The_Good_Doctor

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About The_Good_Doctor

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    BladeKnight
  • Birthday 07/22/1867

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    USA
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    I cook.

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    legend_of_gin_alley
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    Creg Grysler

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  1. Thanks! It took for freakin' ever.
  2. Ikr?! I love Bethesda, but they didn't stand a chance last year with this game to compete with. It was just the perfect final game to the trilogy. I agree about Deathmarch. It's the best way to play and with how it pretty much forces you to use everything at your disposal. Potions and such really make the difference in lots of difficult situations. If I remember right, those Wolf swords will last you a good while into New Game+, but they will eventually start to lag behind. Granted, I have never reached level 53 on an initial playthrough before starting over because both times I beat it were before the DLC came out. So it might be different for you.
  3. That's fine. Lord knows I can't get into anyone for that. Btw those are some sweet hours.
  4. No idea. For its many faults, ESO was much more willing than recent Bethesda games to experiment with wild and abstract ideas. As far as fantasy goes, Oblivion and Skyrim were pretty generic in comparison. I would love to see TES6 draw a bit from ESO's more creative ideas like the Skin-stealers.
  5. Never used either of those for my internet.
  6. *** The black spikes jutted from the ground like the pincers of some giant subterranean insect that got stuck trying to dig its way to the surface. Boldir had heard tales of the ruined gates to Oblivion, of how they could still be found in the more isolated parts of Tamriel, but this was his first time seeing one with his own eyes. Even now, the ruins stood taller than a house, marring the landscape like a poorly-healed scar. Within those ruins stood two figures of less impressive stature: The foremost was a man, clad in the the heavy steel plate of a Colovian Legionnaire, and wielding a gray shield and longsword. Behind him was the dark elf who could only be Endar Drenim. He leaned against a long wooden staff, watching them approach from beneath his red hood. Mila was nowhere in sight. "Mila!" Boldir called, venturing to the right as the cultists fanned out. "It's Boldir! I'm here!" There came no response from the duo by the gate. Drenim had not even looked his way, so intently was the elf staring at Rythe. The necromancer returned that look with a fiery hatred, and with a voice dripping with false civility, he called out to his foe. "It's incredible what lengths you would go through to prey those who would call you friend, Drenim." "I didn't take you for someone who has friends," the wizard responded. "Don't tell me I hurt your feelings." "No," Rythe snarled. "But you did steal my work, and now you are going to answered for it." "Boldir," Stoit whispered. He turned to find the sellsword holding up a familiar object. His flute. "It was by the spot where they made camp." Boldir's heart was pounding as he took the instrument in his hand. He could feel the blood rising inside him. He pocketed the flute and turned back to the mages, who were were still trading words. "Shut up!" Drenim, Rythe, and everyone else on the plateau were now looking at him. He pointed an accusing finger at the former. "You have my daughter! Where is she?" Drenim raised a brow and turned back to Rythe. "And who is this?" "I'm the man who will kill you if you don't give me what I came for," Boldir promised. "My daughter. She has been calling herself Matilda, and she was here. What did you do with her?" Now Drenim looked puzzled, but it was the Legionnaire who spoke first. "Matilda's parents are dead. She has told us as much." "Boldir," Gwella whispered. "I don't think that man is bewitched." Boldir searched for any signs, but ultimately had no idea what he was even looking for. The soldier seemed normal enough to him. "Enough of this!" Rythe demanded. "We will find your daughter when this is over, Boldir. He has clearly hidden her away for the battle." "That doesn't make any sense," Boldir said, turning toward necromancer. "You told me she was nothing to him." "She is." Ralimar interjected. "Look at me, Boldir." He faced Rythe's younger brother, and immediately scowled when he saw the scroll glowing green in Ralimar's hand. Boldir did not have time to take a step before the parchment flashed and was reduced to ashes. He felt something strange then, an unfamiliar tingle in his bones that blossomed into a terrible headache. "She is." Ralimar said again. "Think about it." The first of Endar's spells ripped through the air faster than any arrow, colliding with Ralimar's ward. The Breton stumbled but caught himself. Still focusing his attention on Boldir, he said, "Why would Drenim have chosen an Oblivion Gate? Littered the ground with these markings? The fetcher was performing a ritual! Rituals involve sacrifice!" Amidst the sensations that were currently piercing his skull, Boldir suddenly felt a raw clarity like none he had ever experienced before. It manifested in the form of the deepest, most intense rage a man could feel, all of it directed at the elven bastard who stood in the ruins. Ralimar was saying something else now, but he barely heard it. Spells were flying, but he ignored them. Disregarding the poisoned dagger at his belt, Boldir turned and barreled toward Drenim with his axe raised. Alongside him charged a black hoard of the undead, screeching as they flew. Drenim's first bolt came as a flash of bright hot lightning, but it bounced harmlessly off of the protections Rythe had imbued him with. The second was a great wave of fire whose heat scorched the ground and brought the nearby wraiths to a screaming halt, but its heat was nothing in comparison to that of the rage that boiled inside him. A girl. She was just a girl! She sold fruit in Whiterun! Drenim was right in front of him now. The devil elf's red eyes were thoughtful and calculating, darting between Boldir and the numerous other foes he had to contend with. The wizard raised his hand and was engulfed by a bright, multicolored light that instantly repelled the encroaching army of wraiths. Not Boldir though. The magicka bit at him as he stepped through it, but he didn't care. Right now, the only thing in the world that mattered was that Endar Drenim died. With a wild roar, he swung at his opponent, only for the coward to vanish moments before his head would have been cleaved from its shoulders. Boldir turned to see where Drenim had gone and ended up face-to-face with the elf's Legionnaire minion. The soldier took a swing at his ribs, but Boldir knocked the blow aside with ease, twisted, and brought his pommel crashing against the Imperial's nose. The follow-through left him facing the spot where Drenim had appeared. The elf was at the edge of the plateau, and had once again surrounded himself with magical shields that were fending off everything that Rythe, his followers, and their summoned undead could throw at him. With a very brief glance at the Legionnaire, Boldir left the man to lay there bleeding. "Boldir!" he heard Gwella scream. The priestess' call came from somewhere behind him. "Not now," he growled as his jog turned into a run. "It's a spell! You're not-" He drowned out her cries with another roar as he hurled himself through the mass of undeath. Drenim turned just in time to spot him tearing past the magical wall. One of the elf's hands flashed a dark purple, while the other sent a blue ball of energy that smacked against Boldir's wards like the kick of a giant. This time he felt the impact. It sent him tumbling back outside the ring. Remember Riften? All the things you went through to save her? All the things that she went through to survive? Boldir stood up and retrieved his axe. He could feel a sticky warm liquid where the scar on his palm had split open again. Fueled by pain and fury, he entered Drenim's circle again and lifted his axe up for the killing strike- -And could not bring it down again. The grip resisting his swing was far, far stronger than his own. Twisting around, Boldir's gaze halted on the gigantic muscle-bound daedra that Rythe had named a "Xivilai". It's right hand gripped the haft of a nasty-looking black battle-axe, and its left hand gripped the shoulder of Boldir's battle-axe. He didn't have time to fight, scream, or resist in any way. He only had time to blink as the massive blue fist wrenched the weapon from his hand and brought it crashing backward into his gut. The armor saved Boldir from what would have surely been a fatal blow, but his feet still left the ground, following the rest of him as he soared several feet through the air, landing painfully in the rocks outside of Drenim's circle. The wind was knocked out of him, and it was all Boldir could do to roll out of the way as his own axe came spinning through the air and buried its head into the dirt where he'd landed. All thoughts and emotions faded now, to be replaced by that blind instinct that told him that he needed to stay alive. Boldir reached for his stuck axe and tried to use it to rise, but was unexpectedly jerked back down by his shoulders. Twisting his neck, Boldir found four sets of yellow eyes staring down at him. He'd forgotten about the gods damned scamps! The little bastards were already starting to climb on top of him, raking their claws against his armor like wild animals fighting for a meal. As he struggled against their numbers, Boldir remained acutely aware that the Xivilai was approaching. "Get off me!" he barked as he threw his fist into one of their flat, ugly faces. The other creatures hissed and growled and only tore at him all the harder. One claw found its way under his helmet and ripped a hot gash between his shoulder and neck. Another two tried to bite at the unprotected spots on his left arm. The worst of them was the one that stood on his chest, trying desperately to get its claws through his helmet's eye slits. After several seconds spent batting at the creatures, Boldir finally managed to grip the top one by its neck, and with a powerful squeeze, snapped its spine to bits. With his vision clear, Boldir was able throw an elbow into another scamp and clear some room for him to get on his knees... only to find himself looking up again into the pale white eyes of Drenim's Xivilai. Its axe was raised to kill, and may very well have done that if not for the arrow that suddenly struck its arm. The daedra jerked back a bit and missed its swing, but otherwise seemed unfazed. That was, until Boldir wrenched his axe out of the earth and drove it into the Xivilai's unprotected right leg. The daedra howled in pain. It was a deep, troll-like sound that seemed echo off itself a dozen times at once. But the fight was hardly over. The creature's skin and muscle was tougher than the pelt of a mammoth, and Boldir's blow, despite being strong, did not cut all that deep. Wrenching his axe free again to prepare for a second swing, Boldir was again assaulted by the relentless litter of scamps. One of them climbed his legs while a second clung to his arm. This threw him off-balance dangerously close to the edge of the plateau. Planting his feet, Boldir grabbed one of the creatures by the scruff of its neck and hurled it off the cliff. He then landed a solid clout on the other's head with the butt of his axe. That bought him a few moments in which he managed to get a picture of what was going on: The Xivilai was lumbering toward him now with the remaining scamps darting around its legs. Beyond that, Drenim's shields were still holding strong against the onslaught of floating wraiths and magical projectiles that Rythe's necromancers were hitting him with. Stoit had plunged through the field of wraiths too, it seemed, because he stood just past the Xivilai, and was already knocking another arrow. Boldir did not get a chance to look for Bremman or Gwella before he had to steel himself again, this time on somewhat 'equal' footing