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TheCzarsHussar

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  1. Theodore, Dales The Laughing Fox, The Imperial Palace Morning Theodore grabbed the ink, quill, and parchment as he exited his room. His customary seat near the wall was empty, so he sat down and motioned for a glass of wine and some cheese. Ena brought over the bottle and poured half a glass before setting the cheese and bread down and leaving, without so much as a word. Theodore was used to the routine, as it was repeated every morning since his arrival. He dipped the quill in the dark, void like ink, and spread out the parchment as he penned the letter to his wife. Dear Elayne, How goes things back in Camlorn? I hope that Roland has taken the challenge of running things while I'm gone in stride. He's bright enough that I'm sure he'll do fine. The Imperial City is quite massive, even more so than when we visited here years ago, although the recent wars have depleted the number of young men. I have attended quite a few parties, as also made a few contacts that I believe will help us in the future should we need it. The inn I'm staying at is nice, and the other patrons are of a high regard for the most part. The politics of the Imperial City aren't quite to the standards of High Rock, but that is to be expected as we Bretons are most adept at the game of thrones. Now, enough of things here. Before I left, I heard news that your father had fallen ill. He is up in age, so I hope he does not fall to this sickness. Also, I hope Captain Vette took care of those bandits, as he had sufficient time to do so. If not, tell Roland to take care of it. Well, I have an appointment to meet the new Empress. I believe it will be mostly talk and nothing more. She seems to be a nice young lady. With love, your dearest Theodore Theodore sat the quill down, and rolled the parchment together once the ink was dried sufficiently. He packed his things and went to his room, where he stamped the letter with the wax seal he forgot to take with him. Leaving the building, he dropped the letter off to a courier service, and checked their sundial. Seeing that his appointment was soon, he left for the Imperial Palace. ******* Theodore arrived at the palace shortly thereafter, and was led to the Empress' meeting chamber by a servant. He knocked on the door, and awaited the reply. Theodore heard giggling behind the door, before the voice of a young female emerged from the room "Who is it?” Theodore straightened himself, before clearing his throat and replying. "It is Lord General Theodore Adrard, from High Rock your majesty. I have arrived for our scheduled appointment. To talk politics and such." "Ah, general. Ummm please wait a moment." Theodore heard shuffling, before hearing the Empress saying, "Please come in." Theodore walked in the room, his fancy green silken shirt almost bursting around his belly, and his black trousers form fitting as well. A matching black cape with a green bull hung on his back, as it flowed through the door frame after him. He addressed the Empress with a bow, his head bobbing low enough so that he was almost at a ninety degree angle. His voice was soft, and practiced in addressing members of royalty. "Your majesty, it is an honor and a privilege to finally meet you, face to face." Empress's dale was on a a fancy wooden couch, with her entire back was exposed. Beside her, was a very attractive, young, Breton. She had blue hair, and wore the dress of a maid. Dales gave the General a warm smile, before saying, "The honor is mine, I can assure milord. I do hope you don't mind my Maid, Miku's, presence. She's giving me a massage." The maid Miku, smiled mischievously, before bowing, "Milord" Theodore did not show any emotions at the sight of the newly crowned Empress all but makes on the table, but instead offered a reassuring nod. "If you don't mind, mi'lady, I will take a seat." "Please." Dales said to Theodore, "Can I offer you any refreshments general?" Theodore took a seat, resting his hands on the round table near the corner of the room, facing the Empress. "If it suits you, I would enjoy a glass of wine. The vintage matters not." "Miku." Miku bowed to Dales, before running along. She returned in ten seconds with a bottle. She gently poured a glass for the Breton man, and handed it to him. "Thank you Miku." Theodore took the bottle and sat it down, before swirling the wine in the glass and taking a light sip. “Exquisite." Theodore sat the glass down beside the bottle, and turned to face Dales. "So, Empress, how have you enjoyed your new found role?" "Quite Nice. Though it is quite tiring..." Theodore nodded, letting out a small chuckle. "Only through great practice is it mastered. I've had years of experience, and I still tire of it at times. It is worth it though, for your subjects." "Of course. The smiles of the common folk make it all worth while." Theodore nodded, and took another sip of wine. "You are a Breton, correct? When was the last time you visited High Rock?" "Yes I am. But I haven't visited High rock since I was five." "It is a beautiful country. The cities aren't quite as big as the Imperial City, but they are full of beautiful architecture and landscapes. I hope you get to visit there someday." "Quite. Though I prefer the confines of Cyrdoili. I visited Skyrim recently you know? "I'd heard that. Before the.....coup...." Theodore let the sentence trail off, not wanting to step on anyone's feelings. He sipped the wine, wiped his mouth, and continued. "So, I better tell you why High Rock sent me. As you know, we are independent. I say it like that, as my father in law, the king, has no desire to stay that way, although some would have us take the route Skyrim and Hammerfell did." Dales eye's sharpened, before putting her arm gently on Miku's shoulder, "We'll continue the "massage" later dear." She said in a playful voice, and wink. Miku returned the wink before bowing before both people. Dales quickly tied up the back of her dress. Her voice changed to a much more serious and stoic voice, "So general. What do you mean some? High rock permanently separating from the empire could be disastrous to Cydoili's economy, and in turn my people. I trust you'll handle these "people"? Theodore nodded at the servant girl, and listened to the tone and way Dales spoke. She seems to be extremely riled up about this, might be advantageous. "By some people, I am talking about a rather large faction of nobles. Not half, or even a third, but about one fourth of the nobles, mostly those who wish to gain something from the split, such as trade rights and paths. But, they have not taken hold as of yet. Many still respect the Empire, and you." Theodore waited to respond to her question on his handling it, as he tookl a sip of wine to think over his response. "I....could. But as you know, politics is a game of 'what can you do for me.' I am no different, as something in return would have to be assured. But I am on your side, as an Empire even more fractured would be ill advised." "So in other words "what can you do for me" is "give me something"? Dales said, smiling. But the smile was...dark. Her facial expression was cheerful, but in an odd way. Her voice changed, to powerful and commanding, the voice of a true Monarch "Or I can use my agents in your court to track down these traitors and have them assassinated." Theodore returned the smile, his a tad more cheerful. "Aww, you misunderstand my meaning. I want the preservation of the Empire, but to exert myself in advising these people that their ideas are wrong would be taxing and time consuming, so I only wish for due compensation. Assassinating them would be ill advised, as it would show the tyranny of you and the Empire, and might spur them ever onward. Subtley is key, I think, in this situation." "Then what do you propose dear general?" "We wait. My father in law is ill, and he will not make it, I'm afraid. This will open up the Daggerfall Lordship, as well as his position as king. He has no male heirs, but his oldest of the two daughters he has is married to a lord. I am married to the younger of the two, putting me in line after him. I am not sure where his allegiances lie, but rumor has it he is an 'Independent' as they are being called. Very unoriginal, I know. If it suits you, assassinating him may be an option. I have no love for him, arrogant man he is, and foolish to boot. My wife will not shed a test at her sister's passing either, as she was a bully and pompous nitwit. Elayne, my wife, is the favorite of their father as well. That, dear Empress, is my plan." "Let Nature run it's course? Simple, but very practical. If those two do cause problems, we can stick a knife threw there throat." "I don't plan on either lasting that long. Your assassination idea has sparked a thought of my own. The Dark Brotherhood is an option, one that I might add is very hard to trace. They are only operable in Skyrim though, so that poses a problem. All we would have to do is take care of Lord Aleron Rolston, the husband of my sister in law I mentioned, thus securing me the throne, as Elayne's sister is wholly unfit to rule, a trait known to all in High Rock. Then once High Rock is set to be returned to the Empire, after the next war I presume, I retain the position but instead be the Imperial Governor. How does that sound?" "That sounds...fair. Alright my dear general we have a plan. I'll let you handle the fine details, since it's your family and people you'll be taking care of." Dales stretched out, she seemed...anxious. She said to the general with a warm smile "If you wouldn't mind milord, since our business is of course now concluded, If I could excuse myself. I do still have...a massage scheduled for today." "Of course, your majesty. Although there is one more detail I would like to iron out, one somewhat unrelated to our previous business." Theodore finished off the glass of wine, and sat it across the table from him. Dales raised her eye brow, before nodding and sitting back down on her couch, "Yes, dear general?" "As I walked in today, a thought occurred to me. You are not married, nor engaged that I know of, and neither is my son. But then I walk in and see the massage, and the thought changes. Your preferences seem to prohibit you from fully loving any man you marry, but you still must produce an heir, so why no cement the age of Breton rule by having said heir with a Breton. The Nord had their turn with Talos, and the Imperial's their with the Medes. Now it is our turn to rule the Empire. What say you, your majesty?" Theodore smiled softly, but not in a conniving or mischievous way. Dales smile remained on her face but there seemed to be...mockery or amusement of the idea in her eye's. "I'm sorry General, but I have to say no. The elder council and the nobility expect an imperial heir, and I must provide one from having an imperial husband." "It is as I figured. But the notion remains, should the Elder Council fail to find a suitable...suitor. The time for Nords and Imperials on the throne is long past mi'lady, and now would be the perfect time to place the Breton race at the forefront of the Empire. But your wish is my command, and so I shall return to my room at the Fox." Theodore rose and bowed, just as deeply as when he entered, and headed for the door. As he reached for the handle, he stopped and turned around. "Oh, and don't worry, your preferences shall remain between us. I am not one to blab secrets my on allies. Farewell your majesty." Dales stretched out a little, before leaving the room to go to her "massage"
  2. Lorgar Grim-Maw Imperial City Evening Lorgar buried himself in his documents, intending to work as much as he possible could. He wrote numbers, signatures, statements, reports, and other stuff, with an ink quill, it didn't matter to Lorgar, as long as it was there to focus on. He wanted just to work; to forget. To help him forget, he brought two bottles of brandy, and a large amount of mead. Marius. The news of his passing was bad enough, but the circumstances behind it where even worse. "Mauled a devoured by vampires" was a horrible way to go. Though it appeared that Lorgar was focusing on his work, an entirely separate matter was the focus of his mind, Why the hell was Marius down there to begin with, it doesn't make any sense!!! The same thought had been in Lorgar's mind all week. Why would Marius go down to an area known to be infested by vampires? Apparently and expected, Gaius had been taking it very hard. After informing Tullius on the matter, he had written a letter to Marius CO, Baldur Red-snow. After assigning a courier to deliver it, he had personally gone to inform his Niece, who took it as hard as expected. Her fiancée took it even harder, started to weep alongside the lieutenant-commander, expected of a school-teacher. Lorgar himself was…very sad. Despite their differences, arguments, and ultimate division, he had considered Marius a good friend, a comrade…a brother. Losing him…was like losing a family member. Lorgar snarled, and pushed away that thought. He poured himself a glass of brandy and gulped it all down. Alcohol was poisons that dulled the senses and made men forget. All Lorgar wanted to do was forget, He's just another name to add to my list of dead friends. Lorgar hurt. He hurt a great deal of the inside, and the only think that could help him was the bottle. He poured himself another glass of brandy, before chugging that. As Lorgar drowned out his sorrow with Booze , he heard his door guards voice, "Sir, countess Milerda of Chorrol is here to see you." Milly? What is she doing here at this hour? Lorgar straightened out his uniform, before taking out a cigar and lighting it. He said in his usual voice, "Send her in." Milly (her preferred name) rushed in, with her normal green dress and golden spectacles. Before Lorgar could greet her, she pulled him in for a hug. Her eyes were tear stained, and she said "Oh Lorgar, I'm so sorry for your loss." Lorgar stiffly, and slightly returned the hug. "It's fine Milly." Milly gazed upwards, her eyes sharpening under her spectacles. "No it's not. He was one of your best friends, and he's dead. Lorgar you don't have to hide your emotions from me." Lorgar, gently relaxed in her grasp, and put his head to her small shoulder. "Yes I know." They just stood there, for a while, letting Milly share her warmth to Lorgar. He felt good. For a few instants he forgot about everything, his job, Marius, Witchie, Samuel, everything. The only thing on his mind was Milly. Lorgar slowly whispered the words, "I love you." "I love you too." And with that Lorgar broke away from the hug, got onto one knee, took out a small box, and cleared his throat. "While this may seem strange, and odd, Nords usually don't wait awhile before saying this, and asking of this. But Countess Milerda of Chorrol, will you marry me?" Milly just looked at Lorgar, before breaking into tears and a massive smile forming on her face. She threw her arms around Lorgar and started to cry. "Yes Lorgar, I will."
  3. General Baldur Red-Snow 5 in the Morning Markarth Sitting in a chair in their room in the Silver-Blood inn, Baldur was once again writing, but it wasn't reports since he and Rebec were basically on vacation. No, this time he was writing in his journal, writing about recent events. Every last painful detail including his own mental thoughts, even ones he may not want Rebec to see. Especially those. He decided he'd make his journal private once more until he thought it may be appropriate for her to see. The group had set off from the orc settlement early to get back to Markarth so that they did not overstay their welcome within their stronghold. Baldur had a brief talk with the Jarl in which he insisted that the next guard captain be a Necro Nord of his choosing and that he be allowed to have a small group of them at his command to serve as guards along with the guards already there. Baldur wanted to replace the lot of them, but that would lead to too many problems. This move he made currently was slightly risky but it was necessary. If the Jarl couldn't control his own men, someone else would need to. Their official duty was to protect the city from forsworn. The change would happen in a weeks time. Baldur was once again watching Rebec sleep as he often did on nights that he could not himself, now that he was finished writing recent accounts in his journal. He was trying to write another song, but he was having trouble doing so. Too many thoughts were running through his head with not enough mead in his belly to balance the two. About Rebec, Toki, Ysana, Boldir, the future, all of it. So instead Baldur tried exercising his mind the way he used to, which was simple poetry about nothing specific. Baldur closed his eyes and picked the first thing that came to mind. The thing that is most vital now became the bringer of their doom, Sealing all inside in this dark cascading tomb, Water fell before them destroying all in sight, The city now lay flooded, All scattered now in fright, This city was cast in darkness, yet to them all was right, But now it was brought into the day no longer in the night, Water broke through their ceiling, to them a merciless fountain, Flooding their endless tunnels, goodbye city within the mountain, Merciless beings on high who stand impossibly tall, To them they are gods, but they're not much different afterall, They both are at the mercy of a higher power, One of them makes mountains, the other makes buildings and towers, One is indifferent to the other, but to them the same is true, All are made small to those who dwell beyond the blue, The great city was but a mound converted to a toy, The plaything of a young lad, no more than a boy, He poured water from a bucket, a meager amount, scant, Yet this was enough, for these people were just ants, But is it not the same for us? Do we have better odds? Will we stay in good graces with those that we call gods? Or are gods just like us, simply walking to and fro, Higher beings with indifference to those who lie below? Baldur closed his notebook and put it next to his journal, satisfied with the mediocre poem that he wrote. Nothing special, just an exercise of the mind. Like his father used to have him do. He didn't have him write poetry, that was something he started on his own. When he left his father, he stopped this practice. But now that he finally knew the truth and he understood him more, Baldur no longer resented him and decided the practice was a useful one and that he should start it up once more. The thought reminded him once more of his mother, who he wished to speak to in private for a while, but he didn't feel safe leaving Rebec alone sleeping alone like this. Baldur walked back over to the stone bed to look to his wife before he climbed back into bed. She looked so peaceful in her sleep. So beautiful, even with the wandering trickle of drool that fell from her mouth. In a weird way that only someone in love could understand, this only added to her beauty. If Baldur had walked over to look at her sooner, this sight would have rested his storm of thoughts enough to make another song as he intended. Baldur rubbed the side of her face gently with his hands, taking care not to disturb her as he wiped the saliva away. Baldur's face began growing a smile of admiration and was about to write that song afterall when he heard a light knock on his door. Baldur didn't expect any visitors, so he instinctively grabbed one of his axes after checking Rebec's amulet for any magical glow. There was none. Once Baldur slowly opened the door, he saw that it was only Hroki standing before him, this time wearing a non revealing typical townswoman blue dress. "Hroki, what are you doing here? If it were Rebec who opened the door...." "I know, but I could tell you were up when I saw the light. I remember you used to sometimes stay up in your room doing whatever. I used to sit by your door since you wouldn't let me stay in your bed overnight." "I was writing. Hroki, what is it that you want? I don't mean to be rude, but I am a married man now. It wouldn't be right for me to continue talking with someone I used to be involved with. It would cause unneeded trouble." Hroki looked to her feet as she shifted them nervously. "Don't worry, I'll get out of your hair. I just came by to tell you a woman is in the tavern asking for you." "That would be my mother, thank you." "Oh, I see." Hroki was about to walk away, but turned around and pushed against the door so Baldur couldn't close it just yet. "Baldur can I ask you one thing?" Baldur sighed, knowing that the question wouldn't be an easy one to answer. "Go ahead." "Do you think that, maybe if...maybe if you and that woman-" "Rebec." "Right...Rebec. If you and Rebec hadn't met...that...you and I-" "Rebec is the only woman that even remotely gave me feelings of love, Hroki. I'm sorry. If it weren't for her, I'd just be another drunk. Marriage would be the last thing on my mind. You're a young girl, Hroki. You'll find another." Hroki stood silent for a while at the door. Baldur didn't want to sugar coat anything. She needed to know the truth so that she could move on. "You were my first...you know." "....I know, Hroki. Goodbye. I wish you luck." Baldur opened the door fully and gave her a brief friendly hug, not wishing to be too cruel to the girl. To Hroki it seemed to last longer however. Afterwards, she went back to her room to leave Baldur in peace. And to try and move on as Baldur suggested. Ugh, that's never easy. Baldur still in his bedclothes walked into the tavern room now to see Ysana sitting at a table with two tall mugs of mead freshly poured, apparently by Hroki. Ysana's eyes looked puffy and red, showing that she had recently been crying. Baldur figured she was still upset over Ulrin. She likely would be for the rest of her life, Baldur figured. "Good morning...mother." The word would take some getting used to for him. "Good morning, son." It was the same for her. "So you wished to speak? What about?" "Where are you going after this? Can't you stay? If you can't stay, maybe I can come with you?" "Mother, it isn't that simple. I have some things that I need to take care of alone with Rebec. We'll be going out of Skyrim soon to take care of some business officially. Although unofficially it's for us.” Ysana took a long swig of her mead that surprised Baldur a bit due to her appearance, but then he remembered of course that she was a nord afterall. When she was done, she grabbed Baldur's hands from across the table. "Baldur, I just want to get to know you better. To make up for all these years I missed. I want to know who you are, what you've done, where you've been, what you like to eat, drink, every bruise and cut-" "That you don't want to know, mother. Some things are best left untold." Ysana wanted to press further, but figured she could ask him or Rebec later what that was about. Ysana reached for her son's left eye and ran a finger across the scar, hurting herself mentally as she did. As if the scar was hers. "You know, somehow I feel responsible for that cut. I don't know why, but...it's like I think subconsciously that if I had been in your life, I could have protected you somehow. Maybe you wouldn't have been a warrior. Mayb-" "Stop beating yourself up, mother. We've been over this. You and pa were just in an unfortunate position. And father would have made a warrior out of me regardless." Ysana stood up from her side of the table and wrapped her arms around Balur's neck from behind, resting her head on his as she did. "I know, son. I know. It's nice to be able to give you a good proper hug. All that armor before....must drive your wife crazy." "She's used to it. Mother, about before, you and I will get our chance. We can never make up for the lost time, but we'll still have our chance. Once the town that we plan to start is built and we establish a real home. You, me, Rebec, by best friend Boldir and his family, we can all be together. Maybe Rebec's family too." "I hope you're right son. Just don't die before that day happens, okay? Promise?" Baldur normally would have given that promise without hesitation, but this time he hesitated. Thoughts of the previous day were still fresh on his mind. But he eventually got around to saying it for her sake. "Don't worry mom, I'll be fine. After we leave Markarth, I'll see you soon. We'll be back before you can say Nerevarine." "Nerevarine." Baldur looked up from surprise. Rebec and Boldir never got the pronunciation right, which he always took as a good sign. His mother however got it on the first try. "I take it you read a lot like your father did. You're not the only one, son." "....Right." "Well, I gotta go, son. I'll catch some sleep before I get things ready for me and Rebec." "Right. Love you mom." "Love you too, son." Ysana watched him briefly before she walked out of the tavern as he downed the rest of the drinks that she had bought for them. She still couldn't get over how much he looked like Ulrin. It was somehow a blessing and a curse. On one hand she could see her love in her son now even though he was dead, which while this was a comfort, it also felt like his ghost haunted her. Her son was the version of him that loved her, but she still remembered how he looked when he first entered the Temple. That was the Ulrin that she last saw when Baldur was still a baby. Before he left her. Ysana forced the thoughts out of her mind and tried to focus on Baldur's smiling face as she walked back towards her Temple past a running Imperial soldier. "Baldur? General Baldur Red-Snow?" Baldur looked up to see an Imperial messenger standing in the tavern now, slightly panting as he did. Baldur's first instinct was to grab for his axe. Old habit. Baldur after remembering the alliance stood up from his table to address the man. "Yes, I am he. How'd you find me here? No one knows we're here except my friend and-" "Ulfric Stormcloak, yes. I had to be taken to him by some Stormcloaks after I tried crossing the border. He told me where you were after I told him why I was here. He knew the matter was something important to you." "What matter was it?" The soldier handed Baldur a letter, which he quickly tore open in haste. It said: General Baldur Red-Snow, General Baldur Red-snow, it's my...extreme regret that I must inform you of the death of Ambassador Marius Imperius of the Stormcloak army. As you are his current Commanding officer, I thought it prudent, and necessary, to inform you of his passing. I have some...details of his murder. The condition of his body when we found it was...degrading. A majority of his...flesh, organs, and blood was missing, presumably...ripped or eaten off. Some of the bones....were cracked open and there marrow consumed. We are almost certain he was...mauled by a group of vampires that are known to take residence in the bloodworks of the Arena. We don't know what he was doing down there...but...I'm...truly...sorry for your loss....I...nevermind. Long live the Dragon, Long live the empire, Lord-Major Lorgar Grim-maw. "Damn it!" Baldur's hands started shaking in anger as he read the letter. Marius, the man that helped save his life and brought him back to Rebec was dead. I should have done something to keep him safe. Now, he's dead. Because of Moon-Balls. It has to be him. Baldur told the soldier to wait where he was as he went to go get a pen, ink and two parchments and envelopes. Once he was done, he handed the letters to the soldier and gave him an appropriate amount of gold for the service and a tip as well. This one is meant for Empress Dales. It's my condolences to the people of Cyrodiil for the death of their General. He was a good man. I wish I could do more. The other is to Ulfric. It's a letter saying for now on not to tell anyone of my whereabouts. Just in case. The soldier gave him a nod and put his fist to his chest. "Long live the dragon." "Long live the bear." After the man left, Baldur went back to his room to wrestle with his thoughts. Which most were primarily of Moon-Balls. When he got back in however, Rebec's innocent looking sleeping face washed his previous thoughts away. Baldur chuckled to himself at the irony. Baldur climbed back to bed next to her, placing a hand over her stomach. He was thinking of children again, wondering what it would be like when they had them. Baldur scooted down on the bed and lifted her shirt slightly before resting his head on her well defined belly and let thoughts of the future send him back to sleep once more.
  4. Brutus, Endar, Jem Kvatch Palace Late evening "The worms. It always comes back to that doesn't it? I'm a worm. Everyone's a worm. Everthing and nothing. All of it is nothing but a false reality, yet it is literally everything that matters. We are maggots within a maggot. Trying to eat our way out of this pathetic existence that we call life. Some of us make it out, only to find that the world outside of our world is just a collection of rotting corpses, festering within the bowls of yet another maggot! What beings would possibly be so cruel and remorseless to trap me here? Surrounded in this wriggling mass? Is there not a place where poor Brutus can go? Free to make my own illusion? A world like this but not like this where I can have a place that is free of such pestilence? Or is life just a series of worms within the bowels of other worms with no way out, no end in sight? What do you all think?" Brutus sat in a pile of random women from around the hold. Some daughters, mothers, whores or just single women. All passed out from either liquor, exhaustion or both. Not all from Brutus of course, but there were a lot of stamina potions lying around, signifying that he did give it his best. Brutus being the kind fellow he is even invited some guards to give him a hand or two. Can't have the guests go home unsatisfied after all. That would not do at all. Brutus climbed up from the "wriggling mass of worms" as he heard a knock on his door. "Sir, we have a prisoner who needs to speak with you." "A prisoner? For me? Why thank you guardsman! I always love visitors of this sort! Never know what you're gonna get. Kinda like whores! Endless possibilities! I'll be right there." "...Ehrm, y-yes sir." "Hmm, speaking of which...." Brutus picked up his staff after applying his black leather pants and black quilted vest, then he left the room, making sure to drink a potion of cure disease before he left his chambers. *** "Why don't you do it then?" Endar sighed. He didn't feel like this was even worth explaining. While waiting for the Count in the great hall, Endar had been more than courteous, and yet for some reason, all of the guards were seemingly getting angrier and angrier. Now, one was asking why he didn't escape if he was capable of it. The answer seemed pretty obvious to him. "I haven't escaped, because I don't want to. I have no desire for a bounty to follow me back to the Imperial City." "Or you're too scared to try." The wizard's eyes narrowed at the older looking guard. "Are you trying to provoke me? I have to admit, it's working quite well. Your challenge really does make me want to prove you wrong." Endar shrugged. "Would you be willing to pay off or ignore my fine if I attempt to escape?" "Of course not!" "Pity. I suppose I'll just remain here then." Endar looked away from the muttering guard and back at a bored looking Elara, who was sitting on a bench in the corner of the hall, trying to stay out of the upcoming proceedings. He had left his staff with her. Apparently, being a prisoner, he wasn't allowed to carry it into court. Suddenly, they heard the sound of a door opening and closing again from somewhere in the halls behind the throne. "That the Count?" asked Elara to a nearby guard. The guard shrugged. "Hopefully. There's no telling. Count Brutus is a busy man." Brutus slowly walked his way into the room, admiring his paintings as he always did when he made his way in. As he did, he largely ignored the people in his presence until he tok time to admire each and every one of himself first. Perhaps it was a way to get others to do the same. Once we was done, finally he addressed the group, happy to see a Dunmer in his presence, since Dunmer were known for not being shy about his favorite pass-time, unlike some Imperials he was acquainted with. Sticks in the mud they were. "Ah, hello hello my guests! It's s-, wait...what is this? Hostility? No, no that won't do. What seems to be the issue here?" "Sir, t-" "I was talking to our guest." Endar's brow raised. So this is the Count. Endar had heard little of Brutus outside of vague rumors that he'd taken no particular interest in. At the moment though, he couldn't recall what any of them were actually about. He glanced at the guard, then back up to the Count. "I suppose you want the absolute truth? Very well. This loud fellow," he pointed at the guard who'd arrested him. "keeps looking at me like he wants to kill me, which I don't understand at all. I've given him no reason to want me dead. Then, h-" "No reason?" the guard cut in. You can't be seri-" "Hush. It is my turn to speak right now." Endar continued, a little annoyed. "Even though I complied, and agreed to come before you, he has done nothing but insult me since we arrived." He looked at the guard, who was red-faced with anger. "You see him now? How can I pretend to be in a good mood when he's glaring at me like that?" "Hmm, good point. Guardsman? Guardsman!" even as Brutus was yelling he still managed to keep a smirk on his face. "Yes sir?" "What is my rule?" "Sir, he-" Brutus slammed his staff onto the stone floor releasing it's effect. The guard's face resumed it's normal color and the guard's face lightened up a bit. He even looked cheery. "What is my rule?" "No hostility, Count." "Good, no if you may, would one of you fine fellows here please tell me the crime that was committed?" A younger guard behind Endar stepped forward and answered with a loud voice. "Fourteen counts of assault and one possible count of murder." Before Brutus could respond, Endar cut in. "Actually, it was nine counts of assault. Five of those were actually in self-defense." He looked back at the guard. "And you also forgot to mention the summoning of that Dremora in the street." He muttered his next words. "Ridiculous a law as it is." Brutus let out a giddy little snicker from Endar's response. He was a tad bit disappointed that there was no lies coming from him, no ulterior motives to be had, but his nonchalant disposition was a nice change of pace. "So honest, so honest! No illusions about you my Dunmer guest, none at all. Strange indeed. Unless that honesty IS your illusion to hide from the fact that you do have something to hide...something....pray tell, what exactly did you do to assault these people? And the murder? And why were you summoning such bland company in my city?" Endar slighly tilted his head, as he often did when interested in something. "Well you're an odd man aren't you?" He hasn't expected the Count to be a deep thinker. Perhaps even a philosopher? He'd expected the usual posh and serious type that was the norm among Cyrodilic nobility. "My illusions, and whether or not I am behind them, are my own business, I'm sure you understand. You ask how I assaulted them? I paralyzed everyone in an inn. How I commited the murder? A paralyzed man fell and hit his head." Endar paused for a moment. "Interesting how the only "why" you asked was about the Daedra, when for most, it would be the other way around. Why did I summon such bland company? He's my butler and packmule, and I needed him for something he carried. Simple as that. Is this answer satisfactory? I hope so, as I'd very much like to be off soon." "Oh a fellow illusionist! I knew there was a reason I was interested in you! Well I think we can wave off the "assault". There's nothing wrong with practicing some harmless illusion magic right, guardsman?" Brutus rubbed the imperial's rugged chin as he channeled the charm spell through his body. "No sir, of course not." "Good! Then our guest can pay his fine and be on his way if he wishes. The daedra summoning seems to have been a harmless affair. I believe in second chances for such things, don't you? He's clearly new to Kvatch, so he'd have no idea of the law." "Right you are, sir. Silly law anyway." "Exactly! Now, be off, I can handle things from here." Brutus waited for the guards to leave the room before he continued. He didn't want the rest of the conversation to be interrupted. "Okay my good mer, now I guess since this matter is taken care of after you pay for the fine of murder of course, we can discuss the why. What was the reasoning for your masterful display? Not that one needs a reason to be illusive with illusions." Endar smiled. It was about time someone showed an ounce of respect in this city. So far, it's seemed like everyone in Kvatch has wanted to cheat him or fight him. "My display? You mean the paralysis? Like I said, it was in self-defense. I was attacked by a group of drunks, one of whom's brains are now very familiar with the corner of a table. Speaking of..." Endar looked back into the corner of the room, where his stewardess sat watching. She was clearly more interested now than before. "Elara, bring this generous man his money!" "Ooh, another guest! And what a beautiful facade her skin graces upon her face...you two don't have to just drop the gold and leave. Surely there's some food or wine you two'd love to have from my court? Then you can tell me the whole story of these drunks. I'd like to hear about what your business in Kvatch was here if you don't mind. Who knows? Perhaps we could help eachother." Elara walked up beside Drenim and put the chest on the floor, kneeling before it to count out the money bags until she reached one thousand. She looked up when complimented. "Er... Thank you?" she said. She'd heard her share of strange compliments over the years working in Skingrad, but never one so colorful and strange as his description of her face, or the skin on it at least. As the girl was knelt down beside him counting, Endar thought for a moment. He couldn't believe that he was seriously considering the Count's offer. It wasn't the food or wine that tempted him, nor was it the offer to consort with such high nobility. He couldn't care less about that. They were below him anyway. There was something about this man that fascinated Endar. He was obviously different, perhaps even blessed by a Daedra. Sheogorath perhaps? Endar hoped it was so. The House of Troubles is one of his favorite topics of study. He's also an illusionist, could be good for conversation. The wizard nodded, convinced. "Very well, Count Brutus, I will stay for a while." He glanced down at his stewardess, then back at the door the guards had passed through. "Maybe I'll actually find some intelligent conversation." Or at least interesting. "Hmm, depends on what you consider intelligent I suppose. Knowledge of the world? Or the knowledge that the knowledge of the world...is useless and always subject to change, just as the appearance of all that is around us. Your dear stewardess was clearly puzzled by my statement earlier. If I were to rip off her face and expose that which is hidden from under...would she still be beautiful? Depends on your tastes I suppose as all things, but I'd assume most people would say no. But then again, most people are idiots. Actually, we all are. The most we know and can hope to know is what lies within this world and the worlds around us. But as I said before, the world is subject to change. This is especially true for the worlds around us." Brutus took a small sip of wine as he looked intently towards Endar's stewardess. Still smiling as he always did. A mad philosopher? Interesting. Endar looked at his stewardess, who kept glancing up at Brutus, and then glancing right back down when she met his eyes, which never left her. He then looked around the room. It was still empty but for the three of them. "An interesting idea you believe, Count Brutus. That we are all hopeless in our endeavors to learn, when learning everything is rendered moot by the ever-changing world, or worlds, as you say. Though, that would definitely not be a belief inspired by the divine pantheons, which supposedly stabilize the world. I'd be interested in hearing more about what it is you believe, but not standing here in front of your throne like some servant. Do you have a chair I could sit in? My legs are already weary from standing without my staff. Oh, and perhaps some of that food you promised? I'm afraid I've actually skipped dinner this evening." "Of course! The table is already here! Of course!" Brutus walked over to the wall of the room and seemed to be grabbing on thin air before he pulled his arms and revealed a table filled with cheeses, meats and various aphrodisiacs such as bananas, small bowls of nuts, and other fruits with jars of honey beside it. He had it hidden with a cloth that he had painted to match the walls. If you stared at it directly, one could easily see that it was cloth. But if one did not know it was there and didn't try to spot it out, it was practically invisible. "I'd light the candles, but this should do." Brutus snapped his fingers which sent green orbs over the candles producing magical light. Endar was impressed by the hidden table. He hadn't noticed it before, and it made him wonder what other things this man had hidden in such manners. He took his own seat. "Very good. Elara, bring me my bag." "So, before we continue with this talk of the world, why don't we finish the one about what it is you were doing in Kvatch that started all this? Any business of one so well trained in illusion has to be interesting." asked Brutus as took a seat in the table close to Elara. "I was here to purchase an artifact from a traveling merchant. It turned out the N'wah never had it to begin with." Brutus's smile widened at this response. Now he was very interested. "Would this artifact perhaps be the Masque of Clavicus Vile?" Endar nodded. "As a matter of fact it is." his brow raised slightly. Apparently there had been more to his meeting than originally believed. "What do you know about the Masque?" "Oh about as much as what anyone would know about it. But the artifact isn't what interests me. What interests me is you! I had that artifact made for the sole purpose of attracting someone such as yourself to my fair corner of the worm to train me further in illusion magic! I made a mold of the masque from a description I read in a book, had a smith do the rest, then I sold it for "a steal" to some idiot Imperial. After that I just had to wait and see what famous wizard would pop in to inspect it! I figured surely someone of high talents in illusion would come to investigate claims of having an artifact such as the Masque of Clavicus Vile. And here you are! Although I haven't heard your name, but you must be skilled from what I've heard. Is teaching me something you would be interested in? I'd pay well, at least more well than a commoner would. Consider your bounty the first payment. And while you're here, you can partake in the rest of my....guests. As long as you're willing to...share. If that is something miss Elara would be...interested in?" Brutus shamelessly rubbed at the steward's knee, still looking towards her as he had been since before as he drank more wine. "That's a clever plan you had, with the Masque. Cost me quite a bit of trouble getting ahold of it though. Have you ever tried just asking around? You'd be surprised what that will get you." Endar looked at Elara, who was looking back at him nervously. "As much as I admire the effort you put into this, I'm afraid I'm going to have to decline. I have no interest in taking on a student, nor do I plan on staying in Kvatch for very long..." Elara looked at Endar pleadingly. She didn't want to lay with Brutus. The man was beyond strange and frankly, he terrified her. I can't make her do that. Endar paused. He felt strange for a moment. Wait what? Why should I care? "Money is not an issue for me. You can keep what I owe you. I can show you a few tricks if you will allow us to stay here for the night, but no longer... What you do with Elara is down to you two." Brutus was disappointed both in the decline and in the facial response Elara gave but he didn't show it. Besides, finding a bedmate wasn't exactly hard for him. But a master illusionist wasn't something you could come up with cheaply. Having one owe him somewhat for the predicament he was in financially would have been convenient, but alas it was not to be. "Very well, then. You two can stay the night. Perhaps you could show me that paralysis spell? I am afraid I only know one for single targets." Outside the door of the county house, a clamor had begun. One might even call it a kerfuffle. Loud voices and banging could be heard, and when the castle doors opened the loud voices spilled into the foyer and became an argument with the door guards. "We demand satisfaction!" a screeching voice shouted. Shortly thereafter, the din calmed down a bit when a smoother male voice spoke in reassuring tones. A nervous guard then came to announce the new guests to Count Brutus. "My lord, it's the Count of Skingrad's son, Lord Janus Bathory, to see you, and..." "And Punctilius CARO!" The owner of the screeching voice appeared behind the guard, announcing himself. It was the rector of Kvatch's Chapel of Akatosh. The grey-haired priest's robes billowed around him as he pushed past the guard and waved a bony finger at Brutus. "My lord, I..." His eyes fell on Endar, went wide, and the man's face turned three shades of purple. "My LORD. Daedra running through the streets! Terrorizing the citizenry! And you sit here supping with the blasphemer HIMSELF!" From behind the priest strolled a younger man with wavy blonde hair and ruddy good looks. He was in riding clothes of impeccable make, and carried himself with the confidence and swagger of a young nobleman. A swarthy, dark-haired manservant accompanied him. "Brutus," Janus Bathory said with a familiar tone and toothy smile. "It seems I arrived just in time to prevent a riot of your citizens. Don't worry, the rab..." He glanced at the priest. "That is, the good people of Kvatch are standing down, for now. But it does appear you've been up to no good again." While he spoke, the man was eyeing the table. He reached for a bunch of grapes, giving Elara a sly wink as he popped one into his mouth. Brutus kept his smile as the man ate his grapes. In fact his smile widened. Things were about to get interesting. "Janus, hello! Pray tell why I am graced with your presence in my court? Eating my food? And what's this about Daedra running in the streets?" The priest answered, even though no one had addressed him. "Do you not even know?! Have you not heard the cry of your people, my lord! The cries of terror and anguish-" Interrupting, Bathory said, "It seems your elf here summoned a daedroth in the middle of a town square..." "A HIDEOUS BEAST!" "...a daedroth, and it upset rather a few people. It's not the only matter of concern in your county that has come to our attention. In your court, to be precise." Janus Bathory- Jem, as he was more normally known- spoke to the count as though addressing a naughty schoolchild. Brutus stood up from the table now and walked over to his throne chair, speaking as he did. "And pray tell, what word is spreading about me in my court? My guest here has paid in full all of his charges, so am I not to be courteous to my guests as I am to all? Even the bellowing fly that fancies himself a priest of Akatosh?" The priest was sputtering and by all appearances close to a heart attack. Jem laid a hand on the priest's shoulder, ostensibly to calm him, but instead Caro's eyes went wide and spittle flew as he raged at Brutus. "You! You are the plague upon Kvatch! We know, oh yes we know. The debaucheries, the heathen SLANDERS. The people will not stand for it! They will rise up and cleanse you from this city like pus from a wound!" Jem's hand shifted, and the priest suddenly fell silent, mumbling, appearing downcast. "My flock," he said, disconsolate. "Perhaps you should return to them now, Reverend Father," Bathory said comfortingly. "They need you now, more than ever." "Yes. Yes, go to them." The priest turned and shuffled off toward the door, his shoulders sagging with the weight of Kvatch's many transgressions. Crossing to the other side of the table, Jem took the seat across from Endar and leaned back, propping his feet up on the table as if he owned the place. "Now we can chat in peace. I haven't met your guests, Brutus." "Aw, was that it? You bore me Janus. I was going to make that poor priest's head explode with the rest of my guests in the back room! In fact... GUARDSMAN! See my recent company out, please. Hurry along! I wish the priest of Akatosh to see my recent workings of Dibella! For that is all it is, I can assure you, Janus." Brutus kept his same mad gaze upon Janus as the guards ran by, even with the sounds of angry screams and curses from the women that were forced out of his quarters who were given no time to dress. "If you think this will bother me in the slightest...you are mistaken." Cheeks full of grapes, Jem said, "Oh, I know that you bother very little about actually running your... Well, it can't really be called a county, can it? Your nook. That sounds better." He grinned and reached to dip a cake into a pot of honey. "Actually I came to call in some notes at the Gold Coast Bank. Had no idea I'd find a riot when I arrived. That priest is quite the ambitious man. You should attend chapel more often, Brutus. I happened to catch his sermon about you this morning. Priceless." Brutus stood up from his chair and walked...or rather skipped over to the table before cart wheeling himself over it to the other side so he was sitting next to Jem. Afterwards, Brutus picked up a banana and peeled it before leaning his arm over Jem's and whispering in his ear. "Do you know why I don't like you or that priest? Because unlike myself...." Brutus slowly and suggestively put the banana closer and closer to his mouth before suddenly shoving it into Jem's chest. "you both fancy yourselves flies rather than maggots." Jem stood up abruptly, cursing. If there was one thing he hated, it was stains on his clothing. His eyes flashed briefly with undisguised hate, but in the next instant his expression turned calm again. While his manservant came up and began fastidiously wiping at the remnants of mashed banana, Jem wagged a finger. "Ah, ah, Brutus. You should be nicer to people. Especially to people who pay your bills." Bathory turned to the Dunmer wizard, sounding concerned. "Does he owe you money, too? I'd get it up front and in a hurry, if I were you." Endar nodded, smiling. He'd been eating this whole time, apparently not caring one bit about what the two nobles were quarreling over, or the cause for such hostility between them. In truth though, Jem had caught his attention moments after he'd entered the hall. There was an interesting conflict here to be sure. The wizard wondered if Brutus knew what he was dealing with. "I appreciate your concern but it is hardly necessary. I am not here to collect, but to pay." He took took a couple grapes himself and plopped them into his mouth. "Right, right," Jem offered cheerily. The manservant was still swabbing, and Bathory pushed him away and sat back down. "Your fines for that daedra business. Well, Brutus, doing a little law enforcement after all? And just who are you again?" The last was directed to the Dunmer. "Again? I wasn't aware that I had been introduced a first time. I suppose you wouldn't recognize the robes? I am Endar Drenim, Master Wizard of the House Telvanni." Endar was not actually Telvanni. Not anymore. But that was hardly a relevant detail at the moment. "Telvanni." The Skingrad noble whistled softly. "Master wizards. Live in giant mushrooms. Do you ever get mold on your robes, I wonder? Or is that so normal in your part of Tamriel that no one notices?" Then Jem remembered something... He stood, suddenly in a hurry to go. "I must excuse myself, gentleman and Brutus. I've got some work left to do in Kvatch before I return to civilization." Laying a hand on the Count of Kvatch's shoulder, he said, "You know, Brutus, your little dung heap here was a protectorate of Skingrad for a long time after the Oblivion Crisis. We still consider you our poor cousins. If I hear of more riots, I'll have my father send you some troops to help put things to right. Can't have religious riots spreading to Skingrad, after all." Motioning to the manservant to beat tracks, Jem retreated without a glance back. Endar looked at Brutus as the noble left, taking a handful of walnuts as he did. "Cheerful friend you've got there." Brutus sat there for a while, thinking...calculating...never losing that same curious smirk on his face... "Yes...he is a fool is what he is. Ironic I know coming from one such as myself. To you, maybe I look the fool. But people have made that mistake before. Didn't end well. Tell you what! I want you to reconsider! You help me train at least for a while and agree to be my partner to help deal with these Skingrad sorts! A powerful Master Wizard of House Telvanni would surely make them think twice about messing with me. You saw how quickly Jem beat feet when you mentioned that! Not only will I pay you, but I'll give you my staff! Here." Brutus got up and walked back to the throne, picked up his staff and tossed it over to Endar. "Eh? What do you think of that? It's a special staff perfect for those trained in illusion. Its made of ebony with silver etched on it in a spiral. It has...special properties that I can explain to you later if you agree to help me before you go on your way for good. It's enchanted with the power of a sigil stone...It would make up partly for your wasted trip for the Masque of Clavicus Vile. As for the money, as you heard it isn't all mine, but that isn't your problem, now is it?" The wizard looked at Brutus thoughtfully. This time, truly considering his offer. The Count was an interesting man, and obviously knew enough to make training him easier than it would be for some. But he was also clever, more so than he gave away. Endar looked over the staff, Turning it over in his fingers. He could feel the energy in it. Definitely Daedric. Endar tossed the staff back to Brutus. "Thanks, but I have no need nor desire for it. That noble's money is more than enough for me... That and some discussion of course. I would study what it is that you believe. And if you need help dealing with that... man. I can help. At least I think I can. Elara, how does my schedule look?” Elara opened Drenim's journal to the schedule pages. They were all filled to the brim, mostly with things she couldn't even comprehend. "Uhh, it looks full sir." "I know that! I mean is there anything of pressing concern?" The page she was currently on that was for all of next week's dealings had a bunch of impossible to read scribbles and some odd rune sketches. There was also a crude picture of what looked like a large half-woman-half spider eating a white Elf. "I don't... think so." "Good." he turned back to Brutus. "I will help you. But only because I'm curious to see how a man like you would deal with an enemy like him." Brutus walked back over to Endar and shook his hand to seal the deal. "The only way I know how, Master. Hehehehe! With the power of illusion!" Releasing his hand, Endar looked the Count in the eyes, a very serious expression on his face. "Then you'll need to get to practicing, because he..." Endar motioned with his thumb back to the door Jem had left through. "...will not be an easy one to fool."
