sullen. "Yep... Lots and lots of mutton. And not much else." He could still be heard grumbling as he walked away from the tent. Endar rolled his eyes, produced his journal, and returned his attention to the crystal.
  15. 5 points
    Hey Doc, Would you mind writing up a paragraph or two synopsis of the setting and what events are taking place as the RP begins? Or point me to that, if you already posted something like it.
  16. 5 points
    Solitude The races of man mer and beast had described to the Bosmer as best they could what the fear of heights was. It seemed like a simple concept to them, but to the Bosmer it may as well have been like an infant trying to explain to an adult why they were so afraid of walking upright. Even the least nimble tree dweller learns to traverse the trees and vines above by the time they learn to walk gracefully. It comes natural. But Maori had a different fear of his own in Skyrim, much like the Imperial City when he got too close to the White Gold Tower. The vastness of Skyrim's mountains never ceased to send chills up his spine, especially from his vertically challenged view. And it wasn't the cold, that much he knew. That he never got used to either however. To Daric, they were a silent comfort. The howling of the winds against their surface above, and knowing that it was far colder up there than it was down here in Haafingar gave him comfort as well. Made it more bearable. Even so, the two were running low on food and the cold was getting more and more intrusive for the two minuscule warriors. When they saw Solitude's awkward land formation in the red splattered horizon, Daric didn't even argue when the Bosmer changed directions heading straight for the city. Neither of them said much of anything on their journey, especially not Maori who was all to aware of the looks the boy was giving him. The battle of Windhelm was still fresh on both of their minds. They went through Riften Hold briefly on their journey, but hadn't ran into any Thalmor. Maori said that they wouldn't, scouts and Justiciar elites had cloaking and invisibility magic at their disposal from at least one of their ranks. That was all he'd said the entire time to him and Daric hadn't responded. It would have continued on like that even still except Daric kept picturing Baldur the day he told him about his intel, then remembering how dumbfounded he was when he heard of Ulfric's death. All of which he had to hear from this smelly elf who wasn't even a native to these lands, and somehow "The Ash King" trusted him more than Daric. "**** this, hey knife ears!" Maori didn't seem to hear him. "Hey. Hey! Carcass breath!" "I know what you're gonna say, you've been giving me the stink eye the whole time. It's too damn cold, wait till we get to the city." Daric kept yelling at him as the elf just kept walking faster. Turning backwards but still advancing forward, Maori said, "I'm serious, shut up kid!" As he did, Maori's point of view began to rise, the earth rumbling beneath his wrapped feet as though a mountain decided to sprout beneath him. Screaming and trying to hold onto the earth, he soon found himself atop the head of a glossy black chaurus the size of a horse, writhing and wriggling out of the earth. Daric had his swords in hand ready to reluctantly charge the beast, but the ground began rumbling once more, bursting forth with pale arms grasping for anything above the surface before revealing their full visage. Meanwhile Maori kept screaming his lungs out whilst the Chaurus kept shaking its great thorny head, spewing dank putrid acid wildly as it did. The things, elves or whatever they were must've been Falmer, Daric surmised from what the Stormcloaks and Nords about Skyrim had said about them, including Baldur. Their strikes were so quick that Daric didn't bother trying to see them. His body merely moved to protect the parts of him that were most vital. The neck, eyes, groin. They slashed wildly, which his cheap chainmail was decent enough at stopping, exposing himself to glance blows to try and find openings. His left sword found itself in the belly of one elf quickly, stopping its advances while the thing tried to gnaw at his neck. The funk of its breath was made visible in the cold, and was almost as volatile as the Chaurus's acid. He cut the thing's head off out of spite before he used his boot to remove his blade. Another elf tackled him as he was doing so, aiding the process, but knocking the swords out of his hands as he fell to the ground. As the others came to aid the slaughter, Daric closed his eyes, placing his hand over the Falmer's head. At once, heat seared its flesh as it screeched in agony and fled into the marsh with a permanent hand print on its skull, cursing the boy in whatever gurgled screeches passed for a language for them. Daric scrambled for his sword and did not have time to see how the elf fared. Running as more of the creatures pursued him, he cast small bolts of flame from his swords periodically to slow them down, then directly towards a partially frozen puddle to create a screen of steam to hide from the twisted figures. It didn't slow them down for a second, and Daric had no idea why. He had no idea that the things were blind, and relied only on their hearing to track him down like wolves. He had no idea how many of them there were or where they'd even come from. But he knew he was alone, with nothing but his father's spells and Baldur's teachings to keep him alive barely as ribbons of blood arched from his body every time one of the things got a blow on the quick but outnumbered fighting protege. Because of his preoccupation with the Falmer, Darin couldn't see the dingy fast approaching, it's occupants paddling hard for the shore. It wasn't until one of the Falmer cried out in pain from the firebolt that slammed into it from behind that Daric, and the rest of the Falmer, took notice. A few split off from their assault on Daric to meet this new foe. They found themselves facing an entirely steel plate clad warrior, wielding sword and shield. Their blows were quick, but their chaurus weapons did little to even dent the plate. The knight bashed and slashed the relentless Falmer, while the rest of the boat's occupants continued to let spells fly. Daric was about to thank the gods, but he'd lost a bit of blood by now and was unsure if the assistance he saw and what he saw next was real or him hallucinating from the bloodloss. Maori who Daric had completely forgotten about was still atop of the Chaurus head. Instead of swinging around wildly trying to keep it from eating him, he was comfortably striding atop of it into battle against what remained of the scampering elves. The sight of their monster mount turned against them and the arrival of the new fire slinging iron knight sent the rest of them in retreat beneath the frozen marshes to lands unknown. All but one remaining elf that began hurling lightning at the new assailants in frustration and desperation. Its leg was lacerated at the heel by Daric earlier, and wasn't going to be able to flee like the others. It cast a summoning spell that brought forth several spectral chaurus and charged the knight and his men in one final push. The knight stepped into the path of the first chaurus and cut it down in one swing, but that allowed another chaurus to clamp onto the knight's plate clad shin. That chaurus dissolved into the salty air when a young Breton man, slightly older than Daric and not wearing armor but glowing with the magical hue of an armor spell, stabbed it through the back with an ice spike. The knight was then free to confront the Falmer mage, who sent bolt after bolt into the oncoming knight. The knight absorbed them, slowing down only after the third bolt. The Falmer struck then, swinging its axe as quickly as possible, trying to find an opening in the knight's defense. It was for naught, though, as the knight knocked the Falmer to the ground with a powerful bash, where it was stabbed through the chest. The final chaurus dissipated, while the fireball aimed at it skorched the ground mere moments after it disappeared. The young Breton man stepped forward, his hands glowing orange with healing magic, and approached Daric. "Dame, guard that hole," he said to the knight. Then, to Daric, "Where are you hurt?" "Everywhere," said Daric before collapsing in the man's arms. Maori stuck a dagger under the bug's shell plate, revealing the soft underpart which he stabbed, killing the thing before his charms wore off on it. "The boy gonna be alright? I'd hate to have to tell Red-Snow his Breton brat got killed by rabid elves. Too soon, you know? Who are you lot anyway?" "He's Prince Roland Adrard of High Rock," the knight answered. She turned her helmeted head to look at the dagger before she went back to watching the hole. Roland was running soft orange magic over Daric, but he soon stopped. "We need to go. I stopped the bleeding but couldn't mend much else." Roland squatted and lifted Daric up, carrying him in his arms. Daric was slightly taller than Roland, but whereas the former was lean, the latter was brawny. As quickly as he could manage it, he walked over to the boat and sat him in, where the other two soldiers were already manning the oars. "Let's go, elf," the knight said, climbing aboard the boat herself. "The name is Maori..." he said, obviously irritated. "What are you lot doing here, yer highness? Where's the fa- uh, the fabulous illustrous King Theodore? You're here for the moot I take it?" The boat set off, with Roland still tending to Daric, though at this point that consisted of keeping his wounds sealed. Roland looked up and answered, "We are. I came in place of my father. What were you two doing out in the swamp?" "Attending to business for the Jarl of Windhelm," said Maori. He hesitated to answer. "Going just peachy already. I gotta get the kid patched up quick, we don't have time to waste here. Guess that means I gotta take him to the court mage. Help me haul him there, I'm sure you're hungry, and as allies to Skyrim, Solitude's Jarl should accommodate you until the moot is called." "That won't be necessary. We're here to meet with the Jarl, her thanes, and some merchants to check in on our trading contracts. We'll then do the same in Windhelm, and travel to the moot from there," Roland explained. They were almost to the docks, the soldiers rowing as quickly as possible. "But we will certainly help your friend. We have a healer at the docks that can better steady him until we get to the court mage." "Good," said Maori. Pausing a moment, then stepping towards Daric, he tore off the boy's blue sash and placed it in his pack. The moot was too close and Maori didn't want to take any risks with a Jarl who had bad history with his friend. Who knows what could happen up until the moot took place. The Thalmor's eyes were everywhere, and ambitious greed even moreso. "I'll run ahead, let the Jarl know she has guests, and make sure the court wizard is ready to assist him." "We'll meet you there," Roland said, his eyes only briefly lingering on the bag Maori put the sash in. It was obvious the reasons for hiding it weren't lost on him, or Dame LaViolette, whose eyes did the same. She nodded to the elf, relaying their understanding, and silence. They docked then, the knight hurrying to fetch the healer, the soldiers helping lift the boy from the boat, and Roland keeping his healing hands pressed on the wounds. Maori watched them briefly, wondering if it wise to trust Baldur's stray to these Bretons, but despite his unkempt wild appearance, he was kin to them. If you couldn't trust kin.... He stopped the thought, knowing all too well that one couldn't even trust kin anymore with the Thalmor's fingers in every pot. But the Bretons had little to gain in siding with Thalmor. The thought was pure paranoia born of simply not liking the disdain in the voice of the woman. In this land, she may as well have had pointy ears. "Pfft, the nerve." Maori had never actually been to Solitude. Aside from the crazy land formation it was on, it seemed like a bit of an extension of a Cyrodiil city. The Imperials had more sense than to build a city on such a thing. The Nords... well, no one ever accused the Nords of being fearful. That was always their biggest problem if you asked him. Instinctively Maori kept to the outskirts of the streets, with all the tall men and women stomping around from shop to shop. He was caught off guard by a pair of Altmer women staring at him, and instinctively grasped his dagger before realizing the two had noticed. "What?" "Where is it that you think you're going, little carnivore?" Maori's nostrils flared as his eyebrows arched. "As it happens, I'm going to see the Jarl and the court mage, butter elf." "In those? Like that?" said the first elf. "What are those?" said the second one, who Maori noted was a bit cuter than the first one, but barely. "Those are my feet." said Maori. The women's dual expressions said everything. "I don't have time for this, I don't care about the approval of two Altmer. I have to-" "Oh this won't take but a moment, and it's not our approval you should be worried about." "Yes, now quit fussing, it's for your own good!" The two worked in unison, one pushing him from behind and the other guiding him along. Before he knew it, he was being stripped naked in front of a pair of strange women and no wine was involved this time. Unfortunately for him neither was the sex and he wasn't doing the pricking either. "Ow, watch where you're sticking that thing!" "Stay still, and we won't prick you! Almost done. There, now, do us a favor and wear this when you go to meet the Jarl. She's far more likely to see you in our attire, compared to how you were before." Maori struggled as they brought him a mirror. He had to admit, after they cleaned him up a bit and combed his hair, put on the new brown elegant robes, he didn't look to bad. "And what did I look like before, pray tell?" "Like a vagabond. Like you were here to start trouble. And that simply won't do, not for an elf in Skyrim." He eyed the two suspiciously. "You two often help random strangers that happen to look like trouble? For all you know, I could be." "You'd be doing us a favor," said one of them. "And, we're trying to do one for you. We know what happened in Valenwood. What's happening in Valenwood." Maori eyed the two suspiciously, but for the first time saw something more than snobby looks in their eyes. The Altmer actually seemed remorseful. His expression softened for a moment until his suspicion began rising again. "What's it to you two anyway? And how would you know? That isn't common knowledge, not here in Skyrim it isn't." "We used to be with the Dominion of course, both of us." Maori drew the same dagger he grasped earlier, its golden tint matching the skin of the one he held it against. "I knew it! I can smell your lot from a world away!" The elven women stayed calm, even as a trickle of blood fell from her neck. The other one stepped behind Maori with her hands behind her back and said, "We were not Thalmor. But we served them none the less. We thought it was the right thing to do, though you know we had no choice in the matter regardless." "Oh so you just had a change of heart when you saw the murder? Smelled the burning flesh? Is that it? Please. And you think some fancy clothes is going to change what happened? Make up for your roles in it? How many did you two kill, hmm?" "We killed no one. We only fashioned the uniforms of the Thalmor Justiciars. You can choose to believe this or not, accept our gift or not, but I will have to ask that you take that blade from my sister's neck. I won't allow you to kill her." Maori removed the blade eventually, licking the blade clean before putting it back in its place. "As if you had a choice in the matter. I'm out of here," he said. The two tried to say something as he left with his travel sack but he didn't give them any time to as he slammed the door shut. Blinking rapidly whilst wiping his eyes, the Bosmer's teeth ground together the entire way back to the Blue Palace. The guards stopped him at the bottom of the stairway before he could even make his way up, putting a hand on his shoulder as they took his pack. "What the hell are you two doing, I have business with the Jarl!" "Not right now you don't, and not until we've searched you." "Search away, the bag's filled with daggers and poisons, and here's my bow and arrows. I'm not an assassin, I'm a soldier for the Jarl of Windhelm, Baldur Red-Snow. I take it you've heard the news. The dumb looks on your face tells me... no? No. Great, where have you two been. Anyway, you know Ulfric has died at least? Ok good. Baldur has taken his place, not the Queen, Velara or whatever. I'm here on business for Baldur, and I need to speak to the Jarl but first I gotta speak to the court mage. Can you bring her here?" The two looked at one another a moment, then back at the elf. As the bars slammed in Maori's face in the Blue Palace's prison, Maori yelled, "You sons of sload sluts, I hope you choke on a blood sausage! Scullery whores!" The guards laughed as they walked away, leaving Maori to seethe to himself. It wasn't long, though, before he heard soft footsteps and cloth lightly dragging along the ground, both barely audible. But the prison was quiet, and somehow grew quieter still as the footsteps moved about. They reached Maori's cell, and the elf found himself looking upon a slender, blue robe clad mage. Her hood was pulled over her face, even though she was indoors. She stood, most of her weight on her right leg, her right hand resting on her hip. She looked at Maori, searching his face and body with unnerving eyes. She stopped the inspection and asked, "You aren't going to struggle, are you? Neither one of us would find it pleasant if you did." Maori hadn't noticed the woman at first and noticeably jumped at her voice. "Excuse me? What are you, an avatar of Molag? No, he'd like it if I struggled... Try anything and I'll struggle your head from your shoulders lady." "If only I had the time to watch you try and fail at that, it might be amusing. But I'm in quite a hurry." She lifted her hand, which glowed in a faint red and black magic, the tendrils it conjured reaching out towards Maori. "Oh yea, well I'll... I'll... what did you..." Maori could feel his eyelids grow heavier by the second. Whatever the mage did to him, he was losing his faculties fast. In fact, he was starting to hallucinate. He could have sworn he saw the young woman baring fangs at him like a khajiit... He drew a hidden dagger from his robe but lacked the strength to even hold it. As he fell to the ground, his only hope remaining was to use his people's birthright, hoping that some creature of the wild would hear his call. In a prison, beneath a palace. "Shit." Sybille Stentor entered the cell, her fangs bared, her eyes locked on Maori's soft brown neck. She heard scurrying behind her and stopped, turning around to see two skeevers running across the room toward her. She conjured up a ball of flame and reduced one skeever to ash. It shrieked as it died. The other skeever leapt into the air, its own fangs aimed at her neck. It never made it, as she caught it on an ice spike she held in her hand. She tossed it to the floor, but before she could feed, she saw a guard descending the stairs. "This had better be important," she said. "Uh..." the guard lifted a finger, pointing to the mer. "We need him. Jarl just ordered the prisoner released. Turns out he was who he said he was, a messenger for Jarl Red-Snow. What happened to him?" "Fainted. I've never seen someone so afraid of skeevers before," Sybille said, with a stare that dared the guard to challenge her story. The guard nodded and went to pick Maori up, lifting the groggy mer to his feet and waking him up. By the time he had, Sybille was gone. "Mmm, not so hard baby. Mmm, seriously." Maori started coughing, kicking his legs when he felt water hit his face, as though he were trying to swim. "Wake up!" The guard dumped another bucket of water over his head. "What? What's going on? Where's the monster?" "Shut up you crazy elf, and listen. For whatever reason, the Jarl has decided to have you for dinner." Maori cleared his throat and wiped the water from his eyes. "That woman I just met was the Jarl?" "Huh? No, that's just Sybille, the court mage. She's the one that healed your friend while you were away. They're probably eating now. I'm escorting you to the dinner table to speak with her, and her other guests. Show her respect or it's back in the dungeon. Got it?" "Aye." Maori was in no mood to be mouthy after what he thought he saw. "Good. Now get moving," said the guard as he tossed Maori a cloth. By the time the two did arrive at the Dinner table, the guests were all well into their meal and a conversation. The guard bowed to Elisif and said, "Jarl Elisif the Fair, I present to you your guest, the elf." "My name is Maori. Ack, damnit!" he cried when the guard hit him over the head to bow. "My name is Maori, Jarl Elisif. The Fair." "Guard! That is no way to treat a guest, apologize to him at once and be off with you!" The guard gave Maori such a look, especially when the mer started grinning beneath all his freakish tattoos. "Stuhn's mercy, elf I'll.... I mean... I'm. Sorry." "Don't beat yourself up too much, eyebrows," said Maori, mocking his accent, as well as his prominent brow. The Jarl snickering at him was all he needed to leave the scene. Maori seated himself once next to Daric, who whispered in his ear, "So, you took my sash but then just blurted out what your purpose was? How stupid are you?" "Not now kid, I'm not having the best day," he said between mouthfuls of rib. He almost choked when he realized who was sitting across from him. "Careful, Maori," Sybille said. "What would Jarl Red-Snow think of us if you choked to death at our dinner table?" Maori's eyes narrowed, the insinuation not lost on him. Though poison was one thing he hadn't needed to worry about, living in Valenwood. He spent his life building up immunities. The boy was another story, but judging from his plate, it was too late to worry about such things now. Seeing Sybille's own plate, Maori said, "That the food must not be very good. Excuse me my Jarl, I don't mean to be rude, I only jest. But I can't help but notice, of everyone here, your court Mage is the only one that hasn't eaten anything." Elisif eyed the court Mage, as if noticing this for the first time. It was of course, the last thing on her mind, as she was more worried about what Red-Snow wanted with her. Falk gave her a nod, and she reluctantly smiled. "Well you're right! Sybille? You always eat so little at my tables. Please." Maori shoved a bowl of fruits and squash her way while he wolfed down a bloody lamb leg. "Of course, Jarl Elisif. Excuse me if I don't have quite the voracious appetite of our guest, though." Sybille plucked an apple and began eating, taking a moment to wipe the juice from her lips. "Delicious, your highness." Maori frowned. He didn't know a thing about vampires but he'd have sworn they couldn't eat food. Wiping the bloody meat juice from his lips, the thought started to leave his mind. Perhaps he was just seeing things, she might've cast a fear spell to intimidate him for interrogation. Prince Roland interrupted then, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen over everyone else at the table. He cleared his throat and said, "Solitude is a beautiful city, Jarl Elisif. You and your people must be very proud of it." "We're more proud that we've managed to maintain its beauty despite the late Ulfric Stormcloak moving the capital of Skyrim to Windhelm, and taking a large portion of our coffers with him," she answered. "From what I understand, all that happened was that the late Ulfric, your husband, took his portion of the hold's coffers with him, which as High King was larger than yours, the High King's wife. And after that, traders started seeking to do business in Windhelm, the new capital, rather than here." Elisif was visibly annoyed. Maori looked at Daric as though he'd just spoken in draconic. Falk sat straight in his seat for the first time that evening. "Boy! You are a guest in our hold, and unless you want to end up the way these Bretons found you, I'd suggest..." "Enough Falk, the boy is right. That is what happened. Ulfric ended our marriage and left me here with my portion of gold to run the city, leaving with his. Gold that was only his because he'd claimed it as such after the war." "That is what tends to happen when one loses. Gold is lost, wives are taken." "What in the hell is wrong with you??" This time it was Maori's turn to speak up. "We shouldn't even be here," said Daric. "We-" "Are going to stay right here until Sybille says you're good to travel again. If it