with the daedra, who barely seemed to feel the arrow that thudded into his shoulder from behind. It and the scamps were on Boldir in less than a heartbeat. He dodged a strike from the Xivilai's axe and used the momentum to drive his own into the torso of one of the scamps, splitting the little creature open at its sternum. He followed up by bringing the weapon around at the larger daedra, but was surprised to find that it had matched his speed with a near-identical move and quickly adjusted his aim to catch the daedric axe with his own. He succeeded, barely, and locked the belly of his axe with that of the Xivilai's. A mistake. The daedra was almost two feet taller than him and stronger than any foe he had ever met. It let out a roar and used its weight to drive Boldir to his knees. It then beat his axe from his hands. Another arrow struck the beast's back, but this time it did nothing to slow the assault. He prepared himself for the first strike from that wicked black axe. You can't die yet! Not until you've seen Drenim go first. Boldir snarled and drew his poisoned dagger, driving the pointed edge deep into the Xivilai's thigh before it could ready its strike. At that moment, a scamp grabbed hold of Boldir's hand and sank its teeth into his forearm, right above his gauntlet. He and the Xivilai both screamed in pain, but while Boldir punched at the scamp with his free hand, the Xivilai reared and delivered a powerful backhand that set his helmet ringing and knocked him back to the ground. "Hey!" Stoit's voice seemed to be calling from very far away, but the young Nord that appeared twice in his dazed vision did not look very far. "Over here, you piece of Oblivion filth!" He heard another arrow smack into the daedra. Then two more in rapid succession. Finally, Boldir's vision cleared in time for him to see the creature once more scooping up his axe. It was not meant for him this time, however. He watched in horror as the Xivilai turned with the speed of a sabre cat and hurled his battle axe full tilt in the sellsword's direction. Stoit attempted to move out of the way, but the throw was too quick, too unexpected, and the head of Boldir's axe sank deep into his torso. The sellsword opened his mouth as if trying to speak, but no words came before he collapsed to his knees, and then toppled face-first into the wispy grass. *** "Yes!" Elara let out a loud whoop and threw a fist in the air. "What is it?" asked Matilda from across their little 'refuge', which really just amounted to a normal campsite that Endar had masked with illusion spells the day before. "Master Drenim's Xivilai just took out one of the Nords. The archer." Elara returned her gaze to the crystal ball and watched as the large blue daedroth and its last two scamps stepped up towards the one with all the armor. "We didn't even know they would be there," Matilda replied. "The magic ones are worse, right?" "Master Drenim is holding them. Same as before. But it's the Nords I was worried about. I couldn't believe the way that big one took all of his spells like that. Rythe's men must have spent a lot effort imbuing him with whatever magic it is that shielded him. No matter now, though. He's about to be done for as well." "What about Acivo? How's he doing?" Elara stared into the orb and saw their friend still leaning up against the Oblivion Gate. After taking that nasty blow to the face, he eventually picked himself up and took cover behind one of the big black spikes, completely unaware that the "enemy" priestess had taken cover behind the other. This part still confused Elara, as it seemed that after Rythe's band arrived, they started turning on each other. First one of the necromancers used some scroll on the big Nord, which eventually prompted the priestess to attack him. That would have ended badly for her, if the man in steel armor had not intervened, buying her time to escape past the Oblivion Gate at the cost of his own life. One of Rythe's men had sent wraiths after her, but she drove them off with some kind of light spell. "Acivo is still okay," she finally answered. "He's not behind Master Drenim's wards, but the bad guys don't seem to see him." She looked down again. She was so absorbed in the battle that she had a hard time focusing on a single aspect of it. "Divines... Matilda, you have to see this. Master Drenim just summoned another daedroth. I'm not even sure what it is. It's got clear skin and- oh my! It's using magic against the wraiths. And now it's killed one of Rythe's men! And now it's going straight for Rythe himself! It's-..." Elara's smile faded as she watched the necromancer lord blast Endar's summon to bits. "Nevermind. At least we still have the Xivilai. The big Nord is back on his feet now, but he can't keep going long. He's lost his weapons." Her eyes darted across the battlefield in a strange mix of wonder and fear. Wonder at the display of magical prowess that few peasant girls like herself could have ever dreamed of witnessing. And fear for her friends, and even herself. Endar looked to be holding his own right now, though. He was drawing from the runes that dotted their campsite, and many still remained, but so far only three of his mortal enemies had fallen, and the worst were quickly surrounding him. By now, Rythe had moved into the middle of the plateau with a follower carrying a large bag filled with welkynd stones at his heel. Behind them, the armored man stirred. "Wait! Remember the other one with armor that I told you about?" "Aye..." Matilda said. "It wasn't three minutes ago." "Well I was wrong. He's not dead after all. Maybe he and that priestess will help out some." Elara looked again at the armored warrior. He had marks on his shield and armor, but the tiny view through the crystal ball made it hard to make them out. "Hold on a second..." Are those thorn vines? The man rolled over onto his back, and Elara finally got a better view. Gods be good. They are! "Matilda, I think he's a Knight of the Thorn!" "What?" Elara looked up in time to see the girl look at her with an expression of thorough confusion. Of course, she had looked like that ever since Endar hit her with that ridiculously powerful calming spell of his. The thing had been so potent that its effects were still not finished wearing off, which was probably why Matilda had not yet expressed any interest in sitting down beside her and watching the battle with her own eyes. It was as if she was perfectly content to just have it relayed to her. He'd provided Elara with two scrolls with the same spell imbued in case it needed to be done again, but seeing the effects of this one made Elara hope against hope that she didn't need to. "I said he's a Knight of the Thorn. As in the ones back in Cheydinhal." Matilda picked her stolen staff up off the ground. "You don't think he's here for this, do you?" "I mean... surely not." Elara cast a worried look into the ball. The knight was rising now, or trying to. After taking a few steps, he doubled over and collapsed to the ground. "I wanna see," Matilda said. Her suddenness surprised Elara, and it made her worried that the last calm spell was wearing off and Matilda would force her to use the scrolls. Still, what was she going to do? Tell her 'no'? Elara scooted over on her log and patted the empty space. "Best seat you can get." Matilda came and sat down beside her and looked into the glass. "I see a bunch of lights. And black shadows." "That's the wraiths surrounding Master Drenim's shield. Look beyond that and you'll see-" "The necromancers. Got it. How many are there? Ten? Twelve? And what's- oh, that's the knight." Matilda leaned in really close, and then looked up at her. "That is a Knight of the Thorn! What's he doing-..." Matilda suddenly went silent. She had been a generally quiet girl since Elara had met her, but this seemed different. Her mouth hung open, and her eyes had gone wide with what looked like shock. Before Elara's eyes, Matilda's skin turned pale as snow. "Hey... are you okay?" The girl stood up out of nowhere. "We have to get back up there, now!" A desperate, almost wild expression was writ across her face, and Elara realized that her young friend was on the verge of tears. "It's him, Elara! The Nord! it's B- Boldir!" "Boldir?" Elara had heard that name before. No, she'd met a man who went by it back in the Imperial City. "What are you- No, Matilda. No! You'll get killed up there!" "You don't understand, he's my father! I know it's him, I know it!" "How? His face is hidden." "Under a helmet that he made! I've seen it a thousand times. There ain't any others. And that armor, it's his set! And look at how big he is!" Matilda started off from the camp, down the half-mile trail that led back to the plateau. "Come with me or don't," she said. "I'm going." "Matilda- You said your parents are dead." "It's Mila. The girl turned and said. "That's what I want you to call me now that he's here. You're my friend, Elara. Please don't try to stop me." Even if the girl was right, the wraiths would murder her before she could even get close to helping Boldir, and that wasn't even to mention the necromancers themselves. And then there was the Xivilai, who when last she'd checked was kicking the man's ass. He'd be dead before they could even arrive. "Matil- err, Mila, stop! STOP!" Mila turned and looked at her, and that look said it all. There would be no convincing her not to go. Elara's heart felt heavy as she reached into her pack and drew out the rune-covered scroll. The green cloud of magicka engulfed Mila like a thick perfume, and with a sweeter voice, Elara commanded, "Please, stop." Mila turned and looked at her again as the mist faded, and gently shook her head. "It didn't work." What? Endar had assured her that the scrolls were every bit as potent as the spell he had cast. She reluctantly reached for the second one and hit Mila with a second round. The girl's walk turned into a jog, and then she was running. "Damn it all!" In her anger, Elara kicked the crystal ball and sent it rolling through the grass. In it, she saw that Boldir. He was still bare-handed yet had somehow managed to kill the last of the scamps and was now dodging a strike from the Xivilai. Looking back up at the girl named Mila, the stewardess knew what she had to do. *** Boldir panted as he dodged another swipe from the big daedra's axe, all too aware that he could not do this forever. Twice, he had attempted to get around the big bastard, to reach the axe that still lay embedded in Stoit's chest. But the Xivilai was quick enough to put down both attempts. Now Boldir was facing the beast with a jagged rock in his hand and blood streaming from his arm. Behind the beast, Drenim summoned a second monster. Some tall, clear monstrosity that took on the necromancers by itself. Boldir did not have time to consider it, however, as another blow soon rained down on him, one that he just barely managed to step away from. The black axe grazed off his pauldron, which alone was enough to stagger him and make his attempt to counter-attack with the rock feeble at best. The sharp piece of stone cut across the Xivilai's chest, but failed to even draw blood. And then something finally went Boldir's way. The daedra planted a foot to prepare a follow-up strike, and wound up stepping on the head of a dead scamp and sliding off-balance just beside the rocky cliff. Boldir didn't waste a moment. Using every fiber of strength and every ounce of his weight, he lunged shoulder-first into the his larger foe. The Xivilai tumbled and lost its footing. That was almost the end of it, but the demon of Oblivion was relentless. As the daedra fell, it caught Boldir's arm in its fist, and soon they were both falling to the ground. The jagged black axe was gone now, having rolled down the steep, rocky slope. This left Boldir laying on top of a pissed-off, but unarmed foe. Their fight became a scramble then. A painful and confusing mess of fists and knees and elbows. Boldir connected his armored knuckles against the Xivilai's jaw and felt something crack. He also landed a kick in what he assumed were the daedra's genitals. The creature's sharpened nails caught him across his arm, ripping clean through the fur padding and leaving a nasty cut. It then managed to get a hand under the rim of his helmet and tear it off. Boldir watched as the Xivilai hurled his oldest possession far off the cliff side, he then raised an arm just in time to block the heavy fist that would have smashed in his face. Boldir reached up with with his free hand and grabbed at the Xivilai's face, digging his fingers into whatever soft spots he could find. It must've worked, because the daedra reared back and grabbed his foot just as he drove it into his chest. The Xivilai let out a roar then. It was a powerful, blood-curdling sound that crossed the brutality of a troll with the desperation of a wounded bear. And then, with Boldir's foot still in its hand, the daedra pushed itself off the edge of the cliff. *** Gwella peeked around the corner of the vile black spike that she'd been driven behind. Rythe and his men had moved past her by now, their attention now focused entirely on Endar Drenim. All besides one. The brother, Ralimar. The Breton was standing in the open now, and hurled an ice spike her way the moment her head came into view. Gwella ducked back to safety just before the spell cascaded into the side of the gate and exploded into thousands of tiny glistening shards. "Come on out, Priestess," the necromancer called in a casual tone. "You're not doing your friends any good back there. Poor Sir Bremman can barely move. And I think Stoit may be dead, but maybe not yet. If you kill me, you can try to heal them." Gwella leaned out and hurled a ball of bright flame at his face, but barely managed to pull back before another spear of ice came soaring her way. "You're going to have to do better than that," Ralimar shouted. "Come out on a count of three and I'll just paralyze you. Maybe when this is all over your group and mine can still work things out. Those of us who survive, at least... One. Two.