  5. Skjari, Samuel Imperial palace Afternoon Skjari was sitting by his desk rereading the previous court mage's journals for what have been the seventh time, he had lost track after the fourth time so it was only a guess. So far he couldn't find the clues he needed to to the riddle of divine fire. Suddenly he sensed someone nearby, his magical hold over the palace had increased and was the strongest around his quarters, and this someone was not among the living. It wasn't Maggie as he would have recognized her presence. This was someone, or something, else. The presence drew closer and closer till it was just outside the door and then he heard knocking. Whatever it is, it got some decency. Maybe one of Maggie's friends... or rivals. "Come in." He said as he closed the journal he was currently reading and had them fly over and place themselves in the bookshelf. The door opened and closed, but no one went through. To anyone else, this would have been strange, but Skjari could sense that someone was there and exactly where in the room. The figure of a tall, pale and dark haired Colovian appeared with one hand holding a ring. "It seems we meet again, King." "Enchantments are hard to suppress. Best way I know of is to drain the magic in the item, but even that is tricky. But what brings you here?" "They are indeed. Which is why they are so useful when moving around the palace. Since the magic is mostly internal to the item itself, there are few ways to disrupt it." Samuel looked around the room for a split second, but didn't appear to see anything of interest. "I thought it was high time we met, in a more official capacity than the brief introduction in Skyrim. I had halfway expected you to react to my presence back then, but I suppose I'm getting better at masking it when I want to." "Sorry but I was a bit dull back then, still is, but not as much." "Of course. You're not very talkative, are you? I suppose I wouldn't be either." "I'm more talkative with people I can see come through the door." "Come now, you surely know that seeing one with ones eyes is just one form of visibility. We both know that you could see me perfectly long before I knocked on your door. If you're going to take any offense to a convenience of mine when it comes to walking around the palace the few times I need to, I might as well leave right now; leaving you in the dark of some important information." "I don't take offense, I just find that when someone enters the room like you do, I don't expect small talk." "Offering your perspective in more than a single sentence is hardly small talk. I know you haven't been here long, but being as dismissive as you appear will not serve you well in the heart of the Empire. You may not like to talk to people, but this is Cyrodiil. Words carry the society, such is the Voice of the Emperor." "I'm being dismissive because you haven't brought up anything I find to be of interest. You said you had important information." He reminds me a little bit of Alduin. Or was it Paarthurnax? Which one liked to lecture like that? It was definitely Alduin, Paarthurnax was more patient. "And there is where your problem lies. This isn't Skyrim, and it certainly isn't the era you grew up in. The world has changed and will have no qualms breaking you down piece by piece if you're not mindful of that. If you lose your opportunity to control the Ruby Throne with Dales, you'll have blown your chances as long as the memories of this time remain." Samuel had raised his eyebrow with a disappointed expression. "By now you should have some idea of who I am; I have made no effort to hide my presence and purpose from your gaze. However, your attitude suggests that you're either not competent enough to see something obvious, or you think yourself above what I can offer. Neither of which will serve you well." "Take a seat and lets talk then. I don't think you came here to argue." Samuel deferred to his wish and pulled out the closest chair, changing his expression from the disappointed one to one that was simply neutral. "Indeed, I did not. I did expect that you'd take the little time it would take to show me the same courtesy I have tried to show you by coming here, but maybe I expected too much. Surely the brief introduction we had in Skyrim must have been a moment of extreme hospitality on your part, if this is anything to judge it by. I had honestly expected better from a King when introduced to a potential ally." "More like your invisible entry set my expectations for a direct approach to the matter, without formalities and courteous behavior. I think we need to take into consideration that we have different experiences. So I think we have slightly different ideas of what courtesy means. But lets talk about what you came for before we start arguing again." "I don't believe you honestly think courtesy has to mean proper speech and a bow when I enter. Courtesy can, as I am sure you know, mean that I do take the risk of being caught trespassing in the palace in a time of social instability, on the verge of needing martial law," Samuel once more seemed to be a little disappointed in the host. "I didn't come here for anything. I came here since I knew that sooner or later you would want me to show up, due to what is about to happen in this city, because I know who are behind it and what they are after. Tell me, who in the Imperial City do you consider the greatest threat to yourself or Dales?" "Excuse me then, I've had a long day reading boring books." Skjari leaned back in his chair like he was relaxing for the first time in several hours. "I have a feeling of where this is going. Lorgar is up to something. I didn't expect him to make a move so soon. Did he contact you directly about this or did your spies dig it up?" "I knew you weren't as blind as you seemed to present yourself. Please, in the future, don't hold back on such things, it makes it easier to talk to you as an equal, rather than just another client. But yes, Lorgar is up to something and said something is a potential threat to your hand on the Ruby Throne." Skjari's face got a thoughtful expression. "Only way for him to win is with a Pyrrhic victory. Though I doubt he will be able to see that or even care if he does see. So lets hear it then, so far I have a few guesses on what he's up to but I'm sure you know more precisely." "Lorgar is quite unstable, it seems. Or maybe it is that he is so stable that he cannot steer away from this. What is important is that he doesn't care about the risks involved to himself; what he does care about is the connection between you and the Empress, and how to separate the two of you. The only predictable thing is his goal, but I think he knows that he is on the verge of desperation. Or so I would say from our brief meeting about this subject. What actions he chooses to reach his goal is beyond my ability to predict, at this point." "I think I know how to turn his desperation into his downfall. And so far I've only toyed with the idea of exposing his communing with Hircine. Say, how good are you at spreading rumors?" "One of the Speakers of the Dark Brotherhood from the time the Septims disappeared is reported to have said "Dear Brother, I do not spread rumors. I create them". If you want rumors of Lorgar being tied to Hircine in the city or in the country, I can easily arrange such a thing. He already provided me with the tools to make it happen, when he threatened me to not cross him. Describing oneself as one of Hircine's Chosen truly shows a lack of subtlety and caution.” "Add a little hidden and unstable insanity about him to the rumors as well." He chuckled. "The irony is that none of these rumors will be directly false. And it will make things easier when people start to check up on them." "Indeed," Samuel replied with a small smile. "Lorgar has done few favors for himself. Your dismissal of Words might be problematic in the long run, but his dismissal of caution and finesse can easily end him in a moments notice. In return, I ask that you no longer try to have me followed. I'd say that is a fair price to pay, considering what I have already given you." "I had a feeling you might have noticed. I doubt I will find the need to keep a small eye on you if you stay true to your words here. Besides that eye will be more focused on Lorgar from now on, so I hope you don't mind if that eye falls upon you as well if he are ever in contact with him. But now if you spread these rumors carefully so he can't trace them back to either of us, I got some plans of what to do next but I first need to see Lorgar's reaction the consequences that will come of these rumors." "In about a week or so, a trader will come, reportedly having visited the island of Solstheim not too long ago, but most recently been in Skyrim and had to see the horrors of the war firsthand in Falkreath. Said trader will be accompanied by some associates and will find themselves in various taverns and inns on the way to the Imperial City, speaking just a tad too loudly about a man named Lorgar; said to be a Hircine worshiper from Solstheim that has infiltrated the courts. Given that he has, as far as I've been able to find out, been as he is his whole life, rumors about him making it around Solstheim is far from unreasonable. And not even a lie, though they usually cannot be tied to him in his present life. The mental instability is best spread as an exaggeration of his daedra worship. sometime after these rumors start to take hold." "No need to rush things. Yet. I will try to slow him down with lots of extra work to keep him busy so he wont be able to plan or try to stop these rumors. He will barely have time to sleep. I don't really want to bother you with all the details of what I aim to do next and I'm sure you are able to make some good guesses anyway. Now is there anything you require of me?" "Not at the moment, but I would be grateful if I can call upon a favor of my choosing when the time comes. It is not something that will endanger you or your hold on the Ruby Throne, but it would be most useful for me when i need it. Carrying a little extra power is going to be needed, I think. For the time being, I believe we should steer clear of each other, even to the knowledge of people like Magdela Bathory. If you need to talk to me in a hurry, you can talk to Aleffea. She occasionally keeps the Empress with company." "Who? And I would prefer if it doesn't endanger my homeland in any way as well." "Aleffea. I'm sure you'll recognize her; she is one of the very few elves around this palace. And don't worry about your homeland, this is a domestic matter of a... personal sort. That is all you need to know for now." Skjari's face got hint anger, as did his voice. "An elf? I don't do well with elves. I think you need to find a new contact for me. I also advice you to remove her from Dales presence." Samuel raised an eyebrow at him, before he let out a short chuckle. "A hatred of Mer. I see. Doesn't matter to me; I never intended Aleffea to stay at this palace to begin with. Alas, your Empress chose to bring her here. That said, pulling Alef out is a triviality. Nor is offering to find a new contact for you to use. I'm sure you've been to bed with several of them, if the rumors about you bedding the servants are true." "I have a history with elves. One that is covered in blood. So I hope you understand. And about the contact; you only need to give me a name then." "Sivera." Skjari smiled a little. "I remember her, she is quite... No, I'm not going to share any details. But I can say she will probably work quite well as a contact." "I'm sure. I recommend that you find a companion for the Empress of your own, now that Alef will no longer visit her. Seeing how her first reaction to Alef being willing to serve her was to make her a mistress, I'd be worried about what other pretty-face she might drag into the palace. I'm not the only one in the city with contacts, and there are people who would be very happy to get their hands on information from inside the palace. People who may try to use it to take the throne for themselves." "I will keep a small eye on her. Though I get the feeling she wont be a problem." "Right. I doubt she is even able to defy your orders. Still, information leaking can cause you a lot of damage in the long run, so I stand by my advice of finding a new bedmate for her yourself; one that you can trust." "I'll try." "Good. For this association to be beneficial on my end, I'll have to keep you in power. Whenever you need it, and I am in town, I am open to give you advice on the city and its politics, or see if I cannot pass on lists of nobles who support you and the ones who doesn't. Now, unless there was something else, I think our business here is concluded." "Give my regards to Maggie." "I can't, remember? This meeting is to stay between the two of us, for now. You'll see me the next time you need me... or when I come to call in my favor. Goodbye, King." Samuel got to his feet and gave him a short bow, before he turned around and walked out the door. As the door closed behind him, he disappeared from sight.
  6. Lorgar, Samuel, Imperial City, Evening, Lorgar waited under a tree. He was in one of the many gardens of the newly restored Talos plaza district. It was raining very heavily, and it was extremely cloudy. He wore his typical outfit, along with a hat called a "beret" which was getting extremely popular to wear in the legion. He was smoking a cigar, waiting for the vampire known as Samuel. "Lorgar," the sound of Samuel's voice came from behind the tree as the man walked around and took a seat beside him. "Still smoking I see. Well, you'll have to forgive me; my old habits made me take a small souvenir from your office, but I am afraid it is already gone. I needed it for a special occasion, you understand." "Of course, If you needed a Cigar, you could have asked though..." Lorgar took another puff, and let the rain fall freely down upon him. It felt quite nice. The noise of rain was pleasing to the ear, as an added Bonus. "I have two important matters to discuss with you sir, one of which would be considered high treason." "Then you should have chosen a better place than this. I can count three people from the Thieves Guild, all of them able to move unsuspiciously into ears range on a moments notice, one of the nobles who are trying to get in the new Empress' good graces so he can secure a better place for his family in the world and four people who are reporting to me and my network. If you want to discuss anything of importance with me, go to Tanie's establishment and ask for Alef." Samuel whispered, before he got to his feet and simply walked away, leaving Lorgar alone. "'****..." Lorgar straightened out his Beret, and headed to the "establishment" in the rain (Or whorehouse as Tullius called it). *** Lorgar went to the counter, and asked the lady-in charge, "Excuse me ma'em. I need to see one of your girls, Alef?" "What? Oh, right... Sorry, I was a bit distracted. Who was you looking for again?" the woman who had been behind the counter when Dales had visited looked at the Nord, with a feint blush on her cheeks. It was never fun to be caught off guard, but she had managed to hide what she was doing. "Alef." "Oh, right, the Dunmer," with a smile she raised an eyebrow at him; it was clearly only meant to be a friendly comment. "A Nord with a Dunmer? That is... unusual. I think I like the thought of that." "Ironic..." Lorgar eyes hardened. He himself remembered all the tales of abuse the Dumner faced in Stormcloak controlled holds. He personally thought, that it was over played for imperial proganda, but if it was true, it disgusted him. But, rumors are rumors, and he wasn't really been to any Stormcloak controlled holds during the Civil war, so he cant confirm or deny the tales "If you would be so kind to point me to her..."area". I would also prefer to pay in advance if you don't mind." "Oh, she's the one who'll show you to her 'area', I can't go in there with you. But I'll show you to her room. Follow me." Lorgar followed the woman up a flight of stars, and into a hall way. "Here you go, Sir," at the end of the hallway, she pointed to the door. She sounded a little nervous. Did she recognize him? Or was she always like that? "Now, i'll better get back to the front. Have a good time." Lorgar didn't respond, as he advanced down the hall way. Once he got there, he slowly opened the door. The room was empty, or so it appeared at first glance. But Samuel hadn't made any effort to hide himself, beyond being invisible in case someone came it, and had even brought out his fake heartbeats to let Lorgar know that he was in the room. As soon as he closed the door behind him, he'd turn visible. Lorgar, detected somone in the area. A heart beat. He hated games. Two silver short-blades came out of the sleeves of his trench coat, and into his leather gloved hands. Just to show the vampire he wasn't in the mood to **** around, "I hate games, show yourself Samuel." "Not a game, Lorgar, just a precaution. I wouldn't want someone walking in here and see me, unless it was you. That much should be self-evident." Samuel appeared in a chair by the window. The only other place to sit would be the bed itself, and Samuel gestured to it. "Please, take a seat so we can get to business. Don't worry, I've muffled the room." The two silver short blades disappeared from Lorgar's hands and back into his coat. Lorgar walked towards the bed, and cautiously took a seat. Now, you said you wanted to commit high treason. And something else. Please, do start with the minor of these, I prefer to not have the high treason plans overshadowing the other thing." "A squad of Vigilants are causing a ruckus in the Imperial City. My agent's tell me there hunting something. They don't know what....but apparently , one of them was seen showing a certain book to a merchant, asking questions. That book...was Camille. Who or what are they after?" "Ah, Trym Heart-Hand," Samuel shook his head a little. "He's after me and Maggie. And any other vampire in the city. We have the situation under control, as far as that is possible. You getting involved would only make things worse; Vigilants are not above declaring you worthy of being put to the Light, as they would say." Lorgar's face filled with worry at the mention of Maggie, but soon went back to it's normal stoic self. "If you have it under control, I wont meddle...." Lorgar started to stroke his beard, before saying half-jokingly, "This whole incident was caused by Camilla, right? Cant fathom how some Yuri could cause such trouble for you and Maggie." "A book that contained a plot that was in the range of what the Order is. While I don't believe this is a deliberate choice by Maggie, anyone who knows a thing or two about vampires would be suspicious of the book itself. And anyone hunting the Order would likely try to get in contact with Ro- I mean Magdela. However, I am not convinced this book is the only reason he is after us. Anyway, this is a matter you best stay out of. Involving yourself will make it worse for Maggie; it would bring too much attention to this issue." "As I said, I wont mettle." Lorgar's face filled with dread, as he switched topics, "Now if that's settled...I found some...very disturbing information in a book" "And said information is?" Samuel raised an eyebrow, looking more interested in him getting to the point, rather than going around it "The book in question was...extremely old. Dated 2nd era I found it at a rare books store, I was on a date-outing with someone. It's called "Forgotten Magic's of Tamriel. One thousand gold pieces later, and hours of reading it...it talked about, in detail a man know not for his name or face, only that he most likely lived in the Metheric era. It talked about...binding rituals....very similar to what the court mage appartley used on Empress Dales. Furthermore, I don't care how the mage learned such magic, but it went into...gruesome details on the type of magic, and control the spell holds over the person. "And now you want to make a move against the new court mage in the White-Gold." "I can’t let that man control Dales, I won’t. As her sworn servant, I must protect her, and this man is currently a massive threat to her." "But since she is controlled by the court mage, acting against him will have you charged with high treason. Sounds like a familiar position. In its own way, it is a lot like the Stormcloaks rebellion against the Empire; they too couldn't do what they thought was right without being considered traitors. But I need more than that if I am going to help you. I need specifics on how you hope to accomplish this. And I need to know why you thought it to be a good idea to come to me with this. After all, I am an information broker. Trusting me with anything has its risks. I am not saying I have any intentions of betraying you, merely trying to understand why you act as you do.” "Because...I have no other choice. I'm taking a gamble with you...And yes, I have a basis to start on a way to unbind Dales, if you hear me out," Samuel looked at him, now with a raised eyebrow. Not in a skeptical way, but one that told Lorgar that he wanted him to go on without having to say the word. "According to the book, on the ancient Nordic tablet that described the magic, the words "Sil Cairn" were on it. "Sil Cairn" roughly translates into "Soul Cairn" in common." Lorgar folded his hands, "I presume you know what the Soul Cairn is, master Samuel?" "I know about as much as any mortal can I suppose, but I never was a necromancer. I don't have any intimate understanding of the place; you'd want a master of the arts of necromancy for that." "Of course. I researched it intensely at the arcane university, and talked to a few former Synod members. The Soul Cairn is a realm of Oblivion, independent of any Daedric prince and ruled instead by a group of mysterious figures only known as the "Ideal Masters". Details on the geography of the place is extremely sketchy at best, with only a tiny description appearing in the infamous "Doors of Oblivion" being described as "Dark, and horrifying, filled with Undead monstrosities" . Anyway's what I did gather, was almost all the magic that is drawn from there is powered by soul gems, as a "price" you have to pay to the Ideal masters. However, while most soul gems are consumed when used, some powerful spells require the soul gem to be active and remain, as a conduit for the spell. Binding someone's soul to your very essence and obey your every order fits that criteria." "And you want my help in finding out if he is indeed using a soul gem, and, if that is the case, how you can interrupt the magic so the Empress can be free of his control. This is a very extensive task you want me to carry out, Lorgar. Even for me this would be extremely difficult, meaning it would be extremely expensive for you." "Half-right, I can figure out the second part myself. And for the first part, I can give you a starting point. The mage mentioned, taking the "Princess somewhere" safe to perform the ritual, meaning he has a lair of some sorts. Which is most likely located somewhere in his homeland, Skyrim. And about the money, I can afford it. Blackwood was a...very wealthy fief when I acquired it. Add that with my salary afforded by both my position as Lord-Major and Royal Spymaster...let's just say I need somewhere to spend my money." Lorgar slowly took out a cigar, lighted it, and smoked. He eyed Samuel warily, "You don't have to take the job." "I doubt it," Samuel replied, referring to the comment about Lorgar being able to figure out the part about how to interrupt the spell himself. "This is magical power up and beyond that of any normal practitioner of the arts. Simply disrupting the spell might have severe side-effects on the Empress. If her soul is tied to him, the last thing you want to is to act without knowing what can happen. And you can't go to any official groups about this, in case the court mage finds out. And I do have to take the job, at least from your perspective. Without me and my resources, your attempts will have failed before they begun." " Very True. But it won’t stop me trying on my own." "Of course not, even though it should. But I suppose it doesn't matter. The price for the job is 25,000 gold, plus potential additional fees, depending on how difficult it turns out to be." "Expensive, but everything of such value is. Deal." Lorgar's eyes darkened, "But don't double cross me. If you do...it'll be more then a punch in the face from me." Lorgar left those words Ambiguous. Samuel regarded him with what seemed to be... amusement? That couldn't be right, could it? "Lorgar, you're making a pointless threat. Disappointing really. If I chose to cross you, I'd be thorough enough to make sure you wouldn't be in a position to take revenge on anyone. You might be a powerful creature, but there is more than just physical power. And you are threatening someone who has defeated more powerful people than you without ever lifting a blade. Be mindful of who you are talking to, the next time you feel like threatening someone. In the Imperial City... it rarely serve you for the better. There is so much red tape here that this can easily be described as the heart of my power. And if you want to know what that means, you can always ask Marius why he left the Imperial Legion." "Physical power, as you call it, has won conflict after conflict, on the other side, so had words and other forms of non-violence. But heed me vampire, I'm not an idiot as I seem to be, I can lie very well. And I also know about what happened at that camp in Falkreath. Unlike Marius, vengeance doesn't blind me, you treated the situation as business, he treated it personally. That's why he's probably drinking his sorrows away, or getting into some man-whores pants as we speak. I treat this as business, and as long as you remember that, we'll be perfectly fine Do you know how the chosen of Hircine gain power? They rip the hearts out of there prey." "It has indeed, but it cannot win every conflict. And it cannot win a conflict between the two of us. Even if you kill me now, you've doomed yourself. The best you can get is a draw, and that is if I don't manage to escape. Not to mention that there are numerous failsafe plans in the case of my death in my network. But don't worry; this is just business. Now, unless you intend to trigger said failsafes, I assume we are done here?" "We are..." Lorgar got off the bed, put his black Beret on, and walked towards the door. Before leaving the room, he smiled, and flashed his fang-like teeth, "Oh...I researched your name, through inquiries, I stumbled upon a very intimidating nick-name, "Demon of a thousand faces", does that ring a bell by any chance "Samuel"? "Would you believe me if I said no?" "No...no I would not..." And with that Lorgar left the room.
  7. Maggie and Skjari Imperial Palace before dawn Maggie lay awake next to the Witch King, watching him. He slept deeply, like mortals, though she could hardly think of him as such. It was still a mystery to her what he was. He was quite unlike anything she had experienced. She had only rarely slept with those of her own kind, which brought with it too many complications and expectations. The mortals whom she could easily manipulate were safer. Nor did she need to be here for the sake of influence in the palace. The empress was generous enough to her without that, and had made it clear earlier that day that Maggie could have more influence with her if she wanted. So why had she left the empress and gone to Skjari? It was bad business for a courtesan to offer herself to someone without gaining something of real value in it. Her allure was as much in making men believe they couldn't have her as that they could. There was some safety here. He was the closest thing she had to a peer without Order connections, which were all tainted by her father's pull. Perhaps that was reason enough. And the sex... Her thoughts were interrupted by the wizard's expression changing. He was still deep asleep, but his face hardened and his teeth clenched. Maggie watched, fascinated. He was dreaming. It was no pleasant dream, judging by the tension in his expression. Should she wake him? Maggie rose from the bed and threw on the dressing gown she now kept in his quarters, then sat back down on the bed. "My lord," she ventured quietly. When he didn't react, she reached out a hand, touching his chest. "Skjari." Skjari opened his eyes and quickly sat up like he was going to rush out of the bed. He breathed heavily for a second like he was catching his breath and then let out a sigh. He brought his right up and rubbed his eyes with thumb and index finger, he had a troubled expression on his face. Not a word came from his mouth but he instead stared down towards the footing of the bed with eyes filled with fear and sorrow. Maggie watched him a while, then stood and poured a glass of water, brought it back to the bed and reached it out to him. "A dream, my lord. Whatever it was, it's in the past now." She waited, then added, "Perhaps long past?" He grabbed the glass and instead of drinking the water he splashed it into his face then shook the head a little. "A long past... that never stops haunting my dreams," he said with a distant and slightly bitter voice. With the back of her fingers, Maggie gently brushed at the dripping water on his neck. "This happens often?" "Every night." He closed his eyes and let his head drop. Astonished, Maggie let her hand fall to his shoulder, though not seductively as she otherwise might, rather a comforting gesture. "That is why I am here," she said, hazarding a guess. "Yes." He did not lift his head or even open his eyes when he spoke in a tone that sounded like he had tasted defeat. Withdrawing her hand, Maggie said, "Not for the same reasons, but I suppose it is that for me, as well. My time with you... It is difficult for me to admit, but I have rarely felt..." She stopped, then began again. "With you I can forget myself, for a time. That is most unusual." Skjari was quiet for a couple of seconds before looking up at Maggie. "Hard life?" "Some would call it pampered. Still, there are many expectations put on me, and always the illusions I must maintain in society. Power comes at a cost." She glanced at him. "Do you still see her? Is it she who appears in your nightmares?" "Sometimes." Maggie considered this. "In my book I wrote that you grew weary of life and put yourself in the twilight sleep once you had a successor who could take your place. But I think that this was not correct. You saw your kingdom fall?" He chuckled a little, seemingly amused for a second before it faded away. "For all my failings, that was not one them. But it wouldn't have surprised me if it fell one year after I left." "You had a son then?" Maggie stretched out again next to him, propping her head on her hand. "No, I never had a child but..." He was quiet for a couple of seconds. "She was..." His eyes grew distant as if he had lost himself in a memory. "She was with child," the countess supplied quietly. That explained a great deal. "What about your family? Did you have brothers, sisters?" "Dead," he said in a bitter tone. "All dead." He then looked at her. "What about you?" "I have a brother and a sister." Maggie paused, then added, "That I know about." She sat up again, and stood, slowly walking across to the window. They were high above the Imperial City, and the sun was beginning to come up, catching the glint off Lake Rumare. "I cannot say that I'm glad for them. Our power may seem petty compared to what you once held, but that makes it more difficult to share it. Impossible, perhaps." Glancing back at the bed, she asked, "Could you have destroyed your own family, if they were your enemies, instead of the elves you battled?" "And what would we have fought over? Wood? My family were woodcutters, and they died before I could even grow my first chin hair." "You were a commoner." This surprised her more than anything he had yet revealed. "Then who taught you to wield magic? I can't imagine this was a common art among the woodcutters of ancient Skyrim." He had an empty stare in his eyes as he spoke. "No, but everything I had and knew was destroyed in one of the elves' raids. Alone and close to starvation, I was found out in the wilderness by a coven. At first it was similar to a mage guild except that they had some minor studies in necromancy. The leaders were three female mages, later they became witches and then hagravens in their quest for power." His mind was screaming for him to shut up, but the words just flowed out of his mouth. "That's where I met her. But she was framed by one the three elven members and she was executed, while all I could do was watch. A few years later I killed the hagravens and took over. Soon thereafter I ran an army and later ruled the whole of Skyrim." This was more words than the wizard had spoken to her since she'd known him. "You made your own destiny from the ashes," Maggie said, her voice more animated than she intended. "I envy your freedom, Skjari, though you suffered a great deal for it to come about. You answer to no one. Not even to the empress who brought you here." He had now lost the empty stare and looked at her with a slight curiosity in his eyes. "And how did you become what you are now?" "My father conducted the rite." These were secrets that she had never spoken aloud to anyone, and her life would be forfeit if it were known that she had, but the words came out anyway. "It is a death of sorts, so you can imagine that it isn't pleasant. I woke from a days-long nightmare with more vigor and clarity than I'd ever possessed, but hungry. So hungry. He brought my nanny, who'd been my wetnurse when I was a baby. She probably always knew what would happen to her someday when she was no longer needed, but it wasn't necessary to make me do it. That was my father's idea of a test. I drank her dry. Mother's milk for my new life. I was eighteen years old." Maggie found that she was shaking. She sank into a chair. "Power always comes at a cost. That was some twenty years before you and I met in the ruin." "I always felt I paid my price long in advance. Did you grow up in the mountains or in Skingrad?" Recovering her calm, Maggie answered, "Mostly in the mountains. I was sent into the world sometimes, disguised or as an unknown, in order to prepare me. Otherwise all I would have known of the world was my own family, and wouldn't have made a very convincing performance in high society. I spent some time in a Breton brothel learning the arts of a courtesan, for instance. Skingrad was always where we meant to live. My extended family has long ruled there in one form or another." She paused and said, "You have kept your vigor, more than the usual shriveled old wizard. I think you must have slept for a long time, yes?" He looked away, out the window. "I don't even know how old I am. All I know is that was born before Ysgramor and Atmora." He turned his eyes back at her. "What happened with you after we parted ways in my old ruin?" She smiled ruefully. "I had a bit of trouble over that little adventure. Somehow my father found out about our meeting. He must have been watching us. I was locked in my rooms and saw no one but him for months afterward, other than a servant who was forbidden to speak to me. That is when I wrote your story, or what I imagined your story to be. Maybe you can understand why that chance meeting always meant something to me. Of course I could have gone into the twilight sleep myself if I had wanted to, but I dislike it. As you said, you wake and don't know how much time has passed or what has happened to the world. Was Skyrim very changed when you saw it again?" "That explains why I felt that there was something... else in the ruin." He smiled a little for half a second. "You can imagine the surprise when I saw that my old citadel and the whole capital was gone and found frozen wasteland in it's place. Winterhold was warmer back then, but then again Haafingar and Hjaalmarch was colder. My biggest surprise though was that the dragons were gone. But that seemed to have changed now, I wonder if some of them still remember me." "I studied the events in Skyrim a bit for my latest book, but I'm not sure how much of it is true. They've been hunted nearly to extinction once more. If the stories are true, then most of them will never come back again. That seems a great shame to me, even if it was necessary. In your time, did you know these dragons as friends or enemies?" "I wouldn't call any of them friends. But I wouldn't say we were their enemies. Although they weren't nice creatures they were viewed as children of Bormahu, or Akatosh as he is now called, our most revered god. But the Dragon Temple was crumbling when I took power because of daedric cults cropping up in the land. I wiped out these cults and reinstated the Dragon Temple as the dominant religion in Skyrim. The Dragon Temple even forged and blessed my sword as a form of thanks. And being on the dragons good side proved useful as a few even aided me in the my wars. Though I can honestly say that Alduin was quite an arrogant prick to deal with." He did a small frown with his face as he mentioned Alduin. Maggie laughed at his choice of words. "The immortal has a hard time respecting the mortal. Perhaps if there were more still living who could speak with the dragons, this latest war with them would have taken another course. You will have noticed the dragon symbolism here in our capital. My Heartland forefathers were slaves to the elves, and owe their freedom to the dragon god, as the historians tell it. Though my family are also of very old Nord lineage. It would be interesting to know if yours and mine were linked somehow." She recalled something from her discussion with the ghost in the ruin, and said, "Tell me of your 'Wraiths.' Your sentry spoke of them." "They were my elite. Some of the-, if not the best magicians and swordsmen in the land. It was largely due to them that I managed to hold onto power for so long. They could work as spies, assassins, soldiers, guards and so on. They were like an extension of myself." He did not like what she could ask next and decided to change subject. "Why did you start writing books?" Maggie had more questions about his magic, but guessed that he was changing the subject on purpose. Since she recalled his warning about having destroyed all knowledge of how he maintained his power, it was better left alone. To his question she replied, "My mother liked to write. Letters, mostly. I was so lonely that I would take and read them, too. From that and inspired by the history and story books in our library, I began to create stories of my own. In writing I was free. I could go anywhere, and make up lives more interesting than my own." With a little smile she added, "I found out much later that my father employed clerks to write to my mother, pretending to be all sorts of people. There were few real correspondents she could safely communicate with, back then. I'm not sure that Mother would even mind if she knew. I suppose that her letters quite like my novels in that way. How was it that you found my book? You recognized yourself in it? Your name, Witch King, must have been a clue." "I heard about a book, and the description of it's story was something I found to be too similar to our little incident. So I decided to read it myself. I recognized some things about myself but also found some things to be the product of your wild imagination." He chuckled a little at the last part. "You mention your father quite a lot." At mention of her father, Maggie's smile vanished. "He's a powerful man. Until recently I did not even realize how much. I admire him, after a fashion, but there is no love between us. If I don't satisfy his wishes, then eventually..." She paused, finding it difficult to put to words. "He will destroy me. Perhaps sooner rather than later. I'm reckless, he says, and that part is true. However my greater crime is not bowing sufficiently to his control. His pride cannot bear that." "You sure know how to make friends with the nicest of people," he said in a sarcastic tone. Laughing, Maggie replied, "Don't I now. Welcome to Cyrodiil, Lord Skjari. Though I imagine it is much the same anywhere where there is power for people to fight over. The Thalmor have been manipulating these power balances for over thirty years, and now you and the empress have shifted things yet again. Are you confident in her?" "I think she will manage. And even though Cyrodiil is quite different from my old kingdom I think my experience will be able to help her with that. But now I think we've had enough talk but not enough action." He smiled a little devious smile with the right corner of his mouth. "Are you weary of my talking?" Maggie smiled coyly and rose to her feet, the dressing gown falling half open as she did so. She took her time in crossing to his side of the bed. Reaching out a hand, she stroked his cheek with one finger. "Sometime when you are weary of this whole city, you must let me show you a bit of Cyrodiil. We can go in secret if you wish. Perhaps you would be interested in the doomstones." As she spoke, Maggie's finger trailed from his cheek to his chest, and she began to climb on top of him. "They have little magical power, but are a strange curiosity nonetheless. There is a Dragon Stone..." Leaning forward, Maggie touched his forehead with her lips, then moved slowly along his cheek on the way to his mouth. "And a Lover's Stone. I would especially like to show you that one." It was all too obvious, as her tongue slid along his lip, what she envisioned doing there.