weren't for my hospitality, you'd be dead. Whatever business you have can and will wait until then, I'll not have anyone saying I treated Red-Snow's friends poorly with the upcoming moot. And since it's clear you two, or at least the boy has other things on his mind, and have no interest in me at all as it so happens, I'll have to ask that while our other guests remain, that you keep your mouth shut. Is that clear?" Standing up, Daric said, "May I be excused, your highness?" She signaled for Falk to take him to his quarters where Sybille was treating him. The stress on the young Jarl was clear to all that saw her. Especially when Daric called Ulfric her husband, though stress wouldn't be an adequate word for what she showed then. Neither was it anger. Disgust. "Are there going to be any more outbursts, Maori?" "Don't look at me, I'm just here for the meal and conversation. Something's always up that kid's ass if you ask me, gotta forgive him." "Luckily for you, Elisif the Fair isn't a name given in jest. Now, to our guests. I must apologize to you, I had not intended for such rudeness to intrude on the company of a prince." Lady Gaerhart, the Breton Dowager Queen, waved Elisif's concern away and said, "Young people are emotional. You have been quite hospitable, and kind, to take him in and save him. Hopefully he will soon recognize that." Roland coughed and said, "I can also assure you Breton merchants will always find their way here. Our trading relationship is a fruitful one, for all parties, and we don't anticipate that ending anytime soon." Elisif let herself relax, admittedly glad to hear that she still had support amongst the Bretons. "It will be especially fruitful, on the chance that I become High Queen," she said. Before anyone commented on the likelihood of that happening, she said, "I've already heard the rumors, why you're here. Word is spreading that Baldur is to break even more tradition than he already has, by inviting outsiders to a moot of Skyrim's Jarls. Fear not, I am not opposed to this. It's surprising, but it's a welcome one." Thane Bryling said, "Forgive me for butting in, but I think it's clear to all that the new upstart Jarl wishes to circumvent the authority of the other Jarls with any influence he can muster in the world. A bold move admittedly, but also an obvious one. And risky when the man he replaced was adamant on keeping outside influence out of Skyrim politics." Elisif looked to Maori to see if he would interrupt but the mer was simply listening between mouthfuls. "Aye, risky indeed, but even so, I am worried. This claim of his, this religious fervor that he is building... It's dangerous. I've met the man, spoken to him on occasion. He is charismatic, like his predecessor though not as much then. Still, I worry about what he can do to this land, and with word of more foreigners, supposedly Atmorans or something similar coming to Skyrim on his behalf, it's starting to look more and more like what he claims may even be true. That's what the simple folk will think. That's what some Jarls east of here will think. In that case, outsiders, no offense your highness, will not cause as much harm to his claim to the throne." Looking to them now, she said, "I remember what he said the day Ulfric left this hold with a new wife. The people did not respond to it well back then, certainly not in Solitude, but still, it troubles me, this move to the old ways. You must understand, what he is saying, it isn't dangerous for just me, or anyone else in Skyrim that may be potentially his enemy in his eyes. But to his neighbors as well. Hammerfell I understand, Cyrodiil less so, but High Rock even less. What allegiances do you have to him? There is no reason that you should feel obligated to siding with Baldur Red-Snow over another Jarl in this land." Prince Roland gave the Jarl a small smile, which she later realized was meant to take the bite out of his words. "No official allegiance, no. Our choice in siding with him is because, frankly, we believe he is the best option. There are more senior Jarls, yes, who have more experience governing, but we aren't looking to support a ruler. We want a leader, and Red-Snow is that. Skyrim is going to lead this alliance, and Red-Snow will be the general in charge. Him ruling Skyrim as well ensures that everything that can be done to defeat the Thalmor will be done." "If it is a leader you want," said Elisif, with hesitation. "Then... there is another you might consider. He's possibly the best person to be leading a war like this." "Jarl Elisif," said Bryling again in protest. "You can't seriously mean..." "Jarl Brund Hammer-Fang the Bull," she finally said, her brow wrinkled in tension. "If Jarl Brund Hammer-Hammer-Fang becomes high king, I am to be his second wife. Influence between Solitude and Windhelm will be spread evenly. That would mean more trade would come through Solitude as well, as a sister hold to Windhelm, and I will be able to grant High Rock unprecedented trading rights to Solitude after the great war, when we'll both need it the most. Baldur was not the only one who helped repel the Thalmor invasion, Brund's might was key to their defeat of a Sunbird. Under his rule, you get an equally strong war leader against the Thalmor, but with guaranteed benefits to your father's Kingdom afterwards as well. Brund is also the current Jarl of Markarth, and can grant you the same trading rights there with the Silver-Bloods." "I have heard of him. He cleared the Reach, no small task. But Baldur has proven himself at both Falkreath and Windhelm, had the support of the late High King and was his High General, and built a respectable town from nothing. We won't support anyone but him for High King," Roland said. Lady Gaerhart nodded and wiped her twisted old hands on her napkin. "Why not support Baldur yourself? It would endear you to him and the eastern Jarls, and, if you don't mind my saying so, save your dignity. The Jarl of Solitude should not have to be a second wife. I know there are eligible Breton noblemen who would leap at the chance to be your husband. Or maybe a Jarl or his relations." Bryling gave Elisif a look, but she gave one right back. Bryling clearly had suggested something similar. She gave a sigh that was rooted in frustration but faded in her defeat of the topic. She couldn't tell them the truth of why she resisted supporting Baldur's claim. Yes, she feared his claim not only to the throne but to High King Wulfharth's soul as well. But more than that, it was her only chance to wrestle back control from Windhelm to Solitude. Yes there would be the indignity of being Jarl Brund's second wife, but she had no intentions of remaining as such. Keep your friends close... I can't support that man and what he represents. It would be an affront to my husband, my true husband, Torygg. Who I've already brought shame to by not taking my own life when I had the chance. I must restore Solitude as the capital of Skyrim in his name. Instead of explaining her selfish desires however, she said, "I have a duty to Skyrim to stand against anyone as potentially dangerous as Baldur Red-Snow, against anyone that will bring more death and war to my people and my friends outside of Skyrim. For this, I'll suffer whatever indignities I must." "Oh please," said Maori. "Sir elf, I thought we had an understan-" "I understand only one thing, and it is that you are a fool." "You will watch your tongue! I am the Jarl of-," "You know DAMN well that whatever fears you have of Baldur pale in comparison to what Brund Hammer-Fang brings to the table! You know better than I, you've met the man! Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me that Brund seems like a better choice as High King to you than Baldur?" Guards were approaching the elf now as he erupted out of his seat. "I'm leaving, and I'm taking the boy with me. We'll be fine enough without anymore assistance from...her..." said Maori. "And here. I wasn't going to give you this, figured it was a waste of time. Baldur said that I was to give out these letters in case I came across any Jarls in my travels, to ask for your support in the moot. I still say it's a waste of time but whatever. Do with it as you will." The guard snatched the letter from Maori's hand before he could throw it at her. He protested of course, but the guard ignored him. "Read it please," she said. As the guard prepared to do so, the man parted the seal upon it, and it immediately erupted in smoke. Coughing, the man dropped the parchment on the table, where the smoke gathered before them, and eventually displayed the likeness of Baldur Red-Snow himself. "Well, this is certainly interesting," the smoky apparition said. Looking at the prince, he said, "I can see Theodore in you, but you're way too thin to be him. How goes the king? Couldn't make it I take it?" "What in the blazes??" said Elisif. "What is this?!" "Calm down, it's the workings of my own court mage. He calls himself a druid. Right now, we're all subconsciously communicating through something called a dreamsleeve transmission. It's something similar to what the Thalmor use to communicate, but less efficient since everyone can hear me instead of just Elisif. But no matter. This may be better seeing as how you've got important guests." "Impressive," Sybille said, speaking mostly to herself. Roland said, "No, Jarl Red-Snow, he could not make it. He and my mother are doing well. I'm Prince Roland, heir to the throne of High Rock. This," he motioned to his left, "is my grandmother, Lady Gaerhart, and the man next to her is Duke Theirry, our admiral. We've come in my parent's place." Baldur bowed his head in respect. "I'm very grateful that you've come all this way in his stead, especially you, Lady Gaerhart. I've heard that name before, even in Skyrim, though I confess I don't know the origin. I trust you've met Daric? He's... my ward, son of Maric." Roland bowed back. "We met him. My guards and I saved him and your elven courier. We haven't had much time to talk, unfortunately. He was injured and is still recovering." "I was saddened to miss you when you passed through Daggerfall," Lady Gaerhart said, before Elisif or any of the other members of her court could interject. "I understand you and your wife met my husband, the late King Dilborn. I know he did not give you any assurances of Breton support at the time, but I hope our attendance at this moot demonstrates our commitment to fighting the Thalmor. Even if my old bones may not be able to make it to the top of your mountain." Elisif was getting increasingly annoyed by the hijacking of her company, to Maori's great pleasure. Baldur smiled and said, "Ah, that must've been when I heard your name! So much has happened since... And please believe me when I say this indeed shows me your people's commitment to fighting the Thalmor. Daric has showed me first hand the fighting spirit of your people. It'll be an honor to have you with us. And if you can't make it up the mountain, I'm sure I can have someone carry you! This isn't something you'll want to miss... Oh, and when we meet, communicating may be a bit of an issue until after the moot, you see I...." Baldur's image began to fade as he attempted to explain and the Bretons and Elisif's court could hear the voice of an old man whispering in some forgotten language. "Can't go into detail right now. We're only speaking now because we're connected via our minds. This dreamsleeve transmission is usually maintained by a mage's mind, which I am not. And my Druid is attending business elsewhere. If we can, we must find more of these scrolls the Thalmor have and master the art ourselves. Cyrodiil might know more. In the meantime I must part, I..." "Enough of this! Jarl Baldur, you have shown this court the utmost disrespect! This...you...do you have anything to say for yourself and what you're doing? Ash King indeed!" Baldur turned to Elisif once more, visibly annoyed. Maori said, "She plans to side with Brund Hammer-Fang you know. She's to be his second wife if he wins..." "Really," he said. "Know this, I will be your King and neither Brund or you can change that. What you do now to delay this only serves the Thalmor and puts Skyrim and my family in further danger, as well as all of Tamriel. Think hard on those implications when you meet me." Standing abruptly she said, "You dare threaten me?! I am not afraid of the likes of you!" "It's no threat," he said. "I will not waste more than words on you. Killing you is beneath me. If you had any Nord pride, you'd do that yourself and end the sorrow I sense in you for your late husband. Rather than shame him further by laying with the Bull." He turned to Roland and said with a smile, "Ours I mean." Elisif shot him a look of venom very much unlike her that even made Maori nervous considering whose palace they were in. Her hand reached out as if she wanted to crush the little smokey apparition of Baldur, but it fell back. She wanted to maintain what dignity yet still remained. "This conversation is over. Yol." The word was thought, not said, but they all heard it anyway. Flame encompassed them all and their minds were overcome with Ehlnofex and daedric characters, then a series of 1's and 0's before ancient Draconic began corrupting the code. The last thing they heard before waking up was Baldur saying, "And thank you for protecting Maori and the boy. They are both very dear to me." "It seems the Nords have found magic yet," Lady Gaerhart said, eliciting a smile from Sybille and the other Bretons. The tension in the room didn't dissipate, however, and no one had yet started eating again. Roland offered a new topic for conversation. "Jarl Elisif, has news made it here of the Roscreans returning to Tamriel? We met one of theirs in Farrun, and are sending emissaries to their island. It's my understanding Solitude used to control the island. Will you start trading with them once again?" For a moment it seemed like Elisif hadn't heard them at all, and she didn't respond until Falk cleared his throat. That was the first time she noticed that he'd returned as well. He nodded, letting her know the boy was taken care of. "Trade with the Roscreans, yes I'm sure the sailors will be happy that they don't need to make any long voyages to do so. Occasionally they'd return with stories of their strange people, fantastical stories about talking giants and so on." Her eyes didn't meet any of theirs as she spoke. "There's no reason not to trade with them, and the goods would find their way here from other holds anyway if they're really wandering around Skyrim. We may as well be one of the first." "Do you see any sort of threat from them?" Duke Theirry asked, looking between Falk and Elisif. "If they took to piracy, they would be a formidable force." "I agree, they would be. And given how the Thalmor like to do things in the shadows, it's something that we should consider a possibility," said Falk. "Wouldn't you agree, Jarl Elisif?" "I think that not only does opening ourselves to such a risk seem stupid at this stage of our war prep with the Thalmor, it also seems that if we were going to take such a risk, the new Jarl of Windhelm should have consulted the rest of the Jarls before doing so. We don't know much of anything about them, and now they're fiddling with magic that is not our own, and using it so brazenly in my palace?" Falk cleared his throat again and said, "But I'm sure it wouldn't come to that. They are supposed to be Nords, of a sort after all. Solitude will lead the effort in assuring that these Roscreans will have no need to resort to piracy. In fact, an island nation could prove useful in guarding our trade routes, watching out for enemy ships and so on, if they're to help us in the war. High Rock should think about making an effort to speak with them as well I think, especially while you're in Skyrim. Don't you think Jarl Elisf?" "...of course," she said. "That would be wise." "An emissary is headed to Roscrea as we speak. He will help establish diplomatic relations with their rulers. But I will try and speak to this druid Jarl Red-Snow has employed. The man who visited High Rock did so in the druids' authority, but was not one himself," Roland said. "How are your people readying themselves for war?" asked Jarl Elisif, seemingly snapping out of her bad mood. "I'm curious, even if I myself am not taking an active role, the possibility of becoming Queen makes me want to look for out of the box solutions and be aware of what my allies are capable of." Duke Thierry said, "We spent several weeks clearing the northern and western waters of pirates. It was good practice for our marines and mages, as well as the many sailors who had little fighting experience." "We also recently partnered with the Direnni, so our mages can learn how to best combat Elven magic. And our levies are drilling as much as they can. Our knights, of course, are always prepared. We stand ready to fight once the war begins," Roland said. "These Direnni, I've read about them before. They partnered with Hoag Merkiller once upon a time to fight against the Alessian Cult. I suppose we can trust them then?" "That was a long time ago," said Maori, not so thrilled about the prospect. "Though, some of them may have actually remembered those days. Who knows with mages, and how long they live. Any thoughts on that, court mage?" Maori narrowed his eyes, gauging her reaction. Sybille sipped from her wine glass and licked the excess off her lips. "Everyone knows mages live longer. And Altmer have naturally longer lifespans. Not to mention whatever unnatural means they might use. The Telvanni are rumored to use necromancy, for instance. But the Alessian Cult was so long ago, as you so astutely stated, so chances are no one is still alive that was then. And even if they were, they would be far from human." "Elves are far from human. Or do you mean something else? Like a lich, or a vampire?" said Maori, smirking. "Obviously the latter," she said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "I should have expected a Bosmeri bumpkin to get caught up in semantics and completely miss my meaning. I meant that anyone who had lived so long would no longer be a whole person. Lich, vampire, necromancer, whatever magic they used to live from the time of the Alessian Cult until now would take something from them. Such a long and unnatural life has its costs." "Maori, maybe you should go check on your friend," Roland offered, as everyone at the table watched the court mage and messenger square off. They had all stopped eating by now. Lady Gaerhart said, "A sensible idea. He's had a trying day, after all." Maori kept his glare with Sybille for an awkwardly long time. Finally he smiled and said, "Perhaps you're right. I've lost my appetite anyway. Too much bloody meat in my diet. Here, perhaps you'd like to finish my plate," said Maori, dropping a very large portion of rare beef in front of her over the fruit she was slowly nibbling on, blood oozing from where he'd bitten it last. Grinning, he said, "In the name of the Jarl of Windhelm, I apologize for the state of your evening, your grace. I sincerely hope your color returns before you arrive at the moot. Ta-ta." Falk moved as though he was going to throw the Bosmer back into the dungeon, but Elisif shook her head. "Leave him be," she said. "The size of the snowberries on that mer..." he said under his breath. "I must apologize too," she said to her guests. "I came at you with an agenda, when I'm sure what you wanted most was a good meal and rest. I hope you can forgive me, my home's well-being is at stake, as is all of our homes. You handled yourselves well, and regardless of what happens, I do hope that Solitude and High Rock will continue to have a beneficial and friendly relationship with one another." "That is my hope, and my parents' hope, as well," Roland said. Lady Gaerhart added, "You and your husband were always good friends to our citizens and traders, and we would like that to continue. Best of luck at the moot." Elisif nodded, doing her best to smile. "My palace is open to you all, stay for as long as you like. If you'll excuse me I have a letter to write, then I'll be turning in for the evening. Sybille? Please see to our guest. Whatever differences you two have should be reconciled. I don't want to hear any arguing from you two tomorrow at the breakfast table." "Of course, Jarl Elisif," Sybille said. She stood, bowed, and then left at a brisk pace to the guest rooms. She cast a defect life spell and saw Maori alone in his room, so she entered without knocking and locked the door behind her. She said, "Insolent elf. You won't be so impertinent next time." Maori jumped at the sound of her voice, not hearing her approach once again. All of his weapons were gone, but he had a kitchen knife he snagged from the dinner table, coated with garlic. "There, you smell that, she-witch? I know I'm not crazy. I know what you are! Guards!" "No one can hear you, the room is muffled," she said, and with a wave of her hand sent the knife skittering across the floor. She raised her hands and pinned Maori in a chair. "You should know, I'm not going to kill you. Or even hurt you, much, though you likely deserve it. But you cannot be allowed to spread these rumors about me." "I'll come back for you someday, you snaggle toothed bitch. I always bite back. So just get it over with already." Sybille smiled to reveal her fangs. "I somehow doubt you will, this time." She waved her hand and Maori was knocked unconscious. She leaned over him and drank from the vein in his neck, taking her time and drinking him for every drop she needed. When she was finished, she opened his mouth and poured down a potion to stop his turning, then healed away her bite marks with a quick spell. And to ensure he'd never utter her secret, she placed one hand on each temple and began the spell. Red tendrils stretched between her hands and over his head as she muttered under her breath. She probed deep into his mind, searching for the memories and feelings of their previous encounters. She found them, laced with fear and hate, and pulled them out with the crimson tendrils. She conjured a bottle and stored the memories, which were always useful for certain rituals and spells. With that she dissipated the spells in the room and left Maori sleeping in his chair. Daric came barging in sometime later that night, brow tensed up and as always sporting a bad attitude. "What did Baldur say? What's going on?" He demanded, but the elf was out cold. Daric walked over, shook him like a rag doll, then heard the clammer of a mead bottle rolling over the stone floor. "Pfft, light weight. I thought you didn't drink our liquor though..." he said, but he didn't put much further thought into it. His tales of elven fermented meat juice always sounded like drakeshit anyway. Grabbing Maori by the collar, Daric lifted the elf and their gear he stole back from the guards and snuck out of the palace in the thick of night. On his way out he heard two things that gave him pause. The first, the sound of a woman sobbing down a dark corridor, and what he thought must've been a... chuckle? Either way, he was glad to leave the palace and Solitude behind for good.
  17. 4 points
    Her Majesty, Empress Dales Draconus I, Holder of the Ruby Throne, former Countess of Sutch, Head of the Motierre family, and Defender of Cyrodiil. By Erika Tan
  18. 4 points
    Theo- Lord Manderly Gracchus- Baristan Selmy Tacitus- Victarian Morane- Maybe one of the sand snakes? Idk for this one Also, I've very anti Nordic Empire, and anti Brund (the character), and anti Broond (the pronunciation). Second rate Baldur the size of Boldir more like it
  19. 4 points
  20. 4 points
    I'm on bus to Fort Benning. Got 1 hour and 45 minutes. I'll catch y'all in 3 months.
  21. 4 points
    I agree. Between it being an obscure topic, most lore fans being shit writers, and Bethesda not having much good on Shadow Magic themselves, BT may legitimately be the best author on TES Shadow Magic in the world.
  22. 4 points
    Thanks Colonel! I know I've spent a lot of time reading around to try and get a grasp on shadow magic, since the games themselves don't have much. I'm glad it's paying off. And I'm glad you like Morane as well. My next post will be another one of hers and I'm excited about it. As for your posts...
  23. 4 points
    I think where Witchie is coming from is that a good personality and attentive leader only goes so far. Witchie gets the results, Dales tends to the people and soldiers personally which in my eyes makes them good partners. If we're to explain their loyalty to her specifically though, I think it should be mentioned that part of the loyalty to her is due to Witch, and that she gives them a needed and familiar friendly face, so it doesn't exclude Witch entirely.