-" "Why don't you try coming back here?" Gwella challenged. "Because I'm not stupid. You grabbed one of Rythe's stones, and I'm pretty sure it's what you used to make that weird aurora that's holding back my summons. I'm not walking into that." Damn. That was exactly why she wanted the necromancer to come after her. Within the light, she was strong. Her wounds would be healed and her magicka would recover swiftly. But anyone else would burn if they came too close. However, even fueled as it was by a wekynd stone, the spell would not last forever, and Ralimar knew that. Even so, the necromancer clearly wanted to finish this quickly. "I've got an idea," he told her. "Why don't I take this ice spike, and shove it through Sir Bremman's throat?" "No!" Gwella moved to the other side of the spike and lurched around it, sending two streams of fire scorching towards her enemy. Ralimar easily caught the flames on his ward and answered with a bolt of electricity that caught Gwella on the hand and traveled up her arm. She felt her muscles contract, and all brain function momentarily ceased. When Gwella's eyes opened again, she was back behind the Oblivion Gate, smelling of burnt hair and with a bit of drool on her chin. She wiped it off and shouted at the man who'd struck her. "Don't you touch him!" "So I didn't kill you," Ralimar's voice responded. "Pity. That means we'll have to bring Bremman into this after all." "Don't!" Gwella tried again to launch a spell at him, but could not even steal a look around the corner before another lightening bolt blasted past her face. "Don't worry. I've decided not to kill him," the necromancer taunted. "I'm going to make you do it instead." Gwella heard the spell being cast, and dared anther look around the corner. She saw Bremman standing up, seemingly unhurt. The knight scooped up his weapons and turned to Ralimar, who pointed in Gwella's direction. "Your priestess friend has turned against us. She means well, but her efforts will prevent us from saving the girl. You need to stop her." Even though she knew what the necromancer intended, Gwella still gasped when Sir Bremman turned and started striding towards her. She ducked back behind the gate before more spells could be launched . "Don't come any closer!" she warned her friend. "What he's telling you, it's an illusion! They don't care about Mila!" The knight's clanking footsteps drew nearer. "I'm protected, Bremman! If you come near me, you will die!" Her warnings fell on deaf ears. The Knight of the Thorn rounded the corner and locked eyes with her. He's in pain, Gwella saw. He doesn't want to hurt me, but he needs to. Without a hint of caution, Bremman boldly stepped into her protective aurora, and then immediately recoiled as a disgusting sizzling noise emitted from inside his armor. "Stop!" she wailed as the knight tried to approach again with the same results. Gwella could see the knight's strength wavering. The third time he tried to reach her, the pain dropped him to his knees. A fourth attempt would kill him. Stendarr protect me. Gwella dismissed her spell, then she watched with sadness as Bremman used his shield to slowly get back on his feet. The knight was going to come at her again, and she knew that she would have no choice but to run and pray that Ralimar's aim would fail him. But where will I run to? That was something she'd just have to work out on the way. Bremman was coming at her again, and unless Stendarr was going to intervene, there was nothing Gwella could do to hold back the armored knight without killing him. She took a step back, preparing to turn and flee, and then a figure emerged from behind the second black spike and plunged a sword into the back of Bremman's neck. Gwella's mouth fell open in horror as she watched her possessed friend's legs buckle and take him to the ground. Behind him, the Legionnaire wrenched his sword free and looked at her with a face that was sticky with blood. He opened his mouth to speak, "Are you alri-" An electric bolt struck the soldier in his back, throwing him right on top of the knight he'd just slain. There behind him stood Ralimar, a cocky grin spread across his cheeks. "I was wondering where that guy had gone. Now your turn." His first and second spells slammed against her ward. The third shattered it completely, and Gwella was forced to retaliate with another ball of fire. It exploded into the necromancer, engulfing him completely, but when the flames subsided, he stood unharmed with his ward raised like a crystal blue shield. Ralimar stepped forward, and but was caught by surprise when the Legionnaire's fist clamped around his ankle and dragged him, flailing arms and all, to the ground. Gwella watched the two men struggle for a moment, then the soldier got the upper hand and proceeded to launch a series of right jabs into Ralimar's face. When he finally pulled back to reach for his sword, Gwella saw that Ralimar now looked even worse than he did. And yet, even now, the necromancer seemed to be smiling. She then noticed that his bloodied lips were moving. She screamed, "Watch out!" Too late. A sudden darkness engulfed the two men, and out of nowhere, a pair of wraiths grabbed the soldier by his shoulders and wrenched him off of their master. Gwella tried to prepare a spell that would drive the spirits away, but Ralimar acted first, waving his hand as if to backhand her from out of reach. Though he did not make physical contact, Gwella felt a powerful force smack into her back against the Oblivion Gate. As she slumped down, Gwella could see that the wraiths were tearing at the Legionnaire, pulling each arm in an opposite direction. But she had more immediate concerns: Ralimar stood over her now, smiling triumphantly as he prepared another spell. The bolt of lightening flashed brightly, filling their eyes with light. And the next thing Gwella knew, the necromancer lay dead in front of her. Gwella turned and saw a young woman standing near the slope of the plateau. Her forehead was painted, and she was armed with a staff. Is that... "Matilda?!" The freed Legionnaire ran to embrace their savior. It's her! Gwella felt warm tears beginning to form in her eyes. Whether they were from Bremman's death, her own near-death encounter, or the unexpected arrival of the girl she had traveled so far to find, the priestess did not know, but right now it was the last of these things that had her so stunned. By Stendarr, it's really her! "Divines..." Gwella gasped. Had Mila truly aged as much as it seemed? Or was it just the way she carried herself now? This girl, back straight, eyes knowing and alert, she looked nothing like the sad, angry little one Gwella had met in the Imperial City. This was no child. The last time the two of them had spoken, Mila had not thought kindly of her, but when the girl looked at her now, the look she gave bore none of per previous anger. Just surprise. "You're here too?" "Yes," Gwella answered, trying not to choke on her own emotions. "And so is Boldir. We've come a long way to find you." "I know," Mila said sadly. She and the Legionnaire joined Gwella beside the gate. "But why did you come with them? And what was the knight doing here?" She shook her head. "Never mind. We can talk about all that later. I've got to find Boldir." "Hey!" They all turned to find an exhausted-looking Breton woman running up the slope. Like Mila, her forehead spotted a red-painted symbol, and at her side was a bag that had scrolls poking out the top. The woman collapsed to her knees beside them, huffing and puffing. "Sure, don't wait for me or anything." "You were taking too long," Mila said, "and Boldir still needs help." "Last I saw he was fighting Drenim's Xivilai," "He was fighting Endar's Xivilai," the Legionnaire informed them. "It dragged him off the edge of the cliff." "Wonderful. Let's hope it wasn't too steep." The new woman turned to Gwella, "I'm Elara. How are you doing?" "I-" "Bad. Yeah, I know." She redirected her attention to the whole group. "So if we assume that Boldir survived that fall, odds are the Xivilai did as well, meaning he still needs help. Anyone got any ideas for getting past a host of warded necromancers?" Gwella stepped out from behind the gate and scanned the battlefield. Endar was fighting a purely defensive battle, maintaining his wards and traps as Rythe's band kept a steady assault of magic on him. All the while, their army of wraiths surrounded his shields, probing it for weakness, waiting for him to slip up. Though even under attack as he was, the wizard had somehow managed to kill at least four of his assailants. Gwella returned shaking her head. "It won't be easy to reach Boldir or Endar. Not with things like they are." "The necromancers' backs are turned," said Mila. "We can use Elara's invisibility scrolls to sneak past them." Gwella shook her head again. "I've seen what Rythe can do. He'll know when we get too close to his wards, and would kill us in seconds. But I do think there's a way to make him weaker, maybe enough to give Drenim an edge. It's those crystals. The welkynd stones. With just one of them I was able to hold back Rythe's brother and his wraiths. I think he's only able to keep going like he is because he's brought along a whole sack of the things. If I can get those away from him, it might create an opening for Drenim to take advantage of." "Rythe's right in the middle of them," the Legionnaire said, lifting up his shield. "I'll distract them." "Thank you-" "Now hold on a minute," Elara interrupted, looking at Gwella. "I don't know what you can do, but Acivo isn't a mage. This plan will get him killed." "I'll be fine," the Imperial said. "You can use my distraction to slip past and get to Boldir." "You'll need me for that." started Mila. "No." Gwella, Elara, and Acivo said in unison. "Do any of you have a good reason besides that you're protective of me?" Mila asked, "Because I'm young?" She pointed across the battlefield. "Well get in gods damned line! That man out there was fighting for me before any of you even knew I existed. Back when I actually needed it." "He came all this way just to save you," Gwella said. "Do you think he wants it to be in vain?" "I don't care," Mila answered. "Boldir would die for me in an instant, which means his wants are stupid. Look, you ain't gonna stop me from helping him, so quit trying." "We're not gonna win this," Elara sighed. "It seems we aren't." Gwella agreed. She