  8. Honmund, Aenin Gallows Rock Midday The outer wall of Gallows Rock appeared before them, with the sentry yelling to the rest that the "boss was in sight". Moments later, a figure he'd recognize at a mile away peeked over the walls. Even from here, Honmund could see the scolding expression on her face. He smiled; nothing like being around her. As soon as Frei had appeared, she disappeared again, probably to work on her alchemy. She seemed to have little interest in what went on around her, as long as people left her alone. Well, left her alone to the degree that it didn't interfere with said people getting her the ingredients she wanted. In truth, Honmund couldn't understand her all that much. Or how they had ever gotten involved. The meeting? Sure, he knew that part; she was stranded in his territory after a shipwreck, which was far from unusual, but how fast she had moved to the top of his group was more than a little unnerving. Sometimes he felt that she could have overthrown him at any time, but kept him around because it was better for her to have someone else in charge. Would give her more time to the Alchemy. His group passed through the outer gates of the fortifications that had been erected. As usual, all people who passed by gave him a bow or raised their right arm to their chest as a sign of respect. Frei was nowhere to be seen, surely back in her lab. "Honmund! Sir!" an Imperial came running over to him. "Sir, I have bad news. One of our scouts says that one of the groups we were about to absorb was attacked by a Stormcloak General." "And when are you going to get to the part which is important?" Honmund shot back with an annoyed tone. Why couldn't people just get to the point? He didn't give two Dunmer whore's asses about one of these small bandit groups before they were a part of his army. And the groups had their orders for such situations. "Yes, Sir... the man who attacked them, a general we think, is on his way towards Eastmarch." Honmund lifted an eyebrow. "So he might have heard rumors about us. Great, now we'll have to deal with the army. If we're lucky, this guy is amendable to reason. If not, he is dead and so are we. Aenin," he turned to the man who had led the rearguard of his band. "What do you think?" "Hmm...I don't like it. We don't know anything about this General or how he'll act. The only General I've heard of is Galmar Stone-Fist and Baldur Red-Snow. Don't know much about the latter. The former isn't likely to be very trusting of us. But, we have to make contact with them eventually. And it's not like we have a choice in the matter. Either we meet him now or he destroys our base. But you already knew all of that, Honmund. You pretty much got it. Confront him and hope he sees reason. Doubt he'd want to lose men if he can afford not to." said Aenin, who was a bit on edge. He wasn't sure what Honmund's mood would be like. Probably not good if all this didn't go down well. We was in charge of the activities of the men while Honmund was away. If this went south, it would be on him. "not entirely true, what you said. I've been given a quick briefing on the generals in the Stormcloak army by one of my contacts. Unless he's newly promoted, we'll have some basics about him, if we can find out his name." Honmund waved to Aenin to follow him into the keep, and implicitly to his private quarters. What Frei had said not too long ago made him a tad more careful around this camp, just in case. Once there, the only company they had was Frei herself, and the sounds coming from her table. "Honmund, love, you're back," without even looking up she addressed him in a distant tone. "Could you order that mer-blooded moron that follows you around to get me more of the standard items? I am starting to run low on them. Ohh, you're here," she gave Aenin a quick glance. "Well? You heard me." "Mer-blooded moron? Y-, uh...I mean..." Aenin looked from Frei to Honmund, not exactly sure which to listen to. He always hated when that happened. Angering Frei was never a good idea, so he figured he'd try yielding to her more, dispite her insult. Aenin bit his lip for his mistake and tried to rectify it immediately. "I mean, of course. Honmund wanted to speak with me but if you want me to go fetch your items..." "You stay here. Frei, go tell one of the others to get your stuff, Aenin is mine in the near future," Honmund dismissed her orders with a gesture of his hand, showing Aenin to a chair by a table. Sometimes that woman was insufferable. But she still listened to him, most of the time. And if he needed someone to do something important she had the perspective to stay out of it. Letting Honmund run this gang equaled her being left alone, so he still had the final say in most cases. She scoffed and put aside whatever it was that she was working on, before she walked out of the room with a roll of her eyes. Why was she here again? Honmund often had to ask himself that. Of course, the answer was self-evident, even without the personal reasons; she was a brilliant alchemist. Her recipes and potions alone brought in a lot of gold through trade, and she kept the place disease free. "So," Honmund continued, taking a seat across the small table from Aenin. "You're in the Legion, and the Stormcloaks are based on them. What do you suggest? I have my own thoughts, but I'd like to hear yours." Aenin leaned back in the chair and thought about it for a while. How he'd respond in the Legion sometimes blurred with how he'd respond now. But it eventually came to him. "Well, it generally depends on who you're dealing with. If it were any typical general or legate from the legion, they'd likely give you the speech of never surrendering, but after being pressed, they'd see reason and give in for the sake of their men. Legion leaders are taught to take care of their men. They wouldn't sacrifice them needlessly. If this guy was in the legion, he'd likely do the same. Especially if he's new. Wouldn't look good to lose all your men so early. But then again....this is Skyrim. The only thing these nords respect is strength. You know that better than anyone. You show what...he may be willing to speak out of respect of a fellow nord warrior. In fact, yea that would be the better idea. You ever play chicken, boss?" "You assume much, saying that Nords only respect strength. Hopelessly lacking in nuance, even if it is technically true. I've been in most ports in Skyrim and Morrowind, and I've come to realize that the Nords of Skyrim realize that strength can mean a lot of things. You'd do well to remember that, now that we are playing this game of generals and warlords." Honmund walked over to his cabinet and took out a couple of bottles of mead. It was Honningbrew, with snowberries. He'd preferred the Honningbrew over the Black Briar ever since he came to Skyrim. Still, not quite Ashfire, but still good enough. Maybe a little harder than he should, he put the bottle meant for Aenin on the table in front of him. "Chicken? The closest thing to a game I played was 'I'm going to beat you until you fight back'. I grew up in Thirsk and later among Reavers." Aenin smiled slightly, knowing that his words hit a nerve a bit. But he wouldn't press the matter further. "Chicken is when you and another person mount horses and you place a bet on who will chicken out first after you charge eachother head on. No matter how big your balls are, you always veer off just before impact. And no one thinks any less of either side. I think that if we catch him off guard and put him in a position that would cause him to lose many of his men, then he'd be a lot more likely to listen to reason, as long as you don't ask for his surrender. Because we'd also likely lose a lot of men and neither side would really win. Basically, we'll both veer off." Honmund noticed the little smile that spread across the lips of the battlemage, but knew that he'd have the last laugh. If Aenin thought he'd be able to hit a nerve that easily, he'd be surprised. But it did serve as a confirmation that Aenin knew better than to ignore what he had said, which was good enough for now. "So, we're essentially in agreement here; the best way to deal with this general is to appeal to his reason. We need to get out scouts, to see where he is going, and we need to prepare both this camp and Mistwatch for siege and to send reinforcement. if we're lucky, it is not us he is after, but we can't count on that." he took a sip of the mead, after taking in the smell. He didn't notice anything strange about it, so none of the more obvious poisons had been added to it. Frei had though him that the deadliest poisons were the ones you didn't notice, but he wasn't that paranoid. Besides, only he and Frei had the keys to this room and Frei could have just put the poison in the potions she regularly gave him. For her, using the mead would have been a waste of time. Besides, Frei often complained that she was the only one who knew anything about alchemy around here and had no one to talk about it with. "You should also try to convince him that we're not ordinary bandits. In fact we should stop thinking of us as such. We're...a warrior band. Like the Companions. Yea, I like that. That's what we tell him. That way he gets the idea. We're here to help for mutual benefit. Surely he'll see the wisdom in what we're doing. Putting the lowlives of this land to good use. After your little speech, I'm sure the men are already getting the idea. Unless this general is stupid, he should see reason. Even if he is a nord general." Aenin let slip another smirk. It was dangerous, but Aenin liked to test Honmund every now and then. It was good practice for his self control. Another instance of Aenin "helping" when it wasn't asked of him. Honmund just rolled his eyes. The small jabs from the Breton were too easy to see through, which was why he hadn't already taken him out in the courtyard and beat him to a bloody pulp for being disrespectful. "Yes, because I have treated this band like bandits," there was a tone of sarcasm to his voice. It was true though, he hadn't treated them like bandits at all. They were an army. Small for an army, for now, but still an army bigger than most warlords ended up with before they either became officially recognized or killed. But presenting themselves as a group of warriors who where whipping the lowlives into shape was a good way to present it to the Stormcloaks. "You haven't treated them as such, but what we're doing here is rather unusual for this day and age. A lot of the new men see it as just another bandit gang, albeit more professional. The Reavers were just another bandit gang, I was just another bandit leader. Even if the people of Skyrim knew all there was to know about us, they'd still see us as outlaws. I.E. bandits. Hmm...I wonder. How many nords does it take to tell the difference between a bandit gang and a warrior band? Haha! Guess we'll find out." "Outlaws? The past of each man and woman here, yes. But we are not breaking any laws, since we only target other outlaws. We make most of our money trading, not pillaging. But I see your point. We'll have to see what he thinks. If only we had his name, then we'd get an idea about him." He looked over at Frei's alchemy lab. It was a lot more extensive than those you commonly found, to suit her needs. Why she needed such an advanced setup was beyond him, like most of what she did on it. "This group seems to have been more at home in High Rock, than Skyrim." "They'll get over it. And as for the outlaw comment, once an outlaw always an outlaw. At least in spirit. At most, you can suppress it. But never assume it's gone fer good. Should I prepare the men to move out? Also, I can have some scouts go ahead of us and see if they can't get us a description of this general." said Aenin as he stood from his chair, anxious to get things moving. "If you think that you cannot change a man, you've seen little. Are you really the same as you were in the Legion?" "Hmm..." Aenin started to rub his chin as he pondered on the question. "Maybe I was always this way, Honmund. Maybe I just finally let myself out of the cage." "Maybe. I've never been one to fight for something like I am now, but now I see it as natural. Just as natural it was for me to run my own little Reaver band. You my not believe it, but I believe what I said in the speech, even if I wouldn't have a year ago. A man can change, Aenin, remember that." He took another sip of the mead. It was still nearly full; he hadn't been in the mood to drink lately. "Anyway, you do what you need to do. I'm gonna see if I can't make Frei purr like a cat." More like howl like a bitch. Shouldn't be hard. "Will do, Boss. You have fun." Aenin made his way out finally, leaving Honmund to himself. He doubted full well that men could change. But then again, Honmund had proven him wrong before. If this was gonna work in the long run, he'd need to be right.
  9. Gracchus, Dales Imperial Palace Afternoon Dales was currently dressing herself, and unlike those pampered Milk-drinkers at court, she didn't need maids to do it. She was getting into her blue and violet dress. She was going to spending most of the day in the gardens, with Nami. She just had to deal with some business with General Ceno first, she suddenly heard knocking, and her door guard, William, voice could be heard, "Your Excellency, Lord-General Ceno is hear." "Good, William send him in..." Gracchus entered, dressed in his silver and black Imperial General's chest plate with his silver cape, the dragon emblem in black on the back. He took a deep bow. "Hello, your majesty." "Good day to you general." She spoke in a firm, yet friendly voice. She smiled slightly before saying, "I'm...quite busy today, so if you wouldn't mind. I would very much like to get straight into business" "Of course. The courier didnt specify what exactly you wanted to see me for, so you'll probably want to start with that." Gracchus grabbed a chair and sat down, facing the Empress. "I need you to go to Hammerfall, and organize them sending a ambassador over to the Imperial City." Gracchus was mildly shocked, as he hasn't expected to be returning to Hammerfell any time soon. "Will that be my only duty? I'd heard that they were somewhat trepidatious at the Nord alliance with us." "Yes." Sensing the shock emitting from him she quietly said, "If you dont want to do it, I could send Tullius or Lorgar to handle it." "No, mi'lady, I will be more than happy to oblige." Gracchus looked at his boots, somewhat nervous to ask the question on his mind. "If I may, your majesty, I recently discovered my elderly mother is still alive...and I would like to stay here in the Imperial City a little longer before I go." "Your mother? If you want to spend time with her, it's no problem I'll send someone else." Gracchus sighed, somewhat flustered that the Empress wished someone else to go. "No, I am glad you chose me, I just would like to wait a little before I go. Unless you wanted me to leave immediately, I would gladly wait a week or two." "Of course..." Gracchus stroked his goatee for a moment, before leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, and spoke softly to the princess. "Is everything alright? You seem to be, if you'll pardon me, somewhat uptight, rigid almost." "Duty, dear General, duty..." And with that, Dales stretched out and said, "Now if are business is done, dear Gracchus, I have things to attend to." Gracchus stood, and bowed again. "I will leave you then. But a word of advice, Dales. Have fun. You've worked so hard up to this point, changing the entire philosophy of the Empire, and you owe it to yourself to have fun. But duty must come first." Gracchus walked to the door, but turned around and said, "I'll leave in a week of two. I'll be sure to send word of my arrival via letter if I can. Good day Empress."
  10. Lorgar Grim-Maw Afternoon, Imperial City, Lorgar straightened out his coat, and listened to his command staff bitch. His second in-command, Commander Letius Mario, wouldn’t stop bringing up some anonymous tip they received, about an apparent assassination attempt, Lorgar waved his hand, “If this tip bothers you so much, commander, why don’t you send some people to check it out and see if it’s creditable?” Commander Mario responded, “I’ve told you sir; I don’t have any men available!!!” Lorgar sighed. Before being transferred to the Pentiulas Occulatus, he knew only one person in the room. Lieutenant-Commander Marie Imperius, Marius’s niece. When she was younger, Lorgar would see her all the time, and would call him “Uncle Grim”. Lorgar shot her a glance as if to say “Help me”. Though normally extremely stoic, Marie shot Lorgar a slight smile. She told the assembled officers, “Don’t bother Major Grim-Maw, sir, I’ll handle it.” She said coldly. Mario had a pleased look about him, and he nodded. And with that, Lorgar yawned tiredly, “All right then. Our business is done.” All the soldiers saluted crisply, and moved to leave the room. However, Lorgar called out, “Wait, Lieutenant-Commander Imperius, I have something to discuss with you.” Marie looked at Lorgar puzzled, before nodding and going back to her seat. Though she tried to hide it, Lorgar could see the exhaustion emitting from her. Her movement was sluggish, and black bags sat under her eyes. Lorgar cleared his throat, and said bluntly, “How much sleep have you had in the last three days Marie?, and donâ’t try to lie, I can tell if you do.” Marie blushed, before saying, “Three hours sir.” Lorgar didn’t even bother to speak as if he was requesting this, it was an order, “Take the rest of the week off.” “What?!, sir- She tried to blurt out. “Don’t even try to argue. Your not at your peak physical condition, you need to relax. Go on a date with Lorance tonight. He was talking about her Fiancé, her child-hood sweat-heart. “Sir, I don’t even think she’s-“ “Don’t care.” She mumbled something under her breath, before crisply saluting, “Yes sir. Thank you sir.” And with that, she left the room. Leaving Lorgar alone, with a bored look, and a cigar in his mouth.
  11. Brund Hammer-Fang, Baldur Red-Snow Solitude Midnight "Ulfric, please! Let me prove myself! I can show you that I am worthy!" Ulfric looked at the large nord before him with indifference before he spoke. "Brund. You are a good general. A great general. That is the job you were born to have. But High General....requires more than what you can offer. I have reached my decision." "No, no no I c-" "My lord! I am back from my trip and I am ready to accept my position!" Baldur came through the front of the Blue Palace in the middle of their conversation. He had just got back from his trip with Rebec finally, who was staying in the Winking Skeever waiting for him so that they could celebrate his new position. The Grim Ones had grown in number lately and were now being partly used to guard the castle in place of the ordinary guards. They watched as their beloved general made his way up to their King, his back bearing his Kingdom's bear insignia on his cape proudly, the cape swaying behind him as it slid over the stairs he now walked upon. Baldur put his shield over his back, then bowed to his King and Queen. Moreso his King. Elisif watched as he came up like a champion, his men all watching him in reverence, donned in that beautiful Necro Nord armor. She was glad that Rebec wasn't around to see her blush or to see her legs quiver. She wanted Baldur since the first time he came from Camp Rommulas, so triumphantly. Even if he was a Stormcloak. Ulfric noticed and he never really cared. Neither of them fooled themselves completely into thinking they were together. They both hated each other. It was all an act. Elisif wanted to keep her station and lifestyle, and Ulfric wanted to quickly smooth things over with the Imperial supporting populace. Nothing more nothing less. So he reveled in the opportunity to bring up Rebec and Baldur's relationship in front of her every chance he got. "Baldur the Unkindled! Hope you two had plenty of chances to try and make babies!" Baldur gave out a loud bellowing laugh, which said "Yes, yes we did", not knowing about, or caring about Elisif's affections. "Yes, my liege, and may many many more chances come from this day forward. Like tonight after High Admiral meets High General. It's almost like a tale. I think I'll make a song of it later." Brund was in the room, yet no one payed him any attention despite his large mass and snarling face. It was also the same with Elisif. "NO! Fuck you and your damn songs, lets settle this like men!" Baldur looked over to Brund like one looked over to a whiny child crying and annoying company. "Oh, Brund. I didn't see you there. What upsets you so that your mouth would drop its foam all over our lord's royal floor? Are you rabid?" Brund drew a small waraxe from his waist and dropped it in front of the bowing Baldur. "I challenge you to a duel to the death! The winner will be the official High General!" Ulfric didn't like his decision being challenged this way, but he was interested to see what Baldur would do, as was everyone in the Palace. Elisif let herself become overwhelmed with emotion from fear for Baldur and she ran out of her chair to embrace him in case this was her last chance to do so. Open mouthed, Elisif brought her lips in the direction of Baldur's before he put his gauntleted right hand over her face and shoved her away from him, causing her to stumble to the ground. "Forgive me High King Stormcloak, High Queen Elisif forgets herself." "Haha, no apologies Baldur. Must've had too much wine. Anyway, what say you to this challenge?" Baldur looked to Brund with a smile on his face, one born of confidence and self assurance. "I accept. I beat him once...I can do it again. And again and again." Ulfric was laughing now as were the Grim Ones in the Palace room. Brund was now breathing heavily through his nose like a bull as he stared at his prey. Unable to contain himself. Brund charged to Baldur with his Warhammer drawn. When he swung, Baldur was no longer there. He dashed forward towards the empty palace chair where Elisif was with Brund in hot persuit. When he got to the chair, he took a step on the seat, then the top of the chair and spun around after hopping off of it, sending a fierce heavy kick into Brund's cranium, knocking him over in the process. "Mad charging beast who now lays on the floor, Do better than that or I'll send you to Shor! Forget pride and leave now with your life still in tow, You can't hope to beat me, I am Baldur Red-Snow!" Brund was furious now, and completely forgot himself when he picked up Elisif's chair and threw it at Baldur. The guards were about to move in when Ulfric signaled for them to stand down. Baldur ducked under the chair then drew his axes, then brought them down towards Brund who blocked the attack with the pole of his hammer. Baldur remembered the last time they dueled, and didn't let the contest of strength linger for much longer. Disengaging from the grapple, Baldur jumped back and made sure to keep Brund on the defense. Each strike sent electricity through Brund as he parried and failed to land a blow, but Brund was born under the sign of the Atronach. He absorbed most of the damage, feeling only slight tingles throughout his body. Suddenly Brund burst forward towards Baldur and sent a wild sideways swing that knocked his axes out of his hands as he tried to block the attack. Baldur stumbled upon the floor and was kept in place by Brund's mighty boot. Brund brought his hammer up high and was about to send the spike on it through Baldur's chest when Baldur brought his left leg up and wrapped it around Brund's. Once he did, he pushed his leg to the right and pushed him down, which spun Brund and sent his face flying to the floor. After he did. Baldur with his left leg still locked around Brund's leaned over his back and grabbed his hammer. After he had it, Baldur used it to choke Brund as he leaned backwards, choking off Brund's air supply. Brund was fading quickly. Out of desperation, Brund started rocking side to side until he eventually knocked Baldur from off of his back. Baldur reached for one of his axes, but Brund grabbed his arm and wrapped his legs around them before leaning back on the ground with it, his hands keeping it to his chest while he attempted to break it. Baldur was in trouble. There was nothing he could do but scream out in agony as he felt his arm come close to snapping. "Sir!" Brund looked to Baldur's reddened face in amusement. "Yes, that's it. Might as well get used to calling me that now. After I send you to Sovngarde, that is what you'll be calling me for eternity once I outrank you! And when you're gone, I'll make sure to keep that pretty little Admiral of yours company, hahahaha!" "Sir!" The words came again, but Baldur's mouth did not move...Brund started looking around the room to see where the sound had come from, but he couldn't see who said it. "Sir, wa...!" "Huh?" Baldur stretched his other hand to his gauntlet, ignoring all the pain that this caused, and undid the straps keeping his gauntlet attached to his arm. Once he did, he slipped his arm from out of it, leaving his gauntlet in Brund's grasp. Before Brund could get up, Baldur was already upon him and sent a swift kick to his skull. While Brund was dazed, Baldur grabbed his hammer and started smashing and stabbing him with his very own hammer. The blows were strong enough to be felt through the armor and the spike pierced his armor in multiple locations. When Brund was subdued, Baldur walked over to his axes and made Brund stand up and then pushed him to his knees, placing his axes on his shoulders in preparation for the final blow. "Kill me? Bed my wife? Hehehe. Not even in your dreams. Haaaa!!!!" "Sir, wake up!" ******** "GRWAAAR, NO!" "S-sorry to wake you, sir. The men are ready to move on your ord-" "I'll be out in a second damnit, get out!" Damnit, I was winning! You ruined a perfect dream! Brund bolted up from out of his bed in his tent. He had taken his force of 1,500 and based them around the Rift to investigate rumors of bandit wars. Someone was seizing power if it was true. And if it was, that someone seeked to cause trouble. This was also the area where two Stormcloaks went missing. Normally not a big deal, but an important shipment of weapons and armor also went missing. Brund thought it worth his attention since there was nothing else to do before he turned his attention to the forsworn. The rumors said that it was a rather large force of bandits. Brund would have his work cut out for him. ********* Few hours later. A small group of bandits were running from the fort close to riften when they heard of Honmund and his gang taking over. They walked north through the woods and was traveling up a rather slope hill to avoid the roads. Their leaders were a khajiit who wielded only his claws and wore steel plate armor, and a Bosmer warrior who wielded to orcish short swords and an orcish bow. He was wearing studded leather armor. "I still don't like it, boss. Why do we have to retreat? Our men could rise up against us if they think we're cowards!" "I already told you my Bosmer friend, this guy isn't just another rival gang. He's got himself an army. We wouldn't stand a chance. I saw his fort. Prety well concealed by orcish styled fortification. Lots of men. Nothing our little group can do but move on." "What if we tried tipping off the Stormcloaks? Maybe they could take care of it and then we come in and do what we were already doin." "I already thought of that. I don't want Stormcloaks in the area any more than I want this other guy. They won't just leave the fort alone, they'll occupy it and make a base there and run through the area butchering the lot of us! They've really started cleaning up ever since the damn war was ended." "Yea, b-" "YAAAAAAA!!!!!" Suddenly a thunderous noise could be heard which turned out to be a group of Stormcloak men, all charging downhill with greatswords in their hand. The group of bandits began to sound their retreat but when they turned around, they were met with a line of Stormcloak men from behind with a shield wall, which held them in place to be mercilessly cut down by the berserkers who used the momentum of the downward charge to send their greatswords into the bandits below, who were mostly lightly armored. As their men were being butchered, the Bosmer and Khajiit bandit leaders charged towards a thick part of the woods to escape. They almost made it out when suddenly, "GRAAAWR!" A huge nord came charging out of the woodworks, and closelinded both of the leaders with his huge armored arms, sending the pair somersaulting in the air before they landed unconscious. Brund dragged the two behind him to the men sitting at the foot of the hill combing through all the dead bandits. A few of the berserkers got wounded in the process, one of them died. Brund payed no mind to them. He had what they came for. "Bring these two lowlives to the other fort nearby. Have them bound and leave them in the room I'm staying in for now." ******* A few more hours later A splash of water suddenly met the face of the bosmer leader as his body lay upon a cold stone dusty floor. His head was killing him and the cold water coupled with the cold Skyrim air sent chills that crept to the bone. To a nord, the area felt no colder than fall. To a bosmer it felt like winter, especially when wet. The unfortunate bandit bolted up only to find that he was bound by the feet and hands, and also gagged with what seemed to be rags for loin cloths. Disgust and anger filled the bosmer's mind, but there was nothing he could do about it and eventually he ceased his struggling. When his vision fully came into focus he could see a low light from a fire in the back of the room coming from the fireplace, which revealed the same big surly nord looming over him with his big ugly grin on his face just barely in the low light. He was licking his teeth while chuckling at him...as if hungered. Brund relieved the Bosmer of his disgusting predicament and removed the rag, his rag, so he could talk. The Bosmer spat and coughed for a while before speaking, his face filled with fury. "What do you want, nord?" "Heh...hehehe....hehehehahahaha!" The bosmer looked at the nord with worried curiosity. The way that he was looking at him and licking his teeth was...unnerving...to say the least. Still, he was fully clothed. That was reassuring. Brund began pacing around him slowly...as if he were prey. The Bosmer was now on his knees watching him as he did this. He knew he was in trouble. Big trouble, but he wasn't terrified, despite Brund's little show. That was thanks to the anger of having his mouth stuffed with the loin cloth. "I don't know what you're planning, but if it's what I think it is, get it over with. I've been in your prisons before...." Brund's face grew heavy with rage at the implication, but he was standing behind the bosmer in the darkness of the room as he circled him, so the bosmer didn't see it. He was already in for a world of hurt, but now...now he managed to piss Brund off. "Where's Khnando'Jo? Where's my friend?" Brund smiled briefly and walked off to get a torch. When he came back, he held the light to the left of the Bosmer, revealing his friend bound, gagged and stripped of his armor next to him, still unconscious. Brund undid his armor partly and started pissing on the khajiit's face to wake him up. "GAH, you sick fuck! Where's the rest of the men? Are all you nords so savage? We're prisoners, so take us to a jail!" said the Bosmer. Those were words he never thought he'd ever hear himself say. "Heh, my men aren't here right now. Just me. The rest of them are off guarding the perimeter while I have some fun with you two. No one's ever gonna know what took place in here. No one but you....and me..." The khajiit was wailing and trying to scream out in anger, but he could not from the gag. The thick smell of Brund's piss filled the room, but it was worse for the khajiit, who had it soaked in his furs. It was evident that the nord hadn't drank much water lately, but he clearly had plenty of mead. "How the hell did someone like you ever get in a position to lead Skyrim's soldiers?" "By being careful and keeping my mouth shut mostly. And letting my fighting and past experience do the talking. They know I'm a mean son of a bitch. But that's it. Sadly for you, that was enough for someone like me to slip through the cracks. And speaking of crack...." Brund sent his huge boot straight into the rib cage of the khajiit, cracking his ribs as he did. "Stop! Why are you doing this? You're gonna kill him!" "So? You're bandits. No one cares what happens to you, not really. I can do whatever I want to you two. As for what I want...I want information." "Then why didn't you just ask? All of this is unnecessary!" "Because I want to make it perfectly clear what's gonna happen to you if you lie. And also because you pissed me off when you assumed I touch men! You're a pretty little elf to be sure, hehe, but I ain't no damn Altmer or Breton. So, if you lie, you two won't just die, you'll be brutalized even worse than this. I promise you. If you tell me the truth...I'll let you on your way. I want to know about the bandit activity that's been going on lately. I hear there's a new whore in town and I wanna know what her goodies look like. Get my drift?" "Go to hell." "We're already here." Brund picked up a chair and lifted it over his head. This was the fun part for him. Truth be told, he could have just asked the information and bargained for their lives, but where's the fun in that? Besides...it was a Bosmer and a khajiit. Brund hated mer and beastfolk, but especially mer. He also kept that to himself. For now. Brund began mercilessly slamming the chair into the khajiit's body over and over until the chair was no longer a chair, but useless splintered pieces of wood. "TELL ME!" "Okay okay! I have no loyalty to other bandits! There is a new gang coming into things, but we don't know the details! We don't even necessarily know if they're bandits! They haven't been rumored to attack civilians or soldiers, just other gangs. We heard they either wipe 'em out or absorb them under their banner. Boss said they were over in Mistwatch now. Orc fortifications. That's all I know I swear!" Brund took a dagger off a table nearby and approached the elf, who was now sweating profusely on his approach. Brund put the dagger to his face...and then lowered it to his bonds, which he cut and then he cut the khajiit's bonds as well. The two ran off to the doors as fast as they could, although the khajiit was limping and shaking his head to get the urine out of his fur. The Bosmer was furiously trying to open the door now, but the door for some reason wouldn't budge. "Stupid old fucking door. Hey, the door won't open! What gives?" Brund started laughing again in his same twisted manor as he revealed a key in his hand, which he dropped under his armor past his neck collar. "Come get it, boys." "You said you'd let us out!" "And I will. If you can take it from me! Come! Face the Bull!" The khajiit was the first to charge, being the angrier of the two from being humiliated. The elf was a bit frozen, not wishing to have to fight the nord. He went off to the door and tried picking it with the lockpick he always kept in his hair. The khajiit tried scratching out Brund's eyes, but brund ducked under the swipe and grabbed his arms. After pulling them so the khajiit was spread eagle, Brund sent his boot into his chest which pulled one of the arms out of his sockets. Brund laughed at the pathetic attack and wondered how he managed to kill anyone only using his claws, but he chalked it up to them being milkdrinkers. Brund picked up the khajiit by the neck and slammed his body into a book case, which fell over the cat man in a cascade of books and dust. The elf was furiously trying to pick the lock, but his fingers were sweating, even in the cold and he ended up dropping the pick. Brund was making his way over to him slowly as he watched him amusingly. The Bosmer finally picked up the pick again but in his haste to pick the lock, the pick snapped. There was only one way out of this room now. And that was no way at all. Brund put a hand over the Bosmer's shoulder, almost in a pitying manor. "Aww, sorry that didn't work out..." The Bosmer was now desperate and his fight or flight instincts took over. Flight was now out of the question, which left fight. The Bosmer took a swing at Brund's face, which he did not bother to block or dodge. After his fist met his face, the Bosmer recoiled from the pain in his hand. Brund who was laughing grabbed the bosmer and picked him up and threw him at the wall. He picked the mer up once more and slumped him over his shoulders. Brund pulled an old table out of the corner and dropped the bosmer on it, then he dragged the table to the middle of the room and went back to the bookcase. Brund lifted up the bookcase without much effort, but when he did, he saw that the Khajiit was gone. Brund started searching the room after he grabbed the torch, but he couldn't see the khajiit anywhere. "Here, kitty kitty kitty....hehehehehehahaha! Here kitty kitty kitty! I just wanna play with the *****....hahahaha!" "Tell that to your mother!" Unbeknownst to Brund, the khajiit was trained in illusion magic and had cast an invisibility spell although it was brief. It was enough though for the cat to grab the dagger Brund used to cut their bonds and sneak up on him from behind. Brund didn't know what trick the cat had up his sleeve, but he knew that the cat had to be in the room still and that he would try to sneak up on him. With that in mind, he wasn't surprised to hear the khajiit behind him. Brund tilted his head to the left just barely dodging the dagger and then the general grabbed his arm and pulled it down as hard as he could, breaking the bone and causing great pain to the khajiit who was now yelling and hissing in agony. Before he could try to claw at Brund's head, Brund pulled him by his arm over his back and onto the floor and began beating the cat with his torch, which caught the cat's fur on fire. Brund stood back and watched as the cat comically rolled around on the floor to put out the blaze. Once he did, Brund sent another boot into his gut. Then Brund picked up the bandit leader and threw him up in the air. Before he fell, Brund caught the khajiit by his feet and began swinging the cat around and around in a circle before he finally swung him up and slammed him into the table that the bosmer was laying on, which collapsed it and snapped it partially in half, being an old rotted table. Brund picked up the two soon to be corpses and dropped them on the floor side by side. The Bosmer turned to his friend, which took great effort and tried to speak, but he couldn't. The khajiit tried the same but was silent when Brund's boot was placed on his skull. Brund forced him to watch as he slowly applied pressure to his skull....crushing it slowly and causing great agony for the khajiit as he died. The Bosmer was now sobbing in his grief and fear as Brund placed a foot on his head and realized his death would too be the same. And it was. It wasn't known to the nords in Skyrim, but Brund's dark deeds were known to others. In the Imperial legion. It wasn't looked down upon because of the great war and he was free to do as he saw fit to the mer. It wasn't until after the WGC that it became a problem. That was the reason why he was really never reinstated, not because he was outspoken. The reason was never actually stated though and Brund figured it was because if they were, the Thalmor would try to press for war crime charges on him and the Thalmor would hold the Empire responsible. That is why he knew it was best to keep certain activities under wraps. He wasn't sure how Ulfric would react if he knew. He wouldn't care about the Thalmor of course, but Brund doubted that the High King was anything like what the Imperials said he was like. Which is to say...like Brund. "That was fun. Now...off to Mist Watch."