  24. 4 points
    The Colovian Highlands Boldir stood at the edge of a hill, a short man on his left, and a scruffy black dog on his right. The land before them glowed as fires spread as far as the eye could see. Their heat nipped at him as it had in Riften, and the smell of death filled his nostrils. "You had best wake up," said the man in the all-too-memorable voice of Clavicus Vile. "Snooze too long and the flames will reach you." "You don't want that," yapped the dog. "Not if you plan on getting her soul back." I don't know how, were the words Boldir wanted to say, but for some reason his mouth could not open. How do I wake up? "I don't know Barbas, he doesn't seem to be trying all that hard. Perhaps I put too much faith in my latest champion. No matter. I will find someone else if he dies." "Maybe we should help him. Fellow hasn't even gotten a chance to try." Without warning, the dog bit Boldir's hand. What are you doing?! He reared away from the mutt while Vile watched, laughing. Barbas snapped again, forcing Boldir to jerk away. *** "Stop!" The single word uttered by Boldir startled Mila so much that she jerked her wrist, spilling most of the medicine that she had been lowering to his lips. The green liquid dribbled down his chin and was lost in his beard. "Damnit!" Mila set the half-empty vial aside and grabbed a rag. "Well at least you spoke. This stuff must really be working." She lowered the rag to his chin, and as she did, Boldir's left arm lashed out and struck the larger jar containing the rest of the potion. It shattered against the fireplace, spilling all over the wooden floor. "What the- No-no-no!" Mila went over to the spill and tried to use the rag soak up as much of the potion as she could manage, which was precious little. She glared back at her father, who despite the single thrash, appeared to still be sound asleep. "What is wrong with you?! Don't you know this stuff is saving your life?!" As usual, Boldir did not respond in any way. She sighed and went to wring the liquid she'd saved into a bowl. It only amounted to a few drops, which she poured into the half-empty vial. "Good going. Now instead of a week's worth, you don't even have enough for today!" Mila tilted Boldir's head back and made damn sure that he swallowed the potion. "There. Now I'm going to have to go all the way back to Dewridge. Tolvo won't be happy about that." She placed a hand on his forehead. "At least your fever seems to be gone. Wounds are doing better, too. And now that you're saying words and being stubborn again, maybe you'll be waking up soon as well." She waited, as if just saying the words out loud would force him awake. "You know, Tolvo said there are trolls out there, and I'm going to have to travel through their lands alone. Got any thoughts on that?" Boldir didn't answer, so she leaned in a little closer, weary of the possibility that he would lash out again. "Come on, you said 'stop'. Do you have anything else for me? Anything at all?" Mila gave him a light tap on the cheek, then another, though this time more of a slap. Boldir did not respond with even as much as a grunt. "Figures." Mila got up and started gathering her things into a pack. "Well since you refuse to wake up for me, hopefully you can go another day without doing it while I'm gone." She knew damn well that if he did, Boldir's first course of action would be to limp outside and start scouring the hills for her. To avoid that, she went ahead and wrote him a note using a blank page from the back of poor Haval's journal. Next, she fed Boldir some soup made from tomatoes Tolvo had brought them, placed a new wet rag on his forehead, and donned what remained of her tattered traveling cloak. "I'll be back tonight," she promised as she made her way to the door. "And I'll have some more medicine. Please don't get worse while I'm gone." *** Though they came to Cyrodiil as a group of fifteen men, the Grim Ones preferred to travel in packs of three. From the stories Trevis had heard and a few of the Nords' own boasts, three of them were apparently more than a match for ten of any 'southern' foe. They rode to Dewridge with nine. Nine Grim Ones alongside Trevis and four of his own men, all to apprehend a foe who was purportedly stuck in a drug-induced slumber. It seemed excessive, but neither he nor the Nords were willing to take any chances with this. "Aye," Thorald Gray-Mane had said as they set out from Chorrol. "He was a great warrior back in the day. Felled many an elf. And a turncloak he may be, but that only makes him more dangerous." "Do you think he could possibly take on three of your men?" Trevis asked. "Three of my men? Of course not. That's why I'm bringing nine." Now they rode on towards what looked to be a rather anticlimactic end to the months-long hunt that had nearly cost Trevis his career. And he was perfectly okay with that. He was content to leave glory-seeking to the Generals and adventurers. His job was to serve the Empire, not himself. It was midday of their second day on the road when the horses started acting up. Trevis' was the first. The stallion twitched, sending tremors down its body to warn him well before his human senses could have detected a threat. His hand dropped to his sword and he ordered the procession to be silent. Naturally, the Nords only obeyed when Gray-Mane echoed his command. Their horses were not trained the way his was, but they still bucked and whinnied something awful. One of the Nords almost fell out of the saddle, but managed to balance himself at the last moment. Then they heard a roar. "Troll," said one of the Stormcloaks. Two more roars followed in unison. "Aye," Gray-Mane said. "Lots of 'em." Their informer -an herbalist's son named Hekel- spoke with a surprising calmness. "There are lots of them in these parts. But they won't attack a group our size." Everyone remained quiet for a few moments, listening for more troll calls, and then a Grim One broke out in laughter. "Even the trolls down here are milk-drinkers!" The Nords got a kick out of that. They laughed for a bit, no doubt to hide the relief that they were not about to get ambushed by a pack of monsters twice their size. Though he did not join in, Trevis was relieved too. The last thing they needed right now was to lose someone to injuries. "So Inspector," one of the Grim Ones rode up beside him. A younger man named Luthmar. Like his comrades, Luthmar was a large Nord clad in the peculiar bearish armor, but where all the others were bearded, he stood out by only sporting thick red whiskers along the sides of his face. "What're your thoughts on your Empress, eh?" Trevis did not like the tone the Nord spoke with. "She is a just woman, and strong. I'm proud to serve her." "That's not what I meant. I got a glimpse of her in Falkreath, you know. Chest as flat as my shield, but by the gods that face..." "Hold your tongue," demanded Bentrius, Trevis' second-in-command. "You speak of the Empress as a guest in her lands." The Nord snorted. "Little man, I'd speak the same of your ma as a guest in her bedroom." "Bentrius-" Trevis started, but before he could get another word out, the man who was supposed to be a professional of the Oculatus leapt from his saddle, tackling the larger Grim One from his own with a ferocious scream. "Bentrius!" Trevis barked, but his voice was drowned out by the sound of the other Nords shouting. They drew their horses away to avoid trampling one of their own. The fall winded Luthmar, that much was clear. Otherwise the Grim One might have reacted more quickly to Bentrius' fist crashing against his nose. Instead, he took four solid blows before finally grabbing the smaller man by his shoulders and hurling him off. The tides changed then, as the two clambered to their feet and the Nord's superior size came into play. Bentrius was quick enough to dodge the first punch thrown at him, but Luthmar proved even faster, following up with a second swing that busted his lip and dazed him just long enough for the Nord to grab him under the armpits, lift him into the air, and throw him back down onto the rocky earth. By this point, Trevis, Gray-Mane, and several others had all dismounted and were closing in on the combatants. Luthmar got pulled back by his own men. Blood was visibly dripping from his broken nose, but to Trevis' surprise, the man was grinning. Bentrius, on the other hand, was still struggling to catch his breath. "Bloody Nords," he muttered as Trevis helped him up. His lip was busted and at least one of his teeth had been lost. "You gonna patch yourself up with your magic, Imperial?" Luthmar taunted. Bentrius grunted, straightened, and then turned to face the Nord. "Patch what up? You don't hit half as hard as my ma." The Nord threw back his head and laughed, joining the choir of his friends. "Perhaps I would be wise to hold my tongue around her after all!" He wrenched free of his comrades and returned to his horse. "What a brawl!" he shouted. "That was exactly what this ride needed." Trevis returned his gaze to Bentrius. "You're lucky that turned out well. Are you okay?" "Yeah," he second said. "Look, Trevis, I didn't-" "Shut up." The agent's mouth closed. "If you ever ignore me again, getting your arse kicked by a Nord will be the least of your worries. Understood?" "Yes sir." "Good. Get back on your horse." Trevis went to do the same, and found Gray-Mane waiting beside the beast with his arms crossed. "You'll have to forgive Luthmar. Despite our name, we ain't all grim." "You seem to be." "Aye, and so do you. And your friend with the bloody lip is mouthy and stupid, same as Luthmar." "He's not stupid." Trevis pulled himself up onto his horse, and as Gray-Mane did the same, he continued, "He has a better head for the arcane than the rest of us combined." "To survive the Grim Trials, the stupid ones have to be extra tough." Gray-Mane jerked a thumb back at Bentrius, who was now chatting away with several of the Nords as though they were close as kin. "He ain't any different. He's just got his magic to compensate with instead. I've met enough wizards to know that magic doesn't make you smart. It's a skill, same as any." Trevis couldn't say he fully disagreed. He had never met a mage who wasn't well read, but that did not stop them from acting like fools. They were still human, after all. Bentrius was a clever man, and a very skilled tracker, but after his display just now, it was hard to say that the Nord was completely wrong about him. Losing his temper consequences be damned was very stupid of him, and Trevis would keep that trait in mind going forward. It was not appropriate for an inspector. Turning his thoughts to other matters, Trevis asked, "Your Grim Trials, what do they entail?" "I'm not sure if Jarl Baldur would want me sharing that information," Gray-Mane replied. "And you would not believe me if I told you." So you say. Trevis thought back to the culmination of his own training. The Dunmer woman had not seen nor heard him as he'd approached. She had thought herself alone atop that wall right up until the moment his hand pressed against her back, but by then there was nothing she could do to save herself from falling. "Congratulations, Inspector," they had said afterwards. She had lost her life, and he had gained a title. Somehow, Trevis doubted that the Grim Ones' recruitment process had anything like that, but he was in no greater hurry to give Gray-Mane those details than the Nords were to give theirs. "You have said before that Boldir was a Grim One. But to my understanding, Red-Snow did not found Kyne's Watch until after his retirement." "Aye, it's true. The Grim Ones existed before the trials. We were the Nords who guarded Pale Pass and hunted traitors in Falkreath." "Say what you mean. By traitors, you mean Imperials." "Yes, Inspector. That is what I mean." Gray-Mane's face grew serious. "I have little love for your country and less for its people. But the Imperials I truly despise are the ones in my homeland. The ones who supported your last two Emperors even as they tried to steal our god. The ones who put us in chains and gave us to the Thalmor." The Grim One hesitated for a moment, and then said, "I will not forgive your people for what they did to us, Inspector. No more than I will stop hating the elves. But I do appreciate that you would not have me mince words about it. It's refreshing down here where honesty is so rare." Trevis kept a tight lip. He did not care to argue with Gray-Mane, or to defend the Empire's actions. The Nord's experiences, his losses, his opinions, meant meant nothing to him. But despite being hailed as honest, that was the kind of information that he would keep to himself. Not out of fear, but pragmatism. They needed to cooperate, and that would be a lot harder if the Grim Ones hated him. So Trevis decided to lie. "I lost loved ones to the Thalmor, myself. I promise you, I hate them and the White Gold Concordat as much as any Nord." The Nord made a sound that was a cross between a grunt and a huff. But he did not speak again for some time. Not until hours later, when Trevis rode close and addressed him. "Do you think that the herbalist could be lying?" "I know that he could be," answered the Grim One. "And that's enough to make me weary. The Stormcloak soldiers of the Rift were wiped out nearly to the man because they underestimated Boldir, and Riften burned for it." Trevis nodded. He agreed. If he was being hunted, his first effort would be to eliminate the hunters, not escape them. The easiest way to do that would be to make them think they're safe and slip up. "You and I have spoken at length about him many times, but have said little about the girl. What should we expect from her?" Gray-Mane shrugged dismissively. "She used to sell fruit in the Whiterun market, not far from where my own ma set up. I wouldn't worry about the lass. She's just a child. Probably not strong enough to hold a weapon properly, let alone hurt us with it." "If Boldir truly is asleep, then that child may be the only opposition we face." "Aye, and if that is the case, we have an easy task ahead of us. Baldur wants her alive, and so do I. The hardest part will be putting up with the tears after we explain to her that papa is going to lose his head." *** It was late in the afternoon when Mila reached Dewridge and came upon Tolvo's front door. The herbalist looked surprised to see her, but he invited her inside nonetheless. "I told you not to come back by yourself," he said. "Dangerous to be alone in the wilds. There are-" "Trolls and wolves, I know." Mila took a seat on a wooden chair next to an empty fireplace. "But I didn't have a choice. Boldir spilled all his medicine." The herbalist's eyes went wider than she'd ever seen. "You mean he is awake?" "No," she shook her head. "He did it in his sleep. Started thrashing and the next thing I knew, he'd flung the jar across the room!" Tolvo seemed to relax a bit. "A shame. But a bigger shame that you had to put yourself in such danger. You may sleep here tonight, and tomorrow I will make the journey with you to give him the medicine. Safer that way." She was already shaking her head. "No no, I need to go back as soon as possible. Tonight. If he dies because we took too long-" "The worst is past. Your father will not die." "Well what if he wakes up? I left a note that said I would be back tonight." "He won't wake up," Tolvo said, his brow lowering. "Why wouldn't he?" Mila was starting to get angry. "He's looking better, he's moving more, and you even said that it could be any day!" The herbalist hesitated, and then said, "Thrashing... is an early sign that it's working. Folk don't usually wake up from fevers like this until a few days after it starts." "You're lying..." Mila accused. She folded her arms. "Why are you lying to me?" "Damnit, child I'm not! And I'm also not about to let you go traipsing through the wilds alone in the middle of the gods damned night!" She had never heard Tolvo yell before, or even raise his voice. It was surprisingly powerful, like an officer in the army. But as she recoiled, the herbalist looked guilty and settled back down. "I promise you, I will be awake before dawn mixing up some more for him. After that, we can leave as early as you like." She glared at him long and hard, and then finally nodded. "Fine. I want to leave before the sun comes up." "Fine." Tolvo looked around, and said in a completely reverted tone, "Now, how about some dinner? Bought some deer cuts from Yagna today. Animal was walking around this morning." Mila had been in such a hurry to get here that she'd skipped every meal since breakfast. "Deer sounds good... thanks." "Think nothing of it." *** "Wake up." There was a time when Boldir might have heard the words in Carlotta's voice. But that time was sadly over. Instead, it was the string-pulling Prince of Pacts who spoke to him now, and it was all too real. His eyes flicked open. No longer was Boldir standing on a hill in the Colovian Highlands. He was on a mattress, staring at the thatch ceiling of a little house. A single window allowed in the dull orange light of an evening sun. Boldir groaned and sat up. "Where am I?" His voice sounded almost as raspy as his body was stiff. He closed his eyes and opened them, wiggled his fingers and toes. After the fog in his head started to clear, Boldir tried looking around. "Mila?" He was alone, but somehow he'd ended up back in the farmhouse that they had stopped in. Boldir remembered leaving it, but not returning. His armor had been removed and stacked in the corner, and the wounds on his chest and arms were coated in some earthy-smelling cream. Gods, what happened? He struggled to recall his last memories. He and Mila had left the house together. He had been very sick, which was noteworthy considering that he felt fine now besides in the ankle, which throbbed something fierce. So I've been down for a while. Long enough to heal without magic. Boldir slowly stood up and found that walking would still very much be an issue. Though luckily, his walking stick was leaning against the door. He grabbed it, and noticed that a note had been pinned next to it with a kitchen knife. Mila's handwriting. It read: Boldir, I doubt you will wake before I get back, but if you do, do not worry. I have not been gone long. I will be back early tonight. Went to Dewridge to get more medicine. It is a little village several hours west of here. Easy to find if you cross the creek and keep to high ground. I am telling you this in case something happens and you need to come. Otherwise please please please wait for me to return. These wilds are not safe to travel alone. Especially in your condition. Mila He frowned. 'These wilds are not safe to travel alone', she says, right before she goes out to travel them alone! Boldir looked out the window, figuring that there were still a couple hours of daylight left. If Mila was right, she would be back before too long. Using his walking stick, he limped over to a chair by the mantle and took a seat. She's been taking care of me. Gods be good, it's as if I'm some old man. There was a level of shame in that. For all his efforts to find and save Mila, it ended up being her who kept him alive. But greater than the shame was the pride, because he could not imagine the lengths she must have gone through to bring him in here and discover a village. A glance over at the table revealed that they even had food now! She is strong, and too smart by half. She'll be fine another few hours without me slowing her down. All of that was true, so why did Boldir still feel so worried? It suddenly hit him. It's the dream. A great flame had been closing in on him, a flame that he only avoided by waking up. Vile woke me. I heard his voice. But that had just been a dream. She would be on her way by now, and it would be awful if he missed her by setting off before she made it back, especially if he failed to find this Dewridge place. Have some faith in her, he told himself. Give her a little more time. Boldir did exactly that, though it was hard. He waited until the sun went down, and then waited some more, well past what most would consider "early tonight". The longer he sat there, tapping his hands and thumbing through the dead farmer's journal, the more anxious he became, and the more his dream nagged at him. "Snooze too long and the flames will reach you." That was what Vile had said. Could daedra speak through dreams? Gods damn it! Boldir got up and crossed over to his armor. She had taken much too long. By Shor, he didn't even know if that letter had been written today! If something was going on, if Mila was in trouble, he would not sit here idly and wait for her to deal with it herself. It seemed that he'd done enough of that already. After his half-ruined set of armor was on, Boldir grabbed his stick and made for the door, pausing only to grab the note she'd left for him. He thought about leaving a reply, but then decided that Mila would know where he'd gone if she found him and the letter missing. He stuffed it into his pouch and set off into the night. *** Unable to sleep, Mila opened her eyes and climbed out of bed. The room she stayed in belonged to Tolvo's son, who the herbalist claimed was down in Chorrol to purchase supplies. Apparently, the path leading away from Dewridge met with a larger one some miles to the southeast, which then proceeded on all the way down to the Orange Road and a near straight shot to the city. She was eager to put that information to use some day. But first Boldir needed to awaken and then spend some time healing and recuperating. Tolvo had already promised to introduce her to the innkeep, who he claimed was a generous soul, unlikely to turn them away even if they did not have the gold for a standard fee. It would be a suitable place for them to live these next few months. I wonder if the moons are out. Mila glanced down at her dagger. It had been cloudy the night before, and Masser and Secunda had hidden from her when she'd gone too greet them. But today the clouds had come and gone sporadically. She strapped on her dagger, put on her boots, and crept out to the main hall, where she found Tolvo sitting awake, staring out his window. "Hello Mila," the Colovian said. He motioned to a seat across from him. "Join me?" She crossed over and sat down. It was then she noticed some sort of ornament in the herbalist's hands, made of twigs and twisted grass, shaped so strangely that she couldn't make out what it was meant to be. "What's that?" "A totem. I made it for Shor." "I didn't know Imperials worshipped Shor." "Some do. They just don't know it. Recognize him by the name Shezzar instead. But out here we still keep to the old ways." That made her feel oddly excited. Perhaps there was a chance for non-Nords to enter those Halls of Valor. "Does that mean you will go to Sovngarde, then?" He cocked his head. "What was that?." "Sovngarde." Mila was amazed by the look of puzzlement that Tolvo wore. "You mean to tell me that you worship Shor but you ain't heard of Sovngarde? It's his home. It's where the great Nord heroes go when they fall in battle, to drink and sing and fight forever." The Colovian shook his head, so she continued, "How can you worship Shor without meaning to go to Sovngarde?" "Nords and Cyrods," Tolvo muttered. Guess we're more different than I thought. No, it is the mysteries of Aetherius that await me when I die, and all godly folk." It was as if her excitement had been thrown off a cliff. Of course the Colovians don't know about Sovngarde! Stupid Imperials. Why would Shor let us in when most of us don't really know him? "You alright, girl?" "I'm fine. It doesn't matter anyway." And it didn't. Her soul would belong to Vile until Boldir's contract was fulfilled. Sovngarde wouldn't be an option even if Shor didn't deny her people entry. I'm moping about the wrong problem. Mila straightened a bit and asked, "How long is it from here to Chorrol?" The herbalist frowned and glanced out the window. "Few days. Depends on if you're walking or riding." "What's the city like?" "Big walls. Big buildings. Stone streets... Uh... big trees." Aside perhaps from the trees, that sounded like most cities. "And what about around the city, the people who live outside it in their villages and esates? Do you know anything about them?" "No," Tolvo said. That was all that he said. He looked out the window again, and stood up. "Excuse me, Mila. We have some guests." It's the middle of the night. She shifted in her chair, suddenly uneasy. The Imperial who Tolvo let in was clad in dark leathers and wore a sword at his belt. When his gray eyes landed on Mila, she felt as though she were being stared at by a hungry wolf. "Thank you for sending for us," he said, and then stepped aside to let in a big Nord clad in armor just like Boldir's. The armor of the Grim Ones. The Imperial looked from the Nord to Mila. "Is this her?" Mila ran. Her chair clattered behind her as Tolvo tried to grab her by the arm. He missed, and Mila dashed into the son's bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her. They're gonna find Boldir, she realized. I've gotta get to him first. The window across the room was closed, but it slid open easily. She was halfway out when the door came crashing inward and the Grim One stepped inside. "Mila." The Nord raised his hands. "It's Thorald from Whiterun. Don't you recognize me?" "Get back!" She slashed at him with her dagger. It's pale light flashed through the darkness like sparks from an anvil. And then Mila dropped outside and kept running. Around the house, she saw more armored Nords in the street, and a couple Imperials as well. Several of them saw her and gave chase. She quickly rounded the corner of another house, and then another, trying to lose her pursuers by breaking their line of sight. But this was not the Imperial City with its thousands of nooks and crannies. Every time she fled from one hiding place, there seemed to be another Nord or Imperial close enough to see her reach the next. Eventually, Mila came round a corner and found herself face-to-face with one of the Nords. "She's over here!" Mila spun and started to run back, but the Nord's hand grasped her by the collar. She snarled like some wild beast caught in a trap and sliced at the man's wrist. The dagger struck metal instead of flesh, but its magical light was enough to get him to recoil and let go. Quickly, she took off once more in the only direction that she could, which ended up with Mila out in the street with soldiers approaching from all sides. With them stood Tolvo, his face as flat and unreadable as the day she had met him. "Liar," she shouted, still turning, looking for a direction she could run. There wasn't one. "Traitor!" "He is not a traitor." To Mila's right, the very first Imperial she'd seen came into view. His left hand rested on the hilt of his sword, and in his right, he held a fat bag that clinked with the sound of coins. "He did his duty as a citizen of the Empire." The man tossed Tolvo the bag. "There will be more when Boldir is in chains." Mila could do nothing but stare at Tolvo in disgust. "Did you even help him?! Was that even medicine?!" "It was," Tolvo said. "Mostly. I'm sorry for tricking you, but I know what your father did." "You don't know shit!" Mila screamed. If not for all the soldiers, she'd have tried to kill him then and there. "None of you do!" "I'm sure we know more than you think," said the dark-clothed Imperial. "That dagger, for instance. It was the weapon used to kill Sibbi Black-Briar, was it not?" "Save your interrogations, Inspector," thundered the voice of Thorald Grey-Mane. The Grim One walked up and took a knee just outside striking range. "Mila... we know where Boldir is. Where