did not like it, but the choice was not ultimately hers to make. Instead of fighting, she gave Mila a conceding nod. The girl was brave; there was no doubting that. "Alright," Elara said, "Well we should at least work out the best way to go about this. The scrolls will keep us hidden until we get close to the wards Rythe put up. She turned to Gwella and handed her a pair of scrolls. "You and Acivo take these and get as close to Rythe as you can. Don't waste any time going after the crystals. It's like you said, if you give Rythe time to react, it's over." She turned to the brave girl beside her. "You ready, Mila?" "Aye." "Alright," Elara handed Mila a scroll and led her along one side of the gate. Gwella and Acivo positioned themselves along the other. "Let's go." One-by-one, they used their scrolls to turn invisible. And Gwella's all-too-brief reunion with Mila had reached its end. "You're name is Acivo, right?" she whispered to the patch of nothing beside her. "That's right," the Legionnaire muttered back. "It was a pleasure, almost getting killed with you." "You saved me," she said, deciding not to tell the man that it was her friend he had killed. "Thank you. Now let's go. I'll watch your footsteps in the grass. Kill the one in the back, and I'll go for Rythe's bag... Once I have it, you have to run. They'll kill you if you don't." "I know." The Legionnaire's feet pressed down the thin grass, moving slowly but surely in the direction she had told him to head. Gwella followed cautiously, always making sure to peak up at Rythe to make sure the necromancer's back was still turned. They closed the distance quickly, and soon Gwella saw Acivo's footprints come to a halt just outside of the sparky blue field that swirled around their foes. The cultists were spread out, forming a crescent around Drenim's own shield. But that larger area no doubt meant that the wards were more difficult to maintain. Surely removing Rythe's source of magicka would grant Drenim the chance he needed to strike at them... right? It's too late to doubt, she thought, as she saw Acivo's grass move again. Suddenly, a broad-shouldered, heavy-armored Imperial soldier appeared out of nowhere, and his sword struck true as its edge cut deep into the first necromancer's shoulder. "FOR THE EMPIRE!" Acivo bellowed, and then he turned and slashed yet another of the vile figures across the chest. He raised his shield then as half a dozen spells came flying in his direction. That was when Gwella turned and started sprinting. Rythe was ahead. Fifteen yards. Ten. He stood in front of Drenim, hands raised for some spell, while the acolyte behind him held up the bag of crystals like an obedient slave. She gripped the "slave's" neck with hands of fire, and ripped the sack from his hands as he went drown screaming. "What in all the realms-" Rythe turned, and his red eyes lit up with fury when they met Gwella's own. "You!" Clutching the crystals with her right hand, she raised a ward with her left, and was surprised when it not only held strong against Rythe's blast of red magic, but actually reflected it back in his direction, forcing the necromancer lord to catch it on a ward of his own. The necromancer smiled then. As cruel a smile as she had ever seen. "You stupid holy bitch." He took a step forward. "You mean to use my crystals against me. My work. MINE!" He lifted a hand, and the sack started to vibrate in her arms. "You can draw from them," he said, "But you could never use them like me. You don't understand. You never learned!" She started to run, casting another ward that she drew from the power inside the bag. "You're just like Drenim!" The necromancer shouted. "A fetcher! A thieving s'wit! And you will end up the same!" His next spell crashed against her ward so hard that Gwella was flung to her knees. But she still clutched at the bag. "My work is wasted on you," growled the elf. When she looked up, he was standing right above her, alongside two of his cultists. "I'll take that," said a new voice that came at the exact same time as a bright flash of light. There, between Gwella and Rythe stood Endar Drenim, regarding them both with complete and utter nonchalance. It was only for a moment however, as Drenim then proceeded to shove Rythe away with a spell, take the sack from Gwella's hand, and vanish just as abruptly as he had appeared. Rythe and his friends spun around, searching in every direction. Drenim's shield of wards had vanished, and the dozens of wraiths probing it had taken to the skies in search. Gwella saw where the body of Avico lay dead not far from where he had revealed himself, and she now saw Elara and Mila standing still as stones by the plateau's edge. Everything was quiet. Until one of the cultists spotted Drenim. "At the gate!" Gwella looked back to the place she had used to hide just as Drenim was stepping into view. The army of wraiths swarmed him again, and like before, he cast his circle of protection before they could close the gap. He followed with the bubble of wards against Rythe's magic. This time, Gwella saw a brightly glowing stone hovering by the wizard's side. Rythe and his men immediately launched a barrage of spells at the shield, but they were no doubt even less effective than before. "Don't think I forgot about you!" the necromancer yelled over his shoulder. Gwella launched a fireball at him, but he didn't even need to raise his hands to catch it. His passive wards were enough. "And don't think I missed those fools sneaking by us either. I take it one of them was the girl you've been looking for?" Taking just a moment to look back and flash her an evil grin, Rythe pursed his lips and let out a long, low whistle. The wraiths heard their master's call, and about a third of them suddenly broke away from the crowd surrounding Drenim. They split into two groups: One headed for Elara and Mila, and one coming straight at Gwella, "If everything else goes wrong today," Rythe said, "I will take some solace in the knowledge that you suffered too." Gwella lifted her hands, readied her spells, and said a prayer to Stendarr. And then the wraiths bore down on her. *** After what seemed like days, the sharp pain in Boldir's head began to dull, and he was finally able to make himself roll over... which abruptly sent his weight downward. He fell again, crunching his bad arm against the rocks and began to slide. "Oh damn it all! He tried grabbing for something to cling to, but all his fingers found were dirt and loose pebbles that tumbled down with him. His armor carved through the earth like a metal sled, yanking up grass and mud and every little rock in its path and distributing all of it up into Boldir's face, hair, and even inside his clothes. He must have been cut a hundred times by the little shards of stone, and that wasn't the worst of it. His final attempt to stop or slow his plummet led to his left pauldron rebounding off of the rock and sending him rolling. At that point, Boldir lost all concept of direction. Up, down, left, and right became interchangeable, and the only semblance of order that remained was which part of his body he'd get to feel painfully crashing into the next rock. It finally ended with Boldir on his stomach near the base of the plateau, a solid thirty yards away from where he had initially landed. His bruised eyes were caked with mud. Or was it blood? He wiped the stuff away without even thinking to check. "Get up. Come on, get up." Boldir groaned and rolled onto his back, wincing as he did. Ten yards up the slope stood Carlotta. She looked happy to see him, but there was an urgency in her expression. "You have to get up, Love. Or he'll get you." "Who will get me?" he asked, struggling to remember why he was even down here. "The monster." At that very moment, Carlotta turned into a great blue beast, bare-chested, with a thousand bloody cuts and the hilt of a knife still sticking out of its thigh. The Xivilai let out a roar. "Oh gods... Please give me a damned break." With every ounce of strength left in him, Boldir pushed against the pain and climbed to his knees. His left ankle protested so harshly that he could barely place it on the ground without crying out, but he knew right now that pain would be the least of his worries when the daedra reached him. Already, the horned creature was using an arm wrapped in black cloth to steady itself as it slid on its feet the rest of the way down the cliff. When its feet were planted, the Xivilai stood there for a moment, its white eyes regarding Boldir with what seemed like fascination, perhaps even admiration... or maybe it was just looking for wounds to exploit. Boldir didn't have time to tell before the thing was once again clambering through the dust and sliding pebbles in his direction. Okay Boldir, you're hurt. Not dead. You're weaponless. Not defenseless. That bastard is no better off! You can do this. Just push a little more and Mila will finally be safe. It was the last thought that brought Boldir to a full stand. He met the creature head-on and drove his metal foot into its bloody shin, grappling with its massive arms. He could not overpower the creature. Nor could he outmaneuver it. But he did have his armor. Battered as it was, the Nordic plate stood strong against the Xivilai's powerful elbows and fists, and it gave him the opportunity to get his hands on the big thing's face. He wrestled with it, back and forth as they slumped and rolled against the slope, choking and clawing and bleeding all over, until finally Boldir's thumb found an eye socket and pressed down until the squishy white orb had been filled with red. The daedra howled and jerked away, causing Boldir to fall back, sucking in air as the pain of his injuries jolted him from a million different points. When the Xivilai locked eyes with him again, one of them was hardly an eye at all, for all the damage he had done. The creature came at him again. This time with the upper hand, it managed to get in close, so close he could smell the blood on its breath, and then the daedra did something Boldir had never experienced before. Not from this end at least. It reared back its head and rammed its skull against his own. The colors Boldir saw were blinding. They were a thousand tiny shards of Aetherius, all spinning around his vision like torchbugs during a Falkreath summer. In his muddled state of half-consciousness, he could just make out a phantom at the top of the cliff. A woman with Mila's voice. "Boldir!" Boldir smiled at his name on her lips, knowing that this dream was the closest he would ever come to hearing his daughter again. "Hang on!" A bright light flashed, cutting through all the others, and he felt the daedra's hands let go of him. "Boldir! Can you hear me?! Boldir!" Oh gods... Boldir's eyes focused in, and he realized that this was no dream. Far above him, the woman still stood. Mila. "Mila!" As the Xivilai descended on Boldir again, he surprised it by delivering a powerful fist into its bad eye, and then another in the good one. The creature, realizing he was back in the fight, managed to block the third strike and once more tried to grabble with him. "Hit it again!" Boldir shouted. "Mila! Again!" "I can't!" The girl shouted. Gods, did she sound older! "I might hit you!" "Then throw down my axe!" He yelled back. "Or-" Mila screamed. "NO!" Boldir pushed back the Xivilai just long enough to look up and see his daughter looking over her shoulder. "Mila, whatever it is, run! Do you hear me? Run!" The beast then tried to grab his face the way he'd done to it, but Boldir did not let that happen. He caught it by the wrist and bent out of the way, using the movement to flip the two of them around and force its back against the slope. He then glanced up to see someone else at the top now, standing beside his daughter. The woman was launching streams of fire at some unseeable enemy. Drenim! I'll KILL him! Boldir threw an elbow into the Xivilai's jaw. The creature moved to get up, but he beat it back down, once, then twice. At last his enemy was too hurt to defend itself, and so he launched into a frenzy. He started by hitting it with his bloody left fist, then his bloody right one. Then left. Then right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Boldir's throat