  12. Maggie, Alef, and Dales Imperial Palace, Evening, Maggie was spending more time in the palace than usual. Its safety was an illusion, but one she found comforting nonetheless. She had seen less of Empress Dales lately, and wondered why, so she went to present herself at the royal quarters. As Maggie approached the royal quarters, she heard moans of pleasure coming from the royal bedroom. The countess stopped short and eyed one of the guardsmen standing at the door. His cheeks were beet red, but he had the professional blank expression of a legionnaire. "I'll come back," Maggie said. "It might be a while, milady." That, from the deadpan guard, made her laugh. She eyed him more closely, and saw that he was young and handsome. Keeping to her palace quarters, she had not had opportunity to feed. Her supply was low. Normally she kept such activity out of the palace, but necessity might require her to take the risk. "It must be a burden for you," she went on, laying a hand on his arm. The guardsman looked down at it, and his cheeks turned two shades darker, almost legion crimson by now. The moans grew slightly louder, and Maggie could actually hear the bed start to shake. Using the sounds from inside the bedchamber as inducement, Maggie ran her hand along the guardsman's arm. The other guard at the door turned to look but he suddenly, inexplicably, lost interest in anything and looked away. Leaning forward, Maggie whispered into the guardsman's ear. As he was about to make some protest about duty, he found himself abruptly unable to resist what she had proposed. They went together around the corner to an alcove. Some minutes later Maggie and the guard came back to the door. His eyes were glazed looking, but otherwise he didn't have a scratch on him. "Thank you, milady," he mumbled, sounding embarrassed. "My dear," Maggie answered with a sweet smile. "Thank you. You will forget this in a short while." She wasn't speaking figuratively. "Oh....your a naughty elf Alef...aren't you?! Your so cute..." Maggie could hear Empress Dale's voice say, along with panting mixed in with more moans "Y-yes, your Majesty," the Dunmer replied, in a much lower voice. She had heard heard what she thought was countess Magdela's voice outside, meaning they might get visitors. In that case, it was better to resume to the position society would expect of her, as a subservient player in a game far above her. "I love your cute-shy like voice, your so adorable..." Said Dales cupping her chin, Dales leaned in and whispered into the dark elf's ears, "Say my name Alef..." Maggie was reluctant to interrupt the empress at a delicate moment, but deciding that it might give her an upper hand, she knocked on the door and then entered quickly. "Oh... oh my. I'm sorry, Excellency. I'll come back later." "Oh...hello Maggie!!!." Dales said with a warm smile, she didn't even bother to cover herself up, her small perky breasts were exposed, and she was drenched in sweat. "It's alright, anything you need? Just say the word" Aleffea was about to comply with the Empress' wishes when Magdela breathed the door. Clever ploy, trying to get her off-guard. Time to make her job easier. "Oh, sorry, your Ladyship," she stumbled out of the bed and tried to cover her body, moving up towards the far end of the chambers. With Dales' mind on her, this should provide some extra edge to the countess. Maggie wasn't surprised to see Aleffea. Tanie, true to her word, had sent a message saying that one of her new ladies was moved to the palace, and Maggie had figured out that it was Alef. It was an admirable job. "Excellency, it was nothing important really. I was going to ask if you had given any thought to what we spoke about earlier. About marriage." The countess smiled serenely, no more perturbed at the bedroom scene than if the two women had been at tea. "Boys..." Dales said, with a sound of dread. At those words her playful smile was put away, and replaced with the face she used in public. She slowly got out of bed, still naked, and went to her Valenwood table. She motioned for Maggie to join her, "You have some suitable candidates Maggie?" "Wh-what about me, your Majesty? Should I take my leave? I'm- I'm not really suited to be here..." Alef threw a wink to Magdela once Dales had turned away from her, but otherwise kept the subservient attitude. "No, of course not, come over here Alef" Dales said with a smile, motioning for her to sit on her lap. "There are some, yes. We might discuss my brother Jem. Janus, that is. But perhaps I was being a bit hasty in counseling you to move quickly on this matter. I did not adequately take your feelings into account. For that I apologize." Maggie looked from Dales to Alef, giving her a knowing smile, then returned her gaze to the empress. "It's fine Maggie, this is a very important matter. We need to arrange this as fast as possible. Tell me more about your brother." Alef did as she was bid, sitting on Dales' lap. What a silly girl. Amusing, but silly. She seemed to have the decent sense to act properly in public, but in private? There were worshipers of Sheogorath she had encountered in Samuel's service that made more sense than her. "I have heard wonderful things about the countess' brother, though- though I suppose that would count against him... I'm sorry, I should stay quiet..." "He's an intelligent man, Excellency, but no way with women, I'm afraid. I'm not convinced myself that he is your best candidate. I say that with all humility. The matter is this: He is my father's heir and will have Skingrad eventually. He is your subject still, as we all are, but doesn't need your power as much as another would. There is an advantage in choosing a consort who has no other standing in society but that which you have given him. Control, you see. It's why Amaund tried so hard to make me as low as he possibly could." "Would he mind my...tastes, and the fact me engaging in...intercourse with him would only be for the realm?" She said it coldly, in a strictly formal and buiesness like way. "If he were in your power, he would have no choice. Of course, there are other ways we might manage this..." Maggie glanced at Alef, and said, "Do your trust your friend, Excellency? I'm sorry- what was your name again?" "M-my name is Aleffea, countess," the Dunmer looked to Magdela's feet. It was all about appearance. It always was. To keep Dales in the dark about their connection, certain games had to be played. Luckily the countess had been aware that this might be the case. It would likely have been over if she had suggested that they knew each other. "Yes, I do trust her Maggie, she's my friend." Dales said. "Very well. It's nice to meet you, Aleffea. If I may say, I haven't seen the empress this radiant since she was a little girl talking to me about dancing." A truth, but one calculated to affirm Alef's position in Dales' affections. That caused Dales to blush slighty, "Your much more radiant then I am Maggie...you always will be" Alef got up form the Empress' lap and bowed, before sitting down again. Fishing for affirmation for both ehrself and Magdela's sake, she continued with a glance at Dales. "I'm- I'm flattered, your Ladyship... It might be because I have... uhm... certain skills from... my past... and present..." "Charming girl. Your skill is valuable, but it is your friendship the empress values most, I'm sure. Since she trusts you, I'll dare to speak frankly about the secrets of our empire. Excellency, it may be possible that you will not need to lie with a royal consort at all. It would not be the first time that an heir has been produced when either an emperor or his wife were unable to conceive. Another woman might be willing to bear a baby for you. It would be risky, of course. You would have to appear pregnant yourself for a time. Is this something you would consider?" "Um..." Alef knew she had to shot this idea down. Samuel had gone over some basic things with her about how this had to go, and having anyone else than Dales herself bear the child was one of the big nono-s she had been warned about. "I'm... Well, is that a good idea? I- I mean, if anyone finds out it might become a war over it... It wouldn't be the first time... You've read about Potema, the Wolf Queen?" Dales’ face brightened at the concept of her not having to lay with a man, but, she remembered Samuel's words, and glanced at the copper ring she bore. Her face hardened once again, and she muttered, "It's to risky Maggie. It's my duty to bear a heir, and as much as I hate having myself defiled, it's necessary." As Samuel, Tullius, and Lorgar would say, duty comes first. Maggie shot Aleffea a look warning her to stay out of it. Returning a smile to Dales, she shook her head. "You are so resolved. It is admirable, my lady. A risky course, to be sure, but something to keep in mind." With another pointed look to Alef, she straightened. "In any case we must continue to scour the eligible males of the empire. As I was saying, someone who would owe you everything, and who's not of a jealous sort, would be ideal. It's a pity your spymaster is a Nord. He is absolutely devoted to you." "Lorgar? Yes, he is very devoted, and would make a fine husband." Dales smiled to herself at the thought of the duke, a true friend. "But as you say, he's a nord. And I don't think all those bigots on the elder council would want him in a position of that kind of authority. Could cause a great deal of problems." Dales tiredly yawned, "Race, sex, position...so many complications..." Alef hung with her head, but afforded herself a quick smile. Magdela's plan about a different female bearing the heir seemed to have been shut down long before she even got a chance to propose it, most likely by Samuel. While Magdela was far from stupid and might be able to make it work, Alef couldn't go against the outlines that had been set for the ideas she was allowed to support. And, quite frankly, if it came to choosing to put her life in Samuel's of Magdela's hands, she'd chose Samuel every time. "Respectable, not a high lord, and not very bright. Those are my recommendations, my lady. If you like, I can call Jem to court so that you can meet him, however." Maggie didn't sound very enthusiastic. The countess stood and paced away. "There is another matter, Excellency, one I am loath to speak of. I was approached by someone in the Market District the other day." She glanced back at Alef, then went on, "He made threats toward me. Not in so many words, of course, but he let me know that my role in revealing Thalmor secrets to you is known. If it would please you, my lady, might I have leave to call on your royal guard at times for protection?" "A couple of hundred years ago and the Elder Council would have welcomed a Nord on the throne..." thoughtfully, and accidentally, Alef let the comment out. "At least some parts of the old ruling family was Nordic, many are said to have been raised in Solitude before coming to the Imperial City..." "No offense to his Lordship, I think of him VERY highly, but I CANNOT see Duke Grim-maw on the ruby throne" Dales said with a slight chuckle. And the mention of Maggie being in trouble...her face grew very dark and stoic, "What's the bastards name..." "He didn't give me a name, and it's not important, as he was likely only a messenger. I'm sorry to trouble you, my lady. You have your own problems to worry about. If I can borrow a guard of yours from time to time, that will put my mind at ease." Maggie thought of the guard outside and almost let out a chuckle. "Let us speak of happier things. I noticed that there is a very large Breton attending royal functions these days. A very jolly fellow. I had thought him a buffoon at your coronation, but it turns out he's a rather important person in Camlorn. Has he paid court to you himself? Hoping to win your hand as a fellow Breton?" "You mean General Theodore? Talos I hope not..." Dales said, with her face becoming slightly pale at the thought of the General trying to kiss her hand. She slightly shivered, "I would much...rather have my husband not a person that reeks of cheese all day.:" "Oh, there are worse things than that, my lady. You could ask Venusa. Of course this Theodore has a wife, but there are all sorts of ways around that if he has royal aspirations. We shall see. I can't imagine he's the only honest man in High Rock. I do wonder if some in High Rock will take a cue from Skyrim and try to break away on their own. They're always going on about their little squabbles." Maggie came around to sit down again. "On that point, you should think about inviting Skyrim, Hammerfell and Morrowind to set up embassies in the Imperial City. Some won't like it. They'll say that we still own the provinces and recognizing them as independent will weaken that claim, but we must face reality. It can never hurt to give our neighbors a voice for their concerns. I would say we should invite Black Marsh, too, but I fear from all I've heard that the An-Xileel will have none of it." "May I say something, my Ladies?" Alef didn't have the shy tone from before, but was still careful not to sound too confident. Without waiting for a response she went on. "I think that trying to talk with Morrowind isn't going to lead anywhere. We Dunmer live long lives. The ones born in the Red Year have only now started to get old. The abandonment of our people at the time we most needed the Empire is still fresh in out people's memory. Right now I think most Morrowind born Dunmer just want the Empire to leave them alone." Dales started to stroke her chin, before saying, "I think Maggie's right, we should at least try to invite them. Especially the Dark Elves, they would make valuable allies in the inventiable conflict which is going to erupt. I think Hammerfall would take much less to convince, I heard they are still imperial loyalists over there." After saying those words, Dales professional face melted away, and was replaced with one of her...ehem "innocent" and cute faces she put on in private. She..."softly" said to Maggie, "If your feeling guilty about not helping me to much with my man problems...maybe you could make it up to me...by joining me and Alef?" She put her hand to Maggie's arms, and seductively smiled at her. Maggie smiled and grasped Dales' hand. "Excellency, I'm afraid I heard a bit of your conversation with Aleffea from the door, and I cannot begin to compete. It is also awkward... you will understand, I was with your father... Now that you have accepted me into your court, I feel that I can be as a mother to you. If that is not too presumptuous of me." She let Dales' hands on her linger, then lifted the one she was holding to her lips and kissed it gently. A motherly kiss, perhaps, but not entirely. Releasing her, Maggie stood once more. "I have interrupted you both long enough with my boring gossip. To Aleffea's point I would only say, that if your people feel aggrieved, all the more reason that it must be we who reach out a hand to them first. Our empire may have been a poor father, not protecting our children. Let us see if we can be a better sibling. As the empress wills, however." Maggie curtsied lightly and waited for Dales to dismiss her before she retreated. Dales looked slightly disappointed, but that soon went away..She bowed her head and smiled at Maggie "Of course Maggie. I will appreciate any possible match you find for me. Good night to you dear countess. And remember If anyone threatens you again, come to me. I'm here for you, and take as many guards as you need" "Good night, countess," Alef added, right after Dales finished. As Magdela left the room, she took a hold of the Empress' chin and turned her to her. With a lot more confidence than she had had during the meeting, she whispered. "Now, where were we before we were to rudely interrupted?" That caused Dales eyes to harden, "Countess Magdela coming to visit me is NEVER rude. I request my dear, that you dont speak of Maggie so rudely." With that Dales face went back to her normal, "playful" look, she planted a kiss on her lips while saying, "How should I punish you for that, Alef?"
  13. Eduard Laenius, Jon, Livia, Karita- Dawnstar, Morning "Alright, so we have the layout. Time to get a plan together." "I would say so. You've gotten yourself in quite the mess this time." "That I have. Nothing I can't get through though." "Whatever you say Eduard. So, what's the plan?" "To be honest, I really wouldn't call it a plan. It's more of a shot in the dark." "Well let me hear it anyways." "Alright. Well, from the layout of the house that you gave me, it seems my best chance of slipping out from the house is from a small side room just off the main room. There is a window that I can slip out of. Once I do that, I should be able to slip into a different set of clothes, and complete the assassination, which will not be difficult. Other than the fact that I'll have to do it in about 17 minutes for my excuse to be even remotely plausible." "And what is your excuse?" "Need to relieve myself." "Ahh, I see. Very solid Eduard," Jon said with a smile. "It's all I've got. And it's going to have to work. Worst case scenario, I'll have to make it seem like I ditched the date. That will get me chewed out by Livia, as well as possibly cause some tension in her and Karita's new friendship, but that's going to be a necessary risk I suppose." "Well hopefully it won't come to that." "It would be even better if it turns out that I'm not into this Karita. That would help ease the guilt quite a bit." "Glad to know you care so much." "Whatever. Just help me get everything prepared for tonight." "Alright. Only because I'm sure you will need all the help you can get tonight." "That is for sure Jon. I really hope I can pull this all off successfully." "As am I Eduard. Anyways, we had better get started." "Right." ~~-~~--~~-~~ 10 Hours Later ~~-~~--~~-~~ Eduard approached the front door of his sister's home. It was quite nice. Damn, she has expensive taste. It probably wasn't the best idea to give her free range on house choice. Oh well. Eduard looked down at himself, adjusting a few things on his shirt. Well, I guess it is time to find out how this is going to play out. This Karita had better be worth all of this trouble, or not be worth my time at all. Better not just be average. Eduard knocked on the front door. Within moments, the door opened up. "Ed! I'm glad you made it," Livia said, smiling. Her smile quickly faded though. "We're already doing better than the last time I set you up to meet a girl." Oh crap. I forgot about that. Apparently she hasn't. That really puts me in a bind. This just keeps getting worse for me. "Yeah about that." "Never mind that. Come in, I think dinner is ready." Eduard walked into the house, he was assured that dinner was ready. That smell... It's absolutely incredible. Definitely deer. Scratch that, it's elk. That must have been Livia's suggestion or just dumb luck. Although I would put money on it being Livia. All that matters is that it smells delicious. Livia motioned for Eduard to follow her into the kitchen. Inside, he laid eyes on the girl he suspected was Karita. At least he was hoping it was Karita. Wow, she's absolutely gorgeous. She's got a great body top to bottom. And her eyes are just as stunning. This is a date I could get invested in. Oh, and time mark 6:34. "Karita, I'd like you to meet my brother," Livia said, motioning towards Eduard. "It's a pleasure Karita," Eduard said as he took a seat at the table. "I'm Eduard Laenius." Eduard almost listed his rank in the Legion, but decided against it. Not in Skyrim. At least not yet. "Nice to meet you Eduard. As your sister said, my name is Karita." "Karita, is the food ready to be served?" "Yes it is." "I was told you prepared dinner this evening." Livia began to hand out plates. When she finished, she took her plate with her and left the room. "I've got a few things to do real quick." Liar. As Eduard had thought, elk was on the menu. Alongside a baked potato and a small bowl of soup, although he couldn't decipher what kind. Whatever it was, it smelled great. Time mark 6:39. "That's right! It's what I do for a living." "Well then, thank you for doing so. It smells great by the way! And that's interesting, how long have you been doing that?" "Well, how about you find out it tastes? As for cooking, I've done it nearly my entire life. I started doing it for money about four years ago, shortly after I moved here. What about you? What do you do for a living?" As Eduard took his first bite of the dinner Karita had prepared, he realized that somehow the food tasted even better than it smelled. "Before I answer that, I must tell you. The elk is absolutely fantastic. Anyways, I was a mercenary for years before I moved here." "Really? How was that? Thank you, by the way." "It's a fun ride, although not very safe. It suited me though, and the money was certainly nice." "So I've heard. Is it true that you bought this house for your sister, as well as one for yourself?" Time mark 6:49. 9 minutes until I need to slip out. "Yes it is. Although my house is nowhere near this nice. Livia tends to have a more expensive taste than me." "Well I think it's really great that you were able to help her get a nice home. Where did you do mercenary work?" "There wasn't a real set location that I did work in. Although it was mostly in Cyrodiil, although I've done some work in Skyrim as well." "I see. So, what made you decide to move here?" "Safety I suppose. Besides, I haven't had a steady place to rest for around 10 years. I figured it was time for a break," Eduard said, after finishing the last of the meal Karita prepared. "You said you moved here about four years ago, right? What made you choose to move here?" "Well I used to live in Windhelm, but it wasn't for me. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine city. And it's pretty neat that Ulfric commanded the Stormcloaks from there. But I just didn't feel right. So I decided to move, and it just so happened that there was a place I could afford here in Dawnstar." "Interesting. So were you born in Windhelm?" 2 minutes. Last response, then I'll excuse myself. "No. I was born in Whiterun, then moved to Windhelm." "Oh. Hey, can I excuse myself for a bit?" "Sure." "Alright. I'll be back. Want me to grab a couple drinks?" "Depends on what drink." "Just mead. Why, is that not good?" "No that's perfect. Better than wine." Eduard knew that would be her response. He assumed it was basically a Nord's duty to choose mead over any other beverage. At least she didn't smell of it. Eduard left the room, and locked himself inside the tiny room. Alright, I've got 17 minutes, he thought as he slipped out the window. He then quickly changed into a separate outfit. He made his way out of the city, making time marks as he went. When he arrived at his target location, there was 8 minutes left. Which means 2 minutes before Kelvyn arrives. After the two tantalizing minutes were up, he finally saw his man. He was alone, which was odd. Not that Eduard cared. What did surprise Eduard was his lack of supplies. He didn't exactly look prepared to go anywhere. He had a small bag, and a dagger. Nothing else. He waited until the precise moment, and then took his shot, which pierced through Kelvyn's chest. He then went to drag Kelvyn to a predetermined spot, when the man actually got to his feet. "You won't kill me," he said as he ran off the path. Really? I've got a girl waiting on me, you ass. Eduard jumped down, and lined up another shot. Then he fired, hitting Kelvyn in the leg. This made Kelvyn fall, but it didn't kill him. He crawled behind a nearby rock. Eduard made his way to the man. "You'll never-" Eduard didn't have time to hear the man's defiance. He threw a dagger into the side of Kelvyn's skull, finishing him off. He then relieved him of all his valuables and left him behind the rock. Alright, only 2 minutes to get back. Damnit. He made his way back to the house quickly, but not too quickly. He didn't want to invoke suspicion. When he finally made it back, he changed back into his original outfit after he used the water to quickly clean up, and grabbed the mead he had placed there earlier. Then he slipped back in the window. "Sorry I took so long," he said, handing Karita a drink. "That's alright. Why are you breathing hard?" "I... tripped while fetching the drinks. Gave me quite the scare. Thought I'd lost the mead." "That would have been bad," Karita said with a smile. "Is that why there's blood on your hand" "Uhh... yeah. Must be. I tried to stop my fall. I'm good though." "That's good. Now, how about a drink. To a new friend!" "Alright. To a new friend." As the night continued, so did the mead consumption. Well, mainly for Karita. Eduard had used a bit of trickery to make it appear he was drinking as much. Using a quick switch, he made it appear as if his bottle was always near empty. When in fact he had only drank two bottles. One completely, and the other near empty. It was a common tool he used on a date. Not very chivalrous, but it got the job done. At this point, Karita was drunk, but not slammed. He made sure that was avoided. "So, wh... What's your favorite animal?" "My favorite animal? Odd question. I'd have to say the fox. Sleek, beautiful, cunning, and deadly." "Mines the deer. They make good food you know." "Yes. You proved that with dinner tonight." "Thank you! Now, what about your favorite... time of day?" "Well... I would have to say evening. Just after sunset. Everything begins to quiet down, and the night sky begins to awaken. Thing of beauty. And you?" "I like morning. It marks the start of another day!" "That it does." Eduard decided that he had spent enough time with her. Well, enough time at Livia's house anyways. "Hey, it's getting pretty late. How about I walk you home?" "That would be nice!" Eduard led Karita to the door, where Livia was waiting. She said nothing as Karita went through, but stopped Eduard. "You walk her home. That's it. Got it?" Damn she's good. "Of course." "Oh her house is down at the end, on the right." "Right, thanks." He then walked with Karita to her house, stopping at the door. "Karita, I had a wonderful time tonight." "Me too! It's was a lot of fun!" "Good! Say, why don't we do it again some time. Maybe at my place?" "Sounds good to me!" "Alright then. When are you free?" "Uhh... Everyday?" "Okay then," Eduard said with a laugh. "Bye Karita." "Goodbye Eduard." Unfortunately, he ended up keeping his word to Livia. And he would have to come back and find out when she was actually free.
  14. Rebec and Baldur south of Markarth near Dushnikh Yal afternoon “Hold up.” Mazoga called their Stormcloak party to a stop as the palisades of the orc stronghold came into view up the path. She turned to Rebec and Baldur. “I told Cap this back in Solitude, but it’s worth saying again. Those stronghold orcs are no more going to talk to me than they are to a Nord. I’m a town orc and have never even been inside a stronghold. Just so you don't have grand expectations of what's about to happen." Baldur took a look around at the fort. It was quite simple. Most of what he could see was log and wood. Some smoke arising from campfires further inside and a few sentries standing atop wooden towers who likely saw their little group already making their way to the stronghold. The day was hot and humid, and due to their proximity to rivers and streams in the Markarth area, gnats were in abundance. Baldur was getting tired of standing around being feasted upon and simply wanted to get things moving. However, as little as he knew about the Orcs, he did know that they could be stubborn. Patience would likely be key. Swiping at the little buzzing critters swarming his face, Baldur said, "Well, it's a helluva better chance then we had without you. They seem to be a simple folk. Keep to themselves. Distrusting of outsiders. Not much different from ourselves, am I right?" Rebec nodded. "Just try, Maz. It can't hurt." "It could, actually," the orc answered wryly. She was right, the orcs out here were unpredictable and they didn't like being bothered or they wouldn't be living in such a place. Nevertheless Mazoga turned and started walking up towards the palisades. She was never one to shrink back from a challenge, which was why she and Rebec worked together so well and had made an easy transition to fighting sailors. Glancing at Baldur, Rebec felt a lump in her throat. They were all doing this for her. She didn't let herself go down that road too far, though. Had to keep a clear head or this could go wrong in so many ways. "Don't be so nervous, we'll be fine. It's not like they'll attack on sight. They'd be stupid to try." said Baldur, noticing her looks from the corner of his eye. "And if they do, well...there's more than one way to tan a khajiit." Baldur smiled slightly at the comment. In all truthfulness he was hoping to tan the khajiit the other way, but they were here on important business, not to test skill at arms. More specifically they were here for his wife. Talking to the orcs would stand a better chance of learning what they needed to know to find Toki and putting Rebec's mind at ease than forcing the information out of them. Rebec nodded and turned her eyes back on Mazoga, trailing after her slightly. She didn't want the orcs to think they were skulking about for an ambush. As Mazoga got near to the gate, another female orc's voice called out. "That's far enough. This is a stronghold and we don't welcome visitors. On your way." "We're just looking for information," Mazoga began. "You can get it somewhere else. Got nothing to say to you, half-breed." Orc women, just as pleasant as Nord women, Rebec thought as she watched the exchange. Mazoga wasn't losing her temper yet, but starting. "A man went missing here some time ago and we think he was..." "One more word out of you and our archers start firing." Cursing, Mazoga turned to Rebec and Baldur. "Well that's that. I told you." Rebec, standing some distance off, answered, "It's alright, we'll look for Toki's body on our own." It would take them days, maybe weeks, to search all the hidden crevices in these mountains, and all of their lives would be in danger at every moment. As she thought about it, Rebec realized that she couldn't let that happen. Toki's bones would have to rest where they lay, wherever that was. She could do no more for him in death than she'd done in his lifetime. While Rebec stood wrestling with this, Mazoga had turned her head to look back at the orc sentry. She'd noticed the woman's expression change when Rebec said Toki's name. "You know Toki Pot-Banger, the Nord tinker? That's who we're looking for. We think he was ambushed in these hills by guards from Markarth. This is his wife, Rebec Red-Eye. We only want to find his body and put him to rest, if we can." There was silence from the palisade wall, but also no arrow fire. Finally the sentry pointed north. "Go back the way you came." Rebec's heart had risen in her throat, but it fell crashing back again as it seemed they were going to be turned away after all. Then the sentry continued. "Pass the dwarf tower and go two hundred paces. Look down the slope and you'll see the old Nord stones. It's a short climb down. Place called Reachcliff Cave. Maybe there." Baldur sat there thinking for a while in silence as he watched the exchange. The orcs had responded at first exactly how he thought they would, but to him the info was given too easy. He couldn't read anything from the sound of the sentry's voice either. "What do you think Rebec? That was easier than I would have imagined and also rather specific. But I imagine we don't have all that much of a choice. We should probably scout out the location first once we arrive." Rebec stood, indecisive, and not sure what to think. Everything about the Reach felt wrong. She'd seen the Dwemer tower the orc mentioned, and this time there was no mistaking it for Nord stonework. It looked just like the rounded towers of Markarth. Why had Toki loved this gods-forsaken countryside so much that he wanted to spend his life wandering it alone? "Cap, you want my opinion?" Mazoga had rejoined them. "Please," Rebec answered. "These orcs aren't exactly what you'd call friendly, but they're not dirty. That's how the Nords see them, maybe, but they follow a strict code of honor. If they wanted to steer us wrong, they'd have set us off into the wilderness with no idea where to go. I think they know something and are telling the truth." "Can't we ask them what they know and how they found out? For all we know, Moon Balls paid them off and some of his goons are up there waiting for us." Mazoga hesitated, but turned back and called out, "How do you know about this?" There was silence from the stronghold. The sentry wasn't even in sight anymore, though they all could feel eyes on them. Rebec turned back to face Baldur. Resting her hands on his forearms, she said, "I want to go look, but only if you agree. If you say we go back to Markarth and forget about it, that's what we'll do." Her eyes welled a little, but she fought that back. "I love you too much to risk your life for this. My memories of Toki are all I need." It wasn't really true, but if Baldur said the word, she would make it true. Baldur drew his axe and signaled for the score of soldiers to start moving out. His mind was already made up. "It was never a question of if, but when. What kind of husband would I be if I said no to this after what you helped me with earlier? What kind of nord? Besides, we'll be careful. And that amulet of yours can tell when magic is drawn on right? Keep an eye on that. Our celestial sack comes around with his ghost goons, we'll know." The mention of it being a Nord thing not to back down set Rebec's determination finally. The orc had said that the cave was near old Nord stones. That was a reminder that this was their land, after all, and had been for a long time, probably even before these demon Forsworn started calling it theirs. "Alright. Let's go." Once she had her mind set, Rebec wasn't going to mess around. She took the lead and followed the trail back past the Dwemer tower. When they got to the area the orc sentry had described, Rebec climbed up on a bolder and peered down into the gulch below. Sure enough, there were barrow stones down there, and an overgrown path. If you didn't know to look for it, you'd likely never see it, just as they hadn't on their way to Dushnikh Yal. "We'll have to keep going north to look for the trailhead," one of the Stormcloaks said. "We're not doing that." Rebec pulled her rope from her belt and began looking around until she found an outcropping that seemed sturdy enough, then tied her rope to it. "Worst climber goes first, that way when you tumble to your deaths the rest of us have got a soft place to fall." It wasn't really that far a drop, but Rebec's more normal gallows humor seemed to have returned. "That'll be me then. I fall then my armor should offer some protection. Better than the rest of you anyway." Baldur gave a few tugs on the rope to test it's strength as he looked down below, not exactly sure it could hold his weight. "Hmm, you're sure this thing will hold?" Rebec sounded insulted. "Of course it will. I know my rope." She wasn't happy about Baldur going down there first where there might be beasts lurking around, but he was right about the armor. "We'll take up the slack and let you down easy. Even if you fall, it shouldn't hurt you. Much." Baldur chuckled a little as he held the rope in his hand nervously. Climbing things wasn't really something he did everyday, but he wasn't going to die from it. Hopefully. That was enough for him. "Alrighty then, I'm off." Baldur had his back facing the small cliff with the rope in his grasp as he leaned back a bit, testing the rope's strength one last time before he began his dissent. He had to be careful, as the metal on the bottom of his wide boots didn't make the greatest footwear for climbing rock. His cape and shield were also getting caught in the wind which made things even more difficult and made his dissent a tad slow. "So far so good! I guess...I think I heard a bear from somewhere down below though..." Cursing, Rebec gestured to Mazoga with her head. The orc let the others take the rope and stepped around, clambering over the rocks until she had a good firing position, then drew her crossbow. "Maz'll cover you. Just hide somewhere down there til the rest of us get down." "Alright, I'm gonna keep quiet when I get further down. If the bear comes, I'll take cover in the cave." Baldur took a few small leaps down while holding the rope after getting the hang of things. For a minute he was having fun, until the bear noises got louder. He still couldn't see the creature however, which unnerved him more than if he actually saw the damn thing. Once he got near the half mark of the cliff, Baldur slid down the rope the rest of the way. Once he landed, he stumbled a bit, misjudging the height of where he was, but not being any worse for wear. Afterwards he drew his axe and shield and started looking around, but he couldn't figure out where the bear was still. The animal no longer made any noise that would give him a better idea of it's location to him. Baldur figured it must have wandered off, so he gave the others the signal to continue. Rebec normally would have let the others go first, but not with Baldur down there. She was an excellent climber and lighter, so was down on the ground quickly and tugged on the rope to signal the next to come down. Whispering to Baldur, she said, "We're downwind from him, should be fine. One of those snowbacks stubs his toe and lets out a yell, I'll tear his guts out myself." She glanced up at Mazoga, then looked around. As she saw the cave, she felt a strange chill on her back. Toki, did you find your end here? There were altar stones at its entrance. Maybe there was some kind of old Nord enchantment on it, like a warning to outsiders to stay out. Or she was just imagining things. Baldur wasn't taking any chances and decided it was best to keep his axe and shield drawn regardless. Every now and then he'd check to see if he saw any odd shimmers in the air for signs of magically cloaked men. "Rebec, check your amulet. Is it glowing?" She pulled it out from under her cuirass. The glow was faint, but it was there. Not just bears, then. "You think it's Forsworn in there?" Baldur really didn't want to see that, but it was what it was. He remembered how efficiently he was sneaked on and taken down by the invisible hirelings before. Not just him, but his Redguard soldiers as well, all stealthily killed without him hearing a peep. "I don't know, really but we need to get out of the open. Lets take cover by one of those stone pillars and wait for the others. If it is Moon-Balls or Forsworn, it's best we don't give them opportunities to gank us. Keep on alert. When we get inside we need to keep a tight shield formation in a circle when we can with you and Mazoga in the middle." "We're the archers, remember? We'll stay behind you and cover your flanks." She watched as another Stormcloak dropped and joined them. Mazoga would be the last. "Of course, I'd just feel better knowing that no one can come up behind you and slit your throats. You weren't there when I was captured. Those Redguard men were so good at sneaking that I didn't even know they were there. Next thing I know, they're dead. And I was subdued. I wasn't exaggerating when I called them "ghost men". That's some powerful illusion magic they have. You could be dead before I even know it. You'll still be able to cover our flanks. But I'd at least like two soldiers watching yours." said Baldur. Rebec stared at him, not having heard the details of his capture before. She thought about the feeling she'd had that they were being watched. The idea that Moon Balls could have been following them all this time, via his servants, hadn't seemed credible, but she would put nothing past the man. "Alright," she agreed. "But there's no magic that strong here yet or Kyne would point the way." The cave seemed once to have had a carved door, but it was tumbled in now. As they made their way through the first corridor, the air got colder, but there was still a faint stench of rot. One of the Stormcloaks lit a torch, but as they neared what looked like an antechamber, Rebec could see some sort of fire burning. Her amulet was glowing stronger. Baldur's nose was twitching from the smell of the place. It seemed...wrong. It reminded him of the description of one of the barrows Boldir had been to with Galmar. All his life in Skyrim he'd never actually been in a nordic ruin before, but he could remember the tales regardless. The architecture in the distance had two stone bearded men on pillars near the ceiling in the distance. And to the right of some kind of black claw shape was a coffin... "Rebec, I think we may be lucky enough to find a few of our ancestors here today. The metalwork on that coffin definitely seems ancient. Your amulet may be picking up Draugr and whatever magical means keep them alive." "My ancestors have the sense to stay dead." No sooner had Rebec spoken but a greyish figure came shuffling into whatever magic light the chamber was lit by. It saw them across the room and stopped, then let out a rattle of rage and lurched towards them with its axe raised. "Okay, men. Tight formation up front! Two remain facing the back. Crouch so Mazoga and the Admiral can give cover fire!" The men moved into place rather quickly, not wanting to be in a position of weakness if they were to get swarmed by these things. Baldur looked upon the creature with a half curiosity and puzzlement. He wondered how in the world something so frail could cause such fear to his kinsman. As the naked creature came upon their shield wall, one of his soldiers effortlessly knocked the creature down to the ground then put an axe into it's cranium, dulling the teal colored lights in it's eyes as she did so. "Hmm...looks like we named our elite group after the wrong things I guess. That was rather p-" Suddenly as Baldur spoke, man sized slates along the walls started bursting out revealing hidden tombs with more draugr among them wearing black armor with long horned helmets. Some of them were using two handed ancient nordic swords. Some others even had ebony weapons of various kinds. All of them were groaning as they gave their rusted evil laughs and spoke in their long forgotten language. Baldur estimated there to be about fifteen. "Damnit, spoke too soon. Get ready!" The draugr rushed forward without formation, though one of them stopped to wave its sword in the air, the rally of an officer. Rebec rolled out briefly from the cover of the shields, aimed and put a bolt in the draugr's neck. Mazoga came up behind her as she reloaded and fired at the closest deathwalker. Baldur ordered the men to keep moving forward in a wedge formation with the shields up so that the draugr that were now bearing on them could not push them back. There was a narrow tunnel to the left of the room that he wished to push the fiends back into. But these things were much harder to deal with then normal men. The soldiers would send flurries of cuts and hacks upon the horde yet they still came. The most effective attacks were those inflicted upon their heads. Baldur ducked under a swipe from a draugr with an ebony greatsword in it's hand, then came back up and sliced across it's face, knocking it down. The draugr came back up shortly after, however, chuckling at the attack as it sent electrical currents through its body. "Aav Dilon!" "Shit, these things just keep on coming! We've only killed four so far. Keep up the attack, and try to decapitate them! Push forward!" As they got into closer quarters, Rebec switched to axes and Mazoga to sword. Together they hacked at one of the lesser-armored wights, but the grotesque creature behind it stepped over the body and blasted a frost spell at them. Mazoga cried out and lifted her sword arm to shield her face, but the attack only made Rebec furious. She charged the draugr, knocking it back and forcing it to stumble, her axes tearing into its bloodless flesh. The creature began to say something in the guttural old tongue, but an axe in its forehead stilled it. The undead creatures made the shield wall ineffective for killing, as they did not die from normal wounds and extra care had to be taken to decapitate them or at least sever their spinal cord. Baldur in the relentless onslaught was still fighting the big bellowing ancient nord before him, it's paper like skin now split across its face where Baldur had cut it. Baldur and the true necro nord clashed in heated battle, the draugr ignoring the blows he could land on it in favor of delivering his own. It sent a fierce jab towards Baldur's middle section to which he sidestepped, but it managed to scrape the side of his armor. It took the full blow however, leaving him uninjured. Baldur took the opportunity to hit it in the skull with his shield, which knocked it's tall horned helmet clear off. Baldur booted it back, sending it tumbling backwards and then he launched his axe towards it's skull.... "FUS....." The axe left his hand, twirling around and around, singing as it did. "RO" The axe came nearer to it's mark, flying past the other undead creatures charging their way to the foolish mortals who dared to test the mettle of the undead. "DAH!" The axe hit, but it did not hit it's mark. The axe ceased it's movement just before hitting the creature's skull and immediately was sent flying back to its user along with the shockwave that was launched from it's mouth. The smell of dead flesh and ancient stink filled Baldur's nostrils as his face felt the impact of Kyne's storm voice, sending him and a handful of nords flying back off their feet. When Baldur finally recovered, he opened his eyes to see his axe buried in the skull of one of his soldiers next to him. Baldur silently wished him farewell in Sovngarde before gripping his large braided red beard and yanking his weapon out to go for round two. "FUS" The axe was once again launched from Baldur's hands, this time with anger and greater velocity. "RO" The metal sang louder this time as it twirled through the air once more, flinging the blood of Baldur's kin from it as it did, it's song singing along with the general's battlecry, complimenting him in this ballad of war. "D-" This time, the axe had made it's intended mark, signifying it's victory with a satisfying thunk and sound of tearing ancient flesh along with the crackle of electricity. Baldur walked up to the creature and placed his foot upon it's throat as he yanked his weapon out of it's skull before going back into the fray. The creature managed to get out a word before it died despite it's head injury. "V-Vahzah...Bron..." It's eye lights dimmed out forever, signifying the abomination's death, once and for all. Rebec was under a pile of Stormcloaks and orc sailor, who'd all been blown back like leaves in a windstorm. She was just getting to her feet when the creature made his death rattle and slumped at Baldur's