is your mother?" "Dead," Mila spat. "The Black-Briars killed her." That seemed to surprise everyone. Thorald, most of all. The Nord hesitated for a few seconds and then nodded. "I believe you. But there is still much to explain. We are here to take you back to Baldur. We can sort everything out in Windhelm, but first I need you to hand me your dagger." Not one of the men surrounding her had their weapons drawn, but Mila knew that could change in an instant. She glanced at Tolvo again and wondered if they would be fast enough to stop her from gutting him. Definitely. Shaking from both fear and rage, Mila at last made up her mind and handed Thorald the weapon. His expression softened just a bit. "Thank you." "Eat shit." The Nord frowned, stood, and handed her dagger to the Inspector, muttering some words to him that Mila could not understand. The Imperial nodded and turned to Tolvo. "You know how to reach Boldir, correct?" The herbalist nodded. "Yes, I do. But it is a long from here, and the poison should keep him from waking until tomorrow." "Poison? You made me poison him?!" Mila went after Tolvo at a dead sprint, but was immediately grabbed and pulled back by one of the Nords. "You bastard! You craven son of a bitch! This is why Shor hates Imperials!" Mila continued to let out a string of curses and obscenities, but the men ignored her. "Nevertheless, you will take these men tonight," the Inspector said. He and Thorald gave a few orders. Mila's hands were tied, and the soldiers started off with Tolvo to gather their horses. All that remained were herself, the Inspector, two of the Imperials, and a Grim One, which was still far more than she could hope to escape from. She was led to the village inn and forced to sit in a windowless corner. The Imperials waited by the entrance and spoke in hushed tones, but the Grim One took a seat across from her. He was big like all of them, with a square jaw and thick red sideburns running down his cheeks. His nose looked like it had very recently been broken. "You might not feel like it," he said, "but you're actually lucky. Baldur Red-Snow himself ordered that no harm should come to you. Whatever your papa's done, you're still like family. I would wager that this ends well for you." Mila glared at the Nord for a few seconds, and then asked, "Baldur said you're not to hurt me?" "Aye, he was very clear about that." "I see." Mila spat in the man's face, and enjoyed watching as it changed from friendly to furious. She would have done it again, had he not shoved his chair back and stood up. "You're real funny, girl. Just remember it's us that're gonna keep that Inspector from tossing you in some black dungeon." Mila raised her bound hands. "How will I ever repay you?" "You could start by not being an annoying bitch," he growled. In response, Mila spat on him again, though the famous armor of the Grim Ones held up against the spittle. He shook his head. "The Breton, the elf, and now this. Where in Oblivion does Baldur find you people?" He started to walk away, but Mila called after him. "You haven't heard? It's Oblivion that I've come from." The Nord looked as confused as she'd expected. "Why do you think me'n Boldir are out here in the middle of nowhere?" She smiled, hoping it looked as sinister as she intended. "We're hunting for souls." The Nord glared at her for a few seconds, blinked, and then walked away. He said a few words to the Imperials and then went over to the counter to order a drink. Shortly after, the Inspector himself approached Mila and took a seat where he'd been. "This is the first time I've seen someone get Luthmar to shut up," he said. It seemed like a joke, but the man's tone and expression came across as completely serious. "I haven't told you who I am yet. Do you want to know?" "It'd be better than calling you Inspector Milk-Drinker." The corner of his lip twitched upward, just a bit. "You people of Skyrim have a very consistent sense of humor. My name is Trevis Hayne. I'm an agent of the Penitus Oculatus." Mila had heard that name during her time with the Thieves Guild. To her understanding, there were few groups in the Empire that were worse to have on your tail. Trevis might not have been as large or powerful as the Nords, but he also was under no orders not to harm her. And honestly, Mila could not tell if he intended to or not. In fact, she couldn't tell anything about the man at all, save that he was dangerous. His face gave nothing away. "What are you going to do with us?" "If the Nords had it their way, you would return to Skyrim and live happily ever after while Boldir gets his head cut off. That doesn't sound so bad to me, but I've got orders to find out exactly what happened in the Imperial City." Trevis produced Mila's dagger and held it up for her to see. "You didn't answer me earlier. Was this dagger used to kill Sibbi Black-Briar?" "Aye." What was the point in lying? He already knew the answer. "He was an evil man and he deserved what he got." "Maybe. Can't ask him now." His voice lowered, and his eyes left the dagger to lock with hers. "It wasn't Boldir, was it? It was you." Mila didn't know what would be safest to say, so she remained silent. "You want some advice?" Trevis asked, after a few moments, "Silence is always an option, but it's rarely a good one. If you'd lied and blamed someone else, I might've believed you. But silence only tells me that I'm right, that it was one of you and you're still deciding who makes more sense to blame. You don't want to be a bad daughter and pin it on Boldir, but with the slew of crimes he's committed, you're wondering if it would even make a difference if this one were added to the pile. Am I close?" "Piss off." "From what we know of the man, it seems likely that Boldir will take the blame for Sibbi no matter what you say, so your honest answer matters." She knew he was right. Boldir would say that he was responsible for Sibbi or any other deaths she had caused or crimes she had committed. No matter how absurd it stood to look, he would take the blame for all of them. He would do anything for her. *** The riders traveled single file atop the ridge. Every next man held a torch, which lit them up in the night like torchbugs, illuminating the gray Nordic armor that most of them wore. Boldir wasn't a fool. He knew what the armor meant. They've found me. Well, they hadn't found him yet. He'd spotted the torches long before they could have possibly seen him, and scrambled for a place to hide as they approached. The Grim Ones were fifty yards away now, plodding over the hills on the backs of their shaggy Skyrim mounts. At their current pace it would take several hours to reach the farmhouse and discover that he wasn't there. Boldir had to pray that it would give him enough time to reach Dewridge and find Mila first. Did they find her? Is that why she did not return? If so, he could only hope that they didn't leave as many men to guard her as they had sent to capture him. The horses drummed closer, their hooves flattening the same grass that Boldir had been walking on twenty minutes prior. He kept low, and watched them pass, and then waited a full two minutes before emerging from his hiding place. His bad ankle protested, but Boldir ignored it and started to hobble again at twice the speed he had before, forgetting caution as it was a luxury that neither he nor Mila could afford anymore. It caused him pain, but this was not nearly as severe as that which he'd felt after exiting Oblivion. Better still, his other wounds were all mostly scars and scabs now, and his bruising seemed to be gone. Combined with the drive to find Mila and escape this area, Boldir found it easier to travel now than he had in a very long time. His path took him back to the higher ground, and onward in the direction that the riders had come from. It was a long way for a wounded man to travel, with nothing to see but the earth in front of him and the moons and stars above. He wasn't alone, though. Occasionally, a wolf would howl or an owl would hoot. Once Boldir even froze up at the sound of two trolls grunting at one another somewhere to his right. He never saw the beasts though, and he thanked the gods for that. But eventually, Boldir's efforts rewarded him with the distant sight of a dozen lantern lights. He tensed up briefly, knowing that there was a very good chance that there would soon be a fight. They don't know you're coming, he told himself. You have that advantage, at least. Boldir limped the rest of the way to the village and climbed over the little stone wall that surrounded it. There were no guards, and it was so late that nobody was out in the streets. Most of the houses were dark, though there was one slightly larger building towards the center that had lit windows. Boldir made his way toward it, making sure to stick close to the shadows in case someone stepped outside. About halfway there, he heard a horse whinny somewhere to his right. He glanced around the house he stood by and spotted a three-walled stable with seven horses in it. Three of them were large and well-groomed and one was of the Skyrim breed. He figured that those must've belonged to the soldiers and that the rest were the villagers'. An idea formed in his head. Boldir started for the stable. "Hello?" Damnit. He turned and saw the shadow of a woman sanding outside her home. He cleared his throat. "Go back inside, lady. Haven't you heard that there's a killer in the area?" "Oh yes, I'd thought you lot caught him already, what with all that ruckus earlier tonight." "We'll have him soon. In the meantime, stay indoors and don't come out until morning. This man is dangerous." "Alright, sir. Thank you, sir." The woman returned to her home and Boldir breathed a sigh of relief. Had it been daytime, she probably would have screamed for help provided she knew what he looked like. Now the horses. He reached the stable. A few horses turned their heads and watched him blankly, but it was the one from Skyrim that he was interested in. They would need a sturdy mount to carry them through the hills while riding double. Boldir would have stolen a horse for himself and Mila, but they would be riding hard, and it would be safer if they stayed together. Fortunately, it was already saddled, so he just took the reins and guided the animal back out into the street. He led it down the hill and to the entrance of the village, where he tied its reins to a lantern post. The horse nuzzled him on the shoulder and he whispered. "I'll be right back." Next, Boldir returned to the stable and the other horses. Four horses for four soldiers. He did not try to kid himself. Four was too many. And he was only armed with a stick and a dagger. I'll have to be smart about this. He noted the bales of hay that were piled in one corner, and started to make his plan. *** Trevis, Mila, and the entire population of of Dewridge were startled when the screaming started. In one moment, the town had been asleep, Luthmar had been mingling with the innkeep's daughter, the Imperials had been talking quietly, and Mila had been drowsily trying to hold her eyes open. In the next, the bloodcurdling cries of a half dozen horses pierced the night and drowned out all thoughts of rest or comfort. Children cried to their parents, who peered out their windows while gripping weapons and praying that the "man who'd burned down a city" had not come for them next. Meanwhile at the inn, Mila stood still, grinning like an idiot while the soldiers sprung to action. "The stables," shouted Ruven, Trevis's chief tracker. "They're on fire!" The lead Inspector turned to his other man, Cadmir. "Stay with the girl. Do not let her leave this building." Luthmar already had his shield and axe at the ready. His grin was made ugly by the broken nose. "I've been waiting a long time for this! You Milk-Drinkers with me?" In answer, Trevis drew both his sword and the enchanted dagger. "Be on your guard." He, Luthmar, and Ruven hurried outside, leaving Mila alone to be watched by a single agent. The man positioned himself so he could see both her and the door. "Try anything and you'll bleed for it, girl. I can't afford to take chances with you right now." Cadmir looked over at the frightened innkeep and his daughter. "You two, stand outside. Warn me if anyone comes this way." The horses were still screaming. It grew shriller and more desperate by the second. By the time Trevis and the others had reached the stable, there was nothing they could do. The roof had partially collapsed and fire blazed within and without. At least three of the beasts were already dead, and Trevis' own trusty stallion was helplessly smashing its body against the walls as its hair burned. He had never seen a more frightened creature in his life. "Damnit Boldir!" Luthmar screamed. He started off down the street. "You thrice-damned coward! Come out and face us!" Trevis and Ruven turned to find a small gathering of frightened citizens rushing the stable with pales of water. "We can't let him use one as a hostage," the Inspector declared. He cleared his throat and barked, "Return to your homes! You are interfering with Imperial business!" From down the street, Luthmar thundered, "Go back inside!" The crowd broke up as people started running for their homes. Trevis nodded to the inn. "He's here for Mila. We should go back to her." Ruven agreed, and they started back. As they neared it, Luthmar glanced back at them and his eyes went wide. "Imp! Behind you!" Trevis spun, sword ready just in time to see a giant of a man leap from the shadows and jam a blade into Ruven's neck. The agent didn't even have time to drop his sword before Boldir wrenched it from his hand and swung at Trevis in a motion so swift and smooth that it had to have been planned out. Trevis barely managed to raise his own blade in time to parry, but by then Boldir had whipped around a long stick and cracked it against his head. The Inspector fell down next to his bleeding comrade, and Boldir quickly went after the Grim One while the fight's momentum was on his side. Unlike the Imperials, Luthmar had time to prepare, and had his shield up in time to easily catch Boldir's first swing. He followed up with a swipe from his axe that chopped the walking stick in two. Boldir staggered a bit on his bad foot but managed to stabilize himself. The Grim One smiled. "Wounded eh? Shame. I'd have preferred to face you whole." As the two Nords clashed, Trevis regained himself and saw that Ruven was watching him with pleading eyes, trying to mouth the word "help" but failing on account of the blood in his throat. He crawled over and pressed his hands against his friend's wound. He mustered up a healing spell, but restoration had never been his specialty and the wound continued to bleed. "HEALER!" Trevis roared. "I NEED A HEALER!" Inside the inn, Mila watched as Cadmir's face turned pale. They could hear the Inspector outside, screaming desperately for aid. The agent looked from Mila to the door, and then back to Mila, and finally to the innkeep and his daughter, who were wildly trying to tell him that his friend was bleeding on the ground. "He's bleedin' sir! And the big ones're fighting! He had a stick and a knife and a sword and a-" "Shut up!" the agent barked. His fist was wrapped so tightly around the hilt of his sword that it was shaking. "Alright, you two watch the girl. I've got to help them!" As he addressed the terrified citizens, Mila's hands darted for the dagger at his belt. The flabbergasted innkeep's cries mingled so much with the ones he'd already been giving that Cadmir failed to understand it until his own weapon was planted in the back of his spine. Now the daughter's scream was almost as loud as the horses' had been. Her father held her tightly as Mila cut her bindings and picked up the Imperial's sword. "Get back!" she shouted, approaching the door. They obeyed without question. When Mila rushed outside, she saw three things: First was Trevis, desperately clutching Ruven's bloody neck as he shouted for a healer. Second were Boldir and Luthmar battling it out in the middle of the street. Boldir was clearly the stronger of the two, as each of his blows forced his foe to retreat, but with his bad leg he was also the slower and more haggard in his movements. He was struggling to keep his balance, and the skillful Grim One capitalized on that perfectly, whipping around Boldir, taking safe swipes that would clip his armor and throw him off even more. The third thing Mila saw was her dagger, dropped not far from where the Imperials had fallen. Seeing it made her focus, it urged her to act. She ran over and picked it up, and then made a bee-line for the Nords. Trevis saw her and tried to stop her, but just removing one hand from Ruven's neck was enough to allow more blood to push through. He watched as the girl sprinted behind Luthmar, leapt onto his back, and began stabbing him relentlessly. The Nord howled in pain as blood and smoke emerged from his neck in equal measures. He tried to throw Mila off, but Boldir forced him to the ground then picked up his axe. "I'm sorry," he said, and then he finished off the Grim One with his own weapon. He took Mila's shaky hand and helped her up. The girl was covered in blood. "Come on!" They raced for the horse Boldir had stowed away, leaving Trevis alone and in shock as he continued to call for help. After far too long, a few villagers approached him. "You told us to stay indoors-" "I don't care," he shouted. "Where is a healer?!" "We don't have a healer," a woman answered. "A priest then!" "No priests either. All we've got is an herbalist." *** "Shor's bones..." Thorald Gray-Mane and his men had been in no great hurry to reach the farmhouse, where they'd hoped to find Boldir fast asleep. But they damn sure hurried back. They pushed their horses as hard as they could, and even then only arrived an hour after dawn. The scene that awaited was the stuff of nightmares. Gray smoke billowed from a ruined stable, carrying with it the fresh smell of burnt horse. Outside the inn, a group of peasants had gathered and were arguing with a bloodstained Inspector Trevis over the bodies of Luthmar and Ruven. Thorald dismounted and shoved them aside until he reached the body of his fallen shield brother. "What happened?" he snarled. "What does it look like?" the Inspector asked. "They got away! Boldir wasn't in some shack. He was here." The crowd began to disperse as the other soldiers pushed through their ranks. The mage, Bentrius stepped to the front. "Cadmir?" "Dead too," Trevis replied. "His body is still inside." He looked Thorald in the eyes. "It was the girl. She killed Cadmir and dropped Luthmar." "How does a child manage-" "By jumping on his godsdamned back and stabbing him in the neck!" Trevis shouted. None of the Nords had ever seen him so angry. "Where is the herbalist?" "I'm here." Tolvo pushed to the front of them, looking as shocked as anyone. "I swear, I didn't know that he-" "You lied to us," Trevis said. "Got good men killed. You could've even been working with him." The Colovian's eyes went wide. "Working with him? No sir, I was trying to help! I-" "Because of you, Boldir now has a horse and could be anywhere, while two of the Empress's best are dead." He looked at Bentrius. "Find a rope and hang this man. The son too." Tolvo started to plead, but Trevis wouldn't hear it. He walked over to where the crowd had reformed a little further back. "I don't know who or how, but your village has aided and harbored a traitor." He pointed to where the herbalist was being hauled off. "This is the price for treason. Remember that. Now go back to your homes." As the Inspector started to walk, Thorald joined him. "You blame the herbalist, but you had Luthmar and two of your own to make sure that this did not happen." "It wasn't enough," Trevis said. "I thought the girl might've been capable, I didn't expect her to be completely bloody deranged! I've seen soldiers struggle to take a life more than she did.... And Boldir ambushed us. Didn't give Ruven a chance to fight. I was too busy trying to keep him alive to try and stop the man. But even with a crippled leg he managed to hold off Luthmar until the girl arrived." "Gods be good." Thorald shook his head. "I've fought with Boldir. I knew what he could do... but Mila... our mothers uses to run stalls in the Whiterun market not a stone's toss apart. I bought fruit from the girl many times. She was a sweet kid." "Lots of killers were sweet kids once." Trevis knew that this changed things. Mila's other crimes might have fallen on her father's shoulders, but the deaths of two of his men had to be answered for. "We won't underestimate them again." *** Neither Boldir nor Mila had ever ridden so hard in their lives. Every night, their sturdy Skyrim mount would graze for only a short while before laying down to sleep, not wasting a moment. But it was all worth it when the highlands became low, and the trees became thick. The Great Forest masked their travels for several days as they passed from village to uninterested village, never stopping or speaking to anyone. It was only when they came upon a small monetary of the Nine that they decided it would be worth the risk to take shelter. Weynon Priory, the monks called it. They said it was once the home of the legendary Blade named Jauffre. But more importantly now, it was home to several healers. "Stendarr have mercy," declared the man who brought them into the chapel. "You two look like you tried to fight a troll. Don't worry, you're safe here. We'll do everything we can."
  25. 4 points
    Neskonungr was disqualified from the voting after being found out that he's been sending people into space illegally. Also his slogan was too hard for most to understand.
  26. 4 points
    Now you only need to get Motierre right. And learn to use "were", "we're" and "where" correctly.
  27. 4 points
    I feel like most of us have been just chilling outside wearing tinted glasses grinning and watching the sun and meanwhile Colonel is experienceing the freakin apocalypse.
  28. 4 points
    Which is why I believe that the 'Battlecry' racial ability is a minor thu'um itself. It would be in keeping with the lore that wielding the thu'um is an ability that is inherit in most Nords to some degree.
  29. 4 points
    Not that I am a fan of Rikke or anything, but this is just dumb. Her being a Nord is so important to her entire dynamic with Tullius, and really her character in general.
  30. 4 points
    Just finished The Wire. It was good but the fifth and last season felt rather anticlimactic. Overall I think the third and fourth seasons were the best.
  31. 4 points
    Eh, Dallas is weird. It certainly votes blue, but you get outside the city and into the suburbs and it's as read as it gets. Which most people consider the greater metroplex area still part of Dallas. I do agree, it's real snooty. Hell yeah! I nominate Endar. "An elf who cares, just not about you." This is perfect lol
  32. 4 points
  33. 4 points
    This was taken about 16 hours after I had waken up, been though MEPS, sat around at MEPS for 5 hours doing nothing and spent another 3 in a car, so happy!
  34. 4 points
    She's got three dragons and can walk through fire, lol I'm more cocky than she is and I don't have half of her biggest advantages. She came to conquer, not to cater to the North's ego. Not that I want them to give in, necessarily. If it were a perfect world, I'd have what Doc suggested and have a bunch of independent kingdoms and groups all over the place. But really she's no different than most conquerors would be. I think she's definitely arrogant, as many strong leaders are, but part of this is I think she sees it as a necessary evil to bring good to the land. Order. Of course that very well may be a bullshit excuse to just rule, but if she does wish to bring order under her rule when there's a woman in her way that doesn't want to give up the seat, she has to be ruthless. Of course were I her, I'd play nice with the North now and take their independence later, but that could easily backfire and ruin all my efforts in the end. Civil War once again.
  35. 4 points
    Hey Folks, just wanted to update on our situation. Firstly, we've had quite a few folks offer to help with TESA's dues as they come up, so it's looking like the site is safe for the foreseeable future, all hail the Alliance! In other news, the Rider Family has a new prospective rental home, a peaceful house in the country held by a very kind and compassionate landlady who is willing to disregard the student loan debt issue and credit scores in return for a few months rent in advance. We still need to raise about $2500 for the security, movers, and to replace some things we lost in the hasty move like our washing machine. If you would like to pledge our link is here: https://www.gofundme.com/1-new-home-for-2-little-girls We're now offering some cute rewards by my oldest daughter! If you already pledged, GoFundMe doesn't seem to award anything backward, but rest assured we will still honor your pledge with a gift manually! Thanks for all the support, it means so much coming from the TESA family.
  36. 4 points
    I've been in a huge Skyrim mood lately for whatever reason
  37. 4 points
    I'm gonna be honest and say that I haven't been thinking about stuff like that in a while. Most of my focus is on Skyrim, what little focus I have. That said I do know the Redguards like Skyrim will not be uniform units, despite how much I know y'all might not like that. It is a weakness but it's a part of their culture from what I've seen. Their people are individualistic, diverse and make better scouts and gladiators, or mercs for a reason. Even more so than Nords so they'd have a number of African middle eastern influence. As for Galmar, he'll be making an appearance along with Veleda, who he sees as the only real and rightful choice for the throne.
  38. 4 points
    I talked to BT about these a little while back. They really get me in the Fallout mood too. Just another example of why I like Sawyer so much as a developer for Fallout. The guy is insanely passionate about the franchise. And he is puts so much extra effort into including stuff like this just because he loves it.
  39. 4 points
    So here's something I just finished up. I've always wanted to have some form of map of High Rock as I envision it. I say as I envision it, because a look at the few maps from the games and the other fan made maps, the location of High Rock's cities and geographic features isn't quite settled. My own vision takes from several of those sources and incorporates some geography mentioned in books about High Rock but not explicitly shown on the maps. Anyway, since I don't know how to create a map from scratch, I took an existing map and just put some lines over it to divide up the lands into the 8 major kingdoms/city-states, though they aren't quite that independent now. The map isn't perfect due to the crappy editing tools I have available but I still wanted to share it, in case anyone was curious about how the land was divided up. The two noticeable areas that don't have a ruling city in them are the center, where Orsinium was and where it is too mountainous and rugged for someone to have effectively laid claim, and the Reach, which is home to the Reachmen. Even though not all the mountains or lakes or rivers or what have you are in the right place, I'm glad I went ahead and gave myself a visual, since I like have maps to look at when I'm writing about an area. Edit: Oh and I almost forgot, not only are the geographic features unsettled but so are some of the names. What I call Shornhelm is Sharnhelm in this map, and what I call Jehanna is either Jelhanna or Jehhanna.