rumbled as he screamed Kyne's cry in the dying beast's face. When at last, there was little left to recognize, Boldir looked down at the dagger lodged in the Xivilai's hip. It had been poisoned for Drenim. Hopefully some of that still remained, but if not, well... He gave the hilt a hard tug, wrenching it free of the bone it had been stuck in, and then used it to slit his enemy's throat. The daedra died gurgling on its own dark blood. When Boldir looked up, Mila and her friend were nowhere to be seen. He started to climb. *** The dead face's mouth hung open wider than any mortal jaw would permit. It's pale green skin sagged low, drooping beneath the hollow eyes like sacks of pudding. The creature hovered before Elara, bony hands widespread as its face moved closer to hers, that massive mouth emitting a foul, dead odor into her nostrils that made Elara's eyes water. It wants me dead. was all she could think. Elara had never felt a terror so horrible in her life. She lifted her burning hands between herself and the creature. They trembled violently, but she could barely tell. The wraith screamed. It was a terrible sound, and Elara was immediately gripped by another wave of terror. It was unnatural, the way the creature's shriek seemed to fall through her ears and straight to her heart, tightening and coiling around it. It hurt. Her shaking hands barely able to remain raised, Elara glanced at Mila, who looked to be in as much pain as she was. The girl's staff flashed and sent a bolt of lightening searing through the thing's black chest, destroying it only for two more to take its place. The gloom wraiths swarmed them, going down like flies to their fire and lightening, but never stopping. Eventually, Mila's staff fell from her hands, and the girl herself dropped to her knees, eyes wide with terror as the thing's bony white hand touched her forehead. Elara could not bear to see it. She turned away from the ones attacking her and launched a jet of flame into the one above her friend. She then mustered up every last ounce of willpower inside her and overcame the horrible trance their magic was locking her in. The wraiths floating around Mila curled back against her flames, even as the ones behind her closed in tighter. Elara stepped above Mila's body and screamed, unleashing fire in all directions until the spark in her was extinguished, and she was defenseless. Elara knew things were pretty grim, but that was okay, right? She had done all she could. And now it seemed as though things were turning in Master Drenim's favor. Maybe he could save her. That wizard could do anything. Even now, a great blood-red light was flashing above the wizard's head. Yeah, Elara thought as the wraiths' magic killed her, I'll be fine. *** The moment to prepare your offense is the moment the enemy becomes vulnerable to attack. -These words had belonged to Zurin Arctus as he won Tiber Septim's wars for him. Of all the rules for war magic that the great Battlemage had written, Endar found it to be the most applicable to his current situation. Had Rythe's stones provided him a greater edge than anticipated? Certainly. And had the Nordic brutes been an unexpected surprised? Most definitely. But as usual, patience and cleverness were now set to prevail. That was the problem with wizards like Rythe. He was too passionate. Too prone to be ruled by fury and anger. A foe like that was bound to slip up eventually. And so long as a smart wizard stays alert, he could capitalize on that every time. Endar was under no delusions. The priestess had granted this particular opening. But there would have been another, no doubt. Not that it mattered. He had the stones now. He had his wards. His enemies were weakened. He was ready bring this to its end. The dark mass of undeath his foes had summoned swarmed his protection circle, probing the ring of energy for any sort of weakness they could exploit. Their transparent green faces were old and decrepit, made more ancient in death than any number of years could have made them in life. Their thin hands simmered and glowed with magicka, making it clear that these were powerful beings long before their enslavement. He closed his eyes and forced his mind to refocus on the task at hand. And when he opened his mouth, his voice emerged as a detached boom, every word feeding energy into the incantation. "From fifty fathers... Frozen in slavepast," "...Rip from the wraithloom! "... Sunder the lifeweave! "... Lock tight in earthgrip! "... Hold firm in gravefast!" And so came the hard part. As the final words of the verse left the wizard's lips, his mind went deep into that place that was not here, but nor was it quite there either. To the place of understanding. He could see it now. Beyond the limen: The Padomaic chaos that was Oblivion and her realms beyond counting. He had been right to choose this place for his field of battle, for time had not healed the scar between realms. He ripped at the scar now, tearing it open long enough for his words to be heard, and above him, a great red light cast its gaze upon the battlefield. The red was brief, for it soon changed green, then purple, then yellow, then some color mortals could not comprehend, and then blue. That was where it stopped, and it was into this blue portal that the wraiths were drawn, screeching and screaming, leering, crying, and even laughing. Their noise was brief and terrible, and then Endar let the gate slam shut behind them, and the plateau grew deathly silent. Endar took in his surroundings. Rythe and his five or so remaining cultists were not looking so confident now. Apparently defeating Legionnaires and holy women was easier than taking on one of the greatest wizards of the age. Based on their expressions, the necromancers did not expect the task to be easier now that they had lost their army of undead. Two of them, an Imperial man and Orsimer woman, both turned and immediately ran for the hills. Endar let them, knowing that the Xivilai and his scamps would be able to hunt them down with ease. He took a step forward, and was immediately bombarded with more spells from Rythe and his loyal few men. Of course, with the welkynd stones floating behind him, Endar barely even needed to concern himself with the drain of maintaining more powerful wards. Yes, Rythe. Go ahead and attack. You're only draining yourself. The necromancer must have realized this, because he stopped casting and began to back away. "It is too late for that," Endar said. He was about to summon a few daedra to rip the acolytes apart, but then decided against it. Too messy. Too likely to get Rythe killed before he was ready. Instead, he settled for launching a torrent of the basic elemental magics from Apotheosis at the tall one on the right. The acolyte's ward shattered, and his body simultaneously froze and burned, but not before the lightening had already destroyed his heart. For the next two, he altered the properties of their blood to make it acidic, a particularly painful and gruesome way to die, but also messy. Which was why Endar preferred to save it for when he really wanted to frighten his enemies. Now only Rythe remained. Even now, hatred filled the necromancer's eyes, but it was melded with fear. Good. That's what I want to see. "You know, you were right," Endar said as his wards caught an ice spike as a window might catch a fly. "I stole from you. I stole work that would have taken me decades to accomplish on my own. Perhaps centuries. Now, with your help, I will be finished within the year. New heights will be reached, and it will be thanks to you. How does that make you feel?" Rythe stepped back and launched more spells in his direction, each one as harmless as the last. "You're a fraud!" Endar shrugged. "I aim to take my work in a different direction than you did yours. A more ambitious direction. And when the kingdoms of man have been saved as a result, nobody will even want to ask how I learned what I did. They won't care." "Molag Bal curse you, Fetcher," Rythe spat. "Had the same happened to you, your response would have been no different than mine." Endar gave him a curious look. "Of course it would have been different. I wouldn't have failed. Do you remember the Principles of House Telvanni?" Rythe's eyes widened, and he fell to his knees. "The powerful... define the standards of virtue." "Correct. I am more powerful than you, Rythe. This could have ended in a multitude of ways, but none of them were in your favor. Even if you had somehow bested me, I was fully prepared to escape. Did you know that? Do you think the Oblivion Gate was just for stealing away your wraiths and bringing forth a few allies? I littered this plateau with spells, wards, traps, curses. I barely used half of them." Endar produced a smooth, jet black crystal from his pouch. "You never stood a chance." Rythe looked past him, back at the gate. "Wait! Not yet-" "No. This is over." He cast his first spell, draining his foe's remaining lifeforce to feed his own. "I sent your wraiths to the Soul Cairn. With that in mind, die knowing that your fate will be worse than theirs." As Rythe obliged him, Endar cast the second spell, ripping out the necromancer's soul and trapping it in his gem. He would deal with it later, but now it was time to tend to clean up and deal with the aftermath. Bodies littered the plateau, but among them only two still lived: The unconscious priestess, and someone near the edge. Not one of the necromancers, though. It almost looked like... "Elara, what are you doing up here? I told you to stay with the girl." His stewardess did not answer. Unconscious. Typical. He started toward her, past the ruined Oblivion Gate, only for some funny sensation to explode against his right shoulder. "Pain?" Endar felt like a fool for uttering the word out loud, but for some reason it was all he could think to say. It took him a moment to understand why he was staggering forward, falling onto his hands and feet just in front of the gate. There was something in his back. Something solid and sharp... He started to speak, but no words came out. The sensation was spreading throughout his body, flooding his thoughts, assaulting them. Endar reached back and pulled the dagger out of his shoulder, and turned to find that its wielder had been none other than the large armored Nord from before. Alive? The Nord was hurt. Badly. No longer wearing a helmet, his face was bruised, swollen, and bleeding. What pieces of his armor remained were dented and chipped. He was coated in mud and what looked like his own blood mixed with that of a daedroth. He had been leaning against the gate, but as he pushed himself off, he came after Endar with a limp. Even so, it was faster than he could move right now. Endar tried to scramble to his feet, but then the pain bit him harder than anything he had felt in a century. He wanted to respond to this! To paralyze this brutish fool before burning him to a crisp for good this time. Then he would heal his back, heal his friend, and leave this place. He wanted all of this, but to his shock and horror, Endar could not muster up the power to do any of it. It was one final curse from Rythe Orealo. He had been silenced. The huge, broken Nord followed him slowly, all the hatred of Mehrunes Dagon in his eyes. Not once in this era had anything frightened Endar as this Nord did now. Frantically, he clambered backwards and hugged the gate, all too aware of the trail of blood that he left behind. Concentrate, he told himself. Concentrate! You are a Master Wizard! You cannot die here, like this! There is too much left to do! The Nord knelt down and picked up a battle-axe. A daedric battle-axe. The one that had belonged to the Xivilai. Endar closed his eyes. He could still see the plateau in his head, so he closed them tighter, focusing deeper. His mind's eye wandered beyond this world as it had before. He needed an escape, and he found one. *** Boldir stared at the dark elf with nothing but disgust. "It's too late to pray now, Mage." He drove his new axe into Drenim's chest with a sickening crunch. The wizard's eyes opened then, and he gasped for breath. Then the world around them fell apart. The skies were ripped to shreds; the earth opened into nothingness... and Oblivion took them.