feet. The after-battle quiet was even more eerie in the tomb. Rebec stepped to Baldur's side, and her voice echoed. "Now I know how those imperials in Solitude felt when Ulfric was coming through." Together they stared down at the dead Nord. She gestured at him. "That's some nice armor." Baldur tilted his head, staring down curiously at the thing. It was so unlike anything he had ever faced before. Especially it's thu'um. Baldur's adrenaline was still pumping, completely exhilarated from the battle. And almost being killed. I don't think Rebec saw that. I'll keep it to myself. "Hmm, maybe...Maybe a few touch ups and some new cloth...Think we can take this with us Rebec? It stinks worse than two horker asses chopped up in shit broth, but I think I can wash it up and have a smith refurbish it. What do you think? Maybe we can get one of those female ones for you too." Baldur pointed over to the corner where a female draugr with a bolt in her mouth lay. Rebec glanced over at the female draugr. "If what she's wearing can be called armor, you can stick pointy ears on me and call me an elf. Apparently the ancient Nord women were a lot tougher than the men, because they wore their smallclothes into battle. No thank you." She began wandering around the chamber, looking at the carvings on the wall. Her amulet was still glowing blue, but only faintly. When she spoke again, her voice sounded defeated. "Toki couldn't have come in here. He'd have been cut down by those draugr." Baldur's face looked crestfallen when Rebec turned down the idea. He was getting all sorts of visuals of Rebec going into battle with it... Not very practical but.... "*Ehem*, Uh, well maybe he snuck past them? The tombs here were all sealed shut until we came in. We didn't even know they were there until they opened. I don't know if these things can seal themselves back but I doubt it. Maybe he met his end further inside." "He clanked a lot with his tools but if he wanted to I guess he could make do. He had to shelter a lot out in the wilds, after all. I supposed we should..." Rebec had circled back around to Baldur, but stopped as she noticed something in the wall next to the doorway. It was wedged into a crack like it had been left there on purpose. She pulled it out and held it up towards the torch, then her eyes went wide. It was a little auger. Engraved on the wooden handle was a T with moth wings outstretched. "This is Toki's ownership mark." Rebec's hand shook as she lowered the tool and met Baldur's eyes. "He was here. He must've left that, it couldn't have gotten there by accident. Come on." She slipped the tool in her pocket and drew her crossbow, stepping across the draugr's corpse and peering into the next chamber, determined now. Baldur was glad that they no longer had to go further down the other corridor where there were likely more of those things, but he loathed the minute Rebec would finally find Toki's bones, fearing how she would take seeing them despite her words about how she felt before. Baldur still thought that she would be saddened. And if she was saddened, then of course he would be. Baldur stopped the advances of one of his soldiers before they could step through the small hidden passageway as well. "Strip that draugr of it's armor while we're gone. Keep watch." No more draugr appeared in the next chamber, but in the doorway that led out of it into the next room, Rebec could find no more evidence of his being there. She felt certain that he had left the tool as a sign for her. The marking would have significance only to someone who knew him well. It made her feel sick inside. Pacing the room in frustration, she finally turned and was about to head further in when she noticed something odd. What had looked like one of the wall tombs was fallen in, and when Rebec shined the torch into it, she could see a little room beyond it. The door had been made to look like a tomb as a concealment. Wedging her way inside, Rebec held the torch up and its light fell on a skeleton propped up against the far wall. The body wore a fur-lined cloak and leather armor, but she recognized it immediately, and the slim workman's axe that lay at its side. "No." It was barely a word, more a noise of anguish. She dropped the torch and in its remaining light, knelt down by the body. Her hand reached out to touch it, but how could you embrace bones? Rebec's mind tried to find a way to fit the horror together with the memories she had of her husband, but it couldn't. She couldn't cry, either, and couldn't move. Baldur wasn't exactly sure what he felt, but he knew whatever it was he felt didn't matter. What mattered was what Rebec felt. Baldur of course felt horrible for poor Toki, but now he felt something that he thought he was incapable of feeling before towards this man. He actually felt jealous. Jealous! Of a skeleton! Why? Baldur figured it must have been the effect his death had on Rebec, which at this point Baldur wasn't exactly sure what it was. But Rebec was frozen, so obviously she was upset on some level. Baldur of course expected this and wasn't upset over it. It was a base emotion that he couldn't control. He was her first. Her first time and her first husband. Despite how they felt about each other now, that was something they could never share. Their connection was far more than what the two had once had but Baldur couldn't help wishing that they shared that as well. Another feeling Baldur had was slight anger at the man for not holding on to Rebec tighter than what he did. For letting her go off and be wild as she put it. Baldur sat there wondering how could he let someone as special as Rebec go off like that and then he remembered he and Rebec's talk back at the camp before they reached Markarth. It was never something that he was going to understand. From her side, maybe. Doing something and seeing no reason to stop he clearly could relate to, but from Toki? No he could never understand that. How could he? He couldn't contemplate not loving her enough to keep her away from all that. How was it that he didn't feel these things back when Rebec had brought them up? It was just different he figured. Coming face to face with the man that was your wife's first husband. That or he full well did and merely suppressed the thoughts for Rebec's sake. Either way Baldur got over this when he remembered one thing. If Toki had held on to her better, then Baldur and Rebec likely never would have been together. Baldur overcame these feelings by thanking the gods things happened the way they did so they could be together. Instantly he felt horrible for doing so as it was selfish, but it wasn't like he wished him dead. Toki could still be alive and had things end up the way they did now. After all, Rebec swore to him that she'd remain with him, no matter what Toki's fate. And even if she didn't he already knew who she'd stay with. But not being alive made things a lot easier regardless. No fighting and the jealousy was a lot easier to overcome now that he was feeling sadness for the man. Baldur couldn't imagine what it was like dying in a place like this, all alone surrounded by these things. Even if Rebec wasn't as broken up as Baldur thought she should be, Baldur would at least try to mourn the man in her place. Picturing himself in his place made it easier to do, but all he could muster was cloudy vision for him. Suddenly Baldur felt like a much smaller petty man than what he thought he once was for his selfish thoughts and wished to leave when he noticed some kind of journal nearby on the floor. Baldur put a hand over Rebec's shoulder and showed the cover to her. "This is his ledger," she said, taking it from Baldur's hands. Her own hands shaking, Rebec flipped open the pages. In Toki's scrawl was written dates, names, the things he had repaired and what his payment had been, usually whatever bits of produce the farmers could offer him or something in trade. He would sell these in town and move on to the next destination. There were some empty pages, and towards the back the entries changed. There were also locations, but instead of jobs Toki had written: 5 adults, 2 children 1 adult, 3 goats, 4 deer 3 deer, 4 adults, some further away, probably healing magic And on went the list. "This was his reacord of the poisoned wells," Rebec told Baldur. Igmund, then jarl of Markarth, had been poisoning wells in Forsworn areas, and Toki noticed the pattern. She flipped the page, and cringed as she saw that this one was stained with blood. Going to Markarth. Dangerous but have to try. I'll talk to Hevdil Silvertooth. He's a friend and will know what to do. The rest was barely legible and partially obscured by blood stains. Du.k.Y.. hiding. Draug... I'm wou... die. Reb... The last word trailed off into a scrawling line. "He must have gotten away from the ambushers and hid here. The draugr woke and blocked his way back out. Oh gods. Oh gods, he died here alone in the dark." Rebec began to breathe hard, almost to hyperventilate. She closed the ledger and leaned on Baldur, trying to stand. Baldur for the second time today since meeting his mother didn't really know what to say, so he brought Rebec to a corner in the room to sit down in for a while next to him. He'd sit there for hours if need be. Rebec had a lot of emotions that she needed to sift through right now. And it was his job to be there for her. It was a duty he was happy to carry out for her. "Maybe remembering something about him would help. One of your happier moments with him. Close your eyes and picture that. Let that be the last thing you see when we leave this place, okay? Tell me a story." Rebec let Baldur hold her, and closed her eyes, trying to block out the horrible smell of the place and the sight of her first husband as a desiccated corpse. She had thought she'd be stronger, but when it came to it, her mind refused to accept what she'd long known to be true. Baldur's simple order made her thoughts start to work again. Eyes still pressed closed, she said, "Farmers often couldn't pay him in coin, so they gave him whatever they had. I came home to Dawnstar one time and he wasn't waiting for me at the docks. I thought he must still be out working, but when I got to the cabin I saw him kneeling next to some bird coops he'd built. Some farmer had given him chickens and there were a dozen little chicks running around. He didn't see me, but he was crouched there watching them run around and laughing like a little boy. When it came time for both of us to leave he had a hard time selling off those chickens. He had a soft heart like that." Like Baldur. That thought brought Rebec back to the present, and also to what she had that she could hang onto. She hugged Baldur hard, burying her face into his neck, feeling the warmth there that marked them out as alive in this dead place. It made her unbearably sad to think that Toki could never again experience anything like it, but maybe Sovngarde was better. He'd died fighting, there was no way he wasn't getting in there. Releasing Baldur, Rebec stood shakily to her feet. "Could you..." As much as she felt courage again, she couldn't face dismantling Toki's body into its mere skeletal parts. They had to go, however. It would be getting dark outside and nobody wanted to camp in this tomb. Baldur wasn't sure what she meant at first, but he remembered their second part of business that needed to be done and he thought he understood. "Aye. Have the men give me a sack. I'll take care of it." Baldur stood back to his feet and guided Rebec back to the tunnel, making sure that she didn't see the remains again on her way out. "You gonna be ok, Rebec?" said Baldur, still wondering about the state of her mind at the moment. "I'm going outside to see if that bear is still out there." She just really needed some air and to put this tomb behind her. The ledger was still clutched to her chest, though. Baldur turned back and waited for his soldier to come in with the bag. It was larger then what they would actually need. Toki's remains would likely not be holding together very well. That made Baldur's job easier as the corpse collapsed when he tried to move it. Baldur made a mental note not no mention any of that to Rebec in the future. Baldur held Toki's skull in his hands and pondered on how he was now. Likely wandering the fields of Sovngarde as he once did in Markarth, under that amazing heavenly sky. He figured he'd have to wait on Rebec and himself once they got there to get past Tsun. The image of this gave Baldur some peace. He hoped it would do the same for Rebec. Baldur lingered for a while with the skull in his hand, deep in thought before he remembered Rebec said she was going to look for the bear. Baldur hurriedly bolted out of the passageway with Toki in tow, ready to leave the place as much as everyone else was. Outside, Rebec had gathered her thoughts and was beginning to feel better. There had been no Moon Balls goons waiting, and they had found Toki's body. She'd done what she came to do and was on the road to putting it behind her. There seemed to be no sign of the bear. Rebec put Toki's ledger aside and looked at her map. It was a Stormcloak map, made during the war, and this cave was marked along with the trail leading out. When Baldur emerged, she smiled at him and pointed at the map. "We can take this trail out. I figured it had to be the main one, since it's got those pillar things. I'll have to leave the rope." Glancing at him, she said in softer tone, "Thank you, Baldur." Baldur walked over and put his arm around her, then he rested his forehead on hers and he closed his eyes. "Any time, Rebec." Touching his cheek, Rebec said, "He would thank you, too, if he could." She kissed him lightly, but by then Stormcloaks were starting to come out of the cave. Her eyes met Mazoga's and she nodded at the orc, then said to all, "Let's get out of here." They all were happy to comply. It helped Rebec to concentrate on something else, so she took the lead heading out on the path. It was a surprisingly well tended path, marked out by old stone pillars, though narrow and winding. The cliffs of the Reach mountains towered above them. Rebec was starting to think how welcome a bath and some mead would be, when she came around a bend in the path and almost smacked into the chest of a man standing in it. She saw plate armor and the man's hand holding his sword nearly out of its scabbard, then her eyes lifted to his face. It was the guard captain from Markarth, the one who had hauled her off to Cidhna Mine. He was out of uniform. Two other men stood behind him, their swords drawn. For a minute they stared at each other, then the man smiled. "You're a long, long way from Solitude now." Her mind worked. Something had been niggling at her since she read the last page of Toki's ledger. In the corner of the captain's mouth, a gold tooth glinted in the late afternoon sun. He had smiled at her once when he was interrogating her, too, but then the tooth hadn't meant anything to her. "Hevdil Silvertooth. You got a promotion and upgraded to gold. Did Toki's blood buy that?" "Toki spoke about you, Rebec. He was a good man. It was nothing personal, but if I hadn't turned on him, someone else would've got to him in the end, and me along with him. Jarl Thongvar might understand that, or he might not." "So now you're here to make sure no one finds out what you did." The captain nodded. "I'll be doing the Reach a favor. When High King Ulfric finds out that Forsworn murdered his best general and the admiral of his navy..." As the captain was speaking, there was motion on the slopes above them. Rebec glanced up and saw archers on both sides of the narrow gulch, with bows drawn on them, and more had dropped down on the path behind them to cut off any retreat. They were all out of uniform, but she thought she recognized one or two faces from the guards at Cidhna Mine. There were at least five archers on each side, well protected behind cover. She, Baldur, Mazoga, all of them... they had them dead to rights. Rebec's gaze met Baldur's. "I'm sorry." The arrows started firing as Redec said this, and The men gathered around Baldur, Mazoga and Rebec to protect them with their bodies. Baldur thought about taking out the Captain, but he couldn't risk Rebec's life in the process. Six of his men had already been felled, the rest put up their shields and gathered in a circle around the two to back up and regroup. Baldur had two arrows strike his shoulder and one strike his shield as he moved to protect Rebec from arrow fire. They may have been caught in an ambush but these were trained soldiers, and they had more men. They wouldn't be going down without a fight. "Sorry like hell, we're not dying today. I promise that to you, Rebec. Stay close and start firing you two with your crossbows! The rest of you back up, so we can charge with our shields raised!" You should have brought more men, bastard. Rebec felt an arrow whip past her head in the first volley, and as she was pulling her crossbow around another hit her in the back below her shoulder. She lurched and nearly dropped the crossbow, but fought back the wave of pain and forced herself to draw back the bolt. Just then the screams of pain and anger in the gulch were echoed by the same from the cliffs above, and the arrows stopped firing. Hevdil Silvertooth was yelling and pointing up at the cliffs, but an arrow caught him in the throat and he fell back. The confusion was terrific. Rebec saw two figures drop behind them and start attacking the ambushers. One of these shouted "For Malacath!" They were orcs, and had to be the stronghold orcs from Dushnikh Yal. With this added force, the gulch was soon quiet again except for the moans of the dying. A big male orc strode up towards Baldur and Rebec, stepping over bodies with all the casualness of an evening stroll. "I'm Ghorbash Iron-Hand. Our chief sent us to aid you and to avenge our own sentries who were killed in the ambush of Toki Tool-smith, Blood Kin of the orcs. If you can walk, our medicine woman will tend your wounds." Baldur was still enraged from the ambush that was pulled on them. What were the odds? How could he have known Toki's death was related to the Captain specifically? Seven of his men lay dead on the floor and his wife was almost killed. He wasn't sure how that fight would have gone, but he wasn't sure at all if he could've won. The odds were against them, and his men weren't Grim Ones. If they were, it would've been different. Baldur thought back to his promise...it was foolish. He had no right making that promise. Worst yet was he was pretty sure the captain was either dead or was about to be from that arrow. "Tend to my wife first. Thank you." Baldur's face didn't seem like he was very thankful. His pride was greatly wounded. He almost failed to protect his wife. He hadn't been this angry since Rommulas. "Tell me that Captain is still alive..." Rebec still had an arrow lodged in her back, but her leather cuirass had prevented it from going too deep. She stumbled a little as she walked towards the prone captain. "He's alive," she called back. An arrow had caught the side of his neck, and he was gasping for breath with blood coming out of his mouth. "Barely." "Good. Do you want to kill him, or will you leave it to me? If you do it, I want to have some time with him first. Alone." Baldur's face went normal once more. If Boldir were there, he'd be able to tell the others that wasn't a good sign for the Captain. He thought back to the night he and Rebec had when he told her why he loved her. Turns out even Rebec couldn't suppress his vindictive side when it was her that was put in danger. Rebec glanced at Baldur, then shook her head. "This one's mine." Putting down her crossbow, she drew the dagger from her thigh sheath, knelt down by the captain, and forced his mouth open. His body lurched as she dug out the gold tooth from his mouth. Rebec deposited the bloody hunk of metal in her pocket with Toki's auger and his ledger, then calmly drew Kyne's Talon and sliced open the man's throat with a touch that was almost gentle. The axe was so sharp that even light pressure made a deep cut. Blood gushed forth and the man's eyes rolled back as he died. Straightening, Rebec turned and nodded to Baldur. She was satisfied, even if he was not. Baldur stood there and watched as Rebec killed the man he had promised to ruin. He had his chance and just like that it was gone. Many many possibilities were racing through his mind, all of which disappeared after his wife simply ended his life. It seems he was wrong after all. Rebec did suppress his mood, whether he wanted it suppressed or not. Baldur was still staring at the body, wondering what he was supposed to do with his anger now. He had no one left to inflict it on. Only place left for it now was inside him. Baldur's face twisted in his fury, not being able to do anything about it. "Rebec! Why? Why did you do that? He got off too easy damn it! You should have made him suffer for what he'd done! You should have made him suffer! What am I s-" Selfish. So selfish. "N-nevermind. He killed your husband. It was your right." said Baldur with his head lowered. Rebec was weaving on her feet from her own blood loss. "Because I want it to be done." An orc woman with red war paint came up to her and pressed a potion into her hand. "We need to get you back to the stronghold," she said with an air of command. They had to leave the bodies where they lay, both Stormcloak and ambusher. With the help of the orcs, the survivors made it back to Dushnikh Yal, where their wounds were tended and they were given food and pallets to sleep on in the courtyard. There wasn't room in the longhouse for the visitors, but even that much hospitality was unusual. As they sat around their fire that evening, Rebec was quiet. The orc's healing potions had taken away the pain of her wounds, but it was still a lot to take in, and she didn't know what to do with Baldur's anger, either. So she sat near him, but stared intently into the fire. Eventually Mazoga came over. She'd been invited into the longhouse for a discussion with the chief. "Chief Bugurk wants to apologize. Two and a half years ago when their scouts went missing, they found the blood where Toki was ambushed and traced it to Reachcliff Cave. He was already dead and the draugr were starting to wake. They thought it good enough that he was among Nord dead." "They could've sent word to Markarth. It would have gotten to me eventually." Rebec's voice was dull. She wasn't really angry at the orcs, more at herself for not being here when Toki needed her. "Their numbers are dwindling here and they say all the Nords need is an excuse to treat them the same way they do the Forsworn. Any time they involve themselves with outsiders, it's a risk for them. Anyway, he apologizes, and also for not getting to us in time today to save our men." Rebec thought about this, then nodded. There was no use blaming the orcs. It wasn't their fight. Mazoga went to find her bedroll, and that left Baldur and Rebec alone again by the fire. "I'm sorry about the captain," she began. "What were you going to do to him?" Baldur looked to Rebec briefly, then went back to staring in the fire before closing his eyes as he spoke. "It's best we not talk about it. I'd likely have ended up killing him myself anyway out of shame. Wouldn't have wanted you to see what I did to him." "It wouldn't have bothered me, you know. But there was no need. This was never about you and me, it was about Toki all along. That captain recognized me and must have guessed why I was in Markarth. I imagine he was watching us the whole time. Here I thought it was Dwemer or Forsworn giving me that creepy feeling in my spine." Rebec fell silent and moved the fire coals a little with a stick. "You know, I don't think those bodies in the ledger were all Nords. Maybe none of them were. That's just what Toki would've told the guardsman in Markarth to get him concerned, and that's how Moon Balls got that information. To Toki it wouldn't have mattered if the dead were Reachmen. He never outright told me, but he hinted that once he got captured by Forsworn and made some kind of deal with them, maybe to trade or fix their tools. That's how he could travel through the Reach like he did." Baldur with his eyes still closed raised an eyebrow at that information. He didn't know how he felt about Toki making dealings with Forsworn. He figured he had sympathy for them. It was a sentiment that Baldur couldn't share. "I don't know what to say about that Rebec. I can't show sympathy for the Forsworn. Not in me. Still, what that orc said about the nords only needing an excuse...I hate to say it but he's likely a hundred percent correct. As for the Captain...it was never a question of necessity. It was just pride. Ulfric always held me up like I was some sort of champion. I never understood it but it eventually got stuck into my head, which isn't good for a Red-Snow. We're prideful by nature. Which is ironic because it was my father who told me you couldn't be a true warrior or leader until you were reborn through the pain of being humbled. So all this was a good lesson to learn I suppose. I failed you. Twice. First when I promised you wouldn't be going into his custody and the second time during that attack. I have no idea how that fight would've turned out, but it didn't look good. The first time I failed I was so bent on making him suffer because with that in mind I never had to deal with the fact that I failed. This time, it was the same thing. I could take my anger out on him and go on about my business like I was Ysmir himself. But I'm not Ysmir, I'm not Ysgramor, and you're not my Rebec the Red, no matter how much Ulfric would say it is so. I don't...I don't know what I am. He want's me to take the position of High General. I can tell. I can't even protect my own wife, let alone all of Skyrim." Now it was Rebec's turn to be surprised. Although on a second thought, she wasn't surprised at all by the news, only that Baldur hadn't said anything to her about it before. "Don't you want it? Forget about whether you can protect me or not. You've done that so many times now I'm losing count." "No, I never wanted any of it. I only accepted general because there was no one else better for the job and I realized that I had been groomed for this since childhood. Well, there was Boldir, now that I think about it. Ulfric was too hung up on me though. He can be stubborn once he's made up his mind. Hm, sounds familiar. Anyway I'm hoping that the man I recommended now will be worthy, but if not, I'll do what I must. Too bad Boldir's retired. He'd likely make a good High General. As for you, it doesn't matter how many times I've done it. That is my duty. I'm your husband and this time I failed. There's no excuse. You could've died. Enough about me. How are you?" Rebec laughed in spite of it all, and said, "Me dying is about me, isn't it? Baldur, love. Just think what this would've been like if I'd come here alone with just Maz. And about the other thing... I don't know what happened to me in there. I feel a lot of guilt for a lot of things, but I'm not sure what's right to carry and what's not. I guess it doesn't matter. Toki wouldn't want me to be weighted down by any of it." She fell silent a time, struggling. "Baldur, let's learn from this, you and I. Toki couldn't tell me what was going on, and so I didn't even know the burden he was carrying. We dealt with a lot of things by not dealing with them at all. Even if you and I fight, if we have to settle it by axes like we did about our name- we do it openly. Deal?" Baldur didn't want to laugh, but Rebec's laugh was infectious. When she was sad, he was sad. When she was happy, he was happy. That's just the way it was. Despite his desire to brood and mope over his shortcomings, Rebec wouldn't let him. That was good. A warrior that fails in battle and lives to see another day doesn't cry about it. He learns from his mistakes, brushes himself off and goes back into the fray. Really this needed to happen, Baldur realized. It was a harsh lesson that would serve him well in the future. Baldur opened his eyes finally and put his hand out for Rebec to grab. Somehow he felt at ease. Moreso than he would have if he had gotten his hands on Silvertooth. "Deal." said Baldur, giving a genuine smile. Some of the guilt came back that she was feeling happy while Toki had suffered such a lonely and terrible fate, but Rebec pushed it away. Rubbing Baldur's hand, she said, "It might have turned out differently. We might've found Toki in Cidhna Mine serving out a sentence as a Forsworn sympathizer. He wasn't, really, you know. It was about being left alone to live his life. That's what both of us wanted, and it's why we understood each other. Neither of us were much for politics or causes. It took me a while to realize this war was about the same thing- being let alone to live as you want. At first I thought it was about Ulfric's visions of grandeur. At any rate, you take that general spot if you want it. There's no one who deserves it more than you, or who'd do better at it." Baldur placed his second hand over Rebec's now and leaned his head on her shoulder. "I already have what I want. If I do end up taking the position, it will only be to better protect the things that I love. So that like Toki, we can see our dream realized. To be left alone to do what we want. Speaking of...." Rebec looked at him, then around at the camp. "Now?" she whispered. She wasn't feeling amorous, and her first inclination was to turn him down. It felt wrong somehow, with Toki's bones in their pack nearby. "Yea I guess this isn't the right time. Sorry. Just tired is all. Wasn't thinking clearly." said Baldur, feeling guilty and embarrassed for being inconsiderate. "Hmm, I'm going to get some rest. We both have big days tomorrow. Especially you and your..."Girls Day". She bit her lip and looked around again. "Over behind that shed," she whispered. There was no point in whispering, because when she stood up, took a bedroll and began to lead Baldur by the hand, it was obvious to anyone watching what they were doing. No one paid them any attention. They both began shedding clothes, excited as the doubts were put behind them. Still half-clothed but ready to start, they climbed under the furs and began to kiss. As Baldur made to lay her down under him, Rebec stopped him. "I got shot in the back, remember?" she said, smiling. He had no objections when she pushed him to his back. They were too tired and she was too heartsick for great effort, but that wasn't what either needed. It was enough that he could comfort her, and that they could affirm that they were both alive.
  15. Ender Drenim Kvatch Evening "Elara! Hurry up!" The girl had stopped in the street to read the plaque on the statue of some city hero, and it was taking up Endar's time. She quickly stopped reading and ran down the street to catch up with him. "Sorry Mister Drenim!" Normally, he'd have quizzed her on how sorry she was, or even if the girl was actually sorry at all, but not this time. Endar was in too much of a hurry. He hadn't felt like this in a long time. He wasn't sure what to call the emotion that was tickling his insides. It felt like anxiousness, but he knew that couldn't possibly be it. I don't get anxious. The very thought of him being anxious to meet someone else would've made him chuckle on any normal day. "I hope you were entertained." he said as they briskly walked down the crowded streets. "Can you imagine how this meeting would go down if I didn't have a servant?" Elara began to correct him. "Stewar-" "Oh stuff it!" he interrupted without looking back. "My point is, what if we end up taking a while and I get thirsty, or need someone to run and fetch an extra soul gem or something? I couldn't leave the meeting myself, that would be rude." "Couldn't you summon that Dre...Drem..." Elara paused, desperately trying to remember the word Endar had used for the large pack Daedra he had conjured up on the road a couple times. "Dremolo... No that's not it... Damn! You know. That thingie you summon? The big horned guy with the bag on his back." Endar, still walking ahead of Elara, listened with amusement as the girl behind him tried to remember the simple word "Dremora". Peasants... "The word is Dremora Dre-mor-a. And nooo I can't just summon him in the middle of a meeting. I don't know this person, and I don't want to frighten them away before I get what I came for. Speaking of the Dremora though..." Endar raised his hand and clenched his fist, causing a red aura to surround it and out of nowhere, the Daedra appeared in front of him. He was holding a medium-sized chest. Endar reached out and took the chest, and the Dremora immediately disappeared in a purple and red cloud of smoke. Endar turned and handed the chest to Elara. "Here, carry this. It's the money for the deal." Elara felt shaken up. The abruptness of the large demon from Oblivion appearing before her so unexpectedly had made her jump and, to her shame, she was pretty sure that she had let out a little yelp. She took the chest, surprised by how light it was. Must've been more of Drenim's magic. She looked past the wizard and noticed the terrified faces of many bystanders and several guards. If the Daedra had shocked her, then it must've terrified them. Kvach, of all cities, had a bad history with Daedra. A guard approached Endar. "Uhh" he looked nervous. "You know the summoning of Daedra is illegal in the streets of Kvatch. I'm afraid I have to take you in, unless you can pay the court a three hundred Septim fine." Endar rolled his eyes. Doesn't anyone realize how important this meeting is? "Look officer, first, why in the world is something like that illegal? I mean seriously. It's been over two hundred years since your city got burned down by Daedra. Get over it. Secondly, and most importantly, I really don't have time for this. I am in a hurry. Can we please do this after my highly important meeting?" The guard looked incredulous. "What? We can't just start letting strangers summon Daedra in the street! and nobody is above the law!" he looked back to see if his friends were there to support him. There were two other guards in the crowd, but they hadn't stepped forward. "You uhh, you have to come with me now sir." his eyes looked somewhat pleading. He didn't want to see what else the mage could summon if things got violent. Endar sighed and put a subtle charm onto the guard before continuing in a whisper so only the guard and Elara could hear. "I am already late, and I'm going to my meeting. You tell your guard friends to wait at the bridge to the castle and I'll meet up with you to pay the ridiculous fine when I'm done. Okay?" The guard nodded. "Got it sir. That sounds like a reasonable enough solution for everyone." he turned back and headed for the crowd. "It's okay! He's gonna pay. We'll wait at the bridge." Endar started back towards the chosen meeting place, the Western Wanderer Inn. It wasn't Endar's first choice. He'd wanted to meet at the arena, or the chapel, but the person in the letters had said that he didn't feel comfortable with those two choices, and that he prefered to meet in a popular inn. Endar agreed, but only because the man seemed serious about this meeting. If it is for real, then Endar was going to be leaving Kvatch considerably happier than he'd arrived. When they reached the inn, Endar motioned for Elara to follow him around back. The backyard of the inn was private enough. There was a nice fence around it with only one gate and the inn's back door leading out. Endar motioned for Elara to come to him. "Take my hand." he said. "What? Why?" "Damn it girl I don't have to do this for you!" he paused. "Take... my hand." Elara nervously took Endar's hand. When she did, she noticed his beginning to glow along with hers, and a glowing circle appeared on the ground below them before fading away. Endar let go of her hand. She was confused as to what had just happened. "What uh, what did you-" "It was a marking spell." said Endar as he headed back to the streets to enter the inn. "Now if the meeting goes sour, I can cast recall, and we'll both appear on the marked spot. It's a good habit to get into." When Endar opened the door to the inn, he looked around a bit. It was loud and crowded. Almost every table was full. Most notable were the five drunken Nords at a table near the door who were singing something completely incomprehensible. There was an Imperial with a harp against the door side wall, but he wasn't playing. It wouldn't be possible to hear over the Nords' singing anyway. Endar peered over to the far wall, there in the corner of the room, sat a lone hooded fellow with a box on the table in front of him. "Wow." said Endar. "What is is?" asked Elara. She almost had to shout to be heard. "Oh nothing." responded Endar. "It's just that this has to be the most stereotypical shady meeting that I can think of. See that hooded man over there?" he nodded the man's way so Elara could see. "That's our guy. I bet you a day's wages that he's an Imperial." Elara wanted to laugh, as Imperials do love the dramatics, but she refrained from it. She had a hard time telling if the wizard was joking or not. She didn't even know if he was the type to make jokes. If he was, this was the first time she'd noticed it. Endar felt a little disappointed that his stewardess didn't catch his obvious joke. He shrugged. "Come on then." he worked his way through the room, taking no care to avoid pushing aside the patrons that were in his way. He said his "Excuse me" and Pardon me" when warranted, but they didn't seem all that genuine. Without asking permission, Endar took a seat opposite the hooded man. Now that he could clearly see his face, it was indeed an Imperial. He had long brown hair and appeared to be middle-aged. There weren't any particularly discernible features, but Endar couldn't tell for certain, as the man's eyes were under the shadow of his hood. The man looked at Endar, then up at Elara, who was standing by the table, still holding the chest. "That the money?" he said with a low raspy voice that Endar was pretty sure was fake. He nodded. "Yes. And you brought the artifact I see, he said, motioning toward the box on the table. "Or at least I hope that's what is in there. I don't like wasting time, and this trip has costed me many days and multiple servants." Elara's eyes went wide when she heard this. "Multiple what?!" she asked with a raised voice. "Shhh!" without even looking up, Endar offhandedly casted a calm spell on the girl to make her settle down. The Imperial chuckled at the Endar's treatment of his servant. "Your time wasn't wasted. Costed me a solid Septim to find it, but I can tell you, it's as real as it gets." The man opened his box and pulled out a horned helmet made of dark metal. On it was the intricately carved face of a bearded man. The helmet didn't look like something any normal warrior would wear. Only the greatest were deserving of such a prize. But it wasn't warriors who tended to be interested in it. "The Masque of Clavicus Vile." he handed it over to Endar. Endar looked over the Masque, turning it over in his hands to observe every little detail. He brought it up to his nose and gave the inside a sniff. His eyes narrowed. Endar didn't feel any power emitting from this "Daedric artifact" at all. "You don't seriously expect me to believe this is the real one do you?" he asked. "Where is the real Masque?" The man's deep voiced cracked a bit. "I can assure you sir, this is as real as it gets." Endar shook his head. "Please, this thing isn't even enchanted. There is no power in it at all. It's a fake." The man grew angry. "Now look here! I know for certain that this is the real Masque. I've used it myself. Maybe you aren't as good at picking up on magic as you think. Maybe you can't because this is a powerful Daedric artifact!" "I've dealt with Daedric artifacts before, and this isn't one, and now I'm beginning to think that you knew all along and are trying to scam me." Endar smiled. "But if you insist that it is real, and I'm just an incompetent fool, then we'll just have to prove that it works. Here." he said, holding the "artifact" to the man. "Put it on." The Imperial hesitated, then pulled back his hood. Endar could see nervousness deep in the man's green eyes now that they weren't covered. The man had gotten way in over his head and he now knew it. He put on the Masque. "Okay, now what?" "Ask my Stewardess's hand in marriage." he said nonchalantly. "What? It doesn't work like that!" said the man. "She knows what's going on!" Endar looked up at Elara, who was watching curiously. She didn't seem all that upset about being offered up to be wed. She was still under the effects of the calm spell. He looked back at the Imperial. "Her? She hasn't got a clue what's going on. She doesn't even know what the Masque is. Look at her! She's half dazed from the calm spell I put on her already!" "Wait..." said Elara. Realizing that she was under the spell weakened it's hold on her. Her voice sounded angry. "You put a calm spell on me?!" Endar threw another calm spell on her, and she immediately shut up. "See? Should be easy with the legendary Masque." The Imperial looked up at her with his dark helmet. "Uhh, will you... will you marry me?" Elara laughed at the odd man. "Hehehe, Of course not!" Endar looked back at the Imperial. "Well that's that then." he rose from his seat. He didn't show it, but he was extremely annoyed. There was so much else he could've done with this time, and he'd wasted it all on a half-hearted scam. "Come on Elara, we're leaving!" Suddenly, the man made a dash for Elara, and grabbed her, holding a knife to her throat with one hand, and grabbing the money chest with another. she didn't fight back, thanks to the calm spell. "I need this money Elf!" he said. Endar tilted his head. Nobody else in the crowded and loud room seemed to have noticed the display. "Then I recommend you find an honest way to make it. Now let go of her so I can be on my way. I've got a fine to go pay. The man wouldn't have it. He shook his head. He was still wearing the useless helmet, but Endar figured that he must've looked crazy underneath it. They usually do when they pull out knives. "Why don't you just head on out of here?" Endar sighed, and turned back to the door, walking away. Suddenly, Endar's right hand glowed purple, and a tankard flew out of one of the dunken Nord's hands and went flying over Endar's shoulder, slamming into the Imperial's knife hand, knocking it from his grip. Endar spun around and casted a fatigue spell on the man, causing him to collapse on the spot. Everyone underestimates damage fatigue. So much less draining than paralysis. "Look out!" shouted Elara, as the group of Nords, Endar had just stolen a tankard from walked up behind him. Endar spun around and began backing up. The Nords looked angry... and drunk. The biggest one in the front spoke up. "We don't erppreciate some fancy spell castin' Elf takin' are shtuff." Endar sighed. They couldn't see it from in front of him, but from behind, Elara could see the inside of his palms glowing a brighter and brighter green, as if he was charging a spell. "I can tell." said Endar. "Your face is getting all red and sweaty. You look mad." The Nord looked back at his friends, chuckling stupidly. "Look mad 'e says! Ha!" There'd be no reasoning here. This drunken Nord had been looking for a fight all day. "Why don't we show 'im how mad we a-" The Nord's mouth froze. As did the rest of his body, and the bodies of his companions. They'd been so drunk, it didn't surprise Endar that they'd missed the mass paralysis spell he'd been charging. One by one, they toppled over, as did the many other patrons, who were humorously falling out of their chairs. The leader, however, fell and hit his head on the corner of a square table, gashing it open and causing blood to immediately flow out. "Hmm..." Endar looked down at the bleeding man. He'd be dead in a minute. "Well that's unfortunate." Endar looked at the other frozen Nords. "I am truly sorry about your friend. It was an accident, I promise. I'm sure you all understand." He turned to Elara, who was also lying frozen on the ground. He casted a dispel spell on her. "Get up!" She looked at the now dead Nord. She was scared, but also angry. "Why didn't you just recall us?!?" Endar's brow raised. He'd completely forgotten about the mark in the backyard. "I forgot. Now shut it! We're leaving. Grab the chest." As Endar began stepping over bodies to head for the door, a peasant entered the room. His eyes widened and he immediately ran back to the streets. "I have a feeling that fine is about to go up a bit." said Endar as they crossed the room. Upon entering the street, Endar and Elara were greeted by a large circle of guards surrounding the building. "Stop right there criminal scum!" shouted one. Endar looked at them all and began counting. "One, two, three..." 'Nobody breaks the law on MY wa-" "Four, five, six..." "We are going to have to take you in to see the Cou-" "Seven, eight, nine..." "to the Count!" "Ten, eleven, twelve..." the guard looked confused and annoyed. "Will you STOP THAT?!" Elara looked at Endar curiously. "What are you counting?" The wizard sighed. "Well I WAS counting how many guards there were so we could see if I can afford to kill them and still pay the fine. But you and the loud one interrupted me. Now I have to start over." "What?!" said the guard. "Are you insane?" "No." replied Endar while counting. "Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Sixteen in all. Hey you, the one that yells a lot! What is the fine in Kvatch for murder? Is it a thousand Septims like most other places?" The guard couldn't believe what he was hearing. Fourteen years on the force, and this was the first time anyone had ever asked if they could afford to kill him and his men. "Yes." he said through gritted teeth. He was hoping this arrogant wizard would attack them. He wanted to kill the man himself. "Oh. That's a shame." Endar looked at Elara. "We only have six thousand on us counting the chest." He turned back to the guard. "Okay, I'll pay the fine where it stands now. You should know, I think I've only killed one person so far, so it's not that bad. And if you count everyone hit by the spell, which I personally wouldn't, there would be a quite a few assaults as well." The guard looked disappointed. "We're taking you to the Count. You can talk out your fine with him." Endar shrugged. "Do you mind if my Stewardess comes? She hasn't committed any crimes, but I like to keep her around in case I need something." The guard didn't answer. He honestly didn't know if that was allowed or not. The Count could decide. "Just walk!" "Fine. Fine." Endar grumbled as he began walking, Elara, not knowing what to do, opted to stay close by his side. He seemed to know how to handle the situation, and it would be a good idea to stay on his good side for the sake of her job. Of course, if worst came to worst, well she was innocent.