  40. 4 points
    "So how was it, boy?" "How was what?" "Oh you know what, don't act like no one's ever asked ya." "I have no idea what you're talking about, elf, and you're breaking my-," "How was the Bathory woman, boy. Even I know about Magdela Bathory, and the way Baldy tells it, you got yourself a pret-ty big sip of that blonde ale." The way Daric kept his eyes in his book, Maori could tell he had no plans on sharing the details. Sighing, he said, "You know, for an apprentice of Baldur, you're rather stiff. Nothing like 'em at all, come to think of it." "Well, I wouldn't know, haven't seen him lately, since he'd rather just order me around with elven man servants than speak to me directly." "Elven man servant? If you plan on keeping your mug on your neck I'd suggest you stow that talk, boy. Now that I think of it, that doesn't even make sense. Wouldn't I be a mer servant? Though saying elven mer servant would be redundant I suppose, but-," "DO YOU EVER SHUT UP." "Not when I'm bored, lad, no," said Maori. "I hate traveling in these parts, barely any trees around. Forced to walk on the ground." "Well if you're so bored, elf, tell me this," said Daric, closing the book his father gave him and looking at the elf directly for the first time. "You're so close to the Jarl of Windhelm, tell me why I gave him information of this attack long before it actually happened, and his Necro-Nords were nowhere to be found? Tell me why he went to the city alone, and why Ulfric and so many innocent people ended up dead? Why he sent an elf to babysit me on a job I've been doing for months now without his meddling, to keep me from seeing him face to face?" Maori just stood there, eyes downcast. "Silence, finally," said Daric. "I don't know exactly what's going on, but I think I'm starting to understand. I dare not, but gods help me, I think I see. What's more is he thinks me not trustworthy enough to know what he's up to. And there must be a reason for it. He let Ulfric die, didn't he?" Maori looked up at him finally, which would have amused Daric any other time, as he wasn't used to having anyone look up to him, especially adults. But there was no amusement to be had now. "Kid, you'd best keep your voice down when you talk such nonsense." Daric's eyes almost bulged out of his sockets at the audacity of the elf, hands moving to draw his blade. He found Maori's arrow notched and pointing at his eyesocket before he could draw. "Calm down, brat. You only just got your wounds healed from Solitude and you’re itching to go back into another sick bed. Now listen. I'm sorry he chose to keep you out of the loop, but this isn't exactly something light, understand? He has his reasons. You know more than me how much he loved that Ulfric fellow. Please for now, just trust me when I say it'll become clear later why Ulfric had to die. I'm sure he'd rather tell you face to face, but he sent me to find you and head to the Reach because time is of the essence." Daric's face was full of hatred for the elf, even after his sword was sheathed. "I don't want to hear the excuses. How am I supposed to look another Stormcloak in the eye, knowing what I know? How can I still even wear this blue sash? But fine, I'll get my answers, you're damn right about that. For now, just tell me what business we have in the Reach." Maori placed his arrow back in his quiver, breathing deep to let his nerves settle. "We're spying on the one they call Brund 'The Mountain' Hammer-Fang." Daric stopped walking, knocking Maori on his ass as he walked directly into Daric's back. Before he could moan about it, the boy turned to him and said, "Please tell me you're joking." "No jest," said the elf. "Why, he tough?" "Is he tough?" said Daric. "He's downright terrifying." "Well," said Maori, "I guess we'd better not let him see us." This time Maori took the lead as Daric watched him walk by. "No ******* kidding." *** "Tell me who she is, Priest." "It's not really important, what is important is-," "I'll tell you what's important, now if you don't want to end up like the rest of the Reachmen, you'll tell me right now what it is you know." Smiling, the Priest said, "Of course, of course. I don't know much, all I know is what me pa told me. It goes like this, the Reachmen weren't always as mixed up as they are now. They were once just like Bretons more or less, and every now and then, the Nords would come into their territory to raid and take wives for pleasure. Their blood being half theirs already, made some of the children look more like their Nordic kin. And some of those kin were raised in Nordic society, learned Nordic things. Like the thu'um. Your hagraven is one of those offspring." "I take it you are as well," said Brund. Smiling again, the priest said, "Aye. But my kin hailed from Roscrea, not mainland Skyrim. Our ways were never diluted by the Imperials like yours. We used to often sail to mainland Skyrim in search for adventure and something more beyond that accursed Island." "And your ways, they told you to serve willingly huh.." "Aye, a ritual of fortune telling, hawk bone and hawk blood. It showed me the face of one of her children, and I saw your ugly mug. I knew when you found me, I was to help you become strong! See, the Reachmen? They are not the only ones that know what the Briarhearts are. They are seeds, gifts from mother nature, lady Kyne. In ordinary men, they give immortality and minor strength. But in a Nord, and one chosen by her?" The Priest's hands wrapped around Brund's cheeks. "Well, you already know. The hagraven saw what I saw. She had the knowledge, but with your spirit, and this seed in your chest, you could draw from the bones of the earth and the trees, the water and air magics that most men have long forgotten. There is magic all around us, and it is this power that the hagravens tap into, much like the taproots that give Lady Kyne's trees life. This is old magic, nature magic born of Kyne, Brund. Don't fear it, but don't let yourself be lost in it either." Brund pushed the man from him and yelled, "Not so close, fucker." Other than that, Brund was mostly silent for a time until he finally said, "Why is she tied to me?" "I do not know truly, Brund. Perhaps upon death, she anchored herself to the seed. Like a soulgem. It draws power from all life around it, and yes, there is life in Earth. Earth is made of the bones of spirits, and our dead flesh. It would not be hard for someone with the knowledge of these seeds to trap themselves in one, I imagine. And its power flows into your spirit to keep you alive." "Well, ****," said Brund. "But fine. At least now I can somewhat better understand what the hell is going on with my body. I don't understand it all, and I don't know what to make of your ramblings about Kyne. The idea that Kyne has any sort of connection to these savages is insulting." "There's no connection to them directly," said the Priest. "Kye isn't the only one with a connection to Nature. Hircine manipulates it as well, Hircine hunts below our lord's bone spheres. And the Reachmen worship him, and other daedra as well." Standing, he said, "Whatever. Anyway, that old bastard may have weakened me, but it may be a blessing in disguise. I can't afford to lose control at the moot. I have work to do. As do you, Priest. It's time I speak with the Silver-Bloods again. Summon Thonar Silver-Blood to my palace." Brund was seated in the Mournful Throne when his guest finally arrived. Thonar Silver-Blood was not a handsome man. His black hair had receded near to the point of baldness, and his thick, clean-shaven face was weathered and pockmarked. Even so, no argument could be made that he did not radiate power. The guards in the hall ducked their heads as he and his steel-clad mercenaries strode past, and even Brund's steward hurried to step aside to allow the two of them to have their privacy. Of all his court, only the Priest seemed unfazed in the presence of the wealthiest and most feared man in the Reach. Thonar's eyes glared up at his Jarl with none of the fear or anxiety that so many others did. Brund respected that, just as he did the man's methods in keeping down his enemies. "Thonar... It's been some time since we've spoken," said Brund, his voice uncharacteristically low, as though he were expecting eavesdroppers. It's true that one's voice did carry, and in Markarth, who knows where the underlying paths could take a man's voice. "We have a lot to discuss and little time to discuss it." "I had wondered when you would call for me." Thonar answered, his voice lowered in kind. "Go on, then. I would know where you stand in light of all that has happened." Approaching Thonar, Brund towered over his fellow Nord kin, the dim light of the throne room making his brutish features more pronounced, more exaggerated. Smiling with a grin that did not suit him, Brund said, "There has never been a better time than now for your family to seize power. My stance is a simple one, you need me and I need you. I have a vision, you see. One that was revealed to me very recently. I see a Skyrim overflowing in silver, a Skyrim with a strong king, one powerful enough to rival Ysgramor, or better yet, Talos himself! I see Skyrim, not just restored to its previous glory, but a Skyrim at the head of its second Empire... With an Emperor that carries the name of Silver-Blood... You following me so far?" "I follow ramblings." Thonar said, his tone flat, though a look of amusement did cross his pockmarked face. "You seek to become High King instead of Red-Snow, that I understand. But what is this talk of an Empire?" "High King is just the first step. Don't you see?" said Brund, his eyes animated with the enthusiasm of a child. "Being raised in the Empire, as regrettable as that is, I grew up with stories of Talos' greatness, even moreso than Nords here. That would be blasphemy on any other day, but it's the truth. The Empire loved that man, once upon a time. I grew up not loving Tiber Septim, but being jealous of him. Seeing how revered a Nord could be in the eyes of even an Imperial, all the while they looked down on me as though I was a dog." Brund put up a hand and said, "But I'm getting beside the point. Basically, I've always been a fighter, hungry for more. Of a purpose. Like a warrior in peacetime. But now I know my purpose, and it's a purpose given to me by the gods. You think I'm mad. But I will show you. What does this have to do with you, you're asking? Look at you, your family. You have all this wealth, but it was built on silver, like your namesake. But your flow of silver has been slowed, like a clot in the veins halting the blood in a fat noble. Why? Because of my rival, Baldur Red-Snow. Baldur Red-Snow stands in your way, and mine, with his Grim Ones monitoring your men's every move here, giving care to these dogs that I've put down, these savages. Wouldn't you like to see that changed?" "Of course I would." Thonar replied. "That is why we gave you my niece to marry like we're damned Bretons. But now half the kingdom wants Red-Snow on the throne and the other half doesn't exactly favor you. If you can change that, great. I'll help. But first you'll need to explain to me how you expect to win the moot, let alone outshine the greatest of Emperors?" "One thing at a time, my new Uncle-In-Law," said Brund, sucking his teeth at the mention of the girl. "That niece of yours, she's a fiery Nord girl, and I'll make a woman of her yet. It will pay off, I promise. Let's see... first, Baldur. What does one need to be king? He needs power, yes, but there's many forms of power. There's power in the most literal sense, there's power in the form of money, which you're most familiar with, and there's power in the form of military might, and influence. Money brings influence. Baldur has military might, as do I. But something he does not have, is the coin that I now possess, and that you now possess. We are at war, we'll need more money than we have at our disposal. Stand back, say... All the way by that door," said Brund, as he began stripping off his breast plate and gauntlets. Thonar moved back as he commanded. He still wore a scowl, but Brund could see a hint of curiosity in there as well. The man had brought his family to a new level of greatness thanks by exploiting opportunity when it reared its head his way. He may have harbored his doubts as any wise Nord would, but Brund could see in his new ally an ambition only matched by his own. Unlikely as it may seem, he would not refuse to hear out something this big. Smiling, Brund's hands clasped together giving off an echo that reverberated throughout the room, as though a large stone had fallen within. With a thundering shout, Brund cried almost as if angered, his veins protruding in his neck and arms, sweat pouring from his pores in streams, and his ruddy face growing redder by the second. It sounded as though the man were dying. This went on for a time, before the bandages around his briarheart began to bleed. Only then did he echo the ancient words of the thu'um, followed by his boot meeting the stone floors with a solid thump. “FUS. GOL. STRUNMAH!!!!” At first, nothing happened... but then a small but visible crack snaked its way from the throne to the center of the room, growing, and growing until it seemed that it would reach Thonar even at the distance that he stood. It halted, just at his feet, and then the floor began to give way to a small hole between the two men. Before Thonar could speak, an explosion of rubble and silver silenced him, and in its wake... bodies... decaying bodies began to crawl forth, heads adorned in deer hides... The room was now sprinkled in silver ores and flakes, and clinks and clanks from beneath the hole began to drown out the moans of the vile things that crawled from that pit. "Shor have mercy." Thonar gasped. He took another step back and lowered a hand to he hilt of his sword. The decrepit Forsworn ignored him, of course. Brund had already commanded them to. "They're... these heathens are alive. What did you just..." This may have been the first time in his life that Thonar Silverblood had been rendered speechless. The noble watched Brund's slaves climb one after another from his secret pit and display themselves like the whipped mongrels they were. When the initial shock of what had transpired left the man, he finally dared to approach the pit and look down. Brund could tell from his expression that Silver-Blood was impressed. Finally, after some time, he looked back up at his Jarl with new eyes. "So you've built a new mine... And your thu'um has gotten stronger." He gestured at the motionless abominations that could barely be called men, many of whom ignored various wounds across their ravaged bodies. "How many of them are down there?" "Hundreds," said Brund between labored breaths. In truth, his thu'um had grown weaker, and already he could feel the influence of the Hag clawing at his mind. He bit his lip to calm himself before he lost it; it was like constantly having to keep his head above water without proper footing. "I plan to wrestle control of this hold from the high throne, until that throne is mine. The Reach will continue its pursuit of silver, unhindered by outside threats from this lot, or Baldur. With the upcoming war, no one will argue with the silver we produce, or our methods, not with the likes of these savages. And while other lands falter under the weight of expense, we will prosper." Brund sat back down, taking a swig of mead as the undead forsworn sluggishly crawled back into their pit to command his slaves. Signaling Thonar over, he said, "And when the time comes, when the Thalmor are defeated, I will make the elves our slaves as well, and on the sweat of their backs, I will begin to build the foundation of another Empire. I've never much given a **** about what the gods thought, they could be dead for all I care. But they've finally done something right. I won't give you too much detail, you don't need to know everything, but Talos had a secret weapon to defeat the elves, and now, so do I. I AM THAT WEAPON! BRUND! I'LL GRIND THEM INTO DUST AND BECOME A LIVING GOD! Will you help me, Uncle?" Thonar looked down at the pit, and then back at Brund. There were very few things any man could say in response to what he had just witnessed. "Aye," the noble finally said. "If Skyrim continues to back the strong as we always have, your ascension is a certainty. I will back you, my King." Brund stood from his throne to embrace Thonar, grinning from ear to ear. "Good. Then lets discuss our pl-," The sound of a pot shattering from behind them brought their attention to the corner of a room suddenly. Brund's eyes focused on the shadows beneath a table. Without saying a word, his Nordic Pendulum swung downwards, crushing the table and whatever might be under it. But there was nothing, at least not anymore. The sounds of scuffling and a closing door turned their attention away once more. Chuckling, Brund said, "Well well, looks like we've got a game of cat and mouse on our hands. Thonar, we'll discuss the moot further in a moment. But now, I need your help trapping the intruders before they can escape. Force them into the bowels of Markarth, I'll be waiting for them on the other side." "Gladly." Thonar turned to the soldiers of Markarth who flanked the entrance. "Follow me. We'll show them Markarth's tolerance for spies." With that, the Nordic nobleman led the soldiers in pursuit of whoever it was that had dared to attempt sneaking up on Brund Hammer-Fang. *** Few hours prior "Why are we scaling the walls? You do know the city has gates," said Maori. "You saw the way those soldiers were looking at us. Isn't it obvious? They were told to look out for us." Maori scratched his head with his free hand as they dangled from individual ropes. "They were looking out for you, must be. That Brund fella don't even know what I look like, don't know nothin about me!" "Perhaps," said Daric through struggling breaths as he neared the top. Ducking his head again as a soldier passed, he whispered downwards, "Either way, it's better to be safe than sorry." "You call this safe," said the elf. "I like climbing and all but I like climbing trees. This stone is slippery for my feet." "Then use your arms and climb the rope, stop complaining already," said Daric, finally climbing to the top when the Nord sentry passed. Maori swung from left to right on his rope until he was able to hop up the rest of the distance, landing next to the Breton boy with slightly labored breaths. "Getting old, enjoy your youth while it lasts, kid. Now, you know this city better than I do. Where we going?" Daric looked around a while until he eyed one of the brass sewer grates that poked out of the mountainside. "See that over there? That sewer leads straight into Markarth's palace. We've gotta make our way into it from here, the walls are the only way to reach it. See, you'd have been climbing anyway. Maybe you should try eating less. Or drinking less of that weird beef beer shit you brought from Valenwood, smells like you're drinking beef stew." Maori took a swig from a bottle he had fastened to his belt, burping in Daric's face to spite him. "Don't knock it till you try it. Don't even tell me you like that swill these Nords call mead, you forgot you're a Breton, lad?" "A Breton born in Skyrim, elf. Now lets go, and be quick about it!" The duo quickly scaled the mountainside, as quickly as one could before another sentry caught them running atop Markarth's walls. They were surprisingly light considering how populated they were before, but the war in the Reach was over, Forsworn hadn't been spotted near the city or in it, for some time. Hooking the grated doorway as water fell below, Daric signaled with his fingers to watch him. Before he attempted to go inside, Daric pulled on his hook until the metal grate popped open. Quickly, Daric told Maori to climb up with him, until Maori was atop the boy's back. "Now, jump up! There's a lever inside that will pull up a dam, hook it and pull!" Maori seemed unsure but listened to what he was told, jumping up the grate and atop the Dwemer pipe, being careful not to touch the water lest his feet get slippery. Dangling upside down above the cascading water, Maori swung his hook counter clock wise and tossed it inside before jumping down, dangling under the Breton again. His weight wasn't enough to pull the stiff and rusting lever apparently, however. "Blast it, maybe you should keep eating after all! Wait, I got an idea!" said the Breton, yelling to be heard above the rushing water. "Wait, don't do that!" said Maori. Too late. Daric jumped on the elf's back to make the lever give, and give it did. The water finally stopped falling, but Daric and Maori didn't. Daric didn't see but Maori noticed the rust on the lever, which is why he threw another hook with a second rope at the grated door in case it broke on him. He hadn't planned on that happening with twice the weight however. As Daric and Maori fell, the rope finally caught them, but its tautness was at the very limit. The grate swang back and forth, slamming shut and reopening as they dangled underneath. "Hurry up and climb!" said Maori. Daric didn't need him to say it twice. Carefully, the Breton Boy waited for his chance to climb up towards the middle of the grate before it slammed shut again, jumping back and just barely landing inside. An arrow flew past his cheek, hitting the metal surface of the pipe inside behind him before he just barely managed to grab it, noticing the rope at the other end. The rope Maori was on had snapped, and the one in Daric's hand now held him almost literally by a thread, before he was close enough that Daric could drag him inside. "Who the hell made this ******* rope?" said Daric. "We should've gotten some from Rebec, this shit is pathetic!" "...Sorry," said Maori while he tried calming down. "It's just meant to support my weight, didn't think I'd be scaling for two!" "Who the hell makes rope only just barely strong enough to support a load? Whatever, just follow me, and be careful," said Daric. "Lest you want to meet your kin." "What kin? In here?" said Maori, walking closely behind the boy now after drinking a night eye potion he gave him. "Aye, those things we saw in Solitude, those freaky elven monsters are in these Dwemer places beneath the city. We're not under obviously, but take a wrong step and fall down a pipe, you might end up there. So be. Careful." "I get it I get it," said the elf, rolling his eyes. Elven monsters, indeed, he thought. "What a bunch of nonsense. Those things couldn’t have been elves.” It took them another hour, or perhaps more, before they both finally realized that Daric was lost. Already on their last night eye potion, Maori was starting to get frustrated. "Listen, kid, I don't want to get on your case, but if you don't find the way soon, we're gonna end up living down here!" "Keep your damn voice down, you idiot! We could stumble into the palace at any minute!" "Stumble into the palace, you couldn't stumble your way into a maiden's pants if she were laying on her back with her legs over her head right in front o-," before Maori could finish, the elf slipped and fell down a hole, and grabbed Daric's tunic, trying to save himself. He dragged them both down a tunnel, until they hit another much smaller grate, which now popped open, sending them flying out into an open room. "****," said Maori, rubbing his head. Daric did the same, rolling from over the elf onto the stone floor. After he realized where he was, he heard loud footsteps coming from a hallway nearby. "**** is right! Hurry, elf!" Daric dragged the elf by his leg, throwing him under a table leaving him to crawl behind a large pot beneath it. There wasn't anywhere for Daric to hide however. Looking around, he realized finally that they'd stumbled directly into the palace throneroom... not only that, but Brund's unmistakable figure was sitting right on the very throne the room was home to, along with who he knew for sure was Thonar Silver-Blood. Quickly, Daric scrambled over to Maori, shoving the elf aside to make room for himself as well. "What are you doing, go somewhere else, we both can't hide here!" "Just shut it, we don't have a choice! Be quiet and listen..." And listen they did. "Boy, this Brund guy is something else. He really is full of himself eh?" "You got that right," said Daric. "I can't believe this, he really thinks this is the time to make a power grab for the throne? No one will support him, I can't believe Thonar's even considering it." "Well, you fought in the war against the Reachmen yourself, a lot of people may be grateful to him for ridding them of those lot." "Yea but... wait..." Daric and Maori stopped whispering when Brund started screaming. When the ground literally began to crack however, both of them were so shocked that they forgot where they even were. The things that crawled from within started walking around the throneroom until one was almost close enough to the table to spot one of them behind the pot. Daric was so terrified by the display that he didn't even grip a blade. He just sat there, shivering. Once Brund had them crawl back into Markarth's new asshole, Maori said, "There's no way in hell he can get away with that. Undead? If word gets out about that, he's done for as far as the moot goes. The Nords wouldn't support such a thing." "I don't know, Maori. He's using the Thu'um. They might not see it as dark magic like you're thinking... This is insane, this is insane!" said Daric. "This explains everything! This.. we gotta get back to Baldur. He has to know..." "I'm up for getting out of here whenever you are Daric. We've seen enough. We..." They didn't realize it, but all the shaking and rumbling on the floor moved the pot just enough that it was no longer perfectly seated on its wooden circle to protect it from the floor. So when Daric pushed it aside just a bit to study their surroundings to make a move for an exit, the pot tipped over completely... That's when the Breton and Elf made a dash for any door they could find, leaving nothing but a smashed pot in their place. *** "Have every exit sealed off," Thonar commanded the guards around him. "All but those leading to the ruins. I want the sealed ones to be opened up. We'll hound them inside." "The ruins?" The soldiers looked visibly chilled. "But sir, that place ain't safe." "Which might be why our Jarl wants to force the spies down there, don't you think? Now go! You are wasting time." Thonar did not have to tell them again. The guards in Markarth were