  7. The Colovian Highlands "There were more than a dozen of them, judging by the horses. Probably about fifteen or sixteen. I'm sorry... I didn't get a very good look. Picked up my pace the moment I realized who it was in that village." Elara looked exhausted. She had ridden hard through the night in order to reach them by morning. "They could be here in two days if they really take their time." "They won't," Endar responded. "Rythe knows that I'm expecting him. I do not believe that he will allow me any more time to prepare than he can help, which is why we cannot waste that which we have. Did you obtain a map?" "Yes." She removed a large rolled up parchment from her satchel and spread it open across Cloud Top's stoney floor. "There are a few ruined gates in the area." She tapped one spot north-northwest of Chorrol that had been marked with the traditional 'Oht' symbol of the daedric alphabet. "This one's the closest. In fact, we passed it on the way here." "But we would have to get past Rythe just to reach it," Acivo said, kneeling down next to her for a better look. "Right. But there is another one to the west of here. Even without stopping, it will take us the whole day to reach." "It will have to serve," said Endar. He rolled the map back up and stuffed it into his own bag. "Everyone pack your things," he turned and looked over at the Skyrim girl, who had been trying to listen from the edge of the ruin, where he had tasked her with using melted snow to scrub their cookware. "You too. I doubt that staff of yours will do much good against Rythe's people, but it could at least find some use against the undead that they'll summon." "You cannot mean for Matilda to fight," Acivo said, frowning. "It is not a part of my plan, no. But I cannot help it if the girl has plans of her own," the wizard shot the girl another glance. She was staring back at him with an expression that was difficult to read. "She has a tendency not to listen." The Legionnaire clearly did not like it, and when Endar looked to Elara, it was obvious that she did not either. "If it means so much to you, talk to her yourselves. I will not waste words on the effort." He led them to the horses. "But do so on the way. Wasting time is even worse than wasting words." *** "Wait, so that's Cloud Top?" Stoit regarded the snow-tipped 'mountain' with obvious disappointment. "It's a hill." He turned to Ralimar. "You lot lived next to the Valus Range. How in Shor's name could you refer to this elf pecker of a rock as a proper mountain?" "You're not serious, are you?" Ralimar shook his head. "Just because you've got the Jeralls to set a standard doesn't mean that all mountains must be as high. Cloud Top stretches well above the rest of this land. That makes it a mountain." "Well by that rule, the White Gold Tower is a mountain too," interjected one of the necromancer acolytes. "And Ada-Mantia. And Red Mountain. And-" "Red Mountain is a mountain you dolt. It's in the bloody name." "That's just whoever named it being clever. Red Mountain is a volcano. There's a difference." "Hold on," Stoit said, "I agree about Cloud Top, but do you really think that volcanos ain't-" "Will you shut up?" Rythe turned in his saddle to flash the three of them a fiery gaze. "I cannot hear myself think over the raw stupidity." The leader of the necromancers turned back around and brought his horse closer to Boldir's. "They will be expecting us. Keep close to me, so I can apply the wards at the opportune moment." Boldir nodded. "Just remember our deal." "The girl will not be harmed," Rythe said. "You have my word." It was the word of a snake, but right now, it was the best Boldir could hope for. It took them the whole morning and half the afternoon to reach the base of the mountain. By the end of the journey, Boldir could see that the others were growing anxious. The chatter between them was gone, and it seemed that every member of the group wore a mask of solemness. Rythe brought them to a stop not far from the twisting path that led upwards. "Alright everybody, it's time for us to be cautious. Ralimar, do you have the stones?" "Yes, brother." The Breton held up a burlap sack that glowed dimly from within. "Good. Have your spells ready. Especially wards." After saying that, the necromancer produced a blue crystal that shined like a star, and clutched it as he muttered some words. Suddenly, a black, misty shadow formed in front of their group, and from it emerged three wraiths, cloaked in robes that seemed to be made of that same darkness. Wordless and soundless, the undead took flight like birds and disappeared up the hillside. The group waited a few minutes in complete silence, until the wraiths returned and hovered close to their master before vanishing. "They found no one," Rythe told the group. "I don't like it. We must proceed upward with caution." And so they did. Leaving behind their horses, Rythe led the group up the hill on foot. It was a worrisome trek. Every step brought them closer to the trap that they all were expecting, but had no idea how to anticipate. The best the necromancers could do was keep their eyes up while also keeping careful track of their footing. One missed rune trap could lead to death for many of them. It wasn't until the path straightened back out, however, that any such threats revealed themselves. "Drenim must really think he's very clever," Rythe said to the group as he stopped and knelt just short of the old ruin. "There is an enchantment starting here that seems to encircle the ruin. I do believe it is meant to warn him of our arrival. No doubt so he can allow whatever creature he has marked to appear in our midst." Boldir followed the old elf's eyes as he scanned the area, and finally spotted the faintly glimmering circle of runes that had been carved into a nearby tree. "Priestess, deactivate that, will you?" Rythe said, motioning to Gwella and then pointing toward the tree. Boldir nodded to Gwella as she headed off with glowing hands to dispel whatever trap had been laid for them. "That's strange," the priestess said when she got there. "I can't see any-" Whatever she was saying was interrupted by the loud *crack* that boomed in the center of their group. Boldir felt something akin to a powerful wind shove him from behind, and out the corner of his eyes, he could see Stoit and some others being thrown to their knees as well. He used his axe to stand back up and quickly pivoted to face this new threat head-on, only to find himself face-to-face not with a dark elf mage, but a tall, muscle-bound creature with a dark face tattooed in red and horns sprouting out of his long dark mane. He wore black armor that was covered in runes, and clutched a scroll in his right hand. Of their group, only Rythe and Ralimar's wards had prevented them from falling, and now both brothers were preparing spells of their own. First, the Dunmer summoned two black skeletons, armored in translucent chitin and holding wicked looking curved longswords. The Breton mimicked this by conjuring up a pair of wraiths similar to the ones who had scaled the mountain. All of these undead descended on the creature, who casually held up the scroll, which turned to ash in his hands as it released a wave of energy that blasted all of the undead to pieces. "I come in peace, mortals!" the creature shouted in a deep, angry voice that sounded as if it came from within a closed helmet. "I am an envoy." With his axe at the ready, Boldir stepped up next to the two necromancers. By now, the others had collected themselves and were starting to form a circle around the creature, who raised his hands. Boldir looked at Rythe. "What is it?" "A Dremora," the necromancer answered without looking away from the beast. "You are a servant of Endar Drenim?" "That is the name he goes by, yes," the Dremora responded. "He foresaw your coming, and has ordered me to inform you that he wishes to do battle in a more suitable arena." "Why wouldn't he want to fight us here?" Boldir looked around. "He had the high ground." "High ground may mean a lot for a soldier, but magic like ours would render such an advantage moot." Rythe muttered something under his breath, and then announced, "The Dremora conceals no weapons. Daedroth, how far is Drenim from us?" "I cannot say," the creature answered. "I am to give this to the one called Rythe Orealo," it held up a dark metal ring and placed it on the ground." Rythe looked down at the piece of jewelry, but made no move to pick it up. "Can you say what sort of arena he intends to meet me in?" "I cannot." "Well this might be the most strangely obvious trap I've ever seen," Stoit said. "Ask it why there were no tricks left behind for us on the way up here." "I can hear you, mortal," the daedroth said, turning to face the sellsword. "My master wishes to face the one called 'Rythe Orealo' himself." "He probably wanted us to trust the Dremora," Ralimar said. "If we'd lost men getting up here, we would've only seen this as another trap." The Breton looked at his brother. "I think this is honest. He needs to see you dead with his own eyes, to know you won't keep coming for him." "Hmph." Rythe scowled. "Perhaps you're right, but the sellsword is as well. Drenim must intend to catch us unawares at some point." He motioned to one of his acolytes. "Put the ring on." "Alright." She picked the ring up and slid it onto her finger. When she did, the Dremora vanished into Oblivion. After a few moments, the acolyte shrugged and turned back to her master, "I don't- oh..." Her eyes snapped toward the path behind them. "I can see a trail. Like a thin fog. It's leading back down the mountain." "So he's leading us right to him," Rythe said, "No doubt this trail ends in the ambush." The necromancer folded his arms. "Though I see no choice but to follow it. If Drenim is in the highlands, then searching or scrying will do us no good. And if we wait here, he will find out and have all the time in the world to plan an assault of his own." He motioned to the acolyte wearing the ring. "Ilian, you lead the way. Boldir and Ral, you two stay close to me. If anyone gets tired, drink a potion. We're not stopping until nightfall." *** It was nightfall when Endar halted his scrying. "They have stopped to rest. We have until sunrise at least." "What if he's just trying to throw you off?" Acivo asked. He felt a tightness in his chest. As if all his organs were pulling together, trying to merge into one. "Rythe must be cunning enough to know you've been spying on him. After all, we knew when he did it to us." "Rythe has no idea where the trail I have left him ends," Endar replied, "As far as he knows, it could take them another hour or another week to reach us. I do not think he would be fool enough to tiredly stagger through the darkness into a situation that he already knows well enough will end in a trap." Judging by the man's narrowed eyes, Endar could see that the Legionnaire was not fully convinced, so he added, "Regardless, if Rythe somehow is fool enough, then he and his men will still activate my alarms upon their approach, and I will know of their coming with adequate time to prepare." "And what if he evades or disables your wards?" "I have laid many. To discover and disable all of them would take all night for even the most skilled of mages. And for a group his size to evade them would be... unlikely, to say the least. Do not worry, Heartlander. Worrying will only keep you from getting the rest that you need." The Imperial's shoulders relaxed, just a bit, and he motioned to the giant ruined gate whose eerie shadow they had made camp in. At the heart of its jagged black arches, Endar had painted the daedric symbols for his various rituals. "I don't suppose you'll be getting any rest yourself?" "I prefer to keep busy while I rest," Endar answered. "Get some sleep. And tell the others to do the same." As the wizard returned to the ruined Oblivion gate, Acivo made his way across the rocky plateau they had chosen for their ambush site. The dim green flames of their 'campfire' were a comforting vigil in the otherwise dark, cloudy night. The girls sat there now with their backs facing him. For half a moment, Acivo thought of how funny it would be to sneak up and scare them