  16. Boldir, Carlotta, and Mila Whiterun 7 A.M. There was a chilling morning breeze in the air. Carlotta had grown up in Skyrim, and was for the most part used to the cold. But she didn't have the natural resilience to it that the Nords do. She now stood, wearing a heavy coat and still shivering, watching from the wall outside the main gate as Boldir and twenty Whiterun soldiers headed northwest into the tundra. Their goodbyes had been short. Boldir hadn't had much to say, and treated it like it was any other day on the job. He may have seen it as such, but Carlotta's heart hadn't felt so heavy in months, and she doubted that would change until he returned. Blast it! Why couldn't he just let someone else go? Even if he hadn't already told her, Carlotta would've known the answer. Throughout the years as she grew up, she'd known far more Nords than Imperials. She knew exactly why Boldir wouldn't send men into battle without accompanying them. Honor was the often-used word for it, but that wasn't really it. Boldir didn't really seem all that concerned with honor. He was honorable, but it wasn't his motivation. Even though she understood his reasons, it didn't mean Carlotta liked it. Up until now, she'd never objected to Nordic ways. She'd grown up on them, same as anyone else raised in Skyrim. But now, when the man she loved's life was in danger because of them, she wanted no part of it. He'll be fine. she reassured herself. He's been through far worse. She knew it was true, and she found that this was the most comforting thing she could think of right now. After the soldiers were out of sight, Carlotta remained standing on the wall, still wondering if she had made the right decision in giving Boldir consent to do this. She wondered if he'd have still gone through with it if she hadn't. Finally, after several minutes, a gust of cold wind reminded her where she was. Carlotta made her way off the wall and back down into the city. It was still early, and Mila should be about finished opening up the fruit stand by now. *** Boldir hadn't thought too much about the upcoming battle when he and his company marched through the tundra. They followed him in an organized line, walking in a two by ten formation. There wasn't much need for it, but Boldir felt that it was a good idea to instill some military discipline in these men. They may have been good defenders of Whiterun, but they were not the disciplined Stormcloak soldiers he was used to leading. Still, they were far from inexperienced. Bandits had always been a problem north of Whiterun, and almost every man he'd chosen for this mission had fought them at some point in the past. Only three of them though, had ever raided a hideout like this. After several hours, around noontime, the old ruin finally came into view in the distance. They continued marching for another half hour until they were close enough to just be able to make out the shapes of bandits on the old walls. If they could see the bandits, then the bandits could undoubtedly see them. They moved up to a hill, and positioned themselves on the side opposite the ruin, so the bandits would lose sight of them. "Fall in." Boldir said, looking back at the soldiers. He stopped one of them, an archer named Langley. "Not you. You lay at the top of the hill and keep an eye on the bandits. Keep an eye on them and let me know if anyone leaves the ruins." The remaining nineteen came in close, standing in a clustered huddle in front of Boldir. "These may be disorganized bandits, but you can be assured that they already know we're out here. They wouldn't have missed us passing through the open tundra, so you can bet that they'll have several guards posted." Boldir paused and looked into the eyes of a worried-looking younger man towards the middle of the huddle. "What's the matter? You aren't afraid of a few bandits are you?" The man immediately straightened his face, or at least he tried to. "No sir." He said, unconvincingly. "Hmm" Boldir looked at him for a few more moments before responding. "That so? Then why in Oblivion do you look like you're being haunted by fucking ghost? This isn't the Dominion army you're about to go up against. This isn't even Imperials. It's just a bunch of poor cutthroats and highwaymen! I swear, I haven't seen my kid daughter look as afraid as you do right now!" The man's face turned red. He was embarrassed to be pointed out so harshly in front of so many of his friends. But Boldir's words, while harsh, did the trick. He did feel somewhat reassured. It sounded like Boldir knew what he was talking about, and if he said that this would be easy, odds were that it would be. "Uh, sorry sir!" He was glad that nobody laughed, or even snickered. Probably because they didn't want to be chewed out and compared to little girls somehow as well. Boldir shook his head. "Whatever, just follow my orders and we'll all come out of this just fine. Fiora, I hear you and Langley are the best scouts we have. That true?" The blonde-haired Nord nodded, smiling. She wasn't sure if Boldir knew it, as they didn't look much alike, but Langley was her twin brother. The two were inseparable. It's why they'd both become scouts in the first place. "I like to think so sir." "Good, time to prove it. I need you to take Langley and sneak in closer to scout the outer ruin. I want to know how many archers they have, and how many of the bastards are on watch. They know we're out here, so you two will have to be very careful getting close. Stay low and move through the taller grass. No need to rush it. If we end up attacking at night, that's fine." She nodded again and headed up the hill to get Langley. Boldir turned back to the others. "We'll wait here where we're out of sight for now." He pointed to another archer. He didn't know this one's name yet, but the man was an archer, so he must've had decent eyesight. "You take Langley's spot on watch. If they take long enough, I'll send someone to relieve you." "Sir." the man nodded and headed up to his new post. The rest of the soldiers dispersed. The hill was long enough to hide them from sight for a good distance, but most of them stayed close together. There wasn't anything to do or see further out, and there was a stream that ran behind them with plenty of rocks to sit on, so there was no point in straying. Boldir himself took a seat on a rock near the stream with three other soldiers. One of them was his second in command, Burik, who was also a Stormcloak, and was one of the many who fought in the Battle of Whiterun. They sat and talked for awhile, sharing war stories and discussing the local bandit clans that had caused trouble in the past. Boldir's mind however, trailed away to Carlotta. He knew she'd be worried sick right now. He couldn't wait to get this over with so he could return to her. *** 3 PM The day was stretching on, and still no word on the soldiers in the tundra. When Boldir had told Carlotta that this was going to be an easy mission, she had assumed that it finished by noon, but here it was, now three hours past and still nothing. She grew more and more worried as she waited. Calm down she told herself. He knows what he's doing. She could feel her heart thudding faster and heavier than usual. It's all part of his job. He's been doing worse his whole life. Her thoughts were interrupted when a man showed up at her stand. It was one of the Avulstein Gray-Mane, a friend of Boldir's if she remembered right. Avulstein was a Stormcloak as well, and when he disappeared during the civil war, everyone in town knew where he'd went. He wasn't seen again until just about a couple months ago. He returned to town, along with his brother Thorald, a Necro Nord, like Boldir. There had been quite a bit of celebration when they arrived. "Hello Avulstein." she said with a smile. She was good at appearing happy for customers. "Got some fresh apples here. The green ones in particular are very sweet today." Avulstein nodded but didn't smile back. He usually didn't. "Tempting, but I'll pass. I would like a basket of the snowberries though." Carlotta grinned as she opened the slide door at the back of her stand and took out a basket. She began scooping the berries into it. "A whole basket? I thought you didn't even like snowberries?" she said. "I don't." admitted Gray-Mane. "They aren't for me." "Oh, alright then." She made sure to pile in just a little extra. "Here you go! That'll be twenty Septims." "Thanks." Avulstein counted out the coins onto her stand before he began to walk off. "Avulstein wait!" she blurted. He turned around, his eyebrows raised. "Yes?" "You're a soldier." Carlotta said carefully. "How long would it take to assault an enemy camp?" "Depends on the enemy." he said. "And the camp." he looked at her and gave a rare smile. "If you're worried about Boldir heading off to Silent Moons, don't be. He's the toughest man I know. Bandits won't be a problem for him." "I know. I know. That's what he said, and what I keep telling myself. But They've been gone since early this morning, and I'm getting worried. Should it take so long?" "You've gotta remember, that camp is several hours away on foot, and Boldir is being careful. He doesn't want anyone to get killed on this mission. They'll take their time and scout it out. Don't be surprised if they aren't back until tonight." That made Carlotta feel much better. Boldir taking long because he was being cautious hadn't even occurred to her. She'd been too busy worrying that it must have been a complication. She smiled at Avulstein. "Thank you." "Mmhh." he said, turning back around and heading off. Carlotta decided to take a rare break and sat down in her chair behind the stand. For the first time since Boldir left, she wasn't feeling so worried. *** 6 P.M. "No way, that's clearly a Breton." "You need to get your eyes checked out Sis. That's an Imperial. Look at how dark his skin is." "But he's so short." "Imperials ARE short." "Not that short." "They can be. I've even seen some of our own kinsmen who were that short before." "Yeah right. Who?" Langley and Fiora didn't really care what the bandit they were looking at was, but the two always enjoyed a good banter. Most people found it annoying, as the two always devolved to bickering and arguing over the most pointless and stupid of subjects. They both knew it too, but they didn't care. That it bugged people was half the fun. Of course, they took their assignment seriously, and never spoke like this when they needed to be silent, but they knew they were safe from being heard, as their position on the mountain north of Silent Moons Camp was well out of earshot. Not to mention the wind was blowing from the direction of the camp, carrying anything they said away from it. The two of them had spent several hours creeping through the grass and rocks of the tundra to get around the camp, and spent several more scaling the mountain behind it. Now, they had an excellent vantage point, and from where they were, they'd counted twelve different bandits so far. Though only eight were actually on watch. Six of those were archers. The twins' plan was to wait up here and see how the bandits moved. It was growing late, and soon they'd surely change up watch shifts. After the shifts changed, and they could get a reasonable headcount, Fiona and Langley would carefully come back down and circle the long way back to the rest of their unit. "So what do you think of this?" asked Langley, after they'd sat for maybe five minutes of silence. "We haven't done anything like this in a very long time. Not since bandits took that northern watchtower." "You mean bandit hunting missions?" asked Fiora. "Or us doing some actual scouting?" "Both, really. There isn't much else for us to scout for other than Giants, and how often are they even a threat? I'm honestly enjoying that we're scouting an actual threat for a change. It makes me feel more useful." Fiora nodded. She felt the exact same way. Yeah, I hear you. We've never really gotten much use. Whiterun's always been fairly safe as far as holds go. But used to, when bandits popped up, they usually stayed up until someone hired mercenaries or some group of adventurers put them down. It's refreshing to see that we're actually doing our job." "Yeah, I respect Iron-Brow for that. Say what you want about him, he may be strict, but we're getting things done now. Just you wait and see, in a couple years, there won't be any bandits daring to set up in Whiterun at all." "And we'll be going back to watching Giants stand around doing nothing but eat and shit all day." said Fiora with a grin. "You should be more respectful of Giants." said Langley matter-of-factly. "Someone told me that they're our ancestors... Or something like that." Fiora didn't care. "All our ancestors do is eat and shit... That and watch their mammoths." "That's not true at all." Langley was starting to get defensive of the large creatures. "If you actually paid attention, you'd know that they actually have a pretty advan-" "Shut up and look!" Interrupted Fiora. She pointed to the camp, where the bandits had begun to change shifts. Several they hadn't seen yet were leaving the interior of the ruins. "One..." she said, beginning to count the number of new replacements they hadn't seen yet. "Two..." said Langley, pointing out another. "Three, four..." "Five..." "Six." "Plus two more that we saw outside earlier." said Langley. He quickly counted on his fingers. "That makes eighteen bandits in all." "There were two we saw that didn't take watch. That big heavily-armored Nord and his Argonian friend from earlier." said Fiora. "I'd bet you the Nord was the leader. The Argonian's likely a mage, considering he carried a staff. They wouldn't take watch." he answered. Fiora didn't say anything. She just nodded and turned to the tree her bow and quiver were leaning on beside her brother's. She retrieved them and handed Langley his. Without saying another word, the two siblings began the slow climb down the mountainside. *** "Be home by bedtime sweetie." said Carlotta, giving her daughter a kiss on the forehead before heading to the tavern for dinner. Normally, they'd go eat together, along with Boldir, but this time Mila had said that she wanted to stay out and play with her friends instead. She'd had a big lunch anyway. "Okay mamma!" said Mila. She ran to the house to change before going to meet her friends. She put on her worn out clothes that she usually wore when playing and didn't want to get her nicer clothes dirty. They consisted of some old sack cloth pants and a faded gray shirt with dirt stains rubbed into it that her mother's best scrubbing couldn't get out. Then, she put on a long brown belt meant for a grown up, but she was able to wrap it all the way around her waist twice to make it tight enough. Finally, she grabbed the wooden sword Baldur had bought her and slid it under the belt. When she came outside, Mila began to head for where Braith, Lars, and Lucia should be waiting behind the Drunken Huntsman. When she got there, Lars and Braith were arguing about something. Lucia was watching. "No" said Braith. "You're just a Milk-Drinker!" "I'm not a Milk-Drinker Braith, I just don't think this is a good idea! We could get in trouble." "That IS being a Milk-Drinker!" For once, Lucia actually seemed to be somewhat in agreement with Braith. "Come on Lars!" she said, stepping in. "You never even get in trouble with your parents. The worst they'll do is ground you for a while." "Yeah" said Braith. "Me 'n Mila can get in way more trouble than you and we aren't scared. Right Mila?" she said, noticing that Mila had arrived. Mila nodded. "Right." She was lying of course. She was terrified of what was going to happen when they got back. A spanking was certain. So was a grounding. But despite the consequences, she felt that the reward would be worth it. Lars looked at each of the three girls. "Fine." he said finally. Mila could tell that he was still scared. Lars couldn't hide it like she could. But he was the only boy of their group. And if he was going to a fraidy cat and stay, he wouldn't hear the end of it. The gate was already open, and would stay that way until dark, which would be soon. But none of that mattered, Mila and Lucia had found another way years ago. Under the gate bridge, where the water ran, there was a grate that the children could just barely fit through. They slid between the bars, Lars, being the biggest, really had to squeeze to fit this past year, but he still did. They made their way through the dark tunnel, careful to walk along the sides so the water wouldn't sweep out their feet as it had so many times before. It was fun to ride the water, but running into the bars at the far end of the tunnel was an experience that none of them hoped to repeat. After passing through the bars on the far end, which exited out below the city drawbridge, the friends passed through the last segment of the old walls on the outskirts of the city. "Which horse is your dad's?" Mila asked Braith when they arrived at the stables. Braith pointed to a large brown horse that was currently grazing outside in the pin. It wasn't wearing a saddle. "Okay. I'll go get the saddle." said Mila before sneaking off. "I'll get Tiber." said Braith, motioning toward the horse. She pointed at Lucia and Lars, then to the stable hand, who was sitting on a bale of hay whistling some song. "You two go distract the him." Mila made her way to the stable, careful not make sure the hand was looking the other way. As she headed under the roof, the horses in the building looked at her. It made Mila feel awkward, like they would tattle on her for being bad. Stop being dumb. she told herself. Animals can't tell on you. She reached up to grab one of the saddles hanging from the wall, but it was just out of reach. She jumped, and her hand just barely scratched the bottom of it. When she came down, her foot hit a bucket of water, causing it to overturn and spill. Mila's eyes went wide and she darted behind a horse, hoping nobody heard it. After a minute of waiting, nobody had come. She let out a heavy breath and went back to the saddle. She picked up the now-empty bucket and turned it upside down. She smiled, proud of her inventiveness. She climbed onto the bucket and grabbed the saddle. Trying to ignore the knowing gazes the horses were giving her, Mila darted from the stable and made for the meeting spot behind the hill. Braith was already there with Tiber. "It's about time you got here. You had the easy job." she said, annoyed. "I couldn't reach the saddle!" said Mila. "Whatever. Lars and Lucia are coming. They got that guy to follow them toward the gate. When Lars tells him that he's a Battle-Born, he should leave them alone." On cue, Lars and Lucia appeared over the hill. They ran down to meet their friends. "Looks like we're good." said Mila as she and Lucia put the saddle on Tiber, making sure it was tight. "This better be worth it." said Braith. "It'll be fun!" Mila assured her. "After all, how many bandit fights have you ever seen?" *** 8 P.M. It was growing late, and some of the soldiers were growing impatient. Boldir could hear some of them complaining under their breaths every now and then. He had to keep reminding himself that the discipline they'd been taught was much different from his own. We'll work on that over time. he reasoned. This fight should be a good start for them. Boldir knew that most of them had fought bandits before, but not like he planned to. The extent of their experience came from blindly rushing in and killing everything. And every time they had, their own numbers had suffered almost as much as the bandits. Boldir hoped that they could do this without losing any lives. It would be open the hold guards' eyes to the value of being prepared. And he didn't want to have to deliver any letters to families that'd just lost someone. That was a task he prayed could end with his career as a soldier. Or at least, a real soldier. thought Boldir. The Whiterun hold guards were still considered soldiers, but in his eyes, this was not real military work. All of Skyrim's real soldiers were either preparing for the coming war with the Elves, or fighting Forsworn in the Reach. "Hey Boldir." it was Burik. "Aren't you getting a bit worried about the scouts? We sent them out hours ago. Maybe we should just move on without them." Boldir sighed. He'd hoped that Burik of all people wouldn't start getting impatient. "They didn't get caught. Our lookout would've noticed. We wait, and that's final. I told them that if it grew dark, so be it. They're taking their time and being careful. Better than the alternative." he said, looking at some of the more restless men around him. "I suppose. But still-" Burik was interrupted by a commotion as all the soldiers began to rise from their seats. Some began moving towards the hill. Boldir himself stood up and turned. He could see the two scouts he'd sent off earlier heading his way from the west side of the hill. "We got what we could." said Fiona as they reached him. "Eight bandits outside right now. Five are archers. The archers are lining the outer walls of the ruin, and the other three are just on watch with cheap looking swords. There are at least ten more inside. We think the leader is a Nord in plate armor, and they've got an Argonian spellcaster inside. If there are any more, they never once poked their heads out. 'Least not this afternoon." Boldir nodded, this was enough to go on. He motioned for everyone to come in, though in their excitement at something happening, they already had. "Alright, here's the plan. There's a lot of open ground to cover, and their archers will pick us off if we don't do this right. We're going to move in as a tight group, and we'll use a shield wall formation as we do. I'll stay in the front, along with six other shields. Then a second row of you will be immediately behind us, with your shields raised high to deflect arrows from above. The remaining four of you will stay low behind them, using bows. Which of you are the best shots?" The twins raised their hands, as did another man, the lookout Boldir had posted earlier. Burik pointed to the current lookout on the hill. "Strun is a pretty good shot. He can be the fourth." Boldir nodded. "That'll work. Alright, so we'll move up the middle, straight to the camp. Their archers won't be able to touch us, hopefully ours are good enough to take them out as we advance." he looked hard at everyone. "No heroics. Got it? Breaking formation will get you, and likely others killed. We move forward as a team, and don't disband the wall unless I say so. Are we clear?" "Yes sir!" they said in unison. *** Mila was the first to dismount when they got close enough to see the old ruin. She ran for the top of a hill for a better vantage point. "Whoaaa!" "Mila wait!" Lucia called after her. "We need to tie up Tiber somewhere." Mila ignored her. Watching the scene below. It was dark, but the moonlight tonight was more than enough to easily see everything going on. She could see her father, along with a bunch of other guards, holding up shields. They made some kind of wall with them, and there were bandits all over the ruin, shouting and uselessly firing arrows at the shields. The wall of men was moving forward, and every now and then one of them would pop up and return an arrow at the bandits, but so far, they'd missed every time. She could tell her dad apart from the rest because he wore his heavy armor and his shield had fancy carvings. Braith showed up behind Mila and squatted down next to her. "Thanks for the help." she said. Mila knew she didn't mean it though. "Tiber almost... got... awa-" her voice trailed off when she saw the battle going on below. Soon enough, Lars and Lucia arrived as well. They watched in awe as the soldiers and bandits fought each other. Finally, after her dad and his group got close to the ruin, one of the archers, a blonde Nord woman, stood up and fired an arrow at one of the bandits. It hit the man in the throat. Mila's eyes went wide when she saw the blood begin to gush out of his neck. "Did you see that?!" shouted Lars. See it? Mila couldn't take her eyes off of it. The man slumped down and fell from the ruin wall, landing so that the arrow was pushed all the way through his neck and out the other end. After several minutes passed, and five more bandits had been felled by arrows, the wall had reached the center of the ruin. Mila heard a voice that sounded like her father's, shout something she couldn't make out. Suddenly, the wall of shields came apart, and her dad charged straight at two "sword bandits". He bashed one to the ground with a shield and sliced the other's neck with his axe. Before the one on the ground could move, her father had brought the axe down into his skull. "Whoaa" said Lucia. "Your pa really is a warrior!" Mila was shaking, with excitement or fear, she couldn't yet tell. She wasn't like Lucia or Lars. She'd never seen someone die before. Braith hadn't either, but she was tough, and it probably didn't faze her. When Mila watched her dad kill the two bandits without hesitation, she felt something heavy at the pit of her stomach. It was not what she'd expected. One minute the bandits had been alive, and the next, they weren't. It was just like that, and her dad had made it happen. What did I expect? she wondered. One last bandit, another sword carrier, popped out from behind some broken wall pieces and ran for the tundra. Mila saw her dad calmly point him out, and three arrows were loosed in his direction. The bandit collapsed with two arrows in his back. "This is dumb." said Braith. "I'm going home." "What?" said Mila, turning to the girl. "No it isn't! And you can't go home without us!" Mila noticed an odd look in Braith's eyes. They didn't have the usual strong confidence in them. She almost looked afraid. "Then come with me." she said. "Either way, I'm leaving. And if you want to ride back on Tiber, you come with me." "Come on Braith." said Lucia. "We don't want to leave yet." "I'm leaving." she said, already getting up and making for where she'd tied the horse to a small tree. Lars looked expectantly at Mila and Lucia and sighed. "Let's go." Mila crossed her arms. She'd had enough of Braith's bullying and trying to be the leader, when the truth was that she was just scared. "No. I'm staying." "Me too." said Lucia. Lars looked at both of them, Mila could see that he was shocked. "Uhhh... you sure about this? You will have to walk all the way back." Mila nodded. She was defiant about it now. She would follow the soldiers back if she had to. "Okaaay... I'll cover for you both when I get back." Lars ran to meet Braith at the horse. Mila couldn't believe what she'd just done. Now, there was no chance in getting back in time to make an excuse. She was going to get in a LOT of trouble and she knew it. Turning to Lucia, she said, "Thanks. I wouldn't want to be out here by myself." Lucia nodded. "Don't mention it. I've got nobody to yell at me for it anyway." She wasn't sure how to correctly respond to her orphan friend's statement, so Mila just turned back to the ruin. There were three soldiers with bows still outside near the top of the ruin's stairs. Other than that, nobody was there anymore, which meant they must've all gone inside. She hesitated, then said "You want to get a closer look?" *** Clearing the outside had been easy. Boldir's shield wall had made it impossible for the bandits to hurt them until it was too late. The inside was more difficult. The narrow halls and rooms made it impossible to rely on numbers or archers. Still intent on keeping anyone from dying, Boldir took the lead, with Burik at his side. The first room had contained five bandits, all with iron or steel axes and swords. When they charged him, Boldir immediately ducked the first swipe, and kicked the front attacker back into the two behind him. Burik drove his mace into another's skull. As the three bandits flailed about and eventually collapsed, Boldir drove his axe into the top one's skull. He raised his shield to block a high blow from the one bandit that remained standing. Burik's mace flew into his face and sent him flying into the wall. The two remaining bandits, one a Nord, and one... Boldir couldn't tell if it was an Imperial or a Breton, were comically trying to swing at his armored shin from under their dead friend. Boldir stepped on the Nord's arm and brought his axe down onto his face. He then did the same to the Breton/Imperial. "Next room." he said, nodding to Burik. The next room went similarly, except there were only four enemies, one of which was an Argonian mage. Boldir and Burik made short work of all four. "That's seventeen by my count." said Boldir as he dislodged his axe from the lizard's skull. "Looks like our Nord leader is all that's left. He probably high tailed it out of here." They pushed to the next room of the ruin. There was a locked door, which Boldir easily kicked open. Boldir raised his shield as he busted into the large round room. Empty. There was a ladder in the center, and the trap door at the top still hung open. Boldir looked around the room. On top of the large treasure chest that bandits so often keep, there were dozens of steel weapons strewn about. "Loot the place." Boldir said. "I'm going to go outside and see if our archers caught the leader." Boldir grabbed hold of the ladder and started up. He carefully stuck his head out and saw that it was just a large, empty room inside the wall of the outer ruin. He pulled himself up and redrew his axe. There was an open gate at the end of the room that he made for. While he cautiously made his way for the gate, he heard a the loud scream of a little girl. It can't be. "Mila!!!" he shouted, sprinting back into the outer ruin. There he saw a terrifying sight. A large Nord, clad in heavy armor with an arrow in his shoulder, stood crouched behind a little blonde girl with a glowing sword to her neck. The man turned when he saw Boldir exit the ruin. "Don't take another step!" he screamed. "Or I'll cut her throat!" Boldir stopped in his tracks. He looked up the stairs to the top of the ruin and saw the twins and Strun, all of their bows raised, but their arrows weren't pulled back. They couldn't risk hitting the girl. "Easy now. Don't do anything stupid." said Boldir, sheathing his axe. "You hurt her, and you'll regret it. I'll make sure of that." The bandit didn't seem worried. He knew he had the advantage with the girl. He began backing into the tundra wilderness. "That's great. Now why don't all of you go back into the ruin, and I'll take her with me a ways. When I'm safe, I'll send her back to you. We can all be happy." Boldir wasn't looking to negotiate, but he didn't see a choice. He was about to open his mouth to respond when he spotted a low figure in the darkness behind the bandit. It appeared to be sneaking up on him. He took another few steps toward him. "I'm warning you bandit. Let her go or else." "Or else what? Face it! I have the upper hand heaaaaaa!" The bandit screamed as what appeared to be a wooden sword flew straight up between his legs from behind. The little blonde girl pushed free and ran. Before He could see who it was that caused the man's pain, Boldir charged him, unsheathing his axe. He immediately punched the bandit in the jaw with his left hand, sending him flying several feet and to the ground. Boldir kicked the glowing sword aside and got on top of him. He began repeatedly punching the helpless bandit in the face. He yanked off his own helmet so that the bandit could see his face as he killed him. "You like to threaten children do you?!" Boldir jammed the hilt of his axe into the man's teeth, breaking most of them. He turned his axe and brought it down into the man's nether-regions, causing the man to scream like no man ever should. "Why scream? There was nothing there anyway!" Boldir looked at the pathetic man's eyes. He was slipping unconscious. Boldir was about to wake him up so he'd feel everything when he remembered that he wasn't alone. Boldir looked back, and saw the terrified blonde girl, now accompanied by the archers, standing several feet to his left. The girl was hiding her face into Fiora's armor. Strun, Langley and Fiora however, weren't looking at him. They were looking past him with sad expressions. Boldir turned and looked to his right and his heart stopped. There, not but four feet away from him, stood little Mila, her eyes wide and face pale. She was holding the little wooden sword Baldur had given her at her side. The tip was slightly bloody. Boldir looked at the man he'd just brutalized in front of his daughter, then back to her. "Mila..." By the gods... what did I just do? "B-Boldir?" she didn't look scared, just in shock. "What are you doing here?" Boldir got off of the bandit and walked over to embrace his daughter, too worried about what she'd just seen to think about being mad. "I-I-We..." The girl stammered, still looking past him at the butchered Nord. His chest was still heaving. "He's still alive." Boldir hugged her tightly, covering her eyes with his arm so she wouldn't have to watch. He nodded back to the others. "Come with me." Langley gently said to the blonde girl, taking her hand and leading her back to the ruin. Strun picked up the glowing sword and plunged it into the bandit chief's neck. The area around the neck began to sizzle, and an odd white fiery light emitted from the wound as Strun pulled out the blade. The glow of it looked kind of like moonlight. Boldir finally let go of Mila now that the man was no longer breathing. "Oh gods Mila... I'm so SO sorry that you had to see me do that." "It's okay." she said, with almost no fear in her voice. That scared Boldir. It scared him more than just about anything he'd ever heard. "Now..." Boldir felt about as shaken up now as Mila must have. He looked back to the ruin, where soldiers were beginning to emerge. "You... You have some serious explaining to do. But that'll have to wait. I'll cover for you with mom for now. But I want a full explanation." Mila nodded. She didn't seem too worried. In fact, she didn't seem to have much emotion at all. Her skin looked paler than his, and Boldir was worried that she was in shock. What she'd just seen here, it wouldn't leave her. And it wouldn't leave him either.
  17. Skjari, Theodore Imperial City Afternoon Theodore sat in his room, reading a book with a glass of wine in hand. The day was a pleasant one, and Theodore had the window open to let in the breeze. Suddenly a knock cake on the door, and an Imperial courier stood with a letter in hand. Theodore handed him a few septims and dismissed him, before opening the letter. It was an invitation to visit the court mage, a Nord by the name of Skjari. Theodore dressed in his brown cape with the bull emblem on the back and his green shirt and black pants. He finished up the glass of wine and left the tavern. The stairs to the court mage's tower were an arduous climb, and they left Theodore gasping for breath when he reached the top. He straightened up and caught his breath before knocking on the door to the mage's quarters. "Come in." He heard from the other side of the door. Theodore opened the door and walked into the room, where he found the court mage sitting behind a desk in the middle of the room. "The letter said you wanted to see me. I assume you know who I am, as I know of you. So what is it you want?" Theodore sat down in a chair in front of the desk, waiting for a reply. The small dragon statue at the desk thought Thedore sat down a bit too close so it covered up the blue crystal with the wings and opened it's mouth in a threatening manner, like it was going to roar at him, before freezing back to immovable stone. "Don't mind that." Skjari said after the dragon had moved. "Now how to put it? You are in close relation with the king of High Rock. And we both know it would good for both Cyrodiil and High Rock to remain at good footing. Especially now that another Great War is looming in the horizon." Theodore was intrigued by the by the statue, but ignored it to answer the question. "Yes, ill relations could mean the end of the empire, with just Cyrodiil remaining. Which may not be a bad thing. I personally could care less either way, but for the right price I may persuade the right people to side one way or the other." "I bet you can move some weight in you circles and get trade flowing and such. And that would be appreciated. You can even get nice piece of the cake when it comes to the trade agreements that will be struck between the kingdoms." "Yes, I'm sure my 'father' will want more freedom and less Imperial control with the Empire being reduced to just two provinces. But I see us returning to being part if the Empire once this is all over. And trade will continue on, I just may have my foot in the door then." Theodore leaned back in the chair, the front two legs coming off the ground. "Do you know why I'm here? Officially and....unofficially?" "I don't know anything concrete, but I bet it has something to do with the Thalmor or something back in High Rock or both." Theodore smiled, the grin crossing his face momentarily before he got serious again. "Officially, I'm here to lead our troops if...when...the fighting starts. I'm also here to make sure any decisions are in the best interest of High Rock. Unofficially, I'm here on the personal business of making friends." Theodore thought over what he just said. "Well, friends probably isn't the best word. Contacts, acquaintances, those are probably better terms. I'm here to look after my interests as well as High Rock's." "We have a mutual goal concerning contacts then. As that's partly why I invited you here today." "Well, it appears this will be can be a mutually beneficial relationship. I give you a high ranking contact in High Rock, and the military, while I get a contact who has the new Empress' ear." "Now that we got that settled... A little bird told me that Lorgar and Tullius are frequent guests at the inn you're staying at. And I fear that Lorgar's mental health isn't in the best of conditions right now and I would like if you can keep an eye on him. I also expect that you want a favor in return." Theodore pondered the proposal. "Yes, I can keep an eye on him. I would think that you would like to know that he got in a fight the other day. A few drunks insulted a woman he liked. In return, I would like you to tell me what you know about a certain Dunmer woman. She was masquerading as a prostitute. She works for an information broker, one who also wanted my aid. I consented, but I'm not sure I trust them persay. I've seen plenty of shady characters who have been to the Fox recently, but I'm not sure if one is him or her. Do you know anything about this person, and their masquerading prostitute?" "I don't really know anything about a prostitute, though from your description I would guess she's working for someone named Samuel, am I correct?" "I didn't catch his name, but that may be the man. What do you know of this Samuel?" "He's an information broker that I've met. Apparently quite good at what he does. He's an imperial, brown short hair and quite pale from what I can remember. I'm fairly certain that he's still in the city. You should be careful if you are to make deals with him. Keep him at arms length. He is actually the man that forced the previous general Marius to desert to the Stormcloaks. So my advice is to not anger him but also to not get too involved with him." "Hmmm...that is interesting. I remember seeing someone who matches that description, shady character who showed up to talk to the innkeeper a few days ago. I'll remember your advice when dealing with him." Theodore averted his eyes to the statue, watching it as it curled around the blue stone in the center. "What a curious trinket you have there. How did you come about it?" "I created it a few weeks ago." "Quite intriguing. What is that it guarding?" "A little crystal I also created. Just a small power source." Relatively speaking. Theodore stood up, his eyes averting from the statue to the mage. "Well, I believe this was a very...beneficial meeting for the both of us. I think I will take my leave now, unless there is something else you wish to speak about." "One last thing I would ask of you; keep an eye out among the nobles for anything amiss. I know this is the spymaster's responsibility but I've noticed you have a way with the nobles. So if anything I think you would be one of the first to notice." "True. I'll keep my eyes and ears open. That I you for the invitation." With that Theodore left, closing the door behind him and beginning the long walk down the stairs.
  18. Maggie Talos Plaza District afternoon Though it felt like her two centuries of life were closing in around her, Magdela had tried hard to maintain a normal facade and normal schedule. If the hunter was watching, or her father's henchmen, there must be nothing to give her away. She had nightblade bodyguards following her all the time now, who when they were seen at all would make themselves out to be normal mercenaries. Maggie suspected they were also in Darius' employ, but at least they would intervene for Thalmor or Vigilant attacks. With these guards in tow, Maggie set out from her house to see her publisher. It was time to talk about a new book, and to arrange a second printing of Sons of Skyrim. The news of the Battle of Pale Pass, fighting and restoration in Bruma, and the return of the northern legion had made the subject was once again iron hot, and copies of her book were flying off the shelves at The First Edition and every other bookstore in Cyrodiil. Julia lived in the Talos Plaza District. The name of the plaza had been restored along with the lifting of the ban on Talos worship, and in the former Dominion Plaza, the statue of the justiciar had been dismantled with typical imperial efficiency. That left the legionnaire standing alone with his hand outstretched. Maggie thought it a poignant image for the current state of the empire. The publisher's stately row house was on a side street. In the foyer, Maggie stopped short as she saw not Julia, but her own sister Sofia. Though they were all in the Order, Sofia had never socialized with her publisher before. The sight of her there could only mean one thing. "Hello, Magdela." Sofia appeared unnerved, but brushed past her without another word and headed for the door. In the study, Julia was sitting at a side table with some papers in front of her, her expression stricken. She looked up. "It's over, Maggie. If I don't drop you as a client, they'll take my house and move on the printing press next." It was as Maggie had suspected. Her father was moving to cut off the beloved hobby he resented so much, and her independent means of money and popular influence. No doubt he meant to alienate her one friend outside the family sphere, as well. There were other publishers besides Julia, but if Maggie tried to keep her writing career in defiance of Darius' wishes, the same would happen to them, eventually. Fury gripped her, but none of it was Julia's fault. Turning, Maggie ran back out the foyer and into the street. She caught up to her sister as she turned onto the next side street, her guards trailing. "Sofia! He's going to do it to you, too." The dark-haired woman turned, her face a blank. She appeared older than Maggie by ten years, with hair drawn into a neat coil, her clothing finely made but drab. Everything about her was utterly forgettable, which was as Sofia preferred it. She was reclusive, only appearing in society the minimum amount necessary for her husband's bank functions. Her two small children solely occupied her time. "He'll never have a cause to." She began to walk on. "Do you even know what happened to your mother?" That made her stop again. Though Sofia was known as the elder daughter, she was in fact much younger than Magdela, and born of a different mother, a woman none of them had ever seen. Darius had simply shown up at the Jeralls keep one day with a baby, who was given over to be raised by servants. Anna Bathory pretended nothing had happened. Maggie and Jem were rarely allowed to even see the other child in the estate, or to ask questions about her. It hadn't made for sibling affections. This was dangerous ground if Darius was listening. Suddenly Maggie didn't care. She cast a muffle spell to prevent anyone else from hearing, then stepped around to face Sofia. "What's going to happen someday when one of your children refuses to turn?" Sofia's eyes flared and she stared at Maggie, horrified. The two half-sisters rarely spoke at all, and when they did it was only of stiff pleasantries or veiled insults. Even in private, they had never spoken of what Samuel referred to as the Bathory family's many secrets. There wasn't to be any conversation about them today, either. "You stay away from my children," Sofia answered coldly, then she brushed past and practically ran the length of the street. Maggie watched until she turned a corner and was out of sight, then herself started out for the palace. There was no reason to go back to see Julia. Perhaps none of it would matter in a few days.
  19. @BigBossBalrog Wow, I complain about Anime stuff sometimes but back in the day it seemed crazier.