used to obeying his commands. He and his remaining four men continued down the great passages of Understone Keep, moving in the direction the spies had taken off. The Dwemer castle was massive. Even without considering the city below it, most people believed it to be the largest seat of any Jarl. While that did mean lots of places to hide, it also meant lots of guards. Even now the Nordic soldiers were running too-and-fro, room-to-room, working their way towards the ruins of the Great Dwarven City: Nchuand-Zel. The city's excavation was massive. Even after two eras, it's stone roads were held securely aloft by great stone pillars. Thonar had been here on a few occasions, and he knew the Markarth's underground better than most Nords, but once those roads were taken into the Dwarven city proper, his -and most everyone else's- knowledge of what awaited beyond ended. Of course, it was not Thonar's intention to funnel their enemies into the main excavation site. There were other ways into the ruins from Understone Keep. Some of them secret. Some of them as obvious as large brass doors that had been sealed off, and it was through one of these that Daric and Maori had already been forced to retreat into, and it was at this door that three more guardmen now stood when Thonar arrived. "I opened the door as you ordered, Sir." He pointed to his companions. "And Tuslaf and Vor chased them through." "And you didn't follow them?" "Well, we did for a bit, but... it's dark in there." The guard pointed into the abandoned Dwarven hall as if to prove his point. "Well, it's too bad no one ever thought to create some kind of portable light source then," Thonar growled. "You know, something easy to carry, like a stick with fire on the end. That would solve all of our problems." "I'll get some torches, Sir." "You do that." As the guard disappeared, another one spoke his mind. "Are you sure about this, Sir? I mean, we've already got them trapped underground. And they say the Dwemer machines are still alive down here. And worse, Falmer." "I am well aware of the machines," the noble answered. And he was. His own Cidhna Mine was huge and complex, and in some of its dark corners, the earth actually broke into the vast, interconnecting Dwemer ruins that ran through these mountains. But they posed no threat, for the Dwarves had been kind enough to leave their automatons behind to defend those breaches. "As for Falmer, I would suggest you stop believing the tales your mother read to you as a child. You think we wouldn't know if we lived atop an entire city filled with ancient elves? We're going to push down just a little further. Make sure they get as far as our Jarl wants them." The first guard returned carrying a bundle of torches. They each took one, lit them, and proceeded into the city beneath the city. To the first guard's credit, it was dark down here. The halls reached a point where they became so wide that their torchlight could not reach both sides, which forced their group to spread out. "What's that smell?" one guard asked. "Probably chaurus shit," another answered. "I'll bet those things have infested this place. Another thing to worry about." "Quiet," Thonar commanded. Looking ahead, the noble could see only darkness. And as far as hearing, well, there was no mechanical movement or hissing of steam. That meant that whatever marvels the Dwemer had built here were long past their days of functioning. "Hey, the walls are gone," said the guard on their right. Sure enough, a portion of the Dwarves' smooth stone walls had crumbled, giving way dirt and earth, and a single black hole. Something had tunneled there. "I'll bet this is where the Falmer come out." "He said to shut up with that nonsense," a different guard said. "It's probably just the chaurus. They won't bother a group as big as ours. Now come on." They proceeded deeper and deeper beneath Understone Keep, until finally the sound of machinery started to pick up somewhere above them. "Sounds like we're beneath the city beneath the city," a guard joked. But nobody laughed, because that very moment, his torch fell to the ground, and they all turned to see him clutching an arrow wound in his neck. "Archer!" Thonar barked, "Form a circle!" The Nords tossed their torches out in front of them and drew their shields, forming a defensive circle that faced fire and darkness in all directions. Thonar was in the middle, his own silver longsword drawn. "Did anyone see where it came fro-" one man said, just before another arrow immediately thudded into his shield. "Shh!" Thonar and his men went quiet. And then another arrow whistled, hitting the man's shield again. And then things went bad, fast. A slumped, white-skinned figure emerged from the darkness like a beast summoned from Oblivion. In its hand was a gray axe that looked like it had been fashioned out of some larger creature's bones. The creature leapt up and slammed against their shield wall, and then suddenly, five or six more of the things came from each direction. Thonar drove his sword into one's belly, and watched as another went down from a guard's axe. Unfortunately, for every creature they slew, two more took its place. A bone axe cracked against a guardsman's helmet and knocked him to the ground. Thonar tried to cut at the beast who'd felled him, but he wasn't fast enough to reach it before his ally had been dragged off into the darkness. "Tsun protect us!" another guard shouted, just before he and the man beside him went down as well. Thonar picked up his shield and joined the remaining four in a tightened circle. They hacked and slashed at the red-eyed creatures, until finally it seemed that this random spy hunt was going to be the death of them. And then something heavy crashed into the ground deeper in the hall. The Falmer (as Thonar now had to assume they were) started to back away, sniffing the musty air in sudden alarm. Next came footsteps, slow and heavy. That was apparently enough for the creatures. They broke away from Thonar's group and scampered back off into the darkness, leaving the Nords alone with the footsteps. There was a long pause, though only to their perceptions. Amongst the sight of dead monster elves and their fallen comrades amongst the encompassing dark, a second seemed like an age. The stench of the creatures was noticably faint, and it was clear that they were truly alone with whatever beast was approaching them now. One of the guards could make it out, a lumbering hulk of shadow visible before the barely visible blue illuminiscent growth on the stone walls before them. It had a spiked head, that much was clear, or at least it was before it seemed to have removed it entirely. "What are you idiots doing, where's the rest of the men?" said Brund. Stepping into the light, revealing himself covered in what was clearly a crude assemblage of chaurus exoskeleton. Looking around, he finally seemed to notice the dead bodies half visible from the torches in their hands, the others stomped out by the Falmer themselves. "Put those out, and drink some of this. And try not to die, tracking two people in this place alone will be difficult." The Nords stared at their Jarl in stunned silence. Even Thonar, who had only witnessed Brund's powers less than an hour earlier, was surprised to see him now. But he was also the first to recover. "You heard him," the noble barked. He then stepped up and took the bag Brund was offering. Inside was a large bottle that contained some sweet-smelling liquid. He took the first drink, shivered against the tingles the potion sent to his brain, and passed the bottle. It was a night-eye elixir, and it instantly drove the darkness from their visions, turning the blackness of the caverns into a dim gray. Silver-Blood looked at Brund and nodded. They would all feel safer going forward, with a man like this leading them. "We're right behind you." "No, you go down in that direction. I'll be watching. Close by." "Alright." Thonar nodded. Knowing that Brund was watching was still enough to make the Nords feel more secure than before. The nobleman jerked his head toward the pathway and started off, and the remaining guardsmen quickly formed up around him. *** "Boy. Boy. Please, stop your incessant breathing. They're going to hear us." "Did you see?" "I saw. Gods help me, I saw." "He's a monster. Even amongst monsters." "He's mortal, is what he is. But you're right. He's... we need to go." Maori hopped down from his recently captured chaurus, grabbing Daric's hand, beckoning him to come along. He was shaking like a leaf. They both were. "It was a good plan," he said. "You're a smart lad. Leading them to the Nords, it almost worked. But we couldn't have known..." "You're right, we should just stop talking," said Daric. "Focus on finding a breeze. Even if it's the tiniest opening to the surface, this thing can help us dig our way out." Maori closed his mouth and nodded. But he couldn’t help but think of how deep the shit they were in. They had an advantage in this place that the Nords hadn’t. Maori had picked up the talent long ago of sneaking around in dark places. They found the Falmer long before they found them. And the Nords with their big voices, footsteps and bright torches… It couldn’t have been more simple to send the Falmer their way. The first arrow that killed a guard, that was his. The rest after that, was the Falmer’s way of sensing. After that, it should have been nothing to just watch them all die. They heard the footsteps of Brund only after the Falmer almost trampled them in their hiding place. Seeing whatever it was, so close to them, then realizing their hunter himself was an arms reach away from them in the dark… They had no idea of knowing what time it was, how long they'd spent there underground. Had the foreigners come already? Was Baldur King? The only good thing that came of their predicament was, Brund needed them dead, so that they couldn't give Baldur their intel before the moot commenced. There's no way in hell the Jarls would elect such an evil, crazy individual, no matter how scared they were of him, or the elves. Right? Every now and then, the pair would hear scurrying, especially when their path took them to a great open chasm so large, and so bright with more luminescent mushrooms that for a time, after being in complete darkness, and lead by a man sized stinky bug, the two were more blind than they were without it. The scurrying never lead to anything more than the occasional jump scare, but that was worrying in it of itself. They knew eyes were on them. Fearful eyes. Eyes that knew they were prey to something worse than themselves. After the sting of their eyes readjusting left them, the two finally had time to be struck with awe at what they saw. Ruins, buildings of stone and intricate bronze metalwork, further than their eyes could see, and then some, likely. Towers, spires, hanging giant chandeliers holding spheres of light, exposing dust and dirt hovering over the work of the Dwemer as though to protect it. "It's... a city. A city beneath a city?" said Maori. "No... I think Markarth and this place, it may all just be one great big city. I've... never...." "Not even the Imperial City could match such wonder. Who knows just how far this place stretches underground!" "It could go on for leagues. Scores of leagues...." said Daric. He didn't sound so enthusiastic anymore. "No matter, we'll just keep following the bug." "And how do you know the bug knows we want to get to the surface?" "I know. Trust me, pup. I know what I'm doing." "It's not you, I'm worried about, but that damn skeever shit with legs. One thing's for certain, we're not as likely to be found down here. In fact, I'd say Brund doesn't stand a chance. It's like a needle in a haystack." "Aye, which is why we should make camp. Get some rest." Daric eyed the elf with suspicion. "You're nuts. We've wasted enough time as it is! We've got to..." "We will die of exhaustion before we find the way out. We're gonna be here a while kid, unless we have some sort of divine intervention, we're as good as fucked, unless we sit tight, collect ourselves, rest and be ready for anything. I want out of here as bad as you do, but this Brund fella has given us the break we needed. These things... elves. They're not coming out while he's down here." "Four hours, that's it," said Daric. Maori nodded, and commanded the bug to turn into a nearby stone quarters that was small enough to have only one compartment to it. Daric's eyes gazed upwards at the overpassing mushrooms, their hanging tendril growths reaching out to him, intent to take him away, swaying in the air, a jellyfish deep at sea. Fitting then, as sinking deeper and deeper beneath a dark sea was exactly how he felt things were going. Sitting at the entrance, Daric marveled at how quickly the elf fell into a trance, cuddled up with the thing that wanted to eat him not too long ago. Relatively speaking. The walls, and the complexity of the layout gave him some peace of mind. And as the adrenaline settled, so did his mind, making the scared child with the burden of men finally succumb to his weariness in the dark. *** High Hrothgar Paarthurnax, Baldur "Drem, Yol, Lok!" cried Paarthurnax, with a mighty roar beset in flame. Flame so strong, it knocked Baldur on his ass, leaving him sitting in a puddle of melted snow. Paarthurnax did it on purpose, he was sure. Somehow the old dovah took great pleasure in randomly setting him on fire, knocking him over. And this was the leader of the pacifist tongues? Bellowing something that resembled laughter, Paarthurnax said, "Your thu'um is strong, your fire burns bright! Oh how it pleases me to be able to share Tiinvaak with someone new again! Yes, it brings life to these old bones!" Baldur slowly sat up, brushing the snow out of his wool robes and beard. This was a daily occurrence but every time, Paarthurnax flew in from somewhere different as he walked up the pathway to the throat of the world. The air here was thinner, much thinner than what he was used to. Shouting, even normal speaking would be difficult here. Even so, Baldur echoed a question to his elderly tormentor in his ancient tongue, before collapsing to the ground to catch his breath. "Ahhh, a fine question, my Ashen companion. Jurgen Windcaller, I remember him well. Come, come closer so that you can hear me clearly. I sense suspicion in your thu'um, and as always, man is wise to distrust a Dovah, just as Dovah are wise to distrust the Joor. Mortals." Baldur sat up after recovering his breath, sitting criss-crossed in the snow. The question he echoed roughly translated to "Jurgen. Elderly Dragon. Your doing?" With all the effort it took to echo a simple question and series of words up here, Baldur came to understand just how powerful Paarthurnax truly was, especially in comparison to himself. It was humbling, but more than that it was maddening. He was a flake of snow in the wind, wind created by a gust from his wings. The thought angered Baldur to no end. He planned to stay atop this mountain for the remainder of his stay, day and night until his strength grew. Even if it meant suffering the Tinvaak of this old dragon the entire time.... Speaking of... "It was a long time from now, in your eyes. A time where the Joor still spoke with the power of the voice, the Thu'um. All around the mountain, I could feel their voices. Bellowing out, sending color of emotions through the sky. Usually red. In the distance, to the east, I felt a new color arise, heard the Joor speak a new shade, this one grey. A color of defeat in a time of much strife in this land. Two wars had begun to consume your people. None of this concerned an old Dovah such as myself, I was alone and reflected only on what had concerned me, my past." Baldur's expression lightened suddenly and Paarthurnax nudged him with a wing. "You look as though you wished to speak. But your voice is burdened with too much effort. This thu'um you wish to learn. You do not understand how it works, do you?" Baldur looked frustrated, then shook his head. "It relies on intrinsic understanding. It is a shout of my own creation, the one I used to teach the Joor long ago. Language, to communicate, relies on the relation of feeling, memories. And to associate them in new patterns, groupings, labels. This shout speaks to the mind, pulls thought that already is within, and brings them to the surface, forcing the one at the receiving end to think of what the speaker does, with their own associations. Tinvaak, manipulates those around you the same way the voice does the world. Every time we speak, we are bringing thought forward." Baldur didn't seem to understand what the Dragon was saying. He got the concept, but he didn't see how it helped him. "Arngeir has been using this shout on you, and you've been using this shout enough that words from my tongue should be within your mind already. A cipher. Think, Joor. And pull them out." Baldur still seemed puzzled, but he tried what he was told anyway, closing his eyes to concentrate. Nothing came to mind however despite what Paarthurnax suggested. Frustrated, Baldur wrote in the snow what he was trying to say. It read "The wars of which you are speaking of, they remind me of today." Paarthurnax's throat let out noises that resembled laughter once again. Confused and agitated, Baldur bellowed out an angry battlecry that made the snowfall leave them for a second. Not being able to speak was so unbelievably frustrating. For him, a bard, it was like having an itch he couldn’t scratch. "You have eyes to see, but still you don't. Bex Hi Hahdrim." Baldur wanted to say he was trying, and then suddenly realized that he understood what Paarthurnax had said. He didn't know what the individual words meant, but he understood its meaning. He looked down then at what he wrote in the snow, just before the snowfall returned and made it fade away. It was in draconic. "Now you see. This is the shout that brought power to your kin. Those that did not worship the Dov, and those that did. This is how your kind discovered kin of our own in their form. Dovahkiin. They quickly learned our tongue with the help of this shout." Baldur eyed him curiously and tried to speak in the tongue, but again nothing came to mind. More time was needed, evidently. "Meditate further and it will come. You Nords are Venkiin. Believe yourselves born of wind. That makes it easier to teach you. This was the same for Jurgen, who already knew much of the Thu'um when he finally made it atop High Hrothgar. I was surprised, as was he." Baldur sighed, glad that the Dragon knew to get back on topic all on his own. "Jurgen began debating with me furiously, and it wasn't until the next day as he was still initiating Tinvaak that I realized he was trying to kill me rather than talk. I unleashed my thu'um then and left him humbled. Curiously, he then spoke of the gods and said they must've brought him here to learn. And so he stayed, listening to me and learning of my way of the voice." Baldur stood then and pointed a finger at him. His face warped with anger, he continued pointing his finger at the dragon as he said Yol in his direction. "Pruzah," said Paarthurnax as Baldur began coughing after saying merely one word. "This is a perfect example of why Jurgen spread my way of the voice. Why the Dovah became lost, and why your people soon followed. You overuse your voice, wastefully, even moreso than we. You Joor, you do not know restraint as we do. If the Dovah used the voice as wastefully as you Bron, Nords, the world would have flooded over eras ago. You were right to suspect me of helping Jurgen subdue his people. I gave your ancestors, those that fought the dragon cult the voice. It was mine to take back once more." "KAAN OFAN BRON THU'UM!" Cried Baldur. "Perhaps, perhaps not. But your Kyne also did not prevent your defeat. She did not prevent the Dov's either. Our doom, our own doing. As will yours be, if you continue your path. Curious, you do not seem to realize why Arngeir has decided to help. You do not sense the rising power in the west. It is an old power, one I recognize. It is your duty to study our way of the voice. To teach your people restraint. If you do not, the other power will consume them just as it did in the past. Keizaal is giving rise to power of old, and being lead like a snake with two heads. One must be cut, the one that is blinded by rage. But I cannot see which that is at the moment..." Baldur knew what he spoke of. Brund. "Despite what you might think, I did not force Jurgen Windcaller into my way of the voice. I only made him hear it. It was his decision to agree with it once heard. And it will be your decision as well, but if you are going to stay here, you WILL hear it, just as my kin will. The voice is spreading across the land once more by forces unknown. It is up to you and this other, how it will color Keizaal's skies." "Interesting conversation, the parts I could understand, at least.” "Who is that?" said Paarthurnax. “Another guest come to seek Tinvaak?" Baldur bolted up in surprise. He didn't see anyone at first, but then an old robed man came forward, walking out of the snowy mist. His hair was short, dark grey. His eyes bright icy blue, and his face covered in a deep poorly healed scar of what certainly was a mortal wound. His beard was short and neat, and beneath his robe was a red armored kilt with the drake insignia of the Empire. "It's been a long, long time, my son. Too long." *** "Yooohooo..." Daric's eyes cracked open ever so slightly, before bolting open as he rushed towards the elf. "Maori...Maori!" he said, whispering low and daring not to make a noise louder than that. Maori's snores threatened to give away their position already. "Huh? I'm up, I'm..." "Yoooohoooo....." called Brund again, though they couldn't tell from where the voice was coming from. The underground chasm seemed to be making his voice echo from all directions. But this hardly sounded natural. The strange Nord known as the priest was channeling a spell through Brund, surrounding him in a green aura as he kept speaking. "I know you're here, boys... our guide here took us straight to you..." Brund pulled on a chain in his hand attached to one of the monstrosities that passed as a snow elf nowadays. "Come to me, or we'll come to you. Now! No? Fine then." At that moment, Brund released a cry from his throat that both Maori and Daric would have sworn was a thu'um, but this was an ordinary cry. And yet, it was enough to make the hiding Falmer scatter like cockroaches. They had no idea what was going on, no time to prepare. Before they knew it, the elves were crowding into every Dwemer dwelling, crowding the streets. They panicked, slashing at the first creature they saw, forced then to run amidst the chaos. Brund grew tired of waiting, and began shooting boulders at the stone houses, gathering gravel into his mouth like a hamster, or a frog with a large fresh kill. “FUS, GOL STRUNMAH!” As buildings collapsed, one after another, Maori pulled on the boy again, pointing upwards to a case of stairs. There was an elven mage atop the staircase blocking their way, along with a dozen other falmer trying to rush past the creature. It blasted them back with fire again and again, angered with their cowardice perhaps? It didn't matter. One arrow to its head and the crowd overcame her, Daric and Maori amongst them. Before they could reach the top however, a large boulder fell before them, trapping them off from the rest of the way. They turned around slowly... "Here, kitty kitty," said Brund with a grin on his face, twisted and showing off his crooked yellowed teeth. Daric drew his blade. "Jarl Hammer-Fang." Brund pushed the priest aside and said, "You know what they say, boys. It’s better to burn out… hahahahaha! The two rats are mine. Priest, go get the Thonar and the others.." "Hello there," said someone from the dark of Black Reach. Brund's head turned sharply, eyes searching for the owner. Frowning, he said, "Bardok." Bardok came forward, with a necklace of elven ears, and a blade freshly bloodied. His wild long mohawk hang over his shoulders, which he brushed aside, pushing it behind the fur collar of his Nordic Carved armor. "The one and only. You two are hard to find. Hows it going?" "How in the hell did you find us?" said Maori. "It wasn't too hard, all I had to do was follow the bodies. I was already looking for a way in the city through here, I've been following you two for a time. Stopped by Solitude, they said you snuck off after getting yourselves almost killed by Falmer. Figured some of them may have had your scent still. I was worried you might have gotten into some trouble if you’d been stupid enough to come through these parts." “That’s not why we’re down here, and the Falmer were the least of our troubles." Maori pointed a finger at the grinning Brund. “This one…” Daric interrupted and said, "Brund's got Forsworn slaves under the palace floor attached to the mines, he's using them as leverage to get the Silver-Bloods to stand against Baldur! They're gonna try and kill him!” “He’s got Forsworn slaves under the palace floor? What? I don’t understand what you’re talking about but we’ll get to it later.. Don't worry, you'll be able to tell this to Baldur in person. I'm your backup." "Priest, handle it." "Hahahahaha, with pleasure!" "Run!" said Bardok. "I'll kill this freak, and then I'll kill Brund, but you gotta run for now!" Brund turned his head to Bardok, cocked sideways. "You'll do what now? For that, after I kill the brats, I'll kill you slow. In fact, I won't kill you at all. You'll be my slave!" Bardok lifted his greatsword to his shoulders and said, "Try it." When he did, the ground around him shook and gave away as shifting undead arose to the surface, all wearing blue sashes of the Stormcloaks. The priest grinned with glee as he watched the look on Bardok's face. "Go Brund, get them! I'll kill this one." "You... what have you done to our brothers?" The Priest rubbed his hands with delight as his fingers began channeling various spells over his minions. "Their souls are in Sovngarde. But their bodies belong to me. These are all that remain of my berserkers who have died in battle. They served me well in life... but they'll serve me more in death. Observe." Bardok prepared himself as the first skeletal thing, blonde beard still in tact charged him with a roar, while three more came from behind. Something grabbed his feet from below before the head of a man missing an eye popped out, laughing as Brund watched, satisfied the situation was handled. "Now, where