both, but thought against it at the last moment. With Rythe on his way, it would be in poor taste. "What are you two talking about?" Acivo had not meant to scare them, but that did not prevent Elara from yelping or Matilda from jolting to her feet at the sound of his voice, knocking over a bottle of what looked like wine. "By the Divines," the elder of the servants gasped. She was trying to laugh, but the air caught in her throat. "Did you really have to sneak up on us to ask that?" "I didn't mean to sneak," the Legionnaire said, fighting back the improper grin that desperately wanted to form on his lips. At least, not there at the end. "Apologies." "I'll need some time," Elara responded, motioning for him to join them. "How about you, Matilda? You forgive him?" "Only if he admits it was on purpose," the younger girl said. Acivo could not tell if Matilda was bluffing or if she could actually tell he had been sneaking, but he decided to hold his ground regardless. "I don't appreciate this bold accusation, Snowgirl." Matilda's lips twitched. "Apologies." Elara snorted while a chuckling Acivo took his seat. He picked up the bottle labeled 'Shadowbanish' and frowned at its emptiness. "Master Drenim wanted me to tell you both to get some sleep. It probably wouldn't hurt." "Not a chance," Elara said. "We tried that already, and both of us came to the conclusion that there is something about the night before a battle that makes sleeping impossible. Drinking, on the other hand..." she laughed and produced a second bottle, this one still mostly full. "You can have some, but I warn you. Matilda here'll take advantage. She knows this game, see?" "A game, eh?" Acivo looked down and noticed for the first time that a few pebbles and some septims had been arranged on a small log in front of them. "Mind if I play?" "Don't bother. The girl knows some pattern that she won't tell. Wins every time." "We'll see about that." The Legionnaire pulled up his seat, and laid down a gold coin. "How fair is it for me to play sober?" "I ain't drunk neither," Matilda announced. "But it wouldn't matter if I was." Acivo shrugged, and accepted the northern girl's challenge. After explaining the rules to him, she proceeded to beat him with little effort once, then twice, then three times. With each win, her stack of winnings grew higher, and his purse, lighter. "Damnit girl, what am I missing?" "I don't know what you're talking about," Matilda answered with mock innocence. "Maybe you'll play better with more money at stake." "That's a pit I'd rather not fall into," Acivo said with a wave of his hand. He grabbed the wine bottle and took a long swig. The stuff went down burning, but it tasted better than the finest Skingrad vintage, and immediately drove any trace of winter night chill from his body. More peculiar, however, was the way it made his head tingle and his vision brighten, to the point where all the darkness around him could do nothing to hide a detail in the landscape. "Wow..." "That's what I said," Elara smiled. "Master Drenim has these stored... somewhere. He gave me a few bottles tonight. Apparently, they're pretty rare." "I'd imagine so." Acivo took another drink, savoring the taste as the wine seared down his gullet. "Now, if we're not going to sleep, how about we do something that doesn't involve robbing me blind? Matilda, you're from Skyrim. That means somewhere deep down is the blood of a bard. How about it, Snowgirl? Would you sing us a song?" "Pfft." The girl shook her head. "Not on your life, Milk-Drinker." "Ouch." Acivo clutched his side as if wounded. "I ask for music and instead receive a confusing insult. You know I could die tomorrow, having never gotten my last wish." "Should've picked a better last wish," Matilda smiled as she looked into the green flames. "I had an uncle who'd have done it. A great warrior-bard who sang before many battles. Sometimes he even sang as he fought." "That seems like something a Nord would do," Acivo laughed. "Did you ever get to hear him yourself?" "Oh aye. Uncle Baldur came to Whiterun for a time after the last war. He sang for me whenever I asked. And sometimes when I didn't." The girl's smile turned sad. "He wasn't really my uncle. I just called him that because he was best friends with the man who married my mother." "You're lucky. My Ma married a bloody Orc," said Acivo. "Do you have any idea how early an Orc expects his sons -even the ones that weren't really his- to get up for training?" Matilda shook her head. "Really damned early. And you can bet that twelve-year-old me wasn't built to go toe-to-toe with a mountain of green muscle like him. Course, he got fat later in life, and didn't live to see sixty. Ma settled for a nice Argonian fellow after that." The women laughed, and Acivo figured he would let them take or leave his made-up backstory as they pleased. "Anyway, if I'm not getting a song, then I'm going to bed. Some of you magical folks might be surprised to learn that we fighting men actually need sleep in order to function... you really should try to do the same." He saw Matilda and Elara exchange a glance, and then the latter nodded. "Just give us a little more time. This is all very unfamiliar to us. I promise, we'll go to sleep soon." Satisfied enough, Acivo got up and headed off to his bedroll. He could not blame the others for not wanting to go to sleep. Sleeping meant forgoing all the distractions that the night could bring. All the fun little jokes and stories that they could share. All the comforts of being with friends. Sleep would bring about an end to it all, and would quickly thrust him into battle, to that thing he had spent his life training for, yet never come close to actually seeing in his young life. He realized that the tightness in his chest had returned, fiercer than ever. In response, the soldier closed his eyes, whispered a prayer to Talos, and, incredibly, found the sleep that he needed. *** A couple hours after midnight, Boldir's eyes opened to find Sir Bremman shaking him by the shoulder. "Cut that out," he grumbled, pushing the knight's gauntleted hand aside. His slumber had been deep and surprisingly dreamless, the worst kind of sleep to cut short. "What is it?" "Someone is watching us." Bremman whispered back. "The necromancers think it's Drenim." Boldir sat up and got his bearings. Around him, the rest of the party were still in various stages of waking up, themselves. Stoit was waking Gwella, and Rythe stood off to the side with his brother and two of the acolytes. They were staring off into the darkness at something their mage eyes must've been more capable of seeing than his normal ones. The old dark elf's mouth was moving, but Boldir could not make out what he was saying. A spell, maybe? He immediately started putting on his armor. The suit was beaten and worn, each piece sporting numerous scars and even cracks. Hopefully, this would be the last time he had to put it on. Scooping up his helmet and axe, Boldir walked over next to Rythe. "I hear Drenim is watching us." The necromancer put a hand on his forearm and whispered something. Suddenly, the night seemed less dark, and across the rocky hills, a tall shadow glared at them from the distance, unmoving. Boldir frowned. "That's no elf." "No," Rythe agreed. "It's a Dremora, or maybe a Xivilai judging by the size. That's not the only one, just the most dangerous." The necromancer nodded in the direction of the path they'd been following. At first, Boldir saw nothing but rocks and grass, but eventually he noticed the tiny yellow dots atop one of the hills and realized that they came in blinking pairs. "What are they?" "Scamps. They've been watching us since shortly after nightfall. I don't know when the big one arrived, just that it was later." Boldir looked back at the motionless daedric shadow and shuddered. "You think Drenim sent this one when he saw our guard was down?" "What do you mean?" "I mean, he may not have intended to attack us here. Just observe with his weaker minions. When he found that over half our group were going to sleep, he decided to take advantage of it and send a killer." Rythe's face twisted into a sneer. "Well we won't make it so easy for him. Ral?" His Breton brother nodded and used a scroll to summon a pair of floating wraiths, armored in black metal with eyes as red as fresh blood. "Erufid," the necromancer whispered, pointing at the daedroth. The specters glided toward the creature, but it vanished into a black smoke just as they started to draw near. Boldir turned his head to find that the scamps were gone as well. "I think we should keep more men on watch," Boldir said. "I'm done sleeping for the night." "As am I," said Ralimar. "Anyone else?" "I'm staying up too," said Stoit. Bremman and Gwella agreed, and it quickly became apparent that all the acolytes did as well. No one was going to sleep after that. Boldir frowned. Maybe that's what Drenim wants. Not to kill us, just leave us tired. "Master?" The Dunmer turned at his acolyte's call, and then groaned. Following his gaze, Boldir spotted the dark figure again, this time a little further away, but now facing their camp from the opposite side. For a brief moment, Boldir saw fear in Rythe. But it was gone before anyone else had a chance to notice. "Don't let it out of your sight," commanded the necromancer. "If it or anything else approaches, kill it. But do not expend the scrolls or energy unless you must. Martin, bring me one of the stones. I need to clear my head." Boldir watched Rythe remove one of the glowing blue crystals from his bag and hold it in front of him like an infant child. Its vibrant blue glow invaded his normally deep red eyes, and he sat down with it in silence. Turning, Boldir found his companions watching the scene as well, each with a look that expressed varying levels of concern. "Come on," he told them. "We should keep our eyes outside the camp. Not in." Stoit cast one last skeptical glance at Rythe and whispered, "You sure about that?" "I'm sure that if he needs us. These daedra don't. Is there anything you can do about them, Gwella?" "Not from this distance," the priestess answered. "But if one comes close, I'll handle it." The acolytes were already forming a crude circle facing outward, and so the four companions took their places side-by-side on the far end. They were not settled long when Ralimar's angry voice boomed out from the center. "Everyone on your feet. My brother has words to share." Boldir's group and the tired acolytes gathered to listen to Rythe speak. The necromancer still held the big glowing crystal in both hands. "I have decided that remaining here is too dangerous, and stopping was a foolish risk that we did not need to take. Priestess, I understand that you are trained in defending against the denizens of Oblivion." "I am," Gwella said. "Then I give you this," Rythe stepped up to her and handed over the crystal. "It will give you energy. Use it to maintain a ward around us as we travel through the night. My brother and Ilian shall light the way." Gwella looked at the stone with a puzzled expression. "Why can't you fight the daedra? Or one of your thralls?" "Because that would keep me distracted," Rythe answered with a roll of his eyes. "Which is exactly what Drenim wants. And no one else among us is as familiar with the ways of Oblivion as you or I. So stop questioning me and do as I say." It took everything in Boldir not to strike the man for speaking to his friend that way, and he knew that Gwella was probably struggling even more than him. But the consequences of provoking Rythe Orealo were not a lessen that either of them needed to learn twice. And so, with a grim expression, the priestess cast a spell that drew a blue aura around the group. "Stay inside it," Gwella told the necromancers as they started to mount up. She then nodded toward the large black shadow that watched them from the distance. "Unless you want that one to get you." *** While Endar let his minions keep Rythe's party on their toes, the wizard himself spent the night preparing every trick he could come up with. He brewed potions, emptied soul gems, laid out runes, even made deals with a couple lesser lords of Oblivion. But for all his efforts, he could not drive