  20. Marius, Alef, Samuel Imperial city, Afternoon-Night “Darkness Consumes” "Aleffea," Samuel stood in the corner of the room, the very same place Alef had been during his discussion with Maggie, as she entered the room. She had almost taken of her dress entirely as she entered the room, letting it fall to the ground just before he managed to speak out and get her attention. She didn't seem bothered. Or rather, she seemed bothered, but not because she was naked. "Samuel!" she walked over to him with decisive steps. Before he could say anything more, the palm of her hand collided with his left cheek. He had t admit that he deserved that. What he heard Marius had done to her more than warranted a reaction of that kind. "You s'wit! Why didn't you warn me!? You're supposed to-" He held up his hand, gesturing her to calm down. "You're right, and I apologize. I did not know that he would find you, but I should have. How would you like me to make it up to you?" "Well, first-" Alef stopped in her tracks. What did she want as compensation for what had happened? She had been so focused on letting him taste some of her anger that she had completely forgot to think about it. What did she want? "I- I don't know... but you damn better make it up to me, or I'll-" The two of them looked at each other in silence for a moment, before she hit him in the face a second time. "Just- just get to the point already! I... I don't want to be around you right now." Very well, Samuel thought to himself. She deserves that, at least. I'll have to think more about how I can make it up to her, but first she is going to have to carry out her duties. "I have a letter here, addressed to the man who did this to you. I want you to deliver it to him." Samuel held out a scroll that wore the seal of the Imperial Legion. Alef had no idea how he managed to get a hold of things like that. Surely, someone would have noticed and acted on it by now? Then again, considering who she were talking to... "You want me to return to the guy who started to torture me for information about your sorry hide!?" For the third time her hand made contact his his face, but he didn't seem to mind her taking out some anger on him. "Fine! Just- just leave already, will you? And don't you dare forget to make this up to me!" *** Marius was currently in a tavern called "The smelly Apple", drinking a mug of ale. He wasn't drunk...yet. He just wanted to forget what happened so recently. "General," Alef had asked around, hoping that someone had seen Ambassador Imperius. Most people weren't entirely sure who that was, but most people found the description of an aging Imperial General to be fairly reasonable. Well, most people who knew anything said that there was someone they thought to be a former general with a pale, almost sick looking paleness to his face that had made his way to a shady bar in an alley. Turned out that this was indeed her mark, and now she stood right behind him with a hand on his shoulder. "Ah...you...what is it?" Said Maius, he took another chug of his ale, "Why are you here?" she took a seat next to him. Well, not entirely next to him; she left a small area between them just in case. "Trying to drink yourself to death?" "What do you think?. I just tortured an innocent for no reason...” "You tortured me for no reason, not any innocent bystander. I am honest enough to admit I am far from innocent," Alef tried to be friendly, but was unsure how Marius took it. He seemed... disturbed. Understandable, but it still unnerved her. "Still, I'm gonna have the scar on my shoulder for a long time to come. I hope you understand that I have a certain urge to hit you in the face." "I understand. Hit me if you want, I dont care. I dont care about anything now." Marius had a sad look about him, as if he had given up on life.” "Not even a letter from Samuel himself?" That peeked Marius's curiosity, but only a little. "Show me." Alef reached into a pocket on her belt, taking out a scroll. She hesitated when she gave it to him, not wanting to come into contact with him. She changed the grip on it to one of the ends, letting Marius take a hold of the other. Once he got a hold of it, the seal broke by himself. Samuel never did anything half-way it seemed, even when delivering a simple message. It read: Marius, It has been a long time coming, but I fear that the time to end this is coming closer. I am giving you a choice; leave for the outskirts of Tamriel and remain there until your body withers into uselessness. If you chose this option, you will be allowed to live out your life without having to worry about me. The other option is to continue the Hunt, which will force me to take your life. If you chose this, enter the Bloodworks part of the sewers tonight. I cannot promise you will find me, but your only path in the Hunt lies in those sewers. S After reading the letter, while looking the same, Marius got out of his chair, dumped the beer, and got out of his seat. Walking towards the door like a zombie, he turned around to Alef, before saying, "This wont help, but I want you to know i'm sorry for what I did too you, this quest for vengeance has consumed me. I go now to face the end, but Stendar wont find me wanting." And without delay, Marius began to walk towards the Sewer. Alef remained seated until the man left. This was his choice? He was given the option to leave it all behind and be left alone, yet he chose to go to a certain doom? She'd never understand warrior types. Too obsessed with a good death. Or revenge. Seemed to be common enough among them. He was an idiot, he had to be. Throwing away everything on a needless hunt for a man that never lost. He'd be lucky if he saw the end coming. For a few minutes after he had left, she remained in the same position. She had to get back to Tanie's establishment, lest she be missed. *** Samuel left a note on the table in Maggie's garden, before he turned invisible once more. As always, the Nightblades she had hired to protect this place had been completely useless in keeping him out. With this note left here, Maggie should be warned to stay away from Marius as that situation was now under control. *** Marius didn't know what the time was, he didn't care. He just advanced, and when one of those half-assed sell-swords attacked him, he would just elimate them in a handful of seconds. He was by now covered in crimson blood, almost none of it his own. Bastard’s just trying to soften me up... The tunnel had been crawling with sellswords, they were little threat to a highly trained swordsmen like Marius. Marius had goten to what appeared to be the entrance to something, hopefully the bloodworks. He entered. Unbeknownst to Marius, Samuel followed him through the door. So the fool had taken the short way out. Disappointing, but not exactly surprising. Marius had never been one to let things go. Always so obsessed with things. Silently he ran past him, taking to the left and up a flight of stairs. He knew the sewers well. Well enough to get to the room best suited for this a long time before Marius would. A feral hid in one of the corners he passed by, licking the wall. Filthy creature, but unworthy of his attention right now. And it was a good sign; if there was ferals in these tunnels still, any body would be eaten in a manner of days. Hopefully none of them was made aware of Marius just yet. Should he? "You," he whispered and took a hold of the feral. "Get everyone like you out of here, the Order is here on business. If you do, maybe I'll even let the body remain here for you creatures to devour." It nodded and squirmed in his grip, running off as soon as he let go. That should take care of that, at least to some degree. Marius continued threw the dark tunnels. The shadows roamed freely underground, the light couldn't devour it. Marius himself was carrying a torch, to ward it off. The comforting pale light of the moon was nowhere to be insight, so the entire area was cloaked in darkness. Marius walked threw various rooms, looking for the person he half-hardheartedly hunted, he didn't know where Samuel was hiding. Samuel went up the last set of stairs to reach his destination; an overview of the room where it would end. There was only one entrance, so he knew where Marius would come from. Behind him, at the top of the stairs, there was a ladder that led to a house whose cellar had been destroyed some time ago and was yet to be repaired. Unless Marius went back out of the sewers and started to do some major construction work, he'd be forced to come in the way he intended him to. Knowing what was to come, Samuel drew his blade. Even that would give him an edge, due to the dark metal. Marius' only light was his torch, which was no substitute for his own nightly eyes. He drew one of his 4 daggers as well, while he waited for the former general. Marius stumbled upon another room, He entered it. He looked around his surroundings, even with the torch the area was cloaked in darkness. Marius heard the cluttering of metal behind him before he felt the pain in his upper left arm. An orb of light appeared on top of what turned out to be a flight of stairs; Samuel was waiting on top, sword and dagger in hand. Before Marius could do anything more, another dagger left a cut this one deeper, in his arm. "You shouldn't have come here." Marius face filled with visible pain, but the only thing that came out his mouth was a quiet groan of hurt, Marius, without any time to waste, drew a night's eye potion from his satchel, and gulped it down. He could perfectly see in the darkness now, with only minimal groans, Marius said, "Did you really think I wouldn't come?" "No, but I had hoped you wouldn't. The only reason I want you dead is because you're a liability. Had you had the wits to leave well enough alone, it would never come to this." Samuel started to walk down the stairs. He had 2 more daggers, should he need them. Come on, you old fool. Turn back. Leave. Better for everyone that way. "I may be an old fool. But I keep my word, I promised I would hunt you down to the ends of the world, I'm here" Marius drew his two imperial Gladius, and went into a fighting stance. He said, in a voice devoid of emotion, "So how old are you really 'Samuel'? How old can a Vampire be?" Samuel quickly drew the second last dagger he had and threw it at Marius' left hand. A cut was left across his fingers, forcing him to drop the blade. Samuel was in no mood to deal with someone wielding two blades tonight. As soon as this happened, he jumped down the last stairs and took a few steps away from the general. "So you figured it out. Bravo. I'm old enough, that is all you need to know right now." "Old enough?" Despite losing his first blade, and the wounds, Marius made the first move. He slashed at Samuel's right side, with speed and force uncharacteristic of a man of his age, "By your demeanor, appearance, and ability to walk plainly in the day, I would assume your a member of the order, from all those tales I heard when I was growing up." Samuel's blade met Marius', just before Samuel stepped aside. Following the parry, Marius would most likely try to get in a few more slashes or stabs. "Does it matter? It will not do you any good to know what Blood I am off, before the end." "It doesn't matter. I'll die today, that's the only thing that counts." Marius received a cut to the rip, before backing away, and trying to bring down his blade to Samuel's right side. Samuel parried him once more, seemingly without having to put a lot of effort to it. "You know, it is usually a lot more effective to not attack in the direction where I can respond the quickest." As Marius moved in, Samuel curled his hand into a fist, using the time between parrying the attack and Marius once again being able to git in a slash to plant it solidly in the general's right cheek. The hit was a lot harder than one would expect just by looking at Samuel. The fist landed straight into Marius's right cheek, throwing him to the ground. It dazed Marius for a few seconds. But he was back up again in a instant, blade drawn. Marius Imperius wouldn't let scum stand above him, he wouldn't. His wounds and cuts were oozing blood, and his sword arm was shaking steadily, he coughed out a large mouthful of blood. "It's comforting facing death like this. It's all in the moment, the individual fight. Kill or be killed. It's so exhilarating." Marius put his arm to his bleeding side, and snarled, before charging onward to his foe, Samuel jumped out of Marius' way as he came in. This was almost too easy. Marius' reflexes were sluggish, probably from drinking, and his wounds would make him weaker by the minute. Even if he just avoided him, Marius would be defeated in a short time. But that was not what was going to happen. "You almost sound like a Nord," Samuel said as he made his own move, sword aimed for Marius' leg. Marius side stepped away from the blade, before slashing at Samuel's left arm, quickly. The blade left a cut in his arm. Stupid move; Marius had sacrificed defense for a meaningless attack. Instead of getting out of his reach, he had left himself open for a stab to the torso. Samuel didn't hesitate to take the opportunity. The blade pierced the bottom right of Marius's stomach area, which caued him to yelp in pain. Marius, took a few steps back as he parried Samuels blow's, before using the pommel of his sword in an attempt to get some breathing room. "You've lost Marius; stand down. You don't need to die here," Samuel jumped back away from the general to get out of the reach of his weapon. "If you leave now, you can live out your life without having to worry about me. Marius just stood there, grasping his new wound with his injured hand. He was breathing heavily, "I will not yield, to kiss the ground on your feet monster. Lay on Samuel, and by Stendar, hold enough!!!". And with that Marius went into the fray once again. The last dagger soared through the air, headed right for Marius' chest. While Marius had been talking, Samuel had spent his time better. "You've been given a chance to get out. And you've refused to take it. Why? You have nothing to gain by staying here." "I have everything to gain by staying here..." The dagger went soaring towards Marius, and though he side step, the dagger hit him on his left breast, causing him to fall onto his knee's. He ripped the dagger out, threw it to the ground. Before standing up once again, sword drawn. As Marius stood up, Samuel moved in and slashed out at his hand. This time Marius moved quickly, and despite his injuries, managed to to avoid his other sword hand getting mangled, avoiding the slash, Marius slammed the pommel of his Gladius into Samuel's face. Taking a few steps back, Samuel let out a small groin of pain, but didn't lose his balance. "Still has a little fight in you I see. No matter, I've already won this fight." "I know." And with that, Marius pressed the attack, slashing at Samuel's chest area, Samuel's ebony blade found itself between Marius' gladius and his chest, held with both hands. Immediately after, he launched a kick towards the generals' kneecap. With a loud "snap" Marius screamed out, as hisknee cap broke, bringing him down. Marius, using his remaining leg, pushed backwards throwing himself away from the vampire Samuel walked over, lashing out at Marius' sword as he did. It clattered away, landing out of his reach. "You shouldn't have thrown away the dagger from your chest. It would have been your only chance at this point." "**** off..." Marius stood up, despite the pain coming from his broken knee cap, he brought his bloodied fists into a fighting stance He raised an eyebrow as the general got back to his feet. A quick move with his hand and fingers hit the floor. "You have excellent spirits, General. You would have made a terrific student." Marius eye's narrowed, "I would have never lowered myself to work under someone like you, Samuel." "Do you sometimes get the feeling that you're the only one who comprehends simple grammar? I know I do. I didn't mean to say you'd make a terrific employee, just that you have the drive that would make you an excellent candidate to pass on some of my sword techniques to." Marius slowly stumbled towards Samuel, before weakly throwing a bunch at his left arm. Samuel took a hold of his neck before he drove his blade through his stomach. He whispered: "For all it is worth, Marius, you have earned my respect." With a last quick motion, Samuel pushed Marius back As Samuel's blade left Marius, he fell to the ground. Even after sustaining so many injuries Marius Imperius still struggled, he somehow managed to drag his body into a corner and plop himself up against it. "Awww...shit...I really wanted to win..." Muttered Marius, with a dark grin forming on his lips. "So have lots of people. We can't always get what we want. Cigar?" Samuel held out a cigar he had stolen from Lorgar's office when he was there. "I think Lorgar had it imported from Black Marsh." Marius ignored Samuel's offer, and instead sluggishly reached into his pocket with his bloodied hand, took out a cigarette, and put it in his mouth. It took effort, but Marius managed to light it with a match. As Marius smoked his last cigarette, his entire life flashed before his eyes. Most of the images were bad memories, some very bad memories. The memory he previously thought brightest to him, his night with Samuel, flared in his memory, along with another. Marius's twisted grin, switched into the most genuine smile he's had in decades and while the smile was in the direction of Samuel it wasn't for him. The thing that comforted Marius so much in his darkest hour was a simple image, of three young men. The first man was a black haired imperial, who was devilishly handsome with a grin on his face. The second man was a massive Nord, with snow-white hair, and although he looked like he could rip apart a bear, he had a kind look about him. The final and third man, was brown haired, and had strict military composure. In the image the first man had a cigarette is his mouth, and was doing some sort of peace sign, while the massive nord hugged him from behind with an idiotic smile. The third man, while looking very formal and officer-like, had a slight smile on his face, and his brown eyes sparkled with youth. This, simple image with nothing glorious, pleasure filled, or important was the thing that Marius treasured most deep down, it took decades to figure this out. These two men, his comrades…no his friends, were the most precious things to him. In Marius's final moments, he visually saw himself like how he was in his prime, raven-haired, sharp violet eyed, youthful and devilishly handsome. Marius muttered weakly, "Goodbye Lorgar...Goodbye Gaius.” The cigarette fell from Marius's mouth, and his eyes closed, Marius no longer saw anything, or heard, or smelled, or tasted anything ever again. Marius's face was now completely pale, a far cry from his normally healthy skin. His smile remained on his deathly face, however. For a time, Samuel sat in the staircase, smoking the cigar he had offered Marius and looking down at the body. The blood had formed a puddle around him. A painful end, but that was the price to be allowed to chose ones own thoughts before the end. Had he killed Marius in the heat of battle... It didn't matter. Marius was dead. Needlessly. Samuel shook his head. Looking back, he could see more than one solution to the problem Marius had posed without killing him. HIndsight was always 20/20, even for him. The sound of something nearing the entrance to the room caught his attention. It was time to leave. "Out of my way, feral," as he passed through the door he pushed aside what he believed to be the same creature he had encountered before. It didn't even try to do anything back; it knew better than to antagonize the Order. *** “So then, I said HE’S GOT A KNIFE!” Lorgar voice trailed off, and he suddenly felt sad. He was in the Moonlight restraunt with his date, the countess of Chorrol. Minutes ago, they were drinking glasses of wine and chatting about everything. She said, in her usual quiet voice, “Lorgar is everything alright?” A single tear dropped from Lorgar left eye, and the feeling of Anguish filled within him. “I don’t know why I’m crying.” *** Tullius was naked, beside a whore in bed. He had a very fun night. But he was feeling...sad for some reason. Sad? I never feel sad!!! I’m fucking General Tullius!!! Somehow, and for some reason, a single tear fell from his eye, along with the feeling of utter depression and mechaloncy.
  21. Baldur and Rebec Markarth, Silver-Blood Inn morning True to his word, Baldur had made her feel better after the harrowing experience of the night before. Rebec hoped that she had taken his mind off what they were about to do, too. She could tell that as they got closer to Markarth, he was more and more nervous about seeing his mother. The main thing that Rebec was concerned about was not having the encounter go about like her meeting with one of Baldur's old girlfriends had. If this Dibellan was cruel or sassed too much, there was no guarantee, even if they were in a temple. That was also something to think about. The Dibella temple in Markarth had a reputation. Skyrim's Dibellans had always been more blatantly erotic than the more genteel versions in Cyrodiil, from what Rebec had heard. The Nords weren't shy about sex and they didn't try to sugarcoat the goddess' role. It was one thing to know your mother had abandoned you, and something else to know she'd abandoned you to be some glorified whore. Also, temples and the like made Rebec's nose itch. Things hadn't gone so well when she'd met the priestess of Kynareth in Whiterun, for instance. For Baldur's sake, she was going to have to try to look pious, and that was a tall order. Rebec let Baldur sleep in as she got some hot water- thankfully not from Hroki- and washed her hair. She then started putting on her leathers. As she did so, she started picturing how she'd look to the Dibellan. She had battle scars, some tattoos on her arms and hands, and didn't have a decent set of town clothes to her name. After thinking about it a bit, Rebec decided it was just too bad what the priestess thought of her. The old hag had given up any say over Baldur's life long ago. When she was dressed, Rebec went to sit on the edge of the bed. She looked at Baldur, who had one arm thrown over his face and the other one still stretched out where he'd been holding her. It was strange, and scary, how fond you could be of a man. To have one person be so necessary to your own life. It was nice, though, at the same time. They both had hard, harrowing work to do in Markarth, but neither of them had to do it alone. "Baldur," she said, touching his arm. "It's time to wake up." "Mmm, is it morning already? Can't we just go back to bed for a while?" Baldur knew full well what time it was and he wasn't as tired as he put out to be. He was more nervous at this point than he was at the beginning of the battle in Pale Pass. It took him weeks before in Markarth just to finally decide that he could not go through with the meeting before those few years ago. Now he'd finally be facing a house of emotions that he likely would not understand. Anger was one. He could try latching on to one and run with it. That would make things easier. "I already got my armor on and I'm not undoing all those straps again." They'd learned to make it work with bits of armor on, too, but that wasn't the point. She knew he was stalling. "It can't be any worse than fighting the Thalmor, can it? She's just some old priestess. Doesn't have to get to you unless you let her." Rebec stopped short of calling the Dibellan "just some old washed-up whore," even though that was what she wanted to say. Standing, she went to the table and started nibbling on the bits of leftover cheese and bread there. "I'll tell you what I think. She doesn't deserve a son like you. Just by going to see her we're giving her more due than she has a right to. But that's because you're a better person than both your parents, Baldur." Baldur was already getting a taste of those dual emotions from her comment. He hated both his parents but somehow a part of him actually wanted to defend his mother. But how could he possibly do that? What could there possibly be to say in her defense? Not a damn thing. "Fighting Thalmor is a leisure activity as far as I'm concerned, but you're right. She's not even my mother. She's just the hole I crawled through to get here." said Baldur coldly as he arose from the stone bed's sheets. Feeling a pit in his stomach from the words he just spoke, Baldur averted his eyes from Rebec as he went to put on his Nordic Carved armor. He meant to put on his normal Officer gear, but a part of him wanted to wear the good armor. Why? To impress her? No, to show her. That in spite of her I made it and didn't need her. Yes, that's the reason. Baldur thought on Rebec's comment about fighting Thalmor as he placed the armor over his chest and back and thought back to his scars. In a way she really was worse than them. They scared him physically. Ysana Home-Wrecker did so mentally. You don't get over those so easily. Rebec watched him out of the corner of her eye. She had never gotten used to those scars, either, but she was proud of them. The Dibellan probably didn't even know that her son had saved them all from Thalmor invasion. That guard captain had talked about how far Markarth was from Solitude, but as Ulfric found out, it wasn't far enough when it came to the Thalmor interfering. Trying to lighten the mood, she said, "Did you hear that meat vendor on the square? Bloodiest beef in the Reach. What sort of advertisement is that? He was giving Mazoga the eye was we passed, like she was a nice juicy steak." "Hm, maybe he's into her. For an orc she's not that bad, hehe. Maybe she should pursue it. Although that man gives me the creeps. This whole place does really. Can't wait to leave this place. It's a shame Ulfric is so reliant on these Silver-Bloods. I was gonna carry out my threat to Thongvor about turning this place inside out in my anger, but Thongvor made it very clear that our favorite Captain acted on his own. Sadly the Silver-Bloods support Ulfric strongly and their support is based off the corruption in this city. In other words unless they somehow piss Ulfric off, I really can't do anything about the state of this place. But I can at least take care of one corrupt guard Captain before we go." Baldur swung his cape over his head and attached it over his shoulder under his fur collar. The magic of the enchantment flashed briefly before fading away, signifying it was active on him. Baldur twirled his axes briefly before holstering them, then sat back on the bed once more. "I wish you'd let it go. It's not our fight, and these kind of men, they're always just the tip of the iceberg. Unless you want to stay here for a decade or three. The Reach isn't going to be fixed in a day, not even by Baldur Red-Snow." With that she approached and gave him a little teasing smile, running her hand over the Nordic breastplate. "We'd better get going. The sight of you in that armor makes me want to take it off again after all." Baldur contemplated trying to seduce her one last time before they left, but thought better of it. He kept stalling like this and he'd never go through with it in the end. "I'll have to show you a little trick I learned from a book I once read called "Hallgerd's Tale". But that will have to wait I suppose." Baldur stood up smiling at the memory of the book and planted a kiss on Rebec's forehead and lips before taking her hands in his. "We'll discuss the guard Captain later. I gave him a promise that he'd be seeing me again and I intend to keep it. But lets forget about it for now. Thank you for finally bringing me to do this Rebec. I told you you make me stronger. I couldn't do it without you." "You just needed a little push, that's all." She hugged him once more, saying quietly in his ear, "And I'm proud to be with you. These other women who let you go, they're horker-brained fools." Smiling, Rebec pulled on his hand and led him out through the tavern. The innkeeper gave them a scowling look, but he seemed to always wear one, even before she broke his table, so Rebec gave it right back to him. Out on the street, they got more than one stare as they passed. Some were hostile, some were nervous, though one woman who had kin in Whiterun hold came up to thank them for keeping the Thalmor from getting that far. "I guess word got around about us being here." Rebec paused and squinted up at the high Dwemer towers that caught the morning sunlight. "I know why everything's all turned inside out and wrong here. This isn't a real Nord city." "Good point. Perhaps the Dwemer spirit still lurks in this place. They were a very corrupt people." Baldur looked up as well and wondered what the place looked like back in it's glory days. The books he once read painted stories of unimaginably amazing marvels of technology and architecture, but he had a hard time picturing them. He started getting vague senses of familiarity with the steps that lead the two up so high above the city. The view was really something else. He could see the whole of Markarth's architecture and distant waterfalls from a ledge that they were on, which made him have to pause for a second to take it all in. "You know, I never did get a chance to see how beautiful this place is, even though its a bit rough." Baldur broke out of his minor trance when he turned and saw all the workers below slaving away for such scant amounts of coin. "Beautiful, I guess. Maybe cursed." His comment about Dwemer corruption had got Rebec thinking that the Mer might have left a curse on the place when they disappeared. Or the Forsworn, who were like elves with bad haircuts. She looked around suspiciously, saying, "It's no wonder this is where it all started. The rebellion, I mean. It must drive the Thalmor crazy to see a Talos temple here in an 'elven' city. That means Nords have always got to hold this place, and the Reach with it. It's a symbol." "Not sure how I feel about the symbol of our liberation being the most corrupt city in Skyrim. Unless you count Riften anyway. I know what my father would say about it. Still, it's a nice **** you having a talos temple in a mer city to the Thalmor. Okay, the Dibella chapel is further along this balcony. Wonder what the place was used for before..."said Baldur, who had started to sweat at the thought of what he would find inside. His worst fear was that he'd walk in on some kind of orgy. That or she just was no longer there, although that'd be much better than the former. Rebec didn't really want to know what sort of devilry the Dwemer got up to. Good riddance to them. They stopped before the big golden doors, staring at them. Both of them were nervous, now that they were here. A woman walked past with a basket of fruit in her hands. "Are you here to bring an offering?" she asked them. The couple exchanged looks, and Rebec clutched the handle of her axe more tightly. It was the most valuable thing she owned now that her ship was gone, and no Dibellan was going to lay a painted fingernail on it. Not that they had much use. The lady, not getting any answer, muttered "hmph" and went on through the doors. Glancing in as the door cracked open, Rebec said, "It looks safe enough. I don't see any women with their teats flapping in the breeze." Baldur took a deep breath, then another, then one more for good measure before he finally pushed the doors open slightly, slowly making his way inside. He was breathing with greater frequency as his eyes darted around the room looking for anyone who could possibly be his mother. All that was inside however was the woman who just walked in and another young breton hooded woman with blue paint coming from the inner corners of her eyes praying at a circular stoned altar with a pool of water in it with a set of stone steps leading up to it. Baldur grew a bit sick looking at all the Dibella statues with their breasts exposed, picturing the blurry blob that was his memory of his mother's face on them. Baldur cleared his throat to get the woman's attention. "Excuse me, can we have a word?" The woman looked up revealing her beautiful face to the two as she smiled mischievously before wandering over. "Yes, what is it handsome? We don't get many visitors anymore, let alone a couple." Rebec glared at the Breton woman, reconsidering the notion that no Dibellan was going to see her axe. If she kept leering at Baldur that way, she might be introduced. "We're here to see that Home-Wrecker woman. I guess that fits the lot of you, but we want Ysana. Is she here?" The Breton woman gave Rebec a look of confusion as she tilted her head. "How is it that you know one of my teachers by name? And by a name she hasn't been called in quite some time. Before your birth I'd imagine." "Just tell her that two people wish to speak with her specifically. Don't tell her what we look like and don't say we called her Home-Wrecker. Just tell her she is needed here." said Baldur. "I don-" "Please! Just do as I say and we'll be on our way!" Baldur didn't mean to shout but it was hard for him to control his emotions. He couldn't hide his anger and his body had begun to tremble. Even in battle Baldur didn't have this much trouble staying calm. The priestess not looking for trouble finally decided to do as she was told to the letter. Baldur's eyes showed her it was best to just comply. "Okay, Reb. Finally we can get this over with." Rebec put an arm around Baldur's back and waited, trying not to show her own nervousness since she could see her big warrior husband looked fit to vomit. "If it goes bad, we'll just leave," she whispered, trying to say something encouraging. "No regrets and no worse off than when we came." Baldur waited staring at the doorway that the Breton woman had went through for what seemed like an age until Baldur thought that the woman had ignored them. Just when Baldur was about to lose his cool and try breaking down the doors, the door creaked open slowly as a frail figure finally stepped through. Whoever it was, it wasn't the breton. She was taller, wearing the same orange and yellow priest robes that all of the priests wore, but her face was hooded. Brown hair like Rebec's stuck out through the hood from the bottom and was all Baldur could see from a distance until she came closer. As she did, Baldur's heart started beating faster and faster with each step that she took towards them. Once she stood before them, she removed her hood and revealed a rather youthful face for one almost sixty. She had kind blue eyes and light facial features not yet pulled down by the weight of time. Her hair was slightly wavy and curled, and all around she looked every bit like the mother Baldur had imagined he had, but she did not look at all familiar to him. He always imagined he would recognize her immediately but that wasn't the case. He hoped that this truly was Ysana. Her eyes focused on Baldur's and seemed to stare into his soul. Like she could tell what he was thinking without even saying it. Is this what mothers are like? Can she tell what I am thinking? Does she know who I am? The woman's eyes were filled with confusion and sorrow all at once from the sight before her. She couldn't believe what it was she saw because what she saw was impossible. Weakly she spoke up and asked, "Ulrin? U-Ulrin Red-Snow?" Baldur closed his eyes in disappointment. He had hoped she would be able to tell who he was and he grew angry again when she called him by his father's name. "Guess again." said Baldur, coldy. Her eyes widened and filled with tears as she breathed in and said his name in a low whisper. "Baldur!" Tears fell from her eyes freely now and she tried to reach for her son to hug him, but Baldur backed away from her before she could, his face hard and cruelly fierce. "Don't." The woman who came through the door was a lot kinder and more normal looking than Rebec had expected. If they'd met under different circumstances, Rebec would have said she looked like a good person. Neither had she expected Ysana to sound so broken and sad, once she realized that it was her son in front of her. But maybe that just came from shame. Rebec got angry again when she realized that the Dibellan might think a few tears could erase all of the harm she'd done. Tone hard, she answered, "Yes, Red-Snow's our name. He's Baldur and I'm Rebec, his wife." She could have said a lot more than that, but kept quiet to let Baldur say his own piece. Ysana had a hard time keeping her composure and more tears flowed when Rebec said she was his wife. "Oh how I've missed so much of your life. Already a grown man with a wife! You have no idea what it is like to see your little baby one day then a whole entire man the next! You two don't exactly seem happy to see me. Why is it that you have come?" "We need to talk. We came here to Markarth to put some things in our past behind us. You, you're one of them." said Baldur. "I-I see. Well, wait here please. I will have the girls set up a table for us. Would you like some Jazbay wine? Cyrodiilic Brandy?" asked Ysana. "Mead." Ysana frowned a bit at the reply but nodded her head anyway. "Any particular kind?" "Black-Briar with Juniper Berries." said Baldur, still firm faced. Ysana walked off to prepare a table for the group and left the couple waiting for the preparations to be made. Baldur looked to Rebec wondering what she was thinking. Rebec shrugged, not knowing what to say. "She's... pretty. I suppose we could've guessed that much. Did she expect you to be happy to see her?" "Beats me. How could I possibly be when she left me for this? What is she thinking?" asked Baldur. "Some women just aren't made for motherhood," Rebec replied, then her eyes lowered. That could apply to her, too, for different reasons. She put that from her mind and forced a smile. "At least we'll get some good mead out of it. Hope they don't spike it with love potion." Hmph, maybe that's how father fell into all of this. thought Baldur. **** Five Dibella women came out with an assortment of things such as fine silver bowls and forks. In the middle of the large oak table lay a bowl full of different fruits, mostly grapes. Around it lay numerous sweets like tarts and sweetrolls. Baldur sat and immediately poured Rebec a tankard of the mead, then he poured some for himself, not asking if Ysana wanted any. She shrugged and had one of the women bring her some wine as Baldur started to pick at the grapes, never keeping his glare off of Ysana. Ysana waited for a while in awkward silence before she finally decided to break it. "So, before we go any further, what is it that you two do?" Rebec didn't have much of an appetite, but she took a long drink of mead and wiped her mouth with her hand. Putting the tankard down, she answered Ysana, "Lately we save Skyrim from elves and bastard imperials. It's General and Admiral Red-Snow, if you want our titles. Before that, I was a ship captain and privateer, and Baldur was a mercenary and a Stormcloak soldier." Giving the woman a hard look, she said, "I guess you don't concern yourself much with the country's affairs, if you haven't heard about Baldur already." Ysana had a surprised look on her face showing she was clearly impressed by the two. "Wow, such important titles you have! I guess I shouldn't be surprised from your appearance. And that armor. As crude and harsh as warriors can be, that is truly a thing of beauty. Take it from a priest of Dibella." "Dibella can stuff it. What exactly is so great about living a life on your back that you couldn't take care of your son?" asked Baldur angrily. It was Ysana's turn to raise her voice now. "Don't you come in here blaspheming and judging me when you know so little about me! Just like your father." "I know that you left your only son with his father so you could live the life of a whore! That is all I need to know." Baldur's words had cut deep. Ysana was quiet for a few seconds before she proceeded. "So, you think I'm just some whore. A whore who left her son? You have no idea what you're talking about, Baldur. About me or what it is that I do. Or did." "Well then, enlighten me." Ysana breathed in and closed her eyes before she began. "It seems your father didn't tell you much about me beyond my title or what happened. He said I left you?" "Didn't you? To stay here and be a Dibella priestess?" "You say that with such disgust, Baldur. Let me explain. This lifestyle is not what everyone believes. Yes there's sex, moreso than our Cyrodiilic counterparts. But that is not everything. We worship beauty, art, pleasure. The good things in life. It's a glamarous lifestyle. One that I've always wanted ever since I was a girl. What we do is we spread our teachings to others. We make them feel good and show them how to enjoy life." "Sounds like an excuse to me." said Baldur dismissively. "You are just like your father! Is my lifestyle really so wrong? You married someone who has a life at sea, they have a reputation for being...not so virtuous." Baldur tilted his head downward and spoke in a low angry growl as his expression grew darker. "You...leave...my...wife out of this! Don't you dare compare her to you!" "Why? Are we really that different? I mean really? Rebec, how many men have you been with?" "I said leave her out of it! Rebec, you don't need to answer that." said Baldur. "I am just trying to prove a point. You wish to understand the situation and this will help." Rebec was looking from one to the other during this exchange, and she really, really did want to be left out of it, especially about the men she'd slept with. "I've rolled a few," she answered finally, tone angry. "I didn't advertise like you lot do." Ysana smiled at the response and nodded, acknowledging the truth of her words. Still focused on Rebec as she began speaking, still talking to both of them, "Baldur's father when he first met me here fell in love with me after one of our nights. I fell in love with him as well. He at first to me was just simply a crude warrior who knew nothing of beauty or life. How could he? His job was to take it. But when he met me...something sparked in him. He kept returning each and every day. One day he came in and started singing these songs about me. They were so beautiful. As a priest of Dibella, I was amazed. He was an artist in his own right. Soon I stopped taking other students and snuck out of the temple to be with him. He looked a lot like my Baldur here does now, except with cropped hair and legionnaire armor. We got to know each other better and he started to grow to appreciate my lifestyle. I made him happy and he made me happy. It wasn't too long before I started growing with child. We were together for a while and things were good or so I thought. Once I had Baldur, it was time that I go back to being a priestess. I promised Ulrin that I would no longer lay with men but I'd still be a priestess and I'd be his wife. He was fine with that at first, but then he started going around the city on his own he started staying at taverns more. Before too much longer he heard my name. "Ysana Home-Wrecker." The men could be heard talking about me and their nights with me according to him and he got into more than a few fights. It was about three years of this before he approached me and told me that he and I needed to leave with Baldur. I didn't want to go, being a Dibella priestess was all I ever wished to be. I asked him if he couldn't just let the past stay in the past. Do you know what he did? He left. He called me a whore just like Baldur had done, took Baldur and ran to gods know where. That was the last I ever saw of him. He abandoned me. Because of his pride." Baldur listened to all of this, took it in, waited and digested the new information. It wasn't quite what he expected to hear. Especially the part about singing. That really got to him. "He always told me that he started singing after you left us. To ease his pain. I too took up singing. I sing to Rebec all the time." said Baldur. Ysana started tearing up and smiled, grabbing at Baldur's hand. Baldur looked down at them, not sure what to think. He was still angry, but at who, he didn't know. His father for sure. The man lied to him about his past, but it still wasn't all his fault. But this new information made him more and more glad that he was dead. "So father stole me away without a word? Why the hell didn't you just leave? Can't you understand what it's like to hear things like that from people about someone you love?" "Baldur, you're right. But that was how my life was! I already gave up the primary part of my life for him and all he had to do was love me and swallow his pride. I didn't understand it, I was young and stupid. We both were. If he'd just explain that it hurt him so bad instead of calling me a whore, I would have gone gladly! I loved him and I still do!" tears started rolling down Ysana's face anew as she said this. Baldur felt a lump in his throat when she spoke of him in the present time. "He started asking me questions about who I'd been with and how many and when I told him, he couldn't handle it. He grew paranoid and kept asking who I slept with, how many times. I asked him to leave it in the past and he could not. Do you love your wife? "Yes, I love her." Then what would you have done? Hm? Would you have let your pride get in the way? Or would you have loved your wife regardless? Expressed your feelings and not jump to judgement? Men are so quick to judge females but when it's the other way around..." Baldur had thought about her questioning and it scared him how much he was like his dad. He did always wonder what he would do if the time ever came and he met one of Rebec's partners. He always had the thought in the back of his head questioning how many. If Baldur met one of her mates like she did his, he was afraid he would react in a similar way. It was best that they get the air cleared now before he let his pride get in the way later. "Mother, can you give us some time alone?" Ysana smiled at him and slowly got up out of her chair and went to the back of room out of ear shot while looking back at the two. Baldur looked to Rebec now and held her hands in his. "Rebec, lets just get this out of the way, okay? It will make things easier in the future. How many men have you been with?" Listening to Ysana, Rebec had been amazed, and it was uncomfortable how much her own story with Baldur sounded like the one the Dibellan was telling. As Baldur began to question her, she turned from nervous to afraid. Whatever Baldur might have said about his devotion to her, his parents' story was proof that sometimes base emotions could overrule the higher ones. And the fact was, she didn't know the answer to his question. Feeling under scrutiny, she tried to think back, but there were too many lonely nights in too many ports, with too many of them shrouded by drink. A time or two she had woken up with several men and women draped over a bed, and Rebec with no idea who had been with whom. That was in her wilder, younger years, when the drink was heavy. As she wised up, she'd had less need and been more careful. Occasionally another ship captain, a merchant. Some were her friends, some were a bed when her ship was in for repairs and she didn't have enough coin for an inn on top of paying the shipyard and her payroll. "I didn't keep a ledger," she answered Baldur, voice hoarse. She watched him nervously, never having expected the conversation to turn to this. Baldur felt horrible that he had to hurt her this way, but his mother's story had shown him something in himself. He was very much like his father. This conversation needed to happen. If it didn't now, then it would later. "Rebec, don't be afraid. It's best we get this out of the way now before I meet some of your bed mates later and I let pride get in the way then. I don't think I would but, well. You heard how much me and Ulrin were alike. I don't want that to happen. Part of their problem was likely that Ulrin hadn't been with nearly as many partners as she had. He loved her but at the end of the day they were doomed from the beginning. You and I on the other hand have both had our fun and have gotten out of it. You don't have an exact number just give me an idea. Just try. I'll go first. I've been with something like twelve or fourteenish women. Some regulars, others just drunk affairs. You've actually met two of them already. One that girl in the Silver-Blood inn. The other...." Baldur breathed hard before pressing on with his response. "The other the red-head woman in Falkreath. The one you caught looking at me before." "I KNEW IT!" Rebec pointed triumphantly. Then she remembered that it was a serious conversation and her hand fell. Looking away, she struggled a long minute before she could go on. "Baldur, you know I was a drunk. Maybe I still am. I guess..." She began to count on her fingers and mutter. As she got to the end of her list, it was shorter than she'd first thought it would be. There were nine that she could remember, not counting Toki and Baldur. She'd been married, after all, and hadn't exactly been looking to cheat on her husband. She hadn't ever wanted someone more than Toki until Baldur came around. Giving herself some room for error, she answered hesitantly, "Thirteen? Fourteen including Toki, fifteen including you. Most of them were in my younger years." She looked across to him, still nervous that it would be too many. Baldur laughed slightly at her realization that she was right about that red-headed hussy. Then Baldur thought about her answer and gave a sigh and closed his eyes. He thought Rebec was trying to make him feel better by making the number so similar to his. "Rebec, I know what you're trying to do. My male pride isn't so easily bruised that I can't handle you having more partners than me. I figured that was likely the case long ago." "You think I'm lying?" She was getting angry again. "I know what you think of me. It was right in your journal, that I'm more like a man than a woman, that I'm not the kind of woman for marrying. Is that what's on your mind now?" Rebec had forgotten that Baldur had at first compared her to his mother. She hadn't realized it would be a mistake to come to the temple. "Well..." Baldur had started growing nervous now. He didn't want to insult her but he had asked her to be honest, so he would too to a certain point. There's honesty and then there's being too honest. Baldur started rubbing the back of his head nervously. "Well, honestly I thought there'd be more. I already told you that you being like a man personality wise is why I loved you. To be perfectly honest, now that I know the number...I really don't care." Baldur sat their bewildered and utterly confused. He used to spend so much time fighting with the question, wondering what he'd think if he found out but now that he knew, he felt nothing at all. Honestly...who in the hell cares? Why did I care so much? "Now that I think about it, you could have told me twenty men and I'm not all that sure I'd care. Maybe it's easy to say now that I know but...And you? You care about my number at all being like yours?" Rebec reached for his hand and clasped it. "It could be fifty and I wouldn't care. I'd be spitting jealous all the time, but I'd love and want you the same." Turning on the bench to face him, she went on, "Think about it this way. Toki was my first and I couldn't leave him, even when I should've done. Doesn't that say something? There were times, especially when I was younger, when I just wanted my sweetroll frosted, but most times I was just lonely without him. You wake up beside me every day, and I'll never have to think about it again." Baldur pulled his hand away laughing while slightly grimacing. "Ew, Rebec do you need to be so graphic? I know I said I didn't care about the number but damn, learn some subtlety! I'll never look at another sweetroll the same way again...." Baldur got up from his chair while still smiling and walked away a small distance. He looked to the door of the place with his back turned to Rebec while he rubbed his beard, thinking on what all of this meant and how it changed things. For one the nagging question was gone. He had already figured that he loved Rebec regardless but the question had always kept popping up. But that was out now and all that was left was his complete devotion to Rebec. Same as always. "Subtlety isn't my strong point, you should know that." Rebec grinned, but as her eyes followed Baldur, she was still worried. He was so different from Toki, and it made her relieved and crazy by turns. Glancing up at one of the statues of naked women, she pursed her lips and then stared into her tankard, waiting. She figured Baldur needed time to think. He'd just been thrown a lot. "Mother, come here." said Baldur. He finally got his answer. It wasn't as complex as he thought it would be. In fact, he had already known the answer. Ysana stood smiling, happy that her point had been made, or so she figured. She sat back down at the table looking at the bear insignia on Baldur's back. His presence was an inspiring one. She didn't know the details but she got the sense that her son was a hero. "So, what is your answer? What would you have done in your father's shoes?" Baldur turned around and walked back to the table. Looking to Rebec, Baldur grabbed her by her hands and stood her up from her chair. "When Rebec told me her number, I thought that I'd feel...something. Anything. Anger, sadness, jealousy, something. But I didn't feel anything. I wondered why that was but now I see it clear." Baldur put his hand over Rebec's groin gently before continuing. "It's not the connection here that matters. The one that matters..." Baldur moved his fingers over to where Rebec's heart would be, then afterwards he moved them to her temple, signifying her mind. "What matters is the connection here...and here. I know no other man has had those connections. As long as that remains true Rebec, not a damn thing else matters to me." Rebec jumped a little as he started to reach for her, thinking he was taking sweetrolls too literally, but when he explained, she smiled at him, and thought she might cry. His poet ways were odd sometimes, but they cut her deeply. Self-conscious in front of Ysana, she glanced at the woman and said, "I think we judged you too fast and based on the lies of a bitter man. For my part, I'm sorry. Baldur, if you want me to leave you two alone, I'll go and..." She glanced around, and suddenly was curious what was going on deeper in the temple. "No, I'd like you to stay, Rebec." said Baldur. Ysana started to tear up again. The two reminded her so much of Ulrin and herself that it was painful for her to watch. She was jealous. Baldur sat back down in his seat and continued on with the conversation. "As for you and pa...There was likely nothing you two can do. As similar as our stories are, the main difference is that you two met when you were young. Rebec and I met both when we were older and more experienced, but also while doing similar professions. Not to mention I didn't have to deal with hearing people's comments. If I were pa, I'd have explained how I felt, but I am not pa and I can't say for sure. You two were just victims of a bad circumstance. And now...now I don't know who to be angry at anymore. Pa yes for taking me away and lying, but I can partly see why he did it. Can you really blame him, mother?" Ysana looked down at her cup of wine and started swishing it around the cup in her hands. Her son was smart. Just like her. "Baldur, your insight is something else. You are right. I can't completely. Both of us had a part to play in it. After he left, I was so distraught, that I broke my promise and fell back into my old ways, feeling the sorrow of losing both my love and my child. Sorrow really doesn't even cut it. After a year or so I realized I couldn't hide the pain from that. I stopped that sort of practicing and hadn't made love to a man since. I was waiting all this time for either you or your father to come by so I could get him to come back and make things up." Baldur frozed up as chills began going down his spine and legs. He could not believe what he had just heard. "A-Are you serious? I came to Markarth a few years ago just before the Stormcloaks started appearing. Do you mean to tell me that..." Baldur couldn't finish his sentence. For the first time since the civil war, Baldur finally started feeling the weight of what he had done. The image of his father's bloody pulverized face being smashed with a legionnaire sword pommel he had used undercover came rushing back to him. And the image wouldn't cease. "You came here then? Yes, I was waiting for him all this time. When we first had you he had plans to leave the legion. He was going to give up being a legionnaire to stay with me. I was waiting for him to come back so that we could both retire. I still am. Where is he?" Baldur's vision started growing blurry before him. He couldn't help it. He felt immensely guilty for his father's death for the first time ever. If he had just gone up to that temple before instead of drinking and screwing that girl, his father may very well be alive today and he and his mother would be together. Happy. "Baldur, where's Ulrin?" Ysana's face was grim. She suspected the worst, but her worst wasn't as bad as the truth. Rebec's face went white and she grabbed Baldur's hand and held it tight. Sensing that he wouldn't be able to get the words out, she made herself do so. They had to tell her the truth. "Ulrin's dead, Ysana. I'm sorry." She paused to let the woman absorb the news, glancing at Baldur as she did so. This was harder than if she'd done the deed herself. Finally she pushed on. "Baldur killed him. It was during the war, when they were on opposite sides. Baldur was sent on a secret mission to kill the commander of a fort and didn't know til he got there that that man was his father. Ulrin taunted him anyway, and they fought, and..." The rest was obvious. Baldur half heard the words and the story sounded so strange coming from Rebec. Like it was just a tale he had read from some old book. But it wasn't a tale. It was his life. He had killed his father and effectively ruined his mother's last chance to make things up with the love of her life. All those years of waiting for nothing. Ysana started breathing very heavily and at first she thought that she'd have a heart attack. At this point she had cried so much that her eyes felt fuzzy and tears no longer came. She stood from her bench and knocked the fruit bowl from it in a blind fury then worked her way to one of the Dibella statues. Suddenly she didn't care so much about beauty art and pleasure anymore. The love of her life was gone. As she lay on the floor screaming, Baldur imagined how he'd feel if Rebec died, or if he died how she'd feel. The thought of that and the sight of his mother on top of the fact that he had brought this along made him lose some of his stomach contents on the floor to the left of him. His mother stood there on the floor crying like a newborn baby for a while before Baldur got up to walk out of the temple. "Rebec, let’s go." "No! Wait! I'm sorry, I-" Baldur turned to his mother, wondering why in the world she'd possibly be sorry. Ysana stood up and ran toward him and hugged him for the first time in thirty six years. Baldur couldn't help himself when he finally cried. The power of a mother's touch was something that he could not overcome. "I didn't wait thirty six years for one of you to show up just to turn you away boy! This wasn't your fault. I may have lost Ulrin but I still have my baby boy. For that, the wait was worth it." Baldur had no words. He felt so unbelievably guilty for what he'd done and to have his mother come and embrace him so strongly and lovingly perplexed him to no end. She didn't even ask why he joined the Stormcloaks instead of the Legion. She didn't care why. So this is what unconditional love feels like. "I'm retiring anyway, now that I've met you and I know the truth. I want to be around and in your life to see all yor little babies running around." said Ysana. "Woah, woah mother!" Baldur started getting embarrassed in front of Rebec from the tears on top of the mention of children. "We haven't talked about that yet." "Well you should, damnit! Haven't you learned anything from all this yet?" said Ysana. "You're right, you're right. Thanks mother. That talk we had together really helped a lot." Ysana pulled away from her warrior son for a while and smiled with new tears in her eyes. Suddenly she sent a furious backhand and front hand slap to Baldur's cheeks, leaving them bright red. "Gah, what in Molag's Balls was that for?!!?" "That was for calling your mother a whore." Ysana said while laughing. "I'd have done it earlier but the way your warrior wife was looking at me made that seem like a bad idea. Rebec, will you not come and give your mother in law a hug?" Helplessly Rebec had watched Ysana grieving, and she knew that other people probably did something except gape when somebody was that broken, but damned if she could think what it was supposed to be. By the time Ysana was embracing Baldur, the tears that had stuck in her throat earlier were starting to form. Still, she felt like a sore thumb, and hesitated when Ysana beckoned to her. Here we all are with our guts on the floor. That image reminded her of the war, and how she hadn't hesitated to hug Boldir and Suri after their victory. Win or lose, they would have held tight to each other, and that was all she needed to do for Baldur and his mother, too. Stepping forward, she leaned out and Ysana came to her. The two women embraced for a long time, and Rebec was stunned at the love and acceptance she could feel in her mother-in-law. If she had pictured anything coming out of the meeting with the Dibellan, that was the last thing. Releasing her, Rebec even felt ashamed that she'd said so many things about "the Dibellan" which had been so off the mark. "We'll be your family, anyway," she said lamely, and looked at Baldur. He was the bard, but he seemed at a loss for words, too. Ysana had her hands on Rebec's shoulders still and she seemed to be sizing her up. "Oh even with this armor on and these scars you are still so beautiful! You have much potential. Here, standup straight, chin up. Hmm, nice, nice. You and I should have a girls day sometime! Just you and me, eh? What do you say? By the end of the day I promise you'll feel like a new woman. Then you get to see a little of what we're all about beyond just sex. Although I imagine there'll be lots of that once Baldur sees you when we're done." "Mother, come on!" proclaimed Baldur clearly embarrassed. "Oh hush, aren't you a nord? I'm a priest of Dibella for crying out loud, silly!" Ysana reached out and pinched Baldur's cheeks fiercely and playfully as she said this, making Baldur laugh and cry out in pain at the same time. A girl's day? Rebec had no idea what that even was. She looked at Baldur helplessly, but then Ysana was pinching his cheeks and making him do his shy thing, and that made her smile, too. "We were going to leave Markarth soon, and we've got some things to do out in the countryside, but maybe we can stay a little longer..." They had both been eager to get out, but this was worth extending their stay a little. "Wait, what am I supposed to do during this "girls day"?" said Baldur. "Oh I don't know, go hunting or something. Drinking, whatever. It would be an absolute disgrace if me and Rebec don't spend some time alone for a while! When we're done with her, she's gonna feel so relaxed and look so beautiful...You must stay one extra day before you leave! Then you can tell me all about yourself and my son and what I've missed out on all these years. By the way, what was the number? Baldur's too, if you don't mind me asking?" This again. Rebec shifted on her feet. "We both came in under twenty, I guess," she mumbled. Then the absurdity of all hit her, and she laughed despite the mist in her eyes. Ysana's way of doing things still struck her as strange, but after all it didn't matter any more than it did for her and Baldur. "Good enough for practice. As for this 'girls day', you aren't going to do anything... permanent, are you?" Ysana chuckled triumphantly with her hand over her mouth. "Ha! Light weights!" "Agh! Ma!" "Ah Baldur I just love seeing you squirm! Hehehe!" said Ysana giving the same trademark laugh Baldur gives. "Anyway as for permanency...no not in case you want a tattoo, dear." "Got some of those already, but for warriors," Rebec answered. "If that's all you do, I guess it's safe enough. Don't let Baldur back in here, though. He's the best bard in Skyrim and if he starts singing, all your little priestess friends are going to be hanging on him, and I aim to keep his number under twenty." Baldur sat back laughing and blushing to himself. He was a bit shy but also proud to be praised in front of his mother. Ysana saw this and started pinching at his cheeks yet again. "Oh you must let me hear it! You have to sing me one song at least before you go!" "I will ma I will, unless my cheeks are too sore to form words! Alright ma it's a deal. Once we take care of our last bit of business here in Markarth, we'll stay back a day for you to borrow my Rebec. I think I'll take some of my men and go hunting some forsworn." Baldur reached for his mother and gave her one last hug before it was time to leave. "I love you, ma." Ysana started tearing up once more during the hug. Shortly after, she pulled away and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you too, my little soldier man." "Alright Reb, you ready to go?" said Baldur who was blushing again. She was watching this scene with amazement, not yet used to the idea that Baldur had a real mother and one who loved him and was going to be part of both their lives. At Baldur's question, Rebec nodded. "We've got some business to attend to, Ysana. Serious stuff, not lollygagging. But we'll be back." Taking Baldur's hand, she walked with him towards the door, where they both paused to look back at Ysana. Rebec gave her a little friendly salute, and they went back through the big gold doors that had looked so intimidating an hour or so before. When they were outside and walking down the long trail of steps, Rebec said, "That was..." There weren't any words. Baldur didn't know what to say. That was...was all he could really muster himself. Baldur stopped walking and grabbed Rebec from behind, hugging her as he looked off at the view of Markarth and it's distant waterfalls. The sight of the tough stone architecture releasing it's water reminded him of Rebec and himself. "Thank you." Reaching up to take the hand on her shoulder, Rebec turned her head. "We both got a mother again. That's more thanks than I need." Baldur kissed his wife as her face was facing his, thinking to himself how he now had no reason to be angry at anything or anyone but the Thalmor. And Moon Balls. But as of right now neither of those things mattered. His family was still ever growing. The only desire he had now was to protect what he had. "Guess this place isn't so bad after all." Rebec smiled, thinking that finding Toki couldn't be any worse than the soul-baring Baldur had endured. Though a little edge of doubt lingered. "Let's go round up Mazoga and head out to Dushnikh Yal. We should be back by nightfall, unless we have to go searching very far." "Let's hope so. Don't want to stay too long in the Reach after nightfall. But after all this I'm gonna need something to keep my axe hand strong. Come on. Let's bring Toki home."