was I." Daric and Maori were gone, but Brund could hear their footsteps. Brund smiled, knowing all they were doing was exhausting themselves. Daric knew it too, as did Maori, but what they also knew was they couldn't win against the Jarl of Markarth. Running was their only option. They ran down another flight of stairs, turning sharply to climb to another level of the area near a waterfall and a cluster of red noisy plants that resembled what Daric thought might be Nirnroot. They used these to get the grip they needed as they scrambled up. They heard thuds against the stone walls below, as if Brund was trying to make the whole thing drop. But when they got to the top, a large Dwemer watchtower with a massive Dwemer construct at its center suddenly collapsed on itself before them, the top of the tower pointing directly at them both. Brund marched over its remains, his helmet containing a chaurus maw that made him resemble a dremora in the shadows, and Alfrvega in hand as he brushed the dust of recently devoured earth from his chin. After clearing his throat, Brund said, "Now, who's first?" Bardok jabbed his blade in the direction of the three approaching undead behind him, impaling two of them as the third slashed at his armored back. With his hands free, he grasped the man's head by the eyeless socket, crushing his skull with an explosion of dust and bone bits. The thing behind him gave him a boot in the ass, sending him to the ground in push up position before jabbing downwards towards the back of his exposed neck while more undead closed in. He tilted his head to the side, spun to his back, and kicked its head clean off before jumping back to his feet. As he evaded, he crushed the exposed necks of any shamblers that got close, but he couldn't evade all, letting his armor take up most of the abuse. As the priest expected. He was using old magic on Bardok, weakening the integrity of his Nordic carved armor, rusting it slowly as the Nord fought. Before he knew it, his plated mail was chipping away, and the undead Stormcloaks he impaled, the great sword stuck in their tough rigor mortis ridden hides were standing behind the crowd that pushed harder and harder to reach their singular target. Meanwhile the priest continued to channel his magic as he cut and slashed amongst his slaves, diving away to avoid Bardok's powerful hands. Every time Bardok turned, he saw the Priest’s wild eyes peering through him, waiting for an opening. It was unnatural… crazy… was the Priest in his head? Finally Bardok's armor clasps gave away and the entire thing fell to the ground, snapping a dazed Bardok out of whatever trance or train of thought he was stuck in. Seeing his chance, the priest had the creatures try and tackle the Grim One, the first of the lot being knocked away by his large fists, and then grasping at his legs. "Haha, die! Then serve me!" cried the Priest as he took a sword from one of the dead Stormcloaks. Charging with his blade pointing at Bardok's heart, the Priest's was crying with glee as blood splattered across his face. But it was not Bardok's blood. The Priest was still laughing even as the Daedric greatsword continued to solidify through his ribs. He inched closer, and closer still, reaching in a pouch on his waist before drinking a mixture containing skooma. "What in the **** are you?" said Bardok, disgusted by the display. "What do you even gain from helping Brund?" "A god," said the Priest. "My clan was born in the bowels of the Reach. A mix of Roscrean and Nord, and enslaved Reachmen wenches! We know of things the rest of Skyrim doesn't. Brund? Baldur? They are like Masser and Secunda. Body and mind, split. Space and Time. Two halves of a whole. You think it coincidence that they rose to power at the same time? Think it coincidence Brund stumbled upon these abilities of his?" Bardok shook his head, not sure what the man was going on about. Humoring him anyway for more information he said, "And just how did Brund stumble across his power? Who trained him in the Thu'um?" "I do not yet fully understand the how, the who. I only know that she is old, and that Brund was drawn to her, destined to seek power because of what he is. Just as your Jarl and mine are destined to fight, and become one in the process. They always have been! I've seen it in the Sithis Shaped Hole! Padomay, Anu! Lorkhan, Auri-el! Sheogorath, Jyggalag! Wulfharth, Zurin! Talos, Emperor Zero! Even the First and Last Dragonborn! This fight will happen, and Brund is destined to be the victor! I made sure of it! He-..." "He what? What did you do?" Bardok wouldn't get an answer however. The Priest's ramblings fell dead in his mouth, his defiled Stormcloak draugr gone, and the Priest fell to his knees. Bardok placed his boot on the corpse of the two he stabbed earlier, yanking his blade free as he listened for fighting, or running. He heard footsteps but there were too many to be Daric and the elf. He heard yelling. "Over there! Someone's fighting!" "Reinforcements," said Bardok frowning. He ran in the opposite direction, hoping that he'd get to Daric and Maori in time to help them with Brund. But more footsteps came in that direction as well. He saw no torches, but he knew that there were men, actual men running around in Blackreach. If he was going to save the elf and Daric, he’d have to draw Nordic blood. The sound of men searching grew to the sound of men charging. Bardok looked up at the chandelier holding a magical orb of light above them, summoned a spear to his hands and chucked it high. As the Markarth guards grew closer, the lights suddenly went out, and all that was left in the immediate area was the glow of mushroom. Chaos ensued immediately, as the sounds of rending flesh and men trampling over one another filled the dank thick air. Some of them killed their own by accident, thinking they must’ve been Falmer, or the Nord they saw. It didn’t matter. Many would die, but not one of the bodies that littered the ground belonged to Bardok, not even the blood. Maori had faced many enemies in his day. Mages, monsters, Thalmor, even bizarre nightmarish creatures in the bowels of Valenwood, birthed from the Wild Hunt itself. None could claim to match the brutish nature of Brund, or the level of lethal that he could. He used no thu'um as they fought, and to Daric's credit, he distracted the man enough that Maori placed three well placed shots between the thick insect plate armor Brund was wearing, and if anything it seemed to make him fight more fiercely. Daric didn't dare try deflecting any of Brund's blows. The pendulum swings of the weapon he called Alfrvega were slow, it was pointless to do so. And yet every time Daric attempted to close in with his twin swords, there it was again, threatening to split him in two. This time Daric fell to his back, ducking under Alfrvega, only to receive Brund's large boot crashing into his gut. The wind flew out of him so hard, Brund could smell his breath and feel his spittle. "You know what this name means? Elf Killer. When I cut you in two, I'll separate the elven part of you, and maybe, just maybe it'll be enough for Shor to receive you in Sovngarde. If so, I'll be able to tell you all about how I killed Baldur. When I claim that throne too!” "You talk too much, oaf!" said Maori. Before Brund could react, a giant Chaurus broke through the Earth from under his feet, freeing the Breton boy and leaving Brund to fend for himself. It was very short lived. Brund severed a leg from the thing's body, making it fall forward in the perfect position for Brund to split its head open with Alfrvega. It started to shake and spasm out of control, and suddenly the air was alive with a sound that resembled rain. The chaurus as it died, even with its head split open must've called out to its kind for help, because Brund was soon surrounded by a mass of smaller chaurus in all directions, popping out of the ground around him, and sounding like running water beneath his boots. Brund dropped Alfrvega to the ground, stomped repeatedly while screaming. His thu'um was strong, as strong as when the Thalmor reached Windhelm, and though blood fell from his nose, and oozed out from under his wounded briarheart, he seemed otherwise unhindered as he caused the very earthbones of Blackreach to tremble beneath the weight of his power. The insects, confused and unable to move properly ran around in chaos until the shaking finally ceased, and they ran away. Daric managed to climb the tendrils of a hanging mushroom, which he used to swing towards Brund and slash at his head. Brund's head tilted, dodging the blow before yelling in Daric's direction. No thu'um came, but it was enough to paralyze him. A Nord’s battlecry was intimidating as it was already. Brund’s pierced every inch of his senses. "Heh, what's wrong boy? You afraid? I can't blame you. You feel my power, and it is too much for you to bear." "Snap out of it, Daric!" said Maori. He shot three more arrows in Brund's direction, but they only made contact with stone as Brund sent a boulder his way. He almost avoided it, but the top of his head brushed with it, knocking him out cold, possibly killing him. Daric still stood, shaking again. "Pathetic. I'll tell Baldur of your cowardice just before I kill him too!" Daric's mind was in another place as the words went through his head. The last time he was so afraid, was when he and Baldur were alone. Fighting. Daric had argued, begged to Baldur to let him undergo the Grim Trials. Naturally, Baldur refused, for the longest time. It was certain death, he told him, for any boy to undergo them. Men with the strength of three Nords, with far more battle experience had died during the trials. Daric wouldn't hear it. So he disguised himself. He was short, even if tall for a Breton boy, there was no hiding that. But he did find a few powerful illusion scrolls in his campaigns against the forsworn, enough that he could make himself look like a grown man. And so he did. He regretted it almost immediately. The cold of the water was bad enough. He'd lost two of his toes to frostbite on the second week. His body was riddled in fresh scars from the blows of Nord adventurers and soldiers in the fights, one of which Baldur decided to jump in. Said he saw something in him, and wanted to see what he was made of. Daric thought he knew who he was, but it wasn't the case. It was only on that day that he knew just what it meant to be on the opposite end of Baldur's axes when he was serious. Baldur truly did not treat these duels they had as sparring matches. Baldur was trying to kill him. And he would have too, as Daric froze up just like he had now, and almost lost his head. If the illusion spell from the scroll didn't fade away at that very moment, Baldur would have killed his own apprentice. He was beyond furious. He wanted to kill Daric anyway, as he once again laid on the infirmary bed of Kyne's Watch. But, Daric survived longer than he'd have ever expected him to. In fact, Baldur wondered if he wouldn't have gotten to the end, if not for his interference. He wouldn't know, not then. When Daric woke up from his coma after all the trauma, Baldur taught him something that just might save his life. And as the blood dripped out of his hand, a self inflicted wound, he repeated his words. “If a man is stricken with so much fear that his body betrays him, pain can help him overcome it.” "Not bad, boy," said Brund. Touching his cheek to see how deep the cut was, he realized he could almost stick his finger through it. Daric managed to sidestep Alfrvega, and almost took Brund's head clean off, if not for Brund's instincts. Smiling, Brund said, "You're full of surprises. Something in you changed." Daric felt that way too. He didn't know what it was, but he could feel it. His skin tingled, his vision blurred red, his hearing dulled. All he could see was Brund, and the image of him dead in his head. He charged Brund with both blades in his hand. Brund swung Alfrvega in his direction once more, and Daric fell to his back. This time however when Brund tried to stomp him into the dirt, Daric's boot made contact with his groin, then his hands, causing Brund to drop his weapon. Brund punched Daric in his stomach so hard, he dropped his blades, but Daric gave the Nord two punches of his own, sending one of his teeth flying out of his mouth. Daric grabbed Brund by the throat, and gave a roar that pierced Brund's ears so fiercely that he mistook it for the cry of a Nord. Daric's forehead hit Brund in the bridge if his nose again, and again, and again until his blood stung the boy's eyes and blinded him. He wiped his eyes, left Brund bloodied a moment and grabbed his dropped sword, bringing it high above his head before savagely hacking away at him. Brund put up his arms, blocking the blows as best he could. Tears flowed from his eyes as Daric continued his mad onslaught. "ENOUGH!!!!" said Brund, as his armored arm collided with Daric's sword, knocking it away into the dark of Blackreach. Daric lost his sword, but Brund lost a finger, his pinky. Seeing it lie in the blue light of the large cave's mushrooms made Brund laugh with delight. He charged Daric, ignoring the blade he swung at him, grabbing the boy's head as he tried to crush it like a grape. Daric couldn't even yell, the force of it overwhelming every sense he had with complete agony. "Put him down!" Brund turned his head. It was Bardok. "Come on you freak. Face a real Nord, and put the boy down. Though between you and me, I think that boy's got more Nord in him than you do." "More Nord than... than me?" said Brund. He dropped Daric like a rock, and from where Bardok stood, he looked dead already. Biting his lip, he looked around for the elf. Maori was out too. "More Nord... than ME? Me? Do you not see what the **** I see? I make these things, these twisted elves, that Nords tell stories about to their children to scare them from adventuring in the woods, run like freshly fucked tavern wenches. I make the ground tremble when I roar. Motherfucker, I am the, most Nordic thing you've EVER seen." "Oh I see it. I see a milkdrinker that borrows power from someone, something else and calls it his own." "Borrows? You think what these elves fear is my thu'um? Ha! I come down here to exercise. I hunt, I kill with my own two hands. My hands and Alfrvega here. And this thu'um? I took it. I not only took it, I've harnessed it, made it my own. It's now better in my hands. I'll prove it to you in the end. Show you what I mean." Brund turned to Daric then, reaching for his blue sash. "Leave him be!" said Bardok. "Be quiet, I'm proving a point. To show you just how wrong you are, I'm going to gag myself. I won't use my thu'um when I take you apart. But after I'm done, and you're on the ground, broken. Then, I'll show you something I haven't shown anyone yet. Not even the Priest." Bardok smiled, not bothering to hide it. "The Priest won't ever see it then, because I killed him already." "Hmph, is that what you think? Cute. You see, the Priest, when I first met him? He was already dead. My thu'um, and my thu'um alone is the reason he lives. Or at least, walks among us anyway. I found his lifeless body in a Forsworn crypt, remarkably preserved, thanks to one of these...." Brund removed his breastplate, revealing the metal infused with his skin. Normally you couldn't see past it, but now it was glowing. As it did, the blue light of the mushrooms around them grew dim, and dark. "All it took was energy to revitalize him. That's all it'll take again. He's my servant, for eternity. As you'll be, once I'm done making you my bitch." "If that's the case, then shut the **** up and gag yourself already. Or I will. I'll kill you and make sure neither of you come back." Brund opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. Instead, he did what he said he would. He tied his mouth closed, he even dropped Alfrvega at his feet, and walked forward to face Bardok, the man that almost bested Baldur at the Grim Trials. "You're gonna face me without a weapon? Heh, fine then." Bardok summoned a spear from Oblivion to his hands, chucking them both at the same time in Brund's direction. Brund caught the first, but it dissipated when he claimed ownership of it. The second cut his shoulder, which he ignored, and two more spears came flying towards his eyesockets, one actually cutting the gag and making the cloth fall from his face. Seeing his trick, Brund was ready, charging Bardok and evading the other spear throws well enough to close the distance. Bardok's greatsword was in his hands before he could blink, already between him and his enemy, reaching for his exposed ribs. Brund sidestepped it, his hands reaching for Bardok's throat. Bardok knocked Brund in the chin with his sword hilt before slicing downwards. Brund knocked the blade aside with his gauntlet covered fists, then sent two quick punches deep into Bardok's ribs. Bardok countered with two of his own with one fist, and a one handed strike that was surprisingly quick, quick enough to put a cut on Brund's forehead. This continued for another ten seconds, both landing hits hard enough to crack bone, and possibly having already done so. But every wound Brund sustained seemed to make him fight harder, and stranger, he seemed to like it... Brund left his left side open, and Bardok capitalized, jabbing his blade towards Brund's shoulder blade. Brund sidestepped again, punching downwards and knocking the blade down before sending a skull cracking shot into Bardok's left eye. Staggered, Bardok danced away on his feet, fists at the ready. Brund was laughing hysterically at the man's pain. "All that talk, all that talk, show me!" "As you wish!" As Brund charged Bardok again, Bardok placed a foot over his sword's hilt while his other foot went under the blade, kicking the sword up in the air, before catching it in his hands and swinging it all in one fluid motion that would have cut Brund almost in half. Brund didn't evade this time. In fact, he was waiting for a moment like this. Brund ducked down to one knee, in the perfect position for Bardok to take his head off. Instead, Brund's armored fist met directly with his sword, cracking the blade in two. Before Bardok knew what happened, Brund's boot was at Bardok's chest, sending him crashing into the dirt. Brund lifted his boot to stomp Bardok's ribs in, but Bardok's hand caught it every time. This time Brund leapt in the air and sent two boots crashing down into them both. Bardok took the broken blade and jabbed it in Brund's leg, making the mighty Brund collapse to the ground. Bardok painfully crawled over him, holding his throat as he attempted to pound Brund's face into gravel. He was three punches in before Brund's hands went around his skull, trying to gouge his eyes out. Bardok struggled for a time, then bit one of his thumbs before he began devastating Brund's face some more. Brund may have been strong, but he wasn’t smiling or amused after those hits. One of them made him think Bardok busted his left eye. He heard a sick crack and could no longer see out of it. Brund was dazed, and could only see red in his good and bad eye as he let out a cry so loud it made Bardok hesitate for half a second. That's all it took. Brund's hand grabbed Bardok's throat, crushing it as he pulled Bardok down to the side and did some pummeling of his own. His knees rested over Bardok's arms, and he could do nothing but take the full brunt of it. Until a tiny ball of elf came tackling him out of nowhere. Maori finally woke up, and he was apparently hungry because he started taking actual chunks out of Brund as the two tussled. "Go! Take the kid and go! Gah!" "******* elves! **** OFF!" said Brund as he tossed Maori into a stalagmite so hard that it crumbled away to nothing, leaving but a pile of rubble and one Maori beneath it. "Grrr.... that's IIIIITTTT!!!! EVERYONE DIES!" "No elf, you go! Take this scroll, and leave! My orders were to make sure you two make it out of here, and that's what I'm going to do." Bardok tossed the parchment in the air as Maori struggled to get from under it... "No one is making it anywhere!" said Brund, who moved to intercept it. An arrow pierced it, shooting it out of his grasp. As he spoke, the earth began to shake. Brund charged Bardok, slamming a rock in his face that put him on his back. Maori ran for Daric's still form, and pulled open the scroll. Brund, eyes wild and enraged turned back to Bardok who was still moving even after everything. Brund gripped his arms, lifting Bardok up to his feet, though he was too weak to do anything but laugh. "I win," he said. "No, I win. You think this changes anything? It changes nothing. They don't know half of what I can do, but you will know it first hand. Watch closely, elf. This is what awaits your Jarl, and you.” Bardok was still laughing, until his very skin radiated with an indescribable pain. It was as if Brund found a way to physically tear apart each and every cell in Bardok’s body.. Brund opened his mouth and cried, “Fus Gol Strunmah, Fus Gol Strunmah, Fus Gol Strunmah, Dinok Wuth Zah, Zaami! Fus Gol Strunmah, Fus Gol Strunmah, Dinok Wuth Zah, Zaami!” His strength left his arms, as his body turned frail. As Bardok began to age, Brund's body began to heal, glowing in a faint green. Bardok watched as black smoke from Brund's mouth continued to pour over him like volcanic ash. And then, it stopped. "What... have you done to me... you...******* khajiiti ***** licker.” Cracking his neck and fingers, including his newly formed pinky, Brund said, "I did what I said I would. Made you my bitch." The Priest's laughter filled Bardok's head as he came walking out of the shadows, his chest glowing like Brund's, his heart exposed for him to see. "He did to you what Lord Lorkhan did to the gods, made you close to the bones of the Earth. Marvelous! So, that, is Brund's thu'um huh… his true thu’um. He controls earth bones, harnesses natural energy. He can even absorb your natural energy, and revert you to earthbones, make you crumble into dust if he wanted. Lucky for you he stopped. Death may have been preferable, however.” “A perfect thu'um for a Briarheart. This is why I cannot lose. I am a walking god. And you, are Brund’s slave." Bardok and Maori both noticed the use of his own name as though he were talking about someone else. "The time of demon cheiftains has returned! Power resonates in the blood of mine ancestors! I feel them talking to me! And the voices of the dead gods of the earth! You will serve me! But don't worry, you'll be able to see your Jarl. I'll make sure you're there to watch him die." Bardok could do nothing but scream in fury and anger as the earth swallowed him whole. When he next woke, he was somewhere dark, surrounded by the pained voices of Brund's other victims. Bardok was now amongst Brund's slave army of Markarth, in Cidhna Mine. Maori had seen enough. When Brund’s eyes set on them, Daric said, “We’re dead. Kill me, kill me now before he does that to me too. I won’t be a slave.” “No one’s enslaving anyone yet, kid. Just hold on.” “Only because I’d rather you both die, actually,” said Brund. “Fus Gol STRUNMAH!!!” And as he spoke, the earth began to shake. Maori pulled open the scroll. Earth began to come at him in multiple directions as he read the scroll, and before Brund turned them into a red paste, the two disappeared in a flash of purple. They were gone. *** YOL TOOR!! "That's about the greeting that I expected," said Ulrin, gritting his teeth. A fireball the size of a cabin consumed the icy ground it traveled over as it grew closer and closer. Ulrin drew his blade, a splendid one sided wonder the color of Septim gold. Ulrin struck the mound of flame with this sword, causing it to dissipate instantly, revealing his son amongst it, eyes full of so much hatred that they were bloodshot. His axe, hidden in his cloak appeared, and the two clashed once again for the first time in years. Ulrin fought defensively in the legion style, letting Baldur's fury reveal his movements, then capitalized, striking at his blindspot after working his way behind him. Baldur was no longer in striking range, knowing his father's tricks, and now having the skill to evade them. Ulrin smiled in surprise as his son matched his wit, and the two continued like that for a time, not striking anything, unable to gain any quarter. "You nearly killed me once, I'm not going to allow it again, my boy." Baldur said nothing as the two stared at one another. "My how you've grown. You know, I was under the impression that this would be the one place I could talk to you, given how the Greybeards are about peace and so on. You beat me once. Why can't you now? Why don't you speak?" Baldur seemed as though he was reflecting on his words, but clearly he soon dismissed them. Sighing, Ulrin took a look around the mountain, leaving his back exposed... Baldur saw his moment to strike, but heard the echoes of the Greybeards in his mind... "Ahh, I see it! The tear." "Drem Yol Lok, stranger, greetings. You stand before the Time Wound. Tread carefully." “Of course, of course. I just wanted to see it for myself, while I’m here. How incredible… Baldur, what do you think about… Son?” Baldur kept staring at him with the same hateful eyes as before, but no words came, none that Ulrin could understand. “I don’t understand… I’d heard communication might be difficult. My Lord mentioned as much. But this is… Dragon? Paarthysnacks was it?” “Paarthurnax. Drem Yol Lok, traveller. The Ashen One is under training. He won’t speak to you unless it is through the thu’um, voice.” “Pfft. I can see now that we’re going to need to have this conversation…. Elsewhere. But on such short notice… hmm, I don’t know if I can pull that off… Hmm…” “Tinvaak….Onlkaan….. UTH!” “The Ashen One says…” “Wait… I understood that… I don’t know how, but I did,” said Ulrin. “How did I get past the wind gates, he said. Simple, boy. I climbed.” Baldur was visibly impressed but immediately hid it. He tried the shout once more, again with laboured breath. “Tinvaak….Onlkaan...UTH!” “Don’t stress yourself about it, you’ll see soon. Sit down, relax, stop trying to kill me, and… that… that ring, is it… where did you get this?” asked Ulrin, walking up to Baldur and snatching the ring from his finger. Baldur reached for his collar as his father paced away. “You even know what this is? Ring of Malacath on my boy’s finger? Bah! But this, this is a good thing. Maybe it was even meant to be this way… lets see…” Ulrin got on his knees, as though praying, chanting daedric while drawing a circle and diagrams in the