out the feeling that it would not be enough. Endar knew that he was the superior power. Rythe knew it too. Yet the necromancer came anyway, and with help no less. The Nords and knight were likely of no concern, but the Stendarr priestess was a factor he had not anticipated. Not to mention the near limitless pool of energy his foes will have to draw from with the welkynd stones. No, Endar could not risk death over this. Not now. Victory was likely, but he had to take every precaution. He waited the last few minutes until dawn, and then picked up his jar of red paint. "Elara! Soldier! Marissa!" Nobody answered his call, so with a roll of his eyes, Endar carefully stepped around his now vast network of interconnected runes and enchantments and made his way over to their camp. The balefire he had lit still burned dim and warm, and around it his 'esteemed' companions slept among several empty bottles of his Shadowbanish wine. I knew that was a bad idea. He tapped the soldier with the butt of Apotheosis. "Wake up." The Imperial jolted to a sitting position with a loud snort, dagger already in hand. "Legion soldier! Get back!" Of course, his shouting was enough to wake Milonna, who was already clambering out of her bedroll on all fours like a startled fox, and Elara, who just looked tired and confused. "Thank you, Soldier." Endar held up the jar of paint. "As I am sure you all know, the barriers between the worlds stand strong in the Fourth Era. My-" "By Julianos, we just woke up," Elara said, rather rudely. "Are the bad guys almost here?" "They draw nearer every moment. Which is why I have constructed a failsafe, should the battle go ill. Now get up and come with me." "Do I have time to piss first?" Endar frowned impatiently. "Be quick about it." After they had done their business and were truly on their feet, the humans followed him at their own groggy paces, the little one rubbing her head in a feeble attempt to drive off the ache he knew she must have felt. When they came around the large black spike left behind from the Oblivion Crisis, the soldier whistled and Elara gasped. "Did you spend the whole night making these?" his stewardess asked, motioning at the hundreds of runes he had painted, cast, or carved into the earth. "Yes. Now all of you line up side-by-side and face me." Endar dipped two fingers in the paint as they did so, and spoke the invocation while painting a red symbol onto each of their foreheads. He finished by marking his own. "In the eyes of Mundus and all realms beyond, we are linked." he told them. "I do not do this lightly." He may have clarified to them further what this meant, but something stopped him. Endar turned and concentrated long enough to confirm the feeling in his bones. Rythe's men had triggered an alarm, which meant they would soon be stumbling all over them. He took a slow breath and was pleased to find that his feeling of nervousness had passed. "The time for preparation has come to an end," he announced. "Elara, take Matilda and leave the plateau. To the spot we discussed." "Yes, Master Drenim." "Wait, what?" Matilda struggled for a moment as the older stewardess tried to guide her away, but immediately relaxed when Endar weaved a calming spell. "We will come for you when it is safe," he told his stewardess. "It will be up to you to keep yourself and the girl out of danger." "You're the one battling necromancers." Elara's voice seemed light-hearted as usual, but her expression was serious. "Thank you. She doesn't need to be a part of this." Endar almost drew back as his stewardess put a hand on arm, but then she smiled, something in that smile stopped him. "I know you don't need luck. Give them hell." And then she turned and guided Matilda away. Endar spent a moment watching the two women leave, feeling something that he thought seemed dangerously close to sentimentalism. What are you, a Nord? the wizard asked himself. Enough of all that. He then turned to the soldier, to the loyal Legionnaire. This would be the first time since the Oblivion Crisis had Endar gone into battle alongside another. "What was your name again?" "Are you kid-" The soldier's perplexed face softened, and he answered, "Acivo Tricer." "Are you sure you do not want to go with them, Acivo?" "It doesn't matter what I want. My orders are to keep you safe." "Well that's good." In the distance, Endar felt another one of his alarms being triggered. "Because without me, they'll probably steal your soul." *** The first streaks of morning light were almost as welcome to the group as the departure of the daedra who had stalked them throughout the night. Though that light brought with it a confirmation that the exhaustion they all felt was warranted. They rode west at a brisk trot. By now, Cloud Top was a distant object, and the earth was steadily turning from green to yellow. There were no more traces of forest, and what trees existed did so in sparse patches that managed to break through the rocky soil. The only other regular vegetation came in the forms of tall, wispy grass and dark thorny bushes that clung close to the ground. Ilian led them from the back of her brown mare. Every now and then, Rythe would ask her if the magical trail she followed had changed at all, to which the weaker necromancer would always answer with a patient 'no'. Otherwise, nobody really spoke. The acolytes were all either too tired or too nervous. Rythe was too focused on the landscape. Gwella seemed weary from maintaining her wards for most of the night, and Bremman and Stoit from not getting any sleep. For his part, Boldir thought that he might've been the healthiest in the group, which suited him just fine. He would need his strength to get past whichever monster decided to stand between him and Mila. Someone would die today. Of that, Boldir was confident. He did not know Endar beyond what Rythe and Bremman had told him, but even if the stories were untrue, the gods themselves could not stop the necromancer from attempting to accomplish what he had traveled this far for. A part of Boldir almost hoped that the necromancer was speaking true. From what Ralimar had told him, turning on Rythe would be a deathtrap, thanks to the 'potions' they had given him. At least if Endar was actually awful, it would be a simple matter to kill him and free Mila. But even now, on what was presumably to be the day of their confrontation, Boldir knew that this was a call he could not make until the choices were in front of him. Whatever it takes to remove her from danger. After that, Oblivion can take both of these wizards. Like that wizard, Boldir kept his eyes trained on the hills. A part of him kept expecting the 'Xivilai' to come back with its scamp pets. Or, better yet, Drenim himself. Boldir had a hard time imagining the figure who was powerful enough to set one as terrible as Rythe on edge. After several hours of riding in silence, Rythe announced to the group, "One of us just triggered an alarm spell. It's possible that this is not the first." "I take it that Drenim can hear these things better than we can?" Stoit asked. "Hear, feel, taste, smell. Who knows?" Rythe shrugged. "But I felt the rune being released. This means that he knows we are coming, but that was obvious. More important is that it means we are close." "I'd say so," Ilian called back from the front of the front of their band. "The trail is starting to shift south. I think it's- it's..." "Spit it out, woman." Rythe called up to her, but at this point, it seemed Ilian was ignoring him. "I can't-" the acolyte gasped. She suddenly let go of her reins and went toppling off her horse. Through the confused mass of horses and necromancers between them, Boldir caught a glimpse of her right hand, and how it now appeared to have turned a nasty shade of black. "Please!" Ilian yelled now. She was on her knees looking desperately at her master. "Make it stop." No one had time to ask what 'it' was before a foul dark liquid erupted from her mouth followed by every other hole in her body, and then finally exploded out of her stomach in a disgustingly horrific display. "Nobody touch her," Rythe ordered. He looked prepared to say more, but paused when he noticed the big black bubble that was building up his dead follower's sticky corpse. After growing larger than a man's head, the blob of gas split away from Ilian's guts and drifted high into the air. Rythe and several of the others cast ward spells over the group, but otherwise nobody did a thing besides watch. More than a few of them flinched when it popped, releasing the cold, raspy message that had been trapped inside. "I can see you." All eyes turned to the hills now, and those who looked south were rewarded with three consecutive lightening bolts cracking into the clear blue sky. They were coming from the far side of a steep plateau. "This is it," Rythe said, his eyes hungry. He produced a vial of... something, and downed the whole thing in one drink. Boldir watched the elf's body shiver for a moment as a strange reflective gleam rolled across his gray skin. After that, the necromancer practically jumped down from his horse and started forward, and all of his acolytes followed. Boldir gave his friends one last look. Stoit looked determined, and Gwella, nervous. Bremman had already donned his helmet and lowered the visor. All of them stood prepared to fight and maybe even die for Mila, and for that they were family to him. "Whatever happens up there, thank you for coming this far," Boldir said. He had never been all that good with words, but those ones needed to be said. "And if I don't make it, take Mila to Kyne's Watch. She has family there." He turned and removed his helmet from his saddle. It was as worn and beaten as the rest of his armor, but remained every bit as strong. Putting it on, Boldir closed his eyes and whispered a simple prayer for strength, then turned and led his companions to the final point on this long journey. "She's waiting for you." Carlotta's voice told him as he marched. "This is it."
  8. Late Winter-some time in the Spring. I want to time it pretty close to the end of our TES chapter. Not trying to make it exact or anything, but it'll probably end up being near enough.
  9. You were the only person I hadn't talked to about their character at all. I freaking love the second half of this.
  10. Maomer. Definitely Maomer. The next game will most likely focus heavily on the Aldmeri Dominion. The sea elves are their ancient enemies, and there is no way that they have ignored the last century and a half of the Altmer gaining power in Tamriel. I have a theory that their inclusion in ESO was meant to introduce them "lightly" to the more casual fanbase so their arrival in the main series doesn't feel completely out of nowhere. I think they're the perfect race to add. They aren't gone like the Dwemer or Snow Eves. They aren't completely detached and weird like the Akaviri or Sload. Seeing one in a setting that takes place a few years after a major invasion (or something) would not be any more out of place than seeing friendly Orcs in Morrowind. Whats more is that they bring something new to the table. They have their own look that's not over-the-top, they have awesome snake/sea-themed architecture and culture that are every bit as unique as the main ten races, and they bring new magics and abilities that would join the existing ones without overpowering them (like the Nords' thu'um, which probably never saw large-scale light of day because a race of tongues is unbalanced). Second choice would be the Imga. I wouldn't play as one, but they just seem so hilarious. Maybe if Bethesda brought them in, people would laugh at them instead of the Bosmer, who in turn could finally get the serious treatment they deserve.
  11. The only shocking thing about this video is that whoever made it was under some strange, misguided impression that Chuck Norris needed the assistance of a chicken army just to kill a measly four thousand milk-drinking Romans.
  12. Everyone's characters. I already know my own stuff, so am most interested in seeing what everyone else goes off and does. Particularly how they choose to interact with the Brotherhood.
  13. That would be sweet. Maybe TES6.
  14. Vanilla Skyrim, obviously.