  22. Honmund Mistwatch Late morning He put his boot against the chest of the Nord on the ground before him. He had buried his axe a little deeper than expected and now he had to use some effort to get it out again. A good an example as any to encourage the maintenance of their armor, this Nord's was worn beyond recognition. Around him the sound of battle moved towards an end. The Mistwatch bandits had fallen or retreated into the citadel of the fort, leaving only a few stragglers alive to fend of his own people. The fear that had to be sown among the ones still alive had to be immense. And, given the rumors of someone assimilating other groups into theirs, it would have sown mutiny among them. When they marched in there, it should be easy pickings, compared to how it would have been to take this fort for the Jarl's men. "Aenin, what do you think?" Honmund pulled the axehead out of the torso and waved for the Breton to come to him. Aenin took a small magicka potion from out of the pouch he kept to his side. He never could stand the taste of the damn things. You asked him, he'd have sworn the damn alchemists put skeever droppings in it, but Aenin had a small condition that made him use a bit more magicka than what he would mean to. This made his spells slightly more powerful than normal but made it harder to control. So he needed to recharge himself somewhat moreso than others. Still, he has grown used to it and it was not as bad as it once was. And if he did run out of magicka, he loved the feel of his steel pressing through a man's belly as much as he did the smell of their flesh cooking from his spells. As for the potion, he ofset the taste with a bit of wine inside. Aenin threw the bottle aside on a dead orc's face impaled with a greatsword nearby. "I think that this place is perfect, although we happened to take it a bit more easily than I would have liked. We need to do some repairs wid somedat money you got, if you don't mind the suggestion, boss. Nothin special, just wooden defenses, some traps covered in grass we can activate by pullin some ropes. You know, the nord styled ones. As for the ones that's left, I say we kill 'em. No good to us. We got enough ametuers from the last group of recruits if you ask me." "Not that, I know all of that already. I'm thinking about the attack on the citadel itself. There's gonna be a lot of dark corners in there, even if she should have scared them shitless by now." Honmund raised an eyebrow to the expression Aenin got when he drank the potion. Surely, it couldn't be that bad? The potions Frei made for him tasted quite well. Then again; different potion, different ingredients. Aenin was right about the defenses though, even if that was a moot point since he already knew. He had quickly learned that using the style of the orcish strongholds was the most efficient one; it gave good protection and offered some camouflage when seen from a distance. Most people avoided the strongholds when they could. "Ah sorry, you know how I am with reiterating things. Comes with being in the Legion. Having to explain things so often to so many. Anyway, we have two options with that. One is the obvious choice which is we storm 'em from the front and hope for the best, or two we try and ascend those mountains from behind the fort and climb up. There should be some kind of exit from up there. Trap door maybe. We go in there and have two teams in the front and back. The front teams will distract them and draw them out while the back teams can come from behind and finish them off. This will of course depend on if there is another way in which I feel pretty good that there is. We could wait til night when they're nice n' sleepy. We rest during the day so we're well alert and won't screw up. Or we go now so they don't have time to prepare. Either way, they're dead." Aenin took a cloth from his pouch to wipe the blood from his blade before sheathing it. "Actually, we got any rope? We can likely climb up to those battlements up there without the need of the mountainside, but after this I'm gonna have the men make a few wooden staircases." "We have, but I want to get this over with quickly. We have a lot to do once we're done, making this place livable again. I'll lead a team from the front, you'll climb around and see if you can find another way in. Men! Gather 'round!" The last words were shouted, turning every head to him. The last remaining Mistwatch marauders were quickly executed, without any ceremony of fuss. This was not the time to play with their food. Honmund himself ran up to the first plateau of a wooden staircase up to the outer walls of the fort, continuing his call for them to assemble around him. "Today we take another step in the direction of legitimizing our power! The Jarls and High King would condemn our efforts to build ourselves up as we do, but they have forgotten how they themselves got their thrones! In ancient times, Kings and Jarls were the ones to rule because they were the strong warriors and leaders of their days: The ones who could protect their people and lay waste to their enemies! But the Jarls we have now is but a pale imitation of the ones from the past, living with the power their ancestors claimed for them! The only one among our lords today that have earned any right to rule is the High King, Ulfric Stormcloak! But that does not mean we don't have the right to carve out a place for outselves! Today, we honor the memory of the Kings of Old, who fought for their power, as we take what will be the capital of our power and influence! Those of you who fancy a climb, follow Aenin in his mission to find another way into the fort! The rest of you will follow my lead as we break down the gate and storm the citadel! Excellency will be rewarded! Cowardice will be punished! Attack!" From inside the walls, it would sound like all hell broke loose. The tramping of feet as they ran towards the gate and the hits it took, giving in an inch after another. The Siege of Mistwatch would be over almost as soon as it had started.
  23. Lorgar Grim-Maw Imperial City Afternoon Lorgar was sweating as if the sun was scorching down upon on him, in all honesty, it was only moderately warm today, and the sweat was caused by his nervousness. Lorgar was actually a very shy person, which was a surprise to most people. This is the first date Lorgar’s gone on, since. Has it really been more then decade? It was expected, Lorgar never had time to date, and he was far too busy with his duties as a Legate. He somehow got even busier after he was discharged from his position of Legate, due to him focusing solely on his work. Frea and Skorn tried to get him to go out with a bunch of Skaalish woman; none of them were his type. While good woman, both in personality and heart, Lorgar honestly didn’t prefer the “strong-woman” type, he much preferred the “cute and clumsy” type. Tullius called him a weirdo and said Lorgar had some sort of fetish, Marius said he was an idiot, for some odd reason. “They’ll eat me alive,” Lorgar tried to say “They’ll beat me up if I’m late from work with A Stlahrim mace. He told them. They never gave up, letter after letter they would talk about how “Morwen was interested” or “Fanari was searching for a man”. Despite there benevolent nature, they really where kinda perverted. Frea had gone out with every girl or boy in the village around her age (“Experimenting” she always told Lorgar when he called her out, honesty, he thought she was Bi. They called her the heart breaker) and Skorn had married thrice. (Admittedly, two of his wives were killed by Rieklings and a frost giant, while the third left to Morrowind and never returned). Also, they usually asked Lorgar about his sex life in letters, and when he visited, and where always disappointed when he said his life wasn’t that active. Frea and Skorn would be happy to know he was finally going out with someone. Speaking of, he had finally reached the Laughing Fox, and outside waiting for him was Countess Millerda. She had her medium length blonde hair done neatly, and she wore a lovely purple dress. Her golden spectacles shone brightly under the sun, along with her deep blue eyes. Though some would call her “small” or “weak”, the only thing Lorgar would ever call her would be “beautiful”. Lorgar himself had his dark-brown hair done very neatly, along with his always well-shaven beard. He wore his formal dress-uniform, but without his usual black long-coat. He waved at her, “Gooday to you milady.” At the sight of the Duke, Millerda blushed before bowing her head, “Hello-Milord.” Lorgar smiled at her, causing her to blush even more. He said gently, “Shall we be off to the First Edition?” The name of the Book Store down in the market district, it has a large selection of expensive, but rare books. She starred downward, looking at his feet shyly. She was obviously nervous about this, just like Lorgar. However, unlike Lorgar, she didn’t hide it. To calm her nerves, Lorgar lightly touched her chin, and brought her face up to his eye, “Are you feeling well milady?” Badum Badum Badum badumbdadumbdaum! Lorgar could hear and feel her heart beat speed up at his touch, she weakly responded, “I’m..fine, Milord.” She put on a warm smile. Lorgar returned it, before locking his arm around hers, and saying, “Let us be off then, milady.” Walking towards the market district, the countess shyly let her head rest on Lorgar’s shoulder, and Lorgar felt good.
  24. Gracchus Ceno Imperial City Stable Midday Gracchus spent the night at the Fox, so after eating his breakfast and dressing in a spare black collared shirt and brown pants, he went to visit with his mom. The elder Ceno sat in her cushioned chair, watching the streets below with limited curiosity. She'd taken to repeating the same routine, usually watching out her window before napping, and then reading in the later parts of the day followed by tea and knitting. But her favorite times were her talks with her son. Gracchus entered and sat down on a chair next to his mother, listening to the vendors and pedestrians below before starting the conversation. "So, what story would you like to here today mother?" Lyra Ceno was particularly fond of her sons stories, as she loved listening to the adventures he encountered in the Legion. "Well, you said that you were in Hammerfell at one point, so how about you tell me about what that was like. No war stories, just describe the land for me." That was another of her favorites, when Gracchus would describe the exotic lands he'd visited, "Well, I couldn't talk about Hammerfell without mentioning the sand. It isn't like sand on the beach, soft and smooth, but hard, gritty, and it goes on for days in some places. But the oasis, those are truly magnificent. Natural springs sprouting from the ground, with all manner of greenery and animals congregating to the only source of life they can find. The flowers that sprout there rival ours in beauty, just from the sheer fact they are able to survive such hostility. The people there are much the same, hard and gritty, but beautiful because they can survive, and thrive in hard conditions." Lyra was droopy eyes already, her mind lost in the world Gracchus described to her. "It sounds beautiful. Magnificent. If you don't mind, I think I'll sleep now, gives these old bones some rest. I wish I could truly travel there, if even for a day. It sounds absolutely gorgeous, in its own way." Gracchus moved his chair back to the table in the room, and shut the door quietly so his mother could get some rest. He exited the tavern, and entered onto the streets, which were fairly crowded, with all manner of people from peasants to nobles traversing the city. He saw beggars holding there hands out hoping for a few septims, and children running around playing tag. Watching all these people passed the time, and Gracchus soon reached the stables. Lil Ceno was laying down in his pen, the hay beneath him crunching as he wood at the sight of his owner. Gracchus reached into his pocket, pulling out a handful of sugar cubes and letting the dapple gray warhorse lick them out of his open palm. Gracchus grabbed the saddle and put it on his horse, and rode out of the main gate. Several guards saluted him, recognizing him as a high ranking General. Together they slowly trotted around the city, taking in the sight of the White-Gold Tower looming over the city. It was a nice day, several clouds floating overhead, occasionally blocking the sun. The flowers were in full bloom, covering the fields in waves of reds, yellows, blues, and a multitude of other colors. Gracchus wheeled the horse around, heading back to the main gate. They reached it around four o'clock, and he dismounted and took off the riding equipment. Lil Ceno gulped down the water from his trough as soon as he was in his pen, so Gracchus dropped a few more sugar cubes before leaving. He passed through the Market District, wanting to stop and see if his special project was almost finished. A Breton lady manned the counter of the Argonian owned jewelry store where he stopped. "Hello, I'm looking to check on my order. It's under the name Ceno." The woman said, "One moment," before she went back into the store to find it. When she returned, she held in her hand a small wooden box. Gracchus took it from her outstretched hand, and opened it to find pure perfection. The ring was gold, with the name 'Catia' carved on the inside. Set on too was a diamond, small but perfect. The outside was carved, depicting beautiful flowers modeled like the ones outside the city. "How long until its finished?" Gracchus asked. "Umm...about another week or so. Finish up the carvings and polish it off. Will you be making another payment today?" Gracchus reached in his pocket at the last comment, and pulled out a bag holding two hundred septims. "I believe that should finish it off." The woman emptied to contents, counting them quickly. "Ah, that is it then. I assume you'll be back to pick it when it's finished?" "Yes, I want to give it to Catia as soon as possible. Thank you again and have a nice day." "You too." Gracchus left, his mind buzzing with anxious excitement. How should I do it though? I can't just propose in the tavern. No, Pilus would've killed me for that. Maybe in the gardens? Or outside the city, in the flower fields. I have a week to decide, but I better start making arrangements. Gracchus walked along the streets merrily, the heart and soul of happiness.
  25. Maggie and Samuel Imperial City evening When Maggie was sure that the hunter and no other mortal enemy was following her, she turned a corner into a blind alley and vanished from sight completely. From there she disappeared into the sewers and emerged again in the front garden of her house. As she reached her front doorstep, smelling of sewer became the least of her problems. Still cloaked, she observed with horror that her nightblade guards had been bound and gagged. From the shadows she tried to use telekinesis to undo their bonds, but the ropes had also been enchanted with silence bindings. It was too sophisticated for even an intelligent hunter like the Vigilant. The Order was moving in on her. Her father might be waiting inside for her, to get rid of her on the Order's own terms. That hunter had just been a tightening of the noose, a warning that she couldn't run. No, not her father. He would never do such dirty work himself if he had a willing blade. It would be Samuel. Maggie's mind moved from afraid to desperate. She could go... nowhere. Alinor might have been beyond her father's reach, but she had made the Thalmor her enemies, too. Briefly she thought of the wizard Skjari. He was powerful enough to protect her, but wouldn't jeopardize the empress for her sake. If she was exposed as a vampire, the palace was the last place where she would find refuge. On her own, Maggie knew she wouldn't make it for long. Perhaps she would survive, but as a feral creature, which would be worse than destruction. There was nothing to do but face her fate. She left the unconscious guards where they were and entered the house. Samuel would be waiting in the garden. From the very beginning he'd chosen the one place she felt safe, felt herself, and had staked it out as not belonging to her any more than her own life did. Maggie first went upstairs to drink from her locked cabinet and change into a clean outfit. There was no rush, and she wouldn't let him see her rattled. Even if this was the end, she would meet it as a Colovian ought to do. In loose silk trousers and a sleeveless shirt, Maggie finally went down to the garden. Samuel didn't bother to conceal himself this time. She saw him standing next to her own blade, struck into the ground. Smiling serenely, she asked, "Am I to fall on my own sword?" "You're late," he replied. No emotions was to be seen on his face, or heard in his voice, other than that he wanted her to take the sword. Drawing his own blade, dark ebony with silver trimmings, he took a few steps back from the sword in the ground. The moment she reached out to take her blade, he shot past her, leaving a small, but notable but in her left underarm. A drop of blood fell of the tip of his blade; he had drawn First Blood. Maggie's instinct was to remain still and let the end come quickly. She looked at the blood on her arm, mesmerized for a moment at the small line of it sliding down her skin. It was so beautiful. She had always thought so. Her eyes returned to Samuel. No, her father wasn't going to let her end quickly. Even to the end he wanted to humiliate her, to show how inadequate she was to the bloodline of Darius Bathory. She'd promised Samuel that she wouldn't make it easy on him. Slowly taking up the slim Akaviri shortsword, Maggie set herself for the next attack, poising the blade over her shoulder with its point towards Samuel while her left hand began to glow with the green bloom of a spell. As soon as he saw the spell apepar in her hand, he shot in her direction again, ducking under the instinctive trust against his head, and left another cut in the palm of her left hand. The green bloom started to fade in and out as he left another cut, this one very shallow, barely even drawing blood, at her ankle. Once again, he took a step away from her, staying just inside the reach of her blade. Maggie lowered the blade. This was a useless exercise. "Make an end, Guardian. That is what you're here to do, isn't it? Or do you only intend to weaken me so that the hunter can claim me? A real pity, to think of my head as a trophy for one so humorless." "No, Rose, it is not," with his own blade down at his side, he responded with a similar distance as he had when he told her she was late. It was hard to say what he responded to; his purpose or the hunter claiming her. "Fight back." She might have done it for a lesser opponent, even her brother Jem, who liked to brag about his swordsmanship. Defiant, however, Maggie threw her sword down. It clattered across the paving stones and landed at Samuel's feet. "You all like to say what a liability I am, that I'm a loose element that must be brought into line. It isn't so. I've only ever wanted to be useful to our Order. If I can do so by dying..." She couldn't finish. It hurt her too much. Samuel raised an eyebrow, lowering his own blade. With a quick movement of his foot, he flicked her blade up in the air and took a hold of it. He then threw it in her direction; it landed on the ground before her feet. "This is a training exercise, not an execution. Now, take up your blade and fight back," he raised his own blade once more. Maggie studied Samuel, doubt entering her mind. Her father was typically more efficient than this. She took the sword up again slowly, and made a half circle, loosening her wrist. Watching for any sign of movement from Samuel, she prepared to leap above his head. Levitation games had always been a favorite. A smile, barely visible, spread across his lips. His left hand made a gesture, as if to tell her to go for it. Maggie did not take his bait, only circled closer. She made a quick move as if to strike high, and instead cloaked and leaped upward, preparing to execute a somersault in the air above him so that she landed behind his back. Samuel's hand found itself around her ankle, even as she had cloaked herself. She should have known that turning invisible would do little. With a show of strength one wouldn't expect by looking at him, he threw her back on the ground. Maggie's fall was broken by her levitation spell still active. Light as a cat, she leapt to her feet and cast a gout of flame in Samuel's direction. As she started to cast her spell, Samuel stepped to the side and towards her, adding another cut to her left hand. His left palm moved towards her forehead. Maggie moved to dodge the strike, then circled back around, intending to buy a moment to let her magicka recover itself. She didn't bother to heal the cuts, as they were minor and it would only use up reserves she needed elsewhere. "This lesson is extremely dull, guardian. If you mean to impress on me that I can't beat you, save your effort. I acknowledged as much." Samuel moved in and added another cut to the assortment she had already endured; this one in her left cheek. "This is not about swordplay, Rose. Act. Do something. Defend yourself. Stop acting like me being in the superior position excuses a lack of action. Even if you can't win, it is better to lose doing what you can." "I defend myself, you beat me anyway, and the end is the same." She lowered her sword again. "I refuse to play your game. That is my action." Samuel lowered his blade. "Fine, if you don't want to learn, I can't teach you. Heal yourself up, we have things we need to discuss, beginning with why you were late." There was no anger to speak of, just a hint of disappointment. He had a business-like tone, largely neutral. "Did you think I would wilt at the sight of my own blood? Is that supposed to be your lesson?" For a moment Maggie merely returned his cool gaze, then her face crumpled into a mask of distress, tears filling her eyes and sliding down her face, wetting the fresh cuts. "Please, no more. I'll do whatever you want. No! Don't! Please don't hurt me anymore!" The terror sounded real, then Maggie's face changed again and she was back to her cool demeanor, the tears and blood still mingled on her cheeks. Now her tone was laced with bitterness. "That's how the emperor got off, too. I had expected better from you." She thrust the sword in the ground next to Samuel's feet and pushed past him, headed for the house. "I'm going to get a drink. Join me, if you want to hear the riveting tale of Trym Heart-Hand meets Magdela Bathory. Oh, but please go release my guards first, if you're done with them. They've had a rough night." "And here I had thought you, of all people, would be intelligent enough to see the point of this lesson. It seems I overestimated your comprehension of the world around you. Again." Maggie was immune to expressions of disappointment, having endured Darius' withering attempts for the better part of two centuries. She took Samuel's insult without comment and disappeared into the house. He left her, going into her house to free her guards. They would be out cold for an hour or so still, but why not let them be free to move when they woke up? For the first time since Solstheim, he let some of his anger show. Stupid kid. Why was it so hard for her to understand anything? Had he really overestimated her so much? At this rate, he might just end her misery before it begun. She was acting exactly how her father would have wanted her to. Standing in her dining room, Maggie poured the glass of wine, then stood at the table and made no move to pick it up, staring blankly. She might have felt relief if the encounter had not only confused her more. What was he playing at? Her cuts still oozed, and she only noticed when a drop of blood fell on the white tablecloth. Absently she began to cast the healing spells and waited for Samuel to return. Samuel entered the room, finding Rose casting her spells. Healing. An art he actually didn't know a lot about. Not that he had ever needed it much. "Well then, Rose, I think it is time that you make whatever problem with me clear. The story about Trym can wait, for now. Why do you have such a problem with me?" Her voice was distant. "It's not you and we both know it. I don't even know who you are, and I suppose it doesn't matter. You're just here to do what Darius wants." Something occurred to her, and she turned to look at him. "Why do you call me that?" "Why do you call me Guardian? Not for the same reason, to be sure, but not everything has to make sense. You remind me of someone from my past. Her name was Fiona, but everyone just knew her as The Rose. She worked a lot like I did." Samuel took a seat by the table, gesturing for her to do the same. "You might be surprised by this, but what I am trying to do here would cast me from the good graces of your father. I once said that your family has more secrets than you'd imagine. One of them is this: We are an extended family. Your father, Darius Bathory, is my Blood Father." Taking the seat across from him, Maggie stared at Samuel for a long moment. "How can I ever trust you?" That was the crux of the problem. "Do you have a choice? If you don't trust me, you're done for. If you're not willing to I can't help you and you'll be left for the crows most people called nobility. And because by telling you that I am doing something that would cast me out of your father's graces, you could destroy me with a single meeting with your dear father. It might as well do this, and it would be the same." Samuel drew a dagger out of his jacket and placed it in Maggie's hand, before he pressed the tip against his own throat. "There, that is the metaphorical position you have me in. Go ahead, thrust the dagger in if you don't want to take the chance on trusting me. Would save me a lot of time and pain." She removed the dagger and laid it down on the table between them, tip pointed at her. "Why would you do that?" "Because it is painfully obvious that unless I did something to try to build more trust between us, I might as well plunge the dagger in there anyway. I need you as much as you need me, now and after my plans come to fruition. If they come to fruition." He let out a sigh and somehow he appeared to be... older? He looked the same, but his eyes... "I'm old, Rose, and tired of this. But as long as your father holds my leash, there is nothing I can do to stop this. And it is impossible to predict the ramifications of what will happen if my network collapse. A lot of people rely on it to get by. I need someone to help me with your father. And someone to take over my role once that is done. You wanted power? You can have mine, if you help me with this." Her mind was still reeling. The switch from being certain her life was over to being offered a chance to rival her father in power was a wide pendulum swing. It could be a test... "Why would you choose me? You said it yourself, I'm a concubine to fools. And a poor swordsman." "Who else is there that could possibly do the job I have, besides myself? It took me 200 years just to learn how to do it properly. The only other person in Tamriel, at least to my knowledge, that could do my job is your father. And Darius and I have something in common; we both have chosen you for this position. Difference is, he wants you to have a leash. I want him dead. You'll do well enough. Some of the network will crumble while you learn how to run it, but you'll be able to build it up again. Besides, who else can I trust to do something like this? The only person I would trust it with is Rorek and he has already turned down the Blood of the Dual Patrons. He has maybe 40 years left of his life, if something doesn't kill him before it comes to that. You're the only one who can do it." Maggie regarded him silently, weighing this. If what he said was true, then she had to face the fact that the hunter had found her not out of malice, but because of her own missteps. Mortals may curse bad luck, but her kind had no room for it. She'd been reckless, Maggie knew this. Part of her had always wanted Darius to get it over with and cast her out. She wanted to believe Samuel. Folding her hands in her lap, she said, "Tell me what happened. You said he turned you. Do you mean that it wasn't by your choice?" Samuel broke into a smile with a laugh. It was warm, in a way she hadn't really experienced from him yet. Was this what it was like when he was truly genuine? He looked into her eyes with the same eyes that made him seem so much older than his body would suggest. "It was my choice, the same way you give a prisoner a choice to fight for his freedom in the Arena or go directly to the headsman's block. I wasn't always like I am now; I used to be a merchant, in Skingrad. My father was a merchant, so I was to become one. It was the only life I knew, and the only one I wanted. My father always seemed so content with it and he thought me to be happy with doing something I was skilled at. And, I dare say, I was a skilled merchant. By the time I took over the store from my father, it had gained a small network of traders who dealt with me and me alone. This would be during the Tiber Wars." He pulled out a small bottle from his belt and a familiar smell filled the room, before he continued. "One day, the most beautiful woman you could imagine walked into my store and started to look around. Like anyone would, I walked up and asked if I could help her. Naturally, she dismissed me off-hand, at least until I told her that it was in fact my store she was browsing. She seemed to be sorry, so she said she'd buy me a drink to make up for the rudeness, when I closed up the shop that night. Looking back at it, it was a lot like a cliché love story. Except the part where she was accused for being a vampire by the Priesthood of Stendarr. This is when I learned that I had gotten myself involved with the sister of your father. She, of course, wasn't actually a vampire." The Colovian stopped for a moment, looking at Maggie with a distant look. "I was given a simple choice; join the fold of the Dual Patrons and serve the Order. Or I'd be forcefully turned and scapegoated for this whole thing. Looking back, I would have chosen differently. Your aunt ended up paying my price." Maggie's eyes fell. The story didn't seem to surprise her, even though it contained information she hadn't known. It was familiar enough in its themes. At length she said, "No one would ever tell me the truth, but I believe my mother was turned much the same way. I think I even know when it happened, though I was very young. Father meant to spirit us away and abandon her, or perhaps kill her. Before he could do it, she found out what he was, and begged to be allowed to turn. She was never the same after that. Instead of losing her children, she lost her rational mind." Maggie looked up at Samuel. "If what you say is true, he'll destroy us both if he suspects treachery. But kill him? Even now, I can't say... He's always been like a god to me." Thinking of the hunter, she added, "We may be out of time anyway." Briefly she described the meeting with Trym Heart-Hand and his ultimatum of delivering up a solid lead within one week. "This is unnerving, the Hunter acted a loot sooner than I had anticipated. And it sounds like you were lucky getting away form it with your life. Had you gone to their hideout, I doubt you'd have returned, even if I don't think he suspects you of being what you are." While she had told of her meeting with Trym, he had slowly nodded while looking at the table. Now, however, he seemed worried. "And you are right, we have to give him someone specific to hunt. There are not many ways out of this. Trym is one of the people I don't know a whole lot about, since he never stood out among the Vigilants before he started to hunt in the Imperial City. And we don't have anyone we can give to him. I am afraid you're going to have to betray me to him." "You? Do you want an end so badly?" "Do you have any better ideas? The Hunter will demand his Prey." Maggie shook her head. "No. You're too valuable. I can't challenge my father on my own. If it must be between me and you, then I'll do it. The Thalmor will get me sooner or later anyway, if I remain in public life, as I've chosen to do." She glanced down at the dried blood on her shirt. "And lest you think me pathetic after tonight, this hunter will get more of a fight. Perhaps you can even turn it all to your advantage, if Darius can be implicated." "Didn't I already explain why you're not allowed to do that just yet? Sometimes I feel I am the only one who listens around here. I cannot get near your father without you, and if I can't, your or my survival is pointless. Then he wins. The Hunter cannot be allowed to take the life of either of us, but I stand a better chance to keep him running in circles looking for me. The next time you meet him, you need to direct him to 'Maurice', which is one of the many names I go by. Tell him everything you know about 'Maurice' and do it honestly. Play on his impression that you are manipulated and scared. You had an admirable mask when doing that. Even I might have been fooled by it, if I already though you were the victim. Though toning it down a little bit wouldn't hurt. He has already seen you as more calm than that." "Less bleeding and weeping?" Maggie couldn't resist a little smile, though a grim one. She watched Samuel, still not trusting him fully, but he was right that she was left with little choice. They couldn't deal with Darius until the hunter was gone or scattered. Samuel might be setting her up, but she didn't think he lied about his own story. Haltingly she reached out a hand and put it over his. "It was long before I was born, but for what it's worth, I'm sorry about what my father did to you. It's why I don't love anyone, and never have." He put his other hand on top of hers. "It worked out for the better. With you here, I am given a chance to at least make one thing right before the end. I couldn't have done anything to stop this happening again if I chose death. While I think I would have chosen death if given the chance now, it is a cowards way out. People who face a great obstacle always have a moment where they have to chose between accepting that they have to do it, or live regretting that they have to. I think I owe you that I at least try to do the right thing. If I didn't, you'd be destined to replace me. It is as you said: His Precious Legacy." "I didn't even know he was so old. Old, yes, but he's more cunning than I'd imagined. I would feel proud of it, if I wasn't his plaything." She released his hand and stood, walking over to the bookcase where many of her own titles were displayed. Staring at them thoughtfully, Maggie said, "Do you know why I wanted to write novels? I feel free when I write, but one reason was because he hated it. He considered it frivolous as well as dangerous. I gravitated to romance novels because those readers want a happy ending. Even if I have to imagine miseries in the setting, someone gets to be happy." "Children tend to rebel against their parents. I suppose that was inevitable in your case. But a happy ending is always worth aiming for, even if it has to be the minor happy endings that a love story can bring. And, in my opinion, I don't think anyone can ask for more. The Lords and Ladies who rule the world will always bring conflict wherever they go, fighting for more power. Me too, to an extent, as I have helped more than one of these people in my time." Samuel remained seated, but followed her closely with his 'old eyes'. "I have to ask; if given the choice between anything in the world, what would you chose to do?" Maggie looked back at him with blank expression. "I have no idea." She had never considered the question, because what she wanted had never mattered. "This might not be of interest to you, but I already know what I would do," he smiled. His face, young as it appeared, spoke 'old man' more and more as this conversation went on. If it didn't stop, he might start to develop wrinkly skin before the night was over. "I'd dedicate my life to teaching others in the sword techniques I've picket up over the years. Strangely, training with swords under various masters was always the thing that allowed me to just relax." "And I spoiled your relaxation?" Maggie's smile became less guarded. "I'm sorry. Perhaps we can do it again on another day." "Not at all, that lesson in the garden was something different entirely. I'd done it differently, had I planned to instruct you int he ways of the blade." "I wanted to give you a taste on how it is to act under extreme duress. Alas, you stopped the entire exercise, making it a pointless spilling of your blood. You're going to need to be able to keep a cold head, even under such, and worse, circumstances." "I thought you wanted to torment me for your own reasons or my father's. I humored you for a time, but cooperating in such games has no point unless doing so furthers my own ends. It was a misunderstanding." "Quite so. I had not taken into account the effects on your thoughts the meeting with Trym would have, or that this meeting would happen in the first place. Without all the factors, my equation was destined to come out wrong. I can only imagine how alone you must have felt, in the company of these Vigilants, when you've become accustomed to me being aware of most all things that happens to you. I'd wager you thought you had been betrayed or offered as a sacrifice." "What else could I think when I saw my guards? You're not exactly their favorite person, you know." She gave a slight smile, and added, "You understand why I have to be suspicious, why I don't completely trust you even now. You've known Darius longer than I have. But we'll make a new beginning. I want to learn from you. Even if we don't overturn him, you already have a freedom that I never had." "A freedom that would last about as long as you would without the Order, should I go against your father unsuccessfully. As I said; he's the only one who is skilled enough to do my job and he have made sure to show me that he is able to break into my network. When I said he had me on a leash, it was quite literal, in the metaphorical sense." Maggie couldn't yet face the idea of what must happen if they were really to be free of Darius Bathory, but the day's events had brought her closer. She suddenly had an image of Dales Motierre slicing her father's throat, thereby making her own destiny. Could the young, mortal empress do something that she didn't dare to do? She walked over to the table and took a long drink of the wine. "I understand. First, the hunter. I am meeting him in the Emperor's Way gardens, so that I can have palace guard watching, and you too. I'll tell him of this man Maurice. If I point him to your servant Aleffea, will she know what to do?" "Aleffea is not to be involved in this. I prefer the contacts I have as Maurice to stay largely disconnected from the name you know me by. Tell him that I- Maurice- has often been seen in the shadier taverns and inns in the city. That should lead him to some results, but nothing that would lead him to us right away. We don't have any safe options for a permanent solution just yet." Samuel got to his feet and started to head for the exit. "I must leave you for now, the morning has arrived. But before I go, Rose; Remember, the first step in killing a God is to make him bleed." "Does Darius Bathory bleed?" Maggie sounded genuinely doubtful. "Good evening to you, guardian. You're earning that title in truth." "Morning, Rose. Morning."
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