snow around Baldur’s ring he obtained from the old Orc in the woods. Paarthurnax to Baldur’s amusement lost interest and dosed off. He thought Dragons didn’t even sleep before he stepped on this mountain, but Paarthurnax slept more than newborn babes when talking was no longer the activity of the hour. He eventually snapped out of his nap when Baldur’s ring literally exploded before them. “My lady speaks!” said Ulrin. “Prepare yourself.” What happened next, Baldur was unsure of. He remembered his head landing face first in the snow, then everything growing black… Then he was in a forest, surrounded by monstrosities he was sure he’d seen before. Then, he was falling in the sky, before a giant Hawk grabbed him by the talons. A snake with its mouth agape remained below. “I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming. I remember this dream! In… Hammerfell? I was falling, and Kyne saved me… She-” As he spoke, the Hawk suddenly was struck by lightning, releasing Baldur, where he was forced to watch as he fell towards the maw of the snake, licking its non existent lips, eyes cold as Baldur screamed the entire way down…. What in the... **** is going on?? Baldur was sleeping... for... gods, who knew how long. What woke him was the tickle of ash falling on his cheek. When his eyes opened, the smell of sulfur and smoke, and... burning flesh filled his nostrils. "Stand. Speak. The Greybeard's hold on you won't work in this place." "What hold?" said Baldur, holding his aching head. "What, did you not notice that you could speak?" asked Ulrin. "I already could speak," said Baldur. "But thanks for dragging me to hell anyway, it's a fitting location for your new grave. Where in Oblivion are we, and how do I get back!?" Ulrin said, "Heh, you broke their hold on your own. So you not talking..." "I don't want them to know, and this method of theirs for growing in the thu'um, I want to learn it. I will learn as much as I can from them, and take it with me. It did make talking difficult though, but they’re slowly losing their hold over me. Now, why have you dragged me here? How are you alive?" "This is, Bo-Eth-Ia. I am his...her.... Servant. This has been my home for years since the day I… died.. You... all that I've put you through, every hardship you endured as a child, every cruelty, I did it to make you strong, in the ways of Boethiah. This sword... it's for you. Great betrayer. I know you killed your King. She knows, and she is pleased." Baldur spat in his face. "You... you know nothing! Know nothing about me or what I've done!" "But son, I do! I've been turning you towards this path ever since you were born. This sword, I've been holding it since after the days of the Great War. It played a role then, and aches to play a role in the next. Your mother, did she ever tell you what she saw? Her dream of a snake crawling over you as a baby? You were chosen, to be one of her champions! You have any idea what an honor that is? What warrior also holds such prestige?” "**** your prestige," said Baldur. "You... milkdrinking, treacherous cur. You let a Daedra have her hands in my upbringing. Do you know what that might mean? I could’ve… what if I did what I did at the whim of a Daedra Lord? Is that what happened? TELL ME!" Ulrin stepped closer, holding out the sheathed sword in front of him. "I did. But Boethiah would not make you take any course. That would not interest her. You are like this already. It is your nature. You are always at odds with your fatherly figures in one way or another. Perhaps that's common for some but few can claim to have tried to kill two of them. Why do you think that is, boy? You’re special. You, are Shezzarine. This blade, it was forged in dragonfire. It suits you, and the task before you." "My task..." said Baldur. “Shezzarine.” "Yes," said Ulrin. "And I know about that too. And it delights Boethiah to no end. The treachery, the betrayal. To everyone. Even your own men... It mirrors Lorkhan perfectly. The Empire, the Bretons, they'll all come fighting willingly at your side. But none will know what is in store for them in the bowels of Valenwood. Many will die, including you, unless you have an advantage. This sword, is your advantage. Do this task in her name, and she will grant you knowledge of Shor. You will be a Priest of Lorkhan!" "You mean a Priest of Boethiah. Her servant. Her slave, in death. I will not do it, I don't need your crutch." "Don't be stupid! Listen to me, this is your destiny!" "No! My destiny is my own to unfurl. I will decide how things go. Take that sword and shove it up your ass." "If not for yourself, then do it for my grandchild." Baldur's eyes looked up sharply. "Your grandchild, is none of your concern." "But she is. You want her to grow up without a father? Or with another man raising her in your stead? That woman, Rebec, she is strong. She's not the eternal mourning type. She'll remarry more than likely, whether she wants to or not, or shack up with some other man, or men. She's just like your mother..." Now Baldur did take the sword. It was at Ulrin's neck before he could utter another word. Laughing Ulrin said, "See? You're drawn to it. You want it, it belongs to you." Baldur shook his head, then after some time and great effort, chucked the blade in a flowing lava channel below them. "Like I said, take that sword and shove it up your ass. Crawl back into Boethiah's bowels, and let me go home." "Brund... you know I knew him back in the day. I met him recently too. His power is immense, and still growing. You, you both are special. I should've killed him years ago when I had the chance, but I couldn't have known this would happen. Forces are making their way into this world like we've never seen in eras. The Bretons, the Empire, Redguards, they'll find power too. As will the elves. The Nords need to match them. We need more power. If you don't take that sword, Brund will end you. And for the sake of Skyrim, perhaps he should. If you aren't willing to do anything that must be done to win this arm's race." "You... you and the Greybeards, my enemies, you're always constantly underestimating me. Boethiah... if she has such interest in me, then watch me. See what I can do. I may not be an all powerful ancient mage king, or an elite werewolf assassin. I may not have the strongest thu'um, or be a destruction master with the tact and knowledge of a Legate. I'm not a lot of things, but what I am, is cunning. And with my intellect, with the way that I see things, I will bring this world to its knees, and then cut the Thalmor from it. Watch, and learn." As he spoke, another portal opened before them, and the ground rumbled beneath them. "Heh, it seems Boethiah believes you," said Ulrin, smiling. "Good. I'm going to claim what is mine now. Oh and, about what I'm planning. IF we cannot defeat the Thalmor conventionally, and I truly must unleash the Wild Hunt, there's one thing you haven't considered, father." "The Grim Ones," said Ulrin. "Yes. This is their purpose." "You'll sacrifice them? Your men? Your friends?" "That is our role. They were always going to die. We. If need be. That's our purpose. That's why they have that name. And each and every last one knows this. Goodbye, again, Ulrin." "Goodbye son. If you change your mind, pray to Boethiah, give her an offering. Maybe she'll speak to you, and give you another chance to accept her gift." ".... we'll see," said Baldur. With that, he was gone. When his eyes awoke once more, Paarthurnax was still asleep, and his father was gone. Whether any of it happened or not, he was unsure. He would ask Paarthurnax when the elderly dragon awoke. Sitting in the snow, Baldur’s memories went back to his wife, remembering his words: As for Ulfric, no one watches him more closely. He would have stood in my way. Contrary to popular belief, his heart is soft. The harsh decisions made in the civil war, Galmar was behind that. Then it was me. This war is bigger than any of that, and it requires more sacrifice than what he was able to give. He’d risk everything we’ve fought for, everything we’ve built. I couldn’t let him. So go ahead, let it out. Tell me what I did was wrong, that I’m evil. Go ahead! But know I’d do it again. Because I REFUSE to let anything else tear my family apart! And when I am king, there will be nothing that I cannot do. Baldur couldn’t hold back his own disgust. Great betrayer. Shezzarine my ass. The battle of Windhelm came next: "Your King just died, and now you're pissing off the top of his palace." I'm nothing if not consistent. "You were close to Ulfric, yet you don't seem terribly broken up over his death, Red-Snow.” Careful what you suggest. I honor my friend and king with blood, not tears. It will be the same for all Nords in the coming year. Now, I suggest we do as you said and get back to killing elves. GREAT BETRAYER. AE HERMA MORA CE ALTADOON. AE BO-ET-IA CE ALTADOON. A voice repeating that phrase filled his mind, along with the image of a woman lying in a lake of fire behind his father, beckoning him to join her, where he’d thrown her sword. A mark appeared on his hand, a small brown wavy thing, almost like a birthmark, resembling a flowing river maybe, or... Baldur immediately pulled out his axe, heating it with his thu'um before attempting to burn it off. When the metal touched his skin, and nothing happened, he began to laugh as if crazed, tears in his eyes as he dropped the axe in the snow. Scratching madly, his wife's words popped in his head, thinking about the woman again in the lake of fire. I don’t understand it. But I wish he’d taught papa, too. I watched him burn alive with my own eyes. Fire took my ship, and now my father. You don’t go thinking it can’t take you, too. I won’t, you won’t take me. I won’t. ****! Standing up abruptly, Baldur let his tears fall from his face, as he screamed in agony of the pain he felt, a sick feeling in his gut. Even with his justifications, he’d attracted the attention of the great betrayer herself. A Daedra Lord. Even as he’d rebelled against his father’s plans, it seemed he was still following them. Forever a slave to someone, something’s intentions. “TINVAAK ONLKAAN UTH! TINVAAK ONLKAAN UTH! TINVAAK ONLKAAN UTH!” NO! NO ONE’S INTENTIONS BUT MY OWN I GO FORWARD, AND NO ONE WILL CLAIM OWNERSHIP OF MY DEEDS BUT I! NOT EVEN YOU, BOETHIAH! I HAVE MY WIFE'S CONFIDENCE. I HAVE MY DAUGHTER'S LOVE. I'LL NOT FAIL, I WON'T! After rasping out this decree in draconic, he let loose a burst of flame that threatened to claim the very sky. Then, he repeated the shout, Tinvaak Onlkaan Uth... until he began turning blue in the face, then until he could no longer stand. Then, he shouted some more. Tinvaak. Onlkaan. Uth. Until his throat was hoarse, and his energy drained. As he collapsed, Paarthurnax watched him. Occasionally melting the snow away from his limp body until he awoke, and repeated the same process, day and night. And so he would remain, until the Jarls of Skyrim came. The moot was finally about to commence. As for Daric and Maori, the duo had appeared back in Windhelm, directly in front of what would be Baldur’s throne. Or Brunds…. First they were running for their lives. Now they would soon be running to beat Brund up the mountain, to warn Baldur of the might that is Brund Hammer-Fang. Demon Chieftain of Markarth.
  41. 4 points
    I love how Valentine just listened to Maxson shit all over his existence, and heard that Danse the synth hater was a synth, and all he's worried about is how Danse must be feeling. Robo heart of gold.
  42. 4 points
    Stop, I can only get so erect! All the shadow magic shit has got my head spinning like it was back in AP Chemistry junior year, but I'm hooked and want to know more.
  43. 4 points
    Thanks! I wish I had planned for more Ch. 3 stuff for them, as they've fallen off since the early days, but I am happy with the stuff I have written for them, and I'm glad you liked it. And I'm glad I can add you to the list of converts. That means I filled out my card and get a free bottle of wine . But I am glad you liked it and that I was able to make the politics entertaining. There was also enough action (which there should be, since the Bretons have tons of knights and mages) that even if the politics were dull it wouldn't be totally boring. Hopefully you'll come to like Morane even more. What I have planned for her and Theo and High Rock is probably my favorite storyline I've written yet, and I think it'll blow my other Breton stuff out of the water. That's my hope, anyway.
  44. 4 points
    I can just imagine... I already know some of my own, Baldur is unbearably sweet and lovey dovey, lol. Blame Rebec, she has him whipped beyond belief, lol. I apologize ahead of time.
  45. 4 points
    I'll turn the other cheek of my ass just so you can kiss it some more. Lol But really I'm not even close to ballsy or serious enough to be put up with there with the Grahamcracker. I think if I'm anyone from New Vegas, it'd be the dude in Freeside who sells questionable meat to bums. That's basically me in a nutshell.
  46. 4 points
    Just wandered on over (haven't logged in, in a loooong time). Damn. Good luck. Was in a similar situation not too long ago. Things do get better. edit: donation made.
  47. 4 points
    Wow, talk about timing ... damn. So sorry to hear this. I`ll look at the Go link and see if I can help.
  48. 4 points
    Somehow I this alliance of men reminds me very strongly of this video:
  49. 4 points
    A betrayed tribesman rightful leader who goes to civilized lands to learn and gain weapons to take back his birthright, and who is later sidetracked by the movie industry and becomes an actor. One day perhaps his acting skills shall come in handy. Thats my first idea. A brutish tribesman turned charismatic movie star revolutionist.
  50. 4 points
    Morane Lynielle Camlorn Dawn The yard far below the tower echoed with the clanging of steel and shouts of instruction from the knights. Morane listened to it, and found herself surprisingly wistful that she wasn’t down there. She had little love or use for weapons, but here in the court wizard’s tower, it seemed almost a tranquil escape. There was no commotion or tumult, though. What made the tower far from peaceful were the piercing green eyes of the man who lived here. Every time Morane looked up from the book the read, she found Dryston Winvale’s eyes locked with hers. She’d noticed, over the three weeks she’d been studying under Winvale, that he rarely watched any of the other students like he watched her. But he did not gaze at her in a lustful way, or in an angry way. He seemed almost curious, like if he did not watch her constantly he might miss whatever it was he was looking for. Whatever it was, though, Morane could not provide, so Winvale continued to lean on that sturdy wooden staff of his and make Morane uneasy. The tower itself was quite interesting, with most of the walls covered in book shelves, while underneath the windows sat tables holding all sorts of magical devices. Under one window was a silver bowl filled with water, while under another was an alchemy stand, but one that looked homemade from the numerous additions and vessels that Morane had never seen before. The echanting table also seemed to be constructed by the wizard himself. A staircase led up to the top of the tower where Winvale’s bedroom was, but she’d never seen him go up there. Instead he stood in the center of the room, surrounded by the ten students he was trying to teach shadow magic too. Morane, as soon as she heard of the project, immediately volunteered. She had little knowledge of shadow magic, but what she did know was that it was dangerous and powerful, and besides, sitting around for the next Great War was boring enough that she needed some new occupation. And so for the past three weeks she’d been sitting on the rug-covered floor of the wizard’s tower, reading from different books for an hour every morning before they began their actual lessons. Winvale was a distant and cold teacher, but Morane liked him more than the over-bearing battlemage and the uninteresting captain of the guard that worked in the yard with the other students. She hadn’t gotten much tutelage from them, and she was glad for it, because that meant she got to focus on the shadow magic. But whenever she chanced a look up from her book, she thought she might like the physical work in the yard, if only because she’d be away from Winvale’s stare. Morane ignored the somewhat beckoning ringing of steel and bursts of ice and flame, brushed a lock of curled black hair from her face, and refocused on her book. Winvale was insistent that they read every morning; oftentimes from books they’d already read. But until they “Learned to focus the hyperagonal sense,” as he said, they couldn’t even begin to attempt shadow magic. Morane’s book was from a student of Azra Nightwielder, and the things they learned under the first shadow mage. The concepts were difficult to comprehend, but a particularly apt metaphor stuck in Morane’s mind. The author spoke of shadow as a metaphor itself, and described its presence in life as a parchment hidden beneath a boulder. One had to reach beneath the boulder, unfurl the scroll, and translate the foreign language it was written in. To alter the parchment was to substitute the ‘are’ that you desired for the ‘are’ that is. Substituting, not writing, was the nature of shadow magic, as only the most powerful shadow mages (if any) could possess the ability to create something new from the fabric of the universe, to pluck the heretofore nonexistent from that which already exists, and to make it exist itself. The present, always in the process of formation, is the easiest to alter, to substitute your will into that which is. But finding the parchment and the boulder was the first task, one Morane found herself still unable to do. She again read over the part about seeing the shadow with her mind and not her eyes. She closed her hazel eyes tight, willing her mind to reach out between the threads of existence and see. She thrived here, in these moments when she desired something so greatly she fought to will it into being. In that way, she was already preternaturally prepared for shadow magic and willing the substitution of one thing into what was. And so she focused, clearing her mind of everything, from the sights of the tower to the sounds down below. She focused inward, envisioning the boulder, willing her mind to find the threads of existence which she knew existed all around her. Slowly, they came into view, turning the world around her into so many threads like a those on a loom, but felt like she still could not look at them or they’d fade away. She felt herself drawn towards the threads, for a sliver of something between them. She struggled against the taunt threads of existence, straining to see them, to reach between them for the shadow she knew to be there. Instead, a voice disrupted her focus and her mind, whispering, “Pull back.” She pushed just as hard against the voice as she did the threads. The shadows between brushed against her fingers, just beyond what she could see, dancing at the edges of her mind, a cavalcade of dismal silhouettes. She found herself unwillingly pulling back, as the voice commanded. As she withdrew, she could see the threads falling into place, like the thinnest of brushstrokes that painted of picture of all that was, all that is, all that will be. She viewed them as if she was flying, watching them move, some in uncoordinated jerkiness, some with the fluidity of water. It was then she saw, truly saw, what it was she was looking at. She was at the top of the very same tower she was reading the book in. And the threads were those of the knights and soldiers down in the yard, practicing and honing their skills with sword and shield. When she focused on the threads that made up the people, their armor, their weapons, even the beads of sweat trickling down the insides of their helmets or the grains of dirt that stuck to their boots when they moved, she could see the endless possibilities that existed within those threads. She saw the shadows, the conflicts, the possible existences. A shield broke, but it didn’t, or it caught fire, or it didn’t, or it snapped the arm of the man wielding it, or it didn’t. She couldn’t even begin to consider altering or substituting what she wanted onto the parchment, but she now knew exactly where it was. She did not know how to read it, but this was the first step, to find threads, between which the shadow lay. To find the boulder beneath which the parchment sat. As she watched the threads simply exist, she came to the sudden and unnerving realization that she did not know what was actually true. All these contradictory and opposing events happened concurrently, and the affect was disorienting. What had mere moments ago been a revelation was now disturbing and obfuscating. She suddenly began to feel as if nothing was real, as if reality itself didn’t exist. These overlaying alternate existences pressed down on her in such a fashion as only entire worlds can press down upon someone. She wanted to pull back even further, but something warned her that the scale of that might totally upend her mind. And so she breathed deeply, regaining her focus and once again willing herself back through the miasma of worlds, this time in reverse of her initial journey, though it was beginning to feel more like an intrusion the longer she lingered. The threads retreated from her view, and as the shadow faded, she regained the consciousness of where she physically was. When her eyes popped back open, she found herself sitting in the very same spot, surrounded by the very same students, none of them having any recognition about what she’d just done. The noises in the yard were the same, and when her eyes drifted up, instead of to the side where the other prospective shadow mages sat, she found Dryston Winvale still staring at her with the same unflinching gaze. This time, though, his cracked, wrinkled lips twisted into a smirk. Though it was still early in the morning, he tapped his staff twice on the floor, and the pupils all looked up from their books. “Dismissed,” he said sternly, and the students replaced their books on the shelves exactly where they found them before leaving. Morane did not leave, but did rise from the floor and lean back against the table behind her. She realized now how draining it had been, both mentally and magickally. Her intuition told her that she’d spent far longer there than was normal, and yet she’d spent no time at all given she returned in nearly the same moment she’d left. In retrospect, though, her entrance felt oddly simple. She was reminded of her initial teachings when she was still learning the basics of magic. Her tutor had told her to search inward for her inner magicka reserves, which seemed now what she had down, searching for the conflict-shadow instead of magicka. It was a more focused search, undoubtedly, but she now felt that, whereas initially it was like trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle, now she might simply walk through a full sized door. Morane’s smile grew on her face, and when she met Winvale’s gaze it mirrored his own smirk. She had done it, and the euphoria sent her spirits sailing higher than the tower in which she stood. It was intoxicating in the same way her first spells were, in the way her quick and jealousy inducing grasp of alteration was at the Institute for Thaumaturgic Enlightenment, in the same way her first battle against Orcish raiders and the storming of Evermor were. But this far surpassed them. An entire new realm of magic was opened before her, one only a few were privy too. And she was determined to master it. Morane stood from the desk on which she leaned, giving the plain silver ring on her finger a few twists, as she was like to do. Standing a few inches shorter than the aged master wizard, she asked, “Now what?” Winvale, in his deep, caustic voice, said, “We talk. You can accomplish no more today through magic. But you will tell me what you saw, what you felt.” Morane frowned and crossed her arms across her brown cotton jerkin. “It was dark and confusing at first. I didn’t know what I was seeing. I was pushing against it, going nowhere, but when I pulled back, I could see it all. All the possibilities for the training in the yard. It was illuminating, at first, but then overwhelming. So I came back.” Winvale nodded, but did not seem satisfied by her answer. “You saw the multi-temporal through accessing your hyperagonal sense, but you could not see the transpontine deformations that indicate reality. The multi-temporal hides this. These deformations are the shadows between the threads. You must learn to access these deformations to manipulate the conflict created shadow.” Morane tried to make sense of this. The multi-temporal were the overlays of the possible presents, with the shadow presence she felt were the transpontine deformations. A realization hit her, about why the she could feel, intuitively, that these shadows were between the threads. “Focusing the hyerpagonal sense, that’s searching for the magicka that leaks through the shadow?” “Yes, yes, precisely,” Winvale said, shaking a gnarled finger to indicate she had it right. “To peer pass the multi-temporal you must learn to focus the hyperagonal sense, first to see the is was will and the maybe is, maybe was, maybe will. Then you must focus it even further, focus it on the magicka, to get to the conflict created shadow. The there you can substitute your are for the current are, as the are is always shifting and much more easily substituted for the are you desire. Only later, when mastery of the substitution is at hand, can you begin the more difficult tasks of accessing these alternate worlds and substituting their are for your are.” Whereas the first time he spoke with the shadow magic jargon Morane felt lost, this time she understood as he spoke. The words all fell into place with what she saw, what she felt. She had her bearings now, and when she returned to the shadow magic, she was confident she could go further, all the way to substitution, to real shadow magic. “I understand,” she said. “Yes, yes you do,” Winvale replied. She could see the real happiness on his face, and again she knew it mirrored her own. She also knew this was the last time she’d ever long to be with those oblivious, soon to be failures down in the yard. Until they attained the knowledge she possessed, they were as far beneath her as the ground was the tower.